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CHAPTER VII
Turin—Parma—The Infanta—Florence—Rome: Delightful life there—Artistic success—Social life—The French refugees—The Polignac—Angelica Kaufmann—An Italian summer—Life at Gensan—The Duchesse de Fleury.
Capital letter P

PASSING through Chambéry, the little party arrived at Turin in pouring rain, and were deposited late at night in a bad inn, where they could get nothing to eat; but the next day the celebrated engraver, Porporati, insisted on their removing to his house, where they spent five or six days. At the Opera they saw the Duc de Bourbon and his son, the unfortunate Duc d’Enghien, whose murder was the blackest stain upon the fame of Napoleon. The Duc de Bourbon looked more like the brother than the father of his son; he was only sixteen when the Duc d’Enghien was born.

Taking leave of the excellent Signor Porporati and his daughter, they proceeded to Parma, where the Comte de Flavigny, Minister of Louis XVI., at once called upon Mme. Le Brun, and in his society and that of the Countess she saw everything at Parma. It was her first experience of an ancient, [91] thoroughly Italian city, for Turin cannot be considered either characteristic or interesting.

But the pictures and churches filled Lisette with delight, especially the masterpieces of Correggio, the glory of Parma.

In the huge medi?val palace the Infanta, sister of Marie Antoinette, held her court, and to her Mme. Le Brun was presented by M. de Flavigny.

Much older than the unfortunate Queen of France, and possessing neither her beauty nor charm, Mme. Le Brun did not take a fancy to her, although she received her very well. She was a strange person, with masculine manners and habits; her great pleasure apparently was riding. Very pale and thin, wearing deep mourning for her brother, the Emperor Joseph II., even her rooms being hung with black, she gave the impression almost of a spectre or a shadow.

After a few days at Parma, Lisette went on to Modena, Bologna, and Florence, under the escort of the Vicomte de Lespignière, a friend of M. de Flavigny, whose carriage kept close behind her own. As M. de Lespignière was going all the way to Rome—a journey not very safe for a woman with only a governess and child—this was an excellent arrangement; and they journeyed on pleasantly enough through Italy; the calm, sunny days, the enchanting scenes through which they passed, the treasures of art continually lavished around them, the light-hearted courtesy of the lower classes, the careless enjoyment and security of their present surroundings, contrasting strangely with the insolence and discomfort, the [92] discontent and bitterness, the gloom and terror from which they had so recently escaped.

They lingered for a while at Florence, unable to tear themselves away from that enchanting city, with its marvellous wealth of art and that beauty of its own, of walls and towers and palaces and ancient streets then undestroyed.

The long galleries of pictures and statues, the lovely churches filled with gems of art, the stately palaces and gardens, the cypress-crowned heights of San Miniato, and the whole life there, were enchanting to Lisette. She had been made a member of the Academy at Bologna; she was received with great honour at Florence, where she was asked to present her portrait to the city. She painted it in Rome, and it now hangs in the Sala of the great artists in the Uffizi. In the evening she drove along the banks of the Arno—the fashionable promenade, with the Marchesa Venturi, a Frenchwoman married to an Italian, whose acquaintance she had made. Had it not been for her anxiety about what was going on in France she would have been perfectly happy, for Italy had been the dream of her life, which was now being realised.
E. H. Bearne
IL PONTE VECCHIO, FLORENCE

With reluctance she left Florence, but after all her supreme desire was Rome, and when at length in the distance across the plain over which they were travelling, the dome of St. Peter’s rose before them, she could hardly believe she was not dreaming, and that Rome lay there. Through the Porta del Popolo, across the piazza, down the Corso, and up to the entrance of the French Academy they drove, and the long journey was finished.

[93]

M. Ménageot, the Director, came out to the carriage, offered her a little apartment for herself, her child, and governess, and lent her ten louis, for she had not enough left to pay her travelling expenses. Then having installed her in her rooms, he went with her to St. Peter’s.

The next day, just as she was starting for the Vatican Museum, the students of the Academy came to visit her, bringing her the palette of Drouais, a talented young painter whom she had known in Paris, and who had lately died. He had dined with her the evening before he started for Rome, and she was much touched at the recollection of him and at the request of the lads that she would give them some old brushes she had used.

