Part 21 out of 21
enter his room on tiptoe, and kept behind his curtains, out of sight, as
they thought; but he perceived them by means of the glass on the chimney-
piece. Lauzun liked Biron tolerably well, but Madame Biron not at all;
she was, nevertheless, his niece, and his principal heiress; he thought
her mercenary, and all her manners insupportable to him. In that he was
like the rest of the world. He was shocked by this unscrupulous entrance
into his chamber, and felt that, impatient for her inheritance, she came
in order to make sure of it, if he should die directly. He wished to
make her repent of this, and to divert himself at her expense. He
begins, therefore; to utter aloud, as though believing himself alone, an
ejaculatory orison, asking pardon of God for his past life, expressing
himself as though persuaded his death was nigh, and saying that, grieved
at his inability to do penance, he wishes at least to make use of all the
wealth he possesses, in order to redeem his sins, and bequeath that
wealth to the hospitals without any reserve; says it is the sole road to
salvation left to him by God, after having passed a long life without
thinking of the future; and thanks God for this sole resource left him,
which he adopts with all his heart!
He accompanied this resolution with a tone so touched, so persuaded, so
determined, that Biron and his wife did not doubt for a moment he was
going to execute his design, or that they should be deprived of all the
succession. They had no desire to spy any more, and went, confounded, to
the Duchesse de Lauzun, to relate to her the cruel decree they had just
heard pronounced, conjuring her to try and moderate it. Thereupon the
patient sent for the notaries, and Madame Biron believed herself lost.
It was exactly the design of the testator to produce this idea. He made
the notaries wait; then allowed them to enter, and dictated his will,
which was a death-blow to Madame de Biron. Nevertheless, he delayed
signing it, and finding himself better and better, did not sign it at
all. He was much diverted with this farce, and could not restrain his
laughter at it, when reestablished. Despite his age, and the gravity of
his illness, he was promptly cured and restored to his usual health.
He was internally as strong as a lion, though externally very delicate.
He dined and supped very heartily every day of an excellent and very
delicate cheer, always with good company, evening and morning; eating of
everything, 'gras' and 'maigre', with no choice except that of his taste
and no moderation. He took chocolate in the morning, and had always on
the table the fruits in season, and biscuits; at other times beer, cider,
lemonade, and other similar drinks iced; and as he passed to and fro, ate
and drank at this table every afternoon, exhorting others to do the same.
In this way he left table or the fruit, and immediately went to bed.
I recollect that once, among others, he ate at my house, after his
illness, so much fish, vegetables, and all sorts of things (I having no
power to hinder him), that in the evening we quietly sent to learn
whether he had not felt the effects of them. He was found at table
eating with good appetite.
His gallantry was long faithful to him. Mademoiselle was jealous of it,
and that often controlled him. I have heard Madame de Fontenelles ( a
very enviable woman, of much intelligence, very truthful, and of singular
virtue), I have heard her say, that being at Eu with Mademoiselle,
M. de Lauzun came there and could not desist from running after the
girls; Mademoiselle knew it, was angry, scratched him, and drove him from
her presence. The Comtesse de Fiesque reconciled them. Mademoiselle
appeared at the end of a long gallery; Lauzun was at the other end, and
he traversed the whole length of it on his knees until he reached the
feet of Mademoiselle. These scenes, more or less moving, often took
place afterwards. Lauzun allowed himself to be beaten, and in his turn
soundly beat Mademoiselle; and this happened several times, until at
last, tired of each other, they quarrelled once for all and never saw
each other again; he kept several portraits of her, however, in his house
or upon him, and never spoke of her without much respect. Nobody doubted
they had been secretly married. At her death he assumed a livery almost
black, with silver lace; this he changed into white with a little blue
upon gold, when silver was prohibited upon liveries.
