« AnteriorContinuar »
Nevers; he was more fortunate with the demoiselle la Bourdaisière, whom he quitted for an attachment to the wife of a counsellor named Quelin. He then loved, without success, the wife of the master of requests, Boinville. The countess de Limoux was less severe. ‘He contracted a more lasting liaison with Jacqueline du Breuil, whom he created countess de Moret. Presently, however, he sought to console himself for her infidelities in the affections of the demoiselle des Essarts, whom he created countess de Romorantin, and by whom he had two daughters legitimated. This woman, after the example of the countess de Moret, was guilty of several infidelities towards the king, particularly with Louis de Lorraine, cardinal and archbishop of Rheims. “Henry IV. had also for his mistress a lady of honour of the queen his wife, called Foulebon. “At last he became desperately enamoured of the princess de Condé, and this was his last love. “The manifold gallantries of Henry IV. would have had consequences less fatal to morality, if he had taken care to withdraw them from the notice of the public; but he seemed persuaded that his irregularities were a right of royalty; or perhaps he considered them as a just indemnification for what he had suffered in order to arrive at the throne, and re-establish peace in France. However that may be, he did not give himself the trouble to disguise his weaknesses. It is an important and lamentable fact that heroes in all ages, with few, very few, exceptions, have shewn a strong disposition to break the tenth commandment; and by no means the least, that part of it which relates to their neighbours' wives. We call this fact important, because it exemplifies the tendency to disregard the rights and feelings of others which war is apt to generate. We could cite many, too many, illustrious examples, both in ancient and modern times, of the truth of this observation. “Henry was so taken with Gabrielle d'Estrées, that he never quitted her, not even in the most important state affairs; he carried her with him into the public assemblies, into the great solemnities; she was by his side in the councils; she figured in the assembly of the states held at Rouen in 1596. “Il la baisait devant tout le monde,” says L'Estoile, “et elle lui dans tous les conseils.” ‘What an insult to the common decency and common sense of mankind l’—vol. i. pp. 205–209. To these bright deeds of virtue, Henry added the still more laudable practice of gambling, which he carried on to the extent of losing six hundred thousand francs at a sitting ! It is not for us to search into the inscrutable designs of Providence: but it may perhaps be allowed us to observe, that the Bourbons would seem to have been raised up in France, as if for the purpose of shewing by what imbecile and depraved things a throne may be occupied through many generations of the same family, and as if further it were the object to disgust mankind with the system of monarchical government. We have seen, at an advanced period of civilization in the character of the great Prince de Condé, a specimen of the patriotism which the leading men of France were sometimes found capable of displaying. Let us go somewhat farther back, to the days of chivalry, the middle ages, when gallantry is said to have nerved every brawny arm, and beauty to have tamed into adoration every savage beast, and see whether, even in that golden period, the princes and leaders of the people were of that exalted species to which they are generally supposed to have attained. Amongst many superficial remarks, and adventurous assertions, in which the author of these volumes is, perhaps, too prone to indulge, it would be unfair not to admit that he frequently gets upon the right scent, though like an ill-trained dog, he as often, from his bad habits of roving, slips away from it again. We must instance, as among the least questionable of the truths which he has elicited from the records of history, his description of the heroes of the age of chivalry, of whom King John (of France) had so little reason to be proud in his contests with our Black Prince.
