Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III. - The Origins of Contemporary France: The Modern Regime, vol. I
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CHAPTER III. - Hippolyte Taine, The Origins of Contemporary France: The Modern Regime, vol. I 
The Origins of Contemporary France: The Modern Regime, vol. 1, trans. John Durand (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1890).
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I. The assignment of right.—Those out of favor and the preferred under former governments.—Under the Ancient Régime.—During the Revolution.—French conception of Equality and Rights.—Its ingredients and its excesses.—The satisfaction it obtains under the new régime.—Abolition of legal incapacities and equality in the possession of rights.—Confiscation of collective action and equality in the deprivation of rights.—Careers in the modern State.—Equal right of all to offices and to promotion.—Napoleon’s distribution of employments.—His staff of officials recruited from all classes and parties.—II. The need of success.—Initiation and conditions of promotion under the old monarchy.—Effect on minds.—Ambitions are limited.—The external outlets open to them.—The Revolution provides an internal outlet and an unlimited career.—Effect of this.—Exigencies and pretensions of the modern man.—Theoretical rule of selection among rivals.—Popular suffrage erected into judicial arbitrament.—Consequence of its verdict.—Unworthiness of its choice.—III. Napoleon as judge of competition.—Security of his seat.—Independence of his decisions.—Suppression of former influences and end of monarchical or democratic intrigues.—Other influences against which he is on guard.—His favorite rule.—Estimate of candidates according to the kind and amount of their useful labor.—His own competency.—His perspicacity.—His vigilance.—Zeal and labor of his functionaries.—Result of competition thus viewed and of functions thus exercised.—Talents utilized and jealousies disarmed.—IV. Competitions and prizes.—Multitude of offices.—How their number is increased by the extension of central patronage and of the French territory.—Situation of a Frenchman abroad.—It gives him rank.—Rapidity of promotion.—Constant elimination and multiplicity of vacancies in the army.—Preliminary elimination in the civil service.—Proscription of cultivated men and interruption of education during the Revolution.—General or special instruction rare in 1800.—Small number of competent candidates.—Easy promotion due to the lack of competitors.—Importance and attraction of the prizes offered.—The Legion of Honor.—The imperial nobility.—Dotations and majorities.—Emulation.—V. The inward spring from 1789 to 1815.—Its force.—Its decline.—How it ends in breaking the machine down.
Now that the State has just made a new allotment of the burdens and duties which it imposes it must make a new assignment of the rights and benefits it confers.—Distributive justice, on both sides, long before 1789, was defective, and, under the monarchy, exclusions had become as obnoxious as exemptions; all the more because, through a double iniquity, the ancient régime in each group distinguished two other groups, one to which it granted every exemption, and the other which it made subject to every exclusion. The reason is that, from the first, the king, in the formation and government of the kingdom, in order to secure the services, money, collaboration or connivance which he needed, was obliged to negotiate always with corporations, orders, provinces, seignories, the clergy, churches, monasteries, universities, parliaments, professional bodies or industrial guilds and families, that is to say with constituted powers, more or less difficult to bring under subjection and which, to be kept in subjection, stipulated conditions. Hence, in France, so many different conditions: each distinct body had yielded through one or several distinct capitulations and possessed its own separate statute. Hence, again, such diversely unequal conditions the bodies, the best able to protect themselves, had, of course, defended themselves the best, and their statutes, written or unwritten, guaranteed to them precious privileges which the other bodies, much weaker, could neither acquire nor preserve, not merely immunities but likewise prerogatives, not alone alleviations of taxation and militia dispensations, but likewise political and administrative liberties, remnants of their primitive sovereignty, with many other positive advantages, the very least being precedences, preferences, social priority, with an incontestable right to rank, honors, offices, and favors. Such, notably, were the provinces possessing their own government (pays a’états), compared with those which elected the magistrates who apportioned taxation (pays d’élection),1 the two highest orders, the clergy and the nobles, compared with the third-estate, and the bourgeoisie, and the town corporations compared with the rest of the inhabitants. On the other hand, opposed to these historical favorites were the historical disinherited, the latter much more numerous and counting by millions—the taxable commons, all subjects without rank or quality, in short, the ordinary run of men, especially the common herd of the towns and particularly of the country, all the more ground down on account of their lower status, along with the Jews lower yet, a sort of foreign class scarcely tolerated, with the Calvinists, not only deprived of the humblest rights but, again, persecuted by the State for the past one hundred years.
All these people, who have been transported far outside of civic relationships by historic right, are brought back, in 1789, by philosophic right. After the declarations of the Constituent Assembly, there are no longer in France either Bretons, Provençals, Burgundians or Alsatians, Catholics, Protestants or Israelites, nobles or plebeians, bourgeois or rustics, but simply Frenchmen, all with the one title of citizens, all endowed with the same civil, religious and political rights, all equal before the State, all introduced by law into every career, collectively, on an equal footing and without fear or favor from anybody; all free to follow this out to the end without distinction of rank, birth, faith or fortune; all, if they are good runners, to receive the highest prizes at the end of the race, any office or rank, especially the leading honors and positions which, thus far reserved to a class or coterie, had not been allowed previously to the great multitude. Henceforth, all Frenchmen, in theory, enjoy rights in common; unfortunately, there is only the theory. In reality, in all state relationships (dans la cité), the new-comers appropriate to themselves the offices, the pretensions, and more than the privileges of their predecessors; the latter, consisting of large and small land-owners, gentlemen, parliamentarians, officials, ecclesiastics, notables of every kind and degree, are immediately deprived of the rights of man. Surrendered to rural iacqueries and to town mobs, they undergo, first, the abandonment and, next, the hostility of the State: the public gendarme has ceased to protect them and refuses his services; afterwards, on becoming a Jacobin, he declares himself their enemy, treats them as enemies, plunders them, imprisons them, murders them, expels or transports them, inflicts on them civil death, and shoots them if they dare return; he deprives their friends or kindred who remain in France of their civil rights; he deprives the nobles or the ennobled of their quality as Frenchmen, and compels them to naturalize themselves afresh according to prescribed formalities; he renews against the Catholics the interdictions, persecutions and brutalities which the old government had practised against the Calvinist minority.—Thus, in 1799 as in 1789, there are two classes of Frenchmen, two kinds of unequal men, the first one superior, installed in the civic fold, and the second, inferior and excluded from it; only, in 1799, the greatest inequality consigned the inferior and excluded class to a still lower, more remote, and much worse condition.
The principle, nevertheless, subsists; since 1789 it is inscribed at the top of every constitution; it is still proclaimed in the new constitution. It has remained popular, although perverted and disfigured by the Jacobins; their false and gross interpretation of it could not bring it into discredit; athwart the hideous grotesque caricature, all minds and sentiments ever recur to the ideal form of the cité, to the veritable social contract, to the impartial, active, and permanent reign of distributive justice. Their entire education, all the literature, philosophy and culture of the eighteenth century, leads them onward to this conception of society and of rights; more profoundly still, they are predisposed to it by the inner structure of their intelligence, by the original cast of their sensibility, by the hereditary defects and qualities of their nature and of their race.—The Frenchman easily and quickly grasps some general trait of objects and persons, some characteristic in common; here, this characteristic is the inherent quality of man which he dexterously makes prominent, clearly isolates, and then, stepping along briskly and confidently, rushes ahead on the high-road to consequences.1 He has forgotten that his summary notion merely corresponds to an extract, and a very brief one, of man in his completeness; his decisive, precipitate process hinders him from seeing the largest portion of the real individual; he has overlooked numerous traits, the most important and most efficacious, those which geography, history, habit, condition, manual labor, or a liberal education, stamp on intellect, soul and body and which, through their differences, constitute different local or social groups. Not only does he overlook all these characteristics, but he sets them aside; they are too numerous and too complex; they would interfere with and disturb his thoughts; however fitted for clear and comprehensive logic he is so much the less fitted for complex and comprehensive ideas; consequently, he avoids them and, through an innate operation of which he is unconscious, he involuntarily condenses, simplifies and curtails; henceforth, his idea, partial and superficial as it is, seems to him adequate and complete; in his eyes the abstract quality of man takes precedence of and absorbs all others; not only has this a value, but the sole value. One man, therefore, is as good as another and the law should treat all alike.—Here, amour-propre, so vivacious in France, and so readily excited, comes in to interpret and apply the formula.2 Since all men equal each other, I am as good as any man; if the law confers a right on people of this or that condition, fortune or birth, it must confer the same right on me. Every door that is open to them must be open to me; every door that is closed to me must be closed to them. Otherwise, I am treated as an inferior and wounded in my deepest feelings. When the legislator places a ballot in their hands he is bound to place another just like it in my hands, even if they know how to use it and I do not, even if a limited suffrage is of use to the community and universal suffrage is not. So much the worse if I am sovereign only in name, and through the imagination; I consent to my sovereignty being illusory, but with the understanding that the sovereignty of others is regarded likewise; so I prefer servitude and privation for all, rather than liberties and advantages for a few, and, provided the same level is passed over all heads, I submit to the yoke for all heads, including my own.”
Such is the internal composition of the instinct of equality, and such is the natural instinct of Frenchmen. It is beneficial or mischievous according as one or the other of its ingredients predominates, at one time the noble sentiment of equity and at another time the low envy of foolish vanity;1 healthy or unhealthy, however, its power in France is enormous, and the new régime gratifies it in every possible way, good or bad. No more legal disqualifications! On the one hand, the republican laws of proscription or of exception were all repealed: we have seen an amnesty and the return of the émigres, the Concordat, the restoration of Catholic worship, the compulsory reconciliation of the constitutionalists with the orthodox; the First Consul admits no difference between them; his new clergy are recruited from both groups and, in this respect, he forces the Pope to yield.2 He gives twelve of the sixty episcopal thrones to former schismatics; he wants them to take their places boldly; he relieves them from ecclesiastical penitence and from any humiliating recantation; he takes care that, in the other forty-eight dioceses, the priests who formerly took the civic oath shall be employed and well treated by their superiors who, at the same epoch, refused to take the civic oath. On the other hand, all the exclusions, inequalities and distinctions of the monarchy remain abolished. Not only are the Calvinist and even Israelite cults legally authorized, the same as the Catholic cult, but, again, the Protestant consistories and Jewish synagogues1 are constituted and organized on the same footing as the Catholic churches; pastors and rabbis likewise become functionaries under the same title as bishops and curés; all are recognized or sanctioned by the government and all equally benefit by its patronage: it is an unique thing in Europe to find the small churches of the minority obtaining the same measure of indifference and good will from the State as the great church of the majority, and, henceforth, in fact as in law, the ministers of the three cults, formerly ignored, tolerated or proscribed, enjoy their rank, titles and honors in the social as well as in the legal hierarchy, equally with the ministers of that cult which was once the only one dominant or allowed.
