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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Xavier de Maistre (1763–1852)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
TO students of French literature the name de Maistre suggests first, Joseph Marie de Maistre,—brilliant philosopher, stern and eloquent critic, vain opponent of revolutionary ideas: but the general reader is far better acquainted with his younger brother Xavier. He was a somewhat dashing military personage, a striking contrast to his austere senior, loving the æsthetic side of life: an amateur artist, a reader of many books, who on occasion could write charmingly.  1
  Born in Chambéry of French descent, he entered the Sardinian army, where he remained until the annexation of Savoy to France; when, finding himself an exile, he joined his brother, then envoy to St. Petersburg. Later he entered the Russian army; married in Russia, and lived there to a good old age.  2
  Perhaps the idea of authorship would never have occurred to the active soldier but for a little mishap. A love affair led to a duel; and he was arrested and imprisoned at Turin for forty-two days. A result of this leisure was the ‘Voyage autour de ma Chambre’ (Journey round my Room); a series of half-playful, half-philosophic sketches, whose delicate humor and sentiment suggest the influence of Laurence Sterne. Later on, he submitted the manuscript to his much-admired elder brother, who liked it so well that he had it published by way of pleasant surprise. He was less complimentary to a second and somewhat similar work, ‘L’Expédition Nocturne’ (The Nocturnal Expedition), and his advice delayed its publication for several years.  3
  Xavier de Maistre was not a prolific writer, and all his work is included in one small volume. Literature was merely his occasional pastime, indulged in as a result of some chance stimulus. A conversation with fellow-officers suggests an old experience, and he goes home and writes ‘Le Lepreux de la Cité d’Aoste’ (The Leper of Aoste), a pathetic story, strong in its unstudied sincerity of expression.  4
  Four years later he tells another little tale, ‘Les Prisonniers du Caucase’ (The Prisoners of the Caucasus), a stirring bit of adventure.  5
  His last story, ‘La Jeune Sibérienne’ (The Siberian Girl), best known as retold and weakened by Madame Cottin, is a striking premonition of later realism. There is no forcing the pathetic effect in the history of the heroic young daughter who braves a long and terrible journey to petition the Czar for her father’s release from Siberian exile.  6
  The charm of de Maistre’s style is always in the ease and simplicity of the telling. In his own time he was very popular; and his work survives with little loss of interest to-day.  7
 
 
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