WRITING AS GEORGE R. PREEDY
RGL e-Book Cover 2019©
THE LIFE, LOVES AND BATTLES OF MAURICE DE SAXE,
MARÉCHAL DE FRANCE. BORN 1696. DIED 1750.
First published by Herbert Jenkins Ltd., London, 1939
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-09-10
Produced by Colin Choat and Roy Glashan
All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.
Click here for more books by this author
Maréchal Maurice de Saxe
From an engraving made in 1776
Tu voulus qu'aux Champs de la gloire
Ce fier Saxon vengeat tes droit?
France, il fut digne de ton choix.
Son Bras te soûmitla Victoire
Et son Coeur chéri tes Lois.
Maréchal Maurice de Saxe
Portait by Maurice Quentin de La Tour
"Life is only a dream—mine has been fine, but short."
—Maurice de Saxe.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Part 1. The Saxon Adventurer
- I. "A Vapour Sometime Like a Lion or aBear"
- II. "Langues du Chat"
- III. A Great Gentleman's Notebook
- Part 2. "Famous'd in Fight"
- I. Crowns, Spades And Drums
- II. Maurice, Sweet William and someUnderlings
- III. Scoundrel's Diversion
- Part 3. The Trophies and the Dust
- I. A Charming Sacrifice
- II. The Monstrous Palace
- III. For Valour
THE following study is one of a very few, as faras the writer's knowledge goes, full-length lives of Maurice deSaxe in English.
Much of the material is new to English readers; thetranslations are, all of them, taken direct from the originalsand have not, as far as can be ascertained, been translatedbefore.
There is no fiction or invented romance in this biography; thelife and character of the hero, his contemporaries and hisbackground have been kept as close to fact as possible; legendsand picturesque embroideries have been avoided—the subjectneeds none.
Besides the books given in the bibliography, much material hasbeen gathered from articles in French periodicals and thejournals of learned societies. This is especially the case withregard to Adrienne de Lecouvreur and Madame Favart. Some use hasbeen made of an early study of the same subject by the presentwriter now long out of print.
George R. Preedy.
IT is easy to fix a label on an age, or period,and not so easy to justify it; the eighteenth century has beentermed the age of reason, the age of prose and the age ofadventurers. It was probably no more full of reason, prose oradventurers than any other epoch, and with the broad movements ofthought and action that marks this century from others in thejudgment of historians, this study has nothing to do.
The subject of it, however, does appear not only to fit intoan age singularly prolific in adventurers of all types, but to behimself the foremost of all of them and their epitome.
This mercenary soldier, a prince by the left hand, who morethan once missed a throne, and who through his mother wasdescended from a stock that had produced warriors so ferociousthat they were rebuked even by their contemporaries, men neithernice nor sensitive, led a life typical of all that is best, andall that is worst, in these eighteenth-century adventurers whosenames and exploits, both in love and war, formed plentifulmaterial for the flatterer, the satirist and the hack-writer ofspurious memoirs.
Their names were freely used to paint spurious tales and stockanecdotes and to give lustre to refurbished scandals, and it isnot easy always to discover the real men behind their gaudyfabrications.
The world in which they live is, in every sense, a vanishedworld. We have changed in everything, in nothing more than in ourconception of a hero, and the meaning that we attach to the wordglory. And we shall find these words used very frequently in thisage that seems in so much dry, cynic and disillusioned. Thesoldier, if brave and successful, was a hero, and war, howeverpurposeless, useless and incompetently conducted was glory if itallowed an opportunity for a display of courage, even if this didnot lead to victory.
The army, the church and politics were the only professionsopen to the nobility of every country; they often overlapped; thegeneral who like Marlborough had "saved" his country in thefield, might without difficulty be allowed to guide the nationaldestiny in the cabinet, and found equal opportunities for plunderin both spheres. The churchman, like Cardinal Fleury, whosemodest abilities would scarcely have sufficed for the duties of aparish priest, might find himself, through rank influence andexpediency, chief minister of a great nation for many disastrousyears. Princes and their favourites and the friends and relationsof their favourites, might pick and choose between Church, Armyand Politics and often tried each in turn, but the favouritepursuit of royalty and the aristocracy, and one that they feltwas closely interlinked with their caste, their honour and theirpride, was war.
In their eyes war meant power, possible aggrandisement,undoubted chances of plunder and a life that was much to thetaste of an eighteenth-century patrician. Their campaigns wereconducted like hunting parties, leisurely and after lengthypreparations. Few of the luxuries supplied by the great citieswere missing in the camps and with the first touch of winterweather the armies went into winter quarters and the officers, atleast, enjoyed several months of extravagant idleness, feted,pampered and praised. Each war, therefore, consisted of onecampaign and a truce each year and so dragged on, to the miseryand often the ruin of all concerned, save the soldiers, who foundthis manner of life so acceptable that they looked upon a peaceas a vast misfortune.
But there was never, during the seventeenth and eighteenthcenturies, a universal peace; the War of the Empire against theTurks, a conflict in which the Republic of Venice was ofteninvolved, only ceased for periods so brief as to be negligible,and aristocrats, bored by the intervals between the Europeanclashes, volunteered in large numbers to join the struggle on theplains of Hungary, under the walls of Belgrade or among theislands of Greece, Cyprus and Crete.
This was the school that produced the mercenary soldier,though they would not have cared for that term; men, often ofroyal birth, nearly always of noble birth, who, finding thattheir own countries could not employ them, went where there was achance to win fortune by the sword and the exercise of wit,cunning or intrigue. They cared nothing for the cause for whichthey fought, though a fantastic echo of the crusades ran throughthe call for volunteers against the Porte and served only fortheir pay and the luck that might come the way of an unscrupulousman during the anarchy of a warfare that accepted but a few ofthe rules of any civilisation and usually ignored these.
It is difficult to acquit the two great generals who, at theopening of the century, were in the front of their profession,and models for all the younger men, of being essentiallymercenaries.
Prince Eugene of Savoy, who wrote his signature in fourlanguages, was by birth a Frenchman, possibly the son of LouisXIV, but owing to being passed over at the French court, spenthis life serving against France; Marlborough certainly fought forhis native land, though he commanded troops of variousnationalities, but it would be a very enthusiastic admirer whowould suppose that patriotism greatly inspired him or that theinvincible Duke did not relish war for its own sake and what itbrought him in profit and glory and that he did not prolong warwhen it was possible to do so.
Large fortunes, diamond belted swords and grandiose piles likeBlenheim and Bellevue rewarded these men who possessed thegenius, the character and the opportunity to raise themselvessolid fortunes out of the chaos of war. They were in this,different from the free-lances of earlier centuries, from whomthey were in a sense descended; the condottiere of whomGiovanni delle Bande Nere is the most famous example, orSir John Hawkwood, with his roving bands, in that they were farmore highly rewarded, lived, even in the midst of war, moresoftly, and mostly died, not like the young Medici or Charles deBourbon, shattered on the "bed of honour" but comfortably ifmiserably of old age.
Among the notable generals of the eighteenth century,Marlborough's nephew, the Duke of Berwick, was the only one tomeet a fate similar to that of Gustavus Adolphus and be slain inaction, though many, Saxe and Cumberland among them, sufferedfrom flesh wounds that primitive surgery allowed to torture themfor the rest of their lives, perhaps even to shorten theirdays.
On the whole, however, for these mighty ones, the professionwas, despite their personal bravery, as safe as it was lucrative,and their greatest danger arose from their own self-indulgence orthe insanitary nature of the camps and forts over which theyruled. True that many battles were massacres, and all accountedfor many lives; true that comparatively few of the woundedsurvived, that disease swept off large numbers and that grimprivation and suffering was the lot of those in besieged townsand forts, but most of these evils fell upon the rank and file,and few of the higher officials and none of the generals abatedanything of their comfort and splendour because they wereconducting a campaign. Some disasters were, now and then, beyondcontrol and reduced all to a common level of misery; such was thedreadful retreat from Prague, an emergency measure, adoptedagainst the rules of eighteenth-century warfare and taking placein mid-winter. The officers then shared, perforce, the agonies ofthe men, and some of them, like Vauvenargues, whose sad and nobleessay "On Glory" may have been inspired by this disaster, neverrecovered from their suffering. But even then, the snow-boundpasses were strewn with the silver plate, damask hangings andrich camp furniture that the lackeys of M. de Bellisle had triedin vain to drag in the wake of their general.
But such miscalculations were rare, and for the most part aquinsy from an infected camp, sore eyes from the dust of themarch, a touch of putrid fever caught from the ill-lodged, ill-fed, dirty soldiers, was the worst that the general and his staffhad to fear, and even these perils were balanced by the constantattendance of physicians and surgeons who offered their smallskill and their abundant flattery to the masters who fee'd themgenerously for such palliatives as medicine could offer againstignorance and filth.
Is it not this luxury, this extravagance, this softness evenin the midst of war that marks these wigged and powdered heroesas of a smaller make than their predecessors of the earliercenturies? Or is it merely that it is easier to cast a darkromance over those whose characters and actions one knows only inoutline, than over those whose careers are so well documentedthat one can follow them into the closet and watch them at theirtoilet?
But those earlier men of war, Princes and mercenaries alike,seem to possess an austerity, a dignity, a virtue wholly lackingto the later military adventurer. Bloody-minded, violent,corrupt, bandits, pirates, thieves these earlier warriors mayhave been, but we can at least persuade ourselves that therelingered about them some gleam of the fabled chivalry men had atone time invented, if never practised, some sparkle of antique or"Roman" virtue. If there was a Gaston de Foix among the generalsof the eighteenth century, his fame has not survived, nor wasthere any commander comparable to Bayard or Du Guesclin, evenallowing that these famous knights have been over-praised.
Giovanni dei Medici was, no doubt, in all essentials, notsuperior to Otto von Königsmarck, Maurice de Saxe or any othereighteenth-century mercenary of whom one cares to think, but itis impossible to imagine that any of their followers could havewritten of them as Pietro Aretino wrote of the leader of theBlack Bands.
Even such a corrupt and cunning character as François I had,at least in his youth, ideals of chivalry and honour that weretotally lost two hundred years after Paria, and, with one or twoexceptions, the last great leader to evoke passionate and blinddevotion from his men was Gustavus Adolphus, who commanded hisown subjects and who did not, in any crude or obvious sense,fight for gain.
The sports and pastimes of these earlier soldiers have morebeauty and dignity, also, at least in the imagination. The greatruby that Charles the Bold kept on his camp bottle, the string ofdiamonds that looped the shabby hat of Maurice of Orange, theheavy jewels the great constable pledged at Turin to pay histroops, these have a more manly air than the modish trifles that,straight from Paris and Vienna, decked the luxurious tents oflater warriors. And the song of the minstrel after the battle,the energetic games that passed the time for besieger andbesieged, the reading from rare and precious books tending toencourage and exalt, these were poorly replaced by the berlinefull of easy actresses, the travelling stage that provided thecoquettish comedies, and the private gazette that broughtall the scandals of the city and the court to the garrison andthe camp.
Can we argue that these later mercenaries seem hollow andtawdry even for their fierce and dreadful profession because theylacked a God, even a God of Battles? The captains of an earlierage had a grimly sincere belief in some manner of Deity; thepriest who accompanied them during their campaigns had often areal power over them, and the confessions, the absolutions, thebequests for masses, the endowment of church and convent, charityand hospital, were not wholly hypocritical. Shakespeare put aprayer into the mouth of Harry of Monmouth on the eve of hisgreat fight, even though it was a plea that his fathers sinsmight be forgotten, and even Count Tilly, as late as the mid-sixteenth century, had his supplication—"Oh God, if thereis a God, save my soul, if I have a soul."
But by the eighteenth century belief had gone withsuperstition, and with them the last vestige of the knightlyideal. A zeal for "the common cause," i.e. the upholding ofProtestantism, animated William III, and both he and hisfollowers were able to persuade themselves that he was raised upby God, like David, to fight the Lord's battles, but he was thelast great captain to do more than make a pretence at devotion toan hereditary faith and with the progress of the century even thepretence was dropped.
True, there were the Te Deums; the favour of theAlmighty was claimed by every combatant, and He was duly praisedin St. Paul's Cathedral or Notre Dame de Paris as the tide ofsuccess flowed this way and that; true that hymns of praise roseafter every victory and that the word "God" was bandied aboutvery freely. All this was a necessary part or the formula towhich warfare had been reduced—"without the Te Deumswe should not know that there had been a victory," wrote Madamede Sévigné.
But if there were some pious Roman Catholics, some ferventHuguenots, some sincere Lutherans or Calvinists among the commonsoldiers or the officers of lower rank, there were none among thegenerals, and the mercenaries served any prince of any faith, nomatter what their own creeds were supposed to be. The wars ofreligion were over; these were wars of aggression, of pride, ofnational vanity; Maréchal de Noailles, after pointing out toLouis XV that the country was in fact on the verge of ruin, yetdeclared that a costly purposeless war must be undertaken "forthe honour of France."
Frederic of Prussia read Voltaire, the Comte de Bomeval becamea Mussulman, the Comte de Guibert wrote dramas full of barrenheroics and essays on tactics that were enervated by the "aquoi bon?" of the "philosophes" whose fashionableincredulity penetrated even the camps.
When men fought thus openly for gain, without even a pretenceof a cause, an ideal, or obedience to the will of a higher power,without even a sense of nationalism or a gleam of patriotism,they became the soulless men of brass and iron, of whom Mauricede Saxe was the most splendid and successful example. True, Countvon Schulenburg, himself a specimen of the better type ofmercenary soldier, instructed the young Maurice with loftyideals, and tried to inculcate into him some of the antiquevirtues. But these were not taken seriously by his pupil, whoremained all his life "sans coeur" to an extent thatimpressed an age beginning to indulge in that sentimentality thatshows a lack both of spirituality and sentiment.
It might be said that he was without honour also, save in thesense that he never took bribes to betray his master, and wascertainly without real religion of any kind, a fact that headmitted with a frankness that startled Madame Pompadour, herselfno fanatic in matters of faith.
It was to her that the successful soldier said: "I've neverseen the woman whom I would care to call my wife, nor the manwhom I would care to call my son." And he might with truth haveadded: "Nor imagined any spirit whom I would care to call mygod."
Born on one side of noble freebooters with a strain ofinsanity in their blood, and on the other side of the Albertineline of Saxon Electors, princes noted for their indolence, theirluxury and their physical strength, Maurice resembled the hardierancestor after whom he was named, Maurice of Saxony, who had alsobequeathed his military genius and his name to another greatsoldier, Maurice of Orange, his grandson.
The name was suggestive of Pagan fortitude and Christianfaith, for St. Maurice, the patron Saint of these warriors wasthat stalwart, Roman soldier, who, converted, and converting hislegion, perished, the legend says, amid the Alpine snows,together with his men, rather than renounce his belief in JesusChrist.
For such as Maurice, who early understood his position, therewas but one possible career. The profession of arms promised wellfor younger sons and royal bastards, even though the great prizesmight be seized by dispossessed princes like the Duke ofLorraine, or ruling potentates like Louis of Baden, or thelandgrave of Hesse-Cassel.
The affairs of Europe were in flux and the struggle for thebalance of power kept the great nations constantly at oneanother's throats.
Consider the period covered by the life of Maurice de Saxe; hewas born the year that the peace of Ryswick concluded a war thathad lasted from 1689, a war that had indeed begun in 1672, and inwhich the peace procured by the treaty of Nymegen had been inreality but a truce; during his early childhood the third phaseof this war between the Allies and France, that of the Spanishsuccession, broke out, and Maurice, in his thirteenth year waspresent with Marlborough and Eugene at the bloody day ofMalplaquet.
Contemporary with this struggle was that of Augustus, Electorof Saxony and father of Maurice, for the throne of Poland, thatinvolved him in a long war with Sweden, with Russia first as allyand then as masters, and when the battle of Patona put an end tothis struggle and the treaty of Utrecht to the other, there wasstill the struggle against the Turks in progress and Maurice wasable to gain another taste of bloodshed serving under Eugenebefore the walls of Belgrade.
Entering the service of France he found the interval of peacetoo long for his taste and his purse and was able to raise a waron his own by competing for the Dukedom of Courland. He washardly through with this adventure when France was again engagedin a war that lasted until the peace of Vienna, 1736, but thatwas renewed again in 1740 and continued until two years beforethe death of Maurice, only to break out again a few yearslater.
Such a state of continual universal warfare—besidesthese European conflicts, the French and English were fighting inIndia—with the ideas, standards, mentality and ambitionsthey gave rise to, caused the rogue and the adventurer, thecharlatan and the ruffian to flourish exceedingly. And none wasmore valuable to these warring princes—and the struggleswere between princes—not between peoples—than thebold, talented mercenary, who knew how to make himself obeyed,how to hold or take a fort, how to throw up a demilune or aravelin, how to accept or offer, with conventional grace, thekeys of a city, and how to spend, with lavish ease, when the armywent into winter quarters, the pay and the plunder gatheredduring the summer's campaign.
The extravagance of these military leaders passed all bounds,an eye-witness relates, seeing the Elector Max of Bavaria, heroof the siege of Belgrade, give his hat full of gold to a maleacrobat whose performance had pleased him; another German princewas said to have traded a regiment for a pair of perfect blueChinese vases, and even the officers of lower rank went intoaction wearing diamonds and with their pockets full of money.
A foot-pad who held up the King of Poland, John Sobieksi, andhis staff, as they went out at night to view the Turkish lines,made a haul of jewels alone that brought him 8,000 ducatoons,when sold in Venice.
The troops of the Sultan went into battle superbly equipped,while their tents were furnished with a profusion of rich objectsso that every time they were defeated, even in a brush, orskirmish, the Christians carried away costly plunder and thetreasury of the Green Vaults, in the fantastic palace of AugustusII at Dresden contained many a priceless ruby and emerald, many acostly plume, aigrette or scimitar, picked up on the Easternfrontiers where the Turkish janissaries struggled so long and soobstinately to penetrate into the West.
Rich opportunities for plunder were also offered by the warsin which Venice engaged the Porte and those where Naples, under aSpanish Viceroy, fought off the Algerian corsairs.
Among the isles of the Mediterranean and along the coasts ofAfrica many a raid might be made, many a well-laden galley sunkand much treasure brought home.
Maurice's maternal fortune that he never touched owing to thedishonesty of the bankers at Hamburg, came largely from thissource, for Otto von Königsmarck, his grandfather, had longcommanded the forces of the Venetian Republic, a post after heldwith distinction by Maurice's first instructor in the art of war,General von Schulenburg.
Another field of action for the adventurer and the mercenarywas that vast half-barbaric country that even the efforts ofPeter the Great had not brought much into touch with Europe.Riches and power that might well be regarded as fabulous awaitedthe lucky fortune-hunter in Russia, especially when the sevenImperial Crowns were worn by a woman, and clever scoundrels likeCount Biron, afterwards Duke of Courland, and reputable soldierslike Marshal Keith and Field-Marshal Count Peter Lacy, "theEugene of Muscovy," found it well worth their while to penetrateto the splendours of Moscow or the new brilliancy of St.Petersburg.
The hope of the sombre, remote and alluring throne of theRomanoffs was one that frequently dazzled and tempted Maurice deSaxe during his gaudy career, but successful as he was withwomen, he failed to secure either the Empress Anna or the EmpressElizabeth, but more through lack of tact than of opportunity, sonear to an Empress's diadem could a bold, comely adventurer comein those days of moral anarchy and the chaos carved in all humaninstitutions by absolute monarchies continually at war with oneanother.
As these adventurers lived so they died, without remorse,repentance or hope; most of them were disabled and diseased byself-indulgence; even the almost legendary strength of AugustusII and his son, Maurice, only resisted continuous and excessivedebauchery until early middle age; their last years were pitifulexhibitions of premature decay only redeemed by the fiery courageof Maurice and the cynic courtesy of Augustus. Their monumentswere arid, their epitaphs were formal; scribblers and penstersgot to work on their reputations as soon as their bodies had beenplaced in their gilded coffins.
Favart, the charming actor, who had good cause to know thebase side of Maurice, wrote of him, with reluctant good nature,that "He had too many faults to be praised, and too many virtuesto be blamed."
So the godless soldiers passed to the dust, having takengreedily all they wanted from life and leaving the jobber, thepander, the flatterer and the lackey to put on mourning cloaksand creepers while they looked out for another master.
To be fearless in face of death was part of the adventurer'scode, and some, like Maurice, could face the prospect ofannihilation without blanching. "I've lived without a priest, andI'll die without one," he declared.
But he died reluctantly—a fine play was over but he wentout into a starless night. Not for him, or his like—
Death is a port where all may refuge find,
The end of labour, the entry into rest—
but a grim cutting short of lust, pleasure and excitement, forthem the pagan admonition rather than the Christian hope:
Lusisti satis, edisti satis, atque bibisti;
Tempus abire tibi est.
Boldly, or with indifference, they bade farewell to the feast,the wine-cup, the concubine, to the gilt laurels of victory, andtheir bleak atheisms seem to chill even their tombs, that havemore the air of chill ornaments of the charnel-house than that ofmemorials charged with the hope of immortality, an affirmation ofthe belief in the janua vitae into eternal life andperfect knowledge.
And being thus dead without hope they seem doubly dead.
Are they, then, of sufficient interest for anyone to revivethe outlines of their portraits and fill them in with freshcolours, if only transiently and with little skill?
If they are worth so much attention, it is because there mustalways be a curiosity about any human being who rose above hisfellows and left a name remembered beyond his own day, andbecause for many people that engrossing emotion, best describedas nostalgia for the past, extends, with peculiar force to whatis strange and remarkable in modern eyes, and to all that had itsroots in a past not two centuries ago in point of time, but hasvanished as utterly as the fabled splendour of Babylon andTyre.
It cannot be a study without fascination to trace the life ofanother human being who lived under circumstances to us sostrange, and in times that to us are lost save in echoes, day-dreams, or what we may find in the pages of all books, betweenthe frames of old pictures, or in some other relic, a dusty tomb,an exhibit in a museum, or a room in a palace long since disusedand shut away.
The background of the eighteenth-century adventurer issplendid; even those who pay willing tribute to the beauties of apurer art and the canons of a finer taste, must admit thepeculiar attraction of the baroque period, the style of sweepingcurves, the twisting movement, the dramatic emphasis, the heavyover-ornamentation that, influencing everything from churches toclothes, adorns, like the violent colours on the standing pool, acentury of decay in art, manners and costumes that, a mode heavywith languid over-ripeness, fell finally into ridicule and wereswept away.
The keynote of eighteenth-century baroque art was luxury; itnever belonged to the people, or sprang from the soil, it was thedrop cloth behind the sports of princes, the enrichment of thepageantry of kings, the excuse for men like Maurice de Saxe tospend their plunder and increase their fame. Never was there anart so costly, so exclusively the plaything of the wealthy andthe powerful; never was there such a vast difference between thesurroundings, the clothes, the habits of the poor, the middleclasses and those who were, in every sense of the word, theirmasters. The mingled frivolity and magnificence of such ahunting-box as Poppelmann built for Augustus the Strong atMoritzburg, or the same monarch's palace at Dresden, had hardlybeen seen before in the West. For it was a wanton splendour, ithad no roots in deep feeling, or strong taste, or the desire toleave a proud monument behind; it was touched by the grotesque,it was perverse, it had a superb foolishness akin to that whichsent the princes who owned these palaces into battle, wearingflowing perukes tied in silk bags, or pearl ear-rings, or plaitsfashioned with silk ribbons; the same kind of dainty, hystericalsilliness as made the fine ladies tear the gold braid off thecoats of the fine gentlemen, and wind it into balls for tatting,so that the Duke of Orleans once escaped from such a mêlée withhis coat falling to pieces at the seams.
There was the atmosphere of a fairy tale about these palaces,the fairy tales of Madame d'Aulnoy, Charles Perrault or CarloGozzi; the ogre, the princess, the faithful lover, the dwarf, thewitch, were well at home in their scenes. But these were notkindly fairy tales, having their roots in folk-lore or the sweetfancies of children. They were unwholesome, even wicked, suchstories as might have been invented to amuse the idle women who,glutted with jewels, thought it amusing to wear a kitchen clothas a head-dress, garnished with carrots and onions, or, weary ofthe costly flowers in golden vases, enjoyed thrusting a hyacinthbulb through a turnip, placing both into a common pot andwatching the nymph reluctantly blooming in the arms of the satyr.This lovely and brilliant decoration made the crimes and vices ofthe age the uglier by contrast; the pretence of an exquisitecourtesy showed up the heartlessness beneath.
An eye-witness of the Neapolitan massacres of 1799, who by anodd chance escaped the slaughter, noted one of the assassins, ahandsome young man with his hair in a blue net, and with a largecrimson rose between his lips. This ruffian advanced his facetowards the prisoners under his charge and left deep wounds ontheir cheeks, for in the centre of the rose was a smallstiletto.
So these men wounded through beauty and with a smile; lying,betraying, murdering without hesitation or remorse when it suitedtheir interests to do so, yet always offering the rose, thecharming word, the seductive look. The women, as the sex thentruly helpless, save for their own powers of intrigue, were theprincipal victims of their heartlessness, as witness the dealingsof the father of Maurice with his mother, and the hero's owndealings with Justine Favart.
The women had to take the men as they found them, and being ofthe same age and breed, managed well enough, even sometimes tobest the triumphant male until their hearts were involved, andthen they had to burn themselves out before the sentimentalcruelty of a charming egotism as did Adrienne de Lecouvreur andJulie de Lespinasse. And they, too, died without hope, with thename of a mortal on their lips and their faces turned from thepriests. And who were there to comfort anyone? They, too, had abaroque outline, a modish air; "I hope," said a great lord onengaging his chaplain, "you do not expect me to listen to yoursermons."—"I hope," responded the cleric, "that monseigneurdoes not expect me to give any."
Thus French wit, and in England, Queen Caroline, the mother ofCumberland, defeated at Fontenoy, retired into her closet whileher chaplain said prayers, in order to gossip with herwomen—"But, pray ladies, let us leave the door ajar andconverse in whispers, lest he thinks we are not listening." Sobreeding and cynicism go hand in hand, and "everything issupportable save boredom," declared Voltaire.
Here the adventurers, the mercenaries, the paid captains, likeMaurice de Saxe, were true to the spirit of their age; they werenever bored; not for them the cynic weariness that made Louis XVsigh—"What would the world be without coffee?" and thenadded: "After all, what is the world—withcoffee?"
Disappointed in much, frustrated in much, was the Saxonadventurer, and he was typical of all the eighteenth-centuryadventurers—never admitted to boredom, save for thebriefest periods. To the last he remained full of zest, and thesole complaint that he had to make of his life was that it wastoo short.
It had certainly been remarkable, full of strange episodes,bombastic triumphs, touching on flamboyant tragedies and violentdramas, played out against bizarre backgrounds and with strangecompanions.
By no standard could this famous soldier be said to be agreat, a good, or an important man, but his career has thefascination of yesterday's comet; the flaming thing is gone, ithas left no trace, it has made no difference to anyone, but itwas there and will not lightly be forgotten. A recent Frenchbiographer of Maurice de Saxe has claimed that, with all hisfaults, he was "a man."
The following study attempts to depict what manner of man washe of whom it was written:
Th' eternal juryman of Fate
When Saxe, unconquerably great
Approached within his ken,
Scowl'd at his freight, a trembling crowd,
And "Turn out, ghosts!" he roar'd aloud,
"Here's Hercules agen!"
Part I. THE SAXON ADVENTURER
I. "A VAPOUR SOMETIME LIKE ALION OR A BEAR"
ON an autumn day in the year 1696 an elegantcarriage passed through the valleys of the Hartz Mountainstowards the ancient city of Goslar, which lies on the north sideof the famous range and at the foot of the Rammelberg, thetowering mountain that is honeycombed with an extraordinaryvariety of mines, which produce copper, lead, zinc, sulphur,vitriol, alum and silver in prodigal abundance.
The handsome berline, a capacious family conveyance, proceededwith discretion and swung gently on the leather straps. Twofootmen stood behind and a third was seated beside the coachman;four stout greys drew the equipage. There was an outrider infront and a manservant on horseback behind. All this betokened acareful and luxurious traveller, but there were no arms on thepanels of the carriage and no distinguishing marks about theliveries of the servants.
This romantic air of mystery, wealth and pomp was heightenedby the appearance of the occupant of the carriage—a lady,wrapped in a costly cloak of glossy sables and wearing a blackmask under her beaver hat, from which hung plumes of ostrich tomingle with her fashionable curls. Her sole companion was aquiet-looking woman, who appeared to be a chambermaid of thebetter sort; she sat opposite on the padded seat, holding uponher knee a handsome casket, which she guarded with anxiouscare.
The sun had for some time disappeared behind the high peaks ofthe mountains, when the lady, impatient after the long, tediousjourney, let down the blinds at the window and putting her headout of the carriage, looked keenly at the prospect before hertired gaze.
She was a foreigner; though she had been resident for sometime in Saxony, she had never seen these beautiful mountainsbefore. She gave them, however, but one glance of dry curiosity,then stared ahead at her destination.
The little city of Goslar was already in sight; the stoutramparts, the numerous towers showed in dark outline against theblue-green spaces of the mountains beyond. Goslar, stillpossessing a remote and solitary dignity, had once been a placeof considerable importance, the residence of Emperors, one ofwhom, Henry IV, had been born there nearly nine centuries beforethis elegant stranger stared through her mask at the imperialspires.
The handsome greys brought the carriage to the ancient gates;the outrider showed his papers, and the equipage passed into thestreets of Goslar.
A chill and colourless light lay over the old houses rich withheavy wooden carvings, the Romanesque church, the formidabletowers of the strong fortifications, the market-place now emptysave for a few idlers, who gossiped round the metal fountainbasin in the centre of the square. These and such passersby asremained in the streets of the quiet town glanced with somecuriosity at the handsome carriage and at the lady whom theycould glimpse, in her sables and travelling-mask, through theopen window.
She seemed to disdain their scrutiny, and, indeed, she was nottroubled by such impertinent interest. Though Goslar had lostmuch of its former magnificence, it still contained some fineresidences of nobles and wealthy Saxons, and the existence of thevery valuable silver mines near by, which belonged to the Electorof Saxony, brought a certain number of wealthy and importantpeople to the old imperial city in the Hartz Mountains.
The streets were well paved, and it was still at a discreetpace that the carriage passed the Kaiserhaus, the remains of theImperial Palace, the cathedral with the statues of the Emperorsin the portal, a square that gave a glimpse down a side street ofthe river Gose, where the washerwomen were kneeling on the flatstones and beating their linen, until at a sign from the outriderit drew up before a fine house set in a handsome quietstreet.
The establishment, however, seemed to have no pretensions tonobility but rather to be that of a wealthy merchant.
The fair traveller had been, it seemed, expected, for the doorwas opened instantly, even before the footman could set down thecarriage steps.
The lady was quick to alight; wrapped to the chin in hersables and leaning on the arm of her attendant with the casket,she passed with a rapid but heavy step into the house. The doorsclosed upon her and the equipage, sombre, costly, not to beidentified, with its footmen and riders in plain livery, passedrapidly out of the streets of Goslar without a pause to bait thehorses or refresh the men.
The house was empty of host or hostess, but well supplied withservants. A comfortable suite of apartments with maids awaitedthe stranger's commands.
She gave no explanation of her visit and none was asked; anair of complete discretion ruled in the opulent household. It wastacitly understood that the lady was a young widow, a relative ofthe master of the house, but it was also tacitly understood thatthis assumption, necessary to gloss over a scandal, was only acivil fiction.
When the lady took off her mask and her cloak of sables, sheshowed herself well worthy to be the heroine of a romanticadventure. She was young, she was elegant, she was well-bred; shehad a quantity of lustrous long hair, fine grey eyes and smallfeatures. Her beauty was not of the type that fascinates orastonishes; it was gentle, sweet, and veiled in melancholy, yether most salient characteristic was that self-control which ishardness or fortitude according to the mood or opinion of theobserver. She had the air of one who would never betray her ownfeelings, or assail those of others by emotional or passionateappeal. Delicate as her features were and tender as was the lookin her eyes, yet underlying the delicacy and tenderness wassomething implacable, disdainful. She had the resignation and theair of authority of one who understood her world, hercircumstances and herself.
She was at present in a difficult situation, one that hadspelt defeat for so many women of her type.
The arrival of a doctor and a wet nurse left no doubt of thereason for this secrecy and the object of the sojourn of sobright and so sumptuous a lady in so secluded and unworthy aresidence.
Within a few days of her arrival in the old city of Goslar,with its rich associations of dead Emperors, long dust, and minesof precious metals, haunted by goblins, the brave and resignedlady, Aurora von Königsmarck, gave birth to a male child.
The father was Frederick Augustus, Elector of Saxony, who hadthus resourcefully and lavishly provided for the security andcomfort of his latest mistress.
Not all his troubles, however, availed to save Aurora vonKönigsmarck from the distress and agony of a most painfulconfinement. It was believed by her well-paid but disinterestedattendants that she would die and it was thought that, if she didnot recover from the effects of the birth of the Elector's son,it might be convenient for His Highness.
Aurora at last struggled back to languid life and, lyingexhausted and forlorn in the strange bedroom with the unfamiliarfaces about her, considered the uncertain future and her dubiouscircumstances. She required for this task all the pride andreckless courage she had inherited from her famous house, whichhad produced bold warriors and unscrupulous adventurers who mightbe termed heroes or criminals with equal propriety.
For generations the Königsmarcks had been professionalmercenary soldiers; the family was Swedish, ancient, and noble.The men had fought with fiery distinction and conspicuous successall over Europe; Germany, Bohemia, Silesia, Corinth, and Italyhad been the scenes of their ferocious exploits.
John Christopher von Königsmarck was one of the generals ofGustavus Adolphus, and present at the coronation of Christina,who gave him the title of count and the rank of Field-Marshal.
His son, Otto William, had been ambassador from Sweden to thecourt of Charles II, then to that of Louis XIV. He had enteredthe French service, rose to the rank of Maréchal de Camp, servedunder Turenne and was present at the battle of Seneffe and thesiege of Maestricht.
His younger brother, Conrad Christopher, Count of Westermarkand Skegholm, had taken the other side in this war, served underthe Prince of Orange, and was killed at the siege of Bonn thatended the campaign of 1673.
Count Otto adopted the children of Count Conrad; they werebrought up partly on the Königsmarck estates at Agattenburg, nearStade, and partly at Hamburg, in their mother's charge. Thesechildren were Count John Charles, Count Philip Christopher,Amalie Wilhelmina, married to Count Löwenhaupt, and Maria Aurora,born the year of her father's death.
Otto von Königsmarck afterwards distinguished himself when inthe service of Venice by blowing up the Parthenon of Athens,which the Turks were using as a powder magazine. Though the timeswere not nice or fastidious, and though all Europe was used tosenseless and bloodthirsty wars, the ruthless behaviour of thisKönigsmarck was not considered worthy of noblemen or professionalsoldiers, and Sweden and France had led the way in formalcomplaints of his lawless and reckless actions.
It had been, however, impossible in the confusion of thevarious conflicts that split civilisation to bring this lustywarrior to account. More, he had amassed a large fortune from thehire of his services to warring states. The children of ConradChristopher had all helped to spread the fame of the name ofKönigsmarck, but not in a favourable sense.
The two men were conspicuously handsome, gifted, charming andromantic; they enjoyed money, position, the entrée to allthe courts in Europe. Yet they had not made good use in any senseof these remarkable and manifold gifts. For gentlemen of theirname and quality there was but one profession open—that ofarms, but neither displayed military talent of any kind, thoughboth were able to show a dashing, spectacular gallantry in courtand camp.
Count John Charles had come to England and been involved in anadventure that is still obscure. All that is known for certaintyis that in a foolish attempt to gain the hand of the LadyElizabeth Ogle, one of the richest heiresses in Europe, he had bymeans of hired assassins caused to be murdered in Pall Mall,Thomas Thynne, the wealthy and good-natured Wiltshire squire whohad secured the hand of the red-haired heiress.
John Charles had escaped the consequences of this crime,though his accomplices were duly hanged. It was admitted, even byhis admirers and friends—and he had many at the court ofCharles II—that he had cut but a poor figure in the affair.He left England, joined one of the tedious campaigns against theTurks that was usually the last resource of discomfortedadventurers, and was killed, creditably enough, in some skirmishbefore Angos in 1686.
The fate of the other brother was even more curious anddreadful.
Philip von Königsmarck was considered handsomer and morebrilliant than his brother; he was acceptable everywhere for hisgrace, wit, refinement and amiability. He was also reckless,boastful, unstable, a heavy drinker, a light lover. Indeed,despite their outward brilliancy, there was much that wassuperficial and tawdry about the two Counts von Königsmarck. Somebelieved that they were tainted with madness, but it might on theother hand be argued that their defects were very commonplace andrather the attributes of men whose essential weaknessesoverbalanced their obvious graces and good fortune than symptomsof insanity.
Philip von Königsmarck was in the service of the PrinceElector of Hanover, George Louis. The Elector's son was unhappilymarried to the charming and vivacious Sophia Dorothea, and aftera brief and impetuous siege she became the secret mistress of thecharming and ardent young Swede.
This intrigue, at once dangerous and tawdry, could not beexpected to endure long. The old Elector's mistress, the Countessvon Platzen, was also enamoured of the dashing soldier and in afit of jealousy betrayed the lovers, and Königsmarck disappeared,when leaving Sophia Dorothea's chamber on July 1, 1694.
The whole truth of this tragedy is not known and probablynever will be. There can be little doubt that Philip vonKönigsmarck was murdered; Sophia Dorothea, of whose adulterythere is now no question, was soon afterwards divorced and sentto lifelong imprisonment in the Castle of Ahlden. There was noenquiry concerning the disappearance of Königsmarck, though muchoutcry was raised by his relatives and friends.
The remaining representatives of the House of Königsmarck werethen the two young women—Wilhelmina and Aurora.
Wilhelmina, Madame von Löwenhaupt, shared the family talentfor intrigue, imprudence and recklessness. She was, however,plain featured and of haughty manners; her brother's tragedy wasin part to be put to her account for she had been the confidanteof the two lovers and encouraged them in their dangerousfolly.
This lady was married to a Swedish nobleman employed at thecourt of Saxony, who had been her brother's friend. Shedetermined to discover if Philip had disappeared into amysterious imprisonment or gone to a secret death and she was notinspired only by affection and indignation. The bold and amoroussoldier had been possessed of a considerable fortune, the bulk ofwhich was in the hands of certain Hamburg bankers, and hissisters and brother-in-law thought that even if his fate couldnot be ascertained and avenged, they might at least augment theirown revenues by obtaining possession of the large properties thathad been in his possession when he disappeared. Besides the titledeeds to various properties there was said to be five hundredthousand écus in cash, jewels, and a portion of thephilosophers' stone.
Before Count Philip von Königsmarck had taken service with theElector of Hanover, he had been in that of the Elector of Saxonyand had made friends at the court of Dresden. It was, therefore,to Dresden Madame von Löwenhaupt summoned her young, unmarriedsister Aurora, who possessed all the famous Königsmarck charm,grace, and reckless courage. The scheme was for this faircreature to second the efforts of the Löwenhaupts to obtain thefavour of the young Elector.
Frederick Augustus of the Albertine line came of a familywhose history was no less stormy and remarkable than that of theKönigsmarcks; the Electors of Saxony were among the most powerfuland wealthy princes in the Empire.
Their country was fertile as well as beautiful; the Saxonswere warlike, industrious, and passionately devoted to theReformed Religion, which they had been among the first toembrace. Saxony was the veritable home of Lutheranism and thegreat Reformer's patrons had been John George, Elector of Saxony,and his son Maurice, one of the most famous soldiers of hisage.
The Prince to whom Wilhelmina and Aurora appealed had not longenjoyed his honours. He had succeeded an elder brother, whosebrief history had been as gloomy and remarkable as that of Philipvon Königsmarck. At the same time as Sophia Dorothea had involvedherself in so reckless a manner with the charming young Swedishsoldier, John George, the young Elector of Saxony, had fallenunder the spell of a young woman who had been put under hisnotice by her unscrupulous mother. This lady, Madeleine Sybillavon Neichschutz, possessed little intelligence, a good deal ofcunning and rapacity, and certain coarse charms that appealed tothe gross taste of the young Prince. Though he was married to thePrincess Bernardine, a woman of his own age and rank, and ofconsiderable personal attractions, the infatuation of the Electorfor Madeleine Sybilla soon became notorious.
He created her in her own right a Countess of the ImperialCollege under the name of Rocklitz, and so influential did thefavourite become that the foreign envoys and residents had toapproach the Elector through her; she and her mother were greedyand corrupt even beyond what is usual to such adventuresses andthe maladministration of the finances of Saxony, the sale ofoffices and commissions, became an ever-growing scandal.
So complete was the young man's subjection that the story wentround that he was bewitched. The domination of Madame vonRocklitz had to be endured, and the King of England, William III,had to stoop to sending her messages and presents, including onefrom his wife, Queen Mary, in order that the Elector shouldcontinue in the services of the Allies, while the rumour wasspread that Madame von Rocklitz was working for a divorce and amarriage with the Elector.
The infatuation came to a tragic end; Madame von Rocklitzcaught smallpox and died. She was buried with full honours in theElectoral vaults of the principal church in Dresden.
Soon afterwards the young Elector, who had watched by herbedside during the progress of her malady, caught the diseasehimself. And he, too, died. Popular indignation and privatemalice then broke loose.
The Rocklitz's mother was arrested on a charge of corruptionand witchcraft and the Rocklitz herself dragged from her grave. Asmall bracelet found on her arm and supposed to be a gift fromthe Elector was destroyed; this was believed to be the talismanthat had held him in subjection.
To the Electoral throne, thus suddenly vacant, FrederickAugustus, John George's younger brother, succeeded.
He, too, was married to a princess of whom he was notenamoured, but, though completely amoral, he was not dominated byone mistress. As he was handsome in a florid fashion, ofprodigious strength, with courteous manners, sumptuous taste andgay conversation, he became at once exceedingly popular among thecheerful, prosperous Saxons.
He had enjoyed his honours only for a short time, when the twoSwedish ladies presented themselves before him with their appealfor help. He listened to them with sympathy; he had much incommon with Philip von Königsmarck and but for an accident ofbirth might have shared his fortunes and his fate. He promised tolook into the horrible disappearance of the Swedish noble whom hehad himself known and do what he could to elucidate the mysteryby stern representations at the neighbouring court ofHanover.
Count Königsmarck's guilt, or at least his indiscretion, hadbeen extremely flagrant, and the public disgrace of SophiaDorothea made it a difficult if not an impossible matter toenquire into the fate of her lover.
Frederick Augustus did not, really, greatly concern himselfwith this aspect of the affair. He was from the first fascinatedby Aurora von Königsmarck, her breeding, her grace, her highbirth, and the romantic history of her famous family appealed tothe idle and sensuous young prince, who was a giant in stature,of superb physique and remarkable strength. Like all the Germanprinces of his time he had always imitated the superficial gracesand elegances of the magnificent court of Louis XIV, and hisfirst act on entering into his honours was to build and furnishpalaces that should be at least passable copies ofVersailles.
Family treasures he already possessed in plenty, his revenueswere considerable, the resources of his Electorate appeared, atleast, inexhaustible. The long reign of his gifted forebears andthe brief reign of his reckless brother had left his coffers wellfilled. The plunder filched by Madame von Rocklitz and herrelations was soon retrieved and Frederick Augustus found himselfin a favourable position to conquer the hearts of ladies, even ofthe beauty and rank of Aurora von Königsmarck, and to impress theEmpire with his superb taste and prodigal expenditure.
The seduction of the young supplicant was easy, but not to bedone in any vulgar or obvious manner. In honour of the fairSwedes the Elector, in accordance with the fashions of the times,held a festival at his hunting palace in Moritzburg. Thisentertainment was on the most extravagant scale and well suitedto be the background to the suit of a prince who had alreadyacquired the reputation of an invincible lover.
Moritzburg was originally a Royal shooting-box built by thegreat soldier Maurice, which gave the name to the place. It wassituate on a rocky island in a large lake near Eisenberg, a fewmiles outside Dresden.
Frederick Augustus, who shared to the full the fashionableconception that there was no nobler passion for a prince thanthat of building, had already begun to adorn the island and thecastle with every resource of wealth, art and taste.
During the summer, which had now ended for Aurora vonKönigsmarck in the remote and ancient city of Goslar, she hadbeen the heroine of fairy-tale magnificence in the romanticisland that was adorned with statues, fountains, grottoes and allthe attractive artificialities of the baroque age, as expressedby Poppelmann, the Elector's architect.
There were gorgeous hunting parties in the near-by forest,dainty masques of Amazons and shepherds under the trees in theirfull summer foliage, glidings over the lake in agreeablegondolas, curious pantomimes of Turks and monsters, and at theconclusion of these diversions, apartments of peculiar richnessin the hunting-box were provided for the Swedish beauty, whoreclined upon a bed of yellow damask adorned with silver Cupidsclasping roses. Here the Elector, on his knees, presented herwith a nosegay of jewels and declared himself her languishingslave.
In short, the affair was conducted with the greatest eleganceand very much in the manner of the French fairy-tales by CharlesPerrault and Madame d'Aulnoy, then so fashionable. And thesurrender of Aurora was conducted with a dignity and a meeknessthat amounted to decorum.
Certainly, so far there had been nothing scandalous or sordidabout the affair. Aurora received more than the usual tendernesslavished on Royal favourites and had even contrived by tact andcharm to win the sufferance of the young Electress, PrincessEberhardina of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, who had proved herself notaltogether divorced from the affections of her charming husbandby giving him an heir a few weeks before the birth of Aurora'sson in Goslar.
* * * * *
These were the memories of Aurora vonKönigsmarck as she lay in her weakness and loneliness in theobscure comfort of the merchant's house in the remote old city inthe Hartz Mountains.
She knew what to call the child; the Elector had no intentionof disavowing his son, and he was to be named Maurice, after thestout old warrior who had built the shooting-box on the isle nearEisenberg.
The future looked less agreeable and certainly less stablethan the past had been. Aurora had nothing but promises, and sheknew what the promises of a prince and a man like FrederickAugustus were worth. She could hardly hope to retain herascendance over him; for all his frivolous pastimes and romanticlove-affairs and fairy-tale like entertainments, she knew wellenough that he had a fund of obstinacy, selfishness and lazyvanity that it would be almost impossible for her keen wit tocontrol; the young man was also spoilt by too much power, toomuch splendour, too much adulation—impossible material forany woman to handle to her own profit.
At present this fickle prince was out of her reach; he hadgone to Belgrade to take command of the army of the Emperor inHungary. There he would be the guest of Joseph, King of theRomans and heir to the Imperial throne, and Aurora suspected thatit was more likely than not that when he returned to Dresden hewould have a new favourite in his train.
She had reason to smile a little cynically at the result ofher mission to the Elector of Saxony. She had not obtained thefortune of her dead, her probably murdered, brother, but as muchmoney as Philip von Königsmarck could have left behind in thehands of the Hamburg merchants had been spent on herentertainment at Moritzburg. While, if her brother had not beenreturned to her, if she had not even any inkling of his fate, theElector had given her a son who might very well be another Philipvon Königsmarck, seeing that he should inherit beauty, strength,courage and dubious fortune from two famous families.
Aurora had no voice in the destiny of this child; theElector's commands were obeyed and the sturdy infant, having noother name but Maurice, was taken at his father's orders by thewet nurse and the attendants to Hamburg. And thus a fortnightafter the birth of her son Aurora was again alone.
She was slow in gaining her strength, and this considerablydepressed her spirits. Her sumptuous and fickle lover was out ofher reach, for ever as she might reasonably fear, and her owndestiny and that of her son were equally dubious.
The winter was well advanced and she still remained inseclusion in Goslar, living a dull life that might have seemedone of penance for the frivolous and wanton pleasures that hadpreceded this monotonous seclusion.
But Aurora was not penitent nor even conscious of wrong-doing.In the corrupt, hurried and adventurous world in which she livedher life appeared not virtuous only, but almost correct. She hadnever had any lover besides the Elector, and she had won thesufferance, almost the friendship, of the Elector's wife.
Not shame, therefore, but worldly cares, absorbed Aurora vonKönigsmarck. Her financial affairs were in great confusion andFrederick Augustus, for all his lavishness, was hardly the man toset them right.
But he did not entirely fail her; her worst doubts were set atease, before the mountain roads became impassable, by the returnof the handsome, discreet equipage from Dresden and a letter fromthe Elector; after some delay she was given the position ofcoadjutress of the Protestant Abbey of Quedlinburg, an almostregal fief and one that brought with it privileges that hadremained unabated since before the Reformation. Quedlinburg hadalso sufficient revenue to maintain Aurora with decorum anddignity, and to it the Elector added a pension that would providethe means of educating Maurice as the Prince he might havebeen.
