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List Of Contents | Contents of The Duchess Of Berry-Charles X
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universal interest.

Born at Paris in 1773, the Duchess of Gontaut was the daughter of
Count Montault-Navailles and of the Countess, NEE Coulommiers. All
her memories of childhood and early youth were connected with the
old court. She had seen Marie Antoinette in all her splendor,
Versailles when it was most dazzling, and she was, formed in the
elegant manners of that charm ing world whose social prestige was
so great. At seven she was held at the baptismal font by the Count
of Provence (the future Louis XVIII.) and by the wife of this

"I had for this ceremony," she says, "a GRAND HABIT and a GRAND
PANIER. I was so proud of them that I caused much amusement at the
Queen's, whither my mother took me after the baptism. Being
connected with the Duchess of Polignac, she often took me to
Versailles; there I saw Madame Royale, younger than I, and the
poor, little, handsome, delightful Dauphin. The Queen, wishing to
give them a little fete, organized a children's spectacle, in
which I was entrusted with a part. The piece chosen was Iphigenie
en Aulide. Mademoiselle de Sabran and her brother, as well as a
young Strogonoff, were, it is said, perfect actors. Armand de
Polignac had a little part. Tragedy was not my forte. But in the
second piece I achieved a little success, which the Chevalier de
Boufflers was kind enough to celebrate in a very bright couplet,
sung at the close. He gave me the name of the Little White Mouse.
After that the Queen called me her little white mouse, and showed
me a thousand kindnesses. After the play there was a children's
supper; the princes waited on, us and were much diverted by our
enjoyment; Louis XVI. stood behind my chair for a moment, and even
gave me a plate. The Queen sent me home in her sedan chair;
footmen carried great torches; the body-guard presented arms to
us. So much honor would, perhaps, have turned my head, but for my
prudent mother who knew how to calm it."

The sorrows of exile followed rapidly on the first enchantments of
life. It was in England, during the Emigration, that the future
Governess of the Children of France married M. de Saint-Blanchard,
Viscount de Gontaut-Biron. She was then residing at Epsom, where
she lived on the proceeds of little pictures which she painted.
She gave birth to twin daughters October 9th, 1796. "I nursed them
both," she says, "our means not permitting us to have two nurses
in one little household, and I felt strong enough for this double
task. Brought into the world at seven and one-half months, their
frail existence required my care night and day." In 1797, Madame
de Gontaut visited Paris under a false name, and after this
journey, on which she ran many risks, she returned to England,
where she was the companion in exile of the princes. Monsieur, the
Count d'Artois, the future Charles X., was then pursued by his
creditors. The Castle of Holyrood, privileged by law, sheltered
its occupants from all legal process. That is why the Prince
Regent offered its hospitality to the brother of Louis XVIII.,
seeking in every way to soften the severity of the old palace.

"But the saying is true," adds Madame de Gontaut, "that there are
no pleasant prisons. The Castle of Holyrood, as well as the park,
was spacious. The governor visited there, and also several Scotch
families, very agreeable socially. Monsieur could not 'leave the
limits' except on Sunday, when the law allows no arrest. He had a
carriage that he loaned to us, reserving it only for Sunday, when
he was out from morning to night. To these excellent Scotch people
a visit from him was an honor, a festival. Our little society
comedies amused Monsieur as much as us; I always had, unluckily, a
part that I never knew; I could never in my life learn anything by
heart; I listened, filled my mind with the subject, and went
ahead, to the great amusement of the audience and the despair of
my fellow-players." After a while the suits against the Prince
came to an end, and he could quit Holyrood, his debtor's prison.

Madame de Gontaut made a very good figure at Louis XVIII.'s little
court at Hartwell. By her wit and her tact, she won the friendship
of all the royal family, and much sympathy in high English
society. She returned to France with Louis XVIIL, and no lady of
the court was regarded with greater respect. At the time of the
marriage of the Duke of Berry, she became lady companion to the
new Duchess, whom she went to meet at Marseilles.

