Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

a

in Egypt, when Madame de Vergennes more definite office of dame de palais, one was inhabiting a friend's house near Jose- of four who waited on Madame Bonaparte phine's newly purchased residence at for a week in turn (1802). Malmaison; and the future empress never Remaining with Josephine till her diforgot the attention paid to her in her vorce, and then sharing her retirement at loneliness. Madame de Rémusat (then Malmaison, Madame de Rémusat witseventeen years old) had a vivid recollec- nessed her daily life, and was made the tion of the prodigious quantity of pearls, confidante of her feelings and her secrets diamonds, and cameos, worthy to figure all the more freely alike from the wrongs, in the Arabian Nights, ,?" the gifts of the passions, and the faults of that un

Italy, invaded and grateful,” and espe. happy and often imprudent lady, and of cially of the pope, "touched by the regard her impetuous and overbearing husband. shown him by the conqueror in renounc- Those who know anything of what comes ing the pleasure of planting his colors on out so vividly throughout the memoirs the walls of Rome!”. For all this, Jose - the internecine feuds of the Bonapartes phine was often in want of money for the and the Beauharnais — will be inclined at commonest expenses, and was already once to suspect that the picture drawn by persecuted by the calumnies of her hus- Madame de Rémusat is one-sided; nor band's brothers. For the piquant picture does she at all conceal her sympathy with of Bonaparte's jealousy on his return, the Beauharnais. But she was much too and the reconciliation brought about by clear-sighted, as well as truthful, to negEugene's firmness, we must be content to lect all the various sources of information refer to the memoirs.

open to her position; and among them When the quieter state which suc- none are more remarkable than the unreceeded Bonaparte's coup d'état gave M. served accounts of his policy, opinions, de Rémusat the hope of restoring the and his very nature, which Napoleon fortunes of the family by a place under himself often confided to her and to her government (as, says M. Paul de Ré- husband. Besides the motive already asmusat, always happens in our country), signed for this distinction, it is clear that Madame de Vergennes solicited the aid he paid no little deference to her cultiof Josephine, now powerful through the vated intellect, and to that frank and often omnipotence of her husband. But the piquant expression of her views modest request for a place was outrun by among the ladies of his parvienu court the first consul, who gladly seized the op- which won his respect, even while he reportunity to form a connection with the sented it with those sarcasms which were old society, which held aloof from him. the penalty of any sort of superiority over The high consideration enjoyed by Ma- or even equality with himself

. dame de Vergennes, her social position, Much light was also gained from the her name which belonged at once to the author's intimacy with Talleyrand, after old régime and the new ideas, gave a high she had overcome the first feeling of value to a connection between the consu- aversion caused by his disdainful reserve, lar palace and her family. “At that time” his mocking humor, and his patronizing

- says Madame de Rémusat " when so politeness.* The first impulse, especially many

still repelled the advances which he of an English reader, will be to distrust thought well to make to them, he was flat. all that comes from such a source, espetered by my mother's consent to place cially against Napoleon. But this is by me in his palace. At that epoch I was in no means the impression left on us by his eyes almost a grande dame, whose the report of Talleyrand's conversations. example he hoped would be followed.” | Trusting him when he had a motive for Accordingly the appointment of M. de deception is one thing; but it is quite Rémusat as prefect of the palace was another to ascribe to him the habit of immediately followed by a letter from Duroc to his wife, assuring her of the

M. Paul de Rémusat's preface (pp. 46, foll.) con

tains a vivid sketch of the person and character of first consul's confidence, from his per Madame de Rémusat, with which Talleyrand amused sonal knowledge of her character and himself while presiding at a sitting of the Senate in

Here is a touch or two from the portrait : “ Perprinciples, “ that she would acquit herself,

sonne autant que Clari ne montre combien la bienwith the politeness which distinguishes veillance spirituelle est supérieure à tout l'esprit et à French ladies and the dignity becoming to tout le talent de ceux qui ne produisent que sévérite

critique et moquerie. : : Clari justifie toujours celui the government, of the duties which he quelle défend, sans offenser jamais celui qu'elle réfute. had designated her to discharge, pour l'esprit de Clari est fort étendu et fort orné; je ne faire auprès de Madame Bonaparte les qu'elle veut bien paraitre instruite, elle donne une

rare

1811.

connais à personne une meilleure conversation ; lorshonneurs du palais.? She had soon the I marque de confiance et d'amitié."

