« VorigeDoorgaan »
of his situation, vain of his authority, irritated by a restless desire for contention and intrigue, this prince, the presumptive heir to the crown, already disputed the administration of affairs ;* and constituting a cabinet of his own, aspired to impose upon the royal councils the resolutions of the “ Pavillon Marsan.”+ Louis XVIII. was of a temporizing disposition; the same feelings which made him favourable to a moderate line of policy, made him hostile to an open quarrel with those who urged a violent one. Besides, he was not altogether beyond the influences of his youth, and felt a respect that was involuntary for that man in his family who was most fashionable with his court.
The first and second administrations of the Duc de Richelieu were administrations of compromise between the two brothers and the two parties. But, named twice under the auspices of the Comte d'Artois, the Duc de Richelieu was each time eventually honoured by his disapprobation :—first, when he would not pass a universal sentence of proscription upon all that prince's enemies ; secondly, when he would not give all the places at his disposal to that prince's friends. I
The governments of Dessolle and Decazes—which may both be considered as formed under the influence and representing the opinions of Monsieur Decazesthough under different circumstances and in different, degrees—the governments of Messrs. Dessolle and Decazes, intervening between the two administrations of Monsieur de Richelieu, represented the ideas of the king, of the more moderate royalists, and stood at once uncompromisingly opposed to the whole power of the “ Pavillon Marsan.”
* He had already assumed, in 1814, the title of lieutenant-general, without authority, to the great dissatisfaction of the king.
+ That part of the Tuileries where the Comte d'Artois resided.
| It was for this reason that this administration was opposed; and the Duc de Richelieu's illness and death were mainly to be attrib. uted, it is said, to the disgust and vexation which he felt at the Comte d'Artois' attack upon his government--a government which he (the Duc de Richelieu) had only undertaken under the express promise of monsieur's support and assistance.
This is the interesting and critical period of the res. toration. In the contest at issue were engaged the destinies of the monarchy and the two policies which the restoration had to follow. It was impossible for the moderate party to be more fortunate than it was in its chief. Monsieur Decazes, now placed in so prominent a position, had in early life been secretary to Madame Bonaparte ; he was subsequently known as a distinguished magistrate,* and-remarkable during the hundred days for the zeal and ability which he displayed in favour of the Bourbons—had been named " Préfet de Police” under Fouché, at their return. Favoured by accident with an interview with Louis XVIII., the monarch, pleased by his address, struck by his capacity, and anxious to be independent of the political probity of the Duc d'Otrante, desired the “préfet” to submit his reports directly to himself,t and expressed a wish to improve the acquaintance. This was the commencement of M. Decazes' fa
At the time I am speaking of, that favour was at its height. Monsieur Decazes then was the intimate friend (such was the appellation which Louis XVIII. gave him) of the sovereign : he had great popularity in the country, many friends in the chamber. To these advantages he joined habits of official business, an easy and conciliating eloquence, and the quality, so important in a difficult ministerial situation, of soothing the irritation and satisfying the “amour propre” of a doubtful and displeased adherent. The minister had a graceful manner, an imposing persona countenance noble, handsome, and agreeable-great tact, considerable talent—and very wise and large views in favour of the industry and the intelligence of the country.
Attached to no party, he professed
* De la cour d'assises du département de la Seine.
† Louis XVIII., in common with all the Bourbon family, had a great pleasure in the political gossip with which it is easy for a minister, who has the police at his disposal, to decorate his reports ; and here M. Decazes had an opportunity which few in his situation would have neglected, of improving any favourable impression he might first have made.
to stand upon the general ground of moderate men and moderate opinions. He wished to make the king
“not as Henry III. the chief of the Leaguers, but as Henry IV. the father of his people.” This was the idea, as this was the comparison which above all others pleased Louis XVIII.
Shortly after the dissolution of 1815, he himself had said to M. Ravez, “ Trop d'agitations ont malheureusement troublé la France : elle a besoin de repos, il lui faut pour en jouir des députés attachés à ma personne, à la légitimité, et à la Charte, mais surtout modérés et prudens.” To another person his language had been the same. Les
sages amis de la légitimité et de la charte,” he had said, 6 veulent avec moi et comme moi le bonheur de la France--ils sont convaincus que ce bonheur est dans le repos, et que le repos ne peut naître que de la modération.”
