P. J. (Paul Julius) Möbius.

Autobiography; a collection of the most instructive and amusing lives ever published online

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entered my apartment. I related to him the visit of
the duchess, and the kindness with which she had con-
ducted herself. He seemed touched by my recital,
and I availed myself of that favourable opportunity to
urge him to renounce his love for me, ana to return to
his amiable partner, in vain ; my prayers and entreaties
were alike fruitless. The duke appealed to my own
heart, and soon made me resume my natural feelings.
I had indeed spoken truly, when I assured him in my
letter that I should always love him.

You have now before you, my friend, the most im-
portant occurrence of my life in its fullest particulars.
What else remains to be told concerning it will be
found in its proper place in the continuation of these
pages. You know how well and nobly M. de Coss4
has ever i^onducted himself towards me. He was not
less constant and faithful in my reverse of fortune than
was the due d'Aiguillon. This latter is no more, but
M. de Coss6 still lives ; and I trust that both of us will
grow old together. Grow old ! What a word ; how^
full of gloomy and painful ideas ! Still to grow old is to
live; and life is dear io all of us.

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The prince de Conti— His letter to the comtesse du Barri— The journey
of Diderot to Russia — Note du charge de France d Saint Petersburg
— Mademoiselle Rancoart and Loms XV. — Beanmarchais — Proves
de Oaexman»—lAa.T\n the gasEetteer.

Now that I have sufficiently spoken of the due de
Coss^, it is time I should return to those events I have
so long neglected. The princes had returned to the
royal authority — the prince de Cond^, gained over by
madame de Monaco, whom he loved, and by money,
which he was for ever in need of; and the due d*Or-
leans, to oblige madame de Montesson. There re-
mained but one who continued refractory except the
prince de Conti. This nobleman still held out, nor
could we persuade him to follow the example of the
two princes I have alluded to.

Tne prince de Conti, although gifted with consider-
able talent, was ill calculated to play an eminent part ;
the time which was not engrossed by his pleasures he
employed in studying medals, and his love for antiquities
almost equalled his admiration of the fair sex. He
revived in the isle d*Adam, and in the saloons of the
Temple, the frightful orgies of the regency, adding to
them scenes too horrible for repetition. This antiqua-
rian Sybarite, who had been extolled by the cabal as the
most perfect hero of his time, had rendered himself the
general favourite by the politeness and affability of his
manners ; and his obstinate stand against the king's
wishes was magnified into magnanimous courage and
heroic firmness.

He was &r from being rich, and yet he kept up
habits of profuse expenditure. It is related of him,


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that his treasurer came one day to inform him that his
horses were entirely without food, (the person who
supplied their provender having^ lefused to do so any
longer unless his many claims were discharged,) the
prince calmly inquired, whether all his other creditors
were equally refractory ?

" Yes, my lord," replied the treasurer, " all, with
the exception of your poulterer, refuse to supply you

" Then,** replied his highness, '< feed my horses with

The king returned the fixed opposition evinced to-
wards him by the prince de Conti with the most deter-
mined hatred ; he looked upon him as the enemy of
the throne, was uneasy and restless at the most trifling
action on the princess part, and caused him to be
constantly watched by the mysterious police of the
comte de Broglie, and the official police of M. de Sar-
tines. Nevertheless, the prince de Corfli, seeing him-
self the idol of the people, cared but little for all these
precautions, and took especial delight in observing, on
every occasion, a line of conduct diametrically opposite
to that pursued at the castle. His palace was the focus
where the parliamentarians collected to concert fresh
schemes, and project new conspiracies ; and we have
always believea that the pamphlets which appeared in
such numbers against us, and which had for their aim
the keeping up a continual ferment and irritation in
the public mind, were fabricated and printed in the
Temple, under the immediate inspection of his highness
himself. The chancellor, who was by no means too
ddicately handled by this secret committee, was occa-
sionally worked up to fits of the most violent fury with
the prince de Conti ; and it was several times in serious
consideration to banish him the kingdom. I can with
truth affirm, that but for my individual opposition, this
measure would have been carried into emct I fancied
jthere was something great and elevated in this resist-
ance to the wishes of a king ; and a woman, as you

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know, k easily caag^t by any thing which appears
strikingly grand and maryellous.

