Mme (Marie-Jeanne) Roland.

The private memoirs of Madame Roland online

. (page 6 of 19)
Online LibraryMme (Marie-Jeanne) RolandThe private memoirs of Madame Roland → online text (page 6 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

fate conduct you to the United States, the only

^ The Girondists, among them Roland and Buzot.

114 Private Memoirs

asylum of freedom ! My wishes would conduct
you thither, and I ardently hope that you are
now actually on your passage. But what re-
mains for me? I shall see you no more, and
while for your sakes I rejoice in your removal,
I lament in it our eternal separation. And
thou, my revered spouse and companion, en-
feebled by premature old age, eluding with dif-
ficulty the pursuit of the assassins, shall I be
permitted to see thee again, and to pour conso-
lation into thy soul, steeped as it must be in
bitterness and despair? How long must I re-
main a witness of the desolation of my native
land, and the degradation of my countrymen?
Oppressed by these mournful reflections, I have
given way for a moment to my grief; a few
tears have escaped from my weary lids, and I
have laid aside the light pen which has been
retracing the memories of bygone, happier

Let me once more try to recall them and
to follow their course. My simple story may
one day serve to cheer the solitary hours of
some captive as unhappy as myself, who may
forget his own sorrows in commiserating mine
— or perchance some poet or romancer, desir-

of Madame Roland 115

ing to paint the human heart, may find in my
recital elements not unworthy of study.

Not many days will probably elapse before
the want of provisions, exasperating the popu-
lace, will urge them to tumults, which the agi-
tators will take care to foment. The tenth of
August was near being a commemoration of
the ides of September. The day before yes-
terday their renewal was menaced, should Cus-
tine be acquitted. The Cordeliers already
proclaim the necessity of getting rid of all sus-
pected persons, and punishments are decreed
against such as presume to disapprove of those
" glorious days." What is this but to prepare
a repetition of them? The persons sent be-
fore the Revolutionary Tribunal are not crimi-
nals referred thither to be judged, but victims
whom it is ordered to immolate. Those who
are imprisoned for anything but crime are
not under the safeguard of the law; on
the contrary, abandoned to suspicion and cal-
umny, they are exposed to the blind fury of
the populace, from which they are not a mo-
ment secure. Let us avert our eyes from
this lamentable epoch, to which the reign of
Tiberius alone can be compared, and let us

II 6 Private Memoirs

return to the blissful moments of my tranquil

I had completed my twelfth year, and the
thirteenth was passed under the care of my
grandmother. The quiet of her house, and
the piety of my aunt Angelique, admirably
accorded with the tender and contemplative
disposition I had indulged in the convent.
Every morning Angelique accompanied me to
church to hear mass, where I soon attracted
the attention of those apostles of abnegation
who court the favor of God by peopling
the cloisters. The Abbe Gery, with his wry
neck and downcast eye, accosts the person
whom he supposes to be my gouvernante, to
congratulate her on the edification produced
by the example of her pupil, and to express
the joy he should feel in being chosen her con-
ductor in the ways of the Lord. He learned
with regret that the grand ceremonies had
been already performed, and that I had chosen
my confessor. He then begged me to tell
him if I had no project respecting my future
destination, no plan of withdrawing myself
from the pomps and vanities of the world ;
and received for answer that I was yet too

of Madame Roland 117

young to determine my vocation. Gery sighed,
addressed a number of fine things to me, and
did not fail to meet us on our return and to
repeat his compliments. The piety of my
young heart was not of a nature to be gratified
with Jesuitical affectations ; it was too sincere to
unite with the absurdities of fanaticism, and
the wry neck of Monsieur Gery was as little to
my taste. I had nevertheless a secret design
of consecrating myself to the religious life.
St. Francois de Sales, one of the most amiable
saints in Paradise, had made a conquest of my
heart, and the ladies of the Visitation, of which
he was the founder, were already my sisters
by adoption. But I judged that, being an
only child, I should not gain the consent of
my parents during my minority, and I was not
willing to occasion them unnecessary pain by
any premature disclosure of my sentiments.
Besides, should it happen that when put to the
proof my resolution should be shaken, it would
be furnishing arms to the ungodly against the
holy vocation. I resolved, therefore, to con-
ceal my intention, and to proceed in silence to
my object. I put to contribution the little
library of my grandmother ; and the Philotee

