Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Walk on the Beach

by Joaquin Sorolla

It is a perfect day to be at the beach. Share

The Charm of Marie-Antoinette

As had been said before on this site, and as I tried to convey in my novels, Marie-Antoinette was a lady of immense charm. What exactly IS charm? Here are some definitions:

1. The power or quality of pleasing or delighting; attractiveness: a breezy tropical setting of great charm.
2. A particular quality that attracts; a delightful characteristic: A mischievous grin was among the child's many charms.

The queen of France definitely possessed those subtle qualities which win hearts. There is much talk about how and why Marie-Antoinette was hated by the French people, but it is forgotten that she was also greatly loved by many, especially after they came face-to-face with her. Men were ready to die in order to save her. Another reason for the Fersen legend is that people assume that since Count Fersen risked his life and made many sacrifices for Marie-Antoinette and her family it must have been because she was sleeping with him. Yet she had the identical effect on other men, as well, men who were not even part of her circle of friends, and with whom she was not romantically linked in the rumor mill.

Mirabeau and Barnave, two dedicated revolutionaries, were won over by the Queen after meeting her, and afterwards did everything they could to save her. As
C.-F. Beaulieu writes in his Essais historiques sur les causes et effets de la Révolution française (Paris : Maradan, 1801-1803) Barnave was quite taken with the entire royal family, especially after spending hours in the coach with them after the capture at Varennes in June 1791. "The Queen treated him with affectionate politeness which had led to her being given the title of 'Mary full of grace (Marie pleine de graces).'" Later, in the Temple prison, the guard Toulan, a zealous revolutionary, was completely smitten by the Queen, and risked his life to retrieve Louis XVI's wedding ring for her. He tried to help her escape, and the Chevalier Jarjayes as well, but the queen would not leave her children.

Nesta Webster, in Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette before the Revolution draws an intriguing comparison between Marie-Antoinette and her devout sister-in-law:

Madame Elisabeth was undoubtedly a saint, and her unblemished reputation, which no one dared assail, has been contrasted with the character for frivolity attributed to
Marie-Antoinette. But if Marie-Antoinette had displayed throughout the piety of Madame Elisabeth, if she had never indulged in those four years of "dissipation," never gambled, never exceeded her dress allowance, never figured on the stage at
Trianon, would she have escaped calumny? When one considers the forces ranged against her one is inclined to answer "no." It must be remembered that Madame Elisabeth gave no cause for envy, she had obstructed no one's path to the throne, and she had none of the personal charm and elegance that distinguished Marie-Antoinette. A woman who goes like wine to the heads of men is naturally more vulnerable to the tongue of calumny than one whom no one would associate with romance....Marie-Antoinette had the power of inspiring passionate and almost uncontrollable adoration.

Marie-Antoinette is not the only one in the history of queens, great ladies, and women in general, who had the ability to inspire chivalrous devotion in men. It is a devotion that has nothing to do with the bedroom and everything to do with appealing to an innate masculine urge to protect and help women in trouble. Certainly, Mary Queen of Scots likewise possessed a similar personal charisma. The speech of Elizabeth Tudor to her troops as the Spanish armada approached is another example. Queen Marie of Romania also had the gift of inspiring heroism in her supporters. So did Marie-Antoinette's mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, especially when she presented herself before the Hungarian nobles. These women, in spite of being queens, were not rivals with men; they were not trying to be like men or supplant traditional male roles. They inspired valiance, however, just by being women.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

Pious reader, you, who have followed us throughout, what is your most earnest desire? To honor the hearts of Jesus and Mary His Mother; to work for the conversion of poor sinners; to cooperate according to your means in the work of reparation? Well, you may attain all these ends in the surest, sweetest way, by Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. She will lead you with a mother's gentle hand. You will see and feel by a happy experience that, in abandoning yourself to her guidance, you will do more for the glory of God, your own sanctification, and the salvation of others, than by any other means....Have no fear to attribute to Mary too great a power over the Heart of her Son. Beyond all thought or expression, she is Queen of this Heart; for thus does Jesus love to honor His Mother.

~ Love, Peace and Joy by the Reverend André Prévot Share

Friday, June 29, 2007

And now for some Persian poetry....


Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say:

Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?

And this first Summer month that brings the Rose

Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobad away.

10 Well, let it take them! What have we to do

With Kaikobad the Great, or Kaikhosru?

Let Zal and Rustum bluster as they will,

Or Hatim call to Supper--heed not you.

11 With me along the strip of Herbage strown

That just divides the desert from the sown,

Where name of Slave and Sultan is forgot--

And Peace to Mahmud on his golden Throne!

12 A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,

A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness--

Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

~from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

(Artwork by Edmund Dulac)

The Infanta Margarita

Painted throughout her childhood by the great Velazquez, the Infanta Margarita was the inspiration for Oscar Wilde's short story. At the age of fifteen she was given in marriage to her uncle, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold, a notoriously ugly but kind man. (The way the Habsburgs married their close relatives was not quite as bad as the ancient Egyptians, but almost.) She had six children and died at age twenty-two. Leopold was Marie-Antoinette's great-grandfather, by another wife. Share

The Birthday of the Infanta

But the Infanta was the most graceful of all, and the most tastefully attired, after the somewhat cumbrous fashion of the day. Her robe was of grey satin, the skirt and the wide puffed sleeves heavily embroidered with silver, and the stiff corset studded with rows of fine pearls. Two tiny slippers with big pink rosettes peeped out beneath her dress as she walked. Pink and pearl was her great gauze fan, and in her hair, which like an aureole of faded gold stood out stiffly round her pale little face, she had a beautiful white rose.
from Oscar Wilde's The Birthday of the Infanta

As a child I loved this short but heart-breaking story by Oscar Wilde. Jessie Marion King's poignant illustrations accompany it well.

