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Title: Child of Chequer'd Fortune Author: Marjorie Bowen * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1900971h.html Language: English Date first posted: Sep 2019 Most recent update: Sep 2019 This eBook was produced by Colin Choat and Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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THE following study is one of a very few, as far as the writer's knowledge goes, full-length lives of Maurice de Saxe in English.
Much of the material is new to English readers; the translations are, all of them, taken direct from the originals and have not, as far as can be ascertained, been translated before.
There is no fiction or invented romance in this biography; the life and character of the hero, his contemporaries and his background have been kept as close to fact as possible; legends and picturesque embroideries have been avoided—the subject needs none.
Besides the books given in the bibliography, much material has been gathered from articles in French periodicals and the journals of learned societies. This is especially the case with regard to Adrienne de Lecouvreur and Madame Favart. Some use has been made of an early study of the same subject by the present writer 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 been termed the age of reason, the age of prose and the age of adventurers. It was probably no more full of reason, prose or adventurers than any other epoch, and with the broad movements of thought and action that marks this century from others in the judgment of historians, this study has nothing to do.
The subject of it, however, does appear not only to fit into an age singularly prolific in adventurers of all types, but to be himself the foremost of all of them and their epitome.
This mercenary soldier, a prince by the left hand, who more than once missed a throne, and who through his mother was descended from a stock that had produced warriors so ferocious that they were rebuked even by their contemporaries, men neither nice nor sensitive, led a life typical of all that is best, and all that is worst, in these eighteenth-century adventurers whose names and exploits, both in love and war, formed plentiful material for the flatterer, the satirist and the hack-writer of spurious memoirs.
Their names were freely used to paint spurious tales and stock anecdotes and to give lustre to refurbished scandals, and it is not easy always to discover the real men behind their gaudy fabrications.
The world in which they live is, in every sense, a vanished world. We have changed in everything, in nothing more than in our conception of a hero, and the meaning that we attach to the word glory. And we shall find these words used very frequently in this age that seems in so much dry, cynic and disillusioned. The soldier, if brave and successful, was a hero, and war, however purposeless, useless and incompetently conducted was glory if it allowed an opportunity for a display of courage, even if this did not lead to victory.
The army, the church and politics were the only professions open to the nobility of every country; they often overlapped; the general who like Marlborough had "saved" his country in the field, might without difficulty be allowed to guide the national destiny in the cabinet, and found equal opportunities for plunder in both spheres. The churchman, like Cardinal Fleury, whose modest abilities would scarcely have sufficed for the duties of a parish priest, might find himself, through rank influence and expediency, chief minister of a great nation for many disastrous years. Princes and their favourites and the friends and relations of their favourites, might pick and choose between Church, Army and Politics and often tried each in turn, but the favourite pursuit of royalty and the aristocracy, and one that they felt was closely interlinked with their caste, their honour and their pride, was war.
In their eyes war meant power, possible aggrandisement, undoubted chances of plunder and a life that was much to the taste of an eighteenth-century patrician. Their campaigns were conducted like hunting parties, leisurely and after lengthy preparations. Few of the luxuries supplied by the great cities were missing in the camps and with the first touch of winter weather the armies went into winter quarters and the officers, at least, enjoyed several months of extravagant idleness, feted, pampered and praised. Each war, therefore, consisted of one campaign and a truce each year and so dragged on, to the misery and often the ruin of all concerned, save the soldiers, who found this manner of life so acceptable that they looked upon a peace as a vast misfortune.
But there was never, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a universal peace; the War of the Empire against the Turks, a conflict in which the Republic of Venice was often involved, only ceased for periods so brief as to be negligible, and aristocrats, bored by the intervals between the European clashes, volunteered in large numbers to join the struggle on the plains of Hungary, under the walls of Belgrade or among the islands 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 of royal birth, nearly always of noble birth, who, finding that their own countries could not employ them, went where there was a chance to win fortune by the sword and the exercise of wit, cunning or intrigue. They cared nothing for the cause for which they fought, though a fantastic echo of the crusades ran through the call for volunteers against the Porte and served only for their pay and the luck that might come the way of an unscrupulous man during the anarchy of a warfare that accepted but a few of the rules of any civilisation and usually ignored these.
It is difficult to acquit the two great generals who, at the opening of the century, were in the front of their profession, and models for all the younger men, of being essentially mercenaries.
Prince Eugene of Savoy, who wrote his signature in four languages, was by birth a Frenchman, possibly the son of Louis XIV, but owing to being passed over at the French court, spent his life serving against France; Marlborough certainly fought for his native land, though he commanded troops of various nationalities, but it would be a very enthusiastic admirer who would suppose that patriotism greatly inspired him or that the invincible Duke did not relish war for its own sake and what it brought him in profit and glory and that he did not prolong war when it was possible to do so.
Large fortunes, diamond belted swords and grandiose piles like Blenheim and Bellevue rewarded these men who possessed the genius, the character and the opportunity to raise themselves solid fortunes out of the chaos of war. They were in this, different from the free-lances of earlier centuries, from whom they were in a sense descended; the condottiere of whom Giovanni delle Bande Nere is the most famous example, or Sir John Hawkwood, with his roving bands, in that they were far more highly rewarded, lived, even in the midst of war, more softly, and mostly died, not like the young Medici or Charles de Bourbon, shattered on the "bed of honour" but comfortably if miserably of old age.
Among the notable generals of the eighteenth century, Marlborough's nephew, the Duke of Berwick, was the only one to meet a fate similar to that of Gustavus Adolphus and be slain in action, though many, Saxe and Cumberland among them, suffered from flesh wounds that primitive surgery allowed to torture them for the rest of their lives, perhaps even to shorten their days.
On the whole, however, for these mighty ones, the profession was, despite their personal bravery, as safe as it was lucrative, and their greatest danger arose from their own self-indulgence or the insanitary nature of the camps and forts over which they ruled. True that many battles were massacres, and all accounted for many lives; true that comparatively few of the wounded survived, that disease swept off large numbers and that grim privation and suffering was the lot of those in besieged towns and forts, but most of these evils fell upon the rank and file, and few of the higher officials and none of the generals abated anything of their comfort and splendour because they were conducting a campaign. Some disasters were, now and then, beyond control and reduced all to a common level of misery; such was the dreadful retreat from Prague, an emergency measure, adopted against the rules of eighteenth-century warfare and taking place in mid-winter. The officers then shared, perforce, the agonies of the men, and some of them, like Vauvenargues, whose sad and noble essay "On Glory" may have been inspired by this disaster, never recovered from their suffering. But even then, the snow-bound passes were strewn with the silver plate, damask hangings and rich camp furniture that the lackeys of M. de Bellisle had tried in vain to drag in the wake of their general.
But such miscalculations were rare, and for the most part a quinsy from an infected camp, sore eyes from the dust of the march, a touch of putrid fever caught from the ill-lodged, ill- fed, dirty soldiers, was the worst that the general and his staff had to fear, and even these perils were balanced by the constant attendance of physicians and surgeons who offered their small skill and their abundant flattery to the masters who fee'd them generously for such palliatives as medicine could offer against ignorance and filth.
Is it not this luxury, this extravagance, this softness even in the midst of war that marks these wigged and powdered heroes as of a smaller make than their predecessors of the earlier centuries? Or is it merely that it is easier to cast a dark romance over those whose characters and actions one knows only in outline, than over those whose careers are so well documented that one can follow them into the closet and watch them at their toilet?
But those earlier men of war, Princes and mercenaries alike, seem to possess an austerity, a dignity, a virtue wholly lacking to the later military adventurer. Bloody-minded, violent, corrupt, bandits, pirates, thieves these earlier warriors may have been, but we can at least persuade ourselves that there lingered about them some gleam of the fabled chivalry men had at one time invented, if never practised, some sparkle of antique or "Roman" virtue. If there was a Gaston de Foix among the generals of the eighteenth century, his fame has not survived, nor was there any commander comparable to Bayard or Du Guesclin, even allowing that these famous knights have been over-praised.
Giovanni dei Medici was, no doubt, in all essentials, not superior to Otto von Königsmarck, Maurice de Saxe or any other eighteenth-century mercenary of whom one cares to think, but it is impossible to imagine that any of their followers could have written of them as Pietro Aretino wrote of the leader of the Black Bands.
Even such a corrupt and cunning character as François I had, at least in his youth, ideals of chivalry and honour that were totally lost two hundred years after Paria, and, with one or two exceptions, the last great leader to evoke passionate and blind devotion from his men was Gustavus Adolphus, who commanded his own subjects and who did not, in any crude or obvious sense, fight for gain.
The sports and pastimes of these earlier soldiers have more beauty and dignity, also, at least in the imagination. The great ruby that Charles the Bold kept on his camp bottle, the string of diamonds that looped the shabby hat of Maurice of Orange, the heavy jewels the great constable pledged at Turin to pay his troops, these have a more manly air than the modish trifles that, straight from Paris and Vienna, decked the luxurious tents of later warriors. And the song of the minstrel after the battle, the energetic games that passed the time for besieger and besieged, the reading from rare and precious books tending to encourage and exalt, these were poorly replaced by the berline full of easy actresses, the travelling stage that provided the coquettish comedies, and the private gazette that brought all the scandals of the city and the court to the garrison and the camp.
Can we argue that these later mercenaries seem hollow and tawdry even for their fierce and dreadful profession because they lacked a God, even a God of Battles? The captains of an earlier age had a grimly sincere belief in some manner of Deity; the priest who accompanied them during their campaigns had often a real power over them, and the confessions, the absolutions, the bequests for masses, the endowment of church and convent, charity and hospital, were not wholly hypocritical. Shakespeare put a prayer into the mouth of Harry of Monmouth on the eve of his great fight, even though it was a plea that his fathers sins might be forgotten, and even Count Tilly, as late as the mid- sixteenth century, had his supplication—"Oh God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul."
But by the eighteenth century belief had gone with superstition, and with them the last vestige of the knightly ideal. A zeal for "the common cause," i.e. the upholding of Protestantism, animated William III, and both he and his followers were able to persuade themselves that he was raised up by God, like David, to fight the Lord's battles, but he was the last great captain to do more than make a pretence at devotion to an hereditary faith and with the progress of the century even the pretence was dropped.
True, there were the Te Deums; the favour of the Almighty was claimed by every combatant, and He was duly praised in St. Paul's Cathedral or Notre Dame de Paris as the tide of success flowed this way and that; true that hymns of praise rose after every victory and that the word "God" was bandied about very freely. All this was a necessary part or the formula to which warfare had been reduced—"without the Te Deums we should not know that there had been a victory," wrote Madame de Sévigné.
But if there were some pious Roman Catholics, some fervent Huguenots, some sincere Lutherans or Calvinists among the common soldiers or the officers of lower rank, there were none among the generals, and the mercenaries served any prince of any faith, no matter what their own creeds were supposed to be. The wars of religion were over; these were wars of aggression, of pride, of national vanity; Maréchal de Noailles, after pointing out to Louis XV that the country was in fact on the verge of ruin, yet declared that a costly purposeless war must be undertaken "for the honour of France."
Frederic of Prussia read Voltaire, the Comte de Bomeval became a Mussulman, the Comte de Guibert wrote dramas full of barren heroics and essays on tactics that were enervated by the "a quoi bon?" of the "philosophes" whose fashionable incredulity penetrated even the camps.
When men fought thus openly for gain, without even a pretence of 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 Maurice de Saxe was the most splendid and successful example. True, Count von Schulenburg, himself a specimen of the better type of mercenary soldier, instructed the young Maurice with lofty ideals, and tried to inculcate into him some of the antique virtues. But these were not taken seriously by his pupil, who remained all his life "sans coeur" to an extent that impressed an age beginning to indulge in that sentimentality that shows a lack both of spirituality and sentiment.
It might be said that he was without honour also, save in the sense that he never took bribes to betray his master, and was certainly without real religion of any kind, a fact that he admitted with a frankness that startled Madame Pompadour, herself no fanatic in matters of faith.
It was to her that the successful soldier said: "I've never seen the woman whom I would care to call my wife, nor the man whom I would care to call my son." And he might with truth have added: "Nor imagined any spirit whom I would care to call my god."
Born on one side of noble freebooters with a strain of insanity in their blood, and on the other side of the Albertine line of Saxon Electors, princes noted for their indolence, their luxury and their physical strength, Maurice resembled the hardier ancestor after whom he was named, Maurice of Saxony, who had also bequeathed his military genius and his name to another great soldier, Maurice of Orange, his grandson.
The name was suggestive of Pagan fortitude and Christian faith, for St. Maurice, the patron Saint of these warriors was that stalwart, Roman soldier, who, converted, and converting his legion, perished, the legend says, amid the Alpine snows, together with his men, rather than renounce his belief in Jesus Christ.
For such as Maurice, who early understood his position, there was but one possible career. The profession of arms promised well for younger sons and royal bastards, even though the great prizes might be seized by dispossessed princes like the Duke of Lorraine, or ruling potentates like Louis of Baden, or the landgrave of Hesse-Cassel.
The affairs of Europe were in flux and the struggle for the balance of power kept the great nations constantly at one another's throats.
Consider the period covered by the life of Maurice de Saxe; he was born the year that the peace of Ryswick concluded a war that had lasted from 1689, a war that had indeed begun in 1672, and in which the peace procured by the treaty of Nymegen had been in reality but a truce; during his early childhood the third phase of this war between the Allies and France, that of the Spanish succession, broke out, and Maurice, in his thirteenth year was present with Marlborough and Eugene at the bloody day of Malplaquet.
Contemporary with this struggle was that of Augustus, Elector of Saxony and father of Maurice, for the throne of Poland, that involved him in a long war with Sweden, with Russia first as ally and then as masters, and when the battle of Patona put an end to this struggle and the treaty of Utrecht to the other, there was still the struggle against the Turks in progress and Maurice was able to gain another taste of bloodshed serving under Eugene before the walls of Belgrade.
Entering the service of France he found the interval of peace too long for his taste and his purse and was able to raise a war on his own by competing for the Dukedom of Courland. He was hardly through with this adventure when France was again engaged in a war that lasted until the peace of Vienna, 1736, but that was renewed again in 1740 and continued until two years before the death of Maurice, only to break out again a few years later.
Such a state of continual universal warfare—besides these European conflicts, the French and English were fighting in India—with the ideas, standards, mentality and ambitions they gave rise to, caused the rogue and the adventurer, the charlatan and the ruffian to flourish exceedingly. And none was more valuable to these warring princes—and the struggles were between princes—not between peoples—than the bold, talented mercenary, who knew how to make himself obeyed, how to hold or take a fort, how to throw up a demilune or a ravelin, how to accept or offer, with conventional grace, the keys of a city, and how to spend, with lavish ease, when the army went into winter quarters, the pay and the plunder gathered during the summer's campaign.
The extravagance of these military leaders passed all bounds, an eye-witness relates, seeing the Elector Max of Bavaria, hero of the siege of Belgrade, give his hat full of gold to a male acrobat whose performance had pleased him; another German prince was said to have traded a regiment for a pair of perfect blue Chinese vases, and even the officers of lower rank went into action wearing diamonds and with their pockets full of money.
A foot-pad who held up the King of Poland, John Sobieksi, and his 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 objects so that every time they were defeated, even in a brush, or skirmish, the Christians carried away costly plunder and the treasury of the Green Vaults, in the fantastic palace of Augustus II at Dresden contained many a priceless ruby and emerald, many a costly plume, aigrette or scimitar, picked up on the Eastern frontiers where the Turkish janissaries struggled so long and so obstinately to penetrate into the West.
Rich opportunities for plunder were also offered by the wars in which Venice engaged the Porte and those where Naples, under a Spanish Viceroy, fought off the Algerian corsairs.
Among the isles of the Mediterranean and along the coasts of Africa many a raid might be made, many a well-laden galley sunk and much treasure brought home.
Maurice's maternal fortune that he never touched owing to the dishonesty of the bankers at Hamburg, came largely from this source, for Otto von Königsmarck, his grandfather, had long commanded the forces of the Venetian Republic, a post after held with distinction by Maurice's first instructor in the art of war, General von Schulenburg.
Another field of action for the adventurer and the mercenary was that vast half-barbaric country that even the efforts of Peter the Great had not brought much into touch with Europe. Riches and power that might well be regarded as fabulous awaited the lucky fortune-hunter in Russia, especially when the seven Imperial Crowns were worn by a woman, and clever scoundrels like Count Biron, afterwards Duke of Courland, and reputable soldiers like Marshal Keith and Field-Marshal Count Peter Lacy, "the Eugene of Muscovy," found it well worth their while to penetrate to the splendours of Moscow or the new brilliancy of St. Petersburg.
The hope of the sombre, remote and alluring throne of the Romanoffs was one that frequently dazzled and tempted Maurice de Saxe during his gaudy career, but successful as he was with women, he failed to secure either the Empress Anna or the Empress Elizabeth, but more through lack of tact than of opportunity, so near to an Empress's diadem could a bold, comely adventurer come in those days of moral anarchy and the chaos carved in all human institutions by absolute monarchies continually at war with one another.
As these adventurers lived so they died, without remorse, repentance or hope; most of them were disabled and diseased by self-indulgence; even the almost legendary strength of Augustus II and his son, Maurice, only resisted continuous and excessive debauchery until early middle age; their last years were pitiful exhibitions of premature decay only redeemed by the fiery courage of Maurice and the cynic courtesy of Augustus. Their monuments were arid, their epitaphs were formal; scribblers and pensters got to work on their reputations as soon as their bodies had been placed in their gilded coffins.
Favart, the charming actor, who had good cause to know the base side of Maurice, wrote of him, with reluctant good nature, that "He had too many faults to be praised, and too many virtues to be blamed."
So the godless soldiers passed to the dust, having taken greedily all they wanted from life and leaving the jobber, the pander, the flatterer and the lackey to put on mourning cloaks and creepers while they looked out for another master.
To be fearless in face of death was part of the adventurer's code, and some, like Maurice, could face the prospect of annihilation without blanching. "I've lived without a priest, and I'll die without one," he declared.
But he died reluctantly—a fine play was over but he went out 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, for them 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, and their bleak atheisms seem to chill even their tombs, that have more the air of chill ornaments of the charnel-house than that of memorials charged with the hope of immortality, an affirmation of the belief in the janua vitae into eternal life and perfect knowledge.
And being thus dead without hope they seem doubly dead.
Are they, then, of sufficient interest for anyone to revive the outlines of their portraits and fill them in with fresh colours, if only transiently and with little skill?
If they are worth so much attention, it is because there must always be a curiosity about any human being who rose above his fellows and left a name remembered beyond his own day, and because for many people that engrossing emotion, best described as nostalgia for the past, extends, with peculiar force to what is strange and remarkable in modern eyes, and to all that had its roots in a past not two centuries ago in point of time, but has vanished as utterly as the fabled splendour of Babylon and Tyre.
It cannot be a study without fascination to trace the life of another human being who lived under circumstances to us so strange, and in times that to us are lost save in echoes, day- dreams, or what we may find in the pages of all books, between the 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 disused and shut away.
The background of the eighteenth-century adventurer is splendid; even those who pay willing tribute to the beauties of a purer art and the canons of a finer taste, must admit the peculiar attraction of the baroque period, the style of sweeping curves, the twisting movement, the dramatic emphasis, the heavy over-ornamentation that, influencing everything from churches to clothes, adorns, like the violent colours on the standing pool, a century of decay in art, manners and costumes that, a mode heavy with languid over-ripeness, fell finally into ridicule and were swept away.
The keynote of eighteenth-century baroque art was luxury; it never belonged to the people, or sprang from the soil, it was the drop cloth behind the sports of princes, the enrichment of the pageantry of kings, the excuse for men like Maurice de Saxe to spend their plunder and increase their fame. Never was there an art so costly, so exclusively the plaything of the wealthy and the powerful; never was there such a vast difference between the surroundings, the clothes, the habits of the poor, the middle classes and those who were, in every sense of the word, their masters. The mingled frivolity and magnificence of such a hunting-box as Poppelmann built for Augustus the Strong at Moritzburg, or the same monarch's palace at Dresden, had hardly been seen before in the West. For it was a wanton splendour, it had no roots in deep feeling, or strong taste, or the desire to leave a proud monument behind; it was touched by the grotesque, it was perverse, it had a superb foolishness akin to that which sent the princes who owned these palaces into battle, wearing flowing perukes tied in silk bags, or pearl ear-rings, or plaits fashioned with silk ribbons; the same kind of dainty, hysterical silliness as made the fine ladies tear the gold braid off the coats of the fine gentlemen, and wind it into balls for tatting, so that the Duke of Orleans once escaped from such a męlée with his 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 Carlo Gozzi; the ogre, the princess, the faithful lover, the dwarf, the witch, were well at home in their scenes. But these were not kindly fairy tales, having their roots in folk-lore or the sweet fancies of children. They were unwholesome, even wicked, such stories as might have been invented to amuse the idle women who, glutted with jewels, thought it amusing to wear a kitchen cloth as a head-dress, garnished with carrots and onions, or, weary of the costly flowers in golden vases, enjoyed thrusting a hyacinth bulb through a turnip, placing both into a common pot and watching the nymph reluctantly blooming in the arms of the satyr. This lovely and brilliant decoration made the crimes and vices of the age the uglier by contrast; the pretence of an exquisite courtesy showed up the heartlessness beneath.
An eye-witness of the Neapolitan massacres of 1799, who by an odd chance escaped the slaughter, noted one of the assassins, a handsome young man with his hair in a blue net, and with a large crimson rose between his lips. This ruffian advanced his face towards the prisoners under his charge and left deep wounds on their cheeks, for in the centre of the rose was a small stiletto.
So these men wounded through beauty and with a smile; lying, betraying, murdering without hesitation or remorse when it suited their interests to do so, yet always offering the rose, the charming word, the seductive look. The women, as the sex then truly helpless, save for their own powers of intrigue, were the principal victims of their heartlessness, as witness the dealings of the father of Maurice with his mother, and the hero's own dealings with Justine Favart.
The women had to take the men as they found them, and being of the same age and breed, managed well enough, even sometimes to best the triumphant male until their hearts were involved, and then they had to burn themselves out before the sentimental cruelty of a charming egotism as did Adrienne de Lecouvreur and Julie de Lespinasse. And they, too, died without hope, with the name of a mortal on their lips and their faces turned from the priests. And who were there to comfort anyone? They, too, had a baroque outline, a modish air; "I hope," said a great lord on engaging his chaplain, "you do not expect me to listen to your sermons."—"I hope," responded the cleric, "that monseigneur does not expect me to give any."
Thus French wit, and in England, Queen Caroline, the mother of Cumberland, defeated at Fontenoy, retired into her closet while her chaplain said prayers, in order to gossip with her women—"But, pray ladies, let us leave the door ajar and converse in whispers, lest he thinks we are not listening." So breeding and cynicism go hand in hand, and "everything is supportable save boredom," declared Voltaire.
Here the adventurers, the mercenaries, the paid captains, like Maurice de Saxe, were true to the spirit of their age; they were never bored; not for them the cynic weariness that made Louis XV sigh—"What would the world be without coffee?" and then added: "After all, what is the world—with coffee?"
Disappointed in much, frustrated in much, was the Saxon adventurer, and he was typical of all the eighteenth-century adventurers—never admitted to boredom, save for the briefest periods. To the last he remained full of zest, and the sole complaint that he had to make of his life was that it was too short.
It had certainly been remarkable, full of strange episodes, bombastic triumphs, touching on flamboyant tragedies and violent dramas, played out against bizarre backgrounds and with strange companions.
By no standard could this famous soldier be said to be a great, a good, or an important man, but his career has the fascination of yesterday's comet; the flaming thing is gone, it has left no trace, it has made no difference to anyone, but it was there and will not lightly be forgotten. A recent French biographer of Maurice de Saxe has claimed that, with all his faults, he was "a man."
The following study attempts to depict what manner of man was he 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!"
ON an autumn day in the year 1696 an elegant carriage passed through the valleys of the Hartz Mountains towards the ancient city of Goslar, which lies on the north side of the famous range and at the foot of the Rammelberg, the towering mountain that is honeycombed with an extraordinary variety of mines, which produce copper, lead, zinc, sulphur, vitriol, alum and silver in prodigal abundance.
The handsome berline, a capacious family conveyance, proceeded with discretion and swung gently on the leather straps. Two footmen stood behind and a third was seated beside the coachman; four stout greys drew the equipage. There was an outrider in front and a manservant on horseback behind. All this betokened a careful and luxurious traveller, but there were no arms on the panels of the carriage and no distinguishing marks about the liveries of the servants.
This romantic air of mystery, wealth and pomp was heightened by the appearance of the occupant of the carriage—a lady, wrapped in a costly cloak of glossy sables and wearing a black mask under her beaver hat, from which hung plumes of ostrich to mingle with her fashionable curls. Her sole companion was a quiet-looking woman, who appeared to be a chambermaid of the better sort; she sat opposite on the padded seat, holding upon her knee a handsome casket, which she guarded with anxious care.
The sun had for some time disappeared behind the high peaks of the mountains, when the lady, impatient after the long, tedious journey, let down the blinds at the window and putting her head out of the carriage, looked keenly at the prospect before her tired gaze.
She was a foreigner; though she had been resident for some time in Saxony, she had never seen these beautiful mountains before. 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 stout ramparts, the numerous towers showed in dark outline against the blue-green spaces of the mountains beyond. Goslar, still possessing a remote and solitary dignity, had once been a place of considerable importance, the residence of Emperors, one of whom, Henry IV, had been born there nearly nine centuries before this elegant stranger stared through her mask at the imperial spires.
The handsome greys brought the carriage to the ancient gates; the outrider showed his papers, and the equipage passed into the streets of Goslar.
A chill and colourless light lay over the old houses rich with heavy wooden carvings, the Romanesque church, the formidable towers of the strong fortifications, the market-place now empty save for a few idlers, who gossiped round the metal fountain basin in the centre of the square. These and such passersby as remained in the streets of the quiet town glanced with some curiosity at the handsome carriage and at the lady whom they could glimpse, in her sables and travelling-mask, through the open window.
She seemed to disdain their scrutiny, and, indeed, she was not troubled by such impertinent interest. Though Goslar had lost much of its former magnificence, it still contained some fine residences of nobles and wealthy Saxons, and the existence of the very valuable silver mines near by, which belonged to the Elector of Saxony, brought a certain number of wealthy and important people to the old imperial city in the Hartz Mountains.
The streets were well paved, and it was still at a discreet pace that the carriage passed the Kaiserhaus, the remains of the Imperial Palace, the cathedral with the statues of the Emperors in the portal, a square that gave a glimpse down a side street of the river Gose, where the washerwomen were kneeling on the flat stones and beating their linen, until at a sign from the outrider it drew up before a fine house set in a handsome quiet street.
The establishment, however, seemed to have no pretensions to nobility but rather to be that of a wealthy merchant.
The fair traveller had been, it seemed, expected, for the door was opened instantly, even before the footman could set down the carriage steps.
The lady was quick to alight; wrapped to the chin in her sables and leaning on the arm of her attendant with the casket, she passed with a rapid but heavy step into the house. The doors closed upon her and the equipage, sombre, costly, not to be identified, with its footmen and riders in plain livery, passed rapidly out of the streets of Goslar without a pause to bait the horses or refresh the men.
The house was empty of host or hostess, but well supplied with servants. A comfortable suite of apartments with maids awaited the stranger's commands.
She gave no explanation of her visit and none was asked; an air of complete discretion ruled in the opulent household. It was tacitly understood that the lady was a young widow, a relative of the master of the house, but it was also tacitly understood that this assumption, necessary to gloss over a scandal, was only a civil fiction.
When the lady took off her mask and her cloak of sables, she showed herself well worthy to be the heroine of a romantic adventure. She was young, she was elegant, she was well-bred; she had a quantity of lustrous long hair, fine grey eyes and small features. Her beauty was not of the type that fascinates or astonishes; it was gentle, sweet, and veiled in melancholy, yet her most salient characteristic was that self-control which is hardness or fortitude according to the mood or opinion of the observer. She had the air of one who would never betray her own feelings, or assail those of others by emotional or passionate appeal. Delicate as her features were and tender as was the look in her eyes, yet underlying the delicacy and tenderness was something implacable, disdainful. She had the resignation and the air of authority of one who understood her world, her circumstances and herself.
She was at present in a difficult situation, one that had spelt defeat for so many women of her type.
The arrival of a doctor and a wet nurse left no doubt of the reason for this secrecy and the object of the sojourn of so bright and so sumptuous a lady in so secluded and unworthy a residence.
Within a few days of her arrival in the old city of Goslar, with its rich associations of dead Emperors, long dust, and mines of precious metals, haunted by goblins, the brave and resigned lady, Aurora von Königsmarck, gave birth to a male child.
The father was Frederick Augustus, Elector of Saxony, who had thus resourcefully and lavishly provided for the security and comfort of his latest mistress.
Not all his troubles, however, availed to save Aurora von Königsmarck from the distress and agony of a most painful confinement. It was believed by her well-paid but disinterested attendants that she would die and it was thought that, if she did not 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, lying exhausted and forlorn in the strange bedroom with the unfamiliar faces about her, considered the uncertain future and her dubious circumstances. She required for this task all the pride and reckless courage she had inherited from her famous house, which had produced bold warriors and unscrupulous adventurers who might be termed heroes or criminals with equal propriety.
For generations the Königsmarcks had been professional mercenary soldiers; the family was Swedish, ancient, and noble. The men had fought with fiery distinction and conspicuous success all over Europe; Germany, Bohemia, Silesia, Corinth, and Italy had been the scenes of their ferocious exploits.
John Christopher von Königsmarck was one of the generals of Gustavus 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 the court of Charles II, then to that of Louis XIV. He had entered the French service, rose to the rank of Maréchal de Camp, served under Turenne and was present at the battle of Seneffe and the siege of Maestricht.
His younger brother, Conrad Christopher, Count of Westermark and Skegholm, had taken the other side in this war, served under the Prince of Orange, and was killed at the siege of Bonn that ended the campaign of 1673.
Count Otto adopted the children of Count Conrad; they were brought up partly on the Königsmarck estates at Agattenburg, near Stade, and partly at Hamburg, in their mother's charge. These children 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 in the service of Venice by blowing up the Parthenon of Athens, which the Turks were using as a powder magazine. Though the times were not nice or fastidious, and though all Europe was used to senseless and bloodthirsty wars, the ruthless behaviour of this Königsmarck was not considered worthy of noblemen or professional soldiers, and Sweden and France had led the way in formal complaints of his lawless and reckless actions.
It had been, however, impossible in the confusion of the various conflicts that split civilisation to bring this lusty warrior to account. More, he had amassed a large fortune from the hire of his services to warring states. The children of Conrad Christopher had all helped to spread the fame of the name of Königsmarck, but not in a favourable sense.
The two men were conspicuously handsome, gifted, charming and romantic; they enjoyed money, position, the entrée to all the courts in Europe. Yet they had not made good use in any sense of these remarkable and manifold gifts. For gentlemen of their name and quality there was but one profession open—that of arms, but neither displayed military talent of any kind, though both were able to show a dashing, spectacular gallantry in court and camp.
Count John Charles had come to England and been involved in an adventure that is still obscure. All that is known for certainty is that in a foolish attempt to gain the hand of the Lady Elizabeth Ogle, one of the richest heiresses in Europe, he had by means of hired assassins caused to be murdered in Pall Mall, Thomas Thynne, the wealthy and good-natured Wiltshire squire who had 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 by his admirers and friends—and he had many at the court of Charles II—that he had cut but a poor figure in the affair. He left England, joined one of the tedious campaigns against the Turks that was usually the last resource of discomforted adventurers, and was killed, creditably enough, in some skirmish before Angos in 1686.
The fate of the other brother was even more curious and dreadful.
Philip von Königsmarck was considered handsomer and more brilliant than his brother; he was acceptable everywhere for his grace, 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 was superficial and tawdry about the two Counts von Königsmarck. Some believed that they were tainted with madness, but it might on the other hand be argued that their defects were very commonplace and rather the attributes of men whose essential weaknesses overbalanced their obvious graces and good fortune than symptoms of insanity.
Philip von Königsmarck was in the service of the Prince Elector of Hanover, George Louis. The Elector's son was unhappily married to the charming and vivacious Sophia Dorothea, and after a brief and impetuous siege she became the secret mistress of the charming and ardent young Swede.
This intrigue, at once dangerous and tawdry, could not be expected to endure long. The old Elector's mistress, the Countess von Platzen, was also enamoured of the dashing soldier and in a fit 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 probably never will be. There can be little doubt that Philip von Königsmarck was murdered; Sophia Dorothea, of whose adultery there is now no question, was soon afterwards divorced and sent to lifelong imprisonment in the Castle of Ahlden. There was no enquiry concerning the disappearance of Königsmarck, though much outcry was raised by his relatives and friends.
The remaining representatives of the House of Königsmarck were then the two young women—Wilhelmina and Aurora.
Wilhelmina, Madame von Löwenhaupt, shared the family talent for intrigue, imprudence and recklessness. She was, however, plain featured and of haughty manners; her brother's tragedy was in part to be put to her account for she had been the confidante of the two lovers and encouraged them in their dangerous folly.
This lady was married to a Swedish nobleman employed at the court of Saxony, who had been her brother's friend. She determined to discover if Philip had disappeared into a mysterious imprisonment or gone to a secret death and she was not inspired only by affection and indignation. The bold and amorous soldier had been possessed of a considerable fortune, the bulk of which was in the hands of certain Hamburg bankers, and his sisters and brother-in-law thought that even if his fate could not be ascertained and avenged, they might at least augment their own revenues by obtaining possession of the large properties that had been in his possession when he disappeared. Besides the title deeds to various properties there was said to be five hundred thousand écus in cash, jewels, and a portion of the philosophers' stone.
Before Count Philip von Königsmarck had taken service with the Elector of Hanover, he had been in that of the Elector of Saxony and had made friends at the court of Dresden. It was, therefore, to Dresden Madame von Löwenhaupt summoned her young, unmarried sister Aurora, who possessed all the famous Königsmarck charm, grace, and reckless courage. The scheme was for this fair creature to second the efforts of the Löwenhaupts to obtain the favour of the young Elector.
Frederick Augustus of the Albertine line came of a family whose history was no less stormy and remarkable than that of the Königsmarcks; the Electors of Saxony were among the most powerful and wealthy princes in the Empire.
Their country was fertile as well as beautiful; the Saxons were warlike, industrious, and passionately devoted to the Reformed Religion, which they had been among the first to embrace. Saxony was the veritable home of Lutheranism and the great Reformer's patrons had been John George, Elector of Saxony, and his son Maurice, one of the most famous soldiers of his age.
The Prince to whom Wilhelmina and Aurora appealed had not long enjoyed his honours. He had succeeded an elder brother, whose brief history had been as gloomy and remarkable as that of Philip von Königsmarck. At the same time as Sophia Dorothea had involved herself in so reckless a manner with the charming young Swedish soldier, John George, the young Elector of Saxony, had fallen under the spell of a young woman who had been put under his notice by her unscrupulous mother. This lady, Madeleine Sybilla von Neichschutz, possessed little intelligence, a good deal of cunning and rapacity, and certain coarse charms that appealed to the gross taste of the young Prince. Though he was married to the Princess Bernardine, a woman of his own age and rank, and of considerable personal attractions, the infatuation of the Elector for Madeleine Sybilla soon became notorious.
He created her in her own right a Countess of the Imperial College under the name of Rocklitz, and so influential did the favourite become that the foreign envoys and residents had to approach the Elector through her; she and her mother were greedy and corrupt even beyond what is usual to such adventuresses and the maladministration of the finances of Saxony, the sale of offices and commissions, became an ever-growing scandal.
So complete was the young man's subjection that the story went round that he was bewitched. The domination of Madame von Rocklitz had to be endured, and the King of England, William III, had to stoop to sending her messages and presents, including one from his wife, Queen Mary, in order that the Elector should continue in the services of the Allies, while the rumour was spread that Madame von Rocklitz was working for a divorce and a marriage with the Elector.
The infatuation came to a tragic end; Madame von Rocklitz caught smallpox and died. She was buried with full honours in the Electoral vaults of the principal church in Dresden.
Soon afterwards the young Elector, who had watched by her bedside during the progress of her malady, caught the disease himself. And he, too, died. Popular indignation and private malice then broke loose.
The Rocklitz's mother was arrested on a charge of corruption and witchcraft and the Rocklitz herself dragged from her grave. A small bracelet found on her arm and supposed to be a gift from the Elector was destroyed; this was believed to be the talisman that had held him in subjection.
To the Electoral throne, thus suddenly vacant, Frederick Augustus, John George's younger brother, succeeded.
He, too, was married to a princess of whom he was not enamoured, but, though completely amoral, he was not dominated by one mistress. As he was handsome in a florid fashion, of prodigious strength, with courteous manners, sumptuous taste and gay conversation, he became at once exceedingly popular among the cheerful, prosperous Saxons.
He had enjoyed his honours only for a short time, when the two Swedish ladies presented themselves before him with their appeal for help. He listened to them with sympathy; he had much in common with Philip von Königsmarck and but for an accident of birth might have shared his fortunes and his fate. He promised to look into the horrible disappearance of the Swedish noble whom he had himself known and do what he could to elucidate the mystery by stern representations at the neighbouring court of Hanover.
Count Königsmarck's guilt, or at least his indiscretion, had been extremely flagrant, and the public disgrace of Sophia Dorothea made it a difficult if not an impossible matter to enquire into the fate of her lover.
Frederick Augustus did not, really, greatly concern himself with this aspect of the affair. He was from the first fascinated by Aurora von Königsmarck, her breeding, her grace, her high birth, and the romantic history of her famous family appealed to the idle and sensuous young prince, who was a giant in stature, of superb physique and remarkable strength. Like all the German princes of his time he had always imitated the superficial graces and elegances of the magnificent court of Louis XIV, and his first act on entering into his honours was to build and furnish palaces that should be at least passable copies of Versailles.
Family treasures he already possessed in plenty, his revenues were considerable, the resources of his Electorate appeared, at least, inexhaustible. The long reign of his gifted forebears and the brief reign of his reckless brother had left his coffers well filled. The plunder filched by Madame von Rocklitz and her relations was soon retrieved and Frederick Augustus found himself in a favourable position to conquer the hearts of ladies, even of the beauty and rank of Aurora von Königsmarck, and to impress the Empire with his superb taste and prodigal expenditure.
The seduction of the young supplicant was easy, but not to be done in any vulgar or obvious manner. In honour of the fair Swedes the Elector, in accordance with the fashions of the times, held a festival at his hunting palace in Moritzburg. This entertainment was on the most extravagant scale and well suited to be the background to the suit of a prince who had already acquired the reputation of an invincible lover.
Moritzburg was originally a Royal shooting-box built by the great soldier Maurice, which gave the name to the place. It was situate on a rocky island in a large lake near Eisenberg, a few miles outside Dresden.
Frederick Augustus, who shared to the full the fashionable conception that there was no nobler passion for a prince than that of building, had already begun to adorn the island and the castle with every resource of wealth, art and taste.
During the summer, which had now ended for Aurora von Königsmarck in the remote and ancient city of Goslar, she had been the heroine of fairy-tale magnificence in the romantic island that was adorned with statues, fountains, grottoes and all the attractive artificialities of the baroque age, as expressed by 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 their full summer foliage, glidings over the lake in agreeable gondolas, curious pantomimes of Turks and monsters, and at the conclusion of these diversions, apartments of peculiar richness in the hunting-box were provided for the Swedish beauty, who reclined upon a bed of yellow damask adorned with silver Cupids clasping roses. Here the Elector, on his knees, presented her with a nosegay of jewels and declared himself her languishing slave.
In short, the affair was conducted with the greatest elegance and very much in the manner of the French fairy-tales by Charles Perrault and Madame d'Aulnoy, then so fashionable. And the surrender of Aurora was conducted with a dignity and a meekness that amounted to decorum.
Certainly, so far there had been nothing scandalous or sordid about the affair. Aurora received more than the usual tenderness lavished on Royal favourites and had even contrived by tact and charm to win the sufferance of the young Electress, Princess Eberhardina of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, who had proved herself not altogether divorced from the affections of her charming husband by giving him an heir a few weeks before the birth of Aurora's son in Goslar.
These were the memories of Aurora von Königsmarck as she lay in her weakness and loneliness in the obscure comfort of the merchant's house in the remote old city in the Hartz Mountains.
She knew what to call the child; the Elector had no intention of disavowing his son, and he was to be named Maurice, after the stout old warrior who had built the shooting-box on the isle near Eisenberg.
The future looked less agreeable and certainly less stable than the past had been. Aurora had nothing but promises, and she knew what the promises of a prince and a man like Frederick Augustus were worth. She could hardly hope to retain her ascendance over him; for all his frivolous pastimes and romantic love-affairs and fairy-tale like entertainments, she knew well enough that he had a fund of obstinacy, selfishness and lazy vanity that it would be almost impossible for her keen wit to control; the young man was also spoilt by too much power, too much splendour, too much adulation—impossible material for any woman to handle to her own profit.
At present this fickle prince was out of her reach; he had gone to Belgrade to take command of the army of the Emperor in Hungary. There he would be the guest of Joseph, King of the Romans and heir to the Imperial throne, and Aurora suspected that it was more likely than not that when he returned to Dresden he would have a new favourite in his train.
She had reason to smile a little cynically at the result of her mission to the Elector of Saxony. She had not obtained the fortune of her dead, her probably murdered, brother, but as much money as Philip von Königsmarck could have left behind in the hands of the Hamburg merchants had been spent on her entertainment at Moritzburg. While, if her brother had not been returned to her, if she had not even any inkling of his fate, the Elector had given her a son who might very well be another Philip von 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; the Elector's commands were obeyed and the sturdy infant, having no other name but Maurice, was taken at his father's orders by the wet nurse and the attendants to Hamburg. And thus a fortnight after the birth of her son Aurora was again alone.
She was slow in gaining her strength, and this considerably depressed her spirits. Her sumptuous and fickle lover was out of her reach, for ever as she might reasonably fear, and her own destiny and that of her son were equally dubious.
The winter was well advanced and she still remained in seclusion in Goslar, living a dull life that might have seemed one of penance for the frivolous and wanton pleasures that had preceded this monotonous seclusion.
But Aurora was not penitent nor even conscious of wrong-doing. In the corrupt, hurried and adventurous world in which she lived her life appeared not virtuous only, but almost correct. She had never had any lover besides the Elector, and she had won the sufferance, almost the friendship, of the Elector's wife.
Not shame, therefore, but worldly cares, absorbed Aurora von Königsmarck. Her financial affairs were in great confusion and Frederick Augustus, for all his lavishness, was hardly the man to set them right.
But he did not entirely fail her; her worst doubts were set at ease, before the mountain roads became impassable, by the return of the handsome, discreet equipage from Dresden and a letter from the Elector; after some delay she was given the position of coadjutress of the Protestant Abbey of Quedlinburg, an almost regal fief and one that brought with it privileges that had remained unabated since before the Reformation. Quedlinburg had also sufficient revenue to maintain Aurora with decorum and dignity, and to it the Elector added a pension that would provide the means of educating Maurice as the Prince he might have been.
There was, however, no invitation to Aurora to return to Dresden. So she accepted the bounty offered her and left Goslar for 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 here Aurora confessed to a doubt, perhaps even to a suspicion—they were punctually paid. However, she had higher hopes than Quedlinburg and even the resumption of her love-affair with the Elector; and that was the recognition of her Maurice as a son of Frederick Augustus.
The town of Quedlinburg in the eastern Hartz Mountains was larger than Goslar but had some of its ancient imperial splendour, for it had once been a favourite residence of the German Emperors of the Saxon line.
Aurora, again peering from the window of the discreet carriage, saw another fortified town with walls, towers and moat, and on the west the old Castle and Abbey Church that was to be her fief and residence.
