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The Women of the French Salons by Amelia Gere Mason

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I am going to tell you a thing the most astonishing, the most
surprising, the most marvelous, the most miraculous, the most
triumphant, the most astounding, the most unheard of, the most
singular, the most extraordinary, the most incredible, the most
unexpected, the grandest, the smallest, the rarest, the most
common, the most dazzling, the most secret even until today, the
most brilliant, the most worthy of envy . . . . a thing in fine
which is to be done Sunday, when those who see it will believe
themselves dazed; a thing which is to be done Sunday and which
will not perhaps have been done Monday . . . M. de Lauzun
marries Sunday, at the Louvre--guess whom? . . . He marries
Sunday at the Louvre, with the permission of the King,
Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle de, Mademoiselle; guess the name; he
marries Mademoiselle, MA FOI, PAR MA FOI, MA FOI JUREE,
Mademoiselle, la grande Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle, daughter of
the late Monsieur, Mademoiselle, grand-daughter of Henry IV,
Mademoiselle d'Eu, Mademoiselle de Dombes, Mademoiselle de
Montpensier, Mademoiselle d'Orleans, Mademoiselle, cousin of the
king, Mademoiselle, destined to the throne, Mademoiselle, the
only parti in France worthy of Monsieur. VOILA a fine subject
for conversation. If you cry out, if you are beside yourself, if
you say that we have deceived you, that it is false, that one
trifles with you, that it is a fine bit of raillery, that it is
very stupid to imagine, if, in fine, you abuse us, we shall find
that you are right; we have done as much ourselves.

In spite of the prudent warnings of her friends, the happy
princess could not forego the eclat of a grand wedding, and
before the hasty arrangements were concluded, the permission was
withdrawn. Her tears, her entreaties, her cries, her rage, and
her despair, were of no avail. Louis XIV took her in his arms,
and mingled his tears with hers, even reproaching her for the two
or three days of delay; but he was inexorable. Ten years of
loyal devotion to her lover, shortly afterward imprisoned at
Pignerol, and of untiring efforts for his release which was at
last secured at the cost of half her vast estates, ended in a
brief reunion. A secret marriage, a swift discovery that her
idol was of very common clay, abuse so violent that she was
obliged to forbid him forever her presence, and the
disenchantment was complete. The sad remnant of her existence
was devoted to literature and to conversation; the latter she
regarded as "the greatest pleasure in life, and almost the only
one." When she died, the Count de Lauzun wore the deepest
mourning, had portraits of her everywhere, and adopted
permanently the subdued colors that would fitly express the
inconsolable nature of his grief.

Without tact or fine discrimination, the Grande Mademoiselle was
a woman of generous though undisciplined impulses, loyal
disposition, and pure character; but her egotism was colossal.
Under different conditions, one might readily imagine her a
second Joan of Arc, or a heroine of the Revolution. She says of
herself: "I know not what it is to be a heroine; I am of a birth
to do nothing that is not grand or elevated. One may call that
what one likes. As for myself, I call it to follow my own
inclination and to go my own way. I am not born to take that of
others." She lacked the measure, the form, the delicacy of the
typical precieuse; but her quick, restless intellect and ardent
imagination were swift to catch the spirit of the Hotel de
Rambouillet, and to apply it in an original fashion. Though many
subjects were interdicted in her salon, and many people were
excluded, it gives us interesting glimpses into the life of the
literary noblesse, and furnishes a complete gallery of pen-
portraits of more or less noted men and women. With all the
brilliant possibilities of her life, it was through the diversion
of her idle hours that this princess, author, amazon, prospective
queen, and disappointed woman has left the most permanent trace
upon the world.

Mme. de Sable--Her Worldly Life--Her Retreat--Her Friends--
Pascal--The Maxims of La Rochefoucauld--Last Days of the Marquise

The transition from the restless character and stormy experiences
of the Grande Mademoiselle, to the gentler nature and the convent
salon of her friend and literary confidante, Mme. de Sable, is a
pleasant one. Perhaps no one better represents the true
precieuse of the seventeenth century, the happy blending of
social savoir-faire with an amiable temper and a cultivated
intellect. Without the genius of Mme. de Sevigne or Mme. de La
Fayette, without the force or the rare attractions of Mme. de
Longueville, without the well-poised character and catholic
sympathies of Mme. de Rambouillet, she played an important part
in the life of her time, through her fine insight and her
consummate tact in bringing together the choicest spirits, and
turning their thoughts into channels that were fresh and unworn.
Born in 1599, Madeleine de Souvre passed her childhood in
Touraine, of which province her father was governor. In the
brilliancy of her youth, we find her in Paris among the early
favorites of the Hotel de Rambouillet, and on terms of lifelong
intimacy with its hostess and her daughter Julie. Beautiful,
versatile, generous, but fastidious and exacting in her
friendships, with a dash of coquetry--inevitable when a woman is
fascinating and French--she repeated the oft-played role of a
mariage de convenance at sixteen, a few brilliant years of
social triumphs marred by domestic neglect and suffering, a
period of enforced seclusion after the death of her unworthy
husband, a brief return to the world, and an old age of mild and
comfortable devotion.

"The Marquise de Sable," writes Mme. de Motteville, "was one of
those whose beauty made the most sensation when the Queen (Anne
of Austria) came into France. But if she was amiable, she
desired still more to appear so. Her self-love rendered her a
little too sensible to that which men professed for her. There
was still in France some remnant of the politeness which
Catherine de Medicis had brought from Italy, and Mme. de Sable
found so much delicacy in the new dramas, as well as in other
works, in prose and verse, which came from Madrid, that she
conceived a high idea of the gallantry which the Spaniards had
learned from the Moors. She was persuaded that men may without
wrong have tender sentiments for women; that the desire of
pleasing them leads men to the greatest and finest actions,
arouses their spirit, and inspires them with liberality and all
sorts of virtues; but that, on the other side, women, who are the
ornaments of the world, and made to be served and adored, ought
to permit only respectful attentions. This lady, having
sustained her views with much talent and great beauty, gave them
authority in her time."

The same writer says that she has "much light and sincerity,"
with "penetration enough to unfold all the secrets of one's

Mlle. de Scudery introduces her in the "Grand Cyrus," as Parthenie,
"a tall and graceful woman, with fine eyes, the most beautiful
throat in the world, a lovely complexion, blonde hair, and a
pleasant mouth, with a charming air, and a fine and eloquent
smile, which expresses the sweetness or the bitterness of her
soul." She dwells upon her surprising and changeful beauty, upon
the charm of her conversation, the variety of her knowledge, the
delicacy of her tact, and the generosity of her tender and
passionate heart. One may suspect this portrait of being
idealized, but it seems to have been in the main correct.

Of her husband we know very little, excepting that he belonged to
the family of Montmorency, passed from violent love to heart-
breaking indifference, and died about 1640, leaving her with four
children and shattered fortunes. To recruit her failing health,
and to hide her chagrin and sorrow at seeing herself supplanted
by unworthy rivals, she had lived for some time in the country,
where she had leisure for the reading and reflection which fitted
her for her later life. But after the death of her husband she
was obliged to sell her estates, and we find her established in
the Place Royale with her devoted friend, the Comtesse de Maure,
and continuing the traditions of the Hotel de Rambouillet. Her
tastes had been formed in this circle, and she had also been
under the instruction of the Chevalier de Mere, a litterateur and
courtier who had great vogue, was something of an oracle, and
molded the character and manners of divers women of this period,
among others the future Mme. de Maintenon. His confidence in his
own power of bringing talent out of mediocrity was certainly
refreshing. Among his pupils was the Duchesse de Lesdiguieres,
who said to him one day, "I wish to have esprit."--"Eh bien,
Madame," replied the complaisant chevalier, "you shall have it."

How much Mme. de Sable may have been indebted to this modest bel
esprit we do not know, but her finished manner, fine taste,
exquisite tact, cultivated intellect, and great experience of the
world made her an authority in social matters. To be received in
her salon was to be received everywhere. Cardinal Mazarin
watched her influence with a jealous eye. "Mme. de Longueville
is very intimate with the Marquise de Sable," he writes in his
private note book. "She is visited constantly by D'Andilly, the
Princesse de Guemene, d'Enghien and his sister, Nemours, and many
others. They speak freely of all the world. It is necessary to
have some one who will advise us of all that passes there."

But the death of her favorite son--a young man distinguished for
graces of person, mind, heart, and character, who lost his life
in one of the battles of his friend and comrade, the Prince de
Conde--together with the loss of her fortune and the fading of
her beauty, turned the thoughts of the Marquise to spiritual
things. We find many traces of the state of mind which led her
first into a mild form of devotion, serious but not too ascetic,
and later into pronounced Jansenism. In a note to a friend who
had neglected her, she dwells upon "the misery and nothingness of
the world," recalls the strength of their long friendship, the
depth of her own affection, and tries to account for the
disloyalty to herself, by the inherent weakness and emptiness of
human nature, which renders it impossible for even the most
perfect to do anything that is not defective. All this is very
charitable, to say the least, as well as a little abstract. Time
has given a strange humility and forgivingness to the woman who
broke with her dearest friend, the unfortunate Duc de
Montmorency, because he presumed to lift his eyes to the Queen,
saying that she "could not receive pleasantly the regards which
she had to share with the greatest princess in the world."

The fashion of the period furnished a peaceful and dignified
refuge for women, when their beauty waned and the "terrible
forties" ended their illusions. To go into brief retreat for
penitence and prayer was at all times a graceful thing to do,
besides making for safety. It was only a step further to retire
altogether from the scenes of pleasure which had begun to pall.
The convent offered a haven of repose to the bruised heart, a
fresh aim for drooping energies, a needed outlet for devouring
emotions, and a comfortable sense of security, not only for this
world, but for the next. It was the next world which was
beginning to trouble Mme. de Sable. She had great fear of death,
and after many penitential retreats to Port Royal, she finally
obtained permission to build a suite of apartments within its
precincts, and retired there about 1655 to prepare for that
unpleasant event which she put off as long as possible by the
most assiduous care of her health. "If she was not devoted, she
had the idea of becoming so," said Mademoiselle. But her
devotion was in quite a mundane fashion. Her pleasant rooms were
separate and independent, thus enabling her to give herself not
only to the care of her health and her soul, but to a select
society, to literature, and to conversation. She never practiced
the severe asceticism of her friend, Mme. de Longueville. With a
great deal of abstract piety, the iron girdle and the hair shirt
were not included. She did not even forego her delicate and
fastidious tastes. Her elegant dinners and her dainty comfitures
were as famous as ever. "Will the anger of the Marquise go so
far, in your opinion, as to refuse me her recipe for salad?"
writes Mme. de Choisy at the close of a letter to the Comtesse de
Maure, in which she has ridiculed her friend's Jansenist
tendencies; "If so, it will be a great inhumanity, for which she
will be punished in this world and the other." She had great
skill in delicate cooking, and was in the habit of sending cakes,
jellies, and other dainties, prepared by herself, to her intimate
friends. La Rochefoucauld says, "If I could hope for two dishes
of those preserves, which I did not deserve to eat before, I
should be indebted to you all my life." Mme. de Longueville, who
is about to visit her, begs her not to give a feast as she has
"scruples about such indulgence."

