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    In his old age Rousseau wrote that the spot in the little
town of Annecy where, as a youth of sixteen, he first met
Madame de Warens ought to be surrounded by railings of gold,
and only approached kneeling by those who revere the monu-
ments of human salvation. Extravagant as that utterance may
seem to us, we cannot doubt the magnitude of an influence
which left so profound an impression even half a century
afterwards, and Rousseau’s estimate of his indebtedness has
been endorsed by many of his modern critics. As Michelet
put it, Rousseau’s genius was born of Madame de Warens.

    It is impossible not to feel curiosity concerning the woman
who so largely moulded the man who himself was one of the
chief moulding forces, not only of his own times but of the
whole modern world. Every reader of the Confessions remem-
bers Madame de Warens, but vivid as is Rousseau’s account
of her it is still imperfect and misleading. Rousseau’s own
knowledge of the woman whom he worshipped more or less
throughout life, the real heroine of his Nouvelle Heloise,
was indeed, as regards her history, in many respects less
complete than is ours to-day. It is only within recent
years that the investigations of a few men of letters and
research in Switzerland and in Savoy,—more especially M. de

Montet as regards Madame de Warens’ early life in the Vaud
country, M. Mugnier concerning her later life in Savoy, and
M. Ritter as to her religious opinions and their sources,—
have finally made that history clear.

    Francoise-Louise de la Tour belonged to the baronial
family who possessed Chatelard, with its picturesque old castle
on the hill-side overlooking the lake of Geneva, near Vevey,
a familiar sight to the foreign colony now dwelling near by
at Montreux and Clarens. She was born in March, 1699,
the second of three children, and the only survivor. Her
mother died in childbirth when Louise was still an infant, and
she was educated by one of her father’s sisters, who became
a second mother to her. Although her father married again
she remained with her aunts at Le Basset, near Chatelard, a
comfortable but rather humble looking house, with a wooden
gallery outside, on to which the doors and windows of the
upper floor opened. This house, which was situated on the
hillside some distance above the lake, and enjoyed a wide and
beautiful outlook from amid its vines and trees, was destroyed
a few years ago. There still remain a few of the splendid
chestnuts which once formed a wood called “le bosquet
de Clarens,” celebrated by Rousseau in the Nouvelle Heloies, and
now often called “le bosquet de Julie.” Madame de Warens
in character, tastes, and feelings corresponds to Julie, although
the heroine of the novel lives on a somewhat more magnificent
scale. This was so not only because the scenes of the real
girl’s life had been passed through Rousseau’s exalted imagi-

nation, but also because Madame de Warens herself was never
absolutely accurate, even with Rousseau, in regard to
the details of her early life, and was always willing to magnify
somewhat the events of the past, and to leave out of account
anything which might seem unfavourable to herself. It is a
reticence which, like much else in her life, has not in the event
proved altogether wise, for, as we shall see, it has led Rousseau,
by trusting to his imagination or to gossip, to defame unduly
the woman to whom he owed so much, and whom he so
sincerely worshipped.

    We know, however, all the essential facts of the young
Francoise-Louise’s life, and it is not difficult to reconstruct it.
At that time it was usual for the rural aristocracy to live in
this simple fashion, and they were not therefore the less con-
sidered. The ladies of Le Basset were on intimate terms with
Magny, an old man of high character who enjoyed great
esteem in the Pays de Vaud, although he was the leader of the
pietistic movement, by no means an orthodox position in a
strictly Calvinistic land. Magny, however, was in touch with
the great German mystical movement of the eighteenth
century, which sought to bring a new freedom, a new emo-
tional depth, into religion. The Calvinism of her native land,
we may be sure, never had the slightest attraction for Madame
de Warens, but for the pietism which Magny represented,
although she never strictly adopted it, she had a natural
affinity. Its indifference to forms, its belief in instinct and
impulse, its tendency to sum up its doctrines in the formula

embodied in Saint Augustine’s saying: Love and do what you
like—all these things would certainly appeal to Madame de
Warens. In order to understand her attitude we may profit-
ably re-read the “Bekenntnisse einer schonen Seele” in

