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COUNT PHILIBERT DE GRAMMONT
THE GAYEST OF FRENCH GALLANTS
(INTRODUCTORY NOTE) Undoubtedly, these memoirs of the Chevalier de Grammont are unique. For drollery, sophistication, satire and vivacity they are unrivaled in the literature of personal history. Many eminent critics have agreed that if any book were to be selected as affording the truest specimen of perfect French gayety, the Memoirs of Grammont would be chosen in preference to all others. This is all the more singular when you consider that the book was not written by Grammont himself, but only revised and approved by him. He told his stories to an admiring friend, Anthony Hamilton, and Hamilton turned them into literature. Hamilton was an Irish nobleman who entered the service of the French king Louis XIV, and spent his life in France, where one of his sisters married the Count de Grammont. Hence came the connection of Hamilton with the hero of the memoirs, who, in his old age, dictated their substance to his brother-in-law. It was a curious collaboration, for while the Count de Grammont was a brilliant raconteur and wit, he could not put himself on paper, in fact, grew dull and commonplace when he attempted to write; on the other hand, Anthony Hamilton never shone in conversation or impromptu persiflage, yet in narrating the life of the vivacious Chevalier he scintillated to such extent that his work became an ever-living classic which has charmed generations. He was the author of several novels and many verses, but they did not attain to the level of his genius in the memoirs.
In the course of his career, Anthony Hamilton was privy-councilor in Ireland and governor of Limerick. About the year 1704, having retired to France after the total overthrow of James II's affairs in Ireland, he directed his energies to recording the gallant reminiscences of Grammont. A long intimacy had existed between the two men though the Count was some twenty years the senior of Hamilton. They were of very different dispositions, but one evidently complemented the other when it came to literary performance. In their picture of Charles II and his licentious court they have more vividly than any other shown the lack of manners and morals then encouraged and condoned. There is no moralizing. No need of it. The facts related so lightly, so indifferently, are sufficient.
Grammont was admired extravagantly by his circle, Hamilton lauding him to the skies, and St. Evremond, his life-long friend, inditing the following epitaph:
Here lies the Count de Grammont, stranger!
Old Evremond's eternal theme:
May envy from the bravest claim.
At matins, mass, and vespers steady?
He left these cares to my good lady.
Condé himself may have a double;
Would cost dame Nature too much trouble.
MEMOIRS OF THE COUNT DE GRAMMONT
INTRODUCTION As those who read only for amusement are, in my opinion, more worthy of attention than those who open a book merely to find fault, to the former I address myself, and for their entertainment commit the following pages to press, without being in the least concerned about the severe criticisms of the latter. I further declare, that the order of time and disposition of the facts, which give more trouble to the writer than pleasure to the reader, shall not much embarrass me in these Memoirs. It being my design to convey a just idea of my hero, those circumstances which most tend to illustrate and distinguish his character shall find a place in these fragments just as they present themselves to my imagination, without paying any particular attention to their arrangement. For, after all, what does it signify where the portrait is begun, provided the assemblage of the parts forms a whole which perfectly expresses the original ?
It is my part to describe a man whose inimitable character casts a veil over those faults which I shall neither palliate nor disguise; a man distinguished by a mixture of virtues and vices so closely linked together as in appearance to form a necessary dependence, glowing with the greatest beauty when united, shining with the brightest luster when opposed.
It is this indefinable brilliancy, which, in war, in love, in gaming, and in the various stages of a long life, has rendered the Count de Grammont the admiration of his age, and the delight of every country wherein he has displayed his engaging wit, dispensed his generosity and magnificence, or practiced his inconstancy: it is owing to this that the sallies of a sprightly imagination have produced those admirable bonsmots which have been with universal applause transmitted to posterity. It is owing to this that he preserved his judgment free and unembarrassed in the most trying situations, and enjoyed an uncommon presence of mind and facetiousness of temper in the most imminent dangers of war. I shall not attempt to draw his portrait: his person has been described by Bussi and St. Evremond, authors more entertaining than faithful. The former has represented the Chevalier Grammont as artful, fickle, and even somewhat treacherous in his amours, and indefatigable and cruel in his jealousies. St. Evremond has used other colors to express the genius and describe the general manners of the Count; whilst both, in their different pictures, have done greater honor to themselves than justice to their hero.
It is, therefore, to the Count we must listen, in the agreeable relation of the sieges and battles wherein he distinguished himself under another hero; and it is on him we must rely for the truth of passages the least glorious of his life, and for the sincerity with which he relates his address, vivacity, frauds, and the various stratagems he practiced either in love or gaming. These express his true character, and to himself we owe these memoirs, since I only hold the pen, while he directs it to the most remarkable and secret passages of his life.
In those days affairs were not managed in France as at present. Louis XIII. then sat upon the throne, but the