URLs for Books

Your last ebook:

You dont read ebooks at this site.

Total ebooks on site: about 25000

You can read and download its for free!

Ebooks by authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 
Robinson, Charles Henry / Life, Letters, and Epicurean Philosophy of Ninon de L'Enclos The Celebrated Beauty of the Seventeenth Century
Produced by Rick Niles, Wilelmina Malliere and PG Distributed
Proofreaders





LIFE, LETTERS

AND

EPICUREAN PHILOSOPHY

OF

NINON

DE L'ENCLOS

The Celebrated Beauty of the Seventeenth Century



ROBINSON--OVERTON




1903




CONTENTS

LIFE OF NINON DE L'ENCLOS

CHAPTER I

Ninon de l'Enclos as a Standard

CHAPTER II

Considered as a Parallel

CHAPTER III

Youth of Ninon de l'Enclos

CHAPTER IV

The Morals of the Period

CHAPTER V

Ninon and Count de Coligny

CHAPTER VI

The "Birds" of the Tournelles

CHAPTER VII

Effect of Her Mother's Death

CHAPTER VIII

Her Increasing Popularity

CHAPTER IX

Ninon's Friendships

CHAPTER X

Some of Ninon's Lovers

CHAPTER XI

Ninon's Lovers (Continued)

CHAPTER XII

The Villarceaux Affair

CHAPTER XIII

The Marquis de Sévigné

CHAPTER XIV

A Family Tragedy

CHAPTER XV

Ninon's Bohemian Environments

CHAPTER XVI

A Remarkable Old Age




LETTERS TO THE MARQUIS DE SÉVIGNÉ


INTRODUCTION TO LETTERS
I--A Hazardous Undertaking
II--Why Love Is Dangerous
III--Why Love Grows Cold
IV--The Spice of Love
V--Love and Temper
VI--Certain Maxims Concerning Love
VII--Women Expect a Quid Pro Quo from Men
VIII--The Necessity for Love and Its Primitive Cause
IX--Love Is a Natural Inclination
X--The Sensation of Love Forms a Large Part of a Woman's Nature
XI--The Distinction Between Love and Friendship
XII--A Man in Love Is an Amusing Spectacle
XIII--Vanity Is a Fertile Soil for Love
XIV--Worth and Merit Are Not Considered in Love
XV--The Hidden Motives of Love
XVI--How to Be Victorious in Love
XVII--Women Understand the Difference Between Real Love and Flirtation
XVIII--When a Woman Is Loved She Need Not Be Told of It
XIX--Why a Lover's Vows Are Untrustworthy
XX--The Half-way House to Love
XXI--The Comedy of Contrariness
XXII--Vanity and Self-Esteem Obstacles to Love
XXIII--Two Irreconcilable Passions in Woman
XXIV--An Abuse of Credulity Is Intolerable
XXV--Why Virtue Is So Often Overcome
XXVI--Love Demands Freedom of Action
XXVII--The Heart Needs Constant Employment
XXVIII--Mere Beauty Is Often of Trifling Importance
XXIX--The Misfortune of Too Sudden an Avowal
XXX--When Resistance is Only a Pretence
XXXI--The Opinion and Advice of Monsieur de la Sablière
XXXII--The Advantages of a Knowledge of the Heart
XXXIII--A Heart Once Wounded No Longer Plays with Love
XXXIV--Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
XXXV--The Heart Should Be Played Upon Like the Keys of a Piano
XXXVI--Mistaken Impressions Common to All Women
XXXVII--The Allurements of Stage Women
XXXVIII--Varieties of Resistance Are Essential
XXXIX--The True Value of Compliments Among Women
XL--Oratory and Fine Phrases Do Not Breed Love
XLI--Discretion Is Sometimes the Better Part of Valor
XLII--Surface Indications in Women Are Not Always Guides
XLIII--Women Demand Respect
XLIV--Why Love Grows Weak--Marshal de Saint-Evremond's Opinion
XLV--What Favors Men Consider Faults
XLVI--Why Inconstancy Is Not Injustice
XLVII--Cause of Quarrels Among Rivals
XLVIII--Friendship Must Be Firm
XLIX--Constancy Is a Virtue Among Narrow Minded
L--Some Women Are Very Cunning
LI--The Parts Men and Women Play
LII--Love Is a Traitor with Sharp Claws
LIII--Old Age Not a Preventive Against Attack
LIV--A Shrewd But Not an Unusual Scheme
LV--A Happy Ending

