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Madame De Stael
by [?]

Madame De Stael, in Seventeen Hundred Eighty-eight, was queen of the people who ran the world—at least the French part of it.

But intellectual power, like physical strength, endures but for a day. Giants who have a giant’s strength and use it like a giant must be put down. If you have intellectual power, hide it!

Do thy daily work in thine own little way and be content. The personal touch repels as well as attracts. Thy presence is a menace–thy existence an affront–beware! They are weaving a net for thy feet, and hear you not the echo of hammering, as of men building a scaffold?

Go read history! Thinkest thou that all men are mortal save thee alone, and that what has befallen others can not happen to thee?

The Devil has no title to this property he now promises. Fool! thou hast no more claim on Fate than they who have gone before, and what has come to others in like conditions must come to thee. God himself can not stay it; it is so written in the stars. Power to lead men! Pray that thy prayer shall ne’er be granted–‘t is to be carried to the topmost pinnacle of Fame’s temple tower, and there cast headlong upon the stones beneath. Beware! beware!!

* * * * *

Madame De Stael was of an intensely religious nature throughout her entire life; such characters swing between license and asceticism. But the charge of atheism told largely against her even among the so-called liberals, for liberals are often very illiberal. Marie Antoinette gathered her skirts close about her and looked at the “Minerva of Letters” with suspicion in her big, open eyes; cabinet officers forgot her requests to call, and when a famous wit once coolly asked, “Who was that Madame De Stael we used to read about?” people roared with laughter.

Necker, as Minister of Finance, had saved the State from financial ruin; then had been deposed and banished; then recalled. In September, Seventeen Hundred Ninety, he was again compelled to flee. He escaped to Switzerland, disguised as a pedler. The daughter wished to accompany him, but this was impossible, for only a week before she had given birth to her first child.

But favor came back, and in the mad tumult of the times the freedom of wit and sparkle of her salon became a need to the poets and philosophers, if city wits can be so called.

Society shone as never before. In it was the good nature of the mob. It was no time to sit quietly at home and enjoy a book–men and women must “go somewhere,” they must “do something.” The women adopted the Greek costume and appeared in simple white robes caught at the shoulders with miniature stilettos. Many men wore crape on their arms in pretended memory of friends who had been kissed by Madame Guillotine. There was fever in the air, fever in the blood, and the passions held high carnival. In solitude, danger depresses all save the very strongest, but the mob (ever the symbol of weakness) is made up of women–it is an effeminate thing. It laughs hysterically at death and cries, “On with the dance!” Women represent the opposite poles of virtue.

The fever continues: a “poverty party” is given by Madame De Stael, where men dress in rags and women wear tattered gowns that ill conceal their charms. “We must get used to it,” she said, and everybody laughed. Soon, men in the streets wear red nightcaps, women appear in nightgowns, rich men wear wooden shoes, and young men in gangs of twelve parade the avenues at night carrying heavy clubs, hurrahing for this or that.

Yes, society in Paris was never so gay.

The salons were crowded, and politics was the theme. When the discussion waxed too warm, some one would start a hymn and all would chime in until the contestants were drowned out and in token of submission joined in the chorus.