Book 6 Chapter 26 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny
"Mon Dieu! quest-ce que ce monde!"
Dernieres paroles de M. Cinq-Mars
The same day that the melancholy procession took place at Lyons, and
during the scenes we have just witnessed, a magnificent fete was given at
Paris with all the luxury and bad taste of the time. The powerful
Cardinal had determined to fill the first two towns in France with his
pomp. The Cardinal's return was the occasion on which this fete was
announced, as given to the King and all his court.
Master of the French empire by force, the Cardinal desired to be master
of French opinion by seduction; and, weary of dominating, hoped to
please. The tragedy of "Mirame" was to be represented in a hall
constructed expressly for this great day, which raised the expenses of
this entertainment, says Pelisson, to three hundred thousand crowns.
The entire guard of the Prime-Minister were under arms; his four
companies of musketeers and gens d'armes were ranged in a line upon the
vast staircases and at the entrance of the long galleries of the
Palais-Cardinal. This brilliant pandemonium, where the mortal sins have a
temple on each floor, belonged that day to pride alone, which occupied it
from top to bottom. Upon each step was placed one of the arquebusiers of
the Cardinal's guard, holding a torch in one hand and a long carbine in
the other. The crowd of his gentlemen circulated between these living
candelabra, while in the large garden, surrounded by huge chestnut-trees,
now replaced by a range of archers, two companies of mounted light-horse,
their muskets in their hands, were ready to obey the first order or the
first fear of their master.
The Cardinal, carried and followed by his thirty-eight pages, took his
seat in his box hung with purple, facing that in which the King was half
reclining behind the green curtains which preserved him from the glare of
the flambeaux. The whole court filled the boxes, and rose when the King
appeared. The orchestra commenced a brilliant overture, and the pit was
thrown open to all the men of the town and the army who presented
themselves. Three impetuous waves of spectators rushed in and filled it
in an instant. They were standing, and so thickly pressed together that
the movement of a single arm sufficed to cause in the crowd a movement
similar to the waving of a field of corn. There was one man whose head
thus described a large circle, as that of a compass, without his feet
quitting the spot to which they were fixed; and some young men were
carried out fainting.
The minister, contrary to custom, advanced his skeleton head out of his
box, and saluted the assembly with an air which was meant to be gracious.
This grimace obtained an acknowledgment only from the boxes; the pit was
silent. Richelieu had wished to show that he did not fear the public
judgment upon his work, and had given orders to admit without distinction
all who should present themselves. He began to repent of this, but too
late. The impartial assembly was as cold at the tragedie-pastorale
itself. In vain did the theatrical bergeres, covered with jewels, raised
upon red heels, with crooks ornamented with ribbons and garlands of
flowers upon their robes, which were stuck out with farthingale's, die of
love in tirades of two hundred verses; in vain did the 'amants parfaits'
starve themselves in solitary caves, deploring their death in emphatic
tones, and fastening to their hair ribbons of the favorite color of their
mistress; in vain did the ladies of the court exhibit signs of perfect
ecstasy, leaning over the edges of their boxes, and even attempt a few
fainting-fits--the silent pit gave no other sign of life than the
perpetual shaking of black heads with long hair.
The Cardinal bit his lips and played the abstracted during the first and
second acts; the silence in which the third and fourth passed off so
wounded his paternal heart that he had himself raised half out of the
balcony, and in this uncomfortable and ridiculous position signed to the
court to remark the finest passages, and himself gave the signal for
applause. It was acted upon from some of the boxes, but the impassible
pit was more silent than ever; leaving the affair entirely between the
stage and the upper regions, they obstinately remained neuter. The master
of Europe and France then cast a furious look at this handful of men who
dared not to admire his work, feeling in his heart the wish of Nero, and
thought for a moment how happy he should be if all those men had but one
Suddenly this black and before silent mass became animated, and endless
rounds of applause burst forth, to the great astonishment of the boxes,
and above all, of the minister. He bent forward and bowed gratefully, but
drew back on perceiving that the clapping of hands interrupted the actors
every time they wished to proceed. The King had the curtains of his box,
until then closed, opened, to see what excited so much enthusiasm. The
whole court leaned forward from their boxes, and perceived among the
spectators on the stage a young man, humbly dressed, who had just seated
himself there with difficulty. Every look was fixed upon him. He appeared
utterly embarrassed by this, and sought to cover himself with his little
black cloak-far too short for the purpose. "Le Cid! le Cid!" cried the
pit, incessantly applauding.
