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Louis XIV - John S. C. Abbott




Madame de Maintenon


1649-1685


The extreme distress and destitution of Françoise touched the heart of Madame de Neuillant. She again took the orphan child under her charge and returned her to school in the convent. Françoise gradually developed remarkable beauty and intelligence. Her quiet, unobtrusive, instinctive tact gave her fascinating power over most who approached her. She often visited the countess, where she attracted much admiration from the fashionable guests who were ever assembled in her saloons. The dissolute courtiers were lavish in their attentions to the highly-endowed child. Established principles of virtue alone saved her from ruin. Misfortune and sorrow had rendered her precocious beyond her years. It was her only and her earnest desire to take the veil, and join the sisters in the convent. But money was needed for that purpose, and she had none.

There was residing very near Madame de Neuillant, a very remarkable man, Paul Scarron. He was born of a good family, and had traveled extensively. Having run through the disgraceful round of fashionable dissipation, he had become crippled by the paralysis of his lower limbs, and was living a literary life in the enjoyment of a competence. He was still young. Imperturbable gayety, wonderful conversational powers, and celebrity as a poet, caused his saloons to be crowded with distinguished and admiring friends. Some one mentioned to him the situation of Françoise d'Aubigné, and her desire to enter the convent. His kindly heart was touched, and, heading a subscription-list, he soon obtained sufficient funds from among his friends to enable her to secure the retreat she desired.

Quite overjoyed, the maiden hastened to the apartments of the poet to express her gratitude. Scarron was astonished when the apparition of a beautiful girl of fifteen, full of life, and with a figure whose symmetric grace the sculptor could with difficulty rival, appeared before him. Her heart was glowing with gratitude which her lips could hardly express, that he was furnishing her with means for a life-long burial in the glooms of the cloister. The poet gazed upon her for a moment quite bewildered, and then said, with one of those beaming smiles which irradiated his pale, intellectual face with rare beauty,

"I must recall my promise; I can not procure you admission into a religious community. You are not fitted for a nun. You can not understand the nature of the sacrifice which you are so eager to make. Will you become my wife? My servants anger and neglect me. I am unable to enforce obedience. Were they under the control of a mistress, they would do their duty. My friends neglect me; I can not pursue them to reproach them for their abandonment. If they saw a pretty woman at the head of my household, they would make my home cheerful. I give you a week to decide."

Françoise returned to the convent bewildered, almost stunned. She was alone in the world, living upon reluctant charity. There was no one to whom she could confidingly look for advice. The future was all dark before her. Scarron, though crippled, was still young, witty, and distinguished as one of the most popular poets of the day. His saloon was the intellectual centre of the capital, where the most distinguished men were wont to meet. At the close of the week Françoise returned an affirmative answer. They were soon married. She found apparently a happy home with her crippled but amiable husband. The brilliant circle in the midst of which she moved strengthened her intellect, enlarged her intelligence, and added to that wonderful ease and gracefulness of manner with which she was by nature endowed.

In the year 1660 Monsieur Scarron died. He had lived expensively, and, as his income was derived from a life annuity which ceased at his death, his wife found herself again in utter destitution. She was then forty-five years of age. Madame de Montespan, who had frequently met her in those brilliant circles, which had been rendered additionally attractive by her personal loveliness and mental charms, persuaded the king to appoint Madame Scarron governess for her children. A residence was accordingly assigned her near the palace of the Luxembourg, where she was installed in her responsible office. She enjoyed a princely residence, horses, a carriage, and a suite of servants. The many attractions of Madame Scarron were not lost upon the king. He often visited her, loved to converse with her, and soon the jealousy of Madame de Montespan was intensely excited by the manifest fondness with which he was regarding the new favorite.

Greatly to the disgust of Madame de Montespan, whose influence was rapidly waning, the king appointed Madame Scarron to the responsible office of Mistress of the Robes  to the dauphiness, Mary Ann of Bavaria, who was soon to arrive. He also conferred upon her the fine estate of Maintenon, with the title of Marchioness of Maintenon. It was now the turn of Madame de Montespan to experience the same neglect and humiliation through which she had seen, almost exultingly, the unhappy Madame de la Valliére pass.

Madame de Maintenon
MADAME DE MAINTENON.