This spice of worldliness very much tempered the austerity of her
retreat, and lent an added luster to its intellectual
attractions. But the Marquise had many conflicts between her
luxurious tastes and her desire to be devout. Her dainty and
epicurean habits, her extraordinary anxiety about her health, and
her capricious humors were the subject of much light badinage
among her friends. The Grande Mademoiselle sketches these traits
with a satiric touch in the "Princesse de Paphlagonie," where she
introduces her with the Comtesse de Maure. "There are no hours
when they do not confer together upon the means of preventing
themselves from dying, and upon the art of rendering themselves
immortal," she writes. "Their conferences are not like those of
other people; the fear of breathing an air too cold or too hot,
the apprehension that the wind may be too dry or too damp, a
fancy that the weather is not as moderate as they judge necessary
for the preservation of their health--these are sufficient
reasons for writing from one room to another . . . . If one
could find this correspondence, one might derive great advantages
in every way; for they were princesses who had nothing mortal,
except the knowledge of being so . . . Of Mme. de Sable she
adds: "The Princess Parthenie had a taste as dainty as her mind;
nothing equaled the magnificence of her entertainments; all the
viands were exquisite, and her elegance was beyond anything that
one could imagine." The fastidious Marquise suffered, with all
the world, from the defects of her qualities. Her extreme
delicacy and sensibility appear under many forms and verge often
upon weakness; but it is an amiable weakness that does not
detract greatly from her fascination. She was not cast in a
heroic mold, and her faults are those which the world is pleased
to call essentially feminine.

The records of her life were preserved by Conrart, also by her
friend and physician, Valant. They give us a clear picture of
her character, with its graces and its foibles, as well as of her
pleasant intercourse and correspondence with many noted men and
women. They give us, too, interesting glimpses of her salon. We
find there the celebrated Jansenists Nicole and Arnauld, the
eminent lawyer Domat, Esprit, sometimes Pascal, with his sister,
Mme. Perier; the Prince and Princesse de Conti, the Grand Conde,
La Rochefoucauld, the penitent Mme. de Longueville, Mme. de La
Fayette, and many others among the cultivated noblesse, who are
attracted by its tone of bel esprit and graceful, but by no means
severe, devotion. The Duc d'Orleans and the lovely but
unfortunate Madame were intimate and frequent visitors.

In this little world, in which religion, literature, and fashion
are curiously blended, they talk of theology, morals, physics,
Cartesianism, friendship, and love. The youth and gaiety of the
Hotel de Rambouillet have given place to more serious thoughts
and graver topics. The current which had its source there is
divided. At the Samedis, in the Marais, they are amusing
themselves about the same time with letters and Vers de Societe.
At the Luxembourg, a more exclusive coterie is exercising its
mature talent in sketching portraits. These salons touch at many
points, but each has a channel of its own. The reflective nature
of Mme. de Sable turns to more serious and elevated subjects, and
her friends take the same tone. They make scientific
experiments, discuss Calvinism, read the ancient moralists, and
indulge in dissertations upon a great variety of topics. Mme. de
Bregy, poet, dame d'honneur and femme d'esprit, who amused the
little court of Mademoiselle with so many discreetly flattering
pen-portraits, has left two badly written and curiously spelled
notes upon the merits of Socrates and Epictetus, which throw a
ray of light upon the tastes of this aristocratic and rather
speculative circle. Mme. de Sable writes an essay upon the
education of children, which is very much talked about, also a
characteristic paper upon friendship. The latter is little more
than a series of detached sentences, but it indicates the drift
of her thought, and might have served as an antidote to the
selfish philosophy of La Rochefoucauld. It calls out an
appreciative letter from d'Andilly, who, in his anchorite's cell,
continues to follow the sayings and doings of his friends in the
little salon at Port Royal.

"Friendship," she writes, "is a kind of virtue which can only be
founded upon the esteem of people whom one loves--that is to
say, upon qualities of the soul, such as fidelity, generosity,
discretion, and upon fine qualities of mind."

After insisting that it must be reciprocal, disinterested, and
based upon virtue, she continues: "One ought not to give the name
of friendship to natural inclinations because they do not depend
upon our will or our choice; and, though they render our
friendships more agreeable, they should not be the foundation of
them. The union which is founded upon the same pleasures and the
same occupations does not deserve the name of friendship because
it usually comes from a certain egotism which causes us to love
that which is similar to ourselves, however imperfect we may be."
She dwells also upon the mutual offices and permanent nature of
true friendship, adding, "He who loves his friend more than
reason and justice, will on some other occasion love his own
pleasure and profit more than his friend."

The Abbe Esprit, Jansenist and academician, wrote an essay upon
"Des Amities en Apparence les Plus Saints des Hommes avec les
Femmes," which was doubtless suggested by the conversations in
this salon, where the subject was freely discussed. The days of
chivalry were not so far distant, and the subtle blending of
exalted sentiment with thoughtful companionship, which revived
their spirit in a new form, was too marked a feature of the time
to be overlooked. These friendships, half intellectual, half
poetic, and quite platonic, were mostly formed in mature life, on
a basis of mental sympathy. "There is a taste in pure friendship
which those who are born mediocre do not reach," said La Gruyere.
Mme. de Lambert speaks of it as "the product of a perfect social
culture, and, of all affections, that which has most charm."

The well-known friendship of Mme. de La Fayette and La
Rochefoucauld, which illustrates the mutual influence of a
critical man of intellect and a deep-hearted, thoughtful woman
who has passed the age of romance, began in this salon. Its
nature was foreshadowed in the tribute La Rochefoucauld paid to
women in his portrait of himself. "Where their intellect is
cultivated," he writes, :"I prefer their society to that of men.
One finds there a gentleness one does not meet with among
ourselves; and it seems to me, beyond this, that they express
themselves with more neatness, and give a more agreeable turn to
the things they talk about."

Mme. de Sable was herself, in less exclusive fashion, the
intimate friend and adviser of Esprit, d'Andilly, and La
Rochefoucauld. The letters of these men show clearly their warm
regard as well as the value they attached to her opinions.
"Indeed," wrote Voiture to her many years before, "those who
decry you on the side of tenderness must confess that if you are
not the most loving person in the world, you are at least the
most obliging. True friendship knows no more sweetness than
there is in your words." Her character, so delicately shaded and
so averse to all violent passions, seems to have been peculiarly
fitted for this calm and enduring sentiment which cast a soft
radiance, as of Indian summer, over her closing years.

At a later period, the sacred name of friendship was
unfortunately used to veil relations that had lost all the purity
and delicacy of their primitive character. This fact has
sometimes been rather illogically cited, as an argument not only
against the moral influence of the salons but against the
intellectual development of women. There is neither excuse nor
palliation to be offered for the Italian manners and the
recognized system of amis intimes, which disgraced the French
society the next century. But, while it is greatly to be
deplored that the moral sense has not always kept pace with the
cultivation of the intellect, there is no reason for believing
that license of manners is in any degree the result of it. There
is striking evidence to the contrary, in the incredible ignorance
and laxity that found its reaction in the early salons; also in
the dissolute lives of many distinguished women of rank who had
no pretension to wit or education. The fluctuation of morals,
which has always existed, must be traced to quite other causes.
Virtue has not invariably accompanied intelligence, but it has
been still less the companion of ignorance.

It was Mme. de Sable who set the fashion of condensing the
thoughts and experiences of life into maxims and epigrams. This
was her specific gift to literature; but her influence was felt
through what she inspired others to do rather than through what
she did herself. It was her good fortune to be brought into
contact with the genius of a Pascal and a La Rochefoucauld,--men
who reared immortal works upon the pastime of an idle hour. One
or two of her own maxims will suffice to indicate her style as
well as to show the estimate she placed upon form and measure in
the conduct of life:

A bad manner spoils everything, even justice and reason. The HOW
constitutes the best part of things, and the air which one gives
them gilds, modifies, and softens the most disagreeable.

There is a certain command in the manner of speaking and acting,
which makes itself felt everywhere, and which gains, in advance,
consideration and respect.

We find here the spirit that underlies French manners, in which
form counts for so much.

There is another, which suggests the delicate flavor of sentiment
then in vogue:

Wherever it is, love is always the master. It seems truly that
it is to the soul of the one who loves, what the soul is to the
body it animates.

Among the eminent men who lent so much brilliancy to this salon
was the great jurist Domat. He adds his contribution and falls
into the moralizing vein:

A little fine weather, a good word, a praise, a caress, draws me
from a profound sadness from which I could not draw myself by any
effort of meditation. What a machine is my soul, what an abyss
of misery and weakness!

Here is one by the Abbe d'Ailly, which foreshadows the thought of
the next century:

Too great submission to books, and to the opinions of the
ancients, as to the eternal truths revealed of God, spoils the
head and makes pedants.

The finest and most vigorous of these choice spirits was Pascal,
who frequented more or less the salon of Mme. de Sable previous
to his final retirement to the gloom and austerity of the
cloister. His delicate platonism and refined spirituality go far
towards offsetting the cold cynicism of La Rochefoucauld. Each
gives us a different phase of life as reflected in a clear and
luminous intelligence. The one led to Port Royal, the other
turned an electric light upon the selfish corruption of courts.
Many of the pensees of Pascal were preserved among the records of
this salon, and Cousin finds reason for believing that they were
first suggested and discussed here; he even thinks it possible,
if not probable, that the "Discours sur les Passions de L'amour,"
which pertains to his mundane life, and presents the grave and
ascetic recluse in a new light, had a like origin.

But the presiding genius was La Rochefoucauld. He complains that
the mode of relaxation is fatiguing, and that the mania for
sentences troubles his repose. The subjects were suggested for
conversation, and the thoughts were condensed and reduced to
writing at leisure. "Here are all the maxims I have," he writes
to Mme. de Sable; "but as one gives nothing for nothing, I demand
a potage aux carottes, un ragout de mouton, etc."

"When La Rochefoucauld had composed his sentences," says Cousin,
"he talked them over before or after dinner, or he sent them at
the end of a letter. They were discussed, examined, and
observations were made, by which he profited. One could lessen
their faults, but one could lend them no beauty. There was not a
delicate and rare turn, a fine and keen touch, which did not come
from him."

After availing himself of the general judgment in this way, he
took a novel method of forestalling crtiticism before committing
himself to publication. Mme. de Sable sent a collection of the
maxims to her friends, asking for a written opinion. One is
tempted to make long extracts from their replies. The men
usually indorse the worldly sentiments, the women rarely. The
Princesse de Guemene, who, in the decline of her beauty, was
growing devout, and also had apartments for penitential retreat
at Port Royal, responds: "I was just going to write to beg you
to send me your carriage as soon as you had dined. I have yet
seen only the first maxims, as I had a headache yesterday; but
those I have read appear to me to be founded more upon the
disposition of the author than upon the truth, for he believes
neither in generosity without interest, nor in pity; that is, he
judges every one by himself. For the greater number of people,
he is right; but surely there are those who desire only to do
good." The Countesse de Maure, who does not believe in the
absolute depravity of human nature, and is inclined to an
elevated Christian philosophy quite opposed to Jansenism, writes
with so much severity that she begs her friend not to show her
letter to the author. Mme. de Hautefort expresses her
disapproval of a theory which drives honor and goodness out of
the world. After many clever and well-turned criticisms, she
says: "But the maxim which is quite new to me, and which I
admire, is that idleness, languid as it is, destroys all the
passions. It is true, and he had searched his heart well to find
a sentiment so hidden, but so just . . . I think one ought, at
present, to esteem idleness as the only virtue in the world,
since it is that which uproots all the vices. As I have always
had much respect for it, I am glad it has so much merit." But
she adds wisely: "If I were of the opinion of the author, I would
not bring to the light those mysteries which will forever deprive
him of all the confidence one might have in him."

There is one letter, written by the clever and beautiful Eleonore
de Rohan, Abbess de Malnoue, and addressed to the author, which
deserves to be read for its fine and just sentiments. In closing
she says:

The maxim upon humility appears to me perfectly beautiful; but I
have been so surprised to find it there, that I had the greatest
difficulty in recognizing it in the midst of all that precedes
and follows it. It is assuredly to make this virtue practiced
among your own sex, that you have written maxims in which their
self-love is so little flattered. I should be very much
humiliated on my own part, if I did not say to myself what I have
already said to you in this note, that you judge better the
hearts of men than those of women, and that perhaps you do not
know yourself the true motive which makes you esteem them less.
If you had always met those whose temperament had been submitted
to virtue, and in whom the senses were less strong than reason,
you would think better of a certain number who distinguish
themselves always from the multitude; and it seems to me that
Mme. de La Fayette and myself deserve that you should have a
better opinion of the sex in general.

