[Transcriber's note: Obvious printer's errors have been corrected, all other inconsistencies are as in the original. The author's spelling has been maintained.]
RETURN, AND REIGN
Ingrata patria, ne ossa quidem habes. SCIPIO.
BY M. FLEURY DE CHABOULON,
Ex-Secretary of the Emperor Napoleon and of his Cabinets, Master of Requests to the Council of State, Baron, Officer of the Legion of Honour, and Knight of the Order of Reunion.
LONDON: JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE-STREET. 1820.
TO THE READER.
The revolution of the 20th of March will form unquestionably the most remarkable episode in the life of Napoleon, so fertile as it is in supernatural events. It has not been my intention, to write the history of it: this noble task is above my powers: I have only attempted, to place Napoleon on the stage of action, and oppose his words, his deeds, and the truth, to the erroneous assertions of certain historians, the falsehoods of the spirit of party, and the insults of those timeserving writers, who are accustomed to insult in misfortune those, to whom they have subsequently paid court.
Hitherto people have not been able to agree on the motives and circumstances, that determined the Emperor, to quit the island of Elba. Some supposed, that he had acted of his own accord: others, that he had conspired with his partisans the downfal of the Bourbons. Both these suppositions are equally false. The world will learn with surprise, perhaps with admiration, that this astonishing revolution was the work of two individuals and a few words.
The narrative of Colonel Z***, so valuable from the facts it reveals, appears to me to merit the reader's attention in other respects. On studying it carefully, we find in it the exhibition of those defects, those qualities, those passions, which, confounded together, form the character, so full of contrasts, of the incomprehensible Napoleon. We perceive him alternatively mistrustful and communicative, ardent and reserved, enterprising and irresolute, vindictive and generous, favourable to liberty and despotic. But we see predominant above all, that activity, that strength, that ardour of mind, those brilliant inspirations, and those sudden resolves, that belong only to extraordinary men, to men of genius.
The conferences I had at Bale with the mysterious agent of Prince Metternich have remained to this day buried in profound secrecy. The historians, who have preceded me, relate, without any explanation, that the Duke of Otranto laid before the Emperor, at the moment of his abdication, a letter from M. de Metternich; and that this letter, artfully worded, had determined Napoleon to abdicate, in the hope that the crown would devolve to his son. The particulars given in these Memoirs will entirely change the ideas formed of this letter, and of its influence. They confirm the opinion too, pretty generally prevalent, that the allied sovereigns deemed the restoration of the Bourbons of little importance, and would willingly have consented, to place the young Prince Napoleon on the throne.
It had been supposed, that the famous decree, by which Prince de Talleyrand and his illustrious accomplices were sent before the courts of justice, was issued at Lyons in the first burst of a fit of vengeance. It will be seen, that it was the result of a plan simply political: and the noble resistance, which General Bertrand (now labouring under a sentence of death) thought it his duty to oppose to this measure, will add, if it be possible, to the high esteem, merited on so many accounts by this faithful friend to the unfortunate.
The writings published previously to this work, equally contain nothing but inaccurate or fabulous reports, with regard to the abdication of Napoleon. Certain historians have been pleased, to represent Napoleon in a pitious state of despondency: others have depicted him as the sport of the threats of M. Regnault St. Jean d'Angely, and of the artifices of the Duke of Otranto. These Memoirs will show, that Napoleon, far from having fallen into a state of weakness, that would no longer permit him to wield the sceptre, aspired, on the contrary, to be invested with a temporary dictatorship, and that, when he consented to abdicate, it was because the energetic attitude of the representatives disconcerted him, and he yielded to the fear of adding the calamities of a civil war to the disasters of a foreign invasion.
It was perfectly unknown too, that Napoleon was detained a prisoner at Malmaison after his abdication. It was presumed, that he deferred his departure, in the hope of being replaced at the head of the army and of the government. These Memoirs will show, that this hope, if it dwelt within the breast of Napoleon, was not the real motive of his stay in France; and that he was detained there by the committee of government, till the moment when, honour outweighing all political considerations, it obliged Napoleon to depart, to prevent his falling into the hands of Blucher.
The negotiations and conferences of the French plenipotentiaries with the enemy's generals; the proceedings of the Prince of Eckmuhl; the intrigues of the Duke of Otranto; the efforts of those members of the committee, who remained faithful to their trust; the debates on the capitulation of Paris, and all the collateral facts, connected with these different circumstances, had been totally misrepresented; These Memoirs establish or unfold the truth. They bring to light the conduct of those members of the committee, who were supposed to be the dupes or accomplices of Fouche; and that of the marshals, the army, and the chambers. They contain also the correspondence of the plenipotentiaries, and the instructions given to them; documents hitherto unpublished, which will make known, what the politics and wishes of the government of France at that time were.
Finally I shall observe, in order to complete the account I think it right to give the reader of the substance of this work, that it furnishes elucidations of the campaign of 1815, the want of which has been imperiously felt. The causes, that determined Napoleon, to separate from his army at Laon, were not known: I point them out. General Gourgaud, in his narrative, could give no explanation of the march of the corps of Count Erlon at the battle of Ligny, of the conduct of Marshal Ney on the 16th, of the inactivity of Napoleon on the 17th, &c. All these points, I believe, I have elucidated. I show also, that it was not, as General Gourgaud and other writers assert, to raise the spirits, and excite the courage of the French army, that its leader announced to it the arrival of Marshal Grouchy. It is a certain fact, that Napoleon was himself deceived by a brisk firing, which took place between the Prussians and Saxons; and it is falsely, that he has been charged with having knowingly deceived his soldiers, at a moment when the laws of war and of humanity presented to him, to think rather of a retreat, than of continuing the battle.
I had at first rejected from these Memoirs such official papers, as had already been made known: but have since thought, that they ought to be inserted. This work, which embraces all the events of the reign of a Hundred Days, would be imperfect, if the reader were obliged to refer to the papers of the day; to read or consult the act of the congress of Vienna, that placed the Emperor Napoleon out of the pale of the law of nations; the Additional Act, which occasioned his loss of popularity; and the eloquent speeches and nervous declarations by which Napoleon, his ministers, and his counsellors, sought to explain and justify the 20th of March. I have thought, besides, that perhaps the reader would not find it uninteresting, to witness the contests exhibited, at that important period, between the legitimacy of nations and the legitimacy of sovereigns.
The colours under which I represent Napoleon, the justice I do him for the purity of his intentions, will not please all the world. Many persons, who would blindly have believed any ill I could say of the ancient sovereigns of France, will give little credit to my eulogies: they are wrong: if praises lavished on power be suspicious, those bestowed on the unfortunate will be true; to doubt them would be sacrilege.
Neither can I conceal from myself, that the men, who, from principle, see nothing but a hateful conspiracy in the revolution of the 20th of March, will accuse me of having embellished facts, and designedly distorted the truth. No matter: I have depicted this revolution as I saw it, as I felt it. How many others are pleased, to tarnish the honour of the nation, to represent their countrymen as composed of rebels or cowards! For my part, I think it the duty of a good Frenchman, to prove to all Europe, that the king was not guilty of abandoning France:
That the insurrection of the 20th of March was not the work of a few factious persons, who might have been repressed; but a grand national act, against which the efforts and volitions of individuals would have been vain:
That the royalists were not cowards, and all other Frenchmen traitors:
Lastly, that the return from the island of Elba was the terrible consequence of the faults of ministers and the ultras, which called to France the man of fate, as the conductor draws down the lightning from heaven.
This sentiment naturally led me, to conclude these Memoirs by a philosophical examination of the Hundred Days, and a refutation of the reproaches daily bestowed on the men of the 20th of March: but considerations, easy to divine, held my pen. It was my duty, to content myself with placing a statement of the facts before the eyes of the grand jury, the public, and leave it to decide. I know, that the question has been determined in the fields of Waterloo; but a victory is not a judicial sentence.
Whatever opinion the impartial reader may form of this work, I can protest beforehand, that I have not allowed myself to be influenced by any private consideration, by any feeling of hatred, affection, or gratitude. I have followed no impulse but that of my conscience, and I may say with Montaigne: "This is an honest book."
Too young to have participated in the errors or crimes of the revolution, I began and ended my political career without blot, and without reproach. The places, titles, and decorations, which the Emperor deigned to bestow on me, were the reward of several acts of great devotion to his service, and of twelve years of trials and sacrifices. Never did I receive from him any favours or gifts: I entered his service rich, I quitted it poor.
When Lyons opened to him its gates, I was free: I spontaneously embraced his cause: it appeared to me, as to the immense number of Frenchmen, that of liberty, honour, and our country. The laws of Solon declared infamous those, who took no part in civil troubles. I followed their maxims. If the misfortunes of the 20th of March must fall on the heads of the guilty, these guilty, I repeat, will not be in the eye of posterity, the Frenchmen who abandoned the royal standard, to return to the ancient colours of their country; but those imprudent and senseless men, who, by their threats, their acts of injustice, and their outrages, compelled us to choose between insurrection and slavery, between honour and infamy.
During the Hundred Days, there was no person to whom I did an ill turn; frequently I had an opportunity of doing good, and seized it with joy.