The prince was well aware of the part I took in the
affair, and he sent to thank me for my kindness towards
him : the person charged with this commission was an
Italian, named Falloni, a man of talent, who had the
care and arrangement of his highnesses cabinet. This
Falloni, who was a dealer in curiosities, freqnently called
upon comte Jean and myself. I took an opportunity to
request he would say from me to his serene highness,
that I trusted he would not confound me with his
enemies ; ^at if eyer I meddled with politics it was
always with great reluctance, and neyer with the inten-
tion of injuring any person. Upon which the prince
wrote me a note I have ever carefully preserved, as a very
curious and important document ; it was as follows :— *

'* Madame la comtessb, — Monsieur Falloni has
apprized me of yoar friendly disposition towards me.
I beg most gratefully to thank you for your goodness,
and only regret that, under existing circumstances, I
cannot personally express my gratitude. I had always
eonpled in my own mind a beauty so rare, so perfect
as yours, with a heart equally noble and excellent ; and
your generous conduct towards myself leaves me only
the satisfaction of finding I have rightly estimated you.
Be assured, that if, whilst waging war with my enemies,
any flying parties should \innoy you, it will be a matter
of serious regret to me ; and happy should I esteem
myself if, in consequence of an honourable peace, £
might come to lay down my arms at your feet.

*• Deign, I beseech you, to accept, &c."

I showed this letter to Louis XV., who read it over
two separate times, then returning it with an air of
impatience, he said,

" I had hoped to have found some overtures for a
reconciliation, but I perceive only the expression of a
commonplace gallantry.**

^ That is enouah for me,** answered I, laughing.

" Yes," replied the king, **. that is the case with all
H 2

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you ladies 7 you care very little for the affiunrof tfae
state, and at the first fine compliment paid you, yoli
shout victory 1 For my own part, these cootinued ep«
positions disolease me greatly ; and I shsdl never be at
rest till all the princes of my family have returned to
their duty. I am willing to believe • that there is no
prospect of a civil v?ar, but these petty and daily dis-
putes are highly prejudicial to royal authority; they
weaken it by disgracing iC

Louis XV. held all contradiction in the greatest
horror : a few examples will prove the truth of what I
advance. The king, in consequence of what he had
heard from the diic de Choiseul, had taken a profound
liatred to the Jesuits ; he determined to e^ile them,
when the king of Prussia, (who eagerly .embraced every
opportunity of tormenting Louis XV.,) learning thte
circumstance, hastened to declare himself the protector
of the Jesuits, to whom he offered an asylum in Silesia.
This piece of malice made Louis XV. almost frantic.
Upon another occasion, the conversation happened to
fall upon the correspondence of Frederic IL with M. de
Voltaire. The prince de Poix took upon him to express
his astonishment as to what they possibly could have to
write about. " What should you suppose ?'* replied Louis
XV., with impatience ; ^ why, to scandalize me, and
misinterpret my actions.**

At the period of which I tfm speaking, Diderot, aa
obscure writer, and great pretender to philosophy, re-
ceived from Catherine of Russia so pressing an invita-
tion to visit St. Petersburg, that he resolved upon going
thither. This piece of intelligence was soon spread
throughout the ehlLteau ; and at a aupper-party, which
took place in my apartments, the king having asked the
guests what were the last news, the marquis de Chau-
vel in replied, that the subject of most general interest
was the approaching departure of Diderot for Russia.

*' And what is he going there for?** cried the king.
'* I should not have imagined him sufficiently rich to
undertake such a journey.'*

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*' He does not undertake it at his own cost/' replied
the prince de Soubise ; ^ her imperial majesty pays all
travelling expenses/'

." What does her imperial majesty want with him at
all V* asked Louis XV. with an air of dissatisfaction.

** To enjoy the charms of his conversation/* was the

'' You did not inform me of this/* observed the king,
abruptly turning towards the due d'Aiguillon.

** Sire/' replied the minister, *' I saw nothing of a
state affair in the transaction.**

" I crave your pardon/* replied Louis XV. ; ** Di-
derot is the ambassador of the philosophical cabal, who
have determined upon sending him to hold me up in
derision and mockery in a strange land. He has never
set foot in the castle, yet he will take upon himself to
repeat a thousand felsehoods respecting my private
li&; and, in proportion as his calumnies are favourably
received will he go on fabricating fresh slanders. Of a
truth, the lot of a king need not be envied.**

** If your majesty really apprehends any mischief
from the impertinent gossip of Diderot/* exclaimed the
doc de Doras, '* it would perhaps be as well to forbid
his leaving the kingdom.**

"Yes,*' added le petit smnt, "a lettre de cachet ;
that ^ill be the thing to stop his prating. I will cause
it to be prepared the moment I leave this table."

