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Italian tone of pronunciation, which heightened the resemblance of the sounds—Ninum. The enraged mother imagining, by a natural error, that the King of the Assyrians, and the successor of Belus, was no other than Ninon de l'Enclos, and persuaded that the question was intended to produce the answer, lavished her objurgations on the unlucky tutor, for teaching her son to laugh at the faults of his father.
That Ninon could inspire her admirers with the excess both of passion and esteem, is sufficiently evident from the following anecdotes. In the midst of a new attachment between Ninon, on the one part, and the Marquis de Chatres, on the other, the latter was ordered to his regiment by a command as peremptory as it was sudden. In spite of the known character of his mistress, this vain or foolish lover employed every species of entreaty to secure her fidelity in his absence. Amongst many expedients directed to this point, his clear-sighted passion suggested the fortunate idea of a bond of constancy fairly written, subscribed and sealed by the hand of his frail mistress. Whether this bond was sufficient to quiet his suspicions we are not informed. But we are told, as we should naturally expect, that Ninon was not long restrained by this legal document, from forming a fresh connexion.—Ah! le bon billet qu'a la Chatres—Only think of la Chatres' bond—said the consciencestricken delinquent, at a moment when the reflection came too late.
M. de Gourville, an intimate friend of Ninon's, adhered, in the wars of the Fronde, to the party of the Prince of Conde. Compelled to quit Paris, to avoid being hanged in person, as he was in effigy in 1661, he divided the care of a large sum of ready money, between Ninon de l'Enclos and the Grand Penitencier of N6tre Dame. The money was deposited in two caskets. On his return from exile, he applied to the priest for his property, and was not a little surprised, that instead of preserving it for the owner, the depositary had distributed it amongst the poor for the good of the owner's soul. Gourville, disgusted at this flagrant hypocrisy in one whose profession required the most scrupulous honesty and good faith, applied to Mademoiselle de l'Enclos with an apprehensive heart, little doubting that the contents of her casket had been employed, during his absence, in similar works of charity. His fears were by no means lessened, when she intreated his forgiveness for a great misfortune occasioned by his banishment. He was, however, somewhat relieved, when she continued, by observing, that during that period she had lost her taste for those very familiar attentions with which he had formerly honoured her; and as for the twenty thousand crowns he had entrusted to her keeping, he had better withdraw them from her hands, as she should wish to see him, for the future, on no other footing than that of a friendly intimacy. Surprised at the contrast between her conduct and that of her reverend co-depositary, Gourville related the story of the latter without concealing his surprise at the different mode of action pursued by the clergyman and the professed woman of gallantry. Her reply is less delicate than witty; but the whole business has given her the name of la belle gardeuse de cassette* Voltaire, whose vigilant antipathy no anecdote of this nature could escape, has made it, with some variation, the subject of a comedy, well known to every admirer of the French drama, under the name of La Depositaire.
In spite of her systematic fickleness in "affairs of the heart," Ninon is said to have been instigated, either by love or vanity, to a sacrifice almost unparalleled in the annals of female coquetry. The Comte de Fiesque, one of the most accomplished nobles of the French court, had, it seems, grown tired of an attachment of some standing between Ninon and himself, before the passion of the former had subsided. A letter, containing an account of the change of his sentiments, was presented to his mistress, while employed at her toilette in adjusting her hair, which was remarkable for its beauty and luxuriance. Afflicted by the unwelcome intelligence, she cut off half her tresses, and sent them as her answer to the Count. He was struck by this unequivocal proof of the sincerity of her passion, and restored his allegiance to a mistress so devoted and so faithful, who thenceforward retained it till she herself grew weary of his attentions.
Of the Marquis de Sevign&, son of the celebrated authoress of those charming letters, which every body has read, and the person to whom the putative Epistles of Ninon are addressed, we feel no great inclination to speak at length. The story of his double intrigue with Mademoiselle de l'Enclos and La Chammele, or Champ-mele, at that time an actress of great repute, is neither honourable to himself, nor would it be amusing to the reader. Amongst the letters of his mother, there are several relating to this affair.
We have a saying of Ninon's, that had she been consulted at the creation of our race, she would have advised the deity to have transferred the wrinkles of the forehead to the heel. In her own case, this would have been no advantage; for her wrinkles seem never to have diminished her power of pleasing. A singular and ludicrous adventure, and the last of this nature on the list, occurred to her at a period so late in life, that we are almost tempted to believe the story which was current amongst her less durable and attractive contemporaries, that in her youth a Noctambule, or a little black man had appeared to her, from whom she received a promise of perpetual beauty. The hero of the story was, as usual, a priest; according to the Memoirs, the Abbe de Gedouin—according to Voltaire, his own relation, the Abbe de Chateauneuf. This reverend and venerable person, himself advanced in years somewhat beyond the period which nature has assigned to clerical or lay gallantry, was introduced to, and, according to custom, became enamoured of Ninon in her sixty-ninth or seventy-ninth year. There is a variation on this point, between the Memoirs and M. de Voltaire, which we shall not attempt to reconcile, since ten years more or less, at such an age and in such a business, are really of no moment whatever. After the usual preliminaries, the lover hesitatingly requested a reward for his devout attachment, and was greatly astonished—not at a refusal, for Ninon never refused—but at a postponement of the favour for the mortal period of three days. A delay of this kind—a delay so nicely calculated, and adjusted with arithmetic accuracy—a delay of three days—and three is a mysterious number—must involve some curious meaning. In this the meaning was most singular. The sun had scarcely completed his third diurnal revolution, when the mystery was explained, and the happy lover discovered the momentous reason, which had doomed him to the rack of amorous expectation for so strange a period. A slight movement of vanity had suggested to Ninon's imagination, that a bonne fortune at the age of seventy or eighty—according to the chronological system we are inclined to adopt— would be contemplated by mankind as an occurrence of more than common interest. It was not till the third day, from the Abbe's avowal of his love, that her fourteenth lustrum was completed—and thus does this strange adventure add another instance to the triumphs of female vanity over female passion.
