Madame Roland - John S. C. Abbott


A soul so active, so imaginative, and so full of feeling as that of Jane, could not long slumber unconscious of the emotion of love. In the unaffected and touching narrative which she gives of her own character, in the Journal which she subsequently wrote in the gloom of a prison, she alludes to the first rising of that mysterious passion in her bosom. With that frankness which ever marked her character, she describes the strange fluttering of her heart, the embarrassment, the attraction, and the instinctive diffidence she experienced when in the presence of a young man who had, all unconsciously, interested her affections. It seems that there was a youthful painter named Taboral, of pale, and pensive, and intellectual countenance—an artist with soul-inspired enthusiasm beaming from his eye—who occasionally called upon her father. Jane had just been reading the Heloise of Rousseau, that gushing fountain of sentimentality. Her young heart took fire. His features mingled insensibly in her dreamings and her visions, and dwelt, a welcome guest, in her castles in the air. The diffident young man, with all the sensitiveness of genius, could not speak to the daughter, of whose accomplishments the father was so justly proud, without blushing like a girl. When Jane heard him in the shop, she always contrived to make some errand to go in. There was a pencil or something else to be sought for. But the moment she was in the presence of Taboral, instinctive embarrassment drove her away, and she retired more rapidly than she entered, and with a palpitating heart ran to hide herself in her little chamber.

This emotion, however, was fleeting and transient, and soon forgotten. Indeed, highly imaginative as was Jane, her imagination was vigorous and intellectual, and her tastes led her far away from those enervating love-dreams in which a weaker mind would have indulged. A young lady so fascinating in mind and person could not but attract much attention. Many suitors began to appear, one after another, but she manifested no interest in any of them. The customs of society in France were such at that time, that it was difficult for any one who sought the hand of Jane to obtain an introduction to her. Consequently, the expedient was usually adopted of writing first to her parents. These letters were always immediately shown to Jane. She judged of the character of the writer by the character of the epistles. Her father, knowing her intellectual superiority, looked to her as his secretary to reply to all these letters. She consequently wrote the answers, which her, father carefully copied, and sent in his own name. She was often amused with the gravity with which she, as the father of herself, with parental prudence discussed her own interests. In subsequent years she wrote to kings and to cabinets in the name of her husband; and the sentiments which flowed from her pen, adopted by the ministry of France as their own, guided the councils of nations.

Her father, regarding commerce as the source of wealth, and wealth as the source of power and dignity, was very anxious that his daughter should accept some of the lucrative offers she vas receiving from young men of the family acquaintance who were engaged in trade. But Jane had no such thought. Her proud spirit revolted from such a connection. From her sublimated position among the ancient heroes. and her ambitious aspirings to dwell in the loftiest regions of intellect, she could not think of sullying her soul with those whose energies were expended in buying and selling; and she declared that she would have no husband but one with whom she could cherish congenial sympathies.

At one time a rich meat merchant of the neighborhood solicited her hand. Her father, allured by his wealth, was very anxious that his daughter should accept the offer. In reply to his urgency Jane firmly replied,

"I cannot, dear father, descend from my noble imaginings. What I want in a husband is a soul, not a fortune. I will die single rather than prostitute my own mind in a union with a being with whom I have no sympathies. Brought up from my infancy in connection with the great men of all ages—familiar with lofty ideas and illustrious examples—have I lived with Plato, with all the philosophers, all the poets, all the politicians of antiquity, merely to unite myself with a shop-keeper, who will neither appreciate nor feel any thing as I do? Why have you suffered me, father, to contract these intellectual habits and tastes, if you wish me to form such an alliance? I know not whom I may marry; but it must be one who can share my thoughts and sympathize with my pursuits."

"But, my daughter, there are many men of business who have extensive information and polished manners."

"That may be," Jane answered, "but they do not possess the kind of information, and the character of mind, and the intellectual tastes which I wish any one who is my husband to possess."

"Do you not suppose," rejoined her father, "that Mr.—and his wife are happy? He has just retired from business with an ample fortune. They have a beautiful house, and receive the best of company."

