Leonora Blanche Lang.

Men, women, and minxes online

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All rights reserved


The essays in this volume, reprinted from various
sources and revised, deal with a variety of sub-
jects ; with Richardson's Morals and Manners,
with Rousseau's Ideal Household, with Minxes
and Poseuses French and English, with a contrast
to them in the austere theories of the creator of
The Fairchild Family, with Grimm, the great
Paris gossip of the eighteenth century, and with
the Women of Colonial America. The fallacies
of great poets in their descriptions of landscapes —
Sir Walter Scott being strangely Turneresque —
are criticised. The essays on Art deal with the
ingenious forgeries successfully foisted on learned
collectors, and with Art as represented in rural
light. Among critics criticised is Paul de Saint
Victor, the man admired by Victor Hugo ; and
the modern literary man is portrayed as he is apt
to appear in the eyes of his wife. Home Life
during the Great Rebellion is described, and
there are essays on Scottish Domestic Manners —
Lowland and Highland — in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, with other social studies.
Anecdotes and entertainment, rather than severe
speculations, historical and social, are the farrago
libelli — the burden of the book.

A. L.




This collection of essays, several of them dating
back twenty-five years, was in the press while
my husband was still alive. As we had chosen
them together and laughed over them together,
I have left them as they were, in the order that
he placed them.

I desire to express my thanks to the Editors
of the National Review, of Blackwood's and
Longman's Magazines, of the Art Journal, and
the Saturday Review for their permission to re-
publish the articles which have appeared in those

My thanks are also due to Mr. Lionel

Robinson for reading the proofs.

L. B. L.

London, August 1912.



a poseuse of the eighteenth century . . .1
The Social Records of a Scotch Family ... 20

French and English Minxes 41

Pitfalls for Collectors ...... 58

Paul de St. Victor 78

Trials of the Wife of a Literary Man . . .101
A Paris Correspondent of 1753 . . . . 110

The Fairchild Family and their Creator . . .123
A Granddaughter of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu 143
Rousseau's Ideal Household . . . . . . 160

Morals and Manners in Richardson . . . .178

Art in Country Inns and Lodging-Houses . . . 205

The Home-Life of the Verneys 219

Two Centuries of American Women . . . .233

Other People's Friends 249

The Recollections of the Baron de Frenilly . . 26l

Miss Grant of Rothiemurchus 279

Poets as Landscape Painters 299



If a soothsayer had suddenly informed Philippe Egalite, on
his wedding-day that he would select, as the person most
capable of giving his sons as well as his daughters a solid
education, a lady who had spent many months of her child-
hood in running about the country dressed as Cupid (wings
omitted for Church); who only abandoned her airy costume
for a boy's uniform, which she wore till she went to Paris ;
who could not write till she was eleven, and passed her time
in acting, and in studying music and a few romances, till
she was married at seventeen — if a soothsayer had stated
these facts, and informed the Prince of the role that the
ignorant little girl was to play in the Orleans family, he
would have laid himself open to a good deal of mockery
from the beaux esprits about the Court.

Yet such, in a few words, is the early history of Madame
de Genlis. She was born on January 25, 1746, at Champceri,
near Autun, and lived there and at another house on the
banks of the Loire till she was five, when her father bought
the estate of St. Aubin and the Marquisate that went with
it. The St. Aubins were at no time rich, not even before
they were absolutely ruined ; and during the years that
followed their ruin the Marquis was a good deal from home,
his last journey being to St. Domingo, where he had pro-
perty. During all this while Felicite was her mother's com-
panion, sharing her amusements, and more than sharing her


duty of entertaining any visitors. Her brother (intended
for the Church, and dressed as an Abbe) was being educated
at a Lycee ; and, although mentioned in the holiday amuse-
ments, he does not seem to have been much " accounted of."
" He was nothing like so brilliant a child as I," Felicite
says, with the charming modesty which she so often dis-
plays. Who, indeed, was there to compare with her ?
We pass over her merely infantile triumphs, of which there
were plenty. At tens he acts in Zaire and Iphigenie, and
is assured by the spectators that she outdoes Clairon ; she
makes verses that are shown to the leading literary men in
Paris, one of whom, Mondorge, " reads them with inexpres-
sible delight ! " At thirteen her harp-playing is listened to
with rapture by the most accomplished musicians ; her mind
" has a force quite exceptional at her age " ; and she shows
u the greatest possible turn for dancing."

