I Humbly beg Leave these Letters may appear in an English Dress, under the Protection of your Name; whose Accuracy in the Original, justly Intitles you to this Dedication; and whose Advantagious Birth, Greatness of Mind, and Uncommon Improvements, exact a Veneration from the most Invidious; and render you an Illustrious Ornament of your Sex.
Madam, For me to attempt here the Publishing your Vertues and Accomplishments, so universally acknowledg’d by all that have the Honour of your Acquaintance, would be to detract from your Merit; and might more justly be censured for Presumption than Flattery.
It were better to imitate the Painter, who perceiving it not possible to represent the Father’s Grief for the loss of his Daughter, drew a Veil over his Face, and owned his Inability.
But I forget, Madam, ’tis my part only to crave your Pardon for this bold Address; and to study ever to approve myself,
Your most Obedient Servant.
IT is not sufficient to write things true, but they must likewise seem probable, to gain belief. This has sometime so prevail’d with me, as to make me think of retrenching from my Relation the strange Stories you will find therein. But I have been withheld from doing this, by Persons of such great Sence and Merit, as has made me conclude, that I cannot do amiss in following their Judgments.
I do not doubt but there will be some, who will accuse me of hyperbolizing, and composing Romances; but such would do well to acquaint themselves first with the Countrey, Humour, and Character of those I treat of. A Fact must not be presently condemn’d as false, because it is not publick, or may not hit every Man’s Fancy. I cite no feigned Names, no Persons whose Death may give me the Liberty of attributing what I please to them.
In a word: I write nothing but what I have seen, or heard from Persons of Unquestionable Credit; And therefore shall conclude with assuring you, That you have here no Novel, or Story, devised at pleasure; but an Exact and most True Account of what I met with in my Travels.
AT the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth there were several women in France who had gained no small reputation for the writing of amusing if somewhat extravagant Contes des Fées. Of these Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness of Aulnoy, has best survived her contemporaries as the author of La Chatte Blanche, La Grenouïlle Bien-complaisante, Le Prince Lutin, L’Oiseau Bleue, and of other tales which, as M. La Harpe has thought, place her supreme in the realm of delicate frivolity.
The life of this brilliant woman will doubtless present a contrast with most preconceptions of her character based upon a mere reading of her books; and we may be surprised to find in her such a marked individuality, so peculiarly in touch with her time, and offering so little of the ideal and sensitive nature it was fairly natural to infer. We have not, in fact, a mere writer of amusing tales and half romantic histories, but an intriguing, though charming, woman, of a bold and often reckless nature, sufficient to stamp her a worthy daughter of her time. And, after all harsh verdicts have been passed, we shall, I think, return to Madame Aulnoy, by way of her books, with a feeling of affection and interest.
Barneville, near Bourg-Achard (Eure), is her birthplace. Her father was Nicolas-Claude Le Jumel, and her mother, who subsequently married the Marquis of Gudaigne and went with him to Rome, Judith-Angélique Le Coustellier. Nicolas is said to have served long in the armies of Louis XIV., and to have been related to some of the best families of Normandy. Judith later, when in Rome, seems to have rendered peculiar services to the Spanish court, for which she was duly rewarded.
The date of their daughter’s birth is not positively fixed. It is given as 1650 or 1651, but no record of baptism remains, and of the life of Madame Aulnoy previous to the date of her marriage with François de La Motte little is known. That event occurred on Monday, the 8th of March, 1666.
But if the minor details of her life are wanting, we have yet a general and quite sufficient survey of its broader lines. Married at sixteen to a man thirty-six years her senior, we may find in the character of her husband (“un assez triste personage,” as one of his biographers has named him) no uncertain commentary on the subsequent behavior of his wife.
He is described as: “Un bel homme, bien fait, d’abord valet de pied de César, duc de Vendôme, qui cherchait d’avoir de beaux hommes à son service.”
