Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXV: Private Anecdotes. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER XXV: Private Anecdotes. - Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
It is painful to speak of oneself, at a time especially when the most important narratives alone demand the attention of readers. Yet I cannot abstain from refuting an accusation which is injurious to me. The journals whose office it was in 1797 to insult all the friends of liberty have pretended that, from a predilection for a republic, I approved of the affair of the 18th of Fructidor. I certainly would not have counseled, had I been called upon to give advice, the establishment of a republic in France; but when it once existed, I was not of the opinion that it ought to be overturned.1 Republican government, considered abstractedly and without reference to a great state, merits the respect which it has ever inspired; the Revolution of the 18th of Fructidor, on the contrary, must always excite horror, both by the tyrannical principles from which it proceeded and by the frightful results which were its necessary consequence. Among the individuals of whom the Directory was composed, I knew only Barras; and, far from having the slightest influence with the others, though they could not be ignorant of my fond love of liberty, they were so dissatisfied with my attachment to the proscribed that they gave orders upon the frontiers of Switzerland, at Versoix near Coppet, to arrest me and conduct me to prison at Paris; on account, said they, of my efforts to obtain the restoration of the emigrants. Barras defended me with warmth and generosity; and it was he who some time afterward obtained permission for me to return to France. The gratitude which I owed him kept up the relations of society between us.
M. de Talleyrand2 had returned from America a year before the 18th of Fructidor. The honest people wanted, in general, peace with Europe, which was at that time disposed to negotiate; and it was thought that M. de Talleyrand could not but be, what he has been always since found, a very able negotiator. The friends of liberty wished that the Directory should strengthen itself by constitutional measures, and that with this view they should choose ministers capable of supporting the government. M. de Talleyrand seemed then the best possible choice for the department of foreign affairs, and he much wished to accept it. I served him effectually in this respect by procuring for him an introduction to Barras, through one of my friends, and by strongly recommending him. M. de Talleyrand needed help to arrive at power; but, once there, he required not the assistance of others to maintain him in it. His appointment is the only role I had in the crisis which preceded the 18th of Fructidor, and by doing that I thought I could prevent that crisis; for there was reason to hope that M. de Talleyrand might effect a reconciliation between the two parties. Since that time I have not had the slightest connection with the various aspects of his political career.
After the 18th of Fructidor the proscription extended itself on every side; and the nation, which under the Reign of Terror had already lost the most respectable men, saw itself every day deprived of some of those who remained. Dupont de Nemours, the most chivalrous champion of liberty in France, but who could not recognize it in the dispersion of the representatives of the people by an armed force, was on the point of being proscribed. I was informed of his danger, and I immediately sent in quest of Chenier the poet,3 who, two years before, had, at my desire, made the speech to which M. de Talleyrand was indebted for his recall. Chenier, in spite of all that may be said against his life, was susceptible of emotion; for he had talent, and dramatic talent. He was moved by the picture of the situation of Dupont de Nemours and his family, and ran to the tribune, where he succeeded in saving him by making him pass for a man of eighty years of age, though he was scarcely sixty. This artifice was not agreeable to the pleasing Dupont de Nemours, who, so far as the mind was concerned, had always strong claims to youth.
Chenier was a man at once violent and timid; full of prejudices, though an enthusiastic admirer of philosophy; inaccessible to reasoning when it combated his passions, which he reverenced as his household gods. He walked up and down the chamber with great strides; answered without having listened; grew pale and trembled with passion when a word disagreeable to him struck his ear by itself, for want of patience to hear the remainder of the phrase. He was nevertheless a man of talent and imagination; but so much under the influence of self-love that he was astonished at what he was, instead of laboring to attain a higher perfection.
Every day increased the alarm of the good. An observation of a general, who accused me publicly of pity for the conspirators, induced me to quit Paris and withdraw to the country; for, in political conjunctures, pity is called treason. I went therefore to the house of a friend, where, by a singular chance, I met one of the most illustrious and bravest royalists of La Vendée, the Prince de la Trémouille,4 who, though a price was set upon his head, had come with the hope of turning circumstances to the advantage of his cause. I wanted to give him asylum, which he needed more than I did. He refused my offer and proposed to leave France, since all hope of a counter-revolution was lost. We were justly surprised that the same blast should have reached us both, since our preceding situations had been very different.
