Page images

as more sudden and startling than they really were; the various taunts, coming to us frequently in a circuitous, and, therefore, less suspicious manner-the various taunts of those, his bitterest enemies, whose fortunes have been shipwrecked in any of the revolutionary storms, the waves of which have borne his own lightly and triumphantly along,-have all contributed to throw a darker shade over M. de Talleyrand's character than it ought, in justice, to wear. At least, this is the manner in which it appears to the public. At the same time, those who have had a more intimate approach to this remarkable man, who have been charmed by the lively sallies, which not even age can suppress, and observed, amidst that tone of levity which seems to treat all human things as if they were rather absurd than serious, a clearness of view, and frequently a rectitude of principle, which cannot, in fact, be altogether separate from profoundness of thought, have, with an amiable facility, fallen into an opposite extreme, and fancied that "the first diplomat of his age," to use the expression of M. Thiers, is not only the wittiest, but the honestest, and most frank-hearted of human beings. "Surely," says our friend De la Rochefoucauld, "that man is not exceedingly cunning, whose art every body is suspecting." We know that our present Noble Secretary for Foreign Affairs anticipated that his colleague, at the conference, would use a kind of light, and yet mysterious, half-meaning mode of speaking; that he would be cautious of committing himself, and talk as if he were laying traps for others; that he would appear, in short, a subtle and wily man, more skilful, as Lord Bacon says, in shuffling the cards than in playing with them when dealt out. When he found that, so far from this, no man could, to all appearance, talk more candidly and frankly, could exhibit greater eagerness to be properly understood, could seem more explicit in all that he said, or less anxious to draw out others beyond the intention of their speech, he was struck with astonishment, and declared that everybody, until now, had mistaken the Prince of Benevento, who was, in reality, a very downright, fair-dealing gentleman, with whom it was quite a pleasure to have any business. And yet M. de Talleyrand might have done every thing we have given him credit for, and been a very cunning-a very cunning man indeed, for all that. On the other hand, Madame de Stael's simile, "Ce M. de Talleyrand, c'est la m-de dans un bas de soie," (for we suppose we may repeat the words, in our journal, which did not sully the lips of a French lady,) more forcible than elegant, is rather too forcible to be true. That lady, as strong in her dislikes as her attachments, who never lost an opportunity of praising her father, or her lover for the time being, did not easily forget or forgive an ungrateful friend. When M. de Talleyrand returned from America, (whither he went after the departure of M. de Chauvelin from this country, thus taking no share in the more atrocious parts of the Revolution,)—when he returned from America, where he had been driven to such distress, as actually to put his watch into pawn -the days of Robespierre were over, and the Directory, with Barras, an ancient noble, at its head, had restored to the society of Paris something of that ancient elegance for which the decline of the monarchy had been so remarkable: true;

it was of a coarser and less refined character: the men who mixed in it were men of enterprise and action, and the calamities which every one had passed through, and the dangers still hanging over every one's head, created a reckless thirst for the enjoyments of life (the duration of which was so uncertain), as little favourable to delicacy as morality. Barras, however, surrounded by his court, of which Madame de Tallien and Madame de Beauharnois (the unfortunate Josephine) were the conspicuous ornaments-and Madame de Stael, whose brilliant conversation attracted to her salons all the talent and distinction of the day,-held at this period that social empire in Paris, of which we may judge the importance by Bonaparte's subsequent attempts to obtain the sanction of the Fauxbourg St. Germain. It was to his old acquaintance, Madame de Stael, that M. de Talleyrand at that time, assiduously resorted: with all those graces which were then recommencing to be in vogue, and with precisely those talents, to a most eminent degree, which could gain him a high rank and reputation in the society he frequented, the ex-bishop obtained every kind of distinction but employment. In the mean time, the very slender nature of his resources caused him unceasing disquietude. "Il faut vivre," said the French pickpocket, in excuse of his theft; and so definitively thought M. de Talleyrand, when one day he called upon Madame de Stael, and emptying his purse upon the table, which contained about twenty francs, disclosed to her that it was all he had in the world, and that, unless she could do something for him, the Seine was his only resource.

The lady, enchanted with her friend, and glad of an opportunity to display her influence in a cause so favourable to its exercise, set immediately about her task, and succeeded in persuading the Directory -at that time anxious to consolidate their strength by names not compromised in the more terrible reign of their predecessors-that they would obtain a great acquisition in a man of remarkable talent, early identified with the cause of freedom, without having taken any share in its disgraces, and who, as a man of high rank and popular estimation, was the best Minister that could possibly be found for a Government which attempted to arrest the movement-and to mingle and unite the elements of the Revolution.