"Terrified, Corneille escaped behind the scenes, and all was again
silent. The Cardinal, beside himself with fury, had his curtain closed,
and was carried into his galleries, where was performed another scene,
prepared long before by the care of Joseph, who had tutored the
attendants upon the point before quitting Paris. Cardinal Mazarin
exclaimed that it would be quicker to pass his Eminence through a long
glazed window, which was only two feet from the ground, and led from his
box to the apartments; and it opened and the page passed his armchair
through it. Hereupon a hundred voices rose to proclaim the accomplishment
of the grand prophecy of Nostradamus. They said:
"The bonnet rouge!-that's Monseigneur; 'quarante onces!'--that's
Cinq-Mars; 'tout finira!'--that's De Thou. What a providential incident!
His Eminence reigns over the future as over the present."
He advanced thus upon his ambulatory throne through the long and splendid
galleries, listening to this delicious murmur of a new flattery; but
insensible to the hum of voices which deified his genius, he would have
given all their praises for one word, one single gesture of that
immovable and inflexible public, even had that word been a cry of hatred;
for clamor can be stifled, but how avenge one's self on silence? The
people can be prevented from striking, but who can prevent their waiting?
Pursued by the troublesome phantom of public opinion, the gloomy minister
only thought himself in safety when he reached the interior of his palace
amid his flattering courtiers, whose adorations soon made him forget that
a miserable pit had dared not to admire him. He had himself placed like a
king in the midst of his vast apartments, and, looking around him,
attentively counted the powerful and submissive men who surrounded him.
Counting them, he admired himself. The chiefs of the great families, the
princes of the Church, the presidents of all the parliaments, the
governors of the provinces, the marshals and generals-in-chief of the
armies, the nuncio, the ambassadors of all the kingdoms, the deputies and
senators of the republics, were motionless, submissive, and ranged around
him, as if awaiting his orders. There was no longer a look to brave his
look, no longer a word to raise itself against his will, not a project
that men dared to form in the most secret recesses of the heart, not a
thought which did not proceed from his. Mute Europe listened to him by
its representatives. From time to time he raise an imperious voice, and
threw a self-satisfied word to this pompous circle, as a man who throws a
copper coin among a crowd of beggars. Then might be distinguished, by the
pride which lit up his looks and the joy visible in his countenance, the
prince who had received such a favor.
Transformed into another man, he seemed to have made a step in the
hierarchy of power, so surrounded with unlooked-for adorations and sudden
caresses was the fortunate courtier, whose obscure happiness the Cardinal
did not even perceive. The King's brother and the Duc de Bouillon stood
in the crowd, whence the minister did not deign to withdraw them. Only he
ostentatiously said that it would be well to dismantle a few fortresses,
spoke at length of the necessity of pavements and quays at Paris, and
said in two words to Turenne that he might perhaps be sent to the army in
Italy, to seek his baton as marechal from Prince Thomas.
While Richelieu thus played with the great and small things of Europe,
amid his noisy fete, the Queen was informed at the Louvre that the time
was come for her to proceed to the Cardinal's palace, where the King
awaited her after the tragedy. The serious Anne of Austria did not
witness any play; but she could not refuse her presence at the fete of
the Prime-Minister. She was in her oratory, ready to depart, and covered
with pearls, her favorite ornament; standing opposite a large glass with
Marie de Mantua, she was arranging more to her satisfaction one or two
details of the young Duchess's toilette, who, dressed in a long pink
robe, was herself contemplating with attention, though with somewhat of
ennui and a little sullenness, the ensemble of her appearance.
