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word that can be called fine, or pedantic, has that except 300l. which he got for Gulliver, he a prodigious variety of good set phrases al- never made a farthing by any of his writings. ways at his command, and displays a sort of Pope understood his trade better, and not homely richness, like the plenty of an old only made knowing bargains for his own English dinner, or the wardrobe of a wealthy works, but occasionally borrowed his friends' burgess. This taste for the plain and sub-pieces, and pocketed the price of the whole. stantial was fatal to his poetry, which subsists This was notoriously the case with three not on such elements; but was in the highest volumes of Miscellanies, of which the greater degree favourable to the effect of his humour, part were from the pen of Swift. very much of which depends on the imposing In humour and in irony, and in the talent of gravity with which it is delivered, and on the debasing and defiling what he hated, we join various turns and heightenings it may receive with all the world in thinking the Dean of St. from a rapidly shifting and always appropriate Patrick's without a rival. His humour, though expression. Almost all his works, after The sufficiently marked and peculiar, is not to be Tale of a Tub, seem to have been written easily defined. The nearest description we very fast, and with very little minute care of can give of it, would make it consist in exthe diction. For his own ease, therefore, it pressing sentiments the most absurd and is probable they were all pitched on a low ridiculous-the most shocking and atrocious key, and set about on the ordinary tone of a -or sometimes the most energetic and origifamiliar letter or conversation; as that from nal-in a sort of composed, calm, and unconwhich there was a little hazard of falling, scious way, as if they were plain, undeniable, even in moments of negligence, and from commonplace truths, which no person could which any rise that could be effected, must dispute, or expect to gain credit by announcing always be easy and conspicuous. A man and in maintaining them, always in the fully possessed of his subject, indeed, and gravest and most familiar language, with a confident of his cause, may almost always consistency which somewhat palliates their write with vigour and effect, if he can get extravagance, and a kind of perverted ingeover the temptation of writing finely, and nuity, which seems to give pledge for their really confine himself to the strong and clear sincerity. The secret, in short, seems to conexposition of the matter he has to bring for- sist in employing the language of humble ward. Half of the affectation and offensive good sense, and simple undoubting conviction, pretension we meet with in authors, arises to express, in their honest nakedness, sentifrom a want of matter, and the other half, ments which it is usually thought necessary from a paltry ambition of being eloquent and to disguise under a thousand pretences-or ingenious out of place. Swift had complete truths which are usually introduced with a confidence in himself; and had too much real thousand apologies. The basis of the art is business on his hands, to be at leisure to in- the personating a character of great simplicity trigue for the fame of a fine writer;-in con- and openness, for whom the conventional or sequence of which, his writings are more ad- artificial distinctions of society are supposed mired by the judicious than if he had bestowed to have no existence; and making use of this all his attention on their style. He was so character as an instrument to strip vice and much a man of business, indeed, and so much folly of their disguises, and expose guilt in all accustomed to consider his writings merely as its deformity, and truth in all its terrors. Inmeans for the attainment of a practical end— dependent of the moral or satire, of which whether that end was the strengthening of a they may thus be the vehicle, a great part of party, or the wounding a foe-that he not only the entertainment to be derived from works disdained the reputation of a composer of of humour, arises from the contrast between pretty sentences, but seems to have been the grave, unsuspecting indifference of the thoroughly indifferent to all sorts of literary character personated, and the ordinary feelfame. He enjoyed the notoriety and influence ings of the world on the subjects which he which he had procured by his writings; but discusses. This contrast it is easy to heighten, it was the glory of having carried his point, by all sorts of imputed absurdities: in which and not of having written well, that he valued. case, the humour degenerates into mere farce As soon as his publications had served their and buffoonery. Swift has yielded a little to turn, they seem to have been entirely forgot- this temptation in The Tale of a Tub; but ten by their author;—and, desirous as he was scarcely at all in Gulliver, or any of his later of being richer, he appears to have thought writings in the same style. Of his talent for as little of making money as immortality by reviling, we have already said at least enough, means of them. He mentions somewhere, in some of the preceding pages.
