IF the long and impatiently awaited Memoirs1 have not realized expectation, the disappointment has been partly the fault of the public, partly that of Talleyrand or his executors. If, tantalized by fifty-three years’ delay, people looked for revelations on the writer’s venality, his stock-jobbing, his mistresses, or his wife, or for his inmost sentiments on religion or politics, they forgot that these implied a penitence or shamelessness equally foreign to his character. If they expected a chronique scandaleuse of the old monarchy and the empire, they forgot that he was too studious of external proprieties to commit licentious anecdotes to writing, and that his main object was to vindicate himself, first in the eyes of Louis XVIII., in the hope of returning to office, and next in the eyes of posterity, so as to restore or perpetuate his reputation. But though the authenticity of the Memoirs, at first keenly contested on the ground of trivial mistakes in dates and titles, is now admitted, their completeness is and will remain disputed. People have a rignt to be surprised at Talleyrand’s meagre account of his share in the Revolution, for he could not imagine that Louis XVIII. or posterity would forget that he solemnized mass at the Feast of Pikes, and proposed the confiscation of church property. Even stranger is his silence on Mirabeau. who so closely resembled him in venality and versatility, and who during four years’ close intimacy styled him “ mon cher maître.” Talleyrand, an unavowed subordinate of Vergennes at the Foreign Office, procured for Mirabeau a secret mission to Berlin, and his confidential and mercilessly sarcastic reports were addressed mostly to Talleyrand, by which channel they reached Vergennes and Louis XVI. In 1789, Mirabeau, hard pressed for money to carry on his candidacy for the Assembly, scandalized Europe by publishing these documents, whereupon Talleyrand broke off all relations with him till the very eve of Mirabeau’s death. He is supposed then to have received Miraboau’s confidences on his dealings with the court, and he was entrusted by him with a speech on the law of inheritance, every line composed by his secretaries, but which Talleyrand read next day to the Assembly as the great tribune’s last public service. Yet the Memoirs discuss or describe the Revolution without speaking of its most interesting personage.
The Duc de Broglie argues, indeed, that after the lapse of twenty years Talleyrand had “ learnt much, and perhaps forgotten a little;” that he scarcely identified himself with the Talleyrand of the Revolution; and that he did not care to dwell upon the fruitless activity of that period, when he could expatiate on the eminent services of 1814 and 1830. To this let us add that in 1821, in a eulogium on Bishop Bourlier, one of his oldest friends, who had also acquiesced in all political changes, he passed over the revolutionary epoch with the same brevity or reticence. Yet we cannot forget that he prohibited the publication of his memoirs before 1868, on the ground “that those of whom I have had to speak, being no longer alive, may none of them have to suffer from what truth may have compelled me to say to their disadvantage.” Now, there is absolutely nothing in the published work which could not have appeared immediately after his death. We know, however, that Thiers had reason to apprehend the mention of a scandal of his early life, and that he ineffectually endeavored to get sight of the manuscript, while its custodian, M. de Bacourt, spoke to his grand-niece, Madame de Martel (the novelist “Gyp ”) of Thiers’s death as a necessary preliminary to publication. Talleyrand, moreover, was not the man to lessen his own merits by concealing the fact that he had deterred Louis Philippe from what must have been a disastrous war, for the purpose either of annexing Belgium or of securing it for his second son. We are driven to the conclusion that the date 1868 was fixed in view of the probable death of Louis Philippe and Thiers, and that, although the rest of the Memoirs may be intact, the pruning-knife has been applied to the concluding volume in order to screen these two personages. This would account for Bacourt’s destruction of the original manuscript, which consisted of pencil scraps, loose sheets of various sizes, and cheap exercise books, — an apparent chaos, but all carefully classified and labeled, so that Talleyrand could readily lay his hand on any chapter which he desired to read to his visitors. It is but fair to say that none of the portions thus communicated to Vitrolles, Greville, and others are now missing, but Talleyrand obviously would refrain from reading the chapters which necessitated the thirty years’ secrecy. However this may be, all that remains is Bacourt’s certified copy, which is now deposited at the Paris National Library, except, indeed, a duplicate in London, the mysterious owner of which has, we understand, pointed out about forty slight errors in the published work, which implies the absence of any serious discrepancy,— though that duplicate ought to contain the eight pages on Égalité Orléans, unaccountably torn out of the Bacourt copy. This latter, there being no possibility of testing its fidelity, we must take as it stands, and though the general reader will scarcely get beyond the second volume, the later portions are of more value to the historical student; for whereas Talleyrand throws little fresh light on the Revolution, he throws much on the European, congresses of 1814 and 1830. We must never forget, however, that we are reading an apology, though the natural pleasure of relating reminiscences draws the writer into much that is not strictly relevant to his purpose, and that sometimes, like Napoleon at St. Helena, he is deliberately endeavoring to falsify history.
