THE COUNTESS DE BOIGNE.*
This book is a curiosity in its authorship and in itself. The writer of it, the Comtet3se de Boigne, has left the mark of all her own peculiarities in the characters, the incidents, and the senti- ments of her romance, and the best introduction to it will be a sketch of her curious career. Eleonore Adele Osmond (such was her maiden name) was born in 1780, and died, aged eighty-six, last year at Paris. Her father, the Marquis d'Osmond, was the eldest of three brothers, all illustrious in the pre-revolutionary time. The Marquis himself was born at St. Domingo, served his country from an early age till the year 1788, when he was named Ambas- sador at the Hague. He married an English young lady, Miss Dillon, of small fortune, and he himself was poorly endowed. His lady very soon after their marriage was appointed one of the dames attendantes on Mesdames Adelaide and Victoire, daughters of Louis XV. They became much attached to the Marquis, his wife, and young daughter, Adele, and as the child grew up she was constantly either at Belle Vue. or Versailles. She was a remarkably lovely child, and becoming the pet of Marie Antoinette, she was almost always with the first Dauphin, whose precarious health led his physicians to place him at Meudon ;i'and thus, Mesdames inhabiting Bellevue, and Adele being with them every day, she was the perpetual playfellow and amuser of the poor Royal child. She never ceased to repeat the stories of her young time, and to tell curious details respecting Louis XVI. and his Queen. It seemed to her always in after years as if those days were dreams. She could hardly believe in the harsh contrasts so soon to follow.
The father of Adele in 1791 was named Ambassador to St. Petersburg, but one event following quickly after another allowed
• line Passion dans k Grand Monde. Par Elenore Adele Osmond, Commis° de Boigue. 2 tomes. Peas: Levy. 1867. him no opportunity of performing the duties of that office, and he assisted Mesdames to emigrate to Italy, whither Madame d'Osmond and her son and daughters accompanied them. There
an asylum for these unfortunate daughters of Royalty was prepared by the generous care of Pius VI. ; but although the Marquis soon followed, deserting, like so many of his order, the fallen King and Queen, he would not remain, nor allow his wife and family to remain, chargeable on Mesdames.
To Naples therefore they went, and there again Adele was under the special patronage of a Queen, for Caroline, the sister of Marie Antoinette, undertook all the expenses of her education, settling a pension of 12,000 livres on the Marquis for that pur- pose, but stipulating that it was to cease when the education was completed. So it was that our future Comtesse de Boigne became the friend and companion of the excellent Marie Amelie, late ex- Queen of the French.
They did not, however, remain more than ten months at Naples. The Marchioness had her own English family to visit, and in England they had their home for a considerable time, at any rate till Adele was seventeen years of age, and had come to the end of her education and of the Naples pension.
She must have been a young lady of some nerve and not a little cleverness. How far the love of her parents, always, we think, particularly strong among French girls, was her all-pervading motive for the conduct which followed, and which cannot but be in English eyes most repugnant to every feeling of delicacy, must remain unknown. But the fact is that she was addressed by a.
military servant of the East India Company, an old man just
returned from India with immense riches, how reputably acquired no one knew, with shattered health, and with all the character- istics of a soldier and a nabob. Smitten by Adele's beauty, he
warmly pressed his suit. She, contrary to all ideas of propriety on the part of French parents, requested leave herself to conduct.
the negotiation for her own hand, and then she frankly told him the present condition of her family, banished, ruined, and without resource ; and she said that she would marry no man who would not engage to provide for her father, mother, and young brother. General de Boigne seems hardly to have hesitated ; a rude, pas- sionate soldier, he accepted all the conditions, and Madlle. Adele became " a woman sold." .
The probability is that all her talent, all her high cultivation,. were thrown away on such a man, and, as Madame Lenormand, who writes the introductory narrative, says, " Une semblable union ne pouvait pas etre, et ne fat pas, heureuse." Whether she behaved ill to him or he to her we are not told, but at the end of
six years he bought her a chateau (Beauregard), took her there, waited till her father and mother joined her, and then made his. bow, and went himself to live at his own native town of Cham- bery. He provided, at any rate, magnificently for her and here.
