Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies/Volume I/Fourth Discourse (2.)

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FILIPPO MARIA, Third Duke of Milan,[1] did wed as second wife Beatrix, widow of the late deceased Facino Cane,[2] being then an old woman. But she did bring him for marriage portion four hundred thousand crowns, without reckoning other furnishings, rings and jewelry, which did amount to a great sum, and quite wiped out all thought of her age. Yet spite of all, she did fall under her husband's suspicions of having gone to play the wanton elsewhere, and for this suspicion was done to death of him. You see how little did old age destroy her taste for the games of love. We must e'en suppose the great practice she had had thereof had but given her the desire for more and more.

Constance, Queen of Sicily,[3] who from her youth up and near all her days, had been vestal and never budged forth of a cloister-cell, but lived there in life-long chastity, getting her freedom to come out in the world at last at the age of fifty, though in no wise fair and quite decrepit, yet was fain to taste the joys of the flesh and marry. She did grow pregnant of a child at the age of fifty-two, and did desire to be brought to bed publicly in the open meadows about Palermo, having had a tent or pavilion set up there on purpose, to the end folk might have never a doubt but the fruit of her body was verily to hand. And this was one of the greatest miracles ever seen since the days of Saint Elizabeth. Natheless the History of Naples[4] doth affirm 'twas reputed a supposititious child. At any rate he did grow up a great man for all that; but indeed these, and the greater part of valiant men, are just the folk that be often bastards, as a high-born friend of mine did one day remark to me.

I knew once an Abbess of Tarascon, sister of Madame d'Usez, of the noble house of Tallard,[5] which did leave off her religious habit and quit her convent at over fifty years of age, and did wed the great Chanay we have seen play so gamesome a part at Court.

Many other women of religion have done the like, whether in wedlock or otherwise, for to taste the joys of the flesh, and this at a very ripe age. If such as these do so, what are we to expect our everyday dames to do, which have been broken in thereto from their tenderest years? Is age like to hinder them from now and again tasting and eating tit-bits, the customary enjoyment whereof they have so long been used to? Else what would become of so many good strengthening soups and cunningly compounded broths, so much ambergris and other warming and comfortable drugs for to warm and comfort their stomach now grown old and chilly? For 'tis not open to doubt but that such like decoctions, while they do recreate and keep sound their weakly stomachs, do likewise perform another function on the sly, in giving them more heat of body, and rousing some degree of passionate warmth. This is sure and certain,—without appealing to the opinion of physicians, to whom however I do refer me as to the matter.

And another and yet greater advantage for them is this. Being now aged and coming nigh on to their fifty years, they need feel no more fear of getting with child, and so have full, plenary and most ample freedom to enjoy and make up all arrears of those pleasures which mayhap some of them have not dared take hitherto for dread of the consequences. So it is that there be many which do give more rein to their amours when got to the wrong side of fifty than when still on the right. Not a few ladies both of the highest and less exalted rank have I heard tell of as being of this complexion, so much so that I have known or heard of several that have many a time and oft longed for their fifty years to have come and gone, to hinder them of conceiving and suffer them to do it the more freely without risk or scandal of any sort. Nay! why should they refrain them on the approach of old age? Indeed you might well say that after death itself there be women which yet feel some movement and pricking of the flesh. This bringeth me to another tale I must needs tell.

I had in former days a younger brother called Captain Bourdeille, one of the bravest and most valiant captains of his time. I am bound to say thus much of him, albeit he was my brother, without going too far in my panegyric of him. The same is proved by the fights he fought both in battle and in the lists; for indeed he was of all gentlemen of France the one that had most skill of arms, so that in Piedmont he was known as one of the Rodomonts of those parts. He was slain at the assault of Hedin, the last time that place was retaken.

He was intended by his father and mother for a life of letters; and with this view was sent at the age of eighteen into Italy to study. He did take up his abode at Ferrara, for the reason that Madame Renée de France, Duchess of Ferrara, was much attached to my mother, and did keep him in that city to pursue his studies, for there was an University there. However, seeing he was fitted neither by birth nor disposition for this sort of life, he did study scarce at all, but did rather amuse himself with the delights of love and courtship. In fact he did fall deep in love with a certain French lady, a widow, which was in the service of the Duchess, known as Mlle. de La Roche (or de La Mothe) and did have much pleasure with her, each loving the other exceeding well, till at the last my brother, being recalled home again by his father, who saw he was ill fitted for letters, was reluctantly constrained to return.

