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首页 » 经典英文小说 » Heroines of French Society » CHAPTER X
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Paul I.—Terror he inspired—Death of the mother of Mme. Le Brun—Marriage of her daughter—Moscow—The Tsarevitch Alexander—Assassination of Paul I.—“I salute my Emperor”—Mme. Le Brun returns to Paris—Changes—London—Life in England—Paris—Separated from M. Le Brun—Society during the Empire—Caroline Murat—Switzerland—Fall of the Empire—Restoration—Death of M. Le Brun—Of her daughter—Travels in France—Her nieces—Conclusion.
Capital letter F

FROM Catherine II. to Paul I. was indeed a fearful change. The sudden accession to supreme power after a life of repression increased the malady which was gaining ground upon him. It was evident that his brain was affected, and the capricious violence and cruelty which he was now free to exercise as he pleased left nobody in peace or safety.

Nobody could feel sure when they got up in the morning that they would go safely to bed at night; the slightest offence given to the Emperor meant imprisonment or Siberia, and his orders were so preposterous that it was difficult not to offend him.

He commanded every one to salute his palace, even when he was not there. He forbade round hats, and sent police about with long sticks to knock off any they met.


There were spies everywhere; people never dared mention him, and began to be afraid to receive their friends at all, or if they did, carefully closed the shutters; if a ball took place, the carriages were sent away for fear of attracting attention.

The order was given for every one to wear powder, but as Mme. Le Brun did not like it in portraits, and was painting that of Prince Bariatinski, she begged him to come without it. One day he arrived in her studio pale and trembling.

“What is the matter?” she exclaimed.

“Ah!” cried he. “I have just met the Emperor as I came to you. I had only time to rush under a portico and am dreadfully afraid he recognized me.”

One night, at a masked ball, a young man accidentally in a crowd pushed against a woman, who cried out.

Paul turned to one of his aides-de-camp, saying—

“Take that gentleman to the fortress and come back and tell me when he is safely shut up there.”

The aide-de-camp returned, saying that he had executed the order, but adding—

“Your Majesty must know that that young man is extremely shortsighted; here is the proof.” And he held out his spectacles, which he had brought.

The Emperor tried them on and exclaimed hastily—

“Run quick and fetch him and take him to his parents. I shall not go to bed till you tell me he is safe at home.”

Lisette was dreadfully afraid of him, for although [141] he liked her, and was always extremely polite and pleasant to her, she never felt that she could trust him.

He gave orders that every one, women as well as men, should get out of their sledges or carriages when he passed. It was dreadfully cold, with deep snow, and he was always driving about, often almost without escort, so that he was not at once recognised; but it was dangerous to disobey.

One day Lisette was driving, and seeing him coming when her coachman did not, she called out—

“Stop! Stop! It is the Emperor!” But as she was getting out, he descended from his sledge and hastened to prevent her, saying with a most gracious air that his orders did not apply to foreigners, above all, not to Mme. Le Brun.

He continued the kindness of Catherine II. to Doyen, who was now very old, and lived prosperous and happy, and, as Mme. Le Brun said, if her father’s old friend was satisfied with his lot at St. Petersburg, she was not less so.

She now painted the whole day except when on Sundays she received in her studio the numbers of people, from the Imperial family downwards, who came to see her portraits; to which she had added a new and great attraction, for she had caused to be sent from Paris her great picture of Marie Antoinette in a blue velvet dress, which excited the deepest interest. The Prince de Condé, when he came to see it, could not speak, but looked at it and burst into tears.

Society was so full of French refugees that [142] Lisette remarked she could almost fancy herself in Paris.

The Emperor desired her to paint the portrait of the Empress, whom she represented standing in full court dress, with a crown of diamonds. Lisette used to declare that she was like a woman out of the Gospel, and that she was the only woman she knew whom no calumny ever attacked. One day she brought her two youngest sons to the sitting, the Grand Dukes Nicolas and Michael, then children. Of the Grand Duke Nicolas, afterwards Emperor, Mme. Le Brun declared that she had never seen a more beautiful child, and that she could paint from memory his face, which had all the characteristic beauty of Greece.

