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of her ward's hasty act of injured pride. Aisse, however,
had other things to think of; " the birthday of her life
was come, her love was come to her." As early as 1721,
we find Lord Bolingbroke saying, in a letter to Madame
de Ferriol, " I fully expect you to come; I even flatter
myself that we shall see Madame du Deffand ; but as
for Mademoiselle Aisse, I do not expect her. The Turk
will be her excuse, and a certain Christian of my acquaint-
ance her reason." This seems to mean that Aisse would
give as her excuse for not coming to stay with the
Bolingbrokes that she was needed at the Ambassador's
pillow ; but that her real reason would be that she wished
to stay in Paris to be near " a certain Christian." That
which had been vainly attempted by so many august
and eminent personages, namely, the capture of Aisse's
heart, was now being pursued with alarming success
by a very modest candidate for her affections.

The Chevalier Blaise Marie d'Aydie, the hope of an
impoverished Perigord family who claimed descent,
with a blot on their escutcheon, from the noble house



44 French Profiles

of Foix, was, in 172 1, about thirty years of age. He had
hved a passably dissipated hfe, after the fashion of the
CHtandres of the age, and if Mademoiselle Rieu is to be
believed, Madame la Duchesse de Berry herself had
passed through the fires on his behalf. He was poor;
he was brave and handsome and rather stupid ; he was
expected one of these days to break his vows as a Knight
of Malta and redeem the family fortunes by a good
marriage. We have a portrait of him by Madame du
Deffand, written in her delicate, persistent way, touch
upon touch, with a result that reminds one of Mr. Henry
James's pictures of character. Voltaire, more rapidl}'
and more enthusiastically, called him the " chevalier
sans peur et sans reproche," and drew him as the hero
of his tragedy of Adelaide dti Guesclm. He had the
superficial vices of his time ; but his tenderness, loyalty,
and goodness of heart were infinite, and if we judge him
by the morals of his own age and not' of ours, he was a
very fine fellow. His principal fault seems to have been
that he was rather dull. As Madame du Deffand puts
it, " They say of Fontenelle that instead of a heart he
has a second brain ; one might believe that the head of
the Chevalier contained another heart." All evidence
goes to prove that from the moment when he first met
Aisse no other woman existed for him, and if their
union was blameworthy, let it be at least admitted that
it lasted, with impassioned fidelity on both sides, for
twelve years and until Aisse's death.

It would appear that until the Ambassador passed
away, and the irksome life at the Hotel Ferriol began
again, Aisse contrived to keep her ardent admirer within
bounds. To us it seems amazingly perverse that the
lovers did not marry ; but Aisse herself was the first to
insist that a Chevalier d'Aydie could not and should not



Mademoiselle Aisse 45



offend his relations by a mesalliance with a Circassian
slave. At last she yielded ; but, as Mademoiselle Rieu
tells us, " he loved her so delicately that he was jealous
of her reputation ; he adored her, and would have
sacnliccd everything for her; while she, on her part,
loving the Chevalier, found his fame, his fortune, his
honour, dearer to her than her own." In 1724 she found
it absolutely necessary to disappear from her circle of
acquaintance. She did not dare to confide her secret
to the unscrupulous Madame de Ferriol, and in her
despair she examined the circle of her friends for the
most sympathetic face. She decided to trust Lady
Bolingbroke, and she could not have made a wiser
choice. That tender-hearted and deeply-experienced
lady was equal to the delicate emergency. She
announced her intention of spending a few months in
England, and she begged Madame de Ferriol to allow
Aisse to accompany her. They started as if for Calais,
but only to double upon their steps. Aisse, in company
with her maid, Sophie, and a confidential English man-
servant, was installed in a remote suburb of Paris, under
the care of the Chevalier d'Aydie, while Lady Boling-
broke hastened on to England, and amused herself with
inventmg anecdotes and messages from Aisse. In the
fulness of time Lady Bolingbroke returned and took
care to " collect " Aisse before she presented herself at
the Hotel Ferriol. Meanwhile a daughter had been
born, who was christened Celenie Leblond, and who was
placed in a convent at Sens, under the name of Miss
Black, as a niece of Lord Bolingbroke. The abbess of
this convent was a Mademoiselle de Villette, the daughter
of Lady Bolingbroke. No novelist would dare to
describe so improbable a stratagem; let us make the
story complete by adding that it succeeded to perfection,



46 French Profiles

and that ^ladame de Ferriol herself never seems to have
suspected the truth. This daughter, whom we shall
presently meet again, grew up to be a charming woman,
and adorned society in the next generation as the
Vicomtesse de Nanthia. If the story of Aisse ended
here it would not appeal to a Richardson, or even to an
Abbe Prevost d'Exiles, as a moral tale.

