Madame du Deffand / Letters

Madame du Deffand / Letters

Selected Letters

By Madame du Deffand
(Marie de Vichy-Chamrond)

To the Duchesse de Choiseul

PARIS, Sunday, December 28th, 1766.    
DO you know, dear Grandmama [a pet name], that you are the greatest philosopher that ever lived? Your predecessors spoke equally well, perhaps, but they were less consistent in their conduct. All your reasonings start from the same sentiment, and that makes the perfect accord one always feels between what you say and what you do. I know very well why, loving you madly, I am ill at ease with you. It is because I know that you must pity everybody who is unlike yourself. My desire to please you, the brief time that I am permitted with you, and my eagerness to profit by it, all trouble, embarrass, intimidate me and discompose me.
  I exaggerate, I utter platitudes; and end by being disgusted with myself, and eager to rectify the impression I may have made upon you.   2
  You wish me to write to M. de Choiseul, and to make my letter pretty and bright. Ah, indeed! I’m the ruler of my own imagination, am I! I depend upon chance. A purpose to do or to say such or such a thing takes away the possibility. I am not in the least like you. I do not hold in my hands the springs of my spirit. However, I will write to M. de Choiseul. I will seize a propitious moment. The surest means of making it come is to feel hurried.   3
  I am sending you an extract from an impertinent little pamphlet entitled ‘Letter to the Author of the Justification of Jean Jacques.’ You will see how it treats our friend. I am not sure that it should be allowed; whether M. de Choiseul should not talk to M. de Sartines about it. It is for you to decide, dear Grandmama, if it is suitable, and if M. de Choiseul ought to permit licenses so impertinent.   4
  I am dying to see you. In spite of my fear, in spite of my dreads, I am convinced that you love me because I love you.   5
To Mr. Crawford

SUNDAY, March 9th, 1766.    
READ your letter to Madame de Forcalquier, or rather I gave it to her to read. I thought from her tone that she liked it, but she will not commit herself. She is more than incomprehensible. The Trinity is not more mysterious. She is composed of systems, which she does not understand herself; great words, great principles, great strains of music, of which nothing remains. However, I am of your opinion, that she is worth more than all my other acquaintances. She agrees that it would be delightful to have you live in this country; but if she were only to see you en passant, it hardly matters whether you came or not; that she has not forgotten you, but that she will forget you. Eh! Why shouldn’t she forget you? She does not know you…. A hundred speeches of the sort which vex me.
  They say of people who have too much vivacity that they were put in too hot an oven. They might say of her, on the contrary, that she is underdone. She is the sketch of a beautiful work, but it is not finished. What is certain is, that her sentiments, if she has sentiments, are sincere, and that she does not bore you. I showed her your letter because I thought that would give you pleasure; but be sure that no one in the world, not even she, shall see what you write me in future except Niart [her secretary], who as you know is a well.   7
  I have just made you a fine promise that I will not show your letters; perhaps I shall never be able to show them. Truly, truly, I am like Madame de Forcalquier, and do not know you!   8
  I spent three hours with Mr. Walpole yesterday, but only half an hour alone with him. Lord George and his wife returned his short call, but your Dr. James stayed there all the time. He is a very gloomy, uninteresting man.   9
  Have you seen Jean Jacques? Is he still in London? Have you seen your father? Imagine yourself tête-à-tête with me in the corner of the fireplace, and answer all my questions, but especially those which concern your health. Have you seen the doctors? Have they ordered you the waters? And tell me too, honestly, if I shall ever see you again. Reflect that you are only twenty-five years old, that I am a hundred, and that it only requires a brief kindness to put pleasure in my life. No, I will not assume the pathetic. Do just what pleases you.   10
To Horace Walpole