" Have a care/* cried the king; •* you will involve
roe in a never-ending quarrel with her imperial majesty.
She wishes for Diderot, and I have no right to oppose
his departure : there would be a fine confusion if I did.
Every honour and praise would be ascribed to the
Semiramis of the north, whilst poor I would be exposed
to the pitiless storm of pamphlets, satires, lampoons,
epigrams, &c. These foreign potentates are not parti-
cularly nice in their line of conduct towards me. Have
I ever seduced away their men of genius ? Why should
they deprive me of those who ornament my reign ? It
has always been a mania among my neighbours ic
H 3

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78 BCXMOm OF MAOMIl DU iiOtlll.

take ^m Franoe our most tkMA modists iuad c«le*
bf ated men of letters ; they are wekome enough to the

first, but for the latter " Louis XV. stopped for a

few minutes, then resumed, ** One thing is certain,— -
that so long as I live this Diderot shall never be ad-
mitted into the academy ; I will have no more atheists
and philosophers ; there are plenty already/*

The day following this conversation l40uis XV.
caused a letter to be written to M. Durand, our chargi
^affaires at Petersburg, desiring him to keep a watch-
ful eye over the words and actions of the encyclopedist^
I venture to predict that you will find some amusement
in the perusal of the following letter, which M* Durand,
in conformity with the king^s desire, despatched to the
minister for foreign affairs. His majesty lent it me,
that I might show it to the mar^hale de Mirepoix, and
it afterwards remained in my possession.

*' My lord, — M. Diderot uaA arrived here preceded
by a high reputation. Fame has indeed exaggerated
in a tenfold degree the opim<m ^entertained of him in
France. The inhabitants of this metropolis had ex-
pected a genuine philosopher, a veritable sage of the
antique school; but, to their great mortification and
disappointment, they find a man, whose only qualifica-
tions are strong'imagination with something resembling
wit. Her imperial majesty, who considers the grace
and elegance of a well-bred Frenchman as the greatest
advantage a person can possess, and appreciates those
endowments almost beyond the cardinal virtues, has
been greatly shocked at the vulgarity of the manners
of M. Diderot, as well as his entire want of tact.

'* At his first introduction to her majesty, his coarse-
ness and efirontery excited universal surprise and dis-
like. He declaimed, in a loud and angry tope, against
favouritism ; and then, as a first essay, demanded of
the empress the abolition of slavery. Her majesty found
it necessary to repress this excessive zeal, and coolly
replied to his harangue, by observing, that before at-
tempting to prescribe rules for managing a kingdom, it

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MJUfalfta OF M A0AM E J>V BARAI. 79

would be adyisabk to acquire some knowledge of
its ireai state, its laws, and governments ; and that it
was scareely po£»iUe to attain such information, by
hastily passing through a few towns inside a travelling

^ M. Diderot flattered himself that he was sunu
moned hither to direct the isovereign in her mode of
administering justice, and with that expectation he
brought with him a plan for a new constitution, and
the most extraordinary code of lavrs ever perused. As
I have heard, however, there appears little chance that
the world will be edified by their production.

*^ M. Diderot is frequently invited to sappers, where
lie is drawn on to speak of the fine arts and literature.
This is his present occupation, until his anxious desire
to come forUi in the new character of legislator be
gratified. However, he is tolerably silent respecting
5ie affairs of our court, and he observes a greater degree
of discretion on this head than I had expected from
him. It is true, that, upon his first arrival, I apprized
him, that unless he conducted himself with prudence
and circumspection, he would not find it veiy easy to
return to Paris. He has taken me at my word, and I
have nothing to complain of. This journey must be
looked upon as a complete philosophical essay.

** I am informed, by indubitable authority, that the
acquaintance of M. Diderot has for ever disgusted the
czarina with philosophy and philosopliers, and that she
has hastily dismissed the encyclopedist with a hand-
some present. Should anything fresh occur you shall
bear immediately.'*

I have now occupied yon suffidently with 4he affairs
of others ; I will now speak of a time in which my
fears of being supplanted in the king's affections, were
excited by a female whom I had loaded with benefits.

