« AnteriorContinuar »
-EXCEPT PERHAPS IN FRANCE. 639
was reckoned equally impious and impossible. In politics, they were restrained, by the state of their government, from any free or bold speculations; and in metaphysics, and all the branches of the higher philosophy that depend on it, they had done nothing since the days of Pascal and Descartes. In England, however, and in Germany, the national intellect had not been thus stagnated and subdued-and a great deal of what startled the Parisians by its novelty, in the writings of Madame de Staël, had long been familiar to the thinkers of these two countries. Some of it she confessedly borrowed from those neighbouring sources; and some she undoubtedly invented over again for herself. In both departments, however, it would be erroneous, we think, to ascribe the greater part of this improvement to the talents of this extraordinary woman. The Revolution had thrown down, among other things, the barriers by which literary enterprise had been so long restrained in France and broken, among other trammels, those which had circumscribed the liberty of thinking in that great country. The genius of Madame de Staël co-operated, no doubt, with the spirit of the times, and assisted its effects-but it was also acted upon, and in part created, by that spirit—and her works are rather, perhaps, to be considered as the first fruits of a new order of things, that had already struck root in Europe, than as the harbinger of changes that still remain to be effected.*
In looking back to what she has said, with so much emphasis, of the injustice she had to suffer from Napoleon, it is impossible not to be struck with the aggravation which that injustice is made to receive from the quality of the victim, and the degree in which those sufferings are exaggerated, because they were her own. We think the hostility of that great commander towards a person of her sex, character, and talents, was in the highest degree paltry, and unworthy even of a high
* A great deal of citation and remark, relating chiefly to the character and conduct of Bonaparte, and especially to his persecution of the fair author, is here omitted- the object of this reprint being solely to illustrate her Personal character.
640 MAD. DE STAËL HER BESOIN DE PARIS,
minded tyrant. But we really cannot say that it seems to have had any thing very savage or ferocious in the manner of it. He did not touch, nor even menace her life, nor her liberty, nor her fortune. No daggers, nor chains, nor dungeons, nor confiscations, are among the instruments of torture of this worse than Russian despot. He banished her, indeed, first from Paris, and then from France; suppressed her publications; separated her from some of her friends; and obstructed her passage into England;-very vexatious treatment certainly, but not quite of the sort which we should have guessed at, from the tone either of her complaints or lamentations. Her main grief undoubtedly was the loss of the society and brilliant talk of Paris; and if that had been spared to her, we cannot help thinking that she would have felt less horror and detestation at the inroads of Bonaparte on the liberty and independence of mankind. She avows this indeed pretty honestly, where she says, that, if she had been aware of the privations of this sort which a certain liberal speech of M. Constant was ultimately to bring upon herself, she would have taken care that it should not have been spoken! The truth is, that, like many other celebrated persons of her country, she could not live happily without the excitements and novelties that Paris alone could supply; and that, when these were withdrawn, all the vivacity of her genius, and all the warmth of her heart, proved insufficient to protect her from the benumbing influence of ennui. Here are her own confessions on the record:
“J'étois vulnérable par mon goût pour la société. Montaigne a dit jadis: Je suis François par Paris; et s'il pensoit ainsi, il y a trois siècles, que seroit-ce depuis que l'on a vu réunies tant de personnes d'esprit dans une même ville, et tant de personnes accoutumées à se servir de cet esprit pour les plaisirs de la conversation? Le fantôme de l'ennui m'a toujours poursuivie! C'est par la terreur qu'il me cause que j'aurois été capable de plier devant la tyrannie — si l'exemple de mon père, et son sang qui coule dans mes veines, ne l'emportoient pas sur cette foiblesse." - Vol. iii. p. 8.
