has charged me to present you to her whenever you will give
me the opportunity. She knew your admirable mother well,
and for her sake wishes once to see you. You know perhaps.
Monsieur, that the extreme retirement of her life renders
this message from Madame de Maintenon an unusual and rare
I expressed my thanks ; the Bishop received them with a
paternal rather than a courtier-like air, and appointed a day
for me to attend him to the palace. We then conversed a
short time upon indifferent matters, which I observed the good
Bishop took especial pains to preserve clear from French poli-
tics. He asked me, however, two or three questions about
llie state of parties in England, — about finance and the na-
tional debt, about Ormond and Oxford; and appeared to give
the most close attention to my replies. He smiled once or
twice, when his relation, Madame de Balzac, broke out into
sarcasms against the Jesuits, which had nothing to do with
the subjects in question.
"Ah, ma chere cotcsine," said he: "you flatter me by show-
ing that you like me not as the politician, but the private re-
lation, — not as the Bishop of Frejus, but as Andre de Fleuri."
Madame de Balzac smiled, and answered by a compliment.
She was a politician for the kingdom, it is true, but she was
also a politician for herself. She was far from exclaiming,
with Pindar, " Thy business, my city, I prefer willingly to
my own." Ah, there is a nice distinction between politics
and policy, and Madame de Balzac knew it. The distinction
is this. Politics is the art of being wise for others : policy
is the art of being wise for one's self.
From Madame de Balzac's I went to Bolingbroke. " I have
just been offered the place of Secretary of State by the Eng-
lish king on this side of the water," said he; "I do not, how-
ever, yet like to commit myself so fully. And, indeed, I am
not unwilling to have a little relaxation of pleasure, after all
these dull and dusty travails of state. What say you to
Boulainvilliers to-night? you are asked?"
"Yes! all the wits are to be there, — Anthony Hamilton,
and Fontenelle, young Arouet, Chaulieu, that charming old
man. Let us go, and polish away the wrinkles of our hearts.
What cosmetics are to the face wit is to the temper; and,
after all, there is no wisdom like that which teaches us to
"Come then," said Bolingbroke, rising, "we will lock up
these papers, and take a melancholy drive, in order that we
may enjoy mirth the better by and by. "
A MEETING OF WITS. CONVERSATION GONE OUT TO SUPPER
IN HER DRESS OF VELVET AND JEWELS.
BouLAiNviLLiERS ! CoBite de St. Saire! What will our
great-grandchildren think of that name? Fame is indeed a
riddle! At the time I refer to, wit, learning, grace — all
things that charm and enlighten — were supposed to centre in
one word, — Boidainvilliei's / The good Count had many ri-
vals, it is true, but he had that exquisite tact peculiar to his
countrymen, of making the very reputations of those rivals
contribute to his own. And while he assembled them around
him, the lustre of their bons mots, though it emanated from
themselves, was reflected upon him.
It was a pleasant though not a costly apartment in which
we found our host. The room was sufficiently full of j)eople
to allow scope and variety to one group of talkers, without
being full enough to permit those little knots and coteries
which are the destruction of literary society. An old man
of about seventy, of a sharp, shrewd, yet polished and courtly
expression of countenance, of a great gayety of manner, which
was now and then rather displeasingly contrasted by an
abrupt affectation of dignity, that, however, rarely lasted
above a minute, and never withstood the shock of a bon mot,
was the first person who accosted us. This old man was the
wreck of the once celebrated Anthony Count Hamilton !
"Well, my Lord," said he to Bolingbroke, "how do you
like the weather at Paris? It is a little better than the merci-
less air of London; is it not? 'Slife! — even in June one
could not go open breasted in those regions of cold and ca-
tarrh, — a very great misfortune, let me tell you, my Lord, if
one's cambric happened to be of a very delicate and brilliant
texture, and one wished to penetrate the inward folds of a
lady's heart, by developing to the best advantage the exterior
folds that covered his own."
"It is the first time," answered Bolingbroke, "that I ever
heard so accomplished a courtier as Count Hamilton repine,
with sincerity, that he could not bare his bosom to inspection."
" Ah ! " cried Boulainvilliers, " but vanity makes a man
show much that discretion would conceal."
^^ All diable with your discretion!" said Hamilton, "'tis a
Tiilgar virtue. Vanity is a truly aristocratic quality, and
every way fitted to a gentleman. Should I ever have been
renowned for my exquisite lace and web-like cambric, if I
had not been vain? Never, mon cher! I should have gone
into a convent and worn sackcloth, and from Count Antoine I
should have thickened into Saint Anthonij."