    Wilhelm Meister. Goethe has here very faithfully recorded
the inner life of a woman who fell under the influence of
Moravian pietism. Madame de Warens would also have
said, like the woman of the “beautiful soul,” “Nothing
appears to me in the form of a law; it is an impulse which
leads me; I follow my feelings and know as little of restraint
as of repentance.” But the “beautiful soul” added that the
impulse which led her always led her right, and that Madame
de Warens could scarcely have ventured to claim; the ele-
ments of her nature were less happily tempered. But the
reality of her pietism can scarcely be doubted; it remained
rudimentary, but it so genuinely harmonised with her own
temperament that it is probable she never realised how much
of it was due to the atmosphere which Magny had created
around her in youth. It would seem that she never mentioned
his name to Rousseau, yet the religious ideas she taught him
were those she had learnt from Magny. On the latter point
Rousseau’s evidence is clear. It is these German religious
influences, filtered first through Magny, and then through
Madame de Warens, which reappear in the “Vicaire Savo-
yard,” and so often elsewhere in Rousseau’s writings, as a
mighty force which was to sweep away the cold deism of that
age, and may indeed almost be said to have become in their later

transformations a part of the modern spirit.

    Francoise-Louise was rather spoilt by her aunts who
were charmed by her pretty face, her precociously alert intelli-
gence, and the independence which was from the first a note of
her character. She had an eager thirst for knowledge, hardly
satisfied by the modicum of instruction in which a girl’s
education consisted, and she gratified her desires by devouring
the medical and natural history books which had belonged to
her grandfather, a doctor. She thus acquired that taste for
chemistry and medicine which never forsook her, and later
induced her to urge Rousseau to become a doctor. For
housewifely duties, however, and for domestic economy, all
the efforts of her aunts and her step-mother could never impart
to her any aptitude, and there lay a chief source of the mis-
fortunes she was plunged into throughout life. She lived
mostly with the peasant girls of the neighbourhood; she thus
acquired, and retained, the love of being surrounded by
inferiors, a delight in their admiration and subservience.

    She was still only a child of fourteen at her marriage in
1713, to a soldier of good family, twelve years older than
herself, M. de Loys, who took the name of De Vuarens (more
commonly De Warens), after a village of which he had the
lordship. He was violently in love with his young wife. She
brought him a dot equal in modern money to something over
£7,000, and Magny was appointed her trustee, replacing the pre-
vious trustees who had disagreed over the marriage settlement.
The young couple settled at Vevey, whither many French

Huguenots had migrated after the Revocation of the Edict of
Nantes, and spent the autumns at Chailly,—in the centre of the
vine district which was part of the bride’s dot,—in order to
oversee the grape harvest. In the Nouvelle Heloise the petty
lordship of Vuarens is magnified into the barony of D’Etanges,
and little Chailly figures as the domain of Clarens.

    It is in 1715, when she was still but a girl of sixteen, that
Madame first steps into public life and reveals clearly her vivid
impetuous personality. By marriage she had lost her rights
of citizenship at Vevey, and her husband possessed no such
rights there; consequently she was unable to sell her wine in
the town, for that was a privilege reserved to legalised citizens.
She induced her husband to apply for these rights. But in the
meanwhile, without waiting for the results of the application,
—and probably without consulting her husband, whose con-
duct never failed in correctness,—she forthwith began to sell
her wine in the town. This little episode cannot be passed
over, because it is a revelation of the woman’s whole nature
throughout life. Her position in the town made the result
of the application certain, but her eager impetuosity could never
wait for events to ripen; her plans must always be carried out
at once, recklessly, even, if need be, unscrupulously. The
results, of course, were not usually happy. They were not so
on the present occasion. The town council felt called upon
to reprimand M. de Warens and to threaten more severe
measures. Young Madame’s pride was hurt, all the more so,
doubtless, because she was in the wrong, and feeling her social

position shaken, she agreed to an old wish of her husband to
settle at Lausanne,—persuading him, however, first to secure
the Vevey citizenship,—in the course of 1718. De Warens was
a native of Lausanne and was received with distinction. But
living proved expensive at Lausanne,—as, in Madame de
Warens’ experience, indeed, it proved everywhere,—and the
young wife persuaded her husband to secure further resources
from his father. This led to quarrels and unpleasantness, and
as Madame felt no attachment to Lausanne, they returned to
Vevey where the husband received a high official position,
and the wife distinguished herself by her generosity and

