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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Madame De Stael

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What was her astonishment to have Napoleon order the whole ten thousand destroyed, and her to leave France in three days! Her two sons attempted to see Bonaparte, who was at Fontainebleau, but were ordered to turn back, or they would be arrested. The only reason given for destroying the work was the fact that she had been silent about the great but egotistical Emperor.

Broken in spirit, she returned to Geneva. Amid all this darkness a new light was about to beam upon her life. In the social gatherings made for her, she observed a young army officer, Monsieur Rocca, broken in health from his many wounds, but handsome and noble in face, and, as she learned, of irreproachable life. Though only twenty-three and she forty-five, the young officer was fascinated by her conversation, and refreshed in spirits by her presence. She sympathized with his misfortunes in battle; she admired his courage. He was lofty in sentiments, tender in heart, and gave her what she had always needed, an unselfish and devoted love. When discouraged by his friends, he replied, "I will love her so much that I will finish by making her marry me."

They were married in 1811, and the marriage was a singularly happy one. The reason for it is not difficult to perceive. A marriage that has not a pretty face or a passing fancy for its foundation, but appreciation of a gifted mind and noble heart,--such a marriage stands the test of time.

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The marriage was kept secret from all save a few intimate friends, Madame de Stael fearing that if the news reached Napoleon, Rocca would be ordered back to France. Her fears were only too well founded. Schlegel, Madame Recamier, all who had shown any sympathy for her, began to be exiled. She was forbidden under any pretext whatever from travelling in Switzerland, or entering any region annexed to France. She was advised not to go two leagues from Coppet, lest she be imprisoned, and this with Napoleon usually meant death.

The Emperor seemed about to conquer the whole world. Whither could she fly to escape his persecution? She longed to reach England, but there was an edict against any French subject entering that country without special permit. Truly his heel was upon France. The only way to reach that country was through Austria, Russia, and Sweden, two thousand leagues. But she must attempt it. She passed an hour in prayer by her parent's tomb, kissed his armchair and table, and took his cloak to wrap herself in should death come.

May 23, 1812, she, with Rocca and two of her children, began their flight by carriage, not telling the servants at the chateau, but that they should return for the next meal.

They reached Vienna June 6, and were at once put under surveillance. Everywhere she saw placards admonishing the officers to watch her sharply. Rocca had to make his way alone, because Bonaparte had ordered his arrest. They were permitted to remain only a few hours in any place. Once Madame de Stael was so overcome by this brutal treatment that she lost consciousness, and was obliged to be taken from her carriage to the roadside till she recovered. Every hour she expected arrest and death.

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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