"Nay," cried Lord Bolingbroke, "there is as much scope
for vanity in sackcloth as there is in cambric ; for vanity is
like the Irish ogling master in the "Spectator," and if it
teaches the play-house to ogle by candle-light, it also teaches
the church to ogle by day! But, pardon me. Monsieur Chau-
lieu, how well you look! I see that the myrtle sheds its
verdure, not only over your poetry, but the poet. And it is
right that, to the modern Anacreon, who has bequeathed to
Time a treasure it will never forego, Time itself should be
gentle in return."
"Milord," answered Chaulieu, an old man who, though con-
siderably past seventy, was animated, in appearance and
manner, with a vivacity and life that would have done honour
to a youth, — "Milord, it was beautifully said by the Emperor
Julian that Justice retained the Graces in her vestibule. I
see, now, that he should have substituted the word JVisdom
for that of Justice."
" Come," cried Anthony Hamilton, " this will never do : com-
pliments are the dullest things imaginable. For Heaven's
sake, let us leave panegyric to blockheads, and say something
bitter to one another, or we shall die of ennui."
"Eight," said Boulainvilliers; "let us pick out some poor
devil to begin with. Absent or present? — Decide which."
"Oh, absent," cried Chaulieu, " 't is a thousand times more
piquant to slander than to rally! Let us commence with his
Majesty : Count Devereux, have you seen Madame Maintenon
and her devout infant since your arrival?"
"No! the priest must be petitioned before the miracle is
"What!" cried Chaulieu, "would you insinuate that his
Majesty's piety is really nothing less than a miracle?"
"Impossible!" said Boulainvilliers, gravely, — "piety is as
natural to kings as flattery to their courtiers : are we not told
that they are made in God's own image?"
" If that were true, " said Count Hamilton, somewhat pro-
fanely, — "if that were true, I should no longer deny the
impossibility of Atheism ! "
" Fie, Count Hamilton, " said an old gentleman, in whom I
recognized the great Huet, "fie: wit should beware how it
uses wings; its province is earth, not Heaven,"
"Nobody can better tell what wit is not than the learned
Abb^ Huet ! " answered Hamilton, with a mock air of respect.
" Pshaw ! " cried Chaulieu, " I thought when we once gave
the rein to satire it would carry us pele-mele against one an-
other. But, in order to sweeten that drop of lemon-juice for
you, my dear Huet, let me turn to Milord Bolingbroke, and
ask him whether England can produce a scholar equal to
Peter Huet, who in twenty years wrote notes to sixty-two
volumes of Classics,^ for the sake of a prince who never read
a line in one of them? "
"We have some scholars," answered Bolingbroke; "but we
certainly have no Huet. It is strange enough, but learning
seems to me like a circle : it grows weaker the more it spreads.
We now see many people capable of reading commentaries,
but very few indeed capable of writing them."
"True," answered Huet; and in his reply he introduced
the celebrated illustration which is at this day mentioned
among his most felicitous bons mots. " Scholarship, formerly
the most difficult and unaided enterprise of Genius, has now
been made, by the very toils of the first mariners, but an easy
and commonplace voyage of leisure. But who would compare
1 The Delphin Classics.
the great men, whose very difficulties not only proved their
ardour, but brought them the patience and the courage which
alone are the parents of a genuine triumph, to the indolent
loiterers of the present day, who, having little of difficulty to
conquer, have nothing of glory to attain? For my part, there
seems to me the same difference between a scholar of our days
and one of the past as there is between Christopher Colum-
bus and the master of a packet-boat from Calais to Dover ! "
"But," cried Anthony Hamilton, taking a pinch of snuff
with the air of a man about to utter a witty thing, " but what
have we — we spirits of the world, not imps of the closet, "
and he glanced at Huet — "to do with scholarship? All the
waters of Castaly, which we want to pour into our brain, are
such as Avill flow the readiest to our tongue."
"In short, then," said I, "you would assert that all a
friend cares for in one's head is the quantity of talk in it?"
"Precisely, my dear Count," said Hamilton, seriously;
" and to that maxim I will add another applicable to the op-
posite sex. All that a mistress cares for in one's heart is the
quantity of love in it."
"What! are generosity, courage, honour, to go for nothing
with our mistress, then?" cried Chaulieu.
"Xo: for she will believe, if you are a passionate lover,
that you have all those virtues; and if not, she will never
believe that you have one."
