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In a Walled Garden. Belloc, Bessie Rayner, 1829–1925.
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THOSE are happy who have been privileged to know men and women of the old French type, showing forth that fine fleur de la civilisation which gave its language and its breeding to the diplomacy of Europe, and which was not only unique in charm, but closely allied to the highest qualities of mind and heart. Two such people, a man and a woman, are still vividly remembered with respect and affection by their younger contemporaries. They were unrelated, but lived in the same village; they were substantially of the same generation, and died within a year of each other. The man was Comte Adolphe de Circourt, the woman Mademoiselle Adelaide de Montgolfier. I will try to draw their portraits as best I can.

The Comte de Circourt belonged to a noble family of Lorraine; his ancestors were not page: 271 wealthy, they possessed neither chateau nor fortified manor, but their lineage went back to the Crusades. His parents were betrothed so long ago as 1792, but the marriage project was broken by the Revolution; the bride’s father and mother were imprisoned, and the bridegroom was engaged in the Royalist army, serving under his relative, General de Viomesnil. The young people did not even meet for many years, but in quieter times the engagement was renewed, and their marriage took place somewhere about 1800. Adolphe de Circourt, their eldest child, was born on the 22nd of September, 1801. The married pair were both literary in their tastes, the father read with delight Bernardin de Saint Pierre and Jean Jacques Rousseau; his wife belonged to one of the old patrician families of Besançon, and was allied to parliamentary circles and the noblesse de la robe. Her education was both serious and learned, she had artistic faculty and painted well. Thus Adolphe de Circourt and his younger brothers received their earliest education from their own father and mother, who had been left by the Revolution poorer in worldly goods than if they had been page: 272 small shop‐keepers. The garden of their little cottage was laid out in fruits, vegetables, and a few flowers; it also contained a small chapel where mass was privately said before the family and certain select neighbours. Adolphe was baptized in this chapel by a proscribed priest, for the parish churches closed by the Revolution were not yet reopened, and there were penalties for celebrating the rites of religion. Their nearest neighbour was an Irish gentleman, a Chevalier de Saint‐Louis, and the son of an officer who had fought at Culloden. The first work of art beheld by the little de Circourts was an excellent pastel of Charles Edward, whose pale face appeared to their infant eyes to be that of a hero and a saint! Adolphe de Circourt was a very precocious child. He read with avidity before he was four years old. A priest was called in to teach him Latin, but the child soon knew as much as the priest, and he went on devouring books, and translated a German grammar into Latin at eight years old. As all the little brothers would necessarily have to provide for themselves in the future, the family moved into Besançon in search of page: 273 education. Their maternal grandmother, Madame de Sauvagney, lived in that town, but they had not for long the comfort of her society; she died within three years, shortly after the death of her son‐in‐law, and her daughter soon followed her to the grave, leaving the five little boys doubly orphaned. Adolphe was then only eleven years old. They had however an uncle, M. Mareschal de Sauvagney, a former parliamentary councillor, and he proved a good guardian to his sister’s sons.

Two of the orphans died in childhood; of the remaining three, Arthur was sent to Saint Cyr, Albert went into the navy, and Adolphe was destined to a legal and administrative career in Paris. He was warmly received by his relative, become Marshal de Viomesnil. The Royalist party were in the ascendant, and young de Circourt, a brilliant scholar and the most correct of men, managed to live on an annual income of fifty pounds, until his appointment in 1822 to a post in the Ministry of the Interior, where his salary was £60 a year. In five years he had risen to be sous‐chef de bureau, at £180 salary, and two years later he was Chef du Cabinet page: 274 of the Ministère. But the Revolution of 1830 fell heavily on the brothers, who belonged by every association to the service of the older Bourbon. Poor as they were, Adolphe and Albert resigned their posts; Arthur remained in his regiment. Thus, scanty as are the salaries allotted to the civil servants of France, Comte Adolphe de Circourt found himself in 1830 obliged by his political conscience to renounce his own; and it must have seemed for the moment as if there were no future open for the gifted young man. But in that very same year a great good came to him.

