Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VIII: Of Exile. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER VIII: Of Exile. - 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).
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Among all the prerogatives of authority, one of the most favorable to tyranny is the power of banishing without trial. The lettres de cachet of the Old Regime had been justly held forth as one of the most urgent motives for effecting a revolution in France: yet it was Bonaparte, the chosen man of the people, who, trampling underfoot all the principles the support of which had caused the popular insurrection, assumed the power of banishing whoever displeased him even a little, and of imprisoning without any interference on the part of the tribunals whoever displeased him more. I can understand, I admit, how the greater part of the old courtiers rallied round the political system of Bonaparte; they had only one concession to make to him, that of changing their master. But how could the republicans submit to his tyranny—the republicans, whom every word, every act, every decree of his government must have shocked?
A very considerable number of men and women of different opinions have suffered by these decrees of exile, which give the sovereign of the state a more absolute authority than even that which can result from illegal imprisonments. For it is more difficult to carry into effect a violent measure than to exert a species of power which, though terrible in reality, has something benign in its form. The imagination clings to an insurmountable obstacle; great men—Themistocles, Cicero, Bolingbroke, were extremely wretched in exile; Bolingbroke,1 in particular, declares in his writings that death seemed to him less terrible.
To remove a man or a woman from Paris, to send them, as it was then called, to breathe the air of the country, was designating a severe punishment by such gentle expressions that the flatterers of power turned it easily into derison. Yet the fear of such an exile was sufficient to make all the inhabitants of the principal city of the empire incline toward servitude. The scaffolds may at last rouse resistance; but domestic vexations of every kind which are the result of banishment weaken resistance and cause you to dread only the displeasure of the sovereign who can impose upon you so wretched an existence. You may pass your life voluntarily out of your own country: but when you are constrained to do so, you are incessantly imagining that the objects of your affection may be sick, while you are not permitted to be near them and will perhaps never see them again. The affections of your choice, often family affections too, your habits of society, the interests of your fortune, are all compromised; and what is still more cruel, every tie is relaxed and you finally become a stranger in your native land.
I have often thought, during the twelve years of exile to which Bonaparte condemned me, that he could not feel the misfortune of being deprived of France. He had no French recollections in his heart. The rocks of Corsica alone retraced to him the days of his infancy; but the daughter of M. Necker was more French than he. I reserve for another work,2 of which several passages are already written, all the circumstances of my exile, and of the journeys, even to the confines of Asia, which were the consequences of it. But as I have almost forbidden myself to draw portraits of living characters, I could not give to the history of an individual the kind of interest which it ought to have. In the meantime, I must limit myself to retracing what may enter with propriety into the general plan of this work.
I discovered sooner than others (and I am proud of it) the tyrannical character and designs of Bonaparte. The true friends of liberty are guided in such subjects by an instinct which does not deceive them. To render my situation at the beginning of the consulship still more painful, people of fashion in France thought that they saw in Bonaparte the man who saved them from anarchy or Jacobinism; and they therefore blamed strongly the spirit of opposition which I exhibited against him. Whoever in politics foresees tomorrow excites the resentment of those who think only of today. More courage, I will venture to say, was requisite to support the persecution of society than to encounter that of power.
I have always retained the recollection of one of these drawing-room punishments, if I may so express myself, which the French aristocrats know so well how to inflict on those who do not participate in their opinions. A great part of the ancient nobility had rallied round Bonaparte; some, as has since appeared, to resume the habits of courtiers; others in the hope that the First Consul would restore the old dynasty. It was known that I had declared myself decidedly against the system of government which Napoléon was following and was preparing; and the partisans of arbitrary power gave, as usual, the name of antisocial to opinions which tend to exalt the dignity of nations. If some of the emigrants who returned under the reign of Bonaparte were to call to mind the fury with which they then blamed the friends of liberty who continued always attached to the same system, perhaps they would learn indulgence by recollecting their errors.