In her love affairs it is just the same. " Before I left
Burgundy there occurred an event which no woman ever
forgets — the first passion she inspires. I was only eleven,"
she says, " and very small for my age, looking about eight
or nine ; yet a young man of eighteen fell violently in love
with me." The young man was a doctor's son, who had for
two years been one of the troupe of players whom her mother
had gathered round her. Madame de Genlis is fond of
omitting to give the dates of the events recorded, though
she never tries to falsify her age. She could not have been
more than fourteen when she declined the offer of a M. de
Monville, "having determined only to marry a man of rank,
belonging to the Court : in preference to any one else, I
should have fixed on M. de Popeliniere," she remarks, u in
spite of his being a farmer-general and an old man ; but he
had won my admiration, whereas I felt nothing warmer than
esteem for M. de Monville."" Her capacity for imagining
all men to be in love with her continued through most of
her life. " Custom did not stale its infinite variety " ; nor
did the fact that (in later days) some of her adorers might


have been her grandsons make much difference; yet an
occasional gleam of common sense breaks through her in-
ordinate egotism. She notes (and it is a sign of grace) that
her governess openly makes fun of the flatterers who com-
pare her to Clairon ; and observes of her own accord that,
anxious though all the world may be to listen to her harp-
playing, her mother is still more unduly anxious to thrust
her accomplishments on the public.

It is not easy to tell how far the eight volumes of
Memoirs published in 1825 can really be trusted to give an
accurate account of the facts recorded in them. Amid the
most adverse circumstances, Madame de Genlis kept a journal
all through her life; but when, at the approach of the Revolu-
tion, she left France to wander for years from country to
country with Mile. d'Orleans, she handed over her precious
volumes to her daughter, Madame de Valence. As Madame
de Valence was soon after committed to prison, the journals,
among other things, were hopelessly lost ; and all that
remained of the original documents was a volume that
Madame de Genlis had taken with her. She assures us that
the lost contents were so engraven on her memory by repeated
readings to her friends that she was able to re-write them
exactly ; but (as in the case of Madame de Remusat, with a
similar misfortune) it is impossible not to feel misgivings
that, although the facts may remain unchanged, the point
of view may have varied, and events that have been written
down as they occurred at twenty will take a very different
complexion at sixty.

Still, take it how you will, these Memoirs that she pro-
duced in 1812 throw an interesting and curious light on the
occupations and amusements of a century which (to use the
words of Madame de Genlis) " had not only passed away, but
was effaced. 1 '' If the vanity which she carried into every
detail of life makes on us a lasting and disagreeable impres-
sion, it does not do away with the fact that she was a keen
observer and a lively writer. Indeed, as Grimm remarks,


she was, although not a profound critic, well versed in the
surface movements of society, and had contrived (he is allud-
ing particularly to A dele et Theodore) to hit off the manners
of the day without caricaturing them.

As every one is acquainted with the main facts of this
strange woman's career, this article will deal chiefly with the
side-lights thrown by her on the little daily fashions and
habits that never lose their interest even for the most philo-
sophic : what time our ancestors had their dinner, what
clothes they wore, and similar items of foolishness.

If Madame de GenhY own account of her bringing-up
before her marriage is true, she is a remarkable example of a
woman who has learnt from experience, and has contrived,
even among the incessant claims of society, to repair her
parents 1 neglect in the matter of education. At six she set
forth with her mother to Paris, where she spent a few dismal
weeks. After she had had two teeth taken out (the history
of children is always the same), " they put a pair of stiff
whalebone stays on me, and imprisoned my feet in tight
shoes, which prevented me from walking. They rolled my
hair in curl papers, and I wore for the first time a panier.
To cure my provincial air, an iron collar was fastened round
my neck ; and, as I squinted a little, the moment I woke,
a pair of spectacles was placed on my nose, and these I
was not allowed to remove for four hours. Finally, to my
great surprise, I was given a master to teach me how to walk
(which I thought I knew before), and I was forbidden to run,
or to jump, or to ask questions." The private baptism of
her infancy was supplemented by a public ceremony, and
then her woes were partly forgotten in the delight of fetes,
and the glory of her first opera. This was Roland le Furieux ;
and she was fortunate enough to hear Chasse, the singer who
five years later was ennobled " on account of his voice and
his beautiful style." Unlike his comrades, he had some
notion of modulation.