Born in 1754, eldest son of a count and general of small fortune, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord would, in the ordinary course, have been brought up a soldier; but at the age of four, while put out to nurse in Paris, he had a fall which dislocated his ankle. The ignorant nurse allowed the child to go limping about for some months, till he was sent for by his greatgrandmother, Madame de Chalais, “the first member of my family who displayed any affection for me, and also the first who taught me the sweetness of filial love.” He had then become a cripple for life, and the rights of primogeniture were transferred to his brother, the Church being selected as the only profession to which Talleyrand’s lameness would be no obstacle. Meanwhile, he spent four years at Chalais, a seventeen days’ coach ride from Paris, and he gives a vivid picture of a grand lady under the old régime: how every Sunday she doctored the peasants, how they extolled her beneficence, and how they exhorted him to imitate her example. At eight years of age his education had to he begun, and a cheerless life awaited him which left an indelible impress. Met at the coach by an old family valet, he was taken direct, without seeing his parents, to the Collége d’Harcourt. Once a week he dined at home, but his father, in every respect a nullity, regularly dismissed him at the end of the meal, with an injunction to be a good boy and mind his lessons; while his mother, an accomplished woman, did not waste her conversation on the lame child, of whom she lived to be proud, though as a stanch royalist somewhat ashamed of. Even when attacked by smallpox he was not sent home, but to a nurse recommended by the college doctor. Unable to join in boyish sports, and lacking the encouragement which might have made him a diligent scholar, he won, however, a lifelong friend in a “charming boy of his own age,” Choiseul-Goufficr. When fifteen he was dispatched for a year, again without going home,— “I am, perhaps,” he says, “the only man of distinguished birth, and belonging to a numerous and esteemed family, who did not for one week in his life enjoy the sweetness of being under his father’s roof, ” — to Rheims, where his uncle was coadjutor and successor - designate to the archbishop, that he might be fascinated by the pomp and luxury of prelatic life; but he found its round of formalities unbearable, and he somewhat strangely failed to see that the tonsure was no bar to the highest political dignities. Sullenly submitting, however, to parental plans, he returned to Paris to enter St. Sulpice seminary. There his loneliness and irritation remind us of Napoleon’s taciturn life at Brienne. His sole consolation was the library, where he delighted in history, in biography, and—this is natural in a lame youth who could never hope to roam far—in travels. His moroseness relaxed on making the acquaintance of a girl—he does not give her name, but it was Luzy — forced by her parents to be an actress, just as he was forced to be a priest. This earliest of his illicit attachments lasted two years, the seminary authorities shutting their eyes to the peccadillos of a student with such high prospects. There is not a word on his ordination, but his friend Choiseul used to relate how, on the eve of the ceremony, he found Talleyrand in tears of despair, and how he urged him not to consummate the sacrifice; but Talleyrand, afraid of his mother’s wrath, and actuated by false pride, exclaimed, “It is too late; there is no retreating now ! ”
Talleyrand suggests that his parents treated him coldly, lest by making him affectionate they should relent in their purpose. He even argues, in several passages, that this unnatural training did him good by inducing meditation, selfreliance, and equanimity. But in all this he poses, whereas, when Madame de Rémusat plainly told him that he might have been a much better man, he unbosomed himself. “The way in which our early years are passed, ” he said, “influences our whole life, and if I tell you how I spent my youth you will be less surprised at many things.” After describing his cheerless childhood, he added (the passage is more interesting than anything to be found in the Memoirs) : —
“ During the years he spent at St. Sulpice he was nearly always forced to keep alone in his room, his lameness scarcely allowing him to remain long standing; and unable to share in any of the amusements and activities of youth, he gave himself up to the deepest melancholy, formed a bad opinion of society life, was irritated at the priestly office thrust upon him, and was imbued with the idea that he was not bound scrupulously to observe duties to which he was constrained. He experienced the most profound disgust for the world, and escaped despair only by gradually steeling himself to a veritable indifference for men and things. Ultimately, again confronted with his parents, he was received as a displeasing object, and no affectionate word or consolation was ever addressed to him. 'You see,’ he said, ‘that in this situation I had either to die of chagrin, or benumb myself so as to feel nothing of what I missed. I chose the latter, but I quite agree with you that I was wrong. It might have been better to suffer and to retain the faculty of feeling, for this apathy of soul with which you reproach me has often disgusted me with myself. I have not liked others enough, but I have scarcely liked myself any better. and I have not taken sufficient interest in myself. ’ ”
He added that he was temporarily drawn out of his torpor by a passion for Princess Charlotte de Montmorency, and that but for the Revolution he should have obtained papal dispensation from his vows and should have married her. Of this attachment and project there is not the slightest hint in the Memoirs. Curiously enough, Princess Charlotte married 2 a man trained, like Talleyrand, for the priesthood, but released by an elder brother’s death from the necessity of an uncongenial profession, — Adrien de Montmorency, afterwards Duc de Laval.
