Madame de (Anne-Louise-Germaine) Staël.

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Corinna. I gave him for answer, that persecuted

TEN years' exile. 141

as I was by the emperor, any thing like praise of
him coming from me, would have the ah- of a peti-
tion, and that 1 was persuaded that the emperor
himself would find my eulogiums very ridiculous
under such circumstances. He combatted this opi-
nion very strongl}' : he returned to my house seve-
ral times to beg me, in the name of my own inte-
rest, as he styled it, to write something in favour of
the emperor, were it but a sheet of four pages ; that
would be sufficient, he assured me, to put an end
to all the disagreeables I suffered. He repeated
what he told me to every person of my acquaint-
ance. Finally, one day he came to propose to me
to celebrate in verse the birth of the king of Rome :
I told him, laughing, that 1 had not a single idea
on the subject, and that 1 should confine myself to
wishes for his having a good nurse. This ji)ke
put an end to the prefect's negotiations with me,
upon the necessity of my writing in favour of the
present government.

A short time afterwards the physicians ordered
my youngest son the baths of Aix, in Savoy, at
twenty leagues from Coppet. 1 cliose the early
part of May to go tijere,a time of the year when the
waters are quite deserted. 1 gave the prefect no-
tice of this little journey, and went to shut myself
up in a kind of village, where there was not at the
time a single person of my acquaintance. I had
hardly been there ten days, before a courier arri-
ved from the prefect of Geneva to order me to re-
turn. The prefect of Mont-Blanc, in whose de-
partment 1 was, was also afraid lest I should leave
Aix to go to England, as he said, to write against
the emperor; and although London was not very
near to Aix, in Savoy, he sent his gendarmes every


142 TEN years' exile.

where about, to forbid my being furnished with
post horses on the road. I am at present tempted
to laugh at all this prefectorial activity against a
poor thing like myself; but at that time the very
sight of a gendarme was enough to make me die
with fright. I was always alarmed lest from a ba-
nishment so rigorous, the change might shortly be
to a prison, which was to me more terrible than
death itself. I knew that if I was once arrested,
that if this eclat were once got over, the emperor
would not allow himself again to be spoken to
about me, even if any one had the courage to do
so ; which was not very probable at that court,
where terror was the prevailing sentiment every
minute of the day, and in the most trifling concerns
of life.

On my return to Geneva, the prefect signified
to me not only that he forbid me from going under
any pretence to the countries united to France,
but that he advised me not to travel in Switzer-
land, and never to go in any direction beyond two
leagues from Coppet. I objected to him that be-
ing domiciliated in Switzerland, I did not clearly
understand by what right a French aulhoriiy could
forbid me ivom travelling in a foreign country.
The prefect no doubt thought me rather a simple-
ton to discuss at that moment a point of right, and
repeated his advice to me in a tone singularly
approaching to an order. I confined myself to
my protest : but the very next day 1 learned Ihat
one of the most distinguished literati of Germany,
M Scblegel, who had for eight years been em-
ployed in the education of my sons, had received
an order not only to leave Geneva, but to quit
Goppei. I wished still to represent that in Swit*

TEN years' exile. 143

zerland the prefect of Geneva had no orders to
give ; but I was told, that if I liked better to re-
ceive this order through the French ambassador,
I might be gratified: that the anfibassador would
address the landamann, and the landamann would
apply to the canton of Vaud, who would imme-
diately send M. Schlegel from my house. By ma-
king despotism go this round about, I might have
gained ten days, but nothing more. I then wished
to know why I was deprived of the society of M.
Schlegel, my own friend, and that of my children.
The prefect, who was accustomed, like the great-
er part of the emperor's agents, to couple very
smooth words with very harsh acts, told me that
it was from regard to me that the government
banished M Schlegel from my house, as he made
me an Anti-gallican. Much affected bythis proof
of the paternal care of the government, I asked
what Mr. S. had ever done against France : the
prefect objected to his literary opinions, and re-
ferred among other things to a pamphlet of his, in
which, in a comparison between the Phedra of
Euripides and that of Racine, he had given the
preference to the former. How very delicate lor
a Corsican monarch to take in this manner act
and cause for the slightest shades of French lite-
rature! But the real truth was, M. Schlegel was
banished because he was my friend, because his
conversation animated my solitude, and because
the system was now begun to be acted upon,
which soon became evident, of making a prison of
my soul, in tearing from me every enjoyment of
intellect and friendship.

