I have been asked to write a few lines of preface to the stories which are here once more, after a century or so, presented in a new form to the present generation of children. “To those people of intelligence under the age of fourteen,” as a French editor says, “who are prepared to be pleased and convinced,” just as their fathers, mothers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, great-great-grandfathers and grandmothers have been before them. These special stories have fallen out of circulation, since the days when the French ladies and gentlemen all read fairy tales together, and the order of the Terrace was instituted for little Louis XV. The Knights of the Order were to play at games on the Terraces at Versailles with his youthful majesty, and then assemble together (specially on their feast day, the day of St. Bartholomew) and spell out fairy stories for the rest of the afternoon. It was not only children who liked fairy tales in those days; there was a general fashion for them.
People were tired of the long-winded romances of the Scudéry times of Louis XIV., they had wearied of the fables and society verses once so popular, and which perhaps required more effort and attention than this later generation was disposed to give, even to its play. Perhaps, too, people were not sorry to turn away from the present, from the disasters in which the reign of Louis XIV. came to a close, and to take to stringing marvels and wonders on to old springs and threads that belonged to a world which they could govern and fashion to their fancy. Besides the little chevaliers of the Terrace, a whole society of well-born ladies seems to have been in the habit of meeting and devoting its leisures to the inditing of marvellous histories. The “Cabinet des Fées” numbers its volumes by decades, and the authors and authoresses of this collection, if they had not much invention of their own, were not afraid of drawing largely from other sources.
Charles Perrault was among the first to recount the popular nursery stories of the time, in his Histoire de la Mère l’Oye, published in 1697. Madame d’Aulnoy, who must have been well advanced in years by this time, followed suit, and many other ladies of rank, her friends and contemporaries, seemed to have amused themselves by concocting marvellous and nightmare-like histories. But, as the editor of the French edition of popular tales reminds us, we must not be ungrateful, nor forget that the author of L’oiseau Bleu and the Belle aux Bois was among them, as was also Madame de Beaumont to whom we owe the charming history of Beauty and the Beast.
We are fortunate in possessing portraits of both the chief recounters of fairy lore: that of the Countess D’Aulnoy herself, as well as the engraving of Charles Perrault, deputy-receiver of taxes under Colbert. He in his magnificent wig looks more like a Condé or a Turenne at the head of an invading army than a peaceful knight of the quill, marshalling his figures and his fairy battalions, and prepared to shed his ink for his country; Madame d’Aulnoy (d’Aulnoi or d’Aunoy, as her name is variously spelt), with her hair beautifully curled, is dressed in draperies disposed in dignified folds, and upheld by a jewelled band which crosses from her shoulder to her waist. Her features are marked and somewhat beakish. French people have a different standard of beauty to ours, and the countess seems to have been considered lovely in her day, witty as well as very agreeable.” She was always ready in conversation,” says one of her admirers.” No one knew better how to introduce an anecdote, and her stories were the delight of all.” “Pour raconter simplement quelque chose il ne faut pas un grand talent,” says Madame d’Aulnoy modestly enough in one of her stories. Her readers will appreciate the pleasant simplicity of her style. Occasionally it rises to eloquence, as in the description of the battle between the Yellow Dwarf and the king who tries to rescue the princess from his spells.