In the market-place was a stone figure of Roland, and an air of romance and legend lingered over the old mountain town that had been founded by Henry I, and had once been a fortified town of the Hansa League.
Aurora saw that her residence as Abbess of Quedlinburg was the Castle or Schloss rising from a lofty sandstone rock on the site, an independent convent founded by Mathilda, mother of Otto the Great, nearly a thousand years before Aurora von Königsmarck found her refuge there.
The ancient retreat was lonely, if bleakly magnificent; it did not seem to Aurora as in the same country as Moritzburg or Dresden. It did, however, provide a dignified if melancholy residence; but Aurora had never been a religious woman; she did not appreciate the proximity of the Church, which was over a large burial vault where the sandstone had preserved the bodies of former Abbesses from decay.
The buildings had recently been modernised and they were commodious and comfortable if not of much splendour.
The first part of Aurora von Königsmarck's residence there was marked by a long and painful illness. The beauty, the gaiety, and the high spirits that had captivated Frederick Augustus at Moritzburg were gone for ever; she realised with poignant dismay that she was a sick and feeble woman, her grace and beauty diminished, her spirits sunk.
Her courage was not daunted, and when the Elector returned from the Eastern Campaign Aurora von Königsmarck went to Dresden and presented herself before the hero of the Moritzburg idyll as the mother of his son.
Frederick Augustus was never anything but gracious and charming towards women; but Aurora was fine enough to observe at once that she had lost all favour with him and that he even regarded her with repugnance. To one of his sensuous temperament sickness was repellent. The physical aspects of Aurora's ill- health filled him with disgust. Besides, he had brought with him from Belgrade a lady whose singing had captivated him during a banquet given by the King of the Romans, at which she had performed, clad in nothing but gauze and roses.
The concern of the voluptuous Prince, therefore, was to free himself from Aurora von Königsmarck as quickly and easily as possible; and also, as the unfortunate lady soon discovered, cheaply. She had the truth when she suspected that the revenues from Quedlinburg and the pension for Maurice were most irregularly paid. Neither Frederick Augustus nor his Ministers offered her any help in gathering together her own fortunes, the remnants of the properties still held by the Hamburg bankers who demanded proof of the death of Philip, or of the Königsmarcks scattered all over a Europe then at war.
In spite of these disappointments Aurora behaved herself with dignity, and not without irony put her own grief in the background to condole with the slighted Electress, faced once more with the open infidelity of her husband; sight of the young Prince Augustus, almost exactly the same age as her own Maurice, was another incentive to Aurora to endeavour to secure the future of her boy.
On this point the Elector was easy and prodigal of promises, but impatient of any pressure for the performance of them—Maurice should be educated as a Saxon, a prince, a soldier, a good Lutheran too; his father, despite his gross vices, was staunchly Protestant; and, in his own estimation, religious. A tutor should be provided for the boy, in fact everything that was his due should be given him. And with these carelessly given assurances Aurora had to be content and return to Quedlinburg as soon as she had been confirmed in her appointment as Abbess in 1702.
This was a splendid, if somewhat remote retreat, and Aurora's anxiety was gilded with dignity.
As a secular Abbess of the Protestant Convent, she enjoyed a position of some distinction and a residence comprising more apartments than she could well furnish or staff. But these cool courtyards and cloisters, these quiet chambers, were fitted more to be the background for philosophical discussions or religious meditations than for such thoughts and schemes as agitated the new Abbess.
Distracted by worldly anxieties, the forlorn woman could scarcely have found consolation or entertainment in the loneliness of the old towered, moated town, from the terrace of her residence, nor in the ancient mortuary chapel containing the royal tombs deep in the sandstone rock, nor in the Treasury that contained such curios as the beard combs of Henry I and one of the water-pots that had served at the marriage feast at Cana.
Mountains, basilicas and convents dating from days of imperial splendour bounded the horizon of Aurora von Königsmarck, when she gazed from the windows of the Schloss or paced the walks that gave so wide a prospect of the romantic, haunted scenery of the eastern Hartz mountains, but her inner vision was circumscribed by nervous calculations that had nothing to do with natural splendour or ancient glories.
Fear, anxiety and distress had formed her portion, since, banished to the remote town in the Vorhartz, she had given birth to the son of a gay, licentious and fickle prince. The dark wooded ravines of Germany's northernmost mountains, these cold peaks and deep-sunk mines where fabled dwarfs worked at the task of picking precious metals from granite and sandstone, shut the nymph of Moritzburg away from all that had formed her life, her ambitions, her hopes.
Aurora von Königsmarck was dismayed but not daunted; her task had changed. She had now given up hope of rousing the courts of Europe into enquiring into the fate of her beloved brother, the charming and brilliant Philip. This dark and sordid tragedy would, she now realised, remain for ever obscure, shut away from the knowledge of men, as was Sophia Dorothea in her dreary provincial castle, where her sole occupation was to dream of her romantic youth.
Aurora von Königsmarck's object now was to see that her son had some assured place in the world. She preserved an affection, where a tenderness had taken the place of passion, for Frederick Augustus. The young Elector of Saxony had something beyond and beside his obvious attraction as a Prince, a handsome youth, an athlete, a gracious nobleman, something more than the obvious seduction of the dominant male, crowned and adorned with all worldly attractions set off by a court, a gorgeous background, authority and pageantry. Beneath all this gilded show the young Saxon Prince was a pleasant fellow and one, as the sensitive Aurora soon suspected, not well armoured against Fate. He was one to blaze when the luck was in, but to dim when the luck was out.
For her son, who had been taken from her when he was aged fifteen days, Aurora could have no personal affection, but he was all that was left to her in the way of human relationship save her sister, to whom she was not greatly attached. There was now a male survivor of that family of Königsmarck of which she had been so passionately proud. Her two brothers had died unmarried and childless, and she herself had little prospect of and little wish for marriage or other children.
There remained Maurice, and she had resolved from the first that he was not to be merely another of the nameless bastards of a careless prince. She had her claims and she enforced them.
Frederick Augustus, always good-natured when his interests were not crossed, was willing to admit that Aurora of the Moritzburg festival had been a high-born maiden, delicate and pure, not merely a tawdry mistress to be taken up, caressed, and cast down. The Elector, therefore, was prodigal of both promises and expenses; another charge on his treasury was but little to him and Aurora had no difficulty in obtaining assurances that her son should be as handsomely educated as the young Prince Electoral, heir to Saxony, who had been born within a few weeks of her own confinement at Goslar.
Moreover, Frederick Augustus was inclined to eye Aurora's child with favour, even with a touch of Nordic sentimentality. Had not the gallant Philip von Königsmarck been of his own acquaintance? Might the world not see in this robust infant the resurrection of the lost gallant, a true heir, not only to the famous Moritz of Saxony but to the formidable Otto von Königsmarck? The easy Elector saw no difficulties in the situation, but Aurora had her own private bitterness. She had hoped, perhaps, that her wit, her dignity, and what passed in that age for her goodness of heart and elevation of soul would have made a lasting impression upon her only lover. She had to discover that he had merely desired her for the beauty and charm that had vanished with her health. On the boy, then, she concentrated all her ambition and all her art. But it was not considered expedient that she should live with her son; the curious decorum of the period, while recognising and condoning the fault, would not have it openly acknowledged; the Abbess of Quedlinburg could only supervise her son's education from a distance.
This she did thoroughly, keeping up a careful correspondence with the tutors who were set over the child as soon as he was four or five years of age.
The first was a M. Lorne, a Saxon gentleman who was well qualified for his post. He was soon joined by a M. d'Alençon, a Frenchman, brother of an officer garrisoned at Dresden; Aurora von Königsmarck had insisted on a French preceptor; French was the language of princes as well as the political tongue of Europe.
The Abbess of Quedlinburg passed the next few years in continual anxiety, frequently leaving her retreat in the Hartz Mountains for visits to Dresden, to Leipzig, to Hamburg, to all the places where her funds or the funds of the Königsmarcks were invested, trying with what feminine dexterity she possessed to put some order into affairs, petitioning with delicacy and pride the 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 the friendship of her former lover, but though his attitude was always generous she could not mistake the repulsion he showed towards her faded person or ignore the succession of favourites who occupied his time if not his heart. She was sent, in 1703, on a mission to Charles XII who refused to see her, leaving her the chance of saying that she was the only person on whom he had turned his back.
Maurice received a princely education in the literal sense of the word. He was taught what it was considered useful for a prince to know—his native language and French, geography, the use of the globes, celestial and terrestrial, the names of the principal towns of Europe, and the names, titles, genealogy of the Princes of Europe. He was instructed in all the matters that his tutors considered suitable for one of his rank—fables and stories, founded, at least, upon history, of great men who had achieved great actions, of warriors and leaders who had covered themselves with glory. He learnt some of the heroic speeches put by Racine in the mouths of his lofty and impossible characters.
The boy's sports were also princely, that is to say, he learned to ride, to fence, to dance. As he was healthy, strong, eager to excel and had the best of teachers he soon became proficient in all these exercises. He had occupations of his own, equally satisfying to his governors who saw in them traces of his famous ancestors.
He loved to dominate his small companions, and as his lessons and the talk of his teachers were always of war and heroics, it was at war and heroics that the child played, always seizing, by right both of his rank and of his strength, the place of leader in these rough games, and engaging in realistic combats from which he usually emerged with his clothes torn, his face scratched and bruised, his temper excited to fury.
The spiritual and sentimental sides of his education were not neglected. As soon as he could understand anything, he was told that he was Count Maurice, son of the Elector, Frederick Augustus. He also understood that his mother was not the Electress, but Aurora von Königsmarck, the tender Abbess of Quedlinburg who wrote to him so frequently and with such exquisite interest in his welfare, and whom he addressed as "Ma chčre Cadan."
To encourage his softer feelings he was presented with a medallion, on one side of which was painted, in the finest style of the miniaturist's art, the delicate features of Aurora, as they had been when she was at the height of her charms, with roses and pearls in her silky blonde locks, and on the other the robust, comely features of Frederick Augustus, crowned with the lustrous curls of a monstrous periwig.
The child was taught that there was something very noble in such parentage and that he might hope to receive great benefits as well as to inherit remarkable gifts from the splendid Prince who had conceived him.
It could not be disguised from a worldly child of ten years of age, that the baton-sinister on the arms of Saxony had a decidedly unfortunate meaning, and Maurice had very early his fits 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 anxious mother.
Of home life he had none and the women in his existence were confined to his laundress, his chambermaid and his cook.
Yet the Elector was not wholly indifferent to his promising son. He received with some complacency the flattering reports of the governors who wrote in this tone of their lively young pupil: "His glance is bold, his face handsome, his forehead high, his walk is like that of the Elector. His ear is very good and when he hears music he beats the time quite correctly. This shows a good character. He has given proof of taste and of tact..."
And as if these were not sufficient virtues for a child of seven years of age (as he was when this was written), the tutors added that the young Maurice had a gentle temperament, thought much of honour, spoke well and easily, had a keen observation, was frank, loyal and affectionate though occasionally given to melancholia.
This brilliant boy was kept well informed of the history of Europe in as far as this consisted of the exploits of kings and princes. He had been born in the year before that which, by the signing of the Peace of Ryswick had given a brief peace to a Europe that had been for so long distracted by wars of aggression, ambition and self-defence.
That year, 1697, had been of great importance to Frederick Augustus; Elector of Saxony since 1691, he had joined the Allies against the French but, refusing to serve under Louis of Baden on the Rhine, had been sent by the Imperial Court of Vienna against the Turks to assist in that siege of Belgrade that had occupied him when Maurice was born.
John Sobieski had died, and the throne of Poland had thus become vacant; the Kings of Poland were elected by the Diet, therefore the throne went to the highest bidder. The prize had attracted and dazzled Frederick Augustus. After a year's strenuous intrigues and expenditure of millions of ducats of Saxon treasure in Warsaw, where he had to compete with the French claimant, the brilliant and amiable François Louis, Prince de Conti, the Saxon Prince had been elected King of Poland. He had been helped not only by the treasures of his ancestors and by the skill of his emissary, Count Flemming, but by the powerful aid of Peter the Great, Czar of all the Russias, who saw in him a useful puppet, perhaps a cat's paw.
There had been spiritual as well as material sacrifices to be made; the Elector, hereditary champion of Lutheranism in Germany, had forsworn the Protestant faith and made public confession of Romanism at Baden on Whit-Sunday 1697.
The Polish adventure proved altogether unfortunate for Frederick Augustus. It revealed what might never have been discovered had he remained a German prince, that he was incompetent, lazy in everything save backstairs intrigues and the frivolous pastimes of a corrupt society.
The Saxon King's physical gifts, his notable strength, his brave appearance and fashionable attire, though he nearly fainted with shame at the costume he was forced to wear at his coronation, pleased the Poles at first.
That he was incapable of exercising any of the arts of government, and had no Ministers to supply the deficiency would have proved perhaps defects not greatly troublesome to his new subjects, for the Poles were used to chaos and even anarchy in their affairs, and, for his part, Frederick Augustus asked for nothing better than to be allowed to live his amiable, opulent life of gracious leader of fashion and generous art patron. He had already dignified Dresden with splendid buildings, adorned and furnished in sumptuous taste; he was prepared to do the same in Poland; he had a child's pleasure in his new dignity. It sounded well to be termed the King Frederick Augustus, money was plentiful and flatterers numerous.
The monarch was, however, soon involved, despite his own inclination, in a war with Sweden, into which he was drawn as an ally of the Czar, who had wrested south Poland from the Sultan. A wanton and ill-considered attack on Sweden roused the young King Charles XII. This sovereign, who had been despised on account of both his youth and his inexperience by both Peter and Augustus, proved, most unfortunately for both Czar and King, to be a fanatic patriot and soldier endowed with military genius, remarkable powers of endurance, and that ferocious enthusiasm which inspires nations to perform seemingly impossible feats.
In the first year of the new century Charles of Sweden advanced on the Düna, where he defeated the Polish and Saxon armies and forced Frederick Augustus to abandon the capital, Warsaw. After another defeat at Pultowa, Augustus abandoned the kingdom that he had enjoyed only three years and returned alarmed and discomfited to Dresden.
Charles XII, then the hero of the North and admired and feared all over Europe, caused Stanislas Leczinski to be elected King of Poland in July 1704. Augustus had taken an oath of abdication, but still continued to call himself and consider himself King of Poland; this barren title was all that he had obtained from exhausting intrigues and the expenditure of nearly all his immense fortune.
These were the particular affairs of Europe that occupied the mind of Maurice until his tenth year. They had their practical effect upon his own career; his tutors were forced to take him from place to place as the tide of war flowed here and there; the little party fled to Breslau, to Utrecht, to Leipzig, to The Hague, where Maurice and his household resided in furnished houses on such money as his distracted mother could contrive to send for his support.
He naturally imbibed from those about him a keen hatred for his father's enemies, who were incidentally causing him so much humiliation and discomfort. In particular the child's fury was directed against Charles XII and the Swedes and on one occasion in Holland he attacked with his fists two strangers whom he saw in the street and who were reported to him to be Swedish.
Dutch society was then one of the most opulent and elegant in the world. The great King Stadtholder, William III of Orange, who had been the linch-pin of the affiance against France that Frederick Augustus had joined, had lately died, and his successor to the British throne had appointed her most brilliant general and statesman, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, to be her plenipotentiary at The Hague.
The stately Englishman with the classic features, weak eyes and silken manners, resided in the beautiful house on the Vyverberg, where another famous general, Count Maurice of Nassau, had formerly lived.
Marlborough, who was a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire with the title of Hindelheim, was Commander-in-Chief of the army of the States General as well as Generalissimo of the British forces, and his constant presence at The Hague gave a magnificent lustre to the ancient, patrician and comely town.
Into the society, English, German and French, that made The Hague brilliant, the exiled Saxon child was welcomed. Apart from his royal birth (he was now a king's son), he was in himself interesting and accomplished.
The boy had matured early in this exciting and stormy atmosphere, the background of which was two wars—that of the Polish succession, and that of the Spanish succession. The whole of Europe was engaged in one or other of these incoherent and miserable conflicts, and, placed as he was, Maurice could not do other than long to engage himself in the ruinous struggles that were represented to him as so heroic and splendid.
A struggle of another and more sordid kind occupied those responsible for him; the harried Frederick Augustus ceased to send supplies for his son's maintenance; Aurora von Königsmarck had to take the costs of his poor establishment on to her own shoulders. The distraction of the Polish war had ended her hopes of settling her own affairs. Neither the revenues of Quedlinburg nor her private pension was paid. She had to humiliate herself by continual solicitations of her one-time lover. Augustus II had other things to think of than paying the three thousand dollars he had promised for the education of his illegitimate son, fruit of 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 the Jews of Hamburg and Leipzig. When she had no more treasures to pawn she ventured once more to approach the court of Dresden for means whereby to redeem these pledges of a long-dead love, as she continued to call the Moritzburg episode. She did not receive any reply. General Count Flemming was the Minister of Frederick Augustus and her enemy; James Henry, Count and Field-Marshal, came of a noble Pomeranian family; his uncle, Heine Henry, had distinguished himself in the Saxon service, and Count Flemming had been early in the confidence of Frederic Augustus. Shrewd, able, extremely industrious at business and magnificent in pleasure, it was largely to the address and exertions of Flemming that his master owed the Crown of Poland. For, as emissary of Saxony in Warsaw, he had outbidden and outfaced the Abbe de Polignac, who represented the Prince de Conti, at every turn.
Maurice and his tutors were meanwhile reduced in their expensive Dutch hotel to a strict economy, often to little more than bread or soup; de Lorne and d'Alençon at last left their unpaid and troublesome charge and were succeeded by a Dutch officer, M. Stoterogen.
Maurice began to show qualities that were very out of place in his dubious and miserable condition of life. Apart from wild pranks, an ardour for street fights and for duck-shooting on the Dutch meres, which showed the brutal, dominating side of his character, he began to discover a great love of finery and of all kinds of extravagances, of everything that glittered or glowed. And though he thought nothing of tearing to pieces in some mimic battle the clothes that his tutor found it so difficult to procure, one of his greatest pleasures was to hang round his neck the handsome diamond that in happier times his father had sent him and that he refused to sell or pawn.
With the opening of the campaign in 1708 the incoherent fortunes of Augustus II took on a brighter turn. Sweden and Russia held each other's attention and the King-Elector, as he still termed himself, entered into a treaty with the Allies, which seemed to promise a return of some of his lost prestige and honour.
While the armies of Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough were moving towards Oudenarde and Lille and the stout Saxon troops were marching towards the Rhine, Augustus sent to M. Crasmar, then Maurice's tutor (he succeeded M. Stoterogen), and asked him to bring the boy to Dresden.
The harassed monarch's languid interest in this child of a long-forgotten idyll was heightened when he considered the robust lad 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 of flatterers. A neck and shoulders already massive supported a heavy-jowled head, as compact in the skull and as narrow in the temples as the Farnese Hercules. The nose was short and thick, the eyes prominent and double-lidded, the brows straight and heavy, the upper lip was too long and too straight, the lower lip protruding above the heavy jaw lent a ferocious expression of pugnacity. A high forehead gave an air of candour and sparkling, lively eyes, intelligence and vivacity to the child's rather brutal physiognomy. Moreover, the mouth had a humorous if self- confident curl.
Augustus II (the title commonly used by the King-Elector) was weary and disillusioned by the reversal of his fortunes, but he had learnt nothing from the chain of circumstances that had exposed his incompetence to Europe; he took no blame to himself and could not see his own mistakes. He brightened, therefore, at the sight of his son, in whom he thought he saw another self—most of all he was pleased at the boy's physical strength—a young giant, one who ought to be able to perform prodigies of valour and endurance!
The faded man examined the eager boy on conventional lines and the well-trained lad had all his answers pat. He knew what a prince of the type of his father meant by the words "Honour, glory, courage."
Maurice was eager to be a soldier; in all sincerity he longed for all the trophies and rewards that might fall to the lot of a Eugene or a Marlborough.
Augustus II patted the ardent youngster on the back and sent for General von Schulenburg. Maurice showed lively satisfaction at the sound of this name; it was that of one of the best soldiers of the day, the worthy antagonist of Charles XII, the future saviour of Venice, the companion-in-arms of Prince Eugene.
Johann Mathias, Count von Schulenburg, was a mercenary soldier of the better type, a man something after the same mould as his fellow-countryman, Marshal von Schomberg, so warmly described by admiring Protestants as eminent for virtues, polished manner and bravery.
Count von Schulenburg had began his military career in the Danish service and had since fought under John Sobieski in Poland, then from 1704 he had been in command, nominally under Frederick Augustus, of the Saxon troops; assisting Russia against Sweden, his present position was that of commander of an army of nearly 10,000 Poles in the service of the States-General. He was approaching his fiftieth year, ten years older than the King- Elector, a man of grave presence, austere manners, refinement and intelligence, all of which admirable attributes might appear strange in a man who was little better than a soldier who hired out his sword. But men like von Schulenburg were not uncommon in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The young Maurice was delighted at being put in the charge of such a famous and applauded general and, if possible, still more delighted at being freed for ever as he believed from the jurisdiction of a tutor or governor. In the midst of the excitement attendant on his preparation for departure he found time, however, to write to his mother the joyous news that the King had ordered Count von Schulenburg to take him to the camp—the scene of war. Maurice was equipped with a Saxon uniform, high boots, full-skirted coat, sash, sword and periwig and again brought before his Majesty; Augustus II received him with complacency and invited him to his table, where he entertained his officers and where he watched with genuine satisfaction his twelve-year-old son drinking heavily. The boy would make a good soldier if well trained, the easy father decided; he could already swagger, tipple, boast and he had a torso like a young bull.
Von Schulenburg was given his instructions, Maurice the brief command:
"To test how hardy you are, you must walk on foot to Flanders."
Maurice knew what this meant; he was being given a commission in the infantry. He summoned up the courage to stammer out his request for a pair of colours in that infinitely more attractive branch of the army—the cavalry.
Augustus II disdained to answer this presumptuous request and addressing Schulenburg, bade him see that the young soldier—"whose shoulders are certainly broad enough," added the King drily—carried all his own equipment during the march. Neither through favour nor through bribery was he to avoid any of the more arduous duties of the only career fit for the son of a King.
Augustus II then parted from his son without any word of advice, favour or comfort. He had examined the tutor as to the progress Maurice had made in his studies. M. Crasmar had dutifully repeated his orthodox phrases of the gay, fierce, robust young giant. No matters of sentiment or piety were raised between father and son. Maurice had been trained as a Lutheran, but his father had not asked him about the state of his soul; the subject was a delicate one. Maurice had been strictly bred in a hereditary and prized faith, and the spectacle of his father's abjuring that faith for the sake of a crown might have been likely to encourage native cynicism in the soul of one who seemed a born materialist. The boy's thoughts were wholly of this world at least when he took his place beside von Schulenburg in the berline 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's thoughts were more occupied with the handsome equipage, a present from 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 nothing but a tutor under another name. Maurice grimaced at this threat of control, but recovered his spirits when on the plain of Lutzen he was received into the Saxon army with the rank of Ensign and given a pair of Saxon colours.
The Count von Schulenburg tried to improve the impressive occasion by drawing the lad aside after the excitement of the review and showing him the tomb of the great Lion of the North—Gustavus Adolphus—predecessor of that Swedish king who had been Frederick Augustus's most dangerous enemy. The professional soldier who had passed his life among scenes of anarchy, chaos, and misery had preserved some ideals. He advised the young Ensign to be as severe, as just, as gentle as had been Gustavus Adolphus. For the rest, he was to practise absolute obedience to his military superiors, to be always and to all people unwaveringly courteous.
"This," emphasised the Count, "will be an indestructible foundation of your power—through that you will dominate men."
He added that the other qualities necessary for a successful career would reveal themselves to Maurice "as the presents of Nature or the fruits of experience."
This exciting day was concluded with a banquet given by the officers of the regiment to the son of their King, where the wine was abundant, the talk free and the air one of lusty bravado.
Maurice had no sleep that night; as soon as the banquet was ended the camp broke up; it was January and piercingly cold. The road towards Flanders was covered with frozen snow, a wind like a razor cleared the fumes of the merrymaking from the heads of the Saxons.
The regiment to which Maurice was attached was in the First Battalion; he took his place with the Colonel, M. Preuss, and the other officers. For the first few miles of the hard bleak way the boy marched easily, when he began to droop with fatigue the Colonel helped him by placing at the head of the column a bagpipe player and some soldiers who sang marching tunes. However, the severe cold, the rough road, the weight of the bayonet on his shoulders, his blistered feet in the harsh boots began at last to tell even on the stout frame of Maurice. He stumbled and sagged at the side of the Colonel. But when a horse was brought up he refused to take advantage of the preference accorded to him because of his age and rank and continued to march with the infantry 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 the Allies commanded by Prince Eugene of Savoy and the Duke of Marlborough, whose haggard, beautiful face with the narrowed short-sighted eyes and misleading expression of lofty nobility was familiar to Maurice from his childish days in The Hague.
Lille, a citadel of considerable importance with a garrison commanded by Maréchal de Boufflers, was the objective of the Allies. Warfare then consisted mainly in taking and re-taking forts and cities; very little else was regarded. An entire campaign would turn on the siege of one citadel, the actual possession of which made perhaps little difference to the issue of the war. Most of the great battles of the period were fought for the possession of one of these coveted cities.
The country that Maurice saw about him when with curious and eager eyes he observed the Allied troops making trenches before the elaborate fortifications of Lille had been devastated by a long war, broken only by a few years respite after the Treaty of Ryswick.
This war had commenced with the aggression of Louis XIV in 1672, when, eager to use the magnificent and efficient army that Louvois had created and to spend the money that Colbert had raised by economy and talent, he entered upon a brutal and senseless war of aggression with the United Provinces. Roused, once and forever, by this invasion, without provocation or excuse, of the Netherlands, William of Orange had patiently, throughout years of disappointment and fatigue, knit together the great Alliance that, constantly augmented and renewed, now, after its originator's death, faced the decaying forces of France who no longer had a Turenne or a Luxemburg to lead them.
Louis XIV was still on the throne of the Bourbons, but he was old, disappointed, feeble, almost bankrupt, his country exhausted, his finances in a desperate state. Already the rumour was going round the garrison of Lille, and other French strongholds in Flanders, that the King had begun negotiations for a peace—one more humiliating in its terms for France than had been Ryswick, one perhaps that the aged monarch would not find so easy to flout.
The French, however, arrogant, overbearing and vainglorious in the intoxicating splendour of their long-drawn out triumph, showed finer qualities in the time of their defeat. The inexhaustible and unconquerable spirit of the nation showed in the large number of volunteers, who strengthened the thin ranks of the regular soldiers serving under the Maréchal de Villars, who attacked Eugene and Marlborough when they advanced towards Malplaquet after the capture of Lille.
This battle proved a victory for the Allies, but the highly prized quality, glory, was allowed to rest more on the side of the vanquished. The French under Villars made a brilliant retreat and took with them more colours than they had lost. They had fought at a disadvantage, having been without food or sleep for twenty-four hours, and numbered 80,000 against the 120,000 of the Allies.
Boufflers was able to write the pompous phrase that was not untruthful: "Sire, never has a misfortune been accompanied with more glory."
Maurice was in the midst of this battle with his line of Saxon infantry. He smelt the smoke, saw the balls and bombs, the dead, the dying, heard the groans of man and horse. The boy of 13 was neither alarmed nor squeamish; timidity and delicacy were not in his composition.
The battle went according to tradition: it was one of the lessons of his history books come alive. The charging cavalry, the less dashing advance of the infantry, the dragging up and discharging of the artillery, hand-to-hand struggles for a pair of colours, for victory, for life itself.
The bloody day over, he was complimented by his superior officer on his courage and zeal. A good report should be sent to his royal father.
The Saxon boy, in spite of bravado and flamboyant vanities, was a born soldier and possessed magnificent personal courage. On this day of hideous carnage he received the adulation of the accomplished, brilliant Marlborough and the praise of the intrepid and cool Eugene, both judges of warlike qualities, though both perhaps prejudiced in favour of the son of Augustus II.
Maurice had also already acquired a professional insensibility that appeared brutality in one of his age. At the end of the combat in which twenty thousand men were slaughtered and as many wounded, a combat in a cause that was of no personal interest or matter to him, he was able to exclaim with the unspoilt pleasure in his achievement and the victory of his side that he was "well content with the day's work."
Count von Schulenburg, tutor and mentor of the young Ensign, marked him with great approval. Maurice was fortunate enough to be of the right type, for his surroundings, his chosen profession and the period in which he lived. These veterans admired the fortitude with which this high-spirited and ambitious youth had directed his attention to the profession of arms and to nothing else since he had been in the cradle. They too in their young days had derived no pleasure or profit from the studies directed by pedantic scholars; they too had wilfully insisted on indulging a love for kettle-drums, pistols, swords, horses, and marching with youthful companions in the troops of soldiers.
Maurice was greatly applauded for his ignorance of everything but manly exercise and the rudiments of the science of war.
The boy, too, possessed some of those qualities that made Marlborough one of the most fascinating and successful men of his age, something of that grace and tact, taste and generosity, which exercised by Augustus II had made Dresden one of the most luxurious courts in a luxurious Europe.
After Lille and Malplaquet, Count Maurice, as he termed himself, might consider that he was a professional soldier. At 13 years of age he had been in the earthworks with the most famous, glittering generals of the day, panting for his share in the perils and glories of war, the pastime and opportunity of princes; all those around him considered it but natural that the attention of the high-spirited and ambitious youth should be directed to military glory and nothing else.
There had been war in Europe in the lifetime of all men living and in that of their fathers before them. For generations professional soldiers of every rank and every nation had found fame, power and wealth in quarrels with which they were little concerned and in fighting for causes in which they had no interest.
The balance of power in Europe and the ancient struggle between France and the rest of Europe were still, when Maurice trudged to Lille, being fought out in the long leisurely campaigns that the people had begun to take for granted and that the aristocracy undertook as if they were hunting parties and that appeared as a usual occupation not lacking in gain or excitement.
The tedium of this slow warfare was relieved by considerable licence and loose conduct, by continual diversions of every kind, by the lofty pleasure of personal encounter with the enemy and by the hope of definite victories with their accompanying honours and rewards.
All the armies were served with all the luxuries to be obtained in the capitals of Europe, and at the first touch of cold they went into winter quarters in the largest city available, postponing the war and living in idleness until the following spring.
It occurred to no one that these wars were futile and wasteful; they were accepted as part of existence and absorbed a vast number of men, many of whom would have detested any other existence; men who were bred to and existed for war; men who loved the camp, the march, the siege, and who were only uneasy at the prospect of peace and only at a loss when away from the theatre of action.
It was customary for all youths of noble birth to become soldiers, and it was considered almost the only profession worthy of the finest blood. It was then a matter of course that the young Maurice, eagerly commanding in Flanders, should decide to become a professional soldier and this without any thought of why or when or for whom he should exercise his prowess.
The same might have been said of most of the generals of that age; those who were fighting to keep their crowns on their heads or their provinces together were the only captains fighting with a sincere attachment to a cause. The others fought for the sake of fighting and the possible rewards of possible success.
Maurice had neither crown nor land to contend for; apart from the bounty of his father he possessed nothing and as the illegitimate son of a king he knew that to himself only could he look for the advancement his ambitious character so passionately craved.
It was decided then by all who knew the lad that he was well suited for the showy career he had chosen so early and so definitely; moreover, it was noted with approval that he distinguished himself not only in the exercise of arms but proved equally apt in those jovial and tender distractions that have always eased the warrior's labours, showing that he had inherited the romantic and voluptuous nature of Augustus II together with that monarch's robust constitution and admirable address.
It was noted, a pretty story runs, that when the Allies were before Tournay the young Saxon, when dining in the tent of Prince Eugene, was attracted by the budding beauty of a girl from Tournay—one Rosetta Dubusan, who had come to the camp to sell 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 de Saxe—as his dubious title ran—followed the sweet pedlar from the tent and recompensed her for her disappointment by an accomplished tribute to her charm, for the son of Aurora von Königsmarck already possessed the arts of a successful lover.
The little maiden, who was his own age, was as innocently won as wooed, and the idyll continued to the sound of Boufflers's desperate fire and the fierce reply from the Allies' trenches.
And when after the fall of the citadel the army retired to Brussels, Maurice, like a seasoned soldier, enjoyed his leisure with his little mistress, whom he now boldly snatched from the guardianship of her father.
The little love-story continued throughout the campaign; when they were separated tender letters in the true romantic and sentimental style of the period were exchanged, for, although children in years, the lovers were accomplished in all the ruses and expedients of their voluptuous and corrupt world. Maurice already knew how to contrive matters so that Rosetta could go into decorous retreat in Brussels for the birth of his child, just as his father had contrived that he should be born in the respectable seclusion of Goslar.
The daughter of the young soldier and the little lace-maker was named Julie and died a few months after her birth. Soon after, the unfortunate Rosetta was enclosed in a convent by her father, and neither Maurice nor anyone else ever heard anything more of the first love of the hero who was to have so many loves.
Despite the air of licence given to his career by this episode, Maurice, in winter quarters in Brussels or in the camp with Eugene and Marlborough was pursuing his studies under the careful direction of Count von Schulenburg.
He learnt first military discipline; to rise at six o'clock to the sound of the bugle, to spend half an hour upon a precise and elaborate toilet, to say his prayers, to refresh himself at regular intervals with cups of tea. The morning was given up to studies—history, French, arithmetic, military science. Two hours were allowed for the midday repast, then there were lessons in dancing, fencing and horsemanship.
Von Schulenburg saw that an hour-glass was always on the desk of Maurice so that he might mark how the precious time was passing and that several moral maxims in French, Latin, and German were always before his eyes, hanging on the wall above his desk, in his tent, or his billet.
These moral sentences the young soldier learnt by heart and repeated them to the Count every week.
He continued to be regarded favourably by the elegant Marlborough, who called him "the youth who did not know what danger was," and by the yellow-faced Eugene who, with less geniality, rather drily warned him that foolhardiness was not the same as courage.
Von Schulenburg's advice was loftier—"Avoid bad company. Remember you are a man of honour. Honour the King and fear God."
Amid all these excitements, Maurice had kept in touch with his mother, who was again at the Court of Dresden, endeavouring to attract the attention of Augustus II, for financial, not amorous reasons. This monarch had returned to Warsaw after the battle of Pultowa, the Pope having absolved him from his oath of abdication. He might again call himself king, but it was only a shadowy royalty he enjoyed; he was in reality the vassal of Russia and left all business and all real power to his minister, General Count Flemming, a bold and able man who had, however, a reputation for ambition, cunning, avarice and parsimony. This minister was the avowed enemy of Madame von Königsmarck, who had endeavoured to undermine him with the King.
When she had an opportunity, and this was rare enough, of speaking to Augustus II, she complained of the harsh exactions of the unpopular minister, of the country's groaning under his taxes and of the barbarous fashion in which he raised them.
She was not, perhaps, altogether disinterested, because it had been Flemming's influence that had prevented her pension and that of Maurice from being regularly paid. But whether her complaints were just or no (and Flemming was considered by many a patriot and an upright man), they made no impression on Augustus.
This prince was then in the prime of life but already weary in mind and body, exhausted by excesses, disillusioned by misfortune, bored, melancholy.
He spent his time in searching for diversions, frivolous, gross or stupid, to amuse the vacant days that had become insupportable. His charming good looks and his superb strength had alike left him. His continued sensual indulgence had ruined even his superb constitution; his face had become bloated, his figure unwieldy. He viewed the world through the veil of disgust produced by satiety in every vice, a ruined digestion and an empty heart.
With such a man Aurora von Königsmarck, herself an invalid, could do nothing. At last he refused even to see her, and when Maurice reached Saxony his mother had been banished from Dresden to Quedlinburg.
The King, however, received his son with some pleasure; an exploit of personal bravery already adorned the young soldier's rising fame.
No sooner had the Allies secured Tournay than they hurried to reinforce Mons, threatened by Maréchal Villars. A large body of horse under the Prince of Hesse-Cassel was dispatched for this purpose and among his cavaliers was Maurice de Saxe already, at 13 years of age, an accomplished soldier who had had horses killed under him and felt bullets whistle through his thick blond hair.
He now crossed the river with a drawn sword in his hand and a foot soldier sharing his saddle—the very picture of an eighteenth-century Mars, one of those heroes with flying curls and cravat, gold-laced coat and embroidered sash, whom the baroque taste of the period represented on a thousand florid canvases, crowned by a plump Venus and attended by simpering nymphs.
This was the sort of action that Augustus II could understand and admire. He entertained and feted his son and sent him to Riga for the sole purpose of making the acquaintance of the great Peter, Czar of all the Russias, and presented him with the coveted Order of the White Eagle of Poland; his father raised his rank to that of Aide-adjutant before he sent Maurice back to the bloody field where Marlborough and his motley forces were still engaged in the tedious task of battering down the stubborn pride of France.
While he was thus engaged, Count Flemming had succeeded in working upon the laziness and apathy of the King to cast Aurora von Königsmarck into disgrace, which her son to a certain extent shared.
Augustus II was too flexible and too easy to withstand the importunities of his formidable Minister and Maurice found himself for no good reason banished to Meissen. Neither this town nor Quedlinburg, stately as they might be, spelt anything but tedium for Maurice; he soon escaped from there and spent his winters amid the elegant festivity of Dresden and his summers at the camps, first, in Flanders, then, in Pomerania, where Augustus II, as King of Poland, had been obliged by an old alliance to march to the assistance of the Czar, then attacked by the Sultan of Turkey at the instance of the indomitable Charles XII of Sweden.
In this war Maurice displayed uncommon resolution and heroism and his gratified father rewarded him by raising for him a troop of horse. He eagerly accepted and drilled and exercised with a delight that showed him to be no mere knight-errant but a considerable commander with marked talents for organisation and discipline. He preferred the choosing of men and horses, the instructing of men and officers, to all the winter delights of Dresden, and was impatient until he could rush his troops to Bremen and test their mettle in the obstinate fight of Gabusch where, however, despite the valiant young Colonel's efforts the day was gained by the terrible Swedes.
The next occupation of young Maurice was to recruit his beloved regiment that had suffered severely in this fierce engagement, and this task, anxiously fulfilled, took him a year during which he permitted himself no amusement but a few trifling amorous adventures too transient to be called love-affairs and too light to be called distractions.
In 1711, Augustus II had formally acknowledged him and given him a small estate. In 1713 the peace of Utrecht put an end to the war in Flanders; Maurice Comte de Saxe was 17 years old and in 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 Count Flemming, and that Maurice's fortunes were more than ever dubious now that there was no war in which he could earn wealth, power, and distinction, looked about for a wealthy heiress for him to marry.
She had achieved one great satisfaction, when two years previously her son had been recognised by Augustus II and given, if not royal rank and legitimate status, yet one raised above that of mere casual bastardy.
He had also been presented by his father with the property of Skoehlen, which represented six thousand écus of revenue; Aurora was proud to know that he was entitled to call himself son of a king—in truth Count Maurice of Saxony. But this seemed the limit of his father's generosity; Aurora believed that nothing more was to be obtained from that 'quarter, though Maurice had distinguished himself fighting beside his father in the East, where his cavalry regiment that he had commanded since the age of sixteen years had done good service at the battle of Stab.
A wealthy wife. That, in the opinion of Aurora von Königsmarck, anxious and harassed as she was, was the only means of consolidating the fortunes of the Comte de Saxe. She thought, too, so little did she know her own son, that not only his fortunes but his character might be greatly improved by marriage.
She did not see much of him, but she kept in touch with his movements and he did little that was not reported to her. She was alarmed at his dissipation, his extravagance and his idleness. He took no account at all of the smallness of his revenues, of the paucity of his resources, but spent as royally as if he was indeed a prince.
Disheartened by the peace that had meant the disbanding of his beloved regiment to which he had given all his time and attention (he recruited the men and selected the officers himself) the young soldier was, at 17 years of age, disillusioned and frustrated.
His sole hope of the active, authoritative life he desired lay in the chance of another war. But for the moment, oddly enough, there was no war, the Peace of Utrecht having brought some measure of repose to Europe, while the strange and stormy figure of Charles XII was no longer greatly troubling either the Czar or the King-Elector.
"The Comte de Saxe," wrote Aurora sadly to a confidante, "is fast sinking into a state where he will lose not only his manners but his reputation. He can only live by means of loans and when these come to an end he will be in a state of poverty and exposed to all manner of unworthy temptations. What can the end be but despair!"
If Aurora von Königsmarck had thought more deeply, she would have seen that a marriage also could only end in despair, when the bride had been selected solely for her wealth and when the groom 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 the gifts or virtues that might make domestic existence supportable.
However, Aurora von Königsmarck's chief object was money. Where could it be found, and how large a treasure might be obtained by the bait of her son's birth, presence and prospects?
Augustus II, daily sinking deeper into the lassitude produced by physical exhaustion, took at first no interest in the settlement of his son, and the drab intrigue fell to Aurora von Königsmarck.
She selected as Maurice's bride an heiress named Johanna Victoria, sole child of a provincial nobleman, Ferdinand Adolph Loeben. This gentleman, though not of the highest rank, possessed one of the largest and most fertile estates in Saxony, and though his money at first came from the land, he had, by prudent loans and investments, increased it, until it was a fortune that had caused many ambitious matchmakers to cast longing eyes on the young Johanna Victoria.
This young lady had soon been disposed of; when she was aged 8 years, in 1706, she had been betrothed to Comte Henry Frederick de Friesen. While this gentleman was waiting for his betrothed to become of marriageable age, the prize was snatched from him; M. Loeben died and his widow married a M. Gersdorff, who seemed to have espoused the mother in the hope of obtaining a hold on the fortunes of the daughter.
This he soon succeeded in doing. The contract of M. Friesen was broken under the excuse that the death of M. Loeben had made it invalid and M. Gersdorff secured Johanna Victoria's fortune for his own family by contracting her in 1707 to his nephew, the Lieutenant Gersdorff.
A betrothal, however, was not considered sufficient safeguard, for Comte de Friesen was pressing his claim to the coveted heiress. Uncle and nephew, therefore, contrived an elopement. The child was taken to Neuendorf in Silesia, married to the younger Gersdorff 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 had overreached themselves. Comte de Friesen went to Augustus II with his legitimate complaint.
The scandalous rapacity of all the parties concerned in this affair was considered, even by the easy-going King-Elector, somewhat of a disgrace to his court. No kind of gloss could be put on the conduct of any of the parties who had arranged the hurried, clandestine marriage of the child-heiress in Silesia.
Augustus II kept the affair on the tapis for some time, partly through indifference and laziness, partly because he did not know how to decide the matter best for his own credit and advantage.
At the same time Aurora von Königsmarck was plaguing him to find an heiress for his son. Combining, therefore, honour with profit, Augustus II commanded Madame Gersdorff to come to Dresden.
He then roundly accused her of selling her daughter to her second husband's nephew in order that the three of them might divide 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 was forbidden to interfere in the least in the affairs of the heiress, and his nephew only escaped a severe punishment by solemnly renouncing all claim to Johanna Victoria.
There remained Comte de Friesen with his lawful claim to placate. The King-Elector gave him a handsome indemnity and sent him about his business.
Then, after a short interval, which Johanna Victoria, taken from her mother's care, spent in the charge of an easy court lady—Madame Trützschler—Augustus II announced his intention 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 trouble over this business and had reason to congratulate himself on the intrigue that had silenced the maternal claims of Aurora von Königsmarck, which were beginning to trouble him considerably, eased him from the clamour of his son's creditors and secured one of the largest fortunes in Saxony to the royal House.
There remained the task of persuading the two young people to give at least a semblance of free will in their choice of each other.
There was not much difficulty with Johanna Victoria. By the time the complicated negotiations were concluded she was 14 years of 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 the fame, the rank, the glory, the charm of the young Count Maurice.
