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Benjamin Constant: A Biography

367 Pages · 2005 · 2.95 MB · English

  • Benjamin Constant: A Biography

    BENJAMIN CONSTANT BENJAMIN


    CONSTANT


    A biography


    Dennis Wood



    London and New York First published 1993


    by Routledge


    11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE


    This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2003.


    Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada


    by Routledge Inc.


    29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001


    © 1993 Dennis Wood


    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or


    reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic,


    mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter


    invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any


    information storage or retrieval system, without permission in


    writing from the publishers.


    British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data


    Wood, Dennis Michael


    Benjamin Constant: a biography


    I. Title


    848.609


    Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data


    Wood, Dennis.


    Benjamin Constant: a biography/Dennis Wood.


    p. cm.


    Includes bibliographical references and index.


    1. Constant, Benjamin, 1767–1830—Biography. 2. Novelists,


    Swiss—19th century—Biography. 3. Intellectuals—France—


    Biography. I. Title.


    PQ2211.C24Z95 1993


    944.06′092—dc20


    [B]


    ISBN 0-203-19163-3 Master e-book ISBN


    ISBN 0-203-32917-1 (OEB Format)


    ISBN 0-415-01937-0 (Print Edition) CONTENTS


    List of plates v


    Preface vi


    Brief chronology ix


    A NOTE ON BENJAMIN CONSTANT’S FAMILY 1


    INTRODUCTION 4


    1 ‘THE GRIEF THAT DOES NOT SPEAK’: CONSTANT



    AND HIS FATHER (1767–1783) 9


    2 ‘THE CHARMS OF FRIENDSHIP’ (1783–1785) 43


    3 ISABELLE DE CHARRIERE (1785–1787) 64


    4 ESCAPE (1787–1788) 89


    5 THE BRUNSWICK YEARS (1788–1794) 106


    6 GERMAINE DE STAEL (1794–1800) 152


    7 ‘THE INTERMITTENCES OF THE HEART’ (1800–



    1806) 174


    8 ‘ITALIAM, ITALIAM’ (1806–1812) 196


    9 THE END OF AN EMPIRE (1812–1816) 215


    10 ADOLPHE (1816–1819) 230


    11 APOTHEOSIS (1819–1830) 241


    EPILOGUE 263


    List of abbreviations used in the notes 267


    Notes 269


    Index 320 PLATES


    (Between pages 114 and 115.)


    1 The High Street, Edinburgh in about 1780, by David Allan (1744–



    96)


    2 Benjamin Constant aged about 20, miniature on ivory, artist



    unknown


    3 Sir James Mackintosh, engraving from Mackintosh’s Memoirs



    (1836) after a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830)


    4 Isabelle de Charrière in 1777, portrait in oils by the Danish artist



    Jens Juel (1745–1802)


    5 Benjamin Constant as a young man, anonymous drawing


    6 ‘Benjamin Constant en 1792’, after a silhouette by Marianne



    Moula (1760–1826)


    7 and Ludwig Ferdinand Huber (1764–1804) and his wife Therese


    8 Forster-Huber, née Heyne (1764–1829), miniatures, artist


    unknown


    9 Germaine de Staël, miniature made by Firmin Massot probably in



    the spring of 1812


    10 Benjamin Constant in his thirties, miniature by Firmin Massot


    11 Julie Talma, after a portrait by Pascal Glain


    12 Charlotte von Hardenberg


    13 View of Göttingen in 1791, after a drawing by Heinrich Wilhelm



    Grape


    14 Portrait in oils of Benjamin Constant dating from 1815 or later,



    artist unknown


    15 Engraved portrait of Benjamin Constant from Discours de M.



    Benjamin Constant à la Chambre des Députés (volume II, 1828)


    16 Portrait in oils of Benjamin Constant, probably in 1830, signed



    ‘Hercule de Roche’


