The After-Suppers of the King
THE good child or the industrious youth of bourgeois parentage in the Paris of 1700 was rewarded by a trip to Versailles or Fontainebleau to see the Magnificent King eat his dinner in public. The proverbial appetite of the Bourbons was thus kindly tendered as a gratuitous exhibition to the monarch’s faithful subjects, for it was something to see a man eat four plates of soup of different kinds, a pheasant, two slices of ham, mutton with garlic, and a quantity of salad, pastry, fruit, and sweetmeats. Nor was Monsieur, the King’s brother, ever without a store of chocolate, cakes, crackers, bonbons, in his highly decorative pockets. Louis XIV. never lost the wonderful appetite and unimpeachable digestion which had made that vast recorded meal possible. On one occasion of public feasting, at a time when all Europe was holding breath to catch the passing sigh of the French King, so unaccountably and indefinitely postponed, Louis, feeling upon him the curious gaze of the English ambassador, Lord Stair, nerved himself for a last gastronomic effort, and really died from the indirect effects of surfeit. It was therefore popularly said, “ Old Louis was, after all, killed by a Briton.’
The pleasure to loyal citizens of Paris of that public dinner lay in the direct evidence it afforded of the habits of royalty. To royalty itself, seated at a small table in the full blaze of the public eye, the ceremonial could have been only wearying. It was not of everyday occurrence, dinner for the King being ordinarily au petit couvert, and supper really was the social event of the day of tiresome observances, and Louis’s favorite repast. Its routine in minutest detail was settled by inflexible laws, and he, the framer of the code, exulted in the excess of form and in the consciousness of being the centre of an obsequious circle. Poor Marie Antoinette, the most uneasy head that ever wore a crown, loathed the public dinner. She never learnt, alas ! to hate and to keep silent, which is the epitome of court morals.
Against the wall of the salon at Versailles, when the hour of ten arrived, were ranged the courtiers, nobles, and ladies not permitted to sit in the royal presence. At the King’s table were collected the princesses of the blood, with their suites, and the other happy dames entitled to the tabouret. The wars of the Fronde were to some extent waged to secure this privilege for a disappointed duchess. Whether a noble lady were sufficiently noble to sit before the lord of this earthly temple was theme for councils of state and food for the consideration of judicial minds.
It is well known how radical a change court etiquette underwent under Louis XIV., who fashioned a system based on the proper relations of other people to the great central figure. And it is known also that, as Madame Campan said of the customs surviving to her day, service, even when of a menial character, became honorable when performed for the King, and the prerogative of the courtier of highest rank. The duty of presenting the night-shirt or the bowl of water to the King must be yielded, even by a prince of the blood, should Monsieur enter the royal chamber ; and he in turn resigned it to the Dauphin, should he follow him. Madame de Sévigné tells a little story about some court ladies who cut each other out in serving la grande Mademoiselle, to the infinite amusement of the princess and to the secret joy of the narrator, who had a little private grudge to pay off.
The royal meal made slow progress. The meat, brought in by a military guard, was not offered kneeling, as was customary in Spain and at King Charles II. of England’s court, which gave De Grammont opportunity to say to Charles, on his attention being called to the custom, “ Sire, I thought they were asking your pardon for their having supplied you with such poor food.”
When Louis had noted who were absent from court, had admired the appearance of the ladies, and complimented any unusual splendor of attire, he slowly rose, while the profound bows and slow reverences of the courtiers greeted him. His guests at table accompanied him into his bed-chamber, where, leaning against the bed, he addressed a few words to one and another. All shortly withdrew, — that galaxy of wit, and grace, and beauty, the best that France could show, — and Louis entered his private cabinet. Here, seated in a fauteuil, with his brother, the Duke of Orleans, occupying a second chair, he held brief converse with the members of his family, but soon dismissed them, and retired to the mysteries of his night toilet in his chamber. What that bed-chamber was in 1700 we may divine to-day, since its glories have risen from the spoiler’s hand, and shaken off the dust of time. This room, in the centre of the palace, has been restored, and when we except the beautiful ceiling, — painted by Paul Veronese, and taken from Venice by Napoleon out of the gallery of the Council of Ten,—we look upon the very objects which daily greeted the eyes of Louis XIV. of France. The bed, in the middle of the room, is directly opposite a window which commands a view of the rising sun. It was in the taste of the day to say that “ the two sovereigns awakened at the same moment, and exchanged a glance at each other.” The pictures have been replaced ; the bed-covering, worked at Saint - Cyr under the direction of Madame de Maintenon, was found in comparatively late years, half in Italy and half in Germany. The lovely picture of Madame, Henrietta of England, hangs now in its former place. At least three of the great apartments of Versailles, that favori sans mérite of Louis of France, are restored to their former splendor.