There was, however, no invitation to Aurora to return toDresden. So she accepted the bounty offered her and left Goslarfor Quedlinburg, which was also situated in the Hartz Mountains;it was understood that later she was to be made Abbess.
The gift was princely, the provision ample, if—and hereAurora confessed to a doubt, perhaps even to asuspicion—they were punctually paid. However, she hadhigher hopes than Quedlinburg and even the resumption of herlove-affair with the Elector; and that was the recognition of herMaurice as a son of Frederick Augustus.
The town of Quedlinburg in the eastern Hartz Mountains waslarger than Goslar but had some of its ancient imperialsplendour, for it had once been a favourite residence of theGerman Emperors of the Saxon line.
Aurora, again peering from the window of the discreetcarriage, saw another fortified town with walls, towers and moat,and on the west the old Castle and Abbey Church that was to beher fief and residence.
In the market-place was a stone figure of Roland, and an airof romance and legend lingered over the old mountain town thathad been founded by Henry I, and had once been a fortified townof the Hansa League.
Aurora saw that her residence as Abbess of Quedlinburg was theCastle or Schloss rising from a lofty sandstone rock on the site,an independent convent founded by Mathilda, mother of Otto theGreat, nearly a thousand years before Aurora von Königsmarckfound her refuge there.
The ancient retreat was lonely, if bleakly magnificent; it didnot seem to Aurora as in the same country as Moritzburg orDresden. It did, however, provide a dignified if melancholyresidence; but Aurora had never been a religious woman; she didnot appreciate the proximity of the Church, which was over alarge burial vault where the sandstone had preserved the bodiesof former Abbesses from decay.
The buildings had recently been modernised and they werecommodious and comfortable if not of much splendour.
The first part of Aurora von Königsmarck's residence there wasmarked by a long and painful illness. The beauty, the gaiety, andthe high spirits that had captivated Frederick Augustus atMoritzburg were gone for ever; she realised with poignant dismaythat she was a sick and feeble woman, her grace and beautydiminished, her spirits sunk.
Her courage was not daunted, and when the Elector returnedfrom the Eastern Campaign Aurora von Königsmarck went to Dresdenand presented herself before the hero of the Moritzburg idyll asthe mother of his son.
Frederick Augustus was never anything but gracious andcharming towards women; but Aurora was fine enough to observe atonce that she had lost all favour with him and that he evenregarded her with repugnance. To one of his sensuous temperamentsickness was repellent. The physical aspects of Aurora's ill-health filled him with disgust. Besides, he had brought with himfrom Belgrade a lady whose singing had captivated him during abanquet given by the King of the Romans, at which she hadperformed, clad in nothing but gauze and roses.
The concern of the voluptuous Prince, therefore, was to freehimself from Aurora von Königsmarck as quickly and easily aspossible; and also, as the unfortunate lady soon discovered,cheaply. She had the truth when she suspected that the revenuesfrom Quedlinburg and the pension for Maurice were mostirregularly paid. Neither Frederick Augustus nor his Ministersoffered her any help in gathering together her own fortunes, theremnants of the properties still held by the Hamburg bankers whodemanded proof of the death of Philip, or of the Königsmarcksscattered all over a Europe then at war.
In spite of these disappointments Aurora behaved herself withdignity, and not without irony put her own grief in thebackground to condole with the slighted Electress, faced oncemore with the open infidelity of her husband; sight of the youngPrince Augustus, almost exactly the same age as her own Maurice,was another incentive to Aurora to endeavour to secure the futureof her boy.
On this point the Elector was easy and prodigal of promises,but impatient of any pressure for the performance ofthem—Maurice should be educated as a Saxon, a prince, asoldier, a good Lutheran too; his father, despite his grossvices, was staunchly Protestant; and, in his own estimation,religious. A tutor should be provided for the boy, in facteverything that was his due should be given him. And with thesecarelessly given assurances Aurora had to be content and returnto Quedlinburg as soon as she had been confirmed in herappointment as Abbess in 1702.
This was a splendid, if somewhat remote retreat, and Aurora'sanxiety was gilded with dignity.
As a secular Abbess of the Protestant Convent, she enjoyed aposition of some distinction and a residence comprising moreapartments than she could well furnish or staff. But these coolcourtyards and cloisters, these quiet chambers, were fitted moreto be the background for philosophical discussions or religiousmeditations than for such thoughts and schemes as agitated thenew Abbess.
Distracted by worldly anxieties, the forlorn woman couldscarcely have found consolation or entertainment in theloneliness of the old towered, moated town, from the terrace ofher residence, nor in the ancient mortuary chapel containing theroyal tombs deep in the sandstone rock, nor in the Treasury thatcontained such curios as the beard combs of Henry I and one ofthe water-pots that had served at the marriage feast at Cana.
Mountains, basilicas and convents dating from days of imperialsplendour bounded the horizon of Aurora von Königsmarck, when shegazed from the windows of the Schloss or paced the walks thatgave so wide a prospect of the romantic, haunted scenery of theeastern Hartz mountains, but her inner vision was circumscribedby nervous calculations that had nothing to do with naturalsplendour or ancient glories.
Fear, anxiety and distress had formed her portion, since,banished to the remote town in the Vorhartz, she had given birthto the son of a gay, licentious and fickle prince. The darkwooded ravines of Germany's northernmost mountains, these coldpeaks and deep-sunk mines where fabled dwarfs worked at the taskof picking precious metals from granite and sandstone, shut thenymph of Moritzburg away from all that had formed her life, herambitions, her hopes.
Aurora von Königsmarck was dismayed but not daunted; her taskhad changed. She had now given up hope of rousing the courts ofEurope into enquiring into the fate of her beloved brother, thecharming and brilliant Philip. This dark and sordid tragedywould, she now realised, remain for ever obscure, shut away fromthe knowledge of men, as was Sophia Dorothea in her drearyprovincial castle, where her sole occupation was to dream of herromantic youth.
Aurora von Königsmarck's object now was to see that her sonhad some assured place in the world. She preserved an affection,where a tenderness had taken the place of passion, for FrederickAugustus. The young Elector of Saxony had something beyond andbeside his obvious attraction as a Prince, a handsome youth, anathlete, a gracious nobleman, something more than the obviousseduction of the dominant male, crowned and adorned with allworldly attractions set off by a court, a gorgeous background,authority and pageantry. Beneath all this gilded show the youngSaxon Prince was a pleasant fellow and one, as the sensitiveAurora soon suspected, not well armoured against Fate. He was oneto blaze when the luck was in, but to dim when the luck wasout.
For her son, who had been taken from her when he was agedfifteen days, Aurora could have no personal affection, but he wasall that was left to her in the way of human relationship saveher sister, to whom she was not greatly attached. There was now amale survivor of that family of Königsmarck of which she had beenso passionately proud. Her two brothers had died unmarried andchildless, and she herself had little prospect of and little wishfor marriage or other children.
There remained Maurice, and she had resolved from the firstthat he was not to be merely another of the nameless bastards ofa careless prince. She had her claims and she enforced them.
Frederick Augustus, always good-natured when his interestswere not crossed, was willing to admit that Aurora of theMoritzburg festival had been a high-born maiden, delicate andpure, not merely a tawdry mistress to be taken up, caressed, andcast down. The Elector, therefore, was prodigal of both promisesand expenses; another charge on his treasury was but little tohim and Aurora had no difficulty in obtaining assurances that herson should be as handsomely educated as the young PrinceElectoral, heir to Saxony, who had been born within a few weeksof her own confinement at Goslar.
Moreover, Frederick Augustus was inclined to eye Aurora'schild with favour, even with a touch of Nordic sentimentality.Had not the gallant Philip von Königsmarck been of his ownacquaintance? Might the world not see in this robust infant theresurrection of the lost gallant, a true heir, not only to thefamous Moritz of Saxony but to the formidable Otto vonKönigsmarck? The easy Elector saw no difficulties in thesituation, but Aurora had her own private bitterness. She hadhoped, perhaps, that her wit, her dignity, and what passed inthat age for her goodness of heart and elevation of soul wouldhave made a lasting impression upon her only lover. She had todiscover that he had merely desired her for the beauty and charmthat had vanished with her health. On the boy, then, sheconcentrated all her ambition and all her art. But it was notconsidered expedient that she should live with her son; thecurious decorum of the period, while recognising and condoningthe fault, would not have it openly acknowledged; the Abbess ofQuedlinburg could only supervise her son's education from adistance.
This she did thoroughly, keeping up a careful correspondencewith the tutors who were set over the child as soon as he wasfour or five years of age.
The first was a M. Lorne, a Saxon gentleman who was wellqualified for his post. He was soon joined by a M. d'Alençon, aFrenchman, brother of an officer garrisoned at Dresden; Auroravon Königsmarck had insisted on a French preceptor; French wasthe language of princes as well as the political tongue ofEurope.
The Abbess of Quedlinburg passed the next few years incontinual anxiety, frequently leaving her retreat in the HartzMountains for visits to Dresden, to Leipzig, to Hamburg, to allthe places where her funds or the funds of the Königsmarcks wereinvested, trying with what feminine dexterity she possessed toput some order into affairs, petitioning with delicacy and pridethe Elector to pay the arrears of her revenues and the pension,with which to educate his son.
The forlorn woman made some attempt to regain at least thefriendship of her former lover, but though his attitude wasalways generous she could not mistake the repulsion he showedtowards her faded person or ignore the succession of favouriteswho occupied his time if not his heart. She was sent, in 1703, ona mission to Charles XII who refused to see her, leaving her thechance of saying that she was the only person on whom he hadturned his back.
Maurice received a princely education in the literal sense ofthe word. He was taught what it was considered useful for aprince to know—his native language and French, geography,the use of the globes, celestial and terrestrial, the names ofthe principal towns of Europe, and the names, titles, genealogyof the Princes of Europe. He was instructed in all the mattersthat his tutors considered suitable for one of hisrank—fables and stories, founded, at least, upon history,of great men who had achieved great actions, of warriors andleaders who had covered themselves with glory. He learnt some ofthe heroic speeches put by Racine in the mouths of his lofty andimpossible characters.
The boy's sports were also princely, that is to say, helearned to ride, to fence, to dance. As he was healthy, strong,eager to excel and had the best of teachers he soon becameproficient in all these exercises. He had occupations of his own,equally satisfying to his governors who saw in them traces of hisfamous ancestors.
He loved to dominate his small companions, and as his lessonsand the talk of his teachers were always of war and heroics, itwas at war and heroics that the child played, always seizing, byright both of his rank and of his strength, the place of leaderin these rough games, and engaging in realistic combats fromwhich he usually emerged with his clothes torn, his facescratched and bruised, his temper excited to fury.
The spiritual and sentimental sides of his education were notneglected. As soon as he could understand anything, he was toldthat he was Count Maurice, son of the Elector, FrederickAugustus. He also understood that his mother was not theElectress, but Aurora von Königsmarck, the tender Abbess ofQuedlinburg who wrote to him so frequently and with suchexquisite interest in his welfare, and whom he addressed as "Machère Cadan."
To encourage his softer feelings he was presented with amedallion, on one side of which was painted, in the finest styleof the miniaturist's art, the delicate features of Aurora, asthey had been when she was at the height of her charms, withroses and pearls in her silky blonde locks, and on the other therobust, comely features of Frederick Augustus, crowned with thelustrous curls of a monstrous periwig.
The child was taught that there was something very noble insuch parentage and that he might hope to receive great benefitsas well as to inherit remarkable gifts from the splendid Princewho had conceived him.
It could not be disguised from a worldly child of ten years ofage, that the baton-sinister on the arms of Saxony had adecidedly unfortunate meaning, and Maurice had very early hisfits of gloom and dissatisfaction with his destiny.
He never saw this father of whom he was told to be so proud,and but seldom and for brief visits his affectionate and anxiousmother.
Of home life he had none and the women in his existence wereconfined to his laundress, his chambermaid and his cook.
Yet the Elector was not wholly indifferent to his promisingson. He received with some complacency the flattering reports ofthe governors who wrote in this tone of their lively young pupil:"His glance is bold, his face handsome, his forehead high, hiswalk is like that of the Elector. His ear is very good and whenhe hears music he beats the time quite correctly. This shows agood character. He has given proof of taste and of tact..."
And as if these were not sufficient virtues for a child ofseven years of age (as he was when this was written), the tutorsadded that the young Maurice had a gentle temperament, thoughtmuch of honour, spoke well and easily, had a keen observation,was frank, loyal and affectionate though occasionally given tomelancholia.
This brilliant boy was kept well informed of the history ofEurope in as far as this consisted of the exploits of kings andprinces. He had been born in the year before that which, by thesigning of the Peace of Ryswick had given a brief peace to aEurope that had been for so long distracted by wars ofaggression, ambition and self-defence.
That year, 1697, had been of great importance to FrederickAugustus; Elector of Saxony since 1691, he had joined the Alliesagainst the French but, refusing to serve under Louis of Baden onthe Rhine, had been sent by the Imperial Court of Vienna againstthe Turks to assist in that siege of Belgrade that had occupiedhim when Maurice was born.
John Sobieski had died, and the throne of Poland had thusbecome vacant; the Kings of Poland were elected by the Diet,therefore the throne went to the highest bidder. The prize hadattracted and dazzled Frederick Augustus. After a year'sstrenuous intrigues and expenditure of millions of ducats ofSaxon treasure in Warsaw, where he had to compete with the Frenchclaimant, the brilliant and amiable François Louis, Prince deConti, the Saxon Prince had been elected King of Poland. He hadbeen helped not only by the treasures of his ancestors and by theskill of his emissary, Count Flemming, but by the powerful aid ofPeter the Great, Czar of all the Russias, who saw in him a usefulpuppet, perhaps a cat's paw.
There had been spiritual as well as material sacrifices to bemade; the Elector, hereditary champion of Lutheranism in Germany,had forsworn the Protestant faith and made public confession ofRomanism at Baden on Whit-Sunday 1697.
The Polish adventure proved altogether unfortunate forFrederick Augustus. It revealed what might never have beendiscovered had he remained a German prince, that he wasincompetent, lazy in everything save backstairs intrigues and thefrivolous pastimes of a corrupt society.
The Saxon King's physical gifts, his notable strength, hisbrave appearance and fashionable attire, though he nearly faintedwith shame at the costume he was forced to wear at hiscoronation, pleased the Poles at first.
That he was incapable of exercising any of the arts ofgovernment, and had no Ministers to supply the deficiency wouldhave proved perhaps defects not greatly troublesome to his newsubjects, for the Poles were used to chaos and even anarchy intheir affairs, and, for his part, Frederick Augustus asked fornothing better than to be allowed to live his amiable, opulentlife of gracious leader of fashion and generous art patron. Hehad already dignified Dresden with splendid buildings, adornedand furnished in sumptuous taste; he was prepared to do the samein Poland; he had a child's pleasure in his new dignity. Itsounded well to be termed the King Frederick Augustus, money wasplentiful and flatterers numerous.
The monarch was, however, soon involved, despite his owninclination, in a war with Sweden, into which he was drawn as anally of the Czar, who had wrested south Poland from the Sultan. Awanton and ill-considered attack on Sweden roused the young KingCharles XII. This sovereign, who had been despised on account ofboth his youth and his inexperience by both Peter and Augustus,proved, most unfortunately for both Czar and King, to be afanatic patriot and soldier endowed with military genius,remarkable powers of endurance, and that ferocious enthusiasmwhich inspires nations to perform seemingly impossible feats.
In the first year of the new century Charles of Swedenadvanced on the Düna, where he defeated the Polish andSaxon armies and forced Frederick Augustus to abandon thecapital, Warsaw. After another defeat at Pultowa, Augustusabandoned the kingdom that he had enjoyed only three years andreturned alarmed and discomfited to Dresden.
Charles XII, then the hero of the North and admired and fearedall over Europe, caused Stanislas Leczinski to be elected King ofPoland in July 1704. Augustus had taken an oath of abdication,but still continued to call himself and consider himself King ofPoland; this barren title was all that he had obtained fromexhausting intrigues and the expenditure of nearly all hisimmense fortune.
These were the particular affairs of Europe that occupied themind of Maurice until his tenth year. They had their practicaleffect upon his own career; his tutors were forced to take himfrom place to place as the tide of war flowed here and there; thelittle party fled to Breslau, to Utrecht, to Leipzig, to TheHague, where Maurice and his household resided in furnishedhouses on such money as his distracted mother could contrive tosend for his support.
He naturally imbibed from those about him a keen hatred forhis father's enemies, who were incidentally causing him so muchhumiliation and discomfort. In particular the child's fury wasdirected against Charles XII and the Swedes and on one occasionin Holland he attacked with his fists two strangers whom he sawin the street and who were reported to him to be Swedish.
Dutch society was then one of the most opulent and elegant inthe world. The great King Stadtholder, William III of Orange, whohad been the linch-pin of the affiance against France thatFrederick Augustus had joined, had lately died, and his successorto the British throne had appointed her most brilliant generaland statesman, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, to be herplenipotentiary at The Hague.
The stately Englishman with the classic features, weak eyesand silken manners, resided in the beautiful house on theVyverberg, where another famous general, Count Maurice of Nassau,had formerly lived.
Marlborough, who was a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire withthe title of Hindelheim, was Commander-in-Chief of the army ofthe States General as well as Generalissimo of the Britishforces, and his constant presence at The Hague gave a magnificentlustre to the ancient, patrician and comely town.
Into the society, English, German and French, that made TheHague brilliant, the exiled Saxon child was welcomed. Apart fromhis royal birth (he was now a king's son), he was in himselfinteresting and accomplished.
The boy had matured early in this exciting and stormyatmosphere, the background of which was two wars—that ofthe Polish succession, and that of the Spanish succession. Thewhole of Europe was engaged in one or other of these incoherentand miserable conflicts, and, placed as he was, Maurice could notdo other than long to engage himself in the ruinous strugglesthat were represented to him as so heroic and splendid.
A struggle of another and more sordid kind occupied thoseresponsible for him; the harried Frederick Augustus ceased tosend supplies for his son's maintenance; Aurora von Königsmarckhad to take the costs of his poor establishment on to her ownshoulders. The distraction of the Polish war had ended her hopesof settling her own affairs. Neither the revenues of Quedlinburgnor her private pension was paid. She had to humiliate herself bycontinual solicitations of her one-time lover. Augustus II hadother things to think of than paying the three thousand dollarshe had promised for the education of his illegitimate son, fruitof a chance intrigue by now forgotten.
Aurora von Königsmarck, like many another heroine of romance,parted with her jewels; those glittering souvenirs of her youth,of the days at Moritzburg went one by one into the hands of theJews of Hamburg and Leipzig. When she had no more treasures topawn she ventured once more to approach the court of Dresden formeans whereby to redeem these pledges of a long-dead love, as shecontinued to call the Moritzburg episode. She did not receive anyreply. General Count Flemming was the Minister of FrederickAugustus and her enemy; James Henry, Count and Field-Marshal,came of a noble Pomeranian family; his uncle, Heine Henry, haddistinguished himself in the Saxon service, and Count Flemminghad been early in the confidence of Frederic Augustus. Shrewd,able, extremely industrious at business and magnificent inpleasure, it was largely to the address and exertions of Flemmingthat his master owed the Crown of Poland. For, as emissary ofSaxony in Warsaw, he had outbidden and outfaced the Abbe dePolignac, who represented the Prince de Conti, at every turn.
Maurice and his tutors were meanwhile reduced in theirexpensive Dutch hotel to a strict economy, often to little morethan bread or soup; de Lorne and d'Alençon at last left theirunpaid and troublesome charge and were succeeded by a Dutchofficer, M. Stoterogen.
Maurice began to show qualities that were very out of place inhis dubious and miserable condition of life. Apart from wildpranks, an ardour for street fights and for duck-shooting on theDutch meres, which showed the brutal, dominating side of hischaracter, he began to discover a great love of finery and of allkinds of extravagances, of everything that glittered or glowed.And though he thought nothing of tearing to pieces in some mimicbattle the clothes that his tutor found it so difficult toprocure, one of his greatest pleasures was to hang round his neckthe handsome diamond that in happier times his father had senthim and that he refused to sell or pawn.
With the opening of the campaign in 1708 the incoherentfortunes of Augustus II took on a brighter turn. Sweden andRussia held each other's attention and the King-Elector, as hestill termed himself, entered into a treaty with the Allies,which seemed to promise a return of some of his lost prestige andhonour.
While the armies of Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlboroughwere moving towards Oudenarde and Lille and the stout Saxontroops were marching towards the Rhine, Augustus sent to M.Crasmar, then Maurice's tutor (he succeeded M. Stoterogen), andasked him to bring the boy to Dresden.
The harassed monarch's languid interest in this child of along-forgotten idyll was heightened when he considered the robustlad before him, full of ardour, zeal and eagerness.
Maurice was then in his twelfth year, exceptionally tall,robust and well-made. Handsome he was not, save on the lips offlatterers. A neck and shoulders already massive supported aheavy-jowled head, as compact in the skull and as narrow in thetemples as the Farnese Hercules. The nose was short and thick,the eyes prominent and double-lidded, the brows straight andheavy, the upper lip was too long and too straight, the lower lipprotruding above the heavy jaw lent a ferocious expression ofpugnacity. A high forehead gave an air of candour and sparkling,lively eyes, intelligence and vivacity to the child's ratherbrutal physiognomy. Moreover, the mouth had a humorous if self-confident curl.
Augustus II (the title commonly used by the King-Elector) wasweary and disillusioned by the reversal of his fortunes, but hehad learnt nothing from the chain of circumstances that hadexposed his incompetence to Europe; he took no blame to himselfand could not see his own mistakes. He brightened, therefore, atthe sight of his son, in whom he thought he saw anotherself—most of all he was pleased at the boy's physicalstrength—a young giant, one who ought to be able to performprodigies of valour and endurance!
The faded man examined the eager boy on conventional lines andthe well-trained lad had all his answers pat. He knew what aprince of the type of his father meant by the words "Honour,glory, courage."
Maurice was eager to be a soldier; in all sincerity he longedfor all the trophies and rewards that might fall to the lot of aEugene or a Marlborough.
Augustus II patted the ardent youngster on the back and sentfor General von Schulenburg. Maurice showed lively satisfactionat the sound of this name; it was that of one of the bestsoldiers of the day, the worthy antagonist of Charles XII, thefuture saviour of Venice, the companion-in-arms of PrinceEugene.
Johann Mathias, Count von Schulenburg, was a mercenary soldierof the better type, a man something after the same mould as hisfellow-countryman, Marshal von Schomberg, so warmly described byadmiring Protestants as eminent for virtues, polished manner andbravery.
Count von Schulenburg had began his military career in theDanish service and had since fought under John Sobieski inPoland, then from 1704 he had been in command, nominally underFrederick Augustus, of the Saxon troops; assisting Russia againstSweden, his present position was that of commander of an army ofnearly 10,000 Poles in the service of the States-General. He wasapproaching his fiftieth year, ten years older than the King-Elector, a man of grave presence, austere manners, refinement andintelligence, all of which admirable attributes might appearstrange in a man who was little better than a soldier who hiredout his sword. But men like von Schulenburg were not uncommon inthe seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The young Maurice was delighted at being put in the charge ofsuch a famous and applauded general and, if possible, still moredelighted at being freed for ever as he believed from thejurisdiction of a tutor or governor. In the midst of theexcitement attendant on his preparation for departure he foundtime, however, to write to his mother the joyous news that theKing had ordered Count von Schulenburg to take him to thecamp—the scene of war. Maurice was equipped with a Saxonuniform, high boots, full-skirted coat, sash, sword and periwigand again brought before his Majesty; Augustus II received himwith complacency and invited him to his table, where heentertained his officers and where he watched with genuinesatisfaction his twelve-year-old son drinking heavily. The boywould make a good soldier if well trained, the easy fatherdecided; he could already swagger, tipple, boast and he had atorso like a young bull.
Von Schulenburg was given his instructions, Maurice the briefcommand:
"To test how hardy you are, you must walk on foot toFlanders."
Maurice knew what this meant; he was being given a commissionin the infantry. He summoned up the courage to stammer out hisrequest for a pair of colours in that infinitely more attractivebranch of the army—the cavalry.
Augustus II disdained to answer this presumptuous request andaddressing Schulenburg, bade him see that the youngsoldier—"whose shoulders are certainly broad enough," addedthe King drily—carried all his own equipment during themarch. Neither through favour nor through bribery was he to avoidany of the more arduous duties of the only career fit for the sonof a King.
Augustus II then parted from his son without any word ofadvice, favour or comfort. He had examined the tutor as to theprogress Maurice had made in his studies. M. Crasmar haddutifully repeated his orthodox phrases of the gay, fierce,robust young giant. No matters of sentiment or piety were raisedbetween father and son. Maurice had been trained as a Lutheran,but his father had not asked him about the state of his soul; thesubject was a delicate one. Maurice had been strictly bred in ahereditary and prized faith, and the spectacle of his father'sabjuring that faith for the sake of a crown might have beenlikely to encourage native cynicism in the soul of one who seemeda born materialist. The boy's thoughts were wholly of this worldat least when he took his place beside von Schulenburg in theberline for the seat of war.
That well-trained soldier, however, gave him good advice,according to his own experience and his own code, but the boy'sthoughts were more occupied with the handsome equipage, a presentfrom the King, which met him at Leipzig.
Four saddle horses, a carriage, a dozen baggage mules,servants, and a major-domo who appeared after all to be nothingbut a tutor under another name. Maurice grimaced at this threatof control, but recovered his spirits when on the plain of Lutzenhe was received into the Saxon army with the rank of Ensign andgiven a pair of Saxon colours.
The Count von Schulenburg tried to improve the impressiveoccasion by drawing the lad aside after the excitement of thereview and showing him the tomb of the great Lion of theNorth—Gustavus Adolphus—predecessor of that Swedishking who had been Frederick Augustus's most dangerous enemy. Theprofessional soldier who had passed his life among scenes ofanarchy, chaos, and misery had preserved some ideals. He advisedthe young Ensign to be as severe, as just, as gentle as had beenGustavus Adolphus. For the rest, he was to practise absoluteobedience to his military superiors, to be always and to allpeople unwaveringly courteous.
"This," emphasised the Count, "will be an indestructiblefoundation of your power—through that you will dominatemen."
He added that the other qualities necessary for a successfulcareer would reveal themselves to Maurice "as the presents ofNature or the fruits of experience."
This exciting day was concluded with a banquet given by theofficers of the regiment to the son of their King, where the winewas abundant, the talk free and the air one of lusty bravado.
Maurice had no sleep that night; as soon as the banquet wasended the camp broke up; it was January and piercingly cold. Theroad towards Flanders was covered with frozen snow, a wind like arazor cleared the fumes of the merrymaking from the heads of theSaxons.
The regiment to which Maurice was attached was in the FirstBattalion; he took his place with the Colonel, M. Preuss, and theother officers. For the first few miles of the hard bleak way theboy marched easily, when he began to droop with fatigue theColonel helped him by placing at the head of the column a bagpipeplayer and some soldiers who sang marching tunes. However, thesevere cold, the rough road, the weight of the bayonet on hisshoulders, his blistered feet in the harsh boots began at last totell even on the stout frame of Maurice. He stumbled and saggedat the side of the Colonel. But when a horse was brought up herefused to take advantage of the preference accorded to himbecause of his age and rank and continued to march with theinfantry across the snowy, sombre landscape towards Flanders,then already for long the cockpit of Europe.
Count von Schulenburg's army made a junction with that of theAllies commanded by Prince Eugene of Savoy and the Duke ofMarlborough, whose haggard, beautiful face with the narrowedshort-sighted eyes and misleading expression of lofty nobilitywas familiar to Maurice from his childish days in The Hague.
Lille, a citadel of considerable importance with a garrisoncommanded by Maréchal de Boufflers, was the objective of theAllies. Warfare then consisted mainly in taking and re-takingforts and cities; very little else was regarded. An entirecampaign would turn on the siege of one citadel, the actualpossession of which made perhaps little difference to the issueof the war. Most of the great battles of the period were foughtfor the possession of one of these coveted cities.
The country that Maurice saw about him when with curious andeager eyes he observed the Allied troops making trenches beforethe elaborate fortifications of Lille had been devastated by along war, broken only by a few years respite after the Treaty ofRyswick.
This war had commenced with the aggression of Louis XIV in1672, when, eager to use the magnificent and efficient army thatLouvois had created and to spend the money that Colbert hadraised by economy and talent, he entered upon a brutal andsenseless war of aggression with the United Provinces. Roused,once and forever, by this invasion, without provocation orexcuse, of the Netherlands, William of Orange had patiently,throughout years of disappointment and fatigue, knit together thegreat Alliance that, constantly augmented and renewed, now, afterits originator's death, faced the decaying forces of France whono longer had a Turenne or a Luxemburg to lead them.
Louis XIV was still on the throne of the Bourbons, but he wasold, disappointed, feeble, almost bankrupt, his countryexhausted, his finances in a desperate state. Already the rumourwas going round the garrison of Lille, and other Frenchstrongholds in Flanders, that the King had begun negotiations fora peace—one more humiliating in its terms for France thanhad been Ryswick, one perhaps that the aged monarch would notfind so easy to flout.
The French, however, arrogant, overbearing and vainglorious inthe intoxicating splendour of their long-drawn out triumph,showed finer qualities in the time of their defeat. Theinexhaustible and unconquerable spirit of the nation showed inthe large number of volunteers, who strengthened the thin ranksof the regular soldiers serving under the Maréchal de Villars,who attacked Eugene and Marlborough when they advanced towardsMalplaquet after the capture of Lille.
This battle proved a victory for the Allies, but the highlyprized quality, glory, was allowed to rest more on the side ofthe vanquished. The French under Villars made a brilliant retreatand took with them more colours than they had lost. They hadfought at a disadvantage, having been without food or sleep fortwenty-four hours, and numbered 80,000 against the 120,000 of theAllies.
Boufflers was able to write the pompous phrase that was notuntruthful: "Sire, never has a misfortune been accompanied withmore glory."
Maurice was in the midst of this battle with his line of Saxoninfantry. He smelt the smoke, saw the balls and bombs, the dead,the dying, heard the groans of man and horse. The boy of 13 wasneither alarmed nor squeamish; timidity and delicacy were not inhis composition.
The battle went according to tradition: it was one of thelessons of his history books come alive. The charging cavalry,the less dashing advance of the infantry, the dragging up anddischarging of the artillery, hand-to-hand struggles for a pairof colours, for victory, for life itself.
The bloody day over, he was complimented by his superiorofficer on his courage and zeal. A good report should be sent tohis royal father.
The Saxon boy, in spite of bravado and flamboyant vanities,was a born soldier and possessed magnificent personal courage. Onthis day of hideous carnage he received the adulation of theaccomplished, brilliant Marlborough and the praise of theintrepid and cool Eugene, both judges of warlike qualities,though both perhaps prejudiced in favour of the son of AugustusII.
Maurice had also already acquired a professional insensibilitythat appeared brutality in one of his age. At the end of thecombat in which twenty thousand men were slaughtered and as manywounded, a combat in a cause that was of no personal interest ormatter to him, he was able to exclaim with the unspoilt pleasurein his achievement and the victory of his side that he was "wellcontent with the day's work."
Count von Schulenburg, tutor and mentor of the young Ensign,marked him with great approval. Maurice was fortunate enough tobe of the right type, for his surroundings, his chosen professionand the period in which he lived. These veterans admired thefortitude with which this high-spirited and ambitious youth haddirected his attention to the profession of arms and to nothingelse since he had been in the cradle. They too in their youngdays had derived no pleasure or profit from the studies directedby pedantic scholars; they too had wilfully insisted on indulginga love for kettle-drums, pistols, swords, horses, and marchingwith youthful companions in the troops of soldiers.
Maurice was greatly applauded for his ignorance of everythingbut manly exercise and the rudiments of the science of war.
The boy, too, possessed some of those qualities that madeMarlborough one of the most fascinating and successful men of hisage, something of that grace and tact, taste and generosity,which exercised by Augustus II had made Dresden one of the mostluxurious courts in a luxurious Europe.
After Lille and Malplaquet, Count Maurice, as he termedhimself, might consider that he was a professional soldier. At 13years of age he had been in the earthworks with the most famous,glittering generals of the day, panting for his share in theperils and glories of war, the pastime and opportunity ofprinces; all those around him considered it but natural that theattention of the high-spirited and ambitious youth should bedirected to military glory and nothing else.
There had been war in Europe in the lifetime of all men livingand in that of their fathers before them. For generationsprofessional soldiers of every rank and every nation had foundfame, power and wealth in quarrels with which they were littleconcerned and in fighting for causes in which they had nointerest.
The balance of power in Europe and the ancient strugglebetween France and the rest of Europe were still, when Mauricetrudged to Lille, being fought out in the long leisurelycampaigns that the people had begun to take for granted and thatthe aristocracy undertook as if they were hunting parties andthat appeared as a usual occupation not lacking in gain orexcitement.
The tedium of this slow warfare was relieved by considerablelicence and loose conduct, by continual diversions of every kind,by the lofty pleasure of personal encounter with the enemy and bythe hope of definite victories with their accompanying honoursand rewards.
All the armies were served with all the luxuries to beobtained in the capitals of Europe, and at the first touch ofcold they went into winter quarters in the largest cityavailable, postponing the war and living in idleness until thefollowing spring.
It occurred to no one that these wars were futile andwasteful; they were accepted as part of existence and absorbed avast number of men, many of whom would have detested any otherexistence; men who were bred to and existed for war; men wholoved the camp, the march, the siege, and who were only uneasy atthe prospect of peace and only at a loss when away from thetheatre of action.
It was customary for all youths of noble birth to becomesoldiers, and it was considered almost the only profession worthyof the finest blood. It was then a matter of course that theyoung Maurice, eagerly commanding in Flanders, should decide tobecome a professional soldier and this without any thought of whyor when or for whom he should exercise his prowess.
The same might have been said of most of the generals of thatage; those who were fighting to keep their crowns on their headsor their provinces together were the only captains fighting witha sincere attachment to a cause. The others fought for the sakeof fighting and the possible rewards of possible success.
Maurice had neither crown nor land to contend for; apart fromthe bounty of his father he possessed nothing and as theillegitimate son of a king he knew that to himself only could helook for the advancement his ambitious character so passionatelycraved.
It was decided then by all who knew the lad that he was wellsuited for the showy career he had chosen so early and sodefinitely; moreover, it was noted with approval that hedistinguished himself not only in the exercise of arms but provedequally apt in those jovial and tender distractions that havealways eased the warrior's labours, showing that he had inheritedthe romantic and voluptuous nature of Augustus II together withthat monarch's robust constitution and admirable address.
It was noted, a pretty story runs, that when the Allies werebefore Tournay the young Saxon, when dining in the tent of PrinceEugene, was attracted by the budding beauty of a girl fromTournay—one Rosetta Dubusan, who had come to the camp tosell a head-dress of elaborate lace worked by her dead mother,which constituted her sole dowry.
Neither Eugene nor Marlborough was remarkable for prodigality,and the lace went unpurchased, but the young Comte deSaxe—as his dubious title ran—followed the sweetpedlar from the tent and recompensed her for her disappointmentby an accomplished tribute to her charm, for the son of Auroravon Königsmarck already possessed the arts of a successfullover.
The little maiden, who was his own age, was as innocently wonas wooed, and the idyll continued to the sound of Boufflers'sdesperate fire and the fierce reply from the Allies'trenches.
And when after the fall of the citadel the army retired toBrussels, Maurice, like a seasoned soldier, enjoyed his leisurewith his little mistress, whom he now boldly snatched from theguardianship of her father.
The little love-story continued throughout the campaign; whenthey were separated tender letters in the true romantic andsentimental style of the period were exchanged, for, althoughchildren in years, the lovers were accomplished in all the rusesand expedients of their voluptuous and corrupt world. Mauricealready knew how to contrive matters so that Rosetta could gointo decorous retreat in Brussels for the birth of his child,just as his father had contrived that he should be born in therespectable seclusion of Goslar.
The daughter of the young soldier and the little lace-makerwas named Julie and died a few months after her birth. Soonafter, the unfortunate Rosetta was enclosed in a convent by herfather, and neither Maurice nor anyone else ever heard anythingmore of the first love of the hero who was to have so manyloves.
Despite the air of licence given to his career by thisepisode, Maurice, in winter quarters in Brussels or in the campwith Eugene and Marlborough was pursuing his studies under thecareful direction of Count von Schulenburg.
He learnt first military discipline; to rise at six o'clock tothe sound of the bugle, to spend half an hour upon a precise andelaborate toilet, to say his prayers, to refresh himself atregular intervals with cups of tea. The morning was given up tostudies—history, French, arithmetic, military science. Twohours were allowed for the midday repast, then there were lessonsin dancing, fencing and horsemanship.
Von Schulenburg saw that an hour-glass was always on the deskof Maurice so that he might mark how the precious time waspassing and that several moral maxims in French, Latin, andGerman were always before his eyes, hanging on the wall above hisdesk, in his tent, or his billet.
These moral sentences the young soldier learnt by heart andrepeated them to the Count every week.
He continued to be regarded favourably by the elegantMarlborough, who called him "the youth who did not know whatdanger was," and by the yellow-faced Eugene who, with lessgeniality, rather drily warned him that foolhardiness was not thesame as courage.
Von Schulenburg's advice was loftier—"Avoid bad company.Remember you are a man of honour. Honour the King and fearGod."
Amid all these excitements, Maurice had kept in touch with hismother, who was again at the Court of Dresden, endeavouring toattract the attention of Augustus II, for financial, not amorousreasons. This monarch had returned to Warsaw after the battle ofPultowa, the Pope having absolved him from his oath ofabdication. He might again call himself king, but it was only ashadowy royalty he enjoyed; he was in reality the vassal ofRussia and left all business and all real power to his minister,General Count Flemming, a bold and able man who had, however, areputation for ambition, cunning, avarice and parsimony. Thisminister was the avowed enemy of Madame von Königsmarck, who hadendeavoured to undermine him with the King.
When she had an opportunity, and this was rare enough, ofspeaking to Augustus II, she complained of the harsh exactions ofthe unpopular minister, of the country's groaning under his taxesand of the barbarous fashion in which he raised them.
She was not, perhaps, altogether disinterested, because it hadbeen Flemming's influence that had prevented her pension and thatof Maurice from being regularly paid. But whether her complaintswere just or no (and Flemming was considered by many a patriotand an upright man), they made no impression on Augustus.
This prince was then in the prime of life but already weary inmind and body, exhausted by excesses, disillusioned bymisfortune, bored, melancholy.
He spent his time in searching for diversions, frivolous,gross or stupid, to amuse the vacant days that had becomeinsupportable. His charming good looks and his superb strengthhad alike left him. His continued sensual indulgence had ruinedeven his superb constitution; his face had become bloated, hisfigure unwieldy. He viewed the world through the veil of disgustproduced by satiety in every vice, a ruined digestion and anempty heart.
With such a man Aurora von Königsmarck, herself an invalid,could do nothing. At last he refused even to see her, and whenMaurice reached Saxony his mother had been banished from Dresdento Quedlinburg.
The King, however, received his son with some pleasure; anexploit of personal bravery already adorned the young soldier'srising fame.
No sooner had the Allies secured Tournay than they hurried toreinforce Mons, threatened by Maréchal Villars. A large body ofhorse under the Prince of Hesse-Cassel was dispatched for thispurpose and among his cavaliers was Maurice de Saxe already, at13 years of age, an accomplished soldier who had had horseskilled under him and felt bullets whistle through his thick blondhair.
He now crossed the river with a drawn sword in his hand and afoot soldier sharing his saddle—the very picture of aneighteenth-century Mars, one of those heroes with flying curlsand cravat, gold-laced coat and embroidered sash, whom thebaroque taste of the period represented on a thousand floridcanvases, crowned by a plump Venus and attended by simperingnymphs.
This was the sort of action that Augustus II could understandand admire. He entertained and feted his son and sent him to Rigafor the sole purpose of making the acquaintance of the greatPeter, Czar of all the Russias, and presented him with thecoveted Order of the White Eagle of Poland; his father raised hisrank to that of Aide-adjutant before he sent Maurice back to thebloody field where Marlborough and his motley forces were stillengaged in the tedious task of battering down the stubborn prideof France.
While he was thus engaged, Count Flemming had succeeded inworking upon the laziness and apathy of the King to cast Auroravon Königsmarck into disgrace, which her son to a certain extentshared.
Augustus II was too flexible and too easy to withstand theimportunities of his formidable Minister and Maurice foundhimself for no good reason banished to Meissen. Neither this townnor Quedlinburg, stately as they might be, spelt anything buttedium for Maurice; he soon escaped from there and spent hiswinters amid the elegant festivity of Dresden and his summers atthe camps, first, in Flanders, then, in Pomerania, where AugustusII, as King of Poland, had been obliged by an old alliance tomarch to the assistance of the Czar, then attacked by the Sultanof Turkey at the instance of the indomitable Charles XII ofSweden.
In this war Maurice displayed uncommon resolution and heroismand his gratified father rewarded him by raising for him a troopof horse. He eagerly accepted and drilled and exercised with adelight that showed him to be no mere knight-errant but aconsiderable commander with marked talents for organisation anddiscipline. He preferred the choosing of men and horses, theinstructing of men and officers, to all the winter delights ofDresden, and was impatient until he could rush his troops toBremen and test their mettle in the obstinate fight of Gabuschwhere, however, despite the valiant young Colonel's efforts theday was gained by the terrible Swedes.
The next occupation of young Maurice was to recruit hisbeloved regiment that had suffered severely in this fierceengagement, and this task, anxiously fulfilled, took him a yearduring which he permitted himself no amusement but a few triflingamorous adventures too transient to be called love-affairs andtoo light to be called distractions.
In 1711, Augustus II had formally acknowledged him and givenhim a small estate. In 1713 the peace of Utrecht put an end tothe war in Flanders; Maurice Comte de Saxe was 17 years old andin every way come to full manhood.
Aurora von Königsmarck, now utterly out of favour in Dresden,seeing that little or nothing was to be hoped for from the King-Elector so completely under the influence of General CountFlemming, and that Maurice's fortunes were more than ever dubiousnow that there was no war in which he could earn wealth, power,and distinction, looked about for a wealthy heiress for him tomarry.
She had achieved one great satisfaction, when two yearspreviously her son had been recognised by Augustus II and given,if not royal rank and legitimate status, yet one raised abovethat of mere casual bastardy.
He had also been presented by his father with the property ofSkoehlen, which represented six thousand écus of revenue;Aurora was proud to know that he was entitled to call himself sonof a king—in truth Count Maurice of Saxony. But this seemedthe limit of his father's generosity; Aurora believed thatnothing more was to be obtained from that 'quarter, thoughMaurice had distinguished himself fighting beside his father inthe East, where his cavalry regiment that he had commanded sincethe age of sixteen years had done good service at the battle ofStab.
A wealthy wife. That, in the opinion of Aurora vonKönigsmarck, anxious and harassed as she was, was the only meansof consolidating the fortunes of the Comte de Saxe. She thought,too, so little did she know her own son, that not only hisfortunes but his character might be greatly improved bymarriage.
She did not see much of him, but she kept in touch with hismovements and he did little that was not reported to her. She wasalarmed at his dissipation, his extravagance and his idleness. Hetook no account at all of the smallness of his revenues, of thepaucity of his resources, but spent as royally as if he wasindeed a prince.
Disheartened by the peace that had meant the disbanding of hisbeloved regiment to which he had given all his time and attention(he recruited the men and selected the officers himself) theyoung soldier was, at 17 years of age, disillusioned andfrustrated.
His sole hope of the active, authoritative life he desired layin the chance of another war. But for the moment, oddly enough,there was no war, the Peace of Utrecht having brought somemeasure of repose to Europe, while the strange and stormy figureof Charles XII was no longer greatly troubling either the Czar orthe King-Elector.
"The Comte de Saxe," wrote Aurora sadly to a confidante, "isfast sinking into a state where he will lose not only his mannersbut his reputation. He can only live by means of loans and whenthese come to an end he will be in a state of poverty and exposedto all manner of unworthy temptations. What can the end be butdespair!"
If Aurora von Königsmarck had thought more deeply, she wouldhave seen that a marriage also could only end in despair, whenthe bride had been selected solely for her wealth and when thegroom himself was 18 years of age, dissolute, headstrong,reckless, already used to full liberty and the command of men,quite unused to any aspect of family life and without any of thegifts or virtues that might make domestic existencesupportable.
However, Aurora von Königsmarck's chief object was money.Where could it be found, and how large a treasure might beobtained by the bait of her son's birth, presence andprospects?
Augustus II, daily sinking deeper into the lassitude producedby physical exhaustion, took at first no interest in thesettlement of his son, and the drab intrigue fell to Aurora vonKönigsmarck.
She selected as Maurice's bride an heiress named JohannaVictoria, sole child of a provincial nobleman, Ferdinand AdolphLoeben. This gentleman, though not of the highest rank, possessedone of the largest and most fertile estates in Saxony, and thoughhis money at first came from the land, he had, by prudent loansand investments, increased it, until it was a fortune that hadcaused many ambitious matchmakers to cast longing eyes on theyoung Johanna Victoria.
This young lady had soon been disposed of; when she was aged 8years, in 1706, she had been betrothed to Comte Henry Frederickde Friesen. While this gentleman was waiting for his betrothed tobecome of marriageable age, the prize was snatched from him; M.Loeben died and his widow married a M. Gersdorff, who seemed tohave espoused the mother in the hope of obtaining a hold on thefortunes of the daughter.
This he soon succeeded in doing. The contract of M. Friesenwas broken under the excuse that the death of M. Loeben had madeit invalid and M. Gersdorff secured Johanna Victoria's fortunefor his own family by contracting her in 1707 to his nephew, theLieutenant Gersdorff.
A betrothal, however, was not considered sufficient safeguard,for Comte de Friesen was pressing his claim to the covetedheiress. Uncle and nephew, therefore, contrived an elopement. Thechild was taken to Neuendorf in Silesia, married to the youngerGersdorff secretly and swiftly, and then returned to her family.She was then 10 years of age.
This affair caused a scandal in Saxony; the Gersdorffs hadoverreached themselves. Comte de Friesen went to Augustus II withhis legitimate complaint.
The scandalous rapacity of all the parties concerned in thisaffair was considered, even by the easy-going King-Elector,somewhat of a disgrace to his court. No kind of gloss could beput on the conduct of any of the parties who had arranged thehurried, clandestine marriage of the child-heiress inSilesia.
Augustus II kept the affair on the tapis for some time,partly through indifference and laziness, partly because he didnot know how to decide the matter best for his own credit andadvantage.
At the same time Aurora von Königsmarck was plaguing him tofind an heiress for his son. Combining, therefore, honour withprofit, Augustus II commanded Madame Gersdorff to come toDresden.
He then roundly accused her of selling her daughter to hersecond husband's nephew in order that the three of them mightdivide the vast fortune.
It was in vain that the alarmed lady protested her good faith.Augustus II deprived her of her maternal rights, her husband wasforbidden to interfere in the least in the affairs of theheiress, and his nephew only escaped a severe punishment bysolemnly renouncing all claim to Johanna Victoria.
There remained Comte de Friesen with his lawful claim toplacate. The King-Elector gave him a handsome indemnity and senthim about his business.
Then, after a short interval, which Johanna Victoria, takenfrom her mother's care, spent in the charge of an easy courtlady—Madame Trützschler—Augustus II announced hisintention to give the lady who was now his ward, to his son,Maurice, that vapouring, tiresome young hero.
For a lazy man His Majesty had taken a good deal of troubleover this business and had reason to congratulate himself on theintrigue that had silenced the maternal claims of Aurora vonKönigsmarck, which were beginning to trouble him considerably,eased him from the clamour of his son's creditors and secured oneof the largest fortunes in Saxony to the royal House.
There remained the task of persuading the two young people togive at least a semblance of free will in their choice of eachother.
There was not much difficulty with Johanna Victoria. By thetime the complicated negotiations were concluded she was 14 yearsof age and considered marriageable. Her governess and guardian,Madame Trützschler, working in the interest of the King-Elector,had not found much difficulty in dazzling the child with thefame, the rank, the glory, the charm of the young CountMaurice.
The young lady believed that she was quite old enough to knowher own mind and she enthusiastically agreed that here, in thebrilliant young soldier, was a better match than either Comte deFriesen or M. Gersdorff.
It was not so easy to convince Maurice that the only way ofobtaining a fortune was to saddle himself with a wife. The verythought of matrimony was odious to him; both by temperament andby training he was a rover and adventurer, and it now began toappear that he was also hard, without a trace ofsentiment—as the French say "sans coeur." Auroramight have thought these qualities valuable, since she hadsuffered herself from too much sentimentality and tenderness, butshe was something appalled by the frank hedonism of her son.
The boy had grown up without affection, surrounded only byefficient, indifferent people paid to do their duty towards him.He had grown up, too, despite his protestations of loyalty to hisfather and affection for his mother, with a seed of bitterness inhis proud heart. He could not forget that while his father was aking and his mother came of one of the noblest and most famousfamilies in Europe, he was himself landless save for a miserableestate that brought him in scarcely enough to pay his lackeys,without prospects or hopes of ever attaining his royal positionthat had secretly become his heart's desire.
