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MADEMOISELLE DE LA VALLIÈRE.
“ The figure of Mademoiselle de la Vallière stands forth in the midst of the seventeenth century in all the majesty of love, poetry, and history united.” “The romance of Mademoiselle de la Vallière,” to use the words of M. Arsène Houssaye, " is a history. It is the history of France." She was, according to the same authority, more than a woman ; she was the muse of living melancholy—the concentrated passion of half a century
-a love that budded for Louis XIV., but that matured itself for the Creator of all things. Victor Cousin, who gives the palm to Madame de Longueville, as best symbolising the seventeenth century by her beauty and her heroism, still admits that the loves of Mademoiselle de la Vallière are far more touching. “ Mademoiselle de la Vallière," writes the Academician, “ loved the king as she would have loved any other gentleman: it is that which places her in a different position from the other mistresses of Louis XIV., and puts her above Madame de Montespan, and still more so of Madame de Maintenon,” “Mademoiselle de la Vallière," writes another authority, “sanctified her love by her repentance. The most austere historian can gravely sit down to study that figure consecrated by penitence.” The “ Réflexions sur la Miséricorde de Dieu," written by seur Louise de la Miséricorde, once Mademoiselle de la Vallière, reveal all that the Abbé Léqueulx has said of the fair repentant, that she was “ virtuous, if it was possible to be so; in the very bosom of crime she never forgot that she was doing wrong; she moaned her weakness, and she ever preserved the desire and the hope of re-entering the right
“ The reign of Louis XIV.,” writes M. Arsène Houssaye, "divides itself into three periods, dominated by three influences, three stars, three women,
“The first is the epoch of gallantry, half Spanish, half French. It is personified in Mademoiselle de la Vallière.' That royal passion is a romance of the heart with the cloisters for a dénoûment. It was still the age of chivalry. The heroic poetry of the middle ages was brilliantly revived. Points of honour, courts of love, adventures of cap and sword, had left traditions that were not lost. Quintessenced sentiments still perfumed the voluminous romances of Mademoiselle de Scudéri. Bérénice became the soft and harmonious echo of the time; the Cid was its coloured masculine personification. It was youth, it was an aurora.
* Mademoiselle de la Vallière et Madame de Montespan. Etudes Historiques sur la Cour de Louis XIV. Par Arsène Houssaye. Paris : Henri Plon.
† We ought not to lose sight in this summary that the gallant monarch had loved ere this-nay, had vowed an eternal passion to Marie de Mancini, who had left him, saying, “You are king, you weep, and yet I go,” and whose fortunes we have, with those of the other fair and gifted, albeit not
exemplary nieces of Mazarin, before followed in these pages. He had also espoused Maria Theresa, who is thus disposed of : “A queen without mind or beauty. It was only the king that was married, the man was free, and sought for a companion. He met a young girl who loved him despite herself, a young girl who possessed beauty, graces, charms—all the poetry of twenty years. That young girl's name was Mademoiselle de la Vallière.
“The second period of the reign is represented by Madame de Montespan, a gallant but madcap woman, who rode well, 'accouche en riant,' and rejoiced in being queen by the grace of Love. The military epopee and the era of conquests opened with her. The tendency of the day was towards materialism of heart and paganism of sentiments. It was in vain that Bossuet declaimed from the height of his Christian pulpit : his great voice, albeit applauded, could not stay the mighty current which run madly through gallant adventures in the pursuit of glory. It was the age of action, of maturity, and of force. Everything yielded to the victorious king, citadels and women alike.
