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like remarkable vintages, when they were growing a little
crusted.

Among the brightest sections of Aisse's correspondence
are those in which she speaks of her high-spirited and
somewhat dissolute foster-brothers, Pont-de-Veyle and
D'Argental. These two men were sowing their wild
oats very hard, in the fashion of the day, and although
they were passing the solemn age of thirty, the sacks
seemed inexhaustible. But so far as regarded Aisse,



Mademoiselle Aisse 57

their conduct was all that was chivalrous, all that was
honourably fraternal. Pont-de-Veyle she calls an angel,
but it was D'Argental whom she loved the most, and
nothing is more touching than an account she gives,
with the nawctc of a child, of a quarrel she had with him.
This quarrel lasted eight days, and Aisse kept her letter
open until she could add, in a postscript, the desired
information that, she having drunk his health at dinner
and afterwards kissed him, they have made it up without
any formal explanation. " Since then," she adds in
that tone of hers which makes the eyes of a middle-aged
citizen of perfidious Albion quite dim after a hundred and
fifty years, " Since then we have been a great deal
together."

In 1728 she had need of all the kindness she could
get. The Chevalier was so ill in June that she was
obliged to face the prospect of his death. " Duty, love,
inquietude, and friendship, are for ever troubling m}-
thoughts and my body ; I am in a cruel agitation ; my
body is giving way, for I am overwhelmed with vapours
and with grief ; and, if any misfortune should happen to
that man, I feel I should not be able to endure the
horrible sorrow of it. He is more attached to me than
ever; he encourages me to perform my duties. Some-
times I cannot help telling him, that if he gets any worse
it will be impossible for me to leave him ; and then he
scolds me." The dreadful condition of genteel poverty
in which the Ferriol family were now living did not tend
to make Aisse's home a bed of roses. In the winter of
1728 these famous people of quality were " dying of
hunger." There was not, that is to say, as much food
upon their table as their appetites required, and Aisse
expected to share the fate of the horse whose master
gave him one grain less of oats each day until he died



58



French Profiles



from starvation. In this there was of course a httle
playful exaggeration, but her poverty weighed heavily
on Aisse. She had scarcely enough money for her daily
wants, and envied the Chevalier, who was saving that
he might form a dowry for the Httle daughter at Sens,
the " pauvre petite " in the convent, after whom Aisse's
heart yearned, and whom she might but very rarely
visit as a stranger.

She spent the autumn of 1729 at Pont-de-Veyle, the
country seat of the Ferriol family, a chateau between
Macon and Bourg. She took advantage of this neigh-
bourhood to Switzerland, and paid the long-promised
visit to Madame Calandrini in Geneva. The incident
was a momentous one in the history of her soul. She
came back more uneasy, more irresolute than ever, and
in deep depression of spirits. Her first instinct, on
being left to her own thoughts again, was to enter a
convent, but Madame Calandrini did not encourage this
idea, and Aisse soon relinquished it. She saw, herself,
that duty called her to stay with Madame de Ferriol,
who was now growing an invalid. Before leaving Geneva
Madame Calandrini had made a solemn attempt to
persuade her to conclude her dubious relations with the
Chevalier. She tried to extract a promise from Aisse
that she would either marry D'Aydie or cease to see
him. But it is easy for comfortable matrons in their
own boudoirs to urge a line of conduct ; it is less simple
for the unfortunate to carry out these maxims in the
hard light of day. Aisse wrote : "All that I can
promise you is that nothing shall be spared to bring
about one or other of these things. But, Madame, it
may cost me my life." Such words are lightly said ; but
in Aisse's case they came from the heart. She made the
sacrifice, and it did cost her her life. She attempted to



Mademoiselle Aisse 59

melt the severe censor at Geneva by extracts from the
Chevalier's letters, and finally she made an appeal which
goes straight to our sympathy. " How can I cut to the
quick a violent passion, and the tenderest and firmest
friendship ? Add to all this, gratitude : it is frightful !
Death would not be worse ! However, since you wish
me to make an effort, I will do so." Conscience and the
Calandrini were inexorable.