In like manner, in the civil order of things, no inferiority or discredit must legally attach to any condition whatever, either to plebeian, villager, peasant or poor man as such, as formerly under the monarchy; nor to noble, bourgeois, citizen, notable or rich man, as recently under the Republic; each of these two classes is relieved of its degradation; no class is burdened by taxation or by the conscription beyond its due; all persons and all property find in the government, in the administration, in the tribunals, in the gendarme, the same reliable protection,—all of which stands for equity and the true spirit of equality.—We have now to consider equality in a bad and envious spirit. The plébiscite, undoubtedly, as well as the election of deputies to the Corps Legislatif are simply comedies; but, in these comedies, one rôle is as good as another and the duke of the old or new pattern, a mere figurant among hundreds and thousands of others, votes only once like the corner-grocer. Undoubtedly, the private individual of the commune or department, in institutions of charity, worship or education, is deprived of any independence, of any initiation, of any control, as the State has confiscated for itself all collective action; but the classes deprived of this are especially the upper classes, alone sufficiently enlightened and wealthy to take the lead, form projects and provide for expenditure: in this usurpation, the State has encroached upon and eaten deeper into the large body of superior existences scattered about than into the limited circle where humbler lives clamber and crawl along; nearly the entire loss, all perceptible privation, is for the large landed proprietor and not for his hired hands, for the large manufacturer or city merchant and not for their workmen or clerks,1 while the clerk, the workman, the journeyman, the handicraftsman, who grumble at being the groundlings, find themselves less badly off since their masters or patrons, fallen from a higher point, are where they are and they can elbow them.
Now that men are born on the ground, all on the same level, and are confined within universal and uniform limits, social life no longer appears to them other than a competition, a rivalry instituted and proclaimed by the State, and of which it is the umpire; for, through its interference, all are comprised within its enclosure and shut up and kept there; no other field is open to run on; on the contrary, every career within these bounds, indicated and staked out beforehand, offers an opportunity for all runners: the government has laid out and levelled the ground, established compartments, divided off and prepared rectilinear lists which converge to the goal; there, it presides, the unique arbiter of the race, exposing to all competitors the innumerable prizes which it proposes for them.—These prizes consist of offices, the various employments of the State, political, military, ecclesiastical, judiciary, administrative and university, all the honors and dignities which it dispenses, all the grades of its hierarchy from the lowest to the highest, from that of corporal, college-regent, alderman, office-supernumerary, assistant priest up to that of senator, marshal of France, grand master of the university, cardinal, and minister of State. It confers on its possessor, according to the greater or lesser importance of the place, a greater or lesser portion of the advantages which all men crave and seek for—money, power, patronage, influence, consideration, importance and social pre-eminence; thus, according to the rank one attains in the hierarchy, one is something, or of some account; outside of the hierarchy, one is nothing.
Consequently, the faculty for getting in and advancing one’s self in these lists is the most precious of all; in the new régime it is guaranteed by the law as a common right and is open to all Frenchmen. As no other outlet for them is allowed by the State it owes them this one; since it invites them and reduces everybody to competing under its direction it is bound to be an impartial arbiter; since the quality of citizen, in itself and through it alone, confers the right to make one’s way, all citizens indifferently must enjoy the right of succeeding in any employment, the very highest, and without any distinction as to birth, fortune, cult or party. There must be no more preliminary exclusions, no more gratuitous preferences, undeserved favors, anticipated promotions, no more undue partiality. Such is the rule of the modern State: constituted as it is, that is to say, monopolizer and omnipresent, it cannot violate this rule for any length of time with impunity. In France, at least, the good and bad spirits of equality agree in exacting adherence to it: on this point, the French are unanimous; no article of their social code is more cherished by them; this one flatters their amour-propre and tickles their imagination; it exalts hope, nourishes illusion, intensifies the energy and enjoyment of life. Thus far, the principle has remained inert, powerless, held in suspension in the air, in the great void of speculative declarations and of constitutional promises; Napoleon brings it down to the ground and renders it practical; that which the assemblies had decreed in vain for ten years he brings about for the first time and in his own interest. To exclude a class or category of men from offices and promotion would be equivalent to depriving one’s self gratuitously of all the talents it contains, and, moreover, to incurring, besides the inevitable rancor of these frustrated talents, the sullen and lasting discontent of the entire class or category. The First Consul would do himself a wrong were he to curb his right to choose: he needs every available capacity, and he takes them where he finds them, to the right, to the left, above or below, in order to keep his regiments full and enroll in his service every legitimate ambition and every justifiable pretension.
Under the monarchy, an obscure birth debarred even the best endowed men from the principal offices: under the Consulate and the Empire the two leading personages of the State are Maupeou’s old secretary, a fecund translator,1 formerly councillor in a provincial court of justice, Lebrun and Cambacérès, one, third-consul, then Duc de Plaisance and arch-chancellor of the Empire, and the other, second-consul, then Duc de Parme and arch-chancellor of the Empire, both of them being princes; similarly, the marshals are new men and soldiers of fortune, a few of them born in the class of inferior nobles or in the ordinary bourgeois class, mostly among the people or even amongst the populace, and, in its lowest ranks, Masséna, the son of a wine-dealer, once a cabin-boy and then common soldier and non-commissioned officer for fourteen years; Ney, son of a cooper, Lefebvre, son of a miller, Murat, son of a tavern-keeper, Lannes, son of an ostler, and Augereau, son of a mason and a female dealer in fruit and vegetables.—Under the Republic, noble birth consigned, or confined, the ablest and best qualified men for their posts to a voluntary obscurity, only too glad when their names did not condemn them to exile, imprisonment or to the guillotine. Under the Empire, M. de Talleyrand is prince of Benevento, minister of foreign affairs and vice-grand-elector with a salary of five hundred thousand francs. We see personages of old race figuring in the first ranks: among the clergy M. de Roquelaure, M. de Boisdgelin, M. de Broglie, M. Ferdinand de Rohan; in the magistracy, M. Séguier, M. Pasquier, M. Molé; on the domestic and decorative staff of the palace, Comte de Ségur, grand-master of ceremonies, Comte de Montesquiou-Fézensac, grand-chamberlain, also as chamberlains, Comtes d’Aubusson de la Feuillade, de Brigode, de Croy, de Coutades, de Louvois, de Brancas, de Gontaut, de Grammont, de Beauvau, de Lur-Saluces, d’Haussonville, de Noailles, de Chabot, de Turenne,1 and other bearers of historic names.—During the Revolution, at each new parliamentarian, popular or military coup d’état the notabilities of the vanquished party were always excluded from office and generally outlawed. After the coup d’état of Brumaire, not only are the vanquished of the old parties all brought back under the protection of the law, but, again, their notables are promoted to the highest offices. Among the monarchists of the Constituent Assembly Malouet is made councillor of State, and Maury archbishop of Paris; forty-seven other ecclesiastics who, like himself, refused to take the oath to the civil constitution of the clergy, are appointed, like him, to episcopal thrones. Among the Feuillants of the Legislative Assembly, Vaublanc is made prefect, Beugnot a councillor of State and minister of the finances in the grand-duchy of Berg, Matthieu Dumas a brigadier-general and director of reviews, Narbonne becomes the aid-de-camp and the intimate interlocutor of Napoleon, and then ambassador to Vienna; if Lafayette had been willing, not to ask for but to accept the post, he would have been made a marshal of France.—Among the few Girondists or Federalists who did not perish after the 2d June, Riouffe is prefect and baron, Lanjuinais is senator and count; among others proscribed, or half proscribed, the new régime restores to and places at the head of affairs the superior and special employés whom the Reign of Terror had driven away, or singled out for slaughter, particularly the heads of the financial and diplomatic services who, denounced by Robespierre on the 8th Thermidor, or arrested on the morning of the 9th already felt their necks under the blade of the guillotine; Reinhart and Otto are ambassadors, Mollien is count and treasury minister, Miot becomes councillor of state, Comte de Melito minister of finances at Naples, while Gaudin is made minister of finances in France and Duc de Gaëte. Among the transported or fugitives of Fructidor, Barthélemy becomes senator, Barbé-Marbois director of the Treasury and first president of the Cour des Comptes; Siméon, councillor of State and then minister of justice in Westphalia; Portalis is made minister of worship, and Fontanes grand-master of the University. The First Consul passes the sponge over all political antecedents: not only does he summon to his side the moderates and half-moderates of the Constituent and Legislative Assemblies, of the Convention and of the Directory, but again he seeks recruits among pure royalists and pure Jacobins, among the men the most devoted to the ancient régime and amongst those most compromised by the Revolution, at both extremities of the most extreme opinions. We have just seen, on the one side, what hereditary favorites of a venerable royalty, what born supporters of the deposed dynasty, are elevated by him to the first of his magisterial, clerical and court dignities. On the other hand, apart from Chasset, Rœderer and Grégoire, apart from Fourcroy, Bérlier and Réal, apart from Treilhard and Boulay de La Meurthe, he employs others branded or noted for terrible acts, Barère himself, at least for a certain period, and in the sole office he was fitted for, that of a denunciator, gazetteer and stimulator of public opinion; everybody has a place according to his faculties, and each has rank according to his usefulness and merit. Barère, consequently, becomes a paid spy and pamphleteer; Drouet, the postmaster, who arrested the royal family at Varennes, becomes sub-prefect at Sainte-Menehould; Jean-Bon Saint-André, one of the Committee of Public Safety, is made prefect at Mayence; Merlin de Douai, reporter of the law against suspects, is prosecuting attorney in the court of cassation; Fouché, whose name tells all, becomes minister of state and Duke of Otranto; nearly all of the survivors of the Convention are made judges of première instance or of appeal, revenue-collectors, deputies, prefects, foreign consuls, police commissioners, inspectors of reviews, head-clerks in the post-offices, custom-houses and tax-offices, while, in 1808, among these functionaries, one hundred and thirty were regicides.1
To make one’s way, get ahead, and succeed in the world is now the dominant thought in the minds of men. Before 1789, this thought had not acquired sovereign control in their minds; it found that there were rival ideas to contend with, and it had only half-developed itself; its roots had not sunk down deep enough to monopolize the activity of the imagination, to absorb the will and possess the mind entirely; and the reason is that it lacked both air and aliment. Promotion, under the old monarchy, was slow, and in the first place, because the monarchy was old and because in every order which is not new each new generation finds that every office is filled, and next, because, in this old order founded on tradition and heredity, future vacancies were supplied long beforehand. The great social staircase led to several stories; each man could ascend every step of his own flight, but he could not mount above it; the landing reached, he found closed doors and nearly insurmountable barriers. The story above was reserved to its own inhabitants; they occupied it now and were still to occupy it in time to come; the inevitable successors of the titular possessor were seen around him on each step, his equals, peers and neighbors, one or the other often designated by name as his legal heir, the purchaser of his survivorship. In those days, not only was the individual himself considered, his merits and his services, but likewise his family and ancestry, his state and condition, the society he entered into, the “salon” he maintained, his fortune and his followers; these antecedents and surroundings composed the quality of the personage; without this requisite quality, he could not go beyond the landing-place. Strictly speaking, a personage born on the upper steps of one story might sometimes succeed in mounting the lowest steps of the next story, but there he stopped. In fine, it was always considered by those on the lower story that the upper story was inaccessible and, moreover, uninhabitable.
