François de Chateaubriand
Book XXIII: Napoleon - The Hundred Days: 1815
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved
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- Book XXIII: Chapter 1: The Commencement of The Hundred Days – The return from Elba
- Book XXIII: Chapter 2: The Legitimacy in a state of torpor – Benjamin Constant’s article – Marshal Soult’s order of the day – A Royal session – The Petition of the Law School to the Chamber of Deputies
- Book XXIII: Chapter 3: A plan for the defence of Paris
- Book XXIII: Chapter 4: The flight of the King – I leave with Madame de Chateaubriand – Problems on the way – The Duc d’Orléans and the Prince de Condé – Tournai, Brussels – Memories – The Duc de Richelieu – The King halts at Ghent and summons me
- Book XXIII: Chapter 5: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN GHENT – The King and his council – I become interim Minister of the Interieur – Monsieur de Lallay-Tollendal – Madame the Duchesse de Duras – Marshal Victor– The Abbé Louis and Comte Beugnot – The Abbé Montesquiou – Dining on white fish: guests
- Book XXIII: Chapter 6: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN GHENT, CONTINUED – The Ghent Moniteur – My report to the King: the effect of that report in Paris – Falsification
- Book XXIII: Chapter 7: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN GHENT, CONTINUED – The Beguinage – How I was received – A grand dinner – Madame de Chateaubriand’s trip to Ostend – My life’s echoes – Anvers – A Stammerer– Death of a young English girl
- Book XXIII: Chapter 8: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN GHENT, CONTINUED – Unusual activity at Ghent – The Duke of Wellington – Monsieur – Louis XVIII
- Book XXIII: Chapter 9: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN GHENT, CONTINUED – Historical memories in Ghent – Madame the Duchesse d’Angouleme arrives in Ghent – Monsieur de Sèze – Madame the Duchesse de Lévis
- Book XXIII: Chapter 10: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN GHENT, CONTINUED – The Pavillon Marsan’s equivalent at Ghent – Monsieur Gaillard, Councillor to the Royal Court – A secret visit by Madame la Baronne de Vitrolles – A note from Monsieur – Fouché
- Book XXIII: Chapter 11: EVENTS IN VIENNA – Negotiations by Monsieur de Saint-Léon, Fouché’s envoy – A proposal regarding Monsieur the Duc d’Orléans – Monsieur de Talleyrand – Alexander’s discontent with Louis XVIII – Various claims – La Besnardières’ report – An unexpected proposal to the Congress from Alexander: Lord Clancarthy causes it to fail – Monsieur de Talleyrand returns: his dispatch to Louis XVIII – The Declaration of Alliance, in truncated form in the official Frankfurt newspaper – Monsieur de Talleyrand wishes the King to return to France via the south-east provinces – Various visits to Vienna by the Prince of Benevento – he writes to me at Ghent: his letter
- Book XXIII: Chapter 12: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN PARIS – The effect of the Legitimacy’s departure from France – Bonaparte’s astonishment – He is forced to capitulate to ideas he thought moribund – His new system – Three mighty players left – Liberal illusions – Clubs and Federations – Conjuring away the Republic: the Supplementary Act – The Chamber of Representatives convened – The futile Champ-De-Mai
- Book XXIII: Chapter 13: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN PARIS, CONTINUED – Bonaparte’s anxiety and bitterness
- Book XXIII: Chapter 14: A Resolution in Vienna – Action in Paris
- Book XXIII: Chapter 15: What was going on in Ghent – Monsieur de Blacas
- Book XXIII: Chapter 16: The Battle of Waterloo
- Book XXIII: Chapter 17: Confusion in Ghent – The reality of Waterloo
- Book XXIII: Chapter 18: Return of the Emperor – Re-appearance of Lafayette – Bonaparte’s fresh abdication – Stormy sessions of the Chamber of Peers - Threatening omens for the Second Restoration
- Book XXIII: Chapter 19: Departure from Ghent – Arrival at Mons – I lose the first chance of success in my political career – Monsieur de Talleyrand at Mons – A scene with the King – Stupidly, I show an interest in Monsieur de Talleyrand
- Book XXIII: Chapter 20: From Mons to Gonesse – With Monsieur le Comte Beugnot I oppose Fouché’s nomination as a Minister: my reasons – The Duke of Wellington gains the upper hand – Arnouville – Saint-Denis – A last conversation with the King
Book XXIII: Chapter 1: The Commencement of The Hundred Days – The return from Elba
‘Carte Indiquant la Marche de Napoléon sur Paris en 1815’
Napoléon Ier et Son Temps - Roger Peyre (p927, 1888)
The British Library
Suddenly the telegraph announced to the soldiers and an incredulous world that the man had disembarked: Monsieur hastened to Lyons with the Duc d’Orléans and Marshal Macdonald; he quickly returned. Marshal Soult, denounced in the Chamber of Deputies, surrendered his office on the 11th of March to the Duc de Feltre. Bonaparte found the general facing him, as Minister of War under Louis XVIII in 1815, who had acted as his last Minister of War in 1814.
The boldness of the enterprise was incredible. From the political viewpoint, it can be regarded as Napoleon’s unpardonable crime and his capital error. He knew that the Princes, still gathered at the Congress, and Europe still under arms, would not permit his return to power; his judgement should have warned him that success, if he obtained it, could not last more than a moment: to his longing to reappear on the world’s stage, he was sacrificing the peace of a nation which had lavished on him its blood and wealth; he was exposing to dismemberment that country from which he had derived everything he had been in the past, and all he might be in the future. In this fantastic undertaking there was a ferocious egoism, and a terrible lack of gratitude and generosity towards France.
All this is true according to practical reason, for a man of heart rather than brain; but for beings of Napoleon’s sort, another kind of reason exists; those creatures of great renown have a way of their own: comets describe tracks which escape precise calculation; they are tied to nothing and seem purposeless; if a sphere appears in their path, they shatter it and vanish into the abyss of the sky; their tracks are known to God alone. Extraordinary individuals are monuments to human intellect; they are not its rule.
Bonaparte, then, was persuaded to his enterprise by the false reports of his friends, rather than his genius being driven to it by necessity: he took up the cross by virtue of the faith within him. For a great man, being born is not everything: he must also die. Was exile on Elba a fitting end for Napoleon? Could he accept the sovereignty of a villa, like Tiberius on Capri, or of a cabbage-patch, like Diocletian at Salona? Would he have had greater chance of success if he had waited until his memory aroused less emotion, his soldiers had left the army, and new social attitudes had been adopted?
Well, he took the world head-on! And, at the beginning, must have believed he had not deceived himself as to the extent of his power.
On the night of the 25th and 26th of February 1815, at the end of a ball at which the Princess Borghèse did the honours, he escaped with success, long his comrade and accomplice; he crossed a sea covered with our ships, meeting two frigates, a vessel of seventy-four guns and the brig Zephyr, which stopped him and interrogated him; he replied to the captain’s questions himself; the sea and the waves saluted him and he pursued his course. The deck of the Inconstant, his little brig, served him as a study and an exercise-yard; he dictated amongst the breezes, and had copies made, on that table, of three proclamations to the army and France; a few feluccas, carrying his companions in fortune, accompanied his flagship, flying a white flag sprinkled with stars. On the 1st of March, at three in the morning, he landed on the coast of France, between Cannes and Antibes, at Golfe-Juan: he landed, strolled along the shore, picked some violets, and bivouacked in an olive-grove. The population, stupefied, concealed themselves. He avoided Antibes, and plunged into the mountains of Grasse, passing through Sernon, Barrême, Digne and Gap. At Sisteron twenty men could have stopped him, and he encountered nobody. He advanced without opposition from the inhabitants who a few months earlier had wanted to cut his throat. When handfuls of soldiers entered the void which formed around his giant shadow, they were seduced irresistibly by the sight of his eagles. His enemies, spellbound, searched for him and failed to find him; he hid himself in his glory, as the lion of the Sahara clothes himself in the sun’s rays to divert the gaze of dazzled hunters. Clothed in a fiery whirlwind, the blood-stained phantoms of Arcola, Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, Friedland, Eylau, Borodino, Lützen and Bautzen, provided an escort for him of a million dead. From the heart of this column of fire and smoke, there issued, at the entrance to every town a few trumpet blasts accompanied by the brandishing of the tricolour standards: and the gates of the town fell. When Napoleon crossed the Niemen at the head of four hundred thousand infantry and a hundred thousand cavalry, to blow up the palace of the Tsars in Moscow, it was less astonishing than when, breaking his ban, and hurling his chains in the faces of kings, he travelled alone, from Cannes to Paris, to sleep peacefully in the Tuileries.
‘Retoure de l'Ile d'Elbe’
Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire, Faisant Suite à l'Histoire de la Révolution Française, Vol 12
Louis Adolphe Thiers - President of the French Republic (p229, 1845)
The British Library
Book XXIII: Chapter 2: The Legitimacy in a state of torpor – Benjamin Constant’s article – Marshal Soult’s order of the day – A Royal session – The Petition of the Law School to the Chamber of Deputies
Alongside this astonishing invasion by a single individual, one must set another, a repercussion of the first: the Legitimacy was seized by stupor; the paralysis at the heart of the State spread through its limbs and rendered France immobile. For twenty days, Bonaparte advanced stage by stage; his eagles flew from steeple to steeple, and throughout his journey of six hundred miles, the Government, master of all, with money and labour at its disposal, had neither the time nor the means to blow a bridge, or fell a tree, to delay for even an hour the advance of this man whom the population chose not to oppose, but whom they no longer followed.
This torpor on the part of the Government seemed so much the more deplorable in that public opinion in Paris was extremely confused; it was open to any suggestion, despite Marshal Ney’s defection. Benjamin Constant wrote in the newspaper:
‘Having scourged our nation, he left French soil. Who did not believe he had left forever? Suddenly he appears again, promising the French liberty, victory and peace. The author of the most tyrannical constitution ever to bind France, does he now speak of liberty? Yet he is the one who, for fourteen years, has eroded and destroyed liberty. He has not the justification of lineage, the customary excuse of power; he was not born to the purple. He has enslaved his fellow citizens, enchained his equals. He did not inherit power; he desired and meditated tyranny: what liberty can he promise? Are we not a thousand times freer than under his Empire? He promises victory, and has abandoned his troops three times, in Egypt, Spain, and Russia, leaving his companions in arms to the triple agonies of cold, misery and despair. He has brought on France the humiliation of being invaded; he has lost the conquests we made prior to him. He promises peace yet his mere name is a signal for war. The nation so unfortunate as to serve him would become an object of hatred to all Europe; his triumph would be the beginning of mortal combat against the whole civilised world. He has nothing to re-claim or to offer. Who could he convince, who could he sway? Internal strife, external war, those are the gifts he brings us.’
Marshal Soult’s order of the day, dated the 8th of March 1815, followed Benjamin Constant’s ideas closely, in an outburst of loyalty:
That man who recently abdicated, in the sight of all Europe, the power he had usurped, which he had used so fatefully, has landed on French soil which he should never have seen again.
What does he desire? Civil war: what does he seek? Traitors: where will he find them? Shall it be among those soldiers he has deceived and sacrificed so many times, wasting their bravery? Shall it be in the bosoms of those families whom his name alone fills with fear?
Bonaparte despises us enough to believe that we will desert our legitimate and beloved sovereign, to share the fate of a man who is no better than an adventurer. He believes it, the madman! And his last foolish act is to make it known.
Soldiers, the French army is the bravest in Europe, it will also be the most loyal.
Let us rally to the banner of the fleur-de-lis, to the voice of the father of the nation, of that worthy heir to the virtues of the great Henry. He himself decreed for you the duties which you have to fulfil. He places at your head that prince, a model of French knighthood, whose happy return to our country has already driven out the usurper, and who now by his presence will destroy the usurper’s sole and final hope.’
‘Le Maréchal Soult’
Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire, Faisant Suite à l'Histoire de la Révolution Française, Vol 12
Louis Adolphe Thiers - President of the French Republic (p173, 1845)
The British Library
Louis XVIII appeared before the Chamber of Deputies on the 16th of March; it was a question of France and the world. When His Majesty entered, the Deputies and spectators in the gallery bared their heads and stood; their acclamations made the walls of the room shake. Louis XVIII climbed slowly to the throne; the Princes, Marshals and Captains of the Guard ranged themselves on either side of the King. The cries ceased; all were silent: in that hush, it was as though Napoleon’s distant tread could be heard. His Majesty, seated, looked at the assembly for a moment and uttered this speech in a firm voice:
‘At this moment of crisis, when a public enemy has penetrated one region of my kingdom and threatens the liberty of all the rest, I come amongst you to tighten further the bonds which, by uniting you and I, create the strength of the State; I come to address you and reveal my feelings and wishes to all France.
I have seen my country once more; I have achieved her reconciliation with the foreign powers, who, be in no doubt, will stay faithful to the treaties which have brought us peace; I have laboured for the happiness of my people; I have received, I do receive, every day the most touching marks of their affection; could I end my career more gloriously, at sixty years of age, than by dying in her defence?
I fear nothing now as regards myself, but I fear for France: he who comes to light the torch of civil war amongst us carries also the scourge of foreign war; he comes to set our country once more beneath his iron yoke; he comes to destroy finally the Constitutional Charter I have granted you, that Charter, which will be my finest title in the eyes of posterity, that Charter which every French person cherishes and which I swear now to maintain: let us rally round it then.’
The King was still speaking when a cloud deepened the gloom in the chamber; all eyes turned to the ceiling to discover the reason for this sudden darkness. When the monarch and legislator ceased to speak, cries of: ‘Long live the King!’ rose again in the midst of tears. ‘The Assembly,’ reported the Moniteur accurately, ‘electrified by the King’s sublime speech, were standing, hands outstretched towards the throne. Nothing could be heard but the words; ‘Long Live the King! Our lives for the King! The King: in life and death!’ repeated in a delirium that all French hearts shared.’
Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire, Faisant Suite à l'Histoire de la Révolution Française, Vol 12
Louis Adolphe Thiers - President of the French Republic (p237, 1845)
The British Library
Indeed, the spectacle was filled with pathos: an old infirm King, who, as a reward for the massacre of his family and twenty-three years of exile, had brought France peace, liberty, and an amnesty for all the insults and all the misfortunes; this patriarch of sovereigns came to tell the nation’s Deputies that at his age, having seen his country once more, he could find no finer end to his career than dying in defence of his people! The Princes swore loyalty to the Charter; the belated pledges were terminated by those of the Prince de Condé and the adherence of the father of the Duc d’Enghien. That heroic race about to be extinguished, that race of patrician swords, seeking in liberty a shield against a younger, longer and crueller plebeian sword, offered, in the light of a multitude of memories, something sad in the extreme.
Louis XVIII’s speech, once known beyond those walls, inspired inexpressible transports of joy. Paris was wholly Royalist, and remained so during the Hundred Days. Women in particular supported the Bourbons.
The young today adore Bonaparte’s memory, because they are humiliated by the role the present Government forces France to play in Europe; youth, in 1814, welcomed the Restoration, because it felled tyranny and elevated liberty. In the ranks of the Royalist cause were to be found Monsieur Odilon Barrot, a large number of the students of the School of Medicine, and the whole of the Law School; the latter addressed the following petition to the Chamber of Deputies on the 13th of March:
‘We offer ourselves for King and country; the whole Law School asks permission to march. We will not abandon our sovereign, or our Constitution. Loyal to French honour, we ask you for weapons. The feeling of affection we have towards Louis XVIII matches yours in constancy and devotion. We desire no more chains, we desire liberty. We will have it: they come to tear it from us: we will defend it to the death. Long live the King! Long live the Constitution!’
In this energetic language, natural and sincere, you can feel the generosity of youth and its love of liberty. Those who tell us today that the Restoration was received by France with sadness and disgust are either ambitious individuals promoting their party, or young men who knew nothing of Bonaparte’s oppression, or old revolutionary and Imperialist liars who, having applauded the return of the Bourbons with everyone else, now insult, according to their custom, whatever has fallen, and return instinctively to assassination, a police state, and servitude.