In the dull house at Pont-de-Veyle Aisse was thrown
upon her own consciousness more than in Paris. She
gives us a picture of her dreary existence. The Arch-
bishop of Lyons, who was Madame de Ferriol's brother,
was the only intelhgent companion she had, and he was
locked up all day with Jesuit priests. The young
Ferriols were in Paris; their mother, jealous, pietistic,
and peevish, wore Aisse out with enmii. It was in this
tension of the nervous system, this irritation and depres-
sion of spirits, that on her way back to Paris in November
she paid a stolen visit to Sens to see her little daughter.
The letter in which she describes the interview is simply
heartrending. The little dehcate child, with an exquisite
instinct, clung to this unknown friend, and when at last
Aisse had to say farewell, her daughter— whom she
must not call her daughter — wrung the mother's heart
with mingled anguish and delight by throwing her arms
round her neck and crying out, " I have no father or
mother; please, you be my mother, for I love you as
much as if you really were ! " Aisse could not tear
herself away; she remained a fortnight at the convent,
more unhappy than happy, and so afflicted in spirits
that she positively had to take to her bed. The little
" Miss Black " waited upon her with a child's enthu-
siasm, refusing to play with her companions, and lavish-
ing her caresses upon her. At last the poor mother



6o French Profiles

forced herself to depart, fearing lest she should expose
her secret by her emotion. She made her way to Paris,
where she found the Chevalier waiting for her, and all
her good resolutions were shattered by the passionate
joy of his welcome. She did not know what to do or
where to turn.

In the beginning of 1730 the Chevalier had another
dangerous illness, and Aisse was obliged to postpone the
crisis. He got well and she was so happy that she could
not but postpone it a little longer. Slowly, as she herself
perceived, her bodily strength began to waste away
under the agitations of her conscience. We may pass
over the slow progress of the spiritual complaint, which
took more than three years to destroy her healthy con-
stitution. We must push on to the end. In 1732 her
health gave serious alarm to all those who surrounded
her. That few of her friends suspected the real state
of the case, or the hidden griefs that were destroying
her, is proved among other things by a little copy of
verses which has been preserved in the works of a great
man. Voltaire, who made a joke of his own supposed
passion for Aisse, sent her in 1732 a packet of ratafia,
to relieve a painful symptom of her complaint, and he
accompanied it by a flippant versicle, which may thus
be rendered : —

" Hence ! Through her veins hkc subtle anguish fleet !
Change to desires the snows that thro' them roll !
So may she feel the heat
That burns within my soul."

But the women about her knew that she was dying.
The Parabere to whom we may forgive much, because
she loved Aisse so well, fluttered around her with pathetic
tenderness ; and we find her forcing upon her friend the
most beautiful of her personal possessions, a splendid



Mademoiselle Aisse 6i

box of crimson jasper. Even Madame de Tencin, wiiom
she had always kept at arm's length, and who had re-
warded her with aversion, startled her now with expres-
sions and proofs of affection. Madame de Ferriol herself,
with her sharp temper and her ugly speeches, urged
upon her the attentions of a Jansenist confessor. The
Chevalier, understanding at last that he was about to
lose her, was distracted with anxiety, and hung around
the room until the ladies were put to their wits' end to
get rid of him. In her next letter, written about
Christmas of 1732, Aisse expresses herself thus :—

" I have to be very careful how I deal with you know
whom. He has been talking to me about a certam
matter as reasonably and affectionately as possible.
All his goodness, his delicate way of thinking, loving me
for my own self, the interest of the poor little one, to
whom one could not give a position, all these things
force me to be very careful how I deal with him. For a
long time I have been tortured with remorse; the
carrying out of this would sustain me. If the Chevalier
does not keep to what he has promised, I will see him
no more. You see, Madame, what my resolutions are;
I will keep to them. But they will probably shorten my
Ufe."

The explanation of this passage seems to be that the
Chevalier, having put off marriage so long, was anxious
not to break his vows for a merely sentimental union,
that could last but a few weeks. She had extracted,
it would seem, a sort of promise from him, but he did
not keep it, and Aisse died unmarried.