I returned to Paris: every day made us tremble for some new victims who were involved in the general persecution that was carried on against emigrants and priests. The Marquis d’Ambert, who had been Bernadotte’s colonel previous to the Revolution, was taken and brought before a military commission—a terrible tribunal, the existence of which, outside of the army, is sufficient to prove the tyranny of the government. General Bernadotte sought the Directors and asked of them, as the sole reward of all his services, the pardon of his colonel; they were inflexible; they gave the name of justice to an equal distribution of misery.
Two days after the punishment of M. d’Ambert, the brother of M. de Norvins de Monbreton,5 whom I had known in Switzerland during his emigration, entered my chamber at ten o’clock in the morning. He told me, with great agitation, that his brother was arrested and that the military commission was assembled to sentence him to death; he asked me whether I could find any means of saving him. How could I flatter myself with the hope of obtaining a favor from the Directory when the prayers of General Bernadotte had been fruitless; and yet, how could I resolve to make no attempt in behalf of a man with whom I was acquainted, and who in two hours would be shot if nobody came to his assistance? I suddenly recollected that I had seen, at the house of Barras, a General Lemoine, the same whom I have mentioned on the occasion of the Quiberon expedition, and that he had appeared to take pleasure in conversing with me. This General commanded the division of Paris and had a right to suspend the judgments of the military commission established in that city. I thanked Heaven for the idea, and instantly set out with the brother of the unfortunate Norvins: we entered together the chamber of the General, who was very much surprised to see me. He began by making apologies to me for his morning toilette and his apartment; in short, I was unable to prevent him from continually returning to the language of politeness, although I implored him not to waste an instant on it, for that instant might be irrecoverable. I hastened to tell him the reason of my visit; and, at first, he abruptly refused me. My heart throbbed at the sight of that brother who might think that I was not employing the words best fitted to obtain what I asked. I began my solicitations afresh, collecting myself, that I might assemble all my strength; I was afraid of saying too much or too little; of losing the fatal hour, after which all would be over; or of neglecting an argument which might be successful. I looked by turns at the clock and at the General, to see which of the two powers, his soul or time, approached the term most quickly. Twice the General took the pen to sign the reprieve, and twice the fear of committing himself restrained him; at last he was unable to refuse us, and may Heaven shower blessings on him for his compliance. He delivered the redeeming paper, and M. de Monbreton ran to the tribunal, where he learned that his brother had already acknowledged everything; but the reprieve broke up the meeting, and innocence survived.
It is the duty of us women at all times to aid individuals accused of political opinions of any kind whatsoever; for what are opinions in times of faction? Can we be certain that such and such events, such and such a situation, would not have changed our own views? And, if we except a few invariable sentiments, who knows how difference of situation might have acted on us?
[1. ] Benjamin Constant held a similar view on this topic.
[2. ] Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince de Benevente (1754–1838), served as minister of foreign affairs under both the First Empire and the First Restoration and briefly as prime minister of France in 1815. He became one of the most versatile and influential European diplomats of his time. A close friend (and lover) of Madame de Staël, he went to America in 1794, returning to France two years later. For more information, see Waresquiel, Talleyrand, le prince immobile; and Cooper, Talleyrand.
[3. ] Marie-Joseph Chénier (1764–1811), writer, elected to the Convention and later to the Council of Five Hundred.
[4. ] Prince Louis de la Trémouille was the representative of Louis XVIII in Paris. In the summer of 1797, he and other royalists were preparing a coup d’état against the Directory but their plans never came to fruition.
[5. ] Jacques Marquet, Baron of Montbreton de Norvins (1769–1854), emigrated during the Revolution and returned to France in 1797. In 1810 Napoléon appointed him director of the police in the Roman states. During the Restoration, he published a four-volume Histoire de Napoléon (1827–28).