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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Selected Letters to her Daughter, Madame de Grignan
By Madame de Sévigné (1626–1696)
 
I
LIVRY, Holy Wednesday, March 25th, 1671.    
I HAVE been here three hours, my dear child. I left Paris with the Abbé, Hélène, Hébert, and Marphise, 1 with the intention of retiring from the world and its tumult until Thursday evening. I am supposed to be in retreat. I am making a kind of little “La Trappe,” where I may pray to God and indulge in a thousand pious reflections. I have resolved to fast here, for various reasons: to make up in walking for all the time that I have been in my room; and chiefly, to be bored for the love of God. But what I shall do far better than all these, is to think of you, my child. I have not ceased to do so since I arrived; and not being able to restrain all my feelings, I have seated myself to write to you, at the end of this little shady walk which you love, upon a mossy bank where I have so often seen you lying. But, mon Dieu! where have I not seen you here! and how these memories grieve my heart! There is no place, no spot,—either in the house or in the church, in the country or in the garden,—where I have not seen you. Everything brings some memory to mind; and whatever it may be, it makes my heart ache. I see you; you are present to me. I think of everything and think again. My brain and my heart grow confused. But in vain I turn—in vain I seek: that dear child whom I passionately love is two hundred leagues distant from me. I have her no more; and then I weep, and cannot cease. My love, that is weakness; but as for me, I do not know how to be strong against a feeling so powerful and so natural.
  1
  I cannot tell in what frame of mind you will be when reading this letter: perhaps chance may bring it to you inopportunely, and it may not be read in the spirit in which it is written,—but for that there is no remedy. To write it, at least, consoles me now; that is all I ask of it at present, for the state into which this place has thrown me is inconceivable. Do not speak of my weaknesses; but you must love and respect my tears, since they proceed from a heart which is wholly yours.  2
 
II
FRIDAY EVENING, April 24th, 1671.    
I MEANT to tell you that the King arrived at Chantilly last evening. He hunted the stag by moonlight; the lanterns were very brilliant; and altogether the evening, the supper, the play,—all went off marvelously well. The weather to-day makes us anticipate a worthy close to such a beginning. But I have just heard something as I came here from which I cannot recover, and which makes me forget what I was about to write you. Vatel—the great Vatel—maître d’hotel of M. Fouquet, and who has recently been in the service of M. le Prince—the man above all others in ability, whose good head was capable of carrying the affairs of a State—this man, such as I knew him, finding that at eight o’clock the fish had not arrived, and unable to sustain the humiliation which he foresaw, stabbed himself. You can imagine the horrible disorder into which such a dreadful accident threw the fête.
  3
 
PARIS, Sunday, April 26th, 1671.    
THIS letter will not go before Wednesday; but this is not a letter,—only an account of what Moreuil has just told me for your benefit, concerning Vatel. I wrote you on Friday that he had stabbed himself: here is the story in detail.
  4
  The King arrived on Thursday evening; the promenade, the collation,—served on a lawn carpeted with jonquils,—all was perfect. At supper there were a few tables where the roast was wanting, on account of some guests whose arrival had not been expected. This mortified Vatel, who said several times, “My honor is gone: I can never survive this shame.” He also said to Gourville, “My head swims. I have not slept for twelve nights. Help me give the orders.” Gourville encouraged him as well as he could. The roast had not been wanting at the King’s table; but he could not forget that there was none at the twenty-fifth. Gourville told M. le Prince, who went immediately to Vatel’s room, and said to him, “Vatel, everything is going on well. Nothing could be finer than the King’s supper.” He replied, “My lord, your goodness overwhelms me. I know that the roast was missing at two tables.” “Not at all,” said M. le Prince. “Don’t disturb yourself: everything is going on well.” Midnight came; the fireworks, which cost sixteen thousand francs, did not succeed, on account of the fog. At four o’clock in the morning, Vatel, going through the château, found every one asleep. He met a young steward, who had brought only two hampers of fish: he asked, “Is that all?”—“Yes, sir.” The lad did not know that Vatel had sent to all the seaports. Vatel waited some time; the other purveyors did not arrive: his brain reeled; he believed no more fish could be had: and finding Gourville, he said, “My dear sir, I shall never survive this disgrace.” Gourville ridiculed him. Vatel went up to his chamber, placed his sword against the door, and stabbed himself to the heart; but only on the third attempt—for he gave himself two thrusts which were not mortal—did he fall dead. Meanwhile the fish arrived from every quarter; and seeking for Vatel to give it out, they went to his room, knocked, burst in the door, and found him drowned in his blood. They ran to M. le Prince, who was in despair. M. le Duc wept; his father told the King in sorrow. It was said that this occurred because Vatel had a high sense of honor. He was praised; and his courage both praised and blamed. The King said that he had deferred going to Chantilly for five years because he knew how much trouble his visit would cause. He told M. le Prince that he ought only to have two tables, and not provide for everybody. He vowed that he would no longer permit M. le Prince to do so; but it was too late for poor Vatel. Gourville, however, tried to make up for his loss, in which he succeeded. They all dined very well: had a collation and a supper—walked—played—hunted. Everything was perfumed with jonquils; all was enchantment.  5
 