1 1 8 Private Memoirs

of St. Frangois de Sales and the Manual of St.
Augustine became my favorite studies. What
doctrines of love, what delicious aliment for
the innocence of a fervent soul abandoned to
celestial illusions ! The controversial writings
of Bossuet were a new food to my mind : favor-
able as they were to the cause which they
defended, they sometimes contained objections
to it, and thus set me on weighing my belief
This was my first step in the path of doubt;
but it was infinitely remote from the scepticism
at which in a course of years I was destined
to arrive, after having been successively Jan-
senist, Cartesian, Stoic, and Deist. What a
route, to terminate at last in patriotism, which
has conducted me to a dungeon ! In the midst
of all this devotion, some old books of travels
and a store of mythology served to amuse my
imagination ; while the letters of Madame de
Sevigne established my taste.^ Her charming
facility, her elegance, her vivacity, her tender-

1 They also were the models upon which Madame Roland
formed her later and less sententious epistolary style, as her
charming and vivacious letters to Bosc, given in his edition
of her works, attest. The partial Bosc says in his Preface :
" As a letter-writer she was superior in my opinion to a
Sevigne or a Maintenon. . . ."

of Madame Roland 119

ness made me enter into her intimacy. I
became acquainted with her society; I was as
familiarized with her manners and surroundings
as if I had Hved with her.

My grandmother saw Httle company, and sel-
dom went out; but her agreeable pleasantry
animated the conversation when I occupied my-
self at her side in the little tasks which she took
pleasure in teaching me. Madame Besnard, my
great-aunt, who had taken care of me while an
infant at nurse, came every afternoon to pass an
hour or two with her sister. Her austere char-
acter gave her a solemnity of manners and an
air of ceremony which Madame Phlipon would
occasionally rally, but so tenderly as not to
give offence, and was generally repaid by her
sister in some plain but sound truth, a Httle
abruptly expressed, of the bluntness of which
her excellent heart pleaded the apology. My
grandmother, who attached the highest value
to the graces and to all that embellishes social
life, was extremely sensible of the complaisance
which my gentle temper and desire of pleas-
ing all about me, and her own amiable man-
ners in particular, inspired me with towards
her. She would sometimes pay me a com-

I20 Private Memoirs

pliment; and when, which was generally the
case, I replied with readiness and propriety,
she was overcome with satisfaction, and would
cast a triumphant look at Madame Besnard,
who, shrugging her shoulders, would seize the
first moment of my removal to another part of
the room, to say in a low voice, but which I
heard very distinctly, " You are really insup-
portable ; she will be spoiled ; what a pity ! "
My grandmother took no other notice of this
than to assume a posture more upright than
before, assuring her sister, with an air of su-
periority, that she knew very well what she
was about ; and the worthy Ang^lique, with her
pale visage and prominent chin, her spectacles
on her nose, and her knitting in her hands,
would tell them both that there was no danger
to be apprehended, that it was impossible for
anything to spoil me, and that my prudence
was so exemplary that I might almost be left
to my own guidance. This Aunt Besnard, how-
ever, so precise in her manners and so appre-
hensive of the effects of flattery, gave herself
the utmost concern at my lying on a hard bed,
and if I felt the slightest indisposition would
never fail to call twice a day to inform herself

of Madame Roland 121

of its progress. What undisguised inquietude,
what anxious cares did she not display on these
occasions? And how delightful was their con-
trast with her ordinary reserve and severity ! In
truth, it seemed as if heaven had surrounded
me with such affectionate friends, purposely to
render my heart of all others the most tender
and susceptible.

My grandmother one day took it into her
head to pay a visit to Madame de Boismorel,
either for the pleasure of seeing her, or of display-
ing her little daughter. Great preparations in
consequence ; long toilet in the morning : at
length behold us setting off with Aunt Angelique
for the rue Saint-Louis, au Marais, where we
arrived about noon. On entering the house
every one, beginning with the portiev, salutes
Madame Phlipon with an air of respect and
affection, emulous who shall treat her with the
greatest civility. She repays their attention
with courtesy, tinged at the same time with
dignity. So far very well ; but her grand-
daughter is perceived ; and, not satisfied with
pointing her out to one another, they proceed
to pay her a number of compliments. I began
to feel embarrassed, from a sentiment I could

