Chateaubriand’s Atala


, , , , , , , , ,

The Funeral of Atala, by Girodet (1808)

The Funeral of Atala, by Girodet (1808)

An “American” novella: Atala (1801)

In 1791, François-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand, an impoverished aristocrat fleeing revolutionary France, travels to America where he spends nine months and lives in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and the Hudson valley. Born of this stay in America are Atala, René, Les Natchez and Voyage en Amériquean EText.

These works were written in England, as was L’Essai sur les Révolutions. Upon his return to Europe, Chateaubriand joined l’Armée des Princes (the Army of Princes) and, after being wounded in battle, he settled in England where he earned a meagre living teaching French mainly. Despite this painful exile, not only did François-René write the afore-mentioned works, but he also became familiar with English literature and, in particular, with seventeenth-century author John Milton‘s Paradise Lost (1667), a work Chateaubriand would later translate into French. (See Chateaubriand, Wikipedia)

Chateaubriand returned to France in May 1800 when an amnesty was issued émigrés. In 1801, he published Atala, and, the following year, René. Both novellas are incorporated in Le Génie du Christianisme The Genius of Christianity), a large work published in 1802. In René, Chateaubriand described “le mal du siècle”[i] or, more precisely, the “vague [from vagueness] des passions,” the form of melancholy experienced by sensitive figures who know they are “fallen gods” (Lamartine, see Le Mal du siècle). Their sorrows bestow superiority on such characters. “Morbid sadness was mistaken for the suffering of a proud and superior mind.” (See Mal du siècle, Wikipedia.)

Ilustration of Atala,by Gustave Doré

Atala, illustrated by Gustave Doré (Photo credit: Project Gutenberg [EBook #44427])

Atala, illustrated by Gustave Doré

Atala, illustrated by Gustave Doré (Photo credit: Project Gutenberg [EBook #44427])

Atala (1801)

Atala, a novella, or short novel, was published in 1801, a year before René. However, the novella published in 1801 features René, a Frenchman who left France in 1725 and found refuge among the Natchez. The Natchez are a tribe of Amerindians living near the Mississippi and friendly to the French. In Atala, they are near the Ohio River. Chactas could be a “noble savage,” but he is not depicted as such. He is a blind Sachem and a Natchez whose nobility seems to stem from the fact that he is not altogether a “savage.” In a later appearance, Chactas is in France and meets Louis XIV.

If Chactas has nobility, which he does, it is mostly because he was brought up by Lopez, the Spaniard who rescued Chactas from the Muscogulges and brought him up. Lopez also fathered Atala whose mother is a Muscogulge, enemies of the Natchez. Atala’s mother weds the tribes’ magnanimous leader, Simaghan. When Chactas leaves Lopez’ home, he is again captured by the Muscogulges. A fourth, and the most eloquent character in Atala, is a French priest, le père Aubry, Father Aubry.

Painting by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson.

F.-René de Chateaubriand, by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chactas’ Story

In Atala, Chactas, who has befriended René, tells him his story. After leaving the home of Lopez to rejoin his people, Chactas is captured by Muscogulge Amerindians who quickly prepare to torture and kill him. Kind Atala, a Christian, takes pity on Chactas. She has fallen in love with him and unties him so he can escape torture. The two flee the tribe’s encampment but are caught in a terrible thunderstorm. They hear the sound of a bell and, suddenly, a dog approaches followed by Father Aubry, a French missionary.

Father Aubry takes Atala and Chactas to his grotto. The priest wants his protégés to wed. However, this prospect saddens Atala profoundly. Atala’s mother made a promise. Her child, Atala, was sick, so she vowed that Atala would remain a virgin. On her deathbed, she extracts the same promise from Atala herself. Atala does not tell Chactas and father Aubry about her vow of chastity.

While Father Aubry and Chactas are visiting the mission, Atala takes poison. On their return, Chactas and father Aubry find Atala lying down, in agony. She tells her story and Father Aubry quickly explains that the oath she has made to her dying mother can be undone. But it is too late.

Ô ma mère ! pourquoi parlâtes-vous ainsi ! Ô religion qui fais (sic) à la fois mes maux et ma félicité, qui me perds et qui me consoles ! (pp. 52-53)[ii]

(O my mother, why spake you thus? O Religion, the cause of my ills and of my felicity, my ruin and my consolation at the same time!) (“Félicité” means “bonheur” (happiness).

Ambivalence towards Christianity is expressed.  A grief-stricken Chactas is indignant and, after rolling on the ground in Amerindian fashion, he says: “Homme prêtre, qu’es-tu venu faire dans ces forêts ?” (Man-priest, why did you come into these forests?). “To save you,” replies the old man who expresses considerable anger defending Christianity and then absolves Atala’s suicide. It is not a sin, because she did not know her suicide was a transgression. She is “ignorant.”

“[A]ll your misfortunes are the result of your ignorance. Your savage education and the want of instruction have been your ruin. You did not know that a Christian cannot dispose of his life.”

We then witness Atala’s agony, together with Chactas and le père Aubry. Atala dies but is buried discreetly at the “Groves of the Death.” Later, Father Aubry dies when his mission is attacked by Cherokee Amerindians who torture him to death. He will be buried near Atala, and René will come to collect the bones of both Atala and Father Aubry.

Chateaubriand’s Savage: not so Noble

Note that le père Aubry is a white man and that “everything about him was calm and sublime.” Chactas was brought up by Lopez, a Spaniard and a Christian. Moreover, Lopez is Atala’s father. As for René, to whom Chactas told his story, he is a French émigré who moved to Louisiana in 1725. It would appear, therefore, that Atala’s savages are not altogether “savages.”

Atala was “proud” of her Spanish blood and “resembled a queen in the pride of her demeanor, disdained to speak to these warriors.” Until she met Chactas, she felt those “warriors” who surrounded her were not worthy of her. Je n’aperçus autour de moi que des hommes indignes de recevoir ma main; je m’applaudis de n’avoir d’autre époux que le Dieu de ma mère. (p. 53) (I saw myself surrounded by men unworthy of receiving my hand; I congratulated myself upon having no other spouse than the God of my mother.) Obviously, the natives Atala knows seem inferior to Europeans. Yet, the Natchez are René’s refuge. Could this be the case if Chateaubriand considered them irredeemably uncivilized?

Alfred de Musset

Atala is a bittersweet chapter in the tale of the “Noble Savage.” Chateaubriand’s savage is not a noble savage, at least not consistently. In particular, he is extremely cruel. Savages, Iroquois, allies of the British, tortured and burned alive Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf and other missionaries in 1625. But Chateaubriand is among émigrés who escaped the savage Reign of Terror: 1793. The setting confers a degree of exoticism to Atala and it allows Chateaubriand feats of style. The Amerindians bring food to our Europeans and Chactas is dressed in bark, etc. It’s called “couleur locale” and it is all the more colourful in that Chateaubriand was not closely acquainted with Amerindians.

It is difficult not to agree with Alfred de Musset that [t]he entire malady of the present century stems from two causes: the nation that lived through 93 [la terreur or the reign of terror] and 1814 [Napoleon's defeat: the Battle of Paris] had its heart wounded twice. All there was is no longer; all that will be has yet to come. Seek nowhere else the secret of our ills. (See Musset’s Confession of a Child of the Century, Preface by Henri Bornier of the French Academy, Project Gutengerg [EBook #3942].

At any rate, as she is dying, Father Aubry tells Atala that life is a painful journey. “Remerciez donc la bonté divine, ma chère fille, qui vous retire si vite de cette vallée de misère.” (p. 52) “Thank, therefore, the Divine goodness, my dear daughter, for taking you away thus early from this valley of misery.”

Indeed, a “valley of misery” it is for René who lives in exile, as do all émigrés and will those Natchez, who had adopted René and have survived the destruction of their encampment, Father Aubry’s mission. They are leaving, carrying the bones of their ancestors. Leading the cortège are the warriors, and closing it, women carrying their newborn. In the middle are the older Natchez. There is nobility to these “savages.”

“O what tears are shed when we thus abandon our native land!—when, from the summit of the mountain of exile, we look for the last time upon the roof beneath which we were bred, and see the hut-stream still flowing sadly through the solitary fields surrounding our birth-place!”

Oh ! que de larmes sont répandues lorsqu’on abandonne la terre natale, lorsque du haut de la colline de l’exil on découvre pour la dernière fois le toit où l’on fut nourri et le fleuve de la cabane qui continue à couler tristement à travers les champs de la patrie.” (p. 73)


The final paragraph of Atala is very revealing and on these words, I will end this post.

“Unfortunate Indians!—you whom I have seen wandering in the deserts of the New World with the ashes of your ancestors;—you who gave me hospitality in spite of your misery—I could not now return your generosity, for I am wandering, like you, at the mercy of men; but less fortunate than you in my exile, I have not brought with me the bones of my fathers.”

Indiens infortunés que j’ai vus errer dans les déserts du Nouveau-Monde avec les cendres de vos aïeux ! vous qui m’aviez donné l’hospitalité malgré votre misère ! je ne pourrais vous la rendre aujourd’hui, car j’erre, ainsi que vous, à la merci des hommes, et moins heureux dans mon exil, je n’ai point emporté les os de mes pères ! 







AtalaFR is an online publication Wikimedia CommonsFR
AtalaEN is Project Gutenberg publication [EBook #44427]EN, illustrations by Gustave Doré,
Confession of a Child of the Century EN is Project Gutenberg publication [EBook #3942]

[i] The term mal du siècle was coined by Alfred de Musset.  Chateaubriand uses the words vague des passions.

