Front Page Titles (by Subject) PART V * - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
PART V * - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Of What Constitutes Legitimate Royalty.
In considering royalty, as all institutions ought to be judged with reference to the happiness and dignity of nations, I shall say generally, but with due respect to exceptions, that princes of old established families are much more likely to promote the welfare of a country than those princes who have raised themselves to a throne.1 Their talents are commonly less remarkable, but their disposition is more pacific; they have more prejudices but less ambition; they are less dazzled by power because they are told from their infancy that they were destined to it; and they do not fear so much to lose it, which renders them less uneasy and less suspicious. Their mode of living and acting is more simple, as they are under no necessity of recurring to artificial means to strike the public, and have nothing new to gain in point of respect: the habits and traditions serve as their guides. Add to this that outward splendor, a necessary attribute of royalty, seems perfectly in place in the case of princes whose forefathers have stood for centuries at the same elevation of rank. When a man is suddenly raised, the first in his family, to the highest dignity, he requires the illusion of glory to cast into the shade the contrast between royal pomp and his former situation of a private individual. But the glory calculated to inspire the respect which men willingly bestow on ancient pre-eminence can be acquired only by military exploits; and the world well knows how the great captains and conquerors almost always conduct themselves in civil affairs.
Besides, hereditary succession in a monarchy is indispensable to the tranquillity, I will even say to the morality and progress, of the human mind. Elective royalty offers a vast field to ambition; the factions resulting from it have infallibly the effect of corrupting the heart and of diverting the thoughts from every occupation which does not point to the interest of tomorrow. But the prerogatives granted to birth, whether for founding a class of nobility or for fixing the succession to the throne in a single family, stand in need of being confirmed by time; they differ in that respect from natural rights, which are independent of every conventional sanction. Now, the principle of hereditary succession is best established in old dynasties. But in order that this principle may not become contrary to reason, and to that general good for the sake of which it has been adopted, it must be indissolubly connected with the reign of law. For were it necessary that millions should be governed by one man according to his will or caprice, it would be better, in such a case, that he were a man of genius; and genius is more likely to be found when we have recourse to election than when we are regulated by the chance of birth.
In no country is hereditary succession more solidly established than in England, although that country has rejected the legitimacy founded on divine right, to substitute for it the hereditary succession sanctioned by a representative government. All sensible people are perfectly able to understand how, by virtue of laws passed by the delegates of a people and accepted by the king, it is the interest of nations, who also are hereditary and even legitimate, to acknowledge a dynasty called to the throne by right of primogeniture. If, on the other hand, royal power was founded on the doctrine that all power proceeds from God, nothing could be more favorable to usurpation; for it is not, in general, power that is wanting to usurpers; for the same men who proffered incense to Bonaparte are at this day the advocates for divine right. All their theory consists in asserting that force is force, and that they are its high priests; we require a different worship with different ministers, and it is then only that we believe monarchy shall be durable.
A change of dynasty, even when legally pronounced, has never taken place except in countries where the overturned government was arbitrary; for the personal character of the sovereign, being then decisive of the fate of the people, it became necessary, as we have often seen in history, to dispossess those who were unfit to govern; while, in our own day, the respectable sovereign of England was accounted the ruler for a considerable time after his faculties were gone,2 because the responsibility of ministers admitted of postponing the act for a regency. Thus, on the one hand, a representative government inspires greater respect for the sovereign in those who are unwilling to transform the affairs of this world into dogmas lest the name of God should be taken in vain; while on the other hand, conscientious sovereigns do not have to fear that the welfare of the country should be wholly dependent on their individual lives.
Legitimacy, such as it has been recently proclaimed, is then altogether inseparable from constitutional limitations. Whether the limitations that formerly existed in France were insufficient to oppose an effectual barrier to the encroachments of power, or whether they were gradually infringed and obliterated, is a point of little importance: they ought to commence from this time forward, even if the antiquity of their origin could not be proved.3
One is ashamed to go back to the evidence of history to prove that a thing equally absurd and unjust ought neither to be adopted nor maintained. It has not been argued in favor of slavery that it has lasted four thousand years; nor did the state of servitude which succeeded it appear more equitable for having subsisted above ten centuries; the slave trade has never been defended as an ancient institution of our fathers. The inquisition and torture, which are of older date, have, I confess, been re-established in one country in Europe;4 but this did not, I imagine, take place with the approbation even of the defenders of all ancient usages. It would be curious to know to which generation among our fathers the gift of infallibility was granted. Which is that past age which ought to serve as a model to the present, and from which one cannot make the slightest departure without falling into pernicious innovations? If every change, whatever be its influence on the general good and progress of mankind, be censurable merely because it is a change, it will not be difficult to oppose to the ancient order of things invoked by you, another order of things still more ancient to which it has succeeded. At that rate, the fathers of those of your ancestors whom you wish to take as guides, and the fathers of those fathers, would be entitled to complain of their sons and grandsons, as of a turbulent youth impatient to overthrow their wise institutions. What human being gifted with good sense can pretend that a change in manners and opinion ought not to produce corresponding change in our institutions? Must government, then, be always three hundred years behind? Or shall a new Joshua command the sun to stand still in his course? “No,” it will be said; “there are things that ought to be changed, but the government ought to be immutable.” There could not be a more effectual way of rendering revolutions inevitable; for if the government of a country refused to participate in any degree in the progressive advance of men and things, it will necessarily be overthrown by them. Can men coolly discuss whether the form of the governments of the present time ought to be in correspondence with the needs of the existing generation, or of those which are no more? Whether it is in the dark and disputed antiquity of history that a statesman ought to look for his rule of conduct; or whether that statesman should possess the talents and firmness of Mr. Pitt, should know where power resides, whither opinion tends, and where he is to fix his point of support to act on the national feeling? For without the nation, nothing is to be done—with it, everything except that which would tend to degrade it: bayonets are the only instruments for that sad purpose. In recurring to the history of the past, as to the law and the prophets, the same thing that happened to the latter happens to history: it becomes the subject of a war of endless controversy. Shall we at present aim at ascertaining from the documents of the age whether a perverse king, Philip the Fair, or a mad king, Charles VI, had ministers who, in their name, allowed the nation to be of some account? Besides, the facts in French history, far from supporting the doctrine which we combat, confirm the existence of a primitive compact between the nation and the king, as fully as human reason demonstrates its necessity. I have, I believe, proved that in Europe, as in France, it is liberty that is ancient and despotism that is modern; also that those defenders of the rights of nations who are stigmatized as innovators have always appealed to the past. Even were this truth not evident, the result would be only a more pressing demand on us as a duty to introduce the reign of that justice which may not as yet have commenced. But the principles of liberty are so deeply engraven on the heart of man that, if the history of every government presents a picture of the efforts of power to encroach, it exhibits likewise a picture of popular struggles against these efforts.
Of the Political Doctrine of Some French Emigrants and Their Adherents.
The opponents of the French Revolution of 1789, whether nobility, clergy, or lawyers, repeated incessantly that no change was necessary in regard to government, because the intermediary bodies which then existed were sufficient to prevent despotic measures; and they now proclaim despotic forms as a re-establishment of the old regime. This inconsistency in point of principle is consistency in point of interest. So long as the privileged classes served as a limit to the royal authority, they were averse to arbitrary power in the Crown; but since the time that the people has found means to take the place of the privileged classes, the latter have rallied under the royal prerogative and would give the character of rebellion to all constitutional opposition and to all political liberty.
These persons found the power of kings on divine right to be an absurd doctrine, which caused the overthrow of the Stuarts, and which, even at that time, was denied by their most enlightened adherents, from a dread that it would forever bar their return to England. Lord Erskine,1 in his admirable pleading in favor of the Dean of St. Asaph, on a question relative to the liberty of the press, begins by quoting Locke’s treatise on the points of divine right and passive obedience, in which that celebrated philosopher positively declares that every agent of royal authority who goes beyond the latitude allowed by law should be considered an instrument of tyranny, and that on this account it is lawful to shut one’s door and repel him by force, as if we were attacked by a robber or a pirate. Locke admits the objection so often repeated, that a doctrine of this kind disseminated among the people might encourage insurrections. “There exists no truth,” he says, “which may not lead to error, no remedy which may not become a poison. There is not one of the gifts which we hold from the bounty of God of which we could make use, if the possible abuse of them were a reason for depriving us of their use. On this view, the Gospels ought not to have been published; for although they are the foundation of all the moral obligations which unite men in society, yet an imperfect knowledge and an injudicious study of the Holy Word has led many men to madness. Weapons necessary for defense may serve for vengeance and murder. The fire that warms us exposes us to conflagration; the medicines which cure us may cause our death. Finally, one could not instruct men on any point of government, one could not profit by any of the lessons of history, if the excesses to which false reasoning may be carried were always to be brought forward as an argument to prevent freedom of thought.”2
The sentiments of Mr. Locke, said Lord Erskine, were published three years after the accession of King William to the throne of England, and at a time when that monarch had raised the author to a high rank in the state. But Bolingbroke, no less famous than Locke in the republic of letters and in the theater of the world, expresses himself on this question in the same manner. He who had armed himself to restore James II to the throne laid the greatest stress on exculpating the Jacobites from what he considered a dangerous calumny—the charge of attempting to found the claims of James II on divine right, and not on the English constitution. And it was from the Continent, to which he had been banished by the House of Hanover, that he wrote what follows: “The duty of a people,” says Bolingbroke, “is now so clearly established that no man can be unacquainted with the circumstances in which he ought to obey, or those in which he ought to resist. Conscience has no longer to contend with reason. We know that we ought to defend the crown at the cost of our fortune and our life, if the crown protects us and does not depart from the limits assigned by law; but we know likewise that if it exceed these limits, it is our duty to resist it.”3
I shall observe incidentally that this divine right, refuted so long ago in England, is kept up in France by an equivocation. Its advocates urge the established phrase: “by the grace of God, king of France and Navarre.” The words so often repeated, that our kings hold their crown from God and their sword, were intended to free them from the extraordinary pretension advanced by the popes to crown and to remove sovereigns. The emperors of Germany, who undoubtedly were elective, assumed, in like manner, the title of “Emperor by the grace of God.” The kings of France, who in virtue of the feudal system rendered homage for this or that province, were not less in the habit of using this form; while princes and archbishops, down to the humblest members of the feudal body, took the title of lords and prelates by the grace of God. At this day the king of England employs the same form, which in fact is nothing but an expression of Christian humility; yet a positive law in England declares guilty of high treason whoever should support divine right. These pretended privileges of despotism, which never can have any other support than that of force, are like the passage in St. Paul: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers; for there is no power but of God.” Bonaparte insisted greatly on the authority of this apostle; he obliged all the clergy of France and the Low Countries to preach on this text; and in fact one could not well refuse to Bonaparte the title of “a higher power on earth.” But what could be the meaning of St. Paul, except that the Christians ought not to interfere with the political factions of his time? Will it be alleged that St. Paul meant to justify tyranny? Did he not himself resist the orders issued by Nero when he preached the Christian faith? And were the martyrs obedient to the prohibition of professing their worship enjoined to them by the emperors? St. Peter calls government very properly a human order. There is not a single question, either in morals or politics, in which we are under the necessity of admitting what is called authority. The conscience of men is to them a perpetual revelation, their reason an unalterable fact. That which constitutes the essence of the Christian religion is the harmony of our private feelings with the words of Jesus Christ. That which constitutes society is the principles of justice applied in different ways, but always recognized as the basis of power and of law.
The nobility, as we have shown in the course of this work, had passed, under Richelieu, from the condition of independent vassals to that of courtiers. One would almost say that a change of dress was indicative of a change of character. Under Henri IV, the French dress had in it something chivalrous; but the large perukes and that sedentary and affected dress that was worn at the court of Louis XIV did not begin till under Louis XIII. During the youth of Louis XIV, the impulse given by the faction called the fronde still called forth some energy; but in his latter years, in the regency, and during the reign of Louis XV, can we quote a single public man who deserves a name in history? What court intrigues occupied the great nobles! And in what a state of ignorance and frivolity did not the Revolution find the greatest part of them!
I have spoken of emigration, its motives, and its consequences. Of the nobles who took that step, some remained constantly out of France and followed the Royal Family with a commendable fidelity. The majority returned to France under the reign of Bonaparte, and many of them became confirmed in his school in the doctrine of passive obedience, of which they made the most scrupulous trial in submission to him whom they were bound to consider a usurper. That the emigrants are justly irritated by the sale of their property I can well conceive; such a confiscation is infinitely less justifiable than the highly legal disposal of the property of the church. But must a resentment, in other respects very natural, be directed against all the good sense of which mankind is in possession in this world? One would say that the progress of the age, the example of England, and even a knowledge of the actual state of France, are so foreign to their minds that they would, I believe, be tempted to strike out the word “nation” from their language as a revolutionary term. Would it not be better, even as a matter of calculation, to become frankly reconciled to all the principles which accord with the dignity of man? What proselytes can they make with this doctrine ab irato,4 without any other foundation than personal interest? They want an absolute king, an exclusive religion, an intolerant priesthood, a court nobility founded on genealogy, a Third Estate acquiring from time to time distinction by lettres de noblesse, a population immersed in ignorance and without rights, an army acting as a mere machine, ministers without responsibility, no liberty of the press, no juries, no civil liberty; but they would have police spies and hired newspapers to extol this work of darkness. They want a king of unbounded authority that he may be able to restore to them all the privileges that they have lost, and which the deputies of the nation, be they who they may, would never consent to restore. They desire that the Catholic religion alone should be tolerated: some because they flatter themselves that thus they should recover the property of the church; others because they hope to find zealous auxiliaries of despotism in some of the religious orders. The clergy of France contended formerly against the Crown, in support of the authority of Rome; but at present all persons of the privileged classes are leagued together. It is the people only which has no other support than itself. These men desire a Third Estate incapable of occupying any elevated station, that all such offices may be reserved for the nobles. They would have the people receive no education, that they may be a flock more easily guided. They would have an army with officers accustomed to arrest, denounce, and put to death; in short, more the enemies of their fellow-citizens than of foreigners. For to re-establish the old state of things in France, without the glory that existed on the one part and the portion of liberty that existed on the other; without the habits of the past which are broken; and all this in opposition to the invincible attachment to the new order of things—a foreign force would be necessary to keep the nation in a state of perpetual compression. These men are averse to juries because they wish for the re-establishment of the old parlements of the kingdom. But besides that these parlements were formerly unable, notwithstanding their honorable efforts, to prevent either arbitrary condemnation, lettres de cachet, or taxes imposed in spite of their remonstrances, they would be in the situation of other privileged persons; they would no longer be animated by their former spirit of resistance to the encroachments of ministers. Re-instated against the wish of the nation, and merely by the will of the sovereign, how could they act in opposition to kings, who might say to them, “If we do not continue to support you, the nation, which is no longer disposed to bear with you, will overthrow you”? Finally, to maintain a system in contradiction to the public wish, it is necessary to have the power of arresting anyone, as well as to give ministers the means of imprisoning without trial, and of preventing the accused from printing a single line in their defense. Society in such a state would be the prey of a few and the bane of the many. Henri IV would be as much disgusted by such a state of things as Franklin; and there is, in the history of France, no period so remote as to offer anything similar to such barbarism. At a time when all Europe seems to advance toward gradual improvement, ought one to pretend to make use of the just horror inspired by a few years of revolution to establish oppression and degradation in a nation once invincible?
Such are the principles of government disclosed in a number of writings by emigrants and their adherents; or rather such are the consequences of this party egoism; for we cannot give the name of principles to that theory which interdicts refutation and does not bear the light. The situation of the emigrants dictates to them the opinions which they advance, and hence the reason that France has always dreaded that power should be lodged in their hands. It is not the former dynasty that inspires any aversion to the country; it is the party which wishes to reign in its name. When the emigrants were recalled by Bonaparte, he was able to restrain them; and the public did not perceive that they had influence. But as they call themselves exclusively the defenders of the Bourbons, there has existed an apprehension that the gratitude of that family toward them might lead to entrusting the military and civil authority to those against whom the nation had contended during twenty-five years, and whom it had always seen in the ranks of the hostile armies. Nor is it the individuals composing the emigrant party who displease those of the French who never quitted their country; they have been intermingled in the camps, and even in the court of Bonaparte. But as the political doctrine of the emigrants is contrary to the national welfare, to the rights for which two million men have perished on the field of battle, to the rights for which (and this is still more grievous) crimes committed in the name of liberty have recoiled on France, the nation will never willingly bend under the yoke of emigrant opinions; and it is the dread of seeing itself constrained to this which has prevented it from taking part in the recall of its ancient princes. The constitutional charter, by giving a guarantee to the good principles of the Revolution, is the palladium of the throne and of the country.5
Of the Circumstances That Render the Representative Government at This Time More Necessary in France Than in Any Other Country.
The resentment of those who have suffered greatly by the Revolution and who cannot flatter themselves with recovering their privileges but by intolerance of religion and despotism of the Crown, is, as has just been said, the greatest danger to which France can be exposed. Her happiness and her glory consist in a treaty between the two parties, taking the constitutional charter as the basis. For besides that the prosperity of France depends on the advantages acquired by the mass of the nation in 1789, I do not know anything that could be more humiliating to the French than to be sent back to servitude like children subjected to chastisement.
Two great historical facts may be, in some respects, compared to the restoration of the Bourbons: the return of the Stuarts in England and the accession of Henri IV. Let us first examine the more recent of the two: we shall afterward return to the former, which concerns France more directly.