122 Private Memoirs

not well explain, that, while servants might look
at and admire me, it was not their business to
compliment me. We go on ; a tall lackey
announces us, and we enter the salon, and find
the lady seated, with her lap-dog beside her,
upon what we called then, not an ottomane,
but a canapi, gravely embroidering tapestry.
Madame de Boismorel was about the age, the
height, and the figure of my grandmother ; but
her dress betokened the pride of wealth, rather
than taste ; and her countenance, far from ex-
pressing any plebeian desire to please, plainly
demanded that all attention should be bestowed
upon herself, and manifested her consciousness
of deserving it. A rich lace, puckered into the
form of a small bonnet, with broad wings pointed
at the extremity like the ears of a hare, was
perched upon the top of her head, that it might
not conceal her perhaps borrowed hair, which
was itself dressed with that afl'ected discretion
one must assume at sixty years of age. The
rouge, spread one layer over another, lent to eyes
naturally dull a much greater air of fierceness
than was sufficient to make me fix mine upon
the ground.

" Ah, Mademoiselle Rotisset, good morning

of Madame Roland 123

to you," cried, in a loud and cold tone, Madame
de Boismorel, as she rose to meet us. (" Made-
moiselle I " So my grandmother is mademoi-
selle in this house.) " Upon my honor I am
very glad to see you. And this pretty child
is your granddaughter? She will make a fine
woman. Come here, my dear, sit down by my
side. She is a Httle bashful. What age is your
daughter, Mademoiselle Rotisset? She is a little
brown to be sure, but she has a very good skin ;
she will grow fairer ; and then what a shape ! I
will lay my life that hand must be a lucky one.
Did you never venture in the lottery? "

" Never, madame ; I am not fond of gaming."

" So, so ! very likely indeed ! At your age
children are apt to think their game is sure.
What an admirable voice she has, so soft, and
yet rich ! She is so grave too : I suppose you
have a devotional turn ? "

" I know my duty to God, and I endeavor to
fulfil it."

" That is a good girl ! You wish to take the
veil: is it not so? "

" I do not know my future destination, and I
do not seek to pry into it."

" Upon my word, very pretty, and very sen-

124 Private Memoirs

tentious ! Your granddaughter is a great stu-
dent, I dare say, Mademoiselle Rotisset?"

"She likes nothing so well as reading; she
employs a part of every day in it."

" Oh ! I was sure of that. But have a care she
does not become a blue-stocking; that would be
a thousand pities."

The conversation next turned upon the family
and friends of the mistress of the house. My
grandmother asked very respectfully for the
uncle, and the cousin, and the daughter-in-law,
and the son-in-law, the Abbe Langlois, Coun-
cillor Brion, M. Parent, the rector. They talked
of the health of all these people, their pedi-
grees, and their eccentricities — for example of
Madame Roud6, who, notwithstanding her great
age, was still absurd enough to pretend to a fine
bosom, and accordingly greatly exposed this
part of her person, except when she got in and
out of her carriage, for which occasion she had
always an immense handkerchief ready in her
pocket, because, as she observed, it is not de-
cent to make such an exhibition to the footmen.
During this dialogue, Madame de Boismorel
sometimes took some stitches in her work,
sometimes patted her httle dog, but most fre-

of Madame Roland 125

quently looked hard at me. I took care not to
meet her eyes, because it was unpleasant to me ;
but I looked round upon the furniture and deco-
rations of the apartment, which were to me a
more pleasing spectacle than the lady : and as
I looked, my blood coursed more rapidly, I felt
my color rise, my heart beat, and my breath
come short.

I did not at this age ask m.yself, why my
grandmother did not sit upon the canape, or for
what reason in particular Madame de Boismorel
always called her " Mademoiselle " Rotisset ; but
I had the feeling that led to this reflection, and
I saw the end of the visit with joy, as if I were
just liberated from some hard confinement.

" Good-by ! Do not forget to buy me a
ticket in the lottery, and let your granddaughter
choose the number, do you hear, Mademoiselle
Rotisset? I am sure it will be a lucky one. One
embrace : and you my little heart ; do not look so
much on the ground. Your eyes are meant to
see with ; and even one's confessor does not for-
bid us to open them. Ah ! Mademoiselle Rotis-
set, you will have many a fine bow made you,
take my word for that. Good morning, ladies."