Correspondance inédite de MADAME DU DEFFAND, avec D'Alembert, Montesquieu, le Président Henault, La Duchesse du Maine, Mesdames de Choiseul, De Staal, &c. &c. 3 tomes, 12mo. Paris: 1809.
Lettres de MADEMOISELLE DE LESPINASSE, écrites depuis l'Année 1773 jusqu'à l' Année 1776, &c. 3 tomes, 12mo. Paris: 1809.
Where the letters that are now given to the world have been secreted for the last thirty years, or by whom they are at last publish
THE popular works of La Harpe and Marmontel have made the names at least of these ladies pretty well known in this country; and we have been induced to place their corres-ed, we are not informed in either of the works pondence under one article, both because their before us. That they are authentic, we conhistory is in some measure connected, and ceive, is demonstrated by internal evidence; because, though extremely unlike each other, though, if more of them are extant, the selecthey both form a decided contrast to our own tion that has been made appears to us to be a national character, and, taken together, go far little capricious. The correspondence of to exhaust what was peculiar in that of France. Madame du Deffand reaches from the year Most of our readers probably remember 1738 to 1764;-that of Mademoiselle de Leswhat La Harpe and Marmontel have said of pinasse extends only from 1773 to 1776. The these two distinguished women; and, at all two works, therefore, relate to different peevents, it is not necessary for our purpose to riods; and, being entirely of different characgive more than a very superficial account of ters, seem naturally to call for a separate them. Madame du Deffand was left a widow consideration. We begin with the corresponwith a moderate fortune, and a great reputa- dence of Madame du Deffand, both out of tion for wit, about 1750; and soon after gave respect to her seniority, and because the vaup her hotel, and retired to apartments in the riety which it exhibits seems to afford room convent de St. Joseph, where she continued to for more observation. receive, almost every evening, whatever was most distinguished in Paris for rank, talent, or accomplishment. Having become almost blind in a few years thereafter, she found she required the attendance of some intelligent young woman, who might read and write for her, and assist in doing the honours of her conversazioni. For this purpose she cast her eyes on Mademoiselle Lespinasse, the illegitimate daughter of a man of rank, who had been boarded in the same convent, and was for some time delighted with her election. By and bye, however, she found that her young companion began to engross more of the notice of her visitors than she thought suitable; and parted from her with violent, ungenerous, and implacable displeasure. Mademoiselle de Lespinasse, however, carried with her the admiration of the greater part of her patroness' circle; and having obtained a small pension from government, opened her own doors to a society not less brilliant than that into which she had been initiated under Madame du Deffand. The fatigue, however, which she had undergone in reading the old marchioness asleep, had irreparably injured her health, which was still more impaired by the agitations of her own inflammable and ambitious spirit; and she died, before she had obtained middle age, about 1776,-leaving on the minds of almost all the eminent men in France, an impression of talent, and of ardour of imagination, which seems to have been considered as without example. Madame du Deffand continued to preside in her circle till a period of extreme old age; and died in 1780, in full possession of her faculties.
As this lady's house was for fifty years the resort of every thing brilliant in Paris, it is natural to suppose, that she herself must have possessed no ordinary attraction-and to feel an eager curiosity to be introduced even to that shadow of her conversation which we may expect to meet with in her correspondence. Though the greater part of the letters are addressed to her by various correspondents, yet the few which she does write are strongly marked with the traces of her peculiar character and talent; and the whole taken together give a very lively idea of the structure and occupations of the best French society, in the days of its greatest splendour. Laying out of view the greater constitutional gaiety of our neighbours, it appears to us, that this society was distinguished from any that has ever existed in England, by three circumstances chiefly:-in the first place, by the exclusion of all low-bred persons; secondly, by the superior intelligence and cultivation of the women; and, finally, by the want of political avocations, and the absence of political antipathies.