He rose in the confidence of this master, who in 1649 to 1650 employed him in important affairs. This duke of Vendôme, called by Le Vassor “un mince capitaine, que ne sut jamais se faire craindre ni se faire estimer,” had, on his return to France in 1641, been accused of an attempt to poison Richelieu. These were the days of the celebrated Brinvilliers, when Acqua Tofana had been brought from Italy and the number of poisoners was increasing in France. The duke had again returned after the death of Richelieu, and under Mazarin in 1650 was given the government of Bourgogne. In 1653 he took Bordeaux, and two years later put to flight the Spanish fleet before Barcelona. It was in 1653 that La Motte, rising to prosperity with the fortunes of his master, was made Chevalier de Saint-Michel, and one year later he purchased for 150,000 livres from Claude Gobelin the Barony of Aulnoy in Brie. His success was, however, of short duration, and his money soon slipped away. He died in 1700 in his eightieth year, “Accablé de ses infortunes et des infamies de ses filles, dont il y en a deux qui imitent leur mère.”
In view, therefore of the seemingly general evil opinion as to the character of François de La Motte we may possibly abate somewhat of the severity of judgment in regard to his wife. Yet on the whole Madame Aulnoy does not present a too pleasing portrait. Of her five children two only were acknowledged by their father. Marie-Angélique was born on the 26th of January, 1667; Dominique-César on the 22d of November of the same year; Anne, 1668; Judith-Henriette, 1669; Thérèse-Aymée in 1676.
Of these the only son died young. Thérèse was taken to Spain in the early part of 1679 by Madame Aulnoy, whither the latter had gone to rejoin her mother, the Marquise de Gudaigne. Marie-Angélique, it appears, had the clever nature of her mother, and won a salon reputation. She married Claude Denis de Herre de Vaudois. Anne, the most beautiful, married a gentleman of Berry, by name M. de Preaulx d’Artigny. Thérèse-Aymée remained in Spain with the queen, where she was in 1705. Judith-Henriette seems to have remained in Paris and followed, in a “carrière d’intrigue et de galanterie,” the footsteps of her mother and grandmother.
All amicable relations between Madame Aulnoy and her husband had come to an end even before the tragic event which all but involved her and her mother, and for which they were undoubtedly responsible. A certain C. Bonenfant, Seigneur de Lamoizière, and another, J. A. de Crux, Seigneur Marquis de Courboyer, who were, without seeming question, lovers of Madame Aulnoy and the Marquise de Gudaigne, attacked, at their instigation, in the courts, the unfortunate La Motte, who, however, managed to save himself, and the attempt ended in failure. The accusers were tried, put to the torture, and confessed. Both suffered death, and the two women found it necessary to make their escape. It was said that Madame Aulnoy was all but captured, having been found by the officer in bed, whence she managed to escape, and hid herself beneath a catafalque in a neighboring church. The two went first to England and afterwards to Spain. Here, however, having rendered some service to their own government, they were finally pardoned and returned to France, where, in 1699, Madame Aulnoy again appears, this time mixed up in the famous Ticquet scandal, which ended in the beheading of Angélique Ticquet on the 17th of June. Our author seems to have run some danger of joining her on the scaffold. She died, however, in her house in the Rue Saint-Benoit on the 14th of January, 1705.
If the Contes des Fées of Madame Aulnoy have had a remarkable vogue, not so fortunate has been the lot of some of the historical endeavors of this lady. Her Mémoires de la Cour d’Espagne (1679-1681) and Mémoires de la Cour d’Angleterre (1695) have been quietly laid aside, together with the Histoire d’Hippolyte, Comte de Douglas (1690), and the Histoire de Jean de Bourbon (1692), for, though always interesting, the qualities of imagination which combine to the writing of a fairy tale are not quite those needed for the making of history, and unfortunately for the clever lady, it is in the field of “delicate frivolity” that she has been placed.
But Madame Aulnoy has put forward a more serious claim to legitimate reputation in the small volume of travel published anonymously at Paris in 1691, wherein she describes her voyage into Spain with a brilliancy and wealth of detail which is all the more grateful in that the period has furnished us with but little like it. In this Journey she has produced a remarkable book. To the quick eye of the clever French woman nothing is lost. She sees the astonishing condition of the Peninsula with an instant but not unsympathetic glance. Into what might have well proved a dismal picture she has woven her ever lively personality, and with a ready humor turns the incidents of evil chance to amusing asides. If in all this an air of unreality and lack of truth is introduced, it does not on the whole affect the picture. Nor does this resemble the more fanciful historical work of the same writer, for here at least all is natural and fairly told. Spaniards have been at pains to attack this writer. They have argued and abused. But it is not far wrong to find in her book a near approach to a truthful picture. Nor does this resemble the more fanciful historical work of the same writer, for here at least all is natural and fairly told. Spaniards have been at pains to attack this writer. They have argued and abused. But it is not far wrong to find in her book a near approach to a truthful picture. There was, in fact, small need for calling up the imagination. There is evidence enough that in that day no one need closet himself and dream for the seeing of strange sights. It is the common place that surprises us. We feel how little the nation was responding to the sense of awakening which began to be felt elsewhere. Cervantes with his laughter had not brought to earth all fabrics of romance. The modern spirit was not yet stirring.
