Dictator's Testament


[THE scene which General Caulaincourt is describing in his Memoirs opens about suppertime on April 12, 1814, at the Palace of Fontainebleau. There Napoleon has waited since March 31 while Caulaincourt, his Foreign Secretary, carried on negotiations in Paris with the victorious Allies over the terms of the Emperor’s abdication and the retirement to Elba. The treaty has been arranged; the abdication has been delivered to Talleyrand by Caulaincourt and by Marshals Ney and Macdonald. Ney seizes the opportunity afforded by that mission to go over to the new government. Meantime Macdonald and Caulaincourt have returned to their Chief at Fontainebleau.

These pages have been culled from No Peace with Napoleon! the American edition of Caulaincourt’s second volume of Memoirs, which will appear in November. — THE EDITORS]


ALL were gratified because the treaty was putting an end to their suspense. This lengthy drama was drawing to its unhappy close; everybody saw what lay ahead of him, at least, and could choose the course he wished to take. With the Emperor’s fate decided, everyone could make some plan for the morrow.

According to what I was told by those who saw the Emperor informally, he was resigned. He spoke even of current events with such calm detachment that one might have thought they meant nothing to him — that he was absorbed in arranging for his journey and planning his new establishment. He talked about public matters as though some other man were involved in them; and about his prospective meeting with his son and the Empress he spoke with a certainty that is an added reproach to his father-in-law’s behavior in that regard. He was not dissatisfied over the stipulations. Under such circumstances, in short, — and in view of the wholesale desertion of our cause at the crucial moment when the terms of abdication had to be whipped into their final shape, — our success had been greater, perhaps, than one had had reason to expect.

The Emperor was not slow in sending for me. It seemed to me that the treaty suited him. His sole dread was that it would not be respected — and his misgivings on that score outran anything I could imagine. He believed that there would be but small show of good faith in carrying it out, even on Their Majesties’ part. He suspected that the Provisional Government was plotting to take his life: that its agents would try to kill him en route. They were too sure of immunity, he felt, and far too certain of reward, to leave a stone unturned in the effort to assassinate him. Thus he saw himself being threatened all the way to Elba. He asked me several times whether there would be a British commissioner to go with him. My affirmative answer seemed to gratify him.

‘The British nation,’ he told me, ‘would not tolerate a murder. In that country the ministers have to account publicly for their acts and undertakings, and even for the way in which their engagements are carried out — wherefore their assent promises security. With the Provisional Government there is no security for me, nor with the Bourbons, who have wished so often to have attempts made on my life, and who have so much to gain by ridding themselves of me to-day. In my present position, I stand amidst a pack of wolves.’

He asked me whether I had mentioned that he would perhaps like to go into retirement in England. Here was a notion which the Emperor had discussed with me once, at the outset of events. He had since written me about it; and now, because of the inconvenience and perils of a long journey across the South of France, and on account of various other circumstances, he appeared still to have that notion in mind, though seemingly he had not worked it up into any scheme such as he would really care to carry out. I gave the Emperor an account of the conversation I had had on that subject with Lord Castlereagh, who at first, it seemed to me, had been dumbfounded by my question, and even embarrassed to find an answer. After trying to sound me out as to the Emperor’s intentions, Castlereagh finally had replied that a question of that sort could be taken up only through formal discussion in England, and would first of all have to be submitted to the Allies.

For the time being, Napoleon pursued this topic no further. He merely remarked to me: ‘The Empress prefers that arrangement. It is likely that we shall be better off in England than anywhere else, and more at ease. Since she can have no Court that is worthy of her, life as a private citizen suits her best. As for me, if I leave French soil I shall be content wherever I find good conversation — and England is full of well-informed men of parts. However, we shall have time to make up our minds, if I can resign myself to the terms that Europe is laying me under. Ah, Caulaincourt, how hard it is!’

