EPISTLE TO THE COUNT DE GRAMMONT,
BY ANTHONY HAMILTON,
In his own and his Brother's Name,*
O! THOU, the glory of the shore,
Where Corisanda + saw the day,
The blessed abode of Menodore;
Thou, whom the fates have doom'd to stray
Far from that pleasant shore away,
On which the sun, at parting, smiles,
Ere, gliding o'er the Pyrenees,
Spain's tawny visages he sees,
And sinks behind the happy isles;
Thou, who of mighty monarch's court
So long hast shone unerring star,
Unmatch'd in earnest or in sport,
In love, in frolic, and in war!
To you, Sir, this invocation must needs be addressed; for whom else could it suit? But you may be puzzled even to guess who invokes you, since you have heard nothing of us for an age, and since so long an absence may have utterly banished us from your recollection. Yet we venture to flatter ourselves it may be otherwise.
For who was e'er forgot by thee?
Witness, at Lérida, Don Brice,*
And Barcelona's lady nice,
Donna Ragueza, fair and free;
Witness, too, Boniface at Breda,
And Catalonia and Gasconne,
From Bourdeaux walls to far Bayonne,
From Perpignan to Pueycreda,
And we your friends of fair Garonne.
Even in these distant and peaceful regions, we hear, by daily report, that you are more agreeable, more unequalled, and more marvellous than ever. Our country neighbours, great news-mongers, apprized by their correspondents of the lively sallies with which you surprise the court, often ask us if you are not the grandson of that famous Chevalier de Grammont, of whom such wonders are recorded in the History of the Civil Wars? Indignant that your identity should be disputed in a country where your name is so well known, we had formed a plan of giving some faint sketch of your merits and history. But who were we, that we should attempt the task? With talents naturally but indifferent, and now rusted by long interruption of all intercourse with the court, how were it possible for us to display taste and politeness, excelling all that is to be found elsewhere, and which yet must be attributes of those fit to make you their theme?
Can mediocrity avail,
To follow forth such high emprize?
In vain our zeal to please you tries,
Where noblest talents well might fail:
Where loftiest bards might yield the pen,
And own 'twere rash to dare,
'Tis meet that country gentlemen
Be silent in despair.
We therefore limited our task to registering all the remarkable particulars of your life which our memory could supply, in order to communicate those materials to the most skilful writers of the metropolis. But the choice embarrassed us. Sometimes we thought of addressing our Memoirs to the Academy, persuaded that as you had formerly sustained a logical thesis,* you must know enough of the art to qualify you for being received a member of that illustrious body, and praised from head to foot upon the day of admission. Sometimes, again, we thought, that, as, to all appearance, no one will survive to pronounce your eulogium when you are no more, it ought to be delivered in the way of anticipation, by the reverend Father Massillon or De la Rue. But we considered that the first of these expedients did not suit your rank, and that, as to the second, it would be against all form to swathe you up while alive in the tropes of a funeral sermon. The celebrated Boileau next occurred to us, and we believed at first he was the very person we wanted; but a moment's reflection satisfied us that he would not answer our purpose.
Sovereign of wit, he sits alone,
And joys him in his glory won;
Or if, in history to live,
The first of monarchs' feats he give,
Attentive Phoebus guides his hand,
And Memory's daughters round him stand;
He might consign, and only he,
Thy fame to immortality.
Yet, vixen still, his muse would mix
Her playful but malicious tricks,
Which friendship scarce might smother.
So gambols the ambiguous cat,
Deals with one paw a velvet pat,
And scratches you with t'other.
The next expedient which occurred to us was, to have your portrait displayed at full length in that miscellany which lately gave us such an excellent letter of the illustrious chief of your house. Here is the direction we obtained for that purpose:
Not far from that superb abode
Where Paris bids her monarchs dwell,
Retiring from the Louvre's road,
The office opes its fruitful cell,
In choice of authors nothing nice,
To every work, of every price,
However rhymed, however writ,
Especially to folks of wit,
When by rare chance on such they hit.
From thence each month, in gallant quire,
Flit sonneteers in tuneful sallies,
All tender heroes of their alleys,
By verse familiar who aspire
To seize the honour'd name of poet.
Some scream, on mistuned pipes and whistles.
Pastorals and amorous epistles;
Some, twining worthless wreath, bestow it
On bards and warriors of their own,
In camp and chronicle unknown.
Here, never rare, though ever new,
Riddle, in veil fantastic screening,
Presents, in his mysterious masque,
A useless, yet laborious task,
To loungers who have nought to do,
But puzzle out his senseless meaning.