* * * * *

CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN LORD SAINT-EVREMOND AND NINON DE L'ENCLOS

I--Lovers and Gamblers Have Something in Common
II--It Is Sweet to Remember Those We Have Loved
III--Wrinkles Are a Mark of Wisdom
IV--Near Hopes Are Worth as Much as Those Far Off
V--On the Death of De Charleval
VI--The Weariness of Monotony
VII--After the Death of La Duchesse de Mazarin
VIII--Love Banishes Old Age
IX--Stomachs Demand More Attention Than Minds
X--Why Does Love Diminish After Marriage?
XI--Few People Resist Age
XII--Age Has Some Consolations
XIII--Some Good Taste Still Exists in France
XIV--Superiority of the Pleasures of the Stomach
XV--Let the Heart Speak Its Own Language
XVI--The Memory of Youth
XVII--I Should Have Hanged Myself
XVIII--Life Is Joyous When It Is Without Sorrow
Letter to the Modern Leontium




NINON DE L'ENCLOS

LIFE AND LETTERS


INTRODUCTION


The inner life of the most remarkable woman that ever lived is here
presented to American readers for the first time. Ninon, or
Mademoiselle de l'Enclos, as she was known, was the most beautiful
woman of the seventeenth century. For seventy years she held
undisputed sway over the hearts of the most distinguished men of
France; queens, princes, noblemen, renowned warriors, statesmen,
writers, and scientists bowing before her shrine and doing her homage,
even Louis XIV, when she was eighty-five years of age, declaring that
she was the marvel of his reign.

How she preserved her extraordinary beauty to so great an age, and
attracted to her side the greatest and most brilliant men of the
century, is told in her biography, which has been entirely re-written,
and new facts and incidents added that do not appear in the French
compilations.

Her celebrated "Letters to the Marquis de Sévigné," newly translated,
and appearing for the first time in the United States, constitute the
most remarkable pathology of the female heart, its motives, objects,
and secret aspirations, ever penned. With unsparing hand she unmasks
the human heart and unveils the most carefully hidden mysteries of
femininity, and every one who reads these letters will see herself
depicted as in a mirror.

At an early age she perceived the inequalities between the sexes, and
refused to submit to the injustice of an unfair distribution of human
qualities. After due deliberation, she suddenly announced to her
friends: "I notice that the most frivolous things are charged up to
the account of women, and that men have reserved to themselves the
right to all the essential qualities; from this moment I will be a
man." From that time--she was twenty years of age--until her death,
seventy years later, she maintained the character assumed by her,
exercised all the rights and privileges claimed by the male sex, and
created for herself, as the distinguished Abbé de Chateauneauf says,
"a place in the ranks of illustrious men, while preserving all the
grace of her own sex."




LIFE OF NINON DE L'ENCLOS



CHAPTER I

Ninon de l'Enclos as a Standard


To write the biography of so remarkable a woman as Ninon de l'Enclos
is to incur the animadversions of those who stand upon the dogma, that
whoso violates one of the Ten Commandments is guilty of violating them
all, particularly when one of the ten is conventionally selected as
the essential precept and the most important to be observed. It is
purely a matter of predilection or fancy, perhaps training and
environment may have something to do with it, though judgment is
wanting, but many will have it so, and hence, they arrive at the
opinion that the end of the controversy has been reached.

Fortunately for the common sense of mankind, there are others who
repudiate this rigid rule and excuse for human conduct; who refuse to
accept as a pattern of morality, the Sabbath breaker, tyrant,
oppressor of the poor, the grasping money maker, or charity monger,
even though his personal chastity may entitle him to canonization.
These insist that although Ninon de l'Enclos may have persistently
transgressed one of the precepts of the Decalogue, she is entitled to
great consideration because of her faithful observance of the others,
not only in their letter but in their spirit, and that her life
contains much that is serviceable to humanity, in many more ways than
if she had studiously preserved her personal purity to the sacrifice
of other qualities, which are of as equal importance as virtues, and
as essential to be observed.

Another difficulty in the way of establishing her as a model of any
kind, on account of her deliberate violations of the sixth precept of
the Decalogue, is the fact that she was not of noble birth, held no
official position in the government of France, either during the
regency or under the reign of Louis XIII, but was a private person,
retiring in her habits, faithful in her liaisons and friendships,
delicate and refined in her manners and conversations, and eagerly
sought for her wisdom, philosophy, and intellectual ability.

