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Letters

madame, paris, vols, grignan, daughter, sevigne and francoise

LETTERS, The, of Marie de Rabutin Chantal, Marquise de Sevigne (1626-96), pre sent a correspondence of rare historical, social and personal interest in a style seldom ap proached in vivacity, limpidity and deftness. Some letters from others are included and the collection is extended beyond Madame de Se vigne's life, but of her own there are more than 1,100, extending from 1644 to within a few days of her death. Far the greater part of the letters are addressed to her daughter, Francoise Marguerite, Comtesse de Grignan (1646-1705), who handed down the collection to her own daughter, Madame de Simiane. Meantime many of the letters had appeared in connection with the correspondence of Madame de Sivigne's cousin, Bussy-Rabutin, in 1696 and 1697. Seven unauthorized and partial editions appeared between 1725 and 1728. Madame de Simiane, destroying her mother's letters, which she feared savored of Jansenism, committed her grandmother's to Chevalier de Perrin, who issued six volumes of them between 1734 and 1737, a seventh in 1751 and a second edition in eight volumes in 1754. He is thought to have used more editorial zeal than restraint. Most of the original letters were destroyed. The few that remain are now printed as they were written. The interest of the correspond ence centres in the letters to Francoise," who married the Comte de Grignan in 1669. He was made lieutenant-general of Provence in 1670. Francoise followed him there in 1671. Mother and daughter visited one another in Paris and at Grignan from time to time, sometimes for long periods. Madame de Sevigne died and was buried at Grignan. When separated from Francoise she wrote copiously and often, in a hand that suggests an easy writer. Most of the letters are long, and 15 a month is in the early years nothing extraordinary. Love for this daughter was the absorbing passion of her life. But she was, as M. de Grignan said after her death, delightful companion* and her letters are companionable still. She had been carefully educated. Chapelain and Menage were among her tutors. She had meditated Tacitus and had Italian and Spanish poets at command for apt citation. She was wealthy. She had and appreciated shrewd business coun sel and had no illusions whither the extrava gances of Versailles and the courtier nobles were leading the Old Regime. She was fond

of society and moved easily in its highest circles, with La Rochefoucauld, Fouquet, the Cardinal de Retz and Madame de La Fayette among her intimates. She was exceptionally well informed of all that was going on before and behind political and military scenes. Her letters are thus of great value to the student of French character, for the attitude toward monarchy and the Church in the early years of Louis XIV and for the economic origins of the French Revolution. Wishing to tell all she thought, felt, heard and saw, she brought to the pleasant task a unique gift of style in which art blends subtly with nature. Writ ten from Paris, from her uncle's abbey at Livry. from the baths of Vichy or her country house, Les Rochers, near Vitre in Brittany, the letters show sides of life and manners, of court and people, that elude the formal histo rian. They are also wonderfully entertaining, full of anecdote, witty sayings, sprightly gossip and genial fancies. They had become noted before her death and, long before official pub lication, had been held up as epistolatory models in a Latin poem 'Ratio conscribendm epistolm.) They are best edited by Monmerque, Regnier, Mesnard and Sommer (14 vols., and an album of portraits, pictures of houses and facsimiles of . letters, Paris 1862-68) ; more conven iently by Silvestre de Sacy (11 vols., Paris 1861-63). Among many partial editions a vol ume of translations by Mrs. Ritchie (Phila delphia, n. d.), Masson's 'Selections) (Oxford, n.d.) and 'Lewes Choisies> (New York 1905), may be mentioned. Edward Fitzgerald's post humous 'Dictionary of Madame de (2 vols., London 1914) is very helpful. Good brief appreciations are given in biographies by Gaston Boissier (Paris 1888) and Miss Thackeray (Edinburgh 1881). The fullest memoir is by Walckemaer (5 vols., Paris 1845-52), the best is by Mesnard (in Vol. I of Monmerque's edition, pp. 1-316). Consult also Puliga, 'Madame de Sevigne, her Correspond ents and Contemporaries (2 vols., London 1873) and Aldis, J., (Madame de Sevigne, Queen of Letter Writers) (New York 1907).