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The Women of the French Salons by Amelia Gere Mason

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and offices of friendship, and by a freedom and severity which
seem to be her sole end for drawing a concourse to her. She has
little taste and less knowledge, but protects artisans and
authors, and courts a few people to have the credit of serving
her dependents. In short, she is an epitome of empire,
subsisting by rewards and punishments."

Later, when he was less disinterested, perhaps, he writes to
another friend: "Mme. du Deffand hates the philosophers, so you
must give them up to her. She and Mme. Geoffrin are no friends;
so if you go thither, don't tell her of it--Indeed you would be
sick of that house whither all the pretended beaux esprits and
false savants go, and where they are very impertinent and

The real power of this woman may be difficult to define, but a
glance at her society reveals, at least partly, its secret.
Nowhere has the glamour of a great name more influence than at
Paris. A few celebrities form a nucleus of sufficient attraction
to draw all the world, if they are selected with taste and
discrimination. After the death of Fontenelle, d'Alembert,
always witty, vivacious, and original, in spite of the serious
and exact nature of his scientific studies, was perhaps the
leading spirit of this salon. Among its constant habitues were
Helvetius, who put his selfishness into his books, reserving for
his friends the most amiable and generous of tempers; Marivaux,
the novelist and dramatist, whose vanity rivaled his genius, but
who represented only the literary spirit, and did not hesitate to
ridicule his companions the philosophers; the caustic but
brilliant and accomplished Abbe Morellet, who had "his heart in
his head and his head in his heart;" the severe and cheerful
Mairan, mathematician, astronomer, physician, musical amateur,
and member of two academies, whose versatile gifts and courtly
manners gave him as cordial a welcome in the exclusive salon at
the Temple as among his philosophical friends; the gay young
Marmontel, who has left so clear and simple a picture of this
famous circle and its gentle hostess; Grimm, who combined the
SAVANT and the courtier; Saint-Lambert, the delicate and
scholarly poet; Thomas, grave and thoughtful, shining by his
character and intellect, but forgetting the graces which were at
that time so essential to brilliant success; the eloquent Abbe
Raynal; and the Chevalier de Chastellux, so genial, so
sympathetic, and so animated. To these we may add Galiani, the
smallest, the wittiest, and the most delightful of abbes, whose
piercing insight and Machiavellian subtlety lent a piquant charm
to the stories with which for hours he used to enliven this
choice company; Caraccioli, gay, simple, ingenuous, full of
Neapolitan humor, rich in knowledge and observation, luminous
with intelligence and sparkling with wit; and the Comte de
Crentz, the learned and versatile Swedish minister, to whom
nature had "granted the gift of expressing and painting in
touches of fire all that had struck his imagination or vividly
seized his soul." Hume, Gibbon, Walpole, indeed every foreigner
of distinction who visited Paris, lent to this salon the eclat of
their fame, the charm of their wit, or the prestige of their
rank. It was such men as these who gave it so rare a fascination
and so lasting a fame.

A strong vein of philosophy was inevitable, though in this circle
of diplomats and litterateurs there were many counter-currents of
opinion. It was her consummate skill in blending these diverse
but powerful elements, and holding them within harmonious limits,
that made the reputation of the autocratic hostess. The friend
of savants and philosophers, she had neither read nor studied
books, but she had studied life to good purpose. Though
superficial herself, she had the delicate art of putting every
one in the most advantageous light by a few simple questions or
words. It was one of her maxims that "the way not to get tired
of people is to talk to them of themselves; at the same time, it
is the best way to prevent them from getting tired of you."
Perhaps Mme. Necker was thinking of her when she compared certain
women in conversation to "light layers of cotton wool in a box
packed with porcelain; we do not pay much attention to them, but
if they were taken away everything would be broken."

Mme. Geoffrin was always at home in the evening, and there were
simple little suppers to which a few women were invited. The
fare was usually little more than "a chicken, some spinach, and
omelet." Among the most frequent guests were the charming,
witty, and spirituelle Comtesse d'Egmont, daughter of the Duc de
Richelieu, who added to the vivacious and elegant manners of her
father an indefinable grace of her own, and a vein of sentiment
that was doubtless deepened by her sad little romance; the
Marquise de Duras, more dignified and discreet; and the beautiful
Comtesse de Brionne, "a Venus who resembled Minerva." These
women, with others who came there, were intellectual complements
of the men; some of them gay and not without serious faults, but
adding beauty, rank, elegance, and the delicate tone of esprit
which made this circle so famous that it was thought worth while
to have its sayings and doings chronicled at Berlin and St.
Petersburg. Perhaps its influence was the more insidious and far
reaching because of its polished moderation. The "let us be
agreeable" of Mme. Geoffrin was a potent talisman.

Among the guests at one time was Stanislas Poniatowski,
afterwards King of Poland. Hearing that he was about to be
imprisoned by his creditors, Mme. Geoffrin came forward and paid
his debts. "When I make a statue of friendship, I shall give it
your features," he said to her; "this divinity is the mother of
charity." On his elevation to the throne he wrote to her,
"Maman, your son is king. Come and see him." This led to her
famous journey when nearly seventy years of age. It was a series
of triumphs at which no one was more surprised than herself, and
they were all due, she modestly says, "to a few mediocre dinners
and some petits soupers." One can readily pardon her for feeling
flattered, when the emperor alights from his carriage on the
public promenade at Vienna and pays her some pretty compliments,
"just as if he had been at one of our little Wednesday suppers."
There is a charm in the simple naivete with which she tells her
friends how cordially Maria Theresa receives her at Schonbrunn,
and she does not forget to add that the empress said she had the
most beautiful complexion in the world. She repeats quite
naturally, and with a slight touch of vanity perhaps, the fine
speeches made to her by the "adorable Prince Galitzin" and Prince
Kaunitz, "the first minister in Europe," both of whom entertained
her. But she would have been more than a woman to have met all
this honor with indifference. No wonder she believes herself to
be dreaming. "I am known here much better than in the Rue St.
Honore," she writes, "and in a fashion the most flattering. My
journey has made an incredible sensation for the last fifteen
days." To be sure, she spells badly for a woman who poses as the
friend of litterateurs and savants, and says very little about
anything that does not concern her own fame and glory. But she
does not cease to remember her friends, whom she "loves, if
possible, better than ever." Nor does she forget to send a
thousand caresses to her kitten.

A messenger from Warsaw meets her with everything imaginable that
can add to the comfort and luxury of her journey, and on reaching
there she finds a room fitted up for her like her own boudoir in
the Rue St. Honore. She accepts all this consideration with
great modesty and admirable good sense. "This tour finished,"
she writes to d'Alembert, "I feel that I shall have seen enough
of men and things to be convinced that they are everywhere about
the same. I have my storehouse of reflections and comparisons
well furnished for the rest of my life. All that I have seen
since leaving my Penates makes me thank God for having been born
French and a private person."

The peculiar charm which attracted such rare and marked
attentions to a woman not received at her own court, and at a
time when social distinctions were very sharply defined, eludes
analysis, but it seems to have lain largely in her exquisite
sense of fitness, her excellent judgment, her administrative
talent, the fine tact and penetration which enabled her to avoid
antagonism, an instinctive knowledge of the art of pleasing, and
a kind but not too sensitive heart. These qualities are not
those which appeal to the imagination or inspire enthusiasm. We
find in her no spark of that celestial flame which gives
intellectual distinction. In her amiability there seems to be a
certain languor of the heart. Her kindness has a trace of
calculation, and her friendship of self-consciousness. Of
spontaneity she has none. "She loved nothing passionately, not
even virtue," says one of her critics. There was a certain
method in her simplicity. She carried to perfection the art of
savoir vivre, and though she claimed freedom of thought and
action, it was always strictly within conventional limits.

She suffered the fate of all celebrities in being occasionally
attacked. The role assigned to her in the comedy of "The
Philosophers" was not a flattering one, and some criticisms of
Montesquieu wounded her so deeply that she succeeded in having
them suppressed. She did not escape the shafts of envy, nor the
sneers of the grandes dames who did not relish her popularity.
But these were only spots on the surface of a singularly
brilliant career. Calm, reposeful, charitable, without
affectation or pretension, but not untouched by ennui, the malady
of her time, she held her position to the end of a long life
which closed in 1777.

"Alas," said d'Alembert, who had been in the habit of spending
his mornings with Mlle. de Lespinasse until her death, and his
evenings with Mme. Geoffrin, "I have neither evenings nor
mornings left."

"She has made for fifty years the charm of her society," said the
Abbe Morellet. "She has been constantly, habitually virtuous and
benevolent." Her salon brought authors and artists into direct
relation with distinguished patrons, especially foreigners, and
thus contributed largely to the spread of French art and letters.
It was counted among "the institutions of the eighteenth

Mme. de Graffigny--Baron d'Holbach--Mme. d'Epinay's Portrait of
Herself--Mlle. Quinault--Rousseau--La Chevrette--Grimm--
Diderot--The Abbe Galiani--Estimate of Mme. d'Epinay

A few of the more radical and earnest of the philosophers rarely,
if ever, appeared at the table of Mme. Geoffrin. They would have
brought too much heat to this company, which discussed everything
in a light and agreeable fashion. Perhaps, too, these free and
brilliant spirits objected to the leading-strings which there
held every one within prescribed limits. They could talk more at
their ease at the weekly dinners of Baron d'Holbach, in the
salons of Mme. Helvetius, Mme. de Marchais, or Mme. de Graffigny,
in the Encyclopedist coterie of Mlle. de Lespinasse, or in the
liberal drawing room of Mme. d'Epinay, who held a more
questionable place in the social world, but received much good
company, Mme. Geoffrin herself included.

Mme. de Graffigny is known mainly as a woman of letters whose
life had in it many elements of tragedy. Her youth was passed in
the brilliant society of the little court at Luneville. She was
distantly related to Mme. du Chatelet, and finally took refuge
from the cruelties of a violent and brutal husband in the
"terrestrial paradise" at Cirey. La belle Emilie was moved to
sympathy, and Voltaire wept at the tale of her sorrows. A little
later she became a victim to the poet's sensitive vanity. He
accused her of sending to a friend a copy of his "Pucello," an
unfinished poem which was kept under triple lock, though parts of
it had been read to her. Her letters were opened, her innocent
praises were turned against her, there was a scene, and Cirey was
a paradise no more. She came to Paris, ill, sad, and penniless.
She wrote "Les Lettres d'une Peruvienne" and found herself famous.
She wrote "Cenie," which was played at the Comedie Francaise, and
her success was established. Then she wrote another drama. "She
read it to me," says one of her friends; "I found it bad; she
found me ill-natured. It was played; the public died of ennui
and the author of chagrin." "I am convinced that misfortune will
follow me into paradise," she said. At all events, it seems to
have followed her to the entrance.

Her salon was more or less celebrated. The freedom of the
conversations may be inferred from the fact that Helvetius
gathered there the materials for his "De l'Esprit," a book
condemned by the Pope, the Parliament, and the Sorbonne. It was
here also that he found his charming wife, a niece of Mme. de
Graffigny, and the light of her house as afterwards of his own.

A more permanent interest is attached to the famous dinners of
Baron d'Holbach, where twice a week men like Diderot, Helvetius,
Grimm, Marmontel, Duclos, the Abbe Galiani and for a time Buffon
and Rousseau, met in an informal way to enjoy the good cheer and
good wines of this "maitre d'hotel of philosophy," and discuss
the affairs of the universe. The learned and free-thinking baron
was agreeable, kind, rich, and lavish in his hospitality, but
without pretension. "He was a man simply simple," said Mme.
Geoffrin. We have many pleasant glimpses of his country place at
Grandval, with its rich and rare collections, its library, its
pictures, its designs, and of the beautiful wife who turned the
heads of some of the philosophers, whom, as a rule, she did not
like overmuch, though she received them so graciously. "We dine
well and a long time," wrote Diderot. "We talk of art, of
poetry, of philosophy, and of love, of the greatness and vanity
of our own enterprises . . . Of gods and kings, of space and
time, of death and of life."