Mme. de La Fayette writes to the Marquise: "All people of good
sense are not so persuaded of the general corruption as is M. de
La Rochefoucauld. I return to you a thousand thanks for all you
have done for this gentleman."--At a later period she said: "La
Rochefoucauld stimulated my intellect, but I reformed his heart."
It is to be regretted that he had not known her sooner.

At his request Mme. de Sable wrote a review of the maxims, which
she submitted to him for approval. It seems to have been a fair
presentation of both sides, but he thought it too severe, and she
kindly gave him permission to change it to suit himself. He took
her at her word, dropped the adverse criticisms, retained the
eulogies, and published it in the "Journal des Savants" as he
wished it to go to the world. The diplomatic Marquise saved her
conscience and kept her friend.

The maxims of La Rochefoucauld, which are familiar to all, have
extended into a literature. That he generalized from his own
point of view, and applied to universal humanity the motives of a
class bent upon favor and precedence, is certainly true. But
whatever we may think of his sentiments, which were those of a
man of the world whose observations were largely in the
atmosphere of courts, we are compelled to admit his unrivaled
finish and perfection of form. Similar theories of human nature
run through the maxims of Esprit and Saint Evremond, without the
exquisite turn which makes each one of La Rochefoucauld's a gem
in itself. His tone was that of a disappointed courtier, with a
vein of sadness only half disguised by cold philosophy and bitter
cynicism. La Bruyere, with a broader outlook upon humanity, had
much of the same fine analysis, with less conciseness and
elegance of expression. Vauvenargues and Joubert were his
legitimate successors. But how far removed in spirit!

"The body has graces," writes Vauvenargues, "the mind has
talents; has the heart only vices? And man capable of reason,
shall he be incapable of virtue?"

With a fine and delicate touch, Joubert says: "Virtue is the
health of the soul. It gives a flavor to the smallest leaves of

These sentiments are in the vein of Pascal, who represents the
most spiritual element of the little coterie which has left such
a legacy of condensed thought to the world.

The crowning act of the life of Mme. de Sable was her defense of
Port Royal. She united with Mme. de Longueville in protecting
the persecuted Jansenists, Nicole and Arnauld, but she had
neither the courage, the heroism, nor the partisan spirit of her
more ardent companion. With all her devotion she was something
of a sybarite and liked repose. She had the tact, during all the
troubles which scattered her little circle, to retain her
friends, of whatever religious color, though not without a few
temporary clouds. Her diplomatic moderation did not quite please
the religieuses of Port Royal, and chilled a little her pleasant
relations with d'Andilly.

Toward the close of her life, the Marquise was in the habit of
secluding herself for days together, and declining to see even
her dearest friends. The Abbe de la Victoire, piqued at not
being received, spoke of her one day as "the late Mme. la
Marquise de Sable."

La Rochefoucauld writes to her, "I know no more inventions for
entering your house; I am refused at the door every day." Mme.
de La Fayette declares herself offended, and cites this as a
proof of her attachment, saying, "There are very few people who
could displease me by not wishing to see me." But the friends of
the Marquise are disposed to treat her caprices very leniently.
As the years went by and the interests of life receded, Mme. de
Sable became reconciled to the thought that had inspired her with
so much dread. When she died at the advanced age of seventy-
nine, the longed-for transition was only the quiet passing from
fevered dreams to peaceful sleep.

It is a singular fact that this refined, exclusive, fastidious
woman, in whom the artistic nature was always dominant to the
extent of weakness, should have left a request to be buried,
without ceremony, in the parish cemetery with the people, remote
alike from the tombs of her family and the saints of Port Royal.

Her Genius--Her Youth--Her unworthy Husband--Her impertinent
Cousin--Her love for her Daughter--Her Letters--Hotel de
Carnavalet--Mme. Duiplessis Guenegaud--Mme. de Coulanges--The
Curtain Falls

Among the brilliant French women of the seventeenth century, no
one is so well-known today as Mme. de Sevigne. She has not only
been sung by poets and portrayed by historians, but she has left
us a complete record of her own life and her own character. Her
letters reflect every shade of her many-sided nature, as well as
the events, even the trifling incidents, of the world in which
she lived; the lineaments, the experiences, the virtues, and the
follies of the people whom she knew. We catch the changeful
tints of her mind that readily takes the complexion of those
about her, while retaining its independence; we are made familiar
with her small joys and sorrows, we laugh with her at her own
harmless weaknesses, we feel the inspiration of her sympathy, we
hear the innermost throbbings of her heart. No one was ever less
consciously a woman of letters. No one would have been more
surprised than herself at her own fame. One is instinctively
sure that she would never have seated herself deliberately to
write a book of any sort whatever. While she was planning a form
for her thoughts, they would have flown. She was essentially a
woman of the great world, for which she was fitted by her
position, her temperament, her esprit, her tastes, and her
character. She loved its variety, its movement, its gaiety; she
judged leniently even its faults and its frailties. If they
often furnished a target for her wit, behind her sharpest
epigrams one detects an indulgent smile.

The natural outlet for her full mind and heart was in
conversation. When she was alone, they found vent in
conversation of another sort. She talks on paper. Her letters
have the unstudied freedom, the rapidity, the shades, the
inflections of spoken words. She gives her thoughts their own
course, "with reins upon the neck," as she was fond of saying,
and without knowing where they will lead her. But it is the
personal element that inspires her. Let her heart be piqued, or
touched by a profound affection, and her mind is illuminated; her
pen flies. Her nature unveils itself, her emotions chase one
another in quick succession, her thoughts crystallize with
wonderful brilliancy, and the world is reflected in a thousand
varying colors. The sparkling wit, the swift judgment, the
subtle insight, the lightness of touch, the indefinable charm of
style--these belong to her temperament and her genius. But the
clearness, the justness of expression, the precision, the
simplicity that was never banal--such qualities nature does not
bestow. One must find their source in careful training, in wise
criticism, in early familiarity with good models.

Living from 1626 to 1696, Mme. de Sevigne was en rapport with the
best life of the great century of French letters. She was the
granddaughter of the mystical Mme. de Chantal, who was too much
occupied with her convents and her devotions to give much
attention to the little Marie, left an orphan at the age of six
years. The child did not inherit much of her grandmother's
spirit of reverence, and at a later period was wont to indulge in
many harmless pleasantries about her pious ancestress and "our
grandfather, St. Francois de Sales." Deprived so early of the
care of a mother, she was brought up by an uncle, the good Abbe
de Coulanges--the "Bien-Bon"--whose life was devoted to her
interests. Though born in the Place Royale, that long-faded
center of so much that was brilliant and fascinating two
centuries ago, much of her youth was passed in the family chateau
at Livry, where she was carefully educated in a far more solid
fashion than was usual among the women of her time. She had an
early introduction to the Hotel de Rambouillet, and readily
caught its intellectual tastes, though she always retained a
certain bold freedom of speech and manners, quite opposed to its

Her instructors were Chapelain and Menage, both honored habitues
of that famous salon. The first was a dull poet, a profound
scholar, somewhat of a pedant, and notoriously careless in his
dress--le vieux Chapelain, his irreverent pupil used to call
him. When he died of apoplexy, years afterwards, she wrote to
her daughter: "He confesses by pressing the hand; he is like a
statue in his chair. So God confounds the pride of
philosophers." But he taught her Latin, Spanish, and Italian,
made her familiar with the beauties of Virgil and Tasso, and gave
her a critical taste for letters.

Menage was younger, and aspired to be a man of the world as well
as a savant. Repeating one day the remark of a friend, that out
of ten things he knew he had learned nine in conversation, he
added, "I could say about the same thing myself"--a confession
that savors more of the salon than of the library. He had a good
deal of learning, but much pretension, and Moliere has given him
an undesirable immortality as Vadius in "Les Femmes Savantes," in
company with his deadly enemy, the Abbe Cotin, who figures as
"Trissotin." It appears that the susceptible savant lost his heart
to his lively pupil, and sighed not only in secret but quite
openly. He wrote her bad verses in several languages, loaded her
with eulogies, and followed her persistently. "The name of Mme.
de Sevigne," said the Bishop of Laon, "is in the works of Menage
what Bassan's dog is in his portraits. He cannot help putting it
there." She treated him in a sisterly fashion that put to flight
all sentimental illusions, but she had often to pacify his
wounded vanity. One day, in the presence of several friends, she
gave him a greeting rather more cordial than dignified. Noticing
the looks of surprise, she turned away laughing and said, "So
they kissed in the primitive church." But the wide knowledge and
scholarly criticism of Menage were of great value to the
versatile woman, who speedily surpassed her master in style if
not in learning. Evidently she appreciated him, since she
addressed him in one of her letters as "friend of all friends,
the best."

At eighteen the gay and unconventional Marie de Rabutin-Chantal
was married to the Marquis de Sevigne; but her period of
happiness was a short one. The husband, who was rich, handsome,
and agreeable, proved weak and faithless. He was one of the
temporary caprices of the dangerous Ninon, led a dashing,
irresponsible life, spent his fortune recklessly, and left his
pretty young wife to weep alone at a convenient distance, under
the somber skies of Brittany. Fortunately for her and for
posterity, his career was rapid and brief. For some trifling
affair of so-called honor--a quality of which, from our point of
view, he does not seem to have possessed enough to be worth the
trouble of defending--he had the kindness to get himself killed
in a duel, after seven years of marriage. His spirited wife had
loved him sincerely, and first illusions die slowly. She shed
many bitter and natural tears, but she never showed any
disposition to repeat the experiment. Perhaps she was of the
opinion of another young widow who thought it "a fine thing to
bear the name of a man who can commit no more follies." But it
is useless to speculate upon the reasons why a woman does or does
not marry. It is certain that the love of her two children
filled the heart of Mme. de Sevigne; her future life was devoted
to their training, and to repairing a fortune upon which her
husband's extravagance had made heavy inroads.

But the fascinating widow of twenty-five had a dangerous path to
tread. That she lived in a society so lax and corrupt,
unprotected and surrounded by distinguished admirers, without a
shadow of suspicion having fallen upon her fair reputation is a
strong proof of her good judgment and her discretion. She was
not a great beauty, though the flattering verses of her poet
friends might lead one to think so. A complexion fresh and fair,
eyes of remarkable brilliancy, an abundance of blond hair, a face
mobile and animated, and a fine figure--these were her visible
attractions. She danced well, sang well, talked well, and had
abounding health. Mme. de La Fayette made a pen-portrait of her,
which was thought to be strikingly true. It was in the form of a
letter from an unknown man. A few extracts will serve to bring
her more vividly before us.

"Your mind so adorns and embellishes your person, that there is
no one in the world so fascinating when you are animated by a
conversation from which constraint is banished. All that you say
has such a charm, and becomes you so well, that the words attract
the Smiles and the Graces around you; the brilliancy of your
intellect gives such luster to your complexion and your eyes,
that although it seems that wit should touch only the ears, yours
dazzles the sight.

"Your soul is great and elevated. You are sensitive to glory and
to ambition, and not less so to pleasures; you were born for them
and they seem to have been made for you . . . In a word, joy is
the true state of your soul, and grief is as contrary to it as
possible. You are naturally tender and impassioned; there was
never a heart so generous, so noble, so faithful . . . You are
the most courteous and amiable person that ever lived, and the
sweet, frank air which is seen in all your actions makes the
simplest compliments of politeness seem from your lips
protestations of friendship."

Mlle. de Scudery sketches her as the Princesse Clarinte in
"Clelie," concluding with these words: "I have never seen together
so many attractions, so much gaiety, so much coquetry, so much
light, so much innocence and virtue. No one ever understood
better the art of having grace without affectation, raillery
without malice, gaiety without folly, propriety without
constraint, and virtue without severity."