Since the return of the regal government, I have lived tranquil and solitary; and, whether from forgetfulness, or from a sense of justice, I escaped in 1815 the persecutions, which the partisans and servants of Napoleon experienced.
This explanation, or this apology, appeared to me necessary: it is right the reader should know, who it is that addresses him.
I could have wished, to abstain from speaking of the royal government in the first part of this work: but it was impossible. It was necessary for me, prominently to exhibit the errors and faults of the king's ministers one by one, to render evident this truth, that they were the sole authors of the 20th of March. When elsewhere, as here, I say the government, I mean not to designate the King, but his ministers. In a constitutional monarchy, in which the ministers are responsible, we cannot, and ought not to confound them with the King. "It is from the King," said the keeper of the seals, when he proposed to the deputies of the nation the project of a law on the responsibility of ministers, "that every act of equity, protection, and clemency, and every regular employment of power, emanates: it is to the ministers alone, that abuses, injustice, and misconduct, are to be imputed."
Until the close of the Spanish war, Napoleon, whether as the First Consul of the Republic, or as the Chief of the Empire, had never ceased to be the object of the love, the pride, and the confidence of the people. But the multitude neither judge, nor can judge of the actions of their rulers but from appearances which often mislead them in their judgment; and the loyalty of the nation then became enfeebled. The conduct of Napoleon was stigmatized as a series of hateful aggressions; the war, as an unjustifiable act of violence. Disaffection increased. Napoleon was assailed by the anger of his subjects, and, for the first time, they upbraided him with having spilt their blood, and wasted their riches, in gratifying his vain and culpable ambition.
At this juncture the public mind became absorbed in the contemplation of the invasion of Russia, and the general discontent was withdrawn from the events which had taken place in the peninsula.
Our arms were crowned with good fortune and glory at the commencement of the Russian war; but that conflict was ended by a catastrophe which has no parallel in the annals of the world.
The Emperor, who escaped almost alone from the perils of the campaign, returned to the capital. His countenance was that of a hero who defies adversity. But his firmness was deemed to be the result of heartless insensibility. Instead of inspiring the people with hope, it embittered their feelings. Louder murmurs broke forth; their indignation expressed itself with greater emphasis. Yet such was the enthusiasm which was even then inspired by the proud recollections of the triumphs of Napoleon, that France, blushing for her disgrace, implored him to win new victories. Armies formed themselves as if by enchantment, and Napoleon stood again in the midst of Germany, more terrible than ever.
After we had conquered at Lutzen, at Bautzen, and at Dresden, the battle of Leipsic was fought. Never before that day had we been doomed to witness our national armies flying before the enemy. The scattered wrecks of our battalions, which had been created by the last hope, by the last effort of our country, at length reached our frontiers. But our soldiers were no longer the vigorous and resolute warriors of France; they were bowed down by want, toil, and humiliation. Soon afterwards they were followed by wandering trains of military carriages, loaded with diseased and wounded wretches, who festered beneath the corpses amongst which they were heaped, and who at once absorbed and diffused the germs of pestilence and contagion. Even the firmest minds now yielded to despair; and the grief occasioned by the havoc now made amongst our defenders renewed the sorrows of the mothers and the wives of those who erewhile had perished in Russia and in Spain. Curses upon Napoleon, the author of all these evils, resounded from side to side of the empire.
[Footnote 1: The misfortunes of that eventful day, and of the remainder of the campaign, were caused by the treachery of the Saxons and the defection of the Princes of the Confederation of the Rhine.]
As long as good fortune waited upon Napoleon, his most ambitious attempts commanded the applauses of the nation. We boasted of his profound political wisdom, we extolled his genius, we worshipped his courage. When his fortune changed, then his political wisdom was called treachery, his genius, ambition, and his courage, fool-hardiness and infatuation.
Napoleon was not to be depressed by ingratitude or misfortune. He re-assembled the feeble fragments of his armies, and proclaimed aloud that he would conquer or die at the head of his soldiery. This resolution only produced a momentary impression. The French, who so lately believed that the happiness and salvation of France depended only upon the life of Napoleon, now coolly considered that his death, the fate which he was prepared to encounter, afforded the only means of putting an end to the calamities of war, for peace otherwise appeared unattainable.
Napoleon departed. He achieved prodigies, but to no effect. National spirit no longer existed, and the nation had gradually sunk into that state of insensibility so fatal to sovereigns, when the public mind has no perception of their dangers, and abandons them to their destiny.
France was thus affected when Napoleon consented to divest himself of his crown. The apathy of the nation drove him to this extremity; for it deprived him of the means either of carrying on the war, or of making peace.
[Footnote 2: Napoleon, according to the common report, was frequently heard to repeat, after his abdication, "I have been ruined by liberal ideas." I do not think that he ever expressed himself in this manner. I do not intend to doubt the irresistible force which liberal ideas have now acquired; but I do not think, that they contributed to effect the first downfal of the imperial throne. Nobody thought about liberal ideas at that period. France had been trained to the government of Napoleon, and his despotism gave rise to no complaints. She was not free in the manner according to which the nation now wishes to enjoy liberty. But the liberty which France then possessed was enough for the French. Napoleon would often exercise unlimited authority, but the country had only one master, and he was the master of all. If it is true that the French abandoned Napoleon in 1814, it was not because we were tired of Napoleon or discontented with his government, but because the nation was exhausted, discouraged, and demoralized by an uninterrupted succession of calamitous wars. The people would still have been delighted to obey him, but they had neither strength nor soul.
The real causes of the downfal of Napoleon are to be found in his hatred towards England, and in the continental system, which resulted from that hatred. This gigantic system, which oppressed all Europe, could not fail to raise the entire continent against Napoleon and France, and thus to bring on the ruin of both. "Rome," as it is said by Montesquieu, "extended her empire because her wars only followed in succession. Each nation, such was her inconceivable good fortune, waited till another had been conquered, before beginning the attack." Rome fell as soon as all the nations assailed and penetrated on every side.]
Hostilities ended with the abdication of Napoleon. The people of Paris, who had scarcely recovered from the panic with which they were struck by the marauding hordes of Russia, displayed the most extravagant gladness when they thought that they were delivered from the visitation, which again threatened them in the presence of the allies and the imperial army.
The neighbouring departments, which the enemy prepared to invade, rejoiced on being relieved from impending pillage and devastation.
The departments which had been occupied by the enemy were intoxicated with joy, when they anticipated the termination of their sufferings.
Thus almost all the people of France turned away from their discarded sovereign. And they abandoned themselves to joy when they thought that they were delivered from the scourge of war, and that they could hope to enjoy the blessings of peace.
It was in the midst of this pouring out of the spirit of selfishness, that the senate raised the brother of Louis XVI. to the throne. His election was not in conformity to the expectations of the people, and it disappointed the wishes which had been uttered in favour of the Empress and her son; yet the choice of the senate was but slightly opposed, because the recall of Louis seemed to be necessarily the pledge of peace. And peace was more the object of the public wish than any other thing. Besides which, the Bourbons followed the wise counsels which had been given to them. They lost no time in issuing their proclamations, couched in fair language, in order to calm the fears and diminish the antipathies excited by their recall.
"We will guarantee," said they, "the rank, the honours, and the rewards of the military.
"The magistracy and all public functionaries shall retain their offices and their pre-eminence.
"To the people we promise a total oblivion of their political conduct; and we will maintain them in the full enjoyment of their civil rights, their property, and their social institutions."
The French nation, whose confidence is so easily abused, considered these promises as sacred and inviolable, and they delighted in repeating the happy reply of the Count of Artois, "Il n'y aura rien de change en France, il n'y aura que quelques Francais de plus." They, the men, who had banished the imperial dynasty, laboured to foster the growing confidence of the nation. The press was brought into full play, and the country teemed with publications in which they represented the sovereign whom they had brought in, as invested with those attributes which were calculated to conciliate the nation. The public were carefully informed, that the king "opened and read all the dispatches himself. It is he who dictates every answer. Where it becomes necessary to meet the ministers of foreign powers, he transacts business with them; he receives the reports of their missions, which he answers either by word of mouth, or in writing. In short, he alone directs all the concerns of the government, both at home and abroad. If his virtues and goodness are such as to cause the French to know that they will now find a kind and affectionate father in their King, they may also look with confidence to the future fate of the nation, relying on his brilliant information, his strength of character, and his aptitude for business."
[Footnote 3: He arrived at Paris before his august brother, and by these pleasing expressions he replied to the addresses of congratulation presented to him by the municipality of Paris.]
[Footnote 4: Extracted from the Journal des Debats. The principal proprietor and editor of this paper was Monsieur Laborie, one of Talleyrand's creatures, and private secretary to the provisional government.]
Thus the people congratulated themselves, when they were assured that their Chief Magistrate was an enlightened sovereign, a kind sovereign, an equitable sovereign, and one who was determined not to allow the guiding reins of the state to slip from his paternal hands into those of his ministers. Our lively imagination gave us a present enjoyment of the blessings, which, as we anticipated, would hereafter be diffused over the kingdom by his goodness, his prudence, and his acquirements. If this glowing vision of hope and loyalty was slightly dimmed by a few secret doubts, such misgivings were checked and repelled by the name of our native country; nay, by the name of the Emperor himself. For when Napoleon bade farewell to his trusty soldiers, it was in these words: "Be faithful to the new sovereign of France; do not rend asunder our beloved and long-suffering land."
