The letters, revealed

In case you came to the Versailles Confidential concert on Feb 3 and wanted to savour the experience a little longer - or had to miss it but are curious to know the content of the letters, here is the text of the letters we selected:

(If this leaves you wanting more, you can find an excellent translation published by Penguin at Bob Miller Book Room in Toronto)

To (her cousin) Bussy-Rabutin [Les Rochers, Sunday 15 March 1648] I think you're a nice one not to have written to me for two months. Have you forgotten who I am, and the position I occupy in the family? Well, really, young man, I shall make you remember it, and if you annoy me I shall reduce you to the label [cadet branch of the aristocracy]. You know that I am at the end of a pregnancy, and I can't see in you any more sign of anxiety than if I were still a virgin. Very well, then, I am informing you, even though it may infuriate you, that I have brought forth a boy, whom I shall make suck hatred of you in with his milk, and that I shall have lots more simply to make more enemies for you. You haven't had the wit to do so yourself, you fine maker of daughters. But that is quite enough of concealing my love, dear cousin – nature wins over what is politic. I had meant to scold you for your laziness from the beginning of my letter to the end, but it is too much of an effort, and I must come back to telling you that M. de Sévigné and I love you dearly and often talk of the pleasure of being with you. To (her uncle) Coulanges [Paris, Monday 15 December 1670] What I am about to communicate to you is the most astonishing thing, the most surprising, the most marvellous, the most miraculous, most triumphant, most baffling, most unheard of, most singular, most extraordinary, most unbelievable, most unforeseen, biggest, tiniest, rarest, commonest, the most talked about, the most secret up to this day, the most brilliant, the most enviable, in fact a thing of which only one example can be found in past ages, and, moreover, that example is a false one; a thing nobody can believe in Paris (how could anyone believe it in Lyons?), a thing that makes everybody cry 'mercy on us', a thing that fills Mme de Rohan and Mme de Hauterive with joy, in short a thing that will be done on Sunday and those who see it will think they are seeing visions – a thing that will be done on Sunday and perhaps not done by Monday. I can't make up my mind to say it. Guess, ,I give you three tires. You give up? Very well, I shall have to tell you. M. de Lauzun is marrying on Sunday, in the Louvre – guess who? I give you four guesses, ten, a hundred. Mme de Coulanges will be saying; That's not so very hard to guess, it's Mlle de La Vallière. Not at all, Madame. Mlle de Retz, then? Not at all, you're very provincial. Of course, how silly we are, you say; It's Mlle Colbert. You're still further away. Then it must be Mlle de Créquy? You're nowhere near. I shall have to tell you in the end: he is marrying, on Sunday, in the Louvre, with the King's permission, Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle de ... Mademoiselle ... guess the name. He's marrying Mademoiselle, of course! Honestly on my honour, on my sworn oath! Mademoiselle the great Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle, daughter of the late Monsieur, Mademoiselle, granddaughter of Henri IV, Mademoiselle d'Eu, Mademoiselle de Dombes, Mademoiselle de Montpensier, Mademoiselle d'Orléans, Mademoiselle, first cousin of the King, Mademoiselle, destined for a throne, Mademoiselle the only bride in France worthy of Monsieur. There's a fine subject for conversation. If you shout aloud, if you are beside yourself, if you say we have lied, that it is false, that you are being taken in, that this is a fine old tale and too feeble to be imagined, if, in fine, you should even abuse us, we shall say you are perfectly right. We did as much ourselves. Good-bye, letters coming by this post will show you whether we are telling the truth or not. To Coulanges [Paris, Friday 19 December 1670] What you might call a bolt from the blue occurred yesterday evening at the Tuileries, but I must start the story further back. You have heard as far as the joy, transports, ecstasies of the Princess and her fortunate lover. Well, the matter was announced on Monday, as you were told. Tuesday was spent in talk, astonishment, compliments. On Wednesday Mademoiselle made a settlement on M. de Lauzun, with the object of bestowing on him the titles, names and honours needed for mention in the marriage contract, and that was enacted on the same day. So, to go on with, she bestowed on him four duchies: first the earldom of Du, which is the highest peerage in France and gives him first precedence, the duchy of Monpensier, which name he bore all day yesterday, the duchy of Saint-Fargeau and that of Châtellerault, the whole estimated to be worth twenty-two millions. Then the contract was drawn up, in which he took the name of Montpensier. On Thursday morning, that is yesterday, Mademoiselle hoped that the King would sign the contact as he had promised, but by seven in the evening His Majesty, being persuaded by the Queen, Monsieur and divers greybeards that this business was harmful to his reputation, decided to break it off, and after summoning Mademoiselle and M. de Lauzun, declared to them, in the presence of Monsieur le Prince, that he forbade their thinking any more about this marriage. M. de Lauzun received this order with all the respect, all the submissiveness, all the stoicism and all the despair that such a great fall required. As for Mademoiselle, according to her mood she burst into tears, cries, violent outbursts of grief, exaggerated lamentations, and she remained in bed all day, taking nothing but broth. So much for a beautiful dream, a fine subject for a novel or a tragedy, but above all for arguing and talking for ever and ever. And that is what we are doing day and night, evening and morning, on and on without respite. We hope you will do the same. Upon which I most humbly kiss your hands. To (her daughter) Madame de Grignan [Paris, Friday 20 February 1671] Know then, my child, that the day before yesterday, Wednesday, after returning from M. de Coulanges's, where we make up our letters for post-day, I returned home to bed – nothing extraordinary about that. But what is most extraordinary is that at three in the morning I heard people shouting “Burglars,” “Fire,” and these shouts were so near me and so persistent that I was sure it was here. I even though I heard my granddaughter's name, and felt sure she had been burnt alive. I got up with this fear in the dark and shaking so much that I could hardly stand. I rushed to her room – that is, yours – and found everything perfectly quiet. But I saw Guitaut's house well alight, and the flames were blowing over Mme de Vauvineux's house. In our courtyards, and especially M. de Guitaut's, there was a horrible glare. And cries, confusion, terrifying noises, beams and joists coming down. I had my doors opened and sent my servants to help. M. de Guitaut sent me a cashbox containing his most precious valuables. I stored it in my room and then was anxious to go out into the street to gape like everybody else. There I found M. and Mme de Guitaut half naked, Mme de Vauvineux, the Venetian Ambassador and all his staff, the little Vauvineux girl who was being carried still asleep into the Ambassador's house, and various pieces of furniture and silver also being taken there. Mme de Vauvineux was having her furniture moved out. I myself was in a sort of island, but I felt very sorry indeed for my poor neighbours. Mme Guéton and her brother were handing out good advice. We were all in a state of consternation, the fire had now such a hold that nobody dared go near it, and we could only hope that the blaze would come to an end with the end of poor Guitaut's house. He was pitiful to behold. He wanted to go and rescue his mother, in danger of being burnt to death on the third floor, but his wife clung to him and held him back by force. He was torn between the agony of not helping his mother and fear of hurting his wife, who was five months pregnant. He was pitiful to behold. Finally he begged me to look after his wife, which I did. He found that his mother had got through the flames and was safe. He wanted to go and recover some papers, but could not get near where they were. At length he came back to us in the street, where I had made his wife sit down. Some Capuchins, full of charity and skill, worked so well that they isolated the fire. Water was then thrown on the rest of the blaze and at last “the fight ended for want of fighters,” that is to say after the first and second floors of the antechamber and the small room and study to the right of the drawing-room had been completely destroyed. They were thankful for what remained of the house, although poor Guitaut will have suffered a loss of at least ten thousand écus, for they intend to have this apartment rebuilt, and it was painted and gilded. There were also several fine pictures belonging to M. Le Blanc, who owns the building, as well as lots of tables, mirrors, miniatures, pieces of furniture and tapestries. They are very upset about some letters; I have taken it into my head that they were from Monsieur le Prince. However, by about five in the morning we had to think about Mme Guitaut. I offered her my bed, but Mme Guéton put her in her own because she has several furnished rooms. We had her bled and sent for Boucher, who is very afraid that the great shock will bring on a miscarriage in a matter of days (there is every chance of it). So she is at poor Mme Guéton's; everyone goes in to see them and I go on with my attentions because I began too well not to carry on to the end. You will ask how the fire started in that building; we had no idea. There was no fire burning in the apartment where it began. But if one could have seen the funny side on such a terrible occasion, what portraits could not have been painted of the state we were all in? Guitaut was in his nightshirt, with some breeches on. Mme de Guitaut was bare-legged and had lost one of her bedroom slippers. Mme de Vauvineux was in her petticoat with no dressing-gown. All the servants and neighbours had nightcaps on. The Ambassador, in dressing-gown and wig, maintained perfectly the dignity of a Serene Highness. But his secretary was wonderful to behold. Talk about the chest of Hercules! This was a very different affair. The whole of it was on view, white, fat and dimpled, particularly as he was without a shirt, for the string that should keep it on had been lost in the scrimmage. That is the sad news from around the neighbourhood. I beg M. Deville, [the steward,] to go the rounds every night to see that all fires are out; one cannot take too many precautions against a disaster like this. I trust, my dear, that the passage on the water was good. In a word, I wish you every good thing and pray God to shield you from all the bad. To Madame de Grignan [Les Rochers, Wednesday 5 August 1671] I must tell you a bit of news about our States as your penalty for being Breton. M. de Chaulnes arrived on Sunday evening to the sound of all the din that Vitré can muster. On Monday morning he wrote me a letter and sent it by one of his gentlemen. I answered by going to dine with him. Food was served at two tables in the same room, which made a pretty good feed with fourteen covers at each table. Monseieur presided at one, Madame at the other. There was far too much to eat, roasts were taken back again as though