The chevalier de la Morliere--Portrait of the duc de Choiseul-- The duc de Choiseul and the comtesse du Barry--No reconciliation effected--Madame du Barry and the duc d'Aiguillon--Madame du Barry and Louis XV
About this period I received a piece of attention, any thing but gratifying if considered in a strictly honourable sense. The contemptible chevalier de la Morliere, who detested me, and subsequently pursued me with rage, presumed to dedicate to me some wretched collection of his compositions, and I had the weakness to accept the dedication; I had even the still greater folly to receive its author at my house; this piece of condescension injured me greatly. Until that period I had not, like madame de Pompadour, shown myself the protectress and patroness of men of letters; and even my warmest friends could not deny, that in stepping forwards as the encourager of literature, I had made a very unfortunate choice in selecting the chevalier de la Morliere as the first object of my patronage. But how could I have done otherwise? The prince de Soubise, who found this man serviceable upon many occasions, would have sacrificed any thing to promote his advancement; and I have been assured, that had the marechal taken half the pains on the day previous to the battle of Rasbach, we should not have left it so disgracefully.
The king well knew the unfortunate chevalier for a man as destitute of modesty as merit; when therefore he saw his book upon the mantel-piece of my drawing-room, he said,
'So! you are the inspiring muse of the chevalier de la Morliere; I only warn you, when the day comes for him to be hanged, not to ask me to pardon him."
"Be assured," replied I, "that I will never deprive the Place de Greve of one so formed to do honour to it."
In fact, the chevalier was within an ace of reaching it before his friends anticipated; for, very shortly after this conversation, he was guilty of the most detestable piece of knavery I ever heard of. He learned that an unfortunate young man from the country, into whose confidence he had wormed himself, was to receive 15,000 livres on his father's account; he invited him to supper, and, by the aid of two villains like himself, stripped him of his last sous. Not satisfied with this, he wrote the father such an exaggerated account of his son's loss and general bad habits, that the enraged and irritated parent procured an order to confine his son at Saint Lazare! Did you ever hear of a more infamous and accomplished rogue than my honourable protege? However, I shall give him up to his fate, be it good or bad, and proceed with the relation of my affair with duc de Choiseul.
I had named to madame de l'Hopital the hour at which I could receive the duke. She had requested, in pursuance of her directions, no doubt, that the conversation between us should take place either amidst the groves of Versailles or in the labyrinth of Marly;--the self-love of M. de Choiseul inducing him to desire that this interview should be so contrived, as to wear the air of a mere chance rencontre. To this I would not consent; saying, that it did not suit my pleasure to quit the house; and that when a gentleman solicited the favour of speaking to a lady, it became his business to wait upon her, without expecting she should come in search of him; and, spite of all the arguments of madame de l'Hopital, I persisted in my determination: she had no alternative but to submit, and I awaited the coming of M. de Choiseul on the following day.
The duc de Choiseul possessed a greater reputation than his talents were entitled to; and his advancement was more attributable to his good fortune than his merit. He had found warm and powerful assistants in both philosophers and women; he was a confirmed egotist, yet passed for a man who cared little for self. He was quick at matters of business, and he obtained the character of a deep and profound politician. It must, however, be admitted, that he was witty, gallant, and gifted with manners so elegant and fascinating, that they never failed to remove the first unfavourable impression caused by his excessive plainness. The tide of public favour was with him; and, in order to contest it, it required all the influence of a woman, and that woman to be no less than the beloved mistress of the king of France.
He presented himself before me tastefully and magnificently dressed, both look and voice wearing the stamp of high-born pride and haughtiness. Nevertheless, amidst all this pomp, it was evident that he did not entirely feel the ease he assumed, and that a species of remorse rankled at his heart, spite of the courtier-like gallantry with which he had invested himself.
"Madam," said he, bowing twice most profoundly, "the moment has arrived which I have long most ardently desired."
"The fault has not been mine, my lord," said I, "that it has been delayed until now. My door has never been shut against any visit you might have honoured me with."
"Ah, madam! why have I not known this sooner? Some evil planet ruled my thoughts when it occurred to me that I might not be so happy as to meet with a favourable reception."
"There, my lord, you were indeed in error; for though I might not feel a very tender friendship towards you whilst supposing I had many causes for complaint, I could not refuse you those marks of respect your rank and station entitle you to receive."
"Then, madam, I may flatter myself that I should have been kindly received?"
"Yes, sir, you would ever have been welcome, but not those belonging to you, for I will be perfectly candid; always excepting the duchesse de Choiseul, for whom I entertain the greatest veneration and respect."
"She is indeed well worthy the exalted opinion you express of her; and had I followed her advice, I should not have been found amongst the ranks of your enemies."
"You confess the fact then, monsieur le duc?" said I.
"I trust, madam, you will not take advantage of an inadvertent expression to turn it against myself. What I fear is, that without ever having been your enemy, I may have passed for such in your estimation; and such indeed is the cruel position in which I am placed."
"Stay, my lord duke," cried I; "be candid, and acknowledge that you are my enemy as you have ever been; and that it is only because there has been war between us that you are now come to conclude a treaty of peace--"
"Peace or war, madam," replied he, "as you please to will it; all I will admit is, that things have turned out most unfavourably for my wishes. Your arrival at Versailles, your grace, beauty, and wit, excited universal jealousy; and, amidst the general panic caused by your all-excelling merit, was it not necessary I too should keep myself on my guard? For the first time in my life a beautiful woman became an object of alarm to me; you may further believe me, when I protest that, at the outset, I warmly defended you; but how could I wage war against so many--how oppose the general torrent? It bore me down."
Memoirs of the Comtesse du Barry -by- Baron Etienne Leon Lamothe-Langon