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Constant De Rebecque

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CONSTANT DE REBECQUE, Henri Benjamin, French politician and author: b. Lausanne, Switzerland, 25 Oct. 1767; d. Paris, 8 Dec. 1830. His mother died at his birth and his father was an officer in the military service of Holland. He was brought up at Brussels at the home of Mme. de Nassau; studied at Erlangen in Franconia, and later at Oxford and. Edinburgh where he met Mackin tosh and became familiar with the government of the British Isles which he admired very much_ Here he began his governmental studies in his paper (Essai historique sur les mceurs des temps heroiques de la Grece.' His ill health and general dissatisfaction with life caused him to leave England. He returned to Switzerland in 1786, where he remained but a short time, leaving for Paris in the following year. Here at the salon de Suard he met Mme. de Char riere, a woman of great mental powers, 27 years older than himself, with whom he formed a liaison which lasted for almost 10 years. A wild affair took hint to England for a brief visit. After his return he became chamberlain at the court of Charles William of Brun.swick. Here he married Mlle. Wilhelmine, Baroness of Chramm, a woman of little beauty but good intellect. His father became involved in politi cal difficulties. The matter was finally settled satisfactorily with Benjamin's assistance and his father was not only exonerated but made a gen eral. At this period Benjamin ventured on some new literary projects: 'Account of Corsica and Memoirs of Paoli) (1768), 'De la religion); he undertook a comparison of the customs of the Greeks with those of the Celts, Germans, Scotch and Scandinavians. After Brunswick's manifesto against France, he divorced his wife (1794) and returned to Lausanne. He now entered upon a period of political restlessness and personal entanglements which consumed his entire life. At Lausanne he met Mme. de Stael, for whom he conceived a violent passion, and followed her to Paris in 1795. In the republican circle of which she was the centre, he soon became an important figure. He was a staunch supporter of the Directory and of a moderate republicanism. The consistent factor in his political life was his desire to see France a well-governed state. In defense of this he published his first political pamphlet, (De la force du gouvernement,) in which he sought to induce all of the parties of the Directory to rally against the Counter-Revolution. This essay in volved him in a duel with Bertin de Veaux,— one of a series of such encounters. In 1793 his title as a citizen had been contested on the ground of his Swiss birth, but his election as president of the canton of Luzarches and the reunion of Geneva and France in 1799 suppressed the ques tion. About this time he formed the consti tutional club of Salm, named after the hotel where it held its seances. It was formed to oppose the Royalist faction at the club of Clichy. In attempting to find a working middle ground, he joined forces with Barras and Tal leyrand against Carnot and Barthelemy—a move which he regretted later. In 1799 he was made member of the Tribunate where he was attacked violently for his republican sentiments, which alienated the trust of Napoleon, and in 1802 he was finally eliminated. Mme. de StaC1 was held accountable for his republicanism, and she was also banished. Constant followed her to Germany, where her salon again became re nowned at Coppet. He spent much time also at

Weimar, where he became steeped in the religious and literary opinions of Schiller, Wieland, Schlegel, Miiller and Goethe. He re turned to Coppet in 1805; contracted a short liaison with Mme. Lindsay and eventually be came married secretly to Charlotte de Harden berg in 1808. At this time he produced a tragic poem, (‘Vallenstein,' after the manner of Schiller's trilogy. At Hardenberg he lived for a time with his wife's parents, where he worked on his book on religion. tlere he was influenced by the spiritual mysticism of Herder, Cremer, Schleiermacher and Heeren, and his sceptical philosophy was lost. His father died in 1812. Constant continued his studies and published several political pamphlets attacking imperialism. At Hanover, he received a visit from the crown prince of Sweden who con ferred on him the Royal Star. After the ab dication of Fontainebleau he returned to Paris and at the salon of Mme. de Stael once more became an ardent publicist in behalf of liberal principles and freedom of the press. A series of pamphlets set forth his views on these sub jects. During the One Hundred Days his po litical policy was decidedly weak. The return to Paris of Napoleon caused him to flee for a short time, but he soon returned, doubtless be cause of his unrequited passion for the famous beauty, Mme. Recamier, and had an interview with Napoleon who appointed him a Coun cillor of State. After Waterloo and the return of Louis XVIII he went to England, where he published (Adolphe,) the first psychological ro mance. It is largely autobiographical. Mme. de Charriere and Mme. de Stael are the prototypes of the heroine. In 1816 he returned to Paris, where he founded two liberal journals in which he renewed his advocacy of freedom of the press and liberal constitutionalism. In 1819 he was re-elected to the Chamber of Deputies; and again in 1824 and 1827. Although ill and crip pled, he took part in the coronation of Louis Philippe, and on 27 August was made president of the Chamber of Deputies. His position was weakened by the acceptance of 200,000 francs from the king for the payment of his gambling debts which he had accrued when the death of Mme. de Stael in 1817 had caused him to withdraw almost entirely from society. In 1830 he was presented to the Royal Academy, but was rejected. Constant's egoism and his amours prevented his political ability from reaching its highest point. His greatest contribution to his party lay in his persistent fight for the freedom of the press. He was a poor debater, but the brilliant forcefulness of his philippics minimized that fault. His speeches are collected in (Dis cours) (2 vols., 1828) ; his essays on govern ment in (Cours de politique constitutionelle) (4 vols., 1817-20). His book on religion, (De la religion consideree dans sa source, ses formes, et ses developpements) (5 vols., 1825, 1831), is generally considered his best work. Consult Sainte-Reuve, (Nouveaux lundis) (Vol. I, Paris 1863), and (Portraits litteraires) (Vol. III, ib. 1864) ; Constant's own (Cahier Rouge,' which contains his autobiography from 1767-87 (1907), and (Journal intime) (1804— 16, re-edited with (Lettres sa famille,) by D. Melegari, 1895) ; his letters to Mme. de Charriere and Mme. Recamier, edited by Mme. Lenormant (1882) ; Rudler, G., (La jeunesse de Benjamin Constant) (1900) ; and (Bibli ographie critique) (1909).