Marie Catherine — Le Jumel — de Berneville, the wife of François de la Motte, Comte d’Aulnoy, was born in the middle of the sixteenth century, and she died in January, 1705, when she was between fifty and sixty years of age. Her father was allied to some of the oldest families in Normandy, and had served for many years in the king’s armies. She was the niece of the “celebrated Madame Desloges,” we are told, and the mother of Madame de Heere. Madame Desloges lived in the reign of Louis XIII., and by her wit arid agreeable conversation attracted many of the most interesting men of the time to her house. Madame d’Aulnoy seems to have inherited this pleasant talent, and we hear much of her conversational powers and agreeable wit. Her mother, who was not sixteen when she was born, sent her away to be brought up by a grandmother. It was not the fashion of the times for parents to bring up their children. For some years the little girl was supposed to be an heiress, and received, so she tells us, much adulation in consequence; but when she was eleven a brother was born, and the relations immediately determined to send little Marie Catherine into a nunnery. The child was in despair, and passionately implored her father to rescue her from this fate. He was not the ruling spirit in the home, says Madame d’Aulnoy in her Memoirs, but he did the best he could to help his poor little girl. He advised her to submit quietly, and promised that as soon as she was of an age to be married he would, without telling her mother, find her a suitable husband. These Memoirs of Madame d’Aulnoy are to be seen in the British Museum in a “diverting collection” of her works, published in English by John Nicholson, at the King’s Arms, and Andrew Bell, at the Cross Keys and Bible in Cornhill, in 1707. The Memoirs are diverting perhaps, but they are certainly disappointing too, and it is difficult to tell whether they are a real history or the divagations of a fanciful imagination longing for adventure and excitement. The little girl in the convent seems to have read a great many novels about romantic heroes and “heroesses,” as she is made to call them, and to have tried to pose as a heroess herself a great deal more than the abbeys approved. Her mother also disapproved, and was more than ever set upon making her into a nun: but her father does not forget his promise. He comes with her mother to see her one day, and while her mother sits talking to the abbess in the parlour, her father (so Madame d’Aulnoy tells us) takes her for a walk in the convent garden, where she is immediately carried off by three or four masked cavaliers, put into a carriage and driven rapidly away, while the father goes back to the convent calling for help. One of these masked men turns out to be no less a person than the Comte d’Aulnoy himself, who had planned it all with M. de Berneville. They are immediately married, and Madame d’Aulnoy speaks with cordial dislike of her husband, with whom she seems to have lived very unhappily from the first, and from whom, whenever anything went wrong, she seems to have run away in disguise. She mentions a son casually, and in another book she subsequently mentions a daughter; and she also tells us that at M. d’Aulnoy’s death she married again, M. de St. Albe. Her brother having died young, she eventually succeeded to considerable wealth, but her Memoirs scarcely mention any facts and are chiefly a record of her sentimental emotions. They come to an abrupt end with the death of St. Albe.
In the few records — not her own — which remain to us of Madame d’Aulnoy’s life, there should be quite enough emotions to satisfy a less excitable person, but to none of these events does she make any allusion. On one occasion her husband, Francois de la Motthe, Sieur d’Aulnoy, having been seized, imprisoned, and falsely accused of high treason by two Normans, narrowly escaped losing his head. One of his accusers was the Marquis de Courboyer (who is curiously enough described as a “good-natured man”) and the other was Jaques de Crouville, surnamed Lamière. Lamière at the last moment, touched by remorse, retracted the accusation, confessing that he had received a thousand crowns for his false witness. The count was discharged on the eve of condemnation, and the conspirators suffered in his place. There seem, according to contemporary chroniclers, to have been further complications in Madame d’Aulnoy’s life, connected with “the famous and beautiful Madame Angélique Tiquet”. Madame d’Aulnoy was her friend, and was somewhat compromised during her trial. Madame Tiquet was decapitated in the Place de Grève in 1699. The story is a very sad one. Madame Tiquet was born at Metz. She was left an orphan, rich, extraordinarily beautiful, and agreeable. There were many pretenders to her hand; among them was Councillor Tiquet, from Paris. He was greatly in debt, many years older than she was, and his chief object in courting the young heiress was to secure her fortune. He was clever enough to enlist the sympathy of an aunt of Angélique’s, who persuaded her to accept him. Madame Tiquet came to live in Paris; she had children, but she felt little affection for her husband. Her fortune, her charm, her rare beauty, attracted a large circle of friends to her house. Among the many amiable and brilliant people who came thither was Madame d’Aulnoy. As time went on the differences between Madame Tiquet and her husband grew more and more bitter. She tried in vain to obtain a separation from him; and, at last, finding her married life intolerable, she urged one of her servants to attempt his life. One evening, when Tiquet was coming home, he was fired at and badly wounded. He had himself carried away from the house, sent for the police, and declared that his wife must have instigated the attack. Friends of Madame Tiquet went to her and urged her to fly; but this she refused to do. She was taken to prison and tried; but, notwithstanding all the sympathy which was shown her, and the extra-ordinary interest which the trial excited, she was condemned to be beheaded, and her servant to be hung at the same place. The husband delayed and wasted time in petitioning that her confiscated fortune should be returned to him, and then, finally, went to Versailles to ask for a reprieve. It is said that Angélique was so beautiful that the executioner altogether lost his nerve upon the scaffold. It is impossible to know exactly in what way Madame d’Aulnoy was compromised; probably she was among those friends who attempted to plan the poor lady’s escape. This seems all the more likely because the countess was a spirited and lively person from all accounts, not easily discouraged or frightened (except indeed by ghosts), and she was evidently fond of adventure, as we see in her records of her journeys through Spain and elsewhere.
