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The pleasant retailers of the literary chit-chat of that time, Marmontel, Grimm, Bauchemont, and others, are full of details of Madame Geoffrin, who, if she was not quite as formally approached as Boufflers, or Deffand, was as much respected, loved, and feared. The author of the “Contes Moraux,” tells us some of the weaknesses of this gifted lady; and, according to his account, she had been actually convicted, living as she was outwardly in the freest society in the world, of a turn for secret devotion! “Elle avait un apartement dans un couvent de religieuses et une tribune à l'Eglise des Capucins,—mais avec autant de mystère que les femmes galantes de ce temps-là avaient des petites maisons.”
The picture would be sufficiently ludicrous, were it not for the darker features presented by a state of society, where no one should venture to be pious except under pain of being exterminated with ridicule.
There was one matter as to which Madame Geoffrin was timid and cautious; she never meddled with matters of state or unsafe political opinions, and was induced to discountenance those who did so. Surrounded by restless and inquiring spirits, she often dreaded being compromised by their conduct; and was especially uneasy at any time when the Bastille sheltered a more than usual number of those whose wit was wont to flash round her board. But her guests have recorded, that if there was a little saddened and earnest gravity in her deportment, when she received them after such naughty affairs, she abated nothing of her old kindness. Her good heart indeed was after all her noblest quality. She was one of those who held the simple notion, that were it not for the judicious distribution
la dédicace d'une grammaire ! à moi qui ne sais pas seulement l'orthographe." “C'était la pure vérité," subjoins Marmontel.
on them. It is clear, in short, that he had not been successful in frightening his friends from requesting him to perform offices of kindness and courtesy, or from trusting that he would perform them. The following passage, in Blair's letter, is evidence of the popularity of the Literary classes of the unversity of Edinburgh, during the middle of last century.
My class was, last season, in such reputation that I gave a second course in summer, at the desire of a body of the medical students. I am just about to open for this winterwith what success I cannot tell ; for I tremble for it every season. Against next season I intend to print a synopsis of
In the medical school, a revolution is at a crisis, which is important to us. Dr. Rutherford wants to demit in favour of Frank Hume; a measure pushed by Lord Milton, Baron Mure, and John Home; the coalition of three formidable powers: but which we college people dread as boding us no good; and are much more inclined to another scheme, of placing Cullen in Rutherford's chair, and bringing Dr. Black, from Glasgow, into the chair of chemistry, which would greatly promote the reputation of our college, and which has all the popularity on its side at present.
How unimportant these things seem to you now? I hear much, from time to time, of your continuing, nay, increasing celebrity and fame. You are just the high mode, they tell us—the very delice of all the good company at Paris.
In a letter to Millar, chiefly in reference to some English law books, which Hume bad engaged to obtain for a French lawyer, he recurs to the Memoirs of King James. He seems to have indolently adopted the notion that there were few chances of his having an opportunity of making additions to his History of the Stuarts. He did live, however, to see more than one new edition of it: but the references in them to the treasure he had discovered at Paris, are extremely meagre. Another letter immediately follows, in which we find that his anticipations of new editions are already outrun by the demands: and we find in his, as in many other cases, where permanent fame has been reached, that the excitement of expectant authorship has declined long before its visions are realized; and that their fulfilment comes at last on minds sobered down to indifference.
HUME to ANDREW MILLAR.
“Paris, 18th March, 1764. “I have lived such a life of dissipation as not to be able to think of any serious occupation. But I begin to tire of that course of life. I have, however, run over King James's Memoirs, and have picked up some curious passages, which it is needless to speak of till we have occasion for a new edition, which I suppose is very distant."
“Paris, 18th April, 1764. “ DEAR SIR, -All the discoveries I made in King James's Memoirs, make against himself and his brother; and he is surely a good enough witness on that side: but I believe him also a man of veracity, and I should have put trust in any matter of fact that he told from his own knowledge. But this it is needless for us to talk any more about; since, I suppose, you have got copies enough of my History, already printed, to last for your lifetime and mine. I shall certainly never think of adding another line to it. I am too much your friend to think of it.
I beg my sincere compliments to Mrs. Millar. I saw a few days ago Mrs. Mallet, who seems to be going upon a strange project, of living alone, in a hermitage
, in the midst of the forest of Fontainbleau. I pass my
of pity from her blindness, was still more so in her own discontented spirit. The days which tranquil ease and the attentions of kind friends might have soothed, were disturbed by restless vanity, an intense desire to interfere with the doings of that world which she could not see, dissipation, and literary wrangles.
One remarkable person, an offshoot of Madame du Deffand's circle, and driven forth from it to raise an empire of her own, was Mademoiselle de L'Espinasse. Hume and she met frequently in Paris, and they subsequently corresponded together. She was an illegitimate child, who, having been well educated, had been adopted by Madame du Deffand as her companion, and the minister for supplying, as far as possible, her lost sense of sight. Mademoiselle had to be present at those displays of intellect which illuminated the table of her mistress. It soon began to transpire that the humble drudge possessed a soul of fire; and taking part in the conversation, her remarks rose as she acquired confidence and ease, into an originality of thought, fulness of judgment, and rich eloquence of language, which fascinated the senses of those veteran champions in the arena of intellect. Thus many of those who went to offer their incense to a woman old and blind, were constrained to bestow some of it on one young
in years, but in
counsel old,” who had little more outward claim on their admiration ; for Mademoiselle de L'Espinasse was naturally plain, and was deeply marked with smallpox. The patroness did not present herself till six o'clock in the evening; to her who knew no difference between light and darkness it was morning. She often found that her protégé had been entertaining the guests for an hour, and that they had come early to enjoy her conversation. This was treason-an “ I never see Mr. Wilkes here but at chapel, where he is a most regular, and devout, and edifying, and pious attendant; I take him to be entirely regenerate. He told me last Sunday, that you had given him a copy of my Dissertations, with the two which I had suppressed;' and that he, foreseeing danger, from the sale of his library, had wrote to you to find out that copy, and to tear out the two obnoxious dissertations. Pray how stands that fact? It was imprudent in you to intrust him with that copy : it was very prudent in him to use that precaution. Yet I do not naturally suspect you of imprudence, nor him of prudence. I must hear a little farther before I pronounce."
Millar, writing on 5th June, gives the following account of his conduct as to the suppressed dissertations.
“ I take Mr. Wilkes to be the same man he was,-acting a part. He has forgot the story of the two dissertations. The fact is, upon importunity, I lent to him the only copy I preserved, and for years never could recollect he had it, till his books came to be sold; upon this I went immediately to the gentleman that directed the sale, told him the fact, and reclaimed the two dissertations which were my property. Mr. Coates, who was the person, immediately delivered me the volume; and so soon as I got home, I tore them out and burnt them, that I might not lend them to any for the future. Two days after, Mr. Coates sent me a note for the volume, as Mr. Wilkes had desired it should be sent to him to Paris ; I returned the volume, but told him the two dissertations, I had torn out of the volume and burnt, being my property. This is the truth of the matter, and nothing but the truth. It was certainly imprudent for me to lend them to him.
i See above, p. 14.
3 MS. R.S.E.