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what I was to do, and the examination of what
I ought to believe. The study of philosophy, con-
sidered as the science of manners and the basis
of happiness, became indeed my only study, and
I referred to it all my readings and observation.
In metaphysics and moral systems I experi-
enced the same feeling as in reading poems,
when I fancied myself transformed into the per-
sonage of the drama that had most analogy
to myself, or that I most esteemed. I accord-
ingly adopted the propositions the novelty or
brilliance of which had most impressed me, and
these I held until others more novel or more
profound superseded them. Thus, in the con-


of Madame Roland 155

troversial class, I enrolled myself with the Port-
Royal school ; their logic and austerity accorded
with my character, while I felt an instinctive
aversion for the sophistical and pliant doctrine
of the Jesuits. While I was examining the sects
of the ancient philosophers, I gave the palm to
the Stoics. I endeavored, like them, to main-
tain that pain was no evil. This folly, indeed,
could not last, but I nevertheless persisted in
determining not to permit myself to be con-
quered by suffering; and the small experiments
I had occasion to make persuaded me that I
could endure the greatest torments without
uttering a cry. The night of my marriage
overturned the confidence I had till then pre-
served : it must, however, be allowed, that sur-
prise in certain cases is to be counted for
something, and that a novice in this philosophy
may be expected to hold himself more firm
against an ill that is foreseen, than against one
that takes him by surprise, and where the exact
contrary was looked for.

During two months that I studied Descartes
and Malebranche, I had considered my kitten,
when she mewed, merely as a piece of- mechan-
ism performing its movements ; but in thus

156 Private Memoirs

habitually separating sensation from its manifes-
tations, I became a mere anatomist, and found
no longer anything attractive or interesting in
the world. I thought it infinitely more delight-
ful to furnish everything with a soul ; and
indeed, rather than dispense with it, I should
have adopted the system of Spinoza. Helvetius
did me considerable injury by annihilating all
my most ravishing illusions ; everywhere he
posited a mean and revolting self-interest. Yet
what sagacity ! what luminous development !
I persuaded myself that Helvetius delineated
mankind as they had been disfigured and de-
praved by an erroneous and vicious form of
society, and I judged it useful acquainted
with his system, as a security against the knav-
eries of the world ; but I was upon my guard
against adopting his principles respecting man in
the abstract, and applying them to the apprecia-
tion of my own actions. I would not so under-
value and degrade myself: I felt myself capable
of a generosity, of which he did not admit the
possibility. With what delight did I oppose to
his system the great exploits of history, and
the virtues of the heroes it has celebrated ! I
never read the recital of a glorious deed but I

of Madame Roland 157

said to myself: "It is thus I would have acted."
I became a passionate lover of republics, in
which I found the most virtues to admire and
the most men to esteem. I became convinced
that this form of government was the only one
capable of producing such virtues and such
characters. I felt myself not unequal to the
former; I repulsed with disdain the idea of
uniting myself to a man inferior to the latter ;
and I demanded, with a sigh, why I was not
born amidst these republics.

About this time we made an excursion to
Versailles, my mother, my uncle. Mademoiselle
d'Hannache, and myself. This journey had no
other object than to show me the court and the
place it inhabited, and to amuse me with its
pageantry. We lodged in the palace. Madame
le Grand, nurse to the Dauphin, well known to
my uncle Bimont, through her son, of whom I
shall have occasion to speak, being absent, lent
us her apartments. They were in the attic story,
in the same corridor with those of the Arch-
bishop of Paris, and so close to them that it was
necessary for that prelate to speak in a low tone
of voice to. avoid being overheard by us; the
same precaution was requisite on our part. Two


Private Memoirs

chambers indifferently furnished, over one of
which it was contrived to lodge a valet, and the
avenue to which was rendered insupportable by
its obscurity and its odors, were the habitation
which a duke and peer of France did not dis-
dain to occupy, that he might have the honor of
cringing every morning before their majesties ;
and this servile prelate, meanwhile, was no other
than the austere Beaumont. For one entire
week we were constant spectators of the life of
the inmates of the chateau, sometimes sep-
arated, and sometimes united, their masses,
promenades, card parties, and the whole round
of presentations.

