Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIII: Return of Bonaparte. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER XIII: Return of Bonaparte. - Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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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the triumph of this man the aid of prayer failed me entirely, and in my trouble it seemed to me that the Deity had withdrawn from the earth and would no longer communicate with the beings whom he had placed there.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.
[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).