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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Whom she had herself not long ago placed with the dauphiness


It

was court-influence that carried the day, and, in the court, that of the queen, prompted by her favorite, Madame de Polignac. Tenderly attached to his wife, who had at last given him a son, Louis XVI., delivered from the predominant influence of M. de Maurepas, was yielding, almost unconsciously, to a new power. Marie Antoinette, who had long held aloof from politics, henceforth changed her part; at the instigation of the friends whom she honored with a perhaps excessive intimacy, she began to take an important share in affairs, a share which was often exaggerated by public opinion, more and more hard upon her every day.

Received on her arrival in France with some mistrust, of which she had managed to get the better amongst the public, having been loved and admired as long as she was dauphiness, the young queen, after her long period of constraint in the royal family, had soon profited by her freedom; she had a horror of etiquette, to which the court of Austria had not made her accustomed; she gladly escaped from the grand palaces of Louis XIV., where the traditions of his reign seemed still to exercise a secret influence, in order to seek at her little manor-house of Trianon new amusements and rustic pleasures, innocent and simple, and attended with no other inconvenience but the air of cliquedom and almost of mystery in which the queen's guests enveloped themselves. Public rumor soon reached the ears of Maria Theresa. She, tenderly concerned

for her daughter's happiness and conduct, wrote to her on this subject:--

"I am always sure of success if you take anything in hand, the good God having endowed you with such a face and so many charms besides, added to your goodness, that hearts are yours if you try and exert yourself, but I cannot conceal from you, nevertheless, my apprehension: it reaches me from every quarter and only too often, that you have diminished your attentions and politenesses in the matter of saying something agreeable and becoming to everybody, and of making distinctions between persons. It is even asserted that you are beginning to indulge in ridicule, bursting out laughing in people's faces; this might do you infinite harm and very properly, and even raise doubts as to the goodness of your heart; in order to amuse five or six young ladies or gentlemen, you might lose all else. This defect, my dear child, is no light one in a princess; it leads to imitation, in order to pay their court, on the part of all the courtiers, folks ordinarily with nothing to do and the least estimable in the state, and it keeps away honest folks who do not like being turned into ridicule or exposed to the necessity of having their feelings hurt, and in the end you are left with none but bad company, which by degrees leads to all manner of vices. . . . Likings carried too far are baseness or weakness; one must learn to play one's part properly if one wishes to be esteemed; you can do it if you will but restrain yourself a little and follow the advice given you; if you are heedless, I foresee great troubles for you, nothing but squabbles and petty cabals which will render your days miserable. I wish to prevent this and to conjure you to take the advice of a mother who knows the world, who idolizes her children, and whose only desire is to pass her sorrowful days in being of service to them."

Wise counsels of the most illustrious of mothers uselessly lavished upon her daughters! Already the Queen of Naples was beginning to betray the fatal tendencies of her character; whilst, in France, frivolous pleasures, unreflecting friendships, and petty court-intrigues were day by day undermining the position of Marie Antoinette. "I am much affected at the situation of my daughter," wrote Maria Theresa, in 1776, to Abbe Vermond, whom she had herself not long ago placed with the dauphiness, then quite a child, and whose influence was often pernicious: "she is hurrying at a great pace to her ruin, surrounded as she is by base flatterers who urge her on for their own interests."


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