Her malicious cousin, Bussy-Rabutin, who was piqued by her
indifference, and basely wished to avenge himself, said that her
"warmth was in her intellect;" that for a woman of quality she
was too badine, too economical, too keenly alive to her own
interests; that she made too much account of a few trifling words
from the queen, and was too evidently flattered when the king
danced with her. This opinion of a vain and jealous man is not
entitled to great consideration, especially when we recall that
he had already spoken of her as "the delight of mankind,:" and
said that antiquity would have dressed altars for her and she
would "surely have been goddess of something." The most
incomprehensible page in her history is her complaisance towards
the persistent impertinences of this perfidious friend. The only
solution of it seems to lie in the strength of family ties, and
in her unwillingness to be on bad terms with one of her very few
near relatives. Bussy-Rabutin was handsome, witty, brilliant, a
bel esprit, a member of the Academie Francaise, and very much in
love with his charming cousin, who clearly appreciated his
talents, if not his character. "You are the fagot of my
intellect," she says to him; but she forbids him to talk of love.
Unfortunately for himself, his vanity got the better of his
discretion. He wrote the "Histoire Amoureuse des Gauls," and
raised such a storm about his head by his attack upon many fair
reputations, that, after a few months of lonely meditation in the
Bastille, he was exiled from Paris for seventeen years. Long
afterwards he repented the unkind blow he had given to Mme. de
Sevigne, confessed its injustice, apologized, and made his peace.
But the world is less forgiving, and wastes little sympathy upon
the base but clever and ambitious man who was doomed to wear his
restless life away in the uncongenial solitude of his chateau.

Among the numerous adorers of Mme. de Sevigne were the Prince de
Conti, the witty Comte de Lude, the poet Segrais, Fouquet, and
Turenne. Her friendship for the last two seems to have been the
most lively and permanent. We owe to her sympathetic pen the
best account of the death of Turenne. Her devotion to the
interests of Fouquet and his family lasted though the many years
of imprisonment that ended only with his life. There was nothing
of the spirit of the courtier in her generous affection for the
friends who were out of favor. The loyalty of her character was
notably displayed in her unwavering attachment to Cardinal de
Retz, during his long period of exile and misfortune, after the

But one must go outside the ordinary channels to find the
veritable romance of Mme. de Sevigne's life. Her sensibility
lent itself with great facility to impressions, and her gracious
manners, her amiable character, her inexhaustible fund of gaiety
could not fail to bring her a host of admirers. She had
doubtless a vein of harmless coquetry, but it was little more
than the natural and variable grace of a frank and sympathetic
woman who likes to please, and who scatters about her the flowers
of a rich mind and heart, without taking violent passions too
seriously, if, indeed, she heeds them at all. Friendship, too,
has its shades, its subtleties, its half-perceptible and quite
unconscious coquetries. But the supreme passion of Mme. de
Sevigne was her love for her daughter. It was the exaltation of
her mystical grandmother, in another form. "To love as I love
you makes all other friendships frivolous," she writes. Whatever
her gifts and attractions may have been, she is known to the
world mainly through this affection and the letters which have
immortalized it. Nowhere in literature has maternal love found
such complete and perfect expression. Nowhere do we find a
character so clearly self-revealed. Others have professed to
unveil their innermost lives, but there is always a suspicion of
posing in deliberate revelations. Mme. De Sevigne has portrayed
herself unconsciously. It is the experience of yesterday, the
thought of today, the hope of tomorrow, the love that is at once
the joy and sorrow of all the days, that are woven into a
thousand varying but living forms. One naturally seeks in the
character of the daughter a key to the absorbing sentiment which
is the inspiration and soul of these letters; but one does not
find it there. More beautiful than her mother, more learned,
more accomplished, she lacked her sympathetic charm. Cold,
reserved, timid, and haughty, without vivacity and apparently
without fine sensibility, she was much admired but little loved
by the world in which she lived. "When you choose, you are
adorable," wrote her mother; but evidently she did not always so
choose. Bussy-Rabutin says of her, "This woman has esprit, but
it is esprit soured and of insupportable egotism. She will make
as many enemies as her mother makes friends and adorers." He did
not like her, and one must again take his opinion with reserve;
but she says of herself that she is "of a temperament little
communicative." In her mature life she naively writes: "At first
people thought me amiable enough, but when they knew me better
they loved me no more." "The prettiest girl in France," whose
beauty was expected to "set the world on fire," created a mild
sensation at court; was noticed by the king, who danced with her,
received her share of adulation, and finally became the third
wife of the Comte de Grignan, who carried her off to Provence, to
the lasting grief of her adoring mother, and to the great
advantage of posterity, which owes to this fact the series of
incomparable letters that made the fame of their writer, and
threw so direct and vivid a light upon an entire generation.

The world has been inclined to regard the son of Mme. de Sevigne
as the more lovable of her two children, but she doubtless
recognized in his light and inconsequent character many of the
qualities of her husband which had given her so much sorrow
during the brief years of her marriage. Amiable, affectionate,
and not without talent, he was nevertheless the source of many
anxieties and little pride. He followed in the footsteps of his
father, and became a willing victim to the fascinations of Ninon;
he frequented the society of Champmesle, where he met habitually
Boileau and Racine. He recited well, had a fine literary taste,
much sensibility, and a gracious ease of manner that made him
many friends. "He was almost as much loved as I am," remarked
the brilliant Mme. de Coulanges, after accompanying him on a
visit to Versailles. He appealed to Mme. de La Fayette to use
her influence with his mother to induce her to pay his numerous
debts. There is a touch of satire in the closing line of the
note in which she intercedes for him. "The great friendship you
have for Mme. de Grignan," she writes, "makes it necessary to
show some for her brother."--But we have glimpses of his
weakness and instability in many of his mother's intimate
letters. In the end, however, having exhausted the pleasures of
life and felt the bitterness of its disappointments, he took
refuge in devotion, and died in the odor of sanctity, after the
example of his devout ancestress.

Mme. de Grignan certainly offered a more solid foundation for her
mother's confidence and affection. It is quite possible, too,
that her reserve concealed graces of character only apparent on a
close intimacy. But love does not wait for reasons, and this
one had all the shades and intensities of a passion, with few of
its exactions. D'Andilly called the mother a "pretty pagan,"
because she made such an idol of her daughter. She sometimes has
her own misgivings on the score of religion. "I make this a
little Trappe," she wrote from Livry, after the separation. "I
wish to pray to God and make a thousand reflections; but, Ma
pauvre chere, what I do better than all that is to think of you.
. . I see you, you are present to me, I think and think again of
everything; my head and my mind are racked; but I turn in vain, I
seek in vain; the dear child whom I love with so much passion is
two hundred leagues away. I have her no more. Then I weep
without the power to help myself." She rings the changes upon
this inexhaustible theme. A responsive word delights her; a
brief silence terrifies her; a slight coldness plunges her into
despair. "I have an imagination so lively that uncertainty makes
me die," she writes. If a shadow of grief touches her idol, her
sympathies are overflowing. "You weep, my very dear child; it is
an affair for you; it is not the same thing for me, it is my

But though this love pulses and throbs behind all her letters, it
does not make up the substance of them. To amuse her daughter
she gathers all the gossip of the court, all the news of her
friends; she keeps her au courant with the most trifling as well
as the most important events. Now she entertains her with a
witty description of a scene at Versailles, a tragical adventure,
a gracious word about Mme. Scarron, "who sups with me every
evening," a tender message from Mme. de La Fayette; now it is a
serious reflection upon the death of Turenne, a vivid picture of
her own life, a bit of philosophy, a spicy anecdote about a dying
man who takes forty cups of tea every morning, and is cured. A
few touches lay bare a character or sketch a vivid scene. It is
this infinite variety of detail that gives such historic value to
her letters. In a correspondence so intimate she has no interest
to conciliate, no ends to gain. She is simply a mirror in which
the world about her is reflected.

But the most interesting thing we read in her letters is the life
and nature of the woman herself. She has a taste for society and
for seclusion, for gaiety and for thought, for friendship and for
books. For the moment each one seems dominant. "I am always of
the opinion of the one heard last," she says, laughing at her own
impressibility. It is an amiable admission, but she has very
fine and rational ideas of her own, notwithstanding. In books,
for which she had always a passion, she found unfailing
consolation. Corneille and La Fontaine were her favorite
traveling companions. "I am well satisfied to be a substance
that thinks and reads," she says, finding her good uncle a trifle
dull for a compagnon de voyage. Her tastes were catholic. She
read Astree with delight, loved Petrarch, Ariosto, and Montaigne;
Rabelais made her "die of laughter," she found Plutarch
admirable, enjoyed Tacitus as keenly as did Mme. Roland a century
later, read Josephus and Lucian, dipped into the history of the
crusades and of the iconoclasts, of the holy fathers and of the
saints. She preferred the history of France to that of Rome
because she had "neither relatives nor friends in the latter
place." She finds the music of Lulli celestial and the preaching
of Bourdaloue divine. Racine she did not quite appreciate. In
his youth, she said he wrote tragedies for Champmesle and not for
posterity. Later she modified her opinion, but Corneille held
always the first place in her affection. She had a great love
for books on morals, read and reread the essays of Nicole, which
she found a perpetual resource against the ills of life -- even
rain and bad weather. St. Augustine she reads with pleasure, and
she is charmed with Bossuet and Pascal; but she is not very
devout, though she often tries to be. There is a serious naivete
in all her efforts in this direction. She seems to have always
one eye upon the world while she prays, and she mourns over her
own lack of devotion. "I wish my heart were for God as it is for
you," she writes to her daughter. "I am neither of God nor of
the devil," she says again; "that state troubles me though,
between ourselves, I find it the most natural in the world." Her
reason quickly pierces to the heart of superstition; sometimes
she cannot help a touch of sarcasm. "I fear that this trappe,
which wishes to pass humanity, may become a lunatic asylum," she
says. She believes little in saints and processions. Over the
high altar of her chapel she writes SOLI DEO HONOR ET GLORIA.
"It is the way to make no one jealous," she remarks.

She was rather inclined toward Jansenism, but she could not
fathom all the subtleties of her friends the Port Royalists, and
begged them to "have the kindness, out of pity for her, to
thicken their religion a little as it evaporated in so much
reasoning." As she grows older the tone of seriousness is more
perceptible. "If I could only live two hundred years," she
writes, "it seems to me that I might be an admirable person."
The rationalistic tendencies of Mme. de Grignan give her some
anxiety, and she rallies her often upon the doubtful philosophy
of her PERE DESCARTES. She could not admit a theory which
pretended to prove that her dog Marphise had no soul, and she
insisted that if the Cartesians had any desire to go to heaven,
it was out of curiosity. "Talk to the Cardinal (de Retz) a
little of your MACHINES; machines that love, machines that have a
choice for some one, machines that are jealous, machines that
fear. ALLEZ, ALLEZ, you are jesting! Descartes never intended
to make us believe all that."

In her youth Mme. de Sevigne did not like the country because it
was windy and spoiled her beautiful complexion; perhaps, too,
because it was lonely. But with her happy gift of adaptation she
came to love its tranquillity. She went often to the solitary
old family chateau in Brittany to make economies and to retrieve
the fortune which suffered successively from the reckless
extravagance of her husband and son, and from the expensive
tastes of the Comte de Grignan, who was acting governor of
Provence, and lived in a state much too magnificent for his
resources. Of her life at The Rocks she has left us many
exquisite pictures. "I go out into the pleasant avenues; I have
a footman who follows me; I have books, I change place, I vary
the direction of my promenade; a book of devotion, a book of
history; one changes from one to the other; that gives diversion;
one dreams a little of God, of his providence; one possesses
one's soul, one thinks of the future."