[ii] François-René de Chateaubriand, Atala, René, Le Dernier Abencérage, Les Natchez (Paris: Librairie Garnier Frères, n.d.), pp. 52-53. (a very old edition)

Herb Weidner (composer)
Mémoires à Atala 

Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson

— Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, self-portrait (1824), drawing in pencil and Conté crayon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Orléans, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

© Micheline Walker
24 April 2014


Blaise Pascal’s “Roseau pensant”


, , , , ,


Léon Brunschvicg, Fragments 348 and 397
Louis Lafuma, Fragments 113 and 114
English translation:
Project Gutenberg [EBook #18269]
Introduction by T. S. Eliott

Blaise Pascal: Le Roseau pensant


Blaise Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662), a writer, philosopher, inventor, mathematician, etc. used the term “roseau pensant” to define the human condition. Literally “roseau pensant” means “thinking reed.” It describes humankind’s duality. We are fragile: mere reeds. However, we think, which gives us nobility. We are therefore misérables in that we are frail and die, which is how the reed is perceived by La Fontaine (“Le Chêne et le Roseau”), but thought, our ability to think, makes us “grands” (great). In La Fontaine, the reed bends, but it does not break.

Pascal died at the age of 39. The Pensées were left in fragments: bundles of papers called liasses. They were classified by Louis Lafuma, Léon Brunschvicg and Philippe Sellier, as well as other scholars. Project Gutenberg uses the Brunschvicg classification.

I am providing you with the translation used by Project Gutenberg.

Section VI, The Philosophers, p. 96

In Project Gutenberg’s edition [EBook #18269], thoughts numbers 347 and 348 are translated as follows:

347-348: L’homme n’est qu’un roseau, le plus faible de la nature ; mais c’est un roseau pensant. Il ne faut pas que l’univers entier s’arme pour l’écraser : une vapeur, une goutte d’eau, suffit pour le tuer. Mais, quand l’univers l’écraserait, l’homme serait encore plus noble que ce qui le tue, puisqu’il sait qu’il meurt, et l’avantage que l’univers a sur lui, l’univers n’en sait rien.

Toute notre dignité consiste donc en la pensée. C’est de là qu’il faut nous relever et non de l’espace et de la durée, que nous ne saurions remplir. Travaillons donc à bien penser : voilà le principe de la morale.

Roseau pensant. — Ce n’est point de l’espace que je dois chercher ma dignité, mais c’est du règlement de ma pensée. Je n’aurai pas davantage en possédant des terres : par l’espace, l’univers me comprend et m’engloutit comme un point ; par la pensée, je le comprends.


347: Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.

All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavour, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.

348: A thinking reed.—It is not from space that I must seek my dignity, but from the government of my thought. I shall have no more if I possess worlds. By space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom; by thought I comprehend the world.

Section VI, The Philosophers, p. 107

397: La grandeur de l’homme est grande en ce qu’il se connaît misérable. Un arbre ne se connaît pas misérable. C’est donc être misérable que de se connaître misérable ; mais c’est être grand que de connaître qu’on est misérable.


397: The greatness of man is great in that he knows himself to be miserable. A tree does not know itself to be miserable. It is then being miserable to know oneself to be miserable; but it is also being great to know that one is miserable.



Les Pensées, Gutenberg Project [EBook 18269]EN
Introduction by T. S. Eliott (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958)
Project Gutenberg uses L. Brunschvicg’s classification of the fragments left by Pascal. 
Pergolesi‘s Stabat Mater, “Quando Corpus Morietur”







Pergolesi‘s Stabat Mater, “Quando Corpus Morietur”
London Symphony Orchestra, 1985
Claudio Abbado, conductor
PAGE1-~1© Micheline Walker
April 19, 2014



Le Mal du siècle, 19th-Century France


, , , , , , , , ,

“This well-known and especially Romantic masterpiece was described by the historian John Lewis Gaddis as leaving a contradictory impression, ‘suggesting at once mastery over a landscape and the insignificance of the individual within it. We see no face, so it’s impossible to know whether the prospect facing the young man is exhilarating, or terrifying, or both.’”[i] (See Caspar David Friedrich, Wikipedia.) 

Edgar Degas, Melancholy (c. 1874)

Melancholy, by Edgar Degas, c. 1874 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Le Mal du Siècle

This duality, “mastery” and “insignificance,” could explain the malaise called le mal du siècle (the malady of the century), a term coined by poet Alfred de Musset (11 December 1810 – 2 May 1857) in La Confession d’un enfant du siècle (The Confession of a Child of the Century), an autobiography published in 1836.

Moreover, France entered the nineteenth century after a radical revolution that turned into a bloodbath. Yet the nineteenth century in France was inaugurated by the military victories of Napoleon. The levée en masse, conscriptionof 31 August 1793, had given Napoleon his grande armée.


Let’s take a closer look.

Le mal du siècle[ii] is associated with François-René de Chateaubriand‘s René, a novella published separately in 1802, but also included, along with Atala (1801), in Chateaubriand’s Génie du Christianisme (The Genius of Christianity), published in 1802. It was also part of Les Natchez, a work written between 1793 and 1799, but not published until 1826. It is about René, a forelorn protagonist.

Along with Atala (1801), it was conceived in America and written in Britain. Chateaubriand belonged to an aristocratic family and had to flee France during the French Revolution. He travelled to North-America, as did many émigrés, and then lived in England where he wrote abundantly. He left a superb narrative describing the Mississippi, the river he calls the Meschacebé and which he is unlikely to have seen.

René’s “mal du siècle”

René, the protagonist of René, is a sensitive young man who simply does not belong and whose mal is melancholy. The word melancholy all but summarizes “le mal du siècle,” also called “le vague des passions,” l’ennui (boredom), “spleen” (in Baudelaire). Chateaubriand has René say that he “lacked something to fill the void on his existence[:]”  “Il me manquait quelque chose pour remplir l’abîme de mon existence[.]” René also says that man’s natural song is sad: “Le chant naturel de l’homme est triste.” In René’s opinion, “[o]ur heart is an incomplete instrument, a lyre missing strings” forcing us to express joy on the same tone as sighs:

“Notre cœur est un instrument incomplet, une lyre où il manque des cordes, et où nous sommes forcés de rendre les accents de la joie sur le ton consacré aux soupirs.” (René)

La théorie des climats

A reader of Montesquieu, Madame de Staël, the author of De l’Allemage (Germany), 1810-1813, theorizes that northerners are more prone to melancholy than people born and living in sunnier environments. This theory is called “la théorie des climats” and, although it is expressed by Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (18 January 1689 – 10 February 1755), an early representative of the French Enlightenment, it dates back to Greco-Roman antiquity.

Madame de Staël’s northerners would be German-speaking people, the inhabitants of the British Isles and, perhaps, the people of Brittany, France, a Celtic nation. These northerners are Romanticism‘s better recruits.

Lamartine and Pascal

To a certain extent, René’s sadness is yet another expression of man’s duality. In “L’Homme” (Méditations poétiques, 1820), French poet Alphonse de Lamartine writes that “L’homme est un dieu tombé qui se souvient des cieux [.]” (Man is a fallen god who remembers heaven.) As Blaise Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662) wrote, there is misère in the mortality of humans, but “grandeur” in the fact that humans know they will die. (Wo)man is a roseau pensant: a mere reed, but a thinking reed.

La grandeur de l’homme est grande en ce qu’il se connaît misérable; un arbre ne se connaît pas misérable.[iii]

(Man’s grandeur is immense in that he knows he is miserable [a mere mortal]; a tree doesn’t know it is miserable.)

But René also suffers from a profound sense of alienation from the world and is therefore considered Werther’s French counterpart. Johann Wolfgang Goethe‘s Werther is the protagonist of The Sorrows of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werthers), an epistolary novel published in 1774, a quarter of a century before Chateaubriand’s René

Sturm und Drang

However, Werther has been associated, rightly or wrongly, with the Sturm und Drang movement (the late 1760s to the early 1780s). The Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) movement, named after a play by Friedrich Maximilian von Klinger (17 February 1752 – 25 February 1831), is characterized by the expression of “extremes of emotion,” and is not restricted to literature. It extends to music and the fine arts (examples are listed under Sturm und Drang, in Wikipedia).

The Sorrows of the Young Werther & René

Goethe (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832); 1774

In Goethe’s Sorrows of the Young Werther, a bestseller, unrequited love or, love lost, often leads to melancholy, Werther falls in love with Lotte who is about to marry Albert, a man eleven years her senior. He therefore courts rejection. The plot is the classic love triangle. Lotte marries Albert and Werther commits suicide. Werther’s suicide is the expression of an “extreme of emotion.” He has invested his entire self in Lotte (see cathexis, Wikipedia).

Chateaubriand (4 September 1768 – 4 July 1848); 1802

François-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand, Anne Louis Girodet Trioson

François-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand, Anne Louis Girodet Trioson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for René, also a bestseller, nowhere can its protagonist find a refuge from melancholia. He visits the Natchez people in Louisiana, still a French colony, and travels to Scotland, the home Ossian. Ossian is an invented bard whose poetry is that of James MacPherson. René considers suicide, but finds a reprieve when he is joined by his sister Amélie, whom he loves. However, Amélie soon leaves him to enter a convent, her love for René being incestuous. René returns to America and is killed by a Natchez. Les Natchez can be considered an episode, or chapter, in the European discourse on the “Noble Savage.” However, Chateaubriand’s savage is not so noble.

