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Famous Women.


* * * * * *

_Already published_:

GEORGE ELIOT. By Miss Blind.
EMILY BRONTË. By Miss Robinson.
GEORGE SAND. By Miss Thomas.
MARY LAMB. By Mrs. Gilchrist.
MARGARET FULLER. By Julia Ward Howe.
ELIZABETH FRY. By Mrs. E. R. Pitman.
HARRIET MARTINEAU. By Mrs. F. Fenwick Miller.
RACHEL. By Mrs. Nina H. Kennard.
MADAME ROLAND. By Mathilde Blind.
SUSANNA WESLEY. By Eliza Clarke.
MRS. SIDDONS. By Mrs. Nina H. Kennard.
MADAME DE STAËL. By Bella Duffy.

* * * * * *





Roberts Brothers.

Copyright, 1887,
By Roberts Brothers.

University Press:
John Wilson and Son, Cambridge.


Unpublished correspondence—that delight of the eager biographer—is not
to be had in the case of Madame de Staël, for, as is well known, the De
Broglie family either destroyed or successfully hid all the papers which
might have revealed any facts not already in possession of the world.

The writer of the present brief memoir has, consequently, had to fall
back upon the following well-known works:

The _Correspondance_ of the Abbé Galiani, of Mme. Du Deffand, of
Rahel Varnhagen, and of Schiller; the _Memoirs_ of Marmontel, of Mme.
D’Arblay, of Mme. de Rémusat, of Mme. d’Abrantè, of Bourrienne, and of
the Comte de Montlosier; Ticknor’s _Letters_; Châteaubriand’s _Mémoires
d’Outre Tombe_; De Goncourt’s _Histoire de la Société Française
pendant la Révolution_, and _Histoire de la Société Française pendant
le Directoire_; Lacretelle’s _Dix Années d’Épreuve_; Michelet’s _Le
Directoire_, _Le Dix-huit Brumaire_, and _Jusqu’à Waterloo_; _Le Salon de
Madame Necker_, by Vicomte d’Haussonville; _Studies of the Eighteenth
Century in Italy_, by Vernon Lee; Byron’s _Letters_; Benjamin Constant’s
_Letters to Mme. Récamier_; _Coppet and Weimar_; _Les Correspondants de
Joubert_, by Paul Raynal; _Les Causeries du Lundi_, and other studies by
Ste. Beuve; Droz’ _Histoire du Règne de Louis XVI._; Villemain’s _Cours
de Littérature Française_; the fragments from Constant’s _Journals_,
recently published in the _Revue Internationale_; Sismondi’s _Journals_
and _letters_; and sundry old articles in the _Revue des Deux Mondes_;
besides various other volumes, of which the list would be long and
wearisome to detail.



Chap. Page.



















“My dear friend having the same tastes as myself, would certainly wish
always for my chair, and, like his little daughter, would beat me to make
me give it up to him. To keep peace between our hearts, I send a chair
for him also. The two are of suitable height and their lightness renders
them easy to carry. They are made of the most simple material, and were
bought at the sale of Philemon and Baucis.”

Thus wrote Madame Geoffrin to Madame Necker when the intimacy between
them had reached such a pitch as to warrant the introduction into the
Necker salons of the only sort of chair in which the little old lady
cared to sit.

The “dear friend” was M. Necker, and the “little daughter” of the house
must then have been about four or five years old, for it was in the
very year of her birth (1766) that Madame Geoffrin took her celebrated
journey to Poland, and it was some little time after her return that she
became intimate with Germaine Necker’s parents.

They were still in the Rue de Cléry. M. Necker’s elevation to the
Contrôle Général was in the future and had probably not been foreseen; it
is possible that even the _Éloge de Colbert_, which betrayed his desire
for power, had not yet appeared; nevertheless, he was already a great
man. His controversy with the Abbé Morellet, on the subject of the East
India Company, had brought him very much into notice; and, although his
arguments in favor of that monopoly had not saved it from extinction,
they had caused his name to be in everybody’s mouth.

