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a diligence in the mind of an Englishwoman, the opinion that every other virtue is bound up in that of chastity. Our manners, our laws, our national religion, and national sentiments and feelings—all our most serious opinions, as well as our dearest and most rooted prejudices, forbid the dissevering in the minds of women, of any class, the ideas of virtue and female honour. To raise a doubt on this head, or to disturb, on a point so vital, the settled notions of English society, is equally inconsistent with common prudence and common honesty; and, as tending to such an end, we are apt to consider all discussion on the subject as at least officiously incurring danger, without a chance of producing good. But however strongly we insist on this opinion for such purposes, there are others in which it is not useless to relax that severity for a moment, and to view the question not through the medium of English sentiment, but with the eye of philosophical impartiality. That the French are a nation of jack-puddings, because they excel in dancing every other people in Europe—or of half-starved slaves, because their wealthiest epicures indulge in the hinder quarters of well-fed frogs—every man one degree removed from the lowest vulgar, has long since ceased to believe. Prejudices of a higher cast, and affecting more important interests, are less easily eradicated, even from instructed minds. We have accordingly not quite got rid of the notion, that because a degree of laxity offensive to our insular habits and opinions, prevails amongst Frenchwomen—although even that is grossly and foolishly exaggerated—no virtue of any degree or quality can be found in the females on the other side of the channel. This is not strictly true. In certain conditions of society, one failing is not wholly incompatible with a general practice of virtue—a remark to be met with, we should think, in every homily since homilies were written. We are surprised it has never occurred to any moralist of the common order, who deal chiefly with such general reflections, to apply this particular maxim to this particular case. We read that Aspasia had some great and many amiable qualities; so too had Ninon de l'Enclos; and it is worthy consideration, how far we judge candidly or wisely in condemning such characters in the gross, and treating their virtues as St. Austin was wont to deal with those of his heathen adversaries—as no better than splendid vices. The truth is, that in spite of this failing, the women of the continent—for they are all included in a general suspicion of frailty—have many more virtues than we are accustomed or willing to believe. Of this, the history of Ninon is sufficient evidence.
Anne de l'Enclos was born at Paris, in 1615. What her father was, or of what family, is a matter of little moment. Of all persons in the world, their original rank and station is of least consequence to those who have reached celebrity by the route pursued by Ninon de l'Enclos. The author of her Memoirs, however, is indignant at the humbleness of the situation assigned by some to her father If we may trust his evidence, M. de l'Enclos was a gentleman (gentilhomme) of Tourraine, and connected through his wife with the family of the Abra de Raconis, a race of no mean repute in the Orleanois. It is nevertheless strongly asserted, and amongst others by Voltaire, that Ninon had no claim to a parentage of such distinction. The rank of her mother, according to this statement, was too obscure to deserve attention, and her father's profession was of no higher dignity than that of a teacher of the lute. This account is not the less likely, from the remarkable proficiency acquired by Ninon, at an early age, in the use of that instrument. The subject of these memoirs was luckily an only daughter; and her parents were therefore enabled, in whatever station, to give her a decent education. Their cares were, in this respect, well seconded by the docility and aptness of their pupil. We shall not dive into the dispute which has occupied some learned pens, as to the truth of their assertion, who tell us, that she had read both Montaigne and Charron at the early age of ten. Examples of such precocious talent are neither singular nor important. It is more certain, that in the course of her education she acquired a competent knowledge of Spanish and Italian, both of which languages she is said to have spoken fluently. Her mother and father died within a year of each other, and left her, at the critical age of sixteen, without any near family-relation or natural protector. By this event, she found herself sole mistress of an income amounting to eight or ten thousand livres, a considerable sum at that time, and which is singly sufficient to account for her subsequent mode of living. When we are likewise told, that she was more than commonly beautiful, accomplished, in the bloom of youth, and equally courted and admired by the gayest and best informed society, we find but little to wonder at in the course she afterwards adopted. Still less shall we be surprised, if we admit the statement of Voltaire, that the first favours of this accomplished creature were obtained by the Cardinal de Richerlieu. This story, though differently told by the author of the Memoirs, is undoubtedly true. It is corroborated by Cardinal -de Retz, and is at bottom admitted by the writer of her life, who does not question the attempt of the all-powerful minister, but denies its success, and attributes its failure to the virtue of Ninon. Besides, he adds, amongst all her failings and her follies, it is universally allowed, that she never made a traffic of her favours—and excepting, perhaps, this single instance,
his remark is true—but bestowed them on those objects only who had gained her transient affection.
