Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
A Paragon of Politeness
By Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon (1675–1755)
From the ‘Memoirs’

THE DUC DE COISLIN died about this time. I have related in its proper place an adventure that happened to him and his brother, the Chevalier de Coislin: now I will say something more of the duke. He was a very little man, of much humor and virtue, but of a politeness that was unendurable, and that passed all bounds, though not incompatible with dignity. He had been lieutenant-general in the army. Upon one occasion, after a battle in which he had taken part, one of the Rhingraves who had been made prisoner fell to his lot. The Duc de Coislin wished to give up to the other his bed, which consisted indeed of but a mattress. They complimented each other so much, the one pressing, the other refusing, that in the end they both slept on the ground, leaving the mattress between them. The Rhingrave in due time came to Paris and called on the Duc de Coislin. When he was going, there was such a profusion of compliments, and the duke insisted so much on seeing him out, that the Rhingrave, as a last resource, ran out of the room and double-locked the door outside. M. de Coislin was not thus to be outdone. His apartments were only a few feet above the ground. He opened the window accordingly, leaped out into the court, and arrived thus at the entrance door before the Rhingrave, who thought the Devil must have carried him there. The Duc de Coislin, however, had managed to put his thumb out of joint by this leap. He called in Félix, chief surgeon of the King, who soon put the thumb to rights. Soon afterwards Félix made a call upon M. de Coislin to see how he was, and found that the cure was perfect. As he was about to leave, M. de Coislin must needs open the door for him. Félix, with a shower of bows, tried hard to prevent this; and while they were thus vying in politeness, each with a hand upon the door, the duke suddenly drew back;—he had put his thumb out of joint again, and Félix was obliged to attend to it on the spot! It may be imagined what laughter this story caused the King, and everybody else, when it became known.  1
  There was no end to the outrageous civilities of M. de Coislin. On returning from Fontainebleau one day, we—that is, Madame de Saint-Simon and myself—encountered M. de Coislin and his son, M. de Metz, on foot upon the pavement of Ponterry, where their coach had broken down. We sent word, accordingly, that we should be glad to accommodate them in ours. But message followed message on both sides; and at last I was compelled to alight and to walk through the mud, begging them to mount into my coach. M. de Coislin, yielding to my prayers, consented to this: M. de Metz was furious with him for his compliments, and at last prevailed on him. When M. de Coislin had accepted my offer, and we had nothing more to do than to gain the coach, he began to capitulate, and to protest that he would not displace the two young ladies he saw seated in the vehicle. I told him that the two young ladies were chambermaids, who could well afford to wait until the other carriage was mended, and then continue their journey in that. But he would not hear of this; and at last, all that M. de Metz and I could do was to compromise the matter by agreeing to take one of the chambermaids with us. When we arrived at the coach, they both descended, in order to allow us to mount. During the compliments that passed,—and they were not short,—I told the servant who held the coach-door open, to close it as soon as I was inside, and to order the coachman to drive on at once. This was done; but M. de Coislin immediately began to cry aloud that he would jump out if we did not stop for the young ladies: and he set himself to do so in such an odd manner that I had only time to catch hold of the belt of his breeches and hold him back; but he still, with his head hanging out of the window, exclaimed that he would leap out, and pulled against me. At this absurdity I called to the coachman to stop; the duke with difficulty recovered himself, and persisted that he would have thrown himself out. The chambermaid was ordered to mount, and mount she did, all covered with mud, which daubed us; and she nearly crushed M. de Metz and me in this carriage fit only for four.  2
  M. de Coislin could not bear that at parting anybody should give him the “last touch”: a piece of sport, rarely cared for except in early youth, and out of which arises a chase by the person touched, in order to catch him by whom he has been touched. One evening when the court was at Nancy, and just as everybody was going to bed, M. de Longueville spoke a few words in private to two of his torch-bearers; and then touching the Duc de Coislin, said he had given him the last touch, and scampered away, the duke hotly pursuing him. Once a little in advance, M. de Longueville hid himself in a doorway, allowed M. de Coislin to pass on, and then went quietly home to bed. Meanwhile the duke, lighted by the torch-bearers, searched for M. de Longueville all over the town; but meeting with no success, was obliged to give up the chase, and went home all in a sweat. He was obliged of course to laugh a good deal at this joke, but he evidently did not like it overmuch.  3
