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to sustain. One of the learned visitors had raised a dis-
cussion respecting some ivory fossils which had been
found, I know not where, and referred continually to the
Princess, who was equally at a loss how to answer or where
to hide her head. At length a familiar face presented
itself to her notice ; her friend Millin was announced.

" So, " said he to the Princess, kissing her hand with
as much respect as if she had been the favourite sultana
— " so it is by a singular accident only that I have heard
of the scientific treasures and rare curiosities you have
received from your northern estates ! I, the most faith-
ful, the most devoted of your servants! Oh, Princess,
Princess ! "

She looked at him with amazement, but at length
obtained from him, rapidly and in an undertone, an
explanation of the whole mystery, and learned that, two
days before, the most distinguished Members ol the
Institute — the elect, in fact, from every section of the
most learned — had each received an invitation in his
own proper name to dine with her. A note appended to
the invitation informed him, moreover, that some most
curious objects of natural history had been sent to her
from her estates in Siberia, which she not only desired to
submit to the examination of the most scientific men in
France, but proposed to oifer to their acceptance.

Not another word was wanting to attract the attention
of the whole learned body. The division of one of M.
Demidoff's mines would not have tempted these minds
devoted to science and learning; but the possibility of
possessing a true' moonstone, the carcass, or even a rib
of a fossil elephant, had drawn these talented men from
their retreat. M. de Lac^pfede had missed the single
hour's sleep he allowed himself each day while engaged



A CLEVER HOAX. 63

on one of liis great works, in the hope of seeing some
skin, or some delicate bone which he might recognize as
the spoil of one of those superb serpents a hundred and
eighty feet in length which overran the world some
twenty-five thousand years ago,

Millin had not seen these invitations, for the authors
of the hoax had taken good care not to send them to the
acquaintances of the Princess, but he, having met M. de
Lalande at the Tuileries, had learned from him that there
was to be a scientific meeting at the Princess Dolgorouky 's,
together with its cause ; he wondered much that he had
been forgotten, but fortunately determined, nevertheless,
to make one of the party.

The result of this explanation by M. Millin was the
discovery that the Princess had been hoaxed, a matter of
serious concern to one who thought so much of the obser-
vations which might be made upon her, but she parried
it with all the show of indifference she could assume, and
followed the excellent advice of Millin, to retire for a
week or two into the country. Her friends had more wit
than to undertake the refutation of the story, one of the
most ill-judged proceedings imaginable, unless supported
by incontestable proofs.

The learned men implicated in the transaction, when
the true state of the case came to be whispered among
them, sneaked one by one out of the house, and restaura-
teurs being by no means so numerous as at present, they
found some difficulty in procuring a dinner at six o'clock
in the evening. Aware of the ridicule to which they
were exposed (and who so sensible to ridicule as such
men ?), they took care to be silent, and thus the matter
dropped, forgotten in ten days, as everything is at Paris
unless supported by a prolonged discussion; and this
adventure, which never gained much credence, was nearly
unknown, and entirely failed to effect the purpose of its



64 MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE D'ABRANTfeS.

contrivers. After awhile it was formally denied, but
was perfectly true nevertheless.

" The dignity of science was somewhat compromised, "
said old Eobert, who was as ready in conversation as at
his easel ; " this affair would have made a good subject
for the pencil, " and, in fact, the interior of the drawing-
room, with the perplexity of the hostess, and the dis-
mayed countenances of her guests when they found that
neither serpents, elephants, nor dinner were forthcoming,
would have made an amusing scene.

This Eobert was an excellent old man ; he had an affec-
tionate friendship for me, which I cordially returned.
He was a man of intelligence, had seen much, and re-
tained much, and his judgment being good, his conversa-
tion was extremely attractive. It was he who was the
hero of that adventure so famous in the annals of the
French Academy at Eome, and which has furnished
the text to M. Delille's fine poetical episode of the
Catacombs. ^

But how cold and colourless, how devoid of interest,
are those verses in comparison with the rapid and
animated narration I received from Eobert's own lips,
when, at seventy-nine years of age, sitting by my fire-
side, he related the peril he had run in studying the
frescoes in the Catacombs of St. Sebastian at Eome from
having lost the threads which guided him through the
intricacies of these prodigious vaults. ^ With what
simple, yet glowing, because heartfelt, eloquence did
this old man portray the hoiTors of the youth of twenty
creeping for two days in living agony, among the stones
from which he had been copying, in search of a ball of

1 In his poem entitled "L'Imagination."

2 Eobert is well known as a painter of ruins ; he found his hall of
twine only on the second day, wliich enabled him to trace his way out
of the Catacombs.



