Memoirs of the Comtesse Du Barry, With Minute Details of Her Entire Career as Favorite of Louis XV. Written by Herself

Contents:
Author: Étienne-Léon de Lamothe-Langon

Chapter XLI

Interview with the joiner’s daughter—Consultation of the physicians respecting the king—The small-pox declares itself—the comte de Muy—The princesses—Extreme sensibility of madame de Mirepoix—The king is kept in ignorance of his real condition—The archbishop of Paris visits Versailles

The gloomy and mysterious air scattered over the group which presented itself to our eyes filled us with desponding thoughts. There appeared throughout the party a kind of concentrated grief and silent despair which struck us with terror. We remained motionless in the same spot without any persons quitting their fixed attitude to offer us a seat. After some minutes of a deep silence, which I durst not interrupt any more than comte Jean, whose accustomed hardihood seemed effectually checked, the suffering girl raised herself in her bed, and in a hollow voice exclaimed,

"Comtesse du Barry, what brings you here?"

The sound of her hoarse and grating voice made me start, spite of myself.

"My poor child," answered I, tenderly, "I come to see you at your request."

"Yes, yes," replied she, bursting into a frightful fit of laughter, "I wished to see you to thank you for my dishonour, and for the perdition into which you have involved me."

"My daughter," said the priest, approaching her, "is this what you promised me?"

"And what did I promise to God when I vowed to hold myself chaste and spotless? Perjured wretch that I am, I have sold my honour for paltry gold; wheedled by the deceitful flattery of that man who stands before me, I joined his infamous companion in the path of guilt and shame. But the just vengeance of heaven has overtaken me, and I am rightly punished."

Whether this language was the result of a previously studied lesson I know not, but it was ill-calculated to raise my failing spirits.

"My child, my beloved child!" exclaimed the weeping mother, "fear not, God is merciful and will accept your sincere abhorrence of your fault. I have this day offered in your name a fine wax taper to your patroness, St. Anne, who will, no doubt, intercede for you."

"No, no!" replied the unhappy girl, "there is no longer any hope for me; and the torments I now suffer are but the preludes to those which I am doomed to endure everlastingly."

This singular scene almost convulsed me with agitation. I seized the arm of my brother-in-law with the intention of escaping from so miserable a spot; the invalid perceived my design and vehemently exclaimed,

"Stay, comtesse du Barry; I have not yet finished with you, I have not yet announced the full revenge I shall take for your share in my present hopeless condition; your infamous exaltation draws to a close, the same poison which is destroying me, circulates in the veins of him you have too long governed; but your reign is at an end. He will soon quit his earthly crown, and my hand strikes the blow which sends him hence. But still, dying a victim to a cruel and loathsome complaint, I go to my grave triumphing over my haughty rival, for I shall die the last possessor of the king’s affections. Heavens! what agonies are these?" cried she; then, after a short silence, she continued, extending to me her arms hideous with the leprous blotches of her disgusting malady, "yes, you have been my destruction; your accursed example led me to sell myself for the wages of infamy, and to the villainous artifices of the man who brought you here I owe all my sufferings. I am dying more young, more beautiful, more beloved than you; I am hurried to an untimely end. God of heaven! die I did I say die? I cannot, will not—Mother, save your child!—Brother, help me, save me!"

"My daughter, my darling child!" cried the despairing mother, wringing her hands and weeping bitterly.

"My dearest sister Anne, what can I do for you?" inquired the young man, whose stern features were melted into mere womanish tenderness.

"Daughter," interrupted the priest, " God is good; he can and will forgive you if you heartily turn to him, with a sincere desire to atone for your fault."

All this took place in less time than it has taken in the recital. My brother-in-law seemed completely deprived of his usual self-possession by this burst of frightful raving; his feet appeared rooted to the floor of the chamber; his colour changed from white to red, and a cold perspiration covered his brows. For my own part, I was moved beyond description; but my faculties seemed spell-bound, and when I strove to speak, my tongue cleaved to my mouth.

