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Beacon Lights of History, Volume VII by John Lord

Part 3 out of 5

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Charles and her father James had been of theirs. She was at heart a
Tory,--as was natural,--and attached to the interests of her banished
relatives. She looked upon the Whigs as hostile to what she held dear.
She began to dislike ministers who had been in high favor with the late
King, especially Lord Chancellor Somers and Charles Montague, Earl of
Halifax,--since these powerful nobles, allied with Godolphin and
Marlborough, ruled England. Thus the political opinions of the Queen
came gradually to be at variance with those advanced by her favorite,
whose daughters were married to great Whig nobles, and whose husband was
bent on continuing the war against Louis XIV. and the exiled Stuarts.
But, as we have said, Anne for a long time suppressed her feelings of
incipient alienation, produced by the politics and haughty demeanor of
her favorite, and still wrote to her as her beloved Mrs. Freeman, and
signed her letters, as usual, as her humble Morley. Her treatment of the
Countess continued the same as ever, full of affection and confidence.
She could not break with a friend who had so long been indispensable to
her; nor had she strength of character to reveal her true feelings.

Meanwhile a renewed war was declared against Louis XIV. on account of
his determination to place his grandson on the throne of Spain. The
Tories were bitterly opposed to this war of the Spanish succession, as
unnecessary, expensive, and ruinous to the development of national
industry. They were also jealous of Marlborough, whose power they feared
would be augmented by the war, as the commander-in-chief of the united
Dutch and English forces. And the result was indeed what they feared.
His military successes were so great in this war that on his return to
England he was created a duke, and soon after received unusual grants
from Parliament, controlled by the Whigs, which made him the richest man
in England as well as the most powerful politically. Yet even up to this
time the relations between his wife and the Queen were apparently most
friendly. But soon after this the haughty favorite became imprudent in
the expressions she used before her royal mistress; she began to weary
of the drudgeries of her office as mistress of the robes, and turned
over her duties partially to a waiting-woman, who was destined
ultimately to supplant her in the royal favor. The Queen was wounded to
the quick by some things that the Duchess said and did, which she was
supposed not to hear or see; for the Duchess was now occasionally
careless as well as insolent. The Queen was forced to perceive that the
Duchess disdained her feeble intellect and some of her personal habits,
and was, moreover, hostile to her political opinions; and she began to
long for an independence she had never truly enjoyed. But the Duchess,
intoxicated with power and success, did not see the ground on which she
stood; yet if she continued to rule her mistress, it was by fear rather
than love.

About this period (1706) the struggles and hostilities of the Whigs and
Tories were at their height. We have in these times but a feeble
conception of the bitterness of the strife of these two great parties in
the beginning of the eighteenth century. It divided families, and filled
the land with slanders and intrigues. The leaders of both parties were
equally aristocratic and equally opposed to reform; both held the people
in sovereign contempt. The struggle between them was simply a struggle
for place and emolument. The only real difference in their principles
was that one party was secretly in favor of the exiled family and was
opposed to the French war, and the other was more jealously Protestant,
and was in favor of the continuance of the war. The Tories accused
Marlborough of needlessly prolonging the war in order to advance his
personal interests,--from which charge it would be difficult to
acquit him.

One of the most prominent leaders of the Tories was Harley, afterwards
Earl of Oxford, who belonged to a Puritan family in Hertfordshire, and
was originally a Whig. He entered Parliament in the early part of the
reign of William. Macaulay, who could see no good in the Tories, in his
violent political prejudices maintained that Harley was not a man of
great breadth of intellect, and exerted an influence in Parliament
disproportionate to his abilities. But he was a most insidious and
effective enemy. He was sagacious enough to perceive the growing
influence of men of letters, and became their patron and friend. He
advanced the fortunes of Pope, Arbuthnot, and Prior. He purchased the
services of Swift, the greatest master of satire blended with bitter
invective that England had known. Harley was not eloquent in speech; but
he was industrious, learned, exact, and was always listened to with
respect. Nor had he any scandalous vices. He could not be corrupted by
money, and his private life was decorous. He abhorred both gambling and
drunkenness,--the fashionable vices of that age. He was a refined,
social, and cultivated man.

This statesman perceived that it was imperatively necessary for the
success of his party to undermine the overpowering influence of the
Duchess of Marlborough with the Queen. He detested her arrogance,
disdain, and grasping ambition. Moreover, he had the firm conviction
that England should engage only in maritime war. He hated the Dutch and
moneyed men, and Dissenters of every sect, although originally one of
them. And when he had obtained the leadership of his party in the House
of Commons, he brought to bear the whole force of his intellect against
both the Duke and Duchess. It was by his intrigues that the intimate
relations between the Duchess and the Queen were broken up, and that the
Duke became unpopular.

The great instrument by which he effected the disgrace of the imperious
Duchess was a woman who was equally his cousin and the cousin of the
Duchess, and for whom the all-powerful favorite had procured the office
of chamber-woman and dresser,--in other words, a position which in an
inferior rank is called that of lady's-maid; for the Duchess was wearied
of constant attendance on the Queen, and to this woman some of her old
duties were delegated. The name of this woman was Abigail Hill. She had
been in very modest circumstances, but was a person of extraordinary
tact, prudence, and discretion, though very humble in her
address,--qualities the reverse of those which marked her great
relative. Nor did the proud Duchess comprehend Miss Hill's character and
designs any more than the all-powerful Madame de Montespan comprehended
those of the widow Scarron when she made her the governess of her
children. But Harley understood her, and their principles and aims were
in harmony. Abigail Hill was a bigoted Tory, and her supreme desire was
to ingratiate herself in the favor of her royal mistress, especially
when she was tired of the neglect or annoyed by the railleries of her
exacting favorite. By degrees the humble lady's-maid obtained the same
ascendency over the Queen that had been exercised by the mistress of the
robes,--in the one case secured by humility, assiduous attention, and
constant flatteries; in the other, obtained by talent and brilliant
fascinations. Abigail was ruled by Harley; Sarah was ruled by no one but
her husband, who understood her caprices and resentments, and seldom
directly opposed her. Moreover, she was a strong-minded woman, who could
listen to reason after her fits of passion had passed away.

The first thing of note which occurred, showing to the Duchess that her
influence was undermined, was the refusal of the Queen to allow Lord
Cowper, the lord chancellor, to fill up the various livings belonging to
the Crown, in spite of the urgent solicitations of the Duchess. This
naturally produced a coolness between Mrs. Freeman and Mrs. Morley.
Harley was now the confidential adviser of the Queen, and counselled her
"to go alone,"--that is, to throw off the shackles which she had too
long ignominiously worn; and Anne at once appointed high-church
divines--Tories of course--to the two vacant bishoprics. The
under-stream of faction was flowing unseen, but deep and strong, which
the infatuated Duchess did not suspect.

The great victory of Ramillies (1706) gave so much _eclat_ to
Marlborough that the outbreak between his wife and the Queen was delayed
for a time. That victory gave a new lease of power to the Whigs. Harley
and St. John, the secret enemies of the Duke, welcomed him with their
usual smiles and flatteries, and even voted for the erection of
Blenheim, one of the most expensive palaces ever built in England.

Meanwhile Harley pursued his intrigues to effect the downfall of the
Duchess. Miss Hill, unknown to her great relative and patroness, married
Mr. Masham, equerry to Prince George, who was shortly after made a
brigadier-general and peer. Nothing could surpass the indignation of the
Duchess when she heard of this secret marriage. That it should be
concealed from her while it was known to the Queen, showed conclusively
that her power over Anne was gone. And, still further, she perceived
that she was supplanted by a relative whom she had raised from
obscurity. She now comprehended the great influence of Harley at court,
and also the declining favor of her husband. It was a bitter reflection
to the proud Duchess that the alienation of the Queen was the result of
her own folly and pride rather than of royal capriciousness. She now
paid no inconsiderable penalty for the neglect of her mistress and the
gratification of her pride. Pride has ever been the chief cause of the
downfall of royal favorites. It ruined Louvois, Wolsey, and Thomas
Cromwell; it broke the chain which bound Louis XIV. to the imperious
Montespan. It ever goes before destruction. The Duchess of Marlborough
forgot that her friend Mrs. Morley was also her sovereign the Queen. She
might have retained the Queen's favor to the end, in spite of political
opinions; but she presumed too far on the ascendency which she had
enjoyed for nearly thirty years. There is no height from which one may
not fall; and it takes more ability to retain a proud position than to
gain it. There are very few persons who are beyond the reach of envy and
detraction; and the loftier the position one occupies, the more subtle,
numerous, and desperate are one's secret enemies.

The Duchess was not, however, immediately "disgraced,"--as the
expression is in reference to great people who lose favor at court. She
still retained her offices and her apartments in the royal palace; she
still had access to the Queen; she was still addressed as "my dear Mrs.
Freeman." But Mrs. Masham had supplanted her; and Harley, through the
influence of the new favorite, ruled at court. The disaffection which
had long existed between the secretary of state and the lord treasurer
deepened into absolute aversion. It became the aim of both ministers to
ruin each other. The Queen now secretly sided with the Tories, although
she had not the courage to quarrel openly with her powerful ministers,
or with her former favorite. Nor was "the great breach" made public.

But the angry and disappointed Duchess gave vent to her wrath and
vengeance in letters to her husband and in speech to Godolphin. She
entreated them to avenge her quarrel. She employed spies about the
Queen. She brought to bear her whole influence on the leaders of the
Whigs. She prepared herself for an open conflict with her sovereign; for
she saw clearly that the old relations of friendship and confidence
between them would never return. A broken friendship is a broken jar; it
may be mended, but never restored,--its glory has departed. And this is
one of the bitterest experiences of life, on whomsoever the fault may be
laid. The fault in this instance was on the side of the Duchess, and not
on that of her patron. The arrogance and dictation of the favorite had
become intolerable; it was as hard to bear as the insolence of a
petted servant.

The Duke of Marlborough and Lord Godolphin took up the quarrel with
zeal. They were both at the summit of power, and both were leaders of
their party. The victories of the former had made him the most famous
man in Europe and the greatest subject in England. They declined to
serve their sovereign any longer, unless Harley were dismissed from
office; and the able secretary of state was obliged to resign.

But Anne could not forget that she was forced to part with her
confidential minister, and continued to be ruled by his counsels. She
had secret nocturnal meetings in the palace with both Harley and Mrs.
Masham, to the chagrin of the ministers. The court became the scene of
intrigues and cabals. Not only was Harley dismissed, but also Henry St.
John, afterwards the famous Lord Bolingbroke, the intimate friend and
patron of Pope. He was secretary of war, and was a man of great ability,
of more genius even than Harley. He was an infidel in his religious
opinions, and profligate in his private life. Like Harley, he was born
of Puritan parents, and, like him, repudiated his early principles. He
was the most eloquent orator in the House of Commons, which he entered
in 1700 as a Whig. At that time he was much admired by Marlborough, who
used his influence to secure his entrance into the cabinet. His most
remarkable qualities were political sagacity, and penetration into the
motives and dispositions of men. He gradually went over to the Tories,
and his alliance with Harley was strengthened by personal friendship as
well as political sympathies. He was the most interesting man of his age
in society,--witty, bright, and courtly. In conversational powers he was
surpassed only by Swift.

Meanwhile the breach between the Queen and the Duchess gradually
widened. And as the former grew cold in her treatment of her old friend,
she at the same time annoyed her ministers by the appointment of Tory
bishops to the vacant sees. She went so far as to encroach on the
prerogatives of the general of her armies, by making military
appointments without his consent. This interference Marlborough
properly resented. But his influence was now on the wane, as the nation
wearied of a war which, as it seemed to the Tories, he needlessly
prolonged. Moreover, the Duke of Somerset, piqued by the refusal of the
general to give a regiment to his son, withdrew his support from the
Government. The Duke of Shrewsbury and other discontented noblemen left
the Whig party. The unwise prosecution of Dr. Sacheverell for a
seditious libel united the whole Tory party in a fierce opposition to
the Government, which was becoming every day more unpopular. Harley was
indefatigable in intrigues. "He fasted with religious zealots and
feasted with convivial friends." He promised everything to everybody,
but kept his own counsels.

In such a state of affairs, with the growing alienation of the Queen, it
became necessary for the proud Duchess to resign her offices; but before
doing this she made one final effort to regain what she had lost. She
besought the Queen for a private interview, which was refused. Again
importuned, her Majesty sullenly granted the interview, but refused to
explain anything, and even abruptly left the room, and was so rude that
the Duchess burst into a flood of tears which she could not
restrain,--not tears of grief, but tears of wrath and shame.

