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Xavier de Maistre
French romance writer, younger brother of Joseph-Marie, Comte de Maistre, b. at Chambery, Savoy, in 1763; d. at St. Petershurg, 12 June, 1852. Being an officer in the Sardinian Army when Savoy was reunited to France in 1792, he became expatriated like his brother. In 1799 he was in the Austro-Russian army in Italy. He followed General Suvaroff to Russia, but, his protector having fallen into disgrace, was reduced to earn his living by painting, being a landscape artist of great ability. The arrival of his brother Joseph as envoy extraordinary of the King of Sardinia, changed his situation. He entered the Admiralty Office and became in 1805, librarian of the Admiralty Museum; he was then named to the staff of the army, took part in the Caucasian War, was made a general, and married a lady-in-waiting of the Empress. From that time he looked on himself as a Russian subject. He did not visit Savoy again till 1825. After a short stay in Paris in 1839; he returned to St. Petersburg, where he died at the age of eighty-nine.
It may be said that de Maistre became a writer by chance. When a young officer at Alexandria, in Piedmont, he was arrested for duelling. Having been sentenced to remain in his quarters for forty-two days he composed his "Voyage autour de ma chambre". He added some chapters later, but did not judge the work worthy of being published; but his brother, however, having read the manuscript, had it printed (1794). It is a delightful chat with the reader, filled with delicate observations, in which an artless grace, humour, and spontaneous wit are wedded to a gentle and somewhat dreamy philosophy. In 1811 appeared "Le Lépreux de la cité d'Aoste". This little dialogue, of about thirty pages, between an isolated leper and a passing soldier (the author), breathes of touching spirit of resignation, and unites an impressive simplicity of form with suppressed emotion and exalted moral and religious ideas. It is a little gem, a masterpiece. The same must be said of the two novels published some years later: "Les prisonniers du Caucase" and "La jeune Sibérienne". In the former the author relates the vicissitudes of the captivity of Major Kascambo, who has fallen, with his ordnance, into an ambuscade. "La jeune Sibérienne" is the story of a young girl who comes from Siberia to St. Petersburg to ask for the pardon of her parents. It is the fact round which Madame Cottin has woven her romance "Elisabeth, ou les exilés de la Sibérie", but the story of Xavier de Maistre is by far the truer to life and more pathetic. In 1825 de Maistre wrote, as a pendant to his first work, in the same vein, and with the same charm, the "Expédition nocturne autour de ma chambre."
Xavier de Maistre, it is true, has written only booklets, but these booklets are masterpieces of their kind. His style is ingenious, graceful, and brilliant, while its simplicity, lucidity, and rhythm wonderfully enhance its charm for readers. He may be regarded as one of the first among French authors of the second rank.
SAINTE-BEUVE, Portraits contemporains.