"They say things to make a thunderbolt strike the house a hundred
times, if it struck for that," said the Abbe Morellet.

Among the few women admitted to these dinners was Mme. d'Epinay,
for whom d'Holbach, as well as his amiable wife, always
entertained the warmest friendship. This woman, whose position
was not assured enough to make people overlook her peculiar and
unfortunate domestic complications, has told the story of her own
life in her long and confidential correspondence with Grimm,
Galiani, and Voltaire. The senseless follies of a cruel and
worthless husband, who plunged her from great wealth into extreme
poverty, and of whom Diderot said that "he had squandered two
millions without saying a good word or doing a good action,"
threw her into intimate relations with Grimm; this brought her
into the center of a famous circle. Her letters give us a clear
but far from flattering reflection of the manners of the time.
She unveils the bare and hard facts of her own experience, the
secret workings of her own soul. The picture is not a pleasant
one, but it is full of significance to the moralist, and
furnishes abundant matter for psychological study.

The young girl, who had entered upon the scene about 1725, under
the name of Louise Florence Petronille-Tardieu d'Esclavelles, was
married at twenty to her cousin. It seems to have been really a
marriage of love; but the weak and faithless M. d'Epinay was
clearly incapable of truth or honor, and the torturing process by
which the confiding young wife was disillusioned, the insidious
counsel of a false and profligate friend, with the final betrayal
of a tender and desolate heart, form a chapter as revolting as it
is pathetic. The fresh, lively, pure-minded, sensitive girl,
whose intellect had been fed on Rollin's history and books of
devotion, who feared the dissipations of the gay world and shrank
with horror from the rouge which her frivolous husband compelled
her to put on, learned her lesson rapidly in the school of

At thirty she writes of herself, after the fashion of the pen
portraits of the previous century:

"I am not pretty; yet I am not plain. I am small, thin, very
well formed. I have the air of youth, without freshness, but
noble, sweet, lively, spirituelle, and interesting. My
imagination is tranquil. My mind is slow, just, reflective, and
inconsequent. I have vivacity, courage, firmness, elevation, and
excessive timidity. I am true without being frank. Timidity
often gives me the appearance of dissimulation and duplicity; but
I have always had the courage to confess my weakness, in order to
destroy the suspicion of a vice which I have not. I have the
finesse to attain my end and to remove obstacles; but I have none
to penetrate the purposes of others. I was born tender and
sensible, constant and no coquette. I love retirement, a life
simple and private; nevertheless I have almost always led one
contrary to my taste. Bad health, and sorrows sharp and
repeated, have given a serious cast to my character, which is
naturally very gay."

Her first entrance into the world in which wit reigned supreme
was in the free but elegant salon of Mlle. Quinault, an actress
of the Comedie Francaise, who had left the stage, and taking the
role of a femme d'esprit, had gathered around her a distinguished
and fashionable coterie. This woman, who had received a
decoration for a fine motet she had composed for the queen's
chapel, who was loved and consulted by Voltaire, and who was the
best friend of d'Alembert after the death of Mlle. de Lespinasse,
represented the genius of esprit and finesse. She was the
companion of princes, the adoration of princesses, the oracle of
artists and litterateurs, the model of elegance, and the
embodiment of social success. It did not matter much that the
tone of her salon was lax; it was fashionable. "It distilled
dignity, la convenance, and formality," says the Marquise de
Crequi, who relates an anecdote that aptly illustrates the
glamour which surrounded talent at that time. She was taken by
her grandmother to see Mlle. Quinault, and by some chance mistook
her for Mlle. de Vertus, who was so much flattered by her
innocent error that she left her forty thousand francs, when she
died a few months later.

Mme. d'Epinay was delighted to find herself in so brilliant a
world, and was greatly fascinated by its wit, though she was not
sure that those who met there did not "feel too much the
obligation of having it." But she caught the spirit, and
transferred it, in some degree, to her own salon, which was more
literary than fashionable. Here Francueil presents "a sorry
devil of an author who is as poor as Job, but has wit and vanity
enough for four." This is Rousseau, the most conspicuous figure
in the famous coterie. "He is a man to whom one should raise
altars," wrote Mme. d'Epinay. "And the simplicity with which he
relates his misfortunes! I have still a pitying soul. It is
frightful to imagine such a man in misery." She fitted up for
him the Hermitage, and did a thousand kind things which entitled
her to a better return than he gave. There is a pleasant moment
when we find him the center of an admiring circle at La
Chevrette, falling madly in love with her clever and beautiful
sister-in-law the Comtesse d'Houdetot, writing "La Nouvelle
Heloise" under the inspiration of this passion, and dreaming in
the lovely promenades at Montmorency, quite at peace with the
world. But the weeping philosopher, who said such fine things
and did such base ones, turned against his benefactress and
friend for some imaginary offense, and revenged himself by false
and malicious attacks upon her character. The final result was a
violent quarrel with the whole circle of philosophers, who
espoused the cause of Mme. d'Epinay. This little history is
interesting, as it throws so much light upon the intimate
relations of some of the greatest men of the century. Behind the
perpetual round of comedies, readings, dinners, music, and
conversation, there is a real comedy of passion, intrigue,
jealousy, and hidden misery that destroys many illusions.

Mme. d'Epinay has been made familiar to us by Grimm, Galiani,
Diderot, Rousseau, and Voltaire. Perhaps, on the whole, Voltaire
has given us the most agreeable impression. She was ill of grief
and trouble, and had gone to Geneva to consult the famous
Tronchin when she was thrown into more or less intimacy with the
Sage of Ferney. He invited her to dinner immediately upon her
arrival. "I was much fatigued, besides having confessed and
received communion the evening before. I did not find it fitting
to dine with Voltaire two days afterward," writes this curiously
sensitive friend of the free-thinkers. He addresses her as ma
belle philosophe, speaks of her as "an eagle in a cage of gauze,"
and praises in verse her philosophy, her esprit, her heart, and
her "two great black eyes." He weeps at her departure, tells her
she is "adored at Delices, adored at Paris, adored present and
absent." But "the tears of a poet do not always signify grief,"
says Mme. d'Epinay.

There is a second period in her life, when she introduces us
again to the old friends who always sustained her, and to many
new ones. The world that meets in her salon later is much the
same as that which dines with Baron d'Holbach. To measure its
attractions one must recall the brilliancy and eloquence of
Diderot; the wit, the taste, the learning, the courtly
accomplishments of Grimm; the gaiety and originality of
d'Holbach, who had "read everything and forgotten nothing
interesting;" the sparkling conversation of the most finished and
scholarly diplomats in Europe, many of whom we have already met
at the dinners of Mme. Geoffrin. They discuss economic
questions, politics, religion, art, literature, with equal
freedom and ardor. They are as much divided on the merits of
Gluck's "Armida" and Piccini's "Roland" as upon taxes, grains, and
the policy of the government. The gay little Abbe Galiani brings
perennial sunshine with the inexhaustible wit and vivacity that
lights his clear and subtle intellect. "He is a treasure on
rainy days," says Diderot. "If they made him at the toy shops
everybody would want one for the country." "He was the nicest
little harlequin that Italy has produced," says Marmontel, "but
upon the shoulders of this harlequin was the head of a
Machiavelli. Epicurean in his philosophy and with a melancholy
soul, seeing everything on the ridiculous side, there was nothing
either in politics or morals apropos of which he had not a good
story to tell, and these stories were always apt and had the salt
of an unexpected and ingenious allusion." He did not accept the
theories of his friends, which he believed would "cause the
bankruptcy of knowledge, of pleasure, and of the human
intellect." "Messieurs les philosophes, you go too fast," he
said. "I begin by saying that if I were pope I would put you in
the Inquisition, and if I were king of France, into the
Bastille." He saw the drift of events; but if he reasoned like a
philosopher he laughed like a Neapolitan. What matters tomorrow
if we are happy today!

The familiar notes and letters of these clever people picture for
us a little world with its small interests, its piques, its
loves, its friendships, its quarrels, and its hatreds. Diderot,
who refused for a long time to meet Mme. d'Epinay, but finally
became an intimate and lasting friend, touches often, in his
letters to Sophie, upon the pleasant informality of La Chevrette,
with its curious social episodes and its emotional undercurrents.
He does not forget even the pigeons, the geese, the ducks, and
the chickens, which he calls his own. Pouf, the dog, has his
place here too, and flits often across the scene, a tiny bit of
reflected immortality. These letters represent the bold
iconoclast on his best side, kind, simple in his tastes, and
loyal to his friends. He was never at home in the great world.
He was seen sometimes in the salons of Mme. Geoffrin, Mme.
Necker, and others, but he made his stay as brief as possible.
Mme. d'Epinay succeeded better in attaching him to her coterie.
There was more freedom, and he probably had a more sympathetic
audience. "Four lines of this man make me dram more and occupy
me more," she said, "than a complete work of our pretended beaux
esprits." Grimm, too, was a central figure here, and Grimm was
his friend. But over his genius, as over that of Rousseau, there
was the trail of the serpent. The breadth of his thought, the
brilliancy of his criticisms, the eloquence of his style were
clouded with sensualism. "When you see on his forehead the
reflection of a ray from Plato," says Sainte-Beuve, "do not trust
it; look well, there is always the foot of a satyr."

It was to the clear and penetrating intellect of Grimm, with its
vein of German romanticism, that Mme. d'Epinay was indebted for
the finest appreciation and the most genuine sympathy. "Bon
Dieu," he writes to Diderot, "how this woman is to be pitied! I
should not be troubled about her if she were as strong as she is
courageous. She is sweet and trusting; she is peaceful, and
loves repose above all; but her situation exacts unceasingly a
conduct forced and out of her character; nothing so wears and
destroys a machine naturally frail." She aided him in his
correspondance litteraire; wrote a treatise on education, which
had the honor of being crowned by the Academy; and, among other
things of more or less value, a novel, which was not published
until long after her death. With many gifts and attractions,
kind, amiable, forgiving, and essentially emotional, Mme.
d'Epinay seems to have been a woman of weak and undecided
character, without sufficient strength of moral fiber to sustain
herself with dignity under the unfortunate circumstances which
surrounded her. "It depends only upon yourself," said Grimm, "to
be the happiest and most adorable creature in the world, provided
that you do not put the opinions of others before your own, and
that you know how to suffice for yourself." Her education had
not given her the worldly tact and address of Mme. Geoffrin, and
her salon never had a wide celebrity; but it was a meeting place
of brilliant and radical thinkers, of the men who have perhaps
done the most to change the face of the modern world. In a quiet
and intimate way, it was one among the numberless forces which
were gathering and gaining momentum to culminate in the great
tragedy of the century. Mme. d'Epinay did not live to see the
catastrophe. Worn out by a life of suffering and ill health, she
died in 1783.

Whatever her faults and weaknesses may have been, the woman who
could retain the devoted affection of so brilliant and versatile
a man as Grimm for twenty-seven years, who was the lifelong
friend and correspondent of Galiani and Voltaire, and the valued
confidante of Diderot, must have had some rare attractions of
mind, heart, or character.