"I am no judge," was the reply, "of other people's happiness. But my own heart is not fixed on riches. I conceive that the strictest union of affection is requisite to conjugal felicity. I can not connect myself with any man whose tastes and sympathies are not in accordance with my own. My husband must be my superior. Since both nature and the laws give him the pre-eminence, I should be ashamed if he did not really deserve it."

"I suppose, then, you want a counselor for your husband. But ladies are seldom happy with these learned gentlemen. They have a great deal of pride, and very little money."

"Father," Jane earnestly replied, "I care not about the profession. I wish only to marry a man whom I can love."

"But you persist in thinking such a man will never be found in trade. You will find it, however, a very pleasant thing to sit at ease in your own parlor while your husband is accumulating a fortune. Now there is Madame Dargens: she understands diamonds as well as her husband. She can make good bargains in his absence, and could carry on all his business perfectly well if she were left a widow. You are intelligent. You perfectly understand that branch of business since you studied the treatise on precious stones. You might do whatever you please. You would have led a very happy life if you could but have fancied Delorme, Dabrieul, or—"

"Father," earnestly exclaimed Jane, "I have discovered that the only way to make a fortune in trade is by selling dear that which has been bought cheap; by overcharging the customer, and beating down the poor workman. I could never descend to such practices; nor could I respect a man who made them his occupation from morning till night."

"Do you then suppose that there are no honest tradesmen?"

"I presume that there are," was the reply; "but the number is not large; and among them I am not likely to find a husband who will sympathize with me."

"And what will you do if you do not find the idol of your imagination?"

"I will live single."

"Perhaps you will not find that as pleasant as you imagine. You may think that there is time enough yet. But weariness will come at last. The crowd of lovers will soon pass away and you know the fable."

"Well, then, by meriting happiness, I will take revenge upon the injustice which would deprive me of it."

"Oh! now you are in the clouds again, my child. It is very pleasant to soar to such a night, but it is not easy to keep the elevation."

The judicious mother of Jane, anxious to see her daughter settled in life, endeavored to form a match for her with a young physician. Much maneuvering was necessary to bring about the desired result. The young practitioner was nothing loth to lend his aid. The pecuniary arrangements were all made, and the bargain completed, before Jane knew any thing of the matter. The mother and daughter went out one morning to, make a call upon a friend, at whose house the prospective husband of Jane, by previous appointment, was accidentally to be. It was a curious interview. The friends so overacted their part, that Jane immediately saw through the plot. Her mother was pensive and anxious. Her, friends were voluble, and prodigal of sly intimations. The young gentleman was very lavish of his powers of pleasing, loaded Jane with flippant compliments, devoured confectionary with high relish, .and chattered most flippantly in the most approved style of fashionable inanition. The high-spirited girl had no idea of being thus disposed of in the matrimonial bazaar. The profession of the doctor was pleasing to her, as it promised an enlightened mind, and she was willing to consent to make his acquaintance. Her mother urged her to decide at once.

"What, mother!" she exclaimed, "would you have me take one for my husband upon the strength of a single interview?"

"It is not exactly so," she replied. "This young gentleman's intimacy with our friends enables us to judge of his conduct and way of life. We know his disposition. These are the main points. You have attained the proper age to be settled in the world. You have refused many offers from tradesmen, and it is from that class alone that you are likely to receive addresses. You seem fully resolved never to marry a man in business. You may never have another such offer. The present match is very eligible in every external point of view. Beware how you reject it too lightly."

Jane, thus urged, consented to see the young physician at her father's house, that she might become acquainted with him. She, however, determined that no earthly power should induce her to marry him, unless she found in him a congenial spirit. Fortunately, she was saved all further trouble in the matter by a dispute which arose between her lover and her father respecting the pecuniary arrangements, and which broke off all further connection between the parties.

Her mother's health now began rapidly to decline. A stroke of palsy deprived her of her accustomed elasticity of spirits, and, secluding herself from society, she became silent and sad. In view of approaching death, she often lamented that she could not see her daughter well married before she left the world. An offer which Jane received from a very honest, industrious, and thrifty jeweler, aroused anew a mother's maternal solicitude.