Thus was finally ended the memorable friendship between Mrs. Morley and
Mrs. Freeman, which had continued for twenty-seven years. The Queen and
Duchess never met again. Soon after, in 1710, followed the dismissal of
Lord Godolphin, as lord treasurer, who was succeeded by Harley, created
Earl of Oxford. Sunderland, too, was dismissed, and his post of
secretary of state was given to St. John, created Viscount Bolingbroke.
Lord Cowper resigned the seals, and Sir Simon Harcourt, an avowed
adherent of the Pretender, became lord chancellor. The Earl of
Rochester, the bitterest of all the Tories, was appointed president of
the council. The Duke of Marlborough, however, was not dismissed from
his high command until 1711. One reason for his dismissal was that he
was suspected of aiming to make himself supreme. On his return from the
battle of Malplaquet, he had coolly demanded to be made captain-general
for life. Such a haughty demand would have been regarded as dangerous in
a great crisis; it was absurd when public dangers had passed away. Even
Lord Cowper. his friend the chancellor, shrunk from it with amazement.
Such a demand would have been deemed arrogant in Wallenstein, amid the
successes of Gustavus Adolphus.

No insignificant cause of the triumph of the Tory party at this time was
the patronage which the Tory leaders extended to men of letters, and the
bitter political tracts which these literary men wrote and for which
they were paid. In that age the speeches of members of Parliament were
not reported or published, and hence had but little influence on public
opinion. Even ministers resorted to political tracts to sustain their
power, or to undermine that of their opponents; and these were more
efficient than speeches in the House of Commons. Bolingbroke was the
most eloquent orator of his day; but no orators arose in Anne's reign
equal to Pitt and Fox in the reign of George III. Hence the political
leaders availed themselves of the writings of men of letters, with whom
they freely associated. And this intercourse was deemed a great
condescension on the part of nobles and cabinet ministers. In that age
great men were not those who were famous for genius, but those who were
exalted in social position. Still, genius was held in high honor by
those who controlled public affairs, whenever it could be made
subservient to their interests.

Foremost among the men of genius who lent their pen to the service of
nobles and statesmen was Jonathan Swift,--clergyman, poet, and satirist.
But he was more famous for his satire than for his sermons or his
poetry. Everybody winced under his terrible assaults. He was both feared
and hated, especially by the "great;" hence they flattered him and
courted his society. He became the intimate friend and companion of
Oxford and Bolingbroke. He dined with the prime minister every Sunday,
and in fact as often as he pleased. He rarely dined at home, and almost
lived in the houses of the highest nobles, who welcomed him not only for
the aid he gave them by his writings, but for his wit and agreeable
discourse. At one time he was the most influential man in England,
although poor and without office or preferment. He possessed two or
three livings in Ireland, which together brought him about L500, on
which he lived,--generally in London, at least when his friends were in
power. They could not spare him, and he was intrusted with the most
important secrets of state. His insolence was superb. He affected
equality with dukes and earls; he "condescended" to accept their
banquets. The first time that Bolingbroke invited him to dine, his reply
was that "if the Queen gave his lordship a dukedom and the Garter and
the Treasury also, he would regard them no more than he would a groat."
This assumed independence was the habit of his life. He indignantly
returned L100 to Harley, which the minister had sent him as a gift: he
did not work for money, but for influence and a promised bishopric. But
the Queen--a pious woman of the conventional school--would never hear of
his elevation to the bench of bishops, in consequence of the "Tale of a
Tub," in which he had ridiculed everything sacred and profane. He was
the bitterest satirist that England has produced. The most his powerful
friends could do for him was to give him the deanery of St. Patrick's in
Dublin, worth about L800 a year.

Swift was first brought to notice by Sir William Temple, in the reign of
William and Mary, he being Sir William's secretary. At first he was a
Whig, and a friend of Addison; but, neglected by Marlborough and
Godolphin,--who cared but little for literary genius,--he became a Tory.
In 1710 he became associated with Harley, St. John, Atterbury, and
Prior, in the defence of the Tory party; but he never relinquished his
friendship with Addison, for whom he had profound respect and
admiration. Swift's life was worldly, but moral. He was remarkably
temperate in eating and drinking, and parsimonious in his habits. One of
his most bitter complaints in his letters to Stella--to whom he wrote
every day--was of the expense of coach-hire in his visits to nobles and
statesmen. It would seem that he creditably discharged his clerical
duties. He attended the daily service in the cathedral, and preached
when his turn came. He was charitable to the poor, and was a friend to
Ireland, to whose people he rendered great services from his influence
with the Government. He was beloved greatly by the Irish nation, in
spite of his asperity, parsimony, and bad temper. He is generally
regarded by critics as a selfish and heartless man; and his treatment of
the two women whose affections he had gained was certainly inexplicable
and detestable. His old age was miserable and sad. He died insane,
having survived his friends and his influence. But his writings have
lived. His "Gulliver's Travels" is still one of the most famous and
popular books in our language, in spite of its revolting and vulgar
details. Swift, like Addison, was a great master of style,--clear,
forcible, and natural; and in vigor he surpassed any writer of his age.

It was the misfortune of the Duchess of Marlborough to have this witty
and malignant satirist for an enemy. He exposed her peculiarities, and
laid bare her character with fearless effrontery. It was thus that he
attacked the most powerful woman in England: "A lady of my acquaintance
appropriated L26 a year out of her allowance for certain uses which the
lady received, or was to pay to the lady or her order when called for.
But after eight years it appeared upon the strictest calculation that
the woman had paid but L4, and sunk L22 for her own pocket. It is but
supposing L26 instead of L26,000, and by that you may judge what the
pretensions of modern merit are when it happens to be its own
paymaster." Who could stand before such insinuations? The Duchess
afterwards attempted to defend herself against the charge of peculation
as the keeper of the privy purse; but no one believed her. She was
notoriously avaricious and unscrupulous. Swift spared no personage in
the party of the Whigs, when by so doing he could please the leaders of
the Tories. And he wrote in an age when libels were scandalous and
savage,--libels which would now subject their authors to punishment. The
acrimony of party strife at that time has never since been equalled.
Even poets attacked each other with savage recklessness. There was no
criticism after the style of Sainte-Beuve. Writers sought either to
annihilate or to extravagantly praise. The jealousy which poets
displayed in reference to each other's productions was as unreasonable
and bitter as the envy and strife between country doctors, or musicians
at the opera.

There was one great writer in the age of Queen Anne who was an exception
to this nearly universal envy and bitterness; and this was Addison, who
was as serene and calm as other critics were furious and unjust. Even
Swift spared this amiable and accomplished writer, although he belonged
to the Whig party. Joseph Addison, born in 1672, was the most fortunate
man of letters in his age,--perhaps in any succeeding age in English
history. He was early distinguished as a writer of Latin poems; and in
1699, at the age of twenty-seven, the young scholar was sent by
Montague, at the recommendation of Somers, to the Continent, on a
pension of L300 a year, to study languages with a view to the diplomatic
service. On the accession of Anne, Addison was obliged to return to
literature for his support. Solicited by Godolphin, under the advice of
Halifax, to write a poem on the victories of Marlborough, he wrote one
so popular that he rapidly rose in favor with the Whig ministry. In 1708
he was made secretary for Ireland, under Lord Wharton, and entered
Parliament. He afterwards was made secretary of state, married a
peeress, and spent his last days at Holland House.

But Addison was no politician; nor did he distinguish himself in
Parliament or as a political writer. He could not make a speech, not
having been trained to debate. He was too timid, and his taste was too
severe, for the arena of politicians. He is immortal for his essays, in
which his humor is transcendent, and his style easy and graceful, As a
writer, he is a great artist. No one has ever been able to equal him in
the charming simplicity of his style. Macaulay, a great artist himself
in the use of language, places Addison on the summit of literary
excellence and fame as an essayist. One is at loss to comprehend why so
quiet and unobtrusive a scholar should have been selected for important
political positions, but can easily understand why he was the admiration
of the highest social circles for his wit and the elegance of his
conversation. He was the personification of urbanity and every
gentlemanly quality, as well as one of the best scholars of his age;
but it was only in an aristocratic age, when a few great nobles
controlled public affairs, that such a man could have been so
recognized, rewarded, and honored. He died beloved and universally
lamented, and his writings are still classics, and likely to remain so.
He was not an oracle in general society, like Mackintosh and Macaulay;
but among congenial and trusted friends he gave full play to his humor,
and was as charming as Washington Irving is said to have been in his
chosen circle of admirers. Although he was a Whig, we do not read of any
particular intimacy with such men as Marlborough and Godolphin.
Marlborough, though an accomplished and amiable man, was not fond of the
society of wits, as were Halifax, Montague, Harley, and St. John. As for
the Duchess, she was too proud and grand for such a retired scholar as
Addison to feel at ease in her worldly coteries. She cared no more for
poetry or severe intellectual culture than politicians generally do. She
shone only in a galaxy of ladies of rank and fashion. I do not read that
she ever took a literary man into her service, and she had no more taste
for letters than the sovereign she served. She was doubtless
intellectual, shrewd, and discriminating; but her intellect was directed
to current political movements, and she was coarse in her language. She
would swear, like Queen Elizabeth, when excited to anger, and her wrath
was terrible.

On the dismissal of the great Duke from all his offices, and the
"disgrace" of his wife at court, they led a comparatively quiet life
abroad. The Duchess had parted with her offices with great reluctance.
Even when the Queen sent for the golden keys, which were the badge of
her office, she refused to surrender them. No one could do anything with
the infuriated termagant, and all were afraid of her. She threatened to
print the private correspondence of the Queen as Mrs. Morley. The
ministers dared not go into her presence, so fierce was her character
when offended. To take from her the badge of office was like trying to
separate a fierce lioness from her whelps. The only person who could
manage her was her husband; and when at last he compelled her to give up
the keys, she threw them in a storm of passion at his head, and raved
like a maniac. It is amazing how the Queen could have borne so long with
the Duchess's ungovernable temper, and still more so how her husband
could. But he was always mild and meek in the retirement of his home,--a
truly domestic man, to whom pomp was a weariness. Moreover, he was a
singularly fortunate man. His ambition and pride and avarice were
gratified beyond precedent in English history. He had become the
foremost man in his country, and perhaps of his age. And his wife was
still looked to as a great personage, not only because of her position
and rank, but for her abilities, which were doubtless great. She was
still a power in the land, and was surrounded by children and
grandchildren who occupied some of the highest social positions
in England.

But she was not happy. What can satisfy a restless and ambitious woman
whose happiness is in external pleasures? There is a limit to the favors
which fortune showers; and when the limits of success are reached, there
must be disappointment. The Duchess was discontented, and became morose,
quarrelsome, and hard to please. Her children did not love her, and some
were in bitter opposition to her. She was perpetually embroiled in
family quarrels. Nothing could soften the asperity of her temper, or
restrain her unreasonable exactions. At last England became hateful to
her, and she and her husband quitted it, and resided abroad for several
years. In the retirement of voluntary exile she answered the numerous
accusations against her; for she was maligned on every side, and
generally disliked, since her arrogance had become insupportable, even
to her daughters.

Meanwhile the last days of Queen Anne's weary existence were drawing to
a close. She was assailed with innumerable annoyances. Her body was
racked with the gout, and her feeble mind was distracted by the
contradictory counsels of her advisers. Any allusion to her successor
was a knell of agony to her disturbed soul. She became suspicious, and
was even alienated from Harley, whom she dismissed from office only a
few days before her death, which took place Aug. 1, 1714. She died
without signing her will, by which omission Mrs. Masham was deprived of
her legacy. She died childless, and the Elector George of Hanover
ascended her throne.

On the death of the Queen, Marlborough returned to England; and it was
one of the first acts of the new king to restore to him the post of
captain-general of the land forces, while his son-in-law Sunderland was
made lord-lieutenant of Ireland. A Whig cabinet was formed, but the Duke
never regained his old political influence, and he gradually retired to
private life, residing with the Duchess almost wholly at Holywell. His
peaceful retirement, for which he had longed, came at last. He employed
his time in surveying the progress of the building of Blenheim,--in
which palace he was never destined to live,--and in simple pleasures,
for which he never lost a taste. His wife occupied herself in
matrimonial projects for her grandchildren, seeking alliances of
ambition and interest.

In 1716 the Duke of Marlborough was attacked with a paralytic fit, from
the effects of which he only partially recovered. To restore his health,
he went to Bath,--then the fashionable and favorite watering-place,
whose waters were deemed beneficial to invalids; and here it was one of
the scandals of the day that the rich nobleman would hobble from the
public room to his lodgings, in a cold, dark night, to save sixpence in
coach-hire. His enjoyments were now few and transient. His nervous
system was completely shattered, after so many labors and exposures in
his numerous campaigns. He lingered till 1722, when he died leaving a
fortune of a million and a half pounds sterling, besides his vast
estates. No subject at that time had so large an income. He left a
military fame never surpassed in England,--except by Wellington,--and a
name unstained by cruelty. So distinguished a man of course received at
his death unparalleled funeral honors. He was followed to his temporary
resting-place in the vaults of Westminster by the most imposing
procession that England had ever seen.