When it was first suggested to him that he might marry JohannaVictoria Loeben if the prize could be secured, he had shownrestlessness and an obstinate opposition to any marriagewhatsoever. The only attraction the lady possessed for him washer name—Victoria.
"It would be a good omen," he said complacently, "to marryVictory."
By this time the tedious affair had been finally arranged, thedesperate solicitations of Aurora had broken down her son'sobstinacy and he agreed to marry the heiress of M. Loeben.
As the King-Elector thought he might get some amusement, ifamusement was possible to his dulled satiety, as well as profitout of the capture of the little Loeben heiress, fetes wereplanned to celebrate the wedding of his son. And it was decidedthat the background should be the royal hunting-box where Auroravon Königsmarck had been so elegantly seduced nineteen yearspreviously.
The ill-advised, ill-conducted Polish adventure had nearlyemptied the Saxon treasury, which twenty years before had seemedinexhaustible, but Augustus II was still able to provide asumptuous festival for the marriage of Maurice.
The park and the palace on the rocky island in the lake hadbeen, while Maurice was growing up, further embellished by therich and fantastic taste of Poppelmann, and Maurice's love ofdisplay, if not his amorous passions, was satisfied with thewedding whose background had a faint fairy-tale atmosphere; thelast lustre and glitter, dim enough and tarnished to theperception of the sensitive, of that voluptuously romantic worldwith which Mlle Scudéry had captured the tastes of Europe inLe Grand Cyrus.
So, a young Hercules in a horsehair wig and a flamboyant Saxonuniform, the youth stood with his child bride before the altarwhere they exchanged mutual vows according to the Lutheranservice, "to love one another as husband and wife in all honourand all affection to the end of their days."
Johanna Victoria was an ordinary little person, at least, atpresent, and no one would have taken the least notice of her, hadnot her father chanced to be a very wealthy man.
She was, inevitably, owing to her bringing up, precocious,self-important, pert, and vain, untrained in everything save asense of her own value. She had her own ambitions and her owndesires and she did not intend to give herself much trouble abouther young husband except in as far as he satisfied both ambitionsand desires.
Her immature charms and her provincial coquetry did notfascinate Maurice. He accepted, almost with a condescending air,her immense fortune, and noted as one of the most satisfactoryclauses of his marriage treaty that it acknowledged that he hadattained his majority.
Augustus II had indeed found it necessary to issue an edictcovering and excusing the tender ages of bride and groom bydeclaring them both, she in her fifteenth and he in hisnineteenth year, as legally of age. This privilege was given, thedocument ran, "in consideration of their good conduct."
The household of the young Comte de Saxe was set up withprodigal, wasteful and tasteless extravagance. But easy as hismarriage was made, it was a galling condition for Maurice.
He stayed away from his wife as much as possible, spending thesummer hunting, the winter in sports on the frozen waters of theElbe, where his greatest delight was headlong and dangeroussledge races.
Soon after the Peace of Utrecht Queen Anne died, and GeorgeLouis, Elector of Hanover and husband of the Sophia Dorothea whohad been the lover of Philip von Königsmarck, was elected to thethrone of Great Britain despite an abortive attempt on the partof the son of James II to regain the throne of the Stuarts.
Despite this Western Europe remained, to the disgust ofMaurice, sluggishly at peace, but there was excitement as usualin the East and North.
And he soon received with undisguised delight a summons tojoin his regiment in Pomerania, where the indomitable Swede,Charles XII, having escaped from his long captivity with theTurks, was again proving himself a thorn in the flanks ofRussia.
Maurice's early hatred of this hero had turned to an enviousadmiration. He looked upon him as a man he was or might behimself, and though the two soldiers had nothing in common save abrutal courage and a passion for warfare, Maurice, in theenthusiasm of his youth, regarded Charles as a demigod and as thekind of demi-god he would like to be himself.
The young man's best chance lay indeed in achieving what theworld then called "glory"; he had no talents and no prospects inany other direction.
Count Flemming remained his cool but bitter enemy, and themarriage with Johanna Victoria had brought him nothing but moneythat was fast slipping through his fingers. Of real friends hehad but few besides his mother, whose power was dependent on thecaprice of Augustus II, and his grandmother, a Danish Princess,Ann Sophia, who had always quietly and, as it were, from thebackground, done what she could for Aurora von Königsmarck andher son.
Momentarily at least, Maurice now triumphed. Despite theopposition of the powerful Minister he was allowed to raise hisregiment again and to depart with all the pomp of flags andcavalry, drums and trumpets, to Pomerania.
The campaign did not lack opportunities for heroic exploits.On one occasion he was besieged with a handful of men in a housein Crachnitz by eight hundred of the enemy, and only escaped bycourage and stratagem, an exploit that was compared to that ofCharles XII at Bender. After defending the house until all hisammunition was exhausted and without losing a single man, Mauricemade a sortie at night and brought off his little troop safe tothe Saxon lines with no other accident than a slight wound in hisknee.
Later in the campaign he was at the Isle of Usedom, fortifiedand defended by Charles XII himself. He had a glimpse of thisalmost fabulous hero as he sallied forth in the midst of hisGrenadiers to repel a Saxon assault.
When the rigours of winter made warfare impossible, Mauricereluctantly returned with the other officers to Dresden.
Here he found fortune less flattering than it had been on thefield of battle. He certainly had enhanced his prestige andacquired a good deal of brittle military glory. This, however,had only served to irritate Count Flemming, and though it had alittle gratified Augustus II, the King-Elector was stillcompletely in the hands of his all-powerful Minister. For anothermisfortune, the Electress-Dowager of Saxony had died, suddenly,at Lichtenburg and Aurora was once more so unwelcome at courtthat she had retired to Quedlinburg—permanently itappeared.
The winter of 1715 saw another death in the family of Maurice,one that affected him less than that of his grandmother. Hisyoung wife had given birth to a child that lived even a shortertime than his first-born, the offspring of poor RosettaDubusan.
The young couple were already at variance; they had nothing incommon but their vices of laziness, extravagance and dissipation.Maurice saw as little as possible of Victoria, who found means toamuse herself with such of her large fortune as he allowed her tohandle.
A greater grief than either the loss of his grandmother or hisinfant son was in store for him.
Augustus, edged on by Flemming, disbanded his regiment underthe excuse that it was a costly luxury. The young Colonel rushedin a fury to upbraid his father and King and for the first timeused threatening words to his father, Augustus, declaring that hewould raise his regiment again "under his own authority and bythat maintain it, cost what it might."
"This tone," said the King-Elector, roused at last to anger,"caused your mother to be sent to Quedlinburg."
To this remark the young man replied insolently that there"were not enough Abbeys in Saxony to house in exile all thedischarged Colonels of cavalry."
Upon which his father reminded him that though it might not bepossible to send him to an Abbey, there was always the Castle ofKönigstein, where the prisoners of state were detained andsometimes punished by death.
Upon this Maurice thought good to beat a retreat to one of hiswife's estates near Dresden. He found neither peace nor happinessthere and a desperate letter to his mother imploring her to makehis peace with the King had some effect. Augustus permitted himto return to Dresden and there was no more talk ofKönigstein.
A nobler excuse to get rid of him was found in the war againstthe Turks, and in July of that year, 1717, Maurice was servingunder Prince Eugene before the walls of Belgrade, which hadsuffered so long and so tenaciously as the boss on the shield ofEurope against the Mussulman.
At this period Belgrade had been taken by the Ottoman troops,who occupied it with two hundred and fifty thousand men commandedby the Grand Vizier.
It was not until the sixteenth of August that the citadel fellonce more into Christian hands, and the Cross instead of theCrescent was raised above the towers of Belgrade.
During this time Maurice had found ample opportunities ofdisplaying himself as a hero of those spectacular exploits thenexpected of one of his birth and training.
He showed impressive courage, great resource, and that cool,smiling daring which is most admired in leaders of men. He waspopular, too, with the volunteer princes who served under Eugene,French princes of the Blood, like the Comte de Charollais and thePrince of Lorraine, and aristocratic volunteers from England,Italy and Germany.
And he held his own in the banquets and drinking bouts, theextravagant licence and ribald amusements of the camp with asmuch zest as he maintained his place on the ravelin, the demiluneor the counter-scarp.
It was the Countess Johanna Victoria's money that paid for allthis glittering display. And when he returned to Dresden he foundhimself faced with her shrill reproaches. His creditors werebuzzing round her like gadflies, her revenues were depleted; shewas flouted, neglected.
Maurice did not make even promises of reform, and beforeanother year was out there was not enough left of the Loebenfortune for the lady to live upon and she was forced to retreatto Quedlinburg, where Aurora, as she put it piteously, was gladto share with the young wife "the little fortune she hadleft."
Augustus II, already completely weary of Maurice and hisdomestic affairs, was importuned once more, by both Aurora andVictoria. Could not His Majesty induce the young hero to put someorder into the moral anarchy of his life? Could His Majesty notat least induce the demi-royal sprig to restrain hisextravagance, make some composition with his creditors and lead adecorous, matrimonial life with his young Countess?
Augustus II knew too well that all interference on his partwould be flouted. His son was only himself over again, or so itappeared, for Maurice's sterner qualities had not then shownthemselves. The King-Elector had done what he could for his sonin obtaining the Loeben heiress and now he shrugged his massiveshoulders and, weary to death of Aurora and her importunities,left her petition and that of Victoria unanswered.
Aurora von Königsmarck had never particularly liked theheiress whom she had sacrificed to her son's interests, but shecould not help feeling a certain sympathy for the betrayed andplundered girl tied to a dissolute husband (whose infidelitieswere almost numberless) and stripped of her revenues to pay forhis gross and boundless expenditure. The Abbess of Quedlinburg,therefore, did what she could for the young Countess, sharingwith her the depleted and irregularly paid revenues of herconvent and giving her a house in the precincts of the Abbey withwhat service and honour she could contrive.
Johanna Victoria stated her case in a letter to Augustus II.She complained not only of Maurice's faithlessness but of hisbrusque, brutal manner and the violent jealousy he showed if hesaw her "but speaking to another man." She merely wanted, shedeclared, a little moderation in his expenditure, a littlecourtesy in his behaviour; a little esteem, a little decency fromhim, was what she demanded and she assured the King-Elector thatif she received that, no one would have reason to complain of herbehaviour. And the petitioning Countess asked, reasonably enough,that her young husband should be commanded to make a home for herout of the wreck of her fortune.
The Comtesse de Saxe did not obtain, perhaps had hardly hopedfor, any satisfaction. The King-Elector, Aurora von Königsmarck,Maurice himself, had wanted nothing from the girl but her money.That obtained, she might content herself, for all they cared,with the barren glory of knowing that she was the wife of theglittering young hero of Belgrade and Stralsund.
Johanna Victoria was not prepared, however, to sink into thepassive role of neglected wife weeping in obscurity. Even in theseclusion of Quedlinburg she contrived to find distractions thatmet with the disapproval of Aurora von Königsmarck and her lifein the Abbey soon became as disordered as that of Maurice in thecapital.
Without any object in her life save that of passing the daysin all the amusements she was capable of enjoying, without ahome, a protector, knowing herself exploited by the rapacity ofothers, Johanna Victoria took her pleasures with cyniccarelessness, choosing her favourites, and as Aurora thought, herlovers, from among the gentlemen and even the servants of her ownhousehold.
Quarrelling violently on this score with her mother-in-law,she went from Quedlinburg to one of the estates not yet seized byher husband's creditors—Schönbrunn, in Lusatia. She wentinto this retreat not only for the purpose of escaping fromAurora Königsmarck's disapproving eye, but in order that shemight enjoy without espionage the society of a young man who hadtaken her fancy. Had this lover been a nobleman or even agentleman, her behaviour would have been considered merely in thetraditions of the fashionable world and even Maurice himselfwould probably not have found much to complain of; he might evenhave been grateful that his wife's attentions had been distractedfrom himself.
But Johanna Victoria's favourite was one of her husband'sservants—a page named Iago, who had, before he entered thehousehold of Maurice of Saxony, been a servant in the regiment ofHammerstein in the Prussian Army.
Aurora von Königsmarck had her means of knowing of herdaughter's behaviour and she wrote indignantly to the King-Elector that the Comtesse de Saxe had received this Iagoincognito both at Quedinburg and in Leipzig and added that atSchönbrunn he lived with her openly, had a seat at her table, washer companion in all her sports and diversions, and sat in thecarriage with six horses that she drove abroad in. The servantsat Schönbrunn were naturally much scandalised at this state ofaffairs and the young adventurer, constantly fearing arrest, wasaccompanied by a band of hired bravos.
Maurice, appraised of this state of affairs, delivered anultimatum to his young wife. She in her turn sent disdainfully tothe King-Elector.
The young husband cast back on Johanna Victoria all thecomplaints she had made of him; he told her that "nothing she didpleased him, that if she did not alter her life immediately hewould refuse to live with her again." He would consent, he added,to a separation, even to a divorce.
But divorce in the Lutheran Church and under the laws ofSaxony was not easy; besides, there was the question of theproperty. Maurice could not repay what he had spent of his wife'sdowry and did not intend to forgo what was left of it. Yet bothhe and the young woman were avid of freedom from their despisedand tattered marriage ties.
Aurora and her son now commenced a warfare against JohannaVictoria, whom they had begun by regarding as a foolish child, amere puppet in their hands, and who now had developed into adetermined young woman about whom there was somethingsinister.
In choosing a servant as her lover, in living with him openly,surrounding herself with the sabres and pistols of hired bravosshe had shown a cold and deadly spirit not unlike, in Aurora'salarmed imagination, that which had inspired the terrible figureof Madame von Platzen, who had murdered, or caused to bemurdered, as it was believed, Philip von Königsmarck twenty yearsand more before.
This alarming view of the young Countess was, to the harassedmind of the Abbess of Quedlinburg, confirmed by a mysteriousvisit from a certain Mlle Rosenacker, one of the servants ofMadame de Saxe.
This intriguing chambermaid had a fantastic tale to tell. Shesaid that her mistress had given her a white powder, which hadbeen smuggled, in orthodox fashion, from an Italian living inVenice. Showing it to her heavily bribed but faithless domestic,the young woman had exclaimed tragically: "This is the sole meansfor me to regain my liberty!"
She then gave the following instructions to the servant. A waywas to be found for introducing Mlle Rosenacker into the serviceof Aurora von Königsmarck; there she was to take an opportunity,when Count Maurice was on a visit to his mother, of introducingthe white powder into a cup of coffee, not—she was emphaticon this point—into a cup of tea, where it would beuseless.
The result of drinking the slow poison would be that Mauricewould die at the end of about four months after what would appearto be a lingering malady. Then would be the time, added JohannaVictoria, when Aurora was smitten with grief at the death of herson, to introduce the rest of the powder into some drink of hers;she would then die in her turn and the world would think she hadperished of a broken heart.
According to her own tale, Mlle Rosenacker had refused to takepart in the lurid design, declaring that neither Maurice nor hismother had done her any evil. She had then been cast aside by afurious mistress, been sent out of her employment with the threatthat if she betrayed what had been told her, means would be foundto administer to her the fatal powder.
Such was the romantic and unlikely story to which Aurora vonKönigsmarck listened with mingled incredulity and horror. Nor wasshe altogether reassured by a letter from the young Countessdeclaring that Mlle Rosenacker was a vulgar liar and intriguerwho had been turned out of service for dishonesty.
Maurice was saved, however, from any possible attempts on hislife instigated by his young wife through his decision to go andseek his fortunes in France. Count Flemming had drily advised theKing-Elector that, unless he was fighting, the young Comte deSaxe would come to no good.
"As we have no wars here, Sire, send your son where there areor may be wars."
For once both Aurora and her son were prepared to take theadvice of a man whom they had long regarded as their mostpowerful enemy. It was obvious that there was nothing for Mauriceto do in Saxony, where his position was dubious, his talentswasted, and where he had almost exhausted the vast creditsbrought him by the Loeben fortunes.
Leaving the question of his divorce from Johanna Victoria inthe hands of his mother and of his lawyers, he prepared to travelto Paris. He had the best of introductions—a personalreputation for bravery and gallantry.
The French army was still considered the model to the rest ofEurope; even after the defeats that had culminated in the Peaceof Utrecht, it was the finest fighting machine in the world, witha prestige, a tradition, and an organisation equalled by the armyof no other country.
Augustus II, weary of everything and in particular weary ofMaurice, his wife and his mother, was delighted at a decentexcuse to be rid of him; this difficult son, one of so manybastards, was only 23 years of age, but Saxony was already toosmall for this brilliant young giant of gay and brutal manners,who could do nothing but fight, drink, wench and spend his wife'smoney on gaudy luxuries.
"He might be useful to someone," conceded Count Flemming, "butnot, at present, Sire, to us."
Aurora von Königsmarck also agreed that it would be better forher son to seek his fortune in the still mighty Empire of theBourbons. There were opportunities in France that could notpossibly be found in Saxony or even in the Empire. The amount ofglory, money and distinction to be gained in fighting the Turkswas limited.
Paris was the centre of the civilised world and France still,if half-heartedly, championed the cause of the dethroned Stuarts,and might at any moment be involved in a war on behalf of thisunfortunate family.
All things considered, both selfishness and affection workedto send Maurice to France. Aurora von Königsmarck came once moreto Dresden to take farewell of the son whom she had never knownintimately but for whom she had worked so patiently andskilfully. It was more the fault of her circumstances than of hercharacter that both skill and patience had been employed for poorends—the snaring and exploiting of Johanna Victoria vonLoeben had not resulted in anything except a few years of aimlessextravagance for Maurice, humiliating scandal and the nauseatingdisintegration of a marriage corrupted at the very altar.
It was as well that neither Maurice nor Johanna Victoria had aheart to break. Aurora von Königsmarck possessed a heart, but shehad veiled it with resignation. She saw Maurice depart on hisadventure as she had seen Philip and Christopher depart on theirsa generation before. She had not been able to do anything forthem, not even to avenge them, and she could do nothing more forMaurice but watch over such interests as he still might besupposed to possess at the court of Saxony where Augustus, onceso strong, drooled in premature senility by virtue of thepermission of Peter, Czar of All the Russias.
II. "LANGUES DU CHAT"
MAURICE DE SAXE had good credentials to offer atthe court of Versailles; he was not the man to hesitate topresent them, or to be slow in backing them by the ratherstartling ostentation of his appearance, manners andentourage. He was not altogether abandoned by his carelessand slothful father; the Comte de Watzdorf, Minister of Saxony inParis, was ordered to send secret reports concerning his conductand fortunes, to Augustus II.
In the year 1720 the appearance of Maurice de Saxe was at itsmost impressive; his gaiety and good humour, his courteous, ifbrusque air, the easy tact that is called the polish given bycourts, prevented his boundless self-assurance and deep-seatedarrogance from being offensive save to the very fastidious.
His strength was in its flower; youth, pride and health gavehis blunt, slightly brutal features a comeliness that easilypassed for handsomeness. His taste for splendour made him deckhis massive figure with a magnificence that the bizarre taste ofdecadent Paris applauded.
The Saxon giant—this he was in proportion if not inheight—decked in fashionable satin coats of pastel colours,with quantities of lace at his bull neck and with a waistcoatencrusted with bullion across his huge torso, was much admired,as an amusing, as an acceptable curiosity.
The fashions were less grotesque than they had been twentyyears before; the wigs of towering horsehair had been discardedfor locks powdered, pomaded, tied with ribbons, tied in bags,plaited in long tresses, frizzled, rolled and curled. Maurice'swell-shaped head was adorned with a varying fantasia of thehairdresser's art; he favoured in particular curls powdered anddressed loosely round his clean-shaven face, and a long plaithanging over one shoulder; in one ear he usually wore a largepearl, which contrasted piquantly with the aggressive masculinityof his square, snub-nosed, long-lipped face.
None could deny the splendour of this new-comer to the fadedranks of the hangers-on of the Bourbon court; he carried himselfsuperbly, the uniform of his Saxon regiment, steel cuirass,leopard skin, scarlet, was the extreme of pomp, he had the righttaste in wine, in horses, in women, in insolence, above all hewas unscrupulous, neither offering nor expecting any inconvenientstandards of honour or morality and he knew how to flatter withthat brusque air of candour which makes flattery sodelicious.
It is, therefore, easily to be understood that Maurice gainedat the court of France a brilliant but an easy reputation; for,despite his glitter, there was nothing stable in either hischaracter or his circumstance as far as his present experiencewent.
His life had certainly been full of action and show, and helooked back with regret at every occasion that had given scopefor his martial ardour. Most of all did he regret the resplendentdays when he had served under Prince Eugene before Belgrade andas a youth, who had already acquired a European reputation as anardent and successful soldier, had been joyfully welcomed by asuperb array of august gentlemen who adorned the camp of theImperialists, among whom had been thirty sovereign rulers andsome of the French Princes of the blood so lately fightingagainst the Saxon whom they now welcomed with cynic courtesy toshare their hospitality and their vices.
Maurice had enjoyed to the full those skirmishes with theTurks, the sallies and carousals with his fellow Princes, theexciting vivid life of the Christian camp, and he remembered withparticular pride the great battle of August 17, 1717, when PrinceEugene utterly overthrew the Ottoman power, thus consolidatingthe victory of Peterwardein.
How reluctant he had been to leave the scene of so muchsplendour, pleasure and glory! He had lingered to the last in thecompany of the sumptuous and triumphant Allies and it had onlybeen with regret that he had repaired to Fravenstahe where hisfather had then held court and the hearty Augustus, delightedwith reports of his son's success, had decorated him with theflamboyant cross that showed so well on his broad chest...thesescenes remained vividly in the memory of Maurice, as whets toambition for the future; he let no one forget that such had beenhis background and such his reputation, when with a princelyequipage paid for out of the ruins of Johanna Victoria's fortunehe arrived in Paris to be received with civility and even warmth;the tie of rank was then much stronger than that of nationality.Men of the same caste as himself did not remember against Mauricethat he had served in Marlborough and Eugene's camp as a boy 12years old.
He was welcomed as a nobleman among noblemen, a prince amongprinces and made free of French society.
France was then ruled by three men, each in a different way anextraordinary and powerful personage.
The "great" King who had tried to revive the glories of theEmperor Charlemagne, and whose greatness indeed was borrowed fromhis Ministers, Louvois and Colbert, while his manifoldpettinesses were his own, was five years dead and his mostChristian Majesty, King of France and Navarre, was his great-grandson, Louis XV, then a charming child in the hands ofgovernors and governesses who were skilfully and cynicallyteaching him the corruption then considered necessary to thesubjugation of princes.
France had been beaten but not broken by the wars that hadbeen concluded by the Treaty of Utrecht, which after all had notbeen as humiliating and ignominious as it might have been had theAllies known when to end the war and when to press theiradvantages.
Louis XIV, at one time the most powerful prince in the world,had been forced to pawn his personal gold plate to pay for hiscostly defeats, and his successor had ascended the throne of St.Louis amid no very happy auguries.
The first half of the eighteenth century seems in retrospect adull, vague period. It was too late for so many things, too earlyfor so many others. The age of discovery was nearly over, the ageof science scarcely begun; poetry was occupied with wit, prosewith reason, art had become ornament. Everything was showy,overblown, exaggerated, insincere; the baroque style ofexpression, flowing movement, theatrical over-emphasis prevailedeverywhere.
Graceful festoons of exquisitely lovely decorations served todisguise a decaying art; pomp, etiquette, ceremonial had reacheda pitch of formality that had become absurdity. Nothing was likedbut what was unnatural, a curious sentimentality began to show inthe passions of the cultured; natural emotion was disguised byfine, vapouring speeches.
Men had begun to powder their hair, to paint their faces, towear pastel-coloured clothes, to talk cynically, to liveexquisitely.
The highest Parisian society affected a tone of delicatdeffeminacy; aristocrats, men and women alike, addressed eachother by affected nicknames, foolish, grotesque, or whimsical,taken from fashionable plays, novels and fairy-tales of themoment. A whole mythology of pseudo-gods and goddesses wasinvoked and depicted at every turn and the stiff satin robe of aVénus poudrée fluttered against the shell-pink feet of aplump shepherdess from a sham Arcadia, with gilded crook andcoquettish straw hat perched on curls stiff with flour andgrease.
France, exhausted from long wasteful wars, was but seventyyears away from that great Revolution which was to give humanitya new idea of the "Rights of Man"; the only people whom Mauricemet, the aristocracy, seemed idly drowsing in elegant decadencewithout being as comfortable and secure as the English nobility,as undeveloped as the German princelings, as decayed as theAustrian and Spanish aristocracy; the patricians of Franceadorned this period of essential dullness with all the prettytrifles sophisticated man has been able to conceive: beneath thisprettiness was foul grossness, like toads beneath the lilies on apool.
The Regent for the young King was Philip, Duke of Orleans,head of the cadet branch of the House of Bourbon, one of the mostattractive of a line of princes distinguished by little savesuperficial brilliancy and a cunning aptitude for intrigue thatbacked an insatiable ambition.
The Duke of Orleans was handsome, elegant, intelligent andaccomplished; it was said of him that he possessed every goodgift but had not the power to make use of any of them. The truthwas that the Regent, like the vast majority of the witty societythat he gathered round him, was completely amoral. He lacked allqualities of heart and spirit; he possessed to the full thatcomplete and impressive cynicism which enables a man to use hispowers and opportunities entirely for his own advantages andpleasure without any thought of others, and without everexperiencing a single pang of regret or remorse for thesufferings or misfortunes of others.
When the Comte de Saxe came to Paris, the Regent had twoadvisers; men like Maurice himself, who were, in the true senseof the word, adventurers.
The first of these was a Frenchman and a priest, the abbéDubois, the Regent's first Minister and close companion, a manwho exactly suited his master's taste, if he did not exactly suitthe needs of France. Brilliant, unscrupulous, with all the socialgraces and none of the social virtues, Dubois possessed apenetrating wit, an entrancing gift of conversation, remarkableaptitude for hard work, a disposition that might have been summedup as a front of brass and a heart of iron.
He had no conception of true statesmanship but was an able andcompletely dishonest politician, well fitted to hold his own inthe complicated and corrupt intrigues that kings and theirministers then considered the art of government.
His small wizened figure in the decorous habits of the HolyCatholic Church, his bilious tinted face with the small twinklingeyes crowned with the monstrous yellow peruke, was always by theside of the Regent both in business and amusement, in the Cabinetand in the box at the Opera or the ball at the Palais-Royal.
The monkey-like, sinister appearance of the Minister with hismalicious smile and heartless glance made him appear like theâme damnée of the suave and voluptuous prince whose softfeatures, large blue eyes and gentle smile gave a wholly falseimpression of his ruthless and implacably selfish character.
The second personage whom Maurice de Saxe found in power inFrance was the most notable and honourable of the three. This wasMr. John Law of Lauriston, a Scot then in his fiftieth year, aman whose life had been as remarkable as that of any of theKönigsmarcks.
Well-born but not noble, John Law was the son of an Edinburghgoldsmith who, as was then usual, combined his occupation withthat of banker and moneylender. Law was well-educated and fromhis earliest days showed an extraordinary aptitude formathematics.
He did not, however, apply himself to his father's business,which might have been supposed peculiarly suited to his talents,but spent his youth in the fashionable manner by dissipating hisfather's fortune in costly living, gambling and idleness. He wasextremely handsome, "better looking than any man had the right tobe," the French said of him later in his life, foppish in hisdress, gallant in his bearing. But he made no particular stir,even in his own set, until an extraordinary incident brought himinto public notice and decided his future.
In the year 1694, the year that saw the tragic story of Philipvon Königsmarck and Sophia Dorothea nearing its close, John Lawwent to London and there joined a set of wealthy young men-about-town. Among these was a certain Edward Wilson, called "BeauWilson" on account of his good looks. This gentleman was the sonof a country esquire, whose whole estate was worth but twohundred a year, yet he lived in sumptuous style, kept a costlyequipage, furnished his house in the richest and latest taste,gave portions to his sisters, and paid off his father'smortgage.
This was naturally matter for considerable gossip, scandal andconjecture among his friends, who, however closely they tried,could not discover the source of Beau Wilson's fortune. He didnot gamble, he had no wealthy mistress, it was not consideredpossible that he was a spy, and although the member of a fast,expensive, fashionable set he lived a quiet, decorous life nevermingling in any dubious matters, neither card-playing norwagering nor horse-racing and having, what was most curious ofall, no love affair that anyone could discover.
Beau Wilson was supposed to be of very moderate intelligencebut he had, however, sufficient wit to keep his own counsel andno one could guess the source of his income; his end was as oddas his life. His sister, coming up to town, took rooms in anestablishment where lodged a Mrs. Lawrence, supposed to be themistress of John Law. Edward Wilson, with his usual decorum,withdrew his sister from the house where she was likely to be indoubtful company.
John Law took, or pretended to take, offence at this andmeeting Beau Wilson in Hyde Park confronted him and challengedhim to a duel.
The parties went at once to Bloomsbury Square, then a famousspot for these affairs of honour, swords were drawn and at thefirst pass Law ran Wilson through the stomach. The unfortunateBeau died immediately and Law was arrested on a charge of murder.The duel had been irregular and after the outrageous death ofWilliam Montford, killed by a couple of drunken boys—LordMohun and Colonel Hill—feeling had been very strong againstduelling; the King, William III, being in particular stronglyopposed to these bloody and foolish "affairs of honour."
John Law claimed that he deserved no more than punishment formanslaughter. He was, however, placed in Newgate, tried,convicted of murder and sentenced to death, the Wilson familyshowing the greatest bitterness against him, as indeed well theymight, for with the Beau seemed to have died their one source ofincome. Edward Wilson had left no more than a few pounds behindhim, and it still remained a mystery where he had obtained hismoney.
John Law finally eluded their vengeance by one of thoseescapes from prison that are so strangely easy that they arousesuspicion of complicity in high places.
John Law sawed through the bars of his prison-window inNewgate and made his way out of England into the Netherlands,where he was employed as clerk or secretary to the Resident inThe Hague.
This romantic affair still remains a mystery, but long afteran explanation that purported to be the truth was published.
Beau Wilson, it was declared, was the secret lover ofElizabeth Villiers, Countess of Orkney, the close friend and, asscandal said, the mistress of William III. It was this lady thathad supplied the Beau with his funds, and so prudently anddiscreetly was the affair managed that the lovers only saw eachother by candle-light and at rare intervals.
The Beau had, however, according to this account, becometiresome and had demanded an increase in his pension, withmenaces that amounted to blackmail. Lady Orkney had then decidedto sacrifice her passion to her interests and had employed JohnLaw to seek some frivolous excuse to dispose of the Beau in aduel. It was, so this tale ran, this lady that had provided Lawwith the means of evading prison and escaping to theContinent.
The story is probably a malicious libel, but not much is knownof the character of this extraordinary woman, with her wit, hertalents, her squint and her undoubted influence over one of themost powerful minds of her time.
Whatever might be the secret of Beau Wilson, his death sentJohn Law of Lauriston on the road that was to lead him to aunique position in Europe.
While in the Netherlands he studied economics, particularlythe working of the banks of Amsterdam, and when he returned toScotland in 1700 he published pamphlets on finance that advocatedpaper money. He easily induced powerful personages both inEngland and Scotland—notably the Duke of Argyll and LordGodolphin—to listen to his scheme, but he could not induceany minister to try out his proposal of a State bank.
In 1708 he was again in Europe and in the next seven years hetravelled from country to country, gambling and trying to inducesome Prince or State to adopt his project. He impressed all whomet him as sound, honest, industrious and a mathematical genius,but his suggestions were considered too daring and though theDuke of Sardinia came near to taking him into his service, JohnLaw did not attain his ambition until he went to France after thedeath of Louis XIV, in September 1715.
Here he found success beyond his wildest imaginings. TheRegent, astute, reckless and badly pressed for money, listened tothe Scotsman's proposition and allowed him to found his BanqueGénérale, the first bank in France.
By the beginning of 1717 John Law was issuing his paper money.His bank was brilliantly successful, especially when the Regent,by a royal decree, allowed his money to be accepted in payment oftaxes. Law's Bank was in every way beneficial to France; headvanced loans and expanded industry, he encouraged trade andenterprise.
The Scot's ambition was not yet satisfied and he persuaded theRegent to make over to him Louisiana, the French province inNorth America. Law's idea was to rival and eventually to displacethe British East India Company; under what was termed theMississippi Scheme or The System he designed to obtaincontrol of all the non-European trade of France. The FrenchParliament and many French people were indignant at the powergiven to a foreigner and a Protestant, but the Regent met thisresistance by changing the name of the Bank to BanqueRoyale, the King guaranteeing the notes and Law being createdDirector-General. By absorbing other trading companies, the Bankobtained the whole of the non-European trade of France, exactlyas Law had designed and also the important monopoly of tobacco.In 1719, the Mint was given in charge to Law who was thus incomplete control of the entire monetary system of France.
The Regent, who, whatever his motives, had acted patrioticallyand wisely in this, went far to hamper and even ruin Law'sdesigns by using the Bank for his own private extravagances,which were pretty well boundless.
When Maurice de Saxe came to France in 1720, the MississippiScheme or The System was at the height of prosperity, adividend of forty per cent. was being paid to the shareholdersand John Law of Lauriston was Controller-General of the financesand had lately become a Roman Catholic.
So powerful was he that when he quarrelled with Lord Stair,the British Ambassador, because the latter had taken exception tohis avowed intention to overthrow both the trade of England andthat of The States General, the Ambassador was recalled and onemore complaisant sent in his stead.
John Law's position at this time was, if brilliant, ratherinsecure. He had an active enemy in England and a secret enemy inthe abbé Dubois, while the Regent did not know what the wordsfaith and honour meant and was likely to repudiate John Law'sschemes, whenever it suited him. However, at the moment, thebanker reigned over French finance and was a dazzling figure inFrench society; the elegant, blond Scot, still one of thehandsomest men of his time, with his tall figure, silver-greyeyes and fair brows, was one of the first to welcome the youngSaxon adventurer to Paris, where all the talk was of money andthe spending of money.
Maurice perceived with satisfaction all this splendour andluxury; it exactly suited his taste and he gave John Law all theadmiration due to one who seemed to have found, for all practicalpurposes, the philosophers' stone.
But Maurice was neither financier nor politician; it was thespending of the money that interested him, not where it camefrom; it was the conducting of wars that fascinated him, not therights or wrongs of the conflict.
He attached himself neither to Law nor Dubois but to theRegent and was soon his companion in many of his pleasures. Theexample of John Law had brought the fashion of gambling, alwaysactive among the idle and the rich, to a point of frenzy. Cardplaying was but one aspect of this rage; wagers were madeeverywhere and on everything, and horse racing with its attendantbetting was so fashionable that it was said of French societythat it "lived in the riding-school and the stable."
All this was exactly to Maurice's taste. These amusements werethe only means he considered of making peace tolerable, and heentered easily into this vicious life of levees, fetes, huntingparties, galas, the Opera, petits soupers, and balls, intothis gay, witty company, where everyone was perfumed andpowdered, where the women's naked shoulders were laced withdiamonds and their tiny waists circled with silk roses and theirfaces painted to the likeness of a Cupidon, where fortuneschanged hands for a horse, a diamond, a hazard of the cards.
Maurice too could wear velvet and bullion lace and carry agold-hilted sword with a flourish and pomade his brown locks intoside curls and make himself agreeable to great ladies and morethan agreeable to ladies not so great. His thick-set figure andheavy Teutonic face made him conspicuous among fine gentlemen whowere all grace and languor; but his amiable—for so itappeared on the surface—and lively disposition and acertain "sweetness," as the French ladies termed it, in hismanner won him favour in a society where everything was toleratedbut dullness. Nor did the delightful sirens of court and city whostrove to render his endless leisure agreeable dislike hisprodigious strength that had such a piquant contrast with theirown exquisite frailty.
So Maurice de Saxe was received into the topmost efflorescenceof this effete civilisation as one who was already an adept inthe virtues and vices then considered necessary for a gentlemanof quality. He was noted with elegant attention at Versailles,where the Regent and Dubois contrived to squander splendidly whatthey had plundered carelessly from the half-bankrupt kingdom.There was, as usual, a fly in the ointment, and it was the usualfly.
Maurice wrote to his mother, fading resignedly in her HartzMountains retreat:
"I have found money difficulties greater than Icould possibly have imagined."
It would certainly not have taken much imagination for Mauriceto have foreseen that he would not be able to compete with menlike Law, Dubois and the Regent, who had the resources of akingdom behind them.
Aurora von Königsmarck could do nothing Augustus II was notdisposed to take any further interest in his son, at least not ina monetary sense. He was another reckless voluptuary throughwhose fingers any amount of money ran like sand.
The Comte de Watzdorf, the Resident of Saxony in Paris,possessed some prudence. He wrote a letter of advice to the King-Elector, suggesting that the young Count should be recalled assoon as possible to Dresden, for, in his opinion, the young manwas being utterly ruined by the debauchery in which he lived.Augustus II did not take this advice very seriously. He merelywrote to Maurice, suggesting that he "left off gambling andpreserved his good manners if he wished to retain the royalfavour."
But Maurice had found another patron who was more useful tohim than his father. During one of those convivial evenings wherethe artificial refinements of the period were swept away bydrunkenness and where in fact, as a contemporary says, "all sortsof indecencies were committed," the Regent suggested and Mauriceaccepted with enthusiasm a commission in the French Army.
In his first moment of sobriety Maurice returned to Dresden toobtain his father's consent to this flattering proposition; andas a graceful act of bribery the Regent had given the young Saxonthe honorary rank of Maréchal de camp, signed by Louis andcountersigned by Leblanc, in August 1720: this he now showed asan earnest of better things to come.
But Augustus II and Aurora von Königsmarck had both the sameobjections to their son's decision—the expense. How was hepossibly to maintain himself in Paris?
Maurice at once made fervent protestations as he had so oftenmade before. He would reduce his establishment, he would cease togamble, he would live on his pay and his pension and cease topester the King-Elector to pay his debts.
Under these conditions, and pressed by Count Flemming, who wasglad to see the young Count forever removed from Saxony, Mauriceobtained the paternal and maternal consent to his acceptance ofthe Regent's offer. For Aurora von Königsmarck also gave way; hermotives appear to have been unselfish, she did not wish tointerfere with her son's destiny. She was as avid as he washimself of his worldly success, glory and renown and she believedthat he might attain all three in the service of France.
There remained the young Countess to deal with. DuringMaurice's absence in Paris she had taken on a quieter mode oflife. She was willing, she declared, "to repent, to correct herfaults."
Maurice did not wish to have anything more to do with theerring lady whose fortune he had already spent and whose personhe had always despised. In a long mémoire he told her thathe would only keep her faults from the public on condition thatshe divorced him. It was not difficult to satisfy the Polish lawon one head, for Maurice's infidelities were notorious.Unfortunately, however, adultery was punishable by death, soAugustus II went through the farce of sentencing his son to deathand giving him his pardon in his napkin when he dined with himthe same evening.
In March 1721 the young Countess of Saxony appealed to theConsistory of the Reformed Church for the annulment of hermarriage.
The formalities were quickly put through and soon the marriageof Maurice of Saxony and Johanna Victoria Loeben was legally andreligiously dissolved. The lady, considered, generously enough,"innocent" in a technical sense, was allowed to contract a newmarriage according to the laws of the Christian Church.
Maurice took his liberation from a union that he had enteredinto entirely out of self-interest lightly and even with acertain impertinence.
Johanna Victoria, who was then only 22 years of age,afterwards married a man who by prudent management was able torestore some of the fortune that Maurice de Saxe had done hisbest to ruin. She lived a quiet family life with her secondhusband and three children on the estates purchased through herfather's industry, which had been used as pledges for thereckless extravagance of her first husband.
Maurice never thought of his wife with tenderness nor spoke ofher with regret.
When the priest, in dissolving his marriage, had been about toadd a moral harangue, Maurice had interrupted insolently, sayingthat the clergy interfered in everything and that as for himselfhe knew "we are all great sinners, there's truth enough inthat."
In this matter, as in several others, Maurice had begun toshow his complete heartlessness; he had been brought up without afamily life and no sentiment had ever been roused in him. Perhapsit would not have been possible to do so. Certainly his marriage,based on such sordid reasons, had done nothing to soften him;certainly, he remained as completely amoral, as lacking inspiritual and magnanimous qualities as the Regent himself.
As a matter of pride, he was still a Protestant, for hisfamily had always been champions of Lutheranism. But to religion,in whatever sense the word might be used, he was completelyindifferent.
Now in his twenty-fifth year, on his return to Paris he amazedeveryone by a strength even more prodigious than Augustus II hadpossessed in his youth and of which fabulous tales were told; hehad been able, so the legend ran, to twist a horseshoe into aknot, to take an iron banister rail from the stairs in one graspand even—most incredible of all—to raise a mountedcavalier, horse and man in full armour, on the palm of hishand.
Such legends were beginning to gather round Maurice, andthough the merest common sense could have proved themexaggerated, the young man's magnificent torso, bull neck,powerful jaws, deep voice, the long swing of his arms, the stridewith which he walked, all helped to create the impression of aremarkable and invincible vigour, mental and physical.
In curious and, as many women found, fascinating contrast tothis brutal appearance, he continued to indulge a childishdelight in fantastic adornments. He had eagerly copied the mostextravagant fashions of the French court. The richly curlinglocks were dashed with perfume, tied with gold ribbons and fellin long buckled tresses over his shoulder. He wore an even largerpearl drop in his ears, diamonds and pearls appeared among thecostly lace at his throat and wrists; his baldric and sash weremingled with gold thread and fringed with bullion. His horses andservants wore the most expensive and resplendent of liveries.
Taste for art he had none, but he bought in prodigalrecklessness the work of whatever artist was fashionable at themoment. Inlaid furniture, crystal vases, silverware, tapestriesand paintings adorned his Parisian hotel. Of horseflesh he was afine judge, but too lazy to bargain. His stables were often fullof horses he bought at a high and sold at a low price.
He was not an expert gambler like John Law; his play went onno mathematical calculation, it was a true hazard when he threwdown the dice or the cards. And when he lost he paid as a man ofhonour, and when he won he flung the gold as a man of honour alsoto the sycophants and lackeys who fawned round the gamblingtable.
As a man of honour also, he completely forgot the promises hehad made to his father and mother, and his first step when hereturned to France was to purchase a regiment at a price so highthat as Count Flemming drily remarked, "two Saxon regiments couldhave been had for half the money."
Augustus II did not appear to be prepared to pay up, andMaurice had again to make a hurried journey to Dresden, which hebroke at Quedlinburg, in an endeavour to win his mother over tohis side.
Aurora von Königsmarck was tenderly foolish where her son wasconcerned, where perhaps it might be said any man in whom she wasinterested was concerned. Her conduct had not been marked byprudence either towards her headstrong young brothers, whosevices and follies she had tacitly condoned, or towards the Princeto whom she had run for vengeance; indeed, what was possible fora woman of her period and type, her birth and circumstances, butto acquiesce admiringly in masculine lusts and selfishnesses, orto exploit them for feminine lusts and selfishnesses?
Being a refined and exquisite lady, Aurora chose the moredelicate part. She admired, she flattered, she sighed over, sheministered to these reckless, passionate and callous cavaliers.For diversion she wrote poems and dramas and corresponded withwits and philosophers.
It could hardly be said that she was mercenary; she hadcertainly pestered Augustus and made an enemy of Flemming withher continual demands for money, but no one regretted theseungraceful actions more than the lady herself, and it couldhardly be said that her motives were entirely personal She hadbeen forced to beg for her pension, which had not been paid,broken promises had thrust her into an awkward position, and mostof her pleas had been for Maurice.
She was not long in making another of these. Stormily pacingthe quiet corridors of the remote Abbey at Quedlinburg, the youngman had demanded his costly French regiment as a tempestuouschild might demand a box of soldiers.
Aurora had written to Augustus II and he, with a shrug oflassitude, had turned to Flemming and the bill had once more beenfooted, though not without considerable difficulty, for the Saxontreasury was at last almost as empty as that of France when theRegent turned to John Law of Lauriston to save him frombankruptcy.
Augustus sold one of the Crown lands, making it appanage inthe name of his son, and satisfied Flemming with the clause thatthe land should return to the Crown if Maurice died withoutlegitimate heir.
Maurice returned in triumph to Paris and at once began tooccupy himself with his new regiment, which he trained, exercisedand supervised with the same care as he had taken with that otherregiment which Count Flemming had caused to be disbanded. It wasa German regiment by the name of Gerder.
The regiment represented the serious, the intellectual side ofhis nature. For this object and for this alone he would work; toimprove his regiment and his own knowledge of military science hewould spend laborious hours in learning dry sciences. He studiedmathematics (algebra), tactics, fortifications; he read thememoirs of great and successful soldiers, not only for theirromantic exploits and their glorious deeds, but for the meanswhereby they had attained their renown and their prizes. He madeseveral innovations in the training of his own regiment and heplanned out on paper further innovations he would make if he wasever in command of a large force of men. In particular he wasinspired by the friendship and writings of the Chevalier Folard,who had been aide-de-camp to Vendome.
He might now consider himself singularly fortunate. At 25years of age he was a Maréchal de camp in the army of KingLouis of France, a favourite of the Regent, and possessed of aperson that was the passport to all the good fortunes his passiondesired.
All the time that he did not give to the study of militaryscience he spent in pleasure, in the sense that that word wasunderstood in the Paris of the first half of the eighteenthcentury. The French aristocrats, among whom the young SaxonMarshal mingled, appeared to be, on the surface, the last flowerof brilliant sophistication; people who had exploited everysensation possible to humanity, for whose enjoyment and amusementevery possible aspect of amusement and enjoyment had beenexploited by the wit, the pander, the charlatan, and the geniuswho mingled anxiously in their train.
Despite this, however, they preserved a curiously ingenuousinterest in the crudest vices of mankind. These elegant, perfumedand powdered lords did not disdain drinking bouts in which theybecame drunk in a fashion as banal and disgusting as thatpractised by the least of their lackeys. These cynical,languishing, over-refined ladies did not disdain a lewd intrigue,an amour as commonplace as any that their kitchen-maids mighthave delighted in.
Sentimentality there was in plenty, but it was a mere disguisefor heartless lust. Of intrigues of the soul and spirit therewere none, and platonic love was not even known as a term.Magnificent princesses and haughty great ladies who affected tobe shocked by a song too shrill or a perfume too potent, wholoved the artificial, the grotesque, and objected to nothing saveNature were themselves natural enough, when they received,smuggled up back stairs, the gallants who shared their satin-lined alcoves but made no pretence to touch their hearts.
The new Marshal with his superb physique, his romanticappearance, his glittering history could have been the hero of asmany of these exploits as he chose, so free was this society, soindifferent to appearances that it is only a wonder that satietydid not soon blunt the appetite of even the most sensual.
But sometimes the echo of a tradition lingered, and now andthen piquancy was given to an adventure, in itself banal enough,by the jealousy of a husband or a lover.
Louis, Armand, Prince de Conti, son of the man once robbed ofhis chance of the Crown of Poland by Augustus II was now robbedof what was still termed rather mechanically "his honour," by theson of the successful candidate.
And the story went round the gossips of Paris that the limpthat Maurice attributed to a false step when leaving the Palais-Royal was really owing to a thrust from the sword of the Princede Conti, who had caught his charming wife in the arms of theyoung Saxon. This anecdote was embroidered with one of themalicious pleasantries then so much the vogue. Madame de Contiwas supposed to have told her husband, with great candour, thesix possible ways in which she could have deceived him with M. deSaxe and then to have added: "There is a seventh! What it is Ishall not tell you, for it is the one I have employed."
This story reached the ears of the King-Elector, and he hadnothing better to do than employ one of his Ministers, the CountManteuffel, to ask his Ambassador in Paris what the seven means,were that Madame de Conti had found so useful in deceiving herhusband.
Such incidents as these composed the life of Maurice de Saxeat the court of the Regent; mistresses, acquaintances, flatterershe had by the dozen, nay, it might have been said by the hundred,but friends none, unless the old Duchess of Orleans could becounted as such. She was a German, brusque, frank, loyal and onher death-bed she gave her young countryman plenty of good adviceof a hard, worldly nature.
The fortunes of France, of the Regent, and incidentally thoseof Maurice, were somewhat shaken by the fall of John Law ofLauriston. His schemes, though wide, bold and wholly beneficialto France, were in advance of his time. They were indeed almostexactly the same schemes as were employed two generations laterby the Swiss banker and the French financier, Necker and Turgot,who tried so desperately to save France from the bankruptcy thathelped to produce the revolution of 1789.
The first sign of danger was a run upon Law's bank; peoplebegan to realise the paper money. Several edicts were quicklypassed to deal with this crisis, but Law's actual downfall camethrough the enmity of England.