These circumstances (nor must the charm of novelty be excluded) united in favour of the king, and won every head and every heart. He appeared—he was received with acclamations of love and gladness, which resounded until he entered the palace of his forefathers.
No counter revolution ever effected the change of a royal dynasty, under such favourable auspices.
The French nation felt jaded by civil dissensions, by misfortune—even their victories had weaned them. They longed for the happiness of repose. Memorable were the words of the king's brother; "let us forget the past, let us look only towards the future, let us all unite in the good work of labouring to heal the wounds of our common country;" and these honoured precepts had become implanted in every mind. They formed the canon of all our feelings and all our duties.
As long as the machinery of the new government did not begin to work, this loyal harmony subsisted, and no longer. For when it became necessary to settle the organization of the army, the ministry, and the magistracy, then self-love gained an easy victory over patriotism, and the bad passions, pride, ambition, and party-hatred, roused themselves from their slumber.
During a quarter of a century, our emigrants had sojourned in a strange country. Useless and troublesome guests to the strangers by whom they were fed, their lives had been droned away in shameless and cowardly idleness. They could not cheat themselves into a belief that they possessed the talents and experience of the sons of the revolution. But they imagined that nobility, as in the old time, might pass for worth; and that their patents and pedigrees still gave them a right to monopolize all power and all honour.
The citizens, the soldiers, the nation, relied on the lawfulness of their rights no less than on the promises of the king. The members of the old privileged caste, instead of exciting suspicion, were only the objects of harmless mirth. The people laughed at the grotesque appearance of some, and at the decrepit sottishness of others. They never dreamed that these pretended warriors, whose bloodless swords had rusted in their scabbards, would attempt to snatch the staff of command from the veteran generals of France; and that nobles who had grown old in sloth and ignorance would aspire to the direction of public affairs.
But though merit and valour were denied to them, they stood upon a vantage ground, which gave them a direful and incalculable preponderance in the state. They surrounded the throne. Soon did their insolence announce that they had craftily availed themselves of the advantages which they possessed; and we foresaw with affliction that inveterate prejudice, malignant prepossessions, and old habits of familiarity, would, sooner or later, crush the principles of justice and equity, however solemnly proclaimed.
The emigrants, rendered arrogant by the prospects which opened upon them, now treated their rivals with contemptuous disdain. They dared not insult the defenders of our country face to face, because the scars of the warriors scared them. But they were spitefully active in disparaging their birth, their services, and their glory, and these noble retainers of royalty took care to impress the soldiers of Napoleon with a due sense of the width of the gulf which was henceforth to separate a gentleman of good family, from an upstart soldier of the revolution.
The women of the ancien regime did not share in the timidity which, to a certain degree, still restrained their husbands. They threw off all decency and all reserve, and indulged in all the fury of their spite and pride. Without attempting to disguise their sentiments, they openly insulted the titled dames belonging to the new nobility, and such of the latter as were compelled to go to court on account of the situations held by their husbands, never entered the saloon without dread, and never quitted it without being bathed in tears.
Uneasy, harassed, and discontented, the people implored the fulfilment of the king's promises: they prayed with confidence; but the government heard them not, and repulsed them harshly. The Doge of Genoa, speaking of Louis XIV, said, "his majesty steals our hearts by his amiability, but his ministers give them back again to us." The apophthegm of the Doge might have been pertinently applied to Louis XVIII. by the people.
Hitherto the government appeared to adhere to the resolution of dealing out impartial justice to both parties, and of performing the covenant which the new monarch had entered into with the nation. But now he was bound by an influence which he could not withstand. Ensnared by the machinations, the threats, and the fears of his emigrant court, and perhaps believing that the new order of things was incompatible with the stability of the Bourbon dynasty, the maxims of his government underwent a total change. He was taught to consider the equality of civil rights as a revolutionary conquest, the liberties of the nation as an usurpation of the authority of the throne, the new constitution as insulting the independence of the sovereign. It was therefore determined that all "dangerous characters" should be led quietly out of all civil and military offices. The old trustworthy nobility of the old kingdom were again to become the sole depositaries of the power of the state: and by slow but sure degrees it was resolved to cancel the royal charter, and either by fair means or by foul, to place the nation again beneath the yoke of absolute power.
[Footnote 5: This expression was one of those of which the ministers made the worst use. If they were told that any magistrate, any officer, any functionary, whom they had turned out, had fulfilled his duties with honour and distinction, that he was loved and regretted by the people, they answered, "he is a dangerous character," and there was an end of the business.]
The government often appealed to the authority of the King's predecessor on the throne—of Bonaparte. Bonaparte, it was said, had acknowledged that it was dangerous to concede a representative government to the people, and that it was fit and proper to rule them despotically. But Napoleon, he who re-established the authority of royalty, morality, and religion—who had re-organized society—who had given tranquillity to France, at the same time that he rendered her formidable to the world—he had earned his authority by his services and his victories, and, if I may venture to use the expression, he had acquired a legitimate right of despotism, which neither belonged, nor could belong, to a Bourbon. Besides which, in spite of the real or pretended despotism of the imperial government, it was still a national government; a character wholly foreign to the Bourbon government, and which it had no tendency to acquire.
The prognostics of the re-action which the ministers intended to bring about were disclosed in all parts of the body politic. Alarm seized even the Chamber of Deputies: it hastened to become the organ of the uneasiness of the people, and to remind the King of the warranty which he had given to the nation.
In the address, or rather in the protest presented by the chamber on the 15th of June, the national representatives say, "The charter secures to the voice of truth every channel which leads to the throne, since it consecrates the liberty of the press, and the right of petition.
"Amongst the guarantees which it contains, the nation will attend to that which insures the responsibility of any minister who may betray the confidence reposed in him by your Majesty, by trespassing on the public or private rights insured by the constitutional charter.
"By virtue of this charter, nobility in all future times will only command the respect of the people as surrounded by proofs of honour and glory, which the recollections of feudality will not have the power of tarnishing.
"The principles of civil liberty are founded upon the independence of judicial authority, and the retention of trial by jury, that invaluable guarantee of all our rights."
If the King had known the truth, this energetic address would have attained its end. But the truth could not reach him. At first he intended to bestow his personal confidence upon the greater part of the leading "notables" of the revolution; but by means of remonstrances and recriminations, another party contrived to place his good sense again under the yoke of prejudice, and he surrounded himself with old nobility alone, with men who had refused to obey the constitution sanctioned by Louis XVI., because it destroyed their privileges; and who, for the same reason, had refused to acknowledge the new constitution, against which they had even dared to protest. His companions were so blinded, so besotted by their presumption, that they imagined that decrees and ordinances gave them the faculty of overturning the edifice which the nation had erected during five and twenty years of revolution. His confidents were those alone who, instead of wishing to reveal to their sovereign the object of the projects of the ministry, and of the faction which had rendered the ministry their tools, had become the accomplices of ministerial guilt, joint conspirators in the plot which was to destroy the royal charter.
The cabinet contained, however, some able and experienced statesmen. They were convinced that instead of teasing the nation by holding out the probability of the restoration of ancient privileges, it was the duty of government to tranquillize the country by guaranteeing the stability of the new system of polity. These ministers were aware of the impolicy of attempting to re-establish the monarchy on its ancient principles; because by such an attempt it would be deprived of the only advantage which it possessed over the late government—that of being liberal. And, lastly, they felt that if despotism and violence had been the distinguishing characteristics of the government of Napoleon, it was necessary that moderation and justice should be the attributes of the government of a Bourbon.
But they had not sufficient authority or personal influence to enable them to struggle against the emigrants, and the protectors of the emigrant faction. In the council chamber their opinions, often well concerted, and always benevolent, were sanctioned and approved. Out of the council, each minister acted according to his own plans; and, unfortunately, those departments which ramify most deeply into the nation and its affairs were confided to men who seemed to think that they were bound to irritate and sour the public mind.
General Dupont obtained the important office of minister of the war department, as a reward due to his proscription. According to the government party, the general had been proscribed by the Emperor. An odious name was thus given to the lenient punishment which had been inflicted upon Dupont, he who had shuffled off the allegiance which he owed to his Emperor, and whose cowardice had surrendered into captivity the legions intrusted to his command. Weak, indolent, irresolute, devoid of character and resources, he never had the wish or the ability of becoming any thing else than the pliant functionary of the court and the ruling courtiers.
[Footnote 6: When Dupont capitulated to the Spaniards, the insurgents refused to acknowledge the Emperor. Dupont therefore only took the title of general in the French service.]
Another, the Abbe de Montesquiou, received the "porte-feuille" of the home department. When a member of the Constituent Assembly he had been honourably distinguished by his soft and persuasive eloquence. The temperance of his public conduct seemed to be insured by his personal character; he was a servant of the altar, his health was delicate, he had lived long in quiet retirement. But Montesquiou, meek, mild, and timid as long as he was in the background, became scornful, angry, and overbearing the instant that he stepped into power. He detested and despised the revolution—I may almost say, he detested and despised the nation. This sentiment was the principle which guided him. Montesquiou never deigned to inquire whether any given portion of our polity was sound or useful, whether it had been formed with difficulty, whether it could be modified, or ameliorated, or fitted into existing circumstances. He only inquired into the date of its institution—and the date decided the question.
