Madame De Stael vs Napoleon
Germaine de Stael – French salon, 1790s to 1817
from Beth Lorio
for A Teaspoon of Water: Contemplative Arts Salon
Germaine De Staël had already seen the promise of the Revolution twist into The Terror before Napoleon came marching into Paris.
She was prepared to admire him, and eager to include him in the circle of thinkers, writers, politicians, clergy, aristocracy and beauties of her Salon. She was eager to advise him on how best to help France become in truth the land of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. But it soon became clear to her that Napoleon’s interests really rested on one thing: Napoleon’s interests. He wanted nothing to do with her or the Brotherhood of Man. When he named himself Emperor, he decreed that she be banished from within 40 leagues of Paris lest her influence interfere with his own plans for Empire.
For over ten years Germaine pleaded and schemed to be allowed to return to her beloved city, all the while gathering a like minded circle from all over Europe who honed their wits and talents on the wheel of her inexhaustibly curious mind. Napoleon, on the way to Moscow with his invincible army, kept a detailed correspondence with the spies assigned to keep tabs on this one woman who never learned to keep quiet.
After the battle of Waterloo, she had only a year before her death to see the beginnings of what would become the cultural revolution of Romanticism begin to take root in France. Her own body of written work as well as the relationships she cultivated with remarkable people all over Europe (Goethe, Byron, the Duke of Wellington to name but a few) fed the soil from which the Republic of France would ultimately grow. Her Salon, that atmosphere of curiosity, elevated discourse, charm, idealism, synthesis, enthusiasm, was the nomadic crucible she carried all over Europe in her exile and was ultimately her surest weapon in her long duel with the Emperor.