She saw her own work in Marie, and, more troubled, thought with deep
apprehension of the moment when this transient calm would cease, despite
the profound knowledge she had of the feeling but frivolous character of
Marie. Since the conversation at St.-Germain (the fatal letter), she had
not quitted the young Princess, and had bestowed all her care to lead her
mind to the path which she had traced out for her, for the most decided
feature in the character of Anne of Austria was an invincible obstinacy
in her calculations, to which she would fain have subjected all events
and all passions with a geometrical exactitude. There is no doubt that to
this positive and immovable mind we must attribute all the misfortunes of
her regency. The sombre reply of Cinq-Mars; his arrest; his trial--all
had been concealed from the Princesse Marie, whose first fault, it is
true, had been a movement of self-love and a momentary forgetfulness.
However, the Queen by nature was good-hearted, and had bitterly repented
her precipitation in writing words so decisive, and whose consequences
had been so serious; and all her endeavors had been applied to mitigate
the results. In reflecting upon her conduct in reference to the happiness
of France, she applauded herself for having thus, at one stroke, stifled
the germ of a civil war which would have shaken the State to its very
foundations. But when she approached her young friend and gazed on that
charming being whose happiness she was thus destroying in its bloom, and
reflected that an old man upon a throne, even, would not recompense her
for the eternal loss she was about to sustain; when she thought of the
entire devotion, the total abnegation of himself, she had witnessed in a
young man of twenty-two, of so lofty a character, and almost master of
the kingdom--she pitied Marie, and admired from her very soul the man
whom she had judged so ill.
She would at least have desired to explain his worth to her whom he had
loved so deeply, and who as yet knew him not; but she still hoped that
the conspirators assembled at Lyons would be able to save him, and once
knowing him to be in a foreign land she could tell all to her dear Marie.
As to the latter, she had at first feared war. But surrounded by the
Queen's people, who had let nothing reach her ear but news dictated by
this Princess, she knew, or thought she knew, that the conspiracy had not
taken place; that the King and the Cardinal had returned to Paris nearly
at the same time; that Monsieur, relapsed for a while, had reappeared at
court; that the Duc de Bouillon, on ceding Sedan, had also been restored
to favor; and that if the 'grand ecuyer' had not yet appeared, the reason
was the more decided animosity of the Cardinal toward him, and the
greater part he had taken in the conspiracy. But common sense and natural
justice clearly said that having acted under the order of the King's
brother, his pardon ought to follow that of this Prince.
All then, had calmed the first uneasiness of her heart, while nothing had
softened the kind of proud resentment she felt against Cinq-Mars, so
indifferent as not to inform her of the place of his retreat, known to
the Queen and the whole court, while, she said to herself, she had
thought but of him. Besides, for two months the balls and fetes had so
rapidly succeeded each other, and so many mysterious duties had commanded
her presence, that she had for reflection and regret scarce more than the
time of her toilette, at which she was generally almost alone. Every
evening she regularly commenced the general reflection upon the
ingratitude and inconstancy of men--a profound and novel thought, which
never fails to occupy the head of a young person in the time of first
love--but sleep never permitted her to finish the reflection; and the
fatigue of dancing closed her large black eyes ere her ideas had found
time to classify themselves in her memory, or to present her with any
distinct images of the past.
In the morning she was always surrounded by the young princesses of the
court, and ere she well had time to dress had to present herself in the
Queen's apartment, where awaited her the eternal, but now less
disagreeable homage of the Prince-Palatine. The Poles had had time to
learn at the court of France that mysterious reserve, that eloquent
silence which so pleases the women, because it enhances the importance of
things always secret, and elevates those whom they respect, so as to
preclude the idea of exhibiting suffering in their presence. Marie was
regarded as promised to King Uladislas; and she herself--we must confess
it--had so well accustomed herself to this idea that the throne of Poland
occupied by another queen would have appeared to her a monstrous thing.
