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FAMOUS AFFINITIES OF HISTORY
THE ROMANCE OF DEVOTION
BY LYNDON ORR
VOLUME III OF IV.
THE WIVES OF GENERAL HOUSTON
LOLA MONTEZ AND KING LUDWIG OF BAVARIA LEON GAMBETTA AND LEONIE LEON
LADY BLESSINGTON AND COUNT D’ORSAY
BYRON AND THE COUNTESS GUICCIOLI
THE STORY OF MME. DE STAEL
THE STORY OF KARL MARX
FERDINAND LASSALLE AND HELENE VON DONNIGES THE STORY OF RACHEL
THE WIVES OF GENERAL HOUSTON
Sixty or seventy years ago it was considered a great joke to chalk up on any man’s house-door, or on his trunk at a coaching-station, the conspicuous letters “G. T. T.” The laugh went round, and every one who saw the inscription chuckled and said: “They’ve got it on you, old hoss!” The three letters meant “gone to Texas”; and for any man to go to Texas in those days meant his moral, mental, and financial dilapidation. Either he had plunged into bankruptcy and wished to begin life over again in a new world, or the sheriff had a warrant for his arrest.
The very task of reaching Texas was a fearful one. Rivers that overran their banks, fever-stricken lowlands where gaunt faces peered out from moldering cabins, bottomless swamps where the mud oozed greasily and where the alligator could be seen slowly moving his repulsive form–all this stretched on for hundreds of miles to horrify and sicken the emigrants who came toiling on foot or struggling upon emaciated horses. Other daring pioneers came by boat, running all manner of risks upon the swollen rivers. Still others descended from the mountains of Tennessee and passed through a more open country and with a greater certainty of self- protection, because they were trained from childhood to wield the rifle and the long sheath-knife.
It is odd enough to read, in the chronicles of those days, that amid all this suffering and squalor there was drawn a strict line between “the quality” and those who had no claim to be patricians. “The quality” was made up of such emigrants as came from the more civilized East, or who had slaves, or who dragged with them some rickety vehicle with carriage-horses–however gaunt the animals might be. All others–those who had no slaves or horses, and no traditions of the older states–were classed as “poor whites”; and they accepted their mediocrity without a murmur.
Because he was born in Lexington, Virginia, and moved thence with his family to Tennessee, young Sam Houston–a truly eponymous American hero–was numbered with “the quality” when, after long wandering, he reached his boyhood home. His further claim to distinction as a boy came from the fact that he could read and write, and was even familiar with some of the classics in translation.
When less than eighteen years of age he had reached a height of more than six feet. He was skilful with the rifle, a remarkable rough-and-tumble fighter, and as quick with his long knife as any Indian. This made him a notable figure–the more so as he never abused his strength and courage. He was never known as anything but “Sam.” In his own sphere he passed for a gentleman and a scholar, thanks to his Virginian birth and to the fact that he could repeat a great part of Pope’s translation of the “Iliad.”
His learning led him to teach school a few months in the year to the children of the white settlers. Indeed, Houston was so much taken with the pursuit of scholarship that he made up his mind to learn Greek and Latin. Naturally, this seemed mere foolishness to his mother, his six strapping brothers, and his three stalwart sisters, who cared little for study. So sharp was the difference between Sam and the rest of the family that he gave up his yearning after the classics and went to the other extreme by leaving home and plunging into the heart of the forest beyond sight of any white man or woman or any thought of Hellas and ancient Rome.
Here in the dimly lighted glades he was most happy. The Indians admired him for his woodcraft and for the skill with which he chased the wild game amid the forests. From his copy of the “Iliad” he would read to them the thoughts of the world’s greatest poet.
It is told that nearly forty years after, when Houston had long led a different life and had made his home in Washington, a deputation of more than forty untamed Indians from Texas arrived there under the charge of several army officers. They chanced to meet Sam Houston.
One and all ran to him, clasped him in their brawny arms, hugged him like bears to their naked breasts, and called him “father.” Beneath the copper skin and thick paint the blood rushed, and their faces changed, and the lips of many a warrior trembled, although the Indian may not weep.
In the gigantic form of Houston, on whose ample brow the beneficent love of a father was struggling with the sternness of the patriarch and warrior, we saw civilization awing the savage at his feet. We needed no interpreter to tell us that this impressive supremacy was gained in the forest.
His family had been at first alarmed by his stay among the Indians; but when after a time he returned for a new outfit they saw that he was entirely safe and left him to wander among the red men. Later he came forth and resumed the pursuits of civilization. He took up his studies; he learned the rudiments of law and entered upon its active practice. When barely thirty-six he had won every office that was open to him, ending with his election to the Governorship of Tennessee in 1827.
Then came a strange episode which changed the whole course of his life. Until then the love of woman had never stirred his veins. His physical activities in the forests, his unique intimacy with Indian life, had kept him away from the social intercourse of towns and cities. In Nashville Houston came to know for the first time the fascination of feminine society. As a lawyer, a politician, and the holder of important offices he could not keep aloof from that gentler and more winning influence which had hitherto been unknown to him.
In 1828 Governor Houston was obliged to visit different portions of the state, stopping, as was the custom, to visit at the homes of “the quality,” and to be introduced to wives and daughters as well as to their sportsman sons. On one of his official journeys he met Miss Eliza Allen, a daughter of one of the “influential families” of Sumner County, on the northern border of Tennessee. He found her responsive, charming, and greatly to be admired. She was a slender type of Southern beauty, well calculated to gain the affection of a lover, and especially of one whose associations had been chiefly with the women of frontier communities.
To meet a girl who had refined tastes and wide reading, and who was at the same time graceful and full of humor, must have come as a pleasant experience to Houston. He and Miss Allen saw much of each other, and few of their friends were surprised when the word went forth that they were engaged to be married.
The marriage occurred in January, 1829. They were surrounded with friends of all classes and ranks, for Houston was the associate of Jackson and was immensely popular in his own state. He seemed to have before him a brilliant career. He had won a lovely bride to make a home for him; so that no man seemed to have more attractive prospects. What was there which at this time interposed in some malignant way to blight his future?
It was a little more than a month after his marriage when he met a friend, and, taking him out into a strip of quiet woodland, said to him:
“I have something to tell you, but you must not ask me anything about it. My wife and I will separate before long. She will return to her father’s, while I must make my way alone.”
Houston’s friend seized him by the arm and gazed at him with horror.
“Governor,” said he, “you’re going to ruin your whole life! What reason have you for treating this young lady in such a way? What has she done that you should leave her? Or what have you done that she should leave you? Every one will fall away from you.”
Houston grimly replied:
“I have no explanation to give you. My wife has none to give you. She will not complain of me, nor shall I complain of her. It is no one’s business in the world except our own. Any interference will be impertinent, and I shall punish it with my own hand.”
“But,” said his friend, “think of it. The people at large will not allow such action. They will believe that you, who have been their idol, have descended to insult a woman. Your political career is ended. It will not be safe for you to walk the streets!”
“What difference does it make to me?” said Houston, gloomily. “What must be, must be. I tell you, as a friend, in advance, so that you may be prepared; but the parting will take place very soon.”
Little was heard for another month or two, and then came the announcement that the Governor’s wife had left him and had returned to her parents’ home. The news flew like wildfire, and was the theme of every tongue. Friends of Mrs. Houston begged her to tell them the meaning of the whole affair. Adherents of Houston, on the other hand, set afloat stories of his wife’s coldness and of her peevishness. The state was divided into factions; and what really concerned a very few was, as usual, made everybody’s business.
There were times when, if Houston had appeared near the dwelling of his former wife, he would have been lynched or riddled with bullets. Again, there were enemies and slanderers of his who, had they shown themselves in Nashville, would have been torn to pieces by men who hailed Houston as a hero and who believed that he could not possibly have done wrong.
However his friends might rage, and however her people might wonder and seek to pry into the secret, no satisfaction was given on either side. The abandoned wife never uttered a word of explanation. Houston was equally reticent and self-controlled. In later years he sometimes drank deeply and was loose-tongued; but never, even in his cups, could he be persuaded to say a single word about his wife.
The whole thing is a mystery and cannot be solved by any evidence that we have. Almost every one who has written of it seems to have indulged in mere guesswork. One popular theory is that Miss Allen was in love with some one else; that her parents forced her into a brilliant marriage with Houston, which, however, she could not afterward endure; and that Houston, learning the facts, left her because he knew that her heart was not really his.
But the evidence is all against this. Had it been so she would surely have secured a divorce and would then have married the man whom she truly loved. As a matter of fact, although she did divorce Houston, it was only after several years, and the man whom she subsequently married was not acquainted with her at the time of the separation.
Another theory suggests that Houston was harsh in his treatment of his wife, and offended her by his untaught manners and extreme self-conceit. But it is not likely that she objected to his manners, since she had become familiar with them before she gave him her hand; and as to his conceit, there is no evidence that it was as yet unduly developed. After his Texan campaign he sometimes showed a rather lofty idea of his own achievements; but he does not seem to have done so in these early days.
Some have ascribed the separation to his passion for drink; but here again we must discriminate. Later in life he became very fond of spirits and drank whisky with the Indians, but during his earlier years he was most abstemious. It scarcely seems possible that his wife left him because he was intemperate.
If one wishes to construct a reasonable hypothesis on a subject where the facts are either wanting or conflicting, it is not impossible to suggest a solution of this puzzle about Houston. Although his abandoned wife never spoke of him and shut her lips tightly when she was questioned about him, Houston, on his part, was not so taciturn. He never consciously gave any direct clue to his matrimonial mystery; but he never forgot this girl who was his bride and whom he seems always to have loved. In what he said he never ceased to let a vein of self-reproach run through his words.
I should choose this one paragraph as the most significant. It was written immediately after they had parted:
Eliza stands acquitted by me. I have received her as a virtuous, chaste wife, and as such I pray God I may ever regard her, and I trust I ever shall. She was cold to me, and I thought she did not love me.