“The third and the last portion of the reign is resumed in Madame de Maintenon. Sensual mysticism had taken the place of the pomps and vanities of the old court. Old age turned hermit, glory took the veil. Everything declined, grew gloomy. Louis XIV., a king reigned over by a woman, stooped slowly towards his grave. Bossuet was in the ascendant; orthodoxy triumphed over Fénelon and Madame Guyon, whose too tender and independent piety did not suit the character of the favourite, secretly the legitimate wife of the king. Madame de Maintenon was the hand by which the Gallican Church dominated over the old age of Louis XIV. Quietism could not satisfy that skilful, intriguing, strong woman, who bore, not without dignity, the weight of the crown, under the burden of events and years alike. That queen-minus the titlegave the tone to the end of the reign. Madame de Montespan fitted from one solitude to another; Racine abandoned the stage; La Fontaine expiated under sackcloth the mortal, or immortal, sins of his tales. Everything assumed a mask of devotion. Tragedy itself fasted at SaintCyr.”
Louise de la Vallière was born on the 6th of August, 1644, in the country of Agnes Sorel, not far from that Chambord where Francis I. created duchesses by the grace of Love. The château of La Vallière has disappeared, but the forest remains, and it belongs in the present day to the Countess de Marnezia. It is curious enough that M. Arsène Houssaye avows at starting that he has questioned libraries, questioned Versailles and Fontainebleau, questioned every wall facing in the Château de la Vallière; that he has interrogated the convent of the Carmelites, consulted with respect the letters of sister Louise de la Miséricorde, but nowhere has he been able to find the “mot-à-mot” history of her youth. But then, he adds, what matters it? The history of Mademoiselle de la Vallière disdains notes and commentaries; “it is the eternal legend of love." And so it would appear to be, for we are no sooner launched from gilded painted generalities into the current of biography, than we are told that if Marie de Mancini gave lessons in history to Louis XIV., Mademoiselle de la Vallière, on the eve of being a young girl, gave lessons in geography to M. de Bragelonne. The hero of M. Alexandre Dumas's lengthy romance learnt the geography of love so well that, when barely thirteen years of age, he hid himself in his governess's room. The latter screamed; Madame de Saint-Remy, her mother, was indignant, and the old marquis lectured his precocious son.
Mademoiselle de la Vallière's pecuniary resources were but moderate. Her mother had re-married with M. de Saint-Remy, maître d'hôtel to the Duke of Orleans ; hence mademoiselle became attached to the household
of Madame, the Duchess of Orleans. She was thus almost always at Blois, or at Orleans. Every one admired her, and more especially the Count of Guiche, whose attentions were very marked. The king, having no pleasure in the company of the queen, cultivated the society of Madame, who, daughter to Charles I., was best known as Henriette d'Angleterre, and as such is celebrated in the orations of Bossuet. M. Arsène Houssaye would have us believe in a miserable mystification. “Le roi s'ennuyait avec la reine ; Madame s'ennuyait avec Monsieur,” he premises; and then he goes on to insinuate the existence of a “passion romanesque, ou plutôt distraction sentimentale de Louis XIV. pour la femme de son frère.” And further, that, to blind the court to this passion, it was agreed between the king and Madame that the former should appear to be smitten with one of the ladies of the court, the latter recommending the colours of Mademoiselle de la Vallière—a violet searching for forgetfulness.
