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remained therefore painfully fixed in the
interval between love and marriage ; they
were miserable, but they could not extricate

For Madame de Stael there remained one
resource, — the consolation of those who are
born with the pen in hand, — namely, to give to
the world an account of their unjust sufferings
and disgrace. She composed her romance of
" Delphine," the most personal of her works, the
one " in which she told everything," according
to Madame Necker de Saussure, and in which
she portrays *' the reality of her youth." " Can
a woman's talent have any other object than to
be loved a little more?" she said at this time
to a friend. To make herself more beloved,
and to defend herself; to show to the world
that it is iniquitous, and that she is not the
dupe of its false judgments ; and above all, to
offer to all women who suffer the same ills
the book announced in the treatise on "The
Passions" and predicted in the treatise on
*' Literature," this romance of life and of the
future, the book that should truly unveil un-

I20 Madame de St del,

happiness, the book that should expose what
others have always feared to represent, — the
weaknesses, the miseries which follow in the
train of great reverses, the enfiuis which despair
does not cure, the disgust which the heel of
suffering cannot kill, the contrast of petty and of
noble sorrows, and all those contrasts and all
those inconsequences which combine only for
evil and tear all at once the same heart by every
sort of pain, — that is the aim of '' Delphine; "
the spirit of it is summed up in two lines by
the epigraph : " A man should be able to
brave opinion; a woman should submit to it."
It was an accusation of her own self appar-
ently, but by means of one of those splendid
confessions which is at the same time an apol-
ogy. The heroine is herself, rejuvenated, beau-
tiful, more graceful, more attractive, more
refined, and disassociated both from politics
and literature. Delphine has but one adven-
ture, and in this the heart alone is at stake.
As to the hero, Leonce, he is again and always
a veiled image of Guibert. Madame de Stael
does not trouble herself to invent a Werther
or a Saint-Preux. The new passions disen-
thralled by the Revolution and nourished by
war do not inspire her. The amorous
Jacobin, the romantic warrior, the exile, the
conspirator, — all the types common to the

'' Delphine.'' 121

romance of the morrow are strangers to her
imagination. She paints what has attracted
herself, but in ideahzing his person she does
not make him more sympathetic. She adorns
him with every seductive trait, and ascribes to
him all the prejudices of the man of the world.
But he speaks with more passionateness than
he feels; he promises a happiness that he is
incapable of giving. He is haughty, jealous,
susceptible, sceptical, excepting on the point
of honor, where he is finical, and on the mat-
ter of opinion, — that is to say, tittle-tattle, —
where he is pusillanimous. He adores Del-
phine, who is noble, rich, virtuous, and he
marries another woman because his mother
has so ordered for him. He places Delphine
above all other women, and at the same time
he believes all the calumnies which the world
lays at her door. She justifies herself; he for-
gives, he repents, but he refuses to marry her
by means of a divorce, because divorce is in
bad taste. He offers her a compromise which
he thinks will conciliate every one, — the world,
love, and the conventionalities; he will elope
with her, and go to live with her in a foreign
land. Leonce is real, but he is intolerable.
*'He has no love," says a friend of Delphine;
'' all the evil is the result of that." That is
his condemnation.

122 Madame de St del.

Delphine is imprudent without premedita-
tion, and the chance is too disastrous for her.
Yet the episodes of the novel, in spite of their
monotony, are interesting. They are such
things as happen, but only in a salon. There
is no thought of the frame, the costume, or the
coloring. The romance unfolds between the
years 1790 and 1792; apart, however, from
the arrest of Leonce, wrongly accused of bear-
ing arms against France and finally shot, there
is nothing to indicate the Revolution in this
book, save some fine phrases on liberty, patri-
otism, and the duties of a good Frenchman.
The secondary characters are lifelike. Some
have been pleased to see in them several of
Madame de Stael's personal friends. They
are, however, much involved and disguised, and
it is misspent curiosity to look for their
models. Perhaps we may except Madame de
Vernon, the compelHng impulse of Delphine's
life, who practises religion without beHeving
in it and obeys prejudices while disapproving
them. We may recognize Talleyrand in this
very politic character. Indeed, there are sev-
eral traces of the old bishop ; among others,
this one, — the only revenge for her old friend's
defection which Madame de Stael allowed her-
self, — " Ingratitude," says Madame de Vernon,
** is a great word, much abused. We use it

'' Delphine!' 123

because we delight in it, and when we have no
more pleasure in it we use it no more. We do
nothing in life but by calculation or taste. I
do not see what gratitude can have to do
either with the one or the other."

