A crust of bread, and liberty

REGARDING the few short years remaining in the heroic and unselfish life
of Madame La Fayette, her daughter Virginie and her husband are her best
biographers. After their release from Olmütz Virginie La Fayette thus
“At last, on the 10th of October, 1797, we arrived at Witmold. From my
aunt De Tessé, who owned this property of Witmold, we received the most
tender reception. Here my mother recovered her strength, and found
repose of body and mind. My father found his friends. He was fond of
Madame de Tessé, and had with her on every point complete community of
opinions. His political life had met with her constant approbation, and
you may fancy what charm five years of silence at Olmütz added to Madame
de Tessé’s lively, animated, and _piquante_ conversation.
“Shortly afterwards my brother arrived from Mount Vernon. Under General
Washington’s paternal care he had become a man. My mother was happy, and
so were her children. My sister often met at that time Charles de
Latour-Maubourg, the younger brother of my father’s friend. Anastasie
was captivated by his handsome countenance, and the noble feelings he
expressed. Their wedding, celebrated at Madame de Tessé’s, was a fresh
link between two families whose old friendship had been sealed by
“The course of my mother’s convalescence was disturbed by the imperious
necessity of returning to France, where she was summoned by family
business. She alone could follow up the affairs of the family, for she
alone could return to France, as her name was on none of the lists of
proscription or _suspicion_.”
During this absence of Madame La Fayette her husband thus wrote to her
from Vianen, near Utrecht. Young La Fayette had joined the French army
in Holland. It was rather a singular fact that while the father, the
illustrious upholder of the liberties of his country, was unable to
enter his native land, his son was fighting her battles. While not
allowed to return to France, the thoughts of La Fayette turned
yearningly toward America, and he thus expressed his desires to his wife
in a letter written to her at that time:—
“Yesterday and to-day George and I have been planning a farm for you,
either in the beautiful valley of the Shenandoah, in the state of
Virginia, not far from Federal City and even Mount Vernon, or in the
lovely fields of New England, within reach of the town of Boston, for
which you know my fancy. I do not conceal from myself, dear Adrienne,
the fact that I, who complain of the serfs of Holstein as a sad
surrounding for a friend of liberty, should find negro slaves in the
valley of the Shenandoah; for if in the northern states there is
equality for all, in the southern it exists only for the whites. It is
true that, with our ideas of Cayenne, we might console ourselves
somewhat. I should, however, prefer New England, and at the same time I
feel all the reasons which ought to draw us near Mount Vernon and the
seat of government. But we only want the first dollar to buy our farm
Notwithstanding the painful anxieties which filled his mind, consequent
upon his own uncertain position, La Fayette was ever keenly alive to the
interests of others, especially of his friends. The following letter was
written by him during his own exile, to the Directory, in behalf of his
friends who had been his companions in prison:—
“CITIZEN DIRECTORS: Permit a citizen who owes his liberation to the
government of his country now to avail himself of that obligation to
demand of you an act of justice. I am not about to speak of myself; and
though my heart and my reason equally remind me of my rights, I
appreciate the circumstances which keep me still at a distance from my
country; but in offering up my prayers for her liberty, her glory, and
her happiness I purpose to speak to you of the few officers who, on an
occasion, the responsibility of which belongs to me alone, thought
themselves obliged to accompany their general and were made prisoners by
the enemy. Their patriotism, which has been tried from the beginning of
the Revolution, has been preserved in all its ardor and purity, and the
Republic cannot have more faithful defenders.
“Salutation and respect,
While General La Fayette was at Witmold, just after his release, he
received the following letter from the illustrious Alexander Hamilton,
who, six years after, fell in the fatal duel with Aaron Burr:—
“NEW YORK, April 28, 1798.
“I have been most happy, my dear Marquis, to receive at last a letter
from you. It confirms that which I had already learned of your
disposition; that though your engagements have not permitted you to
follow the fortunes of the French Republic, you have never ceased to be
attached to it. I frankly avow that my sentiments on that point differ
from yours. The execution of the king and the massacres of September
have cured all my sympathy for the French Revolution. I have never
believed that one could make France a republic, and I am convinced that
this attempt, so long as it shall be prolonged, can only bring
“Amidst the sad results of this revolution, I regret extremely the
discussions which have arisen between our countries, and which seem to
menace a complete rupture. It will be useless to retrace the causes of
the actual state. I will only say that the project of alliance with
Great Britain, of which we have been accused, we have not been a party
to, although our adversaries have believed it useful to their views to
report such an opinion in France.
“I give you this assurance upon the strength of our ancient friendship.
The future will prove that my assertion is true. The basis of the
politics of the party to which I belong is to avoid all intimate or
exclusive relations with any foreign power.
“But, leaving politics, the rest of my letter will be consecrated to
assuring you that my friendship for you will survive all revolutions and
all vicissitudes. No one more than myself realizes how much cause our
country has to love you, to desire your happiness, and to wish to
contribute thereto. As I feel so sensitively for you, I hope that I
shall never show it to you in an equivocal manner.
“In the actual state of our relations with France, I cannot press you to
come here, and until a radical change shall operate in France I shall be
grieved to learn that you have returned there. If a prolongation of this
evil order of things shall be continued in your country, and shall make
you wish to seek elsewhere a permanent asylum, you can be assured of
finding in America a reception tender and cordial. The only thing in
which all our parties accord is in the affection which they equally feel
towards yourself.”
