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Louis de Rouvroy, better known as " Saint-Simon », Is a French memorialist whose Memoirs (1691-1723) constitute both historical and human testimony on the end of the reign of Louis XIV and on the Regency. He was already compared during his lifetime "to the most interesting and the most pleasant of dictionaries" by Marshal de Belle-Isle, while the first edition of his Memoirs would not appear until 1829. Enamored of order and justice, in love in all truth, passionate about the good of the State, his life as a courtier at Versailles, Fontainebleau, Marly, where intrigues and worldly events followed one another, gave him material for observation.
Louis de Rouvroy, Duke of Saint-Simon
Son of Claude de Rouvroy, raised duke and peer by Louis XIII, Louis was born in Paris in January 1675. Baptized in Versailles in 1677, godchild of Louis XIV and Marie Thérèse of Austria, he is vidame of Chartres and will benefit from his great kinship with the Duchess of Angoulême, the future Princess of the Ursins, Mme de Montespan, the Duke of Lauzun and many others.
His father passed on the essentials to him: honor, probity, lofty hearts, but also pride and the instinct of the breed. He also liked to remember the past and told his son many anecdotes from the court. Perhaps, this is when Louis finds that remembering is happy! Young Louis is virtuous, has no taste for women, nor games, nor wine; instinctively he recognizes decent people; he is religious and imagines a patriotic ideal mixed with his prejudices of rank.
He entered the Musketeers at the age of seventeen, took part in the siege of Namur in 1692 and the battle of Neerwinden in 1693, then bought a cavalry regiment at the end of the year.
Became Duke of Saint Simon in 1693 and peer of France, Governor of Blaye, Grand Bailiff of Senlis, Count of Rasse, Marquis of Ruffec, in 1695 he married one of Marshal de Lorges' daughters, to whom he remained faithful throughout his life. A journalist of the period paints a pretty portrait of the bride "who is blonde and a cutest figure; that she has an extraordinary finesse and a dazzling whiteness; the soft eyes, quite large and well slit, the nose a little long and which raises its physiognomy, a graceful mouth, the full cheeks, the oval face, and a throat which can neither be better cut nor more beautiful. All this together forms an air of modesty and grandeur which imprints respect: she has, moreover, all the beauty of soul that a person of quality should have, and she will go hand in hand in merit with the Duke of Saint- Simon her husband, one of the wisest and most accomplished Lords of the Court ”.
His relations with Louis XIV
Admitted to the king, he is a diligent courtier and feels that he is destined more for the life of the court than that of the army. However, in 1702, at the start of the War of Succession, not obtaining a post when younger than him were being promoted, he informed the king that he was leaving his service for "health reasons"! Louis XIV is dissatisfied, and even though Saint Simon sometimes has the honor of being named for the candlestick at bedtime, he is stripped of any real advancement. The duke becomes even more assiduous, accomplishes his function of representation brilliantly, takes part in the demonstrations, begins to record in his head quantity of scenes, anecdotes and portraits "I therefore found myself instructed daily, of all things by pure, direct and certain channels, and of all things large and small. My curiosity, regardless of other reasons, found great value in it; and we must admit that, character or none, it is only this kind of food that we live in the Courtyards, without which we only languish ”.
With his independent character and his freedom of speech, Saint Simon makes people envious, people want to harm him, he is considered dangerous and he complains to the king who replies "But also, sir, it is that you speak and that you blame, that's what makes people speak against you, you have to hold your tongue ”.
Despite the king’s aversion, the Duke and Duchess were often invited to Marly between 1710 and 1714, also having an apartment in the castle; the Duchess becomes lady of honor to the young Duchess of Berry. Saint Simon feasts, he can "spy, see, listen at the gates", also participating in several scandals such as "the Bonnets affair" and "the Unigenitus constitution", until 1715 when the king died.
His friend Philippe d´Orléans
Childhood friend of Philippe, Saint-Simon remains attached to him despite his harmful side. He wants to bring out the "noble half" of the Regent, he strives to extract him from certain critical situations where he risks falling. Member of the Regency Council, often giving his opinion even if it is only rarely taken into account, Saint Simon does not want to bother with Seals and Finances, this is how Abbé Dubois takes an important place. to the government.