Our acquaintance with Madame le Grand fa-
cilitated our admission ; while Mademoiselle
d'Hannache, penetrated with confidence every-
where, ready to batter down with her name
whoever should oppose any resistance, and
fancying they must read in her grotesque coun-
tenance the ten generations of her genealogy.
She recollected two or three gardes du roi,
whose pedigrees she recounted with minuteness,
proving herself precisely the relation of him
whose name was the most ancient, and who
seemed to possess most consideration at court.

of Madame Roland 159

The spruce figure of a little clergyman like
Bimont, and the imbecile hauteur of the ugly
d'Hannache, were not wholly out of place at
Versailles ; but the unrouged face of my re-
spectable mother, and the sober decency of
my apparel, announced that we were bourgeois ;
and if my youth or my eyes drew forth a word
or two, they were modulated with a tone of
condescension that gave me no less offence
than the compHments of Madame de Boismorel.
Philosophy, imagination, sentiment, and calcu-
lation were all equally exercised in me upon
this occasion. I was not insensible to the
effects of sumptuousness and magnificence,
but I felt indignant that they should be em-
ployed to exalt certain individuals already too
powerful from circumstances and totally insig-
nificant in themselves. I preferred seeing the
statues in the gardens to the personages of
the court; and my mother inquiring if I was
pleased with my visit, " Yes," replied I, " if
only it be soon over; a few days longer, and
I shall so perfectly detest these people that
I shall not know what to do with my hatred."

" What harm do they do you ? "

"They give me the feeling of injustice, and

i6o Private Memoirs

oblige me every moment to contemplate ab-

I sighed at the recollection of Athens, where
I could equally have admired the fine arts,
without being annoyed with the spectacle cf
despotism. In imagination I traversed Greece ;
I assisted at the Olympic Games, and I mur-
mured that I was born in France. Enchanted
with what I beheld in the golden period of
the republic, I passed over the disorders by
which it had been agitated : I forgot the exile
of Aristides, the death of Socrates, the con-
demnation of Phocion. I dreamt not that
heaven had reserved me to be witness of errors
similar to those of which they were the victims,
and to participate in the glory of the same
persecution after having professed the same
principles. Heaven knows that the misfortunes
which affect only myself have not extorted
from me a sigh or even a regret ; I am sensible
only of those which afflict my country. Upon
the divisions of the court and the parliament
in 1771,-* my character and opinions attached

1 The time of Chancellor Maupeou's famous coup d'etat,
the installation of the " Parlement Maiipeou." Of the whole-
sale suppressions in 1771 of the parlements, De Tocqueville
says : " At this date the radical revolution became inevitable."

of Madame Roland 16 i

me to the party of the latter; I procured all
their remonstrances, and was most pleased by
those of which the principles and style were
the most outspoken and daring. The sphere
of my ideas continually enlarged. My own
happiness, and the duties to the performance
of which it was attached, occupied my earliest
attention ; the desire of instruction afterwards
made me devour history and scrutinize my own
surroundings ; the relation of man to the di-
vinity so variously represented, overcharged,
and disfigured, excited my notice ; and finally
the interests of my fellow creatures and the
organization of society fixed and absorbed all
my thoughts.

In the midst of doubts, uncertainty, and in-
vestigation, relative to these grand objects, I
concluded without hesitation, that the unity of
the individual, if I may so express myself, the
most entire harmony that is to say, between his
opinions and actions, was necessary to his per-
sonal happiness. Accordingly we must examine
well what is right, and when we have found it,
practise it rigorously. There is a kind of
justice that man has to observe towards himself,
should he exist solitary on the earth : he should

