Nation of Mutes

Tony Wood

  • A Taste for Freedom: The Life of Astolphe de Custine by Anka Muhlstein, translated by Teresa Waugh
    Helen Marx, 393 pp, US $16.95, November 1999, ISBN 1 885983 41 7

The Marquis de Custine is best known for La Russie en 1839, an eloquent account of his travels across European Russia and of the horrors and absurdities of the Russian autocracy. Born in 1790, Custine lost his grandfather at the age of three and, a year later, his father: both were executed during the Jacobin Terror, although both had been sympathetic to the Revolution. Indeed, his grandfather, General Adam-Philippe de Custine, had been a supporter of the American War of Independence and in 1793, as one of the few French aristocrats in favour of revolution, was appointed commander-in-chief of the Army of the North. He was tried for failing to prevent the surrender of the besieged Cond, while Custine’s father was tried for printing and distributing a defence of the General. Custine himself had a quieter life. He grew up on the family estate at Fervaques in Normandy, and travelled in Italy, Switzerland and Germany as an adolescent. He had a brief career in diplomacy, working in an undefined role under Talleyrand at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, but returned to Fervaques in 1816.

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