A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter XIII." by Constance Hill
From: Juniper Hall: A Rendevous of Certain Illustrious Personages during the French Revolution Including Alexandre D'Arblay and Fanny Burney by Constance Hill. London & New York: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1904.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 127]

CHAPTER XIII

A CYNICAL CRITIC

MRS. PHILLIPS writes to Mrs. Lock early in April: "I must say something of Juniper, whence I had an irresistible invitation to dine yesterday and hear M. de Lally-Tollendal read his 'Mort de Strafford,' which he had already recited once, and which Madame de Staël requested him to repeat for my sake . . . . He is extremely absorbed by his tragedy, which he recites by heart, acting as well as declaiming with great energy, though seated.

. . . "M. Talleyrand seemed much struck with his piece, which appears to me to have very fine lines and passages in it, but which altogether interested me but little."

Mrs. Phillips describes M. de Lally as "large and fat," and as possessing "nothing distingué in manner." It is evident that on this first introduction she did not greatly admire him. But a little later on, when she knew him better, she felt very differently. His was, in fact, an heroic [Page 128]  nature. He had spent many years of his earlier life in endeavouring to clear the memory of his father from an unjust accusation of treason for which he had suffered death. The Comte de Lally had been Governor of Pondicherry when that town was captured by the English, and was accused by his countrymen of treacherously delivering it into their hands. It was not till nearly twenty years had elapsed after the execution of the Count that his son obtained a reversal of the iniquitous judgment.

Mrs. Phillips concludes her letter by remarking: "M. Malouet has left [Juniper Hall]. La Princesse d'Hénin is a very pleasing, well-bred woman; she [also] left the next morning with M. de Lally."

Malouet was staying at that time in London with the Princesse d'Hénin. His health had suffered much from the perilous times he had passed through in Paris, and we hear but little of his doings. There is, however, an allusion to his being at Mickleham in a letter from Lally-Tollendal to M. d'Arblay, written a few months later, in which he says: "I am sure Miss Burney will have heard you talk of our poor Louis XVI. with the same emotion which drew tears from the eyes of Malouet and from my own the last time we walked and talked together."

We should like to mention here the fact that [Page 129]  Malouet was the intimate friend of Mallet du Pan, and that the two men had, so to speak, stood shoulder to shoulder "through the first three years of the Revolution." Malouet is described by Mallet's son as "a man who possessed every virtue which can distinguish a public man and form an inestimable and useful citizen" and as their "best and dearest friend."[1]

The Princesse d'Hénin was the intimate friend of Lafayette and of his family. In the "Memoires de Lafayette," published by his descendants, the writer remarks that "most of the letters written during his captivity were addressed to her." While his wife and almost all his relations and friends "were immured in the prisons of the Terreur, Madame d'Hénin was the centre of their correspondence, and endeavoured to give to each consolation and intelligence of the others."

Mrs. Phillips writes to Fanny: "After I had sent off my letter to you on Monday, I walked on to Juniper, and entered at the same moment with Mr. Jenkinson and his attorney - a man whose figure strongly resembles some of Hogarth's most ill-looking personages, and who appeared to me to be brought as a kind of spy, or witness of all that was passing. I would have retreated, [Page 130]  fearing to interrupt business, but I was surrounded and pressed to stay by Madame de Staël with great impressement, and with much kindness by M. d'Arblay and all the rest. Mr. Clark was the spokesman, and acquitted himself with great dignity and moderation; Madame de Staël now and then came forth with a little coquetterie pour adoucir ce sauvage Jenkinson. 'What will you, Mr. Jenkinson, tell to me; what will you?' M. de Narbonne, somewhat indigne de la mauvaise foi, and excédé des longueurs de son adversaire, was not quite so gentle with him, and I was glad to perceive that he meant to resist, in some degree at least, the exorbitant demands of his landlord.