Charles II was recalled to England after the crimes of the revolutionaries and the despotism of Cromwell;1 the reaction always produced on the minds of the ordinary people by crimes committed under the pretext of a noble cause repressed the zeal of the English people toward liberty. It was almost the entire nation which, represented by its parliament, demanded the return of Charles II; it was the English army2 that proclaimed him; no foreign troops interfered in this restoration, and in this respect, Charles II was in a much better situation than that of the French princes. But as a parliament was already established in England, the son of Charles I was not called on either to accept or to grant a new charter. The difference between him and the party who had caused the Revolution related to quarrels of religion: the English nation desired the Reformation and considered the Catholic religion as irreconcilable with liberty. Charles II was then obliged to call himself a Protestant; but as, in the bottom of his heart, he professed another faith, he cunningly deceived public opinion during his whole reign; and when his brother,3 who had more violence of temper, permitted all the atrocities which the name of Jefferies4 recalls, the nation felt the necessity of having at its head a prince who should be king by means of liberty, instead of being king in despite of liberty. Some time after, an act was passed excluding from the succession every prince who should be a Catholic or who should have espoused a princess of that religion. The principle of this act was to maintain hereditary succession by not entrusting to chance for a sovereign, but by formally excluding whoever should not adopt the political and religious faith of the majority of England. The oath pronounced by William III, and subsequently by all his successors, proves the contract between the nation and the king; and a law of England, as I have already mentioned, declares guilty of high treason whoever shall support the divine right, that is, the doctrine by which a king possesses a nation as a landholder possesses a farm, the people and the cattle being placed on the same footing, and the one having as little as the other a right to alter their situation. When the English welcomed back the old family with delight, they were hopeful that it would adopt a new doctrine; but the direct inheritors of power refusing this, the friends of liberty rallied under the standard of him who submitted to the condition without which there is no legitimacy. The Revolution of France, down to the fall of Bonaparte, is greatly similar to that of England. Its resemblance with the war of the League and the accession of Henry IV is less striking; but in return, we say it with pleasure, the spirit and character of Louis XVIII recalls to our minds Henri IV much more than Charles II.
The abjuration of Henri IV,5 considered only in regard to its political influence, was an act by which he adopted the opinion of the majority of the French. The Edict of Nantes may also be compared to the declaration of the 2d of May, 1814, by Louis XVIII;6 that wise treaty between the two parties appeased them during the life of Henri IV. By citing these two eras, so different in themselves, and on which one might long dispute, for rights alone are incontestible, while facts frequently give rise to different interpretations, my aim has been only to show what history and reason confirm: that is, that after great commotions in a state, a sovereign can resume the reins of government only in as far as he sincerely adopts the prevailing opinion of his country, seeking, however, at the same time to render the sacrifices of the minority as little painful as possible. A king ought, like Henri IV, to renounce, in some measure, even those who have adhered to him in times of adversity; for, if Louis XIV was to blame in pronouncing the well-known words “L’état, c’est moi,” a benevolent sovereign should, on the other hand, say “Moi, c’est l’état.”
The mass of the people has, ever since the Revolution, dreaded the ascendancy of the old privileged orders; besides, as the princes had been absent for twenty-three years, they had become unknown to the nation; and the foreign troops, in 1814, traversed a great part of France without hearing either regret expressed for Bonaparte or a decided wish for any form of government. It was then a political combination, not a popular movement, that reinstated the ancient dynasty in France; and if the Stuarts, recalled by the nation without any foreign aid and supported by a nobility that had never emigrated, lost their crown by seeking to enforce their divine right, how much more necessary was it for the House of Bourbon to make again a compact7 with France, that they might soften the grief necessarily caused to a proud people by the influence of foreigners on its interior government! Hence the necessity of an appeal to the nation to sanction what force had established. Such, as we shall presently see, was the opinion of a man, the Emperor Alexander, who, although a sovereign with unlimited powers, possesses sufficient superiority of mind and soul to excite jealousy and envy like persons in private life. Louis XVIII, by his constitutional charter and, above all, by the wisdom of his declaration of the 2d of May, by his surprising extent of information and his imposing grace of manner, supplied in many respects what was wanting in point of popular inauguration on his return. But we are still of the opinion, and we shall presently state our reasons, that Bonaparte would not within a year8 have been welcomed by a considerable party if the King’s ministers had truly established a representative government along with the principles of the Charter in France, and if an interest for constitutional liberty had replaced that for military renown.
Of the Entry of the Allies into Paris, and the Different Parties Which Then Existed in France.
The four great powers, England, Austria, Russia, and Prussia, who formed a coalition in 1813 to repel the aggressions of Bonaparte, had never before acted in union, and no Continental state was able to resist such a mass of force. The French nation might perhaps have still been capable of defending itself before despotism had compressed all its energy; but as the struggle on the part of France was to be sustained only by soldiers, army against army, the balance of numbers was entirely, and beyond all proportion, in favor of the foreigners. The sovereigns who led on these troops, amounting, as well regulars as militia, to nearly eight hundred thousand men, displayed a bravery that gives them an inextinguishable right to the affection of their people; but amidst these great personages we must specially mention the Emperor of Russia, who contributed most eminently to the success of the coalition of 1813.
Far from thinking that the merit of the Emperor Alexander is exaggerated by flattery, I would almost say that sufficient justice is not done him, because, like all the friends of liberty, he labors under the preconception existing against the way of thinking in what is called the good company of Europe. People are always attributing his political views to personal calculations, as if in our days disinterested sentiments could no longer enter the human heart. Doubtless, it is of high importance to Russia that France should not be crushed, and France can be restored only by the aid of a constitutional government supported by the assent of the nation. But was the Emperor Alexander actuated by selfish thoughts when he conferred on the part of Poland ceded to him by the last treaties those rights which human reason at present calls for in all directions? Some wish to reproach him with the admiration which he testified during a time for Bonaparte; but was it not natural that great military talents should dazzle a young sovereign of a warlike spirit? Was it possible that he, distant as he was from France, should penetrate, like us, through the artifices of which Bonaparte made a frequent use, in preference even to all the other means at his command? When the Emperor Alexander acquired a thorough knowledge of the enemy with whom he had to contend, what resistance did he not oppose to him? One of his capitals was taken: still he refused that peace which Napoléon offered him with extreme eagerness. After the troops of Bonaparte were driven from Russia, Alexander carried all his force into Germany to aid in the deliverance of that country; and when the remembrance of the French power still caused hesitation in regard to the plan of campaign proper to be followed, he decided that it was indispensable to march to Paris;1 and all the successes of Europe are connected with the boldness of that resolution. It would be painful to me, I confess, to render homage to this determination, had not the Emperor Alexander in 1814 acted a generous part toward France; and had not he, in the advice that he gave, constantly respected the honor and liberty of the nation. The liberal side is that which he has supported on every occasion;2 and if he has not made it triumph so much as might have been wished, ought we not at least to be surprised that such an instinct for what is noble, such a love of what is just, should have been born in his heart, like a flower of heaven, in the midst of so many obstacles?
I have had the honor of conversing several times with the Emperor Alexander at St. Petersburg and at Paris, at the time of his reverses as at the time of his triumph.3 Equally unaffected, equally calm in either situation, his mind, penetrating, judicious, and wise, has ever been consistent. His conversation is wholly unlike what is commonly called an official conversation; no insignificant question, no mutual embarrassment condemns those who approach him to those Chinese phrases, if we may so express ourselves, which are more like bows than words. The love of humanity inspires the Emperor Alexander with the desire of knowing the true sentiments of others, and of treating, with those whom he thinks worthy of the discussion, on the great views which may be conducive to the progress of social order. On his first entrance into Paris, he discoursed with Frenchmen of different opinions like a man who can venture to enter the lists of conversation without reserve.
In war his conduct is equally courageous and humane; and of all lives it is only his own that he exposes without reflection. We are justified in expecting from him that he will be eager to do his country all the good which the state of its knowledge admits. Although he keeps on foot a great armed force, we should do wrong to consider him in Europe as an ambitious monarch. His opinions have more sway with him than his passions; and it is not, so far as I can judge, at conquest that he aims; a representative government, religious toleration, the improvement of mankind by liberty and the Christian religion are no chimeras in his eyes. If he accomplishes his designs, posterity will award him all the honors of genius; but if the circumstances by which he is surrounded, if the difficulty of finding instruments to second him, do not permit of his realizing his wishes, those who shall have known him will at least be apprised that he had conceived the most elevated views.
It was at the time of the invasion of Russia by the French that the Emperor Alexander saw the Prince Royal of Sweden, formerly General Bernadotte, in the town of Abo, on the borders of the Baltic.4 Bonaparte had made every effort to prevail on that prince to join him in his attack against Russia: he had made him the tempting offer of Finland, so lately taken from Sweden, and so bitterly regretted by the Swedes. Bernadotte, from respect to Alexander and from hatred to the tyranny which Bonaparte exercised over France and Europe, joined the coalition and refused the proposals of Napoléon, which consisted principally in a permission granted to Sweden to take or re-take all that might suit her, either among her neighbors or her allies.
The Emperor of Russia, in his conference with the Prince Royal of Sweden, asked his advice as to the means that ought to be employed against the invasion of the French. Bernadotte explained them like an able general who had formerly defended France against foreigners, and his confidence in the final result of the war had considerable weight. Another circumstance does great honor to the sagacity of the Crown Prince of Sweden. When news was brought to him that the French had entered Moscow, the envoys of the different powers who were then in his palace at Stockholm were thunderstruck; he alone declared firmly that from the date of that event, the campaign was lost to the conquerors; and addressing himself to the Austrian envoy at a time when the troops of that power still formed a part of the army of Napoléon: “You may,” he said, “write to your Emperor that Napoléon is lost, although the capture of Moscow seems the greatest exploit in his military career.” I was near him when he expressed himself in this way, and did not, I confess, put entire faith in his predictions. But his profound knowledge of the art of war disclosed to him an event at that time least expected by others. In the vicissitudes of the ensuing year, Bernadotte rendered eminent services to the coalition, as well by participating, with activity and intelligence, in the war at moments of the greatest difficulty, as in keeping up the hopes of the Allies when, after the battles gained in Germany by the new army raised, as if from the earth, by the voice of Bonaparte they began once more to consider the French as invincible.
Yet Bernadotte has enemies in Europe, because he did not enter France with his troops at the time that the Allies, after their triumph at Leipzig, passed the Rhine and marched on Paris. It is, I believe, very easy to justify his conduct on this occasion. Had the interest of Sweden required the invasion of France, it would have been incumbent on him, in making the attack, to forget that he was a Frenchman, as he had accepted the honor of being the head of another state; but Sweden was interested only in the deliverance of Germany; to bring France into a state of subjugation is incompatible with the security of the northern powers. It was therefore allowable to General Bernadotte to stop short on reaching the frontiers of his native land; to decline bearing arms against that country to which he was indebted for his existence and his fame. It has been pretended that he was ambitious to succeed Bonaparte;5 no one knows what an ardent man may imagine in respect to fame; but it is at least certain that by not rejoining the Allies with his troops, he deprived himself of every chance of success through their means. Bernadotte therefore showed on this occasion only an honorable feeling, without being able to flatter himself with deriving from it any personal advantage.
A singular anecdote relative to the Prince Royal of Sweden deserves to be put on record. Bonaparte, far from wishing him to be chosen by the Swedish nation, was very dissatisfied at it, and Bernadotte had reason to fear that he would not allow him to quit France. In the field Bernadotte has considerable boldness, but in all that relates to politics he is prudent; and knowing perfectly how to feel his ground, he marches with force only toward that point of which fortune opens to him the path. For several years back he had dexterously kept himself in a middle state between the good and bad graces of the Emperor of France; but having too much talent to be ranked among the officers formed for blind obedience, he was always more or less suspected by Napoléon, who did not like to find a saber and an independent mind in the same man. Bernadotte, on relating to Napoléon in what manner his election had just taken place in Sweden, looked at him with those dark and piercing eyes which give something very singular to the expression of his features. Bonaparte walked beside him and stated objections which Bernadotte refuted as tranquilly as possible, endeavoring to conceal the keenness of his wishes; finally, after an hour’s conversation, Napoléon said suddenly to him: “Well, let fate be fulfilled!” Bernadotte soon caught the words, but to be the more assured of his good fortune, he repeated them as if he had not understood their meaning: “Let fate be fulfilled,” said Napoléon once more, and Bernadotte departed to reign over Sweden. There are some examples of points being gained in conversation with Bonaparte, in contradiction to his interest; but it is one of those chances, connected with his temper, on which no one can count.
Bonaparte’s campaign against the allies in the winter of 1814 is generally admitted to have been very able; and even those Frenchmen whom he had proscribed forever could not themselves avoid wishing that he should succeed in saving the independence of their country. What a fatal combination, and how unprecedented in history! A despot was then defending the cause of liberty by endeavoring to repulse the foreigners whom his ambition had brought on the French territory! He did not deserve of Providence the honor of repairing the mischief that he had done. The French nation remained neutral in the great struggle about to decide its fate; that nation formerly so animated, so vehement, was ground to dust by fifteen years of tyranny. Those who knew the country were well aware that life remained at the bottom of those paralyzed souls, and union in the midst of the apparent diversity produced by discontent. But one would have said that, during his reign, Bonaparte had covered the eyes of France like those of a falcon who is kept hood-winked until let loose on his prey. People did not know where the country was; they would no longer hear of Bonaparte, nor of any of the governments whose names were mentioned. The moderate conduct of the European powers prevented them from being considered as enemies, without its being possible, however, to welcome them as allies. France, in this condition, underwent the yoke of foreigners because she had not redeemed herself from that of Bonaparte; from what evils would she have escaped if, as in the early days of the Revolution, she had preserved in her heart a sacred horror of despotism!
Alexander entered Paris almost alone, without guards, without any precautions; the people were pleased at this generous confidence, the crowd pressed around his horse, and the French, so long victorious, did not yet feel themselves humiliated in the first moments of their defeat. Every party hoped for a deliverer in the Emperor of Russia, and certainly he carried that wish in his breast. He stopped at the house of M. de Talleyrand, who having, throughout all the stages of the Revolution, preserved the reputation of a man of much talent, was capable of giving him correct information on every point. But, as we have already mentioned, M. de Talleyrand considers politics as a maneuver to be regulated by the prevailing winds, and stability of opinion is by no means his characteristic. This is called cleverness, and something of this cleverness is perhaps necessary to veer on thus to the end of a mortal life; but the fate of a country should be guided by men whose principles are invariable; and in times of trouble, above all, that flexibility which seems the height of political art plunges public affairs into insurmountable difficulties. Be this as it may, M. de Talleyrand is, when he aims at pleasing, the most agreeable man whom the old government produced; it was chance that placed him amidst popular dissensions; he brought to them the manners of a court; and those graces which ought to be suspected by the spirit of democracy have often seduced men of coarse dispositions, who felt themselves captivated without knowing how. Nations which aim at liberty should beware of choosing such defenders; those poor nations without armies, and without treasure, inspire attachment only to conscientious minds.
A government proclaimed in Paris by the victorious armies of Europe was an event of high interest to the world; whatever that government might be, it could not be concealed that the circumstances which led to its establishment rendered its position very difficult; no people possessed of a spirit of pride can bear the intervention of foreigners in its interior affairs. In vain will these foreigners do whatever is reasonable and wise; their influence is sufficient to pervert even happiness itself. The Emperor of Russia, impressed with the importance of public opinion, did all that was in his power to leave to that opinion as much liberty as circumstances allowed. The army was desirous of a regency, in the hope that, under the minority of the son of Napoléon, the same government and the same military employments would be kept up. The nation wished that which it will always wish—the maintenance of constitutional principles. Some individuals believed that the Duke of Orléans,6 a man of talent, a sincere friend of liberty, and a soldier in the cause of France at Jemmappes, would serve as a mediator between the different interests; but at that time he had hardly lived in France, and his name was indicative rather of a treaty than of a party. The impulse of the allied sovereigns was naturally in favor of the old dynasty; it was called for by the clergy, the nobles, and the adherents whom they were collecting in some departments of the south and west. But at the same time, the army contained scarcely any officers or soldiers reared in obedience to princes absent for so many years. The interests accumulated by the Revolution, the suppression of tithes and feudal rights, the sale of national lands, the extinction of the privileges of the nobility and clergy; all that constitutes the wealth and greatness of the mass of the people rendered it necessarily inimical to the partisans of the old government, who came forward as the exclusive defenders of the royal family; and until the constitutional charter had given proof of the moderation and enlightened wisdom of Louis XVIII, it was natural that the return of the Bourbons should excite an apprehension of all the inconveniences attendant on the restoration of the Stuarts in England.
The Emperor Alexander estimated all those circumstances, as would have been done by an enlightened Frenchman, and was of the opinion that a compact ought to be concluded, or rather renewed, between the nation and the king. For if in former ages the barons assigned limits to the throne and required of the monarch the maintenance of their privileges, it was fair that France, which now formed only one people, should, by its representatives, possess those rights which the nobles enjoyed formerly, and enjoy still in several countries of Europe. Besides, Louis XVIII having returned to France only by the support of foreigners, it was of importance to draw a veil over that sad circumstance by voluntary and mutual securities between Frenchmen and their king. Policy as well as equity recommended this system; and if Henri IV, after a long civil war, submitted to the necessity of adopting the creed of the majority of the French, a man of so much judgment as Louis XVIII might well conquer such a kingdom as France by accepting a situation similar to that of the king of England: in truth it is not so much to be disdained.
Of the Circumstances Which Accompanied the First Return of the House of Bourbon in 1814.
When the return of the Bourbons was decided on by the European powers, M. de Talleyrand brought forward the principle of legitimacy to serve as a rallying point to the new spirit of party that was about to prevail in France. Doubtless, we cannot too often repeat that hereditary succession to the throne is an excellent pledge for tranquillity and comfort; but as the Turks also enjoy this advantage, we may well conclude that certain other conditions are necessary to ensure the welfare of a state. Moreover, nothing is more distressing at a critical conjuncture than those slogans which prevent most men from exercising their reasoning powers. Had the revolutionaries proclaimed not mere equality, but equality under the law, this qualification would have been sufficient to excite some reflection in the public mind. The case would be the same with legitimacy, if we add to it the necessity of limiting the royal power. But either of these words, “equality” or “liberty,” when without qualification, are only such as would justify sentinels who should fire on him that did not instantly give the watch-word on the demand “who comes here.”
The senate was pointed out by M. de Talleyrand to discharge the functions of representatives of the French nation on this solemn occasion.1 Had the senate the power of assuming this right? And that power, which it legally had not, was it entitled to by its past conduct? As there was not time to convene deputies from the departments, was it not at least necessary to call together the legislative body? That assembly had given proofs of decision in the latter period of the reign of Bonaparte, and the nomination of its members belonged somewhat more to France herself. However, the senate pronounced2 the forfeiture of the crown by that same Napoléon to whom it was indebted for its existence. The forfeiture was grounded on principles of liberty; why were not these recognized before the entrance of the allies into France? The senators, it will be said, were then without strength; all power was in the hands of the army. There are, we must admit, circumstances in which the most courageous men have no means of being active; but there are none that oblige men to do anything contrary to conscience. The noble minority of the senate, Cabanis, Tracy, Lanjuinais, Boissy d’Anglas, Volney,3 Collaud,4 Chollet,5 &c., had fully proved during several years that a passive resistance was possible.