Dubois, England's friend and perhaps her paid ally, influencedthe Regent against John Law. And Lord Stair, although he had beenrecalled from Paris because he had affronted the great financier,had contrived to influence his Government against the man who hadboasted that he would destroy the English and Dutch trade.
Society, too, was fickle and though Law had worked in theinterests of the country in general, particularly in those of thesmall proprietor, the middle classes and the peasantry, he nolonger pleased the aristocracy when he could not pay themfabulous interest on their loans and supply them with anunlimited amount of paper money for their recklessexpenditure.
One of the chief offenders was the Regent himself, who wasutterly prodigal. It was most profitable to be his friend or hismistress—one woman at least had received a pension for lifefor pleasing him for a fortnight—but it was not profitableto work for him or to be his creditor. The Banque Royale was tohim merely a purse into which he could at will dip his hands.
All these circumstances combined against John Law, and theRegent, either seeing that the scheme was no longer to his owninterests or wrought upon by Dubois, working in the interest ofEngland, or through mere lassitude and indifference, rated uponthe man whom he had promised to support and repudiated the royalbank.
Law fled the country, cursed as a charlatan who had ruinedFrance. His fortune was confiscated and he found himself inBrussels without friends or resources.
Maurice had gambled at Law's card-tables, and drunk with himacross his elegant board, but he had no interest in either hisschemes or his downfall, or in the prosperity of France. He wasonly slightly vexed that the gold did not flow quite so freelyand that some of the amusing companions with whom he had laughed,wagered, drunk and hunted looked for a short time downcast andvexed by the collapse of the Mississippi scheme.
Maurice had, however, for any gloom that might have beendeflected upon him, a gracious consolation. It was not possiblefor him to fall in love in the usually accepted sense of theterm, but he had been attracted by a woman to whom he was to bemore faithful than to any other of his mistresses.
The sentimentality or sensibility—these terms meant thesame thing—of the period found its finest expression on thestage; the melancholia, the languors, the swooning lassitudesaffected by the great ladies to veil emotions and passions crudeand primitive enough, were part of the actress's stock-in-trade.A tragic actress was called upon to express, usually under aclassic guise, a limited range of mournfulemotion—suffering, self-sacrificing, long drawn-outfarewells, renunciation, and death-bed scenes. With such fillipsto their own jaded feelings did the lords and ladies of Parisregale themselves when they went to the Comédie Françaiseto hear the sonorous and soothing lines of Corneille andRacine.
Chief among these actresses in the year 1721, when Maurice deSaxe graced with his superb physique and his resplendent uniformthe royal loge, was Adrienne de Lecouvreur.
She was some years older than Maurice, in her thirtieth year;she had been four years in Paris, that is to say, she was at theheight of her fame; four years was considered a long while tohave pleased so capricious and fastidious an audience, butAdrienne had unusual gifts, remarkable histrionic talents, grace,beauty, and a wistful appeal calculated to touch the most jadedsenses, the most callous heart.
Her name was Couvreur; she had added, without any right, thegraceful prefix herself. Her father was a journeyman hatter andshe herself as a child had worked in a laundry and a provinciallaundry at that. The hatter was a man of a violent temper whodied in a lunatic asylum and the only good turn he did hisdaughter was to bring her to Paris where her love for recitingany verses she could pick up led her to join a troupe ofyoung amateurs, who met in a grocer's shop to indulge thatpassion for the play-acting then common to all classes inFrance.
The little troupe—none of them was much more thana child—Adrienne being 13 years of age at thetime—attracted the attention of a generous patroness, whooffered them the courtyard of her house to perform in, and whenthey were dispersed by order of the police, because they wereinfringing the rights of the Théatre Français Adriennefound another friend—Le Grand, the actor, who was one ofthe customers of the laundry where she worked.
He encouraged her, good-humouredly enough, and gave her a fewlessons and Adrienne abandoned the wash-tub and the ironing-boardto go on the road as a touring actress.
She was unusually successful and in five years' time wasacting before the court of Lorraine. The life was all she haddreamt it would be; she was scarcely herself save when behind thefootlights, but she had not the temperament to be happy. She wasone of those women always in love with Love and always out oftune with the lover. She was well paid and well applauded, butshe longed for the luxuries that were not yet hers and she wasdiscouraged by the coarse life, the ugly shifts, the poverty, thelack of social status then the common lot of the travelling actoror actress.
She had, and without question, her lovers; she took them andleft them as she travelled about—an officer, and actor, ayoung nobleman. All these affairs were conducted withsensibility, with sorrow, and soon followed by tears or regrets.One was the father of her first child, another died young, andAdrienne mourned him with brief but intense grief.
M. Clavel, himself a well-known actor, promised her marriageand Adrienne seized the opportunity of writing a letter ofpiteous warning and delicate renunciation:
"Do not, I pray you, promise me anything that you cannotperform. Even if you promise to loathe me, I should prefer thatto being deceived. I know you well enough to know that youdelight in being magnanimous and that you might relish beating meat my own game. But once more, think it well over. I should playmy part, whatever it might be, as well as I can, whether I keepyou or lose you."
All this was rather high-falutin and the prospect of marriagebetween the actor and actress came to nothing. Nor did the offersmade by the chief magistrate of Strassburg, M. Klinglin, to whomAdrienne bore a daughter in 1716.
Adrienne worked and sighed, and after the fashion of the daywrote mournful worldly-wise epigrams: "Experience teaches me thatone does not die of sorrow."—"There are some delightfulerrors that I dare not commit again." She also declared with anair of delicious languor that she was "utterly weary of love andintended to be done with it for the rest of her life."
In this disillusioned mood she came to Paris, her considerablefame already preceding her, and triumphed immediately on theboards of the Comédie Française in the part of Monime. Shewas exceptionally clever; she had the grand manner yet a naturalair. Her simple style of speaking was something new to the Frenchstage, she was "unspeakably moving," her frail beauty wasprecisely the type most in fashion. Her large, languorous greyeyes that seemed to sparkle through tears, her oval face,straight nose and small mouth were set off by a brilliantcomplexion and a quantity of smooth, lustrous tresses, which shewore in no monstrous head-dress but looped round her well-shapedbrow and hanging in low plaits and curls on her smooth whiteshoulders.
Her taste was luxurious but flawless; she wore few jewels,only pearls wreathed in those smooth locks glowed in her daintyears. Veils and plain gowns of velvet and satin flowing in simplelines set off a figure she was too clever to disguise with hoopsand furbelows.
Her sensibilities, her sentimentality, her emotionalism, callit what you will, were her greatest asset on the stage as it washer greatest drawback in real life. She felt every part sheplayed.
This wonderful creature became at once Queen of the tragicstage in France and admired by all foreigners. Her position wasfor long unassailable; there was no one like her, no one even tocompare with her.
The society of the Regency made an idol of her; the daughterof a journeyman hatter whose youth had been spent at the wash-tubcould hold her own with princes and princesses of the bloodroyal. She was accepted everywhere with that condescendingadmiration which aristocracy pays to art. She was considered asnecessary as a vase of flowers or a dish of fruit at afashionable supper party and affected to be wearied by theadulation she received. Her grace, her dignity and herdistinction greatly improved the social position of actresses,hitherto regarded as little better than amusing vagabonds.
She had, as a matter of course, her lovers; actress andcourtesan were still terms almost synonymous, and if Adrienne didnot sell her favours her salary, lavish as it was, could hardlyhave kept her in the luxury in which she lived, or enabled her toput by a veritable treasury of jewels, gold, silverware and otherprecious objects.
She lived as Maurice lived, as if there was no such word aseconomy and no need to take concern for tomorrow when to-day wasso fair.
The appearance of the great actress who had begun as littlebetter than a gutter-waif was in itself aristocratic. Herdelicate aquiline nose with the fine nostrils, her exquisitelycurved lips and her proud, graceful carriage combined to give herthat appearance and air which princesses are supposed to possessbut often do not have in real life. She had acted great heroinesso often that she had herself the manner of a Berenice, aPauline, an Iphigénie, a Phédre.
In her costly gilt salon in the rue des Marais,as a contemporary put it, "the most famous and most distinguishedof the capital gathered together." And she herself said with agracious satisfaction for the sake of her art as well as her ownpersonality "it is an established custom to dine or sup with me,and there are several duchesses who do me this honour."
Lax as the age was, her position as an unmarried woman whoentertained a succession of lovers might have kept her out ofsome of the society she frequented, but her talent opened alldoors to her, even that of the Marquise de Lambert, whosesalon was known as the ante-chamber of the AcadémieFrançaise; Voltaire was her sincere friend.
Under these influences the sentimental side of the youngactress's character came uppermost. She declared that she woulddedicate herself to "virtuous love," an expression that was asnear as the period got to platonic affection.
She had, indeed, a worthy and amiable friend in M. d'Argental,who adored her without receiving other rewards than her smilinggratitude.
She was not, however, able to live without passion and whenshe declared that love was a folly for which she had no furtherleisure, she merely meant that she was waiting for the grandpassion that should become her own creation and be the absorbingbusiness of her life.
When she met Maurice de Saxe in 1721, she had had someexperience of his type. She had been for a short time themistress of Charles Mordaunt, the eccentric Earl of Peterborough,who, meeting her in Paris, had said brusquely: "I know yourreputation. Come now, show me plenty of wit and plenty oflove."
But Peterborough, though a reckless adventurer and dashingsoldier, had none of the personal advantages of Maurice who shonein real life as godlike as the heroes of Racine or Corneille. Hewas what Pauline might have imagined Severus to have been; he wasa superb Titus for any Bérenice. He was not French, he was notroyal, he was landless and marked by many follies. His future waslargely in his own hands and no wise observer could have thoughtthat a safe place. But Adrienne de Lecouvreur for all herresolutions to have done with love, allowed herself to fallheadlong into that passion for Maurice de Saxe.
Her temperament, her long schooling on the stage, theemptiness of her life, the profound attraction of a young man whoreally did seem the hero of a romance to the emotional andimaginative woman, combined to make her love a frenzy andecstasy. She used all her arts and graces to embellish this lovethat she created as some people have created a religion or a workof art into which they pour their whole soul.
Adrienne saw him first in the royal box when she was playingPhédre and at once, forgetting all her previousexperiences, believed that she was "in love" for the first time.It certainly was for the last time; she remained faithful forwhat remained to her of life to the young Saxon with the powderedcurls, whose thick neck was adorned with the pearls dangling inhis ear, whose bull-like torso was draped in the leopard skinthat hung over his cuirass, or with dainty laces and ribbons.
The libertine, whose taste had been catholic enough fromprincess to chambermaids, was attracted by the woman adored by somany men; he waited on her in the rue des Marais and foundher in the company of such men as Voltaire, d'Argental,Fontenelle and Coypel, who painted her as Cornelia, grasping afuneral urn.
She became, as a matter of course, the mistress of theleisured hero. It was understood between them that this was notto be a casual affair. The man was flattered and passionate, thewoman flattered and sentimental. She had her sensibility and hehad his honour, and both would be respected in their mutual pact.Fidelity was not asked of her nor asked of him, but she claimedthe right to suffer from his neglect or absence, and he claimedthe right to rule her heart, her life and, if need be, herincome.
Soon after their meeting he left her for one of his Dresdenvisits and this gave Adrienne de Lecouvreur an opportunity forone of those amorous correspondences for which French women arefamous.
Adrienne de Lecouvreur possessed every luxury, possibly notpurchased by the efforts of her own talents and certainly notpaid for by Maurice de Saxe. In her salons, bed-chambersand ante-chambers of the rue des Marais she possessedFlemish tapestries, inlaid and gilt furniture, costly pictures ofthe French and Italian schools, hangings of velvet and satins,all that the taste of the day declared necessary for theembellishment of beauty and talent.
These became the mere background of her love-story that sheheightened with every art and grace in her power. Her letters tothe absent lover ran the whole gamut of amorous emotion; everyaspect of anguished passion that she had been called upon toportray on the boards of the Comédie Française she revivedfor the benefit of her absent lover. She had fixed upon her partand decided to play it to the finish and to play itelegantly.
Her friends in vain endeavoured to distract her; she wouldthink of nothing, talk of nothing, brood over nothing but theabsent Maurice. She chose night for preference in which to writeto him; in her charming classic négligé with pomaded hairfalling over her exquisite shoulders, a vase full of lilac, rosesor acacia at her side, the marble table before her, the giltclock ticking over the hours when most reasonable people slept,this for her was the chosen scene in which to write herpassionate, her sentimental, her languishing letters to theadored hero.
She knew that she could not count upon his fidelity; shealmost enjoyed the pain that this knowledge inflicted upon her.He had, after all, made no great attempts to deceive her. Part ofhis charm was his brusqueness, his candour, his frank avowal ofthe obvious intentions of the roving and dominant male.
"You are not the kind of lover that I have longed for," shewrote to him. But these were mere words; the truth was that hesatisfied her completely.
The essential scoundrel in him called to the essential wantonin her: play as they might with high terms and lofty phrases, shewas adventuress to his adventurer. Neither of them had known realdecorum, real training, honest family life, the ideals ofreligion, any kind of spiritual existence. He in his way, she inhers, played with sensuality. All that the gross love affairrequired of decoration the actress was capable of giving it. Shedisguised a headlong passion with a hundred prettinesses.
When he returned from Dresden she received him with anenthusiasm that appeared virtue. Her intelligence forced him tobelieve that he really preferred her to his other easy loves andhe was stampeded into a kind of fidelity.
She spoke of the soul and its grandeur and its beauty, of alove that should outlast death, he believed nothing of thematter, but the phrases pleased his ear. He recognised that therewas a certain value in diamonds, in costly tapestry and paintedfurniture. He declared himself enthusiastically in love withAdrienne and she concealed from him her horrid premonition of anearly death.
Adrienne, indeed, had begun to develop tuberculosis, to fallinto what was then poetically termed "a decline," a diseasefashionable among the young and ardent, one altogether beyond therude medical science of the age and only to be assuaged bycopious doses of opium that produced a frenzy in the thoughts andactions of the patient worse than that what might be attributedto the disease.
Adrienne de Lecouvreur saw herself faced by this desolatefate; she was to die then, young, in her beauty, in her power, inthe full strength of her passion. The thought was terrible, yetin a way it appealed to her theatrical temperament. She had diedso often on the stage that it did not seem much to die in reallife. Her luxury and her love concealed her disease, opium gaveher false courage, a false beauty; her eyes sparkling from theeffects of the drug she would rave her part upon the boards, thenthrow herself enervated by passion, into the powerful arms ofMaurice de Saxe, who believed that his caresses would besufficient to revive any woman from any exhaustion.
She did much to polish him, to educate him in the fashionable"tone" of the moment, to cover his Teutonic rudeness in Gallicfineness, to make the Achilles of Homer become, as a contemporarysaid, the Achilles of Racine. She taught him how to speakelegantly to women, how to write delicate badinage to them, butshe could not teach him how to treat them in all affairs thatreally matter. Of the gutter herself, she could yet teach thisson of a Prince how to behave, though not how to think. She couldgive him lessons how to bow before a lady, how to kiss herfinger-tips, how to advance his suit by the subtleties of sighsand appeals, but she could not give him any lessons in virtue orhonour, for she knew little of these things herself. But throughall the languish of a passion that was purely sensual did gleam acomplete fidelity.
She contrived to make of Maurice de Saxe her religion, to findhim everything she might have found in a family, in an assuredsocial position. He became fused with her art; he was all theheroes of all the dramas in which she had ever played. Her affairwith him became famous in Paris, almost classical, entirelyvirtuous. Who had ever heard of such fidelity on the part of anactress, a beauty, a courtesan? She forwent many of theamusements, the diversions, the prizes that were considered herdue; her tears, her sighs, consecrated her on the altar ofvirtuous love. Had she been his long-suffering wife, she couldscarcely have earned so much praise.
As for him, he had all the advantages and none of theobligations or despairs of the affair. He came and went as hepleased. Other women, his sports, his games, his regiment,occupied as much of his time as he chose they should. When he wasaway he received her letters with negligence and answered themwith brevity.
Adrienne was all nobility and self-sacrifice; she wrote to himthat she could never be completely happy save in his presence butthat he was to forgo nothing for her sake. She left himcompletely free and she always added the assurance that was soentirely lost on a man of his type, "I do love you a thousandtimes more than you believe," than you deserve, she might haveadded with truth.
The affair became public property and rumours of it spread toDresden. Augustus was a little disturbed in his senile lassitude.An actress! and loved for more than a day and a night! WhenMaurice was in Paris he was living openly with her, they had ajoint establishment though Maurice paid little towards theupkeep. The King-Elector made some little effort to betroth hisson to the Princess of Holstein-Sonderburg and to control hisbehaviour.
"Conduct yourself with dignity," he wrote in a tone of weakrebuke, "and I will make of you a Prince indeed." But CountFlemming was always there to whisper in his apathetic sovereign'sear: "The young Prince is indeed incorrigible."
Incorrigible Maurice was, if not a Prince. But he was not sofar gone in his follies that he did not keep his eye on the mainsource of his revenues. He was frequently in Dresden andfrequently at the ear of Augustus, who even employed him onsecret negotiations with the Regent, trifling in themselves, butuseful to the young man's importance.
What these negotiations were is not known, but the King-Elector complimented his son on accomplishing them with addressand discretion.
Always restless and seeking for fresh diversions, Maurice wentto London, where he was received with a great deal of amiabilityat the court of the man whose wife had been his uncle's mistress.George I was all affability for the young French Marshal, Saxonby birth, who won the English aristocrats by his easy manners,rich equipage, his bold air and extremely handsome person.
As a change from court life, Maurice enjoyed himself walkingabout the streets of London by himself or with only one body-servant in attendance, and in watching all the rich adventures onthe streets of the capital.
It was told of him with much relish that on one occasion beinghalted by a drunken boxer in Covent Garden, he turned and withone magnificent gesture seized the offender by the hair and threwhim in the ditch that ran then down the centre of all theprincipal streets of London.
Women, of course, were the accompaniment of all theseadventures and when at length he returned to Paris the faithfulAdrienne ventured to utter some gentle reproaches. She had had noletters from him and there was the usual complaint: "Is it sodifficult to write just one word? Can one love a woman whom oneneglects like this?" And with some bitterness she reproached himwith the seraglio that he maintained and that would, shedeclared, efface all memory of her in his mind. She was too goodan actress to lose any point in the argument; she ran through thewhole gamut of reproaches as she had once run through the wholegamut of emotion.
"What a fool I am to concern myself for a man like you? What amistake to pass my life in such uncertainty!"
The libertine consoled her, he caressed her, he was her loveronce more. Her fascination acted upon him like a charm when hewas in her presence, the feverishness of her malady helped togive her a desperate seductiveness. Her health was failing, shehad fainted, she had spat blood, her head ached and her cough wascontinuous. It was with difficulty that she was able to take herpart on the stage; sometimes at the last minute another play hadto be substituted for that in which she had been billed toappear. Then she would remain in her luxurious chamber, sunk onher pillows, dazed with opium, with ill-health, scribbling hernotes that were to call Count Maurice to her bedside. She wasdisillusioned, she was in despair, but she was just as able topersuade herself, still "in love." Maurice had never had a rivalin her sensitive heart and soul. She was his, alwayshis—she continued to write her notes, a whole literature oflove. It is doubtful if he ever read them or at least more thanthe first or last line. Why should he concern himself with theperusal of these sad epistles when he knew the writer was hisprey? He had but to smile upon her and all her grievances wereforgotten. After all, she had held him longer than any otherwoman, though her reign might have been intermittent, it hadendured for five years.
In the year 1725 she became more and more distracted and itwas with great relief that she learned, after a desperateexercise of all her subtleties, that her rival was not a woman.This time it was ambition. Maurice had never forgotten how nearhe was to a throne, how completely divided he was from one.Traditional and conventional in all his behaviour, he had nevershown himself an enemy to his brother, the Prince-Electoral ofSaxony, the heir to the throne, as it was hoped, of Poland; thereMaurice was all loyalty, all submission. But in a world that waslarge and stormy and where many adventurers were tossed to thetop on the crest of every tempest, might not he, with all hisadvantages, find a crown, a throne? Bold, reckless, imprudent, hewas prepared to undertake any adventure, if it held out even theleast hope of satisfying this ambition of effacing the baton-sinister that debruised his coat of arms.
During his military and mathematical studies, during hisreckless debauches he had always had before his mind thisglittering hope—a crown, a kingdom.
Oh, to rule, to have not one regiment but a whole army underhis command, to have the revenues of an entire country to drawupon, to be by right what he felt himself to be by nature, amaster, a king! Where was this ambition to be gratified?
He ran now into the gilded salon where Adrienne deLecouvreur tossed on her down satin pillows and told her withenthusiasm, with feverish excitement, there was at last achance.
"What of?" she demanded, starting up upon her lace-hung couch.Her thoughts were only of love, of peace, of possessing intranquillity this gorgeous lover. But he quickly disillusionedher. He came to her as a friend, as a confidant. He needed herwit, her sympathy, perhaps her jewels and her credit. There wasan opportunity that he might at last be a sovereign, a prince,free, he said, above them all, the equal of his father, hisgrandfather, the Prince of Saxony. And he unfolded to her theproject that had been broached to his eager attention.
The sovereignty of Courland and Semigallia was for sale and ithad been suggested to Maurice at a carnival in Warsaw where hehad waited upon his father, that, if he could find the price, hemight obtain the double dukedom, which would set him on a levelwith the sovereign Princes of Europe.
This duchy represented the farthest north barriers of Europebetween Russia, Lithuania, and Livonia. It was a strip of barrenenough land on the Baltic, the climate was harsh, the wintersalmost intolerable to a Southerner and a heavy fog usuallyenveloped it even in summer. The inhabitants counted at most fivehundred thousand; they lived humbly on what agriculture theirunfertile country could produce.
The capital was Mitau, and there had ruled, ignored by therest of Europe for some generations, the Dukes of Courland andSemigallia. The niece of Peter the Great, Anna Ivanowa, had beenmarried to the Duke Frederick William, who had died childless in1711. He had been followed by a weak prince, Ferdinand deKettlar.
Taking advantage of the fact that Poland was the overlord ofCourland, Augustus II thought of annexing the small barriercountry. The election of the sovereign rested with the Diet ofCourland, who were allowed, by the constitution of the country,to choose an heir to a childless ruler. Not only was Ferdinand deKettlar childless, he was feeble and in ill-health and did notseem disposed to make any opposition to a scheme to dispossesshim of his throne.
An intrigue was therefore set on foot to offer this prize toMaurice de Saxe, son of the King Augustus, who already had made apretension to Courland. The prime mover in this manoeuvre was M.Lefort, Resident of the King of Poland at the court ofRussia.
The King-Elector approved the scheme. It would give his son,so turbulent and difficult to place, an establishment at last andit would maintain his hold over Courland. Obviously, heavyexpenses would be entailed. The bribes expected would be numerousand heavy.
Maurice did not allow this consideration to get in the way ofhis enthusiastic acceptance of the plan. He was even prepared tosell his beloved regiment in order to raise the money with whichto establish himself in Courland. The dazzling dream that hadbeen so dear to him since he was a child seemed at last about tobe realised and the illegitimate son of Aurora von Königsmarckalready saw himself a ruling Sovereign. It was the title, theglory, not the substance, that he wanted. It mattered nothing tohim that Courland was a desolate, forlorn situation, that thecountry was poor and backward; he would be a sovereign Duke, aruling Prince.
Some formalities, however, remained to be gone through. TheDiet would have to elect him a future Duke and there would haveto be a reference, however formal, to the wishes of the people.There was also the Dowager Duchess, Anna Ivanowa daughter ofIvan, brother of Peter the Great; she had some claims to thethrone her husband had occupied, or believed she had; at leastshe possessed a considerable party in Courland and might besupposed to have the backing of Russia.
M. Lefort and fellow-intriguers saw no great difficulty here.Why should not Maurice, now that his marriage had been annulled,marry the Duchess? Thus their claims would be combined and thepeople of Courland would not have much excuse to refuse to acceptas their Sovereign the man whom their Duchess had married.
Maurice was perfectly willing to agree to this plan and tocontract a second marriage of self-interest. He was alsoconvinced that he had but to see the Duchess to win her, and thisconfidence, it must be admitted, was based not so much uponvanity as experience. He had never yet been refused anything by awoman.
Here was Adrienne de Lecouvreur's opportunity for sacrifice.She could display a delicious feminine sympathy by renouncing allher frail and dubious rights over her lover's heart in order thatshe might not stand in the way of his destiny. Not only did sheencourage him to undertake this adventure but she was willing toraise all the money she could, even to sell her jewels, to assisthim. Other French women were willing to finance the enterprise;the money seemed assured.
Maurice, however, had not set out for Courland when adifficulty arose.
Russia, whom the King-Elector was fearful to offend, hadanother scheme for Maurice de Saxe; she proposed that he shouldmarry Elizabeth Petrovna, a daughter of Peter the Great, receiveher with a portion suitable to her rank and renounce all claimsto the throne of Courland.
Augustus II felt that he had no alternative to the acceptanceof this scheme. He took, as usual, the easiest way and sent CountManteuffel to tell Maurice to give up the Courland adventure.
The King-Elector should have known his son better. Though hewas told by his father's envoy that this was not a request but acommand, Maurice replied brusquely that he would obey the King ineverything but this. And he proceeded to get together a party inParis to supply him with funds.
There were a number of women besides Adrienne de Lecouvreurwilling to help the hero to obtain his ducal crown, and armedwith this practical proof of feminine devotion, Maurice employedan agent who was told to engage all the deserters of whatevernation who might be still loitering in the Low Countries.
Nearly two thousand of these doubtful mercenaries wereenrolled, but half deserted again before reaching the port ofLubeck, where they were to embark, and all the efforts of thelovelorn ladies and amiable friends only provided Maurice with aragged motley troop of about eight hundred men. He was not,however, daunted by this nor by the appearance in the field of aRussian Pretender supported by his own court, Prince Mentchikof,who, encouraged by the Empress of All the Russias (who was not atall disposed to let this opportunity slip of annexing the twoduchies) waited on the frontier of Courland with twenty thousandRussian troops.
Maurice set out for Mitau, encouraged by the self-sacrificialtears and caresses of Adrienne de Lecouvreur and several otherenthusiastic women who promised to send further supplies.
It is said that, when Maurice asked one of his agents for abook to amuse himself with on the tedious journey across Europe,this man could find nothing but a history of the Duke ofMonmouth. If Maurice had read this, he must indeed have foundsome similarity between the story of James II and his own, whileAdrienne de Lecouvreur seemed well cast for the part of HenriettaWentworth, another fond and foolish woman who with a kind ofexquisite silliness had stripped herself of jewels, even of thewherewithal on which to live, in order to urge a beloved hero onto a crazy adventure. However, Maurice "went at the gallop" withhis band of filibusters to Mitau; he had all the Duke ofMonmouth's advantages and some that were entirely his own; "AllParadise was opened in his face," Dryden had written in hyperboleof the English royal bastard, and Maurice was able to note withcomplacency that when he was presented to Anna Ivanowa in Mitauin the May of 1726—"my face pleased her."
She was, indeed, as infatuate as Maurice and his friends hadhoped she would be and expressed herself as willing as Adriennede Lecouvreur herself to spend the rest of her life with thenoble and handsome adventurer.
"I had the happiness," wrote Maurice to Aurora vonKönigsmarck, "not to displease her. She herself told the Czarinathat she wished to become once more Duchess of Courland and sharemy throne."
With the help of the amorous Russian princess and the money hehad brought from equally infatuated Parisian ladies andactresses, Maurice contrived to make himself acceptable to theCourlanders, who believed he might save them from annexation; hewas hailed as future Duke.
The title, however, was merely nominal; Maurice found himselfthe centre of intrigues, surrounded with jealousy, indifferenceand treason. If he could win the women, he was not invariably sosuccessful with the men and like many another Pretender he foundhimself surrounded only by those who hoped to obtain some favoursfrom him and who were ready to leave him when there was nothingto be had from him; worse than this, he was disavowed by hisfather, who feared to displease Russia.
Some of the Courlanders, to whom Maurice represented nationalindependence, rallied round him, but neither their number northeir training was such as to render them very effective. Mauriceappealed passionately, authoritatively, to his adoring troop ofwomen. Aurora von Königsmarck left Quedlinburg to endeavour oncemore to raise money from bankers and usurers. She brought outfrom her treasury such jewels as she had been able to save fromher son's insatiable demands; Adrienne de Lecouvreur realised thefortunes given her by other lovers to help this lover who hadgiven her nothing, and sent to Mitau forty-thousand limesin one instalment only.
Maurice was not, she wrote in an excess of sentimentalgenerosity, to concern himself about returning this money, but tomake good use of it for his own glory. At the same time sheexpressed feminine fears for his safety. She believed that he hadgone among savages, she dreaded the mishaps that might overtakehim in the cold, far North. She implored him to return, if onlyfor a brief while, as soon as possible, to her luxurious and cosyhotel, in Paris.
The Dowager Duchess of Courland in her turn worked for theirresistible young hero. She did her best to persuade the feeble,perhaps dying, Duke of Courland to use what influence he mightpossess in favour of the Saxon Pretender to his throne; like allfeeble, cornered people, Ferdinand Kettlar compromised, promisinghis aid here and there according to the last person who spoke tohim and Anna Ivanowa's arts were useful.
But more powerful allies worked for Maurice. The beautifulMaréchale Vielinska was in an influential position at Warsaw, andthe charming Countess Pociey, whose husband was of equalimportance at Riga, did their best by subtle underhand influenceto secure to the resplendent Maurice his uneasy duchy. He had hadtender passages with both these useful ladies.
The election took place on June 26, 1725, when Maurice wasunanimously chosen by the Diet and the Dowager Duchess gave asumptuous banquet in the evening to celebrate his success.
The diploma of election stated frankly enough that "the Houseof Gotlar-Kettlar, being about to end in the person of His SereneHighness Duke Ferdinand, the nobility and the commons of theDuchy of Courland and Semigallia had elected as his successor theSerene Prince Maurice, Count of Saxony, to be their Sovereign incase that His Serene Highness the Duke Ferdinand should diewithout male children."
Maurice wrote triumphantly of his success to the father whohad opposed it and he began in the enthusiasm of the moment tocast upon paper his plans for ruling his new Duchy; thespendthrift, almost bankrupt adventurer, took some pretty goodresolutions.
"I propose to live very quietly; my domains are indebted andruined by famine and war. It is only with industry and economythat they can attain some measure of prosperity. I shall give allmy attention to this."
The adventurer had, however, to reckon with anotheradventurer. Mentchikof, the one-time pastry-cook, who had becomegeneral and first minister to Peter the Great, was also hankeringafter a crown, and he was the favourite of Catherine the First,widow of Peter the Great. It seemed possible that one woman couldachieve for Russia what many women could not achieve for theSaxon.
Mentchikof no sooner heard of the election of Maurice than hesent Prince Dolgorouki to apprise the Diet that the Empress ofRussia did not acknowledge the election, that it both surprisedand irritated her, and that Mentchikof was her choice.
This ominous announcement was soon followed by the Russian'sarrival at Mitau with the twenty thousand men he had gathered onthe frontier, with credentials as Catherine's Minister.
Shortly after he had entered the city the Russian waited uponMaurice, then installed in the palace of the Duchess.
It was a strange interview. The two men were alike inmuch—adventurers both of them, one of royal blood butdebarred by bastardy from the throne, the other of the lowestbirth but raised to princely rank through the friendship of anEmperor; both ambitious, bold, reckless and dependent upon thefavour of women for their power.
The Russian informed Maurice that it was the wish of theEmpress that the Courlanders should proceed to another election,and he added frankly that he was Her Imperial Majesty's choiceand that, failing him, the Duke of Holstein or one of the Princesof Hesse should be chosen. In no case were Maurice's claims to beeven considered.
Maurice met insolence with insolence, assurance withassurance. He was, he said, the duly elected Duke of Courland andSemigallia and he refused to listen to any messages even from theEmpress of Russia.
Mentchikof's reply was to continue to pour troops into thecountry and to give the Diet ten days in which to consider theirfuture actions.
The sight of Catherine's cavalry riding sword in hand throughthe streets of the capital made the Courlanders regret theirimpulsive choice of the Saxon.
Maurice had no troops beyond the sixty guards who composed hisescort and who were quartered in the mansion where he resided inMitau, when he was not enjoying the hospitality of theDuchess.
The Russian made an attempt to capture the Saxon pretender bybesieging him in his own house, but the Dowager Duchess, hearingof this move, sent her own guard to rescue Maurice, and to carryhim to her Palace where he was given apartments, and treated as aruling sovereign. Without her intervention he would have falleninto the hands of the Russian and been carried as a prisoner toSt. Petersburg, a turn to the adventure that would at least havegiven him the opportunity of laying siege to the heart of theEmpress herself and thus, perhaps, displacing his rival not onlyin Courland but in Russia.
Maurice escaped from his besieged house in the most dramaticand romantic circumstances, among which, if the gossips of thetime are to be believed, was the capture of a beautiful youngCourland girl disguised as a man, whom the Russians believed tobe Maurice. While she kept up this pretence and was being ledinto the presence of Prince Mentchikof, Maurice was escaping tothe palace of the Dowager Duchess. If there be even the fractionof truth in this tale, the lady must have been of Amazonianstature or the Russians entirely deceived with regard to theperson of the Saxon pretender.
The Dowager Duchess, handsome, passionate and savage—ineverything a fitting niece to Peter the Great—had becomeviolently enamoured of Maurice, to whom she paid every possibleattention and in whose cause she used all her influence with theCzarina, with the Courlanders, with Mentchikof himself.
She entertained him lavishly at her own expense and Mauricewas able, at least, to simulate a return of these warm feelingsand induce the Duchess to send pressing embassies to St.Petersburg with the two objects of persuading Mentchikof to drophis pretensions and of securing the effectual election of Mauricehimself.
At first these intrigues seemed successful. The Empress, tooblige her husband's relative, sacrificed her own favourite andordered him to abandon his claims to the Duchy of Courland and towithdraw his troops from Mitau.
The situation had all the elements of either tragedy orcomedy; there was something bizarre and fantastic about thecharacters of all concerned in the Courland intrigue.
The Empress, Catherine I, had been a Livonian captive, who hadtaken the capricious fancy of the conquering Russians, and whohad been the mistress of several generals who had commanded thetroops overrunning Livonia. She had, at last, attracted theattention of the brutal, half-crazed Czar himself and he hadmarried her; after his death she had passed into the possessionof Mentchikof, a former army cook who had attained a highmilitary rank and considerable influence in the councils of hismaster.
This man, able, astute, daring, dreamed of holding togetherthe Empire of Peter the Great and even of achieving his aim bymeans of Catherine and he was powerful enough to secure hercoronation as Empress of all the Russias; his desire for Courlandwas inspired by the same motive as Maurice's longing for thatbarren Duchy—the wish to possess some independent titlethat might at least have a show of sovereignty.
But neither the ambitious Maurice nor the ambitious Mentchikofwas as important in the tangled affair as the women; the formerslave and camp follower whom Mentchikof had crowned with thesurer crown that formed the imperial diadem, and the lusty Anna,widowed for fifteen years, whose support only kept Maurice inMitau.
Even this patronage would have been useless to him without themoney sent by Adrienne de Lecouvreur and other infatuate women;the money was absolutely necessary to him, not only for bribes,but to support the magnificence necessary to dazzle Anna, wholiked her suitor to glitter in satin and velvet, brocade andtissues, to be surrounded by liveried lackeys.
When writing to his father, Maurice had tried to put a goodface on his ambitions and projects by expounding schemes he hadin mind for Courland "ruined by war, pestilence and debts."
He admitted that there would be considerable difficulties inthe way of putting Courland—under any aspect—on themap of Europe, but he affected to believe that it could be done;he used the words "industry" and "economy," which had nothitherto been in his vocabulary, and added disdainfully that hehad always detested the pretentious luxury of little courts thatraised the mockery of the small people and the contempt of thegreat.
"I shall never live in pomp—plenty of guns and bayonetsin my salles d'armes,' and no flatterers in my antechambers."
This was all very well, but for the moment Maurice had to be aflatterer himself, and to go splendidly in order to hold thesensuous fancy of the dangerous Russian.
She did not, it would seem, greatly attract him, she was notyoung, she was used up; there was something about her as"farouche" as Mentchikof's pikemen. Maurice, used to theelegances of Dresden and the superb delights of Paris andVersailles, found Anna and her household, if not as savage asAdrienne feared they might be, at least lacking in polish andfinesse.
More than this, Anna dared to be exacting and suspicious, totry to dominate her suitor; it was the first time that a womanhad ventured to bring him to heel; the satisfaction with which hehad written "I please her" soon wore off. There was rather toomuch femininity in the whole affair and Maurice was not quite soclever at managing Anna as Mentchikof was at managing theEmpress.
It was all very sweet and dainty on the surface and Mauriceenjoyed the gorgeous quasi-oriental splendour of Anna'sestablishment, but the sugared tongues of the women could soon bespiteful—"langues du chat," a sweetmeat with a bitterflavour.
Maurice controlled himself to some show of prudence in view ofthe prize at stake; when his marriage with an Emperor's niece hadmade him in truth Duke of Courland—and master of herprivate fortune, too—then he might permit himself to treather as he had treated Johanna Victoria, a lady of whose historyAnna was doubtless in ignorance.
Meanwhile Maurice indulged his dreams; Anna was confident thatshe could persuade Catherine to call off Mentchikof, whoseferocious looking men so energetically patrolled the streets ofMitau, and Maurice was confident that he could outface theRussian adventurer, backed as he was by the Diet of Courland,which had duly and truly elected him as sovereign designate. Itwas true that the Courlanders were a little disturbed by thepresence of the Russian cavalry, but Maurice, always sanguine,believed Anna's assurances that this would soon, by orders of theEmpress, be withdrawn.
Of Anna herself he was sure, dangerously sure; he felt that heheld her in the palm of his hand. She had given him the mostsplendid suite of apartments in her palace, she sent an officerevery day to take his orders and a page to enquire after hishealth; she was as submissive as the lovelorn Adrienne deLecouvreur to his least wish.
Maurice felt his throne secure and looked forward to a futureas ruler of Courland and Semigallia—"a poor thing, but mineown."
He was confident that he could hold at bay—even turninto allies, both his father and Russia; after all, Anna couldmanage the Empress, and Augustus II had never really refused himanything within reason.
Maurice had, however, to reckon with his life-long enemy,General Count Flemming, who was still powerful with Augustus II,whose counsels and armies he had directed for twenty-seven years,and the dream of this ambitious, resolute, unscrupulous soldier-statesman was a united, large Germanic state, Saxony and Poland,between Germany and Russia, with the Crown of the Jargellonshereditary in the family of the Electors of Saxony.
Flemming regarded Maurice, as always, as a tiresome, insolentadventurer and he had inspired Augustus II with some of his ownideals concerning the future of Poland or, at least, Augustus,who every day was further decayed in spirits, agreed out ofapathy to pretend to believe in these ideals. In any case, theKing-Elector had other reasons for keeping fair with Russia. Hehad been even more than usually extravagant in the magnificencewith which he maintained his position and he wanted money; therewere new palaces to pay for and new favourites demandinggold.
The King-Elector, therefore, ordered his son to return toSaxony.
Maurice, dazzled with the prospect of a throne, and encouragedby the help of Anna Ivanowa, maintained an attitude of haughtydefiance more in accordance with his obstinate, recklesscharacter than from any dictates of prudence or reason.
The breach between Augustus II and Maurice widened, andfinally the King-Elector was roused to take strong measuresagainst the disobedient son and rebellious subject.
But even now Maurice might have achieved at least a certainmeasure of success, had he not carelessly played fast and loosewith the enamoured Russian princess who was his hostess and hismost powerful ally.
It would have been both common prudence and common gratitudeto have maintained some sort of fidelity towards his betrothed atleast until their marriage day. But Maurice allowed his essentiallightness of character and his love of coarse, carelessdebaucheries to ruin his chances with the niece of Peter theGreat.
With equal carelessness and bad taste he entered into anintrigue with a young woman who was in the service of the DowagerDuchess. This charmer was lodged on the ground floor; her windowwas near to those in the apartments occupied by Maurice, and itwas his rash and foolish custom to visit her or to allow her tovisit him by means of these windows almost every night.
On one occasion when his mistress was with him, the snow fellheavily and when the moment arrived when it seemed even toMaurice prudent for her to leave his apartments, he found that itwould be impossible for her to do so without leaving herfootprints in the courtyard.
He thereupon took her without the least difficulty, for shewas small and he was still prodigiously strong, on his shouldersand was proceeding across the snowy courtyard from his window toa point in the garden where he believed she could scramble backalong a frozen path to her own room without leaving her tracksbehind her, when, unfortunately, Maurice and his fair burden weremet by an old servant going the rounds with a lantern.Recognising both the cavalier and the lady, the old woman gave ashrill cry of either alarm or malice. Maurice, who hoped he hadnot been recognised, tried to knock the lantern out of her handbut, encumbered as he was, he slipped in the ice and snow,knocking the old woman down with him.
The adventure, though perhaps romantic in its beginning, wasundoubtedly ridiculous in its ending. Attracted by the oldwoman's indignant cries and the curses of Maurice, the guard camerunning up and at once recognised the new Duke of Courland andone of the Dowager Duchess's servants. The news of the scandalspread like a spurt of wild fire. Anna Ivanowa heard of it almostimmediately. The haughty Russian fell into a frenzy of fury andsent Maurice out of her palace and out of her life. It was thefirst time that a woman had turned on him and he was too amazedto be angry.
It is uncommon for a man fascinating enough to fix theaffections of an imperious, difficult and powerful woman to befaithful enough to retain them, and Maurice did not possess theart nor the flexibility to disguise his lapses from constancy.Anna had already been disgusted with his continual love intriguesin Mitau and this gross incident in her own palace was too much.She redeemed the folly that made her believe herself capable ofretaining the sole attentions of this universal lover by thefortitude with which she dismissed him from her mind andheart.
The Duchess had the good sense to disdain the forced imitationof passion and penitence that Maurice put up and to bestow herfavours where their considerable value was better appreciated;she promised her hand to the Duke of Hesse-Homburg, a Prince lessattractive than the brilliant Saxon but not of a disposition solight and roving.
Another misfortune swiftly followed; Maurice's election to thethrone of Courland was annulled by the Diet of Poland, actingunder pressure from Augustus II; this Diet was consideredsuperior to that of Courland; Maurice was ordered to leave Mitauand to return his diploma of election.
Thereupon he wrote to his father about his "honour" and his"prestige" and tried to raise money in various quarters and evento invoke the aid of England. But the combined efforts of Polandand Russia were, however, too much even for the inflexible Duke-Elect. He was obliged to retire to Libau to avoid arrest andfinally to the island of Usmaiz, where he employed himself inforcing the peasants to build fortifications and in summoning theCourlanders to his assistance.
The Empress Catherine had now died (May 17, 1727) and hersuccessor, the Emperor, Peter II, or his ministers resolved tosettle the affair of Courland in good earnest.
Russian troops dislodged Maurice from the island of Usmaiz,seized his baggage and his followers, and forced him to retreatto Windau in a fury of temper, with the treasured but uselessdiploma of his election as the sole relic of his adventure;Poland put a price on his head.
He wrote to his nephew, the Comte de Friesen: "I don't knowany more than a stray wolf where my next lodging will be." And headded with a cynicism that came from a barren heart: "There is aprice upon my head and the sum promised so high that I can expectmy best friend to betray me."
The death of his protectress, Catherine, had deprived theother adventurer, Mentchikof, of the hopes of Courland. He still,however, felt bitter towards Maurice and with eight thousand menfollowed him and his ragged mercenaries; Maurice talked in boldand bombastic terms, but the end had come. His flight became sohurried that not only the baggage but even the precious diplomaof election had to be abandoned; finally he burnt, in a fit oftemper, all the love-letters he had received during theadventure.
On the 15th of December, 1727, the Diet of Courland declaredillegal the vote of the 26th June, 1726. The women had made theadventure possible and the women had ruined it. It is a vastmisfortune for an ambitious man to be unable to provoke theattention and help of at least one intelligent, able and charmingwoman, and a succession of petty mistresses—dancers,actresses, chambermaids, great ladies and campfollowers—prevented Maurice from ever achieving thepossession of a woman who might have been of the least use tohim.
His quarrel with his wife had given him an adventurous aireven for that period and his failure with Anna Ivanowa cost himnot only the Courland but the throne, possibly, of all theRussias.
There was now nothing for him but to return to Dresden wherehe was reconciled with the easy King-Elector and employed himselfin designing liveries for his lackeys and having the arms ofCourland placed on all his appointments, the purple and ermine ofGotlar-Kettlar, the red lion of Courland, the wild goat ofSemigallia.
The whole adventure had had a tinge of the grotesque, almostof the ridiculous. There was a touch of opéra bouffe aboutthe extravagance of the episode. Maurice had appeared as a manwho had no thought for anything but his personal advancement andnot sufficient finesse to accomplish that; only the flourish withwhich he carried off his ill success prevented it from becomingabsurd. Notable, too, is the utter lack of honour and honestyamong all the actors in the Courland interlude.
After a short period of reflection in the stately retreat ofQuedlinburg, Maurice repaired with all his bravery and Courlandliveries to Danzig, where Anna Ivanowa then was with her dyingmother-in-law, with the object of exerting all his fascination toregain the Russian's interest.
But it was in vain. The Dowager Duchess received him coldlyand eyed his splendour with indifference. However brilliant hemight be, she was but a step now from the Imperial throne and anEmpress does not need to search for lovers or to share theircaresses with the least of her sex.
The Russian princess announced her approaching marriage to theDuke of Hesse-Homburg with malicious calm, and Maurice retreated,discomfited before a woman for the first time in his life.
He was now rather at a loss as to his next move, and AugustusII scarcely knew what to do with the son whose reputation so farexceeded his achievements.
A lovely widow of immense riches was now proposed to Mauriceby the King-Elector and accepted eagerly enough by that youngnobleman, whose fortune was so much in need of repair and whoseposition was so unstable.
Prudent considerations were, however, unable to keep Mauriceconstant till the wedding day, and the wealthy bride-to-berejected her giddy lover for the same cause that Anna Ivanowa hadwithdrawn her favour from the fickle Saxon.
In all these humiliations and misfortunes there alwaysremained the brilliant and constant devotion of Adrienne deLecouvreur. She had been true to him for five years, and when hereturned to Paris she received him with passionate tenderness,declaring that she loved him more in his misfortune than shewould have done if he had returned as a Sovereign Duke-Elect, andnot even mentioning the large sums of money that she hadsquandered on a hopeless cause.
Before the reckless, disappointed adventurer she placed theattractions of a sentimental woman's love dreams. The littlecottage at Daumartin, was it not more beautiful than all thecourts in the world? Could not they live there alone, happy andfree?
Adrienne might have been able to do so, but Maurice could not.He was glad of the famed actress's flattery, of her caresses, ofher tenderness and sympathy, he was glad of her money and herjewels, he was glad of the prestige of being the lover of sofamous and coveted a woman, but he could not give her much of histime.
"I do not hope," sighed Adrienne sadly, "ever to behappy."
She doubted, too, if he could ever be happy.
"What will remain to you at the end of all your adventures?"she asked him. "What is before me?"
She could see nothing ahead but disillusionment, fatigue andearly death. Her tears flowed daily, her health was reallyundermined, her beauty fading; she was approaching her fortiethyear.
Maurice began to find her tears, the emotional displays sheindulged in, her exactions, insupportable. She was deeplyhumiliated. But Maurice could never find anything humiliating inany relationship with a woman.
His infidelities once more became careless and open; Adrienneconstantly created scenes of furious jealousy and wrote in a toneof bitter despair to the devoted friend the Comte d'Argental: "Iam half-crazy with rage and misery. Is it not just for me to cryout against his treachery? This man ought to know me,ought to love me! Oh, my God! What are we? What arewe?"
But he still called himself "her admirer, friend and lover,"and still kept for her that intermittent affection which aloneheld her to life, for he had become with her an obsession. Shelived for his visits, to write him letters, to express on thestage the passion with which he had inspired her—love,jealousy, despair, mingled in one frenzied agony.
Maurice had indeed other things to think of; he was stillsearching for an establishment, a wealthy wife, a dukedom, awar—anything that would satisfy his energy and set him upwhere he wished to be, above his fellows. He had not neglectedhis mathematical studies during the Courland excitement, nor hadhe, after all, been forced to sell his regiment; while besottedwomen continued to strip themselves of their jewellery to givehim all the toys and pleasures he needed.
The affairs of France had changed since he had arrived inParis in the year of the downfall of John Law. Louis XV was nowof age and had married a Polish princess, the daughter of thatStanislas who for a brief period had replaced Augustus II on thethrone of Poland.
Dubois and the Regent had both passed from the scene, but theyhad left a permanent impression on the society of France. Therewas no change in the tone of Paris; Maurice still found himselfmuch at ease in the salons, in the racing stables, at thegambling tables, the foyer of the Opéra, in theloge of the Comédie Française.
