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fancies himself so. Nevertheless he hesitates because of the mystery
surrounding his _inamorata_. Who is she? What is her name? Whence comes
her fortune? If she is not quite blameless, he thinks he can never marry
her, for that would be derogating from the traditions of his order and
outraging the shade of his father. The mental struggle which he undergoes
is visible to Corinne and fills her with anguish and alarm. At last,
during an expedition to Vesuvius, Oswald speaks. He had been at one
time in love with an unworthy Frenchwoman; had lingered in France when
his father required his presence in England, and had finally returned,
only to find him dead. From that hour he had known no peace; remorse
had pursued him; his filial love, which was morbidly excessive, caused
him to look upon himself as almost a parricide, and he considered that
he was thenceforward morally bound to do nothing which his father might
disapprove. This absurd conclusion afflicts Corinne visibly, and the
sight of her agitation reawakens all Oswald’s doubts. He conjures her to
tell him her history. She consents; but begs for a few days’ grace, and
employs the interval in planning and carrying out a fête on Cape Misenum.
In front of the azure, tideless sea she takes her lyre and pours out an
improvisation on the past glories of that classic shore. This, although
Oswald does not know it, is an adieu to her past life, for she foresees
that what she has to tell him of herself will entirely change her
destiny. Either he will refuse to marry her, and then she will never know
happiness again, but wingless, voiceless, will go down to her tomb, or
else he will make her his wife, and the Sibyl will be lost in the peeress.

The next day she leaves with him the narrative of her youth. She is
the daughter of Lord Edgermond by an Italian wife, consequently the
half-sister of Lucile. At the age of fifteen she had gone to England,
and fallen under the rule of her stepmother, Lady Edgermond, a cold and
rigid Englishwoman, who cared for nothing outside her small provincial
town, and regarded genius as a dangerous eccentricity. In the narrow
monotony of the life imposed upon her Corinne nearly died. At the age
of twenty-one she finally escaped and returned to Italy, having dropped
her family name out of respect for Lady Edgermond’s feelings. Until her
meeting with Oswald she had led the life of a muse, singing, dancing,
playing, improvising for the whole of Roman society to admire, and had
conceived no idea of greater felicity until learning to love. This
love had been a source of peculiar torment to her from the fact of her
divining how much the unconventionality of her conduct, when fully known
to him, must shock Oswald’s English notions of propriety. In the first
moment, however, his love triumphs over these considerations, and he
resolves to marry Corinne. Only he wishes first—in order that no reproach
may attach to her—to force Lady Edgermond once again to acknowledge her
as her husband’s daughter. He goes to England, partly for this purpose,
partly because his regiment has been ordered on active service.

In England he again meets Lucile, a cold-mannered, correct, pure-minded,
but secretly ardent English girl, with an odd resemblance in many ways
to a French _jeune fille_. He mentions the subject of her step-daughter
to the upright but selfish Lady Edgermond, who has set her heart on
seeing Oswald the husband of Lucile. She is too honorable to try and
detach him from Corinne by any underhand means, but does what she knows
will be far more effectual; that is, she makes him acquainted with the
fact that his father had seen Corinne in her early girlhood, had admired
her, but had strongly pronounced against the marriage proposed by Lord
Edgermond between her and Oswald. In the view of the late Lord Nelvil,
she was too brilliant and distinguished for domestic life. This is a
terrible blow to Oswald. He begins to think he must give up Corinne, and
is strengthened in the idea by perceiving that the beautiful and virtuous
Lucile is in love with him. Finally he marries her, decided at the last
by Corinne’s inexplicable silence. She has not answered his letters for
a month, and he concludes that she has forgotten him. But her silence is
owing to her having left Venice and come to England. She loses a whole
month in London, for very insufficient reasons—necessary, however, to the
story—and at last follows Oswald to Scotland just in time to learn that
he is married, to fall senseless on the road-side, and to be picked up by
the Count D’Erfeuil. She returns heart-broken to Italy, and dies slowly
through four long years of unbroken misery.

