Page images

Madame de Sévigné.


gination, which invested the most insignificant subjects with an air of dignity; the other a playful imagination, which caused a tone of gallantry to pervade all his thoughts. The one, even when he wished to jest, was always grave; the other, on the most serious occasions, provoked a smile.'

Marie de Rabutin Chantal, afterwards Madame de Sévigné, was born at Paris in the year 1626. Deprived of both her parents at a very early age, she was carefully educated under the superintendence of her maternal uncle, M. de Coulanges, the abbé of Livry, whose amiable character is pleasantly indicated by the soubriquet of Bien-bon,' which she herself applies to him. At the age of eighteen, she married the Marquis of Sévigné, who was killed in a duel about seven years afterwards, leaving a son and a daughter, to whose education the young widow religiously devoted herself. Immediately after her daughter's marriage, in 1669, to the Count de Grignan, Lieutenant-General in Languedoc, she commenced that long-continued correspondence which embraces the greater proportion of her celebrated letters. To read your letters,' she tells her daughter, and to write to you, is

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


Characteristics of

the chief business of my life; all gives way to that; and to love as I love you makes all other friendships seem frivolous.' Although somewhat severely criticised by Lady M. W. Montagu, the letters of Madame de Sévigné have long been generally regarded as models of graceful diction; and from first to last they furnish abundant evidence of the brilliant wit, the vivid imagination, and the exquisite taste, for which the writer was so eminently distinguished. 'They are filled,' says Voltaire, 'with anecdotes, written with freedom, and in a natural and animated style; are an excellent criticism on studied letters of wit, and still more on those fictitious letters which aim at the epistolary style, by a recital of false sentiments and feigned adventures to an imaginary correspondent.' 'Their ease and freedom from affectation,' says Hallam, ‘are more striking by contrast with the two epistolary styles which had been most admired in France, that of Balzac, which is laboriously tumid, and that of Voiture, which becomes insipid by dint of affectation. Every one perceives that, in the Letters of a Mother to her Daughter, the public, in a strict sense, is not thought of; and yet the habit of

Madame de Sévigné's Letters.


speaking and writing what men of wit and taste would desire to hear and read, gives a certain mannerism, I will not say air of effort, even to the letters of Madame de Sévigné. . . . Her wit and talent of painting by single touches are very eminent. Scarcely any collection of letters, which contain so little that can interest a distant age, are read with such pleasure. If they have any general fault, it is a little monotony and excess of affection towards her daughter, which is reported to have wearied its object; and, in contrast with this, a little want of sensibility towards all beyond her immediate friends, and a readiness to find something ludicrous in the dangers and. sufferings of others.' These remarkable letters may be described as the eloquent journal of the age of Louis Quatorzefaithfully reflecting, as they do, the tone and genius of the Court of that 'magnificent' monarch, besides touching upon most of the leading events in other parts of Europe during the seventeenth century. The most complete edition of Madame de Sévigné's letters is that of De Montmerqué, in thirteen volumes, published in 1818. A small selection, translated into English, was published in London in 1853, under the



Announcement of a

title of Beauties of French Literature, edited by Mr. James Lowe. Madame de Sévigné died in 1696, in the 71st year of her age. One of the letters which she addressed to M. de Coulanges respecting the projected marriage between de Lauzun and the great Mademoiselle,' may be given as a specimen of her lively, piquant style; but I need scarcely state that, although the translation is a very good one, much of the spirit of the original is lost in the English



PARIS, 15th December 1670.

I am going to tell you of the most astounding, the most surprising, the most marvellous, the most miraculous, the most triumphant, the most bewildering, the most unheard-of, the most singular, the most extraordinary, the most incredible, the most unlooked-for, the greatest, the smallest, the rarest, the commonest, the most notorious, the most secret until to-day, the most brilliant, and the most enviable affair ;—an affair which we cannot believe in Paris, so how will you believe it at Lyons?—an affair which makes everybody exclaim with wonder; an affair which delights Mme. de Rohan and Mme. de Hauterive; an affair which, when it is accomplished on Sunday, all who see it will think they see double; an affair which is to happen on Sunday, but which may not be finished on Monday. I cannot make up my mind to tell you; guess it; I give you three guesses. Do you give it up? (Jetez-vous votre langue

Contemplated Marriage.


aux chiens?) Well, then, I must tell you. On Sunday M. de Lauzun1 is to marry at the Louvre-whom do you think? I give you four guesses, I give you ten, I give you a hundred ! Madame de Coulanges says this should

[ocr errors]


not be difficult to find out. 'Tis Mme. la Vallière at all, madam; then 'tis Mlle. de Retz: nothing of the kind-you are shockingly provincial. Ah, really how silly of us, say you-it is Mlle. Colbert: still less; then 'tis certainly Mlle. Créqui: worse and worse. So, after all, I must tell you. On Sunday, then, he marries at the Louvre, by the King's permission, Mademoiselle-Mademoiselle de -; guess what Mademoiselle. Why, faith, and by my faith, my pledged faith, he is to marry Mademoiselle, MADEMOISELLE, the great Mademoiselle; Mademoiselle, the daughter of MONSIEUR; Mademoiselle, the granddaughter of Henri IV.; Mademoiselle d'Eu, Mademoiselle Dombes, Mademoiselle de Montpensier, Mademoiselle d'Orléans, Mademoiselle, cousin-german of the King; Mademoiselle, heir to the throne; Mademoiselle, the only wife in France worthy of MONSIEUR. There is a fine subject to talk about. If you exclaim, if you are beside yourselves, if you say that we have lied, that it is false, that we are joking with you, that it is a fine story, that it is a silly invention-if, in fine, you abuse us, we will excuse you; we have done as much before. Adieu; the letters which will come by the post will convince you whether we tell truth or not.3

As other celebrated French letter-writers, I may mention the names of Cardinal Mazarin,

1 Antonin Nompar de Chumont, Marquis de Puiguilhem, depuis Duc de Lauzun.

2 Gaston, Duke of Orleans, brother of Louis XIII.

3 For the original of this letter, see Appendix No. I.

« PreviousContinue »