Ninon de Lenclos.

Life, Letters, and Epicurean Philosophy of Ninon de L'Enclos The Celebrated Beauty of the Seventeenth Century online

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LIFE, LETTERS

AND

EPICUREAN PHILOSOPHY

OF

NINON

DE L'ENCLOS

The Celebrated Beauty of the Seventeenth Century



ROBINSON - OVERTON




1903




CONTENTS

LIFE OF NINON DE L'ENCLOS

CHAPTER I

Ninon de l'Enclos as a Standard

CHAPTER II

Considered as a Parallel

CHAPTER III

Youth of Ninon de l'Enclos

CHAPTER IV

The Morals of the Period

CHAPTER V

Ninon and Count de Coligny

CHAPTER VI

The "Birds" of the Tournelles

CHAPTER VII

Effect of Her Mother's Death

CHAPTER VIII

Her Increasing Popularity

CHAPTER IX

Ninon's Friendships

CHAPTER X

Some of Ninon's Lovers

CHAPTER XI

Ninon's Lovers (Continued)

CHAPTER XII

The Villarceaux Affair

CHAPTER XIII

The Marquis de Sévigné

CHAPTER XIV

A Family Tragedy

CHAPTER XV

Ninon's Bohemian Environments

CHAPTER XVI

A Remarkable Old Age




LETTERS TO THE MARQUIS DE SÉVIGNÉ


INTRODUCTION TO LETTERS
I - A Hazardous Undertaking
II - Why Love Is Dangerous
III - Why Love Grows Cold
IV - The Spice of Love
V - Love and Temper
VI - Certain Maxims Concerning Love
VII - Women Expect a Quid Pro Quo from Men
VIII - The Necessity for Love and Its Primitive Cause
IX - Love Is a Natural Inclination
X - The Sensation of Love Forms a Large Part of a Woman's Nature
XI - The Distinction Between Love and Friendship
XII - A Man in Love Is an Amusing Spectacle
XIII - Vanity Is a Fertile Soil for Love
XIV - Worth and Merit Are Not Considered in Love
XV - The Hidden Motives of Love
XVI - How to Be Victorious in Love
XVII - Women Understand the Difference Between Real Love and Flirtation
XVIII - When a Woman Is Loved She Need Not Be Told of It
XIX - Why a Lover's Vows Are Untrustworthy
XX - The Half-way House to Love
XXI - The Comedy of Contrariness
XXII - Vanity and Self-Esteem Obstacles to Love
XXIII - Two Irreconcilable Passions in Woman
XXIV - An Abuse of Credulity Is Intolerable
XXV - Why Virtue Is So Often Overcome
XXVI - Love Demands Freedom of Action
XXVII - The Heart Needs Constant Employment
XXVIII - Mere Beauty Is Often of Trifling Importance
XXIX - The Misfortune of Too Sudden an Avowal
XXX - When Resistance is Only a Pretence
XXXI - The Opinion and Advice of Monsieur de la Sablière
XXXII - The Advantages of a Knowledge of the Heart
XXXIII - A Heart Once Wounded No Longer Plays with Love
XXXIV - Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
XXXV - The Heart Should Be Played Upon Like the Keys of a Piano
XXXVI - Mistaken Impressions Common to All Women
XXXVII - The Allurements of Stage Women
XXXVIII - Varieties of Resistance Are Essential
XXXIX - The True Value of Compliments Among Women
XL - Oratory and Fine Phrases Do Not Breed Love
XLI - Discretion Is Sometimes the Better Part of Valor
XLII - Surface Indications in Women Are Not Always Guides
XLIII - Women Demand Respect
XLIV - Why Love Grows Weak - Marshal de Saint-Evremond's Opinion
XLV - What Favors Men Consider Faults
XLVI - Why Inconstancy Is Not Injustice
XLVII - Cause of Quarrels Among Rivals
XLVIII - Friendship Must Be Firm
XLIX - Constancy Is a Virtue Among Narrow Minded
L - Some Women Are Very Cunning
LI - The Parts Men and Women Play
LII - Love Is a Traitor with Sharp Claws
LIII - Old Age Not a Preventive Against Attack
LIV - A Shrewd But Not an Unusual Scheme
LV - A Happy Ending