Madame la Princesse de Conté seems to have been one of Madame d’Aulnoy’s sympathetic readers, for to her are edicated, with many compliments and salutations. The Memoirs of the Court of Spain, which came out at the Hague in 1691. Madame d’Aulnoy may have been about forty years of age when the pretty little brown book, with its old-fashioned type, made its appearance, but it must have been written many years before. It has since been transformed into a handsome annotated volume, with margins, and elaborate and very interesting notes, the work of Madame Carey, who has traced the dates and the facts with admirable patience, and who tells us that Madame d’Aulnoy, although she had excellent opportunities of observing facts, and was in the main accurate, had the singular habit of transcribing entire paragraphs out of the books of other people without any acknowledgment whatever, and also of sometimes adding imaginary adventures when her own struck her as somewhat dull. She is a mysterious person. She gives no hint of the reasons which led her to undertake this long expedition, nor are either of her husbands once mentioned by the widow in the course of the narrative. Madame Carey vouches, however, for the facts which she has been at the trouble of verifying; many of the customs noted still survive in a modified form, others are corroborated by St. Simon and various writers of the time. Madame d’Aulnoy’s pictures of the Court of Spain are singularly vivid; her journeys are a curious mixture of reality and fairy tale, but perhaps not more so than many of the books of travel one has lately come across. The impression left by these volumes (which are, I ought to say, anything but suitable for young people) is that of a lively and spirited woman of a past society visiting in Wonderland. Her first start is not at all unlike a chapter out of Alice’s well-known adventures. On her arrival at Bayonne, Madame d’Aulnoy is hospitably welcomed by various ladies of the neighbourhood, to whom she has brought introductions. These ladies visit the traveller coming in with cheerful hospitality, carrying for the most part little sucking pigs, tied up with ribbons, under their arms, which little pigs are set down upon the floor to frolic during the rest of the visit. Presently the ladies stand up and execute a dance to amuse the travellers, after which entertainment they all retire with their little pigs, leaving presents behind them of sweet-meats, and stockings, and ornaments, to testify their sympathy. The further adventures of the caravan, as it slowly advances across the mountains from Bayonne into Spain, carrying Madame d’Aulnoy in her litter, with her little girl at her side, fill one with wonder and respect for the courage of the ladies of the seventeenth century, who were not deterred by fatigue and horrible discomfort from such long and wearisome expeditions. Madame d’Aulnoy must have been a very healthy, and vigorous woman to survive all the trials she describes — the snows, the floods, the cold, the garlic, and the want of privacy; and also to be able to sit down and write crown octavo letters to her cousin all along the road. Clarissa Harlowe herself would have scarcely equalled her. At Burgos, after a long day’s travel, she arrives in time for supper, after which her suite immediately sits down to cards. When she retires for the night, she tells us she is led into a gallery full of beds, about thirty in a row, just as one sees them in hospitals. She remonstrates, saying she wants but four beds — for her daughter, herself, and her two women attendants; but she is told that this is the only available place in the house. “I was hardly in bed,” she writes, “when some one knocked gently at the door. My women opened, and were greatly surprised to see the host and hostess come in, followed by a dozen wretches half undressed. I opened my curtain, hearing the noise. The hostess came to my bedside, saying these were honest travellers who were going to occupy the empty beds. ‘These people!’ cried I; ‘you must be out of your mind.’ ‘I should be out of my mind, indeed,’ said the hostess, ‘if I left so many beds unoccupied. You, madame, must pay for them, or these gentlemen will remain.’ I cannot express to you my fury. I was tempted to send for Don Fernand and my other chevaliers, who would soon have thrown the honest travellers out of the window; but it was not worth a disturbance. I therefore quieted down, and promised to pay twenty sols for each bed (they are hardly dearer at Fontainebleau when the Court is there). The illustrious Spaniards and vagabonds who had had the insolence to come in now retired with a great many curtseys. I couldn’t help bursting out laughing the next morning, when I found that these travellers were only neighbours, who were accustomed to renew this performance for the benefit of each fresh arrival.” The countess continues her journey in her litter. At last she arrives very early one day in the environs of Madrid, where she is received by a certain Dona Theresa of seventeen, who is married to a man many years older than herself. It was ten o’clock in the morning. Don Augustin was walking in his garden, and presently he invited the countess to visit his wife, who was not yet up. “She wore no cap,” says Madame d’Aulnoy; “her hair, parted in the middle, was wrapt in a piece of red silk tied by a ribbon. She had many little pillows to her bed, ornamented with ribbons and trimmed with lace. Her ample night-dress was buttoned by diamonds; her quilt was trimmed with Spanish point, and gold and silk. Her bed was of gilt copper with ornaments of ivory and ebony. As soon as she was up the young lady took a cupful of rouge, put some on her cheeks, on her ears, on her chin, under her nose, and inside her hands, saying that she did not care for it, but that the use was so universal she could not well give it up. One of her women then perfumed her from head to foot with the smoke of some excellent pastilles.” When they went to breakfast, the host took the countess by the hand, and led her into a saloon paved with marble, ornamented with pictures, and quite without hangings. “The breakfast was served upon the table for the gentlemen, and a cloth was spread on the carpet, with three covers, for Dona Theresa, my daughter and myself,” says the countess. “I was surprised at this; for I am not accustomed to have my dinner on the floor. I said nothing, but never was I more uncomfortable; sometimes I tried leaning on my elbow, sometimes on my hand. My hostess observed nothing, because she thought that the ladies in France always ate as they do in Spain; but at last the gentlemen noticed my uneasiness, and desired absolutely that I should join them at the table. To this I gladly consented, provided that Dona Theresa came too. Her husband called to her to come; but when the poor little lady was installed she was no less embarrassed than I had been on the carpet. She confessed ingenuously that she had never before sat upon a chair; the idea had never occurred to her.” It seems that St. Simon describes a great Court ball given by Philip V. where the ladies all sat upon a vast carpet upon the floor. This habit is supposed to have been derived from the Moors.
Madame d’Aulnoy is quick to catch the impression of the moment; she describes pleasantly and graphically the events as they occur. Her peasants, her courtiers, her kings and her queens, her widows, her romantic ladies and gentlemen, her monks, dukes and duchesses, all appear in turn in their quaint costumes, a whole gallery of Velasquez figures. Here is a sketch of a Spanish widow in the year 1679; she comes up in her litter, seeking for a night’s lodgings: “Her dress appeared to me very singular, only so beautiful a woman as she was could have kept any charm in it. She wore a coiffe of black stuff, her petticoat to match, and above this a sort of surplice of white linen reaching below the knees, the sleeves were long, fitted to the arm, and falling over the hands; this surplice was not pleated in front, and looked like a sort of pinafore. On her head she wore a piece of muslin covering her throat, and falling to the waist — it might have been the gimp of a religious, but it was of lighter texture. All her hair was hidden away. She wore a great mantle of black silk falling to her feet, and besides this a huge hat tied under her chin. This is the dress of widows and duennas, but I am told that they only wear these hats when they are travelling. If one were to meet a woman thus dressed at night, I am persuaded that without cowardice one might be terrified by the apparition. I must, however, confess that this young lady was of admirable beauty, notwithstanding her ugly mourning. It is never given up in Spain, except in the event of re-marriage; and in all things poor widows are constrained to mourn. The first year of their widowhood they spend in a room hung with, black without a single ray of sunshine; they sit cross-legged upon a little mattress. At the end of a year they are allowed grey hangings. They are forbidden pictures, looking-glasses and cabinets, beautiful tables, and all silver ornaments; they dare not wear their jewels or any bright colours. Modest as they may be, they have to live in so retired a fashion that it seems as if their souls were already in the next world. This great constraint is the reason that several very rich ladies, who have beautiful furniture, marry again, in order to have the pleasure of using it.”
