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Madame Récamier and her friends online

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might go for three francs, and take a lady for one franc
more. At such gatherings as these Madame Recamier's
presence was looked upon as an event of no small impor-
tance, and, wherever she went, her beauty called forth
murmurs of curiosity and admiration.

On one occasion, after public Worship had been re-
established, she was asked to hold the plate at St. Roch
for some charitable quete. She consented, and knelt, as
was usual, in the middle of the church. When the time
came for the collection to be made, the church was filled
to overflowing ; the people stood on the chairs, the
benches, and even the altars of the side-chapels, and
hustled one another unmercifully to catch a glimpse or
the lovely queteuse': indeed, the two gentlefnen, who had,
according to custom, been deputed to protect her, had all
their work cut out to prevent her being crushed to death
by her too enthusiastic admirers. The sum collected
amounted to something like twenty thousand francs, an
immense sum having regard to the state of people's
fortunes at this period.

On December lo, 1797, the Directory gave a fete in
honour of Bonaparte, who had just returned from his
victorious Italian campaign. It was held in the great
court of the Luxembourg, where a statue of Liberty had
been erected, at the foot of which sat the five Directors,



habited in Roman costume, with short togas and bare legs,
a garb which they must have found somewhat trying on a
cold winter's day. The ministers, ambassadors, and public
functionaries occupied benches placed in the form of an
amphitheatre, and behind them were the reserved seats for
the invited guests, amongst whom were Madame Recamier
and her mother. All the front windows of the building,
the court, the garden, and the adjacent streets were
thronged with people.

Talleyrand, who was Minister for Foreign Affairs, read
to the future Emperor an address of congratulation, and
Bonaparte replied in a characteristic speech, brief and
forcible, which was, of course, loudly acclaimed. Madame
Recamier, who could not from where she sat distinguish
the features of the hero of the occasion, took advantage
of the moment when Barras was replying to the general
to rise from her seat in order to obtain a better view
of him. The crowd, who had hitherto had no eyes for
any one but Bonaparte, immediately turned to admire the
beauty of the day, and a low murmur of admiration ran
round the court. This sound did not escape Bonaparte,
who glanced about him to see who it was who could
possibly be diverting attention from himself ; and when
he perceived a young woman, dressed in white, standing
on a bench, he bent upon her one of his terrible frowns,
and the careless young beauty sat down crimson with
confusion. Thus, at the very outset of her career,
Madame Recamier had the satisfaction of rivalling the
conqueror of Europe himself in popular admiration.

In the summer of 1796, Jacques Recamier rented a
furnished chateau at Clichy, where he established his young
wife and her mother. He himself remained in Paris, but
drove out every day to Clichy to dinner. The chateau



was large and beautifully situated in a wooded park which
sloped down to the banks of the Seine, and here the
Recamiers kept open house, and every Sunday gave a large
dinner party to their more intimate friends.

Madame Recamier mingled but little in the very mixed
society of the Directory. She was, however, present, in
the spring of 1799, at a reception at the Luxembourg
given by^Barras, who since the affair of the i8th Fructidor
had been practically dictator of France, at which her host
paid her marked attention, and the poet Despaze, who
was among the guests, improvised a quatrain in her

Madame Recamier took advantage of the favourable
impression she had created to intercede with the Director
on behalf of a poor priest, whose release she desired to
obtain ; and Barras, who never could refuse anything
to a pretty woman despite the poor opinion which he
professed to entertain for the sex, granted her request.
Poverty and misfortune always had for Madame Recamier
the same attractions which wealth and prosperity have for
the ordinary run of mortals, and this was only one of
many instances in which she used the influence which her
beauty and popularity gave her to promote the happiness
of her less favoured fellow-creatures.

As Jacques Recamier's fortune and the fame of his
wife's beauty increased, he found his town house in the
Rue du Mail too small for his requirements, and hearing
that Necker, with whom he had long had business relations,
was desirous of selling his hotel in the Rue du Mont
Blanc (now the Chaussee d'Antin), he" entered into nego-
tiations for its purchase. It was this transaction which
was the means of bringing Madame Recamier and Necker's
famous daughter, Madame de Stael, together, and was



the beginning of a friendship which lasted until the death
of the brilliant authoress of Corinne and De U Allemagne ^
who seems to have been completely fascinated by the fresh
young beauty whose attractions were so different to her
own. Madame Recamier has left us an interesting account
of this first meeting, which took place at the Recamiers'
chateau at Clichy.