In the winter of 1827, he had become acquainted in Paris with two interesting Russian ladies, Madame de Klustine (née Comtesse Tolstoi) and her daughter. The mother was a distinguished woman of the world, but the daughter was unusually cultured, and had already written a remarkable paper upon Russian literature and literary men. This had appeared in the Bibliothèque Universelle without the author’s name, and had been reproduced in several French publications. At the time of their first acquaintance these ladies had been painfully occupied page: 275 with the disappearance of the eldest son and brother at the Siege of Varna. His body could not be found among the dead, and the mother and sister entertained vague hopes that he might have been taken prisoner. Adolphe de Circourt used his influence in the French Foreign Office to obtain some certain news, and his brother Albert, who was then afloat on the Mediterranean, tried to discover the missing man on the Turkish littoral. At last a letter from the surviving brother came to assure them that the young man was really dead; but the vain search had naturally endeared Adolphe de Circourt to Madame de Klustine, and in 1830 she made no objection to her daughter giving herself and her modest fortune to the almost penniless young Frenchman. In the following year the mother was recalled to Russia by important affairs, and M. de Circourt took his wife to Besançon to make the acquaintance of his relations, where she got on excellently with the guardian uncle and the two aunts. For some years the wedded pair travelled in Italy, Switzerland, and France—they did not fix definitely in Paris till 1837. Then began for them a most interesting life. Madame de Circourt page: 276 opened her salon to distinguished people of all nationalities; though her husband at first would hardly believe that people would mount to an apartment on a third story, to visit people who were not particularly rich, and were attached to no public office; but he had soon to own that he was mistaken.

Under the reign of Louis Philippe the court circle was not socially influential. The rigid piety of Queen Amélie, the strict domestic life led at the Tuileries and at St. Cloud, the death of the Duke of Orleans, and the anxiety felt by the King for his other sons on dangerous service in Africa, and also the recurrent political difficulties of the reign, left a freer field for private social ambition than might otherwise have been possible. The de Circourts lived in the Rue do Saussayes, and the Comtesse appears to have received her friends every day from four to six, and also on Tuesday evenings. She was a most brilliant mistress of a salon; she was great in little notes of special invitation. She was always kind and helpful to distinguished foreigners in Paris, and she took much trouble to help young and unknown talent. For many years after her death, these cosmo‐ page: 277 politan cosmopolitan reunions continued to be remembered and talked of.

In the “Life of M. de Circourt,” a series of interesting letters from the historian Sismondi to the Comtesse are given at length. They show Sismondi in a very human light; and of special interest is the one dated 30th September, 1838, in which he laments the death of Madame de Broglie, the daughter of Madame de Staël. He says that during her lifetime he had been chilled by the intense pietistic atmosphere in which she dwelt, and into which he could not follow her; but no sooner was she dead than he felt how much he loved her, how deep was his respect for her virtues, and how great his appreciation of her talents. In politics Sismondi had been a most hopeful philosopher up to the year 1832. It is melancholy to note in his latter letters how keenly he felt, as years went on, the small result of the liberal principles, from which he had hoped so much.

Sismondi, who had married an English wife (the sister of Lady Mackintosh and Mrs. Wedgewood), was a moderate Liberal of the most thoughtful type. It was well for him that he page: 278 did not live to see 1848 and the reaction. He died, in 1842, of a lingering illness of which the chief suffering consisted in a growing inability to take nourishment. He compared himself to Count Ugolino, repeating a verse from Dante’s “Inferno,” “Galandi con Sismondi et con Lanfranchi,”’ and adding, “Am I then condemned to die by the same torture as Ugolino, in expiation, after the lapse of five centuries, of the crime of an ancestor?” But these pathetic words, wrung from him by suffering, are in no way the reflection of his honourable, useful, and far from unhappy life.

In 1848, Adolphe de Circourt was sent by Lamartine as ambassador to Berlin, and the chapter of his experiences is of much political interest. He became a personal friend of Frederick William the Fourth of Prussia, who took delight in his society. In leaving Berlin, he refused every diplomatic distinction, but three years later the king sent de Circourt his own portrait painted on porcelain, executed at the famous royal manufactory, and wrote an autograph letter assuring his friend that he need not scruple to accept the gift, as it had cost him (the king) nothing but the frame.

