Gramont, Philibert, Count De
court memoirs hamilton entirely
GRAMONT, PHILIBERT, COUNT DE (1621-1707). A happy accident has preserved for the instruction of mankind rather than for their edification the portrait and the history of a man who entirely represents one section, fortunately a small section, of the society of his day. Of good family, rich, a gallant soldier, endowed with every kind of cleverness, the Count de Gramont endeavoured to live the life of unrestrained enjoyment. In this he so far succeeded that, although the following century furnished more numerous examples of his kind, he may be taken as the most finished specimen. His ideal man was a being without conscience, without principle, without religion, without a soul. At the court of Charles II. he found companions like himself, - women without virtue, men without honour, yet disguised and adorned with courtly manners and that external refinement which did duty for principle; and had it not been that his brother-in-law, Hamilton, conceived the design of writing the memoirs which have made him famous, Gramont would have been as entirely forgotten as most of his friends, save for a brief mention by St Evremond and another by Bussy Rabutin in that little-visited gallery of portraits, the lit Amoureuse. His grandfather had the distinction of being husband to Diane d'Andouins, la belle Corisande, one of the mistresses of Henry IV. The grandson always regretted that the king had not acknowledged his father for his own son, lamenting even in the presence of Louis XIV. that his family had- missed the chance of becoming, in this illegitimate fashion, a branch of the royal line. The anecdote is entirely characteristic. It was at first proposed to enter him in the church, but he speedily perceived that his vocation was not ecclesiastical, and joined the army, in which he saw a great deal of active service, and was rewarded with the governorship of the Pays d'Aunis, and with other small posts. He crossed over to England during the protectorate of Cromwell. In the year 1662, two years after the restoration of Charles II., he was exiled from the French court and again repaired to London, where he found such a welcome as was due to his manners, his gaiety, his extraordinary good spirits, and his love of gambling, intrigue, gallantry, and pleasure. It is the period of his residence at the English court which forms the greater part of Hamilton's memoirs. He is described by Bussy Rabutin as having "laughing eyes, a well-formed nose, a pretty mouth, a little dimple in the chin which gave an agreeable effect to the whole face, a certain finesse in his countenance, and a fairly good stature but for a stoop." In the whole English court there was no one more full of wit, more avid of pleasure, more devoid of all moral restraint, not even Rochester himself, than the Count de Gramont. Naturally, the court being what it was, there was no one more popular. In a court where the women vied with each other for the king's favour, where the men habitually cheated at play, seduced their friends' wives, and corrupted their friends' daughters, that man would be most popular in whom the absence of principle becanie, by reason of his grace, esprit, and elegance, in itself a recommendation. Gramont was as purely a sensualist as any Roman of the later empire.
He married, in London, but on compulsion, the sister of his future biographer, Miss Hamilton, who, her brother tells us in the memoirs, was able to fix his affections. 'The statement must be received with some qualifications. The count, it is true, was by no means young when he married. At the same time, he " galantisait " for many years afterwards, and, in fact, to the very end of a long life. He was the only old man, says Ninon de l'Enclos, who could.affect the follies of youth without being ridiculous. In fact, Gramont, like La Fontaine, was a spoiled child, to whom everything was allowed, and who repaid indulgence by perpetual high spirits, and a continual flow of wit and bons mots. At the age of seventy-five he had a dangerous illness, during which he became reconciled, in his way, to the church, but • on recovery relapsed into his old habits. At eighty he either dictated or revised his own memoirs, written by his brother-in-law Antony Hamilton. When they were finished he sold the manuscript for 1500 francs and kept most of the money himself. Fontenelle, then censor of the press, refused to license the work, from considerations of respect to the old man who, had so strangely exposed in its pages the whole of his character. These scruples were overcome by the count himself, who had the pleasure of seeing his biography appear in his own lifetime, and of laughing with the rest of the world at his own rogueries at cards, his amorous adventures, and his secret intrigues.
He died at the great age of eighty-six. His biographer Hamilton died thirteen years later at the age of seventy-four. The memoirs of the Count de Gramont are not to be recommended for general reading ; yet they have the merit of being true ; in no other work is the reality of that profligate society of St James's so vividly expressed ; in no other contemporary memoirs is there so much wit, such grace of style, such skill in portraiture. Numerous editions and translations have been issued of this work, whose popularity seems destined to continue and grow.