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Madame de Staël online

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By a. C. McClurg and Co.

A.D. 1891.



Chapter Page

I. Youth — Character — First Writings
AND First Appearance before the
World 7

II. The Revolution — "Reflections upon
THE Peace" — The "Essay on Fic-
tion" 42

III. The Book on "The Passions'' — The
Consulate — The Book on "Litera-
ture" — "Delphine" 79

IV. Journeys to Germany and Italy —

"Corinne" 129

V Life at Coppet— The Book on Ger-
many — The Censor and the Police
— M. DE RoccA — The Flight . . . 154

VI. The Work on Exile — The Flight

through Europe — Last Years . . 177

VII. The Book on Germany 202

VIII. "Considerations upon the French

Revolution" 220

IX. Her Influence — Posterity in Poli-
tics, History, and Literature . . 237



Youth. — Character. — First Writings and
First Appearance before the World.

1 766-1 789.

ONE who knew MADAME DE Stael inti-
mately and was thus enabled to gather
at first hand the Incidents of her Hfe, namely,
Madame Necker de Saussure, has said : " Her
works are, so to speak, in an abstract form the
memoirs of her life." Madame de Stael her-
self said as much : '* When one writes to sat-
isfy the inspiration that possesses the soul,
one's writings will involuntarily reveal every
shade of one's manner of living and thinking."
Thus I propose seeking the inspiration of
Madame de Stael's works by studying the
events of her life.

Our earliest impressions of the external
world become, unconsciously to us, the prism
by which everything is afterward colored.

8 Madame de StdeL

With Chateaubriand, it was the gloomy soH-
tudes of Combourg, the heavy mists skirting
the ocean and bounded only by the forests
through which the storm-winds whistled. With
Lamartine, it was the hills of Milly, a country
home with quiet neighboring paths, a soft and
filmy sky, a dim and fleeting horizon, a pious
childhood at a Christian mother's knee. With
Madame de Stael, it was in private life the
scenes of a happy home, and in public those
of a salon which was the meeting-place of the
best intellects of the time, — where jest and in-
spiration followed each in turn ; where all lit-
erary questions and all the problems of the
universe were discussed, and where, as a con-
temporary has remarked, they discoursed end-
lessly upon '^the great truths of Nature, the
immortality of the soul, the love of liberty,
and the charms and dangers of the passions."
A house like her parents' was always her ideal
of home ; happiness in marriage was her Uto-
pia, and to reign over a salon was the ambition
of her life«

M. Necker came of a family of Irish origin,
which turning Protestant removed first to Ger-
many and then to Geneva, though through his
mother he was allied to the French proscripts
of Louis XIV. He was born a citizen of the
Swiss Republic. On reaching manhood, and

Youth, 9

after a severe course of classical study, he
turned his mind to the study of finance. This
led him to Paris, where he entered upon his
career of publicist and financier. Madame du
Deffand once accused him of interminp-ling;
metaphysics with everything that he said, and
it is a fact that his writings are tinged with it.
But he put none of it into his bank, which
was prosperous. He acquired a large fortune,
and established a reputation by his eulogy of
Colbert, crowned by the Academy in 1773.
Necker loved popularity and aspired to power,
— popularity, because he believed that the gen-
eral opinion could not err; power, because
he thought himself capable of accomplishing
in the interest of humanity the reform of pub-
lic affairs. To his ambition he united the sin-
cerity of a philanthropist i the gravity of a
Calvinist softened by the homilies of the
Vicaire Savoyard; much kindliness in his
private relations; haughtiness in his political
intercourse ; a mixture of tenderness for the
human race and of disdain for the individual ;
large and systematic, though abstract views
upon affairs in general ; and uncertainty, rigid-
ity, and minutiae in action. He was not born
a minister.

He had neither the force nor the judgment
necessary to statecraft. He misunderstood

lo Madame de StdeL

Richelieu, he misjudged Mirabeau, he did not
comprehend Bonaparte. He had a noble heart
and an estimable character, but his was not a
soul of fire. The Revolution passed him by.
But he achieved under the old regime a suc-
cess surprising for a Genevese, a Protestant, a
tradesman, and a plebeian, who was forced, we
may say, upon the King's council by the suf-
frage of the most enlightened men of France,
and who became popular in the most dissolute
city in the world, among the people most
rebelHous to the commonplace virtues and the
creeds of Geneva. He owed this as much to
his fortune as to his merits. His bank helped
him to interest in his reputation the men who
at the time dispensed glory and rewards ; he
entertained philosophers at his table, and his
salon was one of those which governed the
French mind.