In her last hours Aisse became completely devote,
but not to such an extent as to be unable to see the
humour of sending such light ladies as Madame de
Parabcre and Madame du Deffand through the length



62 French Profiles

and breadth of Paris to search for a director to under-
take her conversion. At last these inexperienced
emissaries discovered a Pere Boursault, who was perhaps
of their world, for he was the son of the dramatist, the
enemy of Mohere ; from him Aisse received the consola-
tions of religion. A few days before she died she wrote
once more to Madame Calandrini, and these are the last
words which we possess from the pen of Aisse : —

" I say nothing to you about the Chevalier. He is
in despair at seeing me so ill. You never witnessed a
passion so violent, more delicac}^ more sentiment, more
greatness and generosity. I am not anxious about the
poor little one ; she has a friend and protector who loves
her tenderly. Good-bye, dear Madame ; I am too weak
to write any more. It is still infinitely sweet to me to
think of you ; but I cannot yield to this happiness
without tears, mj^ dear friend. The life I have led has
been very wretched. Have I ever had a moment's
enjoyment ? I could not be happy alone; I was afraid
to think ; my remorse has never once left me since the
instant when I began to have my eyes open to my mis-
conduct. Why should I be alarmed at my soul being
separated, since I am persuaded that God is all good, and
that the moment when I begin to enjoy happiness will
be that in which I leave this miserable body ? "

On the 14th of March 1733, Charlotte EUzabeth
Aisse, spinster, aged about forty years, was buried in
the chapel of the Ferriol family, in the Church of St.
Roch, in Paris.



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS

Brief and unobtrusive as was the volume of Lettres
Portugaises published in Paris in 1669, it exercised an
influence on the sentimental literature of Europe which
was very extraordinary, and to which we have not yet
ceased to be subject. Since the revival of learning
there had been no collection of documents deahng with
the experiences of emotion in which an element of
Renaissance feeling had not shown itself in some touch
of rhetoric, in some flower of ornament, in some trick of
language that concealed what it desired to expose. The
Portuguese Letters, slight as they were, pleased instantly
and universally because they were entirely modern.
The seventeenth century, especially in France, had
cultivated epistolary literature with care, even with too
much care. There had been letter-writers by profession,
and the value of their correspondence has been weighed
and found wanting. Even in England, where the French
were held up as models of letter-writing, there were not
wanting critics. Howell wrote in 1625 : —

" Others there are among our next transmarine
neighbours eastward, who write in their own language,
but their style is so soft and easy that their letters may
be said to be like bodies of loose flesh without sinews;
they have neither joints of art nor arteries in them. They
have a kind of simpering and lank hectic expression,
made up of a bombast of words and finical affected
compliments only. I cannot well away with such fleasy
F 65



66 French Profiles

stuff, with such cobweb compositions, where there is no
strength of matter — nothing for the reader to carry away
with him that may enlarge the notions of his soul."

We may be quite sure that Howell had Balzac in his
eye when he wrote this passage, and to Balzac presently
succeeded Voiture. To the qualities of V^oiture's famous
correspondence, to its emptiness, flatness, and rhetorical
elegance, signifying nothing and telhng us nothing, M.
Gaston Boissier has lately dedicated a very amusing
page of criticism. Even in the middle of the seventeenth
century the French were conscious of their deficiency
as letter-writers, and were anxious to remove it.
Mademoiselle de Scudery, who was as awkward as the
best of them, saw that girls ought to know how to express
their feelings briefly, plainly, and sincerely. In the
depths of the wilderness of Clelie may still be found rules
for letter-writing. But the time was not quite ripe, and
it is noticeable that it was just before the publication of
the Portuguese Letters that Mademoiselle, in the agonies
of her grotesque passion, turned over the pages of
Corneille for phrases which might express the complex
emotions of her heart. If she had waited a few months
a manual of the tender passion would have lain at her
hand. At all events, the power to analyse the feelings
in simple language, to chronicle the minute symptoms
of emotion without rhetoric, closely succeeds the great
success of these letters; nor is it unworthy of notice
that they appear to have exercised an instant influence
on no less a personage than IMadame de Sevigne, who
alludes to them certainly twice, if not oftener, and whose
great epoch of letter-writing, following upon the marriage
of Madame de Grignan, begins with this very year, 1669.
In England the influence of the Portuguese Letters, as
we shall presently see, was scarcely less sudden than



A Nun's Love Letters 67

decisive. That we in England needed such an influence
on our letter-writers is not to be questioned, although the
faults of English correspondence were not those of the
admirers of Voiture and Balzac. The French needed
to throw off a rhetorical insipidity; the English were
still in the toils of the ornamental allusiveness of the
Renaissance. We find such a sentence as the following,
written by Mrs. Penruddock, in 1655, on the night before
her husband's execution, in a letter which has been
preserved just because it seemed direct, tender, and
sincere : —

" Those dear embraces which I yet feel and shall never
lose, being the faithful testimonies of a loving husband,
have charmed my soul to such a reverence of your
remembrance, that, were it possible, I would, with my
own blood, cement your dead limbs to live again, and
(with reverence) think it no sin to rob Heaven a httle
longer of a marten:."