Senators, among whom there were several members of the National Convention, called for the return of the old dynasty, and M. de Talleyrand boasted that on this occasion he obtained the call of Vive le Roi from those who had voted the death of Louis XVI. But what good was to be expected from this kind of address, and would there not have been more dignity in excluding these men from such a deliberation? Is it necessary to deceive even the guilty? And if they are so bent to servitude as to bow the head to proscription, what purpose is gained by making use of them? Finally, it was this senate which prepared the constitution to be presented to the acceptance of Louis XVIII; and in those articles so essential to the liberty of France, M. de Talleyrand, at that time all-powerful, admitted the introduction of a most ridiculous condition, a condition calculated to invalidate all the others: the senators declared themselves, and along with them their pensions, hereditary. That men hated and ruined should make awkward efforts to preserve their situation is perfectly natural, but ought M. de Talleyrand to permit it? And ought we not to conclude, from this apparent negligence, that a man of his sagacity was already wanting to please the nonconstitutional royalists by allowing the public to lose the respect otherwise due to the principles advanced in the declaration of the senate? This was facilitating to the King the means of disdaining that declaration and of returning without any kind of previous engagement.
Did M. de Talleyrand at that time flatter himself that by this excess of complaisance, he should escape the implacable resentment of party spirit? Had he had during life enough of constancy in point of gratitude to imagine that others would not fail toward him in that respect? Did he hope that he alone should escape the shipwreck of his party, when all history informs us that there are political hatreds which never admit of reconciliation? Prejudiced men, whatever be the reform in question, never forgive those who have in any degree participated in new ideas; no penitence, no quarantine, can give them confidence in this respect; they make use of the individuals who have abjured; but if these pretended converts would retain a remnant of their past principles, even in small points, their fury is forthwith rekindled against them. The partisans of the old regime consider those of a representative government as in a state of revolt against legitimate and absolute power. What mean, then, in the eyes of these non-constitutional royalists, the services which the old friends of the Revolution may render their cause? They are considered a beginning of expiation and nothing more. How did M. de Talleyrand not feel that, for the interest of the King as for that of France, it was necessary that a constitutional compact should tranquilize the public mind, consolidate the throne, and present the French nation to the eyes of all Europe not as rebels who ask forgiveness, but as citizens who become connected with their sovereign by mutual duties?
Louis XVIII returned without having recognized the necessity of such a compact; but being personally a man of a very enlightened mind, and whose ideas extended far beyond the circle of courts, he supplied it, in some measure, by his declaration of 2nd May, dated from St. Ouen. He thus granted what the nation wished him to accept; but this declaration, superior to the constitutional charter in regard to the interests of liberty, was so well conceived that it satisfied the public at the time. It justified the hope of a happy union of legitimacy in the sovereign and legality in the institutions. The same king might be a Charles II in hereditary right and a William III by his enlightened views. Peace seemed concluded between the opposing parties; the situation of courtier was left to those who were fit for it; the Chamber of Peers was composed of the men whose families were rendered illustrious by history and of the men of merit in the present age; in short, the nation hoped to repair her misfortunes by redirecting that intense activity, which had previously consumed herself as well as Europe, toward the securing of constitutional liberty.
There were only two kinds of danger that could extinguish these hopes: one, if the constitutional system was not followed by an administration with energy and sincerity; the other, if the congress of Vienna should leave Bonaparte at the island of Elba in the presence of the French army. This was a sword suspended over the throne of the Bourbons. Napoléon, by contending against foreigners to the last moment, had regained somewhat in the opinion of the French, and had perhaps more partisans at that time than during his lawless prosperity. It was thus necessary, for the support of the Restoration, that the Bourbons, on the one hand, should triumph over the recollection of victory by pledges given to liberty and, on the other, that Bonaparte should not be settled within thirty leagues of his old soldiers. No greater error could ever have been committed with regard to France.
Of the Aspect of France and of Paris During Its First Occupation by the Allies.
It would be altogether wrong to feel surprise at the grief experienced by the French on seeing their celebrated capital occupied in 1814 by foreign armies. The sovereigns who became masters of it behaved at that time with the greatest equity; but it is a cruel misfortune for a nation to have to express even gratitude to foreigners, as it is a proof that its fate depends on them. French armies had, it is true, entered more than once almost all the capitals of Europe, but none of these cities were of so great importance relative to their respective countries as Paris relative to France. The monuments of the fine arts, the recollections of men of genius, the splendor of society, all contributed to render Paris the central point of Continental civilization. For the first time since Paris occupied such a rank in the world did the flag of foreigners wave on its ramparts. The dome of the Hotel of the Invalids had been lately decorated with standards, the trophies of forty battles, and now the banners of France could be displayed only under the orders of her conquerors. I have not, I believe, extenuated in this work the picture of the faults which reduced the French to this deplorable condition, but the more they suffered from them, the more they were entitled to esteem.
The best way of judging of the sentiments that actuate large masses is to consult one’s own impressions. We are sure of discovering the feelings of the multitude by a reference to our own; and it is thus that men of ardent imaginations are able to foresee the popular movements with which a nation is threatened.
After ten years of exile1 I landed at Calais, and I anticipated great pleasure on revisiting that beautiful France which I had so much regretted; my sensations were quite different from what I expected.2 The first men whom I perceived along the shore wore the Prussian uniform; they were the masters of the town and had acquired that right by conquest. But I felt as if I were witnessing the re-establishment of the feudal system, such as it is described by old historians, when the inhabitants of the country served only to cultivate the ground of which the warriors of Germany were about to reap the fruits. Oh France, France! None but a foreign tyrant would have reduced you to such a state; a French sovereign, be he who he might, would have loved you too much ever to expose you to it.
I continued my journey, my heart always afflicted by the same thoughts; on approaching Paris, Germans, Russians, Cossacks, and Baskirs presented themselves to my sight in every direction; they were encamped around the church of St. Denis, where repose the ashes of the kings of France. The discipline enjoined by their leaders prevented the soldiers from doing injury to anyone, at least any other injury than that oppression of soul which it was impossible to remove. At last, I entered that city in which had been spent the most happy and most brilliant days of my life; I entered it as if I were passing through a painful dream. Was I in Germany or in Russia? Had they imitated the streets and squares of the capital of France to revive the remembrance of them after it had ceased to exist? In short, all was trouble in my mind; for in spite of the bitterness of my pain, I esteemed the foreigners for having shaken off the yoke. I felt unqualified admiration for them at this time; but to see Paris occupied by them, the Tuileries, the Louvre guarded by troops who had come from the frontiers of Asia, to whom our language, our history, our great men were all less known than the meanest Khan of Tartary—this was insupportable grief. If such was the impression on me, who could not have returned to France under Bonaparte’s sway, what must have been the feelings of those warriors, covered with wounds and so much the prouder of their military fame, as it had for a long time constituted the only fame of France?
A few days after my arrival I wished to go to the opera; I had repeatedly in my exile figured to my recollection this daily amusement of Paris as far more graceful and brilliant than all the extraordinary entertainments of other countries. The performance was the ballet of Psyche, which for twenty years back had invariably been represented, but under very different circumstances. The staircase of the opera was lined with Russian sentinels; entering the house I looked around on all sides to discover a face which I might recognize, but I perceived only foreign uniforms; hardly did a few Parisians of the middling class show themselves in the pit, that they might not lose their ancient habits; in other respects the spectators were entirely changed; the performance alone remained the same. The decorations, the music, the dancing had lost none of their charms, and I felt myself humiliated by seeing French elegance so lavishly displayed before those sabers and mustachios, as if it had been the duty of the vanquished again to contribute to the amusement of the victors.
At the Theâtre François the tragedies of Racine and Voltaire were represented before foreigners more jealous of our literary fame than eager to confess it. The elevation of sentiment expressed in the tragedies of Corneille could no longer find a pedestal in France; it was no easy matter to avoid a blush on hearing them pronounced. Our comedies, in which the art of gaiety is carried so far, were amusing to our conquerors when it was no longer in our power to enjoy them, and we were almost ashamed even of the talents of our poets when they seemed chained like us to the chariot of the victors. No officer of the French army, to their honor be it said, appeared at the theater during the occupation of the capital by the Allies; they walked about sorrowfully and without uniforms, being unable to bear their military decorations since they had been unable to defend the sacred territory of which the charge had been entrusted to them. The irritation which they felt did not allow them to understand that it was their ambitious, selfish, and rash leader who had brought them to the state they were in: reflection could not accord with the passions by which they were agitated.
The situation of the King returning with foreigners amidst that army which necessarily hated them presented difficulties without number.3 Individually, he did all that intelligence and goodness can inspire to a sovereign who wanted to please, but he had to do with feelings of too strong a cast to be satisfied by the means employed under the old government. It was the support of the nation that was needed to regain the army; let us examine whether the system adopted by the ministers of Louis XVIII could accomplish that object.4
Of the Constitutional Charter Granted by the King in 1814.
I have a pride in here reminding the reader that the declaration signed by Louis XVIII at St. Ouen in 1814 contained almost all the articles in support of liberty proposed by M. Necker to Louis XVI in 1789, before the Revolution of the 14th of July burst forth.
That declaration did not bear the date of a reign of nineteen years,1 in which lies the question of a divine right or a constitutional compact. The silence observed in that respect was extremely prudent, since it is clear that a representative government is irreconcilable with the doctrine of divine right. All the disputes between the English and their kings have arisen from that inconsistency. In fact, if kings are absolute masters of the people, they ought to exact taxes instead of asking for them; but if they have anything to ask from their subjects, it necessarily follows that they have also something to promise them. Moreover, the King of France, having in 1814 reascended the throne by the aid of a foreign force, his ministers ought to have suggested the idea of a contract with the nation, of the consent of its deputies; in short, the idea of anything that could convey a guarantee and bear evidence of the wish of Frenchmen, even if these principles had not been generally recognized in France. It was much to be apprehended that the army which had taken an oath to Bonaparte and had fought nearly twenty years under him should regard as null the oaths required by European powers. It was thus of importance to connect and blend the French military with the French people by all possible forms of voluntary acquiescence.
What, it will be said, would you plunge us again in the anarchy of primary assemblies? By no means; that which public opinion called for was an abjuration of the system on which absolute power is founded, but the public would have aimed at no chicanery with the ministry of Louis XVIII in regard to the mode of accepting the constitutional charter. It would have been sufficient only to consider it as a contract, not as an edict of the King;2 for the Edict of Nantes of Henri IV was abolished by Louis XIV; and every act which does not rest on mutual engagements can be revoked by the authority from which it emanates.
Instead of at least inviting the two chambers to choose the commissioners who were to examine the act of constitution, the ministers caused these commissioners to be named by the King. The chambers would very probably have elected the same men; but it is one of the errors of the ministers of the old government to want to introduce the royal authority everywhere, while one ought to make a sparing use of this authority wherever it is not indispensably needed. All that we can allow a nation to do, without its leading to disorder, tends to extend information, to fortify public spirit, and increase the harmony between the government and the people.
On the 4th of June, 1814, the King came to the two chambers to make a declaration of the constitutional charter. His speech was full of dignity, talent, and propriety; but his Chancellor3 began by calling the constitutional charter a decree of reform. What a fault! Did not this imply that what was granted by the King might be withdrawn by his successors? Nor was this all; in the preamble to the charter, it was said that power in all its plenitude was vested in the person of the King, but that its exercise had often been modified by the monarchs who preceded Louis XVIII, such as Louis VI, Philippe the Fair, Louis XI, Henri II, Charles IX, and Louis XIV. The examples were certainly ill-chosen; for without dwelling on Louis XI and Charles IX, the ordonnance of Louis VI, in 1127, relieved the Third Estate of the towns from a state of servitude, and it is rather long since the French nation have forgotten this favor. As to Louis XIV, his is not the name to be introduced when we speak of liberty.
No sooner had I heard these words than I became apprehensive of the greatest future evils; for such indiscreet pretensions were still more calculated to expose the throne than to threaten the rights of the nation. The latter was at that time so powerful in its interior that nothing was to be dreaded for her; but it was exactly because public opinion was all-powerful that people could not avoid being irritated at ministers who thus put to hazard the protecting authority of the King without having any real strength to support it. The charter was preceded by the old form used in ordonnances, “We accord, we make concession and grant.” But the mere name of charter, consecrated by the history of England, recalls the engagements which the Barons obliged King John to sign in favor of the nation and themselves.4 Now, in what manner could the concessions of the Crown become a fundamental law of the state if they were nothing more than a favor from the King? Scarcely was the constitutional charter read when the Chancellor hastened to ask the members of the two chambers to swear fidelity to it. What would then have been said of a reclamation by a deaf person who should have got up to excuse himself from taking an oath to a constitution of which he had not heard a single article? Well! this deaf party was the French people; and it was because its representatives had acquired the habit of being dumb under Bonaparte that they desisted from any objection on the occasion. The consequence was that many of those who, on the 4th of June, swore to obey in all respects a code of laws which they had not even had time to understand, disengaged themselves but too easily ten months after from a promise so lightly given.
It was curious to see assembled in the presence of the King the two assemblies, the Senate and the legislative body, who had so long served Bonaparte. The senators and the deputies still wore the uniform given them by Napoléon; they made their bows turning to the rising instead of the setting sun; but their salute was as lowly as before. The Court of the House of Bourbon was in the galleries, holding up white handkerchiefs and calling Vive le Roi with all their might. The former adherents of the imperial government, the senators, marshals, and deputies, found themselves surrounded by these transports, and they had the practice of submission to such a degree that all the habitual smiles of their features served, as usual, for the admiration of power. But ought anyone who knew the human heart to put trust in such demonstrations? And would it not have been better to bring together representatives freely elected by France than men who at that time could be actuated only by interests, and not by opinions?
Although the charter was in several respects calculated to satisfy the public wish, it still left many things to be desired. It was a new experiment, while the English constitution had stood the test of time; and when the charter of the one country is compared with the constitution of the other, everything is in favor of England, whether we look to the people, to the grandees, or even to the King, who in a free country does not have the power of separating himself from the general interest.
The unconstitutional part of the royalists, whose words we are obliged incessantly to take note of, because it is above all by words that they act, have all along repeated that if the King had acted like Ferdinand VII,5 if he had re-established, purely and simply, the old form of government, he would have had nothing to dread from his enemies. But the King of Spain had the army at his disposal, while that of Louis XVIII was not attached to him. The priesthood also forms an auxiliary army to the King of Spain; in France the ascendancy of the priesthood is at an end; in short, everything forms a contrast in the political and moral situation of the two countries; and he who endeavors to compare them merely indulges his fancy without at all considering the elements of which power and public opinion are composed.
But Bonaparte, it will still be said, knew how to beguile or to control the spirit of opposition! Nothing would be more fatal for any government in France than to imitate Bonaparte. His war-like exploits were of a nature that produced a fatal illusion in regard to his despotism; still Napoléon was found unable to resist the effect of his own system, and certainly no other hand was capable of wielding that club which recoiled even on his head.
In 1814, the French appeared less difficult to govern than at any other period of the Revolution; for they were rendered passive by despotism, and they were weary of the agitation to which the restless character of their master had doomed them. But, far from putting trust in this deceitful torpor, it would have been better to encourage them, if we may say so, to want to be free, that the nation might serve as a support to the royal authority against the army. It was important to replace military enthusiasm with political interests in order to nourish that public spirit which in France always stands in need of it. But of all yokes it was most impracticable to re-establish the ancient one; and the greatest precautions should have been taken to guard against whatever recalled it. There are yet but few Frenchmen who know thoroughly what liberty is; and Bonaparte certainly did not render them nice judges of it; but all institutions tending to hurt equality produce in France the same ferment which the reintroduction of Popery caused formerly in England.
The dignity of the peerage differs as much from nobility by genealogy as a constitutional monarchy from a monarchy founded on divine right; but it was a great error in the charter to keep up all titles of nobility, whether ancient or recent. After the restoration, we met in all directions with counts and barons created by Bonaparte, by the court, and sometimes even by themselves; while the peers alone ought to be considered the dignitaries of the country, in order to destroy the feudal nobility and replace it with a hereditary magistracy which, extending only to the eldest son, would not establish distinctions of blood and family in the country.6
Does it follow from these observations that the people in France were unhappy under the First Restoration? Was not justice and even the greatest kindness displayed toward everyone? Doubtless; and the French will long repent that they were not then sufficiently aware of it. But if there are faults which justly irritate you against those who commit them, there are others which cause you disquietude for the fate of a government that you esteem; and of this description were those committed by the agents of the royal authority. The friends of liberty, the most sincerely attached to the King, wished a guarantee for the future; and their desire in that respect was just and reasonable.
Of the Conduct of the Ministry During the First Year of the Restoration.
Several English writers on politics advance that history shows the impossibility of getting a constitutional monarchy adopted with sincerity by a race of princes who have enjoyed unlimited authority during several centuries. The French ministry in 1814 had only one method of refuting this opinion: this was by manifesting in everything the superior mind of the King, to a degree that might convince the public that he yielded voluntarily to the improved knowledge of his age; because, if he lost as a sovereign, he gained as an enlightened man. The King on his return personally produced this salutary impression on those who had contact with him; but several of his ministers seemed to make a point of destroying this great advantage produced by the wisdom of the monarch.
A man since raised to an eminent station said, in an address to the King in the name of the department of the Lower Seine, that the Revolution had been nothing else than a twenty-five-year rebellion. By pronouncing these words, he disqualified himself from being useful in public affairs; for if this revolution be nothing else than a revolt, why consent to its operating a change in all our political institutions, a change consecrated by the constitutional charter? Consistency required that this objection should be answered by saying that the charter was a necessary evil to which people ought to submit so long as the misfortunes of the times required. How could such a mode of thinking be calculated to inspire confidence? How could it confer any stability or any strength on an order of things nominally established? A certain party considered the constitution as a wooden dwelling, the inconveniences of which were to be borne with during the interval necessary to reconstruct the true mansion, the old government.1
In public the ministers spoke of the charter with the greatest respect, particularly when they proposed measures which were destroying it piece by piece; but, in private, they smiled at the name of this charter, as if the rights of a nation were an admirable topic for pleasantry. What frivolity, good heavens! and this on the brink of an abyss! Is there, then, in the habits of courts something which perpetuates levity of mind even to advanced age? Gracefulness is often the result of this levity, but it costs dearly in the serious periods of history.