His temper, naturally scornful and capricious, rendered more so by prison
and solitude, had made him a recluse and dreamer; so that having in his
house the best of company, he left them to Madame de Lauzun, and withdrew
alone all the afternoon, several hours running, almost always without
books, for he read only a few works of fancy--a very few--and without
sequence; so that he knew nothing except what he had seen, and until the
last was exclusively occupied with the Court and the news of the great
world. I have a thousand times regretted his radical incapacity to write
down what he had seen and done. It would have been a treasure of the
most curious anecdotes, but he had no perseverance, no application. I
have often tried to draw from him some morsels. Another misfortune. He
began to relate; in the recital names occurred of people who had taken
part in what he wished to relate. He instantly quitted the principal
object of the story in order to hang on to one of these persons, and
immediately after to some other person connected with the first, then to
a third, in the manner of the romances; he threaded through a dozen
histories at once, which made him lose ground and drove him from one to
the other without ever finishing anything; and with this his words were
very confused, so that it was impossible to learn anything from him or
retain anything he said. For the rest, his conversation was always
constrained by caprice or policy; and was amusing only by starts, and by
the malicious witticisms which sprung out of it. A few months after his
last illness, that is to say, when he was more than ninety years of age,
he broke in his horses and made a hundred passades at the Bois de
Boulogne (before the King, who was going to the Muette), upon a colt he
had just trained, surprising the spectators by his address, his firmness,
and his grace. These details about him might go on for ever.
His last illness came on without warning, almost in a moment, with the
most horrible of all ills, a cancer in the mouth. He endured it to the
last with incredible patience and firmness, without complaint, without
spleen, without the slightest repining; he was insupportable to himself.
When he saw his illness somewhat advanced, he withdrew into a little
apartment (which he had hired with this object in the interior of the
Convent of the Petits Augustins, into which there was an entrance from
his house) to die in repose there, inaccessible to Madame de Biron and
every other woman, except his wife, who had permission to go in at all
hours, followed by one of her attendants.
Into this retreat Lauzun gave access only to his nephews and brothers-in-
law, and to them as little as possible. He thought only of profiting by
his terrible state, of giving all his time to the pious discourses of his
confessor and of some of the pious people of the house, and to holy
reading; to everything, in fact, which best could prepare him for death.
When we saw him, no disorder, nothing lugubrious, no trace of suffering,
politeness, tranquillity, conversation but little animated, indifference
to what was passing in the world, speaking of it little and with
difficulty; little or no morality, still less talk of his state; and this
uniformity, so courageous and so peaceful, was sustained full four months
until the end; but during the last ten or twelve days he would see
neither brothers-in-law nor nephews, and as for his wife, promptly
dismissed her. He received all the sacraments very edifyingly, and
preserved his senses to the last moment: The morning of the day during
the night of which he died, he sent for Biron, said he had done for him
all that Madame de Lauzun had wished; that by his testament he gave him
all his wealth, except a trifling legacy to the son of his other sister,
and some recompenses to his domestics; that all he had done for him since
his marriage, and what he did in dying, he (Biron) entirely owed to
Madame de Lauzun; that he must never forget the gratitude he owed her;
that he prohibited him, by the authority of uncle and testator, ever to
cause her any trouble or annoyance, or to have any process against her,
no matter of what kind. It was Biron himself who told me this the next
day, in the terms I have given. M. de Lauzun said adieu to him in a firm
tone, and dismissed him. He prohibited, and reasonably, all ceremony; he
was buried at the Petits Augustins; he had nothing from the King but the
ancient company of the battle-axes, which was suppressed two days after.
A month before his death he had sent for Dillon (charged here with the
affairs of King James, and a very distinguished officer general), to whom
he surrendered his collar of the Order of the Garter, and a George of
onyx, encircled with perfectly beautiful and large diamonds, to be sent
back to the Prince.
I perceive at last, that I have been very prolix upon this man, but the
extraordinary singularity of his life, and my close connexion with him,
appear to me sufficient excuses for making him known, especially as he
did not sufficiently figure in general affairs to expect much notice in
the histories that will appear. Another sentiment has extended my
recital. I am drawing near a term I fear to reach, because my desires
cannot be in harmony with the truth; they are ardent, consequently
gainful, because the other sentiment is terrible, and cannot in any way
be palliated; the terror of arriving there has stopped me--nailed me
where I was--frozen me.
