« VorigeDoorgaan »
in Egypt, when Madame de Vergennes
refer to the memoirs.
more definite office of dame de palais, one of four who waited on Madame Bonaparte for a week in turn (1802).
Remaining with Josephine till her divorce, and then sharing her retirement at Malmaison, Madame de Rémusat witnessed her daily life, and was made the confidante of her feelings and her secrets all the more freely alike from the wrongs, the passions, and the faults of that unhappy and often imprudent lady, and of her impetuous and overbearing husband. Those who know anything of what comes out so vividly throughout the memoirs the internecine feuds of the Bonapartes and the Beauharnais - will be inclined at once to suspect that the picture drawn by Madame de Rémusat is one-sided; nor does she at all conceal her sympathy with the Beauharnais. But she was much too clear-sighted, as well as truthful, to neglect all the various sources of information open to her position; and among them none are more remarkable than the unreserved accounts of his policy, opinions, and his very nature, which Napoleon himself often confided to her and to her
signed for this distinction, it is clear that he paid no little deference to her cultivated intellect, and to that frank and often piquant expression of her views-rare among the ladies of his parvenu court which won his respect, even while he resented it with those sarcasms which were the penalty of any sort of superiority over or even equality with himself.
Much light was also gained from the author's intimacy with Talleyrand, after she had overcome the first feeling of aversion caused by his disdainful reserve, his mocking humor, and his patronizing politeness.
When the quieter state which succeeded Bonaparte's coup d'état gave M. de Rémusat the hope of restoring the fortunes of the family by a place under government (as, says M. Paul de Ré-husband. Besides the motive already asmusat, always happens in our country), Madame de Vergennes solicited the aid of Josephine, now powerful through the omnipotence of her husband. But the modest request for a place was outrun by the first consul, who gladly seized the opportunity to form a connection with the old society, which held aloof from him. The high consideration enjoyed by Madame de Vergennes, her social position, her name which belonged at once to the old régime and the new ideas, gave a high value to a connection between the consular palace and her family. "At that time" says Madame de Rémusat - "when so many still repelled the advances which he thought well to make to them, he was flattered by my mother's consent to place me in his palace. At that epoch I was in his eyes almost a grande dame, whose example he hoped would be followed." Accordingly the appointment of M. de Rémusat as prefect of the palace was immediately followed by a letter from Duroc to his wife, assuring her of the first consul's confidence, from his personal knowledge of her character and principles, "that she would acquit herself, with the politeness which distinguishes French ladies and the dignity becoming to the government, of the duties which he had designated her to discharge, pour faire auprès de Madame Bonaparte les honneurs du palais' She had soon the VOL. XXX, 1551
The first impulse, especially of an English reader, will be to distrust all that comes from such a source, especially against Napoleon. But this is by no means the impression left on us by the report of Talleyrand's conversations. Trusting him when he had a motive for deception is one thing; but it is quite another to ascribe to him the habit of
tains a vivid sketch of the person and character of M. Paul de Rémusat's preface (pp. 46, foll.) conMadame de Rémusat, with which Talleyrand amused himself while presiding at a sitting of the Senate in 1811. Here is a touch or two from the portrait: "Personne autant que Clari ne montre combien la bienveillance spirituelle est supérieure à tout l'esprit et à tout le talent de ceux qui ne produisent que sévérité critique et moquerie. Clari justifie toujours celui qu'elle défend, sans offenser jamais celui qu'elle réfute. L'esprit de Clari est fort étendu et fort orné; je ne qu'elle veut bien paraître instruite, elle donne une
connais à personne une meilleure conversation; lorsmarque de confiance et d'amitié."
falsehood without a motive. He seems | quently clashed. She possessed sound judg.
ment and keen powers of observation, and she was entirely unaffected in her manners and in her modes of expression, although she was not without a certain subtlety of ideas. In reality she was profoundly reasonable, but she was than herself. In her youth she lacked gaiety headstrong; her intellect was more reasonable and probably ease, may have appeared to be pedantic because she was serious, affected because she was silent, absent-minded, and indifferent to almost all the small things of every
constantly to have indulged a cynical frankness from his very contempt for the weakness of humanity, and among the rest for the falsehood which he despised chiefly for its usual failure as when he said of Metternich, "He always lies, but never deceives." Here again we have to turn aside from a subject, for the separate discussion of which the memoirs furnish full materials; and of these none is more interesting than Talleyrand's own mourn-day life. But, with her mother, whose cheerful sketch of his early life, which furnishes the key to his whole character and career. We are led to form a higher estimate of Talleyrand both as a man and as a servant of his country; and the report of his counsels and conversation in these memoirs raises our expectation of what remains to be revealed when his own, so long postponed, shall at length be given to the world. Meanwhile it is important to bear in mind our author's frank avowal, that the facts and anecdotes which she
relates on the authority of Talleyrand (at least in the early part of the work) were only made known to her at a time much later than the events to which they refer, "and when," she adds, "my more intimate relations with M. de Talleyrand unveiled to me the principal features in the character of Bonaparte' words which not only mark a distinction from her own contemporary records of what she herself saw and heard, but show how much her views of Napoleon were influenced by Talleyrand.