The Duchess of Marlborough was now the richest woman in England.
Whatever influence proceeds from rank and riches she still possessed,
though the titles and honors of the dukedom descended by act of
Parliament, in 1706, to the Countess of Godolphin, with whom she was at
war. The Duchess was now sixty-two, with unbroken health and
inextinguishable ambition. She resided chiefly at Windsor Lodge, for she
held for life the office of ranger of the forest. It was then that she
was so severely castigated by Pope in his satirical lines on "Atossa,"
that she is said to have sent L1000 to the poet, to suppress the
libel,--her avarice and wrath giving way to her policy and pride. For
twenty years after the death of her husband she continued an intriguing
politician, but on ill-terms with Sir Robert Walpole, the prime
minister, whom she cordially hated, more because of money transactions
than political disagreement. She was a very disagreeable old woman, yet
not without influence, if she was without friends. She had at least the
merit of frankness, for she concealed none of her opinions of the King,
nor of his ministers, nor of distinguished nobles. She was querulous,
and full of complaints and exactions. One of her bitterest complaints
was that she was compelled to pay taxes on her house in Windsor Park.
She would even utter her complaints before servants. Litigation was not
disagreeable to her if she had reason on her side, whether she had
law or not.

It was not the good fortune of this strong-minded but unhappy woman to
assemble around her in her declining years children and grandchildren
who were attached to her. She had alienated even them. She had no
intimate friends. "A woman not beloved by her own children can have but
little claim to the affections of others." As we have already said, the
Duchess was at open variance with her oldest daughter Henrietta, the
Countess of Godolphin, to whom she was never reconciled. Her quarrels
with her granddaughter Lady Anne Egerton, afterwards Duchess of Bedford,
were violent and incessant. She lived in perpetual altercation with her
youngest daughter, the Duchess of Montague. She never was beloved by any
of her children at any time, since they were in childhood and youth
intrusted to the care of servants and teachers, while the mother was
absorbed in political cabals at court. She consulted their interest
merely in making for them grand alliances, to gratify her family pride.
Her whole life was absorbed in pride and ambition. Nor did the
mortification of a dishonored old age improve her temper. She sought
neither the consolation of religion nor the intellectual stimulus of
history and philosophy. To the last she was as worldly as she was
morose. To the last she was a dissatisfied politician. She reviled the
Whig administration of Walpole as fiercely as she did the Tory
administration of Oxford. She haughtily refused the Order of the Bath
for her grandson the Duke of Marlborough, which Walpole offered,
contented with nothing less than the Garter. "Madam," replied Walpole,
"they who take the Bath will sooner have the Garter." In her old age her
ruling passion was hatred of Walpole. "I think," she wrote, "'tis
thought wrong to wish anybody dead, but I hope 'tis none to wish he may
be hanged." Her wishes were partly gratified, for she lived long enough
to see this great statesman--so long supreme--driven to the very
threshold of the Tower. For his son Horace she had equal dislike, and he
returned her hatred with malignant satire. "Old Marlborough is dying,"
said the wit; "but who can tell? Last year she had lain a great while
ill, without speaking, and her physician told her that she must be
blistered, or she would die. She cried out, 'I won't be blistered, and I
won't die,'"

She did indeed last some time longer; but with increasing infirmities,
her amusements and pleasures became yearly more circumscribed. In former
years she had sometimes occupied her mind with the purchase of land; for
she was shrewd, and rarely made a bad bargain. Even at the age of eighty
she went to the city to bid in person for the estate of Lord Yarmouth.
But as her darkened day approached its melancholy close, she amused
herself by dictating in bed her "Vindication," After spending thus six
hours daily with her secretary, she had recourse to her chamber organ,
the eight tunes of which she thought much better to hear than going to
the Italian opera. Even society, in which she once shone,--for her
intellect was bright and her person beautiful,--at last wearied her and
gave her no pleasure. Like many lonely, discontented women, she became
attached to animals; she petted three dogs, in which she saw virtues
that neither men nor women possessed. In her disquiet she often changed
her residence. She went from Marlborough House to Windsor Lodge, and
from Windsor Lodge to Wimbledon, only to discover that each place was
damp and unhealthy. Wrapt up in flannels, and wheeled up and down her
room in a chair, she discovered that wealth can only mitigate the evils
of humanity, and realized how wretched is any person with a soul filled
with discontent and bitterness, when animal spirits are destroyed by the
infirmities of old age. All the views of this spoiled favorite of
fortune were bounded by the scenes immediately before her. While she was
not sceptical, she was far from being religious; and hence she was
deprived of the highest consolations given to people in disappointment
and sorrow and neglect. The older she grew, the more tenaciously did she
cling to temporal possessions, and the more keenly did she feel
occasional losses. Her intellect remained unclouded, but her feelings
became callous. While she had no reverence for the dead, she felt
increasing contempt for the living,--forgetting that no one, however
exalted, can live at peace in an atmosphere of disdain.

At last she died, in 1744, unlamented and unloved, in the eighty-fourth
year of her age, and was interred by the side of her husband, in the
tomb in the chapel of Blenheim. She left L30,000 a year to her
grandson, Lord John Spencer, provided he would never accept any civil
or military office from the Government. She left also L20,000 to Lord
Chesterfield, together with her most valuable diamond; but only small
sums to most of her relatives or to charities. The residue of her
property she left to that other grandson who inherited the title and
estates of her husband. L60,000 a year, her estimated income, besides a
costly collection of jewels,--one of the most valuable in Europe,--were
a great property, when few noblemen at that time had over L30,000
a year.

The life of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, is a sad one to contemplate,
with all her riches and honors. Let those who envy wealth or rank learn
from her history how little worldly prosperity can secure happiness or
esteem, without the solid virtues of the heart. The richest and most
prosperous woman of her times was the object of blended derision,
contempt, and hatred throughout the land which she might have adorned.
Why, then, it may be asked, should I single out such a woman for a
lecture,--a woman who added neither to human happiness, national
prosperity, nor the civilization of her age? Why have I chosen her as
one of the Beacon Lights of history? Because I know of no woman who has
filled so exalted a position in society, and is so prominent a figure in
history, whose career is a more impressive warning of the dangers to be
shunned by those who embark on the perilous and troubled seas of mere
worldly ambition. God gave her that to which she aspired, and which so
many envy; but "He sent leanness into her soul."


Private Correspondence of the Duchess of Marlborough; Mrs. Thompson's
Life of the Duchess of Marlborough; "Conduct," by the Duchess of
Marlborough, Life of Dr. Tillotson, by Dr. Birch; Coxe's Life of the
Duke of Marlborough; Evelyn's Diary; Lord Mahon's History of England;
Macaulay's History of England; Lewis Jenkin's Memoirs of the Duke of
Gloucester; Burnet's History of his own Times; Lamberty's Memoirs;
Swift's Journal to Stella; Liddiard's Life of the Duke of Marlborough;
Boyer's Annals of Queen Anne; Swift's Memoir of the Queen's Ministry;
Cunningham's History of Great Britain; Walpole's Correspondence, edited
by Coxe; Sir Walter Scott's Life of Swift; Agnes Strickland's Queens of
England; Marlborough and the Times of Queen Anne; Westminster Review,
lvi. 26; Dublin University Review, lxxiv. 469; Temple Bar Magazine, lii.
333; Burton's Reign of Queen Anne; Stanhope's Queen Anne.


* * * * *

A. D. 1777-1849.


I know of no woman who by the force of beauty and social fascinations,
without extraordinary intellectual gifts or high birth, has occupied so
proud a position as a queen of society as Madame Recamier. So I select
her as the representative of her class.

It was in Italy that women first drew to their _salons_ the
distinguished men of their age, and exercised over them a commanding
influence. More than three hundred years ago Olympia Fulvia Morata was
the pride of Ferrara,--eloquent with the music of Homer and Virgil, a
miracle to all who heard her, giving public lectures to nobles and
professors when only a girl of sixteen; and Vittoria Colonna was the
ornament of the Court of Naples, and afterwards drew around her at Rome
the choicest society of that elegant capital,--bishops, princes, and
artists,--equally the friend of Cardinal Pole and of Michael Angelo, and
reigning in her retired apartments in the Benedictine convent of St.
Anne, even as the Duchesse de Longueville shone at the Hotel de
Rambouillet, with De Retz and La Rochefoucauld at her feet. This was at
a period when the Italian cities were the centre of the new civilization
which the Renaissance created, when ancient learning and art were
cultivated with an enthusiasm never since surpassed.

The new position which women seem to have occupied in the sixteenth
century in Italy, was in part owing to the wealth and culture of
cities--ever the paradise of ambitious women--and the influence of
poetry and chivalry, of which the Italians were the earliest admirers.
Provencal poetry was studied in Italy as early as the time of Dante; and
veneration for woman was carried to a romantic excess when the rest of
Europe was comparatively rude. Even in the eleventh century we see in
the southern part of Europe a respectful enthusiasm for woman coeval
with the birth of chivalry. The gay troubadours expounded and explained
the subtile metaphysics of love in every possible way: a peerless lady
was supposed to unite every possible moral virtue with beauty and rank;
and hence chivalric love was based on sentiment alone. Provence gave
birth both to chivalry and poetry, and they were singularly blended
together. Of about five hundred troubadours whose names have descended
to us, more than half were noble, for chivalry took cognizance only of
noble birth. From Provence chivalry spread to Italy and to the north of
France, and Normandy became pre-eminently a country of noble deeds,
though not the land of song. It was in Italy that the poetical
development was greatest.

After chivalry as an institution had passed away, it still left its
spirit on society. There was not, however, much society in Europe
anywhere until cities arose and became centres of culture and art. In
the feudal castle there were chivalric sentiments but not society, where
men and women of cultivation meet to give expression and scope to their
ideas and sentiments. Nor can there be a high society without the aid of
letters. Society did not arise until scholars and poets mingled with
nobles as companions. This sort of society gained celebrity first in
Paris, when women of rank invited to their _salons_ literary men as well
as nobles.

The first person who gave a marked impulse to what we call society was
the Marquise de Rambouillet, in the seventeenth century. She was the
first to set the fashion in France of that long series of social
gatherings which were a sort of institution for more than two hundred
years. Her father was a devoted friend of Henry IV., belonged to one of
the first families of France, and had been ambassador to Rome. She was
married in the year 1600, at the age of fifteen. When twenty-two, she
had acquired a distaste for the dissipations of the court and everything
like crowded assemblies. She was among the first to discover that a
crowd of men and women does not constitute society. Nothing is more
foreign to the genius of the highest cultivated life than a crowded
_salon_, where conversation on any interesting topic is impossible;
where social life is gilded, but frivolous and empty; where especially
the loftiest sentiments of the soul are suppressed. From an early period
such crowds gathered at courts; but it was not till the seventeenth
century that the _salon_ arose, in which woman was a queen and an

The famous queens of society in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
do not seem to have mixed much in miscellaneous assemblies, however
brilliant in dress and ornament. They were more exclusive. They reserved
their remarkable talents for social reunions, perhaps in modest
_salons_, where among distinguished men and women they could pour out
the treasures of the soul and mind; where they could inspire and draw
out the sentiments of those who were gifted and distinguished. Madame du
Deffand lived quietly in the convent of St. Joseph, but she gathered
around her an elegant and famous circle, until she was eighty and blind.
The Saturday assemblies of Mademoiselle de Scudery, frequented by the
most distinguished people of Paris, were given in a modest apartment,
for she was only a novelist. The same may be said of the receptions of
Madame de la Sabliere, who was a childless widow, of moderate means. The
Duchesse de Longueville--another of those famous queens--saw her best
days in the abbey of Port Royal. Madame Recamier reigned in a small
apartment in the Abbaye-au-Bois. All these carried out in their _salons_
the rules and customs which had been established by Madame de
Rambouillet, It was in her _salon_ that the French Academy originated,
and its first members were regular visitants at her hotel. Her
conversation was the chief amusement. We hear of neither cards nor
music; but there were frequent parties to the country, walks in the
woods,--a perpetual animation, where ceremony was banished. The
brilliancy of her parties excited the jealousy of Richelieu. Hither
resorted those who did not wish to be bound by the stiffness of the
court. At that period this famous hotel had its pedantries, but it was
severely intellectual. Hither came Mademoiselle de Scuderi; Mademoiselle
de Montpensier, granddaughter of Henry IV.; Vaugelas, and others of the
poets; also Balzac, Voiture, Racan, the Duc de Montausier, Madame de
Sevigne, Madame de la Fayette, and others. The most marked thing about
this hotel was the patronage extended to men of letters. Those great
French ladies welcomed poets and scholars, and encouraged them, and did
not allow them to starve, like the literary men of Grub Street. Had the
English aristocracy extended the same helping hand to authors, the
condition of English men of letters in the eighteenth century would have
been far less unfortunate. Authors in France have never been excluded
from high society; and this was owing in part to the influence of the
Hotel de Rambouillet, which sought an alliance between genius and rank.
It is this blending of genius with rank which gave to society in France
its chief attraction, and made it so brilliant.

Mademoiselle de Scudery, Madame de la Sabliere, and Madame de
Longueville followed the precedents established by Madame de Rambouillet
and Madame de Maintenon, and successively reigned as queens of
society,--that is, of chosen circles of those who were most celebrated
in France,--raising the intellectual tone of society, and inspiring
increased veneration for woman herself.

But the most celebrated of all these queens of society was Madame
Recamier, who was the friend and contemporary of Madame de Stael. She
was born at Lyons, in 1777, not of high rank, her father, M. Bernard,
being only a prosperous notary. Through the influence of Calonne,
minister of Louis XVI., he obtained the lucrative place of Receiver of
the Finances, and removed to Paris, while his only daughter Juliette was
sent to a convent, near Lyons, to be educated, where she remained until
she was ten years of age, when she rejoined her family. Juliette's
education was continued at home, under her mother's superintendence; but
she excelled in nothing especially except music and dancing, and was
only marked for grace, beauty, and good-nature.