The first proposition submitted to the legislative body was the suspension of the liberty of the press. The ministry cavilled about the words of the charter, which were as clear as possible; and the newspapers were subjected to censorship.2 If it was thought that the newspapers could not yet be left to themselves, it was at least incumbent on the ministry, after becoming responsible for their contents, to commit the direction of these papers (now official by the mere circumstance of the censorship) to wise men who would in no case permit the least insult to the French nation. How strange that a party evidently the weaker, weak to a high degree, as the fatal return of Bonaparte showed but too clearly! How strange that this party should assume, toward so many million men, the tone of a preacher on a fast-day! How strange to declare to all that they are criminal in various ways, at various times, and that they ought, by relinquishing every claim to liberty, to expiate the evils which they caused in their efforts to obtain it! The writers of this party would, I believe, have permitted only for one short day a representative government, had it consisted in a few deputies robed in white and coming, with halters round their necks, to ask pardon for France. Others, with a milder tone, said, as in the time of Bonaparte, that it was proper to preserve the interests of the Revolution, provided its principles were annihilated. This was saying nothing less than that they still feared the interests, and that they hoped to weaken them by separating them from the principles.
Is this a proper manner of treating a nation of twenty-five million, lately the conquerors of Europe? Foreigners in spite, and perhaps even on account, of their triumph showed much more respect to the French nation than those newspaper writers who, in every successive government, had been the purveyors of sophistic arguments for the stronger party. These newspapers, whose tone, however, was thought to be dictated by ministry, attacked all individuals, dead or alive, who had been the first to proclaim even the principles of the constitutional charter. We were obliged to hear the venerable names which have an altar in our hearts, constantly insulted by party writers without having the power of replying, without being able even once to say how far these illustrious tombs were placed above their unworthy attacks, and what champions we have in Europe, and in posterity, for the support of our cause. But what can be done when all the discussions are ordered beforehand, and when no accent of the soul can pierce through writings devoted to the cause of meanness? At one time they insinuated the advantages of exile or discussed the objections to personal liberty. I have heard it proposed that government should consent to the liberty of the press, on condition of being invested with the power of arbitrary imprisonment; as if it were possible for one to write when laboring under a threat of being punished, without trial, for having written!
When the partisans of despotism have recourse to the bayonet, they act consistently; but when they employ the forms of reasoning to establish their doctrine, it is in vain that they flatter themselves with success in their deception. It is in vain to try to deprive a nation of knowledge and publicity; it becomes the more distrustful; and all the depths of Machiavellian policy are but wretched child’s play when compared to the strength, at once natural and supernatural, of complete sincerity. There are no secrets between a government and a people: they understand, they know each other.3 One can seek support in this or that party; but to believe that one can introduce by stealth the institutions against which public opinion is on the watch, implies a total ignorance of what the public has become in our day.
A series of resolutions tended to re-establish all things on the old footing; the constitutional charter was hemmed round in such a way as to render it eventually so different from the original whole as to make it fall, in a manner, of itself, stifled under the pressure of etiquette and ordinances. At one time it was proposed to reform the Institute which has been the glory of enlightened France, and to impose anew on the French Academy the old eulogies on Cardinal de Richelieu and Louis XIV exacted for more than a century; at another time decrees were passed for oaths to be taken in the ancient form and without reference to the charter; and when this triggered complaints, the example of England was brought forward; but it was introduced in France to sanction anything against liberty but never in favor of it. Yet it was very easy on this, as on every other occasion, to refute the explanation given to the example of England. The King of England, swearing himself to maintain the constitutional laws of the kingdom, the public functionaries take the oaths to him only. But is it worthwhile to begin an argument when the sole purpose of the adversaries is to find words to hide their intentions?
The institution of nobility as created by Bonaparte answered in truth no other purpose than to show the absurdity of that multitude of titles without reality to which only puerile vanity can attach importance. In the peerage, the eldest son inherits the titles and rights of his father; but the rest of the family returns into the class of citizens; and, as we have frequently repeated, they form not a race of nobles but a hereditary magistracy, on whom certain honors are conferred on account of the public utility of the peerage, and not in consequence of inheritance by conquest, an inheritance which constitutes feudal nobility. The titles of nobility sent in all directions by the Chancellor of France in 1814 were necessarily injurious to the principles of political liberty. For what is meant by ennobling, except declaring that the Third Estate, in other words the nation, is made up of plebeians; that it is not honorable to be merely a citizen, and that certain worthy individuals must be raised above this state of humility? Now these individuals were, in general, persons who were known to be ready to sacrifice the rights of the nation to the privileges of the nobility. A taste for privileges in those who possess them by right of birth has at least a certain grandeur; but what can be more servile than those members of the Third Estate who offer to serve as a footstool to those who wish to mount over their heads?
Letters of nobility take date in France from the reign of Philip the Bold; their principal object was to confer an exemption from the taxes paid exclusively by the Third Estate. But the old nobles of France never considered as their equals those who were not noble by birth; and in this they were right; for nobility loses all its empire on the imagination whenever it does not go back to the shades of antiquity. Thus, letters of nobility are equally to be rejected on the ground of aristocracy as on that of liberty. Let us attend to what is said of them by the Abbé de Velly, a very judicious historian,4 and acknowledged as such, not only by public opinion but by the royal censors of his time.* “The most remarkable thing in letters of nobility is that they require at the same time a financial supply for the king, who must be indemnified for the portion of taxation of which the descendants of the new noble are relieved, and an alms for the people, who undergo a surcharge in consequence of this exemption. It belongs to the Chamber of Accounts to decide on both. The king may remit both; but he seldom remits the alms, as that regards the poor. This is the place for quoting the remark of a celebrated jurist. This abolition of plebeianshipis, if the truth may be spoken, nothing more than an erasure of which the mark remains; it seems indeed rather a fiction than a truth, the prince possessing no power to reduce an entity to a non-entity. This is what makes us in France so anxious to conceal the origin of our titles of nobility, in the hope of making them appear to belong to that earliest class of gentility, or immemorial rank, which alone constituted nobility in former ages.”
On reading what has been published on these topics in Europe since the discovery of printing, or that only which is quoted from ancient chronicles, we are surprised to see how ancient in every country are the principles of the friends of liberty; and in what manner just views penetrate through the superstitions of certain periods in the minds of those who have in any way published their independent reflections. We have certainly on our side the reason of every age, and this cannot be denied to form a kind of legitimacy like any other.
Religion being one of the grand springs of every government, the conduct to be held in that respect necessarily occupied the serious attention of ministers; and the principle in the charter which it was incumbent on them to maintain with the greatest scruple was universal toleration. Although there still exists in the south of France some traces of that fanaticism which so long caused blood to be shed in these provinces, although the ignorance of some of the inhabitants of that country is equal to their warmth of temper, was it necessary to allow the Protestants to be insulted in the streets by sanguinary songs announcing the assassinations which were subsequently committed?5 Was it not time for the purchasers of church lands to tremble when they saw the Protestants of the south marked out for massacre? Did not the peasantry, who pay neither tithe nor feudal dues, see their cause also in that of the Protestants; in short, in that of the principles of the Revolution, acknowledged by the King himself, but constantly evaded by the ministers? There are complaints, and but too just complaints in France, of a want of religion in the people; but if the intention be to make use of the clergy to reinstate the old form of government, we may be assured that the irritation thus caused will increase incredulity.
What, for instance, could have been contemplated by substituting for the fête of Bonaparte on the 15th of August a procession to celebrate the vow of Louis XIII which consecrates France to the Holy Virgin? The French nation has, it must be admitted, a tremendous share of warlike asperity to be made to go through so meek a ceremony. Courtiers follow this procession with due devotion for the sake of places, as married women perform pilgrimages that they may have children; but what good is done to France by solemnly attempting to re-introduce ancient usages which have lost their influence on the people? This is accustoming them to make a mockery of religion instead of reviving their former habits of veneration for it. To attempt restoring power to fallen superstition is to imitate Don Pedro of Portugal, who, when he had attained the throne, brought from the tomb the remains of Inès de Castro to have them crowned. She was no more a queen for that.
Yet these remarks are far from being applicable to the funeral ceremony in memory of Louis XVI celebrated at St. Denis on the 21st of January. No one was able to witness that spectacle without emotion. The whole heart shares in the sufferings of that princess6 who returned to the palace not to enjoy its splendor, but to honor the dead and to seek out their bleeding remains. This ceremony was, in the opinion of some, impolitic; but it excited so much sympathy that no blame could attach to it.
A free admission to all public employments is one of the principles on which the French lay the greatest stress. But, although this principle was declared sacred by the charter, the nominations made by ministers, particularly in the diplomatic department, were altogether confined to the aristocratic class. The army saw introduced into it too many general officers who had never made war but in a drawing room, and even there not always with success. In short, there was clearly no disposition but to bestow offices on the courtiers of former days, and nothing was so painful to those of the Third Estate who were conscious of possessing talent or wanted to excite emulation in their sons.
The finances, that department which is felt more immediately by the people, were in some respects managed with ability; but the promise given to suppress the long list of excise duties comprised under the name of droits reunis7 was not performed, and the popularity of the restoration suffered greatly by it.
Finally, the duty of the ministry, above all things, was to obtain that the princes should exercise no interference in public business unless in responsible employments. What would the English nation say if the King’s sons or brothers had seats in the cabinet, voted for war or peace, in short, took a share in public business, without being subjected to the first principle of that government, responsibility, from which the King alone is exempted? The proper place for princes is the House of Peers; it is there that they ought to take the oath to observe the constitutional charter, an oath which they took only when Bonaparte was marching on Paris. Was not this an acknowledgment that they had till then neglected one great means of gaining the confidence of the people? Constitutional liberty is, for the princes of the House of Bourbon, the magic word which alone can open to them the gates of the palace of their ancestors. The art which they might employ to evade the pronunciation of it would be very easily observed; and this word, like the images of Brutus and Cassius, would excite greater attention in proportion as greater pains had been taken to avoid it.
There existed no common concert among ministers; no plan recognized by the whole; the ministry of police, an institution detestable in itself, was apprised of nothing and was employed about nothing; for if there be laws, however few, what can be done by a minister of police? Without having recourse to the employment of spies, to arrests, in short, to the whole abominable edifice of despotism founded by Bonaparte, statesmen must know the direction of public opinion and the true way to act in conformity to it. You must either command an army that will obey you like a machine or derive your strength from the sentiments of the nation; the science of politics stands in need of an Archimedes to supply it with a point of support.
M. de Talleyrand, whose thorough acquaintance with the parties that have agitated France cannot be contested, being at the congress of Vienna, could not influence the conduct of government in domestic affairs. M. de Blacas,8 who had shown the most chivalrous attachment to the King in his exile, inspired the courtiers with the old jealousies of the oeil de boeuf, which do not leave a moment of repose to those who are thought to be in favor with the monarch; and yet M. de Blacas was, perhaps, of all those who returned with Louis XVIII, the most capable of forming an estimate of the situation of France, however new it might be to him. But what could be done by a ministry constitutional in appearance and counter-revolutionary in reality; a ministry composed, in general, of men who were upright, each in his own way, but who were governed by opposite principles, although the first wish of each was to please at court? Everyone said, this cannot last, although at that time the situation of everyone was easy; but the want of strength, that is of a durable foundation, created a general restlessness. It was not arbitrary strength that was desired, for that is only a convulsion from which, sooner or later, there always results a disastrous reaction, while a government established on the true nature of things goes on in a course of progressive consolidation.
As people saw the danger without forming a clear idea of the remedy, some persons adopted the unfortunate notion of proposing for the ministry of war Marshal Soult,9 who had lately commanded with distinction the armies of Bonaparte. He had found means to gain the heart of certain royalists by professing the doctrine of absolute power which he had long practiced. The adversaries of all constitutional principles feel in themselves much more analogy to the Bonapartists than to the friends of liberty, because the change of the master’s name is all that is wanted to make the two parties agreed. But the royalists did not perceive that this name was everything, for despotism could not then be established with Louis XVIII, either on account of his personal qualities or because the army were not disposed to lend itself to such a purpose. The true party of the King should have been the immense majority of the nation, which desires a representative constitution. All connection with the Bonapartists was then to be avoided, because they could not but subvert the monarchy of the Bourbons, whether they served them with integrity or aimed at deceiving them. The friends of liberty, on the other hand, were the natural allies among whom the King’s party should have sought support; for, from the moment that the King granted a constitutional charter, he could employ with advantage those only who professed its principles.
Marshal Soult asked the erection of a monument for the emigrants who fell at Quiberon; he who, during twenty years, had fought for the cause adverse to theirs: it was a disavowal of all his past life, and still this abjuration was gratifying to a number of royalists. But in what consists the strength of a general from the moment that he loses the attachment of his fellow soldiers? When a man of a popular party is obliged to sacrifice his popularity, he is no longer of use to the new party that he embraces. The pertinacious royalists will always inspire more esteem than the converted Bonapartists.
The royalists thought to gain the army by appointing Marshal Soult minister of war; they were deceived: the great error of persons educated under the old government consists in attaching too much importance to leaders of every description. In our day the masses are everything, the individuals comparatively nothing. If the marshals lose the confidence of the army, generals of equal ability with their superiors soon come forward; if these generals are overset in their turn, soldiers will be found capable of replacing them. The same may be said in regard to civil administration; it is not men but systems which shake or guarantee power. Napoléon, I confess, forms an exception to this truth; but besides that his talents are extraordinary, he has farther studied, in the different circumstances in which he has been placed, to lay hold of the opinions of the moment, to seduce the passions of the people at the time he wished to enslave them.
Marshal Soult did not perceive that the army of Louis XVIII ought to be led by principles altogether different from that of Napoléon; the plan should have been to detach it gradually from that eagerness for war, from that frenzy of conquest by means of which so much military success had been obtained and such cruel evils inflicted on the world. But a respect for law, a sentiment of liberty, could alone operate this change. Marshal Soult, on the contrary, believed that despotism was the secret of everything. Too many people persuade themselves that they will be obeyed like Bonaparte by exiling some, by removing others from office, by stamping with the foot, by knitting the eyebrows, by replying haughtily to those who address them with respect; in short, by practicing all those arts of impertinence which men in office acquire in twenty-four hours, but which they often repent during the whole of life.
The intentions of the Marshal failed from the numberless obstacles of which he had not the slightest idea. I am persuaded that the suspicion of his acting a treacherous part is groundless. Treason among the French is, in general, nothing but the result of the momentary seduction of power; they are scarcely ever capable of combining it beforehand. But a Coblentz emigrant would not have committed so many faults in regard to the French army if he had been in the same situation; for he would at least have observed his adversaries, whereas Marshal Soult struck at his former subordinates, without suspecting that since the fall of Bonaparte there was such a thing as opinion, legislation, or, in short, the possibility of resistance. The courtiers were persuaded that Marshal Soult was a superior man because he said that one should govern with a scepter of iron. But where is this scepter to be forged, when you have on your side neither army nor people? In vain do you dwell on the necessity of bringing back to obedience, of subjecting, punishing, &c.; none of these maxims act of themselves, and you may pronounce them in the most energetic tone without being any the stronger for it. Marshal Soult had shown great ability in the method of administering a conquered country; but France was not one after the foreign troops were withdrawn.
Of the Obstacles Which Government Encountered During the First Year of the Restoration.
We proceed to state the obstacles which the ministry of the Restoration had to surmount in 1814, and we shall have no fear in expressing our opinion on the system that ought to have been followed to triumph over them; the picture of this era is certainly not yet foreign to the present time.
All France had been cruelly disorganized by the reign of Bonaparte. What forms the strongest charge against that reign is the evident degradation of knowledge and virtue during the fifteen years that it lasted. After Jacobinism was past, there remained a nation that had not participated in its crimes, and the revolutionary tyranny might be considered a calamity of nature, under which the people had succumbed without being debased. The army could then boast of having fought only for the country, without aspiring to wealth, to titles, or to power. During the four years of the rule of the Directory, a trial had been made of a form of government which was connected with grand ideas; and if the extent of France and its habits rendered that form of government irreconcilable with general tranquillity, at least the public mind was electrified by the individual efforts which a republic always excites. But after military despotism and the civil tyranny founded on personal interest, of what virtues could we find any trace in the political parties with which the imperial government had surrounded itself? The masses in all orders of society, the military, peasants, nobles, men in trade, still possessed great and admirable qualities; but those who came forward on the scene of public business presented, with a few exceptions, the most miserable spectacle. The day after the fall of Bonaparte there was no activity in France but at Paris, and at Paris only among a few thousand persons running after the money and offices of government, whatever that government might be.
The military were and still are the most energetic body in a country where, for a long time, distinction has been awarded only to one kind of virtue—bravery. But ought those warriors who were indebted for their fame to liberty, to carry slavery among foreign nations? Ought those warriors who had so long supported the principles of equality on which the Revolution is founded, to exhibit themselves, if I may so speak, tattooed with orders, ribbons, and titles, which the Princes of Europe had given them that they might escape the tribute required from them? The majority of French generals, eager after distinctions of nobility, bartered their fame, like savages, for bits of glass.
It was in vain that, after the Restoration, government, while it was far too negligent of officers of the second rank, heaped favors on those of the higher class. From the time that Bonaparte’s warriors wished to become courtiers, it was impossible to satisfy their vanity in that respect; for nothing can make new men belong to an ancient family, whatever be the title that is given to them. A well-powdered general of the old government excites the ridicule of those veteran mustachios which have conquered the whole of Europe. But a chamberlain from the family of a farmer or tradesman is hardly less ridiculous in his way. It was therefore impossible, as we have just said, to form a sincere alliance between the old and the new court; the old court indeed necessarily bore an appearance of bad faith in endeavoring to remove, in this respect, the quick-sighted apprehensions of the great lords created by Bonaparte.
It was equally impossible to give Europe a second time to be parcelled out among the military, whom Europe had at last conquered; and yet they were persuaded that the restoration of the old dynasty was the only cause of the treaty of peace which made them lose the barrier of the Rhine and the ascendency in Italy.
