Madame Necker

OF the ladies who were the leaders in Parisian society when it was on the verge of the Revolution, no one arouses our interest more than Madame Necker. This Swiss girl, who became the wife of one of the foremost political characters in France, and the mother of one of the most famous of French women ; who excited love in Gibbon when a girl, and a tender friendship in Buffon when a woman ; who in a corrupt society kept her purity above suspicion, and amid Voltaireans and Encyclopædists never wavered in the faith of her forefathers ; and who, after a brilliant career of almost thirty years in Paris, went back to die among the Alps, where her childhood had been passed, was no commonplace character.

Suzanne Curchod was born in 1737, at Crassy, a little village in Switzerland. Her father was a Protestant clergyman, and her mother belonged to a good French family of Dauphiné, who had left their country to avoid religious persecution. Suzanne once sought to trace her pedigree to a noble source, and to find the plebeian-sounding Curchod assuming the more euphonious form of Curchodi. Such efforts were in vain, and she consoled herself at times by taking the name of her mother’s family. and bidding her friends address her as Mademoiselle d’Albert de Nasse. But though no mythical nobility could be discovered for her father’s race, the Swiss clergyman possessed qualities more valuable to his posterity than a descent from robber chiefs or claims to extinct titles. He had the sturdy rectitude, the firm faith, the love for learning, the trust in God, that form the warp and woof of Swiss character of the best type. He was reared among the everlasting hills, and no less steadfastly than they he bore himself in life, performing with fidelity and contentment his duties as a humble parish priest.

The daughter of such a man was not only trained to faith and piety, but received an education far superior to that of most of the daughters of noble houses. Her parents had only moderate means, but they lived in a society where few were rich, and simple modes of life were adopted by all. The family of the clergyman would naturally have a social position equal to that of any in the community, and the charms and accomplishments of Suzanne Curchod made her an especial object of admiration. She had the fresh beauty of youth. It was observed by others, and she herself was not oblivious to it, — a fact which perhaps does not distinguish her from young girls of other nations. She has drawn her own portrait: “ A face which announces youth and gayety; the complexion and hair of a blonde, with eyes blue, laughing, and soft; a nose small, but not ill turned ; a mouth whose smile accompanies that of the eyes; a figure tall and well proportioned, but with a village air, and a certain brusqueness of movement rather than an enchanting elegance.” Thus the village maiden described herself, recognizing, but not exaggerating, what was fair to see, and lamenting the lack of that elegance which had impressed her in the aristocratic and fashionably bred ladies with whom she had occasionally been thrown.

Her accomplishments and charms gained admirers both young and old. She wrote a letter in Latin to one of her father’s friends, and he answered, praising her Ciceronian epistle, and admiring so great learning in one so fair. There are expressions in her letter not wholly Ciceronian in their turn, but one is not strict in criticising the Latinity of a pretty girl, whether she dwells by the shores of Lake Leman, or walks the halls of Vassar. The young divines of the country discovered the charms of the parish of Crassy. Her father often exchanged his pulpit, and he found a plentiful supply of youths ready to expound the gospel to his parishioners, and enjoy the hospitality of the Curchod rectory. “ You have admirers,” writes an envious friend, “ who, under pretense of preaching for your father, come to talk with you. You should drive them out with a broomstick.” Suzanne did not deem it necessary to use the broom, and the divines still came; talked to her, whether love or theology who can say ? and sent her poems, which are found among her papers, and which certainly treat of sentiment more than of doctrinal points.