He then spoke about the choice of commissioners. The Emperor seemed to find all these particulars diverting. Yet he was lost, so it struck me, in preoccupation. This was most unnatural in him, and was the more noticeable to me because it constantly led him to forget what he had asked, or else not listen to the answer. He interrupted the conversation with frequent exclamations: ‘Ah, Caulaincourt, I have already lived too long! . . . Poor France . . . I am unwilling to see your shame!’ Following each of those exclamations, he seemed on the point of adding a few words and of telling me what oppressed him. I thought that the secret which burdened him was on the verge of slipping out, but he drove it into the back of his mind, along with his trustfulness and his sorrows; and nothing I could do to induce him to throw off the weight of his oppression was of any avail. He noticed how moved I was by his state of mind, and he seemed touched by my emotion. ‘Ah, Caulaincourt, my poor fellow,’ he added, ‘what a fatality! Poor France! ... A little more vigor, a few months more of suffering, and she would have been victorious over all her foes. We should have emerged greater and more glorious from this brief adversity than we did from the years of our most splendid triumphs! . . . When I think of her present state, — of what shameful things the invaders will subject her to, — I cannot bear to live.’

After more than a half hour of silence, the Emperor spoke to me about the condition of Paris and the army. He told me that two days ago, when he saw that nearly all the generals were sending in word of their submission and were opening negotiations with Paris, he had proclaimed in his salon, in a loud voice, that one would do well to take service with the Bourbons — moreover, that he urged all those there present to do so, and thus make it easier for everybody. He had gone on to say that those who had struck their bargains need not dissemble with him: that dissimulation annoyed and hurt him worse than anything else. ‘I cannot abide deceit,’ he added.

I spoke to the Emperor of the demand that he had had made upon me for the return of his Act of Abdication, and of the letter that he had written me in regard to this, after the articles were signed. There was no way whatsoever, I pointed out to him, in which I could have obeyed that order without ruining him and disgracing myself; wherefore there could be no question of my choice in the matter. I remarked that of course I had regretted my inability to oblige him, but that there were some sacrifices which no man of his word could make, even through force of feeling or at his Sovereign’s command. He told me that he had understood my motives.

‘I approve of you,’ he went on; ‘you acted properly. I did not know how things stood at the time. I was given to think that the Guard was unwilling to surrender, and that most of the troops felt the same way. Therefore I was able to count on something from my forces in the Midi, and on their joining up with my army in Italy — for I should never have been willing to devastate France with internal strife. If everybody had not struck his own bargain and deserted me, I should have snatched Italy from the clutches of Austria: those gallant Italians would have welcomed me with open arms. What difference could it make to Their Majesties if Austria did without Italy? My presence in that country would have braced its whole morale; I should have thrown open its ports to the British — and there I should have had a fine kingdom which would not have frightened a soul. If the course of events and the wrath of Europe had prevented my setting up that State for my own, at least I could have kept it for my son, whose rights over Italy I meant to retain in my abdication. There you have the change that I intended to make in it.’

The Emperor asked me whether it was true, as he had been told, that Marshal Ney had gone over neck and crop to the Provisional Government. My answer was that the report was too strong; that all these particulars were pointless now, in any case; and that when there was a revolution in progress one’s very love of Emperor and country might find new ways of expression. The Emperor, it appeared to me, was convinced that Ney had treated him shabbily. ‘You can tell me the truth,’ he added, ‘for I understand him. Yesterday he was against me — and he will lay down his life for me tomorrow.1 Be that as it may, I know for certain how he behaved at Talleyrand’s a few days ago. He spoke in front of so many people that what he said is common knowledge; even Fouché, who is unwilling that they should give me Elba, could not help remarking to somebody that I must have sent Ney to Paris out of spite with myself. That fellow Fouché is above suspicion of good will toward me. If what they tell me is true, he is one of the men who are most outspoken against giving me Elba, because it is too near at hand. He is afraid of me, and would like to see me at the world’s end, I should imagine — such is the load of treason on his conscience. Even so, he is scornful of Talleyrand’s revolution, and perceives clearly what mischief it will do to France.’