But somehow the Birds liked him. They had seen him often in the forest, dancing about like an elf after the eddying leaves, or crouched up in the hollow of some old oak-tree, sharing his nuts with the squirrels. They did not mind his being ugly, a bit. Why, even the nightingale herself, who sang so sweetly in the orange groves at night that sometimes the Moon leaned down to listen, was not much to look at after all; and, besides, he had been kind to them, and during that terribly bitter winter, when there were no berries on the trees, and the ground was as hard as iron, and the wolves had come down to the very gates of the city to look for food, he had never once forgotten them, but had always given them crumbs out of his little hunch of black bread, and divided with them whatever poor breakfast he had.
~The Birthday of the Infanta

Yes, she must certainly come to the forest and play with him. He would give her his own little bed, and would watch outside the window till dawn, to see that the wild horned cattle did not harm her, nor the gaunt wolves creep too near the hut. And at dawn he would tap at the shutters and wake her, and they would go out and dance together all the day long. It was really not a bit lonely in the forest.
~ The Birthday of the Infanta

The Vikings Are Back!

Not quite. But almost! I cannot think of anything more fun than riding the waves in the replica of a Viking ship! What a great summer adventure! (Thank to the LRC) Share

Victoria Magazine... Back!! Mrs. Hoffman, who publishes the excellent Southern Lady Magazine, is going to re-launch Victoria Magazine, enjoyed by many ladies until it's unfortunate demise in the early part of this decade. It will be on news stands again in the fall of the year. Victoria is lots of fun as well as full of practical tips for home-making, cooking, decorating, and style. Ladies, if the only two magazines you subscribe to are Canticle and Victoria, you will find more than enough inspiration for the betterment of soul and body. Share

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fersen's palace

Cause de Joie has an interesting post on the Fersen family castle, where Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette might have stayed as guests of the Fersens and the Swedish king, had they escaped. Share

Lord, have mercy!

This happened in our diocese a few days ago. It is unspeakably tragic. Please pray for all involved. Via the NOR. Share

What Fairer Light?

For the last few days I have been thinking on and off of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, whose martyrdom is celebrated tomorrow in the universal church, and of how two men with such different personalities would come to share a similar fate. St. Peter was a robust and practical fisherman from a small town. St. Paul was more cosmopolitan, a scholar, a pharisee, and a Roman citizen.They were both killed in a public and grisly manner far, far from their homeland.

How easy it would have been to have retired to some safe corner somewhere where they would not have bothered anyone! To just give up preaching, and writing all those letters, and generally harassing the pagans and correcting lax Christians...surely they had already done and suffered enough! Didn't they have a right to live their own life, and find some peace and quiet? After all, they had given up all for God, and now they were old...why couldn't they obscurely die in bed?

Ask St Peter, as he was fleeing from Rome, where Nero was burning Christians at his garden parties, and suddenly he ran into Our Lord, Who was walking along the Appian Way in the opposite direction.

"Quo vadis, Domine?" "Where are you going, Lord?" asked St Peter.

"To Rome, to be crucified again," Jesus replied. And St. Peter knew what he had to do...he had to go back. He was arrested and crucified, upside down, at his own request, for he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as his Master. He was always deeply humbled by the memory of his past denial.

June 29 is my Grandma Norah's birthday. She would not give up practicing her Catholic faith, in spite of some pressures to do so, which is how my dad and all of us came to be Catholic. She inherited this perseverance from an Irish family that had long preferred to risk starvation and endure loss of civil rights rather than renounce the Faith of the Apostles. Others have suffered and sacrificed much so that I could have the gift of true belief.

When I think of my dad, and how he had to go back to the hospital for the last time, I am reminded of the words of Our Lord to St Peter as they were roasting fish on the shores of the sea. "When thou wast younger, thou didst girt thyself, and didst walk where thou wouldst. But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and lead thee where thou would not want to go." ( John 21;18) Like St Peter, my father abandoned himself to the will of God. Amidst great affliction, he died peacefully in Christ, trusting in the Merciful Jesus.

Here are some words from the ancient and beautiful hymn for this feast, "What fairer light?"

Rejoice, O Rome, this day; thy walls they once did sign
With princely blood, who now their glory share with thee.
What city's vesture glows with crimson deep as thine?
What beauty else has earth that may compare with thee?

Retro style...

...Is here to stay. It seems that many young ladies are fascinated by the feminine styles of the 40's and 50's and are adopting the vintage look, with a contemporary flair, of course. In the long run, I guess, the desire of women to look pretty for men will overcome every "ism" and ideology. (From Lew Rockwell) Share

The Mystery of Hatshepsut

The body of the Egypt's greatest ruling queen has been identified. Via LRC. Share


Don Marco discusses envy, the diabolical sin. He says:

Envy is one of the seven capital sins. It is a root sin that produces a number of poisonous offshoots. What is envy? It is sadness at the sight of another’s goods, opportunities, talents, or advantages. Envy itself may lurk below the surface but it comes out in sarcasm, in bitter comments, in nasty criticisms.

The Diabolical Sin

Saint Augustine saw envy as the diabolical sin. “From envy,” he says, “are born hatred, detraction, calumny, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbour, and displeasure caused by prosperity.” How does one know if one is harbouring envy in one’s heart? If when another person is praised or acknowledged you feel a twinge of displeasure, it is rooted in envy. If when another person is given opportunities for personal growth, education, or travel, you feel resentment, it is rooted in envy. If when another person shows the ability to do something well, you can resist the temptation to snipe and criticize, it is rooted in envy. Envy is an insidious sin. In community life it can be deadly, especially when it goes unconfessed and when there is no repentance for it.