But Mademoiselle Curchod carried her charms beyond the parish limits. Lausanne was near by, and at this beautiful place she was a frequent and an admired visitor. There, was an academy with learned professors and enthusiastic students, and a society influenced in its tone by such members. A young lady with laughing eyes, who could write Ciceronian epistles, naturally pleased both professors and students. A literary union or order was formed, of which she was chosen president. Its meetings were often held in a valley near Lausanne, by a spring which bubbled and prattled, while the youths and maidens talked poetry or nonsense. Each cavalier of the order wore the colors of the lady of his choice ; and if he changed them, his conduct was tried before tribunals deeply versed in the free-masonry of the heart and the laws of courts of love. But one of the rules of the society advised the members that fickleness was a useful quality, and they were not to seek a too heroic constancy. Essays and poems were read, and many of them dealt with subtle and perilous questions : Does mystery render love more delicious ? Can friendship exist between man and woman like that between two men ? Such matters were debated by the springs and fountains of Lausanne, and the fair young president listened to the curious speculations of ardent youths and pensive maidens, as she gazed on the waters of Lake Leman, or at the glaciers of Mont Blanc. But her visits at Lausanne led to a more serious passion than had been excited by the young Levites who preached for her father, or the academicians who chose her as their president. In 1753, Gibbon was sent to Lausanne. He was then sixteen, but he had embraced the errors of papacy at Oxford, and his father hoped that the air of Switzerland would restore him to a pure Protestantism. Four years after his arrival he first met Suzanne Curchod. She has drawn her own portrait, and she has also drawn that of the youthful historian: “ He has beautiful hair, a pretty hand, and the air of a person of quality. His expression is ‘ spirituel ’ and peculiar, and excites a constant interest. He knows the respect that one should pay to women, and he is polite without being familiar.” “ He dances poorly,” she adds, but the picture shows that its subject had already found favor with the Swiss girl.

Gibbon has described the rise and fall of this passion in sentences as dignified and sonorous as those in which he told of the decline of the Roman Empire. In June, 1757, his journal has this entry: “ I saw Mademoiselle Curchod. ‘ Omnia vincit amor, et nos cedamus amori.’ ” The love that begins with Latin quotations is often too classical to become romantic. The scholastic passion of Gibbon lacked the fire and constancy of that of many who knew less of Roman inscriptions or Byzantine chronicles. Thus he proceeds in measured tones, in his account of this episode: “ The personal attractions of Mademoiselle Suzanne Curchod were embellished by the virtues and talents of the mind. Her fortune was humble, but her family was respectable. . . . In her short visits to some relations at Lausanne, the wit, the beauty, the erudition, of Mademoiselle Curchod were the theme of universal applause. The report of such a prodigy awakened my curiosity. I saw and loved. I found her learned without pedantry, lively in conversation, pure in sentiment, and elegant in manners. . . . She listened to the voice of truth and passion, and I might presume to hope that I had made some impression on a virtuous heart. At Crassy and Lausanne I indulged my dream of felicity, but on my return to England I soon discovered that my father would not hear of this strange alliance. After a painful struggle I yielded to my fate. I sighed as a lover, I obeyed as a son. My wound was insensibly healed by time, absence, and the habits of a new life. My cure was accelerated by a faithful report of the tranquillity and cheerfulness of the lady herself, and my love subsided into friendship and esteem.” The passage quoted is as familiar as any in the Decline and Fall, but it is much less accurate. Gibbon excited a deep and passionate attachment in Mademoiselle Curchod, — an attachment such as one of his temperament could neither share nor understand. His conduct towards her was disingenuous at best, and her tranquillity and cheerfulness, to which he in part attributes his own cure, were reached only after years of neglect.

It was not strange that the youthful Gibbon should have proved attractive. He possessed both learning and wit. His figure was not yet weighed down by the superabundant flesh that came with age. This young Englishman, the son of a wealthy father, with the manners that come from intercourse with the world, might excite both the admiration and the ambition of a girl situated like Mademoiselle Curchod. Gibbon at twenty had not attained to the epicurean repose of his later years. When older, he recognized how unfitting his character was the passion of love ; and he confesses, “I am rather proud that I was once capable of such a pure and exalted sentiment.” But even at twenty he wooed with a certain philosophic calmness ; the sedate and meditative historian can be detected in the youth who would fain turn couplets, and exhale sentiment and sighs. In his letters written at this period, which have lately been exhumed from the archives at Coppet, there is much that savors of the bel esprit, and little that suggests the lover. Even in one where he asks how she can doubt his love and fidelity, he indulges in conceits, and signs himself her humble and most obedient servant. He wrote sonnets to his mistress, but they do not remind one of those of Petrarch. Still, the youngcouple, if not formally engaged, regarded themselves as pledged to one another. Mademoiselle Curchod’s parents favored the match, but she refused to consent to a marriage without the approval of Gibbon’s father, though in a moment of passion he had urged her to do so. In the next year he returned to England. From his memoirs it seems that his father’s disapproval was soon ascertained, and one would think that when he had decided to obey as a son, he would not have left the virtuous heart, on which he justly claimed to have made an impression, in ignorance of such a resolution.

