The Letters of Madame de Sévigné to her Daughter and Friends

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The Letters of Madame de Sévigné to her Daughter and Friends
by Madame de Sévigné, translated by Sarah Josepha Hale










                          "There is none
In all this cold and hollow world, no fount
Of deep, strong, deathless love, save that within
A mother's heart." — Mrs. Hemans.





[Part I: To the Count de Bussy][edit]


FROM 1655 TO 1669.


· · · · ·

In the Country, June 26, 1655.

I had no doubt that you would take some opportunity of bidding me adieu, either at my own house or from the camp at Landrecy. As I am not a woman of ceremony, I am content with the latter ; and have not even thought of being angry, that you failed in coming to me before you set out.

I have not stirred from this desert, since your departure; and, to speak frankly, I am not much afflicted to find that you are with the army. I should be an unworthy cousin of so brave a cousin, if I were sorry to see you, during the present campaign, at the head of the finest regiment in France, and in so glorious a post as the one you hold. I dare say you would disown any sentiments less worthy than these; I leave weaker and more tender feelings to the true bagnio gentry. Every one loves in his own way. I profess to be heroic as well as you, and am proud to boast of these sentiments. Some women, perhaps, would think this a little in the old Roman style, and would thank God they were not Romans[2] that they might still preserve some feelings of humanity. But on this subject I can assure them I am not so inhuman as they suppose; and, with all my heroism, I wish your safe return as passionately as they can do. I trust, my dear cousin, you will not doubt the truth of this, nor that I fervently pray your life may be spared. This is the adieu you would have received from me in person, and which I now beg you to accept from hence, as I have accepted yours from Landrecy.

· · · · ·

Paris, July 14, 1655.

Will you always disgrace your relations? Will you never be weary of making yourself the subject of conversation in every campaign? Do you imagine it can give us pleasure to hear that M. de Turenne has sent word to court that you have done nothing worthy of notice at Landrecy?[3] This is really very mortifying to us, and you may easily comprehend how deeply I feel the affronts you bring upon your family. But I know not why I thus amuse myself, for I have no leisure to carry on the jest. I must tell you, therefore, that I am delighted with the success which has attended your exploits. I wrote you a long letter from the country, which I fear you have not received. I should be sorry it were lost, for you would laugh heartily at its contents.

I was yesterday at Madame de Montglas's ; she had just received a letter from you, as also had Madame de ---. I expected one likewise, but was disappointed. I suppose you were unwilling to effect too many wonders at once. I am not sorry, however, and shall some day claim a whole cargo for myself. Adieu, my cousin. The gazette speaks of you but slightly, which has given offense to many, and to me especially, for no one can be so much interested in your affairs as myself.

· · · · ·
Paris, July 19, 1655.

This is the third time I have written to you since you left Paris, a sufficient proof that I have nothing upon my mind against you. I received your farewell letter from Landrecy while I was in the country, and answered it immediately. I see plainly that my letter has never reached you, and I am extremely vexed at it; for, besides its being written with becoming affection, it was in my opinion a very pretty composition; and as it was designed for you only, I am wroth that another should have the pleasure of reading it. I have since written to you by the servant you dispatched hither with letters to some of your favorites. I did not amuse myself by quarreling with you for not remembering me at the same time, but wrote you a line or two at full speed, which, however incoherent, would inform you of the pleasure I received from the success of your regiment at Landrecy. This intelligence came to us in the most acceptable manner possible, by some of the court, who assured us that Cardinal Mazarin had spoken very handsomely of you to the king, who afterward joined with the whole court in extolling your conduct. You may conceive that my joy was not inconsiderable at hearing all this ; but to return to my story. This was the subject of my second letter, and five or six days after I received one from you, full of complaints against me. You see, however, my poor cousin, with how little justice you complain ; and hence I draw this fine moral reflection, that we should never condemn a person unheard. This is my justification. Another, perhaps, would have expressed the same thing in fewer words. You must bear with my imperfections, in consideration of my friendship. Every one has his peculiar style ; mine, as you see, is by no means laconic.

· · · · ·
Paris, November 25, 1655.

You affect great things, M. le Comte : under the pretense that you write like a second Cicero, you think yourself entitled to ridicule people. The passage you remarked, in reality, made me laugh heartily ; but I am astonished that you found no other equally ludicrous ; for, in the way I wrote to you, it is a miracle that you comprehended my meaning ; and I see plainly that either you have a greater share of wit, or that my letter is better, than I imagined. I am glad, however, you have profited by my advice.

