Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete

Author: Various

Section VIII.

"I have already mentioned that Marie Antoinette had no decided taste for literature. Her mind rather sought its amusements in the ball-room, the promenade, the theatre, especially when she herself was a performer, and the concert-room, than in her library and among her books. Her coldness towards literary men may in, some degree be accounted for by the disgust which she took at the calumnies and caricatures resulting from her mother’s partiality for her own revered teacher, the great Metastasio. The resemblance of most of Maria Theresa’s children to that poet was coupled with the great patronage he received from the Empress; and much less than these circumstances would have been quite enough to furnish a tale for the slanderer, injurious to the reputation of any exalted personage.

"The taste of Marie Antoinette for private theatricals was kept up till the clouds of the Revolution darkened over all her enjoyments.

"These innocent amusements were made subjects of censure against her by the many courtiers who were denied access to them; while some, who were permitted to be present, were too well pleased with the opportunity of sneering at her mediocrity in the art, which those, who could not see her, were ready to criticise with the utmost severity. It is believed that Madame de Genlis found this too favourable an opportunity to be slighted. Anonymous satires upon the Queen’s performances, which were attributed to the malice of that authoress, were frequently shown to Her Majesty by good-natured friends. The Duc de Fronsac also, from some situation he held at Court, though not included in the private household of Her Majesty at Trianon, conceiving himself highly injured by not being suffered to interfere, was much exasperated, and took no pains to prevent others from receiving the infection of his resentment.

"Of all the arts, music was the only one which Her Majesty ever warmly patronised. For music she was an enthusiast. Had her talents in this art been cultivated, it is certain from her judgment in it that she would have made very considerable progress. She sang little French airs with great taste and feeling. She improved much under the tuition of the great composer, her master, the celebrated Sacchini. After his death, Sapio was named his successor; but, between the death of one master and the appointment of another, the revolutionary horrors so increased that her mind was no longer in a state to listen to anything but the howlings of the tempest.

"In her happier days of power, the great Gluck was brought at her request from Germany to Paris. He cost nothing to the public Treasury, for Her Majesty paid all his expenses out of her own purse, leaving him the profits of his operas, which attracted immense sums to the theatre.

"Marie Antoinette paid for the musical education of the French singer, Garat, and pensioned him for her private concerts.

"Her Majesty was the great patroness of the celebrated Viotti, who was also attached to her private musical parties. Before Viotti began to perform his concertos, Her Majesty, with the most amiable condescension, would go round the music saloon, and say, ’Ladies and gentlemen, I request you will be silent, and very attentive, and not enter into conversation, while Mr. Viotti is playing, for it interrupts him in the execution of his fine performance.

"Gluck composed his Armida in compliment to the personal charms of Marie Antoinette. I never saw Her Majesty more interested about anything than she was for its success. She became a perfect slave to it. She had the gracious condescension to hear all the pieces through, at Gluck’s request, before they were submitted to the stage for rehearsal. Gluck said he always improved his music after he saw the effect it had upon Her Majesty.

"He was coming out of the Queen’s apartment one day, after he had been performing one of these pieces for Her Majesty’s approbation, when I followed and congratulated him on the increased success he had met with from the whole band of the opera at every rehearsal. ’O my dear Princess!’ cried he, ’it wants nothing to make it be applauded up to the seven skies but two such delightful heads as Her Majesty’s and your own.’ —’Oh, if that be all,’ answered I, ’we’ll have them painted for you, Mr. Gluck!’—’No, no, no! you do not understand me,’ replied Gluck, ’I mean real, real heads. My actresses are very ugly, and Armida and her confidential lady ought to be very handsome:

"However great the success of the opera of Armida, and certainly it was one of the best productions ever exhibited on the French stage, no one had a better opinion of its composition than Gluck himself. He was quite mad about it. He told the Queen that the air of France had invigorated his musical genius, and that, after having had the honour of seeing Her Majesty, his ideas were so much inspired that his compositions resembled her, and became alike angelic and sublime!