I resumed the resolution of leaving Switzerland,
which the pain of quitting my friends, and the

144 TEN years' EXILt:.

ashes of my parents, had made me so often give
up ; but there remained a very difScuIt problem
to solve, and that was to find the means of depar-
ture. The French government threw so many
difficulties in the way of a passport for America,
that I durst no longer think of that plan. Besides,
I had reason to be afraid lest at the moment of
my embarkation they should pretend to have dis-
covered that I was going to England, and that the
decree might be applied to me, which condemned
to imprisonment all who attempted to go there
without the authority of the government. It
seemed to me, therefore, much preferable to go to
Sweden, that honourable country, whose new chief
already gave indications of the glorious conduct
which he has since known how to sustain. But
by what road to get to Sweden ? The prefect had
given me to understand in all ways, that vv^herever
France commanded, I should be arrested; and
how was I to reach the point where she did not
command ? I must necessarily pass through Rus-
sia, as the whole of Germany was under the
French dominion. But to get to Russia, I must
cross Bavaria and Austria. I could trust myself
in the Tyrol, although it was united to a state of
the confederation, on account ot'the courage which
its unfortunate inhabitants had shown. As to Aus-
trta, in spite of the fatal debasement into which
she had sunk, I had sufficient confidence in her
monarch to believe that he would not deliver m.e
up ; but I knew also that he could not defend me.
After having sacrificed the ancient honour of his
house, what strength retnained lo him of any kind?
I spent my days therefore, in studying the map of
Europe to escape from it, as Napoleon studied it

TEN years' exile 145

o make himself its master, and my campaign, as
well as his, always had Russia for its field. This
power was the last asylum of the oppressed; it
was therefore that which the conqueror of Europe
wished to overthrow.


Journey in Switzerland zuith M. de Montrnorency,

DetermItJed to go by the way of Russia, I re*
quired sipassport to enter it. Bat a fresh difficulty
occurred ; I must write to Petersburgh to obtain
this passport t such was the formality which cir-
cumstances rendered necessary ; and although I
was certain of meeting with no refusal from the
known generous character of the emperor Alexan-
der, I had reason to be afraid that in the ministerial
offices it might be mentioned that I had asked for a
passport, and in that way get to the French am-
bassador's ears, which would lead to my arrest, and
prevent me from executing my project. It was ne-
cessary, therefore, to go first to Vienna, to ask for
my passport from thence, and there wait for it. The
six weeks which would be required to send my let-
ter and receive an answer, would be passed under
the protection of a ministry which had given the
archduchess of Austria to Bonaparte ; — could I trust
myself to it ? It was clear, however, that by re-
maining as a hostage, under the hand of Napoleon,
I not only renounced the exercise of my own ta-
lents, but I prevented my sons from following any
public career; they could enter into no service, ei-
ther for Bonaparte or against him ; it was impossi-
ble to find an establishment for my daughter, as it
was necessary either to separate myself from her, or
to confine her to Coppet ; and yet if I was arrested
in my flight, there was an end of the fortune of my

TSN tears' exil«. 147

children, who would not have wished to separate
themselves from my destiny.

It was in the midst of all these perplexities, that
a friend of twenty years standing, M, Mathieu de
Montmorency, proposed to come and see me, as he
had already done several times since my exile. It
is true that I was written to from Paris, that the Em-
peror had expressed his displeasure against every
one who should go to Coppet, and especially
against M. de Montmorency, jf he again went there.
But 1 confess I made light of these expressions of
the Emperor, which he throws out sojuetimes to
terrify people, and struggled very feebly with
M. de Montmorency, who generously sought to
tranquilize me by his letters. 1 was wrong, no
doubt ; but who could have persuaded themselves
that an old friend of a banished woman would have
it charged to him as a crime, his going to spend a
few days with her. The life of M. de Montmorency,
entirely consecrated to works of piety, or to family
affections, estranged him so completely from all
politics, that unless it would even go the length of
banishing the saints, it seemed to me impossible
that the government would attack such a man. I
asked myself likewise, ciii bono ; a question I have
always put to myself whenever any action of Na-
poleon was in discussion. I know that he will,
without hesitation, do all the evil which can be of
use to him for the least thing ; but I do not always
conjecture the lengths to which his prodigious ego-
tism extends in all directions, toward the infinitely
little, as well as the infinitely great.