There is no refuge for the Werthers and Renés. Romantics often perceived the world as mediocre and hostile which exacerbated the profound sadness called le mal du siècle. But romanticism can also be summarized as an age when sentiment prevailed over reason. It is a reaction against the Enlightenment. Beginning with René Descartes‘ (31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650) Discourse on Method (1637), reason had prevailed over sentiment.

The Reign of Sentiment

Sentiment, Querelle des Bouffons, the Middle Ages, the Brothers Grimm (folklore), Wagner (a glorious past)

Therefore, it would seem to me that romanticism gives free rein to sentiment and subjectivity over reason. The reign of reason had been challenged by Blaise Pascal and otherwise assaulted, but it could be said that La Querelle des Bouffons, (The War of the Comic Actors) was reason’s major defeat (see Related Articles: Pergolesi). It is also a victory of the Modernes over the Anciens. Romantic authors and musicians revived the Medieval era, a Christian era. They sought their roots. The Brothers Grimm collected the folklore that gave German-speaking people their identity and Wagner gave them their glorious past.

Weltschmerz: le mal du siècle

Alfred de Musset: Confession d’un Enfant du siècle; Weltschmerz (World-weariness)

At a deeper level, these “extremes of emotion” may be an expression of man’s duality or the human condition. Siècle” means both century and the world, or the secular and the profane. In his Confession d’un enfant du siècle, mentioned above, Alfred de Musset wrote that:

“Toute la maladie du siècle présent vient de deux causes : le peuple, qui a passé par 93 et par 1814, porte au cœur deux blessures. Tout ce qui était n’est plus ; tout ce qui sera n’est pas encore. Ne cherchez pas ailleurs le secret de nos maux.”

(The entire malady of the present century stems from two causes : the nation that lived through 93 [la terreur or the reign of terror] and 1814 [Napoleon's defeat: the Battle of Paris] had its heart wounded twice. All there was is no longer; all that will be has yet to come. Seek nowhere else the secret of our ills.)

Alfred de Musset

Alfred de Musset, by Charles Landelle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Such a definition applies to France, but the industrial revolution was no less traumatic than the French Revolution and Napoléon’s: defeat, i.e. 1814. However, Werther is the victim of unrequited love, the world is not as it should be. As for René, he is at odds with a world that ended in the Terror of 1793-94: 93. As an aristocrat, Chateaubriand had to flee France. He went to America, as did several émigrés, an experience reflected in his “American” novellasAtala and René, and in Les Natchez. He then lived in England where he was very poor yet wrote Atala, René, Les Natchez and his Essai sur les révolutions. Émigrés were amnestied[iv] by Napoleon on 27 April 1802, but Chateaubriand left England in May 1800, when émigrés were also amnestied. 

Le Génie du Christianisme was published a year after the Concordat of 1801, an agreement between Napoleon and Pope Pius VII, signed on 15 July 1801. “[The Concordat] solidified the Roman Catholic Church as the majority church of France and brought back most of its civil status.” (Concordat of 1801, Wikipedia) 


Humans have long been described or have described themselves as both tall and small. They combine a degree of “mastery” and “insignificance.” This theme underlies most of Western literature. John Milton‘s Paradise Lost tells that story. René’s mal du siècle, however, is also as described by Alfred de Musset. The French Revolution turned into the above-mentioned bloodbath: 93. The King was guillotined and its wealth was taken away from the Church. This was Talleyrand‘s[v] idea, a priest and a bishop. The vote took place on 10 October 1789. Priests fled to Britain.[vi] A new calendar was adopted.

Yet, romanticism happened everywhere and, for many years, Madame de Staël‘s château at Coppet was its nucleus and Madame de Staël herself, a theorist of romanticism. Besides, the industrial revolution, a revolution greater than the French Revolution, was introducing the reign of machines that both empowered and lessened humankind, hence Weltshmerz, a term we owe Jean-Paul Richter. Le mal du siècle may well be the birthplace of l’absurde (see Absurdism, Wikipedia).


  1. On Madame de Staël (12 March 2014)
  2. The Nineteenth Century in France (5 March 2014)
  3. Salons and Cafés survive “la terreur” (19 February 2014)


Chateaubriand (4 September 1768 – 4 July 1848) 

Montesquieu (18 January 1689 – 10 February 1755)

Musset (11 December 1810 – 2 May 1857)

  • Confession of a Child of the Century, by Alfred de Musset is a Gutenberg project [EBook #3942]EN


[i] John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History (Oxford University Press: 2004), pp. 1-2

[ii] “Mal du siècle,” in J. P. de Beaumarchais, D. Couty, A Rey, Dictionnaire des littératures de langue française (Paris: Bordas, 1984).

[iii] Blaise Pascal, Pensées 114-397 (Lafuma/Brunschvicg), in Henri Gouhier et Louis Lafuma, Œuvres complètes (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1963), p. 513.

[iv] See Decree on Émigrés, Wikipedia

[v] André Castelot, Talleyrand ou le cynisme (Paris: Librairie Académique Perrin, 1980), p. 160.

[vi] Many priests were sent to Quebec, where Britain had French-speaking and Catholic subjects.

Daniel Barenboim plays Songs without Words (Opus 30, N° 01) 
Felix Mendelssohn



Chateaubriand, by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (Photo credit: Wikipedia) 
Confession d’un enfant du siècle (trailer): film starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Peter Doherty
(Sylvie Verheyde, director).


© Micheline Walker
April 18, 2014

Philippe Couillard, Quebec’s Premier


, , , , , , ,

Rue du parc Lafontaine (Montreal)

Rue du Parc Lafontaine (Montréal)

Philippe Couillard, Quebec's Premier

Philippe Couillard, Quebec’s Premier (Google images)


Blogging has not been possible for several weeks, due to debacles leading to paralyzing fatigue. But there has also been a miracle. Last week I was in Montreal shopping for a condominium. Yes, I may move to downtown Montreal. It’s a dream come true.

Voltaire called New France a “few acres of snow.” (Candide) He was right. It snows in Quebec and Montreal’s winters are harsh, but Montreal is one of the world’s finer cities. It is alive. If I move, I will live within easy walking distance of the Grande Bibliothèque du Québec and the Université du Québec à Montréal. I will also be near McGill University. I hope therefore that my posts will be richer.

My home will be a brand new “apartment” or loft. It features very high walls one of which is made of glass. The balcony is a “juliette,” doors with a protective banister, named after Shakespeare‘s (26 April 1564 (baptised) – 23 April 1616) Romeo and Juliet, yet so very French: room for a cat and geraniums. Downsizing will be difficult. I must give away books I no longer use and furniture. Some books I can part with easily because I no longer need them. However, when starting a pre-selection, two days ago, I noticed I owned “the” book on the Dumas dynasty: André Maurois(26 July 1885 – 9 October 1967) Les Trois Dumas (1954). I have therefore discovered why I knew about the Dumas family.

Quebec Premier designate Philippe Couillard speaks at a news conference, Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at the legislature in Quebec City. Quebecers elected a Liberal majority government on April 7. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Quebec Premier designate Philippe Couillard speaks at a news conference, Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at the legislature in Quebec City. Quebecers elected a Liberal majority government on April 7. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

The Quebec Elections

  • a possible empowerment of the French culture, not the opposite
  • respect for French-speaking Canadians outside Quebec: Acadians, descendants of voyageurs, etc
  • the French legacy in North-America
  • an end to petty rules
  • speaking French and speaking it correctly: a personal responsibility 

The more important news is the election of Dr Philippe Couillard, the leader of Quebec’s Liberal Party, to the premiership of the Province of Quebec. It was a landslide victory. The election of Philippe Couillard will not destroy the Parti québécois, but separatism has been dealt a major blow.  There will be changes and, in my opinion, these will not harm French-speaking Québécois. Demanding that restaurant owners write “salle d’eau,” instead of WC, on a bathroom door is somewhat petty. When I lived in France, the word for salle d’eau was WC.

A Strong Canada as an asset to Québécois

Separatist or sovereigntist Québécois may not be fully aware of this fact, but they are already “maîtres chez nous,” (masters in our own home), their motto. Truth be told, federation with a strong and officially bilingual Canada may in fact ensure rather than hinder the preservation and growth of the French culture in both Quebec and Canada, not to mention North-America. It seems to me that in order to thrive culturally, Québécois’ best option may be to remain in a prosperous and united Canada. Quebec is already a de facto ‘distinct’ society. Need it go that much further?

Safety is one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, why, in 1867, Quebec entered into Confederation under the premiership of Sir Georges-Étienne Cartier. American expansionism, as expressed in Manifest Destiny was a threat. Remember as well the Fenian raids. In 2011, Peter Vronsky published Ridgeway: The American Fenian Invasion and the 1866 Battle That Made Canada (link to Amazon). One of the battles fought to push back the Fenians was the Battle of Ridgeway. At the moment, no nation is threatening Canada’s sovereignty, but unity and strength remain an asset. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (See Lincoln’s House Divided Speech). Philippe Couillard has to build an economically strong Quebec, an instrument of permanence. There are united yet bilingual and multilingual countries.   

