Madame de Stael Biography and Quotes

French Intellectual and Salon Hostess, Figure Around the French Revolution

Portrait of Madame de Stael
Portrait of Madame de Stael, drawn by J. Champagne, early 1800s. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Madame de Stael was one of the best-known "women of history" to writers in the 19th century, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, who often quoted her, though she is not nearly so well known today.   She was famous for her salons (intellectual gatherings).  She fled to Switzerland during the French Revolution, though she had at first been in sympathy. After her return to France, she found herself in conflict with Napoleon after criticizing him.


Madame de Staël, born April 22, 1766, was the well-educated daughter of a Swiss banker who was a financial advisor to King Louis XVI and a Swiss-French mother.

Germaine Necker was married in 1786 in an arranged and loveless match, ending with a legal separation in 1797. Madame de Stael had two children with her husband, another with a lover, and another born just before she secretly married the father, an army officer who was 23 to her 44.

Madame de Stael is known for her own salon, for her support of the French Revolution and eventually for the more moderate elements in that, and for her criticisms of Napoleon Bonaparte, who drove her from France knowing that her influence was great.

She died on Bastille Day, July 14, 1817.

Madame de Stael was one of the best-known "women of history" to writers in the 19th century, who often quoted her, though she is not nearly so well known today.

Selected Madame de Stael Quotations

• Wit lies in recognizing the resemblance among things which differ and the difference between things which are alike.

• I learn life from the poets.

• O Earth! all bathed with blood and years, yet never / Hast thou ceased putting forth thy fruit and flowers.

• Society develops wit, but its contemplation alone forms genius.

• The human mind always makes progress, but it is a progress in spirals.

• L'esprit humain fait progres toujours, mais c'est progres en spirale

• Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.

• Far from being reassured, the more I saw of Napoleon Bonaparte, the more alarmed I became .... [H]e is a man without emotions....

• Everything is controlled by one man, and no person can take a step, or form a wish, without him. Not only liberty but free will seems banished from the earth. [after Napoleon banned her book On Germany]

• If it were not for respect for human opinions, I would not open my window to see the Bay of Naples for the first time, whilst I would go five hundred leagues to talk with a man of genius whom I had not seen.

• Genius is essentially creative; it bears the stamp of the individual who possesses it.

• Courage of soul is necessary for the triumphs of genius.

• One must chose in life between boredom and suffering.

• Innocence in genius, and candor in power, are both noble qualities.

• Scientific progress makes moral progress a necessity; for if man's power is increased, the checks that restrain him from abusing it must be strengthened.

• Enthusiasm gives life to what is invisible; and interest to what has no immediate action on our comfort in this world.

• The sense of this word among the Greeks affords the noblest definition of it; enthusiasm signifies God in us.

• Conscience is doubtless sufficient to conduct the coldest character into the road of virtue; but enthusiasm is to conscience what honor is to duty; there is in us a superfluity of soul, which it is sweet to consecrate to the beautiful when the good has been accomplished.

• The voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle it; but it is also so clear that it is impossible to mistake it.

• Politeness is the art of choosing among your thoughts.

• The more I see of men the more I like dogs.

• A man must know how to fly in the face of opinion; a woman to submit to it.

• The desire of the man is for the woman, but the desire of the woman is for the desire of the man.

• Men err from selfishness; women because they are weak.

• When women oppose themselves to the projects and ambition of men, they excite their lively resentment; if in their youth they meddle with political intrigues, their modesty must suffer.

• Glory can be for a woman but the brilliant mourning of happiness.

• The egotism of woman is always for two.

• Love is the whole history of a woman's life, it is but an episode in a man's.

• There are women vain of advantages not connected with their persons, such as birth, rank, and fortune; it is difficult to feel less the dignity of the sex. The origin of all women may be called celestial, for their power is the offspring of the gifts of Nature; by yielding to pride and ambition they soon destroy the magic of their charms.

• Love is the emblem of eternity; it confounds all notion of time; effaces all memory of a beginning, all fear of an end.

• In matters of the heart, nothing is true except the improbable.

• We cease loving ourselves if no one loves us.

• Sow good services: sweet remembrances will grow them.

• Speech happens to not be his language.

• The greatest happiness is to transform one's feelings into action.

• Be happy, but be so by piety.

• The mystery of existence is the connection between our faults and our misfortunes.

• As we grow in wisdom, we pardon more freely.

• To live beneath sorrow, one must yield to it.