Do read the entire article. One wonders how many good works have been hampered by other Christians who were envious, who would not lend a hand, or put obstacles in the way. Share

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Andrea Chénier

Giordano's opera Andrea Chénier is based upon the life of the young poet who heartily embraced the French Revolution only to be destroyed by it. It is the most famous of the several operas composed by Giordano and is still part of the repertoire of many opera companies. The opera, in four acts, captures in its vibrant score, as well as in the libretto by Illica, the idealism which ignited many sincere intellectuals to join the Revolution. The idealism rapidly spirals into horror and despair as lives are ruined and France is destroyed. The character of Chénier, however, finds redemption in the sacrifice of his own life for another prisoner, similar to the ending of A Tale of Two Cities. Maddalena, the woman he loves, also gives her life for another, and the gesture removes from her the bitterness of dying. In the final duet, the Chénier and Maddalena rejoice at their dual sacrifice, glad that they are able to seal their love by dying courageously and well. As Maddalena sings:

I am here so that I may never leave you. This is not a farewell!
I have come to die with you! The suffering has ended.

I seek death, loving you!

Ah, the one who received the last words from my lips is he...Love!


The Life of Joy

A life of joy is the most delightful fruit of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus...."We only do that well which we do with joy" (St. Thomas). If, then, we wish to serve God and love our neighbor well, we must manifest our joy in the service we render to Him and to them--"servite in laetitia." Oh, let us do this, and not change the nature of things--God is joy; true devotion is joy; love is joy; sacrifice is the source of joy; the Cross itself is the condition of solid joy. Let us, then, open wide our hearts. It is joy which invites us. Press forward, and fear nothing. Let us always rejoice and ever advance in love and in joy.

~ Love, Peace and Joy by the Reverend André Prévot Share

July-August issue of Canticle Magazine

Order a copy if you can. My husband did the cover photography, as well as the pictures for the article I wrote called "Tea with Mary" about gardening, small children, and tea parties. There are some other really fantastic articles that made me laugh and cry, as well as think and pray. Johnnette and Heidi have put together an impressive team of solid Catholic writers.

I would like to add a "thank you" to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, whose feast is today.

As the vine I have brought forth a pleasant odour:
and my flowers are the fruit of honour and riches.
I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.
In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue.
Come over to me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits.
For my spirit is sweet above honey,
and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb.
My memory is unto everlasting generations.
They that eat me, shall yet hunger: and they that drink me, shall yet thirst.
He that hearkeneth to me, shall not be confounded:
and they that work by me, shall not sin.
They that explain me shall have life everlasting.

(Ecclesiasticus 24:23-31)


Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Dim vales— and shadowy floods—
And cloudy—looking woods,
Whose forms we can't discover
For the tears that drip all over!
Huge moons there wax and wane—
Again— again— again—
Every moment of the night—
Forever changing places—
And they put out the star—light
With the breath from their pale faces.
About twelve by the moon—dial,
One more filmy than the rest
(A kind which, upon trial,
They have found to be the best)
Comes down— still down— and down,
With its centre on the crown
Of a mountain's eminence,
While its wide circumference
In easy drapery falls
Over hamlets, over halls,
Wherever they may be—
O'er the strange woods— o'er the sea—
Over spirits on the wing—
Over every drowsy thing—
And buries them up quite
In a labyrinth of light—
And then, how deep!— O, deep!
Is the passion of their sleep.
In the morning they arise,
And their moony covering
Is soaring in the skies,
With the tempests as they toss,
Like— almost anything—
Or a yellow Albatross.
They use that moon no more
For the same end as before—
Videlicet, a tent—
Which I think extravagant:
Its atomies, however,
Into a shower dissever,
Of which those butterflies
Of Earth, who seek the skies,
And so come down again,
(Never—contented things!)
Have brought a specimen
Upon their quivering wings.

by Edgar Allan Poe

(artwork by Edmund Dulac) Share

St. Clothilde: Icon of Christian Motherhood

I missed her feast, earlier this month, but Cause de Joie has an article about the Queen of the Franks who oversaw the baptism of a nation. When Clothilde came to France as a bride it was a pagan land; by the time she died it had become the Eldest Daughter of the Church. Share

The Fersen Legend, Part 1

Too often in the many articles about Marie-Antoinette that have surfaced in the last year due to the Coppola film, Count Axel von Fersen is referred to as the "queen's lover" or as her "probable lover." It is repeatedly disregarded that there is not a scrap of reliable historical evidence that Count Fersen and Marie-Antoinette were anything but friends, and that he was as much her husband’s friend as he was hers. People are free to speak of Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour as “lovers” since they openly lived together for many years. But to speak that way of Marie-Antoinette, who was known for her purity among her circle of close friends, of whom a courtier said: "Her soul was as white as her face," (Vincent Cronin's Louis and Antoinette) who lost her life because she chose to stay at her husband’s side, is the height of irresponsibility.

The Swedish nobleman was in the service of his sovereign King Gustavus III and Count Fersen’s presence at the French court needs to be seen in the light of that capacity. The Swedish King was a devoted friend of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette and Gustavus, even more than the queen’s Austrian relatives, worked to aid the King and Queen of France in their time of trouble. Fersen was the go-between in the various top secret plans to help Louis XVI regain control of his kingdom and escape from the clutches of his political enemies. The diplomatic intrigues that went on behind the scenes are more interesting than any imaginary romance. (The queen’s relationship with her husband is more interesting as well.) However, books and movies continue to add this sensationalism to the queen’s life, as if anything could be more sensational than the reality. Serious modern and contemporary scholars, however, such as Paul and Pierrette Girault de Coursac, Hilaire Belloc, Nesta Webster, Simone Bertiere, Philippe Delorme, Jean Chalon, Desmond Seward, and Simon Schama are unanimous in saying that there is no conclusive evidence to prove that Marie-Antoinette violated her marriage vows by dallying with Count Fersen.

The origins of the legend of Marie-Antoinette’s affair with Fersen began not with her revolutionary foes, who certainly would have picked up on anything of that nature to discredit the queen at her trial. Fersen’s name came up at the trial only in regard to the fact that he had driven the royal family’s coach out of Paris in June 1791 as they tried to escape. It was a courtier, the Comte de Saint-Priest, who made insinuations about the queen and Fersen in his memoirs, probably to cover the humiliation that Fersen had slept with Madame de Saint-Priest, his wife. Madame de la Tour du Pin, a former lady-in-waiting of the Queen, in her memoirs mentions that “the Count de Fersen, said to be queen Marie-Antoinette’s lover, also came to see us everyday.” She says this in a paragraph about her childhood where she is discussing the various men who, according to gossip, were “considered” to be in love with with her mother, Madame Dillon. So the Fersen affair is lumped in with what must be seen as idle rumors.