    17 18 Three views of the death mask of Benjamin Constant made by the


    and sculptor Gois and recently rediscovered by Kurt Kloocke in the


    19 anthropological collection of the Musée de l’Homme, Paris PREFACE


    It may be helpful to state from the outset what this book is not. It makes


    no pretence at being the full and definitive biography which its subject


    demands: to do justice to such a life, one that was so cosmopolitan,


    eventful and filled with emotional agitation would require several volumes


    and many hundreds of pages of text and notes. Such a biography will have


    to await the complete publication of the works and correspondence of


    Constant, a project that will run well into the next century. Nor is the


    present work a study of Constant the novelist, the political theorist, the


    historian of religion, the autobiographer, the diarist or the letter-writer:


    many books and articles have already been devoted to these areas by


    specialists more competent than myself—Stephen Holmes on Constant’s


    political thought, for example, and Pierre Deguise on Constant and


    religion. Even as a biography the present volume does not set out to deal


    fully with every aspect of Constant’s intellectual activities or with his very


    many publications as did Kurt Kloocke in his Benjamin Constant: une


    biographie intellectuelle (1984). Its purpose is more modest: to provide


    the English-speaking reader with a concise and factual account of an


    important historical and literary figure, an account which includes the


    findings of the most recent research, some of it my own. To this end I


    have translated all quotations into English, while also giving the text in the


    original language where the wording is of particular importance. (When


    quoting from original documents in French, English or German I have


    retained their spelling and punctuation.)


    My hope, nevertheless, is that both the general reader and the specialist in French


    literature will find something of interest in the pages that follow. Only two significant


    attempts at a full biography of Benjamin Constant have been made in English, by


    Elizabeth W.Schermerhorn (1924) and Sir Harold Nicolson (1949). Both are long out of


    print but, more important, both predate the many important discoveries made in the past


    forty years, for example that of the semi-autobiographical Cécile first published in 1951


    by Alfred Roulin. Sir Harold Nicolson’s biography, the most readily available, is a


    delight to read, elegant, witty and shrewd, but in some areas it is now inaccurate both in


    its facts and the judgements that depend on those facts. My intention is to tell the full


    story within a necessarily limited compass, devoting proportionately more space to


    Constant’s early, formative years than has sometimes been the case. It goes without


    saying that there are gaps in our knowledge which the edition of Constant’s complete works and correspondence may yet fill (at the time I am writing only one volume of each


    has so far gone to press), as well as subsequent volumes of the systematic Chronologie of


    Constant’s life and works, of which only the first, covering the years 1767–1805, has so


    far appeared. It seems useful nevertheless to faire le point: to take stock and attempt to


    summarize the present state of our knowledge about Constant’s life. If there is any other


    claim to originality in this book, besides its giving as many of the ascertainable facts as


    possible, it is to be found in a tentative reinterpretation of Constant’s personality in the


    light of modern clinical studies of attachment and bereavement by John Bowlby (1907–


    90) and others—a study which, incidentally, I began long before Bowlby’s compelling


    life of Darwin appeared in 1990. Madame de Charrière once called Constant ‘a true


    chameleon’, and changeability—violent swings of mood from energetic elation to the


    most profound and overwhelming melancholy and fatalistic despair—was a central


    feature of his character. There is a mystère Constant which the first four chapters of the


    book in particular seek to identify and understand.


    Two articles which I wrote for the journal French Studies in the early 1980s provided


    the starting point for Chapter 2 of this book: I recall the kindness and generosity of the


    then editor, Professor Malcolm Bowie, with deep gratitude. My colleagues on the team


    editing Constant’s complete works and correspondence have offered encouragement and


    stimulus on many occasions, particularly Simone Balayé, Dr C.P.Courtney, Professor


    Paul Delbouille, Professor Alison Fairlie and Dr Kurt Kloocke, as well as my friends and


    colleagues in Birmingham, Dr Ceri Crossley, Dr David Hill, Dr Alex Hughes, the late


    Professor Derek Lomax, Professor R.E.F.Smith and Dr Marcus Walsh. My Head of


    Department, Professor Jennifer Birkett, Professor Michael Butler of the School of


    Modern Languages, and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Professor Leon Pompa have also


    greatly facilitated my work.