The Emperor asked me if I had seen Fouché. I replied that I had caught sight of him only yesterday at the session of the Provisional Government, when I was delivering the abdication. ‘I am positive of what I tell you about him,’ His Majesty repeated; and then he mentioned the Empress. ‘She will not wish to live at Elba the year round, but she will come and go.’

Involuntarily, as it were, he broke into heavy sighs when speaking of Her Majesty and his son; and he was constantly letting slip some sorrowful exclamation or other about France’s predicament. ‘I cannot bear to live!’ That exclamation in particular recurred so often — it seemed uttered so much of its own accord, and despite the efforts I saw him make to still his sorrow — that I was startled as much as I was affected by it.

As you may imagine, the tone of the conversation was not merely earnest. It was very affectionate; and for the first time since I had had the privilege of close association with the Emperor the discussion was amicable, even considerate. I was heartbroken to see the state he was in. Try as I would to control myself and so prevent his breaking down, my heart was too full. We thus found ourselves so disposed toward each other that he was about to tell me everything, while I was proving to him that I was too good a friend — if I may venture the expression — not to sympathize with all his misery and to deserve his entire trust. Just then, however, somebody interrupted us to announce the arrival of M. Orloff, the Tsar’s aide-de-camp, bearing the ratifications.

The Emperor seemed very much provoked at this intrusion. ‘Leave us alone,’ he said; and then, addressing himself to me: ‘He will wait; these gentry here will see him cared for.’ After a momentary silence: ‘What is the good of these ratifications — seeing that neither France nor my son will reap the reward of my sacrifice?’

This comment seemed the preamble to what he was impelled to tell me. He checked himself abruptly, however, and quickened the pace with which he had been walking throughout our discussion. After a silent five minutes, he added: ‘My dear Caulaincourt, go and see what he wants. Get through with this business, and come back so that we may talk.’


Upon returning to my quarters I found Roustam there. He was waiting to tell me that the Emperor requested me to come to him at once. I made haste to note down the conversation I had had with the Emperor, to whom I speedily returned. As soon as he saw me, the Emperor asked if there was any news. My reply was that the Tsar of Russia had sent in his ratification, as promised, in order to put His Majesty’s mind at ease concerning the faithful performance of the treaty pledges; that the Secretariat was busy making copies, and that the formal exchange would be completed next morning.

He spoke to me again of the army’s partial adherence and the Senate’s craven conduct (those are his own words), and of the behavior of Talleyrand and numerous other persons. Always, when mentioning the army, he said that the course it had followed was virtually a legitimate measure of selfdefense. His comment was that all those acts of treachery, the Senate’s conduct in particular, had betrayed France and the troops, leaving them bound hand and foot and depriving him of every means with which to exact pledges safeguarding the national institutions and the army’s rights. ‘Talleyrand and that conspirator Dalberg,’ said he, ‘are fooling everybody, just as they fooled the Senate. Talleyrand has restored the Age of Folly. Louis XVIII, in short, will be very fortunate in finding him at hand, for Talleyrand has a close grasp of affairs. He will be a great help to the King, too, because he knows men as well as facts — which is a matter of importance to a government that is establishing itself and succeeding me.

‘The King,’ he continued, ‘is said to be witty, very Machiavellian, irresolute, cowardly like all the Bourbons, and false altogether. The Count of Artois is far more fantastic than the King, but downright. The Bourbons will lose their way if they commit themselves to those who are coming back with them. Their way to safety lies through the coalition that I have established; they must follow that course if they would not be lost. The King will become the country’s hero; he will live at his ease, the happiest monarch in Europe. If he favors the émigrés, preferring the old nobility before the new, they will walk off with everything and will plan to exploit France for the aristocracy’s advantage, not the dynasty’s. That will rouse factions. France will then be ungovernable for princes so weak as they. The King will do well to hold fast to the men of the Revolution whom I have employed side by side with the old nobility. They are able men, and will serve with zeal — yes, and with assiduity — because they are ambitious. It will be simple for him to make them more royalist than the Vendeans. Besides, that will give their faction pledges of security, and will set all minds at rest.’