A third, Dambray, the chancellor, and the chief law officer of the nation, had distinguished himself in his youth as a Judge of Parliament. His credit arose from his prudence and his principles no less than from his talents. He had been long since recalled to his country. During the reign of Napoleon he fulfilled the duties of a citizen and a subject with zeal and fidelity. We never doubted but that he would protect those constitutional forms of government under which he had flourished in peace and honour. Scarcely, however, was the Chancellor clothed in his robe, when he became the oppressor of the magistracy, the antagonist of our new system of jurisprudence, and the dull partisan of those slavish forms and barbarous customs and oppressive edicts, which had been long since annihilated by reason, liberty, and knowledge.
The trust reposed in this portion of the cabinet was a source of unhappiness to the nation, but it was not the only one. Louis, according to the promises held out on his restoration, was to reign in person; and the more the French have ever been desirous to obey their sovereign with cheerful alacrity, the greater is the repugnance which they feel to submit to the orders of his minions. Dismay, therefore, prevailed throughout the kingdom when we learnt that Louis, weakened by an obstinate and painful disease, had entirely divested himself of his royal authority in favour of Monsieur de Blacas. And how much more painful did our consternation become, when we were able to understand the views and projects of this Mayor of the palace, and when we ascertained the baneful extent of his ascendancy.
It was impossible that the royal government, including such elements in its composition, could retain its hold on public opinion. It was seen too clearly that the effects of a despicable coterie would tend either to involve our country in a civil war, or overwhelm us again with the wretchedness and slavery from which we had been delivered by the revolution.
The absolute necessity of rising in opposition to these nefarious attempts was felt by the entire country. Not a man would remain neuter.
During the earliest period of the reign of Louis, the emigrant faction comprehended nothing but the party composed of the relics of the ancient privileged cast. The parvenus of the imperial government alone constituted the so called Bonapartists. Considering their private gratification and profit as of greater importance than the public cause, each party had hitherto only wrangled for place and power. Their war was a matter of calculation and selfishness. But soon their disputes involved the fate of the main interests created by the revolution the emigrants directed their attacks not only against individuals but also against principles, and the people, who had hitherto only looked on, now shared the quarrel, and all France was divided into two great hostile parties.
[Footnote 7: I speak only of acting and thinking beings. In all countries there is to be found a class of cyphers, who are so careless, stupid, or selfish, that they belong to no party, and indeed to no nation.]
The court, the courtiers, and the ministry appeared as the central phalanx of the pure royalists. As their auxiliaries, they had the old nobility,—the priesthood,—a certain number of apostates who had skulked away from the imperial government,—and lastly, all those who had been disqualified by their incapacity and disloyalty from obtaining employment under Napoleon. It was the undisguised wish of this party to wash out every stain of the revolution, and to effect a full and unqualified restoration of the ancien regime in all its parts, and to all intents and purposes.
On the other side were arrayed the party designated as that of the Bonapartists, led on by our most honourable and most virtuous citizens, and numbering within its ranks the great body of the people; this party strove to withstand the impending resuscitation of the privileges and abuses of the old government, and which was to be effected only by the total subversion of our existing institutions.
The pure royalists endeavoured to annihilate the charter, which their opponents defended, and thus a strange contradiction took place. The royal charter had the royalists for its enemies, whilst its defenders were only found amongst those who were stigmatized as the adherents of Bonaparte.
Abortive attempts were made by the pure royalists to palliate the treachery of the government. They tried to persuade the people that the tranquillity and welfare of the nation depended but on the re-establishment of an absolute monarch, of a feudal aristocracy, and of all the trumpery of superstition. Such was the tendency of the publications which issued from the ministerial press, owing their birth to writers who had either sold themselves to the government, or who had denationalized themselves by their political intolerance. But it must not be supposed that liberty could remain in need of advocates.
Each of the earliest stages of the growth of the young government of royalty had been marked by obscure yet decisive symptoms of bad faith, not the less mischievous because they were restricted to signs, and symbols, and phrases. Instead of the constitution voted by the senate, and which the king had engaged to accept and ratify, he graciously granted and conceded a charter, by which he gave a new form to the government; and which, according to its tenor, emanated from the sovereign in the full and free exercise of his royal authority. The tricoloured cockade worn by Louis XVI. and which our armies had rendered illustrious, was exchanged for the white, though to the mind's eye the latter was seen drenched in the blood of the people. Louis took the title of Louis XVIII. King of France and Navarre, and he dated his proclamations and ordinances in the 19th year of his reign, and thus it was to be inferred, that the nation had been in a state of rebellion during five and twenty years. He had disdained to receive his crown from the will of the people, and rather chose to hold it by divine right and the good offices of the Prince Regent. These ungracious affronts wounded the national feelings, but no notice was taken of them at the time, because it was apprehended that angry recriminations might endanger the profit which had resulted from the important sacrifices to which we had consented for the public good. But when the government unveiled its deformity, the silence of the patriotic party was at end, and they attacked the government most unrelentingly. The editors of the Censeur were most conspicuous. Every abuse of power, every violation of the charter, was proclaimed to France by these young tribunes of the people; and the country was loud in applauding their zeal, their talents, and their courage. Other writers of a more lively class stung the emigrants to the quick by sarcasms and satire, and brought down the chastisement of contempt and ridicule upon those who had been spared by the gravity of the Censeur.
The nation also obtained a clear development of the anti-revolutionary conspiracy of the administration, from the "Memoir" of Carnot, and the pamphlets of Benjamin Constant. The undeniable facts, and the unwelcome truths which were brought forward and stated by these writers, apprized the people that their rights and liberties were in fearful danger.
A judicial blindness had fallen upon the ministers. All warnings, all lessons, all reproaches, were lost upon them. Far from being awed by public opinion, they thought they deserved high honour for defying it. The ministers had made up their mind. Deceived by the opinions which they had formed respecting the preponderance of their faction, they miscalculated the influence and resources of the partizans of the revolution. Confiding in their power, and in the fear inspired by their power, they thought it useless to maintain any further reserve; and that they could charge onwards to the end of the career which they had in view. Intoxicated by their ignorant enthusiasm, they insulted the nation in the person of each individual, whilst they encroached upon the rights which he valued most, and insulted him both in his interests and his feelings. The imperial guard was removed from Paris: the emigrants grudged the renown of these troops, and feared their patriotism. It was given out that the discontent evinced by the guard when the king came in, was the cause of the punishment which they received.—But had not the government called forth this discontent? Surely it was ungenerous to compel those heroes to walk as attendants in the triumph of a new master. Their grief and fidelity deserved not to be thus insulted. I then saw these honoured warriors. Haggard looks and sullen silence revealed their feelings. Absorbed by grief, they appeared to be insensible to the outward world. "Vive la Garde Imperiale" was the shout of the pitying Parisians, who wished to cheer them. These salutations, which, perhaps, they despised, were unheeded. Submissive to their superiors, they obeyed the word of command which told them that they must march: they marched, and that was all.
[Footnote 8: The accusation that a spirit of mutiny prevailed amongst them cannot be refuted more effectually than by quoting the expressions used by M. de Montesquiou on the 14th of March. "In the last two months," said he, "not one of the soldiers or officers belonging to the corps of the old guard composing the garrison of Metz, has been once reprimanded."]
Troops of the line replaced the imperial guards, who were drafted out of the capital with great expedition. Little time elapsed before the dissatisfaction of the new troops became manifest. The regiments were wholly disorganized; officers were thrust upon the soldiers, amongst whom they stood as complete strangers. In consequence of these changes the troops were put out of temper; and they became disgusted with service, because they were wearied by endless parades and reviews which took place, not to perfect them in their discipline, but for the instruction of their raw commanders. The government broke their spirit by affronting them: they were compelled to present arms to the king's body guard, whom they detested. The re-establishment of the "Maison du Roi" was opposed by the general feeling of the nation, and it particularly tended to rouse the jealousy and discontent of the garrison of Paris. The troops of the line and the national guards who were on duty at the Tuileries could not submit to acknowledge the "gardes du corps" as their superiors, and refused to present arms to them. The "gardes du corps" complained, and it was ordered that the troops of the line should salute them with military honours, or be punished. After this victory, the young "gardes du corps," who were proud of it, used to walk up and down before the sentinels, in order to force the latter to worship their epaulettes. It may easily be imagined how such childish insults, which were never checked, must have mortified the old soldiers of Napoleon: and we all know that the self-love of a Frenchman is not to be offended with impunity.
Self-love is the medium through which the soldier ascends into glory. When Napoleon earned immortal fame in Italy, he nourished and dignified this passion by addressing his soldiers in language breathing the lofty spirit of the heroic age, he rekindled the courage of his army, and every man became a conqueror. But the royalist officers sought to destroy all warlike sentiment by expressing their contempt for our national victories, by displaying the puffed insolence of birth and rank; and they lost the confidence and the esteem of the army which they were appointed to command.