Between 1723 and 1726 Aisse's life passed quietly
enough. The Chevalier d'Aydie was constantly at the
Hotel Ferriol, but the two lovers were not any longer in
their first youth. A little prudence went a long way in
a society adorned by Madame de Parabere and Madame
de Tencin. No breath of scandal seems to have troubled
Aisse, and when her cares came, they all began from
within. We do not possess the letters of Aisse to her
lover. I hope I am not a Philistine if I admit that I
sincerely hope they will never be discovered. We possess
the love letters of Mademoiselle de L'Espinasse ; this
should be enough of that kind of literature for one
century at least — it would be a terrible thing to come
down one morning to see announced a collection of the
letters of Aisse to her Chevalier, edited by M. Edmond
de Goncourt ! In the summer of 1726 there arrived
from Geneva a lady about twenty years older than
Aisse, the wife of a M. Calandrini ; she was a step-aunt,
if such a relationship be recognised, of Lord Bolingbroke,
and so was intimately connected with the Ferriol circle.
Research, which really is far too busy in our days, has
found out that Madame de Calandrini herself had not
been all that could be desired; but in 1726 she was
devote, yet not to such an extent as to throw any barrier
between herself and the confidences of a younger woman.
Aisse received her warmly, gave her heart to her without
reserve, and when the lady went back to Geneva Aisse



Mademoiselle Aisse 47

discovered that she was the first and best friend that
she had ever possessed. Madame Calandrini carried
home with her the inmost and most dangerous secrets
of Aissc's histor^^ and it is evident that she immediately
planned her young friend's conversion.

The Letters of Aissc are exclusively composed of her
correspondence with this Madame Calandrini from the
autumn of 1726 to her own fatal illness in January 1733.
They remained in Geneva until, in 1758, they were lent
to Voltaire, who enriched them with very interesting
and important notes. Nearly thirty years more passed,
and at length, in 1787, they saw the light. Next year
they were reprinted, with a very delightful portrait of
Aisse. In this she appears as a decided beauty, with
very fair hair, an elegant and spirited head lightly poised
on delicate shoulders, and nothing Oriental in her appear-
ance except the large, oval, dark eyes, languishing with
incredible length of eyelash. The text was confused and
difficult in these early editions, and in successive reprints
has occupied various biographer s^M. de Barante, M.
Ravenel, M. Piedagnal. I suppose, however, that I
do no injustice to those writers if I claim for M. Eugene
Asse the credit of having done more than any other man,
by patient annotation and collection of explicatory
documents, to render the reading of Aisse's letters
interesting and agreeable.

The letters of Aisse to Madame Calandrini are the
history of an awakening conscience. It is this fact, and
the slow development of the inevitable moral plot, which
give them their singular psychological value. As the
letters approach their close, our attention is entirely
riveted by the spectacle of this tender and passionate
spirit tortured by remorse and yearning for expiation.
But at the outset there is no moral passion expressed,



48 French Profiles



and we think less of Aissc herself than of the society to
which she belonged by her age and education. As it
seems impossible, from other sources of information, to
believe that Madame Calandrini was what is commonly
thought to be an amiable woman, we take from Aisse's
praise of her something of the same impression that we
obtain from Madame de Sevigne's affectionate addresses
to Madame de Grignan. Indeed, the opening letter of
Aisse's series, with its indescribable tone of the seven-
teenth century, reads so much like one of the Sevigne's
letters to her daughter that one wonders whether the
semblance can be wholly accidental. There is a childish
archness in the way in which Aisse jests about all her
own adorers — the susceptible abbes, and the councillors
whose neglected passion has comfortably subsided into
friendship. There are little picturesque touches— the
black spaniel yelping in his lady's lap, and upsetting the
cottee-pot in his eagerness to greet a new-comer. There
are charming bits of self-portraiture : " I used to flatter
myself that I was a little philosopher, but I never shall
be one in matters of sentiment." It is all so youthful,
so girlish, that we have to remind ourselves that the
author of such a passage as the following was in her
thirty-third year : —

" i spend my days in shooting httle birds; this does
me a great deal of good. Exercise and distraction are
excellent remedies for the vapours. The ardour of the
chase makes me walk, although my feet are bruised ; the
perspiration that this exercise causes is good for mc. I
am as sun-burned as a crow ; you would be frightened
if you saw me, but I scarcely mind it. How happy
should I be if I were still with you ! I would willingly
give a pint of my blood if we could be together at this
moment."



