« VorigeDoorgaan »
No. LXII. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 11.
TO THE AUTHOR OF THE MIRROR.
WHEN I was in Languedoc, many years ago, I had an invitation to a great entertainment given by the intendant. The company was very numerous; and, several foreigners happened to be present, the natives vied with each other in displaying their own importance. The conversation chanced to turn on the campaign of Marshal de Villars against the people of the Cévennes ; and some of the guests were old enough to remember the events of those times.
** M. de la Tour le Colombier, my father,” said an old lady, " had connections with many of the most « considerable Calvinists; and, after their defeat, « he generously afforded an asylum to M. Cavalier " and three hundred and sixty four of his followers.
They were concealed among old ruins in a large “ forest which lay behind my father's Chateau, and
composed part of his domain. None of the ser“vants of the family were let into the secret, ex
cepting one of my own maids, a sensible, handy
girl ; she and I went every day, and carried pro« visions to the whole band, and we dressed the " wounds of such of them as had been wounded in "the action. We did this, day after day, for a
fortnight, or rather, if I remember right, for near “ three weeks. Minute circumstances are apt to
escape one's memory, after an interval of many years; but I shall never forget the gratitude of " those poor people, and the ardent thanks which “they bestowed on 'us when they went away
and “ dispersed themselves."
I took the liberty of observing, that the provisions necessary for so many mouths might possibly
have been missed in the family, and that this might have led to a discovery. « Not at all,” replied she. “ Feu M. mon Père se piquoit toujours de tenir “ bonne table, c'estoit sa marcêtte même (my fa“ ther, who is now gone, always made a point of " living handsomely; that was even his hobby“ horse.) But indeed I recollect," continued she, “ that we were once 'very near being discovered. “ The wives of some of the fugitives had heard, I “ I know not how, that their husbands lay concealed “ near my father's Chateau. They came and “ searched, and actually discovered the lurking “ place. Unfortunately they brought a good many 6 children along with them ; and as we had no eat6 ables fit for the little creatures, they began to pule " and cry, which might have alarmed the neighbour6 hood. It happened that M. Cavalier, the general “ of the insurgents, had been a journeyman pastry" cook before the war. He presently made some " prune tarts for the children, and so quieted them. 6. This was
a proof of his good-nature, as well as 6 of his singular presence of mind in critical situa« tions. Candour obliges me to bear so ample tes6 timony in favour of a heretic and a rebel."
We had scarcely time to draw breath after this story, when a mean-looking elderly man said, with the affectation of modest dignity, “ I had the hap" piness to be known to M. de Villars, and he was “ pleased greatly to over-rate my poor services. On
a certain occasion, he did me the honour to present “6 me with a horse of the unmixed Arabian breed, " and a wonderful animal it was,” Then addressing himself to Lady W........., “I much doubt, mi “ Ledi, whether it could have been matched in your " country, so justly celebrated for fine women and “ horses..... One evening, while I was in garrison • at Pont St. Esprit, I took him out to exercise. “ Being in high spirits and excellent wind, he went
« off at an easy gallop, and did not stop till he “ brought me to the gates of Montpelier (between “ twenty and thirty leagues distant,) and there, to 6 my no small surprize, I found the dean and the “ whole faculty of medicine standing in their gowns " to receive me. The dean made a long harangue « ip Latin, of which, to say the truth, I understood « not one word ; and then, in name of his brethren, “ put into my hands a diploma of doctor of physic, « with the usual powers of curing, and so forth. He “ would have me to partake of an entertainment « prepared for the occasion : but I did not chuse to sleep out of garrison : so I just ordered iny
horse 6 to be rubbed down, gave him a single feed, moun« ted again, and got back to Pont St. Esprit, as they " were shutting the gates. Perhaps I have dwelt
too long on the praises of my horse ; but soine6 thing must be allowed for the prejudices of edu“ cation ; an old horse-officer (un ancien Capitaine " de Cavalerie) is naturally prolix, when his horse
chances to be the subject of discourse."
To will you give me leave to ask the name of your horse?” “ .... The question was unexpected ..... Upon my 6 word,” said he, “ I do not remember his name. « Oh! now I recollect; I called him Alexander, 6 after M. de Villars, the poble donor : that M. de * Villars was
a great man,”...." True ; but his . « Christian name was Hector."...“ Was it Hector ? 6 then depend upon it, my horse had the same 6. Christian name (nom de Baptire] as M. de Vil. 6 lars."
My curiosity led me afterwards to enquire into the history of the gentleman who “ always made a 1.6 point of living handsomely ;" and of the old 2 horse-officer whom M. de Villars so much distin. - guished..
The former was a person of honourable birth, and had served, as the French express it, with reputation. On his quitting the army, he retired to a small paternal estate, and lived in a decent way, with most scrupulous economy. His Chateau had been ruined during the wars of the League, and nothing remaining of it but one turret, converted into a pigeon-house. As that was the most remarkable object on his estate, he was generally known by the name of “ M. de la Tour la Colombier." His mansion-house was little better than that of a middling farmer in the south of England. The forest of which his daughter spoke, was a copse of three or four acres ; and the ruins in which Cavalier and his associates lay concealed, had been originally a place of worship of the Protestants; but was demolished when those eminent divines; Lewis XIV. and Ma. dame de Maintenon, thought fit that all France should be of one religion; and, as that edifice had not received consecration from a person episcopally ordained, the owner made no scruple of accommodating two or three calves in it, when his cowhouse happened to be crowded ; and this is all that I could learn of M. de la Tour le Colombier.
As for “ the old horse-officer," he had served with eclat in the corps 'established for repressing smugglers of tobacco. This recommended him to the notice of the farmers general; and by theirinterest, he obtained an office that gave him a seat at those great tables to which all the world is invited ; and he had lived so very long in this station that the meanness of his original seemed to have been forgotten by most people, and especially by himself.
Those ridiculous stories which excited mirth when I first heard them, afterwards afforded matter for, much serious reflection.
It is wonderful that any one should tell things impossible, with the hope of being credited; and yet the two personages, whose legends I have related, must have entertained that hope.
Neither is it less wonderful that invention should be stretched to the utmost, in order to persuade mere strangers to think highly of the importance of the relater.
Ma'amoiselle de la Tour le Colombier, and the old horse-officer, had not seen us before, and had little chance of ever seeing us again. We were the acquaintance of the day, entertained without affection, and parted from without regret; and yet what pains did they take to leave on our minds the impression of their consequence !
The country where this scene lay is the land of the nativity of romance ; and it is probable that warm suns and pure skies enliven and fertilize the invention of its inhabitants. But romance, for I will not give it a harsher name, thrives not in the bleaker and more northern climates : there it is forced fruit, without that flavour which it has in its own soil.
We can as little rival the French in their ease of behaviour, and in the inexhaustible talent of enunciating trifles with grace, as in their colloquial romances. How do I feel for my countrymen, on observing them toil through a romance, compose sentence by sentence as they go on, hesitate with the consciousness of doing wrong, stare like a criminal, at once abashed and obdurate, and at length produce a story as tedious and dull as truth.
I am, &c.