Memoirs of Count de Grammont


IN those days affairs were not managed in France as at present: Louis XIII. then sat upon the throne, but the Cardinal de Richlieu governed the kingdom; great men commanded little armies, and little armies did great things: the fortune of great men depended solely upon ministerial favour, and blind devotion to the will of the minister was the only sure method of advancement. Vast designs were then laying in the heart of neighbouring states the foundation of that formidable greatness to which France has now risen: the police was somewhat neglected; the highways were impassable by day, and the streets by night; but robberies were committed elsewhere with greater impunity. Young men, on their first entrance into the world, took what course they thought proper: whoever would, was a Chevalier, and whoever could, an Abbé, -- I mean a beneficed Abbé: dress made no distinction between them; and, I believe, the Chevalier Grammont was both the one and the other at the siege of Trino.

This was his first campaign, and here he displayed those attractive graces which so favourably prepossess, and require neither friends nor recommendations in any company to procure a favourable reception. The siege was already formed when he arrived, which saved him some needless risks; for a volunteer cannot rest at ease, until he has stood the first fire: he went therefore to reconnoitre the generals, having no occasion to reconnoitre the place. Prince Thomas commanded the army; and as the post of lieutenant-general was not then known, Du Plessis Pralin and the famous Viscount Turenne were his major-generals. Fortified places were treated with some respect, before a power which nothing can withstand had found means to destroy them by dreadful showers of bombs, and by destructive batteries of hundreds of pieces of cannon. Before these furious storms which drive governors under ground and reduce their garrisons to powder, repeated sallies bravely repulsed, and vigorous attacks nobly sustained, signalized both the art of the besiegers and the courage of the besieged; consequently sieges were of some length, and young men had an opportunity of gaining some knowledge. Many brave actions were performed on each side during the siege of Trino; a great deal of fatigue was endured, and considerable losses sustained; but fatigue was no more considered, hardships were no more felt in the trenches, gravity was at an end with the generals, and the troops were no longer dispirited after the arrival of the Chevalier Grammont. Pleasure was his pursuit, and he made it universal.

Among the officers in the army, as in all other places, there are men of real merit, or pretenders to it. The latter endeavoured to imitate the Chevalier Grammont in his most shining qualities, but without success; the former admired his talents and courted his friendship. Of this number was Matta: he was agreeable in his person, but still more by the natural turn of his wit; he was plain and simple in his manners, but endued with a quick discernment and refined delicacy, and full of candour and integrity in all his actions. The Chevalier Grammont was not long in discovering his amiable qualities; an acquaintance was soon formed, and was succeeded by the strictest intimacy.

Matta insisted that the Chevalier should take up his quarters with him; to which he only consented, on condition of equally contributing to the expense. As they were both liberal and magnificent, at their common cost they gave the best-designed and most luxurious entertainments that had ever yet been seen. Play was wonderfully productive at first, and the Chevalier restored by a hundred different ways that which he obtained only by one. The generals, being entertained by turns, admired their magnificence, and were dissatisfied with their own officers for not keeping such good tables and attendance. The Chevalier had the talent of setting off the most indifferent things to advantage; and his wit was so generally acknowledged, that it was a kind of disgrace not to submit to his taste. To him Matta resigned the care of furnishing the table and doing its honours; and, charmed with the general applause, persuaded himself that nothing could be more honourable than their way of living, and nothing more easy than to continue it; but he soon perceived that the greatest prosperity is not the most lasting. Good living, bad economy, dishonest servants, and ill-luck, all uniting together to disconcert their house-keeping, their table was going to be gradually laid aside, when the Chevalier's genius, fertile in resources, undertook to support his former credit by the following expedient.

They had never yet conferred about the state of their finances, although the steward had acquainted each separately, that he must either receive money to continue the expenses, or give in his accounts. One day, when the Chevalier came home sooner than usual, he found Matta fast asleep in an easy chair, and, being unwilling to disturb his rest, be began musing on his project. Matta awoke without his perceiving it; and having, for a short time, observed the deep contemplation he seemed involved in, and the profound silence between two persons, who had never held their tongues for a moment when together before, he broke it by a sudden fit of laughter, which increased in proportion as the other stared at him. "A merry way of waking, and ludicrous enough," said the Chevalier; "What is the matter, and whom do you laugh at?" "Faith, Chevalier," said Matta, "I am laughing at a dream I had just now, which is so natural and diverting, that I must make you laugh at it also. I was dreaming that we had dismissed our maître d'hôtel, our cook, and our confectioner, having resolved, for the remainder of the campaign, to live upon others as others have lived upon us; this was my dream. Now tell me, Chevalier, on what were you musing?" "Poor fellow!" said the Chevalier, shrugging up his shoulders, "you are knocked down at once, and thrown into the utmost consternation and despair at some silly stories, which the maître d'hôtel has been telling you as well as me. What! after the figure we have made in the face of the nobility and foreigners in the army, shall we give it up, and like fools and beggars sneak off, upon the first failure of our money! Have you no sentiments of honour? Where is the dignity of France?" "And where is the money?" said Matta; "for my men say, the devil may take them, if there be ten crowns in the house; and I believe you have not much more, for it is above a week since I have seen you pull out your purse, or count your money, an amusement you were very fond of in prosperity." "I own all this," said the Chevalier, "but yet I will force you to confess, that you are but a mean-spirited fellow upon this occasion. What would have become of you if you had been reduced to the situation I was in at Lyons, four days before I arrived here? I will tell you the story."

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Memoirs of Count Grammont