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and partial recognition, Hume would find himself in the motley crowd of those who force themselves, or are partly welcomed, into these high places—dissipated men of genius, underbred men of riches, hardworking, pertinacious politicians; persons with whom his finely trained mind, his reserve, and his habit of mixing in a refined though small society of Scotsmen, would not easily harmonize.
In France matters were widely different; there he was at once warmly and affectionately received into the bosom of a society to which many of the supercilious English aristocracy would have sought for admission in vain. In England no distinct palpable barrier surrounded the distinguished group.
The multitude clamorously asserted an equality. In default of other qualities, impudence and perseverance were sometimes sufficient to force admission. In these circumstances, each member of the privileged classes guarded his own portion of the arena as well as he might, and the intruder had to fight battle after battle, and contest every inch of ground he gained.
It seems as if in France the very rigidness with which the select circle was fortified was the reason why those admitted within it were placed so thoroughly at their ease. The aristocracy could open the door, look about them, and invite an individual to enter, without fearing to encounter a general rush for admission. There was much evil of every kind in that circle; we have not to deal here with its inward morality, but its outward form, and it certainly deserves to be remembered as one of the most memorable instances in which, on any large scale, the aristocracy of rank and wealth has met the aristocracy of letters without restraint. The quality of shining in conversation was not to be despised by the greatest in wealth, or the highest in
the peerage; and their efforts were measured with those of the first wits of the time. To an aristocracy which could thus amuse itself, it was a great luxury to be surrounded by men of thought and learning. The courtier who could open his salon to the wits and philosophers of Paris, was far more dependant on their presence than they were on the privilege of admission. If a Barthélemi, a Marmontel, a Condillac, saw cause to desert the suppers of D'Holbach, they would be received at those of the Duc de Praslín or de Choiseul, the Prince of Conti, and Madame du Deffand; but how were such departed stars to be replaced ??
There is perhaps no more striking type of the The confidence with which the great aristocracy of birth mingled with whatever elements it thought fit, is perhaps the best evidence of the security it felt in the baughty and arbitrary exercise of its established privileges. With all this free equality of social intercourse, however, there must have been something yet left to which the mere guest was not admitted, and to which he never aspired. Without this, it seems impossible that Actors,-menials by the etiquette of the court, anathematized by the church, held incapable of giving evidence in some courts of law as persons of infamous profession, - should have been so much sought after and caressed. Thus the Le Kains, Fleurys, and Prévilles, among the men; the Sophy Arnoulds, Dumesnils, Clairons, among the women, many of them thorough profligates, are to be found haunting places surrounded by the bigbest lustre of adventitious rank, busying themselves with state secrets, mingling in family disputes, and always with the easy assurance of their profession. This state of matters could not have existed unless the aristocracy, notwithstanding the ease with which they permitted themselves to be approached, were able effectually to mark precisely the point where the advance was to stop, and could feel themselves among persons, who, like old family servants, never presume upon familiarity. In admitting to social intercourse, however, a person of Hume’s dignity of character and position in literature, there could be no such reserves, and the intercourse must have been as really on terms of familiarity as it appeared to be.
character and condition of the Parisian coteries than one of Hume's most intimate friends, Madame Geoffrin. In this country, were an uneducated woman to frame and lead a social party, including the first in rank and in talent of the day, to which no one under royalty was too great not to deem admission a privilege; were she to be absolute in her admissions and exclusions, bold in her sarcasms, free and blunt often to rudeness in her observations and opinions, and severe or kind to all by turns as her own choice or caprice suggested, it would be at once pronounced that the reddest blood and the highest rank could alone produce such an anomaly. A very small number of eminent duchesses have perhaps occupied such a position in this country. Yet Madame Geoffrin, who acted this part to the full among the fastidious aristocracy of France before the revolution, was the daughter of a valet-de-chambre and the widow of a glass manufacturer. The foundation of her influence was her success in making herself the centre of a circle of artists and men of letters. She was much in the confidence of Madame De Tencin, and on that lady's death succeeded in transferring to herself what remained of her distinguished society, dimmed as it was by the departure of Montesquieu and Fontenelle. Madame Geoffrin by activity and energy widened the circle. She never made visits herself, and those who had the privilege of entering her dining-room on her public days, found there assembled D'Alembert, Helvétius, Raynal, Marmontel, Caraccioli, Holbach, Galliani, and the artist Vanloo. During the British embassy, David Hume, the great philosopher from the far North, might there be met; and when all other attempts had perhaps failed, some chance of encountering such an erratic meteor as Rousseau
still remained in attending Madame Geoffrin’s Wednesday dinner. Having once, by her signal wit and wisdom, gained her position, no obtrusive rivals from her own deserted class could push near enough to drive her from it. It is not the least admirable feature of this remarkable woman, that far from assuming the subdued and cautious tone of one of her own rank, who must be more wary than a denizen of committing breaches of the social rules of her new cast, a simplicity and freedom seems to have accompanied all her actions and ideas; a courageous adoption of what seemed good to her in place of what might be fit. Her letters, in their severe diction, give some notion of the writer's character, but cannot convey so full an impression as when they are presented in the bold, irregular, and most “unlady-like” hand in which they are scribbled.
* The following is a specimen, of a letter to Hume:
ne your manquois gros Drôle, pour Ehe un porfuis petis maitre, que de jouer le Beau Rigoureux, innefes ont pas de reponse, a un Billes Doux, que
roroinhuile aires poffible vous voule von donner chey Dêtre modeste,
Among other like distinctions, an author had offered to dedicate to her his Italian Grammar. She answered, “ A moi, Monsieur ;
The pleasant retailers of the literary chit-chat of that time, Marmontel, Grimm, Bauchemont, and others, are full of details of Madame Geoffrin, who, if she was not quite as formally approached as Boufflers, or Deffand, was as much respected, loved, and feared. The author of the “Contes Moraux,” tells us some of the weaknesses of this gifted lady; and, according to his account, she had been actually convicted, living as she was outwardly in the freest society in the world, of a turn for secret devotion! “ Elle avait un apartement dans un couvent de religieuses et une tribune à l'Eglise des Capucins, mais avec autant de mystère que les femmes galantes de ce temps-là avaient des petites maisons.” The picture would be sufficiently ludicrous, were it not for the darker features presented by a state of society, where no one should venture to be pious except under pain of being exterminated with ridicule.
There was one matter as to which Madame Geoffrin was timid and cautious; she never meddled with matters of state or unsafe political opinions, and was induced to discountenance those who did so. Surrounded by restless and inquiring spirits, she often dreaded being compromised by their conduct; and was especially uneasy at any time when the Bastille sheltered a more than usual number of those whose wit was wont to flash round her board. But her guests have recorded, that if there was a little saddened and earnest gravity in her deportment, when she received them after such naughty affairs, she abated nothing of her old kindness. Her good heart indeed was after all her noblest quality. She was one of those who held the simple notion, that were it not for the judicious distribution
la dédicace d'une grammaire ! à moi qui ne sais pas seulement l'orthographe.” “C'était la pure vérité,” subjoins Marmontel