Had she been a Semiramis, a Messalina, an Agrippina, a Catherine II,
or even a Lady Hamilton, the glamor of her exalted political position
might have covered up a multitude of gross, vulgar practices,
cruelties, barbarities, oppressions, crimes, and acts of
misgovernment, and have concealed her spiritual deformity beneath the
grandeur of her splendid public vices and irregularities. The mantle
of royalty and nobility, like dipsomania, excuses a multitude of sins,
hypocrisy, and injustice, and inclines the world to overlook,
disregard, or even condone, what in them is considered small vices,
eccentricities of genius, but which in a private person are magnified
into mountains of viciousness, and call forth an army of well meaning
but inconsistent people to reform them by brute force.

It is time to interpose an impasse to the further spread of this
misapprehension of the nature and consequences of human acts, and to
demonstrate the possibility, in humble walks of life, of virtues worth
cultivating, and to erect models out of those who, while they may be
derelict in their ethical duties, are still worthy of being imitated
in other respects. Our standards and patterns of morality are so high
as to be unattainable, not in the details of the practice of virtue,
but in the personnel of the model. Royal and noble blood permeated
with the odor of sanctity; virtuous statesmanship, or proud political
position attained through the rigid observance of the ethical rules of
personal purity, are nothing to the rank and file, the polloi, who can
never hope to reach those elevations in this world; as well expatiate
upon the virtues of Croesus to a man who will never go beyond his
day's wages, or expect the homeless to become ecstatic over the
magnificence of Nabuchodonosor's Babylonian palace. Such extremes
possess no influence over the ordinary mind, they are the mere
vanities of the conceited, the mistakes of moralists.

The history of Ninon de l'Enclos stands out from the pages of history
as a pre-eminent character, before which all others are stale,
whatever their pretensions through position and grandeur,
notwithstanding that one great quality so much admired in
women--womanly purity--was entirely wanting in her conduct through
life.

While no apology can be effectual to relieve her memory from that one
stigma, the other virtues connected with it, and which she possessed
in superabundance, deserve a close study, inasmuch as the trend of
modern society is in the direction of the philosophical principles and
precepts, which justified her in pursuing the course of life she
preferred to all others. She was an ardent disciple of the Epicurean
philosophy, but in her adhesion to its precepts, she added that
altruistic unselfishness so much insisted upon at the present day.




CHAPTER II

Considered as a Parallel


The birth of Ninon de l'Enclos was not heralded by salvoes of
artillery, Te Deums, or such other demonstrations of joy as are
attendant upon the arrival on earth of princes and offspring of great
personages. Nevertheless, for the ninety years she occupied the stage
of life, she accomplished more in the way of shaping great national
policies, successful military movements and brilliant diplomatic
successes, than any man or body of men in the seventeenth century.

In addition to that, her genius left an impress upon music and the
fine arts, an impress so profound that the high standard of excellence
both have attained in our day is due to her efforts in establishing a
solid foundation upon which it was possible to erect a substantial
structure. Moreover, in her hands and under her auspices and guidance,
languages, belles lettres, and rhetoric received an impetus toward
perfection, and raised the French language and its literature,
fiction, poetry and drama, to so high a standard, that its productions
are the models of the twentieth century.

It was Ninon de l'Enclos whose brilliant mentality and intellectual
genius formed the minds, the souls, the genius, of such master minds
as Saint-Evremond, La Rouchefoucauld, Molière, Scarron, La Fontaine,
Fontenelle, and a host of others in literature and fine arts; the
Great Condé, de Grammont, de Sévigné, and the flower of the chivalry
of France, in war, politics, and diplomacy. Even Richelieu was not
unaffected by her influence.

Strange power exerted by one frail woman, a woman not of noble birth,
with only beauty, sweetness of disposition, amiability, goodness, and
brilliant accomplishments as her weapons! It was not a case of the
moth and the flame, but the operation of a wise philosophy, the
precepts of which were decently, moderately and carefully inculcated;
a philosophy upon the very edge of which modern society is hanging,
afraid to accept openly, through too much attachment to ancient
doctrines which have drawn man away from happiness and comfort, and
converted him into a bitter pessimism that often leads to despair.

As has already been suggested, had Ninon de l'Enclos sat upon a
throne, or commanded an army, the pages of history would teem with the
renown of her exploits, and great victories be awarded to her instead
of to those who would have met with defeat without her inspiration.

