1 - 6 from 6
While the letters to Voltaire show us nothing but the brilliant exterior of Madame du Deffand's mind, those to Walpole reveal the whole state of her soul. The revelation is not a pretty one. Bitterness, discontent, pessimism, cynicism, boredom, regret, despair these are the feelings that dominate every page. To a superficial observer Madame du Deffand's lot must have seemed peculiarly enviable; she was well off, she enjoyed the highest consideration, she possessed intellectual talents of the rarest kind which she had every opportunity of displaying, and she was surrounded by a multitude of friends. What more could anyone desire? The harsh old woman would have smiled grimly at such a question. 'A little appetite, she might have answered. She was like a dyspeptic at a feast; the finer the dishes that were set before her, the greater her distaste; that spiritual gusto which lends a savour to the meanest act of living, and without which all life seems profitless, had gone from her for ever. Yet and this intensified her wretchedness though the banquet was loathsome to her, she had not the strength to tear herself away from the table. Once, in a moment of desperation, she had thoughts of retiring to a convent, but she soon realised that such an action was out of the question. Fate had put her into the midst of the world, and there she must remain. 'Je ne suis point assez heureuse, she said, 'de me passer des choses dont je ne me soucie pas. She was extremely lonely. As fastidious in friendship as in literature, she passed her life among a crowd of persons whom she disliked and despised, 'Je ne vois que des sots et des fripons, she said; and she did not know which were the most disgusting. She took a kind of deadly pleasure in analysing 'les nuances des sottises' among the people with whom she lived. The varieties were many, from the foolishness of her companion, Mademoiselle Sanadon, who would do nothing but imitate her 'elle fait des définitions, she wails to that of the lady who hoped to prove her friendship by unending presents of grapes and pears 'comme je n'y tâte pas, cela diminue mes scrupules du peu de goût que j'ai pour elle. Then there were those who were not quite fools but something very near it. 'Tous les Matignon sont des sots, said somebody one day to the Regent, 'excepté le Marquis de Matignon. 'Cela est vrai, the Regent replied, 'il n'est pas sot, mais on voit bien qu'il est le fils d'un sot. Madame du Deffand was an expert at tracing such affinities. For instance, there was Necker. It was clear that Necker was not a fool, and yet what was it? Something was the matter yes, she had it: he made you feel a fool yourself 'l'on est plus bête avec lui que l'on ne l'est tout seul. As she said of herself: 'elle est toujours tentée d'arracher les masques qu'elle rencontre. Those blind, piercing eyes of hers spied out unerringly the weakness or the ill-nature or the absurdity that lurked behind the gravest or the most fascinating exterior; then her fingers began to itch, and she could resist no longer she gave way to her besetting temptation. It is impossible not to sympathise with Rousseau's remark about her 'J'aimai mieux encore m'exposer au fléau de sa haine qu'