STAEL Madame de - Autograph Letter to the Duchess of Devonshire regarding Lady Cowper and Lady Caroline Lamb
Germaine de STAEL (1766-1817)
Autograph Letter, at the end of an Autograph Letter Signed by her daughter, Albertine de Staël, requesting that the Duchess [of Devonshire] ask Lady Melbourne to intercede in reconciling her to Lady Cowper.
In all, 2½ pages 8vo in French, n.p. [Paris], 14 July 1814.
Trans: “Do me the favour, dear duchess, of reconciling me with Lady Cooper [Lady Cowper, sister of Lord Melbourne] through Lady Melbourne. I have been told that she believes Lady Caroline [Lamb, wife of Lord Melbourne] has given me offense. My God all these vexations displease me – there is only you, my lady, who only does good and gives pleasure. I will come back to see you sooner than I had intended – I do not wish to miss a word of yours. My respectful tender regards to Ldy Besborough [sic] [sister of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and mother of Lady Caroline Lamb]. I can assure you that everything Lady Caroline said is pure imagination – but Mr. Evrard has attached great importance to it.”
Albertine de Staël’s letter, [trans:] “My mother is at this moment getting into the coach Madame la Duchesse and she asks me to tell you that she has not received the address which you mention in your letter . . . We are leaving for Coppet, have we no hope of seeing you in Switzerland or here? . . I find Paris very amusing but I think of England all the time, I ask everyone not to forget me. I am counting most of all on Frederic Foster to remember me. I ask Madame Caroline to think of me and to speak of me to you now and again. . .”
The two letters present a splendid tangle of friendships between francophile British and anglophile French society figures.
Madame de Staël, daughter of Louis XVI’s Swiss finance minister, Necker, was a fierce opponent of Napoleon, and spent much of his reign in exile, partly at her Swiss residence, Coppet. She was eventually kept under strict surveillance there, but made a dramatic escape, travelling via Vienna to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Stockholm to find refuge in London. It must be said that Napoleon, who notoriously disliked blue-stockings – and Madame de Staël was a leading example of the type – would probably have disliked her, even had she expressed approval of him. At the time of writing, she was living happily once again in Paris, with her fiercest enemy in exile on Elba.
Madame de Staël loved and admired England, as did her daughter Albertine, who was to marry the duc de Broglie. Among their friends and acquaintances in England were the francophile Devonshire set. The two most prominent leaders of this group, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and Charles James Fox, had both died in 1806. The Duchess of Devonshire to whom this letter is addressed was the Duke’s second wife and Georgiana’s close friend, Elizabeth, née Foster. (Frederic Foster, mentioned in Albertine’s letter, was Elizabeth’s illegitimate son by the Duke, later legally adopted by him.)
It is odd that Mme. de Staël felt the need to be reconciled to Lady Cowper, as the latter had a reputation as one of the gentlest ladies of her day, despite her intense dislike of her sister-in-law, Lady Caroline Lamb. Lady Cowper had enjoyed a long love affair with Lord Palmerston, whom she married after her husband’s death. They were said to have remained as devoted as young lovers to the end of their lives.
The dubious paternity of at least two of the ladies involved in this correspondence is indicative of the mores of the age. Albertine de Staël was generally believed to have been the daughter of Mme. de Staël’s lover, the novelist Benjamin Constant. (Madame de Staël, with no particular physical attractions and appalling dress sense nevertheless aroused romantic passion in several men, a tribute to her intelligence and personality.) Lady Cowper’s paternity is indeterminate, the only consensus being that her father was almost certainly not Peniston Lamb, the first Lady Melbourne’s husband.
Together with an Autograph Letter Signed from Albertine after her marriage (“Staël de Broglie”) to an unidentified lady, regarding an invitation.
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