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MAKING AN ABBÉ OF SCARRON.
Parisian, with as little care for morality or religion as any youth who saunters on the Boulevards of the French capital to this day.
But his stepmother was not content with getting rid of young Paul, but had her eye also on his fortune, and therefore easily persuaded her husband that the service of the church was precisely the career for which the young reprobate was fitted. There was an uncle who was Bishop of Grenoble, and a canonry could easily be got for him. The fast youth was compelled to give into this arrangement, but declined to take full orders; so that while drawing the revenue of his stall, he had nothing to do with the duties of his calling. Then, too, it was rather a fashionable thing to be an abbé, especially a gay one. The position placed you on a level with people of all ranks. Half the court was composed of love-making ecclesiastics, and the soutane was a kind of diploma for wit and wickedness. Viewed in this light, the church was as jovial a profession as the army, and the young Scarron went to the full extent of the letter allowed to the black gown. It was only such stupid superstitious louts as those of Mans, who did not know any thing of the ways of Paris life, who could object to such little freaks as he loved to indulge in.
The merry little abbé was soon the delight of the Marais. This distinct and antiquated quarter of Paris was then the May-fair of that capital. Here lived in ease, and contempt of the bourgeoisie, the great, the gay, the courtier, and the wit. Here Marion de Lorme received old cardinals and young abbés; here were the salons of Madame de Martel, of the Comtesse de la Suze, who changed her creed in order to avoid seeing her husband in this world or the next, and the famous -or infamous—Ninon de l’Enclos; and at these houses young Scarron met the courtly Saint-Evremond, the witty Sarrazin, and the learned, but arrogant Voiture. Here he read his skits and parodies, here travestied Virgil, made epigrams on Richelieu, and poured out his indelicate but always laughable witticisms. But his indulgences were not confined to intrigues; he also drank deep, and there was not a pleasure within his reach, which he ever thought of denying himself. He laughed at religion, thought morality'a nuisance, and resolved to be merry at all costs.
The little account was brought in at last. At the age of five-and-twenty his constitution was broken up. Gout and rheumatism assailed him alternately or in leash. He began to feel the annoyance of the constraint they occasioned; he regretted those legs which had figured so well in a ronde or a minuet, and those bands which had played the lute to dames
SCARRON'S LAMENT TO PELLISSON.
more fair than modest; and, to add to this, the pain he suffered was not slight. He sought relief in gay society, and was cheerful in spite of his sufferings. At length came the Shrove Tuesday and the feathers; and the consequences were terrible. He was soon a prey to doctors, whom he believed in no more than in the church of which he was so great a light. His legs were no longer his own, so he was obliged to borrow those of a chair. He was soon tucked down into a species of dumb-waiter on castors, in which he could be rolled about in a party, just as the late Lady Charleville was. In front of this chair was fastened a desk, on which he wrote; for too wise to be overcome by his agony, he drove it away by cultivating his imagination, and in this way some of the most fantastic productions in French literature were composed by this quaint little abbé. Nor was sickness his only trial now.
Old Scarron was a citizen, and had, what was then criminal, sundry ideas of the liberty of the nation. He saw with disgust the tyranny of Richelieu, and joined a party in the Parliament to oppose the cardinal's measures.
He even had the courage to speak openly against one of the court edicts; and the pitiless cardinal, who never overlooked any offense, banished him to Touraine, and naturally extended his animosity to the conseiller's son. This happened at a moment at which the cripple believed himself to be on the road to favor. He had already won that of Madame de Hautefort, on whom Louis XIII. had set his affections, and this lady had promised to present him to Anne of Austria. The father's honest boldness put a stop to the son's intended servility, and Scarron lamented his fate in a letter to Pellisson :
“O mille écus, par malheur retranchés,
Qu'il fit depuis sur un certain édit.” The father died in exile : his second wife had spent the greater part of the son's fortune, and secured the rest for her own children. Scarron was left with a mere pittance, and, to complete his troubles, was involved in a lawsuit about the prop
THE OFFICE OF THE QUEEN'S PATIENT.
erty. The cripple, with his usual impudence, resolved to plead his own cause, and did it only too well; he made the judges laugh so loud that they took the whole thing to be a farce on his part, and gave-most ungratefully-judgment against him.
Glorious days were those for the penniless, halcyon days for the toady and the sycophant. There was still much of the old oriental munificence about the court, and sovereigns like Mazarin and Louis XIV. granted pensions for a copy of flattering verses, or gave away places as the reward of a judicious speech. Sinecures were legion, yet to many a holder they were no sinecures at all, for they entailed constant servility and a complete abdication of all freedom of opinion.
Scarron was nothing more than a merry buffoon. Many another man has gained a name for his mirth, but most of them have been at least independent. Scarron seems to have cared for nothing that was honorable or dignified. He laughed at every thing but money, and at that he smiled, though it is only fair to say that he was never avaricious, but only cared for ease and a little luxury.