* * * * *

CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN LORD SAINT-EVREMOND AND NINON DE L'ENCLOS

I - Lovers and Gamblers Have Something in Common
II - It Is Sweet to Remember Those We Have Loved
III - Wrinkles Are a Mark of Wisdom
IV - Near Hopes Are Worth as Much as Those Far Off
V - On the Death of De Charleval
VI - The Weariness of Monotony
VII - After the Death of La Duchesse de Mazarin
VIII - Love Banishes Old Age
IX - Stomachs Demand More Attention Than Minds
X - Why Does Love Diminish After Marriage?
XI - Few People Resist Age
XII - Age Has Some Consolations
XIII - Some Good Taste Still Exists in France
XIV - Superiority of the Pleasures of the Stomach
XV - Let the Heart Speak Its Own Language
XVI - The Memory of Youth
XVII - I Should Have Hanged Myself
XVIII - Life Is Joyous When It Is Without Sorrow
Letter to the Modern Leontium




NINON DE L'ENCLOS

LIFE AND LETTERS


INTRODUCTION


The inner life of the most remarkable woman that ever lived is here
presented to American readers for the first time. Ninon, or
Mademoiselle de l'Enclos, as she was known, was the most beautiful
woman of the seventeenth century. For seventy years she held
undisputed sway over the hearts of the most distinguished men of
France; queens, princes, noblemen, renowned warriors, statesmen,
writers, and scientists bowing before her shrine and doing her homage,
even Louis XIV, when she was eighty-five years of age, declaring that
she was the marvel of his reign.

How she preserved her extraordinary beauty to so great an age, and
attracted to her side the greatest and most brilliant men of the
century, is told in her biography, which has been entirely re-written,
and new facts and incidents added that do not appear in the French
compilations.

Her celebrated "Letters to the Marquis de Sévigné," newly translated,
and appearing for the first time in the United States, constitute the
most remarkable pathology of the female heart, its motives, objects,
and secret aspirations, ever penned. With unsparing hand she unmasks
the human heart and unveils the most carefully hidden mysteries of
femininity, and every one who reads these letters will see herself
depicted as in a mirror.

At an early age she perceived the inequalities between the sexes, and
refused to submit to the injustice of an unfair distribution of human
qualities. After due deliberation, she suddenly announced to her
friends: "I notice that the most frivolous things are charged up to
the account of women, and that men have reserved to themselves the
right to all the essential qualities; from this moment I will be a
man." From that time - she was twenty years of age - until her death,
seventy years later, she maintained the character assumed by her,
exercised all the rights and privileges claimed by the male sex, and
created for herself, as the distinguished Abbé de Chateauneauf says,
"a place in the ranks of illustrious men, while preserving all the
grace of her own sex."




LIFE OF NINON DE L'ENCLOS



CHAPTER I

Ninon de l'Enclos as a Standard


To write the biography of so remarkable a woman as Ninon de l'Enclos
is to incur the animadversions of those who stand upon the dogma, that
whoso violates one of the Ten Commandments is guilty of violating them
all, particularly when one of the ten is conventionally selected as
the essential precept and the most important to be observed. It is
purely a matter of predilection or fancy, perhaps training and
environment may have something to do with it, though judgment is
wanting, but many will have it so, and hence, they arrive at the
opinion that the end of the controversy has been reached.

Fortunately for the common sense of mankind, there are others who
repudiate this rigid rule and excuse for human conduct; who refuse to
accept as a pattern of morality, the Sabbath breaker, tyrant,
oppressor of the poor, the grasping money maker, or charity monger,
even though his personal chastity may entitle him to canonization.
These insist that although Ninon de l'Enclos may have persistently
transgressed one of the precepts of the Decalogue, she is entitled to
great consideration because of her faithful observance of the others,
not only in their letter but in their spirit, and that her life
contains much that is serviceable to humanity, in many more ways than
if she had studiously preserved her personal purity to the sacrifice
of other qualities, which are of as equal importance as virtues, and
as essential to be observed.

Another difficulty in the way of establishing her as a model of any
kind, on account of her deliberate violations of the sixth precept of
the Decalogue, is the fact that she was not of noble birth, held no
official position in the government of France, either during the
regency or under the reign of Louis XIII, but was a private person,
retiring in her habits, faithful in her liaisons and friendships,
delicate and refined in her manners and conversations, and eagerly
sought for her wisdom, philosophy, and intellectual ability.