By the first of these circumstances, the old Parisian society was rendered considerably more refined, and infinitely more easy and natural. The general and peremptory proscription of the bourgeois, excluded, no doubt. a good deal of vulgarity and coarseness; but it had a still better effect in excluding those feelings of mutual jealousy and contempt, and that conflict of family pride and consequential opulence, which can only be prevented from disturbing a more promiscuous assembly, by means of universal and systematic reserve.
Where all are noble, all are equal;-there is no room for ostentation or pretension of any sort; every one is in his place every where; and the same manners being familiar to the whole society from their childhood, manners cease in a great measure to be an object of attention. Nobody apprehends any imputation of vulgarity; and nobody values himself on being free from it. The little peculiarities by which individuals are distinguished, are ascribed, not to ignorance or awkwardness, but to caprice merely, or to peculiarity of disposition; and not being checked by contempt or derision, are indulged, for the most part, às caprice or disposition may dictate; and thus the very highest society is brought back, and by the same causes, to much of the freedom and simplicity of the lowest.
In England, we have never had this arrangement. The great wealth of the mercantile classes, and the privilege which every man here possesses of aspiring to every situation, has always prevented any such complete separation of the high and the low-born, even in ordinary society, and made all large assemblages of people to a certain degree promiscuous. Great wealth, or great talents, being sufficient to raise a man to power and eminence, are necessarily received as a sufficient passport into private company; and fill it, on the large scale, with such motley and discordant characters, as visibly to endanger either its ease or its tranquillity. The pride of purse, and of rank, and of manners, mutually provoke each other; and vanities which were undiscovered while they were universal, soon become visible in the light of opposite vanities. With us, therefore, society, when it passes beyond select clubs and associations, is apt either to be distracted with little jealousies and divisions, or finally to settle into constraint, insipidity, and reserve. People meeting from all the extremes of life, are afraid of being misconstrued, and despair of being understood. Conversation is left to a few professed talkers; and all the rest are satisfied to hold their tongues, and despise each other in their hearts.
The superior cultivation of French Women, however, was productive of still more substantial advantages. Ever since Europe became civilised, the females of that country have stood more on an intellectual level with the men than in any other,—and have taken their share in the politics and literature, and public controversies of the day, far more largely than in any other nation with which we are acquainted. For more than two centuries, they have been the umpires of polite letters, and the depositaries and the agents of those intrigues by which the functions of government are usually forwarded or impeded. They could talk, therefore, of every thing that men could wish to talk about; and general conversation, consequently, assumed a tone, both less frivolous and less uniform, than it has ever attained in our country.
The grand source, however, of the difference between the good society of France and of England, is, that, in the former counry, men
had nothing but society to attend to; whereas, in the latter, almost all who are considerable for ranks or for talents, are continually engrossed with politics. They have no leisure, therefore, for society, in the first place: in the second place, if they do enter it at all, they are apt to regard it as a scene rather of relaxation than exertion; and, finally, they naturally acquire those habits of thinking and of talking, which are better adapted to carry on business and debate, than to enliven people assembled for amusement. In England, men of condition have still to perform the high duties of citizens and statesmen, and can only rise to eminence by dedicating their days and nights to the study of business and affairsto the arts of influencing those, with whom, and by whom, they are to act and to the actual management of those strenuous contentions by which the government of a free state is perpetually embarrassed and preserved. In France, on the contrary, under the old monarchy, men of the first rank had no political functions to discharge-no control to exercise over the government-and no rights to assert, either for themselves or their fellow subjects. They were either left, therefore, to solace their idleness with the frivolous enchantments of polished society, or, if they had any object of public ambition, were driven to pursue it by the mediation of those favourites or mistresses who were most likely to be won by the charms of an elegant address, or the assiduities of a skilful flatterer.
