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Title: Historical Characters - Mackintosh, Talleyrand, Canning, Corbett, Peel
Author: Bulwer, Henry Lytton Earle
Language: English
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[Illustration: TALLEYRAND]

                         HISTORICAL CHARACTERS

                      MACKINTOSH      TALLEYRAND
                      CANNING            COBBETT

                        SIR HENRY LYTTON BULWER
                            (LORD DALLING)

                      MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED

                         _All rights reserved_

    _First Edition, in 2 vols., demy 8vo, 30s., November 1867.
    Second Edition, in 2 vols., demy 8vo, 30s., March 1868. Third
    Edition, in one volume, crown 8vo, 6s., December 1869. Fourth
    Edition, in which was included, for the first time, the Life of
    Sir Robert Peel, in one volume, crown 8vo, 6s., December 1875.
    Transferred to Macmillan and Co., Ltd., August 1898. Reprinted
    May 1900._



The idea of this work, which I dedicate to you in testimony of the
affection and friendship which have always united us, was conceived
many years ago. I wished to give some general idea of modern history,
from the period of the French Revolution of 1789 down to our own times,
in a series of personal sketches. In these sketches I was disposed to
select types of particular characters, thinking that in this way it
is easier to paint with force and clearness both an individual and
an epoch. The outlines of Talleyrand, Cobbett, and others, were then
imperfectly traced; and Canning and Mackintosh have been little altered.

The manuscript, however, was laid aside amidst the labours of an active
professional career, and only thought of since complete leisure created
the wish for some employment. It was then that I resumed my task.

I need not say that the portraits I give here are but a few of those
I commenced, but the constant change of residence, rendered necessary
by the state of health in which I left Constantinople, interfered with
the completion of my design, and added to the defects which, under any
circumstances, would have been found in the following pages.

Ever yours affectionately,

                                                          H. L. BULWER.

13, RUE ROYALE, PARIS, _Oct 10, 1867_.


The sale which this work has had in its original form has induced my
publisher to recommend a cheaper and more popular one; and I myself
gladly seize the opportunity of correcting some of the errors in
print and expression which, though gradually diminished in preceding
editions, left even the last edition imperfect. An author with ordinary
modesty must always be conscious of many defects in his own work. I
am so in mine. Still I venture to say that the portraits I have drawn
have, upon the whole, been thought truthful and impartial; and though
I have been often reminded of the difficulty which Sir Walter Raleigh,
when writing the History of the World, experienced in ascertaining the
real particulars of a tumult that took place under his windows--almost
every anecdote one hears on the best authority being certain to find
contradiction in some of its particulars--I have not refrained from
quoting those anecdotes which came to me from good authority or the
general report of the period; since a story which brings into relief
the reputed character of the person it is applied to, and which, to
use the Italian proverb, ought to be true if it is not so, is far from
being indifferent to history.

In conclusion, I cannot but express my thanks, not only to public, but
to private and previously unknown critics, whose remarks have always
received a willing and grateful attention, and to whose suggestions I
am greatly indebted.

                                                        _Nov. 6, 1869._




    Different types of men.--M. de Talleyrand, the politic
    man.--Character of the eighteenth century, which had formed
    him.--Birth, personal description, entry into church.--Causes
    of revolution.--States-General.--Talleyrand’s influence over
    clergy; over the decision as to the instructions of members,
    and the drawing up of the rights of man.--Courage in times
    of danger.--Financial knowledge.--Propositions relative to
    church property.--Discredit with the Court party.--Popularity
    with the Assembly.--Charged to draw up its manifesto to the
    nation.--Project about uniformity of weights and measures.


There are many men in all times who employ themselves actively in
public affairs; but very few amongst these deserve the title of “Men of

The rare individuals who justly claim this designation, and whose
existence exercises so important an influence over the age in which
they appear, must possess, in no ordinary degree, intelligence, energy,
and judgment; but these qualities are found blended in different
degrees in the different classes or types of men who, as soldiers,
sovereigns, or statesmen, command the destiny of their times.

They in whom superior intelligence, energy, and judgment are equally
united, mount with firm and rapid pace the loftiest steeps of ambition,
and establish themselves permanently on the heights to which they
have safely ascended. Such men usually pursue some fixed plan or
predominant idea with stern caution and indomitable perseverance,
adapting their means to their end, but always keeping their end clearly
in view, and never, in the pursuit of it, overstepping that line by
which difficulties are separated from impossibilities. Cardinal de
Richelieu in France, and William III. in England, are types of this
heroic race.

On the other hand, they in whom the judgment, however great, is
not sufficient to curb the energy and govern the intellect which
over-stimulates their nature, blaze out, meteor-like, in history, but
rather excite temporary admiration than leave behind them permanent
results. Their exploits far surpass those of other men, and assume
for a moment an almost supernatural appearance: but, as their rise is
usually sudden and prodigious, their ruin is also frequently abrupt
and total. Carried on by a force over which they gradually lose all
control, from one act of audacity to another more daring, their genius
sails before the wind, like a vessel with overcrowded canvas, and
perishes at last in some violent and sudden squall. Charles XII. of
Sweden was an example of this kind in the last century, and Napoleon
Bonaparte, if we regard him merely as a conqueror, a more striking one
in our own days.

Thirdly, there are men whose energy though constant is never violent,
and whose intellect, rather subtle than bold, is attracted by the
useful, and careless of the sublime. Shrewd and wary, these men rather
take advantage of circumstances than make them. To turn an obstacle, to
foresee an event, to seize an opportunity, is their peculiar talent.
They are without passions, but self-interest and sagacity combined give
them a force like that of passion. The success they obtain is procured
by efforts no greater than those of other candidates for public
honours, who with an appearance of equal talent vainly struggle after
fortune; but all their exertions are made at the most fitting moment,
and in the happiest manner.

A nice tact and a far-sighted judgment are the predominant qualities of
these “_politic_” persons. They think rarely of what is right in the
abstract: they do usually what is best at the moment. They never play
the greatest part amongst their contemporaries: they almost always play
a great one; and, without arriving at those extraordinary positions to
which a more adventurous race aspires, generally retain considerable
importance, even during the most changeful circumstances, and most
commonly preserve in retirement or disgrace much of the consideration
they acquired in power. During the intriguing and agitated years
which preceded the fall of the Stuarts, there was seen in England a
remarkable statesman of the character I have just been describing; and
a comparison might not inappropriately be drawn between the plausible
and trimming Halifax and the adroit and accomplished personage whose
name is inscribed on these pages.

But although these two renowned advocates of expediency had many
qualities in common--the temper, the wit, the knowledge, the
acuteness which distinguished the one equally distinguishing the
other--nevertheless the Englishman, although a more dexterous debater
in public assemblies, had not in action the calm courage, nor in
council the prompt decision, for which the Frenchman was remarkable;
neither is his name stamped on the annals of his country in such
indelible characters, nor connected with such great and marvellous

And yet, notwithstanding the vastness of the stage on which M. de
Talleyrand acted, and the importance of the parts which for more than
half a century he played, I venture to doubt whether his character
has ever been fairly given, or is at this moment justly appreciated;
nor is this altogether surprising. In a life so long, brilliant, and
varied, we must expect to find a diversity of impressions succeeding
and effacing each other; and not a few who admired the captivating
companion, and reverenced the skilful minister of foreign affairs,
were ignorant that the celebrated wit and sagacious diplomatist had
exhibited an exquisite taste in letters, and a profound knowledge in
legislation and finance. Moreover, though it may appear singular, it
will be found true, that it is precisely those public men who are the
most tolerant to adverse opinions, and the least prone to personal
enmities, who oftentimes gather round their own reputation, at least
during a time, the darkest obloquy and the most terrible reproaches.
The reason for this is simple: such men are themselves neither subject
to any predominant affection, nor devoted to any favourite theory.
Calm and impartial, they are lenient and forgiving. On the other hand,
men who love things passionately, or venerate things deeply, despise
those who forsake--and detest those who oppose--the objects of their
adoration or respect. Thus, the royalist, ready to lay down his life
for his legitimate sovereign; the republican, bent upon glorious
imitations of old Rome and Greece; the soldier, devoted to the chief
who had led him from victory to victory, could not but speak with
bitterness and indignation of one who commenced the Revolution against
Louis XVI., aided in the overthrow of the French Republic, and dictated
the proscription of the great captain whose armies had marched for a
while triumphant over Europe.

The most ardent and violent of the men of M. de Talleyrand’s time were
consequently the most ardent and violent condemners of his conduct; and
he who turns over the various works in which that conduct is spoken
of by insignificant critics,[1] will be tempted to coincide with the
remark of the great wit of the eighteenth century: “_C’est un terrible
avantage de n’avoir rien fait; mais il ne faut pas en abuser._”[2]

How far such writers were justified will be seen more or less in
the following pages, which are written with no intention to paint a
character deserving of eulogy or inviting to imitation, but simply with
the view of illustrating a remarkable class of men by a very remarkable
man, who happened to live at a period which will never cease to occupy
and interest posterity.


Charles Maurice Talleyrand de Périgord was born February 2, 1754.[3]
The House of Périgord was one of the noblest in France, and in the
earliest ages of the French monarchy possessed sovereign power. The
principality of Chalais, the only one which existed, I believe, in the
time of Louis XIV. (for the other personages called princes at the
French court took their titles as princes of the Roman States or the
German Empire, and ranked after French dukes), is said to have been
eight centuries in this family. Talleyrand, a name usually attached
to that of Périgord, and anciently written _Tailleran_, is supposed
to have been a sort of _sobriquet_, or nickname, and derived from the
words, “_tailler les rangs_” (cut through the ranks). It was borne
by Helie V., one of the sovereign counts of Périgord, who lived in
1118; and from this prince (Helie V.) descended two branches of the
Talleyrand-Périgords; the one was extinct before the time of Louis
XVI., the other, being the younger branch, was then represented by a
Comte de Périgord, Captain of the Guards, and Governor of the States
of Languedoc. A brother of this Comte de Périgord was the father of
Charles Maurice Talleyrand de Périgord (the subject of this memoir),
whose mother, Eléonore de Damas, daughter of the Marquis de Damas, was
also of a highly noble family, and a lady alike remarkable for her
beauty and her virtue.[4]


The seal which marks our destiny has usually been stamped on our
childhood; and most men, as they look back to their early youth, can
remember the accident, the book, the conversation, which gave that
shape to their character which events have subsequently developed.

M. de Talleyrand was in infancy an exile from his home; the fortune
of his parents did not correspond with their rank: his father,[5]
a soldier, was always at the court or the camp; his mother held a
situation in the household at Versailles. To both a child was an
incumbrance, and Maurice immediately at his birth was put out to nurse
(as was indeed at that time frequently the custom) in the country,
where, either by chance or neglect, he met with a fall which occasioned
lameness. This infirmity, when the almost forgotten child at the age of
twelve or thirteen was brought up to Paris for the purpose of receiving
rather a tardy education, had become incurable; and by a _conseil
de famille_, it was decided that the younger brother, the Comte
d’Archambaud--subsequently known as one of the handsomest and most
elegant of the courtiers of Louis XVI., and whom I can remember under
the title of Duc de Périgord--(a title given by Louis XVIII.), should
be considered the elder brother, and enter the army, whilst the elder
son should be pronounced the younger son, and devoted to the clerical
profession, into which the Périgords knew they had sufficient influence
to procure his admission, notwithstanding the infirmity which, under
ordinary circumstances, would have been a reason for excluding him from
the service of the church. From this moment the boy--hitherto lively,
idle, and reckless--became taciturn, studious, and calculating. His
early propensities remained, for nature admits of no radical change;
but they were coloured by disappointment, or combated by ambition.
We see traces of gaiety in the companion who, though rarely smiling
himself, could always elicit a laugh from others; we see traces of
indolence in the statesman who, though always occupied, never did more
than the necessity of the case exacted; we see traces of recklessness
in the gambler and politician who, after a shrewd glance at the
chances, was often disposed to risk his fortune, or his career, on a
speculation for money or power: but the mind had been darkened and
the heart hardened; and the youth who might easily and carelessly
have accepted a prosperous fate, was ushered into the world with a
determination to wrestle with an adverse one.

Nor did any paternal advice or maternal care regulate or soften the
dispositions which were thus being formed. From the nurse in the
country, the lame young Périgord--for Périgord was the name which at
this time he bore--was transplanted to the “Collége d’Harcourt,” since
called that of St. Louis. He entered it more ignorant, perhaps, than
any boy of his years; but he soon gained its first prizes, and became
one of its most distinguished scholars.

At the “Séminaire de St. Sulpice,” to which he was removed in 1770,
his talent for disputation attracted attention, and even some of his
compositions were long remembered and quoted by contemporaries. Whilst
at the Sorbonne, where he subsequently completed his studies, this
scion of one of the most illustrious French houses was often pointed
out as a remarkably clever, silent, and profligate young man: who made
no secret of his dislike to the profession that had been chosen for
him, but was certain to arrive at its highest honours.

With such prospects and such dispositions, M. de Talleyrand entered, in
1773, the Gallican Church.


At this time we have to fancy the young ecclesiastic--a gentleman about
twenty years of age, very smart in his clerical attire, and with a
countenance which, without being handsome, was singularly attractive
from the triple expression of softness, impudence, and wit. If we
are to credit the chronicles of that day, his first advance in his
profession was owing to one of those _bon mots_ by which so many of the
subsequent steps of his varied career were distinguished.

There were assembled at Madame Dubarry’s a number of young gentlemen,
rather free in their conversation and prodigal in their boasts: no
beauty had been veiled to their desires, no virtue had been able to
resist their attacks. The subject of this memoir alone said nothing.
“And what makes you so sad and silent?” asked the hostess. “_Hélas!
madame, je faisais une réflexion bien triste._” “_Et laquelle?_” “_Ah,
madame, que Paris est une ville dans laquelle il est bien plus aisé
d’avoir des femmes que des abbayes._”

The saying, so goes the story, was considered charming, and being
reported to Louis XV., was rewarded by that monarch with the benefice
desired. The Abbé de Périgord’s career, thus commenced, did not long
linger. Within a few years after entering the church, aided by his
birth and abilities, he obtained (in 1780) the distinguished position
of “Agent-General” of the French clergy--this title designating an
important personage who administered the ecclesiastical revenues, which
were then immense, under the control of regular assemblies.

It is a curious trait in the manners of these times that, whilst
holding this high post as a priest, the Abbé de Périgord fitted out
a vessel as a privateer; and, it being his intention to plunder the
English, received from the French government the cannon he required for
so pious a purpose.[6]

I am unable to say what success attended M. de Talleyrand’s naval
enterprise; but when, in 1785, he had to give an account of his
clerical administration, the very clear and statesmanlike manner in
which he did so, raised him, in the opinion of the public, from the
position of a clever man, into that of an able one. Nor was this all.
The peculiar nature of the first public duties which he thus exercised,
directed his mind towards those questions which the increasing deficit
in the French treasury, and the acknowledged necessity of supplying
it, made the fashion: for every one at that time in Paris--ladies,
philosophers, wits, and men of fashion--talked finance. Few, however,
troubled themselves with acquiring any real insight into so dry a
subject. But M. de Talleyrand, although constitutionally averse to
hard or continued study, supplied this defect by always seeking and
living with men who were the best informed on those subjects with which
he wished to become acquainted. In this manner his own information
became essentially practical, and the knowledge he obtained of details
(furnishing him with a variety of facts, which he always knew how to
quote opportunely), attracted the attention and patronage of M. de
Calonne, then at the head of the French government, and who, being
himself as much addicted to pleasure as to affairs, was not sorry to
sanction the doctrine that a man of the world might also be a man of

Still, though thus early marked out as a person who, after the example
of his great ecclesiastical predecessors, might rise to the highest
dignities in the Church and State, the Abbé de Périgord showed an
almost ostentatious disregard for the duties and decorum of the
profession which he had been forced to embrace. Indeed, he seemed to
make in this sort of conduct a kind of protest against the decree by
which his birthright had been set aside, and almost to glory in the
publication of profane epigrams and amorous adventures which amused
the world but scandalised the Church. Thus, each year, which increased
his reputation for ability, added to the stories by which public
rumour exaggerated his immorality; and in 1788, when the bishopric
of Autun, to which he had for some time been looking forward, became
vacant, Louis XVI. was unwilling to confer the dignity of prelate on
so irregular an ecclesiastic. For four months the appointment was not
filled up. But the Abbé de Périgord’s father lay at that time on his
death-bed: he was visited by the kind-hearted Louis in this condition,
and he begged the monarch, as the last request of a dying and faithful
servant, to grant the bishopric in question to his son. The King could
not withstand such a prayer at such a moment, and the Abbé de Périgord
was consecrated Bishop of Autun on the 17th of January, 1789--four
months before the assembling of the States-General.


The period which had elapsed between the time at which M. de Talleyrand
had entered the Church, and that at which he attained the episcopal
dignity, is, perhaps, the most interesting in modern civilization. At
no epoch did society ever present so bright and polished a surface
as it did in the French capital during these fourteen or fifteen
years. The still great fortunes of the _grand seigneur_, the profuse
expenditure of the financier, the splendour of a court embellished
by that love for the arts and for letters which the Medici had
imported from Italy, and which Louis XIV. had made a part of his royal
magnificence, all contributed to surround life with a taste in luxury
which has never been surpassed. Rich manufactures of silk, exquisite
chiseling in bronze, china equally beautiful in form and decoration,
and paintings somewhat effeminate, but graceful, and which still give
celebrity to the names of Watteau, Boucher, and Greuze, mark the
elegant refinement that presided over those days.

Nothing, however, in those courtly times had been carried to such
perfection as the art of living, and the habits of social intercourse.
People did not then shut up their houses from their friends if they
were poor, nor merely open them in order to give gorgeous and pompous
entertainments if they were rich. Persons who suited and sympathised,
assembled in small circles, which permitted the access of new members
cautiously, but received all who had once been admitted without
preference or distinction.

In these circles, the courtier, though confident of the fixed
superiority of his birth, paid homage to the accident of genius in the
man of letters; and the literary man, however proud of his works, or
conscious of his talents, rendered the customary tribute of respect to
high rank and station.

Thus poets and princes, ministers of state, and members of learned
academies--men of wit, and men of the world--met on a footing of
apparent equality, and real familiarity, on a stage where Beauty,
ambitious of universal admiration, cultivated her mind as much as her
person, and established one presiding theory--“that all had to make
themselves agreeable.”

The evening parties of Madame de Brignole, and of Madame du Deffand,
the little suppers of Madame Geoffrin, the dinners of Baron Holbach
and Helvetius, the musical receptions of the Abbé Morelet, and the
breakfasts of Madame Necker, were only specimens of the sort of
assemblies which existed amongst different classes, and throughout
every street and corner of Paris and Versailles.

Here, all orders mingled with suitable deference towards each other.
But beneath this brilliant show of actual gaiety and apparent unity
there lay brooding a spirit of dissatisfaction and expectation,
which a variety of peculiar circumstances tended, at that time, to
exaggerate in France, but which is in fact the usual characteristic of
every intellectual community, when neither over-enervated by luxury
and peace, nor over-wearied by war and civil commotion. Its natural
consequence was a desire for change, which diffused its influence over
all things--great and small. Léonard revolutionized the head-dress of
the French lady: Diderot and Beaumarchais, the principles of the French
stage: Turgot and Necker, the political economy and financial system of
the French state: and just at this moment, when the imagination was on
the stretch for novelty, as if Providence designed for some mysterious
end to encourage the aspiring genius of the epoch, the balloon of
Montgolfier took its flight from the Tuileries, and the most romantic
dreams were surpassed by a reality.

It was not, however, a mere discontent with the present, a mere hope
in the future, a mere passion after things new, however violent that
passion might be, which constituted the peril, nor, indeed, the
peculiarity of the hour.

In other seasons of this kind, the wishes and views of men have
frequently taken some fixed form--have had some fixed tendency--and in
this way their progress has been regulated, and their result, even from
a distance, foreseen.

But at the period to which I am referring, there was no general
conception or aim which cast a decisive shadow over coming events, and
promised any specific future in exchange for the present, evidently
passing away.

There still lived, though on the verge of the tomb, an individual to
whom this distinguishing misfortune of the eighteenth century was in no
small degree attributable. The keen sagacity of Voltaire, his piercing
raillery, his brilliant and epigrammatic eloquence, had ridiculed and
destroyed all faith in old abuses, but had never attempted to give
even a sketch of what was to come in their room. “_Magis habuit quod
fugeret quam quod sequeretur._” The effect of his genius, therefore,
had been to create around him a sort of luminous mist, produced by
the blending of curiosity and doubt; an atmosphere favourable to
scepticism, favourable to credulity; and, above all things, generative
of enthusiasts and empirics. St. Germain the alchymist, Cagliostro
the conjurer, Condorcet the publicist, Marat the politician, were the
successive produce of this marvellous and singular epoch. And thus
it was,--amidst a general possession of privileges, and a general
equality of customs and ideas--amidst a great generosity of sentiment,
and an almost entire absence of principle in a society unequalled in
its charms, unbounded in its hopes, and altogether ignorant of its
destiny,--that the flower of M. de Talleyrand’s manhood was passed.


I have dwelt at some length upon the characteristics--

    “Of those gay times of elegance and ease,
    When Pleasure learnt so gracefully to please:
    When wits and courtiers held the same resorts,
    The courtiers wits, and all wits fit for courts:
    When woman, perfect in her siren art,
    Subdued the mind, and trifled with the heart;
    When Wisdom’s lights in fanes fantastic shone,
    And Taste had principles, and Virtue none:
    When schools disdained the morals understood,
    And sceptics boasted of some better good:
    When all was Fairyland which met the view,
    No truth untheorized, and no theory true.”

I have dwelt, I say, at some length upon the characteristics of those
times; because it is never to be forgotten that the personage I have to
speak of was their child. To the latest hour of his existence he fondly
cherished their memory; to them he owed many of those graces which his
friends still delight to recall: to them, most of those faults which
his enemies have so frequently portrayed.

The great test of his understanding was that he totally escaped all
their grosser delusions. Of this I am able to give a striking proof.
It has been said that M. de Talleyrand was raised to the episcopal
dignity in January, 1789, four months previous to the assembling of the
States-General. To that great Assembly he was immediately named by the
_baillage_ of his own diocese; and perhaps there is hardly to be found
on record a more remarkable example of human sagacity and foresight
than in the new bishop’s address to the body which had chosen him its

In this address, which I have now before me, he separates all the
reforms which were practicable and expedient, from all the schemes
which were visionary and dangerous--the one and the other being at
that time confused and jumbled together in the half-frenzied brains
of his countrymen: he omits none of those advantages in government,
legislation, finance--for he embraces all these--which fifty years have
gradually given to France: he mentions none of those projects of which
time, experience, and reason have shown the absurdity and futility.

A charter giving to all equal rights: a great code embodying and
simplifying all existing and necessary laws: a due provision for prompt
justice: the abolition of arbitrary arrest: the mitigation of the laws
between debtor and creditor: the institution of trial by jury: the
liberty of the press, and the inviolability of private correspondence:
the destruction of those interior imposts which cut up France into
provinces, and of those restrictions by which all but members of
guilds were excluded from particular trades: the introduction of order
into the finances under a well-regulated system of public accounts:
the suppression of all feudal privileges: and the organization of a
well-considered general plan of taxation: such were the changes which
the Bishop of Autun suggested in the year 1789. He said nothing of
the perfectibility of the human race: of a total reorganization of
society under a new system of capital and labour: he did not promise
an eternal peace, nor preach a general fraternity amongst all races
and creeds. The ameliorations he proposed were plain and simple;
they affiliated with ideas already received, and could be grafted on
the roots of a society already existing. They have stood the test of
eighty years--now advanced by fortunate events, now retarded by adverse
ones--some of them have been disdained by demagogues, others denounced
by despots;--they have passed through the ordeal of successive
revolutions; and they furnish at this instant the foundations on which
all wise and enlightened Frenchmen desire to establish the condition
of government and society in their great and noble country. Let us do
honour to an intelligence that could trace these limits for a rising
generation; to a discretion that resisted the temptation to stray
beyond them!


About the time of the assembling of the States-General, there appeared
a work which it is now curious to refer to--it was by the pen of
Laclos--entitled _Galerie des États-Généraux_. This work gave a sketch
under assumed names of the principal personages likely to figure in
the States-General. Amongst a variety of portraits, are to be found
those of General Lafayette and the Bishop of Autun; the first under
the name of Philarète, the second under that of Amène; and, assuredly,
the author startles us by his nice perception of the character and by
his prophetic sagacity as to the career of these two men. It is well,
however, to remember that Laclos frequented the Palais Royal, which the
moral and punctilious soldier of Washington scrupulously avoided. The
criticism I give, therefore, is not an impartial one. For, if General
Lafayette was neither a hero nor a statesman, he was, take him all in
all, one of the most eminent personages of his time, and occupied,
at two or three periods, one of the most prominent positions in his

“Philarète,” says M. Laclos, “having found it easy to become a hero,
fancies it will be as easy to become a statesman. The misfortune of
Philarète is that he has great pretensions and ordinary conceptions.
He has persuaded himself that he was the author of the revolution in
America; he is arranging himself so as to become one of the principal
actors in a revolution in France.

“He mistakes notoriety for glory, an event for a success, a sword for
a monument, a compliment for immortality. He does not like the court,
because he is not at his ease in it; nor the world, because there he is
confounded with the many; nor women, because they injure the reputation
of a man, while they do not add to his position. But he is fond of
clubs, because he there picks up the ideas of others; of strangers,
because they only examine a foreigner superficially; of mediocrity,
because it listens and admires.

“Philarète will be faithful to whatever party he adopts, without being
able to assign, even to himself, any good reasons for being so. He
has no very accurate ideas of constitutional authority, but the word
‘liberty’ has a charm for him, because it rouses an ambition which he
scarcely knows what to do with. Such is Philarète. He merits attention,
because, after all, he is better than most of his rivals. That the
world has been more favourable to him than he deserves, is owing to the
fact that he has done a great deal in it, considering the poverty of
his ability; and people have been grateful to him, rather on account of
what he seemed desirous to be, than on account of what he was. Besides,
his exterior is modest, and only a few know that the heart of the man
is not mirrored on the surface.

“He will never be much more than we see him, for he has little genius,
little nerve, little voice, little art, and is greedy of small

Such was the portrait which was drawn of Lafayette; we now come to that
of M. de Talleyrand.

“Amène has charming manners, which embellish virtue. His first title
to success is a sound understanding. Judging men with indulgence,
events with calmness, he has in all things that moderation which is the
characteristic of true philosophy.

“There is a degree of perfection which the intelligence can comprehend
rather than realise, and which there is, undoubtedly, a certain degree
of greatness in endeavouring to attain; but such brilliant efforts,
though they give momentary fame to those who make them, are never
of any real utility. Common sense disdains glitter and noise, and,
measuring the bounds of human capacity, has not the wild hope of
extending them beyond what experience has proved their just limit.

“Amène has no idea of making a great reputation in a day: such
reputations, made too quickly, soon begin to decline, and are followed
by envy, disappointment, and sorrow. But Amène will _arrive at
everything_, because he will always profit by those occasions which
present themselves to such as do not attempt to ravish Fortune. Each
step will be marked by the development of some talent, and thus he will
at last acquire that general high opinion which summons a statesman to
every great post that is vacant. Envy, which will always deny something
to a person generally praised, will reply to what we have said, that
Amène has not that force and energy of character which is necessary to
break through the obstacles that impede the course of a public man. It
is true he will _yield to circumstances_, to reason, and will deem that
he can make _sacrifices to peace without descending from principle_;
but firmness and constancy may exist without violent ardour, or vapid

“Amène has against him his pleasing countenance and seductive manner.
I know people whom these advantages displease, and who are also
prejudiced against a man who happens to unite the useful chance of
birth with the essential qualities of the mind.

“But what are we really to expect from Amène in the States-General?
Nothing, if he is inspired with the spirit of class; much, if he acts
after his own conceptions, and remembers that a national assembly only
contains citizens.”


Few who read the above sketch will deny to the author of the “_Liaisons
Dangereuses_” the merit of discernment. Indeed, to describe M. de
Talleyrand at this time seems to have been more appropriate to the
pen of the novelist than to that of the historian. Let us picture to
ourselves a man of about thirty-five, and appearing somewhat older:
his countenance of a long oval; his eyes blue, with an expression at
once deep and variable; his lips usually impressed with a smile, which
was that of mockery, but not of ill-nature; his nose slightly turned
up, but delicate, and remarkable for a constant play in the clearly
chiseled nostrils. “He dressed,” says one of his many biographers,
“like a coxcomb, he thought like a deist, he preached like a saint.” At
once active and irregular, he found time for everything: the church,
the court, the opera. In bed one day from indolence or debauch, up the
whole of the following night to prepare a memoir or a speech. Gentle
with the humble, haughty with the high; not very exact in paying his
debts, but very scrupulous with respect to giving and breaking promises
to pay them.

A droll story is related with respect to this last peculiarity. The
new Bishop had ordered and received a very handsome carriage, becoming
his recent ecclesiastical elevation. He had not, however, settled the
coachmaker’s “small account.” After long waiting and frequent letters,
the civil but impatient tradesman determined upon presenting himself
every day at the Bishop of Autun’s door, at the same time as his

For several days, M. de Talleyrand saw, without recognising, a
well-dressed individual, with his hat in his hand, and bowing very low
as he mounted the steps of his coach. “_Et qui êtes vous, mon ami?_”
he said at last. “_Je suis votre carrossier, Monseigneur._” “_Ah!
vous êtes mon carrossier; et que voulez-vous, mon carrossier?_” “_Je
veux être payé, Monseigneur_,” said the coachmaker, humbly. “_Ah!
vous êtes mon carrossier, et vous voulez être payé; vous serez payé,
mon carrossier._” “_Et quand, Monseigneur?_”[7] “Hum!” murmured the
Bishop, looking at his coachmaker very attentively, and at the same
time settling himself in his new carriage: “_Vous êtes bien curieux!_”
Such was the Talleyrand of 1789, embodying in himself the ability and
the frivolity, the ideas and the habits of a large portion of his
class. At once the associate of the Abbé Sieyès, and of Mademoiselle
Guimard: a profligate fine gentleman, a deep and wary thinker; and,
above all things, the delight and ornament of that gay and graceful
society, which, crowned with flowers, was about to be the first victim
to its own philosophy. As yet, however, the sky, though troubled,
gave no evidence of storm; and never, perhaps, did a great assembly
meet with less gloomy anticipations than that which in the pomp and
gallantry of feudal show, swept, on the 1st of May, through the royal
city of Versailles.

Still, there was even at that moment visible the sign and symbol of the
approaching crisis; for dark behind the waving plumes and violet robes
of the great dignitaries of Church and State, moved on the black mass,
in sable cloak and garb, of the Commons, or tiers-état, the body which
had, _as yet, been nothing_, but which had just been told by one of its
most illustrious members,[8] that it _ought to be everything_.

The history of the mighty revolution which at this moment was
commencing, is still so stirring amongst us,--the breath of the tempest
which then struck down tower and temple, is still so frequently fancied
to be rustling about our own dwellings,--that when the mind even now
wanders back, around and about this time, it is always with a certain
interest and curiosity, and we pause once again to muse, even though we
have often before meditated, upon that memorable event which opened a
new chapter in the history of the world. And the more we reflect, the
more does it seem surprising that in so civilised an age, and under so
well-meaning a sovereign, an august throne and a great society should
have been wholly swept away; nor does it appear less astonishing that
a monarch with arbitrary sway, that a magistracy with extraordinary
privileges, each wishing to retain their authority, should have
voluntarily invoked another power, long slumbering in an almost
forgotten constitution, and which, when roused into activity, was so
immediately omnipotent over parliament and king.


The outline of Louis XVI.’s reign is easily, though I do not remember
where it is briefly, and clearly traced. At its commencement, the
influence of new opinions was confined to the library and drawing-room.
The modern notions of constitutional liberty and political economy
prevalent amongst men of letters, and fashionable amongst men of the
world, had not been professed by men in power, and were consequently
disdained by that large class which wishes in all countries to pass for
the practical portion of the community. At this time, an old minister,
himself a courtier, and jealous lest other courtiers should acquire
that influence over his master which he possessed, introduced into
affairs a set of persons hitherto unknown at court, the most eminent
of whom were Turgot, Malesherbes, and Necker; and no sooner had these
three eminent reformers obtained a serious political position, than
their views acquired a political consideration which had not before
belonged to them, and the idea that some great and general reform was
shortly to take place entered seriously into the public mind. Each of
these ministers would have wished to make the reforms that were most
necessary with the aid of the royal authority; and, had they been able
to do so, it is probable that they would have preserved the heart
and strength of the old monarchy, which was yet only superficially
decayed. But the moderate changes which they desired to introduce
with the assent of all parties, were opposed by all parties, in spite
of--or, perhaps, on account of--their very moderation: for losers are
rarely satisfied because their losses are small, and winners are never
contented but when their gains are great.

In the meantime, Maurepas, who would have supported the policy of his
colleagues, if it had brought him popularity, was by no means disposed
to do so when it gave him trouble. Thus, Malesherbes, Turgot, and
Necker were successively forced to resign their offices, without having
done anything to establish their own policy, but much to render any
other discreditable and difficult.

The publication of the famous “_Compte Rendu_,” or balance-sheet of
state expenses and receipts, more especially, rendered it impossible to
continue to govern as heretofore. And now Maurepas died, and a youthful
queen inherited the influence of an old favourite. M. de Calonne, a
plausible, clever, but superficial gentleman, was the first minister of
any importance chosen by the influence of Marie-Antoinette’s friends.
He saw that the expenses and receipts of the government must bear
some proportion to each other. He trembled at suddenly reducing old
charges; new taxes were the only alternative; and yet it was almost
impossible to get such taxes from the lower and middle classes, if the
clergy and nobility, who conjointly possessed about two-thirds of the
soil, were exempted from all contributions to the public wants. The
minister, nevertheless, shrunk from despoiling the privileged classes
of their immunities, without some authorization from themselves. He
called together, therefore, the considerable personages, or “notables,”
as they were styled, of the realm, and solicited their sanction to new
measures and new imposts, some of the former of which would limit their
authority, and some of the latter affect their purses.

The “notables” were divided into two factions: the one of which was
opposed to M. de Calonne, the other to the changes which he wished
to introduce. These two parties united and became irresistible.
Amongst their ranks was a personage of great ambition and small
capacity--Brienne, Archbishop of Toulouse. This man was the most
violent of M. de Calonne’s opponents. The court turned round suddenly
and chose him as M. de Calonne’s successor. This measure, at first,
was successful, for conflicting opinions end by creating personal
antipathies, and the “notables,” in a moment of exultation over the
defeated minister, granted everything with facility to the minister
who had supplanted him. A new embarrassment, however, now arose.
The notables were, after all, only an advising body: they could
say what they deemed right to be done, but they could not do it.
This was the business of the sovereign; but his edicts, in order
to acquire regularly the force of law, had to be registered by the
Parliament of Paris; and it is easy to understand how such a power
of registration became, under particular circumstances, the power of
refusal. The influence of that great magisterial corporation, called
the “Parliament of Paris,” had, indeed, acquired, since it had been
found necessary to set aside Louis XIV.’s will by the sanction of
its authority, a more clear and positive character than at former
periods. This judicial court, or legislative assembly, had thus become
a constituent part of the State, and had also become--as all political
assemblies, however composed, which have not others for their rivals,
will become--the representative of popular opinion. It had seen, with
a certain degree of jealousy, the convocation, however temporarily, of
another chamber (for such the assembly of notables might be called),
and was, moreover, as belonging to the aristocracy, not very well
disposed to the surrender of aristocratical privileges. It refused,
therefore, to register the new taxes proposed to it: thus thwarting
the consent of the notables, avoiding, for a time, the imposts with
which its own class was threatened, and acquiring, nevertheless, some
increase of popularity with the people who are usually disposed to
resist all taxation, and were pleased with the invectives against the
extravagance of the court, with which the resistance of the parliament
was accompanied.

The government cajoled and threatened the parliament, recalled it,
again quarrelled with it, attempted to suppress it--and failed.

Disturbances broke out, famine appeared at hand, a bankruptcy was
imminent; there was no constituted authority with sufficient power
or sufficient confidence in itself to act decisively. People looked
out for some new authority: they found it in an antique form. “The
States-General!” (that is, an assembly chosen from the different
classes, which, in critical periods of the French nation had been
heretofore summoned) became the unanimous cry. The court, which
wanted money and could not get it, expected to find more sympathy in
a body drawn from all the orders of the State than from a special and
privileged body which represented but one order.

The parliament, on the other hand, imagined that, having acquired the
reputation of defending the nation’s rights, it would have its powers
maintained and extended by any collection of men representing the
nation. This is why both parliament and court came by common accord to
one conclusion.

The great bulk of the nobility, though divided in their previous
discussions, here, also, at last agreed: one portion because it
participated in the views of the court, and the other because it
participated in those of the parliament.

In the meantime, the unfortunate Archbishop, who had tried every plan
for filling the coffers of the court without the aid of the great
council now called together, was dismissed as soon as that council was
definitively summoned: and, according to the almost invariable policy
of restoring to power the statesman who has increased his popularity by
losing office, M. Necker was again placed at the head of the finances
and presented to the public as the most influential organ of the crown.


It will be apparent, from what I have said, that the court expected to
find in the States-General an ally against the parliament, whilst the
parliament expected to find in the States-General an ally against the
court. Both were deceived.

The nobility, or notables, the government, and the parliament, had
all hitherto been impotent, because they had all felt that there was
another power around them and about them, by which their actions were
controlled, but with which, as it had no visible representation, they
had no means of dealing.

That power was “public opinion.” In the Commons of France, in the
Deputies from the most numerous, thoughtful, and stirring classes of
the community, a spirit--hitherto impalpable and invisible--found at
once a corporate existence.

Monsieur d’Espremenil, and those parliamentary patricians who a year
before were in almost open rebellion against the sovereign, at last
saw that they had a more potent enemy to cope with, and rallied
suddenly round the throne. Its royal possessor stood at that moment
in a position which no doubt was perilous, but which, nevertheless, I
believe, a moderate degree of sagacity and firmness might have made
secure. The majority of the aristocracy of all grades, from a feudal
sentiment of honour, was with the King. The middle classes also had
still for the monarch and his rank considerable respect; and were
desirous to find out and sanction some just and reasonable compromise
between the institutions that were disappearing, and the ideas that
had come into vogue. It was necessary to calm the apprehensions of
those who had anything to lose, to fix the views of those who thought
they had something to gain, and to come at once to a settlement with
the various classes--here agitated by fear, there by expectation. But
however evident the necessity of this policy, it was not adopted.
Suspicions that should have been dissipated were excited; notions that
should have been rendered definite were further disturbed; all efforts
at arrangement were postponed; and thus the revolution rushed onwards,
its tide swelling, and its rapidity being increased by the blunders
of those who had the greatest interest and desire to arrest it. The
fortune of M. de Talleyrand was embarked upon that great stream, of
which few could trace the source, and none foresaw the direction.


I have just said that none foresaw the direction in which the great
events now commencing were likely to run. That direction was mainly to
be influenced by the conduct and character of the sovereign, but it
was also, in some degree, to be affected by the conduct and character
of the statesman to whom the destinies of France were for the moment

M. Necker belonged to a class of men not uncommon in our own time.
His abilities, though good, were not of the first order; his mind
had been directed to one particular branch of business; and, as is
common with persons who have no great genius and one specialty, he
took the whole of government to be that part which he best understood.
Accordingly, what he now looked to, and that exclusively, was balancing
the receipts and expenditure of the State. To do this, it was necessary
to tax the nobility and clergy; and the class through whose aid he
could best hope to achieve such a task was the middle-class, or
“tiers-état.” For this reason, when it had been decided to convoke
the States-General, and it became necessary to fix the proportionate
numbers by which each of the three orders (viz. the nobility, clergy,
middle-class, or “tiers-état,”) which composed the States-General,
was to be represented, M. Necker determined that the sole order of
the “tiers-état” should have as many representatives as the two other
orders conjointly; thinking in this way to give the middle-class a
greater authority, and to counterbalance the want of rank in its
individual members, by their aggregate superiority in numbers.

But when M. Necker went thus far he should have gone farther, and
defined in what manner the three orders should vote, and what power
they should separately exercise. This precaution, however, he did not
take; and therefore, as soon as the States-General assembled, there
instantly arose the question as to whether the three orders were to
prove the validity of their elections together as members of one
assembly, or separately as members of three distinct assemblies. This
question, in point of fact, determined whether the three orders were
to sit and vote together, or whether each order was to sit and vote
apart; and after M. Necker’s first regulation it was clear that, in one
case, the order of the Commons would predominate over all opposition;
and that, in the other, it would be subordinate to the two rival
orders. A struggle then naturally commenced.


The members of the “tiers-état,” who, as the largest of the three
bodies forming the States-General, had been left in possession of the
chamber where all the orders had been first collected to meet the
sovereign--an accident much in their favour--invited the members of
the two other orders to join them there. The clergy hesitated; the
nobles refused. Days and weeks passed away, and the minister, seeing
his original error, would willingly have remedied it by now proposing
that which he might originally have fixed, namely, that the three
orders should vote together on questions of finance, and separately
on all other questions. This idea was brought forward late; but, even
thus late, it might have prevailed if the court had been earnest in
its favour. The King, however, and those who immediately influenced
him, had begun to think that a deficit was less troublesome than the
means adopted to get rid of it; and fancying that the States-General,
if left to themselves, might ere long dissolve amidst the dissensions
which were discrediting them, were desirous that these dissensions
should continue. Nor would this policy have failed in its object if
negotiation had been much further prolonged.

But it is at great moments like these that a great man suddenly steps
forth, and whilst the crowd is discussing what is best to be done,
does it. Such a man was the Comte de Mirabeau; and on the 15th of
June, this marvellous personage, whose audacity was often prudence,
having instigated the Abbé Sieyès (whose authority was at that time
great with the Assembly) to bring the subject under discussion, called
on the tiers-état, still doubting and deliberating, to constitute
themselves at once, and without further waiting for the nobility, “The
Representatives of the French people.” They did so in reality, though
not in words, declaring themselves duly elected, and taking as their
title “The National Assembly.” The government thought to stop their
proceedings by simply shutting up the chamber where they had hitherto
met, but so paltry a device was insufficient to arrest the resolutions
of men whose minds were now prepared for important events. Encouraging
each other, the Commons rushed unhesitatingly to a tennis-court, and in
that spot, singularly destined to witness so solemn a ceremony, swore,
with but one dissentient voice, to stand by each other till France
had a constitution. After such an oath, the alternative was clearly
between the old monarchy, with all its abuses, and a new constitution,
whatever its dangers. On this ground, two orders in the State stood
hostilely confronted. But another order remained, whose conduct at such
a juncture was all-decisive. That order was the clergy,--which, still
respected if not venerated,--wealthy, connected by various links with
each portion of society, and especially looked up to by that great
and sluggish mass of quiet men who always stand long wavering between
extremes--had been endeavouring to effect some compromise between
the privileged classes and their opponents, but had as yet taken no
prominent part with either. The moment was come at which it could no
longer hesitate.


M. de Talleyrand, though but a new dignitary in the church, was
already one of its most influential members. He had been excluded by
a prejudice of the nobility from the situation to which his birth had
entitled him amongst them. He had long resolved to obtain another
position at least as elevated through his own exertions. His views,
as we have seen, at the time of his election, were liberal, though
moderate, whilst he was sufficiently acquainted with the character
of Louis XVI. to know that that monarch would never sincerely yield,
nor ever sturdily resist, any concession demanded with persistency.
Partly, therefore, from a conviction that he was doing what was best
for the public, and partly, also, from the persuasion that he was
doing what was best for himself, he separated boldly from the rest of
his family (who were amongst the most devoted to the Comte d’Artois and
Marie-Antoinette), and laboured with unwearied energy to enlist the
body he belonged to on the popular side.

To succeed in this object he had the talents and advantages most
essential. His natural courtesy flattered the curates; his various
acquirements captivated his more learned brethren; his high birth gave
him the ear of the great ecclesiastical dignitaries; and, finally, a
majority of his order, instigated by his exertions and address, joined
the Third Estate, on the 22nd of June, in the Church of Saint-Louis.

From that moment the question hitherto doubtful was determined; for
at no time have the clergy and the commons stood side by side without
being victorious. It was in vain, therefore, that even so early as
the day following, the descendant of Louis XIV., in all the pomp of
royalty, and in the presence of the three orders--whom he had for that
day summoned to assemble--denounced the conduct which the tiers-état
had pursued, annulled their decisions, and threatened them with his
sovereign displeasure.

The tiers-état resisted; the King repented--retracted,--and showing
that he had no will, lost all authority. Thus, on the 27th of June,
the States-General, henceforth designated by the title which had been
already assumed by the Commons (the National Assembly), held their
deliberations together, and the three orders were confounded.


But one step now remained in order to legalise the revolution in
progress. Each deputy had received a sort of mandate or instruction
from those who named him at the moment of his election. Such
instructions or mandates, which had been given at a time when
people could hardly anticipate the state of things which had since
arisen, limited, or seemed to limit, the action of a deputy to
particular points which had especially attracted the attention of his

The conservative party contended that these mandates were imperative,
the liberal party that they were not. According to the first
supposition, the States-General could do no more than redress a few
grievances; according to the other, they could create a perfectly new
system of government.

The Bishop of Autun, in the first speech he delivered in the National
Assembly--a speech which produced considerable effect--argued in
favour of his own liberty and that of his colleagues, and his
views were naturally enough adopted by a body which, feeling its
own force, had to determine its own power. Hence, on the record of
two great decisions--the one solving the States-General into the
“National Assembly;” the other extending and fixing that Assembly’s
authority--decisions which, whatever their other results, were at least
fatal to the power and influence of the class to which he belonged by
birth, but from which he had, in spite of himself, been severed in
childhood--was indelibly inscribed the name of the once despised and
still disinherited cripple of the princely house of Périgord.


There was nothing henceforth to impede the labours of the National
Assembly, and it commenced those labours with earnestness and zeal,
if not with discretion. One of its first acts was to choose by ballot
a committee of eight members, charged to draw up the project of a
constitution, which was subsequently to be submitted to the Assembly.
The Bishop of Autun was immediately placed upon this select and
important committee. It had for its task to render practical the
political speculations of the eighteenth century. Things, however, had
commenced too violently for them to proceed thus peaceably; and as the
success of the popular party had been hitherto obtained by braving
the crown, it was to be expected that the crown would seize the first
opportunity that presented itself for boldly recovering its authority.
A well-timed effort of this kind might have been successful. But
neither Louis XVI., nor any of the counsellors in whom he confided,
possessed that instinct in political affairs which is the soul of
action, inspiring men with the resolve to do the right thing at the
right moment. It has often been found easy to crush a revolution at its
commencement, for the most ardent of its supporters at such a time act
feebly, and doubt about the policy they are pursuing. It has often been
found possible to arrest a revolution at that subsequent stage of its
progress when the moderate are shocked by some excess, or the sanguine
checked by some disappointment; but a revolution is invincible at
that crisis, when its progress, begun with boldness, has neither been
checked by misfortune, nor disgraced by violence.