‘John had but an indifferent opinion of the knights of his day. He accused them of having become insensible to honour and fame; and on hearing the song of Roland, exclaimed, “Il y a long temps qu'on ne voit plus de Roland en France.” The truth is, the men of that day, deceived like ourselves by romances, looked back with admiration to the imaginary valour, virtue, and wisdom of their ancestors. Imaginary, for the evidence of history proves that this was the brightest period of the ages of chivalry; a few years after, the use of gunpowder gave chivalry its death-blow. Arrayed in their armour of proof, the knights could track about among the defenceless and comparatively unarmed canaille, with very little detriment to their own persons; but cuirasses, it appeared, even though of “Milan steel,” were not bullet-proof. They did their utmost to render them so; made them thicker and thicker, heavier and heavier, till at last, il n'y avait homme de trente aus qui m'en fut estropié. But all would not do, and the flowers of chivalry abandoned the field of Mars, and the defence of their country to plebeians. “So much for the valour of the heroes of the age of chivalry; one word more as to their gallantry, their devotion to the fair part of the creation. Good treatment of women is one of the surest marks of high civilization ; but good treatment of women does not consist in worshipping them as idols, or in regarding them as trinkets to be worn for display. Such treatment may be a proof that they are valued, but valued exactly as beautiful trinkets; and such a sort of value is quite compatible with perfect indifference as to their happiness or misery. * The heroines of romances are always beautiful; yet it may be inferred by tolerably close analogy, that there were ugly women on the earth in those days as well as in the present. Now, woe be to them, in an age when every knight, who had to maintain at the point of his lance that his lady was the most beautiful lady in the whole world, and whose brain was not affected in a manner similar to Don Quixote's, would naturally attach himself to some fair one with rather more pretensions to beauty and grace than Dulcinea del Toboso | The consequence would be, that a small number of beautiful women would engross the admiration and the vows of all the knights; and that the large and unattractive majority, the treatment of whom is the test of civilization, would be altogether neglected. VO L. III., NO. II. X
* Moreover, “the age of chivalry,” says M. Roederer, “was, for the women as well as for the men, a period of degradation and misfortune. Not regarding the happiness of the Seigneurs who oppressed the nation, as part of the happiness of the nation, or as a compensation for its misery, no more do I include the glory of the châtelaines in the account of the French women of the same time. The latter lived in oppression, like their fathers, their husbands, and their children.”’—vol. i. pp. 20, 22.
Perhaps the most ludicrous appendages of royalty and nobility which have come down to us from the chivalrous age, are the titles by which they are severally distinguished. On this subject we have not a word to add to the just and pungent remarks of the author:—
* In the thirteenth century, kings began to be called very redoubted (tres-redoubtés): this title was, in 1336, given by William, bishop of Noyon, to Philip de Valois. All the feudal nobles soon appropriated it; they all wished to pass for redoubtable; and, in place of the real merit which they did not possess, they substituted the fictitious merit of proud and lofty attributes, which they exaggerated even to the ridiculous—still more—even to profanation. They usurped the honours rendered to the Divinity; they claimed a participation in the incense which was burned upon the altars; they adorned themselves with the titles ascribed to the Supreme Being. God, from the most remote antiquity down to the present time, has received and receives the apppellation of Lord; the nobles made themselves be styled lords. In other countries, this practice has, perhaps, been carried still farther than in France. In England, for example, we have our lords commissioners, lords wardens, &c., and even our lord mayors. In Scotland it was carried to an extent truly ridiculous. Every thing there, clothed with a little brief authority, rejoicing for the moment in the pompous insolence of office, has been honoured with the lordly appellation. Besides their lord provosts, they have their lords of session, their lord advocates, and formerly they had their “lords of the articles,’ &c., &c.
“There is also a pretty strong parallel between the ancient nobility of France and Scotland in this respect, that both followed the profession of highwaymen. Many of those Scottish families who, at the present day, are invested with all the insolence of power, wealth, and title, are indebted for their greatness to the industry (if we may be allowed so to prostitute the word) of the chevaliers d'industrie of those enlightened ages.
“God is styled most high ; the nobles made themselves be called most high.
“God is also styled omnipotent; the nobles assumed the title of most powerful (tres-puissans) or, as the style ran in English, most high and mighty.