Widely different, indeed, was the example which was set by the most exalted and most formidable of our enemies. It is needless to name him. This sovereign never tried to undervalue our glory: he was only happy when he could bear testimony again and again to the talents and the courage of the French nation. When he received our officers he did not treat them with that ill-concealed disdain, so often lavished on the conquered, but with the honest esteem inspired by valour; and with that delicacy, I would almost say respect, which is due to honourable misfortune. The subject of his discourse sometimes compelled him to allude to our reverses; but he never failed to allay the smart by lavishing his praises on the efforts which we had made to deprive him of victory. He seemed to be astonished that he had been able to withstand us.
How deeply were our warriors affected when they contrasted his chivalrous magnanimity with the endeavours of their royalist masters, who tried incessantly to poison the fond recollection of their former triumphs, and to deprive them of the only consolation which remained to them in the hour of affliction.
Whatever discontent might prevail amongst the troops, yet the greater part of the staff and regimental officers had transferred themselves to the Bourbons with cordial sincerity. Perhaps a few, who were less confident than the rest, still appeared distrustful and lukewarm; but they might have been easily won over, either by those sugared and alluring phrases which sound so sweetly when pronounced by royalty, or even by merely leaving them quiet until their resentment could cool of itself.
When Henry IV. recovered his throne, the bigoted partisans of the league, whom he had pardoned, continued still to threaten and revile him. It was suggested that he should punish them; but Henry said, "No,—we must wait, they are yet vexed." Those who were constantly invoking the memory of good king Henry, never sought to imitate his conduct. Instead of allowing time to our generals to get over their vexation, they embittered their temper by daily insults. Our officers were treated like ruffian bandits; they were branded as rebels, who were too happy if they obtained a pardon. Praise and favour fell only to the share of the army of Conde, the Vendeans, and the Chouans. The triumphal arches destined to eternize the exploits of our armies were menaced with sacrilegious ruin; and it was solemnly proposed to erect a monument to the memory of the Vendeans and the emigrants who fell at Quiberon.
Certainly our deluded brethren deserved to be regretted and mourned. Yet they had turned their weapons against the sacred bosom of their country. They were either the auxiliaries or the hirelings of our implacable enemies the English, and if honours were paid to them as illustrious victims, it was equivalent to a declaration that their conquerors were their murderers.
Our warriors had been graced with titles of nobility, bought with the blood which they had shed in the defence of the country. Their honours were treated with insolent scorn, and the ghost of Georges Cadoudal, a murderer in effect, and a traitor in intent, was ennobled by the gracious patent which was bestowed upon his father.
Georges in attempting the life of Napoleon had committed an act against all law, whether human or divine. If such a crime was decked out as a virtue, if signal rewards were allotted to the memory of the criminal, the government abetted assassination and regicide. The safety of Louis XVIII. and of every other monarch was compromised, and a sanction was given to the dangerous and antisocial doctrine which teaches that any individual may sit in judgment on the legitimacy of the title of the occupier of the throne, and then determine to murder his sovereign if he doubts the validity of his rights.
Other affronts exactly of the same complexion were offered to France and to the army. Titles, military commissions, and pensions, were showered, in La Vendee, upon the heads of such of the Chouans as were most celebrated for their cruelty, and these marks of favour were distributed amongst them in the presence of the victims of their rapine and ferocity.
[Footnote 9: The Chouans never allowed the opportunity of committing murder to escape them. They carried their muskets as they walked by the side of the plough, and the furrows which they trod were frequently sprinkled with blood. The priests who had taken the oaths, and the purchasers of national domains, were particularly the objects of the refinements of their cruelty. They seldom entered a town without plundering the inhabitants, and without slaughtering those who had been pointed out to their vengeance.—Lacretelle, Precis de la Revolution.]
The members of the ruling faction thought that they had not done enough in endeavouring to honour the French enemies of France at the expense of her defenders, and therefore they compassed the degradation and destruction of the institutions which reminded the people of the praises and the glory of our national armies.
In despite of the most solemn engagements the government robbed the legion of honour of its prerogatives. Then the ministerial papers hinted that henceforward the order of St. Louis was to be the only military order; and that the legion of honour was to be the reward of civil merit. The blow was aimed at the heart; the army shuddered, our marshals burned with indignation. The government was compelled to disclaim and abandon its intent.
Yet one sure method of debasing the legion of honour was completely in the power of government; they could make it cheap, and to this plan they resorted. Under Napoleon the Cross was never granted until it had been long and truly deserved: now it became the prey of meanness. The order was prostituted and cast to favourite underlings and intriguers, to whom it was distributed by caprice or bribery.
Our soldiers, who had purchased this distinction with their blood,—the magistrates, the functionaries, the learned, the manufacturers, who had received it as the reward of the services which they had rendered to the state, to the arts, to useful industry,—all were filled with consternation when they found themselves elbowed by a mean and worthless mob. Yielding to their honest pride, the greater part of our old legionaries refused to wear the insignia, which, instead of conferring distinction, could only confound them with men whom public opinion had branded and proscribed.
Success encouraged the government, and they did not stop. Richly endowed asylums for the daughters of the deceased members of the legion had been founded by the Emperor. Under the pretext of economy, of saving the annual sum of forty thousand francs, the ministers took the King by surprise, and hurried the Sovereign into the signature of an order for turning the orphans out of doors. Marshal Macdonald declared in vain that the old leaders of the army would never abandon the children of their companions, and that they were ready to defray the expense which was falsely assigned as the motive of the expulsion of the girls. Equally fruitless was the generosity of Madame Delchan, the matron of the establishment of Paris, who offered to continue its management without any assistance from the government, and to expend her entire fortune in the support of her pupils. Nor did the ministers pay the least attention to those who stated that the greater part of the children had neither friends nor relations, and that if they were thrown destitute upon the world, they would be inevitably consigned to misery or vice. No consideration could move the pity of the ministry.
But at length the indignation of the public found a voice in the Lower House, and the representatives of the people were about to remonstrate with the Sovereign. Ministers were disconcerted and abashed, and they abandoned their profligate enterprise.
This check, however, did not amend them. A few days afterwards they dissolved the military academies of St. Cyr and St. Germain, alleging that they were superfluous; and at the same moment the "Ecole Royale Militaire" was re-established, "in order that the nobility of the kingdom might enjoy the advantages secured to them by the edict of January 1757."
By this impudent violation of the principles of the charter our representatives were again roused, and the ministers were again obliged to recede.
Irritated by these defeats, they sought revenge and actuated by an ill-judged hope of weakening the resisting obstacles, they dismissed a countless multitude of military officers, who were turned out of the army upon half pay, though their full pay had been formally guarantied. It must be acknowledged that the number of the officers of the imperial army was much greater than was required by the strength of the royal army; but as it was alleged that they were useless and expensive, it was not right to insult them in their misfortunes by ministerial profusion; for, at the same time, they saw the government granting rank and pay to a number of emigrants who were good for nothing in the army. The government raised six thousand "gardes du corps," troops of musketeers and light horse, "gendarmes de la garde," &c. who scandalized Paris, and disgusted the army by their new epaulettes, and their sumptuous and splendid uniforms. Lastly, the government, led on by its innovating madness, did not respect those veterans whom Death had spared on the field of battle. Without pitying age or infirmities, the ministers, using their accustomed pretext of economy, withdrew the benefactions which a grateful nation had bestowed upon two thousand five hundred of these objects of compassion.
Since the ministers did not dread giving public offence to the army, and in matters where the offence would be felt most acutely,—since they refused to recognize both its services and its rights, it may be easily supposed that the military were disgusted and oppressed when they appeared before the ministry as individuals. It is not intended to detail the complaints and accusations which then justly abounded; but one fact may be stated as giving a double illustration of the spirit which prevailed.
General Milhaud had distinguished himself in the course of our national wars, by success and bravery. At the time when France was invaded by the allies, he "covered himself with glory" at the head of a handful of dragoons, who cut a considerable corps of the enemy's troops entirely to pieces. This officer, in consequence of his rank, his standing, and his services, had been appointed a chevalier de St. Louis as a matter of right; but at the moment of his reception, the cross was taken from him with ignominy, because he had been so unfortunate as to vote for the death of the King twenty years before.
Louis XVIII., when he returned to France, had promised that he would not inquire into the votes which had been given against his august brother. This promise, which had been demanded from him, and which he ratified by his charter, could not be otherwise than a painful victory over the feelings of his heart. He must have grieved when he found himself under the necessity of admitting those judges into his court, who had condemned Louis XVI. to the scaffold, and to present them to the daughter of the murdered monarch. But still he had sworn not to avenge his death, and the oaths by which a monarch binds himself to his people should be inviolable.
All resentment was to be repressed. The voters had been pardoned, and therefore the government could not be justified in reviving the memory of their crime, and in bringing down vengeance and death upon their heads. A funeral veil ought to have been drawn over that period of our revolution, during which we were all equally misled or guilty. Besides, we must state plainly and distinctly, that the grief excited by the murder of Louis XVI., was not the true cause of the invectives with which the regicides were assailed by the emigrants. Unfortunately the effect produced at Coblentz by the trial and execution of the king, is too well known. If the errors of some of the men of the revolution were hunted out with so much malignant zeal, it was only for the purpose of coming to this result—that as the revolution was the work of crime, it was necessary to root out every thing which had proceeded from the revolution.
