THE book’s subtitle, The Biography of a Flirt, is fair warning to the reader that he proceeds at his own risk. Mr. Sedgwick is so accomplished, so completely at home in the period he covers, that his work seems almost reminiscent. He makes as much of his subject as anyone could, but he has so little to work with that one regrets his choice. As the Duchesse de Broglie said of his heroine, ‘a life of little flirtations does not elevate the soul,’ nor does it yield much that is worthy of Mr. Sedgwick’s pen. As a rewarding subject in the period, Pauline Montmorin, Madame de Beaumont, to whom Mr. Sedgwick makes a rather cavalier allusion, is worth fifty of Madame Récamier.
Moreover, Mr. Sedgwick gets no help from his heroine’s eminent co-flirts, for he is obliged to bring them in on Madame Récamier’s apron strings, where they show to the worst possible advantage. The dolent lover, inanely fumbling in his lady’s petticoats, proverbially excites derision; and hence such men as Chateaubriand, Benjamin Constant, J.-J. Ampère, necessarily appear in Mr. Sedgwick’s pages as rather a poor lot. Despite all this the book has a great deal of charm, because Mr. Sedgwick so frankly likes his heroine, believes in her, and treats her with the high seriousness which is born of understanding and affection.