The gay gentlemen so “ studiously dressed,” with wigs so finely curled that for fear of squeezing them they carried their hats in their hands instead of on their heads; the courtiers who even had masters in the art of politeness; they who held precious the privilege of presenting themselves at the King’s “ after-suppers,” have long since followed those lovely ladies who could not live, says a traveler, without lace and ribbons, and who carried their looking-glasses in their hands into the land of oblivion. And yet, since they left behind them the careful record of their daily lives, we can summon some among them to our actual presence, in this nineteenth - century daylight. No ghost among them all would yield the pas to claimants of inferior pretensions, and the code of royal etiquette requires that the family circle of Louis of Bourbon should first be summoned from the shades. They appear, they gather about the King, in that stately palace of which he said, “ Versailles, c’est moi.” The Duchess of Orleans, who was so careful about many things relating to precedence, will not let her daughters three be misplaced in that magic circle, but will nevertheless agree that first to be reconstructed and reanimated is the King himself.
The Magnificent Louis ! He was called so by his subjects, and if they who suffered the burden of that splendor can style him thus, the tongue of modern unfriendly comment may be silent. Nature made him beautiful in outward mien; the pictures of him in early youth explain to us that love of Louis, and not of the King, which La Vallière felt. The culture of courts gave him every grace of form and manner. The world had brought its best to greet this gracious personality ; statesmen, soldiers, poets, painters, surrounded him with the gifts of genius to render his reign glorious. But he was a Bourbon, and proceeded by a course of evolution to work out his own trivial nature in spite of fortune’s wondrous favors. Flattered by women, fawned upon by courtiers, he discovered that the State was himself, and little by little he unfolded that complicated system which, like the planetary scheme, made the visible universe revolve about a central sun, — the King. This was the key to all that elaborate ceremonial which made court life so wearisome, regulated the degree of favor bestowed upon courtiers, and made a code whose provisions were slowly comprehended even by those most anxious to conciliate the reigning power, so astonishing, so unprecedented, was its theory. Louis XIV. believed himself easily first in everything, and yet, by means of this salient point of character, was most easily and perpetually governed.
When it was thought timely to strike a heavy blow at French heresy, it was well known in the councils of the Church to whom the task should be committed. Slow approaches, undermining, judicious hints, apparent submission, — Madame de Maintenon understood it all, and proclaimed: “ The King is full of good sentiments ; he recognizes his weakness and faults. He thinks seriously of the conversion of the heretics, and will soon set about it.” Thus the royal hand, opening that fatal box of unnamed evils, let them out upon fair France, and, looking at his realm through his little bit of smoky glass, thanked God for the souls brought daily into the fold, and stopped his ears to his people’s agony. Most skillfully his familiar used that weapon of past indulgence, making the pardon of his sin with long-forgotten Montespan the reward of the King’s persecution of heresy.
But what of groans and flames while he, the Magnificent, is there, the subject of all thought, the desire of all eyes ? The hat with its circle within circle of white plumes has gone with the dark, flowing locks of the youth who thought to make life a long, gay fête ; but grace is still his, and gentlest courtesy to the humblest maid within the palace, and skill for the chase, and that power of so bestowing favor that the lightest boon comes with tenfold graciousness. The gifts in his hand were poor enough in return for so much pure incense burnt before him. Only a smile, an invitation, a notice, a concession, to ruin one’s self: he gave not much more for life, and love, and woman’s tenderness, and purest loyalty. Heart he had none. On the throne of life sat a supreme passion, himself, and woe to subject who refused to doff hat and do homage; a king for the stage, a pasteboard king, who gave serpents for food and stones for bread, whose pettinesses might have been treated with history’s calm contempt, had they not been weighted with such tremendous consequences. To waste the public funds on favorites meant not only personal vice, but meant, alas! the tears, the blood, the daily bread, of his people ; meant suffering so extreme that the subjects of Louis — miscalled “ the Great ” — and misery became synonymous terms.