Indeed Madame de Stael had much that was reasonable to urge; and the result of her efforts and her eloquence was, that her illustrious protegé (for not happening to have above twenty francs in his pocket) was made Minister for Foreign Affairs. The time, however, came when the protectress and the protected changed places; and owing to a variety of circumstances connected with this change, in which present misfortune was aggravated by past recollections, the Author of "Corinne" imbibed, and ever afterwards expressed, the most bitter hatred towards her former friend.

There is always a difficulty, after acknowledging a person to possess very eminent talent, in classing that talent and assigning its possessor his proper place among men of extraordinary ability. The different orders among such men are indeed rather to be found in the differences of their character than of their intellect. There is a singleness in the character of some men, and a suppleness in the character of

others, which form the fortunes and direct the careers of each. Those of the sterner mind arriving at particular times, suitable to the bent of their genius, start suddenly to the head of affairs, and carry every thing before them with the effect of a whirlwind, as long as circumstances inspire the people they appear amongst with the same passion which is predominant in themselves. These are the men who obtain the greatest name in history, for they not only represent, but they appear as the most forcible and majestic representation of, their particular epoch. But let it be observed, that it requires a particular conjuncture of circumstances to bring such spirits into action; and should any other circumstances, less congenial to them, afterwards arise unable to bend their genius before the power of events, they dash and break themselves against it, borne down by the same force of character to which they owed their original elevation. Of this we have had a wonderful example in our own days. Appearing at the exact moment when his talents and his character were likely to have sway, Bonaparte's career may be divided into three epochs— the first, when the French people and the French army were one, and a passion for security at home and military success abroad prevailed throughout France. This was the period to which Napoleon properly belonged, the period which suited his overbearing disposition and military talents; and he was actually then what he idly believed himself to be afterwards the real and sole representative of the nation. The next period was that, when, carried on by his genius, he left behind him that public opinion which lay in the course that he pursued. The admiration for military glory, which had carried him to the highest place in the Republic, he made the foundation for an arbitrary empire: the desire for security, which had strengthened his hands as a free magistrate, he made the basis of a servile submission. The third and last period of Napoleon's reign commences when his despotic spirit had created a re-action in the public opinion, which had formerly favoured tyranny by a desire for repose-while his warlike genius, equally extreme, had wearied even the martial ardour of his soldiers. It was then that liberty acquired a new force, by every decree destined to subdue it-and that great army was defeated which had marched almost dispiritedly to conquest. It was not that the Emperor of 1812 despised popularity; but decision and force being the elements of his genius, he always flattered himself that it was by force and decision he should obtain it. In short, the strong energies and peculiarities of his character, which had made him the type and personification of one of those eras through which society in France was so rapidly hurried, were too stubborn and indomitable to be turned or 'constrained towards the wants and wishes of another.

The character of our illustrious diplomatist forms an almost perfect contrast, and this arising partly from temperament, partly from circumstances, which may be called education, with that of his great master and contemporary. He, whose boyhood had been spent on the rocks of Corsica, and whose youth was passed among those anxieties and privations which give a hardness to the romance of earlier impressions, was not likely to resemble the young noble, who-making every allowance for the peculiar severities of his childhood-may still

be said to have been cradled in the lap of a luxurious court, and whose juvenile vigour, we may add (without attributing to him all the vices of a Valmont), had been too profusely wasted in its pleasures.

While the one showed an iron strength in wielding the energies of a people, as long as they lent themselves to his desires; the other, as constitutionally plastic, allowed himself to be formed into almost any shape by that people's hands. Neither the one nor the other-the Emperor, when he mounted the imperial throne, nor the Minister, as during successive changes he retained his place-acted altogether from calculation: the actions of both were natural to the bent and disposition of their minds. The passion of that man urged him to break down every obstruction in his path, and he only failed when the hatchet shattered in his hand :-the cool sagacity of this man made him see the futurity that was on its way, to which the pliability of his character adapted him by the time that it actually arrived. We dare say it has frequently so happened that M. de Talleyrand has been merely yielding to a conviction, for which a peculiar foresight had been gradually preparing him, when he has been accused of suddenly betraying his conscience and his friends. Yet looking at the scenes through which he has passed, and the men he must have mingled with, we should be loth to pronounce the French ambassador to be either very open in his dealings or very rigid in his principles.

