Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IX: Of the Last Days of M. Necker. - 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 IX: Of the Last Days of M. Necker. - 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.
Of the Last Days of M. Necker.
I would not speak of the feeling which the death of my father produced in me were it not an additional means of making him known. When the political opinions of a statesman are still in many respects the subject of debate in the world, we should not neglect to give to his principles the sanction of his character. Now what better proof can be given than the impression which it produced upon the people, who were most qualified to judge him? It is now twelve years since death separated me from my father, and every day my admiration of him has increased; the recollection which I have retained of his talents and virtues serves me as a point of comparison to appreciate the worth of other men; and though I have traversed all Europe, a genius of the same style, a moral principle of the same vigor, has never come within my way. M. Necker might be feeble from goodness and wavering from reflection; but when he believed that duty was concerned in a resolution, he thought that he heard the voice of God; and whatever attempts might be made to shake him, he listened only to it. I have even now more confidence in the least of his words than I should have in any individual alive, however superior that individual might be. Everything that M. Necker has said is firm in me as a rock; what I have gained myself may disappear; the identity of my being consists in the attachment which I bear to his memory. I have loved those whom I love no more; I have esteemed those whom I esteem no more; the waves of life have carried all away, except this mighty shade whom I see upon the summit of the mountain, pointing out to me with its finger the life to come.
I owe no real gratitude on earth but to God and my father; the remainder of my days has passed in contention; he alone poured his blessing over them. But how much has he not suffered! The most brilliant prosperity distinguished one-half of his life; he was rich; he had been named prime minister of France; the unbounded attachment of Frenchmen had recompensed him for his devotedness to their cause. During the seven years of his first retirement, his works had been placed in the first class of those of statesmen, and perhaps he was the only individual who had shown himself profoundly skilled in the art of governing a great country without ever deviating from the most scrupulous morality or even the most refined delicacy. As a religious writer,1 he had never ceased to be a philosopher; as a philosopher, he had never ceased to be religious; eloquence had not hurried him away beyond the limits of reason, nor had reason ever deprived him of a single emotion of true eloquence. To these great advantages he had joined the most flattering success in society: Madame du Deffant,2 who was acknowledged to have more lively smartness of conversation than any other woman in France, declared in her letters that she had met with no man more pleasing than M. Necker. He too possessed the same charm of conversation, but he employed it only among his friends. In fine, the universal opinion of France in 1789 was that no minister had ever carried further every kind of talent and virtue. There is not a city, not a town, not a corporation in France from which we have not addresses expressing this sentiment. I transcribe here from among a thousand others that which was written to the republic of Geneva by the city of Valence.
Amid the enthusiasm of liberty which inflames the whole French nation, and which penetrates us with a deep sense of the goodness of our august monarch, we have thought that we owe you a tribute of gratitude. It was in the bosom of your republic that M. Necker first saw the light; it was in the abode of your public virtues that his heart was trained to the practice of all those of which he has given us an affecting spectacle; it was in the school of your good principles that he imbibed that gentle and consoling morality which strengthens confidence, inspires respect, and prescribes obedience to legitimate authority. It was likewise among you, gentlemen, that his soul acquired that firm and vigorous temper which the statesman needs when he devotes himself with intrepidity to the painful duty of laboring for the public good.
Penetrated with veneration for so many different qualities, the union of which in M. Necker exalts our admiration, we think that we owe to the citizens of Geneva a public testimony of our gratitude for having formed in its bosom a minister so perfect in every respect.
We desire that our letter may be recorded in the registers of your republic, that it may be a lasting monument of our veneration for your respectable fellow-citizen.
Alas! could it have been foreseen that so much admiration would be followed by so much injustice; that he who cherished France with a predilection almost too great would be reproached with entertaining the sentiments of a stranger; that one party would call him the author of the Revolution because he respected the rights of the nation, and that the leaders of that nation would accuse him of having wished to sacrifice it to the defense of the monarchy? So in former times, as I am fond of repeating, the Chancellor de l’Hôpital was alternately threatened by the Catholics and the Protestants; so Sully3 would have sunk under party hatred if the firmness of his master had not supported him. But neither of these statesmen had that lively imagination of the heart which renders us accessible to every kind of pain. M. Necker was calm before God, calm at the approach of death, because at that instant conscience alone spoke. But while he was yet occupied with the interests of this world, there was not a reproach which did not hurt him, not an enemy whose ill-will did not wound him, not a day in which he did not subject himself to twenty different examinations, sometimes to accuse himself of evils which he could not have prevented, sometimes to place himself in the rear of events and weigh anew the different resolutions which he might have taken. The purest enjoyments of life were poisoned to him by the unprecedented persecutions of party spirit. This party spirit showed itself even in the manner in which the emigrants, in the time of their distress, applied to him for aid. Several, when they wrote to him on this subject, apologized for not being able to visit him because the chief man among them had forbidden them to do so. They judged well at least of M. Necker’s generosity when they believed that this submission to the impertinence of their leaders would not prevent him from doing them service.
The slavery of the press, among other inconveniencies, placed literary decisions in the hands of the government. The consequence was that by means of the journalists, the police disposed, for the time at least, of the literary success of a writer in the same way as it granted licenses for gambling. Accordingly the writings of M. Necker during the concluding period of his life were not judged impartially in France; and this was an additional evil which he had to bear in his retirement. The last but one of his works, entitled A Course of Religious Morality, is, I venture to affirm, one of the best-written devotional books, one of the strongest in thought and eloquence, of which the Protestants can boast; and I have often found it in the hands of persons whose hearts have been stricken with sorrow. Yet the journals under Bonaparte made scarcely any mention of it; and the little that they said gave no correct idea of it. There have been in like manner in other countries some examples of masterpieces in literature which were not rightly estimated till long after the death of their author. It is painful to reflect that one who was so dear to us was deprived even of the pleasure which his talents as a writer indisputedly deserved.
He beheld not the day of justice shine forth for his memory, and his life ended in the very year4 in which Bonaparte was about to declare himself Emperor, that is, at an epoch when no kind of virtue was held in honor in France. Such was the delicacy of his soul that the reflection which tormented him during his last illness was the fear of having been the cause of my exile; and I was not near to restore him to confidence. He wrote to Bonaparte with a feeble hand, requesting him to recall me when he should be no more. I sent this sacred request to the Emperor; he returned no answer: magnanimity always appeared to him affectation, and he spoke of it pretty freely as a virtue only of the drama; had he known its powerful influence, he would have been at once a better and an abler man. After so many sorrows and the exercise of so many virtues, the capacity for affection appeared to have increased in my father at the age when it diminishes in other men; and everything about him announced that when he ceased to live he returned to Heaven.
[1. ] Necker had published De l’importance des opinions religieuses in 1788. For more information about his religious and philosophical views, see Grange, Les idées de Necker, 517–614.
[2. ] Marie de Vichy-Chambrond, Marquise of Deffand (1697–1780), was famous for her Parisian salon, which attracted such well-known writers as Montesquieu, D’Alembert, and Condorcet.
[3. ] Maximilien de Béthune, Baron of Rosny and Duke of Sully (1560–1641), minister of Henri IV.
[4. ] Necker’s health declined in late March 1804; he passed away during the night of April 9–10. Madame de Staël was in Berlin when she learned of her father’s illness. She returned to Coppet on May 19, 1804. For more information, see Ten Years of Exile, pt. I, chap. xvi, 81–83.