According to another tradition, the two were first brought together in a more pleasing manner. The king was walking one evening in the gardens of Fontainebleau with Monsieur, Guiche, and Beringhem, when they saw three young ladies strolling out. The latter stopped near a statue of Diana. One of them pointing it out, bathed in moonlight, said, “I have always loved Diana." This was Mademoiselle de la Vallière. “T,” said Mademoiselle de Chemerault_“I like Endymion better.” "You are two stupids," interrupted Mademoiselle de Pons ; "you love fabulous personages, but I like real ones!” “Whom do you love, then ?” asked Mademoiselle de Chemerault. The king, hearing the conversation take so pointed a turn, separated from his companions, and crept up to a place whence he could better overhear the young ladies' conversation without being himself observed. The girls went on talking and laughing about one and another of the young noblemen at court. “As to me,” said Mademoiselle de Pons, “ if I loved any one, I should like M. de Candale." “That is as much as to say you do love him,” observed Mademoiselle de Chemerault. “ As to me, I love no one; but the Marquis d’Alincourt is much to my taste; he dances better than any one else. Mademoiselle de la Vallière does not speak her mind, but if she did, she would acknowledge to M. de Guiche.” Mademoiselle de la Vallière did not vouchsafe an immediate reply, but her physiognomy assumed an expression of the greatest contempt. The other young ladies continuing to tease her, she at length said, "For my part, I cannot but feel that you are very stupid in praising the whole court, and saying nothing in favour of the king. I should praise the whole court by speaking of him. Is there a man that can be compared with him, even for dancing in a ballet ?” “I see!” interrupted Mademoiselle de Chemerault; "the king pleases you because he is the king” “On the contrary,” quickly retorted Mademoiselle de la Vallière, “it is the crown that spoils" him, since it takes him from the number of those whom one could love. Ah! if he was only not a king !"
On hearing this, the Grand Monarque could do nothing less than step forth from his hiding-place and cast himself at the feet of the fair maid of honour ; but they all fled away with the rapidity of birds.
" Ah!” exclaimed Louis XIV., "she will not love a king; well, she shall love a lover!". To his annoyance, he found that Beringhem and Guiche had been listening also. • Who is that girl ?” he inquired. Guiche, to disguise bis vexation, replied that he did not know. "Some time afterwards,
the king remarked to him, “My dear count, you did not know her, but you loved her.”
The king went first to the queen's court, but he did not recognise the fair one. He then went to Madame's. Mademoiselle de la Vallière was turning over the leaves of “ L'Astrée." “ That is she!” said the king. He remained with Madame till midnight. Mademoiselle de la Vallière read a romance of Mademoiselle de Scudéri's. The king did not listen, yet he declared that no romance had ever given him so much pleasure. Louis XIV. soon became so desperately enamoured of Mademoiselle de la Vallière, that for a month he scarcely dared to speak to her except through the medium of his eyes ; but this could not last for ever. One day the court was walking in the park of Vincennes, when a sudden shower caused a general dispersion. Louis XIV., hat in hand, offered his arm to Mademoiselle de la Vallière; the latter placed her hand upon the velvet, and allowed herself to be led away. “My heart was expecting this shower," said the king, turning pale. “Do you not know that I love you, madame ?" “ Chut! or I shall hear you," replied Mademoiselle de la Vallière, blushing. The king, by a quick movement, let her hand fall into his. Had the lightning fallen on them, the two could not have been more thunderstricken. The king poured forth all his feelings, his fears, and his hopes. Mademoiselle de la Vallière interrupted him suddenly, by observing, “ Sire, we have mistaken the way.” “ No," said the king, “ I am going where I wish to go.” “But does not your majesty see that I am wet through ?” “ Count the drops of rain," said the king; “I swear to you I will give you as many pearls.” This incident, somehow or other, lasted an hour. “I was only surprised at one thing,” observed Beringhem, at an after period, "and that was that the two lovers were not metamorphosed into a Triton and a Naiad. The Duke of Saint Aignan, who had the fourth book of the Æneid by heart, spoke of them as Æneas and Dido.
The incident got wind; the queen, we are told, jealous, complained aloud; Madame, jealous, wept. Louis XIV. was reduced to carry on his new intrigue in writing-not an every day accomplishment with persons of high rank in those times. He selected Beringhem as an ambassador. Mademoiselle de la Vallière, on her side, employed the poet Benserade to pen her responses; the king, at the same time, employing the poet laureate to sing the praises of his fair one. Benserade alone was kept in ignorance of the parties to whom his effusions were addressed. Hence arose a quiproquo. Mistaking the empressement of Mademoiselle de la Vallière for something else, he cast himself on his knees, and repeated some lines, which had served him before on similar occasions. " That is not what I want,” exclaimed the maid of honour. “ Keep your rhymes and your hémistiches to yourself. What I want is an answer. I have been written to again.” . This is the colouring given to this ludicrous incident by M. Arsène Houssaye. The historian Anquetil has consigned it in his pages in greater simplicity, and probably greater truth: “ Eh non, ce n'est pas cela,” simply said Mademoiselle de la Vallière, raising the poet up; il s'agit d'une réponse.
