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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Madame De Stael

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Matters had gone from bad to worse. In 1792 the Swedish government suspended its embassy, and Madame de Stael prepared to fly, but stayed for a time to save her friends. The seven prisons of Paris were all crowded under the fearful reign of Danton and Marat. Great heaps of dead lay before every prison door. During that Reign of Terror it is estimated that eighteen thousand six hundred persons perished by the guillotine. Whole squares were shot down. "When the police visited her house, where some of the ministers were hidden, she met them graciously, urging that they must not violate the privacy of an ambassador's house. When her friends were arrested, she went to the barbarous leaders, and with her eloquence begged for their safety, and thus saved the lives of many.

At last she must leave the terror-stricken city. Supposing that her rank as the wife of a foreign ambassador would protect her, she started with a carriage and six horses, her servants in livery. At once a crowd of half-famished and haggard women crowded around, and threw themselves against the horses. The carriage was stopped, and the occupants were taken to the Assembly. She plead her case before the noted Robespierre, and then waited for six hours for the decision of the Commune. Meantime she saw the hired assassins pass beneath the windows, their bare arms covered with the blood of the slain. The mob attempted to pillage her carriage, but a strong man mounted the box and defended it. She learned afterward that it was the notorious Santerre, the person who later superintended the execution of Louis XVI., ordering his drummers to drown the last words of the dying King. Santerre had seen Necker distribute corn to the poor of Paris in a time of famine, and now he was befriending the daughter for this noble act. Finally she was allowed to continue her journey, and reached Coppet with her baby, Auguste, well-nigh exhausted after this terrible ordeal.

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The Swiss home soon became a place of refuge for those who were flying from the horrors of the Commune. She kept a faithful agent, who knew the mountain passes, busy in this work of mercy.

The following year, 1793, longing for a change from these dreadful times, she visited England, and received much attention from prominent persons, among them Fanny Burny, the author of Evelina, who owned "that she had never heard conversation before. The most animated eloquence, the keenest observation, the most sparkling wit, the most courtly grace, were united to charm her."

On Jan. 21 of this year, the unfortunate King had met his death on the scaffold before an immense throng of people. Six men bound him to the plank, and then his head was severed from his body amid the shouts and waving of hats of the blood-thirsty crowd. Necker had begged to go before the Convention and plead for his king, but was refused. Madame de Stael wrote a vigorous appeal to the nation in behalf of the beautiful and tenderhearted Marie Antoinette; but on Sept. 16, 1793, at four o'clock in the morning, in an open cart, in the midst of thirty thousand troops and a noisy rabble, she, too, was borne to the scaffold; and when her pale face was held up bleeding before the crowd, they jeered and shouted themselves hoarse.

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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