In thus hardening himself against affection Talleyrand may be said to have killed his soul. Voltaire, according to M. Faguet, n’avait pas d’âme, though this must be taken with some qualification ; for the champion of Calas and Sirven could be told by a Protestant pastor, “ You seem to combat Christianity, yet you do its works ; ” and be could reply, “I chant no psalm, but I adore the Divinity and love mankind. ” Still, it must be acknowledged that in general Voltaire had no soul, and the same remark applies to Talleyrand. “Cripples are cankered, ” says a Scotch proverb. Talleyrand, no doubt, at times did kindly acts, — he mitigated the severity of some of Napoleon’s arbitrary measures, he promoted the worldly interests of his family; but he had no affection for his kindred, no love of mankind. He was incapable of generous emotion ; he looked on men as mere counters, and was as indifferent as Napoleon to human suffering. One cannot help pondering on what he would have been but for his lameness. Would he have become a fashionable officer and courtier, emigrating, like the rest of his class, and passing his life in frivolities; or were his selfishness and rapacity innate, and did circumstances simply develop them?
His first sinecure at Rheims was notoriously due, though he does not mention this, to his having said, in a company of young rakes boasting of their conquests, “In Paris it is easier, I see, to get mistresses than benefices, — a reflection repeated to Louis XV., and thought by him deserving of a recompense. We must pass hurriedly over the ecclesiastical career of the Abbé de Périgord. His uncle, now Archbishop of Rheims, first procured for him election to the Assembly of the Clergy, and next appointment as “promoter,” a kind of clerical attorney-general. Then followed two years at the Sorbonne, devoted, as he acknowledges, more to pleasure than to theology, after which, “at last free to do as I pleased,” he collected some associates, —Choiseul, Narbonne, Lauzun, Mirabeau, and other young men, anxious, like himself, to make their way in the world. Lunching at his rooms, they sharpened their wits by discussing politics, commercial treaties, and American independence. Talleyrand, though he fitted out a privateer to share in the spoils of the war with England, speaks contemptuously, as we should expect, of Lafayette; but he confesses that the young nobles who crossed the Atlantic imbibed a love of liberty, and perceived that services in its cause, as proved by the example of Washington, were the only true title to distinction. He also admits that the non-commissioned officers and privates “so imprudently sent to the aid of the English colonies ” came back full of admiration for the doctrines of equality, whereas at that very time plebeians were made ineligible for commissions.
From 1780 to 1785 Talleyrand was agent-general of the clergy, — that is to say, manager of its business concerns; and during his term of office he endeavored to get himself into notice by advocating the abolition of state lotteries, an increase in the miserable stipends of parish priests, and the right to remarriage of women whose sailor husbands had long disappeared, but whose death could not be legally proved. He also attended the meetings of a bank which had fallen into difficulties, and delivered a florid speech on credit. A bishopric was the usual reward of an agentgeneral, but Talleyrand, regarded as a satellite of Cardinal de Rohan, shared in the disgrace caused by the diamondnecklace affair. He was kept three years waiting, and might have been kept longer had not his father, visited on his death-bed by Louis XVI.. besought for him the bishopric of Autun. As it was, Marie Antoinette would not hear of his being made a cardinal, though the Pope had promised this to Gustavus of Sweden, with whose lady friends in Paris Talleyrand had ingratiated himself. His Memoirs are silent on these disappointments, but despair of court favor accounts for his saying to Madame de Rémusat: —
“You will understand how, in this disposition, I welcomed the Revolution. It attacked principles and usages to which I had been a victim; it seemed to me to have come to break my chains; it suited my temper. I warmly embraced its cause, and events have since disposed of me.”
Writing, however, for Louis XVIII. and for posterity, he represents vanity, “ the ruling passion of the Gauls, ” as the mainspring of the Revolution, and he, or his executor, strangely minimizes his own share in it. Now, there were certainly a dozen men more prominent than himself in the Assembly; but he was one of its monthly presidents, and he not merely interested himself in currency, education, and the metric system, but he proposed the abolition, first of tithes, and then of other church property; he took the oath to the civil constitution of the clergy, for which he was excommunicated by the Pope; and though declining election to a bishopric under the new system, he for the last time exercised episcopal functions by consecrating one of the elective prelates. This act is the only one which he, or his executor, chooses to mention, and he justifies it on the ground that France might otherwise have been forced into Presbyterianism (sic), and could not have been brought back to that Catholicism whose hierarchy and ritual harmonized with monarchy. Talleyrand would have us believe that in his most anti-Catholic and anti-royalist acts he was secretly promoting the restoration of the altar and the throne! He justly claims credit, however, for a nocturnal visit to the king’s younger brother (afterwards Charles X.) to urge on him a dissolution of the Assembly, and he was able, twenty-three years afterwards, by reminding the prince of this, to facilitate his reconciliation with the Bourbons.
Passing over the chapter on the Duke of Orléans, with its mysterious gap of eight pages on the duke’s exact consanguinity with Louis XVI., we find Talleyrand in London from January to August, 1792, commissioned to secure England’s alliance or neutrality. He returned thither in September, nominally to promote the metric system, but really as the emissary of Danton, who, there is reason to believe, had suppressed a letter discovered in the mysterious iron closet at the Tuileries, in which Talleyrand had offered his services to the court. Talleyrand, on this second visit, courted the English radicals, and sent Danton a long report; but of course, when ordered by Pitt to quit the country, he protested that he had no political mission. Equally of course Danton’s name does not appear in the Memoirs. Refused an asylum in Tuscany, and manifestly unable to face the royalist émigrés in Germany. Talleyrand embarked in March, 1794, for America; but a gale forced the vessel to put in to Falmouth, where a curious incident occurred.
“The innkeeper at whose place I had my meals informed me that one of the lodgers was an American general. Thereupon I expressed a desire of seeing that gentleman, and shortly after I was introduced to him. After the usual exchange of greetings, I put to him several questions concerning his country, but from the first it seemed to me that my inquiries annoyed him. Having several times vainly endeavored to renew the conversation, which he always allowed to drop, I ventured to request from him some letters of introduction to his friends in America. ‘No,’ he replied: and after a few moments of silence, noticing my surprise, he added : ‘I am, perhaps, the only American who cannot give you letters for his own country. All the relations I had there are now broken. I must never return to the States.’ He dared not tell me his name. It was General Arnold! I must confess that I felt much pity for him, for which political puritans will perhaps blame me, but with which I do not reproach myself, for I witnessed his agony.”