The lady, loving him greatly, and greatly fearing it might turn out ill with him, for she was much of Luther's way of thinking, who was then widely followed, did beg my brother to take her with him to France and to the Court of Marguerite, Queen of Navarre,[6] in whose service she had been, and who had given her to Madame Renee, when she was married and went to live in Italy. My brother, who was young and quite heedless, was only too glad of such excellent company, and did willingly escort her to Paris, where the Queen was then residing. This last was right glad to behold her, for of all women she was the wittiest and most ready of tongue, and was a handsome widow to boot and perfect in all accomplishments.

My brother, after having tarried some days with my grandmother and my mother, who was then performing her Court service, did presently go home to see his father. After some while, sickening utterly of letters, and seeing himself in no wise fitted for their pursuit, he doth quit that career altogether and away to the wars in Piedmont and Parma, where he did win much honour. So he did serve in these wars by the space of five or six months without returning home. At the end of this time he went to see his mother, who was at the time at Court with the Queen of Navarre; the Queen was then holding Court at Pau, and my brother did make his reverence to her as she was returning from Vespers. Being one of the best natured Princesses was ever in this world, she did receive him right graciously, and talcing him by the hand, did walk with him up and down the Church for an hour or twain, asking him news of the wars in Piedmont and Italy and of many other matters. To all this my brother did make answer so well that she was very well satisfied (for indeed he was as ready of tongue as any of his time) as well with his wit as with his person,—for he was a most handsome man, and of the age then of twenty-four. At the last, after long discourse with him, for 'twas ever the nature and complexion of the said noble Princess in no wise to scorn good talk and the conversation of good and honourable folk, gliding from subject to subject and still walking up and down the while, she did quietly bring my brother right over the tomb of Mlle. de La Roche, which had died three months before, and there staid him. Presently taking his hand, she said thus; "Cousin mine" (she called him so, seeing that a daughter of Albret had married into our house of Bourdeille; but for all that I do keep no greater state than another, nor suffer my ambition to run away with me), "cannot you feel something move down below under your feet?"—"Why! no, Madame," he did reply.—"Nay! take heed and mark carefully, cousin," she did resume.—But my brother only made answer, "Madame, I have taken heed, but I can feel nothing moving. The stone I tread on is firm enough."—"Well, well! I must tell you then," the Queen went on, without keeping him longer in suspense, "that you are standing above the tomb and the body of poor Mlle. de La Roche, whom erst you did love so fondly; she is interred beneath this spot. Now seeing that our souls do possess feeling after our death, how can we doubt that this excellent creature, dead but lately, was moved so soon as ever you came over her? And if you did not mark it by reason of the grossness of the tomb, no doubt for this cause was she the more stirred and moved in herself. Now forasmuch as 'tis a right pious office to have memory of the dead, and specially of them we have loved, I do beseech you give her a Pater noster and an Ave Maria and a de Profundis to boot, and sprinkle her resting place with holy water; so shall you win the name of a very faithful lover and a good Christian. And to this end will I now leave you," and so quits him and hies her away. My brother, (who is since dead), failed not to perform what she had said, and then went to see her again; whereupon she did somewhat take him to task and rally him, for she was familiar with folk,—in a good sense that is,—and had graceful skill in gentle mockery.

Such then was the view this Princess did hold, but more by way of witty conceit and gentle sentiment than from actual belief, as I think.

These gentle words of the Princess do further remind me of an epitaph over a courtesan that is buried at the Church of our Lady of the People (del Popolo) at Rome, which doth read thus: Quaesco, viator, ne me diutius calcatam amplius calces, "To him that passeth by: 'I have been kicked and spurned enough in my lifetime; spurn me no more.'" The Latin expression hath more grace than the English equivalent. I do put the thing down here more by way of a jest than anything else.

Well, to draw to an end, no need to be astonished that the Spanish lady named above did hold the maxim she did enunciate good of all such fair ladies as have been greatly loved of others, and have loved, and do love, themselves, and do take delight in being praised, albeit they may have but little left of their by-gone beauty. But yet 'tis ever the chiefest pleasure you can give them, and the one they do love the most, whenas you tell them they are still the same, and are in no wise changed or aged, and above all those of them which grow not old from the waist downwards.