Among the visitors to her father's house was Jacques Rose Recamier, a
rich banker, born in Lyons, 1751,--kind-hearted, hospitable,
fine-looking, and cultivated, but of frivolous tastes. In 1793, during
the Reign of Terror, being forty-two, he married the beautiful daughter
of his friend, she being but fifteen. This marriage seems to have been
one of convenience and vanity, with no ties of love on either
side,--scarcely friendship, or even sentiment. For a few years Madame
Recamier led a secluded life, on account of the troubles and dangers
incident to the times, but when she did emerge from retirement she had
developed into the most beautiful woman in France, and was devoted to a
life of pleasure. Her figure was flexible and elegant, her head
well-poised, her complexion brilliant, with a little rosy mouth, pearly
teeth, black curling hair, and soft expressive eyes, with a carriage
indicative of indolence and pride, yet with a face beaming with
good-nature and sympathy.

Such was Madame Recamier at eighteen, so remarkable for beauty that she
called forth murmurs of admiration wherever she appeared. As it had
long been a custom in Paris, and still is, to select the most beautiful
and winning woman to hand round the purse in churches for all charities,
she was selected by the Church of St. Roche, the most fashionable church
of that day; and so great was the enthusiasm to see this beautiful and
bewitching creature, that the people crowded the church, and even
mounted on the chairs, and, though assisted by two gentlemen, she could
scarcely penetrate the crowd. The collection on one occasion amounted to
twenty thousand francs,--equal, perhaps, to ten thousand dollars to-day.
This adaptation of means to an end has never been disdained by the
Catholic clergy. What would be thought in Philadelphia or New York, in
an austere and solemn Presbyterian church, to see the most noted beauty
of the day handing round the plate? But such is one of the forms which
French levity takes, even in the consecrated precincts of the church.

The fashionable drive and promenade in Paris was Longchamps, now the
Champs Elysees, and it was Madame Recamier's delight to drive in an open
carriage on this beautiful avenue, especially on what are called the
holy days,--Wednesdays and Fridays,--when her beauty extorted
salutations from the crowd. Of course, such a woman excited equal
admiration in the _salons_, and was soon invited to the fetes and
parties of the Directory, through Barras, one of her admirers. There
she saw Bonaparte, but did not personally know him at that time. At one
of these fetes, rising at full length from her seat to gaze at the
General, sharing in the admiration for the hero, she at once attracted
the notice of the crowd, who all turned to look at her; which so annoyed
Bonaparte that he gave her one of his dreadful and withering frowns,
which caused her to sink into her seat with terror.

In 1798 M. Recamier bought the house which had Recamier belonged to
Necker, in what is now the Chaussee d'Antin. This led to an acquaintance
between Madame Recamier and Madame de Stael, which soon ripened into
friendship. In the following year M. Recamier, now very rich,
established himself in a fine chateau at Clichy, a short distance from
Paris, where he kept open house. Thither came Lucien Bonaparte, at that
time twenty-four years of age, bombastic and consequential, and fell in
love with his beautiful hostess, as everybody else did. But Madame
Recamier, with all her fascinations, was not a woman of passion; nor did
she like the brother of the powerful First Consul, and politely rejected
his addresses. He continued, however, to persecute her with his absurd
love-letters for a year, when, finding it was hopeless to win so refined
and virtuous a lady as Madame Recamier doubtless was,--partly because
she was a woman of high principles, and partly because she had no great
temptations,--the pompous lover, then Home Minister, ceased his

But Napoleon, who knew everything that was going on, had a curiosity to
see this woman who charmed everybody, yet whom nobody could win, and she
was invited to one of his banquets. Although she obeyed his summons, she
was very modest and timid, and did not try to make any conquest of him.
She was afraid of him, as Madame de Stael was, and most ladies of rank
and refinement. He was a hero to men rather than to women,--at least to
those women who happened to know him or serve him. That cold and cutting
irony of which he was master, that haughty carriage and air which he
assumed, that selfish and unsympathetic nature, that exacting slavery to
his will, must have been intolerable to well-bred women who believed in
affection and friendship, of which he was incapable, and which he did
not even comprehend. It was his intention that the most famous beauty of
the day should sit next to him at this banquet, and he left the seat
vacant for her; but she was too modest to take it unless specially
directed to do so by the Consul, which either pride or etiquette
prevented. This modesty he did not appreciate, and he was offended, and
she never saw him again in private; but after he became Emperor, he made
every effort to secure her services as maid-of-honor to one of the
princesses, through his minister Fouche, in order to ornament his court.
It was a flattering honor, since she was only the wife of a banker,
without title; but she refused it, which stung Napoleon with vexation,
since it indicated to him that the fashionable and high-born women of
the day stood aloof from him. Many a woman was banished because she
would not pay court to him,--Madame de Stael, the Duchesse de Chevreuse,
and others. Madame Recamier was now at the height of fashion, admired by
Frenchmen and foreigners alike; not merely by such men as the
Montmorencys, Narbonne, Jordan, Barrere, Moreau, Bernadotte, La Harpe,
but also by Metternich, then secretary of the Austrian embassy, who
carried on a flirtation with her all winter. All this was displeasing to
Napoleon, more from wounded pride than fear of treason. In the midst of
her social triumphs, after having on one occasion received uncommon
honor, Napoleon, now emperor, bitterly exclaimed that more honor could
not be shown to the wife of a marshal of France,--a remark very
indicative of his character, showing that in his estimation there was no
possible rank or fame to be compared with the laurels of a military
hero. A great literary genius, or woman of transcendent beauty, was no
more to him than a great scholar or philosopher is to a vulgar rich man
in making up his parties.

It was in the midst of these social successes that the husband of
Madame Recamier lost his fortune. He would not have failed had he been
able to secure a loan from the Bank of France of a million of francs;
but this loan the Government peremptorily refused,--doubtless from the
hostility of Napoleon; so that the banker was ruined because his wife
chose to ally herself with the old aristocracy and refuse the favors of
the Emperor. In having pursued such a course, Madame Recamier must have
known that she was the indirect cause of her husband's failure. But she
bore the reverse of fortune with that equanimity which seems to be
peculiar to the French, and which only lofty characters, or people of
considerable mental resources, are able to assume or feel. Most rich
men, when they lose their money, give way to despondency and grief,
conscious that they have nothing to fall back upon; that without money
they are nothing. Madame Recamier at once sold her jewels and plate, and
her fine hotel was offered for sale. Neither she nor her husband sought
to retain anything amid the wreck, and they cheerfully took up their
abode in a small apartment,--which conduct won universal sympathy and
respect, so that her friends were rather increased than diminished, and
she did not lose her social prestige and influence, which she would have
lost in cities where money is the highest, and sometimes the only, test
of social position. Madame de Stael wrote letters of impassioned
friendship, and nobles and generals paid unwonted attention. The death
of her mother soon followed, so that she spent the summer of 1807 in
extreme privacy, until persuaded by her constant friend Madame de Stael
to pay her a visit at her country-seat near Geneva, where she met Prince
Frederick of Prussia, nephew of the great Frederic, who became so
enamored of her that he sought her hand in marriage. Princes, in those
days, had such a lofty idea of their rank that they deemed it an honor
to be conferred on a woman, even if married, to take her away from her
husband. For a time Madame Recamier seemed dazzled with this splendid
proposal, and she even wrote to the old banker, her husband, asking for
a divorce from him. I think I never read of a request so preposterous or
more disgraceful,--the greatest flaw I know in her character,--showing
the extreme worldliness of women of fashion at that time, and the
audacity which is created by universal flattery. What is even more
surprising, her husband did not refuse the request, but wrote to her a
letter of so much dignity, tenderness, and affection that her eyes were
opened. "She saw the protector of her youth, whose indulgence had never
failed her, growing old, and despoiled of fortune; and to leave him who
had been so good to her, even if she did not love him, seemed rightly
the height of ingratitude and meanness." So the Prince was dismissed,
very much to his surprise and chagrin; and some there were who regarded
M. Recamier as a very selfish man, to appeal to the feelings and honor
of his wife, and thus deprive her of a splendid destiny. Such were the
morals of fashionable people in Europe during the eighteenth century.

Madame Recamier did not meddle with politics, like Madame de Stael and
other strong-minded women before and since; but her friendship with a
woman whom Napoleon hated so intensely as he did the authoress of
"Delphine" and "Germany," caused her banishment to a distance of forty
leagues from Paris,--one of the customary acts which the great conqueror
was not ashamed to commit, and which put his character in a repulsive
light. Nothing was more odious in the character of Napoleon than his
disdain of women, and his harsh and severe treatment of those who would
not offer incense to him. Madame de Stael, on learning of the Emperor's
resentment towards her friend, implored her not to continue to visit
her, as it would certainly be reported to the Government, and result in
her banishment; but Madame Recamier would obey the impulses of
friendship in the face of all danger. And the result was indeed her
exile from that city which was so dear to her, as well as to all
fashionable women and all gifted men.

In exile this persecuted woman lived in a simple way, first at Chalons
and then at Lyons, for her means were now small. Her companions,
however, were great people, as before her banishment and in the days of
her prosperity,--in which fact we see some modification of the
heartlessness which so often reigns in fashionable circles. Madame
Recamier never was without friends as well as admirers. Her amiability,
wit, good-nature, and extraordinary fascinations always attracted gifted
and accomplished people of the very highest rank.

It was at Lyons that she formed a singular friendship, which lasted for
life; and this was with a young man of plebeian origin, the son of a
printer, with a face disfigured, and with manners uncouth,--M.
Ballanche, whose admiration amounted to absolute idolatry, and who
demanded no other reward for his devotion than the privilege of worship.
To be permitted to look at her and listen to her was enough for him.
Though ugly in appearance, and with a slow speech, he was well versed in
the literature of the day, and his ideas were lofty and refined.

I have never read of any one who has refused an unselfish idolatry, the
incense of a worshipper who has no outward advantage to seek or
gain,--not even a king. If it be the privilege of a divinity to receive
the homage of worshippers, why should a beautiful and kind-hearted
woman reject the respectful adoration of a man contented with worship
alone? What could be more flattering even to a woman of the world,
especially if this man had noble traits and great cultivation? Such was
Ballanche, who viewed the mistress of his heart as Dante did his
Beatrice, though not with the same sublime elevation, for the object of
Dante's devotion was on the whole imaginary,--the worship of qualities
which existed in his own mind alone,--whereas the admiration of
Ballanche was based on the real presence of flesh and blood animated by
a lovely soul.

Soon after this friendship had begun, Madame Recamier made a visit to
Italy, travelling in a _voiture_, not a private carriage, and arrived at
Rome in Passion Week, 1812, when the Pope was a prisoner of Napoleon at
Fontainebleau, and hence when his capital was in mourning,--sad and
dull, guarded and occupied by French soldiers. The only society at Rome
in that eventful year which preceded the declining fortunes of Napoleon,
was at the palace of Prince Torlonia the banker; but the modest
apartment of Madame Recamier on the Corso was soon filled with those who
detested the rule of Napoleon. Soon after, Ballanche came all the way
from Lyons to see his star of worship, and she kindly took him
everywhere, for even in desolation the Eternal City is the most
interesting spot on the face of the globe. From Rome she went to Naples
(December, 1813), when the King Murat was forced into the coalition
against his brother-in-law. In spite of the hatred of Napoleon, his
sister the Queen of Naples was devoted to the Queen of Beauty, who was
received at court as an ambassadress rather than as an exile. On the
fall of Napoleon the next year the Pope returned from his thraldom; and
Madame Recamier, being again in Rome, witnessed one of the most touching
scenes of those eventful days, when all the nobles and gentry went out
to meet their spiritual and temporal sovereign, and amid the exultant
shouts and rapture of the crowd, dragged his gilded carriage to St.
Peter's Church, where was celebrated a solemn _Te Deum._

But Madame Recamier did not tarry long in Italy, She hastened back to
Paris, for the tyrant was fallen. She was now no longer beaming in
youthful charms, with groups of lovers at her feet, but a woman of
middle age, yet still handsome,--for such a woman does not lose her
beauty at thirty-five,--with fresh sources of enjoyment, and a keen
desire for the society of intellectual and gifted friends. She now gave
up miscellaneous society,--that is, fashionable and dissipated crowds of
men and women in noisy receptions and ceremonious parties,--and drew
around her the lines of a more exclusive circle. Hither came to see her
Ballanche, now a resident of Paris, Mathieu de Montmorency, M. de
Chateaubriand, the Due de Broglie, and the most distinguished nobles of
the ancient regime, with the literary lions who once more began to roar
on the fall of the tyrant who had silenced them, including such men as
Barante and Benjamin Constant. Also great ladies were seen in her
_salon_, for her husband's fortunes had improved, and she was enabled
again to live in her old style of splendor. Among these ladies were the
Duchesse de Cars, the Marchionesses de Podences, Castellan, and
d'Aguesseau, and the Princess-Royal of Sweden. Also distinguished
foreigners sought her society,--Wellington, Madame Kruedener, the friend
of the Emperor Alexander, the beautiful Duchess of Devonshire, the Duke
of Hamilton, and whoever was most distinguished in that brilliant circle
of illustrious people who congregated at Paris on the restoration of
the Bourbons.