Book XXIII: Chapter 3: A plan for the defence of Paris
The King’s speech filled me with hope. Discussions were held at the residence of the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Monsieur Lainé. I met Monsieur de Lafayette there: I had only seen him at a distance in another epoch, that of the Constituent Assembly. The proposals varied; for the most part they were spineless, as happens when danger looms: some wanted the King to quit Paris and retire to Le Havre; others spoke of conveying him to the Vendée; this group here spewed out words without reaching a conclusion, that over there said we must wait and see what happens: yet what was happening was extremely apparent. I expressed a contrary opinion: a singular thing, Monsieur de Lafayette supported me, and warmly! (Monsieur de Lafayette confirms, in his Memoirs, precise as to facts, published since his death, the singular agreement of his opinion and mine concerning Bonaparte’s return. Monsieur de Lafayette sincerely loves honour and freedom. Note: Paris, 1840) Monsieur Lainé and Marshal Marmont were also of my opinion. I spoke thus:
‘Let the King keep his word; let him stay in the capital. The National Guard support us. Let us secure Vincennes. We have money and weapons: with money we command the weak and greedy. If the King leaves Paris, Paris will allow Bonaparte to enter; Bonaparte as master of Paris is master of France. The army has not gone over en masse to the enemy; several regiments, many generals and officers, have not yet betrayed their oath: let us stand firm, and they will remain loyal. Let us disperse the Royal family, only protecting the King. Let MONSIEUR go to Le Havre, the Duc de Berry to Lille, the Duc de Bourbon to the Vendée, the Duc d’Orléans to Metz; Madame la Duchesse and Monsieur le Duc d’Angoulême are already in the Midi. Our various points of resistance will prevent Bonaparte from concentrating his forces. Let us barricade ourselves within Paris. The National Guards of neighbouring departments are already coming to our aid. In the midst of this activity, our aged monarch, protected by Louis XVI’s last will and testament, with the Charter in his hand, will rest easy seated on his throne in the Tuileries; the Diplomatic Corps can range themselves around him; the two Chambers can meet in the two pavilions of the château; the King’s household can camp on the Carrousel and in the Tuileries Garden. We will line the quays and the riverside terrace with cannon: let Bonaparte attack us in that scenario; let him assault our barricades one by one; let him bombard Paris if he wishes and if he has the guns; let him render himself obnoxious to the whole population, and we shall see the result of his enterprise! If we can hold out for only three days, victory is ours. The King, by defending himself in his own palace, will arouse universal enthusiasm. Finally, if he must perish, let him die in a manner worthy of his rank let Napoleon’s last exploit be the slaughter of an old man. Louis XVIII, by sacrificing his life, would have won the only battle he shall have fought; he would win it to benefit the liberty of the human race.’
So I spoke: one is never welcomed for saying all is lost when nothing has yet been tried. What would have been finer than an ancient son of Saint Louis overcoming with the French, in a few moments, a man whom all the kings conjured from Europe spent so many years trying to defeat?
This suggestion, apparently born out of desperation, was in fact quite realistic and offered not the least risk. I will always remain convinced that Bonaparte, finding Paris opposed to him, and the king in residence, would not have attempted to take it by force. Without artillery, without supplies, without money, he had with him only an army collected by chance, still in disorder, astounded at their sudden change of cockade, their oaths of loyalty sworn in flight on the highways: they would have been swiftly scattered. A few hours delayed and Napoleon would have been lost; it only required a little courage. At that time we could even count on sections of the army; the two Swiss regiments kept faith: did not Marshal Gouvion Saint-Cyr re-adopt the white cockade in the Orléans garrison two days after Bonaparte entered Paris? From Marseilles to Bordeaux, everyone recognised the King’s authority throughout the whole of March: at Bordeaux the troops wavered; they would have remained loyal to the Duchesse d’Angoulême, if the King had been known to be at the Tuileries and Paris defending itself. The provincial towns would have followed Paris’s lead. The Tenth Regiment of the Line fought well under the Duc de Angoulême; Masséna revealed himself as cautious and undecided; at Lille, the garrison responded to a lively proclamation by Marshal Mortier. If all this evidence of potential loyalty existed despite the possibility of the King’s flight, what might there not have been in the event of resistance?
If my plan had been adopted, there would have been no new foreign invasion of France; our Princes would not have returned with the enemy armies; the Legitimacy would have saved itself. There would have been one thing only to fear after that success: too great a confidence on the part of Royalty in armed force, and in consequence attempts to limit our national rights.
Why was I born to an epoch to which I was so badly suited? Why was I a Royalist against my instincts at a time when the wretched race at Court neither listened to nor understood me? Why was I thrown amongst that crowd of mediocrities who treated me like an idiot, when I spoke of courage; as a revolutionary if I spoke of freedom?
It was merely a question of self-defence! The king had nothing to fear, and my plan pleased him sufficiently by the grandeur, à la Louis XIV somewhat, that it possessed; but other faces lengthened. The diamonds from the royal coronet were packed away (acquired in the past with the sovereigns’ private funds), leaving thirty-three million crowns in the treasury and forty-two millions of personal effects. These seventy-five millions were the fruits of taxation: they should have been returned to the people rather than left to the tyrant!
A dual procession mounted and descended the stairs of the Pavillon de Flore; people asked what was to be done: there was no reply. The Captain of the Guards was asked; the chaplains, cantors, and priests were interrogated: nothing: idle chatter, idle projects, and an idle flow of news. I have seen young men weep in fury over their vain requests for orders and weapons; I have seen women taken ill in their anger and contempt. Approach the King, impossible; etiquette sealed the door.
La France Illustrée: Géographie, Histoire, Administration, Statistique - Victor Adolfe Malte-Brun (p352, 1881)
Internet Archive Book Images
The grand measure decreed to counter Bonaparte was an order to charge (courir sus): Louis XVIII, with deficient limbs, to charge a conqueror over-striding the earth! That formula of the ancient law, revived for this occasion, suffices to reveal the mental capacity of the officers of State at that time. To charge in 1815! Charge! Against what: against a wolf, against a brigand chief, against an errant Lord? No: against Napoleon who had himself charged kings, captured them, and branded them on the shoulder forever with his ineffaceable N!
In this decree, when considered more closely, a political truth which no one has observed is revealed: the legitimate race, strangers to the nation for twenty-three years had remained in the hour and place where the Revolution had left them, while the nation had advanced through time and space. From that arose the impossibility of them understanding or re-joining it; religion, ideas, interests, language, heaven and earth, all were different for people and King, because they were no longer at the same point on the road, because they were separated by a quarter of a century, equivalent to many centuries.
But if the order to charge appears strange in its retention of an ancient legal phrase, had Bonaparte the intention initially to act in any more effective a way, even though he was employing a new manner of speech? The papers of Monsieur de Hauterive, catalogued by Monsieur Artaud, prove that it took a great deal of effort to prevent Napoleon from having the Duc d’Angoulême shot, despite what the official statement in the Moniteur said, a statement issued and left behind for show: he found it unacceptable that the prince stood up for himself. And yet the fugitive from Elba, in leaving Fontainebleau, had recommended that his soldiers should be loyal to the monarchFrance had chosen. At the moment when Napoleon again spoke of killing a son of France, was he anything more than the dual usurper of the new Bourbon monarchy and popular liberty? What! Was the Duc d’Enghien’s blood insufficient for him? Bonaparte’s family had been respected; Queen Hortense had obtained the title of the Duchesse de Saint-Leu from Louis XVIII; Caroline, who still reigned in Naples, had merely had her kingdom traded by Monsieur de Talleyrand during the Congress of Vienna.
That epoch, where everyone lacked openness, seared the heart: everyone threw a profession of loyalty before them, like a footbridge over the difficulties of the hour; even if it meant changing direction, the difficulty was traversed: only youth was sincere, because it retained traces of the cradle. Bonaparte solemnly declares that he renounces the crown; he leaves and returns after nine months. Benjamin Constant publishes his vigorous protest against the tyrant, and changes his mind within twenty-four hours. Later you will discover, in a further book of these Memoirs, who it was inspired him to this noble action, to which the changeability of his nature did not allow him to remain faithful. Marshal Soult stirrs the troops against their former leader; a few days later he roars with laughter at his proclamation in Napoleon’s study at the Tuileries, and becomes Major-General of the Army of Waterloo; Marshal Ney kisses the King’s hand, swears to bring him Bonaparte in an iron cage, and then hands over to Bonaparte all the corps he commands. Alas! And the King of France....He declares that at sixty he can embrace no better end to his career than dying in defence of his people.and then goes off to Ghent! At this lack of truthfulness in the expression of feeling, at this discord between words and actions, one was seized with disgust at the human species.
Louis XVIII, on the 20th of March, intended to died at the heart of France; if he had kept his word, the Legitimacy might have endured for a century; nature even seemed to have robbed the aged king of the means of retreat, by saddling him with infirm health; but the future destiny of the human race would have been hindered if the author of the Charter had accomplished his resolution. Bonaparte hastened to the aid of the future; that Christ of evil powers took this latest paralytic by the hand, and said to him: ‘Take up thy bed and go; surge, tolle lectum tuum.’
‘Départ du Roi, le 19 mars 1815. Dessiné par Heim, Gravé par Couché Fils’
Napoléon Ier et Son Temps - Roger Peyre (p930, 1888)
The British Library
Book XXIII: Chapter 4: The flight of the King – I leave with Madame de Chateaubriand – Problems on the way – The Duc d’Orléans and the Prince de Condé – Tournai, Brussels – Memories – The Duc de Richelieu – The King halts at Ghent and summons me
It was evident that they were about to decamp: due to the fear of being detained, they did not even warn those who, like me, might have been shot an hour after Bonaparte entered Paris. I met the Duc de Richelieu on the Champs Elysees: ‘They are deceiving us,’ he said to me; ‘I am mounting guard here, since I do not intend to wait for the Emperor alone in the Tuileries.’
Madame de Chateaubriand had sent a servant to the Carrousel on the evening of the 19th, with orders not to return unless he was certain of the King’s flight. At midnight, the servant not having returned, I went off to bed. I was just getting ready for sleep, when Monsieur Clausel de Coussergues entered. He told us that His Majesty had left and was heading for Lille. He brought me this news on behalf of the Chancellor, who knowing I was in danger, violated security on my behalf and brought me twelve thousand francs, due to me on my appointment as Minister for Sweden. I insisted on staying, not wishing to leave Paris until I was absolutely sure of the Royal move. The servant sent to discover it, returned: he had seen the carriages file out of the courtyard. Madame de Chateaubriand pushed me into her carriage at four in the morning on the 20th of March. I was in such a fit of rage I knew neither where I was going nor what I was doing.
We left by the Barrière Saint-Martin. At dawn, I watched the crows, descending peacefully from the elms by the highway where they had spent the night, about to breakfast in the fields, without bothering about Louis XVIII or Napoleon: they were not, those crows, obliged to leave their country, and thanks to their wings, they scorned the dreadful road I was jolting over. Old friends from Combourg! We were more akin when long ago at daybreak we dined on blackberries among the dense thickets of Brittany!
The road had broken up, the weather was wet, and Madame de Chateaubriand felt ill: she looked constantly through the window at the rear of the vehicle to see if we were being pursued. We slept at Amiens, where Du Cange was born; then at Arras, Robespierre’s home city: there, I was recognised. Having despatched a request for horses, on the morning of the 22nd, the post-master said they had been commandeered by a general who was carrying news to Lille of the Emperor’s triumphant entry into Paris; Madame de Chateaubriand was dying of fear, not for herself, but for me. I hastened to the stables and, with money, removed the difficulty.
Arriving beneath the ramparts of Lille on the 23rd, at two in the morning, we found the gates closed; the order was not to open them to anybody. They could not or would not say if the King had entered the city. I engaged a coachman for a few louis, to take us to the other side of the city via the exterior of the glacis, and then conduct us to Tournai; in 1792, I had taken this same road, at night, on foot, with my brother. Reaching Tournai, I learnt that Louis XVIII had definitely entered Lille with Marshal Mortier, and that he counted on defending it. I sent a courier to Monsieur Blacas, begging him to send me a permit allowing me to enter the city. My courier returned with a permit from the commandant but no word from Monsieur Blacas. I was setting out in a carriage to return to Lille, leaving Madame de Chateaubriand at Tournai, when the Prince de Condé arrived. We learnt from him that the King had left and that Marshal Mortier had provided an escort for him to the border. After this explanation, it was obvious that Louis XVIII had not been at Lille when my letter arrived there.
The Duc d’Orléans soon followed the Prince de Condé. Appearing discontented, he was content at heart to find he was out of the fight; the ambiguity of his declaration of support for the Charter and his conduct bore the imprint of his nature. As for the aged Prince de Condé, the Emigration remained his fixed point. He was not afraid of Monsieur de Bonaparte; he would fight if they wished, he would leave if they wished: things were a little confused in his brain; he did not know if he was stopping at Rocroi to give battle, or to go and dine at the Grand-Cerf. He struck camp a few hours before us, telling me to recommend the innkeeper’s coffee to those of his household whom he had left behind. He did not know I had handed in my resignation on the death of his grandson; he only felt about that name a certain halo of glory which may as well have clung to some Condé whom he did not recall.
Do you remember my first passing through Tournai with my brother, during my first emigration? Do you remember, regarding it, the man changed into a donkey, the girl from whose ears sprang ears of corn, the cloud of rooks that spread fire everywhere? In 1815, we were like that cloud of rooks ourselves, except that we spread no fires. Alas! I was no longer accompanied by my unfortunate brother! Between 1792 and 1815, the Republic and the Empire had vanished: what revolutions had taken place in my life also! Time had ravaged me along with all the rest. And you, the younger generations of this age, let twenty-three years go by, and you will ask at my grave where all your present passions and illusions are.
The Bertin brothers had arrived at Tournai: Monsieur Bertin de Vaux returned to Paris; the other Bertin, the elder Bertin, was my friend. You will know from the fifteenth book of these Memoirs what attracted me to him.
From Tournai we travelled to Brussels: there I found no Baron de Breteuil, no Rivarol, nor all those young aides-de-camps, now dead or grown old which are the same thing. There was no sign of the barber who had given me refuge. I carried a pen and not a musket; I had turned from soldiering to scribbling on paper. I located Louis XVIII; he was in Ghent, where Messieurs Blacas and de Duras had escorted him: their intention at first had been to have the King embark for England. If the King had consented to that project, he would never have recovered the throne.
Entering a boarding house to look at a room, I found the Duc de Richelieu, smoking while reclining on a sofa, in the depths of a darkened chamber. He spoke of the Princes in a coarse manner, declaring that he was off to Russia, and wanted to hear no more of that lot. Madame the Duchesse de Duras, who had arrived in Brussels had the grief of her mother dying there.
The capital of Brabant is hateful to me; it has never served me for anything but a route to exile; it has always brought me, or my friends, trouble.
An order from the King summoned me to Ghent. The Royal volunteers and the Duc de Berry’s tiny army had been sent away to Béthune, to the mud and mess of a military debacle: there had been moving farewells. Two hundred men of the King’s household remained and were confined to Alost; my two nephews, Louis and Christian de Chateaubriand, were part of that corps.
‘Vue Générale de Gand’
Vues Pittoresques des Principaux Monuments de la Ville de Gand - C. Auguste Voisin (p10, 1836)
The British Library
Book XXIII: Chapter 5: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN GHENT – The King and his council – I become interim Minister of the Interieur – Monsieur de Lallay-Tollendal – Madame the Duchesse de Duras – Marshal Victor– The Abbé Louis and Comte Beugnot – The Abbé Montesquiou – Dining on white fish: guests
I was given a billet which I did not take advantage of: a Baroness whose name I forget sought out Madame de Chateaubriand at the inn and offered us a room at her house: she begged us to accept it with such good grace! ‘Pay no attention,’ she said, ‘to what my husband tells you: he has a problem with his mind.you understand? My daughter is also a bit strange; she has terrible fits, poor child! But the rest of the time she is gentle as a lamb. Alas! It is not she who causes me the most grief it is my son Louis, the youngest of my children: if God does not help him, he will be worse than his father.’ Madame de Chateaubriand refused politely to go and live among such reasonable people.
The King, comfortably lodged, having his servants and his guards around him, formed his council. The empire of this great monarch comprised a palace of the Kingdom of the Low Countries, which palace was situated in a city which, though it was the city that saw Charles V’s birth, had been the headquarters of one of Bonaparte’s prefectures: those two names between them covered a good number of events and centuries.
The Abbé de Montesquiou being in London, Louis XVIII named me as Minister of the Interior for the interim. My correspondence with the regions did not require much effort; I kept my correspondence with the prefects, sub-prefects, mayors and deputies of the fine towns within our frontiers up to date quite easily; I did not repair many roads and I let the church-towers crumble; my budget scarcely increased my wealth; I had no private funds; only, by a glaring abuse, I drew concurrent salaries; I was still Minister plenipotentiary of His Majesty to the King of Sweden, who, like his compatriot, Henri IV, reigned by right of conquest, rather than by right of birth. We spoke round a table covered with green velvet in the King’s study. Monsieur de Lally-Tollendal who was, I think, Minister for Public Instruction, gave extensive speeches, with more flesh on them than his person: he cited his illustrious ancestors the Kings of Ireland and muddled his father’s trial with those of Charles I and Louis XVI. At night he recovered from the tears, sweat and speeches he had poured out in council, with a lady who had hastened from Paris carried along by enthusiasm for his genius; he sought virtuously to cure her of her disease, but his eloquence triumphed over his virtue and only drove the poison deeper.