She embellishes her park, superintends the planting of trees, and
"a labyrinth from which one could not extricate one's self
without the thread of Ariadne;" she fills her garden with orange
trees and jessamine until the air is so perfumed that she
imagines herself in Provence. She sits in the shade and
embroiders while her son "reads trifles, comedies which he plays
like Moliere, verses, romances, tales; he is very amusing, he has
esprit, he is appreciative, he entertains us." She notes the
changing color of the leaves, the budding of the springtime. "It
seems to me that in case of need I should know very well how to
make a spring," she writes. She loves too the "fine, crystal
days of autumn." Sometimes, in the evening, she has "gray-brown
thoughts which grow black at night," but she never dwells upon
these. Her "habitual thought--that which one must have for God,
if one does his duty"--is for her daughter. "My dear child,"
she writes, "it is only you that I prefer to the tranquil repose
I enjoy here."

If her own soul is open to us in all its variable and charming
moods, we also catch in her letters many unconscious reflections
of her daughter's character. She offers her a little needed
worldly advice. "Try, my child," she says, "to adjust yourself
to the manners and customs of the people with whom you live;
adapt yourself to that which is not bad; do not be disgusted with
that which is only mediocre; make a pleasure of that which is not
ridiculous." She entreats her to love the little Pauline and not
to scold her, nor send her away to the convent as she did her
sister Marie-Blanche. With what infinite tenderness she always
speaks of this child, smiling at her small outbursts of temper,
soothing her little griefs, and giving wise counsels about her
education. Evidently she doubted the patience of the mother.
"You do not yet too well comprehend maternal love," she writes;
"so much the better, my child; it is violent."

Unfortunately this adoring mother could not get on very well with
her daughter when they were together. She drowned her with
affection, she fatigued her with care for her health, she was
hurt by her ungracious manner, she was frozen by her indifference
in short, they killed each other. It is not a rare thing to
make a cult of a distant idol, and to find one's self unequal to
the perpetual shock of the small collisions which diversities of
taste and temperament render inevitable in daily intercourse. In
this instance, one can readily imagine that a love so interwoven
with every fiber of the mother's life, must have been a little
over-sensitive, a little exacting, a trifle too demonstrative for
the colder nature of the daughter; but that it was the less
genuine and profound, no one who has at all studied the character
of Mme. de Sevigne can for a moment imagine. How she suffers
when it becomes necessary for Mme. de Grignan to go back to
Provence! How the tears flow! How readily she forgives all,
even to denying that there is anything to forgive. "A word, a
sweetness, a return, a caress, a tenderness, disarms me, cures me
in a moment," she writes. And again: "Would to God, my daughter,
that I might see you once more at the Hotel de Carnavalet, not
for eight days, nor to make there a penitence, but to embrace you
and to make you see clearly that I cannot be happy without you,
and that the chagrins which my friendship for you might give me
are more agreeable than all the false peace of a wearisome
absence." In spite of these little clouds, the old love is never
dimmed; we are constantly bewildered with the inexhaustible
riches of a heart which gives so lavishly and really asks so
little for itself.

The Hotel de Carnavalet was one of the social centers of the
latter part of the century, but it was the source of no special
literature and of no new diversions. Mme. de Sevigne was herself
luminous, and her fame owes none of its luster to the reflection
from those about her. She was original and spontaneous. She
read because she liked to read, and not because she wished to be
learned. She wrote as she talked, from the impulse of the
moment, without method or aim excepting to follow where her rapid
thought led her. Her taste for society was of the same order.
Her variable and sparkling genius would have broken loose from
the formal conversations and rather studied brilliancy that had
charmed her youth at the Hotel de Rambouillet. The onerous
duties of a perpetual hostess would not have suited her
temperament, which demanded its hours of solitude and repose.
But she was devoted to her friends, and there was a delightful
freedom in all her intercourse with them. She has not chronicled
her salon, but she has chronicled her world, and we gather from
her letters the quality of her guests. She liked to pass an
evening in the literary coterie at the Luxembourg; to drop in
familiarly upon Mme. de La Fayette, where she found La
Rochefoucauld, Cardinal de Retz, sometimes Segrais, Huet, La
Fontaine, Moliere, and other wits of the time; to sup with Mme.
de Coulanges and Mme. Scarron. She is a constant visitor at the
old Hotel de Nevers, where Marie de Gonzague and the Princesse
Palatine had charmed an earlier generation, and where Mme.
Duplessis Guenegaud, a woman of brilliant intellect, heroic
courage, large heart, and pure character, whom d'Andilly calls
one of the great souls, presided over a new circle of young poets
and men of letters, reviving the fading memories of the Hotel de
Rambouillet. Mme. De Sevigne, who had fine dramatic talent,
acted here in little comedies. She heard Boileau read his
satires and Racine his tragedies. She met the witty Chevalier de
Chatillon, who asked eight days to make an impromptu, and
Pomponne, who wrote to his father that the great world he found
in this salon did not prevent him from appearing in a gray habit.
In a letter from the country house of Mme. Duplessis, at Fresnes,
to the same Pomponne, then ambassador to Sweden, Mme. de Sevigne
says: "I have M. d'Andilly at my left, that is, on the side of my
heart; I have Mme. de La Fayette at my right; Mme. Duplessis
before me, daubing little pictures; Mme. De Motteville a little
further off, who dreams profoundly; our uncle de Cessac, whom I
fear because I do not know him very well."

It is this life of charming informality; this society of lettered
tastes, of wit, of talent, of distinction, that she transfers to
her own salon. Its continuity is often broken by her long
absences in the country or in Provence, but her irresistible
magnetism quickly draws the world around her, on her return. In
addition to her intimate friends and to men of letters like
Racine, Boileau, Benserade, one meets representatives of the most
distinguished of the old families of France. Conde, Richelieu,
Colberg, Louvois, and Sully are a few among the great names, of
which the list might be indefinitely extended. We have many
interesting glimpses of the Grande Mademoiselle, the "adorable"
Duchesse de Chaulnes, the Duc and Duchesse de Rohan, who were
"Germans in the art of savoir-vivre," the Abbess de Fontevrault,
so celebrated for her esprit and her virtue, and a host of others
too numerous to mention. The sculptured portals and time-stained
walls of the Hotel de Carnavalet are still alive with the
memories of these brilliant reunions and the famous people who
shone there two hundred years ago.

Among those who exercised the most important influence upon the
life of Mme. de Sevigne was Corbinelli, the wise counselor, who,
with a soul untouched by the storms of adversity through which he
had passed, devoted his life to letters and the interests of his
friends. No one had a finer appreciation of her gifts and her
character. Her compared her letters to those of Cicero, but he
always sought to temper her ardor, and to turn her thoughts
toward an elevated Christian philosophy. "In him," said Mme. de
Sevigne, "I defend one who does not cease to celebrate the
perfections and the existence of God; who never judges his
neighbor, who excuses him always; who is insensible to the
pleasures and delights of life, and entirely submissive to the
will of Providence; in fine, I sustain the faithful admirer of
Sainte Therese, and of my grandmother, Sainte Chantal." This
gentle, learned, and disinterested man, whose friendship deepened
with years, was an unfailing resource. In her troubles and
perplexities she seeks his advice; in her intellectual tastes she
is sustained by his sympathy. She speaks often of the happy days
in Provence, when, together with her daughter, they translate
Tacitus, read Tasso, and get entangled in endless discussions
upon Descartes. Even Mme. de Grignan, who rarely likes her
mother's friends, in the end gives due consideration to this
loyal confidant, though she does not hesitate to ridicule the
mysticism into which he finally drifted.

After Mme. de La Fayette, the woman whose relations with Mme. de
Sevigne were the most intimate was Mme. de Coulanges, who merits
here more than a passing word. Her wit was proverbial, her
popularity universal. The Leaf, the Fly, the Sylph, the Goddess,
her friend calls her in turn, with many a light thrust at her
volatile but loyal character. This brilliant, spirituelle,
caustic woman was the wife of a cousin of the Marquis de Sevigne,
who was as witty as herself and more inconsequent. Both were
amiable, both sparkled with bons mots and epigrams, but they
failed to entertain each other. The husband goes to Italy or
Germany or passes his time in various chateaux, where he is sure
of a warm welcome and good cheer. The wife goes to Versailles,
visits her cousin Louvois, the Duchesse de Richelieu, and Mme. de
Maintenon, who loves her much; or presides at home over a salon
that is always well filled. "Ah, Madame," said M. de Barillon,
"how much your house pleases me! I shall come here very evening
when I am tired of my family." "Monsieur," she replied, "I
expect you tomorrow." When she was ill and likely to die, her
husband had a sudden access of affection, and nursed her with
great tenderness. Mme. de Coulanges dying and her husband in
grief, seemed somehow out of the order of things. "A dead
vivacity, a weeping gaiety, these are prodigies," wrote Mme. de
Sevigne. When the wife recovered, however, they took their
separate ways as before.

"Your letters are delicious," she wrote once to Mme. de Sevigne,
"and you are as delicious as your letters." Her own were as much
sought in her time, but she had no profound affection to
consecrate them and no children to collect them, so that only a
few have been preserved. There is a curious vein of philosophy
in one she wrote to her husband, when the pleasures of life began
to fade. "As for myself, I care little for the world; I find it
no longer suited to my age; I have no engagements, thank God, to
retain me there. I have seen all there is to see. I have only
an old face to present to it, nothing new to show nor to discover
there. Ah! What avails it to recommence every day the visits,
to trouble one's self always about things that do not concern us?
. . . . My dear sir, we must think of something more solid."
She disappears from the scene shortly after the death of Mme. De
Sevigne. Long years of silence and seclusion, and another
generation heard one day that she had lived and that she was

The friends of Mme. de Sevigne slip away one after another; La
Rochefoucauld, De Retz, Mme. de La Fayette are gone. "Alas!" she
writes, "how this death goes running about and striking on all
sides." The thought troubles her. "I am embarked in life without
my consent," she says; "I must go out of it--that overwhelms me.
And how shall I go? Whence: By what door? When will it be? In
what disposition: How shall I be with God? What have I to
present to him? What can I hope?--Am I worthy of paradise? Am
I worthy of hell? What an alternative! What a complication! I
would like better to have died in the arms of my nurse."

The end came to her in the one spot where she would most have
wished it. She died while on a visit to her daughter in
Provence. Strength and resignation came with the moment, and she
faced with calmness and courage the final mystery. To the last
she retained her wit, her vivacity, and that eternal youth of the
spirit which is one of the rarest of God's gifts to man. "There
are no more friends left to me," said Mme. de Coulanges; and
later she wrote to Mme. de Grignan, "The grief of seeing her no
longer is always fresh to me. I miss too many things at the
Hotel de Carnavalet."

The curtain falls upon this little world which the magical pen of
Mme. de Sevigne has made us know so well. The familiar faces
retreat into the darkness, to be seen no more. But the picture
lives, and the woman who has outlined it so clearly, and colored
it so vividly and so tenderly, smiles upon us still, out of the
shadows of the past, crowned with the white radiance of immortal
genius and immortal love.

Her Friendship with Mme. de Sevigne--Her Education--Her
Devotion to the Princess Henrietta--Her Salon--La Rochefoucauld
--Talent as a Diplomatist--Comparison with Mme. de Maintenon
Her Literary Work--Sadness of her Last Days--Woman in Literature

"Believe me, my dearest, you are the person in the world whom I
have most truly loved," wrote Mme. de La Fayette to Mme. de
Sevigne a short time before her death. This friendship of more
than forty years, which Mme. de Sevigne said had never suffered
the least cloud, was a living tribute to the mind and heart of
both women. It may also be cited for the benefit of the
cynically disposed who declare that feminine friendships are
simply "pretty bows of ribbon" and nothing more. These women
were fundamentally unlike, but they supplemented each other. The
character of Mme. de La Fayette was of firmer and more serious
texture. She had greater precision of thought, more delicacy of
sentiment, and affections not less deep. But her temperament was
less sunny, her genius less impulsive, her wit less sparkling,
and her manner less demonstrative. "She has never been without
that divine reason which was her dominant trait," wrote her
friend. No praise pleased her so much as to be told that her
judgment was superior to her intellect, and that she loved truth
in all things. "She would not have accorded the least favor to
any one, if she had not been convinced it was merited," said
Segrais; "this is why she was sometimes called hard, though she
was really tender." As an evidence of her candor, he thinks it
worth while to record that "she did not even conceal her age, but
told freely in what year and place she was born." But she
combined to an eminent degree sweetness with strength,
sensibility with reason, and it was the blending of such diverse
qualities that gave so rare a flavor to her character. In this,
too, lies the secret of the vast capacity for friendship which
was one of her most salient points. It is through the records
which these friendships have left, through the literary work that
formed the solace of so many hours of sadness and suffering, and
through the letters of Mme. de Sevigne, that we are able to trace
the classic outlines of this fine and complex nature, so noble,
so poetic, so sweet, and yet so strong.

