Madame de Stael had come with a heart full of enthusiasm; in her address to Napoleon, she had called him a “god descended to earth;” she had come an enthusiastic poetess; she departed an offended woman. Her wounded vanity never forgave the answer which seemed to make her ridiculous. She avenged herself, in her drawing-room, by the biting bon mots which she hurled at Napoleon and his family, and which were of course faithfully repeated to the first consul.
But the weapons which this intellectual woman now wielded against the hero who had scorned her, wounded him more severely than weapons of steel or iron. In the use of these weapons, Madame de Stael was his superior, and the consciousness of this embittered Bonaparte all the more against the lady, who dared prick the heel of Achilles with the needle of her wit, and strike at the very point where he was most sensitive.
A long and severe conflict now began between these two greatest geniuses of that period, a struggle that was carried on by both with equal bitterness. But Napoleon had outward power on his side, and could punish the enmity of his witty opponent, as a ruler.
He banished Madame de Stael from Paris, and soon afterward even from France. She who in Paris had been so ready to sing the praises of her “god descended from heaven,” now went into exile his enemy and a royalist, to engage, with all her eloquence and genius, in making proselytes for the exiled Bourbons, and to raise in the minds of men an invisible but none the less formidable army against her enemy the great Napoleon.
Madame de Stael soon gave still greater weight to the flaming eruptions of her hatred of Napoleon, by her own increasing renown and greatness; and the poetess of Corinne and Delphine soon became as redoubtable an opponent of Napoleon as England, Russia, or Austria, could be.
But in the midst of the triumphs she was celebrating in her exile, Madame de Stael soon began to long ardently to return to France, which she loved all the more for having been compelled to leave it. She therefore used all the influence she possessed in Paris, to obtain from Napoleon permission to return to her home, but the emperor remained inexorable, even after having read Delphine.
“I love,” said he, “women who make men of themselves just as little as I love effeminate men. There is an appropriate role for every one in the world. Of what use is this vagabondizing of fantasy? What does it accomplish? Nothing! All this is nothing but do rangement of mind and feeling. I dislike women who throw themselves in my arms, and for this reason, if for no other, I dislike this woman, who is certainly one of that number.”
Madame de Stael’s petitions to be permitted to return to Paris were therefore rejected, but she was as little disposed to abandon her purpose now as she was at the time she sought to gain Bonaparte’s good-will. She continued to make attempts to achieve her aim, for it was not only her country that she wished to reconquer, but also a million francs which she wished to have paid to her out of the French treasury.