Lapas attēli

a personal adventure which, as you justly remark, cannot be communicated. . . . I cannot have you made a Marshal even if I wished it, and could I do it I would not, as I am incapable of asking anything unreasonable of him to whom I owe all, and whom I have not allowed to do for myself anything which I felt was above me. You may suffer from these sentiments, but no doubt had I not also the honourable feelings which dictate them I should not be where I am.'

The foundation of St. Cyr, which is the great work of her life, was begun in the very first year of her marriageindeed it was her wedding present. The remembrance of all she had suffered in her early years had made her some years previously enter into the great advantages of an institution for the education of the poorer daughters of the nobility, and with the assistance of many charitable ladies she had founded the religious establishment at Rueil. The increasing demands for admission caused the King, at the instance of Madame de Maintenon, to give her the residence of Noisy, a dependence of Versailles, when the number of inmates was raised to a hundred, the only condition being that the applicants should be demoiselles '-ladies, that is to say, of noble birth. Madame de Brinon was the superioress and the Abbé Gobelin the chaplain. Madame de Maintenon visited this convent almost daily, and reported to the King everything respecting it that could interest him. He ended by being personally interested in its success, and, having taken the institution by surprise, he was so pleased with his visit and with the good it did to so many families that had become impoverished in his service, that he conceived at once the notion of raising the house to much greater proportions by fixing the number of admissions at two hundred and fifty, and St. Cyr, near Versailles, was chosen as a site. Mansard was the architect. The building was commenced on May 1, 1685, and finished in July, 1686, having cost 1,400,000 francs of the time, a sum equal to 56,000l. Madame de Montespan's château of Clagny had altogether cost nearly 120,000l.

We shall not follow Madame de Maintenon's letters at this stage in her career, the first in the spiritual line which we have pointed out, as the constant repetition of good advice, religious caution, governess's instruction, and salutary corrections rather inclines us to Ste.-Beuve's opinion, that 'elle 'devint ennuyeuse par dévotion,' though in one of her letters she pleads guilty to the necessity, and still more lest we should ever exclaim with Madame du Deffand: Que vous 'me faites haïr tant de vertus !' But it is impossible to

refuse our admiration of her style and of some of her charmingly expressed sentiments.

'I have a tender and weak heart for all I love, and what goes on therein is difficult to understand. Sometimes I offer a sacrifice of the King's life. I want to get accustomed to his loss, and I protest to God that I would bear such loss with patience. Then I find (if one may use the term) that I want to appeal to God's honour, and be rewarded by the King's preservation. . . . I am no greater lady than I was in the "rue des Tournelles" when you told me the truth so well, and if the favour I enjoy places the world at my feet, it cannot produce that effect on him who has charge of my conscience. . . . One of the misfortunes of our century is that all wish to rise above their station; you may say that it becomes me little to say this, but God knows if I ever wished to rise above mine.'

Next to sentiments of this kind are delightfully womanlike reprimands to those beneath her in station.

You believe yourself to be important, and yet the day after my death neither the King nor anyone else will look at you. . . It is only the good fortune of your aunt which has been instrumental in raising that of your father and your own. You would like to raise yourself even above me!

Be humble.'

Yet there is nothing contradictory in her numerous writings. What she has seen in life she has noted. What she has noted she has essentially made her own to use and practise when occasion arose, and it may safely be said that Madame de Maintenon, if not exactly the architect of her own fortune, was so skilful a builder of the edifice that the crowning of it by a master hand was but a natural result under a king in whose reign great things found great interpreters.

Nor do we feel disposed to follow Madame de Maintenon in her quarrels with the Quietists, the Jansenists, the Molinists, or the Jesuits. She sided with the King in whatever views he took; but though she disliked Madame Guyon and her theories about self-abandonment and pure love, she liked Fénelon, whom she was instrumental in raising to the See of Cambrai. The King reproaches me greatly for allowing him to make Fénelon an archbishop.' She felt the reproach keenly, and never again placed herself in the position of receiving any.

Her consciousness of power never militated against her innate humility, and she detested nothing so much as to be made a great deal of. Writing to the Archbishop of Paris on July 28, 1698, she says:

'I am much displeased with the manner of your reception of me yesterday, and I will confidentially inform you that the fuss which

people make about me everywhere has contributed to my retirement from the world. I should have liked to make an exception in your respect, as it seems to me very advisable that I should both appear to be and actually be well with you. But depend upon it, unless you can treat me without ceremony you will never see me outside my own home. On what grounds do you justify so much ceremony, such as receiving me on the hall landing, and accompanying me with all your clergy to my carriage? Are you a follower of favour, or do you think me blinded by it, and likely to be offended if you were to receive me like any other ordinary person?"


Elsewhere she writes: I grant that God has given me the grace of being wholly insensible to all the honours with which I am surrounded, and of deriving from them only 'feelings of constraint and subjection.' Yet at this time Louis XIV. was showing her more favour than ever; for at a famous review and sham fight at Compiègne got up in her honour, Madame de Maintenon, according to St. Simon, was in a sedan chair, the King standing by her side, and every moment leaning towards her to explain the several movements of the troops, while in a half-circle around the chair were the great people of the Court and all the royal princesses. Her efforts to inspire her surrounding with true devotion gave her much trouble. Religion is little known at Court: no one minds the practices it enjoins, but they ' reject its spirit. The King would not miss a single station of the cross or a single rule of abstinence, but he will not ' understand that one should humble oneself and adopt a true 'spirit of penance.' She might have added a true spirit of forgiveness, for it was an essential trait in her own character.