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More interesting, however, to the student of history, is the chapter relating to the Comte de Chambord, of whom de Circourt saw much at Frohsdorf. The Parisian’s wide reading and philosophic habit of mind caused him to have no faith in revolutions, or in unproved political theories of any kind. Not merely because he had inherited Legitimist principles, but because France had been created, moulded, and made great by the secular influences of the old monarchy, did Adolphe de Circourt hold to his king. His point of view was very peculiar and very interesting. As in religion he had always remained a sincere Catholic, of a thoughtful and liberal type, so in politics he was a convinced Royalist in theory, but perfectly capable of analyzing the character of a monarch. One is tempted to say, in reading his reports of conversations with Henri Cinq, that both the men were too reasonable to be able to descend efficiently into the sphere of modern politics. De Circourt gives the impression that Henri held to the White Flag not from romantic obstinacy, but from a reasoned conviction that any attempt to reinstate him on the throne of his ancestors would fail, unless the main principles page: 280 of historic right were genuinely conceded by France. He did not wish to be a second “Citizen King,” and saw no practical good in the renewing of an experiment which had already signally failed; yet it cannot be denied that by reason of his secluded position at Frohsdorf, he was less aware than was the Comte de Circourt of the immense changes which modern science and industrial development had brought to pass among the nations of Europe. For good or for evil the old habits of mind had passed away, and were replaced by new conceptions of human life. None knew this better than the guest who came from Paris to offer his homage to an exiled king. Of the two high‐minded women whose lives were so closely associated with that of the Comte de Chambord, his Italian wife and his aunt, Madame d’Angoulême, Dauphine of France, and daughter of Marie Antoinette, a life‐like description is given, and they undoubtedly exercised a permanent influence on the situation.

During the first twelve years of the Second Empire, Madame de Circourt continued to receive her friends as usual. In 1856, the year of the Congress of Paris, her rooms were filled page: 281 with foreign diplomats, although a sad accident had already rendered her an invalid. On a summer evening she had sent her servants away to enjoy themselves at one of the fairs so popular in France, and in sealing a letter the lace strings of her cap caught fire; she was severely burnt on the left side of her neck and shoulders, and the result was a state of suffering which lasted for some eight years, and finally caused her death in 1863; but although chiefly recumbent, she never ceased to entertain her friends. She was only fifty‐three when the end came, and her loss made a sad difference to her husband; he gave up his apartment in Paris, and his only home remained the charming house in its large garden called “Les Bruyères” at La Celle Saint Cloud. It was there that for many years I had the honour of well knowing the Comte Adolphe de Circourt, and of listening to that astonishing conversation which no words of mine can adequately describe.

It is my conviction that he knew more on various subjects than any man alive. It was a jest in our family to try and find out some unlikely subject on which to question M. de Cir‐ page: 282 court Circourt , in the faint hope that we might catch him tripping. Once we tried the history, lineage, morals, and manners of Prester John. Another time we expressed ignorance of some of the most intimate details of the Reformation in England; on both questions our remark was like the turning on of a golden tap. Some allusion being one day made to Marie Antoinette, M. de Circourt suddenly said, “Do you know why the royal carriage was late in starting for Varennes?” Needless to say that no one present knew why that fatal hour had been lost. He then explained, with the utmost detail, that while the carriage was being packed in the courtyard of the Tuileries, the governess of the royal children, Madame de Toursel, descending the stairs with her young charges, found Louis the Sixteenth painfully exercised in mind as to where she should sit in the great roomy carriage. It was impossible to provide for the usual etiquette, which was so completely a law in the French court that the delay of nearly an hour took place before the matter could be settled. To hear M. de Circourt’s description of the scene, one would have thought he had been on duty page: 283 that night in the Palace ten years before he was born.

The universality of his knowledge was only to be matched by that of his worldly relations. He was as intimate at the Deanery of Westminster as in Legitimist chateaux. He knew the best people in every capital in Europe, and was as familiar with Protestants as with Catholics in Germany, England, Austria, and Italy. His little drawing‐room at Les Bruyères was always completely dressed in white, and in summer the fireplace and mantel‐shelf were masses of green‐growing ivy trained in pots and rising to the ceiling, while on the walls were a few very choice portraits and mementoes of the most remarkable people in Europe, among them several exquisite bronze medallions by David d’Angers. It was the prettiest room imaginable, and marked in every detail by an exquisite refinement of taste. The Comte de Circourt possessed a very delicate and charming face, of which age had not injured the outline. At church he had as an old man the habit of standing during the most solemn parts of the mass, shielding his eyes with his hand, and his page: 284 attitude was one of profound reverence. It is so that I like best to remember him. He was stricken for death while walking upon the road which crests the hill of La Celle Saint Cloud, and in sight of one of the most beautiful views in the world, looking across the valley of the Seine towards the hills of Normandy. He was found lying alone and unconscious, his hat and stick fallen by his side: whatever were his last thoughts, they were assuredly good and peaceful, as had been his whole life. He was buried in the little cemetery of La Celle Saint Cloud, by the side of his wife; and Madame de Klustine, who had attained a very great age, was within a few days laid within a neighbouring grave, having been spared all knowledge that he who had been to her as a dutiful son for fifty years, had passed away before herself. There are few men of this century of whom it can more truly be said, that in all which he renounced, and in all which he fulfilled, he thoroughly exemplified the meaning of the old proverb “Noblesse oblige.”