" Ah ! it was a pretty court of love in which the friend and
biographer of Count Grammont learned the art ! " said
"We believed so at the time, my Lord; but there are as
many changes in the fashion of making love as there are in
that of making dresses. Honour me. Count Devereux, by
using my snuff-box and then looking at the lid."
"It is the picture of Charles the Second which adorns it;
is it not?"
"'No, Count Devereux, it is the diamonds which adorn it.
His Majesty's face I thought very beautiful while he was
living; but now, on my conscience, I consider it the ugliest
phiz I ever beheld. But I directed your notice to the picture
because we were talking of love; and Old Eowley believed
that he could make it better than any one else. All his cour-
tiers had the same opinion of themselves ; and I dare say the
beaux (jargons of Queen Anne's reign would say that not one
of King Charley's gang knew what love was. Oh! 'tis a
strange circle of revolutions, that love! Like the earth, it
always changes, and yet always has the same materials. "
^^V amour, V amour, toujours V amour, with Count Anthony
Hamilton!" said Boulainvilliers. "He is always on that
subject; and, sacre bleu! when he was younger, I am told he
was like Cacus, the son of Vulcan, and breathed nothing but
"You flatter me," said Hamilton. " Solve me now a knotty
riddle, my Lord Bolingbroke. Why does a young man think
it the greatest compliment to be thought wise, while an old
man thinks it the greatest compliment to be told he has been
"Is love foolish then? " said Lord Bolingbroke.
" Can you doubt it? " answered Hamilton ; " it makes a man
think more of another than himself! I know not a greater
proof of folly ! "
"Ah! mon ahnable ami," cried Chaulieu; "you are the
wickedest witty person I know. I cannot help loving your
language, while I hate your sentiments."
" My language is my own ; my sentiments are those of all
men," answered Hamilton: "but are we not, by the by, to
have young Arouet here to-night? What a charming person
"Yes," said Boulainvilliers. "He said he should be late;
and I expect Fontenelle, too, but he will not come before sup-
per. I found Fontenelle this morning conversing with my
cook on the best manner of dressing asparagus. I asked him
the other day what writer, ancient or modern, had ever given
him the most sensible pleasure? After a little pause, the ex-
cellent old man said, 'Daphnus.' 'Daphnus! ' repeated I, 'who
the devil is he? ' 'Why,' answered Fontenelle, with tears of
gratitude in his benevolent eyes, 'I had some hypochondriacal
ideas that suppers were unwholesome ; and Daphnus is an an-
cient physician, who asserts the contrary; and declares, —
think, my friend, what a charming theory! — that the moon
is a great assistant of the digestion! ' "
" Ha I ha ! ha ! " laughed the Ahh6 de Chaulieu. " How like
Fontenelle ! what an anomalous creature 't is ! He has the
most kindness and the least feeling of any man I ever knew.
Let Hamilton iind a pithier description for him if he can ! "
Whatever reply the friend of the jjreux Grammont might
have made was prevented by the entrance of a young man of
In person he was tall, slight, and very thin. There was a
certain affectation of polite address in his manner and mien
which did not quite become him ; and though he was received
by the old wits with great cordiality, and on a footing of per-
fect equality, yet the inexpressible air which denotes birth
was both pretended to and wanting. This, perhaps, was
however owing to the ordinary inexperience of youth; which,
if not awkwardly bashful, is generally awkward in its assur-
ance. Whatever its cause, the impression vanished directly
he entered into conversation. I do not think I ever encoun-
tered a man so brilliantly, yet so easily, wntty. He had but
little of the studied allusion, the antithetical point, the classic
metaphor, which chiefly characterize the wits of my day. On
the contrary, it was an exceeding and naive simplicity, which
gave such unrivalled charm and piquancy to his conversation.
And while I have not scrupled to stamp on my pages some
faint imitation of the peculiar dialogue of other eminent char-
acters, I must confess myself utterly unable to convey the
smallest idea of his method of making words irresistible.
Contenting my efforts, therefore, with describing his personal
appearance, — interesting, because that of the most striking
literary character it has been my lot to meet, — I shall omit
his share in the remainder of the conversation I am rehears-
ing, and beg the reader to recall that passage in Tacitus in
which the great historian says that, in the funeral of Junia,
"the images of Brutus and Cassius outshone all the rest, from
the very circumstance of their being the sole ones excluded
from the rite."
