Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXVI: Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797. Arrival of General Bonaparte at Paris. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER XXVI: Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797. Arrival of General Bonaparte at Paris. - Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797. Arrival of General Bonaparte at Paris.
The Directory was disinclined to peace, not that it wished to extend the French dominions beyond the Rhine and the Alps, but because it thought the war useful for the propagation of the republican system. Its plan was to surround France with a belt of republics, like those of Holland, Switzerland, Piedmont,1 Lombardy, and Genoa. Everywhere it established a directory, two councils, a constitution; in short, similar in every respect to that of France.2 It is one of the great failings of the French, and a consequence of their social habits, that they imitate one another and wish to be imitated by everybody. They take natural varieties in each man’s, or even each nation’s, mode of thinking for a spirit of hostility against themselves.
General Bonaparte was assuredly less serious and less sincere than the Directory in the love of republicanism; but he had much more sagacity in appreciating circumstances. He foresaw that peace would be popular in France, because the passions were subsiding into tranquillity and the people were becoming weary of sacrifices; he therefore signed the treaty of Campo Formio with Austria. But this treaty contained the surrender of the Venetian Republic; and it is not easy to conceive how he succeeded in prevailing upon the Directory, which yet was in some respects republican, to commit the greatest possible blow according to its own principles. From the date of this proceeding, not less arbitrary than the partition of Poland, there no longer existed in the government of France the slightest respect for any political doctrine, and the reign of one man began when the dominion of principle ended.
Bonaparte made himself remarkable by his character and capacity as much as by his victories, and the imagination of the French was beginning to attach itself warmly to him. His proclamations to the Cisalpine and Ligurian Republics were quoted. In the one this phrase was remarked: You were divided, and bent down by tyranny; you were not in a situation to conquer liberty. In the other, True conquests, the only conquests which cost no regret, are those which we make from ignorance. In his style there reigned a spirit of moderation and dignity, which formed a contrast with the revolutionary bitterness of the civil leaders of France. The warrior then spoke like a magistrate, while magistrates expressed themselves with military violence. In his army, General Bonaparte did not enforce the laws against emigrants. He was said to be much attached to his wife, whose character was full of gentleness; it was asserted that he was feelingly alive to the beauties of Ossian; people took delight in ascribing to him all the generous qualities which place his extraordinary talents in a beautiful light. Besides, the nation was so weary of oppressors who borrowed the name of liberty, and of oppressed persons who regretted the loss of arbitrary power, that admiration did not know what to attach itself to, and Bonaparte seemed to unite all that could seduce it.
It was with this sentiment, at least, that I saw him for the first time at Paris.3 I could not find words to reply to him when he came to me to say that he had sought my father at Coppet,4 and that he regretted having passed into Switzerland without seeing him. But, when I was a little recovered from the confusion of admiration, a strongly marked sentiment of fear succeeded. Bonaparte, at that time, had no power; he was even believed to be not a little threatened by the defiant suspicions of the Directory; so that the fear which he inspired was caused only by the singular effect of his person upon nearly all who approached him. I had seen men highly worthy of esteem; I had likewise seen monsters of ferocity: there was nothing in the effect which Bonaparte produced on me that could bring back to my recollection either the one or the other. I soon perceived, in the different opportunities which I had of meeting him during his stay at Paris, that his character could not be defined by the words which we commonly use; he was neither good, nor violent, nor gentle, nor cruel, after the manner of individuals of whom we have any knowledge. Such a being had no fellow, and therefore could neither feel nor excite sympathy: he was more or less than man. His cast of character, his spirit, his language, were stamped with the imprint of an unknown nature—an additional advantage, as we have elsewhere observed, for the subjugation of Frenchmen.
Far from recovering my confidence by seeing Bonaparte more frequently, he constantly intimidated me more and more. I had a confused feeling that no emotion of the heart could act upon him. He regards a human being as an action or a thing, not as a fellow-creature. He does not hate more than he loves; for him nothing exists but himself; all other creatures are ciphers. The force of his will consists in the impossibility of disturbing the calculations of his egoism; he is an able chess-player, and the human race is the opponent to whom he proposes to give checkmate. His successes depend as much on the qualities in which he is deficient as on the talents which he possesses. Neither pity, nor allurement, nor religion, nor attachment to any idea whatsoever could turn him aside from his principal direction. He is for his self-interest what the just man should be for virtue; if the end were good, his perseverance would be noble.
Every time that I heard him speak, I was struck with his superiority; yet it had no similitude to that of men instructed and cultivated by study or society, such as those of whom France and England can furnish examples. But his discourse indicated a fine perception of circumstances, such as the hunter has of his prey. Sometimes he related the political and military events of his life in a very interesting manner; he had even somewhat of Italian imagination in narratives which allowed of gaiety. Yet nothing could triumph over my invincible aversion for what I perceived in him. I felt in his soul a cold sharp-edged sword, which froze the wound that it inflicted; I perceived in his mind a profound irony, from which nothing great or beautiful, not even his own glory, could escape; for he despised the nation whose votes he wished, and no spark of enthusiasm was mingled with his desire of astonishing the human race.
It was in the interval between the return of Bonaparte and his departure for Egypt, that is to say, toward the end of 1797, that I saw him several times at Paris; and never could I dissipate the difficulty of breathing which I experienced in his presence. I was one day at table between him and the Abbé Sieyès—a singular situation, if I had been able to foresee what afterward happened. I examined the figure of Bonaparte with attention; but whenever he discovered that my looks were fixed upon him, he had the art of taking away all expression from his eyes, as if they had been turned into marble. His countenance was then immovable, except a vague smile which his lips assumed at random, to mislead anyone who might wish to observe the external signs of what was passing within.