Such persons as Mrs. Penruddock never again on such
occasions as this wrote in this particular manner, when
Europe had once read the Portuguese Letters. The secret
of saying what was in the heart in a straightforward way
was discovered, and was at once adopted by men and
women a hundred times more accomplished and adroit
than the Canoness of Beja.

A romantic and mysterious story had quite as much
to do with the success of the Portuguese Letters as any
directness in their style. In January i66g a little
duodecimo of 182 pages, entitled simply Lettres Portu-
gaises, was issued by Barbin, the leading Paris publisher.
The Letters were five in number; they were neither
signed nor addressed, and there was no indication of
date or place. A prefatory note stated that they were a
translation of certain Portuguese letters written to a



68 French Profiles

gentleman of quality who had been serving in Portugal,
and that the publisher did not know the name of the
writer. He abstained from saying that he knew to
whom they were addressed. Internal CNidence showed
that the writer was a nun in a Portuguese convent, and
that she had been forsaken, after an impassioned episode,
by a French cavalry officer who had loved and had
ridden away. Like the hero of a Border ballad, he had
passed, at the head of his regiment, through the narrow
streets of the town where she lived. He had ridden not
a bowshot from her bower-eaves, and she had leaned over
her balcony, for a fatal instant, and all was lost and won.
The little book was read and continued to be read;
edition after edition was called for, and in 1678 the letters
were stated to be written by " le Chevalier de C. . . ."
Saint Simon and Duclos each informed the world that the
male personage was the Marquis of Chamilly, long after-
wards Marshal of France, and a mighty warrior before
the Roi-Soleil. But no indiscretion of memoir-wTiters
gave the slightest information regarding the lady. All
that appeared was that her name was Mariana and that
her chamber-window looked across to the only place
mentioned in the letters — i\Iertola, a little town on the
right bank of the Guadiana. But in 1810 Boissonade,
in a copy of the first edition, found a note in a con-
temporary hand, stating in French that the letters were
written by Mariana Alcaforada, a nun in a convent at
Beja, in the province of Alem-Tejo.

Beja, the theatre of the Portuguese Letters, is a small
mediaeval city, perched on a hill in the midst of the vast
fertile plain of central Portugal, and boasting to this
day a ring of walls and a lofty citadel, which make it a
beacon from all parts of the surrounding province.
What the Marquis of Chamilly was doing at Beja may



A Nun's Love Letters 69

now be explained, especially as, owing to the recent
researches of M. Beauvois, we can for the first time follow
him with some exactness. The French were in a
very equivocal position with regard to Portugal. The
Queen of Portugal was a French princess, and the court
of Lisbon was full of Frenchmen, but Louis XIV. did
not find it convenient to give Don Alfonso his open
support. The fact was that Mazarin, anxious to meet
the Spaniards half-way, had sacrificed Portugal in the
negotiations of the He des Faisans. He had no inten-
tion, however, of really leaving his old allies to the tender
mercies of Madrid, and he secretly encouraged the Portu-
guese to fight for their independence. The Spaniards
had no sooner seen France sign the Treaty of the
Pyrenees, late in 1659, than they threw themselves on
the frontier of Portugal, and a guerilla war began that
lasted for nine years. All France could openly do was to
permit her own recently disbanded foreign auxiliaries
to take up service with the King of Portugal ; and as a
general for these somewhat dubiously constituted troops,
the Count of Schomberg offered peculiar advantages,
as a Huguenot and a citizen of Heidelberg. Schomberg
arrived late in 1660, and from this time forward success
leaned to the side of Portugal. M. Beauvois has dis-
covered that it was not until 1663 that a young cavalry
officer of great promise accompanied the non-official
envoy of France, Ablancourt, to the court of Lisbon.
This young soldier was Noel Bouton, then known under
the title of Count of St. Leger-sur-Dheune, who had
already, although only twenty-six years of age, seen a
great deal of service in the field. He was the eleventh
child of a fine old Burgundy noble, who had trained him
to arms. In 1656 he had been taken prisoner at the
siege of Valenciennes, and had attracted the notice of



70 French Profiles

the king by a succession of gallant exploits. He is the
hero, though in a most unheroic Hght, of the Portuguese
Letters.