It will easily be seen that I speak of the death (and what a death!) of
M. le Duc d'Orleans; and this frightful recital, especially after such a
long attachment (it lasted all his life, and will last all mine),
penetrates me with terror and with grief for him. The Regent had said,
when he died he should like to die suddenly: I shudder to my very marrow,
with the horrible suspicion that God, in His anger, granted his desire.
The new chateau of Meudon, completely furnished, had been restored to me
since the return of the Court to Versailles, just as I had had it before
the Court came to Meudon. The Duc and Duchesse d'Humieres were with us
there, and good company. One morning towards the end of October, 1723,
the Duc d'Humieres wished me to conduct him to Versailles, to thank M. le
We found the Regent dressing in the vault he used as his wardrobe. He
was upon his chair among his valets, and one or two of his principal
officers. His look terrified me. I saw a man with hanging head, a
purple-red complexion, and a heavy stupid air. He did not even see me
approach. His people told him. He slowly turned his head towards me,
and asked me with a thick tongue what brought me. I told him. I had
intended to pass him to come into the room where he dressed himself, so
as not to keep the Duc d'Humieres waiting; but I was so astonished that I
stood stock still.
I took Simiane, first gentleman of his chamber, into a window, and
testified to him my surprise and my fear at the state in which I saw M.
le Duc d'Orleans.
Simiane replied that for a long time he had been so in the morning; that
to-day there was nothing extraordinary about him, and that I was
surprised simply because I did not see him at those hours; that nothing
would be seen when he had shaken himself a little in dressing. There was
still, however, much to be seen when he came to dress himself. The
Regent received the thanks of the Duc d'Humieres with an astonished and
heavy air; he who always was so gracious and so polite to everybody, and
who so well knew how to express himself, scarcely replied to him! A
moment after, M. d'Humieres and I withdrew. We dined with the Duc de
Gesvres, who led him to the King to thank his Majesty.
The condition of M. le Duc d'Orleans made me make many reflections. For
a very long time the Secretaries of State had told me that during the
first hours of the morning they could have made him pass anything they
wished, or sign what might have been the most hurtful to him. It was the
fruit of his suppers. Within the last year he himself had more than once
told me that Chirac doctored him unceasingly, without effect; because he
was so full that he sat down to table every evening without hunger,
without any desire to eat, though he took nothing in the morning, and
simply a cup of chocolate between one and two o'clock in the day (before
everybody), it being then the time to see him in public. I had not kept
dumb with him thereupon, but all my representations were perfectly
useless. I knew moreover, that Chirac had continually told him that the
habitual continuance of his suppers would lead him to apoplexy, or dropsy
on the chest, because his respiration was interrupted at times; upon
which he had cried out against this latter malady, which was a slow,
suffocating, annoying preparation for death, saying that he preferred
apoplexy, which surprised and which killed at once, without allowing time
to think of it!
Another man, instead of crying out against this kind of death with which
he was menaced, and of preferring another, allowing him no time for
reflection, would have thought about leading a sober, healthy, and decent
life, which, with the temperament he had, would have procured him a very
long time, exceeding agreeable in the situation--very probably durable--
in which he found himself; but such was the double blindness of this
I was on terms of much intimacy with M. de Frejus, and since, in default
of M. le Duc d'Orleans, there must be another master besides the King,
until he could take command, I preferred this prelate to any other. I
went to him, therefore, and told him what I had seen this morning of the
state of M. le Duc d'Orleans. I predicted that his death must soon come,
and that it would arrive suddenly, without warning. I counselled Frejus,
therefore, to have all his arrangements ready with the King, in order to
fill up the Regent's place of prime minister when it should become
vacant. M. de Frejus appeared very grateful for the advice, but was
measured and modest as though he thought the post much above him!
