Charles Duke Yonge. The Life of Marie Antoinette

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[Illustration: Marie Antoinette]





The principal authorities for the following work are the four volumes of Correspondence published by M. Arneth, and the six volumes published by M. Feuillet de Conches. M. Arneth's two collections[1] contain not only a number of letters which passed between the queen, her mother the Empress- queen (Maria Teresa), and her brothers Joseph and Leopold, who successively became emperors after the death of their father; but also a regular series of letters from the imperial embassador at Paris, the Count Mercy d'Argenteau, which may almost be said to form a complete history of the court of France, especially in all the transactions in which Marie Antoinette, whether as dauphiness or queen, was concerned, till the death of Maria Teresa, at Christmas, 1780. The correspondence with her two brothers, the emperors Joseph and Leopold, only ceases with the death of the latter in March, 1792.

The collection published by M. Feuillet de Conches[2] has been vehemently attacked, as containing a series of clever forgeries rather than of genuine letters. And there does seem reason to believe that in a few instances, chiefly in the earlier portion of the correspondence, the critical acuteness of the editor was imposed upon, and that some of the letters inserted were not written by the persons alleged to be the authors. But of the majority of the letters there seems no solid ground for questioning the authenticity. Indeed, in the later and more important portion of the correspondence, that which belongs to the period after the death of the Empress-queen, the genuineness of the Queen's letters is continually supported by the collection of M. Arneth, who has himself published many of them, having found them in the archives at Vienna, where M.F. de Conches had previously copied them,[3] and who refers to others, the publication of which did not come within his own plan. M. Feuillet de Conches' work also contains narratives of some of the most important transactions after the commencement of the Revolution, which are of great value, as having been compiled from authentic sources.

Besides these collections, the author has consulted the lives of Marie Antoinette by Montjoye, Lafont d'Aussonne, Chambrier, and the MM. Goncourt; 'La Vraie Marie Antoinette' of M. Lescure; the Memoirs of Mme. Campan, Clery, Hue, the Duchesse d'Angouleme, Bertrand de Moleville ('Memoires Particuliers'), the Comte de Tilly, the Baron de Besenval, the Marquis de la Fayette, the Marquise de Crequy, the Princess Lamballe; the 'Souvenirs de Quarante Ans,' by Mlle. de Tourzel; the 'Diary' of M. de Viel Castel; the correspondence of Mme. du Deffand; the account of the affair of the necklace by M. de Campardon; the very valuable correspondence between the Count de la Marck and Mirabeau, which also contains a narrative by the Count de la Marck of many very important incidents; Dumont's 'Souvenirs sur Mirabeau;' 'Beaumarchais et son Temps,' by M. de Lomenie; 'Gustavus III. et la Cour de Paris,' by M. Geoffroy; the first seven volumes of the Histoire de la Terreur, by M. Mortimer Ternaux; Dr. Moore's journal of his visit to France, and view of the French Revolution; and a great number of other works in which there is cursory mention of different incidents, especially in the earlier part of the Revolution; such as the journals of Arthur Young, Madame de Stael's elaborate treatise on the Revolution; several articles in the last series of the 'Causeries de Lundi,' by Sainte-Beuve, and others in the Revue des Deux Mondes, etc., etc., and to those may of course be added the regular histories of Lacretelle, Sismondi, Martin, and Lamartine's 'History of the Girondins.'


CHAPTER I. Importance of Marie Antoinette in the Revolution.-Value of her Correspondence as a Means of estimating her Character.-Her Birth, November 2d, 1755.-Epigram of Metastasio.-Habits of the Imperial Family.-Schoenbrunn.-Death of the Emperor.-Projects for the Marriage of the Archduchess.-Her Education.-The Abbe de Vermond.-Metastasio.- Gluck.

The most striking event in the annals of modern Europe is unquestionably the French Revolution of 1789-a Revolution which, in one sense, may be said to be still in progress, but which, is a more limited view, may be regarded as having been, consummated by the deposition and murder of the sovereign of the country. It is equally undeniable that, during its first period, the person who most attracts and rivets attention is the queen. One of the moat brilliant of modern French writers[1] has recently remarked that, in spite of the number of years which have elapsed since the grave closed over the sorrows of Marie Antoinette, and of the almost unbroken series of exciting events which have marked the annals of France in the interval, the interest excited by her story is as fresh and engrossing as ever; that such as Hecuba and Andromache were to the ancients, objects never named to inattentive ears, never contemplated without lively sympathy, such still is their hapless queen to all honest and intelligent Frenchmen. It may even be said that that interest has increased of late years. The respectful and remorseful pity which her fate could not fail to awaken has been quickened by the publication of her correspondence with her family and intimate friends, which has laid bare, without disguise, all her inmost thoughts and feelings, her errors as well as her good deeds, her weaknesses equally with her virtues. Few, indeed, even of those whom the world regards with its highest favor and esteem, could endure such an ordeal without some diminution of their fame. Yet it is but recording the general verdict of all whose judgment is of value, to affirm that Marie Antoinette has triumphantly surmounted it; and that the result of a scrutiny as minute and severe as any to which a human being has ever been subjected, has been greatly to raise her reputation.

Not that she was one of those paragons whom painters of model heroines have delighted to imagine to themselves; one who from childhood gave manifest indications of excellence and greatness, and whose whole life was but a steady progressive development of its early promise. She was rather one in whom adversity brought forth great qualities, her possession of which, had her life been one of that unbroken sunshine which is regarded by many as the natural and inseparable attendant of royalty, might never have been even suspected. We meet with her first, at an age scarcely advanced beyond childhood, transported from her school-room to a foreign court, as wife to the heir of one of the noblest kingdoms of Europe. And in that situation we see her for a while a light-hearted, merry girl, annoyed rather than elated by her new magnificence; thoughtless, if not frivolous, in her pursuits; fond of dress; eager in her appetite for amusement, tempered only by an innate purity of feeling which never deserted her; the brightest features of her character being apparently a frank affability, and a genuine and active kindness and humanity which were displayed to all classes and on all occasions. We see her presently as queen, hardly yet arrived at womanhood, little changed in disposition or in outward demeanor, though profiting to the utmost by the opportunities which her increased power afforded her of proving the genuine tenderness of her heart, by munificent and judicious works of charity and benevolence; and exerting her authority, if possible, still more beneficially by protecting virtue, discountenancing vice, and purifying a court whose shameless profligacy had for many generations been the scandal of Christendom. It is probable, indeed, that much of her early levity was prompted by a desire to drive from her mind disappointments and mortifications of which few suspected the existence, but which were only the more keenly felt because she was compelled to keep them to herself; but it is certain that during the first eight or ten years of her residence in France there was little in her habits and conduct, however amiable and attractive, which could have led her warmest friends to discern in her the high qualities which she was destined to exhibit before its close.

Presently, however, she becomes a mother; and in this new relation we begin to perceive glimpses of a loftier nature. From the moment of the birth of her first child, she performed those new duties which, perhaps more than any others, call forth all the best and most peculiar virtues of the female heart in such a manner as to add esteem and respect to the good-will which her affability and courtesy had already inspired; recognizing to the fall the claims which the nation had upon her, that she should, in person, superintend the education of her children, and especially of her son as its future ruler; and discharging that sacred duty, not only with the most affectionate solicitude, but also with the most admirable judgment.

But years so spent were years of happiness; and, though such may suffice to display the amiable virtues, it is

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