    At this point we have to consider a difficult and delicate
question which it is impossible to pass over. Rousseau
states definitely in the Confessions that young Madame de
Warens was seduced in Switzerland by a certain M. de Tavel,
who to effect his object had first persuaded her that morality
and modesty were merely conventions, and that she after-
wards, “it is said,” became the mistress of a Swiss minister,
one Perret. But M. de Montet and M. Mugnier, the two chief
authorities on Madame de Warens’ life, throw some doubt on
this statement. The question arises: How did Rousseau
know? In after years he went to Vevey and the neighbour-
hood; during his stay there he associated mainly with the
society that met in the parlours of small inns, and while such
gossip as he might hear there concerning a woman who had
abandoned both her husband and her religion, would certainly

be scandalous, it would certainly also be worthless. It is
known that even up to her final departure from Switzer-
land, Madame de Warens enjoyed the highest consideration,
and as a rigid puritanical inquisition then ruled at Vevey, this
could not possibly have been the case had anything been
publicly known of such episodes as Rousseau tells of, for in
that case she would have been called before the bar of the
Consistory. Her husband, in the end, had much fault to find,
—with her fondness for industrial enterprises, her extravagant
generosity, the vanity that led her into exaggeration and false-
hood, her independence and dislike of advice, her leaning to
pietism, the ease with which she made acquaintance with
people who flattered her, he even called her at last
“an accomplished comedian,” —but he never hinted that
he suspected her of infidelity. If, therefore, rumours of
immorality afterwards gathered around the name of the
apostate and fugitive, they could scarcely have proceeded from
any reliable source. We must fall back on the supposition
that Rousseau’s statements are founded on the confidences of
Madame de Warens herself. But here we have to remember
the unquestionable fact, clearly to be seen in the Confessions,
that, even with Rousseau, Madame de Warens was never
communicative regarding those matters in her personal life,
however remote, which might show her in an unfavourable
light. It must be added that neither De Tavel nor Perret
are unknown persons; the former was a colonel, an old friend of
De Warens, but very seldom at Vevey though a native of that

place; the latter was a clergyman, twenty-five years older than
Madame de Warens, and a man of high position and unspotted
reputation. It seems to me most reasonable to conclude that
Rousseau’s statements must be regarded as an effort of con-
structive imagination, founded on slight data which seemed to
him sufficient basis for an episode enabling him to explain
Madame de Warens’ character, but which, in the light of our
fuller knowledge to-day, cannot be unreservedly accepted. It
is probable enough that De Tavel on his visits to Vevey
brought a knowledge of the new revolutionary moral maxims
of Paris which the intelligent and inquisitive young woman
was interested to learn, and that eventually these maxims
mingled with the pietistic teaching of Magny—in a way that
venerable teacher would have been far from approving—to
prepare her for that indifference to conventional moral con-
siderations which her conduct subsequently showed. But
that De Tavel himself sought to teach and apply these maxims
may well have been an ingenious supposition by which
Rousseau sought to supplement the reticence of his informant.
Had De Tavel been the cynical libertine which Rousseau’s
statement implies, his intimate friend, De Warens, would
scarcely have regarded him as a fit associate for his wife. We
know that in several cases Rousseau has, on altogether
inadequate grounds, attributed acts of early misconduct to
other people, whom he highly esteemed, including the original
of the Vicaire Savoyard, and it must not unduly surprise us
that he has done so in the case of Madame de Warens. That

he himself was a little uncertain about his statement as to
De Tavel is suggested by the fact that he coupled it with the
quite wanton rumour about Perret. De Tavel has so often
served, even in the hands of the most serious historians, as a
stock example of the depravity of the eighteenth century, that
it is time to insist that the one episode by which his name
survives is quite probably a legend. Statements of the kind
which Rousseau attributes to De Tavel were often made
during the eighteenth century by philosophers in the seclusion
of their studies; one may be permitted to doubt whether they
ever proved dangerous even in the eighteenth century. “On
s’amuse de l’esprit d’un arrant,” remarks Madame de Lursay
in Crebillon’s Egarements du Coeur a few years later, “mais
ce n’est pas lui qui persuade: son trouble, le difficulté qu’il
trouve à s’exprimer, le désordre de ses discours, voilà ce qui le
rend à craindre!”