When she is near her end Oswald comes to Florence, accompanied by his
wife and child. He had begun to regret Corinne as soon as he had married
Lucile, who, on her side, being naturally resentful, takes refuge in
coldness and reserve. As soon as Lord Nelvil learns that his old love
is in Florence and dying he wishes ardently to see her, but she refuses
to receive him. He sends the child to her, and she teaches it some of
her accomplishments. Lucile visits her secretly, and is converted by her
eloquence to the necessity of rendering herself more attractive to her
husband by displaying some graces of mind.

At last Corinne consents to see Oswald once again, but it shall be, she
determines, in public. This is one of the most unnatural scenes in the
book. Corinne invites all her friends to assemble in a lecture hall.
Thither she has herself transported and placed in an arm-chair. A young
girl clad in white and crowned with flowers recites the Song of the Swan,
or adieu to life, which Corinne has composed, while Oswald, listening
to it and gazing on the dying poetess from his place in the crowd, is
suffocated with emotion and finally faints. A few days later Corinne
dies, her last act being to point with her diaphanous hand to the moon,
which is partially obscured by a band of cloud such as she and Lord
Nelvil had once seen when in Naples.

Even as a picture of Italy, _Corinne_ leaves much to be desired. Madame
de Staël’s ideas of art were acquired. She had no spontaneous admiration
even for the things she most warmly praised, and her judgments were
conventional and essentially cold. Some of the descriptions are good
in the sense of being accurate and forcibly expressed. But even in the
best of them—that of Vesuvius—one feels the effort. Madame de Staël is
wide-eyed and conscientious, but has no flashes of inspired vision. She
can catalogue but not paint. A certain difficulty in saying enough on
æsthetic subjects is rendered evident by her vice of moralizing. Instead
of admiring a marble column as a column, or a picture as a picture, she
finds in it food for reflection on the nature of man and the destiny
of the world. Some of her remarks on Italian character are extremely
clever, and show her usual surprising power of observation; but they are
generally superficial.

This was due, in part, to her system of explaining everything by race
and political institutions, in part to her passion for generalization.
Because Italians had produced the finest art and some of the finest
music; because they had no salons and wrote sonnets; because they had
developed a curiously systematic form of conjugal infidelity; finally,
because they had no political liberty, Madame de Staël constructed a
theory which represented them as simply passionate, romantic, imaginative
and indulgent. This theory has cropped up now and again in literature
from her days to our own, and if partially correct, overlooks the subtler
shades and complex contradictions of the Italian mind.

Roman society in the beginning of this century was far from being the
transfigured and exotic thing represented in _Corinne_. The modern
Sibyl’s prototype, poor Maddalena Maria Morelli, was mercilessly
pasquinaded, and on her road to the Capitol pelted with rotten eggs.
This gives a very good idea of the sort of impression that would have
been produced on a _real_ Prince of Castel-Forte and his fellows by
the presence in their midst of a young and beautiful woman, unmarried,
nameless, and rich. Corinne’s lavish exhibition of her accomplishments is
another “false note,” as singing and dancing were but rarely, if ever,
performed by amateurs in Italy. What redeems the book are the detached
sentences of thought that gem almost every page of it. Madame de Staël
had gradually shaken off the vices of style which her warmest admirers
deplore in her, and in her _Allemagne_ she was presently to reveal
herself as singularly lucid, brilliant, and acute. This work of hers on
Germany is, perhaps, the most satisfactory of her many productions. As a
review of society, art, literature, and philosophy, it naturally lends
itself to the form best suited to her essentially analytical mind.

Madame de Staël was always obliged to generalize, that being a law of her
intelligence, and this disposition is accentuated in the _Allemagne_,
through her desire to establish such contrasts between Germany and
France, as would inspire the latter with a sense of its defects. She saw
Germany on the eve of a great awakening, and was not perhaps as fully
conscious of this as she might have been. As Saint Beuve happily says,
she was not a poet, and it is only poets who, like birds of passage, feel
a coming change of season. Germany appealed to her, however, through
everything in herself that was least French; her earnestness, her
vague but ardent religious tendencies, her spiritualism, her excessive
admiration of intellectual pursuits. She was, therefore, exceptionally
well-qualified to reveal to her own countrymen the hitherto unknown or
unappreciated beauties of the German mind.

She was, on the other hand, extremely alive to the dullness of German,
and especially of Viennese, society, and portrays it in a series of
delightfully witty phrases. The _Allemagne_ is indeed the wittiest of all
her works, and abounds in the happiest touches.

