1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lenclos, Ninon de
|←Lenbach, Franz von||1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 16
Lenclos, Ninon de
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LENCLOS, NINON DE (1615-1705), the daughter of a gentleman of good position in Touraine, was born in Paris in November 1615. Her long and eventful life divides into two periods, during the former of which she was the typical Frenchwoman of the gayest and most licentious society of the 17th century, during the latter the recognized leader of the fashion in Paris, and the friend of wits and poets. All that can be pleaded in defence of her earlier life is that she had been educated by her father in epicurean and sensual beliefs, and that she retained throughout the frank demeanour, and disregard of money, which won from Saint Évremond the remark that she was an honnête homme. She had a succession of distinguished lovers, among them being Gaspard de Coligny, the marquis d'Éstrées, La Rochefoucauld, Condé and Saint Évremond. Queen Christina of Sweden visited her, and Anne of Austria was powerless against her. After she had continued her career for a preposterous length of time, she settled down to the social leadership of Paris. Among her friends she counted Mme de la Sablière, Mme de la Fayette and Mme de Maintenon. It became the fashion for young men as well as old to throng round her, and the best of all introductions for a young man who wished to make a figure in society was an introduction to Mlle de Lenclos. Her long friendship with Saint Évremond must be briefly noticed. They were of the same age, and had been lovers in their youth, and throughout his long exile the wit seems to have kept a kind remembrance of her. The few really authentic letters of Ninon are those addressed to her old friend, and the letters of both in the last few years of their equally long lives are exceptionally touching, and unique in the polite compliments with which they try to keep off old age. If Ninon owes part of her posthumous fame to Saint Évremond, she owes at least as much to Voltaire, who was presented to her as a promising boy poet by the abbé de Chateauneuf. To him she left 2000 francs to buy books, and his letter on her was the chief authority of many subsequent biographers. Her personal appearance is, according to Sainte-Beuve, best described in Clélie, a novel by Mlle de Scudéry, in which she figures as Clarisse. Her distinguishing characteristic was neither beauty nor wit, but high spirits and perfect evenness of temperament.
The letters of Ninon published after her death were, according to Voltaire, all spurious, and the only authentic ones are those to Saint Évrernond, which can be best studied in Dauxmesnil's edition of Saint Évremond, and his notice on her. Sainte-Beuve has an interesting notice of these letters in the Causeries du Lundi, vol. iv. The Correspondence authentique was edited by E. Colombey in 1886. See also Helen K. Hayes, The Real Ninon de l'Enclos (1908); and Mary C. Rowsell, Ninon de l'Enclos and her century (1910).