Mme. de La Fayette was eight years younger than Mme. de Sevigne,
and died three years earlier; hence they traversed together the
brilliant world of the second half of the century of which they
are among the most illustrious representatives. The young Marie-
Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne had inherited a taste for letters
and was carefully instructed by her father, who was a field-
marshal and the governor of Havre, where he died when she was
only fifteen. She had not passed the first flush of youth when
her mother contracted a second marriage with the Chevalier Renaud
de Sevigne, whose name figures among the frondeurs as the ardent
friend of Cardinal de Retz, and later among the devout Port
Royalists. It is a fact of more interest to us that he was an
uncle of the Marquis de Sevigne, and the best result of the
marriage to the young girl, who was not at all pleased and whose
fortunes it clouded a little, was to bring her into close
relations with the woman to whom we owe the most intimate details
of her life.

The rare natural gifts of Mlle. De La Vergne were not left
without due cultivation. Rapin and Menage taught her Latin.
"That tiresome Menage," as she lightly called him, did not fail,
according to his custom, to lose his susceptible heart to the
remarkable pupil who, after three months of study, translated
Virgil and Horace better than her masters. He put this amiable
weakness on record in many Latin and Italian verses, in which he
addresses her as Laverna, a name more musical than flattering, if
one recalls its Latin significance. She received an education of
another sort, in the salon of her mother, a woman of much
intelligence, as well as a good deal of vanity, who posed a
little as a patroness of letters, gathering about her a circle of
beaux esprits, and in other ways signaling the taste which was a
heritage from her Provencal ancestry. On can readily imagine the
rapidity with which the young girl developed in such an
atmosphere. The abbe Costar, "most gallant of pedants and most
pedantic of gallants," who had an equal taste for literature and
good dinners, calls her "the incomparable," sends her his books,
corresponds with her, and expresses his delight at finding her
"so beautiful, so spirituelle, so full of reason." The poet
Scarron speaks of her as "toute lumineuse, toute precieuse."

The circle she met in the salon of her godmother, the Duchesse
d'Aiguillon, had no less influence in determining her future
fortunes. With her rare reputation for beauty and esprit, as
well as learning, she took her place early in this brilliant and
distinguished society in which she was to play so graceful and
honored a part. She was sought and admired not only by the men
of letters who were so cordially welcomed by the favorite niece
of Richelieu, but by the gay world that habitually assembled at
the Petit Luxembourg. It was here that she perfected the tone of
natural elegance which always distinguished her and made her
conspicuous even at court, where she passed so many years of her

She was not far from twenty-one when she became the wife of the
Comte de La Fayette, of whom little is known save that he died
early, leaving her with two sons. He is the most shadowy of
figures, and whether he made her life happy or sad does not
definitely appear, though there is a vague impression that he
left something to be desired in the way of devotion. A certain
interest attaches to him as the brother of the beautiful Louise
de La Fayette, maid of honor to Anne of Austria, who fled from
the compromising infatuation of Louis XIII, to hide her youth and
fascinations in the cloister, under the black robe and the
cherished name of Mere Angelique de Chaillot.

The young, brilliant, and gifted comtesse goes to the convent to
visit her gently austere sister-in-law, and meets there the
Princess Henrietta of England, than a child of eleven years. The
attraction is mutual and ripens into a deep and lasting
friendship. When this graceful and light-hearted girl becomes
the Duchesse d'Orleans, and sister-in-law of the king, she
attaches her friend to her court and makes her the confidante of
her romantic experiences. "Do you not think," she said to her
one day, "that if all which has happened to me, and the things
relating to it, were told it would make a fine story? You write
well; write; I will furnish you good materials." The interesting
memorial, to which madame herself contributes many pages, is
interrupted by the mysterious death of the gay and charming woman
who had found so sympathetic and so faithful a chronicler. She
breathed her last sigh in the arms of this friend. "It is one of
those sorrows for which one never consoles one's self, and which
leave a shadow over the rest of one's life," wrote Mme. de La
Fayette. She had no heart to finish the history, and added only
the few simple lines that record the touching incidents which
left upon her so melancholy and lasting an impression. She did
not care to remain longer at court, where she was constantly
reminded of her grief, and retired permanently from its gaieties;
but in these years of intimacy with one of its central figures,
she had gained an insight into its spirit and its intrigues,
which was of inestimable value in the memoirs and romances of her
later years.

The natural place of Mme. de La Fayette was in a society of more
serious tone and more lettered tastes. In her youth she had been
taken by her mother to the Hotel de Rambouillet, and she always
retained much of its spirit, without any of its affectations. We
find her sometimes at the Samedis, and she belonged to the
exclusive coterie of the Grande Mademoiselle, at the Luxembourg,
where her facile pen was in demand for the portraits so much in
vogue. She was also a frequent visitor in the literary salon of
Mme. de Sable, at Port Royal. It was here that her friendship
with La Rochefoucauld glided imperceptibly into the intimacy
which became so important a feature in her life. This intimacy
was naturally a matter of some speculation, but the world made up
its mind of its perfectly irreproachable character. "It appears
to be only friendship," writes Mme. de Scudery to Bussy-Rabutin;
"in short the fear of God on both sides, and perhaps policy, have
cut the wings of love. She is his favorite and his first
friend." "I do not believe he has ever been what one calls in
love," writes Mme. de Sevigne. But this friendship was a
veritable romance, without any of the storms or vexations or
jealousies of a passionate love. "You may imagine the sweetness
and charm of an intercourse full of all the friendship and
confidence possible between two people whose merit is not
ordinary," she says again; "add to this the circumstance of their
bad health, which rendered them almost necessary to each other,
and gave them the leisure not to be found in other relations, to
enjoy each other's good qualities. It seems to me that at court
people have no time for affection; the whirlpool which is so
stormy for others was peaceful for them, and left ample time for
the pleasures of a friendship so delicious. I do not believe
that any passion can surpass the strength of such a tie."

In the earlier stages of this intimacy, Mme. de La Fayette was a
little sensitive as to how the world might regard it, as may be
seen in a note to Mme. de Sable, in which she asks her to explain
it to the young Comte de Saint-Paul, a son of Mme. de Longueville.

"I beg of you to speak of the matter in such a way as to put out
of his head the idea that it is anything serious," she writes.
"I am not sufficiently sure what you think of it yourself to feel
certain that you will say the right thing, and it may be
necessary to begin by convincing my embassador. However, I must
trust to your tact, which is superior to ordinary rules. Only
convince him. I dislike mortally that people of his age should
imagine that I have affairs of gallantry. It seems to them that
every one older than themselves is a hundred, and they are
astonished that such should be regarded of any account. Besides,
he would believe these things of M. de La Rochefoucauld more
readily than of any one else. In fine, I do not want him to
think anything about it except that the gentleman is one of my

The picture we have of La Rochefoucauld from the pen of Mme. de
Sevigne has small resemblance to the ideal that one forms of the
cynical author of the Maxims. He had come out of the storms of
the Fronde a sad and disappointed man. The fires of his nature
seem to have burned out with the passions of his youth, if they
had ever burned with great intensity. "I have seen love nowhere
except in romances," he says, and even his devotion to Mme. de
Longueville savors more of the ambitious courtier than of the
lover. His nature was one that recoiled from all violent
commotions of the soul. The cold philosophy of the Maxims marked
perhaps the reaction of his intellect against the disenchanting
experiences of his life. In the tranquil atmosphere of Mme. de
Sable he found a certain mental equilibrium; but his character
was finally tempered and softened by the gentle influence of Mme.
de La Fayette, whose exquisite poise and delicacy were singularly
in harmony with a nature that liked nothing in exaggeration. "I
have seen him weep with a tenderness that made me adore him,"
writes Mme. de Sevigne, after the death of his mother. "The
heart or M. de La Rochefoucauld for his family is a thing
incomparable." When the news came that his favorite grandson had
been killed in battle, she says again: "I have seen his heart
laid bare in this cruel misfortune; he ranks first among all I
have ever known for courage, fortitude, tenderness, and reason; I
count for nothing his esprit and his charm." In all the
confidences of the two women, La Rochefoucauld makes a third. He
seems always to be looking over the shoulder of Mme. de La
Fayette while she writes to the one who "satisfies his idea of
friendship in all its circumstances and dependences"; adding
usually a message, a line or a pretty compliment to Mme. de
Grignan that is more amiable than sincere, because he knows it
will gladden the heart of her adoring mother.

The side of Mme. de La Fayette which has the most fascination for
us is this intimate life of which Mme. de Sevigne gives such
charming glimpses. For a moment it was her ambition to establish
a popular salon, a role for which she had every requisite of
position, talent, and influence. "She presumed very much upon
her esprit," says Gourville, who did not like her, "and proposed
to fill the place of the Marquise de Sable, to whom all the young
people were in the habit of paying great deference, because,
after she had fashioned them a little, it was a passport for
entering the world; but this plan did not succeed, as Mme. de La
Fayette was not willing to give her time to a thing so futile."
One can readily understand that it would not have suited her
tastes or her temperament. Besides, her health was too delicate,
and her moods were too variable. "You know how she is weary
sometimes of the same thing," wrote Mme. de Sevigne. But she had
her coterie, which was brilliant in quality if not in numbers.
The fine house with its pretty garden, which may be seen today
opposite the Petit Luxembourg, was a favorite meeting place for a
distinguished circle. The central figure was La Rochefoucauld.
Every day he came in and seated himself in the fauteuil reserved
for him. One is reminded of the little salon in the Abbaye-aux-
Bois, where more than a century later Chateaubriand found the
pleasure and the consolation of his last days in the society of
Mme. Recamier. They talk, they write, they criticize each other,
they receive their friends. The Cardinal de Retz comes in, and
they recall the fatal souvenirs of the Fronde. Perhaps he thinks
of the time when he found the young Mlle. De LaVergne pretty and
amiable, and she did not smile upon him. The Prince de Conde is
there sometimes, and honors her with his confidence, which Mme.
de Sevigne thinks very flattering, as he does not often pay such
consideration to women. Segrais has transferred his allegiance
from the Grande Mademoiselle to Mme. de La Fayette, and is her
literary counselor as well as a constant visitor. La Fontaine,
"so well known by his fables and tales, and sometimes so heavy in
conversation," may be found there. Mme. de Sevigne comes almost
every day with her sunny face and her witty story. "The Mist"
she calls Mme. de La Fayette, who is so often ill and sad. She
might have called herself The Sunbeam, though she, too, has her
hours when she can only dine tete-a-tete with her friend, because
she is "so gloomy that she cannot support four people together."
Mme. de Coulanges adds her graceful, vivacious, and sparkling
presence. Mme. Scarron, before her days of grandeur, is
frequently of the company, and has lost none of the charm which
made the salon of her poet-husband so attractive during his later
years. "She has an amiable and marvelously just mind," says Mme.
de Sevigne. . . "It is pleasant to hear her talk. These
conversations often lead us very far, from morality to morality,
sometimes Christian, sometimes political." This circle was not
limited however to a few friends, and included from time to time
the learning, the elegance and the aristocracy of Paris.