Talleyrand does not tell us that Washington refused to see him. or that he sought business as a commission agent, and he disposes in twelve pages of his two years in America; but one passage is worth quoting, though the translation scarcely does justice to this the only description of scenery in the five volumes. Beaumetz, a fellow-exile, and Heydecopter, a Dutchman, joined Talleyrand in a trip inland from Philadelphia, and here is the latter’s account of it: —
“I was struck with astonishment; at less than 150  miles from the capital all trace of men’s presence disappeared. Nature in all her primeval vigor confronted us : forests old as the world itself; decayed plants and trees, covering the very ground where they once grew in luxuriance; others shooting forth from the débris of the former, and like them destined to decay and rot; thick and intricate bushes that often barred our progress; green and luxuriant grass decking the banks of rivers; large natural meadows; strange and delicate flowers, quite new to me; and here and there the traces of former tornadoes that had carried everything before them. Enormous trees, all mowed down in the same direction, extending for a considerable distance, bore witness to the wonderful force of these terrible phenomena. On reaching higher ground, our eyes wandered, as far as the eye could range, over a most varied and pleasant picture. The tops of trees and the undulations of the ground, which alone interfere with the uniform aspect of large extents of country, produce a peculiar effect. In the face of these immense solitudes we gave free vent to our imagination: our minds built cities, villages, and hamlets; the mountain forests were to remain untouched, the slopes of the hills to be covered with luxuriant crops, and we could almost fancy we saw numerous herds of cattle grazing in the valley under our eyes, There is an inexpressible charm in thinking of the future, when traveling in such countries. Such, said I to myself, was the place where, not very many years ago, Penn and 2000 emigrants laid the foundations of Philadelphia, and where 80,000 people are now enjoying all the luxuries of Europe. Such was also the site now occupied by the pretty little town of Bethlehem, whose neat houses and wonderfully fertile environs, due to the energy of the Moravian Brothers, excite the admiration of all visitors. After the peace of 1783 the city of Baltimore was but a fishing-village; now, spacious and elegant. dwellings have there been built everywhere, and dispute the ground with trees whose stumps have not yet been removed. It is impossible to move or step without feeling convinced that the irresistibly progressive march of nature requires an immense population to cultivate, some day, this vast extent of ground, — lying idle now, indeed, but which only wants the hand of man to produce everything in abundance. I leave to others the satisfaction of foretelling the prospects of those countries. I confine myself to noticing that it is impossible to walk a few miles from seaside towns without learning that the lovely and fertile fields we now admire were but ten, five, but a couple of years ago, mere wildernesses of forest.”
Talleyrand does not here, as in his able paper before the Institute in 1797, remark that to pass from a flourishing town to a log hut was a practical demonstration of the origin of states, “a travel backwards in the history of the human mind; ” nor does he mention, as in that paper, how much he was struck by seeing the various members of a family repair to different churches, this diversity of creed causing no bickerings. He speaks, however, of the prevalence of barter, and of the coexistence of simplicity and luxury. A common straw hat, such as no European peasant would have worn, was placed in Mrs. Robert Morris’s drawing-room, on an elegant Sèvres china table from the Trianon; and in a log house on the Ohio, Beaumetz was begged not to attempt playing on a piano enriched with beautiful brasses, because the tunist lived one hundred miles off, and had not come there that year. The three travelers, under the influence of plentiful libations at a Connecticut farmhouse, agreed to go beaver-hunting with their host’s sons; but the next morning, reflecting on the fatigues and discomforts of the expedition, they were glad to revoke the agreement for a few dollars forfeitmoney. “ We felt rather ashamed, ” says Talleyrand ; and it is amazing how even in his cups a cripple could have made such a compact. He was much more in his element in conversing with Alexander Hamilton, “whose mind and character placed him, I thought, on a par with the most distinguished statesmen of Europe, not even excepting Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox.” Hamilton, whose ideas on trade, however, he fails to make clear to us, was the American whom Talleyrand best remembered. When Ticknor, to whom he sang his praises in 1818, objected that European statesmen and soldiers had dealt with much larger masses of men, Talleyrand replied, “Mais il avait deviné l’Europe.” Talleyrand also made the acquaintance of Elbridge Gerry, whom he so bamboozled two years later; and his knowledge of American resources perhaps suggested the shameless demand then made by him of a bribe of $250,000 for himself, and $6,000,000 for the Directory. The rejection of that demand, coupled with Washington’s refusal to receive him, gave him, as his confidant Pichon confessed to Ticknor in 1837, a lifelong grudge against America.
