“I don’t care what you think unless it is about me”*…
Louis XIV– the Sun King– ruled France for seventy-two years, a reign during which he oversaw construction of the palace of Versaille, and consolidated political power in an unprecedented fashion. Still, he he sought constant assurances that His Highness was, in fact, the highest– assurances supplied by his counselors, staff, and consorts, all of whom showered the king with flattery to keep him content and to keep their own positions secure.
Louis de Rouvoy, duc de Saint-Simon, served the Sun King until they fell out over Saint-Simon’s opposition to one of the King’s power grabs. From Saint-Simon’s memoir:
c. 1694 | Versaille
Louis XIV’s ministers, his generals, his mistresses, his courtiers perceived, very soon after he became master, his foible, rather than his real taste for glory. They vied with each other in praising him, and they spoiled him. Praise, or to speak more truly, flattery pleased him to such a degree that the coarsest was well-received, the basest with most relish. It was only in this way that anyone ever reached him. It was this that gave such power to his ministers through the constant opportunities that they had to adulate him, especially by attributing to him whatever they did themselves and letting him think he inspired them. Suppleness, baseness, an admiring, cringing, and dependent air, above all, an air of nullity except through him, were the only means of pleasing him. Leaving that path, there was no recovery. Year by year the poison spread, till it reached an almost incredible height in a prince who was not without some intelligence, and who had experience. He, who had neither voice nor music in him, would sing in his private rooms the prologues of plays and operas that praised him; he was so bathed in that delight that sometimes at his public suppers, if the violins played the tune of those praises, he would hum the words between his teeth as an accompaniment.
[Via Lapham’s Quarterly]
* Kurt Cobain
As we note, with Mark Twain, that while history may not repeat itself, it does in fact rhyme, we might recall that it was on this date in 1582 that Britain’s second-best-known magician, the necromancer Edward Kelley, first met the best-known: the mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I, John Dee.
While Dee’s most important legacy was his rich series of contributions to the development of modern science (and his coining of the word “Brittannia” and the phrase “British Empire”), Dee might also be remembered as the man who, while trading on his fame as a sage, served abroad as a spy for the Queen– and signed his reports “007”… thus inspiring Ian Fleming’s trade-naming of James Bond.