'Tis here, too, that, in transports old,
New elegies are monthly moaning;
Here, too, the dead their lists unfold,
Telling of heirs and widows groaning;
Telling what sums were left to glad them,
And here in copper-plate they shine,
Shewing their features, rank, and line,
And all their arms, and whence they had them.
We soon saw it would be impossible to crowd you, with propriety, into so miscellaneous a miscellany; and these various difficulties at length reconciled us to our original intention of attempting the adventure ourselves, despite of our insufficiency, and of calling to our assistance two persons whom we have not the honour to know, but some of whose compositions have reached us. In order to propitiate them by some civilities, one of us (he who wears at his ear that pearl, which, you used to say, his mother had hung there out of devotion), began to invoke them, as you shall hear
O! Thou, of whom the easy strain
Enchanted by its happy sway,
Sometimes the margin of the Seine,
Sometimes the fair and fertile plain,
Where winds the Maine her lingering way;
Whether the light and classic lay
Lie at the feet of fair Climéne;
Or if, La Fare, thou rather chuse
The mood of the theatric muse,
And raise again, the stage to tread,
Renowned Greeks and Romans dead;
Attend! -- And thou, too, lend thine aid,
Chaulieu! on whom, in raptur'd hour,
Phoebus breath'd energy and power;
Come both, and each a stanza place,
The structure that we raise to grace;
To gild our heavy labours o'er,
Your aid and influence we implore.
The invocation was scarce fairly written out, when we found the theatric muse a little misplaced, as neither of the gentlemen invoked appeared to have written any thing falling under her department. This reflection embarrassed us; and we were meditating what turn should be given to the passage, when behold! there appeared at once, in the midst of the room, a form that surprised without alarming us: -- it was that of your philosopher, the inimitable St. Evremont.* None of the tumult which usually announces the arrival of ghosts of consequence preceded this apparition.
The sky was clear and still o'er head,
No earthquake shook the regions under,
No subterraneous murmur dread,
And not a single clap of thunder.
He was not clothed in rags, or tatter'd,
Like that same grim and grisly spectre,
Who, ere Philippi's contest clatter'd,
The dauntless Brutus came to hector:
Nor was he clad like ghost of Laius,
Who, when against his son he pled,
Nor worse nor better wardrobe had,
Than scanty mantle of Emaeus:
Nor did his limbs a shroud encumber,
Like that which vulgar sprites enfold,
When, gliding from their ghostly hold,
They haunt our couch, and scare our slumber.
By all this we saw the ghost's intention was not to frighten us. He was dressed exactly as when we had first the pleasure of his acquaintance in London. He had the same air of mirth, sharpened and chastened by satirical expression, and even the same dress, which undoubtedly he had preserved for this visit. Lest you doubt it,
His ancient studying-cap he wore,
Well tann'd, of good Morocco hide; +
The eternal double loop before,
That lasted till its master died:
In fine, the self-same equipage,
As when, with lovely Mazarine,
Still boasting of the name of Sage,
He drowned, in floods of generous wine,
The dulness and the frost of age,
And daily paid the homage due,
To charms that seem'd for ever new.
As he arrived un-announced, he placed himself between us without ceremony, but could not forbear smiling at the respect with which we withdrew our chairs, under pretence of not crowding him. I had always heard that it was necessary to question folks of the other world, in order to engage them in conversation; but he soon shewed us the contrary; for, casting his eyes on the paper which we had left on the table, -- "I approve," said he, "of your plan, and I come to give you some advice for the execution; but I cannot comprehend the choice you have made of these two gentlemen as assistants. I admit, it is impossible to write more beautifully than they both do; but do you not see that they write nothing but by starts, and that their subjects are as extraordinary as their caprice?
Love-lorn and gouty, one soft swain
Rebels, amid his rhymes profane,
Against specific water-gruel;
Or cherups, in his ill-timed lay,
The joys of freedom and tokay,
When Celimena's false or cruel:
The other, in his lovely strain,
Fresh from the font of Hippocrene,
Rich in the charms of sound and sense,
Throws all his eloquence away,
And vaunts, the live-long lingering day,
The languid bliss of indolence.
"Give up thoughts of them, if you please; for though you have invoked them, they won't come the sooner to your succour: Arrange, as well as you can, the materials you had collected for others, and never mind the order of time or events: I would advise you, on the contrary, to chuse the latter years of your hero for your principal subject: His earlier adventures are too remote to be altogether so interesting in the present day. Make some short and light observations on the resolution he has formed of never dying, and upon the power he seems to possess of carrying it into execution.*
That art by which his life he has warded.
