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“ never in despair.' At length, after many struggles, the proudest monarch in Europe, in the year 1685, secretly married the widow of a buffoon, born in beggary, to whom he had a few years before refused alms, when he was in the forty-seventh, and she in the fiftieth year of her age !
Though her life was a romance, her character was prosaic. It cannot, indeed, be supposed that she was not a most uncommon woman. But her superiority consisted, not in rare qualilities, but in the possession of a high degree of those which are common to the majority of sensible persons. Manners, temper, judgment, consideration, aided by a singular concurrence of favourable circumstances, were the means of an elevation little less remarkable than that to which a very few men have risen, by the combination of original genius with energetic character. Her general conduct is an excellent exemplification of that which, according to the various preposessions of mankind, is called the selfish, or the prudential, or the rational system of morals. She seems more uniformly to have regulated her choice by the distinct and deliberate consideration of the influence of her actions on her general well-being, than almost any other person whose character is so well known to us. Had she confined her views, in the application of this principle, to the lower and grosser interests of life, she would have been a very unfair specimen of her class, against whom all reasonable followers of the like maxims would justly protest as disqualified to be their representative. But she must be allowed to have comprehended every object which can be brought within the scope of the most enlarged and enlightened prudence. She set a just, and therefore the highest value on a good name, on the cultivation of the understanding, the moderation of the desires, and on the government of the temper, on the peace of mind, on the approbation of conscience, on the prevalence of that benevolence which constantly cheers and sweetens the mind. Her religious principles, though merely prudential, were sincere. They consisted in the same regard to her own ultimate interest, which ruled every part of her nature. Her cool judgment taught her to seek every means of avoiding the disquiet and disgrace which, in the end, are the usual consequence of participation in acts of baseness or cruelty. Her mind was neither elevated by enthusiasm, nor disturbed by passion, nor melted by tenderness. She performed no acts of hazardous virtue, and knew the art of skilfully and decently releasing herself from inconvenient friendships. She did not perhaps betray her benefactress Mad. de Montespan, but she willingly profited by the excesses of that favourite, and quietly took her place. It is too much to affirm that she prompted the persecution of her former fellow-religionists. But it is certain that she did not ruffle the temper of her Royal lover, by persevering remonstrance against that cruel persecution. • The King, she writes to a correspondent, “ has been told that I was a Cal-vinist. This induces me to approve measures most opposite to my sentiments.' In writing to her profligate brother in 1681, she tells him “ You cannot employ the money you receive better • than in the purchase of an estate in Poitou. They are to be
had there for nothing, in consequence of the flight of the Hugonots!", She did not venture to protect Racine against the unjust and mean resentment of the King, though it was incurred by a paper on the general distress written at her desire. The exile of Fenelon was continued during the period of her greatest power. Regards for herself prevailed, even in the last moments of the King's life. She continued her attendance on him, only as long as it was useful to him and safe to herself. Neither compassion nor gratitude betrayed her into an advance of a hairbreadth beyond these strictly calculated boundaries. On the 30th of August 1715, when the King became insensible, she immediately took refuge at St Cyr from the dreaded resentment of the populace; and it was not till two days after, that she learnt in that retirement the tidings of his death. She reaped the fruit of her character and system. She crept up from the lowest to the highest condition in society. She accumulated all the outward means of human enjoyment. According to the estimate of the world, she was the most prosperous of women. But her own descriptions betray the difference between prosperity and happiness. In looking into a fish-pond at Marly, she said to her friend, · You see how languid the carp are. They
are like me, they regret their mud!'- What a punishment, she often bitterly exclaimed, “it is to have to amuse a man who is no longer amusable!'
St Simon's description of the manner in which she exercised her ascendant, however tinctured by his hostile feelings, is too precious not to be presented to the reader, with a few retrenchments in the superfluities, but with no abridgement of the characteristic parts. It is a picture evidently taken from the life. .. On the days of business, Mad. de Maintenon, in whose apart
ment the ministers transacted affairs with the King, sat by, read6 ingor working tapestry. She quietly heard all that passed, and
rarely threw in a word. The word was still more rarely of 6 any consequence. The King often asked her advice, address"ing her in a playful tone, as your solidity, or your reasonable• ness. She answered slowly and coldly, scarcely ever betray
ers had their em as well, the mention of any othead
ence for anding any ove the King
6. ing a prepossession for any thing, and never for any person; " but the ministers had their cue. If by chance the King at first
fixed on her candidate, it was well, the ministers were sure to • agree; and they contrived to hinder the mention of any other. • If he showed a preference for any other, the minister read ' out his own list, rarely recommending any one directly, but
hinting at the objections to all, so as to leave the King perplexed. In this embarrassment, he often asked the advice
of the minister, who, after again balancing the good and bad • qualities of all, showed a slight preference for one. The King • hesitated, and frequently in that stage referred to Mad. de • Maintenon. She smiled, affected to be incapable of judging, • said something in favour of another candidate, but at last,
sometimes slowly, as if deliberating, sometimes as if by a sudden, accidental recollection, returned to the candidate whom • she had prompted the minister to recommend ; and in this ' manner she disposed of all favours and preferments in « France.'
