1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Récamier, Jeanne Françoise Julie Adélaïde

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 22
Récamier, Jeanne Françoise Julie Adélaïde
15947001911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 22 — Récamier, Jeanne Françoise Julie Adélaïde

RECAMIER, JEANNE FRANÇOISE JULIE ADÉLAÏDE (1777-1840), a famous Frenchwoman in the literary and political circles of the early 19th century, was born on the 4th of December 1777 at Lyons. Her maiden name was Bernard. She was married at fifteen to the banker Jacques Récamier (d. 1830), who was more than old enough to be her father. Beautiful, accomplished, with a real love for literature, she possessed at the same time a temperament which protected her from scandal, and from the early days of the consulate to almost the end of the July monarchy her salon in Paris was one of the chief resorts of literary and political society that pretended to fashion. The habitués of her house included many former royalists, with others, such as Bernadotte and General Moreau, more or less disaffected to the government. This circumstance, together with her refusal to act as lady-in-waiting to the Empress Josephine and her friendship for Madame de Staël, brought her under suspicion. It was through Madame de Staël that Madame Récamier became acquainted with Benjamin Constant, whose singular political tergiversations during the last days of the empire and the first of the restoration have been attributed to her persuasions. Madame Récamier was eventually exiled from Paris by Napoleon's orders. After a short stay at Lyons she proceeded to Rome, and finally to Naples, where she was on exceedingly good terms with Murat and his wife, who were then intriguing with the Bourbons. She persuaded Constant to plead the claims of Murat in a memorandum addressed to the congress of Vienna, and also induced him to take up a decided attitude in opposition to Napoleon during the Hundred Days. Her husband had sustained heavy losses in 1805, and she visited Madame de Staél at Coppet in Switzerland. There was a project for her divorce, in order that she might marry Prince Augustus of Prussia, but though her husband was willing it was not arranged. In her later days she lost most of the rest of her fortune; but she continued to receive visitors at the Abbaye-aux-Bois, the old Paris convent to which she retired in 1814. Here Chateaubriand was a constant visitor, and in a manner master of the house; but 'even in old age, ill-health and reduced circumstances Madame Récamier never lost her attraction. She seems to have been incapable of any serious attachment, and although she numbered among her admirers Mathieu de Montmorency, Lucien Bonaparte, Prince Augustus of Prussia, Ballanche, J. J. Ampére and Constant, none of them obtained over her so great an influence as did Chateaubriand, though she suffered much from his imperious temper. If she had any genuine affection, it seems to have been for Prosper de Barante, whom she met at Coppet. She died in Paris on the 11th of May 1849.

There are well-known portraits of her by Louis David in the galleries of the Louvre, and by Francois Gérard in the possession of the prefecture of the Seine. In 1859 Souvenirs et correspondences tifés des papiers de Madame Récamier was edited by Mme Lenormant. See Mme Lenormant's Madame Récamier, les amis de sa jeunesse et sa correspondence intime (1872); Mme Mohl, Madame Récamier, with a sketch of the history of society in France (1829 and 1862); also Guizot in the Revue des deux mondes for December 1859 and February 1873; H. Noel Williams, Madame Récamier and her Friends (London, 1901); E. Herriott (Engl. trans., by Alys Hallard), Madame Récamier et ses amis (1904) (elaborate and exhaustive).