Pompey, in his vanity, declared that he could raise an army by
stamping his foot upon the ground, but the raising of Ninon de
l'Enclos' finger could bring all the chivalry of Europe around a
single standard, or at the same gentle signal, cause them to put aside
their arms and forget everything but peace and amity. She dominated
the intellectual geniuses of the long period during which she lived,
and reigned over them as their absolute queen, through the sheer force
of her personal charms, which she never hesitated to bestow upon those
whom she found worthy, and who expressed a desire to possess them,
studiously regulated, however, by the precepts and principles of the
philosophy of Epicurus, which today is rapidly gaining ground in our
social relations through its better understanding and appreciation.

Her life bears a great resemblance to the histories in which we read
about the most celebrated women of ancient times, who occupied a
middle station between the condition of marriage and prostitution--a
class of women whose Greek name is familiarized to our ears in
translations of Aristophanes. Ninon de l'Enclos was of the order of
the French "hetaerae," and, as by her beauty and her talents, she
attained the first rank in the social class, her name has come down to
posterity with those of Aspasia and Leontium, while the less
distinguished favorites of less celebrated men have shared the common
oblivion, which hides from the memory of men, every degree of
mediocrity, whether of virtue or vice.

A class of this kind, a status of this singular nature existing
amongst accomplished women, who inspired distinguished men with lofty
ideals, and developed the genius of men who, otherwise, would have
remained in obscurity, can never be uninteresting or uninstructive;
indeed, it must afford matter for serious study. They are prefigures,
or prototypes of the influence that aims to sway mankind at the
present day in government, politics, literature, and the fine arts.

As a distinguished example of such a class, the most prominent in the
world, in fact, apart from a throne, Ninon de l'Enclos will peculiarly
engage the attention of all who, whether for knowledge or amusement,
are observers of human nature under all its varieties and
circumstances.

It would be idle to enter upon a historical digression on the state of
female manners in ancient Athens, or in Europe during the last three
centuries. The reader should discard them from his mind when he
peruses the life of Ninon de l'Enclos, and examine her character and
environments from every point of view as a type toward which is
trending modern social conditions.

At first blush, and to a narrow intellect, an individual woman of the
character of Ninon de l'Enclos would seem hopelessly lost to all
virtue, abandoned by every sense of shame, and irreclaimable to any
feeling of social or private duty. But only at first blush, and to the
most circumscribed of narrow minds, who, fortunately, do not control
the policy of mankind, although occasional disorders here and there
indicate that they are endeavouring to do so.

A large majority of mankind are of the settled opinion that every
virtue is bound up in that of chastity. Our manners and customs, our
laws, most of our various kinds of religions, our national sentiments
and feelings--all our most serious opinions, as well as our dearest
and best rooted prejudices, forbid the dissevering, in the minds of
women of any class, the ideas of virtue and female honor. That is,
our public opinion is along that line. To raise openly a doubt on this
head, or to disturb, on a point considered so vital, the settled
notions of society, is equally inconsistent with common prudence and
the policy of common honesty; and as tending to such an end, we are
apt to consider all discussion on the subject as at least officiously
incurring danger, without an opportunity of inculcating good.

But, however strongly we insist upon this opinion for such purposes,
there are others in which it is not useless to relax that severity for
a moment, and to view the question, not through the medium of
sentiment, but with an eye of philosophic impartiality. We are
gradually nearing the point, where it is conceded that in certain
conditions of society, one failing is not wholly incompatible with a
general practice of virtue--a remark to be met with in every homily
since homilies were written, notwithstanding that rigid rule already
alluded to in the previous chapter.

It is surprising that it has never occurred to any moralist of the
common order, who deals chiefly with such general reflections, to
apply this particular maxim to this particular social status. We
follow the wise precepts of honesty found in Cicero, although we know
that he was, at the time he was writing them, plundering his fellow
men at every opportunity. Our admiration for Bacon's philosophy and
wisdom reaches adulation although he was the "meanest of men," and was
guilty of the most flagrant crimes such as judicial bribery and
political corruption. We read that Aspasia had some great and many
amiable qualities; so too had Ninon de l'Enclos; and it is worthy of
consideration, how far we judge candidly or wisely in condemning such
characters in gross, and treating their virtues as Saint Austin was
wont to deal with those of his heathen adversaries, as no better than
"splendid vices," so unparalleled in their magnitude as to become
virtues by the operation of the law of extremes. There was no law
permitting a man to marry his sister, and there was no law forbidding
King Cambyses to do as he liked.

