which sees farthest and sees most sincerely. Beaumarchais, after reading out his play, La Mère Coupable, in a certain salon where she appeared between de Pange and Chénier, singled out her comments from those of the rest of the audience. Her judgment, he said, was more delicate than his own, though he did not think her taste as good.

Meanwhile, in 1787, Pauline had married, or rather her parents had married her, to the Comte de Beaumont, a young man of eighteen known for his bad morals. How such a choice was possible to affectionate and well-principled parents remains one of those problems that we can only solve by relegating them to 'the standards of the times.' The experiment was not a success. In a few days Pauline found out her mistake, and in a few weeks she left her husband and returned to her father's roof. What happened exactly we do not know, but when de Beaumont tried to claim her, Montmorin threatened him with a lettre de cachetthat remedy for little family frictions which, alone of the abuses of the old régime, we cannot help rather regretting—and the threat proved effectual. In 1800, Pauline divorced him, and he married again, and only died in 1851. She became her father's secretary, and her existence flowed on evenly. The family life of the Montmorins was happy, broken by one tragic grief, the death by drowning of Auguste, Pauline's sailor brother. His last act had been to send to her, his pride, some rare stuff for a ball dress : it came too late, and she put it by-as she said, for her shroud. This was her first sorrow. She had worse before her.

The fatal year 1789, so big with high hopes and unknown perils, dawned like other years. It was an important one for Montmorin. From first to last he strove for the monarchy and tried to save the King. He and Mirabeau worked together; when Mirabeau died Montmorin threw in his lot with Lally Tollendal and Malouet and the group of men circling round them. He signed the passports for the flight to Varennes-he was arrestedtried-mysteriously acquitted. But he would not take precautions. His house continued to be a meeting-place for Royalists, and the moment came when he received a secret warning that he was to be taken, that his home was not safe for his family. Pauline, her mother, her young brother, Calixte, her married sister, the Vicomtesse de Luzerne, fled hastily to Rouen; Montmorin hid himself in Paris. He was suspected of plotting with Austria-he had quarrelled with Camille Desmoulins-his fate was sealed. Tender agonised notes from Pauline found him, notes in disguised language through which one still seems to hear the throbs of fear and misery. Then came the worst, and he was re-arrested. It was the devotion of his landlady, who would feed him upon dainties and provide him with chickens every day, that

made him suspect as an aristocrat and brought about the catastrophe. He was imprisoned, he was massacred by the awful pikes of September. His family, meanwhile, had taken refuge, first on their country estate of Theil in Burgundy, then at a friend's house near by, at Passy-sur-Yonne. Here they remained concealed for more than a year, and it was here that they, too, were seized. When the cart drove up to carry them to Paris and the officials came to Pauline, she looked so white that they feared she might be ill and burdensome, and they refused to take her. But she begged so hard to go with her family that at last they gave in and let her stay with the rest. Not for long-her pallor grew alarming, and they would not be troubled. They put her out upon the snowy road, not far from Passy, and rolled on relentlessly. It was thus, from the frozen wayside, that she saw the last of those she loved.

Somehow, by what means she never knew, she dragged herself painfully along till she reached a peasant's hut in the next village to Passy-sur-Yonne. Its inhabitants, the Paquereaus, a kindly honest man and wife, took her in. Here, in the squalid hut, she lived for months, in a kind of apathy, too ill to do more than drag herself from bed to fire and back again, selling the few jewels she had with her to buy food, keeping sane with the help of the two or three books which, characteristically, she had contrived to save in the hurry of her flight. Here it was that she learned the fate of her dear ones: the death of her sister from fever on the eve of execution, the end of the rest, her brother Calixte wearing the blue ribbon of his lady-love as he waited for the all-devouring guillotine. It took nearly every member of that happy circle of the Montmorins, excepting François de Pange and Madame de Staël. Small wonder that Pauline prayed to die. Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery and life unto the bitter of soul?' These were the words that all that winter, indeed to her life's end, she constantly repeated to herself, finding relief in the age-worn cry of Job, who had borne like sorrows so long ago.

But Pauline de Beaumont was young, and she did not know that life still held for her her best moments, her keenest experience.

It was at the door of the Paquereaus' cottage that Joseph Joubert found her one day in the summer of that fatal year, 1794. He brought all her future with him-the two feelings which were to dominate the next ten years: her friendship with him-the calming influence, the repose of her spirit; and later, by his means, her introduction to Chateaubriand, the disturberthe joy, the woe, the centre of her existence.

Joubert, who lived at Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, a short way from Passy, had heard of the lady at the Paquereaus'.


came to pay his respects and proffer assistance. He and his wife begged her to come and stay with them. She went; she was again warmed into life.

It might be well, before going farther, to get some little notion of Joubert. Some of my readers probably know him, through his Pensées-more, perhaps, through the pen of Matthew Arnold, to whose serene, Hellenic spirit that of Joubert bore certain close affinities. But Joubert was narrower, deeper, more perfect-his irony had a less accomplished, a more childlike gaiety than that of Arnold. The mind of Plato with the heart of La Fontaine,' was Chateaubriand's description of Joubert. And his appearance expressed him. A lady once said: 'A soul accidentally met a body and did its best with it: that made Joubert.' He was exquisite rather than forcible, an invalid, a fastidious lover of beauty without and within, a dweller in books, a religious thinker, unconventional but orthodox, practical more than mystical, loving Pascal and Plato, but hating Kant and Voltaire as he hated the devil.. He asked much of life and he asked little nothing of its intolerable pleasures, few things of its externals, many things of the soul. For he demanded harmony rather than strength, distinction than effect. He distrusted action; he made being into an art-this soul, half ancient, half modern, this devout Athenian, whose gentleness was so witty, who knew no excesses but those of the heart. I believe that it belongs to French soil to produce this sober, sensitive kind of plant. Sobriety is not tameness, but in England Joubert would have been tame. Even Cowper, with his delicate charm, a little like that of Joubert, is tame now and then-at tea-time. But in France there is a kind of natural decorum which carries dignity. Joubert lived surrounded by women. He married his wife chiefly because she was so good to her mother. He took care of his health, was, indeed, a valetudinarian who 'changed his diet every day, now had himself jolted at a quick trot on rough roads, now dragged at the slowest pace on smooth ones. He lay in bed in a rose-coloured spencer. In England these things would seem absurd; in Joubert, far from being so, they conveyed the quintessence of suavity and distinction. To me, indeed, the thought of that rose-coloured garment transmits the fine flavour of conversation, the very exquisiteness of intellectual déshabillé, of a delicate and discriminating amenity.