As he lived, so shall he die, and be long a-dying, having all things in order, sufficient decorous woe, effective leavetaking, physicians of the body to dull obtrusive pangs of dissolution, and doctors for the soul to whisper assurances of spiritual certainties ; outside in the streets, the citizens rejoicing noisily; within, the secret sign of the Jesuit brotherhood upon the King’s breast,— a prudent provision lest other passport should fail in heavenly places. And thus, blind because he said “ I see,” Louis of France shall go from one dark to another. But of all this, fifteen years later, the King of 1700, sitting in his fauteuil in the domestic circle, knows nothing.
First invested with bed-chamber privileges was the Dauphin of France, called the Grand Dauphin as a disguise, a mot d’énigme. Uneasy honors these, bringing him under the King’s observation; and there he is never at ease, never himself, and never something better. What was called his “incredible silence” was possibly largely due to the fact that Louis was to him “ always a king and seldom a father.”
He was very fat. The King used to say he looked like a “ comfortable little German.” At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Dauphin had apparently given up attempting to solve the problem how to fill out the clothes of the ideal prince. Bossuet had labored to bring about that result, but vainly. Everybody had given up expecting anything of him, to his great personal relief. Even his good German wife had dropped him and life together, weary of his triviality, his infidelity, which was not even indulged in royal manner, but sought debased and debasing objects. It was generally admitted that he was idle and careless. He would remain whole days on a sofa, tapping his boots with a cane, not speaking. But in a furtive way he watched the doings of his terrible father, condemning, approving, rejecting, customs, acts, projects, with an eye to that day when he should not fear to look him in the face. He had plans for his own crowning and a Madame de Maintenon, — brown, fat, sharp of wit, and with fine shoulders. He may have married her ; she was sufficiently haughty to have warranted the supposition. He cringed to the King, and flattered his flatterers, and, as a logical sequence, kicked those below himself.
Yet, strangely enough, in youth the Dauphin served at Philippsburg, with the celebrated Vauban to take precautions for Ids safety, and plenty of uniformed common folks to be sacrificed to shield that commoner clay which was stamped in the royal mint. Madame de Sévigné says he was adored after the siege, for he gave with unheard-of liberality not only money, but commendatory words. There were even people to say, with the Chevalier de Sévigné, “ What did I tell you ? I am not surprised.” And the soldiers, perhaps ignorant of Vauban’s precautions, called him “ Louis le Hardi.” It was even said that Monseigneur required to be held back from the fray by the might of four men, that he did “ marvels of firmness, capacity, liberality, generosity, and humanity,” and wrote letters to the court which deeply moved the King, as was no doubt intended. And thus every one lent his breath to blow this poor little balloon into the empyrean, to see it tumble, all too soon, to earth again. Poor Monseigneur ! His biographer says he was noble looking, of a healthy red and white complexion, and with the most beautiful legs in the world. ’T is a pity the shell was left tenantless, for the whole is thus summed up: “As for character, he had none.”
Next in rank came “ Monsieur,” the brother of the King, and intellectually starved to suit the rôle of chorus, which, when the succession is secure, is ordinarily assigned to that relation. The existing code of court etiquette found its most ardent supporter in Philip of Orleans. To behave properly, according to the regulations of the code, absorbed his entire time, and left nothing for sentiment. When arranging the marriage of his eldest daughter, the little thirteen-year-old Maria Louisa, who, for Louis’s political advantage, was sent as bride to an apology for a man, — a man bowlegged, weak in mind and body, priestridden, yet wearing a royal crown, and called King of Spain, — Monsieur was so absorbed in marriage etiquette, insisting that the princess should be treated as a queen, that he really had no time for so so small a matter as the bride’s agony. “The Queen of Spain,” it was said, “ has become a fountain of tears ; cries for mercy, and throws herself at everybody’s feet.” Meanwhile, Philip was getting himself up in the character of queen’s father, and we must all admit that the result explained the labor. Behold him with “ that huge black wig, curled and flowing down on either side; a long, serious face ; a green silk coat, with stripes and button-holes in gold embroidery, and a waistcoat of rose-colored silk embroidered in golden flames ; across his breast the blue ribbon of the Holy Ghost, supporting a sword, whose scabbard was thickly set with diamonds, and tied with a green ribbon bow ; ribbons everywhere about his dress, and at his white satin shoes and his round hat with its double circle of white plumes ; crosses and stars strewn over his breast; rings on his fingers, and bracelets on his arms ; triple ruffles about his hands, and a cravat and a collar of almost priceless Hungarian lace.”