Another grave point to be considered is this: The world, as it now
stands, its laws, systems of government, manners and customs, and
social conditions, have been built up on these same "splendid vices,"
and whenever they have been tamed into subjection to mediocrity--let
us say to clerical, or ecclesiastical domination;--government, society
and morals have retrograded. The social condition in France during
Ninon de l'Enclos' time, and in England during the reign of Charles
II, is startling evidence of this accusation. Moreover, it is fast
becoming the condition to-day, a fact indicated by the almost
universal demand for a revolution in social ethics, the foundation to
which, for some reason, has become awry, threatening to topple down
the structure erected upon it. Society can see nothing to originate,
an incalculable number of attempts to better human conditions always
proving failures, and worsening the human status. It is dawning upon
the minds of the true lovers of humanity, that there is nothing else
to be done, but to revert to the past to find the key to any possible
reform, and to that past we are edging rapidly, though, it must be
said unwillingly, in the hope and expectation that the old foundations
are possessed of sufficient solidity to support a new or re-modeled
structure.

The life of Ninon de l'Enclos, upon this very point, furnishes food
for profitable reflection, inasmuch as it gives an insight into the
great results to be obtained by the following of the precepts of an
ancient philosophy which seems to have survived the clash of ages of
intellectual and moral warfare, and to have demonstrated its capacity
to supply defects in segregated dogmatic systems wholly incapable of
any syncretic tendencies.




CHAPTER III

Youth of Ninon de l'Enclos


Anne de l'Enclos, or "Ninon," as she has always been familiarly called
by the world at large, was born at Paris in 1615. What her parents
were, or what her family, is a matter of little consequence. To all
persons who have attained celebrity over the route pursued by her,
original rank and station are not of the least moment. By force of his
genius in hewing for himself a niche in history, Napoleon was truly
his own ancestor, as it is said he loved to remark pleasantly. So with
Ninon de l'Enclos, the novelty of the career she laid out for herself
to follow, and did follow until the end with unwavering constancy,
justifies us in regarding her as the head of a new line, or dynasty.

In the case of mighty conquerors, whose path was strewn with violence,
even lust, no one thinks of an ignoble origin as in any manner
derogatory to the eminence; on the contrary, it is considered rather
as matter to be proud of; the idea that out of ignominy, surrounded by
conditions devoid of all decency, justice, and piety, an individual
can elevate himself up to the highest pinnacle of human power and
glory, has always, and will always be regarded as an example to be
followed, and the badge of success stretched to cover the means of
its attainment. This is the universal custom where success has been
attained, the failures being relegated to a well merited oblivion as
unworthy of consideration either as lessons of warning or for any
purpose. Our youth are very properly taught only the lessons of
success.

It is in evidence that Ninon's father was a gentleman of Touraine and
connected, through his wife, with the family of Abra de Raconis, a
race of no mean repute in the Orleanois, and that he was an
accomplished gentleman occupying a high position in society. Voltaire,
however, declares that Ninon had no claim to a parentage of such
distinction; that the rank of her mother was too obscure to deserve
any notice, and that her father's profession was of no higher dignity
than that of a teacher of the lute. This account is not less likely,
from the remarkable proficiency acquired by Ninon, at an early age, in
the use of that instrument.

It is equally certain, however, that Ninon's parents were not obscure,
and that her father was a man of many accomplishments, one of which
was his skill as a performer on the lute. A fact which may have
induced Voltaire to mistake one of his talents for his regular
profession.

Ninon's parents were as opposite in sentiments and disposition as the
Poles of the earth. Madame de l'Enclos was a prudent, pious Christian
mother, who endeavored to inspire her daughter with the same pious
sentiments which pervaded her own heart. The fact is that the mother
attempted to prepare her daughter for a conventual life, a profession
at that period of the highest honor, and one that led to preferment,
not only in religious circles, but in the world of society. At that
time, conventual and monastic dignitaries occupied a prominent place
in the formation of public and private manners and customs, and if not
regarded impeccable, their opinions were always considered valuable in
state matters of the greatest moment, even the security of thrones,
the welfare and peace of nations sometimes depending upon their
wisdom, judgment, and decisions.