The secondhand royalists, to borrow an English phrase, that is, those who, after having served Bonaparte, offered to be instrumental in introducing the same despotic principles under the Restoration; these men, calculated only to inspire contempt, were fit for nothing but intrigue. They were to be dreaded, it was said, if they were left unemployed; but nothing should be more guarded against in politics than to employ those whom we dread: for it is perfectly certain that they, discovering this feeling, will act as we act toward them merely by the tie of self-interest, which is broken, and rightly so, by adverse fortune.
The emigrants expected indemnities from the old dynasty for the property which they had lost by remaining faithful to it, and their complaints in this respect were certainly very natural. But they should have been helped without invalidating, in any manner, the sale of the national property, and made to comprehend what the Protestants had learned under Henri IV—that although they had been the friends and defenders of their King, they ought for the good of the state to consent that the King should attach himself to the interest that was predominant in the country over which he wished to reign. But the emigrants never conceive that there are Frenchmen in France, and that these Frenchmen are to be reckoned for something, nay for a great deal.
The clergy reclaimed their former possessions, as if it were possible to dispossess five million proprietors in a country, even if their titles were not by this time consecrated by all laws ecclesiastical and civil. Certainly France under Bonaparte has lost almost as much in point of religion as in point of information. But is it necessary that the clergy should form a political body in the state and possess territorial wealth in order that the French people may be brought back to more religious sentiments? Moreover, when the Catholic clergy exercised great power in France, it procured in the seventeenth century the repeal of the Edict of Nantes; and this same clergy in the eighteenth century opposed, down to the time of the Revolution, the proposition of M. de Malesherbes to restore the Protestants to the rights of citizens.1 How, then, could the Catholic priesthood, if re-constituted as an order of the state, admit the article of the charter which proclaims religious toleration? In short, the general disposition of the nation is such that a foreign force alone could make it endure the re-establishment of the church in its previous form. Such an object would require the bayonets of Europe to remain permanently on the soil of France, and a measure of this nature would certainly not reanimate the attachment of the French to the clergy.
Under the reign of Bonaparte nothing was properly carried on but war; everything else was willfully and voluntarily abandoned. People seldom read anymore in the provinces, and at Paris the public hardly know books but through the newspapers; which, such as they are, exercise a control over thought, since it is by them only that opinions are formed. We should blush to compare England and Germany with France in regard to general instruction. Some distinguished men still conceal our poverty from the eyes of Europe; but the instruction of the people is neglected to a degree that threatens every sort of government. Does it follow that public education ought to be exclusively entrusted to the clergy? England, the most religious country in Europe, has never admitted such an idea. Nor is it thought of either in the Catholic or Protestant part of Germany. Public education is a duty of government to the people, on which the former cannot levy the tax of this or that religious opinion.
That which the clergy of France wishes, that which it has always wished, is power; in general, the demands which we hear urged in the name of the public interest may be resolved into the ambition of groups or of individuals. If a book is published on politics, if you have difficulty in understanding it, if it appears ambiguous, contradictory, confused, translate it by these words, “I wish to become a minister,” and all its obscurity will be explained to you. In fact, the predominant party in France is that which calls for places; the others are but accidental shades at the side of this uniform color; the nation, however, neither is nor can be of any account in this party.
In England when a ministry is changed, all who occupy places given by ministers do not imagine that they can receive places from their successors; and yet there exists but a very slight difference between the different parties in England. Tories and Whigs both desire monarchy and liberty, although they differ in the degree of their attachment to each. But in France, people thought themselves entitled to receive appointments from Louis XVIII because they had held places under Bonaparte; and a number of persons who call themselves patriots thought it strange that the King should not compose his counsel of those who had sentenced his brother to death. Incredible madness of the love of power! The first article of the rights of man in France is that it is necessary that every Frenchman should hold a public employment.
The caste of place-hunters have no idea of living but at the public expense; neither industry nor commerce, nor anything which proceeds from ourselves, appears to them a suitable source of income. Bonaparte had accustomed certain men who called themselves the nation to be pensioned by government; and the disorder which he had introduced into the affairs of everyone, as much by his gifts as by his acts of injustice, was such that at his abdication an incalculable number of persons, without any independent resource, offered themselves for places of any kind, no matter whether in the navy, the magistracy, the civil or military departments. Dignity of character, consistency of opinion, inflexibility of principle, all the qualities of a citizen, of a man of high spirit, of a friend of liberty, no longer exist in the active candidates formed by Bonaparte. They are intelligent, bold, decisive, dextrous dogs in the chase, ardent birds in the pursuit of prey; but that inward conscience which renders one incapable of deceiving, of being ungrateful, of showing servility toward power or harshness toward misfortune; all these virtues which exist in our nature as well as in reflection were treated as chimerical or as romantic exaggeration, even by the young men of that school. Alas! the misfortunes of France will give her back enthusiasm; but at the time of the Restoration there was scarcely any such thing as a decided wish on any point; and the nation was with difficulty awakened from the despotism which had given to men a movement so mechanical that even the vivacity of their action was no exercise of the will.
This, then, the royalists will still repeat, was an admirable opportunity for reigning by force. But, we say it once more, the nation consented to be subservient to Bonaparte only to obtain through him the splendor of victory; the dynasty of the Bourbons could not and ought not to make war on those who had re-established them. Were there any means of introducing slavish obedience at home when the army was by no means attached to the throne and when the population, being almost wholly renewed since the princes of the house of Bourbon had quitted France, princes who were known only to persons of the age of forty and upward?
Such were the principal elements of the Restoration. We shall examine particularly the spirit of society at this date, and we shall finish by a sketch of the methods which, in our opinion, could alone triumph over these various obstacles.
Of the Influence of Society on Political Affairs in France.
Amidst the difficulties which the government had to overcome in 1814, we must place in the first rank the influence which the conversation of the saloons exercised on the fate of France. Bonaparte had resuscitated the old habits of a court and had joined to them, besides, all the faults of the less refined classes. The result was that a thirst of power and the vanity that it inspires had assumed characteristics still more strong and violent among the Bonapartists than among the emigrants. So long as there is no liberty in a country, everyone aims at getting favor, because the hope of obtaining a place is the only vivifying principle which animates society. The continual variations in the mode of expressing oneself, the confused style of political writings, whose mental restrictions and flexible explanations lend themselves to any interpretation; bows made and bows refused; sallies of passion and effusions of condescension, have no other object than to obtain favor, further favor, and still additional favor. It follows that people suffer quite enough by not getting it, because it is only by means of it that they obtain the tokens of kindness in the human countenance. One must possess great loftiness of soul and steadiness of opinion to dispense with it; for even your friends make you feel the value of exclusive power by the eagerness of their attention to those who possess it.
In England the adherents of the Opposition are often better received in society than those of the court; in France, before inviting a person to dinner, you ask if he be in the good graces of ministers; and in a time of famine, it might be even well to refuse bread to those who happen to be out of favor at court.
The Bonapartists had enjoyed the homage of society during their reign in the same way as the royalist party that succeeded them, and nothing hurt them so much as to occupy only the second place in the very saloons where they were so lately pre-eminent. The men of the old government had, besides, that advantage over them which is conferred by grace and the habit of good manners of former days. There consequently subsisted a perpetual jealousy between the old and the new men of title; and, among the latter, stronger passions were awakened by every little circumstance to which the various pretensions gave birth.
The King had not, however, re-established the conditions required under the old government to be admitted at court; he received, with a politeness perfectly well measured, all those who were presented to him; but though places were too often given to those who had served Bonaparte, nothing was more difficult than to appease those vanities that had become easily alarmed. Even in society it was wished that the two parties should mingle together, and each, apparently at least, complied. The most moderate in their party were still the royalists who had returned with the King, and who had not quitted him during his entire exile: the Count of Blacas, the Duke of Grammont, the Duke of Castries, the Count of Vaudreuil, etc. Since their conscience bore witness that they had acted in the most honorable and disinterested manner, according to their opinion, their minds were calm and benevolent. But those whose virtuous indignation against the party of the usurper was the most difficult to repress were the nobles or their adherents who had solicited places to the same usurper during his power, and who separated themselves from him very abruptly on the day of his fall. The enthusiasm for legitimacy of such a chamberlain of Madame Mère or of such a lady-in-waiting of Madame Sœur knew no bounds; and we whom Bonaparte had proscribed during the whole course of his reign, we examined ourselves to know whether we had not been his favorites at times when a certain delicacy of mind obliged us to defend him against the invectives of those whom he had loaded with favors.
We very often perceive a kind of tempered arrogance in the aristocrats, but the Bonapartists had certainly still more of it during the days of their power; and at least the aristocrats then adhered to their ordinary weapons: a constrained air, ceremonious politeness, conversations in a low tone of voice; in short, all that the perceptive eyes can observe but that proud characters disdain. It was easy to guess that the ultraroyalists forced themselves to treat the opposing party decently; but it cost them still more to show them to the friends of liberty than to the generals of Bonaparte; and the latter obtained from them attentions which obedient subjects always owe, in conformity with their system, to the agents of royal authority, whoever they may be.
The defenders of liberal ideas, equally adverse to the partisans of the old and new despotism, might have complained of seeing the flatterers of Bonaparte preferred to them; those men who offered no other guarantee to their new master but the sudden desertion of the old. But of what importance to them were the miserable disputes of society? It is possible, however, that such motives may have excited the resentment of a certain class of persons, at least as strongly as the most essential interests. But was this a reason for replunging the world in misery by the recall of Bonaparte and, at the same time, setting at stake the independence and liberty of the country?
In the first years of the Revolution, much may have been suffered from the terrorism of society, if it can be so called; and the aristocracy made a dextrous use of its established respectability to declare such or such an opinion out of the pale of good company. This first-rate company exerted, in former days, an extensive jurisdiction; some were afraid of being banished from it; others wished to be received into it; and the great lords and the great ladies of the old regime were beset with the most active pretensions for their favor. But nothing similar existed under the Restoration; Bonaparte, by imitating courts in a coarse manner, had dissipated their illusions; fifteen years of military despotism change everything in the customs of a country. The young nobles partook of the spirit of the army; they still retained the good manners which their parents had inculcated; but they possessed no real instruction. Women feel nowhere a necessity for being superior to men; and only a few gave themselves that trouble. There remained in Paris a very small number of amiable people of the old regime; for old persons had, for the most part, sunk under long misfortunes or were soured by inveterate resentments. The conversation of new men was necessarily more interesting: they had performed an active part; they took the lead of events while their adversaries could scarcely be dragged on in their train. Foreigners sought more eagerly those who had made themselves known during the Revolution; and in this respect, at least, the self-love of the latter must have been satisfied. Moreover, the old empire of good company in France consisted in the difficult conditions which were required to form a part of it, and in the liberty of conversation amidst a very select society: these two great advantages could no longer be found.
The mixture of ranks and parties had led to the adoption of the English fashion of large companies, which prevents any choice among the persons invited and consequently diminishes much the value of the invitation. The fear inspired by the imperial government had destroyed every habit of independence in conversation; the French under that government had almost all acquired a diplomatic reserve, so that social intercourse was confined to insignificant phrases which in no way reminded us of the daring spirit of France. There was certainly nothing to fear in 1814, under Louis XVIII; but the habit of reserve was acquired; and besides, the courtiers chose that it should be the fashion not to talk of politics nor treat of any serious subject: they hoped by this conduct to lead the nation back to frivolity, and consequently to submission; but the only result they obtained was that of rendering conversation insipid and depriving themselves of every means of knowing the real opinion of individuals.
Yet this society, little attractive as it was, proved a singular object of jealousy to a great number of Bonaparte’s courtiers; and with their vigorous hands they would willingly, like Samson, have overthrown the edifice in order to make a ruin of the hall where they were not admitted to the banquet. Generals rendered illustrious by conquest wished to be made chamberlains, and their wives ladies in waiting: a singular ambition for a warrior who calls himself the defender of liberty! What, then, is this liberty? Is it only the national property, military rank, and civil employments? Does it consist in the wealth and power of a few men rather than of others? Or are we charged with the noble mission of introducing into France a sentiment of justice, a sentiment of dignity in all classes, fixed principles, and respect for knowledge and personal merit?
It would, notwithstanding, have been better policy to have given these generals places as chamberlains, since such was their wish; but the conquerors of Europe would really have found the life of a courtier embarrassing; and they might well have allowed the King to live within his palace with those to whom he had been habituated during his long years of exile. In England, who cares whether such or such a man is in the King’s household? Those who follow this pursuit do not in general mix in public business; and we have never heard that Fox or Pitt wanted to pass their time in such a manner. It was Napoléon alone who could put into the heads of the soldiers of the republic all these fancies of citizen-gentlemen which made them necessarily dependent on the favor of courts. What would Dugommier, Hoche, Goubert, Dampierre, and so many others who fell for the independence of their country have said if, in recompense of their victories, they had been offered a place in the household of a prince, whoever he might be? But the men formed by Bonaparte have all the passions of the Revolution and all the vanities of the old regime. There was but one means of obtaining the sacrifice of these petty things—that of substituting in their stead great national interests.
Finally, the etiquette of courts in all its rigor can hardly be reestablished in a country where those habits are lost. If Bonaparte had not mingled with all these things the life of camps, he would have been insupportable. Henri IV lived familiarly with all the distinguished persons of his time; and Louis XI himself used to sup with the citizens and to invite them to his table. The Emperor of Russia, the Archdukes of Austria, the princes of the house of Prussia, those of England, in short, all the sovereigns of Europe live, in some respects, like private individuals. In France, on the contrary, the princes of the Royal Family scarcely ever go out of the circle of the court. Etiquette, as it existed formerly, is completely in contradiction to the manners and opinion of the age; it has the double inconveniency of giving occasion to ridicule, and yet of exciting envy.1 No person wants to be excluded from anything in France, not even from those distinctions which are laughed at; and since there is as yet no open and public road to the service of the state, disputes are agitated on every question to which the civil code of court introductions can give rise. They hate each other for opinions on which life may depend; but they hate each other still more on account of all those combinations of self-love which two reigns and two orders of nobility have called forth and multiplied. The French have become so difficult to satisfy, from the infinite increase in the pretensions of all classes, that a representative constitution is as necessary to deliver government from the numberless claims of individuals as it is to preserve individuals from what is arbitrary in government.
Of the System Which Ought to Have Been Followed in 1814, to Maintain the House of Bourbon on the Throne of France.
Many people think that if Napoléon had not returned, the Bourbons had nothing to fear. I am not of this opinion; for such a man, it must at least be allowed, was an alarming pretender; and if the House of Hanover could fear Prince Edward,1 it was madness to leave Bonaparte in a position which invited him as it were to form audacious projects.
M. de Talleyrand, in re-assuming in the Congress of Vienna almost as much ascendancy in the affairs of Europe as French diplomacy had exercised under Bonaparte, certainly gave great proofs of his personal skill. But should the French government, after changing its nature, have interfered with the affairs of Germany? Were not all the just resentments of the German nation yet too recent to be effaced? It was then the first duty of the King’s ministers to have asked of the Congress of Vienna the removal of Bonaparte to a greater distance. Like Cato in the Roman senate when he repeated incessantly, “Carthage must be destroyed,” the ministers of France ought to have laid aside all other interests till Napoléon was no longer within view of France and Italy.
It was on the coast of Provence that men attached to the royal cause might have been useful to their country by preserving it from Bonaparte. The plain good sense of the Swiss peasants, I remember, induced them to foretell, in the first year of the Restoration, that Bonaparte would return. Every day attempts were made in society to convince of this the persons who could make themselves heard at court. But since the etiquette which prevails only in France did not allow the monarch to be approached, and because ministerial gravity, another inconsistency in the present times, removed to a distance from the first servants of the state those who could have told them what was going on, an unprecedented lack of foresight proved the ruin of the country. But even if Bonaparte had not landed at Cannes, the system followed by the ministers, as we have endeavored to prove, had already endangered the Restoration, and left the King without any real strength in the midst of France. Let us first examine the conduct which government ought to have adopted in respect to each party, and conclude by recalling those principles which ought to guide the direction of affairs and the choice of men.2
The army, it has been said, was difficult to bring round. No doubt, if the intention was to maintain an army in order to conquer Europe and establish despotism in the interior, that army must have preferred Bonaparte as a military chief to the princes of the Bourbon family; nothing could change such a disposition. But if, while paying regularly the appointments and pensions of the military who had shed so much glory on the French name, the court had convinced the army that it was neither feared nor wanted, since it had been determined to take a liberal and peaceful policy as a guide; if, far from insinuating, in a whisper, to the officers that they would gain favor by supporting the encroachments of authority they had been told that the constitutional government, having the people on its side, would tend to diminish the number of the troops of the line, transforming the military into citizens and converting a warlike spirit into civil emulation, the officers would perhaps have regretted for some time longer their former importance. But the nation, of whom they constitute a part more than in any other army, since they are taken from all its classes, this nation, satisfied with its constitution and relieved from the apprehension of what of all things it fears most, the return of the privileges of the nobles and the clergy, would have calmed the military instead of irritating them by its disquietudes. It was useless to try to imitate Bonaparte in order to please the army; so fruitless an attempt could bring only ridicule on those who made it; but, by adopting a system altogether different, even directly contrary, they could have obtained that respect which arises from justice and obedience to the law; that path at least had not been trodden by Bonaparte.
In regard to the emigrants whose property was confiscated, what had been already done in 1814 might have been repeated; an extraordinary supply might have been asked of the legislative body to acquit the personal debts of the King. And since there would have been no tribute to pay to foreigners had not Bonaparte returned, the deputies would have acceded to the wish of the monarch, and would have respected the manner in which he employed an occasional supplement to his civil list.* Let it be asked with sincerity if, when the royalist cause seemed desperate, the emigrants had been told in England, “Louis XVIII shall ascend the throne of France, but with the condition of being limited to the powers possessed by the King of England; and you, who will return with him, shall obtain all the indemnities and favors which a monarch, according to your own wishes, can grant; but if property be restored to you, it shall be by his gift, not by your own rights; if you acquire any power it shall be by your personal talents, not by the privileges of your class,” would not they all have consented to this treaty? Why then suffer themselves to be intoxicated by a moment of prosperity? And if, I take a pleasure in repeating it, Henri IV, who had been a Protestant, and Sully, who remained one, knew how to restrain the pretensions of their fellow soldiers, why did the ministers of Louis XVIII lack the art of governing the dangerous friends whom Louis XVI himself designated in his will as having greatly injured him by a mistaken zeal?