Respecting his own tastes and habits we are not to be too curious, but it ought to be mentioned to his credit that his munificence was largely exercised in Chambery, and also that he retained perfectly amicable relations with his lady, who spent some weeks of every year so long as he lived with him, and always spoke of him with respect. Of the date of his death we are not informed.
At the beginning of the First Empire, Madame de Boigne might be found established at Paris, and her salon was frequented by most of the celebrities of the day ; by Madame de Stahl, by the Montmorencies, and by Madame Recamier. Some beautifu) remarks on the character of the latter are surely, even after all we have read of her, worth looking at :—
"Plenty of pictures of Madame Recamior," she says, "have been given, and yet none, according to my ideas, have rendered the exact traits of her character ; this is the more excusable, because she was so mobile. Everybody has chaunted the praises of her incomparable beauty, her active beneficence, her sweet urbanity. Many even have. spoken of her wit, but few have penetrated through the habitual charm of her manner to the real nobility of her heart, her independence, the impartiality of her judgment, the justness of her spirit. I have some- times seen her overruled; but never, I think, merely Influenced."
There was little sympathy between the Marquis d'Osmond and
his party with the people of the First Empire. When the Bour- bons returned they were gladly welcomed, and honours were bestowed by the returned Royalties upon them ; M. d'Osmond being made a Peer of France. and sent to London as Ambassador, in 1815. Whatever her political tendencies might be, however, Madame de Boigne at least was not blind to the defects of the Bourbons. She saw the faults of all parties, and in the letters. which most evidently represent her sentiments, though put into the mouths of fictitious persons, there is sometimes an expression. of bitter disappointment. She accompanied her father to England, and remained till he resigned his appointment. He died in 1838,
at a very advanced age. Madame Lenormand hints at the Countess being severely mortified at his never having obtained the Cordon Bleu. Whether from discontent with the elder Bourbons, or a revival of the old attachment to the daughters of Caroline of Naples, it is certain that nearly all Madame de Boigne's inter- course was gradually centred upon the Orleans family. She had become a woman of considerable political influence. With Comte Pozzo di Borgo her counsels and opinion carried weight, and it is said that she had much to do with procuring the neutrality of the Russian Government after the Revolution of July. Of course this impression had a tendency to sever her from many of the heretofore intimates of her salon, and she felt their secession very keenly, for at heart she was certainly a Legitimist, and besides that had strong affections ; but we suppose she was con- soled by the society of the many distinguished persons who formed the new Government, and flocked to her abode. Among these, perhaps, the chief was the Chancelier Pasquier. This able man only withdrew from public affairs in 1848, but then, though deaf and almost blind, the powers of his mind remained unimpaired, and he lived on, clear-headed, brisk in temper, but easily mollified, to the age of ninety-seven, to the last regarding the Countess, and justly, as his most attached friend. And that death created a void indeed for Madame de Boigne. People grieved for her ; all knew how strong were her sympathies. It was seen that, though she might very fairly be called a " femme de milk cotes," yet she was exclusive in her affections. As to her tastes, they were perfectly feminine; passionately fond of flowers, never being without them in her rooms; skilful in needlework, her tapestryalways in her hands, and in her eighty-sixth year using no spectacles. In other respects, however, she was very infirm. She could not walk half-a-dozen steps, and was carried into the garden or to her carriage, from her sleeping room to the salon, or from the salon to the salle-k-manger. Nor was she ever brought in till her guests were assembled. Then, what would be the surprise of a stranger to see this wrapped- up figure carried between two valets, casting off her envelopes, placed at the table, and entering into the liveliest conversations, as if but thirty years of age Nothing could surpass the charm of the surprise. Then it should be aided that she had preserved all her teeth, her beautiful hair, her pretty features, and when conversation took an animated turn, a ray of the old youthful grace lighted up her countenance. It is right to add, that though -early nourished in a sceptical school, and for many years, if not adverse, yet very indifferent to religion, Madame de Boigne turned with far greater interest to the momentous subject long before death, long before she had experienced any serious warnings of her bodily frailty. Her only brother died some years before her, but with her characteristic passion for the parental name she bequeathed all her wealth to the only being belonging to her who bore the name of Osmond.
