« FöregåendeFortsätt »
MADAME DE POMPADOUR.
As this woman, who ought never, perhaps, to have quitted the obscurity in which she was born, has acted so considerable a part on the theatre of the world, and exercised such influence over the government of a powerful monarchy, her name must necessarily be found among those personages whom history is bound to record.
Jane-Antonietta Poisson, so celebrated under the name of the Marchioness of Pompadour, born about the year 1720, was the grand-daughter of the comedian Poisson. She owed her birth to the illicit connection of her mother with a farmer of the village of La Ferté-sous-jouare, who gained a precarious subsistence by selling corn to the contractors, and at that time had been compelled to abscond on suspicion of mal-practices. Such was the obscure and dishonourable origin of a woman, who was destined to become the mistress of France, to dispense at her pleasure, honours and riches, and to retain the most uncontrouled authority for almost 20 years. But her mother, an ambitious intriguing woman, who lived with Le Normand-Tournehem, a rich farmer-general, omitted no opportunity of producing her to the world, with the greatest advantages. Notwithstanding the vices of her parent, she was well educated; was modest, amiable, and accomplished; with lively talents and a benevolent heart. To enable her to appear at court, she was hastily married to Le Normand d'Etioles, who, after the advancement of his wife, was compelled to retire to a province, and live on the wages of his dishonour. The mother had long
formed the project of rendering her daughter the object of the king's attachment, and seized every occasion to expose her to his notice. Madame d'Etioles herself appeared very early to have conceived the same ambitious design of captivating the heart of Louis XV. then unoccupied, since the death of Madame de Chateauroux. "I was," says Voltaire, "the confident of her love. She confessed to me, that she had always a secret presentiment, of being one day beloved by the king, and that she had felt a violent inclination for him, without being able to comprehend it. Such an expectation, in a woman in her situation, appeared chimerical and absurd, but was owing to the frequent opportunities she had of seeing the king hunt in the forest of Senar, where Tournehem, her mother's lover, had a country house. Madame d'Etioles used to follow the king, seated in a beautiful calash. He observed her, and often sent her presents of squirrels. The mother never ceased to instil into her, that she was handsomer than Madame de Chateauroux; and old Tournehem was always repeating, that she was a morsel fit for a king." At length their designs succeeded : Louis XV. struck with her frequent appearance, and flattered, perhaps, by the persevering attentions of a beautiful woman, who seemed disposed to love him more as a man than as a monarch, declared his attachment. She was immediately created Marchioness of Pompadour, and; soon obtained the most unbounded credit.
It is neither from the scandalous libels of the time, nor from the venal applause of those who obtained her protection, that we are to estimate the character of this favourite. Most of the impolitic measures which then disgraced the court of France, have been attributed to her influence; she is represented as having disposed at her will and pleasure, of every appointment under the go
vernment; chusing and displacing ministers, generals, and magistrates, as her caprice dictated. It is even said, that she sent military plans to the commanders in chief, in which she had marked with patches the towns they were to take, and the roads they were to pur
There is no doubt much exaggeration in these reports. Those who are better informed, well know that her power was not at first so despotic and so absolute; and that she frequently experienced contradiction and chagrin from the royal family, and even from some of the ministers. It is true that she afterwards took care to promote only those of whose submission and compliance she was morally certain, and kept at a distance, others whose talents or spirit she dreaded. By a good fortune, not very common in persons in her situation, she became more powerful, in proportion as her charms declined; and preserved to the last moment of her existence, her influence over the mind of her royal lover. To this influence must be ascribed, all the events of the war of 1756, so calamitous for France, and so' glorious for England. Highly flattered by a condescending note written to her by the empress-queen, she provoked that war, opposed every overture for peace; banished the Cardinal de Bernis, who conceived that peace was necessary; and, by her choice of unskilful generals, incontestibly occasioned those disastrous campaigns by which the power of France was so much weakened, and her glory so much obscured.
It would be unjust, however, to withhold from Madame de Pompadour, any portion of praise where she appears really to have deserved it. She loved the arts, and encouraged those who cultivated them. Many artists and men of letters were indebted to her recommendation, for places and pensions. She had formed one of the finest cabinets in Paris, for books, pictures, and curiosities. She
had also the merit of recommending a most useful establishment, that of the military school, of which Pâris Du Vernay was the first suggester. Though the severity of history, in condescending to notice the infamy of her station, will condemn the part she took in public affairs; yet those who delight to judge of characters by their pri vate virtues or defects, will not refuse her the qualities of affability and humanity.
She died at Paris, in 1764, at the age of 44, with greater resignation than could be expected from a woman, who had, to appearance, enjoyed so much happiness. A short time before she expired, the rector of the parish in . which she resided, attended to prepare her for death. As he was taking his leave, "Stay a moment, Sir,” said the Marchioness, "we will depart together." Louis XV. whose character was apathy itself, appeared little to regret her loss.