Although the prefect had made me be told that
he recoMjmunded me not to travel in Switzerland,
I paid no attention lo an advice which could not


be made a formal order. I went to meet M. dc
Montmorency at Orbe, and from thence I pro-
posed to him, as the object of a promenade in
Switzerland, to return by way of Fribourg, to see
the establishment of female Trappists, at a short
distance from that of the men in Val-Sainte.

We reached the convent in the midst of a se-
vere shower, after having been obHged to come
nearly a mile on foot. As we were flattering our-
selves with being admitted, the Procureur of la
Trappe, who has the direction of the female con-
vent, told us that nobody could be received there.
I tried, however, to ring the bell at the gate of
the cloister ; a nun appeared behind the latticed
opening through which the portress may speak to
strangers. " What do you want ?" said she to
me, in a voice without modulation, as we might
suppose that of a ghost. " I should wish to sec
the interior of your convent." " That is impos-
sible.'' " But 1 am very wet, and want to dry
myself." She immediately touched a spring
which opened the door of an outer apartment, in
which I was allowed to rest myself; but no living
creature appeared. I had hardly been seated a
few minutes, when becoming impatient at being
unable to penetrate into the interior of the house,
I rung again ; the same person again appeared,
and I asked her if no females were ever admitted
into the convent; she answered that it was only
in cases when any one had the intention of be-
connng a nun. *' But," said I to her, '' how can
I know if 1 v^ish to remain in your house, if I am
not permitted to examine it." " Oh, that is quite
useless," replied she, *' I a«j very sure that you
have no vocation for our state," and with these

TEN tears' exile. 149

words immediately shut her wicket. I know not
hy what signs this nun had satisfied herself of my
worldly dispositions; it is possible that a quick
manner of speaking, so different from theirs, is
sufficient to make them distinguish travellers, who
are merely curious. The hour of vespers ap-
proaching, I could go into the church to hear the
nuns sing ; they were behind a black close gra-
ting, through which nothing could be seen. You
only heard the noise of their wooden shoes, and
of the wooden benches as they raised them to sit
down. Their singing had nothing of sensibility
in it, and 1 thought I could remark both by their
manner of praying, and in the conversation which
I had afterwards with the father Trappist, who
directed them that it was not religious enthusi-
asm such as we conceive it, but severe and grave
habits which could support such a kind of life.
The lenderness of piety would even exhaust the
strength ; a sort of ruggedness of soul is neces-
sary to so rude an existence.

The new Father Abbe of the Trappists, settled
in the valleys of the Canton of Fribourg, has added
to the austerities of the order. One can have no
idea of the minute degrees of suffering imposed up-
on the monks,; they go so far as even to forbid them,
when they have been standing for some hours in
succession, from leaning against the wall, or wiping
the perspiration from their forehead ; in short, every
moment of their life is filled with suffering, as the
people of the world fill theirs with enjoyment.
They rarely live to be old, and those to whom this
lot falls, regard it as a punishment from heaven.
Such an establishment would be barbarous if any
one was compelled to enter it, or if there was the


150 TEN years' EXILE.

least concealment of what they suffer there. But
on the contrary, they distribute to whoever wishes
to read it, a printed statement, in which the rigors
of the order are rather exaggerated than softened;
and yet there are novices who are willing to take
the vows, and those who are received never run
away, although they might do it without the least
difficulty. The whole rests, as it appears to me,
upon the powerful idea of death; the institutions
and amusements of society are destined in the world
to turn our thoughts entirely upon life; but when the
contemplation of death gets a certain hold of the
human heart, joined to a firm belief in the immor-
tality of the soul, there are no bounds to the dis-
gust which it may take to every thing which forms
a subject of interest in the world ; and a state of
suffering appearing the road to a future life, such
minds follow it with avidity, like the traveller, who
willingly fatigues himself, in order to get sooner
over the road which leads him to the object of his
wishes. But what equally astonished and grieved
me, was to see children brought up with this se-
verity : their poor locks shaved off, their young
countenances already furrowed, that deathly dress
with which they were covered before they knew
any thing of life, before they had voluntarily re-
nounced it, all this made my soul revolt against the
parents who had placed them there. When such
a state is not the adoption of a free and determined
choice on the part of the person who professes it,
it inspires as mach horror as it at first created re-
spect. The monk with whom I conversed, spoke
of nothing but death ; all his ideas came from that
subject, or connected themselves with it ; death is
the sovereign monarch of this residence. As we