1551

> >

LIVING AGE.

VOL. XXX

falsehood without a motive. He seems quently clashed. She possessed sound judg. constantly to have indulged a cynical ment and keen powers of observation, and she frankness from his very contempt for the was entirely unaffected in her manners and in weakness of humanity, and among the her modes of expression, although she was not rest for the falsehood which he despised she was profoundly reasonable, but she was

without a certain subtlety of ideas. In reality chiefly for its usual failure - as when he said of Metternich, “He always lies, but than herselt. In her youth she lacked gaiety

headstrong; her intellect was more reasonable never deceives." Here again we have to and probably ease, may have appeared to be turn aside from a subject, for the separate pedantic because she was serious, affected discussion of which the memoirs furnish because she was silent, absent-minded, and infull materials; and of these none is more different to almost all the small things of everyinteresting than Talleyrand's own mourn- day life. But, with her mother, whose cheerful sketch of his early life, which furnishes ful moods she sometimes crossed ; with her the key to his whole character and career. husband, whose simple tastes and easy temper We are led to form a higher estimate of she never crossed, she was not wanting in ricb.

ness and freedom. She had even a kind of Talleyrand both as a man and as a servant of his country; and the report of his gaiety of her own, which developed as she

grew older, when, having been very absent and counsels and conversation in these me absorbed in her own thoughts while she was moirs raises our expectation of what re. very young, she became more like her mother. mains to be revealed when his own, so I have often thought that if she had lived long long postponed, shall at length be given enough to have shared the house in which i to the world. Meanwhile it is important am writing to-day, she would have been the to bear in mind our authors frank avowal, merriest of us all. that the facts and anecdotes which she

Entering, at the age of twenty-two, on relates on the authority of Talleyrand (at the strange and novel scene of the first least in the early part of the work) were consul's court, at the epoch wben, having only made known to her at a time much apparently secured the tranquillity of later than the events to which they refer, France by the peace of Amiens, he was “and when,” she adds, "my more inti- assuming an almost regal state, Madame mate relations with M. de Talleyrand un- de Rémusat continued, during the twelve veiled to me the principal features in the years of her service with Josephine, to character of Bonaparte.” — words which keep a private record of the scenes into not only mark a distinction from her own which she was thrown. contemporary records of what she herself saw and heard, but show how much her For many years, probably from her first views of Napoleon were influenced by appearance at court, she had been in the habit Talleyrand.

of taking notes daily of the events and conOf Madame de Rémusat's ability, to her memory of them was fresh. She had re.

versations which came under her notice, while watch and record the scenes thus laid corded nearly everything she saw and heard, open to her, a judgment may be formed at Paris, at St. Cloud, and at Malmaison. from the charming sketch drawn by her For twelve years she had transferred, not only son of what she was at the time of her events and circumstances, but studies of char. marriage.

acter and disposition, to the pages of her

journal. This journal was kept in the form of I do not think I have ever met a woman in a correspondence. It consisted of a series of whom so much moral strictness was combined letters, written from court to a friend from with so much romantic sensibility, as in my whom nothing was concealed. mother. Her youth, her extreme youth, was, as it were, steadied by those fortunate circum

On Napoleon's return from Elba, the stances which bound her to duty by ties of Rémusats were among the first to suffer passion, and procured for her that 'rare combi- for having adhered to the Restoration. nation, peace of soul and the delightful agita. The sentence of exile on M. de Rémusat, tion of the heart. She was not tall, but her with Pasquier and some others, even befigure was elegant and well-proportioned. She fore the emperor reached Paris, seemed was fair and plump; indeed, it used to be to confirm the rumors of vengeance and feared that she would grow too fat. Her eyes of strict inquisitions by the police, which were fine and expressive, black, like her hair; were brought to Madame de Rémusat by her features were regular, but rather too large. her sister, Alix de Vergennes, who had Her countenance was grave, almost imposing ; been married some years before to Genbut the intelligent kindliness of her glance tempered the gravity of her features every the possible discovery of the manuscript,

eral Napsouty: Her alarm was roused at pleasantly. Her strong, well-trained, fertile intellect had certain virile qualities, with which so calculated to compromise her husthe extreme vividness of her imagination fre. I band, her sister, her brother-in-law, her