Louis XIV. spared no means to dazzle and captivate Mademoiselle de la Vallière. He gave masked entertainments at Saint Germain, in which he represented Jupiter and the Sun; Mademoiselle de la Vallière was a star. On these occasions he would repeat long stanzas, composed
by Benserade. Love gave vigour to his memory. Then there were hunting parties in the afternoon, and balls in the evening. Every entertainment given was a homage to his mistress. Among others was the carousel celebrated by Voltaire, and which gave its name to the court in front of the Tuileries. It was on this occasion that Ouvrier imagined the emblem of a sun darting its rays in every direction, with the motto “Nec pluribus impar," which became incorporated in the royal arms. Even the chapel at Versailles was at that epoch the scene of gallantry. Never was the king so attentive to his devotions. M. Arsène Houssaye appeals to engravings of the time in proof of the fact that the vestibule of the chapel was like the entrance to a ball-room.
Gradually Louis XIV, became more enterprising. He passed over the roof of the palace to the room of Mademoiselle d’Artigny, who conducted him to the door of Mademoiselle de la Vallière's room, saying on leaving him there : “Je m'en lave les mains.” It is true that M. Houssaye says, “ Beringhem avait aplani le chemin ;” but whether by preparing the ladies for such a nocturnal visit, or by giving some degree of security to the expedition, we are not told. XI. Houssaye would also have us believe that these visits, twice repeated, and lasting from night to morning, were purely sentimental : - Mademoiselle de la Vallière ne veut pas pour cela faire le sacrifice de sa vertu. Elle ne le fera qu'à une condition, c'est qu'elle mourra en expiation. Le roi refuse le sacrifice."
In the mean time, it having come to the ears of the Duchess of Navailles that “des hommes de bonne mine” had been seen at night making their way over the roof to the sleeping-rooms of the maids of honour (Madame de Motteville, from whom we derive the account, speaks in the plural
, so that it is clear that the king did not venture over the roof of Saint Germain alone), had iron gratings affixed, so as to interrupt the communication. Mademoiselle de Montpensier says that the grating was put up at the window of Mademoiselle la Mothe-Houdancourt; but she adds, slyly, the king only spoke to La Mothe in order to turn the queen's attention away from La Vallière. Be this as it may, it would appear that the day after his second fruitless expedition over the tiles, Mademoiselle de la Vallière found the king paying the most marked attention to La Mothe. His intimacy with that young lady is indeed almost an historical fact.
The result which Louis had no doubt calculated upon happened. “ Mademoiselle de la Vallière,” writes M. Houssaye, “qui avait voulu ne donner que son âme à son amour, se donna tout entière, éperdûment, avec jalousie, pour empêcher le roi de frapper une seconde fois à une autre porte.” Madame was in an awful passion.
66 What!" she exclaimed, a lame girl to take precedence of me! The servant to carry the day over her mistress !" “ Yes," replied the king; "you are the mistress by birth; but Love commands, and I am the slave of his servant."
This allusion to the lameness of Mademoiselle de la Vallière reminds us that M. Houssaye, when describing the incident of the shower at Vincennes, spoke of Mademoiselle de la Vallière as not running away, like the rest, on account of a slight lameness. “Mademoiselle,” he says, “ boitait; mais c'était une grace de plus. On pouvait dire, comme je ne sais quel poëte de l'antiquité : Tu ne boites pas, tu te penches vers l'amour.” “Mademoiselle de Montpensier said, “ Elle fut un peu boiteuse.”