His position as Minister for the Republic of Geneva gave him the entry to
the Court of Versailles, and brought him into contact with illustrious
personages, who otherwise might have disdained a mere wealthy foreigner,
neither a noble nor a Catholic. His well-filled purse completed his
popularity, for it was not seldom at the service of abject place-hunters
and needy literati. Moreover, he had been fortunate in his choice of a

By the time that the King of Poland’s _bonne maman_ wrote that little
note to Madame Necker, the wife of the Genevese banker had founded a
salon as brilliant and crowded as Madame Geoffrin’s own. She had achieved
this in a few years, whereas Madame Geoffrin for the same task, and in
spite of her wealth and generosity, had required a quarter of a century.

But Madame Necker, besides being young, rich and handsome, was bitten
with the prevailing craze for literature, could listen unweariedly
for hours to the most labored _portraits_ and _éloges_, and, although
herself the purest and most austere of women, would open her salon to any
reprobate, provided only he were witty.

Madame Necker, first known to us as Suzanne Curchod, was the daughter of
a Swiss pastor, and saw the light in the Presbytery of Crassier in the
Pays de Vaud. The simple white house, with its green shutters, is still
to be seen, separated from the road by a little garden planted with fruit
trees. The Curchods were an ancient and respectable family whom Madame
Necker (it was one of her weaknesses) would fain have proved entitled
to patents of nobility. Some Curchods or Curchodis are found mentioned
in old chronicles as fighting beneath the banners of Savoy, and it was
from these that Madame Necker sought vainly to trace her descent. She
held a secret consultation for this cherished object with the Sieur
Chérin, genealogist to the King; but his decision disappointed her.
Chagrined, but not convinced—for her opinions were not easily shaken—she
carried home the precious papers and locked them up without erasing the
endorsement, _Titres de noblesse de la famille Curchod_, which she had
written with her own hand.

M. Curchod took pains to give his only daughter an unusually thorough and
liberal education. She knew Latin and a little Greek, “swept with extreme
flounce the circle of the sciences,” and was accomplished enough in every
way to attract the admiration, very often even the love, of sundry grave
and learned personages.

Mixed with her severe charm there must have been some coquetry, for at a
very early age she began making conquests among the young ministers who
arrived on Sundays at Crassier, ostensibly to assist M. Curchod in his
duties; and a voluminous correspondence, somewhat high-flown, as was the
fashion of the day, is extant, to prove that Suzanne possessed the art
of keeping her numerous admirers simultaneously well in hand. Verses,
occasionally slightly Voltairian in tone, were also addressed to her; and
later in life Madame Necker reproached herself for her placid acceptance
of the homage thus expressed, and owned that had she understood it better
she would have liked it less.

Suzanne’s parents, proud, no doubt, of their daughter’s talents and
accomplishments, took her after a while to Lausanne. That pleasant city,
since giving up its own political ideals and falling under the sway of
Berne, had lapsed into easy-going, intellectual ways, and even professed
a discreet and modified form of Voltairianism. Ever since the author
of the “Henriade” had dazzled it with his presence, it had been on the
look-out for illustrious personalities, and welcomed all foreigners who
showed any promise of literary distinction.

What with her pretensions to be a _bel-esprit_, her youth and beauty,
Mademoiselle Curchod captivated the town at once, and very soon had the
proud joy of founding an _Académie de la Poudrière_, and being elected
to preside over it under the fantastic name of Thémire. The members
of this intellectual society were of both sexes and all young. Their
duties consisted in writing _portraits_ of one another, and essays or
odes on subjects in general. Combined with these profound pursuits there
seems to have been a good deal of flirtation, and, doubtless, both the
scholasticism and the sentiment were equally to Suzanne Curchod’s taste.