European politics and the international condition of Francewere to him alike, nothing of the least interest. He had beenquick enough to see, when he glanced round Courland, how famine,pestilence and war could ruin a country and how necessary economyand good management were for its revival. But he was not preparedto give attention to these matters in as far as they affectedFrance.
He spent recklessly and cared nothing at all where the moneycame from, and he hoped that his always desperate finances wouldsoon receive some replenishment from an unexpected source.
Aurora von Königsmarck died at the age of forty-eight; sheleft a reputation for gentleness, wit, and even for chastity, forif she had had no husband she had had only one lover and theLutheran cloisters of Quedlinburg had never been disturbed by anyof the exotic gaieties of Moritzburg.
She had loved Maurice with wistful tenderness, but he sent arepresentative to mourn this devoted friend, this kind adviser,at her funeral and was disgusted to find that she had, after all,not been making a hoard for him and that she had not left behindenough for him to keep his creditors quiet, at least for a while,and to indulge his extravagance afresh.
The friend appointed by Maurice to enquire into the estateleft by his mother had to report that she had left only a fewécus and only a few pieces of furniture, hardly worth thetrouble of moving from the cloisters of Quedlinburg.
Aurora von Königsmarck had been indeed like the pelican in herpiety, she had pierced her own breast in order to feed her youngwith her life blood. Not only with her treasure, but with herenergy, her wit, her charm, had she supplied the greedy demandsof the child who had by his birth deprived her of health andbeauty.
She was buried in the vaults of the church attached to theAbbey, where the chemical qualities of the sandstone had so longpreserved in a mummified condition the bodies of long deadImperial men and women.
There was no one to preserve the memory of Aurora, though herbody might, for a long while, be kept intact; she remainedforgotten in the Hartz Mountains, which she had looked upon firstwith the curious eyes of a stranger when the Electoral carriagehad driven her to Goslar. More than a hundred years after herdeath the tomb of Aurora von Königsmarck was opened and herbeauty, as well as her splendid dress, found to be well conservedby the curious properties of the vault. It was said that tracesof her great charm could still be seen on her features; she worea gown of silver brocade, a "Mary Stewart" bonnet of white velvetwith a border of silver lace and pearls, white silk stockings andwhite satin shoes. The great Emperor who lay beside her was but ahandful of dust.
With the death of Aurora, all hopes of any portion of thefortune of the Königsmarcks was lost to Maurice.
In 1703 Count von Löwenhaupt had gone to Hamburg, to try toobtain some satisfaction from the bankers who held Count Philip'sproperty, but in vain; the murdered man's papers had disappeared;thirty-three years later there was a tentative promise of asearch for them in the Archives of Hanover, given to Von Koller,agent for the heirs of Count Philip, but this came to nothing,and the huge fortune continued to be held back by the Jums ofLastop, von Hartoge and Stamped, nor did any of the descendantsof the Königsmarck ever see the splendid jewel, the seven-headedsnake valued at 40,000 thalers or the "brown chemicalpowder" supposed to be the lapis philosophorum.
Maurice was not checked in his reckless expenditure by theloss of this valuable ally who could always be relied upon topester or cajole some money or some benefit from Augustus II, orto wring some loans from the Hamburg bankers on the remnants ofthe once magnificent fortunes of the Königsmarcks.
The adventurer went from capital to capital, spending,gambling, followed by women, lackeys, flatterers. His object wasnow to reconcile himself with his father, the only person fromwhom he could hope to receive substantial benefits; he feltoffended because a larger portion of Saxony was not carved offfor his benefit than the trifling estates that he disdained.
True, Augustus II had numerous bastards, but none so worthy ofhis patronage as Maurice, surely, and M. de Saxe continued tocomplain fiercely of his enemies, Count Flemming and CountManteuffel, who were always at his father's ear with tales of hisworthlessness. Maurice could see no fault in himself—"Ihave nothing with which to reproach myself," he wrote indignantlyto one of his friends in his bad French, for despite Aurora'searly care he never mastered that elegant language, and hisGerman accent pleased the ladies as much as it irritated thelords of the court of France.
A few months after the death of his mother, Maurice, whocontinued to make Paris his headquarters and Adrienne hismaítresse-en-titre, but who was often en voyage,was at Moritzburg, where his father had consented to receive himamong the baroque surroundings where Aurora had played her brieflove-story.
The gallant cavalier who had so easily seduced the lovelySwede was now nothing but a pitiful and dreadful monument to viceand folly. His once handsome person was bloated and diseased, theface that had once been so charming under the bright blond curlswas covered with eruptions and carbuncles, the bald headdisguised by a floured wig, or in moments of privacy with a silkfoulard; the once famous strength was gone, sapped by every kindof sensuous excess, and the man, whose heroic physique had oncebeen legendary, could now hardly totter from his couch to hischair. Gout gave constant and exquisite torture; his swollenlimbs were swathed in bandages, his crippled fingers could graspneither sword nor pen and all that life had ever meant to him waslike ashes in his mouth.
Maurice regarded his father with cynic calculation and took nowarning from this spectacle of ruined manhood, being wheeledround the lakes and along the glades where he had once performedthose athletic feats that had earned him the name of Augustus theStrong.
The only thought in the younger man's mind was how much moneyhe could possibly squeeze from his peevish and reluctantparent.
While he was engaged in this tedious task, in the spring of1728, he lost his worst enemy a few months after he had lost hisbest friend. The news of the death of General Count Flemming wasbrought to father and son at Moritzburg; Augustus II wasindifferent, the delight of Maurice was brutal. The details ofthe death and burial of the stern statesman were discussed overthe bottles—wine for Maurice—medicine for HisMajesty—served on the gold and silver platters in theopulent hunting-box.
Some ugly gossip was going round Dresden; Flemming had left ayoung and pretty widow who did not in the least mourn him; nay,it was said that so far was she from observing even outwarddecency that when she had learnt that the coffin made for herdead husband was too small for him, she had ordered his limbs tobe broken sooner than provide another for him. At this taleMaurice gave his deep and hearty laugh; it was very much to histaste.
"The lady gives her husband after his death the punishment heshould have had during his lifetime from your Majesty," he said,referring to death by "breaking on the wheel" then the usual modeof disposing of traitors or fallen politicians.
Augustus II, at heart good-natured, and always courteous inhis speech, rebuked his son for this coarseness—"One doesnot insult the memory of one's enemy."
But the King-Elector showed even greater brutal cynicism,however, when he suggested that Maurice should marry the fair andheartless widow and receive with her the vast fortune that CountFlemming had gathered together during a lifetime of prudence orrapacity according as he might have been judged.
Maurice was willing to listen to this shameless suggestion; hewas never nice where women or money were concerned, and AugustusII thought that his late minister's estate would serve very wellto keep his own scoundrel son quiet for a while.
Maurice put the prospect before Adrienne who still contrivedto send him those passionate love letters that he foundconvenient for shaving papers. She had helped him in thedisastrous attempt to win Anna Ivanowa, what did she think ofthis matrimonial project?
Nothing. Even her complaisance did not go as far as this,amidst all her desperate protestations of love and her gossip ofthe French court she declared her dislike and distrust of thisscheme; it was even, she said, "dangerous." It, in any case, fellthrough, and by the autumn of that year Maurice was again inParis. Adrienne received him with a rapture perhaps the moredelicious as she herself felt "la fin des beaux jours,"approaching.
Accomplished actress as she was she could play this partsuperbly; in her silk and gauze, with her pearls, fards andpowder she could assume the beauty she was losing and turn thefever of her malady into the ardour of passion.
She could sit still at her little Chinese painted clavecin andevoke tender melodies and exquisite memories, she could stillsurround her lover with an adulation that was the very essence ofadoration. But beneath all this she was an ageing, fading, dyingwoman. Maurice did not long remain satisfied with thissuffocating passion.
His dream was still of glory, of a throne; he began to meddlein the Courland affair again, intriguing with Lefort and someCourlanders whom he went to see at Danzig.
"Will you leave me for these barbarians?" cried Adrienne inagony.
He was only too eager to do so; there was another marriagebroached by Lefort; this time a daughter of Peter the Great,Elizabeth, cousin of the Empress, whom Maurice had lost throughthe Mitau escapade. Elizabeth was not easy; she wanted, she saidcrudely, "To see the goods before she bought them." Maurice was,of course, certain of pleasing her or any other woman, butAugustus II was against the project; he had more dignity than hisson and disliked to see even a bastard of Saxony so constantlyplaying the adventurer and "le galopin."
Disgusted and discouraged, Maurice continued to wander roundEurope, leading a life of such disorder that even the briefreports of it that reached Adrienne filled her with shame andself-scorn, and even, at last, with weariness. "Everythingcombines to separate us," she wrote, almost on a note ofresignation. Maurice, however, soon after returned to Paris andoutwardly to his life with Adrienne; he gave her but a dividedattention; his longing gaze was ever on Courland and thosesensual, arrogant, spiteful Romanoff women whom he might even yetwin.
For all his reckless frivolity he was conscious of the passingof time; like all hedonists he had his cold fits.
Reviews and hunting parties, balls and carnivals, could notlast for ever and when they were over Maurice de Saxe, howevermuch praised and caressed, was still landless and without adefinite status or occupation.
The Courland affair had now taken on a further turn of thegrotesque. Harassed alike by the Poles and Russians, theCourlanders thought of a desperate expedient to end the strugglefor the succession and forced a wife, Princess Johanna Magdalenaof Saxe-Weissenfels, on the old, feeble, and reluctant DukeFerdinand, who was recalled from Danzig in the hope that an heirmight still bless the ancient House of Kettlar.
This marriage stirred Maurice to further attempts on thefavour of the Czarina, but the agent he employed to speak for himwas dismissed the Imperial service and Anna Ivanowa who, on thedeath of Peter II, had ascended the Imperial throne, chose a moretactful lover and a less impetuous adventurer, Count Biron, to beDuke of Courland, an appointment against which Maurice protestedwith equal bitterness and futility.
He had now nothing better to do than to reclothe his regiment,exchange the diversions of Dresden for the diversions of Parisand endeavour to invent a mechanical boat or barge—afailure on which he expended more money than he could wellafford. He also amused himself with a new mistress, coldly chosenfrom those who competed for his favours, Louise Henriette-Françoise, d'Harcourt Lourraine, Duchesse de Bouillon, who, boldwanton as she was, set herself out to snare him deliberately andwhen he was won, and won easily, to flaunt him in the eyes of thefaithful and lachrymose Adrienne de Lecouvreur.
Madame de Bouillon was the fourth wife of a man forty yearsher senior and very feeble. Fashionable Paris watched withamusement the combat between the two women for the favours of thefickle libertine. Maurice did not entirely break with Adrienne;not only did her homage flatter his greedy vanity, he feared thefurious scenes that neglect on his part provoked from her. On theother hand, Madame de Bouillon suited his taste and his moodexactly; he was the male to her female, artless, callous, coarseand brilliant; she was full of vitality, too, tall, quick moving,with large black eyes and a wide red mouth.
Adrienne found some revenge through her art. On one occasionwhen she played Phédre she directed some of her most poignantlines at the Duchesse de Bouillon, then seated in a box near thestage—the lines in which Phédre declares she was not "oneof those bold women who did not know how to blush."
The great lady could not contain her open indignation, and thecynical and fashionable audience applauded the courage of theoutraged actress. Maurice remained complacent—cats'tongues—coated with sugar!
The story of Adrienne de Lecouvreur now took on a moremelodramatic and sinister turn into events still obscure; thismuch is known; a hunchback miniature painter, the abbéBouret, was sent to the Bastille for a mysterious crime; allcrimes were, indeed, in those times mysterious; the Law workedand struck in secret and was largely in the hands of the King,his Ministers, and the powerful nobles.
A dark tale, however, soon ran round about the unhappy littleminiaturist, who had been for a long time a factotum among theladies whose portraits he so delicately sketched on hisivories.
The story, which has been preserved by Mlle Aissé, a fellow-actress with Adrienne at the Comédie Française, was thatMlle de Lecouvreur had one day received an anonymous letter,begging her to go to the gardens of the Luxembourg and therebehind a tree in one of the principal avenues (carefullyindicated on a plan enclosed in the epistle) she would find a manwho would have "something very important to tell her."
When Adrienne de Lecouvreur arrived at the trysting place shefound the abbé, who showed her a little box full ofpoisoned pastilles. According to his tale the Duchesse deBouillon had given him these to hand to Adrienne when he shouldnext be received in her easy circle of friends andacquaintances.
At this terrible news the actress prayed the miniature painterto accompany her to M. Henault, Lieutenant of Police; he did soand in the police office one of the pastilles was given,brutally, to a dog, who died a few minutes afterwards.
The abbé was sent to the Bastille but, so the storygoes, through the influence of Madame de Bouillon, was soonreleased. Nothing could be proved against him, but it seemsdoubtful whether, if he had been employed by the great lady tomurder her rival and then betrayed her, she would have taken thetrouble about his fate in prison, unless he was clever enough toconceal his exposure of her scheme.
That, at least, was the tale, or one of the many tales thatwere going round Paris about the rivalry between the actress andthe duchess for the favours of Maurice de Saxe; and it is certainthat Bouret was sent to prison because of some attempt on thelife of Adrienne and that, though Maurice might be unfaithful tohis Adrienne, he soon proved himself cold towards the greatlady.
Once more the story of violent death touched an intimate ofMaurice de Saxe; two of his brothers had come to their deaths bythe sword; there had been his wife's supposed attempts to poisonhis mother and himself, and now there was this loud rumour thatone of his mistresses was striving to poison another. All theseincidents show more the temper of the age than anything peculiarto the destiny of Maurice.
It is extremely doubtful, moreover, whether the Duchesse deBouillon, though no doubt extremely enraged by the coldness ofher magnificent lover, really did try to poison the actress. Mllede Lecouvreur was dying by inches and had been doing so formonths, and these tales of poison in a bouquet of flowers, in acup of chocolate, in a lozenge or a handkerchief arefantastic.
It was not necessary for the Duchesse de Bouillon to findthese means of disposing of her rival; a long illness wasdepriving Adrienne de Lecouvreur, first, of her beauty, then ofher strength, then of her love for the theatre, but never of herlove for Maurice. She had been complaining of her health foryears; she was undoubtedly tubercular, but the illness thatkilled her was dysentery, hence perhaps the talk of poison. Andpoison, no doubt, it was, but not given by the hand of anotherwoman.
The great actress tried to remain on the stage to the last,but a terrible bout of illness attacked her when she was playingJocaste in Voltaire's Oedipus on March 15, 1730. Shecontrived to get through her part, but fainted as the fringedvelvet curtain slid together, and was carried home, so weak thatshe could not raise her arms from above her heart where they werefolded.
Maurice and M. d'Argental hastened to attend her in thesplendid rooms in which she had so often entertained them both;the lover was admitted to the bedchamber he had often disdainedto share.
She had nothing more to give him, not even reproaches. She didnot remind him of any of the troubles or pain to which he had puther, or of the vast sums of money she had spent upon him. Actressto the last, she contrived to give her death from a disgustingdisease the air of a classic sacrifice.
There were horrible scenes in her rooms—servants,lackeys, flatterers were plundering her even before the eyes ofher friends; the rooms were being despoiled as if Paris was beingsacked.
A priest was summoned and proved to be the curé of herparish, Saint Sulpice, one obstinate, coarse-grained and awkward,in the estimation of her friends. He was a Jesuit, by nameLanguet de Gergy; he offered the dying woman absolution only uponthe terms that she repented of her theatrical career. The sins ofthe flesh might be pardoned her, but not that she had been everconnected with the theatre. The man seems to have done his plainduty. It was all very well to talk of charity, but what reverencehad this crowd of atheists ever paid the Church?
Adrienne cared little for the disputes that were going onround her bedside; her friends, pressing the stern priest tostretch a point, he refusing. For long, as she had writtenrecently to Maurice, she had neither slept nor ate and she wouldprefer death to a continuance of her suffering.
"How happy we shall be," she had cried to her lover, "when weare free; you from me and I from life."
As the indecorous disputes continued round her bed, the dyingactress had the final word. Struggling up in bed, torn byparoxysms of coughing, blood upon her pillows and herhandkerchief, she had strength enough for a last dramaticcry.
Her lover, bored and impatient, was for the moment out of theroom, but a small bust of him stood upon a pedestal near her bed.She turned to this, outstretching her arms in her last strength,opening her large blue eyes for the last time and exclaimed:
"There is my universe! My hope and my god!"
As soon as her eyes were closed the quarrel beyond her bed-curtains became fiercer.
Was she, or was she not to have Christian burial? The hope ofobtaining that for her was the reason why her relatives hadbrought the Jesuit to her bedside. But he now, as they had fearedhe would, refused this grace to the miserable corpse; the actresshad not repented of her profession, the courtesan of her lusts;she had not shown any sign of submitting to the discipline of theChurch. The priest was logical; but his refusal meant thatAdrienne could have no decent resting place.
What, then, was to be done with the remains of one of the mostbeautiful, celebrated and charming women of her time, one who hadbeen an inspiration, a delight to so many, who had numbered amongher friends the most cultured and intelligent people of the mostcultured capital in Europe?
Here indeed was a difficulty; the Cardinal de Fleury, a mild,modest, honest, if not very able, man, who was the first ministerof Louis XV after he had attained his majority, arranged with M.de Maurepas a plan to avoid all possible scandal in thisregrettable affair.
Two police officers were sent at night to take the body ofAdrienne de Lecouvreur away and inter it as quietly as possible.The small corpse was to be got rid of as if it had been that of acriminal or a suicide.
And she had been termed one of the wonders of Paris. "InGreece," Voltaire had written of her, "she would have had analtar." But in Paris she could scarcely obtain a grave.
Now that she had been refused not only Christian but any otherkind of official burial, her body was hastily wrapped in one ofher own sheets and the two policemen took it away at night in acab (fiacre), in which it was driven to a piece of wasteland near the Faubourg St. Germain, and there flung down amongthe other refuse of the great city, a sack of quicklime emptiedover it and left. One friend, a M. de Loubinière, is known tohave accompanied the police.
Some tales say that Maurice de Saxe followed this sad funeral.Others that he went at once to her stables to arrange the sale ofher famous horses.
As he had sent a substitute to represent him at his mother'sfuneral and shown on that occasion a great anxiety as to how muchmoney Aurora von Königsmarck had left, it may be that the lastanecdote is truer than the first.
Maurice had seldom mentioned his mother once she was dead, andhe never mentioned Adrienne de Lecouvreur; he had taken all shehad to give and he had made her happier than she had ever beenthrough any other person or any other thing. He had given her theexcuse for the passion, the emotion that was her life and herart, by which she lived until it killed her; he had made possibleher reputation of "a sacrifice to love." He helped her to createthe legend in which she will always live as long as men and womenare interested in amorous passion.
After all the compassion given and indignation expressed forthe fate of such as Adrienne de Lecouvreur, the fact remains thatthe wronged and love-slain heroine could not achieve her dolefuland immortal crown without the perfidious lover.
We do not know if Maurice, joining others in the scramble forthe spoils of the actress's establishment, obtained at a bargainprice or as a legacy the fine horses he coveted, but someposthumous benefits Adrienne did confer on this "beaucomte." She had shown him some verses that M. Voltaire hadwritten in her honour and he had kept a copy; impressed by theeffectiveness of the poet's praise, Maurice had asked andobtained some model love letters to send to Adrienne; facsimilesof these he preserved together with that precious parchment, thediploma of his election to the Duchy of Courland, which Beauvais,his body servant, had rescued at last from the baggage abandonedin the flight from Windau. Some day, he thought, these deliciouslove letters, written by an expert both in life and language,might be useful in winning a woman who expected more than abrusque demand for her person, her heart and her fortunes. Healso kept letters to himself. We do not know his motive, it canhardly have been tenderness.
III. A GREAT GENTLEMAN'SNOTEBOOK
THE next diversion that offered itself toMaurice was a summons from his father—rather relieved atthe end of the too long drawn out idyll with the actress, nowtumbled into a ditch—to help receive in Dresden the King ofPrussia, who was paying an incognito visit to His Majesty ofPoland.
Frederick William, a pedantic and unbalanced tyrant, had to beentertained with resplendent honour and was impressed anddelighted by a flamboyant military display at the camp ofMuhlberg, which was on such a scale of ostentation that the horseand harness of every sub-lieutenant were valued at a thousandcrowns; the King-Elector boasted three tables with twenty-fourcovers, all gold, and two or three hundred covers all silver,while his tents were valued at ten million livres. He himselfcontrived to have his bloated carcass hoisted on a horse and tohold himself in the saddle at the great review. All thisstimulated and excited Maurice, who was lodged royally andsupplied with an equipage equal to that or his brother, theElectoral Prince, who was far too lazy to object.
These opulent excitements and the praises of their Majestiesmay have been a little embittered for Maurice by the reflectionthat Anna Ivanowa was now Empress of All the Russias andcompletely indifferent both to his prowess and the applause itexcited, while the other Russian princess, Elizabeth, for whomthe Imperial diadem seemed a distinct possibility, had shown nointerest in the schemes of M. Lefort to marry her to Maurice.
After the glitter of the parade ground, the carnage of thehunts, the gorging and swilling of the military banquets, wherethe manners were not as refined as the porcelain and the plate,Maurice returned to Paris.
He had a fit of seriousness; the energetic side of his nature,his real talents asserted themselves; he often turned to hismilitary studies after the dissipations and idleness of the day,spending his night in his study, reading ancient authors onmilitary science, throwing his own ideas on paper.
Was he at all disturbed by the thought of that desertedcottage at Daumartin where Adrienne had dreamed to end her dayswith him, by the thought of that hole in the waste land where thequicklime ate her bones? He wrote, he said, "because ofsleeplessness and 'pour dissiper mes ennuis.'"
These midnight jottings, mostly on military science weretermed Mes Rêveries; these were published six years afterhis death, but some sheets he sent to his father, together withsome plans for a new cannon; he had always been a busycorrespondent and his letters, in particular those to his father,from the first showed vigour and a certain skill in the use ofwords.
These gifts were apparent in these jottings thrown off torelieve tedium and the burden of an empty heart.
Some time before the year 1732, when he composed in "thirteennights" his Rêveries, he had tried his hand at anautobiography—the fashionable "Memoirs" of the period, andthese, found afterwards in the archives of Dresden, are ofconsiderable interest.
They are inaccurate in detail and fragmentary, but theycontain acute character studies of Augustus II and of CountFlemming, and a long relation of the mysterious end of Philip vonKönigsmarck.
This is the most valuable part of the fragment; the story isromantic and unlikely enough in some parts; it has never beenproved completely inaccurate and no doubt represents the accountof the mystery current in the family of the Königsmarcks, for itwas probably this relation that Maurice had heard from his motherAurora, Madame Löwenhaupt, his aunt, and his uncle, all three ofwhom had been closely connected with the intrigues of the courtof Hanover.
A portion of this autobiography was stolen from Maurice by asecretary, Saint-Laurent, and found its way—by whatintrigue is not clear—into the hands of Count Flemming,who, indignant at the unjust and violent portrait of himselftherein, took the trouble to sit down and refute the sketch lineby line; declaring sarcastically at the same time that it wasprobably the work of some enemy of "the Prince Maurice."
The Saxon adventurer was approaching his thirty-fifth year andfor the first time began to feel twinges of ill-health, when hecomposed his Rêveries. Men of his type can only be trulysatisfied while health and money last; Maurice was beginning tobe deprived of the first, though still fairly sure of the second.It was during an illness that lasted a fortnight that he composedThe Rêveries, as he states himself.
The sentiments expressed in the book show the writer in afavourable light, especially as they were put on paper, as hehimself says, when he was harassed by "fever." The book isunequal, hastily composed but shows many kinds of talent. As faras his axioms of military science go, they reveal the originalityof genius; as regards what he thought of contemporary affairs,here is a specimen of his opinions.
"What a spectacle the nations present to us to-day! One sees some men rich, idle and voluptuous, who owe theirhappiness to the labours and misery of a multitude who flattertheir passions and who could not exist without preparing for themnew voluptuous delights! This assemblage of men, oppressor andoppressed, form what one calls society. The most vile andmiserable of men are they who are made its soldiers to defend itfrom the other society. It was not with such manners and withsuch arms that the Romans vanquished the universe."
These sentiments, though they show a certain nobility and acertain shrewdness, were not put into practice by Maurice in hisown career, for he took the world as he found it and acted whollyselfishly with no attempt to emulate the fabulous ideals that hecalled Roman save in his courage.
The rambling notes also show his keen attention to detail. "Ishould like to see," he wrote, "soldiers with short hair and witha wig, grey or black, that they can put on when the weather isbad. This peruke would look like short hair; it could be combedand kept in order, and would always appear neat. It would lastfor ever and cost no more than twenty sols."
Maurice had much to say on this important point of militaryuniform; he had observed keenly all the great armies of Europeand had approved of none of them. Military science was, headmitted, dry and tedious and therefore none had concernedthemselves about it very much. True, "the great capitaines" hadleft behind them in the way of rules and examples on which onecould build anything exact—this science was "covered withshadows." Maurice paid tribute to Gustavus Adolphus, whosemethods had, however, he declared, been followed butmisunderstood and abused; he felt that there was much to be doneto improve the art of war, and among his dreams was that of beinghimself a Gustavus Adolphus.
To glance through his book is to see how he had studied thissubject, to him of such overmastering intent, in every detail.How to raise troops, how to clothe, pay, exercise and preparethem for battle, how to use them to win battles and so glory,crowns, thrones, such was the matter of these dreams.
His ideal formation of troops was the legion, founded on theRoman model, and "giving rein to my imagination in order todisperse boredom" he put on paper his scheme for legions composedof four regiments each, each regiment to comprise four centuriesof infantry, fifty of cavalry, fifty of light horse, these"centuries" to be named battalions of infantry and squadrons ofcavalry and so on. Maurice, lovingly working out this plan,allowed 881 men to a regiment, and to this number one surgeon; tohis legion of 3,579 men, he allowed one surgeon, one almoner andtwo pieces of 12-lb. cannon.
And so the dreams continued, down to details of arms,encampments, convoys, with constant reference to the heroesEugene, Villars, Charles XII, Gustavus Adolphus, and to thedreamer's favourite military author and close friend, theChevalier Folard. Armies of perfectly equipped men, moving likeclockwork must have passed through the energetic mind of Maurice,as restless from wine, fever and unsatisfied ambition he cast onpaper these sketches, or drew, with perhaps an unsteady hand,diagrams of guns, studies of uniforms, models of fortifications,disposition of troops.
What purpose was behind all this careful, even passionateattention to perfect engines of destruction?
Maurice had no country to defend, no dynasty to uphold, nopeople to protect. He thought of his troops as human beings, inas far as he wished to keep them well fed, warm, comfortablyclothed and sheltered and preserved from all the evils ofcampaigns, battles and sieges as far as that was possible, butthis consideration was no more than he would have given his dogor his horse. He had nothing to say on the purpose of thesecontinual wars, nor any word of compassion for those involved inthem against their will; he was a professional soldier—nomore. And the one purpose that he could see in warfare was hisown glory and aggrandisement.
He cast on paper a few "reflections on the propagation of thehuman species" that were published in the first edition of theRêveries, in which he dryly remarks: "—after havingtreated of the art that instructs us in the method of destroyinghuman beings it is as well to reflect how we can propagatethem."
Maurice believed that the population of the world had sufferedan "extraordinaire" decline since the time of JuliusCaesar. He states that M. Vauban, sixty years before(circa 1670) had placed the population of France at twentymillions and that this number had been diminishing ever since.Maurice blamed Christian marriage for this state of affairs andadvocated a scheme of easy divorce and continual remarriages thatwas "free love" in everything but name.
He suggested pensions (cent écus) for each woman whohad ten living children, quinze écus for fifteen, andmille écus for twenty offspring. Maurice does not directlystate as much, but no doubt these children ("des gens ducommun") were to be soldiers or the wives and mothers ofsoldiers. He has some shrewd things to say of women; it cannot bedenied that he had had a fairly wide experience of this "sexecharmant." Men, he observed, made the laws and to suitthemselves; the Turks shut women up, but the Christians wereequally tyrannical with their prejudices that caused womencontinually to disguise their thoughts and wishes and so madethem false.
If women were free to choose their husbands themselves, and"for a limited time," all this hypocrisy would vanish, and withit debauchery, and subsequent sterility, also that false pride in"being thought a virgin" that handicapped so many women. Instead,sexual matters would take a natural course and a kind of Arcadia,or "golden age" of universal love would return. Maurice used theword love (amour) in the sense in which he had heard itemployed in Paris alcoves; he did not even allow it the dignityit had gained on the lips of Adrienne de Lecouvreur. Maurice was,indeed, heartless, insensible to any tenderness, spiritual grace,delicacy of feeling or warm affection. His complete lack in thesedirections a little abashed some of his contemporaries and mostof them were hard and selfish.
A few notes on Poland complete his literary efforts, he had notime or energy for such labours once the fit of depression hadpassed, but he always remained an industrious letter writer witha facile pen, and his long, detailed and animated epistles arevery characteristic of the man; he never wrote or spoke Frenchcorrectly, his grammar was as erratic as his spelling, he coinedwords to suit his purpose, but all his writings show a quickobservation, a power of virile expression, a fund ofinexhaustible energy, a complete self-confidence and acallousness that is not without its charm when combined with somuch brilliance.
Soon after writing his Rêveries, when Maurice wassuffering, not from remorse or loneliness but from a gnawingboredom, he brought his German Uhlan regiment to Paris, reclothedand re-instructed the men, and passed them in review on the Plainof Sablons to the great admiration of the Parisians who had neverseen such perfectly equipped men move like a piece of clockworkbefore. Maurice had taken the most extraordinary pains with theregiment from the top-knots of the men's caps to the buttons ontheir gaiters.
These Uhlans were as far as he could get in realisation of hisdreams; the regiment was his toy, a world in little where he wasdictator.
For the rest of his life was becoming stale; he was gluttedwith excesses but could not cease them; in everythingconventional, he had taken up with two more light mistresses,Mlle Carton from the Opera, and Mlle Aissé, Adrienne's friend,and the authority for the anecdote of the poisoning attempt bythe Duchesse de Bouillon.
But his energy was not to be satisfied either by exercising aregiment in time of peace or by throwing his thoughts on militaryscience and human nature on paper or by balls, masques, Operas orthe paid caresses of actresses; his shrewd mind seethed withintrigues and soon his life shifted into a new pattern.
On February I, 1733, Augustus II, the King-Elector, died; hebroke his leg, stumbling from his carriage, and gangrenefollowed.
Maurice gives a flattering portrait of his father in his briefautobiography, accusing him, however, of laziness, "a continuallassitude that enervated all his great qualities." ProbablyMaurice was as fond of Augustus as he was of any human being and,besides any natural grief that he may have felt at this loss, hewas disturbed lest it should affect his own unstablefortunes.
It seemed, indeed, at first that it would close to him thecourts of Warsaw and Dresden, for though France was traditionallythe friend of Poland, a country that she used as a lever againstthe Empire, yet the fact that the King, Louis XV, had marriedMarie Leczinski, ended in France's spending a million livres inPoland to secure the election of her father, Stanislas, who wasproclaimed King September 12, 1733. A few days, however, afterthis the troops of the Czarina invaded Poland and her man,Augustus III, brother of Maurice, was elected.
Stanislas fled to Danzig and Augustus III, a man like hisfather, splendid, debauched, idle and under the domination of hisministers, was well content to accept the nominal dignity of Kingof Poland and to leave the country as an appanage of Russia.
But Louis XV did not consider it compatible with his glory tohave his father-in-law thus chased ignominiously from the throneon which he had placed him. As it was impossible for him toinvade Russia, he attacked the Czarina's allies, theImperialists, on the frontier of the Low Countries, war beingdeclared in October, 1733.
Maurice decided, seemingly without hesitation, to serve Franceagainst his own half-brother for whom, however, he alwaysretained a traditional respect and a certain affection; he alwaysremained on good terms with Augustus III who had not onlyconfirmed but augmented his Saxon pension; on the other handMaurice had certainly no interest in or affection for Stanislas,a feeble, uninteresting Prince, who had reluctantly exchanged thedamp grandeurs of Chambord for the yet more dubious glories ofWarsaw.
It has been supposed that Maurice was inspired by the desireof serving the glory of France or felt bound by his Frenchcommission. But it seems that he was both shrewd and cynicalenough to see where his true interests lay. He had been fortunatein securing the friendship of Louis XV, whose companion he hadbecome in his vices and pleasures. The voluptuous and elegantyoung King admired the brusque and dashing Saxon. Maurice wasable, by temperament and training, to employ the most subtle offlatteries, that open, almost rude candour which seems to disdainto praise and yet in reality does so even with fulsomeness; hepleased Louis XV and he knew that he would be wise to continue todo so.
In any case, Maurice showed the professional soldier'sindifference to politics by joining his regiment and serving onthe Rhine under Marshal the Duke of Berwick, Commander-in-Chiefof the armies of Louis XV. Maurice, still Maréchal decamp, had under his orders twenty companies of grenadiers andtwo thousand fusiliers. Serving with him were several Princes ofthe Blood, including that Louis, Francois de Bourbon, Prince deConti, who had always been his enemy both passive and active.This young man was the grandson of the claimant to the Polishcrown and the son of the Prince de Conti who was supposed to havewounded Maurice.
This campaign dragged on with the usual formal tedium of thesepompous wars, and Maurice had little opportunity of showing morethan personal bravery before the army went into winter quartersto enjoy what was termed the "Truce of Nature" or "of God."
Operations re-commenced in April, 1734, with the bombarding ofthe great Rhine towns, Spires, Coblenz and Mainz, when some ofthe new bombs recently invented by the Count de Comminges wereused with terrific effect.
The French army, then on the offensive, was divided into threecorps; the first was called the army of the Princes, "L'armée desPrinces," and consisted of 50,000 men commanded by MarshalBerwick, son of James II of Great Britain and nephew of the greatMarlborough; the second corps was commanded by the duc deNoailles and contained 25,000 men; Maurice served with the thirdcorps under the Maréchal de Belleisle. With his usualimpetuosity, however, the Saxon left his division that wasmarching on Coblenz to join Berwick at Etlingen, because he hadheard that the Commander-in-Chief intended to force the enemy'slines. Berwick received him with enthusiasm. He had beenthinking, he said, of sending for a reinforcement of 3,000 menand here they were to his hand!
And he gave Maurice a detachment of grenadiers with which hethrew himself upon the ranks of the Imperialists with such furythat he broke them and forced them to retreat, leaving behind alarge quantity of baggage and war material. For this exploitMaurice was warmly commended by Marshal Berwick; his hopes beganto rise; he saw his glittering ambitions shine brightly.
The General, whom the French were now facing, was the veteranPrince Eugene, under whom Maurice had served before the walls ofBelgrade; he had always immensely admired this famous soldier,and with reason; probably the Imperialist General was thegreatest soldier of an age that had bred Marlborough andFrederick II; he was still, in his old age, with his long yellowbilious face, half-open mouth and piercing black eyes, his old-fashioned flowing peruke and well-worn Imperial uniform, morethan a match for Berwick, who was finally killed by a cannon ballthat took off his head when he was visiting the trenches atPhilippsburg; Maurice was conspicuous in the subsequentoperations that ended in the surrender of the town on July 26,1734. His gallant behaviour was duly reported to Louis XV; theresult of the fall of Philippsburg, where more than 40,000 menhad perished during seven weeks' siege, was for Maurice to bepromoted Lieutenant-General.
He had indeed distinguished himself by many personal exploitsof considerable brilliance, including one romantic adventure whenwith some few dozens of grenadiers he had charged two hundredAustrian Hussars near Zell, where had died not long before theSophia Dorothea who had caused the downfall and murder of hisuncle, Philip von Königsmarck.
In October 1734 the army again went into winter quarters andMaurice returned to Paris, where fireworks and Te Deumsgilded the ineffectiveness of both the war and the peace thatfollowed with at least a semblance of triumph.
Maurice de Saxe personally had gained both experience andreputation in the fruitless struggle.
Nothing further of moment occurred in this aimless war, whichcontinued on the Rhine intermittently until 1736, when it wasterminated by one of the usual ineffectual treaties that lefteverything in statu quo.
Maurice was again without an occupation, but some of thestaleness had gone from his life; once more he had shone beforehis fellows, been praised by the King whom he had chosen toserve, proved that he could cry "check" even to the veteranEugene in this game of war in which he so delighted.
But if the numbers of his friends had increased, he had noted,with his usual cool shrewdness, that his enemies were becomingmore numerous and more formidable.
The King's friendship for a foreigner—a bastardmercenary, too—was fiercely resented by the arrogant,cynical, greedy and incompetent "Princes of the Blood," whoclaimed by right of birth privileges without number, licencewithout limit, and all the honours, prizes, rewards, pensions inthe King's gift. Graceful and accomplished, if insolent andworthless, this gilded flower of an effete aristocracy wasornamental enough in time of peace and added greatly to thereputation for elegance and brilliancy that Paris enjoyed.
But in time of war, they were, to any general who took hisduties seriously, an intolerable nuisance. Untrained anddisdaining any kind of discipline, this maison royale ortroupe dorée accompanied the army in glitteringdetachment, dictators in their own regiments, taking no heed oforders from headquarters, amusing themselves with every luxuryand licence and regarding the campaign merely as an excuse todisplay the splendour of their equipages in the camp, and theirpersonal bravery "on the field of honour," where their dashingbut random exploits often upset the plans of the general incommand and his staff. Maurice, military expert as he was, andkeen on every detail of military science, found it hard to endurethese spoiled, curled minions, with their effeminateaffectations, their insolence, their incapacity, their coolinsubordination, their endless privileges.
They in their turn regarded him as an upstart adventurer,coarse and overbearing, and were spitefully jealous at hissuccess. One of them at least, the Prince de Conti, was hisdetermined enemy.
Maurice knew that these princes "of the blood," who commandeda large following among the nobility, were dangerous to his hopesof advancement in the French army; he also knew that it washopeless to endeavour to win them over, therefore, with dryprudence, he cultivated the friendship of the King.
Louis XV, who bears so sad a reputation and who is seldommentioned without scorn, was merely what his environment andupbringing had made him; it is as absurd to blame him for beingwhat he was as to reproach a piece of warm wax for taking theshape with which it is stamped.
Early orphaned of both parents, early a King, Louis was thepupil of the Regent Orleans and the abbé Dubois and theirunderlings; by means of superstition and debauchery, of adulationand luxury, his mind and body were kept in subjection. With allhis senses deadened by a surfeit of pleasures, from the mostrefined to the grossest, enervated by an elaborate, senselessetiquette, trained in complete idleness, the young Monarch grewup languid, bored and cynical.
He had his share of good qualities; his people named him "wellbeloved," and he was always what is expressed in his own languageas "aimable." His taste had been as well looked after as hismorals had been neglected; his person and his manners were, atthis period, fascinating; his graceful figure, his features,delicate yet manly, his large dark blue eyes and clear complexionwere perfectly fitted for the powdered curls, the gleaming satinand lustrous velvets that then composed the attire of afashionable gentleman.
In appearance, Louis XV was exactly suited to be the sovereignwho ruled over the world depicted by Boucher, Fragonard, Drouaisand Francois Troy.
He was a profoundly unhappy man; moving in a fiction of divineright and absolute power, he was unable to find more than briefcures for the long boredom of his idleness, he was a moralcoward, cynic, yet afraid of death and, so well had the priestsdone their work on his malleable youth, of hell fire. Hispersonal tastes had been modest, delicate and refined; he hadbeen deliberately and coldly debauched, and in debauchery he hadfound a dull refuge from his ceaseless "ennui."
It was his misfortune that the one woman whom he could notcharm was his wife, the chill and bigoted Polish Princess, whobore his children with aversion and was relieved when herrepulses drove him to other women. He had his standards ofhonour, of the glory of France, he was not without capacity forbusiness, as far as he was allowed to meddle in it, not withoutshrewdness in public affairs, and his witty acceptance of his ownpuppet position is shown in such remarks of his as—"Were Ithe Mayor of Paris I would have the streets better paved."
Such was the King, then in his early, charming youth thatseemed so full of generous promise, who offered a firm friendshipto the Saxon adventurer, who might be permitted to lose that namenow and take that of Maurice, Comte de Saxe, Lieutenant-Generalin the Army of His Most Christian Majesty.
Part II. FAMOUS'D IN FIGHT
I. CROWNS, SPADES ANDDRUMS
THE Peace of Vienna was supposed to have broughtsome lustre to the lilies; it at least brought amusement to theParisians, who enjoyed the sumptuous services in Notre-Dame, thecheering of the returning troops, the cannons firing theirsalutes, the dazzle of the fireworks, the air of glory given bythe news in the Gazette of captured towns and forts; butthere was little tangible result from the war of the Polishsuccession; Stanislas had exchanged the odious privations ofChambord for the Duchy of Lorraine (the one gain made by Cardinalde Fleury for France), Augustus III was secure on the throne ofPoland and the Emperor was occupied in marrying his daughter, theArchduchess Maria Theresa, to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who hadreceived that title (in the market since the Medici were extinct)in exchange for Lorraine, while Russia and Prussia returned to astate of watchfulness and Spain and the lesser nations to one oflanguor. The pack of political cards had been reshuffled withoutanyone's being much the gainer thereby.
Maurice took advantage of the peace to go to Dresden, where hesoon became reconciled with his brother, Augustus III, who hadinherited his father's easy nature and indolence of spirit. Withall the good will in the world, however, Augustus III could nothelp Maurice to the throne of Courland, on which Anna Ivanowa,taking advantage of the confusion of the war, had contrived toplace Count Biron, of sinister reputation, on the death of thelast of the Kettlars, the feeble duke whose desperate marriagehad proved fruitless.
Augustus III was governed by Count Bruhl as his father hadbeen governed by Count Flemming; he asked for nothing butsufficient money with which to continue the pleasures that filledhis indolence. But Maurice had the good sense to make a friend ofBruhl, knowing too well what it had meant when he had made anenemy of Flemming.
The three Saxons were soon on confidential terms andunderstood one another perfectly. Maurice was a Northernerthrough both parents and only very superficially a Frenchman;before he left the court of Dresden he accepted a curious officefrom his brother and one that might have been given an ugly name,had it come to the ears of a Frenchman.
Augustus III, like all German Princes, was intenselyinterested in Paris; the court of Versailles, the character ofLouis XV, the intrigues and favourites that surrounded him wereboth his models for imitation and the food of all his gossip: andthe King-Elector, in common with his fellow potentates of theHoly Roman Empire, employed a secret correspondent in Paris whoseduty it was to send him all the anecdotes, tittle-tattle andscandal of that brilliant capital.
This man having lately died, Maurice offered to take hisplace. And so the matter was arranged, not without prudentprecautions on the part of Maurice. He foresaw that, if hisoccupation was known or any of his letters intercepted, he mightlose everything he possessed in the way of favour or friendshipat the court of France: what he was undertaking might well havebeen termed espionage.
"I do not wish to be known by my writing, by my ink or by mypaper," he said. Nevertheless, it was essential that he shouldwrite these scandalous chronicles himself; it was, therefore,arranged that they were to be sent secretly under seal in thepostbag of the Saxon Minister in Paris and they were to beaddressed to the King, unsigned; the King was to read them, andthen to give them to the Queen (unless they contained anecdotestoo indecent for modest eyes), then Count Bruhl was to perusethem, then these dangerous papers were to be enclosed for ever inthe archives of Dresden.
The peril of discovery was well understood and both AugustusIII and his half-brother kept his part of the bargain; Mauricewas outspoken and the three at Dresden were discreet. Thepackages of sheets of gossip, anecdotes intermixed with politicalhints, sketches of influential people, accounts of amusingincidents and escapades at balls, at hunts, at supper parties andso on were written down by Maurice and eagerly read by the King,Queen and the Minister, so that the most intimate life of theFrench capital was well known to a foreign sovereign whom anyshifting of the political scene might make the enemy ofFrance.
Maurice found some amusement in this sly occupation but notsufficient to occupy his boundless energy; he was now middle-agedand his once superb health was becoming daily more impaired; whenre-visiting the scenes of his parents' voluptuous pleasures, thedelicious glades of Moritzburg, he had been thrown from his toospirited horse and had injured the thigh wounded in a skirmish atCrachnitz, years before; his accident added to his infirmities.His boasted strength had already been affected by his fatigue andhis excesses; the constitution that seemed of iron began tolanguish and he prepared in 1740 to take the baths at Barlaruc inLanguedoc and to meditate somewhat grimly on the stagnation ofhis fortunes.
There seemed, strangely enough, no signs of another war inEurope and without a war where was he?
That dazzling dream of a crown and a kingdom, that too wasfarther away than it had ever been. He seemed no nearer toachieving the brilliant destiny he had hoped for than he had beenwhen Marlborough had patted him on his rough blond head beforeLille and his father had laughingly admired him in his firstuniform and Saxon gaiters.
He remained at best a German nobleman and at worst a mercenarysoldier and an adventurer. His finances were, as usual, in poorcondition and he had had to borrow money on the fifty thousandlivres given him by Louis XV as brevet derétention, and to beg for loans from his half-brother.
His best hope lay in a friendship he had formed with Madame deLenormant d'Etioles—a woman of wit, resolution and tasteand brilliance, who seemed likely to be the King's new favouriteand make her dubious position a permanent one, who admired himunder almost every aspect save that of the lover. There thislady, later when she was the King's mistress, and who was, atleast, really in love with the King, had fastidious comments tomake. "Maurice de Saxe," she wrote, "doesn't understand anythingof the delicacy of love. The only pleasure he takes in thesociety of women can be summed up in the word 'debauchery.'Wherever he goes he drags after him a train of streetwalkers."
She added: "Everything in his private life bespeaks him anordinary man; he is only great on the field of battle. As soon asthe engagement is over all his littlenesses return and nothingremains great about him save the noise of his renown."
For all that she admired, liked and encouraged him; and thelife he led, though it seemed to Madame de Pompadour commonplace,was the only one possible to a man highly placed and not highlygifted save in the art of war.
He was profuse, he kept an open table, he surrounded himselfwith all who caught his fancy, from the youngest officer of hisregiment to the great lady who did not disdain his brutalfavours, and his establishment vied with those of the Princes ofthe blood. He purchased a château at Piples near Boissy-Saint-Léger, where he had not only the usual occupation of the hunt,but a private theatre to amuse himself, his friends andflatterers.
With all this splendour he was a disappointed man. All hisambitions, his marriage projects had failed; despite the recklessand flaming air with which he had conducted the Courland businessthere is no doubt that he had it most passionately at heart anddesired above everything the possession of these honours, whichhe had come so near to wearing and which had been snatched fromhim in so tantalising a fashion. He still cherished jealously theDiploma of Election to the succession of the Kettlars and refusedto part with it for any argument or any money.
Despite the applause he had gained and the splendour of hisexploits he had never been in command of any considerable actionor found any good opportunity of putting into practice theresults of his ardent studies in the science of war. No one wasinterested in the doctrines that his Rêveries contained;Maurice himself did not take these too seriously; he knew thatnever would he be able to put them into practice, but hisfrustrated talents tormented him.
Madame de Pompadour, fine and delicate as she was, may haveregretted the grossness of the private life of the hero, but thecourtiers of Louis XV cared little for either Maurice's coarsevices or his frustrated ambition, or for the great general thathe was, potentially.
In their light laughter at the strength of wrist that could,on the occasion of a picnic at Chantilly, twist a nail to replacea missing corkscrew or break a horseshoe in half, in their amusedacceptance of the impetuous, lively Saxon as a boon companion intheir frivolous, languid pleasures there was always—and heknew it—a hint of tolerant patronage for the foreigner whoquartered the baton-sinister on the arms of Saxony. Mostof them were secretly his enemies; still foremost among these wasthe young Prince de Conti, who loathed this Duke without a duchyand often ventured to sneer covertly at the alien and bastardadventurer.
Maurice was now at the period of life when reflections uponthe frailty of human grandeur come readily to the mind, andvisiting the neglected tomb of Louis XIV in the dark gloom of theAbbey of St. Denis he had remarked with disgust on theabandonment of the ashes of that resplendent monarch to a meansolitude; his sense of law and order, of ceremony—alwaysstrong in him—was also roused, as was his fellow feelingfor the monarch whose pretensions had been so large, who had soemphasised the might of power and kingship and carried to such anenviable height the domination of one personality over a wholenation, nay, over a whole century.
There the Saxon Lieutenant-General made a suggestion that asentry of bodyguards might fittingly honour the mausoleum of theking who had given such lustre to the arms of France.
This project, which had not occurred to the Bourbons or to anyof those who had benefited by the favours of Louis XIV, was takenseriously by Maurice, who drew up a scheme for this parade ofhonour before the urn of the great king, and another for theestablishment of a barracks in the Isle of Swans to obviate thedanger of billeting soldiers on the Parisians.