1 62 Private Memoirs

govern all his afifections and habits, that he may
be tyrannized and enslaved by none. A being
is good in itself when all its parts concur to its
preservation, its maintenance, or its perfection ;
this is not less true in the moral than in the
physical universe. Justness of organization, an
even temper, constitute health ; wholesome food
and moderate exercise preserve it. The pro-
portion of our desires and the harmony of the
passions form the moral constitution, of which
wisdom alone can secure the excellence and
duration. These first principles are grounded
in self-interest, and in this regard it may
justly be said that virtue is only soundness of
judgment applied to morals. But virtue, prop-
erly so called, results from the relations of a
being with his fellow beings ; justice towards
ourselves is wisdom ; justice towards others is
virtue. In society all is relative ; there is no
happiness independent; we are necessitated to
sacrifice a part of what we might enjoy, not to
be deprived of the whole, and to secure a por-
tion against all assaults. Even here the balance
is in favor of reason. However burdensome
may be the life of the honest, that of the vicious
must be more so. He can seldom be tranquil

of Mctdame Roland 163

who stands in opposition to the interest of the
majority; it is impossible for him to conceal
from himself that he is surrounded by enemies,
or by those who are ready to become so ; and
this situation is always painful, however splendid
it appear. Let us add to these considerations
the sublime rectitude of instinct which corruption
may lead astray, but which no false philosophy
can ever annihilate ; which impels us to admire
and love wisdom and generosity of conduct as we
do grandeur and beauty in nature and the arts
— and we shall have the source of human virtue
independent of every religious system, of the in-
tricacies of metaphysics, and of the impostures
of priests. When I had combined and demon-
strated these truths, my heart expanded with
joy ; they offered me a port in the tempest, and
afforded me a station, whence I could with less
anxiety examine the errors of national creeds
and the vices of social institutions. The glorious
idea of a Divine Creator, whose providence
watches over the world ; the immateriality of
the soul, and lastly its immortality, that consol-
ation of persecuted and suffering virtue — can
these be nothing more than amiable and splen-
did chimeras? Yet what absurdities enwrap these

164 Private Memoirs

difficult problems ! What accumulated objec-
tions involve them, if we wish to examine them
with a mathematical rigor ! — But no : it is
not allotted to man to behold these truths in the
full day of perfect evidence ; and what does it
signify to the sensible soul that he cannot de-
monstrate them? Is it not sufficient that he
feels them?

In the silence of the closet and the dryness of
discussion I can agree with the atheist or the
materialist as to the hopeless insolubility of
certain questions ; but in the bosom of the
country and in the contemplation of nature
my soul soars to the vivifying principle that
animates all things, to the all-powerful mind
that arranges them, to the goodness that invests
them with such exquisite charms. Now, when
thick walls separate me from my loved ones,
when society heaps upon us evil after evil as
a punishment for having sought its welfare, I
look beyond the bounds of hfe for the reward
of our sacrifices, and the felicity of reunion.

How? In what manner? I am ignorant; I
only feel that it ought to be so.^

1 I write this on the 4th of September, at eleven at night,
the apartment next to me resounding with peals of laughter.

of Madame Roland 165

The Atheist is not, in my eyes, a man of ill
faith : I can live with him as well, nay, better
than with the devotee, for he reasons more ;
but he is deficient in a certain sense, and his
soul does not keep pace with mine ; he is
unmoved at a spectacle the most ravishing, and
he hunts for a syllogism, where I am impressed
with awe and admiration.

It was not suddenly and at once that I attained
this secure and peaceful station, in which, en-
joying the truths which are demonstrated to
me, and resigning myself with confidence to
the feelings that constitute my happiness, I am
content to be ignorant of what cannot be
known, without being disturbed by the opinions
of others. I compress in a few words the
essence of many years' meditation and study,
in the course of which I have sometimes shared
the zeal of the theist, the austerity of the

The actresses of the Thedtre Fran^ais were arrested yester-
day, and conducted to Sauite Pelagie. To-day they were taken
to their own apartments to witness the ceremony of taking
off the seals, and are now returned to the prison, where the
peace-officer is supping and amusing himself with them. The
meal is noisy and frolicsome ; I catch the sound of coarse
jests, while foreign wines sparkle in the goblet. The place,
the object, the persons, my occupation, altogether form a
contrast which appears to me sufficiently curious.