The difficulties alluded to by Hamilton between the United States and
France, which almost resulted in open warfare, were caused by false
rumors of an alliance between Great Britain and the United States,
occasioned by England’s endeavors to draw neutral America into
hostilities with France, regarding the liberty of commerce. To this
letter La Fayette sent the following reply:—
“WITMOLD, Aug. 12, 1798.
“Your letter of the 28th of April caused me much happiness, my dear
Hamilton. You speak to me with a touching friendship of the warm
reception which awaits me in America, but you cannot, you say, press me
to hasten my departure under actual circumstances. Truly, my dear
friend, it is much against my desires that I have been forced to defer
it for so long a time. Immediately upon my deliverance I had wished to
embark; but it was impossible for my wife, in the state of her health,
to set sail, and I could not resolve to leave her. I have been waiting
until the moment when she could undertake a journey to France, necessary
to our affairs. I wait news from her. Would that I also might receive
that which shall give me the hope of a reconciliation between the United
States and the French government.
[Illustration: A Hamilton]
“You know that if my attachment to my native country has not been
altered, the measures of her governors are repugnant in general to my
sentiments; and in spite of the obligations which I am under to some of
them for my deliverance, I cannot be considered as their personal
friend. You know, also, that the independence, the dignity, the
prosperity of the United States are more dear to me than to any one; my
opinion ought, then, to have some weight with you. For I believe, be
assured, as far as I can judge, at this distance where I am, in the best
intentions which the Directory have in this respect.
“Under this supposition, my dear friend, at a moment when no one power
of continental Europe can resist the French Republic, I believe it
conformable to honor and to the interests of the United States to come
half way toward a reconciliation. Never, and much less since your
declarations, would I be so unjust towards any one of my best friends as
to suppose that the spirit of party prejudices, or private grievances,
could, under such grave circumstances, influence their conduct. Let
America, so far as she has been wronged, maintain her dignity and her
rights; but if an ancient alliance, which no one could pretend to regret
or improve, can bring itself to her remembrance, I have confidence that
the two parties which divide the countries will re-unite to effect a
“Since you have spoken to me of the difference of our opinions upon the
European revolution, I would return to the time when, following that
which I have often predicted, I found myself engaged in the struggle; up
to August, then, in spite of the offers of a powerful faction, I
believed it to be my duty to resist or to die in remaining always
faithful to my constitutional oath.
“The passionate love of liberty which took me to America disposed me
naturally to adopt a democratic and republican system. Afterwards, moved
by all the dangers of royalty and of an English aristocracy, I
remembered also the faults of our previous experiences. I concluded that
the science of a social organization had not been sufficiently studied,
and I desired that it should have a universal trial. The first
principles, however, appeared to me indubitable. The fundamental
doctrines of the rights of the man and the citizen, reduced to what I
believed to be necessary and sufficient, were proclaimed by me; and
after the national triumph of July 14, 1789, a civil militia was
instituted, to measure itself against the permanent armies of Europe.
“Very soon after, all ancient abuses, all hereditary pretensions
disappeared. However, an hereditary president of executive power had
been established in the royal family, and that decision was so conformed
to the will of the people, to the opinions of their representatives, and
to other circumstances, that in the month of June, 1791, almost an
entire majority of our constitutional assembly, heretofore discontented,
thought better to replace upon the throne a constitutional king, than to
complete the establishment of a republican government. The extent of the
English prerogative was judged inadmissible, particularly on account of
our military situation. If one believes that a constitutional monarchy,
such as ours, might be modified so that it might gradually arrive at the
adoption of a government entirely elective, such an inconvenience would
be less grievous than that of usurpations upon the rights of the
national sovereignty, or upon the liberty of citizens. It was after this
manner of viewing affairs, that in the midst of popular outrages, the
intrigues of factions, and the machinations of foreigners, a
constitution was freely discussed and adopted by the nation. It had
faults, truly, but it contained nothing contrary to the rights of men,
and it included means, lawful and easy, for ameliorations.
“It is against this constitution that the old governments have united;
it is to them, as well as to the Jacobins, that we must attribute our
ruin. Until then, the excesses so often unpunished had not been
official. When anarchy and the assassin had put down the honest patriot,
the kings had the satisfaction of seeing extinguished all desire of
imitation in Europe.
“Their hopes of conquest, however, were disappointed. The National
Guard, dismissed from the interior, ran to the frontiers and fought with
an irresistible force for national independence. During three years the
Republic had been in France but a name tarnished by an extravagant and
sanguinary tyranny. To these misfortunes succeeded the establishment of
a constitution which was violated on the 18th _Fructidor_.
“I do not pretend that France at present enjoys liberty; but though the
first constitution and that of the year III., preferable on many
accounts (in particular by the establishment of two Chambers), cannot be
considered by me but as secondary objects compared to the importance of
the fundamental doctrine, I am persuaded that liberty can be
consolidated in France and in other countries, upon the basis of an
elective government, sooner than upon that of hereditary presidents.
This opinion is not only the result of my republican inclinations; it
comes also from the situation of men and of things. It has been even
adopted by many unpatriotic monarchists who found that the resurrection
of the French monarchy when it became a question of determining the
powers of the king, caused more trouble than it had advantages.
