M. FEUILLET DE CONCHES ON MARIE ANTOINETTE. * M. DE Co/wires
continues his useful and entertaining labours, and we cannot choose but rejoice that he does so, undeterred by the attacks of his critics. We care not very much for them, we • Louis XV!, Marie Antoindte, ee Mocktme Etiectbells. Legere* et Documents &Edits. Publiees per 11. Fenillet ea Coaches. Tome Troisitme. Paris: Henri Plon. must say, nor do we set much store on his too wordy responses. Granting the fact of certain inaccuracies, in his first volume especially, it really appears to us that very much more has been made of these than is fair towards the industrious collector and the public. Several are explained in the preface, one or two al- lowed, as overlooked mistakes in correcting the press ; but, though it is right that all should be noticed and accounted for, the grand point on which we are disposed to rest is that, as far as Marie Antoinette's. letters are concerned, the Dauphiness, partly through ignorance, partly through volatility, partly through the revisal of parts of her letters at the hands of the Abbe de Vermond, was extremely likely to have contradicted- herself in many instances, and yet, while we have evidence of this in comparing the four different collections of her letters which have been brought out during the last three years, we do not (most conscientiously we say it) see any marked and serious discrepancy in these collections. Of course the volume published by M. d'Arneth last year, and noticed by us not long ago, being a series pursued through the first ten years of Marie Antoinette's life in France, and carefully preserved, together with her mother's answers, carries with it greater weight than chance specimens picked up here and there, authentic as these may be. It is clear, however, that they are by no means all she wrote to Maria Theresa. The habit was to address her mother once a fortnight. At the rate of two letters a month M. d'Arneth's volume ought, as M. de Conches says, to con- tain 240 letters from the Queen of France, the fact being that the number does not exceed. ninety-two. Does this circum- stance invalidate our faith in the Vienna collection? By no means. But it seems to us to justify M. Feuillet de Conches in his belief that very many of these original letters have been scattered abroad, and that, without falsity or any unfair dealing, the autographic letters excluded may, some- of them at least, be really as genuine as the included. Some of these he believes himself to possess. He is in all probability right. An experienced compiler and collector may no doubt sometimes err, but to suspect him on this account of disingenuousness—of wilful forgery, is quite beside the mark. Thera are papers well known to have at one time formed a part of the Maria-Theresa documents which have disappeared. Why, for instance, should the instructions given by the Empress to her other daughters on their marriages be found there, while the same sort of document delivered to Marie Antoi- nette is wanting ? These things are worthy of notice, as at least showing that in the eagerness to establish authenticity a man even like Professor Sybel may be unjust to a contemporary.
Here is another instance of pushing the matter too far. Professor Sybel rejects some of the early letters of Marie Antoinette published by M. de Conches, because some are signed " Marie Antoinette," in- stead of" Antoinette," short, which, he says, was her ordinary family style. "You are mistaken," answers M. de Conches, "she signed herself sometimes in one way, sometimes in another. She writes " Marie Antoinette" in her first billet to her mother, on issuing from the chapel where she had received the ring of betrothal. Side by side with two letters to her mother signed "Antoinette" are two others with the double name, and one of these appears in M. d'Arneth's own collection. Again, in one of her letters she writes thus :— "Te ne vales al pas encore parte de Madame du Barry," the fact being that she had already spoken of her several times in letters to her mother. The explanation given by M. Feuillet de Conches is that the word should have been "re-parle," and he says that in the minute autograph which he possesses it is so written, " reparle" not " pale." In the passage through the press some of the proofs contain the former word, others the latter. There has been a want of care in correcting no doubt, bat even had the word been written as printed, Marie Antoinette's correspondence is no such specimen of minute recollection of all she had already said or written as to make the error remarkable,—she might very easily forget a past communication.
In concluding what remarks we intend to make respecting that portion of the present volume which specially concerns the Queen, we will only observe that the letters from her hand therein con- tained are, with two or three exceptions, not by any means so in- teresting as many which have appeared in other collections, but the principal correspondence with the Landgravine of Hem Darmstadt (grandmother to the present reigning Dake) is yet to be prized as moat unquestionably authentic, and also because of the proof it gives of the regard in which Marie Antoinette was held by a woman who in her day was very highly esteemed, both for ability and character. These letters had been carefully preserved, and were endorsed by the band of the Lanig,ravine as follows :— " This packet contains the letters of the late dear Queen of France —Darmstadt, 11th of November, 1801." They are very short,
quiet, and not overflowing, like other letters, with feeling. But their quiet tone of respect and esteem is satisfactory. Every billet appears to have been preserved, and portraits of the hapless Queen abounded in the dacal palace. The letters, twenty-seven in number, range from 1780 to January, 1792, and it is a touch- ing circumstance that the very last, sent by a special messenger to Brussels, and from thence posted, is written out of the accus- tomed courteous desire to present her new year's greetings to her friend. " Believe me," so the Queen concludes, " whatever may be my position, I shall never forget the proofs of friendship and attachment I have been accustomed to receive from yours and you, my dear princess. Love me this year as in other years. The thoughts of your doing so will afford great comfort to my wounded heart, which is yours till death."