It is to this lamentable inferiority in the government and constitution of their country, that the French are indebted for the superority of their polite assemblies. Their saloons are better filled than ours, because they have no senate to fill out of their population; and their conversation is more sprightly, and their society more animated than ours, because there is no other outlet for the talent and ingenuity of the nation but society and conversation. Our parties of pleasure, on the other hand, are mostly left to beardless youths and superannuated idlers-not because our men want talents or taste to adorn them, but because their ambition, and their sense of public duty, have dedicated them to a higher service. When we lose our constitution-when the houses of parliament are shut up, our assemblies, we have no doubt, will be far more animated and rational. It would be easy to have splendid gardens and parterres, if we would only give up our corn fields and our pastures: nor should we want for magnificent fountains and ornamental canals, if we were contented to drain the whole surrounding country of the rills that maintain its fertility and beauty.
But, while it is impossible to deny that the French enjoyed, in the agreeable constitution of their higher society, no slight compensation for the want of a free government, it is curious, and not unsatisfactory, to be able to trace the operation of this same compensating principle through all the departments we have alluded to. It is obviously to our free government, and to nothing else, that we owe that mixture of ranks and of characters, which certainly
renders our large society less amiable, and less unconstrained, than that of the old French nobility. Men, possessed of wealth and political power, must be associated with by all with whom they choose to associate, and to whom their friendship or support is material. A trader who has bought his borough but yesterday, will not give his influence to any set of noblemen or ministers, who will not receive him and his family into their society, and agree to treat them as their equals. The same principle extends downwards by imperceptible gradations; and the whole community is mingled in private life, it must be owned with some little discomfort, by the ultimate action of the same principles which combine them, to their incalculable benefit, in public.
looked upon as having renounced both the
This distinction too, we think, arises out of the difference of government, or out of some of its more immediate consequences. Our politicians are too busy to mix with men of study; and our idlers are too weak and too frivolous. The studious, therefore, are driven in a great measure to herd with each other, and to form a little world of their own, in which all their peculiarities are aggravated, their vanity encouraged, and their awkwardness confirmed. In Paris, where talent and idleness met together, a society grew up, both more inviting and more accessible to men of thought and erudition. What they communicated to this society rendered it more intelligent and respectable; and what they learned from it, made them much more reasonable, amiable, and happy. They learned, in short, the true value of knowledge and of wisdom, by seeing exactly how much they could contribute to the government or the embellishment of life; and discovered, that there were sources both of pride and of happiness, far more important and abundant than thinking, writing, or reading.
Even the backwardness or the ignorance of our women may be referred to the same noble origin. Women have no legal or direct political functions in any country in the universe. In the arbitrary governments of Europe, however, they exert a personal influence over those in power and authority, which raises them into consequence, familiarizes them in some degree with business and affairs, and leads them to study the character and the dispositions of the most eminent persons of their day. In free states, again, where the personal inclination of any individual can go but a little way, and where every thing must be canvassed and sanctioned by its legitimate censors, this influence is very inconsiderable; and women are excluded almost entirely from It is curious, accordingly, to trace in the any concern in those affairs, with which the volumes before us, the more intimate and leading spirits of the country are necessarily private life of some of those distinguished occupied. They come, therefore, almost un- men, whom we find it difficult to represent to avoidably, to be considered as of a lower order ourselves under any other aspect, than that of intellect, and to act, and to be treated, upon of the authors of their learned publications. that apprehension. The chief cause of their D'Alembert, Montesquieu, Henault, and sevinferiority, however, arises from the circum-eral others, all appear in those letters in their stances that have been already stated. Most true and habitual character, of cheerful and of the men of talent in upper life are engaged careless men of the world-whose thoughts in pursuits from which women are necessarily ran mostly on the little exertions and amuseexcluded, and have no leisure to join in those ments of their daily society; who valued even pursuits which might occupy them in com- their greatest works chiefly as the means of mon. Being thus abandoned in a good degree amusing their leisure, or of entitling them to to the society of the frivolous of our sex, it is the admiration of their acquaintances; and impossible that they should not be frivolous occupied themselves about posterity far less in their turn. In old France, on the contrary, than posterity will be occupied about them. the men of talents in upper life had little to It will probably scandalize a good part of our