During her stay in Lausanne she fascinated Gibbon, and, for the first
time in her career of conquest, fell in love herself. So profound was her
passion—or so profound, in her self-tormenting way, did she imagine it to
be—that she remained constant to her engagement during the four years of
Gibbon’s absence in England, and wrote him agitated, abject letters of
reproach, when he, alleging his father’s invincible objections, broke off
the engagement. Her devoted friend, Moulton, who appears to have loved
her all his life, was so touched by her despair, that, with Suzanne’s
own consent, he sought the mediation of Rousseau in order to bring the
recreant lover back to his allegiance. But the attempt was vain. Gibbon
showed himself as heartless as Mademoiselle Curchod had proved indulgent,
and when the lady, as a last resource, proposed that they should at least
remain friends, he declined the amiable offer as being “dangerous for
both.” Nevertheless, when they met again in Paris, some years later,
Mademoiselle Curchod, then married, welcomed Gibbon with kindness,
and even wrote him notes containing, here and there, allusions to the
past. For the age was evidently sentimental, and to cherish memories of
vanished joys, and make passing, pathetic reference to them, was a luxury
of which Madame Necker would have been the last to deprive herself.

On the death of her parents, Suzanne found herself obliged to seek for a
situation as governess, or companion. All her life, fortunate in making
and keeping the most devoted friends, she found plenty anxious to help
her in carrying out her plans. Among her sincerest admirers was the
charming Duchess d’Enville, whose sweetness, grace, and naïf enthusiasm
for Switzerland (as a kind of romantic republic, all shepherds and
shepherdesses, toy-châlets, natural sentiments and stage liberty) were so
characteristic of the age, and so admiringly celebrated in Bonstetten’s
letters. It was, in all probability, through her introduction at Geneva
that Suzanne became acquainted with Madame de Vermenoux, a rich Parisian
widow, who fell immediately under the young orphan’s charm, and, engaging
her as a companion, took her back to Paris. In that intellectual
centre—the promised land of all her thoughts—Suzanne speedily came into
contact with several interesting people, among others the delightful
Bonstetten, then still young in years, destined to be always young in
heart, and whom, in the course of this work, we shall often see among the
band of fervent admirers surrounding Madame de Staël.

Another frequent visitor at Madame de Vermenoux’s house was M. Necker, at
that time a partner in Thellusson’s bank, and already possessed of ample
means. He was a rejected suitor of the hostess, but continued on very
good terms with her, and perhaps was expected to propose a second time.
If such were the widow’s ideas, they were doomed to disappointment; for
very soon after Necker’s introduction to Suzanne he made a transfer of
his affections to her. He left, however, for Geneva, without declaring
his sentiments; and Mademoiselle Curchod, once again in love, and once
again in despair, poured out her feelings in a long letter to Moulton.
That ever faithful friend did his best to bring things to a happy
termination, by taking care that M. Necker, during his sojourn in Geneva,
should hear nothing but praise of Suzanne. The device, if needed, was
most successful; for the banker returned to Paris with his mind made up.
He proposed without loss of time, and it is, perhaps, not too much to
say, that Mademoiselle Curchod jumped into his arms.

All the friends of the bride elect were delighted, and even Madame de
Vermenoux proclaimed her pleasure at the turn which affairs had taken.
Some little subsequent coolness, however, she must have manifested, for
the date fixed for the wedding was kept a secret from her. When the day
dawned, Suzanne stole out quietly and met M. Necker at the church door.

In what form the news was broken to the widow is not known; but any
annoyance she may have felt was not of long duration, for in after years
we find Madame de Vermenoux a frequent guest of the Neckers, and the
little daughter, born on the 22nd April, 1766, was named Germaine after



When Germaine was about six years old, M. Necker retired from the bank,
and devoted himself to the study of administrative questions. This was
in preparation for the career to which he felt himself called. For
years past his wealth had come frequently to the aid of a spendthrift
Government and an exhausted exchequer; and it was natural that he should
seek his reward in power. In his _Éloge de Colbert_, published in 1773,
he was at no pains to conceal that he was thinking of himself when
drawing the portrait of an ideal Minister of Finance; and some annoyance
at Turgot’s appointment is thought to have added force to his attacks on
the latter’s theories concerning free trade in corn.