But amidst all this professional and social prosperity Mme. Le Brun was now to experience two severe domestic sorrows, one of which was the loss of her mother, of whose death her brother sent her the news from France. The other, related to her daughter, was entirely owing to her own infatuated folly, and was not at all surprising.

For Mme. Le Brun had so brought up the girl that it would have been a miracle if she had not turned out, as she did, utterly selfish, vain, and heartless.

Jeanne Le Brun was, according to her mother, pretty, clever, extremely well-educated, charming in manner, and universally admired. Allowing for her infatuation, it was probable that her daughter was attractive. She was now seventeen, and went into society with her mother, whose foolish admiration and flattery encouraged all her faults.

Mme. Le Brun allowed her to have her own way [143] in all things; made herself a slave to her caprices, as she had always done; and when her friends remonstrated with her upon her folly, paid no attention to them, or replied that everybody loved or admired her child. Being engaged all day and unable to go out much with Jeanne, she allowed her to go on sledging parties with the Countess Czernicheff, and often to spend the evenings at her house, where she met and fell in love with the Count’s secretary, M. Nigris, a good-looking man of thirty with neither fortune, talent, character, connections, or any recommendation whatever.

In vain Mme. Le Brun tried to dissuade her from this deplorable marriage, the spoilt young girl, accustomed to have everything she chose, would not give way; the Czernicheff and other objectionable friends she had made supported her against her mother, the worst of all being her governess, Mme. Charot, who had betrayed the confidence of Mme. Le Brun by giving her daughter books to read of which she disapproved, filling her head with folly, and assisting her secretly in this fatal love-affair.

After being tormented and persecuted for some time, Mme. Le Brun yielded, gave her consent, obtained that of M. Le Brun, and provided a handsome dot, trousseau, and jewels for the intolerable girl, who did not show the slightest gratitude or affection to her mother, but behaved throughout in the most insolent, heartless manner.

A fortnight after the marriage she no longer cared about her husband, and soon afterwards she caught the small-pox.


Mme. Le Brun nursed her through it with a devotion she did not deserve, and then ill, exhausted, and out of spirits, set off for Moscow, where she arrived after a long journey full of hardships, bad roads, and thick fogs. The sight of Moscow, the ancient splendid capital, before it was devastated by the fire and sword of the invader, with its huge palaces and thousands of domes surmounted with gold crosses, filled her with admiration and delight.

She was received with the hospitality and distinction she always experienced, met many old acquaintances, and passed several months very pleasantly.

Society was much larger here than at St. Petersburg, where it seemed almost to form one family, every one being related to each other.

It was with difficulty that she tore herself away when, in March, 1801, she wished to return to St. Petersburg, and it was upon her journey thither that she heard of the assassination of Paul I.

She had stopped to change horses and found that she could get none, as they were being sent all over the country to convey the news. She was consequently obliged to remain all night in her carriage, which was drawn up by the roadside close to a river, from which blew a bitterly cold wind.

When at length she arrived in St. Petersburg she found the city in a frenzy of delight. They danced in the streets, embracing each other, and exclaiming—

“What a deliverance!”

Indeed, many houses had been illuminated, such [145] was the terror he had inspired and the cruelty of his actions.

For some time the character of Paul had become more and more gloomy and menacing; his mind was filled with the darkest suspicions, even to the extent of believing that the Empress and his children were conspiring against his life; which was all the more terrible for the Empress Marie, as they had for many years, as long as the Empress Catherine lived, been very happy together, and in spite of everything she still remained deeply attached to him.

This was all the more inexplicable as he not only suspected and accused her of conspiracy, but made no pretence of being faithful to her, and had taken away Mme. Chevalier, the mistress of his devoted valet de chambre, Koutaivoff. The doors between his own apartments and those of the Empress he had caused to be double-locked, thereby preventing his own escape when the conspirators forced their way into his room, headed by Zuboff, whom he had first exiled, then loaded with favours.