Had she been a Semiramis, a Messalina, an Agrippina, a Catherine II,
or even a Lady Hamilton, the glamor of her exalted political position
might have covered up a multitude of gross, vulgar practices,
cruelties, barbarities, oppressions, crimes, and acts of
misgovernment, and have concealed her spiritual deformity beneath the
grandeur of her splendid public vices and irregularities. The mantle
of royalty and nobility, like dipsomania, excuses a multitude of sins,
hypocrisy, and injustice, and inclines the world to overlook,
disregard, or even condone, what in them is considered small vices,
eccentricities of genius, but which in a private person are magnified
into mountains of viciousness, and call forth an army of well meaning
but inconsistent people to reform them by brute force.

It is time to interpose an impasse to the further spread of this
misapprehension of the nature and consequences of human acts, and to
demonstrate the possibility, in humble walks of life, of virtues worth
cultivating, and to erect models out of those who, while they may be
derelict in their ethical duties, are still worthy of being imitated
in other respects. Our standards and patterns of morality are so high
as to be unattainable, not in the details of the practice of virtue,
but in the personnel of the model. Royal and noble blood permeated
with the odor of sanctity; virtuous statesmanship, or proud political
position attained through the rigid observance of the ethical rules of
personal purity, are nothing to the rank and file, the polloi, who can
never hope to reach those elevations in this world; as well expatiate
upon the virtues of Croesus to a man who will never go beyond his
day's wages, or expect the homeless to become ecstatic over the
magnificence of Nabuchodonosor's Babylonian palace. Such extremes
possess no influence over the ordinary mind, they are the mere
vanities of the conceited, the mistakes of moralists.

The history of Ninon de l'Enclos stands out from the pages of history
as a pre-eminent character, before which all others are stale,
whatever their pretensions through position and grandeur,
notwithstanding that one great quality so much admired in
women - womanly purity - was entirely wanting in her conduct through
life.

While no apology can be effectual to relieve her memory from that one
stigma, the other virtues connected with it, and which she possessed
in superabundance, deserve a close study, inasmuch as the trend of
modern society is in the direction of the philosophical principles and
precepts, which justified her in pursuing the course of life she
preferred to all others. She was an ardent disciple of the Epicurean
philosophy, but in her adhesion to its precepts, she added that
altruistic unselfishness so much insisted upon at the present day.




CHAPTER II

Considered as a Parallel


The birth of Ninon de l'Enclos was not heralded by salvoes of
artillery, Te Deums, or such other demonstrations of joy as are
attendant upon the arrival on earth of princes and offspring of great
personages. Nevertheless, for the ninety years she occupied the stage
of life, she accomplished more in the way of shaping great national
policies, successful military movements and brilliant diplomatic
successes, than any man or body of men in the seventeenth century.

In addition to that, her genius left an impress upon music and the
fine arts, an impress so profound that the high standard of excellence
both have attained in our day is due to her efforts in establishing a
solid foundation upon which it was possible to erect a substantial
structure. Moreover, in her hands and under her auspices and guidance,
languages, belles lettres, and rhetoric received an impetus toward
perfection, and raised the French language and its literature,
fiction, poetry and drama, to so high a standard, that its productions
are the models of the twentieth century.

It was Ninon de l'Enclos whose brilliant mentality and intellectual
genius formed the minds, the souls, the genius, of such master minds
as Saint-Evremond, La Rouchefoucauld, Molière, Scarron, La Fontaine,
Fontenelle, and a host of others in literature and fine arts; the
Great Condé, de Grammont, de Sévigné, and the flower of the chivalry
of France, in war, politics, and diplomacy. Even Richelieu was not
unaffected by her influence.

Strange power exerted by one frail woman, a woman not of noble birth,
with only beauty, sweetness of disposition, amiability, goodness, and
brilliant accomplishments as her weapons! It was not a case of the
moth and the flame, but the operation of a wise philosophy, the
precepts of which were decently, moderately and carefully inculcated;
a philosophy upon the very edge of which modern society is hanging,
afraid to accept openly, through too much attachment to ancient
doctrines which have drawn man away from happiness and comfort, and
converted him into a bitter pessimism that often leads to despair.

As has already been suggested, had Ninon de l'Enclos sat upon a
throne, or commanded an army, the pages of history would teem with the
renown of her exploits, and great victories be awarded to her instead
of to those who would have met with defeat without her inspiration.