66

me.

friends." Her first. thought was to en-timents. It was useless to think of reprotrust it to her old and faithful friend, ducing them; but it was possible to produce Madame Chéron, who alone, besides M. others, to which a faithful memory and an de Rémusat, knew of its existence. Find honest conscience would give the same sin. ing that Madame Chéron was absent, she

cerity. returned home in great agitation, and —

She announces the origin of the project writes M. Paul de Rémusat:

to her son, on the 27th of May, 1818. Without reflection or delay she threw all her

Yesterday I was seized with a new fancy. papers in the fire.

My father entered the You know that I am in the habit of waking at room just as she was burning the last leaves six o'clock, and that I write from that time till slowly, not to raise too great a flame. He was exactly half past nine. I was seated, then, then seventeen years old, and has often related with all the sheets of my “ Ambitieux” about to me the scene, the remembrance of which

But some chapters of Madame de Staël was very painful. He thought at first that it were running in my head. All at once, I was only a copy of the memoirs (which he throw aside the romance, I take a fresh sheet had never yet read) and that the precious of paper; and here I am, seized with the desire original was kept hidden somewhere. He

to speak of Bonaparte; here I am, relating the himself threw the last packet into the flames, death of the Duc d'Enghien – that terrible without thinking it of much consequence. week which I passed at Malmaison-and, be. “Few movements of mine,” he said to me, ing an emotional person, after writing a few “have caused me more cruel regrets, when I lines I seem to have got back to those times. learned the truth." These regrets were so Acts and words return to my recollection as strongly felt, both by the author and her son though of themselves; I have written twenty

for they soon found that the cruel sacrifice pages to-day and yesterday, and feel deeply was needless — that [adds the editor] for years moved. they could not speak of it to one another, nor, above all, to my grandfather.

The whole spirit and motive of the new Under the restored Bourbons, M. de from her own letters, which, he says, tell

work is thus summed up by her grandson, Rémusat was appointed prefect of Lille, while Charles, who had just begun his us more of the author than the memoirs

themselves, and the publication of which literary career, returned to Paris. This separation led to an interesting corre

he now promises. spondence between the mother and son; It was neither a literary pastime, nor a pleas. and a letter from the latter, suggesting the ure of the imagination, nor the result of an attempt to restore the destroyed memoirs, author's ambition, nor an attempt at an intercrossed one announcing that the task was political spectacle which the author had had

ested apology. But the passion for truth, the already begun. Both had been moved to before her eyes, the influence of a son daily the thought by the appearance of Madame more confirmed in the liberal opinions which de Staël's posthumous “Considérations were to be the charm and honor of his life, sur la Révolution Française - the first gave her the courage to pursue this work for free utterance which had found vent on more than two years. the Revolution and the Empire. That work recalled the later impressions

Unfortunately that short time did not which had succeeded Madame de Ré suffice to complete the plan. Of the five musat's earlier Napoleonic illusions; but parts, corresponding to five distinct she had a higher motive than to vie with periods, she only lived to write three, Madame de Staël's somewhat declama- comprising the time from her entrance at tory hatred against Napoleon. Though the court in 1802 to the turning point in her present feelings were much the same, Napoleon's fortunes at the beginning of

The two she could not forget (says her grandson) the war with Spain in 1808. how differently she had once thought; parts still wanting would have contained and she was moved to bring back both her the period to the divorce in 1809, and the past and present views to the test of the five years following, to the fall of the events themselves, with no object but to emperor in 1814. Though this period exhibit the real truth.

would not have been enlightened by the

author's personal knowledge of the court, She was seized with the desire to throw as she retired with Josephine to Malmailight upon her recollections, to show what the

son, Empire had done for her, how she had loved did not live to finish the story of the

it is especially unfortunate that she and admired, next judged and feared, then sus

divorce. “ No one,” says her grandson, pected and hated, and at last abandoned it. The memoirs she had destroyed in 1815 would can supply what is wanting here; even have been the frankest and most exact display the correspondence of the author affords of this succession of facts, situations, and sen- I little political information respecting the

