« PreviousContinue »
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 version.
MADAME DE SÉVIGNÉ TO M. DE COULANGES.
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
aux chiens !) Well, then, I must tell you. On Sunday M. de Lauzun' 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 not be difficult to find out. 'Tis Mme. la Vallière : not 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.
Gaston, Duke of Orleans, brother of Louis XIII. 3 For the original of this letter, see Appendix No. 1.
Rousseau, Madame de Maintenon, Madame de Villars, Madame du Deffand, Fontenelle, La Harpe, and Racine. The special characteristics of Fontenelle are liveliness and imagination ; of La Harpe, vanity and egotism ; and of Racine, goodness of both head and heart.
Not many years ago, my attention was called to the letters of a remarkable Frenchman, whose name is certainly not famous in his own country, while it is almost unknown among ourselves“I refer to Joseph Joubert, who died in the twentyfourth year of the present century, at the age of seventy, and of whose character and writings Matthew Arnold gives a most interesting résumé in one of his recent 'Essays.' Characterized throughout his life by 'a changeless preference of being to seeming, knowing to showing, and studying to publishing, the ex-Professor of Poetry further describes him as an unwearied note-taker, a charming letter-writer, above all, an excellent and delightful talker.' 'In spite of his infirmities, in spite of his sufferings, in spite of his obscurity, he was the happiest man alive.
. . He loved and sought light till he became so habituated to it, so accustomed to the joyful testimony of a good conscience, that, to use his
own words, “he could no longer exist without this, and was obliged to live without reproach if he would live without misery.”' In 1838 (fourteen years after Joubert's death), Chateaubriand edited a volume of his fragments, of which an admirable notice appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes, from the pen of M. Sainte-Beuve ; and so much curiosity was excited about the author that the collection has been thrice reprinted, enlarged by many interesting additions.
Unlike their French neighbours, the Germans do not appear to have particularly distinguished themselves in the department of correspondence. Towards the end of last century, the familiar epistles of Winckelmann were translated into French, and published at Amsterdam in two volumes; and within the last forty years, the letters of Zimmermann to his friends in Switzerland (Aarau, 1830), the correspondence of Goethe and Madame Bettina von Arnim (Paris, 1843), Schiller's correspondence with
1 The admirable letters of another distinguished Frenchman of the present century, who died at an early age, have lately been given to the public-Correspondance de Victor Jacquemont avec sa famille et ses amis pendant son voyage dans l'Inde, published at Paris in 1867.
Körner (London, 1849), and the letters of the two Humboldts (Leipzig and Strasburg, 185660), have been given to the world. Still more recently, the correspondence of three eminent German musicians—Mozart, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn—has been presented to the English public by means of Lady Wallace's successful translations.
Upwards of three hundred years ago (1564), a very interesting collection of Italian letters was published at Venice, in three pretty little volumes, under the joint editorship of Paul and Antonio Manuce and the younger Aldus. Among the writers which it embraces are Boccaccio, Petrarch, Michael Angelo, the Cardinal de Medici, Margaret Queen of Navarre, Pope Clement VII., and other eminent personages. In 1744, a series of letters of distinguished Italians of the seventeenth century was also published at Venice—the anonymous editor being Jacopo Maria Paitoni ; and about a hundred years later (1841), a similar collection was published at Reggio, pertaining to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which occupies no fewer than ten volumes.