"Madame de Staël was very gay and M. de Talleyrand very comique this evening; he criticised, amongst other things, her reading of prose with great sang froid. 'Vous lisez très mal la prose,' he said. 'There is a kind of chant in your voice - a sort of rhythm, followed by a monotonous intonation, which is not at all good. It is as if you were reading poetry aloud. Celà a un fort mauvais effet.'

"They talked over a number of their friends and acquaintance with the utmost unreserve and sometimes with the most comic humour imaginable - M. de Lally, M. de Lafayette, la Princesse d'Hénin, la Princesse de Poix, and a M. Guibert,

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M. DE TALLEYRAND

[Page 131]  an author, who was, Madame de S. told me, passionately in love with her before she married, and innumerable others."

We fancy we see the whole scene, and can picture to ourselves the cynical look on Talleyrand's face as he censures Madame de Staël's method of reading aloud, for we have sat in the very room where it took place - the same in which the émigrés and the Phillipses and the Locks so often met together - the sculptured drawing-room of Juniper Hall.

Whilst in company with these celebrated talkers it is interesting to turn to their remarks upon the art of conversation.

Talleyrand observed one day to his secretary, M. Colmache:[1] "Talk not to me of books . . . . They can express neither surprise nor fear - the very anger which they convey has been all premeditated . . . . They are 'composed' by men, and are even greater hypocrites than they . . . but the causeur is himself, and speaks as he feels and thinks . . . . Even Louis Quatorze, whose Bastille yawned so greedily for those who dared to write a syllable against the justice of his measures, was known to wince beneath the lash of the witty causeurs of his day; he felt he was powerless against their attacks, and was compelled [Page 132]  to flatter and to pardon, as Richelieu, that greater tyrant still, had been forced to do before him.

. . . "These witlings are as troublesome as summer flies," said the magnificent monarch one day to Colbert, who had reported to him an epigram which he had heard in the salon of Madame Cornel.

"Yes, sire, and just as unconquerable," replied Colbert.

Madame de Staël takes a different tone. "Conversation in France," she says, "is not, as elsewhere, merely a means of communicating ideas and sentiments, or of conveying directions concerning the business of life; it is an instrument upon which we love to play, and which cheers and invigorates the mind as music does in some countries or wine in others.

"Bacon," she says, "has truly observed that conversation is not a road which leads direct to a house, but a path along which we may roam hither and thither at our pleasure."

It seems to us that the charm of the old French salons was due perhaps as much to the listeners as to the talkers. "There is an eloquence of heart," says a French writer, "as well as of outward expression, and it often belongs in equal measure to him who speaks and to him who listens." Surely this hidden partnership is necessary for [Page 133]  the unconstrained flow and perfect development of conversation.

Sydney Smith, who knew Talleyrand in after life, says "he never talked till he had finished and digested his dinner, a slow process with him, but nobody's wit was of so high an order as Talleyrand's when it did come, or has stood so well the test of time."

We feel tempted to insert two of his sayings to Madame de Staël, at the risk of repeating what may be already well known. The first is related by Samuel Rogers, the second by M. Pichot.

"Talleyrand was a great admirer of Madame Récamier and Madame de Staël, the first for her beauty, the other for her wit. Madame de Staël asked him, one day, if he found himself with both of them in the sea on a plank and could only save one, which it would be; to which he replied, 'Ah! Madame de Staël knows so many things, doubtless she knows how to swim!'"

"When 'Delphine' appeared it was said that Madame de Staël had described herself as Delphine, and had described Talleyrand as Madame de Vernon. Meeting the authoress soon afterwards, Talleyrand remarked, in his most gentle tone of voice, 'I hear that both you and I appear in your new book, but disguised as women.'"

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Footnotes

[Page 129]

1 See "Mallet du Pan and the French Revolution," by Bernard Mallet.

[Page 131]

1 "Reminiscences of the late Prince Talleyrand," edited by M. Colmache.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Celebration of Women Writers.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom