S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
Madame de Maintenon
[Françoise dAubigné, Marquise de Maintenon; born of French Calvinist parents, 1635; married Scarron the poet, 1652; governess of the Duc de Maine, son of Louis XIV., 1670; was secretly married to the king, 1685, over whom she gained a complete ascendency; founded a school for girls at St. Cyr; died 1719.]
I always send him away in sorrow, never in despair (Je le renvoie toujours affligé, et jamais désespéré).
Of the suit of Louis XIV. The principle which governed her relations to the king is shown by her maxim, Nothing is more adroit than irreproachable conduct (Rien nest plus adroit quune conduite irréprochable). It was the web of Penelope, says Sainte-Beuve, which was to last eleven years. Another of her maxims was, that delicacy is to love what grace is to beauty.
When, however, she had attained the highest position her ambition could have envied, she showed by many remarks,which she does not seem to have made in confidence,how hollow was the grandeur of the unacknowledged wife of Louis XIV. On one occasion, after her social position had been improved by her appointment at court, she was told that the carp languished and died in the clear water of the fountains of Versailles. They are like me, she said: they regret their mud (Elles sont comme moi: elles regrettent leur bourbe). At another time she compared her opulence at Versailles to her previous misery: I do not find my bed better than my cradle (Je ne trouve pas mon lit meilleur que mon berceau).
In a letter to her brother in 1684, the year before she succeeded in extorting a secret marriage from the king, she said, Save those who fill the highest stations, I know of none more unfortunate than those who envy them.
None think the great unhappy, but the great.
YOUNG: Love of Fame, Satire I. 238.
Mme. de Maintenon never forgot her origin, although her manner was marked by an extreme dignity. She once showed, however, signs of fatigue in her old age on a state occasion at St. Cyr, when it was remarked that she did not bear herself like the great; she replied, I am not great, but simply elevated (Je ne suis pas grande, je suis seulement élevée). But at another time she refused to allow a screen to be placed before her as a protection from the cold, because the king would be offended at that lack of ceremonious appearance: We must perish symmetrically, she said (Il faut périr en symétrie).
She may have found the ennui of the ceremonious ritual of court life less tolerable than the straitness of the house of Scarron, or the humiliation of a pensioner of Anne of Austria. The secret of many a life of gilded wretchedness is disclosed by such a remark as this of Mme. de Maintenon: Philosophy may raise us above grandeur, but nothing can elevate us above the ennui which accompanies it. The task she had undertaken, when Louis XIV. had grown old and fretful, would have been impossible to one endowed with less tact and versatility. I have seen her, said Mlle. dAumale, divert the king by a thousand inventions for four hours together, without repetition, yawning, or slander. But it is a sad task, Mme. de Maintenon once exclaimed to her brother, to amuse a man who is no longer amusable! (quelle corvée davoir à amuser un homme qui nest plus amusable!) All the comfort she received from her complaint was the reply, Did you promise to marry the Almighty? (Avez-vous donc promis dépouser Dieu le Père?)