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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Ninon de l’Enclos

  • [A French courtesan, celebrated for her wit, beauty, and literary taste; born in Paris, 1616; the friend of Mme. de Maintenon, and often consulted by Molière; died 1706.]

The fine promise I made La Châtre! (Ah, le bon billet qu’a La Châtre!)

  • Her exclamation when taking another lover, and thinking of the note she had given the Marquis de La Châtre, promising to be faithful to him in his absence. “It became,” says Sainte-Beuve, “a proverb upon empty assurances.” Thus a French paper, commenting upon the declaration of M. de Freycinet in announcing his policy after the dissolution of the Gambetta ministry in January, 1882, said that “the propitious moment” in which the new premier promised to bring forward the revision of the constitution would prove to be a near relative of the Greek Kalends: “We have another billet à La Châtre, and that is all” (Nous avons un billet à La Châtre de plus, et c’est tout).

The joy of the mind marks its strength (La joie de l’esprit en marque la force).

  • In a letter to St. Evremond. “Joy,” says Sainte-Beuve, “was the basis of her soul, and the expression of the health of her mind.” Of her was true what Coleridge wrote:—
  • “Joy is the sweet voice, joy the luminous cloud,
  • We in ourselves rejoice!
  • And thence flows all that charms or ear or sight,
  • All melodies the echoes of that voice,
  • All colors a suffusion from that light.”
  • Goethe said to Eckermann, of Ninon, “Even in her ninetieth year she was young. When in danger of death at eighteen she said calmly, ‘What would it be, after all? I should leave only mortals behind me.’”

O my lord, how many virtues you make me detest!

  • To the amiable but stupid Maréchal de Choiseul.
  • When told that Remond, introducer of ambassadors, an eccentric man, boasted of having been made (formé) by her, she exclaimed, “I have that in common with the Creator,—to have made man, and to have repented of it!” (J’ai eu cela en commun avec Dieu, d’avoir formé l’homme et de m’en être repentie.)
  • St. Evremond wrote her from England, that the idea of one’s friends gained by absence. She replied, “It was perhaps to embellish my epitaph, that you left me” (C’est peut-être pour embellir mon épitaphe, que cette séparation du corps s’est faite).

Love never dies of starvation, but often of indigestion (L’amour ne meurt jamais de besoin, mais souvent d’indigestion).

  • She called beauty without grace “a hook without bait;” and glances, “the first billets-doux of love.”
  • In conversation with Queen Christina she dubbed the Précieuses,—the women who affected literature while devoted to gallantry,—“the Jansenists of love” (les Jansénistes de l’amour).
  • She styled the Comte de Grignan, son-in-law of Mme. de Sévigné, “a pumpkin fricasseed in snow” (c’est une vraie citrouille fricassée dans de la neige). It was of him that La Rochefoucauld said, “His greatest ambition would have been to die for a love he did not feel.”
  • One day Mignard commiserated the very defective memory with which nature had endowed Ninon’s daughter, who was afterwards known as the beautiful Marquise de Feuquières. “Tant mieux,” cried the mother, casting a sly glance at the pedants who crowded her salon, “so much the better: she will never make quotations!”—L’Esprit des Autres, 3.