The young lady believed that she was quite old enough to know her own mind and she enthusiastically agreed that here, in the brilliant young soldier, was a better match than either Comte de Friesen or M. Gersdorff.
It was not so easy to convince Maurice that the only way of obtaining a fortune was to saddle himself with a wife. The very thought of matrimony was odious to him; both by temperament and by training he was a rover and adventurer, and it now began to appear that he was also hard, without a trace of sentiment—as the French say "sans coeur." Aurora might have thought these qualities valuable, since she had suffered herself from too much sentimentality and tenderness, but she was something appalled by the frank hedonism of her son.
The boy had grown up without affection, surrounded only by efficient, indifferent people paid to do their duty towards him. He had grown up, too, despite his protestations of loyalty to his father and affection for his mother, with a seed of bitterness in his proud heart. He could not forget that while his father was a king and his mother came of one of the noblest and most famous families in Europe, he was himself landless save for a miserable estate that brought him in scarcely enough to pay his lackeys, without prospects or hopes of ever attaining his royal position that had secretly become his heart's desire.
When it was first suggested to him that he might marry Johanna Victoria Loeben if the prize could be secured, he had shown restlessness and an obstinate opposition to any marriage whatsoever. The only attraction the lady possessed for him was her name—Victoria.
"It would be a good omen," he said complacently, "to marry Victory."
By this time the tedious affair had been finally arranged, the desperate solicitations of Aurora had broken down her son's obstinacy and he agreed to marry the heiress of M. Loeben.
As the King-Elector thought he might get some amusement, if amusement was possible to his dulled satiety, as well as profit out of the capture of the little Loeben heiress, fetes were planned to celebrate the wedding of his son. And it was decided that the background should be the royal hunting-box where Aurora von Königsmarck had been so elegantly seduced nineteen years previously.
The ill-advised, ill-conducted Polish adventure had nearly emptied the Saxon treasury, which twenty years before had seemed inexhaustible, but Augustus II was still able to provide a sumptuous festival for the marriage of Maurice.
The park and the palace on the rocky island in the lake had been, while Maurice was growing up, further embellished by the rich and fantastic taste of Poppelmann, and Maurice's love of display, if not his amorous passions, was satisfied with the wedding whose background had a faint fairy-tale atmosphere; the last lustre and glitter, dim enough and tarnished to the perception of the sensitive, of that voluptuously romantic world with which Mlle Scudéry had captured the tastes of Europe in Le Grand Cyrus.
So, a young Hercules in a horsehair wig and a flamboyant Saxon uniform, the youth stood with his child bride before the altar where they exchanged mutual vows according to the Lutheran service, "to love one another as husband and wife in all honour and all affection to the end of their days."
Johanna Victoria was an ordinary little person, at least, at present, and no one would have taken the least notice of her, had not 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 a sense of her own value. She had her own ambitions and her own desires and she did not intend to give herself much trouble about her young husband except in as far as he satisfied both ambitions and desires.
Her immature charms and her provincial coquetry did not fascinate Maurice. He accepted, almost with a condescending air, her immense fortune, and noted as one of the most satisfactory clauses of his marriage treaty that it acknowledged that he had attained his majority.
Augustus II had indeed found it necessary to issue an edict covering and excusing the tender ages of bride and groom by declaring them both, she in her fifteenth and he in his nineteenth year, as legally of age. This privilege was given, the document ran, "in consideration of their good conduct."
The household of the young Comte de Saxe was set up with prodigal, wasteful and tasteless extravagance. But easy as his marriage was made, it was a galling condition for Maurice.
He stayed away from his wife as much as possible, spending the summer hunting, the winter in sports on the frozen waters of the Elbe, where his greatest delight was headlong and dangerous sledge races.
Soon after the Peace of Utrecht Queen Anne died, and George Louis, Elector of Hanover and husband of the Sophia Dorothea who had been the lover of Philip von Königsmarck, was elected to the throne of Great Britain despite an abortive attempt on the part of the son of James II to regain the throne of the Stuarts.
Despite this Western Europe remained, to the disgust of Maurice, sluggishly at peace, but there was excitement as usual in the East and North.
And he soon received with undisguised delight a summons to join his regiment in Pomerania, where the indomitable Swede, Charles XII, having escaped from his long captivity with the Turks, was again proving himself a thorn in the flanks of Russia.
Maurice's early hatred of this hero had turned to an envious admiration. He looked upon him as a man he was or might be himself, and though the two soldiers had nothing in common save a brutal courage and a passion for warfare, Maurice, in the enthusiasm of his youth, regarded Charles as a demigod and as the kind of demi-god he would like to be himself.
The young man's best chance lay indeed in achieving what the world then called "glory"; he had no talents and no prospects in any other direction.
Count Flemming remained his cool but bitter enemy, and the marriage with Johanna Victoria had brought him nothing but money that was fast slipping through his fingers. Of real friends he had but few besides his mother, whose power was dependent on the caprice of Augustus II, and his grandmother, a Danish Princess, Ann Sophia, who had always quietly and, as it were, from the background, done what she could for Aurora von Königsmarck and her son.
Momentarily at least, Maurice now triumphed. Despite the opposition of the powerful Minister he was allowed to raise his regiment again and to depart with all the pomp of flags and cavalry, 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 house in Crachnitz by eight hundred of the enemy, and only escaped by courage and stratagem, an exploit that was compared to that of Charles XII at Bender. After defending the house until all his ammunition was exhausted and without losing a single man, Maurice made a sortie at night and brought off his little troop safe to the Saxon lines with no other accident than a slight wound in his knee.
Later in the campaign he was at the Isle of Usedom, fortified and defended by Charles XII himself. He had a glimpse of this almost fabulous hero as he sallied forth in the midst of his Grenadiers to repel a Saxon assault.
When the rigours of winter made warfare impossible, Maurice reluctantly returned with the other officers to Dresden.
Here he found fortune less flattering than it had been on the field of battle. He certainly had enhanced his prestige and acquired a good deal of brittle military glory. This, however, had only served to irritate Count Flemming, and though it had a little gratified Augustus II, the King-Elector was still completely in the hands of his all-powerful Minister. For another misfortune, the Electress-Dowager of Saxony had died, suddenly, at Lichtenburg and Aurora was once more so unwelcome at court that she had retired to Quedlinburg—permanently it appeared.
The winter of 1715 saw another death in the family of Maurice, one that affected him less than that of his grandmother. His young wife had given birth to a child that lived even a shorter time than his first-born, the offspring of poor Rosetta Dubusan.
The young couple were already at variance; they had nothing in common but their vices of laziness, extravagance and dissipation. Maurice saw as little as possible of Victoria, who found means to amuse herself with such of her large fortune as he allowed her to handle.
A greater grief than either the loss of his grandmother or his infant son was in store for him.
Augustus, edged on by Flemming, disbanded his regiment under the excuse that it was a costly luxury. The young Colonel rushed in a fury to upbraid his father and King and for the first time used threatening words to his father, Augustus, declaring that he would raise his regiment again "under his own authority and by that 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 the discharged Colonels of cavalry."
Upon which his father reminded him that though it might not be possible to send him to an Abbey, there was always the Castle of Königstein, where the prisoners of state were detained and sometimes punished by death.
Upon this Maurice thought good to beat a retreat to one of his wife's estates near Dresden. He found neither peace nor happiness there and a desperate letter to his mother imploring her to make his peace with the King had some effect. Augustus permitted him to return to Dresden and there was no more talk of Königstein.
A nobler excuse to get rid of him was found in the war against the Turks, and in July of that year, 1717, Maurice was serving under Prince Eugene before the walls of Belgrade, which had suffered so long and so tenaciously as the boss on the shield of Europe against the Mussulman.
At this period Belgrade had been taken by the Ottoman troops, who occupied it with two hundred and fifty thousand men commanded by the Grand Vizier.
It was not until the sixteenth of August that the citadel fell once more into Christian hands, and the Cross instead of the Crescent was raised above the towers of Belgrade.
During this time Maurice had found ample opportunities of displaying himself as a hero of those spectacular exploits then expected 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 was popular, too, with the volunteer princes who served under Eugene, French princes of the Blood, like the Comte de Charollais and the Prince of Lorraine, and aristocratic volunteers from England, Italy and Germany.
And he held his own in the banquets and drinking bouts, the extravagant licence and ribald amusements of the camp with as much zest as he maintained his place on the ravelin, the demilune or the counter-scarp.
It was the Countess Johanna Victoria's money that paid for all this glittering display. And when he returned to Dresden he found himself faced with her shrill reproaches. His creditors were buzzing round her like gadflies, her revenues were depleted; she was flouted, neglected.
Maurice did not make even promises of reform, and before another year was out there was not enough left of the Loeben fortune for the lady to live upon and she was forced to retreat to Quedlinburg, where Aurora, as she put it piteously, was glad to share with the young wife "the little fortune she had left."
Augustus II, already completely weary of Maurice and his domestic affairs, was importuned once more, by both Aurora and Victoria. Could not His Majesty induce the young hero to put some order into the moral anarchy of his life? Could His Majesty not at least induce the demi-royal sprig to restrain his extravagance, make some composition with his creditors and lead a decorous, matrimonial life with his young Countess?
Augustus II knew too well that all interference on his part would be flouted. His son was only himself over again, or so it appeared, for Maurice's sterner qualities had not then shown themselves. The King-Elector had done what he could for his son in obtaining the Loeben heiress and now he shrugged his massive shoulders and, weary to death of Aurora and her importunities, left her petition and that of Victoria unanswered.
Aurora von Königsmarck had never particularly liked the heiress whom she had sacrificed to her son's interests, but she could not help feeling a certain sympathy for the betrayed and plundered girl tied to a dissolute husband (whose infidelities were almost numberless) and stripped of her revenues to pay for his gross and boundless expenditure. The Abbess of Quedlinburg, therefore, did what she could for the young Countess, sharing with her the depleted and irregularly paid revenues of her convent and giving her a house in the precincts of the Abbey with what 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 his brusque, brutal manner and the violent jealousy he showed if he saw her "but speaking to another man." She merely wanted, she declared, a little moderation in his expenditure, a little courtesy in his behaviour; a little esteem, a little decency from him, was what she demanded and she assured the King-Elector that if she received that, no one would have reason to complain of her behaviour. And the petitioning Countess asked, reasonably enough, that her young husband should be commanded to make a home for her out of the wreck of her fortune.
The Comtesse de Saxe did not obtain, perhaps had hardly hoped for, 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 the glittering young hero of Belgrade and Stralsund.
Johanna Victoria was not prepared, however, to sink into the passive role of neglected wife weeping in obscurity. Even in the seclusion of Quedlinburg she contrived to find distractions that met with the disapproval of Aurora von Königsmarck and her life in the Abbey soon became as disordered as that of Maurice in the capital.
Without any object in her life save that of passing the days in all the amusements she was capable of enjoying, without a home, a protector, knowing herself exploited by the rapacity of others, Johanna Victoria took her pleasures with cynic carelessness, choosing her favourites, and as Aurora thought, her lovers, from among the gentlemen and even the servants of her own household.
Quarrelling violently on this score with her mother-in-law, she went from Quedlinburg to one of the estates not yet seized by her husband's creditors—Schönbrunn, in Lusatia. She went into this retreat not only for the purpose of escaping from Aurora Königsmarck's disapproving eye, but in order that she might enjoy without espionage the society of a young man who had taken her fancy. Had this lover been a nobleman or even a gentleman, her behaviour would have been considered merely in the traditions of the fashionable world and even Maurice himself would probably not have found much to complain of; he might even have been grateful that his wife's attentions had been distracted from himself.
But Johanna Victoria's favourite was one of her husband's servants—a page named Iago, who had, before he entered the household of Maurice of Saxony, been a servant in the regiment of Hammerstein in the Prussian Army.
Aurora von Königsmarck had her means of knowing of her daughter's behaviour and she wrote indignantly to the King- Elector that the Comtesse de Saxe had received this Iago incognito both at Quedinburg and in Leipzig and added that at Schönbrunn he lived with her openly, had a seat at her table, was her companion in all her sports and diversions, and sat in the carriage with six horses that she drove abroad in. The servants at Schönbrunn were naturally much scandalised at this state of affairs and the young adventurer, constantly fearing arrest, was accompanied by a band of hired bravos.
Maurice, appraised of this state of affairs, delivered an ultimatum to his young wife. She in her turn sent disdainfully to the King-Elector.
The young husband cast back on Johanna Victoria all the complaints she had made of him; he told her that "nothing she did pleased him, that if she did not alter her life immediately he would 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 of Saxony was not easy; besides, there was the question of the property. Maurice could not repay what he had spent of his wife's dowry and did not intend to forgo what was left of it. Yet both he and the young woman were avid of freedom from their despised and tattered marriage ties.
Aurora and her son now commenced a warfare against Johanna Victoria, whom they had begun by regarding as a foolish child, a mere puppet in their hands, and who now had developed into a determined young woman about whom there was something sinister.
In choosing a servant as her lover, in living with him openly, surrounding herself with the sabres and pistols of hired bravos she had shown a cold and deadly spirit not unlike, in Aurora's alarmed imagination, that which had inspired the terrible figure of Madame von Platzen, who had murdered, or caused to be murdered, as it was believed, Philip von Königsmarck twenty years and more before.
This alarming view of the young Countess was, to the harassed mind of the Abbess of Quedlinburg, confirmed by a mysterious visit from a certain Mlle Rosenacker, one of the servants of Madame de Saxe.
This intriguing chambermaid had a fantastic tale to tell. She said that her mistress had given her a white powder, which had been smuggled, in orthodox fashion, from an Italian living in Venice. Showing it to her heavily bribed but faithless domestic, the young woman had exclaimed tragically: "This is the sole means for me to regain my liberty!"
She then gave the following instructions to the servant. A way was to be found for introducing Mlle Rosenacker into the service of Aurora von Königsmarck; there she was to take an opportunity, when Count Maurice was on a visit to his mother, of introducing the white powder into a cup of coffee, not—she was emphatic on this point—into a cup of tea, where it would be useless.
The result of drinking the slow poison would be that Maurice would die at the end of about four months after what would appear to be a lingering malady. Then would be the time, added Johanna Victoria, when Aurora was smitten with grief at the death of her son, 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 had perished of a broken heart.
According to her own tale, Mlle Rosenacker had refused to take part in the lurid design, declaring that neither Maurice nor his mother had done her any evil. She had then been cast aside by a furious mistress, been sent out of her employment with the threat that if she betrayed what had been told her, means would be found to administer to her the fatal powder.
Such was the romantic and unlikely story to which Aurora von Königsmarck listened with mingled incredulity and horror. Nor was she altogether reassured by a letter from the young Countess declaring that Mlle Rosenacker was a vulgar liar and intriguer who had been turned out of service for dishonesty.
Maurice was saved, however, from any possible attempts on his life instigated by his young wife through his decision to go and seek his fortunes in France. Count Flemming had drily advised the King-Elector that, unless he was fighting, the young Comte de Saxe would come to no good.
"As we have no wars here, Sire, send your son where there are or may be wars."
For once both Aurora and her son were prepared to take the advice of a man whom they had long regarded as their most powerful enemy. It was obvious that there was nothing for Maurice to do in Saxony, where his position was dubious, his talents wasted, and where he had almost exhausted the vast credits brought him by the Loeben fortunes.
Leaving the question of his divorce from Johanna Victoria in the hands of his mother and of his lawyers, he prepared to travel to Paris. He had the best of introductions—a personal reputation for bravery and gallantry.
The French army was still considered the model to the rest of Europe; even after the defeats that had culminated in the Peace of Utrecht, it was the finest fighting machine in the world, with a prestige, a tradition, and an organisation equalled by the army of no other country.
Augustus II, weary of everything and in particular weary of Maurice, his wife and his mother, was delighted at a decent excuse to be rid of him; this difficult son, one of so many bastards, was only 23 years of age, but Saxony was already too small for this brilliant young giant of gay and brutal manners, who could do nothing but fight, drink, wench and spend his wife's money on gaudy luxuries.
"He might be useful to someone," conceded Count Flemming, "but not, at present, Sire, to us."
Aurora von Königsmarck also agreed that it would be better for her son to seek his fortune in the still mighty Empire of the Bourbons. There were opportunities in France that could not possibly be found in Saxony or even in the Empire. The amount of glory, money and distinction to be gained in fighting the Turks was 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 this unfortunate family.
All things considered, both selfishness and affection worked to send Maurice to France. Aurora von Königsmarck came once more to Dresden to take farewell of the son whom she had never known intimately but for whom she had worked so patiently and skilfully. It was more the fault of her circumstances than of her character that both skill and patience had been employed for poor ends—the snaring and exploiting of Johanna Victoria von Loeben had not resulted in anything except a few years of aimless extravagance for Maurice, humiliating scandal and the nauseating disintegration of a marriage corrupted at the very altar.
It was as well that neither Maurice nor Johanna Victoria had a heart to break. Aurora von Königsmarck possessed a heart, but she had veiled it with resignation. She saw Maurice depart on his adventure as she had seen Philip and Christopher depart on theirs a generation before. She had not been able to do anything for them, not even to avenge them, and she could do nothing more for Maurice but watch over such interests as he still might be supposed to possess at the court of Saxony where Augustus, once so strong, drooled in premature senility by virtue of the permission of Peter, Czar of All the Russias.
MAURICE DE SAXE had good credentials to offer at the court of Versailles; he was not the man to hesitate to present them, or to be slow in backing them by the rather startling ostentation of his appearance, manners and entourage. He was not altogether abandoned by his careless and slothful father; the Comte de Watzdorf, Minister of Saxony in Paris, was ordered to send secret reports concerning his conduct and fortunes, to Augustus II.
In the year 1720 the appearance of Maurice de Saxe was at its most impressive; his gaiety and good humour, his courteous, if brusque air, the easy tact that is called the polish given by courts, prevented his boundless self-assurance and deep-seated arrogance from being offensive save to the very fastidious.
His strength was in its flower; youth, pride and health gave his blunt, slightly brutal features a comeliness that easily passed for handsomeness. His taste for splendour made him deck his massive figure with a magnificence that the bizarre taste of decadent Paris applauded.
The Saxon giant—this he was in proportion if not in height—decked in fashionable satin coats of pastel colours, with quantities of lace at his bull neck and with a waistcoat encrusted 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 twenty years before; the wigs of towering horsehair had been discarded for locks powdered, pomaded, tied with ribbons, tied in bags, plaited in long tresses, frizzled, rolled and curled. Maurice's well-shaped head was adorned with a varying fantasia of the hairdresser's art; he favoured in particular curls powdered and dressed loosely round his clean-shaven face, and a long plait hanging over one shoulder; in one ear he usually wore a large pearl, which contrasted piquantly with the aggressive masculinity of his square, snub-nosed, long-lipped face.
None could deny the splendour of this new-comer to the faded ranks of the hangers-on of the Bourbon court; he carried himself superbly, the uniform of his Saxon regiment, steel cuirass, leopard skin, scarlet, was the extreme of pomp, he had the right taste in wine, in horses, in women, in insolence, above all he was unscrupulous, neither offering nor expecting any inconvenient standards of honour or morality and he knew how to flatter with that brusque air of candour which makes flattery so delicious.
It is, therefore, easily to be understood that Maurice gained at the court of France a brilliant but an easy reputation; for, despite his glitter, there was nothing stable in either his character or his circumstance as far as his present experience went.
His life had certainly been full of action and show, and he looked back with regret at every occasion that had given scope for his martial ardour. Most of all did he regret the resplendent days when he had served under Prince Eugene before Belgrade and as a youth, who had already acquired a European reputation as an ardent and successful soldier, had been joyfully welcomed by a superb array of august gentlemen who adorned the camp of the Imperialists, among whom had been thirty sovereign rulers and some of the French Princes of the blood so lately fighting against the Saxon whom they now welcomed with cynic courtesy to share their hospitality and their vices.
Maurice had enjoyed to the full those skirmishes with the Turks, the sallies and carousals with his fellow Princes, the exciting vivid life of the Christian camp, and he remembered with particular pride the great battle of August 17, 1717, when Prince Eugene utterly overthrew the Ottoman power, thus consolidating the victory of Peterwardein.
How reluctant he had been to leave the scene of so much splendour, pleasure and glory! He had lingered to the last in the company of the sumptuous and triumphant Allies and it had only been with regret that he had repaired to Fravenstahe where his father had then held court and the hearty Augustus, delighted with reports of his son's success, had decorated him with the flamboyant cross that showed so well on his broad chest...these scenes remained vividly in the memory of Maurice, as whets to ambition for the future; he let no one forget that such had been his background and such his reputation, when with a princely equipage paid for out of the ruins of Johanna Victoria's fortune he 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 Maurice that he had served in Marlborough and Eugene's camp as a boy 12 years old.
He was welcomed as a nobleman among noblemen, a prince among princes and made free of French society.
France was then ruled by three men, each in a different way an extraordinary and powerful personage.
The "great" King who had tried to revive the glories of the Emperor Charlemagne, and whose greatness indeed was borrowed from his Ministers, Louvois and Colbert, while his manifold pettinesses were his own, was five years dead and his most Christian Majesty, King of France and Navarre, was his great- grandson, Louis XV, then a charming child in the hands of governors and governesses who were skilfully and cynically teaching him the corruption then considered necessary to the subjugation of princes.
France had been beaten but not broken by the wars that had been concluded by the Treaty of Utrecht, which after all had not been as humiliating and ignominious as it might have been had the Allies known when to end the war and when to press their advantages.
Louis XIV, at one time the most powerful prince in the world, had been forced to pawn his personal gold plate to pay for his costly 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 a dull, vague period. It was too late for so many things, too early for so many others. The age of discovery was nearly over, the age of science scarcely begun; poetry was occupied with wit, prose with reason, art had become ornament. Everything was showy, overblown, exaggerated, insincere; the baroque style of expression, flowing movement, theatrical over-emphasis prevailed everywhere.
Graceful festoons of exquisitely lovely decorations served to disguise a decaying art; pomp, etiquette, ceremonial had reached a pitch of formality that had become absurdity. Nothing was liked but what was unnatural, a curious sentimentality began to show in the passions of the cultured; natural emotion was disguised by fine, vapouring speeches.
Men had begun to powder their hair, to paint their faces, to wear pastel-coloured clothes, to talk cynically, to live exquisitely.
The highest Parisian society affected a tone of delicatd effeminacy; aristocrats, men and women alike, addressed each other by affected nicknames, foolish, grotesque, or whimsical, taken from fashionable plays, novels and fairy-tales of the moment. A whole mythology of pseudo-gods and goddesses was invoked and depicted at every turn and the stiff satin robe of a Vénus poudrée fluttered against the shell-pink feet of a plump shepherdess from a sham Arcadia, with gilded crook and coquettish straw hat perched on curls stiff with flour and grease.
France, exhausted from long wasteful wars, was but seventy years away from that great Revolution which was to give humanity a new idea of the "Rights of Man"; the only people whom Maurice met, the aristocracy, seemed idly drowsing in elegant decadence without being as comfortable and secure as the English nobility, as undeveloped as the German princelings, as decayed as the Austrian and Spanish aristocracy; the patricians of France adorned this period of essential dullness with all the pretty trifles sophisticated man has been able to conceive: beneath this prettiness was foul grossness, like toads beneath the lilies on a pool.
The Regent for the young King was Philip, Duke of Orleans, head of the cadet branch of the House of Bourbon, one of the most attractive of a line of princes distinguished by little save superficial brilliancy and a cunning aptitude for intrigue that backed an insatiable ambition.
The Duke of Orleans was handsome, elegant, intelligent and accomplished; it was said of him that he possessed every good gift but had not the power to make use of any of them. The truth was that the Regent, like the vast majority of the witty society that he gathered round him, was completely amoral. He lacked all qualities of heart and spirit; he possessed to the full that complete and impressive cynicism which enables a man to use his powers and opportunities entirely for his own advantages and pleasure without any thought of others, and without ever experiencing a single pang of regret or remorse for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
When the Comte de Saxe came to Paris, the Regent had two advisers; men like Maurice himself, who were, in the true sense of the word, adventurers.
The first of these was a Frenchman and a priest, the abbé Dubois, the Regent's first Minister and close companion, a man who exactly suited his master's taste, if he did not exactly suit the needs of France. Brilliant, unscrupulous, with all the social graces and none of the social virtues, Dubois possessed a penetrating wit, an entrancing gift of conversation, remarkable aptitude for hard work, a disposition that might have been summed up as a front of brass and a heart of iron.
He had no conception of true statesmanship but was an able and completely dishonest politician, well fitted to hold his own in the complicated and corrupt intrigues that kings and their ministers then considered the art of government.
His small wizened figure in the decorous habits of the Holy Catholic Church, his bilious tinted face with the small twinkling eyes crowned with the monstrous yellow peruke, was always by the side of the Regent both in business and amusement, in the Cabinet and in the box at the Opera or the ball at the Palais-Royal.
The monkey-like, sinister appearance of the Minister with his malicious smile and heartless glance made him appear like the âme damnée of the suave and voluptuous prince whose soft features, large blue eyes and gentle smile gave a wholly false impression of his ruthless and implacably selfish character.
The second personage whom Maurice de Saxe found in power in France was the most notable and honourable of the three. This was Mr. John Law of Lauriston, a Scot then in his fiftieth year, a man whose life had been as remarkable as that of any of the Königsmarcks.
Well-born but not noble, John Law was the son of an Edinburgh goldsmith who, as was then usual, combined his occupation with that of banker and moneylender. Law was well-educated and from his earliest days showed an extraordinary aptitude for mathematics.
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 his father's fortune in costly living, gambling and idleness. He was extremely handsome, "better looking than any man had the right to be," the French said of him later in his life, foppish in his dress, gallant in his bearing. But he made no particular stir, even in his own set, until an extraordinary incident brought him into public notice and decided his future.
In the year 1694, the year that saw the tragic story of Philip von Königsmarck and Sophia Dorothea nearing its close, John Law went to London and there joined a set of wealthy young men-about- town. Among these was a certain Edward Wilson, called "Beau Wilson" on account of his good looks. This gentleman was the son of a country esquire, whose whole estate was worth but two hundred a year, yet he lived in sumptuous style, kept a costly equipage, furnished his house in the richest and latest taste, gave portions to his sisters, and paid off his father's mortgage.
This was naturally matter for considerable gossip, scandal and conjecture among his friends, who, however closely they tried, could not discover the source of Beau Wilson's fortune. He did not gamble, he had no wealthy mistress, it was not considered possible that he was a spy, and although the member of a fast, expensive, fashionable set he lived a quiet, decorous life never mingling in any dubious matters, neither card-playing nor wagering nor horse-racing and having, what was most curious of all, no love affair that anyone could discover.
Beau Wilson was supposed to be of very moderate intelligence but he had, however, sufficient wit to keep his own counsel and no one could guess the source of his income; his end was as odd as his life. His sister, coming up to town, took rooms in an establishment where lodged a Mrs. Lawrence, supposed to be the mistress of John Law. Edward Wilson, with his usual decorum, withdrew his sister from the house where she was likely to be in doubtful company.
John Law took, or pretended to take, offence at this and meeting Beau Wilson in Hyde Park confronted him and challenged him to a duel.
The parties went at once to Bloomsbury Square, then a famous spot for these affairs of honour, swords were drawn and at the first pass Law ran Wilson through the stomach. The unfortunate Beau died immediately and Law was arrested on a charge of murder. The duel had been irregular and after the outrageous death of William Montford, killed by a couple of drunken boys—Lord Mohun and Colonel Hill—feeling had been very strong against duelling; the King, William III, being in particular strongly opposed to these bloody and foolish "affairs of honour."
John Law claimed that he deserved no more than punishment for manslaughter. He was, however, placed in Newgate, tried, convicted of murder and sentenced to death, the Wilson family showing the greatest bitterness against him, as indeed well they might, for with the Beau seemed to have died their one source of income. Edward Wilson had left no more than a few pounds behind him, and it still remained a mystery where he had obtained his money.
John Law finally eluded their vengeance by one of those escapes from prison that are so strangely easy that they arouse suspicion of complicity in high places.
John Law sawed through the bars of his prison-window in Newgate and made his way out of England into the Netherlands, where he was employed as clerk or secretary to the Resident in The Hague.
This romantic affair still remains a mystery, but long after an explanation that purported to be the truth was published.
Beau Wilson, it was declared, was the secret lover of Elizabeth Villiers, Countess of Orkney, the close friend and, as scandal said, the mistress of William III. It was this lady that had supplied the Beau with his funds, and so prudently and discreetly was the affair managed that the lovers only saw each other by candle-light and at rare intervals.
The Beau had, however, according to this account, become tiresome and had demanded an increase in his pension, with menaces that amounted to blackmail. Lady Orkney had then decided to sacrifice her passion to her interests and had employed John Law to seek some frivolous excuse to dispose of the Beau in a duel. It was, so this tale ran, this lady that had provided Law with the means of evading prison and escaping to the Continent.
The story is probably a malicious libel, but not much is known of the character of this extraordinary woman, with her wit, her talents, her squint and her undoubted influence over one of the most powerful minds of her time.
Whatever might be the secret of Beau Wilson, his death sent John Law of Lauriston on the road that was to lead him to a unique position in Europe.
While in the Netherlands he studied economics, particularly the working of the banks of Amsterdam, and when he returned to Scotland in 1700 he published pamphlets on finance that advocated paper money. He easily induced powerful personages both in England and Scotland—notably the Duke of Argyll and Lord Godolphin—to listen to his scheme, but he could not induce any minister to try out his proposal of a State bank.
In 1708 he was again in Europe and in the next seven years he travelled from country to country, gambling and trying to induce some Prince or State to adopt his project. He impressed all who met him as sound, honest, industrious and a mathematical genius, but his suggestions were considered too daring and though the Duke of Sardinia came near to taking him into his service, John Law did not attain his ambition until he went to France after the death of Louis XIV, in September 1715.
Here he found success beyond his wildest imaginings. The Regent, astute, reckless and badly pressed for money, listened to the Scotsman's proposition and allowed him to found his Banque Générale, 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 of taxes. Law's Bank was in every way beneficial to France; he advanced loans and expanded industry, he encouraged trade and enterprise.
The Scot's ambition was not yet satisfied and he persuaded the Regent to make over to him Louisiana, the French province in North America. Law's idea was to rival and eventually to displace the British East India Company; under what was termed the Mississippi Scheme or The System he designed to obtain control of all the non-European trade of France. The French Parliament and many French people were indignant at the power given to a foreigner and a Protestant, but the Regent met this resistance by changing the name of the Bank to Banque Royale, the King guaranteeing the notes and Law being created Director-General. By absorbing other trading companies, the Bank obtained the whole of the non-European trade of France, exactly as Law had designed and also the important monopoly of tobacco. In 1719, the Mint was given in charge to Law who was thus in complete control of the entire monetary system of France.
The Regent, who, whatever his motives, had acted patriotically and wisely in this, went far to hamper and even ruin Law's designs by using the Bank for his own private extravagances, which were pretty well boundless.
When Maurice de Saxe came to France in 1720, the Mississippi Scheme or The System was at the height of prosperity, a dividend of forty per cent. was being paid to the shareholders and John Law of Lauriston was Controller-General of the finances and 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 to his avowed intention to overthrow both the trade of England and that of The States General, the Ambassador was recalled and one more complaisant sent in his stead.
John Law's position at this time was, if brilliant, rather insecure. He had an active enemy in England and a secret enemy in the abbé Dubois, while the Regent did not know what the words faith and honour meant and was likely to repudiate John Law's schemes, whenever it suited him. However, at the moment, the banker reigned over French finance and was a dazzling figure in French society; the elegant, blond Scot, still one of the handsomest men of his time, with his tall figure, silver-grey eyes and fair brows, was one of the first to welcome the young Saxon adventurer to Paris, where all the talk was of money and the spending of money.
Maurice perceived with satisfaction all this splendour and luxury; it exactly suited his taste and he gave John Law all the admiration due to one who seemed to have found, for all practical purposes, the philosophers' stone.
But Maurice was neither financier nor politician; it was the spending of the money that interested him, not where it came from; it was the conducting of wars that fascinated him, not the rights or wrongs of the conflict.
He attached himself neither to Law nor Dubois but to the Regent and was soon his companion in many of his pleasures. The example of John Law had brought the fashion of gambling, always active among the idle and the rich, to a point of frenzy. Card playing was but one aspect of this rage; wagers were made everywhere and on everything, and horse racing with its attendant betting was so fashionable that it was said of French society that it "lived in the riding-school and the stable."
All this was exactly to Maurice's taste. These amusements were the only means he considered of making peace tolerable, and he entered easily into this vicious life of levees, fetes, hunting parties, galas, the Opera, petits soupers, and balls, into this gay, witty company, where everyone was perfumed and powdered, where the women's naked shoulders were laced with diamonds and their tiny waists circled with silk roses and their faces painted to the likeness of a Cupidon, where fortunes changed hands for a horse, a diamond, a hazard of the cards.
Maurice too could wear velvet and bullion lace and carry a gold-hilted sword with a flourish and pomade his brown locks into side curls and make himself agreeable to great ladies and more than agreeable to ladies not so great. His thick-set figure and heavy Teutonic face made him conspicuous among fine gentlemen who were all grace and languor; but his amiable—for so it appeared on the surface—and lively disposition and a certain "sweetness," as the French ladies termed it, in his manner won him favour in a society where everything was tolerated but dullness. Nor did the delightful sirens of court and city who strove to render his endless leisure agreeable dislike his prodigious strength that had such a piquant contrast with their own exquisite frailty.
So Maurice de Saxe was received into the topmost efflorescence of this effete civilisation as one who was already an adept in the virtues and vices then considered necessary for a gentleman of quality. He was noted with elegant attention at Versailles, where the Regent and Dubois contrived to squander splendidly what they had plundered carelessly from the half-bankrupt kingdom. There was, as usual, a fly in the ointment, and it was the usual fly.
Maurice wrote to his mother, fading resignedly in her Hartz Mountains retreat:
"I have found money difficulties greater than I could possibly have imagined."
It would certainly not have taken much imagination for Maurice to have foreseen that he would not be able to compete with men like Law, Dubois and the Regent, who had the resources of a kingdom behind them.
Aurora von Königsmarck could do nothing Augustus II was not disposed to take any further interest in his son, at least not in a monetary sense. He was another reckless voluptuary through whose 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 as soon as possible to Dresden, for, in his opinion, the young man was being utterly ruined by the debauchery in which he lived. Augustus II did not take this advice very seriously. He merely wrote to Maurice, suggesting that he "left off gambling and preserved his good manners if he wished to retain the royal favour."
But Maurice had found another patron who was more useful to him than his father. During one of those convivial evenings where the artificial refinements of the period were swept away by drunkenness and where in fact, as a contemporary says, "all sorts of indecencies were committed," the Regent suggested and Maurice accepted with enthusiasm a commission in the French Army.
In his first moment of sobriety Maurice returned to Dresden to obtain his father's consent to this flattering proposition; and as a graceful act of bribery the Regent had given the young Saxon the honorary rank of Maréchal de camp, signed by Louis and countersigned by Leblanc, in August 1720: this he now showed as an earnest of better things to come.
But Augustus II and Aurora von Königsmarck had both the same objections to their son's decision—the expense. How was he possibly to maintain himself in Paris?
Maurice at once made fervent protestations as he had so often made before. He would reduce his establishment, he would cease to gamble, he would live on his pay and his pension and cease to pester the King-Elector to pay his debts.
Under these conditions, and pressed by Count Flemming, who was glad to see the young Count forever removed from Saxony, Maurice obtained the paternal and maternal consent to his acceptance of the Regent's offer. For Aurora von Königsmarck also gave way; her motives appear to have been unselfish, she did not wish to interfere with her son's destiny. She was as avid as he was himself of his worldly success, glory and renown and she believed that he might attain all three in the service of France.
There remained the young Countess to deal with. During Maurice's absence in Paris she had taken on a quieter mode of life. She was willing, she declared, "to repent, to correct her faults."
Maurice did not wish to have anything more to do with the erring lady whose fortune he had already spent and whose person he had always despised. In a long mémoire he told her that he would only keep her faults from the public on condition that she divorced him. It was not difficult to satisfy the Polish law on one head, for Maurice's infidelities were notorious. Unfortunately, however, adultery was punishable by death, so Augustus II went through the farce of sentencing his son to death and giving him his pardon in his napkin when he dined with him the same evening.
In March 1721 the young Countess of Saxony appealed to the Consistory of the Reformed Church for the annulment of her marriage.
The formalities were quickly put through and soon the marriage of Maurice of Saxony and Johanna Victoria Loeben was legally and religiously dissolved. The lady, considered, generously enough, "innocent" in a technical sense, was allowed to contract a new marriage according to the laws of the Christian Church.
Maurice took his liberation from a union that he had entered into entirely out of self-interest lightly and even with a certain impertinence.
Johanna Victoria, who was then only 22 years of age, afterwards married a man who by prudent management was able to restore some of the fortune that Maurice de Saxe had done his best to ruin. She lived a quiet family life with her second husband and three children on the estates purchased through her father's industry, which had been used as pledges for the reckless extravagance of her first husband.
Maurice never thought of his wife with tenderness nor spoke of her with regret.
When the priest, in dissolving his marriage, had been about to add a moral harangue, Maurice had interrupted insolently, saying that the clergy interfered in everything and that as for himself he knew "we are all great sinners, there's truth enough in that."
In this matter, as in several others, Maurice had begun to show his complete heartlessness; he had been brought up without a family life and no sentiment had ever been roused in him. Perhaps it 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 in spiritual and magnanimous qualities as the Regent himself.
As a matter of pride, he was still a Protestant, for his family had always been champions of Lutheranism. But to religion, in whatever sense the word might be used, he was completely indifferent.
Now in his twenty-fifth year, on his return to Paris he amazed everyone by a strength even more prodigious than Augustus II had possessed in his youth and of which fabulous tales were told; he had been able, so the legend ran, to twist a horseshoe into a knot, to take an iron banister rail from the stairs in one grasp and even—most incredible of all—to raise a mounted cavalier, horse and man in full armour, on the palm of his hand.
Such legends were beginning to gather round Maurice, and though the merest common sense could have proved them exaggerated, the young man's magnificent torso, bull neck, powerful jaws, deep voice, the long swing of his arms, the stride with which he walked, all helped to create the impression of a remarkable and invincible vigour, mental and physical.
In curious and, as many women found, fascinating contrast to this brutal appearance, he continued to indulge a childish delight in fantastic adornments. He had eagerly copied the most extravagant fashions of the French court. The richly curling locks were dashed with perfume, tied with gold ribbons and fell in long buckled tresses over his shoulder. He wore an even larger pearl drop in his ears, diamonds and pearls appeared among the costly lace at his throat and wrists; his baldric and sash were mingled with gold thread and fringed with bullion. His horses and servants wore the most expensive and resplendent of liveries.
Taste for art he had none, but he bought in prodigal recklessness the work of whatever artist was fashionable at the moment. Inlaid furniture, crystal vases, silverware, tapestries and paintings adorned his Parisian hotel. Of horseflesh he was a fine judge, but too lazy to bargain. His stables were often full of horses he bought at a high and sold at a low price.
He was not an expert gambler like John Law; his play went on no mathematical calculation, it was a true hazard when he threw down the dice or the cards. And when he lost he paid as a man of honour, and when he won he flung the gold as a man of honour also to the sycophants and lackeys who fawned round the gambling table.
As a man of honour also, he completely forgot the promises he had made to his father and mother, and his first step when he returned to France was to purchase a regiment at a price so high that as Count Flemming drily remarked, "two Saxon regiments could have been had for half the money."
Augustus II did not appear to be prepared to pay up, and Maurice had again to make a hurried journey to Dresden, which he broke at Quedlinburg, in an endeavour to win his mother over to his side.
Aurora von Königsmarck was tenderly foolish where her son was concerned, where perhaps it might be said any man in whom she was interested was concerned. Her conduct had not been marked by prudence either towards her headstrong young brothers, whose vices and follies she had tacitly condoned, or towards the Prince to whom she had run for vengeance; indeed, what was possible for a woman of her period and type, her birth and circumstances, but to acquiesce admiringly in masculine lusts and selfishnesses, or to exploit them for feminine lusts and selfishnesses?
Being a refined and exquisite lady, Aurora chose the more delicate part. She admired, she flattered, she sighed over, she ministered to these reckless, passionate and callous cavaliers. For diversion she wrote poems and dramas and corresponded with wits and philosophers.
It could hardly be said that she was mercenary; she had certainly pestered Augustus and made an enemy of Flemming with her continual demands for money, but no one regretted these ungraceful actions more than the lady herself, and it could hardly be said that her motives were entirely personal She had been forced to beg for her pension, which had not been paid, broken promises had thrust her into an awkward position, and most of her pleas had been for Maurice.
She was not long in making another of these. Stormily pacing the quiet corridors of the remote Abbey at Quedlinburg, the young man had demanded his costly French regiment as a tempestuous child might demand a box of soldiers.
Aurora had written to Augustus II and he, with a shrug of lassitude, had turned to Flemming and the bill had once more been footed, though not without considerable difficulty, for the Saxon treasury was at last almost as empty as that of France when the Regent turned to John Law of Lauriston to save him from bankruptcy.
Augustus sold one of the Crown lands, making it appanage in the name of his son, and satisfied Flemming with the clause that the land should return to the Crown if Maurice died without legitimate heir.
Maurice returned in triumph to Paris and at once began to occupy himself with his new regiment, which he trained, exercised and supervised with the same care as he had taken with that other regiment which Count Flemming had caused to be disbanded. It was a German regiment by the name of Gerder.
The regiment represented the serious, the intellectual side of his nature. For this object and for this alone he would work; to improve his regiment and his own knowledge of military science he would spend laborious hours in learning dry sciences. He studied mathematics (algebra), tactics, fortifications; he read the memoirs of great and successful soldiers, not only for their romantic exploits and their glorious deeds, but for the means whereby they had attained their renown and their prizes. He made several innovations in the training of his own regiment and he planned out on paper further innovations he would make if he was ever in command of a large force of men. In particular he was inspired 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 25 years of age he was a Maréchal de camp in the army of King Louis of France, a favourite of the Regent, and possessed of a person that was the passport to all the good fortunes his passion desired.
All the time that he did not give to the study of military science he spent in pleasure, in the sense that that word was understood in the Paris of the first half of the eighteenth century. The French aristocrats, among whom the young Saxon Marshal mingled, appeared to be, on the surface, the last flower of brilliant sophistication; people who had exploited every sensation possible to humanity, for whose enjoyment and amusement every possible aspect of amusement and enjoyment had been exploited by the wit, the pander, the charlatan, and the genius who mingled anxiously in their train.
Despite this, however, they preserved a curiously ingenuous interest in the crudest vices of mankind. These elegant, perfumed and powdered lords did not disdain drinking bouts in which they became drunk in a fashion as banal and disgusting as that practised 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 might have delighted in.
Sentimentality there was in plenty, but it was a mere disguise for heartless lust. Of intrigues of the soul and spirit there were none, and platonic love was not even known as a term. Magnificent princesses and haughty great ladies who affected to be shocked by a song too shrill or a perfume too potent, who loved the artificial, the grotesque, and objected to nothing save Nature 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 romantic appearance, his glittering history could have been the hero of as many of these exploits as he chose, so free was this society, so indifferent to appearances that it is only a wonder that satiety did not soon blunt the appetite of even the most sensual.
But sometimes the echo of a tradition lingered, and now and then 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 of his chance of the Crown of Poland by Augustus II was now robbed of what was still termed rather mechanically "his honour," by the son of the successful candidate.
And the story went round the gossips of Paris that the limp that Maurice attributed to a false step when leaving the Palais- Royal was really owing to a thrust from the sword of the Prince de Conti, who had caught his charming wife in the arms of the young Saxon. This anecdote was embroidered with one of the malicious pleasantries then so much the vogue. Madame de Conti was supposed to have told her husband, with great candour, the six possible ways in which she could have deceived him with M. de Saxe and then to have added: "There is a seventh! What it is I shall not tell you, for it is the one I have employed."
