Christian Dietrich Grabbe.

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rational soundness, purity, and tenacity, as for their fervor.
They were free from every thing morbid or affected. An
adverse fate forbade the love to which she seemed destined
by her bewitching beauty and grace: and a certain divine
chill in the blood, a stamp from Diana in the senses, turned
all the warmth of affection upwards into the mind, to radiate
thence in her face and manners, and to make her a high
priestess of friendship. The pure and wise Ballanche, who
idolized her, said that she was originally an Antigone, of
whom people vainly wished by force to make an Armida.

Her nominal husband is supposed by some to have been
in reality her father; the marriage being merely a titular one,

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1867.] Madame RScamier and her Friends. 301

to secure his fortune to her in case of his death by the guillo-
tine, of which he was then in daily dread. Deprived of the
usual domestic vents of affection, her rich heart naturally led
her to crave the best substitute, friendship. And her match-
less personal gifts, together with her truly charming traits of
character, enabled her permanently to win and experience
this in a very exalted degree. Reserving her many deep
friendships with women for mention on a later page, we pro-
ceed to speak first of her memorable friendships with men, —
friendships which it is refreshing and delightful to study.
Her three principal friends were Montmorency, Ballanche,
and Chateaubriand ; all three original and extraordinary char-
acters, and all three worthy — in spite of some drawbacks
on the part of the last — of the extraordinary devotion she
gave them. The letters of these three possess extreme
interest. Especially, those of the first named are the unique
monument of an affection whose purity and delicacy equalled
its vivacity and depth.

Matthieu de Montmorency was one of the noblest of the
nobility of Prance, alike in birth.and in spirit. In his youth
a voluptuous liver, he had afterwards undergone a genuine
and solemn conversion. While in Switzerland, the news of
the guillotining of his brother gave him such a shock, that it
revolutionized his motives and his life. The gay, impas-
sioned, fascinating man of the world became an austere and
fervent Christian. The rich sensibility he had formerly
spent in amours and display, henceforward ennobled by wis-
dom and sanctified by religion, lent a singular charm of ten-
derness and loftiness to his friendships. The memory of his
own errors gave a gracious charitableness ta his judgments ;
his sorrow imparted an incomparable refinement to his air ; his
grave and devout demeanor inspired veneration; his sweet
magnanimity drew every unprejudiced heart. He had long
been a fervent friend of Madame de Stael, when the youthful
virgin-wife, the dazzling Julie R^camier, formed an engross-
ing attachment to that gifted woman. Drawn mutually to
this common goal, the fore-ordained friends soon met. He
was then fifty years old ; she, twenty-three. Her extraor-


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302 Madame BSca$nier and her Friends. [Msiji

dinaiy channs of person and spirit, — her dangers, exposed,
with such bewildering beanty and snch peculiar domestic
relations, to all the seductions of a most corrupt society,
awakened at once his admiration, his sympathy, and his pity.
An increasing intimacy revealing her irresistible sweetness
of disposition, her many gifts and virtues, Montmorency
found himself ever more and more drawn to her by the
united bonds of reason, conscience, and affection. He under-
took not merely to be her friend in the ordinary pleasures of
sympathy, but, as a Christian, under the eye of God, sin-
cerely and profoundly to befriend her. Prom that moment
until his death, his devotion, though once severely tried,
never faltered nor slumbered. He was to her more than a
father and a brother ; he was her guardian angel, as pure in
feeling, as watchful to warn, to restrain, to encourage, to sup-
port, and console. For many years, through trying reverses
of fortune, he visited her every evening. For many years
each had a vital share in all that concerned the other ; and,
when he died, it was as if a large part of her being had been
suddenly torn out of her spul, and transferred to heaven.
The letters that passed between them form one of the most
delightful and impressive records ever made of Christian
friendship, — a record in which wisdom and duty are as
prominent as affection.