“If I remain here another year, I shall die, ” wrote Talleyrand from Philadelphia to Madame de Staël.3 who accordingly set every influence to work to effect his recall to France, in which she succeeded just in time to prevent his sailing on a business trip to India. Audaciously forgetting that influence and his own petition to the Convention, Talleyrand describes the recall as “quite unsolicited.” On his arrival in Paris, his benefactress not merely lent him 24,000 francs, which he did not repay without being pressed, but procured him an introduction to the unscrupulous Barras. Barras had that very day lost a favorite satellite by drowning, and Talleyrand’s mastery of affected condolence won his heart. Barras, patronizing Talleyrand as he had already patronized Bonaparte, got him the appointment of Minister of Foreign Affairs, which, however, under the Directory, was little better than a secretaryship, albeit an indiscreet admirer, M. Pallain, has lately been at the trouble of exhuming his dispatches. As his excuse for serving this corrupt and incompetent government, Talleyrand pleads that an enemy of public order would otherwise have filled the post. He now made the acquaintance of his future master, whom he describes as having “a charming face, so much do the halo of victory, fine eyes, a pale and almost consumptive look, become a young hero.” General Bonaparte characteristically opened the conversation by claiming aristocratic equality with Talleyrand. “Your uncle is Archbishop of Rheims, and mine is Archdeacon in Corsica. ” The intimacy was at first detrimental to Talleyrand, whose support of the Egyptian expedition occasioned such an outcry against him, when that expedition proved disastrous, that he was forced to resign. With his usual effrontery he represents the resignation as voluntary; but he is more candid in relating how, when Bonaparte, having returned from Egypt, was planning the 18th Brumaire with him by night, they mistook a noise in the street for a troop sent to arrest them. “ General Bonaparte turned pale, and I quite believe I did the same. I blew out the candle, and went on tiptoe to one of the front rooms, whence I could see what was going on in the street.” On discovering that a cab had broken down, “we laughed a good deal at our panic. ”
In any other country and with any other master, the exposure of Talleyrand’s venality would have disqualified him for public life, but Napoleon rather liked a man under a stigma, as more likely to prove faithful, because conscious that nobody else would employ him. Talleyrand had now attained power and wealth, but we must pass rapidly over his career under Napoleon, especially as it is less interesting than his earlier history. Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1799 to 1807, Vice Grand Elector, High Chamberlain, Prince of Benevento (thus being a kind of petty sovereign owing allegiance only to the empire), enjoying, independently of bribes and speculations, an income estimated at $60,000, he won everything except esteem. Of course, he represents himself as uniformly actuated by patriotism. He asks us to believe that he plainly told Napoleon that his kidnapping of the Spanish princes was like cheating at cards. Those princes, by the way, were “interned” by Napoleon in Talleyrand’s mansion at Valencay, and he gives a striking picture of their poverty of ideas and of his endeavors to amuse them. He protests his innocence of all share in the death of the Duc d’Enghien, the harmless Bourbon prince also kidnapped by Napoleon, and after a mock trial shot at Vincennes; but there is conclusive testimony of his having assured Napoleon that he was justified in thus retaliating on the Bourbons for their alleged plots against his life. Talleyrand undoubtedly defended and even glorified the crime, but he excuses this by his usual sophistry that that crime did not jeopardize public order. He represents himself as having, at the famous Erfurt interview, —a gathering interesting to us chiefly for Napoleon’s conversations with Goethe 4 and Wieland, — dissuaded the Czar from an alliance with Napoleon. Here we can believe him, for he is confirmed by the Czar’s statement to the Duke of Wellington and by Metternich, though we must share Mr. Whitelaw Reid’s amazement at his unconsciousness of there being anything reprehensible in thus surreptitiously thwarting the plans of his own master. He insists, of course, that in so doing he was serving France, and even Napoleon’s real interests. He protests that, though foreseeing Napoleon’s fall, he never conspired against him. He argues that he could not have done this even had he wished, for he was closely watched by his suspicious master; and in February, 1814, Savary, the Minister of Police, burst uninvited into his drawing-room, where he and his guests were naturally discussing events.
“Ah.” exclaimed Savary, half in jest, half in earnest, “I have caught you all conspiring! ”
“It is decidedly a villainous calling, that of Minister of Police, ” quietly remarks Talleyrand, whose meditation resulted in the conviction that to secure the least unfavorable terms of peace, and to avert vengeance for twenty years of devastation, France must recall the Bourbons. He tells us how Napoleon, offered peace on condition of restoring the frontier of 1792, told his satellites that the Bourbons alone could conclude such a peace; “that he would sooner abdicate; that he would readily return to private life; that his wants were few; that five francs a day would be sufficient; that his only passion had been to make the French the greatest people on earth ; that, being obliged to renounce this, nothing remained for him; and he concluded with these words; ‘ If no one will fight, I cannot carry on the war alone; if the nation wants peace on the basis of the former limits, I shall say to it, Seek another ruler. I am too great for you.’ ” Such an utterance would compel admiration except for the awkward fact that in March, 1814, Napoleon had accepted these terms, but on gaining a slight temporary advantage had revoked his consent, thus sealing his own fate. As it was, he had to agree to banishment to the isle of Elba, so petty a sovereignty that Fouché, in a letter which, sent through Talleyrand, apparently never reached him, urged him to seek an asylum in the United States. “There,” said Fouché. “you would begin your existence anew among a new people. They would admire your genius without fearing it. You would be under the protection of laws that are just and inviolable towards all that breathes, in the land of the Franklins, the Washingtons, and the Jeffersons. You would prove to that people that, had you been born amongst them, you would have had the same thoughts, feelings, and aspirations as they ; that you would have preferred their virtues and liberty to ruling over all the countries of the earth.”