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NO biography of this very distinguished Frenchwoman has appeared, except a paragraph in a great dictionary, recording her few books by their titles, and giving a wrong date of her birth; not an unimportant matter, as will be seen in the story of her life. She was the only person whom I ever heard speak of the French Revolution as an eye‐witness of the smallest fact. This aged lady, who was the closest friend of our family, was born in 1789, and lived to be ninety. She was therefore four years old at the death of Marie Antoinette; but as she lived not in Paris but at Annonay, near Lyons, that which she remembered distinctly was being awakened by men with torches in the middle of the night; men who came searching under her little bed for a hunted priest.

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The Montgolfiers were very wealthy, important people, who were known to protect the clergy, and their various houses were the scene of frequent domiciliary visits from the revolutionary authorities.

Nearly two hundred years ago President Montgolfier was a large paper‐maker in Annonay. He received that title as being at the head of some great commercial corporation having its chief centre at Lyons. He had nine children, and lived in patriarchal fashion among his workpeople, and surrounded by relatives. They were all important members of that Tiers Étât of which so little is known in England, and which on its upper level was allied to the noblesse de la robe. Two of President Montgolfier’s sons became famous as joint inventors of the balloon. Their names were Joseph and Etienne, and the latter was the father of Adelaide de Montgolfier. Joseph was the eldest of the two, and must from the first have had a lively mind, for at the age of thirteen he ran away from the College de Tournon, setting out gallantly for the shores of the Mediterranean, intending to live upon shell‐fish. Hunger compelled him page: 287 to stop on the way at a farm in Bas Languedoc, where he was employed to pick mulberry‐leaves for the rearing of silk‐worms. There his distracted parents found him and sent him back to school.

Joseph’s intellectual passion was for calculation and the higher mathematics, and a strong thread of eccentricity ran through his nature. Arrived at manhood he went off to a sort of hermitage, where he lived by fishing, and devoted himself to chemistry.

He made with his own hands Prussian blue and many salts needed in manufactures, and peddled them in the Vivarais. At length his wealthy father got him back, and set him to his natural work in the paper fabrique; but he never ceased making experiments and getting into divers schemes and much hot water. Meanwhile his brother Etienne, five years younger, was trained as an architect, and, according to the family tradition, fell upon a translation of one of Dr. Priestley’s works on air; on which he rushed to his wife, saying, “If what this Englishman says is true respecting the relative density and weight of warm and of cold air, we can raise a light machine page: 288 above the earth.” The two brothers then laid their scientific heads together, probably much troubling the respectable President, and made the splendid invention of which the last word is as yet far from being said.

After a first successful trial at Annonay, Etienne, though so much the youngest, was sent on a mission to Paris, where the idea was eagerly caught up by the scientific world, then in full activity previous to the Revolution, and he was invited to send off a balloon from the gardens of Versailles in the presence of the king and queen, and “all the court beside.” The experiment proved a splendid success, and the brothers were offered a patent of nobility, which they refused, unless it were first conferred upon the old President, their father. In 1832, Mademoiselle de Montgolfier and Madame Swanton‐Belloc spent a first summer at La Celle St. Cloud, and saw an old woman living in the village who well remembered the fall of that balloon in a neighbouring wood. Some of these particulars are to be found in an article written by Mademoiselle de Montgolfier for the Biographie Universelle in 1821, others she told to me herself.