They had systematically augmented his suspicions till they induced him to sign an order for the arrest of the Empress, the Tsarevitch, and the Grand Duke Constantine, and this document they showed the Tsarevitch, saying: “You see that your father is mad, and you will all be lost unless we prevent it by shutting him up instead.”

Alexander, seeing the fearful danger hanging over his mother, his brother, and himself, was silent; and Pahlen, who was the director of the plot, took care that it should go much further than restraint.


When Alexander heard of the assassination of his father his grief and horror left no doubt of his ignorance of what had been intended and carried out; and when, on presenting himself to his mother she cried out, “Go away! Go away! I see you stained with your father’s blood!” he replied with tears—

“I call God to witness, mother, that I did not order this dreadful crime!”

When the affair was fully explained to her she threw herself at his feet, exclaiming—

“Then I salute my Emperor.”

The strong affection between Alexander I. and his mother lasted as long as she lived.

The young Emperor and Empress showed the same kindness and friendship to Mme. Le Brun as their parents and grandmother, but the time had come when she was resolved to return to France, and in spite of the entreaties of the Emperor and Empress, of her friends, and of her own regret at leaving a country to which she had become attached, she started in September, 1801, for Paris, leaving her ungrateful daughter, her unsatisfactory son-in-law, and her treacherous governess behind.

She was received with delight at her house in the rue du Gros-Chenet, by M. Le Brun, her brother, her sister-in-law, and their only child, the niece who was to fill her daughter’s place. The house was beautifully furnished and filled with flowers, and that same evening a grand concert in her honour was given in the large salon of a house in a garden adjoining, which also belonged to M. Le Brun, who told her that he had during the [147] Revolution, when the churches were closed, lent this salon to celebrate mass.

The applause with which she was welcomed on entering the salon so overcame her that she burst into tears. Next day those of her friends who had survived the Revolution began to flock to see her. Her old friend, Mme. Bonneuil, was among the first, and invited her to a ball the following night given by her daughter, now the celebrated beauty, Mme. Regnault de Saint-Jean-d’Angely, to which she went in a dress made of the gold-embroidered India muslin given her by the unfortunate Mme. Du Barry.

There she met many old friends, and saw many new beauties, amongst others Signora Visconti, the mistress of Berthier, and another by whom she was so attracted that she involuntarily exclaimed—

“Ah, Madame! Comme vous étes belle!”

It was Mme. Jouberthon, afterwards the wife of Lucien Buonaparte.

Macdonald, Marmont, and other generals were pointed out during the evening; it was a new world to her.

Madame Buonaparte came to see her, recalled the balls at which they had met before the Revolution, and asked her to come some day to breakfast with the First Consul. But Mme. Le Brun did not like the family or surroundings of the Buonaparte, differing so entirely as they did from the society in which she had always lived, and did not receive with much enthusiasm this invitation which was never repeated.

The Louvre, then filled with works of art—the [148] plunder of the rest of Europe—was naturally a great attraction, in fact so absorbed was Lisette in the wonders it contained that she was shut in when it closed, and only escaped passing the night there by knocking violently at a little door she discovered. The aspect of Paris depressed her; still in the streets were the inscriptions, “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,” which in France bore so horrible a meaning. Many of the friends for whom she inquired had perished on the scaffold; nearly all who survived had lost either parents, husband, wife, or some other near relation. The change in dress gave her a gloomy impression; the absence of powder, which she was accustomed to see in other countries, the numerous black coats which had displaced the gorgeous velvets, satin, and gold lace of former days—in her opinion made a theatre or an evening party look like a funeral; the manners and customs of the new society were astonishing and repulsive to her.

Still, there was at first much to attract her. The friends who had survived were delighted to have her again amongst them. Many of her foreign friends arrived in Paris; she began again to give suppers which were as popular as ever. She even gave a ball at which the celebrated dancers, M. de Trénis, Mme. Hamelin, and Mme. Demidoff, excited general admiration. She also gave private theatricals in her large gallery.