    We now reach the circumstances that led up to the central
episode in the life of Madame de Warens—her abandonment of
her home and her religion. In 1724 a young Frenchman, Elie
Laffon, the son of a refugee French Protestant minister, had
arrived at Vevey, and, in accordance with the industrial
traditions of the Huguenots, he proposed to start a manufactory
of silk stockings. Madame de Warens, who had once been
the pupil of Laffon’s sister, soon heard of the scheme and
entered into it with enthusiasm. She was, as we have seen,
attracted to business enterprises at a very early age, and she
remained so to the end, the ardour of her commercial scheming

being always rendered more acute by her continual lack of
money. Laffon needed assistance and capital, and without
asking the advice of her husband Madame engaged herself
to take control of the whole business. De Warens opposed
the scheme from the first, but his wife’s influence over him
was still great , she induced him, against his own better judg-
ment, to borrow money in all directions and to make many
sacrifices. It is needless to follow the history of the silk
stocking manufactory, now known in all its details; the issue
could not be doubtful. Madame had no business capacity,
and she even appropriated some of the money obtained for the
factory to her own personal uses , Laffon, who had equally
little business capacity, seems to have followed her example.
Things went from bad to worse, but Madame was too proud
to confess failure. At last the strain began to affect her nerves.
In 1725 she had to go across the lake to Aix-les-Bains for
treatment and distraction. It was a fateful visit. She felt, in
passing from Switzerland into Savoy, as even to-day we feel
to some degree,—though Gray’s letters show that this was by
no means a universal sentiment even at that time,—a delightful
sense of the contrast between the asperity of the one land and
its people and the larger and more cheerful atmosphere of the
other. Aix, as we learn from Casanova’s account of his stay
there, was then on a very humble scale what it has since
become on a more magnificent and cosmopolitan scale, a region
supremely well fitted to be the haunt of the pleasure-seeker
and the health-seeker, and Madame de Warens, with her ever

sanguine and volatile temperament, here soon recovered. She
met during her stay a certain Madame de Bonnevaux, a con-
nection of her husband, who belonged to Savoy and had
remained a Catholic; by her she was taken to Chambéry for
the first time, and Madame de Bonnevaux would not have
failed to make her realise how different was the tolerant
Catholicism of Savoy from the austere Calvinism of the Vaud
country. It is not necessary to suppose that at this moment
Madame de Warens formed her plans for flight,—if she had
done so her impetuous nature would have led her to put them
into execution at once,—but when she returned home she
certainly could not help knowing that a more delightful and
congenial land lay on the other side of the lake, and when the
stress of her life became too hard to bear that land appeared
to her as a harbour of refuge. She was not so much con-
verted to Catholicism as to the religion of Savoy, and her
husband doubtless felt this when in later years he used to
refer to his divorced wife as “la Savoyarde.” On reaching
Vevey she openly declared how charmed she was with Savoy,
and how disgusted with the Pays de Vaud. The almost
hopeless confusion into which she had plunged her affairs
furnished ample cause for such disgust. The strain of pretend-
ing to her husband and her acquaintances that all was going
well and nothing now needed but a little more capital became
more severe than ever. In the spring of 1726 she realised that
the crash was approaching. Her pride would still not allow
her to confess even to her husband, or to humiliate herself in