The “Great Expulsion:” never again

Besides, although Quebec has the largest concentration of French-speaking Canadians, French is spoken outside Quebec. Acadians are French-speaking Canadians and Acadie was the first French settlement in North America. Remember Pierre Dugua, sieur de Monts‘ (Du Gua de Monts) and cartographer Samuel de Champlain‘s expedition of 1604. For many years, Champlain was considered the father of Acadie. But this is not altogether the fact.

As you know, the Acadians were deported in 1755 (see Great Expulsion, Wikipedia) and should not be deported again. From the Great Expulsion (le grand dérangement) grew the Cajun people of Louisiana. Deported Acadians survived and many returned the Canada’s Atlantic provinces. I spent twenty-two years of my teaching career in Nova Scotia, where I was surrounded by Acadians. Acadian author Antonine Maillet told the story of Acadians returning “home” pulling their “charrette.” Pélagie-la-Charrette (1979) earned madame Maillet the 1979 Prix Goncourt, the most prestigious award for a work of literature written in French.


It should also be pointed out that many descendants of Canadiens voyageurs settled in Manitoba when they retired. They created a nation: the Métis inhabiting Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Louis Riel, a Métis, may be a tragic figure but he is a Canadian legend.  Legends endure. Moreover, there is an Évangéline (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1847). She has long ceased to be merely fictional, if ever she was fictional.  Finally, among voyageurs, many found employment in the lumber industry in British Columbia as did other French-Canadians. In other words, there are French-speaking Canadians from coast to coast. It could be that the Québécois’ pays (country) is Gilles Vigneault‘s country: winter. « Mon pays, c’est l’hiver. »

French starts at home

Moreover, the survival of the French culture in Quebec does not depend entirely on creating a milieu where exposure to English is minimized. Preserving Quebec’s culture is also a personal responsibility on the part of Québécois. They must make sure they speak their language as well as possible. They are at liberty to use the word that best conveys a concept. They must read. A language is an identity. Why quarrel? Separatists have sometimes turned the “Anglos” into scapegoats. If we were maîtres chez nous (masters in our own home), such and such would not happen. Well, speaking French correctly and preserving one’s French heritage starts at home: chez nous. It is a choice.

A Liberal Victory: Dr Philippe Couillard

At any rate, the new premier of Quebec is the Quebec Liberal Party leader Philippe Couillard, a neurosurgeon by profession and a descendant of one of the first French families to settle in Quebec. The liberals’ colour is red. Well, on Monday 7 April 2014, Montreal voted red and so did Sherbrooke, etc. Dr Couillard has yet to prove his mettle as Premier of Quebec. But he proved a good candidate to the premiership of Quebec. “Let’s focus on the real issues” was his rallying cry and Quebec does need to focus on the real issues. With respect to issues, my next post will be devoted to the debate on the Quebec Charter of Values.


No one knows the future, but one can attempt to build it. Throughout history, millions of individuals have had to leave their country because of genocide, war, poverty, famine and other evils. Millions have suffered. Why should Quebec inflict on itself major and unnecessary confrontations? By and large, Québécois and French-Canadians have been privileged in this regard and their rights are protected.

We now live in an English-speaking world, which was not always the case. Empires rise and fall. Yet, although the world learns English, nations do not have to betray their linguistic and cultural heritage. 



The Globe and Mail “Meet Philippe Couillard, the former neurosurgeon who is Quebec’s new premier…”
The National Post “A quiet intellectual with a need to serve.”
Global Montreal “Who is Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard?”
Le Devoir Liste des articles liés à « Philippe Couillard » 
Antonine Maillet, the Unknow Acadian, CBC

Tchaikovsky, Old French song


© Micheline Walker
April 11, 2014



On Madame de Staël


, , , , , , ,

Le Château de Coppet
Le Château de Coppet, Madame de Staël’s residence on the shores of Lake Geneva (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Madame de Staël, the daughter of Swiss-born Jacques Necker (30 September 1732 – 9 April 1804), Louis XVI’s Finance Minister, is a legendary figure. For one thing, Napoleon I was so afraid of her that he would not let her live in or near Paris. She was born in Paris, but, in 1784, her father had bought a lovely home in Switzerland, on the shores of Lake Geneva. When Germaine de Staël was exiled from France, by Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon I, she took refuge at Coppet.

Germaine de Staël

French-Swiss Anne Louise Germaine de Staël (22 April 1766 – 14 July 1817; aged 51), may well be the most prominent intellectual, and salonnière (salonist) of her era, an era that spans the French Revolution, Napoleon’s Empire (Napoléon I) and the beginning of the Bourbon restoration. After Napoleon’s defeat, France was a monarchy, but not an absolute monarchy. It had to be a Constitutional Monarchy, or a form of parliamentary Monarchy, as was the wish of the signatories of the Tennis Court Oath. Madame de Staël joined the National Assembly, constituted by members of the Third Estate, le tiers-état, from rich bourgeois to impoverished peasants still living on feudal seigneuries and paying taxes. The National Assembly (13, 1789 to July 9, 1789) was soon replaced by the Legislative Assembly, which takes us to 1792 and the National Convention. It lasted from 21 September 1792 to 26 October 1795, or 28 July 1794, when Robespierre and Saint-Just were guillotined. (See The French Revolution, Wikipedia.)  

Suzanne Curchod and Jacques Necker

Madame de Staël is the daughter of Suzanne Curchod (1737 – 6 May 1794), a salonnière whose salon could be compared favorably to the salon where Madame Geoffrin (26 June 1699 – 6 October 1777), the daughter of a banker who had entertained and dined distinguished guests on Monday and on Wednesday. Salonnières had “days.” Madame Geoffrin, the finest hostess of the Age of Enlightenment, attracted to her salon the leading intellectual, literary, artistic and political figures of the Age of Enlightenment, and, among them, Voltaire, a Freemason, encyclopédistes Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert and, to a significant degree, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778), an encyclopédiste who challenged the reign of reason and is, therefore, a precursor, if not the founder, of Romanticism.  Remember La Querelle des Bouffons.

Nearly a generation later, during the 1770s and 178Os, madame Necker’s salon du vendredi, the Friday salon, would attract exceptional figures, one of whom, Jean-François Marmontel, has been somewhat neglected by posterity. Marmontel was secretary-for-life (lifetime) of the Neuf Sœurs (The Nine Sisters), the leading Masonic Lodge of the Grand Orient of France. Moreover, from 1771 until 1793, Louis-Philippe II, Duke of Orleans (Philippe Égalité) was its Grand Master. France also had English-speaking lodges.

Madame Necker also entertained Swiss expatriates Madame Geoffrin and the Marquise du Deffand. When Madame Necker left Paris, in 1790, she missed her salon. Four years later, she died.

Suzanne Curchod Necker

Suzanne Curchod Necker

Jacques Necker, by Joseph Duplessis (Château de Versailles) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jacques Necker, by Joseph Duplessis (Château de Versailles) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for Madame de Staël’s father, Swiss-born Jacques Necker (30 September 1732 – 9 April 1804), he was Louis XVI’s finance minister (1788–89, 1789–90). Jacques Necker had become extremely wealthy, richissime in fact, during the Seven Year’s War. He made savvy speculations, perhaps not altogether above-board, but speculations that earned him a fortune and put him in a position to lend money to the “Crown,” so to speak. In 1764, he married Suzanne Curchod (1739 – 1794), the cultivated daughter of a Vaudois* pastor who was considering marrying historian Edward Gibbon. Suzanne Necker became a prominent salonnière or salonist.

*from the Swiss Canton (township) of Vaud

Jacques Necker, a Protestant, would not allow his beloved daughter Germaine to marry a Catholic. In 1786, Madame de Staël was therefore married to the Swedish ambassador in Paris, Baron Erik de Staël-Holstein. It was, of course, a marriage of convenience, ended formally in 1797, but Madame de Staël was now at court, meeting statesmen. Madame de Staël and Erik de Staël had four children, three of whom survived childhood: Auguste (b. 1790), who edited his mother’s complete works; Albert (b. 1792); and Albertine (b. 1796). Albertine married Victor de Broglie, 9th Prime Minister of France. Gustavine (b. 1887) died in 1789.

One of the children may have been fathered by Benjamin Constant (25 October 1767 – 8 December 1830), the author of Adolphe (1816) and, for some 14 years (1794 – 1809), Madame de Staël’s lover. He and Madame de Staël shared the same liberal views. Benjamin’s writings were influenced by Karl Wilhelm Friedrich von Schlegel and his brother August Wilhem Schlegel, who were leading “Romantics.” (See Romanticism, Wikipedia.)

Madame de Staël had a fifth child, Alphonse, born in 1812 when Germaine was 46. In all likelihood, he was fathered by Albert de Rocca who legitimated him as Louis- Alphonse Rocca. Albert was twenty-three years younger than madame de Staël’s. The couple married after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and lived in Paris. Although sources differ concerning the date on which the marriage took place, my best information is that Albert de Rocca and Germaine de Staël married on 10 October 1816. She had a seizure in early 1817 and died on July 14, 1817. Albert de Rocca suffered from tuberculosis. He died on 31 January 1818.

Madame de Staël & Napoleon

The coup d’état of 18 Brumaire (9 November 1799) had made Bonaparte the self-declared head of state, in France (see Napoleon, Wikipedia), a position he consolidated in 1804 by proclaiming himself and his Créole wife, Joséphine, Emperor and Empress of France, leaving no voice to the people. After the execution of Louis XVI, madame de Staël therefore switched to moderate Republicanism.

