Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart Montespan.

Memoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete online

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besought her to make some useful efforts for him.

"I have no one but Madame de Maintenon," she replied to this relation.
And the other said to her:

"Madame de Maintenon? It is as though you had the King himself!"

Mademoiselle de l'Enclos, trimming her pen with her trusty knife, wrote
to the lady in waiting an agreeable and polished letter, one of those
letters, careful without stiffness, that one writes, indulging oneself a
little with the intention of getting oneself read.

The letter of solicitation seemed so pretty to the lady in waiting that
she made the King peruse it.

"This is an excellent opportunity for me," said the prince at once, "to
see with my own eyes this extraordinary, person, of whom I have so long
heard talk. I saw her one day at the opera, but just when she was
getting into her carriage; and my incognito did not permit me to approach
her. She seemed to me small, but well made. Her carriage drove off like
a flash."

To meet this curiosity which the King displayed, it was agreed that
Madame de Maintenon, on the pretext of having a better consultation,
should summon Mademoiselle de l'Enclos to Versailles, and that in one of
the alcoves of the chapel she should be given a place which should put
her almost in front of his Majesty.

She arrived some minutes before mass. Madame de Maintenon received her
with marked attention, mingled with reserve, promised her support with
the ministers when the affair should be discussed, and made her promise
to pass the entire day, at Versailles, for the King was obliged to visit
the new gardens at Marly.

The time for mass being come, Madame de Maintenon said to the fair
Epicurean, with a smile: "You are one of us, are you not? The music will
be delicious in the chapel to-day; you will not have a moment of

Ninon, meeting this slight reproach with a smile of propriety, replied
that she adored and respected everything which the monarch respected.

During the service, the King, tranquilly, secluded in his golden box,
could see and examine the lady at his leisure, without compromising
himself or embarrassing her by his gaze. As for her, her decent and
quite appropriate attitude merited for her the approval of her old
friend, of the King, and of the most critical eyes.

The monarch, in effect, departed, not for the Chateau of Marly, but for
Trianon; and hardly had he reached there before, in a little, very close
carriage, he was brought back to Versailles. He went up to Madame de
Maintenon's apartments by the little staircase in the Prince's Court, and
stole into the glass closet without being observed, except by a solitary

The ladies, believing themselves to be alone and at liberty, talked
without ceremony or constraint, as though they had been but twenty years
old. The King was very much grieved at the things which were said, but
he heard, without losing a word, the following dialogue or interview:

NINON DE L'ENCLOS. - It is not my preservation which should surprise you,
since from morning to night I breathe that voluptuous air of independence
which refreshes the blood, and puts in play its circulation. I am
morally the same person whom you came to see in the pretty little house
in the Rue de Tournelles. My dressing-gown, as you well know, was my
preferred and chosen garb. To-day, as then, Madame la Marquise, I should
choose to place on my escutcheon the Latin device of the towns of San
Marino and Lucca, - Libertas. You have complimented me on my beauty; I
congratulate you upon yours, and I am surprised that you have so kept and
preserved it in the midst of the constraints and servitude that grandeur
and greatness involve.

MADAME DE MAINTENON. - At the commencement, I argued as you argue, and
believed that I should never get to the year's end without disgust.
Little by little I imposed silence upon my emotions and my regrets. A
life of great activity and occupation, by separating us, as it were, from
ourselves, extinguishes those exacting niceties, both of our proper
sensibility, and of our self-conceit. I remembered my sufferings, my
fears, and my privations after the death of that poor man; - [It was so
that she commonly spoke of her husband, Scarron.] - and since labour has
been the yoke imposed by God on every human being, I submitted with a
good grace to the respectable labour of education. Few teachers are
attached to their pupils; I attached myself to mine with tenderness, with
delight. It is true that it was my privilege to find the King's children
amiable and pretty, as few children are.

NINON DE L'ENCLOS. - From the most handsome and amiable man in the world
there could not come mediocre offspring. M. du Maine is your idol; the
King has given him his noble bearing, with his intelligence; and you have
inoculated him with your wit. Is it true that Madame de Montespan is no
longer your friend? That is a rumour which has credit in the capital;
and if the thing is true I regret it, and am sorry for you.