He had [said Chateaubriand] an extraordinary hold upon the mind and the heart, and when once he had captured you, his image was there like a fact, like an obsession which you could not chase away. He laid claim, above all, to calm, and nobody was so agitated as he. .. His friends were for ever coming and disturbing the precautions he had taken to be well, for he could not help being moved by their sadness or their joy; he was an egotist who only busied himself about others.

And, like Pauline de Beaumont, he was a born critic, a born appreciator of life, of men, of books. He passed into them; he was a perfect friend, whether of ideas or human beings, put off by few things in them, except by offences against his taste, by glibness, or violence, or any irritation. But, as all his judgments stand recorded in his journal of thoughts and maxims-his Pensées-we can perhaps give no better portrait of him than by quoting a few which seem most characteristic:

We ought to know how to enter into other people's ideas, and how to get away from them-just as we should know how to get away from our own ideas and how to come home to them.

When certain folk enter into our ideas, they enter a stuffy little shed. In talk, passion, the vehement, should always be the lady-in-waiting of the sovereign Intellect, which is ever serene.

'Wear velvet inside you, and try to give pleasure at every hour of your life.'

Energy is not strength. Some authors have more muscle than they have talent.'

'No delicacy, no literature.'

'When we write with facility, we always believe that we have more talent than is there. Good writing means natural facility and self-taught difficulty.'

I should like to make the sense of the exquisite pass into common sense, or else to make the sense of the exquisite common.

To think, to feel one's soul, this is true life. All the rest, eating, drinking, what not, although I give them their full due, are no more than the accessories of living.

At the time that Joubert discovered Pauline he had rather sunk into humdrum, and his imagination needed colour and stimulus. She supplied both; she became the romance of his days. And his practical wife loved her hardly less than he did. The friendship ripened rapidly. He lent her his books-it was very like him that he marked his favourite passages by little stars and flowers on the margin. Other works, those of Condillac and Kant and Voltaire, he forbade her. ('God keep me from ever possessing a complete Voltaire,' he said.) He tried to soothe and heal and strengthen her mind, to lead it back gently to faith, to draw forth the powers he so believed in-to divert her from grief and charm her again into life. They read together, they felt the same enchantment over Yorick and Tristram Shandy and La Bruyère. He studied Plato with her, he made her love Massillon and Malebranche, and they both delighted in Voltaire's Letters, which were not included in the general condemnation.

If God would give me life [he says], and would grant my eyes the good luck to hap upon the bargains that I wish for, I should not need more than three weeks to get together all the books that I think worthy of a place, not in your library, but in your innermost alcove. If I am successful in finding them, it seems to me that I shall have nothing left to do upon this planet.

The influence was by no means from one side only. She also drew forth the best from him, she enhanced his sense of enjoyment. M. de Pange,' he said, 'wants one to walk, and I like to fly, or, at any rate, to flutter. Directly I think of you my little gnat's-wings leave me no peace.' His devotion was not blind he could rally her for her despondency and her restless impatience.

I am very glad [he wrote, for if they did not meet daily he wrote to her], I am very glad to inform you that I cannot admire you comfortably, or respect you as I wish, until I see in you the finest courage of all, the courage to be happy.

In the depths of your being [he says elsewhere] you keep a treasure of rich thoughts and true judgments; but you would rather fling them on the ground and let them roll away than use them profitably. When you think, you amuse yourself too much with thought, and so you often lose its best delights.

But it was lassitude, rather than want of concentration, that weakened Pauline's powers. She needed a motive and a refugeshe needed a faith; and she had the fastidious aesthetic sense which, no less than the ascetic instinct, impels men to austerity. 'Do you know,' she says, that if Port Royal still existed, I should run the risk of rushing off there?' Past and future, old and new, alike attracted her. Plato seemed to her of yesterday, the Phaedo became her stand-by.

[ocr errors]

If I were better versed in the ancients [she writes] I could determine with more precision what it is that is so modern in the Phaedo; when nothing guides me in my decision I attribute. . . what I like to Plato.

She became more and more dependent upon Joubert. 'If I had someone to endow,' she exclaimed later, 'I would give him your mind, your character, your wife and your whole household.' They paid each other occasional long visits. Her room has been swept three times, it is at last worthy to receive her and her migraine; she must come and watch the vintage; his little boy no longer believes him about foxes and pole-cats, he will only believe her; she must certainly reassure him. Such were his wiles to keep her away from Paris, the wilderness of desolation. But in 1795, after Robespierre's death, she felt herself obliged to go there to try to reclaim some of her property. All was worse than she thought. She went to her old home and found nothing left but the cypress-tree she had planted when she was fourteen that alone remained alive among the ruins. Meanwhile the De Panges got back their estate at Passy-sur-Yonne, near Joubert, and she made her home with them; first with both, then, later, when De Pange had died from the effects of his imprisonment in the Terror, with his widow; later still she

« VorigeDoorgaan »