Of this book, as of Madame Aulnoy, Taine has been unhesitating in his praise. To him she was neither prude, philosopher, nor pedant; without affectation; a ready observer, praising or condemning with discretion, he seemed to find in her a representative in some measure of the great literary age of which she was a part.
And to him she never exaggerates; she has the inestimable qualities of good sense, frankness, and tact, is a French woman of culture and breeding. “On imprime,” he says, speaking of the book before us, “beaucoup de livres nouveaux, on ferait bien de réimprimer quelques livres anciens, au premier rang celui-ci.”
On the death of Philip IV., in 1665, a sigh of relief might well have risen from all Spain, yet scarcely through any anticipation of better days to come. For, though this man had presented to Europe a peculiarly marked type of bad government, his end raised no profound hopes of improvement. A man of strong character, of inflexible honesty, of patience; a statesman, a philosopher, and, last of all, a king, was what a few who remembered other days may have hoped. Instead, a Regency. At a time when throughout the land a magistrate, a viceroy, or a noble who had no place to sell or influence to buy was scarcely to be found; when an exhausted treasury, the loss of possessions, the slipping of prestige, the corruption of all classes, called for a guiding hand, then it was that fate saw fit to introduce a new king — at the age of four.
Spanish writers have a justified bitterness for this period of the national history. While the Imperial power was sinking slowly away, no return of prosperity, of New World conquest, or Old World grandeur appeared in the distance. None ever came. Stretching back into the past, the widening road of disaster ran straight to the foot of the throne of Philip II. On every side the downfall had begun. Spanish troops once invincible retreated and again retreated. Bit by bit the schemes of other countries began to be realized in the dismemberment of the Empire. Literature grown decadent, history perverted, Mannerism and Gongorism were the new gods and Churriguera the builder of their temples.
The arts decayed and died. Merchants, anticipating the destruction of trade, refused to venture their money. They rather hoarded it in secret places, discarding hope of interest. Commerce knew no security. Wealth brought but extortion. Power lay in the hands of court favorites.
“Les provinces étoient si épuisées,” writes Villars, “qu’en quelques endroits de la Castille on étoit obligé pour vivre, de trocquer les marchandises, parcequ’il n’y avoit plus d’argent pour acheter. Dans Madrid même il ne se’en trouvoit presque plus, et l’on y ressentoit à loisir les suites du changement de la monnoye que l’on avoit fait, avec tant de précipitation. Les personnes de qualité dont la dépense avoit doublé par ce changement ne pouvoient payer leurs marchands, et les banquiers n’avoient plus de fonds et ne trouvoient point à emprunter; on ne payoit rien dans la maison du Roy et les choses en vinrent à une telle extrémité, que la plus part des petits domestiques ayant rendu leurs livrées pour quitter le service, on eut beaucoup de peine à trouver les moyens de les y faire demeurer.”
Even religion was to become the vehicle of a host of strange mysteries; professional saints flourished; miracles were of daily report, the stigmata had repeatedly appeared. Superstition fed upon tales of witches and hobgoblins, and the minds of high and low were filled with a strange, incongruous mass of belief and doubt. A whole supernatural world both local and national crowded the places of Christian tradition. Every fragment of Roman, Arabic, or Gothic belief came to be fused upon the general credulity.
While the form that faith had assumed no longer surprises the reader as he turns the pages of contemporary writers, yet the auto de fé had not gasped its last. Outside the gate of Fuencarral the fires still burned. In 1680, the very year in which our author is writing her later letters from Madrid, it had produced an exhibition in the Plaza Mayor which had the utmost detail of dramatic staging given it to lend impressiveness. The bull-fight, too, was beginning to grow into that popularity which was later to make it the national sport.