untouched. For the pyramids of fruit the doorways had to be raised. Our forefathers never foresaw mechanics like these, since they didn't imagine a door had to be higher than themselves. A pyramid wants to come in (one of those pyramids that mean you are obliged to write notes from one side of the table to the other, not that there is anything upsetting about that, on the contrary it is very pleasant not to see what they conceal). This pyramid, with twenty dishes, was so satisfactorily knocked down at the door that the din drowned the violins, oboes and trumpets. After dinner Messieurs de Locmaria and de Coëtlogon, with two Breton ladies, danced wonderful passepieds and minuets with an air that our good dancers do not have by a long way; they do gypsy and Low Breton steps with a delicacy and precision that are delightful. I am always thinking of you and I recalled your dancing and the things I had seen you dance with such tenderness that this pleasure became quite painful to me. They talked a lot about you. I am sure that you would have been delighted to see Locmaria dance. The violins and passepieds at Court make you sick in comparison. It is quite extraordinary; they do a hundred different steps, but always with this quick, exact rhythm. I have never seen a man dance this kind of dance as he does. To Madame de Grignan [Paris, Wednesday 8 April 1671] A word or two about your brother. He has been sent packing by Ninon. She is tired of loving and not being loved in return. She asked for her letters back and they have been returned. I was very glad about this separation. I had always breathed a word to him about God, reminded him of his former virtue and begged him not to stifle the Holy Spirit in his heart. Had it not been that he let me put in a word or two now and again I would not have agreed to receive his confidences in this way for I didn't want them. But that is not all. When one breaks off one relationship one hopes to catch up on another. The young wonder, [the actress La Champmeslé] has not broken off so far, but I think she will. This is why: yesterday my son came from the other end of Paris to tell me about the mishap that had befallen him. He had found a favourable opportunity, and yet, dare I say it? His little gee-gee stopped short at Lérida. It was an extraordinary thing; the damsel had never found herself at such an entertainment in her life. The discomfited knight beat a retreat, thinking he was bewitched. And what will strike you as comic was that he was dying to tell me about this fiasco. We laughed a lot, and I told him I was very glad he had been punished in the part where he had sinned. He then turned on me and said I had given him some of the ice in my composition, that he could well do without that resemblance, which I would have done better to pass on to my daughter. He wanted Pecquet to put him to rights once again. He said the silliest things in the world, and so did I. It was a scene worthy of Molière. What is true is that his imagination has had such a setback that I don't think he'll get over it for a long time. In vain did I assure him that the empire of love is full of tragic stories, he is inconsolable. The little Chimène says she sees he doesn't love her and consoles herself elsewhere. Altogether it is a mix-up I find laughable, and I wish with all my heart it would lead him away from the unfortunate situation he is in with regard to God. The other day he told me that a certain actor wanted to get married although he suffered from a somewhat dangerous malady. His friend said to him, “Good God, wait till you're cured, or you will be the death of us all!” I thought that was very epigrammatical. Ninon told my son the other day that he was an old pumpkin fricasseed in snow. You see what it means to move in high society, you pick up a thousand elegant endearments. To Madame de Grignan [Paris, Wednesday 16 March 1672] You ask me, my dear child, whether I am still fond of life. I admit that I think it has some acute sorrows. But I am even more repelled by death and I feel that I am so unfortunate to have to finish all this by death, and that if I could go backwards I would ask for nothing better. I find I am in the midst of an undertaking that embarrasses me; I was launched upon life without my consent. I have go to leave it and that overwhelms me. And how shall I leave it? Which way? Through which door? When will it be? In what frame of mind? Shall I suffer thousands and thousands of pains and die in desperation? Shall I have a stroke? Shall I die in an accident? How shall I stand with God? What shall I have to present to Him? Will fear or necessity bring me back to Him? Am I worthy of paradise? Am I only fit for hell? What an alternative! What a puzzle! Nothing is so silly as to pin one's salvation to uncertainty, but nothing is more natural, and the stupid life I lead is the easiest thing in the world to understand. I am lost in these thoughts, and I find death so terrible that I hate life more because it leads me there than because of thorns to be met with on the way. You will say I want to live for ever. Not at all, but if my opinion had been consulted I would have like to die in my nurse's arms; it would have spared me many troubles and brought me to heaven quite safely and easily. But let us change the subject.[...] I can't pity you for having no butter in Provence because you have admirable oil and excellent fish. Oh my dear, how well I understand what people like you find to do and think in the middle of your Provence. I shall think of it as you do, and pity you all my life for spending some of your finest years there.

Be sure to catch Handel's Heroines on Sunday May 6 at 2pm, 361 Danforth Ave!

#MadamedeSévigné #French #letters #concerts

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