Very straddling precedence, he had the satisfaction of seeing the bastards of Louis XIV reduced to their peerage rank in 1718. He was also commissioned to Spain for the signing of the marriage contract between Louis XV and the little infant in 1721 / 1722. When the Regent died in 1723, he "died to the world" and retired from court. He comes from time to time to Paris, sometimes visits the Duchess of La Vallière or that of Mancini and "out of the freedom of an old man and a great nobleman who has become a country man, and to make himself more comfortable, he put his wig on an armchair, and his head was smoking ”.
The Memories of Saint-Simon
Having taken great pleasure in reading the Mémoires du Maréchal de Bassompierre, he will take sixty years to realize his own, while asking the Abbé de Rancé for advice at the beginning on how to proceed and the measures to be observed for such written.
From the age of nineteen, while he was captain in the Royal-Roussillon, he began to write, the day after the battle of Neerwinden in July 1693 where he relates the facts firmly and clearly, in a bulletin detailed for his mother and friends.
Between his military campaigns and genealogical work on peerages and royal orders, he did not resume his Memoirs until 1739, after the Duke of Luynes had given him the "Fade Journal" of the Marquis de Dangeau, written between 1684 and 1720, a journal that will be very useful. In ten years, between 1739 and 1749, he wrote 2,800 large pages of tight lines as well as a “Parallel of the three first Bourbon kings” in which he placed Louis XIII on a pedestal by declaring him greater king than his father Henri IV and than his son Louis XIV.
Unlike the previous authors of Mémoires, he listens every day, he writes every evening; he is aware of everything and immediately keeps a register; It is only when he retreats to his lands that he will coordinate this mass of information that he will shape.
The previous authors confined themselves to outlines and outlines. Saint Simon, for his part, has a real observer temperament, sometimes excessive; he will relate everything in detail: events, court scenes, weddings, deaths, faces, expressions, report the conversations by even setting the tone and flow of the words. Everything is of interest to him. He himself said "These Memoirs are source, first-hand: their truth, their authenticity cannot be called into question, and I think I can say that there has not been any so far who have understood no more different subjects, more in-depth, more detailed, neither which form a more informative nor more curious group ”.
Of course, there are some mistakes. We can forgive him. His Memoirs are not a History Book based on sources such as diplomatic letters, letters from ambassadors, military reports, original documents. His Memoirs are a moral story told by witnesses: we live at court, we listen, we listen and we hear a lot of things being said; we look, we spy; elders and valets are consulted; we just repeat what we have heard.
On the death of Saint Simon, fearing that his Memoirs might be used by ill-intentioned people, Choiseul, minister of Louis XV, had all the Duke's papers transferred to the Archives Depot in 1760; in spite of everything, there were some publications of excerpts compiled and truncated between 1788 and 1791. We had to wait for the first complete edition of his Memoirs in 1829 to obtain an unexpected result: an immense success, as if we were discovering the heyday of the monarchy , as if we were there, as if we lived there. His writings are kept at the National Library "under the safest locks".
He died in March 1755. His private mansion in rue de Grenelle was demolished at the end of the 18th century, his château de la Ferté sold to a financier; but fortunately it remains today its two Parisian hotels boulevard Saint Germain and rue du Recherches Midi.
Recognized as Great among the Greatest memorialists, André Gide noted "every sentence, every word lives, quivers, emancipates itself, keeping the mark of his impetuous spirit"; Emile Zola wrote, "with our most illustrious authors, you can smell the rhetoric, the preparation of the sentence, a smell of ink emanates from the pages. With him, none of these things, the sentence is only a throb of life, the passion has dried ink, the work is a human cry, the long monologue of a man who lives aloud ".
- Anthology of the Memoirs of Saint-Simon. Le livre de Poche, 2007.
- Saint-Simon or The system of the court, by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. Fayard, 1998.
- Saint-Simon, by Denis Lorieux. Perrin, 2001.