Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Juniper Hall - Pen portraits of the émigrés

Something of the life of the French exiles at Juniper Hall can be traced through the diaries and correspondance of Fanny Burney. The Burney family became intimately involved with the French émigrés.  Norbury Park, the grandest house in the vicinity was owned by  a family friend, William Lock,  a great patron of the arts, who had entertained Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Lawrence.  Fanny's married sister Susanna  Phillips  lived about three-quarters of a mile from Juniper Hall in the village of Mickleham.   In September 1792 Susanna wrote to Fanny with news of the recent arrivals:  "We shall shortly, I believe, have a little colony of unfortunate (or rather fortunate, since here they are safe) French noblesse in our neighbourhood."  She reported that Jenkinson had leased Juniper Hall.  The cottage at Westhamble was rented to Madame de Broglie, who had made a  fourteen-hour Channel crossing in open boat with her small son.  The owners were at first reluctant to let the property since they feared that "French papishes" would never pay the rent (Lock had been prepared to act as guarantor) [Diary and letters, p.16]

Norbury Park.  Engraving after J.P.Neale, 1829.

Susanna and her husband, Captain Molesworth Phillips - who had been present at the death of Cook -  were sympathetic towards Narbonne and the Constitutionalist cause; since Susanna spoke French, she soon became a regular visitor.

First encounters

 Susanna Phillips (née Burney)
  By Edward Francisco Burney
National Portrait Gallery
In November 1792, Susanna went to call on her new neighbours for the first time: "Mrs. Lock had been so kind as to pave the way for my introduction to Madame de la Chàtre, and carried me on Friday to Juniper Hall"   She was favourably impressed, though slightly put out that the exiles had not yet breakfasted. The party at this time  consisted of  the duc de  Montmorency, Louis de Narbonne, the comtesse de la Châtre and her lover Jaucourt.  (Madame de Staël did not join them until December, after the birth of her son in Geneva)

Susanna first introduces Montmorency who had led the patriotic abolition of titles in the Assembly on 4th August 1789. She then moves on to the comtesse de la Châtre, who had received her guests with great politeness. "She is about thirty-three; an elegant figure, not pretty, but with an animated and expressive countenance; very well read, pleine d’esprit, and, I think, very lively and charming".   As to Narbonne: "He seems forty, rather fat, but would be handsome were it not for a slight cast of one eye".  A new arrival is Alexandre d'Arblay,  former aide-de-camp for Lafayette, and Fanny Burney's future husband:  a "true militaire, franc et loyal" [Diary and letters, p.28]

D'Arblay later visited the Phillips's house, where he plays affably with their son, and talked about Lafayette and his great friend Narbonne.  A few days later Narbonne himself called, bringing two volumes of Marmontel's newly published Contes moraux.  In "very depressed spirits", he explained how he had been obliged to resign as Minister of War due to the obstruction of the Jacobins and  the instability of the King, "for whom he nevertheless professes a sincere personal attachment: Louis, Narbonne remarked, "had no faith in himself and in consequence distrusted everyone else".

The comtesse de la Châtre, painted in  1789 by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun
Metropolitan Museum
Here is another  letter from Susanna, dated 27 November 1792, which conveys well the slightly effusive banter affected by these grand French aristocrats in straited circumstances.

Phillips and I determined at about half-past one to walk to Junipère together.
M. d’Arblay received us at the door, and showed the most flattering degree of pleasure at our arrival. We found with Madame de la Châtre another French gentleman, M. Sicard, who was also an officer of M. de Lafayette’s.

M. de Narbonne said he hoped we would be sociable, and dine with them now and then.  Madame de la Chàtre made a speech to the same effect, “Et quel jour, par exemple,” said M. de Narbonne, “feroit mieux qu’aujourd’hui?”  Madame de la Châtre took my hand instantly, to press in the most pleasing and gratifying manner imaginable this proposal; and before I had time to answer, M. d’Arblay, snatching up his hat, declared he would run and fetch the children.

I was obliged to entreat Phillips to bring him back, and entreated him to entendre raison. . . . I pleaded their late hour of dinner, our having no carriage, and my disuse to the night air at this time of the year; but M. de Narbonne said their cabriolet (they have no other carriage) should take us home, and that there was a top to it, and Madame de la Châtre declared she would cover me well with shawls, etc. . . .

