« PreviousContinue »
his unusual gifts to devote himself to the care and happiness of “la gentille petite duchesse de l'ouf enchanté.' * Their lifelong friendship, so productive of happiness for both, was a solace to the duchesse for the disappointment marriage had brought, and to the abbé for the loss of a career that had been the dream of his youth; and if he sometimes cast regretful glances backward towards that youth and its promise, in ministering to the sweet little duchesse he forgot its lack of fulfiment. To the last their friendship was unbroken, and when the Revolution drove her from the convent where she had retired after the death of the Duc de Choiseul, the Abbé Barthélemy was the only visitor whom the delicate frail little old woman received in the tiny apartment where she had taken refuge. Here he was seized and imprisoned by the general order, but she had the happiness of requiting his devotion by saving him from the guillotine.
By the keenness of her judgement Madame du Deffand has earned the right to be called the feminine Voltaire, and in the frequent conflict of wits which we find in her correspondence with him she holds her own, and indeed is often the victor. They were drawn extraordinarily close together by a habit of mind strikingly similar. Their affectionate attachment, begun in youth, was lifelong, critical though it was on her part, and divided during his quasi-conjugal life with Madame du Chatelet. Madame du Deffand was not in love or in league with the philosophers. After trying in vain to win her to their principles they, as a body, looked upon her with fear, and did not lose an opportunity to do her an injury. Voltaire never ceased to urge her to join their ranks, well aware of the gain to them of so powerful a friend ; but she had nothing of the iconoclast in her disposition, and in return reproached him with the liberty of his opinions, and declared that she was by no means in sympathy with his disciples—that on the contrary she found them detestable, their hearts cold, their minds occupied with themselves. Fear was not included in her composition, and even the censure of Voltaire had no terrors for her. Her opinion of Rousseau was unfavourable to the point of dislike and hostility, though from Walpole one would gather that she did not notice him:
She never interested herself about Rousseau nor admired him. Her understanding is too just not to be disgusted with his paradoxes
* J. J. Weiss, Essais sur l'Histoire de la Littérature Française,
and affectations; and his eloquence could not captivate her, for she hates eloquence. She asked no style but Voltaire's, and has an aversion to all moral philosophers. She has scarce mentioned Rousseau, living or dead; and d'Alembert was egregiously mistaken in thinking she wrote my letter to him: Rousseau would have been still more offended had he known how very little she ever thought of him. She was born and had lived in the age of true taste and had allowed no one but Voltaire to belong to it; she holds that all the rest have corrupted their taste and language. La Fontaine is her idol; that is, simplicity is.'*
Madame du Deffand's life contradicted her excellent judgement; against a passion for simplicity, for frankness, for truth and justice, a hatred for all deceit and affectation, were ranged in appalling strength a pressing need of variety, and an early satiety of every form of pleasure, of people, of amusements, of pursuits. A born sceptic is always a born critic, and Madame du Deffand's analytic mind could not but measure the hearts, the brains, the motives of those about her; disenchantment was certain. This spirit of scepticism and criticism kept her always doubtful of the sincerity of those dearest to her; of an enthusiastic temperament, she found no one worthy of devotion or sacrifice. Writing to the President Hénault in 1742 from Forges, whither she had gone to take the waters, she says: ' Pour moi, je suis fâchée de ne vous point voir; mais je ' supporte ce malheur avec une sorte de courage, parce que je • crois que vous ne le partagez pas beaucoup et que tout 'vous est égal. Even her trust in the Duchesse de Choiseul is touched by this blight: • Vous savez que vous m'aimez, 'mais vous ne le sentez pas,' she said one day to her, a comment which led to many arguments on the subject between them.
M. Walpole m'a écrit une lettre charmante, où il m'appelle aussi sa grand'maman, parce qu'il est votre mari. . . . Vous avez été bien fâchée de son départ, et j'ai beaucoup plus senti votre peine que je ne l'ai sue ; j'ai peur que l'abbé † ne vous l'ait pas assez dit.' I
Born in an age of doubt, her open mind, always quick to receive impressions, was early invaded by the onward movement, the rush of inquiry, which during her lifetime was sweeping over France. By nature an agnostic, she was ever desiring to probe into the nature of things; to receive any
* Letter to Rev. W. Mason, 1778, vol. vii. p. 100.
