Page images
PDF
EPUB

her is the less interesting from being a correspondence purely of a private nature, addressed to the President Hénault, during a month's absence at a watering-place, to which she betook herself, in the language of the President," pour une grosseur.This correspondence is as old as 1742, and furnishes scarcely a single extract by which we can hope to convey much amusement, unless it may be drawn from the whimsical complaints made by the Marquise against her humble companion, Madame Pequigni :

“ Let us come to a much more interesting subject, I mean my companion. O my God! how she disgusls me ! she is positively nad; she has no stated hours for her meals ; she breakfasted at Gisors at eight on cold veal, afterward had a sop in the pan, then large biscuits, &c. &c. She pretends to have imagination, and to see every thing under a peculiar aspect; and, having no original ideas, she makes up for them by whimsical expressions, under the pretext of being perfectly natural. She tells me of all her fancies, in assuring me that she consults only my convenience, but I am afraid of becoming her humble companion. --She tried just now to establish herself in my apartment, to take her meals : but I told her that I was going to write, and begged her to inform Madame Laroche when she would eat, what she would eat, and where she would eat, and said that I expected the same liberty.

“She made me sit at table with her to day tête-à-tête for full an hour and a quarter to see her pick, suck, and eat all that she at first refused : she is insupportable; I tell you so for the last time, for I will not permit myself to speak of her any more ; I feel it would' sound ill, living under the same roof, and caring off the same cloth. O what a roof! and what a cloth! If lever quit this place, never will I return to it."

Notwithstanding this courteous resolution, the aukward Pequigni hardly escapes the satire of her penetrating companion in a single succeeding letter: but the prudent lady begs her friend not to tell Madame de Luynes of her dissatisfaction: “ it is dangerous to tell her what one thinks : it is furnishing her with arms against oneself, which she uses according to her caprice ; tell her only that there appears no great fondness on my part, that I speak very highly of her, but that you doubt whether a very intimate union will ever be formed between us.” This little ruse of a great lady is followed by another, which is not less entertaining :

« Tell me all the news, even politics; this will secure for me a superiority, of which I avail myself so as not to rise from my arm-chair, not to return visits," &c. Much liveliness is exhibited in Madame du DEFFAND'S

portraits scattered through this series of letters : but, when the originals are totally unknown to the reader, he can feel little interest in the copy. The extreme freedom, that per

vadcs

vades the epistolary dialogues, between a gentleman and a lady, might be proved by more examples than we should find it quite pleasant to make; and one will be sufficient, in which we meet with the oddest reflection on Death that ever perhaps proceeded from a female pen:

“ Do you think that I shall ever see you again ? do you think that I shall ever return to la rue de Beaune ?? do you think that I shall once more sop in your company? All my fear is that I shall die in this place: it would be a sad destiny to be interred in the burying ground of the Capuchins, and to be bedewed by the (in French, pissat) of all the inhabitants of clinicus, Abbeville, Orleans,&c.

This moving “ Meditation among the Tombs,which escaped the vigilant Hervey, gives a new and certainly a most melancholy picture of a watery grave !

We find no more passages in the letters of Madame nu DEFFAND that we can present to the reade: 's notice : but one of several portraits executed at the end of the work is so bold, lively, and discriminating, that it must be a likeness. It is taken from the Chevalier d’Aydie.

“ He has a warm, a strong, and a rigorous understanding ; every thing in hiin has the force and the truth of sontiment. It was said of Fontenelle that, instead of a heart, he had a double portion of brains : the contrary of this would define the Chevaliar d' Agilie.

“ His ideas have never been subtilized and chilled by vain ideia plıysics ; all is first impression with him; his phrascology is strong and energetic ; and if he is sometimes embarrassed in choosing the word best adapted to his thought, the hesitation gives more spring and more warmth to liis language. From nobody does he horrow idean, opinions, or manners; what he thinks, as well as what he says, is always original and natural ; in short, the Chevalier d' Aydlie dein it. strates that the language of passion is the only sublime and genuine eloquence.

