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The subjects on which Madame de Staël wrote, rendered it impossible that an impartial examination of her works should be made during her life-time, or for many years after the great political tempest which had agitated the world, had begun to subside. And even now, those who differ from her in political sentiments, or in philosophical principles, have scarcely sufficient generosity to admire the nobleness of mind, the grandeur of thought, and above all, the uprightness and rectitude, and the sincere love of truth, which distinguish her productions perhaps above those of every contemporary French author.
The advantages of her position, both as regards her public and private relations, were incalculable, whether we consider her birth, the character of her parents, the education which they bestowed upon her, or the society in which she moved. Madame Necker appears to have been a person of a firm and rigid character, possessed of great abilities, an unceasing spirit of observation, and of learning beyond the usual sphere of woman. Observing society as a study, she had little of that ease of manner peculiar to French women, and little indulgence for those errors or foibles in others, from which she was herself exempt. Necker remarks of her, that perhaps nothing was wanting to the perfection of her character, but to have committed some fault which required pardon.
The system pursued by Madame Necker in the education of her daughter, was one which induced a constant and progressive improvement in her intellectual faculties. Her amusements, as well as her studies, were an unceasing exercise of her reasoning powers. At the age of eleven, she is represented as sitting on a low foot-stool by the side of her mother's arm-chair, listening to philosophical discussions, metaphysical arguments, and conversations upon subjects apparently above her comprehension ; or replying with ease and grace to the remarks made to her by the most distinguished men of the age; such as the Abbé Raynal, the Baron de Grimm, and Marmontel.
From her father, Mademoiselle Necker inherited that lively imagination, which, repressed in the statesman, constituted one of the chief charms of his daughter; though in her later years it enhanced her sensibility to the real evils of life. He transmitted to her those ardent feelings, that passion for all that is great and beautiful, for glory, liberty, and virtue, which characterized her through life. Though very young when the
revolution broke out, she was in the best possible situation for unravelling its causes; while the time that elapsed before she wrote upon the subject, during which she exercised her admirable spirit of observation, enabled her to combine her ideas in one luminous whole, and prevented those false and hasty judgments which the heat of the moment might otherwise have induced. In no favor with Marie Antoinette, she was untainted by the influence of a courtly atmosphere, and emancipated from that tedious observance of etiquette, which throws its Lilliputian bonds alike over the superior and the frivolous. Her works are accordingly free from the blind and servile adoration of kingly power, from which the
writers of the French Augustan age were seldom exempt. "Racine was the prince of poets; '-said a Frenchman to Lessing. At least,' replied the German, he was the poet of princes.'
For upwards of two centuries, the superior cultivation of French women had placed them more nearly on an intellectual level with men than those of any other country; and the tone of conversation in the drawing-rooms of Paris had assumed a form less frivolous and more brilliant than elsewhere. Men of letters, scholars, and authors, mingled with the polite world; and the most profound doctrines of philosophy were discussed freely in general society. Madame de Staël's unrivalled talents for conversation rendered her house the focus to which the literary and distinguished of every party rallied, -aņd her eloquence seems to bave exercised an almost magical influence over her hearers. She especially shone in argument, and seldom failed to defeat her adversary; though conducting the dispute with a grace and playfulness of manner, which prevented his self-love from being wounded; and above all, with that simplicity and total absence of affectation, for which she was remarkable. If I were a Queen,' said Madame de Tessé, I would order Mar dame de Staël to talk to me all day long.'
To form a correct judgment of Madame de Staël's private character, it would seem that we should only need to read her portrait, as traced by the hand of friendship, and to be aware of the devoted' enthusiasm with which her memory is still cherished by her family; or, should such testimony be rejected, as partial, to listen to the details of her generous devotion in the cause of humanity, during the frightful anarchy of the revolutionary period, when she seemed to become the very spirit of benevolence in action ;-when the unfortunate of all parties found in her house an asylum, in herself a protectress-her talents at their command, her fortune at their disposal. But it is not so. As the brilliant words which charmed her hearers have passed away like a forgotten melody,—so those generous actions are cancelled by ingratitude, though registered before a higher tribunal. It is by her works alone that she must now be judged.
Two causes have contributed to the false estimate which has frequently been formed of the writings of Madame de Staël. The first is, that her critics have not always sufficiently discriminated between the different eras at which she wrote, between that period of her life when, borne away by youthful enthusiasm, she was guilty of various extravagances of style and sentiment, and viewed through a false medium what her maturer judgment enabled her to re-consider in a truer point of view. The second is, that the nature of the subjects which she discussed involved the most delicate and important questions; brought her into contact with the most inveterate prejudices, and led her to the display of opinions, in religion, philosophy, politics and literature, directly opposed to the taste and opinions of the age in which she wrote, and of the country in which she lived.
