1767 - 1830 (63 years)
Has 28 ancestors and 42 descendants in this family tree.
||Henri Benjamin Constant de Rebecque |
||25 Oct 1767
||Lausanne, Vaud, CH
||8 Dec 1830
||Paris, Île-de-France, Fr
||5 Apr 2013 |
- Baron de Constant Rebecque
After a good private education at Brussels, he was sent to Oxford, and thence to Eriangen; a subsequent residence at Edinburgh and the relations there formed with prominent Whigs profoundly influenced his political views. He returned to Switzerland in 1786, and in the next year visited Paris, where he met Madame de Charriere, a Dutchwoman who had married into a Swiss family with which his own was connected. Madame de Charriere, although twentyseven years older than Constant, became his mistress, and the lraison, an affair possibly more of the intellect than of the heart, lasted until 1796, when Constant became intimate with Madame de Stael. After an escapade in England in 1787 he spent two months with her at Colombier before becoming, in deference to his fathers wishes, chamberlain at the court of Charles William, duke of Brunswick, where in 1789 he married one of the ladies in waiting, Wilhelmina, Baroness Chramm. The dukes share in the coalition against France made his service incompatible with Constants political opinions, which were already definitely republican, and, on the dissolution of his marriage in 1794, he resigned his post.
Meanwhile his father had been accused of malversation of the funds of his regiment; Benjamin helped him with his defence, with the result that he was finally exonerated and restored to the service with the rank of general.
Constant, who had met Madame de Stael at Lausanne in 1794, followed her in the next year to Paris, where he rapidly became a personage in the moderate republican circle which met in her salon; and by 1796 he had established with her intimate relations, which, in spite of many storms, endured for ten years. In 1796 he published two pamphlets in defence of the Directory and against the counter-revolution, De la force du gouvernement actuel et de la ncessit de se rallier and Des reactions politiques. He was one of the promoters of the constitutional club of Salm, formed to counterbalance the royalist club of Clichy, and he supported Barras in 1797 and 1799 in the coups detat of I8 Fructidor, and of 18 Brumaire. In December 1799, he was nominated a member of the Tribunate, where he showed from the outset an independence quite unacceptable to Napoleon, by whom he was removed in the creaming of that assembly in 1802. His incessant opposition was attributed partly to his association with Madame de Stael, whose salon was a centre for those disaffected from the Napoleonic regime, and in 1803 he followed her into exile. After M. de Staels death in 1802, there was no longer any obstacle to their marriage, but Madame de Stael was apparently unwilling to change her name. Much of Constants time was spent with her at Coppet; but he also made long sojourns at Weimar, where he mixed in the GoetheSchiller circle, and accumulated material for the great work on religion which he had begun, so far back as 1787, at Colom bier. His relations with Madame de Stael became more and more difficult, and in 1808 he secretly married Charlotte von Hardenberg, whom he had known at Brunswick, and whose divorce from her second husband, General Dutertre, he had secured. Even his marriage, which did not prove a happy one, was insufficient to cause an entire breach with Corinne, who insisted on his return to Coppet for a short time. In 1811, while residing with his wifes relations at Hardenberg, near Gottingen, he was brought into contact with German mysticism, which considerably modified his earlier sceptical views on religion.
The Napoleonic reverses of 1813 brought him back to politics, and in November he published at Hanover his De lesprit de con qute et de lusurpation dans leurs rapports avec la civilisation curopenne, directed against Napoleon. He also entered into relations with the crown prince of Sweden (Bernadotte), who conferred on him the order of the Polar Star. On his return to Paris, during its occupation by the allied sovereigns, he was well received by the emperor Alexander I. of Russia, and resumed his old place in the Liberal salon of Madame de Stael. In a series of pamphlets he advocated the principles of a Liberal monarchy and the freedom of the press. At this point began the second great attachment of his life, his unfortunate infatuation for Madame Rcamier, under whose influence he committed the worst blunder of his political career. At the beginning of the Hundred Days he had violently asserted in the Journal des dbats his resolution not to be a political turncoat, and had left Paris. Attracted by Madame Rcamier, he soon returned, and after an interview with Napoleon on the 10th of April, he became a supporter of his government and drew up the Acte constitutionnel. The return of Louis XVIII. drove him into exile. In London in 1815 he published Adolphe, one of the earliest examples of the psychological novel. It had been written in 1807, and is intrinsically autobiographical; that Adoiphe represents Constant himself there is no dispute, but Ellnore probably owes something both to Madame de Charriere and Madame de Stael. In 1816 he was again in Paris, advocating Liberal constitutional principles. He founded in 1818 with other Liberal journalists the Minerve francaise and in 1820 La Renomme. In 1819 he was returned to the Chamber of Deputies, and proved so formidable an opponent that the government made a vain attempt to exclude him from the Chamber on the ground of his Swiss birth. Perhaps the greatest service he rendered to his party was his Consistent advocacy of the freedom of the press. At the outbreak of the revolution of 1830 he was absent from Paris, having undergone an operation, but he returned at the request of Lafayette to take his share in the elevation of Louis Philippe to the throne. On the 27th of August he was made president of the council of state, but he died on the 8th of December of the same year. During his later years he had been a cripple in consequence of a fall in the Chamber of Deputies, and he fought the last of his many duels sitting in a chair. After the death, in 1817, of Madame de Stael, whom he continued to visit daily until the end, he had ceased to go into society, giving himself up to his passion for play. To pay his gambling debts he accepted a gift of 200,000 francs from Louis Philippe, thus affording a ready handle to his enemies. The failure of his candidature for the Academy in 1830 is said to have been a shock to his enfeebled health.
Constants political career was spoiled by his liaison with Madame de Stael, and at the Restoration was further disturbed by his unreturned passion for Madame Rcamier. His defects as a debater were not compensated entirely by the excellence of his set speeches; but his wide culture and powerful intellect were bound to leave their mark on affairs. His political inconsistencies were more apparent than real, for there was no break in his advocacy of Liberal principles. His best writing is to be found in his journalism and correspondence (only a small part of which has been published), rather than in his more pretentious political pamphlets.
In the most important of his writings, Dc la religion considre dans sa source, ses formes, et ses dveloppements (5 vols., 1825 1831), he traces the successive transformations of the religious sentiment imperishable under its varying forms. Besides Adolphe, in its way as important as Chateaubriands Ren, he left two other sketches of novels in MS., which are apparently lost. His political tracts were collected by himself as, Collection corn plete des ouvrages publies sur . . . la France, formant une espce de cours de politique const-itutionnelle (~ vols., 1818-1820), as were his Discours a Ia Chambre des Dputs (2 vols., 1827).