Pierre Simon Ballanche, one of the most delicate and phi-
losophical of French authors, most disinterested and affec-
tionate of men, the perfect model of a friend, was bom at
Lyons in 1776. He was first introduced to Madame E^camier,
in 1812, by their common friend, the generous and eloquent
Camille Jordan. Ballanche, in an enthusiastic attachment to
a noble, portionless young girl, had suffered a disappointment
so deep, that it caused him to dismiss all thoughts of marriage
for ever. He sought to ease the burden of rejected love by
letting the sadness it had engendered exhale in a literary
work. This exquisite work, called "Fragments," Jordan
induced Madame E^camier to read : he also described to her
the refined and magnanimous character of the author. Thus
prepared, and aided by her own keen discernment, she immedi-

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1867.] Madame RScamier and her Friends. 303

ately detected his choice talents, his rare vein of sentiment,
his abiding hunger for affection. Ballanche was a philosopher
of solitude, a poet and priest of humanity, — spending
his days far from the crowd and uproar of the world, — his
proper haunt the summits of the loftiest minds, the mysterious
cradle of the destinies of society. His soul was an jEolian
harp through which the musie of the pre-historic ages played.
Chastity and sorrow were two geniuses who unveiled to him
the destiny of man. His philosophy, so redolent of the heart
and the imagination, amidst the material struggles and selfish-
ness of the time, has been compared to a chant of Orpheus
in the school of Hobbes. The friendship which Madame
R^camier gave this lonesome, sad, expansive, and lofty spirit,
was as if a goddess had come down from heaven on purpose
to minister to him. She brought him the attention he needed,
the sympathy he pined for, the position and praise which
were so grateful to his sensitive nature. She strove to win
for him from others the recognition he deserved, to call out
his powers, and to show off his gifts to the best advantage.
Ballanche was timid, awkward, ugly, with no wealth, with no
rank ; but, in the sight of Madame R^camier, the treasures
and graces of his soul were an intrinsic recommendation far
superior to these outward advantages, and she was ready to
honor it to the full.

Never was kindness more worthily bestowed ; never was
it more gratefully received. " I often," he says, " find my-
self astonished at your goodness to me. The silent, weary,
sad man, whom others neglect, you notice, and seek with
infinite tact to draw him out. You are indulgence and pity
personified, and you compassionately see in me a kind of
exile. Together with the feeling of a brother for a sister, I
offer you the homage of my soul." Prom that time he
belonged to her, and could not bear to live separate from her.
Under her appreciation and encouragement, he expanded
like a plant moved from a chill shade into the sunshine. His
devotion was entire, and sought no equal return. It was
simply the natural expression of his gratitude to her, his
admiration of her, his delight in seeing her and being with

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304 Madame RScamier and her Friends. [May,

her. His love for her, like thnt of Dante for Beatrice, was a
religious worship, a celestial exhalation of his sonl, utterly
free from every alloy of earth and sense. For thirty-four
years, he was almost inseparable from her. He removed to
Paris, that he might look on her every day. Wherever she
travelled, abroad or at home, he was one of her companions.
At her receptions of company, the fame whereof has gone
through the world, he was invariably an honored and active
assistant. And, despite his deformed face, and uncouth
appearance and bearing, he was a great favorite with all the
favored guests at the Abbaye-aux-Bois. To those who really
knew him, his large, beaming eyes and noble forehead, his
disinterested goodness, his literary and philosophical accom-
plishments, his modest unworldliness and attentive sympathy,
redeemed his physical blemishes, and covered them with a
radiance superior to that of mere beauty. The letters of
Ballanche to Madame R^camier are charming in their origi-
nality. His praise of her is marked by an inimitable grace
of sincerity and refinement : —

" Your presence, so full of magic, the sweet reflection of your soul,
will be to me a powerful inspiration. You are a perfect poem ; you
are poesy itself. It is your destiny to inspire, mine to be inspired.
An occupation would do you good ; your disturbed and dreamy imagi-
nation has need of aliment. Take care of your health, spare your
nerves : you are an angel who has gone a little astray in coming into
a world of agitation and falsehood."

What a reading of her inmost heart through her envied
position, what matchless felicity of representation, in this
picture of herself sent to her in one of his letters 1 —

" The phoenix, marvellous but solitary bird, is said often to
weary of himself. He feeds on perfumes, and lives in the purest
region of the air; and his brilliant existence ends on a pyre of
odoriferous woods kindled by the sun. More than once, without
doubt, he envies the lot of the white dove, because she has a com-
panion like herself."

In his high estimate of her talent, he tried to persuade
her to undertake a literary work, — the translation and illus-

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1867.] Madame RScamier and her Friends, 305

tration of Petrarch, which she actually began, but left unfin-

"Your province, like my own," he writes, " is the interior of the
sentiments ; but, believe me, you have at command the genius of
music, of flowers, of brooding meditation, and of elegance. Privi-
leged creature, assume a little confidence, lift your charming head,
and fear not to try your hand on the golden lyre of the poets. It is
my mission to see that some trace of your noble existence remains on
this earth. Help me to fulfil my mission. I regard it as a blessing
that you will be loved and appreciated when you are no more. It
would be a real misfortune if so excellent a being should pass merely
as a charming shadow. Of what use is memory, if it does not per-
petuate the beautiful and good ? "

This league of lofty friendship, of endearing intercourse and
service, held good while a whole generation of mortals came
upon the stage and disappeared ; and it throve with growing
validity in the latest old age of the fortunate parties. Bal-
lanche believed, after the death of his mother, that he saw
her, several successive mornings, enter his room, and ask him
how he had passed the night. This ocular illusion affords
us an affecting glimpse of his heart. He wrote to his friend,
" Antiquity confides its weariness and grief to us, without
doubt, to beguile us from our own." — " Had Orpheus never
met Eurydice, his existence would have remained incomplete ;
and, in place of the cruel grief of her loss, he would have
known another grief not less intense, — solitude of soul." —
" I am alone, and the solitude weighs heavily upon me. Per-
mit me to solace myself by talking a moment with you." —
"I protest to you in all sincerity, that my one absorbing
thought is my warm feeling of friendship for you. I have
need to be assured by you, and that as often as possible, that
this sentiment shall not end in unhappiness for me. The
thought of that is an agony which terrifies me. You are so
kind, you have so much sympathy for all unhappy persons,
that I fear it is through pity and condescension that you
show kindness to me." This expression was in the year
1816; but all such uneasiness soon vanished, and he learned


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306 Madame RScamier and her Friends. [May,

to rely on her Bineere cordiality with a serene assurance
which was the richest luxury of his life.

In 1830, Ballanche, publishing his chief work, the " Palin-
g^n^sie Sociale," dedicated it to Madame RScamier, in a form
whose delicacy and fervor made it one of the most exquisite
pieces of praise ever paid in letters. Alluding to Canova's
portrait of Madame RScamier, in the character of the celestial
guide of Dante, he says: —

^' An artist enveloped in a grand renown, a sculptor who has just
shed 80 much glory on the illustrious land of Dante, and whose grace-
ful imagination the masterpieces of antiquity have so often exalted,
one day, for the first time, saw a woman who seemed to him a living
apparition of Beatrice. Full of that religious emotion which is the
gift of genius, he immediately commanded the marble, always obe-
dient to his chisel, to express the sudden inspiration of the moment ;
and the Beatrice of Dante passed from the vague region of poetry
into the domain of substantial art. The sentiment which dwells in
this harmonious countenance, now become a new type of pure and
virgin beauty, in its turn inspires artists and poets. This woman,
whose name I would here conceal, whom I would veil even as Dante
does, is endowed with all the generous sympathies of our age. She
has visited, with the select few, the haunts of lofty minds. Here,
in this seat of imperturbable peace, of unalterable security, she has
formed noble friendships, — those friendships which have filled her
life, which, born under immortal auspices, are sheltered alike from
time, from death, and from all human vicissitudes. I address myself,
then, to her who has been seen as a living apparition of Beatrice.
Can she encourage me with her smile, — with that serious smile of
love and of grace, which expresses at once confidence and pity for the
pains of probation, for the burdens of an exile that should end, —
sweet and calm augury, wherein is revealed, even in the present, the
certainty of our infinite hopes, the grandeiu* of our definitive des-
tinies ? "

When the good Ballanche was taken dangerously ill,
Madame RScamier had just undergone an operation for cata-
ract, and was under strict orders from the physician not to
leave her couch. But, on the announcement of the condition
of Ballanche, she immediately rose, and went to his bedside,

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1867.] Madame BScamier and her Friends. 307

and watched by him until his last breath. In the anxiety and
tears of this experience, she lost all hope of recovering her
sight. Her incomparable friend received the supreme hospi-
tality at her hands, and was buried in her family tomb, —
leaving, in his works, a delightful picture of his mind ; in his
life, a perfect model of devotion. The removal of this soul,
echo of her own; this heart, wholly filled by her; this mind,
so gladly submissive to her influence, — could not but leave
a mighty void behind. For, notwithstanding the wondrous
array of gifts, attractions, and attentions lavished on her,
her deep sensibility and interior loneliness made her often
unhappy. She would sit by herself, in the twilight, playing
from memory choice pieces of the great masters of music,
the tears rolling down her cheeks. Friendship was more than
a delight : it was a necessity to her.

De Tocqueviile pronounced an exquisite eulogy by the
grave of Ballanche, in the name of the Academy. La Prade,
in the funeral address he delivered at Lyons, the birthplace
of the deceased, said, '* There was in his mind, in its serenity,
its charming simplicity, its tenderness, something more than
is found in the wisest and the best. His virtue was of a
divine nature : it was at once a prolonged innocence and an
acquired wisdom. Serene and radiant as his soul may now
be in the mansions of peace, we can hardly conceive of it as
more loving and more pure than we beheld it on this earth of
infirmity and of strife." What a delight it is to contemplate
the relation that bound two such spirits together, — the meas-
ureless treasures of inspiration, solace, joy, it must have
yielded to them both I Sarah Austin, who was in Paris at
the time Ballanche died, and an intimate of the illustrious
circle of friends, says, " I shall never forget the sort of con-
sternation, mingled with sorrow, which this death caused.
Everybody felt regret for so pure and excellent a man, but yet
more of grief and pity for Madame E^camier, whose loss was
felt to be overwhelming, and entirely irreparable.'' Ampere
says, in his cordial and glowing memoir of Ballanche, " While
he was composing his 'Antigone,' Poetry appeared to him
under an enchanting form. He became acquainted with her,

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308 Madame BScamier and her Friends. [May,

of whom he said that the charm of her presence laid his sor-
rows to sleep ; who, after being the soul of his most elevated
and delicate inspirations, became in later years the provi-
dence of every moment of his life." Ballanche himself often
assured Madame R^camier, that the ideal of the " Antigone ''
of his dreams was revealed to him by her, and that, in draw-
ing this perfect portrait, he had copied largely from her.
" It was only through Eurydice," he writes, " that Orpheus
had any mission for his brother-men. If my name survives
me, as appears more and more probable, I shall be called the
Philosopher of the Abbaye-aux-Bois, and my philosophy will
be considered as inspired by you. This thought is my joy.
I am now entering on the last stage of my life: however
prolonged this stage may be, I know well what is at the end
of it. I shall fall asleep in the bosom of a great hope, full of
confidence that your memory and mine will live the same
life." Fortunate friends I happy in their living union im-
maculate as heaven, happy in the grateful admiration and
love of all fit souls who shall ever read of them I

And if he grieyed because his words, his name,

The breath of after-ages will not stir,

'Tis but because he would impart his fame,

And share an immortality with her ;

So might there, from the brightest, holiest flame

That e'er did martyrdom of heart confer.

Two shadowy forms of Truth and Friendship rise.

To seek their home together in the skies.

Pervading and earnest, however, as were these attachments
of Madame BScamier to Montmorency and Ballanche, the
crowning passion of her life was her friendship for Chateau-
briand. This grand writer and imposing person has described
his first meeting with her : —

^' I was one morning with Madame de Stael, who, at toilet in the
hands of her maid, twirled a green twig in her fingers while she talked.
Suddenly Madame R^camier entered, clothed in white. She sits
down on a blue-silk sofa. Madame de Stael, standing, continues her
eloquent conversation. I scarcely reply, my eyes riveted on Madame
BScamier. I had never seen any one equal to her, and was more

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1867.] Madame RScamier and her Friends. 309

than ever depressed. My admiration of her changed into dissatisfac-
tion with myself. She went out, and I saw her no more for twelve
years. Twelve years ! What hostile power squanders thus our days,
ironically lavishing them on the indifferences called attachments, on
the wretchednesses named felicities ! *'

But it was in 1817, at a private dinner in the chamber of
the dying Madame de Stael, that their real acquaintance
began. The literary fame of Chateaubriand was then greater
than that of any living man. \Be was a lofty, romantic, mel-
ancholy person, with a superb head and face, polished man-
ners, and a grand vein of eloquence. Nothing was so deeply
characteristic of Madame RScamier as her enthusiasm for
brilliant minds, noble sentiment and conduct. It was this
that had so fascinated her with Madame de Stael. The sure
proof of the ideal nature of her attachments, their freedom
from sensual ingredients, is this ruling stamp of reverence
and loyalty. Those whom she admired the most enthusiasti-
cally she loved the most passionately. It could hardly fail
that her imagination would be captivated with the chivalrous
and imposing Chateaubriand, especially at such an affecting
time. " He seemed the natural heir to Madame de StaePs
place in her heart." Speaking of this overwhelming senti-
ment, thirty years later, she said, '' It is impossible for a head
to be more completely turned than mine was : I used to cry
all day." Montmorency and Ballanche were greatly dis-
tressed, and not a little mortified and jealous. It was not that
they had fallen into a lower and narrower place in her affec-
tion, but that they saw Chateaubriand installed in a higher
and larger place. They feared that her peace would be
wrecked in wretchedness by an intimate connection with one
so discontented and capricious, — a sort of spoilt idol, a hero
of ennui, filled with causeless melancholy, voracious of praise,
querulous, exacting, his own imperious and inevitable person-
ality ever uppermost. In vain they sought to warn and dis-
suade her from the new attachment. Montmorency seems to
have fancied that the passion was not friendship, but love ;
and faithfully, with solemn energy, he adjured her, by all the

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310 Madame BScamier and her Friends. [May,

sanctions of religion, to guard herself. He soon learned his
error, and gracefully apologized : —

" When I read your perfect letter, lovely friend, remorse seized me,
and now fills my soul. I am deeply touched by the proo& of your
friendship, and by the triumphs of your reason. I am, for friendship's
sake, proud of the exclusive privilege you accord to me of admission
and consolation, and impatiently long to go and exercise the sweet
right Pardon me my letter of this morning. Adieu. Persist in
your generous resolutions, and turn to Him who alone can strengthen
them and reward them."

The friendship of Madame R^camier and Chateaubriand
became more absorbing and complete, and was destined to
endure with their lives. " It was," Madame Lenormant says,
'* the one aim of her life to appease the irritability, soothe
the susceptibilities, and remove the annoyances of this noble,
generous, but selfish nature, spoiled by too much adulation."
Her steady moderation, moral wisdom, beautiful repose, and
sweet oblivion of self, were an admirable antidote to his
extreme moods, uneasy vanity, and morbid depression. Com-
munion with her serene equity, her matchless beauty, her
inexhaustible tenderness, the experience of her constant hom-
age, soothed his haughty and mordant, but magnanimous and
affectionate, nature, and were an infinite luxury to him. An
admiring recognition is almost a necessity for those highly
endowed with genius. And Madame R^camier's intense
faculty of admiration, with her self-forgetting devotedness,
exactly fitted her for this ministry. Chateaubriand became
the first object of her life. Modifying her habits to suit
his tastes, she made him, instead of herself, the centre
around which every thing was to revolve. She devised
endless means of lending an interest to his existence. She
listened to every thing he wrote. She drew into her par-
lor, to meet him, all those persons who could interest or
amuse him, or in any way give him pleasure. She diverted
attentions from herself to him with exhaustless skill and

Such jealousy as can find a place in natures so noble is

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1867.] Madame BScamier and her Friends, 311

easily to be traced in the letters of Ballanche and Montmo-
rency. Chateaubriand calls Ballanche "the hierophant" or
" the mysterious initiator/' " the man the most advanced at the
Abbaye-aux-Bois." Ballanche, in turn, calls Chateaubriand
" the king of intelligence." But Madame R^camier's wonderful
sweetness and discretion invariably restored the interrupted
harmony. Nor, indeed, did she allow the superior attraction
to cast her old friends in the shade. Several years after the
death of Montmorency, which happened in church on a Good
Friday, Chateaubriand wrote to her thus : ** Yesterday I
believed myself dying, as your best friend did. Then you
would have found one resemblance at least between us, and
perhaps you would have joined us in your heart." Five
years after their first meeting, Chateaubriand, then ambassa-
dor at Berlin, writes to her, "That I shall see you in a

Online LibraryChristian Dietrich GrabbeThe Christian examiner, Volume 82 → online text (page 30 of 39)