“How in this situation have I not recognized with joy the American
principles of my old friend, that it would be impolitic to re-establish
an hereditary magistracy, the destruction of which had been illegal, but
for which I had never desired immortality. Wherefore, shall I not hope
that the elective governments, with differences of form and similarity
of principle, could be so combined as to assure the establishment of a
true liberty? Is it then indispensable to be free to have a king? Will
that obligation necessarily be attached to a vast territory and people?
I do not think so. And so far as the experiment has been tried I have
found that it would be better to follow the American principles than for
us to take the English method.
“But this is talking too much of politics, my dear Hamilton. I have not
the pretension to believe that, upon such a subject, friends who have
formed a strong opinion can persuade the one or the other. I have wished
only to show you the motives for my conduct.
“I thank you very tenderly for the earnest and affectionate manner in
which you have expressed the good wishes of America in my favor, and
your own feelings. I appreciate deeply my obligations towards that
well-beloved country and shall always be ready to give my life for her
prosperity. I am happy and proud of the sentiments which her virtuous
and constant citizens have preserved, of those of my more intimate
companions—of yours, particularly, my dear Hamilton. I hope that you are
assured that our ancient friendship has not suffered in my heart the
least diminution, and that from the first instant when our fraternal
union was formed, until the last moment of my life, I shall be always
your most devotedly attached friend.”
[Illustration: DIRECTEUR SIÉYÈS.]
But we will again let Virginie tell the story of her father’s return to
“France was far from being in a quiet state. During the whole summer
the country was greatly agitated. The terrorist party was once more
gaining alarming strength. On different points great advantages had
been obtained by the troops of the Coalition. An English army had
disembarked at the Helder. Terrified at all that was said in Paris, my
mother trembled at the thought of seeing fresh barriers arising
between my father and herself. Owing to the good will of the Batavian
government he was allowed to remain in Holland, notwithstanding
General Brune’s injunctions to the contrary. But if my father could
not depend on the protection of the French armies, what would happen
if those of the Coalition marched into Holland, bringing with them the
counter-revolution? My mother, in her anxiety, resolved to go to the
Directeur Sieyès, then chief of the party opposed to the Jacobins. She
told him of the dangers to which my father was exposed, and warned him
that if the foreign armies were victorious, he would take refuge on
the French territory.
“Sieyès answered that it would be imprudent for him to return to France,
and that he would be safer in the states of the king of Prussia. ‘Who
kept him a prisoner!’ answered my mother. ‘M. de La Fayette would
prefer, if necessary, a prison in France, but he has more confidence in
his fellow-countrymen.’
“All was in this alarming uncertainty when the revolution of the 18th
_Brumaire_ took place, and changed the face of affairs. With that just
appreciation of things which never forsook her, my mother at once deemed
it necessary that, without loss of time, and without asking anybody’s
permission, my father should return to France at the very moment when
justice was proclaimed. She wished him to return ere time had brought
the slightest change, and without any other authorization than the
liberal intentions then proclaimed by the new government. She obtained a
passport for him under an assumed name, and M. Alexandre Romœuf, one
of his former aides-de-camp, brought it to him. My mother was accustomed
to foresee my father’s intentions, to judge with marvellous tact what it
was best for him to do: she would guess his wishes. He, on his side, had
entire confidence in her opinion. Therefore, without any further delay,
he started immediately and arrived in Paris.”
But La Fayette did not sneak into France like a culprit; he knew his
course had been above reproach, and he boldly announced his arrival to
Napoleon in the following manly note:—
“From the day when the prisoners of Olmütz owed their liberty to you, to
this, when the liberty of my country lays me under still greater
obligations to you, I have thought that the continuance of my
proscription was not expedient for the government or for myself.
Accordingly I am now in Paris. Before going into the country, where I
shall meet my family,—before even seeing my friends here,—I delay not a
moment to address myself to you; not that I doubt that I am in my
appropriate place wherever the Republic is founded upon a worthy basis,
but because both my duty and my feelings prompt me to bear to you in
person the expression of my gratitude.”
[Illustration: NAPOLEON.]
Bonaparte was taken completely by surprise. The “man of the people” had
outgeneralled the “conqueror of Italy.”
Though he could not outwardly express his dissatisfaction, his
displeasure was made very evident. Virginie La Fayette says:—
“The Premier Consul received this news with a very bad grace. He would
have wished my father to remain in Holland, and to solicit like
everybody else permission to enter France. The ministers declared that
my father must return to Utrecht, there to wait till his name should be
effaced from the list of _émigrés_. Those of our friends who approached
the Premier Consul assured us that nobody dared for the present say a
word to him on the subject. My mother went to see him and was graciously
received. She explained to General Bonaparte my father’s peculiar
situation, and the effect his return would produce on the mind of every
honest patriot. The general was struck with the nobleness, prudence, and
tact of her language. ‘I am charmed, Madame,’ he said, ‘to make your
acquaintance; _vous avez beaucoup d’esprit, mais vous n’entendez pas les
affaires_.’ Nevertheless, it was decided that my father should remain
openly in France without asking for any permission, and that he should
go to the country, there to remain during the legal term of his
“My sister and her husband arrived from Holland. My brother had already
joined my father, and we established ourselves first at Fontenay, then
at La Grange, one of my grandmother’s estates which had fallen to my
“One of the objects my father had in view on re-entering France was to
facilitate the return of his companions in exile. Many difficulties were
to be conquered. This task was entrusted to my mother. She was obliged
to go constantly to Paris in order to plead the cause of those faithful
friends. She succeeded; there is not one amongst them, I believe, who
does not owe his radiation to her personal exertions.