She did not look forward with pleasure to the period of ascending it, but
had, however, taken possession of the homage which was rendered her
beforehand. Thus, without avowing it even to herself, she greatly
exaggerated the supposed offences of Cinq-Mars, which the Queen had
expounded to her at St. Germain.
"You are as fresh as the roses in this bouquet," said the Queen. "Come,
'ma chere', are you ready? What means this pouting air? Come, let me
fasten this earring. Do you not like these toys, eh? Will you have
another set of ornaments?"
"Oh, no, Madame. I think that I ought not to decorate myself at all, for
no one knows better than yourself how unhappy I am. Men are very cruel
"I have reflected on what you said, and all is now clear to me. Yes, it
is quite true that he did not love me, for had he loved me he would have
renounced an enterprise that gave me so much uneasiness. I told him, I
remember, indeed, which was very decided," she added, with an important
and even solemn air, "that he would be a rebel--yes, Madame, a rebel. I
told him so at Saint-Eustache. But I see that your Majesty was right. I
am very unfortunate! He had more ambition than love." Here a tear of
pique escaped from her eyes, and rolled quickly down her cheek, as a
pearl upon a rose.
"Yes, it is certain," she continued, fastening her bracelets; "and the
greatest proof is that in the two months he has renounced his
enterprise--you told me that you had saved him--he has not let me know
the place of his retreat, while I during that time have been weeping,
have been imploring all your power in his favor; have sought but a word
that might inform me of his proceedings. I have thought but of him; and
even now I refuse every day the throne of Poland, because I wish to prove
to the end that I am constant, that you yourself can not make me disloyal
to my attachment, far more serious than his, and that we are of higher
worth than the men. But, however, I think I may attend this fete, since
it is not a ball."
"Yes, yes, my dear child! come, come!" said the Queen, desirous of
putting an end to this childish talk, which afflicted her all the more
that it was herself who had encouraged it. "Come, you will see the union
that prevails between the princes and the Cardinal, and we shall perhaps
hear some good news." They departed.
When the two princesses entered the long galleries of the
Palais-Cardinal, they were received and coldly saluted by the King and
the minister, who, closely surrounded by silent courtiers, were playing
at chess upon a small low table. All the ladies who entered with the
Queen or followed her, spread through the apartments; and soon soft music
sounded in one of the saloons--a gentle accompaniment to the thousand
private conversations carried on round the play tables.
Near the Queen passed, saluting her, a young newly married couple--the
happy Chabot and the beautiful Duchesse de Rohan. They seemed to shun the
crowd, and to seek apart a moment to speak to each other of themselves.
Every one received them with a smile and looked after them with envy.
Their happiness was expressed as strongly in the countenances of others
as in their own.
Marie followed them with her eyes. "Still they are happy," she whispered
to the Queen, remembering the censure which in her hearing had been
thrown upon the match.
But without answering, Anne of Austria, fearful that in the crowd some
inconsiderate expression might inform her young friend of the mournful
event so interesting to her, placed herself with Marie behind the King.
Monsieur, the Prince-Palatine, and the Duc de Bouillon came to speak to
her with a gay and lively air. The second, however, casting upon Marie a
severe and scrutinizing glance, said to her:
"Madame la Princesse, you are most surprisingly beautiful and gay this
She was confused at these words, and at seeing the speaker walk away with
a sombre air. She addressed herself to the Duc d'Orleans, who did not
answer, and seemed not to hear her. Marie looked at the Queen, and
thought she remarked paleness and disquiet on her features. Meantime, no
one ventured to approach the minister, who was deliberately meditating
his moves. Mazarin alone, leaning over his chair, followed all the
strokes with a servile attention, giving gestures of admiration every
time that the Cardinal played. Application to the game seemed to have
dissipated for a moment the cloud that usually shaded the minister's
brow. He had just advanced a tower, which placed Louis's king in that
false position which is called "stalemate,"--a situation in which the
ebony king, without being personally attacked, can neither advance nor
retire in any direction. The Cardinal, raising his eyes, looked at his
adversary and smiled with one corner of his mouth, not being able to
avoid a secret analogy. Then, observing the dim eyes and dying
countenance of the Prince, he whispered to Mazarin:
"Faith, I think he'll go before me. He is greatly changed."