Accordingly, most of the public offices, in the finances, in the administration, in the judiciary, in the parliaments, in the army, at court, were private property as is now the case with the places of advocates, notaries and brokers; they had to be bought to enable one to follow these pursuits, and were very dear; one had to possess a large capital and be content beforehand to derive only a mediocre revenue from it, ten, five and sometimes three per cent on the purchase-money.1 The place once acquired, especially if an important one, involved official parade, receptions, an open table, a large annual outlay;2 it often ran the purchaser in debt; he knew that his acquisition would bring him more consideration than crowns. On the other hand, to obtain possession of it, he had to secure the good-will of the body of which he became a member, or of the patron who bestowed the office, that is to say, he must be regarded by his future colleagues as acceptable, or by the patron as a guest, invited, and possibly to live with him on terms of familiarity, in other words, provide sponsors for himself, furnish guarantees, prove that he was well-off and well-educated, that his ways and manners qualified him for the post, and that, in the society he was about to enter, he would not turn out unsuitable. To maintain one’s self in office at court one was obliged to possess the tone of Versailles, quite different from that of Paris and the provinces.3 To maintain one’s self in a high parliamentary position, one was expected to possess local alliances, moral authority, the traditions and deportment handed down from father to son in the old magistrate families, and which a mere advocate, an ordinary pleader, could not arrive at.4 In short, on this staircase, each distinct story imposed on its inmates a sort of distinct costume, more or less costly, embroidered and gilded, I mean a sum of outward and inward habits and connections, all obligatory and indispensable, comprising title, particle and name: the announcement of any bourgeois name by a lackey in the ante-chamber would be considered a discord; consequently, one had one’s self ennobled in the current coin, or assumed a noble name gratis. Caron, son of a watchmaker, became Beaumarchais; Nicolas, a foundling, called himself M. de Champfort; Danton, in public documents, signed himself d’Anton; in the same way, a man without a dress-coat hires or borrows one, no matter how, on going out to dine; all this was tolerated and accepted as a sign of good behavior and of final conformity with custom, as in testimony of respect for the usages of good society.
Through this visible separation of stories, people had acquired the habit of remaining in the condition in which they were placed; they were not irritated by being obliged to stay in it; the soldier who enlisted did not aspire to become an officer; the young officer of the lower noblesse and of small means did not aspire to the post of colonel or lieutenant-general; a limited perspective kept hopes and the imagination from fruitlessly launching forth into a boundless future: ambition, humbled to the ground at the start, walked instead of flying; it recognized at the outset that the summits were beyond its reach; to be able to mount upward one or two steps was enough.—In general, a man obtained promotion on the spot, in his town, corporation or parliament. The assistant-counsellor who pleaded his first case in the court of Grenoble or of Rennes calculated that, in twenty years, he would become first judge at Grenoble or at Rennes, rest twenty years or more in office, and he aimed at nothing better. Alongside of the counsellor of a (court) presidency, or of an “election” magistrate, of a clerk in the salt-tax bureau, or in the frontier custom-house, or in the bureau of “rivers and forests,” alongside of a clerk in the treasury or ministry of foreign affairs, or of a lawyer or prosecuting attorney, there was always some son, son-in-law or nephew, fitted by domestic training, by a technical apprenticeship, by moral adaptation, not only to perform the duties of the office, but to be contented in it, pretend to nothing beyond it, not to look above himself with regret or envy, satisfied with the society around him, and feel, moreover, that elsewhere he would be out of his element and uncomfortable.
Life, thus restricted and circumscribed, was more cheerful then than at the present day; souls, less disturbed and less strained, less exhausted and less burdened with cares, were healthier. The Frenchman, exempt from modern preoccupations, followed amiable and social instincts, inclined to take things easily, and of a playful disposition owing to his natural talent for amusing himself by amusing others, in mutual enjoyment of each other’s company and without calculation, through easy and considerate intercourse, smiling or laughing, in short, in a constant flow of inspiration, good-humor and gayety.1 It is probable that, if the Revolution had not intervened, the great parvenus of the time and of the Empire would, like their forerunners, have submitted to circumambient necessities and readily accommodated themselves to the discipline of the established régime. Cambacérès, who had succeeded to his father as counsellor at the bar of Montpellier, would have become president (of the tribunal) in his turn; meanwhile, he would have composed able jurisprudential treatises and invented some new pâté de becfigues; Lebrun, former collaborator with Maupeou, might have become counsellor in the court of excise at Paris, or chief-clerk in the Treasury department; he would have kept up a philosophical salon, with fashionable ladies and polished men of letters to praise his elegant and incorrect translations. Amongst the future marshals, some of them, pure plebeians, Masséna, Augereau, Lannes, Ney, Lefebvre, might have succeeded through brilliant actions and have become “officers of fortune,” while others, taking in hand specially difficult services, like commandant Fischer who undertook the destruction of Mandrin’s band, and again, like the hero Chevert, and the veteran Lückner, might have become lieutenant-generals. Rough as these men were, they would have found, even in the lower ranks, if not full employment for their superior faculties, at least sufficient food for their strong and coarse appetites; they would have uttered just the same oaths, at just as extravagant suppers, with mistresses of just the same calibre.1 Had their temperament, character and genius been indomitable, had they reared and pranced to escape bridle and harness and been driven like ordinary men, they need not have broken out of the traces for all that; there were plenty of openings and issues for them on either side of the highway on which others were trotting along. Many families often contained, among numerous children, some hot-headed, imaginative youth, some independent nature rebellious in advance, in short, a refractory spirit, unwilling or incapable of being disciplined; a regular life, mediocrity, even the certainty of getting ahead, were distasteful to him; he would abandon the hereditary homestead or purchased office to the docile elder brother, son-in-law or nephew, by which the domain or the post remained in the family; as for himself, tempted by illimitable prospects, he would leave France and go abroad; Voltaire says2 that “Frenchmen were found everywhere,” in Canada, in Louisiana, as surgeons, fencing-masters, riding-masters, officers, engineers, adventurers especially, and even filibusters, trappers and backwoodsmen, the supplest, most sympathetic and boldest of colonizers and civilizers, alone capable of bringing the natives under assimilation by assimilating with them, by adopting their customs and by marrying their women, mixing bloods, and forming new and intermediary races, like Dumas de La Pailleterie, whose descendants have furnished original and superior men for the past three generations, and like the Canada half-breeds by which the aboriginal race succeeds in transforming itself and in surviving. They were the first explorers of the great lakes, the first to trace the Mississippi to its mouth, and found colonial empires with Champlain and Lasalle in North America and with Dupleix and La Bourdonnais in Hindoostan. Such was the outlet for daring, uncontrollable spirits, restive temperaments under constraint and subject to the routine of an old civilization, souls astray and unclassed from their birth, in which the primitive instincts of the nomad and barbarian sprouted afresh, in which insubordination was innate, and in which energy and capacity to take the initiative remained intact.—Mirabeau, having compromised his family by scandals, was on the point of being despatched by his father to the Dutch Indies, where deaths were common; it might happen that he would be hanged or become governor of some large district in Java or Sumatra, the venerated and adored sovereign of five hundred thousand Malays, both ends being within the compass of his merits. Had Danton been well advised, instead of borrowing the money with which to buy an advocate’s place in the Council at about seventy thousand livres, which brought him only three cases in four years and obliged him to hang on to the skirts of his father-in-law, he would have gone to Pondicherry or to the palace of some indigenous rajah or king as agent, councillor or companion of his pleasures; he might have become prime-minister to Tippoo Saib, or other potentate, lived in a palace, kept a harem and had lacs of rupees; undoubtedly, he would have filled his prisons and occasionally emptied them by a massacre, as at Paris in September, but it would have been according to local custom, and operating only on the lives of Sheikhs and Mahrattas. Bonaparte, after the fall of his protectors, the two Robespierres, finding his career arrested, wanted to enter the Sultan’s service; accompanied by Junot, Muiron, Marmont and other comrades, he could have carried to Constantinople rarer commodities, much better compehsated in the Orient than in the Occident, namely military honor and administrative talent; he would have dealt in these two products, as he did in Egypt, at the right time and in the right place, at the highest price, without our conscientious scruples and without our European refinements of probity and humanity. No imagination can picture what he would have become there; certainly some pasha, like Djezzar in Syria, or a khedive like Mahomet-Ali, afterwards at Cairo; he already saw himself in the light of a conqueror, like Ghengis-Khan,1 a founder like Alexander or Baber, a prophet like Mahomet; as he himself declares, “one could work only on a grand scale in the Orient,” and there he would have worked on a grand scale; Europe, perhaps, would have gained by it, and especially France.
But the Revolution came on and the ambitions which, under the ancient régime, found a field abroad or cooled down at home, arose on the natal soil and suddenly expanded beyond all calculation. After 1789, France resembles a hive in a state of excitement; in a few hours, in the brief interval of an August morning, each insect puts forth two huge wings, soars aloft and “all whirl together pell-mell;” many fall to the ground half cut to pieces and begin to crawl upward as before; others, with more strength or with better luck, ascend and glitter on the highways of the atmosphere.—Every great highway and every other road is open to everybody through the decrees of the Constituent-Assembly, not only for the future, but even immediately. The entire ruling staff, directive or influential, political, administrative, provincial, municipal, ecclesiastical, educational, military, judicial and financial, is brusquely dismissed; all are summoned to take office who covet it and who have a good opinion of themselves; all previously existing conditions, birth, fortune, education, old family and all apprenticeships, customs and ways which retard and limit advancement, are abolished; there are no longer any guarantees or sponsors; all Frenchmen are eligible to all employments; all grades of the legal and social hierarchy are conferred by a more or less direct election, a suffrage becoming more and more popular, by a mere numerical majority; consequently, in all branches of the government under central or local authority and patronage, there is the installation of a new staff of officials; the transposition which everywhere substitutes the old inferior to the old superior, is universal;1 “lawyers for judges, bourgeois for statesmen, former plebeians for former nobles, soldiers for officers, officers for generals, curés for bishops, vicars for curés, monks for vicars, stock-jobbers for financiers, empirics for administrators, journalists for publicists, rhetoricians for legislators, and the poor for the rich;” a sudden jump from the bottom to the top of the social ladder by a few, from the lowest to the highest rung, from the rank of sergeant to that of major-general, from the condition of a pettifogger or starving newspaper-hack to the possession of supreme authority, even to the effective exercise of omnipotence and dictatorship—such is the capital, positive, striking work of the Revolution.
At the same time, and in a counter-sense, a revolution is going on in minds and the moral effect of the spectacle becomes grander and more lasting than the spectacle itself; souls have been stirred to their very depths; torpid passions and slumbering pretensions are aroused. The multitude of offices presented and expected vacancies “has excited the thirst for power, stimulated amour-propre, and fired the hopes of men the most inept. An ardent, barbarous presumption has rendered the ignorant and the foolish unconscious of their nullity; they have deemed themselves capable of everything because the law has awarded public functions to cleverness alone. Everybody had a perspective glimpse of gratified ambition; the soldier dreamt only of displacing the officer, the officer of becoming general, the clerk of supplanting the head administrator, the lawyer of yesterday of donning the purple, the curé of becoming bishop, the most frivolous littérateur of seating himself on the legislative bench. Places and positions, vacant through the appointment of so many parvenus, provided in their turn a vast career to the lower classes. Seeing a public functionary issue out of nothingness, where is the shoeblack whose soul would not stir with emulation?”—This new sentiment must be taken into account: for, whether reasonable or not, it is going to last, maintain its energy, stimulate men with extraordinary force1 and become one of the great mainsprings of will and action. Henceforth, government and administration are to become difficult matters; the forms and plans of the old social architecture are no longer applicable; like construction is not possible with materials of a different kind, with stable and unstable materials, with men who do not dream of quitting their condition and with men who think of nothing but that.