"Why," she exclaimed, with melancholy earnestness, "will you reject this young man? He has an amiable disposition, and high reputation for integrity and sobriety. He is already in easy circumstances, and is in a fair way of soon acquiring a brilliant fortune. He knows that you have a superior mind. He professes great esteem for you, and will be proud of following your advice. You might lead him in any way you like."

"But, my dear mother, I do not want a husband who is to be led. He would be too cumbersome a child for me to take care of."

"Do you know that you are a very whimsical girl, my child? And how do you think you would like a husband who was your master and tyrant?"

"I certainly," Jane replied, "should not like a man who assumed airs of authority, for that would only provoke me to resist. But I am sure that I could never love a husband whom it was necessary for me to govern. I should be ashamed of my own power."

"I understand you, Jane. You would like to have a man think  himself the master, while he obeyed you in every particular."

"No, mother, it is not that either. I hate servitude; but empire would only embarrass me. I wish to gain the affections of a man who would make his happiness consist in contributing to mine, as his good sense and regard for me should dictate."

"But, my daughter, there would be hardly such a thing in the world as a happy couple, if happiness could not exist without that perfect congeniality of taste and opinions which you imagine to be so necessary."

"I do not know, mother, of a single person whose happiness I envy."

"Very well; but among those matches which you do not envy, there may be some far preferable to remaining always single. I may be called out of the world sooner than you imagine. Your father is still young. I can not tell you all the disagreeable things my fondness for you makes me fear. I should be indeed happy, could I see you united to some worthy man before I die."

This was the first time that the idea of her mother's death ever seriously entered the mind of Jane. With an eager gaze, she fixed her eye upon her pale and wasted cheek and her emaciate frame, and the dreadful truth, with the suddenness of a revelation, burst upon her. Her whole frame shook with emotion, and she burst into a flood of tears. Her mother, much moved, tried to console her.

"Do not be alarmed, my dear child," said she, tenderly. "I am not dangerously ill. But in forming our plans, we should take into consideration all chances. A worthy man offers you his hand. You have now attained your twentieth year. You can not expect as many suitors as you have had for the last five years. I may be suddenly taken from you. Do not, then, reject a husband who, it is true, has not all the refinement you could desire, but who will love you, and with whom you can be happy."

"Yes, my dear mother," exclaimed Jane, with a deep and impassioned sigh, "as happy is you  have been."

The expression escaped her in the excitement the moment. Never before had she ventured in the remotest way to allude to the total want of congeniality which she could not but perceive existed between her father and her mother. Indeed, her mother's character for patience and placid submission was so remarkable, that Jane did not know how deeply she had suffered, nor what a life of martyrdom she was leading. The effect of Jane's unpremeditated remark opened her eyes to the sad reality. Her mother was greatly disconcerted. Her cheek changed color. Her lip trembled. She made no reply. She never again opened her lips upon the subject of the marriage of her child.

The father of Jane, with no religious belief to control his passions or guide his conduct, was gradually falling into those habits of dissipation to which he was peculiarly exposed by the character of the times. He neglected his business. He formed disreputable acquaintances. He became irritable and domineering over his wife, and was often absent from home, with convivial clubs, until a late hour of the night. Neither mother nor daughter ever uttered one word to each other in reference to the failings of the husband and father. Jane, however, had so powerful an influence over him, that she often, by her persuasive skill, averted the storm which was about to descend upon her meek and unresisting parent.

The poor mother, in silence and sorrow, was sinking to the tomb far more rapidly than Jane imagined. One summer's day, the father, mother, and daughter took a short excursion into the country. The day was warm and beautiful. In a little boat they glided over the pleasant waters of the Seine, feasting their eyes with the beauties of nature and art which fringed the shores. The pale cheek of the dying wife became flushed with animation as she once again breathed the invigorating air of the country, and the daughter beguiled her fears with the delusive hope that it was the flush of returning health. When they reached their home, Madame Phlippon, fatigued with the excursion, retired to her chamber for rest. Jane, accompanied by her maid, went to the convent to call upon her old friends the nuns. She made a very short call.

"Why are you in such haste?" inquired Sister Agatha.

"I am anxious to return to my mother."

"But you told me that she was better."

"She is much better than usual But I have a strange feeling of solicitude about her. I shall not feel easy until I see her again."

