S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
Madame de Pompadour
[Jeanne Antoinette Poisson; born in Paris, 1721; married M. dÉtioles, a tax-gatherer; attracted the favor of Louis XV., who gave her the title of Marquise de Pompadour, 1745; retained a dominant influence over him till her death in 1764, among other things forming the coalition of France and Austria against Frederick the Great.]
The nonchalant mot, After us the deluge, which paints the character of the reign of Louis XV., is now conceded to the mistress of the king, on the authority of the Memoirs of Mme. de Hausset, 1824, p. 19. La Tour, painter to Louis XV., states in his correspondence, that, when engaged in painting the Pompadours portrait, the king entered the room in a state of great dejection, consequent upon the loss of the battle of Rossbach, in which Frederick the Great gained an important victory over the combined French and Austrians, Nov. 5, 1757. The marquise told him he must not lose his spirits, because he would fall ill, and, moreover, it is no matter: après nous le déluge. La Tour remembered the remark, and when the king was gone told the marquise it was better the king fell sick, rather than that his heart should be hardened.
Sainte-Beuve says that in the midst of the contemptible deceptions and frivolities of the court, a vague and sinister foreboding haunted the king, like anticipated remorse. After us the deluge, said the marquise. Things will last our time, rejoined the careless king.
Of the wretched woman whose senseless counsels lost France some of her fairest colonies, Douglas Jerrold says that it may reasonably be doubted that her brain originated the mot in question, for it was not an order of brain that packs wisdom in few syllables. Larousse (Fleurs Historiques), who attributes it to the king, alludes to the state of France towards the end of the reign of Louis XV., when the spirit of inquiry had shaken the foundations of the social structure, and the excesses of the court had tarnished the prestige of royalty. No one saw the drift of events more clearly than the king. His better instincts, however, were stifled by his indolence and egotism, until the remonstrances of the clergy and the bar at the corruption of the times made him exclaim one day to Mme. de Pompadour, I am wearied by the quarrels of priests and lawyers: they will end by destroying the state; they are assemblies of republicans. However, things will last my time. Berri [afterwards Louis XVI.] may extricate himself as best he may: après mot le déluge.
Whoever may have said it, the original form of the expression comes to us but little altered from the line of an unknown Greek poet, which was often quoted by the misanthropic Tiberius, After my death, perish the world by fire! which Nero altered to Nay, in my lifetime! and laid half Rome in ashes.
However clearly Louis XV. may have seen the coming storm (and Fournier quotes a letter of the king to Mme. du Barry, in which he expresses his fears of the republican people), he evidently did not sympathize with humanitarian views; for he once gave his grandson a box on the ear for uttering such sentiments, adding, with involuntary prophecy, You will lose your crown one day or other, if you talk at this rate.
On the day of Mme. de Pompadours death, after the last sacraments had been administered to her as she lay on a state-bed, dressed in silk, and with painted cheeks, she stopped the curé of the Madeleine by saying, Wait a moment, sir, and we will leave together (Attendez un moment, M. le Curé, nous en irons ensemble).
Nothing is better authenticated than the indifferent remark with which the king perceived that it was raining hard on the day when her remains were to be taken from Versailles to Paris: The marquise has a very unpleasant day for her journey (Mme. la Marquise naura pas beau temps pour son voyage).Nouvelle Biog. Univ. In comparison with the cruel observation attributed to Louis XIII. concerning his friend Cinq-Mars (see Louis XIII.), Sainte-Beuve finds the mot of Louis XV. of a sensibility almost touching.Causeries du Lundi, II. 471.