On his return to St. Petersburg, he found his protector Villebois, disgraced. St. Pierre then resolved on espousing the cause of the Poles. He went into Poland with a high reputation,--that of having refused the favours of despotism, to aid the cause of liberty. But it was his private life, rather than his public career, that was affected by his residence in Poland. The Princess Mary fell in love with him, and, forgetful of all considerations, quitted her family to reside with him. Yielding, however, at length, to the entreaties of her mother, she returned to her home. St. Pierre, filled with regret, resorted to Vienna; but, unable to support the sadness which oppressed him, and imagining that sadness to be shared by the Princess, he soon went back to Poland. His return was still more sad than his departure; for he found himself regarded by her who had once loved him, as an intruder. It is to this attachment he alludes so touchingly in one of his letters. "Adieu! friends dearer than the treasures of India! Adieu! forests of the North, that I shall never see again!--tender friendship, and the still dearer sentiment which surpassed it!--days of intoxication and of happiness adeiu! adieu! We live but for a day, to die during a whole life!"
This letter appears to one of St. Pierre's most partial biographers, as if steeped in tears; and he speaks of his romantic and unfortunate adventure in Poland, as the ideal of a poet's love.
"To be," says M. Sainte-Beuve, "a great poet, and loved before he had thought of glory! To exhale the first perfume of a soul of genius, believing himself only a lover! To reveal himself, for the first time, entirely, but in mystery!"
In his enthusiasm, M. Sainte-Beuve loses sight of the melancholy sequel, which must have left so sad a remembrance in St. Pierre's own mind. His suffering, from this circumstance, may perhaps have conduced to his making Virginia so good and true, and so incapable of giving pain.
In 1766, he returned to Havre; but his relations were by this time dead or dispersed, and after six years of exile, he found himself once more in his own country, without employment and destitute of pecuniary resources.
The Baron de Breteuil at length obtained for him a commission as Engineer to the Isle of France, whence he returned in 1771. In this interval, his heart and imagination doubtless received the germs of his immortal works. Many of the events, indeed, of the "Voyage a l'Ile de France," are to be found modified by imagined circumstances in "Paul and Virginia." He returned to Paris poor in purse, but rich in observation and mental resources, and resolved to devote himself to literature. By the Baron de Breteuil he was recommended to D'Alembert, who procured a publisher for his "Voyage," and also introduced him to Mlle. de l'Espinasse. But no one, in spite of his great beauty, was so ill calculated to shine or please in society as St. Pierre. His manners were timid and embarrassed, and, unless to those with whom he was very intimate, he scarcely appeared intelligent.
It is sad to think, that misunderstanding should prevail to such an extent, and heart so seldom really speak to heart, in the intercourse of the world, that the most humane may appear cruel, and the sympathizing indifferent. Judging of Mlle. de l'Espinasse from her letters, and the testimony of her contemporaries, it seems quite impossible that she could have given pain to any one, more particularly to a man possessing St. Pierre's extraordinary talent and profound sensibility. Both she and D'Alembert were capable of appreciating him; but the society in which they moved laughed at his timidity, and the tone of raillery in which they often indulged was not understood by him. It is certain that he withdrew from their circle with wounded and mortified feelings, and, in spite of an explanatory letter from D'Alembert, did not return to it. The inflictors of all this pain, in the meantime, were possibly as unconscious of the meaning attached to their words, as were the birds of old of the augury drawn from their flight.
St. Pierre, in his "Preambule de l'Arcadie," has pathetically and eloquently described the deplorable state of his health and feelings, after frequent humiliating disputes and disappointments had driven him from society; or rather, when, like Rousseau, he was "self-banished" from it.