페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

philosophy what actual dissection is to anatomy; and any excessive fastidiousness concerning the moral turpitude of the tale, is as misplaced as a disgust at the purtrefaction and foul air of a dissecting-room. For our own parts, we are sufficiently advanced in life and in reading to be a little tired of the dry details of carnage and of revolutions, divested of all circumstance, and delivered in their most naked generalities. Still more are we weary of those kind-hearted historians who take the trouble of manufacturing systems for their readers, driving through our brains like Queen Mab, and suggesting to us how to think and feel upon every questionable position in kingcraft and diplomacy. History at best gives but events illustrated by guesses at their supposed causes; memoirs paint men.

It is, doubtless, very true that a courtier or a lord of the bed-chamber, who sits down to chronicle the events of the day, will indulge his partialities and his piques; and that at best, he is not the very surest of judges in matters of deep concernment. But then, on the other hand, his nearness to the actors leaves him less in danger of error concerning facts; and the less he is able to grapple with state mysteries, the less he is likely to mislead his readers by alembicated systems The simplest explanations of facts are generally the nearest to the truth; and we should prefer an account of the game from the dullest looker-on, to the best narrative of an hearsay witness. Besides, memoir writers seldom stand alone; and their mistakes and infidelities are generally corrected by the diaries of "those of the adverse faction."

That the memoirs of high aristocratic writers should be full of intrigues, vices, and even worse than vices, may be matter of regret to those who would believe, at all costs, that high station must produce an high-toned morality. But if such things exist in nature, we cannot conceive a single benefit to be derived from their concealment.

And it is worthy of remark, that the very censure of which we complain, follows close upon the most felicitous deductions in favour of liberty, derived from the cynical or naïve confessions of a scandalous royal memoir writer. Had no such chronicles ever existed, or had their pages fallen into the hands of some hysterical moralist, who had committed them all to the flames, the innate vice and corruption of the ancien regime would remain unknown; and man would yet have to acquire by bitter experience another practical lesson on the connexion between equal rights and diffusive virtue.

With respect to wounding the feelings of the living, nothing can be more unjustifiable than wantonly and falsely to gibbet third persons in works of this description. But if great and marking personages will indulge in licentious and absurd habits, will make themselves ridiculous and contemptible, and if they find their way into the anecdotical manuscripts of their contemporaries, the public have the same interest in the publication, as they have in the pages of the Newgate Calendar.

If it be thought desirable that man should have been constructed with a window in his heart, it is doubly so that great men should be thus penetrable; and so far are we from perceiving the great sin or shame in the public avidity for scandalous tales, that we much question whether the most offensive of the recent publications in this genre will not work a great public good, by preventing the recurrence of that disgraceful vogue, which, for a while, placed peeresses and prostitutes in the

close vicinity of contiguous opera boxes, and which emptied the drawing-rooms of virtuous females, to crowd the orgies of their impure rivals with senators and statesmen. Is there not, indeed, much valuable instruction to be drawn from the exposé of idleness, extravagance, and heartless dissipation displayed in that very book, which are the fruits of our existing systems of education in the higher classes? Whatever exists is fair matter of history; and humanity has never benefited by that hypocritical prudery, which dreads to discover in black and white the vice which it is content to tolerate in the powerful and the rich, so long as it is known only to exist through a veil, and not made matter of quotable record.

Among the numerous collections of passing anecdote, none are more pregnant with matter for amusement and for reflection, than the Memoirs of the Marquis de Dangeau. The reign of Louis XIV. is still a riddle to the majority of English readers; and those of them who judge of that monarch and his court by the professed writers of histories, will form but a false and inadequate notion of the talents, the resources, and crimes, and the baseness which made the destiny of France, not only on that day, but influenced it through all succeeding generations. Dangeau, who was constantly about the king's person, employed himself in writing a journal of whatever came to his knowledge in the court, from the dragoonings of the Hugonots to the royal inquiries after those who "heard mass irreverently," or even after still meaner and more unrepeatable details. In his days modern philosophy did not exist, and no suspicion had as yet entered the heart of man that kings might do wrong. Dangeau, therefore, in the simplicity of his ignorance, never paused to think how his anecdote would tell, but put down every thing together, good and bad, wisdom and absurdity, and left his reader to make the most of the narration. Lemontey justly observes that this character of the author and the peculiar style of his work form no inconsiderable part of the information it affords. Dangeau, it seems, had been a soldier and a diplomatist; he was a marked and leading personage at court, a patron of Boileau, and a wit among nobles, if he was but a noble among wits. The inapprehensive bomhommie with which he enters upon details of business, and the flat dry mode of his telling the most piquant facts, afford therefore curious evidence concerning the metal of which great men were then made, and are true signs of the times, proving that those who judge of the Augustan age of France by its Rochefoucaults and its Fenelons, measure the civilization of the country by men who were persecuted exceptions, and not examples and illustrations of the moral and intellectual condition of the people at large. Works have been written during the Revolution to stigmatize monarchical government and to blacken the Bourbons and their ancestors, which were justly discredited as the effusions of party malice: but the true enemies of legitimacy, the most dangerous and unanswerable of their opponents, are such writers as this Suetonius of the seventeenth century, these unwitting and unconscious "letters of the cat out of the bag," who record crimes and abuses "de gaieté de cœur," who denounces "sans s'en douter," and conceal nothing, because they are not aware that they have any thing to conceal.