MADAME DE MAINTENON. - Madame de Montespan, as all Paris knows, obtained
my pension for me after the death of the Queen-mother. This service,
comparable with a favour, will always remain in my heart and my memory. I
have thanked her a thousand times for it, and I always shall thank her
for it. At the time when the young Queen of Portugal charged herself
with my fate and fortune, the Marquise, who had known me at the Hotel
d'Albret, desired to retain me in France, where she destined for me the
children of the King. I did what she desired; I took charge of his
numerous children out of respect for my benefactor, and attachment to
herself. To-day, when their first education is completed, and his
Majesty has recompensed me with the gift of the Maintenon estate, the
Marquise pretends that my role is finished, that I was wrong to let
myself be made lady in waiting, and that the recognition due to her
imposes an obligation on me to obey her in everything, and withdraw from
this neighbourhood.

NINON DE L'ENCLOS. - Absolutely

MADAME DE MAINTENON. - Yes, really, I assure you.

NINON DE L'ENCLOS. - A departure? An absolute retreat? Oh, it is too
much! Does she wish you, then, to resign your office?

MADAME DE MAINTINON. - I cannot but think so, mademoiselle.

NINON DE L'ENCLOS. - Speaking personally, and for my private satisfaction,
I should be enchanted to see you quit the Court and return to society.
Society is your element. You know it by heart; you have shone there, and
there you would shine again. On reappearing, you would see yourself
instantly surrounded by those delicate and (pardon the expression)
sensuous minds who applauded with such delight your agreeable stories,
your brilliant and solid conversation. Those pleasant, idle hours were
lost to us when you left us, and I shall always remember them. At the
Court, where etiquette selects our words, as it rules our attitudes, you
cannot be yourself; I must confess that frankly. You do not paint your
lovely face, and I am obliged to you for that, madame; but it is
impossible for you to refrain from somewhat colouring your discourse, not
with the King, perhaps, whose always calm gaze transparently reveals the
man of honour, but with those eminences, those grandeurs, those royal and
serene highnesses, whose artificial and factitious perfumes already
filled your chapel before the incense of the sacrifice had wreathed its
clouds round the high altar.

The King, suddenly showing himself, somewhat to the surprise of the
ladies, said: "I have long wished, mademoiselle, this unique and
agreeable opportunity for which I am indebted to Madame de Maintenon. Be
seated, I pray you, and permit 'my Highness', slightly perfumed though I
be, to enjoy for a moment your witty conversation and society. What! The
atmosphere does not meet with your approval, and, in order to have
madame's society, you desire to disgust her with it herself, and deprive
us of her?"

"Sire," answered Ninon, "I have not enough power or authority to render
my intentions formidable, and my long regrets will be excused, I hope,
since, if madame left Versailles, she would cause the same grief there
that she has caused us."

"One has one's detractors in every conceivable locality. If Madame de
Maintenon has met with one at Versailles she would not be exempt from
them anywhere else. At Paris, you would be without rampart or armour, I
like to believe; but deign to grant me this preference, - I can very well
protect my friends. I think the town is ill-informed, and that Madame de
Montespan has no interest in separating madame from her children, who are
also mine.

"You will greatly oblige me, mademoiselle, if you will adopt this opinion
and publish it in your society, which is always select, though it is so

Then the King, passing to other subjects, brought up, of his own accord,
the place of farmer-general, which happened to be vacant; and he said to
Mademoiselle de l'Enclos: "I promise you this favour with pleasure, the
first which you have ever solicited of me, and I must beg you to address
yourself to Madame de Maintenon on every occasion when your relations or
yourself have something to ask from me. You must see clearly,
mademoiselle, that it is well to leave madame in this place, as an agent
with me for you, and your particular ambassadress."

I learnt all these curious details five or six days later from a young
colonel, related to me, to whom Mademoiselle de l'Enclos narrated her
admission and interview at Versailles. In reproducing the whole of this
scene, I have not altered the sense of a word; I have only sought to make
up for the charm which every conversation loses that is reported by a
third party who was not actually an eyewitness.