The haughty favorite had reached her thirty-ninth year. The charms of youth were fast leaving her. Louis had attained his forty-second year. Bitter reproaches often rose between them. The king was weary of her exactions. He made several efforts, but in vain, to induce her to retire to one of the estates which he had conferred upon her. The daily increasing alienation led the king more frequently to seek the soothing society of the calm, gentle, serious Madame de Maintenon. Her fascinations of person and mind won his admiration, while her virtues commanded his respect.

Such was the posture of affairs when preparations were made for the reception of the dauphiness with the utmost magnificence. The costumes of Madame de Maintenon were particularly remarked for their splendor, being covered with jewels and embroidered with gold.

"Madame de Maintenon, although in her forty-fifth year, had lost no charm save that of youth, which had been replaced by a stately grace, and a dignified self-possession that rendered it almost impossible to regret the lighter and less finished attractions of buoyancy and display. Her hands and arms were singularly beautiful; her eyes had lost nothing of their fire; her voice was harmoniously modulated, and there was in the whole of her demeanor unstudied ease, which was as far removed from presumption as from servility."

Madame de Montespan was so annoyed by the honors conferred upon Madame de Maintenon that she was betrayed into saying, "I pity the young foreigner, who can not fail to be eclipsed in every way by her Mistress of the Robes."

Early in the year 1680 Madame de Maintenon and M. Bossuet, bishop of Meaux, who had educated the dauphin, accompanied by a suitable retinue, proceeded to Schelestadt to receive the dauphiness. Here the ceremony of marriage by proxy was to be solemnized. The king and the dauphin proceeded as far as Vitry le Français to receive the bride. She was not beautiful, "but she was," writes Madame de Sévigné, "very graceful; her hands and arms were exquisitely moulded. She had so fine a figure, so admirable a carriage, such handsome teeth, such magnificent hair, and so much amiability of manner, that she was courteous without being insipid, familiar without losing her dignity, and had so charming a deportment that she might be pardoned for not pleasing at first sight."

Louis seemed quite delighted with his new daughter-in-law, and devoted himself much to her entertainment. She was accompanied by her sister, the Princess of Tuscany, who was extremely beautiful. The king, in conversation with Mary Ann, remarked, "You never mentioned to me the fact that the Princess of Tuscany was so singularly lovely." With tact which gave evidence of her self-possession and ready wit, the dauphiness replied, "How can I remember, sire, that my sister monopolized all the beauty of the family, when I, on my part, have monopolized all its happiness."

The young dauphiness had sufficient penetration soon to perceive that the attentions which the king was apparently devoting to her were due mainly to his desire to enjoy the society of the beautiful and agreeable Mistress of the Robes. The dauphiness was annoyed. Naturally of a retiring disposition, very fond of books and of music, she soon wearied of the perpetual whirl of fashion and frivolity, and gradually withdrew as much as possible from the society of the court. She imbibed a strong dislike to Madame de Maintenon, which dislike Madame de Montespan did every thing in her power to increase. The dauphiness became very unhappy. She soon found that her husband was a mere cipher, whom she could neither regard with respect nor affection. Louis XIV. allowed the dauphiness to pursue her own course. While ever treating her with the most punctilious politeness, he continued, much to her chagrin, and especially to that of Madame de Montespan, to manifest his admiration for Madame de Maintenon, and constantly to seek her society. Thus the clouds of discontent, jealousy, and bitter hostility shed their gloom throughout the court. There was splendor there, but no happiness.

It was a good trait in the character of the king that he was affectionately attached to all  of his children. He provided for them sumptuously, and did every thing in his power to provide abundantly for those of dishonorable birth. Royal decrees pronounced them legitimate, and they were honored and courted as princes of the blood.

Mademoiselle de Blois, a daughter of Madame de la Valliére, was one of the most beautiful and highly accomplished women ever seen at the French court. Her mother had transmitted to her all her many virtues and none of her frailties. Tall and slender, her figure was the perfection of grace. A slightly pensive air enhanced the charms of a countenance remarkably lovely, and of a bearing in which were combined the highest attractions of self-respect and courtly breeding. Her voice was music. Her hands and feet were finely modeled. Several foreign princes had solicited her hand. But the king, her father, had invariably declined these offers. He declared that the presence of his daughter was essential to his happiness—that he could not be separated from her.