“The remainder of this precious life was consecrated to us. Repose would
have best suited my father even under Bonaparte’s consular magistracy,
but under Napoleon’s imperial despotism honor prescribed retirement. The
dearest wish of my mother’s heart was to lead a private life. If, after
so many fatigues and sufferings, quiet had not been necessary, the
possibility of peacefully consecrating herself to the affections which
filled her soul, to the one especially which surpassed them all, was the
only happiness she could desire. She felt too deeply, too passionately,
I may say, the emotions of family life to wish for any other. Neither
the grandeur of her former position, nor even the lustre of her
misfortunes, had given birth in her mind to that restless pride which
cannot bear to return to a homely life. Though her devoted courage had
arisen above the greatest trials, still the feelings and easy duties of
an obscure destiny would have sufficed to satisfy her heart. Love filled
her whole being.
“God permitted her to enjoy, during the last years of her life, greater
happiness than she had ever ventured to hope for. My mother’s health was
greatly impaired, but her natural and simple courage acted as a charm to
deceive us. We beheld her always serene and tender, taking the liveliest
part in the happiness caused by the birth of her three eldest
grandchildren. She bore with gentle fortitude the anxieties of which my
brother and my husband were the objects during the campaigns of 1805 and
1806. She heard with joy of George’s good fortune when he saved his
general’s life at the battle of Eylau. The peace which followed brought
on for her a period of unmingled happiness. At the end of the spring of
1807, it seemed that God had accomplished all my mother’s desires in
this world. A few days after the return of my brother and of my husband,
in August, my mother was taken with violent pains and strong fever. On
the 11th of October she heard mass for the last time in the chapel of La
Grange. The disorder attacked her brain in a most fearful manner. My
mother’s delirium was peculiar and entirely in keeping with her
character; she was completely absorbed by her affection for those she
loved; in her wanderings she would mistake herself on our situations,
never on our characters: she knew us to the last. One day she called my
sister to her and said: ‘Have you an idea of what maternal feeling is?
Are you like me? Do you know all its joys? Is there anything sweeter,
deeper, stronger? Do you feel, like me, the want of loving and of being
“Her love for God and for my father occupied almost exclusively her last
moments. What she was for my father in the midst of this delirium is not
to be conceived. The effect his presence produced on her, the choice of
the words she used to express her love, with more confidence than she
had ever shown before; how, with complete incoherence in her ideas, she
followed up interests which, though imaginary, were in keeping with her
character and her opinions; the charm with which she spoke to him of God
and of religion,—all this cannot be expressed by words, and such a
delirium could only be hers. ‘God owed her the reward,’ M. de Grammont
said to my father, ‘of permitting her thus to reveal to you the depth of
her tenderness.’
“In the midst of this delirium she repeated three times over Tobit’s
prayer, the same she had recited on seeing the towers of Olmütz. We lost
her on Christmas night, at twelve o’clock, in the year 1807. It was at
the foot of our Saviour’s cradle that our sacrifice was accomplished. In
the morning she had bestowed her blessing on each of us. Her last words
were, ‘I do not suffer.’ She also said to us, ‘May the peace of the Lord
be with you.’ And to my father, ‘I am entirely yours’ (_Je suis toute à

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M. Jules Cloquet says in his recollections of La Fayette:—
“La Fayette had a high regard for the domestic virtues, which he
considered the basis of society and the only certain and pure source of
public prosperity. He even wished to introduce them into politics; and
his public life was in this respect a picture of his private life. He
always spoke with respect and tenderness of both his parents, whom he
lost almost in his infancy. In his children he cherished the memory of
their mother (Mademoiselle de Noailles), whom he had loved most
tenderly, and whose name he never mentioned but with visible emotion.
One day during his last illness I surprised him kissing her portrait,
which he always wore suspended to his neck, in a small gold medallion.
Around the portrait were the words, ‘_Je suis à vous_,’ and on the back
was engraved this short and touching inscription, ‘_Je vous fus donc une
douce campagne: eh bien! bénissez moi_’ (I was then a gentle companion
to you! So then give me your blessing!).
“I have since been informed that regularly every morning La Fayette sent
out his valet Bastien, shut himself up in his room, and taking the
portrait in both hands, looked at it earnestly, pressed it to his lips,
and remained silently contemplating it for about a quarter of an hour.