And death so often has retarded,
'Tis strange to me,
The world's envy
Has ne'er with jaundiced eye regarded:
But mid all anecdotes he tells
Of warriors, statesmen, and of belles,
With whom he fought, intrigued, and slept,
That rare and precious mystery,
His art of immortality,
Is the sole secret he has kept.
"Do not embarrass your brains in seeking ornaments, or turns of eloquence to paint his character: That would resemble strained panegyric; and a faithful portrait will be his best praise. Take care how you attempt to report his stories, or bons mots: The subject is too great for you.+ Try only, in relating his adventures, to colour over his failings, and give relief to his merits.
'Twas thus, by easy route of yore,
My hero to the skies I bore.*
For your part, sketch how beauties tender,
Did to his vows in crowds surrender:
Shew him forth-following the banners
Of one who match'd the goddess-born:
Shew how in peace his active manners
Held dull repose in hate and scorn:
Shew how at court he made a figure,
Taught lessons to the best intriguer,
Till, without fawning, like his neighbours,
His prompt address foil'd all their labours.
Canvas and colours change once more,
And paint him forth in various light:
The scourge of coxcomb and of bore;
Live record of lampoons in score,
And chronicle of love and fight;
Redoubted for his plots so rare,
By every happy swain and fair;
Driver of rivals to despair;
Sworn enemy to all long speeches;
Lively and brilliant, frank and free;
Author of many a repartee:
Remember, over all, that he
Was most renowned for storming breaches.
Forget not the white charger's prance,
On which a daring boast sustaining,
He came before a prince of France,
Victorious in Alsace campaigning.*
Tell too by what enchanting art,
Or of the head, or of the heart,
If skill or courage gain'd his aim;
When to Saint Alban's foul disgrace,
Despite his colleague's grave grimace,
And a fair nymph's seducing face,
He carried off gay Buckingham.+
Speak all these feats, and simply speak, --
To soar too high were forward freak, --
To keep Parnassus' skirts discreetest;
For 'tis not on the very peak,
That middling voices sound the sweetest.
Each tale in easy language dress,
With natural expression closing;
Let every rhyme fall in express;
Avoid poetical excess,
And shun low miserable prosing:
Doat not on modish style, I pray,
Nor yet condemn it with rude passion;
There is a place near the Marais,
Where mimicry of antique lay
Seems to be creeping into fashion.
This new and much-admired way,
Of using Gothic words and spelling.
Costs but the price of Rabelais,
Or Ronsard's sonnets, to excel in.
With half a dozen ekes and ayes,
Or some such antiquated phrase,
At small expense you'll lightly hit
On this new strain of ancient wit.
We assured the spirit we would try to profit by this last advice, but that his caution against falling into the languor of a prosing narration appeared to us more difficult to follow. "Once for all," said he, "do your best; folks that write for the Count de Grammont have a right to reckon on some indulgence. At any rate, you are only known through him, and, apparently, what you are about will not increase the public curiosity on your own account. I must end my visit, he continued, "and by my parting wishes convince my hero that I continue to interest myself in his behalf."
Still may his wit's unceasing charms
Blaze forth, his numerous days adorning;
May he renounce the din of arms,
And sleep some longer of a morning:
Still be it upon false alarms,
That chaplains come to lecture o'er him;*
Still prematurely, as before,
That all the doctors give him o'er,
And king and court are weeping for him
May such repeated feats convince
The king he lives but to attend him;
And may he, like a grateful prince,
Avail him of the hint they lend him;
Live long as Grammont's age, and longer,
Then learn his art still to grow younger.
Here ceas'd the ghostly Norman sage,
A clerk whom we as well as you rate;
The choicest spirit of his age,
And heretofore your only curate:
Though not a wit, you see, his spectre
Doth, like a buried parson's, lecture.
Then off he glided to the band
Of feal friends that hope to greet you,
But long may on the margin stand,
Of sable Styx, before they meet you.
No need upon that theme to dwell,
Since none but you the cause can tell;
Yet, if, when some half century more,
In health and glee, has glided o'er,
You find you, maugre all your strength,
Stretch'd out in woeful state at length,
And forc'd to Erebus to troop,
There shall you find the joyous group,
Carousing on the Stygian border!
Waiting, with hollo arid with whoop,
To dub you brother of iheir order:
There shall you find Dan Benserade,
Doughty Chapelle and Sarazine,
Voiture and Chaplain, gallants fine,
And he who ballad never made,
Nor rhymed without a flask of wine.
Adieu, Sir Count, the world around
Who roam'd in quest of love and battle,
Of whose high merits fame did tattle,
As sturdy tiller, knight renown'd.