ܙܙ

succeeding period, and during the latter Anecdotes," in which the persons of the part of her life she seldom spoke of what drama are passed in review. Whatever she had witnessed or endured.” M. that “weakening of color” which ChaCharles de Rémusat once thought of con-teaubriand deplores (though enough is tinuing the narrative from his recollections left for even a "sensational” taste), there of the conversation of his parents, but all is probably a more comprehensive action that he completed was a few notes of of the mind than when each detail passed what he supposed the memoirs might at once from the eye and ear to the pen; have contained, which his son has em- the work is an artist's picture rather than bodied in a conclusion to the work. a set of photographs. The author's

While enjoying a life of happy quiet method is explained in a letter to her and mental activity amidst the steady son: “I am going to see if I can recall progress of her work, her health broke certain epochs, at first without order or down; and, though no immediate danger sequence, just as the facts recur to my was apprehended, she died on the 16th of mind - you can trust me to be true.December, 1821, at the early age of 41. These reminiscences, arranged in order

When resuming the task, she had of time in the several chapters, fill up and written to her son,

justify the picture set before us in the Your father knows no one to whom I could introduction, in which we have the author's show what I write. He declares that no one final and generally very decisive judg. carries further than I do the talent of being ment on the chief actors in the imposing true, – that is his expression. Well, then, I and illusive drama of the consulate and write for no one. Some day, you will find the empire. work among my papers, and you will do with it what you please.

At the moment of commencing my memoirs,

I think it right to prefix to them some obser. That son, the distinguished author and

vations on the character of the emperor, and Academician, and the associate of M. of the principal personages of his family. It Thiers in restoring order to France after seems to me that these will help me in the the disasters of 1870-1871, did not live to difficult task which I undertake, and that they fulfil the task, which he had purposely will aid me to keep the clue in the midst of so postponed while many of the persons de- many and such different impressions which I picted in the memoirs were still alive; have received in the space of twelve years. I

I am far and he felt that its publication under the will begin with BONAPARTE himself. second empire might have seemed, on

from having always seen him under the same the one hand, a flattery to the son of aspect in which he appears to me to-day; my

opinions have kept pace (ont fait route) with Queen Hortense, and, on the other, an him. outrage levelled at the restored dynasty. This delay has enabled his son, M. Paul This progress of opinion is an essential de Rémusat, to point the moral by view- element in forming our judgment on the ing his grandmother's revelations of the truth of the portrait. It is easy for us, in first empire in that light of the second, our self-satisfied loyalty to our sovereign which has so strikingly confirmed her and free constitution, around which cenfinal opinion of the whole imperial sys- tre of gravity our wildest political oscillatem.

tions are comparatively of little moment, For every loss there is a compensa. to wonder or sneer at those high-minded tion; and even the fire which consumed men and women, who could transfer not the original memoirs may have had some only their allegiance but their service quality of a purifying flame. The work from the monarchy to the republic, the reproduced in maturer years, under that consulate, the empire, and back again to strong sense of the supreme obligation of the restored monarchy, leaving the round truth, has probably the advantage of a to be trodden again by the heirs to their calmer review of the whole scene, which principles; as if the greatest ornaments was then completed as well as past, with of French society and intellect had been the false impressions and passions of the for nearly a century mere “ Vicars of moment if not purged away — yet soft. Bray;" We cannot turn from our present ened down by time and distance, as well subject to follow the defence, powerful of the opportunity to draw the whole pic- and deeply interesting as it is, which the ture in the relation of its parts to each author and her grandson make, in their other. It would have been impossible respective generations, from the text, that the original memoirs, written from "Put yourselves in our place.” In her day to day, should have given us the painful anxiety as to the judgment of the admirable introduction of “ Portraits and future, Madame de Rémusa: falls back on

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

*

the consolation, “I know that what I never forgotten.” Ina conversation with felt I have always felt sincerely; this is Talleyrand, when he was leading back his enough for me before God, my son, my shattered army from the fatal field of friends, myself.”

