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首页 » 经典英文小说 » Heroines of French Society » II LA MARQUISE DE MONTAGU CHAPTER I
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The House of Noailles—The court of Louis XV.—The Dauphin—The Dauphine—An evil omen—The Queen—The Convent of Fontevrault—Death of Mme. Thérèse—The Infanta—Madame Henriette and the Duc d’Orléans—Mesdames Victoire, Sophie, and Louise.
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ANNE PAULE DOMINIQUE DE NOAILLES was by birth, character, education, and surroundings a complete contrast to our last heroine. She belonged to the great house of Noailles, being the fourth of the five daughters of the Duc d’Ayen, eldest son of the Maréchal Duc de Noailles, a brilliant courtier high in the favour of Louis XV.

The Duchesse d’Ayen was the only daughter of M. d’Aguesseau de Fresne, Conseiller d’état, and grand-daughter of the great Chancellor d’Aguesseau. From her mother, daughter of M. Dupré, conseiller du parlement, she inherited a fortune of 200,000 livres de rente, in consequence of which her family were able to arrange her marriage with the young heir of the Noailles, then Comte d’Ayen.

The d’Aguesseau, qualifiés barons in 1683, were amongst the most respected of the noblesse de robe, but their position was not, of course, to be compared to that of the de Noailles, and Mlle. [162] d’Aguesseau was all the more pleased with the brilliant prospect before her, since her future husband was violently in love with her, and although a lad of sixteen, two years younger than herself, was so handsome, charming, and attractive, that she, in her calmer way, returned his affection.

And a lad of sixteen at the court of Louis XV. was very different from the average lad of that age in these days and this country, a shy, awkward schoolboy who knows nothing of the world or society, can only talk to other boys, and cares for nothing except sports and games. In the France, or at any rate the Paris, of those days, he was already a man and a courtier, probably a soldier, sometimes a husband and father. [50]

Likewise girls at fourteen or fifteen and even younger, who, with us, wear their hair down their backs, their petticoats half way up to their knees, and spend their time in lessons and play, were wives, mothers, court beauties, and distinguished members of society at the French Court of those days.

The marriage took place in February, 1755, when the cold was so intense that the navigation of the Seine was stopped by the ice, which at that time, when traffic was carried on chiefly by means of the rivers, was a serious inconvenience. [51] After the wedding the Comte and Comtesse d’Ayen went to live with his parents at the stately h?tel de [163] Noailles, now degraded into the h?tel St. James, while the vast, shady gardens that surrounded it [52] have long disappeared; shops and houses covering the ground where terraces, fountains, beds of flowers, and masses of tall trees then formed a scene of enchantment.

The family of Noailles was a large and powerful one, and, as Louis XVIII. remarks in his Mémoires, “Les Noailles ... etaient unis comme chair et ongle,” [53] and having been loaded with favours by Louis XIV. and Louis XV., seemed to think they had a natural right to all the best posts and highest honours. [54]

In the family of Noailles there had been six Marshals of France, and at the time of the marriage, the old Maréchal de Noailles, grandfather of the Count, was still living. [55] At his death, his son, also Maréchal, became of course Duc de Noailles, and his son, the husband of Mlle. d’Aguesseau, Duc d’Ayen, by which name it will be most convenient to call him to avoid confusion, from the beginning of this biography.

The Duc d’Ayen, though always retaining a deep affection for his wife, spent a great part of his time away from her. He was one of the most conspicuous and brilliant figures at the court, and besides entering eagerly into all its pleasures, dissipation, and extravagance, was a member of the Academy of Science; and although by no means an atheist or an enemy of religion, associated constantly with the “philosophers,” whose ideas [164] and opinions he, like many of the French nobles in the years preceding the Revolution, had partly adopted, little imagining the terrible consequences that would result from them.

Not so the Duchess, his wife. Brought up first in a convent and then under the care of her father, whose household, like those of many of the noblesse de robe, was regulated by a strictness and gravity seldom to be seen amongst the rest of the French nobles, Mme. d’Ayen cared very little for society, and preferred to stay at home absorbed in religious duties, charities, and domestic affairs, while her husband amused himself as he chose.