This story reached the ears of the King-Elector, and he had nothing better to do than employ one of his Ministers, the Count Manteuffel, to ask his Ambassador in Paris what the seven means, were that Madame de Conti had found so useful in deceiving her husband.
Such incidents as these composed the life of Maurice de Saxe at the court of the Regent; mistresses, acquaintances, flatterers he had by the dozen, nay, it might have been said by the hundred, but friends none, unless the old Duchess of Orleans could be counted as such. She was a German, brusque, frank, loyal and on her death-bed she gave her young countryman plenty of good advice of a hard, worldly nature.
The fortunes of France, of the Regent, and incidentally those of Maurice, were somewhat shaken by the fall of John Law of Lauriston. His schemes, though wide, bold and wholly beneficial to France, were in advance of his time. They were indeed almost exactly the same schemes as were employed two generations later by the Swiss banker and the French financier, Necker and Turgot, who tried so desperately to save France from the bankruptcy that helped to produce the revolution of 1789.
The first sign of danger was a run upon Law's bank; people began to realise the paper money. Several edicts were quickly passed to deal with this crisis, but Law's actual downfall came through the enmity of England.
Dubois, England's friend and perhaps her paid ally, influenced the Regent against John Law. And Lord Stair, although he had been recalled from Paris because he had affronted the great financier, had contrived to influence his Government against the man who had boasted that he would destroy the English and Dutch trade.
Society, too, was fickle and though Law had worked in the interests of the country in general, particularly in those of the small proprietor, the middle classes and the peasantry, he no longer pleased the aristocracy when he could not pay them fabulous interest on their loans and supply them with an unlimited amount of paper money for their reckless expenditure.
One of the chief offenders was the Regent himself, who was utterly prodigal. It was most profitable to be his friend or his mistress—one woman at least had received a pension for life for pleasing him for a fortnight—but it was not profitable to work for him or to be his creditor. The Banque Royale was to him merely a purse into which he could at will dip his hands.
All these circumstances combined against John Law, and the Regent, either seeing that the scheme was no longer to his own interests or wrought upon by Dubois, working in the interest of England, or through mere lassitude and indifference, rated upon the man whom he had promised to support and repudiated the royal bank.
Law fled the country, cursed as a charlatan who had ruined France. His fortune was confiscated and he found himself in Brussels without friends or resources.
Maurice had gambled at Law's card-tables, and drunk with him across his elegant board, but he had no interest in either his schemes or his downfall, or in the prosperity of France. He was only slightly vexed that the gold did not flow quite so freely and that some of the amusing companions with whom he had laughed, wagered, drunk and hunted looked for a short time downcast and vexed by the collapse of the Mississippi scheme.
Maurice had, however, for any gloom that might have been deflected upon him, a gracious consolation. It was not possible for him to fall in love in the usually accepted sense of the term, but he had been attracted by a woman to whom he was to be more faithful than to any other of his mistresses.
The sentimentality or sensibility—these terms meant the same thing—of the period found its finest expression on the stage; the melancholia, the languors, the swooning lassitudes affected by the great ladies to veil emotions and passions crude and primitive enough, were part of the actress's stock-in-trade. A tragic actress was called upon to express, usually under a classic guise, a limited range of mournful emotion—suffering, self-sacrificing, long drawn-out farewells, renunciation, and death-bed scenes. With such fillips to their own jaded feelings did the lords and ladies of Paris regale themselves when they went to the Comédie Française to hear the sonorous and soothing lines of Corneille and Racine.
Chief among these actresses in the year 1721, when Maurice de Saxe graced with his superb physique and his resplendent uniform the 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 the height of her fame; four years was considered a long while to have pleased so capricious and fastidious an audience, but Adrienne had unusual gifts, remarkable histrionic talents, grace, beauty, and a wistful appeal calculated to touch the most jaded senses, the most callous heart.
Her name was Couvreur; she had added, without any right, the graceful prefix herself. Her father was a journeyman hatter and she herself as a child had worked in a laundry and a provincial laundry at that. The hatter was a man of a violent temper who died in a lunatic asylum and the only good turn he did his daughter was to bring her to Paris where her love for reciting any verses she could pick up led her to join a troupe of young amateurs, who met in a grocer's shop to indulge that passion for the play-acting then common to all classes in France.
The little troupe—none of them was much more than a child—Adrienne being 13 years of age at the time—attracted the attention of a generous patroness, who offered them the courtyard of her house to perform in, and when they were dispersed by order of the police, because they were infringing the rights of the Théatre Français Adrienne found another friend—Le Grand, the actor, who was one of the customers of the laundry where she worked.
He encouraged her, good-humouredly enough, and gave her a few lessons and Adrienne abandoned the wash-tub and the ironing-board to go on the road as a touring actress.
She was unusually successful and in five years' time was acting before the court of Lorraine. The life was all she had dreamt it would be; she was scarcely herself save when behind the footlights, but she had not the temperament to be happy. She was one of those women always in love with Love and always out of tune with the lover. She was well paid and well applauded, but she longed for the luxuries that were not yet hers and she was discouraged by the coarse life, the ugly shifts, the poverty, the lack of social status then the common lot of the travelling actor or actress.
She had, and without question, her lovers; she took them and left them as she travelled about—an officer, and actor, a young nobleman. All these affairs were conducted with sensibility, with sorrow, and soon followed by tears or regrets. One was the father of her first child, another died young, and Adrienne mourned him with brief but intense grief.
M. Clavel, himself a well-known actor, promised her marriage and Adrienne seized the opportunity of writing a letter of piteous warning and delicate renunciation:
"Do not, I pray you, promise me anything that you cannot perform. Even if you promise to loathe me, I should prefer that to being deceived. I know you well enough to know that you delight in being magnanimous and that you might relish beating me at my own game. But once more, think it well over. I should play my part, whatever it might be, as well as I can, whether I keep you or lose you."
All this was rather high-falutin and the prospect of marriage between the actor and actress came to nothing. Nor did the offers made by the chief magistrate of Strassburg, M. Klinglin, to whom Adrienne bore a daughter in 1716.
Adrienne worked and sighed, and after the fashion of the day wrote mournful worldly-wise epigrams: "Experience teaches me that one does not die of sorrow."—"There are some delightful errors that I dare not commit again." She also declared with an air of delicious languor that she was "utterly weary of love and intended to be done with it for the rest of her life."
In this disillusioned mood she came to Paris, her considerable fame already preceding her, and triumphed immediately on the boards of the Comédie Française in the part of Monime. She was exceptionally clever; she had the grand manner yet a natural air. Her simple style of speaking was something new to the French stage, she was "unspeakably moving," her frail beauty was precisely the type most in fashion. Her large, languorous grey eyes that seemed to sparkle through tears, her oval face, straight nose and small mouth were set off by a brilliant complexion and a quantity of smooth, lustrous tresses, which she wore in no monstrous head-dress but looped round her well-shaped brow and hanging in low plaits and curls on her smooth white shoulders.
Her taste was luxurious but flawless; she wore few jewels, only pearls wreathed in those smooth locks glowed in her dainty ears. Veils and plain gowns of velvet and satin flowing in simple lines set off a figure she was too clever to disguise with hoops and furbelows.
Her sensibilities, her sentimentality, her emotionalism, call it what you will, were her greatest asset on the stage as it was her greatest drawback in real life. She felt every part she played.
This wonderful creature became at once Queen of the tragic stage in France and admired by all foreigners. Her position was for long unassailable; there was no one like her, no one even to compare with her.
The society of the Regency made an idol of her; the daughter of a journeyman hatter whose youth had been spent at the wash-tub could hold her own with princes and princesses of the blood royal. She was accepted everywhere with that condescending admiration which aristocracy pays to art. She was considered as necessary as a vase of flowers or a dish of fruit at a fashionable supper party and affected to be wearied by the adulation she received. Her grace, her dignity and her distinction 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 and courtesan were still terms almost synonymous, and if Adrienne did not sell her favours her salary, lavish as it was, could hardly have kept her in the luxury in which she lived, or enabled her to put by a veritable treasury of jewels, gold, silverware and other precious objects.
She lived as Maurice lived, as if there was no such word as economy and no need to take concern for tomorrow when to-day was so fair.
The appearance of the great actress who had begun as little better than a gutter-waif was in itself aristocratic. Her delicate aquiline nose with the fine nostrils, her exquisitely curved lips and her proud, graceful carriage combined to give her that appearance and air which princesses are supposed to possess but often do not have in real life. She had acted great heroines so often that she had herself the manner of a Berenice, a Pauline, an Iphigénie, a Phédre.
In her costly gilt salon in the rue des Marais, as a contemporary put it, "the most famous and most distinguished of the capital gathered together." And she herself said with a gracious satisfaction for the sake of her art as well as her own personality "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 who entertained a succession of lovers might have kept her out of some of the society she frequented, but her talent opened all doors to her, even that of the Marquise de Lambert, whose salon was known as the ante-chamber of the Académie Française; Voltaire was her sincere friend.
Under these influences the sentimental side of the young actress's character came uppermost. She declared that she would dedicate herself to "virtuous love," an expression that was as near 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 smiling gratitude.
She was not, however, able to live without passion and when she declared that love was a folly for which she had no further leisure, she merely meant that she was waiting for the grand passion that should become her own creation and be the absorbing business of her life.
When she met Maurice de Saxe in 1721, she had had some experience of his type. She had been for a short time the mistress of Charles Mordaunt, the eccentric Earl of Peterborough, who, meeting her in Paris, had said brusquely: "I know your reputation. Come now, show me plenty of wit and plenty of love."
But Peterborough, though a reckless adventurer and dashing soldier, had none of the personal advantages of Maurice who shone in real life as godlike as the heroes of Racine or Corneille. He was what Pauline might have imagined Severus to have been; he was a superb Titus for any Bérenice. He was not French, he was not royal, he was landless and marked by many follies. His future was largely in his own hands and no wise observer could have thought that a safe place. But Adrienne de Lecouvreur for all her resolutions to have done with love, allowed herself to fall headlong into that passion for Maurice de Saxe.
Her temperament, her long schooling on the stage, the emptiness of her life, the profound attraction of a young man who really did seem the hero of a romance to the emotional and imaginative woman, combined to make her love a frenzy and ecstasy. She used all her arts and graces to embellish this love that she created as some people have created a religion or a work of art into which they pour their whole soul.
Adrienne saw him first in the royal box when she was playing Phédre and at once, forgetting all her previous experiences, believed that she was "in love" for the first time. It certainly was for the last time; she remained faithful for what remained to her of life to the young Saxon with the powdered curls, whose thick neck was adorned with the pearls dangling in his ear, whose bull-like torso was draped in the leopard skin that hung over his cuirass, or with dainty laces and ribbons.
The libertine, whose taste had been catholic enough from princess to chambermaids, was attracted by the woman adored by so many men; he waited on her in the rue des Marais and found her in the company of such men as Voltaire, d'Argental, Fontenelle and Coypel, who painted her as Cornelia, grasping a funeral urn.
She became, as a matter of course, the mistress of the leisured hero. It was understood between them that this was not to be a casual affair. The man was flattered and passionate, the woman flattered and sentimental. She had her sensibility and he had his honour, and both would be respected in their mutual pact. Fidelity was not asked of her nor asked of him, but she claimed the right to suffer from his neglect or absence, and he claimed the right to rule her heart, her life and, if need be, her income.
Soon after their meeting he left her for one of his Dresden visits and this gave Adrienne de Lecouvreur an opportunity for one of those amorous correspondences for which French women are famous.
Adrienne de Lecouvreur possessed every luxury, possibly not purchased by the efforts of her own talents and certainly not paid for by Maurice de Saxe. In her salons, bed-chambers and ante-chambers of the rue des Marais she possessed Flemish tapestries, inlaid and gilt furniture, costly pictures of the French and Italian schools, hangings of velvet and satins, all that the taste of the day declared necessary for the embellishment of beauty and talent.
These became the mere background of her love-story that she heightened with every art and grace in her power. Her letters to the absent lover ran the whole gamut of amorous emotion; every aspect of anguished passion that she had been called upon to portray on the boards of the Comédie Française she revived for the benefit of her absent lover. She had fixed upon her part and decided to play it to the finish and to play it elegantly.
Her friends in vain endeavoured to distract her; she would think of nothing, talk of nothing, brood over nothing but the absent Maurice. She chose night for preference in which to write to him; in her charming classic négligé with pomaded hair falling over her exquisite shoulders, a vase full of lilac, roses or acacia at her side, the marble table before her, the gilt clock ticking over the hours when most reasonable people slept, this for her was the chosen scene in which to write her passionate, her sentimental, her languishing letters to the adored hero.
She knew that she could not count upon his fidelity; she almost enjoyed the pain that this knowledge inflicted upon her. He had, after all, made no great attempts to deceive her. Part of his charm was his brusqueness, his candour, his frank avowal of the obvious intentions of the roving and dominant male.
"You are not the kind of lover that I have longed for," she wrote to him. But these were mere words; the truth was that he satisfied her completely.
The essential scoundrel in him called to the essential wanton in her: play as they might with high terms and lofty phrases, she was adventuress to his adventurer. Neither of them had known real decorum, real training, honest family life, the ideals of religion, any kind of spiritual existence. He in his way, she in hers, played with sensuality. All that the gross love affair required of decoration the actress was capable of giving it. She disguised a headlong passion with a hundred prettinesses.
When he returned from Dresden she received him with an enthusiasm that appeared virtue. Her intelligence forced him to believe that he really preferred her to his other easy loves and he was stampeded into a kind of fidelity.
She spoke of the soul and its grandeur and its beauty, of a love that should outlast death, he believed nothing of the matter, but the phrases pleased his ear. He recognised that there was a certain value in diamonds, in costly tapestry and painted furniture. He declared himself enthusiastically in love with Adrienne and she concealed from him her horrid premonition of an early death.
Adrienne, indeed, had begun to develop tuberculosis, to fall into what was then poetically termed "a decline," a disease fashionable among the young and ardent, one altogether beyond the rude medical science of the age and only to be assuaged by copious doses of opium that produced a frenzy in the thoughts and actions of the patient worse than that what might be attributed to the disease.
Adrienne de Lecouvreur saw herself faced by this desolate fate; she was to die then, young, in her beauty, in her power, in the full strength of her passion. The thought was terrible, yet in a way it appealed to her theatrical temperament. She had died so often on the stage that it did not seem much to die in real life. Her luxury and her love concealed her disease, opium gave her false courage, a false beauty; her eyes sparkling from the effects of the drug she would rave her part upon the boards, then throw herself enervated by passion, into the powerful arms of Maurice de Saxe, who believed that his caresses would be sufficient 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 Gallic fineness, to make the Achilles of Homer become, as a contemporary said, the Achilles of Racine. She taught him how to speak elegantly to women, how to write delicate badinage to them, but she could not teach him how to treat them in all affairs that really matter. Of the gutter herself, she could yet teach this son of a Prince how to behave, though not how to think. She could give him lessons how to bow before a lady, how to kiss her finger-tips, how to advance his suit by the subtleties of sighs and appeals, but she could not give him any lessons in virtue or honour, for she knew little of these things herself. But through all the languish of a passion that was purely sensual did gleam a complete fidelity.
She contrived to make of Maurice de Saxe her religion, to find him everything she might have found in a family, in an assured social position. He became fused with her art; he was all the heroes of all the dramas in which she had ever played. Her affair with him became famous in Paris, almost classical, entirely virtuous. Who had ever heard of such fidelity on the part of an actress, a beauty, a courtesan? She forwent many of the amusements, the diversions, the prizes that were considered her due; her tears, her sighs, consecrated her on the altar of virtuous love. Had she been his long-suffering wife, she could scarcely have earned so much praise.
As for him, he had all the advantages and none of the obligations or despairs of the affair. He came and went as he pleased. Other women, his sports, his games, his regiment, occupied as much of his time as he chose they should. When he was away he received her letters with negligence and answered them with brevity.
Adrienne was all nobility and self-sacrifice; she wrote to him that she could never be completely happy save in his presence but that he was to forgo nothing for her sake. She left him completely free and she always added the assurance that was so entirely lost on a man of his type, "I do love you a thousand times more than you believe," than you deserve, she might have added with truth.
The affair became public property and rumours of it spread to Dresden. Augustus was a little disturbed in his senile lassitude. An actress! and loved for more than a day and a night! When Maurice was in Paris he was living openly with her, they had a joint establishment though Maurice paid little towards the upkeep. The King-Elector made some little effort to betroth his son to the Princess of Holstein-Sonderburg and to control his behaviour.
"Conduct yourself with dignity," he wrote in a tone of weak rebuke, "and I will make of you a Prince indeed." But Count Flemming was always there to whisper in his apathetic sovereign's ear: "The young Prince is indeed incorrigible."
Incorrigible Maurice was, if not a Prince. But he was not so far gone in his follies that he did not keep his eye on the main source of his revenues. He was frequently in Dresden and frequently at the ear of Augustus, who even employed him on secret negotiations with the Regent, trifling in themselves, but useful to the young man's importance.
What these negotiations were is not known, but the King- Elector complimented his son on accomplishing them with address and discretion.
Always restless and seeking for fresh diversions, Maurice went to London, where he was received with a great deal of amiability at the court of the man whose wife had been his uncle's mistress. George I was all affability for the young French Marshal, Saxon by 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 walking about the streets of London by himself or with only one body- servant in attendance, and in watching all the rich adventures on the streets of the capital.
It was told of him with much relish that on one occasion being halted by a drunken boxer in Covent Garden, he turned and with one magnificent gesture seized the offender by the hair and threw him in the ditch that ran then down the centre of all the principal streets of London.
Women, of course, were the accompaniment of all these adventures and when at length he returned to Paris the faithful Adrienne ventured to utter some gentle reproaches. She had had no letters from him and there was the usual complaint: "Is it so difficult to write just one word? Can one love a woman whom one neglects like this?" And with some bitterness she reproached him with the seraglio that he maintained and that would, she declared, efface all memory of her in his mind. She was too good an actress to lose any point in the argument; she ran through the whole gamut of reproaches as she had once run through the whole gamut of emotion.
"What a fool I am to concern myself for a man like you? What a mistake to pass my life in such uncertainty!"
The libertine consoled her, he caressed her, he was her lover once more. Her fascination acted upon him like a charm when he was in her presence, the feverishness of her malady helped to give her a desperate seductiveness. Her health was failing, she had fainted, she had spat blood, her head ached and her cough was continuous. It was with difficulty that she was able to take her part on the stage; sometimes at the last minute another play had to be substituted for that in which she had been billed to appear. Then she would remain in her luxurious chamber, sunk on her pillows, dazed with opium, with ill-health, scribbling her notes that were to call Count Maurice to her bedside. She was disillusioned, she was in despair, but she was just as able to persuade herself, still "in love." Maurice had never had a rival in her sensitive heart and soul. She was his, always his—she continued to write her notes, a whole literature of love. It is doubtful if he ever read them or at least more than the first or last line. Why should he concern himself with the perusal of these sad epistles when he knew the writer was his prey? He had but to smile upon her and all her grievances were forgotten. After all, she had held him longer than any other woman, though her reign might have been intermittent, it had endured for five years.
In the year 1725 she became more and more distracted and it was with great relief that she learned, after a desperate exercise of all her subtleties, that her rival was not a woman. This time it was ambition. Maurice had never forgotten how near he was to a throne, how completely divided he was from one. Traditional and conventional in all his behaviour, he had never shown himself an enemy to his brother, the Prince-Electoral of Saxony, the heir to the throne, as it was hoped, of Poland; there Maurice was all loyalty, all submission. But in a world that was large and stormy and where many adventurers were tossed to the top on the crest of every tempest, might not he, with all his advantages, find a crown, a throne? Bold, reckless, imprudent, he was prepared to undertake any adventure, if it held out even the least hope of satisfying this ambition of effacing the baton- sinister that debruised his coat of arms.
During his military and mathematical studies, during his reckless debauches he had always had before his mind this glittering hope—a crown, a kingdom.
Oh, to rule, to have not one regiment but a whole army under his command, to have the revenues of an entire country to draw upon, to be by right what he felt himself to be by nature, a master, a king! Where was this ambition to be gratified?
He ran now into the gilded salon where Adrienne de Lecouvreur tossed on her down satin pillows and told her with enthusiasm, with feverish excitement, there was at last a chance.
"What of?" she demanded, starting up upon her lace-hung couch. Her thoughts were only of love, of peace, of possessing in tranquillity this gorgeous lover. But he quickly disillusioned her. He came to her as a friend, as a confidant. He needed her wit, her sympathy, perhaps her jewels and her credit. There was an opportunity that he might at last be a sovereign, a prince, free, he said, above them all, the equal of his father, his grandfather, the Prince of Saxony. And he unfolded to her the project that had been broached to his eager attention.
The sovereignty of Courland and Semigallia was for sale and it had been suggested to Maurice at a carnival in Warsaw where he had waited upon his father, that, if he could find the price, he might obtain the double dukedom, which would set him on a level with the sovereign Princes of Europe.
This duchy represented the farthest north barriers of Europe between Russia, Lithuania, and Livonia. It was a strip of barren enough land on the Baltic, the climate was harsh, the winters almost intolerable to a Southerner and a heavy fog usually enveloped it even in summer. The inhabitants counted at most five hundred thousand; they lived humbly on what agriculture their unfertile country could produce.
The capital was Mitau, and there had ruled, ignored by the rest of Europe for some generations, the Dukes of Courland and Semigallia. The niece of Peter the Great, Anna Ivanowa, had been married to the Duke Frederick William, who had died childless in 1711. He had been followed by a weak prince, Ferdinand de Kettlar.
Taking advantage of the fact that Poland was the overlord of Courland, Augustus II thought of annexing the small barrier country. The election of the sovereign rested with the Diet of Courland, who were allowed, by the constitution of the country, to choose an heir to a childless ruler. Not only was Ferdinand de Kettlar childless, he was feeble and in ill-health and did not seem disposed to make any opposition to a scheme to dispossess him of his throne.
An intrigue was therefore set on foot to offer this prize to Maurice de Saxe, son of the King Augustus, who already had made a pretension to Courland. The prime mover in this manoeuvre was M. Lefort, Resident of the King of Poland at the court of Russia.
The King-Elector approved the scheme. It would give his son, so turbulent and difficult to place, an establishment at last and it would maintain his hold over Courland. Obviously, heavy expenses would be entailed. The bribes expected would be numerous and heavy.
Maurice did not allow this consideration to get in the way of his enthusiastic acceptance of the plan. He was even prepared to sell his beloved regiment in order to raise the money with which to establish himself in Courland. The dazzling dream that had been so dear to him since he was a child seemed at last about to be realised and the illegitimate son of Aurora von Königsmarck already saw himself a ruling Sovereign. It was the title, the glory, not the substance, that he wanted. It mattered nothing to him that Courland was a desolate, forlorn situation, that the country was poor and backward; he would be a sovereign Duke, a ruling Prince.
Some formalities, however, remained to be gone through. The Diet would have to elect him a future Duke and there would have to be a reference, however formal, to the wishes of the people. There was also the Dowager Duchess, Anna Ivanowa daughter of Ivan, brother of Peter the Great; she had some claims to the throne her husband had occupied, or believed she had; at least she possessed a considerable party in Courland and might be supposed 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 the people of Courland would not have much excuse to refuse to accept as their Sovereign the man whom their Duchess had married.
Maurice was perfectly willing to agree to this plan and to contract a second marriage of self-interest. He was also convinced that he had but to see the Duchess to win her, and this confidence, it must be admitted, was based not so much upon vanity as experience. He had never yet been refused anything by a woman.
Here was Adrienne de Lecouvreur's opportunity for sacrifice. She could display a delicious feminine sympathy by renouncing all her frail and dubious rights over her lover's heart in order that she might not stand in the way of his destiny. Not only did she encourage him to undertake this adventure but she was willing to raise all the money she could, even to sell her jewels, to assist him. Other French women were willing to finance the enterprise; the money seemed assured.
Maurice, however, had not set out for Courland when a difficulty arose.
Russia, whom the King-Elector was fearful to offend, had another scheme for Maurice de Saxe; she proposed that he should marry Elizabeth Petrovna, a daughter of Peter the Great, receive her with a portion suitable to her rank and renounce all claims to the throne of Courland.
Augustus II felt that he had no alternative to the acceptance of this scheme. He took, as usual, the easiest way and sent Count Manteuffel to tell Maurice to give up the Courland adventure.
The King-Elector should have known his son better. Though he was told by his father's envoy that this was not a request but a command, Maurice replied brusquely that he would obey the King in everything but this. And he proceeded to get together a party in Paris to supply him with funds.
There were a number of women besides Adrienne de Lecouvreur willing to help the hero to obtain his ducal crown, and armed with this practical proof of feminine devotion, Maurice employed an agent who was told to engage all the deserters of whatever nation who might be still loitering in the Low Countries.
Nearly two thousand of these doubtful mercenaries were enrolled, but half deserted again before reaching the port of Lubeck, where they were to embark, and all the efforts of the lovelorn ladies and amiable friends only provided Maurice with a ragged motley troop of about eight hundred men. He was not, however, daunted by this nor by the appearance in the field of a Russian Pretender supported by his own court, Prince Mentchikof, who, encouraged by the Empress of All the Russias (who was not at all disposed to let this opportunity slip of annexing the two duchies) waited on the frontier of Courland with twenty thousand Russian troops.
Maurice set out for Mitau, encouraged by the self-sacrificial tears and caresses of Adrienne de Lecouvreur and several other enthusiastic women who promised to send further supplies.
It is said that, when Maurice asked one of his agents for a book to amuse himself with on the tedious journey across Europe, this man could find nothing but a history of the Duke of Monmouth. If Maurice had read this, he must indeed have found some similarity between the story of James II and his own, while Adrienne de Lecouvreur seemed well cast for the part of Henrietta Wentworth, another fond and foolish woman who with a kind of exquisite silliness had stripped herself of jewels, even of the wherewithal on which to live, in order to urge a beloved hero on to a crazy adventure. However, Maurice "went at the gallop" with his band of filibusters to Mitau; he had all the Duke of Monmouth's advantages and some that were entirely his own; "All Paradise was opened in his face," Dryden had written in hyperbole of the English royal bastard, and Maurice was able to note with complacency that when he was presented to Anna Ivanowa in Mitau in the May of 1726—"my face pleased her."
She was, indeed, as infatuate as Maurice and his friends had hoped she would be and expressed herself as willing as Adrienne de Lecouvreur herself to spend the rest of her life with the noble and handsome adventurer.
"I had the happiness," wrote Maurice to Aurora von Königsmarck, "not to displease her. She herself told the Czarina that she wished to become once more Duchess of Courland and share my throne."
With the help of the amorous Russian princess and the money he had brought from equally infatuated Parisian ladies and actresses, Maurice contrived to make himself acceptable to the Courlanders, who believed he might save them from annexation; he was hailed as future Duke.
The title, however, was merely nominal; Maurice found himself the centre of intrigues, surrounded with jealousy, indifference and treason. If he could win the women, he was not invariably so successful with the men and like many another Pretender he found himself surrounded only by those who hoped to obtain some favours from him and who were ready to leave him when there was nothing to be had from him; worse than this, he was disavowed by his father, who feared to displease Russia.
Some of the Courlanders, to whom Maurice represented national independence, rallied round him, but neither their number nor their training was such as to render them very effective. Maurice appealed passionately, authoritatively, to his adoring troop of women. Aurora von Königsmarck left Quedlinburg to endeavour once more to raise money from bankers and usurers. She brought out from her treasury such jewels as she had been able to save from her son's insatiable demands; Adrienne de Lecouvreur realised the fortunes given her by other lovers to help this lover who had given her nothing, and sent to Mitau forty-thousand limes in one instalment only.
Maurice was not, she wrote in an excess of sentimental generosity, to concern himself about returning this money, but to make good use of it for his own glory. At the same time she expressed feminine fears for his safety. She believed that he had gone among savages, she dreaded the mishaps that might overtake him in the cold, far North. She implored him to return, if only for a brief while, as soon as possible, to her luxurious and cosy hotel, in Paris.
The Dowager Duchess of Courland in her turn worked for the irresistible young hero. She did her best to persuade the feeble, perhaps dying, Duke of Courland to use what influence he might possess in favour of the Saxon Pretender to his throne; like all feeble, cornered people, Ferdinand Kettlar compromised, promising his aid here and there according to the last person who spoke to him and Anna Ivanowa's arts were useful.
But more powerful allies worked for Maurice. The beautiful Maréchale Vielinska was in an influential position at Warsaw, and the charming Countess Pociey, whose husband was of equal importance at Riga, did their best by subtle underhand influence to secure to the resplendent Maurice his uneasy duchy. He had had tender passages with both these useful ladies.
The election took place on June 26, 1725, when Maurice was unanimously chosen by the Diet and the Dowager Duchess gave a sumptuous banquet in the evening to celebrate his success.
The diploma of election stated frankly enough that "the House of Gotlar-Kettlar, being about to end in the person of His Serene Highness Duke Ferdinand, the nobility and the commons of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia had elected as his successor the Serene Prince Maurice, Count of Saxony, to be their Sovereign in case that His Serene Highness the Duke Ferdinand should die without male children."
Maurice wrote triumphantly of his success to the father who had opposed it and he began in the enthusiasm of the moment to cast upon paper his plans for ruling his new Duchy; the spendthrift, almost bankrupt adventurer, took some pretty good resolutions.
"I propose to live very quietly; my domains are indebted and ruined by famine and war. It is only with industry and economy that they can attain some measure of prosperity. I shall give all my attention to this."
The adventurer had, however, to reckon with another adventurer. Mentchikof, the one-time pastry-cook, who had become general and first minister to Peter the Great, was also hankering after a crown, and he was the favourite of Catherine the First, widow of Peter the Great. It seemed possible that one woman could achieve for Russia what many women could not achieve for the Saxon.
Mentchikof no sooner heard of the election of Maurice than he sent Prince Dolgorouki to apprise the Diet that the Empress of Russia did not acknowledge the election, that it both surprised and irritated her, and that Mentchikof was her choice.
This ominous announcement was soon followed by the Russian's arrival at Mitau with the twenty thousand men he had gathered on the frontier, with credentials as Catherine's Minister.
Shortly after he had entered the city the Russian waited upon Maurice, then installed in the palace of the Duchess.
It was a strange interview. The two men were alike in much—adventurers both of them, one of royal blood but debarred by bastardy from the throne, the other of the lowest birth but raised to princely rank through the friendship of an Emperor; both ambitious, bold, reckless and dependent upon the favour of women for their power.
The Russian informed Maurice that it was the wish of the Empress that the Courlanders should proceed to another election, and he added frankly that he was Her Imperial Majesty's choice and that, failing him, the Duke of Holstein or one of the Princes of Hesse should be chosen. In no case were Maurice's claims to be even considered.
Maurice met insolence with insolence, assurance with assurance. He was, he said, the duly elected Duke of Courland and Semigallia and he refused to listen to any messages even from the Empress of Russia.
Mentchikof's reply was to continue to pour troops into the country and to give the Diet ten days in which to consider their future actions.
The sight of Catherine's cavalry riding sword in hand through the streets of the capital made the Courlanders regret their impulsive choice of the Saxon.
Maurice had no troops beyond the sixty guards who composed his escort and who were quartered in the mansion where he resided in Mitau, when he was not enjoying the hospitality of the Duchess.
The Russian made an attempt to capture the Saxon pretender by besieging him in his own house, but the Dowager Duchess, hearing of this move, sent her own guard to rescue Maurice, and to carry him to her Palace where he was given apartments, and treated as a ruling sovereign. Without her intervention he would have fallen into the hands of the Russian and been carried as a prisoner to St. Petersburg, a turn to the adventure that would at least have given him the opportunity of laying siege to the heart of the Empress herself and thus, perhaps, displacing his rival not only in Courland but in Russia.
Maurice escaped from his besieged house in the most dramatic and romantic circumstances, among which, if the gossips of the time are to be believed, was the capture of a beautiful young Courland girl disguised as a man, whom the Russians believed to be Maurice. While she kept up this pretence and was being led into the presence of Prince Mentchikof, Maurice was escaping to the palace of the Dowager Duchess. If there be even the fraction of truth in this tale, the lady must have been of Amazonian stature or the Russians entirely deceived with regard to the person of the Saxon pretender.
The Dowager Duchess, handsome, passionate and savage—in everything a fitting niece to Peter the Great—had become violently enamoured of Maurice, to whom she paid every possible attention and in whose cause she used all her influence with the Czarina, with the Courlanders, with Mentchikof himself.
She entertained him lavishly at her own expense and Maurice was able, at least, to simulate a return of these warm feelings and induce the Duchess to send pressing embassies to St. Petersburg with the two objects of persuading Mentchikof to drop his pretensions and of securing the effectual election of Maurice himself.
At first these intrigues seemed successful. The Empress, to oblige her husband's relative, sacrificed her own favourite and ordered him to abandon his claims to the Duchy of Courland and to withdraw his troops from Mitau.
The situation had all the elements of either tragedy or comedy; there was something bizarre and fantastic about the characters of all concerned in the Courland intrigue.
The Empress, Catherine I, had been a Livonian captive, who had taken the capricious fancy of the conquering Russians, and who had been the mistress of several generals who had commanded the troops overrunning Livonia. She had, at last, attracted the attention of the brutal, half-crazed Czar himself and he had married her; after his death she had passed into the possession of Mentchikof, a former army cook who had attained a high military rank and considerable influence in the councils of his master.
This man, able, astute, daring, dreamed of holding together the Empire of Peter the Great and even of achieving his aim by means of Catherine and he was powerful enough to secure her coronation as Empress of all the Russias; his desire for Courland was inspired by the same motive as Maurice's longing for that barren Duchy—the wish to possess some independent title that might at least have a show of sovereignty.
But neither the ambitious Maurice nor the ambitious Mentchikof was as important in the tangled affair as the women; the former slave and camp follower whom Mentchikof had crowned with the surer crown that formed the imperial diadem, and the lusty Anna, widowed for fifteen years, whose support only kept Maurice in Mitau.
Even this patronage would have been useless to him without the money 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, who liked her suitor to glitter in satin and velvet, brocade and tissues, to be surrounded by liveried lackeys.
When writing to his father, Maurice had tried to put a good face on his ambitions and projects by expounding schemes he had in mind for Courland "ruined by war, pestilence and debts."
He admitted that there would be considerable difficulties in the way of putting Courland—under any aspect—on the map of Europe, but he affected to believe that it could be done; he used the words "industry" and "economy," which had not hitherto been in his vocabulary, and added disdainfully that he had always detested the pretentious luxury of little courts that raised the mockery of the small people and the contempt of the great.
"I shall never live in pomp—plenty of guns and bayonets in my salles d'armes,' and no flatterers in my antechambers."
This was all very well, but for the moment Maurice had to be a flatterer himself, and to go splendidly in order to hold the sensuous fancy of the dangerous Russian.
She did not, it would seem, greatly attract him, she was not young, she was used up; there was something about her as "farouche" as Mentchikof's pikemen. Maurice, used to the elegances of Dresden and the superb delights of Paris and Versailles, found Anna and her household, if not as savage as Adrienne feared they might be, at least lacking in polish and finesse.
More than this, Anna dared to be exacting and suspicious, to try to dominate her suitor; it was the first time that a woman had ventured to bring him to heel; the satisfaction with which he had written "I please her" soon wore off. There was rather too much femininity in the whole affair and Maurice was not quite so clever at managing Anna as Mentchikof was at managing the Empress.
It was all very sweet and dainty on the surface and Maurice enjoyed the gorgeous quasi-oriental splendour of Anna's establishment, but the sugared tongues of the women could soon be spiteful—"langues du chat," a sweetmeat with a bitter flavour.
Maurice controlled himself to some show of prudence in view of the prize at stake; when his marriage with an Emperor's niece had made him in truth Duke of Courland—and master of her private fortune, too—then he might permit himself to treat her as he had treated Johanna Victoria, a lady of whose history Anna was doubtless in ignorance.
Meanwhile Maurice indulged his dreams; Anna was confident that she could persuade Catherine to call off Mentchikof, whose ferocious looking men so energetically patrolled the streets of Mitau, and Maurice was confident that he could outface the Russian adventurer, backed as he was by the Diet of Courland, which had duly and truly elected him as sovereign designate. It was true that the Courlanders were a little disturbed by the presence of the Russian cavalry, but Maurice, always sanguine, believed Anna's assurances that this would soon, by orders of the Empress, be withdrawn.
Of Anna herself he was sure, dangerously sure; he felt that he held her in the palm of his hand. She had given him the most splendid suite of apartments in her palace, she sent an officer every day to take his orders and a page to enquire after his health; she was as submissive as the lovelorn Adrienne de Lecouvreur to his least wish.
Maurice felt his throne secure and looked forward to a future as ruler of Courland and Semigallia—"a poor thing, but mine own."
He was confident that he could hold at bay—even turn into allies, both his father and Russia; after all, Anna could manage the Empress, and Augustus II had never really refused him anything 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 Jargellons hereditary in the family of the Electors of Saxony.
Flemming regarded Maurice, as always, as a tiresome, insolent adventurer and he had inspired Augustus II with some of his own ideals concerning the future of Poland or, at least, Augustus, who every day was further decayed in spirits, agreed out of apathy to pretend to believe in these ideals. In any case, the King-Elector had other reasons for keeping fair with Russia. He had been even more than usually extravagant in the magnificence with which he maintained his position and he wanted money; there were new palaces to pay for and new favourites demanding gold.
The King-Elector, therefore, ordered his son to return to Saxony.
Maurice, dazzled with the prospect of a throne, and encouraged by the help of Anna Ivanowa, maintained an attitude of haughty defiance more in accordance with his obstinate, reckless character than from any dictates of prudence or reason.
The breach between Augustus II and Maurice widened, and finally the King-Elector was roused to take strong measures against the disobedient son and rebellious subject.
But even now Maurice might have achieved at least a certain measure of success, had he not carelessly played fast and loose with the enamoured Russian princess who was his hostess and his most powerful ally.
It would have been both common prudence and common gratitude to have maintained some sort of fidelity towards his betrothed at least until their marriage day. But Maurice allowed his essential lightness of character and his love of coarse, careless debaucheries to ruin his chances with the niece of Peter the Great.
With equal carelessness and bad taste he entered into an intrigue with a young woman who was in the service of the Dowager Duchess. This charmer was lodged on the ground floor; her window was near to those in the apartments occupied by Maurice, and it was his rash and foolish custom to visit her or to allow her to visit him by means of these windows almost every night.
On one occasion when his mistress was with him, the snow fell heavily and when the moment arrived when it seemed even to Maurice prudent for her to leave his apartments, he found that it would be impossible for her to do so without leaving her footprints in the courtyard.
He thereupon took her without the least difficulty, for she was small and he was still prodigiously strong, on his shoulders and was proceeding across the snowy courtyard from his window to a point in the garden where he believed she could scramble back along a frozen path to her own room without leaving her tracks behind her, when, unfortunately, Maurice and his fair burden were met by an old servant going the rounds with a lantern. Recognising both the cavalier and the lady, the old woman gave a shrill cry of either alarm or malice. Maurice, who hoped he had not been recognised, tried to knock the lantern out of her hand but, 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, was undoubtedly ridiculous in its ending. Attracted by the old woman's indignant cries and the curses of Maurice, the guard came running up and at once recognised the new Duke of Courland and one of the Dowager Duchess's servants. The news of the scandal spread like a spurt of wild fire. Anna Ivanowa heard of it almost immediately. The haughty Russian fell into a frenzy of fury and sent Maurice out of her palace and out of her life. It was the first time that a woman had turned on him and he was too amazed to be angry.
It is uncommon for a man fascinating enough to fix the affections of an imperious, difficult and powerful woman to be faithful enough to retain them, and Maurice did not possess the art nor the flexibility to disguise his lapses from constancy. Anna had already been disgusted with his continual love intrigues in Mitau and this gross incident in her own palace was too much. She redeemed the folly that made her believe herself capable of retaining the sole attentions of this universal lover by the fortitude with which she dismissed him from her mind and heart.
The Duchess had the good sense to disdain the forced imitation of passion and penitence that Maurice put up and to bestow her favours where their considerable value was better appreciated; she promised her hand to the Duke of Hesse-Homburg, a Prince less attractive than the brilliant Saxon but not of a disposition so light and roving.
Another misfortune swiftly followed; Maurice's election to the throne of Courland was annulled by the Diet of Poland, acting under pressure from Augustus II; this Diet was considered superior to that of Courland; Maurice was ordered to leave Mitau and 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 even to invoke the aid of England. But the combined efforts of Poland and Russia were, however, too much even for the inflexible Duke- Elect. He was obliged to retire to Libau to avoid arrest and finally to the island of Usmaiz, where he employed himself in forcing the peasants to build fortifications and in summoning the Courlanders to his assistance.
The Empress Catherine had now died (May 17, 1727) and her successor, the Emperor, Peter II, or his ministers resolved to settle 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 retreat to Windau in a fury of temper, with the treasured but useless diploma 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 know any more than a stray wolf where my next lodging will be." And he added with a cynicism that came from a barren heart: "There is a price upon my head and the sum promised so high that I can expect my best friend to betray me."
The death of his protectress, Catherine, had deprived the other adventurer, Mentchikof, of the hopes of Courland. He still, however, felt bitter towards Maurice and with eight thousand men followed him and his ragged mercenaries; Maurice talked in bold and bombastic terms, but the end had come. His flight became so hurried that not only the baggage but even the precious diploma of election had to be abandoned; finally he burnt, in a fit of temper, all the love-letters he had received during the adventure.
On the 15th of December, 1727, the Diet of Courland declared illegal the vote of the 26th June, 1726. The women had made the adventure possible and the women had ruined it. It is a vast misfortune for an ambitious man to be unable to provoke the attention and help of at least one intelligent, able and charming woman, and a succession of petty mistresses—dancers, actresses, chambermaids, great ladies and camp followers—prevented Maurice from ever achieving the possession of a woman who might have been of the least use to him.
His quarrel with his wife had given him an adventurous air even for that period and his failure with Anna Ivanowa cost him not only the Courland but the throne, possibly, of all the Russias.
There was now nothing for him but to return to Dresden where he was reconciled with the easy King-Elector and employed himself in designing liveries for his lackeys and having the arms of Courland placed on all his appointments, the purple and ermine of Gotlar-Kettlar, the red lion of Courland, the wild goat of Semigallia.
The whole adventure had had a tinge of the grotesque, almost of the ridiculous. There was a touch of opéra bouffe about the extravagance of the episode. Maurice had appeared as a man who had no thought for anything but his personal advancement and not sufficient finesse to accomplish that; only the flourish with which he carried off his ill success prevented it from becoming absurd. Notable, too, is the utter lack of honour and honesty among all the actors in the Courland interlude.
After a short period of reflection in the stately retreat of Quedlinburg, Maurice repaired with all his bravery and Courland liveries to Danzig, where Anna Ivanowa then was with her dying mother-in-law, with the object of exerting all his fascination to regain the Russian's interest.
But it was in vain. The Dowager Duchess received him coldly and eyed his splendour with indifference. However brilliant he might be, she was but a step now from the Imperial throne and an Empress does not need to search for lovers or to share their caresses with the least of her sex.
The Russian princess announced her approaching marriage to the Duke 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 Augustus II scarcely knew what to do with the son whose reputation so far exceeded his achievements.
A lovely widow of immense riches was now proposed to Maurice by the King-Elector and accepted eagerly enough by that young nobleman, whose fortune was so much in need of repair and whose position was so unstable.
Prudent considerations were, however, unable to keep Maurice constant till the wedding day, and the wealthy bride-to-be rejected her giddy lover for the same cause that Anna Ivanowa had withdrawn her favour from the fickle Saxon.