He talked of the prestige inherent in an old dynasty; of how easily it could win the support of the troops if it treated them well — if the King surrounded himself with a group of their leaders, judiciously chosen. He spoke with emotion of how magnificently the Guard had behaved. ‘Its faithfulness to me will prove to the King that it is composed of sound men who can be relied on. Just the same, in his place I would not keep them as a unit. I would give many a fat pension, and such of them as were fit to render good service I would promote — meanwhile scattering them throughout the army. Thus I should make first-rate royalists of them. The Bourbons are not strong-handed enough, nor are they in a position to lead that corps if they let it stay together. My memory is too green.’

He enjoined me to serve the Bourbons if I persisted in my unwillingness to go with him. He added that they would use me frequently in the public business; that I should be helpful to them because I was well known throughout Europe; that I ought to serve the King as faithfully as I had served him. The Bourbons, he repeated, would reign in peace if they had the good sense to change nothing but the sheets on his bed, and to give no power to the gentry who returned with them: ‘Cash, a few places at Court — so much and no more for the émigrés.

‘The administration of France,’ he added, ‘must be left to you gentlemen who understand her. My hand was firm; and France will run for a long time yet on sheer momentum, thanks to the impulse I gave her. The Bourbons have far more need than I to keep step with public opinion, since, unlike me, they lack the prestige that goes with glory and with proven experience as an administrator. I have been blamed, and perhaps justly, for loving war too well: but my administration has received its due. There was no waste there, no preference shown, no respecting of persons. The books were wide open to the world. The whole machine ran like the works of a clock with nothing but a pane of glass to screen it. Everybody could see how the wheels went round — a reassuring sight. Everyone whined about conscription, but it fell on everyone alike: the titled and the rich were hit by it, just as the beggar was. The schoolmaster’s son got his commission, the bricklayer’s son got his chevrons, the pauvre diable who had distinguished himself got the riband of the Legion of Honor — and the son who had earned distinction made up for the one who was lost. If you have a hand in affairs, Caulaincourt, bear in mind that drastic changes are not popular in France. Stability in the personnel makes everything stable. I had some unsound ministers, some administrators of small talent: if I did not make them all into good ones, I at least made them more useful, by not replacing them, than some others who might perhaps have been better and more capable than they. The shifting of ministers under Louis XV and Louis XVI did more to ruin France than the stupidity and impotence of the administration did, and all its wastefulness.’

Despite himself, the Emperor’s feeling of depression would frequently break in upon this discourse that was exciting him; and along with it he betrayed his constant preoccupation with some idea from which I sensed that he was trying to divert his mind by commenting so extraordinarily (circumstances considered) on public affairs. ‘Poor France!’ he exclaimed, time and time again; and then he added: ‘I cannot bear to live. I tried my best to die at Arcis. Not a bullet would have me. My task is done. ... I have failed. Unheard-of misfortunes have laid my power low. Treason, fatality — they have run me on the rocks and bowled me over. I was born a soldier; retirement to civil life cannot grieve me; it will not vex me to live as a private citizen. I shall always have more than I need to supply my wants. I only regret the throne for France’s sake; she needed me for two more years. Destiny ought to have spared me that long: we should have beaten England. France and the whole Continent would have reaped the reward of their sacrifices.

‘The day will come when they will do me justice: but by then they will be under the yoke, or at least beneath the sway, of either Britain or Russia. Those who trade by sea, and whose hostility to me has been so inveterate, will miss me then; and they will miss the Continental System, too, which has served in a measure to rouse Europe against me. That System will some day be recognized as the grandest of my political conceptions. Already the Continent, like France, has me to thank for developing its industries — a development whose benefits will show much clearer as time goes by. If they don’t watch out, the monarchs of Europe, who to-day are united by nothing but their hatred of me, will pay as dearly as India for the preponderance that their present successes give to England. They are very shortsighted.’

