Littell's Living Age/Volume 148/Issue 1909/Mme. Thiers

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Mme. Thiers was a year older than Queen Victoria, and was married six years and a half before her Majesty became the wife of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. She left school to become the wife of M. Thiers, and as a bride was placed under the care of professors of modern and ancient languages, of history, and of literature. If she had had the ambition to shine as an authoress she would have been a brilliant writer. Her style was lively, very original, and yet polished and well-bred. But there never perhaps yet lived a woman who, with so many opportunities to dazzle and to play a splendid part in the great world, cared less for the applause of human beings. She was extremely beautiful in youth. The outlines of her face were pure, delicate, and regular in their proportions. Her shoulders to the end of her life were finely shaped, and her feet and hands were celebrated for the perfection of their form. In the ante-room of the ground-floor suite of rooms in the Place St. George there is a bust by Marochetti which represents Mme. Thiers as she was when she first attended the balls of Queen Marie Amélie. Old Orleanists who then knew her assure me that it was not a too flattering likeness. Mme. Emile de Girardin, when employed by the Guizot Cabinet to write in the Presse, which that ministry had subsidized to write against M. Thiers, paid her tribute of admiration to the rosebud loveliness of his young wife. In her "Courrier de Paris" she speaks of the effect it created at a fancy ball given by the Duchesse de Galliera, and at another fête at the house of Baroness James Rothschild. Mme. Thiers at the former wore a white satin domino covered over with Brussels lace. Mme. Emile de Girardin, who was inclined to chercher la petite bête, spoke some years later of M. Thiers becoming minister for foreign affairs to enable his wife to make sure that when she invited the ambassadors to her soirées they would come. It so happened that Mme. Thiers was more free from worldliness of the kind Mme. de Girardin ascribed to her than if she were aspiring to perfect herself in saintliness by humility and the renouncement of earthly grandeur. She would not have gone to nearly so much trouble to receive graciously the highest member of the corps diplomatique as the most insignificant friend of M. Thiers.

Mme. Thiers had the intellect of a Parisienne of the faubourgs. A fantastic pedigree is given in this morning’s papers of the Matherons, her mother’s family, who are represented as having come direct from Auvergne, and on very small savings started a retail silk-mercers shop in the Faubourg Montmartre. The truth is they had been in business there time out of mind, were very rich, but satisfied to go on as their forefathers had done. Mme. Thiers, however, had not the intellectual complexion of a bourgeoise de Paris. In her perspicacity, directness, bluntness, warmth of heart, and heroism—for she was brave as a lioness—she was rather une femme du peuple. Glory she loved, display she hated; and while completely indifferent to what gossiping people said of her plain clothing, her hatred of waste, her administrative capacity, which was erroneously confounded with parsimony, her heart dilated with gladness when she felt the eyes of the world were fixed with admiration upon M. Thiers. Mme. Thiers, when she was quite young, translated the works of Pliny. She said she liked Terence better than Labiche. It was she who translated for M. Thiers the articles in English and German newspapers on his speeches, his works, or his actions—when they were eulogistic. If they were the contrary she put them in the fire and pretended they were lost. The care of administrating her household—which was always an important one—left her no time after her mother’s death for the study of literature. There were altogether six men-servants, three female attendants, and a cook, and there were few houses in Paris in which the virtue of hospitality was kept brighter by exercise. A whole tribe of bachelor friends who had grown old round M. Thiers were in the habit of dropping in to déjeuner and to dinner. Barthélemy Saint Hilaire, Mignet, Changarnier, Cousin, and Mérimée were guests en permanence. Thiers constantly asked visitors who called on him between six in the morning and eight to return and chat with him at one or the other repast. His table, without being luxurious, was an excellent one, and the set-out was handsome. After déjeuner, if the weather was fine, he took his visitors into the garden, up and down which he briskly walked. Mme. Thiers stood at a door-window. The moment the temperature lowered she stepped out with a loose and well-wadded coat, which she insisted on throwing round his shoulders. Her manner with him at such times was that of a careful and idolizing nurse, and his was that of a petulant child. She always addressed him as "M. Thiers," and he in replying called her "Mme. Thiers." His tastes, whims, and convenience were studied by her. She had a fresh complexion when seen from home. At the Place St. George she looked bilious, and she knew why but did not mind. M. Thiers happened once to say that green reposed fatigued eyes. She therefore had the curtains dyed that tint and the wainscoting covered over with green satin, than which nothing is more trying to a lady's complexion. A number of the fair habituées of her salon, to be in tune with the universal greenery there,

As Thiers rose at five, Mme. Thiers was also on foot at that hour to look after him, and was too busy with household cares to take a siesta. In the evening sleep often overcame her between dinner and bedtime. The effect of her somnolence was often ludicrous. She would begin a conversation with, say, M. Andræ—also one of the tribe of old bachelor friends—drop asleep in her armchair, and ten minutes later start up, and, without exactly knowing where she was, resume it with somebody else. I have heard her thus talk on the same subject, and as if to the same person, to Louis Herbette, Prince Orloff, Prince Hohenlohe, and the Duc de Broglie. Mme. Thiers, the night the the blouse-blanche mob attacked her house in 1870, faced it, and really cowed it. Her courage always rose with danger. She had great pluck, although I believe in her life she never quarrelled with relative or friend. On the occasion of M. Thiers funeral, she defied M. Fourtou, and won the admiration of Republican France by the high tone which she took in communicating with the government. She was the sovereign of Paris the day on which she preceded M. Thiers's corpse in a gala carriage muffled up in crape to Père Lachaise, and her popularity had not abated on the day of the first anniversary mass. The line taken by Mme. Thiers and the publication by her of Thiers's last political manifesto in a great measure ensured the defeat of the Elysée party. She could not resign herself to the subsequent forgetfulness into which his "great memory" had fallen. In Belfort, because he saved it from the Prussians, she took to the very last a deep interest. The poor of Belfort were the object of her particular solicitude, and a quarter of an hour before she drew her last breath she begged—the mayor of that town having called—that he should be brought to her bedside. It was her wish to send a message to Belfort. But her weakness was too great to speak when he came. She took his hand in one of hers and with the other pointed to a bust of M. Thiers. Doubtless she wanted to express a patriotic sentiment and to connect with him. It is said that she has bequeathed her house for life to her sister, and on her death to the city of Paris, to be converted into a Thiers Museum.