The condition of the people was lamentable. Little by little the lower orders, driven from trades and manufacturing, were forced to face conditions of pauperism. Theft came to be too common to be noted. Every mountain pass was infested by robbers. People travelled well armed or stayed at home.
Into such a country, under such conditions as these, came, in February, 1679, this French woman of position, cultivation, and wit, and from San Sebastian she wrote the first of the series of letters which one by one found their way northward as she journeyed toward Madrid.
“Le premier trait du caractère Espagnol, c’est le manque de sense pratique,” says Taine. Something, however, must be added to every epigram on Spain, for she will not permit of hasty summing. Something must be said of language, dignity, and, last but not least, of the instinctive ceremonial. All of this our author has perceived.
This ceremonial of Spain, what and whence is it and how is it that it is first discerned by the traveller? Its history, could it be written, would be indeed a history of shadows, a ghostly palimpsest of needs made forms. Time was when a stern and God-favored war, fought day by day, year to year, and century to century behind the Pyrenean wall, nursed and fostered strange forms and moulded fantastic mental attitude. Europe busied herself but little with it all. It was enough for her that the Spaniard did well his office of guard and watcher at the outer gate. There, she came to believe, was his place, and there he wore his livery. And a strange livery it was — made up of rags and tatters of Iberian pride, Roman servitude, and Christian independence, and as it was fought day after day at the cheerless outer gate, from time to time the foe who bore upon him with the banners of Islam fell back before him, leaving upon the field some word to be gathered up as booty, some spoil of solemn gesture or grave reply or strangely formed garment brought across all Africa from Hejaz or the land of the Anazeh. And in this strange attire he stood and fought and bled until with sweat and blood of a thousand years the garment was a single hue and had become a solemn cloak.
Then the word came for the sheathing of the sword to the south, and with this cloak wrapped about him the erstwhile guardian of the outer gate of a sudden stalked out upon Europe, jangling the gold purse of the Indies at his belt, to the terror and the unfeigned astonishment of the world.
And this strange, melancholy creation of spectral silence has worn his piecemeal cloak of historic ceremonial, and, like the garment of the Seises, when it grew too old and threadbare redarned and furbished it anew until it in turn became but a shade and figure of its predecessor, yet drawn ever closer and hugged with a dearer love about the wasting old guardsman’s figure.
SEEING you are so earnest with me to let you know all my Adventures, and whatever I have observ’d during my Travels, you must therefore be contented (my dear Cousin) to bear with a great many trifling Occurrences, before you can meet with what will please you: I know your Fancy is so nice and delicate, that none but extraordinary Accidents can entertain you; and I wish I had no others to relate: but recounting things faithfully, as they have hapned, you must be contented therewith.
I gave you an Account in my last, of what I met with as far as Bayonne: you know this is a Town in France, Frontier to Spain, wash’d by the Rivers Dadour and Nivelle, which joyn together; and the Sea comes up to them. The Port and Trade are considerable: I came from Axe by Water, and observ’d that the Boat-men of Adour have the same Custom as those of Garonne; which is to say, That in passing by one another, they set up a Hollowing; and they had rather lose their Wages than to forbear these sort of Shoutings, although exceeding vexatious to those who are not used to them. There are two Castles strong enough to defend the Town, and there are about it several pleasant Walks.
At my Arrival there, I intreated the Baron de Castleneau, who had accompany’d me from Axe, to bring me acquainted with some Women, with whom I might spend my time with less impatience, till the Litters came, which were to be sent to me from St. Sebastian.
He readily complied with my Request; for being a Person of Quality and Worth, he is much esteem’d at Bayonne. He fail’d not the next Morning to bring several Ladies to visit me.
These Women begin here to feel the scorching Heats of the Sun; their Complexion is dark, their Eyes sparkling; they are charming enough, their Wits are sharp: And I could give you a farther Account of their Capacities, could I have better understood what they said: not but that they could all speak French, yet with such a different Dialect, as surpast my Understanding.
Some who came to see me, brought little Sucking Pigs under their Arms, as we do little Dogs: it’s true they were very spruce, and several of ’em had Collars of Ribbons, of various Colours: However, this Custom looks very odd, and I cannot but think that several among themselves are disgusted at it: When they danced, they must set them down, and let these grunting Animals run about the Chamber, where they make a very pleasant Harmony. These Ladies danc’d at my Intreaty, the Baron of Castleneau having sent for Pipes and Tabors.