Mademoiselle Ai'sse 49



Here Aissc anticipates by a year or two Matthew
Green's famous " Fling but a stone, the giant dies."
She has told Madame Calandrini everything. The
Chevalier is away in Pcrigord, which adds to her vapours ;
but his letters breathe the sweetest constancy. She
would like to send them to Geneva, but she dares not ;
they arc too full of her own praises. She has been to
see the first performance of a new comedy, Pyrame et
Thisbc, and giggles over its disastrous fate. This gives
us firm ground in dating this first letter, for this comedy,
or rather opera, was played on the 17th of October,
1726. Nothing could be more gay or sparkling than
Aisse's tone.

But soon there comes a change. We find that she is
not happy in the Hotel Ferriol. Her friend and foster-
brother, Comte d'Argental, who lived on until 1788 to
be the last survivor of her circle, is away " with his
sweetheart in the Enchanted Island," and she has his
room while hers is being refurnished. But it will cost
her one hundred pistoles, for Madame de Ferriol makes
her pay for everything. The subjects which she writes
about in all light-heartedness are extraordinary. She
cannot resist, from sheer ebullience of mirth, copying
out a letter of amazing impudence written by a certain
officer of dragoons to the bishop of his diocese. Can she
or can she not continue to know the beautiful brazen
Madame de Parabere, whose behaviour is of a lightness,
but oh ! of such a lightness ? Yet " her carriage is
always at my service, and don't you think it would be
ridiculous not to visit her at all ? " If one desires a
marvellous tale of the ways and the manners of the
great world under Louis XV., there is the astounding
story of Madame la Princesse de Bournonville, and how
she was pubhcly engaged to marry the Due de Ruffec



£



50 French Profiles

fifteen minutes after her first husband's death ; it is
told, with perfect calmness, in Aisse's best manner.
The Prmce was one of Aisse's numerous rejected adorers;
she rejoices that he has left her no compromising legacy.
There is a certain affair, on the loth of January 1727,
" which would make your hair stand on end ; but it
really is too infamous to be written down." A wonderful
world, so elegant and so debased, so enthusiastic and so
cynical, so full of beauty and so full of corruption, that we
find no name but Louis Quinze to qualify its paradoxes.
In her earlier letters Aissc reveals herself as a patron
of the stage, and a dramatic critic of marked views.
Her foster-brothers, Pont-de-Veyle and Argental, were
deeply stage-stricken ; the " Enchanted Island " of the
latter seems to have been situated somewhere in that
ocean, the Theatre de I'Opera. Aisse threw herself with
heart and soul into the famous rivalry between the two
operatic stars of Paris; she was all for the enchanting
Lemaure, and when that public favourite wilfully
retired to private life Aisse found that the Pellissier
" fait horriblement mal." She tells with infinite zest a
rather scurrilous story of how a certain famous Jansenist
canon, seventy years of age, fearing to die without having
ever seen a dramatic performance, dressed himself up
in his deceased grandmother's garments and made his
appearance in the pit, creating, by his incredible oddity
of garb and feature, such a sensation that the actor
Armand stopped playing, and desired him, amid the
shrieks of laughter of the audience, to decamp as fast
as possible. Voltaire vouches for the absolute truth
of this anecdote. But before Aisse begins to lose the
gaiety of her spirits it may be well to let her give in her
own language, or as near as I can reach it, a sample of
her powers as an artist in anecdote.