The delirium of poor Anne continued for some time to find utterance, either by convulsive gesticulation, half-uttered expressions, and, occasionally, loud and vehement imprecations. At length, quite exhausted with her violence, which required all the efforts of her brother to subdue by positive force, she sunk into a state of insensibility. The priest, on his knees, implored in a loud voice the mercy of Providence for the king and all his subjects. Had any person conceived the design of working on my fears so far as to induce me to abandon a life at court, they could not have succeeded more entirely than by exhibiting to me the scene I have been describing. Had not many contending ideas enabled me to bear up under all I saw and heard, my senses must have forsaken me; under common circumstances, the aspect of the brother alone would have terrified me exceedingly; and even now, I cannot recollect without a shudder, the looks of dark and sinister meaning he alternately directed at me and at comte Jean. At this moment, the doctor who had the charge of the unhappy girl arrived. The warmth and eagerness of manner with which he addressed me directly he perceived my presence, might have proved to all around that I was not the hateful creature I had been described. This well-timed interruption restored me to the use of my faculties, and repulsing the well-meant attentions of my medical friend, I exclaimed, "Do not heed me, I conjure you, I am only temporarily indisposed. But hasten to that poor girl whose dangererous state
requires all your care."

My brother-in-law, recovering himself by a strong effort, profited by the present opportunity to remove me into another apartment, the pure air of which contributed to cool my fevered brain; but
my trembling limbs refused to support me, and it was necessary to apply strong restoratives ere I was sufficiently recovered to quit the fatal spot. At Trianon, as well as at Versailles, I was considered absolute mistress; those of the royal household, who were aware of my being at the former, earnestly solicited me to retire to the chamber I had occupied on the preceding night, but to this arrangement the comte and myself were equally opposed. A sedan chair was therefore procured, in which I was rapidly transported back to Versailles.

You may easily conceive in what a state I arrived there. My good Henriette was greatly alarmed, and immediately summoned Bordeu,
who, not venturing to bleed me, contented himself with administering some cordials which revived me in some degree. But the events of the last few hours seemed indelibly fixed in my mind; and I heard, almost with indifference, the bulletin issued respecting the state of the king’s health during the fatal night which had just passed. One object alone engrossed my thoughts; -eyes seemed still to behold the miserable girl stretched on her dying bed, whose ravings of despair and threatening words yet rung in my ears, and produced a fresh chill of horror, as with painful tenacity my mind dwelt upon them to the utter exclusion of every other consideration. The unfortunate creature expired on the third day, a victim to the rapid progress of the most virulent species of small-pox. She died more calmly and resigned than I had seen her. For my own part, I freely pardoned her injustice towards myself, and sincerely forgive the priest if he (as I have been told) excited her bitterness against me.

The severe shock I had experienced might have terminated fatally for me, had not my thoughts been compelled to rouse themselves for the contemplation of the alarming prospect before me. It was more than four o’clock in the morning when I returned to the chateau, and at nine I rose again without having obtained the least
repose. The king had inquired for me several times. I instantly went to him, and my languid frame, pale countenance and heavy eyes, all which he took as the consequences of my concern for his indisposition, appeared greatly to affect him; and he sought to comfort me by the assurance of his being considerably better. This was far from being true, but he was far from suspecting the nature of the malady to which his frame was about to become a prey. The physicians had now pronounced with certainty on the subject, nor was it possible to make any mystery of it with me, who had seen Anne on her sick-bed.

In common with all who knew the real nature of the complaint, I sought to conceal it from the king, and in this deception the physicians themselves concurred. In the course of the morning a consultation took place; when called upon for their opinion, each of them endeavoured to evade a direct answer, disguising the name of his majesty’s disease under the appellation of a cutaneous eruption, chicken-pox, etc., etc., none daring to give it its true denomination. Bordeu and Lemonnier pursued this cautious plan, but La Martiniere, who had first of all pronounced his decision on the subject, impatient of so much circumlocution on the part of those around him, could no longer repress his indignation.

"How is this, gentlemen!" exclaimed he, "is science at a standstill with you? Surely, you cannot be in any doubt on the subject of the king’s illness. His majesty has the small-pox, with a complication of other diseases equally dangerous, and I look upon him as a dead man."

"Monsieur de la Martiniere," cried the duc de Duras, who, in quality of his office of first gentleman of the bed-chamber, was present at this conference, "allow me to remind you that you are expressing yourself very imprudently."

"Duc de Duras," replied the abrupt La Martiniere, "my business is not to flatter the king, but to tell him the truth with regard to his health. None of the medical gentlemen present can deny the truth of what I have asserted; they are all of my opinion, although I alone have the courage to act with that candour which my sense of honour dictates."

The unbroken silence preserved by those who heard this address, clearly proved the truth of all La Martiniere advanced. The duc de Duras was but too fully convinced of the justice of his opinion.