So convinced was Madame de Genlis of this truth, that on making

her compilation from Dangeau's endless MSS. she has taken especial care, to the full extent of her judgment and foresight, to omit every thing that was likely to tell ill for the party in power, with our more enlightened generation; and both by selection, curtailments and occasional retouchings of passages, has striven to soften down the great articles of impeachment they exhibit against the grand monarch. So ingeniously indeed has she contrived to extract the sweets, and to avoid the sting of her original, that Lemontey has been enabled to publish an octavo volume of articles omitted by her,—all illustrative of the spirit of "flagornerie" in which she compiled, and eminently curious from their traits of weakness, absurdity, and despotic misrule. In the work before us, the translator has judiciously incorporated the most valuable of Lemontey's selection with those of Madame de Genlis, which form the basis of his book; and he has thus given a much fairer and more instructive compilation than either of the originals.

It is impossible to dip into a page of this singularly interesting publication without meeting with traits, which, though history would not stoop to record them, are well worth whole volumes of history. The king's regular and daily progress from chapel to the apartments of the reigning Sultana of the day, exhibits an union of cant and contempt for decency for which no general expression would obtain credit. That Versailles employed in its structure 36,000 workmen, that the lead alone cost thirty-two millions of livres, and that the king, on receiving the account of its expense, just glanced his eye at the sum total and threw the memorandum into the fire, are fine illustrations of the boundless selfishness of the Dis æque potestas and contrast fearfully with the frequent anecdotes of the misery and starvation of the wretched people.

The destitution of Villeneuve, the king's barber, for immorality, is another good anecdote, and stands well beside the following extract, under date of February 12 and 13, 1689.

"Feb. 12. This morning M. de Maurevel, being at his town residence in Paris, was awakened by a great noise which he heard in his court-yard and in the street. It was occasioned by bailiffs, who had come to seize his horses, for a pretended debt of his tailor. He got up in his robe de chambre, and not being able to make this canaille (one of whom, seeing him at the window, fired at him,) listen to reason, he took his pistols, and killed two of them. The rest made a precipitate retreat. M de Maurevel came here to give the King an account of the affair, and to ask justice and pardon from him, offering at the same time to go to prison. The King received him graciously, and told him to remain at Versailles till it was ascertained if the affair had happened as he related it. It is supposed that it will not be attended with serious consequences to him.

"13th. M. de Maurevel received the King's pardon, and the necessary protections for himself and people. He could not have been better treated."

The terms "pretended debt," and "canaille," are singularly impressive. The following, from Lemontey, is not in the translation. Aug. 6, 1689,

"The King has made a present to the Princess d'Harcourt of a man who has killed himself, from which she expects to make good profit. His name was Foucault, and he was said to be worth more than 20,000 livres of rent."

We entreat such of our readers who happen to be scandalized at modern "anatomizings, not to suppose that this fair princess was given

to cut up her friends-that is out of the legitimate routine of female and courtly gossiping; or that the gallant monarch meant to indulge her fondness for "otamies" by the present of a subject. By the "man” nothing more was intended than his effects; and no injury was meant to the feelings of sorrowing survivors, beyond what is implied in plundering them of their succession to feed a needy or hungry courtier.

The article dated Dec. 21, 1704, exhibits an equal act of folly and injustice.

"21st. The bills issued from the Mint are current in business. People are obliged to take them as cash, and the King pays interest on them to the day of their being repaid. But they will not be received in payment of demands on the part of the King. All these must be paid in cash. The smallest of these bills are for 500 livres."

