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so overwhelmed by grief for the sudden loss of his father,

time:2023-12-01 13:40:26 Source: Originally writtenedit:reading

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so overwhelmed by grief for the sudden loss of his father,

About the middle of August, 1747, King Friedrich, I find, was at home;--not in his new SANS-SOUCI by any means, but running to and fro; busy with his Musterings, "grand review, and mimic attack on Bornstadt, near Berlin;" INVALIDEN-HAUS (Military Hospital) getting built; Silesian Reviews just ahead; and, for the present, much festivity and moving about, to Charlottenburg, to Berlin and the different Palaces; Wilhelmina, "August 15th," having come to see him; of which fine visit, especially of Wilhelmina's thoughts on it,--why have the envious Fates left us nothing!

so overwhelmed by grief for the sudden loss of his father,

While all this is astir in Berlin and neighborhood, there is, among the innumerable other visits in this world, one going on near Paris, in the Mansion or Palace of Sceaux, which has by chance become memorable. A visit by Voltaire and his divine Emilie, direct from Paris, I suppose, and rather on the sudden. Which has had the luck to have a LETTER written on it, by one of those rare creatures, a seeing Witness, who can make others see and believe. The seeing Witness is little Madame de Staal (by no means Necker's Daughter, but a much cleverer), known as one of the sharpest female heads; she from the spot reports it to Madame du Deffand, who also is known to readers. There is such a glimpse afforded here into the actuality of old things and remarkable human creatures, that Friedrich himself would be happy to read the Letter.

so overwhelmed by grief for the sudden loss of his father,

Duchesse du Maine, Lady of Sceaux, is a sublime old personage, with whom and with whose high ways and magnificent hospitalities at Sceaux, at Anet and elsewhere, Voltaire had been familiar for long years past. [In OEuvres de Voltaire, lxxiii. 434 n, x. 8, &c., "Clog." and others represent THIS Visit as having been to Anet,--though the record otherwise is express.] This Duchess, grand-daughter of the great Conde, now a dowager for ten years, and herself turned of seventy, has been a notable figure in French History this great while: a living fragment of Louis le Grand, as it were. Was wedded to Louis's "Legitimated" Illegitimate, the Duc du Maine; was in trouble with the Regent d'Orleans about Alberoni-Cellamare conspiracies (1718), Regent having stript her lmsband of his high legitimatures and dignities, with little ceremony; which led her to conspire a good deal, at one time. [DUC DU MAINE with COMTE DE TOULOUSE were products of Louis XIV. and Madame de Montespan:--"legitimated" by Papa's fiat in 1673, while still only young children; DISlegitimated again by Regent d'Orleans, autumn, 1718; grand scene, "guards drawn out" and the like, on this occasion (BARBIER, i. 8-11, ii. 181); futile Conspiracies with Alberoni thereupon; arrest of Duchess and Duke (29th December, 1718), and closure of that poor business. Duc du Maine died 1736; Toulouse next year; ages, each about sixty-five. "Duc de Penthievre," Egalite's father-in-law, was Toulouse's son; Maine has left a famous Dowager, whom we see. Nothing more of notable about the one or the other.] She was never very beautiful; but had a world of grace and witty intelligence; and knew a Voltaire when she saw him. Was the soul of courtesy and benignity, though proud enough, and carrying her head at its due height; and was always very charming, in her lofty gracious way, to mankind. Interesting to all, were it only as a living fragment of the Grand Epoch,--kind of French Fulness of Time, when the world was at length blessed with a Louis Quatorze, and Ne-plus-ultra of a Gentleman determined to do the handsome thing in this world. She is much frequented by high people, especially if of a Literary or Historical turn. President Henault (of the ABREGE CHRONOLOGIQUE, the well-frilled, accurately powdered, most correct old legal gentleman) is one of her adherents; Voltaire is another, that may stand for many: there is an old Marquis de St. Aulaire, whom she calls "MON VIEUX BERGER (my old shepherd," that is to say, sweetheart or flame of love); [BARBIER, ii. 87; see ib. (i. 8-11; ii. 181, 436; &c.) for many notices of her affairs and her.] there is a most learned President de Mesmes, and others we have heard of, but do not wish to know. Little De Staal was at one time this fine Duchess's maid; but has far outgrown all that, a favorite guest of the Duchess's instead; holds now mainly by Madame du Deffand (not yet fallen blind),--and is well turned of fifty, and known for one of the shrewdest little souls in the world, at the time she writes. Her Letter is addressed "TO MADAME DU DEFFAND, at Paris;" most free-flowing female Letter; of many pages, runs on, day after day, for a fortnight or so;--only Excerpts of it introducible here:--

"SCEAUX, TUESDAY, 15th AUGUST, 1747. ... Madame du Chatelet and Voltaire, who had announced themselves as for to-day, and whom nobody had heard of otherwise, made their appearance yesternight, near midnight; like two Spectres, with an odor of embalmment about them, as if just out of their tombs. We were rising from table; the Spectres, however, were hungry ones: they needed supper; and what is more, beds, which were not ready. The Housekeeper (CONCIERGE), who had gone to bed, rose in great haste. Gaya [amiable gentleman, conceivable, not known], who had offered his apartment for pressing cases, was obliged to yield it in this emergency: he flitted with as much precipitation and displeasure as an army surprised in its camp; leaving a part of his baggage in the enemy's hands. Voltaire thought the lodging excellent, but that did not at all console Gaya.

"As to the Lady, her bed turns out not to have been well made; they have had to put her in a new place to-day. Observe, she made that bed herself, no servants being up, and had found a blemish or DEFAUT of"--word wanting: who knows what?--"in the mattresses; which I believe hurt her exact mind, more than her not very delicate body. She has got, in the interim, an apartment promised to somebody else; and she will have to leave it again on Friday or Saturday, and go into that of Marechal de Maillebois, who leaves at that time."

--Yes; Maillebois in the body, O reader. This is he, with the old ape-face renewed by paint, whom we once saw marching with an "Army of Redemption," haggling in the Passes about Eger, unable to redeem Belleisle; marching and haggling, more lately, with a "Middle-Rhine Army," and the like non-effect; since which, fighting his best in Italy,--pushed home last winter, with Browne's bayonets in his back; Belleisle succeeding him in dealing with Browne. Belleisle, and the "Revolt of Genoa" (fatal to Browne's Invasion of us), and the Defence of Genoa and the mutual worryings thereabout, are going on at a great rate,--and there is terrible news out of those Savoy Passes, while Maillebois is here. Concerning which by and by. He is grandson of the renowned Colbert, this Maillebois. A Field-Marshal evidently extant, you perceive, in those vanished times: is to make room for Madame on Friday, says our little De Staal; and take leave of us,--if for good, so much the better!

"He came at the time we did, with his daughter and grand-daughter: the one is pretty, the other ugly and dreary [l'UNE, L'AUTRE; no saying which, in such important case! Madame la Marechale, the mother and grandmother, I think must be dead. Not beautiful she, nor very benignant, "UNE TRES-MECHANTE FEMME, very cat-witted woman," says Barbier; "shrieked like a devil, at Court, upon the Cardinal," about that old ARMY-OF-REDEMPTION business; but all her noise did nothing]. [Barbier, ii, 332 ("November, 1742").]-- M. le Marechal has hunted here with his dogs, in these fine autumn woods and glades; chased a bit of a stag, and caught a poor doe's fawn: that was all that could be got there.