As Jean Chalon points out in his biography Chere Marie-Antoinette, Fersen, who had many mistresses, saw the queen as an angel, to whom he offered reverent and chaste homage. According to Chalon, Marie-Antoinette knew about sex only through conjugal love, where she found her “happiness,” her bonheur essentiel, as she wrote to her mother. If there had been any cause for concern about Count Fersen’s presence at the French court as regards the queen’s reputation, the Austrian ambassador Count Mercy-Argenteau would surely have mentioned it in one of the reams of letters to Marie-Antoinette’s mother Empress Maria Teresa, to whom he passed on every detail of the young queen’s life. Count Mercy had spies whom he paid well to gather information, but Fersen was not worth mentioning. Neither is he mentioned in a romantic way by other people close to the queen in their memoirs, such as her maid Madame Campan and the Baron de Besenval, a close family friend.

Marie-Antoinette and Count Fersen first met at the opera ball on January 30, 1774, when she chatted with him behind her mask, in the presence of her husband and in-laws, but no eyebrows were raised by this playful incident. Later in 1778 when the queen was pregnant with her first child, Fersen was admitted to the queen’s circle of friends. He came and went over the next few years, once asking the queen to write letters on his behalf, as she did for another Swedish aristocrat as well. Some biographers claim that in March 1780 when the queen sang the aria, "Ah! Que je fus inspirée..." from the opera Didon by Picinni, she did not take her eyes from the count. However, that opera did not premier until October 1780, while the count was in America, so it probable that the story is apocryphal. At any rate, it is not evidence of a liaison.

Some novelists and biographers claim that in the 1780's Marie-Antoinette may have become discreetly involved with Count Fersen; other authors see this as ridiculous. As Chalon notes, she had found her bonheur essentiel in her marriage. Also, she was in those years having babies, miscarriages, caring for sick and dying children, and after the death of her daughter Sophie in 1787, becoming more observant of Catholic devotional practices. (See Chalon and Seward) From 1785 onward, she had to deal with the stress of the diamond necklace scandal, the growing political crisis, experiencing nervous problems as a result. Nesta Webster quotes Madame d’Abrante who said: “How could one fall in love at such a time as this?”

Nesta Webster in Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette during the Revolution shows how the queen would have found it impossible to have had an affair even if she had been so inclined. At Versailles, she lived in public, and even at Petit Trianon there were servants and family members around. Both the Austrian and Spanish ambassadors wrote meticulous reports to their respective monarchs on the queen’s private life based on their spy rings, questioning maids and footmen. As Webster writes:

Yet not once in the vast correspondence of Mercy is Fersen’s name mentioned, nor amidst the malicious gossip of the other ambassadors do we find so much as a hint that he was regarded with particular favor by Marie-Antoinette. After the royal family had been brought to the Tuileries she was even more closely surrounded, with one National Guard sleeping in her antechamber and others keeping watch on her all day. In a letter to her sister… she herself had written on this: 'I defy the universe to find any real wrong in me; indeed, I can only gain by being guarded and followed so closely.'
Continued here: The Fersen Legend, Part 2

The Fersen Legend, Part 2

Authors such as Simone Bertiere, Philippe Delorme, and Nesta Webster make it clear that although Marie-Antoinette might have been in love with Count Axel von Fersen at some point, there is no proof of what may have been in the depths her heart. Certainly, there is no evidence of an extramarital affair, and to over speculate on the queen's personal feelings is to violate the sanctuary of the human heart. Whatever her sentiments, they did not interfere with her duties as wife, mother, and queen. Adultery for a queen of France was high treason and if any of her many enemies at court discovered such a situation, had it existed, Louis XVI would have been forced to take her children away from her and banish her to a convent. Even the most basic knowledge of her temperament suggests that she was devoted to her children and would never have risked being separated from them. Those who claim that Louis XVI “knew” about his wife’s “affair” with Fersen, but looked the other way, are ignoring the moral scruples and religious principles of le Roi très chrétien. He would never have permitted the mother of his children to carry on with another man, as the Giraults de Coursacs make clear in their writings.

The myth of Axel von Fersen as the Marie-Antoinette’s lover evolved after the deaths of both the count and the queen. Although, according to Fersen’s biographer Kermina, the count himself carelessly sewed the seeds of the legend when once upon hearing an opera favored by the queen he sighed, “Ah, those memories….” In 1822 an Irishman named O’Meara published Napoleon in Exile in which he repeated gossip that had been rampant at Bonaparte’s court, about Fersen and the queen, attributed at the time to the queen’s maid Madame Campan. The rumor was proved to be false by British historian John Wilson Croker, who in October 1822 wrote in the Quarterly Review that Madame Campan had not been present at court when certain allegations were said to have occurred. Madame Campan herself refuted any such stories in her Memoirs when she said of Marie-Antoinette:

I who for fifteen years saw her attached to her august consort and her children, kind to her servitors, unfortunately too polite, too simple, too much on an equality with the people of the Court, I cannot bear to see her character reviled. I wish I had a hundred mouths, I wish I had wings and could inspire the same confidence in the truth which is so readily accorded to lies.
Other writers allege that Madame Campan fabricated this statement in order to return to the good graces of Marie-Antoinette’s daughter, who was annoyed with her for having taught Napoleon’s sisters at her finishing school. But then, if Madame Campan was a liar, of what value would her testimony be at all? But people more easily believe stories of scandals than they do stories of virtue....