La Marechale de Luxembourg--The Temple--Comtesse de Boufflers--
Mme. du Deffand--Her Convent Salon--Rupture with Mlle. de
Lespinasse--Her Friendship with Horace Walpole--Her brilliancy
and Her Ennui

While the group of iconoclasts who formed the nucleus of the
philosophical salons was airing its theories and enjoying its
increasing vogue, there was another circle which played with the
new ideas more or less as a sort of intellectual pastime, but was
aristocratic au fond, and carefully preserved all the traditions
of the old noblesse. One met here the philosophers and men of
letters, but they did not dominate; they simply flavored these
coteries of rank and fashion. In this age of esprit no salon was
complete without its sprinkling of literary men. We meet the shy
and awkward Rousseau even in the exclusive drawing room of the
clever and witty but critical Marechale de Luxembourg, who
presides over a world in which the graces rule--a world of
elegant manners, of etiquette, and of forms. This model of the
amenities, whose gay and faulty youth ripened into a pious and
charitable age, was at the head of that tribunal which pronounced
judgment upon all matters relating to society. She was learned
in genealogy, analyzed and traced to their source the laws of
etiquette, possessed a remarkable memory, and without profound
education, had learned much from conversation with the savants
and illustrious men who frequented her house. Her wit was
proverbial, and she was never at a loss for a ready repartee or a
spicy anecdote. She gave two grand suppers a week. Mme. de
Genlis, who was often there, took notes, according to her custom,
and has left an interesting record of conversations that were
remarkable not only for brilliancy, but for the thoughtful wisdom
of the comments upon men and things. La Harpe read a great part
of his works in this salon. Rousseau entertained the princely
guests at Montmorency with "La Nouvelle Heloise" and "Emile," and
though never quite at ease, his democratic theories did not
prevent him from feeling greatly honored by their friendly
courtesies; indeed, he loses his usual bitterness when speaking
of this noble patroness. He says that her conversation was
marked by an exquisite delicacy that always pleased, and her
flatteries were intoxicating because they were simple and seemed
to escape without intention.

Mme. de Luxembourg was an autocrat, and did not hesitate to
punish errors in taste by social ostracism. "Erase the name of
Monsieur -- -- -- from my list," she said, as a gentleman left
after relating a scandalous story reflecting upon some one's
honor. It was one of her theories that "society should punish
what the law cannot attack." She maintained that good manners
are based upon noble and delicate sentiments, that mutual
consideration, deference, politeness, gentleness, and respect to
age are essential to civilization. The disloyal, the ungrateful
bad sons, bad brothers, bad husbands, and bad wives, whose
offenses were serious enough to be made public, she banished from
that circle which called itself la bonne compagnie. It must be
admitted, however, that it was les convenances rather than
morality which she guarded.

A rival of this brilliant salon, and among the most celebrated of
its day, was the one at the Temple. The animating spirit here
was the amiable and vivacious Comtesse de Boufflers, celebrated
in youth for her charms, and later for her talent. She was dame
d'honneur to the Princesse de Conti, wife of the Duc d'Orleans,
who was noted for her caustic wit, as well as for her beauty. It
was in the salon of his clever and rather capricious sister that
the learned Prince de Conti met her and formed the intimacy that
ended only with his life. She was called the idole of the
Temple, and her taste for letters gave her also the title of
Minerve savante. She wrote a tragedy which was said to be good,
though she would never let it go out of her hands, and has been
immortalized by Rousseau, with whom she corresponded for sixteen
years. Hume also exchanged frequent letters with her, and she
tried in vain to reconcile these two friends after their quarrel.
President Henault said he had never met a woman of so much
esprit, adding that "outside all her charms she had character."
For society she had a veritable passion. She said that when she
loved England the best she could not think of staying there
without "taking twenty-four or twenty-five intimate friends, and
sixty or eighty others who were absolutely necessary to her."
Her conversation was full of fire and brilliancy, and her gaiety
of heart, her gracious manners, and her frank appreciation of the
talent of others added greatly to her piquant fascination. She
delighted in original turns of expression, which were sometimes
far-fetched and artificial. One of her friends said that "she
made herself the victim of consideration, and lost it by running
after it." Her rule of life may be offered as a model. "In
conduct, simplicity and reason; in manners, propriety and
decorum; in actions, justice and generosity; in the use of
wealth, economy and liberality; in conversation, clearness,
truth, precision; in adversity, courage and pride; in prosperity,
modesty and moderation." Unfortunately she did not put all this
wisdom into practice, if we judge her by present standards. We
have a glimpse of the famous circle over which she presided in an
interesting picture formerly at Versailles, now at the Louvre.
The figures are supposed to be portraits. Among others are Mme.
de Luxembourg, the Comtesse de Boufflers, and the lovely but ill-
fated young stepdaughter, Amelie, Comtesse de Lauzun, to whom she
is so devoted; the beautiful Comtesse d'Egmont, Mme. de Beauvan,
President Henault, the witty Pont de Veyle, Mairan, the versatile
scientist, and the Prince de Conti. In the midst of this group
the little Mozart, whose genius was then delighting Europe, sits
at the harpsichord. The chronicles of the time give us pleasant
descriptions of the literary diversions of this society, which
met by turns at the Temple and Ile-Adam. But the Prince as well
as the clever Comtesse had a strong leaning towards philosophy,
and the amusements were interspersed with much conversation of a
serious character that has a peculiar interest today when read by
the light of after events.

Among the numerous salons of the noblesse there was one which
calls for more than a passing word, both on account of its world-
wide fame and the exceptional brilliancy of its hostess. Though
far less democratic and cosmopolitan than that of Mme. Geoffrin,
with which it was contemporary, its character was equally
distinct and original. Linked by birth with the oldest of the
nobility, allied by intellect with the most distinguished in the
world of letters, Mme. du Deffand appropriated the best in
thought, while retaining the spirit of an elegant and refined
social life. She was exclusive by nature and instinct, as well
as by tradition, and could not dispense with the arts and
amenities which are the fruit of generations of ease; but the
energy and force of her intellect could as little tolerate
shallowness and pretension, however disguised beneath the
graceful tyranny of forms. Her salon offers a sort of compromise
between the freedom of the philosophical coteries and the
frivolities of the purely fashionable ones. It included the most
noted of the men of letters--those who belonged to the old
aristocracy and a few to whom nature had given a prescriptive
title of nobility--as well as the flower of the great world.
Her sarcastic wit, her clear intelligence, and her rare
conversational gifts added a tone of individuality that placed
her salon at the head of the social centers of the time in
brilliancy and in esprit. In this group of wits, LITTERATEURS,
philosophers, statesmen, churchmen, diplomats, and men of rank,
Mme. du Deffand herself is always the most striking figure. The
art of self-suppression she clearly did not possess. But the art
of so blending a choice society that her own vivid personality
was a pervading note of harmony she had to an eminent degree.
She could easily have made a mark upon her time through her
intellectual gifts without the factitious aid of the men with
whom her name is associated. But society was her passion
society animated by intellect, sparkling with wit, and expressing
in all its forms the art instincts of her race. She never
aspired to authorship, but she has left a voluminous
correspondence in which one reads the varying phases of a
singularly capricious character. In her old age she found refuge
from a devouring ennui in writing her own memoirs. Merciless to
herself as to others, she veils nothing, revealing her frailties
with a freedom that reminds one of Rousseau.

It is not the portrait of an estimable woman that we can paint
from these records; but in her intellectual force, her social
gifts, and her moral weakness she is one of the best exponents of
an age that trampled upon the finest flowers of the soul in the
blind pursuit of pleasure and the cynical worship of a hard and
unpitying realism. Living from 1697 to 1780, she saw the train
laid for the Revolution, and died in time to escape its horrors.
She traversed the whole experience of the women of her world with
the independence and abandon of a nature that was moderate in
nothing. It is true she felt the emptiness of this arid
existence, and had an intellectual perception of its errors, but
she saw nothing better. "All conditions appear to me equally
unhappy, from the angel to the oyster," is the burden of her
hopeless refrain.

She reveals herself to us as two distinct characters. The one
best known is hard, bitter, coldly analytic, and mocks at
everything bordering upon sentiment or feeling. The other, which
underlies this, and of which we have rare glimpses, is frank,
tender, loving even to weakness, and forever at war with the
barrenness of a period whose worst faults she seems to have
embodied, and whose keenest penalties she certainly suffered.

Voltaire, the lifelong friend whom she loved, but critically
measured, was three years old when she was born; Mme. de Sevigne
had been dead nearly a year. Of a noble family in Burgundy,
Marie de Vichy-Chamroud was brought to Paris at six years of age
and placed in the convent of St. Madeleine de Traisnel, where she
was educated after the superficial fashion which she so much
regrets in later years. She speaks of herself as a romantic,
imaginative child, but she began very early to shock the pious
sisters by her dawning skepticism. One of the nuns had a wax
figure of the infant Jesus, which she discovered to have been a
doll formerly dressed to represent the Spanish fashions to Anne
of Austria. This was the first blow to her illusions, and had a
very perceptible influence upon her life. She pronounced it a
deception. Eight days of solitude with a diet of bread and water
failed to restore her reverence. "It does not depend upon me to
believe or disbelieve," she said. The eloquent and insinuating
Massillon was called in to talk with her. "She is charming," was
his remark, as he left her after two hours of conversation;
adding thoughtfully, "Give her a five-cent catechism."

Skeptical by nature and saturated with the free-thinking spirit
of the time, she reasoned that all religion was au fond, only
paganism disguised. In later years, when her isolated soul
longed for some tangible support, she spoke regretfully of the
philosophic age which destroyed beliefs by explaining and
analyzing everything.

But a beautiful, clever, high-spirited girl of sixteen is apt to
feel her youth all suffering. It is certain that she had no
inclination towards the life of a religieuse, and the country
quickly became insupportable after her return to its provincial
society. Ennui took possession of her. She was glad even to go
to confessional, for the sake of telling her thoughts to some
one. She complained bitterly that the life of women compelled
dependence upon the conduct of others, submission to all ills and
all consequences. Long afterwards she said that she would have
married the devil if he had been clothed as a gentleman and
assured her a moderate life. But a husband was at last found for
her, and merely to escape the monotony of her secluded existence,
she was glad, at twenty-one, to become the wife of the Marquis du
Deffand--a good but uninteresting man, much older than herself.

Brilliant, fascinating, restless, eager to see and to learn, she
felt herself in her element in the gay world of Paris. She
confessed that, for the moment, she almost loved her husband for
bringing her there. But the moment was a short one. They did
not even settle down to what a witty Frenchman calls the
"politeness of two indifferences." It is a curious commentary
upon the times, that the beautiful but notorious Mme. de
Parabere, who introduced her at once into her own unscrupulous
world and the petits soupers of the Regent, condoled with the
young bride upon her marriage, regretting that she had not taken
the easy vows of a chanoinesse, as Mme. de Tencin had done. "In
that case," she said, "you would have been free; well placed
everywhere; with the stability of a married woman; a revenue
which permits one to live and accept aid from others; the
independence of a widow, without the ties which a family imposes;
unquestioned rank, which you would owe to no one; indulgence, and
impunity. For these advantages there is only the trouble of
wearing a cross, which is becoming; black or gray habits, which
can be made as magnificent as one likes; a little imperceptible
veil, and a knitting sheath."

Under such teaching she was not long in taking her own free and
independent course, which was reckless even in that age of
laxity. At her first supper at the Palais Royal she met Voltaire
and fascinated the Regent, though her reign lasted but a few
days. The counsels of her aunt, the dignified Duchesse de
Luynes, availed nothing. Her husband was speedily sent off on
some mission to the provinces and she plunged into the current.
Once afterwards, in a fit of ennui, she recalled him, frankly
stating her position. But she quickly wearied of him again, grew
dull, silent, lost her vivacity, and fell into a profound
melancholy. Her friend Mme. de Parabere took it upon herself to
explain to him the facts, and he kindly relieved her forever of
his presence, leaving a touching and pathetic letter which gave
her a moment of remorse in spite of her lightened heart. This
sin against good taste the Parisian world could not forgive, and
even her friends turned against her for a time. But the Duchesse
due Maine came to her aid with an all-powerful influence, and
restored her finally to her old position. For some years she
passed the greater part of her time at Sceaux, and was a favorite
at this lively little court.

It is needless to trace here the details of a career which gives
us little to admire and much to condemn. It was about 1740 when
her salon became noted as a center for the fashionable and
literary world of Paris. Montesquieu and d'Alembert were then
among her intimate friends. Of the latter she says: "The
simplicity of his manners, the purity of his morals, the air of
youth, the frankness of character, joined to all his talents,
astonished at first those who saw him." It is said to have been
through her zeal that he was admitted to the Academy so young.
Among others who formed her familiar circle were her devoted
friend Pont de Veyle; the Chevalier d'Aydie; Formont, the
"spirituel idler and amiable egotist," who was one of the three
whom she confesses really to have loved; and President Henault,
who brought always a fund of lively anecdote and agreeable
conversation. This world of fashion and letters, slightly
seasoned with philosophy, is also the world of Mme. de
Luxembourg, of the brilliant Mme. de Mirepoix, of the Prince and
Princesse de Beauvau, and of the lovely Duchesse de Choiseul, a
femme d'esprit and "mistress of all the elegances," whose gentle
virtues fall like a ray of sunlight across the dark pages of this
period. It is the world of elegant forms, the world in which a
sin against taste is worse than a sin against morals, the world
which hedges itself in by a thousand unwritten laws that save it
from boredom.

After the death of the Duchesse du Maine, Mme. du Deffand retired
to the little convent of St. Joseph, where, after the manner of
many women of rank with small fortunes, she had her menage and
received her friends. "I have a very pretty apartment," she
writes to Voltaire; "very convenient; I only go out for supper.
I do not sleep elsewhere, and I make no visits. My society is
not numerous, but I am sure it will please you; and if you were
here you would make it yours. I have seen for some time many
savants and men of letters; I have not found their society
delightful." The good nuns objected a little to Voltaire at
first, but seem to have been finally reconciled to the visits of
the arch-heretic. At this time Mme. du Deffand had supposably
reformed her conduct, if not her belief.

She continued to entertain the flower of the nobility and the
stars of the literary and scientific world. But while the most
famous of the men of letters were welcome in her salon, the tone
was far from pedantic or even earnest. It was a society of
conventional people, the elite of fashion and intelligence, who
amused themselves in an intellectual but not too serious way.
Montesquieu, who liked those houses in which he could pass with
his every-day wit, said, "I love this woman with all my heart;
she pleases and amuses me; it is impossible to feel a moment's
ennui in her company." Mme. de Genlis, who did not love her
expressed her surprise at finding her so natural and so kindly.
Her conversation was simple and without pretension. When she was
pleased, her manners were even affectionate. She never entered
into a discussion, confessing that she was not sufficiently
attached to any opinion to defend it. She disliked the
enthusiasm of the philosophers unless it was hidden behind the
arts of the courtier, as in Voltaire, whose delicate satire
charmed her. Diderot came once, "eyed her epicurean friends,"
and came no more. The air was not free enough. When at home she
had three or four at supper every day, often a dozen, and, once a
week, a grand supper. All the intellectual fashions of the time
are found here. La Harpe reads a translation from Sophocles and
his own tragedy. Clairon, the actress in vogue, recites the
roles of Phedre and Agrippine, Lekain reads Voltaire, and Goldoni
a comedy of his own, which the hostess finds tiresome. New
books, new plays, the last song, the latest word of the
philosophers--all are talked about, eulogized, or dismissed with
a sarcasm. The wit of Mme. du Deffand is feared, but it
fascinates. She delights in clever repartees and sparkling
epigrams. A shaft of wit silences the most complacent of
monologues. "What tiresome book are you reading?" she said one
day to a friend who talked too earnestly and too long--saving
herself from the charge of rudeness by an easy refuge in her

Her criticisms are always severe. "There are only two pleasures
for me in the world--society and reading," she writes. "What
society does one find? Imbeciles, who utter only commonplaces,
who know nothing, feel nothing, think nothing; a few people of
talent, full of themselves, jealous, envious, wicked, whom one
must hate or scorn." To some one who was eulogizing a mediocre
man, adding that all the world was of the same opinion, she
replied, "I make small account of the world, Monsieur, since I
perceive that one can divide it into three parts, les trompeurs,
les trompes, et les trompettes." Still it is life alone that
interests her. Though she is not satisfied with people, she has
always the hope that she will be. In literature she likes only
letters and memoirs, because they are purely human; but the age
has nothing that pleases her. "It is cynical or pedantic," she
writes to Voltaire; "there is no grace, no facility, no
imagination. Everything is a la glace, hardness without force,
license without gaiety; no talent, much presumption."

As age came on, and she felt the approach of blindness, she found
a companion in Mlle. de Lespinasse, a young girl of remarkable
gifts, who had an obscure and unacknowledged connection with her
family. For ten years the young woman was a slave to the
caprices of her exacting mistress, reading to her through long
nights of wakeful restlessness, and assisting to entertain her
guests. The one thing upon which Mme. du Deffand most prided
herself was frankness. She hated finesse, and had stipulated
that she would not tolerate artifice in any form. It was her
habit to lie awake all night and sleep all day, and as she did
not receive her guests until six o'clock, Mlle. de Lespinasse,
whose amiable character and conversational charm had endeared her
at once to the circle of her patroness, arranged to see her
personal friends--among whom were d'Alembert, Turgot,
Chastellux, and Marmontel--in her own apartments for an hour
before the marquise appeared. When this came to the knowledge of
the latter, she fell into a violent rage at what she chose to
regard as a treachery to herself, and dismissed her companion at
once. The result was the opening of a rival salon which carried
off many of her favorite guests, notably d'Alembert, to whom she
was much attached. "If she had died fifteen years earlier, I
should not have lost d'Alembert," was her sympathetic remark when
she heard of the death of Mlle. de Lespinasse.

But the most striking point in the career of this worldly woman
was her friendship for Horace Walpole. When they first met she
was nearly seventy, blind, ill-tempered, bitter, and hopelessly
ennuyee. He was not yet fifty, a brilliant, versatile man of the
world, and saw her only at long intervals. Their curious
correspondence extends over a period of fifteen years, ending
only with her death.

In a letter to Grayson, after meeting her, he writes: "Mme. du
Deffand is now very old and stone blind, but retains all her
vivacity, wit, memory, judgment, passion, and agreeableness. She
goes to operas, plays, suppers, Versailles; gives supper twice a
week; has everything new read to her; makes new songs and
epigrams--aye, admirably--and remembers every one that has been
made these fourscore years. She corresponds with Voltaire,
dictates charming letters to him, contradicts him, is no bigot to
him or anybody, and laughs both at the clergy and the
philosophers. In a dispute, into which she easily falls, she is
very warm, and yet scarce ever in the wrong; her judgment on
every subject is as just as possible; on every point of conduct
as wrong as possible; for she is all love and hatred, passionate
for her friends to enthusiasm, still anxious to be loved--I
don't mean by lovers--and a vehement enemy openly."

The acquaintance thus begun quickly drilled into an intimacy.
Friendship she calls this absorbing sentiment, but it has all the
caprices and inconsistencies of love. Fed by the imagination,
and prevented by separation from wearing itself out, it became
the most permanent interest of her life. There is something
curiously pathetic in the submissive attitude of this blind,
aged, but spirited woman--who scoffs at sentiment and confesses
that she could never love anything--towards the man who
criticizes her, scolds her, crushes back her too ardent feeling,
yet calls her his dear old friend, writes her a weekly letter,
and modestly declares that she "loves him better than all France

The spirit of this correspondence greatly modifies the impression
which her own words, as well as the facts of her career, would
naturally give us. We find in the letters of this period little
of the freshness and spontaneity that lent such a charm to the
letters of Mme. de Sevigne and her contemporaries. Women still
write of the incidents of their lives, the people they meet,
their jealousies, their rivalries, their loves, and their
follies; but they think, where they formerly mirrored the world
about them. They analyze, they compare, the criticize, they
formulate their own emotions, they add opinions to facts. The
gaiety, the sparkle, the wit, the play of feeling, is not there.
Occasionally there is the tone of passion, as in the letters of
Mlle. Aisse and Mlle. de Lespinasse, but this is rare. Even
passion has grown sophisticated and deals with phrases. There is
more or less artificiality in the exchange of written thoughts.
Mme. du Deffand thinks while she writes, and what she sees takes
always the color of her own intelligence. She complains of her
inability to catch the elusive quality, the clearness, the
flexibility of Mme. de Sevigne, whom she longs to rival because
Walpole so admires her. But if she lacks the vivacity, the
simplicity, the poetic grace of her model, she has qualities not
less striking, though less lovable. Her keen insight is
unfailing. With masterly penetration she grasps the essence of
things. No one has portrayed so concisely and so vividly the men
and women of her time. No one has discriminated between the
shades of character with such nicety. No one has so clearly
fathomed the underlying motives of action. No one has forecast
the outcome of theories and events with such prophetic vision.
The note of bitterness and cynicism is always there. The nature
of the woman reveals itself in every line: keen, dry, critical,
with clear ideals which she can never hope to attain. But we
feel that she has stripped off the rags of pretension and brought
us face to face with realities. "All that I can do is to love
you with all my heart, as I have done for about fifty years,"
wrote Voltaire. "How could I fail to love you? Your soul seeks
always the true; it is a quality as rare as truth itself." So
far does she carry her hatred of insincerity that one is often
tempted to believe she affects a freedom from affectation. "I am
so fatigued with the vanity of others that I avoid the occasion
of having any myself," she writes. Is there not here a trace of
the quality she so despises?

But beneath all this runs the swift undercurrent of an absorbing
passion. A passion of friendship it may be, but it forces itself
through the arid shells of conventionalism; it is at once the
agony and the consolation of a despairing soul. Heartless, Mme.
du Deffand is called, and her life seems to prove the truth of
the verdict; but these letters throb and palpitate with feeling
which she laughs at, but cannot still. It is the cry of the soul
for what it has not; what the world cannot give; what it has
somehow missed out of a cold, hard, restless, and superficial
existence. With a need of loving, she is satisfied with no one.
There is something wanting; even in the affection of her friends.
"Ma grand'maman," she says to the gentle Duchesse de Choiseul,
"you KNOW that you love me, but you do not FEEL it."

Devouring herself in solitude, she despises the society she
cannot do without. "Men and women appear to me puppets who go,
come, talk, laugh, without thinking, without reflecting, without
feeling," she writes. She confesses that she has a thousand
troubles in assembling a choice company of people who bore her to
death. "One sees only masks, one hears only lies," is her
constant refrain. She does not want to live, but is afraid to
die; she says she is not made for this world, but does not know
that there is any other. She tries devotion, but has no taste
for it. Of the light that shines from within upon so many
darkened and weary souls she has no knowledge. Her vision is
bounded by the tangible, which offers only a rigid barrier,
against which her life flutters itself away. She dies as she has
lived, with a deepened conviction of the nothingness of
existence. "Spare me three things," she said to her confessor in
her last moments; "let me have no questions, no reasons, and no
sermons." Seeing Wiart, her faithful servitor, in tears, she
remarks pathetically, as if surprised, "You love me then?"
"Divert yourself as much as you can," was her final message to
Walpole. "You will regret me, because one is very glad to know
that one is loved." She commends to his care and affection
Tonton, her little dog.

Strong but not gentle, brilliant but not tender, too penetrating
for any illusions, with a nature forever at war with itself, its
surroundings, and its limitations, no one better points the moral
of an age without faith, without ideals, without the inner light
that reveals to hope what is denied to sense.

The influence of such a woman with her gifts, her energy, her
power, and her social prestige, can hardly be estimated. It was
not in the direction of the new drift of thought. "I am not a
fanatic as to liberty," she said; "I believe it is an error to
pretend that it exists in a democracy. One has a thousand
tyrants in place of one." She had no breadth of sympathy, and
her interests were largely personal; but in matters of style and
form her taste was unerring. Pitiless in her criticisms, she
held firmly to her ideals of clear, elegant, and concise
expression, both in literature and in conversation. She
tolerated no latitudes, no pretension, and left behind her the
traditions of a society that blended, more perfectly, perhaps,
than any other of her time, the best intellectual life with
courtly manners and a strict observance of les convenances.