Philip “ loved only gaming, formal circles, good eating, and dress; in a word, all things that ladies love.” And this Turveydrop was husband to the brilliant, sparkling Henrietta of England, and afterwards to that other princess, not fair, but good German black bread, whose chief merit in her husband’s eyes was that she did not comprehend a word of French.
Although Louis’s illegitimate children were always present at the “ after-suppers,” Madame was not admitted until after her husband’s death. And yet, when Philip of Orleans was young, something better had stirred that decorated breast. Anne of Austria was a tender mother to her sons. Louis, mourning her death, never failed during his lifetime to observe that anniversary. Madame de Motteville shows us Monsieur, young then, sobbing and weeping beside that death-bed ; saying of that tortured, delicate body, for whose use in life no cambric was soft or fine enough, “ Is that the Queen, my mother ? ” We will remember that he would not leave her, as she, to save him pain, would fain have ordered, but remained, reminding her that he had never before disobeyed her. When he was summoned, after Anne of Austria’s death, to be present at the reading of her will, and to receive the key of her jewel-casket, he would not obey, saying that he was content with whatever the King decreed, and shut himself up with his grief.
When the eighteenth century was new, the son of the Dauphin, Louis, Duke of Burgundy, was a member of that family party, — coldly regarded by his grandfather, the King, to whose hardly won spiritual honors the native virtues of his prospective heir were a constant annoyance. In the ideal kingdom which the prince was to rule in visions only, the august ceremony of public royal disrobing was abolished. If his grandson held the silver basin or proffered the gold - fringed towel, Louis instinctively felt that he sat in judgment on the act. Calm, reserved, high-minded, intellectual, his was a strange figure in that rite of semi-worship. Monsieur and Monseigneur, had they stood on tiptoe, could never have comprehended his soul’s dimensions : the former ignored him, the latter feared, and plotted against him.
His occupations were study, chiefly political and religious, with Fénelon, his instructor, who helped him to plan systems of government for that kingdom of the future which was never of this earth. Two strong affections only warmed his reserve, born of self-distrust and of the revolt of a pure nature against uncongenial surroundings. He loved his more than master, Fénelon, with an adoring humility, recognizing in him the power which out of the weakness of a wayward and evil nature had brought forth the strength of regenerating grace. Such a plant of love found alien soil in the court. The King thought to have plucked it up when he removed Fénelon, and forbade all future meetings save in the presence of his own emissaries and spies; but it was a growth of divine planting, and deprived of Fénelon’s bodily presence, his pupil leaned ever more and more upon his remembered words and unforgotten precepts, and thus they walked together in spirit. And he loved his young wife so deeply that when she was taken away, in the bloom of youth, he followed her
Desire could make, or sorrows breed.”
Whether the poison came to both in miasmatic form, or, if infectious, was received through that last vigil by her bedside, it was patent to all that he could not live without her, and speedily, holding their child by the hand, he followed her into the unknown.
In 1700, the other grandsons of the King would be there. Philip of Anjou went, next year, to his kingdom in Spain, and supposing the entire royal family to be present, as in duty bound, to pay their respects to majesty, it would be his sacred prerogative to serve the King, should his elder brother be excused. Philip was a youth of seventeen years, with fair complexion, unnatural solemnity of manner, active piety, small intelligence, and duly subordinate, who, had fate not kindled the smouldering ambition of his nature, would have been content to fill the second place, performing a little round of spiritual duties decorously, and perhaps in the end have died, smothered in millinery or surfeited with food, like any other second son of a Bourbon. Royalty, however, was in store for him, and struggle, and privation, lighted by one perfect love. It was rather an unlucky tip, that crown piece, for which all the boys of Europe scrambled. In recalling the perfidy of Philip of Anjou towards the Princesse des Ursins, the friend who lent him strength and courage to surmount his troubles, and whom he rewarded with disgrace and exile, it is not displeasing to remember that fate finally handed him over to a Farnese for a second wife. Of this woman his minister, and the maker of her fortunes, later wrote : —
“ The queen has the devil in her, and if she finds a man of the sword who has some mental resource, and is a pretty good general, she will make a racket in France and in Europe.” Alberoni found, as did Madame des Ursins, that in sustaining Philip of Spain he had “ quickened a corpse.”
