Reviewed in 1996
Noémi Hepp's edition (Société de l'Histoire de France) of the previously unedited portions of Nicolas Goulas' Mémoires and related texts provided perfect reading for the slow train from Mantua to Milan (50 minute slate when it reached its destination, though it had started on time!). Nowhere can one find better confirmation of just how courtly education framed and shaped a minor nobleman's life — confirming Mark Motley's work very effectively. It's not at all a matter of a moi désaxé à la A. J. Krailsheimer, or for that matter any other of the more literary notions that bildungsformation somehow start from some sense of non-identity. Goulas knew perfectly well who he was, and his belief and ethics were strongly formed. But there were skills to be learned (dancing, riding, fencing and lute-playing) that would "perfect" him. The trip to Italy was a revelation for him. He reflects a lot on his future, because his father left him "peu de bien." Just about the time he was making a major decision to stay in Italy for life, news arrives that a near relative has secured a place for him in Gaston d'Orléans's household.
The critique of Montrésor's Mémoires is much more than a settling of accounts, though it is that. For Goulas, Montrésor was an ambitieux who continually advised Gaston on aims for Montrésor's own career, rather than for the prince's own good. The portrait of Gaston as indecisive leads to an understanding of human nature in Goulas that merits more reflection.
The Introduction à la Præface [sic] is an angry outburst of a
neo-Stoic and, in some respects, a classical republican against
Richelieu's governance. The gens de néant who write on the
Cardinal's behalf enrage Goulas. Still, there is a patriotic theme:
Goulas recognizes the "grandes choses" that Richelieu has done for
France. Let's have a quote about governance under Richelieu:
"Au lieu qu'aujourd'huy, que les souverains commandent presque partout, leurs conseilz sont envellopez de nuages, leurs desseins ne se communiquent qu'aux ministres ... et les mystères de la monarchie ne sont plus decouverts qu'aux favoris et aux confidents du maistre. Ce fut un secret que Sallust, neveu de l'historien, enseigna à Tybère." (p. 272f)