Monday, April 16, 2007

Marie-Antoinette's sacrifice

In the early spring of 1793, after her husband's murder, Marie-Antoinette was given an opportunity to escape from the Temple prison. Monsieur Jarjayes and the guard Toulan had a plan for her to get away, but she declined to leave her children and sister-in-law, although she knew that to stay meant her probable death.

The following is a passage from the biography by Charles Duke Yonge:
But such a flight was forbidden alike by Marie Antoinette's sense of duty and by her sense of honor, if indeed the two were ever separated in her mind. Honor forbade her to desert her companions in misery, whose danger might even be increased by the rage of her jailers, exasperated at her escape. Duty to her boy forbade it still more emphatically. As his guardian, she ought not to leave him; as his mother, she could not. And her renunciation of the whole design was conveyed to M. Jarjayes in a letter which did honor alike to both by the noble gratitude which it expressed, and which was long cherished by his heirs as one of their most precious possessions, till it was destroyed, with many another valuable record, when Paris a second time fell under the rule of wretches scarcely less detestable than the Jacobins whom they imitated.[4] It was written by stealth, with a pencil; but no difficulties or hurry, as no acuteness of disappointment or depth of distress, could rob Marie Antoinette of her desire to confer pleasure on others, or of her inimitable gracefulness of expression. Thus she wrote: "We have had a pleasant dream, that is all. I have gained much by still finding, on this occasion, a new proof of your entire devotion to me. My confidence in you is boundless. And on all occasions you will always find strength of mind and courage in me. But the interest of my son is my sole guide; and, whatever happiness I might find in being out of this place, I can not consent to separate myself from him. In what remains, I thoroughly recognize your attachment to me in all that you said to me yesterday. Rely upon it that I feel the kindness and the force of your arguments as far as my own interest is concerned, and that I feel that the opportunity can not recur. But I could enjoy nothing if I were to leave my children; and this idea prevents me from even regretting my decision.[5]" And to Toulan she said that "her sole desire was to be reunited to her husband whenever Heaven should decide that her life was no longer necessary to her children."

~from Charles Duke Yonge's The Life of Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France, 1876

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