For many years following, most historians and biographers, including Carlyle, the Goncourts, Imbert de Saint-Amand, de la Rocheterie, Bimbinet, Lenotre and de Nolhac did not take the Fersen story seriously and ignored it. When the letters of the queen and Count Fersen were published by his great nephew Baron de Klinckostrom in the late nineteenth century, they proved the nature of the queen and Fersen’s relationship to be principally a diplomatic one. According to Nesta Webster in Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette during the Revolution the letters were “written in a very difficult cipher to which a particular edition of Paul and Virginie provided the key….In certain of the letters, mainly those from the queen to Fersen, passages have been erased and are indicated by rows of dots in the printed text.” The Baron himself wrote that “the Fersen family has retained the greatest veneration for those holy and august martyrs, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and there is nothing among the papers remaining from the Comte de Fersen’s which can cast a shadow on the conduct of the Queen.” (see Webster) The erasures of Fersen were most likely sensitive diplomatic issues, not declarations of love, as some romantics have claimed. They concealed allusions to the queen’s disagreements with her brothers-in-law Artois and Provence, or references to the Duc d’Orleans and other revolutionaries, or even mentions of spies or persons whose families would have been compromised had the letters fallen into the wrong hands. The original letters are lost; some say the Baron burned them in order to keep the cipher from being imitated and used for forgeries; others say he burned them to keep people from discovering proof of a love affair, but there was no love affair to be found, by his own admission.

In 1907 a certain Monsieur Lucien Maury published in Revue Bleue what he claimed to be a fragment of a love letter of the queen to Fersen, which includes the words: “Farewell, the most loved and loving of men. I embrace you with my whole heart….” The letter had no signature, was not in the queen’s handwriting, only in the cipher she used, jotted down by Fersen in cipher. There is no proof it was from the queen but could have been from one of the many ladies with whom Fersen dallied over the years.

In the 1930’s Alma Soderhjelm published the letters of Count Fersen to his sister Sophie, hoping to prove from those letters that the Count and the queen had had a love affair. It is upon Soderhjelm’s book that most of the modern romances about Marie-Antoinette are based. Now in the spring of 1790, Fersen was having a passionate affair with an Italian lady named Eleonore Sullivan, who had been the mistress of several aristocrats, including Marie-Antoinette’s brother Joseph II. She was married to an Irishman but as of 1790 was the mistress of a Scotsman named Quintin Crawford. She was kept by Monsieur Crawford in an elegant house in Paris, where she had a maid named Josephine, and a hideaway for Fersen in the attic. Later authors would claim that when Fersen mentioned “Josephine” in his letters, it was always a code name for Marie-Antoinette. It cannot be ignored that Fersen gave “Josephine” menial instructions about a stove; in that instance he was more than likely referring to Mrs. Sullivan’s maid and the cold room in the attic.

Likewise, the woman Fersen writes ardently about to his sister at this time, who is honored by Sophie’s attentions, is most likely Mrs. Sullivan, whom he refers to as “El” or “elle.” Some try to make the queen the subject of his ecstatic passages, but why would the queen of France, in the midst of so many political intrigues, threatened by death, have wanted to ingratiate herself to Fersen’s sister? "Elle” (capitalized), however, is what Fersen uses when referring reverently to the queen, la Reine, whom he usually mentions in conjunction with the King. Baron Klinckowstrom quotes Fersen’s letter to his father in Feb 1791, in which he writes of his service to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette: “I am attached to the King and the Queen and I owe it to them for the kindness they showed me when they were able, and I should be vile and ungrateful if I deserted them now that they can do nothing for me….”

As the Duchesse de FitzJames, a great-niece of Fersen, is quoted by Webster from a 1893 French periodical La Vie Contemporaine:

I desire first of all to do away with the lying legend, based on a calumny, which distorted the relations between Marie-Antoinette and Fersen, relations consisting in absolute devotion, in complete abnegation on one side, and on the other in friendship, profound, trusting and grateful. People have wished to degrade to the vulgarities of a love novel, facts which were otherwise terrible, sentiments which were otherwise lofty.
  Continued here: The Fersen Legend, Part 3

The Fersen Legend, Part 3

Much has been made of the letters Marie-Antoinette wrote to her friend Count Esterhazy, and the ring which she sent to Fersen via Esterhazy. In August 1791, after the failure of the escape to Montmedy, the royal couple were isolated and cut off from news about relatives and friends since Fersen, the principle channel for conveying the news, had been silent for almost two months. The Swedish count was in Vienna at King Gustavus’ request on a secret mission, consulting with the Emperor about the possible rescue of the French royal family. The queen wrote to Esterhazy: "If you write to him (Fersen) be sure to tell him that many leagues and many countries can never separate hearts: I feel this truth more everyday.” In September 1791, the queen sent Esterhazy two gold rings which, according to Webster, bore the motto: Domine, salve fac regem et regina. (God save the king and the queen.) Other authors say the motto was Lâche qui les abandonne. (Coward be the one who lets them down.) She wrote:

I am delighted to find this opportunity to send you a little ring which will surely give you pleasure. They have been sold in prodigious quantities during the last three days and one has all the difficulty in the world to find them. The one surrounded with paper is for him (Fersen), it will just fit him; I wore it for two days before packing it. Tell him it is from me. I do not know where he is; it is a dreadful torment to have no news and not even know where the people one is fond of (qu’on aime) are living.
Of course, a ring once worn by a queen is of great value, just like a cap once worn by the Pope. Nesta Webster’s commentary on the rings and letters must be quoted in its entirety:
These letters have again been quoted as evidence that there was a liaison between Marie-Antoinette and Fersen, and that Esterhazy being in on the secret, the Queen did not hesitate to confide in him on the subject. But in reality, what do they prove? Nothing more than that she had great affection for him. That a captive Queen should send royalist rings to two of her oldest and most faithful friends is nothing extraordinary, that she should have referred to Fersen as “him” was only in accordance with the plan of avoiding all names in writing. As to the words “qu’on aime,” aimer is a verb that in French…may mean either to like, to be fond of, to love with affection or to be in love with. It cannot have been in the last sense that Marie Antoinette employed it here, since she applies it in the plural - - “les gens qu’on aime”—that is to say, her friends in general….If she had used it in the amorous sense of one whom Esterhazy knew to be her lover, would she not have said, “celui qu’on aime?” (Nesta Webster, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette during the Revolution)
There is much controversy over a certain night in February 1792, when some biographers, including Stanley Loomis and Vincent Cronin, think that Marie-Antoinette and Count Axel von Fersen may have finally consummated their love in her suite in the Tuileries palace. This theory has occurred over a smudged phrase in Fersen’s diary. However, no one knows for certain if the erased phrase was indeed Resté là, Fersen’s usual term indicating that he had slept with a lady. Also, the queen, following her escape attempt, was more closely guarded than ever, with a sentry keeping watch at her door all night, and checking every once in awhile to see if she was in her room – how could she have entertained a lover? The purpose of Count Fersen’s final visit to his friends Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was to discuss the dire political situation and persuade them to try to escape again, which Louis would not do. Fersen may have had to linger in the palace overnight in order to avoid the revolutionary authorities, but not in the queen’s bed. At his earliest convenience, he made his way to the welcoming arms of his mistress Eleonore Sullivan and stayed at her house in the attic hideaway.

According to the queen’s maid Madame Campan, the queen spent her nights at the Tuileries reading in order to calm her agitated mind. Madame Campan also writes in her Memoirs of how the queen found a confessor who had not taken the constitutional oath, whom she would secretly receive. For Easter of 1792, she would not make her Easter duty in public but arranged to hear Mass privately with a non-juring priest. As Madame relates:
The Queen did perform her Easter devotions in 1792; but she went to the chapel attended only by myself. She desired me beforehand to request one of my relations, who was her chaplain, to celebrate a mass for her at five o’clock in the morning. It was still dark; she gave me her arm and I lighted her with a taper. I left her alone at the chapel door. She did not return to her room until the dawn of day.
So instead of liaisons with a lover, Marie-Antoinette was at that season of her life preparing her soul for the sufferings and death which lay ahead, of which her keen sense of the escalating events gave her a strong premonition. Nevertheless, descriptions of the queen’s religious faith by Madame Campan are often interpreted by some authors as an attempt to win the favor of the queen’s daughter, the Duchesse d’Angouleme. Yet it is acceptable to draw conclusions as if from the air, when it comes to non-existent evidence of Fersen’s alleged romance with the anguished queen. I see no reason why Madame Campan would have fabricated such events, which are similar to other reports of the queen’s religious beliefs and practices, especially her own final testament. Furthermore, at the Tuileries, as at Versailles, a private passage linked the queen’s room to her husband’s. According to Madame de Tourzel, the royal governess, in her Memoirs, one of the first things the queen did after being forcibly dragged to the Tuileries was to have a private staircase constructed between her room and the King’s. It would not be very convenient to dally with a lover when a husband might walk in at any moment from behind the hidden door in the paneling.

The psychology of Count Fersen in his later years must also be taken into account. He was proud of his daring and initiative which had intially delivered Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and their family from the Tuileries in June, 1791. However, the failure of the royal family to escape to Montmedy he blamed on the fact that he had not accompanied them after they left Paris; he was haunted by the night of Varennes for the rest of his life. Indeed, he was murdered by a mob in Stockholm about twenty years later on the exact anniversary of the royal family’s escape, June 20. He saw his failure as not only costing the lives of his dear friends, but also for destroying what would have been the glory of his career, to have been the one responsible for the rescue of the French royal family. Webster and Kermina maintain that the count seemed to be always looking for signs that the queen had loved him. He pinned in his diary a scrap of a letter that she had written to someone else, that was passed on to him after her death by Madame de Korff, the Russian lady whose passport Madame de Tourzel had used in the foiled escape. The scrap contained the words: Adieu, mon coeur est tout à vous, “Farewell, my heart is all yours.” The queen expressed herself in such a gushing style to all of her friends and family and although the words were in her handwriting there is no indication to whom it was written. There is evidence, however, that Fersen transcribed known letters of the queen into his journal, and at least in one case altering the original text to make it more personal. He claimed that the queen had once used his seal with the motto: Tutto a te mi guida. “Everything leads me to thee.” Webster claims that she had also used the seal of the monarchist Quintin Crauford in her correspondence – using other people’s seals was a subterfuge employed in sensitive diplomatic correspondence, but Fersen thought the words were meant as a message for himself. As Webster says:
Everything could certainly not be guiding her to Fersen when she was imprisoned in the Temple and had just refused Jarjayes' plan of escape, saying she could have no happiness apart from her children and therefore she abandoned the idea without even feeling any regret.
A phrase from the Queen’s final letter of October 16, 1793, written a few hours before her death to her sister-in-law Madame Elisabeth, has often been interpreted as referring to Fersen. “I had friends. The idea of being separated for ever from them and their troubles forms one of my greatest regrets in dying. Let them know that up to my last moment I was thinking of them….” While the count was probably included among the “friends,” it is more likely that the queen was thinking specifically of the Polignac family. Marie-Antoinette had often referred to the Duchesse de Polignac as her “dear heart,” and had entrusted her children to her care. The two families had been close, with Louis XVI writing to Madame de Polignac and confiding in her, and they had been raising their children together. Marie-Antoinette had a great capacity for friendship, and the persistence of authors in interpreting her friendly interactions in terms of sex and romance is to obscure what was a beautiful aspect of her personality in itself. As she wrote to Elisabeth of her children:
Let them learn from our example how much the consolation of our affection brought us in the midst of our unhappiness and how happiness is doubled when one can share it with a friend—and where can one find a more loving and truer friend than in one’s own family?
For in those last days of Marie-Antoinette it is vital to understand her as a mother who had been violently separated from her children. They were the chief subject of her thoughts, and while she showed indifference to her own fate, the mention of them would reduce her to tears. She was in anguish over her eight year old son, as would any parent whose child had been torn from their arms. Not only was she, like any mother, concerned for his diet and hygiene while in the hands of his captors, but she knew that they were beating him, giving him alcohol, teaching him lewd songs, and subjecting him to other forms of unspeakable abuse. Any mother would almost lose her mind; as for the queen, she only wanted to survive and so someday be united with her son and put her arms around him. What parent would not be tormented if a beloved child was ill in the hospital and they could not be at his side? And yet, in a recently published novel about the queen, I was sickened when the author with extreme mawkishness portrayed the desperate Marie-Antoinette wrapped up in Fersen fantasies while in prison. Such sentimentality and romanticism is obscene, considering the actual bitter and tragic circumstances, expressed by the queen herself to Elisabeth in her last letter: “I embrace you with all my heart, together with those poor dear children. My God! What agony it is to leave them forever! Adieu! Adieu! I shall henceforth pay attention to nothing but my spiritual duties.”


