Life And Letters Of Maria Edgeworth/Volume 2/Letter 3
To MRS. RUXTON. LAUSANNE, Sept 14, 1820.
Ages ago I promised myself the pleasure of dating a letter from Lausanne to my dear aunt, and now that I am at the place of which I have so often heard her speak, which I have so often wished to see, I can hardly believe it is not a dream. A fortnight ago we were here, returning from our tour through les Petits Cantons; but at that time we could not enjoy anything, as we had heard from Sneyd, whom we met at Interlaken, of Lucy's terrible illness. What a comfort to my mother to think that she was saved by your Sophy's steadiness and presence of mind, and by Lovell's decision and Crampton's skill and kindness!
Yesterday we began our tour round the Lake of Geneva—Dumont, Fanny, Harriet, and I—in one of the carriages of the country, a mixture of a sociable and an Irish jingle, with some resemblance to a hearse, from a covered top on iron poles, which keeps off the sun. It was late when we arrived here, and so dark, with only a few lamps strung across the street here and there, we could scarcely see the forms of the great black horses scrambling and struggling up the almost perpendicular streets. How could you ever have borne it, my dear aunt? You must have been in perpetual fear of your life! Lord Bellamont's description of the county of Cavan—all acclivity and declivity, without any intervention of horizontality—I am sure applies to Lausanne. I am sure travelled horses from all parts of the world say to each other when they meet in the stable, "Were you ever at Lausanne? Don't you hate Lausanne? How could men build a town in such a place? What asses! And how provoking, while we are breaking our backs, to hear them talking of picturesque beauty! I should like to see how they would look if we let them slip, and roll down these picturesque situations!"
Lausanne is, nevertheless, so full that we could scarcely find room; and after Dumont and his servant had gone back and forward to Le Faucon, the Lion d'or, Les Balances, etc. etc., all full to the garrets, we were thankful at finding ourselves in the worst inn's worst room, where, however, the beds were clean and good. We are not grumblers, so we drank coffee and were all very happy; and while the rooms were preparing Dumont read to us a pretty little French piece, Le faux Savant!
Our first object this morning was to see Madame de Montolieu, the author of Caroline de Lichfield, to whom I had a letter of introduction. She was not at Lausanne, we were told, but at her country house, Bussigny, about a league and a half from the town. We had a delicious fine morning, and through romantic lanes and up and down hills, till we found ourselves in the middle of a ploughed field, when the coachman's pride of ignorance had to give up, and he had to beg his way to Bussigny, a village of scattered Swiss cottages high upon rocks, with far-spreading prospects below. In the court of the house which we were told was Madame de Montolieu's we saw a lady, of a tall, upright, active-looking figure, with much the appearance of a gentlewoman; but we could not think that this was Madame de Montolieu, because for the last half-hour Dumont, impatient at our losing our way, had been saying she must be too old to receive us. She was very old thirty years ago; she must be quatre-vingt, at least: at last it came to quatre-vingt-dix. This lady did not look above fifty. She came up to the carriage as it stopped, and asked whom we wished to see. The moment I saw her eyes, I knew it was Madame de Montolieu, and stooping down from the open carriage I put into her hand the note of introduction and our card. She never opened the note, but the instant her eye had glanced upon the card, she repeated the name with a voice of joyful welcome. I jumped out of the carriage, and she embraced me so cordially, and received my sisters so kindly, and M. Dumont so politely, that we were all at ease and acquainted and delighted before we were half-way upstairs. While she went into the ante-chamber for a basket of peaches, I had time to look at the prints hung in the little drawing-room: they had struck me the moment we came in as scenes from Caroline de Lichfield. Indifferent, old-fashioned, provoking figures, Caroline and Count Walstein in the fashions of thirty years ago.
When Madame de Montolieu returned, she bade me not look at them; "but I will tell you how they came to be here." They had been given to her by Gibbon: he was the person who published Caroline de Lichfield. She had written it for the entertainment of an aunt who was ill: a German story of three or four pages gave her the first idea of it. "I never could invent: give me a hint, and I can go on and supply the details and the characters." Just when Caroline de Lichfield was finished, Gibbon became acquainted with her aunt, who showed it to him: he seized upon the MS., and said it must be published. It ran in a few months through several editions; and just when it was in its first vogue, Gibbon happened to be in London, saw these prints, and brought them over to her, telling her he had brought her a present of prints from London, but that he would only give them to her on condition that she would promise to hang them, and let them always hang, in her drawing-room. After many vain efforts to find out what manner of things they were, Gibbon and curiosity prevailed; she promised, and there they hang.
She must have been a beautiful woman: she told me she is seventy: fine dark, enthusiastic eyes, a quickly varying countenance, full of life, and with all the warmth of heart and imagination which is thought to belong only to youth.
We went into a wooden gallery reaching from one side of the house to the other, at one end of which was a table, where she had been writing when we arrived. We often took leave, but were loth to depart. Dumont luckily asked if she could direct us to a fine old chateau in the neighbourhood, which we had been told was particularly well worth seeing—Viernon. "It is my brother's," she said, and she would go with us and show it. The carriage was sent round to the high road, and we went by a walk along a river, romantically beautiful. Just as we came to a cascade and a wooden bridge, a little pug dog came running down, and the Baron and Madame de Polier appeared. Madame de Montolieu ran on to her brother, and explained who we were. Madame is an Englishwoman, and, to my surprise, I found she was niece to my father's old friend, Mr. Mundy of Markeaton. We were all very sorry to part with Madame de Montolieu; however, we returned to Lausanne, and Dumont in the evening read out Le Somnambule—very laughable when so well read.
PREGNY, Sept. 20.
Next day beautiful drive to Vevay, as you know. After visiting Chillon, where Lord Byron's name and coat of arms are cut upon Bonnivar's pillar, I read the poem again, and think it most sublime and pathetic. How can that man have perverted so much feeling as was originally given to him!
Have you been at St. Maurice? If you have not, I cannot give you an idea of the surprise and delight we felt at the first sight of the view going down through the archway! But what a miserable town! After Fanny had sketched from the window of the inn a group of children, we finished our evening by hearing Dumont read, incomparably well, Les Chateaux d'Espagne. In the night we were awakened by the most horrible female voice, singing, or rather screeching, in the passage—the voice of a person having a goître, and either mad or drunk. There had been a marriage of country people in the house, and this lady had drunk a little too much. We heard Dumont's door open, and he silenced or drove her away.
Next morning we went, on part of the Simplon route which Buonaparte made, to St. Gingulph, where we spent some hours on the Lake. Dumont told us he had been there with Rogers, who was so delighted with its beauty, that instead of one he spent six days there.
Not having met the Moilliets as expected at St. Maurice, we became very anxious about them; but upon our arrival at Pregny next day, found them all very quietly there. Mrs. Moilliet's not being very well kept them at home. Nothing can be kinder than they are to us.
We dined two days after our return to Pregny at Coppet: the Duke and Duchess de Broglie are now there, and we met M. de Stein, a great diplomatist, and M, Pictet Deodati, of whom Madame de Staël said, if one could take hold of Pictet Deodati's neckcloth, and give him one good shaking, what a number of good things would come out!
MALAGNY, DR. MARCET'S, Sept.
We came here last Friday, and have spent our time most happily with our excellent friend Mrs. Marcet. His children are all so fond of Dr. Marcet, we see that he is their companion and friend. They have all been happily busy in making a paper fire-balloon, sixteen feet in diameter, and thirty feet high. A large company were invited to see it mount. It was a fine evening. The balloon was filled on the green before the house. The lawn slopes down to the lake, and opposite to it magnificent Mont Blanc, the setting sun shining on its summit. After some heart-beatings about a hole in the top of the balloon, through which the smoke was seen to issue—an evil omen—it went up successfully. The sun had set, but we saw its reflection beautifully on one side of the balloon, so that it looked like a globe half ice, half fire, or half moon, half sun, self-suspended in the air. It went up exactly a mile. I say exactly, because Pictet measured the height by an instrument of a new invention, which I will describe when we meet. The air here is so clear, that at this height we saw it distinctly.
M. Pictet de Rochemont, brother to our old friend, has taken most kind pains to translate the best passages from my father's Memoirs for the Bibliothèque Universelle. We were yesterday at his house with a large party, and met Madame Necker de Saussure—much more agreeable than her book. Her manner and figure reminded us of our beloved Mrs. Moutray: she is deaf, too, and she has the same resignation, free from suspicion, in her expression when she is not speaking, and the same gracious attention to the person who speaks to her.
CHATEAU DE COPPET, Sept. 28,
We came here yesterday, and here we are in the very apartments occupied by M. Necker, opening into what is now the library, but what was once that theatre on which Madame de Staël used to act her own Corinne. Yesterday evening, when Madame de Broglie had placed me next the oldest friend of the family, M. de Bonstettin, he whispered to me, "You are now in the exact spot, in the very chair where Madame de Staël used to sit!" Her friends were excessively attached to her. This old man talked of her with tears in his eyes, and with all the sudden change of countenance and twitchings of the muscles which mark strong, uncontrollable feeling.
There is something inexpressibly melancholy, awful, in this house, in these rooms, where the thought continually recurs, Here Genius was! here was Ambition, Love! all the great struggles of the passions; here was Madame de Staël! The respect paid to her memory by her son and daughter, and by M. de Broglie, is touching. The little Rocca, seven years old, is an odd, cold, prudent, old-man sort of a child, as unlike as possible to the son you would have expected from such parents. M. Rocca, brother to the boy's father, is here: handsome, but I know no more. M. Sismondi and his wife dined here, and three Saladins, father, mother, and daughter. M. de Staël has promised to show to me Gibbon's love-letters to his grandmother, ending regularly with "Je suis, mademoiselle, avec les sentimens qui font le désespoir de ma vie," etc.
M. de Bonstettin—Gray the poet's friend—told me that in Sweden, about thirty years ago, he saw potatoes in the corner of a gentleman's garden as a curiosity. "They tell me, sir," said the gentleman, "that in some countries they eat the roots of this plant!" Now they are cultivated there, and the people have become fond of them.
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With M. de Staël and Madame de Broglie Miss Edgeworth was particularly happy. It had been reported that Madame de Staël had said of Maria's writings "que Miss Edgeworth était digne de l'enthousiasme, mais qu'elle s'est perdue dans la triste utilité." "Ma mère n'a jamais dit ça," Madame de Broglie indignantly declared, "elle était incapable!" She saw, indeed, the enthusiastic admiration which Maria felt for her mother's genius, and she was gratified by the regard and esteem which Maria showed for her and her brother, and the sympathy she expressed in their affection for each other, and in their kindness to their little Rocca brother.
- Youngest daughter of the fourth Mrs. Edgeworth.
- Carl, Baron Stein, the Minister of Frederick William IV. of Prussia.