Caroline’s Review of Michel Paul Guy de Chabanon

Caroline’s review of Michel Paul Guy de Chabanon.

Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1797) 42 (Tuesday, 7 February 1797) 335–36:

Leipzig, in der Wolfischen Buchhandlung: Meine Liebschaften. Ein nachgelassenes Werk by Chabanon, edited by Saint-Ange. Translated from the French. 1797. VIII and 205 pages. 8vo. (12 gr.). [Original French: Tableau de quelques circonstances de ma vie: Précis de ma liaison avec mon frère Maugris, ouvrages posthumes de Chabanon, ed. Ange François Farian Saint-Ange (Paris 1795).]


An extremely smooth and skillful translation of the amours du Chabanon that forfeits nothing of the naïvité of the original. It is prefaced by a fleeting comparison between the two quite different friends Chamfort and Chabanon, one we would like to augment briefly by remarking that the first was a man, the second a good child, and both authentic Frenchmen.

Chabanon’s narrative is delivered in a fashion as pleasing as it is unadorned, and one would not doubt its historical veracity even were he to give no special assurances in that regard. As it is, however, he places so much emphasis on this particular circumstance that he recognizes no other truth than that of history, and indeed seems to possess hardly any conception of the truth and inner necessity that can obtain in any piece of fiction, and can even bestow on it the highest element of morality and instruction of historical truth, or indeed expand the latter in a certain sense.

The academician has quite forgotten that Aristotle already attributed a higher seriousness and dignity to poesy than even to history insofar as the latter teaches merely the particular, the former the universal. His own sincere heart was perhaps the source of the opinion he presupposes here, and to that extent it, too, constitutes part of his confessions, which, given that opinion, he was far more adept at writing than he would have been at producing any work of art of the poetic imagination in this genre.

His conscientiousness and loving inclinations come to expression quite early indeed, the latter as innocently as the former strangely; to wit, in a concert he once stopped up his ears with paper because he intuited sin in the sublime enjoyment the music gave him. But he had stuffed the paper so assiduously into his ears that he experienced the most excruciating pain when pulling it out, suffering then from deafness long afterward.

His earliest love was the “little Lord Jesus,” as he caressingly called him. Activity and purity of sensibility guarded him against any more earthly love affairs until his twenty-seventh year. Such was of little help to him in Paris. Though he himself did not become the kind of man who would corrupt a woman or cultivate a coquette, he did fall into the snares of precisely such a woman, one who for five long years abused his own femininely delicate sensibility, one inclined to loyalty to the point of unconditional surrender, merely to torment him before bidding him a shameless, vile farewell.

His second lover made him unhappy through her childish moods. He provides a quite nice description of the domestic circumstances amid which he found this woman at their initial acquaintance, a woman who initially arouses stronger interest than she in fact merits. The third incident offers nothing particularly attractive for the heart, and the only noteworthy thing about it is that Chabanon himself took it so seriously.

In his portrayal of the tender friendship between himself and one of his brothers, a portrayal constituting the second half of the book, the half not mentioned in the subtitle [as in the original], he in fact comes across much more amiably than when he allows himself to be blinded more through shameless importunity and dissimulation than through his own passion. That the needs of the intellect play a greater role in this fraternal love also gives it a more manly bearing. The rare untainted disposition shining through everywhere here earns for these otherwise not particularly richly endowed autobiographical fragments a place in the history of the human heart.

Translation © 2012 Doug Stott