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Title: Queens of the French Stage
Author: Williams, H. Noel, 1870-1925
Language: English
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QUEENS OF THE FRENCH
STAGE

[Illustration: _Adrienne Lecouvreur._

_After the painting by Charles Coypel_]



QUEENS OF THE
FRENCH STAGE

BY
H. NOEL WILLIAMS

AUTHOR OF "MADAME RÉCAMIER AND HER FRIENDS," "MADAME DE
POMPADOUR," "MADAME DE MONTESPAN," "MADAME
DU BARRY," ETC.

NEW YORK
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
153-157 FIFTH AVENUE
1905



CONTENTS


                                   PAGE

  I. THE WIFE OF MOLIÈRE              1

 II. MARIE DE CHAMPMESLÉ             87

III. ADRIENNE LECOUVREUR            127

 IV. MADEMOISELLE DE CAMARGO        197

  V. JUSTINE FAVART                 223

 VI. MADEMOISELLE CLAIRON           273

     INDEX                          353



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


ADRIENNE LECOUVREUR.  (_Photogravure_)              _Frontispiece_
_After the painting by_ CHARLES COYPEL

ARMANDE BÉJART                                _to face page_   24
_After a contemporary drawing in the collection of_
M. HENRY HOUSSAYE, _of the Academia Française_

JEAN RACINE                                          "         96
_From an engraving by_ VERTUE

MAURICE DE SAXE                                      "        168
_After the painting by_ HYACINTHE RIGAUD

MADEMOISELLE PRÉVOST                                 "        200
_After the painting by_ JEAN RAOUX, _in the Music of Tours_

MADEMOISELLE DE CAMARGO                              "        208
_From the painting by_ LANCRET, _in the Wallace Collection
at Hertford House_

JUSTINE FAVART                                       "        240
_After the drawing by_ CHARLES NICOLAS COCHIN _fils_

MADEMOISELLE CLAIRON                                 "        296
_After the painting by_ CARLE VAN LOO

ELIZABETH BERKELEY, Countess of Craven (afterwards
Margravine of Anspach)                               "        344
_After the drawing by_ SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS



QUEENS OF THE FRENCH STAGE



I

THE WIFE OF MOLIÈRE


Few women in French history have been the subject of more discussion
than the young girl whom Molière married, at the church of Saint-Germain
l'Auxerrois, on February 20, 1662.

Armande Grésinde Claire Elisabeth Béjart, for that was the bride's name,
is described in the marriage deed as the daughter of the late Joseph
Béjart, _écuyer_, sieur de Belleville, and of his widow, Marie Hervé.
Joseph Béjart, it should be stated, had died shortly before, or shortly
after, Armande's birth.

The Béjarts were very poor, for the only means which Joseph seems to
have possessed wherewith to maintain his pretensions to nobility were
derived from a small government appointment (_huissier ordinaire du roy
ès eaux et forêts de France_), and his wife had presented him with "at
least eleven children." They lived in the Marais, then the theatrical
quarter of Paris. On its northern outskirts, near the Halles, in the Rue
Mauconseil, stood the old Hôtel de Bourgogne, the first home of the
regular drama; in the centre, in the Rue Vieille-du-Temple, was the
theatre which took its name from the quarter, the Théâtre du Marais,
where Corneille's _Cid_ was first performed; while nearer the Seine, the
playgoer could make choice between the Italian troupes, the _Trois
Farceurs_, Gaultier-Garguille, Gros-Guillaume, and Turlupin,[1] and
open-air entertainments on the Pont-au-Change, the Pont-Neuf, and the
Place Dauphine. It is, therefore, not surprising that the little Béjarts
should have been in the habit of varying the monotony of their
poverty-stricken lives by occasional visits to one or other of these
spectacles, or that, dazzled by those well-known attractions, which were
doubtless as potent in the seventeenth century as they are to-day, the
two eldest, Joseph and Madeleine, should have decided, while still very
young, to make the stage their profession.

What theatre witnessed their _débuts_ we do not know. The majority of
authors are of opinion that they joined a company of strolling players
which was at this time exploiting Languedoc; M. Larroumet hesitates
between one of the unlicensed playhouses of the fairs in the
neighbourhood of Paris and a troupe of amateurs, several of which were
to be found in the capital; while another of Madeleine's biographers, M.
Henri Chardon, thinks that she obtained admission to the Théâtre du
Marais, though it appears very improbable that a young and inexperienced
actress could have met with such good fortune.

However that may be, Madeleine seems to have prospered in her profession
from the very outset, as on January 10, 1636, supported by her
_curateur_, one Simon Courtin, her father, a paternal uncle, a "_chef du
gobelet du roi_," and divers other relatives and friends, she appears
before the Civil Lieutenant of Paris[2] to request permission to
contract a loan of 2000 livres, wherewith to supplement a like sum of
her own and enable her to acquire a little house and garden situated in
the Cul-de-Sac Thorigny.

Two and a half years later (July 11, 1638), we hear of her again, under
circumstances which perhaps explain her desire to secure a residence of
her own--a desire, it must be admitted, not a little singular in a young
lady of eighteen--for on that day is baptized at Saint-Eustache
"Françoise, daughter of Esprit Raymond, chevalier, seigneur de Modène
and other places, chamberlain of the affairs of Monseigneur, only
brother of the King, and of the demoiselle Madeleine Béjart."

M. de Modène and Madeleine were not married; indeed, there was already a
Madame de Modène, residing at Le Mans, who did not die until 1649. But
this trifling accident, as it was regarded in those days, did not
prevent the son of the former (by proxy)[3] and the mother of the
latter (in person) standing as sponsors to the little Françoise, whose
birth was fated to be the cause of much trouble, not to her guilty
parents, but to two perfectly innocent persons, one of whom was as yet
unborn.

A few words must here be said of the father of Madeleine Béjart's child.

Esprit Raymond de Mormoiron, Comte de Modène, who was then about thirty
years of age, came of an old family in the Venaissin. His father,
François Raymond de Mormoiron, had at one time held the office of Grand
Provost of France and had also been employed on several diplomatic
missions. Appointed page to Gaston d'Orléans, brother of Louis XIII., he
became later one of the chamberlains of that prince, and seems to have
done his best to imitate him in his dissipated and turbulent conduct. He
early ranged himself among the enemies of Richelieu, joined the famous
league "for the universal peace of Christendom," and fought on its
behalf at the battle of La Marfée, at the head of a body of cavalry
which he had raised at his own expense. In consequence of this, he was
condemned to death, by a decree of the Parliament of Paris (September 6,
1641), but took refuge in Flanders, with the Duc de Guise, against whom
a similar sentence had been pronounced, and remained there until the
death of Richelieu, followed by that of Louis XIII., left him at liberty
to return to France. When, in 1647, Guise went to Naples, to endeavour
to exploit the revolt of Masaniello to his own advantage, Modène
accompanied him and greatly distinguished himself. He was eventually,
however, taken prisoner by the Spaniards and held captive until 1650. On
his return to France, he meddled no more with public affairs, but
occupied himself with the care of his neglected estates and in the
compilation of a valuable history of the revolution in Naples,
reprinted, in 1826, under the title of _Mémoires du Comte de Modène_. It
is to be noted here that from the early autumn of 1641 until the summer
of 1643 the Comte de Modène was absent from France.

Some time in the early weeks of the year 1643, probably either in the
last week in February or the first in March, Madeleine's father, Joseph
Béjart the elder, died; and on March 10, Marie Hervé, his widow,
presented herself before the Civil Lieutenant of Paris, where, in the
name, and as guardian, of Joseph, Madeleine, Geneviève, Louis, and _"a
little girl not yet baptized," children under age_ (_i.e._ under
twenty-five) of the said deceased and herself, she represented that "the
inheritance of her deceased husband being charged with heavy debts
without any property wherewith to acquit them, she feared that it would
be more burdensome than profitable," and, accordingly, declared her
intention of renouncing it. Her request was supported by her
brother-in-law, Pierre Béjart, _procureur_ to the Châtelet, and other
relatives, and on June 10 of the same year she was permitted to make the
renunciation she desired.

Now who was this "little unbaptized girl"? Without a shadow of doubt,
Armande Béjart, the future wife of Molière; on this point all the poet's
biographers are unanimous. Was she, as represented, the daughter of
Marie Hervé? That is the question which has afforded material for a
controversy which has already lasted for nearly two hundred and fifty
years and seems not unlikely to continue till the end of all things, for
the most fantastic theories, for a small library of books and
pamphlets, and for review and newspaper articles without number. For
some see in this little girl a sister, others a _daughter_ of Madeleine
Béjart, and the truth is of the most vital importance to the honour of
the great man whose wife Armande became.

That the latter impression was almost universal amongst Molière's
contemporaries is beyond question, nor is the fact one that need
occasion any surprise. Every one, that is to say, every one connected
with, or interested in, the theatrical world, was aware that, early in
life, Madeleine Béjart had had a little girl; while, on the other hand,
the birth of Marie Hervé's child, which was of no public interest, and
which, moreover, probably took place not in Paris, but in one of the
adjacent villages,[4] was known to very few. A young girl grew up with
Madeleine, who was tenderly attached to her; it was Armande; but gossip
confounded her with the child Francoise, of whom all trace seems to have
been lost, and the wiseacres smiled the smile begotten of superior
knowledge when any stranger to Paris chanced to refer to the girl as
Madeleine's sister.

For over a century and a half this belief remained unchallenged. Hostile
or sympathetic, all who wrote of Molière--La Grange, Grimarest, Breuze
de la Martinière, Bayle, Donneau de Visé--shared the common opinion in
regard to the origin of Armande Béjart. In 1821, however, there was
quite a flutter of excitement in literary circles, for in that year
Beffara discovered Molière's _acte de mariage_, in which Armande is
spoken of as the daughter of Joseph Béjart and his widow, Marie Hervé.
Forty-two years later, the old scandal, which in the interim had been
partly revived by M. Fournier (_Études sur la vie et les œuvres de
Molière_) and M. Bazin (_Notes historiques sur Molière_), received
another severe blow by Eudore Soulié's discovery of the deed of March
10, 1643, already mentioned, wherein Marie Hervé requested permission to
renounce the succession to her husband's property, and which confirmed
the statement made in the _acte de mariage_. Such evidence, one would
naturally suppose, would have been accepted as conclusive, and the
matter set at rest once and for all. But tradition dies hard; not a few
_Molièristes_ refused to renounce an opinion sanctioned by so many
generations, and M. Jules Loiseleur, a writer who enjoyed a
considerable, and not undeserved, reputation as an unraveller of
historical mysteries, propounded, on behalf of his fellow-sceptics, the
following theory.

The declarations made by Marie Hervé, in the deed of March 10, 1643, and
again in the _acte de mariage_, that Armande was her child, were, he
maintains, deliberate falsehoods, conceived in the interests of her
daughter, Madeleine. At the beginning of the year 1643, Madeleine was
about to become a mother, for the second time, not, of course, by the
Comte de Modène, who had been in exile for nearly two years, but by some
new lover. Fearing that if Modène returned and learned the fact, he
would refuse to resume the _liaison_, which she hoped might one day be
regularised (M. Loiseleur was under the impression that Madame de Modène
was dead, whereas she lived until 1649), she begged her mother to
recognise the child as her own; a request to which that complacent old
lady, whose husband was just dead, or on the point of death, readily
consented.

Now this ingenious theory is based on the advanced age of Marie
Hervé--she was then about fifty-three--and the belief that she had not
had a child since the birth of Louis Béjart, afterwards a prominent
member of Molière's troupe, who was born on November 14 or 15, 1630,
that is to say, more than twelve years earlier, which facts rendered it
highly improbable that she could have been the mother of Armande; and M.
Loiseleur supports his contention by pointing out that the two eldest
children, Joseph and Madeleine, described in the deed of March 10, 1643,
as minors, were over twenty-five, and that their age was purposely
understated to make their mother appear younger than she was, and so
facilitate the fraud. This point has been contested by Mr. Andrew Lang,
in his admirable article on Molière in the _Encyclopædia Britannica_,
but is really of no importance, as if M. Loiseleur had exercised a
little more care, he would have found that so far from more than twelve
years having elapsed between the birth of the last of Marie Hervé's
children and that of Armande, she had had a little girl _less than three
and a half years before_ (November 30, 1639), baptized, in the parish of
Saint-Sauveur, by the name of Bénigne Madeleine, the second name being
doubtless intended as a compliment to Madeleine Béjart, who acted as
_marraine_.[5] Whereby M. Loiseleur's argument disappears, and his
theory with it.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Armande's contemporaries saw in her
not a sister, but a daughter of Madeleine Béjart, and, with this
belief, they held another, to wit, that Molière had been, previous to
his marriage with the younger sister, the lover of the elder. From which
two suppositions sprang one of the most hideous accusations that has
ever sullied the reputation of a great man.

Molière, like most successful men, had a good many enemies, and was
accustomed to give and receive very hard knocks. With the company of the
Théâtre du Marais he appears to have been on tolerably amicable terms;
but with the actors of the third great theatre, the Hôtel de Bourgogne,
his relations were decidedly strained, and whenever an opportunity arose
of turning one or other of them into ridicule, he seldom failed to avail
himself of it, though he made an exception in the case of Floridor, who
was too great a favourite with the public for them to tolerate any
attacks upon him. In his _Impromptu de Versailles_, played before the
Court in October 1663, Molière satirised several actors of the Hôtel de
Bourgogne, and, among them, one named Montfleury,[6] whose ponderous
style of declamation he imitated with great success. To this,
Montfleury's son, Antoine Montfleury, who was a prolific and successful
dramatist, replied with another play, called _l'Impromptu de l'hôtel de
Condé_, in which he endeavoured to turn the tables on Molière; but the
vengeance of the father took a very different form.

In December 1663, Racine wrote to the Abbé Le Vasseur: "Montfleury has
drawn up a memorial and presented it to the King. He accuses him
[Molière] of having married the daughter [Armande], and of having
formerly lived with the mother [Madeleine]. But Montfleury is not
listened to at Court."[7] From this passage it is evident that
Montfleury intended Louis XIV. to believe that Molière had married his
own daughter; which is the starting-point of the abominable calumny
which so long weighed, and which still weighs, on the memory of the
great dramatist.

Beyond what Racine tells us, we have no information about this memorial
of Montfleury. That he advanced any proofs in support of his accusation
is extremely improbable; although it is quite possible that he would
have endeavoured to substantiate it had he received any encouragement
from the King. Any way, Louis XIV. appears to have satisfied himself
that the charge was merely the outcome of jealousy and spite, and when,
in the following February, Molière's first child was baptized at
Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, he and his sister-in-law, the ill-fated
Henrietta of England, stood sponsors. Than which the poet could have
desired no more complete reparation.

Thirteen years later, in 1676, that is to say, three years after
Molière's death, Montfleury's accusation was repeated. A man of the name
of Guichard, a sort of _entrepreneur_ for fêtes and plays, coveted
Lulli's post as director of the recently-established Opera, and, seeing
no likelihood of realising his ambition by any legitimate means, had
recourse to poison, the fashionable expedient for ridding oneself of
professional rivals and other inconvenient persons at this period. One
Sebastian Aubry, a connection of the Béjarts, was entrusted with the
commission; but, instead of executing it, he informed Lulli, who
promptly invoked the protection of the law. An inquiry was held and
numerous witnesses called for the prosecution, among whom was the widow
of Molière. In order to discredit the testimony of these witnesses,
Guichard drew up a memorial, in which, besides making the most infamous
charges against Armande's moral character, of which we shall speak
later, he alluded to her as "the orphan of her husband" and "the widow
of her father." Unlike Montfleury, however, who was an old and respected
member of his profession, Guichard appears to have been a consummate
scoundrel, capable of any villainy to serve his ends; and we can hardly
believe that a charge made by such a person could have excited any
feelings, save those of indignation and disgust.

However, unhappily, other pens were not wanting to keep alive this
hideous calumny. It is true that there are no further direct
accusations; but there are allusions, which, as they appear in works
that enjoyed, in their day, a considerable circulation, must have
answered much the same purpose. In 1770, seven years after Montfleury
had set the ball rolling, a certain Le Boulanger de Chalussay, of whom
little or nothing seems to be known, attacked Molière in a play called
_Élomire hypocondre, ou les Médicins vengés_--Élomire being, of course,
an anagram of Molière. This play, intended as a reply to the great
dramatist's repeated attacks on the medical profession, was a fatuous
production, dull, confused, and encumbered with an absurd number of
characters; and the company of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, to whom it was
submitted, very prudently declined to accept it, notwithstanding which
the author caused it to be printed and circulated. In one scene, Élomire
speaks of the care he is taking to train up his wife in the way he would
have her go, in order to avoid all risk of finding himself numbered
among deceived husbands. Thereupon, his confidant reminds him of the
fate which befell Arnolphe in the _École des femmes_, in spite of all
his precautions.[8] But Élomire replies that he is better advised than
Arnolphe:--

    "Arnolphe commença trop tard à la forger;
     C'est avant le berceau qu'il y devoit songer,
     Comme quelqu'un l'a fait."

Molière demanded and obtained the suppression of _Élomire hypocondre_;
but this only had the effect of stimulating its circulation, as, in the
following year, a new edition was clandestinely printed in the
provinces, and, in 1672, a third was produced by the Elzevirs, in
Holland.

Another allusion occurs in a scandalous work entitled _La Fameuse
Comédienne_, published anonymously in 1688, of which we shall have a
good deal to say hereafter: "She [Armande] was the daughter of the
deceased Béjart, a provincial actress, who was making the _bonne
fortune_ of numbers of young gentlemen in Languedoc at the time of the
auspicious birth of her daughter. That is why it is very difficult, in
the face of such promiscuous gallantry, to say who was the father." And
the writer concludes: "She is believed to be the daughter of Molière,
notwithstanding the fact that he afterwards became her husband; however,
one does not really know the truth."

It appears to be the tendency among modern writers, while indignantly
repudiating the accusation of Montfleury, to accept with complacency the
opinion of Molière's contemporaries that his relations with Madeleine
Béjart had been, at one time, on a closer footing than that of
friendship. In this they show a singular want of consistency, for, as M.
Gustave Larroumet, than whom Molière has no more ardent admirer, very
justly observes, the two suppositions are inseparable, and those who
admit the probability of the second cannot well deny the possibility of
the first, provided, of course, that they hold, with M. Loiseleur, that
Marie Hervé had been guilty of fraud in the documents discovered by
Beffara and Eudore Soulié, and that Armande was the daughter of
Madeleine.[9]

Let us, however, look at the facts as briefly as may be, since the
subject is not one upon which it profits greatly to dwell.

Molière's connection with the Béjart family is commonly believed to have
begun some time in 1641 or 1642. In June 1643, Madeleine Béjart, with
her younger sister Géneviève, and her brothers, Joseph and Louis, joined
Molière and several others in founding the Illustre Théâtre. She
remained faithful to Molière's fortunes during those disastrous two
years, when the receipts of the new theatre did not suffice to discharge
the ordinary working expenses, and its chief was, on one occasion,
imprisoned in the Châtelet, until the bill of an importunate
candle-merchant had been settled. When the company left Paris, in the
spring of 1646, on its twelve years' wanderings through the provinces,
she accompanied it, and, in addition to playing in nearly every piece,
appears to have superintended the costumes and scenery, and regulated
the expenses, at least so far as concerned Molière and the three other
Béjarts. Finally, when Molière returned to Paris, in 1658, and the
company was installed, first, at the Petit-Bourbon and, afterwards, at
the Palais-Royal, she retained her place and continued to play regularly
down to the time of her death on February 17, 1678, exactly a year
before that of Molière himself.

An admirable actress, one of the best of her time, according to
Tallemant des Réaux, ready to undertake almost any rôle in either
tragedy or comedy, she excelled in depicting smartly-attired maids, who
ridicule the follies of their employers with equal wit, impudence, and
good sense, and, but for her, Molière might never have created his
inimitable _soubrettes_.[10] She was, moreover, remarkably handsome,
tall and graceful, with hair of a peculiarly beautiful blonde hue, and
La Fontaine, Loret, and other contemporaries speak of her in terms of
unfeigned admiration; while she seems to have possessed some literary
ability, having, when a girl of eighteen, addressed a quatrain to
Rotrou, who had just produced his _Hercule mourant_ at the Hôtel de
Bourgogne--which so delighted the dramatist that he published it in an
edition of his work--and also adapted an old comedy, which was performed
by the Illustre Théâtre in the provinces.

That a very warm friendship and regard existed between Madeleine and
Molière is certain, nor does what we know of the latter's relations with
other ladies of his troupe render a closer connection improbable. In
1653, at Lyons, the Illustre Théâtre was strengthened by the accession
of two actresses, Mlle. du Parc and Mlle. de Brie,[11] both destined to
rise to eminence in their profession. Molière promptly fell in love with
the former, who, however, rejected his addresses, as she subsequently
did those of Pierre Corneille and La Fontaine, upon which the mortified
dramatist transferred his attentions to the less attractive, but more
sympathetic, Mlle. de Brie, and formed with her a _liaison_ which
appears to have lasted until his marriage, and was resumed at a later
date.

Under these circumstances, it is scarcely surprising that contemporary
gossip should have coupled the names of Molière and Madeleine
together--"M. Despréaux [Boileau] told me," writes Brossette, "that
Molière had been in love with the actress Béjart, whose daughter he
espoused,"--or that many modern writers should have taken the same view.
M. Larroumet, we may observe, is of the contrary opinion, but, though
generally so correct, he appears in this instance to be arguing from a
false premise. He assumes that the Comte de Modène returned to Paris in
the summer of 1643 and resumed his former relations with Madeleine,
which fact, he says, makes a _liaison_ between her and Molière
altogether improbable. But the count's biographer, M. Chardon, asserts
that at the time when M. Larroumet believes Modène to have been in
Paris, he was residing on his estates in the Venaissin, and that he did
not visit the capital until the autumn of 1646, that is to say, after
the Illustre Théâtre had left for the provinces. Shortly after this, the
count set out with the Duc de Guise for Italy, where, as we have
mentioned, he remained until 1650.[12]

But, after all, the nature of Molière's relations with Madeleine Béjart
subsequent to the birth of Armande is of very secondary importance; it
is on the degree of intimacy existing between them _prior_ to that event
that the whole question hinges. That they were at that time anything
more than friends--possibly only acquaintances--there is not a shred of
evidence to prove; for the rumours we have spoken of relate mainly to
the early years of the Illustre Théâtre. Indeed, so little is known
about their movements previous to the establishment of that institution
that it is impossible to say with any degree of certainty whether their
paths in life lay together or far apart at a particular date, much less
to hazard an opinion upon so very delicate a matter as the one under
discussion.

M. Larroumet says that from July 1638, when her little daughter,
Françoise, was born, until June 1643, when the Illustre Théâtre was
founded, we lose all trace of Madeleine. This is not quite correct, as
on November 30, 1639, she appears as _marraine_ at the baptism of her
little sister, Bénigne Madeleine, in the parish of Saint-Sauveur, and,
six months later (June 5, 1640), we find her discharging the same duty
to a child of one Robert de la Voypierre, described as a
_valet-de-chambre_ at the Church of Saint-Sulpice.[13] After that, it is
true, nothing more is heard of her for three years. Now, where was she
during these three years? M. Chardon thinks that she was in Paris until
the early summer of 1641, and during the remainder of the time--that is
to say, for the eighteen months or more preceding Armande's birth--in
the provinces, with a company of strolling players; and this is the
reason he gives for his supposition.

In May 1641, a friend of the Comte de Modène, Jean Baptiste de
l'Hermite, brother of Tristan de l'Hermite, author of the tragedy of
_Mariamne_, together with his wife and a servant of the count, were
arrested and imprisoned in the Château of Vincennes, apparently on a
charge of treasonable correspondence with Modène. Thereupon, Madeleine,
apprehensive of sharing their fate, her connection with Modène being
well known, leaves Paris and joins a company in the provinces, and does
not show her face in the capital again until Richelieu and Louis XIII.
are both dead, and all danger for the Count and his friends
removed.[14]

As for Molière, he is commonly believed to have spent the year 1642 in
Paris, with the exception of the months of May, June, and July, when M.
Loiseleur is of opinion that he replaced his father as _tapissier
valet-de-chambre_ to the King, who was then returning by easy stages
from the conquest of Roussillon.

Now, if these two theories are correct, as they probably are, it is
obvious that, whoever was the father of Madeleine Béjart's child,
supposing her to have been the mother of Armande, which few now will be
found to maintain, it could not have been Molière, unless Madeleine was
a member of a troupe of strolling players, which performed several times
before the Court at Montfrin, during its stay there in the latter part
of June, a contingency so remote as to be hardly worth taking into
account. With which observations, we hasten to take leave of this most
unpleasant subject, and begin our history of Armande Béjart.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the Illustre Théâtre quitted Paris, in the spring of 1646, Marie
Hervé and her little daughter accompanied it. It does not appear
probable, however, as some writers have supposed, that Armande's early
years were passed on the high roads. From what we know of her
accomplishments, she must have received a far superior education to that
which a little Bohemian could have obtained. According to one account,
she lived for some years in Languedoc, "with a lady of distinguished
rank in that province," and did not return to her family until 1653,
when the company, relatively more stable, had made Lyons its
headquarters. Thenceforward Armande's education was carried on under the
immediate supervision of Molière himself, who, as time went on, began
to take something more than a friendly interest in the progress of his
pupil, and ended by falling passionately in love with her.

Nearly all the biographers of Molière and Armande agree that Madeleine
Béjart was much occupied by this marriage, though they differ widely in
the part they assign to her, some asserting that she laboured
strenuously to prevent it, others that she did her utmost to bring it
about. According to Grimarest, one of the oldest of the poet's
biographers--who believed Madeleine to have been Molière's mistress, and
that she was, moreover, the mother of Armande, though he does not go so
far as to attribute the girl's paternity to Molière--Madeleine behaved
_en femme furieuse_, threatened to ruin him, her daughter, and herself,
if he persisted in his intention, and that in consequence the lovers
were compelled to contract a secret marriage.

On the other hand, the anonymous author of _La Fameuse Comédienne_, who
wrote nearer the event, gives a wholly different version of the affair.
According to him--or more probably her--it is Madeleine who prepared and
concluded the marriage, by a series of patient and tortuous intrigues,
her object being to recover, through Armande, the influence over Molière
of which Mlle. de Brie had deprived her. "She did not fail to exaggerate
to Molière the satisfaction he would derive from educating for himself a
child whose heart he was sure of possessing, and whose disposition was
known to him, and assured him that it was only at that innocent age that
one could hope to meet with that sincerity which was found but rarely
among persons who had seen the great world. These arguments she often
repeated to Molière, at the same time, adroitly calling his attention
to that natural delight which her daughter showed whenever she observed
him enter the room, and her blind obedience to his wishes. In a word,
she conducted the affair so skilfully that he decided that he could not
do better than marry the girl."

These two accounts, remarks M. Larroumet, would appear, at first sight,
to be equally unworthy of belief, since they are in direct contradiction
to one another. But when we come to examine them more closely, we shall
find that, though the worthlessness of Grimarest's version is clearly
demonstrated by the fact that Molière's marriage had nothing secret
about it, being indeed celebrated publicly in the presence of his family
and Armande's, that of the author of _La Fameuse Comédienne_ has a basis
of truth. Madeleine did, no doubt, play an important part in bringing
about the marriage, but the reason which prompted her to do so was very
different from that stated by the author. Sincerely attached to both her
sister and Molière, she honestly believed that a marriage between them
would be to their common advantage, securing to the one an excellent
settlement in life, and to the other a means of escape from the
gallantries which served but to add fresh annoyances to the cares
imposed upon him by his triple rôle of playwright, actor, and manager.
She committed a grievous mistake, it is true; but that she was animated
by perfectly disinterested motives, and did everything in her power to
make the marriage a happy one, there can be no question.[15]

With the exception of the drawing reproduced in this volume, there does
not appear to be any portrait of Armande, painted or engraved, the
authenticity of which is beyond dispute. But, as some atonement for
this, several excellent pen-portraits have come down to us. The most
interesting of these is, of course, the one traced by Molière's own hand
in that exquisite little scene between Cléonte and Covielle in the third
act of the _Bourgeois gentilhomme_, where Armande plays the part of the
charming Lucile. Cléonte, incensed by Lucile's seeming indifference,
determines to break with her, and calls upon the valet to "assist him in
his resentment and sustain his resolution against every remnant of
affection that may yet plead for her. 'Say, I entreat you, all the harm
that you can of her. Make of her person a picture that shall render her
contemptible in my sight, and, to disgust me with her, point out all the
faults that you can see in her.'"

Smarting under the rebuff just administered to him by Lucile's
waiting-woman, Nicole, who follows the example of her mistress, Covielle
readily obeys, and proceeds to draw a most unflattering portrait of the
young lady. But no sooner does the valet point out some fault in Lucile
than his love-lorn master straightway transforms it into a trait of
beauty, with an ever-increasing anger and impatience.

_Covielle._--"To begin with, her eyes are small."

_Cléonte._--"That is true; her eyes are small, but then they are full of
fire--the most brilliant, the most piercing in the world, the tenderest
that one can possibly see."

_Covielle._--"She has a large mouth."

_Cléonte._--"Yes; but one finds there charms which one does not find in
other mouths; and that mouth, when one beholds it, inspires desire; it
is the most attractive, the most adorable in the world."

_Covielle._--"As for her figure, she is not tall."

_Cléonte._--"No; but she is supple and well-proportioned."

_Covielle._--"She affects a carelessness in her speech and deportment."

_Cléonte._--"It is true, but there is grace in all; and her manners are
engaging and have a nameless charm which insinuates itself into our
hearts."

_Covielle._--"As to her wit----"

_Cléonte._--"Ah! she has that, Covielle; the finest and most delicate
kind."

_Covielle._--"Her conversation----"

_Cléonte._--"Her conversation is charming."

_Covielle._--"It is always serious."

_Cléonte._--"Would you have unrestrained liveliness and boisterous
gaiety? Is there anything more annoying than women who laugh at every
word that is spoken?"

_Covielle._--"But, after all, she is as capricious as any person you can
find."

_Cléonte._--"Yes, she is capricious; there I agree with you; but
everything is becoming to, and must be borne with from, the fair."

[Illustration: ARMANDE BÉJART

From an etching by J. HANRIOT, after a contemporary drawing in the
collection of M. HENRY HOUSSAYE, of the Académie Française]

The fidelity of the aforegoing portrait is confirmed by other
contemporary evidence. Examined in detail, it would appear that
Armande's features were far from perfect, but that the _ensemble_ was
fascinating to a very remarkable degree. Mlle. Poisson, in a _Lettre sur
la vie et les œuvres de Molière et les comédiens de son temps_, which
she contributed to the _Mercure_ of 1740, describes her as "of middle
height," with "very small eyes," and "a large flat mouth"; but adds that
she had "an engaging air," and "performed every action with grace."
The elder Grandval is in accord with Mlle. Poisson: "Without being
beautiful, she was piquant and capable of inspiring a _grande passion_."
While a bitter enemy of Armande, the anonymous author of _La Fameuse
Comédienne_, while denying her "_aucun trait de beauté_" is fain to
admit that her appearance and manners rendered her very amiable in the
opinion of many people, and that she was "very affecting when she wished
to please."

That Armande should have triumphed so completely over physical
deficiencies was probably due, to some extent, to the perfection of her
toilettes. "No one," the brothers Parfaict tell us, in their _Histoire
du Théâtre Français_, "knew better than she how to enhance the beauty of
her face by the arrangement of her coiffure, or of her figure by the
fashion of her costume." And Mlle. Poisson records that she "showed most
remarkable taste and invariably opposed to the mode of the time." She
seems indeed to have had some claim to be considered the arbitrix of
feminine taste in dress, for the _Mercure galant_ of 1673 ascribes to
her the credit of a radical reform in ladies' toilettes, nothing less
than the substitution of gowns, "_tout unis sur le corps, de la manière
que la taille parait plus belle_," for the majestic but somewhat heavy
costume hitherto in vogue, which concealed beneath its too ample folds
the graceful lines of the figure.

       *       *       *       *       *

If Armande, as a woman, was an object of admiration to her
contemporaries, as an actress, she aroused in them something very like
enthusiasm. It would indeed have been a matter for surprise had it been
otherwise, since she enjoyed advantages which fall to the lot of very
few. She came of a family which had already contributed several
finished performers to the French stage, and "had in her blood the
passion and instinct of the theatre." With her charm of manner and
exquisite taste in dress, she combined many accomplishments: "she had a
very pretty voice, sang with great taste in both French and Italian, and
danced ravishingly." She had received a long and careful training from
one who was perhaps an even better teacher than he was an actor, and who
was as ambitious for her success as for his own. And, finally, nearly
all her parts--certainly all her more important parts--were written by
Molière with the express object of enabling her to display her abilities
to the best advantage.

Lacking the dignity and strength required to give adequate expression to
the greater passions, she wisely refrained from attempting any important
rôles in tragedy, and in Racine's _Alexandre_ and the _Attila_ of
Corneille we find her allotted only minor parts. But at the Palais-Royal
comedy was, of course, the staple fare, and in "_la rôles de femmes
coquettes et satiriques_," which accorded so well with her own
temperament, and also in those of _ingénues_, Armande had no superior in
her day and probably very few since. Her acting is said to have been
characterised by great judgment, while her by-play was remarkably
effective. "If she but retouches her hair, or rearranges her ribbons or
her jewellery, these little fashions conceal a satire judicious and
natural, and throw ridicule upon the women she wishes to represent."
Moreover, she had the rare gift of being able to change at will the
character of her voice, and "had a different tone for every part she
undertook."

Molière's wise reluctance to allow his young wife to challenge the
verdict of the public until he had done everything in his power to
ensure her success, delayed Armande's first appearance on the stage for
fifteen months after her marriage, when she made her _début_ as Élise in
the _Critique de l'École des femmes_ (June 1, 1663), a reply to the
attacks of Donneau de Visé and other critics upon the play produced at
the Palais-Royal the previous December. The part allotted to her, which
is that of a self-possessed young woman, with a good deal of shrewd
common-sense, a turn for irony of a rather caustic brand, and not too
much consideration for the feelings of others, suited her
admirably--perhaps rather more so than poor Molière at that time
imagined--and secured her a somewhat similar rôle in the delightful
_Impromptu de Versailles_, played before the Court in the following
October, where she figures in the cast as a "satirical wit." She did not
play in the _Mariage forcé_ (January 29, 1664), as, ten days earlier,
she had borne Molière a son, to whom, as we have mentioned, Louis XIV.
and Henrietta of England stood sponsors; but in the following spring we
find her in the first of her long list of important rôles.

At the beginning of May 1664, Louis XIV. entertained the Queen-mother,
Anne of Austria, and his own consort, Maria Theresa, with a brilliant
and sumptuous fête, or rather succession of fêtes, at Versailles, which
was then, of course, still only the little country-house built by Louis
XIII., occupying to-day the bottom of the Cour de Marbre. The fêtes,
which were denominated _Les Plaisirs de l'Ile enchantée_, as the plan
adopted was suggested by the sixth and seventh cantos of Ariosto's
_Orlando Furioso_, which describe the sojourn of Rogero (impersonated by
the King) in the isle and palace of the enchantress Alcena, began on the
7th of the month and lasted a week; stately processions, tilting,
displays of fireworks, balls, and magnificent banquets alternating with
theatrical performances. On the 8th, Molière's troupe gave a comedy
ballet, called the _Princesse d'Élide_, composed for the occasion, by
their chief, at the special request of the King, and the rôle of the
princess was taken by Armande. The play, the subject of which was
borrowed from the Spanish dramatist Moreto's _El Desden con el Desden_
(Scorn for Scorn), is the story of a fair princess, who until then had
professed to despise love and had driven her innumerable suitors to
despair, but who suddenly finds herself wounded to the heart by the
skilfully feigned indifference to her charms shown by Euryale, Prince of
Ithaca, who ultimately succeeds in winning her hand. Though far from
being one of Molière's happiest efforts, as it was hastily strung
together--the first act and the commencement of the first scene of the
second are in verse, and the rest in prose--while the author's natural
flow of wit and humour was checked by the necessity of accommodating
himself to courtly conventions, it met with a very favourable reception,
and, moreover, served to establish Armande's reputation as an actress.
This was, no doubt, Molière's intention, as the whole play appears to
have been conceived expressly to bring into relief the young lady's
various accomplishments--her taste in dress, her charming voice, and her
graceful dancing--and the enamoured Euryale declaims in her honour a
portrait of the most flattering description: "She is, in truth, adorable
at all times; but at that moment she was more so than ever, and new
charms redoubled the splendour of her beauty. Never was her face adorned
with more lovely colours; never were her eyes armed with swifter or
more piercing shafts. The sweetness of her voice showed itself in the
perfectly charming air which she deigned to sing; and the marvellous
tones she uttered penetrated to the very depth of my soul and held all
my senses in a rapture from which they were powerless to escape. She
next showed a disposition altogether divine; her lovely feet on the
enamel of the soft turf danced delightful steps, which carried me quite
beyond myself and bound me by irresistible bonds to the easy and
accurate movements with which her whole body followed those harmonious
motions."

On the three concluding days of the fêtes, the _Fâcheux_, the first
three acts of _Tartuffe_, and the _Mariage forcé_ were in turn
represented. It is uncertain what parts were allotted Armande in the
first and third of these plays, but in the much discussed _Tartuffe_,
now played for the first time, she again filled the leading feminine
rôle. How she fared on this occasion we have unfortunately no
information; but when, in February 1669, the interdict under which
_Tartuffe_ had so long lain was at length withdrawn and the piece
produced at the Palais-Royal, the rhyming chronicle of Robinet speaks in
eulogistic terms of her performance of Elmire.

In the meanwhile, she had successfully created other important parts:
Lucinde in the _Medecin malgré lui_, Angélique in _George Dandin_, and
Elise in _l'Avare_, and, on June 4, 1666, the greatest of all her
triumphs--the rôle of Célimène in the famous comedy of the
_Misanthrope_.

"Célimène," says M. Larroumet, "is the type of woman the most original
and the most complete which the genius of Molière has evolved. Eternal
temptation of actresses, those who have attempted it may be called
legion, those who have succeeded in making themselves mistresses of it
form a select group, admired, envied. Such an actress of genius as
Rachel failed here miserably, and a true Célimène, like Mlle. Mars, is
sure of transmitting her name to posterity. One has noted, however, the
tones and gestures of the great interpreters of the part; tradition
preserves them, and they point out the way. But an intelligent pupil
will readily make herself acquainted with all that can be learned; if
she does not evolve from her own resources the sentiment of the
character, she will only swell the alarming number of vain attempts
which theatrical history records. Célimène is twenty years of age, and
her experience is that of a woman of forty. Coquettish and feline with
Alceste, frivolous and back-biting with the little marquises, cruelly
ironical with Arsinoé, in each act, in each scene, she shows herself
under a different aspect. Contemporary, or very nearly so, of Mesdames
de Châtillon, de Luynes, de Monaco, de Soubise, and the nieces of
Mazarin, she ought to awaken a vague memory of these great names; she is
the exquisite and rare product of an aristocratic civilisation in the
full splendour of its development, and often she speaks a language of
almost plebeian candour and acerbity. In the salon where she reigns, she
ought to convey the idea of perfect ease and supreme distinction; and in
the _dénouement_ she submits to a cruel humiliation without the
possibility of revenge; she makes her exit vanquished at all points,
and, even then, she ought to lose nothing of her haughty bearing and her
tranquil smile."[16]

It will thus be readily understood that an actress who could be trusted
to create such a part must have truly been a great artist, and Armande
secured a brilliant triumph. Her performance was "a charm" and "an
ecstasy," Robinet tells us; and though Robinet was in the habit of
dealing somewhat freely in such expressions, we have no reason to doubt
that on this occasion he faithfully reflects the opinion of the
audience.

But, after all, we can hardly wonder at the young actress's success,
since she had only to be perfectly natural to realise the author's whole
idea of his heroine. For what is Célimène but a finished portrait of
Armande herself? Célimène is "_la grande coquette par excellence_,"
surrounded by a crowd of admirers wherever she goes. Armande, unhappily
for Molière's peace of mind, seems to have enjoyed very much the same
reputation. Célimène depends for her fascination not so much on beauty
of face or form as on her expression, her smile, her manners, her
conversation; "_elle a l'art de me plaire_," says the infatuated
Alceste. Armande possessed the same kind of attractions, and was "very
affecting when she wished to please." Célimène is haughty and imperious.
"It is my wish; it is my wish," she cries when Alceste hesitates to
comply with her demands. "Armande," says a contemporary, "could not
brook contradiction, and pretended that a lover ought to be as
submissive as a slave." In fact, so perfect is the resemblance that even
if the circumstances, of which we shall presently speak, did not
preclude all reasonable doubt about the matter, few would be found to
deny that the heroine of the _Misanthrope_ was drawn from life.

Among Armande's other rôles may be mentioned the capricious and charming
Lucile of the _Bourgeois gentilhomme_, in which Molière drew the
well-known portrait of his wife which we have already cited; the
title-part in the famous "tragedy-ballet" of _Psyché_, one of the most
remarkable instances of collaboration in dramatic history,[17] in which
she appeared in a different costume in each of its five acts--a very
unusual extravagance in those days--and is described by the enthusiastic
Robinet as "marvellous" and "playing divinely"; Henriette in the _Femmes
savantes_, "the model of an honest, sensible, and well-brought-up young
lady;" and finally, Angélique in Molière's swan-song, the _Malade
imaginaire_, perhaps, next to Célimène, her most finished impersonation.

       *       *       *       *       *

But great as were the dramatic talents of Armande Béjart, they count for
comparatively little in the curiosity which her name arouses. It is her
moral character, her private life, her relations with her famous
husband, which have exercised the minds of the biographers of Molière
for upwards of two centuries. On these matters even more ink has been
expended than on the vexed question of her birth, and with far less
satisfactory results. To the great majority of writers Armande was an
unworthy wife, who repaid the kindness and affection lavished upon her
by the great man whose name she bore with ingratitude and contumely;
while there are not wanting those who go so far as to accuse her of the
grossest infidelity, and to assert that her misconduct was in some
measure responsible for the dramatist's untimely death. When, however,
we come to sift the evidence against her, we shall find that these
extreme views are based on very insufficient or very suspicious
testimony, and that one thing only has been clearly established, namely,
that she rendered Molière's later years very unhappy. But what was the
true cause of his unhappiness, whether occasioned by actual misconduct
on the part of Armande, or merely by an ever present dread that such
must be the inevitable termination of one or other of the very imprudent
flirtations in which she appears to have been continually indulging, is
very difficult, nay, well-nigh impossible, to determine.

It has always been a favourite practice with biographers of Molière and
historians of the French theatre to affect to discover more or less
direct allusions to the dramatist's relations with his wife in several
of his plays: the _École des femmes_, the _Impromptu de Versailles_, the
_Mariage forcé_, _George Dandin_, and, of course, the _Misanthrope_.
That this is true of the last-named play cannot, we think, be disputed;
but in regard to the others, we are inclined to believe that the
significance of the passages and episodes on which their contention
rests have been a good deal exaggerated.

Let us begin with the _École des femmes_, the first in chronological
order. Here, as in the _École des maris_, Molière turns to the ethics of
marriage for his materials. Arnolphe, a middle-aged bachelor, disgusted
by the lack of fidelity among the married women he sees around him,
comes to the conclusion that the only safeguard of a wife's honour is
extreme ignorance. No young woman should know anything beyond her
household and religious duties; her reading is to be confined to the
Bible and the Maxims of Marriage; her only objects in life are to be the
salvation of her soul and the comfort and happiness of her husband. In
order to put his theory to the test, he adopts a little girl called
Agnès, and has her carefully brought up in the most complete seclusion,
with the intention of making her his wife when she shall have reached a
suitable age. But, unfortunately for him--for he falls genuinely in love
with his ward--the damsel's very simplicity proves his undoing; she
bestows her affections upon a young gallant, Horace by name, and poor
Arnolphe is left lamenting the downfall of his hopes.

We have outlined this plot of the play, which is doubtless familiar to
many, as several writers have assumed that Molière has depicted himself
in the role of Arnolphe and Armande in that of Agnès; but beyond the
fact that both Molière and his hero themselves supervised the education
of their intended wives, there does not seem to be the slightest ground
for such a supposition. In the first place, Molière espoused the woman
of his choice; while Arnolphe sees his cherished scheme come to nothing,
through the appearance on the scene of the youthful Horace. In the
second, the brilliant and witty Armande bears as little resemblance to
the unsophisticated Agnès as does her liberal-minded husband to the
tyrannical guardian. And, lastly, to ask us to believe that only ten
months after his marriage, with the glamour of the honeymoon still upon
him, Molière could have intended an unsympathetic character like Agnès
to represent his wife, is to make too great a call upon our credulity.

In the _Impromptu de Versailles_ a good deal has been made of the little
quarrel between the author and his wife, which the former introduces at
the beginning of the play. The company is supposed to be rehearsing a
new comedy, commanded by the King at two hours' notice, and to be
causing its chief no little trouble.

_Mademoiselle Molière._--"Shall I tell you what it is? You ought to have
written a play which you could have acted all alone."

_Molière._--"Be silent, wife; you are a fool."

_Mademoiselle Molière._--"Thank you, my lord and husband; that just
shows what it is to be married, and how strangely wedlock alters people.
You would not have said that eighteen months ago."

_Molière._--"Pray be silent."

_Mademoiselle Molière._--"It is an odd thing that a trifling ceremony
should be capable of depriving us of all our good qualities, and that a
husband and a lover should regard the same person with such different
eyes."

_Molière._--"What loquacity!"

_Mademoiselle Molière._--"'Faith! if I were to write a play, it would be
upon that subject. I would justify women in many things of which they
are accused, and I would make husbands afraid of the contrast between
their abrupt manners and the courtesy of lovers."

Here, we are told by certain critics, the inference is unmistakable;
Molière clearly foresees the fate which awaits him. In our opinion, they
are wrong. In the _Impromptu de Versailles_ Molière and his wife do not,
as in an ordinary play, represent fictitious characters; they appear
under their own names. In these circumstances, it is surely
inconceivable that the dramatist should have introduced this dialogue,
if he had for one moment imagined it applicable to his own affairs! The
very fact that he was so ready to jest upon such a subject seems to us a
conclusive proof that up to that time, at least, Armande's conduct had
given him but scant cause for uneasiness.

The _Mariage forcé_ and _George Dandin_, the former produced early in
the year 1664, when the difference of age and of character between
Molière and his wife was no doubt beginning to produce its fatal
consequences, and the latter in the summer of 1667, after their
separation, of which we shall speak in due course, had actually taken
place, contain more direct allusions to their author's _ménage_.
Sganarelle, like Molière, had believed himself "_le plus content des
hommes_," only to be roughly disillusioned when the carefully brought up
Dorimène frankly avows her passion for "_toutes les choses de
plaisir_"--play, visiting, assemblies, entertainments, and so forth--at
the same time expressing a hope that he does not intend to be one of
those inconvenient husbands who desire their wives to live "_comme des
loup-garous_," since solitude drives her to despair, but that they may
dwell together as a pair "_qui savent leur monde_." Angélique, in her
turn, complains to George Dandin of the tyranny exercised by husbands
"who wish their wives to be dead to all amusements, and to live only for
them." She has no desire, she tells him, to die young, but "intends to
enjoy, under his good pleasure, some of the glad days that youth has to
offer her, to take advantage of the sweet liberties that the age permits
her, to see a little of the _beau monde_, and to taste the pleasure of
hearing her praises sung."

All this is certainly reminiscent of Armande, who, according to
Grimarest, was no sooner married than she "believed herself a duchess,"
affected a coquettish manner with the idle gallants who flocked to pay
court to her, and turned a deaf ear to the warnings of her husband,
whose lessons appeared to her "too severe for a young person who,
besides, had nothing wherewith to reproach herself." But the resemblance
in the situations goes no further. If Dorimène, in her craving for
"_toutes les chases de plaisir_" and Angélique, in her imperious temper
and cold irony, bear some relation to Armande, the foolish and cowardly
Sganarelle, who allows himself to be cudgelled by Dorimène's brother,
Lycidas, into a marriage which he knows must bring him unhappiness, has
nothing, save his age, in common with Molière; while the aspiring
farmer, George Dandin, marrying not for love, but for social position,
and deservedly punished for his snobbishness, is as far removed from his
creator as Tartuffe or Monsieur Jourdain.

When we come to the _Misanthrope_, the similarity between fiction and
reality is too striking to admit of any doubt as to the author's
intentions. It is true that a distinguished English critic[18] professes
to see in this play, as in _Don Garcie de Navarre_--Molière's one
failure, produced the year before his marriage, and withdrawn after a
run of five nights--the outcome of the actor-dramatist's "desire of
indulging his humour of seriousness and a determination to example his
elocutionary theories in verse that, without being actually tragic and
heroic, should have something in it of the tragic and heroic quality."
But, though the large number of verses from _Don Garcie_ which Molière
has incorporated with his role of Alceste would seem to lend some
confirmation to this theory, the fact remains that writers are
practically unanimous in regarding the _Misanthrope_ as, primarily, a
pathetic autobiography of its author under the cloak of fiction. "This
Célimène, so frivolous and so charming, so dangerous and so seductive,
this incorrigible coquette, who does not understand what a noble heart
she is wounding even unto death: is not this Armande Béjart,
embellished by all the love and all the genius of Molière? And Alceste;
who is he? At the first representations people believed that they
recognised the Duc de Montausier, and the Duc de Montausier remarked,
with good reason: 'I thank you; it is a great honour.' But we, for our
part, recognise Molière. This misanthrope is something more than an
honourable gentleman at odds with the world. He is a great genius
misunderstood, who endures and waits; he is a passionate sage, an honest
man with a great and excellent heart."[19]

In the _Misanthrope_, Molière has given to Célimène all the coquetry,
the egoism, and the caustic wit which belonged to Armande; to his own
rôle all the weakness of a high-minded man struggling vainly against his
passion for an unworthy object. "The love I bear for her," says
Alceste--

    "Ne ferme point mes yeux aux défauts qu'on lui trouve;
     Et je suis, quelque ardeur qu'elle m'ait pu donner,
     Le premier à les voirs, comme à les condamner.
     Mais, avec tout cela, quoi que je puis faire,
     Je confesse mon foible; elle a l'art de me plaire;
     J'ai beau voir ses défauts, et j'ai beau l'en blâmer,
     En dépit qu'on en ait, elle se fait aimer;
     Sa grâce est la plus forte, et, sans doute, ma flamme
     De ces vices du temps pourra purger son âme."

There are moments indeed in the play when it almost ceases to belong to
the realm of fiction. The scene, for instance, in the fourth act, when
Alceste, holding in his hand the proof of Célimène's perfidy, the letter
written by her to his rival, Oronte, calls upon her "to justify herself
at least of a crime that overwhelms him," and to do her best to appear
faithful, while he, on his side, will do his best to believe her such;
and Célimène tartly refuses--

    "Allez, vous êtes fou, dans vos transports jaloux,
     Et ne méritez pas l'amour qu'on a pour vous.

           *       *       *       *       *

     Allez, de tels soupçons méritent ma colère,
     Et vous ne valez pas que l'on vous considère:
     Je suis sotte, et veux mal à ma simplicité,
     De conserver, encor, pour vous, quelque bonté;
     Je devrois, autre part, attacher mon estime
     Et vous faire un sujet de plainte légitime,"

may well have had its parallel in their own lives. And few, again, can
doubt the sincerity with which the lover must have uttered the lines,--

                  "Je fais tout mon possible
    À rompre de ce cœur l'attachement terrible;
    Mais mes plus grands efforts n'ont rien fait jusqu'ici,
    Et c'est pour mes péchés que je vous aime ainsi."

"We might well say without exaggeration of this Célimène," remarks
August Wilhelm von Schlegel,[20] "that there is not a single good point
in her whole composition." This may be so; but, as M. Larroumet is
careful to point out, there is really nothing in the _Misanthrope_ which
gives us the right to assume that Armande was anything worse than an
incorrigible coquette. "Célimène is impeccable; she has neither heart
nor feeling."[21] Nor do the remainder of Molière's plays furnish any
fresh proof against Armande; they, on the contrary, strengthen the
impression that, while he suffered much from his wife's character, he
never believed her to have been guilty of anything which might affect
his honour.

This impression seems to have been that of the poet's contemporaries.
Molière had, as we know, many enemies--unscrupulous enemies, who did not
hesitate to launch against him the most hideous of accusations. We can
hardly doubt that had there been any reasonable ground for believing
Armande guilty of something more than coquetry, the Montfleurys, Le
Boulanger de Chalussay and the rest, would have been only too ready to
avail themselves of such an opportunity of humiliating the man whom they
so bitterly hated. Yet though, like all the rest of the world, they were
aware of Molière's jealous nature, and made this weakness the object of
their unsparing ridicule, none of them went so far as to accuse him of
being that which he appears to have been in incessant dread of becoming.
At most, their works contain only vague hints and insinuations, to which
little or no attention seems to have been paid; and it is probable that
Armande's name would have gone down to posterity without any very
serious stain upon it, had she not chanced to be made the victim of one
of the most audacious and malignant libels ever penned.

Among the swarm of scurrilous brochures, fictitious histories, and
stupid romances in the French language which issued from the foreign
press during the decade which followed the Protestant emigration of
1685, was a little book, or rather pamphlet, written for the delectation
of those persons who are always ready to welcome anything calculated to
gratify their curiosity about the private affairs of stage celebrities.
This book, published anonymously at Frankfort, in 1688, by one
Rottenberg, a bookseller who made a speciality of such sensational
works,[22] bore the title of _La Fameuse Comédienne, ou Histoire de la
Guérin_, Guérin being the name of Armande Béjart's second husband, whom
she married in 1677. Although the demand for it was considerable, and
five editions were printed within ten years of the date of its
publication, the charges against Armande which it contained do not
appear to have been taken very seriously, except among the class of
readers for whom it was written, until, in 1697, it occurred to Bayle,
who had a weakness for piquant anecdotes about notable persons, to
include certain passages in his famous Dictionary, since which few of
the biographers of Molière have failed to borrow more or less freely
from its pages, with most unfortunate results to the reputation of the
dramatist's wife.

The authorship of the _Fameuse Comédienne_ remains a mystery to this
day, though contemporary gossip, or historians in search of some new
sensation, have attributed it successively to a number of persons: La
Fontaine, Racine, Chapelle, Blot, the _chansonnier_ of the Fronde,
Rosimont, an actor of the Rue Guénégaud, Mlle. Guyot, a member of the
same company, and Mlle. Boudin, a provincial actress, who would appear
to have been at one time on terms of intimacy with Armande. With regard
to the first five of these suppositions, we will merely remark that
neither La Fontaine, Racine, nor Chapelle were capable of committing
such an infamy; that Blot had been in his grave more than thirty years
at the time of the publication of the libel ascribed to him, and that
the chief argument advanced by M. Charles Livet, the editor of the
latest edition of the _Fameuse Comédienne_, in favour of Rosimont,
namely, a resemblance between the style of the book and a theological
work entitled _La Vie des Saints_, which he published in 1680, seems to
us too fanciful to merit any serious consideration. In the cases of
Mesdemoiselles Guyot and Boudin, there is again a total absence of
anything like adequate proof; nevertheless, though they are both in all
probability guiltless, strong grounds exist for believing the book to be
the work of one of Armande's professional rivals, as the intimate
acquaintance with theatrical life which it reveals precludes all doubt
as to the vocation of the writer; while the preponderating place it
allots to women, the manner in which it speaks of men, the jealous
hatred which inspires it, the _finesse_ of some of its remarks, its
style and method, all denote a feminine hand.[23]

Atrocious libel though the _Fameuse Comédienne_ undoubtedly is, it is
very far from destitute of that literary merit in which even the works
of the most obscure writers of the great epoch of French prose are
seldom lacking, and, moreover, contains not a little interesting and
authentic information about the public career of Molière and his wife.
But that is all that can be said in its favour. "Possessed," remarks M.
Larroumet, "by a ferocious hatred against Armande, hatred of the woman
and the actress, the writer has only one object--to render her odious.
What she knows of the actions of her enemy she perverts or, at any rate,
exaggerates; what she does not know she invents. He who wishes to injure
a man attributes to him acts of indecency or cowardice; he who wishes to
injure a woman gives her lovers; these are the surest means. Thus our
author makes of Armande a Messalina, and a Messalina of the baser sort,
one who sells her favours."

Unfortunately for the object which the libeller has in view, she does
not content herself with general charges; she makes formal accusations,
which she endeavours to substantiate, and the book abounds in letters,
conversations, details about matters which could not possibly have been
known, save to the parties immediately concerned, with the result that
her attack fails miserably, and the judicious reader very speedily
perceives that the work is nothing but a collection of scandalous
anecdotes, which, when not controverted by positive facts, sin
grievously against probability.

However, as all readers are not judicious, and as the book has imposed
on several historians of deservedly high reputation,[24] it may be as
well for us, in the interests of truth, to follow the example of M.
Bazin and M. Larroumet, and devote some little space to an examination
of the charges which have brought so much unmerited odium upon the
memory of Armande Béjart.

The first lover attributed to Armande is the Abbé de Richelieu,
great-nephew of the famous cardinal, a gentleman of a very gallant
disposition, with a marked predilection for actresses: "There was no one
at the Court who did not endeavour to gain her favours. The Abbé de
Richelieu was one of the first who determined to make her his mistress.
As he was very liberal, while the young lady was very fond of
expenditure, the matter was soon concluded. It was agreed that he should
give her four pistoles (about forty francs) a day, without counting
clothes and entertainments. The abbé did not fail to send her every
morning, by a page, the pledge of their treaty, and to go and visit her
every afternoon."

Now, as M. Larroumet points out, if this story is to be accepted, we
must either believe Molière to have been ignorant of the comings and
goings of the page and the abbé, or that he was aware of and tolerated
them: two suppositions equally inadmissible. Moreover, if we consult the
dates, the improbability becomes an impossibility. Armande was married
on February 20, 1662, and on January 19, 1664, she bore Molière a son.
The intrigue must then have taken place between these two periods--which
is to make her infidelity begin at a very early date--since M. Bazin
tells us that the Abbé de Richelieu left France in March 1664 with the
expedition organised to defend Hungary against the Turks, and died at
Venice on January 9, 1665. That, however, does not prevent the _Fameuse
Comédienne_ from making his _liaison_ with Mlle. Molière last until the
production of the _Princesse d' Élide_; a play which was not performed
until May 8, 1664, some weeks after his departure.

On to the supposed intrigue between Armande and the abbé, the anonymous
author next proceeds to graft a new and double adventure: "This affair
lasted for some months without trouble; but Molière having written the
_Princesse d' Élide_, in which the Molière played the princess, which
was the first important rôle she had filled, because Mademoiselle du
Parc played them all and was the heroine of the theatre, she created
such a sensation that Molière had cause to repent of having exhibited
her in the midst of the brilliant young men of the Court. For scarcely
had she arrived at Chambord, where the King gave this entertainment,
than she became infatuated with the Comte de Guiche,[25] while the Comte
de Lauzun[26] became infatuated with her. The latter spared no effort to
obtain her good graces, but the Molière, who had quite lost her head
over her hero, would listen to no proposition, and contented herself
with visiting Du Parc and weeping over the indifference of the Comte de
Guiche. The Comte de Lauzun, however, did not abandon hope, experience
having taught him that nothing could resist him. He knew, moreover, that
the Comte de Guiche was one who set but little store by woman's love,
for which reason he doubted not that his indifference would end by
repulsing the Molière, and that his own star would then produce in her
heart what it had produced in those of all the women whom he had sought
to please. He was not deceived, for the Molière, irritated by the
coldness of the Comte de Guiche, threw herself into the arms of the
Comte de Lauzun, as if desirous of seeking protection against further
suffering at the hands of a man who failed to appreciate her."

Here again we have an impossibility and an improbability. In May 1664
the Comte de Guiche was at Warsaw, having been exiled the previous year,
on account of his complicity in the "Spanish letter" plot against Mlle.
de la Vallière, and, therefore, could not have been making love--or
being made love to--at Versailles. As for Lauzun, no mention of him is
to be found among the persons who assisted at the fêtes where the
_Princesse d'Élide_ was performed, while even if he were present, it is
very unlikely that he had any attention to spare for Mlle. Molière, as
he was at this time desperately in love with the Princesse de Monaco,
who afterwards jilted him for the King himself. The fact is that the
malicious chronicler, having decided to give her victim some _grands
seigneurs_ as lovers, not unnaturally selected those most celebrated for
their gallantry, in the belief that, among their numerous mistresses,
one more would pass without difficulty; but she had little acquaintance
with the Court, and her ignorance has betrayed her.

Although the Abbé de Richelieu had, as we have mentioned, departed for
Hungary, the _Fameuse Comédienne_ retains him on the stage and makes him
play a particularly odious rôle. He intercepts a very tender letter
written by Armande to the Comte de Guiche, and, furious at the lady's
duplicity, "does not amuse himself by uttering reproaches, which never
serve any good purpose; but, congratulating himself on having engaged
her only by the day, resolves to break with her from that moment, which
he does, after calling Molière's attention to the fact that the great
care he took to please the public left him no time for examining the
conduct of his own wife, and that while he worked to divert every one,
every one worked to divert her."

A bitter matrimonial quarrel naturally follows this confidence. Armande
sheds floods of tears, confesses her _tendresse_ for Guiche, but
protests that she is guilty in intention only, carefully refrains from
saying a word about Lauzun, entreats her deluded husband's pardon, which
she obtains with very little difficulty, and profits by his credulity to
continue her intrigues "with more _éclat_ than ever." Wearying of
sentimental or quasi-sentimental attachments, she resolves to profit by
her charms, at the same time making a great pretence of chastity and
"causing to sigh for her an infinity of fools who imagine her to be of
unexampled virtue." However, in due course, Molière is advised of her
proceedings, and another painful scene takes place between husband and
wife. Molière falls into a violent passion and threatens to have her
shut up in a convent. Armande weeps, swoons away, and appears to be on
the point of expiring; but eventually revives and, instead of entreating
pardon, as on the previous occasion, takes a high tone, accuses her
husband of keeping up his intimacy with Mlle. de Brie, who, by a
singular arrangement, still continued to reside under the same roof as
her former lover,[27] and also with Madeleine Béjart, declares that she
"no longer has the courage to live with him, that she would rather die,
and that everything between them must come to an end." In vain her
family, that of Molière, and their common friends endeavour to appease
her. "She conceives henceforth a terrible aversion for her husband, she
treats him with the utmost contempt; finally, she carries matters to
such an extremity that Molière, beginning to perceive her evil
propensities, consents to the rupture which, since their quarrel, she
has never ceased to demand; and, accordingly, without any decree of the
Parliament, they agree that they will no longer live together."

Here, at last, the author of the _Fameuse Comédienne_ is on sure ground;
for we know, on unimpeachable authority, that an "amicable" separation
did actually take place between Molière and his wife. Its precise date
is a matter of some uncertainty, but it must have been subsequent to the
month of April 1665, when Armande presented her husband with a second
child, a daughter, to whom Madeleine Béjart and the Comte de Modène
stood sponsors. "If," says M. Larroumet, "we admit that the
_Misanthrope_ reflects something of the poet's state of mind and of his
feelings towards his wife, the separation perhaps belongs to the moment
when this play was produced, in June 1666, or later, about the month of
August, after the _Médecin malgré lui_." M. Larroumet sees in the
circumstance that the leading feminine parts in the three plays which
followed the _Médecin malgré lui_: _Mélicerte_, _Le Sicilien_, and
_Amphitryon_, were allotted to Mlle. de Brie, and not to Armande--a
distribution which must have been peculiarly galling to the latter, who
had so long filled the most important or the most flattering rôles--a
natural effect of her husband's resentment.

From the moment of their rupture until their reconciliation, some five
years later, husband and wife met no more, except at the theatre.
Armande remained in Paris, with her mother and sister; while Molière
passed most of his rare leisure at a little country-house which he
rented at Auteuil, then, as now, one of the most beautiful suburbs of
Paris. One day, according to the _Fameuse Comédienne_, he was sitting in
his garden, musing sadly upon his lost happiness, when his friend
Chapelle broke in upon his solitude, and, finding him in a more than
usually despondent mood, began to reproach him with betraying a weakness
which he had so often turned to ridicule upon the stage.

"For my part," said he, "if I were unfortunate enough to find myself in
like case to you, and that the person I loved granted favours to others,
I should feel such a contempt for her as would infallibly cure me of my
passion. Moreover, there is a satisfaction open to you, which would be
denied you if she were only your mistress; and that vengeance which
commonly takes the place of love in an outraged heart can compensate you
for all the mortifications your wife occasions you, since you can at
once have her shut up in a convent. This would, indeed, be a sure means
of placing your mind at rest."

Molière, who had listened quietly to his friend, here interrupted him to
inquire whether he himself had never loved.

"Yes," replied Chapelle, "I have been in love as a man of sense ought to
be, but I should never have found any difficulty in following what
honour prescribed; and I blush to find you in such a state of indecision
in regard to this matter."

"I see well," rejoined Molière, "that you have never truly loved. You
take the semblance of love for love itself. I might give you many
examples which would demonstrate to you the strength of this passion;
but I will merely give you a faithful account of my own trouble, that
you may understand how little we are masters of ourselves when once it
has acquired dominion over us. As for the consummate knowledge of the
human heart which you say the portraits I am constantly offering to the
public prove me to possess, I will acknowledge that I have endeavoured
to understand its weakness. But, if my science has taught me that danger
should be avoided, my experience convinces me but too thoroughly that to
escape it is impossible. I judge daily by my own case.

"I am by nature of an excessively tender disposition, and all my efforts
have never enabled me to overcome my inclinations towards love. I sought
to render myself happy, that is to say, so far as might be with a
sensitive heart. I was convinced that few women are deserving of sincere
affection; that interest, ambition, and vanity are at the root of all
their intrigues. I thought, however, to secure my happiness by the
innocence of my choice. I took my wife, so to speak, from the cradle. I
educated her with the care which has given rise to the rumours which
have doubtless reached your ears. I had persuaded myself that I could
inspire her by habit with sentiments that time alone could destroy, and
I neglected nothing whereby this end could be attained. As she was still
young when I married her, I was unaware of her evil propensities, and
deemed myself a little less unfortunate than the majority of those who
contract such engagements. Thus marriage did not lessen my affection;
but she treated me with such indifference that I began to perceive that
all my precautions had been unavailing, and that her feelings towards me
were very far removed from what I desired for my happiness. I reproached
myself with a sensitiveness which seemed ridiculous in a husband,
ascribing to her disposition that which was really due to her want of
affection for me. But I had but too many opportunities of perceiving my
error; and the mad passion which she contracted soon afterwards for the
Comte de Guiche occasioned too much commotion to leave me even this
appearance of tranquillity. I spared no endeavour, so soon as I knew the
truth, to conquer myself, finding it impossible to change her. I
employed all the strength of mind that I could command. I summoned to my
aid everything that could help to console me. I considered her as a
person whose sole merit had lain in her innocence, and whose
unfaithfulness robbed her of all her charms. I resolved henceforth to
live with her as an honourable man whose wife is a coquette, and who is
well persuaded that, whatever may be said, his reputation is not
affected by the misconduct of his spouse. But I had the mortification to
discover that a woman without great beauty, who owed what little
intelligence she possessed to the education which I had given her,
could, in an instant, destroy all my philosophy. Her presence made me
forget all my resolutions; the first words she said in her defence left
me so convinced that my suspicions were ill-founded that I asked pardon
of her for having been so credulous.

