Sunday, June 11, 2017


Mme. de Stael's De l'Allemagne ends with three short chapters, in all sixteen pages, on enthusiasm. They nearly exhausted mine, what I can manage on a Saturday afternoon at least. They seem to me to pursue quarrels that have died out or changed forms. Undoubtedly her circles in Paris were too much given to a way of thinking that had much to learn from the Germans of that day; but they and those Germans are gone. What she has to say about Kant, Fichte, and Goethe holds the interest still; the arguments with phantom antagonists do not.

A paragraph in the final chapter speaks of the uses of enthusiasm for national defense, and in a footnote she writes that she had England in mind. Now England, the land of the Mutiny Act and the press gangs, which is to say the small professional military, seems an odd choice. After a little looking, I found in Felix Markham's Napoleon some remarks by the Duke of Wellington:
As to the enthusiasm, about which so much noise has been made even in our own country, I am convinced the world has entirely mistaken its effects. I fancy that upon reflection, it will be discovered that what was deemed enthusiasm among the French, which enabled them successfully to resist all Europe at the commencement of the Revolution, was force acting through the medium of popular societies and assuming the name of enthusiasm, and that force, in a different shape, has completed the conquest of Europe and keeps the Continent in subjection.
(He wrote in October 1809, when Spanish enthusiasm didn't seem to be paying off much.) And Stendhal thought Wellington's Peninsular army the best that ever fought without enthusiasm.


  1. Is it possible the word "enthusiasm" had a slightly different meaning at the time?

  2. Yes, certainly. De Stael opposes it to an ethic based on prudent calculation of personal advantage. Her sense implies generosity and openness (at least) to self-sacrifice. The types of enthusiasm could be the scholar or poet, or the militiaman, whether of Valmy or of Wagram. Having said that, I think that she, Stendhal, and Wellington were using the same meaning.