Saying this, Madame de Boismorel rings her

126 Private Memoirs

bell, orders Lafleur to call in two days at Made-
moiselle Rotisset's for a lottery ticket she is to
send her, chides her dog for barking, and seats
herself quietly upon her canape before we are
out of the room.

From Madame de Boismorel's we walked
home in silence, and I hastened to my books,
eager to forget what was past, and no better
pleased with the compliments of the lady than
of her servants. My grandmother, neither
vexed nor pleased, talked sometimes of her and
her singularities ; of the rooted selfishness
which had made her reply that " children were
but secondary considerations," when my grand-
mother once took the liberty to remind her of
the interest of hers, for the purpose of checking
her prodigal expense ; and of that familiarity in
her manners, common enough with ladies of the
great world, that made her receive her confessor
and others at her toilet, and change her chemise
and do other little offices in their presence.
This style of behavior struck me as strange ; I
was glad to make my grandmother talk about
it, but I kept to myself my own thoughts on the
matter, thinking it would not perhaps be be-
coming in me to divulge them.

of Madame Roland 127

A fortnight later Madame de Boismorel's
son, whom we had not seen at her house, called
upon us. He was a man of about thirty-seven,
of a pleasing countenance and polished address.
His glance was swift and penetrating, his eye
very open and somewhat too large, and his deep
and manly, yet well modulated voice, betok-
ened sincerity of soul and a politeness that was
not merely external. He addressed my grand-
mother with deference, and me with that air of
marked courtesy which sensible men preserve
toward young people of my sex. The conver-
sation was easy, yet sufficiently circumspect.
M. de Boismorel did not neglect to allude grace-
fully to his obligations to my grandmother's
care and kindness, while delicately hinting at
the same time that Providence had rewarded
her for the pains she had bestowed upon the
children of others by the satisfaction she might
expect to enjoy in so promising a child of her
own family.

I found M. de Boismorel infinitely more ami-
able than his mother, and I was delighted when-
ever he called upon us, which was generally
every two or three months. He had married at
an early age a charming woman, by whom he

128 Private Memoirs

had an only son, whose education occupied a
considerable portion of his thoughts. He had
undertaken it himself, and was desirous of direct-
ing it on philosophical lines, in which he was
not a little thwarted by the prejudices of his
mother, and the enthusiastic, devotion of his
wife. He was accused of singularity; and as
his nerves had been affected in consequence
of some inflammatory disorder, the old count-
esses, the learned judges, and the sagacious
abbes of his family, or of his mother's acquaint-
ance, ascribed to a derangement of the brain
the conduct he pursued in the education of his
son. These circumstances being made known
to me interested me in his character. I found
that this man argued with extreme pertinency,
and I began to suspect that there were two
sorts of reason, so to express myself, one for the
closet, and another for the world, — a morality
of principle and a morality of practice, from
the contradiction of which resulted so many
absurdities, of which some were too glaring
to escape my attention ; in short, that persons
of the gay world called everybody insane who
was not affected Hke themselves with the com-
mon insanity: and thus did materials for

of Madame Roland 129

reflection insensibly accumulate in my active

My grandmother sometimes contrasted the
sentiments and behavior of M. de Boismorel
with those of his sister, Madame de Favieres,
with whom she _ was little pleased, and whom
her brother had found it necessary to remind
that Mademoiselle de Rotisset was their own
relation — a circumstance, said I to myself, that
the mother did not seem less willing to overlook
or forget. To my great satisfaction, my grand-
mother never expressed a wish to present me to
Madame de Favieres ; indeed she was so well
aware of my thoughts upon the subject that we
did not even pay a second visit to Madame de

My father had vacated his office ; the year to
be spent with my grandmother had elapsed ;
I returned to the arms of my mother. But it
was not without regret that I left this pleasant
retreat in the Isle of Saint Louis, those agree-
able quays where I was accustomed to take the
air with my Aunt Ang61ique in the serene sum-
mer evenings, contemplating the windings of
the stream and the distant landscape. I was
especially fond of the quays which, in my zeal