At the same time he himself was seized with a long and violent cough,
accompanied internally with the sharp, deep pain he so often felt in the
side. At the sinister warning he put a handkerchief to his mouth, which
he withdrew covered with blood. To hide it, he threw it under the table,
and looked around him with a stern smile, as if to forbid observation.
Louis XIII, perfectly insensible, did not make the least movement, beyond
arranging his men for another game with a skeleton and trembling hand.
There two dying men seemed to be throwing lots which should depart first.
At this moment a clock struck the hour of midnight. The King raised his
"Ah, ah!" he said; "this morning at twelve Monsieur le Grand had a
disagreeable time of it."
A piercing shriek was uttered behind him. He shuddered, and threw himself
forward, upsetting the table. Marie de Mantua lay senseless in the arms
of the Queen, who, weeping bitterly, said in the King's ear:
"Ah, Sire, your axe has a double edge."
She then bestowed all her cares and maternal kisses upon the young
Princess, who, surrounded by all the ladies of the court, only came to
herself to burst into a torrent of tears. As soon as she opened her eyes,
"Alas! yes, my child," said Anne of Austria. "My poor girl, you are Queen
It has often happened that the same event which causes tears to flow in
the palace of kings has spread joy without, for the people ever suppose
that happiness reigns at festivals. There were five days' rejoicings for
the return of the minister, and every evening under the windows of the
Palais-Cardinal and those of the Louvre pressed the people of Paris. The
late disturbances had given them a taste for public movements. They
rushed from one street to another with a curiosity at times insulting and
hostile, sometimes walking in silent procession, sometimes sending forth
loud peals of laughter or prolonged yells, of which no one understood the
meaning. Bands of young men fought in the streets and danced in rounds in
the squares, as if manifesting some secret hope of pleasure and some
insensate joy, grievous to the upright heart.
It was remarkable that profound silence prevailed exactly in those places
where the minister had ordered rejoicings, and that the people passed
disdainfully before the illuminated facade of his palace. If some voices
were raised, it was to read aloud in a sneering tone the legends and
inscriptions with which the idiot flattery of some obscure writers had
surrounded the portraits of the minister. One of these pictures was
guarded by arquebusiers, who, however, could not preserve it from the
stones which were thrown at it from a distance by unseen hands. It
represented the Cardinal-Generalissimo wearing a casque surrounded by
laurels. Above it was inscribed:
"Grand Duc: c'est justement que la France t'honore;
Ainsi que le dieu Mars dans Paris on t'adore."
These fine phrases did not persuade the people that they were happy. They
no more adored the Cardinal than they did the god Mars, but they accepted
his fetes because they served as a covering for disorder. All Paris was
in an uproar. Men with long beards, carrying torches, measures of wine,
and two drinking-cups, which they knocked together with a great noise,
went along, arm in arm, shouting in chorus with rude voices an old round
of the League:
"Reprenons la danse;
Allons, c'est assez.
Le printemps commence;
Les rois sont passes.
"Prenons quelque treve;
Nous sommes lasses.
Les rois de la feve
Nous ont harasses.
"Allons, Jean du Mayne,
Les rois sont passes.
"Les rois de la feve
Nous ont harasses.
Allons, Jean du Mayne,
Les rois sont passes."
The frightful bands who howled forth these words traversed the Quais and
the Pont-Neuf, squeezing against the high houses, which then covered the
latter, the peaceful citizens who were led there by simple curiosity. Two
young men, wrapped in cloaks, thus thrown one against the other,
recognized each other by the light of a torch placed at the foot of the
statue of Henri IV, which had been lately raised.