Modern mothers may exclaim with horror at the notion


of taking their children to operas at the age of six ; but, in
the first place, music was the one genuine passion of Madame
de Genlis 1 life ; and, in the second, theatres began at a
much earlier hour then than they do now. People dined at
two ; and the Comedie Francaise was supposed to draw up
its curtain about five, so that the audience were able to pay
evening visits or go out to supper after the performance was
over, before making ready for a bal de Vopera. Still, it is
noteworthy that in this matter, as in regard to dress, the
theory insisted on by Madame de Genlis was quite different
from the practice of her own youth. Her model children
have their limbs free, and may ask as many questions as
they choose. They are brought up in the country far
from parade or ostentation of any sort — far enough, indeed,
to prevent them even hearing of such things ; — and if their
bedtime is considerably later than we should think desirable,
at least it is much earlier than that of Felicite herself. In
fact, Madame de Genlis 1 views of bringing up children are
a severe reflection on the training her own mother had be-
stowed : perpetual visiting, eternal plays, incessant declama-
tion. What wonder that the child grew up to consider
herself a marvel — what wonder, either, that she was enchanted
to exchange the iron collar and whalebone stays for Cupid's
pink satin frock covered with point lace and sprinkled with
artificial flowers, and to put on the yellow and silver boots
and blue wings ? The costume seems hardly suitable for
muddy country lanes ; yet she wore out many such garments,
and next jumped to the other extreme in a boy's dress,
which was the most comfortable and sensible thing she had
yet worn, and enabled her to move about to her heart's
content and to leap over ditches. She had no education in
the common sense of the word. Her governess, Mile, de
Mars, who came when Felicite was quite a little thing, was
a good musician ; but she read nothing with her pupil be-
yond Mile. Scudery's romances, and Mile. Barbier's plays.
In the morning the child sang, danced, and fenced ; by way


of recreation, she made artificial flowers, and practised
four hours daily on the clavecin, the guitar, and the

One cannot help speculating as to whether in those days
children matured physically at an earlier age than they do
now. How is it possible to explain the hours that girls
then devoted to singing when they were twelve or thirteen,
and the extraordinary youth of many of the debutantes at
the Opera ? Sophie Arnould herself came out before she
was fourteen, and she is by no means a solitary example.
At any rate, at thirteen, Felicite had lessons (at 6 a.m.),
from the celebrated Pellegrini in singing, and in accompani-
ment from the composer Philidor. She learnt the musette
and the viola, besides the clavecin and guitar; and for a
whole year had such a passion for the harp that she prac-
tised it daily for seven hours, sometimes continuing even for
ten or twelve. When about sixteen, she was living with her
mother in a convent, and immense crowds assembled in
church to hear her play the harp.

After all these years of Paris in the winter and country-
house visiting in the summer — their income during part of
the time was nominally 600 francs — the epoch of Felicite's
marriage arrived. Her father had made acquaintance with
M. de Genlis at Launceston, whither both had been carried
as English prisoners — one on his way from St. Domingo, the
other from India and China. M. de Genlis had served for
fourteen years with distinction in the Navy, which did not
in the least prevent his being one of twenty-four colonels of
Grenadiers, and (after his marriage) joining his regiment.
Before that event, however, | M. de St. Aubin died of low
fever; and eighteen months later his wife married a man
whom her daughter had refused. Delicacy was not the
distinguishing characteristic of those times. This may be
gathered from the fact that the marriage of M. de Genlis
had to be performed secretly, because he had allowed his
uncle, M. de Puisieux, to arrange an alliance for him with


another lady, and lacked the courage to inform either of
them of his change of plans.

The young couple were not rich ; but, as in modern days,
the amount of their income (12,000 francs) seemed to make
very little difference. No one appeared to take life seriously,
and they passed their time in inventing elaborate (and costly)
diversions. " Dressing-up to amuse Byng's aunt " was an
entertainment that never failed. Endless are the histories
of these mystifications. They induced one unfortunate man,
the Due de Civrac, to lie perdu in a garret for twenty-four
hours after his arrival from Vienna, in order to produce him
at the proper moment, in a fete they were preparing for
M. de Puisieux's birthday. They carry on a mystification
played upon a house-painter for eight months, and go
through elaborate ceremonies, in which they persuade the
poor fool that he is created a grandee of Spain ; and, strange
to say, the deception is kept up not only by the Genlis
family themselves, but by the servants and villagers. It is
seldom indeed that practical jokes have any real humour;
but considerable fun was got out of Madame de Genlis' first
introduction to Rousseau. Some weeks before, M. de
Sauvigny had given her to understand that her husband
intended passing off Preville the actor on her as Rousseau
himself. Having once made this project, M. de Genlis
thought no more about it ; and when one day Rousseau was
announced, she received him in a jaunty, off-hand manner,
chattered and laughed, played and sang, and altogether
showed in her conduct little of the reverence due to a philo-
sopher. Her husband watched her in astonishment, and,
when Rousseau had departed, inquired how she could have
gone on like that. " Oh," she answered, " you didn't suppose
that I should be so simple as to take Preville for Rousseau ? "
"Preville?" "Yes: no one could have done it better, except
that, of course, he ought not to have been so genial and
good-humoured." Rousseau, however, bore no malice ; and
they were quite good friends till the inevitable quarrel came.