• When we destroy an old prejudice, we have need of a new virtue.

• Gaiety pleases more when we are assured that it does not cover carelessness.

• Frivolity, under whatever form it appears, takes from attention its strength, from thought its originality, from feeling its earnestness.

• The education of life perfects the thinking mind, but depraves the frivolous.

• A religious life is a struggle and not a hymn.

• The language of religion can alone suit every situation and every mode of feeling.

• Prayer is more than meditation. In meditation, the source of strength is one's self. When one prays, he goes to a source of strength greater than his own.

• To pray together, in whatever tongue or ritual, is the most tender brotherhood of hope and sympathy that men can contract in this life.

• The soul is a fire that darts its rays through all the senses; it is in this fire that existence consists; all the observations and all the efforts of philosophers ought to turn towards this Me, the centre and moving power of our sentiments and our ideas.

• Have you not observed that faith is generally strongest in those whose character may be called the weakest?

• Superstition is related to this life, religion to the next; superstition is allied to fatality, religion to virtue; it is by the vivacity of earthly desires that we become superstitious; it is. on the contrary, by the sacrifice of these desires that we become religious.

• When at eve, at the bounding of the landscape, the heavens appear to recline so slowly on the earth, imagination pictures beyond the horizon an asylum of hope -- a native land of love; and nature seems silently to repeat that man is immortal.

• Divine wisdom, intending to detain us some time on earth, has done well to cover with a veil the prospect of life to come; for if our sight could clearly distinguish the opposite bank, who would remain on this tempestuous coast?

• When a noble life has prepared old age, it is not decline that it reveals, but the first days of immortality.

• It is difficult to grow old gracefully.

• However old a conjugal union, it still garners some sweetness. Winter has some cloudless days, and under the snow a few flowers still bloom.

• We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love.

• How true it is that, sooner or later, the most rebellious must bow beneath the yoke of misfortune!

• Men have made of fortune an all-powerful goddess, in order that she may be made responsible for all their blunder's.

• Life often seems like a long shipwreck, of which the debris are friendship, glory, and love; the shores of existence are strewn with them.

• I see that time divided is never long, and that regularity abridges all things.

• Doubtless the human face is the grandest of all mysteries; yet fixed on canvas it can hardly tell of more than one sensation; no struggle, no successive contrasts accessible to dramatic art, can painting give, as neither time nor motion exists for her.

• The face of a woman, whatever be the force or extent of her mind, whatever be the importance of the object she pursues, is always an obstacle or a reason in the story of her life.

• Good taste cannot supply the place of genius in literature, for the best proof of taste, when there is no genius, would be, not to write at all.

• Architecture is frozen music!

• Music revives the recollections it would appease.

• Truth and, by consequence, liberty, will always be the chief power of honest men.

• When once enthusiasm has been turned into ridicule, everything is undone except money and power.

• Where no interest is takes in science, literature and liberal pursuits, mere facts and insignificant criticisms necessarily become the themes of discourse; and minds, strangers alike to activity and meditation, become so limited as to render all intercourse with them at once tasteless and oppressive.

• Whatever is natural admits of variety.

• And all the bustle of departure -- sometimes sad, sometimes intoxicating--just as fear or hope may be inspired by the new chances of coming destiny.

• The only equitable manner in my opinion, of judging the character of a man is to examine if there are personal calculations in his conduct; if there are not, we may blame his manner of judging, but we are not the less bound to esteem him.

• The most careful reasoning characters are very often the most easily abashed.

• To be totally understanding makes one very indulgent.

• [O]ld and free England should be inspired with admiration by the progress of America.

• Napoleon Bonaparte, about Madame de Stael: "They say that she does not speak of politics or me; but how does it happen that all who speak to her come to like me less?"

• About her, after Napoleon fell: "There are only three powers left in Europe -- Russia, England, and Madame de Staël."

Also known as: Germaine de Staël, Germaine Necker, and Anne-Louise-Germaine de Staël-Holstein


About These Quotes

Quote collection assembled by Jone Johnson Lewis. Each quotation page in this collection and the entire collection © Jone Johnson Lewis. This is an informal collection assembled over many years. I regret that I am not able to provide the original source if it is not listed with the quote.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Madame de Stael Biography and Quotes." ThoughtCo, Sep. 23, 2021, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2021, September 23). Madame de Stael Biography and Quotes. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Madame de Stael Biography and Quotes." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 30, 2023).