In all these humiliations and misfortunes there always remained the brilliant and constant devotion of Adrienne de Lecouvreur. She had been true to him for five years, and when he returned to Paris she received him with passionate tenderness, declaring that she loved him more in his misfortune than she would have done if he had returned as a Sovereign Duke-Elect, and not even mentioning the large sums of money that she had squandered on a hopeless cause.
Before the reckless, disappointed adventurer she placed the attractions of a sentimental woman's love dreams. The little cottage at Daumartin, was it not more beautiful than all the courts in the world? Could not they live there alone, happy and free?
Adrienne might have been able to do so, but Maurice could not. He was glad of the famed actress's flattery, of her caresses, of her tenderness and sympathy, he was glad of her money and her jewels, he was glad of the prestige of being the lover of so famous and coveted a woman, but he could not give her much of his time.
"I do not hope," sighed Adrienne sadly, "ever to be happy."
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 and early death. Her tears flowed daily, her health was really undermined, her beauty fading; she was approaching her fortieth year.
Maurice began to find her tears, the emotional displays she indulged in, her exactions, insupportable. She was deeply humiliated. But Maurice could never find anything humiliating in any relationship with a woman.
His infidelities once more became careless and open; Adrienne constantly created scenes of furious jealousy and wrote in a tone of bitter despair to the devoted friend the Comte d'Argental: "I am half-crazy with rage and misery. Is it not just for me to cry out against his treachery? This man ought to know me, ought to love me! Oh, my God! What are we? What are we?"
But he still called himself "her admirer, friend and lover," and still kept for her that intermittent affection which alone held her to life, for he had become with her an obsession. She lived for his visits, to write him letters, to express on the stage 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 still searching for an establishment, a wealthy wife, a dukedom, a war—anything that would satisfy his energy and set him up where he wished to be, above his fellows. He had not neglected his mathematical studies during the Courland excitement, nor had he, after all, been forced to sell his regiment; while besotted women continued to strip themselves of their jewellery to give him all the toys and pleasures he needed.
The affairs of France had changed since he had arrived in Paris in the year of the downfall of John Law. Louis XV was now of age and had married a Polish princess, the daughter of that Stanislas who for a brief period had replaced Augustus II on the throne of Poland.
Dubois and the Regent had both passed from the scene, but they had left a permanent impression on the society of France. There was no change in the tone of Paris; Maurice still found himself much at ease in the salons, in the racing stables, at the gambling tables, the foyer of the Opéra, in the loge of the Comédie Française.
European politics and the international condition of France were to him alike, nothing of the least interest. He had been quick enough to see, when he glanced round Courland, how famine, pestilence and war could ruin a country and how necessary economy and good management were for its revival. But he was not prepared to give attention to these matters in as far as they affected France.
He spent recklessly and cared nothing at all where the money came from, and he hoped that his always desperate finances would soon receive some replenishment from an unexpected source.
Aurora von Königsmarck died at the age of forty-eight; she left a reputation for gentleness, wit, and even for chastity, for if she had had no husband she had had only one lover and the Lutheran cloisters of Quedlinburg had never been disturbed by any of the exotic gaieties of Moritzburg.
She had loved Maurice with wistful tenderness, but he sent a representative 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 behind enough 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 estate left by his mother had to report that she had left only a few écus and only a few pieces of furniture, hardly worth the trouble of moving from the cloisters of Quedlinburg.
Aurora von Königsmarck had been indeed like the pelican in her piety, she had pierced her own breast in order to feed her young with her life blood. Not only with her treasure, but with her energy, her wit, her charm, had she supplied the greedy demands of the child who had by his birth deprived her of health and beauty.
She was buried in the vaults of the church attached to the Abbey, where the chemical qualities of the sandstone had so long preserved in a mummified condition the bodies of long dead Imperial men and women.
There was no one to preserve the memory of Aurora, though her body might, for a long while, be kept intact; she remained forgotten in the Hartz Mountains, which she had looked upon first with the curious eyes of a stranger when the Electoral carriage had driven her to Goslar. More than a hundred years after her death the tomb of Aurora von Königsmarck was opened and her beauty, as well as her splendid dress, found to be well conserved by the curious properties of the vault. It was said that traces of her great charm could still be seen on her features; she wore a gown of silver brocade, a "Mary Stewart" bonnet of white velvet with a border of silver lace and pearls, white silk stockings and white satin shoes. The great Emperor who lay beside her was but a handful of dust.
With the death of Aurora, all hopes of any portion of the fortune of the Königsmarcks was lost to Maurice.
In 1703 Count von Löwenhaupt had gone to Hamburg, to try to obtain some satisfaction from the bankers who held Count Philip's property, but in vain; the murdered man's papers had disappeared; thirty-three years later there was a tentative promise of a search 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 of Lastop, von Hartoge and Stamped, nor did any of the descendants of the Königsmarck ever see the splendid jewel, the seven-headed snake valued at 40,000 thalers or the "brown chemical powder" supposed to be the lapis philosophorum.
Maurice was not checked in his reckless expenditure by the loss of this valuable ally who could always be relied upon to pester or cajole some money or some benefit from Augustus II, or to wring some loans from the Hamburg bankers on the remnants of the once magnificent fortunes of the Königsmarcks.
The adventurer went from capital to capital, spending, gambling, followed by women, lackeys, flatterers. His object was now to reconcile himself with his father, the only person from whom he could hope to receive substantial benefits; he felt offended because a larger portion of Saxony was not carved off for his benefit than the trifling estates that he disdained.
True, Augustus II had numerous bastards, but none so worthy of his patronage as Maurice, surely, and M. de Saxe continued to complain fiercely of his enemies, Count Flemming and Count Manteuffel, who were always at his father's ear with tales of his worthlessness. Maurice could see no fault in himself—"I have nothing with which to reproach myself," he wrote indignantly to one of his friends in his bad French, for despite Aurora's early care he never mastered that elegant language, and his German accent pleased the ladies as much as it irritated the lords of the court of France.
A few months after the death of his mother, Maurice, who continued to make Paris his headquarters and Adrienne his maítresse-en-titre, but who was often en voyage, was at Moritzburg, where his father had consented to receive him among the baroque surroundings where Aurora had played her brief love-story.
The gallant cavalier who had so easily seduced the lovely Swede was now nothing but a pitiful and dreadful monument to vice and folly. His once handsome person was bloated and diseased, the face that had once been so charming under the bright blond curls was covered with eruptions and carbuncles, the bald head disguised by a floured wig, or in moments of privacy with a silk foulard; the once famous strength was gone, sapped by every kind of sensuous excess, and the man, whose heroic physique had once been legendary, could now hardly totter from his couch to his chair. Gout gave constant and exquisite torture; his swollen limbs were swathed in bandages, his crippled fingers could grasp neither sword nor pen and all that life had ever meant to him was like ashes in his mouth.
Maurice regarded his father with cynic calculation and took no warning from this spectacle of ruined manhood, being wheeled round the lakes and along the glades where he had once performed those athletic feats that had earned him the name of Augustus the Strong.
The only thought in the younger man's mind was how much money he could possibly squeeze from his peevish and reluctant parent.
While he was engaged in this tedious task, in the spring of 1728, he lost his worst enemy a few months after he had lost his best friend. The news of the death of General Count Flemming was brought to father and son at Moritzburg; Augustus II was indifferent, the delight of Maurice was brutal. The details of the death and burial of the stern statesman were discussed over the bottles—wine for Maurice—medicine for His Majesty—served on the gold and silver platters in the opulent hunting-box.
Some ugly gossip was going round Dresden; Flemming had left a young and pretty widow who did not in the least mourn him; nay, it was said that so far was she from observing even outward decency that when she had learnt that the coffin made for her dead husband was too small for him, she had ordered his limbs to be broken sooner than provide another for him. At this tale Maurice gave his deep and hearty laugh; it was very much to his taste.
"The lady gives her husband after his death the punishment he should have had during his lifetime from your Majesty," he said, referring to death by "breaking on the wheel" then the usual mode of disposing of traitors or fallen politicians.
Augustus II, at heart good-natured, and always courteous in his speech, rebuked his son for this coarseness—"One does not 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 and heartless widow and receive with her the vast fortune that Count Flemming had gathered together during a lifetime of prudence or rapacity according as he might have been judged.
Maurice was willing to listen to this shameless suggestion; he was never nice where women or money were concerned, and Augustus II thought that his late minister's estate would serve very well to keep his own scoundrel son quiet for a while.
Maurice put the prospect before Adrienne who still contrived to send him those passionate love letters that he found convenient for shaving papers. She had helped him in the disastrous attempt to win Anna Ivanowa, what did she think of this matrimonial project?
Nothing. Even her complaisance did not go as far as this, amidst all her desperate protestations of love and her gossip of the French court she declared her dislike and distrust of this scheme; it was even, she said, "dangerous." It, in any case, fell through, and by the autumn of that year Maurice was again in Paris. Adrienne received him with a rapture perhaps the more delicious as she herself felt "la fin des beaux jours," approaching.
Accomplished actress as she was she could play this part superbly; in her silk and gauze, with her pearls, fards and powder she could assume the beauty she was losing and turn the fever of her malady into the ardour of passion.
She could sit still at her little Chinese painted clavecin and evoke tender melodies and exquisite memories, she could still surround her lover with an adulation that was the very essence of adoration. But beneath all this she was an ageing, fading, dying woman. Maurice did not long remain satisfied with this suffocating passion.
His dream was still of glory, of a throne; he began to meddle in the Courland affair again, intriguing with Lefort and some Courlanders whom he went to see at Danzig.
"Will you leave me for these barbarians?" cried Adrienne in agony.
He was only too eager to do so; there was another marriage broached by Lefort; this time a daughter of Peter the Great, Elizabeth, cousin of the Empress, whom Maurice had lost through the Mitau escapade. Elizabeth was not easy; she wanted, she said crudely, "To see the goods before she bought them." Maurice was, of course, certain of pleasing her or any other woman, but Augustus II was against the project; he had more dignity than his son and disliked to see even a bastard of Saxony so constantly playing the adventurer and "le galopin."
Disgusted and discouraged, Maurice continued to wander round Europe, leading a life of such disorder that even the brief reports of it that reached Adrienne filled her with shame and self-scorn, and even, at last, with weariness. "Everything combines to separate us," she wrote, almost on a note of resignation. Maurice, however, soon after returned to Paris and outwardly to his life with Adrienne; he gave her but a divided attention; his longing gaze was ever on Courland and those sensual, arrogant, spiteful Romanoff women whom he might even yet win.
For all his reckless frivolity he was conscious of the passing of time; like all hedonists he had his cold fits.
Reviews and hunting parties, balls and carnivals, could not last for ever and when they were over Maurice de Saxe, however much praised and caressed, was still landless and without a definite status or occupation.
The Courland affair had now taken on a further turn of the grotesque. Harassed alike by the Poles and Russians, the Courlanders thought of a desperate expedient to end the struggle for the succession and forced a wife, Princess Johanna Magdalena of Saxe-Weissenfels, on the old, feeble, and reluctant Duke Ferdinand, who was recalled from Danzig in the hope that an heir might still bless the ancient House of Kettlar.
This marriage stirred Maurice to further attempts on the favour of the Czarina, but the agent he employed to speak for him was dismissed the Imperial service and Anna Ivanowa who, on the death of Peter II, had ascended the Imperial throne, chose a more tactful lover and a less impetuous adventurer, Count Biron, to be Duke of Courland, an appointment against which Maurice protested with 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 Paris and endeavour to invent a mechanical boat or barge—a failure on which he expended more money than he could well afford. He also amused himself with a new mistress, coldly chosen from those who competed for his favours, Louise Henriette- Françoise, d'Harcourt Lourraine, Duchesse de Bouillon, who, bold wanton as she was, set herself out to snare him deliberately and when he was won, and won easily, to flaunt him in the eyes of the faithful and lachrymose Adrienne de Lecouvreur.
Madame de Bouillon was the fourth wife of a man forty years her senior and very feeble. Fashionable Paris watched with amusement the combat between the two women for the favours of the fickle libertine. Maurice did not entirely break with Adrienne; not only did her homage flatter his greedy vanity, he feared the furious scenes that neglect on his part provoked from her. On the other hand, Madame de Bouillon suited his taste and his mood exactly; he was the male to her female, artless, callous, coarse and 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 occasion when she played Phédre she directed some of her most poignant lines at the Duchesse de Bouillon, then seated in a box near the stage—the lines in which Phédre declares she was not "one of those bold women who did not know how to blush."
The great lady could not contain her open indignation, and the cynical and fashionable audience applauded the courage of the outraged actress. Maurice remained complacent—cats' tongues—coated with sugar!
The story of Adrienne de Lecouvreur now took on a more melodramatic and sinister turn into events still obscure; this much is known; a hunchback miniature painter, the abbé Bouret, was sent to the Bastille for a mysterious crime; all crimes were, indeed, in those times mysterious; the Law worked and 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 little miniaturist, who had been for a long time a factotum among the ladies whose portraits he so delicately sketched on his ivories.
The story, which has been preserved by Mlle Aissé, a fellow- actress with Adrienne at the Comédie Française, was that Mlle de Lecouvreur had one day received an anonymous letter, begging her to go to the gardens of the Luxembourg and there behind a tree in one of the principal avenues (carefully indicated on a plan enclosed in the epistle) she would find a man who would have "something very important to tell her."
When Adrienne de Lecouvreur arrived at the trysting place she found the abbé, who showed her a little box full of poisoned pastilles. According to his tale the Duchesse de Bouillon had given him these to hand to Adrienne when he should next be received in her easy circle of friends and acquaintances.
At this terrible news the actress prayed the miniature painter to accompany her to M. Henault, Lieutenant of Police; he did so and 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 story goes, through the influence of Madame de Bouillon, was soon released. Nothing could be proved against him, but it seems doubtful whether, if he had been employed by the great lady to murder her rival and then betrayed her, she would have taken the trouble about his fate in prison, unless he was clever enough to conceal his exposure of her scheme.
That, at least, was the tale, or one of the many tales that were going round Paris about the rivalry between the actress and the duchess for the favours of Maurice de Saxe; and it is certain that Bouret was sent to prison because of some attempt on the life of Adrienne and that, though Maurice might be unfaithful to his Adrienne, he soon proved himself cold towards the great lady.
Once more the story of violent death touched an intimate of Maurice de Saxe; two of his brothers had come to their deaths by the sword; there had been his wife's supposed attempts to poison his mother and himself, and now there was this loud rumour that one of his mistresses was striving to poison another. All these incidents show more the temper of the age than anything peculiar to the destiny of Maurice.
It is extremely doubtful, moreover, whether the Duchesse de Bouillon, though no doubt extremely enraged by the coldness of her magnificent lover, really did try to poison the actress. Mlle de Lecouvreur was dying by inches and had been doing so for months, and these tales of poison in a bouquet of flowers, in a cup of chocolate, in a lozenge or a handkerchief are fantastic.
It was not necessary for the Duchesse de Bouillon to find these means of disposing of her rival; a long illness was depriving Adrienne de Lecouvreur, first, of her beauty, then of her strength, then of her love for the theatre, but never of her love for Maurice. She had been complaining of her health for years; she was undoubtedly tubercular, but the illness that killed her was dysentery, hence perhaps the talk of poison. And poison, no doubt, it was, but not given by the hand of another woman.
The great actress tried to remain on the stage to the last, but a terrible bout of illness attacked her when she was playing Jocaste in Voltaire's Oedipus on March 15, 1730. She contrived to get through her part, but fainted as the fringed velvet curtain slid together, and was carried home, so weak that she could not raise her arms from above her heart where they were folded.
Maurice and M. d'Argental hastened to attend her in the splendid rooms in which she had so often entertained them both; the lover was admitted to the bedchamber he had often disdained to share.
She had nothing more to give him, not even reproaches. She did not remind him of any of the troubles or pain to which he had put her, or of the vast sums of money she had spent upon him. Actress to the last, she contrived to give her death from a disgusting disease the air of a classic sacrifice.
There were horrible scenes in her rooms—servants, lackeys, flatterers were plundering her even before the eyes of her friends; the rooms were being despoiled as if Paris was being sacked.
A priest was summoned and proved to be the curé of her parish, Saint Sulpice, one obstinate, coarse-grained and awkward, in the estimation of her friends. He was a Jesuit, by name Languet de Gergy; he offered the dying woman absolution only upon the terms that she repented of her theatrical career. The sins of the flesh might be pardoned her, but not that she had been ever connected with the theatre. The man seems to have done his plain duty. It was all very well to talk of charity, but what reverence had this crowd of atheists ever paid the Church?
Adrienne cared little for the disputes that were going on round her bedside; her friends, pressing the stern priest to stretch a point, he refusing. For long, as she had written recently to Maurice, she had neither slept nor ate and she would prefer death to a continuance of her suffering.
"How happy we shall be," she had cried to her lover, "when we are free; you from me and I from life."
As the indecorous disputes continued round her bed, the dying actress had the final word. Struggling up in bed, torn by paroxysms of coughing, blood upon her pillows and her handkerchief, she had strength enough for a last dramatic cry.
Her lover, bored and impatient, was for the moment out of the room, 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 of obtaining that for her was the reason why her relatives had brought the Jesuit to her bedside. But he now, as they had feared he would, refused this grace to the miserable corpse; the actress had not repented of her profession, the courtesan of her lusts; she had not shown any sign of submitting to the discipline of the Church. The priest was logical; but his refusal meant that Adrienne could have no decent resting place.
What, then, was to be done with the remains of one of the most beautiful, celebrated and charming women of her time, one who had been an inspiration, a delight to so many, who had numbered among her friends the most cultured and intelligent people of the most cultured 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 minister of Louis XV after he had attained his majority, arranged with M. de Maurepas a plan to avoid all possible scandal in this regrettable affair.
Two police officers were sent at night to take the body of Adrienne 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 a criminal or a suicide.
And she had been termed one of the wonders of Paris. "In Greece," Voltaire had written of her, "she would have had an altar." But in Paris she could scarcely obtain a grave.
Now that she had been refused not only Christian but any other kind of official burial, her body was hastily wrapped in one of her own sheets and the two policemen took it away at night in a cab (fiacre), in which it was driven to a piece of waste land near the Faubourg St. Germain, and there flung down among the other refuse of the great city, a sack of quicklime emptied over it and left. One friend, a M. de Loubiničre, is known to have 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 of her famous horses.
As he had sent a substitute to represent him at his mother's funeral and shown on that occasion a great anxiety as to how much money Aurora von Königsmarck had left, it may be that the last anecdote is truer than the first.
Maurice had seldom mentioned his mother once she was dead, and he never mentioned Adrienne de Lecouvreur; he had taken all she had to give and he had made her happier than she had ever been through any other person or any other thing. He had given her the excuse for the passion, the emotion that was her life and her art, by which she lived until it killed her; he had made possible her reputation of "a sacrifice to love." He helped her to create the legend in which she will always live as long as men and women are interested in amorous passion.
After all the compassion given and indignation expressed for the fate of such as Adrienne de Lecouvreur, the fact remains that the wronged and love-slain heroine could not achieve her doleful and immortal crown without the perfidious lover.
We do not know if Maurice, joining others in the scramble for the spoils of the actress's establishment, obtained at a bargain price or as a legacy the fine horses he coveted, but some posthumous benefits Adrienne did confer on this "beau comte." She had shown him some verses that M. Voltaire had written in her honour and he had kept a copy; impressed by the effectiveness of the poet's praise, Maurice had asked and obtained some model love letters to send to Adrienne; facsimiles of these he preserved together with that precious parchment, the diploma of his election to the Duchy of Courland, which Beauvais, his body servant, had rescued at last from the baggage abandoned in the flight from Windau. Some day, he thought, these delicious love letters, written by an expert both in life and language, might be useful in winning a woman who expected more than a brusque demand for her person, her heart and her fortunes. He also kept letters to himself. We do not know his motive, it can hardly have been tenderness.
THE next diversion that offered itself to Maurice was a summons from his father—rather relieved at the end of the too long drawn out idyll with the actress, now tumbled into a ditch—to help receive in Dresden the King of Prussia, who was paying an incognito visit to His Majesty of Poland.
Frederick William, a pedantic and unbalanced tyrant, had to be entertained with resplendent honour and was impressed and delighted by a flamboyant military display at the camp of Muhlberg, which was on such a scale of ostentation that the horse and harness of every sub-lieutenant were valued at a thousand crowns; the King-Elector boasted three tables with twenty-four covers, all gold, and two or three hundred covers all silver, while his tents were valued at ten million livres. He himself contrived to have his bloated carcass hoisted on a horse and to hold himself in the saddle at the great review. All this stimulated and excited Maurice, who was lodged royally and supplied with an equipage equal to that or his brother, the Electoral Prince, who was far too lazy to object.
These opulent excitements and the praises of their Majesties may have been a little embittered for Maurice by the reflection that Anna Ivanowa was now Empress of All the Russias and completely indifferent both to his prowess and the applause it excited, while the other Russian princess, Elizabeth, for whom the Imperial diadem seemed a distinct possibility, had shown no interest in the schemes of M. Lefort to marry her to Maurice.
After the glitter of the parade ground, the carnage of the hunts, the gorging and swilling of the military banquets, where the 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 his military studies after the dissipations and idleness of the day, spending his night in his study, reading ancient authors on military science, throwing his own ideas on paper.
Was he at all disturbed by the thought of that deserted cottage at Daumartin where Adrienne had dreamed to end her days with him, by the thought of that hole in the waste land where the quicklime ate her bones? He wrote, he said, "because of sleeplessness and 'pour dissiper mes ennuis.'"
These midnight jottings, mostly on military science were termed Mes Ręveries; these were published six years after his death, but some sheets he sent to his father, together with some plans for a new cannon; he had always been a busy correspondent and his letters, in particular those to his father, from the first showed vigour and a certain skill in the use of words.
These gifts were apparent in these jottings thrown off to relieve tedium and the burden of an empty heart.
Some time before the year 1732, when he composed in "thirteen nights" his Ręveries, he had tried his hand at an autobiography—the fashionable "Memoirs" of the period, and these, found afterwards in the archives of Dresden, are of considerable interest.
They are inaccurate in detail and fragmentary, but they contain acute character studies of Augustus II and of Count Flemming, and a long relation of the mysterious end of Philip von Königsmarck.
This is the most valuable part of the fragment; the story is romantic and unlikely enough in some parts; it has never been proved completely inaccurate and no doubt represents the account of the mystery current in the family of the Königsmarcks, for it was probably this relation that Maurice had heard from his mother Aurora, Madame Löwenhaupt, his aunt, and his uncle, all three of whom had been closely connected with the intrigues of the court of Hanover.
A portion of this autobiography was stolen from Maurice by a secretary, Saint-Laurent, and found its way—by what intrigue is not clear—into the hands of Count Flemming, who, indignant at the unjust and violent portrait of himself therein, took the trouble to sit down and refute the sketch line by line; declaring sarcastically at the same time that it was probably the work of some enemy of "the Prince Maurice."
The Saxon adventurer was approaching his thirty-fifth year and for the first time began to feel twinges of ill-health, when he composed his Ręveries. Men of his type can only be truly satisfied while health and money last; Maurice was beginning to be deprived of the first, though still fairly sure of the second. It was during an illness that lasted a fortnight that he composed The Ręveries, as he states himself.
The sentiments expressed in the book show the writer in a favourable light, especially as they were put on paper, as he himself says, when he was harassed by "fever." The book is unequal, hastily composed but shows many kinds of talent. As far as his axioms of military science go, they reveal the originality of 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 their happiness to the labours and misery of a multitude who flatter their passions and who could not exist without preparing for them new voluptuous delights! This assemblage of men, oppressor and oppressed, form what one calls society. The most vile and miserable of men are they who are made its soldiers to defend it from the other society. It was not with such manners and with such arms that the Romans vanquished the universe."
These sentiments, though they show a certain nobility and a certain shrewdness, were not put into practice by Maurice in his own career, for he took the world as he found it and acted wholly selfishly with no attempt to emulate the fabulous ideals that he called Roman save in his courage.
The rambling notes also show his keen attention to detail. "I should like to see," he wrote, "soldiers with short hair and with a wig, grey or black, that they can put on when the weather is bad. This peruke would look like short hair; it could be combed and kept in order, and would always appear neat. It would last for ever and cost no more than twenty sols."
Maurice had much to say on this important point of military uniform; he had observed keenly all the great armies of Europe and had approved of none of them. Military science was, he admitted, dry and tedious and therefore none had concerned themselves about it very much. True, "the great capitaines" had left behind them in the way of rules and examples on which one could build anything exact—this science was "covered with shadows." Maurice paid tribute to Gustavus Adolphus, whose methods had, however, he declared, been followed but misunderstood and abused; he felt that there was much to be done to improve the art of war, and among his dreams was that of being himself a Gustavus Adolphus.
To glance through his book is to see how he had studied this subject, to him of such overmastering intent, in every detail. How to raise troops, how to clothe, pay, exercise and prepare them 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 the Roman model, and "giving rein to my imagination in order to disperse boredom" he put on paper his scheme for legions composed of four regiments each, each regiment to comprise four centuries of infantry, fifty of cavalry, fifty of light horse, these "centuries" to be named battalions of infantry and squadrons of cavalry and so on. Maurice, lovingly working out this plan, allowed 881 men to a regiment, and to this number one surgeon; to his legion of 3,579 men, he allowed one surgeon, one almoner and two pieces of 12-lb. cannon.
And so the dreams continued, down to details of arms, encampments, convoys, with constant reference to the heroes Eugene, Villars, Charles XII, Gustavus Adolphus, and to the dreamer's favourite military author and close friend, the Chevalier Folard. Armies of perfectly equipped men, moving like clockwork must have passed through the energetic mind of Maurice, as restless from wine, fever and unsatisfied ambition he cast on paper 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 passionate attention to perfect engines of destruction?
Maurice had no country to defend, no dynasty to uphold, no people to protect. He thought of his troops as human beings, in as far as he wished to keep them well fed, warm, comfortably clothed and sheltered and preserved from all the evils of campaigns, battles and sieges as far as that was possible, but this consideration was no more than he would have given his dog or his horse. He had nothing to say on the purpose of these continual wars, nor any word of compassion for those involved in them against their will; he was a professional soldier—no more. And the one purpose that he could see in warfare was his own glory and aggrandisement.
He cast on paper a few "reflections on the propagation of the human species" that were published in the first edition of the Ręveries, in which he dryly remarks: "—after having treated of the art that instructs us in the method of destroying human beings it is as well to reflect how we can propagate them."
Maurice believed that the population of the world had suffered an "extraordinaire" decline since the time of Julius Caesar. He states that M. Vauban, sixty years before (circa 1670) had placed the population of France at twenty millions and that this number had been diminishing ever since. Maurice blamed Christian marriage for this state of affairs and advocated a scheme of easy divorce and continual remarriages that was "free love" in everything but name.
He suggested pensions (cent écus) for each woman who had ten living children, quinze écus for fifteen, and mille écus for twenty offspring. Maurice does not directly state as much, but no doubt these children ("des gens du commun") were to be soldiers or the wives and mothers of soldiers. He has some shrewd things to say of women; it cannot be denied that he had had a fairly wide experience of this "sexe charmant." Men, he observed, made the laws and to suit themselves; the Turks shut women up, but the Christians were equally tyrannical with their prejudices that caused women continually to disguise their thoughts and wishes and so made them false.
If women were free to choose their husbands themselves, and "for a limited time," all this hypocrisy would vanish, and with it 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 the word love (amour) in the sense in which he had heard it employed in Paris alcoves; he did not even allow it the dignity it 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 these directions a little abashed some of his contemporaries and most of them were hard and selfish.
A few notes on Poland complete his literary efforts, he had no time or energy for such labours once the fit of depression had passed, but he always remained an industrious letter writer with a facile pen, and his long, detailed and animated epistles are very characteristic of the man; he never wrote or spoke French correctly, his grammar was as erratic as his spelling, he coined words to suit his purpose, but all his writings show a quick observation, a power of virile expression, a fund of inexhaustible energy, a complete self-confidence and a callousness that is not without its charm when combined with so much brilliance.
Soon after writing his Ręveries, when Maurice was suffering, not from remorse or loneliness but from a gnawing boredom, he brought his German Uhlan regiment to Paris, reclothed and re-instructed the men, and passed them in review on the Plain of Sablons to the great admiration of the Parisians who had never seen such perfectly equipped men move like a piece of clockwork before. Maurice had taken the most extraordinary pains with the regiment from the top-knots of the men's caps to the buttons on their gaiters.
These Uhlans were as far as he could get in realisation of his dreams; the regiment was his toy, a world in little where he was dictator.
For the rest of his life was becoming stale; he was glutted with excesses but could not cease them; in everything conventional, 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 by the Duchesse de Bouillon.
But his energy was not to be satisfied either by exercising a regiment in time of peace or by throwing his thoughts on military science and human nature on paper or by balls, masques, Operas or the paid caresses of actresses; his shrewd mind seethed with intrigues and soon his life shifted into a new pattern.
On February I, 1733, Augustus II, the King-Elector, died; he broke his leg, stumbling from his carriage, and gangrene followed.
Maurice gives a flattering portrait of his father in his brief autobiography, accusing him, however, of laziness, "a continual lassitude that enervated all his great qualities." Probably Maurice 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, he was disturbed lest it should affect his own unstable fortunes.
It seemed, indeed, at first that it would close to him the courts of Warsaw and Dresden, for though France was traditionally the friend of Poland, a country that she used as a lever against the Empire, yet the fact that the King, Louis XV, had married Marie Leczinski, ended in France's spending a million livres in Poland to secure the election of her father, Stanislas, who was proclaimed King September 12, 1733. A few days, however, after this 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 his father, splendid, debauched, idle and under the domination of his ministers, was well content to accept the nominal dignity of King of Poland and to leave the country as an appanage of Russia.
But Louis XV did not consider it compatible with his glory to have his father-in-law thus chased ignominiously from the throne on which he had placed him. As it was impossible for him to invade Russia, he attacked the Czarina's allies, the Imperialists, on the frontier of the Low Countries, war being declared in October, 1733.
Maurice decided, seemingly without hesitation, to serve France against his own half-brother for whom, however, he always retained a traditional respect and a certain affection; he always remained on good terms with Augustus III who had not only confirmed but augmented his Saxon pension; on the other hand Maurice had certainly no interest in or affection for Stanislas, a feeble, uninteresting Prince, who had reluctantly exchanged the damp grandeurs of Chambord for the yet more dubious glories of Warsaw.
It has been supposed that Maurice was inspired by the desire of serving the glory of France or felt bound by his French commission. But it seems that he was both shrewd and cynical enough to see where his true interests lay. He had been fortunate in securing the friendship of Louis XV, whose companion he had become in his vices and pleasures. The voluptuous and elegant young King admired the brusque and dashing Saxon. Maurice was able, by temperament and training, to employ the most subtle of flatteries, that open, almost rude candour which seems to disdain to praise and yet in reality does so even with fulsomeness; he pleased Louis XV and he knew that he would be wise to continue to do so.
In any case, Maurice showed the professional soldier's indifference to politics by joining his regiment and serving on the Rhine under Marshal the Duke of Berwick, Commander-in-Chief of the armies of Louis XV. Maurice, still Maréchal de camp, had under his orders twenty companies of grenadiers and two thousand fusiliers. Serving with him were several Princes of the Blood, including that Louis, Francois de Bourbon, Prince de Conti, who had always been his enemy both passive and active. This young man was the grandson of the claimant to the Polish crown and the son of the Prince de Conti who was supposed to have wounded Maurice.
This campaign dragged on with the usual formal tedium of these pompous wars, and Maurice had little opportunity of showing more than personal bravery before the army went into winter quarters to enjoy what was termed the "Truce of Nature" or "of God."
Operations re-commenced in April, 1734, with the bombarding of the great Rhine towns, Spires, Coblenz and Mainz, when some of the new bombs recently invented by the Count de Comminges were used with terrific effect.
The French army, then on the offensive, was divided into three corps; the first was called the army of the Princes, "L'armée des Princes," and consisted of 50,000 men commanded by Marshal Berwick, son of James II of Great Britain and nephew of the great Marlborough; the second corps was commanded by the duc de Noailles and contained 25,000 men; Maurice served with the third corps under the Maréchal de Belleisle. With his usual impetuosity, however, the Saxon left his division that was marching on Coblenz to join Berwick at Etlingen, because he had heard that the Commander-in-Chief intended to force the enemy's lines. Berwick received him with enthusiasm. He had been thinking, he said, of sending for a reinforcement of 3,000 men and here they were to his hand!
And he gave Maurice a detachment of grenadiers with which he threw himself upon the ranks of the Imperialists with such fury that he broke them and forced them to retreat, leaving behind a large quantity of baggage and war material. For this exploit Maurice was warmly commended by Marshal Berwick; his hopes began to rise; he saw his glittering ambitions shine brightly.
The General, whom the French were now facing, was the veteran Prince Eugene, under whom Maurice had served before the walls of Belgrade; he had always immensely admired this famous soldier, and with reason; probably the Imperialist General was the greatest soldier of an age that had bred Marlborough and Frederick II; he was still, in his old age, with his long yellow bilious face, half-open mouth and piercing black eyes, his old- fashioned flowing peruke and well-worn Imperial uniform, more than a match for Berwick, who was finally killed by a cannon ball that took off his head when he was visiting the trenches at Philippsburg; Maurice was conspicuous in the subsequent operations that ended in the surrender of the town on July 26, 1734. His gallant behaviour was duly reported to Louis XV; the result of the fall of Philippsburg, where more than 40,000 men had perished during seven weeks' siege, was for Maurice to be promoted Lieutenant-General.
He had indeed distinguished himself by many personal exploits of considerable brilliance, including one romantic adventure when with some few dozens of grenadiers he had charged two hundred Austrian Hussars near Zell, where had died not long before the Sophia Dorothea who had caused the downfall and murder of his uncle, Philip von Königsmarck.
In October 1734 the army again went into winter quarters and Maurice returned to Paris, where fireworks and Te Deums gilded the ineffectiveness of both the war and the peace that followed with at least a semblance of triumph.
Maurice de Saxe personally had gained both experience and reputation in the fruitless struggle.
Nothing further of moment occurred in this aimless war, which continued on the Rhine intermittently until 1736, when it was terminated by one of the usual ineffectual treaties that left everything in statu quo.
Maurice was again without an occupation, but some of the staleness had gone from his life; once more he had shone before his fellows, been praised by the King whom he had chosen to serve, proved that he could cry "check" even to the veteran Eugene 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 becoming more numerous and more formidable.
The King's friendship for a foreigner—a bastard mercenary, too—was fiercely resented by the arrogant, cynical, greedy and incompetent "Princes of the Blood," who claimed by right of birth privileges without number, licence without limit, and all the honours, prizes, rewards, pensions in the King's gift. Graceful and accomplished, if insolent and worthless, this gilded flower of an effete aristocracy was ornamental enough in time of peace and added greatly to the reputation for elegance and brilliancy that Paris enjoyed.
But in time of war, they were, to any general who took his duties seriously, an intolerable nuisance. Untrained and disdaining any kind of discipline, this maison royale or troupe dorée accompanied the army in glittering detachment, dictators in their own regiments, taking no heed of orders from headquarters, amusing themselves with every luxury and licence and regarding the campaign merely as an excuse to display the splendour of their equipages in the camp, and their personal bravery "on the field of honour," where their dashing but random exploits often upset the plans of the general in command and his staff. Maurice, military expert as he was, and keen on every detail of military science, found it hard to endure these spoiled, curled minions, with their effeminate affectations, their insolence, their incapacity, their cool insubordination, their endless privileges.
They in their turn regarded him as an upstart adventurer, coarse and overbearing, and were spitefully jealous at his success. One of them at least, the Prince de Conti, was his determined enemy.
Maurice knew that these princes "of the blood," who commanded a large following among the nobility, were dangerous to his hopes of advancement in the French army; he also knew that it was hopeless to endeavour to win them over, therefore, with dry prudence, he cultivated the friendship of the King.
Louis XV, who bears so sad a reputation and who is seldom mentioned without scorn, was merely what his environment and upbringing had made him; it is as absurd to blame him for being what he was as to reproach a piece of warm wax for taking the shape with which it is stamped.
Early orphaned of both parents, early a King, Louis was the pupil of the Regent Orleans and the abbé Dubois and their underlings; by means of superstition and debauchery, of adulation and luxury, his mind and body were kept in subjection. With all his senses deadened by a surfeit of pleasures, from the most refined to the grossest, enervated by an elaborate, senseless etiquette, trained in complete idleness, the young Monarch grew up languid, bored and cynical.
He had his share of good qualities; his people named him "well beloved," and he was always what is expressed in his own language as "aimable." His taste had been as well looked after as his morals had been neglected; his person and his manners were, at this period, fascinating; his graceful figure, his features, delicate yet manly, his large dark blue eyes and clear complexion were perfectly fitted for the powdered curls, the gleaming satin and lustrous velvets that then composed the attire of a fashionable gentleman.
In appearance, Louis XV was exactly suited to be the sovereign who ruled over the world depicted by Boucher, Fragonard, Drouais and Francois Troy.
He was a profoundly unhappy man; moving in a fiction of divine right and absolute power, he was unable to find more than brief cures for the long boredom of his idleness, he was a moral coward, cynic, yet afraid of death and, so well had the priests done their work on his malleable youth, of hell fire. His personal tastes had been modest, delicate and refined; he had been deliberately and coldly debauched, and in debauchery he had found a dull refuge from his ceaseless "ennui."
It was his misfortune that the one woman whom he could not charm was his wife, the chill and bigoted Polish Princess, who bore his children with aversion and was relieved when her repulses drove him to other women. He had his standards of honour, of the glory of France, he was not without capacity for business, as far as he was allowed to meddle in it, not without shrewdness in public affairs, and his witty acceptance of his own puppet position is shown in such remarks of his as—"Were I the Mayor of Paris I would have the streets better paved."
Such was the King, then in his early, charming youth that seemed so full of generous promise, who offered a firm friendship to the Saxon adventurer, who might be permitted to lose that name now and take that of Maurice, Comte de Saxe, Lieutenant-General in the Army of His Most Christian Majesty.
THE Peace of Vienna was supposed to have brought some lustre to the lilies; it at least brought amusement to the Parisians, who enjoyed the sumptuous services in Notre-Dame, the cheering of the returning troops, the cannons firing their salutes, the dazzle of the fireworks, the air of glory given by the news in the Gazette of captured towns and forts; but there was little tangible result from the war of the Polish succession; Stanislas had exchanged the odious privations of Chambord for the Duchy of Lorraine (the one gain made by Cardinal de Fleury for France), Augustus III was secure on the throne of Poland and the Emperor was occupied in marrying his daughter, the Archduchess Maria Theresa, to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who had received that title (in the market since the Medici were extinct) in exchange for Lorraine, while Russia and Prussia returned to a state of watchfulness and Spain and the lesser nations to one of languor. The pack of political cards had been reshuffled without anyone's being much the gainer thereby.
Maurice took advantage of the peace to go to Dresden, where he soon became reconciled with his brother, Augustus III, who had inherited his father's easy nature and indolence of spirit. With all the good will in the world, however, Augustus III could not help Maurice to the throne of Courland, on which Anna Ivanowa, taking advantage of the confusion of the war, had contrived to place Count Biron, of sinister reputation, on the death of the last of the Kettlars, the feeble duke whose desperate marriage had proved fruitless.
Augustus III was governed by Count Bruhl as his father had been governed by Count Flemming; he asked for nothing but sufficient money with which to continue the pleasures that filled his indolence. But Maurice had the good sense to make a friend of Bruhl, knowing too well what it had meant when he had made an enemy of Flemming.
The three Saxons were soon on confidential terms and understood one another perfectly. Maurice was a Northerner through both parents and only very superficially a Frenchman; before he left the court of Dresden he accepted a curious office from 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 intensely interested in Paris; the court of Versailles, the character of Louis XV, the intrigues and favourites that surrounded him were both his models for imitation and the food of all his gossip: and the King-Elector, in common with his fellow potentates of the Holy Roman Empire, employed a secret correspondent in Paris whose duty it was to send him all the anecdotes, tittle-tattle and scandal of that brilliant capital.
This man having lately died, Maurice offered to take his place. And so the matter was arranged, not without prudent precautions on the part of Maurice. He foresaw that, if his occupation was known or any of his letters intercepted, he might lose everything he possessed in the way of favour or friendship at the court of France: what he was undertaking might well have been termed espionage.
"I do not wish to be known by my writing, by my ink or by my paper," he said. Nevertheless, it was essential that he should write these scandalous chronicles himself; it was, therefore, arranged that they were to be sent secretly under seal in the postbag of the Saxon Minister in Paris and they were to be addressed to the King, unsigned; the King was to read them, and then to give them to the Queen (unless they contained anecdotes too indecent for modest eyes), then Count Bruhl was to peruse them, then these dangerous papers were to be enclosed for ever in the archives of Dresden.
The peril of discovery was well understood and both Augustus III and his half-brother kept his part of the bargain; Maurice was outspoken and the three at Dresden were discreet. The packages of sheets of gossip, anecdotes intermixed with political hints, sketches of influential people, accounts of amusing incidents and escapades at balls, at hunts, at supper parties and so on were written down by Maurice and eagerly read by the King, Queen and the Minister, so that the most intimate life of the French capital was well known to a foreign sovereign whom any shifting of the political scene might make the enemy of France.
Maurice found some amusement in this sly occupation but not sufficient to occupy his boundless energy; he was now middle-aged and his once superb health was becoming daily more impaired; when re-visiting the scenes of his parents' voluptuous pleasures, the delicious glades of Moritzburg, he had been thrown from his too spirited horse and had injured the thigh wounded in a skirmish at Crachnitz, years before; his accident added to his infirmities. His boasted strength had already been affected by his fatigue and his excesses; the constitution that seemed of iron began to languish and he prepared in 1740 to take the baths at Barlaruc in Languedoc and to meditate somewhat grimly on the stagnation of his fortunes.
There seemed, strangely enough, no signs of another war in Europe and without a war where was he?
That dazzling dream of a crown and a kingdom, that too was farther away than it had ever been. He seemed no nearer to achieving the brilliant destiny he had hoped for than he had been when Marlborough had patted him on his rough blond head before Lille and his father had laughingly admired him in his first uniform and Saxon gaiters.
He remained at best a German nobleman and at worst a mercenary soldier and an adventurer. His finances were, as usual, in poor condition and he had had to borrow money on the fifty thousand livres given him by Louis XV as brevet de rétention, and to beg for loans from his half-brother.
His best hope lay in a friendship he had formed with Madame de Lenormant d'Etioles—a woman of wit, resolution and taste and brilliance, who seemed likely to be the King's new favourite and make her dubious position a permanent one, who admired him under almost every aspect save that of the lover. There this lady, later when she was the King's mistress, and who was, at least, really in love with the King, had fastidious comments to make. "Maurice de Saxe," she wrote, "doesn't understand anything of the delicacy of love. The only pleasure he takes in the society of women can be summed up in the word 'debauchery.' Wherever he goes he drags after him a train of street walkers."
She added: "Everything in his private life bespeaks him an ordinary man; he is only great on the field of battle. As soon as the engagement is over all his littlenesses return and nothing remains great about him save the noise of his renown."
For all that she admired, liked and encouraged him; and the life he led, though it seemed to Madame de Pompadour commonplace, was the only one possible to a man highly placed and not highly gifted save in the art of war.
He was profuse, he kept an open table, he surrounded himself with all who caught his fancy, from the youngest officer of his regiment to the great lady who did not disdain his brutal favours, and his establishment vied with those of the Princes of the 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 and flatterers.
With all this splendour he was a disappointed man. All his ambitions, his marriage projects had failed; despite the reckless and flaming air with which he had conducted the Courland business there is no doubt that he had it most passionately at heart and desired above everything the possession of these honours, which he had come so near to wearing and which had been snatched from him in so tantalising a fashion. He still cherished jealously the Diploma of Election to the succession of the Kettlars and refused to part with it for any argument or any money.