1 66 Private Memoirs

atheist, and the indifference of the sceptic.
These fluctuations were always sincere, as I
had no inducement to change my opinions for
the purpose of countenancing a relaxation of
manners ; my system of conduct was fixed be-
yond the power of prejudice to shake ; I some-
times felt the agitation of doubt, but never the
torments of fear. I conformed to the estab-
lished worship, because my age, my sex, my
situation, made it my duty to do so ; but, incap-
able of deceit, I said to the Abbe Morel, " I
come to confession for the edification of my
neighbor, and the peace of my mother ; but I
scarcely know of what to accuse myself; my
situation is so calm, my tastes are so simple,
that, though I have no great merit to boast, I
have little to reproach myself with. Perhaps I
am too much engrossed by a wish to please, and
too impatient with those about me, when any-
thing occurs to give me vexation. I am also
not sufficiently indulgent in my judgments of
others, and, without suffering it to manifest
itself, I too hastily conceive aversion to those
who appear to me stupid or dull; but in this
I will be careful to correct myself Lastly, in
the exercises of religion I give way too much

of Madame Roland 167

to coldness and indifference ; for I acknowledge
that we ought to be attentive to whatever we
think it requisite to perform, be the motive
what it may." The good Morel, who had
exhausted his library and his rhetoric to keep
me in the faith, had the good sense to be
pleased at finding me so reasonable; he ex-
horted me, however, to distrust the spirit of
pride, represented with all his force the conso-
lations of religion, thought proper to grant me
absolution, and even consented that I should
attend the holy table three or four times in the
year out of philosophical toleration, since I
could no longer do it from the dictates of faith.
When I received the sacred wafer, I recalled the
words of Cicero that, to complete the follies of
men with respect to the Deity, it only remained
for them to transform Him into food, and then
to devour him. My mother increasing daily in
piety, I was less able to deviate from the ordi-
nary practices, as there was nothing I so much
dreaded as to afifiict her.

The Abbe le Grand, friend of my uncle
Bimont, sometimes visited us. He was a man
of excellent judgment, who had no badge of
his profession but his gown, by which too he

1 68 Private Memoirs

was sufficiently embarrassed. His family had
made him a priest, because, of three sons, one
must of necessity enter the church. Appointed
almoner to the Prince of Lamballe, and pen-
sioned after the death of his patron by Penthi-
evre, he had settled himself in a parish merely
that he might have a fixed residence, and had
chosen it near his friend to enjoy his society.
Affected with great weakness of sight, he had
become blind when very young, and this acci-
dent fostering his turn for reflection had ren-
dered him extremely contemplative. He liked
to chat with me, and often brought me books,
which were almost always works of philosophy,
on the principles of which he spoke freely.
My mother avoided discussion, and I was afraid
of pushing things too far ; she did not, however,
hinder me from reading, nor did she blame my
choice of subjects. A Genevese watchmaker,
connected in the way of business with my father,
a worthy man, who always kept a book among
his tools and had a tolerable library, with which
he was better acquainted than most of your
great lords are with theirs, offered me the use
of his treasure, so suited to my taste, and I
availed myself of his kindness. This good M.

of Madame Roland 169

Mor6 was capable of reasoning, not only on his
art, but on morals and politics ; and if he
expressed himself with a difficulty that my
impatience found hard to support, he shared
with most of his countrymen that solidity of
intellect which excuses the want of grace.
From him I had Buffon, and many other works.
I cite this author to repeat what I have said in
a former part of my memoirs of the discretion
with which I read him. Philosophy, in devel-
oping the force of my soul and giving firmness
to my mind, had in no way diminished the
scruples of sentiment, and the susceptibility of
my imagination, against which I had so much
reason to guard myself. Natural history at
first, and then mathematics, exercised for a
time my activity. Nollet, Reaumur, Bonnet
(who poetizes where others describe), amused
me in turn, as did Maupertuis, who writes
elegies while depicting the pleasures of snails.
At length Rivard inspired me with the design
of becoming a geometrician. Guering, stone-
mason and surveyor, who mixed discretion and
mildness with the simplicity of the artisan,
coming one day to discourse with my father,
found me so engrossed with the quarto of

