Letter from St. Évremond to the Marquis de Créqui ("After having lived in the constraint of Courts…")
A LETTER TO THE MARQUIS DE CRÉQUI1
After having lived in the constraint of Courts, I take up with the comfort of ending my days in the freedom of a Commonwealth, where if nothing is to be hoped for, there’s at least nothing to be fear’d. It would be scandalous for a young man not to enter the world, with a design to make his fortune. But when we are upon the decline, Nature calls us back to our selves; and the sentiments of Ambition yielding to the love of our Repose, we find it a blessing to live in a Country, where the Laws guard us against the wills of men; and where, to be secure of all, we need only be secure of our selves.
To this blessing we may add, That the Magistrates have a great sway in their Offices for the interest of the Publick; but are little distinguish’d in their Persons, by private advantages; so that there are no odious Distinctions offensive to men of breeding; no needless Dignities; no cumbersom Greatness, which cramps Liberty, without enlarging one’s Fortune. Here men in authority procure our Repose, without expecting any acknowledgment, or even any respect for the services they do us. They are severe in the execution of the orders of the State; stiff in the management of the interest of their Country with foreign Nations; mild and tractable with their Fellow-burghers; easy with all sorts of private Persons. The bottom of equality still remains, notwithstanding Power; and therefore credit never makes a man insolent, and the Governors never bear hard on those that are govern’d.
As for Taxes, they are indeed very great; but they are faithfully laid out for the publick good, and leave every one the comsort of contributing only for himself. Therefore the love people have here for their Country is not to be wonder’d at, since, properly speaking, ’tis no more than Self-love. But I dwell too long on the Government, without mentioning him who seems to have the greatest share in it2. To do him justice, nothing equals his Capacity but his Disinterestedness and Spirit.
Spiritual matters are managed with the like moderation. The difference of Religion, which in other places raises so many commotions, does not, in the least, ruffle here the minds of people : every one seeks Heaven after his own way; and those who are thought to go astray, are more pitied than hated, and bespeak from others a pure Charity, free from the indiscretion of mistaken Zeal.
As there is nothing perfect every way in this World, we find here fewer polite persons than men fit for business; and more good sense in the management of affairs than delicacy in conversation. The Ladies are very civil, and the Men are so easy as not to take it ill of one, if he prefers their Wives company to theirs. The latter are sociable enough for an amusement; but have not vivacity enough to disturb a man’s repose. Not but some of them are very lovely; but then there is nothing to be expected from them; which may be ascrib’d either to their discretion, or to their natural coldness, which serves them instead of virtue. Whatever may be the reason of it, we find in Holland a certain reservedness generally establish’d, and I know not what tradition of Chastity, which passes from Mother to Daughter, like an Article of Faith.
’Tis true, they do not find fault with the Gallantry of young Women, who are honestly allow’d to use all innocent helps to get Husbands. Some conclude the course of their Gallantry in a happy Marriage; while others, more unfortunate, feed themselves with vain hopes of a condition, which is daily put off, and never comes. These long amusements, however, ought not to be imputed to any meditated design of infidelity. A man finds himself disgusted at long run; and a disgust for his Mistress breaks his resolutions of making her his Wife : thus fearing to pass for a deceiver, he has not courage enough to break off, at the same time, when he is not willing to come to a conclusion; and so what by the power of habit and long acquaintance, what out of a foolish vanity of being thought constant, a man makes a shift to keep up languishingly the miserable remains of a worn-out passion. Some examples of this nature, have put very serious reflections into the heads of some young Women, who consider Marriage as an amorous Adventure, and their natural condition as the true state in which they ought to continue.
As for the Wives, when they have once given their Faith, they think they have no right to dispose of themselves, and seem to know nothing in the world, but barely their duty. They would make it a conscience to allow themselves the liberty of affections which the chastest Women reserve to themselves in other places, without any regard to their obligations or dependance. Here the least liberties pass for Infidelity; and Infidelity, which passes for a genteel merit in agreeable Courts, is reckon’d the foulest of all vices with this honest Nation, which is very wise as to the conduct of its Government, but unexperienc’d as to refined Pleasures, and a polite way of living. The Husbands reward the fidelity of their Wives, by a great subjection; and if contrary to this receiv’d custom, a Man should affect to be lord and master in his own house, the Wife wou’d be pitied by all her neighbours, as the most unfortunate of her sex; and the Husband exclaim’d against as a very ill-natur’d fellow.
A wretched experience has given me judgment enough, at my own expence, to distinguish between these things, and makes me regret that time wherein we receive more satisfaction from sense than knowledge. Sometimes I call to mind what I have been, to re-animate what I am at present; and from this remembrance of my former sentiments, is form’d a certain disposition to tenderness, or at least a removal from indolence. A happy tyranny that of our Passions, which make up all the pleasures of our lives! An irksome empire that of Reason, if it robs us of all our agreeable thoughts, and keeps us in an unprofitable idleness, instead of establishing a true repose!
I will not trouble you with a long account of the Hague : ’tis enough to tell you, that Travellers are charm’d with it, after they have seen the magnificence of Paris, and the rarities of Italy. On one side you see a Walk to the Sea, worthy of the grandeur of the old Romans : on the other you enter a Wood, which is the most agreeable one that ever I beheld in my life. In the very same place you see Houses enough to make a great City, and rows of Trees sufficient to make a delicious Solitude. At certain private hours, you find here all the innocent pleasures that the Country affords; at that of publick meeting, all the busy chat and noise, which the most populous Cities are able to furnish. Their Houses are more free than in France, at the appointed times for receiving Company; but more reserved than in Italy, when too exact a regularity obliges strangers to withdraw, and reduces the family to a close way of living. We now and then go to make our court to the young Prince3, who will have reason to complain of me, for telling you only, that a person of his Age and Quality was never master of so much good sense and judgment. To say all, I must tell you things that would not be believ’d; and by a secret impulse of self-love, I chuse rather to pass over in silence what I know, than not to be believ’d in acquainting you with what you know not.
1. M. de St. Evremond wrote this Letter in the Year 1665, after he was gone back from England to Holland.
2. The Pensionary De Wit.
3. The Prince of Orange, (afterwards King William III.) who was then but 14 Years of Age.