III
*        *        *        *        *
LES ROCHERS, September 30th, 1671.    
AS for La Mousse, he catechizes on holidays and Sundays; he is determined to go to Paradise. I tell him it is only for curiosity, that he may discover once for all whether the sun is a mass of dust violently agitated, or a globe of fire. The other day he was catechizing some little children; and after a few questions they got everything so mixed up that when he asked who the Virgin was, they answered one after another, “The creator of heaven and earth.” He was not convinced by the children; but finding that the men, the women, and even the old people, said the same thing, he was persuaded of the fact, and gave in to the general opinion. At last he knew no longer what he was about; and if I had not appeared on the scene, he would never have recovered himself. This novel opinion would have created quite another disturbance from the motion of the little atoms.
  6
 
IV
PARIS, March 16th, 1672.    
YOU ask me, my dear child, if I am as much in love with life as ever. I confess it has many troubles; but I am still more disinclined to die. Indeed, I am so unhappy because everything must end in death, that I should ask nothing better than to turn back if it were possible. I am involved in a perplexing engagement: entering upon life without my own consent, I must at last leave it. The thought overwhelms me. How shall I go? Where? By what gate? When will it be? In what manner? Shall I suffer a thousand thousand griefs, and die despairing? Shall I be delirious? Shall I perish by an accident? How shall I stand before God? What shall I have to offer him? Will fear, will necessity, turn my heart to him? Shall I feel no emotion save fear? What can I hope? Am I worthy of Paradise? Am I fit for hell? What an alternative! What a perplexity! Nothing is so foolish as to be uncertain about one’s salvation: but then, nothing is so natural; and the careless life which I lead is the easiest thing in the world to comprehend.
  7
  I am overpowered by these thoughts; and death appears to me so horrible, that I hate life rather because it leads thither, than for the thorns with which it is sown. You will say that then I want to live forever. Not at all: but if I had been consulted, I should have preferred to die in my nurse’s arms,—it would have saved me from so many annoyances, and secured salvation very easily and very certainly. But let us talk of something else.  8
 
V
LAMBESC, Tuesday, December 20th, 1672.    
WHEN one reckons without Providence, one must reckon twice. I was all dressed at eight o’clock; had taken my coffee, heard mass, made all my adieus; the packs were loaded, the bells of the mules reminded me that it was time to mount my litter; my room was full of people, all of whom begged me not to start because it had rained so much during the last few days,—since yesterday continually,—and at this very moment more violently than ever. I resisted sturdily all this persuasion, out of regard to the resolution I had taken, and because of all that I wrote to you yesterday by the post, assuring you that I should arrive on Thursday. Suddenly M. de Grignan appeared in his dressing-gown and spoke seriously to me of the foolhardiness of my enterprise: saying that my muleteer could never follow my litter, that my mules would fall into the ditches, that my people would be too drenched to help me;—so that in a moment I changed my mind, and yielded completely to these wise remonstrances. Therefore, my child, boxes are being unloaded, mules unharnessed, lackeys and maids are drying their clothes, after having merely crossed the court-yard, and I am sending you a messenger,—knowing your goodness and your anxiety, and wishing also to quiet my own uneasiness,—because I am alarmed about your health; and this man will either return and bring me news of you, or will meet me on the road. In a word, my dear child, he will arrive at Grignan on Thursday instead of me; and I shall start whenever it pleases the heavens and M. de Grignan. The latter governs me with good intentions, and understands all the reasons which make me desire so passionately to be at Grignan. If M. de La Garde could be ignorant of all this, I should be glad; for he will exult in the pleasure of having foretold the very embarrassment in which I am placed. But let him beware of the vainglory which may accompany the gift of prophecy on which he piques himself. Finally, my child, here I am! don’t expect me at all. I shall surprise you, and take no risks, for fear of troubling you and also myself. Adieu, my dearest and loveliest. I assure you that I am greatly afflicted to be kept a prisoner at Lambesc; but how could one foresee such rains as have not been known in this country for a hundred years?
  9
 