The insult to which General Milhaud was subjected, was therefore rather a political movement, than a punishment inflicted on an individual. In selecting Milhaud as the object of the first assault against the regicides, the government gave a proof of their want of tact; for if they wanted to render the regicides contemptible or odious, they should have avoided attacking an officer who had long since washed away the stains of the blood of his King, by imbruing himself in the blood of our enemies!
But whilst the military, from the highest to the lowest, were exposed to the persecution and tyranny of the prevailing faction, the magistracy, and the civil functionaries of the state, suffered no less from ill treatment and injustice. Commissioners had been despatched into the departments, even at the beginning of the new reign, "in order to consolidate the royal government, and to examine into the conduct of the public functionaries under existing circumstances;" that is to say, at the moment of the restoration of the Bourbons.
Such was the confidence which the nation placed in the promises of the King, that no jealousy was excited by this measure. On the contrary, people expected that great good would result from it, that party heat would be allayed, and public interest and opinion become more speedily united to the throne.
This pleasing illusion was soon dispelled. A great number of emigrants, who had just come in again, were appointed commissioners. Instead of listening to cool and experienced advisers, they gave themselves up to the priests and nobles who beset them, and who were neither moderate nor enlightened.
The middling classes, who, from their habitual intercourse with the lower orders, possess so great an influence over the body of the people, were considered by the commissioners as a rabble multitude of upstart "roturiers." They treated the middling class with disdain and contempt. Deceived by the recollection of the excesses of the revolution, they fancied, that whoever could win the populace, became the ruler of the country. When money is not to be had, the surest way of getting over the multitude, is by appealing to its passions. They therefore announced, that they were sent to do justice to the people, to listen to their complaints, to reform abuses, and to abolish the "droits reunis," and the conscription.
Meetings were announced in the villages and in the country towns. All persons of respectability kept away; but the populace, who are always delighted with uproar and novelty, crowded in. There was no end to the preposterous charges which were preferred against the magistrates, the prefects, the under-prefects, the mayors, the administrators of public affairs, the officers of revenue; in short, none of the depositaries of public authority were spared.
Instead of despising such accusations, or submitting them to an impartial inquiry, the commissioners hailed the popular clamour with transport. They triumphed in the tumult; they were overflowing with happiness at the fancied success of their efforts; they continued exclaiming with increasing joy, "that is right, Good People; the King is your father; these fellows are nothing but canaille; upon our word of honour, we will kick them out."
These promises were kept. The public officers and functionaries of all classes were gradually dismissed, and their places given to informers, or to the old nobility. As the common people cooled, they became undeceived, and it was found that they had gained neither in riches nor in loyalty. The commissioners, instead of adding as they expected to the popularity of the government, only helped to cry it down. The cause of royalty was compromised by the scenes of riot which they encouraged, and they degraded it by acts of injustice and oppression. The non-emigrant commissioners acted far otherwise. They knew how to value the lying declamations of the nobles, and of the mob whom the nobles had set on. From the different conduct pursued by each party, effects resulted which exhibited the most striking contrast. In one department the public functionaries retained their situations, in another they were disgraced and vituperated.
These scandalous proceedings excited the general indignation of the country. The government was universally blamed. The important task of instituting inquiries, which were to affect the honour and the civil existence of the most respectable characters, had been entrusted to emigrants who had lived amongst strangers during the best part of their lives. And these men, who knew nothing of the forms, the principles, or even the faults of the imperial government, were consequently wholly unable to appreciate the conduct, whether praiseworthy or blameable, of the depositaries of public authority.
The people discovered that they had been cheated, and that this measure, disguised by specious representations, was in truth adopted only for the purpose of more effectually displacing the old functionaries of the nation. And, lastly, it was evident that this general dismission would carry off those authorities who were the natural guardians of every individual who had taken a part in the revolution. And that all who were thus affected would be placed beneath the sway of their sworn enemies, the nobles, the priests, and their adherents.
Indications were given by the government that a "purification" of the courts of justice was in contemplation; and the public apprehension increased. The independence and immovability of the judges had been guaranteed to the nation, and this guarantee was certainly the most valuable of the rights which we had gained. But on account of its importance, the government were the more desirous of violating it.
When the proposed "purification" became known, our national magistrates trembled in their chairs, and they foresaw that they would be plucked out for the purpose of making way for the antiquated survivors of the courts of parliament.
The nation was alarmed, and protested against the measure. But the "purification" was not to be stopped in its swoop. The process began in the supreme tribunal of the kingdom, the Court of Cassation. And, to remove all doubts respecting the ulterior object of the government, it was officially announced that the elimination, disguised under the name of the "installation royale," had been deferred only for the purpose of "obtaining the information which was necessary to direct or decide the choice of the judges, and that it would take place successively in all the courts and tribunals of the kingdom."
The "installation" was felt to be not only a breach of faith, but an open conspiracy against the security of the person and property of the subject. We knew that the tribunals would now be filled with magistrates whose prejudices, principles, and interest, must be in perpetual hostility against our national laws, and that the new men would seek to elude or crush our juridical system. The royal magistrates, as it was but too evident, would be the relations, the friends, or the creatures of the nobility, the emigrants, and of all who claimed to be restored to their rights and privileges. Nor could we hope that judges so constituted would deal out impartial justice between the ci-devant privileged tribes, whom they would naturally consider as the victims of revolutionary principles, and the children of the revolution, who, according to the same mode of reasoning, they could not fail to consider as the oppressors and robbers of the privileged tribes.
The owners of national property were most alarmed by the approaching expulsion of the revolutionary judges. By the charter, the inviolability of their property had been guaranteed to them. But they had not forgotten that a violent debate arose on the "redaction" of this article; and that the ministers had been already accused on account of the obscurity of the clause, which they refused to correct into such words as might prevent all future quibbling and special pleading.
If the emigrants, the priesthood, and the nobility, did not scruple to express their hopes aloud that the sales of the national domains might be declared null and void, it was equally well known to the public that certain Great Personages entertained the same hopes in secret. Doubts respecting the legality, and, consequently, of the validity of the sales, were expressed in the ministerial journals; and various publications were industriously disseminated, in which the purchases were directly impugned. The authors of these works were favoured and protected; and it was whispered that the Great Personages, to whom we have already alluded, had deliberated on the means of realizing their hopes. All these tokens of the times united in giving too reasonable a ground for the apprehensions entertained by the proprietors of the confiscated lands; and the disorganization of the tribunals was considered as a national calamity.
[Footnote 10: M.M. David and Falconnet. In order to appease the public indignation, a summons was issued against these writers, it being stated in the process that they had endeavoured to excite civil war. There was no difficulty in guessing that this proceeding was a farce, and that by overcharging the crime it was the intention of the government to favour the acquittal of the accused; and accordingly they were acquitted.]
It is calculated that the individuals who are interested directly or indirectly either in the purchases of the national domains, or in the rights and liabilities arising out of them, amount in number to somewhat between nine and ten millions.
An opportunity offered itself when all the uneasiness felt by this integral portion of the population of France might have been removed. It was when the law; by which the emigrants recovered possession of such part of their property as had not been alienated, came under consideration. It was natural to suppose that the administration would take advantage of the capability of the proceeding, in order to revive the confidence of the public, and to renew the guarantee of the charter. Such was not their conduct. On the contrary, M. Ferrand, the government orator, one of the men who did most mischief to the King and the kingdom, abandoned himself—we borrow the expression of the reporter of the committee—to all the acrimony of his passions, and all the profligacy of his principles. His fury could only be equalled by his folly. He did not scruple to maintain, in the midst of the representatives of the nation, that the emigrants had the greatest right to claim the justice and favour of the royal government, because they alone had not wandered from the righteous path. And starting with this position, he represented the forfeiture and sale of their property, not as the justifiable acts of a legislative body, but as revolutionary outrages and robberies which the nation ought to hasten to make good.
The Chamber of Deputies passed their censure upon the inflammatory doctrines and language of the royalist orator, and expunged the word "restitution" from the law. It had not been inserted without design, for "restitution" supposes a previous robbery, and the emigrants had not been robbed of the property: it had been confiscated by virtue of a law sanctioned by the King; and which law was only a new application of the system of confiscation created and followed up by the King's predecessors.
Without travelling into more remote periods, we may ask if it was not with the spoils of the victims who had been sacrificed to the murderous policy of Richelieu, and the religious intolerance of Louis XIV., that the first families had been enriched? And who can tell whether the lands which the emigrants reclaimed with so much pride and bitterness, were not the same which their ancestors had received without a blush from the bloody hands of Richelieu and Louis?
It must be confessed that the unalterable fidelity of a certain number amongst the emigrants bound the royal government to reward their fidelity and to alleviate their misfortunes. But all had not an equal right to the affection and gratitude of the King. If some had generously sacrificed their fortunes and their country in the cause of royalty, yet others only fled from France because they wished to escape their creditors, and thought that in strange countries they might find dupes to feed upon, and thus exist upon swindling resources to which they could no longer resort with impunity at home.
[Footnote 11: Before the revolution it was customary for "les grands seigneurs" to obtain what were called "lettres de surseance," by means of which they avoided the payment of their debts, and defeated their creditors.]