170 Private Memoirs

Rivard, that I had not perceived his arrival.
He entered into conversation with me, and
informed me that Clairaut's Elements would
give me much clearer notions upon the sub-
ject I was studying; and the next day he
brought me a copy of the work which he had
in his possession. I found it to contain a sum-
mary of the first principles of the science, and
considering that the work might be useful to me,
and that I could not detain it from the proprie-
tor so long as I might wish, I formed, without
hesitation, the resolution to copy it from begin-
ning to end, including six plates of diagrams.
I cannot avoid laughing at this operation when-
ever I remember it ; any other than myself would
have purchased the book, but the idea never
occurred to me, and that of copying came as
naturally as that of pricking a pattern for a ruffle,
and was almost as soon effected ; for the work
was but a smaU octavo. This pleasant perfor-
mance is still, I believe, among my papers.
Geometry delighted me as long as there was no
necessity for algebra, with the dryness of which
I was disgusted as soon as I had passed the first
degree of equations. I accordingly threw to
the winds the multiplicity of fractions, and


of Madame Roland 171

found it more profitable to feast upon a good
poem than to starve myself with roots. In vain,
some years after, did M. Roland, paying his
addresses, endeavor to revive in me this
ancient taste ; we made, indeed, a great many
figures ; but the mode of deduction by X and
Y was never sufficiently attractive to fix my

September 5. I cut the sheet to inclose what I
have written in the little box ; for when I see a
revolutionary army decreed, new tribunals formed
for shedding innocent blood, famine threatened,
and the tyrants at bay, I augur that they must
have new victims, and conclude that no one is
secure of living another day.

The correspondence with Sophie was still one
of my chief pleasures, and the bands of our
friendship had been drawn closer by several
journeys which she had made to Paris. My
susceptible heart had need, I will not say of an
illusion, but of an object upon which to centre
its afiections, and especially of confidence and
communication. Friendship offered them, and I
cherished it with ardor. My relation with my

172 Private Memoirs

mother, agreeable as it was, would not have
supplied the place of this affection ; it had too
much of the gravity resulting from respect on
the one part, and of authority on the other.
My mother might have known everything; I
had nothing to conceal from her, but I could
not tell her all. To a parent one addresses con-
fessions ; one can really confide only in an

My mother, without asking to see the letters
I wrote to Sophie, was pleased to have them
shown to her; and our arrangement of this
matter was not without its humorous side. We
understood each other without a word having
passed between us on the subject. When I
heard from my friend, which I did regularly
every week, I read to my mother a few passages
from the letter ; when I had written my reply I
left it for a day, ready folded and directed, on
my table, but unsealed ; my mother scarcely
ever failed to glance over its contents, and
when I happened to be present on these occa-
sions I always found an excuse for retiring,
whether she had seen my letter or not; after
the supposed necessary interval had elapsed, I
sealed and dispatched it, but not always without

of Madame Roland 173

adding a postscript. It never happened that
she made any mention of what she had read ;
but I did not fail to inform her by this means
of what I wished her to know of my disposition,
my taste, and my opinions ; and I expressed
them with a freedom which I should not have
dared to use with her in conversation. My
frankness was not at all diminished by this cir-
cumstance, for I felt that I had a right to exer-
cise it in its full extent, and that there did not
exist anywhere a reciprocal right to blame it.
I have often thought since, that, had I been in
the place of my mother, I should have wished
to become the entire confidant of my daughter ;
and if I have any present regrets, it is that mine
may not be as I was at that time. Were it so, we
should proceed on a perfect equality, and I
should be happy. But my mother, with much
goodness of heart, was at the same time some-
what cold. She was prudent rather than ten-
der, and more circumspect than unreserved.
Perhaps too she perceived in me an ardor that
would have hurried me to greater lengths than
herself Her manner induced me to behave
without constraint, but also without familiarity.
She was sparing of caresses, though her eyes,

174 Private Memoirs

breathing tenderness and love, were continually
fixed upon me. I felt upon these occasions her
heart ; it fathomed mine ; but the reserve
which surrounded her person gave me a degree
of reserve in return which I should not other-
wise have had, and which seemed to increase as
I advanced towards maturity. My mother had
a dignity, touching it is true, but still it was
dignity. The transports of my ardent nature
were repressed by it, and I never knew all the
force of my attachment to her, except by the
despair and delirium into which I was plunged
by her loss. Our days flowed on in a delicious
tranquillity; I spent the greater part in my

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