The third grandson of Louis XIV. was the little Duke of Berri. As a bourgeois, how happy might have been this hearty, healthy boy, whom his brother Philip pitied because there were no more kingdoms for him! At the beginning of the century he was only fourteen years old, and that terrible wife was still waiting for him in the future. At this period, the daughter of his cousin of Orleans was also a child. As for Charles, he never lived to grow up, although in the course of years he became the husband of Mademoiselle d’Orléans, the proudest, most debased creature that the age produced. He was a boy, loving, hating, caressing, and quarreling with his wife, and once bestowing a vigorous kick upon the duchess, in a moment of supreme exacerbation. She had terrible arrows in her shaft, and there can be no reasonable doubt that the draught she gave her husband from her hunting-flask had properties unfavorable to length of days. Of course there is always the possibility that the skeleton of royal closets, malaria, may have been the assassin, since Charles of Berri’s symptoms were identical with those of the Duke and Duchess of Burgundy. There is a funny little scene described by Saint-Simon, where the young duke was appointed to respond to a solemn address made to him at that terrible ceremonial for the proud Louis of France, the renunciation of Spanish rights of succession, a condition of the Treaty of Utrecht. “ Monsieur,” said the duke, to whom the renunciation of a kingdom came glibly enough. “ Monsieur,” repeated Charles of Berri. “ Monsieur,” he said a third time, when the chief president bowed low thanks for the speech, and the ceremonies proceeded. There was painful blushing and hardly concealed tears. On the return to Versailles, a pretty, smiling, courtesying court lady ran to meet them, thanking the duke for his fluent speech ! One’s heart warms towards the youth, as he afterwards let those bitter tears fall, in the room of a sympathetic grand lady, sobbing and accusing his pastors and masters. “ They only thought of making me stupid, and of stifling my powers. I coped with my brother; they annihilated me, and have succeeded in making me the laughing-stock and disdain of everybody.” He is described as of ordinary height, rather fat, like all the Bourbons, of a beautiful blond complexion, with a fresh, handsome face. “The best, gentlest, most compassionate, of men, and without vanity. He loved truth, justice, and reason, hated constraint, and was slow in learning that there was any difference between himself and his elder brother.”
Next in order of rank would be Philip, Duke of Chartres, the future Regent, already, in 1700, married to the little Mademoiselle de Blois, daughter of Montespan and the King. The verdict of the world has made Philip conspicuous for evil, even among the Bourbons. His sole panegyrist, Saint-Simon, hunting vainly for grounds to justify his friendship, paints his portrait in deeper shades than history itself. We do not condemn Philip, Duke of Chartres, because he spent his afternoons in painting, then considered a menial occupation ; nor believe him a poisoner, because he dabbled in chemistry ; nor an atheist, because he tried to raise the devil. We are content to know that he could not do the latter, at least publicly. Fine tastes he had, and great capacity; a skimmer of books, — a character not unknown to modern days, — yet he never forgot what was so hastily read, and he discoursed fluently on every topic.
His friend calls this man — accused of taking the lives of three members of his own family, nearer the throne than himself — humane and compassionate to a fault, unable to give pain to any one save his wife, an exception which did not seem to be counted a fault. Yet Saint-Simon admits that he was depraved to a degree unsurpassed in that age of easy vice; that he was so incapable of truth that a favorite subject of discussion between his daughter, the Duchess of Berri, and himself, was as to which was the cleverer in deceit. He loved to embroil people with each other, and was timid to a curious degree, most of all afraid that his fear should be found out. He was inconstant to every person and thing, and as a punishment for all his faults was constitutionally and chronically bored; yet, with Fénelon’s work in the education of the Duke of Burgundy in mind, who can say what such training might not have done to root out those springing weeds in Philip of Orleans’s character, and to develop those weaker shoots of excellence? God, who alone can judge of opportunity and the use his children make of it, knows what responsibility rests upon the Abbé Dubois, the governor of the Duke of Chartres, and when he became Regent of France, his minister and counselor. One does not linger over that imbruted man, the basest, most treacherous, vilest, of human beings, without, dare we say ? one better human quality. We know not if in that mass of corrupt deeds, thoughts, words, as in the Eastern heaps of decaying mollusks, the pearl of one redeeming trait was found. Had Philip loved a wife more noble than himself, how changed would his destiny have been! For that he could love, if wrongly, has certainly been proved. His outer man was of “ medium height, not fat, his face broad and agreeable, his hair black, and his wig of the same color. He was gentle, affable, apparently open, with a pleasant voice and surprising flow of easy words.”