With this laudable object in view, Madame de l'Enclos carefully
trained her daughter in the holy exercises of her religion, to which
she hoped to consecrate her entire life. But the fond mother met with
an impasse, an insurmountable obstacle, in the budding Ninon herself,
who, even in the temples of the Most High, when her parent imagined
her to be absorbed in the contemplation of saintly things, and
imbibing inspiration from her "Hours," the "Lives of the Saints," or
"An Introduction to a Holy Life," a book very much in vogue at that
period, the child would be devouring such profane books as Montaigne,
Scarron's romances and Epicurus, as more in accordance with her trend
of mind.

Even at the early age of twelve years, she had mastered those authors,
and had laid out a course of life, not in accord with her good
mother's ideas, for it excluded the idea of religion as commonly
understood, and crushed out the sentiment of maternity, that crowning
glory to which nearly all young female children aspire, although in
them, at a tender age, it is instinctive and not based upon knowledge
of its meaning.

This beginning of Ninon's departure from the beaten path should not be
a matter of surprise, for all the young open their hearts to ideas
that spring from the sentiments and passions, and anticipate in
imagination the parts they are to play in the tragedy or comedy of
life.

It is this period of life which the moralist and educator justly
contend should be carefully guarded. It is really a concession to
environment, and a tacit argument against radical heredity as the
foundation upon which rest the character and disposition of the adult,
and which is the mainspring of his future moral conduct. It is
impossible to philosophize ourselves out of this sensible position.

In the case of Ninon, there was her mother, a woman of undoubted
virtue and exemplary piety, following the usual path in the training
of her only child and making a sad failure of it, or at least not
making any impression on the object of her solicitude. This was,
however, not due to the mother's intentions: her training was too weak
to overcome that coming from another quarter. It has been said that
Ninon's father and mother were as opposite as the Poles in character
and disposition, and Ninon was suspended like a pendulum to swing
between two extremes, one of which had to prevail, for there was no
midway stopping place. It may be that the disciple of heredity, the
opponent of environment will perceive in the result a strong argument
in favor of his view of humanity. Be that as it may, Ninon swung away
from the extreme of piety represented by her mother, and was caught at
the other extreme by the less intellectually monotonous ideas of her
father. There was no mental conflict in the young mind, nothing
difficult; on the contrary, she accepted his ideas as pleasanter and
less conducive to pain and discomfort. Too young to reason, she
perceived a flowery pathway, followed it, and avoided the thorny one
offered her by her mother.

Monsieur de l'Enclos was an Epicurean of the most advanced type.
According to him, the whole philosophy of life, the entire scheme of
human ethics as evolved from Epicurus, could be reduced to the four
following canons:

First--That pleasure which produces no pain is to be embraced.

Second--That pain which produces no pleasure is to be avoided.

Third--That pleasure is to be avoided which prevents a greater
pleasure, or produces a greater pain.

Fourth--That pain is to be endured which averts a greater pain, or
secures a greater pleasure.

The last canon is the one that has always appealed to the religious
sentiments, and it is the one which has enabled an army of martyrs to
submit patiently to the most excruciating torments, to reach the
happiness of Paradise, the pleasure contemplated as a reward for
enduring the frightful pain. The reader can readily infer, however,
from his daily experiences with the human family, that this
construction is seldom put upon this canon, the world at large,
viewing it from the Epicurean interpretation, which meant earthly
pleasures, or the purely sensual enjoyments. It is certain that
Ninon's father did not construe any of these canons according to the
religious idea, but followed the commonly accepted version, and
impressed them upon his young daughter's mind in all their various
lights and shades.

Imbibing such philosophy from her earliest infancy, the father taking
good care to press them deep into her plastic mind, it is not
astonishing that Ninon should discard the more distasteful fruits to
be painfully harvested by following her mother's tuition, and accept
the easily gathered luscious golden fruit offered her by her father.
Like all children and many adults, the glitter and the tinsel of the
present enjoyment were too powerful and seductive to be resisted, or
to be postponed for a problematic pleasure.

