An Entertainment at the House of M. Montesquiou at Neuilly
(Extracts from the Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon)
A few days later, Montesquiou requested my presence at his home in Neuilly, in the neighbourhood of M. the Duc d'Orléans, which he wished to show me. I found myself in the company of the Ducs de Luynes, de Noailles, de Lorges, de Gramont, the Duchesses de La Rochefoucauld and de Rohan. He was son to T. de Montesquiou who was closely acquainted with my father and of whom I have spoken in another place, and the man of the greatest wit that I have ever known, with a princely air second to none, the most noble in face, sometimes smiling agreeably and sometimes deeply serious, at forty years old the figure of a man of twenty, slender in body, which does not quite say it all, arched in the back and as if thrown backwards, which inclined forward to tell the truth when the fancy suddenly took him with great affability and obeisances of all kind, but returned just as quickly to his natural position which was all pride, haughtiness, intransigence to bend for nobody and yield to nothing, to the extent of walking straight ahead without a thought of giving way, pushing others aside without appearing to notice, or if he wanted to give offence, making it manifest that he saw them, being in his path, always with great haste and surrounded by people of the highest quality and wit to whom he sometimes bowed to his right and left, but more often giving them, as the saying goes, the cold shoulder, without looking their way, eyes looking straight ahead, speaking at great volume and clarity to those of his intimates who laughed loudly at all his drolleries, and with considerable reason, as I have said, because he was possessed of more wit than could ever be imagined. With this he combined the most serious, the most singular, the most brilliant mind, with a grace that was uniquely his and that all those who came near him, often without wishing to and sometimes without realizing it, tried to copy and assume, but none succeeded, or else they would let slip into their opinions, into their speech and almost in their manner of writing and the sound of voice which in him was both extremely singular and beautiful, like a varnish of his that is immediately recognized and shows in its light and indelible surface, that it was as hard to resist imitating him as it was difficult to succeed in doing so. We shall speak in due time about his poetry, that hardly any entertainment at Versailles, Sceaux and elsewhere failed to be adorned with. And for several years, as the duchesses had become accustomed to betake themselves there, the ladies from town imitated them by a well-known contrivance, by having actors come to recite them, with the design of luring some of the duchesses there, many of whom would go to the house of the Great Nobleman rather than abstain from applauding them there. There was that day no recital at his house in Neuilly, but the concourse, such as there only ever was at his house, of both the most renowned of poets and the most honourable persons from the best of society, and, on his part, to everyone, and before all the objects in his house, a host of observations that he made, in that language so particular to himself as I have described, admirable with very many singular touches such that one of them alone would have been sufficient to make into a play, before which all those present stopped in amazement.
Oft times there was in his company a Spaniard by the name of Yturri whom I had known at the time of my diplomatic mission in Madrid, as has already been reported. At a time when everybody else scarcely ever put forward an opinion other than to have his merits noticed he had, very rare in all truthfulness, that of putting all of his talents into making those of the count burst forth, to assist him in all his researches, in his relations with his publishers, to the extent of the supervision of his table, finding no task too irksome so long as it spared his master one, his own task being no less, one might say, than to listen to and make the words of Montesquiou reverberate far and wide, as did the disciples with whom the ancient Sophists were accustomed to be in constant company, as is evident from the writings of Aristotle and the discourses of Plato. This Yturri had preserved the fiery nature of his countrymen, who do nothing without a great commotion, for which Montesquiou reproved him very often and very humorously, to the amusement of all and first and foremost of Yturri himself, who laughingly excused himself on account of the passion of his race yet took care to do nothing about it, because everybody liked him that way. He was a connoisseur second to none in antique objects, of which many people took advantage by going to see him and to consult him about them, even in the seclusion our two hermits adopted for themselves and which was situated, as I have said, at Neuilly, close to the house of M. the Duc d'Orléans.
Montesquiou's invitations were very few and very select, only the best and the most grand, but not always the same ones, and by design, because he played very much at being king, offering favours and disfavours to the point of shameful injustice, but all this supported by a merit beyond comparison and acknowledged by all, that others overlooked in him, - but some however were invited very faithfully and very regularly, so that one was almost always certain of finding them at his house when he hosted an entertainment, like the Duchesse de Rohan, as I have said previously, Mme de Clermont-Tonnerre, who was the daughter of Gramont, granddaughter of the celebrated secretary of state, sister of the Duc de Guiche, who was very much inclined, as we have seen, toward mathematics and painting, and Mme Greffulhe, who was a Chimay, of the famous princely house of the counts of Bossut. Their name is Hennin-Liétard and I have already spoken about the Prince de Chimay, on whom the Elector of Bavaria had the Golden Fleece bestowed by Charles II and who became my son-in-law, thanks to the Duchesse Sforze, after the death of his first wife, daughter of the Duc de Nevers. He was no less attached to Mme de Brantes, daughter of Cessac, of whom it as already been spoken quite often, and of her face as fine as a portrait, and who will reappear many times in the course of these memoirs, and always with any number of well-deserved eulogies, and to the Duchesse de La Roche-Guyon and de Fezensac, the latter being no longer that but being from the house of Montesquiou. I have already spoken enough about their amusing fancy of being descended from Pharamond, as if their antiquity were not great enough and well-known enough not to need to scribble fables, and also about the Duc de La Roche-Guyon, eldest son of the Duc de La Rochefoucauld and ward of his two charges, of the strange present he received from M. the Duc d'Orléans, of his nobility in avoiding the trap that the cunning villainy of the first president of Mesmes set for him and of the marriage of his son with Mlle de Toiras. One also very often saw there Mme de Noailles, wife of the youngest brother of the Duc d'Ayen, today the Duc de Noailles, whose mother is La Ferté. But I will have occasion to speak of her at greater length as the woman of the finest poetic genius ever seen this century and probably all others, who has renewed, and one might even say increased the miracle of the celebrated Sévigné. Everyone knows that what I say of her is pure fair-mindedness, it being well enough known by everyone what terms I came to with the Duc de Noailles, nephew of the cardinal and husband of Mlle d'Aubigné, niece of Mme de Maintenon, and I have expiated sufficiently in its place about his underhand dealings against me to the point of making himself along with Canillac an advocate to the state councillors against people of quality, his skill at deceiving his uncle the cardinal, in attacking the chancellor Daguesseau, in courting Effiat and the Rohans, of lavishing the enormous indulgences of M. the Duc d'Orléans onto the Comte d'Armagnac to have him marry his daughter, after having failed to procure for her the eldest son of the Duc d'Albret. But I have spoken too much about all that to return to it, of his dark schemes concerning Law, and also of the conspiracy of the Duc and Duchesse du Maine. Quite otherwise, and of quite a different breed, was Mathieu de Noailles, who married the woman in question here, and whom her talent has made famous. She was the daughter of Brancovan, reigning prince of Wallachia, which they call there Hospodar, and had as much beauty as genius. Her mother was a Musurus, which is the name of a very noble family, one of the foremost in Greece, made illustrious by numerous and distinguished ambassadorships and by the friendship of one of those Musuruses with the famous Erasmus. She was the pride of a husband who found the means, in spite of the blinding brilliance of such a woman to extinguish, quite against his will, all merit surrounding her, to allow to appear as his own person, to tell the truth, most rare and most distinguished, and the most honest man that I have ever seen in my life. But he will be spoken about in his own time.
Being a faithful and true copy:
Appeared in Le Figaro 18 January 1904.
Much of this piece was incorporated by Proust in a later pastiche - L'Affaire Lemoine: Dans les Mémoires de Saint-Simon.
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