I was the first woman whom Bonaparte exiled; but a great number, adherents of opposite opinions, soon shared my fate. Among others, a very interesting personage, the Duchess de Chevreuse,3 died of grief occasioned by her exile. She could not, when at the point of death, obtain permission from Napoléon to return once more to Paris to consult her physician and enjoy a last sight of her friends. Whence proceeded this luxury in mischief, if not from a sort of hatred against all independent beings? And as women, on the one hand, could in no respect promote his political designs, while on the other hand they were less accessible than men to the hopes and fears of which power is the dispenser, they gave him a dislike for rebels, and he took pleasure in addressing to them vulgar and injurious words. He hated the spirit of chivalry as much as he sought after etiquette—a bad selection undoubtedly from the manners of ancient days. He likewise retained from his early habits during the Revolution a Jacobinical antipathy to the brilliant society of Paris, over which the women exercised a great ascendancy; he dreaded in them the art of pleasantry which, it must be allowed, belongs particularly to French women. Had Bonaparte been satisfied with acting the proud part of a great general and first magistrate of the republic, he would have soared in all the height of his genius far above the small but pointed shafts of drawing-room wit. But when he entertained the design of becoming an upstart king, a citizen gentleman upon the throne, he exposed himself as a fine aim to the mockery of fashion; and to restrain it, as he has done, he was obliged to have recourse to terror and the employment of spies.
Bonaparte wished me to praise him in my writings, not assuredly that any additional praise would have been remarked in the fumes of the incense which surrounded him; but he was vexed that I should be the only writer of reputation in France who had published books during his reign without making any mention of his gigantic existence, and at last with inconceivable rage he suppressed my work on Germany.4 Till then my disgrace had consisted merely in my removal from Paris; but from that time I was forbidden to travel and was threatened with imprisonment for the remainder of my days. The contagion of exile, the noble invention of the Roman emperors, was the most cruel aggravation of this punishment. They who came to see the banished exposed themselves to banishment in their turn; the greater part of the Frenchmen with whom I was acquainted avoided me, as if I had been tainted with a pestilence. This appeared to me like a comedy when the pain it gave was not extreme; and as travelers under quarantine mischievously throw their handkerchiefs to the passers-by, to compel them to share in the wearisome sameness of their confinement, so when I happened to meet a man of Bonaparte’s court in the streets of Geneva I was tempted to terrify him by my polite attentions.
My generous friend, M. Matthieu de Montmorenci, had come to see me at Coppet and received, four days after his arrival, a lettre de cachet, by which he was banished as a punishment for having given the consolation of his presence to a woman who had been his friend for twenty-five years. I know not what I would not have done at this moment to avoid such a pain. At the same time Madame Recamier, who took no concern in politics beyond a courageous interest for the proscribed of all opinions, came also to see me at Coppet, where we had met several times already. And would it be believed? The most beautiful woman in France, who on this ground alone should have found defenders everywhere, was exiled because she had come to the country seat of an unfortunate friend a hundred and fifty leagues from Paris. This coalition of two women settled on the shore of the lake of Geneva appeared too formidable to the master of the world, and he incurred the ridicule of persecuting them. But he had once said, Power is never ridiculous, and assuredly he put this maxim thoroughly to the proof.
How many families have we not seen divided by the fear which was caused by the slightest connections with the exiled? At the commencement of the tyranny, there were some distinguished examples of courage, but vexation gradually alters our sentiments; we are exhausted by constant opposition, and we begin to think that the disgraces of our friends are occasioned by their own faults. The sages of the family assemble to say that there must not be too much communication kept up with Mr. or Mrs. such a one; their excellent sentiments, it is declared, cannot be doubted, but their imagination is so lively! In truth they would willingly proclaim all these poor proscribed sufferers to be great poets on condition that their imprudence be admitted as a reason for neither seeing them nor writing to them. Thus friendship, and even love, are frozen in every heart; private qualities fall with the public virtues; men no longer care for one another, after having ceased to care for their country; and they learn only to employ a hypocritical language which contains a softened condemnation of those who are out of favor, a skillful apology for the powerful and the concealed doctrine of egoism.
Bonaparte had above every other man the secret of producing that cold isolation which presented men to him individually and never collectively. He was unwilling that a single person of his time should exist by his own means, that a marriage should be celebrated, a fortune acquired, a residence chosen, a talent exercised, or any resolution taken without his leave; and, what is remarkable, he entered into the minutest details of the relations of each individual, so as to unite the empire of the conqueror to the inquisition of the gossip, and to hold in his hands the finest threads as well as the strongest chains.
The metaphysical question of the free will of man became altogether useless under the reign of Bonaparte; for no person could any longer follow his own will, either in the most important circumstances or in the most trifling.
[1. ] Bolingbroke (1678–1751) spent eight years in exile in France, from 1715 to 1723.
[2. ]Ten Years of Exile.
[3. ] Hermesinde de Narbonne-Pelet, Duchess of Cheuvreuse, was exiled to her castle at Luynes. She died in Lyon in 1813.
[4. ] For more information, see Ten Years of Exile, pt. II, chap. i, 101–10. Madame de Staël’s two sons unsuccessfully attempted to meet with Napoléon at Fontainebleau.