Another omitted article of Lemontey's is as follows :—

"The Dukes of Burgundy and Berry went to shoot on the plain of St. Denis, when they killed 1500 partridges. The Duke of Berry killed 300 and bagged 240, although he did not shoot as well as usual. He shot near 700 times, and yet was not at all inconvenienced by the effect."

Whatever the birds might have been, this anecdote, we grieve to say, deprives our modern converters of field-sports into butcheries, of all their claim to originality. It is a true touch of the corrupting in fluence of aristocracy on the human heart; and as such, we recommend it to the particular notice of Mr. Martin.

The account of the death of Vauban affords a good lesson on the danger of attempting reforms; but we must abstain from further citation, and finish by again thanking the translator for this interesting performance.

ARCHIBALD HAMILTON ROWAN.

Or all the remarkable men I have met, Hamilton Rowan, I think, is the one whose external appearance most completely answers to the character of his mind, and the events of his life. The moment your eye has taken in the whole of his fine athletic configuration, you see at once that nature designed him to be a great massive engine of a popular cause. When he entered life, he might easily have taken his piace as a leading member of the aristocracy of his country. He had high connexions, a noble fortune, manners and accomplishments that would have graced a court-but his high and adventurous spirit could not have brooked the sedentary forms, and still less the despotic maxims, of an Irish state-career. He never could have endured to sit at a council-board, with his herculean limbs gathered under him, to deliberate upon the most expedient modes of trampling upon public rights. As a mere matter of animal propensity, his more natural vocation was to take the side of enterprise and danger-to mingle in the tumult of popular commotion, and leading on his band of citizen-soldiers "to the portals of the Castle, to call aloud in their name for the minister to come forth and resist at his peril the national cry for "Universal Emancipation."* This was his election, and his conscience coincided with his impulses. He became, as might be expected, the idol of the

* See his trial in Howell's State Trials for 1794.

populace, and, from the qualities which made him so, too formidable to the state to be tolerated. He was prosecuted and convicted, by a tribunal of very doubtful purity* of feeling too ardently for the political degradation of Ireland. Thus far Hamilton Rowan had acted upon the principles of an Irish reformer, and if he avowed them indiscreetly, or pushed them too far, he suffered for it. In his imprisonment, which he at least considered as oppression, he was provoked to listen to more dangerous doctrines. He committed himself in conferences with a spy who procured a ready access to his presence; and to avoid the consequences, effected his escape to a foreign land. After several years passed in wandering and exile, the merits of his personal character prevailed against the remembrance of his political aberrations, and an act of royal clemency, generously conceded without any humiliating conditions restored him once more to his country. There he has since resided, in the bosom of domestic quiet, and in the habitual exercise of every virtue that can ennoble private life. He has the satisfaction, too, in his old age, of finding that in a public point of view, his debt of gratitude to the crown has not been wholly unpaid. In his eldest son (Captain Hamilton, of the Cambrian frigate) he has given to the British navy one of its most gallant and distinguished commanders, and for whose sake alone every man of a generous spirit should abstain from gratuitous and cruel railings at the obsolete politics of the father.

Hamilton Rowan's exterior is full of interest. Whether you meet him abroad, or in a drawing-room, you are struck at once with his physical preeminence. Years have now rendered his frame less erect, but all the proportions of a noble model remain. In his youth he was remarkable for feats of strength and activity. The latter quality was put to no ordinary test, in a principal incident of his life, to which I shall presently refer. His face, both in feature and expression, is in strict accordance with the rest of his person. It has nothing denoting extraordinary comprehension, or subtlety of intellect; but in its masculine outline, which the workings of time have brought out into more prominent relief in the high and bushy brow-the unblenching eye-the compressed lips, and in the composed yet somewhat stern stability of expression that marks the whole, you find the symbols of high moral determination-of fidelity to prin ciple of self-reliance and self-oblivion, and above all of an uncompromising personal courage, that could front every form of danger face to face. The austerity of his countenance vanishes the moment he addresses you. His manners have all the fascination of the old school. Every tone of his voice is softened by an innate and undeviating courtesy that makes no distinctions of rank or sex. In the trivial details of common life, Hamilton Rowan is as gentle and complimentary to men as other men are in their intercourse with females.

* See the motion for a new trial, and the documents there used.-Howell's State Trials.

+ While I write, I am assisting my recollection by a drawing of Mr. Rowan, executed by the manly and truth-telling pencil of Comerford-a person, by the way, of so much genius in his profession, and so estimable and intellectual out of it, that I shall probably be tempted one of these days to turn his own art upon him, and present his friends, through the New Monthly, with a sketch of himself.

« 이전계속 »