A Romantic Career--Companion of Mme. du Deffand--Rival Salons--
Association with the Encyclopedists--D'Alembert--A Heart
Tragedy--Impassioned Letters--A Type Unique in her Age

Inseparably connected with the name of Mme. du Deffand is that of
her companion and rival, Mlle. de Lespinasse, the gifted,
charming, tender and loving woman who presided over one of the
most noted of the philosophical salons; who was the chosen friend
and confidante of the Encyclopedists; and who died in her prime
of a broken heart, leaving the world a legacy of letters that
rival those of Heloise or the poems of Sappho, as "immortal
pictures of passion." The memory of her social triumphs,
remarkable as they were, pales before the singular romances of
her life. In the midst of a cold, critical, and heartless
society, that adored talent and ridiculed sentiment, she became
the victim of a passion so profound, so ardent, so hopeless, that
her powerful intellect bent before it like a reed before a storm.
She died of that unsuspected passion, and years afterwards these
letters found the light and told the tale.

The contrast between the two women so closely linked together is
complete. Mme. du Deffand belonged to the age of Voltaire by
every fiber of her hard and cynical nature. What she called love
was a fire of the intellect which consumed without warming. It
was a violent and fierce prejudice in favor of those who
reflected something of herself. The tenderness of self-sacrifice
was not there. Mlle. de Lespinasse was of the later era of
Rousseau; the era of exaggerated feeling, of emotional delirium,
of romantic dreams; the era whose heroine was the loving and
sentimental "Julie," for whose portrait she might have sat, with a
shade or so less of intellect and brilliancy. But it was more
than a romantic dream that shadowed and shortened the life of
Mlle. de Lespinasse. She had a veritable heart of flame, that
consumed not only itself but its frail tenement as well.

Julie-Jeanne-Eleonore de Lespinasse, who was born at Lyons in
1732, had a birthright of sorrow. Her mother, the Comtesse
d'Albon, could not acknowledge this fugitive and nameless
daughter, but after the death of her husband she received her on
an inferior footing, had her carefully educated, and secretly
gave her love and care. Left alone and without resources at
fifteen, Julie was taken, as governess and companion, into the
family of a sister who was the wife of Mme. du Deffand's brother.
Here the marquise met her on one of her visits and heard the
story of her sorrows. Tearful, sad, and worn out by
humiliations, the young girl had decided to enter a convent.
"There is no misfortune that I have not experienced," she wrote
to Guibert many years afterwards. "Some day, my friend, I will
relate to you things not to be found in the romances of Prevost
nor of Richardson . . . I ought naturally to devote myself to
hating; I have well fulfilled my destiny; I have loved much and
hated very little. Mon Dieu, my friend, I am a hundred years
old." Mme. du Deffand was struck with her talent and a certain
indefinable fascination of manner which afterwards became so
potent. "You have gaiety," she wrote to her, "you are capable of
sentiment; with these qualities you will be charming so long as
you are natural and without pretension." After a negotiation of
some months, Mlle. de Lespinasse went to Paris to live with her
new friend. The history of this affair has been already related.

Parisian society was divided into two factions on the merits of
the quarrel--those who censured the ingratitude of the younger
woman, and those who accused the marquise of cruelty and
injustice. But many of the oldest friends of the latter aided
her rival. The Marechale de Luxembourg furnished her apartments
in the Rue de Belle-Chasse. The Duc de Choiseul procured her a
pension, and Mme. Geoffrin gave her an annuity. She carried with
her a strong following of eminent men from the salon of Mme. du
Deffand, among whom was d'Alembert, who remained faithful and
devoted to the end. It is said that President Henault even
offered to marry her, but how, under these circumstances, he
managed to continue in the good graces of his lifelong friend,
the unforgiving marquise, does not appear. A letter which he
wrote to Mlle. de Lespinasse throws a direct light upon her
character, after making due allowance for the exaggeration of
French gallantry.

"You are cosmopolitan; you adapt yourself to all situations. The
world pleases you; you love solitude. Society amuses you, but it
does not seduce you. Your heart does not give itself easily.
Strong passions are necessary to you, and it is better so, for
they will not return often. Nature, in placing you in an
ordinary position, has given you something to relieve it. Your
soul is noble and elevated, and you will never remain in a crowd.
It is the same with your person. It is distinguished and
attracts attention, without being beautiful. There is something
piquante about you . . . You have two things which do not often
go together: you are sweet and strong; your gaiety adorns you and
relaxes your nerves, which are too tense . . . You are extremely
refined; you have divined the world."

The age of portraits was not quite passed, and the privilege of
seeing one's self in the eyes of one's friends was still
accorded, a fact to which we owe many striking if sometimes
rather highly colored pictures. A few words from d'Alembert are
of twofold interest. He writes some years later:

"The regard one has for you does not depend alone upon your
external charms; it depends, above all, upon your intellect and
your character. That which distinguishes you in society is the
art of saying to every one the fitting word and that art is very
simple with you; it consists in never speaking of yourself to
others, and much of themselves. It is an infallible means of
pleasing; thus you please every one, though it happens that all
the world pleases you; you know even how to avoid repelling those
who are least agreeable."

This epitome of the art of pleasing may be commended for its
wisdom, aside from the very delightful picture it gives of an
amiable and attractive woman. Again he writes:

"The excellence of your tone would not be a distinction for one
reared in a court, and speaking only the language she has
learned. In you it is a merit very real and very rare. You have
brought it from the seclusion of a province, where you met no one
who could teach you. You were, in this regard, as perfect the
day after your arrival at Paris as you are today. You found
yourself, from the first, as free, as little out of place in the
most brilliant and most critical society as if you had passed
your life there; you have felt its usages before knowing them,
which implies a justness and fineness of tact very unusual, an
exquisite knowledge of les convenances."

It was her innate tact and social instinct, combined with rare
gifts of intellect and great conversational charm, that gave this
woman without name, beauty, or fortune so exceptional a position,
and her salon so distinguished a place among the brilliant
centers of Paris. As she was not rich and could not give costly
dinners, she saw her friends daily from five to nine, in the
interval between other engagements. This society was her chief
interest, and she rarely went out. "If she made an exception to
this rule, all Paris was apprised of it in advance," says Grimm.
The most illustrious men of the State, the Church, the Court, and
the Army, as well as celebrated foreigners and men of letters,
were sure to be found there. "Nowhere was conversation more
lively, more brilliant, or better regulated," writes Marmontel. .
. "It was not with fashionable nonsense and vanity that every
day during four hours, without languor or pause, she knew how to
make herself interesting to a circle of sensible people."
Caraccioli went from her salon one evening to sup with Mme. du
Deffand. "He was intoxicated with all the fine works he had
heard read there," writes the latter. "There was a eulogy of one
named Fontaine by M. de Condorcet. There were translations of
Theocritus; tales, fables by I know not whom. And then some
eulogies of Helvetius, an extreme admiration of the esprit and
the talents of the age; in fine, enough to make one stop the
ears. All these judgments false and in the worst taste." A hint
of the rivalry between the former friends is given in a letter
from Horace Walpole. "There is at Paris," he writes, "a Mlle. de
Lespinasse, a pretended bel esprit, who was formerly a humble
companion of Mme. du Deffand, and betrayed her and used her very
ill. I beg of you not to let any one carry you thither. I dwell
upon this because she has some enemies so spiteful as to try to
carry off all the English to Mlle. de Lespinasse."

But this "pretended bel esprit" had socially the touch of genius.
Her ardent, impulsive nature lent to her conversation a rare
eloquence that inspired her listeners, though she never drifted
into monologue, and understood the value of discreet silence.
"She rendered the marble sensible, and made matter talk," said
Guibert. Versatile and suggestive herself, she knew how to draw
out the best thoughts of others. Her swift insight caught the
weak points of her friends, and her gracious adaptation had all
the fascination of a subtle flattery. Sad as her experience had
been, she had nevertheless been drawn into the world most
congenial to her tastes. "Ah, how I dislike not to love that
which is excellent," she wrote later. "How difficult I have
become! But is it my fault? Consider the education I have
received with Mme. du Deffand. President Henault, Abbe Bon, the
Archbishop of Toulouse, the Archbishop of Aix, Turgot,
d'Alembert, Abbe de Boismont--these are the men who have taught
me to speak, to think, and who have deigned to count me for

It was men like these who thronged her own salon, together with
such women as the Duchesse d'Anville, friend of the economists,
the Duchesse de Chatillon whom she loved so passionately, and
others well-known in the world of fashion and letters. But its
tone was more philosophical than that of Mme. du Deffand. Though
far from democratic by taste or temperament, she was so from
conviction. The griefs and humiliations of her life had left her
peculiarly open to the new social and political theories which
were agitating France. She liked free discussion, and her own
large intelligence, added to her talent for calling out and
giving point to the ideas of others, went far towards making the
cosmopolitan circle over which she presided one of the most
potent forces of the time. Her influence may be traced in the
work of the encyclopedists, in which she was associated, and
which she did more than any other woman to aid and encourage. As
a power in the making of reputations and in the election of
members to the Academy she shared with Mme. Geoffrin the honor of
being a legitimate successor of Mme. de Lambert. Chastellux owed
his admission largely to her, and on her deathbed she secured
that of La Harpe.

But the side of her character which strikes us most forcibly at
this distance of time is the emotional. The personal charm which
is always so large a factor in social success is of too subtle a
quality to be caught in words. The most vivid portrait leaves a
divine something to be supplied by the imagination, and the
fascination of eloquence is gone with the flash of the eye, the
modulation of the voice, or some fleeting grace of manner. But
passion writes itself out in indelible characters, especially
when it is a rare and spontaneous overflow from the heart of a
man or woman of genius, whose emotions readily crystallize into

Her friendship for d'Alembert, loyal and devoted as it was, seems
to have been without illusions. It is true she had cast aside
every other consideration to nurse him through a dangerous
illness, and as soon as he was able to be removed, he had taken
an apartment in the house where she lived, which he retained
until her death. But he was not rich, and marriage was not to be
thought of. On this point we have his own testimony. "The one
to whom they marry me in the gazettes is indeed a person
respectable in character, and fitted by the sweetness and charm
of her society to render a husband happy," he writes to Voltaire;
"but she is worthy of an establishment better than mine, and
there is between us neither marriage nor love, but mutual esteem,
and all the sweetness of friendship. I live actually in the same
house with her, where there are besides ten other tenants; this
is what has given rise to the rumor." His devotion through so
many years, and his profound grief at her loss, as well as his
subsequent words, leave some doubt as to the tranquillity of his
heart, but the sentiments of Mlle. de Lespinasse seem never to
have passed the calm measure of an exalted and sympathetic
friendship. It was remarked that he lost much of his prestige,
and that his society which had been so brilliant, became
infinitely more miscellaneous and infinitely less agreeable after
the death of the friend whose tact and finesse had so well served
his ambition.

Not long after leaving Mme. du Deffand she met the Marquis de
Mora, a son of the Spanish ambassador, who became a constant
habitue of her salon. Of distinguished family and large fortune,
brilliant, courtly, popular, and only twenty-four, he captivated
at once the fiery heart of this attractive woman of thirty-five.
It seems to have been a mutual passion, as during one brief
absence of ten days he wrote her twenty-two letters. But his
family became alarmed and made his delicate health a pretext for
recalling him to Spain. Her grief at the separation enlisted the
sympathy of d'Alembert. At her request he procured from his
physician a statement that the climate of Madrid would prove
fatal to M. de Mora, whose health had steadily failed since his
return home, and that if his friends wished to save him they must
lose no time in sending him back to Paris. The young man was
permitted to leave at once, but he died en route at Bordeaux.

