Diary of a Woman at Fifty

Born in 1770 and married to the only surviving son of one of the greatest noble families in France, the Marquise de la Tour du Pin endured humiliation, emigration, and Terror during the first part of the revolutionary decade. Upon her return to France with her husband in 1796, she was shocked at the aristocratic style and open royalism of many powerful government figures.


A large number of émigrés came back under assumed names. Madame d'Hénin returned as a merchant of fashionwear from Geneva. Miss Vauthier had been set up at Madame Poix's in Saint-Ouen. Madame de Staël, under the protection of the Director [Paul] Barras, found herself in Paris along with many others.

Monsieur de Talleyrand asked us to come there, and urged my husband in particular to come. We started to speak of counterrevolution, in which everyone believed. The government had been established and the two assemblies, that of the Five-Hundred and that of the "Elders," included many royalists. Barras, the influential Director of whom the Duchess of Brancas had many nice things to say, had a salon where many royalists could be found. And, even though the other Directors did not seem disposed to follow their colleague's example. . . .

We finally arrived at the end of our journey. Madame de Valence happily received me, and Madame de Montesson, who had still not left for the country, welcomed me most graciously. In Paris, something that is a little different still attracts attention, so I was immediately a hit.

Getting down from my coach, since my husband and I had dined in Madame Valence's room, Monsieur de Talleyrand was announced. He was much relieved to see us, and after a moment said, "Alright Gouvernet, what do you plan on doing?" "Me," Monsieur de La Tour du Pin said, taken aback. "I'm only here to take care of some business." "Oh," said Monsieur de Talleyrand, "I thought . . . ." Then he changed the subject, and spoke of trivial matters. Addressing Madame de Valence a few moments later, he started to say with that nonchalant air that must be seen to be believed, "On that subject, you know that the ministry has changed personnel, the new ministers have been appointed." "Oh," she exclaimed, "and who are they?" Then, after a moment's hesitation, as if he had forgotten the names and was trying to remember, said "Ah, yes. Let's see: so-and-so at War, so-and-so at the Navy, so-and-so at Finance. . . ." And at the Foreign Ministry, I said . . . . "And at the Foreign Ministry? Well . . . me, no doubt!" Then, taking his hat, he left.

My husband and I looked at each other without surprise since nothing about Monsieur de Talleyrand could be surprising, except possibly if he were to do something in bad taste. He remained the eminently great lord, all the while serving a government made from the dregs of the dregs. The next day, we found him ensconced at the Foreign Ministry, as if he had been in the job for ten years. The intervention of Madame de Staël, all-powerful at that time thanks to Benjamin Constant, had made him a minister. He had arrived at her house and, throwing his purse which contained only several louis onto the table, told her, "Here's the remainder of my fortune. Tomorrow I'm a minister, or I'll take my own life!" None of those words were true, but it was dramatic, and Madame de Staël liked drama. Besides, the appointment was not difficult to obtain. The Directory, and above all Barras, were honored to have such a minister.

I will not recount the history of [the coup of] 18 Fructidor here. It can be read in all the memoirs of the times. The royalists had great hopes, and plots were woven in all directions. Many émigrés had returned. They wore rallying signs, all well-known by the police: the cape made of black velvet, a knot, I no longer remember what kind, at the corner of the handkerchief, etc. . . . And it was by these kinds of idiocies that we thought we could save France. Madame de Montesson came back from the countryside specifically to host a dinner for the deputies who favored our cause. Monsieur Brouquens, our great friend, was also one of the hosts of these dinners where we spoke with incredible carelessness. Every day my husband and I found ourselves with people we knew, and the unique nature of the life that I had led in America, and the desire I felt to return there, made me very popular for one month.

Source: Marquise de la Tour du Pin, Journal d'une femme de cinquante ans (1778–1815), 2 vols. (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1925), 2:138–45.