As a contrast to this, let us take a Spanish gentleman of fashion. A “guapo,” which word means, says Madame d’Aulnoy, “a Spaniard, brave, gallant, and even dashing. This young man’s hairs were divided in the middle of his head and tied behind with a blue ribbon, four inches wide and two yards long. He had tights of black velvet, buttoned above the knee by five or six buttons, without which it would be impossible to take them off, so closely fitting are they in this country. He had a vest so short that it did not reach the pocket, and a black velvet jacket with long tabs and hanging sleeves. The inner sleeves were of white satin bordered with jet. His shirt was of black silk, greatly puffed. His cloak was of black cloth; and, as he was a ‘guapo,’ he had twisted his cloak round his arm, because that was more gallant. He also carried a ‘broquel’ in his hand; that is to say, a sort of very light shield with a point of steel in the middle. In the other hand he carried a spear longer than a pike. He had also a poignard fastened to his belt at the back. His neck-piece, lined with pasteboard, held his head so stiff that he could neither turn his head or bend it.” A note of Madame Carey’s tells us that this collar, neck-piece, or golille as it was called, had been adopted by King Philip IV., who was so satisfied with this happy idea that he instituted a fête to perpetuate it, and the pious king and his Court went in procession, once a-year, to the chapel on the bridge of the Guardian Angel to render thanks for their stocks. To return to Madame d’Aulnoy, she is not at all of the opinion of Philip IV. She says nothing can be more ridiculous than this stock. It is neither a ruffle, nor a turnover, nor a cravat. A golille resembles nothing at all; is very uncomfortable, and disfiguring. The young man also wore a hat of a prodigious size, lined with black silk, with a great crape all round, like a husband in mourning for his wife. “I am told,” says the countess, “that this crape is the most incontestable sign of the finest breeding. His shoes were of fine morocco, like the kid of which we make gloves, very much cut away, and so tight to the feet that they seemed stuck upon them. He wore no heels. As he came in, he made me a Spanish reverence, crossing his legs and curtseying gravely, as women do when they salute. He was very much perfumed; but his visit was not long. He did not forget to tell me that he often went to Madrid, where he exposed his life in every bull-fight.” Has one not seen this gentleman hanging up on the walls of the National Gallery? I cannot help quoting one more description from the book of Madame d’ Aulnoy’s visit to the queen-dowager, when for the first time she had to put on the Court dress of a Spanish lady. “Nothing can be more uncomfortable,” says she; “the shoulders are so compressed that they ache again, and it is impossible to raise one’s arm. They put me on a stiff petticoat of a fearful size. I knew not what to do with this strange machine; it was impossible to sit down with it. My hair was left floating and tied with narrow ribbon; for this is the indispensable Court head-dress. Finally, I put on the wooden pattens the ladies wore at Court, rather to break my neck with than to walk about in. When we were all dressed, for my cousin and my daughter came too, we were shown into a state-room, where Monsieur le Cardinal came to see us. He remained an hour with us, and then a magnificent breakfast was served; but I could hardly touch anything. There was nothing to choose between the perfumed dishes, or the others flavoured with saffron, onions, pepper, garlic and spices. There was an excellent ham, covered with sugar-plums, of which the sugar was melting in the fat; it was all larded with citron…. We hurried away from table, for it was the hour to visit the queen-dowager. After mounting a magnificent staircase, and crossing a great gallery, and many vast and empty apartments, we reached a saloon, of which all the windows were open upon a plain and upon the river. The carpet, the hangings, the tapestries, were all grey. The queen was standing, leaning against a balcony, and holding in one hand a long chaplet. We had the honour of kissing her hand, which is small, thin, and white. She is very pale, of delicate complexion; her face is long and flat; her eyes are soft; she is of medium size. She was dressed, as are all widows in Spain, like a nun; not a single hair appearing. I observed that there were several tucks round her skirt, so as to let it down in case it should be worn at the bottom. I do not say that this is always done; but it is the fashion. After some conversation about the king’s approaching marriage, and the portrait of the Princess of Orleans, which had been sent to the Queen of Spain, a little dwarf as round as a barrel, and not taller than a watermelon, dressed in gold and brocade, with long hair falling to her feet, entered, and kneeling before the queen, asked her whether she would be pleased to sup. We offered to retire; but she told us that we might follow her. She sat down alone, and we all stood around. The ladies-in-waiting whispered to us they were horribly dull.” Poor ladies! they might well complain. The whole description of the echoing palace — the kneeling, attendants, passing the dishes from hand to hand; the imprisoned women, queens though they might be, gives one a shiver. The story of the poor little princess, from the French Court, whose parrot had its neck wrung because it talked French to its young mistress, is piteous and ludicrous. But there are sadder things still. Madame d’Aulnoy’s terrible description of the auto da fé at Madrid has been already quoted, and is too painful to be inserted here. Madame d’Aulnoy herself did not stay to witness it; for, at the very beginning, she was taken ill, and had to retire. But the king, she says, “dared not avoid this horrible spectacle, standing with his sword of state upheld beside him, for it was the cause of religion!” The whole Court, indeed, was assembled — the king, the queen, the ladies, the ambassadors. The scaffold was adjoining the royal balcony, and the victims implored the royal mercy in vain. No wonder that, in such an age, amid facts so monstrous and execrable, people turned to imaginary worlds for relief from the devilish superstitions of the time in which they lived. There is cruelty still among us — injustice, and oppressions, and suffering; but these things are called openly by their names, and day by day as the truth grows and spreads from man to man, from generation to generation, the dark demons still surviving from those mediaeval ages dwindle and vanish in the light of day. Is it the press, that crowing chanticleer, which helps dispel the dark deeds of the night?
