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Talleyrand

Talleyrand

 

 

 

TalleyrandTalleyrand is the most famous of modern diplomatists, not for his success in behalf of his country, but for his ability in securing recognition of the necessity of his services from its various governments, antagonistic to each other. He reduced the process of trimming to a fine art, and steered the bark of bis political fortunes through rapids and shoals that would have wrought destruction to a less skillful or more scrupulous helmsman. Notorious for his falsehoods and supremely selfish, he yet rendered to France, at critical junctures, important services which no other could have done.

 

Charles Maurice Talleyrand de Perigord was born at Paris on the 13thof February, 1754. His family was of local celebrity, and his father served in the Seven Years' War. Charles was the eldest son but being lamed by accident in boyhood, was excluded by his father from succession to his title and destined to the Church, though his desire was to enter the army. The victim, however, devoted himself to study in the three seminaries he attended, and took orders at the usual age. Yet the young Abbe de Perigord became noted rather as a rake and a wit than as a theologian. Nevertheless, at the age of twenty-six he was nominated agent-general of the clergy. In this position he displayed much aptitude, and finally, in 1789, Louis XVI., in fulfillment of a promise to Talleyrand's father, when dying, appointed him Bishop of Autun.

 

Talleyrand had been a watchful observer of the current of political events, and resolved to profit by it. The clergy of his diocese elected him as their representative in the States General. His speech on this occasion proved his ability as a political leader. Mirabeau soon recognized this ecclesiastic, who was a disgrace to his profession, as one of the most subtle and powerful intellects of the age. The dexterity with which he handled the most momentous subjects increased his popularity. He became an authority on constitutional, financial, and educational questions, and was selected as one of the committee to draw up the Declaration of Rights. He voted that the clergy should be united with the commons when they were joined into a National Assembly. He also proposed the abolition of tithes and strongly insisted that the vote should be unanimous. nut his perverse hostility to the profession to which he nominally belonged was most conspicuously shown when he introduced the project for confiscating the landed property of the Church. In vain did the clergy, especially those of his own diocese, petition and remonstrate. He saw that such a measure must be passed, and he resolved to have the credit of proposing it. This act made him so popular with the revolutionists that on the 13th of February, 1790, he was elected President of the Assembly for a fortnight.

 

Numerous reforms were introduced by him. The versatility of his talents was shown in his reports on the finances and the dct'1ils of government. Like Mirabeau, be has been accused of appropriating the literary labors of others. On the I4th of July he officiated at the festival of the new constitution (see Vol. VI., p. 103). Some months later he Consecrated two new bishops, and professed his attachment to the Roman Church, probably in the hope of averting the Pope's excommunication, which came in April, 1791. Talleyrand then resigned his bishopric of Autun, and thenceforth devoted himself entirely to secular affairs. By the death of Mirabeau he was left without a rival. He was now appointed director of the Department of Paris. His remarkable report on public instruction has been the model on which were based the later changes in the educational system of France.

 

Talleyrand, however, had never been heartily in favor of the Republic, and he was glad to be sent on a secret mission to England. The object was to induce the English ministry to resume peaceful relations with France. In this he was unsuccessful, and in the meantime he was denounced as a royalist by the Jacobins, even while the royalists regarded him as a Jacobin. Yet after the death of Louis XVI. he still acted as agent for the Republic and endeavored to stir up the disaffected English Liberals, but without success, as he reported, for want of money. In December he was proscribed by the French government, but remained in London until January, 1794, when the English government, at the instance of some emigres, ordered him to leave. He found a refuge in the United States, and brought a letter of introduction to Washington from Lord Lansdowne. He settled in New York city, and engaged in trade but after the death of Robespierre, :Madame de Stael obtained for him permission to return. He landed at Hamburg, and there fell in with a Mrs. Grant, who had been the mistress of an English official in India. She was notoriously stupid, yet Talleyrand afterwards married her.

 

On his arrival in Paris he joined the party of Barras, and in 1797 the Directory, following public opinion, made him Secretary of Foreign Affairs. He was now the most powerful person in France, but he recognized the superior genius of Napoleon. When the latter returned from Egypt, their common interest drew them together, and in the Revolution of the 18th Brumaire, the audacity of Bonaparte executed the crafty designs of Talleyrand. The latter now exerted himself to obtain peace with other nations, and was successful in forming first the Treaty of Luneville with Austria, and then the Treaty of Amiens with England. He then, on his own behalf, compelled the Pope to secularize him by brief. Talleyrand And no sincere friendship for Napoleon, but used him as a means towards his own aggrandizement. He, however, greatly strengthened his master's power both as First Consul and as Emperor. He has been unjustly accused of inducing Napoleon to commit the crime of kidnapping and executing the Duc d'Enghien, in March, 1804. Josephine hated and denounced him.

