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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Persecutions by Napoleon
By Madame de Staël (1766–1817)
 
From ‘Ten Years of Exile’

IN the month of March, 1811, a new Prefect [of Geneva] arrived from Paris. He was a man peculiarly adapted to the conditions of the time; that is to say, possessing a great knowledge of facts, and no principles with regard to rule,… and placing his conscience in devotion to power. The first time that I saw him he said to me immediately that a talent like mine was made to celebrate the Emperor,—that he was a subject worthy of the kind of enthusiasm that I had shown in ‘Corinne.’ I answered him, that persecuted as I had been by the Emperor, any praise on my part addressed to him would have the air of a petition; and that I was persuaded that the Emperor himself would find my eulogiums absurd in such conditions. He opposed this opinion vehemently; he came again several times to see me, to beg me (for the sake of my interests, he said) to write something for the Emperor. Were it not more than four pages, that would suffice, he assured me, to put an end to all my troubles. And what he said to me he repeated to all my acquaintances. At last one day he came proposing that I should sing the birth of the King of Rome. I answered him, with laughter, that I had no thought to express on this subject beyond my wishes that his nurse might be a good one. This jest put an end to the prefect’s negotiations with me, as to the necessity that I should write something in favor of the government.  1
  A short time after, the physicians ordered my youngest son the baths of Aix in Savoy, twenty miles from Coppet…. Scarcely had I been there ten days, when a courier from the prefect of Geneva brought me orders to return home. The prefect of Mont Blanc where I was [i.e., in whose prefecture she was], also was afraid, he said, that I might set off from Aix to go to England, to write against the Emperor; and although London was not very near Aix in Savoy, he sent his gendarmes over the road to forbid my being provided with post-horses. I am ready to laugh now at all this prefectorial activity directed against such an insignificant object as myself; but then I was ready to die at the sight of a gendarme. I was always fearing that from so rigorous an exile the next step might easily be a prison, more terrible to me than death. I knew that once arrested, once this scandal dared, the Emperor would permit no word to be spoken for me, had any one had the courage to attempt it,—a courage scarcely probable in his court, where terror reigns every moment of the day, and about every detail of life.  2
  I returned to Geneva; and the prefect informed me that not only he forbade me to go under any pretext into the countries adjoining France, but that he advised me not to travel in Switzerland, and never to venture more than two leagues in any direction from Coppet. I observed to him that having my domicile in Switzerland, I did not well understand by what right a French authority could forbid my traveling in a foreign country. He thought me, undoubtedly, rather a simpleton to discuss in those days a question of right; and he repeated his advice, which was singularly akin to an order. I held to my remonstrance; but the next day I learned that one of the most distinguished men of letters of Germany, M. Schlegel, who for eight years had been good enough to take charge of the education of my sons, had just received the order not only to leave Geneva, but also Coppet. I was desirous to represent once more that in Switzerland the prefect of Geneva could give no orders [Geneva was then under French rule]: but I was told that if I liked better that this order should come from the French ambassador, I could so have it: that this ambassador would address himself to the landamman, and the landamman to the canton de Vaud, and the authorities of the canton would turn M. Schlegel out of my house. By forcing despotism to take this roundabout way, I should have gained ten days; but nothing more. I asked to know why I was deprived of the society of M. Schlegel, my friend, and that of my children. The prefect—who was accustomed, like most of the Emperor’s agents, to connect very gentle phrases with very harsh acts—told me that it was from consideration for me that the government removed from my house M. Schlegel, who made me unpatriotic. Truly touched by this paternal care on the part of the government, I inquired what M. Schlegel had done inimical to France: the prefect spoke of his literary opinions, and among other things, of a brochure by him, in which, comparing the ‘Phædra’ of Euripides to that of Racine, he gave the preference to the former. It showed much delicate feeling in a monarch of Corsican birth, to take sides in this manner about the finer details of French literature. But the truth was, M. Schlegel was exiled because he was my friend, because his conversation animated my solitude; the system was beginning to be worked that was to manifest itself more clearly, of making for me a prison of my soul, by depriving me of all the enjoyments of society and of friendship.  3
 
 
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