In 1680 Mademoiselle de Blois was married to the Prince de Conti, nephew of the great Condé. It was as brilliant a marriage as exalted rank, gorgeous dresses, superb diamonds, and courtly etiquette could create. The king could not have honored the nuptials more had he been giving a daughter of the queen to the proudest monarch in Europe. Her princely dowry was the same as would have been conferred on such an occasion. It amounted to five hundred thousand golden crowns. This was the same sum which the Spanish monarchy assigned Maria Theresa upon her marriage with the King of France.

It is difficult to imagine what must have been the emotions of Madame de la Valliére when she heard, in her narrow cell, the details of the brilliant nuptials of her child. Her loving heart must have experienced conflicting sensations of joy and of anguish. Madame de la Valliére had also a son, Count Vermandois. He became exceedingly dissipated, so much so as to excite the severe displeasure of the king. Rumor says that on one occasion he had the audacity to strike the dauphin. The council condemned him to death. Louis XIV., through paternal affection, commuted the punishment to imprisonment for life. The report was spread that he had died of a contagious disease, while he was privately conveyed to the prison of St. Marguerite, and subsequently to the Bastile, his face being ever concealed under an iron mask. Here he died, it is said, on the 19th of November, 1703, after an imprisonment of between thirty and forty years. The true explanation of this great historical mystery will probably now never be ascertained.

The story of the "Man with the Iron Mask" is one of the most remarkable in the annals of the past. Probably no information will ever be obtained upon this subject more full than that which Voltaire has given. He says that a prisoner was sent in great secrecy to the chateau in the island of St. Marguerite; that he was young, tall, and of remarkably graceful figure. His face was concealed by an iron mask, with coils of steel so arranged that he could eat without its removal. Orders were given to kill him instantly if he should announce who he was. He remained at the chateau many years in close imprisonment.

In 1690, M. St. Mars, governor of the prison at St. Marguerite, was transferred to the charge of the Bastile in Paris. The prisoner, ever masked, was taken with him, and was treated on the journey with the highest respect. A well-furnished chamber was provided for him in that immense chateau. The governor himself brought him his food, and stood respectfully like a servile attendant while he ate. The captive was extremely fond of fine linen and lace, and was very attentive to his personal appearance. Upon his death the walls of his chamber were rubbed down and whitewashed. Even the tiles of the floor were removed, lest he might have concealed a note beneath them.

It is very remarkable that, while it can not be doubted that the prisoner was a person of some great importance, no such personage disappeared from Europe at that time. It is a plausible supposition that the king, unwilling to consign his own son to death, sent him to life-long imprisonment; and that the report of his death by a contagious disease was circulated that the mother might be saved the anguish of knowing the dreadful fate of her child. Still there are many difficulties connected with this explanation, and there is none other which has ever satisfied public curiosity.

Madame de Montespan had eight children, who were placed under the care of Madame de Maintenon. Her eldest son, Count de Vixen, died in his eleventh year. Her second son, the Duke de Maine, was a lad of remarkable character and attainments. He loved Madame de Maintenon. He did not love his mother. Unfeelingly he reproached her with his ignoble birth. Madame de Montespan, though still a fine-looking woman, brilliant, witty, and always conspicuous for the splendor of her equipage and her attire, felt every hour embittered by the consciousness that her power over the king had passed away. She regarded the serious, thoughtful Madame de Maintenon as her successful rival, though her social relations with the king were entirely above reproach.

The character of the discarded favorite is developed by the measure she adopted to lure the susceptible and unprincipled monarch from the very agreeable society of Madame de Maintenon. In the department of Provence there was a young lady but eighteen years of age, Mary Angelica Roussille. She was of such wonderful beauty that its fame had reached Paris. Her parents had educated her with the one sole object of rendering her as fascinating as possible. They wished to secure for her the position of a maid of honor to the queen, hoping that by so doing she would attract the favor of the king. Madame de Montespan heard of her. She plotted to bring this young and extraordinary beauty to the court, that, by her personal charms, she might outrival the mental and social attractions of Madame de Maintenon. She described her intended protegé to the king in such enthusiastic strains that his curiosity was roused. She was brought to court. The monarch, satiated by indulgence, oppressed by ennui, ever seeking some new excitement, was at once won by the charms of the beautiful Mary Angelica. She became an acknowledged favorite. He lavished upon her gifts of jewels and of gold, and dignified her with the title of the Duchesse de Fontanges. The court blazed again with splendor to greet the new favorite; and, let it not be forgotten, to meet this royal splendor, millions of peasants were consigned to hovels, and life-long penury and want.

