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This report is taken from PN Review 52, Volume 13 Number 2, November - December 1986.

Comment C.H. Sisson
Cardinal de Retz speaks of 'the ridiculous vanity of those impertinent authors who, being, so to speak, born in the farmyard and never having gone beyond the ante-chamber, pride themselves on knowing everything which has happened in the inner sanctum', and of 'the insolence of these people, nullities in every respect, who imagine that they have penetrated into every corner of the minds of those who have played the major roles in affairs, people who claim to have followed the causes and developments of every event.' One might think he had in mind the journalists and commentators of the twentieth century rather than the scribblers of the mid-seventeenth century. 'These wretches', the Prince of Condé is reported as saying, 'have made of you and me what they would have been, if they had been in our places.' That was no doubt said with a fine aristocratic self-assurance, but it was, as de Retz said, an observation with a lot of sense in it.

The great attraction of the Mémoires of the Cardinal de Retz is that they are the work of a man who understood the mechanisms of public affairs from the point of view of one who had not only been deeply involved in them, and made them his chief pursuit, but was pre-eminently well suited to such occupations and yet too intelligent to regard them as more than they in fact were. 'Perhaps the least ecclesiastical soul in the universe', as he described himself, at an early ...


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