Front Page Titles (by Subject) INTERVIEW WITH NAPOLEON. - Political Economy and the Philosophy of Government
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INTERVIEW WITH NAPOLEON. - Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de Sismondi, Political Economy and the Philosophy of Government 
Political Economy and the Philosophy of Government; A Series of Essays selected from the Works of M. de Sismondi. With an Historical Notice of his Life and Writings by M. Mignet (London: John Chapman, 1847).
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INTERVIEW WITH NAPOLEON.
[Inserted in the private journal of M. de Sismondi immediately on leaving the Emperor's presence.]
I had already pubhshed two articles on the Constitution in the Moniteur, when Marshal Bertrand wrote to me on the 1st of May, desiring me to call on him the following morning, Tuesday, at ten o'clock. I arrived some minutes too late, he was just gone out. I waited till noon. On his return, he told me that he wished to present me to the emperor, who had been much pleased by reading my articles in the Moniteur. “; We have read,”he said to me, “your preceding works, and the emperor will be delighted to become acquainted with so distinguished a man.”I thought he meant that they had read them together at the Isle of Elba, but he said it was before, and he fixed the following morning, Wednesday, the 3rd of May, before ten o'clock. I found myself, in fact, on the following morning at the Elysée, in the apartment of the marshal; my name had been left there, and a footman immediately conducted me into the great gallery, which served as an antechamber to the reception hall of the emperor.
I questioned him about many of the English whom he had seen, about Mr. Douglas, with whom he had been much pleased, and whom he could not conceive to be the same person as he whose violent declamations had been published in the newspapers; about Lady Holland, whom he had not seen, but whose enthusiasm for him he knew. I spoke to him of the embarrassment of their finances, of the sort of nightmare which oppressed them, of the little paper of M. Say. Afterwards by comparison we returned to speaking of France. “The French nation is, however, a fine nation,”said he, “noble, feeling, always ready to undertake whatever is fine and great. What can be finer, for example, than my return now? Well, I have no merit in it, none but that of having divined the nation.” Then I asked him many questions about his return; he answered them all with complaisance. “People imagined,”said he, “that there was a conspiracy, that all was prepared beforehand by intrigues; nothing of all that is true. I had not compromised my secret by communicating it, but I saw well that all was ready for an explosion.” “It has been continually said,”answered I, “that the revolution was the work of the army, but I was persuaded that the peasantry had concurred in it with no less promptitude.” “Without doubt, for I travelled more than fifty leagues without meeting a soldier. The peasants only came to meet me; they followed me singing, with their wives and their children; they had made verses suitable to the occasion, and in my honour and against the senate, which they accused of treason. When I got near to Digne, the inhabitants forced the municipality to come and meet me. It was very ill-disposed towards me; however, it conducted itself very well; I was already absolute master of Digne, I could have hanged a hundred persons there if I had wished. They pressed me to stop in the town, but I wished to go on, and had no time to lose. There is a mountain above Digne, which I ascended, followed by all the population;—at my bivouac, they presented to me successively all the distinguished persons of the country, the police functionaries, the half-pay officers. I had not yet found any troops, but I might have been followed by the whole population if I had wished it.”