Delphine is a literary romance, — "a class,"
says the author, ''which presupposes more
sentiments than acts." In the order of senti-
ments Madame de Stael lays too great stress on
despair. One feels that she is herself given
to these effusions, that she dotes on them, too
often adding to them rather than concealing
or controlling them. What we have in her
own letters on the same subject is more con-
cise and plainer; her own passion carries away
the pen, and leaves it no time for dissertation.
Madame de Stael weakens her inspiration in
diffusing it; but the inspiration is genuine.
For pathos and ardor some of Delphine's
letters deserve to be compared with those of
Mademoiselle de Lespinasse. Madame de Stael
did not see these letters until 1809; therefore
she could not have imitated them. But the
tone is the same, and when the letters of
Mademoiselle de Lespinasse appeared all the
world was struck by it. There is the same
ecstasy of love, the same heart-rending cry out
of the same depths of woe, the same regrets in
the sacrifice, and finally, to use a figure dear to

124 Madame de StdeL

the author, the same '' vulture's claw " which
tears the heart when it grasps it in order to
bear it away to heaven.

The style of " Delphine" seems old, — that is,
it seems to have once been young, — and that
is also why it touched its contemporaries. The
pedantic critic — and the critic in those times
was narrowly pedantic — brought to light many
a defect in this romance. Roederer, formerly
so friendly, became severe in proportion as
the consular disgrace spread around Madame
de Stael. He hardly forgave her for making
so much stir, and for hitting so keenly what
he, with all his excellent theories, had only
succeeded in hitting so lamely, without warmth
or brilHance. He accused Madame de Stael
of having no continuity or depth of ideas, of
employing elliptical turns and abstract ex-
pressions, of not seeking the exact word, the
significant verb, or of not finding when she
sought it. He says to her, '' It is the expres-
sion which creates and fixes the thought."
He sends her to Condillac ; and it was a good
school, in truth. She replies to him, '* What
do we understand by style? Is it not the
coloring and movement of ideas? Do you
mean that I lack eloquence, imagination, or

She made her rhetoric to suit her own gen-

''Delphine:' 125

ius, which was of the nature of improvisation :
" The style represents to the reader, so to speak,
the bearing, the accent, the gestures of the one
who addresses him." This is what she calls
the style of soul and enthusiasm; in a word,
written ecstasy. She makes a note of what-
ever in her thoughts can be noted ; she never
reproduces that which exactly pertains to style
in her own discourses, — namely, the whirlwind
of her eloquence, the sparkle of her superb
eyes, her imperious accents, her persuasive
gestures. ' She never troubles herself enough
to supply these by means of the art of writing.
She has movement, but she lacks color. I
do not refer to color appHed with a brush, but
to natural color, to those spontaneous meta-
phors of language which animate a phrase as
the flush of young blood animates the face.

The purpose of Madame de Stael is to con-
vince by rapidity of argument and to produce
emotion by driving home to the heart. She
does not try to paint. She said in relation to
Montesquieu, who, to her mind, multipHed his
figures too much : " In place of this figure,
one dares to long for a thought of Tacitus or
of the author himself, who oftentimes surpassed
the best writers of antiquity." Shall we pause
over her adjectives? The adjective is a matter
of literary fashion and caprice. It will be the

126 Madame de Stdel.

venture of a book to-morrow, while it makes
the charm of one to-day and was the ridicule
of another yesterday. We have some that we
abuse, and some that we caress, — as, Pari-
sian, delicate, modern ; we have some that are
ill-favored, — as, psychological. In the days of
Madame de Stael sensible (sensitive or suscep-
tible) was still the rage. She employs it on
all occasions, in its proper sense, which never-
theless makes us smile, — as, "■ to be the first
object of a sensible man;" and then in all its
phases of abuse, — as, ** his eloquence . . . sen-
sible as his heart," " an air [of music] at once
lively and sensible^' — and this last in a trans-
lation from the English to render the word
suave (sweet), which would have been well and
good in its place.

