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NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
NEW SERIES, NO. XVII.
Art. I.—Mémoires sur la Vie privée de Marie Antoinette,
Reine de France et de Navarre ; suivis de Souvenirs et
This work was intended, in part, as a defence of the character of the late unfortunate queen of France against the calumnies that were circulated respecting her at the opening of the French revolution. Madame Campan apprehended, that the libellous pamphlets of that time had made a lasting impression upon public opinion in and out of France. On this head we are inclined to think that her fears were greatly exaggerated. Whatever may have been the weaknesses or the faults of the royal family in their days of prosperity the atrocities perpetrated upon them by the revolutionary cannibals, and the heroic virtues, which they displayed in their hour of trial, very justly and naturally excited a strong feeling in their favor. If there is now any error in the general estimate of their characters, it is not probably on the adverse side. This is more particularly true of the queen, who exhibited throughout higher qualities than the king; and, as an elegant and accomplished female, excited a deeper sentiment of interest and pity.
New Series, No. 17. 1
Since the return of the family, she has been all but cannonized in France. In England a single passage from the eloquent pen of Burke had conferred upon her, long before, a sort of rhetorical apotheosis. We shall have occasion to remark hereafter how singularly her situation, at the time when she was seen by this great orator, contrasted with the description which he has given of it. Under these circumstances a formal defence of the queen is not only unnecessary, but might be expected to operate rather injuriously than otherwise, since any detailed account of her life, however partially colored, has the effect of bringing down to the touchstone of real fact the poetical image, which remains upon the mind after the contemplation of her unparelleled misfortunes, and of the magnanimity with which she supported them. Nevertheless, Madame Campanhas executed her task with so much good taste and skill, that the effect of her work will probably be very favorable to the queen's reputation. She judiciously avoids entering into a direct refutation of any of the calumnies upon her illustrious patroness, which are now all forgotten; and contents herself with giving a simple narrative of the queen's life, from the time of her arrival at Paris, up to the terrible tenth of August, when the author was compelled to leave her. The situation of Madame Campan, as the confidential attendant of Marie Antoinette, gave her the best opportunity of collecting materials for a work of this kind ; and although she has exercised a proper discretion in drawing up her story, it contains much interesting matter, and many important historical facts before wholly unknown.
Madame Campan was the daughter of Mr Genet, for a long time principal under secretary in the department of foreign affairs; and sister to the well known citizen Genet, formerly minister plenipotentiary from the French Republic in this country. We shall extract hereafter a passage, in which she gives an account of her brother's political life, previously to his appointment to that post. The father was a person of great merit and talent, and attended carefully to the education of his children. Henrietta, the daughter, seems to have been in her childhood a very lively girl, and to have possessed a great facility at acquiring knowledge. At the age of fourteen she was already familiar with Italian
and English, and excelled particularly in the art of recitation and reading. These qualities, the effect of which was heightened by an uncommon share of grace and beauty, attracted the attention of the court circle, and the age of fifteen Mademoiselle Genet was appointed reader to the king's sisters. She held this place at the time of the arrival of the dauphiness, upon whom she made so agreeable an impression, that she was soon after appointed her principal femme de chambre. About this time she married Mr Campan, who was the son of the queen's private secretary. Thus all her connexions and occupations eminently qualified her for the task she had undertaken.
After the tenth of August her connexion with the royal family made her an object of suspicion. She was arrested and held in confinement until the fall of Robespierre. Restored to liberty by this event, but deprived of all her former means of subsistence, she recollected the inclination which it seems she had felt in early life, for the employment of teaching young ladies, and opened a boarding school at St Germain. This institution met with great success. Among her pupils was Hortense de Beauharnais, afterwards queen of Holland. The Bonaparte family were so well satisfied with the conduct of Madame Campan, and her general reputation stood so high, that when the emperor, after the battle of Austerlitz, erected the school at Ecouen for the education of the orphan daughters of the members of the legion of honor, she was appointed the superintendant.