And again he said to an old and valued friend at about the same time:
“I can make no explanation. I exonerate the lady fully and do not justify myself.”
Miss Allen seems to have been a woman of the sensitive American type which was so common in the early and the middle part of the last century. Mrs. Trollope has described it for us with very little exaggeration. Dickens has drawn it with a touch of malice, and yet not without truth. Miss Martineau described it during her visit to this country, and her account quite coincides with those of her two contemporaries.
Indeed, American women of that time unconsciously described themselves in a thousand different ways. They were, after all, only a less striking type of the sentimental Englishwomen who read L. E. L. and the earlier novels of Bulwer-Lytton. On both sides of the Atlantic there was a reign of sentiment and a prevalence of what was then called “delicacy.” It was a die-away, unwholesome attitude toward life and was morbid to the last degree.
In circles where these ideas prevailed, to eat a hearty dinner was considered unwomanly. To talk of anything except some gilded “annual,” or “book of beauty,” or the gossip of the neighborhood was wholly to be condemned. The typical girl of such a community was thin and slender and given to a mild starvation, though she might eat quantities of jam and pickles and saleratus biscuit. She had the strangest views of life and an almost unnatural shrinking from any usual converse with men.
Houston, on his side, was a thoroughly natural and healthful man, having lived an outdoor life, hunting and camping in the forest and displaying the unaffected manner of the pioneer. Having lived the solitary life of the woods, it was a strange thing for him to meet a girl who had been bred in an entirely different way, who had learned a thousand little reservations and dainty graces, and whose very breath was coyness and reserve. Their mating was the mating of the man of the forest with the woman of the sheltered life.
Houston assumed everything; his bride shrank from everything. There was a mutual shock amounting almost to repulsion. She, on her side, probably thought she had found in him only the brute which lurks in man. He, on the other, repelled and checked, at once grasped the belief that his wife cared nothing for him because she would not meet his ardors with like ardors of her own. It is the mistake that has been made by thousands of men and women at the beginning of their married lives–the mistake on one side of too great sensitiveness, and on the other side of too great warmth of passion.
This episode may seem trivial, and yet it is one that explains many things in human life. So far as concerns Houston it has a direct bearing on the history of our country. A proud man, he could not endure the slights and gossip of his associates. He resigned the governorship of Tennessee, and left by night, in such a way as to surround his departure with mystery.
There had come over him the old longing for Indian life; and when he was next visible he was in the land of the Cherokees, who had long before adopted him as a son. He was clad in buckskin and armed with knife and rifle, and served under the old chief Oolooteka. He was a gallant defender of the Indians.
When he found how some of the Indian agents had abused his adopted brothers he went to Washington to protest, still wearing his frontier garb. One William Stansberry, a Congressman from Ohio, insulted Houston, who leaped upon him like a panther, dragged him about the Hall of Representatives, and beat him within an inch of his life. He was arrested, imprisoned, and fined; but his old friend, President Jackson, remitted his imprisonment and gruffly advised him not to pay the fine.
Returning to his Indians, he made his way to a new field which promised much adventure. This was Texas, of whose condition in those early days something has already been said. Houston found a rough American settlement, composed of scattered villages extending along the disputed frontier of Mexico. Already, in the true Anglo-Saxon spirit, the settlers had formed a rudimentary state, and as they increased and multiplied they framed a simple code of laws.
Then, quite naturally, there came a clash between them and the Mexicans. The Texans, headed by Moses Austin, had set up a republic and asked for admission to the United States. Mexico regarded them as rebels and despised them because they made no military display and had no very accurate military drill. They were dressed in buckskin and ragged clothing; but their knives were very bright and their rifles carried surely. Furthermore, they laughed at odds, and if only a dozen of them were gathered together they would “take on” almost any number of Mexican regulars.
In February, 1836, the acute and able Mexican, Santa Anna, led across the Rio Grande a force of several thousand Mexicans showily uniformed and completely armed. Every one remembers how they fell upon the little garrison at the Alamo, now within the city limits of San Antonio, but then an isolated mission building surrounded by a thick adobe wall. The Americans numbered less than three hundred men.
A sharp attack was made with these overwhelming odds. The Americans drove the assailants back with their rifle fire, but they had nothing to oppose to the Mexican artillery. The contest continued for several days, and finally the Mexicans breached the wall and fell upon the garrison, who were now reduced by more than half. There was an hour of blood, and every one of the Alamo’s defenders, including the wounded, was put to death. The only survivors of the slaughter were two negro slaves, a woman, and a baby girl.
When the news of this bloody affair reached Houston he leaped forth to the combat like a lion. He was made commander-in-chief of the scanty Texan forces. He managed to rally about seven hundred men, and set out against Santa Anna with little in the way of equipment, and with nothing but the flame of frenzy to stimulate his followers. By march and countermarch the hostile forces came face to face near the shore of San Jacinto Bay, not far from the present city of Houston. Slowly they moved upon each other, when Houston halted, and his sharpshooters raked the Mexican battle- line with terrible effect. Then Houston uttered the cry:
“Remember the Alamo!”
With deadly swiftness he led his men in a charge upon Santa Anna’s lines. The Mexicans were scattered as by a mighty wind, their commander was taken prisoner, and Mexico was forced to give its recognition to Texas as a free republic, of which General Houston became the first president.
This was the climax of Houston’s life, but the end of it leaves us with something still to say. Long after his marriage with Miss Allen he took an Indian girl to wife and lived with her quite happily. She was a very beautiful woman, a half-breed, with the English name of Tyania Rodgers. Very little, however, is known of her life with Houston. Later still–in 1840–he married a lady from Marion, Alabama, named Margaret Moffette Lea. He was then in his forty-seventh year, while she was only twenty-one; but again, as with his Indian wife, he knew nothing but domestic tranquillity. These later experiences go far to prove the truth of what has already been given as the probable cause of his first mysterious failure to make a woman happy.
After Texas entered the Union, in 1845, Houston was elected to the United States Senate, in which he served for thirteen years. In 1852, 1856, and 1860, as a Southerner who opposed any movement looking toward secession, he was regarded as a possible presidential candidate; but his career was now almost over, and in 1863, while the Civil War–which he had striven to prevent–was at its height, he died.
LOLA MONTEZ AND KING LUDWIG OF BAVARIA
Lola Montez! The name suggests dark eyes and abundant hair, lithe limbs and a sinuous body, with twining hands and great eyes that gleam with a sort of ebon splendor. One thinks of Spanish beauty as one hears the name; and in truth Lola Montez justified the mental picture.
She was not altogether Spanish, yet the other elements that entered into her mercurial nature heightened and vivified her Castilian traits. Her mother was a Spaniard–partly Moorish, however. Her father was an Irishman. There you have it–the dreamy romance of Spain, the exotic touch of the Orient, and the daring, unreasoning vivacity of the Celt.
This woman during the forty-three years of her life had adventures innumerable, was widely known in Europe and America, and actually lost one king his throne. Her maiden name was Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert. Her father was a British officer, the son of an Irish knight, Sir Edward Gilbert. Her mother had been a danseuse named Lola Oliver. “Lola” is a diminutive of Dolores, and as “Lola” she became known to the world.
She lived at one time or another in nearly all the countries of Europe, and likewise in India, America, and Australia. It would be impossible to set down here all the sensations that she achieved. Let us select the climax of her career and show how she overturned a kingdom, passing but lightly over her early and her later years.
She was born in Limerick in 1818, but her father’s parents cast off their son and his young wife, the Spanish dancer. They went to India, and in 1825 the father died, leaving his young widow without a rupee; but she was quickly married again, this time to an officer of importance.
The former danseuse became a very conventional person, a fit match for her highly conventional husband; but the small daughter did not take kindly to the proprieties of life. The Hindu servants taught her more things than she should have known; and at one time her stepfather found her performing the danse du ventre. It was the Moorish strain inherited from her mother.
She was sent back to Europe, however, and had a sort of education in Scotland and England, and finally in Paris, where she was detected in an incipient flirtation with her music-master. There were other persons hanging about her from her fifteenth year, at which time her stepfather, in India, had arranged a marriage between her and a rich but uninteresting old judge. One of her numerous admirers told her this.
“What on earth am I to do?” asked little Lola, most naively.
“Why, marry me,” said the artful adviser, who was Captain Thomas James; and so the very next day they fled to Dublin and were speedily married at Meath.
Lola’s husband was violently in love with her, but, unfortunately, others were no less susceptible to her charms. She was presented at the vice-regal court, and everybody there became her victim. Even the viceroy, Lord Normanby, was greatly taken with her. This nobleman’s position was such that Captain James could not object to his attentions, though they made the husband angry to a degree. The viceroy would draw her into alcoves and engage her in flattering conversation, while poor James could only gnaw his nails and let green-eyed jealousy prey upon his heart. His only recourse was to take her into the country, where she speedily became bored; and boredom is the death of love.
Later she went with Captain James to India. She endured a campaign in Afghanistan, in which she thoroughly enjoyed herself because of the attentions of the officers. On her return to London in 1842, one Captain Lennox was a fellow passenger; and their association resulted in an action for divorce, by which she was freed from her husband, and yet by a technicality was not able to marry Lennox, whose family in any case would probably have prevented the wedding.
Mrs. Mayne says, in writing on this point:
Even Lola never quite succeeded in being allowed to commit bigamy unmolested, though in later years she did commit it and took refuge in Spain to escape punishment.
The same writer has given a vivid picture of what happened soon after the divorce. Lola tried to forget her past and to create a new and brighter future. Here is the narrative:
Her Majesty’s Theater was crowded on the night of June 10,1843. A new Spanish dancer was announced–“Dona Lola Montez.” It was her debut, and Lumley, the manager, had been puffing her beforehand, as he alone knew how. To Lord Ranelagh, the leader of the dilettante group of fashionable young men, he had whispered, mysteriously:
“I have a surprise in store. You shall see.”
