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FrRevol_i-xxx.indd 7 3/16/12 1:00 PM Introduction Liberty! Let us repeat her name ... for all that we love, all that we honor is included in it. - Madame de Stael A Thinker for Our Times: Madame de Stael, Her Life and Works Very few individuals have left as deep a trace on their age as Anne Louise Germaine, Baronne de Stael-Holstein (1766-1817). She was one of the greatest intellectuals and writers of her time, and the influence of her works crossed national borders, cultures, and disciplines. Her powerful and sparkling personality impressed everyone she met, from Byron and Chateaubriand to Tsar Alexander I and Napoleon. Stael's popularity was such that in 181), soon after Napoleon's fall from power, one ofher contemporaries observed that "there are three great powers in Europe: England , Russia, and Madame de Stael."1 Life ofMadame de Stae:l Who was this powerful woman accepted into the most exclusive circles of her time and destined to become one of the most famous French writers? Born on April 22, 1766, Madame de Stael belonged to the distinguished Necker family, at one point among the richest families in Europe. Germaine's mother, Suzanne Curchod, was a highly educated woman from Lausanne who closely supervised her daughter's education, seeking 1. See Fairweather, Madame de Staiil, 3. Y ll FrRevol_i-xxx.indd 8 3/16/12 1:00 PM INTRODUCTION to give her a truly encyclopedic knowledge of disciplines as diverse as mathematics, languages, geography, theology, and dance. Madame Necker held a famous salon attended by such celebrities as Voltaire, Diderot , Holbach, Helvetius, d'Alembert, Gibbon, Hume, and Walpole. Madame de Stael's father, Jacques Necker (1732-1804), a Swiss Protestant , had risen to prominence as a banker in Paris. He made a name for himself in the political realm as Louis XVI's minister offinance and was a leading actor during the initial stages of the French Revolution. Necker is remembered today for taking the unprecedented step in 1781 ofmaking public the country's budget, a novelty in an absolute monarchy where the state of finances had always been kept a secret. Necker, who thought this custom both unlawful and ineffective, realized that public opinion had become an invisible power exercising a major influence on the country and the court. Justifying his decision, Necker wrote: "Darkness and obscurity favor carelessness, [while] publicity can only become an honor and a reward."2 The public success ofNecker's Compte rendu was tremendous: more than three thousand copies were sold the first day ofits publication. Necker was also the author ofimportant books in which he vigorously defended liberty, constitutionalism, and moderate government: On the Executive Power in Large States (1792), On the French Revolution (1796), and Last Views on Politics and Finance (1802). Necker's reflections on the French Revolution, an unduly ignored masterpiece, are a detailed account ofhis conduct during the turbulent events of1788 and 1789, and especially during the month of July 1789, when his dismissal by King Louis XVI was followed by the fall of the Bastille and his subsequent recall by the monarch. In his political writings, Necker justified his preference for a tempered monarchy similar to the one existing in England, and he became one of the leading theorists of executive power in modern political thought.3 Madame de Stael achieved fame as a novelist, political thinker, sociologist ofliterature, and autobiographer. To her thorough education she added vast political experience and an intense personal life that blended 2. Necker, Compte rendu (Paris, 1781), 1-2. 3ยท For an interpretation of Necker's political ideas, see Grange, Les idees de Necker. YlU FrRevol_i-xxx.indd 9 3/16/12 1:00 PM INTRODUCTION love and politics in an original way, as her rich correspondence demonstrates .4 A romantic and restless soul, Madame de Stael attracted the friendship ofthe most important men of her age, from Talleyrand, Goethe , and Benjamin Constant to J.-C.-L. Simonde de Sismondi, Prosper de Barante, and August Wilhelm von Schlegel. She witnessed firsthand the most important events of the French Revolution, which she followed closely from Paris and, later, from her exile at Coppet, in Switzerland, where she lived between 1792 and 1795, anxiously watching from a distance the rise ofthe Jacobin democracy, the Terror, and the fall ofRobespierre on 9 Thermidor. Her health declined in 1816, and in February I817 she became bedridden . Her mind remained as sharp as ever, though, and Stael had the...


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