Having read her writings, I would suspect that, intellectually, Madame de Staël may have been Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord‘s equal, except that their roles differed. Madame de Staël was a political thinker, but Talleyrand, a shrewd politician, a survivor, and Napoleon’s éminence grise, to a point. However, although Napoleon Bonaparte proved quite an adroit statesman, he was, first and foremost, an extraordinary general, which brought both his rise and his demise. Moreover, he had taken possession of France, not to mention Europe.

At any rate, a rather cowardly Napoleon had madame de Staël chased throughout Europe and banished her. Her refuge was the Château de Coppet, on Lake Léman (Lake Geneva), the property purchased by Jacques Necker, Madame de Staël’s doting father, in 1784. Germaine spent approximately ten years, at Coppet which she described as her Dix années d’exil (Ten Years of Exile). Scholar Mona Ozouf[i] speaks of Madame de Staël’s inquiétude (worriness). Who would catch her when she fell: “descendre sans appui” (to fall without support)? She did not moan, except privately, and in her Dix années d’exil (published posthumously, in 1821, as were other works), but isolation was a major burden to a conversationalist, hence the title of her book on her banishment: Dix années d’exil. Madame de Staël was a woman, a wife, and a mother who dared to write. (Ozouf, p. 121)

Madame de Staël (1766 - 1817),  Firmin Massot

Madame de Staël (1766 – 1817), Firmin Massot

Le Groupe de Coppet

However, unexpectedly, during the ten years (an approximate number) Madame de Staël spent at Coppet, Coppet, not Paris, was the appropriate destination for men of letters, intellectuals, writers and various dignitaries. Helen Phillio Jenkins[ii] quotes French novelist Stendhal, the pen name of Marie-Henri Beyle (23 January 1783 – 23 March, 1842. Stendhal is the author of Le Rouge et le Noir (1830) and many classics of 19th-century French literature. The Red and the Black is on my list of future posts. Stendhal describes a triumphant summer feast in 1816, Madame de Staël’s last summer.  

“There was here on the coast of Lake Geneva last autumn the most astonishing reunion. It was the states general of European opinion. The phenomenon rises even to political importance. There were here six hundred persons, the most distinguished of Europe. Men of intellect, of wealth, of the greatest titles–all came here to seek pleasure in the salon of the illustrious woman for whom France weeps today.” The Review Politique, 1880, says: “It was a parliament whence came forth political doctrines, a race [breed] of statesmen, a school of thinkers, which have filled with their combats, their triumphs or their defeats, more than half a century of our history.”[iii]


No, although she grieved, Germaine did not moan. She learned German and took an interest in German Romanticism. She met Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832) known as Goethe, and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (10 November 1759 – 9 May 1805), known as Friedrich Schiller. She is therefore associated with Sturm und Drang (late 1760s to early 1780s). 

However, Madame de Staël’s knowledge of Geneva-born Jean-Jacques Rousseau‘s  (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778) works had fully prepared her to understand and to contribute to the development of European Romanticism. Madame de Staël had studied Rousseau and written about his works: 1) Letters on the Works and the Character of J.-J. Rousseau (1788). Although Madame de Staël had published two works before she was 21, she entered the world of letters when she started writing analytical works: political theory, literary theory, thoughts on various subjects, sociology avant la lettre:

  1. Lettres sur les ouvrages et le caractère de Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1788) ;
  2. De l’influence des passions sur le bonheur des individus et des nations (1796) ;
  3. De la littérature considérée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales (1800).

Jean-Jacques had rehabilitated sentiment, a subject debated from the day René Descartes published, in French, his Discours de la Méthode (1637). By and large, seminal ideas stem from intuition, but are then examined methodically

As for Madame de Staël, she wrote 2) A Treatise on the Influence of the Passions upon the Happiness of Individuals and of Nations, published in 1796. French-Swiss Benjamin Constant, the author of Adolphe (1816) and Madame de Staël’s lover, also studied sentiment.

Madame de Staël is also the author of 3) The Influence of Literature upon Society (1800). It’s a fascinating topic. However, Madame de Staël’s De l’Allemagne (Germany), written between 1810 and 1813, is her magnum opus. Yet, her novel entitled Delphine (1802), is also a classic. 


In this post, we have seen Germaine de Staël as an intellectual and a salonnière, but a salonnière who played an active role in the conversation and was a thinker. She was in fact, both hostess and guest, and her guests included such individuals as Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington, Madame Récamier.

She was a novelist, Delphine (1802)and Corinne (1807), but, first and foremost a thinker.  Philosopher Auguste Comte, the father of sociology, included her in his “Calender of Great Men.”

In literature, she helped create a new hero well-exemplified by Chateaubriand‘s René, a French Werther, Goethe’s Werther. Our new hero suffers from le mal du siècle and le vague des passions. He stands tall compared to the rest of humanity, but he lives in a garret, his genius unrecognized. Reason had not been crushed, but it had been carefully circumscribed.

Politically, moderation guided her thinking.  After the execution of Louis XVI, she was a moderate Republican. In fact, she was always a moderate.

And then comes Coppet, the unrivalled meeting-place of Europe’s intellectual elite. Whenever I think of Madame de Staël, she is in Coppet.




Please accept my apologies for the long absence.  I was not feeling well. Kind regards to all of you.


[i] Mona Ozouf, Les Mots des femmes ; essai sur la singularité française (Paris : Fayard, 1995), p. 113.

[ii] Helen Philleo Jenkins, “Madame de Stael,” in Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman’s Buiding, World’s Columbia Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A. 1893 (Chicago: Monarch Book Company, 1894), pp. 686-690).

Johann Baptist Vanhal, (12 May 1739 – 20 August 1813)
Symphony in G minor, II Adagio


© Micheline Walker

March 12, 2014

Madame de Staël as Corinne,
Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Nineteenth Century in France


, , , , , , , , ,

Louis Stanilas Xavier de France, Comte de Provence, Maurice Quentin de la Tour, 1762

Louis Stanislas Xavier de France, Louis XVIII, Comte de Provence, Maurice Quentin de la Tour, 1762 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The French Revolution

I would like to provide you with an overview of the history of 19th-century France. It has several insurrections and coups d’état. The first coup d’état took place on 19 Brumaire Year VIII, or 9 November 1799. It therefore precedes the nineteenth century by about six weeks. On 19 Brumaire, Napoleon I became First Consul and his government was the French Consulate. However, in April 1804, he named himself Emperor of the French and was crowned Napoleon I on 2 December 1804. Joséphine was crowned impératrice (Empress), by the new Emperor, her husband.

Events Preceding the First Republic

At the beginning of the 19th century, France was an unofficial Empire. As First Consul, Napoleon was the de facto ruler of France. He started rising to power during the National Convention (1792 – 1795) and continued empowering himself throughout the French Directory (1795 – 1799) as General Napoleon Bonaparte. The French Directory is identified as the third stage of the French Revolution.

Everything started with the meeting of the Estates-General of 1789. Significant events are the Tennis Court Oath of 14 June 1789, the storming of the Bastille, on 14 July 1789. The Revolution was radicalized (i.e. the King became an enemy) by the Flight to Varennes (June 1791) and the Declaration of Pillnitz (August 1791). The levée en masse (conscription of August 23, 1793) gave Napoleon and France a huge army.  

The French Revolution can be divided in stages. 

  1. The First Republic was founded on 22 September 1792, by the newly-established National Convention.
  2. The National Convention: 21 September 1792 to 26 October 1795 (4 Brumaire IV). The Thermidorian Reaction (27 July 1794) put an end to the Reign of Terror.
  3. The Directory: 2 November 1795 to 10 November 1799. There were five Directors and the Directory doubled up as a style (neoclassicism). Neoclassicism became a style as a result of the Coup of 18 Fructidor or 4 September 1797. Eighteenth (18) Fructidor was a genuine coup d’état, involving the military.
  4. The Consulate (18 Brumaire [9 November 1799] – 1804).  As First Consul, Napoleon I ruled unopposed.

The First Empire

Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor of the French on 18 May 1804 and was crowned on 2 December 1804. He then crowned his Créole wife Joséphine impératrice. She kept that title when Napoleon married Marie-Louise of Austria.

Napoleon suffered severe losses during the French invasion of Russia (1812) and the Battle of Leipzig (autumn 1813). France was invaded and the First Empire dissolved. In fact, the First Empire ended twice. It ended first on 4 April 1814,[i] when Napoleon I abdicated and was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba, off the coast of Tuscany. He escaped. The period during which Napoleon returned to power is called Napoleon’s Hundred Days (111 to be precise).

The First Empire ended again when Napoleon I was defeated at Waterloo, on 18 June 1815. Napoleon I was defeated by a coalition (Napoleon I faced several coalitions). This time, Napoleon I was exiled to a distant island, Saint Helena, where he died of stomach cancer in 1821.

The Congress of Vienna (1815)

The First Empire was followed by the Congress of Vienna, the foremost social and political event of the nineteenth century, conducted before and after Napoleon I’s Hundred Days.

The main players were:

The decisions made in Vienna laid the groundwork for various insurrections and, ultimately, World War I. However, the Congress of Vienna was the first meeting of a united Europe or European nations seeking peaceful coexistence. (See Concert of Europe, Wikipedia.)

The Two Monarchies and Three Monarchs

Napoleon’s Hundred Days made the installation of Louis XVIII, portrayed above, very difficult. What a lovely child!

