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NINON DE LENCLOS (1615-1705)

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Originally appearing in Volume V16, Page 418 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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NINON DE LENCLOS (1615-1705), the daughter of a gentle-man of good position in Touraine, was born in Paris in November 1615. Her long and eventful life divides into two periods, during the former of which she was the typical Frenchwoman of the gayest and most licentious society of the 17th century, during the latter the recognized leader of the fashion in Paris, and the friend of wits and poets. All that can be pleaded in defence of her earlier life is that she had been educated by her father in epicurean and sensual beliefs, and that she retained throughout the frank demeanour, and disregard of money, which won from Saint Evremond the remark that she was an honne"te homme. She had a succession of distinguished lovers, among them being Gaspard de Coligny, the marquis d'Estrees, La Rochefoucauld, Conde and Saint Evremond. Queen Christina of Sweden visited her, and Anne of Austria was powerless against her. After she had continued her career for a preposterous length of time, she settled down to the social leadership of Paris. Among her friends she counted Mme de la Sabliere, Mme de la Fayette and Mme de Maintenon. It became the fashion for young men as well as old to throng round her, and the best of all introductions for a young man who wished to make a figure in society was an introduction to Mlle de Lenclos. Her long friendship with Saint Evremond must be briefly noticed. They were of the same age, and had been lovers in their youth, and throughout his long exile the wit seems to have kept a kind remembrance of her. The few really authentic letters of Ninon are those addressed to her old friend, and the letters of both in the last few years of their equally long lives are exceptionally touching, and unique in the polite compliments with which they try to keep off old age. If Ninon owes part of her posthumous fame to Saint Evremond, she owes at least as much to Voltaire, who was presented to her as a promising boy poet by the abbe de Chateauneuf. To him she left 2000 francs to buy books, and his letter on her was the chief authority of many subsequent biographers. Her personal appearance is, according to Sainte-Beuve, best described in Clelie, a novel by Mlle de Scudery, in which she figures as Clarisse. Her distinguishing characteristic was neither beauty nor wit, but high spirits and perfect evenness of temperament. The letters of Ninon published after her death were, according to Voltaire, all spurious, and the only authentic ones are those to Saint Evremond; which can be best studied in Dauxmesnil's edition of Saint Evremond, and his notice on her. Sainte-Beuve has an The Correspondance authentique was edited by E. Colombey in 1886, See also Helen K. Hayes, The Real Ninon de l'Enclos (1908) ; and Mary C. Rowsell, Ninon de l'Enclos and her century (1910).
End of Article: NINON DE LENCLOS (1615-1705)
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