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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Madame de Montespan has plunged into the deepest devoutness


Discreet

and adroit as she was, and artificial without being false, Madame de Maintenon gloried in bringing back the king and the court to the ways of goodness. "There is nothing so able as irreproachable conduct," she used to say. The king often went to see the queen; the latter heaped attentions upon Madame de Maintenon. "The king never treated me more affectionately than he has since she had his ear," the poor princess would say. The dauphiness had just had a son. The joy at court was excessive. "The king let anybody who pleased embrace him," says the Abbe de Croisy; "he gave everybody his hand to kiss. Spinola, in the warmth of his zeal, bit his finger; the king began to exclaim. 'Sir,' interrupted the other, 'I ask your Majesty's pardon; but, if I hadn't bitten you, you would not have noticed me.' The lower orders seemed beside themselves, they made bonfires of everything. The porters and the Swiss burned the poles of the chairs, and even the floorings and wainscots intended for the great gallery. Bontemps, in wrath, ran and told the king, who burst out laughing and said, 'Let them be; we will have other floorings.'"

The least clear-sighted were beginning to discern the modest beams of a rising sun. Madame de Montespan, who had a taste for intellectual things, had not long since recommended Racine and Boileau to the king to write a history of his reign. They had been appointed historiographers. "When they had done some interesting piece,"

says Louis Racine in his Memoires, "they used to go and read it to the king at Madame de Montespan's. Madame de Maintenon was generally present at the reading. She, according to Boileau's account, liked my father better than him, and Madame de Montespan, on the contrary, liked Boileau better than my father, but they always paid their court jointly, without any jealousy between them. When Madame de Montespan would let fall some rather tart expressions, my father and Boileau, though by no means sharp-sighted, observed that the king, without answering her, looked with a smile at Madame de Maintenon, who was seated opposite to him on a stool, and who finally disappeared all at once from these meetings. They met her in the gallery, and asked her why she did not come any more to hear their readings. She answered very coldly, 'I am no longer admitted to those mysteries.' As they found a great deal of cleverness in her, they were mortified and astonished at this. Their astonishment was very much greater, then, when the king, being obliged to keep his bed, sent for them with orders to bring what they had newly written of history, and they saw as they went in Madame de Maintenon sitting in an arm-chair near the king's pillow, chatting familiarly with his Majesty. They were just going to begin their reading, when Madame do Montespan, who had not been expected, came in, and after a few compliments to the king, paid such long ones to Madame de Maintenon, that the king, to stop them, told her to sit down. 'As it would not be fair,' he added, 'to read without you a work which you yourself ordered.' From this day, the two historians paid their court to Madame de Maintenon as far as they knew how to do so."

The queen had died on the 30th of July, 1683, piously and gently, as she had lived. "This is the first sorrow she ever caused me," said the king, thus rendering homage in his superb and unconscious egotism, to the patient virtue of the wife he had put to such cruel trials. Madame de Maintenon was agitated but resolute. "Madame de Montespan has plunged into the deepest devoutness," she wrote, two months after the queen's death; "it is quite time she edified us; as for me, I no longer think of retiring." Her strong common sense and her far-sighted ambition, far more than her virtue, had secured her against rocks ahead; henceforth she saw the goal, she was close upon it, she moved towards it with an even step. The king still looked in upon Madame de Montespan of an evening on his way to the gaming-table; he only staid an instant, to pass on to Madame de Maintenon's; the latter had modestly refused to become lady in attendance upon the dauphiness. She, however, accompanied the king on all his expeditions, "sending him away always afflicted, but, never disheartened." Madame de Montespan, piqued to see that the king no longer thought of anybody but Madame de Maintenon, "said to him one day at Marly," writes Dangeau, "that she has a favor to ask of him, which was to let her have the duty of entertaining the second-carriage people and of amusing the antechamber." It required more than seven years of wrath and humiliation to make her resolve upon quitting the court, in 1691.


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