In 1819 occurred the second failure of M. Recamier, which necessarily
led again to a new and more humble style of life. The home which Madame
Recamier now selected, and where she lived until 1838, was the
Abbaye-au-Bois, while her father and her husband, the latter now
sixty-nine, lived in a small lodging in the vicinity. She occupied in
this convent--a large old building in the Rue de Sevres--a small
_appartement_ in the third story, with a brick floor, and uneven at
that. She afterwards removed to a small _appartement_ on the first
floor, which looked upon the convent garden.

Here, in this seclusion, impoverished, and no longer young, Madame
Recamier received her friends and guests. And they were among the most
distinguished people of France, especially the Duc de Montmorency and
the Viscount Chateaubriand. The former was a very religious man, and the
breath of scandal never for a moment tainted his reputation, or cast any
reproach on the memorable friendship which he cultivated with the most
beautiful woman in France. This illustrious nobleman was at that time
Minister of Foreign Affairs, and was sent to the celebrated Congress of
Vienna, where Metternich, the greatest statesman of the age, presided
and inaugurated a reaction from the principles of the Revolution.

But more famous than he was Chateaubriand, then ambassador at London,
and afterwards joined with Montmorency as delegate to the Congress of
Vienna, and still later Minister of Foreign Affairs, who held during the
reign of Louis XVIII. the most distinguished position in France as a
statesman, a man of society, and a literary man. The author of the
"Genius of Christianity" was aristocratic, moody, fickle, and vain,
almost spoiled with the incense of popular idolatry. No literary man
since Voltaire had received such incense. He was the acknowledged head
of French literature, a man of illustrious birth, noble manners,
poetical temperament, vast acquisitions, and immense social prestige. He
took sad and desponding views of life, was intensely conservative, but
had doubtless a lofty soul as well as intellectual supremacy. He
occupied distinct spheres,--was poet, historian, statesman, orator, and
the oracle of fashionable _salons_, although he loved seclusion, and
detested crowds. The virtues of his private life were unimpeached, and
no man was more respected by the nation than this cultivated scholar and
gentleman of the old school.

It was between this remarkable man and Madame Recamier that the most
memorable friendship of modern times took place. It began in the year
1817 at the bedside of Madame de Stael, but did not ripen into intimacy
until 1818, when he was fifty and she was forty-one. His genius and
accomplishments soon conquered the first place in her heart; and he kept
that place until his death in 1848,--thirty years of ardent and
reproachless friendship. Her other friends felt great inquietude in view
of this friendship, fearing that the incurable melancholy and fitful
moods of the Viscount would have a depressing influence on her; but she
could not resist his fascinations any easier than he could resist hers.
The Viscount visited her every day, generally in the afternoon; and when
absent on his diplomatic missions to the various foreign courts, he
wrote her, every day, all the details of his life, as well as
sentiments. He constantly complained that she did not write as often as
he did. His attachment was not prompted by that unselfish devotion which
marked Ballanche, who sought no return, only the privilege of adoration.
Chateaubriand was exacting, and sought a warmer and still increasing
affection, which it seems was returned. Madame Recamier's nature was not
passionate; it was simply affectionate. She sought to have the wants of
her soul met. She rarely went to parties or assemblies, and seldom to
the theatre. She craved friendship, and of the purest and loftiest kind.
She was tired of the dissipation of society and even of flatteries, of
which the Viscount was equally weary. The delusions of life were
dispelled, in her case, at forty; in his, at fifty.

This intimacy reminds us of that of Louis XIV. and Madame de Maintenon.
Neither could live without the other. But their correspondence does not
reveal any improper intimacy. It was purely spiritual and affectionate;
it was based on mutual admiration; it was strengthened by mutual respect
for each other's moral qualities. And the friendship gave rise to no
scandal; nor was it in any way misrepresented. Every day the statesman,
when immersed even in the cares of a great office, was seen at her
modest dwelling, at the same hour,--about four o'clock,--and no other
visitors were received at that hour. After unbending his burdened soul,
or communicating his political plans, or detailing the gossip of the
day, all to the end of securing sympathy and encouragement from a great
woman, he retired to his own hotel, and spent the evening with his sick
wife. One might suppose that his wife would have been jealous. The wife
of Carlyle never would have permitted her husband to visit on such
intimate terms the woman he most admired,--Lady Ashburton,--without a
separation. But Chateaubriand's wife favored rather than discouraged the
intimacy, knowing that it was necessary to his happiness. Nor did the
friendship between Madame Recamier and the Due de Montmorency, the
political rival of Chateaubriand, weaken the love of the latter or
create jealousy, a proof of his noble character. And when the pious Duke
died, both friends gave way to the most sincere grief.

It was impossible for Madame Recamier to live without friendship. She
could give up society and fortune, but not her friends. The friendly
circle was not large, but, as we have said, embraced the leading men of
France. Her limited means made no difference with her guests, since
these were friends and admirers. Her attraction to men and women alike
did not decrease with age or poverty.

The fall of Charles X., in 1830, led of course to the political downfall
of Chateaubriand, and of many of Madame Recamier's best friends. But
there was a younger class of an opposite school who now came forward,
and the more eminent of these were also frequent visitors to the old
queen of society,--Ampere, Thiers, Mignet, Guizot, De Tocqueville,
Sainte-Beuve. Nor did she lose the friendship, in her altered fortunes,
of queens and nobles. She seems to have been received with the greatest
cordiality in whatever chateau she chose to visit. Even Louis Napoleon,
on his release from imprisonment in the castle of Ham, lost no time in
paying his respects to the woman his uncle had formerly banished.

One of the characteristic things which this interesting lady did, was to
get up a soiree in her apartments at the convent in aid of the sufferers
of Lyons from an inundation of the Rhone, from which she realized a
large sum. It was attended by the _elite_ of Paris. Lady Byron paid a
hundred francs for her ticket. The Due de Noailles provided the
refreshments, the Marquis de Verac furnished the carriages, and
Chateaubriand acted as master of ceremonies. Rachel acted in the role of
"Esther," not yet performed at the theatre, while Garcia, Rubini, and
Lablache kindly gave their services. It was a very brilliant
entertainment, one of the last in which Madame Recamier presided as a
queen of society. It showed her kindness of heart, which was the most
conspicuous trait of her character. She wished to please, but she
desired still more to be of assistance. The desire to please may arise
from blended vanity and good-nature; the desire to be useful is purely
disinterested. In all her intercourse with friends we see in Madame
Recamier a remarkable power of sympathy. She was not a woman of genius,
but of amazing tact, kindness, and amiability. She entered with all her
heart into the private and confidential communications of her friends,
and was totally free from egotism, forgetting herself in the happiness
of others. If not a woman of genius, she had extraordinary good sense,
and her advice was seldom wrong. It was this union of sympathy,
kindness, tact, and wisdom which made Madame Recamier's friendship so
highly prized by the greatest men of the age. But she was exclusive; she
did not admit everybody to her salon,--only those whom she loved and
esteemed, generally from the highest social circle. Sympathy cannot
exist except among equals. We associate Paula with Jerome, the Countess
Matilda with Hildebrand, Vittoria Colonna with Michael Angelo, Hannah
More with Dr. Johnson. Friendship is neither patronage nor philanthropy;
and the more exalted the social or political or literary position, the
more rare friendship is and the more beautiful when it shines.

It was the friendships of Madame Recamier with distinguished men and
women which made her famous more than her graces and beauty. She
soothed, encouraged, and fortified the soul of Chateaubriand in his fits
of depression and under political disappointments, always herself
cheerful and full of vivacity,--an angel of consolation and spiritual
radiance. Her beauty at this period was moral rather than physical,
since it revealed the virtues of the heart and the quickness of
spiritual insight. In her earlier days--the object of universal and
unbounded admiration, from her unparalleled charms and fascinations--she
may have coquetted more than can be deemed decorous in a lady of
fashion; but if so, it was vanity and love of admiration which were the
causes. She never appealed to passion; for, as we have said, her own
nature was not passionate. She was satisfied to be worshipped. The love
of admiration is not often allied with that passion which loses
self-control, and buries one in the gulf of mad infatuation. The
mainspring of her early life was to please, and of her later life to
make people happy. A more unselfish woman never lived. Those beauties
who lure to ruin, as did the Sirens, are ever heartless and
selfish,--like Cleopatra and Madame de Pompadour. There is nothing on
this earth more selfish than what foolish and inexperienced people often
mistake for love. There is nothing more radiant and inspiring than the
moral beauty of the soul. The love that this creates is tender,
sympathetic, kind, and benevolent. Nothing could be more unselfish and
beautiful than the love with which Madame Recamier inspired Ballanche,
who had nothing to give and nothing to ask but sympathy and kindness.

One of the most touching and tender friendships ever recorded was the
intercourse between Chateaubriand and Madame Recamier when they were
both old and infirm. Nothing is more interesting than their letters and
daily interviews at the convent, where she spent her latter days. She
was not only poor, but she had also become blind, and had lost all
relish for fashionable society,--not a religious recluse, saddened and
penitent, like the Duchesse de Longueville in the vale of Chevreuse, but
still a cheerful woman, fond of music, of animated talk, and of the
political news of the day, Chateaubriand was old, disenchanted,
disappointed, melancholy, and full of infirmities. Yet he never failed
in the afternoon to make his appearance at the Abbaye, driven in a
carriage to the threshold of the salon, where he was placed in an
arm-chair and wheeled to a corner of the fireplace, when he poured out
his sorrows and received consolation. Once, on one of those dreary
visits, he asked his friend to marry him,--he being then seventy-nine
and she seventy-one,--and bear his illustrious name. "Why," said she,
"should we marry at our age? There is no impropriety in my taking care
of you. If solitude is painful to you, I am ready to live in the same
house with you. The world will do justice to the purity of our
friendship. Years and blindness give me this right. Let us change
nothing in so perfect an affection."

The old statesman and historian soon after died, broken in mind and
body, living long enough to see the fall of Louis Philippe. In losing
this friend of thirty years Madame Recamier felt that the mainspring of
her life was broken. She shed no tears in her silent and submissive
grief, nor did she repel consolation or the society of friends, "but the
sad smile which played on her lips was heart-rending.... While
witnessing the decline of this noble genius, she had struggled, with
singular tenderness, against the terrible effect of years upon him; but
the long struggle had exhausted her own strength, and all motives for
life were gone."

Though now old and blind, yet, like Mme. du Deffand at eighty, Madame
Recamier's attractions never passed away. The great and the
distinguished still visited her, and pronounced her charming to the
last. Her vivacity never deserted her, nor her desire to make every one
happy around her. She was kept interesting to the end by the warmth of
her affections and the brightness of her mind. As it is the soul which
is the glory of a woman, so the soul sheds its rays of imperishable
light on the last pathway of existence. No beauty ever utterly passes
away when animated by what is immortal.

Madame Recamier died at last of cholera, that disease which of all
others she had ever most dreaded and avoided. On the 11th of May, 1849,
amid weeping relatives and kneeling servants and sacerdotal prayers,
this interesting woman passed away from earth. To her might be applied
the eulogy of Burke on Marie Antoinette.

Madame Recamier's place in society has never since been filled with
equal grace and fascination. She adopted the customs of the Hotel de
Rambouillet,--certain rules which good society has since observed. She
discouraged the _tete-a-tete_ in a low voice in a mixed company; if any
one in her circle was likely to have especial knowledge, she would
appeal to him with an air of deference; if any one was shy, she
encouraged him; if a _mot_ was particularly happy, she would take it up
and show it to the company. Presiding in her own _salon_, she talked but
little herself, but rather exerted herself to draw others out; without
being learned, she exercised great judgment in her decisions when
appeals were made to her as the presiding genius; she discouraged
everything pedantic and pretentious; she dreaded exaggerations; she kept
her company to the subject under discussion, and compelled attention;
she would allow no slang; she insisted upon good-nature and amiability,
which more than anything else marked society in the eighteenth century.

We read so much of those interesting reunions in the _salons_ of
distinguished people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that we
naturally seek to know what constituted their peculiar charm. It seems
to me to have been conversation, which is both an art and a gift. In
these exclusive meetings women did not reign in consequence of their
beauty so much as their wit. Their vivacity, intelligence, and tact, I
may add also their good-nature, were a veil to cover up all
eccentricities. It was when Madame du Deffand was eighty, and blind,
that Horace Walpole pronounced her to be the most interesting woman in
France. Madame de Stael, never beautiful, was the life of a party at
forty-five; Madame Recamier was in her glory at fifty; Hannah More was
most sought when she was sixty. There can be no high society where
conversation is not the chief attraction; and men seldom learn to talk
well when not inspired by gifted women. They may dictate like Dr.
Johnson, or preach like Coleridge in a circle of admirers, or give vent
to sarcasms and paradoxes like Carlyle; but they do not please like
Horace Walpole, or dazzle like Wilkes, or charm like Mackintosh. When
society was most famous at Paris, it was the salon--not the card table,
or the banquet, or the ball--which was most sought by cultivated men and
women, where conversation was directed by gifted women. Women are
nothing in the social circle who cannot draw out the sentiments of able
men; and a man of genius gains more from the inspiration of one
brilliant woman than from all the bookworms of many colleges. In society
a bright and witty woman not merely shines, but she reigns. Conversation
brings out all her faculties, and kindles all her sensibilities, and
gives expression to her deepest sentiments. Her talk is more than music;
it is music rising to the heights of eloquence. She is more even than an
artist: she is a goddess before whom genius delights to burn
its incense.