I am told that you have asked leave to stay at the frontiers. As you know, my poor count, that mine is a blunt and honest sort of love, I am desirous your request may be granted. This is the road, it is said, to preferment, and you know how interested I am in your welfare ; but I shall be pleased either way. If you remain, true friendship shall find its account ; if you return, affectionate friendship shall be satisfied.

Madame de Roquelaure is returned so handsome that she yesterday completely challenged the Louvre ; this kindled such jealousy in the beauties that were present, that they have resolved, out of spite, she shall not be a party at any of the after-suppers, and you know how gay and pleasant they are. Madame de Fiemies would have retained her there yesterday, but it was understood by the queen's answer that her presence would be dispensed with.

Adieu, my dear cousin ; believe me to be the most faithful friend you have in the world.

· · · · ·
Paris, May 20, 1667.

I received a letter from you, my dear cousin, when I was in Brittany, in which you talked of our ancestors, the Rabutins, and of the beauty of Bourbilly. But as I had heard from Paris that you were expected there, and as I had hoped myself to arrive much sooner, I deferred writing to you ; and now I find you are not coming at all. You know that nothing is now talked of but war. The whole court is at camp, and the whole camp is at court ; and every place being a desert, I prefer the desert of Livri forest, where I shall pass the summer,

En attendant que nos guerriers
Reviennent couverts de lauriers.[4]

There are two lines for you, but I do not know whether I have heard them before, or have just made them. As it is a matter of no great importance, I shall resume the thread of my prose. My heart has been very favorably inclined toward you, since I have seen so many people eager to begin, or rather to revive, a business in which you acquired so much honor during the time you were able to engage in it. It is a sad thing for a man of courage to be confined at home when there are such great doings in Flanders[5] As you feel, no doubt, all that a man of spirit and valor can feel, it is imprudent in me to revive so painful a subject. I hope you will forgive me, in consideration of the great interest I take in your affairs.

It is said you have written to the king. Send me a copy of your letter, and give me a little information respecting your mode of life, what sort of things amuse you, and whether the alterations you are making in your house do not contribute a good deal toward it. I have spent the winter in Brittany, where I have planted a great number of trees, and a labyrinth, that will require Ariadne's clew to find the way out of it. I have also purchased some land, to which I have said, as usual, " I shall convert you into a park." I have extended my walks at a trifling expense. My daughter sends you a thousand remembrances. I beg mine to all your family.

· · · · ·
Paris, June 3, 1668.

I wrote to you the last ; why have you not answered my letter ? I have been expecting to hear from you, and have at length found the Italian proverb true : chi offende non perdona — the offender never pardons.

Madame d'Assigny has informed me that part of a cornice has fallen upon your head, and hurt you considerably. If you were well, and I dared exercise a little wicked wit upon the occasion, I should tell you that they are not trifling ornaments like these that injure the heads of husbands in general ; and that it would be a fortunate circumstance for them if they met with no worse evil than the fall of a cornice. But I will not talk nonsense ; I will first know how you are, and assure you that the same reason which made me languid when you were bled, gives me the headache from your accident. The ties of relationship can not, I think, be carried further than this.

My daughter was on the point of marriage. The affair is broken off, I hardly know why. She kisses your hand ; I do the same to your whole family. Have you done any thing yet with regard to the court ? Pray let me know how you stand there.

· · · · ·
Paris, July 26, 1668.

I begin by thanking you, my dear cousin, for your letters to the king. They would afford me pleasure even .if they were written by a stranger. They have awakened in me sentiments of pity, and I should think they must produce the same effect on our sovereign. It is true, he does not bear the name of Rabutin, as I do.

The prettiest girl in France sends her compliments to you. This title is due to her ; I am, however, weary of doing the honors of it. She is more worthy than ever of your esteem and friendship.

You do not know, I believe, that my son is gone to Candia with M. de Roannes, and the Count de Saint Paul. He consulted M. de Turenne, Cardinal du Retz, and M. de Rochefoucauld upon this : most important personages ! and they all approved it so highly that it was fixed upon, and rumored abroad, before I knew any thing of the matter. In short, he is gone. I have wept bitterly, for it is a source of great grief to me. I shall not have a moment's rest during his voyage. I see all its dangers, and terrify myself to death ; but alas, I am wholly out of the question ; for, in things of this nature, mothers have no voice. Adieu.