thing on trust seemed to her to be the part of ignorance. Yet all the time the possession of a personal living faith was the strongest desire of her heart. All her life she was longing for the peace which religion gives, and all her life it was denied her. She called to her help the most famous of the clergy, attended church, had her oratory, her confessor, studied the Bible. When she became blind she sought again to find consolation in the Scriptures, but her mind was incapable of mysticism. "Eh! mais est-ce que vous • comprenez quelque chose à tout cela, vous ?' There was no sacredness in the tie of marriage to her, no reverence for religious ceremony of any kind. Nominally she belonged to the Church, and far from attacking, she always respected another's belief. She was ready to receive light on things divine or human, though without fixed moral principles to assist her. To-day her acute mind would have found more scope, and she would have been a better and a happier woman, because she would have found an object in life. For what strikes us most in her character is the incurable ennui from which she suffered from childhood, and from which she was always trying to escape at any cost. She had heart and imagination, which sometimes ran away with her reason; some of the faults and many of the disappointments, and much of the wearisomeness, of her life are attributable to this cause. French esprit is sometimes utterly lacking in humour, and so it was with Madame du Deffand. Had she been given that sense which makes the jarring machinery of life work more smoothly, that lightening of the heart which comes from laughter, life would have seemed a less melancholy affair to this lonely woman. Madame du Deffand experienced the truth of the saying of the old Greek, who proclaimed that he who pursues happiness will never find it. Without family ties, by the very elevation of her intellect above the ordinary level about her, she felt singularly alone, and was possessed always by the mortal fear of being deserted by the bright world in which she had so long been a centre. And so, as she declined in years, the excellent suppers grew more and more veritable triumphs of the culinary art-an ennuyée herself, it was her constant aim that others should not be bored. With this in view the table was laid, and feasts material and intellectual provided in ever-increasing abundance and delicacy to tempt the jaded appetites of those for whom the world held few novel delights. She who lived in a time of decadence, in the conscious sadness of a soul which felt the impression of that worn-out world which
herself, it veritable trians, the excellen a centre, the
has lived too much, dying from excess of knowledge, personified, too, the human mind in quest of truth, of justice, of light. It is not an estimable woman, or always an amiable character, we have portrayed, but one whose moral weaknesses, as well as force of intellect and social gifts, are an example of the epoch. Madame du Deffand, though of a different character, lived, as has been said of the poet Gray, with whom she was contemporary, in the wrong century, a time which called out wit, the lighter faculties of the mind, and the practical questions which led to the Revolution; the serenity, peace, faith, and aspiration, in which deeper characters and larger minds find sustenance, which bring forth the poet, were wanting in the eighteenth century. In another age her capacity would have found freer outlet, and we should have seen a larger life and labours in the world of literature, not more interesting to us, it may be, but more satisfying to the mind and soul of the writer. Madame du Deffand has been called heartless, unfeeling, cold; her letters prove her to be passionate, sensitive, and sympathetic; loving society, but despising it, and equally bored with solitude, with her husband, with lovers, with herself.
ART. X.-1. A Review of Irish History in relation to the
Social Developement of Ireland. By JOHN PATRICK
GANNON. London: T. Fisher Unwin. 1900. 2. The Land Question and Compulsory Sale: the Problem
Stated. Speech by T. W. RUSSELL, M.P., at Clogher on
September 20, 1900. Belfast. 1900. THE General Election of 1900 is probably the first since - the Reform Act of 1832 in which the balance of power in the Irish representation as between parties known and recognised in the House of Commons has remained unaltered at the close of the polls. The changes in the personnel of parties have been numerous, and even, as we shall show, important; but the relative strength of the Unionist and Nationalist parties, as measured in the division lobbies at Westminster, continues the same as in the Parliament of 1895. Four seats have, indeed, changed their political complexion; but the changes have been equal and opposite, and leave parties as they were. If we try to apportion these few alterations according to the scale of the political importance of the constituencies affected, there still remains little for either party to boast of. The Unionists have to deplore the loss of the seats for South County Dublin and St. Stephen's Green division of the city, both of them held by the party at successive elections since 1892; and it cannot fairly be claimed that the loss of these important metropolitan constituencies is overbalanced by the very gratifying success of the Marquis of Hamilton in Derry City, and the striking, not to say marvellous, result achieved in Galway. In both of these instances of Unionist success, the triumph has been less a party than a personal one. There is no one in Ireland who has better deserved the influence and popularity of which the Derry contest and the return of his heir to Parliament is a further proof than the Duke of Abercorn; while the phenomenal poll in Galway must be set down, without any disparagement of the merits of Mr. Martin Morris, to the extraordinary knowledge of his countrymen and adroit use of opportunities which have ever marked the career of his father, the distinguished ex-Lord of Appeal.
If we turn from the purely political analysis of the Irish elections to consider certain less obvious results of the appeal to the constituencies, we shall hardly find much upon which Ireland can be honestly congratulated. The personal
impovery gratify the striking; of the