It was fortunate for Sophie Arnould that her connection with the opera had closed prior to this dreadful period. As stated previously, she remained undisturbed during the early years of the Revolution. Only once a band of sans culottes invaded her retreat. To their suspicious questions she answered by assurances of loving the republic devotedly. Her unconsciously satirical smile aroused distrust, and they were about hurrying her off to prison, when she pointed out a bust of Gluck, and inquired if she would keep a bust of Marat if she were not loyal to the republic. This satisfied her intelligent inquisitors, and they retreated, saying, “She is a good citoyenne, after all,” as they saluted the marble. During this time she was still rich, having thirty thousand livres a year. But misfortunes thickened, and in two years she had lost nearly every franc. Obliged to go to Paris to try to save the wreck of her estate, she found her hosts of friends dissipated like the dew, all guillotined, shot, exiled, or imprisoned.
A gleam of sunshine came, however, in the kindness of Fouche, the Minister of Police, an old lover. One morning the Minister received the message of an unknown lady visitor. On receiving her he instantly recognized the still beautiful and sparkling lineaments of the woman he had once adored. Fouche, touched, heard her story, and by his powerful intercession secured for her a pension of twenty-four hundred livres and handsome apartments in the Hotel D’Angevil-liers. Here she speedily drew around her again the philosophers and fashionables, the poets and the artists of the age; and the Sophie Arnould of the golden days of old seemed resurrected in the vivacity and brilliancy of the talk from which time and misfortune had taken nothing of its pungent salt. In 1803 she died obscurely; and the same year there also passed out of the world two other celebrated women, the great actress Clairon and the singer De Beaumesnil, once Sophie’s rival.
Lord Mount Edgcumbe, in his “Musical Reminiscences,” speaks of Sophie Arnould, whom he heard in ante-revolutionary days, as a woman of entrancing beauty and very great dramatic genius. This connoisseur tells us too that her voice, though limited in range and not very flexible, was singularly rich, strong, and sweet, fitting her exceptionally for the performance of the simple and noble arias of Gluck, which were rather characterized by elevation and dramatic warmth than florid ornamentation. Her place in art is, therefore, as the finest contemporary interpreter of Wagner’s greater predecessor.