The existing clergy, or rather that which it was wished to re-establish, was another difficulty which presented itself from the first year of the Restoration. The conduct of government toward the clergy ought to be the same as toward all other classes: toleration and liberty, taking things as they are. If the nation desires a rich and powerful clergy in France, it will know how to re-establish it; but if no one wishes for it, then it will only alienate more and more the French from piety to present religion to them as a tax and the priests as men who seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the people. The persecutions which the priests suffered during the Revolution are continually cited: it was then a duty to serve them by every possible means; but the re-establishment of the political influence of the clergy has no connection with the just compassion which the sufferings of the priests inspired. It is the same with the nobility; their privileges ought not to be renewed as a compensation for the injustice they have suffered. Again it does not follow, because the remembrance of Louis XVI and his family awaken a deep and painful interest, that absolute power should be the necessary consolation to be offered to his descendants. This would be imitating Achilles when he caused the sacrifice of slaves on the tomb of Patroclus.
The nation always exists; it cannot die; and it must on no account be deprived of the institutions which belong to it. When the horrors which have been committed in France are described merely with the indignation which they naturally awaken, every mind is in sympathy; but when they are made the means of exciting hatred against liberty, the tears which spontaneous regret would have caused to flow are dried up.
The great problem which ministers had to solve in 1814 could have been studied in the history of England. They ought to have taken as a model the conduct of the House of Hanover, not that of the House of Stuart.
But it will be said, what marvellous effects would the English constitution have produced in France, since the Charter which resembles it so nearly has not saved us? First, greater confidence would have been placed in the duration of the Charter if it had been founded on a compact with the nation, and if the princes of the royal family had not been surrounded by persons professing, for the most part, unconstitutional principles. No one has dared to build on such unstable ground, and factions have remained on the alert, waiting for the fall of the edifice.
It was of importance to establish local authorities in the towns and villages, to create political interests in the provinces in order to diminish the ascendancy of Paris, where people aim at getting everything by favor.3 It would have been possible to revive a desire for public esteem in those individuals who had terribly dispensed with it by making the suffrages of their fellow-citizens necessary to their being chosen deputies. A numerous election for the Chamber of Representatives (six hundred deputies at least; the English House of Commons has more) would have given a greater respectability to the legislative body, and consequently many distinguished persons would have engaged in that career. It has been acknowledged that the qualification of age, fixed at forty years,4 was a damp to every kind of emulation. But the ministers dreaded deliberative assemblies above everything; and, influenced by their old experience of the early events of the Revolution, they directed all their efforts against the freedom of speech in the Assembly. They did not perceive that, in a country intoxicated with military ardor, the freedom of debate is a protection instead of a danger, since it adds to the strength of the civil power.
To increase as much as possible the influence of the Chamber of Peers, there should have been no obligation to preserve all the former senators, unless they had a right to that honor by their personal merit. The peerage ought to have been hereditary and composed wisely of the ancient families of France, which would have given it dignity; and of men who had acquired an honorable name in the civil and military career. In this manner the new nobility would have derived luster from the old, and the old from the new; they would thus have advanced toward that constitutional blending of classes without which there is nothing but arrogance on one side and servility on the other.
It would also have been well not to have condemned the Chamber of Peers to deliberate in secret. This was depriving it of the surest means of acquiring an ascendancy over the public mind. The Chamber of Deputies, although they had no real title to popularity, since they were not elected directly, exercised more power on public opinion than the Chamber of Peers solely because the speakers were known and heard.
Finally, the French desire the fame and the happiness attached to the English constitution, and the experiment is well worth a trial; but the system once adopted, it is essential that the language, the institutions, and the customs should be brought to conformity with it. For it is with liberty as with religion; hypocrisy in a noble cause is more revolting than its complete abjuration. No address ought to be received, no proclamation issued, that did not formally remind us of the respect due to the Constitution, as well as to the throne. The superstition of royalty, like all other superstitions, alienates those whom the simplicity of truth would have attracted.
A public education not under the management of religious orders, to which we cannot return, but a liberal education, the establishment of schools in all the departments for mutual instruction;5 the universities, the polytechnic school, everything which could restore the splendor of learning to France, ought to have been encouraged under the government of so enlightened a prince as Louis XVIII. In this manner it would have been practicable to divert the public mind from military enthusiasm and compensate to the nation for the absence of that fatal glory which produces so much evil, whether it is gained or lost.
No arbitrary act, and we are happy in insisting on that fact, no arbitrary act was committed during the first year of the Restoration. But the existence of the police,6 forming a ministry as under Bonaparte, was discordant with the justice and mildness of the royal government. The principal employment of the police was, as we have already stated, the inspection of the newspapers, and the spirit of the latter was detestable. Even admitting that this inspection was necessary, the censor should at least have been chosen among the deputies and peers; but it was violating all the principles of representative government to put into the hands of ministers themselves the direction of that opinion by which they are to be tried and enlightened. If the liberty of the press had existed in France,7 I will venture to affirm that Bonaparte would never have returned; the danger of his return would have been pointed out in such a manner as would have dispelled the illusions of obstinacy; and truth would have served as a guide instead of producing a fatal explosion.
Finally, the choice of ministers, that is, of the party from which they should have been chosen, was the most important condition for the safety of the Restoration. In times when men are occupied with political debates, as they were formerly with religious quarrels, free nations can be governed only by the aid of those whose opinions are in correspondence with the opinions of the majority. I shall begin, then, by describing those who ought to have been excluded before pointing out the men who ought to have been chosen.
None of the men who committed any crime in the Revolution, that is, who shed innocent blood, can be in any way useful to France. They are reprobated by the public and their own disquietude leads them into deviations of every kind. Give them repose and security; for who can say what he would have done amidst such great agitations? He who has not been able to keep his conscience and his honor clear in any struggle whatever may still be dextrous enough to serve himself, but can never serve his country.
Among those who took an active part in the government of Napoléon, a great number of military men have virtues which do honor to France, and some administrators possess rare abilities from which advantages may be derived; but the principal chiefs, the favorites of power, those who enriched themselves by servile acquiescence, those who delivered up France to that man who perhaps would have respected the nation if he had met with any obstacle to his ambition, any greatness of soul in those by whom he was surrounded—there could be no choice more contrary than that of such men to the dignity as well as safety of the Crown. If it is the system of the Bonapartists to be always the slaves of power, if they bring their science of despotism to the foot of every throne, ought ancient virtues to be brought in alliance with their corruption? If it were intended to reject all liberty, better in that case would it have been to have gone over to the ultra-royalists, who were at least sincere in their opinion and considered absolute power as an article of faith. But is it possible to rely on the promises of men who have set aside all political scruples? They have abilities, it is said; ah! accursed be those abilities which can dispense with even one true feeling, with one just and firm act of morality! And of what utility can be the talents of those who overwhelm you when you are sinking? Let a dark speck appear on the horizon, their features lose by degrees their gracious look; they begin to reason on the faults that have been committed; they bitterly accuse their colleagues and make gentle lamentations for their master; until, by a gradual metamorphosis, they are transformed into enemies; they who had so lately misled princes by their Oriental adulation!
After having pronounced these exclusions, there remains, and a great blessing it is, there remains, I say, no choice but that of the friends of liberty; either they who have preserved that opinion unsullied since 1789 or they who, less advanced in years, follow it now and adopt those principles in the midst of the efforts made to stifle them; a new generation, which has arisen in these later times and on whom our future hopes depend.
Such men are called upon to terminate the Revolution by liberty,8 and it is the only possible close to that sanguinary tragedy. Every effort to sail against the torrent will but overset the boat; but let this torrent enter into channels, and all the country which it laid waste will be fertilized.9
A friend of liberty in the situation of minister to the king would respect the supreme chief of the nation and be faithful to the constitutional monarch, in life and death; but he would renounce those officious flatteries which weaken belief in what is true instead of increasing attachment. Many sovereigns in Europe are very well obeyed without requiring to be deified. Why, then, in France are writers on every occasion so prodigal of this incense? A friend of liberty would never suffer France to be insulted by any man who depended, in any degree, on government. Do we not hear some emigrants saying that the king alone is the country, that no confidence can be placed in Frenchmen, &c.? What is the consequence of this insensate language? What is it? That France must be governed by foreign armies. What an outrage! What blasphemy! Undoubtedly those armies are now stronger than we are; but they would never have the voluntary assent of a French heart; and to whatever state Bonaparte may have reduced France, there is in a minister who is a friend of liberty such a dignity of character, such a love for his country, such a noble respect for the monarch and the laws, as would check all the arrogance of a military force, whoever might be its leaders. Such ministers, never committing an arbitrary act themselves, would not be in the dependence of the military; for it was much more to establish despotism than to defend the country that the different parties courted the troops of the line. Bonaparte pretended, as in the times of barbarism, that the whole secret of social order consisted in bayonets. How, without them, will it be said, could the Protestants and Catholics, Republicans and Vendeans, be made to go on together? All these elements of discord existed in England in 1688 under different names; but the invincible ascendancy of a constitution set afloat by skillful and upright pilots brought everything under submission to the law.
An assembly of deputies really elected by the nation exercises a majestic power, and the ministers of the monarch, if their souls were filled with the love of country and of liberty, would find everywhere Frenchmen ready to aid them, even without their knowledge; because, in that case, opinion and not interest would form the tie between the governors and the governed. But if you employ, and this we shall not cease to repeat, if you employ individuals who hate free institutions to carry them on, however upright they may be, however well resolved to adhere to their promise, a discordance will always be felt between their natural inclinations and their imperious duty.
The artists of the seventeenth century painted Louis XIV as a Hercules with a large peruke on his head; very old doctrines, reproduced in a popular assembly, present an equally great disparity. All that edifice of old prejudices which some seek to re-establish in France is nothing but a castle of cards which the first breath of wind will overset. We can calculate only on two kinds of force in this country: public opinion, which calls for liberty, and the foreign troops who obey their sovereigns; all the rest is mere trifling.
Thus, whenever a minister pretends that his countrymen are not made for freedom, accept this act of humility in his quality of Frenchman as a resignation of his place; for that minister who can deny the almost universal desire of France knows his country too ill to be capable of directing its affairs.
What Should Have Been the Conduct of the Friends of Liberty in 1814?
The friends of liberty, we have already said, could alone have contributed in an efficacious manner to the establishment of constitutional monarchy in 1814; but how ought they to have acted at that period? This question, no less important than the former, deserves also to be treated. We shall discuss it frankly, since we, for our own part, are persuaded that it was the duty of all good Frenchmen to defend the Restoration and the constitutional charter.
Charles Fox, in his history of the two last kings of the House of Stuart, says that “a restoration is commonly the most dangerous, and the worst, of all revolutions.” He was right in applying this maxim to the two reigns of Charles II and James II, whose history he was writing; he saw, on the one side, a new dynasty which owed its crown to liberty, whilst the old dynasty thought itself despoiled of its natural right by the limitation of absolute power, and consequently avenged itself on all those who had entertained such intentions. The principle of hereditary succession, so indispensable in general to the repose of nations, was necessarily averse to it on this occasion. The English then did very wisely in calling to the throne the Protestant branch, and without this change their constitution would never have been established. But when the chance of hereditary succession has given you for a monarch such a man as Louis XVIII, whose serious studies and quietude of mind are in harmony with constitutional liberty; and when, on the other hand, the chief of a new dynasty showed himself, during fifteen years, to be the most violent despot of modern times, how can such a combination in any way remind us of the wise William III and the sanguinary and superstitious James II?
William III, although he owed his crown to election, often found that the manners of liberty were not very gracious and would, if he had been able, have made himself a despot like his father-in-law. Sovereigns of ancient date think themselves, it is true, independent of the choice of the people; the popes, in like manner, think themselves infallible; the nobles are proud of their genealogy; every man and every class have their disputed pretensions. But what was there to fear at this time from those pretensions in France? Liberty had nothing to dread at the time of the First Restoration but the very calamity which befell it: a military commotion bringing back a despotic chief, whose return and whose defeat served as a pretext and a motive for the establishment of foreign armies in France.
Louis XVIII possessed the essence of a magistrate in his mind and his disposition. In as much as it would be absurd to consider time past as the despot of the present, no less would it be desirable to add, when it can be done, the support of the one to the improvement of the other. The upper chamber had the advantage of inspiring some great lords with a taste for new institutions. In England the most decided enemies of arbitrary power are found among the patricians of the first rank; and it would be a great happiness for France if the nobility would at length acquire a knowledge of, and an attachment for, free institutions. There are qualities connected with illustrious birth of which it would be fortunate that the state could avail itself. A people made only of the bourgeois could with difficulty establish itself in the midst of Europe unless it had recourse to military aristocracy, the most fatal of all to liberty.
Civil wars must end by mutual concessions, and already the great lords were observed yielding to liberty in order to please the King; the nation would have gained ground every day; the trackers of power, who scent where it lies and throw themselves on its path, did not then cling to the extreme royalists. The army began to assume a liberal tone; this was, in truth, because it regretted the loss of its former influence in the state; but at all events the cause of reason derived advantage from its ill-humor. We heard Bonaparte’s generals endeavoring to speak of the liberty of the press, of the liberty of the person; to pronounce those phrases which they had received as a watch-word, but which they would at last have comprehended by dint of frequent repetition.
The most respectable military men lamented the defeats of the army, but they recognized the necessity of putting a stop to continual reprisals, which would, in the course of time, destroy civilization. For if the Russians were to avenge Moscow at Paris, and the French Paris at St. Petersburg, these bloody marches of soldiers across Europe would annihilate all knowledge and all the enjoyments of social life. Besides, did the first entry of foreign troops into Paris efface the numerous triumphs of the French? Were these not still present to the recollection of all Europe? Did Europe ever speak of French valor but with respect? And was it not just, however painful, that the French should feel in their turn the dangers attached to their unjust wars? Finally, was that irritation which excited some individuals to desire the overthrow of a government proposed by foreigners a patriotic feeling? Certainly the European nations had not taken up arms to replace the Bourbons on the throne; and therefore the coalition ought not to have been attributed to the old dynasty: it was impossible to deny that the descendants of Henri IV were French; and Louis XVIII had conducted himself in the negotiation for peace as such, when, after all the concessions made before his arrival, he had been able to preserve untouched the old territory of France. It was not then conformable to truth to say that national pride demanded new wars; France had still a great share of glory, and if the nation had known how to reject Bonaparte and to become free like England, never would she have seen the British flag wave a second time on her ramparts.
No confiscation, no exile, no illegal arrest took place during ten months;1 what a progress was this on emerging from fifteen years of tyranny! England hardly attained this noble result thirty years after the death of Cromwell. In short, there was no doubt that in the succeeding session, the liberty of the press would have been decreed. Now to this law, the first of a free state, may be applied the words of Scripture, “Let there be light, and there was light.”
The chief error in the charter, which lay in the mode of election and in the condition of eligibility, was already acknowledged by all enlightened men, and changes in this respect would have been the natural consequence of the liberty of the press, because that liberty always places great truths in a conspicuous light. Genius, a talent for writing, the exercise of thought, all that the reign of bayonets had stifled was reviving by degrees; and if a constitutional language was held to Bonaparte, it was because people had respired for ten months under Louis XVIII.2
Some vain people complained; a few imaginations were alarmed; a few venal writers, by talking every day to the nation of its happiness, made it doubtful of it; but when the champions of thought had entered the lists, the French would have recognized the voice of their friends; they would have learned by what dangers national independence was threatened; what motives they had to remain at peace abroad as at home, and to regain the esteem of Europe by the exercise of civil virtues. The monotonous stories of war become confounded in the memory or lost in oblivion; the political history of the free nations of antiquity is still present to every mind and has served as a study to the world for two thousand years.
Return of Bonaparte.
No, never shall I forget the moment when I learned from one of my friends, on the morning of the 6th of March, 1815,1 that Bonaparte had disembarked on the coast of France; I had the misfortune to foresee instantly the consequences of that event, such as they have since taken place, and I thought that the earth was about to open under my feet. For several days after the triumph of this man the aid of prayer failed me entirely, and in my trouble it seemed to me that the Deity had withdrawn from the earth and would no longer communicate with the beings whom he had placed there.
I suffered in the bottom of my heart from personal circumstances; but the situation of France absorbed every other thought.2 I said to M. de Lavalette,3 whom I met almost at the hour when this news was resounding around us: “There is an end of liberty if Bonaparte triumphs, and of national independence if he is defeated.” The event has, I think, but too much justified this sad prediction.
It was impossible to avoid an inexpressible irritation before the return and during the progress of Bonaparte. During the previous month, all those who had any acquaintance with revolutions had felt the air charged with storms; repeated notice of this was given to persons connected with government; but many among them regarded the disquieted friends of liberty as relapsing, and as still believing in the influence of the people, in the power of revolutions. The most moderate among the aristocrats thought that public affairs regarded government only, and that it was indiscreet to interfere with them. They could not be made to understand that to be acquainted with what is passing in a country where the spirit of liberty ferments, men in office should neglect no opinion, be indifferent to no circumstance, and multiply their numbers by activity instead of wrapping themselves up in a mysterious silence. The partisans of Bonaparte were a thousand times better informed on everything than the servants of the King; for the Bonapartists, as well as their master, were aware of what importance every individual can be in a time of trouble. Formerly everything depended on men in office; at present those who are out of office act more on public opinion than government itself, and consequently forecast better the future.
A continual dread had taken possession of my soul several weeks before the disembarkation of Bonaparte. In the evening, when the beautiful buildings of the town were illuminated by the rays of the moon, it seemed to me that I saw my happiness and that of France, like a sick friend whose smile is the more amiable because he is on the eve of leaving us. When told that this terrible man was at Cannes, I shrunk before the certainty as before a poignard; but when it was no longer possible to escape that certainty, I was but too well assured that he would be at Paris in a fortnight. The royalists made a mockery of this terror; it was strange to hear them say that this event was the most fortunate thing possible, because we should then be relieved from Bonaparte, because the two chambers would feel the necessity of giving the King absolute power, as if absolute power was a thing to be given! Despotism, like liberty, is assumed and is never granted. I am not sure that among the enemies of every constitution there may not have been some who rejoiced at the convulsion which might recall foreigners and induce them to impose an absolute government on France.
Three days were passed in the inconsiderate hopes of the royalist party. At last, on the 9th of March, we were told that nothing was known of the Lyon telegraph because a cloud had prevented reading the communication. I was at no loss to understand what this cloud was. I went in the evening to the Tuileries to attend the King’s levee; on seeing him, it seemed to me that, with a great deal of courage, he had an expression of sadness, and nothing was more touching than his noble resignation at such a moment. On going out, I perceived on the walls of the apartment the eagles of Napoléon which had not yet been removed, and they seemed to me to have re-assumed their threatening look.