Madame Necker had her share in the labori-
ous work of her husband's success. She was
the daughter of a Protestant minister, and was
filled with the instinct to good works, in the
Christian sense of the word. Charity carried
to excess was to her a salutary exercise. She
was refreshed by it. The life of the world was
always to her an artificial life; yet she loved
company, she wished to love It, and made It a
duty to appear a brilliant member of it. She

Youth, 1 1

was at once diverted by it, bewildered, con-
strained, exalted, and oppressed; she was at
last worn out by it. Her mind was remark-
ably cultivated ; but the flight of her spirit was
constantly trammelled by scruples upon the
articles of faith. She was singularly suscep-
tible, nervously impressionable, even passion-
ate, in her legitimate attachments, but with
a continual self-control and a sort of secret
prompting to austerity. In spite of her taste
for beautiful speculations of the sentimental
and subtle kind, in spite of her pride of hold-
ing open house to celebrated men and of her
desire to contribute to the reputation of an
adored husband, she had an indescribable
reserve and affectation amid a society into
which she had not been born. She was a
Genevese exiled among the Parisians, a Chris-
tian astray among the faithless, loving them
without believing in them, listening to them
without approving of them, blaming them
without hoping to convert them. She suffered
in the noblest qualities she possessed, — her
rectitude of heart and her upright judgment.
She longed for another and a purer atmos-
phere, that of her native mountains, but she
was too enervated to endure it. She wrote to
a friend : " Surely one might be and ought to
be happier elsewhere than here ; but then one

12 Madame de StdeL

must never have felt the fatal charm which
without giving happiness poisons forever all
the other channels of life."

Such is the environment amid which Germaine
Necker was born, April 22, 1766, and was
brought up. She was a child of astoundingly
precocious intellect and heart, and at the same
time of a gay temperament. She was Necker's
joy. If he kept her in a hot-house, it was in
order that she might expand there. The hot-
house was not enough for Madame Necker, and
she attempted to add thereto an ingenious and
subtle educational apparatus. It was her dream
to make of her daughter a masterpiece of ma-
ternal art, knowing all things, and pious not-
withstanding; of an enthusiastic imagination,
yet modest in discourse and irreproachable in
conduct; very pure yet at the same time very
fascinating; having all the glitter of life, all
the pleasures the world can give, yet without
pride of life or frivolity. She wore out her
soul in trying to realize this ideal. The child
developed on her own part a prodigious gen-
ius which overreached all limits. She burst
the mould. Madame Necker's plan of edu-
cation went to increase the lumber of peda-
gogic Utopias. The environment carried
everything before it.

From the time when Germaine could think.

Youth, 1 3

she reasoned ; she soared as soon as she could
move. At eleven years of age she appeared
at the receptions seated on a little stool at her
mother's feet, wide awake but silent. The si-
lence which she maintained during these years
sufficed for the rest of her life. She listened
to Raynal, Thomas, Grimm, Bufifon, Morellet,
and Suard, who took much notice of her, and
amused themselves with watching the expres-
sions which their discourses produced upon
her mobile countenance. The theatre occupied
a large place in their conversations. Marmon-
tel and La Harpe discussed it continually, and
declaimed dramatic selections. Mademoiselle
Clairon was often present. Germaine profited
by these lessons ; she accompanied her par-
ents to the play, and made extracts from
pieces. Very soon she began to compose
pieces for puppets, of which she managed the
strings herself; her own conceptions of life
always carried a suggestion of this. At fifteen
years of age she made a resume of '' L'Esprit
des Lois," and drew up an essay on Necker's
" Compte Rendu." Raynal asked her to give
him for his compilation called " Deux Lides "
an article on the revocation of the Edict of
Nantes. She read everything she could lay
hands on, preferring novels, however, and of
these the most exciting. There is no saying

14 Madame de St del.

at what age she fell upon Rousseau. He
became her first idol. The rape of Clarisse
became one of the events of her childhood.
She herself says, " Werther made an epoch
in my life." Werther melted and capti-
vated her; Lovelace dazzled, frightened, and
fascinated her for a long time. *' What inter-
ested her was what made her weep," reports
one friend. The sight of a celebrated man
made her heart beat wildly. Discerning praise
of her father caused her to burst into tears.
She was seventeen years old when she asked
the aged Marechale de Mouchy, '' Madame,
what do you think of love ? " Such was the
tone of her conversations and the course of
her reveries. She fell ill. '' She may go mad,
perhaps," said Tronchin, ''but she will cer-
tainly be very unhappy."