• But the heart has not the faculty of always feeling; it has moments of rep: se and inaction. Then the Chevalier is not ihe same person ; his lights are extinguished ; involved in darkness, if he speaks, it is no longer with the same eloqnence ; his ideas have not the same justice, nor his expressions the same energy, they are only exaggesated : one sees that he is seeking, and unable to find, himself : the original has disappeared, and the copy alune remains.

“Though the Chevalier d' Aydie is full of passion, yet he is not the most tender man in the world, nor the most capable of attachment; he is affected by too many different objects, to be constantly actuated by any one in particular; he is accessible to every sort of impression ; merit, of whatever nature, excites in him the enotions of sensibility; in his company we enjoy the pleasure of larning our own value by the delight which he shews; and this kind of approbation is much more flattering than that which is granted by the understanding, without the participation of the heart.

“ The Chevalier cannot be a calm spectator of the follies of mankind; whatever violates probity, becomes his individual quarrel : 5

without

1

1

without pity for vices, or indulgence for absurdities, he is the terror of fools and knaves. They attack him on the consciousness and the ostentation of his morality: they say that the truly virtuous are more indulgent, more easy, and more simple.

“ He is too susceptible of transient emotions to have the most even temper : but his inequalities are rather agreeable than distressing. Melancholy without being dejected, misanthropic but not rude, always sincere and original in his various changes, he pleases by his peculiar defects, and we should be sorry to sec him more perfect than he is." From the

very

miscellaneous correspondences comprized in these volumes between men of the highest reputation, and frequently bearing no relation to the lady who has been made to stand godmother to them, we have not room to make numerous extracts, though we have found many extremely entertaining passages. D'Alembert appears to great advantage: but we must not omit the opportunity of inserting two letters from Montesquieu, which appear to us highly and agreeably characteristic. They explain their own subjects. The first is addressed to the President Hénault.

“ Most willingly, my illustrious brother President, would I give three or four books of the Spirit of Laws, to be able to write such a letter as yours; and to your sentiments of esteem I return a great deal of admiration. You restore life to my soul, which is languishing and dead, and incapable of any thing but repose. To have had the

of amusing you at Compiègne is real glory for ine. My dear President, allow me to love you, allow me to remember the charms of your society, as we remember the places which we have known in our youth, when we exclaim--“ I then was happy!”-You give serious lectures to the court, without losing any of your agreeable qualities; and 1, having nothing to do, cannot resolve on doing any thing. I have always felt this: the less we labour, the less we have the power of labouring. You are in the region of changes: but here, around us, every thing is motionless. The marine, foreign affairs, finances,-all appears to us the same thing: it is true that we have no great delicacy of tact. I hear that we have had at Bourdeaux several counsellors of the parliament of Paris, who, since the vacation, are come to admire the beauties of our city ; and a city to which we are not banished has more beauties than another. My dear President, I will love you as long as I live.“ Montesquieu.

The following extract is from a letter addressed by the same great man to D'Alembert, in 1753, when the latter was engaged with Diderot in preparing the Encyclopédie : - You have imparted great pleasure to me

I have perused and reperused your preliminary discourse: it is powerful, enchanting. precise, with more thoughts than words, and sentiments worthy of the thoughts, and I could never tire of praising it.

“ As to my introduction into the Encyclopédie, it is a noble palace in which I should be proud to set my foot : but as to the two articles, Democracy and Desporism, I would rather not take them ; I have already drawn on my brains for their whole contents on those subjects. My

understand

power

understanding is a mould, which produces always the same images : 1 could only say what I had said before, and should repeat it probably in a worse style. If you will have me, leave to my own mind the choice of some articles, and that choice shall be made at Madame du Deffand's over a glass of Marasquino. Father Castel says that he cannot cor. rect, because, in correcting his work, he makes it quite different ; for my part, I cannot correct because I always sing the same tune. It occurs to me that I may possibly take the article of Taste, and I shall prove that difficile est propriè communia dicere."