At no period, and amongst no description of English women, could we find a parallel example to that of Ninon de I'Enclos. It would be impossible to defend, and difficult to extenuate, her maxims and the conduct they induced her to pursue, in any state of English society. We know not whether we are moved by a mistaken leniency, but we can scarcely find it in us to extend the same rigid measure to the illustrious Ninon, which we should unhesitatingly apply to our less tempted and better guarded countrywomen. There is much to be urged in palliation, if nothing in defence, of the victim of the Cardinal de Richelieu. That minister had just succeeded in consolidating the usurpations of the prerogative on the rights of the noblesse and the people, which had been silently advancing during the preceding reigns, and was followed by the long period of unexampled misgovernment, which oppressed and impoverished and degraded every rank and every order of men in the French empire, and ceased only with the Revolution. It is somewhat pleasant, in the midst of a review of the Memoirs of Mademoiselle de I'Enclos, to find ourselves thus suddenly immersed in a deep political disquisition. But this is not the only instance in which the inseparable connexion of public maxims of government with private morals, make it necessary to refer to state-affairs for an explanation of those of individuals. By the change we allude to, a change so well described and so feelingly lamented by Montesquieu, the whole body of the French nobility and the middle class of citizens were reduced to a servile attendance on the court, as the only means of advancement and reward. Every species of industry and merit in these classes was sedulously discouraged; and the motive of honourable competition for honourable things being withdrawn, no pursuit or occupation was left them, but the frivolous duties or the degrading pleasures of the palace. Next to the king, the women naturally became the first objects of their effeminate devotion; and it is difficult to say, which were soonest corrupted by courtiers consummate in the arts of adulation and unwearied in their exercise. The sovereign rapidly degenerated into an accomplished despot, and the women into intriguers and coquettes. Every thing known in England by the name of morals, as applied to the conduct of the state, or the manners and deportment of the sex, underwent a fatal degradation. We shall here, however, leave the king, and proceed with the women only—and we trust our readers are now satisfied of the use of our dissertation on the decline and fall of the ancient state of things in France. Whatever, then, may be alleged by serious and professed moralists on this occasion, we are content to appeal to the manners and customs of the court of Louis the Thirteenth, or rather of the Cardinal de Richelieu, in extenuation of the conduct of Ninon. We are persuaded our appeal will be admitted, and shall urge our suit no farther.
To return to Mademoiselle de l'Enclos, we are now told, that having thus entered on her career, and disposed of her
Eroperty in prudent and safe securities, she purchased a townouse in the Rue des Tournelles au Marais, at that time the centre of fashionable company, and another for her summer residence at Picpusse, in the environs of the capital. Shortly after this establishment, we read of the only sentimental attachment in which Ninon seems to have indulged throughout her long career of pleasure and dissipation. It is scarce worth while to mention, that the object of her early regard was Gaspar, Comte de Coligny, afterwards Due de Chatillon, who fell in the affair of Charenton, in 1649. It is not improbable, that her experience of the suffering attending the decay of such attachments—a suffering scarce adverted to by those who only contemplate the intercourse of the sexes, through the medium of poetry and sentiment—had considerable influence in determining her future conduct. She seems, at an early period, to have adopted the determination she adhered to during the rest of her life, of retaining so much only of the female character as was forced on her by nature and the insuperable laws of society. She would say to her friends: " I soon saw, that women were put off with the most frivolous and unreal privileges, while every solid advantage was retained by the stronger sex—from that moment I determined on abandoning my own, and assuming that of the men." Acting on this principle, her society was chiefly composed of persons of her adopted sex; of whom the most celebrated of their time made her house a constant place of meeting. It is useless to make a catalogue of these celebrated persons. As their chief claim to distinction was founded on their talents for society and their agreeable manners, their names are now almost as obscure as they were once notorious. Every reader, however, is acquainted with those of the Comte de Grammont, St. Evremont, Chapelle, Moliere, Fontenelle, and many others of the Oiseaux des Tournelles—an appellation then much coveted by the beaux and wits of Paris, and which distinguished the chosen visitors of Ninon, from the less favoured idlers of the metropolis.
"Je ne suis plus Oiseau des champs,
Et qui plaignent les Tourterelles
Such is the first stanza of a song of triumph, composed on his admission into this illustrious corps, by the Comte de Charleval; of whom Scarron, speaking of the delicacy of his taste and the refinement of his wit, asserted—" Que les muses ne le nourissoient que de blanc manger et d'eau de poulet." With this description of the Count's genius, the stanza we have quoted, and which unfortunately is all that remains of M. de Charleval, sufficiently accords. It is just what we should look for from a petit-maitre, extenuated by the antiphlogistic regimen of " blanc-manger and chicken-broth."
Among the members of Ninon's coterie, there were many whose lives abound with anecdotes which our limits compel us, somewhat reluctantly, to omit. We will not tell the story of the last of the thousand loves of the once famous Desyveteaux—but we cannot withhold an anecdote of a certain Monsieur d'Elbenc, to which we find nothing equal in the annals of the Salpetriere. The great object of enthusiasm with Monsieur d'Elbenc was epic poetry—and like most persons in similar conditions, Monsieur d'Elbenc was up to his ears in debt. We are gravely told of his calling one morning on Manage, to request a special favour—which was, that he would write an epic poem. If he had asked him to pay his debts, we should scarcely have been so much surprised.
Numerous as were her acquaintance, a catalogue raisomiee of Ninon's lovers would scarcely be less extensive. For this and other reasons, we decline the task of presenting our readers with an accurate and complete account. Some of them, however, must be mentioned, and we may as well commence with Monsieur le Marquis de Villarceaux. According to the fashion of the day, M. de Villarceaux, who seems to have monopolized the favours of our heroine more undividedly, and for a greater period of time than any other of her aspirants, forsook his wife for a mistress. During the troubles of the Fronde, Ninon resided at his country-house for three successive years—a remarkable instance of constancy in so frail a lady. Of the indignation which this conduct excited in Madame de Villarceaux, a ludicrous instance is recorded. Intending one day, with the incautious partiality of a mother, to exhibit her son's attainments before a large company, she desired his tutor, who was an Italian, to examine him on some subject touching his studies. The pedagogue unhappily stumbled on the following ill-timed query—Quern habuit successorem Belus, rex Assyriorum? To which the boy replied, with more accuracy than usually attends such exhibitions, and with an