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he would have done, is recorded by his daughter with the unction of a
true devotee. There is something adorably simple and genuine in all her
utterances about this time. In a letter to her husband (who apparently
never objected to play second fiddle to M. and Madame Necker) she
directs him exactly how to behave at Court, so as to bring home with
dignity, yet force, to their Majesties the wickedness of their conduct
towards so great and good a man; and she adds that but for her position
as Ambassadress she would never again set foot within the precincts
of Versailles. This she wrote even after the _lettre de cachet_ was
cancelled. A few months later a reparation was offered to her father with
which even his own sense of his worth and the idolatry of his family
should have been satisfied; for he was recalled to power—unwillingly
recalled, it is true. The King’s hand was forced. His present sentiments
to M. Necker, if not hostile, were cold; while those of the Queen had
changed to aversion. But the Marquis de Mirabeau had defined the position
of France as “a game of blind-man’s buff which must lead to a general
upset”; consternation had invaded even the densest intelligences; and
the voice of the public clamored for its savior. This time, again, the
title given to M. Necker was Director-General of Finance; but, on the
other hand, the coveted entry into the Royal Council was accorded him. It
was the first instance, since the days of Sully, of such an honor being
granted to a Protestant; it was given at a moment when the suggestion to
restore civil rights to those of alien faith had been bitterly resented
by the French clergy; and it was one of the many signs (for those who had
eyes to see) that the last hour of the old régime had struck.

The nomination was hailed with a burst of applause from one end of France
to the other. Madame de Staël hurried to St. Ouen with the news, but she
found her father the reverse of elated. Fifteen months previously—the
fifteen months wasted by the ineptitude of Brienne—he said he might have
done something; now it was too late.

Madame de Staël was far from sharing these feelings. When anything had to
be accomplished by her father, she was of the opinion of Calonne, in his
celebrated answer to Marie Antoinette—“_Si c’est possible, c’est fait;
si c’est impossible, cela se fera._” And undoubtedly M. Necker did his
best on returning to power; but, in spite of his honesty, good faith, and
unquestionable abilities, he was not the man for the hour.

Very likely, as his friends, and especially his daughter, asserted, no
Minister, however gifted, could have succeeded entirely in such a crisis;
and doubtless he was as far as any merely pure-minded man could be from
deserving the storm of execration with which the Court party eventually
overwhelmed him. We have said that he did his best; his mistake was that
he did his best for everybody. In a moment, when an unhesitating choice
had become imperative, he was divided between sympathy with the people
and pity for the King.

He returned to power without any plan of his own; but finding Louis
XVI. was pledged to assemble the States-General, he insisted that the
representation of the Tiers Etat should be doubled, so as to balance
the influence of the other two parties. Royalists affirm that this was
a fatal error, since from that hour the Revolution became inevitable.
Madame de Staël, jealous of her father’s reputation, maintains that
reasonable concessions on the part of the Court faction and the higher
clergy would have nullified the danger of the double representation. But
the point was that such an aristocracy and such a clergy were by nature
unteachable; and every moment wasted in attempting to persuade them was
an hour added to the long torture of oppressed and starving France.

The kind heart, liberal instincts, and administrative ability of Necker
taught him that without the double representation the voice of the people
might be lifted in vain. But the weakness of his character, and the awe
of his bourgeois soul for the time-honored fetich of monarchy, prevented
his understanding that the power he invoked could never again be laid
by any spell of his choosing. By seeking to arrange this or that, to
pare off something here and add something there—in a word, by trying to
be just all round, when nobody cared for mutual justice but himself,
he rendered a divided allegiance to his country and his King. If there
were no conscious duplicity in his character, there was abundance of it
in his opinions; and to say that nobody could have succeeded better is
to beg the question. In the face of the savage, inflexible arrogance of
the aristocrats and clergy, there was but one course open to a really
high-minded man, and that was to leave the Court to its own devices, and,
throwing himself with all of earnestness and wisdom that he possessed
into the popular cause, to be guided by it, and yet govern it by force of
sympathy and will.

He might have failed; in the light of later events, it can even be said
that he would have failed. But such a failure would have been grander,
more vital for good and sterile for harm, than the opprobrium which
eventually visited the honest Necker and pursued him to his grave.

Needless to say that opinions such as these never found their way into
Madame de Staël’s mind. On occasions—perhaps too frequently renewed—the
portals of that enchanted palace were guarded by her heart. In her view,
everything might yet be saved, were Necker only listened to and obeyed.
“Every day he will do something good and prevent something bad,” she
wrote to the reactionary and angry Gustavus, and thus betrayed that
preoccupation with the individual, his virtues or his crimes, which, for
all her intellect, blinded her not rarely to the essential significance
of things.

With breathless interest and varied feelings of sympathy and indignation
she watched the great events which now followed in rapid succession.
Her father was monarchical, and believed that a representative monarchy
on the English model was the true remedy for France. Madame de
Staël—incapable of differing with so great a man—endorsed this opinion at
the time, although eventually she became republican.

But nobody was republican then—that is in name; people had not yet
realized to what logical conclusions their opinions would carry them.
Madame de Staël, hating oppression, blamed the sightless obstinacy of
the nobles, but, on the other hand, was but little moved by the famous
_Serment du Jeu de Paume_. She deplored the rejection of Necker’s
plan—that happy medium which was to settle everything, and stigmatized
as it deserved the imbecility of the Court party, as illustrated by
confidence in foreign regiments and the Declaration of the 23d June.
Always optimist, and confident of the inevitable triumph of Right over
Might, she clung to the belief that a thoroughly pure character, in such
a crisis, was the one indispensable element of success.

The mysterious nature of Sièyes repelled her; she preferred the virtuous
Malouet to the titanic Mirabeau, and was almost as blind as her father
to the enormous electric force of the tribune’s undisciplined genius.
For if often prejudiced, she rarely was morbid, and false ideas did not
dazzle her. No splendor of achievement unaccompanied by loftiness of
principle could win her applause. But she failed to grasp the fact that
perfection of moral character, by its very scruples and hesitations, is
necessarily handicapped in any race with the velocity of public events.
No man can bring his entire self—very rarely can he even bring all that
is best of himself—into a struggle with warring forces and contradictory
individualities. In such a contest, swiftness of insight, power of
expression, and force of organic impulse are the only factors of value.
In supreme moments of action, men are greater than themselves—made so by
the sudden, unconscious contraction of their complex personality into one
flame-point of consuming will.

All this Madame de Staël seems never to have felt. If she loved unworthy
people (and how many she did love!), it was because she deceived herself
regarding them, as all her life she deceived herself about her father.
She was intolerant of any triumph but that of virtue, and was thus
rendered unjust to the great deeds of men who, imperfect and erring
themselves, can sympathize with the aspirations of the human heart
because its baseness is not unknown to them.

On the 11th of July, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, M. Necker, who
had become a sort of Cassandra to the Court party and was detested in
proportion, received a letter from the King ordering him to quit Paris
and France, and to accomplish the departure with the utmost secrecy and
despatch. He was at table with some guests when this order was handed to
him; he read it, put it into his pocket, and continued his conversation
as though nothing had happened.

Dinner over, he took Madame Necker aside, and informed her what had
occurred. Nothing was communicated to Madame de Staël; probably her
father thought she would be too much excited. M. and Madame Necker
hastily ordered their carriage and, without bidding anybody farewell,
without even delaying to change their clothes, they had themselves
conveyed to the nearest station for post-horses. Thence they continued
their journey uninterruptedly, fleeing like culprits from the people
whose indignation was feared by the King.

Madame de Staël is lost in admiration of this single-minded conduct
of her father, and lays especial stress on the fact that, even during
the journey, he made no effort to win for himself the suffrages of the
multitude. “Where is another man,” she naïvely asks, “who would not have
had himself brought back in his own despite?”

Certainly an ambitious man might have adopted this theatrical plan; but
it is much more likely, under the actual circumstances, that an ambitious
man would never have left at all. M. Necker had only to announce his
disgrace to the people of Paris, and go over once for all to the popular
side, to have received an intoxicating ovation. As it was, the news of
his dismissal cast the capital into consternation. All the theatres were
closed, medals were struck in the fallen Minister’s honor, and the first
cockade worn was green—the color of his liveries. What a career might
then have been his if, instead of being an obedient subject, he had
chosen to be a leader!

Madame de Staël thought that it was to the last degree noble and
disinterested of him to vanish from the sight of an adoring multitude
rather than bring fresh difficulties on the master who had deserted him.
But the destinies of a nation are of higher value than the comfort of a
monarch, and there are certain responsibilities which no man who does
not feel himself incapable (and that was not Necker’s case) is justified
in declining. To throw back the love and influence offered him then for
the last time by France, to sympathize with the popular cause and yet to
abandon it, and to do all this out of obedience to the senseless caprice
of a faction and the arbitrary command of a king, was to behave like a
Court chamberlain, but in no sense like a statesman.

The taking of the Bastille, and the King’s declaration at the Hôtel de
Ville, followed immediately on Necker’s retirement. Madame de Staël
records these events in a very few words, and shows herself, at the
moment and henceforward through all the opening scenes of the Revolution,
more alive to the humiliation and dismay of the Royal Family than to the
apocalyptic grandeur of the catastrophe.

The acts committed, as one reads of them quietly now, are revolting in
their mingled grotesqueness and terror. To those who witnessed them, they
sickened where they did not deprave. The livid head of Foulon on the
pike; the greasy, filthy, partly drunken populace, who rose as from the
depths of the earth to invade the splendid privacy of royal Versailles;
the degraded women dragged from shameful obscurity and paraded in the
lurid glare of an indecent triumph; Madame de Lamballe’s monstrous and
dishonored death; Marat’s hellish accusations, and Robespierre’s diseased
suspicions, were things that must have destroyed in those who lived
through them all capacity for admiration.

The fact that Madame de Staël did not lose heart altogether remains
an abiding witness to her faith and courage. She was wounded in her
tenderest part by the Court’s ingratitude and the Assembly’s indifference
towards her father. Every natural and cultivated sentiment in her was
wounded by what she saw. Unlike Madame Roland, she had no traditions and
no past of her own to attach her, in spite of everything, to the people.
She was insensible to the merely physical infection of enthusiasm, and
never even for a moment possessed by the vertigo of the revolutionary
demon-dance. She remained, from first to last, an absolute stranger to
every act and every consideration that was not either manifest to her
intellect or strong in appeal to her heart; and yet such was her force of
mind and rectitude of insight that, under the Directory, we shall find
her no less interested in public events than under the Monarchy.

The grief that Madame de Staël undoubtedly experienced at her father’s
banishment was not destined to be of long duration. He had hardly reached
the Hôtel des Trois Rois at Bâle, when, to his great astonishment,
Madame de Polignac asked to speak to him. She was the last person
that he expected to see there; but surprise at her presence was soon
swallowed up in the far greater amazement excited by all she had to tell.
The taking of the Bastille; the massacre of Foulon and Berthier and
DeLaunay; the critical position of De Besenval, and the stampede of the
aristocrats—what a catalogue of events! He had never, his daughter says,
admitted the possibility of proscriptions, and he was a long while before
he could understand the motives which had induced Madame de Polignac
to depart. He had not much time to reflect on all he had heard before
letters from the King and from the Assembly arrived urging him to return.
He did so most unwillingly, according to Madame de Staël, for the murders
committed on the 14th July, although few in number, affrighted him, and
“he believed no longer in the success of a cause now blood-stained.” He
seems to have abandoned all sympathy with the people from this moment,
and to have returned avowedly with no intention than that of using his
popularity as a buckler with which to defend the royal authority.

Madame de Staël, informed by letters from her father of his departure
from France and ultimate destination (which was Germany), had hastened
after him with her husband and overtook him first at Brussels. There the
party had separated momentarily, M. Necker hurrying forward with the
Baron de Staël, and Madame Necker, who was suffering in health, following
by slower stages with her daughter. The consequence was that Madame
de Staël arrived at Bâle after her father’s interview with Madame de
Polignac, and almost at the same time as he received the order to return.

In this way she had the profound joy of witnessing the enthusiasm which
greeted him on every step of his way. No such ovation, she truly says,
had ever before been bestowed upon an uncrowned head. Women fell on their
knees as the carriage passed; the leading citizens of the towns where
it stopped took the places of the postilions, and the populace finally
substituted themselves for the horses. They met numbers of aristocratic
fugitives on the journey, and M. Necker, at their request, showered on
them autograph letters to serve as passports and enable them to cross the
frontiers in safety.

Whenever the carriage stopped, the popular idol harangued the crowd and
impressed on them the necessity of respecting persons and property;
he entreated of them, as they professed so much love for him, to give
him the most striking proof that they could of it, by always doing
their duty. Madame de Staël says that her father was fully aware of
the fleeting nature of popularity; and, under these circumstances, one
wonders that he took the trouble, in such a crisis, to make so many
speeches. But it is probable that the intoxication of praise was a little
too much for him; and he had at all times the sacerdotal tendency to
preach.

At ten leagues from Paris, news was brought to the travellers that De
Besenval had been arrested by order of the Commune, and was to be taken
to the capital, where he would, said the pessimists, be infallibly torn
to pieces by the populace. M. Necker, entreated to intervene, took upon
himself to rescind the order of the Commune, and promised to obtain the
sanction of the authorities to his act.

On arriving in Paris, consequently, his first care was to proceed, in
company with his family, to the Hôtel de Ville. The streets, the roofs,
the windows of every house were densely thronged. Cries of “Vive
Necker!” rent the air, as the redeemer of the country appeared on a
balcony and began his discourse.

He demanded the amnesty of De Besenval and of all those who shared De
Besenval’s opinion. This extensive programme committed all those who
accepted it to a reactionary policy, since to pardon the people’s enemies
unconditionally was to condone, and in a measure to sanction their crimes.

But no such considerations presented themselves at that moment to impair
Necker’s triumph. The popular enthusiasm accorded him what he asked;
fresh thunders of applause broke forth, and Madame de Staël, overcome
with emotion, fainted.




CHAPTER V.

MADAME DE STAËL IS COURAGEOUS FOR HER FRIENDS.


Necker’s victory over the rage of the populace was a fleeting one. He
had, indeed, overstepped the prerogatives of a Minister in asking for the
amnesty. Misled by the elation of his gratified vanity and the impulse
of his benevolent heart, he, an ardent defender of order, forgot that in
placing himself between the Assembly and King on the one hand and the
people on the other, he practically recognized the right of a faction
to act without the consent of the Government. It was for the latter to
reverse the decree of the Commune and not for the electors of Paris.

His dream of smiling peace installed by his hand on the ruins of the
Revolution was rudely and rapidly dispelled. Madame de Staël sorrowfully
records that on the very evening of that glorious day the amnesty was
retracted, and ascribes this result in great part to the influence of
Mirabeau. But, in truth, a very little reflection must have sufficed
to convince anybody that the utopian demands of Necker were singularly
misplaced. The very electors who had acceded to them asserted that all
they had ever intended was to shield the arrested royalists from the
fury of the populace, but in no sense from the action of justice. The
Assembly confirmed this view, and from that moment Necker’s influence
was practically gone. It was proved to be a bubble; and his triumph,
respectable as were some of the motives which had urged him to invoke
it, became ludicrous when contrasted with the stern and tragic realities
of the moment. This Madame de Staël did not, could not see. She was fain
to console herself with the compassionate reflection that, after all, De
Besenval—an old man—was saved.

She narrates with dolorous pride the efforts honestly, courageously, and
to a certain degree successfully, made by her father, during fifteen
months, to avert the disaster of famine; and innocently appeals to them
against the failure as a statesman, to which she resolutely shuts her
eyes.

One measure after another opposed by Necker was voted—the confiscation
of the property of the clergy, the suppression of titles of nobility,
and the emission of assignats. No popularity could have resisted such
successive blows; and Necker was popular no longer. Still, Madame de
Staël touchingly begs the world, in her writings, not to allow itself to
be turned from the paths of virtue by the spectacle of a good man so
persecuted by fate. She claims our admiration for a series of quixotic
acts, and is perpetually insisting on the amazing magnanimity which would
not allow her father to become base because he had ceased to be useful.

Thoroughly discouraged at last (perhaps partly convinced that to preach
kindness to savages, and self-abnegation to the vile, was a task to be
resumed in better times) Necker tendered his resignation, and had the
mortification of seeing it accepted with perfect indifference both by the
Assembly and the King.

Before leaving Paris forever, he deposited in the royal treasury two
millions of his own property. The exact object of this munificence is
not clear; even Madame de Staël failed to explain it on any practical
grounds. But she admired it extremely, and so may we.

The journey with the terrified and suffering Madame Necker to Switzerland
was a great contrast to the return in the previous year to Paris. Then
it had been “roses, roses all the way”; now it was nothing but insults.
At Arcis-sur-Aube the carriage was stopped by an infuriated crowd, who
accused M. Necker of having betrayed the cause of the people in the
interests of the emigrant nobles. The accusation was an absurd one, since
he had only endeavored to be superhumanly kind to everybody. He had
wished to preserve the people from crimes and starvation, the clergy from
ruin, and the emigrant nobles from detection, and this was the result.
It was hard, but inevitable, and as there were many worse fates than
M. Necker’s in those days one cannot quite free oneself from a feeling
of impatience at Madame de Staël’s perpetual lamentations over the
inconceivable hardships of her parent’s lot.

We now approach an episode in Madame de Staël’s life which it is
necessary to touch on with discretion. This is her connection with the
Count Louis de Narbonne. The stories circulated in regard to them are
familiar to all readers of Madame d’Arblay’s memoirs. Dr. Burney thought
himself in duty bound to warn his little Fanny against her growing
adoration for Necker’s great, but, according to him, not blameless
daughter, who, during her stay at Mickleham, exerted herself to win the
friendship of the author of _Cecilia_. Fanny, as we know, was at first
greatly shocked, and completely incredulous. She described Madame de
Staël as loving M. de Narbonne tenderly, but so openly, and in a manner
so devoid of coquetry, that friendship between two men, in her opinion,
could hardly be differently manifested. But the seed of suspicion once
cast in the little prude’s mind, quickly germinated, and led eventually
to a total cessation of her acquaintance with the woman whose brilliancy
and goodness had so fascinated her. This is not the place in which to
discuss Fanny’s conduct; but was the information on which she based it
correct? Who shall say? Madame de Staël was extremely imprudent, and she
seems to have been dangerously near to loving a number of men.

Miss Berry, in her memoirs, accuses her of a “passion” for Talleyrand,
and spoke as though concluding it to be a theme of common gossip. She
certainly liked to absorb a great deal of her friends’ affection, and
was avowedly displeased when they married. Her sentiments towards Baron
de Staël, full of a sweet and fresh cordiality at first, seems rapidly
to have changed to aversion. As far as it is possible to judge, she
unhesitatingly sacrificed him on all occasions to her filial love or her
intellectual aims. When he was in Paris she left him in order to console
M. Necker in his mournful retirement at Coppet. When he was at Coppet she
remained in Paris, there to form and electrify a constitutional salon.
Various anecdotes attest to the scandal uttered about her, and the truth
of some of these stories admits of little doubt. But, on the other hand,
it must be remembered that detraction is ever busiest with the greatest
names; that Madame de Staël, always preoccupied with her subject and
never with herself, irritated the nerves and stirred the bile of inferior
people who were proportionately gratified to hear her attacked; and that
she lived in the midst of a society where conjugal fidelity was rare
enough to be hardly believed in. Countless passages in her writings prove
how exalted was her ideal of family life; and if they also prove her
constant, restless yearning after some unattained, unattainable good,


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