Both opened new horizons—one, by the divinations of her ardent intelligence; the other, by his creative genius.
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Madame de Stael interpreted new ideas and defined a new theory of art. Chateaubriand was himself an extraordinary literary artist. The style of the one is that of an admirable improvisator, a brilliant and incessant converser; that of the other is at its best a miracle of studied invention, a harmony of colour and of sound. The genius of the one was quickened in brilliant social gatherings; a Parisian salon was her true seat of empire. The genius of the other was nursed in solitude by the tempestuous sea or on the wild and melancholy moors.
Germaine Necker, born in , daughter of the celebrated Swiss banker and future minister of France, a child of precocious intelligence and eager sympathies, reared amid the brilliant society of her mother's salon , a girl whose demands on life were large—demands of the intellect, demands of the heart—enamoured of the writings of Rousseau, married at twenty to the Swedish Ambassador, the Baron de Stael-Holstein, herself a light and an inspirer of the constitutional party of reform in the early days of the Revolution, in her literary work opened fresh avenues for nineteenth-century thought.
She did not recoil from the eighteenth century, but rather carried forward its better spirit. The Revolution, as a social upheaval, she failed to understand; her ideal was liberty, not equality; and Necker's daughter was assured that all would be well were liberty established in constitutional forms of government.
A republican among aristocrats, she was an aristocrat among republicans. During the years of Revolutionary trouble, the years of her flights from Paris, her returns, excursions, and retreats, she was sustained by her zeal for justice, her pity for the oppressed, and her unquenchable faith in human progress.
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A crude panegyric of Rousseau, certain political pamphlets, an Essai sur les Fictions , a treatise on the Influence of the Passions upon the Happiness of Individuals and Nations , were followed in by her elaborate study, De la Litterature consideree dans ses Rapports avec les Institutions Sociales. Its central idea is that of human progress: freedom, incarnated in republican institutions, will assure the natural development of the spirit of man; a great literature will be the offspring of progress and of freedom; and each nation will lend its lights to other nations to illuminate the general advance.
Madame de Stael hoped to cast the spell of her intellect over the young conqueror Bonaparte; Bonaparte regarded a political meteor in feminine form with cold and haughty aversion. In the husband, whom she had never loved, was dead. Her passion for Benjamin Constant had passed through various crises in its troubled career—a series of attractions ending in repulsions, and repulsions leading to attractions, such as may be discovered in Constant's remarkable novel Adolphe. They could neither decide to unite their lives, nor to part for ever. Adolphe, in Constant's novel, after a youth of pleasure-seeking, is disenchanted with life; his love of Ellenore is that of one whose passions are exhausted, who loves for vanity or a new indulgence of egoism; but Ellenore, whose youth is past, will abandon all for him, and she imposes on him the tyranny of her devotion.
Each is the other's torturer, each is the other's consolation. In the mastery of his cruel psychology Constant anticipates Balzac.
Madame de Stael lightened the stress of inward storm by writing Delphine , the story of a woman of genius, whose heroic follies bring her into warfare with the world. The lover of Delphine, violent and feeble, sentimental and egoistic, is an accomplice of the world in doing her wrong, and Delphine has no refuge but death in the wilds of America. The illustrious victim of Napoleon's persecution hastened to display her ideas at Weimar, where Goethe protected his equanimity, as well as might be, from the storm of her approach, and Schiller endured her literary enthusiasm with a sense of prostration.
August Wilhelm von Schlegel, tutor to her sons, became the interpreter of Germany to her eager and apprehensive mind. Having annexed Germany to her empire, she advanced to the conquest of Italy, and had her Roman triumph.
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England, which she had visited in her Revolutionary flights, and Italy conspired in the creation of her novel Corinne It is again the history of a woman of genius, beautiful, generous, enthusiastic, whom the world understands imperfectly, and whom her English lover, after his fit of Italian romance, discards with the characteristic British phlegm. The paintings of Italian nature are rhetorical exercises; the writer's sympathy with art and history is of more value; the interpretation of a woman's heart is alive with personal feeling.
Madame de Stael's novels are old now, which means that they once were young, and for her own generation they had the freshness and charm of youth. Her father's death had turned her thoughts towards religion. A Protestant and a liberal, her spiritualist faith now found support in the moral strength of Christianity.