Nevertheless, it was just at such a crisis that the unfortunate
Louis XVI., guided in a great degree by the fatal influence of his
brother, after having gradually surrounded Versailles and the capital
with troops, suddenly banished M. Necker (July 10th), whose disgrace
was instantly considered the defeat of those who advised the King
to renovate his authority by concessions, and the triumph of those
who counselled him to recover and re-establish it by force. But the
measures which were to follow this act were still in suspense, when a
formidable insurrection broke out at Paris. A portion of the soldiery
sided with the people. The Bastille was taken, and its commandant
put to death, the populace got possession of arms, the prevôt or
mayor of the city was assassinated, whilst the army which had been so
ostentatiously collected in the Champ de Mars and at St. Denis was left
an inactive witness of the insurrection which its array had provoked.
The results were those which usually follow the strong acts of weak
men: Louis XVI. submitted; M. Necker was recalled; the Comte d’Artois

It was M. de Talleyrand’s fortune not merely at all times to quit a
falling party at the commencement of its decline, but to stand firm
by a rising party at the moment of its struggle for success. This
was seen during the contest we have just been describing. Throughout
that contest the Bishop of Autun was amongst the most determined
for maintaining the rights of the nation against the designs of the
court. His decision and courage added not a little to the reputation
which had been already gained by his ability. We find his name,
therefore, first in the list of a small number of eminent men,[9] whom
the Assembly, when surrounded by hostile preparations for restoring
the despotism which had been abolished, charged, in a bold but not
imprudent spirit of defiance, with the task of at once completing and
establishing the constitution which had been promised, and which it
had become evident there was no intention to accord. The labour of
these statesmen, however, was not easy, even after their cause was
triumphant, for political victories often leave the conquerors--in
the excess of their own passions, and the exaggeration of their own
principles--worse enemies than those whom they have vanquished. Such
was the case now.


In the exultation of the moment all moderate notions were laid
aside, and succeeded by a blind excitement in favour of the most
sweeping changes. Nor was this excitement the mere desire of vulgar
and selfish interest stirring the minds of those who hoped to better
their own condition: nobler and loftier emotions lit up the breasts
of men who had only sacrifices to make with a generous enthusiasm.
“Nos âmes,” says the elder Ségur, “étaient alors enivrées d’une
douce philanthropie, qui nous portait à chercher avec passion les
moyens d’être utiles à l’humanité, et de rendre le sort des hommes
plus heureux.”[10] On the 4th of August, “a day memorable with one
party,” observes M. Mignet, “as the St. Bartholomew of property,
and with the other as the St. Bartholomew of abuses,”--personal
service, feudal obligations, pecuniary immunities, trade corporations,
seignorial privileges, and courts of law,--all municipal and provincial
rights,--the whole system of judicature,--based on the purchase and
sale of judicial charges, and which, singular to state, had, however
absurd in theory, hitherto produced in practice learned, able, and
independent magistrates,--in short, almost all the institutions and
peculiarities which constituted the framework of government and society
throughout France, were unhesitatingly swept away, at the instigation
and demand of the first magistrates and nobles of the land, who did not
sufficiently consider that they who destroy at once all existing laws
(whatever those laws may be), destroy at the same time all established
habits of thought;--that is, all customs of obedience, all spontaneous
feelings of respect and affection, without which a form of government
is merely an idea on paper.

In after times, M. de Talleyrand, when speaking of this period, said,
in one of his characteristic phrases, “_La Révolution a désossé la
France._” But it is easier to be a witty critic of by-gone history,
than a cool and impartial actor in passing events; and at the time to
which I am alluding the Bishop of Autun was, undoubtedly, amongst the
foremost in destroying the traditions which constitute a community, and
proclaiming the theories which captivate a mob. The wholesale abolition
of institutions, which must have had something worth preserving or
they would never have produced a great and polished society honourably
anxious to reform its own defects, was sanctioned by his vote; and the
“rights of man,” the acknowledgment of which did so little to secure
the property or life of the citizen, were proclaimed in the words that
he suggested.

It is difficult to conceive how so cool and sagacious a statesman could
have imagined that an old society was to be well governed by entirely
new laws, or that practical liberty could be founded on a declaration
of abstract principles. A sane mind, however, does not always escape
an epidemic folly; any more than a sound body escapes an epidemic
disease. Moreover, in times when to censure unnecessary changes is to
pass for being the patron, and often in reality to be the supporter,
of inveterate abuses, no one carries out, or can hope to carry out,
precisely his own ideas. Men act in masses: the onward pressure of one
party is regulated by the opposing resistance of another: to pursue
a policy, it may be expedient for those who do not feel, to feign,
a passion; and a wise man may excuse his participation in an absurd
enthusiasm by observing it was the only means to vanquish still more
absurd prejudices.

Still, if M. de Talleyrand was at this moment an exaggerated reformer,
he at least did not exhibit one frequent characteristic of exaggerated
reformers, by being so wholly occupied in establishing some delusive
scheme of future perfection, as to despise the present absolute
necessities. He saw from the first that, if the new organization of the
State was really to be effected, it could only be so by re-establishing
confidence in its resources, and that a national bankruptcy would be a
social dissolution. When, therefore, M. Necker (on the 25th of August)
presented to the Assembly a memoir on the situation of the finances,
asking for a loan of eighty millions of francs, the Bishop of Autun
supported this loan without hesitation; demonstrating the importance of
sustaining the public credit; and shortly afterwards (in September),
when the loan thus granted was found insufficient to satisfy the
obligations of the State, he again aided the minister in obtaining from
the Assembly a tax of twenty-five per cent. on the income of every
individual throughout France. A greater national sacrifice has rarely
been made in a moment of national distress, and has never been made
for a more honourable object. It is impossible, indeed, not to feel an
interest in the exertions of men animated, amidst all their errors, by
so noble a spirit, and not to regret that with aspirations so elevated,
and abilities so distinguished, they should have failed so deplorably
in their efforts to unite liberty with order--vigour with moderation.

But Providence seems to have prescribed as an almost universal rule
that everything which is to have a long duration must be of slow
growth. Nor is this all: we must expect that, in times of revolution,
contending parties will constantly be hurried into collisions contrary
to their reason, and fatal to their interests, but inevitably suggested
by their anger or suspicions. Hence the wisest intentions are at the
mercy of the most foolish incidents. Such an incident now occurred.

A military festival at Versailles, which the royal family imprudently
attended, and in which it perhaps idly delighted to excite a profitless
enthusiasm amongst its guards and adherents, alarmed the multitude
at Paris, already irritated by an increasing scarcity of food, and
dreading an appeal to the army on the part of the sovereign, as
the sovereign dreaded an appeal to the people on the part of the
popular leaders. The men of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, and the
women of the market-place, either impelled by their own pressing
wants and indefinite fears, or guided (as it was then--I believe
falsely--reported) by the secret influence of the Duc d’Orléans, were
soon seen pouring from the dark corners of the capital, and covering
the broad and stately road which leads to the long-venerated palace,
where, since the time of the “Great Monarch,” his descendants had held
their court. In the midst of an accidental tumult, this lawless rabble
entered the royal residence, massacreing its defenders.

The King was rescued from actual violence, though not from insult, and
escorted with a sort of decorum to the Tuileries, which he henceforth
inhabited, nominally as the supreme magistrate of the State, but in
reality as a prisoner. The National Assembly followed him to Paris.


The events of which I have been speaking took place on the 5th
and 6th of October; and were, to the advocates of constitutional
monarchy, what the previous insurrection, in July, had been to the
advocates of absolute power. Moderate men began to fear that it
was no longer possible to ally the dignity and independence of the
crown with the rights and liberties of the people: and MM. Mounier
and Lally-Tollendal, considered the leaders of that party which
from the first had declared the desire to establish in France a
mixed constitutional government, similar to that which prevailed in
England--disheartened and disgusted--quitted the Assembly. Hitherto, M.
de Talleyrand had appeared disposed to act with these statesmen, but he
did not now imitate their conduct: on the contrary, it was precisely at
the moment when they separated themselves from the Revolution, that he
brought forward a motion which connected him irrevocably with it.

Had affairs worn a different aspect, it is probable that he would not
have compromised himself so decidedly in favour of a scheme which
was certain to encounter a determined and violent opposition: still
it is but just to observe that his conduct in this instance was in
perfect conformity with the course he had previously pursued, and
the sentiments he had previously expressed, both with respect to the
exigencies of the State and the property of the Church. I have shown,
indeed, the interest he had manifested in maintaining the public
credit, first by supporting a loan of eighty millions of francs, and
secondly by voting a property tax of twenty-five per cent. But the
one had proved merely a temporary relief, and the other had not given
an adequate return; for, as the whole administration of the country
had been disorganized, so the collection of taxes was precarious and
difficult. Some new resource had to be sought for. There was but one
left. The clergy had already resigned their tithes, which at first had
only been declared purchasable, and had also given up their plate. When
M. de Juisné, Archbishop of Paris, made the two first donations in the
name of his brethren, he had been seconded by the Bishop of Autun; and
it was the Bishop of Autun who now proposed (on the 10th of October)
that all that remained to the clergy--their land--should, on certain
conditions, be placed at the disposal of the nation.


M. Pozzo di Borgo, a man in no wise inferior to M. de Talleyrand,
though somewhat jealous of him, once said to me, “Cet homme s’est fait
grand en se rangeant toujours parmi les petits, et en aidant ceux qui
avaient le plus besoin de lui.”[11]

The propensity which M. Pozzo di Borgo somewhat bitterly but not
inaccurately described, and which perhaps was in a certain degree
the consequence of that nice perception of his own interests which
guided the person whom I designate as “politic” through life almost
like an instinct, was especially visible in the present instance. No
one can doubt that, at the moment when every other institution was
overturned in France, a great change in the condition of the French
church, against which the spirit of the eighteenth century had been
particularly directed, was an event not to be avoided. Alone amidst the
general prodigality, this corporation by its peculiar condition had
been able to preserve all its wealth, whilst it had lost almost all its

The feeble and the rich in times of commotion are the natural prey of
the strong and the needy; and, therefore, directly the nation commenced
a revolution to avoid a bankruptcy, the ecclesiastical property was
pretty sure, a little sooner or a little later, to be appropriated to
the public exigencies. Such an appropriation, nevertheless, was not
without difficulties; and what the laity most wanted was a churchman of
position and consideration who would sanction a plan for surrendering
the property of the church. The opinions expressed by a man of so high
a rank amongst the nobility and the clergy as the Bishop of Autun, were
therefore of considerable importance, and likely to give him--those
opinions being popular--an important position, which was almost certain
(M. Necker’s influence being already undermined) to lead--should a
new ministry be formed on the liberal side--to office. Mirabeau, in
fact, in a note written in October, which proposes a new ministerial
combination, leaves M. Necker as the nominal head of the government
“in order to discredit him,” proposes himself as a member of the royal
council without a department, and gives the post of minister of finance
to the Bishop of Autun, saying, “His motion on the clergy has won him
that place.”[12]

The argument with which the Bishop introduced the motion here alluded
to has been so often repeated since the period to which I am referring,
and has so influenced the condition of the clergy throughout a great
portion of Europe, that it cannot be read without interest. “The
State,” said M. de Talleyrand, “has been for a long time struggling
with the most urgent wants. This is known to all of us. Some adequate
means must be found to supply those wants. All ordinary sources are
exhausted. The people are ground down. The slightest additional
impost would be justly insupportable to them. Such a thing is not
to be thought of. Extraordinary means for supplying the necessities
of the State have been resorted to: but these were destined to the
extraordinary wants of this year. Extraordinary resources of some
kind are now wanted for the future; without them, order cannot be
established. There is one such resource, immense and decisive: and
which, in my opinion (or otherwise I should reject it), can be made
compatible with the strictest respect for property. I mean the landed
estate of the church.


“Already a great operation with regard to this estate is inevitable, in
order to provide suitably for those whom the relinquishment of tithes
has left destitute.


“I think it unnecessary to discuss at length the question of church
property. What appears to me certain is, that the clergy is not a
proprietor like other proprietors, inasmuch as that the property
which it enjoys (and of which it cannot dispose) was given to it--not
for its own benefit, but for the performance of duties which are to
benefit the community. What appears to me also certain is, that the
nation, exercising an almost unlimited power over all the bodies within
its bosom, possesses--not the right to destroy the whole body of the
clergy, because that body is required for the service of religion--but
the right to destroy any particular aggregations of such body whenever
they are either prejudicial or simply useless; and if the State
possesses this right over the existence of prejudicial or useless
aggregations of the clergy, it evidently possesses a similar right over
the property of such aggregations.

“It appears to me also clear that as the nation is bound to see
that the purpose for which foundations or endowments were made is
fulfilled, and that those who endowed the church meant that the clergy
should perform certain functions: so, if there be any benefices where
such functions are not performed, the nation has a right to suppress
those benefices, and to grant the funds, therefrom derived, to any
members of the clergy who can employ them according to the object with
which they were given.


“But although it is just to destroy aggregations of the clergy
which are either prejudicial or useless, and to confiscate their
property--although it is just to suppress benefices which are no longer
useful for the object for which such benefices were endowed--is it just
to confiscate or reduce the revenue of those dignitaries and members
of the church, who are now actually living and performing the services
which belong to their sacred calling?


“For my own part, I confess the arguments employed to support the
contrary opinion appear to me to admit of several answers. I shall
submit one very simple answer to the Assembly.

“However the possession of a property may be guaranteed and made
inviolable by law, it is evident that the law cannot change the nature
of such property in guaranteeing it.

“Thus, in a question of ecclesiastical property, it can only assure to
each titulary the enjoyment of the actual donation of the founder. But
every one is aware that, according to the titles of church property, as
well as according to the various laws of the church, which explain the
spirit and meaning of these titles, the only part of church property to
which the ecclesiastic has any individual right is that necessary for
his honest subsistence: the remainder has to be applied to the relief
of the poor, or to the maintenance of places of worship. If then the
nation assures to the holder of a benefice, whatever that benefice
may be, his necessary subsistence, it does not violate his individual
property; and if at the same time that it takes possession of that
portion of his revenue which is not required for his subsistence, it
assumes the other obligations attached to the benefice in question,
such as the maintenance of hospitals, the performance of works of
charity, the repairing of churches, the expenses of public education,
&c.; and, above all, if it does this in a moment of general distress,
I cannot but believe that the intentions of the donors will be fully
carried out, and that justice will still be maintained.

“I think, then, that the nation in a period of general distress may
appropriate the property of those religious establishments which it
deems it necessary to suppress, by securing to their dependants their
necessary subsistence; that it may also profit by all benefices to
which no duties are attached, and assure to itself the reversion of
all such benefices as may hereafter fall into that condition; and
lastly, that it may reduce all extravagant salaries now enjoyed by the
clergy if it take to itself all the obligations--apart from the decent
maintenance of the clergy--which originally attached to church property
according to the founder’s bequest. Such are the principles according
to which the State may, in my opinion, legitimately appropriate the
whole of the ecclesiastical property, on assuring to the clergy
therefrom what would be sufficient for their decent support.”


Thus M. de Talleyrand contended:--

1st. That the members of the clergy were not like other proprietors,
inasmuch as they held their property not for their own enjoyment but
for the performance of certain duties, and that it was only intended
that they should have out of the proceeds of that property a decent
subsistence, the residue being destined for the support of the poor and
the maintenance of religious edifices.

2nd. That the State could alter the distribution of church property,
or rather the payment of the clergy, and also totally suppress such
ecclesiastical institutions as it deemed injurious or not requisite; as
well as such useless benefices as were then vacant, or might become
vacant; and, as a matter of course, employ the revenue which was
thereto attached, in the manner which might seem best adapted to the
general advantage.

3rd. That in a moment of great and national distress it might
altogether take possession of the whole property held by the clergy,
and appropriate the same to public purposes; if at the same time it
took upon itself those charges with which the clergy were intrusted,
and also provided for the clergy themselves a fixed and adequate
support. He did not, however, propose, as some may have idly imagined,
and have unjustly stated, to reduce his order to a state of indigence;
on the contrary, presuming the revenue of the church property,
including the tithes (which he would still have had collected as
national revenue), to be about a hundred and fifty millions of francs,
he advised the government to make a yearly grant of no less than a
hundred millions--never to be reduced below eighty-five millions--for
the support of the clergy, no member of it receiving less than twelve
hundred francs, to which was added a dwelling; and when we consider
that the tithes having been surrendered, the ecclesiastical revenue was
at that time reduced to seventy-five millions, the rent of the land;
and when we consider also that the ecclesiastical budget, including the
payment of all religions, has never, since that period, amounted to
the sum which M. de Talleyrand was disposed to allow, I think it must
be acknowledged that the proposals I have been describing, looking at
all the difficulties of the times, were not to be despised, and that
the French clergy would have acted more prudently if they had at once
accepted them, although it must be confessed that any bargain made in
changeful times between a power which is sinking in the State and a
power which is rising, is rarely kept faithfully by the latter.

But the clergy, at all events, and the high clergy especially,
would not accept this bargain. They complained not so much of the
insufficiency of the provision which was to be made for them, as of the
grievance of having an income as proprietors changed into a salary as
functionaries. They contended, in short, that they were proprietors
like other proprietors, and that the Bishop of Autun had misstated
their case and justified their robbery.

In this state of things--whatever the real nature of the title under
which the church held its possessions--whatever the imprudence of the
clergy themselves in resisting the compromise that was proposed to
them as an equivalent for the surrender of those possessions--it was
impossible forcibly to confiscate a property which a great corporation
had held indisputedly for ages and which it declared itself unwilling
to resign, without weakening the respect for property in general,
and weakening also, by the questions and discussions to which such
a measure was certain to give rise, the respect for religion: thus
enfeebling and undermining--at a moment when (amidst the falling ruins
of an old government and society) it was most essential to strengthen
and preserve--those foundations on which every society that pretends to
be civilized, and every government that intends to be honest, has to
establish its existence.

“The wise,” says a great reformer, “should be cautious about
making great changes when the foolish are clamorous for dangerous
innovations.” But although the maxim may be a good one, I suspect that
it is more likely to be professed by the speculative philosopher than
followed by the ambitious statesman.

There are, in fact, moments in the history of nations when certain
events are, by the multiplied force of converging circumstances,
inevitably foredoomed; and in such moments, whilst the ignorant man
is obstinate, the proud man firm, the religious man resigned, the
“_politic_ man” accommodates himself to fate, and only attempts to mix
up as much good as he can with the evil which has to be accepted.

It is easy to conceive, therefore, that when M. de Talleyrand proposed
the appropriation of the church property by the State, he did so
because he saw that at all events it would be appropriated; because he
thought that he might as well obtain the popularity which was to be
got by the proposition; and likewise because he could thus bargain for
such conditions as, if they had been frankly accepted by one party
and fairly carried out by the other, would have secured an honourable
existence to the clergy and an immense relief to the State. I say an
immense relief to the State, since, according to the calculations which
the Bishop of Autun submitted to the Assembly--and these seem to have
been made with consideration--had the immense property, valued at two
milliards of francs, been properly sold, and the proceeds properly
applied, these, by paying off money borrowed at enormous interest and
life annuities which were granted at an extravagant loss, might with
tolerable economy have converted a deficit of some millions of francs
into a surplus of about the same amount.

But it happened at this time, as it not unfrequently happens when
passion and prudence unite in some great enterprise, the part which
passion counselled was consummated completely and at once; the part
which prudence suggested was transformed and spoilt in the execution.
To this subject I shall by-and-by have to return.


The motion of M. de Talleyrand with respect to the property of the
church was carried on the 2nd of November, 1789, after some stormy
debates; and the party he had defeated now classed him amongst its
bitterest opponents. But, on the 4th of December, he gained more than
a party triumph by the singular lucidity with which, on the question
of establishing a bank at Paris and restoring order generally to the
French finances, he explained the principles of banking and public
credit, which the public at that time enveloped in the mystery with
which ignorance surrounds those subjects which are detailed in figures,
and involve such vast interests as the resources and necessities of a

The admirable talent which M. de Talleyrand displayed on this occasion
consisted in rendering clear what appeared obscure, and simple what
seemed abstract. After showing that a bank could only exist with
benefit to itself and to others by its credit--and that this credit
could not be the effect of a paper money with a forced currency, on
which some persons were disposed to form one, inasmuch as that a
currency which was forced was nothing more or less than an exhibition
of the insolvency of the institution which it was intended to
protect--he turned to the general condition and credit of the State,
and said: “The time, gentlemen, is gone by for complicated fiscal
plans, learnedly and artfully combined, which are merely invented to
delay by temporary resources the crisis which is inevitably arriving.
All the contrivances of wit and cunning are exhausted. For the future,
honesty must replace genius. Side by side with the evidence of our
calamities must be placed the evidence of their remedy. All must be
reduced to the simplicity of an account-book--drawn up by good sense,
kept by good faith.”

This speech obtained for its author general encomiums: it was praised
in the boudoir of the fine lady, for the elegance of its style; in
the country house of the banker, for the soundness of its views;
even the Faubourg St. Germain acknowledged that M. de Talleyrand,
though a _scélérat_ (a rascal), was a statesman, and that in those
iniquitous times a _scélérat_, a man of quality, and a statesman,
might be useful to his country. Such universal popularity did not last
long. In the following month (January 31, 1790), the liberal bishop
declared himself in favour of conferring upon a Jew the rights of a
French citizen. This opinion--considered by many as a double outrage
against the distinctions hitherto maintained between castes and between
creeds--admitted of no pardon from a large portion of that society
which M. de Talleyrand had formerly frequented; and I have read, in
some tale of the time, that the Marquis de Travanet, a famous player of
“tric-trac,” used subsequently to say, in making what is called “_la
case du diable_,” “_je fais la case de l’évêque d’Autun_.”

A man’s reputation, however, when parties run high, is not unfrequently
made by his opponents; and the name of M. de Talleyrand now rose in the
country and the Assembly just in proportion as it sank in the circles
of the court and amongst the extreme partisans of priestly intolerance
and royal prerogative.

Few persons had, in fact, rendered such important services to the cause
which he had espoused. To his endeavours, as we have seen, it was
mainly owing that the clergy joined the commons in the church of St.
Louis, and thus constituted the States-General. Shortly afterwards,
by contending against the imperative nature of those orders which the
members of the States-General had received from their constituents, he
had aided in no small degree in releasing the National Assembly from
the instructions which would otherwise have fettered its progress.
Elected a member of the committee, appointed to prepare the new
constitution which was to be given to France, his labours had been
amongst the most valuable of that body, and the future rights of
Frenchmen had been proclaimed in the words which he had suggested as
most appropriate. Evincing on all questions of finance that knowledge
of principles which produces clearness of statement, he had ably
assisted M. Necker in the measures by which that statesman had sought
to reassure public credit and raise the revenue; and, finally, he had
delivered up the wealth and power of his own order, as a sacrifice
(such, at least, was his pretension) to the public weal.

The part which he had taken in the proceedings of the Assembly was,
indeed, so considerable, that it was thought that no one could be
better qualified to explain and defend its conduct. With such an
explanation or defence he was charged; and he executed his task in
a sort of memoir or manifesto to the French nation. This manifesto
was read in the National Assembly on the 10th of February, 1790, and
subsequently published and circulated throughout France. It has long
since been forgotten amongst the many papers of a similar kind which
have marked and justified the successive changes that France has for
the last eighty years undergone.

But the skill and address of its composition was the subject of
universal praise at the time of its appearance, and it still remains
a remarkable exhibition of the ideas, and a skilful and able attempt
to vindicate the actions, of an epoch which is yet awaiting the final
judgment of posterity.


The memoir or manifesto, to which I have been alluding, announced the
abolition of privileges, the reform of the church, the institution
of a representative chamber and a citizen guard; and promised a new
system of taxation, and a general plan of education. It was read, as
I have said, on the 10th of February, in the National Assembly, and
on the 16th of the same month its author was named president of that
assembly[13] by a majority of three hundred and seventy-five votes
to one hundred and twenty-five, although the Abbé Sieyès--no mean
rival--was his competitor.

This honour received additional solidity from a most able report
in favour of the uniformity of weights and measures, which M. de
Talleyrand made to the Assembly on the 30th April, 1790: a report
which, carrying out the idea that Turgot had been anxious to establish,
and furnishing a method for destroying the inconvenient distinctions
which separated province from province, laid the foundation for that
uniform system which now prevails throughout the French dominions.
Nor would M. de Talleyrand have applied this project merely to
France; he at the same time suggested that commissions from the
Academy of Sciences in Paris and the Royal Society in London should
be appointed to fix on some natural unity for measure and weight,
which should be alike applicable to England and France. “_Chacune des
deux nations_,” he added, “_formerait sur cette mesure ses étalons,
qu’elle conserverait avec le plus grand soin, de telle sorte que si, au
bout de plusieurs siècles, on s’apercevait, de quelque variation dans
l’année sidérale, les étalons pussent servir à l’évaluer, et par là à
lier ce point important du système du monde à une grande époque--celle
de l’Assemblée Nationale. Peut-être même est-il permis de voir dans
ce concours de deux nations interrogeant ensemble la nature, pour
en obtenir un résultat important, le principe d’une union politique,
operée par l’entremise des sciences._”[14]

It is impossible not to sympathise with a conception at once so
elevated and so practical as that which is here expressed; and rejoice
at thus finding an example of what Bacon--himself no less a statesman
than a philosopher--claims as the attribute of men of science and
letters, viz.: that when they do give themselves up to public affairs,
they carry thereunto a spirit more lofty and comprehensive than that
which animates the mere politician.

The greater part of the work which the Assembly had proposed to itself,
was now terminated. The old monarchy and aristocracy were destroyed;
the new powers of the crown and the people were defined; the new
divisions of the country into departments, districts, and communes,
were marked out; the new organisation of the tribunals of justice
was decreed. No one entirely approved of the constitution thus to be
created, but there was an almost universal satisfaction at its being so
nearly completed.



    Blesses the standard of France at festival of the 14th of
    July.--Increasing financial distress.--M. de Talleyrand’s
    views.--Civil constitution of the clergy.--M. de Talleyrand’s
    conduct.--Refuses archbishopric of Paris.--Letter to editors
    of Chronicle.--Mirabeau’s death.--Sketch of his career,
    and relations with M. de Talleyrand, who attends his
    death-bed.--Probabilities as to his having initiated M. de
    Talleyrand into plots of court.--Leaves M. de Talleyrand his
    intended speech on the law of succession, which regulated the
    present state of the law in France, and which M. de Talleyrand
    read in the National Assembly.--M. de Talleyrand suspended from
    his episcopal functions, and quits the Church.--The King’s
    flight.--Conduct and views of M. de Talleyrand.--Wishes to
    aid the King.--Foolish conduct of court party.--Fatal decree
    of National Assembly, forbidding the re-election of its
    members.--M. de Talleyrand’s project of education.--Assembly
    closes the 13th of September, 1791.--M. de Talleyrand goes to
    England, January 1792.


We are arrived at the festival of the 14th of July, held to celebrate
the destruction of the Bastille, and to do honour to the new government
which had risen on its ruins: let us pause for a moment on that day of

An immense and magnificent amphitheatre is erected on the Champ de
Mars: there the hereditary sovereign of France, and the temporary
president of an elected assembly--the joint symbols of two ideas and
of two epochs--are seated on two equal thrones, resplendent with the
arms which the nation has taken from its ancient kings; and there
is the infant prince, on whom an exulting people look kindly as the
inheritor of his father’s engagements, and who is to perpetuate
the race of Saint Louis: and there is that queen, “decorating and
cheering the sphere she moves in, glittering like the morning star,
full of life, and splendour, and joy;” and there that royal maiden,
beauteous with the charms of the palace, blessed with the virtues of
the cloister--a princess, a saint--destined to be a martyr! And there
is the vain but honest Lafayette, leaning on his citizen sword: and
there the terrible Mirabeau--his long hair streaming to the wind: and
there that well-known and still memorable Assembly, prematurely proud
of its vaunted work, which, alas! like the spectacle we are assisting
at, is to be the mere pageant of a day. And, behold, in yonder balcony,
the most graceful and splendid court in Europe, for such even at that
time was still the court of France; and lo! in the open space, yon
confederated bands, bearing their respective banners, and representing
every portion of that great family which at this moment is rejoicing
over the triumph it has achieved. On a sudden the sky--the light of
which mingles so well with the joy of men, but which had hitherto been
dark and sullen--on a sudden the sky clears up, and the sun blends his
pomp with that of this noble ceremony! And now, robed in his pontifical
garments, and standing on an altar thronged by three hundred priests,
in long white robes and tricoloured girdles, the Bishop of Autun
blesses the great standard, the oriflamme of France, no longer the
ensign of war, but the sign and token of peace between the past and the
future--between the old recollections and the new aspirations of the
French people.

Who, that had been present that day in Paris, could have believed
that those who wept tenderly with the children of Bearne, at the foot
of the statue of Henry IV., would so soon laugh horribly round the
scaffold of his descendant? that the gay multitude, wandering in the
Champs Elysées, amidst garlands of light, and breathing sounds of
gentle happiness and affection, would so soon be the ferocious mob,
massacreing in the prisons, murdering in the public streets, dancing
round the guillotine dripping with innocent blood? that the monarch,
the court, the deputies, every popular and princely image of this
august pageant, the very forms of the religion with which it was
consecrated, would in two or three brief years be scoffingly cast
away: and that even the high priest of that gorgeous solemnity, no
longer attached to his sacred calling, would be wandering a miserable
exile on foreign shores, banished as a traitor to the liberty for which
he had sacrificed the prejudices of his caste, the predilections of his
family, the honours and wealth of his profession?


From the 14th of July, 1789, to the 14th of July, 1790, the scenes
which were comprehended in this, which may be called the first act in
the great drama then agitating France, were upon the whole such as
rather to excite the hopes than the fears of mankind; but from the
latter period the aspect of things greatly changed, and almost each day
became marked by some disappointment as to the success of a favourite
scheme, or the fortune of a popular statesman.

On the 4th of September, 1790, M. Necker left almost unnoticed, and
altogether unregretted, that Paris to which but a year before he had
returned amidst unanimous acclamation. About the same time, Mirabeau
began to be suspected; and the shouts of “Vive Lafayette!” were not
unfrequently changed into “à bas Lafayette!”[15] by the ever fickle
multitude. At this period also it became apparent that the sale of the
church property, which, properly managed, might have restored order
to the finances, was likely, on the contrary, to render the national
bankruptcy more complete.

In order to give a just idea of the conduct of M. de Talleyrand, it is
necessary that I should explain rapidly how this calamity occurred.
The Assembly, desiring to secure the irrevocability of its decrees by
disposing as soon as possible of the vast estate which it had declared
was to be sold, and desiring also to increase its financial resources
without delay, looked out for some means by which this double end could
be accomplished. After two or three projects, for a moment taken up
and then abandoned, the idea finally adopted was that of issuing State
notes, representing a certain value of national property, and giving
them a forced currency, so that they would have an immediate value
independent of that which they acquired as the representatives of

These notes or bonds, in short, thus became money; and they had this
advantage over ordinary paper money, that they represented something
which had a positive value; and as the first issue of four hundred
millions of francs took place at a time when some substitute was
really required for the coin which every one, from alarm and want
of confidence, had then begun to hoard, its effects were rather
beneficial than the reverse. The Assembly instantly thought it had an
inexhaustible fund at its disposal; consequently a new issue of eight
hundred million bonds followed shortly after the first issue of four
hundred millions, as a matter of course; and it became evident that
this mode of meeting the current wants of the State was to be adopted
to a greater and greater extent, thereby increasing the currency in a
manner not in any way called for by the increased wealth or business of
the community, and altering the value of money in all the transactions
of life. M. de Talleyrand at once foresaw the evils to which this
system would naturally lead; and saying, “_Je serais inconsolable si de
la rigueur de nos décrets sur le clergé il ne résultait pas le salut
de la chose publique_,”[16] demonstrated, with a singular clearness
and sagacity, that the course on which the Assembly had entered must
inevitably cause the total disappearance of bullion, an enormous rise
in provisions, a daily depreciation of State paper and of land (such
State paper representing land), a rapid variation of exchanges, an
impossibility of all regular commerce.

But men in desperate times disregard ultimate results. The Assembly
wanted funds at the moment: forced assignats created those funds; and
when Mirabeau shrewdly observed that to multiply assignats was, at all
events, to multiply the opponents to reaction, since no man who had
an assignat could wish the property on which its value depended to be
restored to its former possessors, this political argument settled the
financial one.


The great characteristic of modern legislation is the principle of
representation by election. It by no means follows, however, that
because it has been an invaluable discovery to make a portion of
government depend upon a particular principle, that every portion of
a government should be deduced from that principle. On the contrary,
the mobility given to a government by any system that introduces into
it the popular passions and variations of opinion, requires some
counteracting element of fixity and stability to give permanence to its
duration, and steadiness to its action. But the National Assembly--like
those invalids who, having found a remedy for their disease, fancy
that if a little of such remedy does some good, a great deal must do
much more--made the whole of their institutions, with one exception,
depend upon the same basis; and as their chamber was elective, their
municipalities elective--so their judges were to be elective, and their
clergy and bishops elective also.

Here commenced the first serious schism in the nation, for that which
had hitherto existed had been between the nation and the court. I
have said that the clergy, and more especially the higher clergy, had
not willingly abandoned the property which they had been accustomed
to consider theirs. This loss, however, furnished them with but a
worldly cause of feud; it neither affected their consciences, nor the
consciences of their flocks. But the new regulations, whatever their
intrinsic merits, entirely changed the existing condition of the Roman
church, and struck at the root of its discipline. These regulations,
consequently, were denounced by the Pope, and could not be solemnly
accepted by the more zealous of the priesthood.

In such circumstances it would have been far wiser to have left
the spiritual condition of the clergy untouched. To oblige all
ecclesiastics either to give up their benefices, or to swear to uphold
the “Civil Constitution of the Clergy” (such being the title given to
the new system), was to provoke many who might otherwise have been
silent to declare hostility to the Revolution; and at the same time
gave to the Revolution itself that persecuting bias by which it was
finally disgraced and ruined. Such a measure, besides, divided the
clergy into two classes--one of which excited the veneration of the
people by its sacrifices, and the indignation of the government by its
complaints: the other satisfied the government by its obedience, but
lost the respect of the people by its servility. A Catholic clergy
disowned by the Pope was useless to those professing the Catholic
religion; no clergy at all was wanted for those who professed no
religion whatsoever. The course which M. de Talleyrand observed in this
business was wary and cautious up to the moment at which it was bold
and decided.

The Assembly had determined upon the “Civil Constitution of the
Clergy,” prior to the 14th of July. The King, however, had requested
a delay, with the intention of referring to Rome, and the law did not
finally pass the Legislature till the 27th of November.

The struggle during this period was between the Sovereign and the Pope
on the one side, and the philosophers and the church reformers--for
both took a part in the matter--on the other.

It was disagreeable for a bishop, still looking to ecclesiastical
preferment, to venture to quarrel with one party in the dispute, and
equally disagreeable for a statesman aspiring to popular authority to
separate himself from the other. The result of the contest, also, was
for a while uncertain; and as there was no absolute necessity for the
Bishop of Autun to express any opinion upon its merits, he was silent.
But when the Assembly had pronounced its final decree, and that decree
had received the formal though reluctant assent of the King, the case
was different. A law had been regularly passed, and the question was,
not whether it was a good law, but whether, being a law, it was to be
obeyed. A battle had been fought, and the question was, not whether the
victors were in the right, but whether it was better to join with those
who had conquered, or with those who had been conquered.

In such a condition of things M. de Talleyrand rarely hesitated. He
took his side with the law against the church, and with those who were
daily becoming more powerful, against those who were daily becoming
more feeble; and having once taken a step of this kind, it was never
his custom to do so timidly.

He at once took the required oath, which all his episcopal
brethren--with the notorious and not very creditable exceptions
of the Bishops of Babylon and Lydia, whose titles were purely
honorary--refused to take. He also justified this course in a letter
to the clergy of his own department, and ultimately undertook to
consecrate the new bishops who were elected to supply the place of
those whom the Assembly had deprived of their dioceses.

We shall presently see the results of this conduct. But it may be
as well at once to state, that although M. de Talleyrand accepted
for himself those new regulations for his church which the State, in
spite of the head of his church, had established, and took an oath to
obey them without unwillingness, and although he even maintained that
the State, considering the clergy as public functionaries enjoying
a salary in return for the performance of public duties, might
deprive any members of the clergy of such salary if they would not
submit to the laws of the government which paid and employed them;
he nevertheless contended, boldly and consistently and at all times,
that all ecclesiastics thus dispossessed would have a right to the
pension which, at the time of confiscating the church property, had
been granted to any ecclesiastic whom the suppression of religious
establishments or of useless benefices left without income or
employment; a principle at first accepted as just, but soon condemned
as inexpedient; for there is no compromise between parties when one is
conscientiously disposed to resist what it deems an act of injustice,
and the other resolutely determined to crush what it deems a selfish


Amidst the various vacancies which were occasioned by the refusal
of the high dignitaries of the church to take the oath which the
Constitution now exacted from them, was that of the archbishopric of
Paris; and as it was known that M. de Talleyrand could be elected for
this post if he so desired it, the public imagined that he intended to
take advantage of his popularity and obtain what, up to that period,
had been so honourable and important a position. In consequence of this
belief a portion of the press extolled his virtues; whilst another
painted and, as usual in such cases, exaggerated his vices.

M. de Talleyrand was, up to the last hour of his life, almost
indifferent to praise, but singularly enough (considering his long
and varied career), exquisitely sensitive to censure; and his
susceptibility on this occasion so far got the better of his caution,
as to induce him to write and publish a letter in the _Moniteur_, of
Paris, February 8th, 1791.

    _Letter of M. de Talleyrand to the editors of the “Chronicle,”
    respecting his candidature for the diocese of Paris._


    “I have just read in your paper that you have been good enough
    to name me as a candidate for the archbishopric of Paris. I
    cannot but feel myself highly flattered by this nomination:
    some of the electors have in fact given me to understand that
    they would be happy to see me occupy the post to which you have
    alluded, and I, therefore, consider that I ought to publish my
    reply. No, gentlemen, I shall not accept the honour of which my
    fellow-citizens are so obliging as to think me worthy.

    “Since the existence of the National Assembly, I may have
    appeared indifferent to the innumerable calumnies in which
    different parties have indulged themselves at my expense.
    Never have I made, nor ever shall I make, to my calumniators
    the sacrifice of one single opinion or one single action which
    seems to me beneficial to the commonwealth: but I can and
    will make the sacrifice of my personal advantage, and on this
    occasion alone my enemies will have influenced my conduct.
    I will not give them the power to say that a secret motive
    caused me to take the oath I have recently sworn. I will not
    allow them the opportunity of weakening the good which I have
    endeavoured to effect.

    “That publicity which I give to the determination I now
    announce, I gave to my wishes when I stated how much I should
    be flattered at becoming one of the administrators of the
    department of Paris. In a free state, the people of which
    have repossessed themselves of the right of election--_i.e._
    the true exercise of their sovereignty--I deem that to
    declare openly the post to which we aspire, is to invite our
    fellow-citizens to examine our claims before deciding upon
    them, and to deprive our pretensions of all possibility of
    benefiting by intrigue. We present ourselves in this way to the
    observations of the impartial, and give even the prejudiced and
    the hostile the opportunity to do their worst.

    “I beg then to assure those who, dreading what they term my
    ambition, never cease their slanders against my reputation,
    that I will never disguise the object to which I have the
    ambition to pretend.

    “Owing, I presume, to the false alarm caused by my supposed
    pretensions to the see of Paris, stories have been circulated
    of my having lately won in gambling houses the sum of sixty
    or seventy thousand francs. Now that all fear of seeing me
    elevated to the dignity in question is at an end, I shall
    doubtless be believed in what I am about to say. The truth is,
    that, in the course of two months, I gained the sum of about
    thirty thousand francs, not at gambling houses, but in private
    society, or at the chess-club, which has always been regarded,
    from the nature of its institution, as a private house.

    “I here state the facts without attempting to justify them.
    The passion for play has spread to a troublesome extent. I
    never had a taste for it, and reproach myself the more for not
    having resisted its allurements. I blame myself as a private
    individual, and still more as a legislator who believes that
    the virtues of liberty are as severe as her principles: that
    a regenerated people ought to regain all the austerity of
    morality, and that the National Assembly ought to be directed
    towards this vice as one prejudicial to society, inasmuch as
    it contributes towards that inequality of fortune which the
    laws should endeavour to prevent by every means which do not
    interfere with the eternal basis of social justice, viz., the
    respect for property.

    “You see I condemn myself. I feel a pleasure in confessing it;
    for since the reign of truth has arrived, in renouncing the
    impossible honour of being faultless, the most noble manner we
    can adopt of repairing our errors is to have the courage to
    acknowledge them.

                                        “TALLEYRAND A. E. D’AUTUN.”

From this document we learn that the Bishop of Autun, notwithstanding
his labours in the Assembly, was still a gay frequenter of the world:
to be found pretty frequently at the chess-club, as well as in private
society; and, though he lamented over the fact, a winner at such
places of thirty thousand francs within two months. We also learn that
he abandoned at this moment the idea of professional advancement, in
order to maintain unimpeached the motives of his political conduct; and
we may divine that he looked for the future rather to civil than to
ecclesiastical preferment.

The most striking portion of this document, however, is the tone
and style--I may almost say the cant--which prevails towards its
conclusion. But every epoch has its pretensions: and that of the period
which intervened between May, 1789, and August, 1792, was to decorate
the easy life of a dissolute man of fashion with the pure language of
a saint, or the stern precepts of a philosopher. “_Le dire_,” says old
Montaigne, “_est autre chose que le faire: il faut considérer le prêche
à part, et le prêcheur à part_.”[17]


And now, or but a little after this time, might have been seen an
agitated crowd, weeping, questioning, and rushing towards a house in
the Rue de la Chaussée d’Antin. It was in the first days of April,
and in that house--receiving through the open windows the balmy air
which for a moment refreshed his burning forehead, and welcoming yet
more gratefully the anxious voice of the inquiring multitude--lay
the dying Mirabeau, about to carry into the tomb all the remaining
wisdom and moderation of the people; and, as he himself sadly and
proudly added, all the remaining fragments of that monarchy which
he had shown the power to pull down and had flattered himself he
might have the power to reconstruct. By his death-bed stood the
Bishop of Autun. It was a curious combination of circumstances which
thus brought together these two personages, whose characters were
essentially different, but whose position was in some respects the
same. The one was eloquent, passionate, overbearing, imprudent; the
other cool, urbane, logical, and cautious. But both were of illustrious
families, endowed with great abilities, ejected from their legitimate
place in society. Both also were liberal in their politics, and this
from vengeance and ambition, as well as from principle and opinion.
Aristocrats allied with a democratic faction; monarchists in desperate
conflict with those by whom monarchy was most held in reverence; they
had engaged in a battle for moderation with extreme auxiliaries and
extreme opponents. Mirabeau, the fifth child, but who became, by a
brother’s death, the eldest son of the Marquis de Mirabeau (a rich
proprietor of a noble house in Provence), had been, when very young,
married to a wealthy heiress, and intended for the profession of
arms. Nevertheless, quitting his profession, separated from his wife,
constantly involved in scrapes--now for money, now for love--he had
led a bachelor’s life of intrigue, indigence, and adventure, up to the
age of forty, alternately the victim of his own wild nature and of the
unwise and absurd severity of his father, whose two pursuits in life
were persecuting his family and publishing pamphlets for the benefit
of mankind. Thus, frequently in confinement--always in difficulties
(the first and last means of correction with the old marquis being to
procure a “_lettre de cachet_,” and to stop his son’s allowance), the
Comte de Mirabeau had supported himself almost entirely by his talents,
which could apply themselves to letters, though action was their proper

During a short interval in his various calamities--an interval
which he had passed at Paris in a desperate effort to better his
condition--he had become acquainted with M. de Talleyrand, who, struck
by his abilities and affected by his misfortunes, recommended him to
M. de Calonne, at whose suggestion he was sent by M. de Vergennes,
then minister of foreign affairs, on a sort of secret mission into
Germany, just prior to the Great Frederick’s death. From this mission
he returned when France was being agitated by the convocation of the
“notables,” speedily succeeded by that of the States-General. He saw
at a glance that an era was now approaching, suited to his eminent
talents, and in which his haughty but flexible character was likely to
force or insinuate its way: his whole soul, therefore, was bent upon
being one of that assembly, which he from the first predicted would
soon command the destinies of his country.

Certain expenses were necessary to obtain this object, and, as usual,
Mirabeau had not a farthing. The means which he adopted for procuring
the money he required were the least creditable he could have devised.
He published a work called “The Secret History of the Court of Berlin,”
a work full of scandal, public and private, and betraying the mission
with which he had recently been intrusted.[18]

The government was naturally indignant; a prosecution was instituted
against him before the Parliament of Paris; M. de Montmorin, and
others, by whom he had previously been patronised, told him plainly
they wished to drop his acquaintance.

Through all these disgraceful difficulties Mirabeau scrambled. He
denied that the work was published by his authority.

Rejected from their sittings by the nobility of Provence, who decreed
that, having no fiefs of his own, and being merely invested with his
father’s voice, he had no right to sit among the nobles, he became the
successful candidate of the tiers-état for Aix; and at the meeting of
the States-General stood before the ministry which had accused, and the
aristocracy which had repudiated him, a daring and formidable enemy.

But, though made a desperate man by circumstances, he was not so either
by inclination or by ideas.

His views for France were limited to the procuring it a representative
government; and his views for himself were those which frequently
lead ambitious men under such a government to adopt opposition as a
road to power. “_Tribun par calcul_,” as was justly said of him by a
contemporary,[19] “_aristocrat par goût_.” He aimed at obtaining for
his country a constitution, and being minister of the crown under that

M. de Talleyrand had the same wish, and probably the same ambition.
These two statesmen, therefore, would naturally, at the meeting of the
States-General, have acted together as two private friends who thought
the same on public matters. But the publication of “The Secret History
of the Court of Berlin,” offensive to the minister who had employed
Mirabeau, could not be otherwise than painful and disagreeable to M. de
Talleyrand, at whose intercession Mirabeau had been employed, and to
whom, indeed, Mirabeau’s correspondence had been principally addressed.
This circumstance had, therefore, produced a cessation of all private
intimacy between these two personages who were about to exercise so
great an influence over approaching events. It is difficult, however,
for two men to act a prominent part on the same side for any length
of time in a popular assembly, and this at a great national crisis,
without relapsing into an old acquaintance, or forming a new one. To
what extent the old relations between Mirabeau and M. de Talleyrand
were thus renewed, it is difficult to say, but that on the 21st of
October, 1789, they already talked together with some degree of
intimacy is evident from a letter of Mirabeau to the Comte de la Marck,
in which letter Mirabeau states that he had been told the history of a
secret political intrigue by the Bishop of Autun.[20]

About this time, too, it is now known that Mirabeau projected a
ministry to which I have already alluded, and in which he and M. de
Talleyrand were to be united. Had this ministry been formed, it is very
possible that the history of France during the next sixty years would
have been different.

But the most fatal measure adopted by the Assembly was that (November
9, 1789) which prevented any of its members from being minister during
its continuance, and from entering the service of the crown for two
years after its dissolution. The consequences of this resolution,
aimed at those who, like Mirabeau and Talleyrand, were hoping to erect
a constitutional government, and to have the direction of it, were
incalculable. The persons at that time who had most influence in the
Assembly were men with moderate opinions, great talents, and great
ambition. Had such men been placed as the head of affairs they might
have controlled them and established a government at once popular and
safe. But this new regulation prevented those who were powerful as
representatives of the people from using their influence in supporting
the executive power of the crown. It drove them, moreover, if their
passions were violent and their positions desperate, to seek for power
by means hostile to the constitution which annihilated their hopes.