Madame the Duchesse de Duras came to rejoin Monsieur the Duc de Duras among the exiles. I will speak no more of the evils of adversity, since I spent three months with this excellent woman, conversing of all that minds and true hearts can find in an agreement of tastes, ideas, principles and feelings. Madame de Duras was ambitious for me: she alone knew from the start what value I might have politically; she was continually disappointed by the envy and blindness that distanced me from the King’s Council; but she was yet more disappointed by the obstacles that my character placed in the way of my fortunes: she scolded me, she wanted to cure me of my casual attitude, my frankness, my naivety, and make me adopt the methods of the courtiers, which she herself could not stand. Nothing perhaps serves more to cement attachment and gratitude than to feel yourself under the patronage of a superior friendship, which by virtue of its social influence, makes your faults pass for qualities, your imperfections for charms. A man assists you for what it is worth to him, a woman because of what you are worth: which is why of the two empires the first is so hateful, the second so sweet.
Since I lost that most generous individual, of so noble a soul, a mind which united something of the powers of intellect of Madame de Staël with the grace of Madame de Lafayette’s talent, I have not ceased, while weeping, to reproach myself for the changeability with which I may have occasionally distressed those hearts devoted to me. Let us have particular regard to character! Let us consider that we can, despite a profound relationship, nevertheless poison days that we would buy back at the cost of all our blood. When our friends have descended into the grave, what means have we of repairing our mistakes? Are our useless regrets, our vain repentance a remedy for the pain we have given them? They would have loved a smile from us while they were alive more than all our tears for them after their death.
The delightful Clara (Madame the Duchesse de Rauzan) was in Ghent with her mother. Between us, we made terrible couplets to the air of La Tyrolienne. I have held on my lap plenty of pretty little girls who are young grandmothers today. When you leave a woman behind you, married before you at sixteen, and you return sixteen years later, you will find she is still the same age: ‘Ah, Madame, you have not aged a day!’ Doubtless: but you say that to the young girl, to the young girl you again lead to the altar. But you, sad witness of her two marriages, you close away the sixteen years you have received at each union: wedding gifts which will hasten your own marriage to a pale lady, a little on the thin side.
Marshal Victor came to stand with us, at Ghent, with admirable straightforwardness: he asked for nothing, never bothered the King by being over-eager; one scarcely saw him; I do not know if he was ever accorded the honour and grace of even a single invitation to dine with His Majesty. I subsequently met Marshal Victor; I have been his colleague at the Ministry, and always the same excellent character was on view. In Paris, in 1823, Monsieur le Dauphin was extremely harsh towards this honest soldier: a fine thing: that this Duke of Belluno should receive, in return for his humble devotion, such thoughtless ingratitude! Ingenuousness attracts me and moves me, even though on certain occasions it appears ultimately as an expression of naivety. Thus the Marshal told me of the death of his wife in the language of a soldier, and made me cry: he pronounced coarse words so hastily, and edited them with so much modesty, that one even had to smile at them.
‘Le Maréchal Victor’
Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire, Faisant Suite à l'Histoire de la Révolution Française, Vol 12
Louis Adolphe Thiers - President of the French Republic (p133, 1845)
The British Library
Monsieur de Vaublanc and Monsieur Capelle, rejoined us. The former told us he had a bit of everything in his satchel. Do you want some Montesquieu? He’s here: some Bossuet? Here he is. As soon as the assembly seemed to wish for another face, travellers arrived for us.
The Abbé Louis and Monsieur the Comte Beugnot stayed at the inn where I was lodging. Madame de Chateaubriand had dreadful fits of breathlessness, and I stayed up to watch over her. The two new arrivals installed themselves in a room which was only separated from my wife’s by a thin partition; it was impossible not to hear, unless one stopped one’s ears: between eleven and midnight the occupants raised their voices; the Abbé Louis who spoke wolfishly, and jerkily, said to Monsieur Beugnot: ‘You, a Minister? You won’t be one any longer! You’ve perpetrated nothing but idiocies!’ I could not hear Monsieur the Comte Beugnot’s reply clearly, but he spoke of thirty-three millions left behind in the Royal Treasury. The Abbé pushed a chair over, apparently in anger. Despite the crash, I grasped these words; ‘The Duc de Angoulême? He must buy the National assets at the gate of Paris. I will sell the rest of the State forests. I will fell them all, the elms along the highway, the woods of Boulogne, the Champs-Elysées: what use are they? Hey!’ Monsieur Louis’ brutality was his principal merit; his talent was a stupid love of material interests. If the Finance Minister drew the forests after him, he doubtless possessed a different secret to that of Orpheus, who made the woods follow him by his beautiful music. In the jargon of the time, Monsieur Louis was described as a specialist; his financial speciality had led him to pile up taxpayers’ money in the Treasury, to have it seized by Bonaparte. Good for the Directory at the most, Napoleon had no need of this specialist, who was not at all unique.
The Abbé Louis had come to Ghent to reclaim his Ministry; he was very close to Monsieur de Talleyrand, with whom he had officiated solemnly at the First Federation on the Champ-de-Mars: the Bishop served as priest, the Abbé Louis as deacon, and the Abbé Desrenaudes as sub-deacon. Monsieur de Talleyrand, remembering that amazing profanation, said to Baron Louis: ‘Abbé, you were a very fine deacon on the Champ-de-Mars!’ We endured that shame under Bonaparte’s grand tyranny: had we to endure it again?
The Very-Christian King was protected from all reproach of that kind: he had a married bishop on his Council, Monsieur de Talleyrand; a priest with a concubine, Monsieur Louis; an Abbé who scarcely practised his religion, Monsieur de Montesquiou.
The latter, a man as feverish as a consumptive, with a certain facility in speaking, had a narrow mind adept at denigration, a heart full of hatred, an embittered nature. One day when I had spoken out in favour of the freedom of the press, the descendant of Clovis, passing in front of me, who only derived from the Breton Mormoran, gave me a shove in the leg with his knee, which was not in good taste; I returned it, which was impolite: we played at being the Coadjutor and the Duc de La Rochefoucauld. The Abbé de Montesquiou amusingly called Monsieur de Lally-Tollendal ‘a creature after the English manner’.
In the rivers around Ghent, they angled for a very delicate white fish: we would eat, tutti quanti (all and sundry) these fine fish in the restaurant, waiting for the battles which end empires. Monsieur Laborie was always present at the rendezvous: I had met him for the first time at Savigny, when, fleeing from Bonaparte, he entered by way of one of Madame de Beaumont’s windows, and exited through another. Tireless in his efforts, proliferating errands and notes, as pleased at rendering a service as others are at receiving them, he has been slandered: the essence of slander is not the accusation of having been slandered but the slanderer’s reasons. I showed weariness with the promises in which Monsieur Laborie was wealthy; but why? Dreams are like torments: they always pass an hour or two. I have often taken in hand, with a golden bridle, vicious old memories which could no longer stand upright, which I had taken for young and dashing hopes.
Book XXIII: Chapter 6: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN GHENT, CONTINUED – The Ghent Moniteur – My report to the King: the effect of that report in Paris – Falsification
A Moniteur was established in Ghent: my report to the King of the 12th of May, inserted in this paper, show that my sentiments regarding the freedom of the press and regarding foreign domination have been identical at all times and in all places. I can cite these passages today; they do not contradict my record in any way:
‘Sire, you should begin to set a crown on the institutions whose foundations you have laid. You have specified a date for the commencement of hereditary peerages; the Government should have acquired greater unity; the Ministers should have become members of the two Chambers, according to the true spirit of the Charter; a law should have been proposed whereby one could be elected as a member of the Chamber of Deputies at under forty years of age and citizens could enjoy a genuine political career. Work was going to start on a legal code covering press offences, after the adoption of which the press would have been entirely free, since that freedom is inseparable from representative government.........
Sire, this is the moment to register a solemn protest: all your Ministers, all the members of your council, are indissolubly attached to wise principles of freedom; they draw from their proximity to you that love of law, order, and justice, without which there is no happiness for a nation. Sire, may we be permitted to say to you, we are ready to shed our last drop of blood for you, to follow you to the ends of the earth, to share with you the tribulations which it may please the Almighty to send you, because we believe before God that you will maintain the constitution you have granted to your people, that the sincerest wish of your royal spirit is the liberty of the French. If it had been otherwise, Sire, we would always have died at your feet in the defence of your sacred person; but we would merely have been your soldiers, we would have ceased to be your councillors and ministers.....
Sire, at this moment we share your Royal grief; there is not one of your councillors and ministers who would not give his life to prevent the invasion of France. Sire, you are French, we are French! Sensitive to the honour of our country, proud of the glory of our arms, admirers of our soldiers’ courage, we would wish, at the heart of their battalions, to shed our last drop of blood to show them their duty or to share with them the triumphs of the Legitimacy. We cannot view without the most profound sorrow the evils that are ready to fall upon our country.’
Thus, at Ghent, I proposed to give the Charter what it still lacked, and I showed my sorrow at the new invasion which threatened France: I was as yet only an exile whose hopes lacked the events which could re-open the gates of my country to me. Those pages were written in a State belonging to a royal ally; among princes and émigrés who detested the freedom of the Press; and in the midst of armies marching to conquest of whom we were, so to speak, prisoners: those circumstances added some power perhaps to the sentiments I dared to express.
My report, arriving in Paris, caused a great stir; it was reprinted by Monsieur Le Normant the younger, who risked his life on that occasion, and for whom I took all the trouble in the world to obtain a fruitless patent as printer to the King. Bonaparte acted or sanctioned action, in a manner barely worthy of him: when my report appeared they did as the Directory had done on the appearance of Cléry’s Memoirs, they doctored the piece: I was supposed to have suggested to Louis XVIII inanities regarding the restoration of feudal rights, church tithes, and the return of national assets, as if the original publication in the Ghent Moniteur, at a precise and known date, did not contradict this imposture; but they needed a timely deception. The pseudonymous author charged with this dishonest pamphlet was a military man of reasonably high rank: he was destitute after the Hundred Days; his destitution was accounted for by his conduct towards me; he sent his friends to me; they begged me to intervene in order that a worthy man should not lose his only means of existence: I wrote to the Minister of War, and obtained a retirement pension for the officer. He is dead: the officer’s wife remained devoted to Madame de Chateaubriand with a gratitude which I was far from entitled to. Certain things are over-valued; the most ordinary of people are susceptible to these acts of generosity. A reputation is granted to stale virtue: the superior soul is not that which forgives; it is that which has no need of forgiveness.
I am not sure why Bonaparte decided, on St Helena, that I had rendered a vital service at Ghent: if he assessed my role too favourably, at least he felt some appreciation of my political worth.
Book XXIII: Chapter 7: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN GHENT, CONTINUED – The Beguinage – How I was received – A grand dinner – Madame de Chateaubriand’s trip to Ostend – My life’s echoes – Anvers – A Stammerer– Death of a young English girl
In Ghent, I avoided as much as I could, those intrigues antipathetic to my nature and wretched to witness; since, at heart, in our petty disaster I perceived social disaster. My refuge, among the idlers and wastrels, was the Beguinage Close: I wandered around this little world of women, veiled or wimpled, devoted to various Christian works; a region of calm sited, like the African Syrtes, at the edge of the storms. There, nothing disparate jarred my thoughts, since the religious atmosphere is so elevated, that it is never alien to the most serious resolutions: the solitaries of the Thebaid and those Barbarians who destroyed the Roman world were not in fact discordant or mutually exclusive.
I was received graciously in that Close as the author of Le Génie du Christianisme; everywhere I go, among Christians, priests come to meet me; then the mothers bring their children; the latter recite my chapter on First Communion. Then unfortunates present themselves who tell me the good I have been happy enough to bring them. My passage through a Catholic town is announced like that of the missionary and the doctor. I am moved by this dual reputation: it is the only pleasant memory of self that I preserve; the rest of my personality and my fame displease me.
I was frequently invited to dinners with the family of Monsieur and Madame d’Ops, a venerable father and mother surrounded by thirty or so children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. At Mr Coppens’ house, a gala dinner, which I was prevailed upon to attend, lasted from one in the afternoon to eight in the evening. I counted nine courses: they began with preserves and ended with mutton chops. Only the French know how to dine to a plan, as they are the only ones who know how to structure a book.
My Ministry kept me in Ghent; Madame de Chateaubriand, less pre-occupied, went off to visit Ostend, where I had embarked for Jersey in 1792. I had sailed down those same canals, exiled and at death’s door, that I walked now, still an exile, though in perfect health: always these echoes in my life! The sorrows and joys of my first emigration wakened in my thoughts; I saw England once more, my companions in misfortune, and Charlotte whom I was obliged to view again. No one is as guilty as I am of creating a real world by evoking shadows; it works in such a way that my remembered life takes on the feel of my present life. Even people I have never been involved with, when they die, invade my memory: one might almost say that no one can be my companion until they have entered the grave, which leads me to me believe I am myself one with the dead. Where others find eternal separation, I find eternal reunion; let one of my friends leave this earth, and it is as if he comes to stay with me; he leaves me no more. As the present world fades, the past world returns to me. If the current generations scorn the older generations, their contempt loses its force, in regard to me: I do not even perceive their existence.
Paulus Lauters, Jobard, 1830 - 1831
My insignia of the Golden Fleece was not yet at Bruges, Madame de Chateaubriand could not bring it to me. At Bruges in 1426, there was a man whose name was John, who invented or perfected oil painting: let us give thanks to Jan van Eyck of Bruges; without the adoption of his method, Raphael’s masterpieces would have faded by now. Where did the Flemish painters steal the light which illuminates their paintings? What ray of Greek sunlight strayed to the shores of Batavia?
After her trip to Ostend, Madame de Chateaubriand set out for Anvers. In a cemetery there, she saw souls in Purgatory done in plaster daubed with soot and flames. At Louvain she recruited a gentleman who stammered at me, a knowledgeable professor who came to Ghent expressly to see so extraordinary a man as my wife’s husband. He addressed me: ‘Illus.ttt.rr.’ his speech detracted from his admiration, and I asked him to dine. When the Hellenist had drunk some curaçao, his tongue was freed. We started on the merits of Thucydides, whom the wine rendered clear as crystal to us. In order to contend with my guest, I ended up, I believe, talking Dutch; at least I no longer understood what I was saying.
Madame de Chateaubriand endured a sad night in the inn at Anvers: a young English girl, who had just given birth, died; for two hours she uttered her moans; then her voice grew weak, and her last groan, which scarcely reached the stranger’s ear died into eternal silence. The cries of that traveller, lonely and deserted, seemed a prelude to the thousand dying voices about to call out at Waterloo.
Book XXIII: Chapter 8: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN GHENT, CONTINUED – Unusual activity at Ghent – The Duke of Wellington – Monsieur – Louis XVIII
The usual quietness of Ghent was made more apparent by the crowd of foreigners who now animated it, and who rose early. Belgian and English recruits took their exercise in the squares and under the trees of the walkways; gunners, supply-merchants, and dragoons landed artillery trains, herds of oxen, and horses that struggled in the air while they were lowered suspended in strapping; camp-followers unloaded their sacks, their children and their husbands’ rifles: all were heading, without knowing why and without the least interest in it, for the vast rendezvous of destruction that Bonaparte would provide for them. Along the canals, politicians could be seen gesticulating, near to some motionless fisherman, and émigrés trotting along from the King’s residence to Monsieur’s, from Monsieur’s to the King’s. The Chancellor of France, Monsieur D’Ambray, in a green coat, and a round hat, with an old novel under his arm, was off to the council to amend the Charter; the Duc de Lévis went to pay his court in old cut-away slippers, which his feet emerged from, because, like a brave modern Achilles, he had been wounded in the heel. He was full of wit, which one can see from his collection of maxims.
The Duke of Wellington visited from time to time to review the troops. After dinner each day, Louis XVIII went out in a coach and six with the First Gentleman of the Bedchamber and his Guards, to make the tour of Ghent, just as if he had been in Paris. If he met the Duke of Wellington on the way, he gave him a little nod of the head in patronage.
‘The Duke of Wellington’
The Dispatches of the Duke of Wellington During his Various Campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, the Low Countries and France from 1799 to 1818 - John Gurwood (p12, 1844)
The British Library
Louis XVIII never forgot his pre-eminence in the cradle; he was King everywhere, as God is God everywhere, in the nursery or the temple, at an altar of gold or of clay. He never made a single concession to misfortune; his pride grew with his abasement; his name was his crown; he had the air of saying: ‘Kill me, but you cannot kill the centuries written on my brow.’ If they had chiselled away at his coat of arms on the Louvre what did it matter; were they not engraved on the globe? Had Commisioners been sent to all corners of the world to efface them? Had they been erased in India, at Pondicherry, in the Americas, at Lima and in Mexico; in the East, at Antioch, Jerusalem, Acre, Cairo, Constantinople, Rhodes, and in the Morea; in the West, on the walls of Rome, on the ceilings of the Caserta and the Escorial, in the vaulting of spaces at Ratisbon and Westminster, in the escutcheons of all the kings? Had they scored them from the compass point, where they appear to announce the reign of the fleur-de-lis over scattered regions of the earth?