Nothing was more disagreeable to him than to be disturbed during this
daily homage to the memory of his virtuous partner.” His grief for her
loss may be judged of from the two following letters written by him at
the time of this overwhelming affliction:—
“I was certain, my dear Masclet, that you would tenderly regret the
adorable woman whom you were pleased to celebrate before you were
personally acquainted with her, and to cherish from the period when she
was herself able to express to you her grateful friendship. It would be
ungrateful in me to entertain a doubt of your participation in my grief;
but although such a doubt was far from my thoughts, I have derived a
melancholy gratification from the renewed assurance of your feelings,
and for that assurance I thank you most cordially. I willingly admit
that under great misfortunes I have felt myself superior to the
situation in which my friends had the kindness to sympathize, but at
present I have neither the power nor the wish to struggle against the
calamity which has befallen me, or rather to surmount the deep
affliction which I shall carry with me to the grave. It will be mingled
with the sweetest recollections of the thirty-four years during which I
was bound by the tenderest ties that perhaps ever existed, and with the
thought of her last moments, in which she heaped upon me such proofs of
her incomparable affection. I cannot describe the happiness which in the
midst of so many vicissitudes and troubles I have constantly derived
from the tender, noble, and generous feeling ever associated with the
interests which gave animation to my existence. Assure Madame Masclet of
my attachment and gratitude. You know my friendship for you, my dear
Masclet, and that I am yours most cordially,
Letter from M. de La Fayette to M. de Latour-Maubourg, on the death of
Madame de La Fayette:—
“JANUARY, 1808.
“I have not yet written to you, my dear friend, from the depth of misery
in which I am plunged. You have already heard of the angelic end of that
incomparable woman. I feel I must again speak of it to you. My grieved
heart loves to open itself to the most constant, the dearest confidant
of all its thoughts. As yet you have always found me stronger than
circumstance, but now this event is stronger than me. Never shall I
recover from it.
“During the thirty-four years of an union in which her tenderness, her
goodness, the elevation of her mind, charmed, adorned, honored my life,
I felt myself so used to all that she was to me, that I could not
distinguish it from my own existence. She was fourteen, and I was
sixteen, when her heart occupied itself with everything that could
interest me. I knew I loved her, I knew I needed her; but it is only now
that I can distinguish what is left of me for the remainder of a life
which I had thought was to have been entirely devoted to worldly
“The foreboding of her loss had before never crossed my mind until I
received a note from Madame de Tessé as I was leaving Chavaniac with
George. I was struck to the heart. On arriving in Paris after a rapid
journey, we found her very ill; there was a slight improvement the next
day, which I attributed to the pleasure of seeing us; but soon
afterwards her head was affected. She said to Madame de Simiane, ‘I was
going to have a malignant fever, but I shall be well attended to, and
shall get the better of it.’
“It was not a malignant fever; but unhappily it was something still
worse. One day only Corvisart had great hopes. Our dear invalid was
already beginning to wander when her confessor came to see her. In the
evening she told me: ‘If I go to another dwelling, you know how much I
shall think of you there. Although I shall leave you with reluctance,
the sacrifice of my life would be little if it could insure your eternal
“The day she received the sacrament she was anxious to see me near her.
Delirium came on afterwards; you never saw anything so extraordinary and
so touching. Imagine, my dear friend, a mind completely disordered,
thinking itself in Egypt, in Syria, amongst the events of the reign of
Athalie, which Celestine’s lessons had left in her imagination,
strangely blending every idea that was not from the heart; in short, the
most constant delirium, and withal that kindness which always seeks for
something pleasing to say. There was also a refinement in the way she
expressed herself, a loftiness of thought which astonished every one.
But what was admirable above all was that tenderness of heart which she
was incessantly showing to her six children, to her sister, to her aunt,
to M. de Tessé: she thought she was with them at Memphis; for, by a
miracle of feeling, her mind was never invariably fixed but where I was
concerned. It seemed as if that impression was too deep to be
obliterated, was stronger than sickness, stronger than death itself.
Life had already fled; feeling, warmth, existence, all had taken refuge
in the hand which pressed mine. Perhaps she did even yield to her
affection and her tenderness more completely than if she had had the
full possession of her faculties.
“Do not imagine that the dear angel was alarmed at the thought of a
future world. Her religion was all love and confidence; the fear of hell
never came near her mind. She did not believe in it for beings good,
sincere, and virtuous, whatever their opinions might be. ‘I do not know
what will happen at the moment of their death,’ she would say; ‘but God
will enlighten them.’
“However, had her mind been clear, she would have thought of what she
called her _péchés_, though she did not believe in any other divine
punishment than that of being deprived of the sight of the Supreme
“And how often have you heard me joking her about her _aimables
hérésies_. Who knows whether the fear of increasing my regret would not
have partly restrained the outpouring of her feelings, in the same
manner as when, during our married life, her utter unselfishness
prevented her from yielding to what was most impassioned in her nature?
‘There was a period,’ she said a few months ago, ‘when, after one of
your returns from America, I felt myself so forcibly attracted to you
that I thought I should faint every time you came into the room. I was
possessed with the fear of annoying you, and tried to moderate my
feelings. You can scarcely be dissatisfied with what remains.’
“‘What gratitude I owe to God,’ she would repeat during her illness,
‘that such passionate feelings should have been a duty. How happy I have
been!’ she said the day of her death. ‘What a lot to be your wife!’ And
when I spoke to her of my tenderness, she answered in a touching tone:
‘Is it true? Is it indeed true? How good you are! Repeat it again; it
does me so much good to hear you. If you do not find yourself
sufficiently loved, lay the fault upon God; He has not given me more
faculties than that I love you,’ she said, in the midst of her delirium,
‘Christianly, humanly, passionately.’