So Ranelagh and a party of his friends filled the omnibus boxes, those tribunes at the side of the stage whence success or failure was pronounced. Things had been done with Lumley’s consummate art; the packed house was murmurous with excitement. She was a raving beauty, said report–and then, those intoxicating Spanish dances! Taglioni, Cerito, Fanny Elssler, all were to be eclipsed.
Ranelagh’s glasses were steadily leveled on the stage from the moment her entrance was imminent. She came on. There was a murmur of admiration–but Ranelagh made no sign. And then she began to dance. A sense of disappointment, perhaps? But she was very lovely, very graceful, “like a flower swept by the wind, she floated round the stage”–not a dancer, but, by George, a beauty! And still Ranelagh made no sign.
Yet, no. What low, sibilant sound is that? And then what confused, angry words from the tribunal? He turns to his friends, his eyes ablaze with anger, opera-glass in hand. And now again the terrible “Hiss-s-s!” taken up by the other box, and the words repeated loudly and more angrily even than before–the historic words which sealed Lola’s doom at Her Majesty’s Theater: “WHY, IT’S BETTY JAMES!”
She was, indeed, Betty James, and London would not accept her as Lola Montez. She left England and appeared upon the Continent as a beautiful virago, making a sensation–as the French would say, a succes de scandale–by boxing the ears of people who offended her, and even on one occasion horsewhipping a policeman who was in attendance on the King of Prussia. In Paris she tried once more to be a dancer, but Paris would not have her. She betook herself to Dresden and Warsaw, where she sought to attract attention by her eccentricities, making mouths at the spectators, flinging her garters in their faces, and one time removing her skirts and still more necessary garments, whereupon her manager broke off his engagement with her.
An English writer who heard a great deal of her and who saw her often about this time writes that there was nothing wonderful about her except “her beauty and her impudence.” She had no talent nor any of the graces which make women attractive; yet many men of talent raved about her. The clever young journalist, Dujarrier, who assisted Emile Girardin, was her lover in Paris. He was killed in a duel and left Lola twenty thousand francs and some securities, so that she no longer had to sing in the streets as she did in Warsaw.
She now betook herself to Munich, the capital of Bavaria. That country was then governed by Ludwig I., a king as eccentric as Lola herself. He was a curious compound of kindliness, ideality, and peculiar ways. For instance, he would never use a carriage even on state occasions. He prowled around the streets, knocking off the hats of those whom he chanced to meet. Like his unfortunate descendant, Ludwig II., he wrote poetry, and he had a picture-gallery devoted to portraits of the beautiful women whom he had met.
He dressed like an English fox-hunter, with a most extraordinary hat, and what was odd and peculiar in others pleased him because he was odd and peculiar himself. Therefore when Lola made her first appearance at the Court Theater he was enchanted with her. He summoned her at once to the palace, and within five days he presented her to the court, saying as he did so:
“Meine Herren, I present you to my best friend.”
In less than a month this curious monarch had given Lola the title of Countess of Landsfeld. A handsome house was built for her, and a pension of twenty thousand florins was granted her. This was in 1847. With the people of Munich she was unpopular. They did not mind the eccentricities of the king, since these amused them and did the country no perceptible harm; but they were enraged by this beautiful woman, who had no softness such as a woman ought to have. Her swearing, her readiness to box the ears of every one whom she disliked, the huge bulldog which accompanied her everywhere–all these things were beyond endurance.
She was discourteous to the queen, besides meddling with the politics of the kingdom. Either of these things would have been sufficient to make her hated. Together, they were more than the city of Munich could endure. Finally the countess tried to establish a new corps in the university. This was the last touch of all. A student who ventured to wear her colors was beaten and arrested. Lola came to his aid with all her wonted boldness; but the city was in commotion.
Daggers were drawn; Lola was hustled and insulted. The foolish king rushed out to protect her; and on his arm she was led in safety to the palace. As she entered the gates she turned and fired a pistol into the mob. No one was hurt, but a great rage took possession of the people. The king issued a decree closing the university for a year. By this time, however, Munich was in possession of a mob, and the Bavarians demanded that she should leave the country.
Ludwig faced the chamber of peers, where the demand of the populace was placed before him.
“I would rather lose my crown!” he replied.
The lords of Bavaria regarded him with grim silence; and in their eyes he read the determination of his people. On the following day a royal decree revoked Lola’s rights as a subject of Bavaria, and still another decree ordered her to be expelled. The mob yelled with joy and burned her house. Poor Ludwig watched the tumult by the light of the leaping flames.
He was still in love with her and tried to keep her in the kingdom; but the result was that Ludwig himself was forced to abdicate. He had given his throne for the light love of this beautiful but half-crazy woman. She would have no more to do with him; and as for him, he had to give place to his son Maximilian. Ludwig had lost a kingdom merely because this strange, outrageous creature had piqued him and made him think that she was unique among women.
The rest of her career was adventurous. In England she contracted a bigamous marriage with a youthful officer, and within two weeks they fled to Spain for safety from the law. Her husband was drowned, and she made still another marriage. She visited Australia, and at Melbourne she had a fight with a strapping woman, who clawed her face until Lola fell fainting to the ground. It is a squalid record of horse-whippings, face-scratchings–in short, a rowdy life.
Her end was like that of Becky Sharp. In America she delivered lectures which were written for her by a clergyman and which dealt with the art of beauty. She had a temporary success; but soon she became quite poor, and took to piety, professing to be a sort of piteous, penitent Magdalen. In this role she made effective use of her beautiful dark hair, her pallor, and her wonderful eyes. But the violence of her disposition had wrecked her physically; and she died of paralysis in Astoria, on Long Island, in 1861. Upon her grave in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, there is a tablet to her memory, bearing the inscription: “Mrs. Eliza Gilbert, born 1818, died 1861.”
What can one say of a woman such as this? She had no morals, and her manners were outrageous. The love she felt was the love of a she-wolf. Fourteen biographies of her have been written, besides her own autobiography, which was called The Story of a Penitent, and which tells less about her than any of the other books. Her beauty was undeniable. Her courage was the blended courage of the Celt, the Spaniard, and the Moor. Yet all that one can say of her was said by the elder Dumas when he declared that she was born to be the evil genius of every one who cared for her. Her greatest fame comes from the fact that in less than three years she overturned a kingdom and lost a king his throne.
LEON GAMBETTA AND LEONIE LEON
The present French Republic has endured for over forty years. Within that time it has produced just one man of extraordinary power and parts. This was Leon Gambetta. Other men as remarkable as he were conspicuous in French political life during the first few years of the republic; but they belonged to an earlier generation, while Gambetta leaped into prominence only when the empire fell, crashing down in ruin and disaster.
It is still too early to form an accurate estimate of him as a statesman. His friends praise him extravagantly. His enemies still revile him bitterly. The period of his political career lasted for little more than a decade, yet in that time it may be said that he lived almost a life of fifty years. Only a short time ago did the French government cause his body to be placed within the great Pantheon, which contains memorials of the heroes and heroines of France. But, though we may not fairly judge of his political motives, we can readily reconstruct a picture of him as a man, and in doing so recall his one romance, which many will remember after they have forgotten his oratorical triumphs and his statecraft.
Leon Gambetta was the true type of the southern Frenchman–what his countrymen call a meridional. The Frenchman of the south is different from the Frenchman of the north, for the latter has in his veins a touch of the viking blood, so that he is very apt to be fair-haired and blue-eyed, temperate in speech, and self- controlled. He is different, again, from the Frenchman of central France, who is almost purely Celtic. The meridional has a marked vein of the Italian in him, derived from the conquerors of ancient Gaul. He is impulsive, ardent, fiery in speech, hot-tempered, and vivacious to an extraordinary degree.
Gambetta, who was born at Cahors, was French only on his mother’s side, since his father was of Italian birth. It is said also that somewhere in his ancestry there was a touch of the Oriental. At any rate, he was one of the most southern of the sons of southern France, and he showed the precocious maturity which belongs to a certain type of Italian. At twenty-one he had already been admitted to the French bar, and had drifted to Paris, where his audacity, his pushing nature, and his red-hot un-restraint of speech gave him a certain notoriety from the very first.
It was toward the end of the reign of Napoleon III. that Gambetta saw his opportunity. The emperor, weakened by disease and yielding to a sort of feeble idealism, gave to France a greater freedom of speech than it had enjoyed while he was more virile. This relaxation of control merely gave to his opponents more courage to attack him and his empire. Demagogues harangued the crowds in words which would once have led to their imprisonment. In the National Assembly the opposition did all within its power to hamper and defeat the policy of the government.
In short, republicanism began to rise in an ominous and threatening way; and at the head of republicanism in Paris stood forth Gambetta, with his impassioned eloquence, his stinging phrases, and his youthful boldness. He became the idol of that part of Paris known as Belleville, where artisans and laborers united with the rabble of the streets in hating the empire and in crying out for a republic.
Gambetta was precisely the man to voice the feelings of these people. Whatever polish he acquired in after years was then quite lacking; and the crudity of his manners actually helped him with the men whom he harangued. A recent book by M. Francis Laur, an ardent admirer of Gambetta, gives a picture of the man which may be nearly true of him in his later life, but which is certainly too flattering when applied to Gambetta in 1868, at the age of thirty.
How do we see Gambetta as he was at thirty? A man of powerful frame and of intense vitality, with thick, clustering hair, which he shook as a lion shakes its mane; olive-skinned, with eyes that darted fire, a resonant, sonorous voice, and a personal magnetism which was instantly felt by all who met him or who heard him speak. His manners were not refined. He was fond of oil and garlic. His gestures were often more frantic than impressive, so that his enemies called him “the furious fool.” He had a trick of spitting while he spoke. He was by no means the sort of man whose habits had been formed in drawing-rooms or among people of good breeding. Yet his oratory was, of its kind, superb.