TUESDAY, August 5th, 1766.    
HAVE received your letter of July 31st—no number, sheets of different sizes. All these observations mean nothing, unless it is that a person without anything to do or to think occupies herself with puerile things. Indeed, I should do very wrong not to profit by all your lessons, and to persist in the error of believing in friendship, and regarding it as a good; no, no; I renounce my errors, and am absolutely persuaded that of all illusions that is the most dangerous.
  You who are the apostle of this wise doctrine, receive my confession and my vows never to love, never to seek to be loved by any one; but tell me if it is permitted to desire the return of agreeable persons; if one may long for news of them, and if to be interested in them and to let them know it is to lack virtue, good sense, and proper behavior. I am awaiting enlightenment. I cannot doubt your sincerity; you have given me too many proofs of it; explain yourself without reserve.   12
WEDNESDAY, 6th.    
  Of all the things in your letter, what struck me the most yesterday were your moralizings on friendship, which forced me to reply at once. I was interrupted by Monsieur and Madame de Beauvan, who came to take me to supper with them in the country at the good Duchess of Saint-Pierre’s. I returned early. I did not close my eyes during the night. I woke up Niart [her secretary] earlier than usual to go on with my letter, and to re-read me yours. I am better pleased with it this morning than I was yesterday. The matter of friendship shocked me less. I find that the conclusion is—let us be friends without friendship. Ah well, so be it; I consent. Perhaps it is agreeable; let us learn by experience, and for that—see each other the oftener! In truth, you have only a comic actress, a deaf woman, and some chickens to leave, as you have only a blind woman and many goslings to find; but I promise you that the blind woman will have much to ask and much to tell.
  I do not know what to say to you about your ministry. You have entertained me so little with politics, that if others had not informed me, all that goes on with you would be less intelligible to me than the affairs of China. They have told me something of the character of the count; and as for this certain good comrade [Conway], I think I know him perfectly. I am pleased that he has remained, but not that he does not oppose your philosophy. All your opinions are beautiful and praiseworthy; but if I were in his place I should certainly hinder you from making use of them, and not regulate my conduct by your moderation and disinterestedness. Oh! as for my lord, you cannot keep him,—that’s the public cry. It seems to me that the brother and sister-in-law are not pleased. Do you not detest the people? From the agrarian law to your monument, your lamps, and your black standard, its joy, its sadness, its applause, its complaints, are all odious to me. But I am going back to speak to you about yourself. You say that your fortune, instead of augmenting, will suffer diminution. I am much afraid of that. No liberty without a competency. Remember that. If your economy falls upon your trips to France I shall be miserable. But listen to this without getting vexed.   14
  I possess, as you know, a small lodging-room belonging to me, little worthy of the son of Robert Walpole, but which may satisfy the philosopher Horace. If he found it convenient, he could occupy it without incurring the slightest ridicule. He can consult sensible people, and while waiting, be persuaded that it is not my personal interest which induces me to offer it to him.   15
  Honestly, my mentor, you could not do better than take it. You would be near me or a hundred leagues from me if you liked it better. It would not engage you to any attention nor any assiduity; we would renew our vows against friendship. It would even be necessary to render more observance to the Idol [Comtesse de Boufflers]; for who could be shocked, if not she? Pont-de-Veyle, who approves and advises this arrangement, claims that even the Idol would find nothing to oppose. Think of that.
*        *        *        *        *
  Grandmama returned yesterday morning. My favor with her is better established. She will take supper with me Friday; and as the supper was arranged without foreseeing that she would be there, she will find a company which will not exactly suit her,—among others the Idol, and the Archbishop of Toulouse.   17
  I shall have many things to tell you when I see you. It may be that they will hardly interest you, but it will be the world of my Strawberry Hill.   18
  You agree with me about the letters, which pleases me. I believe myself a genius when I find myself in agreement with you. This Prince Geoffrin is excellent. Surely heaven is witness that I do not love you, but I am forced to find you very agreeable.   19
  Are you waiting until your arrival here to give a jug to the Maréchale de Luxembourg? I see no necessity of making a present to the Idol; incense, incense, that is all it wants!   20
  I have a great desire that you should read a Memoir of La Chalottais; it is very rare, very much “prohibited,” but I am intriguing to get it.   21
  M. de Beauvan begs you to send me a febrifuge for him. It is from Dr. James, I think. There are two kinds; one is mild and the other violent. He requires a louis’s worth of each.   22
  You are mightily deceiving yourself if you think Voltaire author of the analysis of the romance of ‘Héloïse.’ The author is a man from Bordeaux, a friend of M. de Secondat. Àpropos of Voltaire, he has had the King of Prussia sounded to know if he would consent to give him asylum at Wesel in case he were obliged to leave his abode. This his Majesty has very willingly granted.   23
  Good-by. I am counting upon being able in future to give you news of your court and your ministry. I have made a new acquaintance, who is a favorite of Lord Bute and the most intimate friend of Lord Holderness. I do not doubt that this lord is aiming at my Lord Rochefort’s place, who they say scarcely troubles himself about the embassy.   24
  Write me, I beg you, at least once a week.   25
  Tell me if M. Crawford is in Scotland.   26
  It is thought that the first news from Rome will inform us of the death of Chevalier Macdonald.   27


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