Her contemporaries did not perceive this;
all the sensible souls of her time wept over
'' Delphine," and the author's enemies raged at
the success of the book. Even the " master "
uttered his word upon it. ''The disorder of
mind and imagination which rules this book
excited his criticism," says the " Memorial."
This gave the sign. The bureaucracy vied
with one another in refinements on this theme.
One journal announced facetiously a '* con-
verted Delphine." Madame de Genlis, in the
fervor of newly acquired virtue, accused the

'' Delphiner 127

author of corrupting morals. Fievee de-
picted Madame de Stael as an old gossip
seized with an excess of activity, " astride the
sublime." " Delphine," he says, '* talks of love
like a bacchante, of God like a Quaker, of
death like a grenadier, and of morals like a

These were so many warnings not to risk
herself in France. Madame de Stael could
not resign herself to believe in them. In the
autumn of 1803 she set out for Paris. Her
presence was heralded; she was the recipi-
ent of some rather blustering visits. In spite of
the friendship of Madame Recamier, who was
still in favor, and in spite of the intervention
of Joseph Bonaparte, she received, October 15,
the order to withdraw forty leagues distant from
the capital, — to Dijon, if she pleased. She
preferred to travel. She had thought of this
already, when her exile was announced. "Al-
ways a little romantic, even in friendship," as
she said, she wrote to Camille Jordan in 1802
to accompany her to Italy. " To forget all
that has weighed upon me for the last six
months, to forget with you, whom I love
deeply, beneath the beautiful skies of Italy, —
together to admire the remains of a great
people, to pour forth our tears upon those
who succumbed before reaching true great-

128 Madame de Sta'el.

ness, — that would make me happy." Camiile,
who was romantic only in his politics, decHned
the invitation. Madame de Stael gave up the
project and turned toward Germany. She
thought that this journey might be beneficial
to her elder son. Germany attracted her. She
desired, according to the words of one of her
friends, '' to go and see for herself those great
geniuses," Goethe and Schiller, then at the
height of their glory. She had a secret mo-
tive behind all this, — "I wished to contrast
the friendly reception of the ancient dynasties
with the impertinence of him who was preparing
to subjugate France." She departed with her
children in December, 1803 ; visited Charles de
Villers at Metz, — *' Kant's Villers," as he was
called, — who laid out an itinerary for her;
then she proceeded by way of Frankfort to
Weimar, where Benjamin Constant rejoined her
in January.


Journeys to Germany and Italy.— -"Corinne."
1 804-1 80 7.

SHE attained her end. She wandered
through the land of enthusiasm ; she
became acquainted with the " great geniuses ; "
she was treated by princes as an illustrious vic-
tim, and she provided the agents of Napoleon
with material for reports wherewith they cur-
ried the favor of their master while irritating
him with the recital of his enemy's successes.

Weimar was hardly a State ; it was a court
and a theatre. Goethe ruled the theatre, and
Schiller was the ornament of the court. Here
was hardly the constitution dreamt of by
Madame de Stael; but intellect compensated
for whatever was lacking in the institutions.
Yet this was for a long time as a closed book
to her. In spite of the attractions which both
heart and imagination promised her, in spite
of a something Germanic which she seemed
to have inherited from her ancestors, — a race
affinity which Goethe noted at once and which

130 Madame de StdeL

predisposed her intuitively to Germany in gen-
eral, — the sense of the words fell short of
her, and, further still, the sentiment of things.
She was not satisfied to have the phrases
translated to her, or to translate them herself;
in substituting the French term for the Ger-
man she seemed to substitute with it the ideas
and images born in the mind of a Parisian ac-
customed to the high life of the old regimey
for the ideas and images which contemplation
of Nature and a life at once very meditative
and very studious had developed in Goethe,
Schiller, and their contemporaries. It was an
entirely different conception of humanity, of
love, of woman's place in the world, and of
woman's destiny.

