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Duke of Saint-Simon
Personal details
Born 16 January 1675
Died 2 March 1755(1755-03-02) (aged 80)
Spouse(s) Marie Gabrielle de Durfort

Louis de Rouvroy (16 January 1675 – 2 March 1755) commonly known as Saint-Simon was a French soldier, diplomat and writer of memoirs,[1] was born in Paris (Hôtel Selvois, 6 rue Taranne, today at 175 Bd. Saint-Germain).[citation needed] The dukedom-peerage granted to his father, Claude de Rouvroy (1608–1693), is a central fact in his history.

Peerage[edit | edit source]

No one was made a peer who was not a nobleman, but men of the noblest blood might not be, and in most cases were not, peers. Derived at least traditionally and imaginatively from the douze pairs of Charlemagne, the peers were supposed to represent the chosen of the noblesse, and gradually became associated with the parliament of Paris as a quasi-legislative (or at least law-registering) and directly judicial body. The peerage was further complicated by the fact that not persons but the holders of certain fiefs were made peers. Strictly speaking, Saint-Simon was not made a peer, but his estate was raised to the rank of a duché-pairie. The peers were, in a way, representative of the entire body of the Nobility, and it was Saint-Simon's lifelong ideal to convert them into a sort of great council of the nation.[1]

The family's main castle, where the Memoirs were written, was the castle of La Ferté-Vidame, bought by duke Claude shortly after being awarded his dukedom. The castle brought with it the title of vidame de Chartres. It was a rare title; in the Middle Ages a vidame commanded the military forces of a bishop and performed other feudal duties unsuitable for a man of the Church. Over time, seven of these titles relating to some of the larger dioceses became attached to specific properties and usable as titles by the owner. An earlier Vidame of Chartres (not related) had been a famous intriguer and participant in the Wars of Religion on the Huguenot side, which still cast something of a shadow over the title in Saint-Simon's day. Rather oddly, the title was given to an elderly character in the court novel La Princesse de Clèves published in 1678, three years after Saint-Simon was born. Since he himself went by this title until he was eighteen, it may have been the subject of jokes.[citation needed]

Life[edit | edit source]

His father was a tall and taciturn man who was keen on hunting. Saint-Simon was the opposite, garrulous, exceptionally short, and preferred to live indoors. His father had become a minor favourite of Louis XIII, who was addicted to hunting. Louis made him his Master of Wolfhounds and then gave him a Dukedom when relatively young; he was 68 when Saint-Simon was born. Saint-Simon was high up the order of precedence among the Dukes, but many of them were higher, in terms of ancestry and wealth.[citation needed]

His mother, Charlotte de L'Aubespine, belonged to a family which had been distinguished in the public service at least since the time of Francis I; she was a formidable woman whose word was law in her family, even in extreme old age. Her son Louis was well educated, to a great extent by herself, and he had for godfather and godmother Louis XIV and Queen Marie Thérèse. After some tuition by the Jesuits, he joined the mousquetaires gris in 1692. He was present at the 1692 siege of Namur, and the battle of Neerwinden. Then he began the crusade of his life by instigating an action on the part of the peers of France against François-Henri de Montmorency, duc de Luxembourg, his victorious general, on a point of precedence.[1]

He fought another campaign or two (not under Luxembourg), and in 1695 married Marie Gabrielle de Durfort (styled as Mademoiselle de Lorges), daughter of Guy Aldonce de Durfort de Lorges, a marshal who had commanded him. He seemed to have regarded her with a respect and affection unusual between husband and wife at the time; and she sometimes succeeded in modifying his aristocratic ideas.[1]

As he did not receive the promotion he desired, he flung up his commission in 1702. Thus Louis XIV took a dislike to him, and he kept his place at court only with difficulty. He was, however, intensely interested in all the transactions of Versailles, and kept a collection of informers ranging from dukes to servants, who gave him the extraordinary secret information which he has handed down.[1]