In effect, whatever vacancy may occur, each aspirant thinks himself fit for it, and only one of the aspirants can obtain it. Accordingly some rule of preference must be adopted outside of the opinion that each candidate entertains of himself; accordingly, at a very early date, one was established, and there could be no better one, namely, that, among the competitors for the place, the most competent to fill it should be chosen. Unfortunately, the judge, ordinary, extraordinary and supreme, instituted to decide in this case, was the plurality of male, adult Frenchmen, counted by heads, that is to say a collective being in which the small intelligent, élite body is drowned in the great rude mass; of all juries, the most incompetent, the easiest duped and misled, the least able to comprehend the questions laid before it and the consequences of its answer; the worst informed, the most inattentive, the most blinded by preconceived sympathies or antipathies, the most willingly absent, a mere flock of enlisted sheep always robbed or cheated out of their vote, and whose verdict, forced or simulated, depended on politicians beforehand, above and below, through the clubs as well as through the revolutionary government, the latter, consequently, manœuvring in such a way as to impose itself along with their favorites on the choice of the French people. Between 1792 and 1799, the republican official staff just described is thus obtained.—It is only in the army where the daily and keen sense of a common physical and mortal danger ends in dictating the choice of the best, and raises tried merit to the highest rank; and yet it must be noted that Jacobin infatuation bore down as rigorously on the army as elsewhere and on two occasions: at the outset through the election of a superior officer conferred on subordinates, which handed rank over to the noisy disputants and intemperate intriguers of the mess-room; and again during the Reign of Terror, and even later,1 in the persecution or dismissal of so many patriotic and deserving officers, which led Gouvion St. Cyr and his comrades, through disgust, to avoid or decline accepting high rank, in the scandalous promotion of club brawlers and docile nullities, in the military dictatorship of the civil proconsuls, in the supremacy conferred on Léchelle and Rossignol, in the subordination forced on Kléber and Marceau, in the absurd plans of a demagogue with huge epaulettes like Cartaux,2 in the grotesque orders of the day issued by a swaggering inebriate like Henriot,3 in the disgrace of Bonaparte, and in the detention of Hoche.—In the civil order of things, it was worse. The rule of regulating promotion by merit was not only not recognized but it was applied in an inverse sense. In the central government as in the local government, and from top to bottom of the hierarchy, from the post of minister of foreign affairs down to that of president of a petty revolutionary committee, all offices were for the unworthy; their unfitness kept on increasing inasmuch as incessant weeding out worked against them, the functionary, degraded by his work, growing worse along with his function: thus the constitutional rights of merit and capacity ended in the practical privilege of incapacity and demerit; in the allotment of grades and social advantages, distributive justice had given way to distributive injustice, while practice, contrary to theory, instituted permanently, on the one hand, the exclusion or retirement of competent, instructed, expert, well-bred, honorable and respected men and, on the other hand, brought forward illiterate, inept and rude novices, coarse and vulgar brutes, common blackguards, men used up or of tarnished reputations, rogues ready for anything, fugitives from justice, in short the adventurers and outcasts of every kind and degree;1 the latter, owing their success to perversion or lack of conscientiousness, derived their principal title from their vigorous fists and a fixed determination to hold on to their places as they had obtained them, that is to say by main force and by the murder or exile of their rivals.—Evidently, the staff of officials which the Declaration of Rights had promised was not the staff on duty ten years later; there was a lack of experience. In 1789, careers were open to every ambition; down to 1799, the rivalry of ambitions had simply produced a wild uproar and a brutal conquest. The great modern difficulty still existed; it remained to discipline the competition and to find an impartial judge, an undisputed arbitrator of the competition.
Behold him, at last, this judge-arbitrator. On the 8th November, 1799, he appears and takes his seat, and that very evening he goes to work, makes his selections among the competitors and gives them their commissions. He is a military chieftain and has installed himself; consequently he is not dependent on a parliamentary majority, and any insurrection or gathering of a mob is at once rendered abortive by his troops before it is born; street sovereignty is at an end; Parisians are long to remember the 13th of Vendémiaire and the way General Bonaparte shot them down on the steps of Saint-Roch. All his precautions against them are taken the first day and against all agitators whatever, against all opponents disposed to dispute his jurisdiction; his arm-chair as First Consul and afterwards his throne as Emperor are firmly fixed; nobody but himself can undermine them; he is seated definitively and will stay there. Profound silence reigns in the public crowd around him; some among them dare whisper, but his police has its eye on them; instead of conforming to opinion he rules it, masters it and, if need be, he manufactures it; alone by himself from his seat on high, in perfect independence and security, he announces the verdicts of distributive justice. Nevertheless, he is on his guard against the temptations and influences which have warped the decisions of his predecessors; in his tribunal, the schemes and intrigues which formerly obtained credit with the people, or with the king, are no longer in vogue; henceforth, the profession of courtier or of demagogue is a poor one.—On the one hand, there is no success, as formerly under the monarchy, through the assiduities of the ante-chamber, through elegant manners, delicate flattery, fashionable drawing-rooms, or valets and women on an intimate footing; mistresses here enjoy no credit and there are neither favorites nor the favored; a valet is regarded as a useful implement; great court personages are not considered as extra-ornamental and human furniture for the palace. Not one among them dare ask for a place for a protégé which he is incapable of filling, an advancement which would derange the list of promotions, a pass over the heads of others; if they obtain any favors, these are insignificant or political; the master grants them as an after-thought, to rally somebody, or a party, to his side; they personally, their ornamental culture, their high-bred tone, their wit, their conversational powers, their smiles and bows—all this is lost on him, or charged to account; he has no liking for their insinuating and discreet ways;1 he regards them as merely good domestics for parade; all he esteems in them is their ceremonial significance, that innate suppleness which permits them to be at once servile and dignified, the hereditary tact which teaches them how to present a letter, not from hand to hand, but on the rim of a hat, or on a silver salver, and these faculties he estimates at their just value.—On the other hand, nobody succeeds, as lately under the Republic, through tribunal or club verbosity, through appeals to principles, through eloquent or declamatory tirades; “glittering generalities,” hollow abstractions and phrases for effect now have no effect; and what is better, political ideology, with a solicitor or pleader, is a bad note. The positive, practical mind of the judge has taken in at a glance and penetrated to the bottom of arguments, means and valid pretensions; he submits impatiently to metaphysics and pettifoggery, to the argumentative force and mendacity of words.—This goes so far that he distrusts oratorical or literary talent; in any event, he takes no account of it on assigning to active positions or to a part in public business. According to him, “the men who write well and are eloquent have no solidity of judgment; they are illogical and very poor in discussion,”2 they are mere artists like others, so many word-musicians, a kind of special, narrow-minded instrument, some of them good solo players, like Fontanes, and whom the head of a State can use, but only in official music for grand cantatas and the decoration of his reign. Wit in itself, not alone the wit which gives birth to brilliant expressions and which was considered a prime accomplishment under the old régime, but general intelligence, has for him only a semi-value.3 “I am more intelligent, you may say? Eh, what do I care for your intelligence? What I care for is the spirit of the matter. There is no fool that is not good for something—there is no intelligence equal to everything.” In fact, on bestowing an office it is the function which he delegates; the proper execution of the function is the prime motive in determining his choice; the candidate appointed is always the one who will best do the work assigned him. No factitious, party popularity or unpopularity, no superficial admiration or disparagement of a clique, of a salon, or of a bureau, makes him swerve from his standard of preference.1 He values men according to the quality and quantity of their work, according to their net returns, and he estimates them directly, personally, with superior perspicacity and universal competency. He is special in all branches of civil or military activity, and even in technical detail; his memory for facts, actions, antecedents and circumstances, is prodigious; his discernment, his critical analysis, his calculating insight into the resources and shortcomings of a mind or of a soul, his faculty for gauging men, is extraordinary; through constant verifications and rectifications his internal repertory, his biographical and moral dictionary, is kept daily posted; his attention never flags; he works eighteen hours a day; his personal intervention and his hand are visible even in the appointment of subordinates. “Every man called to take part in affairs was selected by him;”2 it is through him that they retain their place; he controls their promotion and by sponsors whom he knows. “A minister could not have dismissed a functionary without consulting the emperor, while the ministers could all change without bringing about two secondary changes throughout the empire. A minister did not appoint even a second-class clerk without presenting a list of several candidates to the emperor and, opposite to it, the name of the person recommending him.” All, even at a distance, felt that the master’s eyes were on them. “I worked,” says Beugnot,3 “from night to morning, with singular ardor; the natives of the country who did not know the influence which the emperor exercised over his servitors, however far from him they might be, the miracle of the real presence, were astonished at it; I thought I saw him standing over me as I worked shut up in my cabinet.”—“Under him,” writes Rœderer, “there is no man of any merit who, as a reward for long and difficult labor, does not feel himself better compensated by a new task than by the most honorable leisure.” Never did offices less resemble sinecures. Never was the success of fortunate candidates or the failure of unsuccessful candidates better justified. Never were severe application or the difficulties and risks of the labor demanded more exactly compensated by the gratifications of the reward obtained, nor the bitterness of disappointed hopes attenuated to the same degree.1 Never were public functions assigned or fulfilled in a way to better satisfy the legitimate craving for advancement, the dominant desire of democracy and of the century, and in a way to better disarm the bad passions of democracy and of the century, consisting of an envious levelling, anti-social rancor and the inconsolable regrets of the man who has failed. Never did human competition encounter a similar judge, so painstaking, so expert and so well authorized.
He is himself conscious of the unique part he plays. His own ambition, the highest and most insatiate of all, enables him to comprehend the ambition of others; to place everywhere the man who suits the post in the post which suits the man—this is what he has done for himself and what he does for others. He knows that in this lies his power, his deep-seated popularity, his social utility. “Nobody,” says he,1 “is interested in overthrowing a government in which all the deserving are employed.”—Then, again, comes his significant exclamation at the end, his summary of modern society, a solemn grandiose figure of speech found in the legendary souvenirs of a glorious antiquity, a classic reminiscence of the noble Olympian games, “Henceforth, all careers are open to talent!”