%. is for the wicked an object of fear: the nobles added to their preceding qualifications, that of most redoubted; a qualification which they merited, by reason of their excessive tyranny and inclination to evil. Thus, in the fourteenth century, men almost entirely brutalized by ignorance, error, and their vices, men whose luxury was pampered by oppression exercised on the people,_men degraded by the exercise of the profession of thieves, dared to set themselves up as the rivals of Heaven, to assume the semblance of the Divinity, taking the title of most high and mighty and redoubted lords.”—vol. i. pp. 39, 40
All this is certainly very ridiculous, as shewing the degree to which this poor frog man is swelled up by the possession of a little day or two of empty authority. However undignified it might appear, it would nevertheless be most conformable to truth, in most instances, to treat heroes in most parts of the world, and in almost all ages, historically speaking, rather as chevaliers d’industrie than as conquerors entitled to our admiration and applause. What was the celebrated Constable de Bourbon, for instance, but a traitor turned brigand, in order to recover the property which, by his perfidy, he had forfeited to the state. He confesses as much in a passage which we shall immediately cite : but before we come to it, we must exhibit to the reader the appalling picture of distress which this ruffian brought upon the city of Milan by his proceedings. That city, after having surrendered to the troops under his command, had some right to protection. But for two months it was subjected to plunder, and to every kind of insolence and atrocity which an undisciplined rabble of armed robbers could commit. A deputation of the citizens, clad in mourning, and bearing all the emblems of grief, waited upon the traitor chieftain, who was now serving the enemy of France, and after enumerating the services which they had rendered to the emperor, they remonstrated with him in the following touching language:—
““These are our services; what has been the reward of them? We shudder with horror even to think of it. If we were guilty of the greatest crimes, the most severe judge would not dare to condemn us to the torments which we have endured. We have suffered, and seen our wives and children suffer, all the excesses of the most infamous licentiousness; our most distinguished citizens, plundered of every thing, have been thrown into prison, loaded with chains, and undergone the chastisement of the vilest slaves. Our situation is such, that there is not a single citizen among us, however elevated he may have been by birth, dignities, and fortune, who would not accept as a boon the permission to depart hence naked on foot, and to abandon his country, his family, his friends, his property, and all that men hold most dear. But if the power, or the will, to deliver us from so many evils is wanting to you, destroy us all at once; a prompt death will be less painful than a slow and studied punishment. We shall receive it as a benefit, and shall be able to pardon even your soldiers, provided they tear from us, at a single blow, a life which they have rendered so miserable.” –vol. i. p. 139.
We believe that neither ancient nor modern history can furnish a more dreadful picture of distress—of the distress of respectable and virtuous citizens—than that which is contained in this pathetic passage. Even Bourbon is said to have been melted by it to tears, although, encumbered as he was with an army of brigands, he could not, or would not, after all, leave the city, unless they gave him the required contribution of thirty thousand ducats. It was a part of the just punishment which he deserved, that whatever he had hitherto gained by his war against his country, he was wholly stripped of it by his incorrigible and mutinous followers; and he appears to have been actually reduced to the possession of a solitary horse, his arms, and a scarf, when he addressed his army in these words:–
“Friends and companions in arms, none of you is ignorant that I enjoyed, in France, a very considerable property. It belonged less to me, than to the brave men who attached themselves to my fortunes. Hatred and envy robbed me of it; though I only regret its loss, as depriving me of the power of rewarding valour. Do not then suppose that you behold, in me, a rich and powerful prince; I am only a poor knight, without domains, and without a country, to whom nothing remains but his sword. If, in the condition to which I am reduced, you expect of me a regular pay— a secure subsistence,—you are in error; seek rather another chief, or return to your country. But if my misery does not dismay you—if you consent that our interest and our destinies shall henceforth be inseparable, I promise to make you all rich for ever ! Victory and an immense booty await you in the country whither I propose to lead you. Deliberate on the part you are to take.”
“He had scarcely ceased, when the most deafening applause arose on all sides. “No,” cried these brigands, intoxicated with hope, “we will have no other leader but you; we will overturn the whole world under your command!”.'—vol. i. pp, 146, 147.
This scene was but an anticipation of the camp of Wallenstein, to whom the Constable, in many of his proceedings, may be supposed to have furnished a pernicious example. Is it not inexplicable to reflecting minds, to find men of any understanding, plunging themselves into such depths of guilt, without, for a moment, thinking of the enormous responsibility which they incur” Cities sacked, families scattered, virgins robbed of their honour, lives sacrificed, temples desecrated; these are the glories of war— of war produced by the pride and the love of vengeance, by which kings and their ministers have been actuated, and whom, therefore, it is but just to set down amongst the most inveterate enemies of the human race. Let those who rejoice in what is called military glory, contemplate the sack of Rome, after its infamous conqueror had fallen.
‘It has been too much the practice of historians to dwell upon the bright points of war, until “the pomp and circumstance of glorious war” has passed into a poet's byword. By bright points here we mean those which appear such to the weak and ignorant, for to all others war has no bright points. Conquerors and kings, and the instruments of kings, be they generals or statesmen, have spread ravage and desolation over the earth, and recorded their fame in characters of blood. And poets and historians have sought immortality in records more horrible even than these; for by dwelling upon the bright points, by bringing forward the gaudy equipage, the gorgeous drapery, “the pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war,” and throwing into the shade its horrible and revolting fea