Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Maria de Vichy-Chamrond, Marquise du Deffand

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DEFFAND, MARIA DE VICHY-CHAMROND, MARQUISE DU (1697-1780), a celebrated leader in the fashionable literary society of Paris during the greater part of the 18th century, was born in Burgundy of a noble family in 1697. Educated at a convent in Paris, she there displayed, along with great intelligence, the sceptical arid cynical turn of mind which so well suited the part she was afterwards to fill in the philosophical circles of Paris. Her parents, alarmed at the freedom of her views, arranged that Massillon should visit and reason with her, but this seems to have had little effect. They married her at twenty-one years of age to the Marquis du Deffand without consulting her inclination. The union proved an unhappy one, and resulted in a speedy separation. Madame du Deffand, young and beautiful, did not, according to the common belief, succeed in keeping herself uncontaminated by the abounding vice of the age, and it is said that she was for a time the mistress of the regent. She was afterwards reconciled to her husband, but it proved impossible for them to live together, and a second and final separation took place. Without heart and without enthusiasm, Madame du Deffarid was incapable of any strong attach ment , but her intelligence, her cynicism, and her esprit made her the centre of attraction to a circle which included nearly all the famous philosophers and literary men in Paris, besides not a few distinguished visitors from abroad. In 1752 she became blind, and soon afterwards she took up her abode in apartments in the convent of St Joseph in the Rue St Dominique, which had a separate entrance from the street. This became the frequent resort of such men as Choiseul, Bouflers, Montesquieu, Voltaire, D Alembert, David Hume, and Horace Walpole. In 1764 the society was split into two parties by the defection of her companion Mademoiselle de L Espinasse, who took with her D Alembert and several others. Madame du Deffand had most affinity of nature with Horace Walpole, who paid several visits to Paris expressly for the purpose of enjoying her society, and who maintained a close and most interesting correspondence with her for fifteen years. She died on the 24th September 1780. Of her innumerable witty sayings probably the best, and certainly the best known, is her remark on the Cardinal de Polignac s account of St Denis s miraculous walk of two miles with his head in his hands, " II n y a que le premier pas qui coute." The correspondence of Madame du Deffand with D Alembert, Renault, Montesquieu, and others was published at Paris in 1809. Her letters to Horace Walpole, edited, with, a biographical sketch, by Miss Berry, were published at London from the originals in Strawberry Hill in 1810.