The minister, after the ill success of his tragedy, retired unaccompanied the same evening to his country-house at Ruel. He then sent for his favourite Desmaret, who was at supper with his friend Petit. Desmaret, conjecturing that the interview would be stormy, begged his friend to accompany him.
“Well!” said the Cardinal, as soon as he saw them, “the French will never possess a taste for what is lofty; they seem not to have relished my tragedy.”–”My lord,” answered Petit, “it is not the fault of the piece, which is so admirable, but that of the players. Did not your eminence perceive that not only they knew not their parts, but that they were all drunk?“–”Really,” replied the Cardinal, something pleased, “I observed they acted it dreadfully ill.”
Desmaret and Petit returned to Paris, flew directly to the players to plan a new mode of performance, which was to secure a number of spectators; so that at the second representation bursts of applause were frequently heard!
Richelieu had another singular vanity, of closely imitating Cardinal Ximenes. Pliny was not a more servile imitator of Cicero. Marville tells us that, like Ximenes, he placed himself at the head of an army; like him, he degraded princes and nobles; and like him, rendered himself formidable to all Europe. And because Ximenes had established schools of theology, Richelieu undertook likewise to raise into notice the schools of the Sorbonne. And, to conclude, as Ximenes had written several theological treatises, our cardinal was also desirous of leaving posterity various polemical works. But his gallantries rendered him more ridiculous. Always in ill health, this miserable lover and grave cardinal would, in a freak of love, dress himself with a red feather in his cap and sword by his side. He was more hurt by an offensive nickname given him by the queen of Louis XIII., than even by the hiss of theatres and the critical condemnation of academies.
Cardinal Richelieu was assuredly a great political genius. Sir William Temple observes, that he instituted the French Academy to give employment to the wits, and to hinder them from inspecting too narrowly his politics and his administration. It is believed that the Marshal de Grammont lost an important battle by the orders of the cardinal; that in this critical conjuncture of affairs his majesty, who was inclined to dismiss him, could not then absolutely do without him.
Vanity in this cardinal levelled a great genius. He who would attempt to display universal excellence will be impelled to practise meanness, and to act follies which, if he has the least sensibility, must occasion him many a pang and many a blush.