Then my dress: Oh, it was parfaite, and would give them all the courage to remain as they were, sans toilette: in short, nothing was omitted to render us comfortable and at our ease, and I have seldom passed a more pleasant day.....(Diary and letters, p.34-5)

On another day d'Arblay called at the cottage in Mickleham, and scolded Susanna for tidying away her husbands scattered clothing."I'll put on airs too - I won't come and see you any more except in white silk stockings -I've only got three pairs - in consequence I won't be able to come very often!"  Mrs Phillips remarks that he will force her to mind him no more than her brother James, who lived in the village.

Financial hardships

The rent for Juniper House was provided by Madame de Staël, who sent money orders to Narbonne under an assumed name.  The other exiles were largely
 destitute. Madame de Châtre explained to Susanna, that her (estranged) émigré husband had made over his fortune to her but she was unable to access it.  D'Arblay talked arily of his lost fortune:  "something immense, but I never remember the number of hundred thousand livres"(Diary and letters, p.34)..  In October 1792 the Convention declared all émigrés outlaws and began the sequestration of their property.  The English tutor Mr Clarke confided that the group had been reduced to nothing:  "All they can hope is, by the help of their parents and friends, to get together the wherewithal to purchase a cottage in America and live as they can. "(Diary and letters, p.34).  Jaucourt joked that he might be exempted by developing a vocation as a artist cook.

Following the proscription, several of the party elected to return to France within the  three-month period of grace: first Matthieu de Montmorency;  then the princesse de Broglie and comtesse de Châtre, with her lover Jaucourt left Juniper Hall to take refuge in Boulogne.  There was a moment of drama on 21st December 1792 when the comte de Châtre suddenly arrived at Norbury Park, on the very evening of his wife's departure.  The comte himself, who had also lost all his luggage, took the setback with good humour: "Now we can all starve merrily together".  Narbonne assured him gravely that he still had a few bottles of wine left and that, whilst he stayed with him, he should not be reduced to drinking beer. (Diary and letters, p.38-41)

Political events

The French exiles waited impotently for news of events in France. Susanna Phillips has only a few political comments.  She recalls a visit from the marquis de Girardin: 
Speaking of the hard-bought liberty his country had gained, "Bah!" cried M. Girardin, "can that be called liberty?"  "But they will have it," said M. de Jaucourt, energetically, "and what vexes me most is, that they will not allow me to say any good of it;  they have ruined the cause." " (Diary and letters, p.34;Kelly, p.25)

As the King's trial progressed,  the mood at Juniper Hall darkened.  Narbonne sought in vain to obtain a safe conduct in order to testify.  His despair moved Mrs Phillips who recounts his reading aloud from Necker's Défense du Roi, with much emotion.

FANNY BURNEY herself met the exiles for the first time in January 1793, on a visit to Norbury Park.  The news of Louis XVI's execution had just reached England where it struck like a thunderbolt: theatres were closed;  the Court and Parliament went into mourning.  On 8 January 1793 in England the Aliens Bill passed into law which required all French citizens to register as aliens.  According to Fanny Burney: "All the Constituents are now reviled as authors and originators of the misfortunes of France, from their arrogant self-sufficiency in their powers to stop, as well as begin, when they pleased."  She found the occupants of Juniper Hall in a state of consternation.   Her first letters are full of their shock and horror.  Thus on January 28th she wrote to  Dr Burney of Narbonne and d'Arblay's anguish:  "though two of the most accomplished and elegant men I ever saw, they break our hearts with the humilitation they fell for their guiltless BIRTH in that guilty country"  

First impressions of Madame de Staël

Madame de Staël left Geneva to join her lover Narbonne and the other exiles just before Christmas 1792 after birth of her son on 20th November.  She had left her parents' home in Geneva clandestinely and was escorted to Boulogne by Montmorency, arriving in England in the midst of the crisis surrounding the King's trial.  As the daughter of Necker, she  was already a hated and notorious figure among royalist émigrés. She was to stay for four months.

Here are Fanny Burney's first impressions (written to Dr Burney, 23rd February 1793); it is worth remembering that Madame de Staël  was still only twenty-six years old at this time:  "She is a woman of the first abilities, I think, I have ever seen; she is more in the style of Mrs. Thrale [her friend Hester Thrale/ later Piozzi, a well-known literary socialite]  than of any other celebrated character, but she has infinitely more depth, and seems an even profound politician and metaphysician." Fanny goes on to describe to her father Madame de Staël 's heroic conduct in saving Narbonne and other friends in the days preceding the September Massacres.   From her account, Fanny is able to give further moving details of the King's last moments: the little dauphin's pathetic plea to be allowed to beg for his father's life before the National Convention, the despairing shrieks of the royal  family, as Louis was taken from the Temple, the famous final words of the abbé Edgeworth,  "Fils de saint Louis, montez au ciel!"