In the meantime Mlle. de Lespinasse, sad and inconsolable, had
met M. Guibert, a man of great versatility and many
accomplishments, whose genius seems to have borne no adequate
fruit. We hear of him later through the passing enthusiasm of
Mme. de Stael, who in her youth, made a pen-portrait of him,
sufficiently flattering to account in some degree for the
singular passion of which he became the object. Mlle. de
Lespinasse was forty. He was twenty-nine, had competed for the
Academie Francaise, written a work on military science, also a
national tragedy which was still unpublished. She was dazzled by
his brilliancy, and when she fathomed his shallow nature, as she
finally did, it was too late to disentangle her heart. He was a
man of gallantry, and was flattered by the preference of a woman
much in vogue, who had powerful friends, influence at the
Academy, and the ability to advance his interest in many ways.
He clearly condescended to be loved, but his own professions have
little of the true ring.

Distracted by this new passion on one side, and by remorse for
her disloyalty to the old one, on the other, the health of Mlle.
de Lespinasse, naturally delicate and already undermined, began
to succumb to the hidden struggle. The death of M. de Mora
solved one problem; the other remained. Mr. Guibert wished to
advance his fortune by a brilliant marriage without losing the
friend who might still be of service to him. She sat in judgment
upon her own fate, counseled him, aided him in his choice, even
praised the woman who became his wife, hoping still, perhaps, for
some repose in that exaltation of friendship which is often the
last consolation of passionate souls. But she was on a path that
led to no haven of peace. There was only a blank wall before
her, and the lightning impulses of her own heart were forced back
to shatter her frail life. The world was ignorant of this fresh
experience; and, believing her crushed by the death of M. de
Mora, sympathized with her sorrow and praised her fidelity. She
tried to sustain a double role--smiles and gaiety for her
friends, tears and agony for the long hours of solitude. The
tension was too much for her. She died shortly afterwards at the
age of forty-three. "If to think, to love, and to suffer is that
which constitutes life, she lived in these few years many ages,"
said one who knew her well.

It was not until many years later, when those most interested
were gone, that the letters to Guibert, which form her chief
title to fame, were collected, and, curiously enough, by his
widow. Then for the first time the true drama of her life was
unveiled. It is impossible in a few extracts to convey an
adequate idea of the passion and devotion that runs through these
letters. They touch the entire gamut of emotion, from the tender
melancholy of a lonely soul, the inexpressible sweetness of self-
forgetful love, to the tragic notes or agony and despair. There
are many brilliant passages in them, many flashes of profound
thought, many vivid traits of the people about her; but they are,
before all, the record of a soul that is rapidly burning out its

"I prefer my misery to all that the world calls happiness or
pleasure," she writes. "I shall die of it, perhaps, but that is
better than never to have lived."

"I have no more the strength to love," she says again; "my soul
fatigues me, torments me; I am no more sustained by anything. I
have every day a fever; and my physician, who is not the most
skillful of men, repeats to me without ceasing that I am consumed
by chagrin, that my pulse, my respiration, announce an active
grief, and he always goes out saying, 'We have no cure for the

"Adieu, my friend," were her last words to him. "If I ever
return to life I shall still love to employ it in loving you; but
there is no more time."

One could almost wish that these letters had never come to light.
A single grand passion has always a strong hold upon the
imagination and the sympathies, but two passions contending for
the mastery verge upon something quite the reverse of heroic.
The note of heart-breaking despair is tragic enough, but there is
a touch of comedy behind it. Though her words have the fire, the
devotion, the abandon of Heloise, they leave a certain sense of
disproportion. One is inclined to wonder if they do not overtop
the feeling.

D'Alembert was her truest mourner, and fell into a profound
melancholy after her death. "Yes," he said to Marmontel, "she
was changed, but I was not; she no longer lived for me, but I
ever lived for her. Since she is no more, I know not why I
exist. Ah! Why have I not still to suffer those moments of
bitterness that she knew so well how to sweeten and make me
forget? Do you remember the happy evenings we passed together?
Now what have I left? I return home, and instead of herself I
find only her shade. This lodging at the Louvre is itself a
tomb, which I never enter but with horror." To this "shade" he
wrote two expressive and well-considered eulogies, which paint in
pathetic words the perfections of his friend and his own
desolation. "Adieu, adieu, my dear Julie," says the heartbroken
philosopher; "for these eyes which I should like to close forever
fill with tears in tracing these last lines, and I see no more
the paper on which I write." His grief called out a sympathetic
letter from Frederick the Great which shows the philosophic
warrior and king in a new light. There is a touch of bitter
irony in the inflated eulogy of Guibert, who gave the too-loving
woman a death blow in furthering his ambition, then exhausted his
vocabulary in laments and praises. Perhaps he hoped to borrow
from this friendship a fresh ray of immortality.

Whatever we may think of the strange inconsistencies of Mlle. de
Lespinasse, she is doubly interesting to us as a type that
contrasts strongly with that of her age. Her exquisite tact, her
brilliant intellect, her conversational gifts, her personal charm
made her the idol of the world in which she lived. Her influence
was courted, her salon was the resort of the most distinguished
men of the century, and while she loved to discuss the great
social problems which her friends were trying to solve, she
forgot none of the graces. With the intellectual strength and
grasp of a man, she preserved always the taste, the delicacy, the
tenderness of a woman. Her faults were those of a strong nature.
Her thoughts were clear and penetrating, her expression was
lively and impassioned. But in her emotional power she reached
the proportion of genius. With "the most ardent soul, the
liveliest fancy, the most inflammable imagination that has
existed since Sappho," she represents the embodied spirit of
tragedy outlined against the cold, hard background of a
skeptical, mocking, realistic age. "I love in order to live,"
she said, "and I live to love." This is the key-note of her

The Swiss Pastor's Daughter--Her Social Ambition--Her Friends--
Mme. de Marchais--Mme. d'Houdetot--Duchesse de Lauzun--
Character of Mme. Necker--Death at Coppet--Close of the most
Brilliant Period of the Salons.

There was one woman who held a very prominent place in the
society of this period, and who has a double interest for us,
though she was not French, and never quite caught the spirit of
the eighteenth-century life whose attractive forms she loved so
well. Mme. Necker, whose history has been made so familiar
through the interesting memoirs of the Comte d'Haussonville, owes
her fame to her marked qualities of intellect and character
rather than to the brilliancy of her social talents. These found
an admirable setting in the surroundings which her husband's
fortune and political career gave her. The Salon Helvetique had
a distinctive color of its own, and was always tinged with the
strong convictions and exalted ideals of the Swiss pastor's
daughter, who passed through this world of intellectual affluence
and moral laxity like a white angel of purity--in it, but not of
it. The center of a choice and lettered circle which included
the most noted men and women of her time, she brought into it not
only rare gifts, a fine taste, and genuine literary enthusiasm,
but the fresh charm of a noble character and a beautiful family
life, with the instincts of duty and right conduct which she
inherited from her simple Protestant ancestry. She lacked a
little, however, in the tact, the ease, the grace, the
spontaneity, which were the essential charm of the French women.
Her social talents were a trifle theoretical. "She studied
society," says one of her critics, "as she would a literary
question." She had a theory of conducting a salon, as she had of
life in general, and believed that study would attain everything.
But the ability to do a thing superlatively well is by no means
always implied in the knowledge of how it ought to be done.
Social genius is as purely a gift of nature as poetry or music;
and, of all others, it is the most subtle and indefinable. It
was a long step from the primitive simplicity in which Suzanne
Curchod passed her childhood on the borders of Lake Leman to the
complex life of a Parisian salon; and the provincial beauty,
whose fair face, soft blue eyes, dignified but slightly
coquettish manner, brilliant intellect, and sparkling though
sometimes rather learned conversation had made her a local queen,
was quick to see her own shortcomings. She confessed that she
had a new language to learn, and she never fully mastered it.
"Mme. Necker has talent, but it is in a sphere too elevated for
one to communicate with her," said Mme. du Deffand, though she
was glad to go once a week to her suppers at Saint-Ouen, and
admitted that in spite of a certain stiffness and coldness she
was better fitted for society than most of the grandes dames.
The salon of Mme. Necker marks a transition point between two
periods, and had two quite distinct phases. One likes best to
recall her in the freshness of her early enthusiasm, when she
gave Friday dinners, modeled after those of Mme. Geoffrin, to men
of letters, and received a larger world in the evening; when her
guests were enlivened by the satire of Diderot, the anecdotes of
Marmontel, the brilliancy or learning of Grimm, d'Alembert,
Thomas, Suard, Buffon, the Abbe Raynal, and other wits of the
day; when they discussed the affairs of the Academy and decided
the fate of candidates; when they listened to the recitations of
Mlle. Clairon, and the works of many authors known and unknown.
It is interesting to recall that "Paul and Virginia" was first read
here. But there was apt to be a shade of stiffness, and the
conversation had sometimes too strong a flavor of pedantry. "No
one knows better or feels more sensibly than you, my dear and
very amiable friend," wrote Mme. Geoffrin, "the charm of
friendship and its sweetness; no one makes others experience them
more fully. But you will never attain that facility, that ease,
and that liberty which give to society its perfect enjoyment."
The Abbe Morellet complained of the austerity that always held
the conversation within certain limits, and the gay little Abbe
Galiani found fault with Mme. Necker's coldness and reserve,
though he addresses her as his "Divinity" after his return to
Naples, and his racy letters give us vivid and amusing pictures
of these Fridays, which in his memory are wholly charming.

In spite of her firm religious convictions, Mme. Necker cordially
welcomed the most extreme of the philosophers. "I have atheistic
friends," she said. "Why not? They are unfortunate friends."
But her admiration for their talents by no means extended to
their opinions, and she did not permit the discussion of
religious questions. It was at one of her own dinners that she
started the subscription for a statue of Voltaire, for whom she
entertained the warmest friendship. One may note here, as
elsewhere, a fine mental poise, a justness of spirit, and a
discrimination that was superior to natural prejudices.
Sometimes her frank simplicity was misunderstood. "There is a
Mme. Necker here, a pretty woman and a bel esprit, who is
infatuated with me; she persecutes me to have me at her house,"
wrote Diderot to Mlle. Volland, with an evident incapacity to
comprehend the innocent appreciation of a pure-hearted woman.
When he knew her better, he expressed his regret that he had not
known her sooner. "You would certainly have inspired me with a
taste for purity and for delicacy," he says, "which would have
passed from my soul into my works." He refers to her again as "a
woman who possesses all that the purity of an angelic soul adds
to an exquisite taste."

Among the many distinguished foreigners who found their way into
this pleasant circle was her early lover, Gibbon. The old days
were far away when she presided over the literary coterie at
Lausanne, speculated upon the mystery of love, talked of the
possibility of tender and platonic friendships between men and
women, after the fashion of the precieuses, and wept bitter tears
over the faithlessness of the embryo historian. The memory of
her grief had long been lost in the fullness of subsequent
happiness, and one readily pardons her natural complacency in the
brilliancy of a position which took little added luster from the
fame of the man who had wooed and so easily forgotten her.

This period of Mme. Necker's career shows her character on a very
engaging side. Loving her husband with a devotion that verged
upon idolatry, she was rich in the friendship of men like Thomas,
Buffon, Grimm, Diderot, and Voltaire, whose respectful tone was
the highest tribute to her dignity and her delicacy. But the
true nature of a woman is best seen in her relations with her own
sex. There are a thousand fine reserves in her relations with
men that, in a measure, veil her personality. They doubtless
call out the most brilliant qualities of her intellect, and
reveal her character, in some points, on its best and most
lovable side; but the rare shades of generous and unselfish
feeling are more clearly seen in the intimate friendships, free
from petty vanities and jealous rivalries, rich in cordial
appreciation and disinterested affection, which we often find
among women of the finest type. It is impossible that one so
serious and so earnest as Mme. Necker should have cherished such
passionate friendships for her own sex, if she had been as cold
or as calculating as she has been sometimes represented. Her
intimacy with Mme. de Marchais, of which we have so many pleasant
details, furnishes a case in point.