Of Madame de Rémusat's ability to watch and record the scenes thus laid open to her, a judgment may be formed from the charming sketch drawn by her son of what she was at the time of her marriage.
ful moods she sometimes crossed; with her husband, whose simple tastes and easy temper she never crossed, she was not wanting in rich
ness and freedom. She had even a kind of gaiety of her own, which developed as she grew older, when, having been very absent and absorbed in her own thoughts while she was very young, she became more like her mother. I have often thought that if she had lived long enough to have shared the house in which I am writing to-day, she would have been the merriest of us all.
Entering, at the age of twenty-two, on the strange and novel scene of the first consul's court, at the epoch when, having apparently secured the tranquillity of France by the peace of Amiens, he was assuming an almost regal state, Madame de Rémusat continued, during the twelve years of her service with Josephine, to keep a private record of the scenes into which she was thrown.
For many years, probably from her first appearance at court, she had been in the habit of taking notes daily of the events and conher memory of them was fresh. She had reversations which came under her notice, while corded nearly everything she saw and heard, at Paris, at St. Cloud, and at Malmaison. For twelve years she had transferred, not only events and circumstances, but studies of character and disposition, to the pages of her journal. This journal was kept in the form of a correspondence. It consisted of a series of letters, written from court to a friend from whom nothing was concealed.
I do not think I have ever met a woman in whom so much moral strictness was combined with so much romantic sensibility, as in my mother. Her youth, her extreme youth, was, On Napoleon's return from Elba, the as it were, steadied by those fortunate circumstances 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 eral Nansouty. Her alarm was roused at tempered the gravity of her features very
pleasantly. Her strong, well-trained, fertile the possible discovery of the manuscript, intellect had certain virile qualities, with which "so calculated to compromise her husthe extreme vividness of her imagination fre- band, her sister, her brother-in-law, her
Without reflection or delay she threw all her papers in the fire. My father entered the room just as she was burning the last leaves slowly, not to raise too great a flame. He was then seventeen years old, and has often related to me the scene, the remembrance of which was very painful. He thought at first that it was only a copy of the memoirs (which he had never yet read) and that the precious original was kept hidden somewhere. He himself threw the last packet into the flames, without thinking it of much consequence. "Few movements of mine," he said to me, "have caused me more cruel regrets, when I learned the truth." These regrets were so strongly felt, both by the author and her son for they soon found that the cruel sacrifice was needless - that [adds the editor] for years they could not speak of it to one another, nor, above all, to my grandfather.
Under the restored Bourbons, M. de Rémusat was appointed prefect of Lille, while Charles, who had just begun his literary career, returned to Paris. This separation led to an interesting correspondence between the mother and son; and a letter from the latter, suggesting the attempt to restore the destroyed memoirs, crossed one announcing that the task was already begun. Both had been moved to the thought by the appearance of Madame de Staël's posthumous "Considérations sur la Révolution Française". the first free utterance which had found vent on the Revolution and the Empire. That work recalled the later impressions which had succeeded Madame de Rémusat's earlier Napoleonic illusions; but she had a higher motive than to vie with Madame de Staël's somewhat declamatory hatred against Napoleon. Though her present feelings were much the same, she could not forget (says her grandson) how differently she had once thought; and she was moved to bring back both her past and present views to the test of the events themselves, with no object but to exhibit the real truth.
She was seized with the desire to throw light upon her recollections, to show what the Empire had done for her, how she had loved and admired, next judged and feared, then suspected and hated, and at last abandoned it. The memoirs she had destroyed in 1815 would have been the frankest and most exact display of this succession of facts, situations, and sen
timents. It was useless to think of reproducing them; but it was possible to produce others, to which a faithful memory and an honest conscience would give the same sincerity.
She announces the origin of the project to her son, on the 27th of May, 1818.