Let us now consider the career which he thus opens to them and the prizes he offers. These prizes are in full view, ranged along each race-ground, graduated according to distances and more and more striking and magnificent; every ambition is provided for, the highest as well as the lowest, and these are countless; for they consist of offices of every grade in the civil and military hierarchies of a great centralized State whose intervention is universal, under a government which systematically tolerates no authority or influence outside of itself and which monopolizes every species of social importance for its own functionaries.2 —All these prizes, even the smallest and most insignificant, are awarded by it. In the first place, Napoleon has two or three times as many offices to bestow, on the soil of old France alone, as the former kings; for, even in the choice of their staff of officials, the latter were not always free; in many places they did not have, or no longer had, the right of appointment. At one time, this right belonged from time immemorial to provincial or municipal corporations, laic or ecclesiastic, to a certain chapter, abbey or collegiate church, to a bishop in his diocese, to the seignior in his seignory; at another time the king, once possessing the right, had surrendered or alienated it, in whole or in part, through gratuitous favor and the concession of a survivorship, or for money and through the sale of an office; in brief, his hands were tied fast by hereditary or acquired privileges. There are no privileges now to fetter the hands of the First Consul. The entire civil organization dates from him. The whole body of officials is thus of his own selection, and under him it is much more numerous than that of the ancient régime; for he has extended the attributions of the State beyond all former bounds; directly or indirectly, he appoints by hundreds of thousands the mayors and councillors of municipalities and the members of general councils, the entire staff of the administration, of the finances, of the judicature, of the clergy, of the University, of public works and of public charity, and besides all this, myriads of ministerial and notarial officials, lawyers, ushers, auctioneers, and by way of surplus, or as a natural result, the members of every great private association since no collective enterprise, from the Bank of France and the press to stage-lines and tontines, may be established without his permission, nor exist without his tolerance. Not counting the latter, and after deducting likewise the military on active duty and the functionaries who draw pay, the prefects from the earliest years report that, since 1789, the number of people “employed or under government pay” has more than doubled; in Doubs, in the year ix, instead of nine hundred and sixteen there are eighteen hundred and twenty; in Meurthe, in the year xiii, instead of eighteen hundred and twenty-eight there are three thousand and ninety-one; in Ain, in 1806, instead of nine hundred and fifty-five there are seventeen hundred and seventy-one.1 As to the army, it has tripled, and according to the First Consul’s own calculations, instead of nine thousand and ten thousand officers as in 1789, there are more than twenty thousand.—These figures go on increasing on the old territory through the very development of the new organization, through the enormous increase of the army, through the re-establishment of religious worship, through the installation of droits réunis, through the institution of the University, owing to the increasing number of officials, curés and assistant-priests, of professors and school-teachers, and of retired and pensioned invalids.1
And these figures, which already swell of themselves, are to swell an additional half through the extension of the ancient territory. Instead of eighty-six departments with a population of twenty-six millions, France ends in comprising one hundred and thirty departments with forty-two million inhabitants—Belgium and Piedmont, then Hanover, Tuscany, Central Italy, Illyria, Holland and the Hanseatic provinces, that is to say forty-four departments and sixteen millions of annexed Frenchmen;2 affording another large outlet for little and big ambitions.—Add still another, as a surplus and not less extensive outlet, outside of France: for the subject princes and the vassal kings, Eugène, Louis, Jerome, Murat, and Joseph, each with their governments, import into their realms a more or less numerous body of French officials, familiars, court dignitaries, generals, ministers, administrators, even clerks and other indispensable subalterns, if for no other purpose than to bring the natives within the military and civil compartments of the new régime and teach them on the spot the conscription, the administration, the civil code, and systems of accounts like those of Paris. Even in the independent or allied States, in Prussia, in Poland, in the confederation of the Rhine, there are, at intervals or permanently, Frenchmen in position and in authority to command contingent forces, to garrison fortresses, to receive supplies and secure the payment of war contributions. Even with the corporal and custom-house inspector on duty on the coast at Dantzig and at Reggio, the sentiment of victorious priority equals the possession of rank; in their eyes the natives of the country are semi-barbarians or semi-savages, a backward or prejudiced lot, not even knowing how to speak their language; they feel themselves superior, as formerly the señor soldado of the sixteenth century, or the civis romanus. Never, since the great Spanish monarchy and the old Roman empire, has a conquering State and propagator of a new régime afforded its subjects such gratifications of amour-propre, nor opened so vast a career to their ambitions.
For, having once adopted their career, they know better than the Spaniards under Charles V. or the Romans under Augustus, how far they can go and how fast they can get ahead. No obstacle impedes them; nobody feels himself confined to his post; each considers the one he occupies as provisional; each takes it only to await a better one, anticipating another at a very early date; he dashes onward, springs aloft and occupies in advance the superior post which he means to secure on the first vacancy, and, under this régime, the vacancies are numerous.—These vacancies, in the military service and in the grade of officers, may be estimated at nearly four thousand per annum;1 after 1808 and 1809, but especially after the disasters of 1812 and 1813, places are no longer lacking but subjects to fill them; Napoleon is obliged to accept youths for officers as beardless as his conscripts, eighteen-year-old apprentices who, after a year or six months in the military academy, must finish their apprenticeship on the battle-field, pupils taken from the philosophy or rhetoric classes, youths who are enthusiastic (de bonne volonte);1 on the 13th of December 1808, he draws for fifty on his lycées who don the gold-lace of under-officers at once; in 1809, he calls out two hundred and fifty, to serve in the depot battalions; in 1810, he calls out one hundred and fifty of the age of nineteen who “know the drill,” and who are to be sent on distant expeditions with the commission of second-lieutenant; in 1811, four hundred for the school of non-commissioned officers at Fontainebleau, twenty for the Ile-de-Ré and eighty-four who are to be quartermasters; and, in 1812, one hundred and twelve more and so on. Naturally, thanks to annually increasing gaps made by cannon and bayonet, the survivors in this body of youth mount the faster; in 1813 and 1814, there are colonels and lieutenant-colonels of the age of twenty-five.
In the civil service, if fewer are killed everybody is almost equally overtasked. Under this reign one is soon used up, physically and morally, even in pacific employments, and this also supplies vacancies. Besides, in default of deaths, wounds and violent elimination, there is another elimination, not less efficacious, operating in this direction, and for a long time, in favor of men of ability, preparing places for them and accelerating their advancement. Napoleon accepts none but competent candidates; now, in 1800, there is a dearth of acceptable candidates for places in the civil service and not, as in 1789, or at the present time, a superabundance and even too great a crowd.—In the military service especially, capacity is innate; natural endowments, courage, coolness, quick perception, physical activity, moral ascendency, topographical imagination form its principal elements; men just able to read, write and cipher became, in three or four years, during the Revolution, admirable officers and conquering generals.—It is not the same in relation to civil capacity; this requires long and continuous study. To become a priest, magistrate, engineer, professor, prefect or school-teacher, one must have studied theology or law, mathematics or Latin, administration or the finances; otherwise, the functionary is not qualified to serve: he must, at the very least, know how to spell, be able to write French, examine a law-case, draw up a report, keep accounts, and if necessity calls for it, comprehend a plan, make an estimate, and read off a map. Men of this stamp are rare at the beginning of the Consulate. As notables, the Revolution has mowed them down1 out of preference. Among all their sons and so many well-bred youth who have become soldiers through patriotism, or who have left their families to prevent these from becoming suspect, one half repose on the battlefield or have left the hospital only for the cemetery; “the muscadin2 broke down the first campaign.” In any event, of education for them and their younger brothers, for children beginning to learn Latin and mathematics, for all aspirants to liberal pursuits, for the entire generation about to receive either a superior or a common education, or even of primary instruction, to furnish suitably prepared brains for intellectual work, there was a lack of this for ten years. Not only were the endowments which provided for instruction confiscated, but the educational staff, nearly all ecclesiastic, was one of the most proscribed among those proscribed. Whilst military requisition and the closing of the schools suppressed the pupils, massacres, banishment, imprisonment, suffering and the scaffold suppressed the masters. Whilst the ruin of universities and colleges did away with theoretical apprenticeship, the ruin of manufactures and of trade abolished practical apprenticeship, and, through the long interruption of all studies, general instruction as well as special competency became rare products in the market.—Hence it is that, in 1800, and during the three or four following years, whoever brought to market either one or the other of these commodities was sure of soon getting a place;3 the new government needed them more than anybody; the moment the seller gives in his adhesion he is bought, and whatever he may be, a former Jacobin or a former émigré, he is employed. If he brings both commodities and is zealous, he is promptly promoted; if, on trial, he is found of superior capacity, he will, like Mollien, Gaudin, Tronchet, Pasquier and Molé, attain to the highest posts, for he finds scarcely any competitors. These he would have had had things followed their usual course; it is the Revolution which has cleared the ground around him; without that the road would have been obstructed; competent candidates would have swarmed; enumerate, if possible, all the men of talent, royalists, monarchists, feuillans, Girondists and even Jacobins, who have perished, consisting of the élite of the noblesse, of the clergy, of the bourgeoisie, of the youth and those of riper age. Thus rid of their most formidable rivals the survivors pursue their way at race speed; the guillotine has wrought for them in advance; it has effected openings in their own ranks, made by bullets in every battle in the ranks of the army, and, in the civil hierarchy as in the military hierarchy, merit, if demonstrated by services, or not arrested by death, reaches the highest summit in very few years.
The prizes offered on these summits are splendid; no attraction is lacking. The great trainer who displays them has omitted none of the seductions which excite and stimulate an ordinary mind; he has associated with the positive values of power and wealth every value incident to imagination and opinion; hence his institution of decorations and the Legion of Honor.1 “They call it a plaything,”2 said he, “but men are led by playthings. . . . Frenchmen are not changed by ten years of revolution. . . . See how the people prostrate themselves before foreign decorations: they have been surprised by them and accordingly do not fail to wear them. . . . The French cherish but one sentiment, honor: that sentiment, then, requires nourishing—they must have distinctions.” A very few are satisfied with their own deserts; ordinary men are not even content with the approbation they perceive in the eyes of others: it is too intermittent, too reserved, too mute; they need fame that is brilliant and noisy; they want to hear the constant hum of admiration and respect whenever they appear or whenever their name is mentioned. Even this does not suffice; they are unwilling that their merit should rest in men’s minds in the vague state of undefined greatness, but that it should be publicly estimated, have its current value, enjoy undisputed and measured rank on the scale above all other lesser merits.—The new institution affords complete satisfaction to all these exigencies of human and French nature. On the 14th of July, 1804,1 the anniversary of the taking of the Bastille, Napoleon administers the oath to the legionaries and, after a solemn mass, distributes the insignia under the dome of the Invalides in the presence of the empress and the court; and again one month later, August 16, 1804, on the anniversary of the Emperor’s birth, in the camp at Boulogne, facing the ocean and in full view of the flotilla assembled to conquer England, before one hundred thousand spectators and the entire army, to the roll of eighteen hundred drums. No ceremony, probably, was ever more exciting. The eminent surgeon, Larrey, then decorated, a man of austere virtue, spoke of it with emotion to the end of his life and never alluded to that unique day but with a trembling voice. On that day, nearly all the men of superior and tried merit and talent in France2 are proclaimed, each with the title proportionate to his degree of eminence—chevaliers, officers, commanders, grand-officers, and, later on, grand-eagles; each on the same plane with his equals of a different class, ecclesiastics alongside of laymen, civilians alongside of soldiers; each honored by the company of his peers, Berthollet, Laplace and Lagrange alongside of Kellermann, Jourdan and Lefebvre, Otto and Tronchet alongside of Masséna, Augereau, Ney, Lannes, Soult and Davout; four cardinals side by side with eighteen marshals, and likewise even down to corporal, and to Egyptian veterans blinded by ophthalmia on the banks of the Nile, comprising common soldiers who, through some brilliant achievement, had won a sword or a gun of honor, as, for instance, Coignet,1 who, dashing ahead with fixed bayonet, kills five Austrian artillerymen and takes their cannon himself alone; six years before this he was a stable-boy on a farm and could neither read nor write; he is now mentioned among the first of those promoted, a colleague and almost a comrade of Monge, the inventor of descriptive geometry, of de Fontanes, grand-master of the university, of marshals, admirals, and the highest dignitaries, all sharing in common an inestimable treasure, the legitimate heirs of twelve years’ accumulated glory by the sacrifice of so many heroic lives and all the more glorified because so few,2 and because, in these days, a man did not obtain the cross by twenty years of plodding in a bureau, on account of routine punctuality, but by wonderful strokes of energy and audacity, by wounds, by braving death a hundred times and looking it in the face daily.