There was a constant succession of theatric shows, ballets, and concerts. Mary Angelica was a gay, frivolous, conceited, heartless girl, who recklessly squandered the gold so profusely poured into her lap. The insolent favorite even ventured to treat the queen with disdain, assuming the priority. In the streets she made a truly regal display in a gorgeous carriage drawn by eight cream-colored horses, while the clustering ringlets, the floating plumes, and the truly radiant beauty of the parvenue  duchess attracted all eyes. If she had ever heard, she refused to heed the warning voice of the prophet, saying, "Know thou that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment."

The scheme of Madame de Montespan had succeeded far more fully than she had expected or desired. The absorption of the king in the new-comer was so entire that the discarded favorite was tortured with new pangs of jealousy and remorse. Implacably she hated the Duchess of Fontanges. With her sharp tongue she mercilessly cut the luxurious beauty, who had intelligence enough to feel the sarcasms keenly, but had no ability to retort. A disgraceful quarrel ensued, in which the most vulgar epithets and the grossest witticisms were bandied between them. The king himself at length found it necessary to interpose. He applied to Madame de Maintenon for counsel and aid. She had quietly attended to her duties, observing all that was passing, but taking no part in these shameful intrigues. Conscious that any attempt to influence Madame de Montespan, hardened as she was in her career, would be futile, she ventured to address herself to the young and inexperienced Duchess de Fontanges. Gently she endeavored to lead her to some conception of the enormity of the life she was leading, and of the indecency of compromising the king and the court by undignified brawls.

The vain and heartless beauty received her counsels with bitter derision and passionate insult, and attributed every annoyance to which, as she averred, she was continually subjected, to the jealous envy of those with whose ambitious views she had interfered; more than hinting that Madame de Maintenon herself was among the number. She was, however, only answered by a placid smile, and instructed to remember that those who sought to share her triumphs and her splendor must be content at the same time to partake her sin. It was a price too heavy to pay even for the smiles of a monarch. In vain did the flushed and furious beauty plead the example of others, higher born and more noble than herself. The calm and unmoved monitress instantly availed herself of this hollow argument to bid her, in her turn, to set an example which the noblest and the best-born might be proud to follow.

"And how can I do this?" was the sullen inquiry.

"By renouncing the society of the king," firmly replied Madame de Maintenon. "Either you love him, or you love him not. If you love him, you should make an effort to save both his honor and your own. If you do not love him, it will cost you no effort to withdraw from the court. In either case you will act wisely and nobly."

"Would not any one believe who heard you," passionately exclaimed the duchess, "that it was as easy to leave a king as to throw off a glove?"

This was the only reply. The mission of Madame de Maintenon had entirely failed. The proud, unblushing beauty, whose effrontery passed all bounds, was greatly enraged against Madame de Maintenon; and when she perceived that the king was again beginning to take refuge in her virtuous society and conversation, she vowed the most signal vengeance.

But the day of retribution soon came—far sooner than could have been expected. The guilty and pampered duchess was taken ill—hopelessly so, with a sickness that destroyed all her beauty. She became sallow, pallid, gaunt, emaciate, haggard. The selfish, heartless king wished to see her no more. He did not conceal his repugnance, and quite forsook her. The humiliation, distress, and abandonment of the guilty duchess was more than she could bear. She begged permission, either sincerely or insincerely, to retire to the convent of Port Royal. Louis, whose crime was far greater than that of his wrecked and ruined victim, was glad to be rid of her. But she was too far gone, in her rapid illness, to be removed. It was soon manifest that her life was drawing near to its close. She begged to see the king once more before she died.