Neither scheme was approved by M. de Dangervilliers, Ministerfor War; the enterprise and energy of Maurice alike wentunemployed, so he took his insatiable appetite for life, foraction, for splendour, for grandiose achievement to huntingparties, to the boudoirs of opera dancers and the waters ofBarlaruc. He toured Languedoc and Provence, being received,Lutheran as he remained, by the Vice-Legate of Avignon, and withstill more formal honours by Admiral Matthews at Toulon where theEnglish were blockading the Spanish fleet; as a French GeneralMaurice was welcomed by the discharge of all the Englishartillery and exchanged bumper for bumper the healths of theKings of France and of England, each glass being honoured by abroadside of great guns.
This was the last meeting of Maurice de Saxe and the Englishsave on the field of battle where indeed he was soon to facethem, for when he returned to Paris with the British salvoesstill ringing in his ears, he heard of the death of the lastHabsburg, Charles VI, on October 20, 1740; this event amounted toa declaration of war from each of the European states on theirneighbours and caused what Maurice termed a "brouillaminigénéral."
Maria Theresa, the late Emperor's daughter and Grand Duchessof Tuscany, claimed all her father's honours by virtue of thePragmatic Sanction and was answered by the Elector of Bavaria'sprotest and rush to arms; he was supported by Augustus III,though both these princes had promised to respect the claims ofMaria Theresa.
At this juncture the young King of Prussia, bold and wary,seized Silesia after having in vain demanded it from MariaTheresa as the price of his alliance.
Russian affairs changed through the death of the Empress Annaand the fall of her favourite, Biron, Duke of Courland, defacto at least; the Elector of Bavaria appealed to France forassistance. Maria Theresa, as Queen of Hungary, appealed to theHungarians, gathered an army together and was defeated byFrederic at Maleritz, April 4, 1741.
It was purely a Germanic quarrel and France had nothing togain by interfering and had already suffered sufficiently byespousing the dispute of Stanislas Leczinski; but a doublemarriage drew Louis XV into the embroilment; the second wife ofthe first Bourbon King of Spain, Philip V, had contrived toengage her daughter to the Dauphin, and her son, Philip of Parma,to the eldest French Princess; and the cause of Spain, or ratherthat of Elizabeth Farnese, being that of the House of Bavaria,this pacte de famille gave France an excuse again toattack once more her hereditary enemy, the House of Austria;Great Britain, through her German King, George II, had championedthe cause of the Archduchess, while the Stuart Pretender hoped tofind this a favourable moment for a repetition of the Scottishadventure of 1715; here then was Europe's call to arms again andin the subsequent brouhaha Maurice de Saxe hoped to findhis part; first, he tried again for Courland; with the fall ofBiron, who was exiled to Siberia, he hastened North but in timeonly to hear of the election of Louis Ernest of Brunswick-Luneberg to the throne of Courland, and the acceptance of thisprince by the Courlanders, and Maurice, after uttering a formalmanifesto protest, was obliged to content himself with his mosthoarded diploma now sixteen years old.
Despite the advice of Cardinal de Fleury, France declared war1741—thirty thousand French troops were sent to Westphalia,forty thousand to Bavaria. Charles, Elector of Bavaria, was nowgeneralissimo of the French forces and Maurice de Saxe wassent to serve under him at the opening of the campaign; incommand of a division of French cavalry in the army commanded byMaréchal de Belleisle, he arrived at the Bavarian camp on thethirtieth of September, 1741.
Maurice did not fail to bring the affair of Courland to thenotice of the Elector, who disposed of the matter with morecourtesy than satisfaction to Maurice by answering that the Saxonshould be satisfied with preserving the sovereignty of the Statewithout wishing to enjoy it. Charles, indeed, had to be prodigalof compliments, having nothing else to bestow.
Saxony having taken the side of His Electoral Highness,Maurice found himself in affiance with his brother, Augustus III.It seems that he would have been very willing to command hisnative troops and offered to the Minister of Augustus, CountBruhl, his assistance in "the storm growing," as he said, "in thevast sea of politics;" but the wary Bruhl passed over the offerin silence, not wishing to share his power with so impetuous anddominant a personality. Had Maurice been in command of the Saxonsinstead of being a lieutenant under Charles of Bavaria, a manineffective and mediocre, the young King of Prussia's attack onSilesia might have had another ending. So the scene was set foranother long, exhausting, costly and pointless war, whichinvolved nearly the whole of the so-called civilised world. Thecombatants were thus divided; Maria Theresa's supporters wereGreat Britain, Russia and Holland, her opponents France, Spain,Poland, Prussia and several of the ruling German Princes.
In this bloody medley there were many adventurers, of thetemper of Maurice, looking for crowns—of gold, of laurel,royal, ducal, what you will—"a ribbon here, a halter there,to keep 'em quiet" as Eugene had advised his master in anothersuch war; there were drums to beat the advance, the retreat,there were spades to bury such of the carcasses as were accordeda burial; it was a good game for the lucky ones, and Maurice, atleast, enjoyed it to the full; during the winter of 1741-2 hefought his way to the walls of Prague, leading his splendidtroops, hussars in blue cloaks, his own Uhlans in their greenuniform with the horsehair tails on their casques, other Frenchsoldiers, of Grassin, in scarlet and blue, of Larlière, in brown,of Fischu in scarlet; Maurice himself in cuirass and leopardskin, pearls in his ears, a star on his heart, a fur cap on hispowdered curls, seemed to have recovered his former strength ashe directed the encirclement of the famous city.
The whole of the operations were under his personal directionand it was thought a brilliant feat of arms when Prague fellafter a few days' assault.
Maurice made a state entrance into the ancient city of thealchemists, where Emperors, already half legendary, had broodedover the possibility of the philosopher's stone, and received thekeys of the town and citadel from the governor.
His troops took possession of Prague with the same magnificentdiscipline as they had shown when parading on the Plain ofSablons, and Maurice forbade all pillage and outrage. Manygenerals had, under similar circumstances, given similar orders,but Maurice was obeyed. And the astonished magistrates gave thevictor a superb diamond in gratitude for the good order he keptin the vanquished city.
This clemency was probably due more to Maurice's sense ofdiscipline than to his tenderness of heart or his magnanimity,for there is nothing to show that he possessed either quality.Sacking a town that had surrendered was against the rules of waras he understood them, and licence was ruinous for his men, thatwas all.
But his stern control of his troops had at least the semblanceof humanity and took away some of the lurid horror of a war morethan usually horrible.
Soon after he had received the keys of Prague, Maurice, againproviding a grandiose spectacle against the background of thetowered city and the grim December day, presented them to theFrench candidate for Imperial honours, the Elector ofBavaria.
There were fanfares and drum rolls, a display of capturedstandards, Te Deums, a visit to the battlefield, where thedead and dying froze together, and, a few days later, thecoronation of the Elector as King of Bohemia; Maurice saw thatall this ceremony was performed splendidly; under his watchfuleye the disarmed Austrian garrison stood to attention, theBohemian nobility came to pay homage to their new sovereign,there was another Te Deum with the clergy properly intheir places, and the crowd, only too happy to have escapedmassacre, dutifully shouted in the winter-bitten streets.
Charles of Bavaria, however, had wit enough to put a justvaluation on the show. He dined in public, under a splendidcanopy, and Maurice, with complacent calm, came to offer hisfelicitations.
"Yes," said Charles, "I am King of Bohemia in the same way asyou are Duke of Courland."
This campaign in the north was not the only French activity.Extensive military operations commenced also in Italy, but thesedid not concern Maurice de Saxe, whose conduct and exploits aloneredeemed the French from complete disaster in this senseless war,in which France lost what was left of the military prestigebequeathed her by Louis XIV, her maritime power, her finestcolonies and such financial resources as she still possessed; theWar of the Austrian Succession was the last act of the long,feeble administration of Cardinal de Fleury (though undertakenagainst his advice) and was not without its bitter critics evenat the moment.
The Marquis d'Argenson, the political and personal enemy ofMaurice, lamented the folly of this intervention in a Germanquarrel at the instigation of a violent and turbulent Queen ofSpain for the benefit of a cunning King of Prussia.
The old Maréchal de Noailles had also had a very acute idea ofthe situation and frequently said so. There was no money left, hepointed out, and no one knew where it had gone, and the peoplewere oppressed and wretched; yet even this shrewd observerdeclared that, though the country was without funds, withoutresources and the people were exhausted, it was necessary tofight in order to maintain the rank and reputation of France inEurope and the honour and glory of the King.
The burden of maintaining "this honour and glory" fell largelyon Maurice de Saxe, who remained the main support of Charles ofBavaria, who proved, as he had expected, another snow King ofBohemia, for his shadowy Kingdom melted with the winterfrosts.
It was, indeed, not long before the new King had to abandonPrague to the Austrians, who had taken the field under thehusband of Maria Theresa, Francis, Grand Duke of Tuscany andlater Emperor and Prince Charles of Lorraine, who was married tothe sister of the Empress. Although he had been successful in allthat he had undertaken, Maurice lacked opportunity of displayinghis most resplendent talents; though fitted for the highestcommand (there was not his equal in military genius in Europe,with the possible exception of Frederick of Prussia), he remainedin a subordinate position. The King of France was his friend, anda great future was hoped for from the King, who had lately lefthis shy retirement with his unloving Queen under the influence ofthe four Nesle sisters, who were successively his mistresses. Butthe King himself could not combat the jealousies aroused by thesuccess of Maurice among the Princes of the Blood and thenobility.
Most dangerous to Maurice of all these enmities was that ofthe Prince de Conti, Louis Francois de Bourbon. This Prince deConti was the grandson of that charming and graceful cavalier whohad disputed the crown of Poland with Augustus II and the son ofthat Prince whom Maurice had made absurd as well as dishonouredby intriguing with his wife.
Hate of the House of Saxony might well be consideredhereditary in the House of Bourbon Conti. Louis Francois, now 25years of age and not without talents and graces, was lieutenant-general under Maréchal de Belleisle; he longed to distinguishhimself "on the field of honour" and had already shown recklessbravery, musket balls on one occasion piercing his cuirass and onanother his horse being shot under him. By right of his rank, andhis descent from so many heroes, he claimed a high militaryposition, and he used his vast influence and that power ofintrigue inherent in his class to see that he obtained it andthat Maurice was excluded from power, preferment andopportunity.
On his side Maurice did nothing to conciliate this powerfulenemy and did not hesitate to keep alive, with coarse anecdoteand jovial laugh, the double loss, of crown and wife, that theHouse of Conti had suffered from the House of Saxony.
Some air of success was given to the French arms by theelection of their candidate by the Diet and his subsequentcoronation (April 12, 1742) at Frankfort as Charles VII with apomp that was impressive but slightly ironical, for the Austrianswere not only masters of the Empire to which Charles had beenelected, but had even overrun his native electorate ofBavaria.
These unpleasant circumstances, rendered worse by the fall ofLinz on the Danube, then the capital of Upper Austria, werelightened when Maurice succeeded in raising the spirits of histroops and his allies by the taking of Egra, an important town inBohemia, which procured for him added glory and a letter from thenew Emperor in which his Imperial Majesty lamented "My dear Comtede Saxe, why can't you be everywhere?"
This being impossible, the cause of Bavaria went ill enough,though Charles of Lorraine was mainly occupied in checking hisPrussian Majesty, now proving himself a consummate general aswell as a wily politician.
Belgrade, once the scene of Maurice's early and brilliantexploits under Eugene, was again besieged—now by the GrandDuke Francis, soon to be the rival Emperor Francis I, andMaréchal de Belleisle, the commander of the garrison there, cutoff from the expected re-inforcements under Broglie andMaillebois, undertook that ghastly retreat in mid-winter which isone of the most gloomy, cruel yet heroic episodes of any war.
M. de Belleisle was himself a sick man, ravaged by fever,bowed down by the hardships he shared with his troops. Hisbehaviour and that of all under him in these awful circumstancescast a true, if gloomy, glory over the hideous affair; the bestside of the French aristocracy, who often cut a glittering buttrivial figure at Versailles or Fontainebleau or Paris, showed inthese dismal circumstances; M. de Belleisle's conduct and that ofhis officers was as admirable as that of the troops under him;the integral bravery and resolution of a great nation wererevealed during this terrible march from Prague to Egra acrossthe snow-blocked mountains.
It was during this retreat from Prague that Vauvenargues, mostelegant and gracious of French philosophers, contracted thatillness which enfeebled him to the end of his days and eventuallyended them; nearly a thousand Frenchmen perished in the snow thatfell continuously on the rugged Bohemian defiles, but, bymarching his men day and night, M. de Belleisle brought the bulkof his army, artillery, stores and baggage to Egra; an exploitworthy of a better cause.
Meanwhile, the small French garrison left in Prague wasreduced to eating rats before it surrendered to the Austrians onJanuary 2, 1743. From all these disasters Maurice de Saxe learntwhat not to do in warfare. He saw what was wrong and said so,first to M. de Broglie, and then to M. de Maillebois, whosucceeded him as Commander-in-Chief, but neither general wasdisposed to listen to the foreigner, and Maurice returned indisgust to Paris and thought of leaving the army.
He had his distractions, the King, who always believed in him,allowed him to raise a new regiment, and there was MlleDangeville, a seductive actress of the Comédie Française,who amused him for a little while.
But Paris was not as gay and agreeable as usual; the retreatfrom Prague had darkened the spirits of the French and cast adeep gloom over the unhappy cause of the Emperor who was theirpuppet.
Maurice had no further opportunity of distinction and hedecided to go to Moscow and solicit the new Empress, Elizabeth,daughter of Peter the Great, for his maternal estate in Livoniaand possibly for her influence in Courland; these lands inLivonia were all that was left of the once large fortune of theKönigsmarcks; Maurice had not any strong hopes of obtaining them;and, as it fell out, the Czarina was gracious but non-committal;the adventurer was no longer young and handsome.
He returned to Dresden, where he was much caressed by hishalf-brother, the King-Elector, his sister-in-law and theirfamily. Maurice had continued, even during the progress of thewar and travelling from place to place to keep up his services asgazetteer to the court of Dresden, and those French princes whodisliked and suspected him were not far wrong in thinking that hewas only superficially French and that his affections, such asthey were, remained in Saxony.
Maurice was much shaken and irritated by the general dismalprogress of the war, and in an attempt to secure some success forFrench arms he hastened to Ratisbon where Louis XV's army layunder the command of Maréchal Maillebois; Maurice arrived thereat the same time as the Prince de Conti, who now openly declaredhimself the active enemy of "the German mercenary" and disputedhis command with him.
This campaign, made worse by the grim Bohemian winter, thisyear as severe as any experienced in the steppes of Russia, waslittle short of disastrous to the French; their armies wereshattered, ill and in bad condition, exhausted and pinched withthe unaccustomed cold and harried by Prince Charles of Lorraineand the Grand Duke of Tuscany with their troops of Austrians andHungarian Uhlans.
At the age of nearly ninety years, the man who had been solong Minister of France, died, in the midst of this futile war,which cost so many thousands of lives, so much suffering, such anoutpouring of treasure, and which he had tried in vain toprevent.
The Cardinal de Fleury, Bishop of Fréjus, was a mild, pleasantpriest, a kind, gentle man but one without either strength orability. His one service to France, if service it could betermed, was the acquisition of Lorraine. He was succeeded inLouis's counsels (after the King had tried in vain to standalone) by the Marquis d'Argenson, Secretary for Foreign Affairs,and M. de Noailles, the first always the enemy, the second thefriend and protector of Maurice de Saxe; these two Ministersfound themselves faced with an extravagant court, a half-ruinedcountry, and a war that had now spread to such an extent that allEurope seemed in a confusion of turmoil; the English andHanoverians had recently joined Prince Charles of Lorraine andMaurice; with his new regiment of Uhlans, was in the UpperPalatinate.
The next event of importance was the battle of Dettingen,1743, where the losses and the advantages on the field appear tohave been equal; it was considered, however, a victory for theKing of Great Britain, who was present at the engagement and soinflicted the last disgrace of defeat in the open field on thedispirited French.
This king, George II, was the son of Sophia Dorothea, whosecause he had always espoused and whom he had in vain endeavouredto see during her long imprisonment. It is believed that, had shesurvived until he mounted the throne, he would have given herrank as Dowager Queen of England; the most slanderous of theJacobites said openly that George II was more a Pretender thanPrince Charles Edward, since his father was not George I, butPhilip von Königsmarck; so the old scandal and tragedy, which hadfirst thrown Aurora into the arms of Augustus the Strong andbrought Maurice de Saxe into the world, still echoed as awhispered slander both in the courts and the pot-houses ofEurope. At Dettingen had fought the Duke of Cumberland, third sonof the King, who had received a musket ball through his leg, whenhis frightened horse, running away with him, had carried him intothe French ranks.
After this defeat of M. de Noailles and his sixty thousand menat Dettingen, the cabinet of Versailles were faced with thepossibility of invasion, for the Allies were descending on theSpanish Netherlands. Count d'Argenson, Minister of War, decidedto mass the main army of France on the frontiers and at the sametime to harass England by an attempted invasion in favour ofPrince Charles Edward Stuart.
Both these tasks were entrusted to Maurice de Saxe. And hedeclared he would execute them "a la Tartare" withouthesitation or delay.
II. MAURICE, SWEET WILLIAM ANDSOME UNDERLINGS
MAURICE DE SAXE, in the spring of 1744, when thedismal fortunes of France were entrusted to him without muchpreamble, but rather as a desperate measure, was in his forty-seventh year and permanently disabled by dropsy. The old wound inhis leg gave him increasing trouble, his once splendid figure wasbloated and unwieldy, his once attractive face purpled andcarbuncled; copious dosings of powerful drugs kept at bay thepoisons that consumed him, but the physicians could not inducehim to alter his personal habits; dying of self-indulgence, heyet refused any restraint, and what was left of his strength wentin gross excesses. Of all his one-time graces and comelinessnothing remained, but he still was, when arrayed in his battlepanoply, an impressive, a formidable figure; the blue eyes,though bloodshot and sunken, were yet full of fire, and rolledfiercely beneath the shaggy brows, the voice, often likened to atrumpet or a drum, still retained a ferocious power; and he hadabated nothing of his splendour; fine lace still encircled theswollen bull neck, pearls hung either side the purple jowl,powdered curls surrounded the face, ugly now save for that grinof cynic humour.
Diamonds were clustered on the monstrous breast and theswollen fingers still displayed a blazing ring with the arms ofSaxony.
He leered at the fools who had been forced to beg his help,heaved himself on to his massive horse, turned towards thefrontiers and in a short campaign did what M. d'Argenson hadasked of him; in his own style of coarse pleasantry he said hehad "packed off Prince Charles and the King of England, after'confessing' them."
"The thing was worthy my attention," he added. He hadfortified the frontiers, held back the Austrians, and preventedthe enemy from obtaining a foothold in Alsace-Lorraine. Nor washe daunted by the other prospect put forward by the cabinet atVersailles, the invasion of England; a scheme frequentlycherished by the French, but never successfully put intopractice.
It greatly pleased Maurice, it had that touch of the bizarre,the fantastic, that always delighted him; it touched that mostdreamt dream of all—a crown. Not for himself, perhaps, butif the enterprise was successful, what not could Maurice hopefrom the gratitude of Charles Edward Stuart?
It may have, too, amused his sardonic humour to contemplatechasing the son of Sophia Dorothea from his throne.
Always active, despite his ill-health, he contrived to be atDunkirk in February 1744, where the young Italianate Stuart methim with enthusiastic delight; for him a golden dream seemedabout to become a reality; Maurice had fifteen thousand menembarked by March I; his intention was to take them across thechannel, up the Thames, and to threaten London, while theJacobites (the French hoped) would rise in revolt against theHanoverians.
Spring gales saved England, not for the first or last time,from invasion; some ships were lost, others had to return toport, and Maurice, fevered with impatience to begin hisenterprise, was forced to exclaim furiously: "Decidedly the windis not Jacobite!"
Despite the delays, however, and the knowledge that theEnglish were strongly fortifying their posts, Maurice stillwished to attempt the descent and would have done so, had he notbeen forbidden by M. d'Argenson, who thought that both JamesStuart, his son, and their supporters formed rotten reeds onwhich to lean and that the whole scheme was too costly and toohazardous.
Maurice's earnest attempts to persuade the Minister and theKing that it would be well worth while to endeavour to transportthirty thousand men across the Channel even in fishing boats toattack England, met with no success and he was forced to abandonto despair and folly Prince Charles Edward, and to return toParis where he received the superb honour of Maréchal de Franceand the command of the Army on the Moselle.
One of the difficulties, in the eyes of the nobles andcourtiers, in the way of his elevation to this magnificentdignity, was the fact that he was a Protestant and thereforedebarred from some of the privileges of his new dignity. Althoughhe was completely indifferent to all religion, he had alwaysrefused to leave the Lutheran Church of which he was nominally amember, and it was useless to suggest it now. An obstinate prideengaged him in this surface loyalty; yet he hardly knew themeaning of the words Religion, God or Spirituality; any mentionof such matters brought a cynic laugh from the rough, robust andgross soldier. He enjoyed with gusto the material glory andsplendour this new honour brought him and the fact that he wascalled "le Maréchal Maurice" and that the King addressedhim as "my cousin," while the Prince de Conti and other royalpersonages could hardly contain their rage.
At the same time, and in some measure by his influence,another Northerner was received into the French service; Danishby birth and a general in the Saxon army, Ulric-Frédéric-Waldemar, Count de Lowendal, at 44 years of age, was a mercenarysoldier of great success and distinction; one of his most notableexploits had been, when he was in the service of the Czarina Ann,expelling at the edge of the sword the Tartars out of theUkraine; Lowendal had on occasion fought against Maurice, butthey had been for many years friends, men of much the sametemperament, the same destiny, the same background. Lowendalproved a good second to Maurice in the organisation and commandof the French armies.
It was a period of grave anxiety for France; the last campaignhad been little short of disastrous, both in lowered prestige andin crippling defeats; French bones, treasure, flags and guns,were scattered over Flanders, Italy and Germany; the cause ofCharles of Bavaria seemed, too, lost. The entry of Great Britainwith her fresh troops, her sound financial resources and goodorganisation, the fear of invasion, the failure of the Countd'Argenson's bold plan for the landing of Charles Stuart inEngland, all these events were shrewd blows at the failingstrength of France. Internal conditions, too, were bad; deNoailles, in a memorial to the King, painted them in the blackestcolours, and Europe indeed did not think that France could putanother army into the field. The war had been tedious andexhausting, the French troops were fatigued and dispirited,thousands of them were prisoners, and the cabinet at Versailleshardly knew where to turn for the means and the men with which tosupport the only two generals who were likely to be of use, thetwo foreigners, Saxe and Lowendal.
In a passionate appeal to the King, M. de Noailles entreatedHis Majesty to take the field in person; nothing else would soraise the prestige of France or so put heart into the men. For deNoailles was still of the opinion that France must continue tofight, for the sake of "honour and glory."
Paris had, indeed, attempted to open negotiations with Vienna,but Maria Theresa had refused to listen to terms, and in truththe national dignity could only be saved by carrying on this warso wantonly undertaken.
The combination against France had now been strengthened bythe entry of the Netherlands into the ranks of the Allies; theDutch, peace loving, and only remotely concerned in the quarrel,had been persuaded against their own inclination and to no one'sgreat advantage to enter the struggle and they played their partbut half-heartedly; they were, however, well equipped and, iflethargic, had a prosperous government behind them.
Louis XV responded to the appeal of M. de Noailles and decidedto take the field for the campaign of 1744.
Wondering, in his exquisite boredom, if there might not besome excitement to be obtained out of war, Louis XV had beenattracted by the suggestion that he should lead his army inperson and had selected the Saxon Maréchal for his model andguide in the enterprise. Other reasons beside dread of tediuminspired the King at this crisis in the affairs of France; he wasbut in his thirty-fourth year and, freed from the long dominionof Cardinal Fleury that had followed the dominion of the Regent,Dubois and the Duc de Bourbon, he felt some stirrings of energyand ambition, some sincere desire to follow in the tradition ofSaint-Louis, Francis I, Henry IV—to be a King indeed,leading his men in glorious exploits.
He had tried to rule by himself after the death of CardinalFleury, but the burden had been too much for one untrained inanything save arts of idleness, yet there remained in him somemanly desire for independence. Neither was the young Kinginsensible to the appalling condition of his country, and apowerful adviser was always at his ear, inspiring him with braveand generous thoughts. This was the youngest and most beautifulof the Nesle sisters, Madame de Châteauroux, who was romantic andhigh-minded above most women of her caste.
The King seemed to love her; the affair had the air of LouisXIV's idyll with Louise de la Vallière and Madame de Pompadourwith her shrewd selfishness, her keen materialism, was still inthe background, with Madame Lenormant d'Etoiles, waitingpatiently for her chance of complete ascendancy over the King, asshe had waited already two years. Though the King's decision wasextremely popular with the people and put heart into a dispiritednation, his choice of Maurice de Saxe as his instructor in theart of war was taken as little less than an insult by the Princesof the Blood and nobility, all squabbling among themselves formilitary honours, titles and rewards.
Louis XV had, however, more good sense and shrewdness thanappeared at first from his indolent and frivolous exterior. Hehad not chosen Maurice altogether from a caprice or because ofthe influence of M. de Noailles. He remarked, with his lightcynicism, "that the times were not fertile in great men"; inMaurice he perceived the only general capable of restoring thetattered glory of the lilies and of conducting with dignity thewar that he himself was entering as a piquant distraction andwith some generous idea of emulating the glories of hispredecessors.
Maurice was to have the effective command of the forces thatHis Most Christian Majesty would lead in his name and the Saxonhad therefore achieved a very splendid position in the Frenchcourt and camp, one from which it would be almost impossible todislodge him and which he had every opportunity ofconsolidating.
Now that this splendid prospect opened before him, Maurice wasfull of enthusiasm and of activity; his zeal was one of thereasons that Louis XV leant upon him. Here at least was a solidcharacter, self-confident and enterprising, and one whose destinyseemed to be to save France if not to restore her ancientsplendour.
Thus supported, Maurice de Saxe was able to snap his fingersat the enraged troupe dorée, but the hatred of some ofthem, still notably that of the Prince de Conti, who aspired tohis place, was dangerous.
The campaign opened in April; Maurice went to Valencienneswith half the French forces, where he was soon joined by M. deNoailles with the remainder of the French troops; the Saxon'sorganisation had been superb; M. de Noailles, when urging theKing to take the field, had complained of every possible troublewith the army, including insubordination, but Maurice de Saxe wasable to take the offensive with troops at least as welldisciplined and equipped as those of the Allies. For their partthe government had worked hard; Count d'Argenson had takenenergetic measures for mobilisation and recruiting and a gravelydepleted treasury had been drawn upon for the manufacture ofbombs, balls, cannon and arms, and for the purchase of warsupplies; during the whole of the war there was a desperatestruggle between the Contrôleur-Général Ovry and theMinister of War on this vital question of expense.
The war could not continue without enormous expense; thenation had no money, and yet the war must be sustained; such wasthe position that occupied the wits of the Versailles cabinet;yet, while M. d'Argenson and M. Dumesnil were endeavouring tofind the means to carry on this almost hopeless task, theorganisation of hospitals, the making of military roads, thesupply of transport, the construction of bridges and all theelaborate machinery of war, the royal household that surroundedthe King were indulging in the most reckless extravagance and themost splendid luxury. It might be a great encouragement to Francethat the King was, symbolically at least, "at the head of histroops," but his presence was a source of continual embarrassmentand vexation to Maurice and such other generals as took seriouslytheir task, not only of defending France, but of carrying the warinto the enemy's country. For Louis XV brought with him all thatcomprised his court, except his Queen; the fair and enthusiasticMadame de Châteauroux took her place.
For the rest there were the royal Princes, with their vasthouseholds, the nobles with their establishments, and all thecrowd of hangers-on to these great ones that had formerly flockedto the corridors at Versailles, or jostled in the ante-chambersof Parisian hotels. Merchants, tradespeople, moneylenders,panders, jobbers and sharpers, dancers, singers and "fines dejoie" by the waggon-load accompanied the aristocracy of France tothe war.
Maurice, endeavouring to put into practice some of his long-held ideas in military science and those of his life-long friendand favourite author, the Chevalier Folard, was hampered andinfuriated by this cumbrous train of vice, extravagance,etiquette, folly and pride, which impeded all operations andfilled the army with all the corrupt and base intrigues thatpoisoned the court and the city.
Maurice's ideal soldier remained Charles XII, of whom he hadcaught a glimpse in his youth—"attired like one of his ownmen, and sharing all their miseries and perils." And he oftenallowed himself a rough statement of his feelings. When it wassuggested to him that a certain assault would be worth while"since it would cost the lives of ten dragoons only" he repliedbrusquely, "Ten dragoons! If you had said ten lieutenant-generalsI might not have hesitated." And when an officer came to him fororders, perfumed, powdered and as exquisitely groomed as if readyfor the King's levee, Maurice asked scornfully, "What ballare you going to, my fine fellow?"
Yet his own luxury was as ostentatious as that of any gildedmignon; and he did not permit himself this inconsistencyout of indifference or compliance, he really liked all that wasopulent, costly and sensuously pleasing. He maintained his ownprivate theatre with a troupe of accomplished actressesand actors, and elegant berlines full of light and pretty ladiesfollowed his staff.
But if he had his diversions he did his work well; he neverrelaxed the discipline of his troops, he continued to train,exercise and instruct them; he treated deserters with suchseverity that even the Swiss, mercenaries with no heart in thewar, remained at their posts, and he tried even to discipline theofficers "who have too much leisure" and to close to them theFlemish cafés, theatres and houses of ill-fame, where they spenttoo much time. He also kept order among his troops; thesurrounding country was not pillaged, and the peasants wereencouraged to come to the camp to sell their provisions at a fairprice.
Affairs were very different in those sections of the army thatdid not come under the command of Maurice de Saxe; M. deSeychelles wrote to M. de Belleisle from the royal headquarters,"there is no order or discipline here. The soldiers rape andpillage, we are detested, all have their hands againstus—there is no hope of any discipline."
Maurice now put into practice one of his ideas of therêveries, incessant attacks on the enemy by smallparties—a kind of guerilla warfare, new and effective.
In May, he presented the King with a splendid spectacle, thecapture of the town of Menin; this success was followed by thefall of Courtrai, Ypres and Fumes. The activity of Prince Charlesof Lorraine on the Rhine, however, drew off Louis XV and M. deNoailles to Alsace and left Maurice with diminished forces tohold the Flemish posts.
The King, afraid of death and afraid of Hell, had neverthelessshown an elegant kind of bravery during such actions as he hadbeen permitted to share; he had been shielded, however, from anyreal danger. But at Metz he was struck down 'by a peril that noone had the skill or the knowledge to prevent.
Disease then accounted for at least as many soldiers as thoseslain by the enemy in time of war; the filthy camps, the dirt,ignorance and apathy of men and officers, the scarcity even ofsuch medical help as the age afforded, made many maladies endemicduring time of war.
The young, charming and handsome King was infected by one ofthe pestilences bred from the insanitary camps, the herdedtroops, the foul camp followers.
It was believed that he would die, and France was moved into arush of love and loyalty—the last that this dynasty was toprovoke from the nation over which they had ruled so long.
The priests worked on Louis's fears of Divine vengeance and hesent away Madame de Châteauroux. When he recovered, it seemed asif the passionate prayers of France had been answered; and hefound himself saluted by the term "Well beloved."
"What have I ever done" he asked with that sad self-understanding for which much may be forgiven him, "that I shouldbe loved?"
Madame de Châteauroux returned to the royal couch as thepriests, whose absolution was no longer required, left the royalchamber; but infection was in everything she touched, and she toofell ill.
Her quick death touched and terrified her lover; his own griefalarmed him, he turned to the suave comfort offered by Madamed'Etoiles, who had waited so long and so patiently; she lovedhim, she was brilliant, she was sensitive, she knew all the artsof passion, she rapidly achieved the envied position ofmaîtresse-en-titre. Louis submitted to her dazzlingseduction; after the loss of Madame de Châteauroux he neverpermitted himself the dangerous luxury of a tender or sentimentalattachment. The new mistress, soon to become Madame de Pompadour,had always admired Maurice, at least as a soldier, and he wasvery ready to come to an understanding with the powerful newfavourite.
Louis and Noailles continued to hold Charles of Lorraine inAlsace; the King saw Fribourg taken during a violent storm ofrain; during the assault Lowendal was wounded, Maurice kept theenemy at bay in Flanders until the troops went into winterquarters.
The state of his health had now become alarming; little wasleft of the manly strength that had passed for beauty in the eyesof so many women. His huge limbs were enfeebled, his hands shook,the heavy-featured face with the snub nose and long upper lip wasempurpled, bloated and saggy, twitching with pain and blotchedwith disease. Though he had been long ailing and struggling withintermittent illnesses, he seemed to his doctors, his friends andhis acquaintances to have suddenly collapsed. Not yet nearing hisfiftieth year he appeared to have the weaknesses and disabilitiesof a man of 70 years of age or more. His dropsy had become worse,and in vain he was tapped by his physician, M. Senac; it seemedthat his "blood was dissolving "; his body was covered with soresthat baths of healing balms did little to relieve; he was incontinual pain from the chronic festering in the wounded leg.
Yet he had the will-power to employ this winter of 1744-5, notonly in exercising his regiment and in inventing cannon and guns,but in ingratiating himself with Madame de Pompadour.
Though Maurice de Saxe had shown a brisk contempt for theintolerable insolence of the gilded rakes, idle fops andvoluptuous loungers who flourished in the train of the King, hehad maintained his hold on the monarch who was now confided tohis care by Madame de Pompadour. The mistress's interest in thewar was entirely personal; she had gracefully conveyed toMaurice, whom she looked upon, and rightly, as the one strongpersonality in the French army, her hope that he would be able toshorten the tedious war that kept her royal and charming loverfrom her side; she knew that the King was fickle and the factthat he was at the seat of war did not mean that he was free fromfeminine influence.
The new favourite, who had not yet become a habit with herlover, was glad to have Maurice de Saxe as her ally, and the twounderstood each other very well.
Thus, despite so many handicaps, his health, the enemies thathis success in the field made him among the Princes, Maurice hadthe address to maintain his hold on the King, the mistress and M.de Noailles.
The winter passed in fruitless negotiations between thehostile nations, and Maurice employed himself with whatdiversions came his way, in raising, training his Uhlans, instudying for his next campaign and in trying to regain somestrength; but many thought he would not live to see the spring.His one desire was to return to the active life of the camp, yetit was to his interest to please Madame de Pompadour, who wishedthe King idle, safe and under her direct influence.
Maurice continued his "gazettes" and letters to the court ofDresden and he served the interest of his own country skilfullyenough with Madame de Pompadour, even down to such details asinducing her to buy the products of and patronise the enterpriseof the porcelain factories whose dainty productions were becomingfamous throughout Europe.
There had been some changes in the political situation;Frederick of Prussia had been detached from his allies by MariaTheresa and on the death of Charles VII, January 28, 1745, whomFrance had crowned but never been able to provide with an Empire,the court of Vienna succeeded in seducing his young son from hischampions; Saxony also veered round and signed a treaty withMaria Theresa and England. Despite the fact that there was noEmperor to fight for, France continued her struggle with all andsundry across the ruins of the Empire.
Maurice, Commander-in-Chief of the French army in Flanders,prepared to leave Paris in March; he was in command of sixtythousand men, and Tournay was his objective.
Voltaire, visiting him as he was issuing his orders from thechair he could not leave, asked quizzically, "How can you hope tolive through the fatigues of another campaign?"
The crippled giant replied dryly: "I'm not thinking of living,but of leaving for the front."
He had to travel in a litter, however, and soon after hisarrival at Maubeuge a crisis of distress caused M. Senac tooperate on him again for dropsy.
The doctor, acting under orders from the alarmed King, who sawhis one champion laid low, tried to introduce some order into thelife of his formidable patient. There were to be no moretemptations, declared the physician, either in court or in camp.The berlines full of gay ladies, who followed Maurice from townto town during the campaigns, were to be forbidden; the goodcompanions were to be kept at a distance. "Plus de femmes" wasthe order; and the invalid's door was barred to petticoats.
Maurice, with an indifferent air, groaning with pain, promisedamendments, but neither the King nor the doctors believed inthese and his house was guarded day and night to see thatundesirable favourites did not enter to tempt him to furtherdebaucheries.
All these precautions were, however, too late. Even if Mauricehad reformed his way of life, he would not have been able to curehis complication of diseases; for he had to contend not only withhis own lack of control, where sensual appetites were concerned,but with the primitive hygiene of his day and lack of knowledgeon the part of even the most famous physicians.
The man whose living flesh was corrupting, was tormented, forthe first time in his life, by a thwarted passion. It was,indeed, ironical that the man who had only to glance at a womanto win her, who had been besieged by many fashionable, proud anddelicate beauties, sometimes in vain, was now, with his youth,and beauty, and health gone, tortured by the inability to win awoman on whom he had set his desires; this woman was MadameFavart, and her story, though it runs concurrently with thepolitical and military events of the last few years of Maurice'slife, is better given as a complete narrative.
At the opening of the campaign of 1745, the reckless andextravagant life of Paris was again continued by the princes,generals and nobles of France in Flanders; gambling, love-making,and extravagant dressing passed the time between the battles andthe sieges.
And all this gross brilliancy was heightened by the presenceof the charming King of 35 years of age and that of the littleDauphin, 15 years old, who had just been married to the ugly, sadlittle Spanish princess whom he adored.
They again brought with them the whole "golden troop" of theroyal household and all the glittering and arrogant aristocracyof France, equipped with the extremes of luxury, brave and cool,though utterly incapable of the military commands that were giventhem, amused themselves while on the ravaged fields of Flanderswith all the diversions to which they had been accustomed inVersailles.
Maurice and the Prince de Conti, his great enemy and rival, inparticular made a point of outshining the others, in the amountof money they lost at their card tables, in the costliness oftheir equipage and with the talents of the companies of actorsand actresses who accompanied them.
But Maurice was not so well able to join in these pleasures ashe had been even a year ago; between the watchful physician, theagony of his own ailments and his severe military conscience, hehad little time or strength for any kind of pleasure.
He placed his men from the Sambre to the Lys, from Maubeuge toWarneton and, passing his troops along both banks of the Scheldt,invested Tournay on May 1, 1745.
Immediately after he had opened the trenches, he learned thatthe Allies, with a force of sixty thousand men, were moving onSoignies and so threatening to cut his lines of communications;leaving twenty thousand men before Tournay, Maurice, with therest of his force, forty-five thousand seasoned troops,established himself in a defensive position on a plain a fewmiles from the besieged city.
He had often worked out such a situation, "pondered over itfor weeks, perhaps months," and he now made his preparations withthe precision of an accomplished player setting the chessboard.
His health continued desperate, though he had written to Countd'Argenson that he "felt better since his arrival at thecamp."
The Minister was not, however, reassured, and demandedconstant news of the progress of "the precious invalid."
After the tapping for dropsy, Maurice had seemed, indeed, alittle restored; "he ate with appetite, slept eight hours and sawvisitors." Now he was again enfeebled and in gnawing pain; hisworst distress was a perpetual thirst; the doctors had forbiddenhim to drink because of his dropsy; M. de Luynes, who saw himdaily, thought that he would not "live more than a few months atmost" and that "one could not count on him." France, however, hadto count on him; though the holders of almost every brilliant andfamous name in France were gathered before Tournay, there was noone to take the place of Maurice.
Having so carefully made his preparations and disposed histroops on the undulating plain, surrounded with woods and pittedwith bogs, between Antoing and Fontenoy, and flanked by theScheldt, Maurice learnt with grim, if silent, fury that theglittering array of the royal household was hastening to hiscamp. On hearing that a great battle was likely to take place,Louis XV, the Dauphin, and the troupe doreée had hastenedto Fontenoy to see the spectacle and to pick up whatever laurelsmight be lying about after the exertions of others had gainedwhat was then termed glory; and also to risk their own lives inthe service of France.
Louis XV possessed a considerable personal courage and agraceful sense of dignity as well as an immense trust in hisSaxon mercenary; elegant idler as His Most Christian Majesty was,he showed more bravery in the field than had ever been displayedby the conquering Louis XIV and appeared elated at the prospectof a pitched battle.
Maurice tried with grim resolution to conceal his physicaldisorders, but was so ill when the King arrived at the camp thathe was not able to leave his tent; his soured temper was notimproved by the tiresome courtiers, utterly incompetent, selfishand vain, with their impudent demands for high rank andauthority, but he continued with those qualities of vigour andenthusiasm that were his best points to make every possiblepreparation for the advancing enemy, though not able to sit onhorse-back, or indeed, hardly upright.
The Allies were under the command of an English Prince of theblood royal, who was also a pure German, William Augustus, son ofGeorge II and Caroline of Brandenberg-Anspach.
He was then in his twenty-fifth year and had only recentlytaken up his command; indeed, shortly before he had begged to beallowed to take part in the campaign "in any capacity." The tactof Lord Stair had, however, won a diplomatic victory overAustrian pride, and an office, in abeyance since the days ofMarlborough, that of Captain General of the Allied Forces, hadbeen revived for the young Prince, while Marshal Königsegg, aveteran of the school of Eugene, acted with him as adlatus.
This appointment had been made in the same spirit as that inwhich Louis XV had joined his army in the field; to give somebrilliancy to the general staff of the allies and to animate inparticular the spirit of the soldiery, who might be supposed tobe heartened to be serving under a prince of royal birth.
George II might have remarked with Louis XV, that the age wasnot fertile in great soldiers; there was no Marlborough on hisstaff; Lord Stair was a good soldier and a fine tactician, buthad been hampered by continual interference from His Majesty,while Field-Marshal Wade, who succeeded him, was not of startlingtalent and handicapped to some extent by his own caution. Wadehad, however, as early as the spring of 1744, represented to KingGeorge that Maurice de Saxe was a leader of such fine mettle thatit was useless to oppose him with the inferior troops of Austriaand the Netherlands and with an army suffering from a dividedcommand.
The appointment of the Duke of Cumberland was thought toremedy this defect; he had at least the advantage of undisputedauthority over the Anglo-Hanoverian troops and of ardour for histask; no general could have shown more ardour than did this youngPrince when he advanced to the relief of Tournay to find theFrench firmly and skilfully entrenched across his route andbefore the beleaguered city.
No character in history has been more maligned than WilliamAugustus, Duke of Cumberland; a succession of prejudiced orindifferent historians has been followed by a crowd of fictionwriters, who almost mechanically repeat slanders about thisunlucky prince; and no cheap romance about the Jacobites, cloggedwith false sentiment and false history, but adds another sneer atthe "butcher" Cumberland, who is accused of almost every possiblefault and crime, the least of these being brutality andincapacity.
The source of these libels is Jacobite squibs, lampoons andcaricatures; the Stuarts and their followers never showedthemselves generous towards those who beat them, and William IIIand all the members of the House of Hanover have had theirreputations blackened—for all time it would seem—bythe spite of Jacobite party writers.
Cumberland was of the same type as Maurice de Saxe, a heavyNortherner, authoritative, sensual, a born soldier, hard andresolute to a fault. He delighted in his profession and spared nopains to perfect himself in it and he achieved what Maurice neverdid, an identification of himself with his men. To him they werenot the pieces on a chess board that they were to Maurice, buthuman beings; he looked after their welfare, he made reforms fortheir comfort, he frequently said that their "honour and glory"were very near his heart and no one could please him better thanby praising his men. They in their turn adored him; to them hewas "Billy" or "Sweet William" and they wore in their capsclusters of the prim little flower of that name.
The British Prince lacked the genius of Maurice, but he alsolacked his vulgarity; Cumberland had a sportsman's taste, heliked racing, easy women, cards, but no ugly stories were told ofhis private life, and there was nothing of the scoundrel in hischaracter.
He was, indeed, honourable, did nothing for profit, was notcorrupt in money matters, and had that quiet dignity whichdisdains a meanness, nor did he stoop to intrigues of anykind—one reason for his unpopularity and the lies that weretold about him.
He had been severely wounded at Dettingen and the damaged leghad been so unskilfully treated that it helped bring him in earlymiddle life to an end as dreadful as that which now fastapproached Maurice de Saxe.
On that occasion, when in great pain on the battlefield,Cumberland had refused a drink of water in favour of a Frenchofficer lying near; a similar incident with the name of SirPhilip Sidney attached is in every text-book of English history,but few chronicle the good deeds of the Duke of Cumberland.Horace. Walpole, whose standards were high in matters of tasteand elegance, said that His Royal Highness had no social virtues,but he had other qualities that would have been useful to thenation if he had come to the throne; he was unfortunate ineverything, and not least in being always subordinate, first toan elder brother, then to a nephew, as well as continuallysubjected to the not too easy rule of his father. The thirdgeneral in command of the Allied Forces was Prince Waldeck, atthe head of the Dutch contingent. He was a brave and experiencedsoldier, but it would have been better if the Prince of Orangehad not been prevented by party politics from taking his place,for the Dutch were not inspired by Waldeck as they would havebeen by the head of the House of Nassau.
The Allies had made slow progress, less than forty miles inten days, and Maurice had had time to fortify his position withtrenches and redoubts and he was advantageously placed, in facthe considered that he would not, for this reason, beattacked.
His earthworks, furnished with men and artillery, filled theground between the village of Antoing on the right, and theforest of Barre on the left; his one weakness was the fact thatthe Scheldt ran along his rear; his cannon were arranged to facethe approach and his reserves, six battalions of the IrishBrigade, were hidden behind a gentle incline that rose from theriver-bank.
In front of him was the hamlet of Vegon that stood on the edgeof a concealed ravine through which ran a stream.
Maurice's quick and extensive work had destroyed hedges andfields and gardens, but amid his complicated entrenchments rosethe white-walled, red-tiled houses of the Flemish village, theancient church, with the slender bell towers rising clearly intothe spring air. The Allies would have been well advised to leaveTournay to its fate and not to offer a challenge to so able ageneral so well entrenched, and the blame of their mistake hasbeen given to Cumberland, always a scapegoat, but the fact isthat the Allied commanders were unanimous in their decision toattack.
It was not so much Tournay that was at stake as prestige,Cumberland and his allies could not afford to forgo a chance ofvictory and they had been badly misinformed, the number of theFrench was nearly as many again as Cumberland's spies had toldhim it was. The exact number of men on either side cannot beascertained, some military historians give Maurice the advantageof six thousand more than Cumberland, but all that can be knownwith certainty is that both the Allies and the French had aboutfifty thousand men.
The English troops were well disciplined and keen; the war waspopular in England where Maria Theresa was regarded as somethingof a persecuted heroine and there was still a sense that theFrench were the natural foes of the English, a heritage from thelong wars of Louis XIV. The threatened, though abortive invasionhad roused the British, too, and these continual attempts on thepart of the House of Bourbon to thrust the House of Stuart on apeople who had definitely cast them out, were sharply resented;the British Government had been for some time aware of theimportance of a war that, if it set the French in Vienna andjeopardised the liberty of the Netherlands, would upset thebalance of power in the West, and eleven new regiments had beenraised in 1741. Well matched, therefore, in all respects, save intheir generals, the two armies confronted each other on themorning of the May 11, 1745.
The King, the Dauphin and the royal household took theirplaces on a little hill, where the soldiers could salute them asthey went into action. Maurice, still unable to sit on horse-back, had been carried, during the preceding night, from post topost, inspecting everything, giving his final orders with clarityand precision. Tormented with thirst and forbidden to drink, herolled a musket ball in his mouth in order to create a littlesaliva and by sheer energy of will dominated his atrocioussufferings.
"A fine day for His Majesty!" he cried to Lowendal when he sawthe sun rise in a cloudless sky. And he gazed with deep pride andpleasure on the half moon of his waiting troops, dragoons,guards, infantry, hussars, light horse, with their officersbearing the most magnificent names in France before them;standards, drums, cannon, all the panoply of war in exactarray.
At five o'clock the French outposts signalled by burning agroup of cottages that the enemy was advancing.
Cumberland was making for the only gap in the French sector,that of about half a mile between the outer redoubt of St. Eu andthe village of Fontenoy. He had given the post of honour to histwenty-five thousand British troops, the Dutch and Austrians wereon the left. The young general, inexperienced and too ardent, wasin the cruel position of being faced by the greatest soldier ofthe age and in attempting to carry Maurice's admirable positionby assault he was undertaking what only a Marlborough could haveperformed successfully; but this admitted, it must also beallowed that he did the utmost that any man could have done andin spite of severe handicaps. The first of these was amisunderstood order; he had ordered the redoubt of St. Eu to betaken, but the two Austrian battalions entrusted with this taskdid not move; while the Dutch sent against Fontenoy and Antoingsoon fell back.
