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0100_005E Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Madame De Stael

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He says: "I found her learned without pedantry, lively in conversation, pure in sentiment, and elegant in manners; and the first sudden emotion was fortified by the habits and knowledge of a more familiar acquaintance.... At Crassier and Lausanne I indulged my dream of felicity; but on my return to England I soon discovered that my father would not hear of this strange alliance, and that, without his consent, I was myself destitute and helpless. After a painful struggle, I yielded to my fate; I sighed as a lover; I obeyed as a son." Gibbon never married, but retained his life-long friendship and admiration for Madame Necker.

It was not strange, therefore, that Gibbon liked to be present in her salon, where Buffon, Hume, Diderot, and D'Alembert were wont to gather. The child of such parents could scarcely be other than intellectual, surrounded by such gifted minds. Her mother, too, was a most systematic teacher, and each day the girl was obliged to sit by her side, erect, on a wooden stool, and learn difficult lessons.

"She stood in great awe of her mother," wrote Simond, the traveller, "but was exceedingly familiar with and extravagantly fond of her father. Madame Necker had no sooner left the room one day, after dinner, than the young girl, till then timidly decorous, suddenly seized her napkin, and threw it across the table at the head of her father, and then flying round to him, hung upon his neck, suffocating all his reproofs by her kisses." Whenever her mother returned to the room, she at once became silent and restrained.

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The child early began to show literary talent, writing dramas, and making paper kings and queens to act her tragedies. This the mother thought to be wrong, and it was discontinued. But when she was twelve, the mother having somewhat relented, she wrote a play, which she and her companions acted in the drawing-room. Grimm was so pleased with her attempts, that he sent extracts to his correspondents throughout Europe. At fifteen she wrote an essay on the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and another upon Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws.

Overtaxing the brain with her continuous study, she became ill, and the physician, greatly to her delight, prescribed fresh air and sunshine. Here often she roamed from morning till night on their estate at St. Ouen. Madame Necker felt deeply the thwarting of her educational plans, and years after, when her daughter had acquired distinction, said, "It is absolutely nothing compared to what I would have made it."

Monsieur Necker's restriction of pensions and taxing of luxuries soon aroused the opposition of the aristocracy, and the weak but good-hearted King asked his minister to resign. Both wife and daughter felt the blow keenly, for both idolized him, so much so that the mother feared lest she be supplanted by her daughter. Madame de Stael says of her father, "From the moment of their marriage to her death, the thought of my mother dominated his life. He was not like other men in power, attentive to her by occasional tokens of regard, but by continual expressions of most tender and most delicate sentiment." Of herself she wrote, "Our destinies would have united us forever, if fate had only made us contemporaries." At his death she said, "If he could be restored to me, I would give all my remaining years for six months." To the last he was her idol.

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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