"However, my kindness effected no change in her, and, in the end, I
determined to live with her as if she were not my wife; but if you knew
what I suffer you would pity me. My passion has reached such a point as
to cause me to sympathise with her; and when I reflect upon the
impossibility of suppressing what I feel for her, I tell myself, at the
same time, that she has perhaps a similar difficulty in overcoming her
inclination towards coquetry, and I find myself more disposed to pity
than to blame her.

"No doubt you will tell me that one must be a poet to love in this
manner, but, for my part, I hold that there is only one kind of love,
and that those who have not felt such tenderness have never truly loved.
Everything in this world is associated in my mind with her. So entirely
are my thoughts occupied by her that in her absence nothing can give me
pleasure. When I behold her, an emotion, transports which may be felt
but not expressed, deprive me of all power of reflection. I have no
longer eyes for her faults, but see only her lovable qualities. Is not
this the last extremity of folly? And do you not marvel that all my
reason serves only to convince me of my weakness without giving me the
strength to master it?"

Quite a number of writers, including several who are inclined to place
but little confidence in the rest of the _Fameuse Comédienne_,
pronounce unhesitatingly for the genuineness of the above conversation.
M. Edouard Fournier thinks that a letter from Molière to Chapelle has
been worked into the text,[28] while Mr. Gegg Markheim, in his very
interesting preface to the Clarendon Press edition of the _Misanthrope_,
is of opinion that a conversation between the two poets was repeated by
Chapelle, "either thoughtlessly or to clear his friend from certain
slanders," and reached the ears of the author. Mr. Markheim adduces two
circumstances as proofs of the genuineness of the Auteuil confession:
first, that the substance of it is confirmed by a similar conversation
between Molière and his friends, the physician Rohault, and Mignard, the
celebrated painter, cited by Grimarest, in his biography of the
dramatist; secondly, the very remarkable resemblance, not only in
thought but in language, between certain passages in the _Fameuse
Comédienne_ and the _Misanthrope_, in which play Molière is generally
believed to have, in some measure, taken his audience into his
confidence in regard to his domestic affairs. Thus--to cite only one
instance of several which Mr. Markheim gives--in the book Molière says:
"_Je n'ai plus d'yeux pour ses défauts, il m'en reste seulement pour ce
qu'elle a d'aimable_;" while in the play Alceste makes the same
confession in almost the same words:--

    "J'ai beau voir ses défauts, et j'ai beau l'en blâmer,
     En dépit qu'on en ait, elle se fait aimer."

Mr. Markheim's first argument may, we think, be dismissed, as the
conversation in Grimarest would appear to be nothing more than a not too
skilful imitation of that in the _Fameuse Comédienne_; but the second
is deserving of more attention. The similarity between the several
passages Mr. Markheim cites is certainly too striking to be explained
away on the ground of mere coincidence; yet, so far from proving his
contention, it makes, in our opinion, for a diametrically opposite
conclusion. Let us listen to what M. Larroumet, the best-informed and
most impartial of all the recent biographers of Molière, has to say upon
the matter: "If we admit that the _Fameuse Comédienne_, in spite of its
detestable inspiration, is not the work of a beginner, but of an actress
endowed with the talent of a natural style, the simplest course would be
to admit further that this fragment is as much her work as the rest of
the book. Trained to the practice of the theatre, she combines certain
portions of her story with as many little plays. Here she will have
perceived the scene to construct and the pathetic tirade to write. Is
not the situation one to inspire and stimulate? Sustained then by her
recollections of the _Misanthrope_, her imagination stirred by the
passionate complaints of Alceste, her hatred of Armande coming to her
assistance, she has been successful in the scene and the tirade."[29]

In a word, the whole Auteuil episode is pure fiction; yet fiction of
such a kind--"one of the choicest morsels of French prose in its most
glorious epoch"--as may well arouse a regret that the writer did not
turn her undoubted talents to some worthier purpose than the composition
of scandalous libels.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the isolation in which he now found himself, Molière, who was one of
those who cannot live without woman's affection, turned for comfort to
Mlle. de Brie, his former providence, who, it may be mentioned, had in
the _Misanthrope_ played the part of Éliante, the lady who endeavours to
console Alceste for the caprices of Célimène. Her intervention, however,
was of a less irreproachable kind than Éliante's, and she appears to
have passed a considerable portion of her time at Auteuil. The poet's
friends remonstrated, pointing out that, by renewing his intimacy with
Mlle. de Brie, he was giving his wife but too much excuse for her own
conduct, and endeavoured to persuade him to break with her. "Is it for
virtue, beauty, or intelligence that you love this woman?" one of them
is said to have asked him. "You know that Florimont and Le Barre are her
lovers, that she is not beautiful, that she is a perfect skeleton, and
that she has no common sense." "I know all that," replied Molière; "but
I am accustomed to her faults; for me to accommodate myself to the
imperfections of another would be a task beyond my powers; I have
neither the time nor the patience."

But Molière adored his wife: about this all his contemporaries are
agreed. Bold and courageous in his works, ever ready to castigate vice
and ridicule folly, without troubling himself about the possibility of
reprisals, he showed himself in regard to her feeble and irresolute to
the last degree. His relations with Mlle. de Brie and other women were
after all but passing caprices; his passion for Armande was the one
serious love of his life; a love which survived indifference,
ingratitude, it may be even infidelity, and to which he always returned,
in spite of vows and good resolutions.

Under these circumstances, a reconciliation could be only a matter of
time, and, thanks to the good offices of their common friends, Chapelle
and the Marquis de Jonzac, it took place towards the end of the year
1671. The author of the _Fameuse Comédienne_ is discreetly silent about
this, fearing that it might weaken her indictment; and, between whiles,
places a new intrigue of Armande; this time with a member of her
husband's troupe.

Some years before, Molière had rescued a little boy named Michel Baron
from the hands of some strolling players, and, perceiving in him the
makings of an excellent actor, had attached him to himself and trained
him for the stage. His confidence was justified, for Baron became in
later years the greatest actor of his time and also a successful
dramatist. Armande, however, was far from sharing Molière's liking for
the boy; she detested him for his precocity and impertinent airs, and
still more for the influence which she suspected him of exercising over
her husband; and one day, during a rehearsal of _Mélicerte_, in which
Baron had been cast for the title-part, carried her resentment to the
point of dealing him a sound box on the ear. In high dudgeon, Baron
forthwith took himself off and joined a strolling company; nor was it
until four years later that, at the urgent entreaty of Molière, he
consented to return. He was then a tall lad of seventeen, exceedingly
handsome, full of assurance, and "already in great request among the
ladies of the theatre and also among certain ladies of the fashionable
world." It did not appear at first, says the author of the _Fameuse
Comédienne_, that time had greatly modified the hostility with which
Mlle. Molière and he regarded one another. But when they appeared
together in _Psyché_, at the carnival of 1671, Armande in the
title-part, Baron as Love, there came a change. "The common praises that
they received compelled them to examine one another more attentively,
and even with some degree of pleasure. He was the first to break the
silence by complimenting her on the good fortune that had befallen him
in being chosen to represent her lover, and observing that he owed the
approbation of the public to this happy chance, and that it was not
difficult to play the part of a person whose feelings one could so well
understand. The Molière replied that the praises bestowed on a man like
himself were the reward of merit, and that she had no share in them; but
that gallantry on the part of one who was said to have so many
mistresses did not surprise her, and that he must be as accomplished an
actor outside the theatre as he was on the stage.

"Baron, to whom these kind of reproaches were not displeasing, told her
that he had indeed some habits that one might call _bonnes fortunes_,
but that he was prepared to sacrifice all for her, and that he would set
more value on the smallest of her favours than on any which the ladies
who had smiled upon him were able to bestow. And he mentioned their
names, with a discretion which was natural to him."

Armande is, of course, enchanted by this proof of devotion, and, to cut
a long story short, they resolve to continue their respective rôles off
the stage.

We have related this supposed intrigue at far greater length than it
deserves, since it furnishes a fair sample of the materials upon which
M. Loiseleur and other historians have based their judgments of Armande.
But, in point of fact, it is no more worthy of belief than the stories
about Lauzun, Guiche, and the Abbé de Richelieu. Although the
insufferable coxcomb whom La Bruyère has depicted under the name of
Roscius, and who is said to have depicted himself in his comedy,
_L'Homme à bonnes fortunes_, was not the kind of person to be deterred
by any honourable scruples from making love to the wife of his
benefactor, had he been so minded, we can hardly suppose that an
intrigue between Armande and a member of his own troupe could have been
carried on without Molière becoming aware of it, or that, when aware of
it, he would have permitted Baron to retain his place in the company.
Moreover, apart from the statement in the _Fameuse Comédienne_, there is
no reason to believe that the old antipathy between Armande and Baron
ever ceased to exist, far less that they became lovers. What is certain,
is that no sooner was Molière dead than Baron quitted the Palais-Royal
and went over to the Hôtel de Bourgogne, at a moment when Armande,
become chief of the troupe, was urgently in need of his services. This,
it must be admitted, was hardly the conduct of a friend, to say nothing
of a lover.

By the side of these intrigues, apocryphal or doubtful, it is pleasant
to be able to record a friendship of an altogether unexceptional nature.
The great Corneille, in spite of his affection for his wife, Marie de
Lemperière, whose hand Cardinal de Richelieu is said to have obtained
for him, after her father had sent the poet about his business, was of a
very gallant disposition and in the habit of offering incense at the
shrine of any goddess of the theatre who was inclined to accept his
devotion. At Rouen, in 1758, he had, like Molière at an earlier date,
fallen desperately in love with Mlle. du Parc, but had fared no better
at the hands of that haughty beauty than the chief of the Illustre
Théâtre. This rebuff, which drew from the chagrined poet the well-known
_Stances à une marquise_, seems to have brought home to Corneille the
fact that he was no longer young, and to have somewhat damped his
amorous ardour. At any rate, when Armande appeared upon the scene, he
contented himself with offering her a platonic admiration, charmingly
expressed in the third act of _Psyché_.

_Psyché._--"Can one be jealous of the affection of relatives?"

_Amour._--"I am so, my Psyché; I am so of all nature. The sun's rays
kiss you too often; your tresses suffer too many caresses from the wind.
The moment it toys with them, I murmur at it. The very air you breathe
with too much pleasure passes between your lips. And, so soon as you
sigh, I know not what affrights me, and makes me fear, among your sighs,
some errant ones."

Not content with this tribute to the lady's charms, the old poet
conceived the idea of writing for Armande a play in which she might
impersonate the heroine, and he might portray himself in the character
of a chivalrous old man in love with her. He, accordingly, composed his
_Pulchérie_, which, as Molière, for some reason, could not see his way
to accept it for the Palais-Royal, was produced at the Marais on
November 2, 1672. It was a poor play, the dramatist having failed to
endow either the plot with interest, or the characters, apart from the
amorous old senator Martian, with any special individuality; and even
Corneille's devoted admirer, Madame de Sévigné, was compelled to admit
that "_Pulchérie_ was not a success." Nevertheless the terms in which
Martian speaks of the heroine were so very flattering that Armande must
have regretted that circumstances had prevented her undertaking the
latter part.

The reconciliation between Molière and Armande was in all likelihood
facilitated by a serious illness with which the latter was seized in the
early autumn of 1671, during the run of _Psyché_. Under such
circumstances the most legitimate grievances are apt to be forgotten,
and it must have needed but very little persuasion on the part of their
common friends to induce Molière, with all his love for his wife revived
at the sight of her suffering, to hasten her convalescence by an
assurance of his full forgiveness. In the following February, Madeleine
Béjart died, leaving the bulk of her property to Armande, and, towards
the middle of that year, Molière removed from the Place du Palais-Royal,
where he had lived for so long with the Béjarts and Mlle. de Brie, to a
large house in the Rue de Richelieu, near the Académie des Peintres,
which he furnished very sumptuously. Here, on September 15, Armande gave
birth to her third child--a son--baptized as Pierre Jean Baptiste Armand
on October 1, Boileau-Puimorin, brother of Boileau-Despréaux, and Mlle.
Mignard, daughter of the celebrated painter, acting as sponsors. The
little boy, however, only survived this ceremony a few days, thus
preceding his illustrious father to the grave by rather less than four
months.

The reconciliation with his wife, indeed, in itself so happy, was
destined to prove fatal to Molière, and was undoubtedly one of the
causes of his premature death. For some years, the poet had suffered
from a chest affection, very possibly due to frequent exposure during
his provincial tours. In the winter of 1665-1666, we learn from Robinet
that he had had an illness which all but terminated fatally, and in the
spring of 1667 he was again "_tout proche d'entrer dans la bière_," was
absent from the theatre for two months, and was compelled to restrict
himself to a milk diet, and speak as little as possible when not on the
stage. The retired life he had led during his breach with Armande had,
of course, favoured the adoption of this regimen, and under it his
health had so much improved that, believing himself cured, and unwilling
to impose on his wife the cheerless society of a valetudinarian, he
abandoned his abstemious habits, entertained largely, and, in short,
resumed his former mode of life. The result was a rapid aggravation of
his complaint; his nights were sleepless, he was racked by a terrible
cough, and, at the beginning of the year 1673, it became evident that
his days were numbered. In this condition, by the irony of Fate, it fell
to him to represent the folly of a man in perfect health who, imagining
himself the victim of all manner of fell diseases, is ready to submit to
any and every remedy that may be suggested to him,--that is to say, the
exact counterpart of his own state. On February 10, the _Malade
imaginaire_, a happy conception in the composition of which the author
had doubtless contrived to find some relief from his sufferings, both of
body and mind--for there is some reason to believe that his relations
with his wife were again becoming strained--was produced at the
Palais-Royal, and played for three nights to crowded houses. On the
morning of the fourth performance, February 17,[30] Molière was so weak
that Armande and Baron united in urging him not to play, but their
efforts were unavailing. "How," he asked, "can I refuse to appear when
so many persons' bread depends upon it? I should reproach myself for the
distress I might cause them, as I have sufficient strength to prevent
it." This speech is often quoted as a proof of Molière's consideration
for others, but though the great writer's unselfishness and generosity
are happily beyond dispute, it would appear more probable that his plea
was merely an excuse for disregarding the advice of his wife and friend,
as he was sufficiently well off to have been able to compensate those
who would have suffered by the temporary closing of the theatre without
any very serious inconvenience.[31] No; Molière knew that his end was
near, and, like the brave man he was, he preferred to die in harness,
rather than, by taking to his bed, prolong his sufferings a few days
longer.

Accordingly, when the play began at four o'clock, he again appeared in
the high-backed arm-chair of the imaginary invalid, and acted the part
with as much whimsical humour as on the three previous occasions, though
it was obvious to those on the stage that every speech and movement cost
him a terrible effort; and in the burlesque ceremony where Argan takes
the oath as a new doctor, swearing to adhere to the remedies prescribed
by antiquity and to ignore modern discovery, he was seized with a
convulsion, which he endeavoured vainly to disguise by forcing a laugh.
When the curtain fell, he made his way to Baron's dressing-room and
complained that he was "perishing of cold." A chair was obtained, and
the dying man conveyed to his home, where he was put to bed. Feeling
that his last hour was at hand, he asked for the consolations of
religion, and Armande and Baron hurried off to Saint-Eustache, where,
however, the two priests in attendance, learning who it was who required
their help, declined to leave the church. The next priest applied to had
a better sense of his duty, and consented to administer the Sacraments.
But, in the meanwhile, much precious time had been wasted, and when he
reached the house, Molière had no further need of his services. He had
died at ten o'clock, in the arms of two Sisters of Charity, to whom he
had long given shelter during their Lenten visits to Paris, and who had
but that day arrived in the capital.

Notwithstanding the assistance of these two nuns, and the fact that a
priest had been summoned to his death-bed, Molière was none the less
regarded as having died without the consolations of religion, and M.
Merlin, the curé of Saint-Eustache, refused ecclesiastical burial to his
remains.

Armande at once addressed a petition to the Archbishop of Paris, Harlay
de Chanvalon, explaining the circumstances of the case, and laying
stress upon the fact of her husband having communicated at the previous
Easter. It has been stated that the archbishop's reply was an absolute
refusal. This is incorrect; he confined himself to referring the
petition to an official whose duty it was to inquire into such matters.

However, Armande, dreading an unfavourable answer, determined to seek
the intervention of the King, and, accompanied by the curé of Auteuil, a
liberal-minded ecclesiastic and a personal friend of Molière, she set
off for Saint-Germain, where the Court then was. Even her enemies are
compelled to admit that, in these trying circumstances, she showed both
dignity and courage. "If," she exclaimed, when the King demurred to
granting her request, "if my husband was a criminal, his crimes were
authorised by your Majesty in person." This was certainly true, though
to remind his Majesty of the fact was hardly calculated to further her
cause, nor did the curé of Auteuil improve matters by embarking on a
theological argument, apparently with the view of anticipating an attack
upon his orthodoxy by his more bigoted brethren. Nevertheless, Louis
XIV., though obviously much annoyed at such outspokenness, behaved with
that tact which is one of his best claims to our respect. He dismissed
the widow and the curé, telling them that the matter was one which
concerned the archbishop and not himself; but, at the same time, he
wrote to the prelate, bidding him "take steps to avoid _éclat_ and
scandal."

The archbishop, as became a good courtier, bowed to the royal commands,
but, in order to save appearances, compromised the matter. He permitted
"the curé of Saint-Eustache to give ecclesiastical burial to the body of
the deceased in the cemetery of the parish, on condition, nevertheless,
that it should take place without any ostentation, with two priests
only, and after dusk had fallen; that there should be no solemn service
on his behalf, either in the said parish of Saint-Eustache or even in
any church of the regular clergy, and that our present permission shall
be without prejudice to the rules of the ritual of our Church, which we
desire shall be observed according to their form and tenor."[32]

       *       *       *       *       *

Much has been written on the refusal of the curé of Saint-Eustache to
accord Molière Christian burial, and on the conditions imposed by the
Archbishop of Paris after the official intervention of the king; and the
bigotry and inhumanity of both priest and prelate have been denounced in
scathing terms. But the majority of those who have treated of the
incident were better acquainted with the theatre than the Sorbonne, for,
though the souvenirs of _Tartuffe_ and _Don Juan_ no doubt counted for
much in the matter, Harlay de Chanvalon and his subordinate were, after
all, only putting into force a rule of the Church which had existed for
centuries, though in recent times it had, happily, been more honoured in
the breach than the observance. As, however, the question is of great
interest, and one, also, to which we shall have occasion to return more
than once in the course of the present volume, it may be as well for us
to give here a brief sketch of the doctrine of the Church in regard to
the actor.

The hostility of the Christian Church to the theatre may be traced back
to very early times. The Fathers of the Church--Tertullian,
Saint-Cyprian, Saint-Chrysostome, and others--had been unsparing in
their condemnation of the actor,[33] whilst Saint-Salvien, a priest of
the fourth century, went so far as to declare that "comedy was worse
than blasphemy, theft, homicide, and all other crimes, and that the
spectator was the accomplice of the performer." Nor was this hostility
by any means confined to treatises and sermons. The Council of Elvira,
in 305, enacted that no actor was to be received into the Church unless
he had solemnly engaged to renounce his profession; if he failed to keep
his promise, he was to be immediately excommunicated. At the Council of
Arles, held five years later, all circus-performers and actors were
excluded from the Sacraments, so long as they exercised their
profession; and the third Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) denied them
baptism or absolution. Henceforth, the Church regarded actors as beyond
her pale, and, imitating the severity of the Roman Law, placed them on
the same footing as prostitutes. She refused them baptism; she refused
them absolution; she refused to marry them; she refused to accept them
as sponsors at the baptism of the children of their relatives and
friends; she refused them the Holy Communion, in public or in private,
in life or on their death-beds; finally, she refused them even Christian
burial.

Extravagantly severe as all these canons may, at first sight, appear,
they were none the less perfectly logical. It was indeed only natural
that the early Church should insist that actors who desired to
participate in her Sacraments should forthwith abjure their profession,
when we pause to consider the exceedingly licentious character of the
Roman theatre and the powerful influence it exercised in perpetuating
the memory of Paganism. It is to be remarked, however, that the censures
pronounced against the actor emanated not from any Pope or ecumenical
council, but from provincial synods, and when, in process of time,
Paganism disappeared and practically the whole of civilised Europe
became Christian, they naturally ceased to be enforced--though they were
never formally abrogated--in every country, save one. The exception was
France, where the old anathemas remained in force, as a natural
consequence of the independent attitude adopted by the French clergy
towards the Holy See.

In order to protect themselves against the encroachments of the Popes,
and to resist the changes which they were incessantly striving to
introduce into the discipline of the Church, the French bishops laid the
foundations of Gallicanism, by declaring immutable all the canons
promulgated by the early councils up to the eighth century which had
passed into the customs of the Church of France. The adoption of these
canons was a very serious matter for the theatrical profession in
France, for among them was that of the Council of Arles, already
mentioned, which expressly excluded the actor from the Sacraments, so
long as he followed his calling. However, it was clearly understood that
the penalties pronounced should not be applied to the regular actor, but
only to mountebanks and other persons whose performances might serve to
recall those of Paganism; and indeed down to the time of the
Reformation, when the Catholic clergy, unwilling to show less austerity
than those of the Reformed faith, began to proscribe severely all kinds
of amusements, even these seem to have been treated with great
indulgence.[34]

In 1624, the bigoted Jean de Gondy, Archbishop of Paris, declared in a
pastoral letter that actors ought to be deprived of the Sacraments and
ecclesiastical burial, and stigmatized their profession as "infamous
and one unworthy of a Christian." Nevertheless, until the latter part of
the seventeenth century, thanks in a great measure, no doubt, to the
patronage bestowed on the stage by Richelieu and Mazarin, in practice
the greatest tolerance prevailed, and the clergy accorded to the actor
the same treatment as to all other good Catholics. Thus, on January 6,
1654, we find Molière appearing as godfather at a church at Montpellier,
and, in 1670 and again in 1672, discharging the same duty at churches in
Paris, while his marriage, in February 1662, at Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois,
was celebrated without the least difficulty being raised.

Strange as it may appear, it was the protection accorded the theatre,
and the extreme indulgence shown to all connected with it, by a great
party in the Church itself that was directly responsible for the
termination of this happy state of affairs and the violent reaction, of
which the conduct of Harlay de Chanvalon and the curé of Saint-Eustache
towards Molière was but the beginning.

For some time, the Jesuits seem to have regarded the theatre with
disfavour; but towards the middle of the seventeenth century, perceiving
that it might very readily be made to serve as a vehicle for the
propagation of their own ideas, their attitude changed, and they not
only permitted all who came under their influence to attend the play,
but even encouraged the pupils in their colleges to perform theological
comedies, in which their enemies, the Jansenists, were held up to
ridicule. This, naturally, had the effect of exasperating the zealots of
Port-Royal and their numerous adherents, who, always hostile to the
drama, quickly became bitterly antagonistic and required but very
slight provocation to declare open war.

This provocation was not long in coming. In 1665, the clever but
eccentric playwright Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin, the author of _Les
Visionnaires_, having passed "_à la devotion la plus outrée_," espoused
the cause of the Jesuits, and, believing that he had received a call
from Heaven to combat the heretics--that is to say, the Jansenists--made
a violent attack upon them. The Jansenists replied by the pen of their
famous publicist, Nicole, who stigmatized those who wrote for the
theatre as "public poisoners, not of bodies, but of souls." Racine,
believing his honour touched, joined in the fray and ridiculed the
bigotry of Port-Royal. Nicole rejoined with a _Traité de la Comédie_,
wherein, relying on the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, he
condemned not only dramatic authors, but those who interpreted them.
"The playhouse," said he, "is a school of Vice. The profession of an
actor is an employment unworthy of a Christian," and much more to the
same effect. Armand de Bourbon, Prince de Conti, formerly a generous
patron of the drama and of Molière, but now, for some time past, a
Jansenist of the most advanced type, published a similar work, and gave
it as his opinion that a troupe of actors was "a troupe of devils," and
to amuse oneself at the play was to "delight the demon." So the war went
on.

The attacks of Nicole and the Prince de Conti were not without their
effect; they aroused the zeal of all who disliked the theatre and
believed it prejudicial to morality; and a regular campaign was
organised. All unconsciously, Molière himself forged a terrible weapon
for the enemies of his profession. The production of _Tartuffe_ aroused
a perfect storm of indignation among all sections of the clergy; Jesuit
and Jansenist united in denouncing the play, its author, and his
calling. A curé of Paris, one Père Roullé, demanded that the writer,
"this demon clothed with flesh and habited as a man, the most notorious
blasphemer and libertine that has appeared for centuries past, should be
delivered to the flames, the forerunners of those of hell;" Bourdaloue
preached against it; Bossuet declared the works of the poet to be a
tissue of buffooneries, blasphemies, infamies, and obscenities; and
Hardouin de Péréfixe, the then Archbishop of Paris, issued an order
forbidding people "to represent, read or hear _Tartuffe_ recited under
pain of excommunication."

All the old prejudices of the Church against the theatre awoke with
redoubled force. All the old anathemas against the hapless actor, which
had been allowed to slumber for centuries, were dug up by industrious
theologians, and the clergy waited eagerly for opportunities of applying
them. In 1671, Floridor, the famous tragedian of the Hôtel de Bourgogne,
fell dangerously ill and sent for the curé of Saint-Eustache to give him
absolution. The curé flatly refused, save on condition that the actor
would engage, in the event of his recovery, never again to set foot on
the stage. Floridor gave the required promise; nevertheless, when he
died, he was buried without ecclesiastical rites. Molière himself, as we
have just seen, was the next victim of priestly intolerance.

       *       *       *       *       *

The funeral took place on February 21, at nine o'clock in the evening,
in conformity with the orders of Chanvalon. By that hour, an immense
crowd had gathered in front of the house, drawn thither, no doubt,
merely by curiosity. Armande, however, "unable to penetrate its
intention," became much alarmed, fearing that the enemies of her husband
were organising a riot, and that some indignity to his remains was
intended. She accordingly determined to endeavour to appease it, and
going to a window, threw out handfuls of silver to the amount of one
thousand livres, "at the same time, imploring the assembled people to
give their prayers to her husband, in terms so touching that there was
not one among those persons who did not pray to God with all his heart."

The body of Molière was not taken into the church, but conveyed direct
to the cemetery of Saint-Joseph; the coffin, covered by a large pall,
being preceded by two priests and six _enfants bleus_ carrying lighted
tapers in silver sconces, and followed by a considerable number of
people, many of whom bore torches. Among the mourners were Boileau, La
Fontaine, Chapelle, and the players of the Palais-Royal.

When the cortège reached the cemetery, which was situated in the Rue
Montmartre, a long delay occurred, as the gate was closed and the keys
had been forgotten. While awaiting their arrival, the mourners were able
to read, by the light of the blazing torches, a placard posted on the
wall, which bore the following verses:--

    "Il est passé ce Molière
     Du Théâtre à la bière;
     Le pauvre homme a fait un faux bond;
     Et ce tant renommé bouffon
     N'a jamais su si bien faire
     Le _Malade imaginaire_
     Qu'il a fait la mort pour tout de bon."

At last, the keys arrived, and the ceremony was concluded without
further incident. Molière was interred in the middle of the cemetery, at
the foot of the cross. Not a word was spoken over his grave.[35]

Above the last resting-place of her husband Armande placed a large
tombstone, which was still to be seen in 1745, when the brothers
Parfaict published their _Histoire du Théâtre Français_. "This stone,"
writes Titon du Tillet, "is cracked down the middle, which was
occasioned by a very noble and very remarkable action on the part of his
widow. Two or three years after Molière's death, there was a very severe
winter, and she ordered to be conveyed to the cemetery a hundred loads
of wood, which were burned on her husband's tomb, to warm all the poor
of the quarter; the great heat of the fire caused this stone to crack in
two."

       *       *       *       *       *

It is, as we have said elsewhere, an exceedingly difficult task to
arrive at a definite conclusion in regard to the conduct of Armande.
That she was the abandoned woman that the _Fameuse Comédienne_ and the
writers who follow it have depicted her we entirely decline to believe.
If she had been, is it conceivable that Molière would have lived with
her so long, or that, once having broken with her, he would ever have
been brought to consent to a reconciliation? On the other hand, to
pretend that she was an irreproachable wife seems as hazardous as to
affirm her misconduct. There is no smoke without fire, and the
separation between her and her husband--a separation lasting for five
years--is a highly suspicious circumstance. Its immediate cause may, of
course, have been merely incompatibility of temper--for the account of
the matter given by the _Fameuse Comédienne_ is utterly unreliable--but,
at the same time, it may very well have been occasioned by a far graver
reason. On the whole, the wisest course would appear to be to adopt a
middle position, and, while refusing to accept the statements of her
detractors, to be equally diffident about associating ourselves with the
somewhat violent reaction in the lady's favour which has set in within
recent years.

Whatever may have been Armande's sins or shortcomings, however, we
should, in justice to her, remember that the responsibility for
Molière's unhappiness did not rest entirely with her. If she was
selfish, vain, and frivolous, greedy for pleasure, and impatient of
contradiction, Molière possessed the nervousness and irritability so
frequently associated with genius in a very marked degree, and which, in
his case, were aggravated by ill-health and overwork. The servant of a
public ever exacting and eager for novelties, the strain to which he was
subjected, always very great, must, at times, have been well-nigh
unbearable; for we must remember that he was not only a dramatist, but
an actor, not only an actor, but a manager. The financial affairs of the
troupe, it is true, were in the capable hands of La Grange; but Molière
made himself responsible for its efficiency, and though the _Impromptu
de Versailles_ no doubt conveys an exaggerated idea of his difficulties
in this direction, they were probably considerable. The jealousy between
the two principal actresses, Armande and Mlle. de Brie, must have been
alone a fruitful source of trouble. In these circumstances, it is not
difficult to understand that the little trials of domestic life, which
in the majority of men arouse but a passing feeling of annoyance,
should have presented themselves to him as intolerable vexations, and
that the sudden gusts of passion in which, we are told, he was wont to
indulge on the most trifling provocation, should have widened the breach
between himself and Armande, whose narrow mind was incapable of
comprehending that in such outbursts men of her husband's temperament
oft-times seek relief for long weeks of mental strain and anxiety. Add
to all this the fact that Molière was of an excessively jealous
disposition, and it becomes obvious that the marriage was doomed to
failure from the very first; in fact, the only thing to occasion
surprise is that the inevitable rupture did not take place at a much
earlier date, and that it was ever healed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Molière, as we have seen, had been buried on February 21, and three days
later the theatre of the Palais-Royal reopened with a performance of the
_Misanthrope_, Armande playing Célimène. Her conduct in thus resuming
her place in the company so soon after her husband's death was commented
upon very unfavourably;[36] but it would appear to have been dictated by
stern necessity. In the face of the formidable competition of the Hôtel
de Bourgogne, the troupe of Molière, already terribly weakened by the
death of its chief, could not possibly have afforded to lose its leading
actress for even a brief period; and Armande, therefore, decided to
sacrifice her own feelings to the interests of her colleagues.

Indeed, as matters stood, the continued existence of the "Comédiens du
Roi" as a separate company was soon in imminent peril. During the Easter
recess, the Hôtel de Bourgogne intrigued vigorously against them, with
the result that four of the best players, with Baron at their head,
resigned their places and passed over to the older theatre; while,
shortly afterwards, Lulli obtained the king's permission to make the
theatre of the Palais-Royal the home of French opera, and the
unfortunate _Moliéristes_ found themselves without a stage to act upon.
This was a crushing blow; and when, very reluctantly, the troupe had
made overtures to their old rivals in the Rue Mauconseil, with a view to
an amalgamation, and had been met by a curt refusal, the position seemed
almost desperate.

Well indeed was it for Armande and her colleagues that they numbered
among them, in the person of La Grange, one of the shrewdest and most
capable men of business who ever trod the boards of a theatre. Born,
about 1640, at Amiens, of respectable Picard stock, La Grange, after two
or three years' experience in the provinces as a strolling player,
joined his fortunes to those of Molière; and, in May 1659, on the death
of Joseph Béjart, stepped into his shoes as the _jeune premier_ of the
troupe. As an actor, he appears to have been altogether admirable, the
type of the perfect lover, as understood in those days, and, according
to the anonymous author of the _Entretiens galants_, to see him play
with Armande in such a piece as the _Malade imaginaire_ was a sight not
easily forgotten: "Their acting continues still, even when their part is
concluded; they are never useless on the stage; they play almost as
well when they listen as when they speak. Their glances are never
wasted; their eyes do not wander round the boxes; they know that the
theatre is full, but they speak and act as if they see only those who
are concerned in their rôle and action."

But, excellent actor as was La Grange, he was even better as an
"orator"[37] and manager, posts which, at the time of Molière's death,
he had occupied for some six years; and there can be no doubt that much
of the success which had attended the troupe was due to his skill in
gauging the public taste, his untiring energy, and his personal
popularity. To him, too, we owe that wonderful _Registre_, a perfect
mine of accurate and detailed information about the doings of Molière's
troupe, the Hôtel Guénégaud, and the early years of the
Comédie-Française; while it was under his auspices that the first
complete edition of his old chief's works was given to the world.

On the advice of La Grange, Armande now resolved on a bold stroke. Some
years before, a play-loving nobleman, the Marquis de Sourdéac, had built
a theatre in a tennis-court in the Rue Mazarine, near the Luxembourg,
where opera had been performed, until, in March 1672, the intriguing
Lulli had succeeded in securing for himself the exclusive right of
representing musical pieces. It was a fine house, fitted up with every
convenience, "with a stage," says Samuel Chappuzeau, in his work on the
Paris theatres of the time, "large enough to allow the most elaborate
machinery to be worked." La Grange proposed that the troupe should
acquire this theatre, and himself undertook the negotiations, which
resulted in the Marquis de Sourdéac and his partner, a M. de Champeron,
ceding to Armande their lease of the property for the sum of 30,000
livres, of which 14,000 was to be paid in cash and the balance by fifty
livres on each performance given there.

An event of great importance was the immediate outcome of the
acquisition of this theatre. For some years past, the popularity of the
Théâtre du Marais had been steadily declining, a circumstance which
seems to have been attributable rather to the mediocrity of the plays
produced there and the fact that the district in which it was situated
was no longer the centre of Parisian life, as it had been during the
first half of the century, than to any lack of talent on the part of the
company, which, indeed, comprised several excellent performers of both
sexes; and the establishment of the Opera threatened to reduce its
already diminished receipts still further. Accordingly, Louis XIV.
decided that it should join forces with Mlle. Molière's troupe, and, on
June 23, 1673, an ordinance issued by Colbert closed the old playhouse
in the Rue Vieille-du-Temple, which had survived the theatrical
vicissitudes of nearly eighty years, and granted permission to the two
united companies henceforth to be known as the "_Troupe du Roi_," to
perform comedies and other _divertissements honnêtes_ in the Rue
Mazarine.

The new theatre, which was usually called the Théâtre Guénégaud, the
street of that name being close at hand, opened its doors on July 9 with
a performance of _Tartuffe_. At first, it met with but indifferent
success, and between that date and Easter 1674, the share of each player
only amounted to 1481 livres, a striking contrast to the takings at the
Palais-Royal during the last year of Molière's life; while, on one
occasion, at the beginning of the second season, _l'Avare_ was played to
a house of 88 livres! However, matters steadily improved; by the
following Easter the success of the company was assured, and the season
of 1679-1680 was worth 1100 livres more to each of the old _Moliéristes_
than the great and profitable year of _Tartuffe_ itself.

Although the perennial comedies of Molière naturally figured frequently
in the bills, Armande and La Grange had a keen eye for novelties, and
did not disdain to tickle the public with melodramas and spectacular
plays; and it was from these indeed that the theatre derived the greater
part of its revenue. Thus _Circé_, a tragedy by Thomas Corneille, with
changes of scenery, and music by Charpentier, brought in 24,000 livres
in nine performances; while the _Devineresse_, a comic-melodrama, by the
same playwright and Donneau de Visé, on the adventures of La Voisin, the
poisoner, was played for forty-seven consecutive nights, almost a record
for those days. Another success was achieved when Thomas Corneille
turned Molière's _Don Juan_ into verse, "eliminating the speeches which
offended the scrupulous." Donneau de Visé, to whose "puffing" in the
_Mercure_ the Théâtre Guénégaud was probably indebted for not a little
of its popularity, declared that in the process of transition the play
"had acquired new beauties without losing any of the old," and though
few will be found to agree with this pronouncement, the new version
proved exceedingly popular.

The first of the above-mentioned plays, in which Armande secured a great
personal triumph in the part of the beautiful sorceress, was associated
with a singular incident.

One evening, a well-dressed man, who occupied a seat upon the stage,
approached the actress, as she was standing in the wings awaiting her
turn to go on, and addressed her in the manner of an ardent and favoured
lover. "Never," said he, "have I seen you look so beautiful. Were it not
that I am already your slave, I should be so from this moment."

Armande, who had never seen the gentleman before, turned haughtily away,
without making any reply. But when the play was over, the stranger
followed her to her dressing-room, and, having reproached her with her
previous coldness, inquired why she had not kept an appointment which
she had given him that afternoon. The lady, in profound astonishment,
disclaimed all knowledge of her visitor, and angrily ordered him to
leave the room. The stranger refused, insisting that she had given him
"a score of rendezvous," and demanding how she could have the audacity
to treat him thus after such an intimacy as had existed between them.
Armande thereupon sent her maid to summon some of her colleagues, who
arrived to find their leader and the stranger almost beside themselves
with passion. As well as her outraged feelings would permit, the actress
explained the situation to her friends, declaring that she had never set
eyes on the gentleman before her in her life; while he, on his side,
asserted in the most positive manner that he knew her intimately, and
that she had repeatedly met him at a house of somewhat questionable
repute. "Why," cried he, "the very necklace she is now wearing is one of
the presents I have made her!" and he snatched it from her. Armande
immediately sent for the guards attached to the theatre, who seized the
stranger and held him until the arrival of a commissary of police, when
he was conducted to prison.

His statement to the authorities served but to deepen the mystery. It
transpired that he was a M. Lescot, a president of the Parliament of
Grenoble, who was on a visit to Paris. He had fallen in love with
Armande after seeing her play at the Théâtre Guénégaud, but, lacking
courage to declare his passion directly, and having failed to secure an
introduction in the ordinary way, had had recourse to the good offices
of a woman called Ledoux, "_dont le métier ordinaire était de faire
plaisir au public_," and promised her a liberal reward, if she could
arrange a rendezvous. In this she had been successful; Mlle. Molière had
accepted his proposals, and they had met repeatedly at Ledoux's house.
The actress had, however, strictly forbidden him, for prudential
reasons, to address, or even approach, her at the theatre, which
instructions he had faithfully observed until that evening, when, as she
had failed to keep an appointment to meet him after dinner, he had
determined to ascertain the reason, thinking that "a little display of
passion" might not be altogether displeasing to her. As for the
necklace, which, it should be mentioned, was one of a common pattern,
he had purchased it at a jeweller's shop on the Quai des Orfévres, the
lady being with him at the time. Let them question the jeweller, who
would, no doubt, be prepared to corroborate his statement.

Matters now began to look very unpleasant for Armande, and when the
jeweller of the Quai des Orfévres, without a moment's hesitation,
identified her as the lady who had accompanied the president to his
shop, and Ledoux was found to have left the city, she was in despair.
However, a few days later the affair was cleared up. Hunted down by the
police, Ledoux confessed that she had palmed off on the credulous Lescot
a young woman called Tourelle, who bore so extraordinary a resemblance
to Mlle. Molière, both in appearance and voice, that it was almost
impossible for any one not personally acquainted with the latter to tell
one from the other, and who had already succeeded in duping quite a
number of persons. This woman was also arrested, and a decree of the
Parliament of Paris, dated October 17, 1675, sentenced the two
delinquents "to be flogged, naked, with rods, before the principal gate
of the Châtelet and the house of Mlle. Molière," and to be afterwards
banished from Paris for three years. Président Lescot was condemned to
pay a fine of two hundred crowns, and to make "verbal reparation," that
is to say, he had to declare in court, in the presence of Mlle. Molière
and any four persons whom she might select, that he had "raised his hand
against her and used the insulting language mentioned in the indictment
through error and inadvertence." Which done, we may presume, he lost no
time in returning to Grenoble, a sadder and a wiser man.

"One is struck," observes M. Larroumet, "by the singular resemblance
that this affair presents to that of the Diamond Necklace, which, in
1785, involved the name of Marie Antoinette in so resounding a scandal.
After a lapse of a hundred years, the same rôles are resumed, that of
Armande by the queen, that of the _entremetteuse_ Ledoux by the Comtesse
de la Motte, that of the woman Tourelle by the girl Oliva, finally, that
of Président Lescot by the Cardinal de Rohan. And that nothing may be
wanting to the parallel, just as the queen was bespattered by the
infamous libel of Madame de la Motte, Armande had to submit to _La
Fameuse Comédienne_."

Less than a year afterwards, Armande was the victim of another scandal,
even more painful than the one recorded above. The scoundrelly Guichard,
the attempted poisoner of Lulli, of whom we have already spoken, did not
confine his attack upon the widow of Molière to repeating the hideous
accusation of Montfleury: he calumniated her in the most shameful
manner. "The Molière," he wrote, "is infamous both in law (_i.e._ by
profession) and in deed. Previous to her marriage, she lived continually
in wholesale prostitution; during her married life, continually in
public adultery. In short, the Molière is the most infamous of all
infamous women." The obvious extravagance of these charges, and the fact
that Guichard assailed with equal violence the characters of most of the
other witnesses for the prosecution, no doubt robbed them of much of
their sting.[38] Nevertheless, they can hardly have failed to occasion
the unfortunate woman great annoyance, and, following as they did so
closely upon the _affaire_ Lescot, had probably not a little influence
upon a step which she took some months later.

In May 1677, Armande exchanged the glorious name of Molière for that of
Guérin d'Estriché, one of her colleagues of the Théâtre Guénégaud, and,
in earlier years, a member of the now defunct Théâtre du Marais. For
this second marriage she was severely blamed by her contemporaries,[39]
while it is the fashion among modern writers to refer to it as if it had
been a species of sacrilege. In this, we are inclined to think, an
injustice had been done Armande. Molière, as one of his recent
biographers reminds us, was not, during the years which followed his
death, regarded as the mighty genius which he is now admitted to have
been. Save to a few, like Boileau, who fully comprehended the extent of
the loss which literature had sustained, he was merely an amusing actor
and an excellent author, whose premature death they deplored, but whom
they never dreamed of apotheosizing.[40] As for Armande, she was still
young and retained all her fascination; she had not been happy in her
first marriage, and may very well have felt that life owed her some
compensation. Besides, a second marriage would free her from the
attentions of unwelcome admirers, of whom, we may be sure, the luckless
Président Lescot was only one among many, and would provide her with a
counsellor in business matters whose interests would be identical with
her own, and of whom she must have long felt the need.

With Guérin, Armande appears to have lived very happily, and even the
author of _La Fameuse Comédienne_ is compelled to recognise that her
conduct was exemplary, though she hastens to qualify this reluctant
admission by declaring that her second husband was a veritable tyrant,
who brooked no opposition to his will and did not hesitate to enforce
obedience by blows. All disinterested witnesses, however, concur in
representing Guérin as an excellent man, and we see no reason to believe
that the anonymous author comes anywhere nearer the truth here than in
other portions of her history.

At Easter 1679, Armande and La Grange succeeded in persuading the famous
_tragédienne_ Mlle. de Champmeslé, who had been for nineteen years the
mainstay of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, to transfer her services to the
Théâtre Guénégaud, Armande, with rare self-denial, ceding to the
illustrious recruit the place which she herself had so long occupied.
The defection of their great actress was a paralysing blow for the
players of the Rue Mauconseil, and, coupled with the death of La
Thorillière, which occurred shortly afterwards, rendered their position
so precarious that, by a _lettre de cachet_ dated October 21, 1680,
Louis XIV. directed that they should join forces with the Théâtre
Guénégaud; and the Comédie-Française was founded. Thus, of the three
great troupes in existence at the time of Molière's death, his own alone
survived, fortified by the ruin of their rivals.

Armande continued her career as an actress for some years longer,
perhaps her most successful impersonation being that of a young Italian
girl in a play called _Le Parisien_, written by the husband of Mlle. de
Champmeslé. At the Easter recess of 1694, she retired from the stage,
with a pension of one thousand livres. From that time we hear but little
of her. She appears to have lived a very quiet and uneventful life, for
the most part, at a charming country-house which she owned at Meudon,
and which still exists, very much as the actress left it.[41] She died
at Paris, in the Rue du Touraine, on November 30, 1700, at the age of
fifty-eight.

Of Armande's three children by Molière only one survived their father, a
daughter, Madeleine, who, at the age of twenty, much to her mother's
disgust, eloped with a M. de Montalant, a middle-aged widower with
several children. Making a virtue of necessity, Madame Guérin gave her
consent to her daughter's marriage, and Madeleine and her husband
subsequently resided at Auteuil, where the former died in 1723. She left
no children.

By Guérin, Armande had a son, to whom she seems to have been intensely
devoted. In 1698, at the age of twenty, this young man published an
edition of the _Mélicerte_ of Molière, which he had rendered into verse,
preceded by an introduction, in which he mentioned that in the Guérin
household the memory of the dramatist was held "in respect and
veneration."

Armande's death certificate naturally contained no mention of the great
man whose name she had once borne and whose works she had both inspired
and interpreted. Nevertheless, posterity has decided to ignore her
connection with the worthy Guérin, and, for us, she must always remain
the "Wife of Molière."



II

MARIE DE CHAMPMESLÉ


"The name of the Champmeslé is inseparable from both the immortality and
the frailties of the life of Racine."[42]

Marie Desmares, the actress of whom these words were written, was born
at Rouen, the birthplace of the two Corneilles and other prominent
figures in the dramatic history of the seventeenth century, in February
1642. Her father, Guillaume Desmares, though not, as several
biographical dictionaries and works of reference state, the son of a
President of the Parliament of Normandy, appears to have been a person
of some social position, as his name is preceded by a _Monsieur_, a
title which in those days was generally confined to the _noblesse_ and
professional classes, while her mother, Marie Marc, was also respectably
connected, one of her brothers being an official of the Parliament.

Of Marie's childhood and youth we know scarcely anything. In 1653 she
lost her father, very probably in an epidemic which broke out at Rouen
that year; and, not long afterwards, her mother married again, her
second husband being one Antoine La Guérault or Laguérault, a well-to-do
landed proprietor in the neighbourhood. The girl and her brother
Nicolas, who was also to achieve distinction on the boards, seem to have
received a fair education; but, either because she was unhappy in the
home of her stepfather, or because she saw but little chance of the
indispensable _dot_ being forthcoming, at the age of twenty-three, Marie
decided to tempt fortune on the stage.

At this period, there was no regular theatre at Rouen; indeed, buildings
reserved exclusively for dramatic performances were hardly known outside
the capital. There were, however, two large tennis-courts, one situated
in the Rue des Charrettes, the other in the Rue Saint-Éloi, the
proprietors of which were always ready, at a few hours' notice, to
convert them into temples of Thespis for the accommodation of any
travelling company which happened to be visiting the town. M. Noury, the
lady's latest biographer, thinks that it was in the second of these,
called the _Feu de Paume des Braques_, where Molière's troupe had played
in 1643, and again in 1658, that Marie Desmares made her _début_.

By Marie's side, a young actor from Paris, Charles Chevillet by name,
made his bow to the public. This young man, who was a few months younger
than his fair colleague, was the son of a worthy silk-merchant of the
Rue Saint-Honoré.[43] Chevillet _père_, being of a practical turn of
mind, had endeavoured to inspire his son with a taste for his own trade.
But, as ill-luck would have it, the theatre of the Petit-Bourbon, where
Molière's troupe was then established, was situated within easy distance
of his shop, and, after attending the performances for some little time,
Charles came to the conclusion that measuring and matching silks was
altogether too prosaic a calling for him. Accordingly, one fine day he
disappeared from Paris and made his way to Rouen, where, according to
the custom of the time, in mounting the boards, he added to his own
patronymic an aristocratic pseudonym, and became Charles Chevillet,
Sieur de Champmeslé.

M. de Champmeslé, who is described as "a handsome man, with a
distinguished air and extremely polished manners," "witty and possessed
of all that is required to please and to command love," made a very
favourable impression upon Mlle. Desmares. He, on his side, admired her
greatly, and very possibly foresaw something of the great career which
awaited her. They, therefore, determined to share each other's fortunes,
and the young man, having paid a visit to Paris to obtain his parents'
consent, they were married on January 9, 1666, at the church of
Saint-Éloi, at Rouen.

In view of what we have already said about the practice of the Church in
regard to the theatrical profession, it is not without interest to note
that the _acte de mariage_ states that the parties "practised the
vocation of players," and that the banns had been published,
"notwithstanding the fact that they had no intention of abandoning the
exercise of their profession at lawful times."

The young couple continued playing in Rouen and the neighbourhood until
the summer of 1668, when, alarmed, apparently by the plague, which was
devastating Normandy, they removed to Paris. Here Champmeslé, who was by
this time a very capable actor, was soon invited to join the company of
the Théâtre du Marais; and, at the beginning of the following year, his
wife was offered a place in the same troupe.

Mlle. de Champmeslé made her first appearance on the Paris stage on
February 15, 1669, in _La Fête de Vénus_, an insipid pastoral, by the
Abbé Boyer, in which she impersonated the goddess and was much
applauded. In the early months of 1670 she secured two other triumphs.
The first was in an "heroic comedy," called _Polycrate_, also by Boyer;
and it spoke volumes for the talent and charm of the young actress that
the audience should have been content to sit through and applaud five
acts of what appears to have been an almost worthless play. Her second
success was gained in _Les Amours de Vénus et Adonis_, a tragedy by
Donneau de Visé, in which she again represented the goddess, and Robinet
chanted her praises:--

    "La belle déesse Vénus,
     Et dans ce rôle cette actrice
     Est une parfaite enchantrice."

But Mlle. de Champmeslé was but half satisfied with such successes. She
was ambitious, and felt that at the Marais her talents had not
sufficient scope. The old theatre, as we have said elsewhere, had now
fallen on evil days; the pieces represented there seemed sorry stuff
indeed in comparison with the comedies of Molière and the tragedies of
Racine; it was the Palais-Royal and the Hôtel de Bourgogne which divided
the suffrages of the playgoing public; the _salle_ in the Rue
Vieille-du-Temple was at times well-nigh deserted. She knew that her
true vocation was in tragedy; not in tragedy such as the third-class
dramatists who wrote for the Théâtre du Marais penned, but in plays like
the _Cid_ and _Polyeucte_, _Alexandre_ and _Andromaque_. On first
arriving in Paris, she had had the good sense to recognise that her
talents were as yet insufficiently developed to allow of her attempting
the great rôles of Corneille and Racine; but now circumstances had
changed. Her acting had had the good fortune to attract the attention of
a member of the Marais troupe named Laroque, whose acquaintance she had
made at Rouen. Laroque, as is not infrequently the case, though only a
moderate performer, was an admirable instructor; and, perceiving in his
young colleague great possibilities, had devoted much time and care to
perfecting her in her art, and with the happiest results. Accordingly,
at Easter 1670, Mlle. Champmeslé and her husband quitted the Rue
Vieille-du-Temple for the Hôtel de Bourgogne. "Here she met Racine and
glory."

The Hôtel de Bourgogne reopened after the Easter recess with a revival
of Racine's _Andromaque_ which three years before had aroused an
enthusiasm the like of which had not been witnessed since the days of
the _Cid_. The part of Hermione was to have been taken by Mlle. Des
Œillets, who had created it; but she was lying ill of a malady from
which she died not long afterwards, and it was in consequence decided to
entrust it to Mlle. Champmeslé. Racine, who knew nothing of the new
recruit, and feared that such a difficult role might suffer in the hands
of an actress who had never interpreted anything more important than the
insipid heroines of Boyer and Visé, refused at first to attend the
performance, and, though he ultimately consented to be present, did so
with evident reluctance. His apprehensions were groundless. "Mlle. de
Champmeslé's rendering of the first two acts was very weak," relates the
Abbé de Laporte in his _Annales dramatiques_. "These acts, where
Hermione is in turn attracted and repelled by Pyrrhus, require a
profound knowledge of the stage and great _finesse_. But in the last
acts, where she is a frenzied lover, with whom jealousy carries all
before it and to whom a supreme betrayal leaves nothing but vengeance to
live for, she retrieved her ground so completely, threw so much fire
into her acting, and rendered the passions with such real fervour that
she was enthusiastically applauded."

At the conclusion of the play, Racine, enraptured with the young
actress's rendering of his heroine, hurried to her dressing-room, and,
falling on his knees, overwhelmed her with compliments and thanks. A few
days later, Mlle. Des Œillets was sufficiently recovered to pay a
visit to the theatre to witness the performance of the new star; and,
when the curtain fell, was seen to throw up her hands and exclaim
sorrowfully: "Des Œillets is no more!"--words which, coming from an
actress who sees herself dethroned by an understudy, are more eloquent
than the most exhaustive commentary.

Overjoyed at finding that such an actress had arisen, Racine gave his
new interpreter lessons in elocution, "at the same time studying her
natural peculiarities, with a view to making them serviceable in any
character he might wish her to represent." According to the poet's son,
Louis Racine, Mlle. de Champmeslé owed her subsequent successes entirely
to his father's teaching. "As he had formed Baron," he says, "he formed
the Champmeslé, but with far more trouble. He made her understand the
verses which she had to recite, showed her the gestures which were
appropriate to each passage, and dictated to her the emphasis which she
must employ." There can be no doubt that Mlle. de Champmeslé owed much
to Racine's tuition, but it is equally certain that she had great
natural gifts as an actress, the chief of which were a peculiar grace of
movement and the greatest of all theatrical seductions, a most
enchanting voice, which moved La Fontaine to write:--

    "Est-il quelqu'un que votre voix n'enchante?
     S'en trouve-t-il une aussi touchante,
     Un autre allant si droit au cœur?"

The flexibility of her voice appears to have been quite extraordinary.
Melodious, soft, and caressing in rôles like Iphigénie or Monime, it
became so powerful and sonorous in such parts as Phèdre, Roxane, and
Hermione that, it is said, when the door of the box at the end of the
_salle_ happened to be open, it could be heard at the Café Procope, over
the way. "The recitation of actors in tragedy," says the anonymous
author of the _Entretiens galants_, "is a kind of chant, and you will
readily admit that the Champmeslé would not please you so much, if her
voice were less agreeable. But she has learned to modulate it with so
much skill, and she lends to her words such natural tones, that it would
seem that she really has in her heart the passions she expresses with
her mouth." In pathetic passages, we are told, she drew tears from the
eyes of the most hardened playgoers. "It was amusing to watch the ladies
sighing and drying their eyes and the men laughing at them, while they
themselves were hard put to restrain their emotion."

There seems to be some difference of opinion as to whether Mlle. de
Champmeslé was strictly beautiful. According to the Brothers Parfaict,
"her skin was not clear, and her eyes were very small and round." On
the other hand, she was "of a fine shape, well made and noble," and "her
defects were, so to speak, counterbalanced by the natural graces spread
over her whole person." Louis Racine, though he denies her talent,
admits that she was handsome; while Madame de Sévigné tells us that she
was "almost plain," but "adorable upon the stage." However that may be,
she did not lack for admirers, and Racine, who, two years before, had
lost his mistress, the beautiful Mlle. du Parc--the actress who had in
turn rejected the addresses of Molière, Pierre Corneille, and La
Fontaine--speedily fell in love with her, and installed her in the
vacant place in his affections, M. de Champmeslé accepting his dishonour
with fashionable complacency. Henceforth, as Molière had written for his
wife, Racine wrote for his mistress, who created all his great heroines,
and "investing them with her own charm, became in truth the
_collaboratrice_ of the poet."

    "Bénissons de l'amour l'influence divine,
     C'est à toi, Champmeslé, que nous devons Racine,
     Il écrivait pour toi, de te plaire occupé,
     Son vers coulait plus doux de son cœur échappé."

[Illustration: JEAN RACINE

From an engraving by VERTUE]

In the early spring of 1670, Louis XIV.'s sister-in-law, the ill-fated
Henrietta of England, daughter of Charles I., persuaded Corneille and
Racine to write each a tragedy on the story of Titus and Berenice,
without each other's knowledge, and consequently without the knowledge
of any one else. Her object in so doing was, in all probability, merely
to bring the relative merits of the two great dramatists to a decisive
test, though rumour assigned a romantic reason for her choice of the
subject, to wit, a desire to see upon the stage a little story analogous
to that of her one-time relations with Louis XIV. _Madame's_ death,
famous for its disputed causes and Bossuet's funeral oration, occurred
in the following June; but this did not interfere with the completion of
the plays, which were produced within a few days of one another, the
secret having been so well kept that until then neither of the poets had
the faintest conception that they had been simultaneously engaged on the
same subject.

Racine was the first in the field, his _Bérénice_ being produced at the
Hôtel de Bourgogne on November 21, Floridor playing Titus, and Mlle. de
Champmeslé the beautiful Jewess. Corneille's _Tite et Bérénice_ appeared
at the Palais-Royal, eight days later, with La Thorillière and Mlle.
Molière in the title-parts.

The result of the duel to which the two dramatists found themselves, all
unwittingly, committed was wholly in favour of the younger, Corneille's
play, notwithstanding some fine passages, being unworthy of his
reputation.[44] It was probably to this fact and to the admirable acting
of Mlle. de Champmeslé, rather than to any special merits of his own,
that Racine was indebted for his easy triumph. Approved by the king and
applauded by the public, his _Bérénice_ remained in the bills until
after the thirtieth performance; but it did not please the critics,
Boileau declaring that had he been consulted he would have endeavoured
to dissuade his friend from undertaking so poor a theme; while
Chapelle, when asked by Racine for his opinion, replied in two verses of
an old song:--

    "Marion pleure, Marion crie,
     Marion veut qu'on la marie."

An answer which nearly caused a quarrel between him and the poet.

To _Bérénice_, early in the following January, succeeded _Baiazet_,
Mlle. de Champmeslé playing the part of Roxane. Madame de Sévigné
attended the fifth performance, and next day writes to Madame de
Grignan: "We have been to see the new play by Racine, and thought it
admirable. My _daughter-in-law_[45] is, in my opinion, the best
performer I ever saw. She is a hundred leagues in front of Des
Œillets, and I, who am supposed to have some talent for acting, am
not worthy to light the candles when she appears.... I wish you had been
with me that afternoon; I am sure you would not have thought your time
ill spent. You would have dropped a tear or two, for I myself shed
twenty; besides, you would have greatly admired your
_sister-in-law_."[46] _Bajazet_ printed, the Marchioness sent her
daughter a copy: "If I could send Champmeslé with it, you would find the
tragedy among the best; without her, it loses half its value. Racine's
plays are written for Champmeslé, and not for posterity. Whenever he
grows old and ceases to be in love, it will be seen whether or not I am
mistaken."[47]

Mlle. de Champmeslé did not by any means confine her creations to her
lover's heroines; the répertoire of the Hôtel de Bourgogne was a rich
one. Thus, in March of that same year, she appeared in the title-part in
_Ariane_, a new tragedy by her fellow-townsman, Thomas Corneille. This
play was praised by some critics, but, in all probability, owed its
success almost entirely to her impersonation of the heroine, "which drew
the public as the light draws the moth." Madame de Sévigné was again
among the audience, and wrote of the actress in terms of enthusiasm:
"The Champmeslé is something so extraordinary that in your life you
never saw any one like her. It is the actress that people flock to see,
not the play. I went to _Ariane_ entirely for the sake of seeing her.
The tragedy is insipid; the rest of the players wretched. But when the
Champmeslé appears, every one is enthralled, and the tears of the
audience flow at her despair."[48]

When, seven years later, Mlle. de Champmeslé migrated to the Théâtre
Guénégaud, it was in _Ariane_ that she secured her first triumph.
"_Ariane_," wrote Donneau de Visé in the _Mercure_, "has been extremely
well attended. Mlle. de Champmeslé, that inimitable actress, has drawn
tears from the majority of the audience." The natural manner of her
acting and her pathetic rendering of the hapless heroine gave indeed to
the play a new lease of life.

Another brilliant success awaited her in the part of Monime, in Racine's
_Mithridate_, produced on January 13, 1673, the day after its author's
reception at the Academy. The play was received with enthusiasm; and
Madame de Coulanges wrote to Madame de Sévigné, then on a visit to her
daughter, in Provence: "_Mithridate_ is charming; you see it thirty
times, and the thirtieth it seems finer than the first."[49] On March
4, it was played at Saint-Cloud, before _Monsieur_ (the Duc d'Orléans),
the Duke of Monmouth, Madame de Guise, the Princesse de Monaco, and
other distinguished persons; and, in the following August, at
Saint-Ouen, where Boisfranc, _Surintendant des Finances_ to _Monsieur_,
was entertaining a party from the Court. For her rôle, which was a most
exacting one--Mlle. Clairon confesses in her _Mémoires_, that she had
never succeeded in playing it entirely to her satisfaction--Mlle. de
Champmeslé appears to have received very careful instruction from
Racine; and the critics were agreed that seldom had anything more
expressive and charming than her acting been seen. She was particularly
admirable in the scene in the third act, where Monime inadvertently
confesses to the jealous Mithridate her love for his son Xiphanès. "Her
cry of anguish when she sees that she has betrayed the secret of her
heart, sent a shudder through every vein of the spectators and
transported them with emotion." Brossette tells us that one day, when
dining with Boileau, the conversation turned on the subject of
declamation, whereupon the poet repeated this passage in the tone of
Mlle. de Champmeslé, as a perfect example of the art.

While Mlle. de Champmeslé continued her successes, Racine completed his
eighth tragedy, _Iphigénie en Aulide_, which was produced at Versailles
(August 17, 1674), on the occasion of the magnificent _divertissements_
which Louis XIV. gave to his Court on his return from the conquest of
Franche-Comté. This time the performance was given in the open air, in
the gardens of the château. "The scenery," says Andre Félibien, in his
account of the fêtes, "represented a long alley of verdure; on either
side were the basins of fountains, and, at intervals, grottoes of rustic
workmanship, but very delicately finished. On their entablature rose a
balustrade, on which were arranged vases of porcelain filled with
flowers. The basins of the fountains were of white marble supported by
gilded tritons, and in these basins one saw others of greater height,
which bore tall statues of gold. The alley terminated at the back of the
theatre in awnings, which were connected with those covering the
orchestra, and beyond appeared a long alley, which was the alley of the
Orangery itself, bordered on both sides by tall orange-and
pomegranate-trees, interspersed with several vases of porcelain
containing various kinds of flowers. Between each tree were large
candelabra and stands of gold and azure, which supported girandoles of
crystal lighted by several candles. This alley terminated in a marble
portico; the pilasters which supported the cornice were of lapis, and
the door was all of gold work."[50]

In writing _Iphigénie_, Racine had departed considerably from his Greek
model, discarding the catastrophe in favour of the legend as recorded by
Pausanias, wherein it is discovered, at the eleventh hour, that not the
daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, but another princess is the
victim intended by the gods. Inferior to the noble tragedy of Euripides,
the play was, nevertheless, generally acknowledged to be an advance on
anything that Racine had yet attempted, and was a brilliant and
unanimous success; a success of emotion, to which Mlle. de Champmeslé's
pathetic impersonation of the young Greek virgin probably contributed as
much as the subject itself, and inspired Boileau to the lines:--

    "Jamais Iphigénie en Aulide immolée,
     N'a conté tant de pleurs à la Grèce assemblée,
     Que dans l'heureux spectacle à nos yeux étalé
     En a fait, sous son nom, verser la Champmêlé."

The capital witnessed the new play in the early days of January 1675,
and confirmed the judgment of the Court: indeed, for once, criticism
appears to have been almost silenced, and the worst that Barbier
d'Aucour, a bitter detractor of the poet, could find to say, was that
_Iphigénie_ had caused a rise in the price of handkerchiefs.

After _Iphigénie_, Mlle. de Champmeslé became the idol of the playgoing
public, and "all Paris" flocked to the Hôtel de Bourgogne, seemingly
indifferent to the bill, provided they could see the now famous actress.
For nearly two years, however, no rôle at all commensurate with her
abilities appears to have fallen to her lot; for Racine was at work on a
new tragedy, which, had he never written anything else, would have
sufficed to ensure him a high place among tragic dramatists. The story
goes that one day, in Madame La Fayette's salon, Racine contended that
it was within the power of a great poet to make the darkest crimes
appear more or less excusable--nay, to arouse compassion for the
criminals themselves. In his opinion, even Medea and Phædra might become
objects of pity rather than abhorrence upon the stage. From this view
his hearers dissented strongly, showing indeed some inclination to turn
it into ridicule; whereupon, in order to convince them of their error,
the dramatist determined to measure his strength once more against that
of Euripides, and to make the fatal passion of Phædra for her stepson
the subject of a tragedy.[51]

But alas! _Phèdre et Hippolyte_ was not destined to take its place as
the greatest tragedy of the French classical school without bringing
cruel mortification to its author. Racine, by his success, had made many
enemies and many more by the caustic wit which he was in the habit of
exercising at the expense of any one who happened to incur his
displeasure. Among those whom he had contrived to offend were the
Duchesse de Bouillon, the fourth of the famous Mancini sisters, and
Madame Deshoulières, a clever but pretentious poetess, whose verses
Racine had, perhaps unduly, depreciated. No sooner did the two ladies in
question ascertain the subject of the forthcoming play than they engaged
a young and conceited poet named Pradon, author of a couple of
indifferent tragedies, to enter the lists against the famous dramatist
and compose a rival _Phèdre_, to be produced at the Théâtre Guénégaud
simultaneously with the appearance of Racine's at the Hôtel de
Bourgogne. Pradon had only three months allowed him; but, nothing
daunted, he set to work and completed his task within the allotted time
and to his own entire satisfaction. In his vanity, he made no secret of
his intention of measuring swords with Racine; and Boileau represented
to his friend that it would be more in keeping with his dignity to
decline the challenge and postpone the production of his play. But the
latter, stung to the quick by the conspiracy which had been formed
against him, and urged on by Mlle. de Champmeslé, "who had learned her
part and wanted money," decided that it should appear on the date
originally fixed.

The play was accordingly produced on New Year's Day 1677, Mlle. de
Champmeslé, of course, impersonating the heroine. Pradon's tragedy was
to have appeared on the same evening; but the difficulty of finding an
actress willing to undertake the principal rôle--it was refused by both
Mlle. de Brie and Mlle. Molière--necessitated a postponement of two
days, when Mlle. du Pin, a capable, but by no means brilliant,
performer, played Phèdre. Pradon ascribed the refusals of the two
leading actresses of the company to the machinations of Racine and his
friends; but, though Racine was certainly not over-scrupulous in his
dealings with his professional rivals, it is more probable that the
ladies in question were, not unnaturally, reluctant to challenge
comparison with the all-conquering Mlle. de Champmeslé, in a part which
was obviously so much better suited to her talents than to theirs.

