Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

LIFE AND CHARACTER OF MADAME DE STAËL. 629

(DECEMBER, 1828.)

Euvres Inédites de Madame la Baronne de Staël, publiées par

son Fils; précédées d'une Notice sur le Caractère et les Ecrits de M. de Staël. Par Madame NECKER SAUSSURE. Trois Tomes. 8vo. London, Treuttel and Wurtz: 1820.

WE are very much indebted to Madame Necker Saussure for this copious, elegant, and affectionate account of her friend and cousin. It is, to be sure, rather in the nature of a Panegyric than of an impartial biography-and, with the sagacity, morality, and skill in composition which seem to be endemic in the society of Geneva, has also perhaps something of the formality, mannerism, and didactic ambition of that very intellectual society. For a personal memoir of one so much distinguished in society, it is not sufficiently individual or familiar—and a great deal too little feminine, for a woman's account of a woman, who never forgot her sex, or allowed it to be forgotten. The only things that indicate a female author in the work before us, are the decorous purity of her morality-the feebleness of her political speculations—and her never telling the age of her friend.

The world probably knows as much already of M. and Madame Necker as it will care ever to know: Yet we are by no means of opinion that too much is said of them here. They were both very good people-neither of the most perfect bon ton, nor of the very highest rank of understanding,-but far above the vulgar level certainly, in relation to either. The likenesses of them with which we are here presented are undoubtedly very favourable, and even flattering; but still, we have no doubt that they are likenesses, and even very cleverly executed. We hear a great deal about the strong understanding and lofty principles of Madame Necker, and of the air of purity that reigned in her physiognomy;

630 MAD. DE STAËL-CHARACTER OF HER PARENTS.

but we are candidly told also, that, with her tall and stiff figure, and formal manners, "il y avoit de la gêne en elle, et auprès d'elle;" and are also permitted to learn, that after having acquired various branches of knowledge by profound study, she unluckily became persuaded that all virtues and accomplishments might be learned in the same manner; and accordingly set herself, with might and main, "to study the arts of conversation and of housekeeping-together with the characters of individuals, and the management of society-to reduce all these things to system, and to deduce from this system precise rules for the regulation of her conduct." Of M. Necker, again, it is recorded, in very emphatic and affectionate terms, that he was extraordinarily eloquent and observing, and equally full of benevolence and practical wisdom: But it is candidly admitted that his eloquence was more sonorous than substantial, and consisted rather of well-rounded periods than impressive thoughts; that he was reserved and silent in general society, took pleasure in thwarting his wife in the education of their daughter, and actually treated the studious propensity of his ingenious consort with so little respect, as to prohibit her from devoting any time to composition, and even from having a table to write at!-for no better reason than that he might not be annoyed with the fear of disturbing her when he came into her apartment! He was a great joker, too, in an innocent paternal way, in his own family; but we cannot find that his witticisms ever had much success in other places. The worship of M. Necker, in short, is a part of the established religion, we perceive, at Geneva; but we suspect that the Priest has made the God, here as in other instances; and rather think the worthy financier must be contented to be known to posterity chiefly as the father of Madame de Staël,

But however that may be, the education of their only child does not seem to have been gone about very prudently, by these sage personages; and if Mad. de Staël had not been a very extraordinary creature, both as to talent and temper, from the very beginning, she

631

could scarcely have escaped being pretty well spoiled between them. Her mother had a notion, that the best thing that could be done for a child was to cram it with all kinds of knowledge, without caring very much whether it understood or digested any part of it;-and so the poor little girl was overtasked and overeducated, in a very pitiless way, for several years; till her health became seriously impaired, and they were obliged to let her run idle in the woods for some years longer-where she composed pastorals and tragedies, and became exceedingly romantic. She was then taken up again; and set to her studies with greater moderation. All this time, too, her father was counteracting the lessons of patient application inculcated by her mother, by the half-playful disputations in which he loved to engage her, and the display which he could not resist making of her lively talents in society. Fortunately, this last species of training fell most in with her disposition; and she escaped being solemn and pedantic, at some little risk of becoming forward and petulant. Still more fortunately, the strength of her understanding was such as to exempt her almost entirely from this smaller disadvantage.