In the evening, at a party, one of those young ladies who, with so many others, had contributed to the spirit of frivolity which it was attempted to oppose to the spirit of faction, as if the one could contend against the other; one of these young ladies, I say, came up to me, and began jesting on that anxiety which I could not conceal: “What, Madam,” said she to me, “can you fear that the French will not fight for their legitimate King against a usurper?” How, without discrediting oneself, could one answer a phrase so adroitly turned? But after twenty-five years of revolution, ought one to flatter oneself that legitimacy, an idea respectable but abstract, would have more ascendancy over the soldiers than all the recollections of their long wars? In fact, none of them contended against the supernatural ascendancy of the genius of the African isles; they called for the tyrant in the name of liberty: they rejected in its name the constitutional monarch; they brought six hundred thousand foreigners into the bosom of France to efface the humiliation of having seen them there during a few weeks; and this frightful day of the 1st of March, the day when Bonaparte again set foot on the soil of France, was more fertile in disasters than any epoch of history.
I will not launch out, as has been but too much done, into declamations of every kind against Napoléon. He did what it was natural to do in trying to regain the throne he had lost, and his progress from Cannes to Paris is one of the greatest conceptions of audacity that can be cited in history. But what shall we say of the enlightened men who did not see the misfortunes of France and of the world in the possibility of his return? A great general, it will be said, was wanted to avenge the reverses experienced by the French army. In that case, Bonaparte ought not to have proclaimed the treaty of Paris; for if he was unable to reconquer the barrier of the Rhine sacrificed by that treaty, what purpose did it answer to expose that which France possessed in peace? But, it will be answered, the secret intention of Bonaparte was to restore to France her natural barriers. But was it not clear that Europe would guess that intention, that she would form a coalition to resist it, and that, particularly at the time in question, France was unable to resist united Europe? The Congress4 was still assembled; and although a great deal of discontent was produced by several of its resolutions, was it possible that the nations would make choice of Bonaparte for their defender? Was it he who had oppressed them whom they could oppose to the faults of their princes? The nations were more violent than the sovereigns in the war against Bonaparte; and France, on taking him back for her ruler, necessarily brought on herself the hatred both of governments and of nations. Will anyone dare to pretend that it was for the interest of liberty that they recalled the man who had during fifteen years shown himself most dextrous in the art of being master, a man equally violent and deceitful? People spoke of his conversion, and there were not wanting believers in this miracle; less faith certainly was required for the miracles of Mahomet. The friends of liberty have been able to see in Bonaparte only the counterrevolution of despotism and the revival of an old regime more recent, but on that account more formidable; for the nation was still completely fashioned to tyranny, and neither principles nor public virtue had had time to take root. Personal interests only, and not opinions, conspired for the return of Bonaparte, and they were mad interests which were blinded in regard to their own danger and accounted the fate of France as nothing.
Foreign ministers have called the French army a perjured army; but this epithet cannot be justified. The army that abandoned James II for William III was then also perjured; and besides, the English rallied under the son-in-law and the daughter to dethrone the father, a circumstance still more cruel. Well, it will be said, be it so; each army betrayed its duty. I do not admit even the comparison; the French soldiers, in general under the age of forty, did not know the Bourbons, and they had fought for twenty years under the orders of Bonaparte; could they fire on their General? And from the moment that they refused to fire on him, would they not be prevailed on to follow him? The men really to blame are those who, after having become close to Louis XVIII, after obtaining favors from him and making him promises, were capable of joining Bonaparte. The word, the dreadful word “treachery,” is applicable to them; but it is cruelly unjust to address it to the French army. The governments that placed Bonaparte in a situation to return ought to take the blame of his return. For to what natural feeling could an appeal be made to persuade soldiers that they ought to kill the General who had led them twenty times to victory? The General whom foreigners had overturned, who had fought against foreigners at the head of Frenchmen less than a year before? All the reflections which made us hate that man and love the King were adapted neither to the soldiers nor to the subaltern officers. They had been fifteen years faithful to the Emperor; that Emperor advanced toward them without defense; he called them by their names; he spoke to them of the battles which they had gained with him; how was it possible to resist? In a few years the name of the King, the blessings of liberty, would have captivated every mind, and the soldiers would have learned from their parents to respect the public welfare. But scarcely ten months had passed since the removal of Bonaparte, and his departure dated from an event which must necessarily put warriors in despair, the entry of foreigners into the capital of France.
But the accusers of our country will say, if the army are excusable, what shall we think of the peasantry, of the inhabitants of the towns who welcomed Bonaparte? I will make in the nation the same distinction as in the army. Enlightened men could see nothing but a despot in Bonaparte; but, by a concourse of very distressing circumstances, this despot was presented to the people as the defender of its rights. All the benefits acquired by the Revolution, benefits which France will never voluntarily renounce, were threatened by the continuous imprudent actions of the party which aims at making a conquest of Frenchmen, as if they still were Gauls; and the part of the nation which most dreaded the return of the old government thought they saw in Bonaparte the means of preserving themselves from it. The most fatal combination that could overwhelm the friends of liberty was that a despot should put himself in their ranks, be placed, as it were, at their head, and that the enemies of all liberal ideas should have a pretext for confounding popular violence with the evils of despotism, thus making tyranny pass as if it were on the account of liberty herself.
The result of this fatal combination has been that the French have incurred the hatred of sovereigns for desiring to be free, and of nations for not knowing how to be so. Doubtless, great faults must have been committed to produce such a result; but the reproaches provoked by these faults would plunge all ideas into confusion if we did not endeavor to show that the French, like every other people, were victims of those circumstances which produce great convulsions in the order of society.
If blame is at all events to be imputed, would there then be nothing to say against those royalists who allowed the King to be taken from them without drawing a single trigger in his defense? They ought certainly to rally under the new institutions, since it is evident that there remains to the aristocracy nothing of its former energy. It was assuredly not because the nobles were not, like all Frenchmen, of the most brilliant courage; but because they are ruined by their confidence as soon as they become the stronger party, and by discouragement as soon as they become the weaker. Their blind confidence arises from their having made a dogma of politics; and from their trusting, like Turks, to the triumph of their faith. The cause of their discouragement is that three-quarters of the French nation being at present in favor of the representative government, the adversaries of this system, so soon as they cease to have six hundred thousand foreign bayonets in their service, are in such a minority that they lose all hopes of defending themselves. Were they willing to make a treaty with reason, they would again become what they ought to be, the support alternately of the people and of the throne.
Of the Conduct of Bonaparte on His Return.
If it was a crime to recall Bonaparte, it was silliness to wish to disguise such a man as a constitutional sovereign. From the moment that he was taken back, a military dictatorship should have been conferred on him, the conscription re-established, the nation made to rise in mass so as not to be embarrassed about liberty when independence was compromised. Bonaparte was necessarily lowered in public opinion when made to hold a language quite contrary to that which had been his during fifteen years. It was clear that he could not proclaim principles so different from those that he had followed when all-powerful but because he was forced to it by circumstances; now, what is such a man when he allows himself to be forced? The terror he inspired, the power resulting from that terror, no longer existed; he was a muzzled bear which, though still heard to murmur, is nevertheless obliged by his guides to dance as they think proper. Instead of imposing the necessity of holding constitutional language for whole hours together on a man who had a horror of abstract ideas and legal restraints, he ought to have been in the field four days after his arrival at Paris, before the preparations of the allies were completed and, above all, while the astonishment caused by his return still shook the imagination. His object should have been to excite the passions of the Italians and Poles; to promise the Spaniards to expiate his faults by restoring to them their Cortes; in short, to take liberty as a weapon, not as an incumbrance.
Some friends of liberty,2 endeavoring to pass an illusion on themselves, attempted to justify their renewed connection with Bonaparte by making him sign a free constitution; but there was no excuse for serving Bonaparte elsewhere than on the field of battle. Foreigners, once at the gates of France, should have been prevented from entering it; in that way only was the esteem of Europe herself to be regained. But it was degrading the principles of liberty to clothe in them a former despot; it was giving hypocrisy a place among the most sincere of human truths. In fact, how would Bonaparte have supported the constitution which he was made to proclaim? When responsible ministers should have refused compliance with his will, what would he have done with them? And if these same ministers had been severely accused by the deputies for having obeyed him, how would he have restrained an involuntary motion of his hand as a signal to his grenadiers to go a second time and drive out, at the point of the bayonet, the representatives of another power than his own?
What! this man would have read every morning in the newspapers insinuations on his faults, on his errors! Sarcasms would have approached his imperial paw, and he have withheld a blow! He was accordingly often seen ready to reassume his true character; and since that character was such, he could find strength only in showing it. Military Jacobinism, one of the greatest scourges of the world, was, if still practicable, the only resource of Bonaparte. On his pronouncing the words “law” and “liberty,” Europe became tranquil; she felt that it was no longer her old and terrible adversary.3
Another great fault that Bonaparte was made to commit was the establishment of a House of Peers. The imitation of the English constitution, so often recommended, had at last taken hold of the minds of the French and, as always happens, they carried the idea to an extreme; for a peerage can no more be created in a day than a dynasty; hereditary rank for the future stands in need of hereditary rank in the past. You can, doubtless, I repeat it, associate new with old names; but the color of the past must blend with that of the present. Now what signified that antechamber of peers in which all the courtiers of Bonaparte took their places? There were among them some very estimable men; but others could be mentioned whose sons would have desired to be spared their father’s name instead of receiving an assurance of its continuance. What elements for forming the aristocracy of a free country, such as should merit the respect of the monarch as well as of the people! A king, entitled to voluntary respect, finds his security in national liberty; but a dreaded chief, rejected by half the nation, and called in by the other half only as an instrument of military success, why should he aim at a kind of esteem which he could never obtain? Bonaparte, in the midst of all the shackles imposed on him, was unable to display the genius which he still possessed: he let things proceed and commanded no longer. His discourse showed signs of a fatal presentiment, whether it was that he thoroughly knew the strength of his enemies or that he was impatient of being no longer the absolute master of France. That habit of dissimulation which ever formed a part of his character ruined him on this occasion; he has played a part the more with his accustomed facility; but the circumstances were too serious to allow him to get through it by cunning; and the undisguised action of his despotism and impetuosity could alone give him even a momentary chance of success.
Of the Fall of Bonaparte.
I have not yet spoken of that warrior who caused the fortune of Bonaparte to fade; of him who pursued him from Lisbon to Waterloo, like that adversary of Macbeth who was to be endowed with supernatural gifts in order to be his conqueror. Those supernatural gifts were the most noble disinterestedness, inflexible justice, talents whose source was in the soul, and an army of free men. If anything can console France for having seen the English in the heart of her capital, it is that she will at least have learned what liberty has made them.
The military genius of Lord Wellington could not have been the work of the constitution of his country; but his moderation, the magnanimity of his conduct, the energy which he derived from his virtues—these come from the moral atmosphere of England; and what crowns the grandeur of that country and its General is that while on the convulsed soil of France the exploits of Bonaparte sufficed to make him an uncontrolled despot, he by whom he was conquered, he who has not yet committed one fault or lost one opportunity of triumph, Wellington will be in his own country only an unparalleled citizen, but as subject to the law as the most obscure individual.
I will venture to affirm, however, that our France would not, perhaps, have fallen had any other than Bonaparte been its chief. He was extremely dextrous in the art of commanding an army; but he knew not how to rally a nation. The revolutionary government itself understood better how to awaken enthusiasm than a man who could be admired only as an individual, never as the defender of a sentiment or an idea. The soldiers fought extremely well for Bonaparte; but France did little for him on his return. In the first place, there was a numerous party against Bonaparte, a numerous party for the King, who did not consider it their duty to oppose foreign armies. But even if every Frenchman could have been convinced that in any situation whatever the duty of a citizen is to defend the independence of his country, no one fights with all the energy of which he is capable when the object is only to repel an evil, not to obtain a good. The day after the triumph over the foreign troops we were certain of being enslaved in the interior. The double power which would at once have repulsed the invader and overthrown the despot existed no longer in a nation that had preserved only military vigor, which is by no means similar to public spirit.
Besides, Bonaparte reaped even among his adherents the bitter fruits of the doctrine which he had sown. The only thing he had extolled was success; the only thing he praised was opportunity; whenever there was any question of opinion, of devotedness, of patriotism, the dread he had of the spirit of liberty excited him to turn every sentiment which could lead to it into ridicule. But those were the only sentiments which could induce the perseverance which attaches itself to misfortune; those sentiments alone possess an electric power and form an association from one extremity of a country to the other, without its being necessary even to communicate in order to be unanimous. If we examine the various interests of the partisans of Bonaparte and of his adversaries, we shall explain forthwith the motives of their differences of opinion. In the South, as in the North, the manufacturing towns were for him and the seaports against him, because the Continental blockade had favored manufactures and destroyed commerce. All the different classes of the defenders of the Revolution might, in some respects, prefer a chief whose want of legitimacy was itself a guarantee, since it placed him in opposition to the old political doctrines; but the character of Bonaparte is so adverse to free institutions that those among the partisans of the latter who thought proper to connect themselves with him did not second him with all their might, because they did not belong to him with all their heart: they had an afterthought and an after hope. If, as is extremely doubtful, there still remained any means of saving France after she had provoked Europe, it could only be in a military dictatorship or in the republican form. But nothing was more absurd than to found a desperate resistance on a falsehood: with this you can never have the whole man.
The same system of egoism which always governed Bonaparte induced him to aim, at whatever cost, at a great victory instead of trying a defensive system which would have better suited France, especially if he had been supported by the public mind. But he arrived in Belgium having, it is said, in his carriage a scepter, a robe, in short, all the baubles of imperial sway; for the only thing he understood well was that kind of pomp mixed with a sort of quackery. When Napoléon returned to Paris after his lost battle,1 he had surely no idea of abdicating, and his intention was to demand from the two chambers supplies of men and money, in order to try another struggle. The legislature ought, in these circumstances, to have granted everything rather than yield to the foreign powers.2 But if the chambers were perhaps wrong in abandoning Bonaparte in this extremity, what shall we say of the manner in which he abandoned himself?
What! This man, who had just convulsed Europe by his return, sends in his resignation like a mere general and does not once attempt to resist! There is a French army under the walls of Paris that desired to fight the invaders, and he is not in the midst of it, as a chief or as a soldier! This army falls back behind the Loire, and he crosses the Loire to embark where his person may be in safety, while it was his own torch that had set France in flames!3
We cannot permit ourselves to accuse Bonaparte of wanting courage in these circumstances any more than in those of the preceding year. He did not command the French army during twenty years without having shown himself worthy of his station. But there is a firmness of soul that conscience alone can give; and Bonaparte, instead of this decisive will, which is independent of events, had a kind of superstitious faith in fortune which did not allow him to proceed without her auspices. From the day he felt that misfortune had taken hold of him, he resisted no longer; from the day his own destiny was overthrown, he thought no more of the destiny of France. Bonaparte had confronted death with intrepidity in the field, but he did not choose to inflict it on himself; and this resolution is not without some dignity. This man has lived to give the world a moral lesson, the most striking, the most sublime, that nations have ever witnessed; it seems as if Providence has been pleased, like a severe tragic poet, to make the punishment of this great culprit arise out of the very crimes of his life.
Bonaparte, who during ten years had stirred up the world against the most free and religious country which social order in Europe has yet produced, against England, delivers himself up into her hands; he who during ten years had every day insulted that nation, makes an appeal to her generosity; in short, he who never spoke of laws but with contempt, who so lightly ordered arbitrary imprisonments, invokes the liberty of England and would use it as a shield. Ah! why did he not give that liberty to France? Neither he nor the French would then have been exposed to the mercy of conquerors.
Whether Napoléon live or die, whether he reappear or not on the continent of Europe,4 one single motive still leads me to speak of him; it is the ardent desire that the friends of liberty should separate entirely their cause from his, and that they should be careful not to confound the principles of the Revolution with those of the imperial government. There is not, and I believe I have proved it, a counterrevolution more fatal to liberty than that which he accomplished. If he had been of an old dynasty, he would have pursued equality with extreme animosity under whatever form it might have presented itself; he paid his court to priests, to nobles, and to kings, in the hope of being himself accepted as a legitimate monarch. It is true that he sometimes made them the object of abuse and that he did them harm when he saw that he could not enter into the confederation of past times; but his inclinations were aristocratic even to pettiness. If the principles of liberty are destroyed in Europe, it is only because he eradicated them from the mind of nations. He seconded despotism everywhere by giving it support in the hatred of the nations against France. He perverted human intellect by imposing, during fifteen years, on his pamphleteers an obligation to write and display every system which could mislead reason and stifle knowledge. To establish liberty requires superior men in every department; Bonaparte would have men of talents only in the military line; and never, under his reign, could a reputation be founded on the management of civil business.
At the beginning of the Revolution, a crowd of illustrious names did honor to France; and it is one of the principal characters of an enlightened age to possess many distinguished men, but hardly one superior to all the rest. Bonaparte subjugated the age in that respect, not because he was superior in information but, on the contrary, because he had something of the barbarism of the middle ages. He brought from Corsica a different age, different expedients, a different character, from anything that we had in France; and this novelty favored his ascendancy over the minds of men. Bonaparte is single where he reigns, and no other distinction can be compatible with his own.
Different opinions may be entertained of his genius and of his qualities; there is about this man something enigmatic which prolongs curiosity. Everyone represents him under different colors, and each may be right, according to the point of view which he chooses; those who would concentrate his portrait in a few words would give only a false idea of him. To attain some general result, we must pursue different ways: it is a labyrinth, but a labyrinth that has a clue—egoism. Those who knew him personally may have found him in domestic life possessing a kind of goodness which the world certainly never perceived. The devoted attachment of some truly generous friends is what speaks the most in his favor. Time will bring to light the principal traits of his character; and those who are willing to admire every extraordinary man have a right to think him such. But he never could, and never can, bring anything but desolation on France.
God preserve us, then, from him, and forever! But let us beware of calling those men Bonapartists who support the principles of liberty in France; for with much more reason might that name be given to the partisans of despotic power, to those who proclaim the political maxims of the man they proscribe: their hatred of him is only a dispute about interests; a real love of generous sentiments forms no part of it.