J The countenance, then, of Marie Fran9ois Arouet (since so
celebrated under the name of Voltaire) was plain in feature,
but singularly striking in eifect; its vivacity was the very
perfection of what Steele once happily called "physiognomi-
cal eloquence." His eyes were blue, fiery rather than
bright, and so restless that they never dwelt in the same
place for a moment : ^ his mouth was at once the worst and
the most peculiar feature of his face; it betokened humour,
it is true; but it also betrayed malignanc}^, nor did it ever
smile without sarcasm. Though flattering to those present,
his words against the absent, uttered by that bitter and curl-
ing lip, mingled with your pleasure at their wit a little fear
at their causticity. I believe no one, be he as bold, as cal-
lous, or as faultless as human nature can be, could be one
hour with that man and not feel apprehension. Eidicule, so
lavish, yet so true to the mark; so wanton, yet so seemingly
just; so bright, that while it Avandered round its target, in
apparent though terrible playfulness, it burned into the spot,
and engraved there a brand, and a token indelible and per-
petual, — this no man could witness, when darted towards an-
other, and feel safe for himself. The very caprice and levity
of the jester seemed more perilous, because less to be calcu-
lated upon, than a systematic principle of bitterness or satire.
Bolingbroke compared him, not unaptly, to a child who has
possessed himself of Jupiter's bolts, and who makes use of
those bolts in sport which a god would only have used in
Arouet's forehead was not remarkable for height, but it was
nobly and grandly formed, and, contradicting that of the
mouth, wore a benevolent expression. Though so young,
there was already a wrinkle on the surface of the front, and
a prominence on the eyebrow, which showed that the wit and
^ The reader will remember that this is a description of Voltaire as a
very young man. I do not know anywhere a more impressive, almost a
more ghastly, contrast than that which the pictures of Voltaire, grown old,
present to Largilliere's picture of him at the age of twenty -four; and he
•was somewhat younger than twenty-four at the time of which the Count
now speaks. — Ed.
the fancy of his conversation were, if not regulated, at least
contrasted, by more thoughtful and lofty characteristics of
mind. At the time I write, this man has obtained a high
throne among the powers of the lettered world. What he
may yet be, it is in vain to guess : he may be all that is great
and good, or — the reverse; but I cannot but believe that his
career is only begun. Such men are born monarchs of the
mind; they may be benefactors or tyrants: in either case,
they are greater than the kings of the physical empire, be-
cause they defy armies and laugh at the intrigues of state.
From themselves only come the balance of their power, the
laws of their government, and the boundaries of their realm.
We sat down to supper. "Count Hamilton," said Boulain-
villiers, "are we not a merry set for such old fellows? Why,
excepting Arouet, IVIilord Bolingbroke, and Count Devereux,
there is scarcely one of us under seventy. Where but at
Paris would you see hons vivans of our age? Vivent lajoie,
la bagatelle, V amour I "
^^ Et le vin cle Champagne ! " cried Chaulieu, filling his glass ;
"but what is there strange in our merriment? Philemon, the
comic poet, laughed at ninety-seven. May we all do the
same ! "
"You forget," cried Bolingbroke, "that Philemon died of
"Yes," said Hamilton; "but if I remember right, it was at
seeing an ass eat figs. Let us vow, therefore, never to keep
company with asses ! "
"Bravo, Count," said Boulainvilliers, "you have put the
true moral on the story. Let us swear by the ghost of Phile-
mon that we will never laugh at an ass's jokes, — practical or
" Then we must always be serious, except when we are with
each other," cried Chaulieu. "Oh, I would sooner take my
chance of dying prematurely at ninety-seven than consent to
such a vow ! "
"Fontenelle," cried our host, "you are melancholy. What
is the matter? "
"I mourn for the weakness of human nature," answered
Fontenelle, with an air of patriarchal philanthropy. " I told
your cook three times about the asparagus ; and now — taste
it. I told him not to put too much sugar, and he has put
none. Thus it is with mankind, — ever in extremes, and con-
sequently ever in error. Thus it was that Luther said, so
felicitously and so truly, that the human mind was like a
drunken peasant on horseback: prop it on one side, and it
falls on the other."
"Ha! ha! ha!" cried Chaulieu. " Who would have thought
one could have found so much morality in a plate of aspara-
gus! Ta.ste this sals ijis.''
"Pray, Hamilton," said Huet, "what^eu de mot was that
you made yesterday at Madame d'Epernonville's which gained
you such applause?"
"Ah, repeat it. Count," cried Boulainvilliers ; "'twas the
most classical thing I have heard for a long time."