The King, Monsieur, the Duke and Duchess of Berry, all showed
equal confidence in Madame de Gontaut, and her nomination as
Governess of the Children of France was received with general
approval and sympathy. A woman of mind and heart, she performed
her task with as much zeal as intelligence, and though strict with
her two pupils, she made herself beloved by them. She especially
applied herself to guard them against the snares of flattery. On
this subject she relates a characteristic anecdote. One day a
family that had been recommended to her asked the favor of seeing,
if only for a moment, the Duke of Bordeaux and his sister. The two
children, vexed at having to leave their play, were not
communicative, and nevertheless received an avalanche of
compliments. The visitors were in ecstasy over their gentleness,
their beauty. They admired even their hair. These exaggerations
embarrassed the children, who were full of frankness and
directness, and displeased Madame de Gontaut. She quickly closed
the interview. As the visitors were going out, a half-open door
allowed the little Prince and Princess to overhear their
observations. "It was not worth while to come so far to see so
little," said an old lady, in an irritated tone. "Oh, as to that,
no," said a big boy, "they hardly had two words of response for
all the compliments that papa and mamma strained themselves to
give them. You made me laugh, papa, when you said, 'What fine
color, what pretty hair!' She's as pale as an egg and cropped like
a boy."--" That's true," said the old lady," she needs your
medicines, doctor; and then they are very small for their age."--
"Did you see the governess?" resumed the big boy. "She did not
seem pleased when you complimented her on the docility of her
pupils, and I could see that they were teasing each other." The
Duke of Bordeaux and his sister, who heard all this, were
petrified. "They are very wicked!" they cried. "They are simply
flatterers," replied Madame de Gontaut. Little Mademoiselle
resumed: "After having praised us without end, and telling us a
hundred times that we were pretty,--for I heard it all perfectly,
--to want to give me medicine because I was so homely and ill-
looking! Oh, this is too much! I know now what flattery is,--to
say just the contrary of the truth. But it's a sin. I shall always
remember it!"

Madame de Gontaut succeeded beyond her hopes in the task confided
to her. Morally and physically the little Prince and Princess were
accomplished children.

The moment was approaching when the Duke of Bordeaux, born
September 20, 1820, was about to begin his seventh year. That was
the period fixed by the ancient code of the House of France for
the young Prince to pass from the hands of women to those of men,
who were thereafter to direct his education. On the 15th of
October, 1826, the transfer was made of the Duke of Bordeaux to
his governor, the Duke de Riviere, at the Chateau of Saint Cloud,
in the Hall of the Throne, in the presence of all the members of
the family, the first officers of the crown, etc. The child,
brought by his governess before the King, was stripped of his
clothing and examined by the physicians, who attested his perfect
health. When he was clad again, the King called the new governor
and said to him: "Duke de Riviere, I give you a great proof of my
esteem and confidence in remitting to you the care of the child
given us by Providence--the Child of France also. You will bring
to these important functions, I am sure, a zeal and a prudence
that will give you the right to my gratitude, to that of the
family, and to that of France."

Charles X. then turned to Madame de Gontaut, whom he had just
named Duchess in witness of his gratitude and satisfaction.
"Duchess of Gontaut," he said, "I thank you for the care you have
given to the education of this dear child." Then, pointing to
Mademoiselle, "Continue and complete that of this child, who is
just as dear to me, and you will acquire new claims on my
gratitude." The little Princess then seized the hands of her
governess with such effusion that the latter could hardly restrain
her tears.

That evening the Duchess of Gontaut addressed to the Duke de
Riviere a letter in which she depicted the character of the child
she had brought up with such care:--

"I have always followed the impulses of my heart," she wrote, "in
easily performing a task for which that was all that was needed.
Monseigneur and Mademoiselle believe me blindly, for I have never
deceived them, even in jest. A pleasantry that a child's mind
cannot understand embarrasses him, destroys his ease and
confidence, humiliates and even angers him, if he believes that he
has been deceived. Monseigneur has more need than most children of
this discretion. The directness and generosity of his character
incline him to take everything seriously. When he thinks he sees
that any one is being annoyed, the one oppressed straightway
becomes the object of his lively interest; he will take up his
defence warmly and will not spare his rebukes; he shows on these
occasions an energy quite in contrast with the natural timidity of
his character. With such a child, I have had to avoid even the
shadow of injustice. He loves Mademoiselle, is gentle, kind,
attentive to her. I have always carefully shunned for Their Royal
Highnesses the little contests of childhood; however unimportant
they may seem at first, they end by embittering the disposition."

We commend to mothers and teachers the letter of the Duchess of
Gontaut. It is a veritable programme of education, conceived with
high intelligence and great practical sense. What more just than

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