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Etienne de Montgolfier did not live to be old. He married a Mademoiselle Brun, who in her early youth had been by some family intrigue made to take the veil. At the age of eighteen she appealed to Rome, and Rome set her free. She became the Madame de Montgolfier who survived her husband so many years that she became legendary in Paris. In the forties a quite fantastic story was set about of a workman finding a very old lady in the street, who said she had forgotten her own name, on which the workman said politely, “Ah, then you must be Madame de Montgolfier,” and straightway took her to her home! She was popularly said to have died at the age of one hundred and twelve, but she really was in all probability a century old, and there is no genuine record of her having failed in mind. She died in 1845, and is buried in our family grave at La Celle. Her husband predeceased her nearly half a century. He was deeply and fatally affected by the tragic events of the French Revolution. He only himself escaped death by the devotion of his workpeople, who hid him in a moment of extreme danger. But his daughter told me that what really shook page: 290 his health was the death of his dear friend Malesherbes, the defender of Louis the Sixteenth, which took place under peculiarly horrible circumstances. The son‐in‐law of Malesherbes, the President de Rosambo, imprisoned with him, had been taken away from his side for execution a few days before, and Malesherbes himself on the 22nd of April, 1794, was placed in the same cart as his daughter, Madame de Rosambo, and his granddaughter, Madame de Chateaubriand, and her husband. These had entreated to be allowed to share the same prison as the old man, and their wish had been granted. The young people were first guillotined, then Mme. de Rosambo, and lastly Malesherbes himself. The horror of that day, falling on the vivid, sensitive nature of Etienne de Montgolfier, was never recovered, though he survived for five years. His heart became affected, and he went in 1799 to Lyons with his family in search of medical advice. Feeling the approach of death, and “wishing to save his wife and children the sight of his death‐bed,” he started to return alone to Annonay, but did not reach his home alive. He died upon the way, at Serrières, page: 291 on the 2nd of August, 1799, when his little daughter was only ten years old. She survived him for eighty‐one years. No stronger proof of hereditary faculty can be cited than the case of Mlle. de Montgolfier. She was so good an artist, so good a writer, and so intelligent an organizer of daily life, that she might have excelled in any special department of activity to which she had devoted herself. At eighty years of age she was still at her easel, still wielding a lively pen, and still practically keeping a very complicated household. She was tiny in person, with a face full of expression, and her most marked characteristic was an extraordinary sensibility, using the word in its highest and best sense. She seemed a human harp on which every influence of nature, and every joy and grief of others played in turn. Her musical faculty had been keen, she wrote poems and set them to music. Her “Melodies du Printemps” were well known in France, and are delicate flowers of fancy. When nearly ninety she was fond of playing one particular air upon the piano; it was a Belgian Carillon, and the touch of her frail fingers seemed to the hearers to produce a wonderful page: 292 effect of melodies in the upper air, shaken down from high towers upon the children of men.

Mlle. de Montgolfier was liberal in politics. She reminded one of the pre‐revolutionary thinkers who finally sealed with their blood their devotion to the rights of man; and she scorned to allow the crimes of the ultra party to make her unjust.

She preserved a profound silence about religion, but went to Mass every Sunday. If the Gallican element had remained as an influence in French thought, creating a party, it is my impression that she would have been very Gallican, or perhaps a liberal Jansenist.

As it was, she said nothing, but accepted the ministrations of an old priest who knew her well and understood her points of view, and she passed away munie des sacraments de l’Eglise. Ten years before her death occurred the Siege of Paris, when she absolutely refused to leave the city, or even the house not far from the Luxembourg where she had lived for forty years; although it was on the south side of Paris and exposed to Prussian bombs sent from page: 293 the hills in possession of the enemy. It was not far from that orphanage in which eight children were killed in their beds. Every other family in the large dwelling‐house shut their apartments and departed, but Mlle. de Montgolfier resolutely stayed on in her flat, with her maid and a young lad for the outdoor service, doubly necessary during the siege, when every pound of food had to be obtained by standing in the queue, and she merely filled a huge bath with water and put it on the landing outside her door “to quench the bombs.” This old Frenchwoman of eighty spent her days for four months of that bitter winter attending an ambulance ever full of wounded soldiers brought in from the sorties, and when the siege was over it was found that Mademoiselle had torn up all her sheets and table‐cloths for dressings, and had then taken her own delicate stock of body‐linen, so that her maid said tearfully, “Elle ne s’est pas même gardée une seule chemise.” And this extraordinary bravoure which responded to a call of duty like that of some old knight taking down his arms from the wall, was adorned in daily intercourse with a most elaborate courtesy, a perfect politeness, of page: 294 which the modern world shows no example. If it were at first artificial in the original conception of the Versailles of the seventeenth century, it had become entirely natural to French people of social rank after its adoption by three or four succeeding generations. Educated by a mother who had been young under Louis the Fifteenth, and who had occupied in the Ardêche a great provincial position—brought to Paris when still a child, and accustomed to the conversation and the manners of the choicest cosmopolitan world as the inheritrix of a scientific name—Mlle. de Montgolfier blended in her own person all the best elements of French breeding. The Fairy Godmother had allotted her every gift except that of beauty, and she seems to have early made up her mind not to marry, though suitors were not wanting. The chief interest of a most affectionate heart was her enduring friendship of sixty years with Mme. Swanton‐Belloc, whose noble portrait in the Louvre enables this generation to understand the devotion she inspired. To this lady’s children, and particularly to the only son, Mlle. de Montgolfier was a second mother. To the page: 295 youngest generation she became in her old age the dear “Maman Aide” they will never forget; a gracious figure of the France which has passed away.