Henceforth, legally as well as in public opinion, they form the staff of the new society, its declared, verified notables, enjoying precedences and even privileges. On passing along the street the sentinel presents arms; a company of twenty-five soldiers attends their funeral; in the electoral colleges of the department or arrondissement they are electors by right and without being balloted for, simply by virtue of their rank; their sons are entitled to scholarships in La Flèche, at Saint-Cyr, and in the lycées, and their daughters at Écouen or at Saint-Denis. With the exception of a title, as formerly, they lack nothing for filling the place of the old nobility, and Napoleon re-creates this title for their benefit. The title in itself of chevalier, count, duke or prince carries along with it an idea of social superiority; when announced in a drawing room, when it precedes the first sentence of an address, those who are present do not remain inattentive; an immemorial prejudice inclines them to award consideration or even deference. The Revolution tried in vain to destroy this power of words and of history; Napoleon does better: he confiscates it; he arrogates to himself the monopoly of it, he steals its trade-mark from the ancient régime; he himself creates forty-eight thousand chevaliers, one thousand barons, three hundred and eighty-eight counts, thirty-one dukes and four princes; furthermore, he stamps with his own mark the old nobles whom he introduces into his nobility: he coins them anew, and often with an inferior title; this or that duke is lowered a notch and becomes simply a count: taken at par or at a discount the feudal coin must, in order to pass, receive the imperial stamp which gives it its recognized value in modern figures.
But, let the old-fashioned metal be what it may, whether gold, silver or copper, even crude and plebeian, the new coin is of good alloy and very handsome. Frequently, like the old currency, it displays coats of arms in high relief, a heraldic crown and the name of a locality; it no longer bears the name of a territory, and it does not call to mind a primitive sovereignty; on the contrary, it bears the name of a victory or of a conquest and reminds one of recent exploits. Duc de Montebello or Prince de la Moskowa is equivalent in the imagination of contemporaries to a Duc de Montmorency or a Prince de Rohan; for, if the prince or duke of the empire is without ancestors, he is or will be an ancestor himself. To these prizes coveted by vanity Napoleon tacks on every substantial and pecuniary advantage, in ready money or landed property, not alone large salaries, contiguous sénatoreries, occasional munificent gifts, a million at one time to General Lasalle, but likewise vast revenues from the extraordinary domain,1 thirty-two million four hundred and sixty-three thousand eight hundred and seventeen francs a year divided amongst four thousand nine hundred and seventy persons, pensions from two hundred and fifty to five thousand francs for all legionaries hotels, large estates, investments in public funds, distinct and superb endowments for those of the highest rank, fortunes of one hundred thousand livres income and more to thirty-four of these, a fortune of four hundred and fifty thousand livres in the public funds to Cambacérès, of six hundred and eighty-three thousand livres in the public funds to Masséna, of seven hundred and twenty-eight thousand livres in the public funds to Ney, of nine hundred and ten thousand livres in the public funds to Davout, of one million three hundred and fifty-four thousand livres in the public funds to Berthier, and besides all this, three “sovereign principalities,” Neufchatel to Berthier, Benevento to Talleyrand, and Ponte-Corvo to Bernadotte. The last of all temptations, in these times of violent and premature death, is of no little account. Napoleon opens out hereditary and undefined prospects beyond the perpectives of life and of inferior interests. Each of the titles conferred by him, that of prince, duke, count, baron, and even that of chevalier, is transmissible in direct descent, according to primogeniture from father to son, and sometimes from uncle to nephew, under specified conditions which are very acceptable, and of which the first is the institution of an inalienable majority, inattackable, consisting of this or that income or real property, of bank stock or state securities, from three thousand francs for common chevaliers up to two hundred thousand francs for the dukes, that is to say, a certain fortune in perpetuity due to the sovereign’s liberality, or to the prudence of the founder, and intended to support the dignity of the title from male to male and from link to link throughout the future chain of successive inheritors. Through this supreme reward, the subtle tempter has a hold on the men who care not alone for themselves but for their family: henceforth, they work as he does, eighteen hours a day, stand fire, and say to themselves, while sinking at their desks or facing cannon-balls, that their pre-eminence survives them in their posterity: “In any event my son will succeed me and even become greater by my death.”
Thus made use of, all the temptations which serve to overcome the natural inertia of human matter are combined together and work in concert; with the exception of conscience itself and the craving for personal independence, no other internal spring remains that is not strained to the utmost; while, beyond this extremity, one unique circumstance gives to eager ambitions a further increase of energy, impulse and enthusiasm.—All these successful or parvenu men are contemporaries: all have started alike on the same line and from the same average or low condition in life; each sees old comrades superior to himself on the upper steps; he considers himself as good as they are, suffers because he is not on their level, and strives and takes risks so as to mount up to them. But, however high he mounts, he still sees higher yet others who were formerly his equals; consequently, no rank obtained by them seems to him above his deserts, and no rank that he obtains suffices for his pretensions. “See that Masséna,” exclaimed Napoleon,1 a few days before the battle of Wagram; “he has honors and fame enough, but he is not satisfied; he wants to be a prince like Murat and Bernadotte: he will risk getting shot to-morrow simply to be a prince.”—Above these princes, who have only the rank, the title and the money, come the grand-dukes and reigning viceroys like Murat, grand-duke of Berg, and Eugene, viceroy of Italy. Above Eugene and Murat are the vassal-kings, Louis, Joseph, Jerome, then Murat himself, who, among these, is in a better place, and Bernadotte, the only sovereign that is independent; all more or less envied by the marshals, all more or less rivals of each other, the inferior aspiring to the superior throne, Murat inconsolable at being sent to Naples and not to Spain, and at having only five millions of subjects instead of thirteen millions. From top to bottom of the hierarchy and even to the loftiest places, comprising thrones, the steps rise regularly above each other in continuous file, so that each leads to the following one, with nothing to hinder the first-comer, provided he is lucky, has good legs and does not fall on the way, from reaching the top of the staircase in twenty or thirty years. “It was commonly reported in the army—he has got to be king in Naples, in Holland, in Spain, in Sweden, as formerly was said of the same sort of man, who had got to be sergeant in this or that company.”
Such is the total and final impression which rises to the surface in all imaginations; it is in this sense that the people interpret the new régime, and Napoleon devotes himself to confirming the popular interpretation. Accordingly, the first duchy he creates is for Marshal Lefebvre “purposely,” as he says,1 because “this marshal had been a common soldier and everybody in Paris had known him as a sergeant in the French guards.”—With such an example before them, and so many others like it, not less striking, there is no ambition that does not become exalted, and often to delirium. “At this time,” says Stendhal, who seized the master-idea of the reign, “there was no apothecary’s apprentice in his back shop, surrounded by his drugs and bottles, filtering and pounding away in his mortar, who did not say to himself that, if he chanced to make some great discovery, he would be made a count with fifty thousand francs a year.” In those days there was no under-clerk who, in his labored penmanship, inscribed names on a piece of parchment, that did not imagine his own name appearing some day on a senatorial or ministerial diploma. At this time the youthful corporal who dons his first stripes of gold braid already fancies that he hears the beating of the drums, the blast of the trumpet, and the salvos of artillery which proclaim him marshal of the Empire.
A new force, extraordinary, is just apparent in history, a spiritual force analogous to that which formerly stimulated souls in Spain in the sixteenth century, in Europe at the time of the crusades, and in Arabia in the time of Mahomet. It stimulates the faculties to excess, increases energy tenfold, transports man beyond or above himself, creates enthusiasts and heroes, blinding or rendering men crazy, and hence the irresistible conquerors and rulers. It stamps its imprint and leaves its memorials in ineffaceable characters on men and things from Cadiz to Moscow. It overrides all natural barriers and transcends all ordinary limits. “The French soldiers,” writes a Prussian officer after Jena, “are small and puny. One of our Germans could whip any four of them. But, under fire, they become supernatural beings. They are swept along by an indescribable ardor of which there is not a trace among our soldiers. . . . What can you do with peasants whom nobles lead into battle, but whose danger they share without having any interest in their passions or recompenses!”1 —Coupled with the physical craving which requires a certain amount of ease and of daily food, and which, if too strenuously opposed, produces passing jacqueries, there is a still more potent craving which, on suddenly encountering its food, seizes on it, clings to it, gorges it, and produces revolutions that last: this craving is the contemplation of one’s self with satisfaction and complacency, forming of one’s self a pleasing, flattering image, and of trying to impress and plant this image in the minds of others; in short, the craving of great self-esteem and of becoming greatly esteemed by others.2 This sentiment, according to the quality of the soul and according to circumstances, gives birth at one time to the noblest virtues and the most sublime devotion, at another, to the worst misdeeds and the most dangerous delirium: the man becomes transfigured; the sleeping god or demon which both live within him is suddenly aroused. After 1789, both appear and both together; from this date onward, says an eye-witness,1 and, during one quarter of a century, “for most Frenchmen and in whatever class,” the object of life is displaced; each has put it outside of himself; henceforth, the essential thing for everybody is “to have lived,” or “to have died for something,” for an idea. A man becomes the slave of his idea, gives himself up to it; consequently, he has experienced the intense satisfaction of considering himself a noble being, of superior essence, foremost among the first, and of seeing himself regarded in that light and proclaimed and glorified as such.—This keen, profound and intense pleasure was first enjoyed by the French on listening to the Declaration of the Rights of Man; thenceforth, and in good faith, they felt themselves citizens, philosophers, the destroyers of prejudices and wrongs, zealots in behalf of truth, liberty and equality, and then, when the war of 1792 came, the defenders of the country, missionaries and propagators of every grand principle.2 —Towards 1796, principles began to recede in the background;3 in the ideal portrait which man makes of himself the liberator and benefactor of mankind gradually gives way to the admirable and admired hero capable of great achievements. This inner portrait of himself suffices for his happiness for some years to come:4 vanity properly so called and a calculating ambition are not the mainsprings of action; if he obtains promotion, it is without asking for it; his aspiration is simply to display himself, to be lavish of himself and live or die courageously and gayly1 along with his comrades; to being considered, outside the service, the equal, friend and brother of his subordinates and of his chiefs. Pillage, nevertheless, has begun; for, a long continuance of war depraves the conqueror; brutality, indifference to property and to life grows on him; if callous, or he wishes to become so, he eats, drinks and enjoys the passing hour; if provident and wary, he scrapes together what he can or levies contributions and hoards money.—Under the Empire, and especially towards 1808 and 1809, the ideal figure degenerates still more; henceforth, it is the successful or the coming officer, with his rank and its accoutrements, his gold-embroidered uniform and badges, exercising authority over so many hundreds and thousands of men and enjoying a certain notable sum of regular salaries, besides other gratifications bestowed on him by the master, along with the profits he can make out of the vanquished.2 All that he now cares for is rapid promotion, and in any way, noble or ignoble, at first, of course, on the main road, that is to say, at a risk of his life and in uncalculating self-devotion, but likewise on a new road, in an affectation of zeal, in practising and professing blind obedience, in abandoning all political ideas, in devoting himself no longer to France, but to the sovereign: sympathy for his comrades gives way to harsh emulation; soldierly friendships, under the anticipation of advancement, die out. A vacancy due to death is for the benefit of survivors and they know it. “At Talavera,” says Stendhal, “two officers stood together at their battery, while a ball comes and the captain falls. ‘Good,’ says François, ‘now I shall be captain.’ ‘Not yet,’ says François, who was only stunned and who gets up on his feet. These two men were neither unfriendly nor inimical, only the lieutenant wanted to rise a step higher in rank.” And this sagacious observer adds: “Such was the furious egoism then styled love of glory and which, under this title, the Emperor had communicated to the French.”