Success in this great art of conversation depends as much upon the
disposition as upon the brains. The remarkable women who reigned in the
salons of the last century were all distinguished for their
good-nature,--good-nature based on toleration and kind feeling, rather
than on insipid acquiescence. There can be no animated talk without
dissent; and dissent should be disguised by the language of courtesy. As
vanity is one of the mainsprings of human nature, and is nearly
universal, the old queens of society had the tact to hide what could not
easily be extirpated; and they were adepts in the still greater art of
seeming to be unconscious. Those people are ever the most agreeable who
listen with seeming curiosity, and who conceal themselves in order to
feed the vanity of others. Nor does a true artist force his wit. "A
confirmed punster is as great a bore as a patronizing moralist."
Moreover, the life of society depends upon the general glow of the
party, rather than the prominence of an individual, so that a brilliant
talker will seek to bring out "the coincidence which strengthens
conviction, or the dissent which sharpens sagacity, rather than
individual experiences, which ever seem to be egotistical. In agreeable
society all egotism is to be crushed and crucified. Even a man who is an
oracle, if wise, will suggest, rather than seem to instruct. In a
congenial party all differences in rank are for the time ignored. It is
in bad taste to remind or impress people with a sense of their
inferiority, as in chivalry all degrees were forgotten in an assemblage
of gentlemen." Animated conversation amuses without seeming to teach,
and transfers ideas so skilfully into the minds of others that they are
ignorant of the debt, and mistake them for their own. It kindles a
healthy enthusiasm, promotes good-nature, repels pretension, and rebukes
vanity. It even sets off beauty, and intensifies its radiance. Said
Madame de la Fayette to Madame de Sevigne: "Your varying expression so
brightens and adorns your beauty, that there is nothing so brilliant as
yourself: every word you utter adds to the brightness of your eyes; and
while it is said that language impresses only the ear, it is quite
certain that yours enchants the vision." "Like style in writing," says
Lamartine, "conversation must flow with ease, or it will oppress. It
must be clear, or depth of thought cannot be penetrated; simple, or the
understanding will be overtasked; restrained, or redundancy will
satiate; warm, or it will lack soul; witty, or the brain will not be
excited; generous, or sympathy cannot be roused; gentle, or there will
be no toleration; persuasive, or the passions cannot be subdued." When
it unites these excellences, it has an irresistible power, "musical as
was Apollo's lyre;" a perpetual feast of nectared sweets, such as, I
fancy, Socrates poured out to Athenian youth, or Augustine in the
gardens of Como; an electrical glow, such as united the members of the
Turk's Head Club into a band of brothers, or annihilated all
distinctions of rank at the supper-table of the poet Scarron.

We cannot easily overrate the influence of those who inspire the social
circle. They give not only the greatest pleasure which is known to
cultivated minds, but kindle lofty sentiments. They draw men from the
whirlpools of folly, break up degrading habits, dissipate the charms of
money-making, and raise the value of the soul. How charming, how
delightful, how inspiring is the eloquence which is kindled by the
attrition of gifted minds! What privilege is greater than to be with
those who reveal the experiences of great careers, especially if there
be the absence of vanity and ostentation, and encouragement by those
whose presence is safety and whose smiles are an inspiration! It is the
blending of the beatitudes of Bethany with the artistic enjoyments of
Weimar, causing the favored circle to forget all cares, and giving them
strength for those duties which make up the main business of human life.

When woman accomplishes such results she fills no ordinary sphere, she
performs no ordinary mission; she rises in dignity as she declines in
physical attractions. Like a queen of beauty at the tournament, she
bestows the rewards which distinguished excellence has won; she breaks
up the distinctions of rank; she rebukes the arrogance of wealth; she
destroys pretensions; she kills self-conceit; she even gains
consideration for her husband or brother,--for many a stupid man is
received into a select circle because of the attractions of his wife or
sister, even as many a silly woman gains consideration from the talents
or position of her husband or brother. No matter how rich a man may be,
if unpolished, ignorant, or rude, he is nobody in a party which seeks
"the feast of reason and the flow of soul." He is utterly insignificant,
rebuked, and humiliated,--even as a brainless beauty finds herself _de
trop_ in a circle of wits. Such a man may have consideration in the
circle which cannot appreciate anything lofty or refined, but none in
those upper regions where art and truth form subjects of discourse,
where the aesthetic influences of the heart go forth to purify and
exalt, where the soul is refreshed by the communion of gifted and
sympathetic companions, and where that which is most precious and
exalted in a man or woman is honored and beloved. Without this influence
which woman controls, "a learned man is in danger of becoming a pedant,
a religious man a bigot, a vain man a fool, and a self-indulgent man a
slave." No man can be truly genial unless he has been taught in the
school where his wife, or daughter, or sister, or mother presides as a
sun of radiance and beauty. It is only in this school that boorish
manners are reformed, egotisms rebuked, stupidities punished, and
cynicism exorcised.

But this exalting influence cannot exist in society without an
attractive power in those ladies who compose it. A crowd of women does
not necessarily make society, any more than do the empty, stupid, and
noisy receptions which are sometimes held in the houses of the
rich,--still less those silly, flippant, ignorant, pretentious,
unblushing, and exacting girls who have just escaped from a fashionable
school, who elbow their brothers into corners, and cover with confusion
their fathers and mothers. A mere assemblage of men and women is nothing
without the charms of refinement, vivacity, knowledge, and good-nature.
These are not born in a day; they seldom mark people till middle life,
when experiences are wide and feelings deep, when flippancy is not
mistaken for wit, nor impertinence for ease. A frivolous slave of dress
and ornament can no more belong to the circle of which I now speak, than
can a pushing, masculine woman to the sphere which she occasionally
usurps. Not dress, not jewelry, not pleasing manners, not even
innocence, is the charm and glory of society; but the wisdom learned by
experience, the knowledge acquired by study, the quickness based on
native genius. When woman has thus acquired these great resources,--by
books, by travel, by extended intercourse, and by the soaring of an
untrammelled soul,--then only does she shine and guide and inspire, and
become, not the equal of man, but his superior, his mentor, his guardian
angel, his star of worship, in that favored and glorious realm which is
alike the paradise and the empire of the world!


Miss J. M. Luyster's Memoirs of Madame Recamier; Memoirs and
Correspondence by Lenormant; Marquis of Salisbury's Historical Sketches;
Mrs. Thomson's Queens of Society; Guizot's sketch of Madame Recamier;
Biographie Universelle; Dublin Review, 57-88; Christian Examiner,
82-299; Quarterly Review, 107-298; Edinburgh Review, 111-204; North
British Review, 32; Bentley's Magazine, 26-96; The Nation, 3, 4, 15;
Fraser's Magazine, 40-264.


* * * * *

A. D. 1766-1817.


It was two hundred years after woman began to reign in the great cities
of Europe as queen of society, before she astonished the world by
brilliant literary successes. Some of the most famous women who adorned
society recorded their observations and experiences for the benefit of
posterity; but these productions were generally in the form of memoirs
and letters, which neither added to nor detracted from the splendid
position they occupied because of their high birth, wit, and social
fascinations. These earlier favorites were not courted by the great
because they could write, but because they could talk, and adorn courts,
like Madame de Sevigne. But in the eighteenth century a class of women
arose and gained great celebrity on account of their writings, like
Hannah More, Miss Burney, Mrs. Macaulay, Madame Dacier, Madame de la
Fayette,--women who proved that they could do something more than merely
write letters, for which women ever have been distinguished from the
time of Heloise.

At the head of all these women of genius Madame de Stael stands
pre-eminent, not only over literary women, but also over most of the men
of letters in her age and country. And it was only a great age which
could have produced such a woman, for the eighteenth century was more
fruitful in literary genius than is generally supposed. The greatest
lights, indeed, no longer shone,--such men as Shakspeare, Bacon, Milton,
Corneille, Racine, Boileau, Moliere,--but the age was fruitful in great
critics, historians, philosophers, economists, poets, and novelists, who
won immortal fame, like Pope, Goldsmith, Johnson, Addison, Gibbon,
Bentley, Hume, Robertson, Priestley, Burke, Adam Smith, in England;
Klopstock, Goethe, Herder, Schiller, Lessing, Handel, Schlegel, Kant, in
Germany; and Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Marmontel, D'Alembert,
Montesquieu, Rollin, Buffon, Lavoisier, Raynal, Lavater, in France,--all
of whom were remarkable men, casting their fearless glance upon all
subjects, and agitating the age by their great ideas. In France
especially there was a notable literary awakening. A more brilliant
circle than ever assembled at the Hotel de Rambouillet met in the salons
of Madame Geoffrin and Madame de Tencin and Madame du Deffand and Madame
Necker, to discuss theories of government, political economy, human
rights,--in fact, every question which moves the human mind. They were
generally irreligious, satirical, and defiant; but they were fresh,
enthusiastic, learned, and original They not only aroused the people to
reflection, but they were great artists in language, and made a
revolution in style.

It was in this inquiring, brilliant, yet infidel age that the star of
Madame de Stael arose, on the eve of the French Revolution. She was born
in Paris in 1766, when her father--Necker--was amassing an enormous
fortune as a banker and financier, afterwards so celebrated as finance
minister to Louis XVI. Her mother,--Susanne Curchod,--of humble Swiss
parentage, was yet one of the remarkable women of the day, a lady whom
Gibbon would have married had English prejudices and conventionalities
permitted, but whose marriage with Necker was both fortunate and happy.
They had only one child, but she was a Minerva. It seems that she was of
extraordinary precocity, and very early attracted attention. As a mere
child Marmontel talked with her as if she were twenty-five. At fifteen,
she had written reflections on Montesquieu's "Spirit of Laws," and was
solicited by Raynal to furnish an article on the Revocation of the Edict
of Nantes. So brilliant a girl was educated by her wealthy parents
without regard to expense and with the greatest care. She was fortunate
from the start, with unbounded means, surrounded with illustrious
people, and with every opportunity for improvement both as to teachers
and society,--doubtless one important cause of her subsequent success,
for very few people climb the upper rounds of the ladder of literary
fame who are obliged to earn their living; their genius is fettered and
their time is employed on irksome drudgeries.

Madame de Stael, when a girl, came very near losing her health and
breaking her fine constitution by the unwise "cramming" on which her
mother insisted; for, although a superior woman, Madame Necker knew very
little about the true system of education, thinking that study and labor
should be incessant, and that these alone could do everything. She
loaded her daughter with too many restraints, and bound her by a too
rigid discipline. She did all she could to crush genius out of the girl,
and make her a dictionary, or a machine, or a piece of formality and
conventionalism. But the father, wiser, and with greater insight and
truer sympathy, relaxed the cords of discipline, unfettered her
imagination, connived at her flights of extravagance, and allowed her to
develop her faculties in her own way. She had a remarkable fondness for
her father,--she adored him, and clung to him through life with peculiar
tenderness and devotion, which he appreciated and repaid. Before she
was twenty she wrote poetry as a matter of course. Most girls do,--I
mean those who are bright and sentimental; still, she produced but
indifferent work, like Cicero when he was young, and soon dropped rhyme
forever for the greater freedom of prose, into which she poured from the
first all the wealth of her poetic soul. She was a poet, disdaining
measure, but exquisite in rhythm,--for nothing can be more musical than
her style.

As remarked in the lecture on Madame Recamier, it is seldom that people
acquire the art of conversation till middle life, when the mind is
enriched and confidence is gained. The great conversational powers of
Johnson, Burke, Mackintosh, Coleridge, Wilkes, Garrick, Walpole, Sydney
Smith, were most remarkable in their later years, after they had read
everything and seen everybody. But Madame de Stael was brilliant in
conversation from her youth. She was the delight of every circle, the
admiration of the most gifted men,--not for her beauty, for she was not
considered beautiful, but for her wit, her vivacity, her repartee, her
animated and sympathetic face, her electrical power; for she could
kindle, inspire, instruct, or bewitch. She played, she sang, she
discoursed on everything,--a priestess, a sibyl, full of inspiration,
listened to as an oracle or an idol. "To hear her," says Sismondi, "one
would have said that she was the experience of many souls mingled into
one, I looked and listened with transport. I discovered in her features
a charm superior to beauty; and if I do not hear her words, yet her
tones, her gestures, and her looks convey to me her meaning." It is said
that though her features were not beautiful her eyes were
remarkable,--large, dark, lustrous, animated, flashing, confiding, and
bathed in light. They were truly the windows of her soul; and it was her
soul, even more than her intellect, which made her so interesting and so
great. I think that intellect without soul is rather repulsive than
otherwise, is cold, critical, arrogant, cynical,--something from which
we flee, since we find no sympathy and sometimes no toleration from it.
The soul of Madame de Stael immeasurably towered above her intellect,
great as that was, and gave her eloquence, fervor, sincerity,
poetry,--intensified her genius, and made her irresistible.

