1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Épinay, Louise Florence Pétronille Tardieu d'Esclavelles d'
ÉPINAY, LOUISE FLORENCE PÉTRONILLE TARDIEU D’ESCLAVELLES D’ (1726–1783), French writer, was born at Valenciennes on the 11th of March 1726. She is well known on account of her liaisons with Rousseau and Baron von Grimm, and her acquaintanceship with Diderot, D’Alembert, D’Holbach and other French men of letters. Her father, Tardieu d’Esclavelles, a brigadier of infantry, was killed in battle when she was nineteen; and she married her cousin Denis Joseph de La Live d’Épinay, who was made a collector-general of taxes. The marriage was an unhappy one; and Louise d’Épinay believed that the prodigality, dissipation and infidelities of her husband justified her in obtaining a formal separation in 1749. She settled in the château of La Chevrette in the valley of Montmorency, and there received a number of distinguished visitors. Conceiving a strong attachment for J. J. Rousseau, she furnished for him in 1756 in the valley of Montmorency a cottage which she named the “Hermitage,” and in this retreat he found for a time the quiet and natural rural pleasures he praised so highly. Rousseau, in his Confessions, affirmed that the inclination was all on her side; but as, after her visit to Geneva, Rousseau became her bitter enemy, little weight can be given to his statements on this point. Her intimacy with Grimm, which began in 1755, marks a turning-point in her life, for under his influence she escaped from the somewhat compromising conditions of her life at La Chevrette. In 1757–1759 she paid a long visit to Geneva, where she was a constant guest of Voltaire. In Grimm’s absence from France (1775–1776), Madame d’Épinay continued, under the superintendence of Diderot, the correspondence he had begun with various European sovereigns. She spent most of her later life at La Briche, a small house near La Chevrette, in the society of Grimm and of a small circle of men of letters. She died on the 17th of April 1783. Her Conversations d’Émilie (1774), composed for the education of her grand-daughter, Émilie de Belsunce, was crowned by the French Academy in 1783. The Mémoires et Correspondance de Mme d’Épinay, renfermant un grand nombre de lettres inédites de Grimm, de Diderot, et de J.-J. Rousseau, ainsi que des détails, &c, was published at Paris (1818) from a MS. which she had bequeathed to Grimm. The Mémoires are written by herself in the form of a sort of autobiographic romance. Madame d’Épinay figures in it as Madame de Montbrillant, and René is generally recognized as Rousseau, Volx as Grimm, Garnier as Diderot. All the letters and documents published along with the Mémoires are genuine. Many of Madame d’Épinay’s letters are contained in the Correspondance de l’abbé Galiani (1818). Two anonymous works, Lettres à mon fils (Geneva, 1758) and Mes moments heureux (Geneva, 1759), are also by Madame d’Épinay.
See Rousseau’s Confessions; Lucien Perey [Mlle Herpin] and Gaston Maugras, La Jeunesse de Mme d’Épinay, les dernières années de Mme d’Épinay (1882–1883); Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du lundi, vol. ii.; Edmond Scherer, Études sur la littérature contemporaine, vols. iii. and vii. There are editions of the Mémoires by L. Énault (1855) and by P. Boiteau (1865); and an English translation, with introduction and notes (1897), by J. H. Freese.