The very atmosphere which surrounded the young girl, and which she
soon learned to breathe in deep, pleasurable draughts, was surcharged
with the intoxicating oxygen of freedom of action, liberality, and
unrestrained enjoyment. While still very young she was introduced into
a select society of the choicest spirits of the age and speedily
became their idol, a position she continued to occupy without
diminution for over sixty years. No one of all these men of the world
had ever seen so many personal graces united to so much
intellectuality and good taste. Ninon's form was as symmetrical,
elegant and yielding as a willow; her complexion of a dazzling white,
with large sparkling eyes as black as midnight, and in which reigned
modesty and love, and reason and voluptuousness. Her teeth were like
pearls, her mouth mobile and her smile most captivating, resistless
and adorable. She was the personification of majesty without pride or
haughtiness, and possessed an open, tender and touching countenance
upon which shone friendship and affection. Her voice was soft and
silvery, her arms and hands superb models for a sculptor, and all her
movements and gestures manifested an exquisite, natural grace which
made her conspicuous in the most crowded drawing-room. As she was in
her youth, so she continued to be until her death at the age of ninety
years, an incredible fact but so well attested by the gravest and most
reliable writers, who testify to the truth of it, that there is no
room for doubt. Ninon attributed it not to any miracle, but to her
philosophy, and declared that any one might exhibit the same
peculiarities by following the same precepts. We have it on the most
undoubted testimony of contemporaneous writers, who were intimate with
him, that one of her dearest friends and followers, Saint-Evremond, at
the age of eighty-nine years, inspired one of the famous beauties of
the English Court with an ardent attachment.

The beauties of her person were so far developed at the age of twelve
years, that she was the object of the most immoderate admiration on
the part of men of the greatest renown, and her beauty is embalmed in
their works either as a model for the world, or she is enshrined in
song, poetry, and romance as the heroine.

In fact Ninon had as tutors the most distinguished men of the age, who
vied with one another in embellishing her young mind with all the
graces, learning and accomplishments possible for the human mind to
contain. Her native brightness and active mind absorbed everything
with an almost supernatural rapidity and tact, and it was not long
before she became their peer, and her qualities of mind reached out so
far beyond theirs in its insatiable longing, that she, in her turn,
became their tutor, adviser and consoler, as well as their tender
friend.




CHAPTER IV

The Morals of the Period


Examples of the precocious talents displayed by Mademoiselle de
l'Enclos are not uncommon in the twentieth century, but the
application she made of them was remarkable and uncommon. Accomplished
in music, learned and proficient in the languages, a philosopher of no
small degree, and of a personal beauty sometimes called "beauté de
diable," she appeared upon the social stage at a time when a new idol
was an imperative necessity for the salvation of moral sanity, and the
preservation of some remnants of personal decency in the sexual
relations.

Cardinal Richelieu had just succeeded in consolidating the usurpations
of the royal prerogatives on the rights of the nobility and the
people, which had been silently advancing during the preceding reigns,
and was followed by the long period of unexampled misgovernment, which
oppressed and impoverished as well as degraded every rank and every
order of men in the French kingdom, ceasing only with the Revolution.

The great Cardinal minister had built worse than he had intended, it
is to be hoped; for his clerico-political system had practically
destroyed French manhood, and left society without a guiding star to
cement the rope of sand he had spun. Unable to subject the master
minds among the nobility to its domination, ecclesiasticism had
succeeded in destroying them by augmenting royal prerogatives which it
could control with less difficulty. Public maxims of government,
connected as they were with private morals, had debauched the nation,
and plunged it into a depth of degradation out of which Richelieu and
his whole entourage of clerical reformers could not extricate a single
individual. It was a riot of theological morality.

The whole body of the French nobility and the middle class of citizens
were reduced to a servile attendance on the court, as the only means
of advancement and reward. Every species of industry and merit in
these classes was sedulously discouraged; and the motive of honorable
competition for honorable things, being withdrawn, no pursuit or
occupation was left them but the frivolous duties, or the degrading
pleasures of the palace.

Next to the king, the women naturally became the first objects of
their effeminate devotion; and it is difficult to say which were
soonest corrupted by courtiers consummate in the arts of adulation,
and unwearied in their exercise. The sovereign rapidly degenerated
into an accomplished despot, and the women into intriguers and
coquettes. Richelieu had indeed succeeded in subjecting the State to
the rule of the Church, but Ninon was destined to play an important
part in modifying the evils which afflicted society, and at least
elevate its tone. From the methods she employed to effect this
change, it may be suspected that the remedy was equivalent to the
Hanemannic maxim: "Similia similbus curantur," a strange application
of a curative agent in a case of moral decrepitude, however valuable
and effective it may be in physical ailments.

