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The Diary Of A Master Of The Ceremonies
by [?]

Of court-etiquette few are acquainted with the mysteries, and still fewer have lost themselves in its labyrinth of forms. Whence its origin? Perhaps from those grave and courtly Italians, who, in their petty pompous courts, made the whole business of their effeminate days consist in punctilios; and, wanting realities to keep themselves alive, affected the mere shadows of life and action, in a world of these mockeries of state. It suited well the genius of a people who boasted of elementary works to teach how affronts were to be given, and how to be taken; and who had some reason to pride themselves in producing the Cortegiano of Castiglione, and the Galateo of Della Casa. They carried this refining temper into the most trivial circumstances, when a court was to be the theatre, and monarchs and their representatives the actors. Precedence, and other honorary discriminations, establish the useful distinctions of ranks, and of individuals; but their minuter court forms, subtilised by Italian conceits, with an erudition of precedents, and a logic of nice distinctions, imparted a mock dignity of science to the solemn fopperies of a master of the ceremonies, who exhausted all the faculties of his soul on the equiponderance of the first place of inferior degree with the last of a superior; who turned into a political contest the placing of a chair and a stool; made a reception at the stairs’-head, or at the door, raise a clash between two rival nations; a visit out of time require a negotiation of three months; or an awkward invitation produce a sudden fit of sickness; while many a rising antagonist, in the formidable shapes of ambassadors, were ready to despatch a courier to their courts, for the omission or neglect of a single punctilio. The pride of nations, in pacific times, has only these means to maintain their jealousy of power: yet should not the people be grateful to the sovereign who confines his campaigns to his drawing-room: whose field-marshal is a tripping master of the ceremonies; whose stratagems are only to save the inviolability of court-etiquette; and whose battles of peace are only for precedence?

When the Earls of Holland and Carlisle, our ambassadors extraordinary to the court of France, in 1624, were at Paris, to treat of the marriage of Charles with Henrietta, and to join in a league against Spain, before they showed their propositions, they were desirous of ascertaining in what manner Cardinal Richelieu would receive them. The Marquis of Ville-aux-Clers was employed in this negotiation, which appeared at least as important as the marriage and the league. He brought for answer, that the cardinal would receive them as he did the ambassadors of the Emperor and the King of Spain; that he could not give them the right hand in his own house, because he never honoured in this way those ambassadors; but that, in reconducting them out of his room, he would go farther than he was accustomed to do, provided that they would permit him to cover this unusual proceeding with a pretext, that the others might not draw any consequences from it in their favour. Our ambassadors did not disapprove of this expedient, but they begged time to receive the instructions of his majesty. As this would create a considerable delay, they proposed another, which would set at rest, for the moment, the punctilio. They observed, that if the cardinal would feign himself sick, they would go to see him: on which the cardinal immediately went to bed, and an interview, so important to both nations, took place, and articles of great difficulty were discussed by the cardinal’s bedside! When the Nuncio Spada would have made the cardinal jealous of the pretensions of the English ambassadors, and reproached him with yielding his precedence to them, the cardinal denied this. “I never go before them, it is true, but likewise I never accompany them; I wait for them only in the chamber of audience, either seated in the most honourable place, or standing till the table is ready: I am always the first to speak, and the first to be seated; and besides, I have never chosen to return their visit, which has made the Earl of Carlisle so outrageous.”[1]