The obsession Louis XVIII acquired, with grandeur, antiquity, dignity, and the majesty of his race, provided Louis XVIII with a veritable empire. One felt his dominance; even Bonaparte’s generals confessed to it: they felt more intimidated before this powerless old man than before the terrible master who had commanded them in a hundred battles. In Paris, when Louis XVIII granted the triumphant monarchs the honour of dining at his table, he passed without question as the first of those Princes whose soldiers were camped in the courtyard of the Louvre; he treated them like vassals who were only doing their duty in leading their troops into the presence of their sovereign lord. In Europe, there was only one monarchy, that of France; the fate of the other monarchies was bound to the destiny of hers. All the royal lines were once linked to the race of Hugh Capet, and almost all are junior branches. Our ancient royal power was the ancient royalty of the world: from the banishment of the Capetians will date the era of the expulsion of Kings.
The more impolitic this pride of Saint Louis’ descendant (it became fatal in his heirs) the more it fuelled National pride: the French delight in seeing sovereigns who, conquered, carry their chains like men, in order to wear, as conquerors, the yoke of the race.
Louis XVIII’s unshakeable faith in his rank was the real power which granted him the sceptre; it is that faith, which, twice remembered, set a crown on his head regarding which Europe had not expected, and had not intended to exhaust its people and its wealth. The exile without an army was still there, after all those battles which he himself had not waged. Louis XVIII was the Legitimacy incarnate; it ceased to be visible once he had vanished.
Book XXIII: Chapter 9: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN GHENT, CONTINUED – Historical memories in Ghent – Madame the Duchesse d’Angouleme arrives in Ghent – Monsieur de Sèze – Madame the Duchesse de Lévis
I took solitary walks in Ghent, as I do everywhere. The small boats slipped down the narrow canals, forced to traverse thirty or forty miles of meadows to reach the sea, as if they were sailing over the grass; they reminded me of the canals in the savage swamps among the wild grains of Missouri. Halting at the edge of the water, as the patches of white canvas sank below the skyline, my eyes wandered to the city steeples; history appeared in the clouds of the sky.
The inhabitants of Ghent rise against Henri de Châtillon, the French Governor; the wife of Edward III brings John of Gaunt into the world, root of the House of Lancaster; Artevelde exercises popular rule: ‘Good people, who is attacking you? Why are you so unhappy with me? How have I angered you? – You must die!’ shout the people: it is what the age always shouts at us. Then later I see the Dukes of Burgundy; the Spaniards arrive: then come the pacification, the sieges, and the taking of Ghent.
When I had dreamt my way through the centuries, the sound of a bugle or Scottish bagpipes woke me. I saw live soldiers hastening to rejoin their battalions buried deeper in Batavia: always destruction, power brought down; and, in the end, vanishing shades and past names.
Maritime Flanders was one of the first areas occupied by the companions of Clodion and Clovis. Ghent, Bruges, and their surrounding countryside provided almost a tenth of the grenadiers of the Old Guard: that feared militia was drawn in part from the cradle of our forefathers, and it ended up being wiped out near to that cradle. Has not the Lys given its flower to our Kings’ armies?
Spanish style has left its imprint: the buildings in Ghent conjured for me those of Granada, lacking the skies of the Vega. A great city, almost without inhabitants, deserted streets, canals as deserted as the streets.twenty six islands created by canals, which are not those of Venice, an enormous artillery piece from the middle ages, these are what, in Ghent, replace the city of the Zegris, the Darro and the Xenil, the Generalife and the Alhambra: my old dreams, shall I never see you again?
‘Ancien Château des Comtes de Flandre’
Vues Pittoresques des Principaux Monuments de la Ville de Gand - C. Auguste Voisin (p28, 1836)
The British Library
Madame the Duchesse d’Angoulême, embarking in the Gironde, reached us via England with General Donnadieu and Monsieur de Sèze, who had crossed the sea, his blue ribbon outside his coat. The Duke and Duchess of Lévis had followed the Princess: they threw themselves into the stagecoach and fled Paris by the Bordeaux road. The travellers and their companions talked politics: ‘That rascal, Chateaubriand, ‘said one of them, ‘is no fool! For three days, his carriage sat there, loaded up, in the courtyard: the bird has flown. It wouldn’t have been a bad thing if Napoleon had caught him!...’
Madame the Duchess of Lévis was a very beautiful, very fine person, as calm in spirit as Madame the Duchess de Duras was agitated. She never left Madame de Chateaubriand’s side; she was our assiduous companion in Ghent. No one has brought more peace to my life, something which I need greatly. The least troubled moments of my life are those I spent at Noisiel, at the home of that lady whose words and feelings only entered one’s soul to bring it serenity. I remember them with regret, those moments spent beneath the great chestnut-trees of Noisier! My mind soothed, my heart eased, I gazed at the ruins of the Abbey of Chelles, and the little lights of the boats moored among the willows by the Marne. The memory of Madame de Lévis is, for me, one of autumnal evening silence.
She died a few years later; she is mingled with the dead, as with the source of all rest. I saw her lowered silently into her grave in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise; she was placed higher than Monsieur de Fontanes, where he sleeps by his son Saint-Marcellin, killed in a duel. Thus, in bowing before the tomb of Madame de Lévis, I encounter two other sepulchres; a man cannot waken one grief without waking another: during the night, diverse flowers bloom, which only open in the dark.
To the affectionate goodness of Madame de Lévis towards me was joined the friendship of Monsieur the Duke de Lévis, the father: in future I ought only to count in generations. Monsieur de Levis was a fine writer; he had a copious and fecund imagination that felt for his noble race, seen at Quiberon, its ranks spread over the shore.
All shall not end there; it was an impulse of friendship which passed to the second generation. Monsieur the Duke de Lévis, the son, today attached to Monsieur the Comte de Chambord, is close to me; my hereditary affection to him is no less than my fidelity to his august father. The new, delightful, Duchesse de Lévis, his wife, unites with the great name of Aubusson the most brilliant qualities of mind and feeling: it is something to have lived where the graces imprint history with the passage of their un-wearying wings!
Book XXIII: Chapter 10: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN GHENT, CONTINUED – The Pavillon Marsan’s equivalent at Ghent – Monsieur Gaillard, Councillor to the Royal Court – A secret visit by Madame la Baronne de Vitrolles – A note from Monsieur – Fouché
When I went to Monsieur’s, which was rarely, his entourage spoke to me in hushed tones and with many sighs of a man who (it must be admitted) has behaved marvellously well: he has hindered all of the Emperor’s operations; he defended the Faubourg St Germain, etc, etc, etc. The faithful Marshal Soult was the object of Monsieur’s predilection too, and after Fouché, the most loyal man in France.
One day, a carriage arrived at the door of my inn, and I saw Madame the Baronne de Vitrolles emerge: she was arriving charged with powers by the Duc d’Otrante. She brought a note in Monsieur’s own hand, in which the Prince declared that he would preserve an eternal gratitude towards those who had saved Monsieur de Vitrolles. Fouché needed no more; armed with this note, he was sure of his future in the event of a second Restoration. From that moment there was no longer any question in Ghent of the immense obligation owed to the excellent Monsieur Fouché of Nantes, or of the impossibility of returning to France except through the goodwill of this keeper of the law: the only problem was how to make this new Redeemer of the Monarchy acceptable to the King.
After the Hundred Days, Madame de Custine pressed me into dining with Fouché at her house. I had met him one before, six months previously, regarding the sentence passed against my poor cousin Armand. The former Minister knew that I had opposed his nomination at Roye, Gonesse, and Arnouville; and as he supposed I possessed some power, he wanted to make peace with me. The best of him was shown in the death of Louis XVI: he was a regicide in all innocence. Verbose, like all the revolutionaries, threshing the air with empty phrases, he churned out a mass of commonplace stuff about destiny, necessity, the law of things, mingling with this nonsensical philosophy other nonsense concerning the advance and progress of society, impudent maxims benefiting the strong in favour of the weak; finding no fault with bold confessions regarding the rightness of success, the worthlessness of severed heads, the fair-mindedness of those who prosper, the unfair attitudes of those who suffer, affecting to speak casually and indifferently of the most terrible disasters, as a genius above such stupidities. There escaped from him, concerning everything, not one choice idea, or remarkable insight. I left shrugging my shoulders at crime.
Monsieur Fouché never forgave my dryness and the slightness of the effect he had on me. He thought I would be fascinated by seeing the blade of the fatal machine rising and falling in front of my eyes, as if it were some glory of Sinai; he imagined that I would think that lunatic a colossus who, speaking of the soil of Lyons, said: ‘This soil will be ploughed over; on the ruins of this proud and rebellious town will be raised scattered cottages which the friends of equality will hasten to inhabit. We shall have the energy and courage to cross vast graveyards of conspirators......The blood-stained corpses must be thrown into the Rhone, offering to its twin shores and its mouth the imprint of terror and the mark of the all-powerful people......We shall celebrate the victory of Toulon; tonight we will give two hundred and sixty rebels to the lightning-bolt.’
‘Machine Proposée à l’Assemblée Nationale par Mr. Guillotin pour le Supplice des Criminels’
Louis XVI. et la Révolution - Maurice Souriau (p299, 1803)
The British Library
His dreadful embellishments failed to impress me, since Monsieur de Nantes had mixed those Republican crimes with Imperial mud; that the sans-culotte, metamorphosed into a Duke, had twined the lantern-rope with the cord of the Legion of Honour did not seem to me to be either clever or grand. Jacobins detest men who think little of their atrocities and who scorn their murders; their pride is irritated like that of authors whose talent one contests.
Book XXIII: Chapter 11: EVENTS IN VIENNA – Negotiations by Monsieur de Saint-Léon, Fouché’s envoy – A proposal regarding Monsieur the Duc d’Orléans – Monsieur de Talleyrand – Alexander’s discontent with Louis XVIII – Various claims – La Besnardières’ report – An unexpected proposal to the Congress from Alexander: Lord Clancarthy causes it to fail – Monsieur de Talleyrand returns: his dispatch to Louis XVIII – The Declaration of Alliance, in truncated form in the official Frankfurt newspaper – Monsieur de Talleyrand wishes the King to return to France via the south-east provinces – Various visits to Vienna by the Prince of Benevento – he writes to me at Ghent: his letter
At the same time that Fouché was sending Monsieur Gaillard to Ghent to negotiate with Louis XVI’s brother, his agents in Basle were talking to those of Prince Metternich regarding Napoleon II, and Monsieur de Saint-Léon, dispatched by that same Fouché, was arriving in Vienna to discuss the possible coronation of Monsieur the Duke d’Orléans. The friends of the Duke of Otranto could no more count on him than his enemies: on the return of the Legitimate Princes, he kept his old colleague Monsieur Thibaudeau on his list of exiles, while for his part Monsieur de Talleyrand erased from the list or added to the catalogue such and such a proscribed individual, according to whim. Had not the Faubourg Saint-Germain reason to believe in Monsieur Fouché?
Monsieur de Saint-Léon carried three notes to Vienna, one of which was addressed to Monsieur de Talleyrand: the Duke of Otranto proposed to the ambassador of Louis XVIII that he should promote, if he could see the way, the son of Philippe Egalité for the throne. What probity in negotiation! How happy one was to deal with such honest men! Yet we have admired them, poured incense over them, blessed their Seal; we have paid court to them; we have called them Milord! That explains the present age. In addition, Monsieur de Montrond arrived, following Monsieur de Saint-Léon.
Monsieur the Duke of Orléans was not conspiring in fact, only by consent; he left intrigue to those of revolutionary affinities: what a lovely society! In the depths of the woods, the plenipotentiary of the King of France leant an ear to Fouché’s overtures.
Regarding Monsieur de Talleyrand’s ‘arrest’ at the Barrière d’Enfer, I have mentioned the objective that Monsieur de Talleyrand had possessed, till then, regarding the ‘Regency’ of Marie-Louise: he was forced to deviate from it, in the event, by the presence of the Bourbons; but he was always ill at ease; it seemed to him that, under the heirs of Saint Louis, a married bishop was never sure of his place. Thus the idea of substituting the cadet branch for the elder branch amused him, and more so because he had previously had relations with the Palais-Royal.
Taking part, without however revealing his hand completely, he hazarded a few words to Alexander regarding Fouché’s project. The Tsar had lost interest in Louis XVIII: the latter had offended him in Paris by affecting a superiority of race; he had also offended him by rejecting the idea of the Duc de Berry marrying one of the Emperor’s sisters; the Princess was refused for three reasons: she was a schismatic; she was not of an ancient enough line; she was from a family with a history of madness: reasons which were inadequate, were expedients, and which when they became known triply offended Alexander. As a final matter for complaint against the old sovereign of exile, the Tsar objected to the proposed alliance between England, France and Austria. Moreover, it seemed that the succession was an open question; the whole world claimed its inheritance from Louis XIV’s sons: Benjamin Constant, in the name of Madame Murat, pleaded the rights Napoleon’s sister believed she had to the Kingdom of Naples; Bernadotte cast a distant gaze on Versailles, apparently because the King of Sweden came from Pau.
La Besnardière, Head of Section in the Foreign Office, called on Monsieur de Caulaincourt; he had with him a bound report, On the Grievances and Contradictions in France, aimed at the Legitimacy. The attack having been launched, Monsieur de Talleyrand found the means to communicate the report to Alexander; annoyed and volatile, the autocrat was struck by La Besnardière’s pamphlet. Suddenly, in full Congress, and to everyone’s astonishment, the Tsar asked if there were not matter for consideration in an examination of the extent to which Monsieur the Duke of Orléans might suit France and Europe in the role of king. It was perhaps one of the most amazing actions of those extraordinary times, and perhaps the more extraordinary in that the matter had been spoken of so little. (A pamphlet which appeared, entitled: Lettres de l’étranger, which seems to have been written by an able and well-versed diplomat, lays out the nature of that strange Russian attempt at negotiation in Vienna. Note: Paris, 1840) Lord Clancarty ensured the Russian proposal was turned down: his Lordship declared that they did not have the authority to handle such a serious issue: ‘For my part,’ he said, giving a personal opinion ‘I think that setting Monsieur le Duc d’Orléans on the throne of France would be to replace a military usurpation by a domestic usurpation, more dangerous to monarchy that all other usurpations.’ The members of the Congress went off to dine and marked the page of their protocols at which they had stopped with the sceptre of Saint Louis, as if with a straw.
Given the obstacle the Tsar had encountered, Monsieur de Talleyrand did an about face: reckoning on word of the attempted coup getting out, he sent an account to Louis XVIII (in a dispatch I have seen bearing the number 25 or 27) of that odd session of Congress (It is claimed that in 1830, Monsieur de Talleyrand removed his correspondence with Louis XVIII from the Crown’s private archives, just as he had removed everything he had written concerning the death of the Duc d’Enghien and the business with Spain from Bonaparte’s archives. Note: Paris, 1840): he thought himself obliged to inform His Majesty of so outrageous a step, since that news, he said, would not be long in reaching the ears of the King: singularly naïve on the part of Monsieur le Prince de Talleyrand.
‘Talleyrand-Périgord. Tableau d'Ary Scheffer, Collection du Duc d'Aumale (Phot. de Braun, Clement et Cle)’
Napoléon et son temps...Ouvrage Illustré...Neuvième Mille - Roger Peyre (p1005, 1896)
The British Library
There had been question of a declaration of the Alliance aimed at informing the world that they had no ill-will against Napoleon; and that they had no intention of imposing an obligatory form of government on France, nor a sovereign who was not of her choice. This latter section of the declaration was suppressed, but was nevertheless announced in the official Frankfurt newspaper. England, in its negotiations with the foreign ministries, used this language liberally, merely as a precaution against a parliamentary tribune.
It is obvious that at the second Restoration the Allies cared as little about re-establishing the Legitimacy, as they did at the first: events alone achieved it. What did it matter to those short-sighted sovereigns if the mother of European monarchies had her throat cut? Would that stop them holding dinners, or deploying their Guards? Today monarchy is seated so firmly, the globe in one hand, the sword in the other!
Monsieur de Talleyrand, whose interests, then, lay in Vienna, feared that the English, whose opinion of him was no longer so favourable, might engage their military force before all the armies were in position, and that the Court of St James might thus acquire the dominant position: that is why he wished to persuade the King to return via the south-eastern provinces, so that he would find himself under the protection of the troops of the Austrian Empire and Government. The Duke of Wellington was thus given specific orders not to commence hostilities; thus it was Napoleon who decided upon the battle of Waterloo: nothing can arrest such a destiny.