It had this effect upon Mirabeau; and his sentiments becoming known to
the court, a sort of alliance established itself between them in the
spring of 1790;--an alliance entered into too late (since most of the
great questions on which Mirabeau’s influence might have been useful
were already decided) and most absurdly carried on; for whilst the King
opened to Mirabeau his purse, he shut from him his confidence, and at
first, and for a long time, exacted that the compact he had entered
into with the great orator for the defence of his throne should be kept
altogether secret, even from his own ministers.[21]

Mirabeau was to advise the King in secret, to help him indirectly in
public; but he was not to have the King’s countenance, and he was to be
thwarted and opposed by the King’s friends.

The error which both parties to this arrangement committed was the
result of the feeble and irresolute character of the one, who never did
anything wholly and sincerely, and of the over-bold and over-confident
character of the other, who never doubted that whatever he attempted
must succeed, and who now easily persuaded himself that having
vanquished the difficulty of opening a communication with the court,
he should promptly vanquish that of governing it. Indeed, the desire
of Mirabeau to serve the crown being sincere, and his ability to do so
evident, he (not unnaturally perhaps) felt convinced that his sincerity
would be trusted, and his talents given fair play.

But it is clear that the King thought of buying off a dangerous enemy,
and not of gaining a determined ally. Thus he went on supplying
Mirabeau’s wants, receiving Mirabeau’s reports, attending little
to Mirabeau’s counsels, until matters got so bad that even the
irresolution of Louis XVI. was vanquished (this was about the end of
1790), and then, for the first time, was seriously entertained a plan
which the daring orator had long ago advised, but which the King had
never, up to that period, rejected nor yet sanctioned.

This plan consisted in withdrawing the King from Paris; surrounding
him with troops still faithful, and by the aid of a new assembly,
for which public opinion was to be prepared, reforming the
constitution--now on the point of being completed--a constitution
which, while it pretended to be monarchical, not only prevented the
monarch from practically exercising any power without the express
permission of a popular assembly, but established, as its fundamental
theory, that the King was merely the executor of that assembly’s
sovereign authority: an addition which, at first sight, may seem of
small importance, but which, as it was calculated daily to influence
the spirit of men’s actions, could not but have an immense effect on
the daily working of their institutions. Nor was this all. Nations,
like individuals, have, so to speak, two wills: that of the moment--the
result of passion, caprice, and impulse; and that of leisure and
deliberation--the result of foresight, prudence, and reason. All free
governments possessing any solidity (whatever their appellation) have,
for this reason, contained a power of some kind calculated to represent
the maturer judgment of the people and to check the spontaneous,
violent, and changeful ebullitions of popular excitement. Even this
barrier, however, was not here interposed between a chamber which was
to have all the influence in the State, and a chief magistrate who was
to have none.

The constitution about to be passed was, in short, an impracticable
one, and no person saw this more clearly than Mirabeau; but, whilst
ready and desirous to destroy it, he by no means lent himself to
the ideas, though he was somewhat subjugated by the charms of

“Je serai ce que j’ai été toujours,” he says in a letter to the King,
15th December, 1790, “défenseur du pouvoir monarchique réglé par les
lois; apôtre de la liberté garantie par le pouvoir monarchique.”[22]

Thus he undertook the difficult and almost impossible enterprise of
rescuing liberty at the same time from a monarch in the hands of
courtiers enthusiastic for absolute power, and from a mob under the
influence of clubs, which intended to trample constitutional monarchy
under the feet of a democratical despotism.

I have narrated what had undoubtedly been Mirabeau’s projects; for
we have to consider what were probably his thoughts when, in acute
suffering but with an unclouded mind and a clear prescience of his
approaching dissolution, he summoned his former friend, with whom, it
is said, he was never till that instant completely reconciled, to the
couch from which he was no more to rise.

Must we not suppose that Mirabeau in this, his last conversation with
M. de Talleyrand, spoke of the schemes which then filled his mind? And
does it not seem probable that he at that hour conceived the Bishop of
Autun to be the person best fitted to fill the difficult position which
he himself was about to leave vacant, and amidst the various intrigues
and combinations of which it required so much skill to steer?

For this supposition there are many plausible reasons. M. de
Talleyrand, like Mirabeau, was an aristocrat by birth, a liberal by
circumstances and opinion; he was also one of the members of the
Assembly, who possessed the greatest authority over that portion of
it which Mirabeau himself influenced; and likewise one of a very
small number of members upon whom M. de Montmorin, the minister with
whom Louis XVI. at last consented that Mirabeau should confidentially
communicate, had told Mirabeau he most relied. Lastly, he was
acquainted with all the classes and almost all the individuals then
seeking to disturb, or hoping to compose, the disordered elements of
society. He knew the court, the clergy, the Orleanists. He had been
one of the founders of the Jacobins; he was a member of its moderate
rival, the Feuillans; and although, undoubtedly, he wanted the fire and
eloquence necessary to command in great assemblies, he was pre-eminent
in the tact and address which enable a man to manage those by whom such
assemblies are led.

In short, though Mirabeau left no Mirabeau behind him, M. de Talleyrand
was, perhaps, the person best qualified to supply his loss, and the
one whom Mirabeau himself was most likely to have pointed out for a
successor. I have no clue, however, beyond conjecture, to guide me on
this subject, unless the public trust which Mirabeau confided to M.
de Talleyrand in his last hours may be cited as a testimony of his
other and more secret intentions. What this trust was, we may learn
from the statement of M. de Talleyrand himself, who, on the following
day, amidst a silence and a sorrow which pervaded all parties (for a
man of superior genius, whatever his faults, rarely dies unlamented),
ascending the tribune of the National Assembly, said in a voice which
appeared unfeignedly affected:

“I went yesterday to the house of M. de Mirabeau. An immense crowd
filled that mansion, to which I carried a sentiment more sorrowful than
the public grief. The spectacle of woe before me filled the imagination
with the image of death; it was everywhere but in the mind of him
whom the most imminent danger menaced. He had asked to see me. It is
needless to relate the emotion which many things he said caused me. But
M. de Mirabeau was at that time above all things the man of the public;
and in this respect we may regard as a precious relic the last words
which could be saved from that mighty prey, on which death was about to
seize. Concentrating all his interest on the labours that still remain
to this Assembly, he remembered that the law of succession was the
order of the day, and lamented he could not assist at the discussion of
the question, regretting death, because it deprived him of the power of
performing a public duty. But, as his opinion was committed to writing,
he confided the manuscript to me, in order that I might in his name
communicate it to you. I am going to execute this duty. The author
of the manuscript is now no more; and so intimately were his wishes
and thoughts connected with the public weal, that you may imagine
yourselves catching his last breath, as you listen to the sentiments
which I am about to read to you.”

Such were the words with which M. de Talleyrand prefaced the memorable
discourse which, in establishing the principles on which the law of
inheritance has since rested in France, laid the foundations of a new
French society, on a basis which no circumstance that can now happen
seems likely to alter.

“There is as much difference,” said Mirabeau, “between what a man does
during his life, and what he does after his death, as between death
and life. What is a testament? It is the expression of the will of a
man who has no longer any will respecting property which is no longer
his property; it is the action of a man no longer accountable for his
actions to mankind; it is an absurdity, and an absurdity ought not to
have the force of law.”

Such is the argument set forth in this celebrated and singular speech.
Ingenious rather than profound, it does not seem, as we turn to it
coolly now, worthy of the reputation it attained, nor of the effect
which it has undoubtedly produced. But, read in M. de Talleyrand’s deep
voice, and read as the last thoughts upon testamentary dispositions of
a man who was making his own will when he composed it, and who since
then was with his luminous intellect and marvellous eloquence about to
be consigned to the obscure silence of the grave, it could hardly fail
to make a deep impression. It was, moreover, the mantle of the departed
prophet; and the world, whether wrong or right in the supposition,
fancied that it saw in this political legacy the intention to designate
a political successor.


Thus, M. de Talleyrand, already, as we have seen, a member of the
department of Paris, was immediately chosen to fill the place in the
directorship of that department, an appointment which Mirabeau’s death
left vacant.

In this municipal council, considerable influence still existed; nor
did it want various means for exercising that influence over the middle
classes of the capital; so that a man of resolution and tact could have
made it one of the most useful instruments for restoring the royal
authority and consolidating it on new foundations.

It seems not unlikely, indeed, that M. de Talleyrand had the design
of making it popular as the organ of good advice to the King, and of
making the King popular by engaging him to listen to this advice,
since we find that it drew up an address to him on the 18th April
(about a fortnight after Mirabeau’s death), urging him to put aside
from his councils those whom the nation distrusted, and to confide
frankly in the men who were yet popular: whilst there is reason to
believe, as I shall by-and-by have occasion to show, that M. de
Talleyrand entered about this time into secret negotiations with the
King, or, at least, offered him, through M. de Laporte, his best

But Louis XVI. was more likely to trust a bold and passionate man like
Mirabeau, whom, notwithstanding his birth, he looked upon--considering
the situation in which the Revolution had found him--as an adventurer
who had been almost naturally his opponent, until he had purchased his
support, rather than a man like M. de Talleyrand; a philosopher, a wit,
who might be said to have been bred a courtier; and, on the other hand,
M. de Talleyrand himself was too cautious to commit himself boldly
and entirely to the daring and doubtful schemes which Mirabeau had
prepared, until he saw a tolerable chance of their being successful.

Other circumstances, moreover, occurred at this time, which could not
but have an unfavourable influence as to the establishment of any
serious concert between the scrupulous and mistrustful monarch, and the
chess-playing, constitutional bishop.


When M. de Talleyrand rejected the archbishopric of Paris, it was
clear that he expected nothing further from the church; and he no
doubt from that moment conceived the idea of freeing himself from its
trammels on the first decent opportunity: nor did he long wait for this
opportunity, for, on the 26th of April, one day after his consecration
of the Curé Expelles, the newly-elected Bishop of Finisterre, arrived a
brief thus announced in the _Moniteur_ of the 1st of May, 1791:

“_Le bref du Pape est arrivé jeudi dernier. De Talleyrand-Périgord,
ancien évêque d’Autun, y est suspendu de toutes fonctions
et excommunié, après quarante jours s’il ne revient pas a

The moment had now come for that decisive measure which the unwilling
ecclesiastic had for some time contemplated; for he had too much tact
to think of continuing his clerical office under the interdiction of
the head of his church, and was by no means prepared to abandon his
political career, and to reconcile himself with Rome, on the condition
of separating himself from wealth and ambition. But one alternative
remained--that of abandoning the profession into which he had been
forced to enter. This he did at once, and without hesitation; appearing
in the world henceforth (though sometimes styled in public documents
the Abbé de Périgord, or the ancien évêque d’Autun) under the plain
designation of M. de Talleyrand, a designation which I have already
frequently applied to him, and by which, though he was destined to be
raised to far higher titles, he has by universal consent descended
to posterity. The act was a bold one; but, like most bold acts in
difficult circumstances, it was not (I speak of it as a matter of
worldly calculation) an imprudent one: for it released an indifferent
priest from a position which he could only fill with decency by a
constant hypocrisy, for which he was too indolent; and it delivered up
an able statesman to a career for which, by the nature of his talents,
he was peculiarly fitted. Neither was M. de Talleyrand’s withdrawal
from the church so remarkable a fact at that moment as it would have
been at any other; for France, and even Europe, were then overrun
by French ex-ecclesiastics of all grades, who were prohibited from
assuming their rank and unable to fulfil their duties, and who, in many
cases, were obliged to conceal their real calling under that from which
they earned a daily subsistence.

Nevertheless, the Bishop of Autun’s particular case excited and
merited attention. It had been as an organ and representative of
the French church, that this prelate had contributed in no slight
degree to alienate its property and change its constitution; and now,
his brethren in the French clergy being what he had made them, he
voluntarily threw their habit from his shoulders and renounced all
participation in their fate.

It might, it is true, be urged that none had lost more by the
destruction of the ancient church and its institutions than himself,
that he had originally become a priest against his inclinations,
and that he was compelled to decide either against his convictions
as a citizen or against his obligations as a churchman. Still, this
desertion from his order by one who had been so conspicuous a member
of it, was undoubtedly a scandal, and though the world usually pardons
those whom it has an interest to forgive, and though M. de Talleyrand,
if he erred, had the consolation of living to see his errors forgiven
or overlooked by many very rigid Catholics, who enjoyed his society,
by many very pious princes, who wanted his services, and even by the
Pope himself, when his holiness was in a situation to fear his enmity
and require his goodwill--he himself never felt entirely at his ease
as to his early profession, and was so sensitive on the subject that
the surest way to offend him was to allude to it. I was told by a lady,
long intimate with M. de Talleyrand, that even the mention of the word
“lawn” annoyed him.

As to Louis XVI., although making perpetual compromises with his
conscience, he was of all persons the one most likely to be shocked by
a bishop thus coolly converting himself into a layman; whilst it must
be added that M. de Talleyrand was of all persons the one least likely
to respect Louis XVI.’s scruples.

We may, therefore, reasonably suppose that whatever relations
were indirectly kept up between them at this time, such relations
were neither intimate nor cordial, but rather those which men not
unfrequently maintain with persons whom they neither like nor trust,
but are ready to serve under or be served by, should circumstances
arrive to render a closer connection mutually advantageous.

The King, however, had become more and more puzzled by the opposing
advice of his various and never-trusted counsellors, and more and
more dissatisfied with the prospect of having shortly to assent to a
constitution which, in reality, he looked upon as an abdication. It was
not surprising, therefore, that, on the morning of the 21st of June, it
was discovered that he had, with his family, quitted Paris; and it was
shortly afterwards ascertained that the fugitives had directed their
course towards the north of France and the camp of M. de Bouillé.

It will be remembered that, to withdraw from the capital to the camp of
this officer, in whose judgment, ability, and fidelity Louis XVI. most
relied, was part of Mirabeau’s old scheme.

But this was not all: the King, in a paper which he left behind him,
stated that it was his intention to retire to some portion of his
“kingdom where he could freely exercise his judgment, and there to
make such changes in the proposed constitution” (it was on the point
of being terminated) “as were necessary to maintain the sanctity of
religion, to strengthen the royal authority, and to consolidate a
system of true liberty.” A declaration of this kind (though the words I
have cited were rather ambiguous) was also comprised in the scheme of

Now, M. de Montmorin, the minister of foreign affairs--with one of
whose passports the King had actually made his escape as a servant of
a Madame de Korff--had been initiated, as we know, into Mirabeau’s
secrets, and M. de Talleyrand was one of M. de Montmorin’s friends,
and had been, as we have recently seen, by Mirabeau’s bedside during
his last hours. Hence it might be inferred, notwithstanding the causes
which prevented any real sympathy or cordial understanding between
the King and the ex-Bishop of Autun, that the latter was privy to the
flight of the former, and prepared to take part in the plans of which
that flight was to be the commencement.

Rumours, indeed, to this effect, concerning both M. de Montmorin and M.
de Talleyrand, were for a moment circulated in Paris.

But M. de Montmorin proved to the satisfaction of the Assembly that
he was innocent of all participation in the King’s evasion; and the
reports respecting M. de Talleyrand never went further than to one or
two of those journals which at that time disgraced the liberty of the
press by their total indifference as to whether they published truth or

It is also to be remarked that M. de Lafayette, whom on that subject
one must accept as a good authority, expressly charges the King with
having left M. de Montmorin and his most intimate friends ignorant of
his intentions.

“Il était ignoré,” says M. de Lafayette, “de ses ministres, des
royalistes de l’Assemblée, tous laissés exposés à un grand peril. Telle
était la situation non seulement des gardes nationaux de service, de
leurs officiers, mais des amis les plus dévoués du roi, du duc de
Brissac, commandant des cent-suisses, et de M. de Montmorin qui avait
très-innocemment donné un passeport sous le nom de la baronne de

It is difficult to account for the inconsistency in Louis XVI.’s
conduct, except by referring to the inconsistency of his character:
I am, however, disposed to surmise that, after Mirabeau’s death, he
considered it would be impossible to unite a considerable portion of
the Assembly and the army in one common plan; and that he then began
carrying on at the same time two plans: the one relative to the policy
he should pursue in the event of his stay in the capital, which he
probably conducted through M. de Montmorin, who was intimate with the
leading members of the constitutional party in the Assembly; the other
relative to his flight, which he only entrusted to the general whose
camp he was about to seek, and to those private friends and adherents
who took little part in public affairs. It is further to be presumed
that, according to his constant incertitude and indolence, never long
or firmly fixed on any one project, he was scared by apprehensions
of the mob at the moment when most disposed to remain quietly in his
palace, and alarmed at the risk and trouble of moving when actually
pressing the preparations for his journey.

In this manner we may best reconcile his writing to M. de Bouillé, to
expect him at Montmedy within a week of his declaring to the sovereigns
of Europe (23rd April) that he was satisfied with his condition at
Paris: in this manner, likewise, we may explain his solemnly assuring
the general of the National Guard that he would not quit the Tuileries,
only two or three days before he actually did so.[25]

He rarely did what he intended to do; and belied himself more
frequently from change of intentions, than from intentional insincerity.


At all events, it seems probable (returning to the fact with which we
are in the present instance most concerned) that Louis XVI.’s departure
took place without M. de Talleyrand’s active assistance, but I do not
think it probable that it was altogether without his knowledge.

The ex-Bishop had such a varied and extensive acquaintance that he was
pretty certain to know what he wished to know; and it was according to
his usual practice to contrive that he should not be compromised if the
King’s projects failed, and yet that he should be in a situation to
show that the King was indebted to him if those projects succeeded. It
is useless to speculate on what might have occurred had the unfortunate
monarch reached his destination; for travelling in a carriage
peculiarly heavy and peculiarly conspicuous at the rate of three miles
an hour, walking up the hills, putting his head out of the windows
at the post-houses, Louis XVI. arrived at the place where he was to
have met his escort twenty hours later than the appointed time, and
was finally stopped at the bridge of Varennes by a few resolute men,
and reconducted leisurely to the capital, amidst the insults of the
provinces and the silence of Paris.

The important question then arose, What was to be done respecting him?

Was he to be deposed in favour of a republic? All contemporary writers
agree that, at this moment, the idea of a republic was only in a few
visionary minds. Was he to be deposed in favour of a new monarch,
which, considering the emigration of his brothers and the infancy of
his child, could only be in favour of a new dynasty? or, was he to be
reinstated in the position he had quitted?


The views and conduct of M. de Talleyrand are at this crisis
interesting. We have been told by contemporaries, that he and Sieyès
were of opinion that there was a better chance of making the Revolution
successful with a limited monarchy under a new chief, elected by the
nation, than under the old one, who claimed his throne in virtue of
hereditary right; and we can easily understand their reasoning.

A king who had succeeded to a throne from which his ancestors had been
accustomed for centuries to dictate absolutely to their people, could
hardly be sincerely satisfied with possessing on sufferance a remnant
of his ancestors’ former authority; nor could a people be ever wholly
without suspicion of a prince who had to forget the ideas with which he
had received the sceptre before he could respect those which restricted
the use of it.

Louis XVI., moreover, had attempted to escape from his palace, as a
prisoner escaping from his gaol, and as a prisoner thus escaping he had
been caught and brought back to his place of confinement.

It was difficult to make anything of a sovereign in this condition
save a puppet, to be for a while the tool, and ere long the victim, of
contending parties.

Now, M. de Talleyrand had always a leaning to the Orleans branch of
the House of Bourbon: neither did he think so ill of the notorious
personage who was then the representative of the Orleans family, as the
contemporaries from whose report posterity has traced his portrait.

Of this prince he once said, in his own pithy manner, “Le duc
d’Orléans est le vase dans lequel on a jeté toutes les ordures de la
Révolution;”[26] and this was not untrue.

Philippe d’Orléans, indeed, who has figured in history under the
nickname or _sobriquet_ of “Egalité,” was neither fitted for the part
of a great sovereign in turbulent times nor for that of a quiet and
obscure citizen at any more tranquil period. Nevertheless, he was not
so bad a man as he has been represented; for both Legitimists and
Republicans have been obliged to blacken his character in order to
excuse their conduct to him.

His character has, furthermore, been mystified and exaggerated, as
we have looked at it by the lurid glare of that unnatural vote which
brings the later period of his life always prominently and horribly
before us. Still, in reality, he was rather a weak man, led into
villainous deeds by want of principle, than a man of a strong and
villainous nature, who did not scruple at crimes when they seemed
likely to advance his ambition. His only one strong passion was a
desire to be talked about.

It is possible that the King, by skilful management, might have turned
this ruling wish of his most powerful subject to the profit of his
monarchy: for the young Duc de Chartres was at one time anxious to
shine as an aspirant to military fame. The government, however, denied
his request to be employed as became his rank; and when, despite of
this denial, he engaged in a naval combat as a volunteer, the court
unjustly and impoliticly spread reports against his courage. To risk
his life in a balloon, to run riot in every extravagance of debauch,
to profess the opinions of a republican though the first prince of the
blood royal, were demonstrations of the same disposition which might
have made him a gallant soldier, a furious bigot, a zealous royalist,
and even a very tolerable constitutional monarch.

As to the various stories of his incessant schemes and complicated
manœuvres for exciting the populace, debauching the soldiery, and
seizing the crown, they are, in my opinion, no more worthy of credit
than the tales which at the same period were equally circulated
of Louis XVI.’s drunkenness, and Marie-Antoinette’s debaucheries.
Belonging to those whom Tacitus has described as “men loving
idleness--though hating quiet,” seeking popularity more than power, and
with a character easily modelled by circumstances, I am by no means
certain, that if M. de Talleyrand did think of bestowing on him what
was afterwards called a “citizen crown,” (it must be remembered that he
had not then been lowered and disgraced by the follies or crimes into
which he was subsequently led), the plan was not the best which could
have been adopted. But there was one great and insurmountable obstacle
to this design.

General Lafayette commanded the National Guard of Paris, and although
his popularity was already on the wane, he was still--Mirabeau being
dead--the most powerful citizen that had been raised up by the
Revolution. He did not want to run new risks, nor to acquire greater
power, nor to have a monarch with more popularity or more authority
than the runaway king.

Courageous rather than audacious, more avid of popularity than of
power, a chivalric knight-errant, an amiable enthusiast, rather than
a great captain, or a practical politician, the part which suited him
was that of parading himself before the people as the guardian of the
constitution, and before the sovereign as the idol of the nation. To
this part he wished to confine himself; and the monarch under whom he
could play it most easily was Louis XVI. Nor was this all.

Ambitious men may agree as to sharing the attributes of office; vain
men will not agree as to sharing the pleasure of applause: and it is
said that Lafayette never forgot that there was another bust, that
of the Duc d’Orléans, carried about the streets of Paris together
with his own, on the memorable day which saw the destruction of the
Bastille. To any idea, therefore, of the Duc d’Orléans as King of
France, he was decidedly opposed.


Thus, after making just that sort of effort in favour of the younger
branch of the Bourbons which left him free to support the elder one,
if such effort proved abortive, M. de Talleyrand finally declared for
Louis XVI., as the only person who could be monarch, if a monarchy
could be preserved; and was also for giving this prince such a position
as he might honourably accept, with functions that he might really

The King himself, it must be added, was now in a better disposition
than he had hitherto been for frankly accepting the conditions of the
new existence proposed to him.

A hero, or rather a saint, when it was required of his fortitude to
meet danger or to undergo suffering, his nature was one of those which
shrink from exertion, and prefer endurance to a struggle for either
victory or escape.

It was with difficulty that he had been so far roused into action as to
attempt his recent expedition; he had been disgusted with its trouble,
more than awed by its peril. Death itself seemed preferable to another
such effort.

He had seen, likewise, from the feeling of the provinces, and even
from the infidelity of the troops, who, sent to escort him, might have
attempted his rescue; but who, when told to cry, “_Vive le Roi!_”
cried, “_Vive la Nation!_” that, even if he had reached M. de Bouillé’s
camp, it would have been difficult for that general, notwithstanding
his firmness of character and military ability, to have placed the
sovereign of France in any position within the French territory from
which he might have dictated to, or even treated with, the French
people. To quit Paris, therefore, a second time was evidently to quit
France and to unite himself with, and to be subordinate to, that party
of _émigrés_ which had always preferred his younger brother, whose
presumption had become insulting to his authority and offensive to
Marie-Antoinette’s pride.

On the other hand, many persons of note in the Assembly who had
hitherto employed their talents and their popularity towards the
weakening of the monarchical power, were at this juncture disposed to
strengthen it.

Amongst the commissioners sent to conduct Louis XVI. from Varennes to
Paris, was Barnave, an eloquent young lawyer, who, from a desire to
distinguish himself in a glorious rivalry with Mirabeau, had adopted
that party in the Assembly which, whilst declaring itself against a
republic, contended in all discussions, and especially in the famous
discussion on the _veto_, for abridging and in fact annihilating the
royal authority. Struck by the misfortunes of Marie-Antoinette,--beauty
never appearing so attractive to a generous heart as in the hour of
distress,--and convinced, perhaps, by his own personal observations
that Louis XVI. had in many respects been grossly calumniated, Barnave
had at last adopted the views which had previously been formed by his
great rival, whose ashes then slept in the Pantheon.

The two Lameths also, officers of noble birth, possessing some talent
and more spirit, perceiving that by the course they had hitherto
pursued they had raised up at each step more formidable rivals amongst
the lower classes of society than any they would otherwise have had to
encounter amongst the leaders of the nobility or the favourites of the
court, were now as anxious to restrain the democracy which they hated,
as Barnave was to assist the queen whom he loved; whilst many of all
ranks, conscientiously in favour of liberty, but as justly alarmed at
anarchy, beginning to consider it more important to curb the license
of the mob and the clubs than that of the King and the government,
were for rallying round the tottering throne and trying to give it a
tolerable foundation of security.


For these reasons, then, there was a combination of interests, desires,
and abilities, in favour of establishing Louis XVI. at the head of such
a constitution, as, if not the best possible, would have been the best
possible at that time; and, every other rational project seeming out
of the question, M. de Talleyrand entered, as I have said, into this
one, although with less faith in its practicability than some of his

There were, however, at this moment circumstances which favoured it.
An assemblage, collected together by the influence and exhortations of
the most violent of the Jacobins for the purpose of signing a petition
to the Assembly against the continuance of the monarchy, having given a
sufficient pretext by its tumultuous character and excesses to justify
the act, was dispersed by Lafayette at the head of the National Guard,
and with the authority of Bailly, mayor of Paris;--that is, with the
force and authority of the whole mass of the _bourgeoisie_, or middle

The Republicans were daunted. A revision of the constitution, moreover,
was required; for the desultory and inconsistent manner in which many
of the measures of the Assembly had been voted, rendered it necessary
to distinguish between those which were temporary in their character
and those that were to remain fundamental laws of the State. This
revision offered the opportunity of introducing changes of importance
into the constitution itself, and amongst these a second chamber or

To this addition even Lafayette consented; although his opinion was
that such second chamber should be elective, as in the United States
(his constant model), and not hereditary as in England, which another
section of public men--anxious to maintain an aristocracy as well as a

The moderate party, still powerful in the departments, in Paris, and
in the National Guard, as well as in the army, had not, nevertheless,
by itself a majority in the Assembly; and a mere majority could not
have undertaken so great a plan as that contemplated. With the aid
of the Royalists, however, the execution of this plan was easy. But
the Royalists, consisting of two hundred and ninety members, with the
Abbé Maury at their head (Cazales, the other leader of the Royalist
party, at this time emigrated), retaining their seats in the Assembly,
declined to take any part in its proceedings;--and in this manner the
only hope of safety for the King was destroyed by the very persons who
arrogated to themselves the title of “the King’s friends;” nor was this
course, though foolish and unpatriotic, altogether unnatural.

What a party can least bear is the triumph of its opponents: the
consolidation of a constitutional government was the triumph of that
party, which from the beginning of the Revolution had advocated such a
government and declared it possible. The triumph of the opposite party,
on the contrary, was, that there should be an absolute monarchy, or
no monarchy; a government of “_lettres de cachet_,” or no government.
This party had to prove that to diminish the sovereign’s power was to
conduct him to the scaffold; that to give the people freedom was to
overthrow society. Thus, if they did not hope for the worst, they would
do nothing to secure the best that was practicable. It is conjunctures
like these which confound the calculations of those who fancy that men
will act according to their interests.

Left to themselves, the Constitutionalists had not sufficient power
to give battle to the democrats in the Assembly and the clubs out
of it. They voted the King a body-guard and a privy purse--measures
better calculated to excite the envy than to curb the license of
the populace; and then, betrayed by the same wish to show their
disinterestedness, which had made them parties, in November, 1789,
to the stupid declaration that no member of the National Assembly
should be the King’s minister, they committed the still greater folly
of declaring that no member of the National Assembly should sit in
the next legislature, nor hold any office under the Crown during its
continuance; a decree decapitating France, and delivering an untried
constitution into the hands of inexperienced legislators.

This decree left the future too obscure for any man of calmness
and judgment to flatter himself that there was more than a faint
probability of fixing its destinies for some years to come; but
whatever these destinies might be, the reputation of the statesman
whose views formed the mind of a rising generation, would survive the
errors and passions of a past one.

It was with this thought before him that M. de Talleyrand, just
previous to the dissolution of the National Assembly, or, as it is
sometimes called, _l’Assemblée constituante_, brought under its
notice a vast project of education, then too late to be decided upon,
but which, printed and recommended to the attention of the coming
legislature, and having at one extremity the communal school and at the
other the Institute, exists with but slight alterations at this very

The Assembly now separated (on the 13th of September) amidst that
usual exhibition of fireworks and fêtes which mark the history of
the animated and variable people, who, never contented and never
despairing, exhibit the same joy when they crown their heroes or break
their idols.

Such was the end of that great Assembly which passed away rapidly from
the face of affairs at the moment, but which left its foot-print on the
world for generations that have not yet effaced it.

In this Assembly, M. de Talleyrand was the most conspicuous figure
after Mirabeau, as he was hereafter in the Empire the most conspicuous
personage after Napoleon; and I have dwelt more on this portion of his
career than I may do upon others, because it is the one least known,
and for which he has been least appreciated.

The reputation, however, which he obtained and justly earned in
those violent and turbulent times, was not of a violent or turbulent
character. A member of the two famous clubs of the day (Jacobins and
Feuillans), he frequented them occasionally, not to take part in their
debates, but to be acquainted with and influence those who did. In the
National Assembly he had always sided with the most moderate who could
hope for power, and who did not abjure the Revolution.

Necker, Mounier, Mirabeau, had successively his support so long as they
took an active part in public affairs. In the same manner he acted,
when they disappeared, with Barnave and the two Lameths; and even with
Lafayette, though he and that personage disliked and despised each
other. No personal feeling altered his course; it was never marked
by personal prejudices, nor can I say that it was ever illumined by
extraordinary eloquence. His influence arose from his proposing great
and reasonable measures at appropriate times, in singularly clear and
elegant language; and this from the height of a great social position.
He did not pretend to be guided by sentiment or emotion; neither
hatred, nor devotion, nor apprehension, ever seemed to affect his
conduct. He avowed that he wished for a constitutional monarchy, and
was willing to do all he could to obtain one. But he never said he
would sacrifice himself to this idea if it proved impossible to make it

Many have attacked his honour because, being a noble and a churchman,
he sided against the two orders he belonged to; but in reality he
rather wished to make ancient things live amongst new ideas than to
sweep ancient things away. Others have denied his sagacity in promoting
a revolution which drove him from affluence and power into poverty and
exile. But, in spite of what has been said to the contrary, I by no
means believe that the end of the Revolution of 1789 was the natural
consequence of its commencement. The more we examine the history of
that period, the more we are struck by the incessant and unaccountable
follies of those who wished to arrest it. There was no want of
occasions when the most ordinary courage and good sense on the part of
the King and his friends would have given the one all the power it was
advisable he should exercise, and preserved the other in as influential
a position as was compatible with the abolition of intolerable abuses.
No man can calculate with accuracy on all the faults that may be
committed by his opponents. It is probable that M. de Talleyrand did
not calculate on the utter subversion of the society he undertook to
reform; but it appears that at each crisis he foresaw the dangers that
were approaching, and counselled the measures most likely to prevent
their marring his country’s prospects and his own fortunes.

At the actual moment, he perceived that the new legislature would be
a new world, which could neither have the same notions, nor belong to
the same society, nor be subject to the same influences, as the last;
and that the wisest thing to do was to withdraw himself from the Paris
horizon until the clouds that obscured it had, in some direction or
other, passed away.

In England, he was sufficiently near not to be forgotten, and
sufficiently distant not to be compromised. England, moreover, was the
natural field of observation at that moment for a French statesman. To
England, therefore, he went, accompanied by M. de Biron, and arrived in
London on the 25th of January, 1792.



    M. de Talleyrand in London.--Manner and
    appearance.--Witticisms.--Visit to England.--Lord Grenville
    refuses to discuss business with him.--Goes to Paris; returns
    with letter from King.--State of affairs in France prevents
    success of any mission in England.--Arrives in Paris just prior
    to the 10th of August.--Escapes and returns to England, the
    16th of September, 1792.--Writes to Lord Grenville, declaring
    he has no mission.--Sent away the 28th of January, 1794.--Goes
    to America.--Waits until the death of Robespierre.--Gets then
    permission to return to France.--Chénier declares that he was
    employed by Provisional Government in 1792, when he had told
    Lord Grenville he was not.--Successful reception.--Description
    of Directory and of society at that time.--Chosen Secretary
    of Institute, and read two remarkable memoirs to it.--Named
    Minister of Foreign Affairs.--Sides with Barras and
    Executive against the Assemblies.--Negotiations at Lille
    broken off.--Address to diplomatic agents.--Peace of Campo
    Formio.--Bonaparte goes to Egypt.--Democrats triumph in the
    Directory.--M. de Talleyrand quits office, and publishes an
    answer to accusations made against him.--Paris tired with the
    Directory.--Bonaparte returns from Egypt.--Talleyrand unites
    with Sieyès to overturn the Government, and place power in
    Bonaparte’s hands.


When M. de Talleyrand made his first appearance in our country, many
persons in it still continued favourable to the French Revolution,
and viewed with esteem those who had rather sought to destroy crying
abuses than to put fantastical theories into practice. Thus, although
naturally preceded by the calumnies which were certain to be circulated
about a man who had played so remarkable a part on so eventful a scene
as that which he had just quitted, the ex-Bishop of Autun was, on
the whole, well received by a large portion of our aristocracy, and
became particularly intimate at Lansdowne House. The father of the late
marquis mentioned to me that he remembered him dining there frequently,
and being particularly silent and particularly pale. A contemporary,
indeed, describes M. de Talleyrand at this time as aiming to impose on
the world by an air of extreme reserve:--

“His manner was cold, he spoke little, his countenance, which in early
youth had been distinguished for its grace and delicacy, had become
somewhat puffed and rounded, and to a certain degree effeminate,
being in singular contrast with a deep and serious voice which no one
expected to accompany such a physiognomy. Rather avoiding than making
advances, neither indiscreet, nor gay, nor familiar, but sententious,
formal, and scrutinizing,--the English hardly knew what to make of a
Frenchman who so little represented the national character.

“But this exterior was a mask, which he threw off in the circles
in which he was at his ease, talking in these freely, taking the
greatest pains to please, and being remarkable for the choice of his
expressions and a certain epigrammatic wit, which had a singular charm
for those who were accustomed to his society. His was the saying cited
by Chamfort, _à propos_ of Rulhières,[27] who--on observing that he
did not know why he was called ill-natured, for in all his life he
had never done but one ill-natured action--was replied to by M. de
Talleyrand’s drily observing, ‘_Et quand finira-t-elle?_’--‘when will
it end?’

“One evening, playing at long whist, the conversation turned on an old
lady who had married her footman; some people expressed their surprise,
when M. de Talleyrand, counting his points, drawled out in a slow
voice, ‘_At nine, one does not count honours_.’

“Another time,” says the person from whom I am quoting, “we were
speaking of the infamy of a colleague, when I burst out by exclaiming,
‘That man is capable of assassinating any one!’ ‘_Assassinating, no!_’
said M. de Talleyrand, coolly; ‘_poisoning, yes!_’

“His manner of narrating was full of grace; he was a model of good
taste in conversation. Indolent, voluptuous, born for wealth and
grandeur, he accustomed himself in exile to a life simple and full of
privations, sharing with his friends the produce of his magnificent
library, which he sold very ill, the spirit of party preventing many
from becoming purchasers.”

This description, from Dumont (pp. 361, 362), is interesting as
a personal sketch at one of the most critical periods of M. de
Talleyrand’s life; that is, at the commencement of his career as
a diplomatist; for the voyage to England which he was now making,
first suggested to Louis XVI. by M. de Montmorin, and subsequently
realized by the minister who succeeded him, was (though this could
not be officially avowed on account of the self-denying ordinance of
the National Assembly) of an official character; a fact suspected if
not known at the time. Lord Gower, indeed (our ambassador at Paris),
speaks of it in January as a _mission_ of peace. Lord Grenville, in
a communication to Lord Gower, in February, says M. de Talleyrand
had brought him a letter from M. Delessart, then Minister of Foreign
Affairs, and in March again he thus writes:[28]

“I have seen Monsieur de Talleyrand twice since his arrival on the
business of his _mission_ to this country.

“The first time he explained to me very much at large the disposition
of the French government and nation to enter into the closest
connection with Great Britain, and proposed that this should be done
by a mutual guarantee, or in such other manner as the government of
this country should propose. Having stated this, he earnestly requested
that he might not receive any answer at the time, but that he might
see me again for that purpose. I told him that, in compliance with
his request, I would see him again for the object he wished, though
I thought it fair to apprise him that, in all probability, my answer
would be confined to the absolute impossibility of entering into any
kind of discussion or negotiation on points of so delicate a nature
with a person having no official authority to treat upon them. When I
did see him again I repeated this to him, telling him it was the only
answer I could give to any proposal that he might make to me, although
I had no difficulty in saying to him individually, as I had to every
Frenchman with whom I had conversed on the present state of France,
that it was very far from being the disposition of H. M. Government to
foment or prolong any disturbances there with a view of any profit to
be derived from them to this country.”

The coyness of Lord Grenville to enter into political discussions at
this moment with M. de Talleyrand might arise in some degree from
the position of the French ministry, for though M. de Talleyrand had
brought a letter, as has been said, from M. Delessart, who belonged
to the more moderate section of the French ministry, his intimate
friend in it was the Comte de Narbonne; named, just previous to M. de
Talleyrand’s departure, minister of war, and who, being the youngest
and most ardent member of the government, was all for an immediate war
with Austria, as the only means of saving France from the internal
agitation that was preying on her, and the only means of definitively
separating the King from the French _émigrés_ and the court of Vienna,
whose counsels rendered it impossible to count on his conduct.

M. de Talleyrand shared these ideas. Narbonne’s colleagues, however,
soon began to think the young soldier’s views, to which they had at
one time half assented, were too adventurous; and M. de Talleyrand’s
position becoming more and more difficult, was, after Lord Grenville’s
conversation in March, untenable. He returned, therefore, to Paris, and
on arriving at its gates, learnt that M. de Narbonne was out of office.

But the moderate Constitutionalists who thought of governing without
M. de Narbonne had not been employed till their party had lost its
influence, and were unable to stem the opposition to which the removal
of their popular colleague had given a new impulse. They soon,
therefore, gave way to the celebrated Gironde, a band which, though
rigid in its own principles of conduct, was not indisposed to profit
by the assistance of able men less scrupulous; and General Dumouriez,
a clever and bold adventurer, became minister of foreign affairs. He
had precisely the same views as Narbonne with respect to a war with
Austria, and thought that it was of the utmost importance to make sure
of the neutrality of England.

M. de Talleyrand had, as we learn from Lord Gower, the address to
speak satisfactorily of the sentiments of the British Government after
returning from his late expedition, and to attribute whatever was
unfriendly in its language to the irregularity of the character he had
appeared in. He was again chosen, then, as the French negotiator; and
though, as in the former instance, he could not be named ambassador,
everything that the law permitted was done to give weight to his
character;--Louis XVI. giving him a letter to George III. expressive
of his confidence in the bearer. In the meantime, M. de Chauvelin, a
gentleman of fashion, professing popular principles, but who would
never have been placed in so important a post had not M. de Talleyrand
been his counsellor, was named minister plenipotentiary.

M. Dumouriez announces this double appointment to Lord Grenville on
the 21st of April, that is, the day after the declaration of war with
Austria, saying--

“That M. de Talleyrand, in his recent voyage to London, had stated to
Lord Grenville the desire of the French government to contract the
most intimate relations with Great Britain. That it was particularly
desirable at that moment, when France was on the eve of a war that she
had not been able to avoid, to assure herself of the friendship of that
government which could most aid in bringing about a peace; that for
this object M. de Chauvelin had been named minister plenipotentiary, a
gentleman chosen on account of the knowledge which his Majesty had of
his person, sentiments, and talents; and that to him had been adjoined,
in consequence of the extreme importance of the negotiation, M. de
Talleyrand (whose abilities were well known to Lord Grenville), and M.
de Roveray,[29] formerly _procureur-général_ in Geneva--a gentleman
known in Switzerland as well as in France; and the King hoped that the
efforts of three persons, understanding the situation of France, and
enjoying great confidence with the French people, would not be without

This letter was dated, as we have said, on the 21st April, but the
embassy did not reach its destination till the month of May: M. de
Chauvelin having been at first displeased with the adjunction of M.
de Talleyrand, and not indisposed to prolong his dissatisfaction, had
not the minister, fatigued with quarrels about trifles at so critical
a moment, terminated them by saying, “M. de Talleyrand s’amuse, M. de
Chauvelin fronde, M. de Roveray marchande:[30] if these gentlemen are
not off by to-morrow night they will be superseded.”

The story (told by Dumont) is worth notice, as showing the careless
indolence which the _ci-devant_ bishop often affected in the affairs
which he had most at heart--an indolence which he afterwards justified
by the well-known maxim, “Point de zèle, Monsieur!”[31]


It was not for want of zeal, however, that this second mission,
notwithstanding the King’s letter, was even more unsuccessful than
the first; but for another very good reason: viz., that whatever MM.
de Chauvelin or Talleyrand might say and do in London, the turn which
affairs were taking more and more decidedly at Paris was such as could
not but destroy the credit of any agent of the French government.

The Legislative Assembly had been especially framed to place power in
the hands of the middle classes, and was intended to be alike hostile
to the nobles and the mob.

But the middle class, the most weighty auxiliary that a government can
have, is rarely found capable of directing a government. Vergniaud and
Roland, who were on this occasion its organs, lost week by week their
prestige; the rabble, which forced the palace on the 20th of June,
began day by day to be more convinced of its power. What authority
remained to the representative of a sovereign whose habitation was not
secure and whose person was insulted?

Amidst such events the Revolution lost in England most of its early
patrons. Fox, Sheridan, and a few of their particular clique, formed
the sole associates of the French embassy; and Dumont, whom I again
quote as a trustworthy witness, describes a scene at Ranelagh which
testifies the general unpopularity in England of every Frenchman having
an official position.

“At our arrival we perceived a buzzing sound of voices saying, ‘Here
comes the French embassy!’ Regards, evincing curiosity but not amity,
were directed at once towards our battalion, for we were eight or
ten, and we soon ascertained that we should not want space for our
promenade, every one retreated to the right and left at our approach,
as if they were afraid that there was contagion in our very atmosphere.”

M. de Talleyrand, seeing that all attempt to negotiate under such
circumstances was vain, returned to Paris just previous to the 10th
August, and was there when the wavering and unfortunate Louis XVI. lost
his crown by a combination between the Girondins and the Jacobins: the
first wishing to have the appearance of a victory, the latter aiming
at the reality. M. de Talleyrand had been the object of attack when
the united Republicans were mustering their forces for the combat,
and he felt himself by no means secure after their triumph. The
popular movement had now in truth swept over all the ideas and all the
individuals it had commenced with; its next excesses were likely to be
still more terrible than the last, and the wary diplomatist thought
that the best thing he could do was to get back to England as soon as


He got his passport from Danton, then in the provisional government,
and whom he knew as an early partisan of the Duc d’Orléans; and he
used, when last in London, to tell a story as to the manner in which
he obtained it by a timely smile at a joke, which the jocular and
truculent tribune had just passed on another petitioner. But I shall
have presently to allude further to this passport. The bearer of it but
just escaped in time.

Among the papers found in the famous iron cupboard, discovered at the
Tuileries, was the following letter from M. de Laporte, the intendant
of the King’s household, to whom I have already alluded as having
communicated the wishes of the King as to M. de Talleyrand’s first
mission, and dated the 22nd of April, 1791:


    “J’adresse à Votre Majesté une lettre écrite avant-hier, et que
    je n’ai reçue qu’hier après-midi; elle est de l’évêque d’Autun
    qui paraît désirer servir Votre Majesté. Il m’a fait dire
    qu’elle pouvait faire l’essai de son zèle, et de son crédit, et
    lui désigner les points où elle désirait l’employer.”[32]

The original communication, however, here alluded to, was not
discovered: and M. de Talleyrand himself boldly denied that it had
ever been written. It is possible that he knew it was destroyed (it
is said that he purchased it from Danton), but at all events, various
concomitant circumstances seemed to prove that he had been more in the
interest and confidence of the Court than he could now safely avow; and
the Convention issuing and maintaining a decree of accusation against
him, he was unable to return to France on the 8th April, 1793, which he
ought to have done in order not to be comprised in the general list of
_émigrés_, and was thus forced to remain in England.

The first thing he had done on arriving there was to address the
following letter to Lord Grenville:--

                            “18th September, Kensington Square.[33]

    “MY LORD,

    “I have the honour of informing you that I arrived in England
    two days ago. The relations which I had the advantage of having
    with you, during my stay in London, make this a duty to me.

    “I should reproach myself for not promptly performing it, and
    for not offering my first homage to the minister whose mind has
    shown itself on a level with the great events of the present
    times, and who has always manifested views so pure, and a love
    of liberty so enlightened.

    “On my first voyages, the King had intrusted me with a mission
    to which I attached the greatest value. I wished to hasten the
    moment of the prosperity of France, and consequently connect
    her, if possible, with England.

    “I hardly, indeed, dared to hope for such a blessing in our
    circumstances, but I could not resolve not to make exertions
    for attaining it.

    “The assurance you vouchsafed to give us of the neutrality of
    your government at the epoch of the war, appeared to me most

    “Since that moment, everything has cruelly changed amongst us;
    and although nothing can ever unrivet my heart or my wishes
    from France, and though I live in the hope of returning thither
    as soon as the laws shall have resumed their reign, I must tell
    you, my Lord, and I am desirous that you should know, that I
    have at this time _absolutely no kind of mission in England_,
    that I have come here solely for the purpose of seeking repose,
    and the enjoyment of liberty in the midst of its true friends.

    “If, however, my Lord Grenville should wish to know what France
    is at this moment, what are the different parties that disturb
    her, and what is the new provisional executive power, and
    lastly, what is permitted to conjecture of the terrible and
    frightful events of which I have almost been an eye-witness, I
    shall be happy to give such information, and to avail myself
    of the occasion to renew the expression of the respectful
    sentiments with which I am, my Lord, your most humble and
    obedient servant,


There is no trace of Lord Grenville’s having taken any notice of this

Nothing, however, was done for some time to disturb the fugitive’s
residence amongst us.

M. de Chauvelin was sent away by the British government after the
execution of Louis XVI. on the 24th of January, 1793, and it was not
till the 28th of January, 1794 that M. de Talleyrand received an
order, under the powers conferred by the Alien Bill, to quit England.
He wrote a letter, dated 30th, to Lord Grenville, in which he begs to
be allowed to justify himself from any false accusation, declares that
if his thoughts have been often turned to France, it has only been
to deplore its disasters, repeats that he has no correspondence with
the French government, represents the calamitous condition he should
be reduced to if driven from our shores, and finally appeals to the
British minister’s humanity as well as justice.



“My respect for the King’s Council, and my confidence in its justice,
induce me to lay before it a personal declaration more detailed than
that which, as a stranger, I am bound to lay before a magistrate.

“I came to London towards the end of January, 1792, intrusted by the
French government with a mission to the government of England. The
object of this mission, at a moment when all Europe seemed to declare
itself against France, was to induce the government of England not
to renounce the sentiments of friendship and good neighbourhood of
which it had given constant proofs towards France during the course of
the Revolution. The King, especially, whose most ardent wishes were
the preservation of a peace which seemed to him as useful to Europe
in general as to France particularly, attached great value to the
neutrality, and to the friendship of England, and he had ordered M. de
Montmorin, who retained his confidence, and M. de Laporte, to acquaint
me with his wishes on this subject. I was, moreover, instructed by
the King’s ministers to make to the government of England proposals
referring to the commercial interests of both nations. The constitution
had not allowed the King, while honouring me with his commands, to
invest me with a public capacity. This want of an official title
was held by my Lord Grenville to be an obstacle to any political
conference. I demanded, in consequence, my recall, and I returned to
France. A minister plenipotentiary was sent some time after; the King
commanded me to assist in the negotiations, and informed his Britannic
Majesty of this by a private letter. I remained attached to the duty
the King had imposed upon me until the epoch of the 10th of August,
1792. At that time I was in Paris, where I had been called by the
minister of foreign affairs. After having been for more than a month
without being able to obtain a passport, and having remained exposed
during all this time, both as an administrator of the department
of Paris, and as a member of the Constituent Assembly, to all the
dangers which can threaten life and liberty, I was at length able to
leave the French capital about the middle of September, and I have
reached England to enjoy peace and personal safety under the shelter
of a constitution protecting liberty and property. There I have been
living, as I always have done, a stranger to all discussions and all
interests of party, and having nothing to fear before just men from the
publicity of any of my political opinions, or from the knowledge of any
of my actions. Besides the motives of safety and liberty which brought
me back to England, there existed another reason, doubtless a very
legitimate one, which was some personal business, and the early sale of
a rather considerable library which I possessed in Paris, and which I
had brought over to London.

“I must add, that having become in some measure a stranger to France,
where I have maintained no other relations than those connected with my
personal affairs, and an ancient friendship, I cannot approach my own
country save by those ardent wishes which I form for the revival of its
liberty and of its happiness.

“I thought that in circumstances where ill-will may avail itself
of various prejudices in order to turn them to the profit of those
enmities due to the first periods of our revolution, it was carrying
out the views of the King’s Council, to offer it a precise exposition
of the motives for my stay in England, and an assured and irrevocable
guarantee of my respect for its constitution and its laws.


    “January 1, 1793.”


Nothing can be more clear and precise than this declaration, but it
was ineffectual, and its writer now sailed for the United States,
carrying with him letters of recommendation from different members of
the Opposition, and, amongst others, from the Marquis of Lansdowne,
with whose intimacy, as I have said, he had been especially honoured.
Washington replied:

                                                “30th August, 1794.

    “MY LORD,

    “I had the pleasure to receive the introduction from your
    Lordship delivered to me by M. de Talleyrand-Périgord. I regret
    very much that considerations of a political nature, and which
    you will easily understand, have not permitted me as yet to
    testify all the esteem I entertain for his personal character
    and your recommendation.

    “I hear that the general reception he has met with is such as
    to console him, as far as the state of our society will permit,
    for what he abandoned on quitting Europe. Time will naturally
    be favourable to him wherever he may be, and one must believe
    that it will elevate a man of his talents and merit above the
    transitory disadvantages which result from differences as to
    politics in revolutionary times.



It will be seen from the foregoing communication that M. de Talleyrand
was spoken of with some respect, and that his reception in the United
States had been rather flattering than otherwise. But the French name
generally had lost its popularity; for Lafayette was an exile in the
prisons of Olmütz, and the bloodthirsty violence of the Convention and
the intrigues of its agents were in nowise congenial with American
feelings. The moment, however, was one of considerable excitement;
the able men who had hitherto formed round their venerable president
a united government were splitting up into opposing parties; the
treaty with England was under dispute; and M. de Talleyrand, intimate
with Jefferson, was active, it is said, in adding to the prevailing
agitation, and endeavouring to thwart the policy of the government
which had lately banished him from its shores. His endeavours, however,
were unsuccessful; and becoming heartily wearied with his new place
of exile, he employed what capital he had been able to save from his
varied career in fitting out a ship, in which, accompanied by M. de
Beaumetz, like himself a former member of the National Assembly, he was
about to sail for the East Indies.

But during the years that had elapsed since his quitting Paris, events
which had been rushing on with a demoniacal rapidity through almost
every horror and every crime (each phase in this terrible history being
marked by the murder of one set of assassins and the momentary rule of
another), had arrived at a new crisis.

The Gironde, whom I left trembling and triumphant on the 10th of
August, had been soon after strangled in the giant grasp of Danton.
Danton, too indolent and self-confident to be a match for his more
cool and ambitious coadjutor, had bent his lofty head beneath the
guillotine, to which he had delivered so many victims; and, finally,
Robespierre himself had just perished by the hands of men whom fear
had rendered bold, and experience brought in some degree to reason,
inasmuch as that they at last felt the necessity of re-establishing
some of those laws by which alone society can be preserved.

M. de Talleyrand on learning these occurrences determined on abandoning
his commercial enterprises and striving once more for power and fortune
amidst the shifting scenes of public affairs.

And here, as often, Fortune favoured him; for the vessel in which he
was about to embark, sailing with his friend, was never afterwards
seen or heard of. All his efforts were now bent on returning to his
native country, where he had many active in his behalf. Amongst the
most influential of these was a remarkable woman, of whose talents we
have but a faint idea from her works, which--though bearing witness
to an ardent imagination and a powerful intellect--hardly give
evidence of that natural and startling eloquence which sparkled in her
conversation. The daughter of Necker, of whom I speak, just awakening
from the horrors of a nightmare that had absorbed almost every
sentiment but fear, was at this period the centre of a circle, in which
figured the most captivating women and the ablest men, rushing with a
kind of wild joy back to those charms of society which of late years
had been banished from all places, except perhaps the prisons, wherein
alone, during what has been emphatically called the “Reign of Terror,”
any records of the national gaiety seem to have been preserved.

Amongst the intimates at Madame de Staël’s house was the surviving
Chénier (Joseph-Marie), who on the 18th of Fructidor addressed the
Convention, after the return of M. de Montesquieu had just been
allowed, in the following characteristic terms:

“I have a similar permission to demand for one of the most
distinguished members of the Constituent Assembly--M. de
Talleyrand-Périgord, the famous Bishop of Autun. Our different
ministers of Paris bear witness to his services. I have in my hands a
_memoir of which the duplicate exists in the papers of Danton_; the
date of this memoir is 25th of November, 1792, and it proves that M. de
Talleyrand was actually occupied in the affairs of the Republic when
he was proscribed by it. Thus, persecuted by Marat and Robespierre, he
was also banished by Pitt from England; but the place of exile that he
chose was the country of Franklin, where, in contemplating the imposing
spectacle of a free people, he might await the time when France should
have judges and not murderers; a Republic, and not anarchy called laws!”

How are we to reconcile this declaration with M. de Talleyrand’s solemn
protestations to Lord Grenville?

How could M. de Talleyrand have been writing memoirs to Danton and yet
have come over to England, “solely for the purpose of seeking repose?”

That the passport to which we have drawn attention bore out M.
Chénier’s affirmation _allant à Londres par nos ordres_--“going to
London by our orders”--is certain, for M. de Talleyrand afterwards
confirmed this fact in a pamphlet which we shall have by-and-by to
notice. But of the memoir we can learn nothing further.

The friends of M. de Talleyrand say that probably it never existed, or
that, if it did, it could only be a paper of no importance, and not
such a one as the English government would have objected to. They add
that the form given to the passport was the only one Danton could have
ventured to give without danger from the provisional council; that the
English government must have been acquainted with it; and that M. de
Talleyrand merely availed himself of it, and pretended that it placed
him in the position of a French agent, when this was necessary to
procure his return to France or to defend himself against the charge of

I must leave it to his autobiography to clear up whatever is obscure in
this transaction; but at present it seems to justify the French lady,
who, when the conversation once turned on the agreeable qualities of
the Abbé de Périgord, acknowledged it would be difficult to refuse him
her favours, but that it would be impossible to give him her confidence.


At all events, Chénier’s pleading was successful. The permission to
return was granted; and, accordingly, M. de Talleyrand retraversed the
Atlantic, and, having been driven on the English coast by stress of
weather, arrived in the month of July, 1795, at Hamburg, then the place
of refuge for almost all _émigrés_, especially Orleanists, as well as
of Irish malcontents: Madame de Genlis, Madame de Flahaut, Lord Edward
FitzGerald, &c.

The condition of Europe may be briefly described at this time by
saying that the French arms had been generally successful. Belgium
was taken; the expedition under the Duke of York beaten and repulsed;
Holland had become an allied and submissive Republic; on most of the
towns of the Rhine floated the tricolour flag; Spain had sued for and
obtained peace; Prussia was neutral. The expedition to Quiberon had
been a complete failure; and although the French generals, Pichegru and
Jourdan, began to experience some reverses, the Directory was powerful
enough, both abroad and at home, to justify the support of prudent

M. de Talleyrand consequently saw no objection to serving it. But
before appearing at Paris, he judged it well to stay a short time at
Berlin, which, being then the central point of observation, would make
his arrival in France more interesting.

After this brief preparation, he appeared in the French capital, and
found his name one of the most popular in the drawing-rooms (he never
had the popularity of the streets), in that capricious city. The ladies
formerly in fashion spoke of his wit and address from memory; those of
more recent vogue, from curiosity; the great mass of the Convention
were well disposed to have a “_grand seigneur_” in their suite; the
“_grands seigneurs_” who still remained in France, to have one of their
own body in power; all the political leaders recognised his ability,
and were anxious to know to what particular section he would attach
himself. Even among the “_savants_” he had a party; for he had been
named, though absent, member of the Institute, which had recently been
formed on the basis that he had laid down for it. Above all things,
he was well known as a liberal, and undefiled by the bloody orgies of
freedom. Under such circumstances, he again appeared on the stage of
pleasure and affairs.


The first movement of all parties after the death of Robespierre had
been, as I have said, against the continuance of the murderous system
connected with his name; but it was difficult to combine into any one
government or policy the various parties that were triumphant; that
is, the violent Democrats, who had risen against their chief;--the
more moderate Republicans, who had been rather spectators than actors
during the domination of the Convention;--and the Constitutionalists
of the National and Legislative Assemblies. The reaction once begun,
extended by degrees, until it provoked conflicts between extremes; and
it was only after a series of struggles, now against the Jacobins and
now against the disguised Royalists, that a sort of middle party formed
the Constitution of year III., which was founded on the principle of
universal tolerance; assuring, however, to the Conventionalists a
supremacy, by exacting that two-thirds of the new assemblies should be
chosen from amongst them. These new assemblies were of two kinds, both
elected: the one called “the ancients,” a sort of senate, which had the
power of refusing laws; the second, the Five Hundred, which had the
power of initiating laws. The executive was entrusted to a Directory,
which, in order to guard against a despot, consisted of five members:
Carnot, with whose republican severity M. de Talleyrand had little
sympathy; Laréveillère-Lepaux, whose religious reveries he had turned
into ridicule by christening the “Théophilantropes” (a sect of deists
whom Laréveillère patronised) _Les filoux en troupe_; Letourneur, an
engineer officer, who had little or no influence; Rewbell, a lawyer,
and a man of character and ability, not ill-disposed to him; and Barras.

This last man, at the time I am speaking of the most powerful member
of the Directory, was the sort of person who frequently rises to a
greater height in civil commotions than any apparent merit seems to
warrant. Clever, without great ability; intriguing, without great
address; bold and resolute on any critical occasions, but incapable
of any sustained energy; of gentle birth, though not of any great
historical family,--he had acquired his influence by two or three acts
of courage and decision; and was forgiven the crime of being a noble,
in consideration of the virtue of being a regicide. Having been chosen
by his colleagues, as the man best acquainted with and accustomed to
the world, to represent the government with society,--he sustained this
position by easy manners and a sort of court with which he contrived
to surround himself; a court containing all the fragments of the old
society that were yet to be found mingled with affairs.

In the south of Europe, and in the East, many such adventurers have
risen to great fortunes and retained them. In the north, and (strange
to say) especially among the changing and brilliant people of France,
more solid qualities, and a more stern and equable character, seem
essentially necessary for command. Richelieu, Mazarin, Louis XI.,
Louis XIV., even Robespierre, differing in everything else, were all
remarkable for a kind of resolute, every-day energy, for a spirit of
order and system which the voluptuary of the Luxembourg wanted. His
drawing-room, however, was a theatre where the accomplished gentleman
of former times was still able to shine, and his prejudices, though
he affected democratic principles in order to shield himself from the
charge of being born an aristocrat, were all in favour of the ex-noble.
To Barras, therefore, M. de Talleyrand attached himself.


The society of Paris was never more “_piquante_,” if I may borrow an
expression from the language of the country of which I am speaking,
than at this moment. Nobody was rich. Pomp and ceremony were banished;
few private houses were open: a great desire for amusement existed;
there were no pretensions to rank, for who would have ventured to boast
of his birth? There was no drawing into sets or _cliques_, for such
would still have been considered as conspiracies. People lived together
in public fêtes, in public gardens, at theatres, at subscription-balls,
like those of Marbeuf, where the grocer’s wife and the monseigneur’s
danced in the same quadrille; each being simply qualified by the title
of “_citoyenne_.” The only real distinction was that of manners. An
active, artful, popular man of the world, amidst such a confused
assemblage of all orders, bent on being amused, had full play for his
social and political qualities. But this was not all; with the taste
for gaiety had also returned the taste for letters. Here, again, M.
de Talleyrand found means to excite attention. I have said that,
during his absence from France he had been elected a member of the
National Institute, which owed its origin, as I have noticed, to the
propositions he had laid before the National Assembly just previous
to its dissolution. He had also been chosen its secretary; and it was
in this capacity that he now addressed to the moral and scientific
class, to which he belonged, two memoirs: the one on the commercial
relations between England and the United States, and the other on
colonies generally. There are few writings of this kind that contain
so many just ideas in so small a compass. In the first, the author
gives a general description of the state of American society, the
calm character, the various and peculiar habits, the Saxon laws, and
religious feelings of that rising community. He then shows, what was at
that time little understood, that the mother country had gained more
than she had lost by the separation; and that the wants of Americans
connected them with English interests, while their language, education,
history, and laws, gave them feelings, which, if properly cultivated,
would be--English.

The memoir on colonisation, however, is even superior to the preceding
one; it is in this memoir on colonisation that M. de Talleyrand
points out--for he even then perceived what has since been gradually
taking place--the impossibility of long continuing slave labour or
of maintaining those colonies which required it. He foresaw that
such colonies existed in the face of sentiments which must, whether
rightly or wrongly, in a few years sweep them away. He looked out for
other settlements to supply their place; and Egypt and the African
coast are the spots to which, with a singular prescience, he directed
the attention of his country; whose inhabitants he describes, from
their sense of fatigue, from their desire of excitement, and in many
instances, from their disappointment and discontent, to be peculiarly
in want of new regions of rest, of enterprise, and of change.

“The art of putting the right men in the right places” (the phrase is
not, I may observe _en passant_, of to-day’s invention), he observes
profoundly, “is perhaps the first in the science of government;
but,” he adds, “the art of finding a satisfactory position for the
discontented is the most difficult.

“To present distant scenes to their imaginations, views agreeable
to their thoughts and desires, is,” he says, “I think, one of the
solutions of this social problem.”[35]

In three weeks after the reading of this memoir, M. de Talleyrand
accepted the office of minister of foreign affairs.


The immediate cause of his being named to replace Charles Delacroix in
this post, used to be thus related by himself:--“I had gone to dine at
a friend’s on the banks of the Seine, with Madame de Staël, Barras,
and a small party which frequently met. A young friend of Barras, who
was with us, went out to bathe before dinner, and was drowned. The
director, tenderly attached to him, was in the greatest affliction.
I consoled him (I was used to that sort of thing in early life), and
accompanied him in his carriage back to Paris. The ministry of foreign
affairs immediately after this became vacant; Barras knew I wanted it,
and through his interest I procured it.”

But this was not the sole cause of his selection. The state of affairs
was at this time critical; the reaction, produced by the horrors of
the democrats, became stronger and stronger under a government of

In proportion as the ordinary relations of society recommenced, the
feeling against those who had disturbed and for a time destroyed them,
became more and more bitter. At last the hatred of the Robespierreans
verged towards an inclination for the Royalists; and Pichegru, the
president of the Assembly of the Five Hundred, and a general at that
time in great repute, was already in correspondence with Louis XVIII.

The Directory itself was divided. Carnot, an impracticable man of
genius and a violent Republican, sided with the opposition from
personal dislike to his colleagues and from a belief that any new
convulsion would end by the triumph of his own principles. He carried
with him Barthélemy, the successor to Letourneur, who had lost his
place in the Directory by the ballot, which was periodically to
eliminate it. Rewbell and Laréveillère-Lepaux ranged themselves with
Barras, who, satisfied with his position, and having to keep it against
the two extreme parties, was glad to get into the ministry, as attached
to him, a man of well-known ability and resolution.

Besides, the negotiation with Great Britain at Lille, which not
unnaturally followed the defeat of all her continental allies,
suggested the appointment of a more distinguished diplomatist than M.
Delacroix, who presided at that time over the department to which M. de
Talleyrand was appointed.

The new minister soon justified the choice that had been made of him.
His eye took in at once the situation in which Barras found himself,--a
situation that singularly resembled one in our own times. The majority
of the executive was on one side, and the majority of the legislative
bodies on the other.

The question was agitated by the Assembly as to whether it should not
take the first step, and, without regard for the constitution, obtain
possession by any means of the executive power. General Pichegru
hesitated, as did General Changarnier after him.

Talleyrand advised Barras not to hesitate. He did not; and, taking
the command of the troops in virtue of his office, seized the chief
men amongst his opponents, to whatever party they belonged. Carnot,
Barthélemy, and Pichegru were amongst the number, and, though Carnot
escaped by flight, M. de Talleyrand equally got rid of an enemy, and
the ardent Republicans lost a leader.


The worst effect of this _coup-d’état_ was the interruption of the
negotiations at Lille, and of the arrangements which Monsieur Maret was
on the point of concluding, which Talleyrand had himself favoured, but
which were impossible to a government that had now to seek popularity
as a protection to usurpation.

The idea of peace with England being thus abandoned, M. de Talleyrand
addressed a circular to his agents, which, considering the time at
which it was written and the position which its writer held at that
moment, is a model of tact and ability.

He describes England as the sole enemy of France. He dates her power
and prestige from the times of Cromwell and the spirit and energy which
liberty inspires. He bases the power and prestige which France ought
then to hold on that same liberty, and invokes the victories which she
had just gained. He describes in a way that suited his purpose the
manner in which Great Britain had acquired her influence, and accuses
her of having abused it.

He shows to his agents the immense importance of an intelligent
diplomacy. He warns them against shocking the habits and ideas of the
nations to which they are sent; he tells them to be active without
being agitators. He instils into them the conviction of the greatness
of France and the necessity of making that greatness acknowledged and
sympathised with.

He counsels them to avoid little tricks, and to evince that confidence
in the strength and continuance of the Republic, which would inspire
such confidence in others.

He points out how all the misfortunes and changes in the government
of France had been brought about by the feeble and apathetic position
which she had held abroad during the reign of the later princes of the
House of Bourbon; and, finally, he assures them of his support, and
adds that he appreciates highly the services which their talents may
render to their country.

It is in this manner that great ministers form able agents.

In the meantime the treaty of Campo Formio had established peace in
Italy and Germany on conditions advantageous to France, though, by the
cession of Venice to Austria, she abdicated the cause for which she had
hitherto pretended to fight.

Bonaparte, to whom this peace was due, now visited Paris, and saw much
of M. de Talleyrand, who courted him with assiduity, as if foreseeing
his approaching destiny. But the time for a closer alliance was not yet
arrived: Napoleon, indeed, was not himself prepared for the serious
meditation of the design which he subsequently executed. Vague ideas
of conquest and greatness floated before his eyes, and the gigantic
empires that courage and genius have frequently founded in the East,
were probably more familiar with his thoughts than any tyranny to be
established in his own country (May, 1798). He set out for Egypt,
then, where he thought of realising his splendid dreams, and where the
Directory, following a traditional policy not yet abandoned, thought of
striking a desperate blow against the ancient enemy and rival with whom
alone she had now to maintain a conflict. With him seemed to depart
the fortunes of his country. A new European coalition broke out with
the murder of the French plenipotentiaries at Rastadt, and divisions
of all kinds manifested themselves in France. The victories of the
allies on the Upper Rhine and in Italy increased these divisions,
and added to the strength of the democratic party, to which the
overthrow of Pichegru and his associates had already--contrary to
the intention of Barras, who, as I have said, had wished to maintain
a middle course--given an increased influence. The loss of Rewbell,
whose energy the Democrats dreaded, and whose seat in the Directory
became legitimately vacant, gave strength to their desires, the more
especially as Sieyès, who replaced Rewbell, entered the executive with
his usual mania of propounding some new constitution.

M. de Talleyrand, attacked as a noble and an _émigré_, resigned
his department, and published a defence of his conduct, which is
remarkable, and of which I venture to give, in an abbreviated and free
translation, some of the most salient points:--

“… I am accused of creating the league of kings against our Republic!
I! If I have been known for one thing more than another, it has been
for my constant desire for an honourable peace; the great result
that will alone give solidity to our institutions! So it is I, then,
who seek to augment our enemies, exasperate our friends, break our
treaties, indispose neutrals, and menace other states with principles
they do not wish to accept--and who make this accusation? They who are
always stirring up discord, invoking the horrors of war; they, whose
aim it is to produce revolutions throughout the world, who address
to every power by turn the most injurious, absurd, and impolitic
reproaches; who employ the press to circulate the assertion that
monarchies and republics are natural enemies; and who left to me the
task of calming the governments whom they kept in a state of constant
disquietude and alarm.


“It is true that Austria, after the treaty of Campo Formio, though that
treaty was favourable to her, began new combinations and alliances
against us--and that England and Russia engaged her in their designs.
If I had been ignorant of their intrigues or hostile preparations,
if I had not informed the government of them, then, indeed, I might
justly be accused. But, not only do I defy any one to show that I ever
neglected my duty for a single day, it so happens that five months
before the entry of the Russians into Italy, _I procured a copy of the
combined plans of Russia and Austria_, and delivered them to General
Joubert, who has frequently declared that they were of the utmost
utility in his operations.


“But I am a Constitutionalist of 1791 (a title I glory in), and,
consequently, I offer no guarantee to the Republic.

“If it were not true that a patriot of 1789, who has not hesitated
to take his oath to the Republic, and frequently repeated it, has no
favour to expect from a French government that is not republican;--it
is certain either that the Republic will establish itself, or that it
will perish in a general confusion, or that it will be again submitted
to a royalty furious and revengeful. From the Confusionists and the
Royalists it appears to me that I have little to expect. Is this no

“But--I am an _émigré_! an _émigré_! When the first republican
authority--the National Convention--declared with unanimity, at the
period of its greatest independence and its greatest force, that my
name should be effaced from the list of _émigrés_, I was sent to
London on the 7th of September, 1792, by the executive government. My
passport, delivered to me by the provisional council, is signed by its
six members, Lebrun, Servan, Danton, Clavière, Roland, Monge. It was in
these terms:

“‘Laissez passer Ch. Maurice Talleyrand, allant à Londres _par nos

[M. de Talleyrand here repeats what was said by Chénier.]

“Thus I was authorised to quit France, and to remain out of it until
the orders I received were revoked, which they never were. But not
wishing to prolong my absence, I asked, the instant that the Convention
recovered the liberty which had been for a time suppressed, to return
to my native land, or to be judged if I had committed any offence that
merited exile. My request was granted. I left France then by orders
which I received from the confidence of the French government. I
re-entered it directly it was possible for me to do so with the consent
of the French government. What trace is there here of emigration?


“Well, then, it was I ‘who made Malmesbury, who had been sent about
his business by Charles Delacroix, return--not, it is true, to Paris,
but--to Lille, the centre of our military Boulevards.’

“What is the truth? On the 13th Prairial, year V., Lord Grenville
proposed to enter into negotiation; on the 16th the proposal was
accepted; on the 25th Charles Delacroix sent passports to England, and
fixed on Lille as the place of negotiation.

“On the 29th Lord Grenville accepts Lille as the place of negotiation,
and announces the choice of Lord Malmesbury as the English negotiator.
On the 2nd Messidor, the Directory sanctions this arrangement. On the
28th the conferences commence at Lille, and it was not till the 28th I
was named minister.


“I am attacked for all the acts of the ex-Directors. My accusers know
that, if my opinion differed from theirs, I should not have charged
them with errors when they were in place, and still less should I do so
now, when they are stripped of power, and that all I desire to remember
is their kindness and confidence.

“It is for this reason that in my report to the legislative body I only
glanced rapidly over the fact that all that was to be decided relative
to Italy and Switzerland, during my ministry, was decided without my
knowledge and concurrence. I could have added that, to the changes
operated in the Cisalpine Republic, I was entirely a stranger; that,
when the citizen Rivaud was sent to that Republic as ambassador, I was
asked for letters of credence in blank, and that I only learnt of his
mission after it had been in activity. But my enemies do not pause here.

“Ignorance and hatred seem to dispute as to which should accumulate the
most falsehoods and absurdities against my reputation.

“I am reproached for not having invaded Hanover: but if I had advocated
carrying the war into that country in spite of the neutral line which
protects it, how much more just and more violent would have been the
attacks on me for having violated that neutrality, and thereby roused
Prussia against us!

“Then it is said I should have assailed Portugal! And if I had done so
and been opposed by Spain, and thus lost an alliance so useful to us,
what reproaches should I not have encountered!

“But I did not sufficiently encourage letters of marque against
England. Five hundred and forty-five privateers fell into the hands of
the English, from the commencement of the war till the year VI. of the
Republic. The number of prisoners in England amounts to thirty-five
thousand; these cost fifteen millions to support on an enemy’s
territory, and it is principally owing to letters of marque that we owe
this result.

“I will say no more; but surely I have said enough to inspire the most
discouraging reflections as to that moral disorganization--as to that
aberration of mind--as to that overthrow of all reasonable ideas--as to
that want of good faith, of the love of truth, of justice, of esteem
for oneself and others--which are the distinguishing characteristics
of those publications which it is difficult to leave unanswered, and
humiliating to reply to.”[36]

We find, from the above, that the ex-minister did not scruple to
make his defence an attack, and to treat with sarcasm and disdain
the party by which he had been ejected; but at the same time that he
denounces the follies of the over-zealous Republicans, he declares
himself unequivocally for a republic: and justifying what he had done,
ridiculing what he had been condemned for not doing, he throws with
some address the blame of much that had been done against his opinion
on those Directors still in power.

What he says as to the negotiations at Lille shows sufficiently the
difficulties, after the 18th of Fructidor, of any peace with England;
and a passage that I have quoted, and to which I had previously
alluded, bears out what had been said by Chénier as to the famous

In these “Eclaircissements,” however, the ex-minister aimed more at
putting himself in a good position for future events, than at referring
to past ones.

He would hardly, indeed, have fixed his signature to so bold a
publication if his enemies had been firm in their places: but already
the Directory was tottering to its fall.


The great evil of any constitution, formed for a particular time and
not the result of continual adaptation to the wants of various epochs,
is that it is altogether of one character and is almost immediately out
of date. The constitution of the Directory, framed after a period of
great popular violence and individual despotism, was framed upon the
principle of so nicely checking every action in the State, that there
should be no honest means for any individual gaining great power or
distinction. But when the influence of individuals in a government is
over-zealously kept down, the influence of government collapses, and
becomes unequal to restrain the agitation of a society more ardent and
ambitious than itself.

Thus, during four years, the Constitution of the year III. was
preserved in name by a series of actual infringements of it. Now, the
Directory checked the councils by transporting the opposition; now, the
opposition put down the Directory by compelling an unpopular director
to resign his office; and now again, the absence of all laws against
the license of the press was compensated for by declaring hostile
journalists enemies of the State, and punishing a clever article as an

Nor was this all: where civil ability can create no great career
a civilian can excite no great enthusiasm. The persons in civil
employment had their prestige limited by the same contrivances that
limited their power; the nation was fatigued with talkers, for talking
had no result: a general alone could strike its imagination, for a
general alone was in the situation to do anything remarkable. Each
party saw this. The patriots or democrats, represented in the Directory
by Laréveillère and Gohier (who had become a Director instead of
Treillard); Barras, of no particular opinion, who might be said to
represent those generally who were intriguing for place; and Sieyès,
the most capable of the executive, at the head of a moderate section,
still for maintaining the Republic and establishing order, though
under some new form. Sieyès had with him a majority in the Council of
Ancients, a powerful minority in the Council of the Five Hundred, and
some of the most eminent and capable men in France, amongst whom was M.
de Talleyrand.

He sought then a General like the rest, but the choice was not so easy
to make. Hoche was no more; Joubert had just perished; Moreau was
irresolute; Massena, though crowned by the victory of Zurich, too much
of the mere soldier; Augereau, a Jacobin; Bernadotte, unreliable. At
this moment (on the 9th October, 1799), Bonaparte landed from Egypt.
He broke the quarantine laws, he had deserted his army, but the country
felt that he was wanted; and through his progress to Paris, as well as
on his arrival there, he was hailed by acclamations.

His object at this time, if he had any distinct one, was the Directory,
for which, however, he wanted a dispensation as to age. But he found
that the majority of the Directory would not hear of this dispensation.
Something else was to be tried, and that something else could only be
combined with Barras or Sieyès. Now Barras, Bonaparte hated: for Barras
had been his protector, without having been his friend. In regard to
Sieyès, M. Thiers has said, not untruly, that two superior Frenchmen,
until they have had the opportunity of flattering one another, are
natural enemies. Moreover, Bonaparte and Sieyès had met at Gohier’s
without exchanging a syllable, and had separated, disliking each other
more than ever. M. de Talleyrand undertook to reconcile these two
men, whose rivalry had to be conquered by their interests,--and he
succeeded. But, with Sieyès, a total subversion of the existing state
of things was a matter of course, because the only ambition he ever
fostered was that of inventing institutions, which he did with a rare
intelligence as to the combination of ideas, forgetting that societies
have something in them besides ideas.

A revolution therefore was decided upon; it was to be brought about by
the Ancients, of whom Sieyès was sure, and who were to declare that
the chambers were in danger at Paris, and should be assembled at St.
Cloud; the safety of these assemblies was then to be confided to the
guardianship of Bonaparte; and the dissolution of the Directory by the
resignation of a majority of its members was to follow. After this,
it was supposed that the majority of the Five Hundred, overawed by a
large military force, opposed by the other branch of the Legislature,
and having no government to support it, would, in some way or other,
be overcome. The first two measures accordingly were taken on the 18th
Brumaire, but the third remained. Sieyès and Ducos, who acted together
and who resigned, were balanced by Gohier and Moulins, who would not
give in their resignation; while Barras had the casting vote; and it
was M. de Talleyrand again, who, in conjunction with Admiral Bruix,
was charged with the task of coaxing this _once_ important man into
accepting insignificance and retreat. In this task he succeeded,
and the vanquished director, conquered as much, perhaps, by his own
indolence, as by his politic friend’s arguments, stepped out of the
bath, reposing in which his two visitors had found him, into the
carriage which bore him from the Luxembourg, and thus the Directory
being no longer in existence, a charge of grenadiers in the Orangery of
St. Cloud settled the affair on the day following.


In glancing over the narrative of these events, we shall see that,
if a similar result could have been otherwise arrived at (which is
doubtful), it certainly could not have been arrived at in the same
peaceful and easy way, but for the assistance of M. de Talleyrand.
The legal part of the recent change was effected by Sieyès, whom he
had united with Bonaparte; and accomplished through Barras, whose
abdication he also procured. The time for rewarding these services was
come, and when Napoleon became first consul, M. de Talleyrand was made
minister of foreign affairs.

In following him through the period which intervened between the
10th of August, 1792, and the 18th Brumaire, we find him a fugitive
to England under doubtful auspices, an exile in America dabbling in
politics, projecting commercial adventures, and, above all, waiting on
events which proved fortunate to him.

Having quitted France as the partisan of a constitutional monarchy,
he returns to it when the feverish passions and opinions which had so
long convulsed it were settled down under a republic--too strong to be
overturned by Royalists--too weak to promise a long existence.

He takes office under the government which he finds, a government that,
compared with its immediate predecessors, offered in a remarkable
manner the security of property and life.

He sides, amidst the conflicts which still continue, with those who
are for a middle course, between bringing back the Bourbons with all
their prejudices, or re-establishing the Robespierreans with all
their horrors. In these political struggles he exhibits moderation
and resolution: in the department which he fills, he shows tact and
capacity. His two memoirs, read before the Institute, are remarkable
for the elegance of their style and the comprehensiveness of their
views.[37] Defending himself against the two parties who assailed
him--the one for being too much, the other for being too little, of
a republican--he uses language which is at once bold, dignified, and
moderate, and the only question that can arise is as to whether it was

Finally, he throws a government--which is at once feeble, profligate,
divided, and conscious of its own incapacity,--into the hands of a man
of great genius, by whom he expected to be rewarded, and who, upon the
whole, seemed the one most capable of steadying the course, promoting
the prosperity, and elevating the destiny of his country.



    Talleyrand supports the extension of the First Consul’s
    power, based on a principle of toleration and oblivion of the
    past.--Napoleon attempts peace with England; fails.--Battle of
    Marengo.--Treaty of Lunéville and peace of Amiens.--Society at
    Paris during the peace.--Rupture.--M. de Talleyrand supports
    Consulate for life, Legion of Honour, and Concordat.--Gets
    permission from the Pope to wear the secular costume and
    to administer civil affairs.--Marries.--Execution of Duc
    d’Enghien.--New coalition.--Battle of Austerlitz.--Treaty
    of Presburg.--Fox comes into power; attempts a peace
    unsuccessfully.--Prussia declares against France, and is
    vanquished at Jena.--Peace of Tilsit.--M. de Talleyrand
    resigns Ministry of Foreign Affairs.--Differences about
    policy in Spain.--Talleyrand and Fouché now at the head of
    a quiet opposition.--Russian campaign; idea of employing
    M. de Talleyrand.--Napoleon’s defeats commence.--Offers M.
    de Talleyrand the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the
    battle of Leipsic, but on unacceptable conditions.--In
    the continued series of disasters that ensue, Talleyrand
    always advises peace.--Tries to persuade Marie-Louise not
    to quit Paris.--Doubtful then between a regency with her
    and the Bourbons.--When, however, her departure suspends
    the constituted authority, and the Emperor of Russia takes
    up his residence at the Hôtel Talleyrand, and asks M. de
    Talleyrand what government should be established, he says that
    of the Bourbons.--Efforts to obtain a Constitution with the
    Restoration.--Napoleon arrives at Fontainebleau.--Negotiates,
    but finally abandons the French throne, and accepts the island
    of Elba, under the title of Emperor, as a retreat.


One of M. de Talleyrand’s striking phrases (a phrase I have already
quoted) was that the great Revolution “_avait désossé la France_”--“had
disboned France!” There had ceased, in fact, to be any great principles
in that country, holding affairs together, and keeping them in form
and order. He said, then, “What principles cannot do, a man must. When
society cannot create a government, a government must create society.”
It was with this idea that he was willing to centre in Napoleon all
the power which that wonderful man’s commanding genius required. But
he wanted, in return, two things: one, that he should himself profit
by the power he aided in establishing; the other, that that power
should be exercised, on the whole, for the benefit of the French
nation. Relying, for the moment, on the fulfilment of these conditions,
he delivered himself up to a dictatorship which should quietly and
gradually absorb all the used-up opinions and institutions.

Sieyès, who, with a more profound, had a less sagacious intellect,
imagined that after he, a man of letters, had handed over the State to
a daring, unscrupulous man of the world, he could govern that man. But
M. de Talleyrand rather despised and underrated Sieyès, whom he looked
on as a tailor who was always making coats that never fitted--a skilful
combiner of theories, but without any tact as to their application;
and when some one, _à propos_ of the new constitution, which Sieyès
had undertaken to frame, said, “Après tout ce Sieyès a un esprit _bien
profond_,” he replied, “Profond! Hem! Vous voulez dire peut-être

Bonaparte’s conduct justified this witticism; for when the first
project of the constitution alluded to was presented to him, he treated
it with ridicule, in the well-known phrase: “A man must have little
honour or intellect who would consent to be a pig, put up in a stye to
fatten on so many millions a year.”

The hero of the 18th Brumaire was not, in truth, a man who would accept
the robes without the reality of power; and having taken out of the
plan proposed for his acceptance what suited his views, and discarded
the rest, he endowed himself with as much authority as he thought would
be tolerated; for though France was wearied with perpetual changes and
convulsions, she was not at that time prepared to end them by a new

One of the causes, indeed, which facilitated Napoleon’s early steps
towards the great object of his ambition, was the general incredulity
as to the possibility of his attaining it.

M. de Talleyrand himself did not, in all probability, imagine that
he was making a military empire, when he was aiming at concentrating
authority in the hands of the chief of the Republic; but he thought
that the first care was to steady a community which had so long lost
its balance; and on one occasion, shortly after the formation of the
new government, and when the part which the first consul was to play
was not yet altogether decided, he is said by a contemporary[39] to
have held, at a private interview with the first consul, the following

“Citizen consul, you have entrusted to me the ministry of foreign
affairs, and I will justify your confidence; but I think I must declare
to you that henceforth I will communicate with you alone. This is no
vain presumption on my part. I say that, in the interest of France--in
order that it may be well governed--in order that there may be unity
of action in its conduct--you must be the first consul; and the first
consul must have in his hands all the political part of the government;
_i.e._, the ministry of the interior and of the police, for internal
affairs; and my ministry for foreign; and also the two great ministries
of execution, the war and the marine. It would be proper that these
five departments should communicate with you alone. The administrations
of justice and finance are, no doubt, connected with the policy of
the State by many ties, but these ties are less inseparable from that
policy than the departments I have mentioned. If you will allow me
to say so, then, general, I would add that it would be convenient to
give to the second consul, a very clever jurisconsult, the department
of justice; and to the third consul, also very able as a financier,
the direction of the finances. These matters will occupy and amuse
them. And you, general, having at your disposal all the mainsprings of
government, will be able to give it that fitting direction for arriving
at the noble aim which you have in view--the regeneration of France.”


The minister of foreign affairs, in advising a willing listener thus
to take possession of all important affairs, merely echoed, it must be
allowed, a general sentiment; for all the different parties then in
presence saw the new dictator through glasses coloured by their own
particular illusions. The Royalists imagined that General Bonaparte
would turn out a General Monk; the moderate Republicans, a General
Washington! M. de Talleyrand knew that Bonaparte was neither a Monk
nor a Washington; and that he would neither hand over the power he
had acquired to the exiled dynasty, nor lay it down at the feet of
the French people. He was aware, on the contrary, that he would keep
it as long as he could keep it; and he wished him to keep it with
a system which should have at its head the men of the Revolution,
without excluding men of the ancient _régime_ who would accept the
principles that the Revolution had founded. This was precisely, at that
moment, the view of Napoleon himself; and the appointment of Fouché, a
regicide, as minister of police, and the permission for the Royalist
_émigrés_ and the proscribed priests to return to France, gave the
exact expression of the policy that was thenceforth to be pursued.

But none knew better than the first consul that it was necessary,
having gained power by war, to show that he wished to consolidate it by
peace. He addressed, therefore, his famous letter to George III.,[41]
on the effect of which he counted little, and his minister of foreign
affairs less. But it was always something in the eyes of his nation
to have evinced his own inclination for an interval of repose, and to
have placed himself on a level with kings when he spoke to them as the
popular chief of the French people.

The refusal of England to treat was the signal of a new coalition, and
the renewal of a general war; at the commencement of which Bonaparte,
by a stroke of genius, defeated the Austrians in Italy when they were
marching as they conceived without opposition into France.

But although the hopes of the cabinet of Vienna were struck down at
the battle of Marengo, it did not yet submit to despair, even when the
Emperor Paul, flattered by the attentions of the first consul (who
had returned him his prisoners newly clothed), had withdrawn from the
coalition. The policy of France, under these circumstances, was to
create divisions amongst the remaining allies (Austria and England)
by opening negotiations with each. This was tried by M. de Talleyrand
with the cabinet of Vienna, through the means of the Comte St. Julien,
who (sent to settle some particulars relative to the convention which
took place after the Italian war) actually signed a treaty which his
government disowned; and with that of St. James, through the means of
an agent employed in the exchange of prisoners, but whose attempts as a
negotiator also failed. The success of Moreau, in Germany, however, at
last obtained the treaty of Lunéville; and shortly afterwards M. Otto
concluded in London the preliminaries of a similar treaty, which was
received with equal joy by the French and English nations.

The skill with which these affairs were conducted was generally
acknowledged; but M. de Talleyrand had nevertheless to undergo the
mortification of seeing Joseph Bonaparte named the negotiator with Lord
Cornwallis instead of himself. He accepted, however, this arrangement
with a good grace, for he had this great advantage over most men,--his
vanity submitted itself easily to his interest or his ambition; and
seeing the impolicy of a rivalry with the first consul’s eldest
brother, he saw also that, having already obtained the signature of
the preliminaries of a treaty, he should have with the public all the
merits of that treaty if it took place, and Joseph Bonaparte all the
blame, if any failure in the further negotiations occurred.

In the meantime, the seas were opened at once to France, and the
English government, having made this immediate concession, was almost
bound to give way in any subsequent discussions; for to have yielded
what France most desired in order to obtain peace, and then not to have
obtained it, would have been ridiculous. Thus, a definitive treaty was
shortly afterwards signed at Amiens, and Paris re-opened its gates to
the excited curiosity of the English traveller.


During this period M. de Talleyrand’s house became necessarily one of
the great resorts of foreign visitors. He lived in the Hôtel Galifet,
then the official residence of the minister of foreign affairs, a
large hotel in the Rue St. Dominique (Faubourg St. Germain), which had
been built by a rich colonist of St. Domingo, who gave no other order
to his architect than to erect an hotel with ninety-nine columns--a
monument of the skill of the builder, and of the singularity of the
proprietor--which yet remains.

The principal _habitués_ of the ministry were M. de Montrond, Duc de
Laval, M. de Saint-Foix, General Duroc, Colonel Beauharnais, afterwards
Prince Eugène, Fox, Erskine, &c., &c.

Some few yet remember the easy nonchalance with which, reclining on his
sofa by the side of the fire, the minister of foreign affairs welcomed
those whom he wished to make at home, the extreme and formal civility
which marked his reception of his colleagues and the senators with whom
he was not intimate, and the careless and pleasing familiarity that he
used towards the favourite officers of the first consul, and the ladies
and diplomatists to whom he was partial.

The enmity which for the last few years had been so violent between
the French and English people was beginning to subside amidst their
intercourse; but, unhappily for them and for the world, the peace, or
rather truce, which they had concluded could only be maintained by
acknowledging a galling inferiority to the French ruler, who, it was
evident, regarded our retirement from the contest we had long waged
without dishonour as a means for relieving St. Domingo, confirming his
dominion over Italy, and invading Switzerland, circumstances which
rendered it justifiable for England to retain Malta, even though she
had foolishly and inconsiderately engaged to resign it.

I need hardly observe that the conduct of Napoleon throughout the whole
of this affair was overbearing; but that of his minister of foreign
affairs was the reverse; and I should add that that minister had the
credit of having obtained, just as Lord Whitworth was departing, the
first consul’s permission to propose an arrangement which would have
left us Malta for such a compensation as, under all the circumstances,
might perhaps have been accepted. But this compromise being haughtily
rejected, war somewhat abruptly recommenced.

The respite, however, thus secured, had served Napoleon’s purposes, and
enabled him, by the popularity it brought, to lay the first stones of
the Empire,--in the Legion of Honour, out of which grew the nobility of
the Empire;--in the consulship for life, which was a step towards the
hereditary rank he soon assumed; and in the Concordat, which preluded
his coronation by the Pope.

It is not to be presumed that these great innovations on the
principles which had so long been dominant took place without a
struggle. All the ardent republicans combated them as a matter of
course, designating the tyrant who proposed them as a second Cæsar, who
evoked the patriotism of a second Brutus. But a more serious party also
attacked them in the legislative bodies, nor was it without an illegal
act of authority that this party was vanquished.

The measures in question were not in fact popular, and the Concordat at
one time seemed not unlikely to provoke an insurrection in the army.

M. de Talleyrand, nevertheless, supported these measures warmly; and,
with the aid of Cambacérès, softened and conciliated many of their

“We have,” he constantly repeated, “to consolidate a government and
reorganize a society. Governments are only consolidated by a continued
policy, and it is not only necessary that this policy should be
continued,--people should have the conviction that it will be so.

“I look upon the consulship for life as the only means of inspiring
this conviction.”

So again, he said, with respect to the Legion of Honour and the
Concordat, “In reorganizing any human society, you must give it those
elements which you find in every human society.

“Where did you ever see one flourish without honours or religion? The
present age has created a great many new things, but it has not created
a new mankind; and if you mean to legislate practically for men, you
must treat men as what they always have been and always are.”

For the Concordat he had a peculiar reason to plead; no one gained so
much by it: for he now legitimately entered into civil life on the
authority of his spiritual master, and by a brief which I here cite:--

    “_To our very dear son, Charles Maurice Talleyrand._[42]

    “We were touched with joy at learning your ardent desire
    to be reconciled with us and the Catholic Church: loosening
    then on your account the bowels of our fatherly charity, we
    discharge you by the plenitude of our power from the effect of
    all excommunications. We impose on you, as the consequence of
    your reconciliation with us and the Church, the distribution
    of alms, more especially for the poor of the church of Autun,
    which you formerly governed: we grant you, moreover, the
    liberty to wear the secular costume and to administer all civil
    affairs, whether in the office you now fill, or in others to
    which your government may call you.”

    This brief was taken by M. de Talleyrand as a permission to
    become a layman, and even to take a wife. The lady he married,
    born in the East Indies, divorced from a M. Grand, and
    mentioned, in connection with a scandalous story, in the life
    of Sir Philip Francis, was as remarkable for being a beauty as
    for not being a wit. Every one has heard the story (whether
    true or invented) of her asking Sir George Robinson after his
    man “Friday.” But M. de Talleyrand vindicated his choice,
    saying, “A clever wife often compromises her husband; a stupid
    one only compromises herself.”


It was shortly after the renewal of hostilities that the event occurred
which has given rise to the most controversy concerning Napoleon,
and to the bitterest attacks upon M. de Talleyrand. I speak of the
execution of the Duc d’Enghien. Many details attending this transaction
are still in dispute; but the broad outline of it is as follows:--

The pure Republicans (as they were then called) had, on the one hand,
at this period become desperate; on the other hand, the latitude that
had for a time been allowed to the Royalists, had given that party
courage. The renewal of an European war increased this courage. The
power and prestige of the marvellous person at the head of the consular
government had made both parties consider that nothing was possible to
them as long as he lived.

A variety of attempts had consequently been made against his life. The
popular belief--that of Bonaparte himself--was that these attempts
proceeded mainly from the _émigrés_, aided by the money of England,
a belief which the foolish correspondence of the British minister at
Munich, Mr. Drake, with a pretended _émigré_--in fact, however, an
agent of the French government (Mahée),--might unfortunately have

George Cadoudal, the daring leader of the Chouans, who had already
been implicated in plots of this kind, was known to be in Paris and
engaged in some new enterprise, with which Pichegru, certainly--Moreau,
apparently--was connected. But in the reports of the police it was also
stated that the conspirators awaited the arrival at Paris of a prince
of the house of Bourbon.

The Duc d’Enghien, then residing at Ettenheim, in the Duchy of Baden,
seemed the most likely of the Bourbon princes to be the one alluded to:
and spies were sent to watch his movements.

The reports of such agents are rarely correct in the really important
particulars. But they were particularly unfortunate in this instance,
for they mistook, owing to the German pronunciation, a Marquis de
Thumery, staying with the Bourbon Prince, for Dumouriez: and the
presence of that general on the Rhenan frontier, and with a Condé,
strongly corroborated all other suspicions.

A council was summoned, composed of the three consuls,--Bonaparte,
Cambacérès, Lebrun,--the minister of justice and police, Régnier,--and
Talleyrand, minister of foreign affairs.[43]

At this council (10th March 1804) it was discussed whether it would
not be advisable to seize the Duc d’Enghien, though out of France,
and bring him to Paris; and the result was the immediate expedition of
a small force, under Colonel Caulaincourt, which seized the prince on
the Baden territory (15th March); M. de Talleyrand, in a letter to the
Grand Duke, explaining and justifying the outrage. Having been kept two
days at Strasburg, the royal victim was sent from that city, on the
18th, in a post chariot, arrived on the 20th at the gates of Paris at
eleven in the morning; was kept there till four in the afternoon; was
then conducted by the boulevards to Vincennes, which he reached at nine
o’clock in the evening; and was shot at six o’clock on the following
morning, having been condemned by a military commission--composed
of a general of brigade (General Hullin), six colonels, and two
captains--according to a decree of the governor of Paris (Murat) of
that day (20th March), which decree (dictated by Napoleon) ordered the
unfortunate captive to be tried on the charge of having borne arms
against the Republic: of having been and being in the pay of England,
and of having been engaged in plots, conducted by the English in and
out of France, against the French government. The concluding order was,
that, if found guilty, he should be at once executed.

The whole of this proceeding is atrocious. A prince of the
dethroned family is arrested in a neutral state, without a shadow
of legality;[44] he is brought to Paris and tried for his life on
accusations which, considering his birth and position, no generous
enemy could have considered crimes; he is found guilty without a
witness being called, without a proof of the charges against him being
adduced, and without a person to defend him being allowed.[45]

This trial takes place at midnight, in a dungeon; and the prisoner is
shot, before the break of day, in a ditch!

It is natural enough that all persons connected with such a transaction
should have endeavoured to escape from its ignominy. General Hullin
has charged Savary (afterwards Duc de Rovigo), who, as commander of
the gendarmerie, was present at the execution, with having hurried
the trial, and prevented an appeal to Napoleon, which the condemned
prince demanded. The Duc de Rovigo denies with much plausibility these
particulars, and indeed, all concern in the affair beyond his mere
presence, and the strict fulfilment of the orders he had received;
and accuses M. de Talleyrand--against whom it must be observed
he had on other accounts a special grudge--of having led to the
prince’s seizure by a report read at the Council on the 10th March;
of having intercepted a letter written to the first consul by the
illustrious captive at Strasburg, and of having hastened and provoked
the execution, of which he offers no other proof than that he met
Talleyrand, at five o’clock, coming out of Murat’s, who was then, as
I have said, governor of Paris, and who had just given orders for the
formation of the military commission. It must be observed also, that,
for the report of what passed in the council, M. de Rovigo only quotes
a conversation which he had some years afterwards with Cambacérès, who
was anxious to prove that he himself had opposed the violation of the
German territory.

As to the supposed letter written by the Duc d’Enghien, the persons
about the Duc declared that he never wrote a letter at Strasburg;
and in the prince’s diary, which speaks of a letter to the Princesse
de Rohan, there is no mention of a letter to the first consul. With
respect to another letter, written, the Duc de Rovigo seems to suppose,
by M. Massias, French minister at Baden, there is no trace of it in
the French archives; whilst the mere fact of M. de Talleyrand having
been at Murat’s proves nothing (if it be true that he was there) beyond
the visit. Indeed, as Murat himself blamed the execution, and did what
he could to avert it (see Thiers’ _Consulate and Empire_, vol. v. p.
4), there is some probability that, if M. de Talleyrand sought Murat,
it was with a view of seeing what could be done to save the prince, and
not with the view of destroying him. On the other hand, Bourrienne, who
had opportunities of knowing the truth, asserts that M. de Talleyrand,
so far from favouring this murder, warned the Duc d’Enghien, through
the Princesse de Rohan, of the danger in which he stood.

The Duc Dalberg, minister of Baden at Paris in 1804, also speaks of M.
de Talleyrand as opposed to all that was done in this affair.[46]

Louis XVIII., to whom M. de Talleyrand wrote when the Duc de Rovigo’s
statement appeared, ordered that personage to appear no more at his
court. Fouché declared the act to be entirely that of the first consul;
and lastly, Napoleon himself always maintained that the act was his
own, and justified it.

For myself, after weighing all the evidence that has come before me
(none of it, I must admit, quite conclusive), my persuasion is that the
first consul had determined either to put the prince in his power to
death, or to humiliate him by a pardon granted at his request; and it
seems to me not improbable that he hesitated, though rather disposed,
perhaps, to punish than to spare, till all was over.

For this supposition there is the declaration of his brother Joseph,
who says that a pardon had been promised to Josephine; of Madame de
Rémusat, who, playing at chess that evening with Napoleon, states that
he was muttering all the night to himself lines from the great French
poets in favour of clemency; and, lastly, there is an order given to
M. Real, minister of police, who was charged to see the Duc d’Enghien,
and to report to Bonaparte the result of the interview, which evidently
implied that no execution was intended till the minister’s report had
reached the terrible disposer of life or death, who might then finally
take his resolve.

But the opportunity of coming to a decision, after receiving the report
of the minister of police, never occurred. By one of those unforeseen
accidents which sometimes frustrate intentions, M. Real, to whose house
the written instructions I have been speaking of were carried by Savary
himself, had gone to bed with the injunction not to be disturbed,
and did not wake till the prince was no more:--so that Napoleon had
not the chance of clemency, which he undoubtedly expected, presented
to him. At all events, whatever may have been the intentions of this
extraordinary man, whose policy was generally guided by calculations
in which human life was considered of small importance, I believe,
as far as regards the person I am principally occupied with: first,
that M. de Talleyrand did read at the Council on the 10th of March a
memoir containing the information that had reached his office, and
which he was naturally obliged to report; secondly, that when M. de
Cambacérès spoke against the original arrest, M. de Talleyrand remained
silent, which may be accounted for either by a wish not to compromise
himself, or, as persons well acquainted with Napoleon have assured me,
by a knowledge that this was the best way to give efficacy to M. de
Cambacérès’ arguments; thirdly, that when M. de Talleyrand wrote to the
Grand Duke of Baden, excusing the intended violation of his territory,
he did endeavour to convey such a warning to the Duc d’Enghien as would
prevent his being captured; finally, that when the Duc was brought up
to Vincennes he gave no advice (which he thought would be useless) to
Bonaparte, but approved of the efforts made by Josephine and Joseph,
who were the best mediators in the prince’s behalf, and that, being
also aware of the instructions sent to M. Real, he did not think the
execution probable.

As to taking an active part in this tragedy, such conduct would not be
in harmony with his character; nor have the accusations, to which his
position not unnaturally exposed him, been supported by any trustworthy
testimony. To have lent himself, however, even in appearance, to so
dark a deed, and to have remained an instrument in Napoleon’s hands
after its committal, evinces a far stronger sense of the benefits
attached to office, than of the obloquy attached to injustice.

This, it is said, he did not deny; and, when a friend advised him to
resign, is reported to have replied: “If Bonaparte has been guilty,
as you say, of a crime, that is no reason why I should be guilty of a

The execution of the Duc d’Enghien took place during the night of the
20th March. On the 7th of April, Pichegru, who had been arrested,
was found strangled in his room, as some thought, by the police--as
the government declared, by his own hands; George Cadoudal, who had
also been captured, suffered on the scaffold; and Moreau, after
being brought before a tribunal which condemned him to two years’
imprisonment, had this absurd sentence commuted into exile. Bonaparte
having thus struck terror into the partisans of the ancient dynasty,
and having rid himself of his most powerful military rival, placed
on his head, amidst the servile approbation of the Legislature and
the apparent acquiescence of the nation, a crown which was solemnly
consecrated by Pius VII. (2nd December, 1804).


The assumption of the imperial title was an epoch in the struggle
which had for some time been going on between the two statesmen who
contributed the most, first, to raise the power of Napoleon, and
finally to overthrow it. Talleyrand and Fouché are these two statesmen;
and they may be taken as the representatives of the classes whose
adhesion marked Bonaparte’s force, and whose defection marked his
decline. The one, a great nobleman, an enlightened member of the
Constituent Assembly, a liberal, such as the fashion, the theories,
and the abuses of the old _régime_ had created him. The other a
plebeian and conventionalist of the mountain, a democrat and regicide
by circumstances, position, and the fury of the time. From the 18th
Brumaire they both attached themselves to the first consul’s fortunes.
Cool, unprejudiced, without hatred, without partialities, each,
notwithstanding, had the feelings of his _caste_; and, in moderating
the passion and influencing the views of Napoleon, the one never
forgot that he was born in the aristocracy, the other that he was the
offspring of the people.

Fouché, then, was for employing the republican forms, and entrusting
authority exclusively to what may be called new men. Talleyrand was
rather for returning to the fashions of a monarchy, ridiculed, to
use his own expression, the “_parvenus_” who had never walked on a
“parquet,”[47] and endeavoured to introduce into the employment of the
State the aspirants whose principles were liberal, but whose names were
ancient and historical.

The Empire which was the natural consequence of the tendency which
Talleyrand had favoured and Fouché opposed, nevertheless united and
wanted these two politicians; for while it sanctioned the advantages
and titles of the old nobility, it established on a firm and equal
basis a new nobility, and brought both to a central point, under the
rule of a man of genius.

Fouché, once the Empire decided upon, renounced all further attempts to
limit Napoleon’s will, and only sought to regain his favour.

Talleyrand, conceiving that all the hopes of the enlightened men of
his youth who had sought to obtain a constitutional monarchy were
at that moment visionary, abandoned them for a new order of things,
which, while it pressed upon the energy and intellect of the individual
Frenchman, gave a concentrated expression to the energy and intellect
of the French nation, and made it ready to accept a glorious tyranny
without enthusiasm, but without dissatisfaction. Nor was the French
nation wholly wrong.

A great deluge had swept just recently over all that previous centuries
had established; society was still on a narrow and shaking plank which
required widening, strengthening, but, above all, fixing over the
still turbulent and agitated waters. Everything of ancient manners,
of those habits of thought, without which no community of men can
march long or steadily together, was gone. No received notions on
essential subjects anywhere existed; and a nation which has no such
notions cannot have that sort of public morality which is, to the
position and respectability of a state, what private morality is to
the respectability and position of an individual. The first essential
to a community is order, for under order received notions establish
themselves. Order combined with liberty is the highest degree of
order. But order without liberty is preferable to disorder and
license. Now, Napoleon’s internal government, with all its faults,
was the personification of order, as that of the convention had been
of disorder; and what was the consequence? a spirit of freedom grew
up amidst the despotism of the latter, as a submission to tyranny had
been engendered under the wild violence of the former. The phrase, that
Bonaparte “_refaisait le lit des Bourbons_,”[48] was a criticism on his
own policy, but it might be an eulogium on that of his followers.


In the meantime a change of forms and titles at Paris was the sign of
a similar change throughout Europe. Republics became kingdoms: the
Emperor’s family, sovereigns: his marshals and favourites, princes and
grand dignitaries of the Empire. Those who had shared the conqueror’s
fortunes had a share allotted to them in his conquests, and for a
moment the theory of the nineteenth century brought back the realities
of the middle ages. Yet, and notwithstanding these signs and tokens
of ambition, had it not been for the rupture with England and the
cruel deed at Vincennes, Napoleon’s new dignity, that gave a splendid
decoration to his new power and an apparent close to his adventurous
career, would probably have induced the continent, without absolutely
prostrating itself at his feet, to have acknowledged and submitted
to his superiority. But the fortitude with which England had braved
his menaces, and the act which had sullied his renown, produced a new
coalition, and led to a treaty between England and Russia and Austria,
the one signed on 11th of April, and the other the 9th of August,
1805. So formidable a combination served to disturb Bonaparte from the
project of an invasion, with which he was then threatening our shores.
But his star, though somewhat clouded, was still in the ascendant. The
battle of Austerlitz sanctioned the title of Imperator, as the battle
of Marengo had done that of Consul.

M. Mignet has given us a curious instance, extracted from the French
archives, of the comprehensive views of the minister of foreign affairs
at this period.[49] Immediately after the victory of Ulm, M. de
Talleyrand wrote to Napoleon in something like these terms:

“While your Majesty is gaining the victories which will lead to
a glorious peace, I am considering how that peace can best be
established. There are four great States in Europe--France, Russia,
England, and Austria. England and France, from their juxtaposition,
their spirit, and consequent rivality, may be considered natural
enemies; that is to say, no great war will take place in Europe
without these powers coming into collision. In such case, Russia
cannot cordially be with France as long as she retains her projects
over the Ottoman empire, which it would be madness in us to encourage.
Austria, on the other hand, is sure to side with England as long as
her frontiers join ours, and her natural objects of ambition are the
same. A great policy, therefore, would be to deprive Russia of her
Turkish dreams, and Austria of the possessions neighbouring to those
states which we protect, and which, in fact, are ours. I would take
from Austria, then, Suabia, in Southern Germany, the Tyrol, adjoining
Switzerland; and I would make Venice an independent Republic, and thus
a barrier to both parties in Italy. To this plan, however, Austria
herself must consent with satisfaction, or it cannot be permanent;
and I would obtain that consent by giving her, in exchange for what
we take, Wallachia, Moldavia, Bessarabia, and the northern portion of
Bulgaria. By this plan, your Majesty will remark, the Germans are for
ever shut out of Italy, Austria made the rival of Russia and guardian
of the Ottoman empire, and the Russians excluded from Europe, and thus
directed upon the kingdoms of Central Asia, where they will naturally
come into conflict with the rulers of Hindostan.”

“This project,” says M. Mignet, “being conceived at a time when nothing
was impossible, might, after the battle of Austerlitz, have been
accomplished, and would doubtless have given another destiny to Europe,
and established the grandeur of France on solid foundations.”

Napoleon, however, was not inclined to adopt so great a plan on the
suggestion of another; nor, indeed, is it impossible but that the
secret instinct of his peculiar genius, which was for war, opposed
itself to a permanent system of tranquillity. He advanced, then, in
the false policy which ultimately proved his ruin; neither gaining the
affection nor utterly destroying the power of the vanquished: and the
cabinet of Vienna, subdued in Italy, humbled, by the confederation
of the Rhine and the elevation of the secondary states, in Germany,
but with its power not annihilated, and its goodwill not conciliated,
signed the treaty of Presburg. This treaty, which severed the relations
between the Russian and Austrian empires, and a change which now took
place in the British councils, afforded another chance of giving to the
new empire a peaceful and durable existence.


Mr. Fox had succeeded to Mr. Pitt, and Mr. Fox was an advocate of peace
and an admirer of the warrior who guided the destinies of France. He
was also a personal friend of M. de Talleyrand. The Emperor Alexander
shared in some degree Mr. Fox’s admiration. The hopes which he had
founded on an alliance with Austria were now, moreover, at an end, and
no one at that time relied on the shuffling, grasping, and timid policy
of Prussia. Both the Russian and English cabinets were willing then to
treat. M. d’Oubril was sent to Paris by the cabinet of St. Petersburg,
and negotiations begun through Lord Yarmouth, the late Marquis of
Hertford (then a “_détenu_”[50]), between the cabinets of St. James and
the Tuileries.

M. de Talleyrand, in these double negotiations, succeeded in getting
the Russian negotiator to sign a separate treaty, which, however, the
Russian government disavowed; and acquired such an influence over Lord
Yarmouth, that the English government deemed it necessary to replace
him by Lord Lauderdale, who was empowered to negotiate for the two
allied governments. It is but just to observe that M. de Talleyrand,
though thwarted by a variety of intrigues, laboured with the utmost
assiduity in favour of a peaceful termination of this negotiation; for
he already saw, and at this time almost alone saw, that without peace
all was yet a problem, and that, to use the words of a contemporary, “a
succession of battles was a series of figures, of which the first might
be ‘A,’ and the last ‘zero.’”[51]

The position of Malta and Sicily, both at this time in our hands,
the natural reluctance that we felt at resigning them without solid
guarantees for European tranquillity; and the impossibility of getting
such guarantees from the pride and ambition of an aspirant to universal
empire, were nevertheless difficulties too great for diplomacy to
overcome; and when Prussia, which had lost the golden opportunity
of fighting France with Austria by her side, had become so involved
by secret engagements with Russia and by public engagements with
France--and so restless in the dishonourable and dangerous position
in which she found herself, as to be determined on the desperate
experiment of escaping from her diplomacy by her arms, another great
European struggle commenced.

Throughout the new campaigns to which this new coalition led--campaigns
beginning with the victory of Jena and closing with the peace of
Tilsit--M. de Talleyrand accompanied his imperial master; and though
he could hardly be said to exercise a predominant influence over those
events, which a more violent character and a more military genius
decided, his calmness and good sense (qualities rarely, if ever,
abdicated by him) produced a moderating effect upon the imperious
warrior, that tended generally to consolidate his successes. The sort
of cool way in which he brought to ground many of this extraordinary
man’s flights, testing them by their practical results, is well enough
displayed in a reply which he made to Savary, who, after the battle of
Friedland, said, “If peace is not signed in a fortnight, Napoleon will
cross the Niemen.”

“Et à quoi bon,” replied M. de Talleyrand, “passer le Niemen?”[52] “Why
pass the Niemen?”

The Niemen, then, partly owing to M. de Talleyrand’s counsels, was for
this once not passed; and, at last, France, pretending to sacrifice
Turkey, and Russia abandoning England, the two combatants signed a
treaty, which anticipated that the domination of Europe was for the
future to be shared between them.


At this period M. de Talleyrand, who had been more struck in the
recent war by the temerity than by the triumph of the conqueror,
thought that Napoleon’s military and his own diplomatic career should
cease. Fortune, indeed, had carried both the one and the other to the
highest point, which, according to their separate characters and the
circumstances of the times, they were likely to attain. To Napoleon’s
marvellous successes seemed now to belong a supernatural prestige,
which the slightest misfortune was capable of destroying, and which
a new victory could hardly augment. So also the reputation of M. de
Talleyrand was at its height, and many were disposed to consider him
as great a master in the science of politics as his sovereign was in
that of war. He had acquired, moreover, immense wealth, as it is said,
by extorted gifts from the Powers with which he had been treating,
and more especially from the small princes of Germany, whom in the
general division of their territory he could either save or destroy,
and also by successful speculations on the stock exchange:[53]--means
of acquiring riches highly discreditable to his character, but thought
lightly of in a country that teaches the philosophy of indulgence,
and had recently seen wealth so rudely scrambled for, that the “_Res
si possis recte_” had become as much a French as ever it was a
Roman proverb. His health, moreover, was broken, and unequal to the
constant attendance on the Emperor’s person, which had become almost
inseparable from his office; while the elevation of Berthier to the
rank of vice-constable established a precedency exceedingly galling
to his pride. Under these circumstances, he solicited and obtained
permission to retire, and already Prince de Benevent received the title
of “vice-grand electeur,” raising him to the rank of one of the great
dignitaries of the Empire; a position which it appears--so small are
even the greatest of us--he desired.

This change in his situation, however, was by no means as yet what it
has sometimes been represented--a “disgrace.” He still retained great
influence in the Emperor’s councils, was consulted on all matters
relative to foreign affairs, and even appointed with M. de Champagny,
his successor, to conduct the negotiations with the court of Spain,
which, owing to the invasion of Portugal and the quarrels which had
already broken out in the family of Charles IV., were beginning to
assume a peculiar character.[54]

It has been said, indeed, on the one side, that M. de Talleyrand was
opposed to any interference with Spain; and, on the other, that it
was actually he who first counselled Bonaparte’s proceedings in that
country. It is probable that he did so far compromise himself in this
matter as to advise an arrangement which would have given the territory
north of the Ebro to France, and yielded Portugal as a compensation to
the Spanish monarch. It is not impossible, moreover, that he knew as
early as 1805--for Joseph Bonaparte was then told to learn the Spanish
language--that Napoleon had vague dreams of replacing the Bourbon by
the Bonaparte dynasty in the Peninsula. But when the French armies,
without notice, took possession of Burgos and Barcelona; when an
insurrection deposed Charles IV., and the Emperor was about to adopt
the policy, not of peaceably aggrandizing France and strengthening
Spain against Great Britain, but of kidnapping the Spanish princes and
obtaining by a sort of trick the Spanish crown, he was resolutely and
bitterly opposed to it, saying: “_On s’empare des couronnes, mais on
ne les escamote pas_” (“one takes a crown from a sovereign’s head, but
one does not pick his pocket of it”). “Besides, Spain is a farm which
it is better to allow another to cultivate for you, than to cultivate

Comte de Beugnot, in his memoirs recently published, speaks thus of
these transactions:[55]

“The Prince de Benevent was acquainted, in all its details, with what
had passed (at Bayonne). He appeared indignant. ‘Victories,’ he said,
‘do not suffice to efface such things as these, because there is
something in them which it is impossible to describe, that is vile,
deceitful, cheating! I cannot tell what will happen, but you will see
that no one will pardon him (the Emperor) for this.’ The Duc Decrès,
indeed,” M. de Beugnot continues, “has told me more than once that the
Emperor had in his presence reproached M. de Talleyrand for having
counselled what took place at Bayonne, without M. de Talleyrand
seeking to excuse himself. This has always astonished me. It is
sufficient to have known M. de Talleyrand to be sure that, if he had
been favourable to dispossessing the princes of the House of Bourbon of
the Spanish throne, he would not have resorted to the means that were
employed. Besides, when he spoke to me, it was with a sort of passion
that he never displayed but on subjects which strongly excited him.”

There can be no doubt, indeed, that what took place as to Spain was a
subject of great difference between M. de Talleyrand and Napoleon. M.
de Talleyrand would never afterwards during the reign of Louis XVIII.
have publicly affirmed this, surrounded as he was by contemporaries and
enemies, if it had not been true. Moreover, the general voice of the
time, which is more in such cases to be trusted than any individual
testimony, loudly proclaimed it; and as to not answering Napoleon when
he was pouring forth in violent and insulting language the accusations
which he sometimes levelled at those who displeased him, it is well
known that M. de Talleyrand never replied to such attacks but by an
impassible face and a dignified silence.


Nor were the affairs of the Peninsula the only ones on which M. de
Talleyrand and the Emperor at this time disagreed. The French troops
entered Rome and Spain (for Napoleon was now for despoiling the Pope as
a prince, after courting him as a Pontiff) about the same epoch; and
the Prince of Benevent was as opposed to one violence as to the other.

It was not, however, out of this affair, or that affair in particular,
that the enmity between the emperor and his former minister--an enmity
so important in the history of both--took its rise.

M. de Talleyrand, the Empire once established and fortunate, had
attached himself to it with a sort of enthusiasm. The poesy of victory,
and the eloquence of an exalted imagination, subdued for a time the
usual nonchalance and moderation of his character. He entered into all
Napoleon’s plans for reconstituting “An Empire of the Francs,” and
reviving the system of fiefs and feudal dignitaries; by which it is,
however, true, that the followers and favourites of the conqueror had
nothing to lose. “Any other system,” he said, “but a military one, is
in our circumstances at present impossible. I am, then, for making
that system splendid, and compensating France for her liberty by her

The principality he enjoyed, though it by no means satisfied him, was
a link between him and the policy under which he held it. He wished
to keep it, and to safeguard the prosperity of a man, whose adversity
would cause him to lose it. But he had a strong instinct for the
practical; all governments, according to his theory, might be made
good, except an impossible one. A government depending on constant
success in difficult undertakings, at home and abroad, was, according
to his notions, impossible. This idea, after the Peace of Tilsit, more
or less haunted him. It made him, in spite of himself, bitter against
his chief--bitter at first, more because he liked him than because he
disliked him. He would still have aided to save the Empire, but he was
irritated because he thought he saw the Empire drifting into a system
which would not admit of its being saved. A sentiment of this kind,
however, is as little likely to be pardoned by one who is accustomed to
consider that his will must be law, as a sentiment of a more hostile

Napoleon began little by little to hate the man for whom he had felt
at one time a predilection, and if he disliked any one, he did that
which it is most dangerous to do, and most useless; that is, he
wounded his pride without diminishing his importance. It is true that
M. de Talleyrand never gave any visible sign of being irritated.
But few, whatever the philosophy with which they forgive an injury,
pardon a humiliation; and thus, stronger and stronger grew by degrees
that mutual dissatisfaction which the one vented at times in furious
reproaches, and the other disguised under a studiously respectful


This carelessness as to the feelings of those whom it would have been
wiser not to offend, was one of the most fatal errors of the conqueror,
who could not learn to subdue his own passions: but he had become
at this time equally indifferent to the hatred and affection of his
adherents; and, under the ordinary conviction of persons over-satisfied
with themselves, fancied that everything depended on his own merits,
and nothing on the merits of his agents. The victory of Wagram, and
the marriage with Marie Louise, commenced, indeed, a new era in his
history. Fouché was dismissed, though not without meriting a reprimand
for his intrigues; and Talleyrand fell into unequivocal disgrace, in
some degree provoked by his witticisms; whilst round these two men
gathered a quiet and observant opposition, descending with the clever
adventurer to the lowest classes, and ascending with the dissatisfied
noble to the highest.

The scion of the princely house of Périgord was, indeed, from his
birth, quite as much as from his position in the Empire, at the head
of the discontented of the aristocracy; M. de Talleyrand’s house then
(the only place, perhaps, open to all persons, where the government
of the day was treated without reserve) became a sort of “rendezvous”
for a circle which replied to a victory by a _bon mot_, and confronted
the borrowed ceremonies of a new court by the natural graces and
acknowledged fashions of an old one. All who remember society at this
time, will remember that the ex-minister was the sole person who had a
sort of existence and reputation, separate and distinct from the chief
of the State, whose policy he now affected to consider, and probably
did consider, as verging towards the passion of a desperate gambler,
who would continue to tempt Fortune until she grew wearied and deserted

Nor did the Austrian alliance, which the Emperor had lately formed,
meet with M. de Talleyrand’s approval, although he had at one period
advised it, and been also mixed up in the question of a marriage with
the imperial family of Russia. This change might have proceeded from
his now seeing that such an union as he had at one time favoured, in
the hope that it would calm the restless energy of Napoleon, would
only stimulate his ambition: or it might have been because, having had
nothing to do with the resolutions adopted at Vienna, he had gained
nothing by them. At all events, what he said with apparent sincerity,
was--“Nothing is ever got by a policy which you merely carry out by
halves.” “If the Emperor wants an alliance with Austria, he should
satisfy Austria: does he think that the House of Hapsburg considers it
an honour to ally itself with the House of Bonaparte? What the Emperor
of Austria desires, is to have his provinces restored, and his empire
raised and revived: if the government of France does not do this,
it disappoints him; and the worst enemies we can have are those we

These sentiments, however, found as yet no echo out of the circle of a
few independent and enlightened politicians.

I remember two of these--both high in the service of the Empire--M. de
Barante and M. Molé, referring in my hearing to a conversation they had
had at the period I am speaking of, and one saying to the other, “Do
you call to mind how we both regarded what was passing before us as a
magnificent scene in an opera, which, whilst it satisfied the eye with
its splendour, did not fill the mind with a sense of its reality?”

But the masses were still dazzled by the splendid achievements of a
man who, of all others, in ancient or modern history, would have been
the greatest if he had joined the instincts of humanity with those of
genius: but now each day that passed added to the fatal disposition
which separated his future from his past; each hour he became more
haughty and self-confident, and more inclined to an isolated career,
which neither tolerated counsel nor clung to affection. Josephine, the
wife of his youth--Pauline, his favourite sister--Louis, his youngest
brother--Massena, his ablest general--were added to the list on which
his two ablest ministers were inscribed. He had no longer even the
idea of conciliating mankind to his arbitrary authority. His mighty
intellect, subdued by his still mightier ambition, submitted itself
to adopt a system of despotism and oppression which interfered not
only with the political opinions, but with the daily wants, of all his
subjects and all his allies.

War with him had become an effort to exterminate those who still
opposed him, by oppressing those who had hitherto aided him. Thus,
he had seized the Roman pontiff, kidnapped the Spanish king, taken
violent possession of the Hanseatic towns and the North of Germany; and
even those countries which were free from his armies, were bound, as
he contended, to obey his decrees. In this state of things commenced
the last and fatal struggle between the two potentates, who a short
time before had projected partitioning the empire of the world as
friendly confederates, and were now prepared to contend for it as
deadly foes. Nor was the justice of M. de Talleyrand’s views ever more
conspicuous! The destruction of Prussia, by making Russia and France
neighbours, had in itself tended to make them enemies. Moreover, the
proud and offended, but dissimulating Czar, though redoubling his
courtesy towards the court of France after the choice of an Austrian
archduchess, lest he might be supposed hurt by the rejection of a
marriage with a princess of his own family, had begun to feel that,
with the rest of continental Europe subdued and Austria apparently
gained, he was alone in his independence; and to fret under the rein,
which his imperious rider pulled, with superb indifference, somewhat
too tightly.

Besides, though invested with unbounded authority over his people by
law and custom, there was the example of his father to teach him that
he could not wholly disregard their interests or wishes; yet this was
what the Emperor of the French exacted from him. His subjects were not
to sell their produce to the only purchaser who was ready and desirous
to buy it;--and being thus harshly and foolishly placed between
revolution and war, Alexander chose the latter.


On the other hand, Napoleon, in determining on a conflict of which
he did not disguise from himself the importance, awoke for a moment
to his former sense of the necessity of using able men in great
affairs, and was disposed, notwithstanding his disagreements with M.
de Talleyrand, to send him to Warsaw to organise a kingdom of Poland;
nor was it surprising that, confident in the sagacity and tact of the
agent he thought of employing, he was also satisfied that, in the
event of that agent’s accepting employment, he might count perfectly
on his fidelity; for throughout M. de Talleyrand’s long career and
frequent changes there is not any instance of his having betrayed
any one from whom he accepted a trust. The difficulty of reconciling
the Prince de Benevent’s position with that of the Duc de Bassano,
who accompanied the Emperor on this campaign as minister of foreign
affairs, prevented, it is said, the projected arrangement. But neither
during this transient gleam of returning favour, nor after it, did
M. de Talleyrand’s opinion against the chances which Napoleon was
unnecessarily (as he thought) running, ever vary; neither were they
disguised. He insisted principally on the chance of war, which often
decides against the ablest general and the most skilful combinations;
on the great loss which would result from a defeat, and the small gain
that would follow a victory. The whole of Europe that the reckless
general left behind him was, he knew, kept down merely by fear and
constraint, and though ready to assist an advancing army, certain
to fall on a retreating one. Besides, supposing defeat was almost
impossible, what had France to gain by success?

Alexander might reiterate his promise of preventing all commercial
interchange between Great Britain and his dominions; but would he be
able to keep that promise? He could not. The mind of Napoleon, however,
had now been trained by Fortune to consider wars mere military parades,
shortly after the commencement of which he entered the capital of his
conquered enemy and returned to Paris to be greeted by enthusiastic
acclamations at the theatre. He required this sort of excitement, and
like most men similarly influenced, convinced himself that what was
pleasing to his vanity was demanded by his interests.

There were three epochs, indeed, in Napoleon’s career: the first, when
he fought for glory abroad to gain empire at home; the second, when,
being master of the government of France, he fought to extend the
limits of France, and to make himself the most powerful individual in
his nation, and his nation the most powerful nation in the world; the
third, when France being but a secondary consideration, his ambition
was bent on becoming master of the universe, and acquiring a dominion
of which France would be almost an insignificant portion.

It is necessary to bear this in mind, since it explains Napoleon’s
Russian campaign; it explains the difficulties he raised against
withdrawing his troops from Germany after that campaign had ended in
defeat; and his constant dislike to accept any conditions that put a
positive extinguisher on his gigantic projects. To support his own
confidence in such projects he persuaded himself that a charm attached
to his existence, that supernatural means would arrive to him when
natural means failed. He did not, however, neglect on this occasion the
natural means.

When Fouché expressed his apprehensions at so vast an enterprise, the
soldier’s answer is said to have been, “I wanted 800,000 men, and I
have them.”[56] But France had begun to be at this period wearied even
with his successes; and the affair of Mallet, which happened just
previously to the arrival of the bad intelligence from Russia, showed
pretty clearly that her Emperor’s fall or defeat left an open space for
any new system that circumstances might favour or impose.

No sooner, then, had the news that Moscow was burnt reached Paris than
M. de Talleyrand considered the Bonapartist cause as lost. Not that
Bonaparte might not yet have saved himself by prudence, but he was not
prudent; not but that the French government might not yet have brought
as many men in uniform into the field as the allies, but that nations
fought on one side, and merely soldiers on the other.

The sagacious statesman, therefore, who now began again to be
consulted, advised a conclusion of the war, promptly, at once, and on
almost all conditions. So, again, when the defection of the Prussians
was known, and Napoleon summoned a council to determine what should be
done under such circumstances, he said: “Negotiate: you have now in
your hands effects which you can give away; to-morrow they may be gone,
and then the power to negotiate advantageously will be gone also.”[57]

During the armistice at Prague (June, 1813), when the prestige of two
or three recent victories coloured the negotiations, and France might
have had Holland, Italy, and her natural frontiers, both Talleyrand and
Fouché, who was also asked for his advice, repeated constantly, “The
Emperor has but one thing to do--to make peace; and the more quickly he
makes it, the better he will make it.” So also, when M. de St. Aignan,
after the battle of Leipsic, brought propositions from Frankfort, which
might even yet have given France her frontier of the Rhine (November),
M. de Talleyrand urged their acceptance with the least delay, and told
the Emperor that a bad peace was better than the continuation of a war
that could not end favourably.[58]

Napoleon himself at this time wavered, and with a momentary doubt as
to his own judgment, and a remembrance very possibly of happier times,
offered the portfolio of foreign affairs to his ancient minister, but
on the condition that he should lay down the rank and emoluments of

The object of the Emperor was thus to make M. de Talleyrand entirely
dependent on his place; but M. de Talleyrand, who would have accepted
the office, refused the condition, saying, “If the Emperor trusts me,
he should not degrade me; and if he does not trust me, he should not
employ me; the times are too difficult for half measures.”


The state of affairs at this period was assuredly most critical. In
looking towards Spain, there was to be seen an English army, crowned
by victory, and about to descend from the Pyrenees. In looking
towards Germany, there was a whole population, whom former defeat had
exasperated, and recent success encouraged, burning to cross the Rhine
in search of the trophies of which an enemy still boasted. In Italy, a
defection in the Emperor’s family was about to display the full extent
of his misfortunes. In Holland, the colours of the exiled family (the
House of Orange) were displayed with rapture amidst shouts for national
independence; even the King of Denmark had left the French alliance;
while in France a people unanimated by liberty, an army decimated by
defeat, generals that had lost their hopes, and arsenals which were
empty, were the sole resources with which its ruler had to encounter
all Europe in arms.

The refusal of M. de Talleyrand, then, to accept office at such a
time, unless with all the confidence and splendour that could give
it authority, was natural enough; but it is also not surprising that
the sovereign who had made that offer should have been irritated by
its rejection, whilst many urged that the vice-grand-elector, if
not employed, should be arrested. All proof, however, of treason
was wanting; and the chief of the Empire justly dreaded the effect
which, both at home and abroad, any violent act might produce; for it
was far more difficult, than many have supposed, for him to strike,
when his power was once on the decline, any strong blow against an
eminent functionary. His government was a government of functionaries,
throughout whom there reigned a sort of fraternity that could not
safely be braved.

This stern man had, moreover,--and this was one of the most remarkable
and amiable portions of his character--a sort of tenderness, which he
never overcame, for those who had once been attached to his person, or
had done eminent service to his authority.[59] He resolved, then, not
to take any violent measure against M. de Talleyrand; but though he
could restrain his anger from acts, he could not from expressions.

A variety of scenes was the consequence. Savary relates one which
happened in his presence and that of the arch-chancellor. I have also
read of one in which Napoleon, having said that if he thought his own
death likely he would take care that the vice-grand-elector should
not survive him, was answered by M. de Talleyrand rejoining, quietly
and respectfully, that he did not require that reason for desiring
that his Majesty’s life might be long preserved. M. Molé recounted
to me another, in the following terms: “At the end of the Council
of State, which took place just before the Emperor started for the
campaign of 1814, he burst out into some violent exclamations of his
being surrounded by treachery and traitors; and then turning to M.
de Talleyrand, abused him for ten minutes in the most violent and
outrageous manner. Talleyrand was standing by the fire all this time,
guarding himself from the heat of the flame by his hat; he never moved
a limb or a feature; any one who had seen him would have supposed that
he was the last man in the room to whom the Emperor could be speaking;
and finally, when Napoleon, slamming the door violently, departed,
Talleyrand quietly took the arm of M. Mollien, and limped with apparent
unconsciousness downstairs. But on getting home, he wrote a dignified
letter to the Emperor, saying, that if he retained his present dignity,
he should be by right one of the regency, and that as he could not
think of holding such a charge after the opinion his Majesty had
expressed of him, he begged to resign his post, and to be allowed to
retire into the country. He was informed, however, that his resignation
would not be accepted, and that he might stay where he was.”

It is to be presumed that insults like that I have been relating went
a great way towards alienating and disgusting the person they were
meant to humiliate; but though at the head of a considerable party
which were dissatisfied, M. de Talleyrand did little more than watch
the proceedings of 1814, and endeavour to make the fall of Napoleon,
should it take place, as little injurious to France and to himself as

During the conferences at Chatillon, he told those whom the Emperor
most trusted, that he would be lost if he did not take peace on any
terms; when, however, towards the end of these conferences, peace
seemed impossible with Napoleon, he permitted the Duc Dalberg to send
M. de Vitrolles to the allied camp with the information, that, if
the allies did not make war against France, but simply against its
present ruler, they would find friends in Paris ready to help them.
M. de Vitrolles carried a slip of paper from the Duc in his boot as
his credentials, and was allowed to name M. de Talleyrand; but he
had nothing from that personage himself which could compromise him
irrevocably with this mission.

M. de Talleyrand saw, nevertheless, at that moment, that a new chief
must, as a matter of course, be given to France, and he wished to be
the person to decide who that chief should be, and under what sort of
institutions the government should be assigned to him.

Still, his communications with the Bourbons were, I believe, merely
indirect. Many of their partisans were his relatives and friends. He
said obliging things of Louis XVIII. to them, and he received obliging
messages in return: but he did not positively adopt their cause; in
fact, it seems doubtful whether he did not for a certain time hesitate
between the ancient race, and the King of Rome with a council of
regency, in which he was to have had a place. At all events, he kept
the minister of police, according to Savary’s own account, alive to
the Royalist movements in the south. It may even be said that he did
not desert the Bonaparte dynasty till it deserted itself: for at the
Council, assembled when the allies were approaching Paris to determine
whether the Empress should remain in the capital or quit it, he advised
her stay in the strongest manner, saying it was the best, if not the
only, means of preserving the dynasty, and he did not cease urging this
opinion until Joseph Bonaparte produced a letter from his brother,
stating that in such a case as that under consideration Marie-Louise
should retire into the provinces. It was then that, on leaving the
council chamber, he said to Savary:[61]

“Here, then, is the end of all this. Is not that also your opinion? we
lose the rubber with a fair game. Just see where the stupidity of a few
ignorant men, who perseveringly work on the influence acquired by daily
intercourse, ends by carrying one. In truth, the Emperor is much to be
pitied, and yet nobody will pity him; for his obstinacy in holding to
those who surround him, has no reasonable motive; it is only a weakness
which cannot be conceived in such a man. What a fall in history! To
give his name to adventures, instead of giving it to his age! When I
think of this I cannot help being grieved. And now what is to be done?
It does not suit every one to be crushed under the ruins of the edifice
that is to be overthrown. Well, we shall see what will happen!

“The Emperor, instead of abusing me, would have done better in
estimating at their first value those who set him against me. He
should have seen that friends of that kind are to be more dreaded than
enemies. What would he say to another who let himself be reduced to the
state in which he is now?”


The observation that it did not suit every one to be overwhelmed under
the ruins of the government about to fall, applied, as it was intended
to do by M. de Talleyrand, to himself. The part, however, he had to
play was still a difficult one; desirous to remain in Paris in order
to treat with the allies, he was ordered, as a member of the regency,
to Blois. Nor was it merely because he feared that Napoleon might yet
conquer, and punish his disobedience, that he disliked to resist his
command; there is a sense of decency in public men which sometimes
supplies the place of principle, and the vice-grand-elector wished to
avoid the appearance of deserting the cause which notwithstanding he
had resolved to abandon.

The expedient he adopted was a singular and characteristic one. His
state carriage was ordered and packed for the journey: he set out in it
with great pomp and ceremony, and found, according to an arrangement
previously made with Madame de Rémusat, her husband at the head of
a body of the National Guard at the barrier, who stopped him, and,
declaring he should remain in the capital, conducted him back to his
hotel, in the Rue St. Florentin, in which he had soon the honour of
receiving the Emperor Alexander.

The success of the campaign had been so rapid, the march to Paris so
bold, the name of Napoleon and the valour of the French army were still
so formidable, that the Emperor of the Russias was almost surprised at
the situation in which he found himself, and desirous to escape from it
by any peace that could be made safely, quickly, and with some chance
of duration. Beyond this, he had no fixed idea. The re-establishment
of the Bourbons, to which the English Government inclined, seemed to
him in some respects dangerous, as well on account of the long absence
of these princes from France, as from their individual character and
the prejudices of their personal adherents. To a treaty with Napoleon
he had also reasonable objection. Some intermediate plan was the one
perhaps most present to his mind; a regency with Marie-Louise,--a
substitution of Bernadotte for Bonaparte; but all plans of this sort
were vague, and to be tested by the principle of establishing things in
the manner most satisfactory to Europe, and least hateful to France.

Universal opinion pointed out M. de Talleyrand as the person not only
most able to form, but most able to carry out at once whatever plan
was best suited to the emergency. This is why, on arriving at Paris,
the Emperor took up his abode at M. de Talleyrand’s house, Rue St.
Florentin, where he held, under the auspices of his host, a sort of
meeting or council which determined the destiny of France.


Among various relations concerning this council is that of M.
Bourrienne, and if we are to believe this witness of the proceedings he
recounts, M. de Talleyrand thus answered the Emperor’s suggestion as to
the crown prince of Sweden, and pronounced on the various pretensions
that had been successively brought forward:

“Sire, you may depend upon it, there are but two things possible,
Bonaparte or Louis XVIII. I say Bonaparte; but here the choice will not
depend wholly on your Majesty, for you are not alone. If we are to have
a soldier, however, let it be Napoleon; he is the first in the world.
I repeat it, sire: Bonaparte or Louis XVIII.; each represents a party,
any other merely an intrigue.”

It was a positive opinion thus forcibly expressed that, according to
all accounts, decided the conqueror, who is said to have declared

“When I arrived at Paris, I had no plan. I referred everything to
Talleyrand; he had the family of Napoleon in one hand, and that of the
Bourbons in the other; I took what he gave me.”

The resolution not to treat with Napoleon or his family being thus
taken, M. de Talleyrand engaged the Emperor of Russia to make it known
by a proclamation placarded on the walls of Paris, and the public read
in every street that “Les souverains alliés ne traiteront plus ni avec
Napoléon Bonaparte ni avec aucun membre de sa famille.”

But this was not all. M. de Talleyrand did not wish to escape from
the despotism of Napoleon to fall under that of Louis XVIII. He
counted little on royal gratitude, and it was as necessary for his
own security, as for that of his country, that the passions of the
emigration and the pride of the House of Bourbon should be kept
in check by a constitution. Hence, at his instigation, the famous
proclamation I refer to contained the following sentence: “Ils
reconnaîtront et garantiront la constitution que la nation française se
donnera, et invitent par conséquent le Sénat à désigner un gouvernement
provisoire qui puisse pourvoir aux besoins de l’administration; il
préparera la constitution qui conviendra au peuple français. Alexandre.
31 mars 1814.”

In this manner the allies recognised the Senate as the representative
of the French nation, and, as M. de Talleyrand had a predominant
influence with the Senate, his victory seemed secure.

This was on the 31st March. But on the 30th, late towards the night,
and as Marmont and Mortier, having defended the heights of Paris
valiantly during the day, were quitting that city in virtue of a
capitulation they had been compelled by the circumstances in which
they found themselves to sign, Napoleon, who had taken the advance
of his army, arrived at the environs of his capital, and learnt from
General Belliard, who was leaving it, what had occurred. With the view
of collecting his troops, still on their march, at Fontainebleau, and
gaining time for this purpose, he sent Caulincourt, who had represented
him at Chatillon, to the sovereigns, who were then masters of the
situation, with orders to enter into feigned negotiations with them, on
almost any terms.

Now, though the Czar and the King of Prussia had pretty well resolved
to have nothing further to do with Napoleon, and had stated that
resolution in a pretty decided manner, there was disquietude in the
neighbourhood of the great captain, who could rely on a military
force, amounting, it was said, to 50,000, exclusive of the forces
of Marmont and Mortier. The armies of Augereau and Soult also still
existed at no immense distance. The lower class in Paris, who had more
national sentiments and less personal interests in jeopardy than the
upper, were, as it had been remarked in the passage of the Russian and
Prussian troops through Paris, moody and discontented; a shadow of
the former terror of Napoleon’s power still remained on the minds of
many who had so long bowed to his will, and were only half disposed to
overthrow his authority. Negotiations, as Caulincourt’s presence at
Paris proved, would be attempted.

There was no time, then, to be lost. On the 1st April, M. de Talleyrand
assembled the Senate under his presidence (for, as vice-president and
grand dignitary of the Empire, this function legitimately belonged to
him). That body, surprised at its own power, and placing it readily
in its president’s hands, who (alluding to Marie-Louise’s retreat)
called on them to come to the aid of a state without any constituted
authority, named, “_séance tenante_,” “a provisional government,”
consisting, with M. de Talleyrand at its head, of five members. These
persons had all played an honourable and distinguished part under the
Empire or in the National Assembly, but the only one representing
Legitimist opinions was the Abbé Montesquieu.

