I am not of those women void
Who, savoring in crime the joys of peace,
Harden their faces till they cannot blush!
The whole house rose and burst forth into tremendous applause. Adrienne had won, for the woman who had tried to shame her rose in trepidation and hurried from the theater.
But the end was not yet. Those were evil times, when dark deeds were committed by the great almost with impunity. Secret poisoning was a common trade. To remove a rival was as usual a thing in the eighteenth century as to snub a rival is usual in the twentieth.
Not long afterward, on the night of March 15, 1730, Adrienne Lecouvreur was acting in one of Voltaire’s plays with all her power and instinctive art when suddenly she was seized with the most frightful pains. Her anguish was obvious to every one who saw her, and yet she had the courage to go through her part. Then she fainted and was carried home.
Four days later she died, and her death was no less dramatic than her life had been. Her lover and two friends of his were with her, and also a Jesuit priest. He declined to administer extreme unction unless she would declare that she repented of her theatrical career. She stubbornly refused, since she believed that to be the greatest actress of her time was not a sin. Yet still the priest insisted.
Then came the final moment.
“Weary and revolting against this death, this destiny, she stretched her arms with one of the old lovely gestures toward a bust which stood near by and cried—her last cry of passion:
“‘There is my world, my hope—yes, and my God!’”
The bust was one of Maurice de Saxe.
The royal families of Europe are widely known, yet not all of them are equally renowned. Thus, the house of Romanoff, although comparatively young, stands out to the mind with a sort of barbaric power, more vividly than the Austrian house of Hapsburg, which is the oldest reigning family in Europe, tracing its beginnings backward until they are lost in the Dark Ages. The Hohenzollerns of Prussia are comparatively modern, so far as concerns their royalty. The offshoots of the Bourbons carry on a very proud tradition in the person of the King of Spain, although France, which has been ruled by so many members of the family, will probably never again behold a Bourbon king. The deposed Braganzas bear a name which is ancient, but which has a somewhat tinsel sound.
The Bonapartes, of course, are merely parvenus, and they have had the good taste to pretend to no antiquity of birth. The first Napoleon, dining at a table full of monarchs, when he heard one of them deferentially alluding to the Bonaparte family as being very old and noble, exclaimed:
“Pish! My nobility dates from the day of Marengo!”
And the third Napoleon, in announcing his coming marriage with Mlle. de Montijo, used the very word “parvenu” in speaking of himself and of his family. His frankness won the hearts of the French people and helped to reconcile them to a marriage in which the bride was barely noble.