Madame d’Aulnoy seems to have left Spain in the spring of 1681, after some two years’ residence, for she speaks of her visit to Aranjuez, to take leave of the young queen, now established in Spain, who received her graciously, gave her an enamelled portrait of herself, all set in diamonds, and promised her protection for a young lady, a “demoiselle,” very dear to Madame d’Aulnoy, who remained behind in Spain. She carried her own recommendation, so said the queen, graciously, “for she was a French woman”. Can this have been Madame d’Aulnoy’s daughter? The Memoirs of the Court break off with a promise of further memoirs, and the sad history of the loss of the said enamel, which, however, has never yet been given to the world.
Besides her Fairy Tales and her History of Spain, Madame d’Aulnoy wrote two or three novels which seem to have been very popular; Jean de Bourbon was one, another was called The Adventures of Hypolite, Comte de Duglas, of which there are a great many editions, says the editor of L’ Europe, Illustre. “It is a novel,” so he goes on, “in which fiction is well supported by historic fact, and where that tender softness of style which characterises the pen of a lady is most seductive!” The editor of the Biographie Universelle is not of this opinion; “tous ses personnages parlent le language d’une fade galanterie,” he says. There is an anecdote of a young officer, a friend of the writer in L’ Europe Illustre, who, after reading the History of the Comte de Duglas, immediately went off and proposed to a young lady whom he had known for some time, but whom he had not thought of marrying. “You are the cause of my happiness,” he exclaimed to his friend, the editor;” for you lent me the book which had so fortunate an influence upon my destiny!” “I congratulated him,” says M. Dreux du Radier, “and came to the conclusion that, after all, novels have some use!”
The same writer’s somewhat naive criticism on Madame d’Aulnoy’s Spanish History is, that there are many interesting facts in it which one does not read anywhere else, but that, unfortunately, one is not able to tell whether or not they are true.
Many of Madame d’Aulnoy’s tales have been taken with scarce any variation from the Pentamerone of Basile and the Nights of Straparola, which latter book, as Dunlop tells us in his history, was printed about the middle of the sixteenth century. He also tells us that Straparola himself had borrowed largely from preceding authors. The ladies and gentlemen who contributed to the many volumes of the “Cabinet des Fées” did not, I imagine, pretend to create their fairies, but rather to conjure up the old ones with new dresses and decorations, just as our pantomimes do every Christmas. Any of us in the nineteenth century, who have thrilled to the stirring and beautiful song of “Ché Faro,” as uttered by the sweet voice of Julia Ravogli in “Orfeo,” have witnessed a scene reproduced out of one of Madame d’Aulnoy’s histories, in which Love, crowned with roses, is sent to assist the wandering prince in his search through Hades for her whom he adores. The prettiest of Madame d’Aulnoy’s stories are also the best known, such as L’oiseau Bleu, The White Cat, Le Prince Lutin and a good many others. Le Nain Jaune, Fortunée, La Biche au Bois, are also very charmingly told.
Before ending this very imperfect little sketch, I must not omit to say that as time went on the little girl who had travelled in the litter grew up, and also began to write fairy tales. She became Madame de Heere, and is said to have walked in her mother’s footsteps.