But though Madame La Fontaine was guiltless in this affair, her character was by no means above reproach. She was giddy and thoughtless, and fond of the society of gentlemen, and made a poor wife for the poet. But she had an excuse. La Fontaine bestowed upon her no attention, deserted her for weeks together, and was guilty of amours with other women. He possessed a wretched memory, and was given to astonishing absences of mind. The duchess of Bouillon left him one morning walking in the open air, with a favorite book in his hand. At night he was still there, though it had been raining hard for some time.
His acquaintance with the duchess of Bouillon was of great service to him. Had it not been for her he would probably never have left Thierry. She was at that time in the country, being disgraced and exiled from court. She was gay, witty, and fond of poetry. Chancing to read some lines of La Fontaine, she sent for him, and at once saw his genius, and suggested that he should write tales and fables. When the duchess was allowed to return to Paris she took La Fontaine with her, and he was at once introduced into the most brilliant society. The duchess of Mazarin, sister to the duchess of Bouillon, was also his warm friend; and with the friendship of the two sisters he had no lack of attention. He became acquainted with Moliere, Boileau, and Racine, and was warmly attached to them until death invaded the circle.
The circles which La Fontaine frequented were amused by his great eccentricities. He was often seized with his absences of mind, and great sport was made of him. But Moliere was in the habit of saying at such times, “The good man will take a flight beyond them,”—a prediction which proved perfectly true, for the name of La Fontaine will live longer than that of any of his companions.
Boileau and Racine remonstrated with La Fontaine for having separated from his wife. Simple as he was, he believed what they told him—that it was his duty to return to her. He very soon came back, and when he was asked why he came back so soon, he replied, “I did not see her!”
“How,” they asked, “was she from home?”
“Yes,” he replied; “she was gone to prayers, and the servant not knowing me, would not let me stay in the house until she returned.”
The fabulist and his wife were so extravagant and careless in their habits, that in a very short time the property of La Fontaine was wasted away. Foquet, the minister, pensioned him, and he remembered him always after. When Foquet was banished, La Fontaine solicited his pardon, but the king was incapable of forgiving an enemy, and changed the sentence to solitary confinement for life. The succeeding minister took away La Fontaine’s pension, as might have been expected.