· · · · ·
Paris, September 4, 1668.

Rise, count ; I will not kill you while prostrate at my feet, and take your sword to resume the combat. But it is better that I should give you life, and that we should live in peace.[6] I exact but one condition : that you own the thing as it has happened. This is a very generous proceeding on my part ; you can no longer call me a little brute.

M. de Montausier has just been appointed governor to the Dauphin.

Je t'ai comblé de biens, je t'en veux accabler. [7]

Adieu, count. Now I have conquered you, I shall everywhere proclaim that you are the bravest man in France ; and whenever extraordinary duels are mentioned, I shall relate ours. My daughter sends her compliments. The idea you express of her good fortune in the late affair is some consolation to us.

· · · · ·
Paris, December 4, 1668.

Have you not received the letter, sir, in which I gave you life, disdaining to kill you at my feet ? I expected an answer to this noble action ; but you have thought it unworthy your notice: you have contented yourself with rising from the ground, and taking your sword as I commanded you. I hope you will never again employ it against me.

I must tell you a piece of news that will, I am sure, give you pleasure. It is, that the prettiest girl in France is going to be married, not to the handsomest youth, but to one of the worthiest men in the kingdom — to M. de Grignan, whom you have long known. All his wives died to give place to your cousin ; and, through extraordinary kindness, even his father and mother died too ; so that knowing him to be richer than ever, and finding him besides, by birth, situation, and good qualities, every thing we could wish, we have not trafficked with him, as is customary, on the occasion, but confided in the two families that have gone before us. He seems very well pleased with the alliance, and, as soon as we have heard from his uncle, the Archbishop of Aries, his other uncle, the Archbishop of Uzès, being on the spot, the business will be finished — probably before the end of the year. As I am a lover of decorum, I could not fail asking your advice and approbation. The public seem pleased. This is a great deal, for we are such fools as to be almost always governed by its opinion.

· · · · ·
Paris, January 7, 1669.

It is as true that I did not receive an answer to the letter in which I gave you life, as that I was in pain, lest, with the best intention possible to pardon you, I had unintentionally killed you, being little accustomed to wield a sword. This was the only good reason I could assign to myself for your silence. In the mean time you had written, though your letter had never reached me. Allow me still to regret the circumstance. You always write pleasantly ; and if I had wished to lose any portion of your correspondence, it would not have been that letter. I am glad you approve of the marriage with M. de Grignan ; he is a very good man, and very gentlemanly — has wealth, rank, holds a high office, and is much esteemed and respected by the world. What more is necessary ? I think we are fortunate, and as you are of the same opinion, sign the deed I sent you ; and be assured, my dear cousin, that if it depended on me, you should be first at the entertainment. How admirably well you would act your part! Since you left us, I have heard no wit equal to yours, and I have said to myself a thousand times, "Good heavens, what a difference!" War[8] is talked of, and it is said the king will take the field in person.

  1. The Count Bussy de Rabutin, first cousin to the father of Madame de Sevigne, was, on account of his relationship, always on terms of intimacy with her. He was a famous wit and satirist, as his Letters and Memoirs show, but not of principles or character to excite love or esteem in the soul of such a woman as Madame de Sevigne. However, they were cousins, and though she refused his suit, she seems to have felt a deep interest in his welfare. She corresponded with him occasionally till her death, but her letters to him have less interest than those she wrote to others, especially to her daughter. We give a few of her first and best letters to Count de Bussy, as preliminary to the real work of her heart and mind, her correspondence with Madame de Grignan,
  2. Verse from Corneille's tragedy of the Horatii.
  3. More jesting. Bussy had merited and obtained the praises of Turenne.
  4. Waiting the return of our warriors covered with laurels.
  5. Bussy was exiled to his estates.
  6. Bussy and his cousin had frequent quarrels : the reason has before
  7. I have loaded thee with favors, I will add to the burden.
  8. It was a vague report. No idea was yet entertained of breaking the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, concluded only seven months before. But it was in contemplation to interfere in the quarrel between the Count Palatin and the Duke of Lorraine, and force the latter to lay down his arms.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.