A Passion For Democracy - Benjamin Constant by Tzvetan Todorov

By Tzvetan Todorov

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He accompanied her to Germany in 1803-1804, where he became acquainted with Goethe, Schiller, Wieland and the Schlegel brothers. He married Charlotte von Hardenberg, a German whom he had known at Brunswick, in 1808, but decided to leave Mme. de Staël once and for all only in 1811. After that date he settled with Charlotte in Germany, where he stayed until 1814, when the defeat of Napoleon enabled him to return to Paris. During this period, 1802-1814, Constant lived as an exile and he was often quite unhappy.

The difficulty here lies in the multiplicity of registers and fields in which Constant practiced. Even without searching for common themes everywhere, can one affirm that the coexistence of these various works makes sense? It is the ambition of this essay to answer that question; not to propose a new biography, to analyze in detail such and such work nor, finally, to register Constant’s thought in its historical context; but only to embrace in one single view the whole of Constant’s activities, to try to reveal the overall schema.

In 1793, he separated from his wife and moved back to Switzerland where, in 1794, he met Germaine de Staël, née Necker, wife of the Swedish ambassador in Paris but living apart from him, and who had already published several works of note. Thus ends the first period of Constant’s life, marked by great emotional chaos and by equally confused studies (which, nonetheless, reveal the youth’s early intellectual maturity), and especially by a sharp curiosity about the political and literary world. Meeting Mme.

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