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Lady Blessington had a particular turn for cramming a vast deal of meaning into an exceeding small number of words. She not only had a natural talent for condensing thoughts, and producing them in terse, vigorous, and happilyselected terms, but she made a study of saying memorable things in short smart sentences, of conveying in a remark some idea of the import, essence, and merits of an entire book.
Lord John Russell, in his Preface to the fifth volume of Moore's “Memoirs,” makes an observation, very just and singularly felicitous in its expression, in reference to the conversational powers of Sir James Mackintosh and Sidney Smith:
"There are two kinds of colloquial wit which equally contribute to fame, though not equally to agreeable conversation. The one is like a rocket in a dark air, which shoots at once into the sky, and is the more surprising from the previous silence and gloom; the other is like that kind of fire-work which blazes and bursts out in every direction, exploding at one moment, and shining brightly in its course, and changing its shape and colour to many forms and many hues.
“ The great delight of Sidney Smith was to produce a succession of ludicrous images; these followed each other with a rapidity that scarcely left time to laugh ; he himself laughing louder and with more enjoyment than any one. This electric contact of mirth came and went with the occasion; it cannot be repeated or reproduced ; anything would give occasion to it...
“Of all those whose conversation is referred to by Moore, Sir James Mackintosh was the ablest, the most brilliant, and the best informed. A most competent judge in this matter has said, “Till subdued by age and illness, his conversation was more brilliant and instructive than that of any human being I ever had the good fortune to be acquainted with.' His stores of learning were vast, and of those kinds which, both in serious and in light conversation, are most available.” It would be idle to compare the conversational talents of Lady Blessington with those of Sidney Smith or Sir Jame Mackintosh, in any respect but one, namely, the power of making light matters appear of moment in society, and dull things brilliant.
The perfection of conversational talent is said “to be able to say something on any subject that may be started, without betraying any anxiety or impatience to say it.” The Prince de Ligne, a great authority in conversational matters, said, "Ce qui coute le plus pour plaire, c'est de cacher que l'on s'ennuie. Ce n'est pas en amusant qu'on plait. On n'amuse pas même si l'on s'amuse; c'est en faisant croire que
l'on s'amuse." Madame de Stäel spoke of conversation emphatically as an art:
“To succeed in conversation, we must possess the tact of perceiving clearly, and at every instant, the impression made on those with whom we converse; that which they would fain conceal, as well as that which they would willingly exaggerate--the inward satisfaction of some, the forced smiles of others. We must be able to note and to arrest halfformed censures as they pass over the countenance of the listeners, by hastening to dissipate them before self-love be engaged against us. There is no arena in which vanity displays itself under such a variety of forms as in conversa
Of all the women of our age, Madame de Stäel was the most eminently intellectual. With genius, and judgment, and
powers of mental application of the highest order, she Was imbued with poetry and enthusiasm, she was of a sanguine, impulsive nature, wonderfully eloquent, chivalrous, patriotic, a lover of liberty and glory, and withal womanly in her feelings and affections. She delighted in society; with her large heart and well-stored head, and remarkable powers of conversation, it is no wonder the circles of a metropolis that was in that day the great centre of civilization, should have peculiar attractions for her ; Paris, with its brilliant society, where her literary reputation had its birth, became her world. She exulted in its society, and was the chief grace, glory, and ornament of it.
Byron said to Lady Blessington, that “Madame de Stäel was certainly the cleverest, though not the most agreeable woman he had ever known; she declaimed to you instead of conversing with you, never pausing except to take breath ; and if during that interval a rejoinder was put in, it was evident that she did not attend to it, as she resumed the thread of her discourse, as though it had not been interrupted.”
His Lordship went on to say, that she was in the habit of losing herself in philosophical disquisitions; and although very eloquent and fluent, when excited in conversation, her language was sometimes obscure, and her phraseology florid and redundant.
Lady Blessington's love for London and its celebrities was of the same all-absorbing nature as that of Madame de Stäel for Parisian society.
The exile of the illustrious Baroness from the French capital, was “a second death” to her, we are told in a recent admirable memoir.
“It appears strange that banishment from Paris should thus have been looked upon by Madame de Stäel as an evil, and cause of suffering, almost beyond her endurance. With her great intellectual resources, her fine heart capable of attaching itself to whatever was loveable or excellent, and the power she possessed of interesting others, and of giving the tone to whatever society she entered ; one would have supposed that she, of all people, ought not to have depended for her happi
ness upon any clique or association, however brilliant. But though she viewed with deep interest and philosophical curiosity every form of human society, she only seems to have loved that to which she had been accustomed, and to have felt herself at home only in the midst of the bustle and excitements among which her life had begun. She was not yet fully alive to the beauties of nature. Like Charles Lamb, she preferred the 'sweet security of streets,' to the most magnificent scenery the world contained, and thought with Dr. Johnson, that there was no scene equal to the high tide of human existence in the heart of a populous city. When guests who came to visit her at Geneva were in ecstasies with its lovely scenes — Give me the Rue de Bac,' she said; “I would rather live in Paris in a fourth story, and with a hundred a-year. I do not dissemble: a residence in Paris has always appeared to me, under any circumstances, the most desirable of all others. French conversation excels nowhere except in Paris, and conversation has been, since my infancy, my greatest pleasure.''
One who knew her peculiar talents and characteristics well, has observed of her in her later years: “An overstimulated youth acting on a temperament naturally ardent and impassioned, had probably aggravated these tendencies to a morbid extent; for in the very prime of her life, and strength of her intellect, it would have seemed to her almost as impossible to dispense with the luxury of deep and strong emotions, as with the air which sustained her existence.”
Madame de Stäel had this advantage over all the learned and literary women of her time ;-she was born and bred in the midst of intellectual excitement, conversational exhibitions, triumphs of imagination, and all the stirring scenes of a grand drama, which opened with bright visions of freedom, and renewed vigour and vitality for the human race, though it terminated in a terrible denouement of revolution, and widely extended frenzy.
Madame de Stäel lacked one great source of influence and power in conversation, namely, beauty. Her features were flexible, but strongly marked, and somewhat masculine ; but her eyes were full of animation, vivacity, and expression, and her voice was finely modulated and harmonious, peculiarly touching and pleasing to the ear ; while her movements were graceful and dignified. She entered on life at the beginning of a mighty revolution, with lofty aspirations, and glorious inspirations, animated by enthusiastic feelings of love, of liberty, of humanity, of glory, and exalted virtue. There was no affectation in these heroic sentiments and chivalrous imaginings: they were born with her, they were fostered in her, the times in which her lot was cast developed them most fully.
It would be vain to look for intellectual power in the literary women of other lands, of our time, that could have produced Thoughts on the French Revolution,” “Ten Years of Exile," " Sophia, or Secret Sentiments,” “On the Influence of Passions in Individuals and National Happiness," "Literature, considered in its connection with Social Institutions,” “ Delphine,” “Corinne,” “ Germany,” &c. &c. &c.
The labour of her great works on the French Revolution, after her return to her beloved Paris, at the period of the restoration of Louis the Eighteenth, contributed, it is supposed, to the breaking down of her health, after a short but memorable career of wonderful literary toil, and application of the mental faculties; she died in 1817, at the age of fifty-one years.
Of Holland House society, Mr. Macauley, in an article in the “Edinburgh Review,” has commemorated the brilliancies; and Lord John Russell has likewise recorded its attractions in terms worthy of a man of letters, and a lover of the amenities of literature. In a prefatory notice to one of the