LOST IN THE CATACOMBS. 65

thread ! His remembrance of the mother he was to see
no more, of his country, and of that glorious futurity of
which the imagination of a youthful artist had dreamt,
and before which a leaden curtain was falling. Then
comes physical suffering, with its overwhelming force ;
he is hungry, he is in pain, in torture. But what words
can paint the delirium of his joy, when, by accidentally
dropping his hand upon a heap of bones, it feels his
guardian ball !

Soon after this adventure of the Catacombs he fell
again, and by his own fault, into a danger equally im-
minent, but less known. He was one day in St. Peter's,
after the hour of prayer, alone, contemplating in the
calmness of solitude the thousand wonders of the Chris-
tian giant. Suddenly he saw a cord descend from an
opening in the cupola : a workman approached it, fas-
tened to it a bucket full of water, and the cord was
drawn up again. He perceived that they were mending
the roof, and was seized with a desire to mount the
cupola.

" I was curious, " said he, " to see what harm had be-
fallen this Colossus of modern architecture, which, rear-
ing its head into the air, seems to deride the ruined
monuments which surround it, saying to them : ' / am
eternal ! ' Its pride seemed to me to be greatly abated,
for this cord, this bucket, this solitary workman, ap-
peared so insignificant; I was no longer afraid, but
determined to go up to discover what was the matter. "

He mounted accordingly, and, having reached the sum-
mit, was at first seized with admiration at sight of the
prospect which lay extended before him — a magnificent,
but living, panorama, illuminated by that sun to which
no other can compare, enveloping all Nature with that
veil of golden hue which floats only on the buildings, the
trees, the fields of Italy. Then, looking round nearer to

VOL. III. — 5



66 MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE D'ABRANTfeS.

him, he saw some masons and tilers repairing, as they
sang in their monotonous and nasal tones, some damage
the roof had sustained. For the greater facility of bring-
ing up the water, they had tied two long planks together,
fixed them across the opening in the dome, and from
them, by means of a cord and bucket, drew up the water ;
the two planks might be about two feet and a half in
width, and the whole apparatus being intended only to
support the bucket of water, no one concerned himself
about its strength.

Eyes of twenty years see danger only to laugh at and
brave it; it came into Eobert's head that the appearance
of St. Peter's, looking down upon it from above, must
be very extraordinary, and the fancy soon became an
ardent desire that Kobert felt compelled to satisfy, with-
out considering that the plank which he proposed to use
as a bridge crossed an aperture three hundred feet from
the ground. He set first one foot upon it, then the
other, and presently behold him on this frail pathway
without the possibility of turning back.

When Eobert related this history to me, at the
moment of his launching upon this plank, where my
imagination represented him suspended between the sky
and that marble which seemed destined to break his
head, I was seized with the same vertigo that threatened
him in his insane course ; we gathered round him, listen-
ing eagerly to his words, and following him step by step
on his aerial bridge.

" Having reached about a third part across I became
desirous," said he, " of enjoying the spectacle I had set
my mind upon, and cast my eyes downwards. Instantly
a singing whizzed in my ears, a cloud first of blackness,
then of fire, spread itself before my eyes. Fortunately
I had the presence of mind to stop. I cannot describe
what I felt at this moment in hearing close to me the



A FRIGHTFUL RISK. 67

most execrable imprecations murmured in an undertone
by the workmen. I reopened my eyes and determined
to walk on, for I was convinced that if I remained
another moment in my present situation I should die
even without falling. I felt that my rescue depended
upon myself, that my strength of mind alone could
save me. "

He advanced with a firm step along this narrow plank,
at the extremity of which he might recover a life at pres-
ent so uncertain, when he felt it crack under his feet !
he was now in the middle of the plank, and the weight
of his body so much exceeding that of the small bucket
of water, seemed necessarily about to break it down and
precipitate him to the marble floor. A young man, look-
ing on with affright, heard the crash, and exclaimed :
" The plank is split; the poor fellow must — " He did
not finish the sentence, for the master mason laid his
hand upon his mouth and pressed it violently. Mean-
while Eobert proceeded, and at length stepped upon a
solid footing. He looked behind him, saw the plank,
the gulf, the death he had escaped, and, throwing him-
self upon his knees, returned thanks to God.

" Oh, my friends, " said he to the workmen, " how
fortunate I have been ! " But, instead of sympathizing
in his joy, the workmen laid hold of him and beat him
so violently that he cried out for help. " You provoking
Frenchman, rascal, torment ! " bawled out the masons in
chorus, " you have frightened us out of our senses, " and
the blows continuing to pour upon his back, Eobert
thought he should go mad. " AVill you leave me alone ? "
cried he, half laughing and half angry. " Ouf, " said the
master mason, " I can scarcely breathe yet ! " " And
why," said Eobert, "did you shut that poor boy's
mouth ? " " By St. Peter ! would you have had me
let him cry on till he had made you lose what little
reason you had left ? "



68 MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE D'ABRANTiiS.

Eobert took the mason's hand and pressed it with real
and cordial friendship ; this rough frankness, expressing
such strong interest, however strange the mode of testi-
fying it, went straight to the heart, and affected it per-
haps more deeply than the most ceremonious expressions
of interest uttered by a man of the world. Eobert saw
this man frequently during his stay at Eome, and painted
two pictures for him, one of which was a sketch of this
event, which I believe has been engraved, but I am not
sure.



CHAPTER VIII.



I HAD received lessons in elocution from M. Laurent,
and had even had some lessons from Larive, when we
occasionally met him at Saint Mande, at the house of a
friend to whom he was related. But I had also had
a very different mistress, if I may apply the term to the
advice given on the subject of declamation to a young
girl not destined for the theatre.

M. Bruneti^re, who was my guardian, and fulfilled to
the utmost of his power the duties of the office, fre-
quently took me into the country in his cabriolet when
my fatiguing watchings in 1798 and 1799 were visibly
injuring my health. We were not absent on these occa-
sions more than an hour or two, yet even this my
mother thought long ; and so did I, because I could not
be easy unless I was beside her to see that the thousand-
and-one fancies, which as soon as formed became neces-
sary to her comfort, were complied with.

M. Bruneti^re one day said to me : "I am going to
take you to visit a very celebrated person ; but I shall
not tell you her name, you must guess it." Then, inclin-
ing towards my mother, he said some words to her in a
wliisper, addmg aloud : " Will you give me leave to take
her ? " " Most certainly I will, and gladly," she replied,
and added : " Loulou, look at her ; examine her closely,
and tell me what impression the person you are going to
see makes upon you."



70 MEMOIRS OF THE DUCIIESSE D'ABRANTJIS.

We set off about noon, on a lovely day of spring, to
take, as M. Bruneti^re called it, "A bath of air, to
refresh," said he, " that face of fifteen which is as pale
as the one I am going to show you." And in truth
I felt, as we passed through the Bois de Boulogne and
a part of the Park of Saint Cloud, that joy which the
breezes of spring never fail to inspire after a tedious con-
finement in close air. We entered the village of Sevres,
and turning to the left reached Issy, which was to be the
turning-point of our drive.

We stopped before what had been a handsome house,
but the dilapidated and neglected appearance of which
surprised me. I could not conceive how an aged woman
could take up her lodging in a house which looked so
desolate. The servant rang a long time without receiv-
ing any answer, except from seven or eight dogs, who
performed counter-tenor, bass, and baritone, in chorus,
under the leadership of a great mastiff in the courtyard,
who acquitted himself admirably in his office, barking
according to order.

An old woman at length appeared to let us in. The
extraordinary style of her dress arrested my whole atten-
tion ; it was so strange a mixture of old-fashioned French
with the Greek and Eoman costume, that all the laws of
politeness could scarcely restrain me from laughing at the
old femme-de-chamhre. Her apron trimmed with fes-
tooned muslin, and ornamented with ribbon at the
pockets, announced her quality of waiting-maid. On rec-
ognizing M. de Bruneti^re she uttered an exclamation of
joy : " You are come at last ! Oh, how pleased Made-
moiselle will be ! And Mademoiselle Alexandrina, too,
I suppose ? How much she is like you ! Dear young
lady, you have a worthy papa. And to think that we
have no fruit to offer the dear child ! "

During this monologue M. Brunetiere assisted me to



A CURIOUS HOUSEHOLD. 71

alight from the cabriolet, and we crossed a small court
amid the clamorous yelpings of the dogs, whom the old
woman beat with a switch, and M. de Brunetiere wished
heartily at the devil.

At length we reached the apartment of the mistress,
who proved to be a very old lady, notwithstanding the
title of Mademoiselle given her by her servant. She had
been a fine figure in her youth, and age had not yet
robbed her of a particle of height ; her hair, white, but
unpowdered, was drawn up behind in the Grecian style,
and formed in front a toupet, which showed a still noble
forehead, and a brow corresponding to all the expressions
of an eye calm but animated. The costume of this lady,
whose air imposed respect at first sight, was as extraor-
dinary as that of hox femmc-de-chamhre. She wore a sort
of muslin mantle, which did not hang as mantles usually
do, from the shoulders, but was folded round her in the
form of antique drapery. A robe below it was shorter
than the mantle; both were white, and bordered with
garlands of laurels.^

This lady, at once singular and attractive, was seated
in a large arm-chair well lined with pillows, with a bear-
skin under her feet, and a table covered with books before
her. A bust of Voltaire of great beauty stood upon it,
as did a portrait of Lekain ; many other busts and por-
traits were hung round the room, or attached by brackets
to the walls, which were barely covered by paper, drop-
ping to pieces from the effect of damp. The desolation
of the house seemed even more striking in this room,
surrounding with its misery an aged lady who had
evidently been accustomed to the indulgences of affluence.

On seeing M. Brunetifere, far from expressing the joy
her maid had promised, she bent her brow, compressed

1 These dresses were much in fashion about 1795, and were printed at
M. Oberkampf's manufactory at Joiiy.



72 MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE D'ABRANTES.

her lips in a manner I have never seen in any other per-
son, and exclaimed : " Ah ! ah ! Monsieur, here you are,
then, at last ! and where is your ambassador that he is
not come also? He would have judged for himself of
the condition of the asylum which is left to Electra and
to Semiramis." So saying, she raised her arm in a thea-
trical manner, pointing towards a part of the ceiling
through which the water was falling into the parlour,
though it was on the ground-floor. " So ! " she continued
with an accent impossible to describe, " M. le Baron de
Stael still fails in his word, his plighted oath ! And
why, sir, why do not you, who know what his engage-
ments to me are, obhge him to fulfil them ? for in fact,
sir, it even rains in my room."

I looked at and listened attentively to this woman, as
singular in her speech as in her costume, yet experienced
no inclination to laugh, nor the smallest idea of ridicul-
ing her. I even felt pain at hearing her complaints of
ill-usage. M. Bruneti^re, who was no way responsi-
ble for the condition of things, approached her, kissed
her hand with an air of deference which seemed to
soften her, and presenting me to her by name, said :
" Her mother is a Comnena." The old lady endeavoured
to stand up, but could not.

" Mademoiselle," said she, " I knew your father and
your uncle well ; they both did me the honour of visit-
ing me. I am rejoiced to see you. Permit me — "
and taking my hand, she kissed my forehead with a
solemnity which made M. de Brunetifere smile. I was
dying with impatience to know the name of this remark-
able person who, surrounded by evidences of poverty,
and herself giving the idea of the ruin of a superior
nature, inspired me with an indefinable species of
respect. My guardian at length took pity upon me.

" You see that Mademoiselle Clairon is surrounded by



MADEMOISELLE CLAIRON. 73

objects worthy of herself and her glorious recollections,"
said he, pointing to the busts of Voltaire and Lekain.

But my eye did not follow the direction of his hand ;
it fixed immediately upon the person whose name I had
just learned. Mademoiselle Clairou ! so famous, so admir-
able in the parts of Electra, Amenaide, Idamd, Semiramis !
the woman sung by Voltaire, praised by all Europe ! there
I saw her, almost eighty years of age, in a state bordering
on destitution, and apparently accusing as the author of
her misfortunes a man whose name should have been a
guarantee that talent in distress would have found pro-
tection from him.

I looked at her, and my eye probably expressed a part
of my thoughts ; for taking my hand with that of hers
which she was able to use (the other was paralytic), she
said to me, " Yes, my dear young lady, it is Clairon that
you see. I am the woman whom Voltaire thanked for
the success of his pieces ; I am the woman whom all
Europe came to hear pronounce the fine verses of that
immortal genius." And she bowed to the bust of
Voltaire. " My country," she added with a bitter smile,
" has been grateful and liberal in praises, and has given
me many laurels."

Again she pointed to the bust of Voltaire, and I ob-
served that it was surrounded by emblematic crowns,
numerous papers, and a thousand other trifles, all of which
Mademoiselle Clairon had probably received during her
long theatrical career. " I have offered to him," said the
actress, " all the fruits of my success ; it is to the master
that the pupil owes all her credit." And raising herself
in her chair, with theatrical dignity she recited an ode
addressed by Voltaire to herself, in which, reversing
Mademoiselle Clairon's observations, he thanked her for
the success of his works. " Bat he did not believe a
word of all that," she said, with a smile of intelligence ;



74 MEMOIRS OF THE DUCHESSE D'ABRANTfeS.

"and he was right." She possessed, nevertheless, a
degree of vanity of which it is difficult to form an idea.

My guardian, seeing how much Mademoiselle Clairon
interested me, begged her to recite some passages from one
of her favourite parts ; she considered for a moment, and
then commenced the fine monologue of Electra, which
she went through with admirable talent. I know not
whether at this day we should consider her performance
so perfect, but I was delighted, and promised myself
many visits to Issy with my guardian. She was fond of
conversation, and supported it with grace ; her language
was correct, and she professed a profound contempt for
all innovations upon the ancient manners. She told us
that there was a worthy little man named Talma who had
the audacity to give himself out as her pupil. " I know
not how he performs," said she, " but that is of no conse-
quence to me. I have sent a message to that miserable
successor of Freron, who leaves neither the living nor the
dead in peace, desiring him to put into his papers that I
never gave lessons to M. Talma." — "But he has great
talent," said I timidly, for I was overpowered by her
royal air. " Oh, I do not contest that," said she politely,
but in that tone of voice which seems to say, " I pay no
attention to your opinion." I know that she afterwards
heard Talma, and was enraptured with his performance ;
also that she gave him some advice which he profited by.

In taking leave of Mademoiselle Clairon I begged per-
mission to visit her again, which she granted with the
utmost graciousness, adding : "Make my most profound
respects to your mother. I had the honour of seeing her
when she first came to Paris in her Greek dress ; she was
a star of beauty ! " -

M. Brunetifere at parting approached Mademoiselle
Clairon and put into her hands a rouleau, at the same
time saying something to her very low, to which she



THE LAST YEARS OF A GREAT ACTRESS. 75

answered aloud : " This comes in good time, for the baker
would no longer furnish bread to the Queen of Babylon.
But you are a worthy man. Mademoiselle " — and she
addressed herself to me, showing the rouleau M. Brune-
tifere had just given her — " do you see this money ? your
guardian gives it out of his own purse that poor Clairon
may not die of hunger. He gives it for that man who is
without principle, that ambassador, that husband of a
celebrated woman, in short, for the Baron de Stael, who
suffers the rain of heaven to find its way into my poor
abode."

M. de Stael had purchased an estate of Mademoiselle
Clairon ; the deeds stipulated that the house in which she
resided at Issy should be kept in repair at his expense.
Not one of the clauses were ever fulfilled. M. Brunetifere,
though an excellent man of business, could not draw
blood from a stone. Madame de Stael, his wife, who had
but little regard for him, could not pay his debts, however
just; and in the midst of these claims and refusals
Mademoiselle Clairon was dying with hunger. On our
way home my guardian, who was M. de Stael's counsellor
and friend, related to me this transaction between him
and the great actress, but added : " I beg you, my child,
not to repeat what you have heard to-day ; Mademoiselle
Clairon is unhappy, and as poverty sours the disposition
she is unjust towards M. de Stael." " But he does not
pay her," said I, " since you are the guardian angel who
saves her from perishing with hunger. How is it that
your friend Gohier does not rescue her from this state of
distress ? "

" The Government is too poor. But do you speak to
Lucien upon the subject ; young lips may with much
grace beg bread for such a woman as Mademoiselle
Clairon ; M. de Stael cannot pay her, and I have heavy
charges upon me."



76 MEMOIRS OF THE DUCIIESSE D'ABRANTfeS.

I spoke to my brother-in-law upon the subject. Made-



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