It was therefore necessary to separate the first class of emigrants from the last; and after establishing this distinction, the government should have made a fair appeal to the justice and generosity of the nation. Frenchmen, who yield so readily to every dignified sentiment, would not have allowed the faithful and virtuous servants of their King to languish in poverty. We may appeal to the universal assent which was given to the proposal made by the marshal duke of Tarentum, that ten millions of francs should be annually appropriated for the indemnification of the emigrants who had been deprived of their property, and of the soldiers who had lost their "dotations."
[Footnote 12: This proposal was not carried into execution.]
But the government party should not have attempted to assist the emigrants by resorting to means offensive to the nation, and derogatory to the charter. And, above all, they should not have puffed up the emigrants with proud and silly hopes. If they had been left to themselves, they would have fallen in with the purchasers of their property, they would have treated for an amicable settlement of their claims, and they would have regained possession of their hereditary estates without jarring and without scandal.
The partiality which was shown towards the emigrants on all occasions produced another evil of still greater extent. It contributed, even more than the efforts of disaffection, in persuading the peasantry that the government wished to chain them again to the soil, and to render them once more the tributaries both of the nobility and of the priesthood.
The revolution has taught the countryman to know that he is somebody in the state. After the revolution the peasants became rich, and they were delivered from the double vassalage of former days, when they crouched before the priest and the lord: therefore they could not think of any alteration without horror. Day after day they heard or they read (in France every body reads now,) that the government intended to restore the "ancien regime." And the restoration of the "ancien regime" was interpreted by them, as well as by many others, to mean the restoration of tithes, vassalage, and feudal rights. They were confirmed in their dangerous and disquieting opinion by the outrageous claims of the emigrants, and the declamations of the priests. It was to no purpose that the government tried to re-assure them. They had been already deceived and it seldom happens that you can catch a French peasant twice in the same snare. The abolition of the conscription had been promised, and the old code was continued in force with all its harshness, and still the refractory conscripts were sent away in chains, whilst fines were imposed upon their families. The abolition of the "droits reunis" had also been promised, and they were not only levied with greater rigour and harshness than before, but even some of these imposts had been greatly increased.
Such was the fatality which influenced all the actions of the government, that all proceedings which in themselves were simple and reasonable, became venomous and corrupted when conducted by the ministry, and only added to the general disorder and discontent, instead of producing the good effects which they might have been justly expected to produce.
The discontent of the people, the inevitable result of the injuries inflicted on the feelings and interests of individuals, was increased by the open infringement of the rights of the people, although these rights were secured to the country by a compact which seemed to be inviolable.
[Footnote 13: There are times when a government may attack general principles without danger. But men and their personal interests can never be assailed with impunity. Personal interest is the prime mover of public opinion and feeling; and however degrading the truth may appear, it is not to be disputed. After a great national catastrophe this baleful egotism is particularly evident. Dignified passions become extinct for want of fuel; and the human mind, destitute of external occupation, works inward upon itself, and begets selfishness, the true pestilence of the soul. When this disease affects a nation, the government is lost if it attacks the interests of individuals.]
Liberty of conscience had been promised by the charter, and this liberty was immediately annihilated. An ordonnance was issued by the police, which revived regulations enacted in an age of intolerance, for enforcing the strict and universal observance of the Lord's day, and the festivals of the church. Napoleon, anxious to preserve a strict neutrality between the catholics and the protestants, prohibited the religious processions of the former in all towns containing places of worship belonging to the latter communion. His prohibition was removed, and the catholic priesthood exulted in their processions, in which they marched in triumph. They ought to have tranquillized the apprehensions of their opponents, and to have edified the faithful by humility, or at least by feigning humility; but they disdained to conciliate the public, whom they scandalized by their pride and irritated by their violence.
[Footnote 14: By means of ordonnances the ministers legislated according to their pleasure in matters which ought only to have been regulated by the law, so that the greater part of the bills presented to the chambers "had been already enacted and executed in the shape of ordonnances; and the legislature had no other function except that of giving a legal sanction to the arbitrary decrees of the ministers."—Censeur.]
[Footnote 15: Even in Paris several persons were ill treated and bayoneted, because they refused to pull off their hats and kneel, whilst the processions were passing by.]
The imagination of the priests became fired by the victory which they supposed they had gained. They dreamt that they were in full possession of their ancient power; and they wished immediately to revive it according to their ancient fashion. An actress belonging to the Theatre Francais died without being absolved, and without suspecting that it was necessary to be absolved, from the excommunication which had been formerly fulminated against stage players; and which, as every body knows, deprived Moliere of Christian burial.
Following the same precedents, the clergy would not allow the rites of sepulture to the actress in question. The populace, who followed the funeral out of curiosity, learnt the affront which was thus offered to her remains. Transported by sudden indignation, they rushed to the hearse, and dragged it onwards. The doors of the interdicted church were burst open in a moment. They called for a priest; no priest appeared. The tumult augmented. The church and the neighbouring streets resounded with the groans and threats of ten thousand persons. Their agitation became more violent, and there was no possibility of foreseeing where the effervescence of popular feeling would stop, when a messenger arrived from the court, who ordered, in the name of the King, that the funeral should proceed.
The accounts of this event, and the comments to which it gave rise, excited the most lively interest in Paris and throughout France: nor did it fail to give the greatest pleasure to the enemies of religion. The friends of public decency and good order accused the government of encouraging the alarming progress of sacerdotal despotism. It was particularly in the smaller towns, and in the country, that the priests behaved with the most blamable audacity, abusing the privilege of speech which had been restored to them. The pulpit became a tribunal from whence they pronounced sentence of present infamy, with the reversion of eternal damnation, upon all who refused to participate in their opinions and bigotry. Making common cause with the emigrants, they employed hints, inuendoes, insinuations, arguments, promises, and threats of every species, for the purpose of compelling the owners of the national property to yield up their lands, and of leading the wretched peasantry again beneath the tyrant yokes of feudality and superstition.
[Footnote 16: Under the reign of Napoleon, if a priest had ventured to utter any opinion contrary to the system of government, he would have been immediately removed.]
During the revolution, the priesthood had betrayed its real character. Contempt had fallen on the clergy, and it was out of the power of the government to invest them suddenly with the salutary influence which they had lost. This influence ought to be gained by wise and prudent conduct, by active and impartial benevolence, by the practice of sacerdotal virtues. It cannot be gained by ordonnances of police, by abuse, by violence, by mumming processions, which, in our times, are out of character and ridiculous.
By the charter the liberty of the press had been guarantied as well as the liberty of public worship; yet every day innumerable publications were seized or suppressed contrary to the laws. M. Durbach, a deputy who never equivocated with his conscience or yielded to danger, complained on this subject in the chamber: the opinion of the house went along with him; and the government, pretending to yield to the feeling of the deputies, presented a bill to the chambers through the medium of M. de Montesquiou, which, instead of delivering the press from its slavery, gave full establishment to the censorship, and legalized the tyranny which had been exercised over the press by mere force under the former government.
Benjamin Constant attacked the bill with vigour: the same side was taken by the public journals, and by all public writers; but there was no possibility of putting M. de Montesquiou out of countenance. It was demonstrated to him that his law would wholly destroy the liberty of the press. By holding the charter before his eyes, the advocates of public rights proved that the charter only declared that the licence of the press was to be restrained, and that his bill was therefore radically unconstitutional, because the preliminary censorship was not intended to restrain abuses, but to prevent their taking place. Montesquiou answered gravely, that the persons with whom such objections originated did not understand French; that the words "prevenir" and "reprimer" were perfectly synonymous: and that the bill, instead of being offensive or unconstitutional, contained a most complete and a most liberal development of the clause in the charter.
This unparalleled endeavour of Montesquiou, who persuaded himself that he could convince an assembly of Frenchmen that they did not understand their own language, was justly considered by the chamber as a matchless specimen of impudence and folly. Lexicographical subtleties were employed with bitter mockery for the purpose of destroying a public right, consecrated by the constitutional compact. Never had insolence and bad faith been displayed so prominently: Raynouard, the reporter of the committee, exclaimed in the language of grief and indignation, "Minister of our King, confess, at least, that your law is contrary to the constitution, since you cannot refute the evidence adduced against it: your obstinacy in contesting such an indisputable truth would not then inspire us with such just alarms."
The law was ultimately adopted by both chambers; ministerial influence triumphed over reason, and rased the most important bulwark of the rights guarantied to the nation. The result of the conflict produced the most lively sensation. No man who was capable of forethought and reasoning could remain undisturbed. Notwithstanding the patriotism of Dupont (of the department of the Eure), of Raynouard, of Durbach, of Bedoch, of Flaugergues, it was seen too clearly that the chamber of deputies could not oppose any effectual obstacle to the despotic and anti-constitutional plans of the government; and that the ministers would have full power, whenever they thought proper, to interpret the clauses of the charter according to their own way, and to rob the French nation of the few rights which it yet might promise to them. "By means of such interpretations," the people said, "the senate sacrificed the independence of the nation to Napoleon. But at least the imperial despotism assumed a character by which it was justified and ennobled. It tended to render our nation the greatest nation in the world; but the despotism which awaits us has no other accompaniment but bad faith, and no other end except the degradation and slavery of France."