Our Monarchs are:

Comments on Charles X

Charles X undermined his reputation and popularity because of the Anti-Sacrilege Act (1825 – 1830) and because he proposed financial indemnities for properties confiscated during the 1789 Revolution (the French Revolution). His actions led to the July Revolution of 1830, when Louis-Philippe III (House of Orleans) was elected King of the French.

Louis XVII  Louis-Charles de France

Louis XVII, Titular, Alexandre Kucharski
Louis-Charles de France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


  • Louis XVII became titular (having the title of) King of France on 21 January 1893, the day his father was executed. He died of a form of tuberculosis in 1895. He never reigned.
  • Louis-Philippe II, Duc d’Orléans or Philippe Égalité (13 April 1747 – 6 November 1793; by guillotine).  Louis-Philippe II did not reign.

The 1848 Revolutions

King Louis-Philippe III was deposed during the 1848 Revolution. In 1848, there were revolutions in many European countries, including France. In France, certain matters had to be settled: suffrage (who votes?); the right to employment, etc.

The Second Republic & Second Empire

In 1848, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was the elected President of France, now a Republic. However, on 2 December 1851, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte staged a coup d’état that transformed him into Napoleon III. He was the nephew of Emperor Napoleon I. Napoleon III and l’impératrice Eugénie, his wife, fled France after a Prussian victory at the Battle of Sedan, fought on 1 September 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War (19 July 1870 – 10 May 1871).

Famed French author Victor Hugo fled to Guernsey when Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte transformed himself into an Emperor. (See Sources, below.) As for Karl Marx, he wrote an analysis of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte’s 18 Brumaire. It can be read online. (See Sources, below.)

Napoleon  II, Titular

Napoleon II, Titular (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Napoleon II (b. Tuileries, 1811 – d. Vienna, 1832) was named Emperor by his father Emperor Napoleon I, on 4 September 1814, the day his father abdicated. He is titular (has the title of) Emperor, but never ruled France. He died at the age of 21, of tuberculosis.

Napoleon II in Literature

Napoleon II (the Duke of Reichstadt) was born in Paris, in 1811, and died in Vienna, in 1832. His mother was Marie-Louise of Austria. French playwright Edmond Rostand wrote a 6-act play entitled L’Aiglon (the eaglet), a Project Gutenberg Publication [EBook #30012], based on Napoleon II’s life. The very famous Sarah Bernhardt was l’aiglon (produced on 30 March 1900) and the play was a success, but not as great a success as Cyrano de Bergerac (1897). The real Napoleon II was:

King of Rome (1811 – 1814)
Prince of Parma (1814 – 1817)
Duke of Reichstadt (1818 – 1832)

Comments on Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte:

Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte is the same person as Napoleon III. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte organized the coup d’état of 2 December 1851, staged on the forty-eighth anniversary of his uncle’s, Napoleon I, coronation: 11 Frimaire XIII (2 December 1804).

Hubert Robert

Le Tapis vert (The Green Rug, detail), Hubert Robert (Photo credit: Google)

The Children of France

Louis XVI (23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793; by guillotine) and Marie-Antoinette (2 November 1755 – 16 October 1793; by guillotine) were married in 1870. They had four children:

  1. Marie-Thérèse de France, Duchesse d’Angoulème (b. 1778 –  d. 1851);
  2. Louis-Joseph Dauphin de France (heir apparent (b. Versailles22 October 1781 – d. Paris, 4 June 1789);
  3. Louis-Charles, fils de France and, in 1789, Dauphin (Louis XVII) (b. Versailles, 27 March 1785 – d. Paris, 8 June 1795);
  4. Princesse Sophie (b. Versailles, 9 July 1786 – d. Versailles, 19 June 1787).

Louis XVII was titular King of France from 21 January 1793 to 8 June 1795. He never reigned.

The Third Republic (1871 – 1940)


The above adds up to:

two Monarchies (three monarchs):

two Empires:

  • Napoleon I: coup d’état of 9 November 1799 to 1815; defeat at Waterloo
  • Napoleon III: coup d’état of 2 December 1851 to 1870; Franco-Prussian War

Two Republics: Second & Third Republics

The Nineteenth century in France was an experiment in democracy. It was also a period of drastic changes. Feudalism survived until the French Revolution, so the 19th century was France’s Industrial Revolution. Previous forms of government were revisited, revealing tentativeness on the part of the French nation.

Some idealized the Monarchy (Gustave Flaubert‘s Madame Bovary  [EBook #2413]). However, in the 19th century, only Emperors resembled Absolute Monarchs; King Louis-Philippe III was elected King of the French. The Church of France had to rebuild. It’s wealth had been confiscated in the early days of the French Revolution, at the suggestion, on 10 October 1789, of Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord,[ii] an ordained priest and a bishop.


un fils de France: son of a reigning king (France)
Madame Royale: title sometimes given the eldest living unmarried daughter of a reigning monarch (France)
le Dauphin: the heir apparent (France)
Monsieur: the King’s brother
Madame: Monsieur’s wife 
un coup d’état: the overthrow of a government usually planned within a previous government (an “inside job,” close to treason)
The Congress of Vienna (Photo credit: David King)

The Congress of Vienna, (Photo credit: David King)

Napoleon I's Hundred Days (Photo credit: David King)

Napoleon I’s Hundred Days (Photo credit: David King) 

  1. Louis XVI: guillotined (21 January 1793)
  2. Napoleon I: (9 November 1799 – 1815) Emperor from the coup d’état of 19 Brumaire, Year III until 1815 (defeated at Waterloo)
  3. Louis Joseph, Dauphin de France (22 October 1781 – 4 June 1789) (born to Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI)
  4. Louis XVII (Versailles, 27 March 1785 – Paris, 8 June 1795; died in prison) (born to Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI)
  5. Louis XVIII: reigned from 1815 until 1824 (grandson of Louis XV)
  6. Charles X: reigned from 16 September 1824 until 2 August 1830 (grandson of Louis XV)
  7. Louis-Philippe d’Orléans, Duke of Chartres (Philippe-Égalité): guillotined on 6 November 1793 as Louis-Philippe II
  8. Louis-Philippe III: reigned as elected King of the French from 1830 to 1848 (son of Philippe-Égalité or Louis-Philippe II)
  9. Napoleon II, titular, the Duke of Reichstag: (20 March 1811 – 22 July 1832) (born to Napoleon I and Marie-Louise of Austria)
  10. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte: (20 April 1808 – 9 January 1873) in power as President of the Second Republic (1848 – 1851) (nephew and heir to Napoleon I)
  11. Napoleon III: (20 April 1808 – 9 January 1873) Emperor from the coup d’état of 2 December 1851 until – c. 1870 (Franco-Prussian War)
  12. The Third Republic (1871 – 1940) (not covered in this post)


Victor Hugo: Little Napoleon: Project Gutenberg [EBook #20580]EN
Victor Hugo: Napoleon Le Petit: Project Gutenberg[ EBook # 22045)FR
Karl Marx: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (online)EN
Congress of Vienna (online account)EN[iii]
Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is a Project Gutenberg publication [EBook #2413]EN
Edmond Rostand’s L’Aiglon is a Project Gutenberg Publication [EBook #30012]EN
David King‘s Vienna 1814 is an account of the Congress of Vienna
[i] See Treaty of Paris (1814), Wikipedia. 
[ii] André Castelot, Talleyrand ou le cynisme (Paris: Librairie académique Perrin, 1980), p. 64.
[iii] In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx writes that the coup d’état occurred between December 1851 and March 1852.

Napoleon I: “La Marseillaise”


© Micheline Walker
March 5, 2014
Louis-Charles de France,
Louise Élisabeth Vigée Lebrun
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The One Hundred Years War, the Plague & Charles d’Orléans, revisited


, , , , , , ,

La Bataille de La Rochelle, Jean Froissart
La Bataille de La Rochelle (One Hundred Years War) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Jean Froissart


I wrote the above posts two years ago and I wish to publish them again.

The One Hundred Years War & the Plague

The first tells about the ills nature can inflict on humans. In 1348–53 CE the Black Death had decimated Europe. Half the population of France had died when France was also at war: the One Hundred Years War (1337 to 1453). The post also tells about the harm humans inflict on themselves: war. My first republished post features Joan of Arc who was betrayed, having saved the kingdom of France. Charles d’Orléans was a “prisoner” in England when Joan of Arc was tried, convicted, and executed.

Charles d’Orléans: portrait of an unlikely poet

The second post is about Charles, Duc d’Orléans, a prince detained in England for nearly 25 years after the Battle of Agincourt (1415). He was a “prince of the blood” and could therefore be crowned. His son would grow to be king Louis XII.

During his years of detention, Charles started to write poetry. As a poet, he is Charles d’Orléans. Therefore, in my eyes, he was, for a very long time, the poet who had written « Le temps a laissé son manteau… » It is a beautiful poem. Charles also wrote « En la forêt de longue attente » and poems in English. Finally, Charles d’Orléans is associated with Valentine’s Day.

Charles d’Orléans is an important figure to the Dutch.