the public eye. She preferred a secret flight, —although that
placed her husband in a much worse financial position than if
she had stayed beside him,—and with a more or less certain
expectation of honours and pensions bestowed by the King of
Sardinia on distinguished converts to Catholicism she decided
to cross the lake for ever. Having persuaded a doctor that
she needed to visit the baths at Amphion in Savoy, she col-
lected together as much furniture, linen, and plate as possible,
together with the goods and money remaining at the manu-
factory, and had them conveyed to the boat; she always
carried so much luggage when she travelled that this excited
no attention. Her husband saw her off, one day in July, and
accompanied by a servant maid she crossed the lake and went
direct to Evian, where the King was then residing. At the
earliest possible moment, when the King was going to mass
with a few of his lords and Bishop Bernex of Annecy, she
seized the prelate’s cassock and falling on her knees said; “In
mantis tuas, Domine, commendo spirituum meum.” The
Bishop raised her up and after mass had a long conversation
with her in his rooms. This time her plans had come off.
She had left behind her Vevey and all its torturing worries,
her conversion was effected; she was treated with distinction
and was soon to receive a pension, while the Bishop was
warmly congratulated on the brilliant conquest he had made
for the Church.

    Easy as it may seem to account for this conversion on
merely prudential grounds, Madame de Warens was not

accustomed to be guided by prudential considerations, and we
know that the step she had taken cost her much anguish and
many sleepless nights. It was true that she had never been a
very convinced Calvinist, her most genuine religious beliefs,
though even these were very loosely held, were those of mystic
pietism. Her old friend Magny, came over to see her shortly
after her conversion, and declared on his return, to the astonish-
ment of everyone, that he was entirely at rest in regard to her
spiritual state; such a testimony is, at all events, to the
credit of her genuine religious belief and genuine sincerity.
Perhaps the remorse which she found it hard to stifle had
reference more to the husband she had abandoned than
to the religion she had exchanged. There had, indeed,
been no children of the union, though two children
had been adopted, but it could scarcely be said that
the marriage was altogether an unhappy one; the couple
had drifted apart simply because the husband, who having
begun by idolising his wife and allowing her to rule
his actions, was now realising the abyss into which her
impetuous recklessness, her vanity and her business inca-
pacity had plunged him; while she, on her side, had no real
sympathy with his strict, and, as it seemed to her, narrow
conceptions of honour and duty. Of conjugal infidelity there
was no question. It might seem that the clever and vivacious
fugitive was playing off her attractions on the King, but with
all her serious failings Madame de Warens was not an adven-
turess, and if it is still rather a mystery by what influence she

obtained a liberal pension from a not very generous monarch;
it cannot be suggested that the King was in love with her.

    Her husband paid her two visits in Savoy. At the first
visit, to Evian, immediately after her conversion, she refrained
from mentioning that episode. She asked him to send her
Bayle’s Dictionary, always a favourite book with her, and
with it his own English gold-headed cane to use when she
went out; these commissions he fulfilled. Once more he came
over to see her at the Convent of the Visitation at Annecy.
She received him in bed, he wrote, to hide her confusion, and
he was himself so overcome that at first he could not speak.
When he began to talk of the fatal step which, as he now
knew, she had taken, she pointed to a corner of the room, and
on raising the tapestry he saw a little cupboard with an open-
ing into the cloisters, and they spoke in whispers as they
amicably settled their affairs before parting for ever. He noted
with surprise, however, as he afterwards wrote, the slight
importance which she seemed to attach to the forms of religion,
the cavalier manner in which she treated him, her sudden
changes from sorrow to joy, her strange proposition that since
he was always tolerant in religious matters he too should
become a Catholic. They parted never to meet again. De
Warens returned to Vevey, and by his own skill and the
goodwill of his fellow citizens, slowly retrieved his financial
position; at one moment, indeed, fearing ruin, he fled to
England, and wrote from Islington to his brother a long letter,
detailing the history of his separation from his wife, which is,

after the Confessions, the most valuable document we possess
in the light it throws on Madame de Warens’ history and
character. Finding he could not obtain in England any posi-
tion suited to his rank he returned home, became tutor to a
prince, and finally retired to Lausanne where he died in 1754.
At the instigation of his family he had obtained a formal
divorce for “malicious desertion and abjuration of Protest-
antism,” but he never married again.