The descent on this slope is rapid and low down. Each, at first, thinks of himself; the individual makes of himself a centre. The example, moreover, comes from above. Is it for France or for himself that Napoleon works?1 So many measureless enterprises, the conquest of Spain, the expedition into Russia, the installation of his brothers and relations on new thrones, the constant partition and rearrangement of Europe, all those incessant and more and more distant wars, is it for the public good and common safety that he accumulates them? What does he himself desire if not to push his fortunes still farther?—He is too much ambitious (trop ambitionnaire), say his own soldiers;2 and yet they follow him to the last. “We always marched along with him,” replied the old grenadiers,3 who had traversed Poland to penetrate into Russia; “we couldn’t abandon him this time and leave him alone by himself.”—But others who see him nearer by, those who stand first and next to him, do as he does; and, however high these have mounted, they want to mount still higher, or, otherwise, to keep their places, or, at least, provide for themselves and hold on to something substantial. Masséna has accumulated forty millions and Talleyrand sixty;1 in case of a political crash the money remains. Soult tried to have himself elected king of Portugal,2 and Bernadotte finds means to have himself elected king of Sweden. After Leipsic, Murat bargains with the allies, and, to retain his Neapolitan kingdom, he agrees to furnish a contingent against France; before the battle of Leipsic, Bernadotte is with the allies and fights with them against France. In 1814, Bernadotte and Joseph, each caring for himself, the former by intrigues and with the intriguers of the interior, also by feeling his way with the foreign sovereigns; while the latter, in the absence of Napoleon, by “singular efforts” and “assiduities” beforehand with Marie Louise, thinks of taking the place of the falling emperor.3 Prince Eugene alone, or almost alone, among the great personages of the reign, is really loyal, his loyalty remaining always intact, exempt from concealed motives and above suspicion. Everywhere else, the coming crash or sinister rumors are heard or anticipated; alarm descends from high places, spreads through the army and echoes along the lines of the lowest ranks. In 1815, the soldier has full confidence in himself and in Napoleon; “but he is moody, distrustful of his other leaders. . . . Every march incomprehensible to him makes him uneasy and he thinks himself betrayed.”4 At Waterloo, dragoons that pass him with their swords drawn and old corporals shout to the Emperor that Soult and Vandamme, who are at this moment about going into battle, are haranguing their troops against him or deserting him; that General Dhénin, who has repulsed a charge of the enemy and whose thigh is fractured by a cannon-ball, has just passed over to the enemy. The mechanism which, for fifteen years, has worked so well, breaks down of itself through its own action; its cog-wheels have got out of gear; cracks show themselves in the metal which seemed so sound; the divinations of popular instinct verify this; the exaggerations of the popular imagination expand it and suddenly the whole machine rattles down to the ground.
All this is due to Napoleon having introduced into it the craving for success as central motor, as the universal mainspring, unscrupulous ambition, in short, a crude egoism, and in the first place his own egoism, and this mainspring, strained to excess,1 puts the machine out of order and then ruins it. After him, under his successors, the same machinery is to work in the same manner, and break down in the same way, at the expiration of a more or less lengthened period. Thus far, the longest of these periods has lasted less than twenty years.
The Defect and Effects of the System.
“Most of the French provinces down to the time of Richelieu still possessed a special representative body which consented to and levied the taxes; most of these bodies were supported by the all-powerful minister and replaced by intendants who, from that time on, administered, or rather exhausted, the country, divided into thirty-two generalities. A few provinces, however, Brittany, Burgundy, Languedoc, a part of Provence, Flanders, Artois, and some small districts in the Pyrenees kept their old representative body and were called pays d’état, whilst other provinces were designated, by a strange abuse of language, under the name of pays d’élection.” (Translated from “Madame de Staël et son Temps,” vol. i., p. 38.)
Cf. on the antiquity of this sort of mind, evident from the beginning of society and of French literature, my “History of English Literature,” vol. i., and “La Fontaine et ses fables,” pp. 10 to 13.
In relation to this sentiment, read La Fontaine’s fable of “The Rat and the Elephant.” La Fontaine fully comprehended its social and psychological bearing. “To believe one’s self an important personage is very common in France. . . . A childish vanity is peculiar to us. The Spaniards are vain, but in another way. It is specially a French weakness.”
Beugnot, “Mémoires,” i., 317. “This equality which is now our dominant passion is not the noble kindly sentiment that affords delight by honoring one’s self in honoring one’s fellow, and in feeling at ease in all social relationships; no, it is an aversion to every kind of superiority, a fear lest a prominent position may be lost; this equality tends in no way to raise up what is kept down, but to prevent any elevation whatever.”
D’Haussonville, “l’Église romaine et le Premier Empire,” i., chs x. and xi.
Decree of March 17, 1808, on the organization of the Israelite cult. The members of the Israelite consistories and the rabbis must be accepted by the government the same as the ministers of the other cults; but their salary, which is fixed, must be provided by the Israelites of the conscription; the State does not pay this, the same as with curés or pastors. This is not done until under the monarchy of July, when the assimilation of the Israelite with the other Christian cults is effected.
“’Travels in France during the years 1814 and 1815” (Edinburgh, 1806) i., 176. “The nobility, the great landed proprietors, the yeomanry, the lesser farmers, all of the intermediate ranks who might oppose a check to the power of a tyrannical prince, are nearly annihilated.”—Ibid., 236. “Scarcely an intermediate rank was to be found in the nation between the sovereign and the peasant.”—Ibid., ii. 239. “The better class of the inhabitants of the cities, whether traders and manufacturers or the bourgeoisie of France, are those who were the most decided enemies of Bonaparte.”
Napoleon, desirous of forming an opinion of him, said to Rœderer, “Send me his books.” “But,” said Rœderer, “he is only a translator,” “No matter,” replied Napoleon, “I will read his prefaces.”
Cf. the “Dictionnaire biographique,” published at Leipsic, 1806-1808 (by Eymory) 4 vols., and the “Almanach impérial” for 1807 to 1812; many other historic names are found there, and among these the ladies of the palace. In 1810, Comte de la Rochefoucauld is ambassador to Holland and Comte de Mercy-Argenteau ambassador to Bavaria.
“The Revolution,” ii., 323.
“The Revolution,” vol. iii., pp. 318-322.
“The Ancient Régime,” pp. 116-119, 128.
De Tilly, “Mémoires,” i., 153. “The difference between the tone and language of the court and that of the city was about as great as that between Paris and the provinces.”
Hence the lack of success of the Maupeou parliament.
See the collections of songs previous to the Revolution, especially military songs such as “Malgré la bataille,” “Dans les gardes françaises,” etc.—At the time of the Restoration, the pastoral or gallant songs of Florian, Boufflers and Berquin were still sung in bourgeois families, each person, young or old, man or woman, singing one at the dessert. This undercurrent of gayety, geniality and amiability lasted throughout the Revolution and the Empire. (“Travels through the South of France, 1807 and 1808,” p. 132, by Lieutenant-Colonel Pinkney, of the United States.) “I must once for all say that the Memoirs of Marmontel are founded in nature.” He cites a great many facts in proof of this, and testifies in all classes to “a prompt and social nature, a natural benevolence or habitual civility which leads them instinctively, and not unfrequently impertinently, into acts of kindness and consideration.”—The same impression is produced on comparing the engravings, fashion-plates, light subjects and caricatures of this period with those of the present epoch. The malicious sentiment begins only with Béranger; and yet his early pieces (“Le Roi d’Yvetot,” “le Sénateur”) display the light air, accent and happy, instead of venomous, malice of the old song. Nobody now sings in the lower bourgeoisie or in gatherings of clerks or students, while, along with the song, we have seen the other traits which impressed foreigners disappear, the gallantry, the jesting humor, the determination to regard life as so many hours (une série de quarts d’heures), each of which may be separated from the others, be ample in themselves and agreeable to him who talks and to him or her who listens.
Read the novels of Pigault-Lebrun, books of the epoch the best adapted to the men of the epoch, the dashing, free, jolly, military parvenus of limited natures.
Candide (Récit de la Veille).
“Mémoires,” by M. X——, i., 374. “I am sure that his imagination was more taken with Ghengis-Khan than with Cæsar.”
“The Revolution,” ii., 12, 22. (Articles by Mallet-Dupan, “Mercure de France,” Dec. 30, 1791, and April 7, 1792.)—Napoleon, “Mémorial” (Sept. 3, 1816), thinks so too and states the essential characteristic of the Revolution. This consisted in “bidding everybody who held office to leave, every one who had a place or a fortune.”
Rœderer, iii., 534 (January 1809, on Normandy). “Children in every situation think of becoming soldiers to get the cross (legion of honor), and the cross secures the chevalier. The desire of distinction, of passing ahead of some one else, is a national sentiment.”
“The Revolution,” ii., 248.
Napoleon, “Mémoires” (edited by M. de Montholon, iii., 11-19), on the extraordinary ignorance of Cartaux.—Ibid., 23, on Doppet’s incapacity, the successor of Cartaux.
“The Revolution,” iii., 310.
They called themselves exclusives under the Directory.—Cf. “The Revolution,” ii., 23, 187, 196, 245, 297-303, 340-351, 354; book iii., ch. 2 and 3, and book iv.
Madame de Rémusat, passim.—Rœderer, iii., 538 (January 1809). “I took a few of the old court into my household. They remained two years without speaking to me and six months without seeing me. . . . I don’t like them—they are not good for anything—their conversation is disagreeable to me.”