TEN years' exile. 151

talked of the temptations of the world, 1 expressed
to the father Trappist my admiration of his con-
duct in thus sacrificing all, to withdraw himself
from their influence. " We are cowards" said he
to me, " who have retired into a fortress, because
we feel we want the courage to meet our enemy in
the open field." This reply was equally modest
and ingenious.*

* I accompanied my mother in the excursion here related.
Struck with the wild beauty of the place, and interested by the
spiritual conversation of the Trappist who had attended us, I be-
sought him to grant me hospitality until the following day, as I
proposed going over the mountain on foot, in order to see the
great convent of the Val-Sainte, and rejoining my mother and
M. de Montmorency at Fribourg. This monk, with whom I con-
tinued to converse, had not much difficulty in discovering that I
hated the imperial government, and I could guess that he fully
participated in that sentiment. Afterwards, after thanking him
for his kindness, I entirely lost sight of him, nor did limagine
that he had preserved the least recollection of me.

Five years afterwards, in the first months of the Restoration, I
was not a little surprised at receiving a letter from this same
Trappist. He had no doubt, he said, that now the legitimate
monarch was restored to his throne, I must have a number of
friends at court, and he requested me to employ their influence
in procuring to his order the restoration of the property which it
possessed in France, This letter was signed " Father A . . . «
priest and procureur of LaTrappe," and he added, as a postscript^
" If a twenty-three years' emigration and four campaigns in a
regiment of horse-chasseurs in the army of Conde give me any
claims to the royal favour, 1 beg you will make use of them."

I could not help laughing, both at the idea which this good
monk had dF my influence at court, and at the use of it which he
required from a protestant. I sent his letter to M. de Montmo-
rency, whose influence was much greater than mine, and 1 have
reason to believe that the petition was granted.

In other respects, these Trappists were not, in the deep valleys
of the Canton of Fribourg, such strangers to politics as their resi-
dence and their habit would lead one to believe. 1 have since
learned that they served as a medium for the correspondence of
the French clergy with the pope, when a prisoner at Savonne.
Certainly, although this does not at all excuse the rigour with
which they were treated by Bonaparte, it gives a sufficient ex ■
pianation of it. (JVoleof the Editor,)

152 TEN years' exile.

A few days after we had visited these places, the
French government ordered the seizure of the father
Abbe, M. de L'Esirange ; the confiscation of the
property of the order, and the dismissal of the
fathers from Switzerland. I know not of what
M. de L'Estrange was accused ; but it is scarcely
probable that such a man should have meddled
with the affairs of the world, much less the monks,
who never quitted their solitude. The Swiss go-
vernment caused search to be made every where for
M. de L'Ertrange, and I hope for its honour, that
it took care not to iind him. However, the unfor-
tunate magistrates of countries which are called al-
lies of Frarce, ar? very often employed to arrest
persons desigujited to them, ignorant whether they
are delivei'ing it>nocent or guilty victims to the
great Leviathan, which thinks proper to swallow
them up. The propertyof the Trappists was seized,
that is to say, their tomb, for they hardly possessed
any thing else, and the order was dispersed, it
is said, that a Trappist at Genoa had mounted the
pulpit to retract the oath of allegiance which he
had taken to the emperor, declaring that since the
captivity of the pope, be considered every priest as
released from this oath. At his coming out from
performing this act of repentance, he was, report
also saySj tried by a military commission, and shot.
One would think that he was sufficiently punished,
without rendering the whole order responsible for
his conduct.