  With all his politeness, which was in no way put on, M. de Coislin could when he pleased show a great deal of firmness, and a resolution to maintain his proper dignity worthy of much praise. At Nancy, on this same occasion, the Duc de Créqui, not finding apartments provided for him to his taste on arriving in town, went in his brutal manner and seized upon those allotted to the Duc de Coislin. The latter, arriving a moment after, found his servants turned into the street, and soon learned who had sent them there. M. de Créqui had precedence of him in rank; he said not a word, therefore, but went to the apartments provided for the Maréchal de Créqui (brother of the duke), and serving him exactly as he himself had just been served, took up his quarters there. The Maréchal de Créqui arrived in his turn, learned what had occurred, and immediately seized upon the apartments of Cavoye, in order to teach him how to provide quarters in future so as to avoid all disputes.  4
  On another occasion, M. de Coislin went to the Sorbonne to listen to a thesis sustained by the second son of M. de Bouillon. When persons of distinction gave these discourses, it was customary for the princes of the blood, and for many of the court, to go and hear them. M. de Coislin was at that time almost last in order of precedence among the dukes. When he took his seat, therefore, knowing that a number of them would probably arrive, he left several rows of vacant places in front of him, and sat himself down. Immediately afterward, Novion, Chief President of the Parliament, arrived and seated himself in front of M. de Coislin. Astonished at this act of madness, M. de Coislin said not a word, but took an arm-chair; and while Novion turned his head to speak to Cardinal de Bouillon, placed that arm-chair right in front of the Chief President, in such a manner that he was as it were imprisoned, and unable to stir. M. de Coislin then sat down. This was done so rapidly that nobody saw it until it was finished. When once it was observed, a great stir arose. Cardinal de Bouillon tried to intervene. M. de Coislin replied, that since the Chief President had forgotten his position he must be taught it; and would not budge. The other presidents were in a fright; and Novion, enraged by the offense put on him, knew not what to do. It was in vain that Cardinal de Bouillon on one side, and his brother on the other, tried to persuade M. de Coislin to give way. He would not listen to them. They sent a message to him to say that somebody wanted to see him at the door on most important business. But this had no effect. “There is no business so important,” replied M. de Coislin, “as that of teaching M. le Premier Président what he owes me; and nothing will make me go from this place unless M. le Président, whom you see behind me, goes away first.”  5
  At last M. le Prince was sent for; and he with much persuasion endeavored to induce M. de Coislin to release the Chief President from his prison. But for some time M. de Coislin would listen as little to M. le Prince as he had listened to the others, and threatened to keep Novion thus shut up during all the thesis. At length he consented to set the Chief President free, but only on condition that he left the building immediately; that M. le Prince should guarantee this; and that no “juggling tricks” (that was the term he made use of) should be played off to defeat the agreement. M. le Prince at once gave his word that everything should be as he required; and M. de Coislin then rose, moved away his arm-chair, and said to the Chief President, “Go away, sir! go away, sir!” Novion did on the instant go away, in the utmost confusion, and jumped into his coach. M. de Coislin thereupon took back his chair to its former position, and composed himself to listen again.  6
  On every side M. de Coislin was praised for the firmness he had shown. The princes of the blood called upon him the same evening, and complimented him for the course he had adopted; and so many other visitors came during the evening that his house was quite full until a late hour. On the morrow the King also praised him for his conduct, and severely blamed the Chief President. Nay more: he commanded the latter to go to M. de Coislin, at his house, and beg pardon of him. It is easy to comprehend the shame and despair of Novion at being ordered to take so humiliating a step, especially after what had already happened to him. He prevailed upon M. de Coislin, through the mediation of friends, to spare him this pain; and M. de Coislin had the generosity to do so. He agreed therefore that when Novion called upon him he would pretend to be out, and this was done. The King, when he heard of it, praised very highly the forbearance of the duke.  7
  He was not an old man when he died; but was eaten up with the gout, which he sometimes had in his eyes, in his nose, and in his tongue. When in this state, his room was filled with the best company. He was very generally liked, was truth itself in his dealings and his words, and was one of my friends, as he had been the friend of my father before me.  8

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.