Madame Necker, profiting by her husband’s growing importance, quickly
attained the summit of her ambition in becoming the presiding genius of a
salon thronged with intellectual celebrities. Buffon and Thomas were her
most trusted friends, but, austere though she was, she did not disdain
to admit to a certain intimacy men like Marmontel, the Abbé Galiani, St.
Lambert, and Diderot. They all flattered her outrageously to her face,
while some of them, Marmontel especially, sneered at her behind her
back. All made love to her, and, misled by the studied warmth of pompous
eloquence with which she proclaimed her delight in their society, they
not rarely persuaded themselves that they had added her to the list of
their conquests, and were chagrined and not a little disgusted later to
discover that the only man she cared for was her husband. Indeed, she
bored everybody with praise of M. Necker, composing and reading aloud in
her own salon a preposterous _portrait_ of him, in which she compared
him to most things in heaven and earth and the waters under the earth,
from an angel to a polypus. Her rigidity, her self-consciousness, her
want of charm, and absence of humor, were a fruitful theme of ridicule
to the witty and heartless parasites who crowded her drawing-rooms and
made raids on her husband’s purse. And yet such was the native force of
goodness in her that, sooner or later, in every instance, detraction
turned to praise. The bitter Madame de Genlis, who detested the Neckers,
and ridiculed them unsparingly, admits that the wife was a model of
virtue; and Diderot paid her the greatest compliment which she, perhaps,
ever received, when declaring that had he known her sooner, much that he
had written would never have seen the light.

Grimm was another frequenter of the Necker salons; and the mistress of
the house being no less prodigal of gracious encouragement towards him
than towards everybody else, he also eventually declared his sentiments
of friendship and admiration, with as much warmth as his manners allowed
of. Like Voltaire, he called her “Hypatie”; and testified the genuineness
of his regard by scolding her about her religious opinions. Needless
to say these were not infidel, but they were, in Grimm’s opinion,
disastrously illogical; and, his fine taste in such matters being
offended, he expressed his displeasure on one occasion in no measured
terms. Madame Necker retorted, for she loved a discussion too fervently
ever to be meek; but apparently Grimm was too much for her. Either his
arguments were irrefragable, or his manner was irritating; the result
was that Madame Necker—to the polite consternation of her numerous
guests—dissolved into tears.

Humiliated, on reflection, at having made such a scene, with
characteristic ardor, she seized the opportunity to write Grimm a
high-flown apology; and an interchange of letters followed in which the
philosopher compared the lady to Venus completed by Minerva, and Madame
Necker ransacked the universe for metaphors wherewith to express her
admiration of the gentleman’s sensibility.

As the Neckers spent their summer at St. Ouen—not the historic Château
associated with Louis XVIII., but another in the neighborhood, and of the
same name—the proximity to Paris enabled them to continue unbroken their
series of dinners, suppers and receptions, twice a week.

Many of the guests were notable personages, and most of them types
which vanished forever a few years later—engulphed by the storm-wave
of the Revolution. There was the Abbé Morellet, clear-headed, gravely
ironical, with as much tact in concealing as in displaying the range of
his knowledge and the depth of his insight; St. Lambert, a little cold,
but full of exquisite politeness, supremely elegant in expression, and,
without being lively himself, possessed of the delicate art of never
quenching liveliness in others; D’Alembert, charming, if frigid, and
destined soon to be an object of sentimental interest, because of his
inconsolable grief for Mlle. L’Espinasse; the Abbé Raynal, doubtless
enchanted to pour into Madame Necker’s respectful ears the floods of
eloquence for which Frederick the Great laughed at him; these, with
Marmontel and Thomas, were almost always present.