We regained Vevay by the mountains, and I
proposed to M. de Montmorency to proceed as far
as the entrance of the Valais, which 1 had never
seen. We stepped at Bex, the last Swiss village,
for the Valais was already united to France. A

TEN years' exile. 153

Portuguese brigade had left Geneva to go and oc-
cupy the Valais : singular state of Europe, to have
a Portuguese garrison at Geneva going to take
possession of a part of Switzerland in the name of
France ! I had a curiosity to see the Cretins of the
Valais, of whom I had so often heard. This mise-
rable degradation of man affords ample subject for
reflection 5 but it is excessively painful to see the
human countenance thus become an object of horror
and repugnance, I remarked, however, in several
of these poor creatures, a degree of vivacity border-
ing on astonishment, produced on them by external
objects. As they never recognize what they have
already seen, they feel each time fresh surprize and
the spectacle of the world, with all its detaHs, is
thus for ever new to them ; it is, perhaps, the com-
pensation for their sad state, for certainly there is
one. It is some years since a Cretin, having com-
mitted assassination, was condemned ta death : as
he was led to the scaffold, he took it into his head,
seeing himself surrounded with a crowd of people,
that he was accompanied in this manner to do him
honour, and he laughed, held himself erect, and
put his dress in order, with the idea of rendering
himself more worthy of the fete. Was it right to
punish such a being for the crime which his arm
had committed.'^

There is at three leagues from Bex, ^ famous
cascade, where the water falls from a very lofty
mountain. I proposed to my friends to go and see
it, and we returned before dinner. It is true that
this cascade was upon the territory of the Valais,
consequently then upon the French territory, and I
forgot that 1 was not allowed more of that than the
small space of ground which separates Coppet from


154 TEN years' exile.

Geneva. When I returned home, the prefect not
only blamed me for having presumed to travel in
Switzerland, but made it the greatest proof of his
indulgence to keep silence on the crime 1 had com-
mitted, in setting my foot on the territory of the
French empire. I might have said, in the words
of Lafontaine's fable :

Je tondis de ce pre la larguer de ma langue :

(I grazed of this meadow the breadth of my tongue,)
but I confessed, with great simplicity, the fault I
had committed in going to see this Swiss cascade,
without dreaming that it was in France.


Exile of M. de Montmorency and Madame Reca^
mier, — Nezo persecutions*

This continual chicanery upon my most trifling
actions, rendered my life odious to me, and I could
not divert myself by occupation ; for the recollec-
tion of the fate of my last work, and the certainty
of never being able to publish any thing in future,
operated as a complete damper to riiy mind, which
requires emulation to be capable of Jabour. Not-
withstaodino' I could not vet resolve to quit for
ever the borders of France, the abode of my father,
and the friends who remained faiiliful to me. Eve-
ry day i thoyglit of depaitiog, and every day I
found in my own mind some reason for remaining,
until the last blow was aimed at my soul 5 God
knows what I have suffered from it.

M. de Montmorency came to pass several days
with me at Coppet and the wickedness of detail in
tfie master of so great an empire is so well calcu-
lated, that by the return of the courier who an-
nounced his arrival at Coppet, my friend received
his letter of exile. Tiie emperor would not have
been satisfied if this order had not been signified to
him at my house, and if there had not been in the
letter itself oi' the minister of police, a word to sig-
nify that I was tiie cause of this exile. ?d. de Mont-
morency endeavoured, in every possible way, to
soften the news to me, but, l tell it to Bonaparte,
ttiat he m&3' applaud himself on the success of his^

156 TEN years' exile.

scheme, I shrieked with agony on learning the ca-
lamity which I had drawn on the head of my ge-
nerous friend ; and never was my heart, tried as it
had been for so many years, nearer to despair. I
knew not how to lull the rending thoughts which
succeeded each other in my bosom, and had re-
course to opium to suspend for some hours the an-
guish which I felt. M. de Montmorency, calm
and religious, invited me to follow his example ;
the consciousness of the devotedness to me which
he had condescended to show, supported him ; but
for me, I reproached myself for the bitter conse-
quences of this devotedness, which now separated
him from his family and friends. I prayed to the
Almighty without ceasing ; but grief would not

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Online LibraryMadame de (Anne-Louise-Germaine) StaëlTen years' exile; → online text (page 9 of 18)