pass, desired that those initiated into the magnificence of his regal life should be struck with such veneration that ever afterwards they could only regard the palace as a temple and the King as a presiding deity." And what a word-picture he paints of the royal palace, in which was materialised, so to express it, the very spirit of the reign. "Versailles," he writes, " like everything really great, is, and will long be, a fair and lovely scene. Though moss should cover its mouldering walls, though its gods of marble, bronze, and lead lie shattered around their broken fountains, though its broad alleys of clipped trees should remain in all the wild luxuriance of nature, though it should become but a heap of ruins, it will always present to the thinker and the poet a great and touching spectacle. Let such look from its circle of ephemeral splendour to the eternal horizon beyond, and it will be long ere thought and fancy sink to rest again. . . Versailles " (at the commencement of the reign of Louis the Fifteenth) "was fair to look upon, when its gay and thoughtless population, restrained by the crowd of soldiers still more gay than themselves, thronged its gilded gates, when carriages lined with velvet and satin, blazoned with armorial bearings, thundered over its pavements at the full speed of their prancing steeds, when every window, blazing with light like those of an enchanted palace, exposed to view the moving throng, radiant with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and bending to the gesture of one man, as bends before the wind a field of golden corn with its flowers of crimson, white, and blue. Yes, Versailles was brilliant indeed when its gates sent forth couriers to all the Powers of the earth, when kings, princes, nobles, generals, learned men, from all parts of the civilised world, trod its rich carpets and its inlaid floors ! But when, for some great ceremony, all its sumptuous furniture was displayed and its sumptuousness doubled by the magic of a thousand lights, even the coldest imagination must have glowed on beholding what human invention and power could do."
With all this, Louis the Fourteenth was far from contemptuous of the lighter pleasures of life; he indulged in them freely, particularly at the commencement of his reign, and let nothing stand in the way of the satisfaction of his desires in that direction. In the palace at Versailles he was, to all intents and purposes, a deity; but in his leisure moments, even Le Grand Monarque deigned to be a man, and, as a relief from the overwhelming splendour of the court, he caused the Trianon to be erected to serve as a place wherein he could take his ease and breathe more freely. But, withal, he simply indulged in his pleasures by way of relaxation from sterner duties, and did not permit them to interfere too seriously with the attainment of the great object he had in view—the aggrandisement of France, and of himself at the same time; it would be difficult to say which came first in his estimation. His ministers and courtiers—had they known them—might well have uttered the Gilbertian words :—
" Duty, duty must be done; The rule applies to every one. And, painful though the duty be, To shirk the task were fiddle-de-dee! "
They knew that whatever respite they might be permitted to enjoy, must first be earned—that is to say, if they played any part in the manning of the ship of State. Does not the inanimate furniture of the period even convey an impression of all this ? The very chairs seem to say : " Here we stand, ready for use. We may, perhaps, overpower you somewhat by our stately dignity, but you may sit upon us when you absolutely require rest from your duties; but remember we must be regarded with respect." That, at all events, is what they say to the writer.
On the decease of Le Rot Soleil in 1715, and the accession of his infant grandson, with the effeminate Philip of
THE " LOUIS-QUINZE " 237
Orleans as Regent, with his rouge pots, essences, and cosmetics, what a change came over the scene. Of Philip, history tells us that he was handsome in person, amiable in disposition, and more effeminate than his brother Louis the Fourteenth. His mother, Anne of Austria, who would have been rejoiced to have had a daughter, almost found in this, her favourite son, the attentions, solicitude, and playful manner of a child of twelve years of age. The time which he passed with his mother he employed in admiring her arms, in giving his opinion upon her cosmetics, and receipts for compounding essences ; he kissed her hands and eyes in the most endearing manner, and always had some sweetmeats to offer her, or some new style of dress to recommend.
These personal details may appear to be unimportant, and to savour somewhat of society small talk, but they are really of moment to us, as they convey a graphic impression of the man who had so much to do with forming the character of the new sovereign, and thus left his mark upon the whole of the reign. Thus it was that Louis the Fifteenth developed into a man of a mould entirely different from that of his august grandfather; and to so great an extent, indeed, that more than one credible history sums him up as being a debauched and feeble-minded monarch whose follies and extravagances were largely accountable for the storm that forced his harmless and lovable successor to the guillotine in the dread "ninety-three." The sword of Achilles had fatigued even Achilles himself, but it was an insupportable burden to his puny successor, to whom even the more homely and reposeful environment of the Trianon, which realised the ideal of comfort to Louis the Fourteenth, was unbearably oppressive. Consequently, in order to accord with his less ambitious wishes, the Little Trianon was erected, after designs by Gabriel, and became the king's favourite residence.
The keynote of the reign, then, was effeminacy, and it is
Was this article helpful?