But for years he contented himself with sending no message to his lady-love, except a copy of his Essay on Literature. He cannot have supposed that he was forgotten, for after he had been four years in England he sent a letter announcing, apparently as a recent event, the fact that his father had forbidden the match. The letter contains some attempt at the semblance of woe. “ The decision is pronounced,” he says. “ My heart laments, but before my duty all else must be silent.”

Even without such a declaration, Mademoiselle Curchod might have been convinced, by years of almost entire silence, that Gibbon had grown indifferent towards her ; but the quiet life of a Swiss village, the lakes and mountains, which Byron justly chose for the birthplace of deep love, had kept her affection strong and fervent through years of absence, and it was not wholly overthrown even when she was thus openly discarded. In the next year Gibbon again visited Lausanne. In his memoirs of this period he makes no mention of Suzanne Curchod. She was, however, brought to his attention in a manner which he could not have forgotten, though he chose not to record it. Doubtless the more dignified, the more fitting, course for her would have been to have given no further heed to a recreant lover. But Suzanne was capable of a passionate strength of devotion, and she believed that she still possessed Gibbon’s love ; it was only the father’s objections that had checked his suit. Among the dusty letters at Coppet are one or two which she wrote him at this visit, that touch the heart even now, though they tell of a love that has been dead for more than a century. “ I blush for what I do,” she says in one, “but for five years I have sacrificed myself to a chimæra. My mind is convinced of its error. Release a foolish heart, sign the avowal of your indifference, and the certainty will produce the tranquillity for which I sigh. You are the most despicable of men, if you refuse this act of frankness.” At the bottom of this letter is a line in English, written afterwards, undoubtedly, which shows the suffering of the unhappy girl: “A thinking soul is punishment enough, and every thought draws blood.”

A clergyman named Moulton, who was all his life one of Mademoiselle Curchod’s most constant friends, resolved to ask the great apostle of sentiment for assistance in this affair of the heart. Rousseau was his friend. He was then in Switzerland, and it was expected that Gibbon would visit him. Surely the author of La Nouvelle Héloïse, who knew all the secrets of the passionate heart, could move this cold Englishman, and kindle in his faithless bosom the sentiments of Saint Preux. Rousseau answered the request very sensibly :

“ M. Gibbon is not the man for me, and I do not believe he is the man for Mademoiselle Curchod. He who does not feel her value is unworthy of her, but he who could feel it and abandon it is a man to be despised.” Nevertheless, he agreed to lend his aid, but Gibbon did not visit him, and the creator of Julie had no opportunity to teach the historian lessons in love. Gibbon sent to Mademoiselle Curchod ’s letters a chilly and affected response, in which he said that it was better for both that the correspondence should cease ; and when he happened to meet her at Ferney, he treated her with marked indifference. Her cure was at last effected. She sent one final letter, in which she expressed her opinion of his conduct in language as scathing as that of Junius. It was not to the real man, as she justly said, but to a fictitious creation of a romantic imagination, that she had sacrificed five years of her life, and the affection and the ideal were now laid in a common grave.

In the mean time Mademoiselle Curchod had lost her father, and in 1763 her mother died. She was left with very scanty means, and she gained her livelihood by teaching. Except for her friends, she would almost have suffered from need. Her misfortunes did not repel her Swiss admirers, and an advocate of Yverdon was especially zealous in his devotion. Her circumstances seemed to demand that she should find shelter for herself, and her friends favored his suit. She was at last brought to give a half-consent, on condition that she should not be required to live at Yverdon with her husband more than a third of the time. The faithful and enamored advocate would perhaps have decided that a third of her society was better than none at all, when Suzanne was suddenly called to a very different life from that of a Swiss village, and one where a brilliant fate was in store for her.

Madame de Vermenoux, a widow of twenty-six, of some rank and wealth, met the young teacher, and was attracted by her beauty and accomplishments. The intimacy soon resulted in Mademoiselle Curchod’s accepting an invitation to make her home in Paris, and in 1764, for the first time, she found herself in that city. She at once met M. Necker, who was also a Swiss, but was then a Parisian banker. He was only thirtytwo, but had already acquired a large fortune, and he sought the hand of Madame de Vermenoux. Whether because his origin was too bourgeois, or because in other respects he failed to please, that lady declined his suit, and he met Mademoiselle Curchod just after he had suffered this reverse in love. Her attractions furnished an instant balm to his woe, and the affection which had been blighted by the lady of the house was at once revived by its new inmate.