Louis XIV. dreaded every thing which could remind him of that tomb toward which all are hastening, and especially did he recoil from every death-bed scene. The wretched man would not have listened to the plea of the dying girl had not the remonstrances of his confessor constrained him. Thus, reluctantly, he entered the dying chamber. He found Mary Angelica faded, withered, and ghastly—all unlike the radiant beauty whom for a few brief months he had almost worshiped. Egotist as he was, he could not restrain his tears. Her glassy eyes were riveted upon his countenance. Her clammy hand almost convulsively clasped his own. Her livid lips quivered in their last effort as she besought him to pay her debts, and sometimes to remember her. Louis promised all she asked. As she sank back upon her pillow, she gasped out the declaration that she should die happy, as she saw that the king could weep for her. Immediately after she fell into a swoon and died.

The exultation of Madame de Montespan at her death was so indecent and undisguised as to excite the disgust of the king. Her very name became hateful to him. Wicked man as he was, Louis XIV. believed in Christianity, and in its revelations of responsibility at the bar of God. He was shocked, and experienced much remorse in view of this death-bed without repentance. He could not conceal from himself that he was in no inconsiderable degree responsible for the guilt which burdened the soul of the departed. His aversion to Madame de Montespan was increased by the report, then generally circulated, that the duchess had died from poison, administered through her agency. The poor victim of sin and shame was soon forgotten in the grave. The court whirled on in its usual round of frivolous and guilty pleasures, such as Babylon could scarcely have rivaled.

The supremacy of Madame de Maintenon over Louis XIV. was that of a strong mind over a feeble one. The king had many very weak points in his character. He was utterly selfish, and the slave of his vices. Madame de Maintenon, with much address, strove to recall him to a better life. In these efforts she was much aided by the king's confessor, Pére la Chaise. This truly good man reminded the king that he had already passed the fortieth year of his age, that his youth had gone forever, that he would soon enter upon the evening of his days, and that, as yet, he had done nothing to secure his eternal salvation. He had already received many warnings as he had followed one after another to the grave. The king was naturally thoughtful, and perhaps even religiously inclined. Not a few events had already occurred calculated to harrow his soul with remorse. He had seen his mother die, one of the saddest of deaths. He had seen his sister Henrietta, his brother's bride, whom he had loved with more than a brother's love, writhing in death's agonies, the victim of poison. He had followed several of his children to the grave. Madame de la Valliére, whom he had loved as ardently as he was capable of loving any one, now a ruined, heart-broken victim of his selfishness and sin, was consigned to living burial in the glooms of the cloister. He could not banish from his mind the dreadful scenes of the death of the Duchess of Fontanges.

Just at this time the dauphiness gave birth to a son. This advent of an heir to the throne caused universal rejoicing throughout the court and the nation. It is melancholy to reflect that the people, crushed and impoverished as they were by the most atrocious despotism, were so unintelligent that they regarded their oppressors with something of the idolatrous homage with which the heathen bow before their hideous gods.

The king himself, at times, manifested a kind of tender interest in the people, who were so mercilessly robbed to maintain the splendor of his court and the grandeur of his armies. Upon the birth of the young prince, who received the title of the Duke of Burgoyne, the populace of Paris crowded to Versailles with their rude congratulations. Every avenue was thronged with the immense multitude. They even flooded the palace and poured into the saloons. The king, whose heart was softened by the birth of a grandson to whom the crown might be transmitted, received all very graciously.

The birth of an heir to the crown added much to the personal importance of the dauphiness. But, neglected by her husband and annoyed by the scenes transpiring around her, she was a very unhappy woman. No efforts on the part of the court could draw her from the silence and gloom of her retirement. Madame de Maintenon and the king's confessor, Pére la Chaise, were co-operating in the endeavor to lure the king from his life of guilty indulgence into the paths of virtue. Fortunately, at this time the monarch was attacked by severe and painful illness. Death was to him truly the king of terrors. He was easily influenced to withdraw from his criminal relations with one whom he had for some time been regarding with repugnance. Madame de Maintenon was deputed to inform Madame de Montespan of the king's determination never again to regard her in any other light than that of a friend.

It was a very painful and embarrassing commission for Madame de Maintenon to fulfill. But the will of the king was law. She discharged the duty with great delicacy and kindness. Deeply mortified as was the discarded favorite, she was not entirely unprepared for the announcement. She had for some time been painfully aware of her waning influence, and had been preparing for herself a retreat where she could still enjoy opulence, rank, and power.