A few years earlier the Abbé Galiani, delightful and incorrigible, would
also have been seen. This extraordinary little man, political economist,
archæologist, mineralogist, diplomatist and pulcinello, was one of Madame
Necker’s professed adorers. Everybody liked and admired him; Diderot
described him as “a treasure on a rainy day”; Marmontel as “the prettiest
little harlequin,” with “the head of Macchiavelli”; while, for Madame
Geoffrin, he was her _petite chose_. After so much praise, and from such
people, Madame Necker must certainly have accepted him unconditionally;
but it would be interesting to know exactly with what air she listened
to his impassioned declarations. When eventually restored to his native
land—or, as he expressed it, exiled from Paris—he wrote her impudent and
characteristic epistles, in which reproaches at her virtue, intimate
interrogations regarding her health, and envy of M. Necker’s happiness,
mingled with inquiries after everybody in the beloved capital, and wails
of inconsolable grief at his own departure. “_Quel désert que cinquante
mille Napolitains!_” he exclaims.

Madame Du Deffand was also for a time an intimate guest at the Neckers’.
The friendship did not last long. The marquise, by this time infinitely
weary of men and things, appears soon to have tired of Madame Necker’s
declamations and M. Necker’s superiority. Her final judgment on the wife
was very severe, rather ill-tempered, and therefore unjust. Madame Necker
was, she says, “stiff and frigid, full of self-consciousness, but an
upright woman.” Her liking for the husband held out longer, but finally
succumbed to the discovery that, while very intelligent, he failed to
elicit wit from others. “One felt oneself more stupid in his company than
when with other people or alone.”

There is no trace of any variation in the friendship between Madame
Necker and Madame Geoffrin. Perhaps the latter, with her habitual gentle
“_Voilà, qui est bien_,” called her young friend to order, and early
repressed the emphatic praises which could not but have wearied her.

We are told that she hated exaggeration in everything; and how could
Madame Necker’s heavy flattery have found favor in her eyes? Her delicate
_savoir-vivre_, too, that preternaturally subtle sense which supplied the
place in her of brilliancy and learning and early education, must have
been vexed at Madame Necker’s innocent but everlasting pedantry. We can
fancy, however, that she managed, in her imperceptible, noiseless way,
to elude all these disturbing manifestations; and then she was doubtless
pleased at Madame Necker’s good-humored patience with her scoldings. All
Madame Geoffrin’s friends, as we know, had to submit to be scolded;
but probably few showed under the infliction the magnanimity of Madame
Necker, who must have possessed all the power of submission peculiar to
self-questioning souls. The calm old lady, ensconced in her own peculiar
chair, whether in Paris or at St. Ouen, in the midst of the sparkling
society to which she had perseveringly fought her way, was disturbed in
her serenity by no presage of misfortune.

In point of reputation the most illustrious, and in point of romantic
ardor the most fervent, of all Madame Necker’s friends, was Buffon. He
wrote her some eighty letters full of fervid flatter and genuine, almost
passionate affection, to which she responded in the terms of adulation
that the old man still held dear. Such incense had once been offered
to him in nauseating abundance; now that he was old and lonely it had
diminished, and this fact, joined to his unquestionable admiration for
Madame Necker, made him all the more easily intoxicated by her praise.
Mixed with her high esteem for his genius was a womanly compassion for
his bodily sufferings that rendered the tie uniting their two minds
a very sweet and charming one. On hearing that his end was near, she
hastened to Montbard, where he was residing, and established herself by
his bedside, remaining there five days, and courageously soothing the
paroxysms of pain that it tortured her own sensitive nature to see.

Perhaps her strong and unconcealed desire that the philosopher should
make a Christian end, lent her fortitude to continue the self-imposed
task. There is no proof that she directly influenced him in that final
declaration of faith by which he scandalised a free-thinking community;
but she had often discussed religious questions with him, and deplored
his want of a definite creed; consequently, it is possible that her mere
presence may have had some effect upon him at the last.

On the brink of the irrevocable, even the pride of controversy may come
to be a little thing; and Buffon’s wearied spirit perhaps recoiled from
further speculation on the eternal problem of futurity. And to be at one,
in that supreme moment, with the pitying woman who had come to solace his
final agony, may have weighed with him above the praise and blame over
which the grave was to triumph forever.

Madame Necker delighted in making herself miserable, and the melancholia
natural to him probably caused Thomas to be the most thoroughly congenial
to her of all her friends. The author of the _Petréide_ and the foe

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