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The history of Madame Roland embraces the
most interesting events of the French Revolu-
tion, that most instructive tragedy which time
has yet enacted. There is, perhaps, contained
in the memoirs of no other woman so much to
invigorate the mind with the desire for high
intellectual culture, and so much to animate
the spirit heroically to meet all the ills of this
eventful life. Notwithstanding her experience
of the heaviest temporal calamities, she found,
in the opulence of her own intellectual treas-
ures, an unfailing resource. These inward joys
peopled her solitude with society, and dispelled
even from the dungeon its gloom. I know not
where to look for a career more full of suggest-
ive thought.


Chapter Page















madame roland Frontispiece.









Chapter I.

Characters developed by the French Revolution. Madame Roland.

~\ TANY characters of unusual grandeur were
^*J- developed by the French Revolution.
Among them all, there are few more illustri-
ous, or more worthy of notice, than that of Ma-
dame Roland. The eventful story of her life
contains much to inspire the mind with admi-
ration and with enthusiasm, and to stimulate
one to live worthily of those capabilities with
which every human heart is endowed. No per-
son can read the record of her lofty spirit and
of her heroic acts without a higher appreciation
of woman's power, and of the mighty influence
one may wield, who combines the charms of a
noble and highly-cultivated mind with the fas-
cinations of female delicacy and loveliness. To
understand the secret of the almost miraculous
influence she exerted, it is necessary to trace
her career, with some degree of minuteness,

14 iVL ADAM E R ULAN I). [1754

Gratien Phlippon. His repmings at his lot

from the cradle to the hour of her sublime and
heroic death.

In the year 1754, there was living, in an ob-
scure workshop in Paris, on the crowded Quai
des Orfevres, an engraver by the name of Gra-
tien Phlippon. He had married a very beau-
tiful woman, whose placid temperament and
cheerful content contrasted strikingly with the
restlessness and ceaseless repinings of her hus-
band. The comfortable yet humble apartments
of the engraver were over the shop where he
plied his daily toil. He was much dissatisfied
with his lowly condition in life, and that his
family, in the enjoyment of frugal competence
alone, were debarred from those luxuries which
were so profusely showered upon others. Bit-
terly and unceasingly he murmured that his lot
had been cast in the ranks of obscurity and of
unsparing labor, while others, by a more fortu-
nate, although no better merited destiny, were
born to ease and affluence, and honor and lux-
ury. This thought of the unjust inequality in
man's condition, which soon broke forth with
all the volcanic energy of the French Revolu-
tion, already began to ferment in the bosoms of
the laboring classes, and no one pondered these
wide diversities with a more restless spirit, or

17-54.] Childhood. lo

ViewB of Phlippou. His hostility to the Church.

murmured more loudly and more incessantly
than Phlippon. When the day's toil was end-
ed, he loved to gather around him associates
whose feelings harmonized with his own, and
to descant upon their own grievous oppression,
and upon the arrogance of aristocratic great-
ness. With an eloquence which often deeply
moved his sympathizing auditory, and fanned to
greater intensity the fires which were consum-
ing his own heart, he contrasted their doom of
sleepless labor and of comparative penury with
the brilliance of the courtly throng, living in
idle luxury, and squandering millions in the
amusements at Versailles, and sweeping in
charioted splendor through the Champs Elysee.
Phlippon was a philosopher, not a Christian.
Submission was a virtue he had never learned,
and never wished to learn. Christianity, as he
saw it developed before him only in the power-
ful enginery of the Roman Catholic Church,
was, in his view, but a formidable barrier
against the liberty and the elevation of the peo-
ple — a bulwark, bristling with superstition and
bayonets, behind which nobles and kings were
securely intrenched. He consequently became
as hostile to the doctrines of the Church as he
was to the institutions of the state. The mon-

16 Madame Roland. [1754.

Origin of the French Revolution. Character of Madame Phlippon.

arch was, in his eye, a tyrant, and God a delu-
sion. The enfranchisement of the people, in his
judgment, required the overthrow of both the
earthly and the celestial monarch. In these
ideas, agitating the heart of Phlippon, behold
the origin of the French Revolution. They
were diffused in pamphlets and daily papers in
theaters and cafes. They were urged by work-
men in their shops, by students in their closets.
They became the inspiring spirit of science in
encyclopedias and reviews, and formed the cho-
rus in all the songs of revelry and libertinism.
These sentiments spread from heart to heart,
through Paris, through the provinces, till France
rose like a demon in its wrath, and the very
globe trembled beneath its gigantic and indig-
nant tread.

Madame Phlippon was just the reverse of her
husband. She was a woman in whom faith,
and trust, and submission predominated. She
surrendered her will, without questioning, to all
the teachings of the Church of Rome. She was
placid, contented, and cheerful, and, though un-
inquiring in her devotion, undoubtedly sincere
in her piety. In every event of life she recog-
nized the overruling hand of Providence, and
feeling that the comparatively humble lot as-

1754.] Childhood. 17

Birth of Jane Maria. Adored by her parents.

signed her was in accordance with the will of
God, she indulged in no repinings, and envied
not the more brilliant destiny of lords and la-
dies. An industrious housewife, she hummed
the hymns of contentment and peace from morn-
ing till evening. In the cheerful performance
of her daily toil, she was ever pouring the balm
of her peaceful spirit upon the restless heart of
her spouse. Phlippon loved his wife, and often
felt the superiority of her Christian tempera-

Of eight children born to these parents, one
only, Jeanne Manon, or Jane Mary, survived
the hour of birth. Her father first received her
to his arms in 1754, and she became the object
of his painful and most passionate adoration.
Her mother pressed the coveted treasure to her
bosom with maternal love, more calm, and deep,
and enduring. And now Jane became the cen-
tral star in this domestic system. Both parents
lived in her and for her. She was their earth-
ly all. The mother wished to train her for the
Church and for heaven, that she might become
an angel and dwell by the throne of God.
These bright hopes gilded a prayerful mother's
hours of toil and care. The father bitterly re-
pined. Why should his bright and beautiful


18 Madame Roland. [1755.

Discontent of Phlippon. His complainings to his child.

child — who even in these her infantile years
was giving indication of the most brilliant in-
tellect — why should she be doomed to a life of
obscurity and toil, while the garden of the Tuil-
eries and the Elysian Fields were thronged
with children, neither so beautiful nor so intel-
ligent, who were reveling in boundless wealth,
and living in a world of luxury and splendor
which, to Phlippon's imagination, seemed more
alluring than any idea he could form of heaven ?
These thoughts were a consuming fire in the
bosom of the ambitious father. They burned
with inextinguishable flame.

The fond parent made the sprightly and fas-
cinating child his daily companion. He led her
by the hand, and confided to her infantile spirit
all his thoughts, his illusions, his day-dreams.
To her listening ear he told the story of the ar-
rogance of nobles, of the pride of kings, and of
the oppression by which he deemed himself un-
justly doomed to a life of penury and toil. The
light-hearted child was often weary of these
complainings, and turned for relief to the pla-
cidity and cheerfulness of her mother's mind.
Here she found repose — a soothing, calm, and
holy submission. Still the gloom of her father's
spirit cast a pensive shade over her own feel-

1755.] Childhood. 19

Early traits of character. Love of books.

ings, and infused a tone of melancholy and an
air of unnatural reflection into her character.
By nature, Jane was endowed with a soul of
unusual delicacy. From early childhood, all
that is beautiful or sublime in nature, in litera-
ture, in character, had charms to rivet her en-
tranced attention. She loved to sit alone at
her chamber window in the evening of a sum-
mer's day, to gaze upon the gorgeous hues of
sunset. As her imagination roved through
those portals of a brighter world, which seemed
thus, through far-reaching vistas of glory, to be
opened to her, she peopled the sun-lit expanse
with the creations of her own fancy, and often
wept in uncontrollable emotion through the in-
fluence of these gathering thoughts. Books
of impassioned poetry, and descriptions of he-
roic character and achievements, were her es-
pecial delight. Plutarch's Lives, that book
which, more than any other, appears to be the
incentive of early genius, was hid beneath her
pillow, and read and re-read with tireless avid-
ity. Those illustrious heroes of antiquity be-
came the companions of her solitude and of her
hourly thoughts. She adored them and loved
them as her own most intimate personal friends.
Her character became insensibly molded to

20 Madame Roland. [1757.

Jane's thirst for reading. Her lore of flowers.

their forms, and sne was inspired with restless
enthusiasm to imitate their deeds. When but
twelve years of age, her father found her, one
day, weeping that she was not born a Roman
maiden. Little did she then imagine that, by
talent, by suffering, and by heroism, she was
to display a character the history of which
would eclipse the proudest narratives in Greek
or Roman story.

Jane appears never to have known the frivol-
ity and thoughtlessness of childhood. Before
she had entered the fourth year of her age she
knew how to read. From that time her thirst
for reading was so great, that her parents found
no little difficulty in furnishing her with a suf-
ficient supply. She not only read with eager-
ness every book which met her eye, but pur-
sued this uninterrupted miscellaneous reading
to singular advantage, treasuring up all import-
ant facts in her retentive memory. So entire-
ly absorbed was she in her books, that the only
successful mode of withdrawing her from them
was by offering her flowers, of which she was
passionately fond. Books and flowers contin-
ued, through all the vicissitudes of her life, even
till the hour of her death, to afford her the most
exquisite pleasure. She had no playmates, and

1760.] Childhood. 21

Jane's personal appearance. Thirst for knowledge.

thought no more of play than did her father and
mother, who were her only and her constant
companions. From infancy she was accustom-
ed to the thoughts and the emotions of mature
minds. In personal appearance she was, in ear-
liest childhood and through life, peculiarly in-
teresting rather than beautiful. As mature
years perfected her features and her form, there
was in the contour of her graceful figure, and
her intellectual countenance, that air of thought-
fulness, of pensiveness, of glowing tenderness
and delicacy, which gave her a power of fasci-
nation over all hearts. She sought not this
power ; she thought not of it ; but an almost
resistless attraction and persuasion accompa-
nied all her words and actions.

It was, perhaps, the absence of playmates,
and the habitual converse with mature minds,
which, at so early an age, inspired Jane with
that insatiate thirst for knowledge which she
ever manifested. Books were her only resource
in every unoccupied hour. From her walks
with her father, and her domestic employments
with her mother, she turned to her little library
and to her chamber window, and lost herself in
the limitless realms of thought. It is often im-
agined that character is the result of accident

22 Madame Roland. [1760.

Intellectual gifts. A walk on the Boulevards.

— that there is a native and inherent tendency,
which triumphs over circumstances, and works
out its own results. Without denving that
there may be different intellectual gifts with
which the soul may be endowed as it comes
from the hand of the Creator, it surely is not
difficult to perceive that the peculiar framing
through which the childhood of Jane was con-
ducted was calculated to form the peculiar char-
acter which she developed.

In a bright summer's afternoon she might be
seen sauntering along the Boulevards, led by
her father's hand, gazing upon that scene of
gayety with which the eye is never wearied.
A gilded coach, drawn by the most beautiful
horses in the richest trappings, sweeps along
the streets — a gorgeous vision. Servants in
showy livery, and out-riders proudly mounted,
invest the spectacle with a degree of grandeur,
beneath which the imagination of a child sinks


exhausted. Phlippon takes his little daughter
in his arms to show her the sight, and, as she
gazes in infantile wonder and delight, the dis-
contented father says, "Look at that lord, and
lady, and child, lolling so voluptuously in their
coach. They have no right there. Why must
I and my child walk on this hot pavement,

1762.] Childhood. 23

Phlippon's talk to his child. Youthful dreams.

while they repose on velvet cushions and revel
in all luxury ? Oppressive laws compel me to
pay a portion of my hard earnings to support
them in their pride and indolence. But a time
will come when the people will awake to the
consciousness of their wrongs, and their tyrants
will tremble before them." He continues his
walk in moody silence, brooding over his sense
of injustice. They return to their home. Jane
wishes that her father kept a carriage, and liv-
eried servants and out-riders. She thinks of
politics, and of the tyranny of kings and nobles,
and of the unjust inequalities of man. She re-
tires to the solitude of her loved chamber win-
dow, and reads of Aristides the Just, of The-
mistocles with his Spartan virtues, of Brutus,
and of the mother of the Gracchi. Greece and
Rome rise before her in all their ancient re-
nown. She despises the frivolity of Paris, the
effeminacy of the moderns, and her youthful
bosom throbs with the desire of being noble in
spirit and of achieving great exploits. Thus,
when other children of her age were playing
with their dolls, she was dreaming of the pros-
tration of nobles and of the overthrow of thrones
— of liberty, and fraternity, and equality among

24 Madame Roland. [1762.

Influence of Jane's parents over her. Education in convents.

mankind. Strange dreams for a child, but still
more strange in their fulfillment.

The infidelity of her father and the piety of
her mother contended, like counter currents of
the ocean, in her bosom. Her active intellect
and love of freedom sympathized with the spec-
ulations of the so-called philosopher. Her ami-
able and affectionate disposition and her pensive
meditations led her to seek repose in the sub-
lime conceptions and in the soul-soothing con-
solations of the Christian. Her parents were
deeply interested in her education, and were
desirous of giving her every advantage for se-
curing the highest attainments. The educa-
tion of young ladies, at that time, in France,
was conducted almost exclusively by nuns in
convents. The idea of the silence and solitude
of the cloister inspired the highly-imaginative
girl with a blaze of enthusiasm. Fondly as she
loved her home, she was impatient for the hour
to arrive when, with heroic self-sacrifice, she
could withdraw from the world and its pleas-
ures, and devote her whole soul to devotion, to
meditation, and to study. Her mother's spirit
of religion was exerting a powerful influence
over her, and one evening she fell at her feet,
and, bursting into tears, besought that she

1764.] Childhood. 25

Jane sent to a convent. Parting with her mother.

might be sent to a convent to prepare to receive
her first Christian communion in a suitable
frame of mind.

The convent of the sisterhood of the Congre-
gation in Paris was selected for Jane. In the
review of her life which she subsequently wrote
while immured in the dungeons of the Concier-
gerie, she says, in relation to this event, "While
pressing my dear mother in my arms, at the
moment of parting with her for the first time
in my life, I thought my heart would have bro-
ken ; but I was acting in obedience to the voice
of God, and I passed the threshold of the clois-
ter, tearfully offering up to him the greatest
sacrifice I was capable of making. This was
on the 7th of May, 1765, when I was eleven
years and two months old. In the gloom of a
prison, in the midst of political storms which
ravage my country, and sweep away all that is
dear to me, how shall I recall to my mind, and
how describe the rapture and tranquillity I en-
joyed at this period of my life ? What lively
colors can express the soft emotions of a young
heart endued with tenderness and sensibility,
greedy of happiness, beginning to be alive to
the beauties- of nature, and perceiving the Deity
alone ? The first night I spent in the convent

26 Madame Roland. [17oo.

Madame Roland's account of her first nigbt in the convent.

was a night of agitation. I was no longer un-
der the paternal roof. I was at a distance from
that kind mother, who was doubtless thinking
of me with affectionate emotion. A dim light
diffused itself through the room in which I had
been put to bed with four children of my own
age. I stole softly from my couch, and drew
near the window, the light of the moon enabling
me to distinguish the garden, which it over-
looked. The deepest silence prevailed around,
and I listened to it, if I may use the expression,
with a sort of respect. Lofty trees cast their
gigantic shadows along the ground, and prom-
ised a secure asylum to peaceful meditation.
I lifted up my eyes to the heavens ; they were
unclouded and serene. I imagined that I felt
the presence of the Deity smiling upon my sac-
rifice, and already offering me a reward in the
consolatory hope of a celestial abode. Tears of
delight flowed down my cheeks. I repeated my
vows with holy ecstasy, and went to bed again
to taste the slumber of God's chosen children."
Her thirst for knowledge was insatiate, and
with untiring assiduity she pursued her stud-
ies. Every hour of the day had its appropriate
employment, and time flew upon its swiftest
wings. Every book which fell in her way she

1765.] Childhood. 27

Jane's books of study. Her proficiency in music and drawing.

eagerly perused, and treasured its knowledge or
its literary beauties in her memory. Heraldry
and books of romance, lives of the saints and
fairy legends, biography, travels, history, polit-
ical philosophy, poetry, and treatises upon mor-
als, were all read and meditated upon by this
young child. She had no taste for any childish
amusements ; and in the hours of recreation,
when the mirthful girls around her were forget-
ting study and care in those games appropriate
to their years, she would walk alone in the gar-
den, admiring the flowers, and gazing upon the
fleecy clouds in the sky. In all the beauties of
nature her eye ever recognized the hand of God,
and she ever took pleasure in those sublime
thoughts of infinity and eternity which must
engross every noble mind. Her teachers had
but little to do. Whatever study she engaged
in was pursued with such spontaneous zeal,
that success had crowned her efforts before oth-
ers had hardly made a beginning.

In music and drawing she made great profi-
ciency. She was even more fond of all that is
beautiful and graceful in the accomplishments
of a highly-cultivated mind, than in those more
solid studies which she nevertheless pursued
with so much energy and interest.

28 Madame Roland. [1766.

Scenes in the convent. Impressions made by them.

The scenes which she witnessed in the con-
vent were peculiarly calculated to produce an
indelible impression upon a mind so imagina-
tive. The chapel for prayer, with its somber
twilight and its dimly-burning tapers ; the dirg-
es which the organ breathed upon the trembling
ear ; the imposing pageant of prayer and praise,
with the blended costumes of monks and hood-
ed nuns ; the knell which tolled the requiem of
a departed sister, as, in the gloom of night and
by the light of torches, she was conveyed to her
burial — all these concomitants of that system
of pageantry, arranged so skillfully to impress
the senses of the young and the imaginative,
fanned to the highest elevation the flames of
that poetic temperament she so eminently pos-

God thus became in Jane's mind a vision of
poetic beauty. Religion was the inspiration of
enthusiasm and of sentiment. The worship of
the Deity was blended with all that was enno-
bling and beautiful. Moved by these glowing
fancies, her susceptible spirit, in these tender
years, turned away from atheism, from infidel-
ity, from irreligion, as from that which was un-
refined, revolting, vulgar. The consciousness
of the presence of God, the adoration of his be-

1766.] Childhood. 29

Poetic enthusiasm. Taking the veil.

ing, became a passion of her soul. This state
of mind was poetry, not religion. It involved
no sense of the spirituality of the Divine Law,
no consciousness of unworthiness, no need of a
Savior. It was an emotion sublime and beau-
tiful, yet merely such an emotion as any one of
susceptible temperament might feel when stand-
ing in the Vale of Chamouni at midnight, or
when listening to the crash of thunder as the
tempest wrecks the sky, or when one gazes en-
tranced upon the fair face of nature in a mild
and lovely morning of June, when no cloud ap-
pears in the blue canopy above us, and no breeze
ruffles the leaves of the grove or the glassy sur-
face of the lake, and the songs of birds and the
perfume of flowers fill the air. Many mistake
the highly poetic enthusiasm which such scenes
excite for the spirit of piety.

While Jane was an inmate of the convent,
a very interesting young lady, from some dis-
appointment weary of the world, took the veil.
When one enters a convent with the intention
of becoming a nun, she first takes the white
veil, which is an expression of her intention,
and thus enters the grade of a novice. During
the period of her novitiate, which continues for
several months, she is exposed to the severest

30 Madame Roland. [1767.

Taking the black veil. Effect upon Jane.

discipline of vigils, and fastings, and solitude,
and prayer, that she may distinctly understand
the life of weariness and self-denial upon which
she has entered. If, unintimidated by these
hardships, she still persists in her determination,
she then takes the black veil, and utters her
solemn and irrevocable vows to bury herself in
the gloom of the cloister, never again to emerge.
From this step there is no return. The throb-
bing heart, which neither cowls nor veils can

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Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Madame Roland → online text (page 1 of 16)