    When Madame de Warens settled in the delightful little
town of Annecy—in a house to the west of the present
episcopal residence, overlooking the Thion canal—she was
nearly twenty-seven years of age. She was, her husband
remarks, a woman of great intelligence, of much strength of
will, and a delightful companion. De Conzie, who first knew
her at this time, speaks of her charming laughter, her viva-
cious eyes, her intelligence, as giving an uncommon energy to
everything she said, while she was entirely without affectation
or insincerity. We know from Rousseau’s description that
she was rather short and plump, with blue eyes and light brown
hair. Various portraits have been supposed to represent her,
but the only one which has good claims to authenticity is a
miniature in the Salle des Ivoires of the Cluny Museum, sup-
posed to date from some twenty years later; it represents a
middle-aged woman in whom we can still detect some of the
traits attributed to Madame de Warens in early life.

    There is one point in regard to Madame de Warens’
temperament which is of the first importance in the light it

sheds on her life and actions, though so far it has attracted no
attention. De Warens mentions, briefly and incidentally,
without insistence, that his wife was hysterical (“sujette aux
vapeurs”). The fact is full of significance; it explains that
intelligent but too impetuous and ill-regulated activity which
marked her whole life; it gives us the clue to that thread of
slight mental anomaly and ill-balance which was fated to
plunge her into difficulties at every step. We are not entirely
dependent on her husband for our knowledge of this definite
constitutional peculiarity. Rousseau also, equally unsuspect-
ing the significance of his statement as an index of abnormal
nervous sensibility, mentions that at dinner she was so
overcome by the odour of the dishes, that she could seldom
begin till he had finished, when he would begin again to keep
her company. We have always to remember that, like
Rousseau himself, who was so irresistibly attracted to her,
Madame de Warens, though in slighter degree, was an organ-
ically abnormal person.

    We have seen that the evidence as to Madame de Warens’
infidelity to her husband rests on a very weak foundation and
may safely be rejected. The evidence regarding the divorced
wife is less doubtful. Very shortly after settling at Annecy
she was certainly living on intimate terms with her servant,
the faithful steward of her affairs, Claude Anet. Rousseau
has done full justice to the estimable and upright character of
this young man; except his extreme devotion to his mistress
no reproach has ever been cast on him. He was born at

Montreux, and belonged to a family which had long served
the La Tour family. At the period we have now reached he
was twenty-one years of age. It is highly probable that he
already cherished a passion for Madame at Vevey; he pre-
pared for his flight at the time that she was leaving; he left
Switzerland soon afterwards to join her, and with her he
abjured Protestantism. One is inclined at first to suspect
(with M. Mugnier) that we here have an elopement, but on
the whole the suspicion seems unnecessary. The financial ruin
which hung over Madame de Warens amply accounts for her
flight. It is clear that she gladly availed herself of Anet’s
devotion, and accepted his sacrifices at a moment when she
sorely needed them. But the reward, it may well have been,
came later, when she felt her loneliness in a foreign country,
when she knew that by the law of her own country though
not that of her new religion she was a divorced woman, and
when in close association with Claude Anet she learned to
feel for him a warmer emotion than that of gratitude. The
relationship remained a secret; Savoy was a freer country
than austere and inquisitorial Switzerland, but social feeling
would not have tolerated a lady whose steward was her lover.
It may be noted that the three men whom we know positively
to have been Madame de Warens’ lovers,—Anet, Rousseau, and
Wintzen were all Swiss Protestants who had abjured their reli-
gion; they were all younger than herself, and all of lower social
class. She never really changed under the influences of life; what
she was in early Youth she remained in age; in the mature

woman’s choice of her lovers we still see the little girl at Le
Basset who delighted to lord it over the peasant children
around her.

    Rousseau, an unpromising runaway youth of sixteen,
reached Annecy on Palm Sunday in 1728, and met Madame
de Warens as, with her stick in her hand—the gold-headed
cane, no doubt, that we know of—she was entering the church
of the Cordeliers. It was a memorable day in his life, a more
memorable day in hers than she was ever to know. As regards
the years that followed at Annecy, the earlier years at Cham-
béry, and the occupation of Les Charmettes, Rousseau’s
Confessions is the prime authority for Madame de Warens’
life, and the incomparable pages which he has devoted to these
years are on the whole so faithful that the story need not be
told again; no reader of the Confessions ever forgets them,
and when he visits the secluded valley of Les Charmettes
and enters the little house which scarcely seems changed since
Rousseau left it, he seems to be returning to a spot he had
known long before.