I have heard speak of a very fair and honourable lady which one day did say thus to her lover: "I know not whether for the future old age will bring me increasing inconvenience and incapacity,"—she was fifty-five years old; "but, God be thanked, I did never do myself pleasure so well as I do now, nor ever took greater joy therein. Whether this do last out and continue till my extremest old age or no, I have no fault to find, nor complaint to make of my days gone by."

Now as concerning love and concupiscence, I have both here and elsewhere adduced examples enough, without dwelling longer on this subject. Let us now consider a while the maxim as concerning this special beauty of fair ladies, how that it doth not diminish by reason of old age.

For sure, the aforesaid Spanish lady did allege many good reasons and seemly comparisons, likening these fair ladies to fine old buildings of yore whose ruins do yet remain superb and imposing. So amid the noble antiquities of Rome do we see the ruins of palaces, superb relics of Collosseum and Thermae, which to this day do plainly show what they once were, and do inspire all beholders with wonder and awe, their mere ruins being wondrous and surprising. Nay, more! on these same ruins men do still build right noble edifices, proving that the foundations be better and finer than fresh new ones. So very often in their constructions, the which our good architects and masons do undertake, if that they find some old ruins and ancient foundations, straightway do they build on these, and that in preference to laying new ones.

Likewise have I seen good galleys and ships built and reconstructed on old hulls and old keels, the which had long lain in harbour doing nothing; and these were every whit as good and sound as others which the ship-carpenters did frame and build all new, and of new timber fresh from the forest.

Furthermore, our Spanish lady was used to say,—do we not many a time see the summits of high towers carried away, overthrown and disfigured by winds, storms and lightning, while the base doth remain safe and sound? For 'tis ever against such lofty points that storms do spend their fury. The sea winds moreover do corrode and eat away the upper stones of a building and do wear them hollow more than those at the bottom, seeing these be not so much exposed as the ones higher up.

In like wise many fair ladies do lose the brilliancy and beauty of their pretty faces by various accidents whether of cold or heat, of sun and moon, and the like, as well as, more's the pity, by reason of various cosmetics, the which they do apply to them, thinking so to heighten their charms, but really and truly spoiling all their beauty thereby. Whereas in other parts, they do apply no other preparation but only nature's method, feeling therefore neither cold, nor rain, nor wind, neither sun nor moon, none of which do affect them at all.

If heat do inconvenience them, they know many means to gain relief and coolness; as likewise they can guard against cold in plenty of ways. So many inconveniences and injuries must needs be warded off from a woman's beauty of face, but few or none from that which lieth elsewhere. Wherefore we should never conclude, because a woman's countenance is spoiled, that she is all foredone all over, and that naught doth remain of fine and good, and that 'tis useless to build on that foundation.

I have heard a tale told of a certain great lady, which had been exceeding fair and much devoted to love. One of her old lovers having lost sight of her for the space of four years, through some journey he did undertake, on returning from the same did find her sadly changed from the fair countenance he had known erstwhile, the which did so disappoint him and chill his ardour as that he did no more care to board her nor to renew with her again the pleasure of former days. She did recognize him readily enough, did endeavour all she could to get him to come and see her. Accordingly to this end she did one day counterfeit sickness, and when he had come to visit her by daylight did thus say to him: "I know well enough, Sir! you do scorn me for my poor face so changed by age; but come, look you, and see if there be aught changed there. If my face has deceived you, at any rate there is no deception about that." So the gentleman examining her and finding her as fair and sound as ever, did straight recover appetite and did enjoy the flesh he had thought to be spoiled. "Now this is the way, Sir," said the lady, "you men are deceived! Another time, give no credence to the lies our false faces tell; for indeed the rest of OUT bodies doth by no means always match them. This is the lesson I would have you learn."

Another lady of the like sort, being thus sorely changed of her fair face, was in such great anger and despite against the same, that she would never more look at it in her mirror, saying 'twas unworthy of so much honour. So she had her head always dressed by her maids; and to make up, would ever look at the other parts of herself only and gaze at these, taking as much pride and delight therein as she had aforetime done in her beautiful face.