It was remarked by a distinguished writer, that every year of Madame de Staël's life was of greater moral value than that which preceded it, as each of her works was regularly superior in style and substance to any one that she had written before. The three tales which she published before the age of twenty, show that love of great effect, strong emotion, and tragic situation which is usually discernible in the works of a young artist, before he has learned to distinguish the various shades of color necessary to form a perfect whole. There is as great a difference between these and her maturer productions, as between the first and last styles of Raphael,-or between Lord Byron's Hours of Idleness' and his Childe Harold.' In the latter case, however, we may remark this important distinction that whereas in the first effusions of the poet, which were unmercifully pronounced to belong to that class which neither Gods nor men are said to permit,' there are various proofs of kindly and moral feelings that were afterwards lost in bitterness, in the works of Madame de Staël, on the contrary, we may trace the influence of religion gradually growing stronger in her mind, and keeping pace with the progress of her talent.
Her defence of the unfortunate queen, where eloquence seems overpowered by agitation and anxiety to attain its object, was a noble effort in the cause of humanity. It was indeed a voice but feebly heard in the storm, like the music of the Alpine horn, which she describes in her Germany, as sounding amidst the pauses of the thunder, like angel-voices pleading for guilty men.
The exaggerated sentiment and false morality of Delphine are perhaps attributable to the revolutionary period at which it was written,when violent situations in real life suggested corresponding situations in fiction,--when social ties were broken ;-but, above all, when glaring instances of cruelty, meanness and egotism, had shocked the noble minded of every class, and exalted their imaginations to an opposite extreme. Her first works resemble the Hight of the young eagle, which gazes on the sun, yet is unable to penetrate the mists that envelop its mountain-dwelling.
Two pamphlets, written by Madame de Staël soon after the fall of Robespierre, were remarkable for the maturity of judgment displayed in them, as well as for the bold indignation therein expressed against all political crimes. Some of these remarks were afterwards quoted by Charles Fox in one of his parliamentary speeches.
Her work entitled The influence of the passions upon the happiness of individuals and nations, is full of more serious and solemn feeling than is to be met with in her preceding productions. We see that her mind is troubled, that her hopes are deceived, and that she has flown for refuge to study, for consolation to the exercise of the private virtues. Amidst the various beauties of this work, the chapter upon Crime is perhaps the most remarkable, from the deep knowledge which it evinces of the human heart in its worst condition; of that terrible internal ferocity, so fearfully illustrated in the progress of the revolution, which like an invisible power seems to drive on the guilty man who has entered on the path of evil, to the commission of fresh enormities, until he becomes intoxicated with a thirst for blood, and is constantly drinking deeper to drown remorse. Still, the consolations of Christianity are unknown to the writer. The subject of religion is introduced rather for effect, than with the intention of exciting a lively and practical belief in its great truths. It is not until four years afterwards, when she published her work upon · Literature considered in its relations with social institutions, that we mark the happy change which took place in her sentiments, when reflection had sobered her judgment, without impairing the warmth of her feelings; when misfortune had purified her soul; when the vague theories of a poetical faith were no longer sufficient to satisfy her heart; and a firm belief in the truth of Christianity could alone afford her consolation. She here analyzes the thinking faculties of our nature with infinite skill, and traces with a masterly hand those delicate links which connect the state of society with that of religion and philosophy. Although the system which she here endeavors to establish, has since been carried to greater perfection by M. de Châteaubriand, yet the state of religion in France at the period when Madame de Staël wrote this work, and the ridicule at that time every where thrown upon the most sacred truths, entitle her to the highest praise.
It is probable, that had Madame de Staël been more fortunate in domestic life, she would have been less exclusively devoted to literature, and would have sought for happiness in the true destiny of a woman. Most women,' she says, 'whose superior faculties have inspired them with a desire of renown, resemble Herminia clad in warlike armor; the warriors see the helmet, the lance, the glittering plume. Expecting to meet with equal strength, they attack violently, and the first blow reaches the heart. Perhaps a sentiment somewhat similar inspired Schiller, when he represented the heroic maid of Orleans as falling a victim to her love for the English knight.
The exile of Madame de Staël, which she deplored so bitterly, was a fortunate circumstance in her literary career. The conduct of Napoleon on this occasion was certainly a greater proof of his penetration and sagacity, than of his humanity. "If we reflect,' says Benjamin Constant, that the only crime of this woman whom he rendered so unfortunate, was a lively and brilliant conversation; and that he who pursued her, disposed of an unlimited authority ;—had eight hundred thousand soldiers at his command,
was absolute master of thirty millions of subjects, and forty millions of vassals,we cannot avoid a feeling of indignation mingled with pity, for a power so violent on the one hand, and so timid on the other.' * But can a tyrannical government proceed in any other way? Or was it to be expected, that in the progress of the great game in which Napoleon was engaged, an individual should