Perhaps this pincushion has lain on her table when Madame de Maintenon listened to the animating conversation of Racine, or heard him read aloud, with that spirit and deep pathos for which his reading was so remarkable, his Esther and Alhalie, previously to their performance at St.-Cyr.
That she did not make his peace with the king, when he offended him by writing an essay to prove that long wars, however likely to reflect glory on a sovereign, were sure to entail misery on his subjects, shews that either her influence over the mind of Louis was much less powerful than has been believed, or that she was deficient in the feelings that must have prompted her to exert it by pleading for him.
The ungenerous conduct of the king in banishing from his court a man whose genius shed a purer lustre over it than all the battles Boileau has sung, and for a cause that merited praise instead of displeasure, has always appeared to me to be indicative of great meanness as well as hardness of heart; and while lamenting the weakness of Racine, originating in a morbid sensibility that rendered his disgrace at court so painful and humiliating to the poet as to cause his death, I am still less disposed to pardon the sovereign that could thus excite into undue action a sensibility, the effects of which led its victim to the grave.
The diamond-mounted tabatiere now on my table once occupied a place on that of the Marquise de Rambouillet, in that hotel so celebrated, not only for the efforts made by its coterie towards refining the manners and morals of her day, but the language also, until the affectation to which its members carried their notions of purity, exposed them to a ridicule that tended to subvert the influence they had previously exercised over society.
Moliere—the inimitable Moliere—may have been permitted the high distinction of taking a pinch of snuff from it, while planning his Precieuses Ridicules, which, malgre his disingenuous disavowal of the satire being aimed at the Hotel Rambouillet, evidently found its subject there. I cannot look at the snuff-box without being reminded of the brilliant circle which its former mistress assembled around her, and among which Moliere had such excellent opportunities of studying the peculiarities of the class he subsequently painted.
Little did its members imagine, when he was admitted to it, the use he would make of the privilege; and great must have been their surprise and mortification, though not avowed, at the first representation of the Precieuses Ridicules, in which many of them must have discovered the resemblance to themselves, though the clever author professed only to ridicule their imitators. Les Femmes Savantes, though produced many years subsequently, also found the originals of its characters in the same source whence Moliere painted Les Precieuses Ridicules.
I can fancy him slily listening to the theme proposed to the assembly by Mademoiselle Scudery—the Sarraides, as she was styled—“Whether a lover jealous, a lover despised, a lover separated from the object of his tenderness, or him who has lost her by death, was to be esteemed the most unhappy.”