These were the views of the king: these were the views of his minister. From September 5th, up to the retirement of M. de Richelieu, and the nomination of M. Dessolle, there had been a continued series of mild but popular concessions. The formation of the army, the election of the chamber, had undergone two great and liberal alterations; the press, though still fettered, was more free—and France, beginning to enjoy the blessings of internal liberty, had delivered herself on better terms than she might have expected from foreign occupation.
The ministry of M. Dessolle had been formed on the determination to maintain the new law of election. This law contained no violent scheme of popular government, for it gave but eighty thousand electors to a people of twenty-seven millions, but it had almost completely excluded the “extrème droite” (the more bigoted royalists), and brought Grégoire and Manuel into the chamber. A little more parliamentary experience would have taught the monarch that he had nothing to fear from two or three obnoxious elections, and that on the contrary a government gains by meeting chiefs of a hostile party front to front in a place of public discussion. The nomination, however, of the ex-bishop of Blois,* the mitred regicide, threw even Louis XVIII. into consternation. Already he had supported his ministers by a creation of peers, and in a letter, the copy of which I have been shown, denounced the fatal effects of an unforgiving policy;t but the republican elections startled him : the constitution of the chamber had been changed in order to restrain the violence of the ultra-royalist faction; he trembled lest he should be thrown into the violence of a faction still more to be dreaded. The system he sought was, as I have said, a system of moderation, but placed under the necessity of a choice, he would have preferred the “ coterie” of the Comte d'Artois to the "coterie" of M. Lafitte.
The chamber at this time was split into different divisions. There was the right, at the head of which were Messrs. Corbières, Villèle, and Labourdonnaye. The left, at the head of which were Manuel, Dupont de l'Eure, Lafayette, Lafitte, and Ternaux. Each of these sections had two parties, the more moderate of which adhered to M. de Villèle on the one side-to Monsieur Ternaux on the other. The government was supported by the left centre, the “ Doctrinaires," a title then coming into notice, and a portion of the right centre—which it gradually lost as it tended towards more liberal measures, and might hope to regain if it remeasured its steps.
No ministry cun long stand completely balanced between two parties; it must have some tendency. The tendency of the French ministry had hitherto been liberal, and it had gradually been verging towards the left : but there was a party towards the left with whom it could not venture to make terms, and there was a party towards the right which still clung to it, and which had considerable influence in the other chamber. • I have said that there was a party hostile to the Bourbons in the chamber, but that party was still small. Benjamin Constant-Foy--the wisest, the ablest, the most popular, and the most eloquent of the côté gauche, were all attached to a constitutional monarchy and an hereditary succession. That party (and with that party the press) offered their undivided - their zealous and active support to M. Decazes, if he would maintain untouched the existing law of election. On the other hand, the droite of the chamber, the court, and finally the king, were for its modification. In an evil hour for legitimacy, M. Decazes abandoned the opportunity by which he might for ever have crushed the two parties~here struggling against the dynasty, there against the nation. With Benjamin Constant, Foy, Ternaux, and he would at that time have had Lafitte, added to the whole force of the Doctrinaires, and his own personal party on the centre gauche, M. Decazes, strong in his own ability, strengthened by the popular voice, would have been able to wield the whole force of the country and of the monarchy, and to have smitten down his enemies on either side. Attached to the king, exposed to the remonstrances of the Carlsbad confederacy, irritated, perchance, by some injudicious liberal attacks, he resolved, I repeat, in an evil hour, to retrace his steps. It is fair to acknowledge, however, that he did not do this in the ungenerous spirit of a renegade : moderate in his advance, he was moderate in his retreat. Left by M. Dessolle, he had to form a. new government, and he composed it of men of high character, of superior abilities, and of principles as temperate as he could adopt for the course he had determined to pursue :-by this he hoped to reconquer the favour of the court, and to preserve the support of
† To any person at all acquainted with the correspondence of Louis XVIII. it would be iseless speak of the peculiar pains which he took with all the letters and billets, the writing of which was one of his principal amusements and occupations; penned in a very small neat hand, in very pure and studied phraseology, these little documents contained a great deal of good sense and dignity when their subject was serious, a great deal of grace and gallantry when it was not.