At the same time the Senate, entirely partaking M. de Talleyrand’s
ideas as to a constitution, engaged itself to form one within a few

Nothing, however, was as yet said of the intended exclusion of Napoleon
and his family, nor of the approaching reign of the Bourbons.

Many of the partisans of the latter were as much astonished as vexed at
this omission.

Still entertaining ideas which they had carried into a long exile,
they could not even conceive what France, or the French Senate, or the
allies, had to do with the disposal of the French government. Was not
Louis XVIII. the next in blood to Louis XVI.? Could there be a doubt
that he was the only possible king, the unholy and audacious usurper
having been defeated?

Did not the Comte d’Artois, said the ladies of the Faubourg St.
Germain, long to embrace his early associate, the Bishop of Autun?

M. de Talleyrand, with a smile slightly cynical, acknowledged the
extreme happiness that this embrace would give him; but begged, half
mysteriously, that it might be deferred for the present. He did not,
however, think it expedient that the Senate should delay any longer
confirming the act of the coalition as to Napoleon’s deposition; and
that assembly (exposing, as the motives of its conduct, a thousand
grievances which it had been its previous duty to prevent), declared,
as the Emperor Alexander had already declared, that neither Napoleon
nor his family should reign in France, and relieved the nation from its
oath of allegiance.

It named also a ministry composed of men suited for the occasion, and
thus assumed provisionally all the attributes of government.

In the meantime the deposed Emperor, still at Fontainebleau, with an
energy which misfortune had not abated, was counting his gathering
forces, studying the position of his foes, and forming the plan for a
final and desperate effort, which consisted in defeating one of the
three divisions of the enemy, which was on the left bank of the Seine,
and following it in its flight into the streets of Paris, where, amidst
the general confusion, he felt certain of an easy victory, even if
amongst the blazing ruins of the imperial city.

With him losses that led to success were not calculated: and though
he would have preferred victory on other terms, he was perfectly
willing to take it as he could get it. At least, this was said; and the
intention attributed to him, and which he did not deny, having being
promulgated before it was executed, shattered the remaining fidelity
of his superior officers. He could not understand their timorous
scruples; nor they his desperate resolves. An altercation ensued, and,
rendered bold by despair, the marshals ventured to urge his abdication
in favour of his son. He foresaw the futility of this proposition,
but was nevertheless induced to accede to it, partly in order to show
the idleness of the hopes which his unwelcome counsellors affected to
cherish, partly in order to get rid of their presence, and thus to find
himself free, as he thought, to execute his original projects, should
he determine on doing so.

Ney, Macdonald, together with Caulincourt, who had rejoined the
Emperor on the 2nd of April, and communicated the inefficacy of his
previous mission, were sent then to the allied sovereigns; they were
to enumerate their remaining forces, protest as to their unwavering
fidelity to that family, the fortunes of which they had so long
followed--declare resolutely against the legitimate princes, whom they
considered strangers to their epoch; and state, with firmness, their
resolve to conquer or perish by the side of their ancient master, if
this, the last proposal they could make in his name, were rejected.

They carried with them Marmont, at the head of the important division
of Bonaparte’s army stationed on the Essonne, and commanding the
position of Fontainebleau. This general, though the one most favoured
by Napoleon, had nevertheless already entered into a capitulation with
the Austrian general; but, urged by his brother marshals, to whom he
confessed his treason, to retract his engagements, he did so; and
ordering those officers under his command, and who had been acquainted
with his designs, to remain quiet till his return, accompanied Ney
and Macdonald to Paris. The haughty hearing, the bold and vehement
language, of men accustomed to command and conquer, and representing
an army which had marched victoriously from Paris to Moscow, made an
impression on the somewhat flexible Alexander. He did not accord nor
deny their petition, and granted them another interview on the morrow,
at which the King of Prussia was to be present. This one took place on
the 5th of April, at two in the morning, with himself alone.

The struggle was yet undecided; for the Emperor of Russia was never
very favourable, as I have said, to the Legitimists, and quite alive to
the consideration of settling matters quietly with Bonaparte, who had
arms in his hands, rather than with the Bourbons, who had not. M. de
Talleyrand had again to exert himself, and with his easy, respectful,
but self-confident manner, to point out the feebleness and dishonour
of which (though acting under feelings of the noblest generosity) the
Czar would be accused, if, after having compromised himself and his
allies by what he had been doing during the last few days, he was at
last to undo it. He added, as it is said, that he did not, in holding
this language, consult his own interests, for it was probable that he
should have a more durable position under the regency of Marie-Louise,
if such a regency could be durable, than under that of the emigration,
which, it was much to be feared, from what was then passing (he wished
to call the Emperor’s attention to the efforts which this party was at
that very moment making against the publication of a constitution),
would, ere long, become more powerful and more forgetful than could
be desired. “Pardon my observations, sire,” he continued--“others are
uneasy, but I am not--for I know full well that a sovereign at the
head of a valorous army is not likely to admit the dictation of a few
officers of a hostile force, more particularly when they represent the
very principle of constant war which the French nation repudiates, and
which has armed the allies.”

Both the Emperor Alexander (whose transitory emotion soon passed away)
and the King of Prussia received the marshals on the following day,
under the impressions that M. de Talleyrand’s remarks and their own
considerate judgment produced; and the refusal to treat on any basis
that gave the government of France to Napoleon or his family, was
clearly but courteously pronounced. The marshals were persisting in
their representations, when a Russian officer, who had just entered the
room, whispered something into Alexander’s ear: it was the intelligence
that the division of Marshal Marmont had quitted its post; an accident
produced by the officers, to whom he had confided his troops, having
fancied that their intended treachery was discovered, and would be
punished, unless immediately consummated. After such a defection, the
moral power of the deputation, which could no longer speak in the
name of the army, was gone; and all it attempted to procure was an
honourable provision for the Emperor and the Empress, if the former
tendered an immediate abdication. The advice of his generals, who
accepted these poor conditions, left their commander no alternative but
submission, for his government was a military machine, of which the
main instrument now broke in his hands.

On the 6th, the Senate framed a constitution, which, on the 8th, was
published, creating a constitutional monarchy, with two chambers, and
conferring the throne of France on Louis XVIII. if he accepted that
constitution. On the 11th was signed a treaty by which Marie-Louise
and her son received the principality of Parma, and Napoleon the
sovereignty of Elba, a small island on the coast of Italy, where it
was presumed that a man, still in the prime of life, and with the most
restless spirit that ever beat in human bosom, would remain quiet and
contented in the sight of empires he had won and lost.



    Comte d’Artois, Lieutenant-General of France.--Treaty of the
    23rd of April for the evacuation of France.--Louis XVIII.,
    contrary to M. de Talleyrand’s advice, refuses to accept the
    crown with a constitution as the gift of the nation; but,
    agreeing to the first as a right, grants the second.--Forms his
    government of discordant materials, naming M. de Talleyrand,
    of whom his distrust and jealousy soon appear, Minister of
    Foreign Affairs.--Reactionary spirit of the Émigré party
    and Comte d’Artois.--Treaty of Paris.--M. de Talleyrand
    then goes to Vienna, and, in the course of negotiations
    there, contrives to make a separate treaty with Austria
    and Great Britain, and thus to break up solidarity of the
    alliance against France.--Bonaparte escapes from Elba.--New
    treaty against Napoleon; not clear as to its intentions, but
    appearing as renewal of Treaty of Paris.--Bourbons go to
    Ghent.--Bonaparte installed at the Tuileries.--M. de Talleyrand
    goes to Carlsbad.--Prince Metternich intrigues with Fouché for
    Napoleon’s deposition in favour of the regency of his wife;
    does not succeed.--The Allies again take up Louis XVIII.--M. de
    Talleyrand goes to Ghent.--At first ill received.--Lectures the
    Bourbons.--Is again made Minister.--Opposed by Royalist party
    and the Emperor of Russia; feebly supported by us; abandoned by
    Louis XVIII.--Resigns.


Such for the moment was the end of the long struggle which M. de
Talleyrand had maintained with a man superior to all others in the
power of his faculties; but who, owing to certain faults, which were
perhaps inseparable from the haughty and imaginative nature of those
faculties, was finally vanquished by the patience, moderation, and tact
of an adversary of far inferior genius, whose hostility he had, by a
singular instinct, dreaded, and, by an unaccountable carelessness,

I have said that when M. de Talleyrand first attached himself to
the destinies of Napoleon, he expected from him--first, his own
advancement; secondly, the advancement of French interests.

He followed Napoleon, then, obsequiously up to the period at which he
foresaw clearly that the policy of that personage was beginning to be
such as would neither profit an intelligent adherent nor establish a
durable empire.

It cannot be said, however, that in separating himself from this
policy, after the treaty of Tilsit, he left his sovereign in a moment
of adversity. France never appeared to people in general so great, nor
its ruler so stable, as at that epoch. It was not at the moment of any
evident decline in either, but at a moment when to a keen observer
there was visible a tendency which if pursued would, a little sooner
or a little later, plunge both into inextricable calamities, that the
Prince de Benevent detached himself quietly from the chariot that bore
the great soldier’s fortunes.

Even then he did little more than express with moderation the
convictions he felt; and indeed his opposition when most provoked
was never against the individual whom he had served, but against the
system that individual was blindly pursuing. As the horizon grew
darker, he neither shrank from giving his advice, which events proved
invariably to be just, nor refused his services, if they were allowed
the necessary means of being useful. His infidelity up to the last
consisted in giving counsel that was rejected, and taking measures with
much reserve for preserving himself and his country in some degree from
the fate that was preparing for its ruler. Nor was it until Napoleon
and the nation became two distinct things, and it appeared necessary to
destroy the one in order to save the other, that it can be said that M.
de Talleyrand conspired against the man, who, it must be added, never
asked for heartfelt devotion in exacting blind obedience.

There was nothing on earth, in fact, which Napoleon himself would not
have sacrificed, and did not unscrupulously sacrifice, to promote
his own objects. He said, and I believe thought, that these were the
happiness and glory of France. Behind his selfishness there was, all
must admit, a great and noble idea; but those who felt sure that he
was mistaken were not bound to subject their notions of patriotism to
his: M. de Talleyrand had not been his creature, nor raised up from
the dust by him. He had been a distinguished and eminent man before
General Bonaparte’s career had commenced, and it is hardly fair to
talk of his treachery to a man, who had of late years wearied him with
affronts,--when the most intimate of that man’s favourites (Marshal
Berthier) told Louis XVIII. at the commencement of the Restoration,
“that France had groaned for twenty-five years under the weight of
misfortunes that only disappeared at the sight of its legitimate

The principal if not the only question at issue concerning M. de
Talleyrand in these affairs is, Whether the advice to place Louis
XVIII. on the French throne was good or bad advice? What other
candidates were there? Bonaparte vanquished was out of the question.
He had not only become odious to M. de Talleyrand; he was equally so
to all Europe and to all France,--the broken fragments of his army

There was something to say in favour of a regency with Marie-Louise;
but her husband himself declared at Fontainebleau that she was
incapable of acting for herself. If Napoleon was in a situation to
direct her, the government was evidently still Napoleon’s. If she
was placed in the hands of the marshals, the exchange was that of a
military empire with order and a redoubtable chief, for a military
empire with confusion and without a chief; Marie-Louise was, moreover,
out of Paris.

Had she remained at Paris, had Bonaparte perished on the field of
battle, or been placed anywhere in secure guardianship, the daughter of
the Emperor of Austria, assisted and controlled by four or five men of
eminence, moderation, and capacity, whom the allies could have joined
to her, might have been a possibility more compatible perhaps with the
epoch than the half-forgotten inheritor of the crown of Louis XVI.; but
when the choice was to be made, this combination had gone by.

Then there was the House of Orleans. But this younger branch of the
Bourbon family was personally almost as unknown to France as the elder
one. The name that connected it with the Revolution was not popular,
on the other hand, even with the revolutionists. A mere soldier put
on Napoleon’s throne by foreigners was an evident humiliation to the
French people. Louis XVIII., therefore, really seems the only person at
the moment who could carry with him to the vacant place any dignity,
and represent there, as M. de Talleyrand said, any principle.

This prince in early life had been supposed favourable to
constitutional government. His residence of late years had been in a
constitutional country. He had never been remarkable for the strength
of his personal attachments, and he had, moreover, in his character, or
at least in his manner, a certain authority, which rendered it probable
that he would keep in order the more zealous of his partisans.

Thus, it seemed likely that he would frankly accept such a government
as England possessed and France had desired in 1789, to the opinions
of which period the more thinking portions of the French nation still
looked back with respect.

Risks had to be run, whatever resolution might be taken; but risks in
critical times have always to be run, and a man of action can only
choose the least dangerous.


At all events, having deliberately adopted the legitimate monarchy
with a constitution, there can be no doubt as to M. de Talleyrand
having followed up this idea, amidst immense difficulties, with great
boldness and dexterity. The task, however, so far as it depended on
his skill, tact, and activity, was now nearly over; and its ultimate
success was about to be confided to those who were to reap the fruits
of his efforts. It will have been seen, by what I have said of the
constitution voted by the Senate, that Louis XVIII. was named King
conditionally on his accepting a constitution; a clause against which
the Royalists had revolted.

The Comte d’Artois, at that time out of Paris and in no recognised
position, insisted on appearing in the capital; and, Napoleon having
abdicated on the 11th, he executed his intention on the 12th, assuming
the title of “Lieutenant-general of the Kingdom,” a title which he
pretended to have received from his brother, but which his brother, it
appears, had never given him.

Nothing could be more awkward than the position thus created: Louis
XVIII. was not yet sovereign by any national act; and yet the Comte
d’Artois pretended that he was invested with royal authority by Louis

To establish as a right the Bourbon monarchy, was by no means the
intention of those who had called back the Bourbon family; and yet they
had so compromised themselves to the Bourbon cause, that it was no easy
matter to recede from the ground they stood upon. The resolution to be
taken had to be immediate. Should the existing authorities assist at
the Comte d’Artois’ entry or not? M. de Talleyrand and the provisional
government did assist, for their abstinence would have been a scandal;
the Senate did not assist, for its presence would have stultified its
previous decisions.

I am led to insert an animated account of this entry, not only because
it is painted with the colouring of an eye-witness; but because it
gives an amusing description of the concoction of a celebrated _bon
mot_, which was not without its effect on the early popularity of the
prince to whom it was attributed.[62]

“Next morning (12th of April), we marched out to meet the prince. It
was one of those lovely days of early spring which are so delightful
in the climate of Paris. The sun was shining with all its splendour,
and on every side the tender buds were sprouting under the influence
of its subdued and genial warmth. There were flowers already half
blown, and the soft green was just beginning to peep from the trees,
while the spring notes of birds, the joyous expression of every face,
our march enlivened by the dear old tune of good King Henry, all served
to mark out this day as a festival of Hope. There was little order in
our ranks, but many shed tears. As soon as _Monsieur_ was in sight,
M. de Talleyrand advanced to welcome him, and, leaning against the
prince’s horse with that indolent grace, which the weakness of his legs
excused, he paid him a short compliment, remarkable for its delicacy
and good taste. Feeling that Frenchmen were pressing him on all sides,
the prince was too affected to make him a reply, but said with a voice
stifled by sobs, ‘Monsieur de Talleyrand, gentlemen.--Thank you--I am
too happy--Let us proceed, let us proceed--I am too happy!’

“Since then, we have heard the same prince reply to speeches with
presence of mind and effect: but, to those who saw and heard him the
day of his entry into Paris, he has never been so eloquent as on that
occasion. We now proceeded in the direction of Notre-Dame, according
to the old custom of going, after every joyful event, to the most
venerable church of Paris, in order to offer solemnly to God the
grateful homage of the French nation. The procession was principally
composed of National Guards, but it also contained Russian, Prussian,
Austrian, Spanish, and Portuguese officers, and the prince at their
head appeared like an angel of peace descended into the midst of
the great European family. From the Barrière de Bondy to the Parvis
Notre-Dame, faces beaming with joy were seen at every window. The
streets were crowded with people who pressed round the prince with
shouts of applause. It was difficult for him to advance in the midst
of such general enthusiasm, but when some one attempted to clear the
way by removing this pleasing impediment, he exclaimed, ‘Never mind,
sir, never mind, we have plenty of time before us.’ Thus was the prince
borne along to Notre-Dame, if I may be allowed the expression, on the
hearts of Frenchmen. After entering the sanctuary, when he cast himself
down before the altar, which had received during so many centuries the
prayers of his fathers, a vivid ray of light fell upon his countenance,
and made it appear almost heavenly. He prayed fervently, and we all
did the same. The tears trickled down our cheeks, and they escaped
from the eyes even of the foreigners. Oh! how sincerely, how fervently
was each verse of the hymn of gratitude upraised to Heaven! When the
ceremony was concluded, several of the prince’s old servants, who had
bewailed his absence during thirty years, came to embrace his knees,
and he raised them up with that heart-sprung grace so touching and so
natural to him. The return from Notre-Dame to the Tuileries was no less
animated and happy; and when he had reached the court of the palace,
the prince dismounted, and turning to the National Guard, addressed
them in a speech perfectly suited to the occasion. He shook hands with
several of the officers and men, begging them to remember this happy
day, and protesting that he himself would never forget it. I ordered
the palace doors to be opened for the prince, and had the honour of
showing him into the wing which he was to inhabit.

“I asked him to give me his orders for the rest of the day, and to
tell me the hour at which I should present myself the next morning. He
seemed to hesitate whether he would dismiss or retain me. I thought
I could perceive that this arose from kindly feeling, so I told him
that I should be afraid of troubling him an instant longer, as he must
be fatigued, and it was to me that he replied, ‘How can I possibly be
fatigued? This is the only happy day I have enjoyed for thirty years.
Ah! sir, what a delightful day! Say that I am pleased and satisfied
with everybody. These are my orders for to-day. To-morrow morning, at
nine o’clock.’

“After leaving the prince, I resumed my usual occupation, and quitted
it at about eleven o’clock in the evening, to go to M. de Talleyrand’s.
I found him discussing the events of the past day with MM. Pasquier,
Dupont de Némours, and Anglès. They all agreed that it had been a
complete success. M. de Talleyrand reminded us that an article would
have to be written for the _Moniteur_. Dupont offered to do it. ‘No,
no,’ replied M. de Talleyrand, ‘you would make it too poetical; I know
you well: Beugnot will do for that; I dare say that he will step into
the library, and knock us off an article in a moment.’

“I sat down to my work, which was not very difficult: but when the
prince’s answer to M. de Talleyrand had to be mentioned, I did not
know what to do. A few words, springing from a deep emotion, make
effect by the manner in which they are spoken, and by the presence
of the objects which have suggested them; but, when they have to be
reproduced on paper, stripped of these accompaniments, they remain
cold, and it is very lucky if they are not ridiculous. I returned to
M. de Talleyrand, and informed him of the difficulty. ‘Let us see,’ he
answered, ‘what _Monsieur_ _did_ say; I did not catch much; he appeared
to me to be affected, and very anxious to continue his journey; but,
if what he said does not suit you, invent an answer for him.’ ‘But
how can I make a speech that _Monsieur_ never pronounced?’ ‘There is
no difficulty about that; make it good, suitable to the person and to
the occasion, and I promise you that _Monsieur_ will accept it, and
so well, that in two days he will believe he made it himself; and he
_will_ have made it himself; you will no longer have had anything to
do with it.’ Capital! I returned and attempted my first version, and
brought it to be approved. ‘That won’t do,’ said M. de Talleyrand,
‘_Monsieur_ never makes antitheses, nor does he use the slightest
rhetorical flourish. Be brief, be plain, and say what is best suited to
the speaker and to his audience: that’s all.’ ‘It seems to me,’ replied
M. Pasquier, ‘that what is troubling a good many minds, is the fear
of changes, which would be brought about by the return of the princes
of the house of Bourbon; that point would perhaps have to be touched,
but delicately.’ ‘Good! and I also recommend it to you,’ said M. de
Talleyrand. I attempt a new version, and am sent back a second time,
for having made it too long and too elaborate. At last I am delivered
of the one inserted in the _Moniteur_, in which I make the prince say,
‘No more discord; Peace and France; at last I revisit my native land;
nothing is changed, except it be that there is one Frenchman the more.’
‘This time I give in!’ exclaimed the great censor. ‘_That_ is what
_Monsieur_ said, and I answer for it having been pronounced by him; you
need not trouble yourself any longer.’ And in fact the speech turned
out a regular success: the newspapers took it up as a lucky hit; it was
also repeated as an engagement taken by the prince; and the expression,
‘_One Frenchman more!_’ became the necessary password of the harangues,
which began to pour in from all quarters. The prince did not disdain
commenting upon it in his answers: and M. de Talleyrand’s prophecy was
fully accomplished.”


The just described spectacle was gay, but its gaiety was merely
superficial. Deeper seated was the danger I have referred to. The
Senate had neither gone to meet the Comte d’Artois nor attended the _Te
Deum_. It might be said that the members of the provisional government
had done so; but the absence of the Senate was, notwithstanding,
remarked. It was determined not to leave things uncertain, and to have
a clear understanding as to whether the Comte d’Artois meant to despise
the national authorities, or to submit to them. This question had to be
brought to issue with the least possible delay.

The 13th and 14th of April were spent in negotiations. Napoleon was
still in France. Two armies had not yet given in their adhesion to the
new order of things.

The allies had solemnly declared that the French government should be
one chosen by the Senate, and not one chosen by Louis XVIII.

It took, nevertheless, all M. de Talleyrand’s tact and patience to get
the Comte d’Artois and the zealots of his party to act with ordinary
prudence. An arrangement was at last arrived at in this manner:

The Senate, professing to know that constitutional principles animated
the heart of the Comte d’Artois, offered him the Lieutenant-generalship
of France.

The Comte d’Artois accepted the post, saying that though he could not
take upon himself to sanction the constitution of the Senate, with
which he was acquainted, but which had to be considered by the King,
he nevertheless felt sure that he could safely affirm that his Majesty
would accept the principal features in it.[63]

The government was thus installed until the arrival of Louis XVIII.;
and on the 23rd, M. de Talleyrand signed, under his royal highness’s
authority, the treaty which obliged the foreign armies to quit France,
and the French troops to quit the fortresses out of France which they
still held.


The most urgent foreign question was thus settled; but the permanent
condition of internal affairs, though the temporary arrangement I have
been describing established something like a principle in favour of a
constitution, still depended on the arrangements that might finally be
made with Louis XVIII.

M. de Talleyrand, exceedingly anxious on this subject, had sent M.
de Liancourt to the King, in the hope that his Majesty would listen
and speak to his messenger confidentially. It was true that M. de
Talleyrand was warned that the Duc de Liancourt, who had belonged
to the Revolution, would not be well received by the monarch of the
Restoration, if a certain nobleman, M. de Blacas, was by his side. But
the Prince de Benevent treated this idea _du haut de sa grandeur_.

What! the sovereign who owed him (M. de Talleyrand) his throne; who
was at once indolent and ambitious; who knew nothing of the country
in which he was to appear, a country in which he had no partisans who
could guide him by their counsels or aid him by their influence, and
in which were still the sovereigns with whom M. de Talleyrand had
been the confederate--would decline to receive a man of the first
respectability and the highest birth, universally beloved, because he
had taken the same part that M. de Talleyrand himself had taken in
the public affairs of former times, and this when the new sovereignty
was to be founded on all parties and opinions, and have, moreover, a
constitution for its basis; the thing was impossible. M. de Talleyrand
replied to the person who gave him this warning--

“The King, you say, will look back on the past, but Nature has placed
the eyes of men in the front of their heads, in order that they may
look forward.”

Undoubtedly, the warning referred to seemed absurd, but it was
correctly given. M. de Liancourt saw “the certain M. de Blacas,” but
came back without having seen Louis XVIII.[64]

In sending the particular person he had selected to Louis XVIII., M.
de Talleyrand had the idea of engaging the King at once with the party
to which that person belonged, viz., the moderate men of the early
Revolution: men who were, by opinion, in favour of constitutional
monarchy, but who had been so mixed up with persons of all parties and
opinions, as to know all and have friends amongst all. In such a party
he saw a centre at which divergent lines might meet--a backbone, to
which might be attached the scattered members of the great and varied
society out of which a new government had to be constructed. The
project was not a bad one, and it is probable that during the first
days of an uncertain triumph it would have succeeded.

But the unexpected popularity of his family, the general acceptance
of the “white cockade,” the reports of his brother and the ardent
Royalists, which did not fail to reach him with suitable exaggerations,
and the positive abdication of Napoleon, created a new phase in Louis’s
affairs, and hesitating what to do, he determined on doing nothing till
he arrived in France.

This was sufficient to show M. de Talleyrand, who did not subsequently
forget M. de Blacas, that there would be a court circle in the new
reign from which he should be excluded; that the King neither meant
to confide in him nor to offend him; that a system was not to be
formed; that if he did not break with the sovereign on whose head he
had a few days previously placed a crown, he must compromise with that
sovereign’s prejudices and favourites. There were not as yet sufficient
motives for a rupture. Circumstances would shortly develop themselves,
and give many opportunities for a decided course. In the meantime a
policy of principle was to be sacrificed to a policy of dexterity.

Had he been consulted, he would certainly not have counselled Louis
XVIII., who made a sort of triumphal entry into London on the 20th,
to have said he owed his crown to the Prince Regent; putting aside
the Emperor Alexander, who was still in Paris, and the Senate and the
Assembly, which were the only constituted organs at that time of the
nation’s wishes, and the only authority which the French army and the
French people would so easily have obeyed. But he met his Majesty at
Compiègne, where Louis had determined to stay three or four days before
entering Paris and fixing his ultimate resolves. The meeting would have
been curious to witness.

Both personages were perfect actors in their way, and each with a
pretension to superiority, was determined not to be subalternised
by the other. Louis had acted the part of king for some years with
the more care and punctiliousness because he was only king in name.
Talleyrand had been accustomed from his youth to the highest positions
in society; in later years he had been admitted into the intimacy of
sovereigns, and been treated by them, if not on a footing of equality,
with the highest respect; and he had just disposed of the fortunes
of France. The descendant of kings meant to impose the sovereign on
his powerful subject at once, with the airs of royalty, for which
he was famous. The bishop, noble, and diplomatist was prepared to
encounter these airs with the respectful well-bred nonchalance of a
man of the world, who knew his own value; and the natural but not
obsequious deference of a great minister to a constitutional monarch.
It is probable that neither said what he intended to say, or what
contemporaries have said for them; but it is reported that Louis
gave M. de Talleyrand to understand that, in remaining tranquil and
contented until Providence had placed the crown on his head, he had
played the proper part of the prince and the philosopher, acting with
far more dignity and wisdom than the bustling men of action who had
been occupied during this time with their own advancement.

On the other hand, when his Majesty, wishing perhaps to efface the
impression of observations that were not altogether complimentary,
spoke in admiration of M. de Talleyrand’s abilities, and asked him
how he had contrived, first to overturn the Directory, and finally
Bonaparte, M. de Talleyrand has the credit of having replied with a
sort of naïveté which, when it suited him, he could well assume:

“Really, sire, I have done nothing for this: there is something
inexplicable about me which brings ill luck on the governments that
neglect me.”[65]

Finally, as to essentials, the King appears, without entering much into
details, to have given M. de Talleyrand to understand that France would
have a constitution, and M. de Talleyrand the administration of foreign

This was all that M. de Talleyrand now expected.

Nevertheless he tried, on a subsequent occasion, to persuade the
legitimate monarch that his throne would acquire increased solidity by
being accepted as the spontaneous gift of the nation.

A really great man in Louis’s place would probably have provoked a
vote by universal suffrage; the mere fact of appealing to such a vote
would have attained a universal assent, springing from a universal
enthusiasm; and, in fact, such a vote for a king who had legitimacy
in his favour would at the same time have renewed the vigour of the
legitimist principle.

A very prudent man would not have run this risk; he would have made
the most of the vote of the Senate, since it was given, and taken for
granted that it was a vote in favour of his race as well as of himself.

A vain and proud man, however, could not so easily divest himself of a
peculiar quality which only he possessed. Any man might be chosen king
of the French, but Louis XVIII. alone could be the legitimate King of
France. This hereditary right to the throne was a personal property.
He had claimed it in exile: he was resolved to assert it in power,
and when M. de Talleyrand was for continuing the argument, he cut him
short, according to contemporaneous authorities, by observing with a
courteous but somewhat cynical smile:

“You wish me to accept a constitution from you, and you don’t wish to
accept a constitution from me. This is very natural; mais, mon cher M.
de Talleyrand, alors moi je serai debout, et vous assis.”[66]


The observation just quoted admitted of no reply. Still Louis had
the good sense to see that he could not enter Paris without some
explanations, and the promise, more or less explicitly given, of a
representative government. Unlike the Comte d’Artois, he felt no sort
of difficulty about giving this promise, and was even willing to
concert with his minister as to the most popular manner in which he
could give the guarantees he intended to offer without abandoning the
point on which he resolved to insist.

The first thing, however, to provide for, was a meeting between the
sovereign who had taken the crown as a right, and the Senate who had
offered it on conditions.

This meeting took place on the 1st of May, at Saint-Ouen, a small
village near Paris, where the King invited the Senate to meet him.
M. de Talleyrand, on presenting this body, pronounced a speech,
composed with much art, and spoke for both parties. He said that
the nation, enlightened by experience, rushed forward to salute the
sovereign returning to the throne of his ancestors; that the Senate,
participating in the sentiments of the nation, did the same; that,
on the other hand, the monarch, guided by his wisdom, was about to
give France institutions in conformity with its intelligence, and the
ideas of the epoch: that a constitutional “Charter” (a title the King
had selected) would unite every interest to that of the throne, and
fortify the royal will by the concurrence of all wills; that no one
knew better than his Majesty the value of institutions for a long time
tried happily by a neighbouring people, and furnishing aid and not
opposition to all kings who loved the laws, and were the fathers of
their people.

A few words from the King, confirming what M. de Talleyrand had said,
left nothing to be desired; and on the 3rd of May was published the
famous declaration of Saint-Ouen, which, after stating that much that
was good in the constitution proposed by the Senate on the 6th of
April would be preserved, added that some articles in it bore signs,
notwithstanding, of the haste with which they had necessarily been
written, and must consequently be reformed; but that his Majesty had
the full intention to give to France a constitution that should contain
all the liberties that Frenchmen could desire, and that the project of
such a constitution would ere long be presented to the chambers.

Louis XVIII., thus preceded, entered Paris amidst a tolerable degree of
enthusiasm, and, seating himself in the palace of his ancestors, began
to prepare his existence there.

His first thought was to reconstitute his household, and, in doing
this, M. de Talleyrand-Périgord was named grand aumonier. The new
ministry was next to be formed, and M. de Talleyrand figured as
minister of foreign affairs; and was honoured with the title of prince,
though he could no longer add to it--of Benevent.

The other persons named in the new ministry, and who afterwards
attracted notice, were the Abbé de Montesquieu, minister of the
interior, a gentleman of learning and talent, but wholly unused to
affairs, and a Royalist as much from prejudice as from principle (M.
Guizot, by the way, commenced his career under M. de Montesquieu); and
the Abbé Louis, minister of finance, whose financial abilities were
universally acknowledged.

But the most important minister for the moment was the minister of the
household, “that certain M. de Blacas,” of whose influence over Louis
XVIII. M. de Talleyrand had been early informed.

M. de Blacas was one of those gentlemen of the second order of
nobility, who often produce on the vulgar a stronger effect as a grand
seigneur than nobles of the first class, because they add a little
acting to the natural dignity usually attendant upon persons who have
been treated from their infancy with distinction. He was middle-aged,
good-looking, courteous, a good scholar, a great collector of medals,
very vain of his court favour, which was based on his long knowledge of
all the moral and physical weaknesses of his master, and with an entire
confidence in the indestructibility of an edifice which he had seen,
notwithstanding, raised on the ruins of its own foundation.

He had, also, such a confidence in his own capacity that he conceived
it impossible for any one but an egregious fool, or a malignant
personal enemy, to doubt it.

He concentrated in his hands the King’s resolutions on all affairs,
except foreign affairs, which M. de Talleyrand managed directly with
his Majesty.

A government was thus formed, and the first duty of that government was
to make a treaty of peace with the victorious powers. M. de Talleyrand
had, necessarily, the conduct of this negotiation. There were two
questions at issue: the one, the arrangements between the European
potentates who had to give possessors to the territories they had taken
from France; and the other, the arrangements to be made between France
and these potentates.

Some persons thought it would be possible to deal with the two
questions together, and that France could be admitted into a congress
where the special questions of France with Europe, and the questions
that had to be decided by the European sovereigns between themselves,
could be settled simultaneously.[67]

But a little consideration will, I think, show that the questions
between France and Europe, and the questions between the different
States of Europe, which had been in hostility with France, were
perfectly distinct.

It would also have been absurd, and consequently impossible, for France
to have exacted, that all the matters that had to be arranged as
resulting from the late war with France, should be treated in France.

The capital of France was the proper place for treating as to French

The capital of one of the allies was the place where the affairs
between the allies were naturally to be discussed. Paris was chosen in
the first case, Vienna in the second.

The allies, however, had undoubtedly placed themselves in a false
position towards the French nation, and this was felt when a peace with
it had to be concluded.

They had declared that they separated Napoleon from France, that they
only made war against the French ruler, and that they would give the
country better conditions than they would give the Emperor. M. de
Talleyrand, therefore, came forward, saying, “Well, you were going to
give Napoleon the old limits of the French monarchy, what will you give

The allies replied, as it was certain they would reply, that the
promises alluded to were vague, they could not dispose of the property
of others; that France had nothing legitimate but that which she held
before a predatory succession of conquests; that the allies held, it
was true, the conquered territories recovered from the French, but
that they could not give them back to wrongful acquirers; that the
general understanding was, that France should have its ancient limits,
and that when the allies had agreed on the 23rd of April to withdraw
their troops from the French territory, it had been understood that
this was the territory of ancient France. Anything more was out of the
question. M. de Talleyrand, however, obtained the frontier of 1792, and
not that of 1790, and in rounding that frontier, added some fortresses
and inhabitants to the kingdom of Louis XVI. Moreover, Paris remained
the mistress, and was permitted to boast of remaining the mistress, of
all the works of art ravished from other nations, being thus, in fact,
constituted the artistic capital of the world.

Such a limited result, however, did not satisfy the French people with
peace when the horrors of war were over; and we find in various works
concerning these times comments on the inconceivable _légèreté_ of M.
de Talleyrand, in not procuring more advantageous conditions.

I confess that I think that Europe should never have made compromising
promises; and that she should have fulfilled generously whatever
promises she had made; but upon the whole France, which in her
conquests had despoiled every power, ought to have been satisfied when,
in the returning tide of victory, those powers left her what she had
originally possessed.

Poor M. de Talleyrand! he carried off all the absurd reproaches he had
to encounter with a dignified indifference: even the accusation which
was now made against him, of having signed the treaty of April, in
which the provisional government, not being able to hold the fortresses
still occupied by French troops out of France, with a foreign army
demanding them in the heart of Paris, resigned them on the condition
that France itself should be evacuated. “You seem to have been in a
great hurry, M. de Talleyrand,” said the Duc de Berry, “to sign that
unhappy treaty.” “Alas, yes, monseigneur; I was in a great hurry. There
are senators who say I was in a great hurry to get the crown offered to
your Royal house; a crown which it might otherwise not have got. You
observe, monseigneur, that I was in a great hurry to give up fortresses
which we could not possibly have kept. Alas, yes, monseigneur, I was in
a great hurry. But do you know, monseigneur, what would have happened
if I had waited to propose Louis XVIII. to the allies, and had refused
to sign the treaty of the 23rd of April with them? No; you don’t know
what would have happened! No more do I. But at all events you may rest
assured, we should not now be disputing as to an act of the prince,
your father.”

Again, when a little after this the son of Charles X. was boasting of
what France would do when she got the three hundred thousand troops
that had been locked up in Germany, Talleyrand, who had been seated
at some little distance and apparently not listening, got up, and
approaching slowly the Duc de Berry, said, with half-shut eyes and a
doubtful look of inquiry, “And do you really think, monseigneur, that
these three hundred thousand men can be of any use to us?” “Of use to
us! to be sure they will.” “Hem!” said M. de Talleyrand, _fixing_ the
Duc, “you really think so, monseigneur? I did not know; for we shall
get them from that unfortunate treaty of the 23rd of April!”

The best of it was that Charles X. had thought this treaty the great
act of his life, until his son said it was a great mistake; and he did
not know then whether he should defend it in his own glorification, or
throw all the blame of it on M. de Talleyrand.


The next link in the chain of events,--a final treaty of peace between
France and Europe having been concluded (on the 30th of May),--was the
promulgation of the long-promised constitution; for the sovereigns who
were still in Paris, and with whom the Restoration had commenced, were
anxious to leave it; and they said that they could not do so until the
promises they had made to the French nation were fulfilled.

The 4th of June, therefore, was fixed for this national act.

The King had promised, as it has been seen, that the frame of a
constitution should be submitted to the Senate and the legislative body.

He appointed the Abbé Montesquieu, whom we have already named, and a
M. Ferrand, a person of some consideration with the Royalist party, to
sketch the outline of this great work, assisted by M. de Beugnot, an
accomplished gentleman, not very particular in his principles, but very
adroit in his phraseology; when done, such sketch was submitted to and
approved by the King, and passed on to two commissions, one chosen from
the Senate and the other from the legislative body, the king reserving
to himself the right of settling disputed points.

The result was generally satisfactory, for though the constitution
was so framed as to give it the air of being a grant from the
royal authority, it contained the most essential principles of a
representative government, namely:--

Equality before the law, and in the distribution of taxation,--the
admissibility of all to public employments,--the inviolability of
the monarch,--the responsibility of ministers,--the freedom of
religion,--the necessity of annual budgets;--and, finally, the
permission to express in print and by publication all opinions--such
permission being controlled by laws, which were to repress or punish
its abuse.

There was to be a lower chamber with the qualification for the electors
of the payment of three hundred francs, direct taxes; and, for the
eligible, of one thousand francs.

The upper chamber was not then made hereditary, though the King might
give an hereditary peerage. A great portion of the Senate, the dukes
and peers before the Revolution, and other persons of distinction,
formed the house of peers. The legislative body was to act as the
lower chamber until the time for which the members had been chosen was
expired. The senators, not carried on into the peerage, were given as a
pension the payment that formerly attached to their function.

The King bargained that the new constitution should be called “La
Charte Constitutionnelle;” “Charte” being an old word that the kings
had formerly employed, and that it should be dated in _the nineteenth_
year of his reign.

The preamble also stated that “the King, in entire possession of his
full rights over this beautiful kingdom, only desires to exercise the
authority he holds from God and his ancestors, in determining the
bounds of his own power.” A phrase which somewhat resembles one of
Bolingbroke’s, who says: “The infinite power of God is limited by His
infinite wisdom.”

It cannot be affirmed that M. de Talleyrand had anything to do with
the framing of “the Charter,” since Louis XVIII.’s instruction to the
commissioners was to keep everything secret from M. de Talleyrand;
but it was the sort of constitution he had insisted upon: and thus
the Restoration was accomplished according to the plan which he had
undertaken to give to it, when he obtained the decrees which deposed
the Bonapartes and recalled the Bourbons.


I have said that when M. de Talleyrand created the government of Louis
XVIII., he wanted to give it a backbone, consisting of a party of able,
practical, and popular men of moderate opinions. But Louis XVIII., as
a principle, distrusted all men in proportion to their popularity and
ability, his ministers especially. M. de Talleyrand, therefore, was,
in his eyes, a person who should be constantly watched, and constantly
suspected. Louis XVIII. had also in horror the idea of his cabinet
being a ministry, _i.e._, a compact body agreeing together. His notion
as to driving was that horses who were always kicking at each other,
were less likely to kick at the carriage; furthermore, he considered
that everything which was not as it had been thirty years back was
really wrong, though he did not mean to take the trouble of changing
it, and that all this new set of persons he had to deal with were
_coquins_--not a gentleman amongst them. That it was proper manners,
since they existed, to treat them courteously, and proper policy, since
they had a certain power in their hands, to temporise with them; but
in his heart of hearts he looked upon them as yahoos, who had got into
the stalls of horses, and were to be kicked out directly the horses,
strengthened by plentiful feeds of corn, were up to the enterprise. In
the meantime nothing was to be risked, so that he sat himself down as
comfortably as he could in his arm-chair, received all visitors with an
air which an actor, about to play Louis XIV., might have done well to
study; wrote pretty billets, said sharp and acute things, and felt that
he was every inch--a king.

Such was the sovereign of France; but there was also another
demi-sovereign, who was to be found in the Pavillon Marsan, inhabited
by the Comte d’Artois.

I esteem that prince, whom it has been the fashion to decry, more in
some respects than I do his brother; for though he had not a superior
intelligence, he had a heart. He really wished well to his country: he
would have laid down his life for it, at least he thought he would:
his intentions were excellent; but he relied on his old notions and
education for the means of carrying them out.

Louis XVIII. was more cultivated, more cynical, more false: he loved
France vaguely, as connected with his own pride and the pride of his
race: he thought ill of the world, but was disposed to extract the most
he could from it towards his own comfort, dignity, and prosperity. This
character was not amiable, but its coldness and hardness rendered its
possessor more secure against being duped, though not against being

The Comte d’Artois was both flattered and duped; but it was by
addressing themselves to his better qualities that his flatterers
duped him. They depicted the French people as eminently and naturally
loyal: full of sympathy and respect for the descendants of Henry IV.
and Louis XIV. “Poor children! they had been led away by having bad
men placed over them in the different functions of the State: all that
was necessary was to place good men, loyal men, men who had served the
royal family even in exile--men, in short, who could be relied upon,
in the public employments. The church, too--that great instrument
of government, and that great source of comfort and contentment to
men--that guardian of the mind which prevents its emotions from
wandering into the regions of false theories and hopes--had been
treated with contempt and indifference. The church and the throne
were required to aid each other--the Bourbons had to bring them into
harmony. On these conditions, and on these conditions alone--conditions
(so said all whom the Comte d’Artois consulted) so clear, so simple, so
pious, and so just--the safety and prosperity of the monarchy depended.”

The whole mistake consisted in considering the French a people that
they were not, and ignoring what they were, and in fancying that a few
prefects and priests could suddenly convert a whole generation from
one set of ideas to another. But the Comte d’Artois’ doctrines were
pleasing to Louis XVIII., though he did not quite believe in them, and
still more pleasing to all the friends or favourites who enjoyed his

Thus, though they had not the support of his convictions, they
influenced his conduct; which, however, never being altogether what
Monsieur and his party required, was always watched by them with
suspicion, and frequently opposed with obstinacy.

Where, then, could M. de Talleyrand turn for aid to maintain the
government at the head of which he figured? To the King? he had not
his confidence. To his colleagues? they did not confide in each other.
To the Comte d’Artois? he was in opposition to his brother. To the
Royalists? they wanted absolute possession of power. The Imperialists
and Republicans were out of the question. Moreover, he was not a man
who could create, stimulate, command. To understand a situation and to
bring to bear not unwilling assistants on its immediate solution, to
collect the scattered influences about him, and direct them to a point
at which it was their own interest to arrive; this was his peculiar
talent. But to sustain a long and protracted conflict, to overawe and
govern opposing parties; this was beyond the colder temperament of his

His only parliamentary effort then was an exposition in the chamber of
peers of the state of the finances, which exposition was as clear and
able as his financial statements always were. For the rest, he trusted
partly to chance, partly to the ordinary and natural workings of a
constitutional system, which was sure in time to produce parties with
opinions, and even ministers, who, in their common defence, would be
obliged to adopt a common policy and line of conduct. Thus, shrugging
up his shoulders at M. de Fontanes’ declaration that he could not feel
free where the press was so, and smiling at Madame de Simiane’s notions
as to a minister, who, according to her and the ladies of the Faubourg
St. Germain, should be a grand seigneur, with perfect manners and a
great name, who had hard-working men with spectacles under them, called
_bouleux_,[68] to do their business--he hastened his preparations
for joining the congress at Vienna, which was to have commenced its
sittings two months after the treaty of Paris, that is, on the 30th of
July, but which had not met in the middle of September.


I have said that the congress was to commence on the 30th of July, but
it was not till the 25th of September that the Emperor of Russia, the
King of Prussia, and the other kings and ministers of the different
courts who were expected there, began to assemble. M. de Metternich,
Lord Castlereagh, afterwards succeeded by the Duke of Wellington, the
Prince Hardenberg, the Count Nesselrode, though only as second to
the Emperor Alexander himself, who was his own negotiator, were the
principal persons with whom M. de Talleyrand was associated.

His task was not an easy one. His sovereign owed his crown to those
whose interests had now to be decided; he might himself be considered
under obligations to them. It required a strong sense of a high
position not to sink into a subordinate one. M. de Talleyrand had this,
and sat himself down at Vienna with the air of being the ambassador of
the greatest king in the world.

He was accompanied by persons with names more or less distinguished.
The Duc Dalberg, the Comte Alexis de Noailles, M. de la Bernadière, and
M. de Latour du Pin.

The first, M. de Talleyrand said, would let out secrets which he wished
to be known; the second would report all he saw to the Comte d’Artois,
and thus save that prince the trouble of having any one else to do so.
As to M. de la Bernadière, he would keep the Chancellerie going, and M.
de Latour du Pin would sign the passports.

The ideas he himself took under these circumstances to Vienna were,--to
get France admitted into the congress on the same footing as other
powers; to break up in some way or other the compactness of the
confederation recently formed against her, and to procure friends from
the body which was now a united enemy; to procure the expulsion of
Murat from the throne of Naples, and lastly, to remove the Emperor of
Elba to a more distant location (Bermuda, or the Azores, were spoken

The dissolution of the alliance was the independence of France, however
brought about. As for the expulsion of Murat from Naples, or the
removal of Napoleon from Elba, these, no doubt, were great objects
to the Bourbons in France; but it is possible that there were other
grounds also which induced M. de Talleyrand to pursue them.

If Murat were removed from Naples, and Napoleon were in some place of
security, and the elder branch of the Bourbons compromised itself in
France, two other governments, according to circumstances, were still
on the cards. The regency with Napoleon’s son, or a limited monarchy
with the Duc d’Orléans.

M. de Talleyrand had seen enough before he went to Vienna, and probably
heard enough since he had been there, to make him doubtful of the
success of his first experiment: but his position was such that in any
combination in France that had not the late Emperor Napoleon at its
head, he would still be the person to whom a large party in and out of
his own country would look for the solution of the difficulty which the
downfall of Louis XVIII. would provoke.

The basis of the congress of Vienna was necessarily that furnished by
the engagements which had already taken place between the allies at
Breslau, Töplitz, Chaumont, and Paris; engagements which concerned the
reconstruction of Prussia according to its proportions in 1806, the
dissolution of the Confederation of the Rhine; the re-establishment of
the House of Brunswick in Hanover; and arrangements, to which I shall
presently allude, concerning the future position of the Grand Duchy of

As all that was to be distributed was a common spoil in the hands of
the allies, they suggested that a committee of four, representing
England, Austria, Prussia, and Russia, should first agree amongst
themselves as to the partition; and that an understanding having been
established between these--the principal parties--this understanding
should be communicated to the others; to France and Spain in
particular;--whose objections would be heard.

