Saturday, 27 April 2013


I am currently reading 4 books all on various unconnected topics. The first one is entitled Les Mémoires de Saint-Simon, it is a 12 volume diary transferred in book format of the memoirs of Louis de Rouvroy Duc de Saint-Simon and Pair de France (1675-1755). He is famous in French literature and many enjoy reading him, despite the fact that is grammar is terrible and his French can be described as archaic, meaning that his written French is more in keeping with the style of writing prior to 1700. Many of his sentences run on and sometimes have no verb.  But why is Saint-Simon so appreciated and why do so many people enjoy reading him?

Well his memoirs are devoted to life at Court in Versailles at the time of Louis XIV and Louis XV. His father was a confidant of King Louis XIII. He came from a privileged family and his world view is that of the high circles around the King. He describes life and the people at Court in terms that paint a accurate picture of what it was like. He will often give physical description of a person, their character and personal habits. He tells you about the behaviour at Court and what is required to be noticed by the King. You see intrigue, gossiping, evil doings and great kindness anything is good as long as it gets you noticed. No one is spared not even the King or his brother called Monsieur in his descriptions. Saint-Simon does not like Monsieur who is gay and attaches himself to the Duc de Bourgnone in the hope of gaining political power at Court.

Conducting the business of war in Europe and there were many wars almost one every 3 years which often went on for several decades and all to do with Royal Successions, territory, political ascendency or honour. The King conducts the war and the Court must follow him, literally hundreds of people and servants with all the necessary baggage. Nobles with ambition are required to buy a regiment, dress and feed it and put it at the disposal of the King. It is an honour to pay to raise an army in the service of the Monarch. Battle is done through complicated protocol and following prescribed ideas on rank. Battle cannot be engage until all parties are agreed. It looks more like a parade of troops and flags, Officers dressed in elegant and lavish outfits, with great plumed hats and many ribbons and medals flashing.

He describes going to war against the Prince of Orange (Netherlands) and how the King decides one morning that he is bored and is returning to Versailles taking with him all the ladies of the Court. The Prince of Orange is overjoyed by this stroke of luck and the French Nobles including Saint-Simon are devastated by this news, what should they do now, go home, stay? Battle is engage and Saint-Simon describes who is killed, he only mentions his fellow nobles and who looses his hat or his perruque, the cannonball took the hat and perruque but not the fellows head, we had a good laugh. Then after an 8 hour battle where he tells us that amid the battlefield he had his man servant and his two laquais follow him as is the tradition in case he needed to change horse in mid-stream, brave lads he says. At the end of the day he is famished and has luck would have it for dinner with his fellow princes and dukes there is a great rack of lamb and a good bottle of red wine. By the way there were twenty thousand dead but the lamb at dinner was superb and we won the battle.

Saint-Simon is a man of his time, the people is the Court, his fellow noble. France is the King it is not a territory as such, the centre of the world is Versailles. The Tier Etat when he refers to it is the great ignorant and superstitious un-wash masses which really do not count at all in the scheme of things.

Honours and who got them from the King is also extremely important. Constant battle at Court to get this or that honour or to even get a simple Bonjour or a gesture from the King on any given day is a great honour and can mean all manner of things. If the King stops to speak to you and smiles, well all the Court watching will know that you are suddenly in favour. Difficult to understand in our world of today, we are so very far from that world.

From an historical perspective I find it interesting, it helps understand how the world was then in France and in Europe and the events of that period. Though Saint-Simon's ways of thinking may appear pretentious to us, it was then common. Even Voltaire who was not a nobleman did not write or speak for the great masses, he directed his books and his writing to the rulers of Europe and to the Aristocracy. He had no interest in the common people.

Canada being a Kingdom one can pursue honours from the Sovereign. The Office of the Chief Herald of Canada in the Household of the Governor General can receive petition for a personal Coat of Arms and a flag which if accepted after review will be granted by the Sovereign in letters patent. However we have no one like Saint-Simon to relate the gossip and no Court around the Governor-General.



  1. Big question: is the version you're reading abridged, or are you going to get to the end of all twelve volumes? We have, I think, four here, bought by J but he's not got very far, I fancy.

    1. No I got the full version I did not want the abridged one because I wanted to see what Saint-Simon had to say. A lot of it is somewhat tedious I suppose for a common soul like me, but hilarious to a grandee.
      I thought of not going to the end of it but I will persevere.

  2. I tend to read several books at a time, as my humming bird brain doesn't stay on one read for long. I love reading history, so there is a history going at any given time. Currently I am reading a history of the New Testament and the h/o the US Supreme Court. jolly good fun !

    1. I will write later of the other books I am reading.