The opinions expressed on German literature are favorable towards it, and
on the whole correct. If she betrays that Schiller was personally more
sympathetic to her than Goethe, she nevertheless was quick to perceive in
the latter the strain of southern passion, the light, warmth and color,
which made his intellect less national than universal.

Her chapters on Kant and German philosophy generally, are luminous if
not exhaustive. She takes the moral sentiment as her standpoint, and
pronounces from that on the different systems. Needless to say, she
admires metaphysical speculations, and considers them as valuable in
developing intellect and strengthening character.

_Les Dix Années d’Exil_ is a charming book. Apart from its interest as
a transcript of the writer’s impressions during her exile at Coppet
and subsequent flight across Europe, it contains brilliant pictures of
different lands, and especially Russia. One is really amazed to note
how much she grasped of the national characteristics during her brief
sojourn in that country. The worst reproach that can be addressed to
her description is that, as usual, it is rather too favorable. Her
anxiety to prove that no country could flourish, during a reign such as
Napoleon’s, made her disposed to see through rose-colored spectacles the
Governments which found force to resist him.

The _Considerations on the French Revolution_ were published
posthumously. According to Sainte Beuve, this is the finest of Madame
de Staël’s works. “Her star,” he says, “rose in its full splendor only
above her tomb.” It is difficult to pronounce any summary judgment on
this book, which is partly biographical and partly historical. The first
volume is principally devoted to a vindication of Necker; the second to
an attack on Napoleon; the third to a study of the English Constitution
and the applicability of its principles to France. The first two volumes
alone were revised by the authoress before her death. We find in this
work all Madame de Staël’s natural and surprising power of comprehension.
She handles difficult political problems with an ease that would be more
astonishing still, had the book more unity. As it is, each separate
circumstance is related and explained admirably, but one is not made to
reach the core of the stupendous event of which Europe still feels the
vibration. Her portrait of Napoleon is unsurpassable for force and irony,
for sarcasm and truth. All she possessed of epigrammatic power seems to
have come unsought to enable her to avenge herself on the mean, great
man who had feared her enough to exile and persecute her.

In closing this rapid review of her works, one asks why was Madame de
Staël not a greater writer? The answer is easy; she lacked high creative
power and the sense of form. Her mind was strong of grasp and wide in
range, but continuous effort fatigued it. She could strike out isolated
sentences alternately brilliant, exhaustive and profound, but she could
not link them to other sentences so as to form an organic page. Her
thought was definite singly, but vague as a whole. She always saw things
separately, and tried to unite them arbitrarily, and it is generally
difficult to follow out any idea of hers from its origin to its end. Her
thoughts are like pearls of price profusely scattered, or carelessly
strung together, but not set in any design. On closing one of her books,
the reader is left with no continuous impression. He has been dazzled and
delighted, enlightened also by flashes; but the horizons disclosed have
vanished again, and the outlook is enriched by no new vistas.

Then she was deficient in the higher qualities of imagination. She could
analyze but not characterize; construct but not create. She could take
one defect like selfishness, or one passion like love, and display its
workings; or she could describe a whole character, like Napoleon’s, with
marvellous penetration; but she could not make her personages talk or
act like human beings. She lacked pathos, and had no sense of humor. In
short, hers was a mind endowed with enormous powers of comprehension, and
an amazing richness of ideas, but deficient in perception of beauty, in
poetry, and true originality. She was a great social personage, but her
influence on literature was not destined to be lasting, because, in spite
of foreseeing much, she had not the true prophetic sense of proportion,
and confused the things of the present with those of the future—the
accidental with the enduring.

THE END.

* * * * *

_Messrs. Roberts Brothers’ Publications._

FAMOUS WOMEN SERIES.

GEORGE SAND.

BY BERTHA THOMAS.

One volume. 16mo. Cloth. Price, $1.00.