"What! still at Paris?" said Corneille to Milton. "I thought you were in
"Hear you the people, Monsieur? Do you hear them? What is this ominous
'Les rois sont passes'?"
"That is nothing, Monsieur. Listen to their conversation."
"The parliament is dead," said one of the men; "the nobles are dead. Let
us dance; we are the masters. The old Cardinal is dying. There is no
longer any but the King and ourselves."
"Do you hear that drunken wretch, Monsieur?" asked Corneille. "All our
epoch is in those words of his."
"What! is this the work of the minister who is called great among you,
and even by other nations? I do not understand him."
"I will explain the matter to you presently," answered Corneille. "But
first listen to the concluding part of this letter, which I received
to-day. Draw near this light under the statue of the late King. We are
alone. The crowd has passed. Listen!
"It was by one of those unforeseen circumstances which prevent the
accomplishment of the noblest enterprises that we were not able to
save MM. de Cinq-Mars and De Thou. We might have foreseen that,
prepared for death by long meditation, they would themselves refuse
our aid; but this idea did not occur to any of us. In the
precipitation of our measures, we also committed the fault of
dispersing ourselves too much in the crowd, so that we could not
take a sudden resolution. I was unfortunately stationed near the
scaffold; and I saw our unfortunate friends advance to the foot of
it, supporting the poor Abbe Quillet, who was destined to behold the
death of the pupil whose birth he had witnessed. He sobbed aloud,
and had strength enough only to kiss the hands of the two friends.
We all advanced, ready to throw ourselves upon the guards at the
announced signal; but I saw with grief M. de Cinq-Mars cast his hat
from him with an air of disdain. Our movement had been observed,
and the Catalonian guard was doubled round the scaffold. I could
see no more; but I heard much weeping around me. After the three
usual blasts of the trumpet, the recorder of Lyons, on horseback at
a little distance from the scaffold, read the sentence of death, to
which neither of the prisoners listened. M. de Thou said to M. de
"'Well, dear friend, which shall die first? Do you remember Saint-
Gervais and Saint-Protais?'
"'Which you think best,' answered Cinq-Mars.
"The second confessor, addressing M. de Thou, said, 'You are the
"'True,' said M. de Thou; and, turning to M. le Grand, 'You are the
most generous; you will show me the way to the glory of heaven.'
"'Alas!' said Cinq-Mars; 'I have opened to you that of the
precipice; but let us meet death nobly, and we shall revel in the
glory and happiness of heaven!'
"Hereupon he embraced him, and ascended the scaffold with surprising
address and agility. He walked round the scaffold, and contemplated
the whole of the great assembly with a calm countenance, which
betrayed no sign of fear, and a serious and graceful manner. He
then went round once more, saluting the people on every side,
without appearing to recognize any of us, with a majestic and
charming expression of face; he then knelt down, raising his eyes to
heaven, adoring God, and recommending himself to Him. As he
embraced the crucifix, the father confessor called to the people to
pray for him; and M. le Grand, opening his arms, still holding his
crucifix, made the same request to the people. Then he readily
knelt before the block, holding the stake, placed his neck upon it,
and asked the confessor, 'Father, is this right?' Then, while they
were cutting off his hair, he raised his eyes to heaven, and said,
"'My God, what is this world? My God, I offer thee my death as a
satisfaction for my sins!'
"'What are you waiting for? What are you doing there?' he said to
the executioner, who had not yet taken his axe from an old bag he
had brought with him. His confessor, approaching, gave him a
medallion; and he, with an incredible tranquillity of mind, begged
the father to hold the crucifix before his eyes, which he would not
allow to be bound. I saw the two trembling hands of the Abbe
Quillet, who raised the crucifix. At this moment a voice, as clear
and pure as that of an angel, commenced the 'Ave, maris stella'.
In the universal silence I recognized the voice of M. de Thou, who
was at the foot of the scaffold; the people repeated the sacred
strain. M. de Cinq-Mars clung more tightly to the stake; and I saw
a raised axe, made like the English axes. A terrible cry of the
people from the Place, the windows, and the towers told me that it
had fallen, and that the head had rolled to the ground. I had
happily strength enough left to think of his soul, and to commence a
prayer for him.