We think this rather a curious trait, and not very easily explained. We can quite well understand how the feeble and passive spirits who have been accustomed
to the stir and variety of a town life, and have had their inanity supplied by the superabundant intellect and gaiety that overflows in these great repositories, should feel helpless and wretched when these extrinsic supports are withdrawn; But by the active and energetic members of those vast assemblages, who draw their resources from within, and enliven not only themselves but the inert mass around them, by the radiation of their genius, should suffer in a similar way, it certainly is not so easy to comprehend. In France, however, the people of the most wit and vivacity seem to have always been the most subject to ennui. The letters of Mad. du Deffand, we remember, are full of complaints of it; and those of De Bussy also. It is but a humiliating view of our frail human nature, if the most exquisite arrangements for social enjoyment should be found thus inevitably to generate a distaste for what is ordinarily within our reach; and the habit of a little elegant amusement, not coming very close either to our hearts or understandings, should render all the other parts of life, with its duties, affections, and achievements, distasteful and burdensome. We are inclined, however, we confess, both to question the perfection of the arrangements and the system of amusement that led to such results; and also to doubt of the permanency of the discomfort that may arise on its first disturbance. We are persuaded, in short, that at least as much enjoyment may be obtained, with less of the extreme variety, and less of the over-excitement which belongs to the life of Paris, and is the immediate cause of the depression that follows their cessation; and also, that, in minds of any considerable strength and resource, this depression will be of no long duration; and that nothing but a little perseverance is required to restore the plastic frame of our nature, to its natural appetite and relish for the new pleasures and occupations that may yet await it beyond the precincts of Paris or London. We remember a signal testimony to this effect, in one of the later publications, we think of Volney, the celebrated traveller; -who describes, in a very amusing way, the misery he
AND STRANGE LIABILITY TO ENNUI.
MAD. DE STAËL — FAREWELL!
suffered when he first changed the society of Paris for that of Syria and Egypt; and the recurrence of the same misery when, after years of absence, he was again restored to the importunate bustle and idle chatter of Paris, from the tranquil taciturnity of his warlike Mussulmans!-his second access of home sickness, when he left Paris for the United States of America,-and the discomfort he experienced, for the fourth time, when, after being reconciled to the free and substantial talk of these stout republicans, he finally returned to the amiable trifling of his own famous metropolis.
It is an affliction, certainly, to be at the end of the works of such a writer—and to think that she was cut off at a period when her enlarged experience and matured talents were likely to be exerted with the greatest utility, and the state of the world was such as to hold out the fairest prospect of their not being exerted in vain. It is a consolation, however, that she has done so much;- And her works will remain not only as a brilliant memorial of her own unrivalled genius, but as a proof that sound and comprehensive views were entertained, kind affections cultivated, and elegant pursuits followed out, through a period which posterity may be apt to regard as one of universal delirium and crime;-that the principles of genuine freedom, taste, and morality, were not altogether extinct, even under the reign of terror and violence—and that one who lived through the whole of that agitating scene, was the first luminously to explain, and temperately and powerfully to impress, the great moral and political Lessons which it should have taught to mankind.
SIR JAMES MACKINTOSH.
Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable Sir James Mackintosh. Edited by his Son, ROBERT JAMES MACKINTOSH, Esq. 2 vols. 8vo. London: 1835.
THERE cannot be, we think, a more delightful book than this: whether we consider the attraction of the Character it brings so pleasingly before us-or the infinite variety of original thoughts and fine observations with which it abounds. As a mere narrative there is not so much to be said for it. There are but few incidents; and the account which we have of them is neither very luminous nor very complete. If it be true, therefore, that the only legitimate business of biography is with incidents and narrative, it will not be easy to deny that there is something amiss, either in the title or the substance of this work. But we are humbly of opinion that there is no good ground for so severe a limitation. Biographies, it appears to us, are naturally of three
This was my last considerable contribution to the Edinburgh Review; and, indeed (with the exception of a slight notice of Mr. Wilberforce's Memoirs), the only thing I wrote for it, after my advancement to the place I now hold. If there was any impropriety in my so contributing at all, some palliation I hope may be found in the nature of the feelings by which I was led to it, and the tenor of what these feelings prompted me to say. I wrote it solely out of affection to the memory of the friend I had lost; and I think I said nothing which was not dictated by a desire to vindicate and to honour that memory. At all events, if it was an impropriety, it was one for which I cannot now submit to seek the shelter of concealment: And therefore I here reprint the greater part of it: and think I cannot better conclude the present collection, than with this tribute to the merits of one of the most distinguished of my Associates in the work out of which it has been gathered.
A considerable part of the original is omitted in this publication; but consisting almost entirely in citations from the book reviewed, and incidental remarks on these citations.