LORD MAHON'S LIFE OF CONDE.
THIS work was originally written in French, and in 1842 was printed for distribution among Lord Mahon's private friends. The approbation it received stimulated the writer to permit a wider circulation : the Life of Conde has been translated "under the superintendence and revision of the author"; and it is now included in Mr. Murray's "Colonial Library,"—forming not the least choice or valuable book of the series.
Writing in French, Lord Mahon appears to have adopted, and not with- out success, the vivacious graces of a Frenchman's style : the peculiar manner of the memoirs whence his materials were drawn has also been imitated, or unconsciously acquired. This has given to many passages an air of minuteness which is almost feeble, and to certain turns of expression an exotic character, especially as we are reading English and cannot forget that the work is written by an Englishman. The same dramatic consistency has produced a graver fault : with the style Lord Mahon seems to have adopted the ideas of the period, and not only to pass the immoralities and corruption of the time without remark, but to treat them as things of course, that scarcely require one. Save in these peculiarities, (for some may scarcely consider them defects,) the Life of Conde may be praised as a very happy union of biography and history; an ample account of the life and character of the hero himself, and a sufficient narrative of the public events which bad any bearing upon his fortunes. As Conde was employed in the principal military exploits of the age, and was constantly, as a prince of the blood and a leader of parties, engaged in courtly and political intrigues, the administration of Mazarin and the wars of the Fronde form naturally a branch of the subject;. and the reader will find a much completer and pleasanter view of this important period than he can elsewhere get in English. Much skill is shown in the management of this rather difficult combination ; and, bating the feeble air which we have already alluded to, the tone is well pitched—familiar without vulgarity, and sustained with- out affected stateliness. The work teems, too, with anecdote and matter, drawn by careful reading and judicious selection from the memoirs of a century fertile in courtly autobiography, and presents as a matter of course many pictures of the manners of France under the reigns of Louis the Thirteenth and Louis the Fourteenth. Indeed, we suspect it is the best of Lord Mahon's works, from being best adapted to his genius ; which has scarcely sufficient strength and comprehension for history, whilst his leanings are all conventional.
This is here shown in his estimate of his hero; for Louis de Bourbon Prince of Conde, surnamed the Great, was in reality only great after the fashion of Louis he Grand. His heart, by nature, seems to have been as hard and coarse as the English Colonel Kirke's. Like Kirke, too, he had the jocularity of an unfeeling and vigorous mind; but, having also all the overweening pride and idea of dignity which belonged to the princes of the old regime, he wanted the manner of humanity of the Commandant of Tangier. An amusement of his boyhood was putting out the eyes of sparrows : for which, and similar pleasantries, his father a servile courtier but a goodnatured man, used to have hint "cruelly whipped,"—without other effect than hardening him. On the evening of the second day's battle of Fribourg, Turenne was touched by the sight of the dead and dying ; but his emotion only drew from the Bourbon a heartless jest, at once brutal and obscene. Going to visit Chavigni, the Governor of the Bastille, on his deathbed, Conde professed to be much touched at his state; but immediately on leaving the dying man, amused himself by mimicking the contortions of his agony. Towards the close of his rebellion against Mazarin and the Queen, feeling greatly dis- satisfied with the Parliament of Paris, he organized a body of ruffians to assail the house and assassinate his opponents ; a scheme which failed as regarded his object, but many hundred men were killed in the assault and defence. Ingratitude to partisans is a common charge against leaders of factions, since who can gratify all claimants ? and in this point Conde is perhaps no worse than others; but his treatment of his wife exhibits a mind lost to all sense of principle, shame, or gratitude. For his early neglect and profligacy it may be pleaded that it was a marriage of interest, forced upon him by his father ; and the pride of princely blood in the great Conde looked upon the daughter of the house of Breze, distinguished in the Crusades, and the niece of Richelieu, as a degrading match. When Mazarin had arrested C,onde, his brother, and brother-in-law, and contemplated a surveillance of his mother and Claire Clemente de Maine his wife, that incomparable woman escaped the messengers, traversed a considerable part of France, fortified and garrisoned the family castle or Montrond, joined the army of the Dukes De Bouillon and De la Roche- foncauld, and by the influence of her prudence, gentleness, and virtues over the inhabitants of Bourdeaux, enabled the Frondeurs to stand the siege of that city, and finally extort terms from Mazarin. At a later period, when Conde was liberated, her influence neutralized as far as possible the anger raised in the same town by his pride and military disregard of civil rights. Yet all this had no permanent effect upon the brutal mind of Louis de Bourbon. Hearing she was grievously ill at Bourdeaux, through her exertions and anxieties in his cause, he set about scheming another marriage, without even waiting to hear of her death. After she had left her friends and country to join him in his banishment, he forbade her his presence, whilst occupying his leisure in disgraceful
amours. Nearly twenty years later, the old ruffian broke out : he procured from the King a lettre de cachet to confine Clemence for life,— trumping up a scandalous charge that she had been faithless with a lackey and a page. During his life he was noted for irreligion. The year before his decease, at the age of sixty-four, he became a convert; and on his deathbed, according to Bossuet, " he had the Psalms ever on his lips, and faith always in his heart." It is evident he placed no reliance upon the Popish doctrine of good works; for he took no steps to withdraw a letter written to the King to be delivered after his death, begging him to continue his wife's imprisonment,—with which Louis the Fourteenth was base enough to comply; and that ill-requited woman was immured for nearly a quarter of a century, till death relieved her in 1694. His son was "a chip of the old block." He is supposed to have advocated the imprisonment of his mother, lest he should have to give up an income he derived from her estate; and he rather improved upon the marital be- haviour of "the Great Conde.," being accustomed to beat and kick his wife.