She was not, like Chateaubriand, an epicurean and a Catholic; she did not care to decorate religion with flowers, or make it fragrant with incense; it spoke to her not through the senses, but directly to the conscience, the affections, and the will. In the chapters of her book on Germany which treat of "the religion of enthusiasm," her devout latitudinarianism finds expression.
The book De l'Allemagne , published in London in , after the confiscation and destruction of the Paris edition by the imperial police, prepared the way by criticism for the romantic movement. It treats of manners, letters, art, philosophy, religion, interpreting with astonishing insight, however it may have erred in important details, the mind of Germany to the mind of France. It was a Germany of poets, dreamers, and metaphysicians, loyal and sincere, but incapable of patriotic passion, disqualified for action and for freedom, which she in had discovered.
The life of society produces literature in France; the genius of inward meditation and sentiment produces literature in Germany. The literature and art of the South are classical, those of the North are romantic; and since the life of our own race and the spirit of our own religion are infused into romantic art, it has in it possibilities of indefinite growth. Madame de Stael advanced criticism by her sense that art and literature are relative to ages, races, governments, environments. She dreamed of an European or cosmopolitan literature, in which each nation, while retaining its special characteristics, should be in fruitful communication with its fellows.
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In Madame de Stael, when forty-five, became the wife of Albert de Rocca, a young Swiss officer, more than twenty years her junior. Their courage was rewarded by six years of happiness. Austria, Poland, Russia, Sweden, England were visited. Upon the fall of Napoleon Madame de Stael was once more in Paris, and there in she died.
The Dix Annees d'Exil , posthumously published, records a portion of her agitated life, and exhales her indignation against her imperial persecutor. The unfinished Considerations sur la Revolution Francaise , designed originally as an apology for Necker, defends the Revolution while admitting its crimes and errors; its true object, as the writer conceived—political liberty—had been in the end attained; her ideal of liberty was indeed far from that of a revolutionary democracy; England, liberal, constitutional, with a system at once popular and aristocratic, was the country in which she saw her political aspirations most nearly realised.
Except for the companionship of an elder sister, of fragile health and romantic temper, his childhood was solitary. The presence of the old count his father inspired terror.
leondumoulin.nl/language/short/hole-hearted.php The boy's society was with the waves and winds, or at the old chateau of Combourg, with lonely woods and wilds. Horace, Tibullus, Telemaque , the sermons of Massillon, nourished his imagination or stimulated his religious sentiment; but solitude and nature were his chief inspirers. At seventeen he already seemed worn with the fatigue of unsatisfied dreaming, before he had begun to know life. A commission in the army was procured for him.
He saw, interested yet alien in heart, something of literary life in Paris; then in Revolution days he quitted France, and, with the dream of discovering the North-West Passage, set sail to America. If he did not make any geographical discovery, Chateaubriand found his own genius in the western world. The news of the execution of Louis XVI.
To gratify the wish of his family, he married before crossing the frontier. Madame de Chateaubriand had the dignity to veil her sorrow caused by an imperfect union, and at a later time she won such a portion of her husband's regard as he could devote to another than himself. The episode of war having soon closed—not without a wound and a serious illness—he found a refuge in London, enduring dire poverty, but possessing the consolation of friendship with Joubert and Fontanes, and there he published in his first work, the Essai sur les Revolutions.
The doctrine of human progress had been part of the religion of the eighteenth century; Chateaubriand in had faith neither in social, nor political, nor religious progress. Why be deceived by the hopes of revolution, since humanity can only circle for ever through an exhausting round of illusions?
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The death of his mother and words of a dying sister awakened him from his melancholy mood; he resolved to write a second book, which should correct the errors of the first, and exhibit a source of hope and joy in religion. To the eighteenth century Christianity had appeared as a gross and barbarous superstition; he would show that it was a religion of beauty, the divine mother of poetry and of art, a spring of poetic thought and feeling alike through its dogma and its ritual; he would convert literature from its decaying cult of classicism, and restore to honour the despised Middle Ages.
The Genie du Christianisme , begun during its author's residence in London, was not completed until four years later. In , detaching a fragment from his poetic apology for religion, he published his Atala, ou les Amours de Deux Sauvages dans le Desert. It is a romance, or rather a prose poem, in which the magic of style, the enchantment of descriptive power, the large feeling for nature, the sensibility to human passion, conceal many infirmities of design and of feeling. Chateaubriand suddenly entered into his fame.