It was this combination of wit, sympathy, and conversational talent
which made Madame de Stael so inordinately fond of society,--to satisfy
longings and cravings that neither Nature nor books nor home could fully
meet. With all her genius and learning she was a restless woman; and
even friendship, for which she had a great capacity, could not bind her,
or confine her long to any one place but Paris, which was to her the
world,--not for its shops, or fashions, or churches, or museums and
picture-galleries, or historical monuments and memories, but for those
coteries where blazed the great wits of the age, among whom she too
would shine and dazzle and inspire. She was not without heart, as her
warm and lasting friendships attest; but the animating passion of her
life was love of admiration, which was only equalled by a craving for
sympathy that no friendship could satisfy,--a want of her nature that
reveals an ardent soul rather than a great heart; for many a
warm-hearted woman can live contentedly in retirement, whether in city
or country,--which Madame de Stael could not, not even when surrounded
with every luxury and all the charms of nature.

Such a young lady as Mademoiselle Necker--so gifted, so accomplished, so
rich, so elevated in social position--could aspire very high. And both
her father and mother were ambitious for so remarkable a daughter. But
the mother would not consent to her marriage with a Catholic, and she
herself insisted on a permanent residence in Paris. It was hard to meet
such conditions and yet make a brilliant match; for, after all, her
father, though minister, was only a clever and rich Swiss
financier,--not a nobleman, or a man of great family influence. The
Baron de Stael-Holstein, then secretary to the Swedish embassy,
afterwards ambassador from Sweden, was the most available suitor, since
he was a nobleman, a Protestant, and a diplomatist; and Mademoiselle
Necker became his wife, in 1786, at twenty years of age, with a dowry of
two millions of francs. Her social position was raised by this marriage,
since her husband was a favorite at court, and she saw much of the Queen
and of the great ladies who surrounded her.

But the marriage was not happy. The husband was extravagant and
self-indulgent; the wife panted for beatitudes it was not in his nature
to give. So they separated after a while, but were not divorced. Both
before and after that event, however, her house was the resort of the
best society of the city, and she was its brightest ornament. Thither
came Grimm, Talleyrand, Barnave, Lafayette, Narbonne, Sieyes,--all
friends. She was an eye-witness to the terrible scenes of the
Revolution, and escaped judicial assassination almost by miracle. At
last she succeeded in making her escape to Switzerland, and lived a
while in her magnificent country-seat near Geneva, surrounded with
illustrious exiles. Soon after, she made her first visit to England, but
returned to Paris when the violence of the Revolution was over.

She returned the very day that Napoleon, as First Consul, had seized the
reins of government, 1799. She had hailed the Revolution with transport,
although she was so nearly its victim. She had faith in its ideas. She
believed that the people were the ultimate source of power. She condoned
the excesses of the Revolution in view of its aspirations. Napoleon
gained his first great victories in defence of its ideas. So at first,
in common with the friends of liberty, she was prepared to worship this
rising sun, dazzled by his deeds and deceived by his lying words. But
she no sooner saw him than she was repelled, especially when she knew he
had trampled on the liberties which he had professed to defend. Her
instincts penetrated through all the plaudits of his idolaters. She felt
that he was a traitor to a great cause,--was heartless, unboundedly
ambitious, insufferably egotistic, a self-worshipper, who would brush
away everything and everybody that stood in his way; and she hated him,
and she defied him, and her house became the centre of opposition, the
headquarters of enmity and wrath. What was his glory, as a conqueror,
compared with the cause she loved, trodden under foot by an iron, rigid,
jealous, irresistible despotism? Nor did Napoleon like her any better
than she liked him,--not that he was envious, but because she stood in
his way. He expected universal homage and devotion, neither of which
would she give him. He was exceedingly irritated at the reports of her
bitter sayings, blended with ridicule and sarcasm. He was not merely
annoyed, he was afraid. "Her arrows," said he, "would hit a man if he
were seated on a rainbow." And when he found he could not silence her,
he banished her to within forty leagues of Paris. He was not naturally
cruel, but he was not the man to allow so bright a woman to say her
sharp things about him to his generals and courtiers. It was not the
worst thing he ever did to banish his greatest enemy; but it was mean
and cruel to persecute her as he did after she was banished.

So from Paris--to her the "hub of the universe"--Madame de Stael, "with
wandering steps and slow, took her solitary way." Expelled from the Eden
she loved, she sought to find some place where she could enjoy
society,--which was the passion of her life. Weimar, in Germany, then
contained a constellation of illustrious men, over whom Goethe reigned,
as Dr. Johnson once did in London. Thither she resolved to go, after a
brief stay at Coppet, her place in Switzerland; and her ten years' exile
began with a sojourn among the brightest intellects of Germany. She was
cordially received at Weimar, especially by the Court, although the
dictator of German literature did not like her much. She was too
impetuous, impulsive, and masculine for him. Schiller and Wieland and
Schlegel liked her better, and understood her better. Her great works
had not then been written, and she had reputation chiefly for her high
social position and social qualities. Possibly her exceeding vivacity
and wit seemed superficial,--as witty French people then seemed to both
Germans and English. Doubtless there were critics and philosophers in
Germany who were not capable of appreciating a person who aspired to
penetrate all the secrets of art, philosophy, religion, and science then
known who tried to master everything, and who talked eloquently on
everything,--and that person a woman, and a Frenchwoman. Goethe was
indeed an exception to most German critics, for he was an artist, as few
Germans have been in the use of language, and he, like Humboldt, had
universal knowledge; yet he did not like Madame de Stael,--not from
envy: he had too much self-consciousness to be envious of any man, still
less a woman. Envy does not exist between the sexes: a musician may be
jealous of a musician; a poet, of a poet; a theologian, of a theologian;
and it is said, a physician has been known to be jealous of a physician.
I think it is probable that the gifted Frenchwoman overwhelmed the great
German with her prodigality of wit, sarcasm, and sentiment, for he was
inclined to coldness and taciturnity.

Madame de Stael speaks respectfully of the great men she met at Weimar;
but I do not think she worshipped them, since she did not fully
understand them,--especially Fichte, whom she ridiculed, as well as
other obscure though profound writers, who disdained style and art in
writing, for which she was afterwards so distinguished. I believe
nine-tenths of German literature is wasted on Europeans for lack of
clearness and directness of style; although the involved obscurities
which are common to German philosophers and critics and historians alike
do not seem to derogate from their literary fame at home, and have even
found imitators in England, like Coleridge and Carlyle. Nevertheless,
obscurity and affectation are eternal blots on literary genius, since
they are irreconcilable with art, which alone gives perpetuity to
learning,--as illustrated by the classic authors of antiquity, and such
men as Pascal, Rousseau, and Macaulay in our times,--although the
pedants have always disdained those who write clearly and luminously,
and lost reverence for genius the moment it is understood; since clear
writing shows how little is truly original, and makes a disquisition on
a bug, a comma, or a date seem trivial indeed.

Hitherto, Madame de Stael had reigned in _salons_, rather than on the
throne of letters. Until her visit to Germany, she had written but two
books which had given her fame,--one, "On Literature, considered in its
Relations with Social Institutions," and a novel entitled
"Delphine,"--neither of which is much read or prized in these times.
The leading idea of her book on literature was the perfectibility of
human nature,--not new, since it had been affirmed by Ferguson in
England, by Kant in Germany, and by Turgot in France, and even by Roger
Bacon in the Middle Ages. But she claimed to be the first to apply
perfectibility to literature. If her idea simply means the
ever-expanding progress of the human mind, with the aids that Providence
has furnished, she is doubtless right. If she means that the necessary
condition of human nature, unaided, is towards perfection, she wars with
Christianity, and agrees with Rousseau. The idea was fashionable in its
day, especially by the disciples of Rousseau, who maintained that the
majority could not err. But if Madame de Stael simply meant that society
was destined to progressive advancement, as a matter of fact her view
will be generally accepted, since God rules this world, and brings good
out of evil. Some maintain we have made no advance over ancient India in
either morals or literature or science, or over Greece in art, or Rome
in jurisprudence; and yet we believe the condition of humanity to-day is
superior to what it has been, on the whole, in any previous age of our
world. But let us give the credit of this advance to God, and not
to man.

Her other book, "Delphine," published in 1802, made a great sensation,
like a modern first-class novel, but was severely criticised. Sydney
Smith reviewed it in a slashing article. It was considered by many as
immoral in its tendency, since she was supposed to attack marriage.
Sainte-Beuve, the greatest critic of the age, defends her against this
charge; but the book was doubtless very emotional, into which she poured
all the warmth of her ardent and ungoverned soul in its restless
agitation and cravings for sympathy,--a record of herself, blasted in
her marriage hopes and aspirations. It is a sort of New Heloise, and,
though powerful, is not healthy. These two works, however, stamped her
as a woman of genius, although her highest triumphs were not yet won.

With the eclat of these two books she traversed Germany, studying laws,
literature, and manners, assisted in her studies by August v. Schlegel
(the translator of Shakspeare), who was tutor to her children, on a
salary of twelve thousand francs a year and expenses. She had great
admiration for this distinguished scholar, who combined with his
linguistic attainments an intense love of art and a profound
appreciation of genius, in whatever guise it was to be found. With such
a cicerone she could not help making great acquisitions. He was like
Jerome explaining to Paula the history of the sacred places; like Dr.
Johnson teaching ethics to Hannah More; like Michael Angelo explaining
the principles of art to Vittoria Colonna. She mastered the language of
which Frederick the Great was ashamed, and, for the first time, did
justice to the German scholars and the German character. She defended
the ideal philosophy against Locke and the French materialists; she made
a remarkable analysis of Kant; she warmly praised both Goethe and
Schiller; she admired Wieland; she had a good word for Fichte, although
she had ridiculed his obscurities of style.

The result of her travels was the most masterly dissertation on that
great country that has ever been written,--an astonishing book, when we
remember it was the first of any note which had appeared of its kind. To
me it is more like the history of Herodotus than any book of travels
which has appeared since that accomplished scholar traversed Asia and
Africa to reveal to his inquisitive countrymen the treasures of Oriental
monarchies. In this work, which is intellectually her greatest, she
towered not only over all women, but over all men who have since been
her competitors. It does not fall in with my purpose to give other than
a passing notice of this masterly production in order to show what a
marvellous woman she was, not in the realm of sentiment alone, not as a
writer of letters, but as a critic capable of grasping and explaining
all that philosophy, art, and literature have sought to accomplish in
that _terra incognita_, as Germany was then regarded. She revealed a new
country to the rest of Europe; she described with accuracy its manners
and customs; she did justice to the German intellect; she showed what
amazing scholarship already existed in the universities, far surpassing
both Paris and Oxford. She appreciated the German character, its
simplicity, its truthfulness, its sincerity, its intellectual boldness,
its patience, its reserved power, afterwards to be developed in
war,--qualities and attainments which have since raised Germany to the
foremost rank among the European nations.

This brilliant Frenchwoman, accustomed to reign in the most cultivated
social circles of Paris, shows a remarkable catholicity and breadth of
judgment, and is not shocked at phlegmatic dulness or hyperborean
awkwardness, or laughable simplicity; because she sees, what nobody else
then saw, a patience which never wearies, a quiet enthusiasm which no
difficulty or disgust destroys, and a great insight which can give
richness to literature without art, discrimination to philosophy without
conciseness, and a new meaning to old dogmas. She ventures to pluck from
the forbidden tree of metaphysics; and, reckless of the fiats of the
schools, she entered fearlessly into those inquiries which have appalled
both Greek and schoolman. Think of a woman making the best translation
and criticism of Kant which had appeared until her day! Her revelations
might have found more value in the eyes of pedants had she been more
obscure. But, as Sir James Mackintosh says, "Dullness is not accuracy,
nor is an elegant writer necessarily superficial." Divest German
metaphysics of their obscurities, and they might seem commonplace; take
away the clearness of French writers, and they might pass for profound.
Clearness and precision, however, are not what the world expects from
its teachers. It loves the fig-trees with nothing but leaves; it adores
the _stat magni nominis umbra_. The highest proof of severe culture is
the use of short and simple words on any subject whatever; and he who
cannot make his readers understand what he writes about does not
understand his subject himself.

I am happy to have these views corroborated by one of the best writers
that this country has produced,--I mean William Matthews:--

"The French, who if not the most original are certainly the acutest and
most logical thinkers in the world, are frequently considered frivolous
and shallow, simply because they excel all other nations in the
difficult art of giving literary interest to philosophy; while, on the
other hand, the ponderous Germans, who living in clouds of smoke have a
positive genius for making the obscure obscurer, are thought to be
original, because they are so chaotic and clumsy. But we have yet to
learn that lead is priceless because it is weighty, or that gold is
valueless because it glitters. The Damascus blade is none the less keen
because it is polished, nor the Corinthian shaft less strong because it
is fluted and its capital curved."

