donderdag, april 08, 2010

Prince of Europe (Philip Mansel)

Here is a beautiful biography on a leading figure of 18th Century European high society: Prince Charles-Joseph de Ligne, a "stranger in every court". Although written in English (a language not very suitable for the Prince's adventures), Philip Mansel's book carries the reader away to Paris under Marie Antoinette, Vienna during the French Revolution or to the Turkish and Prussian battlefields of Joseph II and Maria Theresia.

Ligne had familial or political interests almost everywhere and met almost every European "celebrity" alive between 1740 and 1814. Maria Theresia, Joseph II, Frederik the Great, Marie-Antoinette (entertaining the Queen in the hope of winning an ever-lasting Ancien Régime feudal trial), Catherine the Great (diplomatic missions and joint campaigns with Austria), Madame de Staël, Voltaire, Rousseau, Casanova (shared "débauche"). Famous for his brilliant and indefatigable conversation and writing, he constantly looked for new fascinating persons to include in his social circle.

Explicitly subjective, but funny and entertaining in all of his statements on persons or institutions, he symbolized the 18 century's laboratory of fresh salon ideas. However, when Ligne grew older, he regretted the Revolutions, the diminishing joy of almost uniform conversation and expression, saw his children die and his acquaintances shrimp. The Europe of the "Société des Princes" was no more.

A lot has been written about de Ligne (Jeroom Vercruysse, Roland Mortier, Review "Annales du Prince de Ligne"), but Mansel's biography seems a good and short introduction. Although the English is sometimes artificial when quoting letters or memoirs (originally in 18th Century French).

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