Such an arrangement excluded France from any active part in the first
decisions, which would evidently be sustained when the four allies had
agreed upon them.

The tact and talent of M. de Talleyrand were displayed in getting this
sentence reversed.

Taking advantage of the treaty of peace which France had already
signed, he contended that there were no longer _allies_, but simply
powers who were called upon, after a war which had created a new order
of things in Europe, to consider and decide in what manner this new
order of things could best be established for the common good, and
with the best regard to the old rights existing before 1792, and the
new rights which certain states had legitimately acquired in the long
struggle which, with more or less continuity, had existed since that

With some difficulty he at last made these ideas prevail, and the
committee of four was changed into a committee of eight, comprising
all the signatories to the treaty of Paris: Austria, England, Russia,
Prussia, France, Spain, Portugal, and Sweden.

This first point gained, the second,--viz., a division amongst the
allies, was to be brought about. Any precipitate effort to do this
would have prevented its success. M. de Talleyrand waited to work for
it himself until rival interests began to work with him.

Now Austria’s great pre-occupation was to regain her old position
in Italy, without diminishing the importance of that to which she
pretended in Germany.

The views of Russia, or rather of the Emperor Alexander, were more
complicated, and formed with a certain greatness of mind and generosity
of sentiment, though always with that craft which mingled with the
imperial chivalry.

I have just said that I should speak of the arrangements respecting the
Duchy of Warsaw, which were contemplated during the war in the event of
the allies being successful. It had been settled that this duchy--once
delivered from the pretensions of Napoleon--should be divided between
the three military powers, Austria, Prussia, and Russia.

But the Emperor of Russia now took a higher tone. The annihilation of
Poland, he said, had been a disgrace to Europe: he proposed to himself
the task of collecting its scattered members, and reconstituting it
with its own laws, religion, and constitution. It would be a pleasure
to him to add to what he could otherwise re-assemble, the ancient
Polish provinces under his dominion. Poland should live again with the
Czar of Russia for its king. I doubt whether the Emperor Alexander did
not over-rate the gratitude he expected to awaken, and under-rate the
feeling existing among the Poles, not merely as to nationality, but as
to national independence.

But his notion most assuredly was, that he should thus create as
an _avant-garde_ into Europe a powerful kingdom, capable of rapid
improvement, and combining with a complete devotion to his family, all
the enthusiasm of a people who again stood up amidst the nations of the

He argued, moreover, and not without reason, that a kingdom of Poland
thus existing would inevitably ere long draw back to itself all those
portions of alienated territory which were in the hands of the other
co-partitioning powers, and that thus Russia would ere long dominate
the whole of that kingdom which she had at one time condescended to

This project was of course easily seen through in Prussia as well as in
Austria; but Russia presumed that Austria would be satisfied with her
Italian acquisitions. He saw, however, that Prussia required no common
bribe. The bribe proposed was Saxony, and thus a secret engagement was
entered into between the two northern courts: Russia promising to stand
by Prussia’s claims as to Saxony, and Prussia promising to support
Russia’s plans as to Poland.

With respect to England, she seemed more especially occupied with
the idea of forming a united kingdom of Holland and Belgium, and
beguiled by the delusion that you could unite by treaties populations
which were disunited by sympathies, fancied she could, by the union
proposed, create a barrier against French ambition where England was
most concerned; and thus save us in future from those dangers by which
we were menaced when the Scheldt was in Napoleon’s possession, and the
British coast was menaced by maritime arsenals, which confronted it
from Brest to Antwerp.

The conflict which at once commenced had reference to the ambitious
claims of Prussia and Russia.

The King of Saxony, though an ally of Napoleon, had been faithful to
France, and there was a feeling in the French nation favourable to
him. As to Poland, France, which has always taken a lively interest in
Polish independence as a barrier against Russian aggrandisement, could
not see with satisfaction an arrangement which was to make Poland an
instrument of Russian power.

Our disposition as to Prussia was at first somewhat undecided. We did
not approve of the destruction of Saxony, still we were not unwilling
to see a strong state established in the north of Germany, if it was
an independent state: and would therefore at first have allowed the
addition of Saxony to the Prussian dominions, if Prussia would have
joined with Great Britain and Austria against the Russian projects
in Poland. Austria, on the other hand, was quite as much against the
Prussian project as the Russian one; but Prince Metternich, being
perfectly aware that Prussia would not separate herself from Russia,
affected to fall into Lord Castlereagh’s views, and agreed to sacrifice
Saxony if Prussia would insist with ourselves on Polish independence.

Prussia, as Prince Metternich foresaw, refused this; and indeed took
possession of Saxony, as Russia did of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw,
assuming towards the other powers an attitude of defiance.

In the meantime the question of Saxony became popular with the English
parliament and the English court: with the English parliament, which
is always against the oppressor; and with the English court, which
began to think that, when Prussia had once got Saxony, she might take
a fancy to Hanover. Austria gladly perceived this change, and it was
agreed that England and Austria should oppose themselves conjointly and
distinctly to the intentions haughtily manifested by the two northern

Thus England, Austria, and France found themselves linked together by
common opinions. Still there were reasons why the first two powers
hesitated as to connecting themselves with the third.

These reasons were--the connection which M. de Talleyrand desired,
would be a rupture of that league by which the peace of Europe had
been obtained; it was uncertain whether France could give Austria and
England any practical aid; and also it was doubtful whether she would
not exact more for such aid, if she did give it, than it was worth,
and aim at renewing all the ambitious designs which the overthrow of
Napoleon and the treaty of Paris had set at rest.

The principal objection wore away as it became more and more evident
that Prussia and Russia had already entered, into separate and
particular engagements, which rendered it not only justifiable but
necessary for England and Austria, if they did not mean to submit
servilely to the results of these engagements, to guard against them by
counter-engagements between themselves.

With respect to the power of France as an auxiliary, M. de Talleyrand,
by an able exposition of the state of affairs at Vienna, induced the
French government to display its military capacity by raising the
French army from 130,000 to 200,000, and creating the facility for
increasing it to a far more formidable amount--a measure which the
extraordinary recovery of French finances under the able administration
of M. Louis rendered easy, and which produced a considerable moral
effect, both in France and out of it. At the same time the ambassador
of France, in his numerous conversations with Lord Castlereagh and M.
de Metternich, held this language:

“A government to last must be faithful to its origin. Bonaparte’s was
founded by conquest: he was forced to continue conquering; that of the
present sovereign of France is based on principle. To this principle it
must adhere; it is the principle of legitimate right, which conquest,
until confirmed by treaty, cannot effect. We support the King of Saxony
on this principle: we do not want then to be paid for doing so. In
supporting his throne, we guarantee our own. Do you doubt my sincerity?
I will sign any paper you wish to tranquillize all suspicion as to our

It was in this manner that he led by degrees to the signing of the
secret treaty of 3rd of January, 1815, a treaty by which Austria,
England, and France bound themselves to furnish each 150,000 men,
to support any one of the three powers which might be attacked by
other powers attempting forcibly to alter the equilibrium of Europe
for their own advantage. The names of the powers suspected were not
mentioned, and the compact entered into was essentially of a defensive
character; but it was in sympathy with French feelings; it broke up
the anti-French alliance, and gave to France the two most important
allies she could hope to gain; for England alone had formed the late
coalition, and without her a coalition could not be again formed.

M. Thiers, who is too prone to consider that all statesmanship consists
in acquiring extensions of territory, objects to everything done by M.
de Talleyrand, and considers that this diplomatist should have waited
quietly, rather favouring Prussia and Russia, and that then these
powers would have offered France Belgium or the frontiers of the Rhine,
in which case Prussia and Russia would, he considers, have been more
advantageous allies to France than England and Austria.

Now, of all ideas the one that seems the most extravagant to me is
that Prussia, or even Russia, would have reseated France on the Rhine,
or brought her back in any way nearer to Germany. I feel certain that
under no circumstances was this likely. But, at all events, Prussia and
Russia would only have made the strange proposal on which M. Thiers
counts, at the last extremity.

They would have previously carried their negotiations with their late
allies to the utmost limit; and as we were prepared to make many
concessions, and did indeed finally give up one-third of Saxony to
Prussia, and as much of Poland as she could well digest to Russia,
there is not the slightest probability that, for the remaining
differences, Prussia and Russia would have purchased the aid of France
by a large increase of frontier and a deadly quarrel with Great Britain
and Austria.

M. de Talleyrand then, in following the policy suggested by M. Thiers,
would, in the first place, have lost the opportunity which he more
wisely seized of separating the great powers; he would also have
ungenerously abandoned Saxony, and at the same time so disgusted
England, that it would afterwards have been impossible to get an
English parliament to vote a sixpence for sustaining the Bourbon cause.
Waterloo would never have been fought; Russia and Prussia could have
done little without English subsidies; and France would have been again
delivered into the hands of Napoleon, whose triumph would have been M.
de Talleyrand’s own ruin; and the ruin of the master he then served.

As it is not my intention to enter into the general subject of the
treaty of Vienna, which I have always considered alike defective in
principle and policy, I shall not follow the negotiations I have been
alluding to further; though it may be as well, since I have spoken
of Naples, to observe that M. de Talleyrand never obtained Prince
Metternich’s attention to the dethronement of Murat until the Prussian
and Russian questions had been settled by suitable arrangements; for
Prince Metternich was too wise to have Germany and Italy on his back
at once; when, however, these arrangements were completed, and the
brother-in-law of Napoleon had compromised himself by intrigues, which
had been watched but allowed to ripen, the Austrian statesman then gave
the French ambassador a private but positive assurance that the Kingdom
of Naples should shortly be restored to its old possessors.

As to the question of a change of residence for Napoleon, that was
decided, just as the congress was closing, by Napoleon himself; who,
not ignorant of the plans that were maturing for his removal from a
position wherein nothing but the most absurd want of consideration
could ever have placed him, engaged in that audacious enterprise, the
most glorious, though the most fatal, in his meteor-like career.


It was in the midst of the gaieties of a ball on the 5th of March,[69]
and just as the congress was about to separate, that from a small group
of sovereigns collected together and betraying the seriousness of their
conversation by the gloom of their countenances, there came forth as a
sort of general murmur:--

“Bonaparte has escaped from Elba.” Prince Metternich, it is said, was
the only person who at once divined that the ex-Emperor’s intentions
were to march at once on Paris. The success of so bold an adventure
was, of course, doubtful; but in the hope there might still be time to
influence public opinion, a proclamation, proposed (at the instigation
of the Duke of Wellington) by Austria, and signed 13th March by France
and the four great powers, denounced the Emperor of Elba in language
only applicable to a pirate or a freebooter: a language that Louis
XVIII. had used at Paris on the 6th of March, and might use with some
propriety, but which came far less decorously from princes who had not
very long previously treated this pirate and freebooter as “the king
of kings,” and which was unsuitable to the lips of a sovereign who was
speaking of the husband of his favourite daughter.

People, however, often cover a hesitation in their decisions by an
extravagance in their attitude.

The idea of a new war was popular with no one; the different powers,
moreover, represented at Vienna, were no longer on the same cordial
terms of fraternity that had distinguished their relations at Paris;
they felt notwithstanding, that, in the face of a common danger they
must consider as extinguished their several rivalries and animosities,
and show themselves united and determined on the deadly combat, which
alone could, if successful, repair the effects of their imprudence and
save the honour of their arms.

Shortly after this came the news of that glorious and soul-stirring
march through legions who, when commanded to point their bayonets at
the breast of their old commander as a traitor, wept at his knees
as a father; but this great historical romance rather strengthened
than weakened the resolves that had previously been formed; and the
proclamation of the 13th of March was soon succeeded by the treaty of
the 25th.

This treaty, to which the four allied powers were the only principal
parties, was a revival of the treaty of Chaumont and the treaty of
Paris. The position of the Bourbons was not clearly defined; for though
Louis XVIII. was invited to be a party to it, the allies, and England
in particular, expressly declared that they did not attempt to impose
a government on France, nor bind themselves to support the claims of
the fugitive monarch. I say “fugitive monarch” because Louis XVIII.
had by this time tested the value of his adherents, and was settling
down quietly at Ghent; Napoleon being as quietly re-established in the

The secret of all that had occurred is to be stated in a few words.

Louis XVIII. had not gained the affections of the French nation; his
predecessor had retained the affections of the French army. There was
little mystery in the intrigues of the Bonapartes. The Queen Hortense
(Comtesse de St. Leu) resided at Paris, and the conversation of her
drawing-room was a constant conspiracy, whilst the correspondence she
received was the confidence of half the capital. Barras and Fouché
both informed M. de Blacas of much that was going on, and offered
to give him more detailed information; but that gentleman’s horizon
was limited, and what he did not see he did not believe. Moreover,
the Royalists conceived that the most Christian king had gained the
consciences of the military by naming an _aumonier_, with the rank of
captain, to each regiment, and had the provinces in his hands, because
he had placed them in those of functionaries who professed hatred to
“the usurper.” “What had they to fear?” Thus, the country which had
been fatigued with the soldier and the drum, was teased by the mass and
the _émigré_. And, in the meantime, the veterans of the great army,
who saw themselves replaced by a guard of young gentlemen with good
names and splendid uniforms; and the beauties of the Empire, who found
themselves out of fashion amongst the great ladies of the legitimate
court, were at the two ends of the electric wire, which had only to be
touched by the little man in the grey great-coat, in order to vibrate
through the heart of every soldier who had ever followed the imperial
eagle, and still kept the tricolour cockade in his writing-desk or his


The conduct of M. de Talleyrand at Vienna had been that which he always
followed to any government that employed him--zealous and faithful. He
had, in short, been an active and able agent, carrying out the policy
which Louis XVIII., with whom he kept up a private correspondence,
thought the best for his dynasty and for France; and he had succeeded
in giving both dignity and influence to a government which in reality
wanted both. He had not during his foreign mission meddled with the
internal policy of the court, nor relaxed in his endeavours to serve it
on account of the faults it committed: but to his intimate friends he
had made no secret of his belief that it was taking a road which would
probably lead to ruin. When it had arrived at that goal the case was
different. He did not separate himself from it--but he did not link
himself indissolubly with it. He showed no hesitation, however, as to
declaring against its opponent. Concentrating himself indeed on the one
idea of getting rid of Napoleon, he repeated constantly to those who
expatiated on the deficiency of the Restoration, “I don’t know what
government may be the best for France, but I do know that Napoleon’s is
the worst.”

His old master would willingly have softened this animosity; and
Fouché, who was intriguing with all parties, with the intention of
choosing the most powerful, sent M. de Montrond to Vienna to learn
what he could, as to the real intentions of the alliance, and more
especially as to the intentions of M. de Talleyrand, whose services
M. de Montrond was to endeavour, by any assurances he might judge
necessary, to obtain.

This M. de Montrond was a specialty of his epoch: a type of that
French _roué_ whom Faublas, and more particularly the “_liaisons
dangereuses_,” had produced. He had ruled the world of fashion by his
loves, his duels, and his wit, which was superior to any man’s, for
nearly forty years. He was one of M. de Talleyrand’s pets, as M. de
Talleyrand was one of his admirations. Each spoke ill of the other, for
each said he loved the other for his vices. But no one could speak to
M. de Talleyrand with so much intimacy as M. de Montrond, nor obtain
from him so clear an answer. For they trusted each other, though M. de
Montrond would never have told any one else to trust M. de Talleyrand,
nor M. de Talleyrand told any one else to trust M. de Montrond.

This latter gentleman, the soul of Queen Hortense’s circle, and at
the same time the friend of the Duc d’Orléans, whom he had known in
Sicily, to which island he had exiled himself in one of Napoleon’s fits
of ill-humour--not, as it was thought, without an object--first tried
to see if any consideration could bring the diplomatist, once known
as Prince de Benevent, to his old allegiance: and, on finding this
impossible, sounded him, it is said, as to his feelings towards the son
of that prince, with whose celebrated society in the Palais Royal his
early remembrances must have been familiar. The answer he obtained was
“that the door was not then open, but, should it ever be open, there
was no necessity for shutting it with vehemence.”

This lukewarm fidelity was not precisely of the temperature that suited
the loyalty of Ghent, where some people thought that it would not have
been difficult to have induced the allies to have been more positive
and explicit in favour of the legitimate monarch, if his representative
had been more zealous as to his rights and less sensible as to his
errors. The party of the Comte d’Artois, also, instead of repenting of
the excess to which it had carried its principles, and recognizing that
this excess had been the cause of its overthrow--thought, or at least
_said_, as is usual in such cases, that its failure was caused, not
by the policy it had pursued, but by the checks which that policy had


M. de Talleyrand, then, was more or less in disgrace with the
politicians, who were already disputing about the redistribution of the
places that their mistakes had just lost; and, bearing this disgrace
with his usual supercilious negligence, declared that his health
required the waters of Carlsbad, observing that a diplomatist’s first
duty after a congress was to take care of his liver.

In the meantime the hundred days which concentrated so much of the
past, present, and future, were rushing rapidly on. I know no example
that teaches us more clearly that our intellect is governed by our
character, than that which is to be found in the conduct of Napoleon
during these hundred days. None saw more clearly than himself that
prudence and policy advised that he should either appear before the
French as the great captain who came to free them from a yoke imposed
by the foreigner; and refuse any other title than that of their general
until a peace was established or a victory gained: or that he should
seize the full powers of dictator, and sustain them by his prestige
over the military and the masses, arming and revolutionizing France,
and being himself the representative of that armed revolution. But he
loved the title and decorations of sovereignty, and could not induce
himself to descend from the emperor to the soldier. Neither could he
persuade himself to call to life those elements of force in which he
saw the elements of disorder, nor condescend to be the chief of the
mob even with the title of majesty. He temporised, therefore, for the
moment with those with whom he had the least sympathy, and from whom
he could get the least assistance; I mean the Constitutionalists,
who, representing the middle order and the thinking portion of the
French people, formed a party, that with a regular government, and
at an ordinary time, and under a sovereign they could have trusted,
might have possessed considerable influence, but such a party, with a
government created by the sword, at the moment of a crisis, under a
ruler of whom they were suspicious, could only embarrass Napoleon’s
action, and could not add to his authority.

The conditions, then, under which this marvellous being fought for the
last time for empire were impossible. He had not in his character the
elements of a revolutionary leader; and he was not allowed to use the
qualities, with which nature had endowed him, of a great captain and
despotic chief.

His cool head, his incomparable energy, gave something like character
and system to his own military proceedings, but all beyond them was
confusion. A great battle was to be safety or ruin. He fought it, and
was vanquished; but he had fought it with skill and courage against
foreign invaders; and I confess that my heart, though an English one,
beats in sympathy for him, as he quitted the field where he left so
many of his devoted followers, and, prescient of the fate which awaited
him, sought a city which never tolerates the unfortunate. Would for
England’s honour that his destiny had closed on that memorable field,
and that we had not to inscribe on the same page of our history the
captivity of St. Helena and the victory of Waterloo!


To return to Ghent; the ex-King, irritated and perplexed by the
prolonged absence of his minister, not satisfied with that of the Duc
d’Orléans, who had retired to England, and harassed by the zeal of
Monsieur, had conducted himself, notwithstanding, with dignity and
ability; and, by a sort of representation about his person, a continued
correspondence with France, and a confident attachment on the part of
his adherents, kept up a certain prestige in his favour.

Nothing, however, had at first been positively decided concerning him,
for M. de Metternich carried on, for a time, a secret negotiation with
Fouché, in which he offered--if that false and wily man could procure
Napoleon’s abdication or deposition--to support the claims of either
the Duc d’Orléans or Marie-Louise: a proposition which, as long as its
success was uncertain, could not but affect considerably the state of
M. de Talleyrand’s liver.

This negotiation once broken off, Louis’ claims made a great advance,
since the allied sovereigns were strongly persuaded that on entering
France they must have some national party in their favour.

There were certain indications likewise in France itself, serving to
show men who watched the inclination of the many straws that were then
in the air, that these were being blown back towards the old monarchy;
and when Louis XVIII. saw that the list of Bonaparte’s senators did not
contain the name of M. de Semonville, he considered his return pretty

The same conviction arrived about the same time at Carlsbad, where the
distinguished invalid began to think that he ought no longer to delay a
personal account of the services he had rendered at Vienna.

His arrival at Ghent was not, however, particularly agreeable there,
since he came as the decided enemy of the now celebrated M. de Blacas,
to whom he was determined to attribute nearly all the errors which the
King had committed.

In fact, M. de Talleyrand’s disgrace was resolved upon; and, as he
was rarely the last to know what concerned himself, when he waited on
Louis XVIII. the day after the battle of Waterloo, it was to request
his gracious permission to continue his cure at Carlsbad; nor was
his Majesty so ill-natured as to reply otherwise than by saying:
“Certainly, M. de Talleyrand; I hear those waters are excellent.”

Nothing could equal the amiable and contented mien with which M. de
Talleyrand limped from his most Christian Majesty’s presence after
this considerate reply; and, eating an excellent dinner that evening
with the mayor of Mons, he was never known, says one of the guests,
to be more gay, witty, or agreeable;--dilating to one or two of his
intimate friends on the immense pleasure it was to find that he had no
longer to disturb himself about the affairs of a clique which it was
impossible to serve and to please.

But, as it happened, the Comte d’Artois, who hated M. de Talleyrand
as a liberal, hated M. de Blacas still more as a favourite; and Louis
XVIII. finding that, whatever happened to M. de Talleyrand, M. de
Blacas could not be kept, and that he (the king) must either be the
tool of his brother, or obtain a protector in his minister, preferred,
on the whole, the latter situation.

The Duke of Wellington, moreover, who, since the secret treaty at
Vienna, considered the French negotiator there as linked with the
policy of England, told Louis that if he wished for the influence of
our government, he must have a man at the head of his own in whom he
could confide.

M. Guizot, likewise, who, though young in affairs had acquired, even
thus early, much consideration, and who spoke in the name of the
constitutional Legitimists, had already said that, to have the support
of this small but respectable party, a cabinet must be formed with M.
de Talleyrand at its head; and thus, on those second thoughts which
come to us often when we have been a little too hasty and bold in
listening to our first, M. de Talleyrand received the order to join
the King at Cambrai the day after he had been allowed to proceed to

M. de Talleyrand was, however, not only mortified by the treatment he
had received, but foresaw that he had only such treatment eventually to
expect, and was determined to prefer the first recommendation to the
subsequent command.

There are many, however, anxious that a statesman from whom they expect
favours should not abjure office; and, finally, the man of the first
Restoration, his pride being satisfied by a general appeal to his
patriotism, agreed to appear again as the minister of a second.

Still, in coming to this determination, M. de Talleyrand adopted
another. He had frequently, it is said, blamed himself for having in
1814 allowed the sovereign, who could not have done without him, to
assume too absolute an authority over him. He did not now expect to be
at the head of the French Government long, but he deemed that his only
chance of remaining there, or of doing any good whilst he was there,
was to show an indifference to office, and a consciousness of power.

He appeared, then, when summoned to his Majesty’s council, with a
sketch of a proclamation which he called upon the King to sign, and
which was, in fact, a recognition of the errors of his Majesty’s late

As the conversation that took place on the reading of this proclamation
is related by a witness, I give it as narrated, the more especially
as it shows the position which M. de Talleyrand assumed, and the cool
self-confidence with which he confronted the indignation of the whole
Bourbon family.[70]

“The Council assembles: it was composed of MM. de Talleyrand, Dambray,
de Feltre, de Fancourt, Beurnonville, and myself” (M. de Beugnot is

“After a few words from M. de Talleyrand, explanatory of the subject
which was to be brought before the Council, I commenced reading the
proclamation, such as it remained after the corrections made in it; the
King permitted me to read it to the end, and then, though not without
some emotion that his face betrayed, told me to read it once more.

“Monsieur then spoke, and complained bitterly of the terms in which
the proclamation was drawn up. ‘The King,’ he said, ‘is made to ask
pardon for the faults he committed. He is made to say that he allowed
himself to be carried away by his affections, and that for the future
he will conduct himself differently. Such expressions can only do this
mischief--lower royalty; for in all other respects they say too much or
too little.’

“M. de Talleyrand replied: ‘Monsieur will pardon me if I differ from
him; I find these expressions necessary, and appropriately placed. The
King has had faults, his affections have misled him. There is nothing
too much in this paper.’ ‘Is it I?’ said Monsieur, ‘whom it is intended
indirectly to point out?’ ‘Why, yes, since Monsieur has placed the
discussion on that ground, Monsieur has done a great deal of harm.’
‘The Prince de Talleyrand forgets himself.’ ‘I fear so, but truth
carries me away.’ The Duc de Berry, with the accent of anger painfully
restrained: ‘Nothing but the presence of the King would permit me to
tolerate this treatment of my father before me, and I would like to
know----’ At these words, pronounced in a higher tone than the rest,
the King made a sign to the Duc de Berry, and said, ‘Enough, my nephew;
I am the only person to judge of the propriety of what is said in my
presence, and in my Council. Gentlemen, I neither approve of the terms
of this proclamation, nor of the conversation to which it has given
rise. The framer must retouch his work, not forgetting that when I
speak, it must be with a due sense of my dignity and high position.’
The Duc de Berry, pointing at me: ‘But it is not he who has strung
all this nonsense together.’ The King: ‘Forbear interrupting, nephew,
if you please. I repeat, gentlemen, that I have listened to this
discussion with much regret. Let us turn to another subject.’”


The proclamation with some slight alterations was published, and M.
de Talleyrand finally carried his point, and formed his ministry. It
is difficult to place oneself so completely in the troubled scene of
Paris at this time, amidst the confused society composed of a defeated
army, disappointed Republicans, triumphant Royalists, all uneasy and
agitated in their actual position, and without the possibility of a
common attachment to what was to be their government--it is difficult,
I say, to take into a comprehensive glance the confused and troubled
state of the French capital, disturbed by a thousand plots which might
at any moment concentrate into one--and, therefore, it is difficult to
appreciate the possible necessity of employing an able and dexterous
adventurer, who had pulled many of the cords of the machine which had
now to be brought into harmonious working. Still, I venture to consider
that the Duke of Wellington committed an error in recommending, and
M. de Talleyrand an error in accepting, M. Fouché as a member of the
cabinet about to be formed.

The late minister of police was, in fact, at this time, an acknowledged
scoundrel; he had gained our favour by betraying his master’s secrets
to our general; he had gained the favour of the extreme Royalists by
concealing their plots, and keeping safe their persons when he was
serving the government they were attempting to overthrow. He had
betrayed the Republicans of France to the Emperor of France, and he had
subsequently betrayed the Emperor of France to the foreigner; and he
had voted for the death of the brother of the monarch who was now to
sit upon the throne. It was impossible for a man of this sort, whatever
his abilities, not to bring ultimate disgrace on the government that
enrolled him in its ranks; and, in fact, by his successive efforts,
first to gain one party, and then to gain the other, by his personal
ambition, by his constant intrigues, and by the general distrust he
inspired, he deprived his colleagues of the consideration of all honest
men, and exposed them consequently to the attacks of all violent

But if England committed a fault in approving of the appointment of the
Duc d’Otrante, she committed another fault still more important.

In designating M. de Talleyrand as the man best calculated to establish
a government in France, and to consolidate an alliance between France
and England, we ought to have been prepared to render the position of
that minister tenable and honourable. Whether rightly or wrongly, we,
in common with the other four powers, had made war, for a second time,
on precisely the same principles on which we had made it for the first;
since we had made it with the same declaration, that our conflict was
with a man, and not with a nation. Our second peace, therefore, ought
to have been in strict conformity with our first, or, rather, our first
treaty of peace should have been maintained. We were dealing with the
same monarch under the same circumstances, and we ought to have done
so, preserving the same conditions.

If new circumstances of importance,--circumstances we had not
foreseen,--rendered a change of policy necessary, that change should
have been a large one, based on large considerations, and its necessity
should have been clearly explained.

To take a few strips of territory, and a few pictures and statues, was
the spite of the pigmy, not the anger of the giant.

Unfortunately, the power which rendered itself conspicuous for its
animosity, was one which had been conspicuous for its valour. The
descendant of all the Capets was insulted by the dirty linen of the
Prussian soldier hung up to dry on the railing of his palace; and the
intention of the Prussian army to blow up the bridge of Jena was only
averted by M. de Talleyrand’s timely precautions.

The story is recounted in rather an amusing manner by a gentleman I
have frequently cited, and is characteristic of the subject of this

M. de Talleyrand, on hearing what the Prussians were about to do,
and knowing in these occasions no time was to be lost, ordered M. de
Beugnot to find Marshal Blücher wherever he might be, and to use the
strongest language in his vocabulary on the part of the King and his
government in order to induce the marshal to give such peremptory
orders as would prevent the threatened outrage. “Shall I say,” said M.
de Beugnot, “that the King will have himself carried to the bridge, and
be blown up with it?” “Not precisely; people will not believe us quite
so heroic, but say something strong, very strong.”

Off went M. de Beugnot to discover the marshal, who was easily to be
found in a certain gambling house in the Palais Royal. Though by no
means delighted at being disturbed in his only amusement, the marshal,
on being assured that the name of the bridge was to be altered, gave
the orders for stopping its destruction.

When M. de Beugnot returned, and gave an account of his mission, M. de
Talleyrand said, good-humouredly, “Well, now I think that we may profit
by your idea of this morning. You remember the King threatened to be
carried to the bridge, and was prepared to be blown up with it. It will
make a good newspaper article.” “I profited,” says Beugnot, “by the
hint.” The anecdote appeared in all the papers, and the King received
the compliments made to him upon it with his accustomed affability and

But this was not all. The violent seizure of the works of art which
France had till then retained, and which might justifiably have been
taken away at the first capture of Paris, was this time an unwarranted
robbery, against which the King and his ministers could only protest
in a manner which seemed offensive to the conquerors and feeble to the
French people.

The payment of a large indemnity, the maintenance of a large foreign
army, to be supported by France for seven years for the suppression
of its own action and independence, were conditions that no French
minister could sign with dignity, and least of all the minister who had
taken so active a part with the coalition.

Having assisted at the appointment of a French government which was
friendly to good relations with England, and it being our predominant
interest to be on good terms with the French nation, we should have
firmly resisted the imposition of such disgraceful conditions.

The natural consequence of our not doing so was that the Emperor
Alexander, who had never forgiven M. de Talleyrand for his conduct
at the recent congress, did not now disguise his personal antipathy
to him, and told Louis XVIII. that he had nothing to expect from the
cabinet of St. Petersburg as long as M. de Talleyrand was at the
head of that of the Tuileries; but that, if his Majesty gave M. de
Talleyrand’s place to M. de Richelieu, he (the Emperor) would then do
what he could to mitigate the severity of the conditions that all the
allies now peremptorily demanded.


The Duc de Richelieu, illustrious by his name, and with a character
which did honour to that name, was one of those nobles who, when the
state of France rendered it impossible as they thought to take an
active part in their own country, could not, nevertheless, submit
themselves to the useless inactivity of an _émigré’s_ life in the
suburbs of London. He sought his fortune then in Russia, and found it
in the Emperor Alexander’s favour, at whose desire he undertook the
government of the Crimea, and marked his administration by an immense
progress in the condition of that country.

The new order of things made him again a Frenchman; but, diffident of
his own powers, he was far from being ambitious of office, and even
declined it at the first Restoration. But the public has frequently a
tendency to give people what it is thought they don’t want, and there
was a pretty general feeling that M. de Richelieu was a man destined to
figure politically in his native land. His air was noble, his manners
were polished and courteous, his honesty and straightforwardness
proverbial, his habits of business regular, his abilities moderate; but
there was that about him which is felt and cannot be defined, and which
points out persons for the first places, if they are to have any places
at all. Every one acknowledged then that if the Duc de Richelieu was to
be a minister, he should be the first minister.

The King was delighted to get rid of M. de Talleyrand, whose presence
reminded him of an obligation, and whose easy air of superiority was
disagreeable to his pride. But it was deemed prudent to wait the result
of the elections that were then pending.

They were decidedly unfavourable to the existing administration. A
government, in fact, can only be moderate when it is strong, and the
government of M. de Talleyrand was weak, for the only efficient support
it could have had against the court party, was that of the King’s
favour, and this support it had not got.

Thus, the Royalists, emboldened by the foreign armies which were, so to
speak, holding a rod over their opponents, acted with the force of a
party which considered it must be victorious,--and carried all before

For a moment, M. de Talleyrand seemed disposed to resist the coming
reaction, and even obtained the creation of some peers, whom the
King unwillingly consented to name for that purpose. But, exposed to
the violent hostility of the Emperor of Russia, and not having the
active friendship of Great Britain, he saw that the struggle could not
succeed; and, whilst foreseeing and foretelling that his retirement
would be the commencement of a policy that would eventually link France
with the despotic governments of the continent in a war against liberal
opinions, he resigned on the national ground that he could not sign
such a treaty as the allies now proposed; and on the 24th of September
ceased to be prime minister of France.

Louis XVIII. rewarded his retirement with an annual pension of
one hundred thousand francs, and the high court charge of great
chamberlain, the functions of which, by the way, the ex-minister, who
might be seen coolly and impassively standing behind the King’s chair
on all state occasions, notwithstanding the cold looks of the sovereign
and the sagacious sneers of his courtiers, always scrupulously

In their last official interview, his Majesty observed:

“You see to what circumstances oblige me: I have to thank you for your
zeal, you are without reproach, and may remain unmolested at Paris.”[72]

This phrase pierced through the usual coolness of the person it was
addressed to. He replied with some vehemence:

“I have had the happiness of rendering sufficiently important services
to the King, to believe that they are not forgotten. I cannot
understand then what could oblige me to quit Paris. I shall remain
there, and shall be too happy to find that the counsels which the King
receives will not be such as to compromise his dynasty and France.”[73]

As these remarks were made on either side before the cabinet, and
subsequently repeated, they may be considered authentic.



    M. de Talleyrand’s retirement from public affairs during
    the period which closed with the dethronement of Charles
    X.--Appearance in the House of Peers on two occasions, to
    protest against the Spanish war and to defend the liberty
    of the press.--Reasons for the course he pursued.--Share
    in the advent of Louis Philippe.--Accepts the embassy to
    London.--Conduct and policy when there.--Retires after
    the Quadruple Alliance.--Discourse in the Institute on M.
    Reinhard.--Death.--Summary of character.


M. de Talleyrand gave a proof of his sagacity when he foresaw that,
with the violent Royalists entering into power under a minister
named by the Autocrat of the North, a state of things was preparing
that would lead to a war of opinion throughout Europe, and unite the
governments that could not support liberal institutions with that party
in the French nation which repudiated them. He was equally sagacious
in retiring voluntarily from affairs, and doing so on national and not
on party grounds. But at the same time he could not long have remained
at the head of a parliamentary government, even had he been free from
the peculiar difficulty which then surrounded him. To direct affairs
with such a government, in critical times, one must have some of the
passions of those times. M. de Talleyrand, as I have said at the
beginning of this sketch, had no passions.

He represented the power of reason; but that power, which predominates
at the end of every crisis, has its voice drowned at the commencement.
His administration then was necessarily doomed: but he had at least the
credit of having endeavoured, first to prevent and then to moderate
those acts of vengeance which a minority that obtains the supremacy
always wishes to inflict on an adverse majority: for he furnished
passports and even money (the budget of foreign affairs was charged
with four hundred and fifty-nine thousand francs for this purpose) to
all who felt desirous to quit France--Ney, though he did not profit by
the indulgence, might have done so. The list of proscriptions at first
contained one hundred persons, M. de Talleyrand reduced that number
to fifty-seven.[74] Labédoyère--and this owing entirely to his own
imprudence, in obliging the government either to release him publicly
or to bring him to trial--was the only victim of an administration
which wished to be moderate when every one was violent.

A most memorable epoch in French history now commenced--the
constitutional education of the French nation. It went through a
variety of vicissitudes. For a time the Royalist reaction, headed by
the Comte d’Artois, prevailed. It was then for a moment stopped by
the jealousy of Louis XVIII., who felt that France was in reality
being governed by his brother, who could ride on horseback. After a
short struggle the conflict between the two princes ceased, and M. de
Villelle with more or less adroitness governed them both. The elder
at last was deprived by death of the sceptre he had ceased to wield
independently, and with the ardent desire he had ever felt to be loved
by his countrymen, Charles X. legitimately commenced his right of
ruling them. But a hesitating policy of conciliation producing after a
short effort but a doubtful result, another policy was resolved upon.
The King would show that he was king, and he selected a ministry ready
to be his soldiers in a battle against popular ideas. The battle was
fought: the King was vanquished. So passed the time from 1815 to 1830.

Within this epoch of fifteen years, during which it must be said that
France, however agitated and divided, made an immense progress under
the institutions that she owed in no small degree to M. de Talleyrand,
that statesman was little more than a spectator of passing events.
The new patriots, orators, journalists, generals of the day, occupied
public attention, and he ceased to be considered except as one of those
characters of history that have been too interesting in their day to be
consigned quietly to posterity. Moreover, the judgment passed on him
from time to time by contemporaneous writers was usually superficial
and sometimes supercilious.

As to the deputies whom local influence and the zeal of parties
returned to the lower chamber, they were for the most part unknown to
him by their antecedents, and not worth knowing for their merits.

In the upper chamber, where men of high rank and intellectual eminence
were certainly to be found, his personal influence was not great; the
sympathies and recollections of that chamber, whether amongst the old
Royalists or most distinguished Bonapartists, were against him. There
was no one consequently to press him to take part in its debates,
nor were there many subjects of discussion sufficiently important to
arouse his indolence, and call forth with dignity the exertions of a
statesman who had played so great a part amidst the great events of
that marvellous period through which his career had run.

On one memorable occasion, however, he stepped boldly forward to
claim--if affairs took the course which many thought most probable--the
first place in a new system: this was when war, in 1823, was declared
against Spain.


That war was commenced by M. de Châteaubriand, who had always been M.
de Talleyrand’s antipathy, not merely as a war against the Spanish
people, or in support of the Spanish monarch, but as a war which was
to be considered an armed declaration in favour of ultra-monarchical
principles, thus justifying all the previsions with which M. de
Talleyrand had quitted office. A victory was certain to deliver France
into the hands of the ultra-Royalist party; defeat or difficulty
was as certain to give power to more moderate men and more moderate
opinions. In the one case, M. de Talleyrand had nothing to hope; in
the other, it was necessary to fix attention on the fact that he had
predicated misfortune. The struggle in Spain, moreover, depended
greatly on the state of public opinion; and this alone made it
advisable to endeavour to create as strong a belief as possible that
men of weight and consideration looked upon it with apprehension and
disfavour. It was under these circumstances that M. de Talleyrand
expressed the following opinion:[75]

“Messieurs,” this impressive discourse commences, “il y a aujourd’hui
seize ans qu’appellé par celui qui gouvernait alors le monde à lui
dire mon avis sur une lutte à engager avec le peuple espagnol, j’eus
le malheur de lui déplaire, en lui dévoilant l’avenir, en révélant
tous les dangers qui allaient naître en foule d’une aggression non
moins injuste que téméraire. La disgrâce fut le prix de ma sincérité.
Etrange destinée, que celle qui me ramène après ce long espace de temps
à renouveler auprès du souverain légitime les mêmes efforts, les mêmes
conseils. Le discours de la couronne a fait disparaître les dernières
espérances de amis de la paix, et, menaçant pour l’Espagne, il est,
je dois le dire, alarmant pour la France.… Oui, j’aurai le courage de
dire toute la vérité. Ces mêmes sentiments chevaleresques qui, en 1789,
entraînaient les cœurs généreux, n’ont pu sauver la monarchie légitime,
ils peuvent encore la perdre en 1823.”

The Spanish war, in spite of these alarming prognostications, was
successful; and courtiers sneered not unnaturally at the statesman
who had denounced it. But if M. de Talleyrand had not shown his usual
foresight, he had not acted contrary to his usual prudence. People,
in deciding on the conduct they should adopt, can only calculate upon
probabilities, and must, after all, as Machiavelli with his worldly
experience observes, “leave much to chance.” This sort of prophecy,
contained in the speech I have just quoted from, had a good deal in its
favour; M. de Châteaubriand himself had, as I once heard from the lips
of a person to whom he spoke confidentially, the most serious doubts
as to the issue of the approaching campaign; though he considered
that its happy termination would firmly establish the Bourbons as
sovereigns in France, and himself as their prime minister: in both of
which conclusions he was wrong, though it seemed likely he would be
right. The contemplated enterprise was, in fact, unpopular; the prince
at its head was without capacity, the generals around him were on ill
terms with each other, the soldiers themselves of doubtful allegiance.
A considerable body of Frenchmen and some French soldiers were in the
enemies’ ranks, and were about, in the name of liberty and Napoleon
II., to make an appeal, from the opposite shore of the Bidassoa, to
their advancing comrades.

The courage of the nation now attacked had on many occasions been
remarkable; the discipline of its armies had been lately improved;
the policy of England was uncertain; the credit of France was far
from good. These were all fair elements out of which it was by no
means unreasonable to concoct a disastrous presage, which, like many
presages, had a tendency to realise itself. But more especially it
should be observed that the predictions of M. de Talleyrand, if
unfortunate, would do him no harm, and if fortunate, would replace him
on the pinnacle of power.


The ex-minister of Louis XVIII. thus revived the recollections of the
ex-minister of Napoleon le Grand; as already the member of the Chamber
of Peers had vindicated the principles of the veteran of the National
Assembly; for on the 24th of July, 1821, we find him expressing the
same sentiments in favour of the liberty of the press after practical
experience, which at the commencement of his career he had proclaimed
with theoretical anticipations.

As the question at issue is not yet solved in the country he was
addressing, it may not be without interest to hear what he says:[76]

“Without the liberty of the press there can be no representative
government; it is one of its essential instruments--its chief
instrument, in fact: every government has its principles, and we cannot
remember too often that frequently those principles which are excellent
for one government are detestable for another. It has been abundantly
demonstrated by several members of this House, both in this and the
preceding session, that without the liberty of the press representative
government does not exist. I will not, then, repeat what you have
already heard or read, and which is no doubt the frequent subject of
your reflections.

“But there are two points of view in which it appears to me the
question has not been sufficiently treated, and which I resolve into
two propositions:

“1st. The liberty of the press is a necessity of the time.

“2nd. A government exposes itself when it obstinately refuses, and that
for a lengthened period, what the time proclaims as necessary.

“The _mind is never completely stationary_. The discovery of
yesterday is only a means to arrive at a fresh discovery to-morrow.
One is nevertheless justified in affirming that it _appears to act
by impulses, because there are moments when it appears particularly
desirous of bringing forth--of producing; at others, on the contrary,
when, satisfied by its conquests, it appears to rest itself, and is
occupied in putting the treasures it has acquired in order, rather than
in seeking after new ones_. The seventeenth century was one of these
fortunate epochs. The human intellect, dazzled by the immense riches
which the art of printing had put at its disposal, paused to gaze in
admiration on the wondrous sight. Giving itself up entirely to the
enjoyment of letters, science, and art, its glory and happiness became
concentrated in the production of masterpieces. All the great men of
the time of Louis XIV. vied with each other in embellishing a social
order, beyond which they saw nothing, and desired nothing, and which
appeared to them made to last as long as the glory of the great king,
the object alike of their respect and of their enthusiasm. But when
they had exhausted the fertile mine of antiquity, their intelligent
activity found itself almost compelled to search elsewhere, and
discovered nothing new, except in speculative studies that embrace all
the future, and of which the limits are unknown. It was amidst these
dispositions that the eighteenth century dawned--a century so little
resembling the preceding one. To the poetical lessons of Telemachus
succeeded the theories of ‘the _Esprit des Lois_,’ and Port Royal was
replaced by the Encyclopædia.

“I pray you to observe, gentlemen, that I neither censure nor approve:
I simply relate.

“In calling to mind all the calamities poured out upon France during
the Revolution, we must not be altogether unjust towards those superior
men that brought it about; and we ought not to forget, that if in
their writings they have not always been able to avoid falling into
error, we owe to them the revelation of some great truths. Above all,
let us not forget that we ought not to make them responsible for the
precipitation with which France rushed practically into a career which
her philosophers merely indicated. Thoughts were turned at once into
action, and one might well say, ‘Woe to him who in his foolish pride
would go beyond the necessities of his epoch! Some abyss or revolution
awaits him.’ But when we simply follow the necessity of an epoch, we
are certain not to go astray.

“Now, gentlemen, do you wish to know what were in 1789 the real
necessities of that epoch? Turn to the mandates of the different orders
represented in the National Assembly. _All that were then the reflected
wishes of enlightened men are what I call necessities._ The Constituent
Assembly was only their interpreter when it proclaimed liberty of
worship, equality before the law, individual liberty, the right of
jurisdiction (that no one should be deprived of his natural judges),
_the liberty of the press_.

“It was little in accordance with its epoch when it instituted a single
chamber, when it destroyed the royal sanction, when it tortured the
conscience, &c. &c. And, nevertheless, in spite of its faults, of
which I have only cited a small number--faults followed by such great
calamities--posterity which has begun for it accords to it the glory of
establishing the foundation of our new public rights.

“_Let us hold, then, for certain, that all that is desired, that
all that is proclaimed good and useful by all the enlightened men
of a country, without variation, during a series of years diversely
occupied, is a necessity of the times._ Such, gentlemen, is the liberty
of the press. I address myself to all those amongst you who are more
particularly my contemporaries--was it not the dear object and wish
of all those excellent men whom we so admired in our youth--the
Malesherbes, the Trudaines--who surely were well worth the statesmen
we have had since? The place which the men I have named occupy in
our memories amply proves that the liberty of the press consolidates
legitimate renown; and if it destroys usurped reputations, where is the

“Having proved my first proposition, that the liberty of the press is
in France the necessary result of the state of its society, it remains
for me to establish my second proposition--that a government is in
danger when it obstinately refuses what the state or spirit of its
society requires.

“The most tranquil societies, and those which ought to be the most
happy, always number amongst them a certain class of men who hope
to acquire by the means of disorder those riches which they do not
possess, and that importance which they ought never to have. Is
it prudent to furnish the enemies of social order with pretexts
for discontent, without which their individual efforts to promote
disturbance would be impotent?

“Society in its progressive march is destined to experience new wants.
_I can perfectly understand that governments ought not to be in any
hurry to recognise them; but when it has once recognised them_, to take
back what it has given, or, what comes to the same thing, to be always
suspending its exercise, is a temerity of which I more than any one
desire that those who conceived _the convenient_ and _fatal thought_
may not have to repent. The good faith of a government should never be
compromised. _Now-a-days, it is not easy to deceive for long. There is
some one who has more intelligence than Voltaire; more intelligence
than Bonaparte; more intelligence than each of the Directors--than
each of the ministers, past, present, and to come. That some one is
everybody._ To engage in, or at least to persist in, a struggle against
what according to general belief is a public interest, is a political
fault,--and at this day all political faults are dangerous.

“When the press is free--when each one knows that his interests are or
will be defended--all wait with patience a justice more or less tardy.
Hope supports, and with reason, for this hope cannot be deceived for
long; but when the press is enslaved, when no voice can be raised,
discontent will soon exact, on the part of the government, either too
much concession or too much repression.”

On the 26th of February, 1822, M. de Talleyrand spoke on the same
subject, commenting on the rights accorded by, and the intentions which
had presided over, the charter. Such efforts on such subjects preserved
for his name a national character, and connected the most memorable
acts of his own career with the most ardent aspirations of his country.


