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CHAPTER XXXIX.

FRENCH POETRY, CONTINUE D.

MADAME

D'AOU DE TOT.

SAINT LAMBERT, who seemed destined to rival greater men than himself, after carrying off Madame du Châtelet from Voltaire, became the favoured lover of the Comtesse d'Houdetot, Rousseau's Sophie; she for whom the philosopher first felt love, “dans toute son energie, toutes ses fureurs,”—but in vain.

Saint-Lambert is allowed to be an elegant poet: his Saisons were once as popular in France, as Thomson's Seasons are here; but they have not retained their popularity. The French poem, though in many parts imitated from the English, is as unlike it as possible: correct, polished, elegant, full of beautiful lines, of what the French call de beaux vers,- and yet excessively dull. It is equally impossible to find fault with it in parts, or endure it as a whole. Une petite pointe de verve would have rendered it delightful; but the total want of enthusiasm in the writer freezes the reader. As Madame du Deffand said, in humorous mockery of his monotonous harmony, “Sans les oiseaux, les ruisseaux, les hameaux, les ormeaux, et leur rameaux, il aurait bien peu de choses a dire!”

Madame d'Houdetot was the Doris to whom the Sea. sons are dedicated; and the opening passage addressed to her, is extremely admired by French critics.

Et toi, qui m'as choisi pour embellir ma vie,
Doux répos de mon cour, aimable et tendre amie !
Toi, qui sais de nos champs admirer les beautés :
Dérobe toi, Doris! au luxe des cités,
Aux arts dont tu jouis, au monde où tu scais plaire;
Le printemps te rappelle au vallon solitaire ;

Heureux si près de toi je chante à son retour,
Ses dons et ses plaisirs, la campagne et l'amour !

Sophie de la Briche, afterwards Madame d'Houdetot, was the daughter of a rich fermier general; and destined, of course, to a marriage de convenance, she was united very young to the Comte d'Houdetot, an officer of rank in the army; a man who was allowed by his friends to be très deu amiable, and whom Madame d'Epinay, who hated him, called vilain and insupportable. He was too good natured to make his wife absolutely miserable, but un bonheur à faire mourir d'ennui, was not exactly adapted to the disposition of Sophie; and there was no principle within, no restraint without, no support, no counsel, no example, to guide her conduct or guard her against temptation.

The power by which Madame d'Houdetot captivated the gay, handsome, dissipated Saint Lambert, and kindled into a blaze the passions or the imagination of Rousseau, was not that of beauty. Her face was plain and slightly marked with the small-pox; her eyes were not good; she was extremely short-sighted, which gave to her countenance and address an appearance of uncertainty and timidity; her figure was mignonne, and in all her movements there was an indescribable mixture of grace and awkwardness. The charm by which this woman seized and kept the hearts, not of lovers only, but of friends, was a character the very reverse of that of Madame du Châtelet, who would have deemed it an insult to be compared to her either in mind or beauty :- the absence of all pretension, all coquetry; the total surrender of her own feelings, thoughts, interests, where another was concerned; the frankness which verged on giddiness and imprudence; the temper which nothing could ruffle; the warm kindness which nothing could chill; the bounding spirit of gaiety, which nothing could subdue,—these qualities rendered Madame d'Houdetot an attaching and interesting creature, to the latest moment of her long life. “Mon Dieu! que j'ai d'impatience de voir dix ans de plus sur la tête de cette femme!" exclaimed her sister-in-law, Madame d'Epinay, when she saw her at the age of twenty. But at the age of eighty,

Madame d'Houdetot was just as much a child as ever, “ aussi vive, aussi enfant, aussi gaie, aussi distraite, aussi bonne et très bonne;'* in spite of wrinkles, sorrows, and frailties, she retained, in extreme old age, the gaiety, the tenderness, the confiding simplicity, though not the innocence of early youth.