In 1869 Gambetta was elected by the Red Republicans to the Corps Legislatif. From the very first his vehemence and fire gained him a ready hearing. The chamber itself was arranged like a great theater, the members occupying the floor and the public the galleries. Each orator in addressing the house mounted a sort of rostrum and from it faced the whole assemblage, not noticing, as with us, the presiding officer at all. The very nature of this arrangement stimulated parliamentary speaking into eloquence and flamboyant oratory.
After Gambetta had spoken a few times he noticed in the gallery a tall, graceful woman, dressed in some neutral color and wearing long black gloves, which accentuated the beauty of her hands and arms. No one in the whole assembly paid such close attention to the orator as did this woman, whom he had never seen before and who appeared to be entirely alone.
When it came to him to speak on another day he saw sitting in the same place the same stately and yet lithe and sinuous figure. This was repeated again and again, until at last whenever he came to a peculiarly fervid burst of oratory he turned to this woman’s face and saw it lighted up by the same enthusiasm which was stirring him.
Finally, in the early part of 1870, there came a day when Gambetta surpassed himself in eloquence. His theme was the grandeur of republican government. Never in his life had he spoken so boldly as then, or with such fervor. The ministers of the emperor shrank back in dismay as this big-voiced, strong-limbed man hurled forth sentence after sentence like successive peals of irresistible artillery.
As Gambetta rolled forth his sentences, superb in their rhetoric and all ablaze with that sort of intense feeling which masters an orator in the moment of his triumph, the face of the lady in the gallery responded to him with wonderful appreciation. She was no longer calm, unmoved, and almost severe. She flushed, and her eyes as they met his seemed to sparkle with living fire. When he finished and descended from the rostrum he looked at her, and their eyes cried out as significantly as if the two had spoken to each other.
Then Gambetta did what a person of finer breeding would not have done. He hastily scribbled a note, sealed it, and called to his side one of the official pages. In the presence of the great assemblage, where he was for the moment the center of attention, he pointed to the lady in the gallery and ordered the page to take the note to her.
One may excuse this only on the ground that he was completely carried away by his emotion, so that to him there was no one present save this enigmatically fascinating woman and himself. But the lady on her side was wiser; or perhaps a slight delay gave her time to recover her discretion. When Gambetta’s note was brought to her she took it quietly and tore it into little pieces without reading it; and then, rising, she glided through the crowd and disappeared.
Gambetta in his excitement had acted as if she were a mere adventuress. With perfect dignity she had shown him that she was a woman who retained her self-respect.
Immediately upon the heels of this curious incident came the outbreak of the war with Germany. In the war the empire was shattered at Sedan. The republic was proclaimed in Paris. The French capital was besieged by a vast German army. Gambetta was made minister of the interior, and remained for a while in Paris even after it had been blockaded. But his fiery spirit chafed under such conditions. He longed to go forth into the south of France and arouse his countrymen with a cry to arms against the invaders.
Escaping in a balloon, he safely reached the city of Tours; and there he established what was practically a dictatorship. He flung himself with tremendous energy into the task of organizing armies, of equipping them, and of directing their movements for the relief of Paris. He did, in fact, accomplish wonders. He kept the spirit of the nation still alive. Three new armies were launched against the Germans. Gambetta was everywhere and took part in everything that was done. His inexperience in military affairs, coupled with his impatience of advice, led him to make serious mistakes. Nevertheless, one of his armies practically defeated the Germans at Orleans; and could he have had his own way, even the fall of Paris would not have ended the war.
“Never,” said Gambetta, “shall I consent to peace so long as France still has two hundred thousand men under arms and more than a thousand cannon to direct against the enemy!”
But he was overruled by other and less fiery statesmen. Peace was made, and Gambetta retired for a moment into private life. If he had not succeeded in expelling the German hosts he had, at any rate, made Bismarck hate him, and he had saved the honor of France.
It was while the National Assembly at Versailles was debating the terms of peace with Germany that Gambetta once more delivered a noble and patriotic speech. As he concluded he felt a strange magnetic attraction; and, sweeping the audience with a glance, he saw before him, not very far away, the same woman with the long black gloves, having about her still an air of mystery, but again meeting his eyes with her own, suffused with feeling.
Gambetta hurried to an anteroom and hastily scribbled the following note:
At last I see you once more. Is it really you?
The scrawl was taken to her by a discreet official, and this time she received the letter, pressed it to her heart, and then slipped it into the bodice of her gown. But this time, as before, she left without making a reply.
It was an encouragement, yet it gave no opening to Gambetta–for she returned to the National Assembly no more. But now his heart was full of hope, for he was convinced with a very deep conviction that somewhere, soon, and in some way he would meet this woman, who had become to him one of the intense realities of his life. He did not know her name. They had never exchanged a word. Yet he was sure that time would bring them close together.
His intuition was unerring. What we call chance often seems to know what it is doing. Within a year after the occurrence that has just been narrated an old friend of Gambetta’s met with an accident which confined him to his house. The statesman strolled to his friend’s residence. The accident was a trifling one, and the mistress of the house was holding a sort of informal reception, answering questions that were asked her by the numerous acquaintances who called.
As Gambetta was speaking, of a sudden he saw before him, at the extremity of the room, the lady of his dreams, the sphinx of his waking hours, the woman who four years earlier had torn up the note which he addressed to her, but who more recently had kept his written words. Both of them were deeply agitated, yet both of them carried off the situation without betraying themselves to others, Gambetta approached, and they exchanged a few casual commonplaces. But now, close together, eye and voice spoke of what was in their hearts.
Presently the lady took her leave. Gambetta followed closely. In the street he turned to her and said in pleading tones:
“Why did you destroy my letter? You knew I loved you, and yet all these years you have kept away from me in silence.”
Then the girl–for she was little more than a girl–hesitated for a moment. As he looked upon her face he saw that her eyes were full of tears. At last she spoke with emotion:
“You cannot love me, for I am unworthy of you. Do not urge me. Do not make promises. Let us say good-by. At least I must first tell you of my story, for I am one of those women whom no one ever marries.”
Gambetta brushed aside her pleadings. He begged that he might see her soon. Little by little she consented; but she would not see him at her house. She knew that his enemies were many and that everything he did would be used against him. In the end she agreed to meet him in the park at Versailles, near the Petit Trianon, at eight o’clock in the morning.
When she had made this promise he left her. Already a new inspiration had come to him, and he felt that with this woman by his side he could accomplish anything.
At the appointed hour, in the silence of the park and amid the sunshine of the beautiful morning, the two met once again. Gambetta seized her hands with eagerness and cried out in an exultant tone:
“At last! At last! At last!”
But the woman’s eyes were heavy with sorrow, and upon her face there was a settled melancholy. She trembled at his touch and almost shrank from him. Here was seen the impetuosity of the meridional. He had first spoken to this woman only two days before. He knew nothing of her station, of her surroundings, of her character. He did not even know her name. Yet one thing he knew absolutely–that she was made for him and that he must have her for his own. He spoke at once of marriage; but at this she drew away from him still farther.
“No,” she said. “I told you that you must not speak to me until you have heard my story.”
He led her to a great stone bench near by; and, passing his arm about her waist, he drew her head down to his shoulder as he said:
“Well, tell me. I will listen.”
Then this girl of twenty-four, with perfect frankness, because she was absolutely loyal, told him why she felt that they must never see each other any more-much less marry and be happy. She was the daughter of a colonel in the French army. The sudden death of her father had left her penniless and alone. Coming to Paris at the age of eighteen, she had given lessons in the household of a high officer of the empire. This man had been attracted by her beauty, and had seduced her.
Later she had secured the means of living modestly, realizing more deeply each month how dreadful had been her fate and how she had been cut off from the lot of other girls. She felt that her life must be a perpetual penance for what had befallen her through her ignorance and inexperience. She told Gambetta that her name was Leonie Leon. As is the custom of Frenchwomen who live alone, she styled herself madame. It is doubtful whether the name by which she passed was that which had been given to her at baptism; but, if so, her true name has never been disclosed.
When she had told the whole of her sad story to Gambetta he made nothing of it. She said to him again:
“You cannot love me. I should only dim your fame. You can have nothing in common with a dishonored, ruined girl. That is what I came here to explain to you. Let us part, and let us for all time forget each other.”
But Gambetta took no heed of what she said. Now that he had found her, he would not consent to lose her. He seized her slender hands and covered them with kisses. Again he urged that she should marry him.
Her answer was a curious one. She was a devoted Catholic and would not regard any marriage as valid save a religious marriage. On the other hand, Gambetta, though not absolutely irreligious, was leading the opposition to the Catholic party in France. The Church to him was not so much a religious body as a political one, and to it he was unalterably opposed. Personally, he would have no objections to being married by a priest; but as a leader of the anti-clerical party he felt that he must not recognize the Church’s claim in any way. A religious marriage would destroy his influence with his followers and might even imperil the future of the republic.
They pleaded long and earnestly both then and afterward. He urged a civil marriage, but she declared that only a marriage according to the rites of the Church could ever purify her past and give her back her self-respect. In this she was absolutely stubborn, yet she did not urge upon Gambetta that he should destroy his influence by marrying her in church.
Through all this interplay of argument and pleading and emotion the two grew every moment more hopelessly in love. Then the woman, with a woman’s curious subtlety and indirectness, reached a somewhat singular conclusion. She would hear nothing of a civil marriage, because a civil marriage was no marriage in the eyes of Pope and prelate. On the other hand, she did not wish Gambetta to mar his political career by going through a religious ceremony. She had heard from a priest that the Church recognized two forms of betrothal. The usual one looked to a marriage in the future and gave no marriage privileges until after the formal ceremony. But there was another kind of betrothal known to the theologians as sponsalia de praesente. According to this, if there were an actual betrothal, the pair might have the privileges and rights of marriage immediately, if only they sincerely meant to be married in the future.
The eager mind of Leonie Leon caught at this bit of ecclesiastical law and used it with great ingenuity.
