MEMOIRS OF MADAME DE MONTESPAN,
By Madame de Montespan
MEMOIRS OF MADAME LA MARQUISE DE MONTESPAN
Written by Herself
Being the Historic Memoirs of the Court of Louis XIV.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Historians have, on the whole, dealt somewhat harshly with the fascinating Madame de Montespan, perhaps taking their impressions from the judgments, often narrow and malicious, of her contemporaries. To help us to get a fairer estimate, her own "Memoirs," written by herself, and now first given to readers in an English dress, should surely serve. Avowedly compiled in a vague, desultory way, with no particular regard to chronological sequence, these random recollections should interest us, in the first place, as a piece of unconscious self-portraiture. The cynical Court lady, whose beauty bewitched a great King, and whose ruthless sarcasm made Duchesses quail, is here drawn for us in vivid fashion by her own hand, and while concerned with depicting other figures she really portrays her own. Certainly, in these Memoirs she is generally content to keep herself in the background, while giving us a faithful picture of the brilliant Court at which she was for long the most lustrous ornament. It is only by stray touches, a casual remark, a chance phrase, that we, as it were, gauge her temperament in all its wiliness, its egoism, its love of supremacy, and its shallow worldly wisdom. Yet it could have been no ordinary woman that held the handsome Louis so long her captive. The fair Marquise was more than a mere leader of wit and fashion. If she set the mode in the shape of a petticoat, or devised the sumptuous splendours of a garden fete, her talent was not merely devoted to things frivolous and trivial. She had the proverbial 'esprit des Mortemart'. Armed with beauty and sarcasm, she won a leading place for herself at Court, and held it in the teeth of all detractors.
Her beauty was for the King, her sarcasm for his courtiers. Perhaps little of this latter quality appears in the pages bequeathed to us, written, as they are, in a somewhat cold, formal style, and we may assume that her much-dreaded irony resided in her tongue rather than in her pen. Yet we are glad to possess these pages, if only as a reliable record of Court life during the brightest period of the reign of Louis Quatorze.
As we have hinted, they are more, indeed, than this. For if we look closer we shall perceive, as in a glass, darkly, the contour of a subtle, even a perplexing, personality.
P. E. P.
HISTORIC COURT MEMOIRS.
MADAME DE MONTESPAN.
The Reason for Writing These Memoirs.—Gabrielle d'Estrees.
The reign of the King who now so happily and so gloriously rules over France will one day exercise the talent of the most skilful historians. But these men of genius, deprived of the advantage of seeing the great monarch whose portrait they fain would draw, will search everywhere among the souvenirs of contemporaries and base their judgments upon our testimony. It is this great consideration which has made me determined to devote some of my hours of leisure to narrating, in these accurate and truthful Memoirs, the events of which I myself am witness.
Naturally enough, the position which I fill at the great theatre of the Court has made me the object of much false admiration, and much real satire. Many men who owed to me their elevation or their success have defamed me; many women have belittled my position after vain efforts to secure the King's regard. In what I now write, scant notice will be taken of all such ingratitude. Before my establishment at Court I had met with hypocrisy of this sort in the world; and a man must, indeed, be reckless of expense who daily entertains at his board a score of insolent detractors.
I have too much wit to be blind to the fact