He had words of praise for the Viceroy, and spoke of him as a prince who had served him faithfully, always. ‘ Eugène,’ he told me,£ is the only one of my family who never has given me a single cause for dissatisfaction. His mother made me very happy: those are the sweetest recollections of my life.’

The Emperor looked so weary, and I saw him so torn by self-conflict, that, despite my interest in this conversation, I begged him to take a little rest. He assured me that I was mistaken, that he was not yet ready for sleep, but that I might withdraw now if there was anything I must attend to, and he would send for me to come back; that he was anxious, anyway, to reread the treaty, and especially those parts of it which concerned the Empress. I offered to read him those articles. He answered that he would rather glance over them himself, and dismissed me. I went to my quarters, more impressed than I can say with the Emperor’s discourse.

Why this summing up of the main events of his life? Why, I asked myself, this passing of judgment upon men and things? What, at such a time, was the point of these explanations about the motives that had guided him in instances long past? Why this political testament, so to speak, of which he seemed eager to make me the trustee or confidant? Why, indeed, when I showed myself in small haste to have the explanations he was giving me (for there would be ample time, I thought, to talk of those matters), and when he ought more naturally to be wondering, at a moment like this, about the explanation of many more recent happenings, which I had seen so lately that I had not been able as yet to tell him of them? He appeared, however, to have no interest in anything that was going on. Such were my reflections; and while they led me to no precise conception of the sad spectacle that I was soon to witness, they did mark me with a sort of melancholy and fill me with forebodings.


At the end of an hour the Emperor sent for me. After several remarks of slight importance about the treaty, and more particularly about certain clauses of it to which he had wished to give a different wording, he understood so thoroughly that the expressions had been imposed on us as they stood, and that we could not have done better, that he said: ‘ What use could you be to the Empress and my son, with her father and Metternich voicing their open opposition? Owning Italy addles Austria’s brains. It is likely that that will some day be the destruction of her.’

The Emperor spoke to me of the Prince of Neuchâtel, who had told him that he intended going to Paris before His Majesty’s departure. He knew that the prince had made arrangements to leave on the morrow, and he was extremely displeased. (He did not explain that his Chief-of-Staff had refused to follow him to Elba, even for a few months.)

‘This proof of attachment,’ he told me, ‘ would have cost him nothing. It would have given pleasure to me. Those who give me that proof will lose nothing by it. Who knows what my plans are? Now that I am useless to France, do you believe I shall outlive her glory?’

After a short silence, during which he seemed fearfully downcast, he complained still further about Berthier’s desertion: ‘Who could have told me that he would be one of the first to leave me! . . . He has his wife and children; there is a duty imposed from that quarter, too. By remaining behind, ho hopes to save his fortune. They might indeed confiscate Neuchâtel’s property if he followed me — whereas Schwarzenberg will arrange matters so that he can keep it; those are important factors in his position. But for him to quit Fontainebleau before my departure — that is what wounds my feelings.’

It would have been more seemly, no doubt, if the Chief-of-Staff had not forsaken the Emperor until the last moment. Before condemning him, however, justice would require us to go into a thousand-and-one details pertaining to the embarrassment and discomfort of his predicament. We must visualize him, too, in the state he was in at the time: suffering, tortured by the Emperor’s unrest. For some little while His Majesty had made him uneasy, and often alarmed him as well, by his wild projects, which, so the prince feared, might be laid at his own door. This brain sickness of the Emperor’s made Berthier actually ill. Since the Emperor, then, was desperately unhappy himself, he took no consideration of the age and the physical suffering of an enfeebled man whom he had burnt out, and whose feelings he often wounded in the throes of his present temper. Now, wounded in his turn by Berthier’s planning to leave him, His Majesty made him no allowances on the score of a past filled with proofs innumerable of devotion and attachment. Such was the relationship existing between the master and the good and loyal servant, — or friend, rather, since the Emperor frequently delighted to call him so, — the faithful sharer of so much glory and the splendor of days gone by.