“Let us,” she said, “be formally betrothed by the interchange of a ring, and let us promise each other to marry in the future. After such a betrothal as this we shall be the same as married; for we shall be acting according to the laws of the Church.”
Gambetta gladly gave his promise. A betrothal ring was purchased; and then, her conscience being appeased, she gave herself completely to her lover. Gambetta was sincere. He said to her:
“If the time should ever come when I shall lose my political station, when I am beaten in the struggle, when I am deserted and alone, will you not then marry me when I ask you?”
And Leonie, with her arms about his neck, promised that she would. Yet neither of them specified what sort of marriage this should be, nor did it seem at the moment as if the question could arise.
For Gambetta was very powerful. He led his party to success in the election of 1877. Again and again his triumphant oratory mastered the National Assembly of France. In 1879 he was chosen to be president of the Chamber of Deputies. He towered far above the president of the republic–Jules Grevy, that hard-headed, close- fisted old peasant–and his star had reached its zenith.
All this time he and Leonie Leon maintained their intimacy, though it was carefully concealed save from a very few. She lived in a plain but pretty house on the Avenue Perrichont in the quiet quarter of Auteuil; but Gambetta never came there. Where and when they met was a secret guarded very carefully by the few who were his close associates. But meet they did continually, and their affection grew stronger every year. Leonie thrilled at the victories of the man she loved; and he found joy in the hours that he spent with her.
Gambetta’s need of rest was very great, for he worked at the highest tension, like an engine which is using every pound of steam. Bismarck, whose spies kept him well informed of everything that was happening in Paris, and who had no liking for Gambetta, since the latter always spoke of him as “the Ogre,” once said to a Frenchman named Cheberry:
“He is the only one among you who thinks of revenge, and who is any sort of a menace to Germany. But, fortunately, he won’t last much longer. I am not speaking thoughtlessly. I know from secret reports what sort of a life your great man leads, and I know his habits. Why, his life is a life of continual overwork. He rests neither night nor day. All politicians who have led the same life have died young. To he able to serve one’s country for a long time a statesman must marry an ugly woman, have children like the rest of the world, and a country place or a house to one’s self like any common peasant, where he can go and rest.”
The Iron Chancellor chuckled as he said this, and he was right. And yet Gambetta’s end came not so much through overwork as by an accident.
It may be that the ambition of Mme. Leon stimulated him beyond his powers. However this may be, early in 1882, when he was defeated in Parliament on a question which he considered vital, he immediately resigned and turned his back on public life. His fickle friends soon deserted him. His enemies jeered and hooted the mention of his name.
He had reached the time which with a sort of prophetic instinct he had foreseen nearly ten years before. So he turned to the woman who had been faithful and loving to him; and he turned to her with a feeling of infinite peace.
“You promised me,” he said, “that if ever I was defeated and alone you would marry me. The time is now.”
Then this man, who had exercised the powers of a dictator, who had levied armies and shaken governments, and through whose hands there had passed thousands of millions of francs, sought for a country home. He found for sale a small estate which had once belonged to Balzac, and which is known as Les Jardies. It was in wretched repair; yet the small sum which it cost Gambetta–twelve thousand francs–was practically all that he possessed. Worn and weary as he was, it seemed to him a haven of delightful peace; for here he might live in the quiet country with the still beautiful woman who was soon to become his wife.
It is not known what form of marriage they at last agreed upon. She may have consented to a civil ceremony; or he, being now out of public life, may have felt that he could be married by the Church. The day for their wedding had been set, and Gambetta was already at Les Jardies. But there came a rumor that he had been shot. Still further tidings bore the news that he was dying. Paris, fond as it was of scandals, immediately spread the tale that he had been shot by a jealous woman.
The truth is quite the contrary. Gambetta, in arranging his effects in his new home, took it upon himself to clean a pair of dueling-pistols; for every French politician of importance must fight duels, and Gambetta had already done so. Unfortunately, one cartridge remained unnoticed in the pistol which Gambetta cleaned. As he held the pistol-barrel against the soft part of his hand the cartridge exploded, and the ball passed through the base of the thumb with a rending, spluttering noise.
The wound was not in itself serious, but now the prophecy of Bismarck was fulfilled. Gambetta had exhausted his vitality; a fever set in, and before long he died of internal ulceration.
This was the end of a great career and of a great romance of love. Leonie Leon was half distraught at the death of the lover who was so soon to be her husband. She wandered for hours in the forest until she reached a convent, where she was received. Afterward she came to Paris and hid herself away in a garret of the slums. All the light of her life had gone out. She wished that she had died with him whose glory had been her life. Friends of Gambetta, however, discovered her and cared for her until her death, long afterward, in 1906.
She lived upon the memories of the past, of the swift love that had come at first sight, but which had lasted unbrokenly; which had given her the pride of conquest, and which had brought her lover both happiness and inspiration and a refining touch which had smoothed away his roughness and made him fit to stand in palaces with dignity and distinction.
As for him, he left a few lines which have been carefully preserved, and which sum up his thought of her. They read:
To the light of my soul; to the star, of my life–Leonie Leon. For ever! For ever!
LADY BLESSINGTON AND COUNT D’ORSAY
Often there has arisen some man who, either by his natural gifts or by his impudence or by the combination of both, has made himself a recognized leader in the English fashionable world. One of the first of these men was Richard Nash, usually known as “Beau Nash,” who flourished in the eighteenth century. Nash was a man of doubtful origin; nor was he attractive in his looks, for he was a huge, clumsy creature with features that were both irregular and harsh. Nevertheless, for nearly fifty years Beau Nash was an arbiter of fashion. Goldsmith, who wrote his life, declared that his supremacy was due to his pleasing manners, “his assiduity, flattery, fine clothes, and as much wit as the ladies had whom he addressed.” He converted the town of Bath from a rude little hamlet into an English Newport, of which he was the social autocrat. He actually drew up a set of written rules which some of the best-born and best-bred people follow slavishly.
Even better known to us is George Bryan Brummel, commonly called “Beau Brummel,” who by his friendship with George IV.–then Prince Regent–was an oracle at court on everything that related to dress and etiquette and the proper mode of living. His memory has been kept alive most of all by Richard Mansfield’s famous impersonation of him. The play is based upon the actual facts; for after Brummel had lost the royal favor he died an insane pauper in the French town of Caen. He, too, had a distinguished biographer, since Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Pelham is really the narrative of Brummel’s curious career.
Long after Brummel, Lord Banelagh led the gilded youth of London, and it was at this time that the notorious Lola Montez made her first appearance in the British capital.
These three men–Nash, Brummel, and Ranelagh–had the advantage of being Englishmen, and, therefore, of not incurring the old-time English suspicion of foreigners. A much higher type of social arbiter was a Frenchman who for twenty years during the early part of Queen Victoria’s reign gave law to the great world of fashion, besides exercising a definite influence upon English art and literature.
This was Count Albert Guillaume d’Orsay, the son of one of Napoleon’s generals, and descended by a morganatic marriage from the King of Wurttemburg. The old general, his father, was a man of high courage, impressive appearance, and keen intellect, all of which qualities he transmitted to his son. The young Count d’Orsay, when he came of age, found the Napoleonic era ended and France governed by Louis XVIII. The king gave Count d’Orsay a commission in the army in a regiment stationed at Valence in the southeastern part of France. He had already visited England and learned the English language, and he had made some distinguished friends there, among whom were Lord Byron and Thomas Moore.
On his return to France he began his garrison life at Valence, where he showed some of the finer qualities of his character. It is not merely that he was handsome and accomplished and that he had the gift of winning the affections of those about him. Unlike Nash and Brummel, he was a gentleman in every sense, and his courtesy was of the highest kind. At the balls given by his regiment, although he was more courted than any other officer, he always sought out the plainest girls and showed them the most flattering attentions. No “wallflowers” were left neglected when D’Orsay was present.
It is strange how completely human beings are in the hands of fate. Here was a young French officer quartered in a provincial town in the valley of the Rhone. Who would have supposed that he was destined to become not only a Londoner, but a favorite at the British court, a model of fashion, a dictator of etiquette, widely known for his accomplishments, the patron of literary men and of distinguished artists? But all these things were to come to pass by a mere accident of fortune.
During his firsts visit to London, which has already been mentioned, Count d’Orsay was invited once or twice to receptions given by the Earl and Countess of Blessington, where he was well received, though this was only an incident of his English sojourn. Before the story proceeds any further it is necessary to give an account of the Earl and of Lady Blessington, since both of their careers had been, to say the least, unusual.
Lord Blessington was an Irish peer for whom an ancient title had been revived. He was remotely descended from the Stuarts of Scotland, and therefore had royal blood to boast of. He had been well educated, and in many ways was a man of pleasing manner. On the other hand, he had early inherited a very large property which yielded him an income of about thirty thousand pounds a year. He had estates in Ireland, and he owned nearly the whole of a fashionable street in London, with the buildings erected on it.
This fortune and the absence of any one who could control him had made him wilful and extravagant and had wrought in him a curious love of personal display. Even as a child he would clamor to be dressed in the most gorgeous uniforms; and when he got possession of his property his love of display became almost a monomania. He built a theater as an adjunct to his country house in Ireland and imported players from London and elsewhere to act in it. He loved to mingle with the mummers, to try on their various costumes, and to parade up and down, now as an oriental prince and now as a Roman emperor.
In London he hung about the green-rooms, and was a well-known figure wherever actors or actresses were collected. Such was his love of the stage that he sought to marry into the profession and set his heart on a girl named Mary Campbell Browne, who was very beautiful to look at, but who was not conspicuous either for her mind or for her morals. When Lord Blessington proposed marriage to her she was obliged to tell him that she already had one husband still alive, but she was perfectly willing to live with him and dispense with the marriage ceremony. So for several years she did live with him and bore him two children.
