The hero of the story was, as usual, a priest; according to the Memoirs, the Abbé de Gédouin-according to Voltaire, his own relation, the Abbé de Châteauneuf. This reverend and venerable person, himself advanced in years somewhat beyond the period which nature has assigned to clerical or lay gallantry, was introduced to, and, according to custom, became enamoured of Ninon in her sixty-ninth or seventy-ninth year. There is a variation on this point, between the Memoirs and M. de Voltaire, which we shall not attempt to reconcile, since ten years more or less, at such an age and in such a business, are really of no moment whatever. After the usual preliminaries, the lover hesitatingly requested a reward for his devout attachment, and was greatly astonished—not at a refusal, for Ninon never refused-but at a postponement of the favour for the mortal period of three days. A delay of this kind—a delay so nicely calculated, and adjusted with arithmetic accuracy-a delay of three days-and three is a mysterious number-must involve some curious meaning. In this the meaning was most singular. The sun had scarcely completed his third diurnal revolution, when the mystery was explained, and the happy lover discovered the momentous reason, which had doomed him to the rack of amorous expectation for so strange a period. A slight movement of vanity had suggested to Ninon's imagination, that a bonne fortune at the age of seventy or eighty-according to the chronological system we are inclined to adoptwould be contemplated by mankind as an occurrence of more than common interest. It was not till the third day, from the Abbé's avowal of his love, that her fourteenth lustrum was completed-and thus does this strange adventure add another instance to the triumphs of female vanity over female passion.

This was certainly not the Abbé, although, amongst her numerous acquaintance of that kind, it would be difficult to say who was, who undertook the desperate task of converting Mademoiselle de l'Enclos to a sense of piety and virtue. On the occurrence of some difficulty with regard to a point of doctrine, which the lady was not so willing to admit as her instructor was eager to enforce, he concluded an eloquent exhortation, by intreating her, if she could not believe it, at least to make an offering of her unbelief, till heaven should graciously enable her to subject her reason to its mysteries. It is some consolation to know, that our errors themselves may be turned to so good

an account.

Of two of Ninon's children there are anecdotes which are worth preserving. The Chevalier de la Boissiére, the eldest, according to the Memoirs, was born at so critical a period, that the right and honour of paternity were disputed by the Comte d'Estrées and the Abbé d'Effiat, who finally decided the ques

tion by lot. The die fell to the fortunate Count, who afterwards becoming Maréchal de France and Vice-Amiral, was enabled to provide for his son in the navy, in which he obtained promotion, and lived and died in tranquil and undisturbed obscurity. This anecdote is strangely illustrative of the nature of the old government of France, and of French society at that day-when dignitaries of the church were not ashamed of these scandalous occurrences, and men in public situations employed their patronage in establishing their bastard children.

The adventure of the second son, the Chevalier de Villiers, whose father is described in the Memoirs as M. de Gersai, although Villarceaux is honoured by Voltaire with the parentage of both, is one of the most tragical on record. He had been educated by his father in total ignorance of his birth, and was introduced, at the age of nineteen, to his mother's company as a perfect stranger. Ninon was then more than sixty. But so attractive, even at this period, was her unhappy beauty, that she inspired her son with the same passion which had captivated his father, and seemed, indeed, a natural consequence of her acquaintance to every thing in the shape of man. She discovered the fatal impression too late; and one day, when endeavouring to divert him from his miserable hopes, she was compelled to avoid his importunities by declaring herself to be his mother. The effect of so shocking a discovery may be easily anticipated. The unfortunate young man retired in an agony of horror, and put an end to his polluted existence with his own hand. This story has been told in Gil Blas, under the feigned names of Inisilla de Cantarilla and Don Valerio de Luna. The concluding sentence is remarkable. "Don Valerio,' Le Sage, says se punit comme un autre Edipe, avec cette différence, que le Thébain s'aveugla de regret d'avoir consommé le crime, et qu'au contraire le Castillan se perça de douleur de ne pouvoir le commettre."


This extraordinary woman, whose life has occupied us so long that we are unable to say any thing of her putative Epistles, which, with the exception of a few letters preserved in the works of Saint Evremont, are all that remain under her name, closed a protracted existence of pleasure and dissipation, at the age of ninety. She died, as she had lived, perfectly regardless of the common opinions of mankind, entirely devoid of the fears or expectations of religion, and seemingly awake to nothing but the inconvenience of sickness and old age. The following verses, which she composed a few hours before her death, are not without a certain pathos and tenderness of sentiment, which we should not have expected from her at any time, and are expressive of a firm resignation, or, perhaps, a philosophic indifference, not less remarkable.

[blocks in formation]

"Qu'un vain espoir ne vienne point s'offrir,
Qui puisse ébranler mon courage;
Je suis en âge de mourir,

Que ferois-je ici d'avantage?"

Voltaire, then young, was introduced to her a few months before her death, by the Abbé de Châteauneuf, his relation, and the last of her long catalogue of lovers. She left him in her will a legacy of a thousand francs for the purpose of buying books, as a testimony of her esteem for talents, which she had penetration enough to discover would one day do honour to his country.

Ninon was never in any way connected with the court. She had been intimate with the famous Madame de Maintenon, when the latter was only known as Mad. Scarron, and Ninon's rival in the affection of M. de Villarceaux. There was too great a difference, however, in the temper and constitution of these celebrated women to admit of any sincere and lengthened intimacy. Madame de M. was one of that class whom Ninon so happily distinguished as the Jansenistes de l'amour-—a phrase for which we find no equivalent in English, unless the puritans of love will convey a similar notion. The great difference between them is, that Ninon made use of that passion for the purpose of pleasure only, while her more exalted rival made it subservient to her ambitious projects, and did not hesitate with that view to cloak her licentious habits beneath the mantle of religion, and add hypocrisy to frailty. Of the two, we see no difficulty in giving the preference to Ninon.