“Miss Thomas has accomplished a difficult task with as much good sense
as good feeling. She presents the main facts of George Sand’s life,
extenuating nothing, and setting naught down in malice, but wisely
leaving her readers to form their own conclusions. Everybody knows that
it was not such a life as the women of England and America are accustomed
to live, and as the worst of men are glad to have them live.… Whatever
may be said against it, its result on George Sand was not what it would
have been upon an English or American woman of genius.”—_New York Mail
and Express._

“This is a volume of the ‘Famous Women Series,’ which was begun so
well with George Eliot and Emily Brontë. The book is a review and
critical analysis of George Sand’s life and work, by no means a detailed
biography. Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, the maiden, or Mme. Dudevant,
the married woman, is forgotten in the renown of the pseudonym George
Sand.

“Altogether, George Sand, with all her excesses and defects, is a
representative woman, one of the names of the nineteenth century.
She was great among the greatest, the friend and compeer of the
finest intellects, and Miss Thomas’s essay will be a useful and
agreeable introduction to a more extended study of her life and
works.”—_Knickerbocker._

“The biography of this famous woman, by Miss Thomas, is the only one in
existence. Those who have awaited it with pleasurable anticipation, but
with some trepidation as to the treatment of the erratic side of her
character, cannot fail to be pleased with the skill by which it is done.
It is the best production on George Sand that has yet been published.
The author modestly refers to it as a sketch, which it undoubtedly is,
but a sketch that gives a just and discriminating analysis of George
Sand’s life, tastes, occupations, and of the motives and impulses which
prompted her unconventional actions, that were misunderstood by a narrow
public. The difficulties encountered by the writer in describing this
remarkable character are shown in the first line of the opening chapter,
which says, ‘In naming George Sand we name something more exceptional
than even a great genius.’ That tells the whole story. Misconstruction,
condemnation, and isolation are the penalties enforced upon the great
leaders in the realm of advanced thought, by the bigoted people of their
time. The thinkers soar beyond the common herd, whose soul-wings are not
strong enough to fly aloft to clearer atmospheres, and consequently they
censure or ridicule what they are powerless to reach. George Sand, even
to a greater extent than her contemporary, George Eliot, was a victim to
ignorant social prejudices, but even the conservative world was forced
to recognize the matchless genius of these two extraordinary women, each
widely different in her character and method of thought and writing.…
She has told much that is good which has been untold, and just what will
interest the reader, and no more, in the same easy, entertaining style
that characterizes all of these unpretentious biographies.”—_Hartford
Times._

_Sold everywhere. Mailed, post-paid, on receipt of price, by
the publishers_, ROBERTS BROTHERS, Boston.

* * * * *

_Messrs. Roberts Brothers’ Publications._

FAMOUS WOMEN SERIES.

MARY LAMB.

BY ANNE GILCHRIST.

One volume. 16mo. Cloth. Price, $1.00.

“The story of Mary Lamb has long been familiar to the readers of Elia,
but never in its entirety as in the monograph which Mrs. Anne Gilchrist
has just contributed to the Famous Women Series. Darkly hinted at by
Talfourd in his Final Memorials of Charles Lamb, it became better known
as the years went on and that imperfect work was followed by fuller and
franker biographies,—became so well known, in fact, that no one could
recall the memory of Lamb without recalling at the same time the memory
of his sister.”—_New York Mail and Express._

“A biography of Mary Lamb must inevitably be also, almost more, a
biography of Charles Lamb, so completely was the life of the sister
encompassed by that of her brother; and it must be allowed that Mrs. Anne
Gilchrist has performed a difficult biographical task with taste and
ability.… The reader is at least likely to lay down the book with the
feeling that if Mary Lamb is not famous she certainly deserves to be, and
that a debt of gratitude is due Mrs. Gilchrist for this well-considered
record of her life.”—_Boston Courier._

“Mary Lamb, who was the embodiment of everything that is tenderest in
woman, combined with this a heroism which bore her on for a while through
the terrors of insanity. Think of a highly intellectual woman struggling
year after year with madness, triumphant over it for a season, and then
at last succumbing to it. The saddest lines that ever were written are
those descriptive of this brother and sister just before Mary, on some
return of insanity, was to leave Charles Lamb. ‘On one occasion Mr.
Charles Lloyd met them slowly pacing together a little foot-path in
Hoxton Fields, both weeping bitterly, and found, on joining them, that
they were taking their solemn way to the accustomed asylum.’ What pathos
is there not here?”—_New York Times._

“This life was worth writing, for all records of weakness conquered, of
pain patiently borne, of success won from difficulty, of cheerfulness in
sorrow and affliction, make the world better. Mrs. Gilchrist’s biography
is unaffected and simple. She has told the sweet and melancholy story
with judicious sympathy, showing always the light shining through
darkness.”—_Philadelphia Press._

Sold by all Booksellers. Mailed, post-paid, on receipt of the
price, by the Publishers, ROBERTS BROTHERS, BOSTON.