But Mme. de La Fayette herself is the magnet that quietly draws
together this fascinating world. In her youth she had much life
and vivacity, perhaps a spice of discreet coquetry, but at this
period she was serious, and her fresh beauty had given place to
the assured and captivating grace of maturity. She had a face
that might have been severe in its strength but for the
sensibility expressed in the slight droop of the head to one
side, the tender curve of the full lips, and the variable light
of the dark, thoughtful eyes. In her last years, when her
stately figure had grown attenuated, and her face was pallid with
long suffering, the underlying force of her character was more
distinctly defined in the clear and noble outlines of her
features. Her nature was full of subtle shades. Over her
reserved strength, her calm judgment, her wise penetration played
the delicate light of a lively imagination, the shifting tints of
a tender sensibility. Her sympathy found ready expression in
tears, and she could not even bear the emotion of saying good-by
to Mme. de Sevigne when she was going away to Provence. But her
accents were always tempered, and her manners had the gracious
and tranquil ease of a woman superior to circumstances. Her
extreme frankness lent her at times a certain sharpness, and she
deals many light blows at the small vanities and affectations
that come under her notice. "Mon Dieu," said the frivolous Mme.
de Marans to her one day, "I must have my hair cut." "Mon Dieu,"
replied Mme. de La Fayette simply, "do not have it done; that is
becoming only to young persons." Gourville said she was
imperious and over-bearing, scolding those she loved best, as
well as those she did not love. But this valet-de-chambre of La
Rochefoucauld, who amassed a fortune and became a man of some
note, was jealous of her influence over his former master, and
his opinions should be taken with reservation. Her delicate
satire may have been sometimes a formidable weapon, but it was
directed only against follies, and rarely, if ever, used
unkindly. She was a woman for intimacies, and it is to those who
knew her best that we must look for a just estimate of her
qualities. "You would love her as soon as you had time to be
with her, and to become familiar with her esprit and her wisdom,"
wrote Mme. de Sevigne to her daughter, who was disposed to be
critical; "the better one knows her, the more one is attached to

One must also take into consideration her bad health. People
thought her selfish or indifferent when she was only sad and
suffering. For more than twenty years she was ill, consumed by a
slow fever which permitted her to go out only at intervals. La
Rochefoucauld had the gout, and they consoled each other. Mme.
de Sevigne thought it better not to have the genius of a Pascal,
than to have so many ailments. "Mme. De La Fayette is always
languishing, M. de La Rochefoucauld always lame," she writes; "we
have conversations so sad that it seems as if there were nothing
more to do but to bury us; the garden of Mme. de La Fayette is
the prettiest spot in the world, everything blooming, everything
perfumed; we pass there many evenings, for the poor woman does not
dare go out in a carriage." "Her health is never good," she writes
again, "nevertheless she sends you word that she should not like
death better; AU CONTRAIRE." There are times when she can no
longer "think, or speak, or answer, or listen; she is tired of
saying good morning and good evening." Then she goes away to
Meudon for a few days, leaving La Rochefoucauld "incredibly sad."
She speaks for herself in a letter from the country house which
Gourville has placed at her disposal.

"I am at Saint Maur; I have left all my affairs and all my
husbands; I have my children and the fine weather; that suffices.
I take the waters of Forges; I look after my health, I see no
one. I do not mind at all the privation; every one seems to me
so attached to pleasures which depend entirely upon others, that
I find my disposition a gift of the fairies.

"I do not know but Mme de Coulanges has already sent you word of
our after-dinner conversations at Gourville's about people who
have taste above or below their intelligence. Mme. Scarron and
the Abbe Tetu were there; we lost ourselves in subtleties until
we no longer understood anything. If the air of Provence, which
subtilizes things still more, magnifies for you our visions, you
will be in the clouds. You have taste below your intelligence;
so has M. de La Rochefoucauld; and myself also, but not so much
as you two. VOILA an example which will guide you."

She disliked writing letters, and usually limited herself to a
few plain facts, often in her late years to a simple bulletin of
her health. This negligence was the subject of many passages-at-
arms between herself and Mme. de Sevigne. "If I had a lover who
wished my letters every morning, I would break with him," she
writes. "Do not measure our friendship by our letters. I shall
love you as much in writing you only a page in a month, as you me
in writing ten in eight days." Again she replies to some
reproach: "Make up your mind, ma belle, to see me sustain, all my
life, with the whole force of my eloquence, that I love you still
more than you love me. I will make Corbinelli agree with me in a
quarter of an hour; your distrust is your sole defect, and the
only thing in you that can displease me."

But in spite of a certain apparent indolence, and her constant
ill health, there were many threads that connected with the
outside world the pleasant room in which Mme. de La Fayette spent
so many days of suffering. "She finds herself rich in friends
from all sides and all conditions," writes Mme. de Sevigne; "she
has a hundred arms; she reaches everywhere. Her children
appreciate all this, and thank her every day for possessing a
spirit so engaging." She goes to Versailles, on one of her best
days, to thank the king for a pension, and receives so many kind
words that it "suggests more favors to come." He orders a
carriage and accompanies her with other ladies through the park,
directing his conversation to her, and seeming greatly pleased
with her judicious praise. She spends a few days at Chantilly,
where she is invited to all the fetes, and regrets that Mme. de
Sevigne could not be with her in that charming spot, which she is
"fitted better than anyone else to enjoy." No one understands so
well the extent of her influence and her credit as this devoted
friend, who often quotes her to Mme. de Grignan as a model.
"Never did any one accomplish so much without leaving her place,"
she says.

But there was one phase in the life of Mme. de La Fayette which
was not fully confided even to Mme. de Sevigne. It concerns a
chapter of obscure political history which it is needless to
dwell upon here, but which throws much light upon her capacity
for managing intricate affairs. Her connection with it was long
involved in mystery, and was only unveiled in a correspondence
given to the world at a comparatively recent date. It was in the
salon of the Grande Mademoiselle that she was thrown into
frequent relations with the two daughters of Charles Amedee de
Savoie, Duc de Nemours, one of whom became Queen of Portugal, the
other Duchesse de Savoie and, later, Regent during the minority
of her son. These relations resulted in one of the ardent
friendships which played so important a part in her career. Her
intercourse with the beautiful but vain, intriguing, and
imperious Duchesse de Savoie assumed the proportion of a delicate
diplomatic mission. "Her salon," says Lescure, "was, for the
affairs of Savoy, a center of information much more important in
the eyes of shrewd politicians than that of the ambassador." She
not only looked after the personal matters of Mme. Royale, but
was practically entrusted with the entire management of her
interests in Paris. From affairs of state and affairs of the
heart to the daintiest articles of the toilette her versatile
talent is called into requisition. Now it is a message to
Louvois or the king, now a turn to be adroitly given to public
opinion, now the selection of a perfume or a pair of gloves.
"She watches everything, thinks of everything, combines, visits,
talks, writes, sends counsels, procures advice, baffles
intrigues, is always in the breach, and renders more service by
her single efforts than all the envoys avowed or secret whom the
Duchesse keeps in France." Nor is the value of these services
unrecognized. "Have I told you," wrote Mme. de Sevigne to her
daughter, "that Mme. de Savoie has sent a hundred ells of the
finest velvet in the world to Mme. de La Fayette, and a hundred
ells of satin to line it, and two days ago her portrait,
surrounded with diamonds, which is worth three hundred louis?"

The practical side of Mme. de La Fayette's character was
remarkable in a woman of so fine a sensibility and so rare a
genius. Her friends often sought her counsel; and it was through
her familiarity with legal technicalities that La Rochefoucauld
was enabled to save his fortune, which he was at one time in
danger of losing. In clear insight, profound judgment, and
knowledge of affairs, she was scarcely, if at all, surpassed by
Mme. de Maintenon, the feminine diplomatist par excellence of her
time, though her field of action was less broad and conspicuous.
But her love of consideration was not so dominant and her
ambition not so active. It was one of her theories that people
should live without ambition as well as without passion. "It is
sufficient to exist," she said. Her energy when occasion called
for it does not quite accord with this passive philosophy, and
suggests at least a vast reserved force; but if she directed her
efforts toward definite ends it was usually to serve other
interests than her own. She had been trained in a different
school from Mme. de Maintenon, her temperament was modified by
her frail health, and the prizes of life had come to her
apparently without special exertion. She was a woman, too, of
more sentiment and imagination. Her fastidious delicacy and
luxurious tastes were the subject of critical comment on the part
of this austere censor, who condemned the gilded decorations of
her bed as a useless extravagance, giving the characteristic
reason that "the pleasure they afforded was not worth the
ridicule they excited." The old friendship that had existed when
Mme. Scarron was living in such elegant and mysterious seclusion,
devoting herself to the king's children, and finding her main
diversion in the little suppers enlivened by the wit of Mme. de
Sevigne and Mme. de Coulanges, and the more serious, but not less
agreeable, conversation of Mme. de La Fayette, had evidently
grown cool. They had their trifling disagreements. "Mme. de La
Fayette puts too high a price upon her friendship," wrote Mme. de
Maintenon, who had once attached such value to a few approving
words from her. In her turn Mme. de La Fayette indulged in a
little light satire. Referring to the comedy of Esther, which
Racine had written by command for the pupils at Saint Cyr, she
said, "It represents the fall of Mme. de Montespan and the rise
of Mme. de Maintenon; all the difference is that Esther was
rather younger, and less of a precieuse in the matter of piety."
There was certainly less of the ascetic in Mme. de La Fayette.
She had more color and also more sincerity. In symmetry of
character, in a certain feminine quality of taste and tenderness,
she was superior, and she seems to me to have been of more
intrinsic value as a woman. Whether under the same conditions
she would have attained the same power may be a question. If
not, I think it would have been because she was unwilling to pay
the price, not because she lacked the grasp, the tact, or the

It is mainly as a woman of letters that Mme. de La Fayette is
known today, and it was through her literary work that she made
the strongest impression upon her time. Boileau said that she
had a finer intellect and wrote better than any other woman in
France. But she wrote only for the amusement of idle or lonely
hours, and always avoided any display of learning, in order not
to attract jealousy as well as from instinctive delicacy of
taste. "He who puts himself above others," she said, "whatever
talent he may possess, puts himself below his talent." But her
natural atmosphere was an intellectual one, and the friend of La
Rochefoucauld, who would have "liked Montaigne for a neighbor,"
had her own message for the world. Her mind was clear and
vigorous, her taste critical and severe, and her style had a
flexible quality that readily took the tone of her subject. In
concise expression she doubtless profited much from the author of
the MAXIMS, who rewrote many of his sentences at least thirty
times. "A phrase cut out of a book is worth a louis d'or," she
said, "and every word twenty sous." Unfortunately her "Memoires
de la Cour de France" is fragmentary, as her son carelessly lent
the manuscripts, and many of them were lost. But the part that
remains gives ample evidence of the breadth of her intelligence,
the penetrating, lucid quality of her mind, and her talent for
seizing the salient traits of the life about her. In her
romances, which were first published under the name of Segrais,
one finds the touch of an artist, and the subtle intuitions of a
woman. In the rapid evolution of modern taste and the hopeless
piling up of books, these works have fallen somewhat into the
shade, but they are written with a vivid naturalness of style, a
truth of portraiture, and a delicacy of sentiment, that commend
them still to all lovers of imaginative literature. Fontenelle
read the "Princesse de Cleves" four times when it appeared. La
Harpe said it was "the first romance that offered reasonable
adventures written with interest and elegance." It marked an era
in the history of the novel. "Before Mme. de La Fayette," said
Voltaire, "people wrote in a stilted style of improbable things."
We have the rare privilege of reading her own criticism in a
letter to the secretary of the Duchesse de Savoie, in which she
disowns the authorship, and adds a few lines of discreet eulogy.