SpiCe of the habitual gallantry of Louis XV., he
troubled himself very little with actresses ; whether he
thought (and with reason) that these persons are
charming only when adotned with the tinsel and glitter

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of scenic decoratioDS, or whetber he imagined, that by
selecting the objects of his regard from the boards of a
theatre he might excite the dissatis^tion of the Parisian
belles, I know not; bat mademoiselle Ranconrt, whom
1 had liberally furnished both with money and clothes,
was imprudent enough to betray, in my presence, her
own ambitious views on the heart of the king. I did
not at the time pay any attention to the circumstance,
but having heard shortly after that she was continually
boasting of her intimacy with Louis XV., the dread of
finding a rival in one I had hitherto believed too incon-
siderable for notice, filled me with alarm. I immedi-
ately sought an explanation with the king, who laughed
at my fears, asserting that he had no taste for such a
pair of long scraggy arms as those of mademoiselle
Rancourt. ^ Besides,** added he, '* I have no desire
to turn my private apartments into a sort of theatrical
saloon. This girl is public property ; for be it from
me to entrench upon so just a claim.*' And the better
to mark his dislike towards mademoiselle Rancourt,
Louis XV. from that moment interested himself greatly
for mademoiselle Sainval, who, although very plain,
had far more talent than mademoiselle Rancourt.

His majesty was much amused at the importance
attached by the dues de Richelieu and d*Aumont to the
management of the theatres ; and frequently, by way of a
little badinage, he would affect to bestow his patronage
upon some player who happened to be out of their favour.
But the most indefatigable patron of theatres was the
bishop d*Orleans, M. deJarente, who even whilst holdmg
the a dministration of church benefices, was for ever occu-
pied with the concerns of the male performers, and in
providing for the comfort and well-being of the female
part of the corps dramatique. One day that the due
d*Aumont was obtaining the royal signature to some
paper relative to the Com^die ItaHenney his majesty

<'Duc d^Aumont, this must be a point of some
nicety between you and your conscience ; for, remem-

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ber, you are infringing upon the territories of M.

*' Ah, sire/' replied the duke^ " I ^rould give him a
handsome sum to exchange his post for mine/'

** I am perfectly sure he will agree to the bargain/*
returned Ix>uis XV., '' if the actresses are comprised
in it."

Speaking of theatrical subjects leads me to mention
a man who is now undisputed master of the boards.
Caron de Beaumarchais acquired this year, by a trifling
lawsuit, a surprising reputation. M. de Beaumarchais
(for the gentleman resents any familiar attempt to ad-
dress him as Caron de Beaumarchais) is a man who
cannot exist without bustle and confusion; to condemn
him to a life of repose would be a far more cruel sen«
tence than to sentence him to death. Tis not glory he
is ambitious of, but noise : so that he could but succeed
in making himself the object of general conyersation he
cared very little whether good or ill were spoken of
him. For this individual the hundred trumpets with
which Fame is invested, weie too few to blazon his
name abroad. He possessed sense ; and, what is very
seldom found in company with wit, great skill in the
management and application of it. He was clever in
all schemes of commercial speculation, and studied
diplomacy with a view to promote the success of his
commercial enterprises, and he turned his literary re-
putation to the profit of pecuniary undertakings. What
shall T say further of him? He was particularly clever
and eloquent in his descriptions, strong and forcible in
argument, but a jester and a liar. Woe to his adver-
sary ; he would cast him into the mud even at the risk
of himself sharing in the fall.

I have been 1^ on to sketch this hasty portrait of
Beaumarchais, by the recollection of a lawsuit he had
this year with madame Gaezmann. I shall not repeat
to you an affair which is doubtless fresh in your memory,
but just mention a few particulars I think it probable
you never heard. When first the memoirs of Beaupav-

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cbais were published, my brother-in-law brought them
to me. Comte Jean, as you know, could not endure
the new magistracy, and was never so well pleased as
when any slight or disrespect was cast upon any of the
members. I have never been fond of reading; it
fotigues me» and gives me the headache. I therefore
took the book with much nonchalance, but scarcely had
I read a few paees of it, than my attention was arrested
by the fine and delicate wit, the penetrating and elo-
quent reasoning, the arch yet temperate raillery; until,
at length, the writer completely subdued my dislike for
the perusal of a long work ; and, ere I had finished it,
I had espoused his party.