The civil abilities of Conde were mean to a degree. The want of a sound middle class, the existence of Parliaments rather as a sort of aristocracy of the robe than as an estate of the realm, and the spirit of servile loyalty which pervaded France more as a superstition than a prejudice, rendered it perhaps impossible then to establish a regulated liberty. The national hatred to Mazarin and the Queen Regent, the high military reputation of Conde, and his influence as a prince of the blood, gave him the opportunities of seizing the Regency for himself, and (had he been able) of ruling France to her great advantage ; confirming, perhaps extending her institutions, and preparing her for the freedom of a future day. But Conde was incapable of attaining the ends of the vulgarest civil ambition. Unable to take a view, he was unable to form a plan ; nor would he follow one suggested to him. His military and princely pride offended and insulted the Parliaments; his violence of temper mortally affronted the Queen and the courtiers; his fickleness or treachery rendered experienced men unwilling to rely upon him ; and his league with Spain outraged the national feelings; so that his revolt merely drove him into solitary exile.
Upon his merits as a soldier it would be presumptuous to speak after the praises of Turenne and Napoleon. Yet there is point, and some gleams of truth amid all its exaggeration, in the diatribe of Paul Louis Courier- " I am ready to believe, since everybody says it, that there is an art in war; but you must acknowledge that it is the only one which requires no apprenticeship. It is the only art one knows without ever having learnt it. In all others study and time are requisite: one begins by being a scholar; but in this one is at once a master; and if one has the least talent for it, one accomplishes one's chef d'oeuvre at the same time with one's coup d'essai. . . A young prince of eighteen [twenty-two] posts down from the court, gives a battle, gains it; and then he is a great captain for the rest of his life, and the greatest captain of the world."
"This, however, we will say," that in his earliest years Conde ap- pears to have been a mere soldier of force, relying upon vigorous attack and dogged persistence in it ; which, opposed to Germans and Spaniards and seconded by French valour, was successful, but if it failed, involved total destruction to his army. With years and experience he acquired more strategy and caution; but his mind was bounded by the battle- field; and he did not think of the political consequences that might flow from the loss of men in a bootless victory, because he seems to have been incapable of seeing them. At Gien, on the turning crisis of his life—for France was possibly in his grasp as the result of a victory—he was baffled and beaten by Turenne with half an army,—according to Napoleon, four thousand men to twelve thousand ; and, according to the same authority, he failed by not being "on that day sufficiently daring."
Th Great Conde, like the Great Duke, had a wretched opinion of the Spaniards. James the Second, when Duke of York and serving with the Spanish army and Conde, remarked upon a neglect. "Ah! " said Conde, "you do not know the Spaniards : to see defects in war, you must serve a campaign with them." Here again we have them attempting to relieve Dunkirk, where their defeat settled the war.
" On arriving within sight of the Downs, Don John called together a council of war, to deliberate upon the means of saving the town. Conde maintained that there was but one course to take,—to encamp between the canals of Fumes and Handscotte; to await in this post, where it would be impossible for Turenne to attack them, their artillery and the rest of their forces; and meanwhile to harass the enemy and cut off their foraging-parties. Don John proposed, on the con- trary, to advance between the Downs, as near as possible to the French lines. 4 But,' said the Prince to him, we shall hardly be engaged among those banks of sand ere the enemy will leave their camp and attack us. And they will have great advantages over us: the post which you wish to occupy is only favourable to the infantry; and the French is the most numerous and warlike.' But I,' replied Don John, haughtily, and quoting the events at Valenciennes, I am per- suaded that they will not even dare to look at the army of his Catholic Majesty ' Ah answered Conde ; ' you do not know M. de Turenne : faults are not committed with impunity before so great a man.' Don John was silenced, but persisted in his plan, and resolved, as General-in-chief, to have it carried into execution. "Accordingly, on the next day, the 14th of June, the Spanish army ventured on the Downs along the coast: it was about 14,000 strong. Tnrenne on his side had 22,000 men; but he left 6,000 to guard the lines before Dunkirk, and ad- vanced with the others to profit by the error of the Spaniards and give them battle. Conde was the first to see the movement of the French: he advanced at full gallop to reconnoitre their order and their plans, and then immediately went to apprize Don John. The confidence of the Spanish General did not forsake him: he maintained to the Prince that Turenne could have no other project than to skirmish with their advanced guard. Without making any further objection, Conde turned to the young Duke of Gloucester, [the exiled son of Charles the First,] and asked him if he had ever yet seen a battle? No,' replied the.Duke. ' Well, then,' continued Conde, in half an hour from this time you will see one loan 1" It may be as well to add to this notice, that Conde. was born in 1621; gained the battle of Rocroy in 1643; and died in 1686. Traced up- wards for a few generations, his paternal ancestor was a brother of Henri Quatre: in the moat of the fortress of Vincennes, where "the Great Conde" had been long imprisoned, his race was virtually extia-
guished, on the 22d March 1804, by the " worse than a crime" of Napo- leon Bonaparte.
This volume displays an extensive reading; but there is one strange lapse. Speaking of the Man in the Iron Mask, Lord Mahon ascribes considerable merit to an essay printed but not published by the late Mr. Crawford, in 1817, which concludes that the mysterious prisoner was a son of Anne of Austria. Lord Mahon, having "read with care all the documents and weighted all the circumstances," comes also to the conclu- sion that he was the son of the Queen and Mazarin. We have long since been disposed to agree in the opinion of Mr. Crawford and Lord Mahon • but it was by perusing Gibbon's Dissertation on the subject of E lommc an Masque de Fer.*