Debussy (22 August 1862 – 25 March 1918)
Trois Chansons de Charles d’Orléans
Charles, Duc d'Orléans

Charles, Duc d’Orléans

© Micheline Walker
February 23, 2014
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Salons & Cafés survive “la Terreur”


, , , , , , , , ,

Corbeille de fleurs, by Eugène Delacroix

Corbeille de fleurs, by Eugène Delacroix  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A Basket of Flowers,” by Eugène Delacroix (26 April 1798 – 13 August 1863)

The Salon

The world that followed the French Revolution was a new world, but it had kept many of the institutions of the Old World, or l’Ancien Régime. One of these institutions was the salon. The first known French salon was seventeenth-century Catherine de Rambouillet’s Chambre Bleue. Guests enjoyed making believe they were shepherds and shepherdesses and they wrote poems, at times very tricky ones. La Chambre bleue was a magnet. Even Richelieu was inspired to visit.

In the middle of the seventeenth century, Catherine de Rambouillet‘s salon was replaced by Mademoiselle de Scudéry‘s. Mademoiselle de Scudéry was a prolific writer and her favourite subject was love. She drew the map of Tendre, Tendre being the land of love.

In the eighteenth century, the Golden Age of the salon, the most famous was Madame Geoffrin‘s (June 1699 – 6 October 1777). Dignitaries visiting Paris were infinitely grateful for being invited. It was such a privilege, but salons were not as they had been in the seventeenth century. The French eighteenth century was the Age of Enlightenment, so ideas were discussed.

On Monday, Madame Geoffrin received artists and, on Wednesday, men of letters. Ideas were discussed, but never too seriously. That would have been a breach of etiquette. L’honnête homme and the Encyclopédistes were a witty group. All were treated to a fine meal. However, even at Madame Geoffrin‘s salon, love remained a favourite subject.

Madame Geoffrin`s salon in 1755, by Anicet Charles Gabriel Lemonnier. Oil on canvas, Château de Malmaison, Rueil -Malmaison

Madame Geoffrin‘s salon in 1755, by Anicet Charles Gabriel Lemonnier. Château de Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

madame Récamier and Chateaubriand

Madame Récamier (4 December 1777 – 11 May 1849)

After and even during the French Revolution, except for the “Reign of Terror,” people, gentlemen mainly, flocked to salons such as Madame Récamier’s and Madame de Staël‘s. It is also at that time that François-René de Chateaubriand and Madame de Staël (22 April 1766 – 14 July 1817) inaugurated French Romanticism, a literary movement that gave primacy to sentiment.  

Goethe‘s Sorrows of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werthers) was published in 1774, so France lagged behind both German and English Romanticism. François-René de Chateaubriand would soon publish René and Atala, novellas included in his Génie du christianisme, or Genius of Christianity (1802)It fact, although he is not   included in David’s portrait of Madame Récamier, chances are Chateaubriand is looking at the “divine” Madame Récamier. In the early 1800′s, Chateaubriand was the most prominent author in France and Madame Récamier’s finest guest, but as he grew older, he lived like a recluse in a Paris apartment and visited one person only, Madame Récamier, Juliette.

François-René de Chateaubriand by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson.

Chateaubriand, by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Germaine de Staël

Germaine de Staël (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for Germaine de Staël, a prominent theorist of RomanticismNapoleon often banished her from France, causing her to spend several years at Coppet, her family’s Swiss residence. She was the French-born daughter of Swiss and Protestant banker James Necker, Louis XVI’s director of finance. Finding a husband for Germaine was not easy. Her father did not want her to marry a Catholic. Although she lived in the company of men who were fascinated by her extraordinary intellectual gifts and charm, most could not be serious candidates because Frenchmen are Catholics. She therefore married baron Erik Magnus Staël von Holstein, a Swedish diplomat. 

Victor Hugo & Romanticism

Victor Hugo (26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885)

It could be said that Chateaubriand and Madame de Staël founded French Romanticism, a literary movement that spread to the fine arts and music. She is the author, among several books and treatises, of Delphine (1802) and Corinne (1807), novels. But her most fascinating work is De l’Allemagne, or Germany (1810-1813). It is, to a large extent, a manifesto of Western European Romanticism. She discussed L’Allemagne with her excellent friend and lover, Swiss-born novelist Benjamin Constant, or Henri-Benjamin Constant de Rebecque (25 October 1767 – 8 December 1830), a descendant of Huguenots (French Protestant Calvinists).  

However, if French Romanticism has a manifesto, it is Victor Hugo‘s Préface de “Cromwell,” a play published in 1827. The 12-syllable noble verse, called l’alexandrin, had long been broken into two hémistiches of 6 syllables, or “pieds.” Victor Hugo used such alexandrins, but he also divided the 12-syllable verse into 3 groups of 4 syllables or “pieds.”  

Je-mar-che-rai//les-yeux-fi-xés//sur-mes-pen-sées, 4 x 3 (3 trimètres)
Sans-rien-voir-au de-hors,//sans-en-ten-dr’ au-cun-bruit, 6 x 2 (2 hémistiches)
Seul,-in-con-nu,//le-dos-cour-bé,//les-mains-croi-sées, 4 x 3
Trist’,-et-le-jour//pour-moi-se-ra//com-me-la-nuit. 4 x 3
from Hugo’s “Demain, dès l’aube…” 

Hugo also brought back things medieval, which he did with Notre-Dame de Paris or The Hunch Back of Notre-Dame. Chateaubriand felt seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French literature was somewhat borrowed, which it was. French authors emulated the Anciens or Greco-Roman literature.

At Café Procope: at rear, from left to right: Condorcet, La Harpe, Voltaire (with his arm raised) and Diderot

At Café Procope: at rear, from left to right: Condorcet, La Harpe, Voltaire (with his arm raised) and Diderot

*our characters may not be at Café Procope, but they could have been

The Cafés

In cafés, however, men of letters discussed more freely. Cafés had become popular in the seventeenth century. Le Café Procope, established in 1686, has never closed shop except for occasional renovations. 


During the French Revolution, Chateaubriand spent 10 years outside France.  For one year he was in the United States and then joined an émigré army at Coblenz, Germany. By and large, years émigrés spent abroad were disruptive.

Madame de Staël enjoyed diplomatic immunity in Paris as the wife of Sweden’s ambassador to France. However she lived in England in 1893-1894 with her lover Louis de Narbonne, an émigré. She returned to Paris, via Coppet, her family’s Swiss residence, as soon as the Terreur was over, in the summer of 1794.

She was a successful salonnière under the Directoire (1795-1799), a government toppled by Napoleon’s 18 Brumaire, Year VIII (9 November 1799) coup d’État. She fared poorly under the Consulat, with Napoleon as first Consul. He banished her for nearly a decade but could not prevent her from thinking and writing. Coppet was a beehive. I still enjoy reading Madame de Staël’s De l’Allemagne.

The French Revolution deprived France of tens of thousands of its citizens. But, somehow, tens of thousands survived as did the institutions where they congregated to discuss such ideas as liberté, égalité, fraternité.


(Voltaire had a desk at le Café Procope)
Germaine de Staël

Germaine de Staël (Google images)

© Micheline Walker
February 19, 2014

Napoleon’s Ascendancy & the Empire Style


, , , , , , ,

   Madame Récamier, Jacques-Louis David, 1800 (Louvres) Photo credit: Wikipedia   Dimensions   174 cm × 224 cm (68.50 in × 88.58 in)   Location   Louvre, Paris
Madame Récamier, by Jacques-Louis David, 1800 (Louvre)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Portrait by François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard, 1802

Madame Récamier, by François- Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard, 1802 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

18 Brumaire

Jacques-Louis David (30 August 1748 – 29 December 1825)
Napoleon Bonaparte (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821)
18 Brumaire 1799 (9 November 1799) Year VIII
Napoléon as “first Consul”
the Empire style

Jacques-Louis David‘s portrait of Madame Récamier (1748 – 29 December 1825) is rather puzzling. It was painted in 1800, after Napoleon Bonaparte‘s coup d’État of 18 Brumaire Year VIII (9 November 1799). Yet Madame Récamier, a society lady who had a salonis wearing an Empire-style dress. These dresses were simple dresses compared to the heavily girded gowns worn before the French Revolution. Empire-style dresses were often made of mousseline (muslin), a gossamer-like fabric. They were low-neck dresses gathered below a woman’s breasts.[i]

Moreover, Madame Récamier is reclining on a récamier sofa, an Empire-style piece of furniture as is the torchère lamp to the left of David’s painting. There are bookcases in the background, but Jacques-Louis David has left them out of his portrait, focussing on Madame Récamier. In 1802, François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard, a celebrated French artist, also made a portrait of Madame Récamier sitting on an Empire-style “spoon chair,” a modified bergère, i.e. an armchair without arms.

The Château de Malmaison

The Château de Malmaison (photo credit: Wikipedia)

By 1800, Napoleon was not an emperor. He did not install himself as Emperor until 1804, when he also bestowed the title of Empress, impératrice, on his Créole and aristocratic wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, née Tascher de La Pagerie. The paintings above, by David and Gérard, therefore suggest that, by 18 Brumaire (9 November 1799), although Napoleon had just become first Consul, he had already made himself the leader of the French, which is precisely the case. A picture is worth a thousand words. In fact, by 18 May 1799, the Law of 22 Floréal Year VI had deprived 106 left-wing deputies of their seat on the Council of Five Hundred, the lower-house.

It follows that, although the Consulate may have seemed a triumvirate, it wasn’t. As self-proclaimed premier Consul, Napoleon would be the sole ruler of France. The other two Consuls, Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès and Charles-François Lebrun, would have little, if any, power. In other words, the Consulat would be a form of dictatorship, except that Napoleon was already a hero to the French.