This confidence informed me that prejudices were springing up against me
in the mind of the favourite. I went to see her, as though my visit were
an ordinary one, and asked her what one was to think of Ninon's interview
with the King.

"Yes," she said, "his Majesty has for a long time past had a great desire
to see her, as a person of much wit, and of whom he has heard people
speak since his youth. He imagined her to have larger eyes, and
something a little more virile in her physiognomy. He was greatly, and,
I must say, agreeably surprised, to find that he had been deceived. 'One
can see eyes of far greater size,' his Majesty told me, 'but not more
brilliant, more animated or amiable. Her mouth, admirably moulded, is
almost as small as Madame de Montespan's. Her pretty, almost round face
has something Georgian about it, unless I am mistaken. She says, and
lets you understand, everything she likes; she awaits your replies
without interruption; her contradictions preserve urbanity; she is
respectful without servility; her pleasant voice, although not of silver,
is none the less the voice of a nymph. In conclusion, I am charmed with

"Does she believe me hostile to your prosperity, my dear Marquise?" I
said at once to Madame de Maintenon, who seemed slightly confused, and
answered: "Mademoiselle de l'Enclos is not personally of that opinion;
she had heard certain remarks to that effect in the salons of the town;
and I have given her my most explicit assurance that, if you should ever
cease to care for me, my inclination and my gratitude would be none the
less yours, madame, so long as I should live."

"You owe me those sentiments," I resumed, with a trifle too much fire; "I
have a right to count on them. But it is most painful to me, I confess,
after having given all my youth to the King, to see him now cool down,
even in his courtesy. The hours which he used to pass with me he gives
to you, and it is impossible that this innovation should not seem
startling here, since all Paris is informed of it, and Mademoiselle de
l'Enclos has discussed it with you."

"I owe everything that I am to the goodness of the King," she answered
me. "Would you have me, when he comes to me, bid him go elsewhere, to
you or somebody else, it matters not?"

"No, but I should be glad if your countenance did not, at such a moment,
expand like a sunflower; I should like you, at the risk of somewhat
belying yourself, to have the strength to moderate and restrain that vein
of talk and conversation of which you have given yourself the supremacy
and monopoly; I wish you had the generosity to show, now and again, less
wit. This sort of regime and abstinence would not destroy you off-hand,
and the worst that could result to you from it would be to pass in his
eyes for a woman of a variable and intermittent wit; what a great

"Ah, madame, what is it you suggest!" the lady in waiting replied to me,
almost taking offence. "I have never been eccentric or singular with any
one in the world, and you want me to begin with my King! It cannot be, I
assure you! Suggest to me reasonable and possible things, and I will
enter into all your views with all my heart and without hesitation."

This reply shocked me to the point of irritation.

"I believed you long to be a simple and disinterested soul," I said to
her, "and it was in this belief that I gave you my cordial affection. Now
I read your heart, and all your projects are revealed to me. You are not
only greedy of respect and consideration, you are ambitious to the point
of madness. The King's widowhood has awakened all your wild dreams; you
confided to me fifteen years ago that the soothsayer of the Marechale
d'Albret had predicted for you a sceptre and a crown."

At these words, the governess made me a sign to lower my voice, and said
to me, with an accent of candour and good faith, which it is impossible
for me to forget: "I confided to you at the time that puerility of
society, just as the Marechale and the Marshal (without believing it)
related it to all France. But this prognostication need not alarm you,
madame," she added; "a King like ours is incapable of such an
extravagance, and if he were to determine on it, it would not have my
countenance nor approval.

"I do not think that thus far I have passed due limits; the granddaughter
of a great noble, of a first gentleman of the chamber, I have been able
to become a lady in waiting without offending the eyes; but the lady in
waiting will never be Queen, and I give you my permission to insult me
publicly when I am."

Such was this conversation, to which I have not added a word. We shall
see soon how Madame de Maintenon kept her word to me, and if I am not
right in owing her a grudge for this promise with a double meaning, with
which it was her caprice to decoy me by her shuffling.