All went well at the Hôtel de Bourgogne the first evening. M. de
Champmeslé himself took possession of the box-office, and when any of
the leaders of the rival faction appeared, courteously informed them
that every seat in the front part of the house was already occupied; the
result being that Racine's admirers had the theatre to themselves, and
the play was accorded a reception which could not fail to satisfy the
most exacting dramatist. The following evening, however, matters were
very different; to the chagrin of the author and the astonishment of the
company, every box on the first tier was empty! The same thing occurred
the next evening and the next after that, while, to increase the
mystery and the poet's mortification, the boxes at the Théâtre Guénégaud
were reported as crowded with applauding spectators. The explanation was
that the Duchesse de Bouillon, in her determination to secure the
success of her _protégé's_ play and the ruin of her enemy's, had adopted
the ingenious device of engaging in advance all the front seats at both
houses, filling those at the Théâtre Guénégaud with her friends and
leaving the others empty.

Racine was in despair; for that not inconsiderable section of the public
which judges of the merits of a play solely by results was beginning to
declare that his tragedy was a complete failure and Pradon's a brilliant
success. After, however, the trick had been played for three more
nights, he triumphed. Perhaps Madame de Bouillon had begun to find her
amusement, which is said to have cost her 15,000 francs, the equivalent
of five times as much to-day, somewhat too costly a one; or possibly
Racine, discovering the tactics of his enemies, had appealed to the king
for protection, and the duchess had received a hint from his Majesty
that such practices were highly displeasing to him. Any way, the lady
retired from the field, and, with her withdrawal, the rival _Phèdres_
speedily found their respective levels. Nevertheless, in spite of his
ultimate success, Racine never forgot the mortification to which he had
been subjected, and there can be no doubt that this had not a little to
do with his decision to renounce writing for the stage.

When _Phèdre_ was played before the Court, Mlle. de Champmeslé, fearing
that Madame de Montespan might take the lines afterwards addressed on a
memorable occasion by Adrienne Lecouvreur to the Duchesse de
Bouillon:--

                            "Je suis mes perfidies
    Œnone, et ne suis pas de ces femmes hardies
    Qui, gôutant dans la crime une tranquille paix,
    Ont su se faire un front qui ne rougit jamais"--

to apply to herself, begged Racine to alter or erase them. The poet,
however, though he yielded the palm to no one as a flatterer of royalty,
and was, moreover, under considerable obligations to the king's
mistress, indignantly refused to mutilate his play. Several of those
present remarked upon the verses; but Madame de Montespan had too much
good sense to complain.

As Phèdre, the declamation of which, according to the Abbé du Bois,
Racine "had taught her verse by verse," Mlle. de Champmeslé seems to
have put the comble upon her fame as a _tragédienne_. Of all her
creations, it is the one that La Fontaine names first in the
frontispiece of _Belphégor_:--

    "Qui ne connaît l'inimitable actrice
     Représentant Phèdre ou Bérénice,
     Chimène en pleurs ou Camille en fureur?
     Est-il quelqu'un qui cette voix n'enchante?"

So inimitable was she in this character, affording her as it did an
opportunity for the display of all the resources of her art, that
_Phèdre_ was the play selected to consecrate the birth of the
Comédie-Française on Sunday, August 25, 1680; and it was _Phèdre_ again,
with Mlle. de Champmeslé in the title-part, which inaugurated the new
playhouse in the Rue des Fossés-Saint-Germain, on April 16, 1689.[52]

The popularity of Mlle. Champmeslé was not confined to the theatre. Her
house was "the rendezvous of all persons of distinction of the Court and
the town, as well as of the most celebrated writers of the time." Among
the former were Charles de Sévigné, Madame de Sévigné's troublesome son,
the Marquis de la Fare, the author of the curious and all-too-brief
memoirs, and the Comtes de Revel and Clermont-Tonnerre. The latter,
besides Racine, included Boileau, Valincourt, Racine's successor at the
Academy, Chapelle, and La Fontaine, "who very much regretted that he was
only a friend" of his charming hostess. The utmost cordiality and an
entire absence of the restraints of etiquette characterised these
gatherings, and noblemen and writers met on a footing of perfect
equality. "Permit me to address you," writes Boileau to the Comte de
Revel, in April 1701, "in the familiar tone to which you formerly
accustomed me at the house of the famous Champmeslé."

The actress's _liaison_ with Racine was not only public but accepted by
the easy morality of the day; Madame de Sévigné jests about it in her
letters, and La Fontaine, writing to Mlle. de Champmeslé, mentions it as
the most natural thing in the world. Many years afterwards, Boileau
reminds Racine of the numerous bottles of champagne which were drunk by
the lady's accommodating husband. "You know," adds he, "at whose
expense."

According to M. Larroumet, Racine's latest biographer, the poet's
passion for the interpreter of his heroines was of a less defensible
kind than that which he had felt for her predecessor in his affections,
Mlle. du Parc, "with whom he had experienced a sentiment which had the
dignity of love." M. Larroumet is of opinion that "he only loved her
with the facile love which the professionals of gallantry frequently
inspire."

However that may be, the lady appears to have been very far from
faithful to the poet. An epigram by Boileau, which is rather too _gai_
for us to transcribe, speaks of "six lovers" (including the husband),
and of M. de Champmeslé living on the best of terms with the others and
his wife. The favoured gentlemen appear to have been Racine and the four
noblemen mentioned above. But the only one of the four about whose
relations with the actress we have any details is Charles de Sévigné.

This young gentleman seems to have had something of the Oriental in his
temperament; for, at the time that he was paying court to the actress,
he was "wearing the chains of Ninon, this same Ninon who corrupted the
morals of his father."[53] The celebrated Ninon de Lenclos, it may be
mentioned, was then in her fifty-sixth year, but still retained much of
her former fascination; indeed, if tradition is to be believed, she had
lovers when she was over eighty!

Madame de Sévigné was much distressed by the conduct of her son. "Madame
de la Fayette and I are using every effort to wean him from so dangerous
an attachment," she writes to her daughter. "Besides, he has a little
actress (Mlle. de Champmeslé) and all the Despréaux and the Racines.
There are delicious suppers--that is to say, _diableries_." Then, on
March 18: "Your brother is at Saint-Germain. He divides his time between
Ninon and a little actress, and, to crown all, Despréaux. We lead him a
sad life. Ye gods, what folly! Ye gods, what folly!"

From the above passages, it would appear that Racine and his friend
Boileau were not exactly in the odour of sanctity with their
contemporaries; indeed, both were evidently regarded as corrupters of
youth by anxious mothers like Madame de Sévigné.

Three weeks later, we learn that M. de Sévigné is not prospering in his
love-affairs; Ninon has dismissed him, and Mlle. de Champmeslé is on the
point of following her example: "A word or two concerning your brother.
Ninon has given him his _congé_. She is tired of loving without being
loved in return; she has insisted upon his returning her letters, which
he has accordingly done. I was not a little pleased at the separation. I
gave him a hint of the duty he owed to God, reminded him of his former
good sentiments, and entreated him not to stifle all notion of religion
in his breast. But this is not all; when one side fails us, we think to
repair it with the other, and are deceived. The young Merveille (Mlle.
de Champmeslé) has not broken with him, but she will soon, I believe....
The poor Chimène says she sees plainly that he no longer loves her, and
has applied himself elsewhere. In short, this affair makes me laugh; but
I wish sincerely it may be the means of weaning him from a state so
offensive to God and hurtful to his own soul. Ninon told him that he was
a _pompion fricasseed in snow_. See what it is to keep good company! One
learns such elegant expressions."

Then, on April 17, Madame de Sévigné informs her daughter that the young
gentleman's health has broken down under the strain of "the abandoned
life he had led during Holy Week," and that he can "scarcely bear a
woman in his presence." Profiting by his remorse, his fond mother
becomes his confessor: "I took the opportunity to preach him a little
sermon on the subject, and we both indulged in some Christian
reflections. He seems to approve my sentiments, particularly now that
his disgust is at its height. He showed me some letters that he had
recovered from his actress. I never read anything so warm, so
passionate; he wept, he died; he believed it all while he was writing
it, and laughed at it a moment afterwards. I assure you that he is worth
his weight in gold."

Finally, on April 22, the marchioness writes that all is at an end
between her son and Mlle. de Champmeslé, and that she has been
instrumental in preventing the young man from playing a singularly mean
trick upon his former enchantress: "He has left his actress at last,
after having followed her everywhere. When he saw her, he was in
earnest; a moment later, he would make the greatest game of her. Ninon
has completely discarded him; he was miserable while she loved him, and
now that she loves him no longer, he is in absolute despair. She wished
him, the other day, to give her the letters he had received from his
actress, which he did. You must know that she was jealous of that
princess, and wanted to show them to a lover of hers, in the hope of
procuring her a few blows with a belt. He came and told me, when I
pointed out to him how shameful it was to treat this little creature so
badly, merely for having loved him; that she had not shown people his
letters, as some would have him believe, but, on the contrary, had
returned them to him again; that such treacherous conduct was unworthy
of a man of quality, and that there was a degree of honour to be
observed, even in things dishonourable in themselves. He acquiesced in
the justice of my remarks, hurried at once to Ninon's house, and, partly
by strategy and partly by force, got the poor devil's letters out of her
hands. I made him burn them. You see by this what a regard I have for
the reputation of an actress."

According to M. Gueullette (_Acteurs et Actrices du temps passé_),
Racine, though deeply in love with Mlle. de Champmeslé, supported
patiently the numerous infidelities of the lady, "so long as he believed
them to be passing fancies and that he was still beloved." But when the
actress embarked upon a more serious love-affair with the Comte de
Clermont-Tonnerre, and a wit wrote--

    "À la plus tendre amour elle fut destinée
     Qui prit longtemps Racine dans son cœur:
     Mais, par un insigne malheur,
     Le _Tonnerre_ est venu, qui l'a _déracinée_"--

he was so bitterly mortified that he left her never to return.

The brothers Parfaict and d'Allainval assert that disgust at his
treatment at the hands of Mlle. de Champmeslé was the immediate cause of
Racine's retirement from dramatic authorship, at the age of
thirty-eight, at the height of his talent, in the heyday of his success;
for after _Phèdre_ he wrote but two more plays, _Esther_ and _Athalie_,
which were performed by the young girls of Saint-Cyr, and were not seen
upon the Paris stage until many years after his death. This, however, is
very unlikely, and it is quite possible, as M. Larroumet suggests, that
Racine, instead of abandoning the theatre, because Mlle. de Champmeslé
had discarded him, discarded the actress, because he had abandoned the
theatre. The poet's retirement indeed seems to have been attributable to
several different motives: disgust at the shameful cabal against
_Phèdre_ and the various annoyances to which it gave rise; the fear that
a repetition of such tactics might jeopardise his position as the
greatest tragic dramatist of his time; weariness of a dissipated life,
and, above all, the awakening, after a sleep of many years, of the
religious sentiments with which his old teachers of Port-Royal had
inspired him in youth. Indignation at Mlle. Champmeslé's conduct may, of
course, have had something to do with the positive antipathy to the
theatre which he manifested in his last years;[54] but to assert that it
was the cause of his renunciation of a profession which had brought him
fame and fortune is to credit him with a capacity for sincere affection
which he certainly never possessed.

With Racine departed not a little of the immense popularity which the
theatre had enjoyed during the past half-century, for though of capable
actors there was, fortunately, no lack, dramatists of even moderate
ability were few and far between. In place of _Andromaques_ and
_Iphigénies_ and _Phèdres_, Mlle. de Champmeslé had to resign herself to
appear in such deservedly-forgotten plays as the _Achille_ of Thomas
Corneille, the _Argélie_ of the Abbé Abeille, and the _Troade_ of
Pradon. Nevertheless, despite the barrenness of the field in which she
laboured, she contrived to gather fresh laurels, and her masterly
impersonation of Queen Elizabeth in Thomas Corneille's _Comte d'Essex_
(January 1678) was enthusiastically received, and secured for a mediocre
play a success out of all proportion to its merits. "One might have said
of her," remarks M. Noury, "as a critic said of Adrienne Lecouvreur,
after seeing her in the same part, 'I have seen a queen among actors.'
She possessed, in fact, majesty."

At Easter 1679, in consequence of some dissensions with their
colleagues, Mlle. de Champmeslé and her husband quitted the Hôtel de
Bourgogne, where they had played for nineteen years, for the Théâtre
Guénégaud, which, by a contract dated April 12, awarded them, "in
gratitude," in addition to a full share of the profits, an annual
allowance of one thousand livres. All her contemporaries are agreed that
this defection was the principal cause of the fusion of the two troupes
in the following year. Deprived of the services of the famous actress,
the Hôtel de Bourgogne was no longer able to cope with its powerful
rivals in the Rue Mazarine.

On the formation of the new company, the Champmeslés figured at the head
of the list of the twenty-seven players nominated by Louis XIV., and
Mlle. Champmeslé was at once recognised as the mainstay of the theatre
in tragedy, as Mlle. Molière--or rather Mlle. Guérin, as she had now
become--was in comedy. Her husband, too, proved himself well worthy of
his place, not only as an actor, but as a playwright. His _Parisien_
(produced February 5, 1682), as we have said elsewhere, provided Mlle.
Guérin with one of her greatest triumphs, and he secured another success
in his _Fragments de Molière_, an amusing piece, in which various
characters from Molière's plays were introduced.

Mlle. de Champmeslé's successes did not make her forget her relatives.
Her brother, Nicolas Desmares, was at this time acting at Copenhagen, in
the troupe subsidised by Christian V. That monarch held the actor and
his wife, Anne d'Ennebaut, in high esteem, and, in 1682, in imitation of
Louis XIV.'s conduct in regard to Molière, he and his queen stood
sponsors to their little daughter, Christine Antoinette Charlotte
Desmares, destined, in years to come, to emulate the triumphs of her
famous aunt. Three years later, Mlle. de Champmeslé persuaded her
brother to return to France, and obtained from the King permission for
him to be received into the Comédie-Française, "_sans début_." For an
actor to be admitted a member of so famous a company without being
required to give proofs of his capabilities, was a privilege which had
never yet been accorded, and the playgoing public was up in arms at what
it was pleased to consider a scandalous piece of nepotism. So great was
the indignation that when Desmares made his first appearance, on May 7,
1685, in _Téramène_, an angry scene was apprehended; but the new
_sociétaire's_ acting was so admirable that the hisses were soon drowned
in a storm of applause.

When, in 1689, the Comédie-Française, ousted from the Rue Mazarine,
migrated to its new home in the Rue Neuve-des-Fossés-Saint-Germain,
Mlle. de Champmeslé, in spite of advancing years, continued her
triumphant career, her remarkable talents and enthusiasm enabling her to
secure some measure of success for even the most insipid tragedy. Apart
from revivals of the great masterpieces of Corneille and Racine, perhaps
her most notable success was gained in the part of Judith in the Abbé
Boyer's tragedy of that name, produced in March 1795, when she was in
her fifty-fourth year. This play had a singular history. For some time
it created a perfect _furore_, and the theatre could with difficulty
accommodate the crowds which presented themselves nightly at the doors.
"The seats on the stage," says Le Sage, "had to be given up by the men
to the women, whose handkerchiefs were spread upon their knees, to wipe
away the tears to be called forth by touching passages. The usual
occupants of the seats had to be content with the wings. In the fourth
act, there was a scene which proved particularly moving, and, for that
reason, was called the '_scène des mouchoirs_.' The pit, where laughers
are always to be found, made itself merry at the expense of these
impressionable ladies, instead of weeping with them."

Intoxicated by his success, the Gascon poet, in an evil hour for
himself, determined to allow his work to be printed, and it was
published during the Easter recess. It was, of course, eagerly bought,
but no sooner did people begin to read the book, than they made the
discovery that this tragedy, which the author's indiscreet admirers had
been comparing to _Polyeucte_ and _Phèdre_, was, in truth, a most
mediocre play, which clearly owed its phenomenal success to the
religious nature of the subject and Mlle. de Champmeslé's brilliant
impersonation of the Judæan heroine. The indignation of the public
against the unhappy abbé, who, it seemed to consider, had perpetrated a
kind of fraud at its expense, knew no bounds, and it was forthwith
decided that _Judith_ must be driven with ignominy from the boards.
Accordingly, when the curtain rose on Quasimodo Sunday--the usual
evening for the reopening of the theatre--the players, whose appearance
for so many nights had been the signal for prolonged applause, were
received with a storm of hisses and derisive laughter. "Then," continues
Le Sage, "Mlle. de Champmeslé, actress worthy of eternal remembrance,
astonished to hear such a symphony, when her ears were accustomed only
to applause, addressed the pit as follows: 'Gentlemen, we are rather
surprised that you should receive so badly to-day a play which you
applauded during Lent.' To which a voice replied: 'The hisses were at
Versailles, at the sermons of the Abbé Boileau.'"[55]

Mlle. de Champmeslé continued on the stage until the end of her life,
for, with her, acting would seem to have been not only a profession, but
a passion and a delight. As she grew old, however, she naturally began
to feel the strain of such constant exertion, and the efforts she was
called upon to make in order to secure the success of Longpierre's
_Médée_, in February 1694, brought on a somewhat severe illness. She
recovered and resumed her place in the company; but, four years later,
during the run of the _Oreste et Pilade_ of La Grange-Chancel, which the
author modestly asserts "drew as many tears as the _Iphigénie_ of M.
Racine," she was taken seriously ill and ordered by the doctors a
complete rest. She retired to Auteuil, which was "already sprinkled with
fine houses and noted among suburban villages for the purity of its
atmosphere." Here Boileau had a villa, with a delightful garden
attached, in which he was in the habit of entertaining all the literary
celebrities of the day, from Racine to Madame Deshoulières; and in
summer the village was a favourite health resort of those Parisians
whose means did not permit of a visit to Dieppe.

The air of Auteuil, however, was powerless to cure Mlle. de Champmeslé.
She grew gradually worse, and early in May, it was seen that her end was
near. Then arose the question of the administration of the last
Sacraments; but before speaking of this, it may be as well for us to
glance back and see what had been the practice of the Church in regard
to the theatrical profession during the quarter of a century which had
elapsed since the death of Molière.

       *       *       *       *       *

If any hopes had existed that the distressing incidents which had
accompanied the death of the great actor-dramatist had been merely the
outcome of the hostility of the Church towards a particular individual,
and, as such, were unlikely to be repeated, they were speedily doomed to
disappointment. Henceforth, the penalties denounced against the
profession by the early councils were no longer suffered to remain a
dead letter, but were enforced with the most merciless severity. The
actor found himself excommunicated both in life and death. Marriage,
absolution, the Holy Sacrament, baptism, all were denied him; and he was
even refused Christian burial. In one way, and in one way only, could he
escape this infamous proscription, which was publicly proclaimed every
Sunday from every pulpit in Paris, namely, by renouncing his profession,
surrendering his means of livelihood, forfeiting, in the case of a
member of the Comédie-Française, the pension to which he was entitled
after twenty years' service.

In 1684, Brécourt, an actor of the Comédie-Française, died. On his
death-bed he sent for the curé of Saint-Sulpice; but that priest refused
to administer the Sacraments until the actor had executed a deed
formally renouncing his profession, which was signed by him and four
ecclesiastics.[56] Shortly afterwards, two other players, Raisin and
Sallé, were compelled to subscribe to similar documents, in the presence
of a notary.

Two years later, Rosimont died suddenly without having had time to
abjure his errors. Notwithstanding a fondness for good liquor, he was a
sincerely religious man, having published a translation of the Psalms in
verse, and also written, or collaborated in, a _Vie des saints pour tous
les jours de l'année_. This fact, however, was not permitted to have any
weight with the bigoted curé of Saint-Sulpice, and the remains of poor
Rosimont were interred, without any ceremony, in a part of the cemetery
reserved for unbaptized children.

It must not be supposed that, outside the capital, the proscription of
the actor was general. In the provinces it varied, according to the
views of the different bishops and the particular ritual observed, and
in some dioceses the penalties were not enforced at all. Moreover, even
among the clergy themselves, men of liberal opinions were not wanting to
protest vigorously against the folly and injustice of reviving
superannuated anathemas, intended to apply to the sanguinary games of
the circus and the scandalous performances of the Roman theatre, against
the interpreters of the tragedies of Corneille and Racine and the
comedies of Molière. In 1694, a Theatine monk, one Père Caffaro by name,
published, under the cloak of anonymity, a very able letter, entitled
_Lettre d'un Théologien_, wherein he asserted that "the theatre, as it
then existed in France, contained only lessons of virtue, humanity, and
morality, and nothing to which the most chaste ear could not give its
attention." He further pointed out that the highest dignitaries of the
Church--bishops, cardinals, and nuncios--had no scruples about visiting
the theatre, and, therefore, if it was to be condemned, they must be
condemned also, "since they authorised it by their presence"; and
concluded by eulogising the exemplary life led by so many members of the
proscribed profession, and their abounding charity, "to which
magistrates and the superiors of convents could bear ample testimony."

This letter made a great stir, and brought Bossuet--then regarded as the
mouthpiece of the Gallican Church--into the field to crush the imprudent
Theatine. The bishop called upon the monk to retract his statements, and
published a treatise called _Maximes et réflexions sur la comédie_, in
which, after denouncing the plays most in vogue, and in particular the
comedies of Molière, which he stigmatised as full of "impieties and
obscenities unfit for the ears of a Christian," he maintained that it
was not only "the idolatry and the scandalous indecency" of the theatre
that the Fathers of the Church had condemned, but "its uselessness, its
prodigious dissipation, the passions which it excited, and the vanity
and love of display which it aroused." According to him, the Church
would excommunicate all Christians who frequented the theatre, were the
number of offenders not so great.

Bossuet also asserted that actors had always been excommunicated. "The
constant practice of the Church," he wrote, "is to deprive those who
perform plays of the Sacraments, both in life and death, unless they
renounce their art; and to repulse them from the Holy Table as public
sinners." This statement, as M. Maugras points out, in his able and
interesting work, _Les Comédiens hors la loi_, was quite untrue. Up to
the time of _Tartuffe_, the Church had shown the greatest indulgence
towards the theatrical profession, and the old canons had remained a
dead-letter.

Bossuet was followed in his campaign against the theatre by all the most
eminent of the French clergy. Massillon, Fléchier, Bourdaloue, and
Fénelon vied with one another in denouncing the unhappy actor in their
sermons and writings.[57] Père Caffaro was compelled by the Archbishop
of Paris to publicly disavow his letter, which, in fear and trembling,
he now protested had been extracted from a work of his, written "in the
levity of youth," and published without his knowledge or consent; and
the persecution, encouraged by the fact that the gloomy bigotry of the
old King had led him to withdraw his protection from the theatre, grew
more rigorous than ever.

Strangely enough, at the same time that the Church was mercilessly
proscribing the French actors, it received with open arms the Italian
players, who had definitely established themselves in Paris in 1660,
admitted them to the Sacraments, allowed them to be married in church,
and buried them in holy ground. This distinction appears the more
inexplicable, as the French theatre was at this period as reserved and
decent as the Italian was the reverse. The licence of the foreigners,
indeed, knew no bounds, and finally their plays assumed so objectionable
a character that, in 1697, they were expelled from France.[58] The
probable explanation is, that the Gallican Church did not dare to
proscribe the same persons whom the sovereign pontiffs tolerated in
their realm, and whose performances were freely patronised by the Roman
prelates and clergy.[59]

By another inconsistency, the indulgence shown to the Italian players
was extended to the singers and dancers of the Opera. The reason given
for this exemption was that the members of the Opera were not actors, as
they did not bear the name. But, as we have seen, the canons of the
early councils, upon which the bigots relied for their authority, made
no distinction whatever between the different classes of public
performers: actors, singers, dancers, mountebanks, jugglers, and circus
performers were all included in one common anathema.[60]

       *       *       *       *       *

Mlle. de Champmeslé had been greatly distressed at having to renounce
her triumphs and the adulation of the public. Proud of the profession to
which she owed her fame, she revolted from the idea of repudiating it,
and for some time opposed a steady resistance to the solicitations of
the curé of Auteuil, who besought her to make her peace with Heaven, or
rather with the Church. Finally, however, she yielded, and the curé of
Saint-Sulpice, to whose parish she belonged, was summoned to receive her
renunciation. Under ordinary circumstances, as we have seen, the
unfortunate actor or actress was compelled to give this undertaking in
writing duly attested before a notary; but when the priest arrived the
poor woman was at the point of death, and he was therefore compelled to
content himself with a verbal declaration. This formality concluded, the
curé of Auteuil gave the dying actress absolution and administered the
last Sacraments; and on May 15, 1698, she passed quietly away, at the
age of fifty-six.

On the morrow her body was brought to Paris, and interred at
Saint-Sulpice, in the presence of the whole of the Comédie-Française.

That same day, Racine, now a _dévot_ of the most pronounced type, wrote
to his son Louis, "with whom," says the poet's very candid biographer,
M. Larroumet, "he ought never to have approached such a subject":--

"M. de Rost informed me the day before yesterday that the Champmeslé was
_in extremis_, about which he appeared very distressed; but what is
more distressing is that which he apparently troubles little about, I
mean the obstinacy with which this poor wretch refuses to renounce the
play; declaring, so I am told, that she is proud to die an actress. It
is to be hoped that, when she sees death drawing nearer, she will change
her tone, as is the rule with the majority of persons who give
themselves such airs so long as they are in good health."

Two months later, he returns to the subject in these terms:--

"I must tell you, by the way, that I owe reparation to the memory of the
Champmeslé, who died in a sufficiently good state of mind, after having
renounced the play, very repentant for her past life, but especially
distressed at having to die."

"There is no conversion," very justly remarks M. Larroumet, "that can
possibly excuse such language as this."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mlle. de Champmeslé left behind her two brilliant pupils. The first was
Mlle. Duclos, daughter of a former member of the Marais troupe named
Châteauneuf, who made her _début_ at the Comédie-Française in 1693, and
was soon afterwards engaged to understudy the great actress in first
tragedy parts. She excelled in rôles requiring "majesty of bearing and
the impetuous sway of passion," and in such secured several notable
successes; but her style both of speaking and acting seems to have been
very artificial. She was, moreover, cursed with a most abominable
temper, which made her a perfect terror to her colleagues at rehearsals,
and which she could not always control, even before the audience. At the
first performance of La Motte's _Inès de Castro_, in 1723, a scene
which was intended to be intensely pathetic excited the merriment of the
pit, upon which Mlle. Duclos, who was playing Inès, stopped the
performance, and coming to the front of the stage, shouted angrily,
"Foolish pit! You are laughing at the finest thing in the play." On
another occasion, when Dancourt apologised to the audience for the
lady's non-appearance in one of her most popular rôles, at the same time
indicating, by a significant gesture, the cause of her indisposition,
the actress, who happened to be standing in the wings, rushed on to the
stage, beside herself with passion, and soundly boxed her facetious
colleague's ears, amid roars of laughter. In 1733, when in her
fifty-sixth year, Mlle. Duclos was foolish enough to marry an actor
named Duchemin, a youth scarcely seventeen! Two years later, she was
compelled to obtain a separation from her juvenile husband, whom she
alleged had "maltreated her daily," and dealt her "_coups de pied et de
poing tant sur le corps que sur le visage_." Mlle. Duclos's most
successful creation was Zénobie, in the _Rhadaminthe et Zénobie_ of
Crébillon, and among her other impersonations were Ariane, in Thomas
Corneille's play of that name, Josabeth, in _Athalie_, Hersélie in La
Motte's _Romulus_, and the title-part in the _Électre_ of Longpierre.
She retired, in 1733, with a pension of 1000 livres from the theatre,
and another of the same amount from the court, which she enjoyed for
twelve years.

The second of Mlle. de Champmeslé's pupils was her own niece, Charlotte
Desmares, of whom we have already spoken. After playing in child-parts
for some years at the Comédie-Française, Mlle. Desmares made her _début_
in 1699, the year after her aunt's death. She was an exceedingly pretty
young woman, and, though inferior to Mlle. Duclos in declamatory
tragedy, greatly her superior in pathetic rôles. Her best tragedy parts
were Iphigénie in La Grange-Chancel's _Oreste et Pilade_, which had been
Mlle. de Champmeslé's last creation, Sémiramis in Crébillon's play of
that name, Jocaste in the _Œdipe_ of Voltaire, and Antigone in La
Motte's _Machabées_, which crowned her career. She was even more
successful in comedy, and no better _soubrette_ had been seen since the
days of Madeleine Béjart. In 1715, she became the mistress of the Regent
d'Orléans, by whom she had a daughter. "My son," wrote the old Duchesse
d'Orléans, "has been presented with a daughter by the Desmares. She
tried to pass off another child on him as his, but he replied, '_Non,
celui-ci est par trop Arlequin_.'"

Mlle. Desmares retired from the stage in 1721, and died in 1743 at the
age of sixty-one.

       *       *       *       *       *

Charles de Champmeslé did not long survive his wife. A curious story
attaches to his death. On the night of August 19-20, 1701, he dreamed
that his dead mother and his wife appeared to him and beckoned him to
follow them. Convinced that this dream was a warning of his approaching
death, he went, early the following morning, to the church of the
Cordeliers, and, handing the sacristan a thirty-sol piece, requested him
to have two Requiem Masses said for the souls of his departed relatives.
Then, as the monk was about to return him the change--the fee for a Mass
was ten sols--the actor exclaimed: "Keep the balance and say a third
Mass for me; I will stay and listen to it." On leaving the church,
Champmeslé made his way to a tavern adjoining the Comédie-Française,
and sat down on a bench by the door, where he remained for some time,
deep in thought. Presently he entered the theatre and walked about the
_foyer_, muttering to himself the old proverb: "_Adieu, paniers!
vendanges sont faites_" ("Farewell, baskets! the grapes are gathered").
He repeated this so often, and his manner appeared so strange, that his
colleagues feared his mind had suddenly become affected. But, after a
while, he recovered his usual cheerfulness, and invited his
brother-in-law, Nicolas Desmares, and several others to dine with him at
the tavern, in order to settle some dispute which had arisen between two
of them. Scarcely, however, had they reached the door, than Champmeslé
staggered, put his hands to his forehead, and fell, face downwards, on
the floor. When his friends raised him up, he was dead.



III

ADRIENNE LECOUVREUR


Although not the greatest, Adrienne Lecouvreur is perhaps the most
interesting, and certainly the most sympathetic, figure in the history
of the French stage. She was the first actress to enjoy not only renown
in the theatre, but consideration in society; she was beloved by the
greatest soldier of her time; she was on terms of the closest friendship
with the greatest poet, and inspired him to a most touching elegy; while
the terrible suspicion attaching to her death and the deplorable scandal
connected with her burial have invested her with a halo of romance. She
seems, moreover, to possess an attraction for French writers which is
shared by no other actress. She has found a well-informed contemporary
biographer in the dramatist d'Allainval; Sainte-Beuve has given her a
place in his _Lundis_, and Michelet one in his _Histoire de France_;
Lemontey pronounced an eloquent _éloge_ of her before the Academy;
Régnier has allotted her a chapter in his _Souvenirs et études du
théâtre_, and M. Larroumet has consecrated to her a fine study in his
_Études de littérature et d'art_. Finally, she has been made the subject
of a famous tragedy,[61] in which the heroine was impersonated by the
greatest French actress of the nineteenth century, Rachel.

Within recent years, interest in Adrienne Lecouvreur has been greatly
stimulated owing to the publication by M. Georges Monval, the learned
archivist of the Comédie-Française, of a collection of the actress's
letters, preceded by an admirable biography, containing much information
about the early part of her theatrical career, of which, up to that
time, little or nothing was known. These letters, besides affording us a
valuable insight into Adrienne's character, contain, in the opinion of
eminent French critics, some truly exquisite pages, which entitle the
writer to a place beside the Caylus, the Staals, the Aïssés, and other
mistresses of the language of her time.

Adrienne Lecouvreur was born on April 5, 1692, at Damery, a little town
of Champagne, overlooking the smiling valley of the Marne. Her father
was a journeyman hatter, named Robert Couvreur;[62] her mother's name
was Marie Bouty. Soon after Adrienne was born, her parents removed to
Fismes, between Rheims and Soissons, and, about the year 1702, migrated
to Paris, where they resided in the Rue des
Fossés-Saint-Germain-des-Prés, close to the Comédie-Française, the
little girl being sent to the Couvent des Filles de l'Instruction
Chrétienne, Rue du Gindre, one of the convents at which a certain number
of poor children received a free education.

Adrienne appears to have had a very unhappy childhood. In a letter in
verse which she addressed, many years later, to her faithful friend
d'Argental, she declares that a divinity "furious and jealous" seated
herself near her cradle and controlled her destiny from her earliest
years. In the "ruin" where she was born,--

    "Residaient le misère et l'aigreur,
     L'emportement, la grossière fureur."

This last statement was probably true enough, as her father was a man of
the most violent temper, who, after leading his family a sad life,
finally became insane and had to be sent to the _maison de santé_ at
Charleville. Here, Adrienne tells us, the unfortunate man distinguished
himself by "setting fire to the four corners of his room, and concealing
himself in the chimney, which he had previously stopped up with the
coverlet of his bed." His intention apparently was to make his escape
amid the confusion which would follow the discovery of the fire, but, in
the result, he was nearly burned to death. In spite of all she seems to
have suffered at her father's hands, Adrienne never ceased to love him,
and saw in this calamity "the chief of all her misfortunes."

When Adrienne was thirteen, a chance circumstance revealed her vocation
for the theatre. She and some other children of her quarter took it into
their heads to perform some plays for their own amusement, and met to
rehearse at a grocer's shop in the Rue Ferou. The young people had the
hardihood to attempt _Polyeucte_, Adrienne playing Pauline, one of the
most touching of the great Corneille's heroines, and reciting the famous
dramatist's verses with a fire and pathos which eclipsed Mlle. Duclos
herself.

The news of their rehearsals reached the ears of a certain Madame du
Gué, the wife of a President of the Parliament of Paris and a great
patroness of the drama. Madame la Présidente invited the little players
to give a representation in the courtyard of her hôtel in the Rue
Garancière, where she had a stage erected, and asked a large and
distinguished company to witness the performance. Struck by the novelty
of the entertainment, a great many people came who had not been invited,
and, despite the efforts of eight tall Swiss, the door was forced, and
when the curtain--or whatever did duty for it--rose, the courtyard,
large as it was, was inconveniently crowded.

It had been arranged that the performance should consist of Pierre
Corneille's famous tragedy, to be followed by a lively little play, in
one act, and in verse, called _Le Deuil_, the joint work of Hauteroche
and Thomas Corneille. In those days, we may observe, a tragedy was
almost invariably followed by a comedy, the idea presumably being to
dissipate the sad impressions produced by the former, and send the
audience home in good spirits.

In default of a costume suitable to the period in which the action of
_Polyeucte_ passes, Adrienne had borrowed a gown of fashionable make
from Madame du Gué's waiting-woman, which, unfortunately, was very much
too large for her. But the little actress's talent triumphed over
sartorial disadvantages, and her impersonation of the faithful wife of
Polyeucte struggling against the memory of her first love was perfectly
extraordinary for one of her age. "She charmed every one by a quite
novel style of recitation, so natural and so true that it was the
unanimous opinion that she had but a step to take to become the greatest
actress ever seen upon the French stage."

Adrienne's efforts were ably seconded by a lad named Menou, who played
Sévère, and entered so thoroughly into the spirit of his rôle that, as
he uttered the words: "_Soutiens-moi, ce coup de foudre est grand!_" he
fell to the ground in a swoon, and had to be carried away and bled.
After which, he pluckily returned and finished his part.

_Polyeucte_ concluded, the little actors were about to begin their
performance of _Le Deuil_, and every one was looking forward to see
whether Adrienne would shape as well in comedy as she had in tragedy,
when the archers of the Lieutenant of Police suddenly appeared on the
scene. The members of the Comédie-Française had got wind of this
entertainment, composed of two pieces from their own répertoire; and,
indeed, several of them had assisted at it. The popularity of the
national theatre was just then much weakened by the rivalry of the Opera
and the unlicensed playhouses of the fairs in the neighbourhood of
Paris, and they feared that by tolerating such performances as the
present one their receipts would be still further diminished. They
accordingly sent a deputation to d'Argenson, begging him to uphold the
exclusive privileges conferred upon the Comédie-Française at its
foundation, and to nip the enterprise of their youthful competitors in
the bud.

The police informed Madame du Gué that they had come with orders from
their chief to arrest the little players. But that good lady begged the
_exempt_ in charge for a short respite, and despatched a messenger to
d'Argenson, who consented to pardon the delinquents, on condition that
the performances should cease. Madame la Présidente's guests,
accordingly, were disappointed of their comedy; but it was performed
none the less, for the Grand Prieur de Vendôme, head of the Order of
Malta, learning of what had occurred, invited Adrienne and her comrades
to the Temple, which was outside the ordinary jurisdiction of the
police; and here they gave several performances, in which the little
girl confirmed the great impression she had made at Madame du Gué's.
"After which," says d'Allainval, "the party was entirely disbanded."

Adrienne had an aunt, a laundress, who numbered among her customers an
actor named Le Grand, who had recently been admitted a _sociétaire_ of
the Comédie-Française, and was in the habit of increasing his
professional income by training pupils for the stage. Le Grand was an
amusing character. The son of a surgeon-major of the Invalides, he had
received a fair education, and, after serving his apprenticeship in the
provinces, had left France to accept an engagement at the Polish Court,
where he had remained for some years. He seems to have owed his
admission to the Comédie-Française to the patronage of no less a person
than the Grand Dauphin himself, for, though an excellent teacher, he was
an actor of but moderate ability, and was, moreover, so singularly
ill-favoured that for some time he could not appear on the stage without
being exposed to bursts of derisive laughter. His ready wit and
imperturbable good-humour, however, eventually gained him the favour of
the public. One night when he was being unmercifully chaffed by the pit,
he came to the front of the stage, and coolly addressed his persecutors
as follows: "Gentlemen, it will be easier for you to accustom yourselves
to my face than for me to change it."

From that moment, his popularity was assured, but, to the last, his
ungainly figure and comical face proved a source of merriment to the
less seriously disposed patrons of the theatre, especially when he
happened to be undertaking an heroic part.

Le Grand's forte lay in the writing rather than the acting of plays. In
this he was very successful, for, like Dancourt, he possessed the happy
knack of giving dramatic form to the topics of the hour. Thus when, in
October 1721, the notorious robber Cartouche was awaiting his trial, Le
Grand made him the central figure of a comedy, called _Cartouche, ou les
Voleurs_, and paid several visits to the Châtelet to study and converse
with the prisoner. The play, as might be expected, drew crowded houses,
and the grateful author sent Cartouche a hundred crowns as his share of
the profits. But that worthy, whose vanity had at first been flattered
by the idea of figuring as the hero of a play, now complained that the
piece might prejudice his case, and, after the thirteenth performance,
it was stopped by order of the Lieutenant of Police. Le Grand's best
play was his _Roi de Cocagne_, a farcical comedy with interludes by Jean
Baptiste Quinault, which had a great vogue, and is highly spoken of by
August Wilhelm von Schlegel in his "Lectures on Dramatic Art and
Literature."

Proud of her little niece's talent, Adrienne's aunt mentioned her to Le
Grand, who, after hearing the girl recite, at once perceived the great
future which lay before her, and "decided to become her second master,
Nature having been her first." He accordingly took her to live with
him,[63] gave her lessons, and found her opportunities for acting in
several amateur companies. Finally he persuaded Robert Couvreur, whose
financial affairs had reached a very parlous state, to allow his
daughter to make the stage her profession.

Knowing, from his own experience, that the provinces were the best
school and the nursery for the Comédie-Française, Le Grand recommended
Adrienne to an old colleague of his, a Mlle. Fonpré, whose husband had
formerly been manager of the Brussels theatre, and who had just obtained
from the magistrates of Lille a three years' monopoly of dramatic
performances in that town. Before her the girl recited some scenes from
the _Cid_, which so delighted Mlle. Fonpré that she engaged her on the
spot, and gave her permission to bring her father with her to Flanders.

Then began for Adrienne the life of a provincial actress, which, if it
had somewhat improved since the days of the Illustre Théâtre, was still
very far from being a bed of roses. "Mixture of hard work and of
compulsory pleasure," says M. Larroumet, "with the companionships of the
_coulisses_, the persistent attentions of young men of fashion and
garrison officers, the errors of sentiment and conduct which were the
consequence, and the repentance and disgust which followed, it was the
most miserable and most trying to which a refined nature could
submit."[64]

For ten years, that is to say, from 1706 to 1717, Adrienne exploited
Flanders, Lorraine, and Alsace, now accepting a lengthy engagement at
some important theatre, now journeying with some travelling company from
town to town, acquiring in this rude apprenticeship a thorough knowledge
of her art and a particularly cruel experience of life.

At Lille, where she appears to have remained for about three years,
dramatic performances were during several weeks carried on to the
accompaniment of the cannon of a besieging army, first, under the Duke
of Marlborough, and, afterwards, under Prince Eugène, to whom the
citadel surrendered on October 28, 1708. On one occasion, a shell
exploded within a few paces of the theatre, notwithstanding which the
performances were as well attended as in time of peace.

After leaving Lille, Adrienne accepted an engagement as "leading lady"
at the theatre at Lunéville, and she is also believed to have played at
Metz, Nancy, and Verdun. Finally, early in the year 1711, we find her
occupying a similar position at the Strasburg theatre, one of the finest
houses to be met with out of Paris, with a salary of two thousand
livres, a considerable sum for those days; and here she seems to have
remained until the spring of 1717, when she returned to Paris to make
her _début_ at the Comédie-Française.

The portrait of Adrienne Lecouvreur was painted by several of the
leading artists of her time: Charles Coypel, Fontaine, H. de Troy _le
père_, Jean Baptiste Van Loo, and, it is believed, Nattier. None of
these portraits, unfortunately, have come down to us, though the works
of the two first painters are well known through the engravings of
Drevet and Schmidt.

In regard to the merits of the two portraits, there seems to be
considerable difference of opinion. Michelet, in his _Histoire de
France_, speaks with enthusiasm of the painting by Coypel, reproduced in
this volume, in which Adrienne is represented as Cornélie in _La Mort de
Pompée_, weeping over the urn of her husband, which she holds clasped to
her breast. "She must have exercised a terrible power over hearts, to
have been able to transform beasts into men, to have caused the feeble
and mediocre Coypel to paint such a portrait. An inspired artist of our
time, our first sculptor, Préault, told me that he knew not a word of
the history of Mlle. Lecouvreur when he saw this engraving. He was very
affected by it, enraptured, and he seized upon it greedily.... It is
more than a work of art, it is, as it were, a dream of grief. Those
heavenly eyes, suffused with sublime tears, the gesture of those arms
clasping the funeral urn, the grief expressed by that countenance, the
silent accusation which that whole figure brings against destiny, all
make of this picture a unique work, an honour alike to painter and
model."

M. Larruomet agrees with Michelet: "I, for my part, am of opinion that
if Charles Coypel, as a rule an artist of but moderate ability, invented
the pose of this portrait, he had, by chance, an inspiration of genius,
and that, if he only borrowed it from the actress, she possessed that
innate sense of attitude which we admire in our own day (1892), in M.
Mounet-Sully and Madame Sarah Bernhardt, and which alone would have
sufficed to make of them great actors." M. Larroumet declares the
portrait to possess "the incontestable merit of being a superb work of
art," and greatly prefers it to the one by Fontaine, which shows us the
actress "_en robe de chambre_," with her hair dressed in the fashion of
the day. In the latter he can see only a "_tableau d'apparat_" of but
little merit.

On the other hand, Régnier, M. Maurice Paléologue, and M. Georges
Monval, to the last of whom we owe the publication of Adrienne's
correspondence, give the preference to Fontaine's work. "It is a truer,
a more human, a more lifelike, a more familiar Adrienne," remarks M.
Monval, who stigmatises the portrait by Coypel as "a fantastic and
studied picture, a _tête d'étude_, a banal figure, under which one might
equally well inscribe the name of Magdalene repentant, or of Sophie
Arnould."

For ourselves, while on the whole inclined to endorse the high opinion
which Michelet and M. Larroumet have formed of Coypel's portrait, we
cannot but think that the latter has unduly depreciated that by
Fontaine, which appears to us both pleasing and natural.

However that may be, the two portraits, in all essential respects, are
far from dissimilar, and as they accord well with the descriptions of
the actress given by contemporary writers, we see no reason to doubt the
fidelity of either. In both we find a high forehead, fine eyes, a
slightly aquiline nose, a well-shaped mouth, with the rather prominent
lower lip which recalls the portraits of princesses of the House of
Austria, and a rounded chin; in a word, the features of a very pretty
woman.

In default of portraits painted or engraved, Adrienne's beauty would be
amply attested by her contemporaries. Not that the testimony in her
favour is altogether unanimous, as M. Paléologue rather boldly asserts;
to expect unanimity in regard to the appearance of a celebrated actress,
whose triumphs must of necessity arouse envy and jealousy in many
quarters, would be as unreasonable as to look for a general appreciation
of her dramatic talent. But the number of those who decline to admit her
attractiveness is very small, and not above suspicion of prejudice,
while the evidence to the contrary is abundant and authoritative.
"Without being tall," wrote, in 1719, the author of _Les Lettres
historiques sur tous les spectacles de Paris_, "she is very well made,
and has an air of distinction, which prepossesses one in her favour; no
one in the world has more charms. Her eyes speak as much as her mouth,
and often supply the place of her voice. In short, I cannot do better
than compare her to a miniature, since she has agreeableness, finesse,
and delicacy."

The _Mercure_ confirms this portrait: "Mlle. Lecouvreur was about the
middle height and admirably formed, with a noble and confident air, a
well-poised head and shapely shoulders, eyes full of fire, a pretty
mouth, a slightly aquiline nose, and very pleasing manners; although not
plump, her face was somewhat full, with features admirably adapted to
express sorrow, joy, tenderness, fear, and pity."[65]

       *       *       *       *       *

Nature, besides endowing Adrienne with beauty, had given her an
exceedingly susceptible heart. Her letters, published some years ago by
M. Georges Monval, though, with one or two exceptions, none of them can
be said to come within the category of love-letters, reveal an ardent
and imperious need of loving and being loved. "_Que faire au monde sans
aimer?_" she writes to one of her friends; and these words might very
well have been taken as her motto.

With her, however, love was very far from being the consuming fire it is
with so many of her sex; she was of the race of tender, not of
passionate lovers; of the race, too, of those who, scorning the lighter
forms of gallantry, and yet unable to preserve their virtue, are so
often destined to bitter disappointment, disillusion, and remorse.
"Relative of the Monimes, the Bérénices, the La Vallières, and the
Aïssés," says M. Paléologue, in his fine study of the actress, "she has
their melting tears, their touching grace, and their voluptuous modesty.
But her true originality among the women of her time lay in the
conception that she formed of love. We know the singular change that
this sentiment had undergone beneath the dissolving influence of the
morals of the Regency; all that had made up to that time for the
nobility and poetry of passion had fallen beneath the blows of the
reigning philosophy and the persiflage of the salons. In this
transformation the woman had lost more than the man. She had been taught
that modesty and fidelity were grandiloquent words devoid of meaning,
and, freeing herself from all romantic illusion, and clinging only to
the positive and agreeable in her amorous intrigues, she displayed
everywhere a cynical libertinism.

"It was the honour of Adrienne to resist this contagion. The gift of her
person was always a pledge of the heart. She loved not by caprice, not
by vanity, but by a moral inclination, with an ardour, a
conscientiousness, and a gravity profound."[66]

The first of the actress's adorers was the Baron D----, a young officer
of the Régiment de Picardie, which formed part of the garrison of Lille.
Of him we know nothing, save that, after the _liaison_ had lasted some
months, he died suddenly, an event which occasioned his mistress such
terrible grief that she is said to have seriously contemplated
destroying herself. To the baron succeeded a certain Philippe Le Roy,
"officer of the Duke of Lorraine," by whom, in 1710, Adrienne had a
daughter, baptized as Élisabeth Adrienne. M. Le Roy, however, appears to
have proved fickle, for, soon afterwards, we hear of a third lover, a
provincial actor named Clavel, brother of Mlle. Fonpré.

With Clavel Adrienne corresponded, and two of her letters to him have
fortunately been preserved, the only love-letters of this woman who
loved so much that have come down to us. It is much to be regretted that
the rest of this correspondence has been lost, as they reveal the
actress in a very favourable light: warm-hearted, sincere, loyal, and
disinterested.

The first letter, written some time in the year 1710, is in reply to one
from Clavel, which she has been impatiently awaiting:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"I have at last received that letter so eagerly anticipated, and for
which I have been astounding Notre Dame des Carmes with my prayers. I
can assure thee, my dear friend, that I have had no rest since thy
departure, both on account of my uneasiness at not receiving news of
thee and of finding myself inconvenienced as I am. I hope to be better
now, since I have reason to believe that thou lovest me still and that
thou art well. Take care of thyself, I beg of thee, since thy health is
as precious to me as my own. I shall be charmed to learn that thou art
enjoying thyself, provided that I lose by it nothing of what is mine,
and that thou dost not write to me less often.... Assuredly, I believe
that thou hast a kind heart, and, consequently, art faithful to thy poor
Lecouvreur, who loves thee more than herself.... I embrace thee with all
the tenderness of my heart, and swear to thee a constancy proof against
all things."

       *       *       *       *       *

From the second letter, which was written two years later, and which M.
Larroumet declares to be "one of the tenderest and most touching
letters to be found in literature, real or imaginative, worthy of
comparison with the famous letter of _Manon Lescaut_," it would appear
that Clavel had promised to marry Adrienne, or, at least, given her
reason to believe that such was his intention; and she refers to the
matter with a frankness, a delicacy, and a forgetfulness of self rarely
met with where personal interests are at stake:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"I hardly know what I ought to think of your[67] neglect, at a time when
everything ought to alarm me. Be always persuaded that I love you for
yourself a hundred times more than on my own account. Time will prove to
you, my dear Clavel, what I swear to you to-day. Entertain for me the
sentiments that I shall entertain for you all my life, for all my
ambition is bounded by that. With all the attachment that I have for
you, I should be in despair if you did anything for me with repugnance.
Reflect well that you are still master. Consider that I have nothing and
that I owe a great deal, and that you will find greater advantages
elsewhere. For my part, I have nothing, save youth and good will, but
that does not adjust matters. I speak to you plainly, as you see, and I
tell you frankly things which are able to make you think of me as one
whom you ought to avoid. Here is a chance to take your own part. Have no
consideration. Make no promise that you do not intend to keep; were it
necessary for you to promise to hate me, it seems to me that it would be
easier for me to bear than to find myself deceived.... I tell you again,
my dear Clavel, that your interests are dearer to me than my own.
Follow the course which will be most pleasing to you. I know you to be
of a disposition which will prompt you to behave generously and perhaps
to surpass me; but yet once again reflect well. Act like the honest man
that you are and follow your own inclination, without troubling about
the possible consequences. I shall resign myself, by some means or
other, as well as I can, whether I gain or lose you. If I have you, I
shall have the sorrow of not rendering you as happy as I should wish; my
own happiness will perhaps make me forget the pain.... If I lose you, I
shall strive at least not to do so entirely, and I shall still retain
some place in your esteem. If you are happy, I shall have the pleasure
of knowing that I have not prevented it; or, if you are not, I, at any
rate, shall not be the cause, and I shall endeavour in some way to
console myself."

       *       *       *       *       *

The result of Clavel's reflections was that he came to the conclusion
that marriage with a young woman who "had nothing and owed a great deal"
might prove but an indifferent bargain for an ambitious young actor; and
Adrienne, after a somewhat lengthy period of solitude, accepted the
protection of Comte François de Klinglin, son of the _préteur royal_, or
first magistrate, of Strasburg. To him, at the beginning of the year
1717, she bore a second daughter, Catherine Françoise Ursule; but the
ill-fortune which had attended her previous _liaisons_ still pursued
her, for, almost immediately after this event, her lover abandoned her,
in order to contract a wealthy marriage, to which he had been long urged
by his family.

The marriage of the father of her child threw poor Adrienne into the
depths of despair. Too proud to reproach him with his perfidy, and yet
too sensitive to remain to witness its consummation, she determined to
leave the city, which must henceforth have for her such painful
associations, and, having obtained permission to make her _début_ at the
Comédie-Française, at the close of the theatrical year, she set out for
Paris. Her two children she left at Strasburg, where she had them
educated with great care, and on her death, in 1730, made ample
provision for them. The elder, daughter of Philippe Le Roy, afterwards
married the musician Francœur the younger, who, in 1757, was
appointed director of the Opera; the younger, daughter of the faithless
Klinglin, became the wife of a M. Daudet (or Dauvet), a magistrate at
Strasburg.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was on May 14, 1717, that Adrienne made her first appearance before
the Parisian public, in the title-part in the _Électre_ of Crébillon,
and as Angélique in _George Dandin_--that is to say, in both tragedy and
comedy. Notwithstanding the fact that the Czar, Peter the Great, then on
a visit to Paris, was to be present at the Opera that evening, the house
was crowded, for the _débutante_ had brought a great reputation with her
from the provinces, while not a few playgoers remembered her
performances when a child at Madame du Gué's and in the Temple. The
expectations of the public were not disappointed. "Her success was so
prodigious," writes d'Allainval, "that it was remarked that she had
begun as great actresses usually finish"; and a perfect storm of
enthusiasm followed the fall of the curtain.

Nor did the heroine of the evening fail to confirm the advantage she
had gained. A few days later, she gave a masterly rendering of the rôle
of Monime in Racine's _Mithridate_, which will be remembered as one of
Mlle. de Champmeslé's most brilliant creations, speedily followed by
other triumphs as Bérénice, Irené in _Andronic_, Alcmène in
_Amphitryon_, and Pauline in _Polyeucte_; and, on June 20, a vacancy
having in the meanwhile arisen, she was received into the company and
allotted a _demi-part_.

For thirteen years, that is to say until her death, on March 20, 1730,
Adrienne reigned the almost unquestioned queen of the Comédie-Française,
passing from triumph to triumph, associating her name with a great
variety of characters in tragedy, and attaining a popularity with the
playgoing public such as no actress had ever before enjoyed. "A lofty
soul, great enthusiasm, constant study, a passionate love for her art,"
says Sainte-Beuve, "all combined to make of her that ideal of a great
_tragédienne_, which until that time does not appear to have been
realised to this degree. Mlle. Duclos was only a representative of the
declamatory school, and if Mlle. Desmares and the Champmeslé had had
great and splendid parts, they certainly never attained to the all-round
perfection of Adrienne Lecouvreur. When the latter appeared, she had no
other model than her own taste, and she created."[68]

As the French theatre had been founded in imitation of the ancients,
without much regard for the difference of manners, in the same way, its
dramatic declamation was ruled by obscure traditions, independently of
the difference in languages. When at the theatre of the Hôtel de
Bourgogne, the art had hardly freed itself from its first awkwardness,
some erroneous ideas of the elocution of the Greeks and the stage system
of the Romans made of the actor's delivery a kind of measured chant.
Favoured by the construction of the verses of the great seventeenth
century dramatists and the brilliant successes of Mlle. de Champmeslé,
this monotonous chant passed from the Rue Mauconseil to the
Comédie-Française, where, at the time of Adrienne's appearance, it had
become so firmly established that to the great majority of the company
and a large number of their patrons any revolt against its sway seemed
something like sacrilege. So long as Baron had remained on the stage
some check had been imposed on this deplorable custom, for Baron,
educated in the school of Molière, a strenuous advocate of naturalness,
had remained faithful to the traditions of the Palais-Royal. But his
abrupt retirement, in 1696, in the flower of his age, left the adherents
of the rival school in undisputed possession of the field, and for more
than twenty years nothing occurred to interfere with the reign of
inflated declamation, which was carried by the successors of Mlle. de
Champmeslé to lengths which provoked the ridicule and disgust of foreign
visitors.[69]

Adrienne's phenomenal success was, in a great measure, due to the fact
that she had the courage and good sense to break with the old traditions
of the theatre, and abandon this stilted and artificial style of
elocution for simpler and more natural modes of speech. "The charming
Lecouvreur," wrote the Italian actor Riccoboni, the _jeune premier_ of
the Comédie-Italienne, in his didactic poem, _Dell' arte
rappresentativa_, "is the only one who does not follow the road along
which all her comrades run at full speed. If she happens to weep or
complain without terrifying us, as the others do by their bawlings, she
touches the heart so profoundly, that we become affected with her."[70]

This natural style of delivery seems to have been originally imposed
upon Adrienne by her physique, which was more delicate than vigorous.
Her voice, though singularly pleasing, was not remarkable for extent and
power, like Mlle. de Champmeslé's, but she used it with such consummate
skill as to vary its modulations according to the sentiments she desired
to express. "Although her voice is very weak," says the author of the
_Lettres historiques_, "she pleased the public at first, and continues
to please it; because it finds in her a novel style, natural and the
more agreeable, in that she has studied how to control it and to
proportion it to her strength; and thus one might say that the weakness
of her chest has contributed to this kind of perfection." The _Mercure_,
of March 1730, confirms the anonymous writer: "She had not many tones in
her voice, but she knew how to lend to them infinite variety." Moreover,
she seems to have possessed the rare gift of clearness of pronunciation,
"the orthography of the actor's art," and seldom indeed had so pure and
distinct a delivery been heard upon the stage.

For this last qualification Adrienne was indebted to the counsels of
César du Marsais, the grammarian-philosopher, as, when she first
appeared on the stage of the Comédie-Française, her pronunciation was
far from perfect; she understood the true meaning of the words of her
parts, but delivered them in a way which considerably discounted their
value, and thus, according to Régnier, touched the hearts, and irritated
the ears of the more fastidious critics at one and the same time.
D'Allainval relates that on the evening of her _début_, while the
theatre was ringing with the applause of the delighted audience, an
elderly man, seated at the back of a box, refrained from joining in the
general enthusiasm, and contented himself with remarking from time to
time, in a low tone, "_Bon, cela!_" His behaviour was much commented
upon by those who sat near him, and duly reported to Adrienne, who, on
learning that it was Du Marsais, became curious to learn the reason of
the qualified approval of one who appeared to be a critic of some
discernment, and accordingly sent him a very courteous note inviting him
to dine with her _tête-à-tête_.

Du Marsais came, but, before sitting down to table, he begged the
actress to do him the favour of reciting a tirade from one of her
favourite rôles. Adrienne readily consented, but was not a little
surprised at only obtaining for her trouble an occasional "_Bon, cela_."
Mortified by her guest's comparative indifference to her talents, she
inquired in what she had failed to please him. "Mademoiselle," replied
Du Marsais, "so far as my judgment goes, no actress has ever given
promise of greater talents than yours, and, in order to eclipse probably
all your predecessors, I will venture to promise that all that is
required on your part is to give to each word the exact emphasis
necessary to express its meaning."

Adrienne begged the grammarian not to be sparing of his advice, and,
following it religiously, soon succeeded in correcting her faulty
pronunciation.

It must not be supposed that Adrienne was able to effect the overthrow
of a style of elocution which had reigned almost unchallenged since the
foundation of the Comédie-Française without encountering strenuous and,
in some cases, acrimonious opposition from its many champions.
Mesdemoiselles Duclos and Desmares, prompted, no doubt, as much by
jealousy of the newcomer as by loyalty to the traditions in which they
had been trained, were particularly bitter in their resistance, and,
supported by the Quinault coterie,[71] did not confine themselves to
legitimate protests or to sustaining against her promising _débutantes_,
but subjected the young actress to a variety of petty persecutions.
Régnier, in his _Souvenirs et études du théâtre_, cites a number of
extracts from the registers of the Comédie, from which it appears that a
favourite practice of Adrienne's enemies was to cause her to be fined on
all kinds of pretexts: for being late for rehearsal, for not wearing the
costume prescribed for her part, and so forth. On one occasion, a kind
colleague inquired if she were aware that the anagram of her name was
_Couleuvre_ (viper); and during the run of Voltaire's _Hérode and
Mariamne_, Mlle. de Seine, who, two years later, became the wife of
Quinault-Dufresne, carried her insolence so far that the Gentlemen of
the Chamber, within whose jurisdiction the theatre lay, were obliged to
interfere, and direct the _semainiers_, as a number of players who
governed the theatre in rotation were called, "to deduct the sum of one
hundred livres from the share of Mlle. de Seine, for unseemly behaviour
towards Mlle. Lecouvreur, and to give her warning that she would be
dismissed from the troupe in the event of a repetition of the offence."

The climax of the campaign against Adrienne had, it seems, been reached
some time before this incident. In September 1723, Philippe Poisson, a
retired member of the Comédie-Française, submitted to the company, under
a _nom de guerre_, a comedy in one act, entitled _l'Actrice nouvelle_,
which was nothing less than a personal satire on Adrienne, her art, and
her private life. The play, in Adrienne's absence, was read to the
assembled troupe by the elder Quinault, who, in the speeches assigned to
the heroine, imitated the voice and gestures of the _tragédienne_ so
cleverly as to send the lady's enemies into convulsions of merriment. It
was at once resolved to accept the play, and Mlle. Duclos and her
friends doubtless indulged in much gleeful anticipation as to what their
rival's feelings would be when she found herself publicly caricatured
before her admirers in the boxes and pit. Unfortunately for the success
of this malicious scheme, the secret, though well kept, leaked out, and
Adrienne lost no time in bringing the matter to the notice of the
authorities, who issued an order forbidding the production of _l'Actrice
nouvelle_.

That Adrienne should have triumphed so completely as she did over
tradition and jealousy was due to two causes. In the first place, she
succeeded in securing the immediate, and almost unanimous, approbation
of the playgoing public, who, when afforded an opportunity of comparing
the rival methods of elocution, pronounced without hesitation, and in no
uncertain way, in favour of the innovation. The second was the
unexpected intervention of Baron, who, in April 1720, at the age of
sixty-seven, suddenly resolved to return to the scene of his many
triumphs, and, delighted to find that an actress had arisen who shared
his own views on the subject of elocution, lent her all the
encouragement and support in his power. Aided by this invaluable ally,
Adrienne succeeded in effecting a veritable revolution; the "bawlings"
which had so disgusted the Italian actor Riccoboni were heard no more,
the monotonous chant was banished, and in its place reigned "a
declamation simple, noble, and natural."[72]

The excellence of Adrienne's delivery was equalled, if not surpassed, by
her really wonderful by-play. Like Mlle. Molière, she possessed in a
very marked degree the difficult art of listening, the extreme mobility
of her features enabling her to assume at will every shade of emotion
and exhibit successively the different impressions which the words
addressed to her would naturally produce. "Perhaps no one," observes the
_Mercure_, "has ever so well understood the art of silent scenes, that
is to say, listened so well and so well expressed the sense of the words
uttered by the actor who was on the stage with her"; while Dumas
d'Aigueberre tells us that "her attitudes were noble and natural, that
she invested the movements of her arms with inimitable grace, and that
her eyes announced what she was about to say." She possessed, too, a
very rare gift--the art of concealing art, of entirely subordinating the
interpreter to the work. The dramatist Collé, a critic by no means easy
to please, it may be remarked, declares that "her treatment of every
detail of a rôle was perfect; and, in this way, caused one to forget the
actress; one saw only the personage whom she happened to be
representing." Yet another trait, and one which provoked general
admiration, was the rapidity and completeness with which she passed
from one state of mind to its exact opposite, from profound grief to
joyous gaiety, from frenzied anger to moving tenderness. "When in the
rôle of Elisabeth,"[73] says the _Mercure_, "she learned of the love of
the Comte d'Essex for the Duchess d'Irton; when, in fact, she was
delivered to the greatest scorn which a woman, and, in particular, a
queen, can endure, with what sensibility did she descend from the height
of pride to the extreme of the greatest tenderness, even so far as to
co-operate with the duchess, in order to save the count."

Brilliant _tragédienne_ though Adrienne undoubtedly was, in scenes which
called for an unusual display of passion, her acting appears to have
left a good deal to be desired, a circumstance probably attributable to
her want of physical strength. According to Collé, she "excelled in
scenes where the greatest finesse was needed rather than those which
required strength." Her acting, too, was somewhat uneven; to see her at
her best, Dumas d'Aigueberre tells us, "it was necessary for her to be
animated either by some part which pleased her or by some object of
interest." In fact, though no one had ever given such magnificent
renderings of the rôles of Monime and Bérénice, she lacked the courage
and determination which had enabled Mlle. de Champmeslé to make a
success out of the most mediocre part. The receipts of the
Comédie-Française during the early years of its existence would, we are
inclined to think, have been much less satisfactory had it fallen to
Adrienne Lecouvreur's lot to interpret the insipid heroines of Pradon
and Boyer.

The principal rôles created by Adrienne in tragedy were Cléopatre in
the _Antiochus et Cléopatre_ of Deschamps, Antigone in the _Machabées_
of La Motte, Zarès in _Esther_, Nitetis in Danchet's play of that name,
Constance in La Motte's _Inès de Castro_, and the title-part in
Voltaire's _Mariamne_.

The last-named play failed, owing to one of those little incidents so
common to the French stage of that day. At the moment when Mariamne,
condemned to death by poison, was on the point of raising the fatal cup
to her lips, a wag in the pit cried out, "_La Reine boit_," a sally
which was followed by such merriment that the indignant actors declined
to finish the play. Re-written by Voltaire, who this time prudently made
the death of the heroine take place off the stage, it reappeared a year
later, under the title of _Hérode et Mariamne_, when it had twenty-eight
representations, and when played before the Court at Fontainebleau,
moved the young Queen, Marie Leczinska, to tears.

It was during the run of _Mariamne_, in its revised form, that the
quarrel between Voltaire and the Chevalier de Rohan, second son of the
Duc de Rohan-Chabot, took place. The poet and the chevalier were with
several other persons in Adrienne's dressing-room at the theatre;
Voltaire was giving the company the benefit of his views on dramatic art
or some other subject. "Who is that young man who talks so loud?" cried
Rohan, who was in love with Adrienne and very probably jealous of the
friendship existing between her and the poet. "He is one who does not
carry about a great name, but earns respect for the name he has," was
the retort. The chevalier raised his cane threateningly; Voltaire laid
his hand upon his sword; Adrienne promptly sank down in a swoon, or,
perhaps, since she was an actress, in a pretended swoon; both gentlemen
hastened to her assistance, and the quarrel ceased. How, a few days
later, Rohan caused Voltaire to be cudgelled by his lackeys; how the
enraged poet, after taking a course of fencing lessons, challenged his
enemy to a duel, and how, in consequence, he was packed off to the
Bastille, for the second time, are incidents too well known to require
relation here.[74]

In comedy Adrienne appears to have fallen very far short of the high
standard she attained as a _tragédienne_. "She only played and shone in
a few rôles," says the _Mercure_. The registers of the Comédie-Française
show that she attempted Célimène, "the touchstone of _grandes
coquettes_," and Elmire in _Tartuffe_; but, as she only figures nine
times in the former character and four times in the latter, we may
presume that her rendering of them could not have been more than
moderately successful. She gave, however, a very pleasing interpretation
of Alcmène in _Amphitryon_, and Hortense in _Le Florentin_, in which
character she made her last appearance on the stage, and, as Angélique,
had a large share in the success of Piron's _Fils ingrats_; while to her
acting in the part of the heroine, Voltaire was much indebted for the
favourable reception accorded to his little comedy _l'Indiscret_. On the
other hand, as the Marquise, in Marivaux's _Surprise de l'amour_, she
seems to have come very near to an absolute failure, the critics
accusing her of giving to what the author intended to be a gay and
frivolous character an air of solemnity and dignity more befitting a
tragedy queen.