HER OWN EARLY TRAINING AND PRECOCITY.

Nothing, however, could exempt her from the danger and disadvantage of being a youthful Prodigy; and there never perhaps was an instance of one so early celebrated, whose celebrity went on increasing to the last period of her existence. We have a very lively picture of her, at eleven years of age, in the work before us; where she is represented as then a stout brown girl, with fine eyes, and an open affectionate manner, full of eager curiosity, kindness, and vivacity. In the drawing-room, she took her place on a little stool beside her mother's chair, where she was forced to sit very upright, and to look as demure as possible: But by and by, two or three wise-looking oldish gentlemen, with round wigs, came up to her, and entered into animated and sensible conversation with her, as with a wit of full age; and those were Raynal, Marmontel, Thomas, and Grimm. At table she listened with delighted attention to all that

632 MAD. DE STAËL-PROGRESS OF GENIUS.

fell from those distinguished guests; and learned incredibly soon to discuss all subjects with them, without embarrassment or affectation. Her biographer says, indeed, that she was "always young, and never a child;" but it does seem to us a trait of mere childishness, though here cited as a proof of her filial devotion, that, in order to ensure for her parents the gratification of Mr. Gibbon's society, she proposed, about the same time, that she should marry him! and combated, with great earnestness, all the objections that were stated to this extraordinary union.

ness.

Her temper appears from the very first to have been delightful, and her heart full of generosity and kindHer love for her father rose almost to idolatry; and though her taste for talk and distinction carried her at last a good deal away from him, this earliest passion seems never to have been superseded, or even interrupted, by any other. Up to the age of twenty, she employed herself chiefly with poems and plays;-but took after that to prose. We do not mean here to say any thing of her different works, the history and analysis of which occupies two thirds of the Notice before us. Her fertility of thought, and warmth of character, appeared first in her Letters on Rousseau; but her own character is best portrayed in Delphine Corinne showing rather what she would have chosen to be. During her sufferings from the Revolution, she wrote her works on Literature and the Passions, and her more ambitious book on Germany. After that, with more subdued feelings-more confirmed principlesand more practical wisdom, she gave to the world her admirable Considerations on the French Revolution; having, for many years, addicted herself almost exclusively to politics, under the conviction which, in the present condition of the world, can scarcely be considered as erroneous, that under "politics were comprehended morality, religion, and literature."

She was, from a very early period, a lover of cities, of distinction, and of brilliant and varied discussioncared little in general for the beauties of nature or art

HER SENSIBILITY, GENEROSITY, AND KINDNESS. 633

-and languished, and pined, in spite of herself, when confined to a narrow society. These are common enough traits in famous authors, and people of fashion and notoriety of all other descriptions: But they were united in her with a warmth of affection, a temperament of enthusiasm, and a sweetness of temper, with which we do not know that they were ever combined in any other individual. So far from resembling the poor, jaded, artificial creatures who live upon stimulants, and are with difficulty kept alive by the constant excitements of novelty, flattery, and emulation, her great characteristic was an excessive movement of the soul-a heart overcharged with sensibility, a frame over-informed with spirit and vitality. All her affections, says Madame Necker, her friendship, her filial, her maternal attachment, partook of the nature of Love-were accompa nied by its emotion, almost its passion-and very frequently by the violent agitations which belong to its fears and anxieties. With all this animation, however, and with a good deal of vanity-a vanity which delighted in recounting her successes in society, and made her speak without reserve of her own great talents, influence, and celebrity-she seems to have had no particle of envy or malice in her composition. She was not in the least degree vindictive, jealous, or scornful; but uniformly kind, indulgent, compassionate, and forgiving or rather forgetful of injuries. In these respects she is very justly and advantageously contrasted with Rousseau; who, with the same warmth of imagination, and still greater professions of philanthropy in his writings, uniformly indicated in his individual character the most irritable, suspicious, and selfish dispositions; and plainly showed that his affection for mankind was entirely theoretical, and had no living objects in this world. Madame de Staël's devotion to her father is sufficiently proved by her writings;-but it meets us under a new aspect in the Memoir now before us. The only injuries which she could not forgive were those offered to him. She could not bear to think that he was ever to grow old; and, being herself blinded to his progres

« AnteriorContinuar »