    I should like to thank the many librarians, archivists and owners of private collections


    who have helped me over the years in my research, particularly Jacques Rychner,


    Director of the Bibliothèque publique et universitaire, Neuchâtel; Jean-Daniel Candaux


    and other members of the staff of the Bibliothèque publique et universitaire, Geneva; the


    staff of the Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire, Lausanne; Etienne Hofmann,


    Christian Viredaz and the staff of the Institut Benjamin Constant, University of


    Lausanne; Dr Alain Rivier of Vevey and his family for permission to consult the Rivier


    archives at Le Désert, Lausanne; Professor Claude Reymond; Annie Angremy of the


    Département des manuscrits, Bibliothèque nationale, Paris; Dr Matthes, the staff of the


    Niedersächsisches Staatsarchiv, Wolfenbüttel, and the Von Marenholtz family for access


    to the Von Marenholtz family papers; Professor Dr Paul Raabe, Director of the Herzog


    August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel and his staff, especially Dr Gillian Bepler; the


    university libraries of Göttingen and Erlangen, and the Stadtarchiv Erlangen; the


    Bodleian Library, Oxford, and university libraries of Cambridge and Edinburgh; the


    Harrowby Mss Trust, Sandon Hall, Stafford; the National Library of Scotland and the


    Secretary and members of the Speculative Society, Edinburgh; Peter Fox, Librarian of


    Trinity College, Dublin; and Dr Ben Benedikz, Rare Books Librarian, University of


    Birmingham.


    I am grateful to the Leverhulme Foundation for a Fellowship in 1986 which enabled


    me to make a number of discoveries in Germany, and to the British Academy, Pro


    Helvetia Foundation and the University of Birmingham for their generous support of my research through travel grants. At Routledge, Richard Stoneman’s forbearance since 1986


    has been worthy indeed of the Constant family motto, ‘In arduis constans’. My wife


    Katherine and my sons Orlando and Francis have shown exemplary patience and given


    unstinting support: this book is dedicated to them.


    Birmingham, Whitsun 1992 BRIEF CHRONOLOGY


    1767 25 October: Henri-Benjamin Constant de Rebecque born in Lausanne,


    Switzerland, the son of Juste de Constant de Rebecque, an officer in the


    service of Holland.


    10 November: death of Benjamin’s mother Henriette, née de Chandieu.


    Benjamin entrusted to nursemaids.


    1772 Juste puts Benjamin in the care of Marianne Magnin, later his second


    wife. Subsequently the boy is educated by a number of unsatisfactory


    tutors.


    1780 Benjamin spends two months at Oxford with his father.


    1782– Student at Erlangen University, Germany. Fights duels.


    3


    1783– Student at Edinburgh University, friendship with John Wilde and James


    5 Mackintosh. Begins study of the history of religions. Attends many


    debates at the Speculative Society. Gambling debts.


    1785 Affair with Madame Johannot in Brussels.


    1786– Friendship with the novelist Isabelle de Charrière whom Constant meets


    7 while staying in Paris. Runs away to England and Scotland during the


    summer of 1787.


    1788 After staying with Madame de Charrière near Neuchâtel, Switzerland,


    Constant takes up a post at the Court of the Duke of Brunswick (1788–


    94). Unhappy at Court.


    1789 Marries Minna von Cramm, a lady-in-waiting at the Court of Brunswick,


    whom he divorces in 1795. Friendship with Jakob Mauvillon, who dies in


    1794.


    1793 Friendship with Charlotte, née von Hardenberg.


    1794 Meets Germaine de Staël in Switzerland, will have a long relationship


    with her.


    1795 Beginning of Constant’s political activity in Paris, publishes pamphlets.


    1799 24 December: Constant elected to the Tribunate.


    1800 Passionate affair with Anna Lindsay (1800–1).


    1802 Constant excluded from the Tribunate for his opposition to Bonaparte.


    1804 In Weimar with Madame de Staël. Meets Goethe, Schiller and Wieland.


    1806 October: begins affair with Charlotte von Hardenberg, and the novel from


    which Adolphe and Cécile will eventually emerge.


    1807 Torn between Madame de Staël and Charlotte. Falls under influence of a


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