Saint-Simon's own part appears to have been entirely subordinate. He was appointed ambassador to Rome in 1705, but the appointment was cancelled before he started. At last he attached himself to Philippe II of Orléans, Louis XIV's nephew and the future Regent. Though this was hardly likely to conciliate Louis, it gave him at least the status of belonging to a definite party and it eventually placed him in the position of friend to the acting Chief of State. He also was attached to Louis, duke of Burgundy, the Dauphin's son and next heir to the throne.[1]

Saint-Simon hated "the bastards," the illegitimate children of Louis XIV. It does not appear that this hatred was founded on moral reasons or fear that these bastards would be intruded into the succession. The true cause of his wrath was that, by Royal fiat, they had ceremonial precedence over the peers.[1] The Saint-Simon that is revealed through the Mémoires had many enemies, and had a deep hatred against many courtiers. However, it should be remembered that the Mémoires were written 30 years after the facts, by a disappointed man, and that Saint-Simon as a courtier had lived on very polite and courtly terms with most.[2]

The death of Louis XIV seemed to give Saint-Simon a chance of realizing his hopes. The duke of Orléans was at once acknowledged Regent and Saint-Simon placed on the council of regency. But no steps were taken to carry out his favourite vision of a France ruled by the nobility, and he had little real influence with the Regent. He was gratified by the degradation of "the bastards," and, in 1721, he was appointed special ambassador to Spain to arrange for the marriage (which never took place) of Louis XV and Infanta Mariana Victoria of Spain.[1] There he,[1] and his second son,[citation needed] received the grandeeship, and, though he also caught smallpox, he was quite satisfied with the business:[1] he could now hope for two lineages of dukes (a grandee was recognised in France as duke). Saint-Simon was not eager, as most other nobility, to acquire profitable functions, and he did not use his influence to repair his finances, even further ruined by the magnificence of his embassy.[citation needed]

After his return he had little to do with public affairs. His own account of the cessation of his intimacy with Orléans and Guillaume Dubois, the latter of whom had never been his friend, is, like his account of some other events of his own life, rather vague and obscure. But there can be little doubt that he was eclipsed, and even expelled from the Meudon castle by Dubois. He survived for more than thirty years; but little is known of his life. His wife died in 1743, his eldest son a little later; he had other family troubles, and he was loaded with debt; the dukedom in which he took such pride ended with him, and his only granddaughter was childless.[1]

When he died, at Paris on 2 March 1755, he had almost entirely outlived his own generation and the prosperity of his house, though not its notoriety. This last was in strange fashion revived by a distant relative born five years after his own death, Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon[1] – the founder of Socialism. All his possessions, including his writings, were seized by the State on his death, and a large part of his Memoirs is missing.[citation needed]

Fame as a writer[edit | edit source]

It can be said that the actual events of Saint-Simon's life, long as it was and high as was his position, are neither numerous nor noteworthy. Yet he posthumously acquired great literary fame. He was an indefatigable writer, and he began very early to write down all the gossip he collected, all his interminable legal disputes of precedence, and a vast mass of unclassified matter. Most of his manuscripts came into the possession of the government, and it was long before their contents were fully published. Partly in the form of notes on Marquis de Dangeau's Journal, partly in that of original and independent memoirs, partly in scattered and multifarious tracts, he had committed to paper an immense amount of matter.[1]

Saint-Simon's memoirs display a striking voice. On the one hand, he is petty, unjust to private enemies and to those who espoused public parties with which he did not agree, and an omnivorous gossip. Yet he shows a great skill for narrative and for character-drawing. He has been compared to Gaius Cornelius Tacitus, and to historians such as Livy. He is at the same time not a writer who can be "sampled" easily,[1] inasmuch as his most characteristic passages sometimes occur in the midst of long stretches of quite uninteresting matter. His vocabulary was extreme and inventive; among other words he is supposed to provide the first use of "intellectual" as a noun, and to have invented "patriot" and "publicity".[1]