Leipzig, to defend France itself, his deMadame de Rémusat draws the charac-jected spirit turned to the reverses of bis ter of Napoleon with a discrimination arms in Spain, and “he opened his mind which, as will presently be seen, owes on his own position, not with that noble much to his own fondness for analysis, frankness (abandon) which fears not to which did not spare himself in his free confess an error, but with that sentiment conversations with the author. After the of haughty superiority which scorns disexample of his favorite analysis, Madame simulation.” Talleyrand, who, we may de Rémusat speaks separately of his soul, observe in passing, plays in the memoirs his heart, and his mind. As to the first – the new part of his master's better genNo man, it must be allowed, was ever less for the gratitude of the Spaniards by pro

ius,* counselled him to make a grand bid lofty of soul. There was no generosity, no true greatness in him. I never knew him ad- claiming that, as he had only made war mire, I never saw him understand, a noble to deliver them from an infamous minisdeed. He always distrusted appearances of ter, he now sent back the king to whomi good feeling. Bonaparte's methods of their attachment had been proved; and government were all selected from among those thereupon to withdraw his armies. which have a tendency to debase men. He “Such an avowal,” he added, "taking dreaded the ties of affection ; he endeavored such high ground, while the foreign to isolate every one; he never sold a favor armies are still hesitating on our fron. without awakening a sense of uneasiness, for tiers, can only do you honor, and you are he held that the true way to attach the recip. ient to himself was by compromising him, and yet too strong for it to be taken for an act often even by blasting him in public opinion. of cowardice (pour une lâchete)." He could not pardon virtue until he had suc- Une lâcheté ?" (replied Bonaparte); "eh! ceeded in weakening its effect by ridicule. what does that matter to me? Understand

that I should not fail to commit one, if it were Even that passion for “glory” which useful to me. In reality, there is nothing is the most commonplace association really noble or base in this world ; I have in with Napoleon's name, appears now my character all that can contribute to secure stripped of magnanimity. Its purer form my power, and to deceive those who think was to him but a part of that "gilded veil they know me. Frankly, I am base, essenof illusions ” through which youth views tially base (je suis lâche, moi, essentiellement all things. His ambition for unsubstan- lâche). I give you my word that I should feel tial glory yielded to his appetite for its by the world a dishonorable action ; my secret

no repugnance to commit what would be called solid counterpart

tendencies, which are, after all, those of nature, He cannot be said to have truly loved glory, apart from certain affectations of greatness for he never hesitated to prefer success ; thus, which I have to assume, give me infinite realthough he was audacious in good fortune, sources with which to baffle every one. There, and pushed it to its utmost limits, he was timid fore, all I have to do now is to consider and troubled when threatened with reverses. whether your advice agrees with my present

"I shall succeed," was the basis of all his policy, and to try and find out besides," added calculations, and his obstinate repetition of he with a satanic smile," whether you have the phrase helped him to realize the predic- not some private interest in urging me to take tion. At length his own good fortune grew

this step." into a superstition with him, and his worship The last insinuation is illustrated by of it made every sacrifice which was to be the incident of Talleyrand's lending Naimposed upon us fair and lawful in his eyes.

poleon a sum of money of which he was To the taunt so often levelled at Napo

in urgent need, as he was setting out for leon for surviving his fall, his answer is Egypt. very characteristic — " The

who After repaying the loan, when he became commits suicide renounces the chances of first consul, he asked me one day (said Talleythe future.No Christian will complain rand), "What interest could you have had in of his not daring thus to die; but we now lending me that money? I have thought about learn that, in life also, “all generous been able to make out your object.” “I had

it a hundred times since then, and have never courage was foreign to him; and, in this respect no one would have ventured to

* Talleyrand used to say that the chief work of the unveil him so completely as he has un- foreign minister was to negociate with Bonaparte himveiled himself by one of his avowals, per- his career of war to make a treaty to which he was not

self; and our author affirms that he never paused in petuated in an anecdote which I have forced by Talleyrand.

[ocr errors]

success.

[ocr errors]

man

« VorigeDoorgaan »