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Parvenus in France.
type of a groom, sometimes in that of a dandy. His talk is of steeple-chases.'
*And does he get on?' I asked.
Not in the least,' answered Beaumont. In England a nouveau riche can get into Parliament, or help somebody else to get in, and political power levels all distinctions. Here, wealth gives no power : nothing, indeed, but office gives power. The only great men in the provinces are the préfet, the sous-préfet, and the maire. The only great man in Paris is a minister or a general. Wealth, therefore, unless accompanied by the social talents, which those who have made their fortunes have seldom had the leisure or the opportunity to acquire, leads to nothing. The women, too, of the parvenus always drag them down. They seem to acquire the tournure of society less easily than the men. Bastide, when Minister, did pretty well, but his wife used to sign her invitations “Femme Bastide."
Society,' he continued, under the Republic was animated. We had great interests to discuss, and strong feelings to express, but perhaps the excitement was too great. People seemed to be almost ashamed to amuse or to be amused when the welfare of France, her glory or her degradation, her freedom or her slavery, were, as the event has proved, at stake.'
'I suppose,' I said to Ampère, that nothing has ever been better than the salon of Madame Récamier?'
*We must distinguish,' said Ampère. painters have many manners, so Madame Récamier had many salons. When I first knew her, in 1820, her
*As great habitual dinner-party consisted of her father, her husband, Ballanche, and myself. Both her father, M. Bernard, and her husband were agreeable men. Ballanche was charming.'
You believe,' I said, 'that Bernard was her father?'
*Certainly I do,' he replied. “The suspicion that Récamier might be was founded chiefly on the strangeness of their conjugal relations. To this, I oppose her apparent love for M. Bernard, and I explain Récamier's conduct by his tastes. They were coarse, though he was a man of good manners. He never spent his evenings at home. He went where he could find more license.
'Perhaps the most agreeable period was at that time of Chateaubriand's reign when he had ceased to exact a tête-à-tête, and Ballanche and I were admitted at four o'clock. The most illustrious of the partie carrée was Chateaubriand, the most amusing Ballanche. My merit was that I was the youngest. Later in the evening Madame Mohl, Miss Clarke as she then was, was a great resource. She is a charming mixture of French vivacity and English originality, but I think that the French element predominates. Chateaubriand, always subject to ennui, delighted in her. He has adopted in his books some of the words which she coined. Her French is as original as the character of her mind, very good, but more of the last than of the present century.'
Was Chateaubriand himself,' I said, “agreeable ?'
‘Delightful,' said Ampère ; 'très-entrain, très-facile à vivre, beaucoup d'imagination et de connaissances.'
* Facile à vivre?' I said. "I thought that his vanity had been difficile et exigeante.'
*As a public man,' said Ampère, 'yes; and to a certain degree in general society. But in intimate society, when he was no longer "posing," he was charming. The charm, however, was rather intellectual than moral.
*I remember his reading to us a part of his memoirs, in which he describes his early attachment to an English girl, his separation from her, and their meeting many years after when she asked his protection for her son. Miss Clarke was absorbed by the story. She wanted to know what became of the young man, what Chateaubriand had been able to do for him. Chateaubriand could answer only in generals : that he had done all that he could, that he had spoken to the Minister, and that he had no doubt that the young man got what he wanted. But it was evident that even if he had really attempted to do anything for the son of his old love, he had totally forgotten the result. I do not think that he was pleased at Miss Clarke's attention and sympathy being diverted from himself. Later still in Madame Récamier's life, when she had become blind, and Chateaubriand deaf, and Ballanche very infirm, the evenings were sad. I had to try to amuse persons who had become almost unamusable.'
How did Madame de Chateaubriand,' I asked, take the devotion of her husband to Madame Récamier?'
Philosophically,' answered Ampère. • He would not VOL. II.
have spent with her the hours that he passed at the Abbaye au bois. She was glad, probably, to know that they were not more dangerously employed.'
Could I read Chateaubriand ?' I asked. 'I doubt it,' said Ampère. «His taste is not English.'
"I have read,' I said, and liked, his narrative of the manner in which he forced on the Spanish war of 1822. I thought it well written.'
• It is, perhaps,' said Ampère, “the best thing which he has written, as the intervention to restore Ferdinand, which he effected in spite of almost everybody, was perhaps the most important passage in his political life.
* There is something revolting in an interference to crush the liberties of a foreign nation. But the expedition tended to maintain the Bourbons on the French throne, and, according to Chateaubriand's ideas, it was more important to support the principle of legitimacy than that of liberty. He expected, too, sillily enough, that Ferdinand would give a Constitution. It is certain, that, bad as the effects of that expedition were, Chateaubriand was always proud of it.'
What has Ballanche written?' I asked.
A dozen volumes,' he answered. • Poetry, metaphysics, on all sorts of subjects, with pages of remarkable vigour and finesse, containing some of the best writing in the language, but too unequal and too desultory to be worth going through.'
How wonderfully extensive,' I said, 'is French literature! Here is a voluminous author, some of whose writings, you say, are among the best in the French
French and English Poetry.
language, yet his name, at least as an author, is scarcely known. He shines only by reflected light, and will live only because he attached himself to a remarkable man and to a remarkable woman.'
French literature,' said Ampère, 'is extensive, but yet inferior to yours. If I were forced to select a single literature and to read nothing else, I would take the English. In one of the most important departments, the only one which cannot be re-produced by translationpoetry-you beat us hollow.
We are great only in the drama, and even there you are perhaps our superiors. We have no short poems comparable to the “ Allegro" or to the “Penseroso," or to the “Country Churchyard.”.
Tocqueville,' I said, 'told me that he did not think that he could could now read Lamartine.'
'Tocqueville,' said Ampère, 'could taste, like every man of genius, the very finest poetry, but he was not a lover of poetry. He could not read a hundred bad lines and think himself repaid by finding mixed with them ten good ones.'
Ingres,' said Beaumont, 'perhaps our greatest living painter, is one of the clever cultivated men who do not read. Somebody put the “Misanthrope” into his hands, “ It is wonderfully clever,” he said, when he returned it; “how odd it is that it should be so totally unknown.”
Let us read it to-night,' I said. ‘By all means," said Madame de Tocqueville ; 'though we know it by heart it will be new when read by M. Ampère.' Accordingly Ampère read it to us after dinner.