The peace of Amiens had just been signed, society was beginning to be reorganised. The Princess Dolgorouki who, to Lisette’s great joy, [149] was in Paris, gave a magnificent ball, at which, Lisette remarked, young people of twenty saw for the first time in their lives liveries in the salons and ante-rooms of the ambassadors, and foreigners of distinction richly dressed, wearing orders and decorations. With several of the new beauties she was enchanted, especially Mme. Récamier and Mme. Tallien. She renewed her acquaintance with Mme. Campan, and went down to dine at her famous school at Saint Germain, where the daughters of all the most distinguished families were now being educated. Madame Murat, sister of Napoleon, was present at dinner, and the First Consul himself came to the evening theatricals, when “Esther” was acted by the pupils, Mlle. Auguier, niece of Mme. Campan, afterwards wife of Marshal Ney, taking the chief part.

The brothers of Napoleon came to see the pictures of Mme. Le Brun, which Lucien especially greatly admired.

The Princess Dolgorouki came to see her after being presented to Napoleon, and on her asking how she liked his court, replied, “It is not a court at all; it is a power.”

The scarcity of women at that time and the enormous number of soldiers of all ranks gave that impression to one used to the brilliant Russian court.

But the changed aspect of Paris, the loss of so many she loved, and perhaps most of all the ungrateful conduct of her daughter, depressed Mme. Le Brun so that she lost her spirits, had a perpetual craving to be alone, and for this purpose took a [150] little house in the wood of Meudon, where, except for the visits of the Duchesse de Fleury and one or two other friends who lived near, she could to a certain extent indulge in her new fancy for solitude.

After a few months, however, finding that she did not become accustomed or reconciled to her surroundings, she resolved to go abroad again, and as she had never seen England she chose that country for her next wanderings, and set off in April, 1802, accompanied by a companion she had taken to live with her, named Adéla?de, who soon became a dear and indispensable friend. She intended to spend only a few months in England, but as usual, when she arrived there, she soon made so much money and so many friends that she remained for three years, dividing her time between London and the country houses, where she was always welcome.

Society in London she found triste after the splendour of St. Petersburg and the brilliant gaiety of Paris and Vienna, declaring that what struck her most was the want of conversation, and that a favourite form of social entertainment was what was called a “rout,” at which no sort of amusement or real social intercourse was offered or expected, the function merely consisting of an enormous crowd of people walking up and down the rooms, the men generally separate from the women.

However, she had plenty of interests, and made many English friends besides the numerous French emigrés she found there. She painted the portraits of the Prince of Wales, Lord Byron, the Comtesse de Polastron, adored by the Comte d’Artois, who was [151] inconsolable when she died soon afterwards, and many others—English, French, Russian, and German—and made the acquaintance of the first musicians, actors, and singers of the day; also of the painters, many of whom were extremely jealous of her.

The Duc de Berri, second son of the Comte d’Artois, was often at her house, and she met also the sons of Philippe-égalité, the eldest of whom was afterwards Louis-Philippe, King of France. She was in London when the news came of the murder of the Duc d’Enghien, and witnessed the outburst of horror and indignation it called forth. His father, the Duc de Bourbon, came to see her a month later, so changed by grief that she was shocked. He sat down without speaking, and then covering his face with his hands to conceal his tears, he said, “No! I shall never get over it.”

Mme. Le Brun went to all the chief watering-places—Bath, Brighton, Tunbridge Wells, Matlock, &c.—she found English life monotonous, as it certainly was in those days, and hated the climate of London; but she had gathered round her a congenial society, with whom she amused herself very well, and whom she left with regret when she decided to return to France, partly because her ungrateful daughter had arrived there, and was being introduced by her father to many undesirable people.

She embarked with Adéla?de for Rotterdam, and on arriving at Paris found her daughter, who had neither lost her good looks nor her social attractions, but was otherwise as unsatisfactory as ever. For her husband she had long ceased to care at [152] all. They had come to Paris to engage some artists for Prince Narischkin, and when M. Nigris returned to Russia, his wife refused to accompany him.