The power, security, and prosperity of the throne and royal family of France seemed to be at that time absolute and unassailable; and although of the ten or eleven children of Louis XV. and Marie Leczinska, the Dauphin was the only son who had lived to grow up, the succession to the crown appeared to be in no danger, as he had already two boys, the Ducs de Bourgogne and Berri; the Comte de Provence was born in November, 1755, and his birth was followed by that of the Comte d’Artois, besides the Princesses Clotilde and Elizabeth, who by the Salic law were excluded. The Queen, who was seven years older than the King, was already fifty-two. A woman of blameless character, she had never been pretty, attractive, or even sensible. D’Argenson, writing in 1750, says of her that she was very stupid, made silly remarks, reproved her children for trifles, and passed over serious faults. They were all so fond of eating that Mesdames kept port wine, ham, and other [165] things in a cupboard, and ate and drank at all hours.

Louis XV., at this time about forty-five, extremely handsome, immersed in a life of pleasure, magnificence, and vice, was then under the domination of the Duchesse de Chateauroux, ma?tresse en titre, the youngest of the five daughters of the Marquis de Nesle, four of whom had been for a longer or shorter period the mistresses of Louis XV. That such a father as the King should have had such a son as the Dauphin is astonishing indeed. The author of some fascinating memoirs of the day writes of him, “If I have not yet spoken of M. le Dauphin, do not suppose that it is from negligence or distraction, it is because the thought of his death always envelopes my mind like a funeral pall. His premature end is ever present with me, and is a subject of regret and affliction which I cannot approach without terrible emotion. He was so grievously mourned for, he has been so universally and justly praised, that there would not be much left me to tell you if I were not to speak of his perfect beauty, which was the least of his perfections, and which perhaps for that very reason, the writers of his time never mention.... His face and figure were perfectly formed; and he had, especially in the movement of his lips and the gentle, melancholy pride of his great black eyes, an expression which I have never seen unless perhaps in some old picture of the Spanish school ... he might have been an archangel of Murillo.... He carried with him the happiness of France and the peace of the world, but one felt that it would have [166] been perfect happiness, and that one would never experience it. The subjects, perhaps the family of the King his father had provoked such terrible chastisements, that we may sorrowfully say that France and the French of the eighteenth century were not worthy to be ruled by the Dauphin Louis.” [56]

Of the Dauphine, Marie-Josèphe de Saxe, as well as of his father, their son the Comte de Provence, afterwards Louis XVIII., writes in his Memoirs as follows: “His pure soul could not rest on this earth, his crown was not of this world, and he died young. France had to mourn the premature death of a prince, who, if he had lived might perhaps have saved the kingdom from the catastrophe of a blood-stained revolution, and his family from exile and the scaffold.

“My mother, worthy to be the wife of the Dauphin ... was, like him, good, pious, indulgent, attached to her duties, caring only for the happiness of others, loving the French as her own family. Her character, naturally grave and melancholy, was not without a gentle gaiety, which lent her an additional charm.... With all the philosophy of which some narrow minds have accused me as of a crime ... I have sometimes found myself, in the midst of great calamities, invoking the holy spirit of my mother and that of my august father.” [57]

The Dauphin’s eldest son, the Duc de Bourgogne, died in early childhood, leaving a fearful inheritance to his next brother, the Duc de Berri, afterwards Louis XVI. From his very birth ill-luck seemed to [167] overshadow him. The Dauphine was at Choisy-le-roy when he was born, and none of the royal family arrived in time to be present. The courier sent to Paris to announce the news fell from his horse at the barrière and was killed. The Abbe de Saujon, sent for to baptise him privately, was stricken with paralysis on the great staircase at Versailles. Of the three wet-nurses chosen for him two died within the week, and the third was seized with small-pox in six weeks.

“All this is not of good omen,” said the King, his grandfather, “and I don’t know how it can have happened that I have made him Duc de Berri; it is an unlucky name.” [58]

“Mesdames de France,” the King’s daughters, of whom there had been seven or eight, were now reduced to five, four of whom were unmarried. Nothing is more characteristic of the period than the way these princesses were brought up and educated; and the light thrown upon manners and customs early in the eighteenth century gives interest to all the details concerning them.

The Queen had bad health and saw very little of them, although she loved them in her apathetic way, but she was too much occupied with her devotions, her nerves, and her health to trouble herself much about them. If there was going to be a thunder-storm, or she was nervous and could not go to sleep, she would make one of her ladies sit by her bed all night, holding her hand and telling her stories. On [168] one occasion, after the death of the King’s mistress, the Duchesse de Chateauroux, she was dreadfully afraid lest she should see her ghost, and so tormented the lady-in-waiting who sat by her, that she at last exclaimed—

“But your Majesty must remember that even if the Duchess were to return to re-visit us, it would not be your Majesty she would come after.”