To be seated even in the presence of the King was a privilege accorded to royal ladies, to the children of France, and also to the princesses of the blood and to the wives of the higher nobility, as has been already mentioned. Chief among the members of that royal family, and receiving the honors of her supposed position, was that strange woman — queen, yet no queen — who, stretching out her arm from the depths of obscurity and poverty, had grasped the most glittering prize on fortune’s tree. She is the ma tante of the future Queen of France, whom she regards with indulgent fondness, keeping all her somewhat compromising secrets in her ample pocket ; exposing slyly, from time to time, a little corner or end, when she would bring the gay princess to terms. Her charms are grave, matronly ; it is by might of some magic spells that she holds France’s beauty-loving King; she represents all the superstition, the religion, — which with him was only superstition in a mask, — the fear, the bigotry, of Louis’s character, of which the illegal charmers of earlier years were the sensual and reckless exponents.
It is long since Madame de Montespan, resigning even motherhood to her rival, disappeared into obscurity, awaiting that dread hereafter from which even her weary women, reading aloud throughout the night in that brilliantly lighted chamber, cannot save her. Let us hope that the horse-hair shirt, the alms and penances of repentant years, will encamp about her in that darkness. In 1700, Louise de la Vallière, in her cloister, was still praying and fasting, torturing her delicate body for the crime of having loved that royal sinner, on whom repentance sat so lightly. Fontanges, the gay Psyche who never found a soul, had been forced to leave the chariot and white horses, and the pleasure of looking down, fair-faced and golden-haired, upon honest folk walking the public ways. But soulless women never permanently enchained King Louis, and he has had time comfortably to forget that youthful face in the death agony, as he last saw it. Yes, they are all gone, and have left to Madame de Maintenon the drudgery of “ amusing an unamusable king.”
Gayety has long since fled the scene. It was said that “ in her day the pomps and ceremonies of the court were like wedding dresses upon dead corpses.” She has herself recorded in her letters the weariness of her life; the countless claims upon the time and sympathy of the universal confidant; the relentless attentions of the King; and the task of entertaining Monseigneur, who “ had so little to say, finding himself a bore, and running away from himself continually.” She had also the duty of keeping up private grudges with Madame, the Duchess of Orleans, and others. Fénelon says she was “ naturally mistrustful and addicted to jealous susceptibilities, suspicions, spites, and woman’s wits.” Then there were the heretics to be looked after, the Church to conciliate and sustain ; for she received constant assurance that she filled a post assigned to her by Heaven, and did all things for the glory of Christ’s Church. And the reward of so much labor? Secretly to wield the sceptre of France, to sit meekly embroidering in the privy council, supposed by the King to be merely a non-conductor, and yet to know that nothing was ordered without her consent and knowledge, and that whatever path the monarch trod was one laid out by her, and planned in minutest detail.
How does she appear, this Widow Scarron of former years ? The abbé describes her thus: “Two large eyes full of malice, a fine shape, a pair of beautiful hands, plenty of wit, and a rental of four louis.” The portrait of her at Versailles, by Mignard, shows her with “ a fat face, a dark complexion, and penetrating black eyes of no very gentle expression.” But she must then have been over fifty years old, and none of her portraits represent her under the age of forty. A contemporary says, “ She has great remains of beauty, bright and sparkling eyes, an incomparable grace, an air of ease and yet of restraint and respect, a great deal of cleverness, with a speech that is sweet, correct, in good terms, and naturally eloquent and brief.” A Huguenot writer says of her that “ two things were necessary to gain her favor, real vice and feigned repentance.”
She is far-sighted, but does not see that future closing scene, when all pomp, power, pleasure, shall have receded into the dim past, and in the seclusion of her apartment at Saint-Cyr the Great Peter of Russia, with the sight-seeing avidity of a tourist, shall draw back the bedcurtains with relentless hand, and let unblushing daylight in upon that wrinkled face, shrouded in hood and wadded cap. He will say, “ Madame, what is your malady ? ” and she will reply, “ A great age.” You could hardly persuade King Louis that by that time he will be well forgotten, not being, when absent, regarded as a subject for canonization.
