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ART. I.--Mémoires et Relations Politiques du Baron de Vitrolles. Vol. I. Paris: 1884.
TH HE author of this very interesting book was one of those daring and active spirits, who, though in no sense real leaders of men, and always in an inferior position, have occasionally played an important part in great crises and scenes of history. M. de Vitrolles was an émigré, noble, brought up in youth in the camp of Condé, and a passionate hater of the French Revolution; and, though he had a fine intellect, an acute judgement, and much suppleness and force of character, he never freed himself from the prejudices of his class, and he eventually became little more than a prominent figure among the King's friends,' who formed the secret council of Charles X. He had no pretence, in a word, to rank among the statesmen, such as they were, who directed the troubled fortunes of France at the Restoration, and during the years that followed. Brilliant and striking as were his parts, he was rather a scene-shifter behind the stage of politics than a conspicuous actor in its eventful drama. Nevertheless this man of device and intrigue had no little weight in the councils of Europe at the memorable era of 1814; and he promoted, with marked effect, the policy which ultimately led to the fall of Napoleon and to the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. Bold, fearless of danger, cool and clearheaded, it was he who first ventured to carry the murmurs of the plotters of Paris against the Emperor into the camp of the ill-informed allies, and to form a connecting link between Talleyrand and his clique, and the chiefs and ministers of the League of Europe; he was the first Frenchman who revealed to them the weakness, in the very seat of his rule, of the colossus of
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genius and renown in war whom they had been unable to overthrow in the field; and he was among the first of the keen-eyed advisers who insisted that, in the existing crisis, France would quickly throw off the yoke of the Empire, and rally around her ancient princes, forlorn and lost as their cause appeared, if the Coalition would but declare for them. M. de Vitrolles too, though an ardent zealot in the faith of absolutism and the divine right of kings, did good service to France and the State by moderating in some degree the violence of the partisans of the Comte d'Artois when that prince entered Paris in 1814; and if his political leanings were never doubtful, he proved the skilful agent of more eminent men in bringing about the well-known compromise between the Senate and the House of Bourbon, of which the Charter was the beneficent fruit. It should be added, moreover, that if he took part in the White Terror of 1815-16, and unfortunately composed the Secret Note which virtually proclaimed that at this period the allied armies were the only support of the tottering throne of Louis XVIII., still M. de Vitrolles was too sagacious, as time rolled on and his experience grew, not to perceive how dangerous to the cause of royalty was the extravagance of the old émigré faction; and one of the last acts of his public life was to condemn the famous ordinances of July which precipitated the Revolution of 1830. His attitude, indeed, on this occasion, has been ascribed to dislike of ministers, who seem to have held his talents cheap; yet, courtier and partisan as he was, he read correctly the signs of the time, and the remonstrances he addressed to his unhappy master were doubtless sincere and well-founded alike. Like the great body of the extreme Royalists, M. de Vitrolles possibly had forgotten nothing; but he was too able not to have learned much between 1815 and 1830.
The volume before us is only a part of the memoirs of this remarkable man; but, doubtless, it is the most important part-for it comprises the most striking passages in his life, his negotiations in the allied camp, and his relations with the discontented party of Talleyrand and with the Comte d'Artois. M. Thiers had access to the manuscript of the work, and he borrowed largely from it in the brilliant pages in which he describes the fall of Napoleon; but the contributions of M. de Vitrolles are, as it were, lost in the historian's narrative, and in their fusion with it have been deprived of their original character and attractive freshness. Taken altogether, we have seldom read a more lively and interesting
book; and in some respects we may fairly call it a valuable addition to the domain of history. Its most striking feature certainly is its vivid delineation of the celebrated men with whom the author was brought in contact during the great events of 1814, and its admirable description of their varied natures, of their peculiarities of thought and judgement, of their personal appearance, and of their social qualities. M. de Vitrolles had in a very high degree the faculty of observation and of depicting character; and few writers have placed so clearly before us the figures of Talleyrandhis impassive indolence hiding real insight and pregnant wit; of Alexander-impulsive and noble, but fickle and wanting in moral power; of Metternich-graceful, easy, and bland, but quietly steadfast to a fixed purpose; of Castlereagh-haughty, calm, and determined, but deficient perhaps in adroitness and wisdom. Many other subordinate personages, too, stand out lifelike on the author's canvas; and the narrative abounds in characteristic anecdotes, especially as regards the career of Talleyrand, some of them, we think, being altogether new. As for the purely historical parts of the work, this volume shows with peculiar clearness how utterly hopeless the cause of the Bourbons appeared, even to its own partisans, only a few weeks before it had an easy triumph; it throws fresh light on the train of events which gradually led the reluctant allies to repudiate and dethrone Napoleon; it contains* a few original papers on the Congress, as it was called, of Châtillon, which we do not remember to have seen before; and it gives curious and important details of the negotiations between the Comte d'Artois and the Provisional Government at the Hôtel Florentin. Not the least instructive parts of the book, perhaps, are the reflections of the author himself, and his conversations with the Comte d'Artois on the revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, and on the prospects and duties of the House of Bourbon when about to enter on its long-lost heritage; they show with what ignorant pride of caste the prince and his followers viewed the events which had transformed Europe since 1789; with what unconscious insolence they regarded Frenchmen of all classes and orders outside their own; how they chafed against the accomplished
* The editor of these memoirs has annexed to the work a number of documents, which he describes as 'hitherto unpublished.' This is the case with some of the papers; but others have long ago seen the light. For instance, several of the greatest interest have appeared in the 'Correspondence of Napoleon I.'