In pursuit of this object, she had determined to erect and endow a convent. The sisterhood, appointed by her and entirely dependent upon her liberality, would treat her with the deference due to a queen. The king had lavished such enormous sums upon her that she had large wealth at her disposal. She had already selected a spot for the convent in the Faubourg St. Germain, and had commenced rearing the edifice. It so happened that the corner-stone was laid at the very moment in which the unhappy Duchess de Fontanges was breathing her last. Madame de Montespan had no idea of taking the veil herself. The glooms of the cloister had for her no attractions. Her only object was to rear a miniature kingdom, where she, having lost the potent charms of youth and beauty, could still enjoy an undisputed reign.

The marchioness already owned a dwelling, luxuriously furnished, which the king had presented her, in the Rue St. Andre des Arcs. Her wealth was so great that, in addition to the convent, she also planned erecting for herself a magnificent hotel, in imitation of the palace of the Tuileries. The estimated expense was equal to the sum of one million five hundred thousand dollars at the present day.

The workmen upon the convent were urged to the most energetic labor, and the building was soon completed. The marchioness gave it the name of St. Joseph. One room was sumptuously furnished for her private accommodation. She appointed the abbess. The great bell of the convent was to ring twenty minutes whenever she visited the sisterhood. As the founder of the community, she was to receive the honors of the incense at high mass and vespers. The marchioness richly enjoyed this adulation, and was a frequent visitor at the convent.

The king, having recovered from his illness, decided upon a journey to Flanders. Oppressed with ennui, he sought amusement for himself and his court. He wished also to impress his neighbors by an exhibition of his splendor and power. The queen, with the dauphin and dauphiness, attended by their several suites, accompanied him on this expedition. Madame de Montespan was excessively chagrined in finding her name omitted in the list of those who were to make up the party. But the name of Madame de Maintenon headed the list of the attendants of the princess.

The gorgeous procession, charioted in the highest appliances of regal splendor, swept along through cities and villages, every where received with triumphal arches, the ringing of bells, the explosions of artillery, and the blaze of illuminations till the sea-port of Dunkirk was reached. Here there was a sham-fight between two frigates. It was a serene and lovely day. The members of the royal suite, from the deck of a bark sumptuously prepared for their accommodation, witnessed with much delight the novel spectacle. At the close, the king repaired to one of the men-of-war, upon whose deck a lofty throne was erected, draped with a costly awning. Here the splendor-loving monarch, surrounded by that ceremonial and pageantry which were so dear to him, received the congratulations of the dignitaries of his own and other lands upon his recent recovery from illness. At the end of a month the party returned to Versailles.

Devoted as Louis XIV. was to his own selfish gratification, he was fully aware of the dependence of that gratification upon the aggrandizement of the realm, which he regarded as his private property. Upon this tour of pleasure he invested the city of Luxembourg with an army of thirty thousand men, and took it after a siege of eight days. He then overrun the Electorate of Treves, demolished all its fine fortifications, and by the energies of pillage, fire, and ruin, rendered it impossible for the territory hereafter to render any opposition to his arms. The destructive genius of Louvois had suggested that these unnecessary spoliations would tend to increase the authority of his royal master by inspiring a greater terror of his power.

Soon after this, the queen, Maria Theresa, was suddenly taken sick. Her indisposition, at first slight, rapidly increased in severity, and an abscess developed itself under her arm. The pain became excruciating. Her physician opened a vein and administered an emetic at 11 o'clock in the morning. It was a fatal prescription. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon she died. As this unhappy queen, so gentle, so loving, so forgiving, was sinking away in death, she still, with woman's deathless love, cherished tenderly in her heart the memory of the king. Just as she was breathing her last, she drew from her finger a superb ring, which she presented to Madame de Maintenon saying,

"Adieu, my very dear marchioness. To you I confide the happiness of the king."

Maria Theresa was one of the most lovely of women. Her conduct was ever irreproachable. Amiable, unselfish, warm-hearted, from the time of her marriage she devoted herself to the promotion of the happiness of her husband. His neglect and unfaithfulness caused her, in secret, to shed many tears. Naturally diffident, and rendered timid by his undisguised indifference, she trembled whenever the king approached her. A casual smile from him filled her with delight. The king could not be insensible to her many virtues. Perhaps remorse was mingled with the emotions which compelled him to weep bitterly over her death. As he gazed upon her lifeless remains, he exclaimed,

"Kind and forbearing friend, this is the first sorrow that you have caused me throughout twenty years."