Their dissentient opinions clashed still more.
As to the Revolution, the Germans pronounced
it distorted by its authors; as to Bonaparte,
they considered the First Consul the very per-
sonification of the practical and legitimate out-
come of the Revolution ; as to liberty, they de-
nied to the French even the understanding of
the word ; and as to morality, they almost con-
tested their very consciousness of it. " Ma-
dame de Stael has no notion whatever of duty,"
said Goethe, after having read " Delphine " and
the treatise on *'The Passions." These Germans
cared little for the establishment of a free State

JoMrneys to Germany and Italy, 131

and the promulgation of laws fit to form vir-
tuous citizens. Liberty for them consisted in
the independent development, of the intelli-
gence, and virtue in the wholesome self-con-
trol of the soul. Liberty and virtue, conceived
in this sort, were each one's private affair;
character was everything with them, institutions
nothing. Public affairs were the affairs of the
State, and did not concern these savants and
poets. To obey the powers that be so as to
have leisure to think freely in the tribunal of
the mind, — this was their plan of life, and they
saw in it no contradiction. " They are ener-
getic flatterers," said Madame de Stael, ** and
vigorously submissive, . . . employing philo-
sophical reasoning to explain the most unphi-
losophical thing in the world, — respect for

They expected to see in her a phenomenon,
and surrounded her with prejudices which her
character did not tend to diminish. Her best
qualities, her greatest charms, her sparkling
conversation, her eloquence, her marvellous
suppleness of mind, lost much in intercourse
with foreigners. They not only were not in
touch, but in order to reach and maintain that
relation, they had to exert a continual effort of
attention, to suffer an embarrassment which
paralyzed their thoughts. " If she only under-

132 Madame de StdeL

stands German," wrote Schiller, *' we shall get
the upper hand ; but if we must offer our deep-
est religion in French phrases and struggle
with French volubility, that will be really too
hard." That volubility which dazzled Paris
very nearly bewildered Weimar. Moreover,
they had their own habits, methods, work,
hours of relaxation and of reflection, — a regu-
larly laid out life of thinkers, — which they
disliked to see disturbed by this meteor.

With her insatiable desire to spread her
ideas, her impatient curiosity concerning the
ideas of others, Madame de Stael wanted to
fill every moment. She could not beheve that
others did not take at all the same interest in
her discourse that she did herself. She en-
deavored to explain Germany, its genius and
literature, by the men who understood French
but imperfectly, or who, like Goethe, knew
it, but spoke it with difficulty. Nothing was
farther from their conception of intellectual
life than this pretence of learning everything
by intercourse in which she did most of the
talking, and the reduction of everything through
the medium of conversation. ** I understand
everything worth understanding, and what I
do not comprehend has no existence," she
said to a friend who served as her interpreter,
and who declared that she would never under-

yourneys to Germany and Italy, 133

stand Goethe. In regard to this great poet in
particular she had an added fear of being mys-
tified and of being duped. She was always
on guard before him. He was absent from
Weimar when Madame de Stael arrived, and
he had to be much coaxed to return.

The effect which Madame de Stael produced
on the court and city of Weimar has been
compared to the invasion of an ant-hill by a
squirrel. She was immediately invited to the
palace, and there treated on an intimate foot-
ing. Perhaps it was there that she was most
indulged. She met Schiller there for the first
time at tea with the Duchess. He was in the
uniform of the court; she took him for a
general. He was presented to her, and she
straightway drew him into conversation on the
superiority of French tragedy. It was one of
her favorite themes, and her talent for declama-
tion furnished her with the best of arguments.
The Germans gladly heard her recitations and
applauded her; but she did not at all convert
them to the worship of Racine. She com-
pelled admiration, but she fatigued. " She is
all of a piece," wrote Schiller ; " there is noth-
ing false or sickly in her, —which has the result
that in spite of the enormous difference in na-
ture and manner of thought, one is perfectly
at ease with her; one can understand all she

134 Madame de Stdel,

wishes to convey, and can say anything to her.
She represents French culture in all its en-
tirety; nature and sentiment go for more with
her than metaphysics, and her fine intellect
rises to the power of genius. ... As to what we
call poetry, she has no idea of it ; she cannot
apprehend in works of that kind the passionate,
oratorical, universal qualities." Then followed
certain reservations: "The astonishing volu-
bility of her speech : one must be all ears to
follow her. . . . She desires to explain, to pene-
trate, to measure everything; she admits of
nothing obscure or inaccessible ; and where she
cannot flash the light of her own torch, nothing
exists for her." " We are in a state of per-
petual mental tension," adds Charlotte Schiller;
''when one wishes to collect oneself one must
go back over the subjects, look for the traces,
and gather up one's wits. It is perpetual
motion; she wishes to know and see every-