In billets*of gallantry and sprightliness, the President is not so much at home; yet nearly all these letters are excellent, though in the highest degree desultory but it is time to pass to the second collection announced at the head of this article,

“ A contrast wide as wintry storms and spring." Madame pu DEFFAND, when first deprived of her eye-sight, prevailed on Mademoiselle de L’ESPINASSE, who had been educated at a convent, without ever knowing her parents or even who they were, to live at her house and alleviate her sufferings by reading and writing for her. Mademoiselle soon displayed taste and talents equal to those of her protectress, and was moreover young, handsome, and new. It is not wonderful, then, that the inconstant literati transferred a great part of their admiration to the more agreeable object; nor that Madame du DEFFAND soon dismissed and never forgave her. It is testified by la Harpe and by Marmontel that Mad. Du D.'s conduct was brutal and insulting; and she even went so far as to call on d'Alembert to make his election between renouncing his long established intimacy

with her, and resolving to forego the society of the youthful L'ESPINASSE. His choice most probably confounded' her, since he preferred his new acquaintance at that price, without a moment’s hesitation; and it is singular that, in an illness which afterward attacked him, he resided in the house and was restored by the assiduous kindness of his grateful friend. It is still more singular that he should never afterward leave her; and that this Platonic union, continued for many years under the same roof, never occasioned the smallest scandal or suspicion.

The above details are taken from the two notices prefixed to these respective publications. We are enabled to add, from a note that occurs in M. Grimoard's late edition of Lord Bolingbroke's Letters *, (tom. 2. p. 432.) the following curious particulars :

"Madame de Tencin, one of his lordship's friends and mistresses, the sister of his most constant correspondent Madame de Ferriol, having taken the veil at an early age, procured a dispensation * See the ist. Article in this Appendix.

from

from her vows, and was famous for gallantry, ambition, brokerage of money, (a favourite employment of the French nobility at the time of Law's unbounded in Auence at Paris,) politics, and literature. She had an amour with M. Cumus Destouches, which gave birth to this very D'Alembert, whom she wholly neglected: but his father, in causing him to be exposed, assigned him a pension of 1200 frances, and gave a note with the necessary authority for receiving that sum, to whatever person should maintain him. The child was picked up and bred by a woman who sold glass. It was afterward his whim. sical destiny to form an intimate connection with Mademoiselle de l'Espinasse, who died in June 1776, and with whom at last he lodged : she was the bastard of the Cardinal de Tencin, as D'Alembert was of Madame de Tencin, the sister of that prelate; - a most singular identity of origin and sort of relationship, considering the intimacy of these two individuals, of which that relationship was neither the cause nor the principle. They had become acquainted at the house of Madame du Deffand, where Mademoiselle de l'Espinasse served ber apprenticeship of bel esprit."

From some expressions in the biographical notices, we apprehend that these first cousins, the illegitimate children of the Cardinal and the Changinesse, were always ignorant of their relationship; to which no allusion is ever made by either La Harpe or Marmontel, nor by the lady herself in the course of these letters, though the name of her inmate repeatedly occurs in them. Will this curious fact be quoted in support of the theory of natural affection ?-many theories have been built on a less reasonable basis.

The house of Mademoiselle de L'Espinasse, thus tenanted, became, after her separation from her former friend, the resort of the most brilliant literary society which Paris could boast; yet we confess that her letters have entirely disappointed us. They have none of that variety which forms the best charm of a correspondence, but are all addressed to a single person, whose answers do not appear, and are full of the most resolute lovemaking ever evinced by woman to man since the amours of Calypso and Ulysses. They may perhaps display great force of sentimental language, and great felicity in analyzing the soft emotions : but, on the whole, we think that they are calculated to fatigue English readers by their monotony, and to disgust them by their want of delicacy. We do not mean that decency is ever violated: but the lady's vehement declarations of the most tender sentiments, and her importunate demands of a return to them, are not consistent with English old-fashioned feelings of propriety; which are the more severely shocked, inasmuch as the correspondence begins soon after the death of a former lover, to whom the lady professes inviolable attachment, and continues in spite of the intervening marriage to another woman of the Phaon of this modern Sappho : who is

« PreviousContinue »