We prefer a woman who, at least, turns her vices to the account of pleasure, and sometimes of public good, to one who aggravates them by unnecessary crimes, and seeks the exorbitant wages of her prostitution in the robbery and oppression of the people. We had rather see the patrimonial income of a Ninon de l'Enclos agreeably spent in the society of men of wit and letters, than the revenues of a Marchioness de Maintenon expended on the useless decoration of her own person, or hoarded for the purpose of elevating into rank and notice an insignificant family, who had no other claim to such distinction than they derived from the easy honesty of a female relation, and the dissolute extravagance of a vain and licentious sovereign.

It may, we repeat it, it may be alleged in palliation of the less extensively demoralizing habits of Ninon de l'Enclos, that her house was not even a copy of the court of Versailles. Compared with the latter, it was almost moral. While Ninon was receiving the attentions of the most distinguished literati of her time in her house in the Rue des Tournelles, the mistress

of the sovereign was swallowing, at Versailles, the adulation of degraded courtiers of every rank and profession. There were met together the vain and the ambitious, the designing and the foolish, the humblest and the proudest of those who, whether proud or humble, or ambitious, or vain, or crafty, were alike the devoted servants of the monarch or the monarch's mistress -princes, cardinals, and bishops-dukes and every kind of noble-excisemen and priests, and keepers of the royal conscience and royal necessary-all ministers each in their degree, from the secretaries of state to the lowest underlings of officeclerks of the ordnance, victualling, stamps, customs, colonies, and post-office-farmers and receivers-general-judges and cooks, confessors and every other caterer to the irregularities of the royal appetite-in short, the whole corps de ballet of the ancient strumpetocracy, including all the sons of St. Louis, and the whole legitimate and illegitimate spawn of the Bourbon blood. Such was the order of things which is often alleged in defence of the mistress of a king, and we see no adequate reason why it may not be made to yield one excuse in extenuation of the frailties and the follies of a private woman.

ART. V.-The Voyages and Adventures of Ferdinand Mendez Pinto, a Portugal: during his Travels, for the space of one and twenty years, in the kingdoms of Ethiopia, China, Tartaria, Cauchin-china, Calaminham, Siam, Pegu, Japan, and a great part of the East-Indies. With a relation and description of most of the places thereof; their religion, laws, riches, customs, and government in the time of peace and war. Where he five times suffered shipwrack, was sixteen times sold, and thirteen times made a slave. Written originally by himself in the Portugal tongue, and dedicated to the Majesty of Philip, King of Spain. Done into English by H. C. Gent. Printed by J. Macock, and are to be sold by Henry Herringman, at the sign of the Blew Anchor, in the lower-walk of the New Exchange. 1663.

Such is the elaborate title page of this wonderful traveller, which is ushered to the English world by a dedication to the great and unfortunate Earl of Strafford, asserting, that "the work is so full of variety and strange occurrences, that the like will hardly be met with elsewhere," &c. This is followed by "an apologetical defence of Ferdinand Mendez Pinto, his History," which consists of references to every Portuguese book which was at that time extant, and many Latin ones,

confirmatory of those circumstances mentioned by our traveller, which were likely to excite amazement or doubt in his readers. Yet with all the pains thus taken, poor Ferdinand comes down to us, through the long vista of three hundred years, with a label round his neck as the " Prince of Liars,” fastened there for ever by the hand of the inimitable Cervantes-himself, not only Prince, but Emperor, of the whole walk of Fiction; no part or portion of which he chose to part with for the embellishment of a work professing to be true.

With regard to this sweeping condemnation we are yet not entirely inclined to coincide, and can scarcely help concluding it as too severe, and savouring full as much of the prejudice entertained by the Spanish author against the Portuguese author, as of the lover of truth in opposition to the lying legendary. One thing is at least certain, which is, that Ferdinand Mendez Pinto never misleads his readers, except to contribute to their amusement, in presenting to their eyes splendid pageants, magnificent processions, and brilliant spectacles, or to excite their commiseration by such repeated sorrows and hardships, such flagellations and imprisonments, as we stay-athome people find it difficult to believe any one man had sufficient vitality to live through. With respect to any regular description of places, as their properties, their geographical situation, form of government, produce, merchandise, acquirements in literature, or knowledge of agriculture, he neither troubles himself nor his reader, but carries throughout the air of that character we firmly believe to be his, that of an unlearned runagate, who sought his bread as thousands do, by wandering abroad rather than working at home; having naturally much curiosity, and consequently observation, which, when aided by a retentive memory, personal courage, and total indifference to the ties of country and kindred, fit a man well for the many wanderings and hardships here described. Throughout his long narrative, saving that he is a good catholic, and occasionally remembers the rites of his church, we never find him refer to any book, or any vestige of knowledge that could be gained previous to his leaving Europe, of which he evidently knows very little. His mind was a perfect blank, on which his succeeding adventures were engraved, and his observations registered, with a minuteness of detail which must startle the incredulous, who will be apt to believe, that a wretch in the nakedness and hunger, captivity and banishment, under which he suffered, is little likely to recollect the speeches of others, or the thoughts of his own sad heart; or take much cognizance even of the revolution of empires, and the destruction of kings. Such persons should however remember, that those periods in our own lives, connected with

« ForrigeFortsett »