She hurried home, and was met at the door by a little girl who informed her that her mother was very dangerously ill. She flew to the room, and found her almost lifeless. Another stroke of paralysis had done its work, and she was dying. She raised her languid eyes to her child, but her palsied tongue could speak no word of tenderness. One arm only obeyed the impulse of her will. She raised it, and affectionately patted the cheek of her beloved daughter, and wiped the tears which were flowing down her cheeks. The priest came to administer the last consolations of religion. Jane, with her eyes riveted upon her dying parent, endeavored to hold the light. Overpowered with anguish, the light suddenly dropped from her hand, and she fell senseless upon the floor. When she recovered from this swoon her mother was dead.

Jane was entirely overwhelmed with uncontrollable and delirious sorrow. For many days it was apprehended that her own life would fall a sacrifice to the blow which her affections had received. Instead of being a support to the family in this hour of trial, she added to the burden and the care. The Abbe Legrand, who stood by her bedside as her whole frame was shaken by convulsions, very sensibly remarked,

"It is a good thing to possess sensibility. It is very unfortunate to have so much of it." Gradually Jane regained composure, but life, to her, was darkened. She now began to realize all those evils which her fond mother had apprehended. Speaking of her departed parent, she says, "The world never contained a better or a more amiable woman. There was nothing brilliant in her character, but she possessed every quality to endear her to all by whom she was known. Naturally endowed with the sweetest disposition, virtue seemed never to cost her any effort. Her pure and tranquil spirit pursued its even course like the docile stream that bathes with equal gentleness, the foot of the rook which holds it captive, and the valley which it at once enriches and adorns. With her death was concluded the tranquillity of my youth, which till then was passed in the enjoyment of blissful affections and beloved occupations."

Jane soon found her parental home, indeed, a melancholy abode. She was truly alone in the world. Her father now began to advance with more rapid footsteps in the career of dissipation. A victim to that infidelity which presents no obstacle to crime, he yielded himself a willing captive to the dominion of passion, and disorder reigned through the desolated household. Jane had the mortification of seeing a woman received into the family to take her mother's place, in a union unsanctified by the laws of God. A deep melancholy settled down upon the mind of the wounded girl, and she felt that she was desolate and an alien in her own home. She shut herself up in her chamber with her thoughts and her books. All the chords of her sensitive nature now vibrated only responsive to those melancholy tones which are the dirges of the broken heart. As there never was genius untinged by melancholy, so may it be doubted whether there ever was greatness of character which had not been nurtured in the school of great affliction. Her heart now began to feel irrepressible longings for the sympathy of some congenial friend, upon whose supporting boson she could lean her aching head. In lonely musings she solaced herself, and nurtured her own thoughts by writing. Her pen became her friend, and the resource of every weary hour. She freely gave utterance in her diary to all her feelings and all her emotions Her manuscripts of abstracts, and extracts, and original thoughts, became quite voluminous In this way she was daily cultivating that power of expression and that force of eloquence which so often, in subsequent life; astonished and charmed her friends.

In every development of character in her most eventful future career, one can distinctly trace the influence of these vicissitudes of early life, and of these impressions thus powerfully stamped upon her nature. Philosophy, romance, and religious sentiment, an impassioned mind and a glowing heart, admiration of heroism, and emulation of martyrdom in some noble cause, all conspired to give her sovereignty over the affections of others, and to enable her to sway human wills almost at pleasure.

M. Boismorel, husband of the aristocratic lady to whom Jane once paid so disagreeable a visit, called one day at the shop of M. Phlippon, and the proud father could not refrain from showing him some of the writings of Jane. The nobleman had sense enough to be very much pleased with the talent which they displayed, and wrote her a very flattering letter, offering her the free use of his very valuable library, and urging her to devote her life to literary pursuits, and at once to commence authorship. Jane was highly gratified by this commendation, and most eagerly availed herself of his most valuable offer. In reply to his suggestion respecting authorship, she inclosed the following lines:

"Aux hommes ouvrant la carriere

Des grands et des nobles talents,

Ils n'ont mis aucune barriere

A leurs plus sublimes elans.

"De mon sexe foible et sensible,

Ils ne veulent que des vertus;

Nons pouvons imiter Titus,

Mais dans un sentier moins penible.