Despite the applause he had gained and the splendour of his exploits he had never been in command of any considerable action or found any good opportunity of putting into practice the results of his ardent studies in the science of war. No one was interested in the doctrines that his Ręveries contained; Maurice himself did not take these too seriously; he knew that never would he be able to put them into practice, but his frustrated talents tormented him.
Madame de Pompadour, fine and delicate as she was, may have regretted the grossness of the private life of the hero, but the courtiers of Louis XV cared little for either Maurice's coarse vices or his frustrated ambition, or for the great general that he 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 replace a missing corkscrew or break a horseshoe in half, in their amused acceptance of the impetuous, lively Saxon as a boon companion in their frivolous, languid pleasures there was always—and he knew it—a hint of tolerant patronage for the foreigner who quartered the baton-sinister on the arms of Saxony. Most of them were secretly his enemies; still foremost among these was the young Prince de Conti, who loathed this Duke without a duchy and often ventured to sneer covertly at the alien and bastard adventurer.
Maurice was now at the period of life when reflections upon the frailty of human grandeur come readily to the mind, and visiting the neglected tomb of Louis XIV in the dark gloom of the Abbey of St. Denis he had remarked with disgust on the abandonment of the ashes of that resplendent monarch to a mean solitude; his sense of law and order, of ceremony—always strong in him—was also roused, as was his fellow feeling for the monarch whose pretensions had been so large, who had so emphasised the might of power and kingship and carried to such an enviable height the domination of one personality over a whole nation, nay, over a whole century.
There the Saxon Lieutenant-General made a suggestion that a sentry of bodyguards might fittingly honour the mausoleum of the king who had given such lustre to the arms of France.
This project, which had not occurred to the Bourbons or to any of those who had benefited by the favours of Louis XIV, was taken seriously by Maurice, who drew up a scheme for this parade of honour before the urn of the great king, and another for the establishment of a barracks in the Isle of Swans to obviate the danger of billeting soldiers on the Parisians.
Neither scheme was approved by M. de Dangervilliers, Minister for War; the enterprise and energy of Maurice alike went unemployed, so he took his insatiable appetite for life, for action, for splendour, for grandiose achievement to hunting parties, to the boudoirs of opera dancers and the waters of Barlaruc. He toured Languedoc and Provence, being received, Lutheran as he remained, by the Vice-Legate of Avignon, and with still more formal honours by Admiral Matthews at Toulon where the English were blockading the Spanish fleet; as a French General Maurice was welcomed by the discharge of all the English artillery and exchanged bumper for bumper the healths of the Kings of France and of England, each glass being honoured by a broadside of great guns.
This was the last meeting of Maurice de Saxe and the English save on the field of battle where indeed he was soon to face them, for when he returned to Paris with the British salvoes still ringing in his ears, he heard of the death of the last Habsburg, Charles VI, on October 20, 1740; this event amounted to a declaration of war from each of the European states on their neighbours and caused what Maurice termed a "brouillamini général."
Maria Theresa, the late Emperor's daughter and Grand Duchess of Tuscany, claimed all her father's honours by virtue of the Pragmatic Sanction and was answered by the Elector of Bavaria's protest and rush to arms; he was supported by Augustus III, though both these princes had promised to respect the claims of Maria Theresa.
At this juncture the young King of Prussia, bold and wary, seized Silesia after having in vain demanded it from Maria Theresa as the price of his alliance.
Russian affairs changed through the death of the Empress Anna and the fall of her favourite, Biron, Duke of Courland, de facto at least; the Elector of Bavaria appealed to France for assistance. Maria Theresa, as Queen of Hungary, appealed to the Hungarians, gathered an army together and was defeated by Frederic at Maleritz, April 4, 1741.
It was purely a Germanic quarrel and France had nothing to gain by interfering and had already suffered sufficiently by espousing the dispute of Stanislas Leczinski; but a double marriage drew Louis XV into the embroilment; the second wife of the first Bourbon King of Spain, Philip V, had contrived to engage her daughter to the Dauphin, and her son, Philip of Parma, to the eldest French Princess; and the cause of Spain, or rather that of Elizabeth Farnese, being that of the House of Bavaria, this pacte de famille gave France an excuse again to attack once more her hereditary enemy, the House of Austria; Great Britain, through her German King, George II, had championed the cause of the Archduchess, while the Stuart Pretender hoped to find this a favourable moment for a repetition of the Scottish adventure of 1715; here then was Europe's call to arms again and in the subsequent brouhaha Maurice de Saxe hoped to find his part; first, he tried again for Courland; with the fall of Biron, who was exiled to Siberia, he hastened North but in time only to hear of the election of Louis Ernest of Brunswick- Luneberg to the throne of Courland, and the acceptance of this prince by the Courlanders, and Maurice, after uttering a formal manifesto protest, was obliged to content himself with his most hoarded diploma now sixteen years old.
Despite the advice of Cardinal de Fleury, France declared war 1741—thirty thousand French troops were sent to Westphalia, forty thousand to Bavaria. Charles, Elector of Bavaria, was now generalissimo of the French forces and Maurice de Saxe was sent to serve under him at the opening of the campaign; in command of a division of French cavalry in the army commanded by Maréchal de Belleisle, he arrived at the Bavarian camp on the thirtieth of September, 1741.
Maurice did not fail to bring the affair of Courland to the notice of the Elector, who disposed of the matter with more courtesy than satisfaction to Maurice by answering that the Saxon should be satisfied with preserving the sovereignty of the State without wishing to enjoy it. Charles, indeed, had to be prodigal of 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 his native troops and offered to the Minister of Augustus, Count Bruhl, his assistance in "the storm growing," as he said, "in the vast sea of politics;" but the wary Bruhl passed over the offer in silence, not wishing to share his power with so impetuous and dominant a personality. Had Maurice been in command of the Saxons instead of being a lieutenant under Charles of Bavaria, a man ineffective and mediocre, the young King of Prussia's attack on Silesia might have had another ending. So the scene was set for another long, exhausting, costly and pointless war, which involved nearly the whole of the so-called civilised world. The combatants were thus divided; Maria Theresa's supporters were Great 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 the temper 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 another such war; there were drums to beat the advance, the retreat, there were spades to bury such of the carcasses as were accorded a burial; it was a good game for the lucky ones, and Maurice, at least, enjoyed it to the full; during the winter of 1741-2 he fought his way to the walls of Prague, leading his splendid troops, hussars in blue cloaks, his own Uhlans in their green uniform with the horsehair tails on their casques, other French soldiers, of Grassin, in scarlet and blue, of Larličre, in brown, of Fischu in scarlet; Maurice himself in cuirass and leopard skin, pearls in his ears, a star on his heart, a fur cap on his powdered curls, seemed to have recovered his former strength as he directed the encirclement of the famous city.
The whole of the operations were under his personal direction and it was thought a brilliant feat of arms when Prague fell after a few days' assault.
Maurice made a state entrance into the ancient city of the alchemists, where Emperors, already half legendary, had brooded over the possibility of the philosopher's stone, and received the keys of the town and citadel from the governor.
His troops took possession of Prague with the same magnificent discipline as they had shown when parading on the Plain of Sablons, and Maurice forbade all pillage and outrage. Many generals had, under similar circumstances, given similar orders, but Maurice was obeyed. And the astonished magistrates gave the victor a superb diamond in gratitude for the good order he kept in the vanquished city.
This clemency was probably due more to Maurice's sense of discipline 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 war as he understood them, and licence was ruinous for his men, that was all.
But his stern control of his troops had at least the semblance of humanity and took away some of the lurid horror of a war more than usually horrible.
Soon after he had received the keys of Prague, Maurice, again providing a grandiose spectacle against the background of the towered city and the grim December day, presented them to the French candidate for Imperial honours, the Elector of Bavaria.
There were fanfares and drum rolls, a display of captured standards, Te Deums, a visit to the battlefield, where the dead and dying froze together, and, a few days later, the coronation of the Elector as King of Bohemia; Maurice saw that all this ceremony was performed splendidly; under his watchful eye the disarmed Austrian garrison stood to attention, the Bohemian nobility came to pay homage to their new sovereign, there was another Te Deum with the clergy properly in their places, and the crowd, only too happy to have escaped massacre, dutifully shouted in the winter-bitten streets.
Charles of Bavaria, however, had wit enough to put a just valuation on the show. He dined in public, under a splendid canopy, and Maurice, with complacent calm, came to offer his felicitations.
"Yes," said Charles, "I am King of Bohemia in the same way as you are Duke of Courland."
This campaign in the north was not the only French activity. Extensive military operations commenced also in Italy, but these did not concern Maurice de Saxe, whose conduct and exploits alone redeemed the French from complete disaster in this senseless war, in which France lost what was left of the military prestige bequeathed her by Louis XIV, her maritime power, her finest colonies and such financial resources as she still possessed; the War of the Austrian Succession was the last act of the long, feeble administration of Cardinal de Fleury (though undertaken against his advice) and was not without its bitter critics even at the moment.
The Marquis d'Argenson, the political and personal enemy of Maurice, lamented the folly of this intervention in a German quarrel at the instigation of a violent and turbulent Queen of Spain for the benefit of a cunning King of Prussia.
The old Maréchal de Noailles had also had a very acute idea of the situation and frequently said so. There was no money left, he pointed out, and no one knew where it had gone, and the people were oppressed and wretched; yet even this shrewd observer declared that, though the country was without funds, without resources and the people were exhausted, it was necessary to fight in order to maintain the rank and reputation of France in Europe and the honour and glory of the King.
The burden of maintaining "this honour and glory" fell largely on Maurice de Saxe, who remained the main support of Charles of Bavaria, who proved, as he had expected, another snow King of Bohemia, for his shadowy Kingdom melted with the winter frosts.
It was, indeed, not long before the new King had to abandon Prague to the Austrians, who had taken the field under the husband of Maria Theresa, Francis, Grand Duke of Tuscany and later Emperor and Prince Charles of Lorraine, who was married to the sister of the Empress. Although he had been successful in all that he had undertaken, Maurice lacked opportunity of displaying his most resplendent talents; though fitted for the highest command (there was not his equal in military genius in Europe, with the possible exception of Frederick of Prussia), he remained in a subordinate position. The King of France was his friend, and a great future was hoped for from the King, who had lately left his shy retirement with his unloving Queen under the influence of the four Nesle sisters, who were successively his mistresses. But the King himself could not combat the jealousies aroused by the success of Maurice among the Princes of the Blood and the nobility.
Most dangerous to Maurice of all these enmities was that of the Prince de Conti, Louis Francois de Bourbon. This Prince de Conti was the grandson of that charming and graceful cavalier who had disputed the crown of Poland with Augustus II and the son of that Prince whom Maurice had made absurd as well as dishonoured by intriguing with his wife.
Hate of the House of Saxony might well be considered hereditary in the House of Bourbon Conti. Louis Francois, now 25 years of age and not without talents and graces, was lieutenant- general under Maréchal de Belleisle; he longed to distinguish himself "on the field of honour" and had already shown reckless bravery, musket balls on one occasion piercing his cuirass and on another his horse being shot under him. By right of his rank, and his descent from so many heroes, he claimed a high military position, and he used his vast influence and that power of intrigue inherent in his class to see that he obtained it and that Maurice was excluded from power, preferment and opportunity.
On his side Maurice did nothing to conciliate this powerful enemy and did not hesitate to keep alive, with coarse anecdote and jovial laugh, the double loss, of crown and wife, that the House of Conti had suffered from the House of Saxony.
Some air of success was given to the French arms by the election of their candidate by the Diet and his subsequent coronation (April 12, 1742) at Frankfort as Charles VII with a pomp that was impressive but slightly ironical, for the Austrians were not only masters of the Empire to which Charles had been elected, but had even overrun his native electorate of Bavaria.
These unpleasant circumstances, rendered worse by the fall of Linz on the Danube, then the capital of Upper Austria, were lightened when Maurice succeeded in raising the spirits of his troops and his allies by the taking of Egra, an important town in Bohemia, which procured for him added glory and a letter from the new Emperor in which his Imperial Majesty lamented "My dear Comte de 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 his Prussian Majesty, now proving himself a consummate general as well as a wily politician.
Belgrade, once the scene of Maurice's early and brilliant exploits under Eugene, was again besieged—now by the Grand Duke Francis, soon to be the rival Emperor Francis I, and Maréchal de Belleisle, the commander of the garrison there, cut off from the expected re-inforcements under Broglie and Maillebois, undertook that ghastly retreat in mid-winter which is one 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. His behaviour and that of all under him in these awful circumstances cast a true, if gloomy, glory over the hideous affair; the best side of the French aristocracy, who often cut a glittering but trivial figure at Versailles or Fontainebleau or Paris, showed in these dismal circumstances; M. de Belleisle's conduct and that of his officers was as admirable as that of the troops under him; the integral bravery and resolution of a great nation were revealed during this terrible march from Prague to Egra across the snow-blocked mountains.
It was during this retreat from Prague that Vauvenargues, most elegant and gracious of French philosophers, contracted that illness which enfeebled him to the end of his days and eventually ended them; nearly a thousand Frenchmen perished in the snow that fell continuously on the rugged Bohemian defiles, but, by marching his men day and night, M. de Belleisle brought the bulk of his army, artillery, stores and baggage to Egra; an exploit worthy of a better cause.
Meanwhile, the small French garrison left in Prague was reduced to eating rats before it surrendered to the Austrians on January 2, 1743. From all these disasters Maurice de Saxe learnt what not to do in warfare. He saw what was wrong and said so, first to M. de Broglie, and then to M. de Maillebois, who succeeded him as Commander-in-Chief, but neither general was disposed to listen to the foreigner, and Maurice returned in disgust 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 Mlle Dangeville, 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 retreat from Prague had darkened the spirits of the French and cast a deep gloom over the unhappy cause of the Emperor who was their puppet.
Maurice had no further opportunity of distinction and he decided to go to Moscow and solicit the new Empress, Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, for his maternal estate in Livonia and possibly for her influence in Courland; these lands in Livonia were all that was left of the once large fortune of the Königsmarcks; 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 his half-brother, the King-Elector, his sister-in-law and their family. Maurice had continued, even during the progress of the war and travelling from place to place to keep up his services as gazetteer to the court of Dresden, and those French princes who disliked and suspected him were not far wrong in thinking that he was only superficially French and that his affections, such as they were, remained in Saxony.
Maurice was much shaken and irritated by the general dismal progress of the war, and in an attempt to secure some success for French arms he hastened to Ratisbon where Louis XV's army lay under the command of Maréchal Maillebois; Maurice arrived there at the same time as the Prince de Conti, who now openly declared himself the active enemy of "the German mercenary" and disputed his command with him.
This campaign, made worse by the grim Bohemian winter, this year as severe as any experienced in the steppes of Russia, was little short of disastrous to the French; their armies were shattered, ill and in bad condition, exhausted and pinched with the unaccustomed cold and harried by Prince Charles of Lorraine and the Grand Duke of Tuscany with their troops of Austrians and Hungarian Uhlans.
At the age of nearly ninety years, the man who had been so long Minister of France, died, in the midst of this futile war, which cost so many thousands of lives, so much suffering, such an outpouring of treasure, and which he had tried in vain to prevent.
The Cardinal de Fleury, Bishop of Fréjus, was a mild, pleasant priest, a kind, gentle man but one without either strength or ability. His one service to France, if service it could be termed, was the acquisition of Lorraine. He was succeeded in Louis's counsels (after the King had tried in vain to stand alone) by the Marquis d'Argenson, Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and M. de Noailles, the first always the enemy, the second the friend and protector of Maurice de Saxe; these two Ministers found themselves faced with an extravagant court, a half-ruined country, and a war that had now spread to such an extent that all Europe seemed in a confusion of turmoil; the English and Hanoverians had recently joined Prince Charles of Lorraine and Maurice; with his new regiment of Uhlans, was in the Upper Palatinate.
The next event of importance was the battle of Dettingen, 1743, where the losses and the advantages on the field appear to have been equal; it was considered, however, a victory for the King of Great Britain, who was present at the engagement and so inflicted the last disgrace of defeat in the open field on the dispirited French.
This king, George II, was the son of Sophia Dorothea, whose cause he had always espoused and whom he had in vain endeavoured to see during her long imprisonment. It is believed that, had she survived until he mounted the throne, he would have given her rank as Dowager Queen of England; the most slanderous of the Jacobites said openly that George II was more a Pretender than Prince Charles Edward, since his father was not George I, but Philip von Königsmarck; so the old scandal and tragedy, which had first thrown Aurora into the arms of Augustus the Strong and brought Maurice de Saxe into the world, still echoed as a whispered slander both in the courts and the pot-houses of Europe. At Dettingen had fought the Duke of Cumberland, third son of the King, who had received a musket ball through his leg, when his frightened horse, running away with him, had carried him into the French ranks.
After this defeat of M. de Noailles and his sixty thousand men at Dettingen, the cabinet of Versailles were faced with the possibility of invasion, for the Allies were descending on the Spanish Netherlands. Count d'Argenson, Minister of War, decided to mass the main army of France on the frontiers and at the same time to harass England by an attempted invasion in favour of Prince Charles Edward Stuart.
Both these tasks were entrusted to Maurice de Saxe. And he declared he would execute them "a la Tartare" without hesitation or delay.
MAURICE DE SAXE, in the spring of 1744, when the dismal fortunes of France were entrusted to him without much preamble, but rather as a desperate measure, was in his forty- seventh year and permanently disabled by dropsy. The old wound in his leg gave him increasing trouble, his once splendid figure was bloated and unwieldy, his once attractive face purpled and carbuncled; copious dosings of powerful drugs kept at bay the poisons that consumed him, but the physicians could not induce him to alter his personal habits; dying of self-indulgence, he yet refused any restraint, and what was left of his strength went in gross excesses. Of all his one-time graces and comeliness nothing remained, but he still was, when arrayed in his battle panoply, an impressive, a formidable figure; the blue eyes, though bloodshot and sunken, were yet full of fire, and rolled fiercely beneath the shaggy brows, the voice, often likened to a trumpet or a drum, still retained a ferocious power; and he had abated nothing of his splendour; fine lace still encircled the swollen bull neck, pearls hung either side the purple jowl, powdered curls surrounded the face, ugly now save for that grin of cynic humour.
Diamonds were clustered on the monstrous breast and the swollen fingers still displayed a blazing ring with the arms of Saxony.
He leered at the fools who had been forced to beg his help, heaved himself on to his massive horse, turned towards the frontiers and in a short campaign did what M. d'Argenson had asked of him; in his own style of coarse pleasantry he said he had "packed off Prince Charles and the King of England, after 'confessing' them."
"The thing was worthy my attention," he added. He had fortified the frontiers, held back the Austrians, and prevented the enemy from obtaining a foothold in Alsace-Lorraine. Nor was he daunted by the other prospect put forward by the cabinet at Versailles, the invasion of England; a scheme frequently cherished by the French, but never successfully put into practice.
It greatly pleased Maurice, it had that touch of the bizarre, the fantastic, that always delighted him; it touched that most dreamt dream of all—a crown. Not for himself, perhaps, but if the enterprise was successful, what not could Maurice hope from the gratitude of Charles Edward Stuart?
It may have, too, amused his sardonic humour to contemplate chasing the son of Sophia Dorothea from his throne.
Always active, despite his ill-health, he contrived to be at Dunkirk in February 1744, where the young Italianate Stuart met him with enthusiastic delight; for him a golden dream seemed about to become a reality; Maurice had fifteen thousand men embarked by March I; his intention was to take them across the channel, up the Thames, and to threaten London, while the Jacobites (the French hoped) would rise in revolt against the Hanoverians.
Spring gales saved England, not for the first or last time, from invasion; some ships were lost, others had to return to port, and Maurice, fevered with impatience to begin his enterprise, was forced to exclaim furiously: "Decidedly the wind is not Jacobite!"
Despite the delays, however, and the knowledge that the English were strongly fortifying their posts, Maurice still wished to attempt the descent and would have done so, had he not been forbidden by M. d'Argenson, who thought that both James Stuart, his son, and their supporters formed rotten reeds on which to lean and that the whole scheme was too costly and too hazardous.
Maurice's earnest attempts to persuade the Minister and the King that it would be well worth while to endeavour to transport thirty thousand men across the Channel even in fishing boats to attack England, met with no success and he was forced to abandon to despair and folly Prince Charles Edward, and to return to Paris where he received the superb honour of Maréchal de France and the command of the Army on the Moselle.
One of the difficulties, in the eyes of the nobles and courtiers, in the way of his elevation to this magnificent dignity, was the fact that he was a Protestant and therefore debarred from some of the privileges of his new dignity. Although he was completely indifferent to all religion, he had always refused to leave the Lutheran Church of which he was nominally a member, and it was useless to suggest it now. An obstinate pride engaged him in this surface loyalty; yet he hardly knew the meaning of the words Religion, God or Spirituality; any mention of such matters brought a cynic laugh from the rough, robust and gross soldier. He enjoyed with gusto the material glory and splendour this new honour brought him and the fact that he was called "le Maréchal Maurice" and that the King addressed him as "my cousin," while the Prince de Conti and other royal personages could hardly contain their rage.
At the same time, and in some measure by his influence, another Northerner was received into the French service; Danish by birth and a general in the Saxon army, Ulric-Frédéric- Waldemar, Count de Lowendal, at 44 years of age, was a mercenary soldier of great success and distinction; one of his most notable exploits had been, when he was in the service of the Czarina Ann, expelling at the edge of the sword the Tartars out of the Ukraine; Lowendal had on occasion fought against Maurice, but they had been for many years friends, men of much the same temperament, the same destiny, the same background. Lowendal proved a good second to Maurice in the organisation and command of the French armies.
It was a period of grave anxiety for France; the last campaign had been little short of disastrous, both in lowered prestige and in crippling defeats; French bones, treasure, flags and guns, were scattered over Flanders, Italy and Germany; the cause of Charles of Bavaria seemed, too, lost. The entry of Great Britain with her fresh troops, her sound financial resources and good organisation, the fear of invasion, the failure of the Count d'Argenson's bold plan for the landing of Charles Stuart in England, all these events were shrewd blows at the failing strength of France. Internal conditions, too, were bad; de Noailles, in a memorial to the King, painted them in the blackest colours, and Europe indeed did not think that France could put another army into the field. The war had been tedious and exhausting, the French troops were fatigued and dispirited, thousands of them were prisoners, and the cabinet at Versailles hardly knew where to turn for the means and the men with which to support the only two generals who were likely to be of use, the two foreigners, Saxe and Lowendal.
In a passionate appeal to the King, M. de Noailles entreated His Majesty to take the field in person; nothing else would so raise the prestige of France or so put heart into the men. For de Noailles was still of the opinion that France must continue to fight, 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 truth the national dignity could only be saved by carrying on this war so wantonly undertaken.
The combination against France had now been strengthened by the entry of the Netherlands into the ranks of the Allies; the Dutch, peace loving, and only remotely concerned in the quarrel, had been persuaded against their own inclination and to no one's great advantage to enter the struggle and they played their part but half-heartedly; they were, however, well equipped and, if lethargic, had a prosperous government behind them.
Louis XV responded to the appeal of M. de Noailles and decided to take the field for the campaign of 1744.
Wondering, in his exquisite boredom, if there might not be some excitement to be obtained out of war, Louis XV had been attracted by the suggestion that he should lead his army in person and had selected the Saxon Maréchal for his model and guide in the enterprise. Other reasons beside dread of tedium inspired the King at this crisis in the affairs of France; he was but in his thirty-fourth year and, freed from the long dominion of Cardinal Fleury that had followed the dominion of the Regent, Dubois and the Duc de Bourbon, he felt some stirrings of energy and ambition, some sincere desire to follow in the tradition of Saint-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 Cardinal Fleury, but the burden had been too much for one untrained in anything save arts of idleness, yet there remained in him some manly desire for independence. Neither was the young King insensible to the appalling condition of his country, and a powerful adviser was always at his ear, inspiring him with brave and generous thoughts. This was the youngest and most beautiful of the Nesle sisters, Madame de Châteauroux, who was romantic and high-minded above most women of her caste.
The King seemed to love her; the affair had the air of Louis XIV's idyll with Louise de la Valličre and Madame de Pompadour with her shrewd selfishness, her keen materialism, was still in the background, with Madame Lenormant d'Etoiles, waiting patiently for her chance of complete ascendancy over the King, as she had waited already two years. Though the King's decision was extremely popular with the people and put heart into a dispirited nation, his choice of Maurice de Saxe as his instructor in the art of war was taken as little less than an insult by the Princes of the Blood and nobility, all squabbling among themselves for military honours, titles and rewards.
Louis XV had, however, more good sense and shrewdness than appeared at first from his indolent and frivolous exterior. He had not chosen Maurice altogether from a caprice or because of the influence of M. de Noailles. He remarked, with his light cynicism, "that the times were not fertile in great men"; in Maurice he perceived the only general capable of restoring the tattered glory of the lilies and of conducting with dignity the war that he himself was entering as a piquant distraction and with some generous idea of emulating the glories of his predecessors.
Maurice was to have the effective command of the forces that His Most Christian Majesty would lead in his name and the Saxon had therefore achieved a very splendid position in the French court and camp, one from which it would be almost impossible to dislodge him and which he had every opportunity of consolidating.
Now that this splendid prospect opened before him, Maurice was full of enthusiasm and of activity; his zeal was one of the reasons that Louis XV leant upon him. Here at least was a solid character, self-confident and enterprising, and one whose destiny seemed to be to save France if not to restore her ancient splendour.
Thus supported, Maurice de Saxe was able to snap his fingers at the enraged troupe dorée, but the hatred of some of them, still notably that of the Prince de Conti, who aspired to his place, was dangerous.
The campaign opened in April; Maurice went to Valenciennes with half the French forces, where he was soon joined by M. de Noailles with the remainder of the French troops; the Saxon's organisation had been superb; M. de Noailles, when urging the King to take the field, had complained of every possible trouble with the army, including insubordination, but Maurice de Saxe was able to take the offensive with troops at least as well disciplined and equipped as those of the Allies. For their part the government had worked hard; Count d'Argenson had taken energetic measures for mobilisation and recruiting and a gravely depleted treasury had been drawn upon for the manufacture of bombs, balls, cannon and arms, and for the purchase of war supplies; during the whole of the war there was a desperate struggle between the Contrôleur-Général Ovry and the Minister of War on this vital question of expense.
The war could not continue without enormous expense; the nation had no money, and yet the war must be sustained; such was the position that occupied the wits of the Versailles cabinet; yet, while M. d'Argenson and M. Dumesnil were endeavouring to find the means to carry on this almost hopeless task, the organisation of hospitals, the making of military roads, the supply of transport, the construction of bridges and all the elaborate machinery of war, the royal household that surrounded the King were indulging in the most reckless extravagance and the most splendid luxury. It might be a great encouragement to France that the King was, symbolically at least, "at the head of his troops," but his presence was a source of continual embarrassment and vexation to Maurice and such other generals as took seriously their task, not only of defending France, but of carrying the war into the enemy's country. For Louis XV brought with him all that comprised his court, except his Queen; the fair and enthusiastic Madame de Châteauroux took her place.
For the rest there were the royal Princes, with their vast households, the nobles with their establishments, and all the crowd of hangers-on to these great ones that had formerly flocked to the corridors at Versailles, or jostled in the ante-chambers of Parisian hotels. Merchants, tradespeople, moneylenders, panders, jobbers and sharpers, dancers, singers and "fines de joie" by the waggon-load accompanied the aristocracy of France to the war.
Maurice, endeavouring to put into practice some of his long- held ideas in military science and those of his life-long friend and favourite author, the Chevalier Folard, was hampered and infuriated by this cumbrous train of vice, extravagance, etiquette, folly and pride, which impeded all operations and filled the army with all the corrupt and base intrigues that poisoned the court and the city.
Maurice's ideal soldier remained Charles XII, of whom he had caught a glimpse in his youth—"attired like one of his own men, and sharing all their miseries and perils." And he often allowed himself a rough statement of his feelings. When it was suggested to him that a certain assault would be worth while "since it would cost the lives of ten dragoons only" he replied brusquely, "Ten dragoons! If you had said ten lieutenant-generals I might not have hesitated." And when an officer came to him for orders, perfumed, powdered and as exquisitely groomed as if ready for the King's levee, Maurice asked scornfully, "What ball are you going to, my fine fellow?"
Yet his own luxury was as ostentatious as that of any gilded mignon; and he did not permit himself this inconsistency out of indifference or compliance, he really liked all that was opulent, costly and sensuously pleasing. He maintained his own private theatre with a troupe of accomplished actresses and actors, and elegant berlines full of light and pretty ladies followed his staff.
But if he had his diversions he did his work well; he never relaxed the discipline of his troops, he continued to train, exercise and instruct them; he treated deserters with such severity that even the Swiss, mercenaries with no heart in the war, remained at their posts, and he tried even to discipline the officers "who have too much leisure" and to close to them the Flemish cafés, theatres and houses of ill-fame, where they spent too much time. He also kept order among his troops; the surrounding country was not pillaged, and the peasants were encouraged to come to the camp to sell their provisions at a fair price.
Affairs were very different in those sections of the army that did not come under the command of Maurice de Saxe; M. de Seychelles wrote to M. de Belleisle from the royal headquarters, "there is no order or discipline here. The soldiers rape and pillage, we are detested, all have their hands against us—there is no hope of any discipline."
Maurice now put into practice one of his ideas of the ręveries, incessant attacks on the enemy by small parties—a kind of guerilla warfare, new and effective.
In May, he presented the King with a splendid spectacle, the capture of the town of Menin; this success was followed by the fall of Courtrai, Ypres and Fumes. The activity of Prince Charles of Lorraine on the Rhine, however, drew off Louis XV and M. de Noailles to Alsace and left Maurice with diminished forces to hold the Flemish posts.
The King, afraid of death and afraid of Hell, had nevertheless shown an elegant kind of bravery during such actions as he had been permitted to share; he had been shielded, however, from any real danger. But at Metz he was struck down 'by a peril that no one had the skill or the knowledge to prevent.
Disease then accounted for at least as many soldiers as those slain by the enemy in time of war; the filthy camps, the dirt, ignorance and apathy of men and officers, the scarcity even of such medical help as the age afforded, made many maladies endemic during time of war.
The young, charming and handsome King was infected by one of the pestilences bred from the insanitary camps, the herded troops, the foul camp followers.
It was believed that he would die, and France was moved into a rush of love and loyalty—the last that this dynasty was to provoke from the nation over which they had ruled so long.
The priests worked on Louis's fears of Divine vengeance and he sent away Madame de Châteauroux. When he recovered, it seemed as if the passionate prayers of France had been answered; and he found 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 should be loved?"
Madame de Châteauroux returned to the royal couch as the priests, whose absolution was no longer required, left the royal chamber; but infection was in everything she touched, and she too fell ill.
Her quick death touched and terrified her lover; his own grief alarmed him, he turned to the suave comfort offered by Madame d'Etoiles, who had waited so long and so patiently; she loved him, she was brilliant, she was sensitive, she knew all the arts of passion, she rapidly achieved the envied position of maîtresse-en-titre. Louis submitted to her dazzling seduction; after the loss of Madame de Châteauroux he never permitted himself the dangerous luxury of a tender or sentimental attachment. The new mistress, soon to become Madame de Pompadour, had always admired Maurice, at least as a soldier, and he was very ready to come to an understanding with the powerful new favourite.
Louis and Noailles continued to hold Charles of Lorraine in Alsace; the King saw Fribourg taken during a violent storm of rain; during the assault Lowendal was wounded, Maurice kept the enemy at bay in Flanders until the troops went into winter quarters.
The state of his health had now become alarming; little was left of the manly strength that had passed for beauty in the eyes of so many women. His huge limbs were enfeebled, his hands shook, the heavy-featured face with the snub nose and long upper lip was empurpled, bloated and saggy, twitching with pain and blotched with disease. Though he had been long ailing and struggling with intermittent illnesses, he seemed to his doctors, his friends and his acquaintances to have suddenly collapsed. Not yet nearing his fiftieth year he appeared to have the weaknesses and disabilities of 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 seemed that his "blood was dissolving "; his body was covered with sores that baths of healing balms did little to relieve; he was in continual pain from the chronic festering in the wounded leg.
Yet he had the will-power to employ this winter of 1744-5, not only 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 the intolerable insolence of the gilded rakes, idle fops and voluptuous loungers who flourished in the train of the King, he had maintained his hold on the monarch who was now confided to his care by Madame de Pompadour. The mistress's interest in the war was entirely personal; she had gracefully conveyed to Maurice, whom she looked upon, and rightly, as the one strong personality in the French army, her hope that he would be able to shorten the tedious war that kept her royal and charming lover from her side; she knew that the King was fickle and the fact that he was at the seat of war did not mean that he was free from feminine influence.
The new favourite, who had not yet become a habit with her lover, was glad to have Maurice de Saxe as her ally, and the two understood each other very well.
Thus, despite so many handicaps, his health, the enemies that his success in the field made him among the Princes, Maurice had the address to maintain his hold on the King, the mistress and M. de Noailles.
The winter passed in fruitless negotiations between the hostile nations, and Maurice employed himself with what diversions came his way, in raising, training his Uhlans, in studying for his next campaign and in trying to regain some strength; but many thought he would not live to see the spring. His one desire was to return to the active life of the camp, yet it was to his interest to please Madame de Pompadour, who wished the King idle, safe and under her direct influence.
Maurice continued his "gazettes" and letters to the court of Dresden and he served the interest of his own country skilfully enough with Madame de Pompadour, even down to such details as inducing her to buy the products of and patronise the enterprise of the porcelain factories whose dainty productions were becoming famous throughout Europe.
There had been some changes in the political situation; Frederick of Prussia had been detached from his allies by Maria Theresa and on the death of Charles VII, January 28, 1745, whom France had crowned but never been able to provide with an Empire, the court of Vienna succeeded in seducing his young son from his champions; Saxony also veered round and signed a treaty with Maria Theresa and England. Despite the fact that there was no Emperor to fight for, France continued her struggle with all and sundry 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 sixty thousand men, and Tournay was his objective.
Voltaire, visiting him as he was issuing his orders from the chair he could not leave, asked quizzically, "How can you hope to live 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 his arrival at Maubeuge a crisis of distress caused M. Senac to operate on him again for dropsy.
The doctor, acting under orders from the alarmed King, who saw his one champion laid low, tried to introduce some order into the life of his formidable patient. There were to be no more temptations, declared the physician, either in court or in camp. The berlines full of gay ladies, who followed Maurice from town to town during the campaigns, were to be forbidden; the good companions were to be kept at a distance. "Plus de femmes" was the order; and the invalid's door was barred to petticoats.
Maurice, with an indifferent air, groaning with pain, promised amendments, but neither the King nor the doctors believed in these and his house was guarded day and night to see that undesirable favourites did not enter to tempt him to further debaucheries.
All these precautions were, however, too late. Even if Maurice had reformed his way of life, he would not have been able to cure his complication of diseases; for he had to contend not only with his own lack of control, where sensual appetites were concerned, but with the primitive hygiene of his day and lack of knowledge on the part of even the most famous physicians.
The man whose living flesh was corrupting, was tormented, for the first time in his life, by a thwarted passion. It was, indeed, ironical that the man who had only to glance at a woman to win her, who had been besieged by many fashionable, proud and delicate beauties, sometimes in vain, was now, with his youth, and beauty, and health gone, tortured by the inability to win a woman on whom he had set his desires; this woman was Madame Favart, and her story, though it runs concurrently with the political and military events of the last few years of Maurice's life, is better given as a complete narrative.
At the opening of the campaign of 1745, the reckless and extravagant 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 and the sieges.
And all this gross brilliancy was heightened by the presence of the charming King of 35 years of age and that of the little Dauphin, 15 years old, who had just been married to the ugly, sad little Spanish princess whom he adored.
They again brought with them the whole "golden troop" of the royal household and all the glittering and arrogant aristocracy of France, equipped with the extremes of luxury, brave and cool, though utterly incapable of the military commands that were given them, amused themselves while on the ravaged fields of Flanders with all the diversions to which they had been accustomed in Versailles.
Maurice and the Prince de Conti, his great enemy and rival, in particular made a point of outshining the others, in the amount of money they lost at their card tables, in the costliness of their equipage and with the talents of the companies of actors and actresses who accompanied them.
But Maurice was not so well able to join in these pleasures as he had been even a year ago; between the watchful physician, the agony of his own ailments and his severe military conscience, he had little time or strength for any kind of pleasure.
He placed his men from the Sambre to the Lys, from Maubeuge to Warneton 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 that the Allies, with a force of sixty thousand men, were moving on Soignies and so threatening to cut his lines of communications; leaving twenty thousand men before Tournay, Maurice, with the rest of his force, forty-five thousand seasoned troops, established himself in a defensive position on a plain a few miles from the besieged city.
He had often worked out such a situation, "pondered over it for weeks, perhaps months," and he now made his preparations with the precision of an accomplished player setting the chess board.
His health continued desperate, though he had written to Count d'Argenson that he "felt better since his arrival at the camp."
The Minister was not, however, reassured, and demanded constant news of the progress of "the precious invalid."
After the tapping for dropsy, Maurice had seemed, indeed, a little restored; "he ate with appetite, slept eight hours and saw visitors." Now he was again enfeebled and in gnawing pain; his worst distress was a perpetual thirst; the doctors had forbidden him to drink because of his dropsy; M. de Luynes, who saw him daily, thought that he would not "live more than a few months at most" and that "one could not count on him." France, however, had to count on him; though the holders of almost every brilliant and famous name in France were gathered before Tournay, there was no one to take the place of Maurice.
Having so carefully made his preparations and disposed his troops on the undulating plain, surrounded with woods and pitted with bogs, between Antoing and Fontenoy, and flanked by the Scheldt, Maurice learnt with grim, if silent, fury that the glittering array of the royal household was hastening to his camp. On hearing that a great battle was likely to take place, Louis XV, the Dauphin, and the troupe doreée had hastened to Fontenoy to see the spectacle and to pick up whatever laurels might be lying about after the exertions of others had gained what was then termed glory; and also to risk their own lives in the service of France.
Louis XV possessed a considerable personal courage and a graceful sense of dignity as well as an immense trust in his Saxon mercenary; elegant idler as His Most Christian Majesty was, he showed more bravery in the field than had ever been displayed by the conquering Louis XIV and appeared elated at the prospect of a pitched battle.
Maurice tried with grim resolution to conceal his physical disorders, but was so ill when the King arrived at the camp that he was not able to leave his tent; his soured temper was not improved by the tiresome courtiers, utterly incompetent, selfish and vain, with their impudent demands for high rank and authority, but he continued with those qualities of vigour and enthusiasm that were his best points to make every possible preparation for the advancing enemy, though not able to sit on horse-back, or indeed, hardly upright.
The Allies were under the command of an English Prince of the blood royal, who was also a pure German, William Augustus, son of George II and Caroline of Brandenberg-Anspach.
He was then in his twenty-fifth year and had only recently taken up his command; indeed, shortly before he had begged to be allowed to take part in the campaign "in any capacity." The tact of Lord Stair had, however, won a diplomatic victory over Austrian pride, and an office, in abeyance since the days of Marlborough, that of Captain General of the Allied Forces, had been revived for the young Prince, while Marshal Königsegg, a veteran of the school of Eugene, acted with him as ad latus.
This appointment had been made in the same spirit as that in which Louis XV had joined his army in the field; to give some brilliancy to the general staff of the allies and to animate in particular the spirit of the soldiery, who might be supposed to be heartened to be serving under a prince of royal birth.
George II might have remarked with Louis XV, that the age was not fertile in great soldiers; there was no Marlborough on his staff; Lord Stair was a good soldier and a fine tactician, but had been hampered by continual interference from His Majesty, while Field-Marshal Wade, who succeeded him, was not of startling talent and handicapped to some extent by his own caution. Wade had, however, as early as the spring of 1744, represented to King George that Maurice de Saxe was a leader of such fine mettle that it was useless to oppose him with the inferior troops of Austria and the Netherlands and with an army suffering from a divided command.
The appointment of the Duke of Cumberland was thought to remedy this defect; he had at least the advantage of undisputed authority over the Anglo-Hanoverian troops and of ardour for his task; no general could have shown more ardour than did this young Prince when he advanced to the relief of Tournay to find the French firmly and skilfully entrenched across his route and before the beleaguered city.
No character in history has been more maligned than William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland; a succession of prejudiced or indifferent historians has been followed by a crowd of fiction writers, who almost mechanically repeat slanders about this unlucky prince; and no cheap romance about the Jacobites, clogged with false sentiment and false history, but adds another sneer at the "butcher" Cumberland, who is accused of almost every possible fault and crime, the least of these being brutality and incapacity.
The source of these libels is Jacobite squibs, lampoons and caricatures; the Stuarts and their followers never showed themselves generous towards those who beat them, and William III and all the members of the House of Hanover have had their reputations blackened—for all time it would seem—by the spite of Jacobite party writers.
Cumberland was of the same type as Maurice de Saxe, a heavy Northerner, authoritative, sensual, a born soldier, hard and resolute to a fault. He delighted in his profession and spared no pains to perfect himself in it and he achieved what Maurice never did, an identification of himself with his men. To him they were not the pieces on a chess board that they were to Maurice, but human beings; he looked after their welfare, he made reforms for their comfort, he frequently said that their "honour and glory" were very near his heart and no one could please him better than by praising his men. They in their turn adored him; to them he was "Billy" or "Sweet William" and they wore in their caps clusters of the prim little flower of that name.
The British Prince lacked the genius of Maurice, but he also lacked his vulgarity; Cumberland had a sportsman's taste, he liked racing, easy women, cards, but no ugly stories were told of his private life, and there was nothing of the scoundrel in his character.
He was, indeed, honourable, did nothing for profit, was not corrupt in money matters, and had that quiet dignity which disdains a meanness, nor did he stoop to intrigues of any kind—one reason for his unpopularity and the lies that were told about him.
He had been severely wounded at Dettingen and the damaged leg had been so unskilfully treated that it helped bring him in early middle life to an end as dreadful as that which now fast approached Maurice de Saxe.
On that occasion, when in great pain on the battlefield, Cumberland had refused a drink of water in favour of a French officer lying near; a similar incident with the name of Sir Philip 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 taste and elegance, said that His Royal Highness had no social virtues, but he had other qualities that would have been useful to the nation if he had come to the throne; he was unfortunate in everything, and not least in being always subordinate, first to an elder brother, then to a nephew, as well as continually subjected to the not too easy rule of his father. The third general in command of the Allied Forces was Prince Waldeck, at the head of the Dutch contingent. He was a brave and experienced soldier, but it would have been better if the Prince of Orange had not been prevented by party politics from taking his place, for the Dutch were not inspired by Waldeck as they would have been by the head of the House of Nassau.
The Allies had made slow progress, less than forty miles in ten days, and Maurice had had time to fortify his position with trenches and redoubts and he was advantageously placed, in fact he considered that he would not, for this reason, be attacked.
His earthworks, furnished with men and artillery, filled the ground between the village of Antoing on the right, and the forest of Barre on the left; his one weakness was the fact that the Scheldt ran along his rear; his cannon were arranged to face the approach and his reserves, six battalions of the Irish Brigade, were hidden behind a gentle incline that rose from the river-bank.
In front of him was the hamlet of Vegon that stood on the edge of a concealed ravine through which ran a stream.
Maurice's quick and extensive work had destroyed hedges and fields and gardens, but amid his complicated entrenchments rose the white-walled, red-tiled houses of the Flemish village, the ancient church, with the slender bell towers rising clearly into the spring air. The Allies would have been well advised to leave Tournay to its fate and not to offer a challenge to so able a general so well entrenched, and the blame of their mistake has been given to Cumberland, always a scapegoat, but the fact is that the Allied commanders were unanimous in their decision to attack.