Of the Declaration of Rights Proclaimed by the Chamber of Representatives, 5th of July, 1815.
Bonaparte signed his second abdication on the 22d of June, 1815; and on the 8th of the following month the foreign troops entered the capital. During this very short interval, the partisans of Napoléon lost a great deal of precious time in trying to secure, against the will of the nation, the crown to his son.1 Besides, the Chamber of Representatives contained a number of men who would certainly not have been elected without the influence of party-spirit; and yet it sufficed that, for the first time during fifteen years, six hundred Frenchmen elected in any manner by the people should be assembled together and deliberate in public, in order that the spirit of liberty and the talent of speaking might reappear. Men entirely new in the career of politics spoke with distinguished ability: others, who had not been heard of during the reign of Bonaparte, recovered their old vigor, and yet, I repeat it, there were deputies in that Chamber whom the nation, if left to itself, would never have accepted. But such is the strength of public opinion when men feel themselves in its presence, such is the enthusiasm inspired by a forum where you are heard by all the enlightened men of Europe, that those sacred principles, obscured by long years of despotism, reappeared in less than a fortnight; and in what circumstances did they appear! When factions of all kinds were kindled in the assembly itself, and when three hundred thousand foreign soldiers were near the walls of Paris.
A bill of rights, for I have a pleasure on this occasion2 in making use of the English expression, which recalls only happy and august recollections; a bill of rights was proposed and carried in the midst of these disasters; and in the few words we are about to read, there exists an immortal power—truth.*
I stop at this last act, which preceded by a few days the complete invasion of France by foreign armies: it is there that I finish my historical reflections. In fact, there is no more a France so long as foreign armies occupy our territory. Let us cast our eyes, before ending, toward those general ideas which have guided us throughout the course of the work; and let us, if possible, present a picture of that England which we have so often held up as a model to the legislators of France, by accusing them every time that they departed from it.3
[* ] We think it incumbent on us to mention again that a part of the third volume of this work was not revised by Madame de Staël. Some of the subsequent chapters will perhaps appear unfinished; but we felt it a duty to publish the MS. in the state in which we found it, without taking on us to make any addition whatever to the production of the author.
It is proper also to remark that this portion of the work was written in the early part of the year 1816, and that it is consequently of importance to refer to that period the opinions, whether favorable or unfavorable, pronounced by the author. (Note by the Editors.)
[1. ] For an overview of the historical context of 1814–15, see Furet, Revolutionary France, 269–84.
[2. ] The reference is to King George III (1738–1820) of England. Because of severe mental illness, he was incapacitated during the last ten years of his reign.
[3. ] For more information on this topic, see bk. I, chap. xi, of Staël, Considerations.
[4. ] In 1814, by King Ferdinand VII of Spain.
[1. ] Lord Thomas Erskine (1750–1823) defended Thomas Paine in 1792. He served as chancellor in 1806–7.
[2. ] Staël does not indicate the exact source of this quote. In Two Treatises of Government (1689) Locke criticized the doctrine of the divine right of kings and advocated the principle of constitutionalism (separation of powers, rule of law).
[3. ] Staël does not indicate the exact source of this quote. Henry St. John Bolingbroke (1678–1751) was a prominent British politician and writer. He was educated at Oxford, entered Parliament in 1701, and soon after became a member of the Tory party. His works, which include A Dissertation on Parties (1736) and The Patriot King (1769), were widely read in eighteenth-century America and influenced Burke.
[4. ] Latin phrase used in civil law signifying “in anger.”
[5. ] For more information about the political doctrine of the ultraconservative right under the Restoration, see Oechslin, Le mouvement ultra-royaliste sous la Restauration; Rials, Révolution et Contre-Révolution au XIXème siècle; and Rémond, The Right Wing in France.
[1. ] In 1660.
[2. ] General Monk played a key role in this regard.
[3. ] The future King James II (1633–1701), who reigned from 1685 to 1688.
[4. ] English magistrate famous for his ruthlessness. George Jeffreys was arrested and imprisoned during the Revolution of 1688.
[5. ] In July 1593.
[6. ] In the Declaration of Saint-Ouen, Louis XVIII acknowledged the newly gained civil liberties and promised to give France a new liberal constitution. This was the famous Charter of 1814 that was “granted” by the new king a month later. The Charter sought to bring social peace in a country divided among rival factions and groups that were fiercely opposed to each other. This goal was clearly conveyed by the language of reconciliation as illustrated by the symbolic references to the “great family” of French citizens and the emphasis on the need to live as “brothers” in love, peace, and reconciliation. The Charter provided for the creation of a two-chamber parlement, the Chamber of Deputies being elected by electoral colleges according to a narrow franchise. To be qualified to vote, individuals had to be at least thirty years of age and pay a direct tax of three hundred francs (Article 40). For more information, see Rosanvallon, La monarchie impossible; Furet, Revolutionary France, 269–75; and Craiutu, Liberalism Under Siege, 70–75.
[7. ] The Charter of 1814 was not, properly speaking, a contract between the King and the nation, since it was Louis XVIII who “granted” and “conceded” the constitution to his subjects.
[8. ] During the Hundred Days in the spring of 1815.
[1. ] On March 24, 1814.
[2. ] In reality, Tsar Alexander I endorsed a number of illiberal policies after 1812 and did not introduce representative institutions in Russia, as Madame de Staël had hoped he would.
[3. ] Madame de Staël met the tsar for the first time on August 17, 1812. She recounted her conversations and impressions in Ten Years of Exile, pt. II, chap. xvii, 201–5. For more information about her sojourn in Russia, see Fairweather, Madame de Staël, 391–415.
[4. ] August 27–30, 1812.
[5. ] Bernadotte stopped his advance at Liège in late February 1814. His ambition was to succeed Napoléon with the aid of Tsar Alexander I.
[6. ] The future King Louis-Philippe I (r. 1830–48).
[1. ] In early April 1814, the Senate entrusted a committee of five distinguished individuals (including Barbé-Marbois and Destutt de Tracy) with the task of drafting a new constitution that was approved on April 6. Nonetheless, Louis XVIII, taking note of the opposition of the royalists to the Senate’s project, decided to endorse a different constitutional text.
[2. ] On April 2, 1814.
[3. ] Constantin François Chasseboeuf Volney (1757–1820), eminent French philosopher and historian, deputy to the Estates General in 1789. He was the author of Les Ruins, ou meditations sur les révolutions des empires (1791). Thomas Jefferson translated the first twenty chapters of this influential book for an American edition. In 1792, Volney purchased land in Corsica and established an agrarian community (later dissolved) based on his ideals. He was arrested during the Reign of Terror. Volney subsequently traveled to the United States, where he lived until 1798. He edited Tableau du climat et du sol des États-Unis in 1803.
[4. ] General Collaud (1754–1819) was elected to the Senate in 1801.
[5. ] Chollet (1747–1826), deputy to the Council of Five Hundred from 1795 to 1799 and member of the Senate after 18 Brumaire.
[1. ] In reality, Madame de Staël returned to France after twelve years of exile. She left London on May 8, 1814, and arrived in Paris on May 12.
[2. ] For more information, see Solovieff, Madame de Staël, ses amis, ses correspondants. Choix de lettres (1778–1817), 481–84. Staël’s letters to the Count of Harrowby (May 19, 1814) and Bernadotte (June 4, 1814) offer a good overview of the political context of that time. Also see Fairweather, Madame de Staël, 433–64.
[3. ] This general feeling of uncertainty and powerlessness was nicely conveyed by Charles de Rémusat, who recalled the following conversation of his parents: “Here we are, after eighteen years, still on the same point, neither able to see clearly into the future nor capable of entrusting ourselves entirely to the present. Everything is still less completed than on the day when our son was born.” (Rémusat, Mémoires de ma vie, vol. 1, 202–3) (trans. A. C.)
[4. ] For a general view on the First and Second Bourbon Restorations, see Vaulabelle, Histoire des deux Restaurations jusqu’à l’avénement de Louis-Philippe, vols. 4 and 5; Gorce, La Restauration: Louis XVIII; and Sauvigny, The Bourbon Restoration. For a detailed analysis of the Charter of 1814, see Rosanvallon, La monarchie impossible.
[1. ] By using the phrase “De notre règne le dix-neuvième” (“in the nineteenth year of our reign”) to date the Charter on his return to France in 1814, Louis XVIII implicitly claimed that his reign had started nineteen years earlier. This apparently minor detail implied that all previous regimes, including the empire, had been illegitimate.
[2. ] The use of the word “octroi” (concession) carried strong symbolic connotations that affirmed both the royal sovereignty and the continuity with the French monarchical tradition. As such, it eliminated any possibility of conceiving of the Charter as a social contract (or social pact) between the monarch and his subjects.
[3. ] Dambray.
[4. ] Magna Carta (1215).
[5. ] Upon his return to Spain in December 1813, Ferdinand VII rejected the liberal Cádiz constitution (passed in 1812) and reestablished political absolutism and the Inquisition.
[6. ] The hereditary peerage was introduced during the Second Restoration in August 1815 and was abolished during the July Monarchy in December 1831.
[1. ] On the one hand, the ultras accused the authors of the Charter of trying to import and artificially copy the English (unwritten) constitution without paying due attention to the old traditions and mores of France. Their motto was “Restons Français et ne soyons pas Anglais!” (“Let us remain French and not be English!”) On the other hand, the ultras sought to downplay the novelty of the Charter by arguing that the latter was grounded on the same principles that had previously underpinned the institutions of the Old Regime. This thesis appears, for example, in Vitrolles’ writings (as well as in Montlosier’s De la monarchie française, 1814).
[2. ] The Law of October 21, 1814, seemed to contradict Article 8 of the Charter of 1814 recognizing freedom of the press as a fundamental principle of the new political order: “Frenchmen have the right to publish and to have printed their opinions, while conforming to the laws which are necessary to restrain abuses of that liberty.” Nonetheless, the Charter left open the possibility of temporary (preventive) forms of censorship in order to prevent and/or punish certain abuses of freedom of the press committed by those who sought to use the press to subvert the foundations of the new political order. This was the motivation behind the Law of October 21, 1814. A liberal justification of the law was given by François Guizot in his memoirs (Memoirs to Illustrate the History of My Time, vol. 1, 394–95). Benjamin Constant took an opposite view in this debate. For more information, see Craiutu, Liberalism Under Siege, 256–62.
[3. ] On publicity and public opinion during the Restoration, see Craiutu, Liberalism Under Siege, 246–56.
[4. ] Abbé de Velly (1709–59) was the author of Histoire générale de la France (1755).
[* ] Velly, vol. iii, p. 424.
[5. ] The so-called White Terror in the region of Nîmes in 1814–15.
[6. ] Marie-Thérèse (1778–1851), daughter of Louis XVI.
[7. ] The new minister of finance, Baron Louis (1755–1837), refused to eliminate the droits réunis, indirect taxes on alcohol, tobacco, and salt.
[8. ] Pierre de Blacas d’Aups (1771–1839) had been Louis XVIII’s main adviser in exile. He later served as ambassador in Naples.
[9. ] Marshal Soult (1769–1851) led the battle of Toulouse against Wellington in April 1814. He subsequently rallied to Louis XVIII but defected to Napoléon during the Hundred Days in 1815. He returned to France in 1819 and served later as prime minister (1839–40, 1845–47).
[1. ] In 1787–88.
[1. ] A similar point was made by Tocqueville in Democracy in America.
[1. ] Charles Edward Stuart (1720–88), grandson of James II, who (unsuccessfully) attempted to return to Scotland in 1745.
[2. ] For more on the historical and political context of the first period of the Bourbon Restoration, see Alexander, Rewriting the French Revolutionary Tradition, 1–80.
[* ] In 1815 the King gave orders that out of this supplement the two million deposited by my father in the Royal Treasury should be restored to his family, and the order was about to be executed at the time of the landing of Bonaparte. The justice of our demand could not be contested; but I do not less admire the conduct of the King, who, though regulating with the utmost economy many of his personal expenses, would not retrench those which equity required. Since the return of His Majesty, the capital of two million has been paid to us by an inscription on the Great Book of 100,000 francs a year.
[3. ] In a letter to Louis de Kergolay of June 29, 1831, Tocqueville commented on the limitations of the Charter of 1814, which, in his view, was destined to be a short-lived constitution. The Bourbons, argued Tocqueville, should have paid more attention to channeling the emerging democratic elements and principles rather than attempting to preserve or reform old and inefficient institutions. Furthermore, they should have furthered administrative decentralization and promoted self-government that would have strengthened the communal and departmental system in France. For more information, see Tocqueville, Selected Letters on Politics and Society, 55–56.
[4. ] Cf. Article 38 of the Charter of 1814.
[5. ] The “mutual” form of education (in which the instructor was helped by the best students) developed in England and Germany; it was linked to Protestantism.
[6. ] The ministry of police was abolished in 1814 and reestablished a year later.
[7. ] For more on freedom of the press under the Bourbon Restoration, see Hatin, Histoire politique et littéraire de la presse en France, vol. 8.
[8. ] This was the main task of postrevolutionary French liberals: “closing” the Revolution by coming to terms with the legacy of the Terror of 1793–94. To this effect, they championed the main principles of 1789 and the civil liberties enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizen—the rights of man, political liberty, freedom of association, and the like—while also vigorously condemning the ideas that, in their view, had made the Terror possible. This attitude was nicely illustrated by Guizot: “As a destructive [phenomenon], the Revolution is done and there is no question of returning to it; as founding moment, it only commences now” (François Guizot, Review of Montlosier’s De la monarchie française. Archives,Philosophiques, Politiques et Littéraires, vol. III, 397). For more information, see Manent, An Intellectual History of Liberalism, 80–83.
[9. ] During the first years of the Restoration, reconciling democracy as a new type of society with representative government seemed a daunting task. By democracy as social condition, French liberals referred to the advent of a new type of society which brought forth a new configuration of mores, sentiments, laws, and institutions. The image of democracy as an irresistible torrent (“in full spate”) that needed strong dikes to contain and purify it appeared in the parlementary speeches during the first years of the Bourbon Restoration. For more information, see Craiutu, Liberalism Under Siege, 104–12.
[1. ] From April 1814 to February 1815.
[2. ] This complex social and political context created a unique environment that triggered an exceptional revival of arts and sciences. Many writings and memoirs of that period conveyed the feeling of living in a time of great change after decades of spiritual desolation. For more information, see Craiutu, Liberalism Under Siege, 19–26.
[1. ] In fact, Napoléon landed on March 1, 1815, at Golfe-Jean. See Furet, Revolutionary France, 275–80.
[2. ] On March 10, 1815, Madame de Staël and her family (with the exception of Auguste) left Paris for Switzerland; Napoléon arrived in Paris ten days later. On behalf of the Emperor, Joseph Fouché, Duke of Otrante (1759–1820), sent Madame de Staël a courteous note on March 24, followed by a similar letter signed by Joseph Bonaparte on April 5, in which Joseph Bonaparte quoted Napoléon as endorsing Madame de Staël’s ideas. See Solovieff, ed., Madame de Staël, ses amis, ses correspondants. Choix de lettres (1778–1817), 494. To Joseph Bonaparte she commented somewhat favorably on Napoléon’s return (ibid., 493).
[3. ] Antoine Chamans, Count of La Valette (1769–1830), former close associate of Napoléon.
[4. ] The Congress of Vienna (1814–15).
[1. ] From “Le Loup devenu berger” (“The Wolf Become Shepherd”), by Jean de La Fontaine (Fables, bk. 3).
[2. ] Among them was Madame de Staël’s close friend Benjamin Constant, the author of the new constitution entitled Additional Act (April 1815). A part of their correspondence during this period is found in Solovieff, ed., Madame de Staël, ses amis, ses correspondants. Choix de lettres (1778–1817), 494–506.
[3. ] Napoléon realized that he had to make a series of liberal concessions to those who advocated the principles of representative government and constitutional monarchy. In a private conversation, he acknowledged: “The taste of constitutions, debates, and speeches has revived. Authority is questioned.” (quoted in Lucas-Dubreton, The Restoration and the July Monarchy, 13) Napoléon abolished censorship of the press and signed an “Additional Act to the Constitutions of the Empire,” drafted by his former opponent Benjamin Constant. The preamble of the act clearly indicates the new spirit that ruled over the country: “The emperor wishes to give to the representative system its full extension, while combining in the highest degree political liberty with the power necessary to secure respect abroad for the independence of the French people and the dignity of the throne.” Also see Hatin, Histoire politique et littéraire de la presse en France, vol. VIII, 132.
[1. ] The Battle of Waterloo (June 1815).
[2. ] After the battle of Waterloo, the deputies, worried by Napoléon’s intention to assume dictatorial power, voted (at the initiative of La Fayette) in favor of a motion declaring that any attempt to dissolve the Chamber would be considered high treason. The Chamber of Peers passed a similar resolution.
[3. ] Initially, Napoléon wanted to leave for the United States. To this effect, he went to Rochefort but found the port blocked by the English navy. He surrendered himself to the English on July 15.
[4. ] Napoléon was still alive when Madame de Staël wrote these lines.
[1. ] Napoléon II.
[2. ] On July 4, 1815. This declaration, titled Déclaration des Droits des Français et des principes fondamentaux de leur constitution, drew inspiration from the English Bill of Rights of 1689 rather than the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizen of 1789. The new declaration, drafted by Garat, former deputy to the Estates General and former minister of justice, stipulated, among other things, popular sovereignty, division of powers, the inviolability of the monarch, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. After the entry of foreign armies in Paris (July 5) and the return of Louis XVIII (July 8), the Chamber was officially dissolved on July 13 and Garat’s declaration was abandoned.
[* ] The author intended to have inserted here the Declaration of the Chamber of Representatives, eliminating whatever was not in harmony with the principles professed in this work. This task is of too delicate a nature for the editors to take on themselves to complete it.
This chapter is evidently nothing but an outline. Notes in the margin of the manuscript pointed out the principal facts of which Madame de Staël purposed treating, and the distinguished names she meant to cite. (Note by the original editors)
[3. ] There are significant differences between the published and the original version of this chapter. For more information, see the account given by Chinatsu Takeda, “Présentation des documents,” in Revue française d’histoire des idées politiques (Paris: Picard, 2003), no. 18, 2e., 355–61. Madame de Staël’s original version of this chapter is reproduced on pp. 365–68.