"The king is then past all hope," repeated he, "and what remains to be done?"

"To watch over him, and administer every aid and relief which art suggests," was the brief reply of La Martiniere.

The different physicians, when separately questioned, hesitated no longer to express their concurrence in the opinion that his majesty’s case was entirely hopeless, unless, indeed, some crisis, which human foresight could not anticipate, should arise in his favour.

This opinion changed the moral face of the chateau. The duc de Duras, who had not previously suspected even the existence of danger, began to feel how weighty a burthen reposed on his shoulders; he recommended to the medical attendants the utmost caution and silence, pointing out, at the same time, all the ill consequences which might arise, were any imprudent or sudden explanation of his real malady made to the august sufferer. Unable to attend to everything himself, and not inclined to depend upon his son, whose natural propensity he was fully aware of, he recalled to his recollection that the comte de Muy, the sincere and attached friend of the dauphin, son to Louis XV, was then in Versailles. He immediately sought him out in the apartments he occupied in the chateau, and communicated to him the result of the consultation respecting the king’s illness.

The comte de Muy was one of those rare characters reserved by Providence for the happiness of a state, when kings are wise enough to employ them. He thought not of personal interest or advantage, but dictated to the duke the precise line of conduct he himself would have pursued under similar circumstances.

"The first thing to be done," said he, "is to remember that the king is a Christian, and to conform in every respect to the customs of his predecessors. You are aware, my lord duke, that directly any member of the royal family is attacked by the small-pox, he ought immediately to receive extreme unction; you will, therefore, make the necessary arrangements, and apprize those whose duty it becomes to administer it."

"This is, indeed, an unpleasant commission," replied the duke; "to administer extreme unction to his majesty, is to announce to him cruelly and abruptly that his last hour has arrived, and to bid him prepare for death."

"The duty is nevertheless imperative," answered the comte de Muy, "and you incur no slight responsibility by neglecting it."

The consequence of this conversation was, that the duke sent off two couriers immediately, one to madame Louise, and the other to the archbishop of Paris. He also apprized the ministers of the result of the consultation which had taken place, whilst the comte de Muy took upon himself the painful office of acquainting the dauphin with the dangerous state of his grandfather. This young prince, whose first impulses were always amiable, immediately burst into tears; the dauphiness endeavoured to console him. But from that moment her royal highness appeared to show by her lofty and dignified bearing, her consciousness of the fresh importance she had necessarily acquired in the eyes of the nation. Meanwhile, the dauphin hastened to the sick room of his beloved relative, anxious to bestow upon him the cares and attentions of a son; but in the anteroom his progress was stopped by the duc de la Vrilliere, who informed him, that the interests of the throne would not permit his royal highness to endanger his life by inhaling the contagious atmosphere of a room loaded with the venom of the small-pox. He adjured him, in the name of the king and his country, not to risk such fearful chances. The lords in attendance, who did not partake the heroism the young prince, added their entreaties to those of <le petit saint>, and succeeded, at length, in prevailing upon him to return to his apartments, to the great joy of Marie Antoinette, who could not endure the prospect of being separated from her husband at so important a juncture.

No sooner had the princesses learned the danger of their august parent, than without an instant’s hesitation they hurried to him. I was in his chamber when they arrived; they saluted me with great gentleness and affability. When the king saw them, he inquired what had brought them thither at so unusual an hour.

"We are come to see you, my dearest father," replied madame Adelaide; "we have heard of your indisposition, and trifling as it is said to be, we could not rest without satisfying our anxious wish to know how you found yourself."

The other sisters expressed themselves in similar terms.

"It is all very well, my children," said Louis XV, with a pleasing smile, "and you are all three very excellent girls, but I would rather you should keep away from this close room; it can do you no good, and I promise to let you know if I find myself getting any worse."

After a slight resistance the princesses feigned an obedience to his will; but, in reality, they merely retired into an adjoining chamber, concealed from the sight of their parent, where they remained, until the moment when they undertook the charge of the patient. Their heroic devotion was the admiration of all France and Europe.

Much as their presence constrained me, I still kept my place beside
the sick-bed of his majesty, who would not suffer me to leave him for a minute.

At an early hour the marechale de Mirepoix returned, according to her promise. I met her in the corridor as I was passing along on my way to the king’s apartment; her face was full of cheerful smiles.