Yesterday I was seized with a new fancy. You know that I am in the habit of waking at six o'clock, and that I write from that time till exactly half past nine. I was seated, then, with all the sheets of my "Ambitieux" about But some chapters of Madame de Staël were running in my head. All at once, I throw aside the romance, I take a fresh sheet of paper; and here I am, seized with the desire to speak of Bonaparte; here I am, relating the death of the Duc d'Enghien- that terrible week which I passed at Malmaison-and, being an emotional person, after writing a few lines I seem to have got back to those times. Acts and words return to my recollection as though of themselves; have written twenty pages to-day and yesterday, and feel deeply moved.
The whole spirit and motive of the new work is thus summed up by her grandson, from her own letters, which, he says, tell us more of the author than the memoirs themselves, and the publication of which he now promises.
It was neither a literary pastime, nor a pleasure of the imagination, nor the result of an author's ambition, nor an attempt at an interpolitical spectacle which the author had had ested apology. But the passion for truth, the before her eyes, the influence of a son daily more confirmed in the liberal opinions which were to be the charm and honor of his life, gave her the courage to pursue this work for more than two years.
Unfortunately that short time did not suffice to complete the plan. Of the five parts, corresponding to five distinct periods, she only lived to write three, comprising the time from her entrance at the court in 1802 to the turning-point in Napoleon's fortunes at the beginning of the war with Spain in 1808. parts still wanting would have contained the period to the divorce in 1809, and the five years following, to the fall of the emperor in 1814. Though this period would not have been enlightened by the author's personal knowledge of the court, as she retired with Josephine to Malmai
did not live to finish the story of the it is especially unfortunate that she divorce. "No one," says her grandson, "can supply what is wanting here; even the correspondence of the author affords. little political information respecting the
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 method is explained in a letter to her son: "I am going to see if I can recall certain epochs, at first without order or sequence, just as the facts recur to my mind-you can trust me to be true." These reminiscences, arranged in order of time in the several chapters, fill up and justify the picture set before us in the introduction, in which we have the author's final and generally very decisive judg ment on the chief actors in the imposing and illusive drama of the consulate and empire.
While enjoying a life of happy quiet and mental activity amidst the steady progress of her work, her health broke down; and, though no immediate danger was apprehended, she died on the 16th of December, 1821, at the early age of 41. When resuming the task, she had written to her son,
Your father knows no one to whom I could show what I write. He declares that no one carries further than I do the talent of being true,- that is his expression. Well, then, I write for no one. Some day, you will find the work among my papers, and you will do with it what you please.
At the moment of commencing my memoirs, vations on the character of the emperor, and I think it right to prefix to them some obserof the principal personages of his family. It seems to me that these will help me in the difficult task which I undertake, and that they will aid me to keep the clue in the midst of so many and such different impressions which I have received in the space of twelve years. I I am far will begin with BONAPARTE himself. from having always seen him under the same aspect in which he appears to me to-day; my opinions have kept pace (ont fait route) with
That son, the distinguished author and Academician, and the associate of M. Thiers in restoring order to France after the disasters of 1870-1871, did not live to fulfil the task, which he had purposely postponed while many of the persons depicted in the memoirs were still alive; and he felt that its publication under the second empire might have seemed, on the one hand, a flattery to the son of Queen Hortense, and, on the other, an outrage levelled at the restored dynasty. This delay has enabled his son, M. Paul de Rémusat, to point the moral by viewing his grandmother's revelations of the first empire in that light of the second, which has so strikingly confirmed her final opinion of the whole imperial sys-tre of gravity our wildest political oscilla
For every loss there is a compensation; and even the fire which consumed the original memoirs may have had some quality of a purifying flame. The work reproduced in maturer years, under that strong sense of the supreme obligation of truth, has probably the advantage of a calmer review of the whole scene, which was then completed as well as past, with the false impressions and passions of the if not purged away-yet softened down by time and distance, as well of the opportunity to draw the whole picture in the relation of its parts to each other. It would have been impossible that the original memoirs, written from day to day, should have given us the admirable introduction of "Portraits and
This progress of opinion is an essential element in forming our judgment on the truth of the portrait. It is easy for us, in our self-satisfied loyalty to our sovereign and free constitution, around which cen
tions are comparatively of little moment, to wonder or sneer at those high-minded men and women, who could transfer not only their allegiance but their service from the monarchy to the republic, the consulate, the empire, and back again to the restored monarchy, leaving the round to be trodden again by the heirs to their principles; as if the greatest ornaments of French society and intellect had been for nearly a century mere "Vicars of Bray." We cannot turn from our present subject to follow the defence, powerful and deeply interesting as it is, which the author and her grandson make, in their respective generations, from the text, "Put yourselves in our place." In her painful anxiety as to the judgment of the future, Madame de Rémusa: falls back on
the consolation, "I know that what I felt I have always felt sincerely; this is enough for me before God, my son, my friends, myself."
