It was about this time that the dramatist received the keenest blow which he had experienced hi his lifetime, and which broke his heart. Madame de Maintenon was his warm friend, and was extremely fond of his society. The country was at that time in great distress, and she conversed with the poet upon the subject. She was much pleased with his observations, and asked him to commit them to paper, promising that what he should write should be seen by no eye but her own. He complied with her request, and while she was one day reading his essay, the king suddenly entered, and casting his eye upon the paper, demanded the name of the author. Madame de Maintenon broke her promise, and gave the name of the writer. The king was very angry, and asked, “Does he think that he knows everything because he writes verses?”
Madame de Maintenon saw at once that the king was much displeased, and felt it to be her duty to inform the poet, that he might stay away from court for a while, until the monarch’s anger died away. Racine was plunged into the deepest distress, and grew daily weak and ill. He wandered over the park of Versailles, hoping to accidentally meet Madame de Maintenon, for she did not dare to receive him publicly. He at length met her, and she promised that she would yet bring pleasanter days to the poet—that the cloud would soon pass away. He replied with great melancholy that no fair weather would return for him.
One day, while in his study, he was seized with a sudden illness, and was obliged to take at once to his bed. An abscess in his liver had closed, though this was not known at the time. His disease grew very painful, and he became more patient and resigned. As death drew near, his original sweetness of disposition came back to him, and his deep melancholy fled away. The nobles of the court gathered around his bed-side, and the king sent to make inquiries as to his condition. He arranged all his pecuniary affairs. Boileau was with him, and when he bade him farewell, he said, “I look on it as a happiness that I die before you.”
When the physicians had discovered the abscess in his liver, they resolved upon an operation, and he consented, though with no hope of saving his life. He said, “The physicians try to give me hope, and God could restore me; but the work of death is done.” In three more days he expired, in his sixtieth year. Thus lived and died one of the most brilliant men in the history of France.
THE FABULIST—THE INFIDEL—THE COMIC WRITER