“When she was pitied for her sufferings, the fear of exaggerating them
to herself and to others would come upon her. One day as I was watching
her with a look of pity, ‘Oh! I am overpaid,’ she said, ‘by that kind
“She often begged of me to remain in the room, because my presence
calmed her. Sometimes, however, she would ask me to go and attend to my
business; and when I answered that I had nothing else to do than to take
care of her, ‘How good you are,’ she would exclaim with her feeble
though _pénétrante_ voice; ‘you are too kind; you spoil me; I do not
deserve all that; I am too happy!’
“Her delirium was intense. It bore principally on the reign of Athalie,
on the family of Jacob, in which she liked to persuade herself that I
was tenderly beloved, on the contentions of Israel and Judah. ‘Would it
not be strange,’ she said, ‘if, being your wife, I were obliged to
sacrifice myself for a king?’
“She was in fear of troubles, of proscriptions, and prepared herself to
meet them with the fortitude which characterized her in real dangers.
She thought there was to be a persecution against Christians, and
reckoned upon me to protect the oppressed. ‘It appears to me,’ she said,
‘that the world is beginning over again; nothing but fresh experiments.
Why are not all things going on according to your wishes?’ All these
thoughts were confused in her head; she believed we were in Egypt and
“We thought once her ravings had ceased. ‘Am I not mad?’ she exclaimed.
‘Come nearer; tell me if I have lost my reason.’ I answered that I
should be very sorry to take for absurdities all the kind things she had
said to me. ‘Have I said anything kind? But I have also said many silly
things; have we not acted the tragedy of Athalie? What! I am married to
the sincerest of men, and I cannot know the truth. It is still your
kindness; you want to spare my head. Do speak; I am resigned to the
disgrace of being mad.’
“We succeeded at length in calming her. I told her she was valued and
loved. ‘Ah!’ she answered, ‘I do not care to be valued, so long as I am
loved.’ Another time she said: ‘Fancy what a state my poor head is in;
what an odd thing it is that I cannot remember whether Virginie and M.
de Lasteyrie are betrothed or united. Help me to collect my thoughts.’
“Sometimes we could hear her praying in her bed. She made her daughters
read prayers to her. There was something heavenly in the manner she
twice repeated Tobit’s prayers applicable to her state, the same she had
recited to her daughters on seeing the steeples of Olmütz for the first
“I approached her. ‘It is from the book of Tobit,’ she said: ‘I sing
badly; that is why I recite it.’ Another time she composed a most
beautiful prayer which lasted full an hour.
“One day I was speaking to her of her angelic gentleness. ‘Yes,’ she
said; ‘God has made me gentle; though my gentleness is not like yours; I
have not such high pretensions. You are so strong as well as so gentle,
and you are very good to me.’
“‘It is you who are good,’ I answered, ‘and generous above all. Do you
remember my first departure for America? Everybody against me, and you
hiding your tears at M. de Ségur’s marriage. You tried not to appear in
grief, for fear of bringing down more blame upon me.’ ‘True,’ she said,
‘it was rather nice for a child. But how kind of you to remember so far
“She spoke very sensibly of her daughters’ happiness, of the good and
noble character of her sons-in-law. ‘Nevertheless, I have not been able
to make them as happy as I am. It would have required all God’s power to
have brought about that again.’
“It is not to boast, my dear friend, that I tell you all this, although
one might well be proud of it, but I find comfort in repeating to you
and to myself how tender and how happy she was.
“How happy she would have been this winter—all her children near her,
the war finished for George and Louis, the birth of Virginie’s child,
and, I may add, after an illness which, owing to our past fears, would
have made her doubly dear to us. Had she not to the last, the kindness
of thinking of my amusements at La Grange, of my farm, of all that was
of daily interest to me! When I spoke to her of returning home: ‘Ah!’
she said, ‘that would be too delicious. My God, my God!’ she exclaimed,
‘six more poor years of La Grange!’ She wanted to return there with me,
and begged of me to start before her. I entreated her to allow me to
stay, and asked her to rest a little. She promised to do her best; and
as she became calmer, ‘Well,’ she said, ‘remain, wait a little; I shall
go quietly to sleep.’
“The disordered state of her brain did not prevent her having misgivings
as to her approaching end. The night which preceded the last I heard her
saying to her nurse, ‘Do not leave me; tell me when I am to die.’ At my
approach her fears subsided; but when I spoke to her of recovery, of
returning to La Grange: ‘Oh no! I am going to die. Have you any cause of
complaint against me?’
“‘For what, my dear? you have always been so good and so loving!’
“‘Have I, then, been a gentle companion to you?’
“‘Yes; assuredly.’
“‘Well, then, give me your blessing.’
“On all these last evenings, when she thought I was going to leave her,
she would ask for my blessing.
“I spoke to her of the happiness of our union; of my tenderness. She
took pleasure in hearing me repeat the assurance of my love. ‘Promise
me,’ she said, ‘to preserve that affection forever. Promise me.’
“You may well believe that I promised.
“‘Are you satisfied with your children?’ she added.
“I told her how completely they satisfied me.
“‘They are very good,’ she said; ‘support them with all your love for
“Then delirium coming on again, ‘How do you think they feel with respect
to the house of Jacob?’
“I assured her that they entered into all her feelings.