The last distinction between good French and good English society, arises from the different position which was occupied in each by the men of letters. In France, certainly, they mingled much more extensively with the polite world.-incalculably to the benefit both of that world, and of themselves. In England, our great scholars and authors have commonly lived in their studies, or in the society of a few learned friends or dependants; and their life has been so generally gloomy, laborious and inelegant, that literature and intellectual eminence have lost some of their honours, and
do but to please and be pleased with the women of learning and science (though we think men; and they naturally came to acquire that it will be consolatory to some) to be told, that knowledge and those accomplishments which there is great reason for suspecting that the fitted them for such society. most profound of those authors looked upon learning chiefly as a sort of tranquil and innocent amusement; to which it was very well to have recourse when more lively occupations were not at hand, but which it was wise and meritorious, at all times, to postpone to pleasant parties, and the natural play, either of the imagination or of the affections. It appears, accordingly, not only that they talked easily and familiarly of all their works to their female friends, but that they gave themselves very little anxiety either about their sale, or their notoriety out of the sphere of their own acquaintances, and made and invited all sorts
much of their attraction. With us, when a of jokes upon them with unfeigned gaiety and man takes to authorship, he is commonly indifference. The lives of our learned men
would be much happier, and their learning much more useful and amiable, if they could be persuaded to see things in the same light. It is more than time, however, to introduce the reader to the characters in the volumes before us.
simplicity and openness of his character-his perpetual gentleness and gaiety in societythe unostentatious independence of his sentiments and conduct-his natural and cheerful superiority to all feelings of worldly ambition, jealousy, or envy-and that air of perpetual youth and unassuming kindness, which made him so delightful and so happy in the society of women,—are traits which we scarcely expect to find in combination with those splendid qualifications; and compose altogether a char
Madame du Deffand's correspondence consists of letters from Montesquieu, D'Alembert, Henault, D'Argens, Formont, Bernstorff, Scheffer, &c. among the men,-and Mesdames de Staal, de Choiseul, &c. among the women. Her own letters, as we have already intimat-acter of which we should have been tempted ed, form but a very inconsiderable part of to question the reality, were we not fortunate the collection; and, as these distinguished enough to be familiar with its counterpart in names naturally excite, in persons out of Paris, one living individual.* more interest than that of any witty marchioness whatsoever, we shall begin with some specimens of the intimate and private style of those eminent individuals, who are already so well known for the value and the beauty of their public instructions.
Of these, the oldest and the most popularly known, was Montesquieu,-an author who frequently appears profound when he is only paradoxical, and seems to have studied with great success the art of hiding a desultory and fantastical style of reasoning in imposing aphorisms, and epigrams of considerable effect. It is impossible to read the Esprit des Loix, without feeling that it is the work of an indolent and very ingenious person, who had fits of thoughtfulness and ambition; and had meditated the different points which it comprehends at long intervals, and then connected them as he best could, by insinuations, metaphors, and vague verbal distinctions. There is but little of him in this collection; but what there is, is extremely characteristic. D'Alembert had proposed that he should write the articles Democracy and Despotism, for the Encyclopédie; to which proposal he answers with much naïveté, as follows:
"Quant à mon introduction dans l'Encyclopédie, c'est un beau palais où je serais bien glorieux de mettre les pieds; mais pour les deux articles Démocratie et Despotisme, je ne voudrais pas prendre ceux-la; j'ai tiré, sur ces articles, de mon cerveau tout ce qui y était. L'esprit que j'ai est un moule; on n'en tire jamais que les mêmes portraits: ainsi je ne vous dirais que ce que j'ai dit, et peutêtre plus mal que je ne l'ai dit. Ainsi, si vous voulez de moi, laissez à mon esprit le choix de quelques articles; et si vous voulez ce choix, ce fera chez madame du Deffand avec du marasquin. Le père Castel dit qu'il ne peut pas se corriger, parce qu'en corrigeant son ouvrage, il en fait un autre; et moi je ne puis pas me corriger, parce que je chante toujours la même chose. Il me vient dans l'esprit que je pourrais prendre peut-être l'article Goût, et je prouverai bien que difficile est propriè communia dicere."-Vol. i. pp. 30, 31.
