11 MAY 1929, Page 27

The Setting Sun

THE " decline " of which Mr. Tilley treats in this scholarly' and conscientious volume covers half the long reign of Louis XIV. It was the period in which Louis took upon himself

the entire control of affairs and came under the gloomy influence of Madame de Maintenon. We have difficulty

now a days in picturing to ourselves what existence meant under an absolute monarchy, but a sentence of La Bruyere's which Mr. Tilley quotes will help. It may be rendered " Whosoever will take into account that the prince's e.ouritenanciS sums up the courtier's felicity, so that the courtier's whole occupa- tion and sustenance throughout life is to see his prince and be seen by him, will comprehend how seeing Cod can make up the glory and the happiness of the Saints."

The irony is the more savage because in La Bruyere's day je ne le vois jamais from Louis was sufficient condemnation of a man. To live in the charmed circle with eyes con- stantly on the august centre, and constantly hoping for a glance, may have been tedious while the king was busy

amusing himself ; yet at least there was an atmosphere or life. But to live so when your prince's wild oats were au sown, and when his face was set against any sowing of wild oats—against anything that could by construction connect - itself with the sowing of that grain—that indeed made mortal tedium. Louis and his duenna hung over France like g blight. Nothing was left but the literature of satiric obser-

vation—sometimes largely dosed with adulation as in La

Bruyere—and the pulpit eloquence. All the poetry, all the comedy, and all the fiction, of which we receive here the careful analysis, was joyless, sapless, fashionless stuff. One is sorry for Mr. Tilley. Perhaps he underrates the value and significance of one odd interloper—Antony Hamilton—who did for French prose and verse something of what Goldsmith did for Englisk —he introduced the peculiar quality of Irish (or is it Anglo+ Irish ?) thought and speech. For instance, the little epigram :— •

" Celle qu'adore mon coeur n'est ni brune ni blonde; .

Pour in peindre d'un soul trait, C'est le plus charmant objet Du monde."

trait might have been written by Father Prout,

-Mr. Tilley's pages are amusing as well as instructive to turn _over. We meet such phrases as Saint Simon's description of the charming man who loved nobody. " He had friends, and wanted friends, as one wants furniture and has it." Or La Bruyere's saying that " The moot delightful companion in the world is a handsome woman . who takes things like a ,gentleman" (Qui a lea quanta d'un honnlie homme.) (Once more Mr. Tilley must not be held responsible for the renderings.) . Again, light is thrown on the literature of that period by Bossuet's answer to those who defended the representations of love on the stage by saying that it generally ended in marriage. " Marriage," said Bossuet, " presupposes con- capiseence, which according to the rules of the faith is an evil which must be resisted." The conclusions to be drawn are those of Tartuffe, who is less of a caricature than one might suppose.

Traits of social life abound. Coffee was first drunk in Paris when Thevenot, just back from Cairo, gave it to his friends in 1658. A Turkish ambassador made it fashionable ten years later, and the first debit de café was opened in 1672. But Madame de Sevigne thought it only a passing craze. "-Vela passers comme k cafe," she wrote.