On April 18, , the Concordat was celebrated with high solemnities; the Archbishop of Paris received the First Consul within the portals of Notre-Dame. It was the fitting moment for the publication of the Genie du Christianisme.
Its value as an argumentative defence of Christianity may not be great; but it was the restoration of religion to art, it contained or implied a new system of aesthetics, it was a glorification of devout sentiment, it was a pompous manifesto of romanticism, it recovered a lost ideal of beauty. From Ronsard to Chenier the aim of art had been to imitate the ancients, while imitating or interpreting life. Let us be national, let us be modern, let us therefore be Christians, declared Chateaubriand, and let us seek for our tradition in the great Christian ages.
It was a revolution in art for which he pleaded, and throughout the first half of the nineteenth century the revolution was in active progress. The episode of Rene , which was included in the Genie , and afterwards published separately, has been described as a Christianised Werther ; its passion is less frank, and even more remote from sanity of feeling, than that of Goethe's novel, but the sadness of the hero is more magnificently posed.
A sprightly English lady described Chateaubriand as "wearing his heart in a sling"; he did so during his whole life; and through Rene we divine the inventor of Rene carrying his wounded heart, as in the heroine we can discern some features of his sister Lucile.
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In all his writings his feelings centre in himself: he is a pure egoist through his sensibility; but around his own figure his imagination, marvellous in its expansive power, can deploy boundless perspectives. Both Atala and Rene , though brought into connection with the Genie du Christianisme , are in fact more closely related to the prose epic Les Natchez , written early, but held in reserve until the publication of his collected works in Les Natchez , inspired by Chateaubriand's American travels, idealises the life of the Red Indian tribes.
The later books, where he escapes from the pseudo-epic manner, have in them the finest spirit of his early years, his splendour and delicacy of description, his wealth of imaginative reverie. Famous as the author of the Genie , Chateaubriand was appointed secretary to the embassy at Rome. The murder of the Duc d'Enghien alienated him from Napoleon. Putting aside the Martyrs , on which he had been engaged, he sought for fresh imagery and local colour to enrich his work, in a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a record of which was published in his Itineraire de Paris a Jerusalem.
The Martyrs appeared in It was designed as a great example of that art, inspired by Christianity, on behalf of which he had contended in the Genie ; the religion of Christ, he would prove, can create passions and types of character better suited for noble imaginative treatment than those of paganism; its supernatural marvels are more than a compensation for the loss of pagan mythology.
The time chosen for his epopee in prose is the reign of the persecutor Diocletian; Rome and the provinces of the Empire, Gaul, Egypt, the deserts of the Thebaid, Jerusalem, Sparta, Athens, form only portions of the scene; heaven and hell are open to the reader, but Chateaubriand, whose faith was rather a sentiment than a passion, does not succeed in making his supernatural habitations and personages credible even to the fancy.
Far more admirable are many of the terrestrial scenes and narrations, and among these, in particular the story of Eudore. In the course of the travels which led him to Jerusalem, Chateaubriand had visited Spain, and it was his recollections of the Alhambra that moved him to write, about , the Aventures du Dernier des Abencerages , published many years later. It shows a tendency towards self-restraint, excellent in itself, but not entirely in harmony with his effusive imagination.
With this work Chateaubriand's inventive period of authorship closed; the rest of his life was in the main that of a politician. From the position of an unqualified royalist he advanced to that of a liberal, and after may be described as both royalist and republican. In his later years he published an Essai sur la Litterature Anglaise and a translation of "Paradise Lost. Its egotism, its vanity, its malicious wit, its fierce reprisals on those whom the writer regarded as his enemies, its many beauties, its brilliance of style, make it an exposure of all that was worst and much of what was best in his character and genius.
Tended by his old friend Mme. Recamier, to whom, if to any one, he was sincerely attached, Chateaubriand died in the summer of His tomb is on the rocky islet of Grand-Be, off the coast of Brittany. Chateaubriand cannot be loved, and his character cannot be admired without grave reserves. But an unique genius, developed at a fortunate time, enabled him to play a most significant part in the history of literature. He was the greatest of landscape painters; he restored to art the sentiment of religion; he interpreted the romantic melancholy of the age.
If he posed magnificently, there were native impulses which suggested the pose; and at times, as in the Itineraire , the pose is entirely forgotten. His range of ideas is not extraordinary; but vision, imagination, and the passion which makes the imaginative power its instrument, were his in a supereminent degree.