Mademoiselle Curchod became not only a faithful, but an affectionate wife, and she lavished upon her husband a devotion which was almost excessive, if in such attachments there can be excess. But she seems to have accepted Necker as a lover more because such a marriage was, for her, a great and extraordinary piece of good fortune than from any especial interest which he excited. His somewhat cold character and reserved manners were not calculated to charm at first sight a romantic young lady ; his recent rejection by her friend and his immediate search of consolation might suggest the suspicion that the wealthy young banker had decided on matrimony, and was resolved to stay in the market until he found some one ready to accept his bid. On the other hand, the prospect of a brilliant social life at Paris, with almost unlimited wealth at her command, might well have dazzled a poor Swiss girl, who could look forward to nothing better than the career of a lady’s attendant, or an insipid existence as the wife of an advocate of Yverdon. From her confidential letters to Moulton, one could almost charge Mademoiselle Curchod with a good deal of worldly planning for the capture of the young banker. “ We must not flatter ourselves,” she writes, discussing the possibility of Necker’s becoming a suitor: “ this matter will not succeed. If anything could decide him it would be your conduct. You seem inspired as to the character of this man, and I will not forget it.” “ I will follow your plan,” she writes again, “ but without a miracle I despair of success. If our brilliant chimæra vanishes, I will many Correvon [the Yverdon advocate] the coming summer.” The hope did not prove a chimæra, and immediately after his return from a visit to Geneva Necker proposed to Mademoiselle Curcliod, and was accepted at once. The poor advocate of Yverdon wrote, complaining justly that she had kept him as a last resort, and encouraged hopes that had proved vain. However, he forgave her, and closed his letter by praying for blessings on herself, her husband, and her progeny.

With her marriage commenced a new and exciting life for Madame Necker. Her husband had attained a respectable position ; he was rich, and his wife resolved that she would gather about her men who should make her salon as brilliant as the Parisian salons which were already celebrated. By her own charms, by the luxuries and attractions that wealth can provide, by an unlimited hospitality, and by the assistance that struggling genius is often glad to receive from an opulent Mæcenas, she soon succeeded in her endeavor. Within two or three years the salon of Madame Necker did not yield in literary lustre to any other in Paris. The former president of the union of Lausanne now received the admiration and listened to the wit of men who were famous in the world.

Time and new circumstances soon change our feelings, and even soften our animosities. But two years after their final severance, we find Gibbon visiting his former lady-love, and affably received by her. The past, indeed, even though it is forgiven, is not forgotten. “ She was very fond of me,” Gibbon writes a friend, “ and the husband particularly civil. Could they insult me more cruelly ? Ask me every evening to supper ! Go to bed, and leave me alone with his wife! It is making an old lover of mighty little consequence.”

Necker was too sensible a man to think that his wife needed to be watched, even when she was exposed to far more dangerous admirers than Gibbon, but there was no one as to whom he need have felt less concern than the former lover. Madame Necker could justly feel that the parts were now reversed, and that her position was by far the more conspicuous. In a letter she confesses her satisfaction that the man who had discarded her now appeared abashed, and very much impressed by the opulence he observed. She treated him with the frank cordiality which is far from being the greatest compliment that a woman can pay a man. Gibbon had already become fat, and he had not yet become famous ; there was nothing to disturb M. Necker’s peaceful and conjugal repose.

In truth, Gibbon was the last man in the world who would have desired to disturb it. The slight emotion about the heart which he had experienced had long been calmed, and calmed forever. He and Madame Necker became in time good friends, and this friendship continued through life, sincere, tranquil, and unemotional. In her last letter to Gibhon, Mademoiselle Curchod had told him that some day he would regret the irreparable loss he had suffered in alienating a heart that had been too tender and too frank. She was wrong in her prophecy. He never regretted that his romance had soon ended, and it was better for both that it had. Marriage would have added nothing to Gibbon’s happiness or his success. Few men have led a life so perfectly adapted to their tastes and their talents; few have had a better right to call themselves happy. To be free from sordid cares; to live by the shores of Lake Leman ; to have always before one beauties of sky and water, fertile valley and snow-clad mountain ; to spend one’s hours in the study of the great deeds and the great men of the days that are gone ; to produce a work that the world will not willingly let die, linking to the history of the mightiest of earthly institutions in imperishable union one’s own name and fame, — life can offer no better fate, man’s lot can furnish no more perfect felicity.