The King was very fond of his daughters, but had no idea of bringing them up properly. The four younger ones were sent to the convent of Fontevrault, in Anjou, to be educated, and as they never came home and were never visited by their parents, they were strangers to each other when, after twelve years, the two youngest came back. As to the others, Madame Victoire returned when she was fourteen, and Madame Thérèse, who was called Madame Sixième, because she was the sixth daughter of the King, died when she was eight years old at Fontevrault.

A fête was given to celebrate the recovery of the King from an illness; at which the little princess, although very unwell, insisted on being present. The nuns gave way, though the child was very feverish and persisted in sitting up very late. The next day she was violently ill with small-pox, and died.

The three eldest princesses, who had always remained at court, were, Louise-Elizabeth, called Madame; [59] handsome, clever, and ambitious; who was married to the Duke of Parma, Infant of Spain, [169] a younger son of Philip V., consequently her cousin. [60]

Next came her twin sister, Henriette, from whom she had parted almost heart-broken, when she reluctantly left France for Parma. Henriette was the King’s favourite daughter, the best and most charming of all the princesses. Lovely, gentle, and saintly, the Duc de Chartres [61] was deeply in love with her and she with him. The King was disposed to allow the marriage, but was dissuaded by Cardinal Fleury. If the Infanta had been in question she would have got her own way, but Henriette was too yielding and submissive. She died at twenty-five years of age, of the small-pox, so fatal to her race (1752) to the great grief of the court and royal family, and especially of the King, by whom she was adored.

At the time of the marriage of the young M. and Mme. d’Ayen, the Princesse Adéla?de had to some extent, though never entirely, succeeded the Princesse Henriette in the King’s affection, and was now supposed to be his favourite daughter. She had, however, none of her elder sister’s charm, gentleness, or beauty; being rather plain, with a voice like that of a man. She had a strong, decided character, and more brains than her younger sisters, Victoire, Sophie, and Louise; she was fond of study, especially of music, Italian, and mathematics.

Two or three years before the marriage of the [170] young M. and Mme. d’Ayen, his father the Duke, who was captain in the gardes-du-corps, [62] was consulted by one of the guards of his regiment, who in much perplexity showed him a costly snuff-box which had been mysteriously sent him, and in which was a note as follows: “Ceci vous sera précieux; on vous avertira bient?t de quelle main il vient.” [63]

The Duke, whose suspicions were aroused, told the King, who desired to see the snuff-box, and recognised it as one he had given to Madame Adéla?de. It appeared that that young princess, then twenty years old, had taken a fancy to the garde-du-corps, who was very good-looking. The King gave him a pension of 4,000 louis to go away for a long time to the other end of the kingdom, and the affair was at an end. [64]

Each of the princesses had her own household, and when mere children they gave balls and received the ambassadors. It was the custom that in the absence of the King, Queen, and Dauphin, the watchword should be given to the sentinel by the eldest princess present. On one occasion when this was Madame Adéla?de, her governess, then the Duchesse de Tallard, complained to Cardinal Fleury that it was not proper for the princess, being a young girl, to whisper in a man’s ear. The Cardinal spoke to the King, who decided that although Madame Adéla?de must still give the consigne, she [171] should first ask her governess the name of which saint she was to say.

Madame Victoire was very pretty, all the rest except the two eldest, were plain; and her parents were delighted with her when she returned from the convent. The King and Dauphin went to meet her at Sceaux and took her to Versailles to the Queen, who embraced her tenderly. Neither she nor her younger sisters were half educated, but the Dauphin, who was very fond of them and had great influence over them persuaded them to study.

When first Madame Victoire appeared at court her sisters, Henriette and Adéla?de, and her brother the Dauphin, who were inseparable, were inclined to find her in the way and treat her as a child, but they soon became very fond of her, and she at once had her own household and took part in all the court gaieties as her sisters had done from the earliest age.

The Queen, too indolent to write to them separately, on one occasion when she was at Compiègne and they at Versailles, wrote as follows:—

“J’embrasse la gracieuse souveraine,[65] la sainte Henriette, la ridicule Adéla?de la belle Victoire.”

Henriette and Adéla?de were devoted to their old governess, the Duchesse de Ventadour. They got her an appartement next to theirs at Versailles, and in her salon, amongst her friends, they always spent an hour or two every evening after supper. Madame Henriette used to say it was the happiest part of her day. The Duchesse de Ventadour was an excellent woman, though she had been rather galante [65] in her [172] youth. She and her mother had brought up twenty-three “Children of France.” The mother was said to have saved the life of Louis XV. by giving him a counter-poison.


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