"Why," said Hamilton, laying down his knife and fork,
and preparing himself by a large draught of the champagne,
"why, Madame d'Epernonville appeared without her tour ;
you know, Lord Bolingbroke, that tour is the polite name for
false hair. 'Ah, sacrel' cried her brother, courteously, 'ma
soeur, que vous etes laide aujourd'hui: vous n'avez pas votre
tour! ' 'Voila pourquoi elle n'est pas si-belle (Cybele),'
"Excellent! famous!" cried we all, except Huet, who
seemed to regard the punster with a very disrespectful eye.
Hamilton saw it. " You do not think. Monsieur Huet, that
there is wit in t\\es,e.jenx de mots: perhaps you do not admire
wit at all?"
" Yes, I admire wit as I do the wind. When it shakes the
trees it is tine; Avhen it cools the wave it is refreshing; when
it steals over flowers it is enchanting: but when. Monsieur
Hamilton, it whistles through the key-hole it is unpleasant."
" The very worst illustration I ever heard, " said Hamilton,
coolly. "Keep to your classics, my dear Abbe. When Jupi-
ter edited the work of Peter Huet, he did with wit as Peter
Huet did with Lucan when he edited the classics: he was
afraid it might do mischief, and so left it out altogether."
"Let us drink! " cried Chaulieu; "let us drink! " and the
conversation was turned again.
" What is that you say of Tacitus, Huet? " said Boulain-
"That his wisdom arose from his malignancy," answered
Huet. "He is a perfect penetrator^ into human vices, but
knows nothing of human virtues. Do you think that a good
man would dwell so constantly on what is evil? Believe me
— no. A man cannot write much and well upon virtue with-
out being virtuous, nor enter minutely and profoundly into
the causes of vice without being vicious himself."
"It is true," said Hamilton; "and your remark, which af-
fects to be so deep, is but a natural corollary from the hack-
neyed maxim that from experience comes wisdom."
"But, for my part," said Boulainvilliers, "I think Tacitus
is not so invariably the analyzer of vice as you would make
him. Look at the 'Agricola ' and the 'Germania.' "
" Ah ! the ' Germany, ' above all things ! " cried Hamilton,
dropping a delicious morsel of sanglier in its way from hand
to mouth, in his hurry to speak. " Of course, the historian,
Boulainvilliers, advocates the 'Germany,' from its mention
of the origin of the feudal system, — that incomparable bundle
of excellences, which Le Comte de Boulainvilliers has de-
clared to be le chef cV ceuvre de V esprit humain; and which the
same gentleman regrets, in the most pathetic terms, no longer
exists in order that the seigneur may feed upon des gros mor-
ceaux de hoeuf demi-cru, may hang up half his peasants j9o?/r
encourager les autres, and ravish the daughters of the defunct
pour leur donner quelque consolation.^'
"Seriously though," said the old Abbe de Chaulieu, with a
twinkling eye, " the last mentioned evil, my dear Hamilton,
was not without a little alloy of good."
"Yes," said Hamilton, "if it Avas only the daughters; but
perhaps the seigneur was not too scrupulous with regard to
1 A remark similar to this the reader will probably remember in the
"Iluctiana," and will, I hope, agree with me in thinking it showy and
untme. — Ed.
" Ah ! shocking, shocking ! " cried Chaulieu, solemnly.
" Adultery is, indeed, an atrocious crime. I am sure I would
most conscientiously cry out with the honest preacher, 'Adul-
tery, my children, is the blackest of sins. I do declare that
I would rather have ten virgins in love with me than one
married woman ! ' "
We all laughed at this enthusiastic burst of virtue from the
chaste Chaulieu. And Arouet turned our conversation to-
wards the ecclesiastical dissensions between Jesuits and Jan-
senists that then agitated the kingdom. "Those priests,"
said Bolingbroke, "remind me of the nurses of Jupiter: they
make a great clamour in order to drown the voice of their
"Bravissimo! " cried Hamilton. "Is it not a pity, Mes-
sieurs, that my Lord Bolingbroke was not a Frenchman?
He is almost clever enough to be one."
"If he would drink a little more, he would be," cried Chau-
lieu, who was now setting us all a glorious example.
"What say you, Morton?" exclaimed Bolingbroke; "must
we not drink these gentlemen under the table for the honour
of our country? "
" A challenge ! a challenge ! " cried Chaulieu. " I march
first to the field!"
" Conquest or death ! " shouted Bolingbroke. And the rites
of Minerva were forsaken for those of Bacchus.