"I mingled it with that which I heard pronounced aloud by our
unfortunate and pious friend De Thou. I rose and saw him spring
upon the scaffold with such promptitude that he might almost have
been said to fly. The father and he recited a psalm; he uttered it
with the ardor of a seraphim, as if his soul had borne his body to
heaven. Then, kneeling down, he kissed the blood of Cinq-Mars as
that of a martyr, and became himself a greater martyr. I do not
know whether God was pleased to grant him this last favor; but I saw
with horror that the executioner, terrified no doubt at the first
blow he had given, struck him upon the top of his head, whither the
unfortunate young man raised his hand; the people sent forth a long
groan, and advanced against the executioner. The poor wretch,
terrified still more, struck him another blow, which only cut the
skin and threw him upon the scaffold, where the executioner rolled
upon him to despatch him. A strange event terrified the people as
much as the horrible spectacle. M. de Cinq-Mars' old servant held
his horse as at a military funeral; he had stopped at the foot of
the scaffold, and like a man paralyzed, watched his master to the
end, then suddenly, as if struck by the same axe, fell dead under
the blow which had taken off his master's head.
"I write these sad details in haste, on board a Genoese galley, into
which Fontrailles, Gondi, Entraigues, Beauvau, Du Lude, myself, and
others of the chief conspirators have retired. We are going to
England to await until time shall deliver France from the tyrant
whom we could not destroy. I abandon forever the service of the
base Prince who betrayed us.
"Such," continued Corneille, "has been the fate of these two young men
whom you lately saw so powerful. Their last sigh was that of the ancient
monarchy. Nothing more than a court can reign here henceforth; the nobles
and the senates are destroyed."
"And this is your pretended great man!" said Milton. "What has he sought
to do? He would, then, create republics for future ages, since he
destroys the basis of your monarchy?"
"Look not so far," answered Corneille; "he only seeks to reign until the
end of his life. He has worked for the present and not for the future; he
has continued the work of Louis XI; and neither one nor the other knew
what they were doing."
The Englishman smiled.
"I thought," he said, "that true genius followed another path. This man
has shaken all that he ought to have supported, and they admire him! I
pity your nation."
"Pity it not!" exclaimed Corneille, warmly; "a man passes away, but a
people is renewed. This people, Monsieur, is gifted with an immortal
energy, which nothing can destroy; its imagination often leads it astray,
but superior reason will ever ultimately master its disorders."
The two young and already great men walked, as they conversed, upon the
space which separates the statue of Henri IV from the Place Dauphine;
they stopped a moment in the centre of this Place.
"Yes, Monsieur," continued Corneille, "I see every evening with what
rapidity a noble thought finds its echo in French hearts; and every
evening I retire happy at the sight. Gratitude prostrates the poor people
before this statue of a good king! Who knows what other monument another
passion may raise near this? Who can say how far the love of glory will
lead our people? Who knows that in the place where we now are, there may
not be raised a pyramid taken from the East?"
"These are the secrets of the future," said Milton. "I, like yourself,
admire your impassioned nation; but I fear them for themselves. I do not
well understand them; and I do not recognize their wisdom when I see them
lavishing their admiration upon men such as he who now rules you. The
love of power is very puerile; and this man is devoured by it, without
having force enough to seize it wholly. By an utter absurdity, he is a
tyrant under a master. Thus has this colossus, never firmly balanced,
been all but overthrown by the finger of a boy. Does that indicate
genius? No, no! when genius condescends to quit the lofty regions of its
true home for a human passion, at least, it should grasp that passion in
its entirety. Since Richelieu only aimed at power, why did he not, if he
was a genius, make himself absolute master of power? I am going to see a
man who is not yet known, and whom I see swayed by this miserable
ambition; but I think that he will go farther. His name is Cromwell!"