The Poet's Princess

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Some more holing up

“Poor Jean-François! I am sorry I have to bother you with such a minor character as a literary extra Baudeau de Somaize. Yet history, and this includes the history of literature, is built of grey masses essential to enhance the brilliance of its stars. I intend letting you shoot up like a meteor and this is why we need certain Baudeau de Somaize for your background. Here it goes:

Beaudeau de Somaize was the secretary to the niece of cardinal Mazarin, Marie de Mancini. Smart enough to recognise that his own writing wouldn’t make a splash, he entered literature with a provocative pamphlet against the tragedies of Boisrobert who was then in vogue. Soon after, to have several irons in the fire, he accused Molière, the oracle of his time, of having borrowed wholesome from abbé de Pure comedy on the précieuses for his own comedy of manners “The Affected Young Ladies”. At the same time, and this is the most piquant about it, he did not hesitate to plagiarise Molière himself. He published his own adaptation of “The Affected Young Ladies”, this time in verse, because, as he assured, “it seemed to me that in prose it lacks the ultimate perfection one can give it”.

No stone was left unturned in his drive to success. He published his “Dictionary of the Précieuses” in time to let it be savoured in all its freshness, and thus contribute to some of the most titillating scandals and ravishingly devastating gossip amidst the high society.

Then he did something quite out of his character and I can’t fathom why he did it: he left for Italy in the wake of Cardinal Colonna and vanished there without a trace in the prime of his life. He might have bitten the hand that fed him or barked up the wrong tree, though that’s just a guess. Anyhow, his sudden disappearance must have been a matter of life and death because he went abroad without waiting for the success of his new “Great Dictionary of the Précieuses”, a skilful compilation of portraits of real persons under fictitious names, for which he didn’t omit to publish the key revealing who was who.

Jean-François! You’ve fallen asleep! Of course these details may seem boring. Do you think I could have had my viva had I treated serious things frivolously? Wake up and listen! I have other testimonies to relate.

Baudeau de Somaize was not the only admirer of the divine Angélique. Even Tallemant des Réaux, that most malevolent gossip with a viper’s tongue, had fallen under her spell:

“Mademoiselle Paulet had a great vivacity of mind, she was pretty, had an admirable complexion and a wasp waist. She was a beautiful dancer, a great lute-player and singer. She was better at those arts than anybody else in her time. The ardour of her love, her courage, her pride, her vivid eyes and golden hair earned her the nickname “Lioness”. She loved and hated with ferocity.”

Do you know where I found this eulogy, Jean-François? In “Historiettes” (“Little Stories”) where Tallemant des Réaux distributed his vicious stings right left and centre, and amused himself shouting the vileness of his contemporaries from the rooftops.

Jean-François! Wipe that naughty smirk off your lips! I know what you are insinuating. Shame on you! A fine poet with a dirty mind! You wave me off! You don’t give a damn about Angélique Paulet? And what’s more! I know you can’t wait to run away and mix with the sprightly crowd of Rue Royale with all those stunning women craving to be chatted up.

“Mademoiselle! Don’t deny it! You smiled at me!”

Enticingly glorious, you are gliding through the grand boulevards while the other men fade away before your splendour. Your moustache vibrates above your honeyed mouth when you bow to kiss the hand of the lucky woman chosen from the spoils of Paradise.

Ready to fall into your arms I draw back, not daring to succumb to your seduction. A lover is a bad ally. And then, our affair would be short of breath. Breaking the giddy round of temptation, I stop my poet on the run to offer him a third testimony, this one a golden one, as it is reported by the chaste and honourable Madeleine de Scudéry described by abbé de Pure, writer, historian and regular visitor of the most famous literary salons of his time, as “the Muse of our century and the prestige of her sex, this admirable person, so good and so amiable, that one still prefers to see her than to read her, who is all kindness and whose splendid mind is full of modesty. The sentiments originating therein are so full of discretion that all she may say is pertinent and reasonable. One cannot but admire her at the same time.”

Do you think that Mademoiselle de Scudéry would discredit herself keeping company with a loose woman? And, what’s more, make friends with her?

Now listen carefully, my dear: Mademoiselle de Scudéry does not only admire “the roses and lilies” of Angélique’s complexion, but gives us a testimony of the high moral qualities of the Lioness, “of her pride, kindness, magnanimity of her mind and tenderness of her heart, of her devotion and faithfulness to her friends; the absent, the banished and the imprisoned, to those without credit and poor, to whom she generously offers all kinds of assistance, even at the expense of her own interest and well-being.”

Don’t you think you’d strike it lucky if such a woman would be willing to become your friend, well, more likely a bosom-friend, according to her covetous eyes. Though, in this domain I don’t have to worry, it’s your turf, you’ll sort it out.

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