This series of short notes and letters, it should be added, was furnished to M. de Conches by M. Gustave de Reisset, now Minister of the Emperor at the Court of Hanover, but holding for a long time a similar post at Hesse Darmstadt, where he was permitted to explore the archives, and to copy many letters with the purpose of some time or other publishing them,—which pur- pose he renounced, on seeing the two first of M. de Conches' volumes, in favour of the present collector.
There are also several letters to the Duchess de Polignac and others, which will be new to many readers, from the lonely woman left without any intimate female friend save her sister-in- law.
Of Marie Antoinette, however, we have for this time said enough. The most numerous in the volume are Madame Elisabeth's letters to Madame Bombelles.
They, we are told, have come chiefly from the Marquis de Casteja. It is impossible, we should think, to question their authorship. The peculiarities of Madame Elisabeth's character, partaking of the saint, the Legitimist, the lively, somewhat sati- rical, off-hand commentator on events,—the affectionate, familiar friend, "une sorts," says M. de Conches, " de garcon volontaire, disant tout sans ambage, sinon parfois sans gout, mais l'ancien regime collie en bronze, comprenant tout sans terreur, voyant avec calme et resignation du haut de sa foi Chretienne, la formid- able tourmeute on le passe allait s'engloutir." Add to this some- thing of the goody, a disposition to doctor her friends and the poor, and above all, to administer spiritual physic.
Bat the beauty and value of her life—alas! that short life—lies in its unconscious unselfishness. In this doubtless was its charm, and its power of consolation for herself and others. She really seems never to have pondered on her probable doom, or if she did, simply to have taken it as the part assigned to her, while to save her friends a single pang, bodily or mental, was made the very object of her days. It seems as if her last moments on the scaffold were exactly the appropriate conclusion of such an existence ; to every one of her associates she spoke words of cheer, and they all, twenty-eight in number, perished before the executioner called on her to end his task by submitting her own honoured head to the guillotine. Better informed, more enlarged, therefore more candid, more just, more wise women there have been by hundreds perhaps than Madame Elisabeth, but as the model friend, the sister, the saint, the martyr of her time, there is none like her.
The letters of the Emperor Joseph II. are also numerous and most characteristic. Style, spelling, ideas —all are the Em- peror's own, and cannot be mistaken. Among them are two or three to his sister, Marie Christine, giving an account of the remarkable visit of Pope Pius VI. to Vienna. Every one knows with what a rough and uncanny touch Joseph had effected some of his reforms in Church and State ; how he had alienated the clergy, first, by edicts of toleration, then much more by the almost total abolition of convents and the sale of their property ; also by prohibiting recourse to the Pontifical authority and the publication of the Pope's briefs, unless agreeable to the civil powers. Pius VI., finding his written communications held so cheap, courageously determined to go to Vienna in person, and confer with the con- tumacious monarch. His reception was one of great outward splendour and ostentation, but beneath these demonstrations lurked a sort of contemptuous obstinacy very wounding to His Holiness. He bore himself, however, with dignity, discretion, and meekness, and unquestionably was the gainer in the end by his journey, as the Emperor testified the following year by numerous concessions. In transcribing the two following letters, addressed by Joseph to his sister, the Archduchess Marie Christine of Saxe- Teschen, the reader should know that in the first the original orthography is preserved. The Emperor was not an adept in spelling, but there is shrewdness and some sense in much that he writes:— "Vienne, Avril 15, 1782.
"Ma CHIME Scaua,—Voici le jour on j'espere qua vons semis defait de Messieurs les Hollandais. Una volonte forme et consequent° dans ses demarches eat presqtte toujours tat on tard couronnd de Is roussite ; tel a &A ce cas. Vous verres par le journal ci.joint co qua le Pape fait a Vienne. Si on y mettoit le nombre de benedictions at de baisers aux quatros pattes qu'il donne at qu'il repoit, it fandroit se servir dos lettres de l'Algebre, pour diminner le nombre des zero, soul produit qui en revieut an s. Benits et aux Baieants.