A few critical studies of him, especially those of Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, are the basis of much that has been written about him. His most famous passages, such as the account of the death of the dauphin, or of the Bed of Justice where his enemy, Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, duc du Maine, was degraded, do not give a fair idea of his talent. These are his gallery pieces, his great "engines," as French art slang calls them. Much more noteworthy as well as more frequent are the sudden touches which he gives. The bishops are "cuistres violets" (purple pedants); M. de Caumartin "porte sous son manteau toute la faculté que M. de Villeroy étale sur son baudrier" (holds under his cloak all the power that M. de Villeroy displays on his sheath); another politician has a "mine de chat fâché" (appearance of a disgruntled cat). In short, the interest of the Memoirs is in the novel and adroit use of word and phrase.[1]

He had a decisive influence on writers like Tolstoy, Barbey d' Aurevilly, Flaubert, Valle-Inclán, Proust, Mujica Láinez, and many others.[citation needed]

Family[edit | edit source]

Saint-Simon married Marie Gabrielle de Durfort,[1] on 8 April 1695 at the Hôtel de Lorges in Paris. They had three children:[citation needed]

  1. Charlotte de Rouvroy (8 September 1696 – 29 September 1763) married Charles Louis de Henin-Liétard d'Alsace, Prince of Chimay, they had no children;[citation needed]
  2. Jacques Louis de Rouvroy (29 July 1698 – 15 July 1746) married Catherine Charlotte Therese de Gramont, and they had no children;[citation needed]
  3. Armand Jean de Rouvroy (12 April 1699 – 20 May 1754) married Marie Jeanne Louise Bauyn d'Angervilliers, they had one daughter.[citation needed]

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Extensive publication of Saint-Simon's Memoirs did not proceed until the 1820s. The first and greatest critical edition was in the Grands écrivains de la France series. The most accessible modern edition consists of nine volumes in the Bibliothèque de la Pléïade.[citation needed]

English-language translations of the Memoirs[edit | edit source]

There are a number of English-language translations of selections of the Memoirs:

  • Memoirs on the Reign of Louis XIV, and the Regency. Abridged by Bayle St. John. London: Chapman, 1857.
  • The Memoirs of the Duke of Saint-Simon on the reign of Louis XIV, and the Regency. 2nd edition. 3 volumes. Translated by Bayle St. John. London: Swan, Sonnenschein, Lowrey, 1888.
  • Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon on the Times of Louis XIV and the Regency. Translated and abridged by Katharine Prescott Wormeley. Boston: Hardy, Pratt, 1902.
  • Louis XIV at Versailles: A Selection from the Memoirs of the duc de Saint-Simon. Translated and edited by Desmond Flower. London: Cassell, 1954.
  • The Age of Magnificence: The Memoirs of the Duke de Saint-Simon. Edited and translated by Sanche de Gramont (Ted Morgan). New York: Putnam, 1963.
  • Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon. Edited by W.H. Lewis. Translated by Bayle St. John. London: B.T. Batsford, 1964.
  • Historical Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon, volume 1 1691-1709. Edited and translated by Lucy Norton. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1967.
  • Historical Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon, volume 2 1710-1715. Edited and translated by Lucy Norton. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1968.
  • Historical Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon, volume 3 1715-1723. Edited and translated by Lucy Norton. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1972.
  • Saint-Simon at Versailles. Edited and translated by Lucy Norton. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1980. Includes selections which are omitted from the three longer volumes, which together include about 40% of the whole work.

Studies of the Memoirs (in English)[edit | edit source]

  • Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953. (Chapter 16, "The Interrupted Supper")
  • Cioran, Emil Michel. "Drawn and Quartered". New York: Arcade Publishing, 1998. (Section II)
  • Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. ISBN 0-226-47320-1
  • De Ley, Herbert. Saint-Simon Memorialist. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975.
  • Ruas, Charles. The Intellectual Development of the Duc de Saint Simon. Princeton University, 1970.

Notes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Goyau, Georges (1912). "Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de Saint-Simon". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. 13. Robert Appleton Company. 
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Saintsbury, George (1911) "Saint-Simon, Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de" in Chisholm, Hugh Encyclopædia Britannica 24 (11th ed.) Cambridge University Press pp. 47, 48 

External links[edit | edit source]

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