On the 22nd of December, 1723, I went from Meudon to Versailles to see
M. le Duc d'Orleans; I was three-quarters of an hour with him in his
cabinet, where I had found him alone. We walked to and fro there,
talking of affairs of which he was going to give an account to the King
that day. I found no difference in him, his state was, as usual, languid
and heavy, as it had been for some time, but his judgment was clear as
ever. I immediately returned to Meudon, and chatted there some time with
Madame de Saint-Simon on arriving. On account of the season we had
little company. I left Madame de Saint-Simon in her cabinet, and went
About an hour after, at most, I heard cries and a sudden uproar. I ran
out and I found Madame de Saint-Simon quite terrified, bringing to me a
groom of the Marquis de Ruffec, who wrote to me from Versailles, that
M. le Duc d'Orleans was in a apoplectic fit. I was deeply moved, but not
surprised; I had expected it, as I have shown, for a long time.
I impatiently waited for my carriage, which was a long while coming,
on account of the distance of the new chateau from the stables. I flung
myself inside; and was driven as fast as possible.
At the park gate I met another courier from M. de Ruffec, who stopped me,
and said it was all over. I remained there more than half an hour
absorbed in grief and reflection. At the end I resolved to go to
Versailles, and shut myself up in my rooms; I learnt there the
particulars of the event.
M. le Duc d'Orleans had everything prepared to go and work with the King.
While waiting the hour, he chatted with Madame Falari, one of his
mistresses. They were close to each other, both seated in armchairs,
when suddenly he fell against her, and never from that moment had the
slightest glimmer of consciousness.
La Falari, frightened as much as may be imagined, cried with all her
might for help, and redoubled her cries. Seeing that nobody replied, she
supported as best she could this poor prince upon the contiguous arms of
the two chairs, ran into the grand cabinet, into the chamber, into the
ante-chambers, without finding a soul; finally, into the court and the
lower gallery. It was the hour at which M. le Duc d'Orleans worked with
the King, an hour when people were sure no one would come and see him,
and that he had no need of them, because he ascended to the King's room
by the little staircase from his vault, that is to say his wardrobe. At
last La Falari found somebody, and sent the first who came to hand for
help. Chance; or rather providence, had arranged this sad event at a
time when everybody was ordinarily away upon business or visits, so that
a full half-hour elapsed before doctor or surgeon appeared, and about as
long before any domestics of M. le Duc d'Orleans could be found.
As soon as the faculty had examined the Regent; they judged his case
hopeless. He was hastily extended upon the floor, and bled, but he gave
not the slightest sign of life, do what they might to him. In an
instant, after the first announcement, everybody flocked to the spot; the
great and the little cabinet were full of people. In less than two hours
all was over, and little by little the solitude became as great as the
crowd had been. As soon as assistance came, La Falari flew away and
gained Paris as quickly as possible.
La Vrilliere was one of the first who learnt of the attack of apoplexy.
He instantly ran and informed the King and the Bishop of Frejus. Then M.
le Duc, like a skilful courtier, resolved to make the best of his time;
he at once ran home and drew up at all hazards the patent appointing M.
le Duc prime minister, thinking it probable that that prince would be
named. Nor was he deceived. At the first intelligence of apoplexy,
Frejus proposed M. le Duc to the King, having probably made his
arrangements in advance. M. le Duc arrived soon after, and entered the
cabinet where he saw the King, looking very sad, his eyes red and
Scarcely had he entered than Frejus said aloud to the King, that in the
loss he had sustained by the death of M. le Duc d'Orleans (whom he very
briefly eulogised), his Majesty could not do better than beg M. le Duc,
there present, to charge himself with everything, and accept the post of
prime minister M. le Duc d'Orleans had filled. The King, without saying
a word, looked at Frejus, and consented by a sign of the head, and M. le
Duc uttered his thanks.
La Vrilliere, transported with joy at the prompt policy he had followed,
had in his pocket the form of an oath taken by the prime minister, copied
from that taken by M. le Duc d'Orleans, and proposed to Frejus to
administer it immediately. Frejus proposed it to the King as a fitting
thing, and M. le Duc instantly took it. Shortly after, M. le Duc went
away; the crowd in the adjoining rooms augmented his suite, and in a
moment nothing was talked of but M. le Duc.