This was certainly not the Abbe, although, amongst her numerous acquaintance of that kind, it would be difficult to say who was, who undertook the desperate task of converting Mademoiselle de I'Enclos to a sense of piety and virtue. On the occurrence of some difficulty with regard to a point of doctrine, which the lady was not so willing to admit as her instructor was eager to enforce, he concluded an eloquent exhortation, by intreating her, if she could not believe it, at least to make an offering of her unbelief, till heaven should graciously enable her to subject her reason to its mysteries. It is some consolation to know, that our errors themselves may be turned to so good an account.
Of two of Ninon's children there are anecdotes which are worth preserving. The Chevalier de la Boissiere, the eldest, according to the Memoirs, was born at so critical a period, that the right and honour of paternity were disputed by the Comte d'Estrees and the Abb6 d'Effiat, who finally decided the question by lot. The die fell to the fortunate Count, who afterwards becoming Marechal de France and Vice-Amiral, was enabled to provide for his son in the navy, in which he obtained promotion, and lived and died in tranquil and undisturbed obscurity. This anecdote is strangely illustrative of the nature of the old government of France, and of French society at that day— when dignitaries of the church were not ashamed of these scandalous occurrences, and men in public situations employed their patronage in establishing their bastard children.
The adventure of the second son, the Chevalier de Villiers, whose father is described in the Memoirs as M. de Gersai, although Villarceaux is honoured by Voltaire with the parentage of both, is one of the most tragical on record. He had been educated by his father in total ignorance of his birth, and was introduced, at the age of nineteen, to his mother's company as a perfect stranger. Ninon was then more than sixty, But so attractive, even at this period, was her unhappy beauty, that she inspired her son with the same passion which had captivated his father, and seemed, indeed, a natural consequence of her acquaintance to every thing in the shape of man. She discovered the fatal impression too late; and one day, when endeavouring to divert him from his miserable hopes, she was compelled to avoid his importunities by declaring herself to be his mother. The effect of so shocking a discovery may be easily anticipated. The unfortunate young man retired in an agony of horror, and put an end to his polluted existence with his own hand. This story has been told in Gil Blas, under the feigned names of Inisilla de Cantarilla and Don Valerio de Luna. The concluding sentence is remarkable. "Don Valerio," says Le Sage, "se punit comme un autre GSdipe, avec cette difference, que le Thebain s'aveugla de regret d'avoir consomme le crime, et qu'au contraire le Castillan se perca de douleur de ne pouvoir le commettre."
This extraordinary woman, whose life has occupied us so long that we are unable to say any thing of her putative Epistles, which, with the exception of a few letters preserved in the works of Saint Evremont, are all that remain under her name, closed a protracted existence of pleasure and dissipation, at the age of ninety. She died, as she had lived, perfectly regardless of the common opinions of mankind, entirely devoid of the fears or expectations of religion, and seemingly awake to nothing but the inconvenience of sickness and old age. The following verses, which she composed a few hours before her death, are not without a certain pathos and tenderness of sentiment, which we should not have expected from her at any time, and are expressive of a firm resignation, or, perhaps, a philosophic indifference, not less remarkable. Vol. vnt. PART I. G
"Qu'un vain espoir ne vienne point s'offrir,
Je suis en age de mourir,
Que ferois-je ici d'avantage?"
Voltaire, then young, was introduced to her a few months before her death, by the Abbe de Chateauneuf, his relation, and the last of her long catalogue of lovers. She left him in her will a legacy of a thousand francs for the purpose of buying books, as a testimony of her esteem for talents, which she had penetration enough to discover would one day do honour to his country.
Ninon was never in any way connected with the court. She had been intimate with the famous Madame de Maintenon, when the latter was only known as Mad. Scarron, and Ninon's rival in the affection of M. de Villarceaux. There was too great a difference, however, in the temper and constitution of these celebrated women to admit of any sincere and lengthened intimacy. Madame de M. was one of that class whom Ninon so happily distinguished as the Jansenistes de I'amour—a phrase for which we find no equivalent in English, unless the puritans of love will convey a similar notion. The great difference between them is, that Ninon made use of that passion for the purpose of pleasure only, while her more exalted rival made it subservient to her ambitious projects, and did not hesitate with that view to cloak her licentious habits beneath the mantle of religion, and add hypocrisy to frailty. Of the two, we see no difficulty in giving the preference to Ninon.
We prefer a woman who, at least, turns her vices to the account of pleasure, and sometimes of public good, to one who aggravates them by unnecessary crimes, and seeks the exorbitant wages of her prostitution in the robbery and oppression of the people. We had rather see the patrimonial income of a Ninon de l'Enclos agreeably spent in the society of men of wit and letters, than the revenues of a Marchioness de Maintenon expended on the useless decoration of her own person, or hoarded for the purpose of elevating into rank and notice an insignificant family, who had no other claim to such distinction than they derived from the easy honesty of a female relation, and the dissolute extravagance of a vain and licentious sovereign.
It may, we repeat it, it may be alleged in palliation of the less extensively demoralizing habits of Ninon de l'Enclos, that her house was not even a copy of the court of Versailles. Compared with the latter, it was almost moral. While Ninon Was receiving the attentions of the most distinguished literati of her time in her house in the Rue des Tournelles, the mistress