"How greatly am I obliged to you for your prompt succour," said she, without even inquiring after my health or that of the king. "Do you know, I was but just in time; ten minutes later, and I should have been refused payment for your cheque. M. de Laborde, who was so devotedly your friend only yesterday, counted out to me the glittering coin I was so anxious to obtain. He even accompanied me to my carriage, when behold, just at the moment, when, with his hat in his hand, he was most gallantly bowing, and wishing me a pleasant journey, a courier arrived from Versailles bringing him the news of the king’s illness. He looked so overwhelmed with consternation and alarm, that I could not prevent myself from bursting into a hearty fit of laughter, nor has my gaiety forsaken me up to the present moment."

"You are very fortunate," said I, "to be enabled thus to preserve your good spirits."

"My dear creature, I would fain cheat time of some of his claims upon me. But now I think of it, what is the matter since I was here? Is the king worse, and what is this I hear whispered abroad of the small-pox?"

"Alas, madam," answered I, much hurt at the insensibility she displayed, "we run but too great danger of losing our friend and benefactor for ever."

"Dear me, how very shocking! But what has he settled on you? What have you asked him for?"

"Nothing!" replied I, coolly.

"Nothing! very admirable, indeed; but, my good soul, these fine sentiments sometimes leave people to eat the bread of charity. So, then, you have not followed my advice. Once more, I repeat, lose not the present opportunity, and, in your place, I would set about securing my own interest without one instant’s delay."

"That I could not do, madam," said I; "it is wholly foreign to my nature to take advantage of the weakness of a dying man."

"Dying man!" repeated the marechale incredulously, "come, come,

he is not dead yet; and whilst there is life there is hope; and I suppose you have carried your ideas of disinterestedness so far as to omit mentioning your friends, likewise. You will never have any worldly sense, I believe. My dear soul," said she, stooping down and whispering in my ear, "you are surrounded by a set of selfish wretches, who care nothing for you unless you can f forward their interests."

"I see it, I know it," exclaimed I impatiently; "but though I beg my bread, I will not importune the king."

"As you please," cried madame de Mirepoix, "pray do not let me disturb your intentions. Silly woman that you are, leave others to act the sublime and grand, your part should be that of a reasonable creature. Look at myself, suppose I had not seized the ball at the bound."

"You were born at Versailles," answered I, smiling in spite of myself.

"True, and I confess that with me the greatest of all sense is common sense, which produces that instinctive feeling of self-preservation implanted even in animals. But is the king indeed so very ill?"

"He is, indeed, dangerously ill."

"I am very sorry," answered she, "his majesty and myself were such old friends and companions; but things will now be very different, and we shall soon see the court filled with new faces, whilst you and I, my poor countess, may hide our diminished heads. A set of hungry wretches will drive us away from the princely banquet at which we have so long regaled, and scarcely will their eagerness leave us a few scattered crumbs—how dreadful! Yes, I repeat that for many reasons, we shall have just cause for regretting the late king."

"The <late> king!" exclaimed I. "His majesty is not yet dead, madame la marechale."

"I know that, but he will die; and by speaking of the event as if it had already taken place, we prepare our minds to meet the blow with greater resignation when it does fall. I am much concerned, I can assure you; but let us quit the close confined air of this corridor, and go where we may breathe a purer atmosphere."

She took me by the arm with a greater familiarity than she had ever before assumed, and led the way to my chamber, where I found the duc de la Vrilliere awaiting me, to request I would return to the king, who had asked for me more than once. This consummate hypocrite seized the present opportunity of renewing his assurances of an unalterable attachment to me, vowing an eternal friendship. I was weak enough to believe him, and when I gave him my hand in token of reconciliation, I espied the marechale standing behind him, making signals to me to distrust his professions.

I know not the reason of this conduct on the part of the duc de l a Vrilliere, but I can only suppose it originated in his considering the king in less danger than he was said to be; however, I suffered him to lead me to the chamber of the invalid. When Louis XV saw me return, he inquired why I had quitted him? I replied, because I was fearful of wearying him; upon which he assured me, that he only felt easy and comfortable so long as I was with him.

"But, perhaps, there is some contagion in my present complaint?"
exclaimed he, as though labouring under some painful idea.

"Certainly not," replied I; "it is but a temporary eruption of the skin, which will, no doubt, carry off the fever you have suffered with."

"I feared it was of a more dangerous nature," answered the king.

"You torment yourself needlessly, sire," said I; "why should you thus create phantoms for your own annoyance and alarm? Tranquillize yourself, and leave the task of curing you to us."

