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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Madame de Longueville
By Victor Cousin (1792–1867)
 
From ‘Life of Madame de Longueville’

WHAT a number of accomplished women the seventeenth century produced,—women who inspired adoration, drew all hearts towards them, and spread among all ranks the cultus of beauty, termed by Europe, French gallantry! They accompany this great century upon its too rapid flight, and mark its principal moments. Madame de Longueville has her place in the brilliant galaxy of seventeenth-century women by the right of true beauty and rare charm.  1
  Born in 1619, in the prison of Vincennes, during the captivity of her father, Henri de Bourbon,—whose wife, the beautiful Marguerite de Montmorency, shared his imprisonment,—Mademoiselle de Bourbon grew in grace under the care of her mother, dividing her time between the Carmelite Convent and the Hôtel de Rambouillet, nourishing her soul upon pious and romantic books. Married at the age of twenty-three to a man twenty-three years her senior, she found that M. de Longueville, instead of trying by tenderness to make his young wife forget this disparity, followed the triumphal car of the famous Duchesse de Montbazon, the veriest coquette of the century. Insulted by her rival, neglected by her husband, Madame de Longueville yielded by degrees to the contagion in the midst of which she lived, and after having spent some time at the frivolous court of Münster, was fascinated on her return to Paris by the wit, chivalrous appearance, and distinguished manners of the Prince de Marcillac, afterwards Duc de la Rochefoucauld. This intimacy decided her career, the first part of which it closed in 1648.  2
  The vicissitudes of the Fronde; love, as it was understood at the Hôtel Rambouillet,—that is, love à la Scudéry, with its enchantments, its sufferings, intermingled with danger and glory, crossed by adventures, triumphant over the greatest tests, yielding finally to its own weakness and exhausting itself,—such is the second period of Madame de Longueville’s life, a period so short, and yet so crowded with events, which began in 1648 and ended towards the middle of 1654. After 1654 Madame de Longueville’s life was one long repentance, daily growing in austerity; passed first by the bedside of her husband, and then at the Carmelite Convent and at Port-Royal, where she died in 1679.  3
  First, spotless brilliancy; then sin and prompt expiation. Thus is divided the career of Madame de Longueville. A famous beauty, she possessed height and a fine figure. Her eyes were of the tenderest blue; her light-brown hair, of exceptional fineness, fell in abundant curls around the graceful oval of her face and rippled over her shoulders, which were fully exposed in accordance with the fashion of the time. Add to these attractions a complexion whose fairness, delicacy, and soft brilliancy justified its being compared with a pearl. Her charming skin reflected all the emotions of her soul. She spoke in the softest voice; her gestures harmonized with her face and voice, making perfect music. But her greatest charm was a graceful ease of manner, a languor which had brilliant awakenings when she was moved by passion, but which in every-day life gave her an appearance of aristocratic indifference, of indolence, frequently mistaken for ennui or disdain.  4
  Madame de Longueville loved but one person. For his sake she sacrificed repose, interest, duty, and reputation. For his sake she embarked upon the rashest and most contradictory enterprises. La Rochefoucauld drew her into the Fronde; it was he who made her advance or retreat, who separated her from or reconciled her with her family, who controlled her absolutely. In his hands she became a heroic instrument. Passion and pride had their share in the life of adventure she faced so bravely; but what a soul she must have possessed, to find consolation in struggles such as these! And as so often happens, the man for whom she made these sacrifices was unworthy of them. Witty but selfish, he judged others by himself. Subtle in evil as she was in good, full of selfish cunning in the pursuit of his interests, the least chivalrous of men though he affected the semblance of the highest chivalry, when he believed that Madame de Longueville was yielding to the influence of the Duc de Nemours, he turned against her, blackened her reputation, revealed the weaknesses by which he had profited, and when she was struggling to repair her mistakes by the rigid mortification of the cloister, he published those ‘Mémoires’ in which he tore her to pieces.  5
  La Rochefoucauld made his peace with the court. He even rode in Mazarin’s carriages, saying with inimitable aplomb, “Everything comes to pass in France;” he obtained a pension for himself, a fine position for his son; and was worshiped by lovely women, one of whom, Madame de Lafayette, replaced Madame de Longueville and consecrated her life to him.  6
  How different was Madame de Longueville’s conduct! Love led her into the Fronde, love kept her there; when love failed her, everything failed her. The proud heroine who waged war against Mazarin, who sold her jewels, braved the ocean, aroused the North and South, and held the royal authority at bay, withdrew from the scene at the age of thirty-five, in the full maturity of her beauty, when her own interest was alone at stake.  7
  To understand Madame de Longueville’s character, to exonerate her from the charge of inconsistency or want of purpose, the unity of her life must be sought in her devotion to the man she loved. It is there in its entirety and unchangeableness; at once triumphant, absurd, and pathetic in the midst of the greatest follies. Her recklessness was inspired by the fickle restless mind of La Rochefoucauld. It was he who drifted from one faction to another, moved by his own interest alone. To Madame de Longueville herself belong her courage in the face of danger; a certain secret delight in the extremity of misfortune; and in defeat a pride not inferior to that of De Retz himself. She does not drop her eyes; she directs her gaze towards worthier objects. Once wounded in that which was most precious to her—her love—she bade adieu to the world, without currying favor with the court, and asking pardon of God alone.  8
 
 
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