These historical facts, of the most intriguing nature, have generally been ignored; just as, again, a confused opinion has been gained of the Treaty of Vienna, relative to France: it has been taken as being the iniquitous creation of a group of victorious sovereigns bent on our ruin; unfortunately, if it was harsh, it’s content was aggravated by the hand of a Frenchman: when Monsieur de Talleyrand was not conspiring, he was meddling.
Prussia wanted Saxony, which sooner or later would become its prey; France should have favoured that desire, since with Saxony obtaining compensation in the form of the Rhine Circles, we retained Landau and our enclaves; Coblentz and other fortresses passed to a friendly little State which, situated between us and Prussia, prevented any point of contact; and the keys of France would not be handed to Frederick’s shade. For the three millions it would cost Saxony, Monsieur de Talleyrand opposed the schemes of the Berlin Government; but in order to obtain Alexander’s agreement to the existence of the former Saxony, our ambassador was obliged to sacrifice Poland to the Tsar, even though the other Powers would have wished for a Poland that restricted Muscovite movement in the north in some way. The Bourbons of Naples bought the city back for money, as did the sovereign of Dresden. Monsieur de Talleyrand claimed he had the right to a grant in return for his duchy of Benevento: he sold his livery on quitting his master. Where France lost so much, could not Monsieur de Talleyrand have lost a little also? Benevento, moreover, did not belong to the Grand Chamberlain: by virtue of the re-establishment of former treaties, that principality was part of the Papal States.
Such were the diplomatic transactions taking place in Vienna, while we were at Ghent. I received, in the latter residence, this letter from Monsieur de Talleyrand:
‘Vienna, the 4th of May.
I have learnt with great pleasure, Monsieur, that you are at Ghent, since circumstances demand that the King be surrounded by strong and independent men.
You will surely have thought how useful it would be to refute by strongly argued publications all the new doctrines that they wish to propagate in the official pieces appearing in France.
It would have been useful if something appeared whose object was to establish that the declaration of the 31st of March, signed in Paris by the Allies, that the deposition, the abdication, the treaty of the 11th April which was its consequence, were in effect preliminary, indispensable and absolute conditions for the treaty of 30th of May; that is to say that without those previous conditions the treaty could not have been signed. That said, whoever violates the aforesaid conditions, or seconds their violation, destroys the peace the treaty establishes. It is he and his accomplices therefore who declare war on Europe.
For foreign as for home consumption, a discussion conducted in this light would be beneficial; it is only necessary for it to be well done, so do undertake it.
Accept, Monsieur, the homage of my sincere attachment and my highest consideration.
I hope to have the honour of seeing you in a month’s time.’
Our Minister in Vienna was faithful in his hatred of the great phantom that had escaped the shadows; he dreaded his wings being clipped. This letter shows moreover all Monsieur de Talleyrand was capable of doing, when he wrote in his own right: he had the goodness to show me the motif, relying on me to elaborate upon it. Was stopping Napoleon a matter of diplomatic phrases about the deposition, the abdication, the treaties of the 11th of April and the 30th of May? I was very grateful for my instructions by virtue of my certification as a strong man, but I did not follow them: an ambassador in petto, I did not at that time involve myself with foreign affairs; I was only concerned with my Ministry of the Interior for the interim.
But what was happening in Paris?
Book XXIII: Chapter 12: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN PARIS – The effect of the Legitimacy’s departure from France – Bonaparte’s astonishment – He is forced to capitulate to ideas he thought moribund – His new system – Three mighty players left – Liberal illusions – Clubs and Federations – Conjuring away the Republic: the Supplementary Act – The Chamber of Representatives convened – The futile Champ-De-Mai
‘Retour de Bonaparte, le 20 mars 1815, d'Après un Dessin de Heim. Gravé par Couché Fils’
Napoléon Ier et Son Temps - Roger Peyre (p931, 1888)
The British Library
I would like to show you a side to events that history does not reveal; history only shows one side, while these Memoirs have the advantage of displaying both sides of the cloth: in that way, they depict humanity more completely in displaying, like Shakespeare’s tragedies, high and low scenes. There are, throughout, cottages neighbouring on palaces, men who weep beside men who laugh, rag-pickers bowed beneath their baskets beside kings who have lost their throne: what does the fall of Darius mean to the slave present at the battle of Arbela?
Ghent was only a tiring-room behind the scenes of the play opening in Paris. There were still men of renown in Europe. In 1800 I began my career with Alexander and Napoleon; why had I not followed those leading actors, my contemporaries, onto the world stage? Why only Ghent: because the heavens send us where they will. From the little Hundred Days at Ghent, let us pass to the great Hundred Days in Paris.
I have told you the reasons which should have kept Bonaparte on the island of Elba, and the primary reasons or rather the necessity derived from his character which compelled him to leave his exile. But the march from Cannes to Paris exhausted what was left of the former man: in Paris the talisman was shattered.
The few mistakes that the law had righted sufficed to make re-establishment of arbitrary justice impossible. Despotism muzzles the masses, and frees individuals within certain limits; anarchy unchains the masses, and subjugates independent individuals. From that it can be seen that despotism appears as liberty, when it succeeds anarchy; it remains wholly what it is when it replaces liberty: a liberator after the Directory constitution, Bonaparte was an oppressor after the Charter. He knew this so well that he thought himself obliged to move further from Louis XVIII and turn to the sources of national sovereignty. He, who had trampled on the people as their master, was reduced to making himself once more a tribune of the people, courting the favour of the suburbs, parodying the birth of the Revolution, stammering out the old language of liberty which brought a grimace to his lips, and every syllable of which made his sword twitch with anger.
His destiny, as a power, was indeed so fulfilled, that Napoleon’s genius was nowhere evident during the Hundred Days. That genius was one of victory and order, not one of defeat and freedom: now he could achieve nothing by victory which had betrayed him, nothing by order since it existed without him. In his astonishment he said: ‘See what the Bourbons have done with France in a few months! It will take years for me to undo.’ It was not the work of the Legitimacy that the conqueror witnessed it was the work of the Charter; he had left France mute and prostrate, he found it upright and vocal: in the naivety of his absolute will, he mistook liberty for disorder.
And everywhere Bonaparte was forced to capitulate before ideas which at first sight he could not defeat. Given his lack of real popularity, workers, paid forty sous a head, went to the Carrousel at the end of their day’s work to yell: Long Live the Emperor! It was called going to the shout. His first proclamations announce miracles of forgiveness and forgetting; individuals are declared to be free, the nation free, the Press free; nothing is desired but the peace, liberty, and happiness of the people; the whole Imperial system was altered; the age of gold was about to be reborn. In order to make practice conform to theory, France is divided into seven large police divisions; the seven lieutenants are granted the same powers that Directors General had under the Consulate and Empire: one is given to understand that there are these protectors of individual freedom at Lyons, Bordeaux, Milan, Florence, Lisbon, Hamburg, and Amsterdam. Above these lieutenants, Bonaparte elevates, in a hierarchy more and more favourable to liberty, extraordinary Commissioners, in the manner of representatives of the people under the Convention.
The police, directed by Fouché, tell everyone, by means of solemn proclamations, that they will only serve from now on to spread philosophy, that they will only act in future according to the principles of virtue.
Bonaparte re-establishes, by decree, the National Guard of the Kingdom, whose name alone once put him in a fever. He is forced to annul the divorce pronounced under the Empire between despotism and demagogy, and support their new alliance: from this marriage is to be born, on the Champ-de-Mai, Liberty, the red cap and the turban on her head, the Mameluke’s sabre at her waist, the revolutionary axe in her hand; Liberty surrounded by the shades of those thousands of victims sacrificed on her scaffolds, or on the burning plains of Spain and in the frozen wastes of Russia. Before victory, Mamelukes are Jacobins; after victory Jacobins become Mamelukes: Sparta is for times of danger, Constantinople for times of triumph.
Bonaparte would have much preferred to take sole authority on himself, but that was not possible; he found men disposed to dispute it with him: firstly Republicans of good faith, delivered from the chains of despotism and the rules of monarchy, desired to keep a freedom which was perhaps no more than a noble error; next there were the furious representatives of the old faction of the Mountain: these latter, humiliated by being no more than police spies for a despot, under the Empire, seemed determined on reclaiming, on their own account, that freedom to do anything whose privilege they had ceded to their master for fifteen years.
But neither the Republicans, nor the revolutionaries, nor Bonaparte’s satellites, were strong enough to establish their power separately, or to subjugate one another. Threatened from outside by invasion, pursued within by public opinion, they realised that if they were divided, they would be lost: in order to escape the danger, they deferred their quarrel; the former brought to their mutual defence their systems and illusions, the latter their terrors and perversities. There was not a scrap of good faith in the pact; each, the crisis over, promised themselves to turn it to their own profit; all seeking in advance to assure themselves of the fruits of victory. In this frightening game of trente et un, three mighty players held the bank in turn: liberty, anarchy, and despotism, all three cheating and trying to win something lost to all.
Filled with this idea, they took no harsh measures against those lost children who urged revolutionary measures: federated clubs were formed in the suburbs and federations organised themselves according to strict pledges in Brittany, Anjou, Lyonnais and Burgundy; the Marseillaise and the Carmagnole were sung; a club, established in Paris, corresponded with other clubs in the provinces; the revival of the Journal des Patriotes was announced. But, as for that, what confidence could the revivalists of 1793 inspire? Did we not know how they interpreted liberty, equality, and the rights of man? Were they more moral, wiser, or more sincere after their enormities than before? Because they were tarnished by all the vices did that make them capable of all the virtues? Crime is not relinquished as easily as a crown; the brow round which a dreadful headband is bound retains its ineffaceable marks.
The idea of a genius with the rank of Emperor lowering his ambitions to those of a Commander-in-Chief or President of the Republic was an illusion: the red cap, which they set on the head of his statues during the Hundred Days, could have announced to Bonaparte the recapture of his crown, only if it were given to athletes who circle the world in order to run the same course twice.
However, prominent liberals promised themselves victory: errant individuals like Benjamin Constant, and fools like Monsieur Simonde de Sismondi, talked of appointing the Prince de Canino as Minister of the Interior, Lieutenant-General Comte Carnot as Minister of War, and Comte Merlin as Justice Minister. Apparently demoralized, Bonaparte made no opposition to the democratic movements which, in the last result, furnished conscripts for his army. He allowed them to attack him in their pamphlets; caricatures repeated Isle of Elba to him as the parrots used to shriek Péronne at Louis XI. They preached liberty and equality to the escapee from gaol while addressing him as tu; he listened to their remonstrances with an air of compunction. Suddenly, breaking the bonds in which it was claimed he was enveloped, he proclaimed, on his own authority, not a plebeian constitution, but an aristocratic one, a Supplementary Act to the constitution of the Empire.
The Republic dreamed of changing itself into the former Imperial Government, updated with feudalism, by means of this skilful conjuring trick. The Supplementary Act robbed Bonaparte of the republican movement and created malcontents in almost all the other parties. Licence reigned in Paris, anarchy in the provinces; the civil and military authorities fought it out; here, they threatened to burn chateaux and cut priests’ throats: there, they flew the white banner and shouted: Long Live the King! Attacked, Bonaparte retreated; he withdrew mayoral nominations from his Extraordinary Commissioners and returned such powers of nomination to the people. Concerned by the multiplicity of votes against the Supplementary Act, he abandoned his dictatorship as a result and summoned the Chamber of Representatives in accord with an act which had not yet been accepted. Wandering from pitfall to pitfall, he was scarcely delivered from one danger before he met with another: sovereign of a day, how could he institute a hereditary peerage that the spirit of freedom opposed? How could he govern the two Chambers? Would they show passive obedience? What were the views of the Chambers concerning the projected gathering on the Champ-de-Mai, which had no real purpose, since the Supplementary Act had been put into effect before the votes were counted? Was that gathering, composed of thirty thousand electors to consider itself representative of the nation?
This Champ-de-Mai, announced with such pomp and celebrated on the 1st of June, ended up as a simple file past by the troops and a distribution of standards before a disregarded altar. Napoleon, surrounded by his brothers, State dignitaries, Marshals, and the Civil and Judicial Corps, proclaimed the sovereignty of the people in which he had no belief. The citizens imagined they were themselves creating a Constitution on that solemn day; the peaceable bourgeois were expecting someone to declare Napoleon’s abdication in favour of his son; the abdication plotted at Basle between the agents of Fouché and Prince Metternich: it would have been a ridiculous political trap. The Supplementary Act appeared, moreover, to pay homage to the Legitimacy; with some vital differences, above all lacking the abolition of confiscation (of assets), it was the Charter.
‘Journée du Champ de Mai, d'Après une Gravure au Burin Anonyme (Coll. Hennin)’
Napoléon Ier et Son Temps - Roger Peyre (p933, 1888)
The British Library
Book XXIII: Chapter 13: THE HUNDRED DAYS IN PARIS, CONTINUED – Bonaparte’s anxiety and bitterness
These sudden changes, this confusion of all things, announced the death throes of despotism: tyranny retained the instinct for evil but no longer possessed the power. However, the Emperor was not to receive his mortal blow from within, since the power which fought him was as exhausted as himself; the Titan, of Revolution, whom Napoleon had once toppled, had not recovered his natural force; now the two giants dealt each other useless blows; it was no more than the struggle of two shades.
For Bonaparte these general frustrations were added to the domestic tribulations and anxieties of the Palace: he announced to France, the return of the Empress and the King of Rome, and neither of them appeared. Apropos the Queen of Holland, whom Louis XVIII made Duchesse de Saint-Leu, he commented: ‘When one has enjoyed family prosperity, one should embrace its adversities.’ Joseph, hastening from Switzerland, merely asked for money: Lucien disturbed him with his liberal connections; Murat, a conspirator against his brother-in-law at first, was too hasty, when returning to him, in attacking the Austrians: despoiled of the Kingdom of Naples and a fugitive of ill omen, he waited, under arrest near Marseilles, the catastrophe which I may tell you of later.
Yet could the Emperor trust his erstwhile supporters and so-called friends? Had they not deserted him shamefully at the time of his fall? That Senate which crawled at his feet, now ensconced in the peerage, had it not decreed its benefactor’s deposition? Could he believe those men when they came to him and said: ‘The interests of France are inseparable from your own. If Fortune betrays your efforts, Sire, reverses will not weaken our perseverance and will double our attachment to your person.’ Your perseverance! Your attachment doubled by misfortune! You said this on the 11th of June 1815: what was it you had uttered on the 2nd of April 1814? What would you say a few weeks later, on the 19th of July 1815?
The Minister of the Imperial Police, as you have seen, was in correspondence with Ghent, Vienna, and Basle; the Marshals to whom Bonaparte was forced to entrust the command of his troops had only recently sworn loyalty to Louis XVIII; they had published the most violent proclamations against Bonaparte (see that of Marshal Soult above): since then, it is true, they had wedded themselves to their Sultan once more; but if he had been arrested at Grenoble, what would they have done with him? Does it suffice to break an oath to restore in full force another oath which has been violated? Does double-perjury equate to loyalty?
A few days later, those who had sworn obedience on the Champ-de-Mai would reaffirm their devotion to Louis XVIII at the Tuileries; they would approach the sacred table of the God of Peace, in order to be appointed ministers at the banquet of war; heralds-at-arms and bearers of the royal insignia at Bonaparte’s coronation, they would fulfil the same functions at the coronation of Charles X; then, as agents of another power, they would lead that King to Cherbourg as a prisoner, trying to find a little free corner of their consciences in which to hang the badge of their new oath. It is difficult being born in an age of improbity, in times when two men talking together must take care not to give tongue to certain words, for fear of offending each other or making each other blush.
Those who had not felt able to attach themselves to Napoleon in his glory, who had not been able to adhere from gratitude to the benefactor from whom they had received their wealth, honours and their very names, were they about to sacrifice themselves to his meagre hopes? Were they going to bind themselves to a precarious destiny, at its re-commencement, those ingrates whom a destiny fulfilled by unexampled successes and the spoils of sixteen victorious years had failed to bind? Those many chrysalises, which, between one spring and another, had put off and on, shed and resumed the skins of Legitimist and Revolutionary, follower of Napoleon, follower of the Bourbons; those many promises made and broken; those many crosses switched from the knight’s breast to his horse’s tail, from his horse’s tail to the knight’s breast; the many valiant warriors changing banners, strewing the lists with their false pledges of loyalty; those many noble ladies, waiting in turn on Marie-Louise and Marie-Caroline, were calculated to leave in the depths of Napoleon’s spirit only mistrust, horror and contempt; that great man aged before his time stood alone among all those traitors, his fate and all those human beings, on the trembling earth, beneath a hostile sky, face to face with his completed destiny and the judgement of God.