Such was the development of her mind,
which was one of the most receptive and ex-
pansive ever seen ; possessed with an insa-
tiable avidity to know everything and the
capacity to take it all in ; having not merely
intelligence, but sympathy, a sort of divination
of the thoughts of others, and an '' instanta-
neous inspiration," or what amounted to that,
in her own ideas ; apprehending and inspired,
moreover, not by reflection, but in a flash, or,
as it were, on the wing. There was no interval

Character, 1 5

between thought and speech ; the thought was
born and quickened by speech itself. '' Con-
versation was her inspiration and her muse,"
remarks one who best understood her and
who has analyzed her most keenly. She
lived in a state of perpetual expansion and

But she lacked self-government, concentra-
tion, and patient thought. It fatigued her to
apply herself to these. She advanced by great
wing-strokes ; never creeping over an idea, yet
turning it out with rare skill. She would not
take the trouble to learn anything thoroughly.
She knew nothing of that spiritual discipHne
which produced the strong and healthy grace
of a Sevigne, the natural yet grand style, the
simple way of expressing herself better than
any one else, the command of language re-
newed at its sources and always the most pre-
cise when most original. Her mind revolted
against the leading strings of Port Royal ; her
tongue could not endure the curb of Condil-
lac. She did not understand submission either
to method or grammar. Her aspirations were
always beyond her ideas ; her heart, for analo-
gous reasons, was very often far above her
words and acts.

This ardent, passionate, but straightforward
heart, prodigal of gifts and confidences, eager

1 6 Madame de StdeL

for change, impatient of examination, and
generous above all things, was also largely
endowed with intelligence. '' I have many
faculties for happiness," said Corinne. Ger-
maine Necker was too eager both for happi-
ness and knowledge, and too insatiable. She
stopped at no obstacles amid her outbursts
of affection, either within herself or without.
She took no account either of the hindrances
offered by the outside world, or of contradic-
tory sentiments, or of any of the misfortunes
of life which wear and tear the passions to
tatters. Indeed all her sentiments turned to
passions, and all her passions to storms. ''Her
devouring imiagination," which grasped at every-
thing around her, first seized upon herself; it
was the lever by which she moved souls ; it
held complete sway over her own soul, which
never knew tranquillity. Later she said, " My
imagination is like the tower of Ugolin."

Nevertheless she had at bottom a good
sense and a moral soundness which sustained
her in time of tempest. If she could not at
all understand that others felt differently from
herself, her own sentiments were at least sin-
cere. This sincerity was the measure which she
applied to herself most scrupulously. When
the vertigo of emotion was past, she resumed
her equilibrium and judged herself. Her ex-

Character, 1 7

aminations of conscience rendered her singu-
larly perspicacious and just These, while
edifying to her, gave her little consolation.
Her clear-sighted analyses were for the most
part a refinement of torture. But as she was
naturally kind, her self-torture heightened her
sense of pity.

We must note here, at the beginning, these
singularities of her character, for her genius is
born of them. Her life was the product of
her tumultuous and troubled sentiments; her
writings are the result of her self-judgment
and her pity. As she advanced in life and
considered her existence from a higher stand-
point, she drew from her own trials a higher
and purer moral. Whatever failed her in her
own destiny she completed in her books. It
is thus that her rich and virile works are
brought forth amid a career of troubles, agita-
tions, and sometimes weaknesses.

Happily for her and for those around her,
she felt it an absolute necessity to be amused.
She had a large and easy good-nature, and
when her heart was not otherwise engaged, a
charming freedom in all her relations.