Palace of Versailles
PALACE OF VERSAILLES.


The royal corpse lay in state at Versailles for ten days. During this time perpetual masses were performed for the soul of the departed from 7 o'clock in the morning until dark. The king had reared the gorgeous palace of Versailles that he might not be annoyed, in his Babylonian revelry, by the sight of the towers of St. Denis. But God did not allow the guilty monarch to forget that kings as well as peasants were doomed to die. The king was compelled to accompany the remains of Maria Theresa from the sumptuous palace, where she had found so splendid and so unhappy a home, to the gloomy vaults of the abbey, where, in darkness and silence, those remains were to moulder to dust.

The queen was forgotten even before she was buried. The gay courtiers, anxious to banish as speedily as possible from their minds all thoughts of death and judgment, sought, in songs, and mirth, and wine, to bury even the grave in oblivion. The funeral car was decorated with the most imposing emblems of mourning. A numerous train of carriages followed, filled with the great officers of the crown and with the ladies of the royal household. The procession was escorted by a brilliant and numerous body of mounted troops.

"But nothing could exceed the indecency with which the journey was performed. From all the carriages issued the sounds of heartless jest and still more heartless laughter. The troops had no sooner reached the plain of St. Denis than they dispersed in every direction, some galloping right and left, and others firing at the birds that were flying over their heads."

The king, on the day of the funeral, in the insane endeavor to obliterate from his mind thoughts of death and burial, ordered out the hounds and plunged into the excitement of the chase. His horse pitched the monarch over his head into a ditch of stagnant water, dislocating one of his shoulders.

About this time, Jean Baptiste Colbert, the king's minister of finance, and probably the most extraordinary man of the age, died, worn out with toil, anxiety, and grief. Few men have ever passed through this world leaving behind them such solid results of their labors. As minister of finance, he furnished the king with all the money he needed for his expensive wars and luxurious indulgence. As superintendent of buildings, arts, and manufactures, he enlarged the Tuileries, completed the gorgeous palace of Versailles, reared the magnificent edifices of the Invalides, Vincennes, and Marly, and founded the Gobelins. These and many other works of a similar nature he performed, though constantly struggling against the jealousy and intrigues of powerful opponents.

The king seldom, if ever, manifested any gratitude to those who served him. Colbert, in the 64th year of his age, exhausted by incessant labor, and harassed by innumerable annoyances, was on a dying bed. Sad reflections seemed to overwhelm him. Not a gleam of joy lighted up his fading eye. The heavy taxes he had imposed upon the people rendered him unpopular. He could not be insensible to imprecations which threatened to break up his funeral and to drag his remains ignominiously through the streets. The king condescended, as his only act of courtesy, to send a messenger to ask tidings of the condition of his minister. As the messenger approached the bed, the dying sufferer turned away his face, saying,

"I will not hear that man spoken of again. If I had done for God what I have done for him, I should have been saved ten times over. Now I know not what may be my fate."

The day after his death, without any marks of honor, his remains were conveyed, in an ordinary hearse, to the church of St. Eustache. A few of the police alone followed the coffin.

Genoa had offended the king by selling powder to the Algerines, and some ships to Spain. Louis seized, by secret warrant, lettre de cachet, the Genoese embassador, and plunged him into one of the dungeons of the Bastile. He then sent a fleet of over fifty vessels of war to chastise, with terrible severity, those who had offended him. The ships sailed from Toulon on the 6th of May, 1684, and entered the harbor of Genoa on the 19th. Immediately there was opened upon the city a terrific fire. In a few hours fourteen thousand bombs were hurled into its dwellings and its streets. A large portion of those marble edifices, which had given the city the name of Genoa the Superb, were crumbled to powder. Fourteen thousand soldiers were then disembarked. They advanced through the suburbs, burning the buildings before them. The whole city was threatened with total destruction. The authorities, in terror, sent to the conqueror imploring his clemency. The haughty King of France demanded that the Doge of Genoa, with four of his principal ministers, should repair to the palace of Versailles and humbly implore his pardon. The doge, utterly powerless, was compelled to submit to the humiliating terms.