Now, to all those who had heard her converse, to all especially who knew her familiarity with various celebrated characters and scenes, it was a matter of great curiosity to know what writings this aged woman had left, for that she did write was well known. Memoirs were hinted at, and the surprise was considerable when it was found that she had written two romances, of which the present is one. She had, however, much imagination, and more sentiment. She liked to draw a set of characters, her own among the rest, to put them in situations such as she had known ; she thought she could do more substantial justice both to her own ideas and to private and public sentiments by working them up thus. Undoubtedly some of her pictures are well given, but the romance, 17ne Passion dans le Grand Monde, take it as a whole, is not only very tedious, but has many of the old-fashioned theories of love and honour which, as theories, carefully and deliberately set forth, are sure to repel modern readers. The form adopted, too, that of letters, is wearisome and diffuse. It is a Sir Charles Grandison minus the wit. The old lady's character, meant, no doubt, as the embodiment of Madame de Boigne's own peculiarities, is the clever- est and most interesting, but unfortunately Madame de Romiguere ,this self-drawn character) dies before the close of the first volume, and we have to wade through a long history of a needless quarrel between adoring lovers, an unloving marriage consequent upon the quarrel, an explanation coming too late, and giving rise to some struggles of passion and duty, and finally to get rid of the whole combat by death.
In different parts of the book we have some shrewd political remarks. The hero, Romuald, and his friend interchange ideas on the state of France after the Russian campaign ; also during the Hundred Days, and again in the Bourbon period. They cannot suppress, spite of their instincts for Legitimacy, their dis- appointment with the returned family. In December, 1816, we have an account of Romuald's reception at Court by Louis XVIIL, and not a little of sarcasm is displayed. At first, the hero, a dis- tinguished military Bonapartist officer, is flattered by the King's intimate knowledge of his antecedents. Louis goes back as far as 1806, and refers to the mention of Romuald's name in the bulletin of an affair at Czarnovo, which, as it chanced, occurred on the very anniversary day of his presentation. Astonished, Romuald tells his uncle, who had been at the levee with him, how wonderfully kind the King must be to inform himself so minutely respecting the affairs of an insignificant person. His uncle laughs heartily, and answers, " Don't fancy that he dreamt of giving you pleasure ; he only wanted to show off his marvellous memory before a new comer ; we old courtiers are a little tired of the charlatanerie of dates and anniversaries," &c. (Vol. I., p. 203).
Our hero is compelled thus to go back to his first impression of the King. " I don't like his countenance; it is hard when he is serious—false when he smiles."
A few days afterwards he goes to visit Monsieur, the future Charles X., and the Duchesae d'Angouleme. The former welcomes him cordially, and here he is inclined to be pleased, but he is asked whether he has ever been in Germany ?—an embarrassing question to a Bonapartist. He replies honestly, however, " Oui, Mon- seigneur, plusieurs fois," and there is an end of the interview. Here Romuald fancies that the assumed ignorance of his previous
history was a piece of generous feigning, but the undeceivable uncle again smiles, and tells him he is a novice, it is no such thing. Then they go to the Duchesse d'Angouleme. It is plain that there, at least, is no trickery, but it is still disappointing.
Who would not have felt emotion at first seeing the daughter of the martyred King ?
"My uncle having introduced me," writes Romuald, "I obtained a very cold inclination of the head, and a 'You have been but a short time in Paris,' which looked to me a little reproachful. Then address- ing herself to my uncle, she said, exactly in the same tone, Hombert [his youngest son] was of the escort yesterday; he kept too near the wheels ; he did not show his common sense. I told him so, but you must repeat to him that he must not let it happen again.' The sub- stance of what she said was quite right and kind ; but it was the manner, so little gracious, that I felt deeply saddened. By what fatality is it that a Princess, to whom all hearts would be open, has learnt to chill every one? I went out of the Tuileries ill satisfied, but above all, vexed to have found this illustrious woman, whose misfortunes and virtues had so often occupied my mind, different from all I had antici- pated."
These are interesting notices, speaking, as we know they do, the mind of the writer. We wish there were more of them, instead
of page upon page of rhapsody and exaggerated love ; yet Madame de Boigne tries hard to be moral, and prefers killing her hero to
admitting a stain on his name.