Several writers have asserted that Adrienne, not content with
introducing a more natural mode of enunciation, was the pioneer of
reform in theatrical costume. This is only partially true. Adrienne
possessed excellent taste in dress, and was keenly alive to the
absurdity of clothing the heroes and heroines of antiquity in the
costume of the eighteenth century. But her attempts in the direction of
archæological truth do not appear to have been very bold or to have met
with much success; and the first important transformation in this
respect was due to the efforts of Mlle. Clairon and Lekain. She played,
however, Queen Elizabeth, in the _Comte d'Essex_, "in an English Court
costume decorated with the blue riband of the Garter," and the inventory
of her wardrobe, published by M. Georges Monval, in his edition of her
letters, comprise "_douze habits à la romaine_"--or what were believed
to be such--of which two were of white damask, two of crimson velvet,
one of yellow satin, one of blue velvet, two of white satin, and one of
crimson damask, probably that worn by Cornélie in the _Mort de Pompée_.
Several of these costumes were very richly wrought and realised prices
varying from eight hundred to a thousand livres, equivalent, of course,
to much larger sums in money of to-day. The full description of one of
them may not be without interest: "Item, another costume _à la romaine_
of cherry-coloured velvet, composed of a train trimmed with Spanish
point and with bunches of flowers in the train; a petticoat of the same
velvet trimmed with silver Spanish point; the body of the dress of the
same material trimmed with silver Spanish point, and shoulder-knots
likewise trimmed with Spanish point; silver fringes encircling the
shoulder-knots; and two little _amadis_, also trimmed with silver
Spanish point."

It is curious to note, remarks M. Larroumet, the different ideas of what
constituted a correct classical costume which prevailed at various times
on the French stage. Thus, from the beginning of the pseudo-classical
revival in art down to the middle of the nineteenth century, the
tendency was all towards simplicity, and Rachel delighted her audiences
in severely simple robes sparsely embroidered with gold and silver. Then
came the discovery that the ancients, so far from affecting the
austerity in dress with which they had so long been credited, had had a
weakness for rich stuffs and costly ornaments, with the result that the
costumes of the Phèdres and Athalies of to-day bear a much closer
resemblance to the satins and velvets of Adrienne Lecouvreur than the
woollen gowns of Rachel.[75]

       *       *       *       *       *

The jealousy with which Adrienne was regarded by her colleagues at the
Comédie-Française was not due solely to her professional success;
besides being idolised by the public, she had obtained for herself a
social position which had never been accorded to any of her
predecessors. At this period, actors and actresses still remained on the
borders of society. If exceptionally handsome or talented, they were
flattered and caressed by the _beau monde_, taken for mistresses, or
lovers, or boon companions; but access to regular society was denied
them. The extreme license of morals which characterised the Regency
brought with it no change in this respect; and if, now and again, some
_grande dame_ chose to visit or receive a member of the theatrical
profession, the interview almost invariably took place in private and
often surreptitiously.

That so rigid a rule should have been relaxed in favour of Adrienne
Lecouvreur, and of her alone, is a very remarkable fact and a striking
tribute to the charm which she must have exercised over her own as well
as over the opposite sex. There can, however, be little doubt that a
very great gulf divided her from her colleagues. Not only was she
beautiful and fascinating, but well-read, well-mannered, modest, and
unaffected, and a friend in whose discretion implicit reliance could be
imposed. She numbered among her friends a princess of the blood, the
Duchesse du Maine, the Duc and Duchesse de Gesvres, Madame de Pomponne,
Madame de Fontaine-Martel, the wife of Président Berthier, the
celebrated Marquise de Lambert, admission to whose very exclusive
"Tuesdays and Wednesdays" conferred a sort of brevet of social
distinction, d'Argental and Maurice de Saxe, of both of whom we shall
have a good deal to say presently, the Duc de Richelieu, the Comte de
Caylus, La Chalotais, and Pont-de-Veyle, not to speak of men of letters,
like Du Marsais, Fontenelle, Voltaire, and Piron.

With all of these persons, and many others, Adrienne was not only on
friendly but on intimate terms, dining and supping with them frequently
and visiting them at their country-houses, and giving, in return,
charming little suppers, before each of which, with singular tact, she
invariably requested the guest of the evening to select those whom she
desired to meet.

According to Titon du Tillet, it was Adrienne who introduced the custom
of actresses reciting at private houses. "Mlle. Lecouvreur," says he,
"who was in great request at the best houses in Paris and at the Court,
did not refuse in the assemblies which she attended to declaim some
fine tirades in verse, and even whole scenes from tragedies, which
delighted her hearers. It was a very rare thing for persons of her
profession to recite verses outside the theatre, and I have hardly known
any one, save Baron, who gave people this pleasure."

Unfortunately for Adrienne, her social duties, combined with the arduous
work of her profession, seem to have imposed too great a tax upon her
strength, and in her letters to her friends she complains constantly of
the strain of this double life. The following letter, written in May
1728, probably to Maurice de Saxe, gives us an excellent insight into
her character and also into the life of a "society" actress. Allowing
for the difference in style, it might just as well have been written in
the twentieth as in the eighteenth century:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"I spend three parts of my time in doing that which displeases me; new
acquaintances, whom, however, it is impossible to escape, so long as I
remain tied as I am, preventing me from cultivating the old or from
occupying myself at home as I should like to do. It is an established
custom for them to sup or dine with me, because some duchesses have done
me this honour. There are persons whose kindness and graciousness charm
me, and they are sufficient for me, but I am unable to devote myself to
them, because I am a public personage, and it is absolutely necessary to
reply to all those who are desirous of making my acquaintance, or else
be considered impertinent. However careful I am, I am continually
offending people. If my poor health, which is delicate, as you know,
obliges me to refuse or to fail some party of ladies whom I have never
seen, and who have no interest in me beyond curiosity: 'Assuredly,'
says one, 'she has a marvellous opinion of her importance!' Another
adds: 'It is because we are not titled!' If I happen to be serious, for
one cannot be very gay with many people one does not know: 'Is this the
girl who has so much wit?' says one of the company. 'Don't you see that
she despises us,' says another, 'and that one must know Greek in order
to please her?' 'She visits Madame de Lambert,' exclaims a third; 'does
not that explain the mystery?' I am still full of spiteful speeches of
this kind, and more occupied than ever in my desire to become free and
to have no longer to pay court, save to those who really will entertain
a kind feeling for me, and will satisfy my heart and my mind. My vanity
does not find that numbers atone for merit in persons, and I have no
desire to shine. To keep my lips closed and listen to good conversation,
to find myself in the delightful society of clever and virtuous people,
is a hundred times more pleasant to me than to be stunned by all the
insipid praises which they lavish upon me right and left in many places
to which I go. It is not that I am wanting in gratitude or in the wish
to please, but I find that the approbation of fools is not flattering,
and that it becomes burdensome when it has to be purchased by individual
and repeated complaisances."

       *       *       *       *       *

From the above letter, it will be seen that Adrienne's tastes lay in the
direction of a retired and peaceful life in the midst of a small circle
of chosen friends, and that the wearisome round of social pleasures
possessed but few attractions for her. In her exquisitely furnished
house in the Rue des Marais--the same in which Mlle. de Champmeslé and,
after her, Racine had formerly lived, and which, in later years, was to
become the residence of Mlle. Clairon--she spent the greater part of her
scanty leisure, her favourite occupations being reading and music. She
possessed a small but excellent library, containing some four hundred
volumes, dramatic literature and memoirs and historical works
predominating. Among the former were complete editions of the plays of
Molière and Racine; among the latter Échard's _Histoire Romaine_,
Daniel's _Histoire de France_, _Les Révolutions d'Angleterre_ by Père
d'Orléans, and the _Mémoires_ of Madame de Motteville.[76]

       *       *       *       *       *

That Adrienne should have numbered among her friends of the opposite sex
several who were desirous of establishing a closer relationship with the
charming actress was, of course, only to be expected. Barbier, in his
_Journal_, asserts that one Prungent, intendant of the Duchess of
Brunswick, was her lover, and had "squandered with her the money of the
princess"; while other contemporary writers mention in the same
connection the celebrated Lord Peterborough, the Chevalier de Rohan, and
Voltaire.

Voltaire had been one of the first to appreciate both the talents and
personal qualities of Adrienne, and in a letter to Thiériot, written
shortly after the actress's untimely death, he declares himself to have
been "her admirer, her friend, her lover." The biographers of the lady
are divided in opinion as to whether this last term is to be taken in
its literal, or in its platonic and poetic sense; but whatever may have
been the relations between the _tragédienne_ and the writer, it is
certain that Adrienne found in Voltaire one of the firmest and most
devoted of her friends, who is undoubtedly sincere when he reminds her

    "De la pauvre amitié que son cœur a pour elle,"

and who remained tenderly attached to her to the last hour of her life.

However, even if Adrienne yielded in favour of a dramatic author to the
customs of her profession, or, as Lemontey expresses it, was "bound to
Voltaire by the ties of glory and of love which in the preceding century
had united Racine and the Champmeslé," it is improbable that either of
the other persons mentioned were anything more than admirers. The
actress's early experiences of the tender passion had, as we have seen,
been singularly bitter; the selfishness of man had inflicted upon her
the most cruel of humiliations for a loving and sensitive woman, that of
being cast aside like a broken toy when she had surrendered herself in
the most absolute confidence, and she had come to Paris firmly resolved
to remain henceforth mistress of her heart and her actions. The letters
published by M. Monval show that, during the first three years of her
residence in the capital, she replied to several declarations of love by
offers of friendship, explaining her ideas on the subject with singular
frankness.

       *       *       *       *       *

"If I am unable to render you more happy," she writes to one of her
_soupirants_, "I am more grieved than you yourself. I reproach myself. I
tell myself, without doubt, more than you can tell me; but I could not
deceive you. Caprices do not agree with reason, and love is nothing else
but a folly which I detest, and to which I shall strive hard not to
surrender myself so long as I live. You will understand it yet, and the
severity with which I have treated you will serve then only to render
you more happy. Permit me to approach the matter with you, and to offer
you my counsels. Be my friend; I am worthy of that, but choose for
mistress one who possesses a heart quite untampered with; who has not
yet repented of that trust which renders everything so beautiful; who
has been neither betrayed nor deserted; who believes you such as you
are, and all men such as you. Let her be young and rather strong; she
will be the less sensitive. Finally, see that she gives to you as much
constancy as I should have given, if I had never loved any one save
you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Among the adorers whom Adrienne rejected, and whose friendship she
nevertheless succeeded in retaining through life, was the Marquis de la
Chalotais, whose famous quarrel with Madame du Barry's _protégé_, the
Duc d'Aiguillon, convulsed all France during the last years of Louis XV.
The future Advocate-General of the Parliament of Brittany was, at the
time when he made Adrienne's acquaintance, a gay young abbé and a great
frequenter of the Comédie-Française, where he paid assiduous court to
its chief divinity, but without obtaining anything save her friendship
and esteem. Having succeeded to the family title and become
Advocate-General at Rennes, he continued to correspond with his former
enchantress, and was in the habit of sending her a present every year.
Only nine days before her death, Adrienne wrote him a charming letter,
thanking him for his gift and assuring him of her lasting regard:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"When one has been acquainted with a person for ten or twelve years, and
has a kind of attachment for him which is proof against separation and
ought not to injure any one, one may speak without restraint. I assure
you, then, that I love you as much as I esteem you, that I pray for your
happiness and that of all belonging to you, and I entreat you to retain
for me remembrance and more."

       *       *       *       *       *

In his letter, La Chalotais had expressed regret that it was impossible
for him to take lessons in declamation from Adrienne; and the actress
concludes by very modestly defining her own method of elocution, and
giving her friend some very excellent advice on the subject:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"You say that you would like me to teach you the art of declamation, of
which you stand in need. You have then forgotten that I do not declaim.
The simplicity of my acting is my one poor merit; but this simplicity,
which chance has turned to my advantage, appears to me indispensable to
a man in your profession. The first requisite is intelligence, and that
you have; the next, to allow beneficent Nature to do her work. To speak
with grace, nobility, and simplicity, and to reserve all your energies
for the argument, are what you will say and do better than any man."

       *       *       *       *       *

An admirer whom Adrienne had infinitely more difficulty in persuading to
be content with friendship than La Chalotais was Voltaire's faithful
ally, d'Argental. D'Argental, who was then a lad scarcely out of his
teens, conceived for the actress a most violent passion, and, though the
latter repeatedly assured him that friendship was all she had to bestow,
for long refused to abandon hope.

In the meantime, his infatuation had become common knowledge, and his
family, forgetting La Rochefoucauld's maxim that absence, while
extinguishing feeble passions, only adds fuel to great ones, sent him to
England in the hope that separation might effect a cure. With the
consent of his mother, Madame de Ferriol, Adrienne wrote him long and
frequent letters, carefully avoiding, however, the forbidden topic, her
object being to accustom him to regard her merely as a friend. But these
epistles appear to have had a very different effect from the one
intended by the writer; the cure made no progress, and the young man's
family, fearing that the actress was but simulating indifference in
order to augment his passion to the point of offering her marriage,
resolved to remove him altogether out of reach of his enchantress by
banishing him to St. Domingo.

However, no such drastic measures were necessary, for Adrienne, learning
of what was intended, lost no time in writing to the anxious mother a
most charming letter, which had the effect of completely allaying her
apprehensions on the young gentleman's behalf. As all the actress's
biographers concur in pronouncing this letter to be the pearl of her
correspondence, we need make no apology for transcribing it at length:--

       *       *       *       *       *

    "PARIS, _March 22, 1721_.

"Madame,--I cannot learn without being deeply pained of your anxiety and
of the resolves with which this anxiety has inspired you. I might add
that I have been not less grieved by learning that you blame my conduct;
but I write to you less to justify it than to protest that for the
future, in all that concerns you, it shall be such as you may wish to
prescribe. I had requested permission to see you last Tuesday, with the
intention of speaking to you in confidence and of asking you for your
commands. But your reception of me destroyed my ardour, and I found
myself only timid and sad. It is necessary, however, that you should be
aware of my true sentiments, and, if you will permit me to add something
further, that you should not disdain to listen to my very humble
remonstrances, if you do not wish to lose your son.

"He is the most respectful youth and the most honest man that I have met
in my life. You would admire him did he not belong to you. Once again,
Madame, deign to co-operate with me in destroying a weakness which
irritates you, and in which I have no part, whatever you may say. Do not
show him either contempt or harshness. I would prefer to take upon
myself all his hatred, in spite of the friendship, affection, and
veneration that I entertain for him, than expose him to the least
temptation which might cause him to fail in respect towards you. You are
too interested in curing him not to strive earnestly to attain your
object; but you are too much so to succeed in attaining it unaided,
above all, when you endeavour to combat his inclination by the exercise
of your authority, or by painting me in disadvantageous colours, whether
true or not. His passion must indeed be an extraordinary one, since it
has existed so long without the least hope, in the midst of
disappointments, in spite of the journeys you have made him undertake,
and during eight months' residence in Paris, during which he never saw
me, at least not at my house, and was unaware if I should ever receive
him again. I conceived him to be cured, and, for that reason, consented
to see him during my last illness. It is easy to believe that his
society would afford me infinite pleasure, were it not for this unhappy
passion, which astonishes as much as it flatters me, but of which I
decline to take advantage. You fear that, if he sees me, he will depart
from his duty, and you carry this fear to such a point as to take
violent resolutions against him. Assuredly, Madame, it is not just that
he should be rendered unhappy in so many ways. Do not add anything to my
severity; seek rather to console him; make all his resentment fall on
me, but let your kindness serve to reassure him.

"I will write to him whatever you please; I will never see him again, if
such is your wish; I will even withdraw to the country, if you consider
it necessary. But do not threaten to send him to the end of the world.
He may be of service to his country; he will be the delight of his
friends; he will fill you with pride and satisfaction. You have only to
guide his talents, and leave his virtues to act for themselves. Forget
for a time that you are his mother, if this character is opposed to the
kindness that, on my knees, I beg you to extend to him. Finally, Madame,
you will see me prefer to retire from the world, or to love him with the
love of passion, rather than to suffer him to be any more tormented for
me or by me."

       *       *       *       *       *

Adrienne did not speak of this letter to her adorer, neither did Madame
de Ferriol deem it advisable to communicate it to him; and its
existence, in consequence, remained unknown to d'Argental until
sixty-three years later, when he discovered it by accident among some
old papers which had belonged to his mother.

We may well believe that the old man shed many tears over those faded
pages, for Adrienne, while refusing him her love, had succeeded in
making him the most faithful and devoted of all her friends. The
process of transition, seldom an easy one, had been rendered the more
difficult, inasmuch as, shortly after the above letter was written,
d'Argental had the mortification of seeing another take the place which
had been denied him. However, Adrienne spared no pains to convince him
of the wisdom of her decision, and, at the same time, of the value which
she attached to his affection and regard.

"Do not cease either to be prudent or to love me," she writes. "The
sentiments that I entertain for you are worth more than the most violent
and most disordered passion." And again: "Let my life be the term of
your constancy, my dear friend.... Adieu, my dear friend; I am very
affected in writing to you, and never was I more penetrated by
friendship, affection, and esteem. Adieu; do not forget me entirely, or,
at any rate, do not allow me to imagine so."

D'Argental, like La Chalotais, made the law his profession, and, in due
time, became one of the councillors of the Parliament of Paris. The
gravity expected from one holding such a post, however, in no way
interfered with his intimacy with Adrienne, who was in the habit of
consulting him on all business matters, and, when dying, appointed him
her sole executor.[77]

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: MAURICE DE SAXE

From an engraving by J. G. WILL, after the painting by HYACINTHE
RIGAUD]

Although there can be little doubt that Adrienne was perfectly sincere
when she declared her conviction that love was "nothing but a folly
which she detested," and that she was still mistress of her heart when
she resisted the first overtures of poor d'Argental, it is not
improbable that at the time she wrote her celebrated letter to Madame de
Ferriol, she had already renounced the wise resolutions with which she
had come to Paris in favour of one whom she loved to her life's end with
a tenderness, a devotion, and a disinterestedness to which even the most
rigid of moralists do not fail to pay tribute.

About the middle of the year 1720, there arrived in Paris a young man
who was destined to become one of the most remarkable figures of the
eighteenth century--Maurice, "Count of Saxony," celebrated in later
years as Maréchal de Saxe. A natural son of Augustus II., Elector of
Saxony and King of Poland, and Aurora von Königsmark, sister of the
ill-fated lover of George I.'s uncrowned queen, the future victor of
Fontenoy was still at this date only a high-born military adventurer in
search of some promising field for the exercise of his talents. From his
boyhood Maurice had been a soldier. When only twelve years of age, under
the direction of the Count von Schulenburg, one of the ablest generals
of the time, he had been present at the sieges of Tournay and Mons and
the battle of Malplaquet, carrying a musket, like an ordinary
_sous-officier_, in a regiment despatched by Augustus II. to the
assistance of the Emperor. Returning to the camp of the allies in 1710,
he assisted at the sieges of Douai and Béthune, where he displayed such
reckless courage as to call forth from Prince Eugène the admonition not
to confound rashness with bravery. Two years later, he accompanied his
royal father to the siege of Stralsund, and again exhibited the same
impetuosity in an attempt to cut his way through the enemy and engage
Charles XII. in single combat. Delighted by his courage, Augustus
promoted him colonel the following year, and, at the age of seventeen,
gave him the command of a regiment of cuirassiers. The Countess von
Königsmark, on her side, worked to assure her son's fortunes by a
wealthy marriage, and succeeded in securing for him the hand of the
Countess von Löben, the richest heiress in Saxony. This lady's fortune
he quickly dissipated, and other and graver causes of complaint against
him not being wanting, in 1721 the marriage was annulled. In the
meanwhile, Maurice had made a campaign, under Eugène, against the Turks,
and had also contrived to irritate his father by breaches of military
discipline and other irregularities. In consequence, Augustus II., whose
resentment against the young man was artfully fanned by his chief
Minister, Count Flemming, who had conceived a strong antipathy to
Maurice, advised him to leave Germany and take service with France, and
he accordingly set out for Paris. Here he was well received by the
Regent, who appointed him _maréchal de camp_, his father soon afterwards
purchasing for him the command of the Regiment of Greder, one of the
foreign corps in the French Service.

From the moment of his arrival in Paris, Maurice de Saxe claimed a large
share of the attention of both Court and town. Tall and superbly built,
with "circular black eyebrows, eyes glittering bright, partly with
animal vivacity, partly with spiritual," a high complexion, and a frank,
open countenance, he was one of the handsomest men of his time. His
physical strength was extraordinary; no amount of exertion seemed able
to fatigue him; in war and in the chase he was capable of performing
prodigies of endurance; he could break between his fingers crown-pieces
and horseshoes. He was seen everywhere. On the parade ground, he brought
his regiment to the highest pitch of perfection, invented new formations
and tactics, and quickly made himself respected by his superior officers
and adored by the soldiers. In the fashionable world, he was equally
successful; no _roué_ of the Regent's circle could surpass him in
extravagance, folly, and debauchery; while, despite his brusque manners,
which procured him the sobriquet of _sanglier_ (wild boar), he was a
welcome guest in many a salon. Soldier, sportsman, athlete, gambler,
drinker, and lover, he was all things to all men--and all women.

A great patron of the Comédie-Française, it was inevitable that Maurice
de Saxe and Adrienne Lecouvreur should meet, and no less inevitable that
the count should pay the actress assiduous court, for if Maurice
resembled his father, the "Saxon Man of Sin," in appearance, vivacity,
and physical strength, he did so even more closely in his vices. All
poor Adrienne's wise resolutions failed her in the presence of this
young hero, "to whom," says Des Boulmiers, "hearts offered no more
resistance than towns." "From the day that she knew him, she was
charmed, subjugated, ravished; it seemed to her that she only then began
to live. She surrendered herself as she had never surrendered herself
before."[78]

It is not difficult to understand the attraction which Adrienne
possessed for Maurice de Saxe, and which kept him, though very far from
faithful, at least attached to her for nearly ten years. Her beauty and
grace flattered his senses, while her moral qualities appealed to the
better side of his nature, to that instinct of heroism and idealism
which lay at the root of his character, and which, though often obscured
in the midst of his debaucheries, was never wholly extinguished. Less
easy is it to comprehend the absolute devotion which Adrienne cherished
for him; a devotion which remained proof against absence, infidelity,
ill-humour, and indifference, and which endured till the last hour of
her life.

We are inclined, however, to think with M. Paléologue--whose study of
the actress from the psychological point of view is as admirable as M.
Larroumet's from the dramatic--that apart from "that species of
fascination and magnetism which the libertine, when he is not of vulgar
race, exercises over the feminine mind," Adrienne had very early
discovered the really great qualities of Maurice, and that the prospect
of developing them, and of generally exercising a beneficent influence
over such a man, was a temptation which an imagination so generous as
hers found it impossible to resist.

The results of this influence are well summarised by Lemontey in the
_éloge_ of the actress which he read at a _séance_ of the Academy in
1823:--

"She was then thirty, an age favourable to experience and passion, which
renders a woman as skilful to please as prompt to love. As in the time
of chivalry, her cares, her tenderness, her wise counsels, initiated her
friend into the amiable accomplishments, the benevolent virtues, the
polished manners which, in the sequel, made him as much a Frenchman as
his victories. Under her sweet tuition, the Achilles of Homer became
the Achilles of Racine. She adorned his mind without enervating it, and
modified what seemed extraordinary and singular in the turn of his
ideas. She taught him our language, our literature, and inspired him
with the taste for poetry, for music, for all the arts, and with that
passion for the theatre which followed him even into the camp. One might
say of the victor of Fontenoy and his beautiful preceptress that he
learned from her everything save war, which he knew better than any one,
and orthography, which he never knew at all."[79]

For four years--that is to say, from 1721 to 1725--the _liaison_ between
Adrienne and Maurice de Saxe continued without any particular incident;
Maurice pursuing his military studies, making journeys to Dresden and
Warsaw to visit his father, on whose behalf he seems to have acted as a
sort of unofficial ambassador in France, and indulging in a good many
_passades_; Adrienne, though she must have very speedily awakened to the
fact that what was the all-absorbing interest in her life was but a mere
episode in her hero's, loving him none the less devotedly, and deriving
consolation from the thought that, if others disputed with her the
possession of his heart, she alone possessed his confidence. Then came a
long separation. The Duchy of Courland, which for nearly two centuries
had been under the protection of Poland, fell vacant through the death
of Duke Ferdinand, who ruled in the name of his niece, Anne Ivanovna,
afterwards Czarina of Russia, a childless widow. Several candidates for
the ducal crown presented themselves, and the unprepossessing duchess
found herself beset with suitors, eager to strengthen their claims by
securing her hand. Augustus II., however, decided to put forward his
son, and Anne, having been approached on the matter, expressed herself
favourably disposed towards a marriage with the young man.

The prospect of conquering a kingdom for himself with his sword, as,
even should the Diet elect him and Anne accept him as her husband, his
rivals were not likely to abandon their claims without a struggle,
appealed strongly to the adventurous Maurice, and he set out for
Courland. Everything augured well for his success, when, one day in May
1726, he received, to his astonishment and disgust, orders from his
father to renounce his candidature. Diplomatic complications obliged
Augustus to discourage his son's ambition.

Maurice ignored the paternal commands, and some days later found him at
Mitau, paying court to the duchess. But, at the same time, in order to
leave nothing to chance, he carried on, through the medium of the Saxon
ambassador at St. Petersburg, a second matrimonial negotiation, without
prejudice to the first, with the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Petrovna, to
wit. The ambassador sent to Dresden for a portrait of the count, and
showed it to the princess, who was so charmed with the counterfeit
presentment that she straightway declared her willingness to espouse the
original. Both Anne and Elizabeth, it is hardly necessary to observe,
were in blissful ignorance of the double game played by Maurice, who
pursued his negotiations with much address, wooing the one lady in
person and the other by proxy. Once more matters looked hopeful for the
young adventurer, save that now that his father had abandoned him he was
in sore straits for money. His mother sent him all she could, but the
sums he received from her were very far from being sufficient for his
needs, and he accordingly appealed to the generosity of his friends in
France. Adrienne was the first to respond. Though, of course, well aware
that, in the event of Maurice's success, she would lose him for ever,
the devoted woman never hesitated a moment, but sold or pledged her
jewellery and plate, and sent the proceeds--some 40,000 livres[80]--to
her lover.

Her generosity, however, was of no avail. In spite of his courage and
energy, and the assistance of his friends in France, Maurice failed. On
June 28, 1726, he was elected Duke of Courland; "but the problem was to
fall in love with the Dowager Anne Ivanovna, a big, brazen Russian
woman--(such a cheek the pictures give her, in size and somewhat in
expression like a Westphalia ham)--and this, with all his adventurous
audacity, Count Maurice could not do."[81] The result was that, after
maintaining his authority for about a year and performing prodigies of
reckless valour, the new duke, attacked by Russia, proscribed by Poland,
abandoned by his partisans, disavowed by his father, renounced by Anne
("who had discovered that he did not like Westphalia hams in that
particular form, that he only pretended to like them"), and by the Grand
Duchess, who had fathomed his little scheme, was compelled to surrender
his dukedom and shake the dust of Courland off his feet.

That during this long separation Maurice remained faithful to his absent
mistress is very improbable. From the diplomatic correspondence of the
time, it would appear that the handsome adventurer had aroused among
the fair sex of Saxony, Poland, and Courland a veritable enthusiasm. All
the great ladies of Dresden, Warsaw, Mitau, and Riga had espoused his
cause, and compelled their husbands to do likewise. "Count Poicey (Grand
Marshal of Lithuania)," wrote one of the ministers of Augustus II., "has
gone into this affair, like Adam into sin, seduced by his wife." When
the Diet of Mitau elected Maurice duke, the delight of his fair
partisans knew no bounds. "The women cannot sleep for joy," wrote the
Saxon ambassador at St. Petersburg. "As many thousand crowns as our hero
has just made Actaeons would be very welcome to me."

Nevertheless, in spite of his military and political occupations and his
presumed _bonnes fortunes_, Maurice found time to think of Adrienne, to
write to her "twice a week regularly," and to "testify towards her more
affection and confidence than ever." Adrienne, in her turn, passes on
the news to one of her friends in an interesting letter, in which she
shows herself thoroughly conversant with the somewhat complicated state
of affairs in Poland. She deplores the "disgraceful weakness" of
Augustus II., who "allowed himself to be governed by the most cruel
enemy of his glory (his Minister Flemming), and the most bitter enemy of
the son of whom he was unworthy"; severely censures the conduct of the
English Government, "which had promised assistance which it had now no
intention of rendering," and declares that she was "dying of fear" and
"tormented to an extent which she could not describe."

On October 23, 1728, Maurice returned to Paris, and the lovers were
united once more. "A person expected for a very long time arrives this
evening," writes Adrienne to a friend, "apparently in moderately good
health. A courier has come on in advance, because the berlin in which
they were travelling broke down thirty leagues from here. They have
started in a post-chaise, and this evening they will be here." The
_liaison_ was resumed, but it seems to have been troubled by frequent
storms. Maurice returned a disappointed man; the future seemed dark, his
star was temporarily hidden; a life of inaction, always trying to one of
his restless, ambitious temperament, was well-nigh intolerable after the
adventurous years he had spent in Courland. He sought relief in
pleasure--the chase, high play, and gallantry; wearied of that, and
endeavoured to kill time by the study of mathematics and the art of war
and the composition of his curious _Rêveries_. Wearied of that also,
turned to Adrienne for consolation, and vented his ill-humour upon her.
Claiming the utmost liberty for himself, he was, nevertheless,
indisposed to concede even a small measure of it to his mistress. He
grew jealous and suspicious of her friends, and even believed, or
professed to believe, that her relations with one of them were exceeding
the limits of friendship; for we find Adrienne writing to a confidant as
follows:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"I am worn out with anger and grief; I have been dissolved in tears this
livelong night. Perhaps it is unreasonable of me, since I have nothing
wherewith to reproach myself; but I cannot endure severity so little
deserved. They suspect me; they do more, they accuse me; they do worse
still, they wish to convict me, and that without giving me an
opportunity of defending myself, in such a way that, if chance does not
enable me to ascertain what is happening, I shall be covered with the
most horrible calumny possible to conceive, by a man who has borne the
name of my friend for ten years. They do not wish me to tell you this. I
esteem and love tenderly him who forbids me, but I know not how to keep
it to myself; I am too affected, too wounded, and too alarmed for the
future not to reveal it, at any rate, to you. I need advice. A man
capable of this calumny may very well imagine others; and that which
distresses me the more is the necessity for dissimulation. To exclaim
against deceit is natural, and I would prefer to pardon it rather than
to be compelled to restrain both my grief and my feelings. I have been
told that it is his way of thinking, that he does not intend to do me
any wrong in confounding me with the generality of women. I cannot
entertain this idea. That is not the language he has held to me for ten
years, and ought not to be the reward of my attention to please him and
to make him esteem me, at least, according to my deserts. What can one
do to me, after all, save wound me in the place where I am the most
sensitive? I could destroy in an instant the error in question; but how
am I to console myself for the intention of this calumny? This is not a
chance suspicion; it is a confidence made to a man who has no feeling
for me, save friendship, but whose friendship is worth more than all the
passions in the world, whose esteem is more precious to me than life,
and whose companionship is more necessary for me than all the fortunes
in the universe. It is before him that I am made to appear false and
contemptible. Whatever he says, they attest my supposed crime. _O mon
Dieu!_ What are we to do?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Seventeen months after Maurice's return to France Adrienne died, under
peculiarly dramatic circumstances; popular rumour ascribing her death to
poison administered by the agents of the Duchesse de Bouillon,[82] a
pretender to the heart of the Saxon hero, who was already under
suspicion of having made an attempt upon her rival's life. To arrive at
a satisfactory conclusion in regard to this very mysterious affair, it
would be necessary to have before us the _dossier_ containing the report
of the autopsy and other important documents of which Sainte-Beuve
speaks in his well-known study of the actress. This _dossier_ has,
however, disappeared, and it is uncertain if it is still in existence;
the probability is that it has been destroyed. Sainte-Beuve's conclusion
was that the Duchesse de Bouillon was guiltless, not only of Adrienne's
death, which he ascribes to natural causes, but of any attempt on her
life. The former opinion was, no doubt, justified by the evidence which
the lost _dossier_ contained. But the latter, which seems to have been
based on an altogether misplaced belief in the veracity of a certain
Abbé Aunillon--who was on terms of the closest intimacy with the accused
duchess, and invented a most ingenious defence on behalf of his friend,
which we need not enter into here--the great critic would probably have
seen cause to alter had he been acquainted with the documents which
have been brought to light of recent years by M. Ravaisson, M.
Campardon, and M. Monval.

Let us, however, borrow the account of the affair given a few days after
Adrienne's death, by Mlle. Aïssé in a letter to Madame Calandrini, and
which, she declares, had been furnished her by "a friend of the
Lecouvreur," probably d'Argental, to whom she was related:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"Madame de Bouillon is capricious, violent, head-strong, and much
addicted to gallantry. Her tastes extend from the prince to the
actor.[83] She conceived a fancy for the Comte de Saxe, who had none for
her. Not that he piques himself on his fidelity to the Lecouvreur; for,
together with his passion for her, he has a thousand little passing
tastes. But he was neither flattered nor anxious to reply to the
impulsiveness of Madame de Bouillon, who was enraged at seeing her
charms despised, and who had no doubt that the Lecouvreur was the
obstacle that stood in the way of the passion that the Count would
otherwise naturally entertain for her.[84] To destroy this obstacle, she
resolved to get rid of the actress, and, in order to put this horrible
design into execution, chose a young abbé,[85] with whom she was not
personally acquainted, to be the instrument of her vengeance. He was
approached by two men at the Tuileries, who proposed to him, after a
rather lengthy conversation regarding his poverty, to free himself from
his distress by obtaining admission, under favour of his skill in
painting, into Lecouvreur's house, and persuading her to eat some
lozenges, which would be given him. The poor abbé objected strongly, on
account of the heinousness of the crime; but the two men replied that it
no longer depended upon him to refuse, since he would do so on peril of
his life. The abbé, terrified, promised everything; and was conducted to
Madame de Bouillon, who confirmed the promises and threats, and handed
him the lozenges. The abbé begged that a few days might be allowed him
for the execution of these projects; and Mlle. Lecouvreur received one
day, on returning home with one of her friends and an actress named
Lamothe, an anonymous letter, in which she was implored to come
immediately, either alone or with some one on whom she could depend, to
the garden of the Luxembourg, where, at the fifth tree in one of the
main avenues, she would find a man who had something of the last
importance to communicate to her. As it was then precisely the hour
appointed for the rendezvous, she re-entered her coach and set out
thither, accompanied by the two persons who were with her. She found the
abbé, who accosted her and related to her the odious commission with
which he had been entrusted, declaring that he was incapable of
committing such a crime; but that he was at a loss what to do, inasmuch
as he was sure to be assassinated.

"The Lecouvreur told him that, for the safety of both, the whole affair
must be denounced to the Lieutenant of Police. The abbé replied that he
feared that, if he were to do this, he might make himself enemies too
powerful for him to resist; but that, if she believed this precaution
necessary for her safety, he would not hesitate to maintain what he had
told her. The Lecouvreur took him in her coach to M. Hérault (the
Lieutenant of Police), who, on the facts being laid before him, asked
the abbé for the lozenges and threw them to a dog, who died a quarter of
an hour afterwards. He next inquired of him which of the two
Bouillons[86] had given him this commission, and, when the abbé replied
that it was the duchess, showed no surprise. M. Hérault continued to
question him, and asked if he would venture to support this accusation
publicly; to which the abbé replied that he could put him in prison and
afterwards confront him with Madame de Bouillon.

"The Lieutenant of Police sent him away, and informed the cardinal (de
Fleury) of this adventure. The cardinal was very indignant, and desired
in the first instance that the affair should be most strictly
investigated. But the relatives and friends of the Bouillon family
persuaded the cardinal not to give publicity to so scandalous an affair,
and succeeded in appeasing him. Some months later, no one knows how, the
adventure was made public and caused a terrible commotion. Madame de
Bouillon's brother-in-law spoke of it to his brother, and told him that
it was absolutely imperative that his wife should clear herself from
such a suspicion, and that he ought to ask for a _lettre de cachet_ to
shut the abbé up. There was no difficulty in obtaining this _lettre de
cachet_, and the poor wretch was arrested and taken to the Bastille. He
was examined, and maintained with firmness all that he had said. Many
promises and threats were used to induce him to retract. All kinds of
expedients were suggested to him, as, for instance, madness or a passion
for the Lecouvreur, which had prompted him to invent this fable, in
order to please her. Nothing, however, could move him; he never varied
in his answers, and was kept in prison.

"The Lecouvreur wrote to the abbé's father, who lived in the country and
was unaware of his son's misfortune. The poor man came at once to Paris,
and demanded that his son should either be formally brought to trial or
set at liberty. He addressed himself to the cardinal, who inquired of
Madame de Bouillon whether she wished the affair to be tried, as
otherwise the abbé could not be kept in prison. Madame de Bouillon,
dreading publicity and unable to get the abbé assassinated in the
Bastille, consented to his liberation. During the two months that the
father remained in Paris nothing happened to the son. But when the
father had returned to the country, the abbé, having had the imprudence
to stay in Paris, suddenly disappeared. No one knows whether he is dead
or not, but nothing is heard of him."[87]

       *       *       *       *       *

Incredible as this story may appear, it, nevertheless, accords in all
important details with the documents which M. Monval has extracted from
the Archives of the Bastille, preserved in the Bibliothèque de
l'Arsenal. The interview at the Tuileries, the conversation with the
Duchesse de Bouillon, the suspicious lozenges--all that is true. The
Abbé Bouret, imprisoned at Saint-Lazare, confirmed it in a series of
examinations to which he was subjected.[88]

Bouret had been arrested on July 29, 1729, and he was kept in prison for
three months. During his confinement Adrienne wrote to him, entreating
him to withdraw his charge against the Duchesse de Bouillon, if it were
untrue, and promising, in that event, to obtain his pardon. She also
sent him money, clothes, and books, and did all she could to lighten his
imprisonment.

Thanks to the efforts of his father, who, though ill, had hastened to
Paris so soon as he was informed of his son's arrest, Bouret was
released on October 23, when Adrienne advised him to leave Paris at
once, pointing out that the affair had now become common knowledge, and
that, if he lingered, the Bouillon family would certainly cause him to
be rearrested.

Well would it have been for Bouret had he followed the actress's advice;
but, unfortunately, his father's illness took so serious a turn that it
was impossible for him to undertake the journey to Lorraine, and the
abbé remained to nurse him. Meanwhile, the scandal had assumed such
dimensions that the Duc de Bouillon obtained a new _lettre de cachet_,
by virtue of which, on January 23, 1730, Bouret was again arrested and
conveyed first to For l'Évêque and afterwards back to Saint-Lazare, on a
charge of "poisoning or giving false information to the celebrated
actress Lecouvreur."

The public interest in the affair had, not improbably, been stimulated
by a singular incident which had occurred at the Comédie-Française
during the previous autumn. On October 18, Adrienne was playing the part
of Phèdre, when, perceiving the Duchesse de Bouillon complacently
watching her performance from one of the boxes on the first tier, her
feelings overcame her, and, turning in the direction of her enemy, she
repeated with unmistakable emphasis the indignant lines:--

                          "Je sais mes perfidies,
    Œnone, et ne suis pas de ces femmes hardies
    Qui, goûtant dans les crimes une tranquille paix,
    Ont su se faire un front qui ne rougit jamais."

The pit, whose sympathies were entirely on the side of the actress,
burst into loud applause, amidst which the duchess angrily quitted the
theatre.[89]

Adrienne did not play again until the evening of November 10, owing to
ill-health, when she again appeared as Phèdre. The accounts of the
Comédie-Française show that, on the following day, a sum of 1 livre, 10
sols was paid for a coach "to go to the Hôtel de Bouillon, on the matter
of the footmen," and similar entries occur on the 20th and 30th of the
same month. From this M. Monval supposes that the duchess, in order to
avenge the affront she had received, had sent her lackeys to create a
disturbance and hiss Adrienne.[90]

Early in the following March, Bouret was removed to the Bastille, where
he persistently adhered to the statements he had made before Hérault and
at Saint-Lazare; and on May 18, Père de Couvrigny, the Jesuit confessor
attached to the prison, wrote to the Lieutenant of Police the following
significant note:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"I have visited and had a long conversation with the young abbé brought
from Saint-Lazare, and have made strong representations to him on the
baseness of the calumny of which he has been guilty. He appears very
firm in maintaining that he has done no wrong to others, but that he
cannot wrong himself. _The matter is very terrible and serious._"

       *       *       *       *       *

Terrible and serious it most certainly was, for Adrienne had died two
months before, after a very short illness; and the firmness with which
Bouret continued to adhere to his accusation against the Duchesse de
Bouillon gave the affair a still more sinister complexion. On July 8, he
wrote to Hérault:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"Permit me to cast myself at your feet to implore your protection. I
believe that you will not refuse it to me, inasmuch as you are the
protector of the innocent. Alas! cast a pitying glance on my
misfortunes. It is a sad spectacle for you; you will see nothing but
tears, groans, and fears; in a word, all that an agitated mind can
exhibit. That is the sad state to which I have been reduced for a whole
year. The fury of my enemies ought to be satisfied. You are my only
hope; in you I have placed my trust; decide upon my fate, Monseigneur; I
will subscribe to everything that I am able to; but, as for my departing
from what I have deposed to, were death with all its terrors to appear
before my eyes, I would prefer it to calumniating myself."

       *       *       *       *       *

But, six weeks later, Bouret completely alters his tone, and on August
24 writes again to Hérault:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"As you have done me the honour to order me to speak the truth touching
the Duchesse de Bouillon, I obey your commands. Here it is. The desire
that I had to become acquainted with the Lecouvreur induced me to invent
a pretext for gaining admission to her house.... I declare to you that
the duchess is innocent of everything of which I have accused her.
Pardon a wretched man, whose only crimes are a fevered brain and much
imprudence."[91]

       *       *       *       *       *

After this recantation, the unfortunate youth remained a prisoner for
nine months longer, when he was finally set at liberty (June 3, 1731).
From that date nothing more is heard of him, though there is no reason
to assume, with Mlle. Aïssé, that he was the victim of foul play. He
probably lost not a moment in returning to Lorraine, heartily glad to
turn his back upon the city in which he had suffered so much.

That Adrienne Lecouvreur had been the object of an attempt at poisoning
on the part of Madame de Bouillon admits, we think, of very little
doubt. Barely half a century had passed since the famous Poison Trials,
in which many a high-born dame, including, by the way, another Duchesse
de Bouillon,[92] had been compromised. What had occurred with terrible
frequency in 1680 was not impossible in 1730; nor does the passionate,
vindictive, and unscrupulous character of the duchess render her
culpability any the less probable. Again, although Bouret ultimately
withdrew his accusation, he persisted in it for many months after his
second arrest, in spite of the prospect that a recantation would ensure
his release. Thirdly, the official investigation of the affair was very
incomplete, and the authorities appear to have had no other object in
view than to obtain Bouret's recantation and hush the matter up.
Finally, if the duchess were innocent, why, we may well ask, did she not
take steps to clear her reputation by prosecuting her accuser before the
courts? Why did she prefer to remain under the shadow of so hideous a
suspicion to the end of her life?

But even if the charge against Madame de Bouillon is to be considered
proved, it seems to us in the highest degree improbable that the attempt
against Adrienne was renewed, and that the actress fell a victim to it,
as so many persons asserted at the time, and as some writers, including
M. Monval, still believe. Let us, however, listen to Mlle. Aïssé's
version of the circumstances connected with Adrienne's death:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"Since then (Bouret's denunciation of the duchess), the Lecouvreur has
been on her guard. One day, at the theatre, after the principal piece,
Madame de Bouillon sent to ask her to come to her box. The Lecouvreur
was extremely surprised, and answered that her toilette was not
finished, and it was impossible for her to present herself. The duchess
sent a second time, and was told, in reply to her invitation, that the
Lecouvreur was about to appear on the stage, but that she would obey her
commands when she quitted it. Madame de Bouillon begged her not to fail
her, and, as she was making her exit, met her, bestowed upon her all
sorts of caresses, complimented her highly on her acting, and assured
her that to see her give so finished a rendering of the part which she
had just played had afforded her infinite pleasure. Some time
afterwards, the Lecouvreur became so ill in the middle of a piece that
she was unable to finish it. When the "orator" came forward to make the
announcement, the whole pit eagerly demanded news of her condition.
Since that day, her health declined and she grew thin and feeble. On the
last occasion on which she performed, she took the part of Jocaste in
the _Œdipe_ of Voltaire. The rôle is a somewhat trying one. Before
the play began, she was seized with a violent attack of dysentery.... It
was pitiful to see her exhaustion and weakness. Although I was in
ignorance of her indisposition, I remarked two or three times to Madame
de Parabère[93] that I felt very distressed on her account. Between the
two pieces we were informed of the nature of her illness, and were
astonished when she reappeared in the afterpiece, _Le Florentin_, and
undertook a very long and difficult part,[94] which, however, she
played to perfection, and, to all appearance, as if it gave her
pleasure. The audience showed that they greatly appreciated her decision
to continue playing, and it was no longer said, as it had been
previously, that she was suffering from the effects of poison. The poor
creature returned home, and, four days later, at one o'clock in the
afternoon, when she was believed to be out of danger, she died. She had
convulsions, which never happens in cases of dysentery,[95] and went out
like a candle. The body was opened, and the bowels were found to be
ulcerated.... If the suspected lady had appeared at the theatre under
these circumstances, she would have been driven from the house. She had
the effrontery to send every day to the Lecouvreur's house to inquire as
to her condition."[96]

       *       *       *       *       *

If, as Sainte-Beuve and M. Larroumet point out, the Duchesse de Bouillon
had really intended to poison Adrienne, the moment chosen for her
attempt was singularly inopportune. Suspected by the public of a
previous attempt upon the actress's life, with Bouret still in prison
and an investigation of the affair hanging over her head, the most
ordinary prudence must have dictated to her, if determined on the crime,
the advisability of deferring her horrible design at least until she had
cleared herself from the charge under which she then lay. The daily
inquiries she caused to be made during Adrienne's illness, of which
Mlle. Aïssé speaks with such indignation, were no doubt actuated by a
sincere desire for the actress's recovery; not, of course, for the poor
woman's own sake, but because she foresaw that her death at such a time
would render her own position even more unpleasant than it already was.

But there is a far stronger argument in the duchess's favour than the
one which we have just stated. Adrienne's correspondence, published by
M. Monval, shows that for some years past she had been in very delicate
health. "I have not had twelve hours' health since I last saw you," she
writes to d'Argental, during the latter's visit to England; while in
other letters she complains of being always "insupportably fatigued,"
and of being "in despair in regard to her health." Moreover--and this is
a point of the greatest importance--she was subject to a chronic
affection of the intestines, and, in the winter of 1725-1726, had had an
attack of dysentery, which all but proved fatal; the very malady of
which she eventually died.

It would therefore appear that, however strongly facts may point to
Madame de Bouillon's guilt in regard to the charge brought against her
by Bouret, it would be manifestly unjust to saddle her with any
responsibility for Adrienne's death. Everything, indeed, seems to
indicate natural causes; nothing confirms the theory of poison.

Adrienne was taken ill on Tuesday, March 14, and she died on the
following Monday, the 20th inst. Maurice de Saxe, Voltaire, and a
surgeon named Faget were with her when the end came; and the faithful
d'Argental, who had been hurriedly summoned, reached the house a few
minutes after she had breathed her last. Neither of her three friends,
however, though each possessed influence in his way, was able to save
the remains of the celebrated actress from the worst indignity ever
offered to those of a member of the theatrical profession in France.

Adrienne's house was situated in the parish of Saint-Sulpice, the curé
of which, Languet de Gergy, was one of the most bigoted and obstinate
priests in Paris. When the end was seen to be near, he was sent for to
receive the usual renunciation and administer the last Sacraments, but
accounts differ as to what occurred. Some writers declare that when he
arrived the actress was already dead, or at least on the point of death;
others that she firmly refused to renounce her profession, and, on the
curé continuing to exhort her to repentance, pointed with out-stretched
hand to a bust of Maurice de Saxe which stood near her bed, and
exclaimed:--

"_Voilà mon univers, mon espoir, et mes dieux!_"

What is certain, is that Adrienne died without the Sacraments, and that
Languet de Gergy refused her not only Christian burial (this, as we have
seen, had been the invariable practice of the Paris clergy in regard to
members of her profession who had died under similar circumstances, ever
since the time of Molière), but interment in the cemetery at all, even
in that portion of it which was reserved for heretics and unbaptized
children--a refusal _absolutely without precedent_ in the history of the
theatre.

In the morning of March 21, an autopsy was performed on the body of the
deceased actress (according to Voltaire, on his application), when the
doctors decided that Adrienne had died a natural death, an opinion to
which the poet himself subscribes.[97] Later in the day, Maurepas, in
his capacity of Minister for Paris, wrote to the Lieutenant of Police,
informing him that it was the intention of Cardinal de Fleury not to
interfere in the matter of ecclesiastical burial, but to leave it
entirely to the discretion of the Archbishop of Paris and the curé of
Saint-Sulpice. "If," he added, "they persist in refusing it to her, as
they appear inclined to do, she must be taken away to-night and interred
with as little scandal as possible."[98]

At midnight, accordingly, the mortal remains of poor Adrienne were
placed in a hackney-coach, and, preceded by two street porters bearing
torches, and escorted by a squad of the watch and a M. de
Laubinière--whom Sainte-Beuve supposes to have been a friend of the
actress, but who, M. Monval thinks, was a representative of the
Lieutenant of Police--conveyed to a piece of waste land near the Seine,
and there buried, quicklime being thrown over the body, and no stone or
mark of any kind being placed to indicate where it lay.[99]

The refusal of admission to the unconsecrated portion of the cemetery--a
circumstance, as we have already observed, absolutely without
precedent[100]--the secret removal, the presence of the representatives
of the Lieutenant of Police at the interment, the precautions taken to
destroy the corpse by quicklime and to conceal the grave, all point to
an intention on the part of the authorities to render a second autopsy
impossible. But the most scandalous part of the whole affair is the
conduct of Languet de Gergy and his superior, the Archbishop of Paris,
in lending themselves to a deliberate attempt to defeat the ends of
justice in the interests of Madame de Bouillon and her powerful friends.

A question which has naturally given rise to a good deal of conjecture
is the conduct of Maurice de Saxe on this occasion. Egotist and
libertine though he was, he was a sincere friend and capable of generous
impulses; moreover, even at this period, he possessed no little
influence at Court, where he was feared even more than he was respected.
Such being the case, it seems almost inconceivable that he should, so
far as is known, have made not the slightest effort to save the remains
of the woman who had loved him so long and so tenderly from so gross an
indignity. In our opinion, the most probable, as well as the most
charitable, explanation of the matter is, that Maurice was taken
completely by surprise; that the arrangements of the police were carried
out with such secrecy and despatch that no inkling of their intentions
was permitted to reach him until it was too late for him to intervene.

Another of Adrienne's friends, though, like Maurice, powerless to
prevent the barbarous treatment to which she had been subjected,
protested against it with all the strength of his generous nature. On
the morrow of her burial, Voltaire addressed to Falkener a letter in
verse, in which he recalled the honours recently paid to two English
actresses, and drew an eloquent comparison between their pompous
obsequies and those of poor Adrienne, who had been denied even the
privilege of "two tapers and a coffin." But the justly indignant poet
went much further than this. On the same day, a meeting of the members
of the Comédie-Française was held at the theatre. Voltaire attended,
and, in an eloquent speech, called upon the actors to refuse to exercise
their profession "until they had secured for the pensioners of the King
the rights which were accorded to those who had not the honour of
serving his Majesty." His hearers promised to follow his advice, but
they did nothing in the matter. The age of strikes had not yet arrived,
and they preferred opprobrium with a little money to honour and an empty
treasury.

Shortly afterwards, Voltaire composed his fine poem on the death of
Adrienne, in which he gave full vent to the feelings of indignation and
contempt which consumed him:--

      "Que direz-vous, race future,
     Lorsque vous apprendrez, la flétrissante injure
     Qu'à ces arts désolés font des hommes cruel!
        Ils privent de la sépulture
     Celle qui dans la Gréce aurait eu des autels.
     Quand elle était au monde, ils soupiraient pour elle;
     Je les ai vu soumis, autour d'elle empressés:
     Sitôt qu'elle n'est plus, elle est donc criminelle!
     Elle a charmé le monde et vous l'en punissez!"

The annual closing of the theatre took place on March 24, when Grandval,
as the youngest _sociétaire_, pronounced, according to custom, before
the assembled company, an _éloge_ upon their deceased colleague. This
_éloge_ had been written by Voltaire himself, and with it we may
appropriately conclude our sketch of this celebrated actress, who was
not only a great artist, but a noble, high-souled, and cultured woman,
who had all the feminine virtues, save one, for the lack of which, when
we pause to consider the temptations of her profession, the moral
standard of the age in which she lived, and the generosity and devotion
she displayed towards those who had won her heart, we shall find it
difficult not to pardon her:--

"I feel, Messieurs, that your regrets recall that inimitable actress,
who might almost be said to have invented the art of speaking to the
heart and of presenting sentiment and truth where once had been shown
little but artificiality and declamation.

"Mlle. Lecouvreur--permit us the consolation of naming her--made one
feel in every character which she impersonated all the delicacy, all the
soul, all the decorum that one could desire: she was worthy to speak
before you, Messieurs. Among those who deign to listen to me are several
who honoured her by their friendship; they are aware that she was the
ornament of society, as well as of the theatre; while those who knew her
only as the actress can readily judge, from the degree of perfection to
which she had attained, that not only had she an abundance of wit, but
that she further possessed the art of rendering wit amiable.

"You are too just, Messieurs, not to regard this tribute of praise as a
duty: I dare even to say that, in regretting her, I am merely your
interpreter."[101]



IV

MADEMOISELLE DE CAMARGO


The Abbé d'Allainval, in his _Lettre à Mylord ... sur Baron et la
demoiselle Lecouvreur_, reminds his mythical correspondent that he had
found in Paris four wonders: (1) The Tuileries. (2) The acting of the
demoiselle Lecouvreur. (3) The dancing of the demoiselle Camargo. (4)
The voice of the demoiselle Lemaure. It is of the third of these wonders
that we are now about to speak.

Marie-Anne de Cupis de Camargo, the most celebrated _danseuse_ of her
time, whose talents have been exalted by the chroniclers, sung by the
poets, celebrated in every way in both prose and verse, and immortalised
by Voltaire, was born at Brussels on April 10, 1710. On her father's
side, she was descended from "one of the noblest families in Rome,"
which had given to the Church a cardinal, an archbishop, and various
minor dignitaries. Through her grandmother, she was related to the
Spanish house of Camargo, and it was under this name that she pirouetted
into fame.

The means of Marie-Anne's father, Ferdinand Joseph de Cupis, "seigneur
de Renoussart," were, unfortunately, very far from equal to his birth
and connections; nor was his position rendered any easier by the fact
that he had been imprudent enough to espouse a lady as high-born and as
poor as himself, who, in default of a dot, had presented him with seven
pledges of her affection. He lived at Brussels, "on the crumbs which
fell from the table of the Prince de Ligne," and the fees he received
from giving music and dancing lessons, and gallantly endeavoured to
bring his children up in a manner befitting those of a gentleman "who
could prove sixteen quarterings on both his father and mother's side."

Such a treasure as Marie-Anne promised to become, however, was worthy of
any sacrifice. "Hercules in his cradle," says Castil-Blaze, "strangled
the serpents who came to devour him. The talent of Mlle. de Camargo was
not less precocious. While she was in the arms of her nurse, the sound
of a violin reached her ears, and inspired her to gestures and movements
so animated, so gay, so perfectly harmonious that it was at once
perceived that this virtuoso of six months would one day be one of the
first _danseuses_ in Europe."[102] The delighted M. de Cupis thenceforth
devoted every moment he could spare to the instruction of his little
daughter, and at the age of ten Marie-Anne danced so charmingly in the
salons of Brussels, that every one vowed that it would be nothing less
than a crime to withhold from her the applause of the public.
Accordingly, the noble dancing-master's consent having been obtained,
the Princesse de Ligne and some other ladies of the Court clubbed
together, and sent her at their own expense to Paris, to take lessons
from Mlle. Prévost, then the queen of the Opera.

[Illustration: MADEMOISELLE PRÉVOST

From the painting by JEAN RAOUX, in the Musée of Tours]

After remaining in Paris for some months, and learning all that Mlle.
Prévost could teach her, the little girl returned to Brussels, and made
her _début_ at the theatre with such astonishing success that, in spite
of her youth, she was appointed _première danseuse_. This position she
held for three years, when Pélissier, director of the Rouen theatre,
offered her an engagement. Marie-Anne wished to accept the offer; Rouen,
ever since the days of Molière, had been regarded as the conservatoire
of the Paris theatres; its playgoers were not only the most
enthusiastic, but the most critical in France, and the actor, singer, or
_danseuse_ who was fortunate enough to secure their suffrages might
reckon with certainty on a favourable reception in the capital. M. de
Cupis, however, demurred; he did not wish to allow his daughter to go
alone to Rouen, neither did he see his way to leave his pupils at
Brussels; and it was not until Pélissier offered him the post of
ballet-master, and his eldest son, Françoise, a place in the orchestra
that he gave his consent, and the whole Cupis family set out for
Normandy.

Poor M. de Cupis would not have been so ready to turn his back on
Brussels had he been aware that Pélissier was hovering on the verge of
bankruptcy, and that his engagement of Marie-Anne was merely intended to
stave off the evil day a little longer. For a time, however, all went
well; Marie-Anne's dancing delighted the critical Rouennais, even more
than it had the indulgent Flemings, and the theatre was crowded every
night with applauding spectators. But her triumphs came too late to save
Pélissier; and one fine spring morning, in 1726, that gentleman failed,
and _danseuse_, ballet-master, and musician found themselves out of
employment.

Matters looked serious indeed for the seigneur de Renoussart and his
seven children; but, happily, at that moment Fortune knocked at their
door, in the shape of Francine, who was about to become Director of the
Paris Opera. The fame of the little prodigy had, it appeared, reached
the capital, and Francine had journeyed to Rouen to offer her a _début_
at the Académie Royale de Musique.

The offer, as may be supposed, was joyfully accepted and Marie-Anne,
with her family in her train, migrated to Paris. Here she decided to
abandon her patronymic in favour of that of her grandmother, which had a
more artistic sound; and on May 5, 1726, made her _début_ under the name
of Mlle. de Camargo.

Mlle. Prévost, already jealous of her former pupil, perhaps from a
presentiment, had treacherously advised her to make her _début_ in a
ballet called _Les Caractères de la danse_, in a step so difficult that
none but the most celebrated dancers ever dared to attempt it. But, to
her intense mortification, Mlle. de Camargo not only performed every
movement correctly, but with a brilliancy, a verve, a vivacity which far
surpassed all her predecessors. "Never," says a contemporary writer,
"had the auditorium resounded with such applause as that which greeted
the _débutante_. Such was the enthusiasm of the public that nothing else
was talked about but the young Camargo." All the new fashions were named
after her: coiffures _à la Camargo_, gowns _à la Camargo_, sleeves _à la
Camargo_, shoes _à la Camargo_.[103] On the second night on which she
appeared, there were twenty duels and quarrels without number at the
doors of the Opera; all Paris was determined to get in, even at the
sword-point.

Mlle. de Camargo was not beautiful; indeed some of her contemporaries go
so far as to assert that she was positively ugly: "a real monster, like
her predecessor Mlle. Prévost," says one ungallant critic; while
Noverre declares that "Nature had denied her every imaginable grace,"
and that she was "neither tall, nor pretty, nor well-formed." But
whatever may have been her defects of face or figure, they did not
interfere with her professional success. "The moment she began to dance
people forgot her face. Besides, no one had time to see whether she was
ugly or beautiful, so light and rapid were her movements. Her skips and
twirls bewildered the audience. Then her countenance was changed,
transfigured. 'Then her black eyes were full of smiles and provocations,
while her laughing lips revealed her ivory teeth.' She did not seem to
dance for the public, but for herself, for her own pleasure. Never had
one imagined so many seductions, so many caprices, so much gaiety. 'It
would be vain,' says Cahusac, 'to seek a playfulness more frank, a
vivacity more natural.'"[104]

Not the least important factor in the success of the young _danseuse_
seems to have been the fashion of her skirt, which she had curtailed to
a point which the most daring of her predecessors had never even dreamed
of. This innovation was extremely popular with the younger patrons of
the Opera, but, on the other hand, alarmed the modesty of many of the
more conservative playgoers.

"Camargo," says Grimm, "was the first who ventured to abbreviate her
skirts. This useful invention, which gave amateurs an opportunity of
passing judgment upon the nether limbs of a _danseuse_, has since been
generally adopted, though, at the time, it promised to occasion a very
dangerous schism. The Jansenists in the pit cried out heresy and
scandal, and refused to tolerate the shortened skirts. The Molinists, on
the contrary, maintained that this innovation brought us nearer to the
spirit of the primitive Church, which objected to seeing pirouettes and
gargouillades hampered by the length of the petticoats. The Sorbonne of
the Opera held a great many sittings before it could decide which of the
contending parties adhered to the orthodox doctrine. Finally, it
pronounced in favour of the shortened skirts, but declared, at the same
time, as an article of faith, that no _danseuse_ should appear on the
stage _sans caleçon_. This decision has since become a fundamental
article of discipline, by the general consent of all the ruling powers
of the Opera and of all the faithful who frequent these holy
places."[105]

The regulation respecting the wearing of a _caleçon_ seems to have been
the result of a disaster which befell a young ballerina named Mariette,
who had the misfortune to have her habiliments torn away by a piece of
projecting framework, "_et posa pour l'ensemble devant toute la salle,
pendant une bonne minute au moins_." There was considerable difference
of opinion, Grimm tells us, as to whether Mlle. de Camargo conformed to
this order, which would have interfered with her freedom of movement,
and bets were freely made on the subject. But when, in order to decide
these wagers, some one ventured to question the _danseuse_, the lady
replied, "with a beautiful blush and her eyes modestly lowered," that
without such a "precaution" she would never have ventured to appear in
public. Henceforth at the Opera the _caleçon_ was known by the name of
"precaution."

In the meanwhile the triumphs of Mlle. de Camargo had begun to seriously
alarm Mlle. Prévost, who not only saw her professional pre-eminence
threatened by her former pupil, but had reason to fear that the
dancing-master, Blondi, hitherto her slave, regarded the young
_débutante_ with a rather more than friendly interest. Perceiving that
to attempt to eclipse her on the stage would only be to court certain
defeat, she had recourse to intrigue. She refused to continue the
lessons by which, she considered, the girl had already too greatly
profited; she relegated her to small and obscure parts, in which she had
no opportunity of displaying her talents, and even declined to allow her
to appear in a dance in which the Duchesse de Berri had expressed a
desire to see the young _danseuse_. Finally, she succeeded in banishing
her to the back row of the chorus.

With so powerful and unscrupulous an enemy to contend against, poor
Camargo might have remained "lost in the vulgar crowd of _filles
d'Opéra_" for the rest of her days, had not a fortunate accident enabled
her to assert her superiority again, and this time in a manner which it
was impossible for the ruling powers of the Opera to ignore.

One evening she had to appear amid a group of demons, on whose entrance
the dancer Dumoulin was to execute a _pas de seul_. The demons trooped
in, and the orchestra struck up the opening bars of Dumoulin's solo; but
the dancer, for some reason, did not appear. Mlle. de Camargo saved the
situation. Leaving the other _figurantes_, she sprang to the middle of
the stage, improvised the step of the absent Dumoulin, and danced so
magnificently as to send all the spectators into transports of
enthusiasm. Mlle. Prévost, beside herself with passion, vowed that she
would ruin her youthful rival, but it was too late; "Terpsichore was
dethroned, and Mlle. de Camargo crowned queen of the Opera."

"Yesterday," writes Adrienne Lecouvreur to one of her friends, "they
played _Roland_ (an opera by Quinault and Lulli). Mlle. Prévost,
although she surpassed herself, obtained very meagre applause in
comparison with a new _danseuse_ named Camargo, whom the public idolise,
and whose great merit is youth and vigour. I doubt whether you have seen
her. Mlle. Prévost protected her at first, but Blondi has fallen in love
with her, and she is consequently annoyed. She appeared jealous and
discontented at the applause of the public, which has now reached such a
pitch of enthusiasm that the Prévost will be foolish if she does not
make up her mind to retire."

Mlle. Prévost did, in fact, retire shortly after this letter was
written, and Mlle. de Camargo, left mistress of the field, used her
victory to such good purpose that in two years' time she had completely
revolutionised the ballet. No longer did the spectators sit bored or
indifferent through the languishing attitudes and mechanical gestures
which composed the old ballet--that solemn ceremony in which _le Grand
Monarque_ and the lords and ladies of his Court had occasionally deigned
to take part. "With disdainful foot she thrust into the abyss of
oblivion minuet, saraband, and courant, and replaced by rapidity,
agility, and lightness all the antics that had been admired before her
time, but which appeared no longer endurable once one had seen
her."[106] Yet she owed much to her teachers--to Mlle. Prévost, to
Blondi, and to Dupré--and the style of dancing which she now brought
into fashion seems to have been a combination of all that was best in
their different methods, joined to a vivacity and piquancy entirely her
own. She excelled in gavottes, rigaudons, and in all of what were known
as the "_grands airs_," and also in the graceful Basque dances, which
she substituted for the gargouillade, judging the latter to be
unsuitable for women. But her greatest triumph was a certain minuet step
which she executed along the edge of the footlights, first from right to
left, and then back again. "The public awaited it with impatience,
watched it with intense interest, and applauded it rapturously." Many
persons would come to the Opera solely to witness this performance, and
leave as soon as it was over.

The prestige of Mlle. de Camargo was at this time so great that the
ovations she received were not confined to the theatre. One evening,
while walking in the Tuileries Gardens, she was addressed by the wife of
Maréchal de Villars, who engaged her in conversation "for a good quarter
of an hour." Meanwhile, all who happened to be promenading in the
gardens flocked to the spot, formed a circle round the two ladies, and
began to clap their hands, "as much to testify their admiration for the
_danseuse_, as to show Madame de Villars how highly they approved of her
affability."