" Quant sax questions quo Lni dit subversees entre le Sacerdoco et l'Empire, je crois quo none resterons chacnn du meme avis at quo l'un at l'autre mentors par la le pain qu'il mange, savoir : Lui, °alai de rEglise, on defendant memo tons sea shim crautorite, at moi on re- vendiquant ceux de l'Etat qne je cars. Et amis de is personae none le serous jamais de la difference do Is cause, tendant neanmoins tons les deux, Lui des paroles at moi des faits, a raccroissement de la Religion et de rintdanotion des peuples.
. . . .........
"Adieu, ma there scour. Si j'avois le plaisir de me promener avec vous, dana votre petite maison an bord du lac, jo ponvois cons raconter de bench° bien des anecdotes singulieres, at qui vons feroient Bien rim au sujet de reffet quo le Pape a fait sur quelques totes a Vienne.— Votre tendre frere, JOSEPH."
SEOOND LETTER ON THE POPE'S VISIT.—JOSEPH II. TO HIS SISTER, \TARTE CHRISTINE.
" Vienne, Avril 26, 1782.
"Ms ORME SCRUR—Je vous ai ecrit, I'autre jour, par le contTier ; depnis, j'ai men votre there lettre ; jo vons anis infiniment oblige de rinteret tendre quo vons prenez a mes yens. Je ne puffs pas encore dire d'en etre satisfait ; it y a tonjours du haut at du bas, bientet ils sent un you plus, bientet nu peu, moans rouges sane des vraies raisons, et le beau temps etant cons, je vais memo me promener ; mais it ne paroit pas qua le grand air leur Passe du bien. Je continue toujours lee remedes, et surtout cola de patience.
"Je volts joins ici la continuation du journal et l'oraison ou pIntot le compliment qua le Pape a dit en public dana le Consistoire. 11 eat parti d'ici lundi passe. Les derniers jours de son sejours et surtont Is dimanche, voile de son depart, raffiuence du monde sons sea fenetres etoit si prodigiouse, qua eels a fait le plus beau spectacle et meme d'un genre dont Jo n'ai rien vu, ni ne verrai plus rien. 11 n'est pas possible do definir, pas meme a pen pres, to nombre du monde qn'il y avoit: car e'etoit vraiment innombmble, at peut-atre 100 mille hommes n'est pas trop dire. Una femme a ate eorasie ; c'est le soul malheur qui est arrive. Depnis la maison ou demenre Hatzfeld jusqu'a cette du Prince Kaunitz, tout le Spanier et la place do parade, taut Bur lee parapets quen bas, ce n'etoit quo totes: et, comma it n'y avoit pas moyen d'entrer ni de sortir par anoint debouche, le rests do monde a'est tens hors lea palisades jusque vers les Ecuries, at l'Hotel des gardes." (P. 64.)
The following is an original autograph (spelling preserved), two years later :—
JOSEPH H. to Manus CHRISTINE.
"Pise, Janvier 30, 1784.
"Ms CHEER Savou,—A.pres taut de perils, de bates noires, rouges, blanches, brans, qu'on apelle pretraille, me voici, id, on berme sante, iti vous sonhaiter le bonjonr. Quand on scait avoire raison, on no craint rien, et quand les individus gagnent, et quo ce n'est qua les abus des corps qui souffrent, ron pent are nu parmi is fettle comma moi. J'ai expedid le Pape, la Conr de Napple, et be Roi de Suede. Me voici inter amicos ici—Le premier, je le bion traits, et none comes arranges sex quelques points de controverse. A Napple, j'ai &Ai infini- ment content de ma Scour, et d'une partie de ses enfans. C'ost une brave at excellent° femme, dans touts retendue qua je donne a co terms. Le Roi est, et resters un bourreau de temps, et coat domago pour ses talents, quo Is dissipation extreme dans laquelle it vit. Pour le roi de Suede, Gustavus HI., c'eat une °spec° qui ne m'est point homogene, faux, petit, miserable, un petit-maitre a be glace enfln. 11 passers par France, at si vous le voyes, je vous rocommande d'avance. Les enfans de mon Frere et son Epouse se portent bien. J'ai ens un temps horrible pour venir de Napple ici (Pise); des neiges de dean pieds de limit at dans co climat si renome, un froid terrible anquelle lea fonetres, les postes' et los manvaises maison ajoutent leur agrement. Je compte partirdici vela la mie fevrier, et me rendre a Milan, et de is regagner ma taniere." (P. 81.)
Much other interesting matter will be found in turning over these papers. It cannot easily be exhausted, and we believe it will show, when M. Feuillet de Conches' whole task is completed, that his claims to our gratitude are much more numerous than the occasions on which some question may be raised as to his judg- ment.