 

Talleyrand assisted in organizing the Confederation of the Rhine in 1806, and in negotiating the peace of Tilsit with the Czar Alexander in 1807. He refused, however, to take part in Napoleon's usurpation in Spain, and was therefore dismissed from office, but was made Prince of Beneventum and vice-grand-elector of the :Jew empire. Though no longer possessing the emperor's confidence, he was occasionally summoned to attend the councils, and was intrusted with difficult negotiations. He disapproved of the invasion of Russia, and though after that disastrous campaign he was invited to again take the ministry of foreign affairs, He refused, because required to give up his vice-grand. elector ship.

 

He now became the leader of those in France who were opposed to Napoleon, and the communication:; with the Allies and with the Bourbons passed through him. When the Allies entered Paris, Talleyrand was made President of the provisional government, and he prevailed on the Emperor Alexander to declare the restoration of the Bourbons. In May, 1814, Talleyrand again became minister of foreign affairs, and in June he was created a prince and peer of France. He was sent as plenipotentiary to the Congress of Vienna, and successfully defended the claim of France to take part in the new arrangement of European affairs. Owing to his efforts France was left in full possession of all the territory it held in 1792.

 

When Napoleon returned from Elba, Talleyrand contented himself with calling on the Allies to help the king; and they, after Waterloo, required the king to restore him to his former post. He was, however, generally disliked, and disagreed with- his colleagues. He therefore retired from office, but was made the king's chamberlain. As a member of the House of Peers he took delight in opposing and thwarting the acts of the government. In the three days' revolution in July, 1830, the veteran diplomatist was the chief adviser of Louis Philippe, and when he took the oath of allegiance, he remarked coolly, "It is the thirteenth time." The king offered him his old position, but he preferred to go as ambassador to England. He effected a reconciliation between the two countries, and remained in London four years. In January, 1835, he returned to France and retired to private life. He died in Paris on the 17th of May, 1838, at the age of eighty.four.

 

Talleyrand left Memoirs which were to be kept secret for fifty years. They have been edited by Due de Broglie, but are found to abound in falsehood and mystification. His Letters, more recently published, are equally disappointing. They amply confirm the impression of his character, derived from other sources. He was reserved, prudent, observant, sagacious, and always cool·headed. His character is well expressed in the saying, commonly but incorrectly attributed to him, "Language was given to us that we might disguise our thoughts." He never hesitated to tell a falsehood to accomplish any object, yet he was faithful to every trust committed to him. He was addicted to gambling, a lover of wealth, however acquired, shamelessly corrupt and immoral. He was a shrewd judge of men and nature, and of the probable course of events. It was his constant endeavor to be on the winning side, and in this his success was marvelous. His astuteness is most strongly manifest in his disapproval of Napoleon's usurpation in Spain and the wild project of Russian invasion, leading to his complete withdrawal from that conqueror's service. Talleyrand was a clever diplomatist because he used in his country's behalf the same shrewdness and stratagem that he employed for himself. But for the higher interests of humanity he cared nothing from first to last. Napoleon said of the man who had long been in most intimate relations with him: "Talleyrand was always in a state of treason, but it was a treasonable complicity with fortune herself. His circumspection was extreme; he conducted himself towards his friends as if, at some future time, they might be his enemies, and towards his enemies as if they might become his friends. 

 

THE PARTING OF THE WAYS.

 

M. de Talleyrand, the empire once established and fortunate, had attached himself to it witl1 a sort of enthusiasm. The poesy of victory and the eloquence of an exalted imagination subdued for a time the usual nonchalance and moderation of his character. He entered into all Napoleon's plans for reconstituting an Empire of the Franks, and reviving the system of fiefs and feudal dignitaries; by which it is, however, true, that the followers and favorites of the conqueror had nothing to lose. " Any other system," he said, "but a military one, is in our circumstances at present impossible. I am, then, for making that system splendid, and compensating France for her liberty by her grandeur. 'I

 

The principality he enjoyed, though it by no means satisfied him, was a link between him and the policy under which he held it. He wished to keep it and to preserve the man, the fall of whom might take it away from him. But he had a strong instinct for the practical; all governments, according to his theory, might be made good, except an impossible one. A government depending on constant success in difficult undertakings, at home and abroad, was, according to his notions, impossible. This idea, after the Peace of Tilsit, more on less haunted him. It made him, in spite of himself, bitter against his chief-bitter at first, more because he liked him than because be disliked him. He would still have aided to save the empire, but he was irritated because he thought he saw the empire drifting into a system which would not admit of its being saved. A sentiment of this kind, however, is as little likely to be pardoned by one who is accustomed to consider that his will must be law, as a sentiment of a more hostile nature.

 

Napoleon began, little by little, to hate the man for whom he had felt at one time a predilection; and if he disliked any one, he did that which it is most dangerous to do, and most useless; that is, be wounded his pride without diminishing his importance. It is true that M. de Talleyrand never gave any visible sign of being irritated. But few, whatever the philosophy with which they forgive an injury, pardon an humiliation; and thus, stronger and stronger grew by degrees that mutual dissatisfaction which the one vented at times in furious reproaches, and the other disguised under a studiously respectful indifference.