The changes from the ancien regime to the Constitutional Monarchy, from the Comité du Salut Public to the Directory, from the Directory to the Consulate, from the Consulate to the Empire, (the most exceptionable of all,) from the Empire to the Restoration, and from the Restoration to the new Revolution, were either the necessary consequences of their antecedents, or productive, upon the whole, of national advantage. And thus it is that M. de Talleyrand excuses the violation of other friendships, by saying that he has always remained the friend of France: indeed, to have shared in any one of these changes would have left nothing to presume against any man;-but to have shared and succeeded in all, may not show any departure, we admit, from the practical rules of policy, but must, at all events, have required a certain duplicity of conduct and laxity of opinion, which always diminishes our esteem for the individual, even when no evil has been inflicted on the public.

The early life of M. de Talleyrand formed at one moment the subject of every lying memoir that prostituted itself to the bad taste of the public. At the same time that the General Bonaparte was drawn with horns upon his head, the citizen Talleyrand was depicted as a different kind of devil, a licentious, philosophic, Mephistophilian kind of devil, with a tail draggling in every species of moral turpitude and corruption. At fourteen he had plotted the destruction of Christianity, and the conversion of churches into those kind of mansions proverbially said to be found in a church's vicinity. From seventeen to twenty, he was declared-we quote from a journal which took notice of these amusing stories-" to have boasted that six husbands, from jealousy on his account, had blown out their brains; that eighteen lovers had perished in duels for ladies who were his mistresses; that ten wives deserted by him, had retired in despair to convents, while twelve unmarried ladies had broken their hearts or poisoned them

selves in desperation from doubt of his fidelity; and this, without enumerating the hundreds and thousands of grisets, chambermaids, &c. who had sought, on his forsaking them, consolation in the Seine." Within these three years (from the age of seventeen to twenty) he had, so say the memoirs of 1805, made twenty-four husbands happy fathers, and forty maidens solitary and miserable mothers. Excellent, pious Louis XVI. who could confer a bishopric on a man of such exemplary conduct! We need not say, that there is some little exaggeration in these accounts; in fact, they abound in a complicated confusion of facts and dates, and are hardly worth the mention we have thus casually bestowed upon them. M. de Talleyrand, disliked by his father on account of the deformity in his foot, was treated, as a boy, with great severity, and forced into the church contrary to his tastes and inclinations. This treatment, which it is singular enough his friend Mirabeau also experienced (though for different reasons) from the hands of his parent, exercised, no doubt, a powerful influence over his mind, at the moment it was forming; and indeed during his studies at the Sorbonne, he was remarkable for his sullen and haughty manner, and the solitary and laborious life that he passed among his books. In 1789, placed in the eminent situation of "agent du clergé de France," he made that speech against loteries, which Madame de Stael, with her usual humour, passes a sort of censure upon in her work on the Revolution, but which procured him the notice and patronage of Louis XVI. In the National Assembly, he could hardly be called "an orator," wanting that power and majesty of diction, as well as that energy of delivery, which chains and subdues a popular assembly. His discourses, however, were very remarkable, not only for the elegant and epigrammatic language in which they were framed, but for the utility of their object and the science and knowledge they displayed. His observations on the further issue of assignats, in particular, to be found in the Appendix to M. Thiers' History of the Revolution, show a sound and acute judgment, as well as an acquaintance with those principles of finance, which too unhappily developed themselves, as he predicted, in the total failure of this ruinous, and yet perhaps, at the moment, almost necessary speculation. One speech there is which we must not pass over without acknowledging and praising the noble feelings it proceeded from-that in defence of the persecuted Clergy, whom their unpopularity did not induce him to abandon.

As an author, M. de Talleyrand is known to us by his work on public instruction, which we presume every one to be acquainted with, and two tracts, read in the Institut at Paris, and procuring for their writer very considerable reputation, as well for the depth of his views, as the playfulness and grace-sometimes rising into a higher order of eloquence-with which they were put forth. The tracts we allude to were "An Essay on the advantages to be derived from new Colonies under existing circumstances," and "A Memoir on the Commercial relations subsisting between England and America," the result of observations M. de Talleyrand made during his stay in the latter country. The first contains the theories of colonization; the second their exemplification. The author foresees, in the system of societywhich requires

« PreviousContinue »