'It seems to me that very little virtue is necessary to have no resentment. A short time ago a poor woman came to me in tears, when I was surrounded by ladies of the Court, and asking me to have justice done to her. "What is it," I asked? "People have insulted me, "and I ask reparation." "Insults! why, my good woman, that is "what we live on here," I replied.'

In a letter to the Abbesse de Fontevrault, sister of Madame de Montespan, she asks in April, 1701, for news of her former protrectress: She is ever present in my thoughts, ' and I wish her all that I wish for myself.' Madame,' the Princess Palatine, was her sworn enemy, and according to St. Simon, Madame de Maintenon returned the compliment; yet at the very time that St. Simon places his most striking anecdote concerning the outbreak of hostility between the two ladies, a letter of Madame de Maintenon to the Duchess de Ventadour expresses her great concern at the death of

[ocr errors]

Madame's father confessor, and an earnest prayer that she may find one who will suit her in every respect. She adds: 'I beg of you not to allow Madame to be disturbed in mind as to the manner in which she received me. The greatest ' act of kindness she can show me is absolute freedom, and I 'should consider myself on a friendly footing with her, if 'she would sometimes send me away, or not talk to me.'

[ocr errors]

She was, however, conscious of all the annoyance caused to her by the jealousy, the envy, and the ill-feeling which her high favours and exalted position excited in those who surrounded her, and from this time forward all her letters breathe that satiety which bred an irresistible desire to devote the remainder of her life to the cause of God and of education in that establishment of St. Cyr which she acknowledges she loves avec une véritable passion.' In 1698 she already writes to the Archbishop of Paris that she is little mistress of her time, taken up as it is by people of 'higher rank with whom she spends it in futilities. It is a ' veritable martyrdom to which only God can have exposed me, for to produce it it was necessary to know my inmost 'heart.' In 1701 the feeling becomes more accentuated. Writing to her nephew, Count d'Ayen, she exclaims, Que 'de dégoûts se trouvent en tout!' In 1702 she remarks to her friend Madame de Glapion 'that we cannot find resources in ourselves, however clever we may be, and can only be happy and contented in the love of God.' Again she says to the same :

[ocr errors]

'Could I but show you the emptiness of the lives of those who live in high positions! Do you not perceive that I am dying of melancholy, in a station so fortunate one can scarcely conceive a higher? I have been young and pretty; I have tasted the sweets of pleasure; I have been loved everywhere; at a more advanced age I have spent years in the society of clever people; I have reached honours, and I can assure you that all these states have left behind them but frightful emptiness, anxiety, and fatigue, and a longing to know something else. Why? Because nothing satisfies, and rest can only come when we have given ourselves to God. Then only can we feel that there is nothing more to seek, and that we have reached the only good thing which earth can give us.'

In 1703 the Archbishop of Paris, her great friend and ally, was accused of leaning towards Jansenism. He had refused to condemn the Réflexions morales sur l'Evangile' of le Père Quesnel, which ten years later, together with the whole Jansenistic school of doctrine, was condemned at Rome by the famous Bull Unigenitus. Madame de Maintenon

[ocr errors]

tried all she could to warn him, to change his views so as 'to see the King once more in his hands;' but she finally sacrificed him, though she suffered terribly in the loss of a friend for whom she had so tender a regard. Our saintly 'cardinal, who might have been my consolation, has become 'a source of grief to me.' The bishops are destined to be my death. You know how much M. de Cambrai has 'made me suffer.' Voltaire was right. She knew no other will than that of her imperious husband and sovereign; but all these submissions, all these self-sacrifices, all these losses of what she held dearest, powerfully affected her. Her increasing age besides, while it lessened her power of resistance to the blows of disappointment, only served to augment an ardent longing for rest and peace in the practice of devout piety. All my life my health has been 'poor, and my constitution delicate: age and sorrows do not 'strengthen it.'

To Madame de Beaulieu she writes:

How happy you are to have left the world! It promises happiness and never gives it. The King of England with the Duchess of Burgundy and their suites were playing all kinds of games in my room yesterday. Our King and the Queen of England looked on. All was dancing, laughter, and merriment; yet almost all were keeping down their own feelings-a dagger at their hearts.'

In September, 1704, she writes to the Marquise de Dangeau: 'My heart is so sad, what with the state of affairs and the 'loss of friends, that I am always in tears.'

To the Queen of Spain she writes in October, 1704: It is 'true, Madam, that I mix myself up in nothing whatsoever, ' and that I have no power; but it is also true that I take a ' lively interest in all, and that I ardently desire your happi'ness, your consolidation on the Spanish throne, and your "good name as sovereign.' This assurance appears to us a true definition of her position. Her influence may have been, and indeed was, prejudicially exercised in the promotion of individual interests, such as Chamillart, Voisin, Pontchartrain, and Villeroy; but her opinions were seldom adopted, and hence we cannot admit that to her advice the troubles of the end of the reign of Louis XIV. are mainly attributable, though it has been so stated over and over again by successive historians. She strictly acted the part of a loving wife, for whom the King had the greatest esteem and consideration. She told Madame de Glapion that often when the King returned from the chase he came to her room, and re

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »