Madame de (Anne-Louise-Germaine) Staël.

Ten years' exile; online

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quit its hold of me for a moment, and life became a
burden to me.

While I was in this state I received a letter from
Madame Recamier, that beautiful person who has
received the admiration of the whole of Europe,
and who has never abandoned an unfortunate friend.
She informed me, that on her road to the waters
of Aix in Savoy, to which she was proceeding, she
intended stopping at my house, and would be there
in two days. I trembled lest the lot of M. de Mont-
morency should also become hers. However im-
probable it was, I was ordained to fear every thing
irom a hatred so barbarous and minute, and I there-
fore sent a courier to meet Madame Recamier, to
beseech her not to come to Coppet. To know that
she who had never failed to console me with the
most amiable attention was only a few leagues dis-
tant from me ; to know that she was there^ so near
to my habitation, and that I was not allowed to see
her again, perhaps for the last time ! all this I was

TEN years' exile. ^ 157

obliged to bear. I conjured her not to stop at Cop-
pet ; she would not yield to my entreaties ; she
could not pass under my windows without remain*
ing some hours with me, and it was with convul-
sions of tears that 1 saw her enter this chateau, in
which her arrival had always been a fete. She
left me the next day, and repaired instantly to one
of her relations at fifty leagues distance from Swit-
zerland. It was in vain ; the fatal blow of exile
smote her also ; she had had the intention of seeing
me, and that was enough ; for the generous com-
passion which had inspired her, she must be pun-
ished. The reverses of fortune which she bad met
with made the destruction of her natural establish-
ment extremely painful to her. Separated from all
her friends, she has passed whole months in a little
provincial town, a prey to the extremes of every
feeling of insipid and melancholy solitude. Such
was the lot to which I was the cause of condemn-
ing the most brilliant female of her time ; and thus
regardless did the chief of the French, that people
so renowned for their gallantry, show himself to-
ward the most beautiful woman in Paris. In one
day he smote virtue and distinguished birth in M.
de Montmorericj^ ; beauty in Madame Recamier,
and, if I dare say it, the reputation of high talents
in myself. Perhaps he also flattered himself with
attacking the memory of my father in his daugh-
ter, in order that it might be truly said that in this
world, under his reign, the dead and the living,
piety, beauty, wit, and celebrity, ail were as nothing.
Pei^pns made themselves culpable by being found
wanting in the delicate shades of flattery toward
him, in refusing to abandon any one who had been
vijited by his disgrace. He recognises but two

158 ^: TEN years' exile.

classes of human creatures, those who serve him,
and those, who without injuring, wish to have an
existence independent of him. He is unwilling
that in the whole universe, from the details of house-
keeping to the direction of empires, a single will
should act without reference to his.

" Madam de Stael," said the prefect of Gene-
va, " has contrived to make herself a very plea-
sant life at Coppet ; her friends and foreigners
come to see her ; the emperor will not allow
that." And why did he torment me in this man-
ner? that I might print an eulogium upon him 5
and of what consequence was this eulogium to
him, among the millions of phrases which fear
and hope were constantly offering at his shrine ?
Bonaparte once said, " If I had the choice, either
of doing a noble action myself, or of inducing
my adversary to do a mean one, I would not he-
sitate to prefer the debasement of my enemy."
In this sentence you have the explanation of the
particular pains which he took to torment my ex-
istence. He knew that I was attached to my
friends, to France, to my works, to my tastes, to
society; in taking from me every thing which
composed my happiness, his wish was to trouble
me sufficiently to make me write some piece of
insipid flattery, in the hope that it would obtain
me my recall. In refusing to lend myself to his
wishes, I ought to say it, I have not had the merit
of making a sacrifice; the emperor wished me to
commit a meanness, but a meanness entirely use-
less ; for at a time when success was in a manner
deified, the ridicule would not have been com-
plete, if I had succeeded in returning to Paris, by
whatever means I had effected it. To satisfy our

TEN years' exile. 15%

master, whose skill in degrading whatever re-
mains of lofty mind, is unquestionable, it was ne-
cessary that I should dishonour myself in order to
obtain my return to France, that he should turn
into mockery my zeal in praise of him, who had
never ceased to persecute me, and that this zeal
should not be of the least service to me. I have
denied him this truly refined satisfaction ; it is all
the merit I have had in the long contest which
has subsisted between his omnipotence and my

M. de Montmorency's family, in despair at his
exile, were anxious, as was natural, that he
should separate himself from the sad cause of
this calamity, and I saw that friend depart with-
out knowing if he would ever again honour with
his presence my residence on this earth. On
the 31st of August, 1811, I broke the first and
last of the ties which bound me to my native
country ; I broke them, at least so far as regards
human connections, which can no longer exist
between us; but I never lift my eyes toward
heaven without thinking of my excellent friend,
and I venture to believe, also, in his prayers he
answers me. Beyond this, fate has denied me
all other correspondence with him.

When the exile of my two friends became
known, I was assailed by a whole host of chagrins
of every kind ; but a great misfortune renders us
in a manner insensible to fresh troubles. It was
reported that the minister of police had declared
that he would have a soldier's guard mounted at
the bottom of the avenue of Coppet, to arrest
whoever came to see me. The prefect of Gene-
va, who was instructed, by order of the emperor


he said, to annul me, (that was his expression,)
never missed an opportunity of insinuating, or
even declaring publicly, that no one who had any
thing either to hope or fear from the government
ought to venture near me»

M. de Saint-Fiiest, formerly minister of Louis
XVI. and the colleague of my father, honoured
me with his affection ; his daughters who dreaded,
and with reason, that he might be sent from Ge-
neva, united their entreaties with mine that he
would abstain frono visiting me. Notwithstand-
ing, in the middle of winter, at the age of seventy-
eight, he was banished not only from Geneva,
but from Switzerland; for it is fully admitted, as
has been seen in my own case, that the Empe-
ror can banish from Switzerland as well as from
France ; and when any objections are made to
the French agents, on the score of being in a fo-
reign country, whose independence is recognised,
they shrug up their shoulders, as if you were wea-
rying them with metaphysical quibbles. And
really it is a perfect quibble to wish to distinguish
in Europe any thing but prefect-kings, and pre-
fects receiving their orders directly from the
emperor of France. If there is any difference
between the soi-disani allied countries and the
French provinces, it is that the first are rather
worse treated. There remains in France a cer-
tain recollection of having been called the great
nation, which sometimes obliges the emperor to
be measured in his proceedings ; it was so at least,
but every day even that becomes less neces-
sary. The motive assigned for the batiishment
of M. de Saint-Priest was, that he had not in-
duced his sons to abandon the service of Russia.

TEN years' exile. 16i

His sons had, during the emigration, met with
the most generous reception in Russia ; they
had there been promoted, their intrepid courage
had there been properly rewarded ; they were co-
vered with wounds, they were distinguished among
the first for their miUtary talents ; the eldest was
now more than thirty years of age. How was it pos-
sible for a father to ask that the existence of his
sons, thus established, should be sacrificed to the
honour of coming to place themselves en surveil-
lance on the French territory ? for that was the en-
viable lot which was reserved for them. It was a
source of melancholy satisfaction to me, that
I had not seen M. de Saint-Priest for four
months previous to his banishment ; had it not
been for that, no one would have doubted that it
was I who had infected him with the contagion of
my disgrace.

Not only Frenchmen, but foreigners, were ap-
prised that they must not go to my house. The
prefect kept upon the watch to prevent even old
friends from seeing me. One day, among others,
he deprived me, by his official vigilance, of the
society of a German gentleman, whose conversa-
tion was extremely agreeable to me, and I could
not help telling him, on this occasion, that he
might have spared himself this extraordinary
degree of persecution. " How !'' repljed be,
" it was to do you a service that I acted in this
maTnner ; 1 made your friend sensible that he
would compromise you by going to see you." I
could not refrain from a smile at this ingenious
argument. " Yes," continued he with the most
perfect gravity, **the emperor, seeing you pre-


162 TEN years' EXfLE.

ferred to himself, would be displeased with you
for it.'' " So that," I replied, " the emperor ex-
pects that my private friends, and shortly, per-
haps, my own children, should forsake me to
please him ; that seems to me rather too much.
Besides, I do not well see how a persou in my
situation can be compromised; and what you
say reminds me of a revolutionist who was ap-
plied to, in the times of terror, to use his en-
deavours to save one of his friends from the
scaffold. 1 am afraid, said he, that my speaking
in his favour would only injure him." The pre-
fect smiled at my quotation, but continued that
train of reasoaing, which, backed as it is with
four hundred thousand bayonets, always appears
the soundest. A man at Geneva said to me, "Do
not you think the prefect declares his opinion
with a great deal of frankness?'' "Yes,'' I
replied, " he says with sincerity that he is devoted
to the man of power ; he says with courage that
he is of the strongest side ; I am not exactly sen-
sible of the merit of such an avowal."

Several independent ladies at Geneva continu-
ed to show me marks of the greatest kindness,
of which I shall always retain a deep recollection.
But even to the clerks in the custom houses, re-
garded themselves as in a state of diplomacy with
me; and from prefects to sub-prefects, and from
the cousins of one and the other, a profound ter-
ror would have seized them all, if I had not spar'ed
them, as much as was in my power, the anxiety
of paymg or not paying a visit. Every courier
brought reports of other friends of mine being
exiled from Paris, for having kept up connections
with me; it became a matter of strict duty for

TEN years' exile. 163

me to avoid seeing a single Frenchnfian of the
least note ; and very often I was even apprehen-
sive of injuring persons in the country where I
was living, whose courageous friendship never
belied itself toward me. 1 felt two opposite sen-
sations, and both, I believe, equally natural ; me-
lancholy at being forsaken, and cruel anxiety for
those who showed attachment to me. It is diffi-
cult to conceive a situation in life more painful at
every moment; for the space of nearly two years
that I endured it, I may say truly that I never
once saw the day return without a feeling of de-
solation at having to support the existence which
that day renewed.

But why should not you leave it then? will be
said, and was said incessantly to me from all
quarters. A man whoaj I ought , not to name,*
but who, I trust, knows how much I esteem the
elevation of his character and conduct, said to
me : '' If you remain, he will treat you as Eliza-
beth did Mary Stuart: — nineteen years misery',
and the catastrophe at last." Another person,
witty, but unguarded in his expressions, wrote to
me, that it was dishonourable to remain after so
much ill-treatment. I had no need of these re-
commendations to wish, passionately wish, to de-
part ; from the moment that I could no longer see
my friends, that 1 was only a burden to my chil-
dren's existence, was it not time to determine ?
[Vhe prefect, however, repeated in every possible
way, that if I went off, I should be seized ; that
at Vienna, as well as at Berlin, I should be re-
claimed ; and that I could not make the least pre-

* Count Elzearn de Sabran,

164 TIN years' exile.

paration for departure without his being informed
of it 5 for he knew, he said, every thing that pas-
sed in my house. In that respect he was a boast-
er, and, as the event has proved, exhibited mere
fatuity in matters of espionnage. But who would
not have been terrified at the tone of assurance
with which he told all my friends that I could not
tsii>\e a step without being seized by the gen-


Departure from Coppet,

I PASSED eight months in a state I cannot de-
scribe, every day making a trial of my courage,
and every day shrinking at the idea of a prison.
AW the world certainly fears it ; but my imagina-
tion has such a dread of solitude, my friends are so
necessary to me, to support and animate me, and
to turn my attention to a new perspective when I
sink under the intensity of painful sensations, that
never has death presented itself to me under such
terrible features as a prison or a dungeon, where I
might remain for years without ever hearing a
friendly voice. I have been told that one of the
Spaniards who defended Saragossa with the most
astonishing intrepidity, utters the most dreadful
shrieks in the tower at Vincennes, where he is
kept confined; so much does this frightful solitude
affect even the most energetic minds ! Besides, 1
could not disguise from myself that I was not
courageous; I have a bold imagination, but a timid
character, and ail kinds of perils appear to me like
phantoms. The species of talent which I possess,
brings images to me with such living freshness,
that if the beauties of nature are improved by it,
dangers are made more dreadful. Sometimes I
was afraid of a prison, sometimes of robbers, if I
was obliged to go through Turkey, in the event of
Russia being shut against me by political combi-
nations : sometimes also the immense sea which


166 TEN years' exile.

I must cross between Constantinople and London,
filled me with terror for my daughter and myself.
Nevertheless, I had always the wish to depart ; an
inward feeling of boldness excited me to it ; but I
might say, like a well-known Frenchman, *' I
tremble at the dangers to which my courage is
about to expose me." In truth, what adds to the
horrible barbarity of persecuting females, is, that
their nature is both irritable and weak ; they suffer
more acutely from trouble, and are less capable of
the strength required to escape from it.

I was also affected by another kind of terror : I
was afraid that the moment the emperor knew of
my departure, he would insert in the newspapers
one of those articles which he knows so well how
to dictate, when he wishes to commit moral assas-
sination. A senator told me one day, that Napo-
leon was the best journalist he ever knew ; and
certainly if this expression meant to designate the
art of defaming individuals and nations, he pos-
sesses it in the highest degree. . Nations are not
affected by it; but he has acquired in the revolu-
tionary times he has passed through, a certain tact
in calumnies suitable to vulgar comprehension,
which makes him find the expressions best adapted
for circulation among those whose wit is confined
10 repeating the phrases published by the govern-
ment for their use. If the Moniteur accused any
one of robbing on the highway, no French, Ger-
man, or Italian journal could admit his justifica-
tion. It is almost impossible to represent to one's
self what a man is, at the head of a million of sol-
diers, and possessed of ten millions of revenue, hav-
ing all the prisons of Europe at his disposal, with
the kings for his gaolers, and using the press as his


mouth-piece, at a time when people have hardly
the irrtimacy of friendship to make a reply ; finally,
with the ability of turning misfortune into ridicule :
execrable power, whose ironical enjoyment is the
last insult which the infernal genii can make the
human race endure !

Whatever independence of character one had, I
believe that no one could refrain from shuddering
at the idea of having such power directed against
one's self; at leastj I confess having felt this move-
ment very strongly ; and in spite of the melancholy
of my situation, I frequently said to myself^ that a
roof for shelter, a table for sustenance, and a gar-
den for exercise, formed a lot with which one must
learn to be contented ; but even this lot, such as it
was, no one could be certain of retaining in peace;
a word might escape, a word might be repealed,
and this man, whose power was continually on the
increase, to what a point might he not at last be
irritated ? When the sun shone brightly, my cou-
rage returned ; but when the sky was covered with
clouds, travelling terrified me, and I discovered in
myself a taste for indolent pursuits, foreign to my
nature, but which fear had given birth to ; physical
happiness appeared to me then greater than 1 had
previously regarded it, and every sort of exertion
alarmed me. My health also, cruelly affected by
so many troubles, weakened the energy of my cha-
racter, so that during this period I put the patience
of my friends to a most severe test, by an eternal
discussion of the plans in deliberation, and over-
whelming them with my uncertainties.

I tried a second time to obtain a passport for
America; they made me wait till the middle of
winter before they gave me the answer I required.

168 TEN years' exile.

which terminated in a refusal. I then offered t®
enter into an engagement never to print any thing
upon any subject, not even a bouquet to Iris^ pro-
vided I was allowed to live at Rome ; 1 had the
vanity to remind them that it was the author of
Corinna who asked permission to go and live in
Italy. Doubtless the minister of police had never
found a similar motive inscribed upon his regis-
ters, and the air of the south, which was so neces-
sary to my health, was mercilessly refused me.

They never ceased declaring to me thaf my
whole life should be spent in the circle of two
leagues, which separates Coppet from Geneva.
If I remained, I must separate myself from my
'sons, who were of an age to seek a profession ;
and if my daughter shared my fortune, I imposed
upon her the most melancholy perspective. The
city of Geneva, which has preserved such noble
traces of liberty, was, notwithstanding, gradually
allowing herself to be gained over by the interests
which connected her with the distributors of pla*
ces in France. Every day the number of persons
with whom I could be in intelligence diminished;
and all my feelings became a weight upon my.soul,
in place of being a source of life. There was an
end of my talents, of my happiness, of my exist-
ence, for it is frightful to be of no service to one's
children, and to be the cause of injuring one's
friends. Finally, the news I received- arjnounced
to oie from all quarters the formidable prepara-
tions of the emperor : it was evident that be wish-
ed first to make himself master of the ports of the
Bahic by ihe destruction of Rus«ia, and that after-
waids he reckoned on making use of ihe wrecks
®f that power to lead them against Constantino-

TBN years' exile. I6S

j»le : and his subsequent intention was to make
that the point of starting for the conquest of Asia
and Africa, A short time before he left Paris, he
had said, ♦' I am tired of this old Europe.'' And
in truth she is no longer sufficient for the activity
of her master. The last outlets of the Continent
might be closed from one moment to another, and
I was about to find myself in Europe as in a garri-
soned town, where all the gates are guarded by

I determined therefore on going off, while there
yet remained one means of getting to England, and
that means the tour of the whole of Europe. I fix-
ed the 15th of May for my departure, the prepa-
rations for which had been arranged long before
hand in the most profound secrecy. On the eve
of that day, my strength abandoned me entirely,
and for a moment I almost persuaded myself that
such a degree of terror as I felt could only pro-
ceed from the consciousness of meditating a bad
action. Sometimes I consulted all sort of presa-
ges in the most foolish manner ; at others, which
was much wiser, I interrogated my friends and
myself on the morality of my resolution. It ap-
pears to me that the part of resignation in all
things may be the most religious ; and I am not
surprised that pious men should have gone so far
as to feel a sort of scruple about resolutions pro-
ceeding from free will. Necessity appears to bear
a sort of divine character, while man's resolution
may be connected with his pride. It is certain,
however, that none of our faculties have been
given us in vain, and that of deciding for one's
self nas also its use. On another side, ali persons
of mediocre intellect are continually astonished

170 TEN years' EXILK.

that talent has different desires from theirs. When
it is successful, all the world might do the same ;
but when it is productive of trouble, when it ex-
cites to stepping out of the common track, these
same people regard it no longer but as a disease,
and almost as a crime. I heard continually buz-
zing about me the common places with which the
world suffers itself to be led : " Has not she plenty
of money? Can she not live well and sleep well
in a good house ?" Some persons of a higher cast
felt that 1 had not even the certainty of my sad
situation, and that it might get worse, without
ever getting better. But the atmosphere which
surrounded me counselled repose, because, for
the last six months I had not been assailed by any
new persecution, and because men always believe
that what is, is what will be. It was in the midst
of all these dispiriting circumstances that I was
called upon to take one of the strongest resolu-
tions which can occur in the private life of a fe-
male. My servants, with the exception of two
confidential persons, were entirely ignorant of my
secret; the g.reatest part of those who visited me
had not the least idea of it, and by a single action,
I was going to make an entire change in my own
life and that of cny family. Torn to pieces by un-
certainty, I wandered over the park of Coppet ; I
seated myself in all the places where my father
had been accustomed to repose himself and con-
template nature ; I regarded once more these
same beaunes of water and verdure which we had
so olten admired together; I bid them adieu, and
reco.nmended myself to their sweet influence.
The monument which encloses the ashes of my
father and my mother, and in which, if the good


God permits, mine also will be deposited, was one
of the principal causes of the regret I felt at ba-
nishing myself from the place of my residence ;
but 1 found almost always on approaching it, a sort
of strength which appeared to me to come frona
on high. I passed an hour in prayer before that
iron gate which inclosed the mortal remains of the
noblest of human beings, and there, my soul was
convinced of the necessity of departure. I recalled
the famous verses of Claudian,* in which he ex-
presses the kind of doubt which arises in the most
religious minds when they see the earth abandon-
ed to the wicked, and the destiny of mortals, as it
were floating at the mercy of chance. I feh that
I had no longer the strength necessary to feed the
enthusiasm which developed in me whatever good
qualities I possessed, and that I must listen to the
voice of those of similar sentiments with myself,
for the purpose of strengthening my confidence in
my own resources, and preserving that self-respect
which my father had instilled into me. In this
state of anxiety, I invoked several times the me-
mory of my father, of that man, the Fenelon of
politics, whose genius was in every thing opposed

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Online LibraryMadame de (Anne-Louise-Germaine) StaëlTen years' exile; → online text (page 10 of 18)