Cumberland perceived these misfortunes and sent his aidesgalloping with fresh instructions as he carried out his own partof the plan of assault and advanced at the head of the Britishtroops—ten battalions of infantry in the first line, sevenbattalions in the second line—up the slope towards theearthworks that enclosed the waiting French. Many men have losttheir presence of mind through fear, Cumberland was apt to losehis head through courage; his father said of him that "his headturned" when in action through the passionate desire to beeverywhere, to inspire every man with his own fiery courage.
He now went from rank to rank, exhorting the British in thewarmest terms, to which they responded with cries and shouts; asneither Fontenoy nor St. Eu had been taken, silenced, or evenengaged in the struggle, Cumberland and his men marched forwardunder a deadly cross fire from these two points. Their ranks didnot break, and Cumberland's trust in their iron discipline andthe murderous accuracy of their musketry was justified. When theywere within range of the French earthworks, he gave the order tofire; as the answering volley rang out the first French line fellalmost to a man; by the time the second line had formed, theBritish were ready to fire again, and did, advancing, Cumberlandat their head, right into the enemy's position; a hand to handfight with muskets, sabres and swords ensued; the standardsswaying above the combatants as the British thrust their coloursthrough the breaches in the wall.
The French regiment at the earthworks, that of the Dauphin,was taken by surprise and was overwhelmed as the British rushed,with wild cries, through the smoke and dust towards Fontenoy. Theveteran de Noailles thought the day was lost and was terrifiedabout the safety of the King and Dauphin, but Maurice being bornein his litter through the smoke and din ordered his concealedartillery into play against the still-advancing British, to whomCumberland had given as an objective the delicate spire ofFontenoy church.
Cumberland, however, still forced on, though caught betweenSt. Eu and Fontenoy, which his allies had done nothing to take;the Dutch and Austrians, either through misunderstanding orlethargy, were now little more than spectators. There was abloody medley within the French lines; the French infantry couldnot stand up to the British musketry; the reckless bravery andgeneral incompetence of the royal Princes and the aristocraticofficers added to the confusion, in some cases to the panic;orders and counter orders were frantically given and Maurice,shouting from his litter, could hardly make himself understood,or even heard.
Cumberland had found himself on the edge of the ravine thatprotected Fontenoy, so abandoning that objective, he changed histactics, and forming his troops, now supported by some Dutchregiments, into an immense column, threw it, with the precisionof one aiming a dagger at a shield, at the slight hill where fourbattalions of French guards waited.
When the English gained the hill and saw the ranks of Francebefore them there was a pause and the enemies saluted oneanother. The famous anecdote that is told of this occasion ishardly likely to be true, but is still related.
Lord Charles Hay, the story goes, advanced from the Britishranks, as the officers raised their hats in salute of thechivalry of France, and said: "Gentlemen, give the order tofire." Upon which the Comte Auteroche replied: "No, we never firefirst." The English thereupon fired and laid a thousand Frenchmenon the field; in any case the English broke the French line, andtheir terrible column still advanced, Cumberland, the standards,at its head; Maurice too, began to think the day might be lost.He threw in his cavalry, and the hussars, sabres in their hands,galloped against the British infantry. Cumberland's lines did notbreak; his men met the cavalry with the bayonet, with musketryfire; the hussars charged again and again but the British ranksappeared invincible; they were not to be turned back even whenMaurice added the infantry of the Maison du Roi, whom hehad held in reserve behind the woods of Barre, to the hideousmêlée.
"God give me strength to survive the day—a victor," hesaid. Of what God was he thinking? The battle lasted six hours;when, at two o'clock in the afternoon news was brought to Mauricethat Cumberland, with the tattered British flag and ten thousandinfantry, was still advancing, though slowly, the Saxon saw thatonly desperate measures could save the day. He called up his lastreserves, the Irish battalions under the command of Lord Thomondthe descendants of the "Wild Geese" of Limerick and, making anheroic effort, was lifted from his litter to a horse. Graspinghis sword in his swollen fingers, his cloak dragged over thecuirass he could scarcely support, Maurice shouted on the Irishbrigades against the shattered, but still-advancing British.
These fresh troops were too much for Cumberland, unsupportedas he was by his allies, and having sustained six hours' combatagainst most unequal odds, he could do no more; he gave thesignal for retreat, and the British withdrew slowly in goodorder, rolling sullenly, with torn flags and tattered, bloodyuniforms, down the trampled slope up which Cumberland had ledthem that morning.
The losses were equal; about six thousand five hundred deadand wounded; each side the advantage lay in the glory andprestige acquired; France had inflicted a defeat in the field onEngland that was considered as definite and spectacular as anysince the days of Jeanne d'Arc.
Cumberland sent a laconic note to Waldeck—"My Prince, Ishall retire under the guns of Ath"—and withdrew in goodorder. There is no record of what passed between him and hisallies on the subject of the disobedience of his commands, whichhad cost him the battle; his feelings must have been bitter, forit was only through lack of support that he had been preventedfrom wresting, through sheer dogged valour, victory from theforemost general of the day entrenched in a position that hedeemed impregnable. Certainly Maurice had to thank the behaviourof the Austrians and Dutch, as well as his own genius, for hisfamous victory.
It should be said, however, that the Netherlanders left nearlyone thousand five hundred dead and wounded behind. If, when theissue of the day was uncertain, the Dutch battalions had come tothe aid of Cumberland and his infantry, then struggling withhorse and foot together, the Te Deum might have been sungin St. Paul's instead of Notre-Dame.
But Waldeck's troops undoubtedly displayed that naturalslowness and deliberation so admirable in business and sometimesin politics, but rarely successful in a pitched battle; littleblame can be attached to the Netherlanders for their lack ofenthusiasm. Their State was reluctant to enter the war and theirsoldiers were naturally reluctant to fight in it, but it is oddthat they offered so feeble a support to the efforts of theBritish to drive the enemy from their own frontiers. It should benoted, nevertheless, that there was a fair number of Dutch deadand wounded left on the field.
Certain it is that, as if disdaining the whole affair, thatmany of the Dutch troops retired early with a loss so small thatthe Gazette de Hollande apologised for it by saying thatthey had been alarmed by a row of dummy guns in the Frenchtrenches, an excuse that hardly betters the case and was probablymeant cynically.
The victory of Fontenoy was the personal triumph of Mauriceand of Maurice alone; whether in his wicker carriage, or forcinghimself on horse-back, always half-fainting with pain, hinderedby all the elaborate ceremonial rendered necessary by thepresence of the King and the Dauphin, embarrassed by theincapacity and arrogance of the Princes of the Blood, Maurice wasover the field in the shortest possible space of time, at thelast galloping from rank to rank of the Irish reserves shoutinghis own orders, animating the men, forcing, as it were, theFrench on to victory by the sheer energy of his own impetuous andvaliant spirit. When he learned of the retreat of Cumberland hecollapsed and was taken half conscious to his tent; the officerswho gathered round him with enthusiastic praises andcongratulations found him sprawling in a chair, convulsed withagony, a yellow saliva dripping from his mouth, while hisphysician waited to tap him for dropsy; after he had gulped a cupof soup he contrived to whisper: "Gentlemen, you see me morefatigued than I can tell you—but I'm pleased with to-day'swork."
He was put to bed and operated upon; the King came to enquireafter him; couriers hastened with the news to Paris; the nationwas delirious with joy; Voltaire said that it was three hundredyears since a King of France had performed so glorious an action,and he wrote his Poème à Fontenoy.
Maurice was worried about some technical errors, which hebelieved he had made—he ought to have had another redoubtwhere Cumberland had passed through between St. Eu and Fontenoy,but, he added in unconscious tribute to the British commander, "Idid not think that any general would be bold enough to passthrough there." He was not generous towards his valiant foes, buthe wrote to a friend that "Les Anglais ont été étrillés en chienscourtauds!"
The slaughter had been terrible; some British regiments hadlost half their number; nearly twelve thousand dead and woundedwere scattered round Fontenoy, Antoing and the woods of Barre.The King of France had displayed the courage expected of anordinary trooper and no more during the engagement andsentimentalised the battle in the true spirit of the period, byremarking to the young Dauphin as he pointed out the heaps ofslain and dying, "See, my son, on what the glory of Kings isbuilt." A pretty example of the mock heroic. Or is it possiblethat Louis XV was genuinely moved by the ghastly spectacle of somuch blood, ruin, misery, waste and horror, that he might enjoythe glory of a purposeless victory in a war undertaken out ofarrogance and continued through despair.
There were, at least, some present at this dreadful slaughterwho were moved out of professional insensibility; Comte M.d'Argenson himself wrote to Voltaire: "To give the other side ofthe picture, I remarked that one too soon acquires the custom ofregarding unmoved the field of battle covered with nude corpses,dying men in agony, ghastly wounds. For myself, I admit that myheart often failed me and I had need of a dram...A triumph ofthis kind is one of the finest things in the world, but it restson spilt human blood and torn morsels of human flesh."
Both the d'Argenson brothers were present at the engagement;the son of the Marquis, M. de Voyeu greatly distinguished himselfin the action.
M. de Seychelles was also sickened by the sights he had to seeand remarked pointlessly, "that it was a good thing for M. leDauphin to see, at his tender age, the price of royalty."
Sensibility of another kind was shown by the Prince de Croy:"This terrible spectacle," he wrote, "did not affect me in theleast. I went over the field asking after my friends, many ofwhom were dying, with a calm that astonished myself. In theevening everyone was going about, looking after the wounded,enquiring about acquaintances, delighted when these were foundsafe, for never is one so fond of one's comrades as after abattle. But, as for me, I remained cold and indifferent, doing mypart mechanically, regretting that I remained unscathed, for mymisfortune was always present before me and prevented me fromhaving any attachment to life."
M. de Croy's "misfortune" was the loss of his wife in thepreceding year and it is agreeable in an age that seems callousand corrupt, at least among the French aristocrats, to find somuch constancy—and to a wife. Honours were distributedimmediately after the action; the King rode from regiment toregiment, praising all, in particular the Irish brigade, whoseadvent had forced the dogged British soldiers to retreat. AnIrish sergeant, named Wheelock, had captured the one British flagto fall in the hands of the French; he was given commissionedrank on the spot; the same honour was accorded to othersergeants.
The Ministers took fifteen days to prepare the list of theother recipients of rewards; apart from promotions and the crossof Saint-Louis, handsome "gratifications" to the officers and menof thirteen regiments were provided from an almost exhaustedtreasury.
It was admitted that the trophies of the great victory werescanty; fifteen Dutch and eight English pieces of cannon had beenabandoned; and the Comte d'Estrées, who had been sent, not inpursuit of Cumberland, but to observe his movements, returnedwith the report that the British were encamped on the Dendre andbrought back with him one hundred and fifty baggage waggons andnearly two thousand wounded men, Dutch and English, who had beenleft on the line of retreat.
The care of these unfortunates constituted a grim problem; theFrench reckoned over seven thousand killed and wounded of theirown, including twenty-two nobles of the Maison du Roi. M.Seychelles, to whom, as intendant, this important workfell, had made his preparations in advance; he had ordered thesick to be moved from the hospitals of Lille, Douai and themilitary field hospital that was established near Notre-Dame-aux-Bois. To the rooms thus vacant the wounded of Fontenoy were nowtransported on more than four hundred waggons and carts. Forthose too ill to be moved, a hospital was constructed on thebattle-field.
The sappers and miners were charged with the task of buryingthe dead, and in twenty-four hours interred at least fivethousand corpses; for this they received extra pay. Theinhabitants of Lille, headed by their magistrates, threwthemselves with zeal into the succour of the wounded; everysurgeon and apothecary in the town offered his services, andevery household supplied a quota of linen, medicines and theinevitable "bouillon" that seemed so highly valued. The prisonerswere treated exactly the same as the French, a fact of whichLouis XV took care to assure himself; when Waldeck sent thirtywaggons to pick up the Dutch wounded, he found only fourteen men,the others being cared for by the French—"now they aredefeated and captive," said Comte d'Argenson, "they are no longerour enemies."
The usual tales of atrocities went round and the French wereaccused by the English of using pieces of glass and the buttonsof uniforms in their muskets; there seems no foundation for suchslanders and the French certainly behaved with humanity and evenchivalry.
By the end of the month a large number of the wounded haddied, but the mortality was equally high among the French, anddue, not to lack of care, but to primitive conditions of hygieneand lack of medical knowledge. It is interesting to note the fateof the two thousand three hundred and eight Dutch and Englishwounded; after a fortnight two hundred and seventy-three weredead, five had entered the service of France and fifteen were inprison. The French held as manyprisoners as possible, for GeorgeII had refused to release Belleisle whom he held, unlawfully, theFrench maintained, as a hostage.
Maurice de Saxe could not have hoped to gain more for Franceby this costly victory than Tournay; the town surrendered on May21, but the garrison retreated to the citadel and there defendedthemselves for another month. For himself, he had gained almosteverything for which he had ever longed; by universal acclaim hewas put beside Frederick of Prussia as one of the greatestgenerals of the age. The French even mentioned him in the samebreath as Condé and Turenne and Louis XV was prodigal in rewards.His Christian Majesty overwhelmed Maurice with caresses andcompliments; a pension of forty thousand livres, atabouret in the royal presence, a coach in the royalcourtyard, the regal château of Chambord, once the retreat ofKing Stanislas, as a residence—these unexampled rewardswere not considered too dazzling for the victor of Fontenoy.
The permission for Maurice—and his wife, if he shouldmarry—to enter the courtyard of the Louvre in a carriage,and to seat himself on a stool in the presence of members of theroyal house, was given in a brevet, signed by Louis in "the campbefore Tournay" on June 6, 1745.
France was delirious with patriotic enthusiasm for the barrenvictory; it seemed as if the great days of Louis XIV hadreturned; the great service at Notre-Dame, where the TeDeum was attended by forty bishops, was held as a day ofnational rejoicing; the King, the Government and Maurice de Saxewere wildly popular. His health had rallied a little afterFontenoy and his success gave him a high good humour, whichdelighted the French people, who found even his coarsepleasantries very agreeable.
Louis XV returned to Paris and the arms of Madame Pompadour,to savour to the full these triumphs, which were to be the lasthis House would enjoy, and Maurice continued his conquests;Cumberland, who was now outnumbered, two to one, could not stayhim, and was soon recalled to England to face the rebellion inthe North, a diversion engineered by the French, in which CharlesStuart and the Scotch were the unhappy cat's-paws.
While Cumberland was rallying his men at Lichfield, inexpectation of a French invasion, Maurice was taking the Flemishtowns, Ath, Bruges, Oudenarde and Ostend, as if he was collectingpebbles from his path. He announced the capture of Ghent bysending the King a basket containing a fine "langue deveau",> this delicacy being a speciality of Ghent.Contrary to all custom, he decided to remain with the army duringthe winter, and prepared the plan for a new campaign with theknowledge of the Comte d'Argenson only.
Glory! He had had a taste of it and now meant to glut himself,as he had glutted himself—but never to satiety—withother pleasures. He had an army under his command, a treasury(even though a depleted one) behind him, a government, eventhough a feeble one, to support him.
While Cumberland's advance guard was struggling through thesnow towards Penrith, and Cumberland was teaching his men how tomeet claymore and shield by the sideway thrust, Maurice wasconcentrating on Brussels, marching his men through icebound,flooded fields, against bitter winds, in six differentdirections.
The Dutch Governor, Kaunitz, completely taken by surprise atthe audacity of the assault, resisted bravely but in vain; onFebruary 21, 1746, the white flag flew over the capital ofBrabant and the whole province lay at the mercy of Maurice deSaxe. Among the many treasures found by the conquerors in thesuperb city was the oriflamme captured at the battle of Pavia bythe Spanish.
Maurice then decided to return to Paris; he knew that he hadhis enemies; the Prince de Conti remained implacable and therewere others busily intriguing against him; he was accused by manyof the aristocratic officers, whom he had totally eclipsed, ofprolonging the war for his benefit, and many were eagerlywatching for his sudden death through his renewed debaucheries.But Maurice defied them all; he had had almost all—but onlyalmost—that he wanted. There was no crown or sovereignty inthe offing and he longed for royal honours with the single-hearted lust of a child for a coveted toy, persistently withheld.His admirers whispered that he deserved, and his enemies that heexpected, the office—quasiregal—of Governor of theSpanish Netherlands. It seemed likely, too, that he might live toenjoy his honours; he was well enough to direct the operationsagainst Brussels in mid-winter, to enjoy his brutal sports, towhich he had added cock fighting, and to make a triumphal entryinto Brussels.
Sending his troops into winter quarters as late as March,after having overrun Flanders, Maurice returned to Paris asCumberland, realising that there would now be no French invasion,was taking command of the troops who were to pursue CharlesStuart to his last stand on Culloden Moor. French strategy hadbeen successful in this attempt to cause a rebellion in England,in so far as it had drained Flanders of British troops and madeMaurice's conquests easy, while Cumberland and his seasonedtroops were held in Scotland.
When Maurice—"conqueror of the English" arrived in Parisin the early spring of 1746, he was received with a very fever ofadulation. Louis XV had almost exhausted his rewards, there waslittle else he could do for Maurice de Saxe beyond what he hadalready done, but he paid him the supreme compliment ofnaturalising him as a Frenchman (April, 1746) to the furtherjealousy and disgust of the Princes of the Blood; but Maurice hadno difficulty in ignoring this spite of the troupe dorée,so complete was his triumph, and so frantic the popularacclamation.
He had now somewhat recovered from his disorders and was ableto show himself from the galleries of Versailles, in the streetsof Paris and in a box at the Opera. Here his appearance was thesignal for an outburst of enthusiasm. A fair actress, dressed toappear as the eighteenth-century conception of Victory, steppedfrom the glittering stage and offered to set her laurels on thepowdered curls of the victor of Fontenoy; Maurice made a fittingprotest but amidst immense applause was finally persuaded by theDuc de Villeroi to fasten this glittering garland on his arm.
The unwieldy, stout figure of Maurice de Saxe, with his coarsepurple face, his manner that began daily to savour more of thecamp than of the court, his brusque air, his hearty laugh, hisTeutonic bluntness that hid a good deal of shrewdness and evenslyness, decked in all the flamboyant bravery of his Frenchuniform, took the imagination of the people, who had, indeed,lately lacked heroes to worship, and this foreigner easily becamethe most popular man in France.
M. de Saxe was not, however, so admired at court, where heexercised to the full his privileges of entering into the royalpresence and made no apology for his friendship with the King.The jealousy of the nobles amounted to hatred in some cases andhis inveterate enemy, the Prince de Conti, had to be rebuked morethan once for his behaviour to Maurice, now Maréchal deFrance.
Never had great men been so feted in Paris; there was a furoreof silliness over the victor of Fontenoy and among the beautifuland celebrated women who struggled for the favour of offering himluxurious entertainment was Madame de la Popelinère, wife of thefamous financier, of easy virtue and dazzling charm; there wasalso Mlle Galin who interested him intermittently for threeyears; but he began to perceive that his mistresses wereunfaithful to him, and played him tricks; he was no longer all-conquering; some of these "little creatures" who "turned hishead" escaped him, or showed too clearly that they only gave whathad been paid for; a sigh escaped him for the fine days whenwomen had pursued him for the splendour of his person as much asfor his fame and money.
He was in Paris when the news of Culloden, which ended forever the use of the Jacobite pawn for France, came to Louis XV;this was in practical importance, if not in glory, more than aset off to Fontenoy and set Cumberland and his veterans free toreturn to the seat of war; the Highland episode was regarded butas an episode in the struggle with France, and Cumberland'sgrenadiers threw up their caps on the northern moor, shouting,"Now for Flanders, Billy!"
Maurice soon felt the wretched effect of his Parisian excessesand making as he termed it "a truce with pleasure" returned toLowendal's seat at La Ferté; he then paid a short visit toChambord, which satisfied even his lust for magnificence.
But a crown still evaded him—a crown and Madame Favart;the little actress had proved more difficult to take thanBrussels.
He maintained his hold on the King and on the King'sfavourite, but apart from these, he had no real friends; despitehis services to France, the M. and M. d'Argenson remained hisenemies, and even Madame Pompadour, though she encouraged him andfound him useful, understood him too well. Maurice was not fineenough to read between the lines of the elegant letters, in whichflattery concealed irony, that she wrote him congratulating himon the homage he paid to love amid the fatigues and labours ofwar. She added that she thought beauty "divine"; (she hadcertainly found it profitable) and that she thought the "grandeurof God" shone with more brilliancy on a handsome face than in thebrain of a Newton. Such words, addressed to Maurice were double-edged; it was long since he could have claimed "un beauvisage." He had many brushes with Ministers and courtiers; hebore his honours very arrogantly towards these, though he wascoarsely good-humoured with his toadies and inferiors.
Most of these fine French aristocrats saw through him, evenwhen they did not dislike him; the Marquis d'Argenson, as muchhis enemy as the Prince de Conti, wrote of him in something thesame terms that Madame Pompadour had used. "He has not muchintelligence, he likes only war, mechanics and easy beauties.Besides these, what is there but a disorderly German soldierwithout breeding?"
It was said of him that under his command only the thickwitted were promoted, and, despite his discipline at Prague, hewas accused of brutal pillaging of the captured Flemish towns;worse, from a Frenchman's point of view—"he liked poorcompany—not only in women but in men"; in brief, he had notaste, no "esprit."
He had, however, a rough sense of humour, and when a seat inthe French Academy was offered him, refused, declaring that hecould not even write or spell, "I've always feared ridiculousthings and this seems to me to be one."
Maurice returned to his headquarters in Flanders slightlyrestored in health, glittering with all the honours France had tobestow, to meet Prince Charles of Lorraine, with four battalionsof British, near Liége.
The Princes of the Blood now began an even fiercer resistanceto the elevation of Maurice; they refused to serve under thisbastard adventurer, Conti pretended to the command of the forceson the Rhine, Clermont of the House of Condé, irked underMaurice's authority and sneered at him at his own table, uponwhich the Maréchal dared to demote him—a prince of theroyal family—to a mere brigade of infantry and a regimentof dragoons. The royal princes did not forgive this high-handedness, and the feeling in the camp was fiercely bitter.
The cold haughtiness of Conti, who treated him "en grandseigneur," pierced even the thick skin of Maurice, and whenConti refused to support him before the walls of Mons, theMarshal thought it wise not to press the matter.
The brilliant little company, headed by Favart, accompaniedMaurice during the campaign of 1746, and it was before the battleof Raucoux that Maurice delivered his famous order to the actor:"I shall give battle to-morrow. No one knows yet—announcemy intention in a few lines after the fall of the curtain to-night." And Madame Favart did so in some neat couplets:
"Demain bataille, jour de gloire."
Maurice did beat the Austrians—ten thousand dead,trophies of flags, cannon, prisoners—"if I had had a fewmore hours of daylight, M. le Prince Charles would have savednothing," the victor declared.
By November he was again in Paris and with two heavy intrigueson his hands, the struggle with Conti, who was gaining groundwith the King and striving hard for the appointment ofgeneralissimo for the next campaign, and who was backed byalmost the entire French aristocracy, and the pursuit of MadameFavart.
The story of the Favarts is like an episode of Pierrot andPierrette, of Harlequin and Columbine, amid the gross luxury andextravagant materialism of the story of Maurice de Saxe. Itcovers his two last campaigns, his furious rivalry with Conti,his negotiations with the Saxon court for the marriage of theDauphin and the first part of his retirement to Chambord, but itis here told as a continuous narrative.
MADAME FAVART was the celebrated actress who hadspoken the lines "Demain bataille," from the boards of M.de Saxe's elegant little travelling theatre the evening beforeRaucoux. It was considered "heroic" to have the approachingengagement announced by an actress to the crowds of officersgathered to watch the elegant vaudeville. The coquettish lady,instructed by Maurice, had sung:
"To-morrow, battle! the day of glory!"
Which in the chronicles of history will show once more thetriumph of the French name,
"Worthy of eternal memory."
Then, advancing, the charming creature had declared with muchspirit, "To-morrow, gentlemen, there will be no performancebecause of the battle. The day afterwards we shall give the'Coq du Village.'"
This was very much to the taste of the moment and the defeatof Charles of Lorraine was more appreciated for being announcedthrough the pretty lips of an admired actress in frivolous anddramatic fashion.
Justine Duronceray was for comedy something what AdrienneLecouvreur had been for tragedy; she had every gift necessary forsuccess in her chosen career. Delicate and gay, lively, witty andtender, she was both an accomplished actress and an exquisitesinger. As she was also a pretty woman she soon became one of thefavourites of the Parisians and sang under the name of MlleChantilly at the Opera House, where Maurice first saw her andcoveted her; he soon discovered that he had met a woman capableof repulsing him and whose affections were fixed, with sureconstancy, elsewhere.
The lovely creature was not, strangely enough, for sale; shewas quite content with her husband, an actor, a writer, amusician and producer who ran a little travelling theatre thatgave shows at the famous Paris fairs and in other places.
When Maurice saw that it was hopeless to assail the wifedirectly, he decided to win her through the husband, and enteredinto the mean intrigue with that slyness and subtle dishonestywhich were among his ugliest traits and which quite destroy hisreputation for candour and good humour.
There was much competition among the actors of Paris for thepost of director of Maurice's field theatre, and he knew thiswhen he offered it, in flattering terms, to the husband of MlleChantilly.
M. Favart was a brilliant, as well as an honest and charmingman. He brought his troupe eagerly enough to the front andfollowed with his Thespian cart the army of Maurice across theravaged fields of Flanders, giving almost every night aperformance in a tent, where topical verses, composed by himself,were related by his company with verve and spirit.
He left, however, his delicious wife in Paris and Maurice sawthat he would have to take more trouble to gain by intrigue whathe could not gain by the force of his personal charms; hescarcely, perhaps, realised that he was but the ruins of themagnificent cavalier who had scaled the breaches at Belgrade orcaptured the heart of Anna Ivanowa but, in any case, hedetermined to have the actor's wife. It would be difficult tofind any occasion on which the hero had not been a scoundrel inhis relations with women, and in his plots against M. and MadameFavart he was at his worst.
Difficulty inflamed his passion and he decided to gain his endhowever long and however much it cost; he, therefore, flatteredthe actor to the top of his bent; nothing was too good for M.Favart and his troupe, who were overwhelmed with compliments,with presents, with privileges; during the campaign of 1746,Favart was installed at the headquarters in Brussels.
Proud of his art and secure in the devoted affection of hiswife, whose loyalty it never occurred to him to doubt, Favart,called by Voltaire the "Molière of the Opera," really believed inthe good faith of the great Marshal, whose officers he amused.Nor did he suspect anything when Maurice suggested to him thatMlle de Chantilly would give the last touch of brilliancy to thetravelling theatre.
The actor at once wrote enthusiastically to his wife, and shebroke off an engagement at the Opera to travel to Flanders, whereshe was received with all respect by Maurice.
Her beauty and her charm did indeed give further grace andbrilliancy to the little theatre, making Maurice's travellingshow the finest of any that the French army could boast.
The Marshal held his hand and overwhelmed the young couple,whose devotion was as obvious as it was rare, with his presents.There were horses, there was a carriage, there were travellingbeds covered with fine satin, there were wine and delicacies fromthe Marshal's own table. In a country pillaged, burnt, exhaustedand surrounded by half-starved, ruined people, the actors andactresses and all their entourage, for Maurice's generosityextended to the whole troupe, could live as they had neverdreamed to live in Paris.
Favart was not as reckless as the gilded nobility whosurrounded him. He put money by and hoped, as he said withdelight to a friend, to have fifty thousand francs of savingswhen he returned to Paris.
Meanwhile Maurice declared himself to the delicious Justine,who had not encouraged him by as much as a glance or a smile.
The officers, the court, watched the intrigue with amusement,some with a touch of compassion; it was an uncommon, perhaps apathetic little episode. How long would the actress withstand thegreat man who had never had any difficulty with a woman before?There were bets on the subject, jests and anecdotes bandied aboutthe camp.
Only M. Favart, elegant and smart as a figure by Lancret inhis satins and laces, was completely deceived and rejoiced withtouching single-heartedness in his unexpected good fortune.
He was a fine artist and knew his worth, it did not thereforeoccur to him to doubt the sincerity of M. de Saxe when theMarshal declared that he did not wish the troupe merely to amusehis officers; the actors, by their arts were to encourage andinspire the soldiers, and the graceful, refined satire of some oftheir pieces was to help to throw discredit upon the enemy. Theywere, indeed, to supply propaganda for the army and the Frenchnation. So completely was Favart hoodwinked that he eveningenuously indentified himself with his munificent patron andwrote to Paris of "our success, our prisoners."
Meanwhile Maurice began to lay more and more open siege to thewoman, whom, could he have won, he would have forgotten in aday.
He sent her the love letters that Voltaire had written for himin honour of Adrienne de Lecouvreur, together with some versesfrom the same source, as well as the most extravagant gifts.
Madame Favart perfectly understood her position; but she lovedher husband and she was not dazzled by Maurice; she realised thetype with whom she had to deal and she did the only possiblething for a woman in her situation—she fled from the campand took refuge in the Brabant capital with a great lady, Madamede Chevreuse, who had long been her patroness and friend.
Maurice was furious, the husband bewildered; he tried to putforward some feeble excuse of his wife's illness, but the wrathof the Marshal fell upon the unfortunate actor, to whom theenraged soldier showed his most brutal side. He would, hedeclared, have Madame Favart "dragged by grenadiers fromBrussels;" he regarded her departure as nothing less than adesertion from his flag. Not only all luxuries, but all pay andcomfort were taken away from the unfortunate actors, who had alltheir pay and supplies stopped. Favart had to spend his savings,then to sell what he had in the way of goods in order to savehimself and his company from starvation.
Madame Favart went from Brussels to Paris, where she returnedto the stage in order to earn her living, and the full wrath ofthe Marshall fell upon the unhappy husband; his company wasdisbanded under the pretence that it offended the morals of theofficers, and the unhappy players were left in a foreign countryin wartime not only without friends and resources, but given overto an active persecutor. For Maurice so manoeuvred the matterthat Favart and his troupe were presented with a bill for twenty-five thousand livres under the excuse that they owed thisfor rent of various rooms in towns and villages where they hadgiven their shows.
The troupe broke up, the wretched artists wandering away inmisery—scattered; Favart made his way painfully back toParis and there, when the troops went into winter quarters,Maurice returned.
The actor presented himself before his one-time patron,demanding the truth: Why this persecution? Would not the Marshalat least give him a letter of recommendation to some friend whomight employ him?
Maurice, instead, obtained a lettre-de-cachet with theintention of throwing the unhappy comedian into the Bastille.Favart, however, heard of the design in time and fled, utterlyruined, from the French capital; by travelling day and night, hemanaged to evade pursuit and to reach Strassburg where a friendhid him. Justine Favart was still in Paris, and she still ignoredMaurice.
Every night, in order to gain her living, she sang on theboards of the Comédie Italienne. She had no friends beyondthe members of her own profession, as powerless as herselfagainst a man in the position of Maurice de Saxe. She had noprotector, save the hired but faithful servant who followed herevery evening from the theatre to her lodgings, when on foot anddisguised she made her way by back streets in the hope of evadingpossible kidnappers.
Every night she wrote to her husband, sometimes putting aflower she had worn between the pages of her letter. Not only didthe young couple keep up a tender and touching correspondence,but Madame Favart even contrived to escape from Fontainebleauwhere her troupe was engaged to amuse the Court and to meet herhusband at Luneville.
This adventure proved, however, a great imprudence. When shewas stepping out of her carriage on her return, she was arrestedby two police agents, who pretended that they were to re-conducther to Fontainebleau, where the King wished to see her again toact her part on the stage.
In truth the men were sent by the orders of Maurice, andMadame Favart found herself conducted to the convent of Andelys,where she was enclosed, having only time to write a short letterto her husband, in which she declared that whatever happened shewould remain faithful to him.
After days of bitter suspense she learned the nature of theintrigue against her; Maurice de Saxe had bribed her own father,M. Duronceray, to act with him in endeavouring to prove that hermarriage with Favart was illegal.
In vain the desperate woman contrived to smuggle a letter toher husband, telling him to get together all his papers andprove, as surely could easily be done, that they were "legallyand properly married."
Any reply was intercepted, but she received letters fromMaurice de Saxe, full of alternate menaces and caresses,mentioning "the iron claw and velvet glove," telling her "thatall should be well with her would she but submit to hiswill."
He moved her from the convent of Andelys to that of Angers asa state prisoner and he continued his grim persecution of thehusband, who was forced to leave Luneville and to travel like avagabond from place to place, earning a miserable livelihood bypainting fans, often by the light of a candle in a darkcellar.
Justine Favart wrote, as a last resource, a letter of appealto Maurice.
But the only answer she had was that she was a "fool tosacrifice herself to a miserable actor, who ought to have beenvery flattered that for him she forwent fortune, pleasure andglory."
For under these agreeable terms the Marshal indicated his ownpassing fancy.
The letter ended with a threat: "If you will not assure myhappiness, you will probably cause your own disaster and that ofFavart. I do not wish this, but I fear it."
Her imprisonment became more severe; she could obtain no newsof her husband, who was certainly ruined, if not dead.
The woman of the people, whose own father had been bought byher persecutor, had no friend, no protector, no money or resourceof any kind; for her there was no hope of justice or of mercy.Alone, a prisoner, continually menaced, her spirit broke; sheconsented to visit Chambord and to entertain the hero with herart and to offer him that loathing and terrified submission whichwas all he wanted of her; as soon as her consent was obtained,she was treated with more consideration, but not to make thescandal too obvious, not immediately released but sent for awhile from one convent to another where she was gently treated,while the persecution of her husband ceased and the twolettres-de-cachet that Maurice had obtained against theunfortunate couple were revoked.
He had obtained his end, the satisfaction of what he termedhis "love." Once this satisfaction was gained he had littleinterest in the delicious Madame Favart. She was allowed,disdainfully enough, to return to her young husband.
They had a mutual respect and tenderness one for the other andthe philosophy of the artist who is the under-dog. They did notallow the brutality of Maurice de Saxe to ruin their marriage andhappiness. And in the tender affection and admiring respect ofher husband, Justine Favart endeavoured to forget those uglymoments when she had visited the ogre's castle and been hisprey.
Such was the power, such was the manner, and such were thesentiments of a great general, a magnificent gentleman, one whodeemed himself by blood and right, a Prince; the man whomthousands acclaimed as a hero and whom the exquisite AdrienneLecouvreur had acclaimed as a "god."
Part III. THE TROPHIES AND THEDUST
I. A CHARMING SACRIFICE
It seemed, however, as if the dazzling star of Maurice de Saxewas on the decline and that there would be no more victories likeFontenoy for him; the pursuit of Madame Favart was not the onlyintrigue that had occupied his leisure; the struggle with Contihad reached dangerous proportions, and the Saxon's enemies hadincreased in number.
Neither the King nor Madame Pompadour could afford to offendall the Princes of the blood and most of the aristocracy; indeed,they hardly wished to do so for the sake of this foreigner atwhom they laughed a little behind his back.
He was not really of their world, and their elegant depravityfound his gross indecency disgusting; he was heavy-witted, he washorribly ill, he was noisy and aggressive; Versailles could dowithout him; besides, what did all this glory amount to? Francecould not afford the war, the King was bored with it, MadamePompadour did not want it; war had caused the elevation of M. deSaxe, and for that reason alone, his enemies intrigued forpeace.
Madame de Conti had taken a hand in the intrigue, she promisedto present Madame Pompadour at court, if her son, as "fils deFrance," could have his rightful post as Commander-in-Chiefof the army that was to open the campaign of 1747 in Brabant. TheKing's friendship for the Saxon was soon undermined; there wereso many at his ear ready to tell him, as d'Argenson noted, "howlittle M. de Saxe was worth" and the favourite could not resistthe bribe offered by the great lady. So M. de Conti obtained hisbrevet and M. de Saxe fell into ugly furies and talked ofretiring from the army; he felt that he was like his friendLowendal "absolutely discredited" by the intrigues of "petitsmaitres." Then the King veered round; Maurice was extremelypopular with the people and had his friends at court, notably M.de Valfons, his companion at arms, besides Louis did not know ifthe redoubtable soldier might not yet be useful; the war was notover; it was even possible that French frontiers might bethreatened again and M. de Conti could hardly be trusted todefend them, able and arrogant as he might be.
So, like all weak people when pressed, Louis compromised;Maurice received an office dormant since Turenne, whose patentswere espied in the diploma given to the Saxon, who becameMaréchal Général (January 1747), a rank that put him aboveConti, all the Marshals of France, not excepting those who werePrinces of the blood.
A change in French policy, inspired by the Marquis d'Argenson,Secretary for Foreign Affairs, also immensely helped the dubiousposition of Maurice; though d'Argenson was his enemy, a shiftingof the scene in Europe made them play the same game. The ForeignSecretary decided to endeavour to detach Saxony from Austria; heresolved to use that old line, a matrimonial alliance. TheDauphin was a widower and might be considered the finest match inEurope; there were many candidates for his hand, and each ofthese had a party at the French court; the Queen favoured theInfanta Antonia, as did the Maréchal de Noailles, and there werepowerful supporters for the daughters of the Duke of Modena andfor those of Charles Emanuel of Savoy.
M. d'Argenson gained over M. Loss, the Saxon Minister atParis, and the two of them approached M. de Saxe, who gladlyentered into the long, difficult and complicated intriguesnecessary to place his niece next to the throne of France; herehis long, intimate and secret correspondence with Augustus III,his Queen and Count Bruhl was extremely useful, and Maurice,during the campaigns of 1746-7, was secretly working at thisgreat scheme, which brought him so near the dazzle of acrown.
The marriage of the Dauphin seemed of great importance; coulda prophet have looked into the future, he might well have advisedthat this Prince should die unwed; but to these busy intriguers,it seemed as if the end of the elder branch of the House ofBourbon would be an unthinkable and unparalleled misfortune forFrance. And the only hope of an heir to this elder line lay inthe Dauphin, whose first wife had left him with a frail babygirl—Madame.
The King was still young, but when his sixth daughter wasborn, he had remarked—"Madame sixth and last." Louis andthe wife he had once regarded with so much affection were indeedcompletely estranged: and Madame de Pompadour saw to it that thisestrangement was permanent. The whole hope of a succession to thethrone therefore hung upon a second marriage for the Dauphin, whowas 16 years of age, sombre, pampered, and peevish, who dislikedhis father, had no friends at court, who was bored alike bysport, the theatre, the camp, whose only diversion was music. Heplayed the violoncello, sang in a promising bass voice and was anexpert on the clavecin.
He had been, also, devoted to his plain and gloomy little wifeand was sickened by grief at her early loss; he regarded withaversion all the Princesses proposed to him, but Maurice was notthe less eager to secure this brilliant match for his niece,Maria Josepha, known as Pepa, then fifteen years of age.
Maurice displayed a good deal of finesse, judgment andshrewdness in these protracted and elaborate negotiations; heeven succeeded in winning de Noailles over to his side, andworking in accord with his brother, his sister-in-law and CountBruhl, he sprang his "mine," as he called it, and brought off themarriage in spite of most powerful opposition in France.
It was considered an extraordinary triumph for the court ofDresden when the affair was concluded. Augustus III decoratedwith White Eagles and other distinctions all those who had takenpart in the long, tedious preliminaries to the announcement ofthe marriage; the Marquis d'Argenson received a handsome servicein Saxon porcelain, while Louis XV sent the Count von Bruhl amagnificent set of Gobelin tapestries, representing the twelvemonths of the year; and one of the most charming and accomplishedcourtiers of Versailles, the duc de Richelieu, first gentleman ofthe chamber, was sent to Dresden to receive the bride, somewhatto the chagrin of the French Ambassador in Dresden—M. desIssart, who, however, allowed that "M. de Richelieu was the mostdistinguished and the most decorative person in France."
For his part Maurice found time, amid battles, sieges andcourt intrigues, to send long letters of advice and warnings tothe mother of the young bride; he urged haste in sending thegirl—"for I have promised a duke of Burgundy [title givento the Dauphin's eldest son] by the end of the year and you wouldnot have a soldier break his word."
The etiquettes and ceremonials were long and elaborate, aswere the letters and dispatches that came by the variouspersonages concerned in this important affair.
The only factors in the case that were taken no notice of werethe sentiments of the young bride and bridegroom. The Dauphinbitterly resented this second marriage so soon after the death ofhis little Spanish wife, and Pepa herself, so young for marriageand of a disposition gentle and soon to prove itself noble, was amere puppet in the hands of her ambitious, excited mother and herbusy ladies.
M. de Richelieu wrote a letter full of graceful complimentsabout the magnificence of his reception in Dresden to Maurice,and to Louis XV another, in which he expressed his greatsatisfaction with the Princess Josepha, whose only fault was thatshe did not yet know how to speak French perfectly. As to herperson the celebrated rake said, "she would have been noted ifshe had been of humble birth; for a Princess she might beconsidered a great beauty."
The Princess who was to enter what her uncle termed "the newBabylon" had been described by another Frenchman, the Comte deVaulgrenant, as "not beautiful, but she might be termed prettyand she pleases everyone; her air is sweet, her carriage noble,she walks gracefully, she is blonde, with large blue eyes."
M. de Richelieu was considered very attractive himself andfulfilled his elegant mission with so much magnificence, courtesyand grace that he won the applause of everyone at the indolentand sumptuous court of Dresden; in particular the King and Queenwere delighted to see in the flesh a superb example of one ofthose French aristocrats that they had always been endeavouringto imitate.
The French grandee, like Maurice himself, was not above thesmallest details appertaining to his mission; to the Countess deMartinez, the governess of Maria Josepha, he sent a paper ofquestions as to the little Princess's habits and tastes; and thisthe Saxon lady scrupulously filled up.
From it we learn that Maria Josepha's ordinary drink was"fresh water from the fountain," but that she sometimes took alittle beer or Moselle wine that she did not like chocolate, thatshe favoured green tea, coffee with milk, but did not care forsoup. She was not dainty in her appetite but preferred lightfare. For her clothes she liked dark colours, for her bed aquilted down coverlet. The governess added with satisfaction thatthe Princess read "all kinds of pious and historical books, thatshe enjoyed seeing comedies and that she played the clavecin. Shewas not subject to colds and had had small pox, chicken pox andmeasles."
While Richelieu was being entertained with all the resourcesof the court of Dresden, including the spectacle of the famousTorch Dance, of which Louis XV asked for a particular descriptionfrom his plenipotentiary, the Queen, the bride's mother, waswriting anxiously to Maurice about the details of her daughter'strousseau, and also about the various points of etiquette and theestablishment that Maria Josepha might hope for as Dauphine ofFrance. Maurice answered with great gravity and in muchdetail.
He had always taken a great interest in clothes and was asclose an observer of the set of a lady's corsage as of the numberof a soldier's buttons. He answered at great length in his neathandwriting and bad spelling, expressing himself first "asoverwhelmed with joy at the conclusion of this great affair." Asfor the trousseau he had taken care, he told Her Majesty, toinform himself "very carefully on this serious matter."
He began with some comments on the toilette of the lateDauphine. Her gowns were, Maurice declared, too heavy and she hadhad too many of them, worn them but once and then cast themaside. She had also been her own Mistress of the Robes, but thispost belonged by right to Madame la Duchesse de Lauraguais, whohad the right to purchase all sets of jewellery, linen, lace, andso on, and send the accounts for them in to the Treasury.
This important lady had also the charge of engaging all thechamberwomen and other domestics and also the lackeys of Madamela Dauphine. The Mistress of the Robes ordered the equipages, thecarriages, the horses and equally sent in her accounts for these.As for jewels, a large quantity of diamonds and other preciousstones would be at the service of Pepa; they would not, however,be entirely at her disposal as they were Crown jewels, but shewould be able to purchase many others according to her own taste."But time is so short it would be impossible for Your Majesty,"added Maurice, "to secure for the Princess as magnificent atrousseau as you would wish."
Then, descending into the most minute details, the gallantsoldier suggested that the Princess should have "several lengthsof fine Holland or lawn, piped with satin or gold stripes in theIndian or Persian style, because there is very little in Franceand it is forbidden to import it."
Fine examples of this lawn, he added, could be bought from theArmenian merchants at Warsaw; he had, also, written to anothermerchant, M. de Brosse, at The Hague, to send the best that hehad in this line of goods to Dresden.
It was difficult, the Marshal continued, to find handsome fursin Paris, so he suggested that the Princess should bring with hera large double cape in zibeline, or marten, such as the Russianswore. Besides being very warm, he remarked, they looked veryhandsome, especially when worn with a muff of the samematerial.
The whalebone supports used for the crinolines or hoopedskirts and corsets, were not made anywhere, Maurice declared, sowell as in Dresden. The Princess therefore should bring with hera good supply of these articles very carefully cut so that theycould be copied in Paris. It was very necessary, he observed, tosee that the corsets were not made too long in the waist. Thiswas a fault to which the Parisian cutters were very liable and itgave, Maurice thought, the ladies an awkward look to have longwaists and short skirts; besides it was not at all to the tasteof the King, who would appreciate seeing the little Princess witha short waist and her hooped skirts touching the ground.
"No doubt," Maurice added after this explanation, "I expressmyself in a way that is very ridiculous to Your Majesty, but Ihope you will excuse me, for you know my good will."
As to the jewels that the Princess should have, besides thecrown jewels, Maurice gave Her Majesty a hint that this should bearranged with the French Ambassador in Dresden, and that acertain allowance should be made for them in the marriagecontract. The same should be done with the robes, the dresses, infact all the articles of the trousseau.
He also thought it well to send all the little Princess'sclothes in advance, so that they might be kept for her in Parisand not fall into the hands of her ladies.
Maurice had also gone into other details about theestablishment of his niece, the appointment of her confessor, herladies of honour, her steward, her coachman, even down to hercook and her kitchen-maids.
The journey from Dresden to Paris, undertaken in the depths ofwinter, was no light enterprise. So numerous was the train of theyoung Princess that it took two hundred and forty-eight posthorses to transport them. These had to be changed at each relaystation.
Leaving Dresden on January 14, 1749, Maria Josepha went byLeipzig, Eisenach, and Freiburg to Frankfort, where she arrivedon the twenty-third of the month to the sound of cannon andtrumpets. These honours were given her by the order of theEmperor Francis, though Austria was at war with France; MariaJosepha was received with much pomp and presented with a massivesilver toilet service.
From the Imperial city she passed by Darmstadt, throughDurlach to Baden. By the end of the month she had reached thefrontier; the cumbersome procession had taken a fortnight totravel from Dresden to Strassburg. There she was met by herFrench household and by M. Loss, the Saxon envoy in Paris, whohad done so much to forward the marriage of his master's daughterto the heir of the crown of France.
Here the Duchesse de Brancas, lady of honour to the newDauphine, presented the portrait of the Dauphin to his wife, asthe girl now was, for she had been married to him by proxy inDresden.
After these long ceremonies had been gone through and thePrincess and her train had taken some repose at Strassburg, thejourney was recommenced. When she had passed into the hands ofher French household, Pepa had put aside her Polish costume andtaken on the fashionable attire of France. M. Loss found thatrouge, powder, hoops and a piled up coiffure improved the charmsof the young Saxon.
At Nangis Maurice had joined his niece and here also occurreda painful incident. A letter was brought by a courier fromVersailles to Madame de Brancas; she recognised the handwritingof the Dauphin and offered it at once, with unfortunate courtesy,to Maria Josepha; when the girl opened the letter, hoping forsome, at least, formal expression of affection and welcome, shefound that the childish handwriting expressed nothing but regretand reproaches. The Dauphin had made a last protest to Madame deBrancas against his second marriage, declaring that nothing wouldmake him forget his first wife. Maria Josepha was overcome bythis unhappy mistake. She left the supper table hastily andshutting herself in her chamber, wept.
The Dauphine played her part well, however, when, on the nextday, she met, between Nangis and Corbeil, the King, her father-in-law, and the husband whom she had not seen till then. She wasgay, simple and natural, as onlookers noted, and Louis XV deignedto be charmed. As for the Dauphin, he stood sullen, silent,awkward, staring before him, while the little bride rallied himgently on his gloom.
Soon afterwards the new Dauphine was presented to the Queenand her daughters, Madame Henriette and Madame Adelaide—thefirst 19 years of age the second a child aged 14 years.
More ceremonies, more entertainments and receptions, and atlast, on February 9, the arrival at Versailles.
On the eleventh of that month she was married with all theexhausting pomp and elaborate ceremonial that the mostmagnificent court in the world could offer.
There was a ball the night before; after the ceremony therewas a banquet, after the banquet the bride had to submit to apublic toilette, and last there was the mise au lit, whichM. de Saxe, a man of no delicacy of taste, himself termed"terrible."
The day after the wedding, Maurice wrote to his brother, theKing of Poland, an account of the triumph of the House of Saxonythat he himself had done so much to bring about. The letter iscouched in bombastic and fulsomely flattering terms, but behindthese one can see a picture, charming and pathetic, of the girlbride and the boy bridegroom—whose fatigues, whoseemotions, whose likes and dislikes no-one was taking into muchaccount.
