Autobiography of Madam Guyon


DURING THE FIRST YEAR I was still vain. I sometimes lied to excuse myself to my husband and mother-in-law. I stood strangely in awe of them. Sometimes I fell into a temper, their conduct appeared so very unreasonable, and especially their countenancing the most provoking treatment of the girl who served me. As to my mother-in-law, her age and rank rendered her conduct more tolerable.

But Thou, O my God, opened my eyes to see things in a very different light. I found in Thee reasons for suffering, which I had never found in the creature. I afterward saw clearly and reflected with joy, that this conduct, as unreasonable as it seemed, and as mortifying as it was, was quite necessary for me. Had I been applauded here as I was at my father's, I should have grown intolerably proud. I had a fault common to most of our sex -- I could not hear a beautiful woman praised, without finding fault, to lessen the good which was said of her. This fault continued long, and was the fruit of gross and malignant pride. Extravagantly extolling anyone proceeds from a like source.

Just before the birth of my first child, they were induced to take great care of me. My crosses were somewhat mitigated. Indeed, I was so ill that it was enough to excite the compassion of the most indifferent. They had so great a desire of having children to inherit their fortunes, that they were continually afraid lest I should any way hurt myself. Yet, when the time of my delivery drew near, this care and tenderness of me abated. Once, as my mother-in-law had treated me in a very grating manner, I had the malice to feign a cholic, to give them some alarm; but as I saw this little artifice gave them too much pain, I told them I was better. No creature could be more heavily laden with sickness than I was. Beside continual heavings, I had so strange a distaste, except for some fruit, that I could not bear the sight of food. I had continual swoonings and violent pains. After my delivery I continued weak a long time. There was indeed sufficient to exercise patience, and I was enabled to offer up my sufferings to our Lord. I took a fever, which rendered me so weak, that after several weeks I could scarcely bear to be moved or to have my bed made. When I began to recover, an abscess fell upon my breast, which was forced to be laid open in two places, which gave me great pain. Yet all the maladies seemed to me only a shadow of troubles, in comparison with those I suffered in the family which daily increased. Indeed, life was so wearisome to me, that those maladies which were thought mortal did not frighten me.

The event improved my appearance, and consequently served to increase my vanity. I was glad to call forth expressions of regard. I went to the public promenades (though but seldom) and when in the streets, I pulled off my mask out of vanity. I drew off my gloves to show my hands. Could there be greater folly? After falling into these weaknesses, I used to weep bitterly at home. Yet, when occasion offered, I fell into them again.

My husband lost considerably. This cost me strange crosses, not that I cared for the losses, but I seemed to be the butt of all the ill-humors of the family. With what pleasure did I sacrifice temporal blessings. How often I felt willing to have begged my bread, if God had so ordered it. But my mother-in-law was inconsolable. She bid me pray to God for these things. To me that was wholly impossible.

O my dearest Lord, never could I pray to Thee about the world, or the things thereof; nor sully my sacred addresses to Thy majesty with the dirt of the earth. No; I rather wish to renounce it all, and everything beside whatsoever, for the sake of Thy love, and the enjoyment of Thy presence in that kingdom which is not of this world. I wholly sacrificed myself to Thee, even earnestly begging Thee rather to reduce our family to beggary, than suffer it to offend thee.

In my own mind I excused my mother-in-law, saying to myself, "If I had taken the pains to scrape and save, I would not be so indifferent at seeing so much lost. I enjoy what cost me nothing, and reap what I have not sowed." Yet all these thoughts could not make me sensible to our losses. I even formed agreeable ideas of our going to the hospital. No state appeared to me so poor and miserable, which I should not have thought easy, in comparison with the continual domestic persecutions I underwent. My father who loved me tenderly, and whom I honored beyond expression, knew nothing of it. God so permitted it that I should have him also displeased with me for some time. My mother was continually telling him that I was an ungrateful creature, showing no regard for them, but all for my husband's family. Appearances were against me. I did not go to see them as often as I should. They knew not the captivity I was in; what I was obliged to bear in defending them. These complaints of my mother, and a trivial affair that fell out, lessened a little my father's fond regard for me; but it did not last long. My mother-in-law reproached me, saying, "No afflictions befell them till I came into the house. All misfortunes came with me." On the other hand my mother wanted me to exclaim against my husband which I could never submit to do.

We continued to meet with loss after loss, the king retrenching a considerable share of our revenues, besides great sums of money, which we lost by L'Hotel de Ville. I could have no rest or peace, in such great afflictions. I had no mortal to console me, or to advise me. My sister, who had educated me, had departed this life. She died two months before my marriage. I had no other for a confidant.