When Richelieu died, and the gentler, but more subtle Mazarin mounted his throne, Madame de Hautefort made another attempt to present her protégé to the queen, and this time succeeded. Anne of Austria had heard of the quaint little man who could laugh over a lawsuit in which his whole fortune was staked, and received him graciously. He begged for some place to support him. What could he do? What was he fit for? “Nothing, your majesty, but the important office of The Queen's Patient; for that I am fully qualified.” Anne smiled, and Scarron from that time styled himself" par la grace de Dieu, le malade de la Reine.” But there was no stipend attached to this novel office. Mazarin procured him a pension of 500 crowns. He was then publishing his "Typhon, or the Gigantomachy," and dedicated it to the cardinal, with an adulatory sonnet. He forwarded the great man a splendidly-bound copy, which was accepted with nothing more than thanks. In a rage the author suppressed the sonnet and substituted a satire. This piece was bitterly cutting, and terribly true. It galled Mazarin to the heart, and he was undignified enough to revenge himself by canceling the poor little pension of £60 per annum which had previously been granted to the writer. Scarron having lost his pension, soon afterward asked for an abbey, but was refused. “Then give me,” said he, “a simple benefice, so simple, indeed, that all its duties will be comprised in believing in God.” But Scarron had the satisfaction of gaining a great name among the cardinal's many enemies, and with none more so than De Retz, then coadju
SCARRON'S DESCRIPTION OF HIMSELF.
teur* to the Archbishop of Paris, and already deeply implicated in the Fronde movement. To insure the favor of this rising man, Scarron determined to dedicate to him a work he was just about to publish, and on which he justly prided himself as by far his best. This was the “Roman Comique,” the only one of his productions which is still read. That it should be read, I can quite understand, on account not only of the ease of its style, but of the ingenuity of its improbable plots, the truth of the characters, and the charming bits of satire which are found here and there, like gems, amid a mass of mere fun. The scene is laid at Mans, the town in which the author had himself perpetrated his chief follies; and many of the characters were probably drawn from life, while it is likely enough that some of the stories were taken from facts which had there come to his knowledge. As in many of the romances of that age, a number of episodes are introduced into the main story, which consists of the adventures of a strolling company. These are mainly amatory, and all indelicate, while some are positively dirty, and as coarse as any thing in French literature. Scarron had little of the clear wit of Rabelais to atone for this; but he makes up for it, in a measure, by the utter absurdity of some of his incidents. Not the least curious part of the book is the Preface, in which he gives a description of himself, in order to contradict, as he affirms, the extravagant reports circulated about him, to the effect that he was set upon a table in a cage, or that his hat was fastened to the ceiling by a pulley, that he might“pluck it up or let it down, to do compliment to a friend, who honored him with a visit.” This description is a tolerable specimen of his style, and we give it in the quaint language of an old translation, published in 1741:
“I am past thirty, as thou may'st see by the back of my Chair. If I live to be forty, I shall add the Lord knows how many Misfortunes to those I have already suffered for these eight or nine Years last past. There was a Time when my Stature was not to be found Fault with, tho' now 'tis of the smallest. My Sickness has taken me shorter by a Foot. My Head is somewhat too big, considering my Height; and my • Face is full enough, in all Conscience, for one that carries such a Skeleton of a Body about him. I have Hair enough on my Head not to stand in need of a Peruke; and 'tis gray, too, in spight of the Proverb. My Sight is good enough, tho'
my Eyes are large; they are of a blue Color, and one of them is sunk deeper into my Head than the other, which was occasion’d by my leaning on that Side. My Nose is well enough mounted. My Teeth, which in the Days of Yore look'd like
* Coadjuteur.-A high office in the Church of Rome.
IMPROVIDENCE AND SERVILITY.
a Row of square Pearl, are now of an Ashen Color; and in a few Years more, will have the Complexion of a Small - coal Man's Saturday Shirt. I have lost one Tooth and a half on the left Side, and two and a half precisely on the right; and I have two more that stand somewhat out of their Ranks. My Legs and Thighs, in the first place, compose an obtuse Angle, then a right one, and lastly an acute. My Thighs and Body make another; and my Head, leaning perpetually over my Belly, I fancy makes me not very unlike the Letter Z. My Arms are shortened, as well as my Legs; and my Fingers as well as my Arms. In short, I am a living Epitome of human Misery. This, as near as I can give it, is my Shape. Since I am got so far, I will e'en tell thee something of my Humor. Under the Rose, be it spoken, Courteous Reader, I do this only to swell the Bulk of my Book, at the Request of the Bookseller—the poor Dog, it seems, being afraid he should be a Loser by this Impression, if he did not give Buyer enough for his Money.”
This allusion to the publisher reminds us that, on the suppression of his pension-on hearing of which Scarron only said, T I should like, then, to suppress myself”—he had to live on the profits of his works. In later days it was Madame Scarron herself who often carried them to the bookseller's, when there was not a penny in the house. The publisher was Quinet, and the merry wit, when asked whence he drew his income, used to reply with mock haughtiness, “ De mon Marquisat de Quinet." His comedies, which have been described as mere burlesques—I confess I have never read them, and hope to be absolved—were successful enough, and if Scarron had known how to keep what he made, he might sooner or later have been in easy circumstances. He knew neither that nor any other art of self-restraint, and, therefore, was in perpetual vicissitudes of riches and penury. At one time he could afford to dedicate a piece to his sister's greyhound, at another he was servile in his address to some prince or duke.
In the latter spirit, he humbled himself before Mazarin, in spite of the publication of his “Mazarinade,” and was, as he might have expected, repulsed. He then turned to Fouquet, the new Surintendant de Finances, who was liberal enough with the public money, which he so freely embezzled, and extracted from him a pension of 1600 francs (about £64). In one way or another, he got back a part of the property his stepmother had alienated from him, and obtained a prebend in the diocese of Mans, which made up his income to something more respectable.
He was now able to indulge to the utmost his love of soci