The Emperor had stopped talking about the friend whom he mourned as lost to him. He felt in need of consolation. Naturally enough, while he was speaking to me of those who stood by him, he found words of praise for Count Bertrand, Grand Marshal of the Palace, He extolled the count’s true nobility of feeling, and cited him as a wholly honorable man whose loyalty he relied upon.

‘The envelope,’ said he, ‘is plain and unprepossessing, but there is pith and substance inside it. I wish he were more spirited — and that his wife had less influence over him.’ He spoke affectionately of his aides-de-camp, and told me that he was touched by the loyalty of his whole entourage, despite the fact that — so he avowed — he was scarcely susceptible to emotion and hardly knew what affection meant. ‘It is doubtless a pity,’ he went on; ‘ but matters of sentiment — the heartfelt emotions, so called — have no share in my organization.’ And in respect of this he told me, as on former occasions, that for him the heart was not the organ of sentiment; that he felt emotions only where most men experienced feelings of a different kind: nothing in the heart, everything in the loins. He told me, moreover, that those emotions of his were never very strong; that they betrayed themselves only through a sort of painful tingling, a nervous irritability, such as other people felt when they experienced the sickly foreboding that someone was about to do them harm: ‘The squeaking of a tool sometimes gives me the same sensation.’

The Emperor went on with his review of personalities. It led him once again to mention Paris, where the list of actors in the great drama was growing longer each day. He plied me with a variety of questions about what had happened and who was there. I avoided answering them.

The Emperor seemed deep in preoccupation throughout; I frequently observed a change in his tone of voice. He continued to treat me in an affectionate manner, talked with me about my personal position and my finances, and expressed regret over having done nothing for me that I could hope to save from the crash. ‘For Talleyrand,’ said he, ‘who has turned France over to Alexander, will not lift a finger to salvage the endowments. The generals, the senators who have been so hot to betray me, will be overreached in fine style when they find out what a treaty the foe imposes. Metternich and the Prussians will be keen to take back all the surrendered estates. Alexander is not interested in plundering you — but he will give a free hand to his allies, so that he may have their leave to trim up Poland as he pleases. I have given you endowments in Hanover and Prussia. You will lose everything,’ the Emperor told me. ’If it is not beneath you, would you care to have something out of the two millions they promise me? Would you like half of it? ’ I report the Emperor’s words, to which I replied with refusal and thanks for his concern.

‘France’s financial position,’ he resumed, ‘is the soundest in Europe. I had three hundred millions in gold in the vaults of the Tuileries to offset the cost of the Saxony Campaign and the present one. I leave behind me a capital sum of a hundred millions, — my own expropriations from my Civil List during the past ten years, — my own property, every bit of it, just as surely as your pay belonged to you. You know perfectly well that even with the building programme counted in I never spent more than twelve or fourteen millions a year. Money never meant anything to me except the undertaking of useful or glorious enterprises. Never a thought have I given to my personal fortune on my own account. Therefore I have nothing. . . . I might have invested my savings year by year and made away with them, but I left them lumped in with the funds of the Extraordinary Domain. I thought only of France, not at all of myself, and too little of my loyal servants. I would far rather know your fortune made out of those millions, though, than see them split between Talleyrand and Metternich and doled out to the men who have betrayed me.

‘I restored, furnished, and beautified the palaces with the funds of my Civil List; only the Louvre was charged against the Extraordinary Domain, on the score that it was a truly national investment of the fruits of conquest. What I allocated from the Domain to the Louvre and the Arcs de Triomphe was my bonus as General-in-Chief.’

He added that the French national debt amounted to nothing: that despite what the Russian campaign and the organization of a new army had cost, and despite the non-payments now resulting from the enemy’s partial occupation of France, the entire debt would be balanced as soon as the books could be brought up to date.

This long discourse; these recollections of a past so filled with glory and so unlike the present; the painful thoughts that were bound to follow upon any such accounting — all this, it seemed, had worn the Emperor out. He was crushed.

‘I need some rest,’ he told me; ‘and so do you, no doubt. Go to bed. I shall have you called again to-night.’

  1. A prophetic forecast of 1815. — EDITOR