His first mission to Portugal seems to have been
diplomatic; but on the 30th of April 1664, being at
Estremoz, on the Spanish frontier, and in the heart of
the fighting, he received from Schomberg the command
of a regiment of cavalry, and at once took his place in
the forefront of the work in hand. His name is hence-
forth connected with the little victories of this obscure
and provincial war, the results of which, none the less,
were highly important to Portugal. The theatre of the
campaign was the hilly district lying between the Douro
and that part of the Guadiana which flows westward
before its course changes at Juramenha. Chamilly is
first mentioned with glory for his part in the ten days'
siege of ValeuQa-de-Alcantara, in Spain, in June 1664.
A month later he helped to defeat the Spaniards under
the walls of Castello Rodrigo, a mountain fastness in
the valley of the Douro. By this victory the inde-
pendence of Northern Portugal was secured. All through
1665 Chamilly and his dragoons hovered around Badajos,
winning laurels in June at the great battle of Villa
Vigosa ; and in October, in the flight on Badajos, after
the victory of Rio Xevora. The war now sank to a
series of marches and countermarches, diversified by a
few skirmishes between the Tagus and Badajos. But
in September 1667, after the Count of St. Leger, who is
now Marquis of Chamilly, has been more than three
years in Portugal, we find him for the first time dis-
tinguishing himself in the plains of southern Alam-Tejo
by an attack on the Castle of Ferreira, a few miles from
Beja. It is scarcely too much to conjecture that it was
either while advancing on, or more probably while



A Nun's Love Letters 71

returning from Ferreira, that he passed under the
balcony of the Franciscan convent of the Conception,
and won the heart of the susceptible canoness. So long
as the war was being prosecuted with ardour Chamilly
could have had no time for such a liaison, but all the
troubles of the Portuguese were practically over when
Ferreira fell. Six months later, on the 13th of February
1668, peace was proclaimed, and Spain accepted the
independence of Portugal.^

A glance at the map will show the importance of
these dates and names in judging the authenticity of the
letters of Mariana. Without them the critics of those
letters have been left with no basis for conjecturing when
or how, between 1661 and 1668, the Portuguese nun and
the French officer met and parted. We now see that
for the first arduous years of the campaign the young
Frenchman was not near Beja, but that he may well have
spent the last six months of his campaigning in peace
within or beside its walls. One or two otherwise
meaningless phrases in the letters are now easily explic-
able; and the probability that the story, as tradition
has sketched it for us, is mainly correct, becomes vastly
greater. Before considering what these expressions are,
however, it may be best to take the Letters themselves
into our hands.

^ The important sequence of facts here given with regard to
the miUtary record of Chamilly in Portugal has never been used
before in any critical examination of the Portuguese Letters.
That I am able to give it is owing to the kindness of my friend
M. Jusserand, who has pointed out to me a very learned memoir
on the Chamilly family, full of fresh facts, buried by a Burgundian
historian, M. E. Beauvois, in the transactions for 1884 of a local
society, the " Societe d'Histoire " of Beaunc. I think I never
saw so valuable a contribution to history concealed with so
successful a modesty. I am the more anxious to express my debt
to M. Beauvois for his facts, in that I wholly disagree with his
conclusions when he comes to deal with the Portuguese Letters.



72 French Profiles

It is with some trepidation that I confess that, in my
judgment, the central fact on which the chronicle of
the Portuguese Letters hangs has hitherto been over-
looked by all their editors and critics. As the Letters
were published without dates, without indications of
place or address, they took a sequence which has ever
since been religiously adhered to. But reading them
through very carefully — as Mark Pattison used to say all
books should be read, pencil in hand — I had come to the
conclusion that this order was not merely incorrect, but
fatal, if persevered in, to any historic credence in the
Letters as a whole. The fourth has all the appearance
of being the earliest in date, and M. Beauvois' discoveries



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