"The first artist who undertook the part of Armida was Madame Saint Huberti. The Queen was very partial to her. She was principal female singer at the French opera, was a German by birth, and strongly recommended by Gluck for her good natural voice. At Her Majesty’s request, Gluck himself taught Madame Saint Huberti the part of Armida. Sacchini, also, at the command of Marie Antoinette, instructed her in the style and sublimity of the Italian school, and Mdlle. Benin, the Queen’s dressmaker and milliner, was ordered to furnish the complete dress for the character.

"The Queen, perhaps, was more liberal to this lady than to any other actress upon the stage. She had frequently paid her debts, which were very considerable, for she dressed like a Queen whenever she represented one.

"Gluck’s consciousness of the merit of his own works, and of their dignity, excited no small jealousy, during the getting up of Armida, in his rival with the public, the great Vestris, to whom he scarcely left space to exhibit the graces of his art; and many severe disputes took place between the two rival sharers of the Parisian enthusiasm. Indeed, it was at one time feared that the success of Armida would be endangered, unless an equal share of the performance were conceded to the dancers. But Gluck, whose German obstinacy would not give up a note, told Vestris he might compose a ballet in which he would leave him his own way entirely; but that an artist whose profession only taught him to reason with his heels should not kick about works like Armida at his pleasure. ’My subject,’ added Gluck, ’is taken from the immortal Tasso. My music has been logically composed, and with the ideas of my head; and, of course, there is very little room left for capering. If Tasso had thought proper to make Rinaldo a dancer he never would have designated him a warrior.’

"Rinaldo was the part Vestris wished to be allotted to his son. However, through the interference of the Queen, Vestris prudently took the part as it had been originally finished by Gluck.

"The Queen was a great admirer and patroness of Augustus Vestris, the god of dance, as he was styled. Augustus Vestris never lost Her Majesty’s favour, though he very often lost his sense of the respect he owed to the public, and showed airs and refused to dance. Once he did so when Her Majesty was at the opera. Upon some frivolous pretext he refused to appear. He was, in consequence, immediately arrested. His father, alarmed at his son’s temerity, flew to me, and with the most earnest supplications implored I would condescend to endeavour to obtain the pardon of Her Majesty. ’My son,’ cried he, ’did not know that Her Majesty had honoured the theatre with her presence. Had he been aware of it, could he have refused to dance for his most bounteous benefactress? I, too, am grieved beyond the power of language to describe, by this mal apropos contretemps between the two houses of Vestris and Bourbon, as we have always lived in the greatest harmony ever since we came from Florence to Paris. My son is very sorry and will dance most bewitchingly if Her Majesty will graciously condescend to order his release!’

"I repeated the conversation verbatim, to Her Majesty, who enjoyed the arrogance of the Florentine, and sent her page to order young Vestris to be set immediately at liberty.

"Having exerted all the wonderful powers of his art, the Queen applauded him very much. When Her Majesty was about leaving her box, old Vestris appeared at the entrance, leading his son to thank the Queen.

"’Ah, Monsieur Vestris,’ said the Queen to the father, you never danced as your son has done this evening.’

"’That’s very natural, Madame,’ answered old Vestris, ’I never had a Vestris, please Your Majesty, for a master.’

"’Then you have the greater merit,’ replied the Queen, turning round to old Vestris—’Ah, I shall never forget you and Mademoiselle Guimard dancing the minuet de la cour.’

"On this old Vestris held up his head with that peculiar grace for which he was so much distinguished. The old man, though ridiculously vain, was very much of a gentleman in his manners. The father of Vestris was a painter of some celebrity at Florence, and originally from Tuscany."


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Chicago: Various, "Section VIII.," Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Holcroft, Thomas, 1745-1809 in Court Memoirs of France Series—Complete (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed August 17, 2022,

MLA: Various. "Section VIII." Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Holcroft, Thomas, 1745-1809, in Court Memoirs of France Series—Complete, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 17 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: Various, 'Section VIII.' in Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, Court Memoirs of France Series—Complete, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 17 August 2022, from