“‘Ah!’ she replied, ‘my feelings are very moderate, except those I have
for you.’
“Twice only her excitement became intense. It was then the wanderings of
maternal love. One day George, to prevent her speaking too much, had for
several hours kept away from her room. When he came in again, she
evidently thought he had just returned from the army. The wildness of
her joy on seeing him made her heart beat in a fearful manner. Another
time she fell into an ecstasy of joy at the thought of an anniversary
dear to our hearts—of the day when, twenty-eight years before, she had
given me George. That anniversary was the day of her death.
“One cannot admire sufficiently the meekness, the patience, the
unchanging kindness of that angelic woman during this long and cruel
malady. In her delirium, which lasted a whole month, she was always
thinking of us and fearing to weary her friends. ‘I am very
troublesome,’ she would often say; ‘my children,’ she one day added,
‘must make up their mind to have a silly mother since you are willing to
have such a silly wife.’ But never the slightest sign of impatience nor
of ill humor. Even when it was most repugnant to her to drink anything,
a word from me or from her children, or, in our absence, the idea that
the nurse might be blamed, sufficed to decide her; and up to the last,
each service was acknowledged by a kind word, a motion of the head or of
the hand.
“‘Never,’ the doctor said, ‘have I seen in the course of a long practice
anything to be compared to that adorable disposition and to delirium so
extraordinary. No, never have I seen anything which could give me the
idea that human perfection could go so far.’
“A few moments before she breathed her last she murmured to us that she
was not suffering. ‘No doubt she does not suffer,’ exclaimed the nurse;
‘she is an angel.’
“It was very remarkable to what a degree her wanderings corresponded
with the different shades of her affection. When I was concerned, her
judgment was always sound. Though placing us all in the most fantastic
situations, her mind was never at fault with respect to my principles
and feelings. She would exclaim, ‘Decide; you are leader; it is our
happy lot to obey you.’ One day I was attempting to calm her; she gayly
repeated this verse:—
“‘A vos sages conseils, Seigneur, je m’abandonne.’
“With respect to our children,—I speak of all six,—whom she always
recognized and welcomed, whom she always spoke to in the kindest and
most loving manner, and whose various characters and dispositions ever
remained clearly present to her mind, there was still something less
lucid in her thoughts than with regard to me. As for her grandchildren,
she spoke of them several times to me with charming details; but more
frequently her ideas were confused with respect to their number, their
sex, and even to the existence of the two last. She was most
affectionate throughout to her sister, Madame de Montagu; she frequently
inquired from us both how my mother was, fancying we had seen her
lately. We shuddered on hearing her calmly say on the morning of her
death, ‘To-day I shall see my mother.’
“The last day she told me, ‘When you see Madame de Simiane, give her my
love.’ Thus her heart was all life when her poor limbs were already
numbed by approaching death.
“I have already told you without any particulars that she had received
the sacraments. I was present during the ceremony, which was more
painful to us than to herself, for she had already taken the sacrament
in her bed a short time previously.
“The next day, before she became quite speechless, Madame de Montagu and
my daughters, fearing that my presence might prevent her from praying at
her ease, asked me to leave them. My first impulse was to refuse their
request, however tenderly and timidly made; I had a passionate desire to
occupy her thoughts exclusively. However, I repressed my feelings, and
gave up my place to her sister. I was scarcely gone when she called me
back. So soon as I got nearer, she again took my hand in hers, saying,
‘_Je suis toute à vous_.’ These were her last words.
“It has been said that she had often lectured me. That was not her way;
she frequently expressed, in the course of her delirium, the idea that
she would go to heaven. She told me several times, ‘This life is short
and full of troubles; let us unite in God and depart together for
eternity.’ She wished us all, and me in particular, the peace of the
Lord. Such is the manner in which that dear angel expressed herself
during her illness, as well as in the will she had made a few years ago,
and which is a model of refinement, of elevation of mind, and of
eloquence from the heart.
“It seems as if, by dwelling on these details, I was trying to defer
that last period, when, on seeing the doctor giving up all hopes of her
recovery, and only thinking of prolonging life, we felt that for her
there was to be no to-morrow. Until then we had only appeared before her
two or three at a time; but that day, as she seemed to be seeking for
us, we saw no harm in admitting all the members of the family, who
seated themselves in a semi-circle before her, so that she could see
every one. ‘What a pleasant sight!’ she said, while looking on us with
“She called for her daughters in turn, and had a charming word for each
of them. She gave them each her blessing. I feel confident that she was
happy during that morning. And how could the last moments be otherwise
than calm for her whose piety, far from being troubled by terrors and
scruples, never ceased to be all the time of her illness, before and
during her delirium, all love and gratitude for the blessings, to use
her own words, which God had bestowed and was still bestowing on her?
for her who, notwithstanding the state of her brain, never lost a single
joy which a heart such as hers could feel? Her delirium even became less
confused. Instead of asking Madame de Montagu how my mother was, she
told her, ‘I look upon you as having succeeded to her.’
“No doubt she felt that the last moment was approaching, when, after
having told me in so touching a manner: ‘Have you been happy with me?
Are you kind enough to love me? Well, then, give me your blessing.’ and
when I answered: ‘You love me also, you will give me your blessing’; she
gave me hers for the first and last time in a solemn and loving manner.