The world of the twentieth century, bound up as it is in material
progress, refuses to limit its objects and aims to the problematic
enjoyment of the pleasures of Paradise in the great hereafter, or of
suffering with stoicism the pains and misfortunes of this earth as a
means of avoiding the problematic pains of Hell. Future rewards and
punishments are no longer incentives to virtue or right living. The
only drag upon human acts of every kind is now that great political
maxim, the non-observance of which has often deluged the earth with
blood; "Sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas," which is to say: So use
thine own as not to injure thy neighbor. It is a conventional
principle, one of contract in reality, but it has become a great
doctrine of equity and justice, and it is inculcated by our
educational systems to the exclusion of the purely religious idea, and
the elimination of religious dogma, which tends to oppressive
restraints, is carefully fostered.

There is another reason why men's minds are impelled away from the
purely sentimental moral doctrines insisted upon by sectarianism,
which is ecclesiasticism run riot, and the higher the education the
deeper we delve into the secret motives of that class of mankind, the
deceptive outward appearances of which dominate the pages of history,
which is, that the greatest and most glorious systems of government,
the wisest and most powerful of rulers, the greatest and most liberal
statesmen, heroes, and conspicuous conquerors, originated in
violations of the Decalogue, and those nations and kingdoms which have
been founded upon strictly ecclesiastical ideas, have all sunk beneath
the shifting sands of time, or have become so degenerate as to be
bywords and objects of derision.

From the same viewpoint, a strange phenomenon is observable in the
world of literature, arts, and sciences. The brightest, greatest
geniuses, whose works are pointed to with admiration; studied as
models and standards, made the basis of youthful education, imitated,
and even wept over by the sentimental, were, in their private lives,
persons of the most depraved morals. Why this should be the case, it
is impossible even to conjecture, the fact only remaining that it is
so. Perhaps there are so many different standards of morality, that
humanity, weary of the eternal bickering consequent upon the conflicts
entered into for their enforcement, have made for themselves a new
interpretation which they find less difficult to observe, and find
more peace and pleasure in following.

To take a further step in the same direction, it is curious that in
the lives of the Saints, those who spent their whole earthly existence
in abstinence, works of the severest penance, and mortifications of
the flesh, the tendency of demoniac influence was never in the
direction of Sabbath breaking, profanity, idolatry, robbery, murder
and covetousness, but always exerted itself to the fullest extent of
its power in attacks upon chastity. All other visions were absent in
the hair-shirted, and self-scourgings brought out nothing but sexual
idealities, sensual temptations. The reason for this peculiarity is
not far to seek. What is dominant in the minds always finds egress
when a favorable opportunity is presented, and the very thought of
unchastity as something to be avoided, leads to its contemplation, or
its creation in the form of temptation. The virtue of chastity was the
one law, and its observances and violations were studied from every
point of view, and its numberless permissible and forbidden
limitations expatiated upon to such a degree, that he who escaped them
altogether could well attribute the result to the interposition of
some supernatural power, the protection of some celestial guardian.
One is reminded of the expression of St. Paul: "I had not known lust
had the law not said: thou shalt not covet." Lord Beaconsfield's
opinion was, that excessive piety led to sexual disorders.

According to Ninon's philosophy, whatever tended to propagate
immoderation in the sexual relations was rigidly eliminated, and
chastity placed upon the same plane and in the same grade as other
moral precepts, to be wisely controlled, regulated, and managed. She
put all her morality upon the same plane, and thereby succeeded in
equalizing corporeal pleasure, so that the entire scale of human acts
produced a harmonious equality of temperament, whence goodness and
virtue necessarily followed, the pathway being unobstructed.

It is too much to be expected, or even to be hoped for, that there
will ever be any unanimity among moral reformers, or any uniformity in
their standards of moral excellence. The educated world of the present
day, reading between the lines of ancient history, and some that is
not so very ancient, see ambition for place and power as the moving
cause, the inspiration behind the great majority of revolutions, and
they have come to apply the same construction to the great majority of
moral agitations and movements for the reform of morals and the
betterment of humanity, with pecuniary reward or profit, however,
added as the sine qua non of maintaining them.

Cure the agitation by removing the occasion for it, and Othello's
occupation would be gone; hence, the agitation continues.



Pages: | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | 4 | | 5 | | 6 | | 7 | | 8 | | 9 | | 10 | | 11 | | 12 | | 13 | | Next |

Main -> Robinson, Charles Henry -> Life, Letters, and Epicurean Philosophy of Ninon de L'Enclos The Celebrated Beauty of the Seventeenth Century