26 september 2012

Mitford: de entourage van Lodewijk XIV

In 1966 publiceerde Nancy Mitford The Sun King: Louis XIV at Versailles. Als ik het me goed herinner, eiste de Gaulle dat zijn ministers het lazen. Het opsporen en beschrijven van de kleurrijkste personages rond de Zonnekoning was Mitford wel toevertrouwd. Over de broer en de drie zusters Mortemart, van wie Athénaïs een van de maîtresses van de koning was, schreef zij:
‘You know,’ the King once said to his sister-in-law, ‘I like clever, amusing people’ (les gens d’esprit). This was true of him all his life. Nobody could have been cleverer and more amusing than Athénaïs de Montespan and the other members of the Mortemart family. She, her two sisters and their brother were always together; they were extremely brilliant. They had a way of talking which has unfortunately never been precisely described but which people found irresistible. Their lazy, languishing, wailing voices would build up an episode, piling unexpected exaggerations upon comic images until the listeners were helpless with laughter. Among themselves they used a private language. They were malicious, but good-natured; they never really harmed anybody; they liked laughing and had the precious gift of making other people sparkle.

Over Monsieur, hertog van Orléans, de broer van de koning:
In his youth Monsieur was partial to battles. He would arrive rather late on the field, having got himself up to kill; painted, powdered, all his eyelashes stuck together; covered with ribbons and diamonds – hatless. He never would wear a hat for fear of flattening his wig. Once in action he was as brave as a lion, only afraid of what the sun and dust might do to his complexion; and he proved an excellent strategist. But he soon found warfare too fatiguing; he was the only member of his family not to require violent exercise; he never went out hunting and seldom put his nose out of doors if he could help it.
En ten slotte over het hoofd van de politie:
Daubray was succeeded as chief of police by La Reynie, the right person in the right place, one of those men, brilliant, rich, urbane, who were a feature of Louis XIV’s administration. Such was the total confidence placed in him by the King that he turned the Lieutenancy of the Police into a sort of extra ministry; he was in a position to do an infinite amount of good or evil to the highest in the land, while humble folk were in his power. He did as little harm as possible to anybody and instead of being loathed, as policemen generally are, he was universally esteemed. During the thirty years of his office he wrought miracles in Paris, cleaning it physically and morally; he found a filthy medieval town, a cesspool of vice and left the best administered city in the world. He took the part of sad people such as beggars and vagabonds and did what he could to help them; he made arrangements for the numerous foundlings who were dumped in churches, or in open spaces, and had often hitherto been left to die of exposure. Before the Revocation, he protected Protestants and their churches against the persecution of their Catholic neighbours; even after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, he went as far as he dared to save them from the worst. He was a bibliophile, he collected and collated Greek and Latin manuscripts.
Je krijgt meteen zin om dikke biografieën over die mensen te lezen, niet?
(N. Mitford, The Sun King (1966); gecit. n. ed. Vintage (2011), pp. 25, 36, 64-65.)

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