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gustin Perier, the elder brother of Casimir, who always defended Louis Philippe, was affronted and going off in a huff; but Madame Récamier, whose voice was remarkably soft and youthful to the last, put in one of those pretty, arch, well-turned, short phrases, turning off the affront into a joke or a compliment. This, like a feather interposed between two swords, put an end to the combat. And yet, with all her sweetness, she could be angry at an injustice. Politics were the predominant subject during these first years; but literature by degrees took more prominence.
Certain customs were much observed; and as the social habits for which old France was so celebrated are fading away, we may enumerate a few leading features of these réunions. Téte-à-têtes in a low voice were entirely discouraged. If any of the younger habitués took this liberty, they received a gentle chiding in a real té te-à-tête when every body was gone. There were generally from eight to twelve persons. Madame Récamier sat on one side of the fireplace, the others round in a largish circle. Two or three stood on the rug against the chimney, and spoke loud enough to be heard by all; whoever had an observation contributed it to the stock, Madame Récamier spoke little, but threw in an occasional word, or a question, when a new person entered who happened to know any thing of the subject going on; otherwise it was his place to try and understand. If any one in the circle was likely to have special knowledge, she would appeal to him with an air of deference; if unknown and shy, her manner raised his spirits. Some, who before they frequented the Abbaye could only talk to one or two persons, soon learnt to put their ideas into the compact form fitted for several. The larger number of conversers had this advantage, that talking of the weather or one's health, or any other egotistical topic, could scarcely be indulged in long. Sometimes an occasional visitor would come in; if a lady, she would sit down by Madame Récamier, and in a low voice tell something extremely unworthy of so much mystery. Meantime the circular conversation was going on, and Madame Récamier could not attend to it. After the lady was gone, she complained how much of it she had lost; and some one would say of the whisperer, “ No doubt she is timid."
“ When people are too timid to speak, they should be modest enough to listen," was her answer,
The French tell a story well. Sometimes one of the habitués, standing up, would tell his story: it was short and pithy. A wise or witty remark would shoot forth from one of the circle; then a quick repartee rose up like a rocket from another side. If a word was particularly happy, Madame Recamier would take it up, and show it to the audience as a connoisseur shows a picture. She did not like to talk. If she knew an anecdote apropos of something,—though no one told them so well,-yet if another present knew it also, he was called upon to relate it. She had once been very shy; long habits of social intercourse had overcome this shyness, yet there was a shade of the appearance left. She had in reality complete self-possession, but never appeared as if she had. There was a velvetiness in her manner, and a slight shade of doubt in it; but this was perfectly natural, and unknown to herself. She might appear undecided, because she would look on both sides of the question; but her judgment was the faculty she was most remarkable for. In all cases of difficulty she was consulted even by those who knew her but slightly. She would ask for time to reflect, and give a frank opinion. She had a phrase that must have often since come back into the memory of some of her friends: “He does not know how to arrange his life." She thought that people should in time learn to arrange their lives, calculating how they could make the best of the circumstances in which they were placed. And another time, speaking of a person who had great qualities, but from the violence of her feelings and vivacity of her fancy kept those whom she loved best in constant agitation, she said, “Il n'y a que la raison qui ne fatigue pas à la longue.”
Perhaps this description of the society of the Abbaye may be thought to apply to all well-bred salons, and not to be worth describing; and as there was nothing pedantic, nor pretentious, nor out of the way, it may be so; but in England the habit of talking in tête-à-tétes is so universal, that we have thought it worth notice. But the real cause of the superior fascination of French society is, that the same people meet often at the same house, and make a point of trying to be as amusing as they
Of course many fail; but all attach importance to it. Children are found fault with if they don't explain themselves well and clearly, or if they use vulgar expressions; they are never allowed to use a nickname or slang, and they are encouraged to talk. A schoolboy in England is a very honest fellow, and we esteem him; but if he could explain himself in his mother-tongue, and not begin every thing with, “ I say, old fellow," we should not hear so many gentlemen of thirty years of hum and baw whenever they are going to speak, for conversing it cannot be called ; nor can we see any thing against morality in being able to express our thoughts, instead of burying them in our honest bosoms.
In 1838 Madame Récamier, who had always inhabited the small apartment in the garden, which M. de Chateaubriand called the cellule, had the large salon painted, and received in it till her death. She gave musical parties once a week for about
two years. Many strangers from all Europe were anxious to be received, and curious to see the many celebrated people who came to them; but after two years she gave that up: they had nothing of the peculiar character of her every-day society. The most entertaining people would often get into a separate knot; and she preferred hearing them herself to trying to amuse the least amusing, which is the usual task of the mistress of a house. „She never had liked these large parties, and had only been
persuaded to give them by her family.
In the following year Mademoiselle Rachel first appeared ; her talent was so remarkable from the beginning, that it seemed scarcely possible it could improve, neither did it. She recited at Madame Récamier's the part of Esther for a charitable subscription; and from that time she scarcely ever undertook a new part without having given the first recital of it at the Abbaye-au-Bois. Nothing could exceed her complaisance for Madame Récamier. Once, a lady arriving after the first act was over, Madame Récamier requested her to begin it again, and she did so.