It was necessary in the next place to look for a permanent abode, and this seemed to be difficult. The apartment in the French Academy was too small, though every one who knows Rome will understand what a temptation its magnificent situation must have been to stay there.

So she took rooms in the Piazza di Spagna, which is, of course, one of the most convenient and animated situations in Rome; but the noise, which never seems to inconvenience Italians, was insupportable to her. Carriages and carts, groups of people singing choruses, lovely in themselves, but distracting when they went on all night, made sleep impossible, and drove her to another dwelling, a small house in a quiet street which took her fancy. The whole house was so charming that, with her usual carelessness about money, she hastened to pay [94] the ten or twelve louis for the month’s rent, and took possession. She went to bed rejoicing in the silence, only broken by the splash of a fountain in the little courtyard; but in the middle of the night a horrible noise began which woke them all up and prevented any more sleep till the morning, when the landlady explained that there was a pump fastened to the wall outside, which was constantly being used by the washerwomen, who, as it was too hot to work in the day, began the washing at two o’clock in the morning. Accordingly Mme. Le Brun removed into a small palace, which she found damp and cold, as it had been uninhabited for nine years; it was also infested by armies of rats. She stayed there six weeks and then moved, this time on condition of sleeping one night in the house before paying the rent; but the beams of the ceilings were full of little worms, which gnawed all night long and made such a noise that she declared she could not sleep, and left the next day.

At last, in spite of her being unlucky or fanciful, or both, she succeeded in finding a dwelling-place, and as directly she arrived, visits and commissions began to pour upon her, she soon had plenty of money and plenty of society.

One of her first portraits was that of the Polish Countess Potocka who came with the Count, and directly he had gone away said to Mme. Le Brun: “That is my third husband, but I think I am going to take the first back again; he suits me better, though he is a drunkard.”

Lisette now settled down into that Roman life [95] which in those days was the most enchanting that could be imagined. M. Le Brun being no longer able to take possession of her money, she had enough for everything she wanted, and in fact during the years of her Italian career she sent him 1,000 écus in reply to a piteous letter, pleading poverty; and the same sum to her mother.

She had only to choose amongst the great personages who wanted their portraits painted; and she spent the time when she was not working in wandering amid the scenes to visit which had been the dream of her life. Ruins of temples, baths, acqueducts, tombs, and monuments of the vanished Empire, gorgeous churches and palaces of the Renaissance, huge never-ending galleries of statues and pictures, the glories of Greek and of medi?val art; Phidias and Praxiteles, Raffaelle, Michael Angelo, and Leonardo; the picturesque beauty of Rome, as it was then, the delicious gardens, since swept away by the greedy vandalism of their owners; the mighty Colosseum; the solemn desolate Campagna; all filled her mind and imagination and distracted her thoughts from France and the horrors going on there. At Rome in those days there certainly seemed to be everything that could be wished for to make life a paradise upon earth. Besides the natural beauty, the historical and arch?ological interest, and the treasures of art, the magnificence of the ecclesiastical functions, church services, stately processions, and entrancing music were a perpetual delight to her. “There is no city in the world,” she wrote to a [96] friend, “in which one could pass one’s time so deliciously as in Rome, even if one were deprived of all the resources of good society.”

Among the new friends she found most interesting was Angelica Kaufmann, who lived in Rome, and whose acquaintance she had long desired to make. That distinguished artist was then about fifty years old; her health had suffered from the troubles caused by her unfortunate marriage with an adventurer who had ruined her earlier years. She was now the wife of an architect, whom Lisette pronounced to be like her homme d’affaires. Sympathetic, gentle, and highly cultivated, Lisette found her conversation extremely interesting, although the calmness and absence of enthusiasm in her character contrasted strongly with her own ardent, imaginative nature. She showed her several both of her finished pictures and sketches, of which Lisette preferred the latter, the colour being richer and more forcible.

Mme. Le Brun painted the portraits and went to the parties of the chief Roman families, but did not form many intimate friendships amongst them, for most of her spare time was spent with the unfortunate refugees from France, of whom there were numbers in Rome during the years she lived there. Many of them were her friends who had, like herself, managed to escape. Amongst these were the Duke and Duchess de Fitz-James and their son, also the Polignac family, with whom Mme. Le Brun refrained out of prudence from being too much seen, lest reports should reach France that she was plotting with them against [97] the Revolution. For although she was out of the clutches of the Radicals and Revolutionists her relations were still within their reach, and might be made to suffer for her.

However they were none of them in the same danger that she would have been had she remained at Paris. None of them were at all conspicuous, and as far as any one could be said to be tolerably safe in France under the new reign of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, they might be supposed to be so.

Amongst others who arrived were the Duchesse de Fleury and Princesse Joseph de Monaco. The latter was a gentle, charming woman, whose devotion to her children was the cause of her death. After having escaped from France and arrived safely in Rome, she was actually foolish enough to go back to Paris with the idea of saving the remains of her fortune for her children. The Terror was in full force; she was arrested and condemned. Those who wished to save her entreated her to declare herself enceinte, by which many women had been spared. She would anyhow have gained a reprieve, and as it happened her life would have been saved, as the ninth Thermidor was rapidly approaching. But her husband was far away, and she indignantly refused, preferring death to such an alternative.

Quite another sort of woman was the Duchesse de Fleury, with whom Lisette formed an intimate friendship. The Duchess, née Aimée de Coigny, was a true type of the women of a certain set at the old French court, and her history was one [98] only possible just at the time in which it took place.

Beautiful, both in face and form, imaginative, brilliant, and fascinating; with charming manners and lax morality, her passionate love of art and natural beauty attracted her to Lisette, who found in her the companion she had long wished for.

They spent their evenings at the Maltese embassy, where the soirées of the Ambassador, Prince Camilla de Rohan, Grand Commander of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, were frequented by all the most intellectual and distinguished people in Rome. They made excursions to all the enchanting places within reach—Tivoli, Tusculum, Monte Mario, the Villa Adriano, and many another ancient palace or imposing ruin; and when the hot weather made Rome insupportable, they took a house together at Gensano, and spent the rest of the summer in those delicious woods. They hired three donkeys to make excursions, and took possession with delight of the ancient villa which had belonged to Carlo Maratta, some of whose sketches might still be seen on the walls of one of its great halls.

All that country, Frascati, L’Ariccia, Castel Gandolfo, Albano, Gensano, is a dream of beauty and romance. Lakes, mountains, and forests, picturesque towns and villages perched high upon the steep sides of precipices, rocks crowned with ruined towers or convents, ancient villas like huge palaces, with colonnades, fountains, and loggie, buried among deep woods of ilex and chestnut, in whose cool shade they could spend the bright, hot, glowing days.

[99]

In the evenings they rode or walked, watching the gorgeous sunset and afterglow; and in those radiant Italian nights, when the whole country lay white and brilliant under the light of the southern moon, they would wander through the woods glittering with glow-worms and fireflies, or perhaps by the shores of Lake Nemi, buried deep amongst wooded cliffs, a temple of Diana rising out of its waters.

The Duchesse de Fleury, who had attached herself with such enthusiastic affection to Mme. Le Brun, was scarcely sixteen, although in mind, character, and experience she was far older than her years.

Her mother having died in her early life, she was brought up by her father, the Comte de Coigny, at his chateau at Mareuil, an enormous place built by the celebrated Duchesse d’Angoulême (whose husband was the last of the Valois, though with the bend sinister), who died in 1713, and yet was the daughter-in-law of Charles IX., who died 1574. [38]

Married when a mere child to the Duc de Fleury, great-nephew of the Cardinal, there was no sort of affection between her husband and herself, each went their own way, and they were scarcely ever in each other’s society. He had also emigrated, but he was not in Rome, and Mme. Le Brun, who was very fond of her, foresaw with anxiety and [100] misgiving the dangers and difficulties which were certain to beset one so young, so lovely, so attractive, and so unprotected, with no one to guide or influence her. Full of romance and passion, surrounded with admiration and temptation, she was already carrying on a correspondence, which could not be anything but dangerous, with the Duc de Lauzun, a handsome, fascinating roué, who had not quitted France, and was afterwards guillotined.

It is difficult to understand how anybody who had escaped from France at that time should have chosen to go back there, except to save or help somebody dear to them.

As Mme. Le Brun remarked in her own case: “It is no longer a question of fortune or success, it is only a question of saving one’s life,” but many people were rash enough to think and act otherwise, and frequently paid dearly for their folly. Mme. de Fleury returned to Paris while, or just before, the Terror was raging, and availed herself of the revolutionary law, by which a husband or wife who had emigrated might be divorced. But soon after she had dissolved her marriage and resumed the name of Coigny she was arrested and sent to St. Lazare, one of the most terrible of the prisons of the Revolution, then crowded with people of all ages, ranks, and opinions.

Aimée de Coigny was no saint or heroine, like the Noailles, La Rochejaquelein, and countless others, whose ardent faith and steadfast devotion raised them above the horrors of their surroundings, and carried them triumphantly through danger, [101] suffering, and death to the life beyond, upon which their hearts were fixed; nor yet a republican enthusiast roughly awakened from dreams of “humanity,” “universal brotherhood,” and “liberty” under the rule of “The People,” whose way of carrying out these principles was so surprising.

Neither had she the anxiety and care for others which made heroes and heroines of so many in those awful times. She had no children, and the only person belonging to her—her father—had emigrated. She was simply a girl of eighteen suddenly snatched from a life of luxury and enjoyment, and shrinking with terror from the horrors around and the fate before her. Amongst her fellow-prisoners was André Chénier, the republican poet, who was soon to suffer death at the hands of those in whom his fantastic dreams had seen the regenerators of mankind. He expressed his love and admiration for her in a poem called “La jeune Captive,” of which the following are the first lines:—
“Est-ce à moi de mourir? Tranquille je m’endors,
Et tranquille je veille, et ma veille aux remords,
Ni mon sommeil ne sont en proie.
Ma bienvenue au jour me rit dans tous les yeux;
Sur des fronts abattus, mon aspect dans ces lieux
Ramène presque de la joie.”
Mon beau voyage encore est si loin de sa fin;
Je pars, et des ormeaux qui bordent le chemin,
J’ai passé les premiers à peine.
Au banquet de la vie à peine commencé
Un instant seulement mes lèvres ont pressé
La coupe en mes mains encore pleine.
Je ne suis qu’au printemps, je veux voir la moisson; [102]
Et comme le soleil, de saison en saison,
Je veux achever mon année.
Brilliante sur ma tige, et honneur du jardin,
Je n’ai vu luire encor que les feux du matin;
Je veux achever ma journée.”
* * * * *

Another of her fellow-prisoners, equally fascinated by her and able to render her more practical service, was M. de Montrond, a witty, light-hearted sceptic, a friend of Talleyrand.

It having come to his knowledge that a plot was preparing for another massacre in the prisons on pretence of conspiracy among the prisoners, whose names and lives were at the mercy of the spies within and the police and gaolers without, he contrived by paying a hundred louis to get his own and Mme. de Coigny’s liberation, and after the Terror was over they married and went to England for their honeymoon. At the end of two months they were tired of each other, came back to Paris and were divorced, and the Baronne de Montrond again resumed the name of Coigny.

When the Restoration took place and her father returned she devoted herself to him during the rest of his life; and as her first husband returned too and had an appointment in the household of Louis XVIII., she was always liable to meet him as well as her second husband in society.

In spite of all her social success hers was not a disposition to be happy. She was too excitable, emotional, and unreasonable. A liaison with a brother of Garat brought her much unhappiness, [103] and her unfortunate marriages and love affairs caused the Emperor Napoleon to say to her one day at some court entertainment—

“Aimez vous toujours les hommes?”

To which she replied—

“Oui, Sire, quand ils sont polis.”

Her last and only constant love affair was with the poet Lemercier, whose devotion never changed until her death in 1820, when she was forty-two years of age.


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