 

This carelessness as to the feelings of those whom it would have been wiser not to offend, was one of the most fatal errors of the conqueror, who could not learn to subdue his own passions; but he had become at this time equally indifferent to the hatred and affection of his adherents; and, under the ordinary conviction of persons over-satisfied with themselves, fancied that everything depended on his own merits, and nothing on the merits of his agents. The victory of Wagram and the marriage with Marie-Louise, commenced, indeed, a new era in his history. Fouche was dismissed, though not without meriting a reprimand for his intrigues and Talleyrand fell into unequivocal disgrace, in some degree provoked by his witticisms; whilst round these two men gathered a quiet and observant opposition, descending with the clever adventurer to the lowest classes, and ascending with the dissatisfied noble to the highest.

 

The scion of the princely house of Perigord was, indeed, from his birth, quite as much as from his position ill the empire, at the head of the discontented of the aristocracy; M. de Talleyrand's house then the only place, perhaps, open to all persons, where the government of the day was treated without reserve became a sort of "rendezvous" for a circle which replied to a victory by a (bon mot), and confronted the borrowed ceremonies of a new court by the natural graces and acknowledged fashions of an old one. All who remember society at this time will remember that the ex-minister was the sole person who had a sort of existence and reputation, separate and distinct from the chief of the state, whose policy he now affected to consider-and probably did consider-as verging towards the passion of a desperate gambler, who would continue to tempt Fortune until she grew weary and deserted him.

 

Nor did the Austrian alliance, which the emperor had lately formed, meet with M. de Talleyrand's approval, although he had at one period advised it, and been also mixed up in the question of a marriage with the imperial family of Russia. This change might have proceeded from his now seeing that such a union as he had at one time favored, in the hope that it would calm the restless energy of Napoleon, would only stimulate his ambition; or it might have been because, having had nothing to do with the resolutions adopted at Vienna, he had gained nothing by them. At all events, what he said with apparent sincerity, was_" Nothing is ever got by a policy which you merely carry out by halves." " If the emperor wants an alliance with Austria, he should satisfy Austria; does he think that the House of Hapsburg considers it an honor to ally itself with the House of Bonaparte? What the Emperor of Austria desires, is to have his provinces restored, and his empire raised and revived: if the government of France does not do this, it disappoints him; and the worst enemies we can have are those we disappoint." These sentiments, however, found as yet no echo out of the circle of a few independent and enlightened politicians.

 

I remember two of these, both high in the service of the empire- M. de Barante and M. Mole-referring in my hearing to a conversation they had had at the period I am speaking of, and one saying to the other, Do you remember how we both looked at what was passing before us, magnificent as it was, as a scene in an opera, on which the curtain would drop before the eyes of the spectators, who were then gazing on it with admiration, were closed?

 

But the masses were still dazzled by the splendid achievements of a man who, of all others, in ancient or modern history, would have been the greatest if he had joined the instincts of humanity with those of genius: and now each day that passed added to the fatal disposition which separated his future from his past; each hour he became more haughty and self-confident, and more inclined to an isolated career, which neither tolerated counsel nor clung to affection. Josephine, the wife of his youth-Pauline, his favorite sister -Louis, his youngest brother-Massena, his ablest general were added to the list on which his two ablest ministers were inscribed. He had no longer even the idea of conciliating mankind to his arbitrary authority. His mighty intellect, subdued by his still mightier ambition, submitted itself to adopt a system of despotism and oppression, which interfered not only with the political opinions, but with the daily wants of all his subjects and all his allies.

 

War with him had become all effort to exterminate those who still opposed him, by oppressing those who had hitherto aided him. Thus, he had seized the Roman pontiff, kidnapped the Spanish king, taken violent possession of the Hanseatic towns and the north of Germany and even those countries which were free from his armies, were bound, as he contended, to obey his decrees. In this state of things commenced the last and fatal struggle between the two potentates who had at first divided the world which they were now about to fight for. Nor was the justice of M. Talleyrants views ever more conspicuous! The destruction of Prussia, by making Russia and France neighbors, had in itself tended to make them enemies. Moreover, the proud and offended, but dissimulating Czar, though redoubling his courtesy towards the court of France, after the choice of an Austrian archduchess, lest he might be supposed hurt by the rejection of a marriage with a princess of his own family, had begun to feel that, with the rest of continental Europe subdued and Austria apparently gained, he was alone in his independence, and to fret under the rein, which his imperious rider pulled, with superb indifference, somewhat too tightly.

 

Besides, though invested with unbounded authority over his people by law and custom, there was the example of his father to teach him that he could not wholly disregard their interests or wishes; yet this was what the Emperor of the French exacted from him. His subjects were not to sell their produce to the only purchaser who was ready and desirous to buy it ; and being thus harshly and foolishly placed between revolution and war, Alexander chose the latter. -SIR HENRY L. BULWER.

 

Talleyrand

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