Her liaison with Saint Lambert continued fifty years, nor was she ever suspected of any other indiscretion. During this time he contrived to make her as wretched as a woman of her disposition could be made; and the elasticity of her spirits did not prevent her from being acutely sensible to pain, and alive to unkindness. Saint-Lambert, from being her lover, became her tyrant. He behaved with a peevish jealousy, a petulence, a bitterness, which sometimes drove her beyond the bounds of a woman's patience; and whenever this happened, the accommodating husband, M. d'Houdetot, would interfere to reconcile the lovers, and plead for the recall of the offender.

When Saint-Lambert's health became utterly broken, she watched over him with a patient tenderness, unwearied by all his exigeance, and unprovoked by his detestable temper; he had a house near her's in the valley of Montmorenci, and lived on perfectly good terms with her husband. I must add one trait, which, however absurd, and scarcely credible, it may sound in our sober, English ears, is yet true. M. and Madame d'Houdetot gave a fête at Eaubonne, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their marriage. Sophie was then nearly seventy, but played her part, as the heroine of the day, with all the grace and vivacity of seventeen. On this occasion, the lover and the husband chose, for the first time in their lives, to be jealous of each other, and exbibited, to the amusement and asto- in nishment of the guests, a scene, which was for some time the talk of all Paris.

Saint-Lambert died in 1805. After his death, Madame d'Houdetot was seized with sentimental tendresse for M. Somarivant and continued to send him bouquets and billetsdoux to the end of her life. She died about 1815.

* Mémoires et Lettres de Madame d'Epinay, tom. i. p. 95.

† M. Sumariva is well known to all who have visited Paris, for his fine collection of pictures, and particularly as the possessor of Canova's famous Magdalen.

To her singular power of charming, Madame d'Houdetot added talents of no common order, which, though never cultivated with any perseverance, now and then displayed, or rather disclosed themselves unexpectedly, adding surprise to pleasure. She was a musician, a poetess, a wit ; —but every thing, “par la gràce de Dieu,”—and as if unconsciously and involuntarily. All Saint-Lambert's poetry together is not worth the little song she composed for him on his departure for the army :

L'Amant que j'adore,

Prêt à me quitter,
D'un instant encore

Voudrait profiter :
Felicité vaine!

Qu'on ne peut saisir,
Trop près de la peine

Pour étre un plaisir !* It is to Madame d'Houdetot that Lord Byron alludes in a striking passage of the third canto of Childe Harold, beginning

Here the self-torturing sophist, wild Rousseau,t &c. And apropos to Rousseau, I shall merely observe, that there is, and can be but one opinion with regard to his conduct in the affair of Madame d'Houdetot: it was abominable. She thought, as every one who ever was connected with that man, found sooner or later, that he was all made up of genius and imagination, and as destitute of heart as of moral principle. I can never think of his character, but as of something at once admirable, portentous and shocking; the most great, most gifted, most wretched; -worst, meanest, maddest of mankind !

**

*

*

Madame du Châtelet and Madame d'Houdetot must for the present be deemed sufficient specimens of French poetical heroines; it were easy to pursue the subject farther, but it would lead to a field of discussion and illustration, which I would rather decline. I

* See Lady Morgan's France, and the Biographie Universelle. † Stanza 77, and more particularly stanza 79.

In one of Madame de Genlis's prettiest Tales—" Les preventivos d'une femme," there is the following observation, as full of truth as of

Is it not singular that in a country which was the cradle, if not the birth-place of modern poetry and romance, the language, the literature, and the women, should be so essentially and incurably prosaic? The muse of French poetry never swept a lyre; she grinds a barrel-organ in her serious moods, and she scrapes a fiddle in her lively ones; and as for the distinguished Frenchwomen, whose memory and whose characters are blended with the literature, and connected with the great names of their country,—they are often admirable, and sometimes interesting; but with all their fascinations, their charms, their esprit, their graces, their amabilité, and their sensibilité, was not in the power of the gods or their lovers to make them poetical.

feminine propriety. I trust that the privciple it inculcates has been kept in view through the whole of this little work.

" Il y a plus de pudeur et de dignité dans la douce indulgence qui semble ignorer les anecdotes scandaleuses ou du moins, les revoquer en djure, que dans le dédain qui en retrace le souvenir, et qui s'érige publi. quement en juge inflexible.”

31*

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