Mademoiselle Aisse 51

" A little while ago there happened a little adventure
which has made a good deal of noise. I will teU you
about it. Six weeks ago Isez, the surgeon [one of the
most eminent practitioners of his time] received a note,
begging him, at six o'clock on the afternoon of the next
day, to be in the Rue du Pot-de-Fer, close to the Luxem-
bourg. He did not fail to be there; he found waiting
for hun a man, who conducted him for a few steps, and
then made him enter a house, shutting the door on the
surgeon, so as, himself, to remain in the street. Isez
was surprised that tliis man did not at once take him
where he was wanted. But the porlier of the house
appeared, and told him that he was expected on the first
floor, and asked him to step up, which he did. He
opened an ante-chamber all hung with white ; a lackey,
made to be put in a picture, dressed in white, nicely
curled, nicely powdered, and with a pouch of white hair
and two dusters in his hand, came to meet him, and
told him that he must have his shoes wiped. After
this ceremony, he was conducted into a room also hung
with white. Another lackey, dressed like the first, went
through the same ceremony with the shoes ; he was then
taken into a room where everything was white, bed,
carpet, tapestry, faiiicuils, chairs, tables, and floor. A
tall figure in a night-cap and a perfectly white dressing-
gown, and a white mask, was seated near the fire. When
this kind of phantom perceived Isez, he said to him, ' I
have the devil in my body,' and spoke no more; for
three-quarters of an hour he did nothing but put on and
pull off six pairs of white gloves which he had on a table
by his side. Isez was frightened, but he grew more so
when, glancing round the room, he saw several fire-arms ;
he was taken with such a trembling that he was obliged
to sit down for fear of falling. At last, to break the



52



French Profiles



silence, he asked the figure in white what was wanted
of him, because he had an engagement, and his time
belonged to the public. The white figure dryly replied,
' What does it matter to you, if you are paid well ? '
and said nothmg more. Another quarter of an hour
passed in silence; at last the phantom pulled the bell-
rope. The two white lackeys reappeared ; the phantom
asked for bandages, and told Isez to draw five pounds
of blood."

We must spoil the story by finishing it abruptly.
Isez bleeds the phantom not in the arm, on account of
the monstrous quantity of blood, but in the foot, a very
beautiful woman's foot, apparently, when he gets to the
last of six pairs of white silk stockings. He is presently,
after various other adventures, turned out of the
mysterious house, and nobody, not even the King
himself, can tell what it all means.

But very soon the picture of Aisse's life begins to be
clouded over. In the spring of 1727, she is in a peck of
troubles. The periodical reduction of the State annuities,
which had been carried out once more during the
preceding winter by the new Minister of Finance, had
brought misery to many gentlefolks of France. In
Aisse's early letters, she and her acquaintances appear
much as Irish landlords do now ; in her latest letters they
remind us of what these landlords would be if the
National party realised its dream. The Chevalier does
not seem to have been a sufterer personally; he had
not much to lose, but we find him sympathising with
Aisse, and drawing up an appealing letter for her to send
to the Cardinal de Fleury. Aisse begins to feel the
shadows falling across her future. If ever she marries,
she says, she will put into the contract a clause by which
she retains the right to go to Geneva whenever she hkes,



Mademoiselle Aisse 53

for she longs to tell her troubles to Madame Calandrini.
And thus is first sounded the mournful key to which we
soon become accustomed : —

" Every day I see that there is nothing but virtue that
is any good for this world and the next. As for myself,
who have not been lucky enough to behave properly,
but who respect and admire virtuous people, the simple
wish to belong to the number attracts to me all sorts of
flattering things; the pity which every one shows me
[for her money losses, doubtless] almost prevents me
from being miserable. I have just 2000 francs of income
at most left. My jewels and my diamonds are sold."

The result of her sudden poverty appears to have
been that the Chevalier d'Aydie, sorely against his
inclination, but actuated by a generous impulse, offered
to marry her. She was not less generous than he, and
almost Quixotically rejected what would have been her
greatest satisfaction. To Madame Calandrini, who was
plainly one of those who urged her to accept this act of
restitution, the orphan-mother answers thus : —

" Think, Madame, of what the world would say if he
married a nobody, and one who depended entirely on
the charity of the Ferriol family. No ; I love his fame
too much, and I have myself at the same time too much
pride, to allow him to commit such an act of folly. He
would be sure to repent of having followed the bent of
his absurd passion, and I could not survive the pain of
having made him wretched, and of being myself no
longer loved."