By such reflections, the suspicion and disgust and aversion inspired by the government, were excited to the utmost pitch. The public feeling did not stop there: the French people are naturally inconstant in their opinions and sentiments; and their former prejudices against Napoleon were changed into transports of admiration. France, under the royal government, was humiliated, disorganized, and degenerate; and they contrasted the present state of the country with the influence, the strength, the compactness, which it enjoyed under the reign of Napoleon; and He, who had lately been cursed as the root of all evil, now appeared to be the greatest of men, and the greatest of heroes, though in misfortune.
The government knew that Napoleon was again admired by the people, and that they regretted his loss. To counteract these sentiments, coarse and vulgar caricatures were exposed to the eyes of the populace; and his person and his character became the theme of false and scandalous libels published under the direction of the ministry. No effect was produced. The mob looked at the caricatures with a smile of contempt; and the actions of Napoleon, which, under his reign, excited the greatest censure and disapprobation, now found the most zealous apologists and defenders.
If Napoleon was accused of having overthrown the republican government, and enslaved the country by the revolution of the 18th Brumaire, they answered:—"At that era, anarchy, emboldened by the misfortunes of the country, could only be repressed by victory. Civil war had been organized in twenty departments; insurrections had taken place in many, rapine infected them all; robbery and murder took place with impunity on many of the principal high roads. Two dreadful laws, the law of the hostages, and that of the forced loans, occasioned greater evils than they could cure. No nation had ever existed in which the finances of the state were in equal confusion; and a succession of partial bankruptcies prolonged the opprobrium of the general bankruptcy of the country. The money of the public was robbed whilst in transit on the high roads. Robbers even carried it off from the houses of the receivers, and the deficiency could not be made good by the most violent exactions. The jacobins were on the point of recommencing their reign of terror. The royalists had recourse without scruple to all the measures which might enable them to satiate their revenge; and the peaceable friends of the law were placed between the conflicting parties in a state of disgraceful weakness and neutrality. Such was the desperate situation of France when Napoleon seized the helm of the state. Instead of imputing the slavery of the country to him, he ought to have been blessed; for he delivered us from the spoliations, the murders, and the tyranny which were consequent upon the reign of anarchy and terror."
[Footnote 17: I cannot express their thoughts more forcibly than by copying the passage, which I have quoted in my text, from the View of the Revolution by Lacretelle.]
Was it maintained that Napoleon had reigned despotically? They held that this accusation was unjust; and they had recourse to the following reasoning. "Anarchy was silenced by Napoleon." It became necessary, that order should take the place of disorder; that the authority of one should be substituted for the authority of all. Parties were to be restrained within the bound of moderation; traitors were to be annihilated. It was necessary to curb the prejudices of the nobility, and the revolutionary habits and manners of the jacobins. This great work could not be accomplished, without engaging in a conflict against individual interests and opinions. Napoleon was considered as a despot; this was inevitable. Whenever the existing polity of a state has been totally subverted, he who first raises the edifice of society from its ruins, is necessarily accused of despotism, because apparently he has no other rule except his own will. Nor must we forget that Napoleon had been accustomed to command implicit obedience in the camp. He retained his military attitude on the throne. He usually addressed his courtiers, his connexions, and his ministers, in the tone which he had formerly adopted when speaking to his soldiers or their generals. An appearance of despotism was certainly given to his way of reigning and commanding, by such language which is seldom heard in civil society. And in almost all cases, appearance is taken for reality.
[Footnote 18: From his early youth, it may be even said from his days of boyhood, Napoleon felt an inward presentiment that he was not destined to live in mediocrity. This persuasion soon taught him to treat others with disdain, and to entertain the highest opinion of himself. Scarcely had he obtained a subaltern command in the artillery, when he considered himself as the superior of his equals, and the equal of his superiors. In his 20th year he was placed at the head of the army of Italy. Without appearing to be in the slightest degree surprised by his elevation, he passed from a secondary station to the chief command. He immediately treated the old generals of the army—they who were so proud of the laurels—with an air of dignity and authority, which placed them in a situation which was probably new to them. But they did not feel humiliated, and their inferiority seemed to result as a matter of course, for the ascendancy exercised by Napoleon was irresistible; and he was thoroughly endued; with that instinct of authority, that talent of ensuring obedience, with those faculties which are usually confined to those who are kings by birth. Napoleon could probably have attained to supreme authority in any country in the world. Nature had formed him for command, and she never creates such men for the purpose of leaving them in obscurity. It seems, according to the remark of a writer whose name I have forgotten, that she is proud of her own work, and that she wishes to offer it to admiration, by placing it at the head of human society.]
At first the imperious tone adopted by Napoleon was blamed, next it was admired. He soon employed it in his intercourse with foreign ambassadors, with foreign sovereigns. The wily forms of ancient diplomacy were discarded. Napoleon did not negociate; he issued his orders. With one hand he brandished his victorious sword; in the other he held crowns and sceptres. He bade the sovereigns of Europe make their choice; he offered his friendship or his hatred, kingdoms or blows. The monarchs who stood before his throne were taught wisdom by experience. They knew that Napoleon could reward and punish; they crowded into the ranks of his allies; and they consoled themselves for their weakness, by crying out upon his tyranny.
[Footnote 19: The continental system induced Napoleon to exercise a real tyranny over Europe. We do not pretend to deny the fact; but we only wish to add, that this exterior despotism always induced a belief amongst foreigners, that Napoleon, who tyrannized so violently over nations which did not belong to him, must necessarily be the tyrant of his own subjects.]
When these causes were united, they aided in persuading the world that Napoleon was really a despot. For, as Montesquieu observes, there are some things which we believe at last, merely because we hear them continually repeated. But if the government of Napoleon is considered impartially, we shall feel convinced, that the despotism attributed to him existed rather in words and forms, than in deeds. Let the acts of his reign be scrutinized, and none will be found impressed with the character of real despotism; that is to say, of despotism founded on the mere arbitrary will and pleasure of the prince. On the contrary, they all prove that the interest and aggrandizement of France entered alone into the views of Napoleon, and that instead of being under a tyrannical government, the people never enjoyed the benefits of distributive justice with greater equality, and were never protected more completely against the oppressions of public functionaries, and of the higher ranks. He may, perhaps, be censured for having violated certain laws, for violations in which the senate and the representatives of the people were his accomplices. But laws are only binding upon sovereigns in the ordinary course of things, and the most rigid writers on the law of nations acknowledge this principle. When extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances take place, it is the duty of the sovereign to be above the law. In order to judge fairly of the actions of a monarch, we must not consider them separately. Many an action which, if taken singly, appears unjustifiable or hateful, loses that character when viewed as one of the series of events from which it arose, as a connecting link in the political chain of which it forms a part. Neither should the conduct of a sovereign be judged according to the principles of natural equity. In the estimation of those, upon whom the task of ruling nations has devolved, necessity and the public safety ought to know no law. Every apprehension of injuring private interest vanishes, and must ever vanish, before state considerations.
"After all," continued they, "the real point at issue is, not whether the government of Napoleon was more or less despotic; but whether it was such as was required by the character of his people and of his times,—such as it needed to be, in order that France might become tranquil, happy, and powerful." Now it is impossible to deny but that, during the reign of Napoleon, the interior of France enjoyed an unruffled calm, and that the ascendancy of his genius bestowed upon the country a degree of power and prosperity, which it never attained before, and which probably it will never possess again.
Was the emperor taxed with boundless ambition? Were the calamities of Spain and Russia laid to his charge?—his indefatigable apologists found a ready answer.—The Spanish war, instead of being an unjust aggression, was an enterprise guided by the soundest political talent. It had been provoked by the wavering treachery of that allied government, which, in spite of its engagements, was secretly negociating with the English; and which, yielding to their instigations, had endeavoured to take advantage of our difficulties and of the absence of our armies, in order to invade our territory, and to become a sharer in the plots of our enemies.
The detention of Ferdinand ceased to be an odious breach of faith. It resulted necessarily from his duplicity, his parricidal projects, and his English connexions. The nomination of Joseph as King of Spain and the Indies, had been universally attributed to the excessive vanity of Napoleon, who, as it was supposed, was determined to drop a crown upon the head of every member of the imperial family. But now opinion changed. King Joseph's promotion was felt to have been caused by the necessity of placing Spain for ever out of the reach of English influence. Had not Napoleon allowed the Cortes of Spain to elect their monarch of their own uncontrolled authority? Had he not said to them in public, "Dispose of the throne. Little do I care whether the king of Spain is called Ferdinand, or whether he is called Joseph; let him only be the ally of France, and the enemy of England?"
[Footnote 20: The Emperor thus addressed the Spanish Cortes; when assembled at Bayonne.]
It was still more easy to justify the Russian war. A Quixotic love of the marvellous was no longer supposed to be the passion which excited it. In making war against Russia, he was actuated by the desire of avenging the injuries which that power had occasioned to France, at the moment when the Russian government again opened its ports to the English, thus snatching from the nation the reward of the sacrifices which we had made for the establishment and consolidation of the continental blockade,—of that universal barrier which made England and her thousand vessels tremble!