Pompey, in his vanity, declared that he could raise an army by
stamping his foot upon the ground, but the raising of Ninon de
l'Enclos' finger could bring all the chivalry of Europe around a
single standard, or at the same gentle signal, cause them to put aside
their arms and forget everything but peace and amity. She dominated
the intellectual geniuses of the long period during which she lived,
and reigned over them as their absolute queen, through the sheer force
of her personal charms, which she never hesitated to bestow upon those
whom she found worthy, and who expressed a desire to possess them,
studiously regulated, however, by the precepts and principles of the
philosophy of Epicurus, which today is rapidly gaining ground in our
social relations through its better understanding and appreciation.

Her life bears a great resemblance to the histories in which we read
about the most celebrated women of ancient times, who occupied a
middle station between the condition of marriage and prostitution - a
class of women whose Greek name is familiarized to our ears in
translations of Aristophanes. Ninon de l'Enclos was of the order of
the French "hetaerae," and, as by her beauty and her talents, she
attained the first rank in the social class, her name has come down to
posterity with those of Aspasia and Leontium, while the less
distinguished favorites of less celebrated men have shared the common
oblivion, which hides from the memory of men, every degree of
mediocrity, whether of virtue or vice.

A class of this kind, a status of this singular nature existing
amongst accomplished women, who inspired distinguished men with lofty
ideals, and developed the genius of men who, otherwise, would have
remained in obscurity, can never be uninteresting or uninstructive;
indeed, it must afford matter for serious study. They are prefigures,
or prototypes of the influence that aims to sway mankind at the
present day in government, politics, literature, and the fine arts.

As a distinguished example of such a class, the most prominent in the
world, in fact, apart from a throne, Ninon de l'Enclos will peculiarly
engage the attention of all who, whether for knowledge or amusement,
are observers of human nature under all its varieties and
circumstances.

It would be idle to enter upon a historical digression on the state of
female manners in ancient Athens, or in Europe during the last three
centuries. The reader should discard them from his mind when he
peruses the life of Ninon de l'Enclos, and examine her character and
environments from every point of view as a type toward which is
trending modern social conditions.

At first blush, and to a narrow intellect, an individual woman of the
character of Ninon de l'Enclos would seem hopelessly lost to all
virtue, abandoned by every sense of shame, and irreclaimable to any
feeling of social or private duty. But only at first blush, and to the
most circumscribed of narrow minds, who, fortunately, do not control
the policy of mankind, although occasional disorders here and there
indicate that they are endeavouring to do so.

A large majority of mankind are of the settled opinion that every
virtue is bound up in that of chastity. Our manners and customs, our
laws, most of our various kinds of religions, our national sentiments
and feelings - all our most serious opinions, as well as our dearest
and best rooted prejudices, forbid the dissevering, in the minds of
women of any class, the ideas of virtue and female honor. That is,
our public opinion is along that line. To raise openly a doubt on this
head, or to disturb, on a point considered so vital, the settled
notions of society, is equally inconsistent with common prudence and
the policy of common honesty; and as tending to such an end, we are
apt to consider all discussion on the subject as at least officiously
incurring danger, without an opportunity of inculcating good.

But, however strongly we insist upon this opinion for such purposes,
there are others in which it is not useless to relax that severity for
a moment, and to view the question, not through the medium of
sentiment, but with an eye of philosophic impartiality. We are
gradually nearing the point, where it is conceded that in certain
conditions of society, one failing is not wholly incompatible with a
general practice of virtue - a remark to be met with in every homily
since homilies were written, notwithstanding that rigid rule already
alluded to in the previous chapter.

It is surprising that it has never occurred to any moralist of the
common order, who deals chiefly with such general reflections, to
apply this particular maxim to this particular social status. We
follow the wise precepts of honesty found in Cicero, although we know
that he was, at the time he was writing them, plundering his fellow
men at every opportunity. Our admiration for Bacon's philosophy and
wisdom reaches adulation although he was the "meanest of men," and was
guilty of the most flagrant crimes such as judicial bribery and
political corruption. We read that Aspasia had some great and many
amiable qualities; so too had Ninon de l'Enclos; and it is worthy of
consideration, how far we judge candidly or wisely in condemning such
characters in gross, and treating their virtues as Saint Austin was
wont to deal with those of his heathen adversaries, as no better than
"splendid vices," so unparalleled in their magnitude as to become
virtues by the operation of the law of extremes. There was no law
permitting a man to marry his sister, and there was no law forbidding
King Cambyses to do as he liked.