While Madame Necker’s training in many respects fitted her to be the mistress of a salon, she sometimes suffered from the want of the tact and exquisite urbanity that come from early and long intercourse with the world, and which have been marked characteristics of the best bred Frenchwomen. A certain brusqueness, a want of finesse, sometimes appeared in her conversation. She brought from Switzerland more steadfast views than were to be found in most of the social leaders of the day, and that perfection of easy conversation which suggests an opinion rather than asserts it, and softens opposition by a flavor of banter, she did not acquire. She was, however, a charming woman. The strength and earnestness of her convictions and the purity of her character added to the admiration which she excited, and a breath of rural freshness was not unwelcome in a Paris salon.

Though she gathered about her most of the leading writers of the day, at a time when religious unbelief was almost universal among them, Madame Necker was so firm in her own faith that she would allow no conversation on such subjects. “ I like the philosophers,” she said, “ but I do not like their philosophy.” Her rule was regarded, and Madame Necker’s salon was probably the only one in Paris where the freest discussions upon all forms of religious belief did not constitute an important part of the conversation. Once, when Grimm was led on to advance some skeptical views, she burst into tears; and the courteous philosopher wrote her, apologizing for his indiscretion in talking on subjects which she thought should be kept sacred from discussion.

Madame Necker’s relations with all the habitués of her salon were amicable ; with some they were specially intimate. It was an era of friendship. We have little, now, of deep, tender, undying friendship between persons of different sexes. Such a thing, we are inclined to think, has gone out of existence. Men and women have not given up falling in love with one another, but the platonic attachments of the last century seem as strange to us as the customs of the Aztecs or the politics of the Blues and Greens. Madame Necker could count among those who were thus united to her in the bonds of amity some of the most famous men of the time. There must have been a great charm, a fund of just and tender sympathy, in the woman who excited a friendship, constant and yet respectful, in such different men as Buffon Moulton, and Grimm, besides the many others who, though less intimate, joined in a common admiration.

Buffon was perhaps the most illustrious, as he was the most fervent, of her admirers. He was already an old man when he met Madame Necker, and in the fullness of his fame, but his correspondence with her is a curious illustration of the man and the time. In these days of more exact science, the fame of Buffon’s great Natural History has somewhat waned. We cannot forget that to describe an animal in eloquent and poetical language is one thing, and to know it, as Darwin knew it, is another. But in his own day Buffon was deemed a very mastodon of intellect. “ Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth ? ” asked the Lord of Job. Buffon, according to the wit, would have answered, " I was there.” Certainly he described with confidence cosmic schemes and animal kingdoms. He led a stately and solitary life ; mingling little with the world, communing with nature, composing with dulcet charm of words his mighty volumes, and by his character and his life, as well as by his writings, impressing the imagination of men. The opinion which the world had of him, he also held of himself. In his letters to Madame Necker, he discusses, with a frankness that rises above ordinary vanity, the mottoes he wished to be placed on the monument erected to him. “ Buffoni os insigne videns mirabere,” he suggested. Or again, “ With sublime intellect, into the mysteries of subdued nature penetrated Buffon,” etc. But it was not for himself alone that he indited Latin verses. He sent them also to Madame Necker, and his letters overflow with laudatory adjectives, streams of sentiment, a very torrent of praise. “ My noble, my sublime, my adorable friend, my guide and model! My days are consecrated to you. My friendship is a very fire of the soul, a joy free from trouble ; not pleasure, but bliss.” She visited him and tended him in his last illness. “ I find you charming in a moment when nothing else is charming,” said the great naturalist, leaving the world as a courteous Frenchman should leave it, with a well-turned compliment upon his dying lips.

It was not with men alone, but with women, that Madame Necker’s social life brought her in contact. Perhaps the friendships of the latter were not so fervent, but her attractions and her character gained her access, in time, not only to literary and political circles, but to places more difficult to penetrate, — the palaces of the old and exclusive aristocracy.

Such a woman as Madame Necker found herself sometimes embarrassed amid a society of which the morality was sadly relaxed. The marriage ties often bound but lightly ; religious beliefs were discarded by many; sentiment and philosophy were feeble checks where moral restraints had lost their efficacy; the friendships of men, that could be innocent with a woman like Madame Necker, were full of peril for those whose self-control was less, and who acknowledged no divine law to which they were amenable. No curious inquiry was made into the private life of many, and some, whose rank was high, made little endeavor to conceal their disregard of social laws. “ In France,” said a cynical observer, “ if one is wealthy and bears an illustrious name, all is forgotten ; after a profligate youth, one can enjoy a respected age.” Madame Necker bore herself with moderation, making no loud outcry against those whom society recognized, content to keep her own character unspotted from the world.

There is a certain tragic element in a society like this, full of charm and of unrest, unsettled and unsettling, nearing a revolution which was to sweep it away, and yet utterly unconscious of the doom that was at hand. There were to be found in it many who uttered revolutionary ideas, but none who dreamed of the revolution that was soon to come. Like the fabled dolphin, its colors were brightest just before death. Not only over Frenchmen, but over foreigners who had once mingled in it, the social life of Paris exercised such a charm that to abandon it seemed an exile into dreary monotony. “ I must leave the fairest place in the world,” said the Neapolitan minister, when he was appointed viceroy of Sicily, “ and that is the Place Vendôme.” After Galiani, the witty abbé, was recalled to Naples, be poured out his woe in his letters to Madame Necker. “ For two years,” he writes,

“ I have not known what conversation is. . . . St. Thomas says that the angels can love without talking with one another. They are fortunate if they can find pleasure in that.”

The salon of Madame Necker acquired new prominence from the extraordinary political career of her husband. He had not taken a conspicuous part in the literary society which gathered about his board. He was not a ready nor a brilliant talker ; he was not interested in many of the questions which were debated by the savants and philosophers at his table ; his manners were formal and reserved, and be often took little lieed of their talk. His preoccupation and absent ways were familiar subjects for amusement to his guests, who were content to weary the husband, if they interested the wife. The treatment of which Gibbon complains was suffered by many others. M. Necker went off to his bed, and left his wife to listen to poets, wits, and philosophers to her heart’s content.

But the pecuniary embarrassments of France constantly increased, and economical questions acquired ail overshadowing importance. Necker was known from his career as a banker, and still more from some essays he had published on commercial topics, which had attained great success. Though he was a citizen of Geneva, he was, in 1776, called by Louis XVI. to the office of director of the royal treasury, and was afterward made director-general of the finances. He was for five years the chief financial minister of France, and in that position he gained a European reputation and immense popularity among the French people. His writings increased that popularity, though they diminished the scanty favor in which he was held by the extreme royalist party. In an age of sentimentality, tears flowed easily. When Necker published his famous Compte Rendu, philosophers and bishops wrote that they wept as they read it. Apparently, half of France used its handkerchief, as it perused the report of the treasury. Its publication was added to the minister’s offenses, and soon after Necker found his position so uncomfortable that lie resigned his place. He did it with great regret, for lie was an intensely ambitious man, and believed himself called to be the saviour of France in her distress. Expressions of sorrow at his retirement poured in from every quarter, but none, perhaps, were more felicitous than those of Gibbon. “ The lot of your husband,” he wrote Madame Necker, “ is always enviable : his enemies respect him, Europe admires him, and you love him.”

The salon of Madame Necker had now become the political centre of France. Necker himself was regarded as the head of the liberal party, which was constantly growing more urgent in its demand for reformation in the government. In the discussion of the questions and theories which now absorbed the attention of France, M. Necker naturally took an active part. But though her salon had increased in importance, Madame Necker may have regretted the days when Grimm and Galiani and Diderot were its chief ornaments, and when all the world was not occupied in talking about deficits and States-General.

Her health was somewhat impaired ; her beauty had in some degree faded ; she had reached the sad period when a woman finds that her ascendency has begun to wane. Her daughter, the future Madame do Stael, was born in 1766, and when still young her wit and sprightliness attracted the attention of all. Such a girl soon passes from the control of a mother, and her unrestrained vivacity sometimes exceeded the prudent bounds which Madame Necker would gladly have drawn. To her father she was specially dear, and there is a certain subtle, unacknowledged, exquisite pain that at times fills the heart of a fond wife at the thought that even her child should hold a place in her husband’s affection as near and dear as her own. Though M. Necker was not a demonstrative man, he had the deep, permanent emotions which are often found in such natures, and his tenderness for his wife never abated, even though it was not always proclaimed in words. But Madame Necker had a faculty for self-torture, and in moments of despondency she would fancy that her husband’s heart was now absorbed by his ambitions, and that her own hold upon it had weakened. Such feelings were short-lived, and she herself recognized their injustice, but they threw occasional shadows over a life that was nearing its end.