    In 1744, after Rousseau had finally left Savoy to settle in
Paris, the Spaniards had come to occupy Chambéry; Madame
de Warens for a time lost her pension, and with her usual
energy and skill in initiative she started a soap manufactory
and also, it appears, a chocolate manufactory, sending some of
both products as a present to Rousseau. At the same time
she began coal-mining and iron-mining operations, trying to
establish a company. But, as we know, she could never

carry through the schemes she was so clever in planning, and
these new enterprises went through all the same stages to ruin
as the silk stocking manufactory of twenty years earlier.
Rousseau, himself struggling with difficulties of all kinds, sent
her small sums from time to time. In 1754 she writes to him
reproachfully that she is in the state mentioned in the Imitation
wherein that fails us on which we have placed our chief hopes.
. “Malgré tout cela,” she concludes, “je suis et je serai toute ma
vie votre véritable bonne mère.” Less that a month later she
writes to the Court of Turin that she is “without bread and
without credit,” and solicits a loan from the King as her
pension is engaged by her industrial obligations. In the same
year, as Rousseau tells us, he came with Thérèse to see her
at Chambéry; he was afflicted at her condition, and made an
impracticable proposition that she could live with them in
Paris. Of her jewels but one ring was now left, and this she
wished to place on Thérèse’s hand. It was the last time
Rousseau ever saw her. In 1761 the Nouvelle Heloise appeared
and fascinated the attention of the world. By this time the
woman who was its real heroine was old, poor, forgotten;
some years before she had become a chronic invalid; we do
not know whether she ever read the famous novel she had
inspired, or even heard of its fame. The year afterwards she
died, and it was some months before Rousseau received the
news of her death in a letter from her friend, De Conzié; she
had left nothing behind her, wrote De Conzié, but the evidences
of her piety and her poverty. Sixteen years later, Rousseau

also died. The last words he ever wrote, the concluding lines
of his Reveries, were devoted to the memory of his first meet-
ing, exactly fifty years earlier, with the woman to whom
he owed those “four or five years wherein I enjoyed a century of
life and of pure and full happiness.”

    Madame de Warens has seemed to many who only knew
her through the Confessions, an enigma, almost a monstro-
sity. When all the facts of her life are before us, and we
have patiently reconstructed them—and, where we cannot
reconstruct, divined—we realise that little that is enigmatic
remains. She was simply a restless, impetuous, erring, and
suffering woman, of unusual intelligence, and somewhat
hysterical—less so than some women who have played a
noble part in practical affairs, than many women whom we
revere for their spiritual graces. Her life, when we understand
it, was the natural outcome of her special constitution in re-
action with circumstances. The explanation of the supposed
enigma becomes therefore an interesting psychological study.

    But Madame de Warens is something more than a mere
subject for psychological study such as we might more profit-
ably exercise nearer home. She is the only person who can
claim to be the teacher of the man who was himself the greatest
teacher of his century. When he went to her he was a vaga-
bond apprentice in whom none could see any good. She raised
him, succoured him, cherished him, surrounded him with her

conscious and unconscious influence; she was the only educa-
tion he ever received. When he left her he was no longer the
worthless apprentice of an engraver, but a supreme master of
all those arts which most powerfully evoke the ideals and
emotions of mankind. We seldom open Rousseau’s books
now; the immortal Confessions, and for some few readers
Emile, alone remain. Nevertheless Rousseau once moved the
world; when the curious critic takes up innumerable counters
from among our current sentiments and beliefs, and seeks to
decipher the effaced image and superscription it is the pupil of
Madame de Warens that he finds. She failed, it is true, to live
her own life nobly. But she has played a not ignoble part in
the life of the world, and it is time to render to her memory
our small tribute of reverence.

                                                               HAVELOCK ELLIS.

MLA citation:

Ellis, Havelock. “Madame de Warens.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 1, 1903, pp.136-157. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2021. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021,