*' Corinne was very gay in spirit. She ap-
preciated the ridiculous with the keenness of a
French woman, and portrayed it with the im-
agination of an Italian, but she joined to it a

1 8 Madame de Stdel.

kindly feeling. One never saw in her anything
of malice or hostility; for in every case it is
coldness which offends, while, on the contrary,
a lively imagination is almost always kind."
And here is Delphine : '' Well-chosen ex-
pressions and movements always natural, a
gayety of spirit and a melancholy tinge of senti-
ment, excitability and simplicity, enthusiasm
and energy ! What an adorable mixture of
spirit and candor, of sweetness and strength !
Possessing to the same degree all that could
inspire admiration in the profoundest thinkers,
all that could set at ease the most common-
place minds, if they are kindly disposed and
hope to find that same tender quality in the
gentlest, noblest, most seductive and naive

It is thus she paints herself, and thus she
would appear upon the theatre of the world.
She can conceive neither of glory nor happi-
ness outside that theatre. There she interests
herself in everything, — sentiments, politics, art,
literature, and philosophy; but to the rest of
the universe she is indifferent. She has no lik-
ing for the promenade ; Nature for her is dull ;
meditation wearies her; retirement terrifies
her; solitude fills her with horror. She has
her vulnerable spot, and her vampire is ennui.
Society, which is the delight of her life, is also

Character. 1 9

Its necessity. Only in Paris does she find
herself at ease and comfortable.

And yet there is something in her which
even there is stifled and tries to burst forth.
She places the source of happiness in enthu-
siasm, but she seeks this happiness in a realm
where all is shifting sand or barren waste.
Her character rebels against the convention-
alities and prejudices of the world, as her mind
rebels against scholastic methods and the com-
mon usages of language. She aspires to reign
in society, but she hopes to dispense with the
first condition of such a reign ; namely, eti-
quette, the art of mastering oneself in ruling
others. Her nature repudiates not only hypoc-
risy and worldly strategy, but even simple dis-
cretion and that prudence which one may call
the spirit of tact in conduct. She knows no
longer interval between thought and action than
between thought and speech. '' Your char-
acter," said a friend who knew her well, " is
incapable of enduring the annoyances that
one provokes by the endeavor to shine in the
world of society."

This dread of dulness or of emptiness, if one
may put it so, this thirst for amusement, this
eagerness to shine and to please, joined to an
impossibility of self-restraint, throws her into
perpetual inconsistencies. She has a vigorous

20 Madame de St del,

and impetuous soul, but she manifests all a
woman's weakness. She says of Delphine:
** Although the breadth of her spirit gives her
independence, yet her character nevertheless
needs support." Germaine was carried away
by her heart and her genius, at the very start,
at one bound, without regard to possibilities ;
afterward face to face with resistance, '' her
quick discernment of the true, the real, flashed
a sudden illumination upon her, and at the
same time pierced her like a sharp spur ; the
reaction was immediate; and too frequently
contempt of the precaution to cover her retreat
and hide her transition made her the jest of en-
vious and malicious mediocrity." These in-
ternal strifes, says the most authoritative and
most respectful of witnesses the Due Victor
de Broglie, ''made her existence tempestuous;
her family life passionate, ardent, and tumultu-
ous." They at last destroyed her health, which
had been unsettled by continual commotion
since her earliest years.

These fundamental contrarieties of character
are plainly manifested in the two objects of
worship which filled Germaine's youth, — the
first, which lasted to the end of her life, the
beneficent worship of the domestic hearth,
the home of Necker ; the other a foreign idol,
a cult of insidious mysteries and poisonous

Character, 2 1

perfumes, from which she detached herself
by degrees, but which never entirely ceased to
trouble her: I mean the worship of Rousseau.
Both Necker and Rousseau talk much of virtue
and promise happiness : but Necker finds hap-
piness in virtue, and it is to this happiness that
the disposition of Germaine invites her; Rous-
seau finds virtue in happiness, and to this so-
phisticated virtue Germaine is attracted by her

At the point where we now take up her his-
tory, near her twentieth year, she is still
dreaming of it; but the dream which disturbs
her is the same which will continue to trouble
her through all the metamorphoses of life, — to
be loved, as she would herself love, in an in-
cessant ecstasy of her whole being, in a glo-
rious felicity irradiating her whole life. At
nineteen she wrote in her journal : '' A woman
should have nothing in herself, but should find
all her joy in what she loves." At thirty she
confessed to a friend : '' I trusted everything
to love. In youth every sentiment springs
from that." At forty she makes Corinne say:
*'In seeking for glory I have always hoped
that it would cause me to love." After Ger-
maine had attained this glory, she perceived
that without love it is but vanity, and con-
cluded : " Glory itself can be, for a woman, only

2 2 Madame de StdeL

a loud and bitter cry for happiness." Ambi-
tion, for her, could never be more than a sur-
passing desire to please, and a current having
its source in love. But she desired the more
passionately to appear brilliant as she realized
her lack of beauty. She lacked — and she knew
it only too well — the outward graces, those
mute and ineffable charms which through
the eyes find their way irresistibly to the

Her admirers have portrayed her as a muse,
lyre in hand. She is Clio or Melpomene,
" the most notable priestess of Apollo, the
favorite of the god, whose incense is to him
the most agreeable of all. Her large black
eyes sparkle with genius; her hair, ebon-hued,
falls upon her shoulders in waving ringlets;
her features are more pronounced than deli-
cate; one perceives in her something more
than the common destiny of her sex." Yes,
but of this destiny one perceives no trace
whatever. Take away from the portrait the
mythological attributes and the allegorical
background, and you shall see a person of
medium stature, rather stocky, not quite de-
ficient in grace and ease, but without that
lightness and nymph-like elegance which was
the ravishing type of the beauty of that day
immortalized by David and Gerard in the

Character. 23

portraits of Juliette Recamier and Madame
Regnauld de Saint-Jean d'Angely,

Neither is she Amelie, nor even Corinne ; she
is Dido, virgin still, but predestinated to pas-
sion. The features are expressive; the com-
plexion dark rather than fresh, yet of a good
color, which is heightened by conversation;
the shoulders are well shaped, the arms power-
ful, the hands robust, — the hands of a sov-
ereign and not of a great and sentimental
coquette ; a broad forehead ; black hair falling
thick and curling over her shoulders ; a strong
nose ; a mouth forcibly designed, prominent
lips opening wide for life and speech, — the
mouth of an orator, with a frank and kindly
smile ; all her genius shines forth in her eyes,
in her sparkling glances, confiding, superb,
deep and sweet when in repose, imperious
when lighted by a sudden flash. But to pro-
duce this flash the tripod of inspiration must
be close at hand. Germaine must speak in
order to charm, and must conquer in order to
make herself beloved ; the result is an appear-
ance of too much eagerness in her anxiety to
please, and even in her kindness. With her,
ambition must serve sentiment, but sentiment
borrows a degree of uneasiness and greediness
from ambition. It is love, as a man conceives
of it, — love which rules. She cannot be happy

24 Madame de Stdel.

unless she is ruled by the man she loves. In
life she must have a guide, in love a master;
yet in her life she will be the most unsub-
missive, and in love the most despotic, of

'' What did she find, she who never saw in
the object of her choice a sublime protector, a
strong and gentle guide, whose glance com-
mands and entreats, and who receives on his
knees the right to dispose of our fate?" A
friend, '' of the same age, beside whom you
must live and die ; a friend whose every in-
terest is your own, whose every perspective is
in common with yours, including that of the

Such is her ideal. It is full of difficulty and.
delusion. This romantic marriage she can
only imagine in connection with the world she
would live in, without which she could not live
at all ; but that world, so frivolous and mali-
cious, is it compatible with such a worshipful
admiration? What man in it could sustain
that sublime character? In the presence of
this woman, who would shine so as to be
loved, who would be loved only by a man
more brilliant than herself, love would be
born of the spark struck out by their spirits ;
but, the flame once lighted, love would be
consumed by it. Before even jealousy could

Character, 25

rend it, the rivalry of spirit would have
wounded it incessantly.

Read *' Delphine " again ; it is the romance of
Madame de Stael's own life. Read especially
the letters of Mademoiselle de Lespinasse, who
is the realization of Delphine, and you shall see
how in such hearts the enchantment works.
It is at a supper-company of talkers, such as
was then in vogue, that Mademoiselle de Les-
pinasse meets the man who is to take posses-
sion of her. In listening to him she feels

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