"This Princess," wrote Maurice from Versailleson February 12, 1747, "is adored by everybody. The Queen lovesher as if she was her own daughter; the King is enchanted withher and M. le Dauphin loves her with passion. She conductsherself in all this with every imaginable address; I don't knowhow to admire her sufficiently. There are not many children offifteen years of whom one could say that. In truth, she hasastonished me. Your Majesty would not be able to believe withwhat nobility, with what presence of mind and wit Madame laDauphine has conducted herself. M. le Dauphin appears a schoolboybeside her. No feebleness, no childishness has appeared in any ofher actions, but a noble firmness, and tranquillity hasaccompanied everything she does, and certainly she has had to gothrough moments where one wants all the assurance of a personborn to play these difficult parts with dignity. Among othersthere is that of the final nuptial ceremony, when the curtainsare opened, showing the bride and bridegroom in bed. This isterrible, for all the court is in the room and the King told meto reassure Madame la Dauphine and to remain near her.
"She went through it with a tranquillity that astonished me. M.le Dauphin put the coverlet over his face, but the Princess didnot cease talking with a grave charm indeed, and paid no moreattention to the courtiers crowding about her than if there hadbeen no one in the room.
"I said, in approaching her,that the King had ordered me to stay near her in order to keepher in countenance and that the whole ceremony would not lastmore than a moment. She told me that this would please her, andthat I was not to leave her and only to bid her good night whenher women had closed the curtains and the crowd had gone out.
"Everyone left with a kind of sadness, for this seemed tohave the air of a sacrifice, and somehow she had managed tointerest everyone in herself. Your Majesty will laugh, perhaps,when I tell you that the blessing of the bed, the priests, thecandles, this brilliant pomp, the beauty, the youth of thisPrincess and above all, the desire that everyone felt that sheshould be happy, all these things together seemed to inspire morethoughtfulness than laughter. There were in the bedchamber allthe Princes and Princesses who compose this Court, the King, theQueen, more than a hundred women covered with diamonds andbrilliantly dressed. It was a unique scene and, I repeat, had theair of nothing so much as a sacrifice."
In a postscript Maurice thanked his brother for theGeneralship he had given him in the Saxon army, and remarked onthe great endurance his niece had shown and the heavy fatiguesshe had had to support.
"I told the King that if she did not have somerest she would become ill. Indeed, I don't know how she has beenable to hold out. During all the festivals there was a great heatin all the apartments, enough to make one die because of thepressure of the huge crowds and the number of candles burning.More than that, her robes were of such a weight that I don't knowhow she could carry them. Besides, there is nothing morefatiguing than the endless presentations. She had to remember allthe names and give a smile and a little attention to everyone.This was so considerable a fatigue that I don't know how shecould do it.
"The other day the King asked me to take upher skirt that was on a sofa, while she was at her toilet. Itweighed quite sixty pounds; there are none of our cuirasses thatweigh as much as that. I don't know how she was able for eight ornine hours to stand on her feet with the enormous weight."
There was an even sadder side to these gorgeous ceremoniesthan Maurice knew of, or at least, than he mentioned. There hadnot been time, through some strange carelessness, for a newbedchamber to be decorated and furnished for the Saxon bride, andit was in the apartment where his wife had died, in the very bedwhere she had lain in state not long before, that the couple, solittle more than children, had to commence their marriedlife.
Sometime afterwards Maria Josepha confessed to her mother thatwhen the curtains of brocade were finally drawn and they foundthemselves at last alone, bride and bridegroom fell on eachother's necks in a passion of miserable tears.
For a while Maria Josepha's life was wretched, her husbandavoiding her as often as he could and as far as possible only sawher in the presence of his sister, Madame Henriette. It was inthe tender, disinterested and lovely friendship of this othergirl that the stranger Princess found some happiness. It is oneof the most delicate things ever recorded of Maurice that in themidst of all his splendours and satisfaction he had thesensibility to commiserate the two weeping children, whosesplendid marriage was such a tedious pageant of glitteringformality, and that he had felt a touch of pity when lifting theceremonial dresses, massive with bullion; it is not to besupposed, however, that he regretted "the sacrifice" as he termedit, for he was still successful in a war further protracted bythe death of Philip V and was honoured with the unheard-ofprivilege of a grant of six cannon for his own use at Chambord,as well as his patent of Maréchal General.
The Dauphin, crying for his ugly little Spaniard, and theDauphine, a frightened and lonely girl crying forhome—overwhelmed, both of them, by their destiny—werethe parents of the last three Kings of France—Louis XVI,Louis XVIII and Charles X. The State marriage became one ofaffection and the niece of Maurice led a retired and simple lifeamid the scandalous frivolities of the court and gave to Francetwelve children. Seven of these shared the usual fate of royalinfants of that period and died in the cradle.
Of the five surviving, three were Kings of France, one wasQueen of Sardinia and one was the gentle and tragic MadameElisabeth, one of the most innocent and pathetic victims of thefuries of the Revolution of 1789.
The first incident that brought the young couple together wasthe death of Madame, the Dauphin's child by his lost wife, afrail baby, who did not survive a year; Pepa had a good influenceon her young husband; both of them were serious-minded and likedhome life, and under her sweet encouragement the young man beganto develop qualities that might have been useful to him as Kingof France; they lived happily surrounded by their children. Theirgreat diversion was music and the Prince became proficient on thevioloncello and enjoyed singing in his fine bass voice. Butperhaps, content though she was with her husband, the greatestjoy of Maria Josepha's life was her friendship with her sister-in-law, Henriette.
On the death of this girl, suddenly, in the winter of 1752,Maria Josepha wrote the following touching letter to her mother,whom she was never to see again:
"I am very sorry, my dear Mamma, not to havewritten to you last Saturday, but the cruel situation in which Iam did not allow it. Besides the extreme grief in which I amplunged by the loss of Madame, I am obliged to hide at least partof it not to add to that of M. le Dauphin. No, my dear Mother,nothing can be compared to the misery that I feel at this moment.I loved my sister very tenderly, I was bound to her with a veryclose friendship, yes, and from the first instant we saw oneanother.
"Besides, I owe the happiness of my life toher, for the friendship and affection that M. le Dauphin has forme I owe to her care only. I won't conceal from you that when Ifirst arrived here he held me in the greatest aversion; he hadbeen turned against me, besides, he was very much distressed andvexed to see me occupying the place of a woman whom he tenderlyloved. He regarded me, too, as a mere child. All this meant thatthere was a separation between us and gave me mortal displeasure.I was even forced, by my blind obedience to the least of hiswishes, to conceal from him the desires I had to please him. Idid not have many moments of the day in which I could speak tohim or prove to him how I wished to serve him, for he would notremain a moment alone with me. He always made his sisters come,then took Adelaide away with him and left me with Madame.
"She saw the sadness that his conduct caused me, althoughshe did not appear to do so, and she advised me what I had betterdo. And besides, when I wasn't there, she talked to M. leDauphin, impressed on him my unhappiness and my despair at notbeing able to see him. At last she succeeded so well that he tooka little pity on me and treated me a little better.
"When she had gained this point she continued her tender cares,so much so that at the end M. le Dauphin fell into some affectionfor me. And this affection Madame Henriette to the end of herdays always cultivated and augmented.
"You can see, mydear Mamma, what this loss will mean to me. And meanwhile I amnot permitted to give way to my grief. I daren't even think ofthat of the King, who is not in a state to give any orders atall. It is I, therefore, unhappy creature, that am in charge ofeverything, haft even been obliged to order everything for thetransport of the coffin, for the mourning and for all these sadceremonies. You know the tenderness and sensibility of my heartand you can judge to what state it is reduced.
"Theyhave been obliged to bleed me a little, for after the death of mysister I had the most frightful pains in the head. However, sinceWednesday, when I was bled, they have passed.
"I beg youonce more to pray for her, to pray to the good God for the reposeof her soul, though I hope there is no great need of that,considering the manner in which she died was very consoling."
This forgotten Princess was a gentle, pathetic figure in thatglittering and cynic court.
Though he used her as a means for his own advancement and forthe glory of his House, Maurice appears to have had a sincereaffection for her, an affection in which perhaps a certainwistfulness was mingled, for she too was a stranger and despisedas such at the arrogant court of France where, for all hishonours and glories and his friendship with the King the son ofAurora von Königsmarck was never allowed to feel altogether athis ease. Yet the man who could feel compassion for Pepa was theman who could ruthlessly pursue and brutally overcome JustineFavart. Had not this also, "the air of nothing so much as asacrifice"?
II. THE MONSTROUS PALACE
IN July 1747, Maurice de Saxe gained his lastbattle, that of Laufeldt; this was the name of the village nearMaestricht that was occupied by Cumberland with the dragoons, theGreys and the Innis-killings and some infantry. In the strugglefor the position that Maurice finally took, the British lost aquarter of their number; the infantry withdrew without confusionowing to the gallantry of the cavalry that covered theirretreat.
This fight was the result of the efforts of the French tocarry the war into the Netherlands, where the Allies had strivento animate the disgusted and hesitating Republicans by forcing onthem a Stadtholder, William III of Orange, who was married to theKing of Great Britain's daughter, Mary.
In the earlier part of the year Maurice had marched on DutchFlanders and taken Holst and Ostl and this battle outsideMaestricht was termed "the third great victory over the Allies."The Allies and the French sustained equal losses at Laufeldt, butthe result of it was the capture of that much-besieged city,Bergen-op-Zoom, by M. de Lowendal under the orders of Maurice onSeptember 17, 1747, which concluded the campaign and practicallythe war; Maurice was named Commandant-General of the LowCountries by Louis XV, who had himself been present at Laufeldt;he now enjoyed as many honours and as much power as had ever beenpossessed by Eugene; but he was still dreaming of a crown.
His enemies at the court of France increased, and thebehaviour of Maurice gave good grounds for these strictures. Hischaracter, always brutal, had become even more coarse and violentwith age and the agonies of his own suffering; in this lastcampaign he countenanced atrocities.
Bergen-op-Zoom was punished for a heroic resistance by beinggiven over to pillage; Lowendal's grenadiers raped, stole andslew with the approval of their generals; France was shocked andfelt disgraced by this behaviour on the part of the twoforeigners—so different from their own chivalry afterFontenoy.
"Cartouche," wrote the Marquis d'Argenson, naming the mostnotorious bandit of the time, "could not have behaved worse."
In the spring of 1748 Maurice was at Brussels; he opened thecampaign by besieging Maestricht, garrisoned by twenty-seventhousand Austrians; he had hardly opened the trenches beforeCumberland asked for an armistice.
This was granted and the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle opened inMay.
The conquests of Maurice had left France in a strong position;she was able to dictate terms; but Louis XV did not wish "tobargain like a tradesman," and wanted "the thing overquickly."
It is generally agreed that this King passes out of historywith this peace, so humiliating to France, the miserable resultof a long, costly, purposeless war—"stupid as the peace"became a common saying among the people, now completely disgustedwith King and Government.
The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle on October 18, 1748, whichboasted a preamble very elegant and profuse, restored all theconquests of Maurice and was as stupid from the French angle asthe war it closed—if indeed it did close the war; by someit was regarded as a mere truce, and, ignored by politicians athome, the struggle continued in India.
Bitter and furious were the protests of M. de Saxe at seeinghis triumphs thus reduced to such futilities, his victories tovanities, all his exertions, fatigues, his success tonothing.
Not only did the Peace leave him without an occupation butwith the stinging sense of a barren labour of eight years behindhim. Very hollow indeed must have sounded in his mind the shoutsof "Demain, bataille!" the Te Deums of Paris and Brussels, theapplause of the Opera, the praise of the King, the flatteries ofMadame Pompadour, and the "Hurrahs!" of his own conqueringarmy.
No one indeed, had gained much from the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle save the one person who deserved, perhaps, to doso—the wily, bold and unscrupulous King of Prussia, who haddared calmly to take and keep his own vantage mid the surgingbroil.
Frederick, as Maurice grimly remarked, was allowed to takeSilesia, while all his own conquests were ceded.
All his own high-sounding honours, were they not a littleempty, a little smacking of the Duchy of Courland adventure? Theright of entry to royal palaces, this permission of a stool inthe royal presence, a coach in the royal yard, these royalembraces, these six pieces of cannon, these laurel wreaths fromimitation goddesses, what were they to a man who aspired toroyalty himself? Even the magnificent title of Maréchal Generalde France did not satisfy one who hoped to be a ruling Prince.Maurice had dreamt to the last of the Austrian Netherlands and itwas said that Louis would have been willing to grant him this butdare not so far affront the spirit of the Princes of the bloodand nobility, and now that hope was lost with the rest.
Maurice, then, after all these gaudy flourishes and theatricalrewards, was left with his pension; Chambord, and theGovernorship of Alsace.
He had visited Chambord before and finding it in considerabledisrepair had purchased a more modest and more comfortableresidence at Piples, but the grandiose domain on the flatvineyards of the Sologne, where the vast château of Francis Irose in majestic solitude, with a huge park full of wild boar andgame, now appealed to Maurice as a fitting place in which toescape the persecution of the courtiers and live in independence,as much after his own taste as was possible.
Chambord was the nearest approach to a kingdom that the victorof Fontenoy, Raucoux, and Laufeldt could obtain. The superbchâteau was neglected, lonely, and uncomfortable, as StanislasLeczinski to his cost had found, but Maurice received permissionfrom the King to improve the place at the royal expense andpromptly proceeded to turn the fortified castle of the MiddleAges and the pleasant palace of the Renaissance that Chambord wasinto the gaunt barracks and pompous mansion combined that was theeighteenth-century idea of a royal residence.
There was something in the regal size of the place, the vastsquat towers, the huge parade ground, the soaring pinnacles andmassive gargoyles, the great staircases and multitude of heavychambers, that pleased the extravagant taste of Maurice de Saxe;if he could not have a kingdom, at least he had a king's palace,if not an army, at least a regiment and a barracks.
"A fig for your infernal politics!" the disappointed soldierflung at Maurepas and retired to Chambord with his capturedflags, his cannon and his troop of Uhlans; he suffered moreacutely every day from dropsy and a confusion of minor ailments,but his bold spirit was as vigorous as ever and he threw himselfinto his new life with as much spirit as that with which he hadever conducted a campaign in Flanders, or stormed the walls ofLille and Belgrade.
The flag with the arms of Courland and Saxony floated on thelantern above the fleur de lis carved on the facade of Chambord;when the architects had multilated such of the Gothic beauties ofthe ancient château as Louis XIV had left, Maurice was inpossession of a very pompous, comfortable palace, extensivebarracks and an elegant theatre, all most lavishly appointed andfurnished; only a personality like that of Maurice could haveadequately filled the vastness of Chambord, but he did fill it,and admirably, living in a high-handed state of fantasticmagnificence; it was still en avant! tambour battant! withthe Maréchal Général de Saxe; he had made, the story goes, hisfirst formal entry into Chambord by driving in a coach and six upthe great escalier d'honneur to his apartments, and duringall his residence at Chambord kept up the same scale of grandeur;sixteen colours taken in battle in the vestibule, six capturedcannon in the court, fifty men on guard at the entrance, asentinel at the door of the bedchamber of Maurice, everywheregirandoles of crystal, hangings of Utrecht velvet, garlands ofgilt blooms, mirrors with bronze clamps, porcelain from Sevresand Missein, pastels in pale tints, statuettes of Loves andGraces in delicate alabaster, airy wreaths, ribbons,Cupidons.
Maurice liked this mise en scène and for a whilecompletely enjoyed himself; there were great hunts and shootingparties in the huge park, there were voluptuous performances inthe baroque theatre, where madame Favart, ravished from herhusband, queened it sadly and briefly over a troop of lesserlight beauties, and where there was a discreet grille forthe Bishop of Blois, and there was, above everything, theregiment of Uhlans, which became the main occupation and the mainpride of Maurice de Saxe.
Though supported by the King, this strange troop was entirelysubordinate to Maurice, who subjected his soldiers to a severediscipline and did not hesitate to hang them for severe faults;for all this they remained in his service willingly enough; thequiet people of Touraine were startled by this sudden influx offoreign and brutal soldiery, who had nothing to do but wheel inevolutions on the parade ground before Chambord, mount guard overthe trophies of Fontenoy and Raucoux, and escort Maurice de Saxewhen he pompously rode abroad, who feared neither God nor Devil,but only the redoubtable Maréchal Général.
These "Saxon Volunteers," as Maurice called them, consisted ofa thousand men, Hungarians, Turks, Poles, Germans and Tartars,officered by French and men of their own nationality; there wasalso a "Colonial Brigade" formed of negroes from the Congo,Cayenne, Guinea and Pondicherry, commanded by the son of anAfrican King, who, mounted on white horses and clothed withEastern flamboyancy, made an arresting spectacle on the lonelyplains of Sologne; a bevy of negresses accompanied these blackwarriors and added to the picturesqueness of the exotic garrison,which gathered together every week to hear Mass in the chapel ofthe château; Maurice had had the dignity to remain a Lutheran;but these soldiers, though half of them were heathen, had to keepup the appearance of being good Catholics being nominally in theservice of the Most Christian King.
Maurice had reviewed these troops before Louis in Paris, inthe Champs-Elysées, previous to his departure for Chambord, andhad achieved a considerable succès de curiosité when, infull-dress Uhlan uniform, he had made his brilliant and fantastictroops perform their skilful manoeuvres.
At Chambord he drilled them every day and the lordly terracesresounded to the clatter of arms, the clangour of trumpets andthe shouts of command; Maurice dined alone, in public, before hiscourt of officers and friends, who only sat down to their coverswhen he had finished; two tables, one for eighty, one for sixtywere usually served in Chambord.
Eight hundred horses were in the stables and wild steeds fromthe Ukraine galloped in the immense park, and when one of thesumptuous performances was given in the theatre in the donjon,Maurice sat alone in a box opposite the stage, as the King sat atVersailles when he also took his idle pleasure.
But this opulent life of enjoyment began to pall; dullnessstole even over the concerts on the water, the slaughter of theboar, the stag hunts, the vaudevilles, the reviews of Uhlans, thecaresses of easy light ladies, the gallopades in the park, thedinners with one cover, even the sight of the captured flags andthe captured cannon lost its first flavour, the visits to Parisand Dresden palled; Maurice began to boast a great deal of hisfamous campaigns and to look at the map of Europe.
Not even the thousand distractions of Chambord could satisfyhis bold and restless spirit; the memory of Courland rankled andhe still dreamt of exchanging his marshal's baton for a royalcrown.
He cast his bold glance at all the corners of Europe in vain;even the adventuring spirit of the Königsmarck could see no hopethere, every inch was occupied; Maurice began to think beyondEurope.
He demanded the island of Madagascar from Louis, declaringthat he would colonise it with German paupers, but he wanted toomany ships and too much money and the request was refused;Maurice then asked for Tobago, but also in vain.
"Vast projects and chimerical enterprises," as one of hisvisitors, the Marquis de Valfons, says, then occupied therestless mind of Maurice de Saxe; with every day Chambord staledthe more, and the rancour of the Prince de Conti, had followedhim to Touraine and was irritating him through his neighbour, M.de Caumery.
He thought of establishing a Jewish kingdom in America and ofconquering Corsica (as France did conquer Corsica, twenty yearslater) but Versailles had no money, no energy, no enterprise, andMaurice was left to languish with his useless splendours atChambord.
In the autumn of 1750, Mlle de Sens with a trôlée ofcourt ladies had come to visit the Maréchal de Saxe, and therehad been considerable gaieties, balls, hunts, comedies; Mauricewas full of spirit and vigour despite his chronic ailments andwrote a lively account of the entertainments to the King, hisbrother, ending his letter with: "A tout péché miséricorde!"
It was a long way from the room in Goslar, where Aurora vonKönigsmarck had given birth to this child of a casual, ifprincely, intrigue; but Maurice, looking back over the halfcentury found that the time had passed quickly—like aflash, the struggles, the victories, the honours, the women,hardly to be distinguished now, so rapidly had they gone, likebright bubbles dissolving, the intrigues, the luxuries.
What was there that he had not had? How many thousands ofpounds had passed through his hands, what heaps of gold he hadlost on gambling tables, paid out to panders, harlots, lackeys,what piles of diamonds, pearls and patiently worked jewels hadbeen scattered on his dressing tables or flung to his flatterers!Not even the King had had finer mares in his stables, richersilks and velvets on his back, more easy money in his pocket, noteven M. de Richelieu, superb Don Juan of the last flower of theFrench aristocracy, had been more successful with women.
He had gathered as many laurels, trophies, stars, honours,glories as any of the heroes whom he had set out to emulate; hehad been able to put into practice some of his own most cherishedRêveries and to see them successful; there was no lustthat he had not gratified; he had taken cities and sacked cities,he had seen massacres, pillagings, countries broken and ruined bywar, he had had power of life and death over thousands.
He had even enjoyed the delicate fidelity of an Adrienne deLecouvreur and been able to force the delicate loathing of aJustine Favart; he had met Kings and Queens on equal terms, hisniece was on the step of the throne of France, he had woo'd andwon the niece of Peter the Great, and twice missed the throne ofall the Russias by a mere chance.
Maurice looked back on all this glitter of gold, lust, blood,greed, luxury without remorse or a qualm of self-disgust. Nogleam of tenderness, of regret, no softening of doubt or wonder,brightened the last days of Chambord.
His callousness, his selfishness, remained unmoved; thebitterness of boredom that was clouding over him was because hewas inactive, because he had missed a crown, because his body wasno longer able to afford him pleasure.
Chambord was not Paris, it was not a kingdom, and he was not aking, though he had contrived to have a sentry at his door bywriting barracks over the door to his suite ofapartments.
It was mid-winter and the country beyond Chambord was dullunder the gloomy skies; the magnificent castle was set down likea crown on a table on this marshy plain, and in the winter eventhe park, one of the largest in Europe, with a wall of prodigiouscircumference, was gloomy; the long avenues were bare of leaves,and stripped and gaunt the ancient elms, from which Mauricehanged his disobedient Uhlans; the white donjons, towers andpinnacles, above which hung the standard with the arms of Saxony,were coldly reflected in the sluggish waters of the river.
The monstrous palace soon became melancholy, ever overhungwith an intolerable gloom; it was too large, too pompous, evenMaurice de Saxe and his Uhlans could not fill it; the majesty ofhis residence sometimes oppressed even his vanity and this winterhe was more than usually infirm.
The "trôlée" of women had gone and he had laughed tosee them go; it was as much as any woman's reputation was worthto visit Maurice and his full-fed idle officers at Chambord, butthey came just the same, and their host declared that inproviding each of them with a fine Uhlan he had sent them awaywell satisfied.
He had sent away Justine Favart, too; he was tired of her, hewas tired of the woman who had borne the child who was to providehim with an illustrious descendant, Madame George Sand; he wastired of all the marvels and splendours of Chambord, even of thecurious escalier d'honneur, which gave his palace itsunique glory; his senses were beginning to fail; he could hardlystand, feet and hands were crippled, his sight was dim, thefestering wound in his leg gnawed him, no unguents could heal thesores that covered him, his broad purple face was a caricature ofthe comely countenance that had so nearly won him an Imperialcrown; only the beetling eyebrows remained to give an air offerocity to an expression that remained on the whole good-humoured.
He was not tormented with self-disgust or satiety; he wouldhave echoes of glories that were past, if he could have nothingmore; "the old wagoner likes the clack of the wagon-wheels," hewrote to his mother, referring to the military pomp with which hesurrounded himself, and the old libertine liked to turn over thetaste of vices it was no longer possible to indulge, but that, tothe very last resource of his strength, he had indulged, snappinghis fingers at physicians and friends alike.
Propped up in his vast gilt bed, with the brocade curtains, hewould summon the most debauched of his old soldiers, the mostservile of his lackeys, and bid them tell obscene tales, oneagainst the other; when his guffaws of appreciation at indecentwords and gestures passed into the convulsive grins of hisdisordered sleep, the hangers-on crept away, wondering how longthey would hold their places.
For Maurice de Saxe was plainly dying in this winter of 1750,in the monstrous castle in the midst of the vast park where boar,deer and hares roamed the bare thickets and the scanty grass,where the six cannon captured at Raucoux guarded the entrance,where the standard of Saxony hung limp in the damp air.
The ferocious looking negroes and Tartars with their bizarreaccoutrements, idled in the barracks and stables, in the princelykitchens; the famous chef, Rotisset and his charmingdaughter, who had been one of the many fancies of Maurice, waitedamong their huge array of pots and pans awaiting the orders foranother banquet.
The luxurious apartments were silent, the curtain with itsmotto Ludum in Armis hung across the empty stage in thelarge theatre, where there was a throne for Maurice under a dais,with a Persian carpet.
They had all gone; there was no one there left to share orsoothe the nightmares, fantastic, grotesque, that clouded hissick sleep; no one but paid flatterers and panders, and hissoldiers who feared him more than they loved him.
Rosetta, the little lace-maker was gone; when he had enteredBrussels as a victor, he had asked after her; Aurora vonKönigsmarck's bones rested in the sandstone vaults ofQuedlinburg; Adrienne Lecouvreur's body had long since becomepart of the waste grounds of Paris; Justine Favart had escaped atlast; all the other women were dead or old or had found otherlovers or repented of love in a convent. Madame Pompadour haddeigned to come to Chambord to taste Rotisset's invention, the"Brochet à la Chambord," to sit in the theatre and listento the witty shafts of the heartless comedy, to admire theostentatious display of arras, sculpture, pictures, bronzes,miniatures that were displayed in the great galleries.
Maurice had no taste for or knowledge of these things, butthey were costly, envied, and kings had them.
Madame Pompadour had gone with her train; the diseased andcrippled soldier was of no more use to her; perhaps she dislikedto gaze at this warning of what the man through whom she ruledFrance would one day look like; perhaps the elegant, fastidiouswoman hoped that she would die before nature sent in heraccount.
The King had, as the Marquis d'Argenson noted, "taken anaversion to M. de Saxe."
And this was not only through the intrigues of M. de Conti andthe Princes of the blood; the brusque Saxon's manners, once soflattering, had not been deferential enough to His Majesty in thelast campaign; he had even dared to contradict him at the councilof war.
When Maurice had petitioned the King for royal honours,relying on that old Courland claim, and his relationship with theDauphine, they had not been granted.
So, despite a guard of fifty men at his gates, and thesentinels before his apartments, and all the pomp and the powerof life and death over his men, Maurice had not achieved hisambition...the itch for a crown tormented his mind as the festerin his leg tormented his body; his disordered dreams becamefantastic, eccentric; he was not concerned with the thousands ofmen whom he had seen brutally slain, with the sacked cities, theburning villages, the ravaged fields, the blood, the treasurewasted in a cause for which he felt nothing but indifference.Wasted? No, those long wars had made him what he was; what did itmatter if half Europe had been ruined, as long as a king'sbastard with a turn for soldiering had his cannon, his savagesoldiers, his twenty five stallions, his park full of beasts todrive into nets and slaughter?
The wars had been satisfactory from the point of view ofMaurice and his kind. But they had not provided him with a crown;and the gross chimeras haunted him in the grey, heavy Novemberdays.
They had all gone; even that last beauty, frail Mme de Blot,who had queened it at Chambord so brilliantly, had already passedto his heir, the Comte de Friesen and the hero was lonely in hisbed, where he would die "like an old woman" as Madame dePompadour had sneered.
He had caught a chill, he had a cough, putrid fever, aseizure; the two physicians were in a quandary; the household,the garrison, in despair; how many excellent places were likelyto be lost!
He was bled three times and felt some relief; he wished toconceal his illness and a strange agitation shook him; during thenight of November 24, he became delirious and M. Senac was sentfor and, as he drew the curtains and looked down at Maurice, thesoldier for the first time showed fear.
"Who sent you?" he demanded.
M. Senac replied that it was M. de Friesen, but another name,"Death," must have been in the minds of both for they knew thatthe physician's visit was but a farce.
Courteous messages came from the great ones, who cared nothingif he lived or died; Marshal Lowendal came to his bedside andtried to convert him from his heresy; but Maurice refused him ashe had refused Cardinal Tencin, when His Eminence had begged himto achieve one more victory—"that over Martin Luther."
Maurice had never made any pretence to be anything but anatheist, but he clung to Lutheranism, as he clung to his diplomaof election to the Duchy of Courland.
And he was now fast falling into a lethargy from which no talkof any God could rouse him; in his intervals of consciousness hefaced the complete annihilation that he believed awaited him withthe same unimaginative courage that, as a boy, he had viewed thecarnage of Malplaquet.
Senac reported that, before Maurice died, the morning ofNovember 30, 1750, he had whispered: "Life is but a dream, minehas been fine—but short."
The sentiment is commonplace, the terms neat for a dying man,but something of this kind Maurice may have stammered in thatlast delirium, and there is nearly always someone ready not onlyto note but to dramatise.
This is what is believed to be the true account of the deathof Maurice de Saxe. Another and more romantic version, however,soon gained ground, became a persistent rumour, and is confirmedby a passage in the Mémoires of the Baron Grimm, whoclaimed to have been at Chambord at the time, and gives adetailed account of the end of Maurice.
This is neither confirmed nor utterly refuted by otherauthorities; the letters of the two doctors then at Chambord, M.Roth and M. Lefort, prove that Maurice was ill in November, 1750,and that he had fever, some kind of seizure, and was bled fivetimes in twenty-four hours (this in itself a sufficient cause fora fatal collapse in a man "accablé d'infirmités," asMadame de Pompadour wrote of Maurice after his death), that hedesired his illness to be kept secret and showed his usualindependence by relying on his remedies, rye-broth and cider, andthat he died suddenly between six and seven in the morning ofNovember 30, 1750, in the bedchamber that can still be seen atChambord.
There is nothing in all this that renders absolutelyimpossible the recital of Grimm and the tenacious local rumours.According to these, Maurice de Saxe was roused one morning, ateight o'clock, by a messenger who brought him a sealed envelope;he hastily dressed, put his papers in order, said a few words tothe Comte de Friesen, his nephew and heir, and went out aloneinto the vast park, then wrapped in the gloomy mists ofwinter.
In one of the melancholy allées, now stripped of leavesand fit resort for the ghostly chase led by Thibaut of Champagne,which is said to sweep through these dreary glades, waited aplain coach without arms, driven by a servant without livery orcockade; a gentleman in travelling dress descended from this andsaluted Maurice with a bitter smile it was the Prince de Conti,his implacable enemy.
In this lonely and dismal part of the park a duel took place;Maurice de Saxe was mortally wounded, and M. de Conti drove backto Paris satisfied with having removed for ever the man who hadbeen for so long the object of his arrogant but perhaps justifiedrancour.
Maurice returned to the château, commanded secrecy, anddied of his wound after an illness of nine days.
If this is true, doctors, servants, M. de Friesen, officers,secretaries, in short, a crowd of people, must have been employedin deceiving the world; it is possible that they may have doneso; no one would have gained anything by revealing the truth andit would have been a dangerous thing to breathe a scandalinvolving the name of a Prince of the blood; the persistence ofthe rumours round Chambord also seems to point to someone havingwhispered something of the dark story; it is strange that such ascandal should have been started without any foundation. Yet onthe face of it the tale was absurd; Maurice had been a dying mansince long before Fontenoy; the only wonder was that his splendidphysique should have so long resisted his own efforts and thoseof his doctors to ruin it, and, if the accounts of his last yearscan be credited, he would have been incapable of fighting a duelin the winter of 1750.
Moreover, he would probably have refused to do so, especiallywith a much younger man, a royal prince and under conditions ofsecrecy. Maurice was shrewd and valued his favour at the court ofFrance; he was almost wholly dependent on Louis XV; what sort oftale would he have told if M. de Conti had been killed? On theother hand M. de Conti had nothing to fear from Maurice, who nolonger worried him or—save for the fact of hisexistence—vexed him. Maurice had rarely left Chambord sincehis retirement. Once he had gone to Prussia to talk of militaryscience with Frederick II, once he had gone to Versailles, butthe King had been cool and had not invited him to supper.
There was no apparent reason, therefore, for M. de Conti tofasten a duel on this out-of-favour, dying man, old enough to behis father.
If there was some deadly business between the two enemiesbeyond their life-long jealousy, the gossip mongers do not giveit, and all that remains is surprise at the persistence of whatseems a grotesque rumour. One account gives Marshal Lowendal asbeing at his bedside and the Comte de Friesen as in the château,another says that no friends arrived at Chambord till after hisdeath, and that no one viewed the body till it was embalmed, thusthe wild rumours of a secret duel spread at once. Perhaps thepublic imagination could not endure to think that this grandioseand theatrical hero, with all his adventurous pomp and glitteringbravado, should die of a chill or a putrid fever like an ordinaryman.
Certainly the romantic, lonely duel in the haunted glades ofChambord would have been more in keeping with the life of the sonof Augustus the Strong and the descendant of the dashing andreckless Königsmarcks.
It was all of a piece with the mysterious tragedy of Philipvon Königsmarck, with the poisoned pastilles given to Adrienne deLecouvreur, with all the strange, obscure episodes of thisbizarre life. The Marquis d'Argenson notes the tale of a duel inhis memoirs, without mentioning the Prince de Conti and adds "itis not true."
A farmer who lived in the park of Chambord claimed to havebeen a hidden eye-witness of this strange duel; but he couldhardly have recognised M. de Conti, or have known, as he claimedto know, that upon the Prince's return to Paris he told the Kingwhat had happened and that His Majesty thereupon sent M. Senac toChambord.
However he died, he was dead on this last day of November,1750. His Highness Maurice de Saxe, Maréchal Général de France,was dead and on his lit de parade; he had died a Lutheran,and, his servants said loyally, with a smile; there seemednothing more to say. His devoted physicians had achieved thedangerous task of embalming the remains of the hero, often termedgodlike, who could not have seemed divine to them on thisoccasion, but all too obviously human. There were probably goodreasons enough, without searching for a romantic mystery, why hisfriends were not allowed to see the corpse before the men ofmedicine had done their work.
The marble table that M. Senac and his assistants used on thisoccasion was proudly preserved as a great curiosity, if not anobject of beauty, and has survived many more worthy andinteresting memorials of famous men.
The dream was over, but there were those willing to pay ithomage; the officers of the garrison went into mourning in memoryof Maurice de Saxe, the famous six cannon were fired by thesorrowful Uhlans every quarter of an hour; across the desolatepark where the Ukraine horses roamed unheeded, across thebarracks where the motley garrison were tying crape on theirarms, across the theatre where the hangers on were packing uptheir finery and their masks, sounded the sullen funeral salutefor this roi manqué, the man who had achieved so much, butnever his utmost desire.
This hero of barren victories, this conqueror withoutterritories, this landless prince and heirless gentleman, wasaccorded a funeral that would have pleased his love of pomp, eventhough it was in contradiction of the request contained in hiswill (in imitation of St. Monica, as one biographer oddlyremarks, but surely rather in imitation of Adrienne deLecouvreur) that his body should be buried simply and inquicklime—"that nothing may remain of me, but my memoryamong my friends."
Certainly his life and his death were all of a piece; notenderness, no regrets, no mention of God, no hope of anyeternity showed in either his will, or in any word or actionrecorded of his last moments. Besides his immense quantity offurniture, pictures, jewels and other treasure, Maurice left, onhis own estimation, six hundred thousand livres in Frenchbanks, twenty thousand livres in Saxony, that were in thehands of a M. Muldener, together with the diamond "Prague," andan estate worth ten thousand roubles in the Isle of Wormissiau,in Livonia.
He had not, he declared in his will (dated 1748) any debts,and he left a number of legacies to friends, his servants andsoldiers. He left the bulk of his fortunes, his precious stud ofhorses, his famous diamond called "Prague" (given him for sparingthat city) and his regiment to his nephew, M. de Friesen, the sonof his half-sister, the Comtesse de Cossell; to him, too, wasleft the MS. of Mes Rêveries.
The King confirmed this testament, allowing M. de Friesen tokeep up the Uhlans and enjoy Chambord and the pensions; but infive years the gay and ineffective young officer was dead, theregiment was dispersed, the stud broken up, and Chambordabandoned to neglect and decay; all the glories of His HighnessMaurice de Saxe had vanished like his dreams of Tobago andCorsica, his visions of thrones and crowns in the FortunateIsles.
The ghostly huntsman galloped undisturbed through themelancholy solitudes of the ruined park, and the vast chambersand galleries of the great château that had for so brief a timeshone with the unsubstantial glories of Maurice were closed ondecay and gloom.
III. FOR VALOUR
THE funeral of Maurice de Saxe was so much of apiece with his life that to omit some account of it seems to beto end his biography too soon.
A suggestion was made that he should sleep with Turenne in St.Denis; but Maurice, unlike Turenne, had been firm to a hereditaryfaith, and though, as the Queen remarked, "It is a pity that theDe profundis cannot be said for one who has so oftencaused the Te Deum to be sung," it was decided that aheretic could not repose in the church that was the mausoleum ofthe most Christian kings. Nor could the brutal quicklime requestbe granted. Louis XV, in a formal note to Augustus III,acknowledged the "important services" rendered to France byMaurice de Saxe, and it did not befit the dignity of a greatnation that these should go unrecognised. True, it might havebeen argued that Fontenoy, Raucoux and Laufeldt had been wellpaid for; but it was necessary to observe custom and M. deFriesen, at least, had cause to be grateful to his uncle; whilethe guard of honour still stood at attention in the funeralchamber, he gave orders to the upholsterers and milliners, andsat over plans of the elaborate convoy; heralds and painters setto work, and yards of braid, velvet and cloth were ordered.
The gossips had their say; no one was very witty; Maurice wasof too simple a character to provoke any subtleties of commentfrom the French.
There were the usual remarks about Mars and Venus:
"Il fut un autre Mars; mais it perdit un jour
Pour avoir trop souvent combattu pour l'amour."
The court of France avoided all difficulties caused by theobstinacy of M. de Saxe, with their usual grace; the LutheranFaith should receive her faithful son with a ceremony so costlythat a grateful nation would not be ashamed to foot the bill. ByJanuary, after two months during which time Maurice's body hadlain on his lit de parade, everything was ready.
The Lutheran church of St. Thomas at Strassburg was thendecided upon, since Maurice had been governor of Alsace, and onJanuary 7 the convoy set out across the wintry plains ofTouraine; the huge funeral coach drawn by six horses draped inblack was escorted by a hundred Uhlans, with crape in theircasques and their arms reversed, and followed by two othercoaches occupied by the gentlemen of His Highness's Household,one of whom, Baron Heldorff, premier écuyer, was in chargeof the heart of Maurice in a silver box reposing on a blackvelvet cushion heavy with metallic fringe.
Following came the rest of the Uhlans, Swiss on foot, pages inweepers, and the two nephews of Maurice, M. de Friesen and M. deLöwenhaupt, in weepers and long mourning cloaks, drums beatfuneral marches continuously as the procession made its difficultway under leaden skies and over snowy ground; so bad was theweather that this dismal pageant did not reach Strassburg until amonth after the departure from Chambord. As the capital of Alsacewas reached, M. de Saint-André, the commandant of the provincesent out the regiment of Clermont to meet the "convoi"and, at a signal from a cannon, all the bells of the Lutheranchurches rang out.
In Strassburg a very orgy of funeral pomp was indulged in, allthe notabilities turned out, smothered in crape, guns and bellsmade the most doleful sounds possible, while the massive coffinof Maurice de Saxe was laid by ten gunners on a bed of state "inthe taste of a duchess," that had been prepared in thecastle.
Here under a "grand imperial" of black velvet garnished withsilver mohair, between curtains of white satin tied with crape,Maurice took his last part in a spectacle of worldly pomp; thehall was hung with black, adorned with the arms of Saxony andCourland, marshal staffs tied saltirewise, death's-heads, tears,hour-glasses, ribbons of the White Eagle, and such-like pleasingemblems of the desirability and futility of earthly grandeur.
On the black velvet pall gleamed and sparkled in the light ofwhite wax candles, under a veil of black crape, the crossed swordand scabbard so often used and the ducal crown that had neverbeen worn. At the four corners of the bed sat four heralds; inone hand they held a flaming torch, in the other a marshal'sbaton.
While Maurice thus lay in state, the Protestant students fromthe College of Saint William passed round the bed, chantingfuneral hymns. Thus was the Marshal honoured after death by theprofessors of that faith which he had not taken the slightestnotice of during his life.
True, he had remained constant to Lutheranism, but hardly inthe face of temptation and more from dislike of other brands ofChristianity than belief in the faith for which his ancestors hadbattled.
However, his stolid adherence to the tenets of Martin Lutherhad brought a good deal of money and excitement to Strassburgthat otherwise would have been enjoyed by the Parisians, and thecity was grateful.
If the students had their gossip about the dead hero, it wasexchanged in private, on the surface all was decorum. On the dayof the funeral the whole town was in mourning, everyone ofimportance was in trailing cloak and weepers, and ingenuity wasexhausted in the pomp and gloom of the final journey of thevictor of Fontenoy. All the nobility of the province and all themagistrates of the town marched to the accompaniment of dolefulsymphonies and the beat of drums muffled in crape. Torches ofwhite wax were burnt, and everyone was in ceremonial habit andfull mourning.
Besides all the vicars and curates of the seven Protestantchurches of the town, there were forty-three country ministers topay homage to the hero, whose huge coffin was carried by twelvesergeants. Three "notable bourgeois" in mourning followed thepall and torch-bearers, and the Marshal's two nephews had beenjoined by the most important personage of the neighbourhood, thePrince of Nassau-Saarbrücken.
The new church of Saint Thomas had been chosen for theresting-place of Maurice and this had been lavishly prepared byanxious upholsterers, carpenters and scene painters for the greatoccasion.
Every gleam of daylight was excluded from the church, whichwas lit by torches and candles and lavishly adorned withskeletons, skulls, Virtues, Genii and weeping Saturns, with avery plethora of emblems, laurel wreaths, coats of arms, Latinmottoes, and hundreds of yards of black cloth and silver fringe;in short, nothing was wanting to render the idea of death asdismal and disgusting as possible and to terrify people intodesiring a long life by the spectacle of the terrors waiting atthe end of it. Nor were two tedious and pedantic discourseslacking, in which zealous professors of Theology, M. Laurenz andM. Froereisen, gave the deceased, in the most fulsome terms,credit for every virtue ever possessed by man, including those oftemperance, piety, and chastity, and invoked a whole heaven ofheathen deities to weep for the death of this Christian hero,now, no doubt, comfortably in a Lutheran heaven.
After these sermons, the exhausted and stifling congregationhad to listen to a funeral hymn; then the body was carried to achapelle ardente that had been especially prepared, wherethere was yet another "lit de parade"; on this Maurice deSaxe was left, all the emblems and decorations from the churchbeing placed round the catafalque. Nor was this the end of it;when Maurice was at last consigned to the dark bed of state inthe black-hung vaults, and the weepers and mourning cloaks hadbeen folded away, and the Uhlans turned back towards Paris, thecelebrated Pigalle must be ordered to adorn the new Lutherantemple with as ostentatious a piece of sculpture as the floridtaste of the times could inspire.
A model was soon completed and on view in the Louvre two yearsafter the death of Maurice. The experts judged it "worthy of thebest period of Athens and Rome," and it certainly possessed greattechnical merit and a certain grace and beauty that are, however,more shocking than pleasing. Twenty-six years after the death ofthe hero, the monument was set in place in the church of St.Thomas, a fitting Saint to preside over such an edifice, such atomb. And there it stands to this moment, looking odd and somehowghastly in the bare church, a skilful exhibition of the falsetaste, laboured symbolism and insincere sentiment of a cold andexhausted period of art.
Maurice, handsome and elegant, is standing at the summit ofthe monument, wearing his cuirass and holding the marshal'sbaton. Behind him is a pyramid generously adorned with symbols ofvictory, before him is a flight of stairs that he is slowlydescending. France, a voluptuous female figure, draws him back;Death draws him on with a hand that holds an hourglass and withthe other slides open the lid of an empty coffin. Glory, intears, extinguishes a torch; Strength (Hercules) sinks indespair; the symbolic beasts of the nations beaten by Maurice onthe field of battle balance on the other side the compositionthat is twenty-five feet in height and twenty feet in width andcarried out in cold white marble.
What thought is behind this gloomy piece of work it isimpossible to say; it states merely that a hero must die and thata nation mourns. The lack of any spirituality, any hope, anygleam of faith in any creed, is odd in a memorial in a Christianchurch, and the crass worldliness of the conception isalmostfrightening.
In attempting the sublime, Pigalle has only achieved thetheatrical, and so much perhaps might be said of the man hecommemorates; this is an ill piece of sculpture but not an illepitome of the career of Maurice de Saxe.
This swaggering figure descending to the tomb, does it notexpress the victor of Fontenoy? This graceful weeping France, isshe not a very Adrienne de Lecouvreur despairing over herfaithless lover? And these vapid leopards, eagles and lions, dothey not fitly represent the futile and showy wars where Mauricewas conqueror, the barren triumphs he achieved?
And the hideous grinning figure waiting to fasten the coffinlid on all this virile grandeur shows fairly enough the dullmaterialism, the gloomy doubt of the prosaic and cynic society inwhich Maurice de Saxe played his part. And with the fortituderepresented in his statue did he face the death that he believedwas the end of body and soul.
The sentimentality of the actress, the frivolity of the balletdancer, the hypocrisy of the priest, mingle in this monumentwhere the bitter gaiety of a disillusioned aristocracy, theuseless flourishes of a mercenary soldier who had no worthy causeto serve, the tawdry ambitions of an adventurer, are alikevanquished by that terrible material death conceived by theatheist and accepted by the nominal Christian who has lost hisfaith.
This pretentious monument, which has an air so oddly sinisterin its gross materialism, is a fitting commemoration of the lifeand death of the son of Aurora von Königsmarck, the lover ofAdrienne de Lecouvreur, the persecutor of Justine Favart, the manwho drove back Cumberland and his stubborn British soldiers.
The first biographer of Maurice quotes with approval thisepitaph that expresses, he thinks, the spirit of the "superbmonument" in Strassburg.
Tartara subit impavidus.
More might have been said; but that was scarcely the moment inwhich to say it and the epitaph, different from the monument,showed at least good taste, and lied as elegantly as any of itskind. Maurice had never shown good taste or elegance, but itshould be remembered that he had asked for quicklime.
Les Campagnes du Maréchal de Saxe. J. Colin. 3 vols.Paris 1901.
Maurice de Saxe. Saint-René Taillandier. Paris1865.
Mes Rêveries. Maurice, Comte de Saxe. 2 vols. Paris1758.
An Outline of British Military History. D. H. Cole andE. C. Priestly. 1936.
Maurice, Comte de Saxe et Maria Josepha de Saxe. O. F.Vitzthum d'Eckstaedt. Leipzig 1867.
Journal et Mémoires. Marquis d'Argenson. 5 vols. Paris1857-8.
Lettres et Mémoires du Maréchal de Saxe. Paris1894.
Maria Josepha de Saxe et la Cour de Louis XV. CasimirStryenski. Paris 1904.
Maréchal de Saxe. Comte de Seilhac. Paris 1804.
La Vie Ardente de Maurice de Saxe. Henri Malo. ParisN.D.
Maurice de Saxe, Maréchal de France. Général Camon.Paris 1934.
Enchanters of Men. E. C. Mayne. London 1909.
Le Château de Chambord. Guerlin. Paris N.D.
Denkwürdigketen der Gröfen Maria-Aurora vonKönigsmarck. Cramèr. Leipzig 1836.
Les Chroniques des Châteaux de la Loire. Pierre Rain.Paris N.D.
Maria Aurora, Gröfen von Königsmarck. CorvinWiersbitzky. Leipzig 1841.
Maurice de Saxe et ses Uhlans. Loire-et-CherHistorique. Vol. VI. Paris 1893.
Correspondance de Louis XV et du Maréchal de Noailles.Paris 1865.
Moritz, Graf von Sachsen. Marschall von Frankreich.Leipzig 1865.
Mémoires du duc de Luynes. Paris 1857.
Oeuvres de M. Thomas. Tome II. Paris 1792. Eloge deMaurice, Comte de Saxe.
Histoire de Mon Temps. George Sands. Var. ed.
Biographie Universelle. Various articles. Paris1825.
Maurice de Saxe, Melanges Tires de ses papiers.Grimoard. 5 vols. Paris 1794.
L'Esprit du Chevalier Folard. Paris 1761.
Life of the Duke of Cumberland. Andrew Henderson.1766.
William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. CampbellMacLachlan. 1876.
Histoire de Maréchal de Saxe. D'Espagnac. Paris.
"William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland." Article by Colonel E.M. Lloyd, R.E. Dictionary of National Biography.
Biographie et Maximes du Maréchal de Saxe. Barré duParcq. Paris 1851.
NOTE.—Some Letters and Memoirs supposed to havebeen written by Maurice de Saxe, but possibly spurious, arecontained in M. Vitzthum d'Eckstaedt's work quoted above. Thereis also some material with regard to M. de Saxe to be gatheredfrom various eighteenth-century memoirs and journals, notablythose of Grimm, Barbier and d'Argenson.