She appointed, removed, preferred or disgraced ministers. They consulted her pleasure in every thing. Sometimes when matters were not managed with sufficient address and artifice, the King was liable to sudden explosions of independence. When a minister or a general too openly favoured one of her relations, the Monarch resisted, and boasted of his spirit. • Such a one,' he would say, is a good courtier. It is not his fault that all Ma• dame's relations are not preferred.' These occasional strokes more and more taught her to be reserved and wary. Her constant answer to applications was, that she never meddled with politics. Half a dozen of her oldest friends were a creditable exception. On their behalf she prevailed over her own cowardice and selfishness, and generally succeeded in conquering the King's affectation of independence. On such occasions, warm scenes sometimes passed between them; she wept in his presence, and she was on thorns for some days. These mutinous dispositions had been shown by Louis to some of his former managers. Letellier, before he was chancellor, on the application of one of his best friends for a favour, answered, that he would do what. he could. His friend murmured at what he thought a cold. answer. “You do not know the ground,' replied the minister. « Our recommendations prevail nineteen times in twenty. We į know that we shall fail but once in twenty times. But we never know which recommendation is to fail. It is often that in which we are most desirous of success. If the case be of great importance, we risk a quarrel. We show ourselves as
obstinate as the King. We face the storm; and he, relieved " by venting his anger, becomes more yielding than before,
Thus, he who was the terror of Europe, and who seemed to be the absolute master of France, was converted into a puppet moved by an old woman; and while he, in the fancied exercise of an unfettered will, issued his commands to obedient millions, the aged sorceress sat in silence and apparent humility beside him, guiding, by unseen springs, every movement of his hand and articulation of his voice, according to her pleasure. It is hard to believe that she and her creatures did not sometimes smile, at least secretly, at the timid hints, the mock discussions, the hypocritical reverence, which were the potent incantations by which these political magicians transformed their master into a slave. When he had set himself free from all outward restraints, he was the more sure of having his mind enslaved. He was disturbed by no representative assembly. He had silenced even the judicial bodies who, before and after him, had manifested a noble independence. The word People, no man in his dominions would have dared to utter. « The State,' he şaid, 'is myself. * Dungeons were every where prepared for the writers who could be so insane as to breathe a syllable of censure on his measures. He was not checked by the counsel of an honest minister. But having thus escaped the control of parliaments and tribunals, of a public and a press, of courageous counsellors, or an independent nobility, he fell into the toils of a Favourite. For it is a vain attempt in the greatest of human beings to rule a nation without aid. If such an attempt were in itself practicable, the very possession of absolute authority would soon weaken the mind of the posşessor too much to make it long possible for him; and the power of using him as an instrument for governing an empire, is too great a prize not to call forth a combination of talent to enslave him, more than sufficient to overpower his enfeebled spirit. When he attempts to escape the appointed lot of despots, his choice of men and measures becomes the worse for his independence. He is then, as we learn from the veteran courtier, Letellier, influenced by motives so petty or capricious, that those who know him best cannot forsee his determination. Either his caprice is nearly the same as chance, or he exchanges the ascendant of ministers and mistresses, who generally have some ability, and may often have some fear of infamy, for that of minions, who being unknown, are shameless and fearless, and who rarely have any other talent than the mean faculty of gaining favour.
* A declaration applauded in the year 1826 by the Abbé La Megabais, the eloquent advocate of the Jesuitical system.
The chain of power did not end in Madame de Maintenon. She, indeed, ruled the Sovereign of France; but she was herself ruled by an humbler favourite. Nanon Balbieux, or Babbieux (the various orthography of her name in different writers is indicative of her origin and her education), had long been her only servant, and after the death of Scarron was accustomed to make their joint bed, and to dress their plate of soup, in the little bedroom which was their only dwelling. It is one of the most honourable facts in the history of Mad. de Maintenon, that this faithful servant followed her through all her changes of fortune. With the boundless prodigality which is more often practised to a favourite than to a friend, Madame de Maintenon at last bestowed on her the office of Superintend. ent of the almost Royal Household, and she ended by dictating as many promotions as she desired. Such is the ascendancy of inferior attendants, to which long habit, constant access, and the skilful use of favourable moments, so generally subject the great ; or, if we look at man from another point of view, so urgent is the need which compels the coldest natures to seek, in the pleasure of feeling attachment and of seeming to inspire it, some amends for a life of joyless selfishness and painful hypocrisy.
The present publication consists of a Correspondence of Mad. de Maintenon with the Princess Ursini, or, as she was called in France, Des Ursins; a French lady who had married two husbands of the noble houses of Talleyrand and Ursini, and who was sent in her second widowhood to Madrid, to govern Philip, through the young Princess of Savoy his first Queen. The letters are correct, cold, wary, unbending; the production of a woman who never dared to express the little feeling she had, and was too sensible to make a display of talent in her correspondence. Whoever is desirous of reading letters of natural effusion, graceful ease, and sometimes agreeable negligence, occasionally lighted up by happy phrases, struck out by feeling and taste, must look elsewhere for these epistolary graces. The old politician in petticoats had her caution too constantly on the stretch to indulge herself in such elegant relaxation. The subjects are either court news, which never could have interested any but court ladies, or remarks on political events, which have long ceased to interest the general reader. But in spite of the stiff and wary writer, the former part contains some strokes of character and manners, and the latter contributes some materials for the history of the war and the peace. A few extracts may please many who would not have patience to read the book. We shall select, in the first