Like the famous Arlequin, Dominique, Mlle. de Camargo was very gay while
on the stage and very reserved and quiet the moment she had quitted it.
While dancing, one of her admirers declares, she seemed "the very
priestess of pleasure and of love." But no sooner had she retired into
the wings, than she became "melancholy and even sad," while her
countenance was "expressive of the most profound _ennui_." To her
colleagues she seldom spoke, unless they happened to address her, when
she responded with dignified courtesy, as became the collateral
descendant of a cardinal, the niece of a Grand Inquisitor,[107] and the
possessor of thirty-two quarterings. However, as she was good-natured
and obliging, her comrades treated the queenly airs it pleased her to
assume with amused indulgence, and she was not unpopular among them.

Although, as we have mentioned, the young _danseuse_ had no pretensions
to beauty, she was nevertheless capable of arousing _grandes passions_,
and her adorers were many. For two years, however, after her first
appearance at the Opera, the "frigid dignity" of her demeanour and the
unsleeping vigilance of the worthy M. de Cupis kept them at a distance,
until all, save one, perceiving that their efforts were fruitless, had
retired from the field. The exception was Jean Alexandre Théodose, Comte
de Melun, who loved the lady with a passion which no rebuffs could
extinguish, no difficulties subdue. His persistence was rewarded; Mlle.
de Camargo took pity upon him, and granted him a rendezvous, which was
followed by others; and, finally, one fine night, in the month of May
1728, the amorous nobleman made off with both her and her sister Sophie,
aged thirteen, who also danced at the Opera, and conveyed them to his
hotel in the Rue des Coutures Saint-Gervais. Sophie, it appeared, had
refused to be separated from her sister, and had threatened to raise an
alarm, if she were not eloped with too.

[Illustration: MADEMOISELLE DE CAMARGO

From the painting by LANCRET, in the Wallace Collection, at Hertford
House]

This affair caused an immense sensation; poor M. de Cupis was furious;
so odious an act of violence, he considered, justified an appeal for
redress to the very highest authority in the land, and, sitting down at
his desk, he forthwith indited to the Prime Minister, Cardinal de
Fleury, the following eloquent petition:--

       *       *       *       *       *

    "TO HIS EMINENCE, MONSEIGNEUR LE CARDINAL
                   DE FLEURY

"MONSEIGNEUR,--Ferdinand Joseph de Cupis, _alias_ Camargo, écuyer,
seigneur de Renoussart, represents with the deepest respect to Your
Eminence, that, descended from one of the noblest families of Rome,
which has given to the Roman Church an Archbishop of Trani, a Bishop of
Ostia, and a Cardinal with the title of Saint-John _ante Portam
Latinam_, doyen of the Sacred College, in the year 1577, under the
pontificate of Leo X., and finding himself deprived of means, by the
misfortunes, the lawsuits, and the ravages of war which his fathers had
experienced, he avoided with more care than death anything derogatory to
his birth and his ancestors, in whose nobility there has never been any
change, not even through alliances, the petitioner being in a position
to prove sixteen quarterings on both his father and mother's side, since
the family of Cupis quitted Rome....

"Unable to maintain his rank, and burdened with seven children, he has
sighed, yet without murmuring, against his lot. He has striven to
develop the different talents of his children, and to instruct them in
those liberal arts which might enable them, without derogating from
their birth, to supply the needs of life and escape from want, while
awaiting more prosperous days. One he has had instructed in music,
others in painting, and others again in dancing. Among the last, there
are two girls, now aged eighteen and thirteen years respectively.

"As the late King, of glorious memory, decreed that any one might be
connected with the Opera without loss of dignity, the petitioner, having
been persuaded and even constrained by persons who had perceived the
great talents of the elder, could not refuse his consent to their
entering the Opera, although on condition that either he or his wife
should conduct them thither, and, in like manner, resume charge of them
at the conclusion of each performance. In short, the elder, who has now
performed for three years,[108] has always behaved with perfect
propriety, and this conduct has been as universally admired as her
dancing.

"But, for the last three years, M. le Comte de Melun has had recourse to
the arts of seduction and of methods alike unworthy of himself and of
the petitioner.... He dared to propose to the petitioner that he should
be a consenting party to his daughter's dishonour, in return for which
he offered to surrender to him the salary which she received at the
Opera. The petitioner, having treated such a proposition as it deserved,
the count found means to introduce himself, on several nights, into his
daughters' apartment, and, finally, on the night of the 10th to 11th of
the month of May, he carried them both off, and, at this moment, retains
them at his hôtel in Paris, Rue de la Couture Saint-Gervais (_sic_).

"The petitioner, thus dishonoured no less than his daughters, would have
taken proceedings in the ordinary way, if the ravisher had been a
private individual; and the laws established by his Majesty and his
august predecessors provide that abduction should be punished with
death. It is a double crime. Two sisters are carried off, aged
respectively eighteen and thirteen years.

"But the petitioner, having to deal with a person of the rank of the
Comte de Melun, is obliged to have recourse to the maker of the laws,
and trusts that the King in his bounty will see that he has justice, and
will command the Comte de Melun to espouse the elder daughter of the
petitioner and to furnish the younger with a dowry.

"In no other way can he make reparation for so terrible an
outrage."[109]

       *       *       *       *       *

The only effect the recital of the noble dancing-master's wrongs
produced on the Cardinal seems to have been one of amusement; and,
though, a week later, Mlle. Sophie returned to her indignant father, the
elder sister, whom the rules of the Opera emancipated from parental
control, remained at the Comte de Melun's hôtel. That nobleman, however,
did not long enjoy a monopoly of the lady's favours, while her
extravagance annoyed as much as it astonished him. He therefore secured
to her an income of 1500 livres, and courteously intimated that they
must part.

The notorious Duc de Richelieu, who regarded himself as the principal
cause of the ballerina's rupture with Melun, and desired to make amends,
took the count's place; to be, in his turn, succeeded by the Marquis de
Sourdis, for whom Mlle. de Camargo is said to have conceived "_une belle
passion_." The marquis's predilection for the ladies of the Opera had
already made serious inroads on his patrimony; but this did not prevent
him from lavishing the most costly presents upon his inamorata. Before,
however, he had succeeded in quite ruining himself, he was confronted by
a rival whose pretensions it was impossible for him to oppose.

The rival in question was a Prince of the Blood, Louis de Bourbon, Comte
de Clermont, third son of Louis III. of that name and Mlle. de Nantes,
legitimated daughter of _le Grand Monarque_ and Madame de Montespan.
Born in 1709 and destined for the Church, or, more strictly speaking,
for the emoluments thereof, he had been tonsured in infancy and loaded
with benefices. Before he had completed his eighth year, he found
himself in possession of the revenues of the rich abbey of Bec-Hellouin,
in Normandy, to which by the summer of 1733, the date when he made Mlle.
de Camargo's acquaintance, had been added some half-dozen others, with
an aggregate income of over 200,000 livres.

A curious figure was this descendant of the Great Condé; "_moitié
plumet, moitié rabat_," monk by profession and soldier by choice; "owing
two million livres in Paris and changing his mistress every day"; now
regulating the affairs of one of his abbeys, now scandalising the devout
by some _liaison_ with Opera girl or courtesan, anon distinguishing
himself in battle; witty, affable, generous, brave, magnificent in his
pleasures, and a lover and patron of literature; the only prince of his
house then living in whom could be traced a resemblance to their
illustrious ancestor.

Mlle. de Camargo had by this time acquired the reputation of being a
somewhat expensive luxury, even for a prince. Accordingly, before
"taking her into his service," the count-abbé desired to rid himself of
two other ladies, both of whom had claims upon his attention and his
purse. One was the Duchesse de Bouillon, poor Adrienne Lecouvreur's
enemy; the other, a siren of humble birth, named Quoniam, with whom he
had carried on an intermittent _liaison_ since he was sixteen. On the
principle that exchange is no robbery, it was arranged that the duchess
and the Marquis de Sourdis should console each other; while Clermont
experienced but little difficulty in persuading his nephew, the Prince
de Conti, a promising young gentleman of seventeen, to take Mlle.
Quoniam off his hands. The latter arrangement led to much unpleasantness
in high circles, for the Prince de Conti had two years before taken unto
himself a wife, in the person of Mlle. de Chartres, daughter of the late
Regent and sister of the devout Duc d'Orléans. The duke and his mother,
the dowager-duchess, were furious, and it was rumoured that they had
obtained a _lettre de cachet_, in virtue of which Mlle. Quoniam had been
spirited away to a convent. "This news," writes Barbier in his
_Journal_, "was general in the fashionable world; however, it is not
true. On Sunday, August 5, Mlle. Quoniam went to the Opera and took a
seat in a box. So soon as the young men in the pit caught sight of her,
they clapped their hands to show how delighted the public were to find
that the rumour was unfounded. In the evening, she went to the
Tuileries. All the princesses of the House of Condé were there, which
caused the people to form themselves into two lines as they passed by.
They did the same for Mlle. Quoniam, and congratulated her by their
gestures."[110]

With the Comte de Clermont, Mlle. de Camargo reached the highest point
of her fortunes. Her lover could refuse her nothing. When his monastic
revenues proved inadequate to satisfy her caprices, he ran into debt,
and when his credit was exhausted, he had recourse to stratagems to
obtain money from his mother. The Duchesse de Bourbon, having promised
to settle the claims of some of his most clamorous creditors, the count
instructed his steward, Moncrif, the Academician, to make out a
statement showing a total liability of 80,000 livres, whereas the debts
in question did not amount to much more than half that sum. The balance
he was to remit to Mlle. de Camargo with his Highness's compliments.
Moncrif, however, fearing the consequences to himself should the duchess
ever discover the trick which had been played her, revealed the plot to
the old lady, and so the ballerina never got the money. As for the
steward, he was promptly dismissed "for having abused his master's
confidence."

Such was the count's infatuation for his enchantress that he was "even
jealous of the pleasure which the public shared with him in seeing her
dance," and, in 1736, insisted on her quitting the Opera, to the despair
of all Paris. If we are to credit a report drawn up many years later by
the Police-Inspector Meusnier, for the edification of Madame de
Pompadour, "his passion tyrannised even over the quarter where she
resided, so that the neighbours did not dare to show themselves at their
windows or to glance in the direction of the Camargo's house."[111]

In July 1737, the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, with an annual
revenue of 160,000 livres, became vacant, by the death of old Cardinal
de Bissy. The Comte de Clermont had long had a covetous eye upon this
rich prize, and a substantial addition to his income was imperatively
needed, as Mlle. de Camargo's extravagance had reduced him to such
straits that, in the previous December, he had been forced to sell his
duchy of Châteauroux to Louis XV., who, some years later, conferred it
on his mistress, Madame de la Tournelle. Deeming, however, that, under
the circumstances, some concession to public opinion might be advisable,
he counterfeited a fit of devotion, separated from his mistress, who, on
a sudden, disappeared from Paris, and caused a report to be circulated
that she had been imprisoned by order of the King in Sainte-Pélagie. No
sooner, however, had the coveted abbey been conferred upon him, than
Mdlle. de Camargo reappeared upon the scene, and went to do the honours
of the Château de Berny, a charming country-house situated two leagues
from Paris, on the road to Orléans, which had been acquired by the monks
of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in 1686, with the price of the lands which
they had ceded to Louis XIV. for the enlargement of the park of
Versailles.

At Berny, Clermont erected a private theatre, upon whose stage the fair
châtelaine, we may presume, occasionally condescended to appear, though
Gaboriau is indebted to his imagination for the statement that she was
in the habit of dancing "_pour la plus grande joie des moines
ravis_,"[112] as the château was the private residence of the abbot, to
which his subordinates were never admitted. If they desired to see their
superior on business connected with the abbey, they had to present
themselves at his hôtel in the Rue de Richelieu.

Mlle. de Camargo presided over the Château of Berny for some four
years, when an obscure _figurante_ of the Opera, Mlle. Le Duc by name,
"a creature without intelligence, without manners, without principles,
without a soul,"[113] stole away the heart of the Comte de Clermont.
Mlle. Le Duc was the property of Président de Rieux, son of the
celebrated financier, Samuel Bernard, who, having purchased the lady's
affections at a great price, was naturally reluctant to surrender them.
To oppose himself to a Prince of the Blood in an affair of such
importance was more, however, than he had the courage to do; and so, one
day, while the president was dispensing justice in the Cour des
Enquêtes, Mlle. Le Duc bade farewell to the luxurious nest which the
luckless judge had furnished for her, and transferred herself and her
belongings to Berny.

Henceforth, the president lived only for revenge, and racked his brains
to discover some means whereby he might humble the pride of the Comte de
Clermont, and make the faithless Le Duc bitterly rue the day on which
she had so basely betrayed him. At length, he resolved upon the
following plan of campaign: he would invite Mlle. de Camargo to occupy
the vacant place in his affections, and surround her with such luxury,
array her in such toilettes, load her with such presents as would cause
Mlle. Le Duc to die of envy, and her monkish lover to gnaw his fingers
with vexation. He accordingly made overtures to the deserted ballerina,
which were promptly accepted; and one morning all Paris was talking of
the magnificent generosity of the Président de Rieux, who had sent his
new mistress a chastely-wrought bowl of solid gold, filled to the brim
with double louis.

The Comte de Clermont heard of the president's gift, and hastened to
accept the challenge. In the _Journal de Police_, under date March 1742,
we read:--

"On Thursday, March 22, 1742, the Demoiselle Le Duc, formerly mistress
of the Président de Rieux, drove to the _Tenebrae_ at Longchamps[114] in
a _calèche_ of cane painted blue, with all the chains of silver, drawn
by six ponies no bigger than dogs, ridden by a little postilion and a
little hussar, the first in a red waistcoat all galooned with silver,
and with a blue plume in his hat; the other in a blue tunic, with his
sabre and cap decorated with _plaques_ of silver. The Le Duc held the
horses' reins, and was escorted by two footmen.

"This luxurious equipage was a gallantry of the Comte de Clermont, Abbé
of Saint-Germain, to flatter the vanity of the Le Duc, who occupies the
post of his favourite sultana, which the Camargo enjoyed up to the end
of the year 1741.

"The goddess of the fête responded to this magnificent gallantry by
attire still richer and more elegant, of blue and silver; she had for
companions in her _calèche_ her sister and the Cartou.[115] A number of
other actresses filled three coaches in the suite of Madame l'Abbesse,
and wore her colours of blue and silver.

"All the people at Longchamps, on horseback, in coaches, or in
_calèches_, formed a procession in the rear of this troupe of vestals,
through curiosity or for the sake of amusement....

"Jests and songs at the expense of the Comte de Clermont have not been
wanting, and the King has intimated to him that he is displeased and
scandalised.

"Here is a placard which has been composed on the matter:--

                            '"THE
                        TRIUMPH OF VICE
                   At the Theatre of Longchamps,
                        By MLLE. LE DUC.

    '"_The first representation given on Holy Wednesday, March 21.
          On Friday the Theatre will be closed._"'[116]

The duel between the abbé and the judge and their respective sultanas
continued until both gentlemen were nearly ruined; but victory
ultimately rested with the Church, as Mlle. de Camargo and the Président
de Rieux soon grew tired of one another and agreed to separate, the
latter making the ballerina a present of 40,000 crowns out of what was
left of his fortune. After this adventure, according to the report drawn
up by Meusnier, of which we have already spoken, Mlle. de Camargo's old
inclination for the Marquis de Sourdis revived and they resumed their
interrupted _liaison_. Their respective positions were now, however,
reversed, as the Marquis had fallen on evil days, and become so poor
that his mistress had to pledge her earrings and necklace to enable him
to live in a manner befitting his rank.

In the meanwhile, the _danseuse_ had returned to the Opera, where she,
of course, met with an enthusiastic reception.

    "Légère et forte en sa souplesse,
        La vive Camargo sautait,"

wrote Voltaire. Nevertheless, she had now to be content with a divided
empire. During her long absence, a new star had arisen, in the person of
a Mlle. Sallé, with whom the Camargo had henceforth to share the
applause of the public and the praises of the poets. Mlle. Sallé's style
of dancing differed widely from that of her celebrated rival. Whereas
the latter danced with astonishing rapidity and rose so high from the
stage that "it seemed as if she were going to touch the friezes," Mlle.
Sallé danced slowly and with the minimum of exertion, relying for effect
upon grace of movement and voluptuous poses.

The rivalry between the two stars was very bitter, and all attempts to
promote a better understanding proved fruitless, although Voltaire
himself intervened, and addressed to the ladies some graceful lines, in
which he adroitly divided his praises between them:--

    "Ah! Camargo, que vous êtes brillante!
     Mais que Sallé, grands dieux! est ravissante!
       Que vos pas sont légers, et que les siens sont doux!
         Elle est inimitable et vous êtes nouvelle.
       Les Nymphes sautent comme vous,
         Et les Grâces dansent comme elle."

In spite of the rivalry of Mlle. Sallé, the fame of the elder ballerina
was still sufficient to have satisfied a less exacting artiste. An air
to which she danced in the first act of _Pyramé et Thisbé_ excited such
enthusiasm that it became the vogue of the salons, first, as a song,
and, later, as a dance, which was called after the _danseuse_, the
"Camargo," and by that name was still known a century later.

Her triumphs in the dance encouraged Mlle. de Camargo to tempt fortune
in another _emploi_, and, in an opera called _Les Talents lyriques_, she
accordingly made her _début_ as a singer. She had a very pretty voice,
and was much applauded; but, for some reason, did not repeat the
experiment.

At the age of forty-one, conscious that she no longer possessed the
"_souplesse forte et légère_," which Voltaire had once celebrated, Mlle.
de Camargo decided to retire, and, at Easter 1751, quitted the scene of
her many triumphs, never to return. Her popularity had endured to the
last, for Casanova, who saw her dance some months earlier, declares that
the public applauded her "with a kind of frenzy."

On her retirement, she received a pension of 1500 livres, instead of the
usual 1000, and another pension of a like amount from the King. She had,
however, little need of such assistance, as, more prudent than most of
her colleagues, she had found secure investments for a considerable
portion of the sums which her various admirers had lavished upon her;
while, if Meusnier is correct, she was in receipt of an annual allowance
of 12,000 livres from the Comte de Clermont, which would have been
materially increased, but for the interference of Mlle. Le Duc.

Henceforth she ceased to interest the town. In 1753, we learn that she
has taken unto herself another impecunious lover, a certain Chevalier de
la Guerché, "who lived with her, and the whole of whose expenses she
defrayed," after which we hear no more of her until the chroniclers
record her death, which took place on April 28, 1770, at the age of
sixty. She was then living in the Rue Saint-Honoré, "like a respectable
bourgeoise, very assiduous in visiting the poor of her parish, and
always surrounded by a dozen dogs, to whom she was much attached." She
was nursed in her last illness by the widow of François Boucher, the
famous painter.

The best-known portrait of Mlle. de Camargo is that by Lancret, in the
Wallace Collection, at Hertford House. An original repetition of this
portrait, with a marked variation in the colour scheme, is in the Museum
at Nantes. The Neues Palais at Potsdam contains another portrait by
Lancret, entitled _La Camargo avec son danseur_, which shows the
ballerina in the act of executing a _pas de deux_ with a male
dancer.[117]



V

JUSTINE FAVART


Towards the end of the reign of Louis XIV., there lived in the Rue de la
Verrerie, in Paris, a pastry-cook named Charles Paul Favart. No ordinary
pastry-cook was Charles Paul; he was a man of parts and a poet; but a
poet of an unusually practical turn of mind, inasmuch as, instead of
contributing sonnets to the _Mercure_, he was in the habit of utilising
his talent to advertise the excellence of his wares, with the result
that his buns[118] and cakes were famed throughout the length and
breadth of Paris.

The enterprising pastry-cook might have amassed a comfortable fortune,
had he been content with the profits of his trade. But, unhappily, he
became involved in the craze for speculating in Mississippi stock; and,
on his death, his wife and two children found themselves almost
unprovided for. The eldest of these children, a boy named Charles Simon,
who had inherited the paternal turn for verses, was at this time
pursuing his studies at the famous college of Louis-le-Grand, where he
had already gained some little distinction. Forced to abandon the
cultivation of the Muses to take charge of his father's business,
which, though burdened with debt, still remained to them, he
nevertheless contrived, in the intervals of making pastry, to compose a
poem on _La France délivrée par la pucelle d'Orléans_, which, in 1733,
was awarded the prize of the Académie des Jeux Floraux. He had already,
in collaboration with another young poet, written a piece called
_Polinchinelle, comte de Paonfier_, performed at the Fair of
Saint-Germain; and, in the following year, he submitted to the
Opéra-Comique a vaudeville, entitled _Les Deux Jumelles_, which was
produced on March 22, and met with a very favourable reception.

Next day, while Favart, girt with his apron, his shirt-sleeves rolled up
to the elbow, a square cap on his head, and a larding-pin in his hand,
was working in his shop in the Rue de la Verrerie, a coach drove up to
the door, out of which stepped an elderly gentleman, very richly
dressed, who inquired for M. Favart, the author of _Les Deux Jumelles_.
Poor Favart, ashamed for the moment of revealing his identity, replied
that he would go and summon him, and, running up to his bedroom, hastily
removed the signs of his trade, rolled down his shirt-sleeves, donned
his best coat, and returned to the shop to greet his amused visitor.

The latter, it transpired, was a wealthy farmer-general,[119] who had a
fancy for playing the part of Mæcenas. He had been present at the
performance at the Opéra-Comique, the previous evening, and had been so
charmed with the piece that he had made inquiries concerning its author,
and, on learning that he was a young man without means of his own, had
resolved to offer him his protection. "I have myself," said he, "been
on bad terms with Fortune; but she has ended by caressing me, and I find
no better way of using her favours than to employ them to the advantage
of the arts and literature."

Thanks to the assistance of the generous financier, Favart was enabled
to relinquish his business and devote himself entirely to play-writing.
In the course of the next few years, he provided the lesser theatres
with more than a score of pieces, one of which, _La Chercheuse
d'esprit_, played at the Opéra-Comique, in 1741, met with extraordinary
success. Up to this time, Favart's pieces had appeared anonymously, but,
encouraged by the enthusiastic reception accorded to the play in
question, he now decided to emerge from his shell, and, in accordance
with this resolution, gave a dinner to some of the most noted _beaux
esprits_ and authors of the time. Among those present was Crébillon
_père_, who received, with his invitation, a delicate specimen of the
dramatist's culinary skill, an attention which he acknowledged by the
following quatrain:--

    "Il est un auteur en crédit,
     Dont la muse a le don de plaire:
     Il fit la _Chercheuse d'esprit_,
     Il n'en chercha point pour la faire."

Towards the end of the year 1744, Favart was entrusted by the director
of the Opera, of which the Opéra-Comique was a dependency, with the
management of the latter theatre; and it was while occupying this post
that an incident occurred which was to be the starting-point of some
very surprising adventures.

One day, in the following January, Favart received a letter from a lady
at Lunéville, soliciting for her daughter an engagement at the
Opéra-Comique as singer and dancer. The writer of the letter was a
certain Madame Duronceray, the wife of one of the musicians of the
chapel of Stanislaus Leczinski, ex-King of Poland, to which she herself
was attached. The daughter on whose behalf she wrote, Marie
Justine-Benoîte Duronceray, was, it appeared, now in her eighteenth
year, had been educated by the most skilful masters, under the personal
supervision of King Stanislaus himself, and, to judge from the fond
mother's letter, was a perfect little prodigy, who united in her person
every imaginable accomplishment.

The director returned an encouraging answer, and the two ladies, having
obtained the necessary leave of absence from the King, started for
Paris, and, on their arrival, lost no time in presenting themselves at
Favart's house.

The result of the interview proved that Madame Duronceray had not
exaggerated her daughter's talents. As actress, singer, and dancer, the
girl showed remarkable promise, while she was as charming as she was
accomplished.[120] A very brief examination sufficed to assure Favart
that he had discovered a most valuable acquisition to his troupe; and it
was at once arranged that Mlle. Chantilly, as Justine had decided to
call herself, out of deference for a branch of the Duronceray family
which lived in Paris and might conceivably have taken umbrage at one of
their name appearing on the stage, should make her _début_ in a piece
from Favart's own pen, which he was then writing, in celebration of the
approaching marriage of the Dauphin with the Infanta Maria Theresa. The
title of this vaudeville, _Les Fêtes publiques_, has alone come down to
us; but, whatever its merits may have been, it was highly successful,
the new actress's piquant beauty and grace, no less than her vocal and
dramatic talents, being loudly acclaimed by a succession of crowded
houses.

The charms of Justine had already made a deep impression upon Favart,
and, after her triumph in _Les Fêtes publiques_, he became so deeply in
love with the fair _débutante_ that he declared his passion, which the
young lady was pleased to reciprocate. An honest and excellent man,
Favart did not attempt to take advantage of their respective
positions,[121] but offered to make her his wife; and, on December 12,
1745, they were married at the Church of Saint-Pierre-aux-Bœufs, a
little church generally patronised by persons who wished to keep their
marriages secret for a while, in the presence of only the necessary
witnesses.

In view of what we shall presently relate, it is important to note that
M. Duronceray, Justine's father, was not present at the ceremony,
although he had given the required consent to his daughter's marriage,
in writing.

The marriage took place under very inauspicious circumstances. The vogue
that Favart by his operas and Justine by her singing and acting had
obtained for the Opéra-Comique had aroused the jealousy of the
Théâtre-Français and the Comédie-Italienne; and, in the autumn of 1745,
they solicited and obtained its suppression. The severity of this
measure was somewhat mitigated by the permission which Favart received
to open a theatre at the Fair of Saint-Laurent, whither he transferred
his company, and presented, among other pieces, a pantomime, entitled
_Les Vendanges de Tempé_, of which the success was assured by the
charming acting of Justine. This privilege, however, was only accorded
him for a very short time, with the object of allowing the troupe of the
Opéra-Comique leisure to make other arrangements, and, on its
withdrawal, Favart and his colleagues found themselves in a very
embarrassing situation; and matters must have gone hardly with them, had
not the poet had the good fortune to find a protector as powerful as he
was unexpected.

It happened that some little time before the suppression of the
Opéra-Comique, Favart had met at the house of one of those leaders of
the fashionable world whose whim it was to patronise actors and men of
letters, Maurice de Saxe, now become the greatest soldier of his age,
_Maréchal de France_, and "general-in-chief of all the armies of the
King." Maurice, who was as enthusiastic a patron of the drama as he had
been in the days of poor Adrienne Lecouvreur, was followed in his
campaigns by a troupe of actors, which gave performances wherever the
army happened to be quartered, sometimes in a regular theatre, sometimes
in an improvised one; and he now suggested to Favart that he should
organise a second troupe and accompany him to Flanders for the campaign
which was about to open.

The offer seemed like a fortune to poor Favart, in the state of poverty
and uncertainty to which he was then reduced; nevertheless, he hesitated
to accept it, pointing out that the formation of a second company might
be regarded by the troupe already in existence as an encroachment on its
privileges, and that its leader--one Parmentier, an arrogant and
unscrupulous person, with whom Favart was by no means anxious to enter
into competition--would be sure to throw obstacles in his way. The
Marshal, however, solved the difficulty by promising to transfer the
Parmentier troupe to the division of the army commanded by Maréchal
Löwendal, and attach Favart's company to his own person; and, under
these conditions, the poet gratefully accepted his offer.

Here are the terms in which the Marshal announced his appointment to
Favart, and, at the same time, informed him of what was expected of
him:--

"The favourable report that has been made to me about you, Monsieur,
has induced me to choose you, in preference to all others, in order to
give you the exclusive management of my comedy company. I am persuaded
that you will use every endeavour to ensure its success; but do not
imagine that I look upon it merely as an object of amusement; it enters
into my political views and into the plan of my military operations. I
will advise you what you will have to do in this respect when occasion
arises, and, in the meanwhile, I count upon your discretion and
punctuality. You are from this moment at liberty to make all your
arrangements for opening your theatre at Brussels, in the month of April
next."

As there was but little time at his disposal, Favart started at once for
Brussels, where he obtained a lease of the Grand Theatre in the Rue de
la Monnaie. Then he returned to Paris, and, having selected his company,
which comprised all the best artistes of the deceased Opéra-Comique, he
and Justine set out for Flanders.

Two days after their arrival in Brussels, Maurice de Saxe made his entry
into the city. The excitement was intense; an enormous crowd lined the
streets through which the procession was to pass; while the windows, and
even the roofs of the houses, were thronged with spectators eager to
catch a glimpse of the famous general. The weather, however, was
unfavourable for a public ceremony; a storm was brewing, and, as the
Marshal reached the Hôtel de Ville, where all the fair ladies of
Brussels had congregated to receive him, a terrific peal of thunder was
heard. Many persons no doubt saw in this an omen of evil for the
hitherto all-conquering warrior; but Favart chose to regard it far
differently, and forthwith improvised the following verses:--

    "Est-ce là notre général
         Que ramène Bellone?
     --Eh! oui, c'est ce grand maréchal,
         C'est lui-même en personne.
     --Non; je le vois à ses regards,
         C'est le Dieu de la guerre,
     Et Jupiter annonce Mars
         Par un coup de tonnerre."

Copies of these verses were printed and circulated everywhere; and the
Marshal, having had his attention drawn to them, as he was sitting down
to dinner with his general officers, sent for the writer and
complimented him upon them. One of the officers present, who did not
share his chiefs passion for the theatre, asked Favart of what use a
poet like himself could be to the army. "To celebrate the exploits of
our warriors and satirise the enemy," was the prompt reply, and the
questioner proceeded no further.

During the afternoon, apparently at the request of some of the ladies of
the city, the Marshal gave orders that part of the troops should be
paraded in front of the Hôtel de Ville and put through various
evolutions. One of the corps selected was a contingent of Jacobite
Highlanders, "who, in changing their country, had not thought it
necessary to change their costume." The scantiness of the gallant
Scotsmen's attire, Favart tells us, greatly shocked the Brussels ladies,
to the intense amusement of the Marshal and his officers. In the
evening, Favart's company gave their first performance, which was so
well received as to remove all doubt as to the success of their
enterprise.

Although Brussels was the centre of the Marshal's operations, and Favart
had secured a lease of the Grand Theatre, the terms of his engagement
obliged him to follow the army into the field, a necessity which
involved him and his company in many hardships and privations. Once
Favart passed three days and three nights without sleep, except such as
he could obtain leaning against a tree, with his feet in water. Often
provisions ran short; bread sold at fifteen sous the pound, and
sometimes the unfortunate actors were nearly starving. Nor were dangers
of an even more alarming kind wanting. The country swarmed with the
irregular cavalry of the enemy, who intercepted convoys, cut off
stragglers, and burned and pillaged to within musket-shot of the French
lines. Neither age nor sex was sacred to these Croats and Pandours. A
luckless troupe of actors on their way from Brussels to Cologne, to
fulfil an engagement at the Elector's Court, was surprised by a body of
these marauders and robbed of everything they possessed, with the
exception of their theatrical costumes, in which they were compelled to
trudge to Louvain, their woe-begone countenances contrasting oddly with
the gay habiliments of Arlequin, Scaramouche, and the rest. Maurice de
Saxe had granted Favart's company an escort of thirty men of the
Régiment de Septimanie; but this force was insufficient to secure them
from molestation. One day, while passing through some wooded country
between Louvain and Indiogne, they were attacked by a body of hussars,
who outnumbered their little escort by as many as four to one. A
sanguinary hand-to-hand conflict ensued, for the marauders were as brave
as they were ruthless, while their excesses had exasperated the French
to the last degree. Twice the hussars were beaten back, and, at length,
reinforcements arriving for the defenders, they drew off, leaving,
however, only six of the gallant escort alive, the least wounded of whom
had received four sabre cuts. Favart, in a letter to his mother giving
an account of this adventure, speaks with admiration of the conduct of
this soldier: "Never did I see a man of such courage. He was covered
with blood, which he was losing in abundance, and yet would not permit
his comrades to give a thought to him until the combat was over. Then,
in order to speak, he was obliged to hold up his nose and a portion of
his cheek, which had been separated from the rest of his countenance by
a sabre cut, and had fallen down over his mouth!"

To compensate the Favarts for the hardships and perils they were
compelled to undergo, Maurice de Saxe treated them with the greatest
kindness; in fact, presents were simply showered upon them. On one
occasion, we find him sending them three fine horses to draw their
coach; on another, "a camp-bed of red satin"; on a third, twenty-five
bottles of Hungarian wine. Moreover, he gave Favart to understand that
he might draw upon him freely in case of necessity, and protected him
against the attacks of the jealous Parmentier, the leader of the other
troupe of actors, who, not without some cause, regarded Favart as a
rival, and did all in his power to annoy and discredit him. The
simple-minded poet, who had as yet no suspicion as to the real object of
the Marshal's attentions, seems to have been under the impression that
they were intended as tributes to his literary and dramatic talents,
and, in his letters to his mother, waxes quite enthusiastic over his
patron's kindness and generosity.

The Marshal, in engaging Favart's services, had told him that he
regarded the troupe which followed his army as something more than a
means of amusement, and that it "entered into the plan of his military
operations." M. Léon Gozlan makes merry over this letter, which, he
thinks, was written merely to flatter the poet's vanity, and lure him
and his wife to Flanders;[122] but there can be no doubt that Maurice
did attach considerable importance to the provision of such
entertainments for those under his command. In the first place, they
served to occupy not a little of the time which would otherwise be
employed in more doubtful pleasures, particularly play, which, in spite
of stringent prohibitions, was very prevalent in the army among all
ranks, and had a most disastrous effect on the morale of the troops,
causing the officers to gamble away their pay and the men their rations,
and leading to frequent quarrels and much ill-feeling. In the second
place, the Marshal's knowledge of the French character had taught him
that a happy _couplet de circonstance_ sung to a lively air often had
more effect upon the soldiers than the most eloquent of harangues. An
anecdote celebrated in the history of this campaign will show how
accurately the great commander had gauged the spirit of his troops.

In the autumn of 1746, the French, after capturing Namur, had occupied
Tongres, in the market-place of which Favart had constructed a theatre.
The allied army, under Prince Charles of Lorraine, was close at hand,
and a decisive engagement was daily expected; but this did not prevent
the improvised playhouse from being crowded every evening. Early in the
afternoon of October 9, the Marshal sent for Favart to come to his
quarters, and, on his arrival, dismissed the officers who were with him,
and, turning to the poet, said: "To-morrow I shall give battle. As yet I
have issued no orders to that effect. Announce it this evening at the
conclusion of the performance, in couplets suitable to the occasion.
Until that moment let nothing transpire."

Favart obeyed, and composed the following verses, which were sung by a
young and pretty actress between the two pieces of which the performance
consisted:--

    "Nous avons rempli notre tâche,
     Demain nous donnerons relâche;
     Guerriers, Mars va guider vos pas;
     Que votre ardeur se renouvelle:
     A des intrépides soldats
     La Victoire est toujours fidèle.

    "Demain bataille, jour de gloire;
     Que dans les fastes de l'histoire
     Triomphe encore le nom français
     Digne d'eternelle mémoire!
     Revenez après vos succès,
     Jouir des fruits de la victoire."

These verses caused the most unbounded astonishment. It was at first
supposed that the poet had lost his head; a battle announced between two
comic operas, the order of the day to the air of a popular song, seemed
too absurd! Officers hastened to the Marshal's box to inquire if Favart
had had any authority for his announcement; but Maurice smilingly
replied that he had acted under his orders. Thereupon the astonishment
changed to enthusiasm, and the theatre resounded with applause. "On all
sides," writes Favart, "but two words were heard: '_Demain, bataille!
demain, bataille!_' The intoxication passed rapidly from officers to
men, and was so intense that one could not fail to see therein a presage
of victory."[123]

The battle so eagerly anticipated did not take place next day, but on
October 11, when Maurice attacked the allies at Roucoux, a little to the
north of Liège, and completely defeated them, though the English, who,
as usual, bore the brunt of the engagement, fought right valiantly, and
the victory was in consequence very dearly purchased.

In celebration of his compatriots' triumph, Favart, on the morrow of the
battle, hurriedly composed two or three scenes full of happy allusions
to the events of the preceding day. These were performed the same night,
and were, of course, received with enthusiasm. He did not confine
himself, he tells us, to chanting the praises of the victors, but paid a
generous tribute to the courage of the vanquished, one of his couplets
concluding thus:--

    "Anglais chéris de la victoire
     Vous ne cédez qu'aux seuls Français;
     Vous n'en avez pas moins de gloire."

The victory of Roucoux concluded the campaign of that year, and Favart
and his company returned to Brussels, heartily thankful to be quit, for
a time, of war's alarms. "I prefer," he wrote to his mother, "moderate
profits with safety to a large fortune purchased by continual fear and
danger." However, he had no reason to be dissatisfied with his winter
season in the Belgian capital, which was indeed successful beyond his
most sanguine anticipations, the profits at each performance averaging
as much as six hundred livres. To add to his good fortune, he was able
to rid himself of his rival Parmentier, who, finding that the Marshal
had taken Favart definitely under his protection, and that all attempts
to oust him were likely to prove abortive, retired in disgust, leaving
the poet master of the field. The future now presented itself to Favart
in the most smiling colours; but alas! the poor man was living all the
while in a fool's paradise, from which he was soon destined to be very
rudely ejected.

       *       *       *       *       *

Though now in his fiftieth year, Maurice de Saxe was still as
susceptible to feminine charms as in the days when he had wrought such
havoc among the ladies of Lithuania and Courland. If the record of his
gallantries did not equal those of his royal father, it was probably
because his military occupations absorbed so large a portion of his
time. His tastes, particularly where the theatre was concerned, were
catholic. "Whom did he not love? To what actress or opera-girl's skirts
was he not attached? All the actresses of his campaigns in Flanders
succeeded one another in that inflammable heart and disputed there an
ephemeral reign: Mlles. Darimattes, Fleury, Amand, Verrières,[124]
Bline, Auguste, and Beaumenard. For the Saxon hero, the troupe which he
caused to follow him was a seraglio, in which the last comers were the
most honoured."[125]

Upon the susceptible Marshal it was only to be expected that the fresh
beauty and grace of Justine should make a favourable impression, nor was
his admiration for the young lady by any means diminished by the fact
that--to borrow his own curious expression--she was "possessed by the
demon of conjugal love,"[126] and, therefore, unlikely to afford him an
easy conquest. M. Léon Gozlan asserts that Justine had attracted
Maurice's notice in Paris, and that his invitation to Favart to
accompany him to Flanders was nothing but a pretext for getting the
poet's wife into his power. Of this there is some doubt; but, on the
other hand, there can be no question that, before the end of the year
1746, Maurice had fallen desperately in love with the young actress, and
had determined to make her, _bon gré, mal gré_, his mistress.

"Mlle. de Chantilly," he writes, "I take leave of you; you are an
enchantress more dangerous than the late Madame Armide. Whether as
Pierrot, whether under the guise of Love, or even as a simple
shepherdess, you are so excellent that you enchant us all. I have seen
myself on the point of succumbing--I, whose fatal art affrights the
world. What a triumph for you, had you been able to make me submit to
your laws! I thank you for not having used all your powers; you might
well pass for a young sorceress, with your shepherd's crook, which is
nothing else than the magic wand with which that poor prince of the
French, whom, I fancy, they called Renaud, was struck. Already I have
seen myself surrounded with flowers and _fleurettes_, fatal equipment
for all the favourites of Mars. I shudder at it; and what would the King
of France and Navarre have said if, in place of the torch of his
vengeance, he had found me with a garland in my hand? In spite of the
danger to which you have exposed me, I have not the heart to blame you
for my weakness; it is a charming one! But it is only by flying from it
that one is able to escape a peril so great.

[Illustration: JUSTINE FAVART

From an engraving by J. J. FLIPART, after the drawing by CHARLES NICOLAS
COCHIN _fils_]

    "Adieu, divinité du parterre adorée;
       Faites le bien d'un seul et les désirs de tous;
     Et puissent vos amours égaler la durée
       De la tendre amitié que mon cœur a pour vous!

"Pardon, Mademoiselle, to the remains of intoxication this _rhymed
prose_ to which your talents inspire me;[127] the effects of the liquor
of which I have drunk endures, they say, often longer than one thinks."

       *       *       *       *       *

From this letter, which is undated, but was no doubt written in the
late autumn of 1746, as Maurice was on the point of setting out for
Paris, where he spent the following winter, it would appear that the
Marshal had already commenced the siege of the lady's heart. Whether his
operations were crowned with success at this period is a point upon
which there is a considerable difference of opinion. Dumolard, the
editor of Favart's _Mémoires et Correspondance_, published in 1808,
makes of Justine a perfect paragon of virtue, whose resistance the
Marshal did not succeed in overcoming for some years, and then only
under pressure of the most cruel persecution. M. Saint-Réne Taillandier,
one of the most conscientious of Maurice's biographers, adopts the same
view, and is very severe upon his hero's conduct in this matter; while
he shows us Justine "despising alike threats and promises, the victim of
disgraceful intrigues, persecuted, thrown into the depths of a dungeon,
guarding pure and intact the dignity of her art, her honour, and her
name: a rare lesson for an actress to give to a corrupt society."
Sainte-Beuve[128] and Desnoiresterres, however, take a different view,
and, much as we should wish to believe in the lady's innocence, we are
compelled to admit that the evidence which they adduce leaves no room
for doubt upon the matter. The former points to the report of the
police-inspector, Meusnier, who declares that at Brussels Justine had
ousted all the other enchantresses of the Marshal, and obtained so great
an influence over her lover that no one could obtain any favour from
him, except through her good offices,[129] and to Maurice's letter to
the Princess of Holstein; while the latter cites a letter of Justine to
the Marshal, written during her confinement in the Ursuline convent at
Les Grands Andelys, in 1749, and which, in his opinion, amounts to a
confession of her fault.[130]

But if Justine succumbed, as so many had succumbed before her, to this
impetuous wooer, her fall would appear to have been due to a very
different cause from that of any of her predecessors in the Marshal's
affections. It is certain that her heart was not concerned in the
matter, while it is very improbable that she was influenced by a desire
to participate in the favours which Maurice was in the habit of heaping
upon his enchantresses, though she subsequently admitted to having
"availed herself of his benefits and assistance," doubtless being of
opinion that, since the mischief was done, she was justified in making
the best of the situation. The poor young woman, indeed, appears to have
regarded the Marshal with feelings of positive aversion, and there can
be little doubt, in view of what follows, that she was intimidated into
surrender through fear of the consequences to herself and her husband of
thwarting the man in whose power they had placed themselves; a fear
which, as we shall presently see, was but too well justified.

Under these circumstances, it is scarcely surprising that the _liaison_
should have been a brief one. Tortured by remorse, loving her
unsuspecting husband the more now that she knew herself unworthy of his
affection and confidence, still possessed, in fact, by "the demon of
conjugal love," in spite of all Maurice's efforts to exorcise him,
Justine only waited for a favourable opportunity to break her chains.
Maurice's absence in Paris during the winter of 1746-1747 apparently
gave her the necessary courage, and, on his return to Flanders, she
refused, to his intense indignation, to resume her relations with him,
and persisted in her resolution, notwithstanding all his threats and
entreaties. Such was the position of affairs when hostilities were
renewed in the spring, and the Favarts and their troupe quitted Brussels
to join the army.

Favart's letters to his mother contain some interesting details of that
campaign. He was present at the taking of the Fort Saint-Philippe, and
speaks with righteous indignation of the barbarous execution of the
garrison, which he stigmatises as "a disgrace to humanity." He also
sends her a lively account of the battle of Lawfeld (July 2):--

       *       *       *       *       *

"MY DEAR MOTHER,--I am in good health. The battle is won; the prediction
I made to you has been verified. The action took place between
Maestricht, Tongres, and Saint-Tron. The left of the enemy's army,
composed of English, Hanoverians, and Hessians, was attacked in the
morning; they defended themselves all day and fought desperately; but
the issue is no longer in doubt. The enemy's right did not await our
fire, but sought safety in flight; the Dutch and Austrians were routed
without having fired a shot. The rest of the English, to the number of
ten thousand, after defending themselves for three hours in a village
into which they had been driven, endeavoured to escape across the
marshes; but, meeting Clermont's army, which they had not expected, were
annihilated.

"A simple carabinier took the English general, Ligonier, prisoner; he is
to them what Maréchal de Saxe is to us, if such a comparison were
possible. The soldier conducted him to the King, together with a
standard; a moment later, the Duke of Cumberland was himself taken.[131]
I have related all this very badly, because I am writing to you in
haste; it is the warmth of my French blood which guides my pen. Victory!
great victory! everything is summed up in these last words. I am one of
the first to write. The action still continues to our advantage, we have
finished conquering, I say more, we have finished destroying. Pardon me
if I say _we_; through frequenting the society of heroes, I adopt their
language. Show my letter to all our friends; they have French hearts,
and this success will interest them."[132]

       *       *       *       *       *

Up to the time of the battle of Lawfeld, the repentant Justine would
appear to have been left in comparative peace by her persecutor,
military occupations presumably allowing Maurice but scant leisure for
love-making. But, the allies disposed of, for the time being, the
Marshal turned his attention to other matters, and showed himself so
determined to recover his prey, that Justine saw that her only way of
escape was to confess all to her still unsuspecting husband, implore his
forgiveness, and demand his protection. The worthy Favart, though much
shocked at such a revelation, had the good sense to perceive that his
young wife had been the victim of circumstances, and that he himself was
greatly to blame for not having foreseen the danger which threatened
her, and interfered to prevent it. He comforted her by an assurance of
his full forgiveness, but pointed out that it would be impossible for
her to escape the Marshal's unwelcome attentions so long as she remained
with the army, and that her best course was to fly to Brussels and throw
herself upon the protection of the Duchesse de Chevreuse, who had shown
them much kindness during the preceding winter. Justine readily agreed
to his proposal, and, that same night, without allowing any of their
colleagues to suspect their intention, they set out for Brussels, where
Favart placed his wife in safety with some of his friends, and then
returned to the army to face the spiteful comments of his companions and
the fury of the Marshal. A day or two after his arrival, he writes to
the fugitive at Brussels:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"I have arrived in good health, my dear little buffoon; your own
occasions me much uneasiness. Send me the surgeon's certificate, that I
may show it to the Marshal. The gossip of the troupe has caused a report
to be circulated that your illness is only an awkwardly devised piece of
trickery to conceal your fears and my jealousy. I replied that there was
no cause for jealousy, and that to suspect you was to insult you. M. de
la Grolet[133] is to be consulted as to whether you are in a fit state
to rejoin the army, and a threat has been conveyed to me that you shall
be brought here forcibly by grenadiers, and that I shall be punished for
having invented the story of your illness. For myself, I care little for
their threats; but I cannot forgive myself for having brought you to a
country where you are exposed to such tyranny. We are very
uncomfortable here; I have not yet succeeded in finding a lodging, and,
since leaving you, have slept on straw under the stars. If any attempt
be made to send you back, implore assistance of the Duchesse de
Chevreuse; she has too keen a sense of justice to refuse you her
protection in a matter of such importance, and the kindness with which
she has honoured us is a sure proof of that. She can tell M. de la
Grolet that your health does not permit of your undertaking so trying a
journey. Against such testimony nothing can prevail. Finally, my
dearest, although your presence is necessary here for the sake of the
performances, and I am burning with impatience to see you once more,
your health, more precious than all our other interests, more dear to me
than life itself, must be preferred to everything. Send news of yourself
as soon as possible to your affectionate husband."

       *       *       *       *       *

As will be gathered from the aforegoing letter, Justine's flight had
been very badly received by the commander of the army. Grimm relates the
following anecdote, which would seem hardly credible, did we not know
Maurice to be capable of any extravagance when his passions were
thwarted:--

"The night of their escape was apparently very stormy, since the bridges
of communication between the Marshal's army and Löwendal's corps, which
was on the other side of the river, were carried away, and it was feared
that the enemy might take advantage of the circumstance to fall upon
this corps and crush it. M. Dumesnil, who was called at that time 'the
handsome Dumesnil,'[134] came to the Marshal's quarters early in the
morning, and found him seated on his bed, his hair dishevelled, and a
prey to the most bitter grief. Dumesnil attempted to console him. 'The
misfortune is undoubtedly very great,' said he,' but it may be
repaired.' 'Ah, my friend!' replied the Marshal, 'there is no remedy; I
am undone!' Dumesnil continued his efforts to reanimate his courage and
to reassure him in regard to the accident of the previous night. 'It
will not, perhaps, have the results that you fear,' said he. But the
Marshal continued a prey to despair, and to regard himself as a man at
the end of his resources. At length, after about a quarter of an hour
had passed in this way, he perceived that all that Dumesnil had said
referred only to the broken bridges, upon which he exclaimed: 'What! who
could have supposed that you were talking only of those broken bridges?
That is an inconvenience which may be repaired in three hours. But the
Chantilly has been taken from me!'"[135]

Furious though he was at the escape of his prey, Maurice, much to poor
Favart's relief, took no steps to execute the threats which he had
uttered in the heat of passion, and the performances of the troupe went
on as before, save for the absence of Justine, who continued her flight
to Paris, where she gave birth to a son. But Maurice was not the man to
calmly accept defeat, in love any more than in war, and no sooner was
peace signed, in the autumn of the following year, and he found himself
at leisure to attend to his private affairs, than he embarked upon a
determined persecution of the luckless pair who had dared to thwart
him--a persecution which was the more difficult for them to escape,
since, for a long time, they seem to have entertained not the slightest
suspicion as to its real promoter.

Favart was the first to feel the weight of the Marshal's vengeance. The
rent of the Grand Theatre at Brussels, which he had leased since the
spring of 1745, had been fixed at five hundred ducats per annum, and
this sum had been regularly paid, so long as Brabant remained in
possession of the French troops. When, however, by the terms of the
Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, the conquered territory was returned to
Austria, Favart found himself in a most unpleasant situation; for the
proprietors of the theatre, two ladies of the name of Myesses, without
giving him an opportunity to enter a defence, obtained from the
re-established Courts an order for his arrest and the sequestration of
his theatrical stock, on the ground that he owed them a further sum of
26,000 francs. To avoid being thrown into prison, Favart was compelled
to escape across the frontier; but so little did he suspect the share
that the Marshal had in the misfortunes that had come upon him, that he
actually wrote to him imploring his protection.

Maurice promised him all the assistance in his power, having previously
assured himself that his interference was likely to do Favart more harm
than good with the Brussels judges in their present state of feeling
against the recent invaders of their country. The poet's appeal against
the unjust decision failed, and, to make matters worse, the proprietors
of the theatre, secretly instigated by the Marshal, applied to the Paris
Courts for permission to execute the order for Favart's arrest on French
territory.

While these events were taking place in Flanders, Justine was in Paris,
where, if we are to credit the evidence of Meusnier, the Marshal had
succeeded in persuading her to return to him, and had established her
in a house belonging to a Madame de Lesseville, which had been
specially furnished for her benefit by Ossere, a fashionable upholsterer
of the Pont Notre-Dame. Here--we are still following Meusnier--she lived
"in a species of captivity," all communication with her husband being
most strictly interdicted. In defiance of this prohibition, however, she
admitted him into the house at night, when he contrived to so work upon
her feelings that she resolved to defy the Marshal a second time.
"Accordingly, one fine night, when the latter was at Chambord, the
Chantilly packed her belongings, carried off everything that she could,
and retired with her husband to her mother-in-law's house in the Rue de
Verrerie. From there she wrote to the Marshal, informing him that it was
no longer possible for her to live in sin, and that her salvation was
dearer to her than all the fortunes in the world; notwithstanding which,
she would retain for him eternal esteem and gratitude." Meusnier adds
that the Marshal, though naturally much surprised at such conduct on the
lady's part, succeeded in controlling his indignation, and "sought to
avenge himself only by new benefits."[136]

The first of these "benefits" was to make strong representations to the
authorities on behalf of the proprietors of the Brussels theatre, who,
as we have mentioned, were endeavouring to get Favart extradited, and to
succeed in obtaining a promise that the necessary warrant should be duly
granted. He then wrote to Justine as follows:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"I am informed, Mademoiselle, that the Demoiselles Myesses (the
proprietors of the Brussels theatre) intend to prosecute Favart, in
virtue of the decree which they obtained against him at Brussels. I
think that it will be advisable for you to go away, and, as you are not
happily situated, I offer you an allowance of 500 livres, which will be
paid you every month, until your affairs have taken a favourable turn.

"Have the kindness to inform me of your decision in this matter, and the
place that you or Favart have chosen for your retreat.

"You are aware, Mademoiselle, of my sentiments for you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Favart took upon himself the task of answering the Marshal's letter. He
tendered him his very humble thanks for his offer, which, however, he
declined, as he had done nothing to merit such generosity, and it would
be disgraceful for him to accept it. At the same time, all unsuspicious
of Maurice's duplicity, he implored his protection against the
Demoiselles Myesses, and went to his house to seek his advice.

Maurice advised him to make his escape while there was yet time; and old
Madame Favart, having succeeded in borrowing fifty louis for her son,
from Mlle. Lamotte of the Comédie-Française, the unfortunate poet fled
to Strasburg the same night, where he remained for four months in
hiding. He had effected his escape none too soon, for the very next day
(June 10, 1749), a _lettre de cachet_ for his arrest was issued.

A day or two after Favart's flight, Maurice left Paris on a visit to
Dresden, whence he wrote to the poet's mother, offering to find her son
"honourable employment," and "a secure asylum, so long as he might
require one," and assuring her of his desire to render him every
service that lay in his power. Favart, however, seems to have grown a
little suspicious of the Marshal's protestations of friendship, for,
when the offer was communicated to him he declined it, and elected to
continue in hiding at Strasburg.

The misfortunes which had befallen Favart had left his family without
resources, and, but for the generosity of Mlle. Lamotte of the
Comédie-Française, they would have found themselves in sore straits.
Justine, however, took advantage of the Marshal's absence from Paris to
enter into negotiations with the Comédie-Italienne, and, on August 6,
1749, made her _début_ there, as Marianne in the _Épreuve_ of Marivaux.
Her success was astonishing. "The pit loudly demanded that she should be
received into the company," writes Collé, who was among the audience;
"and, whereas it was the rule not to admit French into the Italian
troupes, or Italians into the French, it was altogether different in her
case; there was a cabal in her favour, and the public had only to make a
noise for the regulation to be set aside." Collé expresses his opinion
that the _habitués_ of the pit, particularly of the Comédie-Italienne,
were becoming "childish and imbecile," and "ought to be placed under
restraint."[137]

Poor Justine's delight at her success ("I have made all Paris rush to
the theatre," she wrote to Favart) was not of long duration. The Marshal
returned from Dresden "more in love with her than ever, notwithstanding
all the reasons he had to complain of her." According to Meusnier, it
had been largely due to his influence with the Gentlemen of the Chamber
that the difficulty in regard to her admission to the Comédie-Italienne
had been so speedily overcome; but, when he asked for his reward, the
lady would have nothing to say to him. "Far from showing the least
sensibility of the Marshal's kindness, she coldly informed him that she
was firmly resolved to live as an honest woman, and to labour for her
salvation. This last example of ingratitude and bad faith confounded the
Marshal."[138]

On September 1 Justine wrote to the fugitive at Strasburg:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"The Marshal is still furious against me; but I am quite indifferent to
that. He has just written a letter to Bercaville (his secretary),
wherein he charges him to tell our mother (Madame Favart) that, if you
come to Paris, and if she has any affection for you, of which he has no
doubt, she must send you away instantly; and that this counsel was a
last mark of his kindness for her.

"That, as for Mlle. Chantilly, she is deserving of no consideration at
his hands, a fact which ought not to occasion you any vexation.

"Your friends are under the impression that you are travelling in France
for your own diversion. If you wish it, I will consign my _début_ to all
the devils and set out at once to join you. Let me know your wishes, and
I will follow them implicitly.... The house is always crowded on the
nights on which I appear. I have been playing the part of the dancer in
_Je ne sais quoi_, and of Fanchon in _La Triomphe de l'intérêt_. The
ballet of _La Marmotte_ is still being played with success. Your
couplets are always received with applause. The duet which I sing with
Richard is also your work; the mere fact that it is yours ensures my
singing it well. I am threatened with much evil, but I laugh at it; I
will come with all my heart to beg with you.

"I have just learned from your mother and sister that the Marshal wishes
to replace the little Rivière;[139] and, for that purpose, has sent word
to me that he loves me more than ever. Henceforth, it will be no longer
advisable for me to go and pay my court to him.

"If it be not possible for us to remain here, we will go away and end
our days tranquilly in some foreign country. I am for ever your wife and
sweetheart."

       *       *       *       *       *

When this letter was written, Justine had been for some weeks under
strict surveillance. "On July 16, 1749," writes Meusnier, "I received
orders to keep her under observation, in such a way as to be able to
render an account of all her actions and movements, while the Marshal,
on his side, worked to thwart all her plans." He then relates how he
bribed a servant of the Favarts, named Jacques, to keep watch and ward
over his mistress within doors, while he himself followed her when she
left the house. This kind of thing went on until the beginning of
September, apparently without much result, and then the Marshal "brought
another battery into action."

We have mentioned that Justine's father, M. Duronceray, had not been
present at her marriage with Favart, but had given his consent in
writing. For the past two years he had been confined as a dipsomaniac in
the convent of the Frères de la Charité, at Senlis, apparently on the
application of his daughter, against whom he was, in consequence, much
incensed. The Marshal now determined to make use of this unfortunate man
for his own ends, and, accordingly, obtained his release from the
convent at Sens and had him brought to Paris, where he lost no time in
seeking an interview with the Lieutenant of Police and formally accusing
his daughter of having contracted an illegal marriage, inasmuch as he
had never given his consent to her union with Favart, and the document
purporting to contain it had been a barefaced forgery. This, of course,
was a very serious offence indeed, and, supported by the Marshal, the
worthy M. Duronceray had no difficulty in obtaining a _lettre de cachet_
for the arrest and imprisonment of Justine, whose fate was now entirely
in the hands of her terrible admirer.

The _lettre de cachet_ was granted on September 3; but it was not the
Marshal's intention to allow it to be executed at once. Three days
later, the police-agent, Meusnier, acting under his instructions,
conducted the unconscious instrument of his employer's villainy to a
café adjoining the Comédie-Italienne, where Justine was at that moment
performing. Here, having been well primed with his favourite vintage,
the wretched old man proceeded to regale all whom he could persuade to
listen to him with a harrowing account of his daughter's wickedness and
the terrible things he had suffered at her hands. Finally, he succeeded
in working himself into such a frenzy of indignation that he could with
difficulty be dissuaded from rushing into the theatre and making a
public demonstration against her. "This manœuvre," writes Meusnier
cynically, "was merely intended to induce the public to believe that
the Marshal had no share in the coup which he was planning, namely, to
cause the Chantilly to be shut up."

Next day, accompanied by a priest, who was well known as a frequenter of
the Jesuit College in the Rue Saint-Jacques, M. Duronceray called upon
the leading members of the Comédie-Italienne, to whom he related his sad
experiences. Mlle. Coraline, Justine's rival in the affections of the
public, was so touched by his account of her colleague's perfidy that
she could not restrain her emotion, whereupon all who were present
followed her example, and the room resounded with lamentations.

Justine would not appear to have been greatly disconcerted by the
manœuvres of M. Duronceray and his sympathisers; secure in the favour
of a public always very indulgent towards the moral shortcomings of its
idols, she probably felt that she could afford to ignore the gossip of
the _coulisses_. The Marshal, however, pretending to have forgiven her
for her recent rebuff, now sent to warn her that her father was
endeavouring to obtain a _lettre de cachet_ to have her shut up, and
advised her to leave Paris until the storm had blown over. His object
was to induce her to rejoin her husband, when he intended to have them
both arrested. In this, as we shall see, he was only partially
successful.

At the beginning of October, the troupe of the Comédie-Italienne set out
for Fontainebleau, to give a series of performances before the Court.
Justine obtained leave of absence, and, having written to Favart to meet
her at Lunéville, left Paris, on October 7, accompanied by her
sister-in-law, Marguerite Favart, and followed, at a discreet interval,
by Meusnier and a detachment of police, with orders not to interfere
with the actress until they had secured the person of her husband. The
latter, however, succeeded in evading them, in spite of all their
vigilance, and they had to be content with the rather barren honour of
arresting poor Justine; which they did in a very ungallant manner, in
the middle of night, at her inn at Lunéville, nearly frightening her and
her sister-in-law to death in consequence.

Next morning Meusnier and his captives started for Meaux, where the
ladies were separated; Marguerite Favart being permitted to return to
Paris, while Justine, after being kept for some days at Meaux, was
conducted to the Ursuline convent at Les Grands-Andelys, on the borders
of Normandy. On October 20 she wrote to her husband:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"They have brought me to the convent of Les Grands-Andelys, to the
Ursulines, situated twenty-two leagues from Paris. I have seen the
_lettre de cachet_; it is my father who has caused me to be placed here.
Do not lose an instant; send all our papers [_i.e._ the papers connected
with their marriage] to the Minister, M. d'Argenson, and especially my
father's consent, signed with his own hand; it is in the keeping of the
curé of Saint-Pierre-aux-Bœufs. Collect our witnesses, and take them
with you to the Minister. If it is my father who is persecuting us in
this manner, the truth will be revealed, and we shall speedily have
justice done us. If this trouble is due to some of our enemies, they may
do as they please; their influence may perhaps be sufficient to separate
us for life, but they can never prevent us loving one another, nor break
the sacred and honourable tie which binds our hearts together.

"I have just written to the Maréchal de Saxe about what has befallen us;
he has always shown much friendship for us. I am sure that he will be
willing to interest himself in our affairs and render us assistance on
this occasion.

"_P.S._--Do not commit the folly of coming to seek me here."

       *       *       *       *       *

A week later, she writes again:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"I am in a good convent, where they pay me every imaginable attention.
Spare no pains to justify our marriage with the Minister. You must write
to M. de Paumi;[140] he can do us a service with my father. You need not
write to the Maréchal de Saxe to ask his protection; he has rendered us
too many services to refuse to assist us on the present occasion.

"If I had wished, I might have escaped what has befallen me; I had only
to accept the retreat which a person[141] who warned me of the _lettre
de cachet_ obtained against me offered me; but I had no desire to do
so."

       *       *       *       *       *

A few days after the first of these letters was written, Justine
received a letter from the Marshal, in answer to one which she had sent
him from Commercy, on her way to Lunéville. In this he attributed her
misfortunes to the action of the leaders of the _dévots_, or devout
party, at the Court, who were always eager to punish persons who
contravened the marriage laws, and "did not easily let go their prey."
"Favart," he adds, "ought to feel highly flattered that you should
sacrifice for him fortune, pleasure, glory, everything, in short, that
might have made the happiness of your life. I hope that he will be able
to compensate you for it, and that you will never feel the sacrifice
which you are making.... You would not make my happiness and your own.
Perhaps you will make your own unhappiness and that of Favart. I do not
wish it, but I fear it.--Farewell."

At the same time, the hypocritical Marshal wrote to the actress Mlle.
Fleury, who had exchanged the rôle of mistress for that of confidante,
expressing the grief he felt on hearing of the arrest of the "little
fairy," whom he had "imagined out of danger." "How I pity that poor
mother [Madame Favart], who is a courageous and sensible woman! I have
been her friend since the first time I spoke to her. Tell her that I
will do my best, and as she and Favart have not a sou, beg her to accept
fifty louis, for which you will find an order enclosed. That will help
them for the present, and I promise them assistance in every way for the
future." He then declares his opinion that the person responsible for
the trouble is the priest who had accompanied Justine's father on his
visits to the leading members of the Comédie-Italienne, and that every
effort should be made to discover him, if necessary, by bribing Meusnier
to reveal his whereabouts.

The money offered by the Marshal was refused by Favart, nor could the
old lady and her daughter be prevailed upon to accept it.

Early in November, Justine was removed from Les Grands-Andelys to a
convent at Angers. Her new residence was one of the regular _couvents de
force_, or houses of detention, where the most rigorous discipline
prevailed, and she was treated "like a State criminal." This, as the
worthy Marshal had of course foreseen, rendered her supremely
miserable, and all the more eager to recover her liberty. To do her
justice, however, she would appear to have been far more exercised over
the fate of her husband and his mother and sister, left, through his
misfortune, almost entirely without resources, than over her own
troubles; for, on November 6, we find Maurice writing from Chambord:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"The great attachment that you entertain for Favart and his relatives is
very praiseworthy; but I doubt whether it is advisable to manifest it so
clearly, since it is certain that it is this same great attachment which
has placed you in the vexatious position in which you now find yourself.
I leave to your good sense to judge of the value of what I take the
liberty of observing in regard to this matter.... What is certain, is
that he has not been arrested, and that he is well, and that none of his
relatives are in danger of dying, as you appear to fear. They are all
very tranquil, and have not taken any steps to secure your liberation. I
do not comprehend their reasons."

       *       *       *       *       *

As time went on, the captive became a prey to the deepest despair. "Life
is a burden to me; I loathe it," she writes to Maurice, dating her
letter "December 40th," doubtless to express more forcibly the length
and dreariness of her days. "I desire to die, in order that every one
may be satisfied; I am living in a state of despair. Never can I recover
from the blow that has brought all this upon me."

On his side, the Marshal advised patience, assuring her that he was
doing everything in his power to procure her release, but that the
difficulties with which he had to contend were very great, inasmuch as
it appeared that her father had acted at the instigation of a band of
religious fanatics, whose names he had not yet been able to ascertain.
If he could find M. Duronceray, he might wring the truth from him, but,
unfortunately, up to the present, all attempts to discover his
whereabouts had proved fruitless. M. Duronceray, it may be mentioned,
was at this time at Ormeaux, near Vincennes, in charge of one of
Maurice's agents!

In the same letter, he tells her that Favart--the poor man was then
hiding in a cellar in the house of a village priest in Lorraine--had
paid a visit to Paris, and been seen by several persons; that he was
informed that no steps would be taken against him by the police, so long
as he remained quiet, and that he had appeared very far from
inconsolable at his wife's captivity: "The race of poets does not take
things so much to heart. Voltaire has produced two tragedies since the
death of Madame du Châtelet, though it was said that he was dead also,
because he was believed to be much attached to that lady. But to die,
_malpeste_! an author's feelings do not carry him as far as that: they
are too familiar with fiction to love reality up to that point."[142]

At length, about the middle of December, when the Marshal considered
that his victim had had enough of conventual life to induce her to
become amenable to reason, he informed her that, thanks to his untiring
efforts on her behalf, she would, in all probability, be shortly
released and exiled a certain distance from Paris. He was as yet, he
said, in ignorance of the place to which she was to be sent, but was
hopeful that it would be within easy distance of the capital, so that he
might be able to assist her "_de toutes les choses agréables et
utiles_." Justine, overjoyed at the prospect of a speedy end to her
captivity, replied, begging him "in God's name not to deceive her," and
declaring that she was suffering torments from uncertainty. "I await
news from day to day with the utmost impatience since you have given me
hope of being able to leave this villainous house. Every time that the
bell rings, I have terrible palpitation of the heart. I believe that it
is some one come to fetch me. I bound to the door, and, when I find that
it is not I whom they seek, I return, covered with confusion, to shut
myself up in my little cell and weep, like a little child who has been
beaten for ten or twelve days. That is the life I am leading. When I
leave here, I shall imagine that I am seeing daylight for the first
time. I do not thank you for all your kindness, nor for all the
obligations under which you have placed me; they are numberless, and I
should never make an end. I know that you do not care for compliments,
and I will therefore merely tell you that, so long as I live, I shall
use every endeavour to prove to you my gratitude and appreciation of all
that you are doing for us. Monseigneur, I implore you in mercy to take
me from this place; you will be performing a work of mercy in releasing
a poor little prisoner who has never deserved to be one. I eagerly await
this good news from you."

