Wednesday, September 19, 2018

When John Quincy Adams Met Madame de Staël

From Shannon Selin:
After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, Madame de Staël returned to Paris. Visiting the city in February of 1815, John Quincy Adams had another opportunity to visit her. He regarded her more favourably, since her enthusiasm for Britain had cooled. As Adams wrote to his mother, Abigail:
[S]ince the overthrow of Napoleon, and the European peace, she has been among the most distinguished friends of our country, and contributed in no small degree to give the tone to the public opinion of France and Europe, with regard to the vandalism of the British exploit at Washington. (6)
Adams called on Madame de Staël on February 8, 1815. He again found himself in a company of about 20 strangers. His hostess introduced him to French journalist Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Suard and an Englishman whose name he was unable to determine. They conversed on general topics. On February 15, Adams went to Madame de Staël’s for dinner. There were 17 people at the table, including Henry Clay, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the French writer and political activist Benjamin Constant, who was Madame de Staël’s lover.
The conversation was not very interesting – some conversation between the lady and Mr. Constant, who seemed to consider it as a principle to contradict her. At one time there were symptoms of a conversation arising upon a subject of political economy, upon which she said, ‘J’interdis tout discours sur l’économie politique. Ah! Je crains l’économie politique, comme le feu.’ [I forbid any talk of political economy. Ah! I fear political economy, like fire.]
Immediately after dinner she left us, saying ‘Je vous laisse mon fils, qui est très-aimable,’ [I leave you my son, who is very agreeable] and went to the Theatre Français to see the tragedy of Esther. She invited me to come and see her again, and said she was at home almost every evening. She also apologized for being obliged to leave her company so soon ‘pour aller au spectacle’ [to go to the show]. I went myself with Mr. Le Ray de Chaumont to the Odeon and saw ‘Le Nozze de Figaro’ with the music of Mozart.” (7)
They did not meet again. On February 26, Napoleon escaped from Elba. Upon learning he had landed in France, Madame de Staël fled to Switzerland. John Quincy Adams went to London to take up the post of US Minister to Britain. Madame de Staël died on July 14, 1817, at the age of 51. (Read more.)

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