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The Poet of Rennes understood music well, and composed it himself. Humble as he was, we saw his pride increase, just in proportion as he attached himself to some well known man. About the time of the meeting of the Etats-Généraux, Chamfort employed him to draw up coarse articles for the newspapers, and speeches for the clubs. He became arrogant. At the first Federation, he said, “What a magnificent féte! to give it more splendour, four aristocrats ought to be burned at the four corners of the altar.” He was not the first who had given utterance to such wishes ; long before him, Louis D'Orléans, of the League, had said in his Banquet du Comte ď Aréte, “ That Protestant ministers, instead of faggots, should be bound to the tree burned in honour of St. John, and Henry IV put in the barrel where people put the cats.”
Ginguéné had some previous knowledge of the revolutionary murders. Madame Ginguéné forewarned my sisters and my wife of the massacre about to be perpetrated at the Carmes, and gave them an asylum ; they remained in cul de sac Férou, close to the place where they were to have been murdered.
Subsequently to the reign of terror, Ginguéné became quasi Minister of Public Instruction ; it was then that he celebrated L'arbre de Liberté at the Cadran Bleu to the tune of: Je l'ai planté, je l'ai vu naître. He was considered by his philosophy well qualified to be an ambassador to one of those 'kings who was about to be dethroned. From Turin he wrote to M. de Talleyrand, that he had overcome a prejudice ; in his pride, he had caused his wife to be received at court. From mediocrity he started into importance, from importance fell into silliness, and from silliness into ridicule, ending his days as a distinguished literary critic, and which is still better, as an independent writer in the Décade; nature restored him to his place from which society had unseasonably drawn him. His knowledge is second hand, his prose heavy, his poetry correct, and sometimes agreeable.
The poet Lebrun was a friend of Ginguéné's. Ginguéné protected Lebrun, as a man of talent who knows the world, protects the simplicity of a man of genius ; Lebrun in his turn shed his lustre upon the elevation of Ginguéné. Nothing could be more amusing than the characters played
by these two friends, by an agreeable intercourse rendering each other all those services which can be rendered by two superior men in different ways.
Lebrun was just a mock gentleman of the empire ; his inspiration was as cold as his transports were icy. The whole furniture of his Parnassus—an attic in the Rue Montmartre, consisted of books lying pell-mell on the floor, a mean bed, with two dirty towels for curtains hung upon a rusty iron curtain rod, and a broken water jug propped up against a bottomless chair. It was not that Lebrun might not have been at his ease, but he was avaricious, and addicted to bad
company. At the suppers à l'antique given by M. de Vaudreuil, he played the part of Pindar. Among his lyric pieces there are stanzas both energetic and elegant, as in his ode on the ship le Vengeur, and that upon the Environs de Paris. His elegies were the productions of his head, rarely of his heart; he had the originality of refinement, not of nature ; he created nothing except by the power of art ; he wearied himself in perverting the sense of words, and throwing them into monstrous combinations. Lebrun had a real talent for satire alone ; his letter upon La bonne et la mauvaise plaisanterie has enjoyed a deserved reputation. Some of his epigrams may be placed beside those of J. B. Rousseau : Laharpe above all inspired him. Justice must be done him in another respect; he was independent under Bonaparte, and he has left some cutting verses written against the oppressor of our. liberties.
But, undoubtedly, the most bilious literary man with whom I was acquainted at that time in Paris was Chamfort ; affected. by the malady which made Jacobins, he could never pardon men the accident of birth. He betrayed the confidence of those into whose houses he was admitted; he mistook his cynical language for a description of the manners of the court. No one can deny him wit and talents, but of that kind which never reach posterity.
When he saw that nothing was to be gained under the Revolution, he turned against himself the hands which he had lifted against society. The red cap appeared to him in his pride merely another
kind of crown, and sans-culottisme, a species of nobility of which the Marats and the Robespierres constituted the high grandees. Furious at finding inequalities still existing among men in this world of sorrow and tears, and condemned to be nothing more than a vilain under the feudal reign of executioners, he tried to kill himself, in order to escape from the magnates of crime ; his attempt failed : death laughs at those who summon it, and who confound it with annihilation.
I did not become acquainted with the Abbé Delille till we met in London in 1798—and I never saw Rulhière, who lived with Madame d'Egmont and maintained her-nor Palissot, nor Beaumarchais, nor Marmontel. There was also De Chénier whom I never saw, who has attacked me severely, to whom I made no reply, and whose place in the Institute was to produce one of the crises of my life.