Head of the provisional government, host of the Czar (who was deterred from occupying the Tuileries by a rumor of its being undermined), and Louis XVIII. ’s plenipotentiary at the Congress of Vienna, Talleyrand adroitly coined, or at least gave a new meaning to, the word “legitimacy.” He thus prevented the annexation of Saxony by Prussia, secured the reinstatement of the Bourbons in Naples, and gained for prostrate France a footing of equality with her conquerors. In all this he showed consummate skill; but the Czar, checkmated by him, resented his defeat, and when, after the Hundred Days, Talleyrand, as Prime Minister, had to receive the dictates of the allied powers, resolved on punishing France for her second submission to Napoleon, he found his position untenable. His resignation was a peace-offering to the Czar, and Louis XVIII. made up his mind never to recall him to office. Dismissed with a rich sinecure to insure his neutrality, Talleyrand had to wait fifteen long years for an opportunity to reënter the political arena.
The revolution of 1830 brought him the embassy to England. An escort of honor from Dover to London, the cheers of the populace, the lavish attentions of the British court and aristocracy, made ample amends for the ignominious expulsion of 1794. The Belgian revolution, tidings of which had reached him at Calais, made his post doubly delicate and difficult, and his London dispatches occupy more than two of his five volumes. We cannot enter minutely into this closing period of his career. Suffice it to say that, in spite of a sovereign unreasonable and at times distrustful; in spite of incompetent and blundering Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and of riots in Paris which weakened his authority; in spite of Prussia, Austria, and Russia, all anxious for the restoration of Dutch rule, Talleyrand succeeded in securing the independence and, what was for France especially important, the neutralization of Belgium, under a prince wedded to the eldest daughter of Louis Philippe. He had not the slightest sympathy with the Belgian insurgents; he seems even to have thought that Belgium would eventually be absorbed by France; but he gained for France all that was immediately practicable, namely, the substitution of a neutralized state for a Dutch monarchy necessarily allied with England and Prussia. “Legitimacy ” was thus of course thrown to the winds, and even “non-intervention,” after serving its purpose, followed suit, for French troops twice entered Belgium : the first time to prevent the recapture of Brussels by Holland; the second, to drive the Dutch out of Antwerp, which they held as a guarantee for favorable terms of separation. During these prolonged negotiations Talleyrand fell ill (or did he sham illness ?), and the London Congress had to hold a sitting in his bedroom. This must have been the proudest moment of his life.
We must pass over the other diplomatic questions, a very sea of troubles in Egypt, Greece, Spain, and Portugal, upon which Talleyrand’s counsels were usefully exercised. The Memoirs break off abruptly in April, 1834. for he either could not or would not edit the dispatches of the remaining four months of his London mission, but these have been added by the Duc de Broglie. Talleyrand would willingly have resigned a year earlier, but was anxious to try to conclude a treaty with England, as a counterpoise to the Holy Alliance. When, however, he found this impracticable, he made up his mind to retire. He pleaded age and infirmity, and he frankly avowed a desire not to impair his reputation by a commonplace ending. He likewise urged his strained relations with Lord Palmerston. These he absurdly attributed to Palmerston’s annoyance at a caricature by Doyle (H. B.), a skit on the lead taken by Talleyrand in the Belgian business, which represented the lame leading the blind. (Palmerston, however, always had his eyes open.) The truth is, that Palmerston, as his biographer, Lord Dulling, acknowledges, lacked the bump of veneration. Unceremonious with everybody, he treated Talleyrand as he did other ambassadors, missing appointments, or keeping him waiting an hour in the antechamber ; whereas Talleyrand, as Prince of Benevento, sometime adviser of Napoleon, and the Nestor of European diplomacy, not to speak of his lameness, considered himself entitled to special attentions. It is believed that, in spite of his age, he was anxious for the Vienna embassy, in the hope of effecting an alliance with Austria; but Louis Philippe was either afraid of his intriguing with the deposed Charles X., then at Prague, or he was eager to throw off an apparent tutelage on which French caricaturists had been busy. Talleyrand, accordingly, retired from public affairs, and lived at Paris and at Valencay till his death, on the 17th of May, 1838.