The Gentlemen who attended the Ladies, took each of ’em her whom he had brought with him, and the Dance began in a Round, all holding Hands: they had afterwards long Canes brought them, and then each Spark taking hold of his Lady’s Handkerchief, which separated them from one another, moved very gracefully at the Sound of this Martial sort of Musick, which inspired them with such Heat, that they seem’d not to be able to moderate it. This seem’d to me to resemble the Pyrric Dance so much celebrated by the Ancients; for these Gentlemen and Ladies made so many Turns, Frisks and Capers, their Canes being thrown up into the Air, and dexterously caught again, that it is impossible to describe their Art and Agility: And I had a great deal of Pleasure in seeing ’em; but methoughts it lasted too long, and I began to grow weary of this ill-ordered Ball: When the Baron de Castleneau, who perceiv’d it, caused several Baskets of dried Fruit to be brought in. They are the Jews who pass for Portuguises, and dwell at Bayonne, who transport them from Genoa, and furnish all the Country with them. We wanted not for Limonade, and other refreshing Waters, of which these Ladies drank heartily; and so the Entertainment ended.
I was carry’d the next Morning to see the Synagogue of the Jews, in the Suburb of the Holy Spirit, but met with nothing remarkable there. Monsieur de St. Pe, the King’s Lieutenant, who came to see me, though much troubled with the Gout, invited me to Dine at his House, where I was most deliciously entertain’d; for this a Country abounding with good Cheer, and at cheap Rates. I found here Women of Quality that were very handsome, whom he had invited to bear me Company. The sight of the Castle, which faces the River, is very pleasant, and has always a good Garison in it.
At my return to my Lodging, I was surpriz’d to find several Pieces of Linnen, which were brought to me from the Ladies who came to see me, with Baskets full of dried Sweetmeats. This Treatment seem’d to me very obliging to a Lady whom they had not known above four or five Days. But I must not forget to tell you, there is not any finer Linnen in the World, than that which is made in this Country, some of which is open like Net-work, and the Threads of it finer than Hair: And I remember, that travelling thro’ the Villages of Bourdeaux, which may be rather call’d Desarts, the poor Peasants living so wretchedly; yet I found among them as neat Napkins as those used among People of Quality at Paris.
I fail’d not to send these Ladies such little Presents which I thought might please them: I perceiv’d they were great Admirers of Ribbons, and wear a great many on their Heads and Ears, which made me send them a great many; to which I added several Fans: and they, by way of Return, presented me with Gloves, and Thread-Stockins, most delicately knit.
In sending them to me they desired me to go to the next Chappel, which was not far from my Quarters, where they intended to Regale me with the best Musick the Town would afford: but though there were very good Voices, yet there is no great pleasure in hearing them, because they want both Air and Skill.
The Litters which I expected from Spain, being come, I prepared for my Departure; but I never met with any thing dearer than these sort of Equipages; for each Litter has a Master that accompanies it, who keeps the Gravity of a Roman Senator, being mounted on a Mule, and his Man on another, with which they release ever and anon those that carry the Litter. I had two, I took the greatest for myself and my Child, and had besides four Mules for my Servants, and two for my Baggage: to conduct them, there were other two Masters and two Men. You see what Charge one is at, to go to Madrid, seeing you must pay not only for their Attendance on you forwards, but the same Price for their return back: However, we must submit to their Customs, and suffer ourselves to be peel’d by them.
I found at Bayonne several Turks and Mores, and I think a worse sort of People, and these are Custom-House-Men: I had caused my Trunks to be weigh’d at Paris, that I might have the less to do with these sort of People; but they were more subtle, or to speak better, more obstinate than I; so that I was forc’d to give them whatever they demanded. Scarcely was I got clear from them, when the Drums, Trumpets, Pipes, and Violins of the Town, came thundring upon me; they follow’d me farther than St. Anthony’s Gate, through which you pass for Spain through Biscaye: they play’d each of them in their way, and all together, without any Harmony, which was enough to drive any one out of their Senses: I ordered some Money to be given them, upon which they left persecuting me. As soon as we had left Bayonne, we enter’d into a large barren Heath, where we saw nothing but Chesnut-Trees; but we afterwards past along by the Sea, whose Sand makes a delightful Way, and a pleasant Prospect.