Book XXIII: Chapter 14: A Resolution in Vienna – Action in Paris
Napoleon had found not loyal friends but phantoms of his past glory; they escorted him, as I have said, from the place where he had disembarked to the capital of France. But the eagles, which had flown from steeple to steeple from Cannes to Paris, sank exhausted onto the chimneys of the Tuileries, without power to travel further.
Napoleon does not hurl himself, with an enthusiastic populace, on Belgium, before an Anglo-Prussian army assembles there: he halts; he tries to negotiate with Europe, and maintain, humbly, the treaties the Legitimacy had made. The Congress of Vienna confronts Monsieur the Duke of Vicenza with the abdication of the 11th of April 1814: by that abdication Bonaparte recognized that he was the sole obstacle to the re-establishment of peace in Europe, and in consequence renounced, for himself and his heirs, the thrones of France and Italy. Now, since he has returned in order to re-establish his power, he is manifestly violating the Treaty of Paris, and places himself once more in a political state existing prior to the 31st of March 1814: thus it is he, Bonaparte, who declares war on Europe, and not Europe on Bonaparte. These logical quibbles by lawyers of diplomacy, as I have remarked apropos of Monsieur de Talleyrand’s letter, were worth whatever they might be worth, before a battle.
The news of Bonaparte’s landing at Cannes reached Vienna on the 7th of March, in the midst of an entertainment representing a gathering of the divinities of Olympus and Parnassus. Alexander had just received the proposal for an alliance between France, Austria and England: he hesitated a moment between the two items, then said: ‘It is not about me, but world security.’ And a courier is sent to St Petersburg with orders to despatch the Guards. The armies, which were withdrawing, halt; their lengthy lines face about, and eight hundred thousand of the enemy turn their gaze towards France. Bonaparte prepares himself for war; he is awaited on the new Catalaunian Fields: God has deferred to there the battle which is to put an end to an era of battles.
The warmth from the wings of the victor of Marengo and Austerlitz was enough to hatch armies in a France which was nothing more than a vast nest of soldiers. Bonaparte had given his legions their epithets of the invincible, the terrible, the incomparable; seven armies were identified, which took over the titles of the armies of the Pyrenees, Alps, Jura, Moselle and Rhine: grandiose labels which served as a framework for assumed troop strengths, anticipated triumphs. The real army was assembled at Paris and at Laon; a hundred and fifty mobile batteries, ten thousand elite soldiers forming the Guard; eighteen thousand recruits, illustrious at Lützen and Bautzen; thirty thousand veterans, officers and junior officers, garrisoned in defensive strongholds; seven departments in the north and east ready to rise en masse; a hundred and eighty thousand men of the National Guard deployed; Frankish corps in Lorraine, Alsace and Franche-Comté; Federalists offering their pikes and the force of their arms; Paris manufacturing three thousand rifles a day: such were the Emperor’s resources. Perhaps he would have overturned the world one more time, if he could have brought himself, while liberating the country, to call foreign nations to freedom. The moment was propitious: the kings who had promised their subjects constitutional governments had broken their word, shamelessly. But liberty was antipathetic to Napoleon once he had drunk from the chalice of power; he preferred to be conquered with his soldiers than conquer with the nations. The troops he sent successively on their way towards the Low Countries amounted to seventy thousand men.
Book XXIII: Chapter 15: What was going on in Ghent – Monsieur de Blacas
We émigrés, in Charles V’s city, behaved like the women of that town: sitting beside their windows, they watched, in little angled mirrors, the soldiers passing by in the street. Louis XVIII was there, in a corner, completely forgotten; he merely received a note from time to time from the Prince de Talleyrand on his way back from Vienna, or a few lines from members of the diplomatic corps residing with the Duke of Wellington in the role of commissioners, Messieurs Pozzo di Borgo, Baron von Vincent, etc., etc. People had better things to do than think about us! A man strange to politics would never have dreamed that an invalid, hidden beside the Lys, would be helped back to the throne by the efforts of thousands of soldiers ready to slit throats: soldiers of whom he was neither king nor leader, who gave no thought to him, who knew nothing of his name or his existence. Of two places in such close proximity, Ghent and Waterloo, never has one seemed so obscure, the other so brightly-lit: the Legitimacy was laid up in store like an old broken wagon.
We knew Bonaparte’s forces were approaching; we had nothing to protect us but two small companies under the command of the Duc de Berry, a Prince whose blood would not serve us, since he was already summoned elsewhere. A thousand cavalry, detached from the French army, would be on us within a few hours. The fortifications of Ghent had been demolished; the defences which remained would be all the more easily overcome since the Belgian population was not sympathetic to us. The scene I had witnessed at the Tuileries was repeated: His Majesty’s carriages were secretly prepared; the horses were readied. We, the loyal Ministers, we would have to splash along behind, by God’s grace. MONSIEUR left for Brussels, charged with keeping a close eye on the action.
Monsieur de Blacas had become sad and anxious; I, poor man, consoled him. In Vienna things were not going well for him; Monsieur de Talleyrand mocked him; the royalists accused him of being the reason for Bonaparte’s return. Thus, on either hand, there was no longer an honourable exile for him in England, no longer highest office possible in France: I was his sole support. I met him quite often in the Horse-Market, where he trotted about alone; hitching myself to him, I fell in step with his sad thought. The man whom I had defended in Ghent and England, and did defend in France after the Hundred Days, and even in the later preface to La Monarchie Selon La Charte, that man has always opposed me: that would not have mattered if he had not been a drag on the monarchy. I do not repent of my past foolishness; but I must redress in these Memoirs the blows aimed at my judgement and my good-heartedness.
Book XXIII: Chapter 16: The Battle of Waterloo
On the 18th of June 1815, towards midday, I left Ghent by the Brussels gate; I was going to finish my walk alone on the highroad. I had taken Caesar’s Commentaries with me and I strolled along, immersed in my reading. I was already more than three miles from the city, when I thought I heard a dull rumble: I stopped and looked up at the cloudy sky, deliberating with myself whether to go on, or turn back towards Ghent for fear of a storm. I listened: I heard only the cry of a moorhen in the rushes and the chime of a village clock. I pursued my course: I had not gone thirty paces before the rumbling began again, now short, now long, at irregular intervals; sometimes it was only perceptible as a tremor of the air, so distant that it communicated itself to the ground over those vast plains. Detonations, less prolonged, less undulating, less interconnected than those of thunder, gave rise in my mind to the thought of it being a battle. I found myself opposite a poplar planted at the corner of a hop-field. I crossed the road and leant against the trunk of the tree, my face turned towards Brussels. A southerly wind sprang up and brought me a more distinct sound of artillery. That great battle, as yet nameless, whose echoes I heard at the foot of the poplar, and for whose unknown obsequies a village clock had just chimed, was the Battle of Waterloo.
‘Vue Actuelle de la Plaine de Waterloo’
Napoléon Ier et Son Temps - Roger Peyre (p955, 1888)
The British Library
Silent and solitary listener to the mighty judgement of the fates, I would have been less moved if I had been in the fray: the peril, the firing, the press of death would have left me no time for meditation; but alone under a tree, in the Ghent countryside, like a shepherd of the flocks that grazed around me, I was overwhelmed by the weight of reflection: What battle was this? Would it be decisive? Was Napoleon there in person? Were lots being cast for the world, as they had been for Christ’s garments? What would be the consequence for the nations, in the event of victory or defeat for one army or the other, freedom or slavery? Ah, what blood must be flowing! Was not every sound that reached my ears some Frenchman’s last sigh? Was this a new Crécy, a new Poitiers, a new Agincourt, to delight France’s most implacable enemies? If they triumphed, was not our glory lost? If Napoleon won the day, what would become of our freedom? Although victory for Napoleon meant eternal exile for me, my country was at that moment foremost in my heart; my prayers were for France’s oppressor, if he, in saving our honour, were to rescue us from foreign domination.
What if Wellington should triumph? Then the legitimacy would re-enter Paris behind those red uniforms which had just been re-dyed scarlet in French blood! Royalty would have, for coaches at its coronation, ambulance-carts filled with our maimed grenadiers! What sort of a Restoration would be accomplished under such auspices? ....This is only a mere fraction of the thoughts that tormented me. Each roar of the cannons brought me the shock and doubled my rate of heartbeats. A few miles distant from that immense chaos, I saw nothing; I could not touch the huge funeral pyre growing minute by minute at Waterloo, just as on the bank of the Nile, on the shore at Bulak, I stretched out my hands towards the Pyramids in vain.
No traveller appeared; some women in the fields, peaceably hoeing rows of vegetables, did not seem to have heard the noise. But then I saw a courier approaching: I left the foot of my tree and stood in the centre of the road; I stopped the courier and questioned him. He belonged to the Duc de Berry and was coming from Alost. He told me: ‘Bonaparte entered Brussels yesterday (the 17th of June) after a bloody fight. Battle was due to be re-joined today (the 18th of June). The Allies are thought to have suffered a decisive defeat, and the order to retreat has been given.’
The courier continued on his way.
I followed in haste: I was passed by the carriage of a merchant fleeing with his family; he confirmed the courier’s story.
Book XXIII: Chapter 17: Confusion in Ghent – The reality of Waterloo
When I returned to Ghent all was confusion: the city gates were being closed; the wickets alone remained half-open; some inadequately armed civilians and a few soldiers from the army depot were standing guard. I went to the King’s residence.
Monsieur had just arrived by a circuitous route: he had left Brussels at the false news that Bonaparte was about to enter the city, and that having lost the first battle there was no hope of winning a second. It was said that that because the Prussians had not taken up their positions the English had been crushed.
At these reports, the stampede became general: those who had any resources, left; I, who was used to possessing nothing, was ready to go at any time as always. I wanted Madame Chateaubriand, a great Bonapartist but one who hated gunfire, to depart before me: she refused to quit me.
In the evening there was a Council meeting at His Majesty’s: we heard Monsieur’s reports again and the hearsay picked up at the Military Commander’s and at Baron Eckstein’s. The wagon containing the Crown jewels was hitched to the horses: I had no need of a wagon to remove my treasure. I put the black silk handkerchief in which I wrap my head at night into my limp Interior-Ministry portfolio, and placed myself at His Majesty’s disposal, carrying that important document on the affairs of the Legitimacy. I was richer when I first emigrated, when my haversack did duty as a pillow and served as a swaddling band for Atala: but in 1815 Atala was a tall, gawky girl of thirteen or fourteen, who went about all by herself, and who, to her father’s honour, had got herself talked about too much.
On the 19th of June, at one in the morning, a letter from Monsieur Pozzo, delivered to the King by courier, established the true facts. Bonaparte had not entered Brussels; he had assuredly lost the Battle of Waterloo. Leaving Paris on the 12th of June, he rejoined the army on the 14th. On the 15th, he broke the enemy lines on the Sambre. On the 16th, he beat the Prussians on those fields of Fleurus where victory always seems to favour the French. The villages of Ligny and Saint-Amaund were taken. At Quatre-Bras, a fresh success: The Duke of Brunswick remained among the dead. Blücher in full retreat fell back upon a reserve of thirty thousand men, under the command of General von Bülow; the Duke of Wellington, with the English and Dutch, stood with his back to Brussels.
‘Plan de la Bataille de Waterloo’
Napoléon Ier et Son Temps - Roger Peyre (p936, 1888)
The British Library
On the morning of the 18th, before the first shot had been fired, the Duke of Wellington declared that he would be able to hold out until three; but that at that time, if the Prussians had not appeared, he would necessarily be destroyed: forced back on Planchenois and Brussels, he was cut off from all retreat. Surprised by Napoleon, his position was strategically deplorable; he had accepted it, not chosen it.
The French, first advancing on the enemy’s left flank, took the heights which overlook the Manor of Hougoumont as far as the farms of La Haye-Sainte and Papelotte; on the right they attacked the village of Mont Saint-Jean; the farm of La Haye-Saint, in the centre, was taken by Prince Jerôme. But the Prussian reserves appeared near Saint-Lambert at six in the evening: a new and furious attack was made on the village of La Haye-Sainte; Blucher arrived with fresh troops and cut off the squares of the Imperial Guard from the rest of our scattered troops. Around that motionless phalanx, the torrent of fugitives carried everything with it among clouds of dust, fiery smoke and grape-shot, in a gloom streaked with Congreve rockets, amidst the roar of three hundred guns, and the headlong gallop of twenty-five thousand horses: it was like the summation of all the battles of the Empire. Twice the French cried: ‘Victory!’ and twice their shouts were stifled by the pressure of the enemy columns. The fire from our lines died down; the cartridges were exhausted; a few wounded grenadiers, among the thirty thousand dead, with a hundred thousand blood-stained cannon-balls lying cold and conglobated at their feet, stood erect leaning on their muskets, bayonets broken, and cannon emptied. Not far from them, the Man of Battles, his gaze fixed, listened to the last cannonade of all those he would hear during his life-time. On that field of slaughter, his brother Jerôme was still fighting with his outnumbered dying battalions, but his courage could not retrieve victory.
‘The Battle of Waterloo, June 18th 1815. Depicting Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’
The Wars of Wellington, a Narrative Poem - Doctor Syntax, Illustrated by William Heath & J. C. Stadler
The British Library
The number of Allied dead was estimated at eighteen thousand, the number of French dead at twenty-five thousand; two hundred English officers died; almost all Wellington’s aides-de-camp were killed or wounded; there was barely a family in England which did not suffer bereavement. The Prince of Orange was hit by a bullet in the shoulder; Baron de Vincent, the Austrian Ambassador, had his hand pierced. The English owed their success to the Irish regiments and the Scottish Highland Brigade which our cavalry charges could not break. General Grouchy’s corps, failing to advance, took no part in the affair. The two armies exchanged steel and fire with the bravery and persistence that had fuelled national enmity for ten centuries. Viscount Castelreagh, recounting the events of the battle in the Lords, said: ‘The English and French soldiers, after the battle, washed their blood-stained hands in a little stream, and congratulated each other on all sides on their courage.’ Wellington had always been a fatal obstacle to Bonaparte, or rather English genius, the rival to French genius, barred the way to victory. Today the Prussians claim from the English the honour of that decisive battle; but, in war, it is not the final action, it is fame which creates the conqueror: it was not Bonaparte who really won the battle of Jena.
‘Bataille de Waterloo (18 juin 1815). Peint par Steuben, Gravé par Jazet’
Napoléon Ier et Son Temps - Roger Peyre (p937, 1888)
The British Library
The French errors were considerable: they were mistaken as to hostile and friendly corps; they occupied the position at Quatre-Bras too late; Marshal Grouchy, who was ordered to hold back the Prussians with his thirty-six thousand men, allowed them to pass him without his catching sight of them; from this stemmed the reproaches that our generals addressed to him. Bonaparte attacked head-on according to his custom instead of turning the English flanks, and concerned himself, with the presumption of a master, about cutting off the retreat of an enemy that had not yet been conquered.
Many falsehoods and a few rather curious truths have been credited to this catastrophe. The phrase: ‘The Guard dies but does not surrender’ is an invention which no one dares to defend any more. It appears certain that at the commencement of the action, Soult made some strategic observations to the Emperor: ‘Because Wellington has beaten you,’ Napoleon replied dryly, ‘you always think him a great general.’ At the end of the battle, Monsieur de Turenne urged Bonaparte to withdraw, to avoid falling into the hands of the enemy: Bonaparte, emerging from thought as if from a dream, was enraged at first; then suddenly, in the midst of his anger, he threw himself on his horse and fled.
‘The Terror and Flight of Bonaparte After the Battle of Waterloo Leaving his Hat and Sword in his Carriage’
History of the French Revolution, and of the Wars Produced by That...Vol 02 - Christopher Kelly (p303, 1820)
The British Library
Book XXIII: Chapter 18: Return of the Emperor – Re-appearance of Lafayette – Bonaparte’s fresh abdication – Stormy sessions of the Chamber of Peers - Threatening omens for the Second Restoration
On the 19th of June a hundred-gun salute from the Invalides announced the victories at Ligny, the Sambre, Charleroi, and Quatre-Bras; it celebrated the now-dead victories of the eve of Waterloo. The first courier who brought the news of that defeat, one of the greatest in history considering its results, was Napoleon himself: he entered the gate on the night of the 21st; one would have said it was his shade returning to tell his friends he was no more. He halted at the Elysée-Bourbon: when he arrived from Elba he had halted at the Tuileries; those two sanctuaries, chosen instinctively, revealed his altered fate.