"Joussiez du bien d'etre admis

A toutes ces sortes de gloire

Pour nous le temple de memoire

Est dans le coeurs de nos amis."

These lines have been thus vigorously translated in the interesting sketch given by Mrs. Child of Madame Roland:

"To man's aspiring sex 'tis given

To climb the highest hill of fame;

To tread the shortest road to heaven,

And gain by death a deathless name.

"Of well-fought fields and trophies won

The memory lives while ages pass;

Graven on everlasting stone,

Or written on retentive brass.

"But to poor feeble womankind

The mead of glory is denied;

Within a narrow sphere confined,

The lowly virtues are their pride

"Yet not deciduous is their fame,

Ending where frail existence ends;

A sacred temple holds their name—

The heart of their surviving friends."

A friendly correspondence ensued between Jane and M. De Boismorel, which continued through his life. He was a very worthy and intelligent man, and became so much interested in his young friend, that he wished to connect her in marriage with his son. This young man was indolent and irresolute in character, and his father thought that he would be greatly benefited by a wife of decision and judgment. Jane, however, was no more disposed to fall in love with rank than with wealth, and took no fancy whatever to the characterless young nobleman. The judicious father saw that it would be utterly unavailing to urge the suit, and the matter was dropped.

Through the friendship of M. De Boismorel, she was often introduced to the great world of lords and ladies. Even his formal and haughty wife became much interested in the fascinating young lady, and her brilliant talents and accomplishments secured her invitations to many social interviews to which she would not have been entitled by her birth. This slight acquaintance with the nobility of France did not, however, elevate them in her esteem. She found the conversation of the old marquises and antiquated dowagers who frequented the salons of Madame De Boismorel more insipid and illiterate than that of the trades-people who visited her father's shop, and upon whom these nobles looked down with such contempt. Jane was also disgusted with the many indications she saw, not only of indolence and voluptuousness, but of dissipation and utter want of principle. Her good sense enabled her to move among these people as a studious observer of this aspect of human nature, neither adopting their costume nor imitating their manners. She was very unostentatious and simple in her style of dress, and never, in the slightest degree, affected the mannerism of mindless and heartless fashion.

Madame De Boismorel, at one time eulogizing her taste in these respects, remarked,

"You do not love feathers, do you, Miss Phlippon? How very different you are from the giddy-headed girls around us!"

"I never wear feathers," Jane replied, "because I do not think that they would correspond with the condition in life of an artist's daughter who is going about on foot."

"But, were you in a different situation in life, would you then wear feathers?"

"I do not know what I should do in that case. I attach very slight importance to such trifles. I merely consider what is suitable for myself, and should be very sorry to judge of others by the superficial information afforded by their dress."

M. Phlippon now began to advance more rapidly in the career of dissipation. Jane did every thing in her power to lure him to love his home. All her efforts were entirely unavailing. Night after night he was absent until the latest hours at convivial clubs and card-parties He formed acquaintance with those with whom Jane could not only have no congeniality of taste, but who must have excited in her emotions of the deepest repugnance. These companions were often at his house; and the comfortable property which M. Phlippon possessed, under this course of dissipation was fast melting away. Jane's situation was now painful in the extreme. Her mother, who had been the guardian angel of her life, was sleeping in the grave. Her father was advancing with the most rapid strides in the road to ruin. Jane was in danger of soon being left an orphan and utterly penniless. Her father was daily becoming more neglectful and unkind to his daughter, as he became more dissatisfied with himself and with the world. Under these circumstances, Jane, by the advice of friends, had resort to a legal process, by which there was secured to her, from the wreck of her mother's fortune, an annual income of about one hundred dollars.

In these gloomy hours which clouded the morning of life's tempestuous day, Jane found an unfailing resource and solace in her love of literature. With pen in hand, extracting beautiful passages and expanding suggested thoughts, she forgot her griefs and beguiled many hours, which would otherwise have been burdened with intolerable wretchedness. Maria Antoinette, woe-worn and weary, in tones of despair uttered the exclamation, "Oh what a resource, amid the casualties of life, must there be in a highly-cultivated mind." The plebeian maiden could utter the same exclamation in accents of joyfulness.