It is neither necessary nor, with our limited space, possible to discuss those events of his life on which the Memoirs are silent, including the death-bed reconciliation with Rome, regarded by some as a revolting farce; by others, as a clever move by which, at the cost of a very guarded expression of submission and contrition, he secured the last rites of the Church without the usual condition of the dedication of ill-gotten gains to pious uses. His Memoirs, as we have seen, break off, and do not end. Perhaps he wished to avoid drawing a moral, but we are bound to sum up his qualities and deficiencies. He was not a great statesman nor a great thinker. Swimming dexterously with the tide, he never attempted to stem it, and he could prevent or overturn much better than he could construct. Had Talleyrand accepted the premiership offered him in 1832, his want of eloquence and conviction, his incapacity for dealing with parliaments, would have been painfully apparent. He had no large views of politics or history. When he attempts to philosophize he is commonplace, and when he forecasts the future he makes egregious mistakes. He seems, indeed, in 1816, to have predicted the aggrandizement of Prussia; but he imagined that European emigration could be diverted, regardless of climate, from America to north Africa, and he fancied that on the suppression of the slave trade the negro race in America would die out. He could gloss over a crime repugnant to his own instincts, but virtue would have blushed at any tribute from him. His manners were exquisite. He was never rude or arrogant, and he could be most caressing and persuasive, turning even his lameness to account by leaning on the arm of the man whom he wished to win over. His successes, however, were all achieved in the small diplomatic gatherings of the European Areopagus, and mostly in the confidential tête-à-tête conferences which preceded the formal sittings. He could give an expedient the air of a principle, and he could persuade sovereigns, who themselves, or whose fathers, had partitioned Poland, that they were the actual champions of legitimacy. A great diplomatist, adroit in profiting by circumstances, he was never at a loss for a plausible plan or a so-called principle. His tact and self-control never failed him, and his countenance was an impenetrable mask. He could catch up and appropriate ideas thrown out in conversation to which he had apparently paid no attention, His style was clear and felicitous, his wit sparkling, his irony cutting, his repartees always ready, and sometimes carefully premeditated. Considering his lameness, which made lying down the only comfortable position, his industry was extraordinary. He indulged to the full his three ruling passions,—power, wealth, and women: but he was never entirely trusted by his successive masters ; his rapacity, while enabling him to live as an epicure, discredited him; and though he had many intrigues, he was never really in love, and was cruelly punished by being forced to marry a Creole whose beauty had smitten him. but whose fatuity exposed him to a contemptuous pity. His great age, his snowy ringlets, elaborately curled and oiled in his four hours’ daily toilet, won for him the lenient judgment accorded to veterans whose misdeeds, though unrepented of, have become ancient history. Although self had always stood first, he had rendered great services to France, and perhaps his private interests had never come into what would have been a doubtful struggle with patriotism. A “trimmer” on the specious plea of the public interest, his motto was not even Cellini’s, “I serve whoever pays me,” for he frequently served, not his actual, but his prospective paymaster; yet, while betraying French rulers, he never betrayed France. Parental coldness, enforced entrance into a profession for which, as he pleaded in his death-bed letter to the Pope, he “was never born, ” the venality and unscrupulousness of his time, are certainly extenuating circumstances; but though we doubt whether he could have been a great man, we feel with Madame de Rémusat that there was the potentiality of better things in him.
- Memoirs of the Prince de Talleyrand. Edited by the DUC DE BROGLIE. With an Introduction by the Hon. WHITELAW REID. Five volumes. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1891-92.↩
- In 1788, a date difficult to reconcile with Talleyrand’s alleged plan of unfrocking himself.↩
- Grandmother of the Duc de Broglie, who now edits her ungrateful client’s Memoirs.↩
- Goethe was pressed by the Emperor to settle in Paris, to write a drama eulogizing Cæsar, and to publish an account of the Erfurt gathering; that is to say, to glorify the humiliation of Germany. He declined the third proposal, but had serious thoughts of accepting the invitation to Paris. Wieland, less of a courtier, manfully defended Tacitus, against whom Napoleon was fond of inveighing.↩