Fallen to the foreigner in noble combat, Napoleon had to suffer, in Paris, attacks from lawyers who wanted to rake over his misfortunes: he regretted not having dissolved the Chamber before his departure for the army; he was also frequently sorry he had not had Fouché and Talleyrand shot. But it is certain that Bonaparte, after Waterloo, forbade all violence, either in obedience to his usually calm temperament, or because he had been tamed by fate; he no longer said as he had before his first abdication: ‘They will see what a great man’s death is like.’ That eloquence was gone. Antipathetic to liberty, he thought of quashing that Chamber of Representatives presided over by Lanjuinais, of citizens become Senators, of Senators become Peers, of Peers become citizens again, of citizens about to become Peers again. General Lafayette, one of the deputies, read from the rostrum a proposal which declared: ‘The Chamber to be in permanent sitting, for it to be a crime of high treason to make any attempt to dissolve it, and for anyone to be considered a traitor to the country, and judged as such, who renders himself guilty of such.’ (21st of June 1815.)
‘Marquis de Lafayette’
The Story History of France From the Reign of Clovis, 481 A.D., to the Signing of the Armistice, November, 1918 - John Bonner (p402, 1919)
Internet Archive Book Images
The General’s speech commenced with these words: ‘Gentlemen, in raising for the first time in many years a voice which the former friends of liberty will still recognise, I feel myself summoned to speak to you of the danger facing the country......................
This is the moment for us to rally to the tricolour, to that of 89, that of liberty, equality and public order.’
The anachronism of that speech created an illusion for an instant: it was as if one saw the Revolution, personified in Lafayette, emerge from the tomb and present itself wrinkled and pallid at the rostrum. But these motions regarding order, taken from Mirabeau, were no more than weapons beyond use, drawn from an antique arsenal. Though Lafayette was linking the end of his life to its beginning in a noble manner, it was not in his power to weld together the two sections of a chain broken by time. Benjamin Constant went to see the Emperor at the Elysée-Bourbon; he found him in the garden. The crowd, filling the Avenue de Marigny, were shouting: ‘Long Live the Emperor!’ a moving cry escaping from the populace’s innards; it addressed the vanquished! Bonaparte said to Benjamin Constant: ‘What do they owe me? I found them, and left them, poor.’ They were perhaps his only heartfelt words, if, that is, the deputy’s emotion did not confuse his ears. Bonaparte, foreseeing the eventuality, anticipated the summons being prepared for him; he abdicated in order not to be forced to abdicate: ‘My political life is over,’ he said, ‘I declare my son, with the title of Napoleon II, Emperor of the French.’ A vain attempt, like that declaration of Charles X in favour of Henri V: one can only hand on crowns one possesses, and men foil legacies made in adversity. Besides, the Emperor was no more sincere in relinquishing the throne for a second time than he had been on the first occasion; also, when the French Commissioners went to tell the Duke of Wellington that Napoleon had abdicated, he replied: ‘I knew that a year ago.’
The Chamber of Representatives, after a number of debates in which Manuel spoke, accepted the fresh abdication of its sovereign, but in vague terms and without naming the Regency.
An executive committee was created: the Duke of Otranto presided; three Ministers, a Councillor of State and an Imperial General composed it, and despoiled their master anew: they were Fouché, Caulaincourt, Carnot, Quinette, and Grenier.
During these transactions, Bonaparte turned over ideas in his head: ‘I no longer have an army,’ he thought, ‘I have only fugitives. A majority of the Chamber of Deputies are fine; I only have Lafayette, Lanjuinais and a few others against me. If the nation rises, the enemy will be wiped out; if instead of raising a levy, they spend their time arguing, all will be lost. The nation has not sent the Deputies to overthrow me, but to support me. I fear them not at all, whatever they do; I will always be the idol of the people and the army: if I said a word they would yield. But if we quarrel among ourselves instead of listening to each other, we will meet the fate of the Low Countries.’
A deputation from the Chamber of Representatives arriving to congratulate him on his fresh abdication, he replied: ‘Thank you: I hope that my abdication will bring France happiness: but I do not expect it.’
He repented of it soon afterwards, when he realised that the Chamber of Representatives had nominated a committee of five members. He said to the Ministers; ‘I did not abdicate in favour of a new Directory; I abdicated in favour of my son: if he is not proclaimed, my abdication is null and void. It is not by showing the Allies a bowed head, while kneeling on the ground, that the Chambers will force them to recognise national independence.’
He complained that Lafayette, Sébastiani, Pontécoulant and Benjamin Constant had conspired against him, and that the rest of the Chamber lacked energy. He said that he alone could renew everything, but that the leaders would never consent to it, that they would rather be swallowed by the abyss than unite with him, Napoleon, to seal it.
On the 27th of June, at Malmaison, he wrote this sublime letter: ‘In abdicating power, I have not renounced the noblest right of a citizen, that of defending my country. In these grave circumstances, I offer my services as a general, regarding myself still as the foremost soldier of the motherland.’
The Duke of Bassano having represented to him that the Chambers would not support him: ‘Well, I can see,’ he said, ‘that I must always concede. That vile Fouché cheats you, only Caulaincourt and Carnot are worth anything; but what can they do, with a traitor, Fouché, and two fools, Quinette and Grenier, and two Chambers that do not know what they want? You all believe like imbeciles at the fine promises made by foreigners; you think they’ll put a chicken in the pot, and give you a prince after their fashion, do you? You are wrong.’
Plenipotentiaries were sent to the Allies. On the 29th of June, Napoleon asked for two frigates, stationed at Rochefort, to carry him away from France; while waiting for them he withdrew to Malmaison.
Discussion was lively in the Chamber of Peers. A long time enemy of Bonaparte, Carnot, who signed the order for the executions at Avignon, without taking the time to read them, had time, during the Hundred Days, to submerge his republicanism beneath the title of count. On the 22nd of June, at the Luxembourg he had read a letter from the Minister of War, containing an exaggerated report of French military resources. Ney, newly arrived, could not listen to it without anger. Napoleon in his bulletins had spoken of the Marshal with barely concealed dissatisfaction, and Gourgaud accused Ney of having been the principal cause of the Battle of Waterloo being lost. Ney rose and said: ‘The report is false, false on all points. Grouchy could only have had twenty to twenty-five thousand men under his command at the very most. There was hardly a single soldier of the Guard to rally: I commanded it; I saw it completely destroyed before leaving the field of battle. The enemy is at Nivelle with eighty-thousand men; they can be in Paris in six days: you have no other means of saving the country than opening negotiations.’
Flahaut, the aide-de-camp, tried to justify the Minister of War’s report: Ney replied with fresh vehemence: ‘I repeat; you have no other means of salvation but negotiation. You must recall the Bourbons. As for me I will retire to the United States.’
At these words, Lavalette and Carnot showered the general with reproaches; Ney replied with scorn: ‘I am not one of those men for whom self-interest is everything: what would I gain from Louis XVIII’s return? To be shot for desertion; but I owe my country the truth.’
In the session of the Peers of the 23rd, General Drouot, recalling that scene, said: ‘I heard with sadness what was said yesterday in diminishment of the glory of our armies, in exaggeration of our disasters and regarding the diminution of our resources. My astonishment was the greater in that those speeches were uttered by a distinguished General (Ney), who by his great courage and military understanding has merited the nation’s recognition on so many occasions.’
In the session on the 22nd, a second storm had erupted after the first: it concerned Bonaparte’s abdication; Lucien insisted that his new Emperor be recognised. Monsieur de Pontécoulant interrupted the speaker, and demanded by what right Lucien, a foreigner and a Roman prince, was permitted to select a sovereign for France. ‘Why,’ he added, ‘should we recognise a child who resides in a foreign country?’ At this question, La Bédoyère leapt from his seat: ‘I have heard certain of these voices beside the throne of a fortunate Emperor; they distance themselves from him now he has met with misfortune. There are those who would not recognise Napoleon II, because they wish to be ruled by foreigners, to whom they give the name of Allies.
Napoleon’s abdication is indivisible. If his son is not to be recognised, he must take up his sword, surrounded by Frenchmen who have shed their blood for him, and who are all still covered with wounds.
He will be abandoned by those base generals who have already betrayed him.
But if we declare that every Frenchman who deserts his flag shall be covered in infamy, his house razed, his family proscribed, then there will be no more traitors, no more manoeuvres that have occasioned the recent catastrophes some of whose authors perhaps are sitting here today.’
All the omens of the Second Restoration were threatening: Bonaparte had returned at the head of four hundred Frenchmen, Louis XVIII returned behind four hundred thousand foreigners; he passed by Waterloo’s sea of blood, to go towards Saint-Denis as if towards his tomb.
It was while the Legitimacy was thus on the march that those shouts rang out in the Chamber of Peers: there had been who knows how many terrible revolutionary scenes enacted there in the days of our great evils, when the knife circulated on the benches in the hands of future victims. Various soldiers, whose fatal fascination had led to the ruin of France, by instigating a second invasion of foreigners, struggled on the threshold of the Palace; their prophetic despair, their gestures, their funereal words, seemed to announce a triple death: death for themselves, death for the man they had blessed, death for the race they had proscribed.
Book XXIII: Chapter 19: Departure from Ghent – Arrival at Mons – I lose the first chance of success in my political career – Monsieur de Talleyrand at Mons – A scene with the King – Stupidly, I show an interest in Monsieur de Talleyrand
While Bonaparte retired to Malmaison with the Empire in its death throes, we left Ghent with the revitalised monarchy. Pozzo, who knew how little the Legitimacy mattered in high places, hastened to write to Louis XVIII telling him to depart and arrive quickly, if he wanted to reign, before his place was taken: it is to this note that Louis XVIII owed his crown in 1815.
At Mons, I lost my first chance of success in my political career; I was my own worst enemy, and found myself as always to be an obstacle in my way. This time my good qualities did me a worse turn than my faults could have done.
Monsieur de Talleyrand, in all the pride of a negotiation which had enriched him, claimed to have rendered the Legitimacy the greatest of services, and returned as master. Astonished that no one has as yet followed the route he had traced in returning to Paris, he was even more discontented at finding Monsieur de Blacas with the King. He regarded Monsieur de Blacas as a scourge of the monarchy; but that was not the real reason for his aversion; he considered Monsieur de Blacas as a favourite, and in consequence a rival; he also feared Monsieur and had been annoyed when, fifteen days earlier, Monsieur had offered him his house by the Lys. Nothing was more natural than for him to ask that Monsieur de Blacas take himself off; to demand it was to recall Bonaparte only too well.
Monsieur de Talleyrand entered Mons at about six in the evening, accompanied by the Abbé Louis: Monsieur de Riccé, Monsieur de Jaucourt and several other table-companions of his flew to meet him. In a mood not seen in him before, the mood of a king who thinks his authority flouted, he refused at first to go to Louis XVIII’s residence, replying to those who urged him to do so with this ostentatious comment: ‘I am never urged; there will be time tomorrow.’ I went to see him; he came out with all those cajoleries with which he seduced ambitious nobodies and important fools. He took me by the arm, leaning on me while speaking to me: familiarities of high favour, calculated to turn my head, which were absolutely lost on me; I did not even understand them. I invited him to come with me to see the King.
Louis XVIII was in a state of deep sorrow: he was troubled by the separation from Monsieur de Blacas; the latter could not return to France; opinion was aroused against him; even though I had reason to complain of that favourite in Paris, I had not shown any resentment towards him in Ghent. The king was grateful for my conduct; in his tender state he treated me marvellously well. Monsieur de Talleyrand’s proposals had already been reported to him: ‘He boasts,’ he said, ‘of having placed the crown on my head for a second time, and threatens me with taking the road to Germany again: what do you think of that, Monsieur de Chateaubriand?’ I replied: ‘Your Majesty has been badly informed; Monsieur de Talleyrand is only tired. If the King consents, I will return to the Minister.’ The King appeared quite relieved; what he liked least was bother; he desired his peace and quiet even at the expense of his affections.
In the midst of his sycophants Monsieur de Talleyrand was worse than ever. I made representation to him that at such a critical moment he could not think of going away. Pozzo preached the same: even though he had not the least inclination towards him, he preferred at that time to see him involved as a former acquaintance; moreover he thought he was in close favour with the Tsar. I gained no sway over Monsieur de Talleyrand’s mind, the Prince’s habitués prevented me; Monsieur Mounier even thought that Monsieur de Talleyrand ought to retire. The Abbé Louis, who snapped at everyone, said to me, shaking his muzzle three times: ‘If I were the Prince, I wouldn’t remain in Mons a quarter of an hour.’ I replied: ‘Monsieur l’Abbé, you and I can go wherever we wish; no one will notice; it is not the same for Monsieur de Talleyrand.’ I persisted and said to the Prince: ‘Are you aware that the King is continuing his journey?’ Monsieur de Talleyrand appeared surprised then he said to me proudly, as the Balafré did to those who had wished to alert him to Henri II’s designs: ‘He would not dare!’
I returned to the King’s residence where I found Monsieur de Blacas. I said to His Majesty, as an excuse for his Minister’s absence, that he was ill, but that he would assuredly have the honour of paying his court to the King the following day. ‘As he wishes,’ Louis XVIII replied: ‘I am leaving at three’; and then he added these words affectionately; ‘I am to be separated from Monsieur de Blacas, the position will be vacant, Monsieur de Chateaubriand.’
The King’s Household was at my feet. No longer burdening himself with Monsieur de Talleyrand, a wise politician would have hitched his horses to the carriage in order to follow or precede the King: I remained stupidly at my inn.
Monsieur de Talleyrand, unable to convince himself that the King would set out, was asleep: at three they woke him to tell him that the King was leaving; he could not believe his ears: ‘Tricked! Betrayed!’ he cried. He got up, and there he was, for the first time in his life, in the street at three in the morning, leaning on Monsieur de Riccé’s arm. He arrived in front of the King’s residence: the two front horses of the team were already half-way through the carriage entrance. A wave of the hand to the coachman to stop; the King asked what was happening; someone called out: ‘Sire, it is Monsieur de Talleyrand. – He is asleep’, said Louis XVIII. – ‘Here he is, Sire. – Go on!’ the King replied. The horses and carriage backed up; the door was opened, the King descended, and returned dragging his feet to his apartment, followed by the limping Minister. There Monsieur de Talleyrand began an angry explanation. His Majesty listened and replied: ‘Prince de Benevento, are you leaving us? The waters will do you good: you can send us your news.’ The King left the Prince dumbfounded, had himself led back to his Berlin, and departed.
Monsieur de Talleyrand was foaming with anger’ Louis XVIII’s sang-froid had unseated him: he, Monsieur de Talleyrand, who so often stung others with his calmness, had been beaten on his home ground, dumped in a square in Mons, like the most insignificant of men: he couldn’t get over it! He remained silent, watching the departing coach, then grasping the Duc de Lévis by his coat-button: ‘Go, Monsieur the Duke, go and tell them how I am treated! I have placed the crown on the King’s head once more (he always returned to that crown), and I am going to Germany to begin a fresh emigration.’
Monsieur de Lévis listening distractedly, dancing on tip-toe, said; ‘Prince, I am leaving, there ought to be at least one nobleman with the King.’
Monsieur de Lévis threw himself into a hired cart carrying the Chancellor of France: the two grandees of the Capetian monarchy went off side by side to rejoin it, half-frozen, in a Merovingian wagon.
I begged Monsieur de Duras to work at reconciliation, and send me news at the earliest. ‘What!’ Monsieur de Duras, replied, ‘you are staying behind after what the King has said to you?’ Monsieur de Blacas, leaving Mons at his side, thanked me for the interest I had shown towards him.
I found Monsieur de Talleyrand again, embarrassed; he regretted not having followed my advice, and like a muddle-headed sub-lieutenant having refused to go to the King that evening; he feared that agreements would be reached without him, that he would be unable to share political power and profit from the financial conniving which was planned. I told him that, though I disagreed with his views, I would remain no less loyal to him, as an ambassador should to his Minister; that in addition I had friends close to the King, and that I soon hoped to hear some good tidings. Monsieur de Talleyrand felt truly tender, he leant on my shoulder: certainly he thought me a very great man at that instant.
I did not have to wait long to receive a letter from Monsieur de Duras; he wrote to me from Cambrai that everything was arranged, and that Monsieur de Talleyrand would receive the order to set out: this time the Prince did not fail to obey.
What devil possessed me? I had not followed the King who had, so to speak, offered me or rather granted me the Ministry of his Household and who was offended by my obstinacy in staying at Mons: I stuck out my neck for Monsieur de Talleyrand whom I scarcely knew, whom I did not esteem, whom I did not admire; for Monsieur de Talleyrand who would be involved in schemes that were by no means mine, who lived in an atmosphere of corruption in which I could scarcely breathe!