However, Mme. Le Brun was overjoyed to see Jeanne, and to keep her in Paris, although she refused to live with her, because the people with whom she persisted in associating were so objectionable that her mother would not meet them.

Mme. Le Brun was now virtually separated from her husband, with whom it would have been impossible for her to live unless she were prepared to allow him to spend her fortune, and reduce her to beggary. She soon collected round her a large society of friends, and resumed the soirées at which they amused themselves as far as possible after their old fashion, acting tableaux vivants, &c.
Madame Vigée Le Brun

Catalani, then young and beautiful, was one of her new friends, and used to sing at her parties. She painted her portrait, and kept it as a pendant to the one she had done of Grassini in London.

Grassini had sung at her London parties, and comparing these two great singers and actresses—both young, beautiful, and celebrated—Mme. Le Brun found that although the voice of Catalani was in its beauty and compass one of the most extraordinary ever known, Grassini had more expression.

Amongst other old friends whom she now frequented was the Comtesse de Ségur, who equally disliked the alterations in social matters.

“You wouldn’t believe,” she said to Lisette, who came to see her at eight o’clock one evening, and found her alone, “that I have had twenty people to [153] dinner to-day? They all went away directly after the coffee.”

She observed also that it was now usual for all the men to stand at one side of the room, leaving the women at the other, as if they were enemies.

The Comte de Ségur was made Master of the Ceremonies by Napoleon when he became Emperor, after which his brother used to put on his cards, “Ségur sans cérémonies.”

Most of the great painters were to be found at the house in the rue du Gros-Chenet, where the suppers were as gay and pleasant as of old.

Vien, who had been first painter to the King; Gérard, Gros, and Girodet, the great portrait painters (all pupils of David), and her old friend Robert, were constant guests. With David she was not on friendly terms; his crimes and cruelties during the Revolution caused her to regard him with horror. He had caused Robert to be arrested, and had done all he could to increase the horrors of his imprisonment. He had also tried to circulate the malicious reports about Calonne and Mme. Le Brun, of whom he was jealous, though his real love for his art made him acknowledge the excellence of her work.

One day Lisette met him at the house of Isabey, who, having been his pupil, kept friends with him out of gratitude, although his principles and actions were abhorrent to him. It happened that she was his partner at cards, and being rather distraite, made various mistakes, which irritated David, who was always rude and ill-tempered, and exclaimed angrily, “But you made me lose by these stupid mistakes. [154] Why didn’t you play me your king of diamonds? Tell me that, I say!”

“Why?” answered she contemptuously; “because I know to what fate you condemn kings!”

David turned pale, made his escape, and for a long time would not go to the house for fear of meeting her. [49] She was afterwards told by Gros that David would like to go and see her, but her silence expressed her refusal. Soon after the return of Mme. Le Brun, Napoleon sent M. Denon to order from her the portrait of his sister, Caroline Murat. She did not like to refuse, although the price given (1,800 francs) was less than half what she usually got, and Caroline Murat was so insufferable that it made the process a penance. She appeared with two maids, whom she wanted to do her hair while she was being painted. On being told that this was impossible, she consented to dismiss them, but she kept Mme. Le Brun at Paris all the summer by her intolerable behaviour. She was always changing her dress or coiffure, which had to be painted out and done over again. She was never punctual, and often did not come at all, when she had made the appointment; she was continually wanting alterations and giving so much trouble, that one day Mme. Le Brun remarked to M. Denon, loudly enough for her to hear—

“I have painted real princesses and they have never tormented or kept me waiting.”

In 1808 and 1809 Mme. Le Brun travelled in Switzerland, with which she was enraptured; after which she bought a country house at Louveciennes, [155] where in future she passed the greater part of the year, only spending the winter in Paris.

The pavilion of Mme. Du Barry had been sacked by the Revolutionists, only the walls were standing, while the palaces of Marly, Sceaux, and Bellevue had entirely disappeared.

But the woods, the meadows, the Seine, and the general beauty of the landscape delighted Mme. Le Brun, who, after all her wanderings, began to have a longing for rest, became more and more attached to her home as the years passed, and spent more and more of her time there.