It was not so much Tournay that was at stake as prestige, Cumberland and his allies could not afford to forgo a chance of victory and they had been badly misinformed, the number of the French was nearly as many again as Cumberland's spies had told him it was. The exact number of men on either side cannot be ascertained, some military historians give Maurice the advantage of six thousand more than Cumberland, but all that can be known with certainty is that both the Allies and the French had about fifty thousand men.
The English troops were well disciplined and keen; the war was popular in England where Maria Theresa was regarded as something of a persecuted heroine and there was still a sense that the French were the natural foes of the English, a heritage from the long wars of Louis XIV. The threatened, though abortive invasion had roused the British, too, and these continual attempts on the part of the House of Bourbon to thrust the House of Stuart on a people who had definitely cast them out, were sharply resented; the British Government had been for some time aware of the importance of a war that, if it set the French in Vienna and jeopardised the liberty of the Netherlands, would upset the balance of power in the West, and eleven new regiments had been raised in 1741. Well matched, therefore, in all respects, save in their generals, the two armies confronted each other on the morning of the May 11, 1745.
The King, the Dauphin and the royal household took their places on a little hill, where the soldiers could salute them as they went into action. Maurice, still unable to sit on horse- back, had been carried, during the preceding night, from post to post, inspecting everything, giving his final orders with clarity and precision. Tormented with thirst and forbidden to drink, he rolled a musket ball in his mouth in order to create a little saliva and by sheer energy of will dominated his atrocious sufferings.
"A fine day for His Majesty!" he cried to Lowendal when he saw the sun rise in a cloudless sky. And he gazed with deep pride and pleasure on the half moon of his waiting troops, dragoons, guards, infantry, hussars, light horse, with their officers bearing the most magnificent names in France before them; standards, drums, cannon, all the panoply of war in exact array.
At five o'clock the French outposts signalled by burning a group 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 and the village of Fontenoy. He had given the post of honour to his twenty-five thousand British troops, the Dutch and Austrians were on the left. The young general, inexperienced and too ardent, was in the cruel position of being faced by the greatest soldier of the age and in attempting to carry Maurice's admirable position by assault he was undertaking what only a Marlborough could have performed successfully; but this admitted, it must also be allowed that he did the utmost that any man could have done and in spite of severe handicaps. The first of these was a misunderstood order; he had ordered the redoubt of St. Eu to be taken, but the two Austrian battalions entrusted with this task did not move; while the Dutch sent against Fontenoy and Antoing soon fell back.
Cumberland perceived these misfortunes and sent his aides galloping with fresh instructions as he carried out his own part of the plan of assault and advanced at the head of the British troops—ten battalions of infantry in the first line, seven battalions in the second line—up the slope towards the earthworks that enclosed the waiting French. Many men have lost their presence of mind through fear, Cumberland was apt to lose his head through courage; his father said of him that "his head turned" when in action through the passionate desire to be everywhere, to inspire every man with his own fiery courage.
He now went from rank to rank, exhorting the British in the warmest terms, to which they responded with cries and shouts; as neither Fontenoy nor St. Eu had been taken, silenced, or even engaged in the struggle, Cumberland and his men marched forward under a deadly cross fire from these two points. Their ranks did not break, and Cumberland's trust in their iron discipline and the murderous accuracy of their musketry was justified. When they were within range of the French earthworks, he gave the order to fire; as the answering volley rang out the first French line fell almost to a man; by the time the second line had formed, the British were ready to fire again, and did, advancing, Cumberland at their head, right into the enemy's position; a hand to hand fight with muskets, sabres and swords ensued; the standards swaying above the combatants as the British thrust their colours through 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. The veteran de Noailles thought the day was lost and was terrified about the safety of the King and Dauphin, but Maurice being borne in his litter through the smoke and din ordered his concealed artillery into play against the still-advancing British, to whom Cumberland had given as an objective the delicate spire of Fontenoy church.
Cumberland, however, still forced on, though caught between St. Eu and Fontenoy, which his allies had done nothing to take; the Dutch and Austrians, either through misunderstanding or lethargy, were now little more than spectators. There was a bloody medley within the French lines; the French infantry could not stand up to the British musketry; the reckless bravery and general incompetence of the royal Princes and the aristocratic officers 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 that protected Fontenoy, so abandoning that objective, he changed his tactics, and forming his troops, now supported by some Dutch regiments, into an immense column, threw it, with the precision of one aiming a dagger at a shield, at the slight hill where four battalions of French guards waited.
When the English gained the hill and saw the ranks of France before them there was a pause and the enemies saluted one another. The famous anecdote that is told of this occasion is hardly likely to be true, but is still related.
Lord Charles Hay, the story goes, advanced from the British ranks, as the officers raised their hats in salute of the chivalry of France, and said: "Gentlemen, give the order to fire." Upon which the Comte Auteroche replied: "No, we never fire first." The English thereupon fired and laid a thousand Frenchmen on the field; in any case the English broke the French line, and their 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 not break; his men met the cavalry with the bayonet, with musketry fire; the hussars charged again and again but the British ranks appeared invincible; they were not to be turned back even when Maurice added the infantry of the Maison du Roi, whom he had held in reserve behind the woods of Barre, to the hideous męlée.
"God give me strength to survive the day—a victor," he said. Of what God was he thinking? The battle lasted six hours; when, at two o'clock in the afternoon news was brought to Maurice that Cumberland, with the tattered British flag and ten thousand infantry, was still advancing, though slowly, the Saxon saw that only desperate measures could save the day. He called up his last reserves, the Irish battalions under the command of Lord Thomond the descendants of the "Wild Geese" of Limerick and, making an heroic effort, was lifted from his litter to a horse. Grasping his sword in his swollen fingers, his cloak dragged over the cuirass he could scarcely support, Maurice shouted on the Irish brigades against the shattered, but still-advancing British.
These fresh troops were too much for Cumberland, unsupported as he was by his allies, and having sustained six hours' combat against most unequal odds, he could do no more; he gave the signal for retreat, and the British withdrew slowly in good order, rolling sullenly, with torn flags and tattered, bloody uniforms, down the trampled slope up which Cumberland had led them that morning.
The losses were equal; about six thousand five hundred dead and wounded; each side the advantage lay in the glory and prestige acquired; France had inflicted a defeat in the field on England that was considered as definite and spectacular as any since the days of Jeanne d'Arc.
Cumberland sent a laconic note to Waldeck—"My Prince, I shall retire under the guns of Ath"—and withdrew in good order. There is no record of what passed between him and his allies on the subject of the disobedience of his commands, which had cost him the battle; his feelings must have been bitter, for it was only through lack of support that he had been prevented from wresting, through sheer dogged valour, victory from the foremost general of the day entrenched in a position that he deemed impregnable. Certainly Maurice had to thank the behaviour of the Austrians and Dutch, as well as his own genius, for his famous victory.
It should be said, however, that the Netherlanders left nearly one thousand five hundred dead and wounded behind. If, when the issue of the day was uncertain, the Dutch battalions had come to the aid of Cumberland and his infantry, then struggling with horse and foot together, the Te Deum might have been sung in St. Paul's instead of Notre-Dame.
But Waldeck's troops undoubtedly displayed that natural slowness and deliberation so admirable in business and sometimes in politics, but rarely successful in a pitched battle; little blame can be attached to the Netherlanders for their lack of enthusiasm. Their State was reluctant to enter the war and their soldiers were naturally reluctant to fight in it, but it is odd that they offered so feeble a support to the efforts of the British to drive the enemy from their own frontiers. It should be noted, nevertheless, that there was a fair number of Dutch dead and wounded left on the field.
Certain it is that, as if disdaining the whole affair, that many of the Dutch troops retired early with a loss so small that the Gazette de Hollande apologised for it by saying that they had been alarmed by a row of dummy guns in the French trenches, an excuse that hardly betters the case and was probably meant cynically.
The victory of Fontenoy was the personal triumph of Maurice and of Maurice alone; whether in his wicker carriage, or forcing himself on horse-back, always half-fainting with pain, hindered by all the elaborate ceremonial rendered necessary by the presence of the King and the Dauphin, embarrassed by the incapacity and arrogance of the Princes of the Blood, Maurice was over the field in the shortest possible space of time, at the last galloping from rank to rank of the Irish reserves shouting his own orders, animating the men, forcing, as it were, the French on to victory by the sheer energy of his own impetuous and valiant spirit. When he learned of the retreat of Cumberland he collapsed and was taken half conscious to his tent; the officers who gathered round him with enthusiastic praises and congratulations found him sprawling in a chair, convulsed with agony, a yellow saliva dripping from his mouth, while his physician waited to tap him for dropsy; after he had gulped a cup of soup he contrived to whisper: "Gentlemen, you see me more fatigued than I can tell you—but I'm pleased with to-day's work."
He was put to bed and operated upon; the King came to enquire after him; couriers hastened with the news to Paris; the nation was delirious with joy; Voltaire said that it was three hundred years since a King of France had performed so glorious an action, and he wrote his Počme ŕ Fontenoy.
Maurice was worried about some technical errors, which he believed he had made—he ought to have had another redoubt where Cumberland had passed through between St. Eu and Fontenoy, but, he added in unconscious tribute to the British commander, "I did not think that any general would be bold enough to pass through there." He was not generous towards his valiant foes, but he wrote to a friend that "Les Anglais ont été étrillés en chiens courtauds!"
The slaughter had been terrible; some British regiments had lost half their number; nearly twelve thousand dead and wounded were scattered round Fontenoy, Antoing and the woods of Barre. The King of France had displayed the courage expected of an ordinary trooper and no more during the engagement and sentimentalised the battle in the true spirit of the period, by remarking to the young Dauphin as he pointed out the heaps of slain and dying, "See, my son, on what the glory of Kings is built." A pretty example of the mock heroic. Or is it possible that Louis XV was genuinely moved by the ghastly spectacle of so much blood, ruin, misery, waste and horror, that he might enjoy the glory of a purposeless victory in a war undertaken out of arrogance and continued through despair.
There were, at least, some present at this dreadful slaughter who were moved out of professional insensibility; Comte M. d'Argenson himself wrote to Voltaire: "To give the other side of the picture, I remarked that one too soon acquires the custom of regarding unmoved the field of battle covered with nude corpses, dying men in agony, ghastly wounds. For myself, I admit that my heart often failed me and I had need of a dram...A triumph of this kind is one of the finest things in the world, but it rests on 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 himself in the action.
M. de Seychelles was also sickened by the sights he had to see and remarked pointlessly, "that it was a good thing for M. le Dauphin 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 the least. I went over the field asking after my friends, many of whom were dying, with a calm that astonished myself. In the evening everyone was going about, looking after the wounded, enquiring about acquaintances, delighted when these were found safe, for never is one so fond of one's comrades as after a battle. But, as for me, I remained cold and indifferent, doing my part mechanically, regretting that I remained unscathed, for my misfortune was always present before me and prevented me from having any attachment to life."
M. de Croy's "misfortune" was the loss of his wife in the preceding year and it is agreeable in an age that seems callous and corrupt, at least among the French aristocrats, to find so much constancy—and to a wife. Honours were distributed immediately after the action; the King rode from regiment to regiment, praising all, in particular the Irish brigade, whose advent had forced the dogged British soldiers to retreat. An Irish sergeant, named Wheelock, had captured the one British flag to fall in the hands of the French; he was given commissioned rank on the spot; the same honour was accorded to other sergeants.
The Ministers took fifteen days to prepare the list of the other recipients of rewards; apart from promotions and the cross of Saint-Louis, handsome "gratifications" to the officers and men of thirteen regiments were provided from an almost exhausted treasury.
It was admitted that the trophies of the great victory were scanty; fifteen Dutch and eight English pieces of cannon had been abandoned; and the Comte d'Estrées, who had been sent, not in pursuit of Cumberland, but to observe his movements, returned with the report that the British were encamped on the Dendre and brought back with him one hundred and fifty baggage waggons and nearly two thousand wounded men, Dutch and English, who had been left on the line of retreat.
The care of these unfortunates constituted a grim problem; the French reckoned over seven thousand killed and wounded of their own, including twenty-two nobles of the Maison du Roi. M. Seychelles, to whom, as intendant, this important work fell, had made his preparations in advance; he had ordered the sick to be moved from the hospitals of Lille, Douai and the military field hospital that was established near Notre-Dame-aux- Bois. To the rooms thus vacant the wounded of Fontenoy were now transported on more than four hundred waggons and carts. For those too ill to be moved, a hospital was constructed on the battle-field.
The sappers and miners were charged with the task of burying the dead, and in twenty-four hours interred at least five thousand corpses; for this they received extra pay. The inhabitants of Lille, headed by their magistrates, threw themselves with zeal into the succour of the wounded; every surgeon and apothecary in the town offered his services, and every household supplied a quota of linen, medicines and the inevitable "bouillon" that seemed so highly valued. The prisoners were treated exactly the same as the French, a fact of which Louis XV took care to assure himself; when Waldeck sent thirty waggons to pick up the Dutch wounded, he found only fourteen men, the others being cared for by the French—"now they are defeated and captive," said Comte d'Argenson, "they are no longer our enemies."
The usual tales of atrocities went round and the French were accused by the English of using pieces of glass and the buttons of uniforms in their muskets; there seems no foundation for such slanders and the French certainly behaved with humanity and even chivalry.
By the end of the month a large number of the wounded had died, but the mortality was equally high among the French, and due, not to lack of care, but to primitive conditions of hygiene and lack of medical knowledge. It is interesting to note the fate of the two thousand three hundred and eight Dutch and English wounded; after a fortnight two hundred and seventy-three were dead, five had entered the service of France and fifteen were in prison. The French held as manyprisoners as possible, for George II had refused to release Belleisle whom he held, unlawfully, the French maintained, as a hostage.
Maurice de Saxe could not have hoped to gain more for France by this costly victory than Tournay; the town surrendered on May 21, but the garrison retreated to the citadel and there defended themselves for another month. For himself, he had gained almost everything for which he had ever longed; by universal acclaim he was put beside Frederick of Prussia as one of the greatest generals of the age. The French even mentioned him in the same breath as Condé and Turenne and Louis XV was prodigal in rewards. His Christian Majesty overwhelmed Maurice with caresses and compliments; a pension of forty thousand livres, a tabouret in the royal presence, a coach in the royal courtyard, the regal château of Chambord, once the retreat of King Stanislas, as a residence—these unexampled rewards were not considered too dazzling for the victor of Fontenoy.
The permission for Maurice—and his wife, if he should marry—to enter the courtyard of the Louvre in a carriage, and to seat himself on a stool in the presence of members of the royal house, was given in a brevet, signed by Louis in "the camp before Tournay" on June 6, 1745.
France was delirious with patriotic enthusiasm for the barren victory; it seemed as if the great days of Louis XIV had returned; the great service at Notre-Dame, where the Te Deum was attended by forty bishops, was held as a day of national rejoicing; the King, the Government and Maurice de Saxe were wildly popular. His health had rallied a little after Fontenoy and his success gave him a high good humour, which delighted the French people, who found even his coarse pleasantries 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 last his House would enjoy, and Maurice continued his conquests; Cumberland, who was now outnumbered, two to one, could not stay him, and was soon recalled to England to face the rebellion in the North, a diversion engineered by the French, in which Charles Stuart and the Scotch were the unhappy cat's-paws.
While Cumberland was rallying his men at Lichfield, in expectation of a French invasion, Maurice was taking the Flemish towns, Ath, Bruges, Oudenarde and Ostend, as if he was collecting pebbles from his path. He announced the capture of Ghent by sending the King a basket containing a fine "langue de veau",> this delicacy being a speciality of Ghent. Contrary to all custom, he decided to remain with the army during the winter, and prepared the plan for a new campaign with the knowledge 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—with other pleasures. He had an army under his command, a treasury (even though a depleted one) behind him, a government, even though a feeble one, to support him.
While Cumberland's advance guard was struggling through the snow towards Penrith, and Cumberland was teaching his men how to meet claymore and shield by the sideway thrust, Maurice was concentrating on Brussels, marching his men through icebound, flooded fields, against bitter winds, in six different directions.
The Dutch Governor, Kaunitz, completely taken by surprise at the audacity of the assault, resisted bravely but in vain; on February 21, 1746, the white flag flew over the capital of Brabant and the whole province lay at the mercy of Maurice de Saxe. Among the many treasures found by the conquerors in the superb city was the oriflamme captured at the battle of Pavia by the Spanish.
Maurice then decided to return to Paris; he knew that he had his enemies; the Prince de Conti remained implacable and there were others busily intriguing against him; he was accused by many of the aristocratic officers, whom he had totally eclipsed, of prolonging the war for his benefit, and many were eagerly watching for his sudden death through his renewed debaucheries. But Maurice defied them all; he had had almost all—but only almost—that he wanted. There was no crown or sovereignty in the 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 he expected, the office—quasiregal—of Governor of the Spanish Netherlands. It seemed likely, too, that he might live to enjoy his honours; he was well enough to direct the operations against Brussels in mid-winter, to enjoy his brutal sports, to which he had added cock fighting, and to make a triumphal entry into Brussels.
Sending his troops into winter quarters as late as March, after having overrun Flanders, Maurice returned to Paris as Cumberland, realising that there would now be no French invasion, was taking command of the troops who were to pursue Charles Stuart to his last stand on Culloden Moor. French strategy had been successful in this attempt to cause a rebellion in England, in so far as it had drained Flanders of British troops and made Maurice's conquests easy, while Cumberland and his seasoned troops were held in Scotland.
When Maurice—"conqueror of the English" arrived in Paris in the early spring of 1746, he was received with a very fever of adulation. Louis XV had almost exhausted his rewards, there was little else he could do for Maurice de Saxe beyond what he had already done, but he paid him the supreme compliment of naturalising him as a Frenchman (April, 1746) to the further jealousy and disgust of the Princes of the Blood; but Maurice had no difficulty in ignoring this spite of the troupe dorée, so complete was his triumph, and so frantic the popular acclamation.
He had now somewhat recovered from his disorders and was able to show himself from the galleries of Versailles, in the streets of Paris and in a box at the Opera. Here his appearance was the signal for an outburst of enthusiasm. A fair actress, dressed to appear as the eighteenth-century conception of Victory, stepped from the glittering stage and offered to set her laurels on the powdered curls of the victor of Fontenoy; Maurice made a fitting protest but amidst immense applause was finally persuaded by the Duc de Villeroi to fasten this glittering garland on his arm.
The unwieldy, stout figure of Maurice de Saxe, with his coarse purple face, his manner that began daily to savour more of the camp than of the court, his brusque air, his hearty laugh, his Teutonic bluntness that hid a good deal of shrewdness and even slyness, decked in all the flamboyant bravery of his French uniform, took the imagination of the people, who had, indeed, lately lacked heroes to worship, and this foreigner easily became the most popular man in France.
M. de Saxe was not, however, so admired at court, where he exercised to the full his privileges of entering into the royal presence and made no apology for his friendship with the King. The jealousy of the nobles amounted to hatred in some cases and his inveterate enemy, the Prince de Conti, had to be rebuked more than once for his behaviour to Maurice, now Maréchal de France.
Never had great men been so feted in Paris; there was a furore of silliness over the victor of Fontenoy and among the beautiful and celebrated women who struggled for the favour of offering him luxurious entertainment was Madame de la Popelinčre, wife of the famous financier, of easy virtue and dazzling charm; there was also Mlle Galin who interested him intermittently for three years; but he began to perceive that his mistresses were unfaithful to him, and played him tricks; he was no longer all- conquering; some of these "little creatures" who "turned his head" escaped him, or showed too clearly that they only gave what had been paid for; a sigh escaped him for the fine days when women had pursued him for the splendour of his person as much as for his fame and money.
He was in Paris when the news of Culloden, which ended for ever the use of the Jacobite pawn for France, came to Louis XV; this was in practical importance, if not in glory, more than a set off to Fontenoy and set Cumberland and his veterans free to return to the seat of war; the Highland episode was regarded but as an episode in the struggle with France, and Cumberland's grenadiers threw up their caps on the northern moor, shouting, "Now for Flanders, Billy!"
Maurice soon felt the wretched effect of his Parisian excesses and making as he termed it "a truce with pleasure" returned to Lowendal's seat at La Ferté; he then paid a short visit to Chambord, 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 than Brussels.
He maintained his hold on the King and on the King's favourite, but apart from these, he had no real friends; despite his services to France, the M. and M. d'Argenson remained his enemies, and even Madame Pompadour, though she encouraged him and found him useful, understood him too well. Maurice was not fine enough to read between the lines of the elegant letters, in which flattery concealed irony, that she wrote him congratulating him on the homage he paid to love amid the fatigues and labours of war. She added that she thought beauty "divine"; (she had certainly found it profitable) and that she thought the "grandeur of God" shone with more brilliancy on a handsome face than in the brain of a Newton. Such words, addressed to Maurice were double- edged; it was long since he could have claimed "un beau visage." He had many brushes with Ministers and courtiers; he bore his honours very arrogantly towards these, though he was coarsely good-humoured with his toadies and inferiors.
Most of these fine French aristocrats saw through him, even when they did not dislike him; the Marquis d'Argenson, as much his enemy as the Prince de Conti, wrote of him in something the same terms that Madame Pompadour had used. "He has not much intelligence, he likes only war, mechanics and easy beauties. Besides these, what is there but a disorderly German soldier without breeding?"
It was said of him that under his command only the thick witted were promoted, and, despite his discipline at Prague, he was accused of brutal pillaging of the captured Flemish towns; worse, from a Frenchman's point of view—"he liked poor company—not only in women but in men"; in brief, he had no taste, no "esprit."
He had, however, a rough sense of humour, and when a seat in the French Academy was offered him, refused, declaring that he could not even write or spell, "I've always feared ridiculous things and this seems to me to be one."
Maurice returned to his headquarters in Flanders slightly restored in health, glittering with all the honours France had to bestow, to meet Prince Charles of Lorraine, with four battalions of British, near Liége.
The Princes of the Blood now began an even fiercer resistance to the elevation of Maurice; they refused to serve under this bastard adventurer, Conti pretended to the command of the forces on the Rhine, Clermont of the House of Condé, irked under Maurice's authority and sneered at him at his own table, upon which the Maréchal dared to demote him—a prince of the royal family—to a mere brigade of infantry and a regiment of 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 grand seigneur," pierced even the thick skin of Maurice, and when Conti refused to support him before the walls of Mons, the Marshal thought it wise not to press the matter.
The brilliant little company, headed by Favart, accompanied Maurice during the campaign of 1746, and it was before the battle of Raucoux that Maurice delivered his famous order to the actor: "I shall give battle to-morrow. No one knows yet—announce my 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 few more hours of daylight, M. le Prince Charles would have saved nothing," the victor declared.
By November he was again in Paris and with two heavy intrigues on his hands, the struggle with Conti, who was gaining ground with the King and striving hard for the appointment of generalissimo for the next campaign, and who was backed by almost the entire French aristocracy, and the pursuit of Madame Favart.
The story of the Favarts is like an episode of Pierrot and Pierrette, of Harlequin and Columbine, amid the gross luxury and extravagant materialism of the story of Maurice de Saxe. It covers his two last campaigns, his furious rivalry with Conti, his negotiations with the Saxon court for the marriage of the Dauphin and the first part of his retirement to Chambord, but it is here told as a continuous narrative.
MADAME FAVART was the celebrated actress who had spoken the lines "Demain bataille," from the boards of M. de Saxe's elegant little travelling theatre the evening before Raucoux. It was considered "heroic" to have the approaching engagement announced by an actress to the crowds of officers gathered 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 the triumph of the French name,
"Worthy of eternal memory."
Then, advancing, the charming creature had declared with much spirit, "To-morrow, gentlemen, there will be no performance because 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 defeat of Charles of Lorraine was more appreciated for being announced through the pretty lips of an admired actress in frivolous and dramatic fashion.
Justine Duronceray was for comedy something what Adrienne Lecouvreur had been for tragedy; she had every gift necessary for success in her chosen career. Delicate and gay, lively, witty and tender, she was both an accomplished actress and an exquisite singer. As she was also a pretty woman she soon became one of the favourites of the Parisians and sang under the name of Mlle Chantilly at the Opera House, where Maurice first saw her and coveted her; he soon discovered that he had met a woman capable of repulsing him and whose affections were fixed, with sure constancy, elsewhere.
The lovely creature was not, strangely enough, for sale; she was quite content with her husband, an actor, a writer, a musician and producer who ran a little travelling theatre that gave shows at the famous Paris fairs and in other places.
When Maurice saw that it was hopeless to assail the wife directly, he decided to win her through the husband, and entered into the mean intrigue with that slyness and subtle dishonesty which were among his ugliest traits and which quite destroy his reputation for candour and good humour.
There was much competition among the actors of Paris for the post of director of Maurice's field theatre, and he knew this when he offered it, in flattering terms, to the husband of Mlle Chantilly.
M. Favart was a brilliant, as well as an honest and charming man. He brought his troupe eagerly enough to the front and followed with his Thespian cart the army of Maurice across the ravaged fields of Flanders, giving almost every night a performance 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 saw that he would have to take more trouble to gain by intrigue what he could not gain by the force of his personal charms; he scarcely, perhaps, realised that he was but the ruins of the magnificent cavalier who had scaled the breaches at Belgrade or captured the heart of Anna Ivanowa but, in any case, he determined to have the actor's wife. It would be difficult to find any occasion on which the hero had not been a scoundrel in his relations with women, and in his plots against M. and Madame Favart he was at his worst.
Difficulty inflamed his passion and he decided to gain his end however long and however much it cost; he, therefore, flattered the 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 his wife, whose loyalty it never occurred to him to doubt, Favart, called by Voltaire the "Moličre of the Opera," really believed in the good faith of the great Marshal, whose officers he amused. Nor did he suspect anything when Maurice suggested to him that Mlle de Chantilly would give the last touch of brilliancy to the travelling theatre.
The actor at once wrote enthusiastically to his wife, and she broke off an engagement at the Opera to travel to Flanders, where she was received with all respect by Maurice.
Her beauty and her charm did indeed give further grace and brilliancy to the little theatre, making Maurice's travelling show 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 travelling beds covered with fine satin, there were wine and delicacies from the Marshal's own table. In a country pillaged, burnt, exhausted and surrounded by half-starved, ruined people, the actors and actresses and all their entourage, for Maurice's generosity extended to the whole troupe, could live as they had never dreamed to live in Paris.
Favart was not as reckless as the gilded nobility who surrounded him. He put money by and hoped, as he said with delight to a friend, to have fifty thousand francs of savings when 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 a pathetic little episode. How long would the actress withstand the great man who had never had any difficulty with a woman before? There were bets on the subject, jests and anecdotes bandied about the camp.
Only M. Favart, elegant and smart as a figure by Lancret in his satins and laces, was completely deceived and rejoiced with touching single-heartedness in his unexpected good fortune.
He was a fine artist and knew his worth, it did not therefore occur to him to doubt the sincerity of M. de Saxe when the Marshal declared that he did not wish the troupe merely to amuse his officers; the actors, by their arts were to encourage and inspire the soldiers, and the graceful, refined satire of some of their pieces was to help to throw discredit upon the enemy. They were, indeed, to supply propaganda for the army and the French nation. So completely was Favart hoodwinked that he even ingenuously indentified himself with his munificent patron and wrote to Paris of "our success, our prisoners."
Meanwhile Maurice began to lay more and more open siege to the woman, whom, could he have won, he would have forgotten in a day.
He sent her the love letters that Voltaire had written for him in honour of Adrienne de Lecouvreur, together with some verses from the same source, as well as the most extravagant gifts.
Madame Favart perfectly understood her position; but she loved her husband and she was not dazzled by Maurice; she realised the type with whom she had to deal and she did the only possible thing for a woman in her situation—she fled from the camp and took refuge in the Brabant capital with a great lady, Madame de Chevreuse, who had long been her patroness and friend.
Maurice was furious, the husband bewildered; he tried to put forward some feeble excuse of his wife's illness, but the wrath of the Marshal fell upon the unfortunate actor, to whom the enraged soldier showed his most brutal side. He would, he declared, have Madame Favart "dragged by grenadiers from Brussels;" he regarded her departure as nothing less than a desertion from his flag. Not only all luxuries, but all pay and comfort were taken away from the unfortunate actors, who had all their pay and supplies stopped. Favart had to spend his savings, then to sell what he had in the way of goods in order to save himself and his company from starvation.
Madame Favart went from Brussels to Paris, where she returned to the stage in order to earn her living, and the full wrath of the Marshall fell upon the unhappy husband; his company was disbanded under the pretence that it offended the morals of the officers, and the unhappy players were left in a foreign country in wartime not only without friends and resources, but given over to an active persecutor. For Maurice so manoeuvred the matter that Favart and his troupe were presented with a bill for twenty- five thousand livres under the excuse that they owed this for rent of various rooms in towns and villages where they had given their shows.
The troupe broke up, the wretched artists wandering away in misery—scattered; Favart made his way painfully back to Paris 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 Marshal at least give him a letter of recommendation to some friend who might employ him?
Maurice, instead, obtained a lettre-de-cachet with the intention of throwing the unhappy comedian into the Bastille. Favart, however, heard of the design in time and fled, utterly ruined, from the French capital; by travelling day and night, he managed to evade pursuit and to reach Strassburg where a friend hid him. Justine Favart was still in Paris, and she still ignored Maurice.
Every night, in order to gain her living, she sang on the boards of the Comédie Italienne. She had no friends beyond the members of her own profession, as powerless as herself against a man in the position of Maurice de Saxe. She had no protector, save the hired but faithful servant who followed her every evening from the theatre to her lodgings, when on foot and disguised she made her way by back streets in the hope of evading possible kidnappers.
Every night she wrote to her husband, sometimes putting a flower she had worn between the pages of her letter. Not only did the young couple keep up a tender and touching correspondence, but Madame Favart even contrived to escape from Fontainebleau where her troupe was engaged to amuse the Court and to meet her husband at Luneville.
This adventure proved, however, a great imprudence. When she was stepping out of her carriage on her return, she was arrested by two police agents, who pretended that they were to re-conduct her to Fontainebleau, where the King wished to see her again to act her part on the stage.
In truth the men were sent by the orders of Maurice, and Madame Favart found herself conducted to the convent of Andelys, where she was enclosed, having only time to write a short letter to her husband, in which she declared that whatever happened she would remain faithful to him.
After days of bitter suspense she learned the nature of the intrigue against her; Maurice de Saxe had bribed her own father, M. Duronceray, to act with him in endeavouring to prove that her marriage with Favart was illegal.
In vain the desperate woman contrived to smuggle a letter to her husband, telling him to get together all his papers and prove, as surely could easily be done, that they were "legally and properly married."
Any reply was intercepted, but she received letters from Maurice de Saxe, full of alternate menaces and caresses, mentioning "the iron claw and velvet glove," telling her "that all should be well with her would she but submit to his will."
He moved her from the convent of Andelys to that of Angers as a state prisoner and he continued his grim persecution of the husband, who was forced to leave Luneville and to travel like a vagabond from place to place, earning a miserable livelihood by painting fans, often by the light of a candle in a dark cellar.
Justine Favart wrote, as a last resource, a letter of appeal to Maurice.
But the only answer she had was that she was a "fool to sacrifice herself to a miserable actor, who ought to have been very flattered that for him she forwent fortune, pleasure and glory."
For under these agreeable terms the Marshal indicated his own passing fancy.
The letter ended with a threat: "If you will not assure my happiness, you will probably cause your own disaster and that of Favart. I do not wish this, but I fear it."
Her imprisonment became more severe; she could obtain no news of her husband, who was certainly ruined, if not dead.
The woman of the people, whose own father had been bought by her persecutor, had no friend, no protector, no money or resource of any kind; for her there was no hope of justice or of mercy. Alone, a prisoner, continually menaced, her spirit broke; she consented to visit Chambord and to entertain the hero with her art and to offer him that loathing and terrified submission which was all he wanted of her; as soon as her consent was obtained, she was treated with more consideration, but not to make the scandal too obvious, not immediately released but sent for a while from one convent to another where she was gently treated, while the persecution of her husband ceased and the two lettres-de-cachet that Maurice had obtained against the unfortunate couple were revoked.
He had obtained his end, the satisfaction of what he termed his "love." Once this satisfaction was gained he had little interest 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 and the philosophy of the artist who is the under-dog. They did not allow the brutality of Maurice de Saxe to ruin their marriage and happiness. And in the tender affection and admiring respect of her husband, Justine Favart endeavoured to forget those ugly moments when she had visited the ogre's castle and been his prey.
Such was the power, such was the manner, and such were the sentiments of a great general, a magnificent gentleman, one who deemed himself by blood and right, a Prince; the man whom thousands acclaimed as a hero and whom the exquisite Adrienne Lecouvreur had acclaimed as a "god."
WITH the opening of the campaign of 1747 Cumberland was again in Flanders, his allies were ineffectual and he was outnumbered.
It seemed, however, as if the dazzling star of Maurice de Saxe was on the decline and that there would be no more victories like Fontenoy for him; the pursuit of Madame Favart was not the only intrigue that had occupied his leisure; the struggle with Conti had reached dangerous proportions, and the Saxon's enemies had increased in number.
Neither the King nor Madame Pompadour could afford to offend all the Princes of the blood and most of the aristocracy; indeed, they hardly wished to do so for the sake of this foreigner at whom they laughed a little behind his back.
He was not really of their world, and their elegant depravity found his gross indecency disgusting; he was heavy-witted, he was horribly ill, he was noisy and aggressive; Versailles could do without him; besides, what did all this glory amount to? France could not afford the war, the King was bored with it, Madame Pompadour did not want it; war had caused the elevation of M. de Saxe, and for that reason alone, his enemies intrigued for peace.
Madame de Conti had taken a hand in the intrigue, she promised to present Madame Pompadour at court, if her son, as "fils de France," could have his rightful post as Commander-in-Chief of the army that was to open the campaign of 1747 in Brabant. The King's friendship for the Saxon was soon undermined; there were so many at his ear ready to tell him, as d'Argenson noted, "how little M. de Saxe was worth" and the favourite could not resist the bribe offered by the great lady. So M. de Conti obtained his brevet and M. de Saxe fell into ugly furies and talked of retiring from the army; he felt that he was like his friend Lowendal "absolutely discredited" by the intrigues of "petits maitres." Then the King veered round; Maurice was extremely popular with the people and had his friends at court, notably M. de Valfons, his companion at arms, besides Louis did not know if the redoubtable soldier might not yet be useful; the war was not over; it was even possible that French frontiers might be threatened again and M. de Conti could hardly be trusted to defend 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 patents were espied in the diploma given to the Saxon, who became Maréchal Général (January 1747), a rank that put him above Conti, all the Marshals of France, not excepting those who were Princes of the blood.
A change in French policy, inspired by the Marquis d'Argenson, Secretary for Foreign Affairs, also immensely helped the dubious position of Maurice; though d'Argenson was his enemy, a shifting of the scene in Europe made them play the same game. The Foreign Secretary decided to endeavour to detach Saxony from Austria; he resolved to use that old line, a matrimonial alliance. The Dauphin was a widower and might be considered the finest match in Europe; there were many candidates for his hand, and each of these had a party at the French court; the Queen favoured the Infanta Antonia, as did the Maréchal de Noailles, and there were powerful supporters for the daughters of the Duke of Modena and for those of Charles Emanuel of Savoy.
M. d'Argenson gained over M. Loss, the Saxon Minister at Paris, and the two of them approached M. de Saxe, who gladly entered into the long, difficult and complicated intrigues necessary to place his niece next to the throne of France; here his 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 this great scheme, which brought him so near the dazzle of a crown.
The marriage of the Dauphin seemed of great importance; could a prophet have looked into the future, he might well have advised that this Prince should die unwed; but to these busy intriguers, it seemed as if the end of the elder branch of the House of Bourbon would be an unthinkable and unparalleled misfortune for France. And the only hope of an heir to this elder line lay in the Dauphin, whose first wife had left him with a frail baby girl—Madame.
The King was still young, but when his sixth daughter was born, he had remarked—"Madame sixth and last." Louis and the wife he had once regarded with so much affection were indeed completely estranged: and Madame de Pompadour saw to it that this estrangement was permanent. The whole hope of a succession to the throne therefore hung upon a second marriage for the Dauphin, who was 16 years of age, sombre, pampered, and peevish, who disliked his father, had no friends at court, who was bored alike by sport, the theatre, the camp, whose only diversion was music. He played the violoncello, sang in a promising bass voice and was an expert on the clavecin.
He had been, also, devoted to his plain and gloomy little wife and was sickened by grief at her early loss; he regarded with aversion all the Princesses proposed to him, but Maurice was not the 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 and shrewdness in these protracted and elaborate negotiations; he even succeeded in winning de Noailles over to his side, and working in accord with his brother, his sister-in-law and Count Bruhl, he sprang his "mine," as he called it, and brought off the marriage in spite of most powerful opposition in France.
It was considered an extraordinary triumph for the court of Dresden when the affair was concluded. Augustus III decorated with White Eagles and other distinctions all those who had taken part in the long, tedious preliminaries to the announcement of the marriage; the Marquis d'Argenson received a handsome service in Saxon porcelain, while Louis XV sent the Count von Bruhl a magnificent set of Gobelin tapestries, representing the twelve months of the year; and one of the most charming and accomplished courtiers of Versailles, the duc de Richelieu, first gentleman of the chamber, was sent to Dresden to receive the bride, somewhat to the chagrin of the French Ambassador in Dresden—M. des Issart, who, however, allowed that "M. de Richelieu was the most distinguished and the most decorative person in France."
For his part Maurice found time, amid battles, sieges and court intrigues, to send long letters of advice and warnings to the mother of the young bride; he urged haste in sending the girl—"for I have promised a duke of Burgundy [title given to the Dauphin's eldest son] by the end of the year and you would not have a soldier break his word."
The etiquettes and ceremonials were long and elaborate, as were the letters and dispatches that came by the various personages concerned in this important affair.
The only factors in the case that were taken no notice of were the sentiments of the young bride and bridegroom. The Dauphin bitterly resented this second marriage so soon after the death of his little Spanish wife, and Pepa herself, so young for marriage and of a disposition gentle and soon to prove itself noble, was a mere puppet in the hands of her ambitious, excited mother and her busy ladies.
M. de Richelieu wrote a letter full of graceful compliments about the magnificence of his reception in Dresden to Maurice, and to Louis XV another, in which he expressed his great satisfaction with the Princess Josepha, whose only fault was that she did not yet know how to speak French perfectly. As to her person the celebrated rake said, "she would have been noted if she had been of humble birth; for a Princess she might be considered a great beauty."
The Princess who was to enter what her uncle termed "the new Babylon" had been described by another Frenchman, the Comte de Vaulgrenant, as "not beautiful, but she might be termed pretty and 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 and fulfilled his elegant mission with so much magnificence, courtesy and grace that he won the applause of everyone at the indolent and sumptuous court of Dresden; in particular the King and Queen were delighted to see in the flesh a superb example of one of those French aristocrats that they had always been endeavouring to imitate.
The French grandee, like Maurice himself, was not above the smallest details appertaining to his mission; to the Countess de Martinez, the governess of Maria Josepha, he sent a paper of questions as to the little Princess's habits and tastes; and this the 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 a little beer or Moselle wine that she did not like chocolate, that she favoured green tea, coffee with milk, but did not care for soup. She was not dainty in her appetite but preferred light fare. For her clothes she liked dark colours, for her bed a quilted down coverlet. The governess added with satisfaction that the Princess read "all kinds of pious and historical books, that she enjoyed seeing comedies and that she played the clavecin. She was not subject to colds and had had small pox, chicken pox and measles."
While Richelieu was being entertained with all the resources of the court of Dresden, including the spectacle of the famous Torch Dance, of which Louis XV asked for a particular description from his plenipotentiary, the Queen, the bride's mother, was writing anxiously to Maurice about the details of her daughter's trousseau, and also about the various points of etiquette and the establishment that Maria Josepha might hope for as Dauphine of France. Maurice answered with great gravity and in much detail.
He had always taken a great interest in clothes and was as close an observer of the set of a lady's corsage as of the number of a soldier's buttons. He answered at great length in his neat handwriting and bad spelling, expressing himself first "as overwhelmed with joy at the conclusion of this great affair." As for the trousseau he had taken care, he told Her Majesty, to inform himself "very carefully on this serious matter."
He began with some comments on the toilette of the late Dauphine. Her gowns were, Maurice declared, too heavy and she had had too many of them, worn them but once and then cast them aside. She had also been her own Mistress of the Robes, but this post belonged by right to Madame la Duchesse de Lauraguais, who had the right to purchase all sets of jewellery, linen, lace, and so on, and send the accounts for them in to the Treasury.
This important lady had also the charge of engaging all the chamberwomen and other domestics and also the lackeys of Madame la Dauphine. The Mistress of the Robes ordered the equipages, the carriages, the horses and equally sent in her accounts for these. As for jewels, a large quantity of diamonds and other precious stones would be at the service of Pepa; they would not, however, be entirely at her disposal as they were Crown jewels, but she would 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 a trousseau as you would wish."
Then, descending into the most minute details, the gallant soldier suggested that the Princess should have "several lengths of fine Holland or lawn, piped with satin or gold stripes in the Indian or Persian style, because there is very little in France and it is forbidden to import it."
Fine examples of this lawn, he added, could be bought from the Armenian merchants at Warsaw; he had, also, written to another merchant, M. de Brosse, at The Hague, to send the best that he had in this line of goods to Dresden.
It was difficult, the Marshal continued, to find handsome furs in Paris, so he suggested that the Princess should bring with her a large double cape in zibeline, or marten, such as the Russians wore. Besides being very warm, he remarked, they looked very handsome, especially when worn with a muff of the same material.
The whalebone supports used for the crinolines or hooped skirts and corsets, were not made anywhere, Maurice declared, so well as in Dresden. The Princess therefore should bring with her a good supply of these articles very carefully cut so that they could be copied in Paris. It was very necessary, he observed, to see that the corsets were not made too long in the waist. This was a fault to which the Parisian cutters were very liable and it gave, Maurice thought, the ladies an awkward look to have long waists and short skirts; besides it was not at all to the taste of the King, who would appreciate seeing the little Princess with a short waist and her hooped skirts touching the ground.
"No doubt," Maurice added after this explanation, "I express myself in a way that is very ridiculous to Your Majesty, but I hope you will excuse me, for you know my good will."
As to the jewels that the Princess should have, besides the crown jewels, Maurice gave Her Majesty a hint that this should be arranged with the French Ambassador in Dresden, and that a certain allowance should be made for them in the marriage contract. The same should be done with the robes, the dresses, in fact all the articles of the trousseau.
He also thought it well to send all the little Princess's clothes in advance, so that they might be kept for her in Paris and not fall into the hands of her ladies.
Maurice had also gone into other details about the establishment of his niece, the appointment of her confessor, her ladies of honour, her steward, her coachman, even down to her cook and her kitchen-maids.
The journey from Dresden to Paris, undertaken in the depths of winter, was no light enterprise. So numerous was the train of the young Princess that it took two hundred and forty-eight post horses to transport them. These had to be changed at each relay station.
Leaving Dresden on January 14, 1749, Maria Josepha went by Leipzig, Eisenach, and Freiburg to Frankfort, where she arrived on the twenty-third of the month to the sound of cannon and trumpets. These honours were given her by the order of the Emperor Francis, though Austria was at war with France; Maria Josepha was received with much pomp and presented with a massive silver toilet service.
From the Imperial city she passed by Darmstadt, through Durlach to Baden. By the end of the month she had reached the frontier; the cumbersome procession had taken a fortnight to travel from Dresden to Strassburg. There she was met by her French household and by M. Loss, the Saxon envoy in Paris, who had done so much to forward the marriage of his master's daughter to the heir of the crown of France.
Here the Duchesse de Brancas, lady of honour to the new Dauphine, presented the portrait of the Dauphin to his wife, as the girl now was, for she had been married to him by proxy in Dresden.
After these long ceremonies had been gone through and the Princess and her train had taken some repose at Strassburg, the journey was recommenced. When she had passed into the hands of her French household, Pepa had put aside her Polish costume and taken on the fashionable attire of France. M. Loss found that rouge, powder, hoops and a piled up coiffure improved the charms of the young Saxon.
At Nangis Maurice had joined his niece and here also occurred a painful incident. A letter was brought by a courier from Versailles to Madame de Brancas; she recognised the handwriting of the Dauphin and offered it at once, with unfortunate courtesy, to Maria Josepha; when the girl opened the letter, hoping for some, at least, formal expression of affection and welcome, she found that the childish handwriting expressed nothing but regret and reproaches. The Dauphin had made a last protest to Madame de Brancas against his second marriage, declaring that nothing would make him forget his first wife. Maria Josepha was overcome by this unhappy mistake. She left the supper table hastily and shutting herself in her chamber, wept.
The Dauphine played her part well, however, when, on the next day, she met, between Nangis and Corbeil, the King, her father- in-law, and the husband whom she had not seen till then. She was gay, simple and natural, as onlookers noted, and Louis XV deigned to be charmed. As for the Dauphin, he stood sullen, silent, awkward, staring before him, while the little bride rallied him gently on his gloom.
Soon afterwards the new Dauphine was presented to the Queen and her daughters, Madame Henriette and Madame Adelaide—the first 19 years of age the second a child aged 14 years.
More ceremonies, more entertainments and receptions, and at last, on February 9, the arrival at Versailles.
On the eleventh of that month she was married with all the exhausting pomp and elaborate ceremonial that the most magnificent court in the world could offer.
There was a ball the night before; after the ceremony there was a banquet, after the banquet the bride had to submit to a public toilette, and last there was the mise au lit, which M. de Saxe, a man of no delicacy of taste, himself termed "terrible."
The day after the wedding, Maurice wrote to his brother, the King of Poland, an account of the triumph of the House of Saxony that he himself had done so much to bring about. The letter is couched in bombastic and fulsomely flattering terms, but behind these one can see a picture, charming and pathetic, of the girl bride and the boy bridegroom—whose fatigues, whose emotions, whose likes and dislikes no-one was taking into much account.
"This Princess," wrote Maurice from Versailles
on February 12, 1747, "is adored by everybody. The Queen loves
her as if she was her own daughter; the King is enchanted with
her and M. le Dauphin loves her with passion. She conducts
herself in all this with every imaginable address; I don't know
how to admire her sufficiently. There are not many children of
fifteen years of whom one could say that. In truth, she has
astonished me. Your Majesty would not be able to believe with
what nobility, with what presence of mind and wit Madame la
Dauphine has conducted herself. M. le Dauphin appears a schoolboy
beside her. No feebleness, no childishness has appeared in any of
her actions, but a noble firmness, and tranquillity has
accompanied everything she does, and certainly she has had to go
through moments where one wants all the assurance of a person
born to play these difficult parts with dignity. Among others
there is that of the final nuptial ceremony, when the curtains
are opened, showing the bride and bridegroom in bed. This is
terrible, for all the court is in the room and the King told me
to 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 did not cease talking with a grave charm indeed, and paid no more attention to the courtiers crowding about her than if there had been no one in the room.
"I said, in approaching her, that the King had ordered me to stay near her in order to keep her in countenance and that the whole ceremony would not last more than a moment. She told me that this would please her, and that I was not to leave her and only to bid her good night when her women had closed the curtains and the crowd had gone out.
"Everyone left with a kind of sadness, for this seemed to have the air of a sacrifice, and somehow she had managed to interest everyone in herself. Your Majesty will laugh, perhaps, when I tell you that the blessing of the bed, the priests, the candles, this brilliant pomp, the beauty, the youth of this Princess and above all, the desire that everyone felt that she should be happy, all these things together seemed to inspire more thoughtfulness than laughter. There were in the bedchamber all the Princes and Princesses who compose this Court, the King, the Queen, more than a hundred women covered with diamonds and brilliantly dressed. It was a unique scene and, I repeat, had the air of nothing so much as a sacrifice."
In a postscript Maurice thanked his brother for the Generalship he had given him in the Saxon army, and remarked on the great endurance his niece had shown and the heavy fatigues she had had to support.
"I told the King that if she did not have some
rest she would become ill. Indeed, I don't know how she has been
able to hold out. During all the festivals there was a great heat
in all the apartments, enough to make one die because of the
pressure of the huge crowds and the number of candles burning.
More than that, her robes were of such a weight that I don't know
how she could carry them. Besides, there is nothing more
fatiguing than the endless presentations. She had to remember all
the names and give a smile and a little attention to everyone.
This was so considerable a fatigue that I don't know how she
could do it.
"The other day the King asked me to take up her skirt that was on a sofa, while she was at her toilet. It weighed quite sixty pounds; there are none of our cuirasses that weigh as much as that. I don't know how she was able for eight or nine hours to stand on her feet with the enormous weight."
There was an even sadder side to these gorgeous ceremonies than Maurice knew of, or at least, than he mentioned. There had not been time, through some strange carelessness, for a new bedchamber to be decorated and furnished for the Saxon bride, and it was in the apartment where his wife had died, in the very bed where she had lain in state not long before, that the couple, so little more than children, had to commence their married life.
Sometime afterwards Maria Josepha confessed to her mother that when the curtains of brocade were finally drawn and they found themselves at last alone, bride and bridegroom fell on each other's necks in a passion of miserable tears.
For a while Maria Josepha's life was wretched, her husband avoiding her as often as he could and as far as possible only saw her in the presence of his sister, Madame Henriette. It was in the tender, disinterested and lovely friendship of this other girl that the stranger Princess found some happiness. It is one of the most delicate things ever recorded of Maurice that in the midst of all his splendours and satisfaction he had the sensibility to commiserate the two weeping children, whose splendid marriage was such a tedious pageant of glittering formality, and that he had felt a touch of pity when lifting the ceremonial dresses, massive with bullion; it is not to be supposed, however, that he regretted "the sacrifice" as he termed it, for he was still successful in a war further protracted by the death of Philip V and was honoured with the unheard-of privilege 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 the Dauphine, a frightened and lonely girl crying for home—overwhelmed, both of them, by their destiny—were the parents of the last three Kings of France—Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X. The State marriage became one of affection and the niece of Maurice led a retired and simple life amid the scandalous frivolities of the court and gave to France twelve children. Seven of these shared the usual fate of royal infants of that period and died in the cradle.
Of the five surviving, three were Kings of France, one was Queen of Sardinia and one was the gentle and tragic Madame Elisabeth, one of the most innocent and pathetic victims of the furies of the Revolution of 1789.
The first incident that brought the young couple together was the death of Madame, the Dauphin's child by his lost wife, a frail baby, who did not survive a year; Pepa had a good influence on her young husband; both of them were serious-minded and liked home life, and under her sweet encouragement the young man began to develop qualities that might have been useful to him as King of France; they lived happily surrounded by their children. Their great diversion was music and the Prince became proficient on the violoncello and enjoyed singing in his fine bass voice. But perhaps, content though she was with her husband, the greatest joy 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 have
written to you last Saturday, but the cruel situation in which I
am did not allow it. Besides the extreme grief in which I am
plunged by the loss of Madame, I am obliged to hide at least part
of 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 very
close friendship, yes, and from the first instant we saw one
"Besides, I owe the happiness of my life to her, for the friendship and affection that M. le Dauphin has for me I owe to her care only. I won't conceal from you that when I first arrived here he held me in the greatest aversion; he had been turned against me, besides, he was very much distressed and vexed to see me occupying the place of a woman whom he tenderly loved. He regarded me, too, as a mere child. All this meant that there was a separation between us and gave me mortal displeasure. I was even forced, by my blind obedience to the least of his wishes, to conceal from him the desires I had to please him. I did not have many moments of the day in which I could speak to him or prove to him how I wished to serve him, for he would not remain 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, although she did not appear to do so, and she advised me what I had better do. And besides, when I wasn't there, she talked to M. le Dauphin, impressed on him my unhappiness and my despair at not being able to see him. At last she succeeded so well that he took a 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 affection for me. And this affection Madame Henriette to the end of her days always cultivated and augmented.
"You can see, my dear Mamma, what this loss will mean to me. And meanwhile I am not permitted to give way to my grief. I daren't even think of that of the King, who is not in a state to give any orders at all. It is I, therefore, unhappy creature, that am in charge of everything, haft even been obliged to order everything for the transport of the coffin, for the mourning and for all these sad ceremonies. You know the tenderness and sensibility of my heart and you can judge to what state it is reduced.
"They have been obliged to bleed me a little, for after the death of my sister I had the most frightful pains in the head. However, since Wednesday, when I was bled, they have passed.
"I beg you once more to pray for her, to pray to the good God for the repose of 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 that glittering and cynic court.
Though he used her as a means for his own advancement and for the glory of his House, Maurice appears to have had a sincere affection for her, an affection in which perhaps a certain wistfulness was mingled, for she too was a stranger and despised as such at the arrogant court of France where, for all his honours and glories and his friendship with the King the son of Aurora von Königsmarck was never allowed to feel altogether at his ease. Yet the man who could feel compassion for Pepa was the man who could ruthlessly pursue and brutally overcome Justine Favart. Had not this also, "the air of nothing so much as a sacrifice"?
IN July 1747, Maurice de Saxe gained his last battle, that of Laufeldt; this was the name of the village near Maestricht that was occupied by Cumberland with the dragoons, the Greys and the Innis-killings and some infantry. In the struggle for the position that Maurice finally took, the British lost a quarter of their number; the infantry withdrew without confusion owing to the gallantry of the cavalry that covered their retreat.
This fight was the result of the efforts of the French to carry the war into the Netherlands, where the Allies had striven to animate the disgusted and hesitating Republicans by forcing on them a Stadtholder, William III of Orange, who was married to the King of Great Britain's daughter, Mary.
In the earlier part of the year Maurice had marched on Dutch Flanders and taken Holst and Ostl and this battle outside Maestricht was termed "the third great victory over the Allies." The Allies and the French sustained equal losses at Laufeldt, but the result of it was the capture of that much-besieged city, Bergen-op-Zoom, by M. de Lowendal under the orders of Maurice on September 17, 1747, which concluded the campaign and practically the war; Maurice was named Commandant-General of the Low Countries by Louis XV, who had himself been present at Laufeldt; he now enjoyed as many honours and as much power as had ever been possessed by Eugene; but he was still dreaming of a crown.
His enemies at the court of France increased, and the behaviour of Maurice gave good grounds for these strictures. His character, always brutal, had become even more coarse and violent with age and the agonies of his own suffering; in this last campaign he countenanced atrocities.
Bergen-op-Zoom was punished for a heroic resistance by being given over to pillage; Lowendal's grenadiers raped, stole and slew with the approval of their generals; France was shocked and felt disgraced by this behaviour on the part of the two foreigners—so different from their own chivalry after Fontenoy.
"Cartouche," wrote the Marquis d'Argenson, naming the most notorious bandit of the time, "could not have behaved worse."
In the spring of 1748 Maurice was at Brussels; he opened the campaign by besieging Maestricht, garrisoned by twenty-seven thousand Austrians; he had hardly opened the trenches before Cumberland asked for an armistice.
This was granted and the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle opened in May.
The conquests of Maurice had left France in a strong position; she was able to dictate terms; but Louis XV did not wish "to bargain like a tradesman," and wanted "the thing over quickly."
It is generally agreed that this King passes out of history with this peace, so humiliating to France, the miserable result of a long, costly, purposeless war—"stupid as the peace" became a common saying among the people, now completely disgusted with King and Government.
The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle on October 18, 1748, which boasted a preamble very elegant and profuse, restored all the conquests of Maurice and was as stupid from the French angle as the war it closed—if indeed it did close the war; by some it was regarded as a mere truce, and, ignored by politicians at home, the struggle continued in India.
Bitter and furious were the protests of M. de Saxe at seeing his triumphs thus reduced to such futilities, his victories to vanities, all his exertions, fatigues, his success to nothing.
Not only did the Peace leave him without an occupation but with the stinging sense of a barren labour of eight years behind him. Very hollow indeed must have sounded in his mind the shouts of "Demain, bataille!" the Te Deums of Paris and Brussels, the applause of the Opera, the praise of the King, the flatteries of Madame Pompadour, and the "Hurrahs!" of his own conquering army.
No one indeed, had gained much from the Peace of Aix-la- Chapelle save the one person who deserved, perhaps, to do so—the wily, bold and unscrupulous King of Prussia, who had dared calmly to take and keep his own vantage mid the surging broil.
Frederick, as Maurice grimly remarked, was allowed to take Silesia, while all his own conquests were ceded.
All his own high-sounding honours, were they not a little empty, a little smacking of the Duchy of Courland adventure? The right of entry to royal palaces, this permission of a stool in the royal presence, a coach in the royal yard, these royal embraces, these six pieces of cannon, these laurel wreaths from imitation goddesses, what were they to a man who aspired to royalty himself? Even the magnificent title of Maréchal General de France did not satisfy one who hoped to be a ruling Prince. Maurice had dreamt to the last of the Austrian Netherlands and it was said that Louis would have been willing to grant him this but dare not so far affront the spirit of the Princes of the blood and nobility, and now that hope was lost with the rest.
Maurice, then, after all these gaudy flourishes and theatrical rewards, was left with his pension; Chambord, and the Governorship of Alsace.
He had visited Chambord before and finding it in considerable disrepair had purchased a more modest and more comfortable residence at Piples, but the grandiose domain on the flat vineyards of the Sologne, where the vast château of Francis I rose in majestic solitude, with a huge park full of wild boar and game, now appealed to Maurice as a fitting place in which to escape 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 victor of Fontenoy, Raucoux, and Laufeldt could obtain. The superb château was neglected, lonely, and uncomfortable, as Stanislas Leczinski to his cost had found, but Maurice received permission from the King to improve the place at the royal expense and promptly proceeded to turn the fortified castle of the Middle Ages and the pleasant palace of the Renaissance that Chambord was into the gaunt barracks and pompous mansion combined that was the eighteenth-century idea of a royal residence.
There was something in the regal size of the place, the vast squat towers, the huge parade ground, the soaring pinnacles and massive gargoyles, the great staircases and multitude of heavy chambers, 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 soldier flung at Maurepas and retired to Chambord with his captured flags, his cannon and his troop of Uhlans; he suffered more acutely every day from dropsy and a confusion of minor ailments, but his bold spirit was as vigorous as ever and he threw himself into his new life with as much spirit as that with which he had ever conducted a campaign in Flanders, or stormed the walls of Lille and Belgrade.
The flag with the arms of Courland and Saxony floated on the lantern above the fleur de lis carved on the facade of Chambord; when the architects had multilated such of the Gothic beauties of the ancient château as Louis XIV had left, Maurice was in possession of a very pompous, comfortable palace, extensive barracks and an elegant theatre, all most lavishly appointed and furnished; only a personality like that of Maurice could have adequately filled the vastness of Chambord, but he did fill it, and admirably, living in a high-handed state of fantastic magnificence; it was still en avant! tambour battant! with the Maréchal Général de Saxe; he had made, the story goes, his first formal entry into Chambord by driving in a coach and six up the great escalier d'honneur to his apartments, and during all his residence at Chambord kept up the same scale of grandeur; sixteen colours taken in battle in the vestibule, six captured cannon in the court, fifty men on guard at the entrance, a sentinel at the door of the bedchamber of Maurice, everywhere girandoles of crystal, hangings of Utrecht velvet, garlands of gilt blooms, mirrors with bronze clamps, porcelain from Sevres and Missein, pastels in pale tints, statuettes of Loves and Graces in delicate alabaster, airy wreaths, ribbons, Cupidons.
Maurice liked this mise en scčne and for a while completely enjoyed himself; there were great hunts and shooting parties in the huge park, there were voluptuous performances in the baroque theatre, where madame Favart, ravished from her husband, queened it sadly and briefly over a troop of lesser light beauties, and where there was a discreet grille for the Bishop of Blois, and there was, above everything, the regiment of Uhlans, which became the main occupation and the main pride of Maurice de Saxe.
Though supported by the King, this strange troop was entirely subordinate to Maurice, who subjected his soldiers to a severe discipline and did not hesitate to hang them for severe faults; for all this they remained in his service willingly enough; the quiet people of Touraine were startled by this sudden influx of foreign and brutal soldiery, who had nothing to do but wheel in evolutions on the parade ground before Chambord, mount guard over the trophies of Fontenoy and Raucoux, and escort Maurice de Saxe when he pompously rode abroad, who feared neither God nor Devil, but only the redoubtable Maréchal Général.
These "Saxon Volunteers," as Maurice called them, consisted of a thousand men, Hungarians, Turks, Poles, Germans and Tartars, officered by French and men of their own nationality; there was also a "Colonial Brigade" formed of negroes from the Congo, Cayenne, Guinea and Pondicherry, commanded by the son of an African King, who, mounted on white horses and clothed with Eastern flamboyancy, made an arresting spectacle on the lonely plains of Sologne; a bevy of negresses accompanied these black warriors and added to the picturesqueness of the exotic garrison, which gathered together every week to hear Mass in the chapel of the château; Maurice had had the dignity to remain a Lutheran; but these soldiers, though half of them were heathen, had to keep up the appearance of being good Catholics being nominally in the service of the Most Christian King.
Maurice had reviewed these troops before Louis in Paris, in the Champs-Elysées, previous to his departure for Chambord, and had achieved a considerable succčs de curiosité when, in full-dress Uhlan uniform, he had made his brilliant and fantastic troops perform their skilful manoeuvres.
At Chambord he drilled them every day and the lordly terraces resounded to the clatter of arms, the clangour of trumpets and the shouts of command; Maurice dined alone, in public, before his court of officers and friends, who only sat down to their covers when he had finished; two tables, one for eighty, one for sixty were usually served in Chambord.
Eight hundred horses were in the stables and wild steeds from the Ukraine galloped in the immense park, and when one of the sumptuous performances was given in the theatre in the donjon, Maurice sat alone in a box opposite the stage, as the King sat at Versailles when he also took his idle pleasure.
But this opulent life of enjoyment began to pall; dullness stole even over the concerts on the water, the slaughter of the boar, the stag hunts, the vaudevilles, the reviews of Uhlans, the caresses of easy light ladies, the gallopades in the park, the dinners with one cover, even the sight of the captured flags and the captured cannon lost its first flavour, the visits to Paris and Dresden palled; Maurice began to boast a great deal of his famous campaigns and to look at the map of Europe.
Not even the thousand distractions of Chambord could satisfy his bold and restless spirit; the memory of Courland rankled and he still dreamt of exchanging his marshal's baton for a royal crown.
He cast his bold glance at all the corners of Europe in vain; even the adventuring spirit of the Königsmarck could see no hope there, every inch was occupied; Maurice began to think beyond Europe.
He demanded the island of Madagascar from Louis, declaring that he would colonise it with German paupers, but he wanted too many 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 his visitors, the Marquis de Valfons, says, then occupied the restless mind of Maurice de Saxe; with every day Chambord staled the more, and the rancour of the Prince de Conti, had followed him to Touraine and was irritating him through his neighbour, M. de Caumery.
He thought of establishing a Jewish kingdom in America and of conquering Corsica (as France did conquer Corsica, twenty years later) but Versailles had no money, no energy, no enterprise, and Maurice was left to languish with his useless splendours at Chambord.
In the autumn of 1750, Mlle de Sens with a trôlée of court ladies had come to visit the Maréchal de Saxe, and there had been considerable gaieties, balls, hunts, comedies; Maurice was full of spirit and vigour despite his chronic ailments and wrote a lively account of the entertainments to the King, his brother, ending his letter with: "A tout péché miséricorde!"
It was a long way from the room in Goslar, where Aurora von Königsmarck had given birth to this child of a casual, if princely, intrigue; but Maurice, looking back over the half century found that the time had passed quickly—like a flash, the struggles, the victories, the honours, the women, hardly to be distinguished now, so rapidly had they gone, like bright bubbles dissolving, the intrigues, the luxuries.
What was there that he had not had? How many thousands of pounds had passed through his hands, what heaps of gold he had lost on gambling tables, paid out to panders, harlots, lackeys, what piles of diamonds, pearls and patiently worked jewels had been scattered on his dressing tables or flung to his flatterers! Not even the King had had finer mares in his stables, richer silks and velvets on his back, more easy money in his pocket, not even M. de Richelieu, superb Don Juan of the last flower of the French 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; he had been able to put into practice some of his own most cherished Ręveries and to see them successful; there was no lust that he had not gratified; he had taken cities and sacked cities, he had seen massacres, pillagings, countries broken and ruined by war, he had had power of life and death over thousands.
He had even enjoyed the delicate fidelity of an Adrienne de Lecouvreur and been able to force the delicate loathing of a Justine Favart; he had met Kings and Queens on equal terms, his niece was on the step of the throne of France, he had woo'd and won the niece of Peter the Great, and twice missed the throne of all 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. No gleam of tenderness, of regret, no softening of doubt or wonder, brightened the last days of Chambord.
His callousness, his selfishness, remained unmoved; the bitterness of boredom that was clouding over him was because he was inactive, because he had missed a crown, because his body was no longer able to afford him pleasure.
Chambord was not Paris, it was not a kingdom, and he was not a king, though he had contrived to have a sentry at his door by writing barracks over the door to his suite of apartments.
It was mid-winter and the country beyond Chambord was dull under the gloomy skies; the magnificent castle was set down like a crown on a table on this marshy plain, and in the winter even the park, one of the largest in Europe, with a wall of prodigious circumference, was gloomy; the long avenues were bare of leaves, and stripped and gaunt the ancient elms, from which Maurice hanged his disobedient Uhlans; the white donjons, towers and pinnacles, 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 overhung with an intolerable gloom; it was too large, too pompous, even Maurice de Saxe and his Uhlans could not fill it; the majesty of his residence sometimes oppressed even his vanity and this winter he was more than usually infirm.
The "trôlée" of women had gone and he had laughed to see them go; it was as much as any woman's reputation was worth to visit Maurice and his full-fed idle officers at Chambord, but they came just the same, and their host declared that in providing each of them with a fine Uhlan he had sent them away well satisfied.
He had sent away Justine Favart, too; he was tired of her, he was tired of the woman who had borne the child who was to provide him with an illustrious descendant, Madame George Sand; he was tired of all the marvels and splendours of Chambord, even of the curious escalier d'honneur, which gave his palace its unique glory; his senses were beginning to fail; he could hardly stand, feet and hands were crippled, his sight was dim, the festering wound in his leg gnawed him, no unguents could heal the sores that covered him, his broad purple face was a caricature of the comely countenance that had so nearly won him an Imperial crown; only the beetling eyebrows remained to give an air of ferocity to an expression that remained on the whole good- humoured.
He was not tormented with self-disgust or satiety; he would have echoes of glories that were past, if he could have nothing more; "the old wagoner likes the clack of the wagon-wheels," he wrote to his mother, referring to the military pomp with which he surrounded himself, and the old libertine liked to turn over the taste of vices it was no longer possible to indulge, but that, to the very last resource of his strength, he had indulged, snapping his fingers at physicians and friends alike.
Propped up in his vast gilt bed, with the brocade curtains, he would summon the most debauched of his old soldiers, the most servile of his lackeys, and bid them tell obscene tales, one against the other; when his guffaws of appreciation at indecent words and gestures passed into the convulsive grins of his disordered sleep, the hangers-on crept away, wondering how long they 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 bizarre accoutrements, idled in the barracks and stables, in the princely kitchens; the famous chef, Rotisset and his charming daughter, who had been one of the many fancies of Maurice, waited among their huge array of pots and pans awaiting the orders for another banquet.
The luxurious apartments were silent, the curtain with its motto Ludum in Armis hung across the empty stage in the large 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 or soothe the nightmares, fantastic, grotesque, that clouded his sick sleep; no one but paid flatterers and panders, and his soldiers who feared him more than they loved him.
Rosetta, the little lace-maker was gone; when he had entered Brussels as a victor, he had asked after her; Aurora von Königsmarck's bones rested in the sandstone vaults of Quedlinburg; Adrienne Lecouvreur's body had long since become part of the waste grounds of Paris; Justine Favart had escaped at last; all the other women were dead or old or had found other lovers or repented of love in a convent. Madame Pompadour had deigned to come to Chambord to taste Rotisset's invention, the "Brochet ŕ la Chambord," to sit in the theatre and listen to the witty shafts of the heartless comedy, to admire the ostentatious display of arras, sculpture, pictures, bronzes, miniatures that were displayed in the great galleries.
Maurice had no taste for or knowledge of these things, but they were costly, envied, and kings had them.
Madame Pompadour had gone with her train; the diseased and crippled soldier was of no more use to her; perhaps she disliked to gaze at this warning of what the man through whom she ruled France would one day look like; perhaps the elegant, fastidious woman hoped that she would die before nature sent in her account.
The King had, as the Marquis d'Argenson noted, "taken an aversion to M. de Saxe."
And this was not only through the intrigues of M. de Conti and the Princes of the blood; the brusque Saxon's manners, once so flattering, had not been deferential enough to His Majesty in the last campaign; he had even dared to contradict him at the council of war.
When Maurice had petitioned the King for royal honours, relying on that old Courland claim, and his relationship with the Dauphine, they had not been granted.
So, despite a guard of fifty men at his gates, and the sentinels before his apartments, and all the pomp and the power of life and death over his men, Maurice had not achieved his ambition...the itch for a crown tormented his mind as the fester in his leg tormented his body; his disordered dreams became fantastic, eccentric; he was not concerned with the thousands of men whom he had seen brutally slain, with the sacked cities, the burning villages, the ravaged fields, the blood, the treasure wasted in a cause for which he felt nothing but indifference. Wasted? No, those long wars had made him what he was; what did it matter if half Europe had been ruined, as long as a king's bastard with a turn for soldiering had his cannon, his savage soldiers, his twenty five stallions, his park full of beasts to drive into nets and slaughter?
The wars had been satisfactory from the point of view of Maurice and his kind. But they had not provided him with a crown; and the gross chimeras haunted him in the grey, heavy November days.
They had all gone; even that last beauty, frail Mme de Blot, who had queened it at Chambord so brilliantly, had already passed to his heir, the Comte de Friesen and the hero was lonely in his bed, where he would die "like an old woman" as Madame de Pompadour had sneered.
He had caught a chill, he had a cough, putrid fever, a seizure; the two physicians were in a quandary; the household, the garrison, in despair; how many excellent places were likely to be lost!
He was bled three times and felt some relief; he wished to conceal his illness and a strange agitation shook him; during the night of November 24, he became delirious and M. Senac was sent for and, as he drew the curtains and looked down at Maurice, the soldier 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 that the physician's visit was but a farce.
Courteous messages came from the great ones, who cared nothing if he lived or died; Marshal Lowendal came to his bedside and tried to convert him from his heresy; but Maurice refused him as he had refused Cardinal Tencin, when His Eminence had begged him to achieve one more victory—"that over Martin Luther."
Maurice had never made any pretence to be anything but an atheist, but he clung to Lutheranism, as he clung to his diploma of election to the Duchy of Courland.
And he was now fast falling into a lethargy from which no talk of any God could rouse him; in his intervals of consciousness he faced the complete annihilation that he believed awaited him with the same unimaginative courage that, as a boy, he had viewed the carnage of Malplaquet.
Senac reported that, before Maurice died, the morning of November 30, 1750, he had whispered: "Life is but a dream, mine has 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 that last delirium, and there is nearly always someone ready not only to note but to dramatise.
This is what is believed to be the true account of the death of Maurice de Saxe. Another and more romantic version, however, soon gained ground, became a persistent rumour, and is confirmed by a passage in the Mémoires of the Baron Grimm, who claimed to have been at Chambord at the time, and gives a detailed account of the end of Maurice.
This is neither confirmed nor utterly refuted by other authorities; 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 five times in twenty-four hours (this in itself a sufficient cause for a fatal collapse in a man "accablé d'infirmités," as Madame de Pompadour wrote of Maurice after his death), that he desired his illness to be kept secret and showed his usual independence by relying on his remedies, rye-broth and cider, and that he died suddenly between six and seven in the morning of November 30, 1750, in the bedchamber that can still be seen at Chambord.
There is nothing in all this that renders absolutely impossible the recital of Grimm and the tenacious local rumours. According to these, Maurice de Saxe was roused one morning, at eight o'clock, by a messenger who brought him a sealed envelope; he hastily dressed, put his papers in order, said a few words to the Comte de Friesen, his nephew and heir, and went out alone into the vast park, then wrapped in the gloomy mists of winter.
In one of the melancholy allées, now stripped of leaves and fit resort for the ghostly chase led by Thibaut of Champagne, which is said to sweep through these dreary glades, waited a plain coach without arms, driven by a servant without livery or cockade; a gentleman in travelling dress descended from this and saluted 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 back to Paris satisfied with having removed for ever the man who had been for so long the object of his arrogant but perhaps justified rancour.
Maurice returned to the château, commanded secrecy, and died 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 employed in deceiving the world; it is possible that they may have done so; no one would have gained anything by revealing the truth and it would have been a dangerous thing to breathe a scandal involving the name of a Prince of the blood; the persistence of the rumours round Chambord also seems to point to someone having whispered something of the dark story; it is strange that such a scandal should have been started without any foundation. Yet on the face of it the tale was absurd; Maurice had been a dying man since long before Fontenoy; the only wonder was that his splendid physique should have so long resisted his own efforts and those of his doctors to ruin it, and, if the accounts of his last years can be credited, he would have been incapable of fighting a duel in the winter of 1750.
Moreover, he would probably have refused to do so, especially with a much younger man, a royal prince and under conditions of secrecy. Maurice was shrewd and valued his favour at the court of France; he was almost wholly dependent on Louis XV; what sort of tale would he have told if M. de Conti had been killed? On the other hand M. de Conti had nothing to fear from Maurice, who no longer worried him or—save for the fact of his existence—vexed him. Maurice had rarely left Chambord since his retirement. Once he had gone to Prussia to talk of military science with Frederick II, once he had gone to Versailles, but the King had been cool and had not invited him to supper.
There was no apparent reason, therefore, for M. de Conti to fasten a duel on this out-of-favour, dying man, old enough to be his father.
If there was some deadly business between the two enemies beyond their life-long jealousy, the gossip mongers do not give it, and all that remains is surprise at the persistence of what seems a grotesque rumour. One account gives Marshal Lowendal as being at his bedside and the Comte de Friesen as in the château, another says that no friends arrived at Chambord till after his death, and that no one viewed the body till it was embalmed, thus the wild rumours of a secret duel spread at once. Perhaps the public imagination could not endure to think that this grandiose and theatrical hero, with all his adventurous pomp and glittering bravado, should die of a chill or a putrid fever like an ordinary man.
Certainly the romantic, lonely duel in the haunted glades of Chambord would have been more in keeping with the life of the son of Augustus the Strong and the descendant of the dashing and reckless Königsmarcks.
It was all of a piece with the mysterious tragedy of Philip von Königsmarck, with the poisoned pastilles given to Adrienne de Lecouvreur, with all the strange, obscure episodes of this bizarre life. The Marquis d'Argenson notes the tale of a duel in his memoirs, without mentioning the Prince de Conti and adds "it is not true."
A farmer who lived in the park of Chambord claimed to have been a hidden eye-witness of this strange duel; but he could hardly have recognised M. de Conti, or have known, as he claimed to know, that upon the Prince's return to Paris he told the King what had happened and that His Majesty thereupon sent M. Senac to Chambord.
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 seemed nothing more to say. His devoted physicians had achieved the dangerous task of embalming the remains of the hero, often termed godlike, who could not have seemed divine to them on this occasion, but all too obviously human. There were probably good reasons enough, without searching for a romantic mystery, why his friends were not allowed to see the corpse before the men of medicine had done their work.
The marble table that M. Senac and his assistants used on this occasion was proudly preserved as a great curiosity, if not an object of beauty, and has survived many more worthy and interesting memorials of famous men.
The dream was over, but there were those willing to pay it homage; the officers of the garrison went into mourning in memory of Maurice de Saxe, the famous six cannon were fired by the sorrowful Uhlans every quarter of an hour; across the desolate park where the Ukraine horses roamed unheeded, across the barracks where the motley garrison were tying crape on their arms, across the theatre where the hangers on were packing up their finery and their masks, sounded the sullen funeral salute for this roi manqué, the man who had achieved so much, but never his utmost desire.
This hero of barren victories, this conqueror without territories, this landless prince and heirless gentleman, was accorded a funeral that would have pleased his love of pomp, even though it was in contradiction of the request contained in his will (in imitation of St. Monica, as one biographer oddly remarks, but surely rather in imitation of Adrienne de Lecouvreur) that his body should be buried simply and in quicklime—"that nothing may remain of me, but my memory among my friends."
Certainly his life and his death were all of a piece; no tenderness, no regrets, no mention of God, no hope of any eternity showed in either his will, or in any word or action recorded of his last moments. Besides his immense quantity of furniture, pictures, jewels and other treasure, Maurice left, on his own estimation, six hundred thousand livres in French banks, twenty thousand livres in Saxony, that were in the hands of a M. Muldener, together with the diamond "Prague," and an 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 and soldiers. He left the bulk of his fortunes, his precious stud of horses, his famous diamond called "Prague" (given him for sparing that city) and his regiment to his nephew, M. de Friesen, the son of his half-sister, the Comtesse de Cossell; to him, too, was left the MS. of Mes Ręveries.
The King confirmed this testament, allowing M. de Friesen to keep up the Uhlans and enjoy Chambord and the pensions; but in five years the gay and ineffective young officer was dead, the regiment was dispersed, the stud broken up, and Chambord abandoned to neglect and decay; all the glories of His Highness Maurice de Saxe had vanished like his dreams of Tobago and Corsica, his visions of thrones and crowns in the Fortunate Isles.
The ghostly huntsman galloped undisturbed through the melancholy solitudes of the ruined park, and the vast chambers and galleries of the great château that had for so brief a time shone with the unsubstantial glories of Maurice were closed on decay and gloom.
THE funeral of Maurice de Saxe was so much of a piece with his life that to omit some account of it seems to be to 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 hereditary faith, and though, as the Queen remarked, "It is a pity that the De profundis cannot be said for one who has so often caused the Te Deum to be sung," it was decided that a heretic could not repose in the church that was the mausoleum of the most Christian kings. Nor could the brutal quicklime request be granted. Louis XV, in a formal note to Augustus III, acknowledged the "important services" rendered to France by Maurice de Saxe, and it did not befit the dignity of a great nation that these should go unrecognised. True, it might have been argued that Fontenoy, Raucoux and Laufeldt had been well paid for; but it was necessary to observe custom and M. de Friesen, at least, had cause to be grateful to his uncle; while the guard of honour still stood at attention in the funeral chamber, he gave orders to the upholsterers and milliners, and sat over plans of the elaborate convoy; heralds and painters set to work, and yards of braid, velvet and cloth were ordered.
The gossips had their say; no one was very witty; Maurice was of too simple a character to provoke any subtleties of comment from 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 the obstinacy of M. de Saxe, with their usual grace; the Lutheran Faith should receive her faithful son with a ceremony so costly that a grateful nation would not be ashamed to foot the bill. By January, after two months during which time Maurice's body had lain on his lit de parade, everything was ready.
The Lutheran church of St. Thomas at Strassburg was then decided upon, since Maurice had been governor of Alsace, and on January 7 the convoy set out across the wintry plains of Touraine; the huge funeral coach drawn by six horses draped in black was escorted by a hundred Uhlans, with crape in their casques and their arms reversed, and followed by two other coaches occupied by the gentlemen of His Highness's Household, one of whom, Baron Heldorff, premier écuyer, was in charge of the heart of Maurice in a silver box reposing on a black velvet cushion heavy with metallic fringe.
Following came the rest of the Uhlans, Swiss on foot, pages in weepers, and the two nephews of Maurice, M. de Friesen and M. de Löwenhaupt, in weepers and long mourning cloaks, drums beat funeral marches continuously as the procession made its difficult way under leaden skies and over snowy ground; so bad was the weather that this dismal pageant did not reach Strassburg until a month after the departure from Chambord. As the capital of Alsace was reached, M. de Saint-André, the commandant of the province sent out the regiment of Clermont to meet the "convoi" and, at a signal from a cannon, all the bells of the Lutheran churches rang out.
In Strassburg a very orgy of funeral pomp was indulged in, all the notabilities turned out, smothered in crape, guns and bells made the most doleful sounds possible, while the massive coffin of Maurice de Saxe was laid by ten gunners on a bed of state "in the taste of a duchess," that had been prepared in the castle.
Here under a "grand imperial" of black velvet garnished with silver mohair, between curtains of white satin tied with crape, Maurice took his last part in a spectacle of worldly pomp; the hall was hung with black, adorned with the arms of Saxony and Courland, marshal staffs tied saltirewise, death's-heads, tears, hour-glasses, ribbons of the White Eagle, and such-like pleasing emblems of the desirability and futility of earthly grandeur.
On the black velvet pall gleamed and sparkled in the light of white wax candles, under a veil of black crape, the crossed sword and scabbard so often used and the ducal crown that had never been worn. At the four corners of the bed sat four heralds; in one hand they held a flaming torch, in the other a marshal's baton.
While Maurice thus lay in state, the Protestant students from the College of Saint William passed round the bed, chanting funeral hymns. Thus was the Marshal honoured after death by the professors of that faith which he had not taken the slightest notice of during his life.
True, he had remained constant to Lutheranism, but hardly in the face of temptation and more from dislike of other brands of Christianity than belief in the faith for which his ancestors had battled.
However, his stolid adherence to the tenets of Martin Luther had brought a good deal of money and excitement to Strassburg that otherwise would have been enjoyed by the Parisians, and the city was grateful.
If the students had their gossip about the dead hero, it was exchanged in private, on the surface all was decorum. On the day of the funeral the whole town was in mourning, everyone of importance was in trailing cloak and weepers, and ingenuity was exhausted in the pomp and gloom of the final journey of the victor of Fontenoy. All the nobility of the province and all the magistrates of the town marched to the accompaniment of doleful symphonies and the beat of drums muffled in crape. Torches of white wax were burnt, and everyone was in ceremonial habit and full mourning.
Besides all the vicars and curates of the seven Protestant churches of the town, there were forty-three country ministers to pay homage to the hero, whose huge coffin was carried by twelve sergeants. Three "notable bourgeois" in mourning followed the pall and torch-bearers, and the Marshal's two nephews had been joined by the most important personage of the neighbourhood, the Prince of Nassau-Saarbrücken.
The new church of Saint Thomas had been chosen for the resting-place of Maurice and this had been lavishly prepared by anxious upholsterers, carpenters and scene painters for the great occasion.
Every gleam of daylight was excluded from the church, which was lit by torches and candles and lavishly adorned with skeletons, skulls, Virtues, Genii and weeping Saturns, with a very plethora of emblems, laurel wreaths, coats of arms, Latin mottoes, and hundreds of yards of black cloth and silver fringe; in short, nothing was wanting to render the idea of death as dismal and disgusting as possible and to terrify people into desiring a long life by the spectacle of the terrors waiting at the end of it. Nor were two tedious and pedantic discourses lacking, in which zealous professors of Theology, M. Laurenz and M. Froereisen, gave the deceased, in the most fulsome terms, credit for every virtue ever possessed by man, including those of temperance, piety, and chastity, and invoked a whole heaven of heathen 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 congregation had to listen to a funeral hymn; then the body was carried to a chapelle ardente that had been especially prepared, where there was yet another "lit de parade"; on this Maurice de Saxe was left, all the emblems and decorations from the church being placed round the catafalque. Nor was this the end of it; when Maurice was at last consigned to the dark bed of state in the black-hung vaults, and the weepers and mourning cloaks had been folded away, and the Uhlans turned back towards Paris, the celebrated Pigalle must be ordered to adorn the new Lutheran temple with as ostentatious a piece of sculpture as the florid taste of the times could inspire.
A model was soon completed and on view in the Louvre two years after the death of Maurice. The experts judged it "worthy of the best period of Athens and Rome," and it certainly possessed great technical merit and a certain grace and beauty that are, however, more shocking than pleasing. Twenty-six years after the death of the hero, the monument was set in place in the church of St. Thomas, a fitting Saint to preside over such an edifice, such a tomb. And there it stands to this moment, looking odd and somehow ghastly in the bare church, a skilful exhibition of the false taste, laboured symbolism and insincere sentiment of a cold and exhausted period of art.
Maurice, handsome and elegant, is standing at the summit of the monument, wearing his cuirass and holding the marshal's baton. Behind him is a pyramid generously adorned with symbols of victory, before him is a flight of stairs that he is slowly descending. France, a voluptuous female figure, draws him back; Death draws him on with a hand that holds an hourglass and with the other slides open the lid of an empty coffin. Glory, in tears, extinguishes a torch; Strength (Hercules) sinks in despair; the symbolic beasts of the nations beaten by Maurice on the field of battle balance on the other side the composition that is twenty-five feet in height and twenty feet in width and carried out in cold white marble.
What thought is behind this gloomy piece of work it is impossible to say; it states merely that a hero must die and that a nation mourns. The lack of any spirituality, any hope, any gleam of faith in any creed, is odd in a memorial in a Christian church, and the crass worldliness of the conception is almostfrightening.
In attempting the sublime, Pigalle has only achieved the theatrical, and so much perhaps might be said of the man he commemorates; this is an ill piece of sculpture but not an ill epitome of the career of Maurice de Saxe.
This swaggering figure descending to the tomb, does it not express the victor of Fontenoy? This graceful weeping France, is she not a very Adrienne de Lecouvreur despairing over her faithless lover? And these vapid leopards, eagles and lions, do they not fitly represent the futile and showy wars where Maurice was conqueror, the barren triumphs he achieved?
And the hideous grinning figure waiting to fasten the coffin lid on all this virile grandeur shows fairly enough the dull materialism, the gloomy doubt of the prosaic and cynic society in which Maurice de Saxe played his part. And with the fortitude represented in his statue did he face the death that he believed was the end of body and soul.
The sentimentality of the actress, the frivolity of the ballet dancer, the hypocrisy of the priest, mingle in this monument where the bitter gaiety of a disillusioned aristocracy, the useless flourishes of a mercenary soldier who had no worthy cause to serve, the tawdry ambitions of an adventurer, are alike vanquished by that terrible material death conceived by the atheist and accepted by the nominal Christian who has lost his faith.
This pretentious monument, which has an air so oddly sinister in its gross materialism, is a fitting commemoration of the life and death of the son of Aurora von Königsmarck, the lover of Adrienne de Lecouvreur, the persecutor of Justine Favart, the man who drove back Cumberland and his stubborn British soldiers.
The first biographer of Maurice quotes with approval this epitaph that expresses, he thinks, the spirit of the "superb monument" in Strassburg.
Tartara subit impavidus.
More might have been said; but that was scarcely the moment in which to say it and the epitaph, different from the monument, showed at least good taste, and lied as elegantly as any of its kind. Maurice had never shown good taste or elegance, but it should be remembered that he had asked for quicklime.
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Maurice de Saxe. Saint-René Taillandier. Paris 1865.
Mes Ręveries. Maurice, Comte de Saxe. 2 vols. Paris 1758.
An Outline of British Military History. D. H. Cole and E. C. Priestly. 1936.
Maurice, Comte de Saxe et Maria Josepha de Saxe. O. F. Vitzthum d'Eckstaedt. Leipzig 1867.
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Histoire de Mon Temps. George Sands. Var. ed.
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NOTE.—Some Letters and Memoirs supposed to have been written by Maurice de Saxe, but possibly spurious, are contained in M. Vitzthum d'Eckstaedt's work quoted above. There is also some material with regard to M. de Saxe to be gathered from various eighteenth-century memoirs and journals, notably those of Grimm, Barbier and d'Argenson.
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