It was from Mons too that the Prince of Benevento, in the midst of all his difficulties, had sent Monsieur de Perray to Naples to get the millions from one of his deals in Vienna. Monsieur de Blacas was travelling at the some moment with the Naples Embassy in his pocket, and other millions which the generous exile of Ghent had given to him at Mons. I was held in good odour by Monsieur de Blacas precisely because everyone detested him; I had incurred Monsieur de Talleyrand’s friendship by my loyalty in his moment of moody caprice; the King had positively summoned me to his side; and I preferred the turpitude of a faithless individual to His Majesty’s favour: it was only right that I should receive, as the reward for my stupidity, being abandoned by everyone, for having wished to be of service to everyone. I returned to France having nothing with which to pay for my journey, while riches poured over the disgraced: I deserved the punishment. It’s a fine thing to wear oneself out as a poor knight when everyone else is armoured in gold; yet it is still not necessary to commit enormous errors: if I had remained with the King, the ministerial combination of Talleyrand and Fouché would have been rendered almost impossible; the Restoration would have begun with a moral and honourable ministry, all future options would have been altered. The thoughtlessness that exists in my character deceived me as to the importance of events: most men have the fault of thinking too much of themselves; my fault is in not thinking of myself enough; I cloaked myself in my usual disdain for my own good fortune; I ought to have seen that the fortunes of France were bound up at that instant with those of my little destiny: such historical tangles are very common.
Book XXIII: Chapter 20: From Mons to Gonesse – With Monsieur le Comte Beugnot I oppose Fouché’s nomination as a Minister: my reasons – The Duke of Wellington gains the upper hand – Arnouville – Saint-Denis – A last conversation with the King
Leaving Mons at last, I arrived at Cateau-Cambrésis; Monsieur de Talleyrand re-joined me: we looked as though we were there to recreate the Peace Treaty of 1559 between Henri II of France and Philip II of Spain.
At Cambrai, it emerged that the Marquis de La Suze, Marshal of Lodgings à la the age of Fénelon, had disposed of the rooms reserved for Madame de Lévis, Madame de Chateaubriand and I: we stood in the street, amidst the bonfires, the crowd milling around us, and the citizens shouting: ‘Long live the King!” A student, discovering I was there, led us to his mother’s house.
Friends of the various monarchies of France began to appear; they came to Cambrai not to join the league against Venice, but to combine against the new constitution; they hastened to lay at the King’s feet their successive loyalties and their hatred for the Charter: a passport they judged necessary to get closer to Monsieur; I and two or three other reasonable Gilles, we already smelt like Jacobins.
On the 28th of June, the Proclamation of Cambrai appeared. The King said in it: ‘I only wish to banish from my presence those men whose reputation is a subject of pain to France and dread to Europe.’ Now, the name of Fouché was pronounced with gratitude by the Pavillon Marsan! The king laughed at his brother’s new passion and said: ‘It has not come to him by divine inspiration.’
In Book IV of these Memoirs I have told you that in passing through Cambrai after the Hundred Days, I searched in vain for the lodgings I occupied in my days with the Navarre Regiment, and the café I frequented with La Martinière; all had vanished with my youth.
From Cambrai, we went to stay at Roye: the innkeeper’s wife took Madame de Chateaubriand for Madame la Dauphine; she was led in triumph to a room where there was a table set for thirty: the room, lit by candles, tapers and a large fire, was suffocating. The hostess wished to receive no payment, and said to her: ‘I consider myself at fault for not having found a way of dying on behalf of our monarchy’ It was the last spark of that fire which animated the French for so many centuries.
General Lamothe, Monsieur Laborie’s brother-in-law, arrived, sent by the authorities in the capital, to inform us that it would be impossible for us to present ourselves in Paris without the tricolour cockade. Monsieur de Lafayette and the other Commissioners, having been very badly received by the Allies elsewhere, went cap in hand from one headquarters to another, begging the foreigners for a master of some kind for France: any king, even one chosen by Cossacks, was fine, provided he was not descended from Saint Louis or Louis XIV.
At Roye, a council was held: Monsieur de Talleyrand had two old nags harnessed to his carriage and drove to His Majesty’s. His equipage occupied the whole breadth of the square, from the Minister’s inn to the King’s door. He descended from his chariot with a memoir which he read to us: he considered the policy which would have to be adopted on arrival; he ventured a few words on the necessity of allowing everyone, indiscriminately, to participate in the appointments to be made; he took it as understood that it would even extend, generously, to those who had judged Louis XVI. His Majesty flushed, and striking both hands on the arms of his chair, cried: ‘Never!’ A never lasting twenty-four hours.
At Senlis, we presented ourselves at a canon’s house: his servant received us like dogs; as for the canon, who was not St Rieul patron saint of the town, he only wished to avoid seeing us. His maid had orders not to render us any service other than to sell us whatever we wished to eat, for money: the Génie du Christiansime counted for nothing. Yet Senlis ought to have provided us with a good omen, since it was there that Henri IV escaped from the hands of his gaolers in 1576: ‘I only regret,’ wrote the King, a compatriot of Montaigne, after escaping, ‘ two things that I have left behind in Paris: the mass and my wife.’
From Senlis we travelled to Philippe-Auguste’s cradle, otherwise known as Gonesse. Approaching the town, we saw two men advancing towards us; they were Marshal Macdonald and my faithful friend Hyde de Neuville. They stopped our carriage and asked us where Monsieur de Talleyrand was; they quickly gave me to understand that they were looking for him in order to inform the King that His Majesty must not dream of entering the gates of Paris without having adopted Fouché as a Minister. Anxiety gripped me, since, despite the manner in which Louis XVII had made his decision at Roye, I was not totally reassured. I questioned the Marshal: ‘What! Monsieur le Maréchal,’ I said, ‘is it certain that we cannot enter except under such harsh conditions? – ‘Faith,’ Monsieur le Vicomte, the Marshal replied, ‘I am not so convinced of it.’
The King stopped at Gonesse for two hours. I left Madame de Chateaubriand in the middle of the main street in her carriage, and went to the council meeting at the town hall. There a discussion took place on which depended the future fate of the monarchy. The discussion began: I maintained, with only Monsieur Beugnot’s support, that Louis XVIII should not admit Monsieur Fouché to his council under any circumstances. The King listened: I saw that personally he would have stuck to his words at Roye; but he was dominated by Monsieur, and urged on by the Duke of Wellington.
In a chapter of La Monarchie selon la Charte, I summarised the reasons I put forward at Gonesse. I was inspired; the spoken word has a power which is lost to the written word: ‘Wherever there is a public forum,’ I said in that chapter, ‘whoever may be exposed to reproaches of a certain nature cannot be placed in charge of Government. There have been certain speeches, certain words, which would oblige a like Minister to hand in his resignation and leave the Chamber. It is that unacceptability resulting from the principles of free and representative government that cannot be confirmed if all illusions combine to carry a well-known individual to Ministerial power, despite the only too well-founded repugnance of the Crown. The elevation of this man will produce one of two results: either the abolition of the Charter, or the fall of the Minister when the session opens. Imagine the Minister of whom I speak listening, in the Chamber of Deputies, to the debate of the 21st of January, able to be harangued at every moment by some deputy from Lyons, and threatened continually with a terrible Tu es ille vir! (Thou art the man!) Men of this sort can only be employed, ostensibly, among the mutes of Bajazet’s Seraglio or the mutes of Bonaparte’s Legislature.’ I said: ‘What will become of the Minister if a deputy, mounting to the rostrum, Moniteur in hand, reads the report of the Convention of the 9th of August 1795; if he demands the expulsion of Fouché as unworthy by virtue of that report which drove him out, he Fouché (I cite the text), like a thief and a terrorist, whose atrocious and criminal conduct would bring dishonour and opprobrium on every assembly of which he might become a member?’
These are the things they had chosen to forget!
After all that were they so wretched as to believe that a man of that kind could ever be of benefit? He needed to be left behind the scenes, to meditate on his sad experiences; but to do violence to the Crown and public opinion, to summon bare-facedly such a Minister to office, a man whom Bonaparte, at that very moment, treated as vile, was that not to declare a renunciation of liberty and virtue? Is the Crown worth such a sacrifice? It no longer had the power to banish anyone: who could one banish having accepted Fouché?
The parties acted without considering the form of government they had adopted; everyone spoke of the constitution, liberty, equality, the rights of nations, and no one wanted any of it; fashionable verbiage: they asked, without thinking about it, for news of the Charter, while all hoping it would soon die. Liberals and Royalists inclined towards absolute government, modified by custom: it is the French temperament and style. Material interests dominated; they had no wish to renounce, they said, what they had done during the Revolution; each was responsible for his own life and intended to charge his neighbour with his: wrong-doing, they assured us, had become an element of public life, which from now on was a factor in government, and penetrated society like a vital principle.
My whim, in supporting a Charter directed by religious and moral action, was the source of the ill will certain parties bore towards me: as far as the Royalists were concerned, I loved liberty too much; to the Revolutionaries, I was someone who spurned their crimes too obviously. If, to my great detriment, I had not happened to be there to make myself master of the Constitutionalist school, the Ultras and the Jacobins would, from the start, have stuffed the Charter into the pockets of their morning-coats decorated with fleur-de-lys, or their carmagnoles à la Cassius.
Monsieur de Talleyrand did not like Monsieur Fouché; Monsieur Fouché detested and, what is stranger, despised Monsieur Talleyrand: it was difficult to be successful that way. Monsieur de Talleyrand, who had at first been content not to be coupled with Monsieur Fouché, feeling that it was inevitable, gave his support to the project; he did not realise that given the Charter (especially if he were united with the man who bombarded Lyons) there was hardly a credible position any longer for Fouché.
What I had predicted was quickly born out: no advantage would accrue from the admission of the Duke of Otranto, it would receive only opprobrium; the mere shadow of the Chambers being imminent sufficed to make Ministers who were too exposed to the freedom of the rostrum, vanish.
My opposition was useless: according to the custom of weak characters, the King rose from the session with nothing agreed; the decree was to be decided at the Château d’Arnouville.
No proper council was held in this latter residence; the intimates and affiliates alone met in secret. Monsieur de Talleyrand, having arrived before us, spoke to his friends. The Duke of Wellington arrived; I saw him pass in a barouche; the feathers in his hat waving in the air; he had come to bestow Monsieur Fouché and Monsieur Talleyrand on France, a twofold gift which the victor of Waterloo was granting to our country. When it was suggested to him that the Duke of Otranto’s regicide might perhaps be a drawback, he replied: ‘That’s a mere detail.’ An Irish Protestant, a British General foreign to our way of life and our history, a mind which saw in the France of 1793 only its English antecedent of 1649, was charged with deciding our fate! Bonaparte’s ambition had brought us to this wretched state.
I roamed alone through the gardens from which the Controller General Machault, at the age of ninety-three, went to die in the Madelonnettes; since at that time death in his grand review forgot no one. I was no longer summoned; the familiarities of mutual misfortune had ceased between sovereign and subject: the King was preparing to enter his palace, I my retreat. The void reforms around monarchs as soon as they regain power. I rarely traversed the silent uninhabited halls of the Tuileries that brought me to the King’s bureau, without serious reflection: to me, only deserts of another sort, infinite solitudes where worlds themselves vanish before God, are real.
We lacked bread at Arnouville; without an officer of the name of Dubourg, driven from Ghent along with us, we would have starved. Monsieur Dubourg went foraging; he brought us, in flight, a shoulder of mutton from the Mayor’s residence. If the Mayor’s servant, a heroine from Beauvais alone there, had possessed any weapons, she would have received us like Jeanne Hachette.
We went on to Saint-Denis: along both sides of the road stretched the bivouacs of the Prussians and English; the spires of the Abbey could be seen far off: into its foundations Dagobert hurled his jewels, within its vaults successive dynasties buried their kings and great men; four months earlier we had deposited the bones of Louis XVI there to replace the dust of his predecessors. When I returned from my first exile in 1800, I had crossed this same plain of Saint-Denis; as yet only Napoleon’s soldiers were camped there; Frenchmen were yet again replacing the old bands of the Constable de Montmorency.
L'Été à Paris - Jules Gabriel Janin (p108, 1843)
The British Library
A baker housed us. At nine in the evening, I went to pay my court to the King. His Majesty was lodged in the Abbey buildings: it was all anyone could do to prevent the little girls of the Legion of Honour from shouting: ‘Long Live Napoleon!’ I went into the church first; a piece of wall next to the cloister had fallen: the ancient Abbey Church was lit by a single lamp. I said my prayers at the entrance to the vault into which I had seen Louis XVI lowered: full of fear as to the future, I do not know if I have ever felt my heart flooded by a more profound and religious sadness. Next I took myself to His Majesty’s: shown into one of the rooms leading to that of the King, I found no one there; I sat in a corner and waited. Suddenly a door opened: silently Vice entered leaning on the arm of Crime, Monsieur de Talleyrand walking in supported by Monsieur Fouché; the infernal vision passed slowly before me, penetrated to the King’s room, and vanished. Fouché had come to swear fealty and do homage to his lord; the faithful regicide, on his knees, laid the hands which caused Louis XVI’s head to fall, between the hands of the Royal Martyr’s brother; the apostate bishop went surety for the oath.
On the following day, the Faubourg Saint-Germain arrived: all things were confounded in Fouché’s nomination which had already been achieved, religion with impiety, virtue with vice, royalist with revolutionary, foreigner with Frenchman; on every side the cry went up; ‘Without Fouché there is no security for the King, without Fouché there is no security for France; he alone has already saved the country, he alone can finish the job.’ The old Duchesse de Duras was one of the most animated singers of the hymn; the Bailli de Crussol, a survivor of Malta, made up the chorus; he declared that if his head was still on his shoulders, it was because Monsieur Fouché had allowed it. The timorous had received such a fright under Napoleon they took the perpetrator of the massacre at Lyons for a new Titus. For more than three months the salons of the Faubourg Saint-Germain considered me a miscreant because I disapproved of the nomination of their Ministers. Those poor wretches, they prostrated themselves at the feet of parvenus; they gossiped as ever about their nobility, their hatred for revolutionaries, their unfailing loyalty, the inflexibility of their principles, and they adored Fouché!
Fouché had realised the incompatibility between his ministerial existence and the play of representative monarchy: as he could not involve himself with the elements of legal government, he tried to render the political elements compatible with his own nature. He created an artificial Terror; assuming imaginary dangers, he intended to force the Crown to acknowledge Bonaparte’s two Chambers and receive the declaration of rights which was hurriedly perfected; several words were even muttered concerning the necessity of exiling Monsieur and his sons: the masterwork would have been to isolate the King.
People continued to be taken in: the National Guard traversed the walls of Paris, in vain, to come and protest their devotion; we were assured that the Guard was ill-disposed towards us. The faction had closed the gates in order to prevent the people, who had remained loyal during the Hundred Days, from rushing through, and it was asserted that the people had threatened to kill Louis XVIII as he passed by. The blindness of it all was amazing, since the French Army had withdrawn to the Loire, five hundred thousand Allies occupied the positions around the capital, and yet it was continually claimed that the King was not powerful enough to enter a city where not one soldier remained, where there were only citizens left, quite capable of containing a handful of Federalists, if they had stirred into life. Unfortunately the King, through a series of fatal coincidences, appeared to be the leader of the English and Prussians; he thought he was surrounded by liberators, and he was accompanied by enemies; he appeared to be encircled by a guard of honour, and that guard was only in reality made up of policemen who would conduct him from his kingdom: he only crossed Paris in the company of foreigners the memory of whom would serve one day as a pretext for banishing his race.
The Provisional Government formed since Bonaparte’s abdication was dissolved by a kind of act of prosecution lodged against the Crown: a foundation stone on which they hoped to construct a new revolution one day.
At the First Restoration I was of the opinion that they should have kept the tricolour cockade: it shone in all its glory; the white cockade was forgotten; retaining the colours which had legitimised so many victories, did not imply readying an emblem to rally around in some anticipated revolution. Not to adopt the white cockade would have been wise; to abandon it even though it had now been worn by Bonaparte’s grenadiers was cowardice: one cannot pass the Caudine Forks with impunity; what dishonours is fatal: a slap in the face does you no lasting physical harm, and yet it may kill you.
Before leaving Saint-Denis, I was received by the King, and had the following conversation with him:
‘Well?’ said Louis XVIII, opening the dialogue with this exclamation. – ‘Well, Sire, you have decided on the Duke of Otranto?
– It was essential: from my brother down to the Bailli de Crussol (and he is above suspicion), everyone said we could not do otherwise: what do you think?
– Sire, the thing is done: I ask Your Majesty’s permission to say nothing.
– No, no, speak: you know how I have resisted it since leaving Ghent.
– Sire, I am only obeying your command; pardon my loyalty: I think the monarchy is done for.’
The King remained silent; I was beginning to tremble at my boldness, when His Majesty continued:
– ‘Well, Monsieur de Chateaubriand, I am of your opinion.’
This conversation concludes my account of the Hundred Days.
End of Book XXIII