We resumed our conversation on the Constitution: he said that he thought that these electoral colleges for life would introduce a suitable mixture of aristocracy. I said that in fact some aristocracy was necessary, and that the lasting interests of duration should be represented in the community as well as those of the present moment. “Government,”replied he, “is a navigation: two elements are necessary to navigate; two also are required to direct the vessel of the state. Balloons can never be directed, because there is no fulcrum to resist the storms which agitate that element: so in a pure democracy, there is no possibility of directing it but by combining it with an aristocracy; one is opposed to the other, and the vessel is guided by contrary passions.” “I entirely feel,”replied I, “the necessity of this aristocratic element; I even look upon hereditary distinction as in accordance with our natural feelings; distinction is a quality which is so much the more precious the freer a country is, and when family glory is more connected with national glory. But in the circumstances in which your Majesty is placed, I think it very difficult to establish, and I do not comprehend how the Chamber of Peers can acquire that consideration which it wants. Your Majesty had previously adopted the system of fusing the old nobility with the new, which had succeeded, but which I believe now to be impossible; the old nobility is decidedly inimical; I do not believe that your Majesty can or ought at present to make it re-enter your administration; and I do not comprehend how a new nobility can maintain itself against the old.” “For the present, in fact, all idea of fusion must be adjourned: such an association would be impossible.” “Then I should have wished your Majesty to substitute an elective for an hereditary aristocracy.” “How would you do that?” “I would have left to your Majesty the right of creating new peers, but I would have left to the Chamber the right of filling up, by election, the members it had lost” “Oh no, that would not be possible. Time will be requisite during the first years. I pity these poor peers, because they will meet with much opposition and jealousy; but after some years people will get accustomed to them; the ancient nobility will re-enter this Chamber, and that will at last appear to be the natural order.”
I gave him rapidly an idea of our constitution. On this subject he spoke to me of J. Rousseau; he said he did not like him much, he found much pretension in him, and a style constantly on the stretch. I said to him, that it resembled that of a living author, Chateaubriand, whose style was brilliant, but without simplicity. “Yes,”said he, “he aims at effect; one feels that he is occupied about his phrases, and that beneath these there is no maturity of thought. I have not read the whole of the Genius of Christianity; it is not in my way; it is a system which I do not believe; but, for example, in what he has written against me there is no thought, nothing solid, it is all for effect; however, he is certainly a man of talent.”I told him that I preferred his talent and his character to that of another celebrated man of his time, M. de Fontanes. “Ah, as to him,”said he, “he is entirely on the system of reaction; he conceives nothing but the ancient régime; he sees all that in his imagination, and he has not a mind which can apply itself to real things.”He then spoke to me of English novels, of Richardson and Fielding, and asked me some questions about the Italian and Spanish novels, in the same line as Gil Blas, or in that of Pigault le Brun. I showed my surprise at his knowing these things. “It is because I read a great deal in my youth; I worked hard, and read many novels also. In my youth I was much more discreet than I am now; till my first campaign in Italy, I dared not look a woman in the face; I should not say so much for myself now. During that time also I went through a course of law, and when afterwards we were working on the Code Civil, the councils of state were quite surprised to find that I knew their business. I told them it was because I had studied it.” “Ah,”cried I, “that is what makes great men; it is having successively applied their mind to everything; it is because they have struggled hand to hand with difficulties; it is what princes want, and which renders them at this time so incapable of extricatihg themselves from such perplexing difficulties.” “Ah, it is the fault of the system,”replied he; “but it is irremediable. The Duke of Orleans is the only one of the French princes who has been put to this proof; during his exile he ceased to be a prince, to become a man, therefore he is the only one who has profited by adversity. So they say.”But he then broke off the conversation on that subject. He spoke to me of the popes, who had at all times prevented the Italians from becoming a nation. I said to him, that “people had had at first a great opinion of Pius VII., but that he showed afterwards that he had the obstinacy of a monk, and not the courage of a great man.” “Yes, his firmness has been much boasted of; I had the air of persecuting him; he said to me himself that he was, that he wished to be, a martyr to the faith; but, answered I, how is that, holy father?—you are well fed, well clothed, lodged in a palace, and you call that martyrdom; but you are not disgusted with life.”Then he laughed. Again returning to the praises of the French nation, and comparing them to another nation, he called the French we (nous autres) with quite a national feeling. We had already walked nearly three quarters of an hour; at the two last turns he was much heated, he took off his hat, and his forehead was bathed in sweat. At last he turned towards the palace, we entered his room, he said he was charmed to have made acquaintance with so distinguished a man. He bowed to me, and I retired.