Another grave point to be considered is this: The world, as it now
stands, its laws, systems of government, manners and customs, and
social conditions, have been built up on these same "splendid vices,"
and whenever they have been tamed into subjection to mediocrity - let
us say to clerical, or ecclesiastical domination; - government, society
and morals have retrograded. The social condition in France during
Ninon de l'Enclos' time, and in England during the reign of Charles
II, is startling evidence of this accusation. Moreover, it is fast
becoming the condition to-day, a fact indicated by the almost
universal demand for a revolution in social ethics, the foundation to
which, for some reason, has become awry, threatening to topple down
the structure erected upon it. Society can see nothing to originate,
an incalculable number of attempts to better human conditions always
proving failures, and worsening the human status. It is dawning upon
the minds of the true lovers of humanity, that there is nothing else
to be done, but to revert to the past to find the key to any possible
reform, and to that past we are edging rapidly, though, it must be
said unwillingly, in the hope and expectation that the old foundations
are possessed of sufficient solidity to support a new or re-modeled
structure.

The life of Ninon de l'Enclos, upon this very point, furnishes food
for profitable reflection, inasmuch as it gives an insight into the
great results to be obtained by the following of the precepts of an
ancient philosophy which seems to have survived the clash of ages of
intellectual and moral warfare, and to have demonstrated its capacity
to supply defects in segregated dogmatic systems wholly incapable of
any syncretic tendencies.




CHAPTER III

Youth of Ninon de l'Enclos


Anne de l'Enclos, or "Ninon," as she has always been familiarly called
by the world at large, was born at Paris in 1615. What her parents
were, or what her family, is a matter of little consequence. To all
persons who have attained celebrity over the route pursued by her,
original rank and station are not of the least moment. By force of his
genius in hewing for himself a niche in history, Napoleon was truly
his own ancestor, as it is said he loved to remark pleasantly. So with
Ninon de l'Enclos, the novelty of the career she laid out for herself
to follow, and did follow until the end with unwavering constancy,
justifies us in regarding her as the head of a new line, or dynasty.

In the case of mighty conquerors, whose path was strewn with violence,
even lust, no one thinks of an ignoble origin as in any manner
derogatory to the eminence; on the contrary, it is considered rather
as matter to be proud of; the idea that out of ignominy, surrounded by
conditions devoid of all decency, justice, and piety, an individual
can elevate himself up to the highest pinnacle of human power and
glory, has always, and will always be regarded as an example to be
followed, and the badge of success stretched to cover the means of
its attainment. This is the universal custom where success has been
attained, the failures being relegated to a well merited oblivion as
unworthy of consideration either as lessons of warning or for any
purpose. Our youth are very properly taught only the lessons of
success.

It is in evidence that Ninon's father was a gentleman of Touraine and
connected, through his wife, with the family of Abra de Raconis, a
race of no mean repute in the Orleanois, and that he was an
accomplished gentleman occupying a high position in society. Voltaire,
however, declares that Ninon had no claim to a parentage of such
distinction; that the rank of her mother was too obscure to deserve
any notice, and that her father's profession was of no higher dignity
than that of a teacher of the lute. This account is not less likely,
from the remarkable proficiency acquired by Ninon, at an early age, in
the use of that instrument.

It is equally certain, however, that Ninon's parents were not obscure,
and that her father was a man of many accomplishments, one of which
was his skill as a performer on the lute. A fact which may have
induced Voltaire to mistake one of his talents for his regular
profession.

Ninon's parents were as opposite in sentiments and disposition as the
Poles of the earth. Madame de l'Enclos was a prudent, pious Christian
mother, who endeavored to inspire her daughter with the same pious
sentiments which pervaded her own heart. The fact is that the mother
attempted to prepare her daughter for a conventual life, a profession
at that period of the highest honor, and one that led to preferment,
not only in religious circles, but in the world of society. At that
time, conventual and monastic dignitaries occupied a prominent place
in the formation of public and private manners and customs, and if not
regarded impeccable, their opinions were always considered valuable in
state matters of the greatest moment, even the security of thrones,
the welfare and peace of nations sometimes depending upon their
wisdom, judgment, and decisions.

With this laudable object in view, Madame de l'Enclos carefully
trained her daughter in the holy exercises of her religion, to which
she hoped to consecrate her entire life. But the fond mother met with
an impasse, an insurmountable obstacle, in the budding Ninon herself,


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