It speaks well for the earl that when the inconvenient husband died a marriage at once took place and Mrs. Browne became a countess. Then, after other children had been born, the lady died, leaving the earl a widower at about the age of forty. The only legitimate son born of this marriage followed his mother to the grave; and so for the third time the earldom of Blessington seemed likely to become extinct. The death of his wife, however, gave the earl a special opportunity to display his extravagant tastes. He spent more than four thousand pounds on the funeral ceremonies, importing from France a huge black velvet catafalque which had shortly before been used at the public funeral of Napoleon’s marshal, Duroc, while the house blazed with enormous wax tapers and glittered with cloth of gold.
Lord Blessington soon plunged again into the busy life of London. Having now no heir, there was no restraint on his expenditures, and he borrowed large sums of money in order to buy additional estates and houses and to experience the exquisite joy of spending lavishly. At this time he had his lands in Ireland, a town house in St. James’s Square, another in Seymour Place, and still another which was afterward to become famous as Gore House, in Kensington.
Some years before he had met in Ireland a lady called Mrs. Maurice Farmer; and it happened that she now came to London. The earlier story of her still young life must here be told, because her name afterward became famous, and because the tale illustrates wonderfully well the raw, crude, lawless period of the Regency, when England was fighting her long war with Napoleon, when the Prince Regent was imitating all the vices of the old French kings, when prize-fighting, deep drinking, dueling, and dicing were practised without restraint in all the large cities and towns of the United Kingdom. It was, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has said, “an age of folly and of heroism”; for, while it produced some of the greatest black-guards known to history, it produced also such men as Wellington and Nelson, the two Pitts, Sheridan, Byron, Shelley, and Sir Walter Scott.
Mrs. Maurice Farmer was the daughter of a small Irish landowner named Robert Power–himself the incarnation of all the vices of the time. There was little law in Ireland, not even that which comes from public opinion; and Robert Power rode hard to hounds, gambled recklessly, and assembled in his house all sorts of reprobates, with whom he held frightful orgies that lasted from sunset until dawn. His wife and his young daughters viewed him with terror, and the life they led was a perpetual nightmare because of the bestial carousings in which their father engaged, wasting his money and mortgaging his estates until the end of his wild career was in plain sight.
There happened to be stationed at Clonmel a regiment of infantry in which there served a captain named Maurice St. Leger Farmer. He was a man of some means, but eccentric to a degree. His temper was so utterly uncontrolled that even his fellow officers could scarcely live with him, and he was given to strange caprices. It happened that at a ball in Clonmel he met the young daughter of Robert Power, then a mere child of fourteen years. Captain Farmer was seized with an infatuation for the girl, and he went almost at once to her father, asking for her hand in marriage and proposing to settle a sum of money upon her if she married him.
The hard-riding squireen jumped at the offer. His own estate was being stripped bare. Here was a chance to provide for one of his daughters, or, rather, to get rid of her, and he agreed that she should be married out of hand. Going home, he roughly informed the girl that she was to be the wife of Captain Farmer. He so bullied his wife that she was compelled to join him in this command.
What was poor little Margaret Power to do? She was only a child. She knew nothing of the world. She was accustomed to obey her father as she would have obeyed some evil genius who had her in his power. There were tears and lamentations. She was frightened half to death; yet for her there was no help. Therefore, while not yet fifteen her marriage took place, and she was the unhappy slave of a half-crazy tyrant. She had then no beauty whatsoever. She was wholly undeveloped–thin and pale, and with rough hair that fell over her frightened eyes; yet Farmer wanted her, and he settled his money on her, just as he would have spent the same amount to gratify any other sudden whim.
The life she led with him for a few months showed him to be more of a devil than a man. He took a peculiar delight in terrifying her, in subjecting her to every sort of outrage; nor did he refrain even from beating her with his fists. The girl could stand a great deal, but this was too much. She returned to her father’s house, where she was received with the bitterest reproaches, but where, at least, she was safe from harm, since her possession of a dowry made her a person of some small importance.
Not long afterward Captain Farmer fell into a dispute with his colonel, Lord Caledon, and in the course of it he drew his sword on his commanding officer. The court-martial which was convened to try him would probably have had him shot were it not for the very general belief that he was insane. So he was simply cashiered and obliged to leave the service and betake himself elsewhere. Thus the girl whom, he had married was quite free–free to leave her wretched home and even to leave Ireland.
She did leave Ireland and establish herself in London, where she had some acquaintances, among them the Earl of Blessington. As already said, he had met her in Ireland while she was living with her husband; and now from time to time he saw her in a friendly way. After the death of his wife he became infatuated with Margaret Farmer. She was a good deal alone, and his attentions gave her entertainment. Her past experience led her to have no real belief in love. She had become, however, in a small way interested in literature and art, with an eager ambition to be known as a writer. As it happened, Captain Farmer, whose name she bore, had died some months before Lord Blessington had decided to make a new marriage. The earl proposed to Margaret Farmer, and the two were married by special license.
The Countess of Blessington–to give the lady her new title–was now twenty-eight years of age and had developed into a woman of great beauty. She was noted for the peculiarly vivacious and radiant expression which was always on her face. She had a kind of vivid loveliness accompanied by grace, simplicity, and a form of exquisite proportions. The ugly duckling had become a swan, for now there was no trace of her former plainness to be seen.
Not yet in her life had love come to her. Her first husband had been thrust upon her and had treated her outrageously. Her second husband was much older than she; and, though she was not without a certain kindly feeling for one who had been kind to her, she married him, first of all, for his title and position.
Having been reared in poverty, she had no conception of the value of money; and, though the earl was remarkably extravagant, the new countess was even more so. One after another their London houses were opened and decorated with the utmost lavishness. They gave innumerable entertainments, not only to the nobility and to men of rank, but–because this was Lady Blessington’s peculiar fad–to artists and actors and writers of all degrees. The American, N. P. Willis, in his Pencilings by the Way, has given an interesting sketch of the countess and her surroundings, while the younger Disraeli (Lord Beaconsfield) has depicted D’Orsay as Count Mirabel in Henrietta Temple. Willis says:
In a long library, lined alternately with splendidly bound books and mirrors, and with a deep window of the breadth of the room opening upon Hyde Park, I found Lady Blessington alone. The picture, to my eye, as the door opened, was a very lovely one–a woman of remarkable beauty, half buried in a fauteuil of yellow satin, reading by a magnificent lamp suspended from the center of the arched ceiling. Sofas, couches, ottomans, and busts, arranged in rather a crowded sumptuousness through the room; enameled tables, covered with expensive and elegant trifles in every corner, and a delicate white hand in relief on the back of a book, to which the eye was attracted by the blaze of diamond rings.
All this “crowded sumptuousness” was due to the taste of Lady Blessington. Amid it she received royal dukes, statesmen such as Palmerston, Canning, Castlereagh, Russell, and Brougham, actors such as Kemble and Matthews, artists such as Lawrence and Wilkie, and men of letters such as Moore, Bulwer-Lytton, and the two Disraelis. To maintain this sort of life Lord Blessington raised large amounts of money, totaling about half a million pounds sterling, by mortgaging his different estates and giving his promissory notes to money-lenders. Of course, he did not spend this vast sum immediately. He might have lived in comparative luxury upon his income; but he was a restless, eager, improvident nobleman, and his extravagances were prompted by the urgings of his wife.
In all this display, which Lady Blessington both stimulated and shared, there is to be found a psychological basis. She was now verging upon the thirties–a time which is a very critical period in a woman’s emotional life, if she has not already given herself over to love and been loved in return. During Lady Blessington’s earlier years she had suffered in many ways, and it is probable that no thought of love had entered her mind. She was only too glad if she could escape from the harshness of her father and the cruelty of her first husband. Then came her development into a beautiful woman, content for the time to be languorously stagnant and to enjoy the rest and peace which had come to her.
When she married Lord Blessington her love life had not yet commenced; and, in fact, there could be no love life in such a marriage–a marriage with a man much older than herself, scatter- brained, showy, and having no intellectual gifts. So for a time she sought satisfaction in social triumphs, in capturing political and literary lions in order to exhibit them in her salon, and in spending money right and left with a lavish hand. But, after all, in a woman of her temperament none of these things could satisfy her inner longings. Beautiful, full of Celtic vivacity, imaginative and eager, such a nature as hers would in the end be starved unless her heart should be deeply touched and unless all her pent-up emotion could give itself up entirely in the great surrender.
After a few years of London she grew restless and dissatisfied. Her surroundings wearied her. There was a call within her for something more than she had yet experienced. The earl, her husband, was by nature no less restless; and so, without knowing the reason–which, indeed, she herself did not understand–he readily assented to a journey on the Continent.
As they traveled southward they reached at length the town of Valence, where Count d’Orsay was still quartered with his regiment. A vague, indefinable feeling of attraction swept over this woman, who was now a woman of the world and yet quite inexperienced in affairs relating to the heart. The mere sound of the French officer’s voice, the mere sight of his face, the mere knowledge of his presence, stirred her as nothing had ever stirred her until that time. Yet neither he nor she appears to have been conscious at once of the secret of their liking. It was enough that they were soothed and satisfied with each other’s company.
Oddly enough, the Earl of Blessington became as devoted to D’Orsay as did his wife. The two urged the count to secure a leave of absence and to accompany them to Italy. This he was easily persuaded to do; and the three passed weeks and months of a languorous and alluring intercourse among the lakes and the seductive influence of romantic Italy. Just what passed between Count d’Orsay and Margaret Blessington at this time cannot be known, for the secret of it has perished with them; but it is certain that before very long they came to know that each was indispensable to the other.
The situation was complicated by the Earl of Blessington, who, entirely unsuspicious, proposed that the Count should marry Lady Harriet Gardiner, his eldest legitimate daughter by his first wife. He pressed the match upon the embarrassed D’Orsay, and offered to settle the sum of forty thousand pounds upon the bride. The girl was less than fifteen years of age. She had no gifts either of beauty or of intelligence; and, in addition, D’Orsay was now deeply in love with her stepmother.
On the other hand, his position with the Blessingtons was daily growing more difficult. People had begun to talk of the almost open relations between Count d’Orsay and Lady Blessington. Lord Byron, in a letter written to the countess, spoke to her openly and in a playful way of “YOUR D’Orsay.” The manners and morals of the time were decidedly irregular; yet sooner or later the earl was sure to gain some hint of what every one was saying. Therefore, much against his real desire, yet in order to shelter his relations with Lady Blessington, D’Orsay agreed to the marriage with Lady Harriet, who was only fifteen years of age.
This made the intimacy between D’Orsay and the Blessingtons appear to be not unusual; but, as a matter of fact, the marriage was no marriage. The unattractive girl who had become a bride merely to hide the indiscretions of her stepmother was left entirely to herself; while the whole family, returning to London, made their home together in Seymour Place.
Could D’Orsay have foreseen the future he would never have done what must always seem an act so utterly unworthy of him. For within two years Lord Blessington fell ill and died. Had not D’Orsay been married he would now have been free to marry Lady Blessington. As it was, he was bound fast to her stepdaughter; and since at that time there was no divorce court in England, and since he had no reason for seeking a divorce, he was obliged to live on through many years in a most ambiguous situation. He did, however, separate himself from his childish bride; and, having done so, he openly took up his residence with Lady Blessington at Gore House. By this time, however, the companionship of the two had received a sort of general sanction, and in that easy-going age most people took it as a matter of course.
The two were now quite free to live precisely as they would. Lady Blessington became extravagantly happy, and Count d’Orsay was accepted in London as an oracle of fashion. Every one was eager to visit Gore House, and there they received all the notable men of the time. The improvidence of Lady Blessington, however, was in no respect diminished. She lived upon her jointure, recklessly spending capital as well as interest, and gathering under her roof a rare museum of artistic works, from jewels and curios up to magnificent pictures and beautiful statuary.
D’Orsay had sufficient self-respect not to live upon the money that had come to Lady Blessington from her husband. He was a skilful painter, and he practised his art in a professional way. His portrait of the Duke of Wellington was preferred by that famous soldier to any other that had been made of him. The Iron Duke was, in fact, a frequent visitor at Gore House, and he had a very high opinion of Count d’Orsay. Lady Blessington herself engaged in writing novels of “high life,” some of which were very popular in their day. But of all that she wrote there remains only one book which is of permanent value–her Conversations with Lord Byron, a very valuable contribution to our knowledge of the brilliant poet.
But a nemesis was destined to overtake the pair. Money flowed through Lady Blessington’s hands like water, and she could never be brought to understand that what she had might not last for ever. Finally, it was all gone, yet her extravagance continued. Debts were heaped up mountain-high. She signed notes of hand without even reading them. She incurred obligations of every sort without a moment’s hesitation.
For a long time her creditors held aloof, not believing that her resources were in reality exhausted; but in the end there came a crash as sudden as it was ruinous. As if moved by a single impulse, those to whom she owed money took out judgments against her and descended upon Gore House in a swarm. This was in the spring of 1849, when Lady Blessington was in her sixtieth year and D’Orsay fifty-one.
It is a curious coincidence that her earliest novel had portrayed the wreck of a great establishment such as her own. Of the scene in Gore House Mr. Madden, Lady Blessington’s literary biographer, has written:
Numerous creditors, bill-discounters, money-lenders, jewelers, lace-venders, tax-collectors, gas-company agents, all persons having claims to urge pressed them at this period simultaneously. An execution for a debt of four thousand pounds was at length put in by a house largely engaged in the silk, lace, India-shawl, and fancy-jewelry business.
This sum of four thousand pounds was only a nominal claim, but it opened the flood-gates for all of Lady Blessington’s creditors. Mr. Madden writes still further:
On the 10th of May, 1849, I visited Gore House for the last time. The auction was going on. There was a large assemblage of people of fashion. Every room was thronged; the well-known library-salon, in which the conversaziones took place, was crowded, but not with guests. The arm-chair in which the lady of the mansion was wont to sit was occupied by a stout, coarse gentleman of the Jewish persuasion, busily engaged in examining a marble hand extended on a book, the fingers of which were modeled from a cast of those of the absent mistress of the establishment. People, as they passed through the room, poked the furniture, pulled about the precious objects of art and ornaments of various kinds that lay on the table; and some made jests and ribald jokes on the scene they witnessed.
At this compulsory sale things went for less than half their value. Pictures by Lawrence and Landseer, a library consisting of thousands of volumes, vases of exquisite workmanship, chandeliers of ormolu, and precious porcelains–all were knocked down relentlessly at farcical prices. Lady Blessington reserved nothing for herself. She knew that the hour had struck, and very soon she was on her way to Paris, whither Count d’Orsay had already gone, having been threatened with arrest by a boot-maker to whom he owed five hundred pounds.
D’Orsay very naturally went to Paris, for, like his father, he had always been an ardent Bonapartist, and now Prince Louis Bonaparte had been chosen president of the Second French Republic. During the prince’s long period of exile he had been the guest of Count d’Orsay, who had helped him both with money and with influence. D’Orsay now expected some return for his former generosity. It came, but it came too late. In 1852, shortly after Prince Louis assumed the title of emperor, the count was appointed director of fine arts; but when the news was brought to him he was already dying. Lady Blessington died soon after coming to Paris, before the end of the year 1849.
Comment upon this tangled story is scarcely needed. Yet one may quote some sayings from a sort of diary which Lady Blessington called her “Night Book.” They seem to show that her supreme happiness lasted only for a little while, and that deep down in her heart she had condemned herself.
A woman’s head is always influenced by her heart; but a man’s heart is always influenced by his head.
The separation of friends by death is less terrible than the divorce of two hearts that have loved, but have ceased to sympathize, while memory still recalls what they once were to each other.
People are seldom tired of the world until the world is tired of them.
A woman should not paint sentiment until she has ceased to inspire it.
It is less difficult for a woman to obtain celebrity by her genius than to be pardoned for it.
Memory seldom fails when its office is to show us the tombs of our buried hopes.
BYRON AND THE COUNTESS GUICCIOLI
In 1812, when he was in his twenty-fourth year, Lord Byron was more talked of than any other man in London. He was in the first flush of his brilliant career, having published the early cantos of “Childe Harold.” Moreover, he was a peer of the realm, handsome, ardent, and possessing a personal fascination which few men and still fewer women could resist.
Byron’s childhood had been one to excite in him strong feelings of revolt, and he had inherited a profligate and passionate nature. His father was a gambler and a spendthrift. His mother was eccentric to a degree. Byron himself, throughout his boyish years, had been morbidly sensitive because of a physical deformity–a lame, misshapen foot. This and the strange treatment which his mother accorded him left him headstrong, wilful, almost from the first an enemy to whatever was established and conventional.
As a boy, he was remarkable for the sentimental attachments which he formed. At eight years of age he was violently in love with a young girl named Mary Duff. At ten his cousin, Margaret Parker, excited in him a strange, un-childish passion. At fifteen came one of the greatest crises of his life, when he became enamored of Mary Chaworth, whose grand-father had been killed in a duel by Byron’s great-uncle. Young as he was, he would have married her immediately; but Miss Chaworth was two years older than he, and absolutely refused to take seriously the devotion of a school-boy.
Byron felt the disappointment keenly; and after a short stay at Cambridge, he left England, visited Portugal and Spain, and traveled eastward as far as Greece and Turkey. At Athens he wrote the pretty little poem to the “maid of Athens”–Miss Theresa Macri, daughter of the British vice-consul. He returned to London to become at one leap the most admired poet of the day and the greatest social favorite. He was possessed of striking personal beauty. Sir Walter Scott said of him: “His countenance was a thing to dream of.” His glorious eyes, his mobile, eloquent face, fascinated all; and he was, besides, a genius of the first rank.
With these endowments, he plunged into the social whirlpool, denying himself nothing, and receiving everything-adulation, friendship, and unstinted love. Darkly mysterious stories of his adventures in the East made many think that he was the hero of some of his own poems, such as “The Giaour” and “The Corsair.” A German wrote of him that “he was positively besieged by women.” From the humblest maid-servants up to ladies of high rank, he had only to throw his handkerchief to make a conquest. Some women did not even wait for the handkerchief to be thrown. No wonder that he was sated with so much adoration and that he wrote of women:
I regard them as very pretty but inferior creatures. I look on them as grown-up children; but, like a foolish mother, I am constantly the slave of one of them. Give a woman a looking-glass and burnt almonds, and she will be content.
The liaison which attracted the most attention at this time was that between Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb. Byron has been greatly blamed for his share in it; but there is much to be said on the other side. Lady Caroline was happily married to the Right Hon. William Lamb, afterward Lord Melbourne, and destined to be the first prime minister of Queen Victoria. He was an easy-going, genial man of the world who placed too much confidence in the honor of his wife. She, on the other hand, was a sentimental fool, always restless, always in search of some new excitement. She thought herself a poet, and scribbled verses, which her friends politely admired, and from which they escaped as soon as possible. When she first met Byron, she cried out: “That pale face is my fate!” And she afterward added: “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know!”
It was not long before the intimacy of the two came very near the point of open scandal; but Byron was the wooed and not the wooer. This woman, older than he, flung herself directly at his head. Naturally enough, it was not very long before she bored him thoroughly. Her romantic impetuosity became tiresome, and very soon she fell to talking always of herself, thrusting her poems upon him, and growing vexed and peevish when he would not praise them. As was well said, “he grew moody and she fretful when their mutual egotisms jarred.”
In a burst of resentment she left him, but when she returned, she was worse than ever. She insisted on seeing him. On one occasion she made her way into his rooms disguised as a boy. At another time, when she thought he had slighted her, she tried to stab herself with a pair of scissors. Still later, she offered her favors to any one who would kill him. Byron himself wrote of her:
You can have no idea of the horrible and absurd things that she has said and done.