In the closing days of the year, Justine received another letter from
the Marshal, written from his château at Piples, near Boissy-Saint-Léger,
in which he informed her that orders had been given for her release, and
only awaited the signature of the Comte d'Argenson, the Minister for
Paris, who was, at that moment, too ill to attend to any matters not of
the first importance. The letter concluded with the following very
significant words, in a woman's handwriting, probably that of the
Marshal's ex-mistress and confidante, Mlle. Fleury: "Your friends do not
forget you, my dear Jantillesse,[143] and love you always; but, in God's
name, become reasonable; think of your own happiness and that of those
dear to you."

On the other hand, Justine's sister-in-law, Marguerite Favart, who had
evidently discovered the secret of the persecution which the luckless
couple were undergoing, wrote to the captive, apparently in answer to a
letter from Angers, entreating her to be firm, and to refuse to purchase
liberty at the price which would no doubt be set upon it:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"If you think, as you show you do, my dear sister-in-law, I do not see
how you can hesitate as to the course you ought to take, since you are
in a position to do as you please. It was not necessary to ask the
advice of my brother. You ought to know him well enough to be sure that
he would not give you any counsel different from that which he has
always given. He knows of no arrangement that can be made with infamy;
the most cruel punishments would not terrify him, nor could he be
seduced by the most brilliant advantages. He escaped, for a time, from
the rest of the evils prepared for him, and did not do so for his own
sake. The loss of you had rendered his life odious to him; but he
yielded to our alarms; he feared the despair of a mother and a sister
already afflicted by the misfortunes which had overtaken him. His son,
ourselves, and yourself are the only objects of his hopes and fears.
That is all that can interest him now. He has lost, through these
continual persecutions, his friends, his protectors, his property, his
talents, his health, and all his resources. Nevertheless, he will
consider all atoned for when he finds in you sentiments worthy of him.
He does not ask to be their object: honour alone must determine you.
Content with loving you, he demands nothing in return; knowing, by sad
experience, that the heart is not to be commanded. If it be true that
you have been detained by force, now that you are free, you will find
with us a poor but honourable asylum. Although everything has been done
to cast upon my brother and upon us part of the disgrace in which you
have been immersed, no one has been deceived, save ill-informed or
ignorant persons. Our poverty, our sufferings, justify us in the eyes of
sensible people; for which reason our condition has become dear to us:
by contenting yourself with it, you can justify yourself also. Such are
the sentiments of my brother and ourselves. I inform you of them by my
mother's orders. Adieu, my good friend; your affectionate sister
embraces and awaits you. Adieu."[144]

       *       *       *       *       *

Several historians are of opinion that Justine followed her
sister-in-law's advice, and that Maurice, in despair of bending her to
his will, placed no further obstacles in the way of her release. Such,
unfortunately, was not the case. Early in January 1750, the actress was
released from the convent at Angers, and exiled to Issoudun, in Berri.
On February 10, she obtained permission from Berryer, the Lieutenant of
Police, to absent herself for a month from her place of exile, a
permission which was renewed at the expiration of that period. Where did
she spend the time? The answer is to be found in the report of
Meusnier:--

"But as M. de Loewdahl [Marshal Löwendal, the lieutenant and friend of
Maurice] is visiting the Marquis de Castelnau in the vicinity of
Issoudun, the Marshal has caused the Chantilly to be sent to Chambord,
and thence to Piples, where she has been about six weeks, under the
charge of Mouret, wife of the concierge of Chambord."[145]

The evidence of Meusnier is confirmed by the Abbé de Voisenon, than whom
no one was better acquainted with the private affairs of the Favarts:--

"The Marshal, angered by her resistance, caused her to be carried off,
and threatened to have Favart killed, if she refused to surrender
herself to him. She was terrified, and, through love for her husband,
was unfaithful to him.... The Marshal died; and, as the Chantilly
mingled with the favours that were snatched from her the most cruel
reproaches, she scarcely obtained any advantage besides her
freedom."[146]

Towards the end of the following June, the _lettres de cachet_ against
Justine and her husband were revoked, and they were permitted to return
to Paris. Poor Favart had been reduced to terrible straits. Almost
penniless and firmly convinced that all the police in the realm were at
his heels, he had for some months past, as we have mentioned, been
hiding in a cellar in the house of a compassionate village priest in
Lorraine, earning a precarious livelihood by painting fans by the light
of a lamp. The cruel treatment he had received had impaired his health
and broken his spirit, and he received the news that his trials were at
an end with feelings of positive indifference. "It seems," wrote he to a
friend who had sheltered him at Strasburg, "that they are tired of
persecuting me; my exile is over, but I am none the happier for that; my
sorrows are of a kind that can end only with my life."

Three months after this letter was written (November 30, 1750), Maurice
de Saxe died at Chambord,[147] and poor Favart could breathe freely once
more. The poet might have been pardoned had he sought consolation for
his sufferings in some biting epigram at the expense of the man who had
wronged him so cruelly. But his kindly and inoffensive nature was
incapable of malice, and he behaved with a moderation almost amounting
to magnanimity. "I think," he wrote to one of his friends, "that I may
be allowed to say on the death of this illustrious man of war, what the
father of our theatre said of Cardinal de Richelieu:--

    "Qu'on parle bien ou mal du fameux maréchal,
     Ma prose ni mes vers n'en diront jamais rien:
     Il m'a fait trop de bien pour en dire du mal;
     Il m'a fait de mal pour en dire du bien."

The Marshal was dead, but his death could not undo the evil he had done.
Favart, who had loved his wife with all the strength of his nature, was
generous enough to pardon a past in which circumstances had been so
terribly against her. Instead of reproaching her, he preferred to
forget, and in so doing acted wisely; for in Justine, as long as she
lived, he found a devoted friend and a sure counsellor, on whose
sympathy and advice he was always able to rely, and a companion whose
irrepressible gaiety was proof against all the troubles and anxieties of
both family and professional life. But his generosity went no further.
If friendship had survived Justine's last infidelity, love had not. "Fly
from love as from the greatest of all evils," he wrote to his friend at
Strasburg; and, incredible as it may appear, when, not long afterwards,
Justine, piqued, we may presume, by her husband's indifference, formed a
_liaison_ with the eccentric little Abbé de Voisenon, Favart's friend
and reputed collaborator, the poet--this man whom we have seen prefer
persecution, exile, and misery to dishonour--so far from endeavouring to
put a stop to an affair which amounted to a serious scandal, appears to
have regarded it with the utmost complacency.

       *       *       *       *       *

The removal of their persecutor left the Favarts free to resume their
respective professions, and, on May 3, 1751, Justine reappeared on the
stage of the Comédie-Italienne, in a piece entitled _Les Amants
inquiets_, of which her husband was the author. At the beginning of the
following year, on the death of Riccoboni's wife, she was allotted a
full part in the company, to which she remained a tower of strength for
nearly twenty years; her talents as an actress and a singer being
rivalled by those which she displayed as a dancer, "turning the heads of
the public and securing even the support of the women." Her versatility
seems to have been truly amazing. "_Soubrettes_, heroines, country
girls, simple parts, character parts, all became her," says Favart in
his _Mémoires_; "in a word, she multiplied herself indefinitely, and one
was astonished to see her play the same day, in four different pieces,
parts of the most opposite character." Her powers of mimicry, too,
particularly of the different dialects of France, have seldom been
surpassed. Provincials whose accents she had borrowed could with
difficulty be persuaded that she did not come from the same part of the
country as themselves.

Possessed of exquisite taste in theatrical matters, Justine laboured
strenuously for a reform in stage costume, and was "not afraid to
sacrifice the charms of her countenance to truthfulness of
representation." Before her time, actresses who played the parts of
_soubrettes_ and peasant-girls wore immense _paniers_, with diamonds in
their hair and long gloves reaching to the elbow. But when, in August
1753, she created the rôle of Bastienne in _Les Amours de Bastien et
Bastienne_, a parody of Jean Jacques Rousseau's _Devin du village_,
which she had composed herself in collaboration with Harny, she appeared
on the stage wearing a simple woollen gown, with her hair flat on her
head, a cross of gold on her neck, bare arms, and wooden shoes. The
_sabots_ offended some critics in the pit, and murmurs of disapprobation
were heard. The Abbé de Voisenon, however, saved the situation by a
happy _mot_. "_Messieurs_," he cried, "_ces sabots-là donneront des
souliers aux comédiens_." The pit, appreciating the abbé's wit, broke
into laughter and applause; the malcontents were silenced, and the piece
had so great a vogue that the players grew tired of acting it long
before the attendances showed any signs of diminishing.[148]

Justine, indeed, neglected nothing to arrive at theatrical truth. In
_Les Trois Sultanes_, the plot of which was derived, like several other
of Favart's vaudevilles, from the _Contes moraux_ of Marmontel, she
played the part of Roxelane in a dress "made at Constantinople with the
materials of the country." This was the first occasion on which the
costume of Turkish ladies had been seen upon the French stage, and
though Favart himself declares that it was "at once decent and
voluptuous," it was objected to; and when soon afterwards another play
in which the action passed in the Orient was represented before the
Court, Justine's reforming zeal received an abrupt check by an order
from the Gentlemen of the Chamber to confine herself to the ridiculous
and fantastic costume established by custom.

_Les Trois Sultanes_, it may be mentioned, in spite of the unfavourable
comments passed upon Roxelane's attire, was extraordinarily successful;
and the audience, we are assured, were transported with enthusiasm. A
peasant in the pit, "_rendu fou d'admiration_," demanded of his
neighbour the name of the author, and on being told that it was Favart,
exclaimed: "_Morbleu_! I would that I had that man here; I would embrace
him until I had kissed the skin off his cheeks!"

Justine's passion for local colour was again in evidence when the
interlude called _Les Chinois_ was represented. "She appeared, as did
also the other actors, dressed exactly in the Chinese fashion. The
dresses which she had procured had been made in China, while the
designs for the scenery and properties had in like manner been made on
the spot."

Among other pieces in which Justine appeared with success may be
mentioned _La Servante Maîtresse_, _Ninette à la Cour_, _Annette et
Lubin_, of which she herself was part author, _Les Moissonneurs_, and
_La Fée Urgèle_, "in which," says Voisenon, "she played the part of the
old woman in a manner impossible to imitate." According to the same
authority, Favart was largely indebted for the success of more than one
of his productions to suggestions made by his wife, notably in _Ninette
à la Cour_, in which, too, she was responsible for many of the airs.

It would perhaps have been better for Justine's professional reputation
had circumstances compelled her to retire from the stage some time
earlier than was the case. During her later years, the critics declared
that her voice had become thin and disagreeable, and that her acting had
lost the _naïveté_ which had been its principal charm. She had become,
too, extremely stout, and Madame Necker, then Mlle. Churchod, writing,
in 1764, to Madame de Brenles, mentions that she had seen her playing
Annette, "with a figure twelve feet broad and two high."[149] The public
were more indulgent than the critics; but on December 14, 1769, when she
appeared in a vaudeville by her husband called _La Rosière de Salency_,
she was very coldly received. The poor actress, believing herself
abandoned by the public whose idol she had so long been, and suffering
already from the disease of which she eventually died, played from that
time less frequently, and, at the end of the year 1771, ceased to appear
altogether. On Twelfth-day she was compelled to take to her bed, and
sent for the notaries to make her will. She lingered for four months,
enduring terrible sufferings, during which she continued to occupy
herself with the management of her household, while her gaiety and
insouciance never failed her for a single moment. "One day," says Grimm,
"on recovering from a long swoon, she perceived, among those whom her
danger had hurriedly assembled around her, one of her neighbours rather
grotesquely attired, whereupon she began to smile and remarked that she
believed she saw 'the clown of Death'; a characteristic _mot_ in the
mouth of a dying girl of the theatre."

Almost to the last Justine seems to have cherished a vague hope that she
would ultimately recover, and, for a long time, refused to pronounce the
renunciation of her profession which the curé of her parish demanded,
according to custom, before administering the last Sacraments. Nor was
it until, through the influence of Voisenon, she had obtained a promise
from the Gentlemen of the Chamber that her salary should be preserved to
her, under the form of a pension, in case of retirement, that she
yielded, and exclaimed, smiling: "Oh! for the moment, I renounce it."
She then received the Sacraments and, profiting by a short respite from
pain, composed her own epitaph, which she set to music. She died on
April 21, 1772, at four o'clock in the morning, in her forty-sixth year,
and was buried the same day in the church of Saint-Eustache.

Favart survived his talented wife just twenty years, and died in May
1792. Towards the end of his life, he became almost blind,
notwithstanding which he continued to work for the theatre, besides
keeping up an active correspondence with the Italian dramatist Goldoni,
who came to Paris to visit him in 1791. The most successful of his later
pieces was _La Belle Arsène_, music by Monsigny, produced in 1775.

Of his children by Justine, the only one to call for notice here is his
second son, Charles Nicolas Joseph Favart. Born in 1749, at the age of
twenty-one he was admitted a _sociétaire_ of the Comédie-Française,
where he remained for fifteen years. Though but a moderate actor, he was
a successful dramatist; his best works were _Le Diable boiteux, ou la
Chose impossible_ (1782); _Les Trois Folies_ (1786); _Le Mariage
singulier_ (1787); and _La Vieillesse d'Annette et Lubin_ (1791), the
last in collaboration with his father. His son, Antoine Pierre Charles
Favart (1780-1867), entered the Diplomatic Service, where he gained some
little distinction. He assisted Dumolard in editing the _Mémoires_ of
his grandfather, collaborated in a couple of plays, and was an amateur
painter of some talent.



VI

MADEMOISELLE CLAIRON


For more than seven years after the death of Adrienne Lecouvreur, her
place as a tragic actress remained unfilled. During these years, several
capable _tragédiennes_ appeared, notably Jeanne Gaussin, a beautiful
brunette with a rich and sympathetic voice, who created the part of
Zaïre in Voltaire's tragedy of that name (August 13, 1732), and moved
the delighted poet to address her in the following verses:--

    "Jeanne Gaussin, reçois mon tendre hommage;
     Reçois mes vers au théâtre applaudis;
     Protège-les: _Zaïre_ est ton ouvrage;
     Il est à toi, puisque tu l'embellis.
     Ce sont tes yeux, ces yeux, si pleins de charmes,
     Qui du critique ont fait tomber les armes."[150]

But beautiful as Mlle. Gaussin undoubtedly was, and excellent as was her
acting in Zaïre and other pathetic parts, she fell very far short of the
standard to which her gifted predecessor had attained; nor was it until
August 1737 that an actress worthy to assume the mantle of Adrienne
arose.

This was Marie Françoise Dumesnil, who, like Adrienne, had begun her
career at theatres in the East of France, and, like her, singularly
enough, had received her invitation to Paris while playing at Strasburg.
Her style, which was marked by a high degree of truth to Nature,
refinement, and technical skill, combined with a real enthusiasm for her
art, excited general admiration, and her _début_ was brilliantly
successful. In the classic répertoire her most celebrated rôles were
Cléopâtre, Clytemnestre, and Phèdre; while her most successful creation
was Mérope (February 20, 1743), when, according to Voltaire, she kept
the audience in tears for three successive acts.[151]

After this triumph--the greatest of her career--it may well have been
supposed that Mlle. Dumesnil was destined to maintain her supremacy for
many years to come. Nevertheless, ere six months had passed, she found
her proud position challenged by a most formidable rival.

Claire Joseph Lerys--for that was the name of this rival, and of the
greatest, or, at least, the most celebrated tragic actress of the
eighteenth century, though she styled herself Claire _Josèphe Hippolyte_
Lerys _de Latude-Clairon_, and is known to fame under the last of these
names--was born at Condé, a little town of Hainaut, on January 25, 1723.
Her father was one François Joseph Desiré Lerys, a sergeant in the
Régiment de Mailly; her mother, a working-woman, Marie Claire Scanapiecq
by name; and she was a natural child, a fact which she omits to mention
in the French edition of her _Mémoires_, though she is more candid in
the German edition.[152]

The circumstances attending her birth, which she has herself recounted,
were, it must be admitted, highly significant of her future career:--

"It was the custom of the little town in which I was born for all
persons to assemble during the carnival time at the houses of the
wealthiest citizens, in order to pass the entire day in dancing and
other amusements. Far from disapproving of these recreations, the curé
partook of them and travestied himself with the rest. During one of the
fête days, my mother, who was but seven months advanced in pregnancy,
suddenly brought me into the world, between two and three o'clock in the
afternoon. I was so feeble that every one imagined a few moments would
terminate my career. My grandmother, a woman of eminent piety, was
anxious that I should be carried out at once to the church, in order
that I might there receive the rite of baptism. Not a living soul was to
be discovered either at the church or at the curé's house. A neighbour
having informed the party that all the town was at a carnival
entertainment at the house of a certain wealthy citizen, thither was I
carried with all expedition. Monsieur le Curé, attired as Arlequin, and
his vicar, disguised as Gille, imagining, from my appearance, that there
was not a moment to be lost, hurriedly arranged upon a sideboard
everything necessary for the ceremony, stopped the fiddle for a moment,
muttered over me the consecrated words, and sent me back to my mother a
Christian--at least in name."[153]

When the little girl was twelve years old, she and her mother left
Condé, and, after a short stay at Valenciennes, settled in Paris, where
the latter found employment as a sempstress. The future queen of tragedy
was at this time, according to her own account, a delicate, sensitive
child, with a confirmed dislike to needlework, in consequence of which
she spent the greater part of her days "trembling beneath the blows and
threats of her mother," whom she describes, rather undutifully, as "a
violent, ignorant, and superstitious woman."

However, at length Fate took pity on her. Her mother, yielding to the
remonstrances of the neighbours, who had been "affected by the
appearance of languor to which her misfortunes had reduced her, and her
beauty, voice, intelligence, and the sweetness of her temper when she
was not forced to work at the needle," ceased to belabour her, and, by
way of punishment, took to shutting her up in a room overlooking the
street. Now, it happened that the house immediately opposite the
Scanapiecqs was occupied by the mother of Mlle. Dangeville, the famous
_soubrette_ of the Comédie-Française, and, one day, little Claire,
having mounted a chair to survey the neighbourhood, beheld the idol of
the pit taking a dancing-lesson in the midst of an admiring circle of
relatives and friends. "She was distinguished," she tells us, "for every
charm which Nature and youth could unite in the same person. My very
being came into my eyes; not one of her movements escaped me. She was
surrounded by her family, and when the lesson was over, every one
applauded her, while her mother embraced her. The difference between her
condition and my own penetrated me with the deepest grief; my tears
would not permit me to see anything more. I descended from my chair,
and, when the throbbing of my heart had subsided sufficiently for me to
remount it, all had disappeared."[154]

From that day, little Claire had only one desire: to be placed _en
pénitence_ at the hour at which Mlle. Dangeville was in the habit of
taking her lesson; and, the moment she was alone, she would climb to her
perch and remain there, a motionless and silent, but enthusiastic
spectator of the movements of her fair neighbour. Soon, at first almost
unconsciously, the girl began to imitate what she had seen, and with
such success that those who came to her mother's house thought that she
had been provided with masters. "My manner of entering a room," she
says, "of saluting the company, of seating myself, was no longer the
same; and the improvement I had acquired, added to the graces of my
deportment, obtained for me even the favour of my mother."

At length, unable any longer to keep her secret to herself, and seized
with an intense curiosity to ascertain who this wonderful Mlle.
Dangeville might be, she decided to take into her confidence one of her
mother's friends, who had always treated her a little less as a child
than the majority of visitors to the house. This proved a fortunate
step, for the person in question, pleased with the little girl's
intelligence, not only gave her a good deal of information about Mlle.
Dangeville and the profession which she adorned, but obtained from her
mother--not without considerable difficulty, for the sempstress "saw in
theatrical performances only the road to eternal damnation"--permission
to take her to the Comédie-Française to witness a representation of the
_Comte d'Essex_ and _Les Folies amoureuses_.

Mlle. Clairon, in her _Mémoires_, confesses her inability to give any
account of that never-to-be-forgotten evening. She only recollects that,
during the whole of the performance, her absorption was such as to
prevent her uttering a single word, and that, on returning home, she
neither saw nor heard any one. Angrily dismissed to her room by her
mother, instead of going to sleep, she spent the whole night in
recalling and repeating everything that had been said by the performers
at the theatre, and every one was astonished the next day to hear her
repeat, with scarcely a mistake, a hundred verses of the tragedy and
two-thirds of the after-piece. But this feat of memory was less
surprising than the extraordinary way in which the little girl had
contrived to assimilate the peculiarities of every actor whom she had
seen. She lisped like Grandval, she stammered like Poisson, she mimicked
to a nicety the coquettish airs of Mlle. Dangeville, and the cold and
dignified manner of Mlle. Balicourt;[155] in short, she tells us, she
was looked upon as a prodigy by every one, save her mother, who,
frowning angrily, declared that she would rather see her make a gown or
a petticoat than waste her time over such unprofitable nonsense. Claire,
however, fortified by the praises which she had received, boldly
declared her intention of becoming an actress, and, when the enraged
sempstress threatened to starve her into submission, or "break her arms
and legs," retorted, with the air of a tragedy queen: "Ah, well! you had
better kill me at once, since otherwise I am determined to go upon the
stage."

Marie Scanapiecq did not, it is hardly necessary to remark, attempt to
put her threats into execution; nevertheless, for some two months, she
subjected her unfortunate little daughter to a course of such rigorous
discipline, in the hope of breaking her spirit, that Claire's health
became seriously affected. Then the stern mother began to relent, and,
on the advice of one of her customers, to whom she had confided her
trouble, finally decided to let the girl have her way, and took her to
see the lady in question, who had promised to use her influence to
further her ambitions. The lady presented Claire to Desheys, a prominent
actor of the Comédie-Italienne, who was so favourably impressed with the
little aspirant's abilities that he presented her, in his turn, to his
colleagues, and, after a course of instruction in dancing and music, she
made her _début_ at the "Italians" on January 8, 1736, in a small part
in Marivaux's _Isle des Esclaves_, under the name of Clairon, a
variation of her Christian name of Claire.

Although not yet thirteen, she appears to have acquitted herself with
credit, while the progress she made in her profession was remarkable.
"My industry, my enthusiasm, my memory," says the actress, "confounded
my instructors. I retained everything, I devoured everything."
Nevertheless, whether on account of her youth, her diminutive
stature--she was very short, even for her age--or, more probably,
because her precocious talents had excited the apprehensions of the
famous Arlequin, Thomassin, who had daughters of his own to bring
forward, she did not remain long at the Comédie-Italienne, and, at the
end of a year, found herself obliged to seek her fortune in the
provinces.

It was to Rouen that she went--Rouen, the nursery of the Paris
theatres--Rouen, which had witnessed the first efforts of Marie de
Champmeslé, whose triumphs in tragedy this young girl was one day to
eclipse. The principal theatre there was at this time under the
joint-management of La Noue, author of _La Coquette corrigée_, and Mlle.
Gautier, both, in after years, prominent members of the
Comédie-Française; and Mlle. Clairon was engaged to dance in the ballet,
sing in comic opera, and act in a few parts suited to her age, at a
salary of 100 pistoles, or about 1000 livres. As some compensation for
this meagre remuneration, Marie Scanapiecq, who had accompanied her
daughter, and whose views with regard to the morality of dramatic
performances had undergone a most surprising alteration since she had
discovered that there was money to be made, was installed superintendent
of the box-office.

At Rouen, little Clairon soon became a general favourite, and improved
so rapidly in her acting that, by the time she was sixteen, she was
pronounced to be the most charming _soubrette_ the Norman capital had
ever possessed. The Rouen ladies were very far from sharing the
prejudices of most provincial dames, who believed themselves degraded if
they so much as spoke to an actress, and the girl was invited
everywhere. A certain Madame de Bimorel, wife of a president of the
Parliament of Normandy, and an old flame of the poet Fontenelle, was
particularly kind, and remained her firm friend for more than forty
years.

A gay town was Rouen in those days; a place where a young and pretty
actress could count on receiving almost as much admiration as in the
capital itself. At the theatre they still talked of the _cause célèbre_
arising out of an affray between the Marquis de Cony and the Président
de Folleville, which had taken place some years before; how the marquis,
encountering the president at the house of a certain _danseuse_ whose
heart he had until that moment fondly imagined to be his alone, had
addressed him by an opprobrious name; how the president had retorted by
a blow directed at the nose of the marquis, and how the infuriated
nobleman had thereupon thrown his adversary into the fireplace, with
such violence as to incapacitate him from administering justice for
many a long day to come. Whence arose the lawsuit in question, bringing
with it much glory and fame for the damsel who had been the cause of the
dispute and the profession in general.

As was only to be expected, the charming impersonator of _soubrettes_
had no lack of adorers, and she is reported to have been not altogether
insensible to the devotion of a M. du Rouvray, a handsome youth of good
family, whom she met at Madame de Bimorel's house, and to the more
business-like attentions of a certain rich merchant, named Dubuisson.
She had also a third _soupirant_, whose passion was to occasion her much
tribulation.

Following the example of many actresses' mothers at this period, Marie
Scanapiecq, "whose rigid morals," says her dutiful daughter, "were now
discarded for gaiety and pleasure, and who spoke of her former mode of
life with derision," had converted her house at Rouen into a kind of
_pension_, where gambling and even more questionable practices were
freely permitted, if not actually encouraged. Among those who frequented
the establishment was an actor named Gaillard de la Bataille, "a poor,
rather amusing devil," who possessed that almost indispensable
qualification for a _vainqueur de dames_ in the eighteenth century, the
art of celebrating their charms in verse. To Mlle. Clairon he
consecrated his muse, and every day chanted her praises in couplet or in
quatrain, wherein he vowed that Venus and Vesta were unworthy to be
compared with this adorable, this divine young actress. But alas! he was
not content with this innocent homage; he dared to love her, "and all
the while that he extolled her charms and her virtue, plotted to possess
himself of the first and to destroy the other."

One summer morning, when her mother happened to be away from home, Mlle.
Clairon was studying her part in bed, all unconscious of evil. Suddenly
the door flew open, and her lovelorn poet, who had bribed one of the
servants of the house to admit him, appeared upon the threshold, and,
casting himself on his knees before her, besought her, in impassioned
accents, to reciprocate the flame which was devouring him. His
divinity's only response to this appeal was to call loudly for
assistance; servants and lodgers, alarmed by her cries, were quickly on
the scene, and "with brooms and shovels drove the wretch into the
street." "When my mother returned home," continues the actress, "it was
resolved that we should lodge a complaint against him; he was
reprimanded by the magistrate, had ballads made about him, and was for
ever banished our house. But rage succeeded to his love and his desires,
and he composed that atrocious libel which has been read all over
Europe."

Gaillard did indeed take a cruel revenge for the ignominious treatment
he had received, for his pamphlet, which was entitled _Histoire de
Mademoiselle Cronel, dite Frétillon, actrice de la Comédie de Rouen,
écrite par elle-même_, aided by the subsequent celebrity of its victim,
ran through several editions, and the sobriquet "Frétillon" stuck to her
for life. Mlle. Clairon was at Havre when the libel appeared, and "her
anguish was beyond all power of expression." She returned to Rouen in
fear and trembling, "imagining that every door would be barred against
her, and not daring to look any one in the face." However, the
play-loving Rouennais, who were very indulgent towards the moral
failings of the ladies of the theatre, appear to have been more
diverted than scandalised, and she "found the same public and the same
friends."

Soon, however, trouble arose in another quarter. The troupe of La Noue
and Mlle. Gautier, driven from Rouen by the competition of an opera
company, went to try its fortune in Flanders. Mlle. Clairon's mother
accompanied her, and, while the troupe was performing at Lille, took
advantage of the fact of her daughter being now separated from Madame de
Bimorel and her other friends, to endeavour to coerce her into a
marriage with one of her comrades, whom the girl cordially detested. In
a curious passage in her _Mémoires_, Mlle. Clairon attributes to this
persecution the loss of her innocence:--

"The orders of my mother, her violence, which she carried so far as to
present a pistol to me, in order to obtain my consent, made me at last
sensible of the necessity of having a protector, who, without appealing
to the laws, might be able to restrain those about me and defend me
against them. Actuated by despair alone, without any base, mercenary
motive, without love, without desires, I offered and surrendered myself,
on the sole condition of being protected from the marriage and death
that threatened me at the same time. That moment, which, at first sight,
conveys only an impression of licentiousness, is perhaps the most noble,
the most interesting, the most striking of my life."

Unhappily, the sympathy which this passage might otherwise arouse in the
lady's readers is somewhat discounted by the perusal of the following
extract from an official report which the police-inspector, La Janière,
sent to Berryer, the Lieutenant of Police, some years later, from which
it appears that so violent and persistent was the persecution to which
the unfortunate young actress was subjected by her mother and her
unwelcome admirer, that not one, but three protectors were necessary for
her safety:--

"After some years, having accepted an engagement with the director of
the theatre at Lille, she (Clairon) appeared on the stage in that town,
and did not remain long without making conquests. The Comte de
Bergheick, colonel of the Regiment Royal-Wallon, the Chevalier de By,
lieutenant-colonel of the same regiment, and M. Desplace, major of
cavalry, were her three chief protectors.

"People are at first alarmed at the sight of three rival warriors
contending for the heart of this girl, but let them be reassured,
everything will pass off tranquilly. The Clairon was a careful girl,
and, besides, adroit enough to keep in play half-a-dozen lovers. Thus
everything worked smoothly, and all were satisfied."[156]

In the spring of 1742, La Noue, whose tenancy of the Rouen theatre had
not been attended with the success he had anticipated, and whom the
outbreak of the Austrian Succession War had compelled to relinquish a
project of taking a company to Berlin, returned to Paris, to make his
_début_ at the Comédie-Française. His troupe was in consequence
dispersed, and Mlle. Clairon, finding herself without employment, joined
a travelling company which had been engaged to perform at Ghent, then
the headquarters of the English army. Here, she tells us, she was
received with enthusiastic applause, and "my lord" Marlborough[157] laid
his immense fortune at her feet. But Mlle. Clairon was, above all
things, a patriot, and "my lord" and his immense fortune had no
attractions for her. "The contempt which the English nation affected for
mine," she says, "rendered every individual belonging to it
insupportable to me. It was impossible for me to listen to them without
expressing my dislike." So strong indeed was her aversion to the enemies
of her country that it was only with the greatest difficulty that she
could be prevailed upon to contribute to their entertainment. Finally,
she could endure the situation no longer, and, in spite of the efforts
of her comrades to detain her, procured a passport and escaped to
Dunquerque.

After a short stay at Dunquerque, Mlle. Clairon proceeded to Paris.
According to her own account, she had while there received an order from
the Gentlemen of the Chamber directing her to make her _début_ at the
Opera. From La Janière's report, however, it appears that "conscious
that her talents were too sublime for the provinces, and that she was
destined to shine in a greater sphere," she came on her own initiative
to the capital, where she was for some months without employment.
Ultimately, continues the report, she "accepted the propositions" of the
wealthy farmer-general, La Popelinière, who posed as a patron of the
arts, and, through his influence, mounted the stage of the
Palais-Royal.

However that may be, to the Opera she was admitted, and there, in March
1743, made her _début_ in the rôle of Venus, in _Hésione_. In her
_Mémoires_, she admits that though she had "a prodigious extent of
voice," she was but an indifferent musician, and notwithstanding the
fact that the _Mercure_ of the following May contained a poem in which
the writer declared that, so long as Clairon remained on earth, he was
content to renounce his hopes of Heaven, her reception by the public
seems to have left a good deal to be desired. We also gather that she
was dissatisfied with the treatment she received from her colleagues--a
fact which can hardly occasion surprise if there be any truth in the
story that, immediately upon entering the Opera, she had publicly
announced her intention of soundly boxing the ears of any lady who dared
to address her by the odious name of "Frétillon,"--and soon determined
to seek fame and fortune on another stage. "I had," she says, "the good
fortune to succeed, but I found that so little talent was required in
this theatre, in order to appear possessed of the highest abilities,
there seemed to me to be so little merit in merely following the
modulations of the musicians, the manners of the performers were so
distasteful to me, and the smallness of the salary was so absolutely
degrading, that, at the end of four months, I signified my intention of
resigning."

From the Opera, Mlle. Clairon passed to the Comédie-Française, but not
without encountering many obstacles by the way. Virtue counted for very
little at the Académie Royale de Musique, except as a marketable
commodity; it counted for a very great deal among the Comédiens du Roi,
or rather they chose to pretend that it did, which came to much the same
thing where the admission of a damsel of questionable reputation was
concerned. Led by her old employer, La Noue, and Mlle. Gaussin, several
members of the troupe banded themselves together to oppose the admission
of the now notorious "Frétillon" by every means in their power. The
latter, on her side, did not lack for supporters, and, for some weeks, a
war of pamphlets raged, in which the characters of the different
combatants were torn to shreds, to the great delight of the town.
Finally, the King's new mistress, Madame de Châteauroux, and her sister,
Madame de Lauraguais, intervened on behalf of the young actress, who
made so favourable an impression upon the old Duc de Gesvres, at an
interview which, in his capacity as First Gentleman of the Chamber, he
had very reluctantly accorded her, that, a few days later, she received
the coveted _ordre de début_:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"We, Duc de Gesvres, _pair de France_, First Gentleman of the King's
Chamber, direct the troupe of his Majesty's French players to cause the
demoiselle Clairon to forthwith make her _début_ in order that we may be
able to judge of her abilities as an actress.

      "(Signed)   THE DUC DE GESVRES.

    "_Executed at Versailles, September 10, 1743._"[158]

       *       *       *       *       *

In the provinces, Mlle. Clairon's _emploi_ had been that of a
_soubrette_, and her experience of tragedy was as yet very slight; for,
though she was acquainted with some half-dozen of the leading tragic
rôles, she had never played any of them more than twice. The
_semainiers_, as a number of players who governed the Comédie in
rotation were called, were, therefore, not a little surprised when the
young lady informed them that it was her intention to make her first
appearance as a votary of Melpomene. But their surprise gave way to
profound astonishment, when, after they had consented and suggested to
her the parts of Constance in _Inès de Castro_ or Aricie in _Phèdre_,
the _débutante_ replied, with a smile of disdain, that such parts were
too small for her, and that it was her wish to play Phèdre
herself--Phèdre, the most difficult character in the whole tragic
répertoire; Phèdre, one of the most celebrated rôles of Mlle. Dumesnil!

"My proposal," she tells us, "made every one smile; they assured me that
the public would not suffer me to finish the first act. I became hot
with indignation, but pride sustained me, and I replied as quietly and
as majestically as I could: 'Messieurs, you will allow me to play it, or
you will not. I have the right to make my choice. I will either play
Phèdre or nothing.'"

In the end, she was permitted to have her way. According to her own
account, she disdained to rehearse her part, and, on the fateful
evening, September 19, 1743, did not arrive at the theatre until just
before the curtain rose. The house was crowded, chiefly with persons who
had come thither in the confident anticipation of enjoying a hearty
laugh at what they were pleased to consider the absurd pretensions of
little "Frétillon." They came to laugh and perhaps to hiss; they
remained to applaud, and to applaud enthusiastically, for, long before
the first act was over, it was apparent to all that a great
_tragédienne_ was before them. "It was Phèdre herself in all her
sovereign splendour, in all the majesty of passion," and seldom indeed
has that immortal queen of sorrow met with so worthy a representative.
"The 19th of this month," says the _Mercure_, "the players have revived
at the theatre Racine's tragedy of _Phèdre_, in which Mlle. Clairon, a
new actress, has made her _début_. She represented the principal
personage amidst general applause. She is a young woman of much
intelligence, who expresses with a very charming voice the sentiments
which she has the art to understand. One may say that Nature has
lavished upon her talents of the happiest order to enable her to fill
all the characters suited to her youth, the agreeableness of her person,
and her voice."

A little brochure, entitled _Lettre à Madame la Marquise V. de G---- sur
le début de Mademoiselle Clairon à la Comédie-Française_, supplies us
with an interesting portrait of the actress:--

"Mademoiselle Clairon is about twenty-two or twenty-three years of age.
She is exceedingly fair; her head is well set. Her eyes are fine, full
of fire, and sparkle with voluptuousness. Her mouth is furnished with
beautiful teeth; her bosom is well formed. One gains in examining her a
pleasure which the other senses share with the sight. Her figure is
shapely, she carries herself very gracefully. A modest and pleasing
manner interests one in her favour. Although she is not a finished
beauty, one must resemble her to be charming. Her wit is sparkling, her
conversation sweet and engaging. Musician and actress, lover of the arts
and their pupil, she is qualified for everything, and, without making
any effort, she becomes naturally whatever she wishes to be."[159]

Mlle. Clairon continued her _débuts_ with success. On the following
evening, she gave an admirable rendering of the part of Zénobie, and
this was succeeded by further triumphs as Ariane, Électre, and the
Atalide of _Bajazet_. She played also several important rôles in comedy,
among them the Dorine of _Tartuffe_. But her acting here was distinctly
inferior to her performances in tragedy; a circumstance which is not a
little singular when we remember that the reputation she had brought
with her from the provinces had been gained entirely in the former
_genre_. Possibly, recognising that her true vocation was tragedy, she
was now somewhat careless of the impression she might make in other
rôles.

On October 29, 1743, an order from the Duc de Gesvres conferred on the
young _débutante_ a _demi-part_ in the troupe of the Comédie-Française.
In the following December, she was accorded a further quarter share,
and, exactly a year later, obtained a full part.

The middle of the eighteenth century was the golden era of the
Comédie-Française. What a galaxy of talent do we find there!
Mesdemoiselles Clairon, Dumesnil, Gaussin, and Dangeville; Grandval,
Molé, Lekain, Préville, and Brizard! Never before and never since have
so many celebrated players appeared together upon one stage. And of this
brilliant band, Mlle. Clairon was the ruler; ruling not so much by force
of talent, for Mlle. Dumesnil had greater natural talent, nor by beauty,
for Mlle. Gaussin was more beautiful, but by her remarkable
intelligence, her unwearying industry, and her strength of will. Only
Mlle. Dumesnil could compare with her upon the stage; off it, Mlle.
Clairon reigned supreme.

       *       *       *       *       *

For nearly twenty-two years, Mlle. Clairon disputed the dramatic sceptre
with her celebrated rival, inferior to the latter in parts which
required the combination of tragic force with pathos and tenderness, but
incomparably her superior in characters of the sterner type, especially
those into which dignity and an element of lofty and inflexible pride
entered.[160] The methods of the two great actresses could hardly have
been more dissimilar. "The one was all temperament," says Edmond de
Goncourt, "the other all study and art." Mlle. Dumesnil frequently came
upon the stage with no very definite idea as to the tone or attitude she
would assume in certain passages, trusting to a happy inspiration,
which, it must be acknowledged, seldom failed her.[161] With Mlle.
Clairon, who made her art the subject of the most profound and
unremitting study, every tone and every gesture had been carefully
rehearsed beforehand, and the character elaborated in its minutest
details. So numerous indeed were her private rehearsals that she
insensibly carried with her her theatrical air into private life, and
her friends laughingly declared that she called for her fan and her
coach in the tone of Agrippina, and spoke to her lackey like a queen
addressing the captain of her guards.[162] But this artificiality was so
dexterously concealed, she possessed in such a supreme degree the art of
concealing art, so dignified and graceful were her movements, and so
marvellous her command of facial expression, that even the warmest
admirers of Mlle. Dumesnil and her school of acting and the most
captious of critics were compelled to acknowledge her charm, while the
ordinary playgoer was "transported with enthusiasm."

Tributes to her genius came from all quarters, from friend and foe, from
her compatriots and from foreigners alike. Voltaire, when she performed
in his little theatre at Ferney, went quite wild with enthusiasm, and
declared that, for the first time in his life, he had seen perfection in
any kind.[163] Favart, though severely reprobating the extravagance of
the admirers who had medals struck in the lady's honour,[164] cherished
for her the most profound admiration. "Mlle. Clairon," he writes to the
Count Durazzo, "is raised so far above criticism by the superiority of
her talents that all the remarks of the most punctilious censor can but
serve to convince me that she has attained the last degree of
perfection. It seems as if she owed only to Nature all that she has
acquired by assiduous study. Every day we are struck with some new
admiration."

Collé, who disliked her heartily, partly no doubt on account of her
friendship with the philosophers, writing in 1750, considers her
inferior to Mlle. Dumesnil in sentimental scenes, but acknowledges her
immense superiority to the latter "in parts requiring little energy and
much dignity," such as the heroines of Corneille and the Fulvie of
Crébillon's _Catilina_. He, however, severely criticises her delivery,
which he describes as "artificial and inflated to the last extreme."

But, five years later, when Mlle. Clairon had adopted the more natural
method of speaking and acting of which we shall presently speak, the
dramatist is all admiration:--

"I have seen _L'Orphelin_ [Voltaire's _L'Orphelin de la Chine_], and
wept at the second and fifth acts. Mlle. Clairon appears to merit even
more praise than she has received. It is the actress, and not the play,
that has moved me. This tragedy is bad, and I do not retract a single
word of what I have said about it; but the actress is admirable. She
improves every day; she is ridding herself little by little of her
declamatory style, and making great strides towards natural acting. If
she continues, she will attain to the art of the Lecouvreur. The
progress which she has made is too marked and too astonishing for us not
to expect still further improvement; perhaps we may even hope for
perfection."[165]

The _Réflexions sur la déclamation_ of Hérault de Séchelles contain a
striking testimony to that wonderful command of expression, the result
of a profound study of physiognomy, which enabled her, without opening
her lips, to convey to her audience an exact impression of the different
phases of emotion through which her mind happened to be passing.

"One day, Mlle. Clairon seated herself in an arm-chair, and, without
uttering a single word, she painted, with her countenance alone, all the
passions: hatred, rage, indignation, indifference, melancholy, grief,
love, pity, gaiety. She painted not only the passions themselves, but
all the shades and differences which characterise them. In terror, for
example, she expressed dismay, fear, embarrassment, surprise,
uneasiness. When we expressed our admiration, she replied that she had
made a special study of anatomy, and knew what muscles it was necessary
to call into play."

And listen to Oliver Goldsmith's tribute, which appeared in the second
number of _The Bee_:--

"Mlle. Clairon, a celebrated actress at Paris, seems to me the most
perfect female figure I have ever seen on any stage. Her first
appearance is excessively engaging; she never comes in staring round
upon the company, as if she intended to count the benefits of the
house, or, at least, to see as well as to be seen. Her eyes are always
at first intently fixed upon the persons of the drama, and then she
lifts them by degrees, with enchanting diffidence, upon the spectators.
Her first speech, or at least the first part of it, is delivered with
scarce any motion of the arm; her hands and her tongue never set out
together, but one prepares for the other.... By this simple beginning,
she gives herself a power of rising to the passion of the scene. As she
proceeds, every gesture, every look, acquires new violence; till at
last, transported, she fills the whole vehemence of the play and the
whole idea of the poet. Her hands are not alternately stretched out and
then drawn in again, as with the singing women at Sadler's Wells; they
are employed with graceful variety, and every moment please with new and
unexpected eloquence. Add to this, that their motion is generally from
the shoulder; she never flourishes her hands while the upper part of the
arm is motionless; nor has she the ridiculous appearance as if her
elbows were pinned to her hips."

But perhaps the most interesting of all eulogies of the actress is
contained in a letter to Garrick by his Danish correspondent, Sturtz--a
really masterly description, which suffers but little from the fact of
the writer being a foreigner, and which we, therefore, need make no
apology for producing at length:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"In such a representing nation, I had a great opinion of their stage,
and yet I was disappointed. It seems the quality has forestalled the
best parts for them alone, for I saw but an indifferent medley of plays.

"There is, indeed, Mme. Clairon, standing alone amidst the ruins of
the Republic, shooting for the last rays of a departing star. I have
gazed on her when she trod the stage as Queen of Carthage,[166] worthy
that rank and above the mob of queens; she inspired every sentiment; she
displays every passion, and, I dare say, she felt none: all the storm
was on the surface, waves ran high, and the bottom was calm; her despair
and her grief rose and died at the end of her tongue.

[Illustration: MADEMOISELLE CLAIRON

From an engraving by LAURENT CARS and JACQUES BEAUVARLET, after the
painting by CARLE VAN LOO]

" ...She goes through a number of opposite feelings: soft melancholy,
despair, languid tenderness, raving fury, scorn, and melting love; there
is not one passion absent. She is wonderful in those transitions where
an inferior actress, from an intense grief, would, at some lucky event,
jump on a sudden to a giddy, wanton joy. Mme. Clairon, though exulting
at her new-born hope that Æneas might stay, keeps always the dark colour
of sorrow; when her eye brightens through her tears, she looks, as
Ossian expresses it, 'like the moon through a watery cloud.' Her
characteristic perfection is the scornful, the commanding part; then is
nobility spread about her as a glory round the head of a saint; and yet
she never puts off the woman; in the midst of violent rage she is always
the tender female, and a _nuance_ of love softens the hard colour into
harmony.

" ...Nature has done a good deal in favour of Madame Clairon; her voice
is melody, of a vast extent, and capable of numberless inflexions;
however, I was sometimes unwillingly disturbed by a disagreeable shrill
cry, rather expressing physical pain. As to her figure, it is not a very
elegant one, her head being rather too big and her whole person too
little; and yet she is great, towering amongst the crowd in the height
of action;[167] so as you see by the enchantment of art a colossal head
of Jupiter in a cameo the size of sixpence. Were I in a temper to find
fault with her, I might mention her too articulate declamation, the
_cadence_ of every motion; but then I might as well charge Raphael with
having too carefully marked his contours, which are the admiration and
the models of every age. True it is that compound of excellence is a
mere compound of art; were it possible to note action, as music, then
she would show a fortnight before every mien, the measure of every tone,
the tension of every march on paper. She is else quite free from that
disagreeable tragical hiccup so epidemical in France, and so awkwardly
returning at the end of every verse; she never shakes so affectedly her
head, as some others, in what you call the graceful style, forsooth; and
she alone may venture some bold strokes, which would never do else with
so well-bred, so elegant an audience.

"So when she heard that all was lost, that Æneas was gone, then, in the
rage of despair, with her two hands across, she beat her forehead with
such a gloomy, death-threatening look that we all stood aghast, and her
cry raised horror in every breast. I cannot say that she killed herself
well, though, but she died well; her weakening voice was not a childish,
whining tone, but imminent dissolution altered it, convulsion raised
it, and so it vanished into the air as a vapour. There, then, I have
brought her to the highest pitch of glory of your tribe, self-murder;
may she now quietly repose!"[168]

       *       *       *       *       *

And Garrick replies, laying his finger, with unerring instinct, upon the
one weak spot in Mlle. Clairon's acting:--

"What shall I say to you, my dear friend, about 'the Clairon.' Your
dissection of her is as accurate as if you had opened her alive; she has
everything that art and a good understanding, with great natural spirit,
can give her. But there I fear (and I only tell you my fears and open my
soul to you) the heart has none of those instantaneous feelings, that
life-blood, that keen sensibility, that bursts at once from genius, and,
like electrical fire, shoots through the veins, marrow, bones, and all,
of every spectator. Madame Clairon is so conscious and so certain of
what she can do, that she never, I believe, had the feelings of the
instant come upon her unexpectedly; but I pronounce that the greatest
strokes of genius have been unknown to the actor himself till
circumstances and the warmth of the scene has sprung the mine, as it
were, as much to his own surprise as to that of the audience. Thus I
make a great difference between a great genius and a good actor. The
first will always realise the feelings of his character, and be
transported beyond himself; while the other, with great powers and good
sense, will give great pleasure to an audience, but never

        ----"'Pectus inaniter angit,
    Irritat, mulcet, falsis terroribus implet,
    Ut magus.'

"I have with great freedom communicated my ideas of acting, but you must
not betray me, my good friend; the Clairon would never forgive me,
though I called her an excellent actress, if I did not swear by all the
gods that she was the greatest genius too."[169]

       *       *       *       *       *

Space forbids us to give more than a brief account of the many triumphs
of this superb _tragédienne_, who, besides worthily sustaining all the
chief characters of the classic répertoire, created forty-three rôles,
in not one of which did she fail to uphold her reputation, while the
great majority were brilliantly successful. Among the former, she was
probably seen to most advantage in Médée--in which character Carle Van
Loo painted her in his celebrated portrait--Phèdre, Hermione, Zénobie,
Didon, and Cléopâtre. Among the latter, taking them in chronological
order, should be mentioned Arétie in the _Denys le Tyran_ of Marmontel;
Fulvie in Crébillon's _Catalina_; Azéma in the _Sémiramis_ of Voltaire;
Électre in the _Oreste_ of the same writer; Cassandre in Chateaubrun's
play, _Les Troyennes_; Idamé in Voltaire's _Orphelin de la Chine_;
Astarbé in the tragedy of that name, by Colardeau; Aménaïde in the
_Tancrède_ of Voltaire; and Aliénor in De Belloy's _Siège de Calais_,
during the run of which last play occurred the unfortunate incident
which led to her retirement from the stage.

The almost fanatical admiration which Voltaire cherished for the actress
was no doubt, in part, due to the fact that she had contributed so
largely to the success of his plays. If Collé is to be believed, she
"made" his _Orphelin de la Chine_, while as the tender and fiery
Aménaïde of _Tancrède_ (September 3, 1760), she appears to have held the
audience absolutely enthralled. "Ah! _mon cher maître_," writes Diderot
to the exile of Ferney, "if you could see her crossing the stage,
half-leaning upon the executioners who surround her, her knees giving
way beneath her, her eyes closed, her arms hanging down, as though in
death; if you could hear her cry on recognising Tancrède, you would be
convinced, more than ever, that silence and pantomime have sometimes a
pathos which all the resources of oratory cannot attain. Open your
portfolios and look at Poussin's _Esther paraissant devant l'Assuérus_:
it is Clairon on her way to execution."[170]

The _Mercure_--the staid _Mercure_, so chary of its praise--can find no
word to describe her acting but that of sublime. The advocate Barbier,
voicing the opinion of the average playgoer, declares that "Mlle.
Clairon carried the talent of tragic declamation to a point which had
never been witnessed before"; while d'Alembert writes: "Mlle. Clairon
has been incomparable and beyond anything that she has yet attained to."

To the great disappointment of the public, the health of Mlle. Clairon
necessitated the temporary withdrawal of the play after the thirteenth
performance, and, when it was revived in the following January, the
enthusiasm with which it was received was almost indescribable.

       *       *       *       *       *

Simultaneously with her celebrity as an actress, Mlle. Clairon enjoyed a
celebrity of another, and far less enviable, kind. "Love," she remarks,
in her _Mémoires_, "is one of Nature's needs; and I satisfied it." She
did indeed. "Hardly had she appeared on the [Paris] stage," writes La
Janière to the Lieutenant of Police, in the report to which we have
already had occasion to refer, "than every one began to fight for her,
and the crowd of lovers was so great that, in spite of her inclination
towards gallantry, she was embarrassed to choose among them." There were
princes and dukes; there were marquises, and barons, and counts; there
were impecunious chevaliers and wealthy farmer-generals; there were
dashing cavalry-officers and sober presidents of the Parliament; there
were actors and men of letters. And few indeed--that is to say, few who
possessed any passport to her favour: high rank, a handsome presence, a
pretty wit, or, best of all, a well-lined purse and a disposition to
empty it at her feet,[171] seemed to have sighed in vain.

Poor M. de la Popelinière, to whose good offices Mlle. Clairon had owed
her admission to the Opera, did not long retain his proud position of
_amant en tître_. He was speedily abandoned for the Prince de Soubise,
who, however, was only accorded a fourth share of the lady's heart, the
remainder of that priceless organ being divided between three other high
and puissant _seigneurs_, the Ducs de Luxembourg and de Bouteville and
the Marquis de Bissy. Next Mlle. de Camargo's old lover, the Président
de Rieux, succeeded in securing a monopoly of the _tragédienne's_
affections, only to lose them, however, the moment he showed a
disinclination to loosen his purse-strings. Then came an assortment of
admirers, drawn from the nobility, the Parliament, financial circles,
the stage, the army, and foreign visitors to Paris, and including the
"Baron de Kervert," who is described as a rich Englishman, but whom we
have failed to identify; a Polish nobleman, the Comte de Brotok, "who
made a brave show before he became acquainted with her, but, in less
than four months, had lost coach, diamonds, and snuff-box, and was
obliged to pretend that he was in mourning for one of his relations, in
order to appear without shame in a black coat;" the actor Grandval, who
had had more _bonnes fortunes_ than he could count, but who proved so
accommodating an admirer that, after a few months of the lady's society,
"his colleagues had to accord him a benefit performance in order to
reestablish his affairs, which had fallen into a disastrous condition;"
and, finally, the Baron de Besenval, whose reputation for gallantry was,
in later years, to compromise Marie Antoinette, and "with whom," says La
Janière, "she became infatuated."[172]

For Besenval indeed, with whom she had had a previous _liaison_ during
her career in the provinces, Mlle. Clairon, to judge by her letters,
appears to have entertained a genuine affection. In one epistle, "she
conjures him to love her for ever"; in another, she informs him that a
letter which she has just received from him has "restored her to life,"
and that, however much he may love her, his passion must of necessity be
inferior to hers; and, in a third, declares that the devotion she feels
for him has "spoiled her taste" for other admirers, and that she
"experiences more pleasure in being true to him, whether he desires it
or not, than she formerly had in being unfaithful."[173]

But let us listen to some of the reports of the Arguseyed agents of the
Lieutenant of Police, which prove what an important personage a
fashionable actress was in those days:--

       *       *       *       *       *

    "SAINT-MARC TO BERRYER.

    "_June 14, 1748._

"I have the honour to report to you that the trustworthy person whom I
introduced into Mlle. Clairon's house assures me that the Prince de
Monaco, since his return to his regiment, has not allowed a single day
to pass without writing to Clairon; he shows much affection for her,
and, among other things, he begs her constantly not to return to the
stage until her health is perfectly re-established, and to remember that
she has promised to take every care of her life, in order to prolong
his....

"D'Hugues de Giversac, who is very much in love with Clairon, and is
reputed to have enjoyed her favours, has made all sorts of attempts to
gain admission to the house, but I am assured that there is no
possibility of his succeeding, and that Clairon's door is closed to him.
It has been remarked that, since the departure of the prince, she has
not received any one, except actors and actresses and, frequently, an
old attorney, who is a friend of Clairon's father. Moreover, she does
not go out, except to Mass, and, since her illness, it does not appear
that the prince has any rivals. It has been said that D'Hugues was one,
but the demoiselle's conduct for some time past renders that improbable.

"It has been remarked that Clairon only goes out with her father and
sister, or some actors. She always makes great cheer and spends large
sums on her table. She is daily expecting the arrival of the prince and
his money. I continue the precautions necessary to enable me to operate
successfully the moment the prince appears."

       *       *       *       *       *

    "SAINT-MARC _to_ BERRYER.

    "_June 23, 1748._

"I have the honour to report to you that Mlle. Clairon received
yesterday evening a letter from the Prince de Monaco, in which he
informs her that he will arrive without fail at the end of next week.
But Clairon considers that this is a feint on his part, and that he will
arrive sooner, in order to surprise her. Apart from that, nothing of
importance has happened at this house. The demoiselle does not go out,
nor does she receive any one, save the members of her troupe and the old
person of whom I have spoken."

       *       *       *       *       *

    "SAINT-MARC _to_ BERRYER.

    "_August 10, 1748._

"I have the honour to report to you that nothing likely to be of
interest to you is taking place at the house of the demoiselle Clairon.
She often sees her comrades of the Comédie, with whom she always makes
good cheer.

"There is a foreigner whose name I have not been able to ascertain, who
has employed a woman called Caron, formerly an _entremetteuse_, to speak
in his favour. This foreigner, although he is not acquainted with her,
has sent to Clairon a piece of Indian taffeta, a great quantity of
chocolate and champagne, and a service of porcelain encrusted with gold,
which presents were entrusted to one of Clairon's servants, with a
letter from the foreigner, promising her a considerable allowance, if
she will become his mistress. The story goes that she wrote to the
Prince de Monaco, to inform him of the advantageous proposal she had
received from this foreigner. The prince despatched, on the instant, an
old confidential servant, with instructions, in writing, enjoining on
the demoiselle Clairon to return everything which she had received from
this foreigner. The demoiselle found herself in an exceedingly
embarrassing position, inasmuch as she had disposed of more than half
the presents, having converted them into cash. Since then, the prince's
confidential servant has remained in Paris, to keep an eye upon her
behaviour, until the moment of the arrival of his master, who has been
very impatiently expected for more than a month."[174]

       *       *       *       *       *

    "MEUNIER _to_ BERRYER.

    "_September 18, 1748._

"The demoiselle Clairon has for a long time been the mistress of [the
Marquis] de Cindré. At the end of the month of August, she asked him for
a sum of 2000 livres,[175] of which she stood in pressing need. He gave
her this sum.

"Some days later, she demanded of M. de Cindré a country-house. He could
refuse her nothing, and rented one for her at Pantin, which he furnished
magnificently.

"M. de Cindré went to visit her one evening, and, to give her an
agreeable surprise, entered by a back door, and found the demoiselle
Clairon with a young man.... He withdrew, without speaking to any one,
and without his presence being discovered. The following day, he sent
and removed the furniture which he had placed in the house, and
abandoned Mlle. Clairon.

"The young man in question is M. de Jaucourt, an officer of dragoons,
who, about two months ago, was arrested for being absent from his
regiment without leave."

       *       *       *       *       *

Under date October 23, 1748, we come to an entry of considerable
interest:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"The demoiselle Clairon has dismissed the Marquis de Thibouville. She
has replaced him by the sieur Marmontel, author of _Denis le Tyran_. He
is not recognisable since he has devoted himself to amusing this
girl."[176]

       *       *       *       *       *

The beginning of the _liaison_ between Mlle. Clairon and the author of
the _Contes moraux_, which the latter relates, with much complacency, in
his ever-delightful _Mémoires_, written, by the way, "for the
instruction of his children," is distinctly amusing.

Marmontel had been in love with a certain Mlle. Navarre, whose heart he
had stolen away from Maurice de Saxe, much to the indignation of the
famous Marshal,[177] and who had made of him "the happiest of lovers
and the most miserable of slaves." One day, he learned that his
enchantress had jilted him, in his turn, for the Chevalier de Mirabeau,
upon which he went home, "fell down like a sacrificed victim," and was
for some time alarmingly ill. Mlle. Clairon came to console him, when
the following conversation took place:--

"'My friend,' said she, 'your heart needs some object of love; you feel
listless, because it is empty. You must interest; you must fill it. Is
there not a woman in the world whom you can think agreeable?'

"'I know,' said I, 'only one who could comfort me if she chose, but
would she be so generous.'

"'We must see as to that,' replied she, with a smile. 'Am I acquainted
with her? I will endeavour to assist you.'

"'Yes, you know her, and have great influence over her.'

"'Well, what is her name? I will speak to her in your favour; I will say
that you love with ardour and sincerity; that you can be faithful and
constant; that she is sure of being happy in your love.'

"'So you really believe all this?'

"'Yes; I am fully persuaded of it.'

"'Be so good as to say it to yourself.'

"'To myself, my friend?'

"'To yourself.'

"'Ah! then it shall be my pride to comfort you.'"[178]

A connection was thus formed, which, though it did not last very
long--at least the love-affair did not[179]--was not without its
influence upon the professional careers of both. Marmontel tells us that
his passion for the actress had the effect of "rekindling his poetical
ardour"; while, on her side, Mlle. Clairon was induced by the
representations of the young author to adopt a more natural style of
acting, which may be said to have given the finishing touch to an art
which came nearer perfection than anything yet seen on the French stage,
and, moreover, opened the door for a reform the importance of which can
scarcely be over-estimated.

Marmontel had repeatedly urged upon the _tragédienne_ the advisability
of aiming at greater simplicity, pointing out that her acting was "too
splendid, too impetuous," and was wanting in suppleness and truth. "You
possess," said he, "every means of excelling in your art, and yet, great
as you are, you might easily rise above yourself, purely by using more
temperately those powers of which you are so prodigal. You cite to me
your own brilliant successes and those which you have gained for me; you
cite the opinion and the advice of your friends; you cite the opinion of
M. de Voltaire, who himself recites his lines with emphasis, and who
pretends that declamation requires the same pomp as style; while I, in
return, can only urge an irresistible feeling that declamation, like
style, may be dignified, majestic, tragic, and yet simple; that tones,
in order to be animated and deeply affecting, require gradations,
shades, unforeseen and sudden transitions, which they can never have
when strained and laboured."

Mlle. Clairon laughingly replied that she saw plainly that he would
never let her alone until she had adopted a tone and manner more suited
to comedy than to tragedy. To which Marmontel rejoined that this she
could never do, since her voice, her look, her pronunciation, her
gestures, her attitudes, were all instinctively dignified and majestic,
and that, if she would but consent to be natural, her tragic powers
could not fail to be enhanced.

For a long while, the actress refused to be persuaded; but, finally, in
1752, after Marmontel had, for some time, ceased to urge her, she
resolved to follow his counsels. Judging it best to make her first
essays in the new method before a public less critical and less
conservative than that of Paris, she obtained permission to visit
Bordeaux, where, in addition, she would have the advantage of performing
in a theatre more suited to the style she proposed to adopt than the
large _salle_ of the Comédie-Française. On her first evening at
Bordeaux, she appeared as Phèdre, and played the part in the way she had
always been accustomed to perform it in Paris, that is to say, with much
extravagance of tone and gesture. She was, of course, loudly applauded.
The next day, she appeared as Agrippine, and played the character from
beginning to end in conformity with the ideas which she had recently
adopted.

"This simple, easy, and natural style of acting," she tells us, "at
first surprised them. An accelerated mode of utterance at the end of
each couplet, and a regular gradation of vehemence had been usually the
signals for applause; they knew that it had only been usual to applaud
such passages; and, as I did not resort to the style to which they had
become accustomed, I was not applauded." As the play proceeded, however,
the attitude of the audience underwent a change; murmurs of "_Mais cela
est beau! Cela est beau!_" began to make themselves heard; and, when the
curtain fell, the actress received a perfect ovation.

"After this," she continues, "I represented thirty-two of my different
characters, and always in my newly-adopted style. Ariane was of the
number, and the authors of the _Encyclopédie_, under the subject
_Déclamation_, have been kind enough to transmit to posterity the very
marked and flattering homage which I received. However, being still
fearful, and doubting the judgment of the public, as well as my own, I
determined to perform Phèdre as I had played it at first, and I saw, to
my delight, that they were dissatisfied with it. I had courage enough to
say that it was an experiment which I had believed it to be my duty to
make, and that I would play the same character differently, if they
would grant me the favour of a third performance. I obtained permission,
adopted the style which was the result of my studies as completely as I
could, and every one agreed that there was no comparison."

Encouraged by the success which had attended her experiments at
Bordeaux, Mlle. Clairon forthwith determined to try the effect of the
new method upon Paris and Versailles.

One day, when she was to play Roxane in the little theatre at
Versailles, Marmontel, happening to come to her dressing-room, was
surprised to find her attired like a sultana, without _panier_, her arms
half-bare, and, in short, in correct Oriental costume. He complimented
her upon her appearance, upon which she told him of her experience at
Bordeaux, adding: "I am going to try it again in this small theatre.
Come and hear me, and if it be as successful here, adieu to the old
declamation!"

The result, Marmontel tells us, exceeded their most sanguine
anticipations. "It was no longer the actress, but Roxane herself, who
was seen and heard." The aristocratic audience were delighted, and
applauded her warmly. After the play, her friend went to congratulate
her upon her success. "Ah!" said she, "don't you see that I am undone?
In all my characters the costume must now be observed; the truth of
dress must be conjoined with that of acting. All my costly theatrical
wardrobe must from this moment be changed; I lose clothes to the value
of 10,000 crowns; but the sacrifice is made. You shall see me within a
week perform Électre as naturally as I have just played Roxane."

She was as good as her word. It was the _Électre_ of Crébillon. "In
place of the ridiculous _panier_ and wide mourning gown which she had
been accustomed to wear," says Marmontel, "she appeared in the simple
dress of a slave, with her hair dishevelled, and long chains upon her
arms. She was admirable, and, some time afterwards, she was still more
sublime in the _Électre_ of Voltaire. Voltaire had made her recite this
part with an unvaried and doleful monotony; but, when spoken naturally,
it acquired a beauty unknown to himself. On hearing it acted at his
theatre at Ferney, where she went to visit him, he exclaimed, bathed in
tears and transported with admiration, 'It is not I who am the author of
that--it is herself; she has created the part.' And, indeed, the
infinity of shades which she introduced, and the manner in which she
expressed the passions, rendered it perhaps, of all others, that in
which she was the most astonishing."[180]

Paris, as well as Versailles, was quick to recognise in this change the
genuine tragic tone, and the enormously increased appearance of
probability which theatrical performances derive from a due observation
of costume. Thus, from one reform sprang another, and, warmly supported
by the celebrated actor Lekain,[181] who was keenly alive to the
absurdity of dressing the characters of ancient Greece and Rome in a
half-modern fashion, Mlle. Clairon was able to effect a veritable
revolution. Henceforth, the actors were forced to abandon their
_tonnelets_, their fringed gloves, their voluminous periwigs, their
plumed hats, and all the rest of the trappings which one sees in
Liotard's engraving of Watteau's picture, _Les Comédiens Français_; and
this new desire for truth ere long extended to the scenery and all the
accessories.

Voltaire's _Orphelin de la Chine_, produced on August 20, 1754, where,
in the part of Idamé, Mlle. Clairon secured one of her most brilliant
triumphs,[182] was the first play in which they ventured to act on their
ideas. "On returning from Fontainebleau," writes Collé, "this tragedy
has been revived, and has had nine representations. I omitted to mention
that the players have been put to some expense. They have had a scene
painted, or, to speak more correctly, a palace, in the Chinese fashion;
they have also observed the costumes of the country in their dress. The
women wore Chinese gowns, were without _paniers_ and ruffles, and had
their arms bare. Clairon even affected foreign gesticulations, placing
frequently one hand or both on her hips; holding for some moments her
clenched fist to her forehead, and so forth. The men, according to the
characters they represented, were attired as Tartars or Chinamen.[183]
The effect was excellent."[184]

Mlle. Clairon was not content with restoring to the figures of the past
their correct costume; she sought to make them live again in all the
distinctiveness of their times, their countries, and their nationality.
To be a great tragic actor or actress, it was not enough, in her
opinion, to have a sonorous voice, a majestic presence, a dignified
carriage, enthusiasm, and dramatic intelligence; it was necessary for
the player "to transport himself into the times and the places where the
characters which he was representing had lived," to recover, in fact, a
little of the spirit of Rome, Sparta, or Athens. "Not only," says she,
in her _Mémoires_, "ought one to acquaint oneself with the history of
all the peoples of the world, but to investigate it thoroughly; to
render oneself familiar with it, even in the minutest details; to adapt
to each rôle the peculiarities which the nation to which the character
belonged ought to exhibit."

