By Lytton Strachey
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Additional info for Books and characters, French & English
The circle of one's friends was, in those days, the framework of one's whole being; within which was to be found all that life had to offer, and outside of which no interest, however fruitful, no passion, however profound, no art, however soaring, was of the slightest account. Thus while in one sense the ideal of such a society was an eminently selfish one, it is none the less true that there have been very few societies indeed in which the ordinary forms of personal selfishness have played so small a part.
For a fortnight (so she confessed to Walpole) she was actually the Regent's mistress; and a fortnight, in those days, was a considerable time. Then she became the intimate friend of Madame de Prie—the singular woman who, for a moment, on the Regent's death, during the government of M. le Duc, controlled the destinies of France, and who committed suicide when that amusement was denied her. , kept up for many years an almost royal state among the most distinguished men and women of the time. It was at Sceaux, with its endless succession of entertainments and conversations—supper−parties and water−parties, concerts and masked balls, plays in the little theatre and picnics under the great trees of the park—that Madame du Deffand came to her maturity and established her position as one of the leaders of the society in which she moved.
Now mind, Dancourt,' said one of those grands seigneurs to the leading actor of the day, 'if you're more amusing than I am at dinner to−night, je te donnerai cent coups de batons. ' It was dangerous enough to show one's wits at all in the company of such privileged persons, but to do so at their expense——! A few days later Voltaire and the Chevalier met again, at the Comedie, in Adrienne Lecouvreur's dressing−room. Rohan repeated his sneering question, and 'the Chevalier has had his answer' was Voltaire's reply.