I easily penetrated the real import of his words; he evidently suspected the truth, and was filled with the most cruel dread of having his suspicions confirmed. During the whole of this day he continued in the same state of uncertainty; the strictest watch was set around him that no imprudent confession should reveal to him the real nature of his situation. I continued sitting beside him in a state of great constraint, from the knowledge of my being closely observed by the princesses, of
whose vicinity we durst not inform him, in the fear of exciting his fears still more.

The courier, who had been despatched to madame Louise, returned, bringing a letter from that princess to her sisters, under cover to madame Adelaide, in which she implored of them not to suffer any consideration to prevent their immediately acquainting their father with the dangerous condition he was in. The duty, she added, was imperative, and the greatest calamity that could befall them, would be to see this dearly loved parent expire in a state of sinful indifference as to his spiritual welfare.

The august recluse, detached from all sublunary considerations, saw nothing but the glorious hereafter, where she would fain join company with all her beloved friends and connexions of this world.

The archbishop of Paris, M. de Beaumont, a prelate highly esteemed for his many excellent private qualities, but who had frequently embarrassed the king by his pertinacity, did not forget him on this occasion; for no sooner did the account of his majesty’s illness reach him, than, although suffering with a most painful complaint, he hastened to Versailles, where his presence embarrassed every one, particularly the grand almoner, who, a better courtier than priest, was excessively careful never to give offence to any person, even though the king’s salvation depended upon it; he, therefore, kept his apartment, giving it out that he was indisposed, and even took to his bed, the better to avoid any disagreeable or inconvenient request. The sight of the archbishop of Paris was far from being agreeable to him. This prelate went first in search of the princesses who were not to be seen on account of their being with their father. A message was despatched to them, and mesdames Adelaide and Sophie, after having a long conference with him, by his advice, summoned the bishops of Meaux, Goss, and de Senlis, and held a species of council, in which it was unanimously agreed that nothing ought to prevent their entering upon an explanation with the king, and offering him spiritual succour.

Who was to undertake the delicate commission, became the next point to consider. M. de Roquelaire declined, not wishing, as he said, to infringe upon the rights of the grand almoner, who was now at Versailles. M. de la Roche Aymon was therefore sent for, requesting his immediate attendance. Never did invitation arrive more <mal a propos>, or more cruelly disturb any manoeuvring soul. However, to refuse was impossible, and the cardinal arrived, execrating the zeal of his reverend brother of Paris; who, after having explained the state of affairs to him, informed him that he was sent for the purpose of discharging his office by preparing the king for confession.

The grand almoner replied, that the sacred duty by no means belonged to him; that his place at court was of a very different nature, and had nothing at all to do with directing the king’s conscience. His majesty, he said, had a confessor, who ought to be sent for, and the very sight of him in the royal chamber would be sufficient to apprize the illustrious invalid of the motives which brought him thither. In a word, the grand almoner got rid of the affair, by saying, "that, as it was one of the utmost importance, it would be necessary to confer with his royal highness, the dauphin, respecting it."

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Chicago: Étienne-Léon de Lamothe-Langon, "Chapter XLI," Memoirs of the Comtesse Du Barry, With Minute Details of Her Entire Career as Favorite of Louis XV. Written by Herself, ed. Iles, George, 1852-1942 and trans. Whiston, William, 1667-1752 in Memoirs of the Comtesse Du Barry, With Minute Details of Her Entire Career as Favorite of Louis XV. Written by Herself (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3WB5F7LL5NCR18J.

MLA: de Lamothe-Langon, Étienne-Léon. "Chapter XLI." Memoirs of the Comtesse Du Barry, With Minute Details of Her Entire Career as Favorite of Louis XV. Written by Herself, edited by Iles, George, 1852-1942, and translated by Whiston, William, 1667-1752, in Memoirs of the Comtesse Du Barry, With Minute Details of Her Entire Career as Favorite of Louis XV. Written by Herself, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3WB5F7LL5NCR18J.

Harvard: de Lamothe-Langon, É, 'Chapter XLI' in Memoirs of the Comtesse Du Barry, With Minute Details of Her Entire Career as Favorite of Louis XV. Written by Herself, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, Memoirs of the Comtesse Du Barry, With Minute Details of Her Entire Career as Favorite of Louis XV. Written by Herself, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3WB5F7LL5NCR18J.