The production of such a woman, in that age, in which there is so much
learning combined with eloquence, and elevation of sentiment with acute
observation, and the graces of style with the spirit of
philosophy,--candid, yet eulogistic; discriminating, yet
enthusiastic,--made a great impression on the mind of cultivated Europe.
Napoleon however, with inexcusable but characteristic meanness, would
not allow its publication. The police seized the whole edition--ten
thousand--and destroyed every copy. They even tried to get possession of
the original copy, which required the greatest tact on the part of the
author to preserve, and which she carried with her on all her travels,
for six years, until it was finally printed in London.

Long before this great work was completed,--for she worked upon it six
years,--Madame de Stael visited, with Sismondi, that country which above
all others is dear to the poet, the artist, and the antiquarian. She
entered that classic and hallowed land amid the glories of a southern
spring, when the balmy air, the beautiful sky, the fresh verdure of the
fields, and the singing of the birds added fascination to scenes which
without them would have been enchantment. Chateaubriand, the only French
writer of her day with whom she stood in proud equality, also visited
Italy, but sang another song; she, bright and radiant, with hope and
cheerfulness, an admirer of the people and the country as they were; he,
mournful and desponding, yet not less poetic, with visions of departed
glory which the vast debris of the ancient magnificence suggested to his
pensive soul, O Italy, Italy! land of associations, whose history never
tires; whose antiquities are perpetual studies; whose works of art
provoke to hopeless imitation; whose struggles until recently were
equally chivalric and unfortunate; whose aspirations have ever been with
liberty, yet whose destiny has been successive slaveries; whose hills
and plains and vales are verdant with perennial loveliness, though
covered with broken monuments and deserted cities; where monks and
beggars are more numerous than even scholars and artists,--glory in
debasement, and debasement in glory, reminding us of the greatness and
misery of man; alike the paradise and the prison of the world; the
Minerva and the Niobe of nations,--never shall thy wonders be exhausted
or thy sorrows be forgotten!

"E'en in thy desert what is like to thee?
Thy very weeds are beautiful; thy wastes
More rich than other lands' fertility;
Thy wreck a glory, and thy ruin grand."

In this unfortunate yet illustrious land, ever fresh to travellers, ever
to be hallowed in spite of revolutions and assassinations, of popes and
priests, of semi-infidel artists and cynical savants, of beggars and
tramps, of filthy hotels and dilapidated villas, Madame de Stael
lingered more than a year, visiting every city which has a history and
every monument which has antiquity; and the result of that journey was
"Corinne,"--one of the few immortal books which the heart of the world
cherishes; which is as fresh to-day as it was nearly one hundred years
ago,--a novel, a critique, a painting, a poem, a tragedy; interesting to
the philosopher in his study and to the woman in her boudoir, since it
is the record of the cravings of a great soul, and a description of what
is most beautiful or venerated in nature or art. It is the most
wonderful book ever written of Italy,--with faults, of course, but a
transcript of profound sorrows and lofty aspirations. To some it may
seem exaggerated in its transports; but can transports be too highly
colored? Can any words be as vivid as a sensation? Enthusiasm, when
fully expressed, ceases to be a rapture; and the soul that fancies it
has reached the heights of love or beauty or truth, claims to comprehend
the immortal and the infinite.

It is the effort of genius to express the raptures and sorrows of a
lofty but unsatisfied soul, the glories of the imperishable in art and
life, which gives to "Corinne" its peculiar charm. It is the mirror of a
wide and deep experience,--a sort of "Divine Comedy," in which a Dante
finds a Beatrice, not robed in celestial loveliness, coursing from
circle to circle and star to star, explaining the mysteries of heaven,
but radiant in the beauty of earth, and glowing with the ardor of a
human love. Every page is masculine in power, every sentence is
condensed thought, every line burns with passion; yet every sentiment
betrays the woman, seeking to reveal her own boundless capacities of
admiration and friendship, to be appreciated, to be loved with that
fervor and disinterestedness which she was prepared to lavish on the
object of her adoration. No man could have made such revelations,
although it may be given to him to sing a greater song. While no woman
could have composed the "Iliad," or the "Novum Organum," or the
"Critique of Pure Reason," or "Othello," no man could have written
"Corinne" or "Adam Bede."

In painting Corinne, Madame de Stael simply describes herself, as she
did in "Delphine," with all her restless soul-agitations; yet not in too
flattering colors, since I doubt if there ever lived a more impassioned
soul, with greater desires of knowledge, or a more devouring thirst for
fame, or a profounder insight into what is lofty and eternal, than the
author of "Corinne." Like Heloise, she could love but one; yet, unlike
Heloise, she could not renounce, even for love, the passion for
admiration or the fascinations of society. She does not attempt to
disguise the immense sacrifices which love exacts and marriage implies,
but which such a woman as Heloise is proud to make for him whom she
deems worthy of her own exalted sentiments; and she shows in the person
of Corinne how much weakness may coexist with strength, and how timid
and dependent is a woman even in the blaze of triumph and in the
enjoyment of a haughty freedom. She paints the most shrinking delicacy
with the greatest imprudence and boldness, contempt for the opinions and
usages of society with the severest self-respect; giving occasion for
scandal, yet escaping from its shafts; triumphant in the greatness of
her own dignity and in the purity of her unsullied soul. "Corinne" is a
disguised sarcasm on the usages of society among the upper classes in
Madame de Stael's day, when a man like Lord Neville is represented as
capable of the most exalted passion, and almost ready to die for its
object, and at the same time is unwilling to follow its promptings to an
honorable issue,--ready even, at last, to marry a woman for whom he
feels no strong attachment, or even admiration, in compliance with
expediency, pride, and family interests.

But "Corinne" is not so much a romance as it is a description of Italy
itself, its pictures, its statues, its palaces, its churches, its
antiquities, its literature, its manners, and its aspirations; and it is
astonishing how much is condensed in that little book. The author has
forestalled all poets and travellers, and even guidebooks; all
successive works are repetitions or amplifications of what she has
suggested. She is as exhaustive and condensed as Thucydides; and, true
to her philosophy, she is all sunshine and hope, with unbounded faith in
the future of Italy,--an exultant prophet as well as a critical observer.

This work was published in Paris in 1807, when Napoleon was on the apex
of his power and glory; and no work by a woman was ever hailed with
greater enthusiasm, not in Paris merely, but throughout Europe. Yet
nothing could melt the iron heart of Napoleon, and he continued his
implacable persecution of its author, so that she was obliged to
continue her travels, though travelling like a princess. Again she
visited Germany, and again she retired to her place near Geneva, where
she held a sort of court, the star of which, next to herself, was Madame
Recamier, whose transcendent beauty and equally transcendent loveliness
of character won her admiration and friendship.

In 1810 Madame de Stael married Rocca, of Italian or Spanish origin, who
was a sickly and dilapidated officer in the French army, little more
than half her age,--he being twenty-five and she forty-five,--a strange
marriage, almost incredible, if such marriages were not frequent. He,
though feeble, was an accomplished man, and was taken captive by the
brilliancy of her talk and the elevation of her soul. It is harder to
tell what captured her, for who can explain the mysteries of love? The
marriage proved happy, however, although both parties dreaded ridicule,
and kept it secret. The romance of the thing--if romance there was--has
been equalled in our day by the marriages of George Eliot and Miss
Burdett Coutts. Only very strong characters can afford to run such
risks. The caprices of the great are among the unsolved mysteries of
life. A poor, wounded, unknown young man would never have aspired to
such an audacity had he not been sure of his ground; and the probability
is that she, not he, is to be blamed for that folly,--if a woman is to
be blamed for an attachment which the world calls an absurdity.

The wrath of Napoleon waxing stronger and stronger, Madame de Stael felt
obliged to flee even from Switzerland. She sought a rest in England; but
England was hard to be reached, as all the Continent save Russia was in
bondage and fear. She succeeded in reaching Vienna, then Russia, and
finally Sweden, where she lingered, as it was the fashion, to receive
attentions and admiration from all who were great in position or eminent
for attainments in the northern capitals of Europe. She liked even
Russia; she saw good everywhere, something to praise and enjoy wherever
she went. Moscow and St. Petersburg were equally interesting,--the old
and the new, the Oriental magnificence of the one, the stupendous
palaces and churches of the other. Romanzoff, Orloff, the Empress
Elizabeth, and the Emperor Alexander himself gave her distinguished
honors and hospitalities, and she saw and recorded their greatness, and
abandoned herself to pleasures which were new.

After a delightful winter in Stockholm, she sailed for England, where
she arrived in safety, 1813, twenty years after her first visit, and in
the ninth of her exile. Her reception in the highest circles was
enthusiastic. She was recognized as the greatest literary woman who had
lived. The Prince Regent sought her acquaintance; the greatest nobles
feted her in their princely palaces. At the house of the Marquis of
Lansdowne, at Lord Jersey's, at Rogers's literary dinners, at the
reunions of Holland House, everywhere, she was admired and honored. Sir
James Mackintosh, the idol and oracle of English society at that time,
pronounced her the most intellectual woman who had adorned the
world,--not as a novelist and poet merely, but as philosopher and
critic, grappling with the highest questions that ever tasked the
intellect of man. Byron alone stood aloof; he did not like strong-minded
women, any more than Goethe did, especially if they were not beautiful.
But he was constrained to admire her at last. Nobody could resist the
fascination and brilliancy of her conversation. It is to be regretted
that she did not write a book on England, which on the whole she
admired, although it was a little too conventional for her. But she was
now nearly worn out by the excitements and the sorrows of her life. She
was no longer young. Her literary work was done. And she had to resort
to opium to rally from the exhaustion of her nervous energies.

On the fall of Napoleon, Madame de Stael returned to Paris,--the city
she loved so well; the city so dear to all Frenchmen and to all
foreigners, to all gay people, to all intellectual people, to all
fashionable people, to all worldly people, to all pious people,--to them
the centre of modern civilization. Exile from this city has ever been
regarded as a great calamity,--as great as exile was to Romans, even to
Cicero. See with what eagerness Thiers himself returned to this charmed
capital when permitted by the last Napoleon! In this city, after her ten
years' exile, Madame de Stael reigned in prouder state than at any
previous period of her life. She was now at home, on her own throne as
queen of letters, and also queen of society. All the great men who were
then assembled in Paris burned their incense before her,--Chateaubriand,
Lafayette, Talleyrand, Guizot, Constant, Cuvier, Laplace. Distinguished
foreigners swelled the circle of her admirers,--Bluecher, Humboldt,
Schlegel, Canova, Wellington, even the Emperor of Russia. The
Restoration hailed her with transport; Louis XVIII. sought the glory of
her talk; the press implored her assistance; the salons caught
inspiration from her presence. Never was woman seated on a prouder
throne. But she did not live long to enjoy her unparalleled social
honors. She was stifled, like Voltaire, by the incense of idolaters; the
body could no longer stand the strain of the soul, and she sunk, at the
age of fifty-one, in the year 1817, a few months before her husband
Rocca, whom, it appears, she ever tenderly loved.

Madame de Stael died prematurely, as precocious people generally
do,--like Raphael, Pascal, Schiller, I may add Macaulay and Mill; but
she accomplished much, and might have done more had her life been
spared, for no one doubts her genius,--perhaps the most remarkable
female writer who has lived, on the whole. George Sand is the only
Frenchwoman who has approached her in genius and fame. Madame de Stael
was novelist, critic, essayist, and philosopher, grasping the
profoundest subjects, and gaining admiration in everything she
attempted. I do not regard her as pre-eminently a happy woman, since her
marriages were either unfortunate or unnatural. In the intoxicating
blaze of triumph and admiration she panted for domestic beatitudes, and
found the earnest cravings of her soul unsatisfied. She sought relief
from herself in society, which was a necessity to her, as much as
friendship or love; but she was restless, and perpetually travelling.
Moreover, she was a persecuted woman during the best ten years of her
life. She had but little repose of mind or character, and was worldly,
vain, and ambitious. But she was a great woman and a good woman, in
spite of her faults and errors; and greater in her womanly qualities
than she was in her writings, remarkable as these were. She had a great
individuality, like Dr. Johnson and Thomas Carlyle. And she lives in the
hearts of her countrymen, like Madame Recamier; for it was not the
beauty and grace of this queen of society which made her beloved, but
her good-nature, amiability, power of friendship, freedom from envy, and
generous soul.

In the estimation of foreigners--of those great critics of whom Jeffrey
and Mackintosh were the representatives--Madame de Stael has won the
proud fame of being the most powerful writer her country has produced
since Voltaire and Rousseau. Historically she is memorable for
inaugurating a new period of literary history. With her began a new
class of female authors, whose genius was no longer confined to letters
and memoirs and sentimental novels. I need not enumerate the long
catalogue of illustrious literary women in the nineteenth century in
France, in Germany, in England, and even in the United States. The
greatest novelist in England, since Thackeray, was a woman. One of the
greatest writers on political economy, since Adam Smith, was a woman.
One of the greatest writers in astronomical science was a woman. In

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