A portrait of the three Consuls, Jean-Jacques- Régis de Cambacérès, Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles-François Lebrun (left to right).

A portrait of the three Consuls, Jean-Jacques- Régis de Cambacérès, Napoleon Bonaparte and Charles-François Lebrun (left to right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Flight to Varennes and the Levée en masse

the flight to Varennes (June 1791)
the Declaration of Pillnitz (August 1791)
the Tuileries massacre (10 August 1792) 
the Levée en masse (23 August 1793)
the Grande Armée  (1793)
Napoleon in Egypt (1798)

In other words, Napoleon was not Place de la Révolution, in Paris, knitting as he watched heads fall. He was on a battlefield fighting foreign powers who had threatened to wage war against France in order to save Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and their two children.

Marie Antoinette en chemise, portrait of the queen in a "muslin" dress, by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1783).

Marie Antoinette en chemise, portrait of the queen in a “muslin” dress, by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1783) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The War in the Vendée, or la Chouannerie

However, Napoleon did not join the Army of the West (1793), the army that would attempt to suppress Royalist uprisings known as la Chouannerie. Paradoxically, the leaders of Revolutionary France were caught somewhat unawares by the War in the Vendée, Brittany. It is as though they did not realize that there were Royalists in France. This war, a civil war, was triggered by the levée en masse, or mass conscription, decreed on 23 August 1793 by the National Convention.

General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas was called upon to help quell la Chouannerie, Royalist uprisings. Thomas-Alexandre accepted this assignment, as generals normally do, except Napoleon. Tom Reiss[ii] tells us that Alex Dumas was a “‘good’ Republican” and “Mr Humanity.” This is undoubtedly correct, but the War in the Vendéela Chouannerie, remains the first genocide in modern history.

The Need for Officers: Opportunity

For Napoleon, opportunity was knocking at the door. Although France had a Grande Armée, its military officers, members of the nobility, had been guillotined or had fled France. There was a gap: no one could lead the Grande Armée. It was therefore possible for Napoleon Bonaparte to rise to power mainly on his own, which he did. By 22 December 1793, at the age of 24, an ambitious Napoleon Bonaparte was a general defending France from angry counter-revolutionary forces. As stated above, unlike Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, Napoleon refused to serve in the Army of the West, against the Chouans, because it would deprive him of the visibility he needed to rise to power.

Instead, he fought the English, by pushed back English royalist forces at Toulon. Furthermore, in 1795, he also defeated royalist rebels marching against the National Convention (13 Vendémiaire year IV; October 5, 1795), “thereby saving the National Convention and the Republic.[iii] He was then given command of the Army in Italy. Consequently, when he returned to France in 1797, he did so “as the nation’s brightest star, having fully emerged from the need for a patron.”[iv] 

Napoleon then went to Egypt. You may remember that Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, the “Black Count,” had words with Napoleon when la Grande Armée was in Egypt. One could not disagree with Napoleon, so Thomas-Alexandre Dumas eventually loaded an unsafe boat and set sail for France. He was captured and thrown into a dungeon in 1798, more than one year before the Consulate.

The Declaration of Pillnitz (1791)

Several events helped radicalize the French Revolution, two of which were particularly portentous. The first was the royal family’s unsuccessful flight to Varennes (June 1791). It was construed as counter-revolutionary. As for the second event, it was the Declaration of Pillnitz, signed, on 27 August 1791, by the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, Marie-Antoinette’s brother.

The 10th of August 1792: the Monarchy is Abolished

Leopold II did not intend to invade France because England would not have joined him, but the French did not know that the Declaration of Pillnitz was a ploy. So, on 20 April 1792, the French Assembly nevertheless declared war against Austria. As well, on 10 August 1792, citizens stormed the Tuileries Palace and killed six hundred of the King’s Swiss guards. On that day, the monarchy was abolished. (See 10 August 1792, Wikipedia.) A year later, on 23 August 1793, the National Convention (1792-1795) decreed a levée en masse, or the first conscription in modern history.

The Levée en Masse or Mass Conscription

the War in the Vendée, Britanny or la Chouannerie
Napoleon’s rise to power

On 23 August 1793, at the beginning of the Reign of Terror (1793-1794),

“[a]ll unmarried able-bodied men between 18 and 25 were requisitioned with immediate effect for military service. This significantly increased the number of men in the army, reaching a peak of about 1,500,000 in September 1794, although the actual fighting strength probably peaked at no more than 800,000.” (See levée en masse, Fordham University.)

Mass conscription was intended to protect France from attacks by monarchies outside France. Marie-Antoinette’s brother was Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, so the French could not and did not ignore the Declaration of Pillnitz. As a result, they first declared war on Austria and, a year later, the National Convention decreed the levée en masse caused a civil war while providing Napoleon with a Grande Armée that would become his Grande Armée. The Napoleonic era can be traced back to the levée en masse or Mass Conscription of 23 August 1793:  

“[a]s a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they [the Napoleonic wars] revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly owing to the application of modern mass conscription.” (See Napoleonic Wars, Wikipedia).

 … mainly owing to the application of modern mass conscription.

Jacques-Louis David’s painting explained

In other words, by 1800, because of the Revolutionary wars and “mainly owing to the application of modern mass conscription,” Napoleon was ready to install himself as first Consul and, a few victories later, he was also ready to install himself as Emperor of an expansionist France. The First Republic had collapsed.

Coronation of Napoleon, Jacques-Louis David

Coronation of Napoleon (detail), by Jacques-Louis David

The Empire Style 

Madame Récamier 

Now we know why Madame Récamier is reclining on an Empire-style récamier, wearing an Empire-style gown. There’s no puzzle. Napoleon’s ascendancy had started years earlier than the Consulate (late 1799) and so had the Empire style. Napoleon had proven invaluable when foreign monarchies threatened to rescue the ill-fated French monarchy, which is the message the French received when they were apprised of the Declaration of Pillnitz (August 1791).  As of that day, the young Republic needed a Napoleon, and Napoleon was at the ready.


Napoleon would remarry because Joséphine (née Tascher de La Pagerie), who had given birth to two children as the wife of guillotined Alexandre de Beauharnais, could no longer conceive. Napoleon wanted a son and married Marie-Louise of Austria, the mother of Napoleon II or Franz, Duke of Reichstadt (20 March 1811 – 22 July 1832) who died at 21, probably of tuberculosis. Contrary to other reports, Joséphine’s divorce from Napoleon did not break her heart, at least not altogether. For one thing, she would now reside at Château de Malmaison, which she had bought for Napoleon. It is a lovely castle, located twelve kilometers away from Paris and decorated in the new style: the Empire style.

At the Château de Malmaison, Joséphine cultivated roses and entertained such dignitaries as kings and tsars. The style she introduced in fashion, lovely light gowns, was comfortable and flattering. Gone were the girded gowns of yesteryear. Joséphine died in 1814, before Napoleon’s demise at Waterloo.

Joséphine de Beauharnais, (Photo credit: Google Images)
Joséphine de Beauharnais, detail, by Jacques-Louis David (Photo credit: Google images)


As I noted in my post, entitled The Tennis Court Oath, Napoleon ruled alone, but he respected, to a point, the ideals of the Revolution: liberté, égalité and fraternité. These ideals were perhaps too lofty to be attainable, but they were inspiring and under the ancien régime a young man from Corsica would not have been given the opportunity to transform himself into an emperor. Merit played a role in Bonaparte’s ascendancy.

Moreover, a style emerged which to a certain extent was in the image of an Emperor, except that Madame Récamier had a salon. The French salon, a revered institution, had survived the Revolution and so had Cafés. Everyone, from Voltaire to Robespierre, was a regular, un habitué, of Le Café Procope that has not closed shop since its establishment in 1689.

Dear Readers, we have entered a new world.


[i] To be precise, muslin dresses had been introduced by Marie-Antoinette.

[ii] Tom Reiss, The Black Count: revolution, betrayal, and the real Count of Monte Cristo (New York: Crown Publishers, 2013)

[iii] Napoleon I.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. <>.

[iv] See


Madame de Verninac, by Jacques-Louis David

© Micheline Walker
February 16, 2014

St Valentine’s Day: Posts on Love Celebrated


, , , , , , ,

Geoffrey Chaucer from the Ellesmere Manusctipt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Geoffrey Chaucer from the Ellesmere Manuscript (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a compilation of my posts on Valentine’s Day—the first four posts—or posts related to Valentine’s Day. I would suggest you open Valentine’s Day: Martyrs & Birds first, particularly if you do not have the time to read more than one post. Originally these posts did not feature an embedded video.  I have now embedded my melodies.

A Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you!

On Geoffrey Chaucer and St Valentine’s Day

As we know, Valentine’s Day was not a romantic day until Chaucer made it so.  In The Parlement of Foules (1882), Chaucer wrote

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

["For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate."]

The above illumination is from one of the 86 manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales, the Ellesmere Manuscript.  Included among these 86 manuscripts is William Caxton’s printing of the Tales, one of the earliest printed books: 1478.  Very early printed works, published between 1450 and 1501, are called incunables.

Johannes Gutenberg (1398 – February 3, 1468) is considered the first printer (c. 1439).  Early printers, printers of incunables, sometimes left blank spaces where enluminures or illuminations were inserted.  Historiated first letters are quite common in incunables.

Historiated Initial, click to enlarge



John Dowland‘s “Goe from my window”

220px-Romaunt_rose_chaucer© Micheline Walker
February 14, 2014

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 831 other followers