Such a result could, of course, only be attained by constant study; and
she herself was an indefatigable student of historical works and the
classics, as well as of statues, monuments, and portraits; and unsparing
in her condemnation of those members of her profession who were too
indolent or too careless to follow her example. Grimm relates an
imaginary conversation between Mlle. Clairon and a young actor, which
Mme. d'Épinay declared that she had dreamed, and which, no doubt,
correctly illustrates the _tragédienne's_ views on this subject.

The young actor has come to enlist Mlle. Clairon's good offices to
secure him a _début_ at the Comédie-Française, and the following
conversation takes place:--

"Have you yet appeared at any theatre?"

"No, Mademoiselle."

"Well! no matter; your face interests me. Be seated, Monsieur, and let
us talk.... Ah! go and fetch me my work-basket from yonder console, at
the end of the room, so that I may see you walk, if you please--over
there, near that Japanese ornament.... Monsieur, I thank you. That is
satisfactory; your movements are easy; you have no stiffness, nor
ungainliness; but you have no distinction. Have you never had occasion
to observe men of quality in society? What, Monsieur, are the characters
in which you are most proficient, and which you propose that I should
listen to?"

"Mademoiselle, that of Nero in _Britannicus_."

"Is that the only one? Well, Monsieur, before I listen to you, have the
kindness to tell me who Nero was."

"Mademoiselle, he was an emperor who lived at Rome."

"That he lived at Rome is correct. But was he a Roman emperor, or did he
reside at Rome for pleasure? How did he rise to be emperor? What were
his claims, his birth, his parents, his education, his character, his
inclinations, his virtues, his vices?"

"Mademoiselle, the rôle of Nero answers some of your questions, but not
all."

"Monsieur, it is necessary to answer not only these questions, but all
the further ones that I shall ask you. And how can you play the part of
Nero, or any other that you wish to, unless you are as well acquainted
with the life of the personage whom you are representing as with your
own?"

"I was under the impression, Mademoiselle, that in order to grasp the
sense of his rôle, it was quite sufficient to be acquainted with the
play."

"And you were under a wrong impression, Monsieur."[185]

In the midst of her histrionic triumphs, Mlle. Clairon continued her
career of gallantry. To Marmontel succeeded the Bailli de Fleury,
"understudied" by a M. de Villeguillon, an officer of Musketeers. Soon
both these gentlemen were discarded in favour of the Marquis de Ximenès,
a young man of twenty-five, with a considerable fortune. The marquis,
who was by way of being a poet, began his wooing by inditing sonnets to
the lady's eyes, which, however, were very coldly received. Thereupon,
changing his tactics, he sent her a Périgueux _pâté_, in which he had
caused to be inserted, in the guise of truffles, six rouleaux of fifty
louis each. The rouleaux were much more to Mlle. Clairon's taste than
the verses had been, and, when her generous admirer presented himself
that evening, her door was no longer closed to him.

The marquis loved the lady very dearly. For her sake, he abandoned a
former enchantress of the name of Mainville, "who had already plucked
some of his feathers." For her sake, he parted with a fine estate in
Champagne and laid the proceeds at her feet. And every day he came to
visit her "in an equipage of the most brilliant description, with two
tall lackeys in the rumble, and a running footman preceding it, all
superbly habited."[186]

Finally, however, she killed his love with a _bon mot_. A fair colleague
in the green-room, with whom she was having words, happened to remark
that Monsieur le Marquis had turned Mademoiselle's head. "Yes," snapped
the actress, "away from him." M. de Ximenès, be it said, was not an
Adonis.

This injudicious speech was duly reported to the marquis, who, stung to
the quick, quitted the lady for ever. Mlle. Clairon wrote demanding the
return of a portrait of herself which she had given him. It came, and,
with it, these cruel verses:--

    "Tout s'use, tout périt, tu le prouves, Clairon;
         Ce pastel dont tu m'a fait don,
         Du temps a ressenti l'outrage
         Il t'en ressemble davantage."[187]

To M. de Ximenès succeeded a gentleman who, for some time, baffled the
curiosity of Berryer's inspectors by invariably visiting the actress
under cover of night, in a hackney-coach, and with his features
concealed by a cloak. Ultimately, it transpired that the mysterious
admirer was the Marquis de Bauffremont, who having recently married--and
not for love--a lady of a very jealous disposition, had strong reasons
for desiring to hide his identity.[188]

The discreet M. de Bauffremont was followed by yet another marquis; he
of Rochechouart--Mlle. Clairon appears to have been extremely partial to
noblemen of this particular rank--and, finally, the lady formed a
_liaison_ with Joseph Alphonse Omer, Comte de Valbelle d'Oraison, "who
had received from Nature all the graces that go to the making of an
amiable man, and whom Chance had made the richest noble in
Provence."[189]

Let us hasten to add that here, at any rate, Mlle. Clairon seems to have
experienced a genuine passion, which was undoubtedly reciprocated; for
her _liaison_ with the Comte de Valbelle lasted for nineteen years,
and, as we shall presently see, might have been regularised, had the
actress been so disposed.

       *       *       *       *       *

With her triumph in the Aménaïde of _Tancrède_, of which we have spoken
elsewhere, Mlle. Clairon reached the height of her fame. She ruled with
despotic sway not only the theatre, but the world of fashion as well. At
her house, in the Rue des Marais--the same house which had been
successively occupied by Marie de Champmeslé, Racine, and Adrienne
Lecouvreur--she received the cream of the society of both Court and
capital:[190] Mesdames d'Aiguillon, de Villeroi, de la Vallière, de
Forcalquier, and others; and in turn, was a frequent guest at their
tables and also at that of Madame du Deffand. The Princess Galitzin,
wife of the Russian Ambassador at the Court of Vienna, formed so deep an
attachment for the actress that she "could not spend two hours without
seeing her or writing to her." It was she who commissioned Carle Van Loo
to paint his celebrated portrait of Mlle. Clairon as Medea,[191] and
presented it to the actress. It was she, too, who, in 1759, persuaded
the Russian Court to invite the great actress to leave France and take
up her residence at St. Petersburg. The terms offered were extremely
tempting,[192] and Mlle. Clairon hesitated long before refusing them.
But her passion for the Comte de Valbelle was then at its height, and
she could not reconcile herself to the idea of being separated from her
lover. Then the count offered to make her his wife, and accompany her to
Russia, and so anxious was the Czarina Elizabeth to secure the services
of the _tragédienne_, that she promised, through the Princess Galitzin,
to accord him the same rank as he held in France, "and the emoluments
necessary to sustain it." Mlle. Clairon, however, fell ill, and illness
gave her time for reflection. She remembered that she was seven years
older than her lover, who was a very gallant gentleman indeed, and very
far from an example of fidelity; as her charms waned, she could hardly
flatter herself that he would become more constant. She remembered, too,
the difference in station; she thought of the indignation of the count's
family, and she asked herself whether, in years to come, he would not
reproach her with having taken him at his word.

Finally, she came to the conclusion that "the soul capable of rejecting
all the advantages which are offered is a thousand times more noble
than the one that accepts them," and declined to expatriate
herself.[193] The Princess Galitzin was not the only distinguished
foreigner to seek to perpetuate the genius of Mlle. Clairon. Garrick,
who had seen her act at Lille, during his first visit to France in 1742,
and prophesied a great future for her,--though this, of course, was in
comedy--came to Paris, with his wife, after the conclusion of peace in
1763, on their way to Italy. A warm friendship sprang up between the
great English actor and the Queen of the French stage, and so delighted
was Garrick with the _tragédienne's_ talent that he commissioned
Gravelot to engrave a design, representing Mlle. Clairon "in all the
attributes of Tragedy," her arm resting on a pile of books, on which
might be read the names of Corneille, Racine, Voltaire, and
Crébillon.[194] By her side stood Melpomene crowning her with laurel. At
the top of the frame, on a ribbon encircled by an olive branch, one
read:--

    "Prophétie Accomplie."

And on a tablet at the base, the following verses:--

    "J'ai predit que Clairon illustrerait la scène,
     Et mon esprit n'a point été déçu:
         Elle a couronné Melpomène,
     Melpomène lui rend ce qu'elle en a reçu."

                          --GARRICK.

The following year, the Comte de Valbelle and a M. de Villepinte,
another warm admirer of the actress, caused a gold medal to be struck in
the lady's honour. On the face of this medal was Gravelot's allegorical
design; while the reverse bore this inscription:--

    L'Amitié
  Et Melpomène
Ont Fait Frapper
      Cette
    MÉDAILLE
    EN 1764.

The pleasure which the lady derived from this piece of adulation must
have been considerably discounted by the publication of the following
mordant epigram, from the pen of the dramatist Saint-Foix, of whose
works she appears to have spoken slightingly:--

    "Pour la fameuse Frétillon
     Ils ont osé frapper un médaillon;
     Mais à quelque prix qu'on le donne,
     Fut-ce douze sous, fut-ce même pour un,
     Il ne sera jamais aussi commun
     Que le fut jadis sa personne."[195]

The pride of Mlle. Clairon, in those days, knew no bounds. "Madame de
Pompadour," said she, one day, "owes her sovereignty to chance; I owe
mine to the power of my genius!" She treated even the most distinguished
of her colleagues with haughty disdain, and often with the grossest
discourtesy; and poor Mlle. Dangeville, the object of her childish
adoration and the most sweet-tempered and inoffensive of women, retired
from the stage ten years earlier than she would otherwise have done,
vowing that it was "impossible to live any longer with such a creature."
As for the younger actresses, they positively trembled before her;
while, with the exception of Voltaire, whose admiration for her she
condescended to reciprocate, there is said to have been not a single
dramatic author of the time whom she had not insulted. The public she
appears to have regarded very much as a queen might her subjects. On the
occasion of a free performance at the Comédie, given by order of the
King, she came on to the stage between the two pieces and threw handfuls
of silver into the pit; and the worthy Parisians, quite gulled by this
piece of theatrical quackery, cried, as they scrambled for the money,
"_Vive le Roi et Mlle. Clairon!_"

Nevertheless, in spite of her arrogance and absurd pretensions, Mlle.
Clairon had the interests of her profession sincerely at heart. She was,
according to her own expression, the _chargé-d'affaires_, the advocate,
and the postillion of the Comédie-Française, and it was always to her
that her comrades turned when in any difficulty or perplexity. It was
through her influence, joined to that of the Comte de Lauraguais, that
the absurd custom of allowing the more distinguished members of the
audience seats upon the stage itself--a custom which seriously hampered
the movements of the players and was utterly destructive of all scenic
illusion--was finally abolished. A word from her was sufficient to
secure the payment of the overdue royal pension to the Comédie, which
the _semainiers_ had vainly solicited from the Comptroller-General; and
she laboured zealously, if unsuccessfully, to free her profession from
the ban of the Church, which had weighed so long and so heavily upon it.

In the spring of 1761, there was published, at Amsterdam, a little
volume, entitled _Liberté de la France contre le pouvoir arbitraire de
l'excommunication, ouvrage dont est spécialement redevable aux
sentiments génereux et supérieurs de Mlle. Clai_.... This book, which
was the work of one Huerne de la Mothe, an advocate of the Parliament of
Paris, had been inspired by Mlle. Clairon, and was preceded by a letter
from the actress to the author, in which she announced to the public
that she hesitated to exercise her profession any longer, owing to her
fear of the excommunication to which it subjected her. The bigots,
ecclesiastical and lay, who were very roughly handled in the book, were
exasperated to the last degree; the Grand'Chambre issued a decree
ordering the obnoxious work to be burned by the public executioner in
the Place de Grève, and poor Huerne de la Mothe was struck off the roll
of advocates. Mlle. Clairon, however, who felt herself to be the cause
of his misfortune, did not allow him to suffer by his championship of
her profession, and persuaded the Duc de Choiseul to nominate him to a
lucrative post in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mlle. Clairon had many enemies: enemies in her own profession, enemies
in the fashionable world, and enemies in the Republic of Letters. Two of
the most formidable among the last-named were La Harpe and Fréron, the
critic, the sworn foe of the philosophers. La Harpe hated her, it is
said, because she had contemptuously refused to act in his plays;
Fréron, because of her friendship with the elders of the Holy
Philosophical Church, and, more especially, with its Patriarch,
Voltaire, under whose blistering ridicule he had long writhed. La Harpe
contented himself by making epigrams about her in society; but Fréron
went further, and dared to attack her in print.

There had recently appeared at the Comédie a young, charming,
accomplished, and, _mirabile dictu_, virtuous actress, named Mlle.
d'Oligny, best remembered in theatrical history as the original
representative of Rosine in Beaumarchais's _Barbier de Seville._[196]
Fréron, who prided himself on being one of the first to discover the
talent of this lady, could not resist the temptation of contrasting her
blameless life with that of Mlle. Clairon, and proceeded to do so in a
remarkably effective manner.

In his _Année littéraire_, under date January 17, 1765, appeared an
_éloge_ in verse of Mlle. d'Oligny, "who had never consented to listen
to any proposition of fortune, at the expense of her innocence,"
followed by a paragraph written by Fréron himself, which, although she
was not actually mentioned by name, no one could have the least doubt
referred to Mlle. Clairon:--

"One will be grateful to the author for having laid stress, in his just
_éloge_ of Mlle. d'Oligny, on her irreproachable conduct up to the
present. May we always bear in mind that the Muses are chaste, and that
they ought never to sing of libertinism and prostitution! Talents of the
rarest order, or regarded as such, do not efface the opprobrium of a
dissolute life. One may accord a certain measure of esteem to the
performance of the actress, but the seal of contempt is always stamped
upon her person. It is in vain that, after having acquired a disgraceful
celebrity through vice, she affects a grave and reserved manner. This
tardy and false decorum only serves to form a revolting contrast with a
youth of infamy, and I do not know whether one does not prefer that a
creature of this species should constantly show herself what she has
been, rather than appear what she is not. The frankness of libertinism
is, in point of fact, less shocking than the mournful simulation of
dignity."[197]

Terrible was the wrath of the insulted actress. To the Gentlemen of the
Chamber she flew, and announced her intention of quitting the stage
forthwith, and for ever, unless condign punishment was immediately
inflicted on this vile scribbler who had dared to traduce her.

To pacify her, an order was issued for the arrest of Fréron and his
incarceration in For l'Évêque. But when the police proceeded to his
house to execute it, they found the critic in the agonies of gout:
agonies so acute that it was impossible, he declared, to move a step
without enduring torments; and his friends contrived to obtain a
suspension of his sentence until he should be in a fit state to leave
his bed. As may be supposed, this was not for some days, and, in the
meantime, the devout Queen, Marie Leczinska, whose father had stood
sponsor to one of Fréron's children, and who regarded that worthy as the
champion of the Faith against the attacks of the philosophers,
intervened on his behalf and obtained a further respite.

Mlle. Clairon refused to abide by the Queen's decision, reiterated her
determination to retire from the stage if Fréron were not punished, and
demanded an audience of the Prime Minister, the Duc de Choiseul.

"Justice!" cried she, in tragic accents, the moment she was ushered into
his presence. "Justice, Monsieur le Duc!"

"Mademoiselle," replied the Minister, with mock gravity, "you and I both
perform on a stage, but there is this difference between us: you choose
the parts which you prefer, and are sure of the applause of the public.
There are only a few persons of bad taste, such as this wretched Fréron,
who refuse you their suffrages. I, on the contrary, have often a very
disagreeable task; I strive to do my best, and am criticised, condemned,
hissed, and ridiculed; yet, I remain at my post. Let us both of us
sacrifice our private resentments to the good of our country, and serve
it, each in our own way, to the best of our ability. And, besides, the
Queen having pardoned, you can, without compromising your dignity,
imitate her Majesty's clemency."

Mlle. Clairon, far from mollified by this badinage, returned home, and
called a meeting of her friends and the members of the Comédie, presided
over by the Duc de Duras, at which it was determined that the Comte de
Saint-Florentin, _Commandeur des Ordres_ to the King, should be
threatened with the desertion of the entire troupe, unless speedy
justice were done to the modern Melpomene. "This line of conduct,"
writes Bachaumont, "has greatly disturbed M. de Saint-Florentin. This
Minister has written to the Queen, stating that the affair has become
one of the vastest importance; that for a very long time no matter of
such serious import has been discussed at Court; that, in fact, the
Court is divided into two factions on the question; and that, despite
his profound respect for the commands of her Majesty, he much fears that
he will be compelled to obey the original orders of the King."

However, eventually, the matter was allowed to rest, and, by the irony
of Fate, barely two months had passed before Mlle. Clairon herself was
sent to For l'Évêque. And this was how it came about.

After the Easter recess of that year, the Comédie-Française was
announced to open with De Belloy's phenomenally successful tragedy, _Le
Siège de Calais_, then at the height of its popularity. All the boxes
had been engaged for several performances, and there was every
indication of a most successful season. An unexpected incident ruined
everything. "An actor named Dubois, who," says Grimm, "had for the last
twenty-nine years enjoyed the confidence of all the tragic heroes," had
a dispute over a bill with a surgeon named Benoît, whose professional
services he had had occasion to seek, under somewhat discreditable
circumstances. Dubois declared that he had paid the bill; Benoît was
equally positive that he had not, and commenced proceedings to recover
the amount owing. The actor's colleagues, annoyed to find one of their
number mixed up in such an affair, brought the matter to the notice of
the Gentlemen of the Chamber, who gave them permission to decide upon it
themselves. They, accordingly, held an inquiry, found that Dubois had
lied--indeed, he confessed as much--and, at the instigation of Mlle.
Clairon, and with the approval of the Gentlemen of the Chamber, expelled
him and another actor named Blainville, who had given evidence in his
comrade's favour, from the troupe.

Now, it happened that Dubois had a very pretty daughter, "who possessed
the power," says Mlle. Clairon, "of rendering the Gentlemen of the
Chamber as happy as they could desire to be." Like a dutiful child, she
warmly espoused the cause of the cashiered actor, and, rushing, with
dishevelled hair, into the presence of the Duc de Fronsac--son of the
Maréchal de Richelieu--who in days gone by had been in the habit of
paying her matutinal visits, disguised as a coffee-house waiter,
besought his intervention on behalf of her unhappy father, the innocent
victim, she declared, of the machinations of Mlle. Clairon.

The young duke, who still retained for the lady some remains of
affection, promised to do what he could, with the result that on April
15, about three hours before the play was announced to begin, an order
arrived from Versailles, to the effect that Dubois was to be allowed to
take his usual part, until the King should decide on his fitness to
remain a royal player.

A meeting of the company was hurriedly summoned, and a deputation sent
to one of the Gentlemen of the Chamber who happened to be in Paris, to
endeavour to obtain a rescission of the order, for that evening at
least. But the deputation returned and reported the failure of its
mission; the "Gentleman" had professed himself unable to do anything
without consulting his colleagues. Thereupon, five members of the
troupe, Mlle. Clairon, Lekain, Brizard, Molé, and d'Auberval, declared
their intention of refusing to play. Cost them what it might, they were
absolutely determined never to appear upon the stage with Dubois again.
Such was the position of affairs, when, at half-past five, the Comédie
opened its doors. Let us listen to Collé's account of the scene which
followed:--

"The audience assembled to witness _Le Siège de Calais_; it had been
impossible to change the bills announcing the performance. When
half-past five came, Lekain, Molé, and Brizard had not arrived. Mlle.
Clairon had shown herself, but, perceiving and knowing that these
gentlemen had no intention of appearing, did not take the trouble to
dress, and went home in the sedan-chair which had brought her to the
theatre. The remainder of the players, who were very reluctant to
acquaint the public with this unwelcome news, were at a loss what to do.
Ultimately, towards six o'clock, one of them left his comrades, went on
to the stage, and began, in trembling accents, to address the audience
with: 'Messieurs, we are in despair--' He was interrupted by some one in
the pit, who shouted, 'We want no despair! _Calais!_' And, in an
instant, the entire public took up the cry and shouted: '_Calais!
Calais!_"

"After this first tumult had somewhat subsided, the actor wished to
commence his speech, but the audience declined to hear any more. Some
minutes passed thus, and then the actor briefly explained the
impossibility of performing the tragedy in question, and proposed to
play _Le Joueur_ in its place, or to return the public their money; only
to be received with renewed cries, more violent than before, of
'_Calais! Calais!_'

"A moment later, Préville, the idol of the public, came on to the stage
and endeavoured to begin the first scene of _Le Joueur_, but was
interrupted, hooted, and hissed by the audience, who cried in a kind of
frenzy: '_Calais!_' Several persons in the pit, who were aware that it
was through the intrigues and machinations of Mlle. Clairon that the
players had so signally failed the public, shouted: '_Calais, et Clairon
en prison! Frétillon à l'hôpital![198] Frétillon aux cabanons!_'

"No doubt the majority of those who uttered these blasphemies were
partisans of the Dubois, who had been posted by her and her father in
the pit. This pandemonium, which might have become a scene of bloodshed,
if the Guards on duty had chosen to interfere, lasted until seven
o'clock, when the audience had their money returned to them."[199]

The following morning, there was a consultation between Sartines, the
Lieutenant of Police, and the Gentlemen of the Chamber, when it was
decided to make an example of Mlle. Clairon and the other recalcitrant
players. The actress, who happened to be unwell, was in bed, and her
friend Madame de Sauvigny, wife of the Intendant of Paris, was nursing
her, when an inspector of police arrived and intimated that he had an
order from the King to conduct Mlle. Clairon to For l'Évêque. Madame de
Sauvigny protested against the arrest of her "best friend," but the
_exempt_ was inexorable, and Mlle. Clairon informed him that she would
submit to the orders of the King. "All that I have," cried she, in her
best stage manner, "is at his Majesty's disposal--my property, my
person, and my life are in his hands. But my honour is untouched, and of
that not even the King can deprive me."

The man of law bethought him of an old legal maxim. "Very true,
Mademoiselle," he replied, "for where there is nothing, the King loses
his rights."

Madame de Sauvigny insisted that Mlle. Clairon should proceed to For
l'Évêque in her own carriage and announced her intention of accompanying
her. But, as the carriage in question happened to be a _vis-à-vis_, and
the _exempt_ refused to lose sight of his prisoner, the noble lady was
constrained to seat her friend upon her knees, and in this singular
fashion they traversed the streets of Paris.[200]

At For l'Évêque, the famous actress was treated more like a
distinguished guest than a prisoner. The most comfortable room available
was allotted her, and furnished in luxurious fashion by her sympathising
friends, the Duchesses de Duras and de Villeroi and Madame de Sauvigny;
the courtyard of the fortress was crowded every day by the carriages of
those who came to offer her their sympathy, and she was permitted to
give delightful little supper parties. In less than a week, a
complaisant physician having certified that further detention would be
prejudicial to the lady's health, she was permitted to return home,
under certain conditions, which she alludes to in a letter to Garrick,
in answer to one of sympathy from the English actor:--

       *       *       *       *       *

    "PARIS, _May 9, 1765._

"My soul, penetrated by a treatment as barbarous as it is unjust, had
need, my dear friend, of the pleasure that your letter has brought to
it. This letter has interrupted for some moments the indignation and
grief which consume me. Never has my health occasioned me so much
anxiety, never have the mischances to which I am subjected been so
multiplied, so violent. But be tranquil; my courage is superior to all
my misfortunes.

"Will you credit it? my comrades are still in prison! I myself was
released the fifth day, but have been placed under arrest at my house,
and prohibited from receiving more than six specified persons. It is
said that Dubois has tendered his resignation; it is to be hoped that it
will be accepted, and that we shall be at liberty this evening or
to-morrow; it is time we were! As they have refused to permit any of my
comrades to come and see me, I am in ignorance of what they think and
what they intend to do.

"I am resolved not to give them any advice, but to occupy myself only
with my own position, and, above all, with the esteem of honest people;
I dare to be confident that I shall obtain that. I shall not share with
you my reflections on the past, the present, and the future; not that I
fear to submit them to your intelligence and your friendship, but
because my letter might be opened, and they might misinterpret me; and I
do not wish to afford them any pretext for persecution. Embrace Madame
Garrick for me, and rest assured both of you that I love, esteem, and
regret you as much as possible, and as you have the right to expect from
the most sensitive and grateful of hearts.

    "CLAIRON."[201]


       *       *       *       *       *

After about three weeks of seclusion, Mlle. Clairon was permitted to
resume her ordinary life, and as Dubois, the cause of all the trouble,
had now resigned, it was anticipated that she would appear again upon
the stage. On the plea of ill-health, however, she declined to return to
the theatre, and, about the middle of June, it was common knowledge that
the actress had requested permission to retire from the stage. The
Maréchal de Richelieu, First Gentleman of the Chamber, refused her
request, asserting that he would never consent to sign her _ordre de
retraite_ during his year of office, but offered to grant her leave of
absence till the following Easter--that is to say, until the end of the
theatrical year, in order that she might have time to go to Geneva and
consult the celebrated doctor, Tronchin.

To Geneva she accordingly went, and obtained the advice she came to
seek; Tronchin, who, great man though he was, was not above humouring
the whims of his distinguished patients, assuring her that he would not
answer for the consequences if she returned to the stage.

From Geneva she proceeded to Ferney, in response to a pressing
invitation from its master, who assured her that it was "a temple where
incense was burning for her," and that "to see and hear her would be his
Fountain of Youth."

When she reached Ferney, Voltaire was ill, but no sooner had she
declaimed her part in his _Orphelin de la Chine_, than he professed
himself completely cured. During her stay, she performed several times
in the little theatre of the château, playing Aménaïde in _Tancrède_ and
Électre in _Oreste_, and the delighted poet wrote to d'Argental that in
the latter character "she had shaken the Alps and Mont Jura"; while, in
a letter to Monnet, he declared that she had "made him feel twenty
years younger."[202]

On leaving Ferney Mlle. Clairon went to Provence, to visit the Comte de
Valbelle. While there, she attended the theatre at Marseilles, and, on
being recognised, was loudly cheered by the occupants of the pit, who
cried: "_Le Siège de Calais et Mlle. Clairon!_" and refused to desist
until the governor of the province, the Duc de Villars, had promised to
do all he could to persuade the actress to gratify them.

At the beginning of November, she was again in Paris, where great
pressure was brought to bear upon her to induce her to reconsider her
determination to retire from the stage. On one condition only would she
consent to forget the horrors of For l'Évêque, namely, that the
Comédie-Française should be erected into a Royal Academy of the Drama,
which would have the effect of giving a legal status to its members, and
would pave the way for the removal of the ecclesiastical ban. A petition
was accordingly drawn up, which had the support of the Duc de Duras, the
Duc d'Aumont, and several other important personages, and submitted to
the King. But, owing apparently to the maladroit way in which the Duc
de Duras, who had charge of the memoir, presented his case, it was
refused; and, at the following Easter, Mlle. Clairon demanded her
_congé_, which was accorded her. Here is the _ordre de retraite_:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"We, Maréchal Duc de Richelieu, _pair de France_, First Gentleman of the
King's Chamber;

"We, Duc de Duras, _pair de France_, First Gentleman of the King's
Chamber;

"Mlle. Clairon, after having served the King and the public for
twenty-two years with the greatest assiduity and the greatest attention,
finding herself compelled, on account of her health, to quit the
theatre, we have accorded her leave to retire, with the pension in
conformity with the regulations.

    "(Signed)

    "THE MARÉCHAL DUC DE RICHELIEU.

    "THE DUC DE DURAS.[203]

    "_Executed at Paris, April 23, 1766._"

       *       *       *       *       *

For some years after her retirement from the stage Mlle. Clairon resided
in a house near the Pont-Royal, where Marmontel speaks of her receptions
as "numerous and brilliant." She frequently consented to recite some of
her famous rôles at the houses of her aristocratic friends, and Horace
Walpole writes, under date August 23, 1767: "Arrived in Paris at a
quarter before seven; at eight to Madame du Deffand's; found the
Clairon acting Agrippine and Phèdre; not tall, but I like her acting
better than I expected. Supped with her and the Duchesses de Villeroi
and d'Aiguillon."

Although she never again appeared on the boards of the
Comédie-Française, the great _tragédienne_ performed on several
occasions in private theatres. On February 19, 1767, she played Zelmire
in De Belloy's tragedy of that name, at the Hôtel d'Esclapon, Rue de
Vaugirard, at a performance arranged for the benefit of Molé.[204]
Again, in December 1768, she appeared as Dido and Roxane in _Bajazet_,
at the little theatre belonging to the Duchesse de Villeroi, before the
King of Denmark and the Prince of Saxe-Gotha. Grimm writes:--

"The Duchesse de Villeroi has reserved to herself the right of doing the
honours to Mlle. Clairon in her little theatre. This celebrated actress
played there twice, in the presence of the King of Denmark, the
Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Gotha, and a little chosen company, for the
theatre can only accommodate a hundred and ten persons. The first time,
she played the part of Dido, and the second, that of Roxane, in the
tragedy of _Bajazet_. After the play, she was presented by Madame de
Villeroi to her august spectator, who drew a ring from his finger and
placed it on the finger of the actress; but I know that, in spite of
this royal courtesy, he had not the happiness to succeed with the
illustrious Clairon. In her quality of Dido, she will not have found him
tender enough; in her quality of Roxane, she will not have found him
sufficiently humble; in her quality of Clairon, she will not have found
him sufficiently penetrated with admiration. In fact, notwithstanding
the infatuation of the Court and the town for the young monarch, he has
had the misfortune to displease the heroine of the Théâtre-Français."[205]

Finally, on the occasion of the fêtes at Versailles, in honour of the
marriage of the Dauphin and Marie Antoinette, in the spring of 1770,
Mlle. Clairon appeared as Athalie and Aménaïde. But five years of
retirement had naturally not been without their effect upon her powers,
and her acting seems to have caused general disappointment. Perhaps her
unfortunate choice of a gown, "half-brown, half-yellow, which gave her
the appearance of a shrivelled-up old woman," had not a little to do
with her comparative failure as Voltaire's heroine.

An impression prevailed at this time that had Louis XV. only
condescended to express a desire that Mlle. Clairon should return to the
Comédie-Française she would have consented to do so. But Louis XV. was
not such an admirer of the lady's acting as Voltaire--indeed, he seems
to have preferred Mlle. Dumesnil--and when, three years before, Mlle.
Clairon had caused him to be informed that she was prepared to play at
Versailles as often as his Majesty might command he had replied, to her
intense chagrin, that he found the other actresses very capable.[206]

On her retirement from the theatre, Mlle. Clairon had opened a kind of
dramatic academy. Here she trained a number of aspirants to histrionic
fame, several of whom were destined to make their mark in years to
come. Among these may be mentioned the beautiful Mlle. Raucourt,
herself, in her turn, the Queen of the Comédie-Française, and that
excellent actor, Larive.

For Larive, the ex-_tragédienne_ appears to have conceived an almost
maternal affection, leaving no stone unturned to ensure his success upon
the stage, and corresponding with him regularly for many years. Her
early letters are chiefly of a professional kind: advice as to the way
in which certain parts are to be played, as to the costumes suitable to
those parts, and so forth. But occasionally we find her descending to
more personal matters, rallying him on his _bonnes fortunes_, and
moralising in the style of an indulgent elder brother.

"You have then made a conquest," she writes, "and of a fine lady, you
say? I am not astonished, since you are a very handsome man. But I
cannot prevent myself from telling you that you are a great imbecile. If
she is a woman who makes a profession of gallantry, or a marriageable
girl, you ought certainly to refuse to have anything to do with her. A
man should avoid the first, for fear of accidents, and never have to
reproach himself with having corrupted the other. But if she be a
married woman or a widow, that is current coin, the property of every
one, and you will be doing wrong not to make use of it. No engagement,
no prejudice, need restrain you. You are a man, young; you are bored.
Guarantee yourself a serious attachment; that is an excellent thing; but
why refuse to your senses, and to the necessity of diverting your mind,
the tribute which both demand?"

In a letter, which, like the above, bears no date, but which was
probably written in the summer of 1772, we find a person mentioned who
was to play a very important part in Mlle. Clairon's future life:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"You have extended your hospitality to a dog; I have extended mine to a
little boy. Molé sent me an unhappy widow with six children in want of
bread. I have taken charge of one, and am busying myself in finding
means to allow the rest to live. I shall not keep the child at my house;
he is a little devil, and that annoys and wearies me. _But since he
bears a close resemblance to the Margrave_ (of Anspach), whom I am
expecting to see arrive here this autumn, I have taken the child, in the
hope of sending him to Germany. If that plan falls through, I shall put
him to a trade, and pay his apprenticeship to whatever one his mother
may choose."

       *       *       *       *       *

Christian Frederick Charles Alexander, Margrave of Anspach, Baireuth,
and Brandenburg, Duke of Prussia, Count of Sayn, was the son of
Frederick the Great's sister, Frederika Louise, and that potentate's
favourite nephew. Born in 1736, and married, against his will, by his
father, to a princess of Saxe-Coburg, "who resembled a faded lily which
had begun to grow yellow," he spent the greater part of his time in
travelling in Italy, Holland, and France, and "gratifying his tastes for
the arts and feminine society."

The Margrave was not handsome, in fact, his appearance was distinctly
unprepossessing. He had "a retreating forehead, sunken eyes, a nose like
a trumpet, an enormously long peaked chin, and a long ungainly neck." On
the other hand, he was well-educated, sensible, and good-natured; "the
best prince in Germany," said the Austrian Chancellor, Kaunitz, who was
certainly in a position to judge.

The Margrave fell in love with Mlle. Clairon, who, though nearly old
enough to be his mother, was still pretty; and, on the occasion of one
of his frequent visits to Paris, invited her to return with him to
Anspach and be his Margravine of the left-hand. To the ex-_tragédienne_,
who had so often played the queen upon the stage, the prospect of
occupying a quasi-royal position at this little German court was not
without its attractions; perhaps ere long, she thought, the faded-lily
princess might wither away altogether, in which event the consort of the
left-hand might become the consort of the right. Moreover, her vanity
was naturally flattered by the homage of a man twelve years her junior,
and that man a Serene Highness! And, finally, it happened that she had
just quarrelled violently with the Comte de Valbelle, who, not content
with an occasional infidelity, as had been the case in the early days of
their connection, had become a sort of professional Don Juan, who
"brought daily pretty girls into his park," outraged husbands,
supplanted lovers, and, in short, misconducted himself in so shocking a
manner that, according to his disgusted mistress, "every one detested
him from the bottom of their hearts."

And so it came about that, one fine day in the spring of 1773, Mlle.
Clairon bade farewell to all her friends in Paris, and set out for
Anspach, whence she wrote to the faithless Valbelle that it was her
intention "to consecrate the remainder of her days" to the Margrave.

At Anspach, Mlle. Clairon remained for seventeen years. Our chief source
of information in regard to this period of her career are her own
letters to her old pupil, Larive, with whom she continued to correspond
regularly. In the earliest of these, she can hardly find words to
describe the joys of her new life.

"I am very well," she writes, shortly after her installation, "and
taking into consideration the care, the homage, the comforts, the
kindnesses, and the marks of attachment that are lavished upon me, it
would be impossible for my heart and my vanity not to be satisfied. My
house does not grow less full; the greatest ladies do me the honour of
supping with me. You cannot form any idea of the position I occupy in
this country. I believe that I am in a dream. Sometimes I am tempted to
imagine myself a personage...."

And again, under date October 15, 1773:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"Would to Heaven, my dear child, that I had you near me! I should then
be able to say that never had I been so happy. Every comfort, no kind of
vexation, consideration, a commodious and beautiful house, a
well-ordered, pleasant, and honourable life independent of the caprices
which formerly troubled me, the impossibility of meeting ungrateful
people, of seeing or hearing anything which recalls them, the
opportunity of doing good--all this renders my life infinitely sweet.
Add to all these blessings the certainty of making the happiness of the
sweetest and kindest being I have ever known. After you had seen him,
you would love him: that is nothing; one cannot form any idea of this
good prince, unless you live with him. I see him every day, and am
equally astonished at his frankness and the noble simplicity that
characterises all his actions. It is for such sovereigns that it is just
and right to sacrifice one's life, and I feel no regret at having
sacrificed mine to him."

       *       *       *       *       *

But this enthusiasm does not last long, and, before twelve months have
passed, we find Mademoiselle complaining of everything at Anspach, from
the air to the cooking. In one letter she tells her correspondent that
"the air of the country and _ennui_ are killing her"; in another, that
she has had to send for a French cook, because the Anspach cooking
"displeased as much as it disagreed with her";[207] in a third, that she
has had to abandon an attempt to establish a theatre at the Court,
"because there are scarcely a dozen persons there who can carry on a
conversation in French, while the rest do not understand a word of the
language"; and, in a fourth, that "the women of this country are
destitute of every grace to which your eyes are accustomed."

The fact of the matter was that the Court of Anspach did not approve of
the advent of Mlle. Clairon; it feared that her installation would,
sooner or later, be followed by an invasion of her compatriots, who
would seize upon all the most lucrative posts in the State, and
generally upset the established order of things. Neither had the
Ministers been educated to serve under a _maîtresse en titre_, as had
those of France; they resented the interference of a woman--especially
a foreigner--in the counsels of their master, and one of them, if Mlle.
Clairon is to be believed, actually carried his resentment so far as to
conspire against her life. Moreover, although the poor Margravine
herself was compelled, through fear of her husband's anger, to treat her
rival with courtesy, and even to invite her to her table, the other
ladies of the Margrave's family, like the Duchesse of Würtemburg and the
Margravine of Baireuth, absolutely refused to recognise the
ex-_tragédienne_, and the feminine portion of the Court seems to have
taken its cue from them, rather than from its nominal head.

However, in spite of difficulties and mortifications, Mlle. Clairon
remained at her post, and, according to her own account, used the
influence she had acquired over the Margrave in a highly beneficent
manner; destroying abuses, reforming the finances, encouraging
agriculture, and so forth. She also beautified the city of Anspach by an
ornamental fountain, established a hospital, distributed considerable
sums in charity, and was very popular among the poorer classes.

[Illustration: ELIZABETH BERKELEY, COUNTESS OF CRAVEN, AFTERWARDS
MARGRAVINE OF ANSPACH

After the drawing by Sir JOSHUA REYNOLDS]

In the course of the year 1789, Mlle. Clairon found herself called up to
face a rival influence. The eccentric and "_infinitamente_
indiscreet,"[208] but charming and accomplished Elizabeth, Countess of
Craven, descended upon Anspach. The countess had separated from her
husband in 1780, since which she had spent the greater part of her time
in wandering about the Continent. In the course of her travels, she had
met the Margrave, whom she had known when she was a child, and who
invited her to Anspach. She came, and her stay was a long one. She
infused new life into that dull German Court; she organised a theatre in
a disused coach-house, and wrote little plays for it; she had a garden
laid out in the English style, under her direction, at the Margrave's
palace of Triesdorf, near Anspach; she founded a little academy for the
encouragement of literature and the arts, and found means to amuse even
the unamusable Margravine. Finally, she stole away the heart of the
Margrave from his grey-haired Egeria, and wrote to her husband, with
whom she still corresponded, that she was to be "treated as a sister."

At length, Lady Craven left for Paris. Soon afterwards, the Margrave
announced his intention of visiting the French capital; Mlle. Clairon
decided to accompany him. In Paris, the Margrave favoured her with so
little of his company that she felt constrained to inquire the reason.

The prince returned an evasive answer; Mlle. Clairon caused a watch to
be kept upon his movements, and discovered the fatal truth. So long as
the Margrave remained in Paris, the deceived sultana, by a great effort
of will, succeeded "in concealing beneath a countenance always calm, and
sometimes laughing, the rending tortures of mind and body." But when the
prince returned to Anspach, she declined to follow him, and sent instead
a long and reproachful letter, wherein she informed him that "his
frenzied passion for a woman of whose character, unfortunately, he alone
was ignorant, his indifference to public opinion, the license of his new
morals, his want of respect for his age and his dignity, obliged her to
see in him only one who had thrown aside all restraint and decency in
compliance with the dictates of a depraved heart, or as one whose
disordered intellect, while it excited pity, evinced also the necessity
of restraint; that the veil was now lifted, and she knew herself never
to have been anything but the hapless victim of his egotism and his
divers caprices; and that, therefore, with infinite pain, she laid at
his feet all the boons she had received from him, and bade him adieu ...
adieu for ever."

And so ended the last romance of Mlle. Clairon, and the only souvenir of
her seventeen years' residence at Anspach is a kind of fancy bread,
which is called "_Clairons Weck_" unto this day.[209]

As for the faithless Margrave, he was too happy in the society of Lady
Craven, who shortly afterwards took up her residence at Anspach, to care
much what became of her predecessor in his affections; and so infatuated
did he become with that lady that, on his wife's death in 1791, he
married her. In the following year, the prince--in the face of an
eloquent letter of remonstrance from Mlle. Clairon--sold his margravates
of Anspach and Baireuth to the King of Prussia, and migrated, with his
wife, to England, where he died in 1806. The Margravine survived her
husband more than twenty years, and died, at Naples, in 1828.

In 1785, during one of the visits to Paris which she had paid in company
with the Margrave, Mlle. Clairon had purchased a country-house at Issy,
and it was here that she now took up her residence. She lived a very
quiet life, receiving and visiting a few old friends, and occupying the
rest of her time with collecting objects of natural history, which had
always been one of her favourite occupations, and the writing of her
_Mémoires_.

Madame Vigée Lebrun, the painter, who met Mlle. Clairon soon after her
return to France, at the house of her former pupil, Larive, has left us
the following impression of the famous _tragédienne_ in her old age:--

"I had pictured to myself that she was very tall; and, on the contrary,
she was very short and very thin; she held her head very erect, which
gave her an air of dignity. I never heard any one speak with so much
emphasis, for she retained her tragic tone and airs of a princess; but
she gave me the impression of being clever and well informed. I sat
beside her at table, and enjoyed much of her conversation. Larive showed
her the greatest respect and attention."[210]

Early in the year 1792, Mlle. Clairon completed her _Mémoires_, which
she entrusted to Henri Meister, the friend of Diderot and the Neckers,
who was leaving Paris for Germany, on the condition, so she subsequently
asserted, that they should not be given to the world until ten years
after her death. One day, however, in 1798, she learned, to her
astonishment, through an article in a Paris journal, that they had been
published in Germany, whereupon she hurriedly brought out a French
edition, bearing the title: _Mémoires d'Hippolyte Clairon et Réflexions
sur la déclamation théatrale_.

These _Mémoires_, written in an absurdly solemn and grandiloquent style,
even for the time, and "interspersed," says the admiring editor of the
English edition, "with precepts of practical morality which would do
honour to our greatest philosophers," reveal to us a very different
Clairon from the Clairon of the police-reports and of the memoirs and
correspondence of her contemporaries; but, unfortunately, there can be
very little doubt which portrait comes nearer the truth. Partly, no
doubt, for this reason, they had only a moderate success; and though
several copies bear the words "_Seconde édition_" they were, as a matter
of fact, not reprinted until 1822, when they appeared in the well-known
_Collection des Mémoires sur l'art dramatique_. The most interesting
part of the book, in our opinion, are the chapters which the actress
devotes to reflections upon her art, some of which may still be read
with profit by candidates for histrionic fame. But what aroused most
attention at the time the work was published was the celebrated history
of the lady's ghost--the spectre of a young Breton whom she had
pitilessly left to die of love, and who had vowed on his death-bed to
haunt her for the remainder of her life.

Never was there so persistent and vindictive an apparition--though the
term apparition is perhaps a misnomer, as the shade of the departed
never actually showed itself. It was perpetually visiting her at the
most unexpected times and in the most unexpected places--at her _petits
soupers_, while she was riding in her coach to shop in the Rue
Saint-Honoré, and so forth. Sometimes its presence was announced by "a
long-continued and piteous cry," which so terrified an elderly admirer
who happened to be present on one occasion, that he "had to be conducted
to his carriage more dead than alive";[211] sometimes by a loud report
like that of a musket; at others by "a noise like the clapping of
hands"; and finally, by "a celestial voice singing the most tender and
pathetic airs."[212] No solution of these singular phenomena was ever
forthcoming, though the assistance of the police was invoked in order to
probe the mystery. But the most probable explanation is a little plot on
the part of some friends of the young Breton to read the lady a
much-needed lesson.

On her retirement from the stage, Mlle. Clairon had been in possession
of a comfortable fortune, producing an income of some 18,000 livres; and
though this had been considerably reduced by the financial jugglery of
the Abbé Terrai, the loss had been subsequently repaired by the sale of
her jewellery, art treasures, and natural history collection, which had
realised 90,000 livres. In her old age, however, she fell into great
poverty, though to attribute her financial losses to the
Revolution--which swept away so many fortunes--as have several writers,
would appear to be without justification, as on Fructidor 26, Year III.,
at a time when money was exceedingly scarce, we find her writing to a M.
Pérignon, advocate, requesting him to find her a secure investment for a
sum of 24,000 livres; while so late as October 9, 1801, when she made
her will, she would appear, to judge by the various bequests she makes,
to have been still in easy circumstances.[213]

On the other hand, there can be no question that between that date and
her death, fifteen months later, she was reduced to great distress, as
witness the following appeal addressed to Chaptal, the Minister of the
Interior, and in response to which she received an order on the
Treasury for 2000 livres:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"CITIZEN MINISTER,--For a month past I have been vainly seeking a
protector to bring me to your notice; but if it be true that you are of
a generous disposition, it is to you alone that I should address myself.
Seventy-nine years of age, almost in want of the necessaries of life,
celebrated at one time by the possession of some talents, I wait at your
door until you condescend to grant me a moment.

    CLAIRON."[214]

       *       *       *       *       *

In good truth, an object-lesson for the moralist to dilate upon!
Clairon, the haughty, the incomparable Clairon, the idol of town and
theatre; Clairon, to have met whom in society was the proudest boast of
the braggart in _Candide_; Clairon, for whose smiles a King (according
to Grimm) had sighed in vain, and a Serene Highness--not in vain;
Clairon, whose classic features had been painted by Van Loo and
sculptured by Lemoine; Clairon, in whose honour gold medals had been
struck, and whose praises "bards sublime" had chanted--forced to beg her
bread at the door of a Minister!

At the time when the above letter was written, the old actress had
removed from Issy, and was living in the Rue de Lille with a Madame de
la Rianderie,[215] the widow of an officer in the Gardes-Françaises.
Here she was visited by Lemontey, who describes her as a little,
withered old woman, feeble and sickly, but still retaining something of
her majestic manner, and who spoke to him in a voice which had lost but
little of its power and sweetness. Observing a little boy who had
accompanied the historian, she motioned him to approach, saying: "Make
that child come here. He will be very pleased to be able to say one day
that he has seen and spoken to Mlle. Clairon."

Another of her visitors was the English actor John Kemble, to whom she
recited a scene from _Phèdre_ with a majesty and fire truly astonishing
in one so old and frail.

Mlle. Clairon died on January 31, 1803, six days after completing her
eightieth year.

       *       *       *       *       *

Animated to the last by the pride which had dominated her whole life,
Mlle. Clairon bequeathed to the nation her marble bust by Lemoine and
the gold medal which Valbelle and Villepinte had caused to be struck in
her honour; but, for some reason, these souvenirs were not accepted. The
native town of the great actress showed itself less indifferent than the
State, and placed a commemorative tablet on the house in which she had
been born. In 1876, however, the house collapsed beneath the weight of
years, and the tablet was buried under its ruins.[216]

The remains of Mlle. Clairon were interred in the cemetery of Vaugirard,
where they remained until its suppression in April 1837, when, escorted
by a deputation from the Comédie-Française, they were transferred to
Père-Lachaise, and there re-interred, Samson pronouncing an _éloge_
over the grave. In 1889, at the solicitation of M. Caille, an inhabitant
of Condé, the _sociétaires_ of the Comédie-Française decided that the
tomb of the famous _tragédienne_ should be completely restored, and
voted for that purpose a sum of one thousand francs.



INDEX


A

_Actrice nouvelle, l'_, Poisson's, 151

_Adrienne Lecouvreur_, Scribe and Legouvé's, 129 and note, 182 note

Aiguillon, Duc d', 163

Aiguillon, Duchesse, 319, 337

Aïssé, Mlle., 140, 180, 184 note, 186;
  (cited) 180-183, 188-190, 192 note

_Alexandre_, Racine's, 26, 92

Allainval, Abbé d', 129;
  (cited) 134, 145, 199

_Amours de Bastien et Bastienne_, Justine Favart's performance in, 268

_Amphitryon_, Molière's, 49, 155

_Andromaque_, Racine's, 11 note, 93

Anne of Austria, Queen of France, 27

Anne Ivanovna, Duchess of Courland, 173, 174, 175

Anspach, Margrave of, his character and personal appearance, 340, 341;
  falls in love with Mlle. Clairon and invites her to Anspach, 341;
  "the sweetest and kindest of beings," 342;
  discards Mlle. Clairon for Lady Craven, 344-346

Anspach, Margravine of, 340, 341, 344, 345, 346.

_Antiochus et Cléopatre_, Deschamps', 154

Argental, d', 164-168, 169, 193 note

_Ariane_, Mlle. de Champmeslé's performance in, 99.

Arles, Council of, excludes the actor from the Sacraments, 66, 67

_Attila_, Pierre Corneille's, 26, 97 note

Aubry, Sebastian, 13

Augustus II., Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, 169, 170, 174, 176

Aunillon, Abbé, 179.

_Avare_, Molière's, 78


B

Bachaumont, (cited) 293 note, 328, 335 note, 337 note

_Bajazet_, 98, 337.

Balicourt, Mlle., 228 and note

Barbier, (cited) 161, 213, 301

Barbier d'Aucour, 102

Bauffremont, Marquis de, 318

Baron, Michel, 56-58, 63, 75, 94, 147, 151, 152, 159

Bayle, 8, 41

Bazin, 9, 44

Beaumarchais, 325

Beaumenard, Mlle., mistress of Maurice de Saxe, 239, 243 note

Beffara, 9, 15, 211 note

Béjart, Armande, her marriage with Molière, 3;
  controversy concerning her parentage, 7-20;
  accompanies the Illustre Théâtre to the provinces, 20;
  her education, 21;
  her personal appearance, 22-25;
  her gifts as an actress, 25, 26;
  her _début_, 27;
  plays before the Court in the _Impromptu de Versailles_, 27;
  and during _Les Plaisirs de l'Ile enchantée_, 27-29;
  bears Molière a son, 27;
  her rendering of the part of Célimène in the _Misanthrope_, 29-31;
  other performances by her, 31, 32;
  her moral conduct considered, 32-40;
  charges brought against her in _La Fameuse Comédienne_, 40-48;
  temporarily separated from her husband, 48-54;
  her supposed _liaison_ with Baron, 56-58;
  her platonic friendship with Pierre Corneille, 58, 59;
  birth of her second son, 60;
  endeavours to dissuade Molière from playing in the _Malade imaginaire_, 62;
  goes to find a priest to administer the last Sacraments to her husband, 63;
  her appeal to the Archbishop of Paris, 63, 64;
  her interview with Louis XIV. at Saint-Germain, 64;
  throws money among the crowd on the day of Molière's funeral, 71;
  causes a fire to be lighted on his grave, 72;
  conclusion as to her moral conduct, 72, 73;
  resumes her place in the company three days after her husband's
   death, 74 and note;
  secures the Théâtre Guénégaud, 77, 78;
  her adventure with Président Lescot, 79-82;
  libelled by Guichard, 82 and note;
  marries Guérin d'Estriché, 83, 84;
  her later years, 84, 85

Béjart, Bénigne Madeleine, 10, 19

Béjart, Geneviève, 7, 15

Béjart, Joseph _pére_, 3, 7, 9, 10

Béjart, Joseph _fils_, 4, 10, 15, 75

Béjart, Louis, 15

Béjart, Madeleine, her parentage, 34;
  becomes an actress, 4, 5;
  has a daughter by the Comte de Modène, 5, 6;
  commonly believed to be the mother of Armande Béjart, 7-10;
  and to have been the mistress of Molière, 11;
  hideous accusation of Montfleury, 11, 12;
  repeated by Guichard, Le Boulanger de Chalussay, and in _La
   Fameuse Comédienne_, 12-15;
  joins the Illustre Théâtre, 15;
  her talent as an actress and personal appearance, 16;
  question as to her relations with Molière considered, 17-20;
  promotes the marriage between Molière and Armande, 21, 22

Bellerose, 76 note

Benoît (surgeon), his dispute with Dubois of the Comédie-Française, 328, 329

_Bérénice_, Racine's, 96, 97, 98

Bergheick, Comte de, lover of Mlle. Clairon, 281

Bernard, Samuel, 216

Bernhardt, Madame Sarah, 138

Berri, Duchesse de, 205

Berryer, Lieutenant of Police, 285, 304, 305, 306, 318

Besenval, Baron de, Mlle. Clairon's love-letters to him, 303

Bimorel, Madame de, 282, 283, 285

Blainville, expelled from the Comédie-Française, 329

Blondi, dancing-master, 206

Blot, 42

Boileau-Despréaux, 60, 71, 100, 103, 108, 109, 116;
  (cited) 102

Boileau-Puimorin, 60

Bossuet, denounces the plays of Molière, 70;
  his _Maximes et réflexions sur la comédie_, 119, 120

Botte de la Barondière, Père, insists on Brécourt renouncing the
   stage, 117 and note

Bouillon (Louise Françoise de Lorraine), Duchesse de, enamoured of
   Maurice de Saxe, 179;
  her personal appearance, 179 note;
  accused by the Abbé Bouret of having engaged him to poison Adrienne
   Lecouvreur, 179-188;
  suspected of having caused the death of the actress, 188-190;
  consideration of this charge, 190, 191;
  discarded by the Comte de Clermont for Mlle. de Camargo, 213

Bouillon (Marie-Anne Mancini), Duchesse de, intrigues to ruin Racine's
   _Phèdre_, 103-105

Bourdaloue, Père, preaches against _Tartuffe_, 70;
  denounces the theatre, 120

Bouret, Abbé, accuses the Duchesse de Bouillon of having engaged him to
   poison Adrienne Lecouvreur, 179-184;
  sent to Saint-Lazare, 184;
  released, 184;
  rearrested, 185;
  persists in his accusation, 186;
  but finally recants, 187;
  set at liberty and disappears, 187

_Bourgeois gentilhomme_, Molière's, 23, 24, 97 note

Bouteville, Duc de, 302

Bouty, Marie (mother of Mlle. de Champmeslé), 130

Boyer, Abbé, 92, 114, 115, 153

Brécourt, compelled by the curé of Saint-Sulpice to renounce his
   profession, 117 and note

Breuze de la Martinière, 8

Brie, Mlle, de, joins the Illustre Théâtre, 17;
  becomes Molière's mistress, 17;
  resides in the Béjart's house, 48;
  resumes her intimacy with Molière, 55, 56;
  jealousy between her and Mlle. Molière, 73

Brizard, 330

Brossette, (cited) 17, 100

Brotok, Comte de, ruined by Mlle. Clairon, 303

By, Chevalier de, lover of Mlle. Clairon, 286


C

Caffaro, Père, his _Lettre d'un Théologien_, in defence of the
   theatrical profession, 119, 120

Cahusac, (cited) 203

Calandrini, Madame, 180

Camargo, Marie-Anne de: _see_ Cupis de Camargo

Cartouche (brigand), 135

_Cartouche, ou les voleurs_, Le Grand's, 135

Casanova, (cited) 220

Castelnau, Marquis de, 265

Castil-Blaze, (cited) 200, 208

Champmeslé, Charles de: _see_ Chevillet de Champmeslé

Champmeslé, Marie de: _see_ Chevillet de Champmeslé

Chantilly, Mlle.: _see_ Favart, Justine

Chapelle, 42, 49-52, 53, 54, 71, 98

Chappuzeau, Samuel, (cited) 76 note, 77

Chardon, M. Henri, (cited) 4, 18, 19

Châteauroux, Duchesse de, 215, 289

Chevillet de Champmeslé, Charles,
  runs away from home to become an actor, 90, 91;
  marries Marie Desmares, 91;
  joins the Théâtre du Marais, 91;
  leaves it for the Hôtel de Bourgogne, 93;
  a complacent husband, 93;
  on the best of terms with his wife's admirers, 108;
  joins the Théâtre Guénégaud, 113;
  his _Parisien_, 113;
  singular incident connected with his death, 125, 126

Chevillet de Champmeslé, Marie,
  birth and parentage, 89;
  becomes an actress and makes her _début_ at Rouen, 90;
  marries Charles de Champmeslé, 91;
  comes to Paris with her husband, 91;
  joins the Théâtre du Marais, 91;
  her first successes, 92;
  leaves the Marais for the Hôtel de Bourgogne, 93;
  her triumph as Hermione in _Andromaque_, 93;
  her gifts as an actress, 94, 95;
  her personal appearance, 95, 96;
  becomes the mistress of Racine, 96;
  her successes in _Bérénice_, 97;
  in _Bajazet_, 98;
  in _Ariane_, 99;
  in _Mithridate_, 99;
  in _Iphigénie en Aulide_, 100-102;
  in _Phèdre_, 106;
  her house "the rendezvous of all persons of distinction in
   both Court and town," 107;
  unfaithful to Racine, 107, 108;
  her relations with Charles de Sévigné, 108-110;
  _liaison_ with the Comte de Clermont-Tonnerre, 111;
  discarded by Racine, 111;
  her impersonation of Queen Elizabeth in the _Comte d'Essex_, 113;
  joins the Théâtre Guénégaud, 113;
  one of the original _sociétaires_ of the Comédie-Française, 113;
  secures her brother Nicolas's admission _sans début_, 114;
  later performances by her, 114-116;
  falls ill and retires from stage, 116;
  with difficulty induced to renounce her profession, 122;
  dies, 122;
  two letters of Racine on her death, 122, 123;
  her pupils, Mlles. Duclos and Charlotte Desmares, 123-125

Chevreuse, Duchesse de, 246, 247

Choiseul, Duc de, 327

Christian VII., King of Denmark, 337

Cindré, Marquis de, lover of Mlle. Clairon, 306

_Circé_, Thomas Corneille's, 78

Clairon, Mlle., her parentage, 276;
  her birth, 276, 277;
  comes with her mother to Paris, 277;
  her account of how she was led to become an actress, 278-281;
  makes her _début_ at the Comédie-Italienne, 281;
  accepts an engagement at Rouen, 281;
  her life there, 282, 283;
  adventure with Gaillard de la Bataille, 283, 284;
  _Histoire de Mademoiselle Cronel, dite Frétillon_, 284, 285;
  her mother tries to coerce her into marriage, 285;
  "three rival warriors contending for her heart," 286;
  rejects the proposals of "my lord" Marlborough, 287;
  returns to Paris and joins the Opera, 287;
  leaves the Opera for the Comédie-Française, 288;
  her admission opposed by certain members of the troupe, 289;
  insists on making her _début_ in the part of Phèdre, 289, 290;
  her brilliant success, 290, 291;
  her personal appearance, 291;
  her remarkable gifts as an actress, 293;
  testimony of Favart, 294;
  of Collé, 294, 295;
  of Hérault de Séchelles, 295;
  of Oliver Goldsmith, 295, 296;
  of Sturtz, 296-299;
  of Garrick, 299, 300;
  performances by her, 300, 301;
  her brilliant success as Aménaïde in _Tancrède_, 301;
  her lovers, 301-307;
  her _liaison_ with Marmontel, 307-309;
  changes her style of acting, 309-313;
  brings about a reform in stage costume, 313-314;
  an indefatigable student of everything connected with her art, 314-316;
  continuing her career of gallantry, 317-318;
  conceives a genuine passion for the Comte de Valbelle, 318, 319;
  her social success, 319 and note;
  her portrait painted by Carle van Loo, 319 and note, 320;
  declines an offer to take up her residence at St. Petersburg, 320, 321;
  Garrick commissions an engraving of her "in all the attributes
   of Tragedy," 321;
  gold medal struck in her honour, 322;
  her pride and arrogance, 322, 323;
  has the interests of her profession sincerely at heart, 323, 324;
  endeavours to relieve the stage from the ban of the Church, 324;
  attacked by Fréron, in the _Année littéraire_, 324-328;
  _l'affaire_ Dubois, 328-331;
  sent to For l'Évêque, 331, 332;
  her letter to Garrick, 332, 333;
  visits Voltaire at Ferney, 334, 335;
  enthusiastically acclaimed by the pit at Marseilles, 335;
  retires from the Comédie-Française, 335, 336;
  her life after her retirement, 336, 337;
  plays before the King of Denmark, 337, 338;
  and at Versailles, 338;
  her correspondence with her pupil Larive, 339, 340;
  accompanies the Margrave of Anspach to Germany, 341;
  her life at Anspach, 341-344;
  supplanted by Lady Craven in the affections of the Margrave, 344-346;
  takes up her residence at Issy, 346, 347;
  publication of her _Mémoires_, 347;
  her last years and death, 349-351;
  removal of her remains from Vaugirard to Père-Lachaise in 1837, 351, 352

Clavel, Adrienne Lecouvreur's letters to him, 142-145

Clement XI., Pope, declines to interfere between the Church and the
   theatrical profession, 121 note

Clermont, Comte de, his character, 212;
  becomes the lover of Mlle. de Camargo, 213;
  can refuse her nothing, 214;
  insists on her quitting the stage, 214;
  appointed abbot of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 215;
  installs Mlle. de Camargo at the Château de Berny, 215;
  discards her for Mlle. Le Duc, 216;
  presents his new enchantress with a magnificent equipage, 217, 218;
  makes Mlle. de Camargo an allowance, 220

Clermont-Tonnerre, Comte de, one of the admirers of Mlle. de
   Champmeslé, 107, 108, 111

Cochin, Charles Nicolas _fils_, his drawing of Justine Favart, 228 note

Colbert, 17 note, 77

Collé, (cited) 152, 153, 216 and note, 252 note, 294, 295, 301, 314, 322 note

Comédie-Française, its foundation, 113

_Comte d'Essex_, Thomas Corneille's, 153, 156

Conti, Prince de, 69

Coraline, Mlle., shocked at the conduct of Justine Favart, 256

Corneille, Pierre, 17, 26, 32 note, 58, 59, 96, 97 and note,
   114, 131, 132, 266, 294

Corneille, Thomas, 78, 92, 112

Coulanges, Madame de, (cited) 99

Couvreur, Robert, father of Adrienne Lecouvreur, 130, 131

Couvrigny, Père de (chaplain to the Bastille), his letter to
   the Lieutenant of Police, 186

Coypel, Charles, his portrait of Adrienne Lecouvreur, 142-145

Crébillon _père_, 124, 145, 227, 294, 300, 321 and note

Crébillon _fils_, 321 note

_Critique de l'École des femmes_, Molière's, 27

Cupis de Camargo, Ferdinand Joseph de (father of Mlle. de Camargo),
   descended from "one of the noblest families in Rome," 199;
  gives his daughter lessons in dancing, 200;
  accompanies her to Rouen, 201;
  and to Paris, 202;
  exercises unsleeping vigilance over her, 208;
  his letter to Cardinal de Fleury after her elopement with the
   Comte de Melun, 209-211

Cupis de Camargo, Marie-Anne de, birth and parentage, 199, 200;
  her precocious talent, 200;
  sent to Paris to take lessons from Mlle. Prévost, 200;
  _première danseuse_ at Brussels theatre, 201;
  goes to Rouen, 201;
  engaged at the Paris Opera, 201, 202;
  her triumphal _début_, 202 and note;
  her personal appearance, 202, 203;
  "abbreviates her skirts," 203, 204;
  triumphs over the intrigues of Mlle. Prévost and becomes queen of
   the Opera, 204-206;
  revolutionises the ballet, 206, 207;
  patronised by the Duchesse de Villars, 207;
  carried off by the Comte de Melun, 208-211;
  conceives "_une belle passion_" for the Marquis de Sourdis, 211, 212;
  becomes the mistress of the Comte de Clermont, 212-214;
  temporarily retires from the Opera, 214;
  does the honours of the Château de Berny, 215;
  discarded by the count for Mlle. Le Duc, 216;
  becomes the mistress of the Président de Rieux, 216, 217;
  receives a magnificent present, 217;
  breaks with the président and resumes her _liaison_ with the
   Marquis de Sourdis, 218;
  returns to the Opera, 219;
  rivalry between her and Mlle. Sallé, 219;
  verses addressed to them by Voltaire, 219;
  makes her _début_ as a singer, 220;
  definitely retires from the Opera, 220;
  her later years and death, 220, 221

Cupis de Camargo, Sophie de, 208, 209-211


D

D----, Baron, lover of Adrienne Lecouvreur, 141

Dancourt, 135

Dangeville, Mlle., inspires Mlle. Clairon with a desire to
   become an actress, 278-280;
  finds it "impossible to live" with Mlle. Clairon, 323

Des Boulmiers, (cited) 171

Desheys introduces Mlle. Clairon to the Comédie-Italienne, 281

Deshoulières, Madame, intrigues against Racine, 103

Desmares, Charlotte, 114, 124, 125, 126

Desmares, Guillaume, father of Marie de Champmeslé, 89

Desmares, Marie: _see_ Chevillet de Champmeslé, Marie

Desmares, Nicolas, brother of Marie de Champmeslé, 89, 114, 126

Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin, 69

Desnoiresterres, Gustave, (cited) 229 note, 239, 240 note, 242

Des Œillets, Mlle., 93, 94, 98

_Devineresse, La_, 78

Diderot, 347

_Don Garcie de Navarre_, Molière's, 301

_Don Juan_, Molière's, 65, 78, 79

Donneau de Visé, 8, 27, 78, 79, 99

Dubois, Abbé, (cited) 106

Dubois (actor of the Comédie-Française), his dispute with the
   surgeon Benoît, 328;
  expelled from the Comédie, 329;
  temporarily reinstated, 329;
  Mlle. Clairon and four of her colleagues decline to act with him, 330;
  his partisans create a riot in the theatre, 330, 331;
  resigns his place, 334

Dubois, Mlle., 329, 330, 331

Duclos, Mlle., 123, 124, 125, 126

Du Deffand, Marquise, 319

Du Gué, Madame, invites Adrienne Lecouvreur to perform at her hôtel, 131-133

Du Maine, Duchesse, 158

Du Marsais, César, his "_Bon, cela!_" 148;
  gives Adrienne Lecouvreur lessons in elocution, 149

Dumas d'Aigueberre, (cited) 152, 153

Dumesnil, Marie Françoise, a worthy successor to Adrienne Lecouvreur, 275;
  her triumph in _Mérope_, 276;
  compared with Mlle. Clairon, 292, 293;
  preferred by Louis XV. to the latter, 338

Dumolard, (cited) 242

Du Parc, Mlle., rejects the advances of Molière, 17;
  and of Pierre Corneille, 58;
  confidante of Armande Béjart, 45;
  Racine "experiences with her a sentiment which has the dignity
   of love," 107

Duras, Duc de, 327, 335, 336

Duronceray, Justine: _see_ Favart, Justine

Duronceray, M. (father of Justine Favart), 228;
  a tool in the hands of Maurice de Saxe, 254-256, 258, 259, 261