M. Ampère was always at the Abbaye réunion. His conversation was like a stream of sparkling water, always fresh, never fatiguing. Some witty people are always epigrammatic, and keep the attention ever on the stretch; you think you must keep pace with them; if you flag, you will be run over. His was so natural, you never thought of any thing but the amusement he gave you. Besides this constant flow, his general information was large and various. No doubt Madame Récamier greatly enjoyed his conversation herself; but she used all her powers of fascination to make her friends devote themselves, not to her,—that was easy, but to M. de Chateaubriand, whom they considered selfish. And so completely did she succeed, that they were all as deferential to him as if they had loved him as she did. It was so with them all; but M. Ampère, the most entertaining, the most courted, whom every body was anxious to have in their salon, was ever entirely at his service, and only in order to please her.
At times, even now, M. de Chateaubriand could himself be extremely agreeable. His distinguished and dignified manners, his high polish, his fine face, impressed one with respect; he was never ill-natured, and if sarcastic, his sarcasm was only vented on the government. He was highly courteous, and his most hostile state was his silence. Lately a description was given of him in a weekly publication as sitting in a posture expressly calculated for the light to fall on him, as if sitting for a photograph. This is utterly false; he always had the dignity and simplicity of a gentleman, and his conversation also was
very natural. He never used the quaint words and farfetched phrases he so often uses in his writings, neither did he deal in the abundance of commonplace, fine, empty phrases which the celebrated man who has given this description is so apt to indulge in himself. In 1843 Henry V. went to London, and entreated him to go and see him; and though Chateaubriand could scarcely walk, he did not hesitate. He writes, and it recalls some of Walter Scott's pictures of loyalty, beautiful in their unreason: “I have just received the recompense of my whole life; the prince deigned to speak of me when surrounded by a crowd of our countrymen with all the warmth of youth. If I knew how to relate the story, I would tell you all about it; but I can't help crying like a fool.”
Madame Récamier's eyes, as far back as 1839, gave some anxiety to her friends; in 1844 she could no longer see to read, though she could write. She was now entirely dependent on her friends; and M. Paul David, the most devoted of them, would read to her every evening. He was not a good reader, and she was sensitive to this defect, which perceiving, he secretly took lessons in reading at the age of sixty-four, that it might not be
: a drawback to the amusement it gave her. When she spoke of this impending blindness to a friend who expressed her sorrow, Madame Récamier almost comforted her, saying it was an affliction so much below many others that it might easily be borne. This friend has since felt convinced that she even then perceived that M. de Chateaubriand's memory and imagination were failing, and that she thought of this as the really great and unbearable affliction. In spite of the anxiety which both Madame de Chateaubriand and Madame Récamier felt at the thought of his travelling, when he could scarcely walk, and his hands were so disabled that he could not clutch a stick, he persisted in going to Venice in 1845 to see Henry V.; but this was his last effort of loyalty.
Madame de Chateaubriand had been ailing all her life; she died in the beginning of 1847, and her's was the first of that series of deaths which did not cease till the circle, once so pleasant and so united, had all disappeared. Madame Récamier underwent the operation for cataract in one of her eyes; in the other the cataract was not advanced enough to ensure success. She was to be kept perfectly quiet and in total darkness, and almost alone. Immediately after the operation, M. Ballanche was seized with inflammation on the lungs; in three days all hope was gone. She crossed the street and attended his death-bed; and in the agitation and tears for this perfect friend, all hope of recovering the sight of her eye was lost. He was buried in the vault of the Récamiers, so that death did not separate them.
M. de Chateaubriand was in 1847 incapable even of rising from his seat; his memory so much gone that he has been heard to ask for a friend dead twenty years before, and his other faculties were much impaired. Madame Récamier had endeavoured to conceal it from all, even from herself. She could not bear to tell her dearest friends that the intellect she had so entirely admired was gone, and she attributed her own depression to his caring for nothing, not even for her. He had so completely lost all power of attention, that he could not read, but he still had a degree of plain sense.
He said nothing foolish; he knew his faculties were going, and had the feeling of a poor proud man who hides his poverty. It was even more painful than childishness; yet at times a gleam of his former self would flash up and surprise one. One day a lady calling at the Abbaye made a speech in praise of Robespierre's virtues. We are not aware in England that a knot of Republicans upheld Danton, Marat, and Robespierre. M. de Chateaubriand, all at once aroused from his silence, broke out into a description of the deeds of these men, deeds he had witnessed. Never in his best days had he expressed more eloquent indignation. All were silent with awe. They felt as if a prophet raised from the dead had spoken. Thus the flame flickered and sank down. In this state he was carried daily to the Abbaye, he seemed only to live during the three hours he spent with her; and one day, to Madame Récamier's astonishment, he entreated her to marry him. She was decided in her refusal; she said, “Why marry at our age? If you do not like to live alone, I am ready to come and live with you. If I were younger, I should not hesitate, I would joyfully accept the right to devote myself to you, but I have this right; age and blindness give it to me: who could object to it? Let us change nothing. M. de Chateaubriand was not satisfied, but she did not tell him her real reason, which was most touching. But to a friend she said with perfect simplicity, “If I had thought he would be happier, I would not have refused; but the only good moments he has in the day are when he comes to the Abbaye. I am convinced that if I lived with him, that slight excitement which gives a little variety to his existence would be lost.” In this decision she thought only of him.
The winter of 1847 passed away, none suspecting what 1848 was big with, till the tocsin and the cannon of February, the rising of the populace, like the roarings of a mad bull, put all common sense and moral feelings to flight. Terror took possession of all; a red spectre stood before every imagination. During the time between February and the end of the civil war in June, wherever you called the ladies were sitting with