And all this by chance and in the current of
the improvisations of the table or the salon,
broaching by preference the most insolvable
problems, the great mysteries of the soul and
of passion, which, said Goethe, " should never
be questioned except between God and man ; "
discussing and deciding them with a fine emo-
tion or a clear eloquence, always in haste to

Journeys to Germany and Italy, 135

get to the end of it, always ready to put the
same question to-morrow and to begin over
again. She shocked these men of slower and
more sustained thought, who were forever dis-
cussing and never coming to any conclusions.
She demanded that they should produce their
machinery, analyze themselves, explain them-
selves and their works on the wing, so to
speak, and at first sight. Schiller lost his
patience. '' I seem to myself to be recovering
from an illness," he said when she went away.

Finding herself one day in company with
Fichte, she said to him, " Tell me, M. Fichte,
could you in a very short time, in a quarter
of an hour for example, give me an epitome of
your system, and explain to me what you mean
by your word me I It is very obscure to me."
Fichte had spent all his life in hatching this
word and evolving its surprising metamor-
phoses. The question seemed to him imper-
tinent. Nevertheless, he was gallant enough
to endeavor to please her. But he had to
translate himself into French, and the effort
almost caused him a bloody sweat. He had
not spoken ten minutes, when Madame de
Stael cried out: "Enough, M. Fichte, quite
enough ! I understand you marvellously well.
I have seen your system in an illustration ; it
is one of the adventures of Baron Munchausen."

136 Madame de StdeL

The philosopher struck a tragic attitude, and
a great chill fell upon the whole assembly.

This is an example of the grounds on which
the Germans denied her intelligence; she, on
her part, denied them any knowledge of the
life of the world : " There is no shade of com-
parison between what we call society in
France and this. And I am not surprised
that in Germany savants have more time for
study than anywhere else, for the attractions of
society have no existence there." Time, which
she held so cheaply and which she was always
in such haste to get rid of, was to her hosts the
most precious thing in hfe. She robbed them
of some of it, and this was what made her most
annoying to them.

Goethe seemed to her just about as Ben-
jamin Constant has described him at that
epoch, — having "shrewdness, self-esteem,
physical irritability that amounts to torment, a
remarkable presence, a keen glance, a coarse
and ignoble face ; " Werther grown fat, and the
crow's-foot planted on the temples of that
Olympian head ! This was a disappointment.
" I would like to put his mind into another
body," she wrote ; " it is inconceivable that
so superior a mind should be so ill lodged."
She said to him, *' I should like to steal from
you all that can be stolen; that would leave

journeys to Germany and Italy. 137

you still very rich." As he shrank back, she
continued, "■ If I were to establish myself here,
you might do well to treat me like all the
world ; but fifteen days — could you not devote
so much time to me? " This was demanding
the thing of which Goethe was least prodigal ;
he made use of his genius as he made use of
all earthly powers, and he economized it.

In the month of March she left Weimar for
Berlin. This *' focus of lights " charmed her by
the spirit of justice which she saw in the State,
and the independence of character which she
observed in individuals. It seemed to her,
however, that the famous " Spur of Prussia,"
the nation's great mainspring, was becoming
sensibly dull, that he spent too much time in
military parades and diplomatic affairs. She
obtained as tutor for her sons Wilhelm
Schlegel. He became her principal interpre-
ter of German ideas, and helped her to assimi-
late what she had been gathering by the way.
It was at Berlin that she learned of the con-
spiracy of Georges and the murder of the
Due d'Enghien. In her memoirs she lays the
conspiracy to Fauriel ; she brings in too many
police and too few assassins. She passes judg-
ment like a historian and a politician on the
affairs of Vincennes ; she knew perfectly well
the men whom Bonaparte meant to strike by

138 Madame de StdeL

this terrible example: *'The moment that he
desired to be called emperor he felt the neces-
sity of reassuring, on the one hand, the revo-
lutionaries against the possibility of the return
of the Bourbons, and of proving, on the other
hand, to the royalists that in attaching them-

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