This graceful and vivacious woman, who talked so eloquently upon
philosophical, political, and economic questions, was the center
of a circle noted for its liberal tendencies. A friend of Mme.
de Pompadour, at whose suppers she often sang; gifted, witty,
and, in spite of a certain seriousness, retaining always the
taste, the elegance, the charming manners which were her native
heritage, she attracted to her salon not only a distinguished
literary company, but many men and women from the great world of
which she only touched the borders. Mme. Necker had sought the
aid and advice of Mme. de Marchais in the formation of her own
salon, and had taken for her one of those ardent attachments so
characteristic of earnest and susceptible natures. She confided
to her all the secrets of her heart; she felt a double pleasure
when her joys and her little troubles were shared with this
sympathetic companion. "I had for her a passionate affection,"
she says. "When I first saw her my whole soul was captivated. I
thought her one of those enchanting fairies who combine all the
gifts of nature and of magic. I loved her; or, rather, I
idolized her." So pure, so confiding, so far above reproach
herself, she refuses to see the faults of one she loves so
tenderly. Her letters glow with exalted sentiment. "Adieu, my
charming, my beautiful, my sweet friend," she writes. "I embrace
you. I press you to my bosom; or, rather, to my soul, for it
seems to me that no interval can separate yours from mine."

But the character of Mme. de Marchais was evidently not equal to
her fascination. Her vanity was wounded by the success of her
friend. She took offense at a trifling incident that touched her
self-love. "The great ladies have disgusted me with friendship,"
she wrote, in reply to Mme. Necker's efforts to repair the
breach. They returned to each other the letters so full of vows
of eternal fidelity, and were friends no more. Apparently
without any fault of her own, Mme. Necker was left with an
illusion the less, and the world has another example to cite of
the frail texture of feminine friendships.

She was not always, however, so unfortunate in her choice. She
found a more amiable and constant object for her affections in
Mme. d'Houdetot, a charming woman who, in spite of her errors,
held a very warm place in the hearts of her cotemporaries. We
have met her before in the philosophical circles of La Chevrette,
and in the beautiful promenades of the valley of Montmorency,
where Rousseau offered her the incense of a passionate and poetic
love. She was facile and witty, graceful and gay, said wise and
thoughtful things, wrote pleasant verses which were the
exhalations of her own heart, and was the center of a limited
though distinguished circle; but her chief attraction was the
magic of a sunny temper and a loving spirit. "He only is unhappy
who can neither love, nor work, nor die," she writes. Though
more or less linked with the literary coteries of her time, Mme.
d'Houdetot seems to have been singularly free from the small
vanities and vulgar ambitions so often met there. She loved
simple pleasures and the peaceful scenes of the country. "What
more have we to desire when we can enjoy the pleasures of
friendship and of nature?" she writes. "We may then pass lightly
over the small troubles of life." She counsels repose to her
more restless friend, and her warm expressions of affection have
always the ring of sincerity, which contrasts agreeably with the
artificial tone of the time. Mme. d'Houdetot lived to a great
age, preserving always her youthfulness of spirit and sweet
serenity of temper, in spite of sharp domestic sorrows. She took
refuge from these in the life-long friendship of Saint-Lambert,
for whom Mme. Necker has usually a gracious message. It is a
curious commentary upon the manners of the age that one so rigid
and severe should have chosen for her intimate companionship two
women whose lives were so far removed from her own ideal of
reserved decorum. But she thought it best to ignore errors which
her world did not regard as grave, if she was conscious of them
at all.

One finds greater pleasure in recalling her ardent and romantic
attachment to the granddaughter of the Marechale de Luxembourg,
the lovely Amelie de Boufflers, Duchesse de Lauzun, whose pen-
portrait she sketched so gracefully and so tenderly; whose gentle
sweetness and shy delicacy, in the rather oppressive glare of her
surroundings, suggest a modest wild flower astray among the
pretentious beauties of the hothouse, and whose untimely death on
the scaffold has left her fragrant memory entwined with a garland
of cypress. But we cannot dwell upon the intimate phases of this
friendship, whose fine quality is shown in the few scattered
leaves of a correspondence overflowing with the wealth of two
rare though unequally gifted natures.

At a later period her husband's position in the ministry, and the
pronounced opinions of her brilliant daughter, gave to the salon
of Mme. Necker a marked political and semi-revolutionary
coloring. Her inclinations always led her to literary
diversions, rather than to the discussion of economic questions,
but as Mme. de Stael gradually took the scepter that was falling
from her hand, she found it difficult to guide the conversation
into its old channels. Her pale, thoughtful face, her gentle
manner, her soft and penetrating voice, all indicated an
exquisitely feminine quality quite in unison with the spirit of
urbanity and politeness that was even then going out of fashion.
Her quiet and earnest though interesting conversation was
somewhat overshadowed by the impetuous eloquence of Mme. de
Stael, who gave the tone to every circle into which she came. "I
am more and more convinced that I am not made for the great
world," she said to the Duchesse de Lauzun, with an accent of
regret. "It is Germaine who should shine there and who should
love it, for she possesses all the qualities which put her in a
position to be at once feared and sought."

If she was allied to the past, however, by her tastes and her
sympathies, she belonged to the future by her convictions, and
her many-sided intellect touched upon every question of the day.
Profoundly religious herself, she was broadly tolerant; always
delicate in health, she found time amid her numerous social
duties to aid the poor and suffering, and to establish the
hospital that still bears her name. Her letters and literary
records reveal a woman of liberal thought and fine insight, as
well as scholarly tastes. If she lacked a little in the facile
graces of the French women, she had to an eminent degree the
qualities of character that were far rarer in her age and sphere.
Though she was cold and reserved in manner, beneath the light
snow which she brought from her native hills beat a heart of warm
and tender, even passionate, impulses. Devoted wife, loyal
friend, careful mother, large-minded and large-souled woman, she
stands conspicuous, in a period of lax domestic relations, for
the virtues that grace the fireside as well as for the talents
that shine in the salon.

But she was not exempt from the sorrows of a nature that exacts
from life more than life can give, and finds its illusions vanish
before the cold touch of experience. She had her hours of
darkness and of suffering. Even the love that was the source of
her keenest happiness was also the source of her sharpest griefs.
In the days of her husband's power she missed the exclusive
attention she craved. There were moments when she doubted the
depth of his affection, and felt anew that her "eyes were wedded
to eternal tears." She could not see without pain his extreme
devotion to her daughter, whose rich nature, so spontaneous, so
original, so foreign to her own, gave rise to many anxieties and
occasional antagonisms. This touches the weak point in her
character. She was not wholly free from a certain egotism and
intellectual vanity, without the imagination to comprehend fully
an individuality quite remote from all her preconceived ideas.
She was slow to accept the fact that her system of education was
at fault, and her failure to mold her daughter after her own
models was long a source of grief and disappointment. She was
ambitious too, and had not won her position without many secret
wounds. When misfortunes came, the blows that fell upon her
husband struck with double force into her own heart. She was
destined to share with him the chill of censure and neglect, the
bitter sting of ingratitude, the lonely isolation of one fallen
from a high place, whose friendship and whose favors count no

In the solitude of Coppet, where she died at fifty-seven, during
the last and darkest days of the Revolution, perhaps she realized
in the tireless devotion of her husband and the loving care of
Mme. de Stael the repose of heart which the brilliant world of
Paris never gave her.

With all her gifts, which have left many records that may be
read, and in spite of a few shadows that fall more or less upon
all earthly relations, not the least of her legacies to posterity
was the beautiful example, rarer then than now, of that true and
sympathetic family life in which lies the complete harmony of
existence, a safeguard against the storms of passion, a perennial
fount of love that keeps the spirit young, the tranquility out of
which spring the purest flowers of human happiness and human

There were many salons of lesser note which have left agreeable
memories. It would be pleasant to recall other clever and
beautiful women whose names one meets so often in the chronicles
of the time, and whose faces, conspicuous for their clear, strong
outlines, still look out upon us from the galleries that
perpetuate its life; but the list is too long and would lead us
too far. From the moving procession of social leaders who made
the age preceding the Revolution so brilliant I have chosen only
the few who were most widely known, and who best represent its
dominant types and its special phases.

The most remarkable period of the literary salons was really
closed with the death of Mme. du Deffand, in 1780. Mme. Geoffrin
had already been dead three years, and Mlle. de Lespinasse, four.
Some of the most noted of the philosophers and men of letters
were also gone, others were past the age of forming fresh ties,
the young men belonged to another generation, and no new drawing
rooms exactly replaced the old ones. Mme. Necker still received
the world that was wont to assemble in the great salons, Mme. de
Condorcet presided over a rival coterie, and there were numerous
small and intimate circles; but the element of politics was
beginning to intrude, and with it a degree of heat which
disturbed the usual harmony. The reign of esprit, the perpetual
play of wit had begun to pall upon the tastes of people who found
themselves face to face with problems so grave and issues so
vital. There was a slight reaction towards nature and
simplicity. "They may be growing wiser," said Walpole, "but the
intermediate change is dullness." For nearly half a century
learned men and clever women had been amusing themselves with
utopian theories, a few through conviction, the majority through
fashion, or egotism, or the vanity of saying new things, just as
the world is doing today. The doctrines put forth by
Montesquieu, vivified by Voltaire, and carried to the popular
heart by Rousseau had been freely discussed in the salons, not
only by philosophers and statesmen, but by men of the world,
poets, artists, and pretty women. The sparks of thought with
which they played so lightly filtered slowly through the social
strata. The talk of the drawing room at last reached the street.
But the torch of truth which, held aloft, serves as a beacon star
to guide the world towards some longed for ideal becomes often a
deadly explosive when it falls among the poisonous vapors of
inflammable human passions. Liberty, equality, fraternity
assumed a new and fatal significance in the minds of the hungry
and restless masses who, embittered by centuries of wrong, were
ready to carry these phrases to their immediate and living
conclusions. They had found their watchwords and their hour.
The train was already laid beneath this complex social structure,
and the tragedy that followed carried to a common ruin court and
salon, philosophers and beaux esprits, innocent women and
dreaming men.

That the salons were unconscious instruments in hastening the
catastrophe, which was sooner or later inevitable, is undoubtedly
true. Their influence in the dissemination of thought was
immense. The part they played was, to a limited extent,
precisely that of the modern press, with an added personal
element. They moved in the drift of their time, directed its
intelligence, and reflected its average morality. As centers of
serious conversation they were distinctly stimulating. It is
quite possible that they stimulated the intellect to the
exclusion of the more solid qualities of character, and that they
were the source of a vast amount of affectation. It was the
fashion to have esprit, and those who were deficient in an
article so essential to success were naturally disposed to borrow
it, or to put on the semblance of it. But no phase of life is
without its reverse side, and the present generation cannot claim
freedom from pretension of the same sort. It is not unlikely
that in expanding the intelligence they established new standards
of distinction, which in a measure weakened the old ones. But if
they precipitated the downfall of the court they began by
rivaling, it was in the logical course of events, which few were
wise enough to foresee, much less to determine.

It is worthy of remark that this reign of women, in which the
manners and forms of modern society found their initiative and
their models, was not a reign of youth, or beauty, though these
qualities are never likely to lose their own peculiar
fascination. It was, before all things, a reign of intelligence,
and ascendency of women who had put on the hues of age without
laying aside the permanent charm of a fully developed
personality. It was intelligence blended with practical
knowledge of the world and with the graceful amenities that
heightened while half disguising its power. The women of the
present have different aims. They are no longer content with the
role of inspirer. Their methods are more direct. They depend
less upon finesse, more upon inherent right and strength. But it
is to the women who shone so conspicuously in France for more
than two hundred years that we may trace the broadened
intellectual life, the unfettered activities, the wide and
beneficent influence of the women of today.

