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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Absolute power oppressed all spirits


ran a risk of becoming hypocrisy. On returning to a regular life, the king was for imposing the same upon his whole court; the instinct of order and regularity, smothered for a while in the heyday of passion, had resumed all its sway over the naturally proper and steady mind of Louis XIV. His dignity and his authority were equally involved in the cause of propriety and regularity at his court; he imposed this yoke as well as all the others; there appeared to be entire obedience; only some princes or princesses escaped it sometimes, getting about them a few free-thinkers or boon-companions; good, honest folks showed ingenuous joy; the virtuous and far-sighted were secretly uneasy at the falsehood, and deplored the pressure put on so many consciences and so many lives. The king was sincere in his repentance for the past, many persons in his court were as sincere as he; others, who were not, affected, in order to please him, the externals of austerity; absolute power oppressed all spirits, extorting from them that hypocritical complaisance which is liable to engender; corruption was already brooding beneath appearances of piety; the reign of Louis XV. was to see its deplorable fruits displayed with a haste and a scandal which are to be explained only by the oppression exercised in the last years of King Louis XIV.

Madame de Maintenon was like the genius of this reaction towards regularity, propriety, order; all the responsibility for it had been

thrown upon her; the good she did has disappeared beneath the evil she allowed or encouraged; the regard lavished upon her by the king has caused illusions as to the discreet care she was continually taking to please him. She was faithful to her friends, so long as they were in favor with the king; if they had the misfortune to displease him, she, at the very least, gave up seeing them; without courage or hardihood to withstand the caprices and wishes of Louis XIV., she had gained and preserved her empire by dint of dexterity and far-sighted suppleness beneath the externals of dignity.

She never forgot her origin. "I am not a grandee," she would say; "I am a mushroom." Her life, entirely devoted to the king, had become a veritable slavery; she said as much to Mdlle. d'Aumale at St. Cyr. "I have to take for my prayers and for mass the time when everybody else is still sleeping. For, when once they begin coming into my room, at half past seven, I haven't another moment to myself. They come filing in, and nobody goes out without being relieved by somebody higher. At last comes the king; then, of course, they all have to go out; he remains with me up to mass. I am, still in my night-cap. The king comes back after mass; then the Duchess of Burgundy with her ladies. They remain whilst I dine. I have to keep up the conversation, which flags every moment, and to manage so as to harmonize minds and reconcile hearts which are as far as possible asunder. The circle is all round me, and I cannot ask for anything to drink; I sometimes say to them (aside), 'It is a great honor, but really I should prefer a footman.' At last they all go away to dinner. I should be free during that time, if Monseigneur did not generally choose it for coming to see me, for he often dines earlier in order to go hunting. He is very difficult to entertain, having very little to say, and finding himself a bore, and running away from himself continually;

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