Monday, June 25, 2007

To the River

Fair river! in thy bright, clear flow
Of crystal, wandering water,
Thou art an emblem of the glow
Of beauty- the unhidden heart-
The playful maziness of art
In old Alberto's daughter;

But when within thy wave she looks-
Which glistens then, and trembles—
Why, then, the prettiest of brooks
Her worshipper resembles;
For in his heart, as in thy stream,
Her image deeply lies—
His heart which trembles at the beam
Of her soul-searching eyes.

by Edgar Allan Poe

(Artwork by Edmund Dulac) Share

Perversion and Iconoclasm

Yes, I am going over my quota today. But Daniel Mitsui has a superb but disturbing article about the modern trend of destroying the sense of the sacred by perverting it. When an actress was enthroned as the goddess of reason in the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris during the French Revolution, it opened the door to the profanations of the future.

When therefore you shall see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place: he that readeth, let him understand. (Matthew 24:15) Share

The Lamentable Music at Mass

Coffee Wife laments the loss of the sacred at Mass, especially the groovy music, in her own inimitable way. I could never fathom why, when the most beautiful music on earth was written for the liturgy of our church, we Catholics have to go to a concert to hear it, instead of hearing it at Mass. But all this has been going on for so long, it does not torment me as it did when I was younger. Now I tune everything out and beg God to save my soul and the souls of my family. Gregorian chant or Mozart at a Latin Mass would be a big help to my devotion, though. A big help. Share

Chastity vs Consumerism

Chastity is not only a witness of the world to come, but it can be a way of taking a stand against a society of consumerism, where people are seen as commodities. An NOR article says:

Given that our society has been overwhelmingly converted to an ethic of indulgence, chastity is not merely a type of dissent, it is a form of economic sub­version. In a consumer society, chastity is a profound form of Christian witness and social protest. The chaste person refuses to participate in the degrada­tion of sex and the degradation of the human person it implies. He proclaims himself the master of his desires rather than a slave to them. His life bears witness that a fully human existence consists not in a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure, but in a higher calling to a life of discipline and self-sacrifice -- in other words, to a life of loving and serving others. Admit­tedly, there are those whose chastity is more prudery than protest, more naïveté than non-cooperation. But chastity need not be rooted in immaturity. For a per­son with a strong social conscience, chastity is a ma­ture response to a great evil. It is a form of rebellion. It is a virtue that undermines the very foundations of a culture based on selfishness and greed, and begins to build a new one based on self-emptying love -- the love which Christians know as the kenosis of God. Share

Glad to be Gray

A terrific article. Via LRC. To quote:

This notion of your hair acting as testimony to your having lived is an enticing one. I can't imagine anything nicer than silver sprouting from my follicles, as reward for a life well lived. Share

Bl. John Forest

Roman Miscellany has a fine post about the English Franciscan martyrs. I was always moved by the story of Fr. Forest. As Fr. Nicholas recounts:

Another Franciscan to suffer for the Faith, Blessed John Forest, belonged to the Observant friary at Greenwich and was placed here under house arrest for several years. His house was strict and also highly influential, since it was next door to the royal palace at Greenwich. It was in the Franciscan church there that the future Henry VIII was baptised; as were all three of his children, the future Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. It was (probably) there that Henry married Catherine of Aragon. In 1513 the King had praised the Observants in a letter to Pope Leo X, saying that he could not sufficiently commend the Observant Friars' strict adherence to poverty, their sincerity, charity and devotion. How things would change!

It is little surprising that the Observants of Greenwich were so closely involved in opposing the King’s divorce. This placed them in grave danger. The Warden, William Peto, preached a sermon to the Court condemning the King’s divorce and predicting that black dogs would lick the blood of Henry, like King Ahab in the Old Testament. This was supposedly fulfilled fifteen years later as the King's body was taken to Windsor. Peto, unsurprisingly, had to escape to the continent, though, it is worth mentioning, he returned in Mary Tudor’s reign and was even named a Cardinal in 1557.

Blessed John Forest was less fortunate. He had acted as one of the confessors of Catherine of Aragon, who herself was a Franciscan Tertiary, and he was forthright in his opposition. After several years of imprisonment, he was tried for denying the Oath of Supremacy and condemned to death. On 22 May 1538 he was brought to Smithfield, not far from where we are standing now. A large crowd had gathered, including the bishop of London, the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and the Lord Mayor. Forest made a brave confession of faith; according to one bystander:

That if an angel should come down from Heaven and show him any other thing than he had believed all his lifetime past he would not believe him, and that if his body should be cut joint after joint or member after member, burnt, hanged, or what pain soever might be done to his body, he would never turn from his old sect of this Bishop of Rome.
They hanged him from the gibbet, with a chain placed around his waist. They then lit a fire and placed on it a statue of a Welsh saint, Derfel Gadarn. Curiously, according to tradition, it had been predicted that this venerated statue would one day ‘set a Forest on fire'. ‘The holy man', we read, ‘beat his breast with his right hand, and then raised both his hands to Heaven and said many prayers in Latin, his last spoken words being, Domine, miserere mei: and when the fire reached his breast he spoke no more and gave up his soul to God'.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pope Benedict on St. John the Baptist

From the Pope's Angelus address:

As an authentic prophet, John bore witness to the truth without compromise. He denounced transgressions of God's commandments, even when the protagonists were people in power. Thus, when he accused Herod and Herodius of adultery, he paid for it with his life, sealing with martyrdom his service to Christ, who is the truth in person.