Change in the Character of the Salons--Mme. de Condorcet--Mme.
Roland's Story of Her Own Life--A Marriage of Reason--
Enthusiasm for the Revolution--Her Modest Salon--Her Tragical

The salons of the Revolution were no longer simply the fountains
of literary and artistic criticism, the centers of wit,
intelligence, knowledge, philosophy, and good manners, but the
rallying points of parties. They took the tone of the time and
assumed the character of political clubs. The salon of 1790 was
not the salon of 1770. A new generation had arisen, with new
ideals and a new spirit that made for itself other forms or
greatly modified the old ones. It was not led by philosophers
and beaux esprits who evolved theories and turned them over as an
intellectual diversion, but by men of action, ready to test
these theories and force them to their logical conclusions.
Mirabeau, Vergniaud, and Robespierre had succeeded Voltaire,
Diderot, and d'Alembert. Impelled towards one end, by vanity,
ambition, love of glory, or genuine conviction, these men and
their colleagues turned the salon, which had so long been the
school of public opinion, into an engine of revolution. The
exquisite flower of the eighteenth century had blossomed,
matured, and fallen. Perhaps it was followed by a plant of
sturdier growth, but the rare quality of its beauty was not
repeated. The time was past when the gentle touch of women could
temper the violence of clashing opinions, or subject the
discussion of vital questions to the inflexible laws of taste.
No tactful hostess could hold in leading strings these fiery
spirits. The voices that had charmed the old generation were
silent. Of the women who had made the social life of the century
so powerful and so famous, many were quietly asleep before the
storm broke; many were languishing in prison cells, with no
outlook but the scaffold; some were pining in the loneliness of
exile; and a few were buried in a seclusion which was their only

But nature has always in reserve fresh types that come to the
surface in a great crisis. The women who made themselves felt
and heard above the din of revolution, though by no means
deficient in the graces, were mainly distinguished for quite
other qualities than those which shine in a drawing room or lead
a coterie. They were either women of rare genius and the courage
of their convictions, or women trained in the stern school of a
bitter experience, who found their true milieu in the midst of
stirring events. The names of Mme. de Stael, Mme. Roland, and
Mme. de Condorcet readily suggest themselves as the most
conspicuous representatives of this stormy period. With
different gifts and in different measure, each played a prominent
role in the brief drama to which they lent the inspiration of
their genius and their sympathy, until they were forced to turn
back with horror from that carnival of savage passions which they
had unconsciously helped to let loose upon the world.

The salon of the young, beautiful, and gifted Mme. de Condorcet
had its roots in the old order of things. During the ministry of
Necker it was in come degree a rival of the Salon Helvetique, and
included many of the same guests; later it became a rendezvous
for the revolutionary party. The Marquis de Condorcet was not
only philosopher, savant, litterateur, a member of two academies,
and among the profoundest thinkers of his time, but a man of the
world, who inherited the tastes and habits of the old noblesse.
His wife, whom he had married late in life, was Sophie de
Grouchy, sister of the Marechal, and was noted for remarkable
talents, as well as for surpassing beauty. Belonging by birth
and associations to the aristocracy, and by her pronounced
opinions to the radical side of the philosophic party, her salon
was a center in which two worlds met. In its palmy days people
were only speculating upon the borders of an abyss which had not
yet opened visibly before them. The revolutionary spirit ran
high, but had not passed the limits of reason and humanity. Mme.
de Condorcet, who was deeply tinged with the new doctrines,
presided with charming grace, and her youthful beauty lent an
added fascination to the brilliancy of her intellect and the
rather grave eloquence of her conversation. In her drawing room
were gathered men of letters and women of talent, nobles and
scientists, philosophers and BEAUX espritS. Turgot and
Malesherbes represented its political side; Marmontel, the Abbe
Morellet, and Suard lent it some of the wit and vivacity that
shone in the old salons. Literature, science, and the arts were
discussed here, and there was more or less reading, music, or
recitation. But the tendency was towards serious conversation,
and the tone was often controversial.

The character of Condorcet was a sincere and elevated one. "He
loved much and he loved many people," said Mlle. de Lespinasse.
He aimed at enlightening and regenerating the world, not at
overturning it; but, like many others, strong souls and true, he
was led from practical truth in the pursuit of an ideal one. His
wife, who shared his political opinions, united with them a fiery
and independent spirit that was not content with theories. Her
philosophic tastes led her to translate Adam Smith, and to write
a fine analysis of the "Moral Sentiments." But the sympathy of
which she spoke so beautifully, and which gave so living a force
to the philosophy it illuminated, if not directed by broad
intelligence and impartial judgment, is often like the ignis
fatuus that plays over the poisonous marsh and lures the unwary
to destruction. For a brief day the magical influence of Mme. de
Condorcet was felt more or less by all who came within her
circle. She inspired the equable temper of her husband with her
own enthusiasm, and urged him on to extreme measures from which
his gentler soul would have recoiled. When at last he turned
from those scenes of horror, choosing to be victim rather than
oppressor, it was too late. Perhaps she recalled the days of her
power with a pang of regret when her friends had fallen one by
one at the scaffold, and her husband, hunted and deserted by
those he tried to serve, had died by his own hand, in a lonely
cell, to escape a sadder fate; while she was left, after her
timely release from prison, to struggle alone in poverty and
obscurity, for some years painting water-color portraits for
bread. She was not yet thirty when the Revolution ended, and
lived far into the present century; but though the illusions of
her youth had been rudely shattered, she remained always devoted
to her liberal principles and a broad humanity.

The woman, however, who most fitly represents the spirit of the
Revolution, who was at once its inspiration, its heroine, and its
victim, is Mme. Roland. It is not as the leader of a salon that
she takes her place in the history of her time, but as one of the
foremost and ablest leaders of a powerful political party. Born
in the ranks of the bourgeoisie, she had neither the prestige of
a name nor the distinction of an aristocratic lineage. Reared in
seclusion, she was familiar with the great world by report only.
Though brilliant, even eloquent in conversation when her interest
was roused, her early training had added to her natural distaste
for the spirit, as well as the accessories, of a social life that
was inevitably more or less artificial. She would have felt
cramped and caged in the conventional atmosphere of a drawing
room in which the gravest problems were apt to be forgotten in
the flash of an epigram or the turn of a bon mot. The strong and
heroic outlines of her character were more clearly defined on the
theater of the world. But at a time when the empire of the salon
was waning, when vital interests and burning convictions had for
the moment thrown into the shade all minor questions of form and
convenance, she took up the scepter in a simpler fashion, and,
disdaining the arts of a society of which she saw only the fatal
and hopeless corruption, held her sway over the daring and ardent
men who gathered about her by the unassisted force of her clear
and vigorous intellect.

It would be interesting to trace the career of the thoughtful and
precocious child known as Manon or Marie Phlipon, who sat in her
father's studio with the burin of an engraver in one hand and a
book in the other, eagerly absorbing the revolutionary theories
which were to prove so fatal to her, but it is not the purpose
here to dwell upon the details of her life. In the solitude of a
prison cell and under the shadow of the scaffold she told her own
story. She has introduced us to the simple scenes of her
childhood, the modest home on the Quai de l'Horloge, the wise and
tender mother, the weak and unstable father. We are made
familiar with the tiny recess in which she studies, reads, and
makes extracts from the books which are such strange companions
for her years. We seem to see the grave little face as it lights
with emotion over the inspiring pages of Fenelon or the
chivalrous heroes of Tasso, and sympathize with the fascination
that leads the child of nine years to carry her Plutarch to mass
instead of her prayer book. She portrays for us her convent life
with its dreams, its exaltations, its romantic friendships, and
its ardent enthusiasms. We have vivid pictures of the calm and
sympathetic Sophie Cannet, to whom she unburdens all her hopes
and aspirations and sorrows; of the lively sister Henriette, who
years afterward, in the generous hope of saving her early friend,
proposed to exchange clothes and take her place in the cells of
Sainte-Pelagie. In the long and commonplace procession of
suitors that files before us, one only touches her heart. La
Blancherie has a literary and philosophic turn, and the young
girl's imagination drapes him in its own glowing colors. The
opposition of her father separates them, but absence only lends
fuel to this virgin flame. One day she learns that his views are
mercenary, that he is neither true nor disinterested, and the
charm is broken. She met him afterward in the Luxembourg
gardens with a feather in his hat, and the last illusion

There is an idyllic charm in these pictures so simply and
gracefully sketched. She sees with the vision of one lying down
to sleep after a life of pain, and dreaming of the green fields,
the blue skies, the running brooks, the trees, the flowers, that
make so beautiful a background for youthful loves and hopes.
Perhaps we could wish sometimes that she were a little less
frank. We miss a touch of delicacy in this nature that was so
strong and self-poised. We are sorry that she dismissed La
Blancherie quite so theatrically. There is a trace too much of
consciousness in her fine self-analysis, perhaps a little vanity,
and we half suspect that her unchildlike penetration and
precocity of motive was sometimes the reflection of an
afterthought. But it is to be remembered that, even in
childhood, she had lived in such close companionship with the
heroes and moralists of the past that their sentiments had become
her own. She doubtless posed a little to herself, as well as to
the world, but her frankness was a part of that uncompromising
truthfulness which scorned disguises of any sort, and led her to
paint faults and virtues alike.

Family sorrows--the death of the mother whom she adored, and the
unworthiness of her father--combined to change the current of
her free and happy life, and to deepen a natural vein of
melancholy. In her loneliness of soul the convent seemed to
offer itself as the sole haven of peace and rest. The child, who
loved Fenelon, and dreamed over the lives of the saints, had in
her much of the stuff out of which mystics and fanatics are made.
Her ardent soul was raised to ecstasy by the stately ceremonial
of the Church; her imagination was captivated by its majestic
music, its mystery, its solemnity, and she was wont to spend
hours in rapt meditation. But her strong fund of good sense, her
firm reason fortified by wide and solid reading, together with
her habits of close observation and analysis, saved her from
falling a victim to her own emotional needs, or to chimeras of
any sort. She had drawn her mental nourishment too long from
Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, the English philosophers, and
classic historians, to become permanently a prey to exaggerated
sensibilities, though it was the same temperament fired by a
sense of human inequality and wrong, that swept her at last along
the road that led to the scaffold. At twenty-six the vocation of
the religieuse had lost its fascination; the pious fervor of her
childhood had vanished before the skepticism of her intellect,
its ardent friendships had grown dim, its fleeting loves had
proved illusive, and her romantic dreams ended in a cold marriage
of reason.

It may be noted here that though Mme. Roland had lost her belief
in ecclesiastical systems, and, as she said, continued to go to
mass only for the "edification of her neighbors and the good
order of society," there was always in her nature a strong
undercurrent of religious feeling. Her faith had not survived
the full illumination of her reason, but her trust in immortality
never seriously wavered. The Invocation that was among her last
written words is the prayer of a soul that is conscious of its
divine origin and destiny. She retained, too, the firm moral
basis that was laid in her early teachings, and which saved her
from the worst errors of her time. She might be shaken by the
storms of passion, but one feels that she could never be swept
from her moorings.

Tall and finely developed, with dark brown hair; a large mouth
whose beauty lay in a smile of singular sweetness; dark, serious
eyes with a changeful expression which no artist could catch; a
fresh complexion that responded to every emotion of a passionate
soul; a deep, well-modulated voice; manners gentle, modest,
reserved, sometimes timid with the consciousness that she was not
readily taken at her true value--such was the PERSONNELLE of the
woman who calmly weighed the possibilities of a life which had no
longer a pleasant outlook in any direction, and, after much
hesitation, became the wife of a grave, studious, austere man of
good family and moderate fortune, but many years her senior.

It was this marriage, into which she entered with all
seriousness, and a devotion that was none the less sincere
because it was of the intellect rather than the heart, that gave
the final tinge to a character that was already laid on solid
foundations. Strong, clear-sighted, earnest, and gifted, her
later experience had accented a slightly ascetic quality which
had been deepened also by her study of antique models. Her
tastes were grave and severe. But they had a lighter side. As a

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