On reading over most of the writers of the 18th century, I am surprised, both with the noise which they have made, and at my own former admiration of their works; whether it is, that our language has advanced or retrograded, whether we have been making progress towards civilization, or retreating towards barbarism, certain it is, that the authors which formed the delights of my youth now appear to me worn out-gone by, lifeless and cold. Even in the greatest writers of the Voltairian age, I find poverty of sentiments, of thought, and of style.
To whom can I attribute my mistake? I am afraid I must be regarded as the first criminal : born an innovator, I may, perhaps, communicate to new generations the malady with which I have been attacked. Frightened, I cry in vain to my children : “Do not forget French !” They answer as the Limousin did to Pantagruel, " Qu'ils viennent de l'alme, inclyte et célèbre académie que l'on vocite Lutèce.”
This manner of Grecising and Latinising our language is by no
Rabelais cured it, it reappeared in Ronsard ; Boileau attacked it.
In our days it has been resuscitated by science; our revolutionists, great Greeks by nature, have forced our trades people and peasants to learn hectares, hectolitres, kilomètres, millimetres, decagrammes; politics have been Ronsardised.
I might have spoken here of M. de Laharpe, whom I knew at this time, and to whom I shall return; I might have added to the gallery of my portraits that of Fontanes ; but, although my connexion with that excellent man commenced in 1789, it was only in England that I formed a friendship with him, which became always closer in misfortune, and never relaxed in prosperity : I will
, at a later period, give the full effusions of my heart on this subject. I shall only have to describe talents which no longer console the earth. The death of my friend took place at the moment when my recollections were leading me to retrace the commencement of his life. Life passes so rapidly away, that, unless in the evening we record the events of the morning, labours press upon us, and we have no longer time to put them on paper. This, however, does not prevent us from squandering away our years, and from casting to the winds those hours which are to men the seeds of eternity
Paris, June 1821.
THE ROSAMBO FAMILY. - M. DE MALESHERBES ; HIS PREDILECTION
FOR LUCILE.-APPARITION AND CHANGE OF MY SYLPHIDE.
Whilst my inclination and that of my two sisters had thrown me into this literary society, our position obliged us to frequent another circle. The family of my brother's wife was naturally for us the centre of the latter.
The President Le Pelletier de Rosambo, who afterwards suffered death with such distinguished courage, was, when I arrived in Paris, a model of fickleness.
At this time every thing was deranged, both the mental and the moral world, symptoms of an approaching revolution. The magistrates blushed to wear their robes, and turned into ridicule the gravity of their fathers. The Lamoignons, the Molés, the Séguiers, the d’Aguesseaus, wanted to fight, and no longer to deliberate.
The ladies of the presidents, abandoning the character of
venerable mothers of families, issued from their quiet houses, to appear as brilliant women of fashion.
The priest in his pulpit avoided the name of Jesus Christ, and only spoke of "the Christian Legislator;" the ministers abused each other, and power slipped through their fingers. It was the fashion to be an American in the city, an Englishman at court, a Prussian in the camp; to be every thing but a Frenchman. All that was said and done formed but one tissue of inconsistencies. They pretended to have a respect for the endowed clergy, but would have no religion : none but men of gentle blood could act as officers, yet they arrayed themselves against the nobility. They introduced equality into the drawing-rooms, but cudgelling into the camps.
M. de Malesherbes had three daughters,—Mesdames de Rosambo, d'Aulnay, and De Montboissier. He was most attached to Madame de Rosambo, in consequence of the agreement of her opinions with his own. The President de Rosambo had likewise three daughters,-Mesdames de Chateaubriand, d’Aulnay, and de Tocqueville ; and one son, whose brilliant talents were adorned with Christian goodness.
M. de Malesherbes enjoyed himself in the midst of his children, his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren.
I have frequently seen him, during the early times of the Revolution, arrive at the house of Madame de Rosambo, worried by politics—cast aside his wig, throw himself upon the carpet of my sister-in-law's room, and begin romping and making a frightful uproar with the assembled children.
In other respects he would have been a man of ordinary manners, were it not for a degree of decisiveness which prevented him from being regarded as such. At the first sentence which issued from his mouth one perceived that he was a man of ancient name and a distinguished magistrate. His natural good qualities were slightly spoiled by affectation—in consequence of the philosophy in which he indulged. He was full of wisdom, of honour, and of courage ; but hot-headed and passionate to a degree of which he himself informed me when speaking of Condorcet : “That man was once my friend.— Now, I should have no more scruple about killing him than a dog." He was wrecked by the waves of the Revolution, and