Birth of the Duc d'Anjou. - The Present to the Mother. - The Casket of
Patience. - Departure of the King for the Army. - The King Turns a Deaf
Ear. - How That Concerns Madame de Maintenon. - The Prisoner of the
Bastille. - The Danger of Caricatures. - The Administrative
Thermometer. - Actors Who Can neither Be Applauded nor Hissed. - Relapse of
the Prisoner. - Scarron's Will. - A Fine Subject for Engraving. - Madame de
Maintenon's Opinion upon the Jesuits. - The Audience of the Green
Salon. - Portions from the Refectory. - Madame de Maintenon's Presence of
Mind. - I Will Make You Schoolmaster.

Madame la Dauphine, greatly pleased with her new position, in that she
represented the person of the Queen, had already given birth to M. le Duc
de Bourgogne; she now brought into the world a second son, who was at
once entitled Duc d'Anjou. The King, to thank her for this gift, made
her a present of an oriental casket, which could only be opened by a
secret spring, and that not before one had essayed it for half an hour.
Madame la Dauphine found in it a superb set of pearls and four thousand
new louis d'or. As she had no generosity in her heart, she bestowed no
bounties on her entourage. The King this year made an expedition to
Flanders. Before getting into his carriage he came and passed half an
hour or forty minutes with me, and asked me if I should not go and pass
the time of his absence at the Petit-Bourg.

"At Petit-Bourg and at Bourbon," I answered, "unless you allow me to
accompany you." He feigned not to have heard me, and said: "Lauzun, who,
eleven or twelve years ago, refused the baton of a marshal of France,
asks to accompany me into Flanders as aide-de-camp. Purge his mind of
such ideas, and give him to understand that his part is played out with

"What business is it of mine," I asked with vivacity, "to teach M. de
Lauzun how to behave? Let Madame de Maintenon charge herself with these
homilies; she is in office, and I am there no longer."

These words troubled the King; he said to me:

"You will do well to go to Bourbon until my return from Flanders."

He left on the following day, and the same day I took my departure. I
went to spend a week at my little convent of Saint Joseph, where the
ladies, who thought I was still in favour, received me with marks of
attention and their accustomed respect. On the third day, the prioress,
announcing herself by my second waiting-woman, came to present me with a
kind of petition or prayer, which, I confess, surprised me greatly, as I
had never commissioned any one to practise severity in my name.

A man, detained at the Bastille for the last twelve years, implored me in
this document to have compassion on his sufferings, and to give orders
which would strike off his chains and irons.

"My intention," he said, "was not, madame, to offend or harm you. Artists
are somewhat feather-headed, and I was then only twenty." This petition
was signed "Hathelin, prisoner of State." I had my horses put in my
carriage at once, and betook myself to the chateau of the Bastille, the
Governor of which I knew.

When I set foot in this formidable fortress, in spite of myself I
experienced a thrill of terror.

The attentions of public men are a thermometer, which, instead of our own
notions, is very capable of letting us know the just degree of our
favour. The Governor of the Bastille, some months before, would have
saluted me with his artillery; perhaps he still received me with a
certain ceremony, but without putting any ardour into his politeness, or
drawing too much upon himself. In such circumstances one must see
without regarding these insults of meanness, and, by a contrivance of
distraction, escape from vile affronts. The object of my expedition
being explained, the Governor found on his register that poor Hathelin,
aged thirty-two to thirty-four years, was an engraver by profession. The
lieutenant-general of police had arrested him long ago for a comic or
satirical engraving on the subject of M. le Marquis de Montespan and the

I desired to see Hathelin, quite determined to ask his pardon for all his
sufferings, with which I was going to occupy myself exclusively until I
was successful. The Governor, a man all formality and pride, told me
that he had not the necessary authority for this communication; I was
obliged to return to my carriage without having tranquillised my poor

The same evening I called upon the lieutenant-general of police, and,
after having eloquently pleaded the cause of this forgotten young man, I
discovered that there was no 'lettre de cachet' to his prejudice, and
procured his liberation.

He came to pay his respects and thanks to me, in my parlour at Saint
Joseph, on the very day of his liberation. He seemed to me much younger
than his age, which astonished me greatly after his misfortunes. I gave
him six thousand francs, in order to indemnify him slightly for that
horrible Bastille. At first he hesitated to take them.

"Let your captivity be a lesson to you," I said to him; "the affairs of
kings do not concern us. When such actors occupy the scene, it is
permissible neither to applaud nor to hiss."

Hathelin promised me to be good, and for the future to concern himself
only with his graver and his private business. He wished me a thousand
good wishes, with an expansion of heart which caused his tears and mine
to flow. But artists are not made like other men; he, for all his good
heart, was gifted with one of those ardent imaginations which make
themselves critics and judges of notable personages, and, above all, of
favourites of fortune. Barely five or six months had elapsed when
Hathelin published a new satirical plate, in which Madame de Maintenon
was represented as weeping, or pretending to weep, over the sick-bed of
M. Scarron. The dying man was holding an open will in his hand, in which
one could read these words: "I leave you my permission to marry again - a
rich and serious man - more so than I am."

The print had already been widely distributed when the engraver and his
plate were seized. This time Hathelin had not the honour of the
Bastille; he was sent to some depot. And although his action was
absolutely fresh and unknown to me, all Paris was convinced that I had
inspired his unfortunate talent. Madame de Maintenon was convinced of
it, and believes it still. The King has done me the honour to assure me
lately that he had banished the idea from his mind; but he was so
persuaded of it at first that he could not pardon me for so black an
intrigue, and, but for the fear of scandal, would have hanged the
engraver, Hathelin, in order to provide my gentlemen, the engravers, with
a subject for a fine plate.

About the same time, the Jesuits caused Madame de Maintenon a much more
acute pain than that of the ridiculous print. She endured this blow with
her accustomed courage; nevertheless, she conceived such a profound
aversion to the leaders of this ever-restless company, that she has never
been seen in their churches, and was at the greatest pains to rob them of
the interior of Saint Cyr. "They are men of intrigue," she said to
Madame de Montchevreuil, her friend and confidante. "The name of Jesus
is always in their mouths, he is in their solemn device, they have taken
him for their banner and namesake; but his candour, his humility are
unknown to them. They would like to order everything that exists, and
rule even in the palaces of kings. Since they have the privilege and
honour of confessing our monarch, they wish to impose the same bondage
upon me. Heaven preserve me from it! I do not want rectors of colleges
and professors to direct my unimportant conscience. I like a confessor
who lets you speak, and not those who put words into your mouth."

With the intention of mortifying her and then of being able to publish
the adventure, they charged one of their instruments to seek her out at
Versailles in order to ask an audience of her, not as a Jesuit, but as a
plain churchman fallen upon adversity.

The petition of this man having been admitted, he received a printed form
which authorised him to appear before madame at her time of good works,
for she had her regular hours for everything. He was introduced into the
great green salon, which was destined, as one knows, for this kind of
audience. There were many people present, and before all this company
this old fox thus unfolded himself:

"Madame, I bless the Sovereign Dispenser of all things for what he has
done for you; you have merited his protection from your tenderest youth.
When, after your return from Martinique, you came to dwell in the little
town of Niort, with your lady mother, I saw you often in our Jesuit
church, which was at two paces from your house. Your modesty, your
youth, your respectful tenderness towards Madame la Baronne d'Aubigne,
your excellent mother, attracted the attention of our community, who saw
you every day in the temple with a fresh pleasure, as you can well
imagine. Madame la Baronne died; and we learnt that those tremendous
lawsuits with the family not having been completed before her death, she
left you, and M. Charles, your brother, in the most frightful poverty. At
that news, our Fathers (who are so charitable, so compassionate) ordered
me to reserve every day, for the two young orphans, two large portions
from the refectory, and to bring them to you myself in your little

"To-day, being no longer, owing to my health, in the congregation of the
Jesuit Fathers, I should be glad to obtain a place conformable with my
ancient occupations. My good angel has inspired me with the thought,
madame, to come and solicit your powerful protection and your good

Madame de Maintenon, having sustained this attack with fortitude, and it
was not without vigour, replied to the petitioner: "I have had the honour
of relating to his Majesty, not so very long ago, the painful and

Online LibraryFrançoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart MontespanMemoirs of Madame la Marquise de Montespan — Complete → online text (page 25 of 30)