Friday, May 27, 2011

Sing, Clio, those who died young in your service

Having other business in downtown Jackson today, we dropped by the Tattered Pages bookshop in the Welty Commons, which merits the occasional visit from readers (and also sells coffee) (but is NOT open on weekends, alas). There we found a paperback of a book we last read some 20 years ago, J. Christopher Herold's biography of Mme de Staël.

Herold died relatively young, which was a pity, because he was a fine popular historian. His Age of Napoleon is a good little survey, with more than the usual attention to the culture of the day, and well-written. For ex:
Those who took a radical stand against the Revolution fell into two categories--the articulate and the sputtering. The latter, almost all émigrés who expected to be restored to their former rights and privileges simply because they were they, need not detain us here.
And in the Staël bio, he recounts one of the innumerable quarrels between that estimable lady and her harried lover, Benjamin Constant, who had just insisted that she marry him:
"Her fury," relates Benjamin, "was as great as her surprise. She rang the bell. Her children came in. 'Behold,' she said to them, pointing at me, 'behold the man who wants to ruin your mother by forcing her to marry him.'"

The children stared at the monster. Benjamin, putting his hand on Auguste's shoulder, came back with the retort magnificent: "Regard me as the vilest of men," he said, "if I ever marry your mother." At this point, Germaine "rose from her seat, threw herself on the floor with horrible screams, tried to strangle herself with her handkerchief--in a word, made one of those atrocious scenes that she can produce at will and which poor Benjamin cannot resist." Here was an opportunity to test experimentally whether it is possible to strangle oneself with a cambric handkerchief; instead of seizing it, Benjamin raised Germaine and calmed her with tender words....

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