* * * * *

_Messrs. Roberts Brothers’ Publications._

Famous Women Series.

RACHEL.

By Mrs. NINA H. KENNARD.

One Volume. 16mo. Cloth. Price, $1.00.

“_Rachel_, by Nina H. Kennard, is an interesting sketch of the famous
woman whose passion and genius won for her an almost unrivalled fame as
an actress. The story of Rachel’s career is of the most brilliant success
in art and of the most pathetic failure in character. Her faults, many
and grievous, are overlooked in this volume, and the better aspects of
her nature and history are recorded.”—_Hartford Courant._

“The book is well planned, has been carefully constructed, and is
pleasantly written.”—_The Critic._

“The life of Mlle. Élisa Rachel Félix has never been adequately told,
and the appearance of her biography in the ‘Famous Women Series’ of
Messrs. Roberts Brothers will be welcomed.… Yet we must be glad the book
is written, and welcome it to a place among the minor biographies; and
because there is nothing else so good, the volume is indispensable to
library and study.”—_Boston Evening Traveller._

“Another life of the great actress Rachel has been written. It forms
part of the ‘Famous Women Series,’ which that firm is now bringing out,
and which already includes eleven volumes. Mrs. Kennard deals with her
subject much more amiably than one or two of the other biographers have
done. She has none of those vindictive feelings which are so obvious in
Madame B.’s narrative of the great tragedienne. On the contrary, she
wants to be fair, and she probably is as fair as the materials which
came into her possession enabled her to be. The endeavor has been made
to show us Rachel as she really was, by relying to a great extent upon
her letters.… A good many stories that we are familiar with are repeated,
and some are contradicted. From first to last, however, the sympathy
of the author is ardent, whether she recounts the misery of Rachel’s
childhood, or the splendid altitude to which she climbed when her name
echoed through the world and the great ones of the earth vied in doing
her homage. On this account Mrs. Kennard’s book is a welcome addition to
the pre-existing biographies of one of the greatest actresses the world
ever saw.”—_N.Y. Evening Telegram._

_Sold everywhere. Mailed postpaid, by the Publishers_, ROBERTS
BROTHERS, BOSTON.

* * * * *

_Messrs. Roberts Brothers’ Publications._

FAMOUS WOMEN SERIES.

THE COUNTESS OF ALBANY.

BY VERNON LEE.

One volume. 16mo. Cloth. Price $1.00.

“It is no disparagement to the many excellent previous sketches to say
that ‘The Countess of Albany,’ by Vernon Lee, is decidedly the cleverest
of the series of biographies of ‘Famous Women,’ published in this
country by Roberts Brothers, Boston. In the present instance there is a
freer subject, a little farther removed from contemporary events, and
sufficiently out of the way of prejudice to admit of a lucid handling.
Moreover, there is a trained hand at the work, and a mind not only
familiar with and in sympathy with the character under discussion, but
also at home with the ruling forces of the eighteenth century, which were
the forces that made the Countess of Albany what she was. The biography
is really dual, tracing the life of Alfieri, for twenty-five years the
heart and soul companion of the Countess, quite as carefully as it traces
that of the fixed subject of the sketch.”—_Philadelphia Times._

“To be unable altogether to acquiesce in Vernon Lee’s portrait of Louise
of Stolberg does not militate against our sense of the excellence
of her work. Her pictures of eighteenth-century Italy are definite
and brilliant. They are instinct with a quality that is akin to
magic.”—_London Academy._

“In the records of famous women preserved in the interesting series
which has been devoted to such noble characters as Margaret Fuller,
Elizabeth Fry, and George Eliot, the life of the Countess of Albany


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Online LibraryBella DuffyMadame de Staël → online text (page 13 of 17)