"As for myself," she writes, :"I am flattered at being suspected
of it. I believe I should acknowledge the book, if I were
assured the author would never appear to claim it. I find it
very agreeable and well written without being excessively
polished, full of things of admirable delicacy, which should be
read more than once; above all, it seems to be a perfect
presentation of the world of the court and the manner of living
there. It is not romantic or ambitious; indeed it is not a
romance; properly speaking, it is a book of memoirs, and that I
am told was its title, but it was changed. VOILA, monsieur, my
judgment upon Mme. De Cleves; I ask yours, for people are divided
upon this book to the point of devouring each other. Some
condemn what others admire; whatever you may say, do not fear to
be alone in your opinion."

Sainte-Beuve, whose portrait of Mme. de La Fayette is so
delightful as to make all others seem superfluous, has devoted
some exquisite lines to this book. "It is touching to think," he
writes, "of the peculiar situation which gave birth to these
beings so charming, so pure, these characters so noble and so
spotless, these sentiments so fresh, so faultless, so tender; how
Mme. de La Fayette put into it all that her loving, poetic soul
retained of its first, ever-cherished dreams, and how M. de La
Rochefoucauld was pleased doubtless to find once more in "M. De
Nemours" that brilliant flower of chivalry which he had too much
misused--a sort of flattering mirror in which he lived again his
youth. Thus these two old friends renewed in imagination the
pristine beauty of that age when they had not known each other,
hence could not love each other. The blush so characteristic of
Mme. De Cleves, and which at first is almost her only language,
indicates well the design of the author, which is to paint love
in its freshest, purest, vaguest, most adorable, most disturbing,
most irresistible--in a word, in its own color. It is
constantly a question of that joy which youth joined to beauty
gives, of the trouble and embarrassment that love causes in the
innocence of early years, in short, of all that is farthest from
herself and her friend in their late tie."

But whatever tints her tender and delicate imaginings may have
taken from her own soul, Mme. de La Fayette has caught the
eternal beauty of a pure and loyal spirit rising above the mists
of sense into the serene air of a lofty Christian renunciation.

The sad but triumphant close of her romance foreshadowed the
swift breaking up of her own pleasant life. In 1680, not long
after the appearance of the "Princesse de Cleves," La Rochefoucauld
died, and the song of her heart was changed to a miserere. Mme.
de La Fayette has fallen from the clouds," says Mme. de Sevigne.
"Where can she find such a friend, such society, a like
sweetness, charm, confidence, consideration for her and her son?"
A little later she writes from The Rocks, "Mme. de La Fayette
sends me word that she is more deeply affected than she herself
believed, being occupied with her health and her children; but
these cares have only rendered more sensible the veritable
sadness of her heart. She is alone in the world . . . The poor
woman cannot close the ranks so as to fill this place."

The records of the thirteen years that remain to Mme. de La
Fayette are somber and melancholy. "Nothing can replace the
blessings I have lost," she says. Restlessly she seeks diversion
in new plans. She enlarges her house as her horizon diminishes;
she finds occupation in the affairs of Mme. Royale and interests
herself in the marriage of the daughter of her never-forgotten
friend, the Princess Henrietta, with the heir to the throne of
Savoy. She writes a romance without the old vigor, occupies
herself with historic reminiscences, and takes a passing refuge
in an ardent affection for the young Mme. de Schomberg, which
excites the jealousy of some older friends. But the strongest
link that binds her to the world is the son whose career opens so
brilliantly as a young officer and for whom she secures an ample
fortune and a fine marriage. In this son and the establishment
of a family centered all her hopes and ambitions. She was spared
the pain of seeing them vanish like the "baseless fabric of a
vision." The object of so many cares survived her less than two
years; her remaining son and the only person left to represent
her was the abbe who had so little care for her manuscripts and
her literary fame. A century later, through a collateral branch
of the family, the glory of the name was revived by the
distinguished general so dear to the American heart. It was in
the less tangible realm of the intellect that Mme. de La Fayette
was destined to an unlooked-for immortality.

But in spite of these interests, the sense of loneliness and
desolation is always present. Her few letters give us occasional
flashes of the old spirit, but the burden of them is
inexpressibly sad. Her sympathies and associations led her
toward a mild form of Jansenism, and as the evening shadows
darkened, her thoughts turned to fresh speculations upon the
destiny of the soul. She went with Mme. de Coulanges to visit
Mme. de La Sabliere, who was expiating the errors and follies of
her life in austere penitence at the Incurables. The devotion of
this once gay and brilliant woman, who had been so deeply tinged
with the philosophy of Descartes, touched her profoundly, and
suggested a source of consolation which she had never found. She
sought the counsels of her confessor, who did not spare her, and
though she was never sustained by the ardor and exaltation of the
religieuse, her last days were not without peace and a tranquil
hope. To the end she remained a gracious, thoughtful, self-
poised, calmly-judging woman whose illusions never blinded her to
the simple facts of existence, though sometimes throwing over
them a transparent veil woven from the tender colors of her own
heart. Above the weariness and resignation of her last words
written to Mme. de Sevigne sounds the refrain of a life that
counts among its crowning gifts and graces a genius for

"Alas, ma belle, all I have to tell you of my health is very bad;
in a word, I have repose neither night nor day, neither in body
nor in mind. I am no more a person either by one or the other.
I perish visibly. I must end when it pleases God, and I am

Mme. de La Fayette represents better than any other woman the
social and literary life of the last half of the seventeenth
century. Mme. de Sevigne had an individual genius that might
have made itself equally felt in any other period. Mme. de
Maintenon, whom Roederer regards as the true successor of Mme. de
Rambouillet, was narrowed by personal ambition, and by the
limitations of her early life. Born in a prison, reared in
poverty, wife in name, but practically secretary and nurse of a
crippled, witty, and licentious poet over whose salon she
presided brilliantly; discreet and penniless widow, governess of
the illegitimate children of the king, adviser and finally wife
of that king, friend of Ninon, model of virtue, femme d'esprit,
politician, diplomatist, and devote--no fairy tale can furnish
more improbable adventures and more striking contrasts. But she
was the product of exceptional circumstances joined to an
exceptional nature. It is true she put a final touch upon the
purity of manners which was so marked a feature of the Hotel de
Rambouillet, and for a long period gave a serious tone to the
social life of France. But she ruled through repression, and one
is inclined to accept the opinion of Sainte-Beuve that she does
not represent the distinctive social current of the time. In
Mme. de La Fayette we find its delicacy, its courtesy, its
elegance, its intelligence, its critical spirit, and its charm.

In considering the great centers in which the fashionable,
artistic, literary, and scientific Paris of the seventeenth
century found its meeting ground, one is struck with the
practical training given to its versatile, flexible feminine
minds. Women entered intelligently and sympathetically into the
interests of men, who, in turn, did not reserve their best
thoughts for the club or an after-dinner talk among themselves.
There was stimulus as well as diversity in the two modes of
thinking and being. Men became more courteous and refined, women
more comprehensive and clear. But conversation is the
spontaneous overflow of full minds, and the light play of the
intellect is only possible on a high level, when the current
thought has become a part of the daily life, so that a word
suggests infinite perspectives to the swift intelligence. It is
not what we know, but the flavor of what we know, that
adds"sweetness and light" to social intercourse. With their
rapid intuition and instinctive love of pleasing, these French
women were quick to see the value of a ready comprehension of the
subjects in which clever men are most interested. It was this
keen understanding, added to the habit of utilizing what they
thought and read, their ready facility in grasping the salient
points presented to them, a natural gift of graceful expression,
with a delicacy of taste and an exquisite politeness which
prevented them from being aggressive, that gave them their
unquestioned supremacy in the salons which made Paris for so long
a period the social capital of Europe. It was impossible that
intellects so plastic should not expand in such an atmosphere,
and the result is not difficult to divine. From Mme. de
Rambouillet to Mme. de La Fayette and Mme. de Sevigne, from these
to Mme. de Stael and George Sand, there is a logical sequence.
The Saxon temperament, with a vein of La Bruyere, gives us George

This new introduction of the feminine element into literature,
which is directly traceable to the salons of the seventeenth
century, suggests a point of special interest to the moralist.
It may be assumed that, whether through nature or a long process
of evolution, the minds of women as a class have a different
coloring from the minds of men as a class. Perhaps the best
evidence of this lies in the literature of the last two
centuries, in which women have been an important factor, not only
through what they have done themselves, but through their reflex
influence. The books written by them have rapidly multiplied.
Doubtless, the excess of feeling is often unbalanced by mental or
artistic training; but even in the crude productions, which are
by no means confined to one sex, it may be remarked that women
deal more with pure affections and men with the coarser passions.
A feminine Zola of any grade of ability has not yet appeared.

It is not, however, in literature of pure sentiment that the
influence of women has been most felt. It is true that, as a
rule, they look at the world from a more emotional standpoint
than men, but both have written of love, and for one Sappho there
have been many Anacreons. Mlle. de Scudery and Mme. de La
Fayette did not monopolize the sentiment of their time, but they
refined and exalted it. The tender and exquisite coloring of
Mme. de Stael and George Sand had a worthy counterpart in that of
Chateaubriand or Lamartine. But it is in the moral purity, the
touch of human sympathy, the divine quality of compassion, the
swift insight into the soul pressed down by

The heavy and weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,

that we trace the minds of women attuned to finer spiritual
issues. This broad humanity has vitalized modern literature. It
is the penetrating spirit of our century, which has been aptly
called the Woman's Century. We do not find it in the great
literatures of the past. The Greek poets give us types of tragic
passions, of heroic virtues, of motherly and wifely devotion, but
woman is not recognized as a profound spiritual force. This
masculine literature, so perfect in form and plastic beauty, so
vigorous, so statuesque, so calm, and withal so cold, shines
across the centuries side by side with the feminine Christian
ideal--twin lights which have met in the world of today. It may
be that from the blending of the two, the crowning of a man's
vigor with a woman's finer insight, will spring the perfected
flower of human thought.

Robert Browning in his poem "By the Fireside" has said a fitting

Oh, I must feel your brain prompt mine,
Your heart anticipate my heart.
You must be just before, in fine,
See and make me see, for your part,
New depths of the Divine!

Characteristics of the Eighteenth Century - Its Epicurean
Philosophy - Anecdote of Mme. du Deffand--the Salon an Engine of
Political Power--Great Influence of Women--Salons Defined
Literary Dinners--Etiquette of the Salons--An Exotic on
American Soil.

The traits which strike us most forcibly in the lives and
characters of the women of the early salons, which colored their
minds, ran through their literary pastimes, and gave a
distinctive flavor to their conversation, are delicacy and
sensibility. It was these qualities, added to a decided taste
for pleasures of the intellect, and an innate social genius, that
led them to revolt from the gross sensualism of the court, and
form, upon a new basis, a society that has given another
complexion to the last two centuries. The natural result was, at
first, a reign of sentiment that was often over-strained, but
which represented on the whole a reaction of morality and
refinement. The wits and beauties of the Salon Bleu may have
committed a thousand follies, but their chivalrous codes of honor
and of manners, their fastidious tastes, even their prudish
affectations, were open though sometimes rather bizarre tributes
to the virtues that lie at the very foundation of a well-ordered
society. They had exalted ideas of the dignity of womanhood, of
purity, of loyalty, of devotion. The heroines of Mlle. de
Scudery, with their endless discourses upon the metaphysics of
love, were no doubt tiresome sometimes to the blase courtiers, as
well as to the critics; but they had their originals in living
women who reversed the common traditions of a Gabrielle and a
Marion Delorme, who combined with the intellectual brilliancy and
fine courtesy of the Greek Aspasia the moral graces that give so
poetic a fascination to the Christian and medieval types. Mme.
de la Fayette painted with rare delicacy the old struggle between
passion and duty, but character triumphs over passion, and duty
is the final victor. In spite of the low standards of the age,
the ideal woman of society, as of literature, was noble, tender,

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