The only child of a man who united great wealth with a conspicuous political position, might expect to marry brilliantly. An alliance was planned between Mademoiselle Necker and William Pitt; a German prince did not think it beneath his dignity to ask for her hand ; but the Baron de Staël, the Swedish ambassador, was the fortunate man. The king of Sweden agreed that the baron should remain as ambassador at Paris, and should receive a liberal pension at his retirement. Necker bestowed on his daughter a dowry which was regarded as enormous, and in 1786 she was married, and assumed the name which she was to render famous.

During the seven years which followed his first retirement from office, Necker employed much of his time in frequent publications. Not only did he discuss financial questions, but he wrote a treatise that was largely read, on The Importance of Religious Belief. He adhered to the faith of his wife, and in his zeal for reforming the state lie did not join those who sought to destroy the church as a part of their task. His writings have long formed a portion of that stupendous literature which is of considerable value, and which no one reads. His style was but mediocre: like his person, it lacked ease and grace ; like his conversation, it was enlivened by no wit, and relieved by little variety. Historical students are the only ones on whom the duty now rests of reading his somewhat valuable, highly respectable, and wholly unentertaining works.

Madame Necker herself did some literary work, and after her death her husband published several volumes containing her miscellaneous writings. They reflect the purity and kindliness of her character, and portions of them possess a considerable degree of merit. But she had none of the literary genius of her daughter ; her style is often affected, and Madame Necker’s writings do not, on the whole, add anything to the reputation which she gained by her life.

In 1788, Necker was again called to office, and he was made controller-general, amid universal applause. The discussion of his political career would not be in place in this article. If he had not been called to the office which he desired with a craving ambition, posterity might have thought him the man who could have saved France. Unfortunately for his fame, the opportunity was afforded him. In peaceful times, Necker would have been an upright, an economical, and a useful minister. But he was sadly misplaced when he had to deal with a revolution, which he could neither stem nor direct. The crisis which stimulates a great man paralyzes a weak man. An upheaval which furnished an opportunity for a Mirabeau and a Napoleon rendered a man like Necker worse than useless. His return to office was greeted with the acclamations of all France. When in July, 1789, he received orders to retire forthwith, and privately took his way to Switzerland, the news was received with an outburst of reprobation from the Mediterranean to the Straits of Dover. Hardly two weeks had passed when he was summoned back to his office, recalled by Louis XVI., acting as the mouthpiece of the National Assembly and the whole people of France. His return was a triumphal progress, such as has been vouchsafed to few kings or victorious generals. Bonfires blazed from Basle to Paris; crowds lined all the roads to see the saviour of France return to his task ; he was presented with addresses from almost every municipality in the kingdom, and these now make two enormous bundles in the archives of Coppet. But fifteen months later, and he left Paris, unchecked, unheeded, and unobserved; abandoning public office forever, struggling under a heavier burden than public hatred, — the weight of popular indifference and contempt.

Madame Necker played a less conspicuous part in these last years. When revolutions were seething, the time for salons was past. Philosophers had yielded the field to patriots, and instead of savants debating was a people singing the “ Ca ira.” The Neckers were active in charities at a time when private charities were rare. Madame Necker gave great attention to the foundation of a hospital which still bears her name, and introduced into its management reforms which, though familiar now, were almost unknown then. The amelioration of prisons was another work in which the action of Necker, when in office, was guided by the zeal and good judgment of his wife. Her interest in such labors continued to the last, and in her benevolence towards the poor and suffering she excelled most of her own age, and anticipated the charitable activity which is so widespread in this century, and was so rare in the last.

The years spent at Coppet, after Necker’s final retirement, were clouded by personal and public misfortunes. He was disappointed in his ambitions, and distressed by the anarchy that had spread over France. Madame Necker felt the end drawing near, and was unable to shake off the terrible fascination of approaching death. She arranged with gloomy minuteness the details of her funeral and the disposition of her remains. She had been faithful to her husband in life, and she besought him that in death they might not be separated. “ I fear death,” she said to him, “ for I love life with you.” She died on May 6,1794, when she was but fiftyseven. Three months before, Gibbon, with whom her lot had been so long and strangely associated, had also passed away.

Her last wishes were respected, and in a tomb closed to the world, and concealed by the trees that have grown about it, her ashes rest with those of her husband and her daughter.

James Breck Perkins.