Then her six children, each in turn, kissed her hand and face. She
looked at them with inexpressible tenderness.
“Still more surely had she the idea of her approaching end, when,
fearing a convulsion, as I believe, she made me a sign to step back;
and, as I remained near her, she laid my hand on her eyes with a look of
tender gratitude, thus giving me to understand what was the last duty
she expected from me.
“We felt during these hours of gentle agony a struggle between the want
of expressing our love, which she enjoyed so much, and the belief that
these emotions wore out the little that was left in her of life. I kept
in my words with nearly as much care as I repressed my sobs, when the
touching expression of her eyes, a few scarcely uttered words, tore from
my lips the expression of the feelings with which my heart was bursting.
She revived, and found strength to exclaim: ‘Is it then true you have
loved me? How happy I am! Kiss me.’ She raised her poor arms, which were
almost lifeless, with wonderful animation. She passed one round my neck,
and drawing my head towards hers, she pressed me to her heart,
repeating: ‘What a blessing! how happy I am to be yours!’ Until her
right hand became motionless, she carried mine successively to her lips
and to her heart. My left hand did not leave hers, and as long as she
breathed, I could feel that pressure, which seemed still to mean, ‘_Je
suis toute à vous_.’
“We all surrounded her bed, which had been drawn into the middle of the
room. She motioned to her sister to sit down by her. Her three daughters
were continually applying hot towels to her hands and arms to preserve
the last remnant of warmth. We knelt down, following the slow motion of
her breath. There was no appearance of pain, the benevolent smile was
playing upon her lips, my hand was still within hers; and thus this
angel of goodness and love breathed her last. We bathed with tears the
lifeless remains of that adorable being. I felt myself dragged away by
M. de Mun and M. de Tracy, and so bade my last farewell to her, and to
all happiness on earth….
“On Monday that angelic woman was borne to the spot near which repose
her grandmother, her mother, and her sister, amongst sixteen hundred
other victims….
“We found in her writing-book a letter to me written in 1785, several
injunctions made in 1792, and an official will of 1804. This memorandum,
which was only a rough copy, was nevertheless a masterpiece of
tenderness, of refinement, and of heart-felt eloquence. It speaks of
religion with simple and touching sublimity.
“I love, my dear friend, to confide to your bosom all these
recollections of the past; for what else now remains, save
recollections, of that adorable woman to whom I have owed during
thirty-four years an ever-enduring and unclouded happiness? She was
attached to me, I may say, by the most ardent feelings; yet never did I
perceive in her the slightest shade of selfishness, of displeasure, or
of jealousy. If I look back to the days of our youth, how many
unexampled proofs of delicacy and generosity come across my mind! She
was associated heart and soul with all my political wishes and opinions,
and Madame de Tessé might well say that her devotion was a mixture of
the catechism and the _declaration des droits_. I must again refer to an
expression of her aunt’s, who said to me yesterday, ‘I never could have
believed that it was possible to be so fanatic of your opinions, and at
the same time so devoid of party spirit.’
“You know as well as I do all she was, and all she did during the
Revolution. It is not for having come to Olmütz, as Charles Fox so
elegantly expressed it, on the wings of duty and of love, that I mean to
praise her now; it is for having remained in France until she had
secured, so far as lay in her power, the material comforts of my aunt
and the rights of my creditors; it is for having had the courage to send
George to America. What noble imprudence to remain, the only woman in
France endangered by the name she bore, but who always refused to change
“Each of her petitions and declarations began by these words: _La femme
La Fayette_. Indulgent as she was with respect to calumny and party
hatred, never did she allow, even at the foot of the scaffold, a
reflection upon me to pass without protesting against it. She had
prepared herself to speak in that spirit before the tribunal, and we
have all seen how good, simple, and easy in common life was that
lofty-minded and courageous woman. Her piety was also of a peculiar
nature. I may say that during thirty-four years I never once experienced
from it the slightest shadow of inconvenience. No affectation in her
religious practices, which were always subordinate to my convenience. I
have had the satisfaction of seeing the least pious of my friends as
well received, as much esteemed, and their virtues as fully acknowledged
by her as if there had been no difference of religious opinions between
her and them. Never did she express to me anything but hope, even
conviction, that upon mature reflection, with the uprightness of heart
she knew I possessed, I should end by being convinced. The
recommendations which she has left me are in the same spirit, entreating
me to read, for the love of her, several books which I shall examine
again with the most solemn attention. She used to call religion
sovereign liberty, to make me appreciate it more, and often repeated
with pleasure these words of Abbé Fauchet: ‘Jesus Christ, my only
master’ (_Jésus Christ, mon seul maître_).
“This letter would never come to an end, my dear friend, if I gave way
to the feelings which inspire it. I shall only add that that angelic
woman has, at least, been surrounded with love and regret well worthy of
“Adieu, my dear friend; with your help I have borne sorrows great and
hard to endure, to which the name of misfortune might have been given
until the greatest of all misfortunes had been experienced. But, though
absorbed in the deepest grief, though given up to one thought, one
devotion not of this world, though still more than ever I feel the want
to believe that all does not die with us, I still appreciate the
pleasures of friendship—and what a friendship is yours, my dear
“I embrace you in her name, in my own, in the name of all you have been
to me since we have known each other.
“Adieu, my dear friend,