VI
MONTELIMART, Thursday, October 5th, 1673.    
THIS is a terrible day, my dear child. I confess to you I can bear no more. I have left you in a state which increases my grief. I think of all the steps you are taking away from me, and those I take away from you, and how impossible that walking in this manner we shall ever meet again. My heart is at rest when it is near you; that is its natural state, and the only one which can give it peace. What happened this morning gave me keen sorrow, and a pang of which your philosophy can divine the reasons. I have felt and shall long feel them. My heart and my imagination are filled with you. I cannot think of you without weeping, and of you I am always thinking: so that my present state is unendurable; as it is so extreme, I hope its violence may not last. I am seeking for you everywhere, and I find that all things are wanting since I have not you. My eyes, which for fourteen months have gazed upon you, find you no more. The happy time that is past makes the present unhappy—at least until I am a little accustomed to it; but I shall never be so wonted to it as not to wish ardently to see and embrace you again. I cannot expect more of the future than of the past. I know what your absence has made me suffer. I am henceforth still more to be pitied, because I have made the habit of seeing you necessary to me. It seems to me that I did not embrace you enough when we parted: why should I have refrained? I have never told you often enough what happiness your tenderness gives me. I have never enough commended you to M. de Grignan, nor thanked him enough for all his courtesy and friendship towards me. In a word, I only live for you, my child. God give me the grace some day to love him as I love you. Adieu, my beloved child: love me always. Alas! we must be content now with letters.
  10
 
VII
PARIS, Friday, December 8th, 1673.    
I MUST begin, my dear child, with the death of the Comte de Guiche, which is the interest of the day. The poor boy died of disease and weakness, in M. de Turenne’s army; the news was received on Tuesday morning. Father Bourdaloue announced it to the Maréchal de Gramont, who suspected it, knowing the desperate condition of his son. He sent every one out of his room—he was in a small apartment which he has in the Capuchin monastery. When he was alone with the Father, he threw himself on his neck, saying that he well knew what he had to tell him; that it was his death-blow; that he would receive it as from the hand of God; that he had lost the only, sole, and true object of his tenderness and of his natural affection; that he had never experienced real happiness or violent grief save through this son, who had admirable qualities. He threw himself upon the bed, unable to say more, but not weeping; for in that condition one cannot weep. The Father wept, and had as yet said nothing; but at last he spoke of God, as you know he can speak. They were six hours together; and then the Father, to have him complete his sacrifice, led him to the church of these good Capuchins, where vigils were being said for this dear son. The Maréchal entered tottering, trembling, rather carried and pushed than on his own limbs, his face no longer recognizable. M. le Duc saw him in this state, and wept in telling us about it at Madame de La Fayette’s house.
  11
  The poor Maréchal at last returned to his little room; he is like a condemned man; the King has written to him; no one sees him. Madame de Monaco is entirely inconsolable; as is also Madame de Louvigny, but it is because she is not at all afflicted. Do you not admire the happiness of the latter? Madame La Chancelière is transported with joy. The Comtesse de Guiche behaves very well. She weeps when told of the kind words and the excuses uttered by her husband when dying. She says: “He was lovable; I should have loved him passionately, if he could have loved me a little. I have endured his contempt with regret; his death touches my heart and awakens my pity. I was always hoping that his feelings towards me would change.” This is all true, and not a farce. Madame de Verneuil is genuinely touched by it…. The good D’Hacqueville has gone to Frazé, thirty leagues distant, to announce the tidings to the Maréchale de Gramont, and to deliver to her a letter from the poor boy, in which he tries to make an honorable apology for his past life,—repenting of it and asking pardon publicly. He begged Vardes to forgive him; and told him many things which may be useful to him. Finally, he ended the play very well, and has left a rich and happy widow.  12
 