Let us call on his intercession together with that of Mary Most Holy so that the Church of our time will know how to be ever faithful to Christ and testify with courage to his truth and his love for all.

Marie-Antoinette and Diana, Princess of Wales

2006 was dubbed by some as the "year of Marie-Antoinette," due to the resurgence of interest in the Queen of France caused by the hapless Coppola film. All that year, people were comparing Marie-Antoinette to the late Princess of Wales. They were calling Marie-Antoinette "a Lady Di before her time." Those who have really studied the queen's life find such a comparison to be appalling. It is nothing against Diana, honestly. But in order to defend the queen, I myself have in the past used some harsh words about poor Diana and I intend to rectify that now.
Yes, it is true that there are similarities; it is eerie how many there are. They were both blonds with sapphire eyes, and resembled each other a little. Incidentally, Marie-Antoinette and Diana were related, through the Stuarts. (There's that tragic blood of Mary Stuart asserting itself, again.) Each had issues of being abandoned by and separated from their mothers as children. They both were married at a young age to aloof, intellectual men. Neither woman was intellectual, at all, but each required a great deal of attention. Both were emotionally needy. Both loved children, especially their own children. Both enjoyed helping the poor and were renowned in their lifetime for their charity work. Both loved to dance and had a circle of colorful friends, friends who were not always considered the best of society. They each loved fashion. Both died in their late thirties, leaving two children behind. They both died in Paris, almost in the exact same spot in Paris, certainly in the same neighborhood.

There are, however, many differences. Although Marie-Antoinette was separated from her mother at age fourteen, and even before that did not see her on a daily basis, her mother was a strong presence in her life. From afar, the Empress Maria Teresa gave detailed advice about religious practice, love-making, court etiquette, politics, everything. It was incredibly annoying at times but I think, in the long run, Marie-Antoinette emerged with a strong inner sense of her religious and marital duties. I do not know if Diana received the same type of guidance; perhaps to some degree. Diana seemed to have more of an emotional void than Marie-Antoinette ever did.

Marie-Antoinette was married to man who was her same age and who was as innocent herself. Diana married a man who was much older, in love with another woman, and used to another woman. Poor Diana could not take Camilla's place. Marie-Antoinette had Louis to herself; she and Louis finished growing up together; they learned about marriage together, they had their children, raised them and buried two, and so by the time the troubles started it was unthinkable for them to leave each other. They were both Catholic, their religion was important to them; they prayed together, went to Mass together and were faithful spouses. At least, there is no reliable evidence to the contrary.

And here is where the two women cannot be compared at all. Diana was deeply wounded by Charles' infidelity; she had lovers, she gave scandal, they both gave scandal and the marriage fell apart. Not surprisingly. Diana continued her charitable works and never lost the love of the British people. Marie-Antoinette, in spite of her fidelity to her husband and her duties, became hated by many French people. But Marie-Antoinette was a foreigner in a foreign land. Furthermore, she stood for everything the revolutionaries wanted to destroy, whereas Diana became the icon of the modern woman, taking control of her own destiny.

Marie-Antoinette carefully prepared for death in her prison cell, as her last letter and the testimony of eyewitnesses give evidence. What time did Diana have to prepare for death? Probably not much. It all happened so suddenly, although I understand a priest was praying at her side when she died. In the hour of death, I think the Queen of France was the more fortunate. Share

The Little Mermaid

The little mermaid drew back the crimson curtain of the tent, and beheld the fair bride with her head resting on the prince’s breast. She bent down and kissed his fair brow, then looked at the sky on which the rosy dawn grew brighter and brighter; then she glanced at the sharp knife, and again fixed her eyes on the prince, who whispered the name of his bride in his dreams. She was in his thoughts, and the knife trembled in the hand of the little mermaid: then she flung it far away from her into the waves; the water turned red where it fell, and the drops that spurted up looked like blood. She cast one more lingering, half-fainting glance at the prince, and then threw herself from the ship into the sea, and thought her body was dissolving into foam. The sun rose above the waves, and his warm rays fell on the cold foam of the little mermaid, who did not feel as if she were dying. She saw the bright sun, and all around her floated hundreds of transparent beautiful beings; she could see through them the white sails of the ship, and the red clouds in the sky; their speech was melodious, but too ethereal to be heard by mortal ears, as they were also unseen by mortal eyes. The little mermaid perceived that she had a body like theirs, and that she continued to rise higher and higher out of the foam. “Where am I?” asked she, and her voice sounded ethereal, as the voice of those who were with her; no earthly music could imitate it.
~from Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid (1836)

The original fairy tale is remote from the Disney rendition, for Andersen's story of forbidden and impossible love is characterized by sacrifice on the part of the heroine for her beloved. In failing to win the prince's heart, the mermaid must stab him if she wishes to return to the sea. The little mermaid, however, chooses to die herself rather than to kill.

One has a sense of the heavy price that is paid for disobedience, especially disobedience to a parent. Although it is obviously a story for children, there is the underlying theme of the consequences of bending the laws of nature. The little mermaid wanted to be human; she wanted to be other than what she was, and was willing to make a pact with the powers of darkness in order to have her way. As with all such bad bargains, the naive party cannot win. The little mermaid is doomed, but she ultimately finds redemption in her self-renunciation, and comes to a better place.

(Artwork by Edmund Dulac) Share