She aca quitted herself in this new station, as in all her former ones, with great distinction ; but her promotion proved in the end to be an injury, rather than an advantage. Upon the return of the royal family, the government with an almost inconceivable degree of impolicy, to say nothing of the injustice and cruelty of the measure, suppressed the school at Ecouen; and Madame Campan lost her place. It does not appear, however, that she was now straitened in her circumstances, and she retired to a pleasant country residence to pass the close of her life. Here she was soon assailed by new misfortunes.
She became the object of absurd and infamous calumnies relating to the management of her school; and her peace was still more fatally wounded by the death of her only son.
of several of her nearest connexions, and finally by the sad catastrophe of Marshal Ney, whose wife was her neice. Her health sunk under this succession of disasters, and she died in March 1822. She had bestowed great care upon the work now before us, which she intended not only as a defence of the queen, but as a vindication of her own character against the suspicions, which had been entertained, or affected, of her fidelity to her royal mistress. The Memoirs were published immediately after the author's death, and passed very rapidly through several editions. They are admitted to be by far the most interesting book upon the life of the queen, that has yet appeared ; and it has also been universally acknowledged, that the writer's justification of her own character is complete and unanswerable. Madame Campan left several other works in manuscript. One of them on the subject of the education of females is said to be preparing for
Having given this brief notice of the life of Madame Campan, which we have thought due to the memory of a woman of uncommon talent and virtue, we now come to our more immediate subject; and passing over the account given in the first chapter of the domestic habits of Louis XV, and his sisters, we shall begin our notice of the work at the epoch of the arrival of Marie Antoinette, then only fifteen years of age, at the court of France.
The marriage of Louis XVI with the Archduchess Marie Antoinette, was a measure intended to consolidate the alliance contracted between the courts of France and Austria in the year 1755. This alliance was regarded at the time, as the most remarkable political event, which had occurred in Europe for many years; and it did in fact change entirely the system of mutual relations, which had been established at the peace of Westphalia, and had existed ever since. The constant aim of the Austrian government had always been to extend its influence over the smaller German states, which lie between its territory and France; and it was regarded as the peculiar office of France to resist this effort at aggrandizement, and to appear as the protector of its feeble neighbors. England, the natural enemy of France, entered into this system as the ally of Austria; and Prussia, after she obtained her importance, being more in danger than any other power from the encroachments of Austria, was drawn by her position into close connexion with France. Such were the general features of the system of policy, that prevailed in Europe for a long time after the close of the thirty years' war.
But about the middle of the last century, the Austrian government, under the direction of Prince Kaunitz, one of the ablest statesmen that ever appeared in Europe, who was also well supported by the high minded and enlightened sovereign then upon the throne, alarmed at the rapid progress of Prussia in power and greatness, and still bent upon the project of aggrandizement in Germany, conceived the plan of neutralizing the opposition of France, by forming an alliance with that power, to be cemented by the marriage of an Austrian archduchess with a French prince. It is understood, that this idea was first suggested by Kaunitz to the French ambassador at Aix la Chapelle, during the negotiations which ended in the treaty of 1748. Kaunitz appeared soon after in person as the Austrian ambassador at the court of France; and well knowing what sort of influence it was then necessary to employ, in order to carry a point with the French government, addressed himself at once to the reigning mistress Madame de Pompadour. Having succeeded in obtaining her consent, he found no great difficulty with the king, who had however personally very little inclination for the measure, and the next year the treaty was concluded. By this manæuvre the Austrian cabinet were not only left at liberty to pursue, without interruption from France, the plan which they were then meditating in concert with Russia of an attack upon the great Frederic, but actually obtained the assistance of France in carrying this project into effect, and the French armies cooperated with Austria through the whole seven years' war, after the feeble and inefficient manner in which all the operations of the government were then conducted.
Marie Antoinette was born the same year in which this new political system was agreed upon between the two courts, and was destined from her birth to consolidate it by an alliance with the dauphin. Her education was directed with a view to this object, and the choice of her instructers was left to the French government, who appointed and sent them to Vienna. It happened, however, by rather a singular coinci