MONDAY, DECEMBER 25TH, 1673.    
VERY well! very well! Lamentations over the Comte de Guiche! Alas! my poor child, here we think no longer of him; not even the Maréchal, who has returned to his occupation as courtier. As for your princesse [de Monaco], as you cleverly remark, “After all that she has forgotten, there need be no anxiety as to the effects of her emotion.” Madame de Louvigny and her husband are beside themselves with joy. The Comtesse de Guiche is not disposed to remarry, but a tabouret may tempt her. There is nobody but the Maréchale who is dying of grief.
  13
 
VIII
PARIS, Friday, January 5th, 1674.    
M. DE GRIGNAN is right in saying that Madame de Thiange no longer wears rouge or low dresses. You would hardly recognize her in this disguise, but nothing is more certain. She is often with Madame de Longueville, and quite on the higher plane of devotion. She is always very good company, and not at all a recluse. The other day I was near her at dinner: a servant handed her a large glass of wine; she said to me, “Madame, this man does not know that I am religious,”—which made us all laugh. She speaks very naturally of her good intentions, and of her change of mind; takes care of what she says of her neighbor, and when some unkind word escapes her, she stops short, and cries out against her evil habit. As for me, I find her more amiable than ever. People are willing to wager that the Princesse d’Harcourt will not be dévote a year from now,—having been made lady of the palace,—and that she will use rouge again; for rouge is the law and the prophets,—Christianity itself turns upon rouge. As for the Duchesse d’Aumont, her fad is to bury the dead: it is said that on the frontier, the Duchesse de Charost killed people for her with her badly compounded remedies, and that the other promptly buried them. The Marquise d’Auxelles is very amusing in relating all that, but La Marans is better still. I met Madame de Schomberg, who told me very seriously that she was a dévote of the first rank, both as regards retreats and penitence: going no longer into society, and even declining religious amusements. This is what is called “worshiping God in spirit and in truth,” with the simplicity of the Early Church.
  14
  The ladies of the palace are under strict discipline, the King has had an explanation with them, and desires that the Queen should always have them in attendance. Madame de Richelieu, although she no longer waits at table, is always present at the Queen’s dinner, with four ladies who serve in turn. The Comtesse d’Ayen, the sixth, is in dread of this office, and of not going every day to vespers, to the sermon, or to salut. Indeed, nothing in this world is so saintly. As to the Marquise de Castelnau, she is fair, fresh, and consoled. L’Eclair, people say, has only changed apartments, at which the first floor is ill pleased. Madame de Louvigny does not seem sufficiently pleased with her good fortune. She cannot be pardoned for not loving her husband as much as she did at first,—which is certainly the first occasion on which the public has been scandalized at such a fault. Madame de Brissac is lovely, and dwells in the shadow of the late Princesse de Conti. Her affairs with her father are in arbitration; and poor M. d’Arnusson says he has never seen a woman so honest and so frank. Madame de Cresqueu is very much as you have seen her. She has had made a skirt of black velvet, with heavy embroidery of gold and silver, and a mantle of flame-colored tissue, with gold and silver. This costume cost enormous sums: but although she was really resplendent, people thought her dressed like an actress; and she was so unmercifully laughed at that she did not dare to wear it again.  15
  La Manierosa is somewhat chagrined at not being lady of the palace. Madame de Dura, who does not wish the honor, ridicules her. La Troche is, as you have known her, passionately devoted to your interests. The ladies of the palace have been slandered in a way that made me laugh. I said, “Let us revenge ourselves by abusing them.” Guilleragues said yesterday that Pelisson abused the privilege which men possess of being ugly.  16
 
Note 1. Her pet dog. [back]
 
 
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