The Poet's Princess

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Close encounter with a fox

That every deed has its consequence is a reality as common as the spiral of life and death, equally unavoidable and empty of any of moral judgement. To revolt against it is vain. All that can be done is to adjust the present according to the experience of the past.

Recognising that his marriage was a mistake, Sarasin decides to subdue to a master again. He enters the service of the Coadjutor Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz, thanks to his friend the poet Gilles Ménage. And he makes another fatal error. Even if Ménage could write gallant poetry with an expert touch, he knew surprisingly little about human nature.

With the exception of Madame de Motteville, so virtuous herself that, happen what may, she always came down on the side of the angels, everybody knows that Gondi is a person better to be avoided. She is the only one who praises not only Gundy’s intelligence and his erudition, but also his kind-heartedness, which is, by the way, in agreement with Gondi’s opinion of himself.

The “Gazette”, a tabloid of the XVIIth century, prattles frequently about Sarasin’s new master:

“As for the Coadjutor, he is a rogue. He is smart and, once he sets his mind on something, we may as well give it up. He is always trying to show off the likeable sides of his character but, if necessary, he can be ruthless ensnaring the little people and seizing every occasion to attack their weak spots. He goes his way striding towards success without looking right or left. Browsing through many books, he had reckoned correctly that In Media Consistit Virtus, (Virtue lies in the middle).”

Monsieur de La Rochefoucauld, the famous socialite and writer, author of the highly praised “Sentences and Moral Maxims”, agrees with the “Gazette”. He presents Gondi as a person endowed with exceptional gifts better contemplated from a safe distance. La Rochefoucauld’s main objection to the Coadjutor is “the dryness of Gondi’s heart”, a fact that evidently doesn’t prevent him from describing Retz in his “Maxims” with a strange fascination:

“Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz, has an extensive culture yet more ostentation than real nobility of soul. He has an extraordinary memory, more force than politeness in his words, a sense of humour, the docility and indulgence to endure the complaints of his friends, some reverence, some pretence of religion. His natural inclination is idleness. He is very smart and knows how to turn to his advantage all the occasions fate offers him, so that it seems he had anticipated them and wishes them to happen. Nearly all the features of his character are false and what has most contributed to his reputation is his ability to present his defects in a favourable light. He is insensitive to hate as to friendship, though he pretends to indulge in both. He is incapable of envy and avarice, be it out of virtue or merely by lack of application. He has neither taste nor refinement. He enjoys everything, he is fond of nothing.”

What a strange portrait! Turn it the other way round and you have Monsieur de La Rochefoucauld contemplating himself in a close-up.

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