Duronceray, Madame (mother of Justine Favart), 228

Du Rouvray, M., 283


E

_École des femmes_, Molière's, 14, 33, 34

_École des maris_, Molière's, 33

Edwards, Mr. Sutherland, 43 note

_El Desden con el Desden_, Moreto's, 28

_Électre_, Crébillon's, 145, 312

_Électre_, Longpierre's, 33

_Électre_, Voltaire's, 322

Elizabeth Petrovna, Czarina of Russia, wooed by Maurice de Saxe, 173-175;
  invites Mlle. Clairon to St. Petersburg, 320

_Élomire hypocondre_, Le Boulanger de Chalussay's, 13, 14

Elzevirs, the, print an edition of _Élomire hypocondre_, 14

Épinay, Madame d', 315

Eugène of Savoy, 135, 169


F

_Fameuse Comédienne, La_, libel on Armande Béjart, 15, 21, 22,
   25, 40-54, 56, 72, 73, 82, 84

_Fausse Prude, La_, 121 note

Favart, Charles Nicolas Joseph, 272

Favart, Charles Paul, 225 and note

Favart, Charles Simon, his early life, 225, 226;
  produces _La Chercheuse d'esprit_, 227;
  director of the Opéra-Comique, 227;
  engages Justine Duronceray, 228;
  marries her, 229;
  invited by Maurice de Saxe to accompany him to Flanders, 231;
  celebrates the Marshal's entry into Brussels, 233;
  his adventures in Flanders, 234, 235;
  announces in verse Maurice's intention to give battle, 237, 238;
  his account of the battle of Lawfeld, 244, 245;
  learns of his wife's misconduct with the Marshal, 245;
  takes her to Brussels, 246;
  his letter to her, 247;
  prosecuted by the proprietors of the Brussels theatre, at the
   instigation of the Marshal, 249;
  returns to Paris and persuades Justine to leave Maurice, 251;
  flies to Strasburg, 251;
  Justine's letter to him, 253, 254;
  refuses money offered him by the Marshal, 259;
  reduced to terrible straits, 265;
  returns to Paris, 265;
  his verses upon the death of Maurice de Saxe, 266;
  regards love as "the greatest of all evils," 267;
  tolerates his wife's _liaison_ with the Abbé de Voisenon, 267;
  his later works, 267-272;
  his admiration for Mlle. Clairon's acting, 294

Favart, Justine, her parentage, 228;
  engaged at the Opéra-Comique, 228;
  makes her _début_, 229;
  her marriage with Favart, 229 and note, 230;
  her success in _Les Vendanges de Tempé_, 230;
  accompanies her husband to Flanders, 232;
  the object of a violent passion on the part of Maurice de Saxe, 239, 240;
  "possessed by the demon of conjugal love," 240;
  Maurice's letter to her, 240, 241;
  yields to the importunities of the Marshal, 242, 243 and note;
  refuses to continue the _liaison_, 244;
  confesses her misconduct to her husband, 245, 246;
  flies to Brussels, 246;
  Favart's letter to her, 247;
  continues her flight to Paris, 248;
  persuaded to resume her intimacy with the Marshal, 249, 250;
  again leaves him and declares that "her salvation is dearer to her
   than all the fortunes in the world," 250;
  her successful _début_ at the Comédie-Italienne, 252;
  her letter to her husband in hiding at Strasburg, 253;
  her father a tool in the hands of Maurice de Saxe, 254-255;
  _lettre de cachet_ issued against her, 255;
  leaves Paris to join her husband, 256;
  arrested, at the instigation of Maurice, and taken to Les
   Grands-Andelys, 257;
  her correspondence with her husband and Maurice de Saxe, 257-259;
  removed to a convent at Angers, 259;
  further correspondence with the Marshal, 259-262;
  exhorted by Mlle. Fleury to "become reasonable," 263;
  and by her sister-in-law, Marguerite Favart, to remain
   inflexible, 264, 265;
  terrified into submission to the Marshal, and is released, 265;
  returns to Paris, 265;
  her relations with the Abbé de Voisenon, 267;
  reappears at the Comédie-Italienne, 267;
  her extraordinary versatility, 268;
  strenuous for a reform in stage costume, 268;
  performances by her, 268-270;
  retires from the stage, 270;
  her last illness and death, 271

_Femmes savantes_, Molière's, 32

Fénelon, denounces the theatre, 120

Ferriol, Madame de, Adrienne Lecouvreur's letter to, 165-167, 169

_Fête de Vénus_, Marie de Champmeslé's appearance in, 92

_Fils ingrats_, Piron's, 155

Fléchier, denounces the theatre, 120

Flemming, Count, intrigues against Maurice de Saxe, 170, 176

_Florentin, Le_, Adrienne Lecouvreur's performances in, 155, 189

Floridor, 11;
  refused ecclesiastical burial, 70

Florimont, 55

Folleville, Président de, his affray with the Marquis de Cony, 282

Fonpré, Mlle., engages Adrienne Lecouvreur to play at Lille, 136

Fontaine, his portrait of Adrienne Lecouvreur, 137-139

Forcalquier, Madame de, 319

Fouché, Paul, (cited) 89

Fournier, Edouard, 9

Fréron, his attack upon Mlle. Clairon, 324-338

Fronsac, Duc de, lover of Mlle. Dubois, 329;
  interferes on behalf of her father, 329


G

Gaboriau, Emile, (cited) 37, 43 note, 203, 206, 215

Gaillard de la Bataille, his adventure with Mlle. Clairon, 283, 284;
  his libel upon her, 284, 285

Galitzin, Princess, 319, 320

Garrick, Sturtz's letter to him, 296-299;
  his opinion of Mlle. Clairon's acting, 299;
  commissions Gravelot to engrave a design in honour of Mlle. Clairon, 321;
  her letter to him, 333;
  offers her a loan, 334 note

Gaultier-Garguille, 4 and note

Gaussin, Jeanne, 275, 292, 306 note

Gautier, Mlle., 281, 285

Geoffroy (chemist), his report on the suspicious lozenges given
   to the Abbé Bouret, 184 note

_George Dandin_, Molière's, 33, 35-37, 145

Gesvres, Duc de, 158, 289

Gesvres, Duchesse de, 158

Goldsmith, Oliver, (cited) 295, 296

Goncourt, Edmond de, 298 note, 318

Gozlan, M. Léon, (cited) 236, 240

Grandval, 180 note, 195, 280

Grimarest, (cited) 21, 43 note, 36, 53, 62 note

Grimm, (cited) 203, 204, 247, 315

Gros-Guillaume, 4 and note

Guénégaud, Théâtre, 76 and note, 77, 78, 79

Guérin d'Estriché, marries the widow of Molière, 83-85

Gueullette, M., (cited) 111

Guichard, attempts to poison Lulli, 12, 13;
  repeats the accusation of Montfleury against Molière, 13;
  accuses Mlle. Molière of immorality, 82 and note

Guiche, Comte de, his supposed relations with Mlle. Molière, 45
   and note, 46, 47, 51, 57

Guise, Duc de, 100


H

Hardouin de Péréfixe, Archbishop of Paris, issues an order
   against _Tartuffe_, 70

Harlay de Chanvalon, Archbishop of Paris, his conduct in regard
   to the funeral of Molière, 63, 64, 65, 68

Hawkins, Mr. Frederick, (cited) 292

Henley, Mr. W. E., (cited) 37

Henrietta of England, Duchesse d'Orléans, 12, 27, 96, 97

Hérault (Lieutenant of Police), his conduct in _l'affaire_ Bouret,
   181, 182, 184 note, 187

Hermite, Jean Baptiste de l', 19

Hermite, Tristan de l', 19

Hervé, Marie (mother of the Béjarts), 1, 7-10, 20

_Histoire de Mademoiselle Cronel, dite Frétillon_, libel on
   Mlle. Clairon, 284, 285

Holstein, Princess of, 240 note, 242

Hôtel de Bourgogne, its amalgamation with the Théâtre Guénégaud, 84

Hugues de Giversac, d', admirer of Mlle. Clairon, 304


I

_Impromptu de l'hôtel de Condé, l'_, 11

_Impromptu de Versailles_, Molière's, 11, 27, 33, 34, 35

Innocent XII., Pope, 121 note

_Iphigénie en Aulide_, Racine's, 100-102, 116


J

Jal, Auguste, (cited) 8 note

_Journal de Police_, (cited) 217, 218

_Judith_, Boyer's, 114-116


K

Kemble, John, 351

Klinglin, Comte François de, his _liaison_ with Adrienne Lecouvreur, 144, 145

Königsmark, Aurora von (mother of Maurice de Saxe), 169, 170, 174


L

La Chalotais, Marquis de, 158, 163, 164, 168

La Fare, Marquis de, 107

La Fayette, Madame de, 103

La Fontaine, 16, 17 and note, 96, 107;
  (cited) 95, 106

La Grange, Charles: _see_ Varlet de la Grange

La Grange-Chancel, 116

La Guérault, Antoine, 89

La Harpe, 324, 325

La Janière, his reports to the Lieutenant of Police on Mlle.
   Clairon, 285, 286, 287, 301, 303

Lambert, Marquise de, 158, 160

La Morlière, 313 note

La Motte, Mlle., 251, 252

Lancret, his portraits of Mlle. de Camargo, 221

Lang, Mr. Andrew, (cited) 10

Languet de Gergy (curé of Saint-Sulpice), his conduct in regard to
   the burial of Adrienne Lecouvreur, 192, 194

La Noue, 281, 285, 286, 289

La Paute, 101 note

La Popelinière, 287, 302

Laporte, Abbé de, (cited) 93, 94

Larive, 339, 340, 342, 343, 347

Laroque, 93

Larroumet, M. Gustave, 129;
  (cited) 4, 15, 18, 19, 22, 29, 43, 44, 48, 49, 54, 62 note,
   81, 111, 122, 123, 136, 138, 143, 157, 190

La Thorillière, 97

Lauraguais, Duc de, 289

Lauzun, Comte (afterwards Duc) de, his supposed _liaison_
   with Mlle. Molière, 45-47

Lawfeld, Battle of, 244, 245

Le Boulanger de Chalussay, his _Élomire hypocondre_, 13, 14

Le Brun, Père, denounces the theatre, 120 note

Lecouvreur, Adrienne, her attraction for French writers, 129;
  her birth and parentage, 130;
  comes to Paris, 130;
  takes part in a performance, by children, at the hôtel of
   Madame du Gué, 131-133;
  and at the Temple, 133, 134;
  receives lessons from the actor Le Grand, 135, 136;
  accepts an engagement at Lille, 136;
  her career as a provincial actress, 136, 137;
  her portrait by Charles Coypel and Fontaine, 137-139;
  her beauty attested by her contemporaries, 139, 140;
  possesses a very susceptible nature, 140, 141;
  her early love affairs, 141, 142;
  her letters to the actor Clavel, 142-144;
  her _liaison_ with the Comte de Klinglin, 144, 145;
  her children, 145;
  her brilliant _début_ at the Comédie-Française, 145;
  her natural style of elocution the principal cause of her success, 146-148;
  her debt to César du Marsais, 148, 149;
  bitterly opposed by the champions of the old school of
   declamation, 149-151;
  her triumph assured by the support of Baron, 151, 152;
  her wonderful by-play, 152;
  contemporary criticisms of her acting, 152, 153;
  her faults as an actress, 153;
  her principal rôles in tragedy, 152, 153;
  quarrel between Voltaire and the Chevalier de Rohan in her
   dressing-room, 154, 155;
  does not excel in comedy, 155;
  her costumes, 155-157;
  her unique social position, 157-159;
  complains of the burden of her social duties, 159, 160;
  her favourite occupations, 160, 161;
  her reputed lovers, 161;
  her relations with Voltaire, 161, 162;
  resolved to abjure _la vie passionnelle_, 162, 163;
  rejects the advances of La Chalotais, 163, 164;
  the object of a violent passion on the part of d'Argental, 164, 165;
  her letter to his mother, Madame de Ferriol, 165-168;
  becomes the mistress of Maurice de Saxe, 171;
  secret of her devotion to him, 172;
  disposes of her jewels to assist him in his candidature for
   the throne of Courland, 175;
  unjustly accused by him of infidelity, 177;
  charge against the Duchesse de Bouillon of having attempted
   to poison her, 179-188;
  her last appearance on the stage, 188-190;
  her death, 190;
  the question of poison considered, 190, 191;
  the scandal of her burial, 191-195;
  her _éloge_ written by Voltaire, 195, 196

Le Duc, Mlle., supplants Mlle, de Camargo in the affections of
   the Comte de Clermont, 216-218

Ledoux, plays a trick upon Président Lescot, 80-82

Le Grand, 134, 135 and note, 193 note

Le Kain, 156, 292, 313 and note, 330, 336 note

Lemaure, Mlle., 199

Lemontey, 129; (cited) 162, 172, 173

Lenclos, Ninon de, 108-111

Le Roy, Philippe, lover of Adrienne Lecouvreur, 141, 142

Lerys, François Joseph, father of Mlle. Clairon, 276

Le Sage, (cited) 115

Lescot, Président, his adventure with Mlle. Molière, 78-82

Loiseleur, M. Jules, 57;
  (cited) 9, 10, 15

Loret, 16

Loo, Jean Baptiste van, 137

Loo, Carle van, 300;
  his portrait of Mlle. Clairon, 319 note, 350

Louis XIII., 6, 19

Louis XIV., 12, 27, 64, 84, 114, 206

Louis XV., 338

Louis XVI., 325 note

Löwendal, Maréchal, 231, 247, 265

Lulli, 12, 13, 75, 82

Luxembourg, Duc de, 302


M

_Machabées_, Le Motte's, 123

Maintenon, Madame de, 121 note

_Malade imaginaire_, Molière's, 32, 61-63, 71

_Mariage forcé_, Molière's, 29, 33, 35

_Mariamne_, Voltaire's, 154

Marie Leczinska, Queen of France, 154, 326

Mariette (_danseuse_), 204

Marlborough, Charles Spencer, Duke of, his propositions rejected
   by Mlle. Clairon, 287 and note

Markheim, Mr. Gegg, (cited) 53, 54

Marmontel, 269;
  his relations with Mlle. Clairon, 307-313;
  assists in her apotheosis of Voltaire, 335;
  (cited) 243 note, 293 note, 336

Mars, Mlle., 30

Massillon, denounces the theatre, 120

Maugras, M. Gaston, (cited) 120

Maurepas, Comte de, 192

_Maximes et refléxions sur la comédie_, Bossuet's, 119

Mazarin, Cardinal, 68

_Médecin malgré lui_, Molière's, 29, 49

_Médée_, Longpierre's, 116, 300

Meister, Henri, 347

_Mélicerte_, Molière's, 49, 56, 85

Melun, Comte de, carries off Mlle. de Camargo, 208-211

_Mercure de France_, (cited) 24, 148, 152, 153, 155, 288, 301

_Mercure galant_, (cited) 25

Merlin, Père (curé of Saint-Sulpice), refuses ecclesiastical
   burial to Molière, 63, 68

Meusnier (police-inspector), 229, 255-256, 257;
  (cited) 214, 242, 253, 254, 265

Michelet, 139;
  (cited) 137, 138

Mignard, Pierre (painter), 53, 60

_Misanthrope_, Molière's, 29, 31, 33, 37-39, 53, 54, 55, 78

_Mithridate_, Racine's, 99, 100

Modène, Comte de, 5, 6, 7, 9, 18

Modène, Comtesse de, 5 and note, 9

Molé, 292, 330, 337 and note

Molière, his marriage with Armande Béjart, 3;
  abominable charge brought against him by Montfleury _père_, 11, 12;
  the accusation repeated by Guichard in _Élomire hypocondre_
   and in _La Fameuse Comédienne_, 12-15;
  question of his relations with Madeleine Béjart considered, 15-20;
  becomes the lover of Mlle. de Brie, 17;
  allusions to his relations with his wife in his plays, 33-40;
  his jealousy, 40;
  separated from his wife, 48;
  supposed conversation with Chapelle at Auteuil, 49-55;
  resumes his _liaison_ with Mlle. de Brie, 55;
  but still adores his wife, 55;
  reconciled to her, 55, 56;
  goes to reside in the Rue de Richelieu, 60;
  his health failing, 60, 61;
  insists on playing in _Malade imaginaire_, 62;
  his death, 62, 63;
  refused ecclesiastical burial, 63;
  compromise made, 64;
  effect of his _Tartuffe_ upon the attitude of the Church
   to the theatre, 69, 70;
  his funeral, 70-72;
  not entirely blameless for his domestic unhappiness, 73, 74;
  his genius not fully appreciated by his contemporaries, 83

Molière, Madeleine, 85

Molière, Mlle.: _see_ Béjart, Armande Monaco, Princesse de, 100

Montalant, M. de, marries Madeleine Molière, 85

Montausier, Duc de, 38

Montespan, Madame de, 105, 106, 212

Montfleury, _père_, his abominable charge against Molière, 11,
   12, 13, 15, 18, 19, 40

Montfleury, _fils_, 11, 40

Monval, M. Georges, 130, 132, 163;
  (cited) 139, 193 and note

_Mort de Pompée, La_, 156

Mounet-Sully, M., 138

Myesses, the Demoiselles, prosecute Favart, 249, 251


N

Nantes, Mlle. de, 212

Navarre, Mlle. (mistress of Maurice de Saxe), 243 note, 307, 308

Necker, Madame, (cited) 270

Nicole, Père, denounces the theatre, 69

Noury, M., (cited) 90, 113


O

_Œdipe_, Voltaire's, 189

Oligny, Mlle. d', 325 and note, 326

Orléans, Gaston, Duc d', 6

Orléans, Duchesse d' (Princess Palatine), 125, 213

Orléans, Regent d', 125, 213

_Orphelin de la Chine_, Voltaire's, 294, 295, 300, 314


P

Paléologue, M. Maurice, (cited) 139, 140, 171, 172

Parabère, Comtesse de, 189 and note

Parfaict, Brothers, 72;
  (cited) 25, 95, 111

_Parisien_, Charles de Champmeslé's, 84, 85, 113

Parmentier, 231, 235, 239

Peterborough, Earl of, 161

Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, 145

_Phèdre_, Pradon's, 103-105

_Phèdre et Hippolyte_, Racine's, 102-106, 112, 290, 291, 351

Piron, 158

Poisson, Mlle., (cited) 24, 25

Poisson, Philippe, satirises Adrienne Lecouvreur in _l'Actresse
   nouvelle_, 151

_Polyeucte_, Pierre Corneille's, 135, 136

Pompadour, Madame de, 214, 322

Pont-de-Veyle, Marquis de, 158

Préault (sculptor), 138

Préville, 292

Prévost, Mlle, (_danseuse_), gives lessons to Mlle. de Camargo, 200;
  intrigues against her, 202, 204;
  supplanted by her in the affections of the public, 204-206

_Princesse d' Élide_, Molière's, 28, 29, 45, 46

Prungent (intendant of the Duchess of Brunswick), 161

_Psyché_, 32 and note, 56, 57, 59, 60


Q

Quinault, Jean Baptiste, 135

Quinaults, the, 150 and note

Quinault-Dufresne, 180 note


R

Rachel, Mlle., 30, 129, 156

Racine, Jean, enraptured at Marie de Champmeslé's rendering of Hermione, 94;
  gives her lessons in elocution, 94, 95;

  makes her his mistress, 95;
  his dramatic duel with Pierre Corneille, 96-98;
  his _Bajazet_, 98;
  his _Mithridate_, 99;
  his _Iphigénie en Aulide_, 100-102;
  writes his _Phèdre_, 102, 103;
  the Duchesse de Bouillon and Madame Deshoulières persuade Pradon
   to enter the lists against him, 103;
  production of the two _Phèdres_, 104;
  discreditable tactics of Madame de Bouillon to ruin his play, 104, 105;
  he eventually triumphs, 105;
  character of his intimacy with Marie de Champmeslé, 107, 108;
  breaks off the connection, 111;
  probable reasons for his withdrawal from dramatic authorship, 111,
   112 and note;
  his letter to his son, Louis Racine, on Mlle. de Champmeslé's death,
   122, 123

Racine, Louis, 112 note, 122, 123;
  (cited) 94, 96

Régnier, 129;
  (cited) 138, 148, 150

Revel, Comte de, 107

Riccoboni, (cited) 147

Riccoboni, Madame, (cited) 338

Richelieu, Abbé de, his supposed _liaison_ with Mlle. Molière, 44, 45, 46

Richelieu, Cardinal de, 58, 266

Richelieu, Duc de, 211, 329, 334, 336

Rieux, Président de, 216, 217, 218

Robinet, (cited) 29, 31, 60

Rohault (physician), 53

Rohan, Cardinal de, 82

Rohan, Chevalier de, his quarrel with Voltaire, 154, 155

Rotrou, Jean, 16

Roucoux, Battle of, 238

Roullé, Père, denounces Molière, 70


S

Sainte-Beuve, 129, 179;
  (cited) 146, 190, 242

Saint-René Taillandier, M. de, (cited) 242, 266 note

Saint-Marc (police-inspector), his reports to Berryer, 304-306

Sallé, Mlle., 219

Samson, 351

Saxe, Maurice, Maréchal de, his early life, 169, 170;
  comes to Paris, 170;
  his character, 170;
  becomes the lover of Adrienne Lecouvreur, 171, 172;
  her beneficial influence over him, 173;
  his candidature for the throne of Courland, 173-176;
  returns to Paris, 176, 177;
  unjustly accuses Adrienne Lecouvreur of infidelity, 177, 178;
  the object of an unrequited passion on the part of the Duchesse de
   Bouillon, 179, 180;
  present at Adrienne Lecouvreur's death, 191;
  unable to prevent the indignity offered to her remains, 194;
  invites Favart to accompany him to Flanders, 231;
  his entry into Brussels, 232-234;
  orders Favart to announce from the stage his intention to engage
   the enemy, 236-238;
  wins the Battle of Roucoux, 238;
  conceives a violent passion for Justine Favart, 240;
  his letter to her, 240, 241;
  steals Voltaire's verses, 241 and note;
  makes Justine his mistress, 242, 243 and note;
  discarded by her, 244;
  wins the Battle of Lawfeld, 244, 245;
  determined to recover his prey, 245;
  furious at Justine's escape, 247, 248;
  instigates the proprietors of the Brussels Theatre to prosecute
   Favart, 249;
  compels Justine to return to him, but loses her again, 250, 251;
  continues his persecution of her husband, 251, 252;
  persuades Justine's father to apply for a _lettre de cachet_
   against her, 254;
  causes her to be arrested and conveyed to Les Grands-Andelys, 257;
  his correspondence with her, 258-262;
  compels her to submit to him, 264, 265;
  his death, 266 and note;
  Marmontel's liberties with his seraglio, 307

Scanapiecq, Marie (mother of Mlle. Clairon), 276-281, 282, 284, 285

Schlegel, August Wilhelm von, (cited) 39, 135

Seine, Mlle., de, 150

Sévigné, Madame de, (cited) 59, 96, 98, 99, 108, 109, 110

Sévigné, Charles de, 107, 108-111

_Sicilien_, Molière's, 49

_Siège de Calais_, De Belloy's, 300, 328-331, 335

Soubise, Prince de, 302

Soulié, Eudore, 9, 15

Sourdis, Marquis de, 211, 212, 218

Sturtz, his letter to Garrick on Mlle. Clairon, 296-299


T

Tallemant des Réaux, 16

_Tancrède_, Voltaire's, 301

_Tartuffe_, Molière's, 29, 65, 70, 155

Taschereau, M., 43 note

Théâtre du Marais, its amalgamation with Molière's troupe, 77, 78

Thiériot, 161

Titon du Tillet, (cited) 72, 158

Tourelle (courtesan), personates Mlle. Molière, 80-81

Tribou (singer), 180 note

Turlupin, 4 and note


V

Valbelle d'Oraison, Comte de, _amant de cœur_ of Mlle. Clairon, 318, 319;
  offers to make her his wife and accompany her to Russia, 320;
  has a gold medal struck in her honour, 320;
  quarrels with her, 341

Varlet de la Grange, Charles, 73, 75, 76 and note, 78

Vestris, Madame, 171 note

Vigée Lebrun, Madame, (cited) 347

Villars, Duchesse de, patronises Mlle. de Camargo, 207

Villeguillon, M. de, 317

Villepinte, M. de, 322, 351

Villeroi, Duchesse de, 332, 337

Voisenon, Abbé de, his relations with Justine Favart, 267;
  his _bon mot_ at the first representation of _Les Amours de
   Bastien et Bastienne_, 268;
  overcomes Justine's unwillingness to renounce the theatre, 271;
  (cited) 265

Voltaire, production of his _Mariamne_, 154;
  his quarrel with the Chevalier de Rohan, 154, 155;
  indebted to Adrienne Lecouvreur for the favourable reception
   of his _l'Indiscret_, 155;
  his relations with Adrienne Lecouvreur, 161, 162;
  present at her death, 191;
  demands that an autopsy should be held, 191;
  refuses to believe that she was poisoned, 192 note;
  endeavours to bring about a revolt at the Comédie-Française, 195;
  his poem upon Adrienne's death, 195;
  writes her _éloge_, 195, 196;
  his verses to Mlles. Camargo and Sallé, 275;
  his _Orphelin de la Chine_, 294 and 314 and note;
  triumph of Mlle. Dumesnil in his _Mérope_, 176;
  success of his _Tancrède_, 301;
  his admiration of Mlle. Clairon's acting, 312;
  visited by Mlle. Clairon at Ferny, 334, 335;
  apotheosised by her and Marmontel, 335 note


W

Walpole, Horace, (cited) 336, 344

Würtemberg, Prince of, sups with Mlle. Gaussin, 306 note


X

Ximenès, Marquis de, lover of Mlle. Clairon, 317;
  his love killed by a _bon mot_, 317;
  his retort, 318


Z

_Zaïre_, Voltaire's, Mlle. Gaussin's acting in, 275


Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO.

Edinburgh & London


FOOTNOTES:

[1] Their real names were Hugues Guéru, Robert Guérin, and Henri
Legrand. Apprenticed to bakers in the Faubourg Saint-Laurent, they
deserted their masters to play in a tennis-court near the Estrapade, a
machine invented, in the days of François I., for the benefit of
heretics. Turlupin usually played a roguish valet, Gros-Guillaume a
pedant, and Gaultier-Garguille a supremely stupid old man. They
eventually joined the company of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, whose
popularity was immensely strengthened by their inclusion.--Hawkins,
"Annals of the French Stage," i. 51.

[2] The Civil Lieutenant was, after the Provost of Paris, the first
magistrate of the Châtelet; to him belonged, among other functions, the
supervision of guardians and trustees of children under age and of
_conseils de famille_.

[3] He was a child of seven or eight, and his father's object in
inserting his name in the _acte de naissance_ was probably to annoy his
unfortunate wife.

[4] This is Jal's conclusion. While compiling his famous _Dictionnaire
critique de Biographie et d'Histoire_, he made an exhaustive search of
the registers of all the old parishes of Paris--there were
sixty-eight--but failed to discover either the _acte de naissance_ of
Armande or the death certificate of Joseph Béjart, which two events must
have taken place within a few days of each other.

[5] Jal, _Dictionnaire critique de Biographie et d'Histoire_, Article
"Béjart."

[6] His real name was Zacharie Jacob. A gentleman by birth, he had been
educated for the army and had served the Duc de Guise as page, but his
passion for the theatre led him to become an actor. In spite of the
ridicule to which he was subjected by Molière, he was an excellent
tragedian, and in parts made up of "transports and bursts of rage" much
admired. His death, which occurred in 1668, is said to have been caused
by over-exertion as Orestes in Racine's _Andromaque_.

[7] _Œuvres complètes de J. Racine_ (_édit. d'Aime-Martin_), vi. 136.

[8] See p. 33, _infra_.

[9] M. Gustave Larroumet, _La Comédie de Molière, l'auteur et le
milieu_, p. 85.

[10] Hawkins, "Annals of the French Stage," ii. 61.

[11] They were both married women and the wives of actors, who joined
Molière's company at the same time. At this period, and indeed for long
afterwards, actresses bore officially the title of "demoiselle," as did
all women other than the wives of the nobility, or of ennobled citizens,
or daughters of noble parents who had married citizens: these were
styled "dame" and "madame." Thus, we find Colbert, before he rose to
fame, "offering a coach to _Mademoiselle_, his wife;" the mother of La
Bruyère described in a legal document as a "_demoiselle veuve_"; while
La Fontaine, in his correspondence, invariably refers to his wife as
"_Mademoiselle_." People spoke also of _la_ Du Parc, _la_ de Brie, _la_
Béjart, _la_ Molière, and so forth, a custom which has continued to this
day. This _la_, which appears so contemptuous, was not the exclusive
property of actresses or of women of the people. Madame de Sévigné and
Saint-Simon employ it for ladies of the fashionable world, but, by
preference, for those of medium virtue: _la_ Beauvais, _la_ Montespan,
&c.; and eighteenth century writers frequently make use of it in
referring to the mistresses of Louis XV.: _la_ Châteauroux, _la_
Pompadour, _la_ Du Barry. Nowadays, however, it is no longer a term of
contempt; "it has become a particle which confers nobility and
immortality on great singers and _tragédiennes_, if the race is not
extinct."--M. J. Noury, _La Champmeslé_, p. 94.

[12] M. Henri Chardon, _Nouveaux documents sur la vie de Molière: M. de
Modène, ses deux femmes, et Madeleine Béjart_.

[13] Jal, _Dictionnaire critique de Biographie et d'Histoire_: Article
"Béjart."

[14] M. Henri Chardon, _Nouveaux documents sur la vie de Molière: M. de
Modène, ses deux femmes, et Madeleine Béjart_.

[15] M. Larroumet, _La Comédie de Molière_, 105 _et seq._

[16] _La Comédie de Molière_, p. 134.

[17] Molière was responsible for the plot, the prologue, the first act,
and the first scenes of the second and third acts; Quinault contributed
all the lyrical matter, with the exception of the Italian plainte,
which, like the music, was by Lulli; Pierre Corneille wrote the rest.

[18] Mr. W. E. Henley in the _Cornhill Magazine_, xli. 445.

[19] Gaboriau's _Les comédiennes adorées_, 269.

[20] "Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature."

[21] _La Comédie de Molière_, p. 146.

[22] The first edition, now very rare, a copy of which is in the
possession of the British Museum, contains a "foreword" from the
bookseller to the reader, which is so curious that we make no apology
for transcribing it:

"I know neither the author of this history, nor the hand from whence it
came to me. A courier who, in passing through this town, purchased some
books at my shop, made me a present of it, and assured me that it is
true in every detail. I believe it to be incumbent upon me to give this
present to the public, in order that it may share the principal
adventures of this famous actress, as celebrated by her coquetry as by
the reputation of the late Molière, her first husband.

"The same courier assured me that the author of this history has
included therein only the chief adventures which happened to this
actress, having passed over an infinity of other little amorous
incidents, as trifles unworthy of his book or his heroine. I am
persuaded that there is not an actress in France whose career would not
afford sufficient material for a similar history. But, while we await
their appearance, I give you this one, precisely as it came into my
hands, without adding or subtracting anything. May it afford you
diversion! Adieu."

[23] M. Gustave Larroumet, _La Comédie de Molière_, p. 149.

[24] Among the writers who accept wholly, or in part, the statements of
_La Fameuse Comédienne_ may be mentioned Grimarest, Taschereau, M.
Loiseleur, and Gaboriau, though the last-named writer ought not perhaps
to be taken very seriously. The article on Armande in Mr. Sutherland
Edwards's "Idols of the French Stage"--hitherto, we believe, the only
attempt to give any detailed account of the actress in English--is
admittedly largely based on the information contained in this libel.

[25] Armand de Gramont, Comte de Guiche, brother of Philibert de
Gramont, the hero of Count Hamilton's Memoirs.

[26] Antoine Nompar de Caumont, Comte, and afterwards Duc, de Lauzun,
the beloved of _la Grande Mademoiselle_, who so nearly succeeded in
securing the hand and vast possessions of that princess, and who, in
November 1671, was imprisoned at Pignerol, where he remained ten years.
For an account of his adventures, see the author's "Madame de Montespan"
(London, Harpers: New York, Scribners: 1903).

[27] When Molière married, he went to live in the Rue de Richelieu. In
the following year, however, he removed to the Béjarts' house situated
at the corner of the Rue Saint-Thomas du Louvre and the Place du
Palais-Royal. It was a very large house, capable of accommodating two or
three families, and Mlle. de Brie had for some time occupied part of it.
Molière's object in residing there seems to have been to allow his young
wife to enjoy the society of her family, but there can be no doubt that
he committed a very grave mistake in residing under the same roof as a
woman with whom he had formerly had a _liaison_.

[28] _Études sur la vie et les œuvres de Molière._

[29] _La Comédie de Molière_, p. 158.

[30] Molière's troupe only played three times a week, on Sundays,
Tuesdays, and Fridays; on the other days, the theatre was occupied by
the Italian comedians. Friday was the favourite day for the production
of new plays. The playhouses were also frequently closed: during Holy
Week and the week following Easter, during the illness of a member of
the Royal Family, on public fête days, and also, occasionally, when any
particularly notorious criminal was to be executed in the Place de
Grève. Thus, there were no performances on July 17, 1676, the day on
which Madame de Brinvilliers, the poisoner, paid the penalty of her
crimes. The play began at four o'clock and was always over before seven.
Early in the century, the curtain, in winter, seems to have risen at two
o'clock, in order to allow of the audience reaching their homes before
the footpads were abroad.

[31] Grimarest places Molière's income as high as 30,000 livres, a sum,
according to M. Larroumet's computation, equal to 150,000 francs to-day.

[32] Cited by M. Gaston Maugras, _Les Comédiens hors la loi_, p. 122.

[33] Under the term actor, the early Fathers seem to have included not
only actors in the modern acceptation of the word, but mimes, jugglers,
acrobats, gladiators, chariot-drivers, and, in fact, almost all public
performers.

[34] M. Gaston Maugras, _Les Comédiens hors la loi_, passim.

[35] M. Gaston Maugras, _Les Comédiens hors la loi_, p. 124.

[36] "It is true that the loss of Molière is irreparable," writes the
Comte de Limoges to Bussy-Rabutin on March 3, 1673. "I believe that no
one will be less affected than his wife; she acted in comedy yesterday."
And Bussy answers: "So far as I can see, her mourning will not cost her
much."

[37] It was the "orator's" duty to come before the curtain to make
announcements or crave the indulgence of the audience in a neat little
speech, flowered with compliments and sparkling with witty allusions. It
was a very important post and was always filled by an actor of
distinction. Thus Bellerose and Floridor were the orators of the Hôtel
de Bourgogne, Mondory of the Marais, while Molière was for some years
his own bellman. La Grange, however, appears to have excelled them all.
"Although," says Chappuzeau, "he is but of middle height, his presence
is good, and his air easy and elegant. You are charmed before he opens
his lips. As he has a great deal of fire and of the decent boldness an
orator should have, it is a pleasure to listen to him when he comes on
to speak the compliment. That one with which he regaled his audience at
the opening of the theatre of the Troupe du Roi (Hôtel Guénégaud) was in
the best imaginable taste. What he had excellently contrived he spoke
with marvellous grace."

[38] Guichard was convicted of the charge of attempted poisoning,
declared "infamous," and sentenced to the _amende honorable_ and to pay
a heavy fine, while the printers of the memoir in which he had libelled
Armande and others were also punished. He appealed against the sentence,
which, in the following year, was quashed, a result undoubtedly due to
the fact that he had powerful protectors at Court.

[39] An epigram ran:--

    "Elle avoit un mari d'esprit, qu'elle aimoit peu,
     Elle en prend un de chair, qu'elle aime d'avantage."


[40] M. Larroumet, _La Comédie de Molière_, p. 174.

[41] No. 11 Rue des Pierres. See Arsène Houssaye's interesting account
of a visit paid to it, in his beautifully illustrated work, _Molière: sa
femme et sa fille_ (Paris: Dentu, 1880), p. 129 _et seq._

[42] Paul Foucher, _Les Coulisses du Passé_.

[43] And not of a _marchana des rubans_, of the Pont-au-Change, as so
many writers state, so that the epigram of Le Noble:--

    "Tu les as mesuré sans doute [tes vers] à l'aune antique
     Dont jadis ton papa mesurant ses rubans,"

loses its point.

[44] It was performed twenty-one times, and the average receipts were
680 livres. But for twenty-four representations of Molière's comedy, the
_Bourgeois gentilhomme_, which was played concurrently with _Tite et
Bérénice_, the average takings were 1000 livres. Corneille received 2000
livres for his play, the same amount as Molière had paid him for
_Attila_.

[45] See p. 108 _infra._

[46] Letter of January 13, 1673.

[47] Letter of March 1673.

[48] Letter of April 1673.

[49] Letter of February 24, 1673.

[50] _Les divertissements de Versailles donnez par le roy à toute sa
cour, au rétour de la conqueste de la Franche-Comté, en l'anneé 1674_:
_Paris_, 1676, folio. A copy of this very rare and valuable work, with
its beautiful engravings by La Paute and Chauveau, is in the possession
of the British Museum.

[51] Hawkins, "Annals of the French Stage," ii. 116.

[52] M. J. Noury, _La Champmeslé_, p. 193.

[53] Letter of Madame de Sévigné to Madame de Grignan, March 13, 1671.

[54] "You know," he wrote to his son, Louis Racine, "what I have said to
you about operas and plays; there will probably be some performances at
Marly; the King and the Court are aware of the scruples which I
entertain about attending them, and they will have a poor opinion of
you, if you show so little regard for my sentiments. I know that you
will not be dishonoured before men should you go to the play, but do you
count it nothing to be dishonoured before God?"

[55] Charles Boileau, Abbé of Beaulieu, and a member of the Academy.

[56] Here is the renunciation: "In the presence of M. Claude Botte de la
Barondière, priest, doctor of theology of the Sorbonne, curé of the
church and parish of Saint-Sulpice, at Paris, and the witnesses
hereinafter named, Guillaume Marconnau de Brécourt has declared that,
having formerly followed the profession of an actor, he renounces it,
and promises, with a true and sincere heart, to exercise it no more,
even if restored to full and complete health."--Extract from the
Register of Saint-Sulpice, cited by M. Gaston Maugras, _Les Comédiens
hors la loi_, p. 154 _note_.

It appears also to have been customary in the case of an actor to pin to
the register of deaths the following paper: "The said person was not
absolved and received into holy ground until after having publicly
renounced the profession he had formerly exercised, by an act before the
notaries."

[57] Among Bossuet's supporters was Père Lebrun, of the Oratory, who
published a _Discours sur la comédie_. One of this good father's chief
objections to the theatre was "because it is perpetually turning into
Ridicule parents who strive to prevent their children from contracting
love-matches."

[58] According to Saint-Simon, the immediate cause of their expulsion
was the representation of a licentious comedy, called _La Fausse Prude_,
in which character Madame de Maintenon was easily recognised.

[59] In 1696, the French actors, desirous of testing the legality of the
attitude of the Church towards them, addressed a petition to Innocent
XII., in which, after representing that they performed in Paris "none
but honest plays, purged of all obscenities, and more calculated to
influence the faithful for good than for evil, and inspire them with a
horror of vice and a love of virtue," they besought him to inform them
if the bishops had the right to excommunicate them. The Holy See,
however, unwilling to provoke a conflict with the independent French
bishops, who, it well knew, would not hesitate to resist its orders, if
it took the part of the actors, referred the petitioners to the
Archbishop of Paris, "that they might be treated according to the law."
A similar fate awaited a second appeal to Clement XI. in 1701.

[60] M. Gaston Maugras, _Les Comédiens hors la loi_, p. 154 _et seq._

[61] _Adrienne Lecouvreur_, by Eugène Scribe and Ernest Legouvé, first
represented at the Théâtre de la République, April 1849.

[62] It was only when she became an actress that Adrienne prefaced her
patronymic by the article "_Le_," in order to give it a more artistic
sound. For a long time she wrote her name as two words.

[63] Several writers have stated that she was his mistress, but this is
incorrect. It was her cousin, the laundress's daughter, who occupied
that position.

[64] _Études de littérature et d'art: Adrienne Lecouvreur_, p. 124.

[65] _Le Mercure de France_, March 1730.

[66] _Profils de Femmes: Adrienne Lecouvreur._

[67] Note the change from the familiar and affectionate "_ton_" of the
previous letter to the formal "_votre_."

[68] _Causeries du Lundi_, I. 161.

[69] Lemontey, _Notice sur Adrienne Lecouvreur_.

[70] Cited by M. Georges Monval, _Lettres d'Adrienne Lecouvreur_.

[71] There were, at this period, four members of the Quinault family in
the troupe of the Comédie-Française: two brothers, Jean Baptiste
Quinault and Abraham Alexis Quinault-Dufresne, and two sisters,
Marie-Anne Quinault and Jeanne Françoise Quinault.

[72] _Mercure de France_, March 1730.

[73] In Thomas Corneille's tragedy, _Le Comte d'Essex_.

[74] According to another version of this affair, it was the challenge,
and not the quarrel, which took place in Adrienne's dressing-room.

[75] _Études du littérature et d'art: Adrienne Lecouvreur_, p. 141.

[76] _Lettres d'Adrienne Lecouvreur_, by M. Georges Monval, p. 252.

[77] The acceptance of this charge must have required some little
courage on the good councillor's part, since rumour credited him with
being something more than a friend to the actress, which is perhaps not
altogether a matter for surprise, seeing that he was so frequent a
visitor in the Rue des Marais that he "passed for the master of the
house, and was addressed by the servants as 'Monsieur' only, without the
addition of his name."

[78] M. Paléologue, _Profils de femmes: Adrienne Lecouvreur_.

[79] For a specimen of Maurice's orthography, see page 240, _note_,
_infra._

[80] And not £30,000, as Carlyle and so many writers have stated.

[81] Carlyle's "History of Frederick the Great," ii. 160.

[82] Louise Henriette Françoise of Lorraine (Mlle. de Guise), daughter
of the Prince and Princesse d'Harcourt, and fourth wife of Emmanuel
Théodose de la Tour d'Auvergne, Duc de Bouillon, whom she married in
1725. Here is a contemporary portrait of her: "Very pretty; rather tall
than short; neither stout nor slender; an oval face; a broad forehead;
black eyes and eyebrows; brown hair; very wide mouth and very red lips."

[83] She numbered among her lovers the Comte de Clermont, a Prince of
the Blood, the actors Quinault-Dufresne and Grandval of the
Comédie-Française, and a singer of the Opera, named Tribou.

[84] The real obstacle was probably an Opera girl named Cartou, of whom
Maurice was desperately enamoured. According to Grimm, this young lady
followed her lover to the famous Camp of Mühlberg, in Saxony, where she
had the honour of supping with two kings, Augustus II. of Poland and
Frederick William of Prussia, and two future kings, Augustus III. and
Frederick the Great.

[85] His name was Bouret, and he was the son of a government official at
Metz. He was at this time nineteen years of age, and had come to Paris,
some months before, to study painting.

[86] The Duchesse and her stepson's wife, the Princesse de Bouillon
(Marie Charlotte Sobieska), wife of Charles Godefroi de la Tour
d'Auvergne, Prince de Bouillon, whom she married in 1724. Several
writers have confounded the two ladies, and Scribe and Legouvé, in their
tragedy, _Adrienne Lecouvreur_, make the _princess_, and not the
duchess, the rival and murderess of the heroine.

[87] _Lettres de Mademoiselle d' Aïssé à Madame Calandrini_ (edit.
1846), p. 230 _et seq._

[88] The points in which Mlle. Aïssé's story and Bouret's evidence
differ are as follows:--

(1) Bouret was acquainted with the Duchesse de Bouillon _prior_ to his
adventure, having been employed by her to paint her portrait. (2) He had
not one, but several interviews with her two emissaries, who, he stated,
wore masks. (3) He received the suspicious lozenges after, and not
before, warning Adrienne. (4) It was not the Lieutenant of Police,
Hérault, but the Chemist Geoffroy, of the Académie des Sciences, who
made the experiment on the dog. He reported that some of the lozenges
appeared suspicious, but that their number was insufficient to permit of
his conducting experiments and forming a definite opinion. This, as M.
Larroumet remarks, is the language of a man who is unwilling to
compromise himself.

[89] Scribe and Legouvé make this incident one of the principal scenes
of their tragedy.

[90] _Lettres d'Adrienne Lecouvreur_, p. 51.

[91] Cited M. Georges Monval, _Lettres d'Adrienne Lecouvreur_, p. 57.

[92] Marie-Anne Mancini, Racine's enemy.

[93] Marie Magdeleine de la Vieuville, Comtesse de Parabère (1693-1750).
On her husband's death, in 1716, she became _maîtresse en tître_ of the
Regent d'Orléans, which exalted position she occupied for five years,
when the prince, wearying of her caprices, replaced her by Madame
Ferrand d'Averne.

[94] That of Hortense. According to Titon du Tillet, Adrienne had never
been surpassed in this character.

[95] This is not the case.

[96] _Lettres de Mademoiselle d'Aissé à Madame Calandrini_, p. 234 _et
seq._

[97] Voltaire wrote and signed the following note: "She died in my arms
of an inflammation of the intestines, and it was I who caused an autopsy
to be performed. All that Mlle. Aïssé says on the subject are only
popular rumours which have no foundation."--Cited by M. Monval.

[98] Sainte-Beuve, _Causeries du Lundi_, i. 174. This letter formed part
of the last _dossier_.

[99] The spot where Adrienne was buried was discovered, in 1786, by
d'Argental. It was at the south-east angle of the Rues de Grenelle and
de Bourgogne, on ground now occupied by No. 115 in the former street.
The old man erected a marble tablet, inscribed with some rather
indifferent verses of his own composition, to the memory of the actress
on an adjoining wall. "This tablet," says M. Monval, "is still preserved
by Madame Jouvencel, the present (1892) owner of No. 115 Rue de
Grenelle."

[100] Two years before Adrienne's old teacher, Le Grand, had died, also
without renouncing his profession. He was, of course, denied Christian
burial, but no objection was raised by the curé of Saint-Sulpice to his
interment in the unconsecrated portion of the cemetery.

[101] _Lettres d'Adrienne Lecouvreur_, by M. Georges Monval, p. 67.

[102] _La Danse et des Ballets_, p. 190.

[103] Her shoemaker, one Choisy by name, found himself on a sudden
overwhelmed with customers. All the ladies of the Court and the town
wanted to be shod by the man who made such divine little shoes.

[104] Gaboriau, _Les Comédiennes adorées_, p. 128.

[105] _Correspondance littéraire_, vi. 42.

[106] Gaboriau, _Les Comédiennes adorées_, p. 131.

[107] "While Mlle. de Camargo delighted the Parisians with her dancing,
her uncle, Don Juan, employed his time in causing Jews and sorcerers to
be burned. Don Juan de Camargo, Bishop of Pampeluna, succeeded Don Diego
d'Astorga y Cespedes on July 18, 1720, and was the thirty-fifth
Inquisitor-General in Spain."--Castil-Blaze, _La Danse et les Ballets_,
p. 196.

[108] This is no doubt a slip of the pen. Mlle. de Camargo had only been
two years on the Paris stage.

[109] _Revue rétrospective_, Série I. tom. 1. (1833), p. 401. The
original letter was, at this time, in the possession of Beffara.

[110] _Journal de Barbier_, ii. 416.

[111] She was then living in the Rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs.

[112] _Les Comédiennes adorées_, p. 144.

[113] Collé, _Journal_ (edit. 1868), i. 317. We fear that Collé, who is
very severe upon the lady, is hardly an impartial witness, as elsewhere,
in his _Journal_, we read that Mlle. le Duc "meddled with everything,
and prevented the Count using his influence except on behalf of herself
and her base vassals." As the dramatist was a _protégé_ of Clermont,
this would seem to point to some private grievance against her.

[114] The _Tenebrae_ service at the Abbey of Longchamps on Wednesdays
and Thursdays in Holy Week was a fashionable function at this period.
Its popularity dated from 1727, when the famous singer, Mlle. Lemaure,
took the veil, and transferred her services from the stage of the Opera
to the abbey choir.

[115] See p. 180, _note, supra_.

[116] Cited by Jules Cousin, _Le Comte de Clermont, sa cour et ses
maîtresses_.

[117] Catalogue of the Wallace Collection.

[118] Favart is said to have claimed that he had invented the bun. But,
as several learned writers assert that it was in vogue in the time of
the Crusades, he probably only meant that he had perfected it. _See_
Desnoiresterres, _Épicuriens et Lettrés_, p. 182.

[119] We are not told the name of the farmer-general. In Favart's
_Mémoires_ he is referred to merely as M. B***.

[120] Justine's portraits, the most pleasing of which is perhaps
Flipart's engraving of the drawing by Charles Nicolas Cochin _fils_,
reproduced in this volume, show us a pretty and vivacious-looking young
woman, but with features somewhat too irregular for beauty. It is
probable, however, that the attraction which she possessed for her
contemporaries was, like that of Mlle. Molière, of the kind in which
Nature plays the lesser part, and the desire to please the greater.

[121] A document found in the Bastille on its capture in July 1789,
written by one Meusnier, an inspector of police who was employed by
Maurice de Saxe in his persecution of the Favarts, and published the
same year, under the title of _Manuscrit trouvé à la Bastille (signé
Meusnier) concernant deux lettres-de-cachet lâchées contre Mlle. de
Chantilly et M. Favart par le Maréchal de Saxe_, asserts that for some
time Justine lived with Favart, as his mistress, in a house in the Rue
de Buci. But in the opinion of Desnoiresterres, the best informed of the
poet's biographers, this charge is sufficiently controverted by the
following letter written by Favart to his _fiancée_: "Take care of your
health; remember that mine is involved in it. You will take more care of
yourself, if you have any regard for me, who love you more than life;
though do not take offence, for my very sentiments are your eulogy. Your
talents seduce me, but your virtue binds me. If your thoughts were in
contradiction to your actions, you would be worthy neither of my esteem
nor my love.... I am speaking to you against the interests of my heart;
but I, at the same time, prove to you that I am the sincerest and the
best of your friends."--Favart, _Mémoires et correspondance littéraire_
(edit. 1808), i. 20. Desnoiresterres, _Épicuriens et Lettrés_, p. 196
_et seq._

[122] _Madame Favart et le Maréchal de Saxe._

[123] _Mémoires et Correspondance_ (edit. 1808), i. 25.

[124] Marie Rinteau, the great-grandmother of George Sand.

[125] Desnoiresterres, _Épicuriens et Lettrés_, p. 215.

[126] " ...Je vous dires en outre que je suis amoureu depuis trois ans
d'une petite Gelan(?) qui me joue des mauves tour et qui ma penses faire
tourner la servelle; je vous en ay écrit quelque chosse lanée passé,
_elle ait possede du démon de l'amour conjugal...._ J'ay etes tente deux
ou trois foy de la noier."--Letter of Maurice de Saxe to his sister, the
Princess von Holstein, March 10, 1747. We hesitate to produce the
remainder of this letter, of which, as Desnoiresterres very justly
remarks, the orthography is the least enormity, even in the original;
but the curious reader will find it in _Les Lettres du Maréchal de Saxe
à la Princesse de Holstein_ (p. 20), published by the Société des
Bibliophiles Français in 1831. A copy, presented by T. J. Dibdin to the
Hon. Thomas Grenville, is in the possession of the British Museum.

[127] This is really very amusing. These pretty verses had been
addressed, many years before, by Voltaire, to Adrienne Lecouvreur; and
the Marshal not only coolly appropriates them, but adds insult to injury
by calling them "rhymed prose"! One can imagine the indignation of the
poet had this letter, by any chance, fallen into his hands. This was not
the first time, however, that Voltaire's verses had been purloined by an
unscrupulous lover. The charming lines, in English, which he addressed
to Lady Hervey, beginning--

    "Hervey, would you know the passion
       You have kindled in my breast,"

were subsequently transcribed by the lover of a Mrs. Harley, the wife of
a London merchant, and formed part of the evidence on which her husband
based his claim for a divorce.

[128] _Nouveaux Lundis_ (1869), xi. 106-108.

[129] _Manuscrit trouvé à la Bastille_ (1789), p. 5.

[130] We might add the testimony of Marmontel, who, from his very
intimate relations with two prominent members of Maurice's seraglio,
Mlles. Navarre and de Verrières, was without doubt well informed in
regard to the Marshal's love-affairs. "He (Maurice de Saxe) always kept
an _opéra comique_ in his camp. Two performers belonging to this
theatre, called _Chantilly_ and Beaumenard, were his favourite
mistresses; and he declared that their rivalry and caprices plagued him
more than the Queen of Hungary's Hussars. I have read these words in one
of his letters. For them it was that he neglected Mlle. Navarre."

[131] This was, of course, incorrect.

[132] Favart, _Mémoires et Correspondance_ (edit. 1808), i. 30.

[133] A military surgeon at Brussels.

[134] The Marquis Dumesnil, afterwards Lieutenant-General of Dauphiné.

[135] _Correspondance littéraire_, vii. 464, cited by Desnoiresterres.

[136] _Manuscrit trouvé à la Bastille_ (1789), p. 6.

[137] Collé, _Journal et Mémoires_ (edit. 1868), i. 99. Collé, like
Grimm, shows himself very severe on Justine, whom almost all other
contemporary writers agree in representing as a charming woman and an
actress of remarkable talent. He describes her as "an impudent creature,
without intelligence or skill, who sings vaudevilles with repulsive
indecency, and dances with movements which seem suggestive and
disgusting to persons of the smallest delicacy."

[138] _Manuscrit trouvé à la Bastille_ (1789) p. 8.

[139] Mlle. Rivière, one of Maurice's numerous mistresses.

[140] The Marquis de Paulmy, son of the Marquis d'Argenson, and
afterwards Minister for War.

[141] Without doubt, Maurice de Saxe.

[142] Letter of December 6, 1749; _Manuscrit trouvé à la Bastille_, p.
36 _et seq._

[143] Allusion to Justine's stage name of Chantilly, which the Marshal
spelt _Jantilly_.

[144] Cited by Desnoiresterres, _Épicuriens et lettrés_, p. 253.

[145] _Manuscrit trouvé à la Bastille_ (1789), p. 15.

[146] _Œuvres de l'Abbe de Voisenon_ (edit. 1781), iv. 70.

[147] According to the official version, of a malignant fever: according
to local rumour, of wounds received in a duel with the Prince de Conti,
with whom he had a long-standing quarrel. The Marshal's biographer, M.
Saint-René Taillandier, inclines, we observe, to the latter view; but
the evidence he adduces does not seem to us altogether satisfactory.

[148] Compardon, _Les Comédiens du Roi de la Troupe italienne_, ii. 210.

[149] Desnoiresterres, _Épicuriens et Lettrés_, p. 315.

[150] Cited by Gueullette, _Acteurs et Actrices du Temps passé_, p. 260.

[151] Hawkins, "The French Stage in the Eighteenth Century," i. 355.

[152] Edmund de Goncourt, _Mademoiselle Clairon_, p. 4.

[153] _Mémoires de Mademoiselle Clairon_ (edit. 1799), p. 235.

[154] _Mémoires de Mademoiselle Clairon_, p. 166 _et seq._

[155] Mlle. Balicourt played queens and princesses, and had probably
impersonated the Queen Elizabeth of Thomas Corneille's play on the
evening when Clairon visited the Comédie. She made her _début_ in 1727,
and retired in 1738, on account of ill-health.

[156] Ravaisson, _Archives de la Bastille_, xii. 348.

"Mlle. Clairon contrived, during the early part of her career, to have
three lovers at a time constantly in her train--one whom she deceived,
one whom she received _à la derobée_, and one who lived on
sighs."--"Memoirs of the Margravine of Anspach," i. 220.

[157] Charles Spencer, third Duke of Marlborough, and fifth Earl of
Sunderland (1706-1758). He was, at this time, colonel of the 28th Foot,
and, the following year, commanded a brigade at the battle of Dettingen.
The name is written Mar*** in the French edition of Mlle. Clairon's
Memoirs, but in full in the German.

[158] Cited by Campardon, _Les Comédiens du Roi de la Troupe française_.

[159] Cited by Edmond de Goncourt.

[160] Hawkins, "The French Stage in the Eighteenth Century," i. 375.

[161] If Marmontel and Bachaumont are to be believed, this inspiration
was as often as not aided by wine, and a servant, glass and bottle in
hand, was always in attendance in the wings.

[162] Edmond de Goncourt, _Mademoiselle Clairon_, p. 134.

[163] See p. 334 _infra._

[164] See p. 322 _infra._

[165] "_Journal et Mémoires_," ii. 33.

[166] In Le Franc de Pompignan's _Didon_.

[167] Madame Vestris, when a girl, was taken to visit Mlle. Clairon, who
appeared to her "a little woman about forty years of age, who had once
been pretty." Some days later, she went to the Comédie-Française to
witness a performance of _Andromaque_, and, when she saw the celebrated
actress in the part of Hermione, cried in astonishment: "That is not
Mlle. Clairon!" She was assured that it was, but flatly refused to
believe, saying: "See how tall that actress is! I have seen Mlle.
Clairon at her house; she is a very little woman." It was Mlle. Clairon
none the less.--Edmond de Goncourt, _Mademoiselle Clairon_, p. 171.

[168] "Private Correspondence of David Garrick," i. 356.

[169] "Private Correspondence of David Garrick," ii. 359.

[170] Cited by Adolphe Jullien, _L'Histoire du costume au Théâtre_.

[171] In her _Mémoires_, Mlle. Clairon has the effrontery to declare
that she never had any cause to be ashamed of her love-affairs, and
defies any one to name "a single man who had purchased her favours."

[172] Ravaisson, _Archives de la Bastille_, xii. 348.

[173] Edmond de Goncourt, _Mademoiselle Clairon_, p. 43 _et seq._

[174] Ravaisson, _Archives de la Bastille_, xii. 292 _et seq._

[175] Ravaisson, _Archives de la Bastille_, xii. 295. From the same
report we learn that the Prince of Würtemberg, then on a visit to Paris,
had fallen violently in love with Mlle. Gaussin, "_et qu'il a commencé
par lui faire un présent de 200 louis pour souper avec elle_." Mlle.
Clairon was probably no worse than the other divinities of the Comédie.

[176] _Archives_, xii. 295.

[177] This was not the only occasion upon which Marmontel trespassed
upon Maurice's preserves. He took a similar liberty with the heart of
Mlle. de Verrières, "on learning which the Marshal fell into a passion
unworthy of so great a man."

[178] _Mémoires de Marmontel_ (edit. 1804), i. 266.

[179] Marmontel tells us that Mlle. Clairon made "a very desirable
mistress." "She had," says he, "all the charms of an agreeable character
without any mixture of caprice; while her only desire, her most delicate
attentions, were directed towards rendering her lover happy. So long as
she loved, no one could be more faithful or more tender than she.... I
left her charming, I found her equally, and, if possible, still more
charming. What a pity that with so seductive a character so much levity
should be joined, and that love so sincere, and even so faithful, should
not have been more constant!"

[180] _Mémoires de Marmontel_ (edit. 1804), ii. 41 _et seq._

[181] Lekain had made his _début_ at the Comédie-Française on September
14, 1750, as Titus in the _Brutus_ of Voltaire. His admission into the
company was bitterly opposed by Mlle. Clairon, who gave no other reason
for her hostility than that his personal appearance--he was a remarkably
plain man, short and thick-set, with a harsh voice and rough
manners--was displeasing to her. Lekain retaliated by giving publicity
to certain episodes in the lady's private life which did not redound to
her credit. To which Mlle. Clairon rejoined by addressing him before the
assembled company as follows: "I was well aware, Monsieur, that you were
a man of repulsive appearance, but I did not know that you possessed a
soul a thousand times more hideous than your person." Lekain left the
theatre in a towering passion, and, with the assistance of another enemy
of Mlle. Clairon, the Chevalier de la Morlière, composed a letter, "the
most insulting, the most atrocious, that it was possible to conceive,"
which he sent to the actress. For this he was expelled from the Comédie,
but subsequently, on writing another letter, this time of apology,
reinstated. Soon after this affair, which was common knowledge, Lekain
happened to be playing Æneas to the Dido of Mlle. Clairon, in Le Franc
de Pompignan's tragedy. In one of the most touching passages of the
play, the ill-fated queen, addressing her faithless lover, exclaims:--

    "Je devrais te haïr, ingrat! Et je t'adore."

No sooner were the words out of her mouth, than the whole pit burst into
such peals of merriment that it was fully five minutes before the
performance could be continued.

[182] See p. 294 _supra._

[183] Grimm says that Voltaire surrendered to the players his share of
the profits, in order to help them to defray the expense of the
costumes.

[184] _Journal et Mémoires_, ii. 33.

[185] Grimm, _Correspondance littéraire_, cited by Edmond de Goncourt,
_Mademoiselle Clairon_, 131 _et seq._

[186] "Report of Meunier to the Lieutenant of Police;" Ravaisson,
_Archives de la Bastille_, xii. 367.

[187] Grimm, _Correspondance littéraire_, i. 377.

[188] Report of Meunier to Berryer, Lieutenant of Police, _Archives de
la Bastille_, xii.

[189] Edmond de Goncourt, _Mademoiselle Clairon_, p. 170.

[190] We read in Mlle. Clairon's _Mémoires_: "'The walls alone of this
house,' I said to myself, 'ought to make me feel the sublimity of the
poet, and enable me to attain the talent of the actress. It is in this
sanctuary that I ought to live and die.'" We fear that the sanctuary
was, on occasion, somewhat profaned, since the lady was in the habit of
entertaining here not only dames of high degree, but some of the most
dissolute members of Paris society.

[191] "M. Carle Van Loo's picture, in which Mlle. Clairon is painted as
Medea, had a great reputation while it was still unfinished. Hardly had
the artist opened his studio, than all Paris crowded to admire his _chef
d'œuvre_. Never did work obtain more unanimous praise."--_Le Tableau
de Mlle. Clairon, par M. Carle Vanloo_, a manuscript document cited by
Edmond de Goncourt. When it was nearly completed, Louis XV. expressed a
wish to see it, and came to Van Loo's studio, while the actress was
sitting to him. "You are indeed fortunate," said he to the painter, "to
have been inspired by such a model;" and, turning to the lady, added:
"And you, Mademoiselle, have reason to congratulate yourself on being
immortalised by such an artist." He then announced his intention of
defraying the cost of the frame, which came to 5000 livres.

[192] Forty thousand francs a year, a house, a coach, and a table for
six persons.

[193] _Mémoires de Mademoiselle Clairon_ (edit. 1799), 307 _et seq._

[194] In reference to the arrangement of these names, Monnet wrote to
Garrick: "The drawing you gave Mlle. Clairon is engraved; it is now on
sale, and M. de Crébillon is annoyed because they have placed his father
after Voltaire, that is to say, below him: it is the last of the volumes
on which Mlle. Clairon is leaning. I have thrown the blame on M.
Gravelot, telling him that you held too high an opinion of his father's
talent to commit such an error."--"Private Correspondence of David
Garrick," ii. 442.

[195] Collé, _Journal et Mémoires_, iii. 6. Collé was himself intensely
disgusted by the conduct of Mlle. Clairon's fanatical admirers, and
declares that if medals were to be struck in honour of an actress, who,
after all, was nothing but a parrot, then statues--nay, pyramids--ought
to be raised to the authors whose works she interpreted.

[196] She refused first, the protection, and, afterwards, the hand of
the Marquis de Gouffier, the latter on the ground that "while esteeming
herself too much to be his mistress, she esteemed herself too little to
be his wife." On her retirement from the stage in 1783, Louis XVI.
granted her a special pension, "as if to show that virtue under his
reign was as profitable as vice had been under his predecessor."--Hawkins,
"The French Stage in the Eighteenth Century," ii. 107 and 299.

[197] _L' Année Littéraire par M. Fréron, Lettre V. Janvier 17_, cited
by Edmond de Goncourt.

[198] To which institution women of loose character who had misbehaved
themselves were sent.

[199] Collé, _Mémoires et Journal_, iii. 27 _et seq._

[200] Collé, _Mémoires et Journal_, iii. 31.

[201] "Private Correspondence of David Garrick," ii. 432. Soon after
this, Garrick very generously offered Mlle. Clairon a loan of 500
guineas, which, however, was not accepted.

[202] It seems to have been as a kind of return for the homage paid her
at Ferney, that, towards the end of 1772, Mlle. Clairon organised, at
her house in Paris, the apotheosis of Voltaire, "in which she displayed
all the riches of her imagination." "The bust of Voltaire," says
Bachaumont, "was placed pompously in the midst of the assembly, when M.
Marmontel, the _coryphée_ of the house, presented an ode, composed by
himself, in honour of the new god of Pindar. Mlle. Clairon, habited as a
priestess of Apollo, placed a crown of laurel on the bust, and recited
the ode with the most vehement enthusiasm. The assembly applauded
loudly." This piece of adulation, grotesque though it was, seems to have
been far from displeasing to the Patriarch, who returned thanks in a
letter in verse, wherein he assured the lady that "his glory was
entirely her work."--Gueullette, _Acteurs et Actrices du Temps passé_,
p. 316.

[203] Mlle. Clairon had demanded a pension of 1500 livres, though thirty
years' service was required to entitle her to this. It is probable,
however, that her request would have been granted, but for the
opposition of Lekain, who had not forgiven her for her treatment of him
in years gone by.

[204] The takings, at a louis a head, amounted to 24,000 livres, which
sum, if we are to believe Bachaumont, was spent by Molé, not in paying
his debts, but in buying diamonds for his mistress.

[205] _Correspondance littéraire_, vi. 75.

[206] Letter of Madame Riccoboni to Garrick, January 29, 1767.

[207] "During this time, Mlle. Clairon was living at the Margrave's
expense, with four French servants in livery, Madame Senay, her
_femme-de-chambre_, and a lackey, besides a French cook. The Margrave
supplied her with the best wines from his cellar. Her expenses were
enormous, and all paid from the Chamber of Finances of Anspach. These
facts I had from the Maréchaux of the Court."--"Memoirs of Elizabeth
Berkeley, Margravine of Anspach," i. 210.

[208] Horace Walpole to Sir Horace Mann, March 7, 1785.

[209] Edmond de Goncourt, _Mademoiselle Clairon_, p. 385.

[210] _Souvenirs de Madame Vigée Lebrun_, i. 83.

[211] Its effect was less terrifying upon "an amorous and jealous
_intendant_," who mistook the ghostly visitant's cry for that of a lover
in the flesh, and had the bad taste to remark to Mlle. Clairon that "the
signals of her rendezvous were somewhat too noisy." And this after the
poor lady had just recovered from a swoon lasting nearly a quarter of an
hour!

[212] _Mémoires de Mademoiselle Clairon_ (edit. 1799), p. 1 _et seq._

[213] Edmond de Goncourt, _Mademoiselle Clairon_, p. 466.

[214] Gueullette, _Acteurs et Actrices du Temps passé_, p. 320.

[215] Marie Pauline Ménard. Mlle. Clairon had adopted her when a little
girl and provided her _dot_, which led to a widespread belief that she
was her natural daughter. This, however, was not the case.

[216] Gueullette, _Acteurs et Actrices du Temps passé_, p. 321.





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