I have heard speak of another lady, who whenever she did lie by daylight with her lover, was used to cover her face with a fair white kerchief of fine Holland web, for fear lest, if he should look in her face, the upper works might chill and stay his affection, and move him to mere disgust; for indeed below was naught to chide at, but all was as fine as ever. This doth remind me of yet another very honourable lady I have heard tell of, who did make a diverting and witty reply. Her husband one day asking her why her hair in one place was not grown white and hoary like that of her head, "Ah, yes," she did exclaim, "the wretch it is! It hath done all the folly, yet doth it feel naught, nor experience any ill consequences. Many and many a time hath it made my head to suffer; whereas it doth ever remain unchanged, in the same good estate and vigour, and keepeth the same complexion, and above all the same natural heat, and the same appetite and sound health. But how far otherwise it is with my other parts, which do endure aches and pains for it, and my hair which hath long ago grown white and hoary."

And she had good reason so to speak; for truly this doth engender in women many ills, and gout and other sicknesses. Moreover for being over hot at it, so the doctors say, do they grow prematurely hoary-headed. Thus we see fair ladies do never grow old in some parts, either in one fashion or the other.

I have heard many men relate,—men which have followed women freely, even going with courtesans,—how that they have scarce ever seen pretty women get old in certain parts, did always keep all their former beauty, and good will and hearty disposition to boot as good as aforetime. Nay, more! I have heard not a few husbands declare they did find their old women (so they called them) as fair and fine as ever, and as full of desire and wantonness, beauty and good will, discovering no change at all but of face, and were as fain to love them as ever they were in their young days.

In fine, how many men there be which do love old women for many reasons better than young! Just as there be many which do love old horses best, whether for a good day's work, or for the riding-school and display,—such animals as have been so well drilled in their youth as that you will have never a fault to find with them when grown old. Right well trained have they been, and have never after forgot their pretty cunning.

I have myself seen in our Royal stables a horse they called Quadragant, first broke in the time of King Henri. He was over two and twenty years old; but aged as he was, he yet went very well, and had forgot naught of his exercises. He could still give his King, and all which did see him go through his paces, great and real pleasure. I have seen the like done by a tall charger called Gonzago, from the stud-farm of Mantua, and which was of the same age as Quadragant.

I have likewise seen that magnificent and well-known black, which had been set to stallion's work. Signer Antonio, who had charge of the Royal stud, did show him me at Meung,[7] one day I did pass that way, making him do the two strides and a leap, and the round step,—both which he did execute as well as the day M. de Carnavallet had first trained him,—for he was his horse. The late M. de Longueville was fain to hire him of his master for three thousand livres; however King Charles would not have it, but took him for himself, recompensing the owner in another way. A whole host of others I could easily name; but I should never have done, and so do refer me to those worthy squires which have seen so many of the sort.

Our late King Henri, at the camp of Amiens, had chose for his mount on the day of battle an horse called le Bay de la Paix, a very fine and strong charger, and aged. But he died of fever in the camp of Amiens; so the most expert farriers did declare, but 'twas deemed a strange thing to have happed.

The late Duc de Guise did send to his stud-farm of Esclairon[8] for the bay Sanson, which was there serving the mares as stallion, to be his mount at the battle of Dreux, where he did carry him excellently.

In his first wars the late Prince did take from the stud at Mun two and twenty horses, which were there as stallions, to serve him in his campaigns; and did divide the same among the different lords which were with him, after reserving his own share. Whereof the gallant Avaret did have a charger which the great Constable had given to King Henri, and which was called le Compère (Old Gossip). Aged as he was, never was seen a better mount; his master did prove him in some good tough rencontres, and he did carry him right well. Captain Bourdet gat the Arab, on whose back our late King Henri was wounded and slain, a horse the late M. de Savoie had given him, called le Malheureux (the Unlucky). This was his name when he was presented to the King, and verily 'twas one of very ill omen to him. Never in his youth was he near so good as he was in his old age; though 'tis true his master, which was one of the most gallant gentlemen of France, did show him ever to the best advantage. In a word, of all these stallions, was not one that age did hinder from serving his master well, and his Prince and country. Indeed there be some old horses that will never give up; hence 'tis well said, no good horse doth ever become a mere hack.