It is not possible, perhaps, to give a better idea of the character of D'Alembert, than merely to state the fact, and the reason of his having refused to go to Berlin, to preside over the academy founded there by Frederic. In answer to a most flattering and urgent application from that sovereign, he writes thus to M. D'Argens.t
"La situation où je suis seroit peut-être, monsieur, un motif suffisant pour bien d'autres, de renoncer à leur pays. Ma fortune est au-dessous du médiocre; 1700 liv. de rente font tout mon revenu: entièrement indépendant et maître de mes volontés, je n'ai point de famille qui s'y oppose; oublié du gouvernement comme tant de gens le sont de la Providence, persécuté même autant qu'on peut l'être quand on évite de donner trop d'avantages sur soi à la méchanceté des hommes; je n'ai aucune part aux récompenses qui pleuvent ici sur les gens Malgré tout cela, monsieur, la tranquillité dont je de lettres, avec plus de profusion que de lumières. jouis est si parfaite et si douce, que je ne puis me résoudre à lui faire courir le moindre risque.".
Supérieur à la mauvaise fortune, les épreuves de toute espèce que j'ai essuyées dans ce genre, m'ont endurci à l'indigence et au malheur, et ne m'ont laissé de sensibilité que pour ceux qui me ressem blent. A force de privations, je me suis accoutumé sans effort à me contenter du plus étroit nécessaire, et je serois même en état de partager mon peu de for. tune avec d'honnêtes gens plus pauvres que moi. J'ai commencé, comme les autres hommes, par désirer les places et les richesses, j'ai fini par y renoncer absolument; et de jour en jour je m'en trouve mieux. La vie retirée et assez obscure que je mène est parfaitement conforme à mon caractère, à mon amour extrême pour l'indépendance, et peut-être même à un peu d'éloignement que les événemens de ma vie m'ont inspiré pour les hommes. La retraite ou le régime que me prescrivent mon état et mon goût m'ont procuré la santé la plus parfaite et la plus égale-c'est-à-dire, le premier bien d'un philosophe; enfin j'ai le bonheur de jouir d'un petit nombre d'amis, dont le commerce et la confiance font la consolation et le charme de ma vie. Jugez maintenant vous-même, monsieur, s'il m'est possi. ble de renoncer à ces avantages, et de changer un bonheur sûr pour une situation toujours incertaine, quelque brillante qu'elle puisse être. Je ne doute nullement des bontés du roi, et de tout ce qu'il pent
There is likewise another very pleasing letter to M. de Henault, and a gay copy of verses to Madame de Mirepoix;-but we hasten on to a personage still more engaging. Of all the men of genius that ever existed, D'Alembert perhaps is the most amiable and truly respectable. The great extent and variety of his learning, his vast attainments and discoveries in the mathematical sciences, and the beauty and eloquence of his literary compositerai dans ce monde je serai le plus zélé de vos adtions, are known to all the world: But the
This learned person writes in a very affected and précieuse style. He ends one of his letters to D'Alembert with the following eloquent expression:-"Ma santé s'effoiblit tous les jours de plus révérences au père éternel: mais tandis que je res en plus; et je me dispose à aller faire bientôt mes
It cannot now offend the modesty of any living reader, if I explain that the person here alluded to was my excellent and amiable friend, the late Professor Playfair.