facts wrought by the mightiest change in history; how, in the Paris of 1814, they lived on memories of Coblentz and Versailles. For the rest, the literary merit of this book is great. M. de Vitrolles was skilled in the polished language of the Parisian salons of the eighteenth century, and we are reminded of the generation that worshipped Voltaire by the finish and point of his brilliant sentences.
It is unnecessary to dwell on the first part of the chequered career of M. de Vitrolles. He was born in 1774, and was sprung from a good family of the robe in Dauphiny, which, like that of Montesquieu and other jurists, had the class feelings of the noblesse of the sword. Among his kinsmen was the well-known Suffren, one of the few French admirals of the eighteenth century who maintained the honour of their flag on the sea; and he learned the rudiments of arms from a good-looking sergeant, who, in the wild play of fortune during the years that followed, was to become Prince of Pontecorvo and King of Sweden. He was being trained for civilian life when the Revolution, intense in Dauphiny, overwhelmed his family and destroyed his prospects, and while still in his teens he joined the ranks of the émigré army arrayed to take part in the crusade of Europe against the Republic. He served, as we said, in the camp of Condé, fought with some distinction on more than one field, and, in the bitter apprenticeship of defeat and exile, learned, in his own language, to regard the France of the Revolution as a land of blood overrun by a horde of barbarian savages.' These feelings, however, did not prevent him from seeking the natal soil after the 18th Brumaire, and welcoming the amnesty which the First Consul, in the first and auspicious part of his reign, offered to the baffled émigré faction; and through the interposition of Napoleon himself, he was placed at the head of one of the local governments, into which Dauphiny had been divided, and afterwards obtained the title of baron, an appanage of the family under the fallen monarchy. The sentiments with which the soldier of Condé accepted these marks of distinction and favour, if scarcely honourable, were those of his order: a French noble was within his right in getting all that he could out of a low usurper; but he owed no kind of gratitude to Napoleon, and it was not unbecoming to plot against a crowned parvenu in the interest of the Anointed of the Lord, and if punished for treason to cry out murder. M. de Vitrolles, however, like most of his fellows, discreetly kept these ideas to himself as long as the Empire remained fortunate; and it
was not until after Moscow and Leipzig that he began to perceive that the reign of Napoleon was a period of brutal force and fraud, destructive alike to France and to Europe. M. de Vitrolles' sketch of the Imperial régime is charged with the very darkest colours; and it is easy, doubtless, to show how its chief exhausted the power of France abroad, pursued a course of insane ambition, stifled every aspiration of freedom at home, and sapped and perverted the French intellect. Yet, if history assents to this judgement, she will also pronounce that the rule of Napoleon restored order, made France renowned, and founded institutions that still flourish, and its extravagant tyranny was largely due to the circumstances of the age and to the national character. The despotism of the Empire was the natural growth of the rank corruption of the ancient régime, and of the mad anarchy of 1793-4; it was hailed by a race that has always preferred strong government to political freedom; and as long as it spread from Lübeck to Rome, and made France the dominant State of the Continent, it was the admiration and glory of Frenchmen.
The disasters of 1813 made M. de Vitrolles prick up his ears, and mutter complaints against the Empire. These, at first, were the mere whispers of salons, but they grew louder and more distinct when the hosts of Europe had invaded France. The partisans, however, of the House of Bourbon were scattered, timid, and ignorant of affairs; and M. de Vitrolles, who took the lead in plotting on behalf of the royal family, had to seek for assistance in a different quarter. The friendship of a great lady of the old régime made him intimate with two or three personages, who had served the Empire, but disliked Napoleon; and a conspiracy against the Imperial Government, already shaken in public opinion, began gradually to take a definite shape. Talleyrand was the chief of this secret intrigue: he had feared and hated Napoleon for years and, vulture-like, now scented his fall; and whatever may be thought of the honour of a man who still served the master he sought to destroy, it must be remembered that he had long ceased to direct the foreign affairs of France, and that he had disapproved of the Emperor's wildest schemes of conquest. Yet personal animosity, it is not improbable, had much to do with his present attitude; before Napoleon had left the capital to take the command of his retreating armies, he had had a scene of violence with his imperious master; and the following very characteristic anecdote shows what outrages even a man