I was fifteen years of age when I was appointed reader to Mesdames. I will begin by describing the Court at that period.
Maria Leczinska was just dead; the death of the Dauphin had preceded hers by three years; the Jesuits were suppressed, and piety was to be found at Court only in the apartments of Mesdames. The Duc de Choiseuil ruled.
Etiquette still existed at Court with all the forms it had acquired under Louis XIV.; dignity alone was wanting. As to gaiety, there was none. Versailles was not the place at which to seek for assemblies where French spirit and grace were displayed. The focus of wit and intelligence was Paris.
The King thought of nothing but the pleasures of the chase: it might have been imagined that the courtiers indulged themselves in making epigrams by hearing them say seriously, on those days when the King did not hunt, “The King does nothing to-day.”—[In sporting usance (see SOULAIRE, p. 316).]
The arrangement beforehand of his movements was also a matter of great importance with Louis XV. On the first day of the year he noted down in his almanac the days of departure for Compiegne, Fontainebleau, Choisy, etc. The weightiest matters, the most serious events, never deranged this distribution of his time.
Since the death of the Marquise de Pompadour, the King had no titled mistress; he contented himself with his seraglio in the Parc-aux-Cerfs. It is well known that the monarch found the separation of Louis de Bourbon from the King of France the most animating feature of his royal existence. “They would have it so; they thought it for the best,” was his way of expressing himself when the measures of his ministers were unsuccessful. The King delighted to manage the most disgraceful points of his private expenses himself; he one day sold to a head clerk in the War Department a house in which one of his mistresses had lodged; the contract ran in the name of Louis de Bourbon, and the purchaser himself took in a bag the price of the house in gold to the King in his private closet.
[Until recently little was known about the Parc-aux-Cerfs, and it was believed that a great number of young women had been maintained there at enormous expense. The investigations of M. J. A. Le Roi, given in his interesting work, “Curiosites Historiques sur Louis XIII., Louis XIV., Louis XV.,” etc., Paris, Plon, 1864, have thrown fresh light upon the matter. The result he arrives at (see page 229 of his work) is that the house in question (No. 4 Rue St. Mederic, on the site of the Parc-aux-Cerfs, or breeding-place for deer, of Louis XIII) was very small, and could have held only one girl, the woman in charge of her, and a servant. Most of the girls left it only when about to be confined, and it sometimes stood vacant for five or six months. It may have been rented before the date of purchase,