Philobiblon: Prince de Ligne and his concern for posterity

Friday, January 13, 2006

Prince de Ligne and his concern for posterity

Miss Frances Williams Wynn is today writing mainly about General Alava, the Spanish ambassador and great friend of the Duke of Wellington, and of some undiplomatic activity by an English envoy at the court of Catherine the Great, but the line that I enjoyed was about the Prince de Ligne:

"Who for fourscore years had lived with every person of distinction in Europe, and who, to the last moment, preserved not only every useful faculty, but wit and gaiety besides. He preserved also to the last a singular facility of versification, and was particularly fond of writing epitaphs on himself. They say that he must have written above 500, generally impromptus, and of course worthless."

Prince Charles Joseph de Ligne has got a rather neat website, which includes a bibliography, and describes him thus:

"He was a grand aristocrat, a talented military man, an entertaining writer, a brilliant conversationalist, a great garden fancier, a moralist and a memoirist. Anyone interested in the years of his long lifetime - from 1735 to 1814 - will find him "unavoidable." The Prince de Ligne witnessed the fall of Napoleon, who fascinated him but whom he refused to meet. He died during the Congress of Vienna, which redrew the map of Europe to the accompaniment of balls and intrigues."


Blogger Alex said...

De Ligne is remembered as the man who said of the Congress of Vienna that "le Congrés danse, mais ne marche pas", which is traditionally thought to be a crushingly sarcastic and apposite commentary on the delegates and the occupational hazards of Viennese social life.

What is less well known is that he came up with the line before the Congress convened, and spent the intervening period boring anyone who would listen to it. The phrase is probably remembered, despite its ahistorical content (the Congress, though it dragged on, secured a settlement of European politics that held for 60 years, certainly better than average), due to Victorian Whig historians who found the whole thing vaguely reprehensible due to an excess of kings, balance-of-power politics and the un-Protestant luxury of Vienna..

1/15/2006 12:21:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Thanks - he seems like an interesting, if shallow character, like "professional characters" often are.

1/15/2006 12:56:00 pm  

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