" One day, and that marks an epoch in my life," she
says, " M. Recamier arrived at Clichy with a lady whom
he did not introduce by name, and whom he left alone
with me in the salon, while he went to join some people
who were in the park. This lady came about the sale of
a house. Her costume was peculiar ; she wore a morning
gown and a little dress hat trimmed with flowers. I took
her for a foreigner. I was struck with the beauty of her
eyes and her expression. I was unable to analyse my
feelings, but I am sure that I was thinking more of finding
out, or rather guessing, who she was than of addressing to
her the usual commonplaces, when she said to me, with
an air at once charming and impressive, that ' she was
truly delighted to make my acquaintance ; that her father
M. Necker ' — at these words I recognised Madame de
Stael. I did not hear the rest of her sentence. I blushed
and was extremely embarrassed. I had just been reading
her Lettres sur Rousseau, in the perusal of which I was
intensely interested. My looks were more expressive
than my words ; she both awed and attracted me. I was
conscious at once of her genuineness and her superiority.
She, on her side, fixed her splendid eyes upon me, but
with a friendly scrutiny, and paid me some compliments
on my appearance that would have been too exaggerated
and direct had they not seemed to escape her unconsciously,
thus giving to her praises an irresistible fascination. My



embarrassment did me no harm ; she understood it, and
expressed the hope of seeing a great deal of me on her
return to Paris, for she was on the point of starting for
Coppet. This interview was only a passing one, but it
left a deep impression upon me. I thought only of
Madame de Stael, so much did I feel the influence of that
strong and earnest personality." ^

The arrangements for the purchase of the hotel in the
Rue du Mont Blanc having been completed, Jacques
Recamier put it into the hands of Berthaut, the architect,
with directions to have it enlarged and furnished in the
Greek style, then so fashionable. Berthaut, who was
allowed carte blanche in the matter of expense, acquitted
himself with admirable taste, and, as since, the Revolution
luxury had almost disappeared, the house became one of
the sights of Paris. From all accounts, however, it would
seem to have been simplicity itself compared with the
prodigal magnificence of later years. Of this houst Mary
Berry, who was in Paris during the Peace of Amiens, gives
the following description :

" Went to the house of Madame Recamier. We were
resolved not to leave Paris without seeing what is called
the most elegant house in it, fitted up in the new style.
There are no large rooms nor a great many of them ; but
it is certainly fitted up with all the recherche and expense
possible in what is called le gout antique. But the
candelabra, pendules, &c., though exquisitely finished,
are in that sort of minute frittered style which I think so
much less noble than that of fifteen or twenty years ago.
All the chairs are mahogany, enriched with ormolu, and
covered either with cloth or silk ; those in the salon
trimmed with flat gold lace in good taste. Her bed is

^ Sauvenin, i. 24.


reckoned the most beautiful in Paris : it, too, is of
mahogany, enriched with ormolu and bronze, and raised
upon two steps of the same wood. Over the whole bed
was thrown a coverlid or veil of fine plain muslin, with
rows of narrow gold lace at each end, and the muslin
embroidered as a border. The curtains were muslin,
trimmed like the coverlid, suspended from a sort of carved
couronne des roses^ and tucked up in drapery upon the wall
against which the bed stood. At the foot of the bed stood
a fine Grecian lamp of ormolu, with a little figure of the
same metal bending over it, and at the head of the bed
another stand upon which was placed a large ornamental
flower-pot, containing a large artificial rose-tree, the
branches of which must nod very near her nose, in bed.
Out of this bedroom is a beautiful little salle-de-hain.
The walls are inlaid with satin-wood, and mahogany, and
slight arabesque patterns in black upon satin-wood. The
bath presents itself as a sofa in a recess, covered with
a cushion of scarlet cloth, embroidered and laced with
black. Beyond this again is a very little boudoir, lined
with quilted pea-green lustring, drawn together in a bunch
in the middle of the ceiling." ^

The winter which followed the coup d'etat of the i8th
Brumaire, in which the last remnants of the Republican
institutions were swept away, and the thin end of the
wedge of despotism firmly inserted i-n the Constitution, was
a very brilliant one in Paris. Balls, f^tes, receptions,
amusements of all kinds increased in number in proportion
to the growing indifi^erence of the people to liberty and
all the great objects for which so much of the best blood
in France had been shed. The Bonapartists, knowing full
well that when the public mind is wholly given up to

^ Miss Berry's ''Journal and Correspondence," i. 191.


pleasure it is but little disposed to concern itself with the
working of political institutions, did all in their power to
encourage the prevailing love of gaiety, and themselves
entertained in a style to which the Parisians had long been
strangers. It was in pursuance of this policy that Lucien
Bonaparte, who had lately been appointed Minister of the
Interior, gave a grand fete in honour of the First Consul, to
which Jacques Recamier and his young wife were invited.
It was here that Madame Recamier met, for the first and
only time in her life, the man who was to exercise so
sinister an influence on her own fortunes and those of her

On this occasion Madame Recamier wore a white satin
gown, with a necklace and bracelets of pearls. She always
had, it appears, a very decided preference for white, and
wore it at all seasons, varying only its material, shape, and
trimmings. In like manner, she preferred pearls, of which
she possessed some splendid specimens, to all other jewels,
and even in the time of her husband's greatest prosperity
never wore diamonds. Perhaps, as Madame Lenormant
observes, she experienced a certain feminine satisfaction in
surrounding herself with objects whose dazzling whiteness
was eclipsed by the brilliancy of her own complexion.

Soon after her arrival, and while she was talking with
her hostess, Madame Bacciochi, who, owing to the indis-
position of Lucien's wife, was doing the honours, she
noticed a gentleman standing by the fireplace in the salon.
In the dim light she took him for Joseph Bonaparte,
whom she had frequently met at the house of their
common friend, Madame de Stael, and bowed pleasantly
to him. Her greeting was returned, but with a faint
expression of surprise, and, the next moment, she was
conscious of her mistake, and that she had been bowing to

17 B


the First Consul. Her impression of him was very
different from the one which she had received at the
Luxembourg two years before ; and she was struck with
the simphcity of his manners and his pleasant expression.
Presently Napoleon beckoned Fouche to his side, and said
a few words to him, looking at Madame Recamier mean-
while, and making it evident that he was talking about
her. Shortly afterwards Fouche came behind her chair,
and whispered, " The First Consul thinks you charming."

Madame Recamier would have been more than human
if she had not felt a thrill of gratification at receiving this
tribute to her charms from the man whose name was on
every one's lips, and a little incident which occurred later
in the evening still further disposed her to judge him

While he was talking to the flatterers who surrounded
him, he held the hand of Lucien's little daughter, a child
of four years old. He had unintentionally ignored her
presence until the child, tired of her captivity, began to
cry, whereupon Bonaparte exclaimed, in a tone of tender
regret, '■^ Ah, pauvre petite, \ had forgotten thee ! " More
than once in after years, Madame Recamier recalled this
excess of apparent kindheartedness, and contrasted it with
the harshness of his treatment of herself and others.

When dinner was announced. Napoleon rose, and led
the way into the dining-room without offering his arm to
any lady. The guests followed, and seated themselves
almost without regard to order. Bonaparte himself sat at
the middle of the table, with his mother, Madame Letitia
(" Madame Mere," as she was afterwards called), on his
right. On his left a place remained vacant, which no one
presumed to occupy. Madame Recamier, to whom her
hostess, as they were passing into the dining-room, had



said a few words the meaning of which she had failed to
grasp, took a seat on the same side of the table as the First
Consul, but at some distance from him. Napoleon then
turned angrily towards the persons still standing, and said
brusquely to Garat, the famous singer, pointing to the
vacant place at his side, " Come, Garat, sit down there ! "
At the same moment,Cambaceres, the Second Consul, seated
himself next to Madame Recamier, whereupon Napoleon
remarked, loud enough to be heard by every one in the
room, " Ha ! ha ! Citizen Consul, next to the prettiest."

Dinner was soon over. Bonaparte ate very little and very
fast; and at the end of half an hour rose from the table and
left the room. Most of the guests rose too, and, in the com-
motion which ensued, he came up to Madame Recamier,
and asked : " Why did you not sit next to me at dinner ?'*

" I should not have presumed to do so," she replied.

" It was your place," rejoined Bonaparte.

" That was what I said to you before dinner," added
Madame Bacciochi, who was standing by.

A move was presently made for the music-room, where
the ladies formed a circle facing the performers, while the
men stood behind them. Bonaparte sat near the piano in
solitary state. Garat sang, with admirable expression, a
passage from Gluck, which was loudly applauded. After
this several artistes played. Bonaparte, however, did not
care for instrumental music, and after a piece played by
Jadin, his patience was exhausted, and he began to thump
the piano, calling out " Garat ! Garat ! " This summons
could not but be obeyed, and Garat sang a song from
Orpheus, and surpassed himself.

Madame Recamier, who was devoted to music, was so
fascinated by Garat' s wonderful singing that she paid but
little attention to the crowd which thronged the rooms.



Whenever she raised her eyes, however, she found those
of Bonaparte fixed upon her with a persistency which
ended by making her decidedly uncomfortable. When
the concert was over he approached her, and remarked,
*' You are very fond of music, madame." He seemed
disposed to continue the conversation, but Lucien coming
up, Napoleon moved away, and Madame R6camier returned
home. This meeting was not without important con-
sequences to our heroine, as will presently be related.

Lucien Bonaparte, who thus interrupted what might
have proved a very interesting conversation, was at this
time four-and-twenty, taller and altogether of finer
physique than his brother, whom he resembled in appear-
ance, though his features were not so strongly marked as
those of Napoleon. Lucien was, of course, quite over-
shadowed by the fame of the First Consul, but he was,
nevertheless, for his years, an exceptionally able man :
indeed, the Revolution, the mother of so many precocious
statesmen, produced none more brilliant than the second
brother of Napoleon. An eloquent and powerful speaker,
with an indomitable resolution which refused to yield a
single inch to popular clamour, he rapidly made his mark
in the Council of Five Hundred, to which he had been
elected in 1798, and in the following year, a few weeks
before the coup d'dtat of the i8th Brumaire, he became its
President. On that eventful day, when the timidity of
Sieyes and the ill-timed interference of Napoleon threat-
ened to ruin all the plans of the conspirators, it was Lucien
who stepped into the breach, and, by his coolness, prompti-
tude, and courage, saved the Bonapartists from inevitable

A cynic has observed that however wisely and prudently



a man may behave in the ordinary affairs of life, in
diplomacy, in finance, or in politics, in affairs of the heart
he is just as prone to make himself supremely ridiculous
as the most brainless of his sex ; and Lucien Bonaparte's
relations with Madame Recamier afford a remarkable
illustration of the truth of this axiom. He had met her
for the first time, some months before, at a dinner party
given by M. Sapey at Bagatelle, and had at once fallen
desperately in love with her. Unfortunately for the
object of his passion, he made not the least attempt to
disguise the state of his feelings, which in consequence
speedily became the talk of Paris.

Lucien opened the siege of Madame Recamier's heart
with a bombardment of billets-doux, couched in the most
grandiloquent language, in which the writer assumed the
name of Romeo, presumably because hers was Juliette.
Of these romantic epistles, the following will serve as a
specimen :

" By the Author of the Indian Tribe
*•* Without love life is one long slumber'

" What, more love letters ! ! ! Since those of St. Preux
and Heloi'se, how many have appeared ! . , . how many
painters have striven to copy that inimitable masterpiece.
It is the Venus de Medicis, which a thousand artists have
essayed in vain to equal.

" These letters are not the fruit of long labour, and I do
not dedicate them to immortality. They are not the
offspring of eloquence or of genius, but of the most
sincere passion. They are not written for the public, but
for a beloved woman. They reveal my heart : it is a
faithful glass, wherein to behold myself is a never-ending



delight. My letters express my feelings, and in giving
expression to those feelings I am happy. May these letters
interest her for whom I write. May she hearken to my
entreaties. May she, with pleasure, recognise herself in
the portrait of Juliette, and think of Romeo with that
delicious agitation which proclaims the dawn of love."

First Letter of Romeo to Juliette.

" Romeo writes to you, Juliette. If you refuse to read it
you will be more cruel than our parents, whose long
quarrels have just been settled. Doubtless these dreadful
quarrels will not be renewed.

" A few days ago I knew you only by reputation. I had
seen you sometimes at churches and fetes. I knew that
you were the most beautiful of women. A thousand
tongues repeated your praises, but these praises and your
charms had struck without dazzling me. Why has peace
delivered me into your power } Peace ... it now exists
between our families, but trouble reigns in my heart.

" 1 have seen you again ! Love seemed to smile upon
me. Seated on a round bench I spoke with you alone. I
thought I heard a sigh escape from your bosom. Vain
illusion ! Convinced of my mistake, I beheld indifference
with a tranquil brow seated between us. The passion
which masters me is expressed in my speech, but yours
bears the kind and cruel impress of raillery.

" O Juliette ! Life without love is only one long
slumber. The most beautiful of women ought to be
compassionate : happy the man who will become the friend
of your heart ! "

Poor Romeo must have felt extremely foolish when his


Juliette handed him back his first love-letter, in the
presence of a number of common friends, praising the
talents of the writer, but advising him not to waste in
works of imagination the time which he might more
profitably devote to politics.^ However, he was not the
man to be discouraged by the want of success which had
attended his romantic epistles ; and so, abandoning his
nom-de-guerre^ he wrote Madame Recamier letters the
purport of which she could not pretend to misunderstand.
These she showed to her husband, and proposed to forbid
Lucien the house. But Recamier represented to her that
to quarrel openly with the brother of the First Consul
would undoubtedly compromise him, and, perhaps,
jeopardise his business, and advised her not to repulse
Romeo too harshly. So, for her husband's sake, she bore,
with more or less patience, the importunities of the
infatuated young man, meeting his most impassioned
declarations with peals of merry laughter, but was, never-
theless, greatly relieved when, tired of so unsuccessful
a pursuit, his ardour cooled, and at length, becoming
conscious of the ridiculous part he was playing, he left her
in peace. Some months later, he sent his friend M. Sapey
to ask Madame Recamier to return his letters ; but the
lady very wisely refused to give them up in spite of
entreaties and even threats ; and Madame Lenormant
tells us that she, in her turn, preserved them " as indisput-
able proofs of her (Madame Recamier's) virtue." ^

^ Some little time after this, at the beginning of the Peace of Amiens,
Lucien retaliated rather neatly on Madame Recamier for thus turning
him into ridicule. At a supper given by Ouvrard, the financier, he
raised his glass to toast the most beautiful of women. When all eyes
were turned towards Madame Recamier, undeterred by her embarrass-
ment, he exclaimed : " Eh, bien, messieurs, c'est la Paix."

* Souvenir Sy i. 34.




Popularity of Madame Recamier's receptions — Her friends —
Adrian de Montmorency — Mathieu de Montmorency — His
early career — His conversion — His unselfish affection for
Madame Recamier — His letters — La Harpe — Madame
Recamier's kindness to him — His unfortunate marriage —
Practical joke played upon him at Clichy — Madame Re-
camier sits to David for her portrait — And to Gerard —
Amusing incident during the sittings — Madame Recamier's
father becomes Postmaster-General — He intrigues with the
Royalists, and is arrested — An interrupted dinner-party —
Bernadotte intercedes with the First Consul — Madame
Recamier's adventure in the Temple — A friend in need —
Her father is released

Jacques Recamier's position as a wealthy banker gave
him in those days a position which he, of course, could
not have occupied under the old regime^ and his wife's
renown as a beauty, and the fact that her salon was
regarded as a sort of neutral ground, where all parties
might meet, added to the popularity of her receptions,
and their hotel in the Rue du Mont Blanc became the
rendezvous for all that was most distinguished in social,
political, and literary circles. There the Due de Guignes,
Adrien and Mathieu de Montmorency, Christian de
Lemoignon, Louis de Narbonne, La Harpe, Madame de
Stael, and others of the returned exiles rubbed shoulders
with Barere and Fouche, the Terrorists ; Murat, Massena,



and Moreau, and the generals of the late war ; Lucien and
Joseph Bonaparte and their sisters ; and Eugene and
Hortense Beauharnais ; while many distinguished foreigners
came to pay homage to the most charming hostess in

With the two Montmorencies Madame Rdcamier was

Online LibraryH. Noel (Hugh Noel) WilliamsMadame Récamier and her friends → online text (page 2 of 26)