Before the warfare of the Fronde,
Should you again review Gironde,
Travelling in coach, by journeys slow,
You'll right hand mark a sweet chateau,
Which has few ornaments to shew.
But deep, clear streams, that moat the spot,
'Tis there we dwell, -- forget us not!
Think of us then, pray, Sir, if, by chance, you should take a fancy to revisit your fair mansion of Semeac. In the mean while, permit us to finish this long letter; we have endeavoured in vain to make something of it, by varying our language and style -- you see how our best efforts fall below our subject. To succeed, it would be necessary that he whom our fictions conjured up to our assistance were actually among the living. But, alas!
No more shall Evremont incite us,
That chronicler whom none surpasses,
Whether his grave or gay delight us;
That favourite of divine Parnassus
Can find no ford in dark Cocytus:
From that sad river's fatal bourne,
Alone De Grammont can return.
In his own and his Brother's Name : It is dated from Grammont's villa of Semeac, upon the banks of the Garonne, where it would seem Philibert and Anthony Hamilton were then residing.
Corisanda : Corisande and Menadaure were both ancestresses of the Count de Grammont, and celebrated for beauty.
Don Brice : Don Brice is celebrated in the Memoirs, but Donna Ragueza does not appear there.
a logical thesis : I presume, when he was educated for the church.
the inimitable St. Evremont : With whom, as appears from the Memoirs, the Count, while residing in London, maintained the closest intimacy. St. Evremont was delighted with his wit, vivacity, and latitude of principle: he called him his hero; wrote verses in his praise; in short, took as warm an interest in him as an Epicurean philosopher can do in any one but himself.
good Morocco hide : One of St. Evremont's peculiarities was, that instead of a wig. the universal dress of the time, he chose to wear his own grey hair, covered with the leathern cap described in the text.
the power he seems to possess : The Count de Grammont, in his old age, recovered, contrary to the expectation of his physicians, and of all the world, from one or two dangerous illnesses, which led him often to say, in his lively manner, that he had formed a resolution never to die. This declaration is the subject of much raillery through the whole epistle.
his stories, or bons mots : Bussi Rabutin assures us, that much of the merit of Grammont's bons mots consisted in his peculiar mode of delivering them, although his reputation as a wit was universally established. Few of those which have been preserved are susceptible of translation; but the following may be taken as a specimen:
One day when Charles II. dined in state, he made Grammont remark, that he was served upon the knee; a mark of respect not common at other courts. "I thank your Majesty for the explanation," answered Grammont: "I thought they were begging pardon for giving you so bad a dinner." -- Louis XIV., playing at tric-trac, disputed a throw with his opponent: The by-standers were appealed to, and could not decide the cause. It was referred to Grammont, who, from the further end of the gallery, declared against the king. "But you have not heard the case," said Louis. "Ah, Sire," replied the Count, "if your majesty had but a shadow of right, would these gentlemen have failed to decide in vour favour?"
My hero to the skies I bore :
St. Evremont, whose attachment to Grammont amounted to enthusiasm, composed the following epitaph upon him, made, however,
long before the Count's death, in which he touches many of the topics
which he here is supposed to recommend to Hamilton.
Here lies the Count de Grammont, stranger!
Old Evremont's eternal theme:
He who shared Condé's every danger,
May envy from the bravest claim.
Wouldst know his art in courtly life?
It match'd his courage in the strife.
Wouldst ask his merit with the fair? --
Who ever liv'd his equal there?
His wit to scandal never stooping
His mirth ne'er to buffoon'ry drooping:
Keeping his character's marked plan,
As spouse, sire, gallant, and old man.
But went he to confession duly?
At matins, mass, and vespers steady?
Fervent in prayer? -- to tell you truly,
He left these cares to my good lady.
We may once more see a Turenne;
Condé himself may have a double;
But to make Grammont o'er again,
Would cost dame nature too much trouble.
Victorious in Alsace : Grammont had promised to the Dauphin, then commanding the army in Alsace, that he would join him before the end of the campaign, mounted on a white horse.
gay Buckingham : Grammont is supposed to have had no small share in determining the Duke of Buckingham, then Charles the Second's favourite minister, to break the triple alliance; for which purpose he went to France with the Count, in spite of all that the other English ministers, and even his mistress, the celebrated Countess of Shrewsbury, could do to prevent him.
chaplains come to lecture : De Grammont having fallen seriously ill, at the age of seventy-five, the king, who knew his free sentiments in religious matters, sent Dangeau to give him ghostly advice. The Count, finding his errand, turned to his wife, and cried out, "Countess, if you don't look to it, Dangeau will cheat you of my conversion."
Memoirs of Count Grammont