I declare, that I find much repugnance in saying so many things of my mother-in-law. I have no doubt that my own indiscretion, my caprice, and the occasional sallies of a warm temper, drew many of the crosses upon me. Although I had what the world calls patience, yet I had neither a relish nor love for the cross. Their conduct toward me, which appeared so unreasonable, should not be looked upon with worldly eyes. We should look higher and then we shall see that it was directed by Providence for my eternal advantage.

I now dressed my hair in the most modest manner, never painted, and to subdue the vanity which still had possession of me, I rarely looked in the glass. My reading was confined to books of devotion, such as Thomas à Kempis, and the works of St. Francis de Sales. I read these aloud for the improvement of the servants, while the maid was dressing my hair. I suffered myself to be dressed just as she pleased, which freed me from a great deal of trouble. It took away the occasions wherein my vanity used to be exercised. I knew not how things were; but they always liked me, and thought all well in point of dress. If on some particular days I wanted to appear better, it proved worse. The more indifferent I was about dress the better I appeared. How often have I gone to church, not so much to worship God as to be seen. Other women, jealous of me, affirmed that I painted; they told my confessor, who chided me for it, though I assured him I was innocent. I often spoke in my own praise, and sought to raise myself by depreciating others. Yet these faults gradually deceased; for I was very sorry afterward for having committed them. I often examined myself very strictly, writing down my faults from week to week, and from month to month, to see how much I was improved or reformed. Alas! this labor, though fatiguing, was of but little service, because I trusted in my own efforts. I wished indeed to be reformed, but my good desires were weak and languid.

At one time my husband's absence was so long, and in the meantime my crosses and vexations at home so great, that I determined to go to him. My mother-in-law strongly opposed it. This once my father interfering, and insisting on it, she let me go. On my arrival I found he had almost died. Through vexation and fretting he was very much changed. He could not finish his affairs, having no liberty in attending to them, keeping himself concealed at the Hotel de Longueville, where Madame de Longueville was extremely kind to me. I came publicly, and he was in great fear lest I should make him known. In a rage he bid me return home. Love and my long absence from him surmounting every other reason, he soon relented and suffered me to stay with him. He kept me eight days without letting me stir out of his sight. Fearing the effects of such a close confinement on my constitution, he desired me to go and take a walk in the garden. There I met Madame de Longueville, who testified great joy on seeing me.

I cannot express all the kindness I met with in this house. All the domestics served me with emulation, and applauded me on account of my appearance, and exterior deportment. Yet I was much on my guard against too much attention. I never entered into discourse with any man when alone. I admitted none into my coach, not even my relations, unless my husband were in it. There was not any rule of discretion which I did not duly observe, to avoid giving suspicion to my husband, or subject of calumny to others. Everyone studied there how to contribute to divert or oblige me. Outwardly everything appeared agreeable. Chagrin had so overcome and ruffled my husband that I had continually something to bear. Sometimes he threatened to throw the supper out of the windows. I said, he would then do me an injury, as I had a keen appetite. I made him laugh and I laughed with him. Before that, melancholy prevailed over all my endeavors, and over the love he had for me. God both armed me with patience and gave me the grace to return him no answer. The devil, who attempted to draw me into some offence, was forced to retire in confusion, through the signal assistance of that grace.

I loved my God and was unwilling to displease Him, and I was inwardly grieved on account of that vanity, which still I found myself unable to eradicate. Inward distresses, together with oppressive crosses, which I had daily to encounter, at length threw me into sickness. As I was unwilling to incommode the Hotel de Longueville I had myself moved to another house. The disease proved violent and tedious, insomuch that the physicians despaired of my life. The priest, a pious man, seemed fully satisfied with the state of my mind. He said, "I should die like a saint." But my sins were too present and too painful to my heart to have such presumption. At midnight they administered the sacrament to me as they hourly expected my departure. It was a scene of general distress in the family and among all who knew me. There were none indifferent to my death but myself. I beheld it without fear, and was insensible to its approach. It was far otherwise with my husband. He was inconsolable when he saw there was no hope. I no sooner began to recover, than notwithstanding all his love, his usual fretfulness returned. I recovered almost miraculously and to me this disorder proved a great blessing. Beside a very great patience under violent pains, it served to instruct me much in my view of the emptiness of all worldly things. It detached me from myself and gave me new courage to suffer better than I had done. The love of God gathered strength in my heart, with a desire to please and be faithful to Him in my condition. I reaped several other advantages from it which I need not relate, I had yet six months to drag along with a slow fever. It was thought that it would terminate in death.

Thy time, O my God, had not yet arrived for taking me to Thyself. Thy designs over me were widely different from the expectations of those about me; it being Thy determination to make me both the object of Thy mercy and the victim of Thy justice.