never forgotten." In a conversation with Talleyrand, when he was leading back his shattered army from the fatal field of Leipzig, to defend France itself, his deMadame de Rémusat draws the charac-jected spirit turned to the reverses of his
ter of Napoleon with a discrimination which, as will presently be seen, owes much to his own fondness for analysis, which did not spare himself in his free conversations with the author. After the example of his favorite analysis, Madame de Remusat speaks separately of his soul, his heart, and his mind. As to the firstNo man, it must be allowed, was ever less lofty of soul. There was no generosity, no true greatness in him. I never knew him admire, I never saw him understand, a noble deed. He always distrusted appearances of good feeling.... Bonaparte's methods of government were all selected from among those which have a tendency to debase men. He dreaded the ties of affection; he endeavored to isolate every one; he never sold a favor without awakening a sense of uneasiness, for he held that the true way to attach the recipient to himself was by compromising him, and often even by blasting him in public opinion. He could not pardon virtue until he had succeeded in weakening its effect by ridicule.
Even that passion for "glory" which is the most commonplace association with Napoleon's name, appears now stripped of magnanimity. Its purer form was to him but a part of that "gilded veil of illusions" through which youth views all things. His ambition for unsubstantial glory yielded to his appetite for its solid counterpart success.
He cannot be said to have truly loved glory, for he never hesitated to prefer success; thus, although he was audacious in good fortune, and pushed it to its utmost limits, he was timid and troubled when threatened with reverses. "I shall succeed," was the basis of all his calculations, and his obstinate repetition of the phrase helped him to realize the prediction. At length his own good fortune grew into a superstition with him, and his worship of it made every sacrifice which was to be imposed upon us fair and lawful in his eyes.
To the taunt so often levelled at Napoleon for surviving his fall, his answer is very characteristic―"The man who commits suicide renounces the chances of the future." No Christian will complain of his not daring thus to die; but we now learn that, in life also, "all generous courage was foreign to him; and, in this respect no one would have ventured to unveil him so completely as he has unveiled himself by one of his avowals, perpetuated in an anecdote which I have
arms in Spain, and "he opened his mind on his own position, not with that noble frankness (abandon) which fears not to confess an error, but with that sentiment of haughty superiority which scorns dissimulation." Talleyrand, who, we may observe in passing, plays in the memoirs the new part of his master's better genfor the gratitude of the Spaniards by proius,* counselled him to make a grand bid claiming that, as he had only made war to deliver them from an infamous minister, he now sent back the king to whom their attachment had been proved; and thereupon to withdraw his armies. "Such an avowal," he added, "taking such high ground, while the foreign armies are still hesitating on our fron tiers, can only do you honor, and you are yet too strong for it to be taken for an act of cowardice (pour une lâchete).”
"Une lâcheté?" (replied Bonaparte); "eh! what does that matter to me? Understand that I should not fail to commit one, if it were useful to me. In reality, there is nothing really noble or base in this world; I have in my character all that can contribute to secure my power, and to deceive those who think they know me. Frankly, I am base, essentially base (je suis lâche, moi, essentiellement lache). I give you my word that I should feel by the world a dishonorable action; my secret no repugnance to commit what would be called tendencies, which are, after all, those of nature, apart from certain affectations of greatness which I have to assume, give me infinite resources with which to baffle every one. fore, all I have to do now is to consider whether your advice agrees with my present policy, and to try and find out besides," added he with a satanic smile, "whether you have not some private interest in urging me to take this step.'
The last insinuation is illustrated by the incident of Talleyrand's lending Napoleon a sum of money of which he was in urgent need, as he was setting out for Egypt.
After repaying the loan, when he became first consul, he asked me one day (said Talleyrand), "What interest could you have had in lending me that money? I have thought about it a hundred times since then, and have never been able to make out your object." "I had
* Talleyrand used to say that the chief work of the foreign minister was to negociate with Bonaparte himhis career of war to make a treaty to which he was not self; and our author affirms that he never paused in forced by Talleyrand.