130 Private Memoirs

to seek the temple and pour out my soul at the
foot of the altar, I have traversed without meet-
ing in the solitary path a single object to dis-
tract my meditations. The gayety of my
grandmother brightened the home in which I
had spent so many cheerful and peaceful
days. I quitted her with a flood of tears ; nor
was my attachment to my mother, whose merit
was of a higher description, but whose manners
inspired greater awe, able to divert my regret.
Till that moment I had never ventured upon
any comparison with respect to my mother that
tended in any way to lessen her; but I now
felt a confused sense of that tendency. Child
of the Seine, I had from my infancy resided on
its banks ; but the situation had not the sohtary
calm of my grandmother's. The moving pic-
tures of the Pont-Neuf varied the scene every
moment, and I entered literally as well as figura-
tively into the world, when I returned to my
paternal roof. A free air, however, and an
unconfined space, offered an ample source of
amusement to my romantic and vagrant imagi-
nation. How many times from my window,
which fronted the north, have I contemplated
with ravishing emotion the vast expanse of







of Madame Roland 131

heaven, its proud azure dome, stretching its can-
opy from the cool blue east far behind the Pont-
au-Change to the west, still warm with the
glow of the setting sun, and tingeing the trees
and roofs of Chaillot ! Never did I fail to
bestow a few moments on this ravishing spec-
tacle at the close of every fine day, and often
have tears of joy silently flowed down my
cheeks, while my heart, swelling with an inex-
pressible sentiment, happy in the idea and the
sense of existence, offered to the Supreme Being
a tribute of gratitude, pure and worthy of His
acceptance. I know not if sensibility of heart
sheds a more vivid hue on every object it
beholds, or if certain sensations, that yet ap-
pear to contain nothing remarkable, contribute
powerfully to develop it, or if both be not
reciprocally cause and effect; but when I
retrace the events of my life, I am doubtful
whether to assign to circumstances or to my
character that variety and plenitude of affec-
tions which have marked it so strongly, and
left me so clear a remembrance of all the situa-
tions in which I have been placed.

Cajon had continued to instruct me in music.
He was fond of reasoning with me on the

132 Private Memoirs

theory, or rather the technique of his art, for,
though he pretended to be a composer, he
understood httle of mathematics and less of
metaphysics ; but he was ambitious of teaching
me all he knew. My coldness in singing was a
source of almost as much regret, as my facility
in pursuing a train of argument was of astonish-
ment to him. " Put soul into it ! " he would
continually exclaim : " you sing an air as nuns
chant an anthem." The poor man did not per-
ceive that I had too much soul to express it in
a song: to give full expression to a tender
passage of music would have embarrassed me
as much as to have done dramatic justice to
the sentiments of Eucharis and Erminia, while
reading aloud to my mother of the loves and
sorrows of those heroines. I became trans-
formed, it is true in a way, into the heroine
herself; but I could not mimic her; I entered
into her feelings, my respiration was quickened,
my voice grew tremulous, but this was all. It
was impossible for me to express the sentiment
with scientific tune, and a sostemito voice : I had
no idea like that of resolving to be impassioned.
Mignard, whose Spanish politeness gained him
the esteem of my grandmother, had begun

of Madame Roland 133

at her house his lessons on the guitar, which
he continued when I returned to my father's.
The simple accompaniments did not cost me
much effort. Mignard took dehght in making
me excel on the instrument, and in the end
I surpassed my master. This poor man quite
lost his head, as will appear later on. Mozon
was recalled to perfect my dancing, as was
" M. Doucet " to improve me in arithmetic,
geography, writing, and history. My father
made me resume the graver, confining me to a
small branch of the art, to which he thought
to attach me by the tie of interest ; for having
enabled me to be useful to him, he employed
me upon some trifling works of which I was to
share with him the profit at the end of the week,
according to an account of them which he en-
gaged me to keep. But I was soon weary of
this ; nothing was so insipid to me, as to en-
grave the edge of a watch-case, or to ornament
an etui, and I was better pleased to read an
agreeable author than to buy myself a riband.
I did not conceal my disgust, and as no con-
straint was laid upon me, I locked up the imple-
ments, and have never touched them since. I
went out every morning with my mother to

134 Private Memoirs

attend mass, after which we sometimes made
our purchases; then succeeded the lessons of
my several masters, and these being finished,
after an interval of recreation I retired to my
closet to read, to write, and to meditate. The
long evenings made me return to my needle-
work, during which my mother had the com-
plaisance to read to me for hours together.
These readings gave me great pleasure ; but as
they did not permit me to digest what was read
so perfectly as I wished, the idea suggested itself

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryMme (Marie-Jeanne) RolandThe private memoirs of Madame Roland → online text (page 6 of 19)