Her story has been utilized by Mrs. Humphry Ward in her novel, “The Marriage of William Ashe.”
Perhaps this trying experience led Byron to end his life of dissipation. At any rate, in 1813, he proposed marriage to Miss Anne Millbanke, who at first refused him; but he persisted, and in 1815 the two were married. Byron seems to have had a premonition that he was making a terrible mistake. During the wedding ceremony he trembled like a leaf, and made the wrong responses to the clergyman. After the wedding was over, in handing his bride into the carriage which awaited them, he said to her:
“Miss Millbanke, are you ready?”
It was a strange blunder for a bridegroom, and one which many regarded at the time as ominous for the future. In truth, no two persons could have been more thoroughly mismated–Byron, the human volcano, and his wife, a prim, narrow-minded, and peevish woman. Their incompatibility was evident enough from the very first, so that when they returned from their wedding-journey, and some one asked Byron about his honeymoon, he answered:
“Call it rather a treacle moon!”
It is hardly necessary here to tell over the story of their domestic troubles. Only five weeks after their daughter’s birth, they parted. Lady Byron declared that her husband was insane; while after trying many times to win from her something more than a tepid affection, he gave up the task in a sort of despairing anger. It should be mentioned here, for the benefit of those who recall the hideous charges made many decades afterward by Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe on the authority of Lady Byron, that the latter remained on terms of friendly intimacy with Augusta Leigh, Lord Byron’s sister, and that even on her death-bed she sent an amicable message to Mrs. Leigh.
Byron, however, stung by the bitter attacks that were made upon him, left England, and after traveling down the Rhine through Switzerland, he took up his abode in Venice. His joy at leaving England and ridding himself of the annoyances which had clustered thick about him, he expressed in these lines:
Once more upon the waters! yet once more! And the waves bound beneath me as a steed That knows his rider. Welcome to the roar!
Meanwhile he enjoyed himself in reckless fashion. Money poured in upon him from his English publisher. For two cantos of “Childe Harold” and “Manfred,” Murray paid him twenty thousand dollars. For the fourth canto, Byron demanded and received more than twelve thousand dollars. In Italy he lived on friendly terms with Shelley and Thomas Moore; but eventually he parted from them both, for he was about to enter upon a new phase of his curious career.
He was no longer the Byron of 1815. Four years of high living and much brandy-and-water had robbed his features of their refinement. His look was no longer spiritual. He was beginning to grow stout. Yet the change had not been altogether unfortunate. He had lost something of his wild impetuosity, and his sense of humor had developed. In his thirtieth year, in fact, he had at last become a man.
It was soon after this that he met a woman who was to be to him for the rest of his life what a well-known writer has called “a star on the stormy horizon of the poet.” This woman was Teresa, Countess Guiccioli, whom he first came to know in Venice. She was then only nineteen years of age, and she was married to a man who was more than forty years her senior. Unlike the typical Italian woman, she was blonde, with dreamy eyes and an abundance of golden hair, and her manner was at once modest and graceful. She had known Byron but a very short time when she found herself thrilling with a passion of which until then she had never dreamed. It was written of her:
She had thought of love but as an amusement; yet she now became its slave.
To this love Byron gave an immediate response, and from that time until his death he cared for no other woman. The two were absolutely mated. Nevertheless, there were difficulties which might have been expected. Count Guiccioli, while he seemed to admire Byron, watched him with Italian subtlety. The English poet and the Italian countess met frequently. When Byron was prostrated by an attack of fever, the countess remained beside him, and he was just recovering when Count Guiccioli appeared upon the scene and carried off his wife. Byron was in despair. He exchanged the most ardent letters with the countess, yet he dreaded assassins whom he believed to have been hired by her husband. Whenever he rode out, he went armed with sword and pistols.
Amid all this storm and stress, Byron’s literary activity was remarkable. He wrote some of his most famous poems at this time, and he hoped for the day when he and the woman whom he loved might be united once for all. This came about in the end through the persistence of the pair. The Countess Guiccioli openly took up her abode with him, not to be separated until the poet sailed for Greece to aid the Greeks in their struggle for independence. This was in 1822, when Byron was in his thirty-fifth year. He never returned to Italy, but died in the historic land for which he gave his life as truly as if he had fallen upon the field of battle.
Teresa Guiccioli had been, in all but name, his wife for just three years. Much, has been said in condemnation of this love- affair; but in many ways it is less censurable than almost anything in his career. It was an instance of genuine love, a love which purified and exalted this man of dark and moody moments. It saved him from those fitful passions and orgies of self-indulgence which had exhausted him. It proved to be an inspiration which at last led him to die for a cause approved by all the world.
As for the woman, what shall we say of her? She came to him unspotted by the world. A demand for divorce which her husband made was rejected. A pontifical brief pronounced a formal separation between the two. The countess gladly left behind “her palaces, her equipages, society, and riches, for the love of the poet who had won her heart.”
Unlike the other women who had cared for him, she was unselfish in her devotion. She thought more of his fame than did he himself. Emilio Castelar has written:
She restored him and elevated him. She drew him from the mire and set the crown of purity upon his brow. Then, when she had recovered this great heart, instead of keeping it as her own possession, she gave it to humanity.
For twenty-seven years after Byron’s death, she remained, as it were, widowed and alone. Then, in her old age, she married the Marquis de Boissy; but the marriage was purely one of convenience. Her heart was always Byron’s, whom she defended with vivacity. In 1868, she published her memoirs of the poet, filled with interesting and affecting recollections. She died as late as 1873.
Some time between the year 1866 and that of her death, she is said to have visited Newstead Abbey, which had once been Byron’s home. She was very old, a widow, and alone; but her affection for the poet-lover of her youth was still as strong as ever.
Byron’s life was short, if measured by years only. Measured by achievement, it was filled to the very full. His genius blazes like a meteor in the records of English poetry; and some of that splendor gleams about the lovely woman who turned him away from vice and folly and made him worthy of his historic ancestry, of his country, and of himself.
THE STORY OF MME. DE STAEL
Each century, or sometimes each generation, is distinguished by some especial interest among those who are given to fancies–not to call them fads. Thus, at the present time, the cultivated few are taken up with what they choose to term the “new thought,” or the “new criticism,” or, on the other hand, with socialistic theories and projects. Thirty years ago, when Oscar Wilde was regarded seriously by some people, there were many who made a cult of estheticism. It was just as interesting when their leader–
Walked down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily In his medieval hand,
or when Sir William Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan guyed him as Bunthorne in “Patience.”
When Charles Kingsley was a great expounder of British common sense, “muscular Christianity” was a phrase which was taken up by many followers. A little earlier, Puseyism and a primitive form of socialism were in vogue with the intellectuals. There are just as many different fashions in thought as in garments, and they come and go without any particular reason. To-day, they are discussed and practised everywhere. To-morrow, they are almost forgotten in the rapid pursuit of something new.
Forty years before the French Revolution burst forth with all its thunderings, France and Germany were affected by what was generally styled “sensibility.” Sensibility was the sister of sentimentality and the half-sister of sentiment. Sentiment is a fine thing in itself. It is consistent with strength and humor and manliness; but sentimentality and sensibility are poor cheeping creatures that run scuttering along the ground, quivering and whimpering and asking for perpetual sympathy, which they do not at all deserve.
No one need be ashamed of sentiment. It simply gives temper to the blade, and mellowness to the intellect. Sensibility, on the other hand, is full of shivers and shakes and falsetto notes and squeaks. It is, in fact, all humbug, just as sentiment is often all truth.
Therefore, to find an interesting phase of human folly, we may look back to the years which lie between 1756 and 1793 as the era of sensibility. The great prophets of this false god, or goddess, were Rousseau in France and Goethe with Schiller in Germany, together with a host of midgets who shook and shivered in imitation of their masters. It is not for us to catalogue these persons. Some of them were great figures in literature and philosophy, and strong enough to shake aside the silliness of sensibility; but others, while they professed to be great as writers or philosophers, are now remembered only because their devotion to sensibility made them conspicuous in their own time. They dabbled in one thing and another; they “cribbed” from every popular writer of the day. The only thing that actually belonged to them was a high degree of sensibility.
And what, one may ask, was this precious thing–this sensibility?
It was really a sort of St. Vitus’s dance of the mind, and almost of the body. When two persons, in any way interested in each other, were brought into the same room, one of them appeared to be seized with a rotary movement. The voice rose to a higher pitch than usual, and assumed a tremolo. Then, if the other person was also endowed with sensibility, he or she would rotate and quake in somewhat the same manner. Their cups of tea would be considerably agitated. They would move about in as unnatural a manner as possible; and when they left the room, they would do so with gaspings and much waste of breath.
This was not an exhibition of love–or, at least, not necessarily so. You might exhibit sensibility before a famous poet, or a gallant soldier, or a celebrated traveler–or, for that matter, before a remarkable buffoon, like Cagliostro, or a freak, like Kaspar Hauser.
It is plain enough that sensibility was entirely an abnormal thing, and denoted an abnormal state of mind. Only among people like the Germans and French of that period, who were forbidden to take part in public affairs, could it have flourished so long, and have put forth such rank and fetid outgrowths. From it sprang the “elective affinities” of Goethe, and the loose morality of the French royalists, which rushed on into the roaring sea of infidelity, blasphemy, and anarchy of the Revolution.
Of all the historic figures of that time, there is just one which to-day stands forth as representing sensibility. In her own time she was thought to be something of a philosopher, and something more of a novelist. She consorted with all the clever men and women of her age. But now she holds a minute niche in history because of the fact that Napoleon stooped to hate her, and because she personifies sensibility.
Criticism has stripped from her the rags and tatters of the philosophy which was not her own. It is seen that she was indebted to the brains of others for such imaginative bits of fiction as she put forth in Delphine and Corinne; but as the exponent of sensibility she remains unique. This woman was Anne Louise Germaine Necker, usually known as Mme. de Stael.
There was much about Mile. Necker’s parentage that made her