I mentioned this book to the king as one which had
afforded me the greatest amusement. As Beaumarchais
had been one of the establishment of the chateau, Louis
XV. was easily persuaded to read the work of one who
was professor ot the harp to the princesses. When he
had perused it, he spoke to me in no very gentle terms
of the man who presumed to attack his parliament.

** Mercy upon me, sire I*' cried I ; ** you know very
well it is the Maupeou parliament, not yours ; besides,
what have you to do with this quarrel ? Why should
you take up arms against M. de Beaumarchais, for the
sake of an infamous woman, who is encouraged by a
no less in^Eunous husband."

** Madam," replied Louis XV., ** although you have
the most beautiful eyes in the world, you do not see
any clearer than other people. Remember, that what-
ever may be its faults, the present parliament is mine ;
and it is ill serving me to endeavour to expose the dif-
ferent members of this parliament to public ridicule.
The populace, who detest them, would be overjoyed to
see tnem flung into a horse-pond.'*

The chancellor waited upon the king, to pray that
the utmost severity might be exercised towards Beau-
.marchais, and that the present litigation might be ended
by an extra-judicial measure. *' Have a care how you
follow up such intentions," answered Louis XV. ; *' were

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Yoa to do so, your name would be posted all over
Paris, and the general report vvould be, that the vvhole
parliament had shared the * fifteen louis/ and that you,
particularly, had come in for your portion. No, let
justice have its course, and let a solemn decree declare
who is innocent and who is guilty/*

I coincided with his majesty in this opinion, and the
chancellor had nothing more to say.

After this grand aSfair of tragi-comedy came the
farce. The gazetteer Marin, who was paid for keeping
a watchful eye over men of letters, came to me in a
great rage, to demand vengeance on Beaumarchais,
who, in his memoirs, had treated him with great seve-
rity. Comte Jean, who was with me, took up the
matter, exclaiming,

•* Who the devil advised you, Marin, to thrust your
nose where you are not wanted ? Your business is to
espy the proceedings of men of letters, and not to take
upon yourself to quarrel and fight with every clever
man who has a slap at you. Beaumarchais, you say,
has handled you roughly ; so much the worse for you.
Neither my sister-in-law nor myself have any desire to
figure in the Gaezmann suit. You are well paid ; be
wise and hold your tongue.**

** But, my lord, my honour—*'

** Oh, for mercy*s sake, my good friend, never make
yourself uneasy about so mere a trifle.*'

Saying which, my brother-in*law gently took k
Marin by the shoulders, and, in a friendly manner,
put him out of the room.

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Madame da Barri parchases the eerriees of Marin the f axetteer —
Louis XV. and madame de Romas — M. de Rumas and the eomtesse
da Barri — An intrigne-^Denooement — A present upon the occasion
—The dac de Richelien in disgrace— 100,000 livres.

Tbis Marin, a proven^al by birth, in his childhood one
of the choristers, and afterwards organist of the village
church, was, at the period of which I am speaking, one
of the most useful men possible. Nominated by M. de
St. Florentin to the post of censor royal, this friend to
the philosophers was remarkable for the peculiar talent
with which he would alternately applaud and condemn
the writings of these gentlemen. Affixing his sanction
to two lines in a tragedy by Dorat, had cost him
twenty-four hours* meditation within the walls of the
Bastille ; and for permitting the representation of some
opera (the name of which I forget) he had been de-
prived of a pension of 2000 francs ; but, wedded to
the delights of his snug post, Marin always contrived,
after every storm, to find his way back to its safe har-
bour. He had registered a vow never to resign the
office of censor, but to keep it in despite of danger and
difficulty. I soon discovered that he passed from the
patronage of Lebel to that of Chamilly, and I was not
slow in conjecturing that he joined to his avocations
of censor and gazetteer that of purveyor to his majesty's
petiU amours.

Spite of my indefatigable endeavours to render
Louis XV. happy and satisfied with the pleasures of
his own home, he would take occasional wandering

Online LibraryP. J. (Paul Julius) MöbiusAutobiography; a collection of the most instructive and amusing lives ever published → online text (page 7 of 28)