The decline and fall of the Empire were no calamity to her, and she witnessed with heartfelt joy the return of the King, although she was seriously inconvenienced by the arrival of the Allies at Louveciennes in 1814. Although it was only March, she had already established herself there, and on the 31st at about eleven o’clock she had just gone to bed when the village was filled with Prussian soldiers, who pillaged the houses, and three of whom forced their way into her bedroom, accompanied by her Swiss servant Joseph, entreating and remonstrating in vain. They stole her gold snuff-box and many other things, and it was four hours before they could be got out of the house.

Next morning she escaped to St. Germain, and then to Paris, leaving Joseph to take what care he could of her property, but the wine was all drunk out of the cellar, the garden and courtyard ravaged, and the house ransacked. To all remonstrances the Prussians replied that the French had [156] done much worse things in Germany; which was true enough.

With tears of joy Lisette witnessed the entry into Paris of the Comte d’Artois on April 12th and of Louis XVIII. shortly afterwards. By his side sat the Duchesse d’Angoulême, whose smiles mingled with sadness amidst the shouts of “Vive le Roi”; recalled the remembrance that she was traversing the route by which her mother had passed to the scaffold.

By the King and royal family Mme. Le Brun was received with especial favour and kindness, most of the returned emigrés were her friends, and Paris was now again all that she wished.

From the horrors of the Revolution she had fled in time; with the Empire and its worshippers she had never had any sympathy; the episode of the Hundred Days was a new calamity, but when it was past and the King again restored her joy was complete.

The great picture of Marie Antoinette and her three children, which under Napoleon had been hidden away in a corner at Versailles, was taken out and exhibited at the Salon, where every one crowded to look at it. Again she painted the portraits of the royal family, contrasting the simple, gracious politeness of the Duchesse de Berri, of whom she did two portraits, with the vulgar, pretentious airs of Caroline Murat.

Her favourite picture, the Sibyl, was bought by the Duc de Berri, to whom she parted with it rather reluctantly. In 1813 M. Le Brun died. His death was rather a melancholy regret than [157] a real sorrow to her, as they had long been separated by mutual consent.

But that of her daughter, who still lived in Paris, and who in 1819 was seized with a sudden illness which terminated fatally, was a terrible grief to her at the time; though in fact that selfish, heartless woman had for many years caused her nothing but vexation and sorrow, and it seems probable that after the first grief had subsided her life was happier without her, for the place she ought to have occupied had long been filled by the two nieces who were looked upon by her and by themselves as her daughters—her brother’s only child, Mme. de Rivière, and Eugénie Le Brun, afterwards Mme. Tripier Le Franc.

By their affectionate and devoted love the rest of her life was made happy, even after the far greater loss in 1820 of the brother to whom she had always been deeply attached.

Louis Vigée was a charming and excellent man, well known in literary circles. He had been imprisoned for a time in Port Libre, but afterwards released.

After his death, in order to distract her mind from the sorrow of it, she made a tour to Orléans, Blois, Tours, Bordeaux, &c., accompanied by her faithful Adéla?de; after which she returned home and resumed her usual life, a happy and prosperous one, continually occupied by her beloved painting, surrounded by numbers of friends and adored by the two nieces, her adopted children. Eugénie Le Brun was like herself, a portrait painter, and although not, of course, of world-wide fame like [158] her aunt, she was nevertheless a good artist, and made a successful career, which gave an additional interest to the life of Mme. Le Brun.

Her winters were spent at Paris, where her house was still the resort of all the most distinguished, the most intellectual, and the pleasantest people, French and foreign; the summers at her beloved country home at Louveciennes.

Thus happily and peacefully the rest of her life flowed on; her interest in all political and social matters—art, science, and literature—remaining undiminished, her affection for old friends unaltered, while new ones were constantly added to the number, until on May 29, 1842, she died at the age of eighty-seven.

She had painted 662 portraits, 15 pictures, 200 landscapes, many of them in Switzerland, and many pastels.


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