Very near the uncrowned Queen of France would be the queen apparent, who was never to be crowned, — the lovely Marie Adelaide of Savoy, Duchess of Burgundy. Brief days, anguish, distress: strange words these to link with the memory of that bright creature who alone redeemed the court from weariness and gloom ! “ The world itself makes us sick of the world,” was a saying of that day whose meaning was never made clear to this princess. Gifted with exquisite tact, even from that first day of her arrival at Versailles, when, a tiny princess, she entered the salon, led by the King, who looked as if he had taken her from his pocket, she became the joy and delight of the court. Not handsome, but possessed of most perfect grace and dignity, quickwitted, shrewd, she divined the key-note of character, and used such knowledge with no ulterior motive, save that of pleasing those about her, and of softening and lighting the dreary life of courts. Thus she swayed all hearts. Madame de Grignan gives her daughter, in 1697, a pretty, little-known sketch of this princess, then a child of fifteen years, at her toilet, which, as everybody knows, was open to the court: —
“ She had the prettiest, most brilliant, most amiable little face in the world. Nothing was more agreeable than to see her dressing her own hair, when she awoke at half past twelve at noon, put on her robe de chambre, and ate her painau-pot while engaged in her toilet duties, frizzing and powdering and eating altogether, making a good breakfast and a charming toilet.” If she was touched in fancy by any of the gay gallants of the court, her heart was still entirely in her young husband’s keeping, for whose safety in battle she spent whole nights praying upon the chapel floor, to the despair of the ladies of her suite. Whether, had life been prolonged, she would have escaped the all-pervading, insidious taint of that corrupt court, who can tell ? Madame des Ursins, in her correspondence, hints at her dangerous following of the fashions of the day, but, happily perhaps for her, she was soon called from a world which seemed made but for her pleasure.
There were other princes and princesses who might occasionally present themselves at the King’s after-suppers, but of those who were habitually there the three illegitimate daughters of the King complete the list. Louis had married them, with ample dowries, to princes of the blood, and the two younger sisters, united by a certain esprit de corps, were yet known to detest each other cordially, having intimate knowledge of each other’s weaknesses, and little hesitation in making them the subject of excellent jokes. The Duchess of Chartres (present in her capacity of bastard, not through her Orleans rank) was slow and tremulous of speech, and a butt for her cleverer sister, the Duchess of Bourbon, who was unscrupulous and apt at the making of epigrams, and who, in later years, became anxious to marry off her daughters well. The Duke of Maine, also wedded to a Condé, and Louis’s favorite son, was unfailingly present. Madame de Sévigné says, “ His esprit astonished, and the things that he said could not be imagined.” Poor Duke of Maine was destined to see the King’s paternal hand deck him gayly with all the prizes of fortune, and then to have the outraged nobles pluck away these gifts when Louis was safely lodged in Saint-Denis! Let us hope that his clever wife, Louise of Condé, consoled him.
Of all that circle of fair faces, Louis looked upon none more fondly than on the lovely one of the young widowed daughter of La Vallière, the Princess Condé. Madame de Grignan gives her daughter, Madame de Simiane, a little sketch of this princess, also at her toilet, in that perfumed chamber, “ descending with the air of Venus from the skies, surrounded with all the graces that a divinity could have in intercourse with the world. Her beauty has never been in so high degree of perfection ; she is refreshed and grown plump, and with these two advantages she may well be called ‘ the princess of all the world.' ”
And thus on the threshold of the new century, whose noon none of them were to see, we bid these royal Bourbons farewell. The world has finally rejected them, even in their last more worthy representatives of to-day. That bored race is finally dethroned, but in 1700 who could have foretold such destiny ? What beauty, strength, and fortune were theirs, — length of days, and the world for a kingdom, where the human race itself had flowered to grace their lives ! What feeble good accomplished ! What evil engraved on things imperishable ! Bourbons were to follow these in the coming years, one of them more corrupt than any who preceded, but the racial type was found in Louis the Magnificent, whose throne was raised on the broken hopes, ruined lives, and spent fortunes of his faithful lieges. It was reserved for our own clearer seeing to discover that it was only Juggernaut under whose car so much that was precious was crushed, and not a divinity descended from the skies.
Ellen Terry Johnson.