The Abbé Sieyès conversed during dinner unaffectedly and fluently, as suited a mind of his strength. He expressed himself concerning my father with a sincere esteem. He is the only man, said he, who has ever united the most perfect precision in the calculations of a great financier to the imagination of a poet. This eulogium pleased me, because it characterized him. Bonaparte, who heard it, also said some obliging things concerning my father and me, but like a man who takes no interest in individuals whom he cannot make use of in the accomplishment of his own ends.
His figure, at that time thin and pale, was rather agreeable; he has since grown fat, which does not become him; for we can scarcely tolerate a character which inflicts so many sufferings on others if we do not believe it to be a torment to the person himself. As his stature is short, and his waist very long, he appeared to much more advantage on horseback than on foot. In every respect it is war, and only war, which suits him. His manners in society are constrained, without timidity; he has an air of vulgarity when he is at his ease, and of disdain when he is not: disdain suits him best, and accordingly he indulges in it without scruple.
By a natural vocation to the princely situation, he already addressed trifling questions to all who were presented to him. Are you married? was his question to one of the guests. How many children do you have? said he to another. How long is it since you arrived? When do you set out? And other interrogations of a similar kind, which establish the superiority of him who puts them over those who submit to be thus questioned. He already took delight in the art of embarrassing by saying disagreeable things—an art which he has since reduced into a system, as he has every other mode of subjugating men by degrading them. At this epoch, however, he had a desire to please, for he confined to his own thoughts the project of overturning the Directory and substituting himself in its stead; but in spite of this desire, one would have said that, unlike the prophet, he cursed involuntarily, though he intended to bless.
I saw him one day approach a French lady distinguished for her beauty, her wit, and the ardor of her opinions. He placed himself straight before her, like the stiffest of the German generals, and said to her, “Madam, I don’t like women to meddle with politics.” “You are right, General,” replied she; “but in a country where they lose their heads, it is natural for them to desire to know the reason.” Bonaparte made no answer. He is a man who is calmed by an effective resistance; those who have borne his despotism deserve to be accused as much as he himself.
The Directory gave General Bonaparte a solemn reception,5 which in several respects should be considered as one of the most important epochs in the history of the Revolution. The court of the palace of the Luxembourg was chosen for this ceremony. No hall would have been large enough to contain the multitude which it attracted: all the windows, and all the roofs, were crowded with spectators. The five Directors, in Roman costume, were seated on a platform at the further end of the court, and near them the deputies of the two councils, the tribunals, and the institute. Had this spectacle occurred before the subjugation of the national representation to military power on the 18th of Fructidor, it would have exhibited an air of grandeur: patriotic tunes were played by an excellent band; banners served as a canopy to the Directors, and these banners brought back the recollection of great victories.
Bonaparte arrived, dressed very simply, followed by his aides-de-camp, all taller than himself, but nearly bent by the respect which they displayed to him. In the presence of the entire French elite, the victorious General was covered with applauses: he was the hope of everyone: republicans, royalists, all saw the present or the future in the support of his powerful hand. Alas! Of the young men who then cried Long live Bonaparte, how many has his insatiable ambition left alive?
M. de Talleyrand, in presenting Bonaparte to the Directory, called him the liberator of Italy and the pacificator of the Continent. He assured them that General Bonaparte detested luxury and splendor, the miserable ambition of vulgar souls, and that he loved the poems of Ossian, particularly because they detach us from the earth. The earth would have required nothing better, I think, than to let him detach himself from its concerns. Bonaparte himself then spoke with a sort of affected negligence, as if he had wished to intimate that he bore little love to the government under which he was called to serve.
He said that for twenty centuries royalty and feudality had governed the world, and that the peace which he had just concluded was the era of republican government. When the happiness of the French, said he, shall be established upon better organical laws, all Europe will be free. I know not whether by the organical laws of freedom he meant the establishment of his absolute power. However that might be, Barras, at that time his friend and president of the Directory, made a reply which supposed him to be sincere in all that he had just said, and concluded by charging him specially with the conquest of England, a mission rather difficult.6
On every side the hymn was sung which Chenier had composed to celebrate this day. The last stanza of it anticipates the long period of tranquil renown to which France might now look forward. It is as follows:
Alas! What is become of those days of glory and peace with which France flattered herself twenty years ago! All these blessings were in the hand of a single man: what has he done with them?
[1. ] In reality, there was no republic of Piedmont.
[2. ] See J. Godechot, La Grande Nation, chap. xii, 331–57.
[3. ] The first meeting occurred on December 6, 1797, in Talleyrand’s house. On the other meetings between Madame de Staël and Napoléon, see Godechot’s note to his 1983 French edition of Considérations (endnote 203, 650–51). Both Simone Balayé and Jacques Godechot reported rumors about earlier letters sent by Madame de Staël to Napoléon in which she allegedly courted the favor of the future emperor. Napoléon supposedly refused to answer. On this issue, also see Gautier, Madame de Staël et Napoléon.
[4. ] It is unlikely that Napoléon stopped at Coppet when he passed through Switzerland in November 1797.
[5. ] On December 10, 1797.
[6. ] On February 23, 1798, after inspecting the army, Napoléon submitted a report to the Directory in which he commented on the difficulty of invading England and the need to strengthen France’s naval power.