Looking back later, Fanny again (slightly naively) took up the comparison with Mrs Thrale:

Mrs. Piozzi compared with Madame de Stael.
She had a great deal both of good and not good, in common with Madame de Stael Holstein. They had the same sort of highly superior intellect, the same depth of learning, the same general acquaintance with science, the same ardent love of literature, the same thirst for universal knowledge, and the same buoyant animal spirits, such as neither sickness, sorrow, nor even terror, could subdue. Their conversation was equally luminous, from the sources of their own fertile minds, and from their splendid acquisitions from the works and acquirements of others. Both were zealous to serve, liberal to bestow, and graceful to oblige; and both were truly high-minded in prizing and praising whatever was admirable that came in their way.

Neither of them was delicate nor polished, though each was flattering and caressing; but both had a fund inexhaustible of good humour, and of sportive gaiety, that made their intercourse with those they wished to please attractive, instructive, and delightful and though not either of them had the smallest real malevolence in their compositions, neither of them could ever withstand the pleasure of uttering a repartee, let it wound whom it might, even though each would serve the very person they goaded with all the means in their power. Both were kind, charitable, and munificent, and therefore beloved; both were sarcastic, careless, and daring, and therefore feared. The morality of Madame de Stael was by far the most faulty, but so was the society to which she belonged so were the general manners of those by whom she was encircled.

For a full set of English impressions of the new arrival, see Chapter 12 of Constance Hill's Juniper Hall:

"Conference de Madame de Staël" A gathering at Coppet c.1800
Engraving by Philibert-Louis Debucourt
Despite the circumstances, Madame de Staël's arrival was a breath of new life. Like a magnet, her presence drew company to Juniper Hall:  Beaumetz, Malouet, the Lameth brothers.  Talleyrand arrived from London on an extended visit.  Fanny's political prejudices were soon melted by the wit and grace of conversation.  Of Narbonne, she wrote to her father, "You could not keep your Heart from him if you saw him for only half an hour".  Talleyrand she approached with more mistrust, despite Madame de Staël's assurance that he was "the best of men".  She soon reported that both she and Susanna had been won over:  "His powers of entertainment are astonishing,both in information and in raillery".(Diary and letters, p.50-51)

d'Arblay.  Hill, Juniper Hall, p.53
At this time Fanny began to develop an emotional attachment to d'Arblay, under watchful eye of Madame de Staël, who admired her novels and appreciated the benign influence she was able to exercise. The older women, she wrote, had taken a fancy to her as a fellow writer and "bluestocking" (Kelly, p.36).  As to Fanny and her sister, she wrote to her father: "There can be nothing imagined more charming, more fascinating than this colony...Between their Sufferings & their agrémens they occupy us almost wholly"..(Diary and letters, p.50)

Last glimpses of the colony

With the absence from Dorking of the Locks and Captain Phillips in February 1793, Fanny and Susanna were able for a time to enjoy the society at Juniper Hall.   But the scandal of Madame de Staël's relationship with Narbonne soon reached ears of Dr Burney, who advised his daughter against keeping company with the  émigrés .  Fanny was shocked, and   informed her father  that  Madame de Staël loved the handsome Narbonne with affection as though they were "two men". With Talleyrand and Montmorency also in residence, the exiles lived together  in "pure, but exalted & most elegant, friendship."  Later she came to know better.

On 31st January France declared war on Britain and Holland.  The inhabitants of Juniper Hall lay  low;  "I'm stiflling with good behaviour" wrote Madame de Staël to Edward Gibbon.  Fanny was more sternly warned off by a family friend, James Hutton.  On her return to London in February, she found that malicious rumours were indeed rife. She even sought an audience with the Queen at which she promised to break off relations.  Madame de Staël was puzzled and hurt by the new coldness of her friend, but d'Arblay sprang to her  defence.  His correspondance at this time marks the start of their relationship, which ended in their marriage four months later on 28th July 1793. By this time Madame de Staël had already England.  Narbonne stayed on at Juniper Hall for a few more weeks until the lease ran out at the beginning of September, then remained with the Phillips until June 1794, when he was expelled from England and sought refuge in Switzerland.  The new tenants at Juniper Hal were the royal family's doctor Sir Lucas Pepys and his family.


The Diary and letters of Madame d'Arblay (Frances Burney), with notes by R.C. Ward.  Vol.3 (1792-1840), 1891


Constance Hill, Juniper Hall, a rendezvous of certain illustrious personages during the French Revolution (John Lane, 1904)

Linda Kelly, Juniper Hall: an English refuge from the French Revolution (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991)

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