Rœderer, iii., 281. “Men, under his government, who had hitherto been considered incapable are made useful; men hitherto considered distinguished found themselves mixed in with the crowd; men hitherto regarded as the pillars of the State found themselves useless. . . . An ass or a knave need never be ambitious to approach Bonaparte, they will make nothing out of him.”
Fiévée, “Correspondance,” iii., 33.—Rœderer, iii., 381.
Beugnot, “Mémoires,” ii., 372.
Lefebvre, a former sergeant in the French guards, who became marshal of the empire and Duc de Dantzig, with 150,000 francs a year, received the visit of a comrade who, instead of having mounted the ladder as he had done, had remained at the bottom of it. The marshal, a fine fellow, welcomed his comrade heartily, and showed him over his hotel. The visitor’s face gradually grew sombre, and bitter words escaped from his lips; he often murmured, “Ah, how lucky you are!” At last, the marshal, impatient, said to him, “Well, I will make all this over to you on one condition.” “What is it?” “You must go down into the court. I will post two grenadiers at the window with their guns, and they shall fire at you. If they miss, you shall have the hotel and everything in it.” “Ah, no, thanks!” “My friend, more shots than these have been fired at me and nearer by!”
Rœderer, iii., 332 (Aug. 2, 1800).
Papers of Maine deBiran. (Note communicated by M. Naville.) Letter of Baron Maurice, prefect of Dordogne, to M. Maine de Biran, sub-prefect of Bergerac, transmitting to him by order of the minister of the interior a blank form to be filled up by him presenting the “Statistics of young ladies belonging to the most notable families of the arrondissement.” The form annexed contained several columns, one for names and given names, others for the future inheritance of real and personal estate, etc. A clever or energetic prefect, provided with this list, was able and was expected to take an active part in marriages and see that all the large dowries were appropriated on the right side.—“Mémoires de Madame de——,” part 3d, ch. viii., p. 154. (These very instructive memoirs by a very sincere and judicious person are still unpublished. I am not authorized to give the name of the author.) “It was at this time that the emperor took it into his head to marry as he saw fit the young girls who had more than 50,000 livres rental.” A rich heiress of Lyons, intended for M. Jules de Polignac, is thus wedded to M. de Marbœuf. M. d’Aligre, by dint of address and celerity, deprives M. de Caulaincourt of his daughter, and then M. de Faudoas, brother-in-law to Savary, and weds her to M. de Pommereux.
“Statistiques des Préfets.” (Doubs, by Debry, p. 60; Meurthe, by Marquis, p. 115; Ain, by Bossi, p. 240.)
“Statistique de l’Ain,” by Bossi, p. 1808. From 1140 in 1801, the number of employés and others under state pay amounts to 1771 in 1806. This augmentation is attributed by the prefect to causes just stated.
Napoleon, “Correspondance.” (Note of April 11, 1811.) “There will always be at Hamburg, Bremen and Lubeck from 8,000 to 10,000 French, either employés or gend’armes, in the customs and depots.”
One officer may be counted to every fifty men in the infantry; in the cavalry one officer to every twenty-five or thirty men, and these are the maximum figures.—This ratio of one officer to every fifty men indicates that, among the 1,700,000 men who perished between 1804 and 1815, there were 24,000 officers, which gives about 3,000 vacancies per annum, to which must be added the vacancies due to the wounded, incapacity for service and retirement. It must be noted, moreover, that the death or retirement of an officer above the grade of second-lieutenant makes several vacancies and vacancies which are more numerous according to the superiority of the rank. On the loss of a captain there are three promotions and so on.
Lunet, “Histoire du Collège de Rodez” (ministerial circular), p. 228.
“The Revolution,” iii., 335.—Already, in 1795, the need of competent and special men was so great that the government sought, even among royalists, for financial and diplomatic heads of these services; it made offers to M. Dufresne and to M. de Rayneval.—Ibid., 311.—(Cf. “Mémoires” by Gaudin, Miot and Mollien.)
Words of Bouquier, reporter of the law on education (session of the Convention, Frimaire 22, year 11).
The reader is recommended to do as I have done and consult biographies on this point, also the souvenirs of his grandparents.
Thibaudeau, “Mémoires sur la Consulat,” p. 88. (Exposition of motives by Rœderer to the Corps Législatif, Floréal 25, year x.) “After all, it is the creation of a new currency of quite different value from that which issues from the public treasury, a currency of unchangeable worth and of an inexhaustible mine, since it lies in French honor; a currency which can solely reward actions regarded as above any recompense.”
Ibid., 83. (Address to the Council of State, Floréal 14, year x.)—Also “Mémorial”: “Old and corrupt nations are not governed the same as young and virtuous ones; sacrifices have to be made to interest, to enjoyments, to vanity. This is the secret of the return to monarchical forms, to titles, crosses, ribbons, harmless baubles suited to exciting the respect of the multitude while at the same time enforcing self-respect.”
“La Légion d’honneur,” by M. Mazas, passim. Details on the nominations and ceremonials. “The veritable date was July 15th, as the 14th was Sunday. Augereau and about sixty officers, “bad fellows” who disliked the mass, refused to enter the chapel and remained outside in the court.
Several generals, Lecourbe, Souham., etc., being too republican or suspect and hostile, were left out. Lemercier, Ducis, Delille, and Lafayette refused. Admiral Truguet, through pique and discontent, had at first declined the grade of grand-officer, but finally changed his mind and became at first commander and then grand-officer.
“Les Cahiers du Capitaine Coignet,” passim and pp. 95, 145. “When the ceremony was over, handsome women who could get at me to examine my cross, asked me if they might give me a kiss.”—At the Palais Royal the proprietor of a café says to him: “Order whatever you want, the Legion of Honor is welcome to anything.”
Mazas, ibid., p. 413.—Edmond Blanc, “Napoléon, ses institutions civiles et administratives,” p. 279.—The number of decorated, at first, was to be 6,000. In 1806, the emperor had nominated 14,500, and taking his entire reign, until his fall, about 48,000. The real force of legionaries, however, then living does not surpass at this time 30,000, of which only 1,200 are in civil careers. At the present time, December 1, 1888 (documents furnished by the records of the Légion d’honneur), there are 52,915 decorated persons, of which 31,757 are soldiers and 21,158 civilians. Under the empire there was in all 1 cross to every 750 Frenchmen; at that time, out of 50 crosses there were 2 for civil services, while in our day there are nearly 20.
Edmond Blanc, ibid., 276 299, 325 and 326. (List of titles of prince and duke conferred by the emperor, and of gifts of 100,000 francs rental or of above that sum.)
Mathieu Dumas, “Mémoires,” iii., 363.
Thiers, “Histoire du Consulat et de l’Empire,” v. iii., p. 210.
Thiers, ibid., p. 195 (October 1806). Napoleon, in one of his bulletins, had mentioned Murat’s cavalry alone, omitting to mention the infantry of Lannes, which behaved as well. Lannes, disappointed, did not dare read this bulletin to his men, and spoke to the emperor about it. “What reward can they look for if they don’t find their names published by the hundred-tongued voice of Fame which is under your control!” Napoleon replies: “You and your men are children—glory enough for all! . . . One of these days your turn will come in the bulletins of the grand army.” Lannes reads this to his troops on the great square of Stettin and it is received with transports of enthusiasm.
Madame de Rémusat. iii., 129.
“The Revolution,” pp. 356-358.—Marmont, “Mémoires,” i., 122. (Letter to his mother, January 12, 1795.) “Behold your son zealously fulfilling his duties, deserving of his country and serving the republic. . . . We should not be worthy of liberty if we did nothing to obtain it.”
Compare the “Journal du sergent Fricasse,” and “les Cahiers du capitaine Coignet.” Fricasse is a volunteer who enlists in the defence of the country; Coignet is a conscript ambitious of distinguishing himself, and he says to his masters: “I promise to come back with the fusil d’honneur or I shall be dead.”
Marmont, i., 186, 282, 296. (In Italy, 1796.) “At this epoch, our ambition was quite secondary; we were solely concerned about our duties and amusements. The frankest and most cordial union existed amongst us all. . . . No sentiment of envy, no low passion found room in our breasts. (Then) what excitement, what grandeur, what hopes and what gayety! . . . Each had a presentiment of an illimitable future and yet entertained no idea of personal ambition or calculation.”—George Sand, “Histoire de ma vie.” (Correspondence of her father, Commander Dupin.)—Stendhal, “Vie de Napoléon.” “At this epoch (1796), nobody in the army had any ambition. I have known officers to refuse promotion so as not to quit their regiment or their mistress.”
Rœderer, iii., 556. (Burgos, April 9, 1809, conversation with General Lasalle written down the same evening.) “You pass through Paris?” “Yes, it’s the shortest way. I shall get there at five in the morning; I shall order a pair of boots, get my wife with child and then leave for Germany.”—Rœderer remarks to him that one risks one’s life and fights for the sake of promotion and to profit by rising in the world. “No, not at all. One takes pleasure in it. One enjoys fighting; it is pleasure enough in itself to fight! You are in the midst of the uproar, of the action, of the smoke. And then, on acquiring reputation you have had the fun of making it! When you have got your fortune you know that your wife and children won’t suffer! That is enough. As for myself, I could die to-morrow.” (The details of this conversation are admirable; no document gives a better idea of the officer of the epoch.)
Balzac has closely studied and admirably portrayed this type in a “Ménage de Garçon.”—See other similar characters in Mérimée (“Les Mécontens,” and “les Espagnols en Danemark”); in Stendhal (“le Chasseur vert”). I knew five or six of them in my youth.
Words of Marshal Marmont: “So long as he declared ‘Everything for France,’ I served him enthusiastically; when he said, ‘France and myself,’ I served him zeal ously; when he said, ‘Myself and France,’ I served him with devotion. It is only when he said, ‘Myself without France,’ that I left him.”
An expression found by Joseph de Maistre.
An expression heard by Mickiewicz in his childhood.
These sums are given, the former by Mérimée and the latter by Sainte-Beuve.
M. de Champagny “Souvenirs,” iii., 183. Napoleon, passing his marshals in review, said to him (1811): “None of them can take my place in the command of my armies; some are without the talent, and others would carry on war for their own benefit. Didn’t that burly Soult want to be king of Portugal?” “Well, sire, war need not be carried on any longer.” “Yes, but how maintain my army? And I must have an army.”
“Mémoires,” by M. X——, iv., 112. (According to the papers of Savary, many of Napoleon’s letters and statements by M. de Saint-Aignan.)
“Mémorial,” Aug. 26, 1816.
“Travels in France during the years 1814 and 1815.” (Edinburgh, 1816, 2 vols.)—The author, a very good observer, thus sums up the principle of the system: “To give active employment to all men of talent and enterprise.” There is no other condition: “Birth, education, moral character were completely set aside.”—Hence the general defect of the system. “The French have literally no idea of any duties which they must voluntarily, without the prospect of reward, undertake for their country. It never enters their heads that a man may be responsible for the neglect of those public duties for the performance of which he receives no regular salary.”