It is to Madame de Genlis 1 credit that she resented being
considered " a fine lady " ; but she took some singular means
of vindicating herself from the aspersion. Immediately after
her marriage she and her husband were staying with his
brother, the Marquis de Genlis, in his chateau, and they all
went fishing in the lakes. Irritated by some badinage as to
" Paris manners," she picked up a live fish the length of her
finger and swallowed it whole. It did not choke her ; but
she was punished for the nasty trick by the horrible fear,
which possessed her for many months, that the fish was alive
and would grow.

The custom of ladies following the drum was not con-
sidered correct in the last century. Thus, when M. de
Genlis was occupied by garrison duties, his wife either re-
tired into a convent or stayed with some elderly relative.
It was at these times that she began to " improve herself."
She spent her days in reading Roman History, Madame
de Sevigne, the Lettres Provinciales, Marivaux, and other
authors, while she learnt cooking and embroidery from the
nuns. On her husband's return to his brother's house of
Genlis, near St. Quentin, they amuse themselves as before.
She takes to riding, and "becomes very clever at it" ; is
taught billiards, reversi, and piquet; doctors the village
(bleeding is among her accomplishments); and acts plays
in odd moments. It is easy to see that she is not greatly
pleased with the fuss that is made over her young sister-in-
law, the Marquise, for she never loses a chance of having a
fling, at her. Indeed, the art of "praising the charms" of
" a sister," or of anybody else, was not one of the many in
which Madame de Genlis excelled. It is amazing to read the
delight and asperity with which she records the failure of
all who attempt to vie with herself, in particular that of her
young aunt Madame de Montesson,whom she declares that she
loves "almost to madness.'" Like Alexander, she would reign,
and she would reign alone, and no attempt to interfere with
her sovereignty is allowed to go unpunished. According to


her own view, she is a quiet and unobtrusive person, who
could with difficulty be roused to bear any part in what was
going on. " Up to this time," she writes, when relating her
visit to the Prince de Conti's lovely property of Tile d'Adam
— " up to this time I was only known by my harp and my
face. I had always kept silence when in company, and my
reserve and timidity augured ill for my conversation." One
evening, however, it was suggested that she and two gentle-
men should act a proverbs. It was a prodigious success,
and all the ladies were crazy to act proverbes. Therefore a
series of entertainments were arranged in which Madame
de Montesson and Madame de Sabran took part. Alas !
"they played not even passably, but ridiculously, and be-
coming aware of their failure, lost their tempers and were
very cross. Madame de Sabran cried with rage, and hence-
forth was my enemy. I have made many from equally
frivolous causes."

The naivete of this last remark is delicious. The words
could only have been uttered by a person without a grain of
humour. But then humour is a wonderful specific against
vanity, and is the best preservative against making oneself
ridiculous. Madame de Genlis had none of it, and rambles
complacently on, narrating her own triumphs at the expense
of every one else. This aunt, Madame de Montesson, plays
a great part in her life. They are always quarrelling and
always " making it up " ; but, whatever terms they may be on
at the moment, Madame de Genlis never loses an opportunity
of telling tales to her discredit. She is furious with Madame
de Montesson for becoming the morganatic wife of the Duke
of Orle'ans (father of Philippe Egalite), and scoffs at her
pretensions to being an author and a bel esprit, declaring
that she was * so ignorant all round, she could never have
written her plays without Lefebvre's help," and that " the
few clever bits in them were stolen straight from Marivaux."
* I was her dupe in nothing," she continues. u When you
once have the key to an artificial character, it is easily


understood, because there is not a movement but what is
calculated." These remarks, deliberately written down to
be read to the friends of the person who is the object of
them, and afterwards to be printed, are not genial; but
there is worse behind. Seventeen years later, a propos of
the marriage of her own daughter Pulcherie, she calmly says
that it is universally reported that Madame de Montesson,
then a widow, was in love with the bridegroom, M. de
Valence, but that she (Madame de Genlis) had reassured
herself by arguing that, even if M. de Valence had been
the lover of a woman much older than himself, his marriage
with a pretty girl of seventeen would put an end to all
that ; and as for the dot of 200,000 francs which she per-

Online LibraryLeonora Blanche LangMen, women, and minxes → online text (page 1 of 25)