The Chevalier, unable to live in Paris without being
at her side, fled for a five months' exile to the parental
chateau in Perigord. Aisse had expressed a mild sur-
prise that he could not contrive to be more calm, but
their discussions had always ended in a joke. Yet if is



54 French Profiles

plain that all these circumstances made her regard life
more seriously than she had ever done before. In her
next letter (August 1727) we learn how miserable a
home the Hotel Ferriol had now become for her. " The
mistress of this house," she says, " is much more difficult
to hve with than the poor Ambassador was." As for the
Chevalier, he had scarcely reached Perigueux, when he
forgot all about the months he wished to spend in the
country, and hastened back to Paris to be near Aisse.
The latter writes, in her prim way, " I admit I was very
agreeably surprised to see him enter my room yesterday.
How happy I should be if I could only love him without
having to reproach m3'self for it ! " It is plain, in spite
of the always modest, and now timid way in which she
writes, that her moral worth and delicate judgment were
estimated at their true value even by the frivolous
women who surrounded her. The Duchess of Fitz-
James asks her advice as to whether she shall or shall
not accept the hand of the Due d'Aumont. The dis-
solute Madame de Tencin cannot forgive or forget
Aisse's tacit disapproval of her conduct. The gentler,
but not less naughty, Madame de Parabere purrs around
her like a cat, exquisitely assiduous not entirely to lose
the esteem of one whose position in the world can have
offered nothing to such a personage, but by whose
intelligence and sympathetic goodness she could not
help being fascinated. In recording all this, without in
the least being aware of it, Aisse gives us an impression
of her own simple sweetness as of a touchstone by which
radically evil natures were distinguished from those
whose voluntary abasement was not the sign of a
complete corruption of spirit.

We are made to feel in Aisse's letters, that, without
being in any degree a blue-stocking, she was eager to



Mademoiselle Aisse 55



form her own impression on the various intellectual
questions of the hour. Gulliver's Travels had only been
pubUshed in England in the autumn of 1726; in the
spring of 1727 Aisse had read it, in Desfontaine's transla-
tion, knew that it was the work of Swift, and praised it
in the very same terms that the world has since agreed
to bestow upon it. Destouches seems to have been a
friend of hers, but when in the same year she went to
see his new comedy Le Philosophe Marie, she was not
blinded by friendship. " It is a very charming comedy,"
she wrote, " full of sentiment, full of delicacy; but it
does not possess the genius of Moliere." Nor is she less
judicious in what she says about the masterpiece of
another friend, the Abbe Prevost d'Exiles. She writes
in October 1728, " We have a new book here entitled
Me'moires d'nn Homme de Qualiti retire dn Monde, it is
not worth much, except one hundred and ninety pages
which make one burst out crying." These one hundred
and ninety pages were that immortal supplement to a
dull book which we call Manon Lescaut, over which as
many tears are shed nowadays as were dropped a century
and a half ago. It is said by those who have read
Prevost's forgotten romance, Histoire d'une Grecque
Moderne, published long afterwards in 1741, that it
contains a full-length portrait of the author's old friend
Aisse. It might be amusing to compare this with
Voltaire's portrait of her chevalier in Adelaide du Guesclin.
She was evidently a centre of hght and activity. The
young woman with whom, at all events during certain
periods, Bolingbroke corresponded by every post, could
be no commonplace person. Voltaire vouches for her
exact and independent knowledge of events. When
Madame Calandrini is anxious to know how a certain
incident at court will turn out, Aisse says, " You shall



56 French Profiles

know before the people who make the Gazette do," and
her letters differ from the poet Gray's, which otherwise
they often curiously resemble, that she seems to know
at first hand the class of news that Gray only repeats.
She sometimes shows her first-hand knowledge by her
very inaccuracy. She gives, for instance, a long account,
which we follow with breathless interest, of the death of
Adrienne Lecouvreur, the event, probably, w hich moved
Paris more vehemently than any other during the year
1730. Aisse directly charges the young Duchesse de
Bouillon with the murder of the actress, and supports
her charge with an amazing array of horrible details.
The affair was mysterious, and Aisse was evidently
minutely informed ; yet Voltaire, in whose arms Adrienne
Lecouvreur died, declares that her account is not the
true one. On one point her knowledge of her con-
temporaries is very useful to us. The priceless corre-
spondence of Madame du Deffand makes the latter, as
an old woman, an exceedingly life-like figure, but we
know little of her early life; Aisse's sketches of her,
therefore, and to say the truth, cruelly penetrating
analysis of her character at the age of thirty, are most
valuable. The Madame du Deffand we know seems a
wiser woman than Aisse's friend; but the fact is that
many of these witty Frenchwomen only became tolerable,



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