M. le Duc de Chartres (the Regent's son), very awkward, but a libertine,
was at Paris with an opera dancer he kept. He received the courier which
brought him the news of the apoplexy, and on the road (to Versailles),
another with the news of death. Upon descending from his coach, he found
no crowd, but simply the Duc de Noailles, and De Guiche, who very
'apertement' offered him their services, and all they could do for him.
He received them as though they were begging-messengers whom he was in a
hurry to get rid of, bolted upstairs to his mother, to whom he said he
had just met two men who wished to bamboozle him, but that he had not
been such a fool as to let them. This remarkable evidence of
intelligence, judgment, and policy, promised at once all that this prince
has since performed. It was with much trouble he was made to comprehend
that he had acted with gross stupidity; he continued, nevertheless, to
act as before.
He was not less of a cub in the interview I shortly afterwards had with
him. Feeling it my duty to pay a visit of condolence to Madame la
Duchesse d'Orleans, although I had not been on terms of intimacy with her
for a long while, I sent a message to her to learn whether my presence
would be agreeable. I was told that Madame la Duchesse d'Orleans would
be very glad to see me. I accordingly immediately went to her.
I found her in bed, with a few ladies and her chief officers around, and
M. le Duc de Chartres making decorum do double duty for grief. As soon
as I approached her she spoke to me of the grievous misfortune--not a
word of our private differences. I had stipulated thus. M. le Duc de
Chartres went away to his own rooms. Our dragging conversation I put an
end to as soon as possible.
From Madame la Duchesse d'Orleans I went to M. le Duc de Chartres. He
occupied the room his father had used before being Regent. They told me
he was engaged. I went again three times during the same morning. At
the last his valet de chambre was ashamed, and apprised him of my visit,
in despite of me. He came across the threshold of the door of his
cabinet, where he had been occupied with some very common people; they
were just the sort of people suited to him.
I saw a man before me stupefied and dumfounded, not afflicted, but so
embarrassed that he knew not where he was. I paid him the strongest, the
clearest, the most energetic of compliments, in a loud voice. He took
me, apparently, for some repetition of the Ducs de Guiche and de
Noailles, and did not do me the honour to reply one word.
I waited some moments, and seeing that nothing would come out of the
mouth of this image, I made my reverence and withdrew, he advancing not
one step to conduct me, as he ought to have done, all along his
apartment, but reburying himself in his cabinet. It is true that in
retiring I cast my eyes upon the company, right and left, who appeared to
me much surprised. I went home very weary of dancing attendance at the
The death of M. le Duc d'Orleans made a great sensation abroad and at
home; but foreign countries rendered him incomparably more justice, and
regretted him much more, than the French. Although foreigners knew his
feebleness, and although the English had strangely abused it, their
experience had not the less persuaded them of the range of his mind, of
the greatness of his genius and of his views, of his singular
penetration, of the sagacity and address of his policy, of the fertility
of his expedients and of his resources, of the dexterity of his conduct
under all changes of circumstances and events, of his clearness in
considering objects and combining things; of his superiority over his
ministers, and over those that various powers sent to him; of the
exquisite discernment he displayed in investigating affairs; of his
learned ability in immediately replying to everything when he wished.
The majority of our Court did not regret him, however. The life he had
led displeased the Church people; but more still, the treatment they had
received from his hands.
The day after death, the corpse of M. le Duc d'Orleans was taken from
Versailles to Saint-Cloud, and the next day the ceremonies commenced.
His heart was carried from Saint-Cloud to the Val de Grace by the
Archbishop of Rouen, chief almoner of the defunct Prince. The burial
took place at Saint-Denis, the funeral procession passing through Paris,
with the greatest pomp. The obsequies were delayed until the 12th of
February. M. le Duc de Chartres became Duc d'Orleans.
After this event, I carried out a determination I had long resolved on.
I appeared before the new masters of the realm as seldom as possible--
only, in fact, upon such occasions where it would have been inconsistent
with my position to stop away. My situation at the Court had totally
changed. The loss of the dear Prince, the Duc de Bourgogne, was the
first blow I had received. The loss of the Regent was the second. But
what a wide gulf separated these two men!
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