A prison was often pointed out to me in which the celebrated Madame Roland was confined, and the spot upon which she suffered death. I gazed long at the grim walls which shut out the sunlight from that noble woman—long upon the stones which drank her blood in the Place de la Concorde. Her whole history was as vividly before me as if I were living in the terrible days of blood. Her maiden name was Manon Philipon, and her father was an engraver. They lived in Paris, where she grew up with the sweetest of dispositions, and one of the finest of intellects. Her mother was a woman of refinement and culture. She was excessively fond of books and flowers, so much so that many years later she wrote, “I can forget the injustice of men and my sufferings, among books and flowers.” Her parents gave her good masters, and she applied herself to her studies with ardor and delight. They were never harsh in their treatment of her, but always gentle and kind. She acted nearly as she pleased, but seems not to have been spoiled by such a discipline as we might have expected. When she was only nine years old, Plutarch fell into her hands, and she was intensely interested in it—more so than with all the fairy tales she had ever read. From him she drank in republicanism at that early age. She also read Fenelon and Tasso. She spent nearly the whole of her time in reading, though she assisted her mother somewhat in her household duties. The family belonged to the middle-classes, and despised the debaucheries of the higher and lower orders of the people. The mother was pious, and Manon was placed for a year in a convent. She then spent a year with her grandparents, and returned to her father’s house. Her course of reading was very much enlarged, and her attention was now specially directed to philosophical works. She was thus a great deal alone, and gave little of her time to gossip and promenade. She went, however, once to Versailles, and saw the routine of court, but returned with a great delight to her old books and the heroes in them. She was dissatisfied with France and Frenchmen. She says: “I sighed as I thought of Athens, where I could have equally admired the fine arts without being wounded by the spectacle of despotism. I transported myself in thought to Greece—I was present at the Olympic games, and I grew angry at finding myself French. Thus struck by all of grand which is offered by the republics of antiquity, I forgot the death of Socrates, the exile of Aristides, the sentence of Phocion.”
She began, at last, to repine at her situation. She felt conscious of her abilities, and that her thoughts were high and noble, and she longed for a higher position, in which she might use her talents. Her father grew more and more poor and unable to care for his family, and her mother was anxious that she should be married. She did not lack offers. She was beautiful and accomplished, and many suitors presented themselves, but not one whom she could love. Her mother now died, to her great sorrow. She now persuaded her father to retire from the business which he was ruining, and save the little property he had left, and she retired to a little convent. She prepared her own food, lived very simply, and saw only her own relations.