Still, notwithstanding these occasional appearances on the public
stage, it is certain that the easy though momentary triumph of a cause
of which he had somewhat solemnly announced the almost certain defeat,
disgusted him from further meddling in affairs, and much of his time
was afterwards passed out of Paris, at Valençay, the estate which he
meant should be ancestral, in Touraine. His fortune, moreover, was
much affected by the bankruptcy of a commercial house in which he had
engaged himself as what we call a “sleeping partner.” Nevertheless
he held, when in the capital, a great existence:--his drawing-room
becoming to the Restoration what it had been to the best days of the
Empire--a rival court, and a court which gathered to itself all the
eminences of the old times, and all the rising young men of the new.

There, from his easy-chair, drawn up to the window which looks upon the
Tuileries, and surrounded by those who had acted in the past with him,
or who might make a future for him, he read with pleased composure the
fall of ministry after ministry on the flushed countenance of the eager
deputy rushing to or from the fatal vote; until, at the nomination
of M. de Polignac, he repeated calmly to those about him, the phrase
he is said to have pronounced after the Russian campaign: “_C’est
le commencement de la fin_.” Indeed, ever since the dismissal of the
National Guard, and the failure of M. de Martignac’s ministry, which,
tried as it was and at the time it was, could not but fail, he spoke
without reserve, though always with expressions of regret, to those in
his intimacy, of the extreme peril to which the legitimate monarchy
was hurrying; and he could do this with the more certainty, from the
knowledge he possessed of Charles X.’s character, the good and bad
qualities of which he considered equally dangerous.


The following account of the share which M. de Talleyrand took in the
new Revolution, that, after many ominous preludes, at last took place,
was given me by an actor in the history he relates.

For the first two days of the insurrection, viz., the 27th and 28th
of July, M. de Talleyrand said little or nothing, remaining quietly
at home and refusing himself to all inquirers. On the third day he
called to him his private secretary, and with that winning manner he
knew so well how to adopt when he had any object to gain, said to him:
“M. C----, I have a favour to request of you; go for me to St. Cloud”
(the service was one of some danger and difficulty), “see if the royal
family are still there, or what they are doing.” The secretary went and
found Charles X. just departing for Rambouillet. M. de Talleyrand, who
had during his messenger’s absence seen General Sebastiani, General
Gerard, and two or three other influential persons of the same party
and opinions, on hearing that the King had quitted St. Cloud, retired
to his room and remained there alone for about two hours, when he
again sent for the same gentleman, and this time his manners were, if
possible, more persuasive than before. “I have yet another and greater
favour to ask, M. C----. Go for me to Neuilly; get by some means or
other to Madame Adelaide;[77] give her this piece of paper, and when
she has read it, either see it burnt or bring it back to me.” The
piece of paper contained merely these words: “Madame peut avoir toute
confiance dans le porteur, qui est mon secrétaire.” “When madame has
read this, you will tell her that there is not a moment to lose. The
Duc d’Orléans must be here to-morrow; he must take no other title than
that of Lieutenant-general of the Kingdom, which has been accorded to
him--‘_le reste viendra_.’”

With this confidential message, M. C---- started. With great
difficulty--for the gates of Neuilly were closed to every one--he got
to the château and to Madame. On saying that he brought a message
from M. de Talleyrand, “Ah, ce bon prince, j’étais sûre qu’il ne nous
oublierait pas!”[78] The messenger then delivered his credentials
and his message. “Tell the prince that I will pledge my word for my
brother’s following his advice. He shall be in Paris to-morrow,”
was the reply; after which M. C---- had the courage to ask, though
with some hesitation, that the piece of paper should be destroyed
or returned. It was given back to him, and he restored it to M. de
Talleyrand, who did not, by the way, forget to ask for it. It only
remains to say that the Duc d’Orléans did come to Paris the following
day; did only take the title of Lieutenant-general; and that the rest
did, as M. de Talleyrand had predicted, follow. Thus ended the last
Revolution with which this singular man was blended.

When the message he sent arrived, the future king of the French was
concealed, the conduct he seemed likely to pursue uncertain; and those
who know anything of revolutions will be aware of the value of a day
and an hour. Moreover, this prince got to the throne by the very door
which M. de Talleyrand had warned Louis XVIII. to close, viz., a
constitution proceeding _from_ the people.

Nor is this all: the knowledge that M. de Talleyrand had recognised,
and even been concerned in establishing, the new dynasty, had no slight
influence on the opinion formed of it in other courts, and might be
said more especially to have decided our own important and immediate
recognition of it. He himself was then offered the post of minister of
foreign affairs, but he saw it was more difficult and less important
than that of ambassador to St. James’, and while he refused the first
position he accepted the last.


The choice was a fortunate one. No one else could have supplied the
place of M. de Talleyrand in England at that juncture; he knew well and
personally both the Duke of Wellington and Lord Grey, the chiefs of the
opposing parties, and it was perhaps his presence at the British court,
more than any other circumstance of the time, which preserved, in a
crisis when all the elements of war were struggling to get loose, that
universal peace which for so many years remained unbroken.

With a firm conviction, indeed, of the necessity of this peace, he took
the best and only course for maintaining it. An ordinary diplomatist
is occupied with the thousand small affairs passing through his hands,
and the thousand ideas of more or less importance connected with them.
M. de Talleyrand’s great talent, as I have more than once said, was
in selecting at once in every affair the most _important question_ of
the moment, and in sacrificing, without delay or scruple, whatever was
necessary to attain his object with respect to that question.

He saw that the peaceful acceptance of the Orleans’ dynasty could be
obtained, and could only be obtained, by being on good terms with
England. A quarrel with us was an European war; a good understanding
with us rendered such a war unlikely, almost impossible. Belgium was
the especial question on which all earlier negotiations turned, and
on which the amity of our government depended. That country, smarting
under many real, and irritated by the thought of many fancied,
grievances, had thrown off the Dutch yoke. The Dutch troops, who
with a little more vigour might have been victorious, had retreated,
beaten, from Brussels; the frontier fortresses were in the hands of
the insurgents, and it is no use disguising the fact that there was,
is, and ever will be, a considerable party in France in favour of
extending the French frontier, and comprising Antwerp within the
French dominions. England, however, was not then disposed, and probably
will not at any time be disposed, with statesmen caring for the safety
of their country, to submit to this. She had, in fact, as I have said
at the peace of 1814, provided especially, as she thought, for the
safety of the Netherlands, by the amalgamation of the Belgian and Dutch
provinces into one kingdom, and by the fortresses which she had built
or repaired for protecting that kingdom.

This policy was now overthrown, and could not be reconstructed without
exciting the warlike and excited spirit of the French people. On
the other hand, we could only make a limited sacrifice to French
susceptibility and ambition. Much skill then was necessary on the
part of all persons, but more especially on the part of the French
negotiator, to avoid any serious wound to the interests of the one
nation, or to the feelings of the other. There was a call, in short,
for the steadiest discretion without any change of purpose; and all
through the various phases of those long negotiations, by which jarring
questions were finally composed, M. de Talleyrand warily persevered
in his plan of planting the new government of France amongst the
established governments of Europe through its alliance with Great

The establishment of conferences in London was one of the most
artful of the measures adopted with this end. Here the ambassador
of Louis Philippe was brought at once, and in union with the
Cabinet of St. James’, into almost daily and intimate communication
with the representatives of the other great powers. A variety of
misrepresentations were removed, and a variety of statements made, not
merely useful for the questions which were especially under discussion,
but for the general position and policy of the State which the veteran
diplomatist represented.

The quadruple alliance--an alliance of the western and constitutional
governments of Europe--was, in fact, a mere extension of the alliance
between France and England, and a great moral exhibition of the
trust placed by the parties themselves in that alliance. With this
remarkable and popular compact--a compact which embodied the best
principles on which an Anglo-French alliance can be formed--the
diplomatic career of M. de Talleyrand closed. He felt, as he himself
said, that there “is a sort of space between death and life, which
should be employed in dying decently.”

The retirement of Lord Grey removed from the scene of public affairs in
England that generation which, long accustomed to the reputation of a
man who had filled half a century with his name, treated both himself
and his opinions with the flattering respect due to old remembrances.
To the men of the new government he was, comparatively speaking, a
stranger. The busy time of their career he had passed in seclusion from
affairs. They considered him, in a certain degree, as antiquated and
gone by: a sentiment which he was keen enough to detect, and sensitive
enough to feel deeply.

His opinions, indeed, became somewhat embittered by certain affronts
or negligences of which, during the latter part of his embassy, he
thought he had to complain; and, after his retirement, it is said that
he rather counselled his royal master to consider that the advantages
sought for in an alliance with England were obtained, and that the
future policy of France should be to conciliate other powers.


At all events M. de Talleyrand, during his mission in England, not only
sustained his previous reputation, but added very considerably to it.
What struck the vulgar, and many, indeed, above the vulgar, who did
not remember that the really crafty man disguises his craft, was the
plain, open, and straightforward way in which he spoke of and dealt
with all public matters, without any of those mysterious devices which
distinguish the simpleton in the diplomacy from the statesman who is a
diplomatist. In fact, having made up his mind to consider the English
alliance at this time essential to his country, he was well aware that
the best and only way of obtaining it was by such frank and fair
dealing as would win the confidence of British statesmen.

Lord Palmerston told me that his manner in diplomatic conferences
was remarkable for its extreme absence of pretension, without any
derogation of authority. He sat, for the most part, quiet, as if
approving: sometimes, however, stating his opinion, but never arguing
or discussing;--a habit foreign to the natural indolence which
accompanied him throughout his active career, and which he also
condemned on such occasions, as fruitless and impolitic: “I argue
before a public assembly,” he used to say, “not because I hope to
convince any one there, but because I wish my opinions to be known to
the world. But, in a room beyond which my voice is not to extend, the
attempt to enforce my opinion against that which another is engaged to
adopt, obliges him to be more formal and positive in expressing his
hostility, and often leads him, from a desire to shine in the sense of
his instructions, to go beyond them.”

Whatever M. de Talleyrand did, therefore, in the way of argument,
he usually did beforehand, and alone, with the parties whom he was
afterwards to encounter, and here he tried to avoid controversy. His
manner was to bring out the principal point in his own opinion, and
present it to the best advantage in every possible position.

Napoleon complained of this, saying, he could not conceive how people
found M. de Talleyrand eloquent. “Il tournait toujours sur la même
idée.”[79] But this was a system with him, as with Fox, who laid it
down as the great principle for an orator who wished to leave an

He was apt, however, to ask to have a particular word or sentence, of
which he had generally studied the bearing and calculated the effect,
introduced into a paper under discussion, and from the carelessness
with which he made the request it was usually complied with. There was
something in this silent way of doing business, which disappointed
those who expected a more frequent use of the brilliant weapons which
it was well known that the great wit of the day had at his command.
But in the social circle which he wished to charm, or with the single
individual whom he wished to gain, the effect of his peculiar eloquence
generally overran the expectation.

M. de Bacourt, who was secretary to his embassy in London, informed
me “that M. de Talleyrand rarely wrote a whole despatch,” but that a
variety of little notes and phrases were usually to be found in his
portfolio. When the question which these notes referred to had to be
treated, they were produced, and confided to him (M. de Bacourt), who
was told the general sense of the document he was to write, and how
such memoranda were to be introduced. Finally, a revisal took place,
and the general colouring, which proved that the despatch came from the
ambassador, and not from his chancery, was fused over the composition.
As a general rule in business, M. de Talleyrand held to the rule, that
a chief should never do anything that a subaltern could do for him.

“You should always,” he used to say, “have time to spare, and rather
put off till to-morrow what you cannot do well and easily to-day, than
get into that hurry and flurry which is the necessary consequence of
feeling one has too much to do.”

I have painted the subject of this sketch personally in his early
life. Towards the close of his existence, the likenesses of him that
are common are sufficiently resembling. His head, with a superfluity
of hair, looked large, and was sunk deep into an expanded chest. His
countenance was pale and grave, with a mouth, the under-lip rather
protruding, which formed itself instantly and almost instinctively into
a smile that was sarcastic without being ill-natured. He talked little
in general society, merely expressing at intervals some opinion that
had the air of an epigram, and which produced its effect as much from
the manner with which it was brought out, as from its intrinsic merit.
He was, in fact, an actor, but an actor with such ease and nonchalance
that he never seemed more natural than when he was acting.

His recorded _bon mots_, of which I have given some, have become
hackneyed, especially the best. But I will venture to mention a
few that occur to me, as I am writing, and which are remarkable as
expressing an opinion concerning an individual or a situation.

When the Comte d’Artois wished to be present at the councils of Louis
XVIII., M. de Talleyrand opposed the project. The Comte d’Artois
was offended, and reproached the minister. “Un jour,” said M. de
Talleyrand, “Votre Majesté me remerciera pour ce qui déplaît a Votre
Altesse Royale.”

M. de Châteaubriand was no favourite with M. de Talleyrand. He
condemned him as an affected writer, and an impossible politician. When
the “Martyrs” first appeared, and was run after by the public with an
appetite that the booksellers could not satisfy, M. de Fontanes, after
speaking of it with an exaggerated eulogium, finished his explanation
of the narrative by saying that Eudore and Cymodocée were thrown into
the circus and devoured “par les bêtes.” “Comme l’ouvrage,” said M. de

Some person saying that Fouché had a great contempt for mankind, “C’est
vrai,” said M. de Talleyrand, “cet homme s’est beaucoup étudié.”

There is a certain instinct which most persons have as to their
successor; and when some one asked M. de Talleyrand a little before
the Duc de Richelieu, governor of Odessa, was appointed prime minister
in his own country, whether he, M. de Talleyrand, really thought that
the Duc was fit to govern France, he replied, to the surprise of the
questioner, “Most assuredly;” adding, after a slight pause, “No one
knows the Crimea better.”

A lady, using the privilege of her sex, was speaking with violence of
the defection of the Duc de Raguse. “Mon Dieu, madame,” said M. de
Talleyrand, “tout cela ne prouve qu’une chose. C’est que sa montre
avançait et tout le monde était à l’heure.”

A strong supporter of the chamber of peers, when there was much
question as to its merits, said, “At least you there find consciences.”
“Ah, oui,” said M. de Talleyrand, “beaucoup, beaucoup de consciences.
Semonville, par exemple, en a au moins deux.”

Louis XVIII., speaking of M. de Blacas before M. de Talleyrand had
expressed any opinion concerning him, said, “Ce pauvre Blacas, il aime
la France, il m’aime, mais on dit qu’il est suffisant.” “Ah oui, Sire,
suffisant et insuffisant.”

As Madame de Staël was praising the British Constitution, M. de
Talleyrand, turning round, said in a low, explanatory tone, “_Elle
admire surtout l’habeas corpus_.”

One evening at Holland House the company had got into groups, talking
over some question of the moment in the House of Commons; and thus M.
de Talleyrand, left alone, got up to go away, when Lord Holland, with
his usual urbanity, following him to the door, asked where he was going
so early. “Je vais aux _Travellers_, pour entendre ce que vous dites

We could prolong almost indefinitely this record of sayings from
which M. de Talleyrand, notwithstanding his many services and great
abilities, derives his popular and traditional reputation: but, in
reality, they belong as much to the conversational epoch at which he
entered the world, as to himself.


On quitting England, he quitted not only diplomacy, as I have said, but
public life, and passed the remainder of his days in the enjoyment of
the highest situation, and the most agreeable and cultivated society,
that his country could afford.

His fortune and ability might now, according to the Grecian sage, be
estimated; for his career was closed; and, as the old sought his saloon
as the hearth on which their brighter recollections could be revived,
so the young were glad to test their opinions by the experience of “the
politic man,” who had passed through so many vicissitudes, and walked
with a careless and haughty ease over the ruins of so many governments,
at the fall of which he had assisted. He himself, with that cool
presence of mind for which he was so remarkable, aware that he had but
a few years between the grave and himself, employed them in one of his
great and constant objects, that of prepossessing the age about to
succeed him in his favour, and explaining to those whom he thought
likely to influence the coming generation, the darker passages of his
brilliant career. To one distinguished person, M. Montalivet, who
related to me the fact, he once said: “You have a prejudice against me,
because your father was an Imperialist, and you think I deserted the
Emperor. I have never kept fealty to any one longer than he has himself
been obedient to common sense. But, if you judge all my actions by this
rule, you will find that I have been eminently consistent; and where
is there so degraded a human being, or so bad a citizen, as to submit
his intelligence, or sacrifice his country, to any individual, however
born, or however endowed?”

This, indeed, in a few words, was M. de Talleyrand’s theory; a theory
which has formed the school, that without strictly adhering to the
principle that common sense should be the test of obedience, bows
to every authority with a smile and shrug of the shoulders, and the
well-known phrase of “_La France avant tout_.”

Shortly previous to his last illness he appeared (evidently with the
intention of bidding the world a sort of dignified adieu) in the
tribune of the Institute. The subject which he chose for his essay
was M. Reinhard, who had long served under him, and was just dead,
and between whom and himself, even in the circumstance of their both
having received an ecclesiastical education, there was some sort of
resemblance. The discourse is interesting on this ground, and also as
a review of the different branches of the diplomatic service, and the
duties attached to each--forming a kind of legacy to that profession of
which the speaker had so long been the ornament.



“I was in America when I was named a member of the Institute, and
placed in the department of moral and political sciences, to which
I have had the honour of being attached ever since it was first

“On my return to France, I made it my principal object to attend
its meetings, and to express to my new colleagues, many of whom we
now so justly regret, the pleasure it gave me to find myself one
of their number. At the first sitting I attended, the _bureau_ was
being renewed, and I had the honour of being named secretary. During
six months, I drew up, to the best of my ability, the minutes of the
proceedings, but my labours betrayed perhaps a little too plainly my
diffidence, for I had to report on a work, the subject of which was new
to me. That work, which had cost one of our most learned colleagues
many researches, many sleepless nights, was ‘A Dissertation on the
Riparian Laws.’ It was about the same period that I read at our public
meetings several papers, which were received with such indulgence as to
be thought worthy of being inserted in the memoirs of the Institute.
But forty years have now elapsed, during which I have been a stranger
to this tribune; first, in consequence of frequent absence; then from
duties, to which I felt bound to devote my whole time and attention; I
must also add, from that discretion, which, in times of difficulty,
is required of a man employed in public affairs; and finally, at a
later period, from the infirmities, usually brought on, or at least
aggravated, by age.

“At the present moment, I feel myself called upon to perform a duty,
and to make a last appearance before this Assembly, in order that
the memory of a man, known to the whole of Europe;--of a man whom I
loved, and who, from the very foundation of the Institute, has been
our colleague, should receive here a public testimony of our esteem
and regret. His position with respect to my own furnishes me with
the means of speaking with authority of several of his merits. His
principal, but I do not say his only, claim to distinction, consists of
a correspondence of forty years, necessarily unknown to the public, and
likely to remain so for ever. I asked myself, ‘Who will mention this
fact within these walls? who, especially, will consider himself under
the obligation of directing your attention to it, if the task be not
undertaken by me, to whom the greater part of this correspondence was
addressed, to whom it always gave so much pleasure, and often so much
assistance in those ministerial duties, which I had to perform during
three reigns … so very different in character?’

“The first time I saw M. Reinhard, he was thirty, and I thirty-seven,
years of age. He entered public life with the advantage of a large
stock of acquired knowledge. He knew thoroughly five or six languages,
and was familiar with their literature. He could have made himself
remarkable as an historian, as a poet, or as a geographer; and it was
in this last capacity that he became a member of the Institute, from
the day it was founded.

“Already at this time he was a member of the Academy of Sciences of
Göttingen. Born and educated in Germany, he had published in his youth
several pieces of poetry, which had brought him under the notice of
Gesner, Wieland, and Schiller. He was obliged at a later period to take
the waters of Carlsbad, where he was so fortunate as to find himself
frequently in the society of the celebrated Goethe, who appreciated
his taste and acquirements sufficiently to request to be informed by
him of everything that was creating a sensation in the French literary
world. M. Reinhard promised to do so; engagements of this kind between
men of a superior order are always reciprocal, and soon become ties of
friendship; those formed between M. Reinhard and Goethe gave rise to a
correspondence, which is now published in Germany.

“We learn from these letters that when he had arrived at that time of
life, when it is necessary to select definitively the profession for
which one feels most aptitude, M. Reinhard, before making his final
decision, reflected seriously upon his natural disposition, his tastes,
his own circumstances and those of his family; and then made a choice
singular at that time, for instead of choosing a career that promised
independence, he gave the preference to one in which it is impossible
to secure it. The diplomatic career was selected by him, nor is it
possible to blame him; qualified for all the duties of this profession,
he has successively fulfilled them all, and each with distinction.

“And I would here venture to assert that he had been successfully
prepared for the course he adopted by his early studies. He had been
remarked as a proficient in theology at the Seminary of Denkendorf,
and at that of the Protestant faculty of Tübingen, and it was to
this science especially that he owed the power, and at the same
time the subtlety, of reasoning, that abounds in all his writings.
And to divest myself of the fear of yielding to an idea which might
appear paradoxical, I feel obliged to bring before you the names of
several of our greatest diplomatists, who were at once theologians and
celebrated in history for having conducted the most important political
negotiations of their day. There was the chancellor, Cardinal Duprat,
equally skilled in canon and civil law, who established with Leo X. the
basis of the Concordat, of which several articles are still retained.
Cardinal d’Ossat, who, in spite of the efforts made by several great
powers, succeeded in effecting a reconciliation between Henry IV. and
the Court of Rome. The study of his letters is still recommended at the
present day to young men who are destined for political life. Cardinal
de Polignac, a theologian, poet and diplomatist, who, after so many
disastrous campaigns, was able to preserve, by the treaty of Utrecht,
the conquests of Louis XIV. for France.

“The names I have just mentioned appear to me sufficient to justify
my opinion that M. Reinhard’s habits of thought were considerably
influenced by the early studies to which his education had been
directed by his father.

“On account of his solid, and, at the same time, various acquirements,
he was called to Bordeaux, in order to discharge the honourable but
modest duties of a tutor in a Protestant family of that city. There he
naturally became acquainted with several of those men whose talents,
errors, and death have given so much celebrity to our first legislative
assembly. M. Reinhard was easily persuaded by them to devote himself to
the service of France.

“It is not necessary to follow him step by step through all the
vicissitudes of his long career. In the succession of offices confided
to him, now of a higher, now of a lower order, there seems to be a sort
of inconsistency and absence of regularity, which, at the present day,
we should have some difficulty in conceiving. But, at that time, people
were as free from prejudice with respect to places as to persons.
At other periods, favour, and sometimes discernment, used to confer
situations of importance. But, in the days of which I speak, every
place had to be won. Such a state of things very quickly leads to

“Thus, we find M. Reinhard first secretary of legation at London;
occupying the same post at Naples; minister plenipotentiary to the
Hanseatic towns of Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck; chief clerk of
the third division in the department of foreign affairs; minister
plenipotentiary at Florence; minister of foreign affairs; minister
plenipotentiary to the Helvetian Republic; consul-general at Milan;
minister plenipotentiary to the Circle of Lower Saxony; president in
the Turkish provinces beyond the Danube, and commissary-general of
commercial relations in Moldavia; minister plenipotentiary to the
King of Westphalia; director of the _Chancellerie_ in the department
of foreign affairs; minister plenipotentiary to the Germanic Diet and
the free city of Frankfort; and, finally, minister plenipotentiary at

“What a number of places, of charges, and of interests, all confided
to one man, and this at a time when it seemed likely that his civil
talents would be less justly appreciated, inasmuch as that war appeared
to decide every question.

“You do not expect me, gentlemen, to give here a detailed account of
all M. Reinhard’s labours in the various employments, which I have just
enumerated. This would require a volume.

“I have only to call your attention to the manner in which he regarded
the duties he had to perform, whether as chief clerk, minister, or

“Although M. Reinhard did not possess at that time the advantage which
he might have had a few years later of being able to study excellent
examples, he was already perfectly aware of the numerous and various
qualities that ought to distinguish a chief clerk in the foreign
office. A delicate tact had made him feel that the habits of a chief
clerk ought to be simple, regular, and retired; that, a stranger to
the bustle of the world, he ought to live solely for his duty, and
devote to it an impenetrable secrecy; that, always prepared to give
an answer respecting facts or men, he must have every treaty fresh in
his memory, know its historical date, appreciate its strong and weak
points, its antecedents and consequences, and finally be acquainted
with the names of its principal negotiators, and even with their family
connections; that, in making use of this knowledge, he ought, at the
same time, to be cautious not to offend a minister’s self-esteem,
always so sensitive, and, even when he should have influenced the
opinion of his chief, to leave his success in the shade; for he knew
that he was to shine only by a reflected light. Still, he was aware
that much consideration would be the reward of so pure and modest a

“M. Reinhard’s power of observation did not stop here; it had taught
him to understand how rare is the union of qualities necessary to
make a minister of foreign affairs. Indeed, a minister of foreign
affairs ought to be gifted with a sort of instinct, which should be
always prompting him, and thus guarding him, when entering into any
discussion, from the danger of committing himself. It is requisite
that he should possess the faculty of appearing open, while remaining
impenetrable; of masking reserve with the manner of frankness; of
showing talent even in the choice of his amusements. His conversation
should be simple, varied, unexpected, always natural, and at times
_naïve_; in a word, he should never cease for an instant during the
twenty-four hours to be a minister of foreign affairs.

“Yet all these qualities, however rare, might not suffice, if they did
not find in sincerity a guarantee which they almost always require.
I must not omit to notice here this fact, in order to destroy a
prejudice, into which people are very apt to fall. No! diplomacy is not
a science of craft and duplicity. If sincerity be anywhere requisite,
it is especially so in political transactions; for it is that which
makes them solid and durable. It has pleased people to confound reserve
with cunning. Sincerity never authorizes cunning, but it admits of
reserve; and reserve has this peculiarity, that it increases confidence.

“If he be governed by the honour and interests of his country, by the
honour and interests of his sovereign, by the love of a liberty based
upon order and the rights of all men, a minister of foreign affairs,
who knows how to fill his post, finds himself thus in the noblest
position to which a superior mind can aspire.

“After having been a distinguished minister, how many things more must
be known to make a good consul! For there is no end to the variety of
a consul’s attributions; and they are perfectly distinct from those
of the other persons employed in foreign affairs. They demand a vast
amount of practical knowledge which can only be acquired by a peculiar
education. Consuls are called upon to discharge, for the advantage
of their countrymen, and over the extent of their jurisdiction, the
functions of judges, arbitrators, and promoters of reconciliation; it
frequently happens that they are employed in other civil capacities;
they perform the duties of notaries, sometimes those of naval
administrators; they examine and pronounce upon sanitary questions; it
is they who are enabled, by their numerous professional connections,
to give correct and perfect notions respecting the state of commerce
or navigation, or of the manufactures peculiar to the country where
they reside. Accordingly, as M. Reinhard never neglected anything
which might confirm the accuracy of the information required by his
government, or the justice of the decisions which he had to pronounce
as a political agent, as a consular agent, or as a naval administrator,
he made a profound study of international and maritime law. It was
owing to this study, that he became persuaded that the day would come
when, by skilful political combinations, a universal system of commerce
and navigation would be inaugurated, which would respect the interests
of all nations, and be established on such foundations that war itself
would be powerless to assail its principles, even were it able to
suspend some of its effects.

“He had also learned to resolve, with accuracy and promptitude, every
question connected with exchange, arbitration, valuation of money,
weights and measures; and all this without a single dispute ever having
arisen from the information he had supplied, or the judgments he had
pronounced. But it is also true that the personal consideration,
which accompanied him during his whole career, gave a weight to his
interference, in every question that required his assistance, and in
all arbitrations where he had to give a decision.

“But, however extensive may be a man’s information, however vast his
capacity, there is nothing so rare as a complete diplomatist. We should
perhaps have found one in M. Reinhard if he had possessed but one
qualification more. He observed well, and understood well; when he took
up his pen, he could give an admirable account of what he had seen and
heard. His written language was ready, abundant, witty, and pointed.
Thus we find that, of all the diplomatic correspondence of my time,
none was preferred to that of Count Reinhard by the Emperor Napoleon,
who had the right, and was under the necessity, of being difficult to
please. But this eloquent writer was embarrassed when he had to speak.
To carry out his intentions, his mind required more time than ordinary
conversation affords. To express his thoughts with facility, it was
necessary for him to be alone, and not interfered with.

“In spite of this serious difficulty, M. Reinhard always succeeded in
doing, and doing well, whatever was intrusted to him. How, then, did he
find the means of succeeding? whence did he derive his inspirations?

“He received them, gentlemen, from a deep and true feeling, which
guided all his actions--from the sense of duty. People are not
sufficiently aware of the power derived from this feeling. A life
wholly devoted to duty is very easily diverted from ambition; and that
of M. Reinhard was entirely taken up by his professional avocations,
while he never was influenced in the slightest degree by an interested
motive or a pretension to premature advancement.

“This worship of duty, to which M. Reinhard continued faithful to the
end of his days, comprised entire acquiescence in the orders of his
superiors--indefatigable vigilance, which, joined to much penetration,
never suffered them to remain ignorant of anything which it was
expedient for them to know--strict truthfulness in all his reports,
however unpleasing their contents--impenetrable discretion--regular
habits, which inspired esteem and confidence--a style of living suited
to his position--and finally, constant attention in giving to the
acts of his government the colour and lucidity which their importance

“Although age seemed to invite M. Reinhard to seek the repose of
private life, he would never have asked permission to retire from
active employment, so much did he fear to be thought lukewarm in the
duties of a profession which had occupied the greater part of his days.

“It was necessary that his Majesty’s ever-thoughtful benevolence should
have providently intervened to place this great servant of France in a
most honourable position, by calling him to the Chamber of Peers.

“Count Reinhard enjoyed this honour during too short a time. He died
suddenly on the 25th of December, 1837.

“M. Reinhard was twice married. By his first wife he has left a son who
is now following a political career. For the son of such a man the
best wish that we can form is that he may resemble his father.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The force of nature, which a long life had exhausted in a variety of
ways, seemed now unequal to any further struggle.

A disease, which at Prince Talleyrand’s age was almost certain to
be fatal, and which had already made its appearance, assumed a more
formidable character.

An operation was advised. The prince submitted to it, and bore it with
a fortitude that surprised even those who most knew the stoicism which
he on all occasions affected and usually practised. Dangerous symptoms,
however, soon followed, and his physician judged it an act of duty to
warn him that his disorder might be fatal.

He was urged indeed to do so by the noble patient’s relations, who were
especially anxious that he should die in peace with the church; and
when convinced that he could not recover, he assented to all that was
asked of him, in this respect, as a favour that could not hurt himself,
and was agreeable to those about him.

The following account of his last moments is given by a person who
was present at them: “When I entered the chamber where reposed the
veteran statesman, he had fallen into a profound slumber, from which
some amendment was augured by his physicians. The slumber, or rather
lethargy, had continued for about an hour after my arrival, when it
became curious to observe the uneasiness which was manifested, as time
drew on, even by those dearest and nearest, lest this repose, however
salutary, should endure beyond the hour fixed for the King’s visit, for
the sovereign intended to pay M. de Talleyrand this last homage.

“With some difficulty he was at last aroused and made to comprehend
the approaching ceremony, and hardly was he lifted from his reclining
position and placed at the edge of the bed, when Louis Philippe,
accompanied by Madame Adelaide, entered the apartment. ‘I am sorry,
Prince, to see you suffering so much,’ said the King, in a low
tremulous voice, rendered almost inaudible by apparent emotion. ‘Sire,
you have come to witness the sufferings of a dying man; and those who
love him can have but one wish, that of seeing them shortly at an end.’
This was uttered by M. de Talleyrand in that deep strong voice so
peculiar to himself, and which the approach of death had not the power
to weaken.

“The royal visit, like all royal visits of a disagreeable nature, was
of the shortest duration possible. Indeed, the position was to all
parties embarrassing and painful. Louis Philippe rose, after an effort
and some few words of consolation, to take his leave; and not even at
this last moment did the old prince lose his wonted presence of mind,
or forget a duty which the etiquette he had been bred in dictated--that
of introducing those formally to the sovereign who found themselves
in his presence. Slightly raising himself, then, he mentioned by name
his physician, his secretary, his principal valet, and his own private
doctor, and then observed slowly: ‘Sire, our house has received this
day an honour worthy to be inscribed in our annals, and which my
successors will remember with pride and gratitude.’ It was shortly
afterwards that the first symptoms of dissolution were observed, and a
few persons were then admitted to his chamber; but the adjoining room
was crowded, and exhibited a strange scene for a room so near the bed
of death.

“The flower of the society of Paris was there. On one side old and
young politicians, grey-headed statesmen, were gathered round the
blazing fire, and engaged in eager conversation; on another was to be
seen a coterie of younger gentlemen and ladies, whose sidelong looks
and low pleasant whispers formed a sad contrast to the dying groans of
the neighbouring sufferer.

“Presently, the conversation stopped; the hum of voices was at an end.
There was a solemn pause, and every eye turned towards the slowly
opening door of the prince’s chamber. A domestic entered, with downcast
looks and swollen eyes, and advancing towards Dr. C----, who like
myself had just then sought an instant’s relief in the drawing-room,
whispered a few words in his ear. He arose instantly, and entered
the prince’s chamber. The natural precipitation with which this
movement was executed but too plainly revealed its cause. There was
an instantaneous rush to the door of the apartment within which M. de
Talleyrand was seated on the side of his bed, supported in the arms of
his secretary. It was evident that Death had set his seal upon that
marble brow; yet I was struck with the still existing vigour of the
countenance. It seemed as if all the life which had once sufficed to
furnish the whole being was now contained in the brain. From time to
time he raised up his head, throwing back with a sudden movement the
long grey locks which impeded his sight, and gazed around; and then,
as if satisfied with the result of his examination, a smile would pass
across his features, and his head would again fall upon his bosom. He
saw the approach of death without shrinking or fear, and also without
any affectation of scorn or defiance.

“If there be truth in the assertion, that it is a satisfaction to die
amidst friends and relations, then, indeed, must his last feeling
towards the world he was for ever quitting have been one of entire
approbation and content, for he expired (on the 17th of May, 1838)
amidst regal pomp and reverence; and of all those whom he, perhaps,
would have himself called together, none were wanting.

“The friend of his maturity, the fair young idol of his age, were
gathered on bended knee beside his bed, and if the words of comfort
whispered by the murmuring priest failed to reach his ear, it was
because the sound was stifled by the wailings of those he had loved so
well. Scarcely, however, had those eyes, whose every glance had been
watched so long, and with such deep interest, for ever closed, when a
sudden change came over the scene.

“One would have thought that a flight of crows had suddenly taken
wing, so great was the precipitation with which each one hurried from
the hotel, in the hope of being first to spread the news amongst
the particular set or coterie of which he or she happened to be the
oracle. Ere nightfall, that chamber, which all the day had been
crowded to excess, was abandoned to the servants of the tomb; and when
I entered in the evening, I found the very arm-chair, whence I had so
often heard the prince launch the courtly jest or stinging epigram,
occupied by a hired priest, whispering prayers for the repose of the
departed soul.”


M. de Talleyrand was buried at Valençay, in the chapel of the Sisters
of St. André, which he had founded, and in which he had expressed a
desire that the family vault should be placed.

       *       *       *       *       *

His career and character have been gradually developed in this sketch,
so that there remains little to say of them here. They were both,
as I have elsewhere observed, coloured by their times, and must be
regarded in connection with an epoch of social immorality and constant
political change. Many of his faults were so inherent in that epoch,
that, although they justly merit blame (for vice and virtue should be
independent of custom and example), they also admit of excuse.

As to the variety of political parts which he played in the different
scenes of the great drama which lasted half a century, one is daily
seeing changes so extraordinary and so rapid amongst the most
respectable public men of our own day, and even of our own country,
that it would be absurd not to acknowledge that, when years run rapidly
through changeful events, we must expect to find those whose career
is embarked on so unsteady a current, uncertain and variable in their
opinions. The stiff consistent character is of the middle ages.

At the commencement of the great Revolution of 1789, M. de Talleyrand
took the liberal side in politics; a strong party of his own rank and
profession did not do so, but many of the most illustrious did; and
with the best motives. A certain interval elapsed; the monarchy was
overthrown; a reign of madness and terror succeeded it; and, emerging
from this sanguinary obscurity, men were just beginning to adopt some
principles of order, which they brought together under the name of a

It is hardly for us (who have with our own eyes seen Frenchmen of high
rank and generally acknowledged honour, even the personal friends
of a deposed sovereign, become, within a few days after his fall,
Republicans; and within a few years the confidential leaders of
another dynasty)--it is hardly for us, I say, to judge with any great
severity a Frenchman, who, returning to France at the time at which M.
de Talleyrand revisited it, consented to serve the Directory. Neither
can we be surprised, when it appeared evident that under the Directory
things were again approaching the state of terror and confusion, of
which so horrible a recollection still existed, that M. de Talleyrand
preferred the government of one man to the want of any government
at all--the organization of society under a temporary despotism, to
its utter and radical decomposition. By and by, license and disorder
being vanquished, moderate and regular notions as to liberty grew up;
the dictator then appeared the tyrant,--and the fortunate soldier,
the military gambler after fortune. This soldier converted the nation
into an army, and his army was beaten: and M. de Talleyrand aided in
reviving that nation, and giving it the framework of a constitutional
system, under a legitimate monarchy;--almost, in fact, that very system
which thirty-five years before he had wished to see established. Years
rolled on and seemed to bring with them the renewal of the old maxim,
that “Restorations are impossible.” The royal _émigré_, pointedly
described as having forgotten nothing and learned nothing during his
misfortunes, had not sufficiently imbibed the spirit of a new society
which had risen up since his youth--a society which had neither the
customs nor inclinations on which he considered that a monarchy should
be maintained.

Charles X.’s views created suspicions which his acts, greatly
exaggerated by those suspicions, hardly justified. But the knowledge
that he thought that public liberty depended solely on his will, made
the slightest movement towards controlling that liberty--dangerous.

The crown fell into the gutters of Paris. The government which most
resembled the one which was overturned was still a monarchy with a
monarch taken from the same family as the one deposed, but who was
willing to accept his throne as a gift of the French nation and could
not pretend to it as a legitimate right. M. de Talleyrand helped to
form such a government.

It cannot be said that he departed in this case from his principles,
though he changed his allegiance.

In fact, I hardly think, looking calmly and dispassionately at each
of the epochs I have thus rapidly passed over, that any sensible and
moderate man will deny that the side taken by M. de Talleyrand was the
one on which, in every instance, lay good sense and moderation. It
cannot be said that in the various changes that marked his career, he
ever acted disinterestedly; but at the same time it may be urged that
every time he accepted office he did thereby a real service to the
cause he espoused, and even to the country to which he belonged.

There can be no doubt that at the first establishment of something
like order and government under the Republic, the relations of France
with foreign powers were considerably strengthened by a man of M. de
Talleyrand’s birth and well-known acquirements and abilities being
selected as minister of foreign affairs. It is also undeniable that,
during the Consulate and early part of the Empire, the experience,
sagacity, and tact of the accomplished diplomatist were eminently
useful to the young, half-educated, and impetuous warrior whose fiery
genius had placed him at the head of the State. To Louis XVIII. M. de
Talleyrand’s assistance, when that sovereign recovered his throne, was
invaluable, and Louis Philippe derived in no small degree, as I have
already noticed, the respect which foreign governments paid so promptly
to his suddenly-acquired authority from the fact that M. de Talleyrand
had consented to undertake the embassy to London. I must likewise
here repeat that to which I have already called attention. No party
had to complain of treachery or ingratitude from this statesman so
frequently stigmatised as fickle. The course he took at the different
periods of his eventful life was that which seemed natural to the
position in which he found himself, and the course which both friend
and foe expected from him. His defections were from those whose policy
he had been previously opposing, and whose views the higher order of
intellects in his country condemned at the time that his own hostility
commenced. Indeed, the rule of his conduct and the cause of his success
may be pretty generally found in his well-known and wise maxim, that
“The thoughts of the greatest number of intelligent persons in any
country, are sure, with a few more or less fluctuations to become in
the end that public opinion which influences the State.”

It must, however, be confessed that there is something to an honest
nature displeasing in the history of a statesman who has served various
masters and various systems, and appeared as the champion of each cause
at the moment of its triumph. Reason may excuse, explain, or defend
such versatility, but no generous sympathy calls upon us to applaud or
recommend it.

The particular and especial talent of M. de Talleyrand was, as I have
more than once exemplified, his tact; the art of seizing the important
point in an affair--the peculiar characteristic of an individual, the
genius and tendency of an epoch! His other qualities were accessories
to this dominant quality, but of an inferior order and in an inferior

His great good fortune was to have been absent from France during the
horrors of the Committee of Public Safety; his great merit, to have
served governments when in serving them he served the public interests.
His great defect, a love of money, or rather a want of scruple as
to how he obtained it. I never heard any clear justification of his
great wealth, though that which, it is said, he gave to Bonaparte, “I
bought stock before the 18th Brumaire, and sold it the day afterwards,”
has wit and _à propos_ to recommend it. His great calamity was to
have been minister of foreign affairs at the moment of the execution
of the Duc d’Enghien; and the part of his conduct most difficult to
explain justifiably, is to be found in the contradiction between his
declaration to Lord Grenville, when he came over to England after the
10th of August in 1792, that he had nothing to do with the provisional
government then established in France, and the declaration of M. de
Chénier to the convention in 1795--a declaration which he himself
subsequently repeated--that he went to England at the time alluded to
as Danton’s agent.

An extract from the _Moniteur_, the 27th of May, 1838, page 1412,
quoting from the _Gazette des Tribunaux_, is worth preserving:[81]

    “We have already said that in the sequel to the will of
    Prince Talleyrand was found a sort of manifesto, in which the
    celebrated diplomatist asserted the principles which had guided
    him in his political life, and explained his way of looking at
    certain events.

    “According to various facts we have collected, the following is
    the substance of that declaration, which is dated in 1836, and
    which, in accordance with the wish of the testator, has been
    read to the family and assembled friends.

    “The prince declares that before all things, and to all things,
    he had preferred the true interests of France.

    “Explaining himself on the part he had taken in the return
    of the Bourbons in 1814, he says that, in his opinion,
    the Bourbons did not re-ascend the throne in virtue of a
    pre-existing and hereditary right; and he gives us, moreover,
    to understand that his counsels and advice were never wanting
    to enlighten them on their true position, and on the conduct
    which they ought to have followed in consequence.

    “He repels the reproach of having betrayed Napoleon; if he
    abandoned him, it was when he discovered that he could no
    longer blend, as he had up to that time done, France and
    the Emperor in the same affection. _This was not without a
    lively feeling of sorrow, for he owed to Napoleon nearly
    all his fortune. He enjoins his heirs never to forget these
    obligations, to tell them to their children, and to instruct
    these, again, to tell them to their offspring; so that if
    some day a man of the name of Bonaparte should be found in
    want of assistance, he should always find it in the family of

    “Replying to those who reproached him for having served
    successively all governments, he observes that he had done so
    without the least scruple, guided by the idea that, in whatever
    situation the country might be, there were always means of
    doing it some good, and that to do this good was the business
    of a statesman.”

Supposing the testament thus spoken of to exist, it is curious; and the
expression of gratitude to the Bonaparte family is the more creditable
from the fact that it could not have been made with any idea that it
would be rewarded.

As to the defence set up for serving all dynasties and all causes, it
cannot apply to any country where public men have the power, out of
office, to put down a bad government, as they have in office the power
to uphold a good one.

I will conclude with the appreciation of a French friend, who thus
summed up many of my own remarks:--

“Enfin, chez M. de Talleyrand, l’aménité et la raison remplaçaient
le cœur, et la conscience. Avec bien des défauts qui ont terni sa
réputation, il avait toutes les qualités qui devaient faire prospérer
son ambition. Ses talents qu’il a employés constamment pour son propre
avantage, il les a employés presque aussi constamment pour le bien
public. Beaucoup attaqué et peu défendu par ses contemporains, il n’en
restera pas moins pour la postérité un des hommes les plus aimables de
son temps et un des citoyens les plus illustres de son pays.”




    Mackintosh’s character.--Character of men of his type.--Birth
    and parentage.--Starts as a physician, fails, and becomes a
    newspaper writer, and author of a celebrated pamphlet in answer
    to Burke’s “Thoughts on the French Revolution.”--Studies for
    the bar.--Becomes noted as a public character, violent on the
    Liberal side.--Becomes acquainted with Mr. Burke.--Modifies
    his opinions.--Gives lectures on public law, remarkable for
    their eloquence and their Conservative opinions.--Becomes
    the advocate of Peltier; makes a great speech, and shortly
    afterwards accepts an appointment in India.


I still remember, amongst the memorable events of my early youth, an
invitation to meet Sir James Mackintosh at dinner; and the eager and
respectful attention with which this honoured guest was received.
I still remember also my anxiety to learn the especial talents, or
remarkable works, for which Sir James was distinguished, and the
unsatisfactory replies which all my questions elicited. He was a
writer, but many had written better; he was a speaker, but many had
spoken better; he was a philosopher, but many had done far more for
philosophy; and yet, though it was difficult to fix on any one thing
in which he was first-rate, it was generally maintained that he was
a first-rate man. There is, indeed, a class amongst mankind, a body
numerous in all literary societies, who are far less valued for any
precise thing they have done than according to a vague notion of what
they are capable of doing. Mackintosh may be taken as a type of this
class; not that he passed his life in the learned inactivity to which
the resident members of our own universities sometimes consign their
intellectual powers, but which more frequently characterizes the
tranquil scholars, whose erudition is the boast of some small German or
Italian city.

But though mixing in the action of a great and stirring community, a
lawyer, an author, a member of parliament, Mackintosh never arrived at
the eminence in law, in letters, or in politics, that satisfied the
expectations of those who, living in his society, were impressed by his
intellect and astonished at his acquirements.

If I were to sum up in a few words the characteristics of the persons
who thus promise more than they ever perform, I should say that their
powers of comprehension are greater than their powers either of
creation or exposition; and that their energy, though capable of being
roused occasionally to great exertions, can rarely be relied on for any
continued effort.

They collect, sometimes in rather a sauntering manner, an immense store
of varied information. But it is only by fits and starts that they are
able to use it with effect, and at their happiest moments they rarely
attain the simple grace and the natural vigour which give beauty and
life to composition. Their deficiencies are inherent in their nature,
and are never therefore entirely overcome. They have not in their minds
the immortal spark of genius, but the faculty of comprehending genius
may give them, in a certain degree, the power of imitating it; whilst
ambition, interest, and necessity, will at times stimulate them to
extraordinary exertions. As writers, they usually want originality,
ease, and power; as men of action, tact, firmness, and decision. The
works in which they most succeed are usually short, and written under
temporary excitement; as statesmen, they at times attract attention
and win applause, but rarely obtain authority or take and keep the
lead in public affairs. In society, however, the mere faculty of
remembering and comprehending a variety of things is quite sufficient
to obtain a considerable reputation; whilst the world, when indulgent,
often estimates the power of a man’s abilities by some transient and
ephemeral display of them.

I will now turn from these general observations to see how far they
are exemplified in the history of the person whose name is before me;
a person who advanced to the very frontier of those lands which it was
not given to him to enter; and who is not only a favourable specimen
of his class, but who, as belonging to that class, represents in many
respects a great portion of the public during that memorable period of
our annals, which extends from the French Revolution of 1789 to the
English Reform Bill in 1830.


The father of Sir James was a Scotch country gentleman, who, having a
small hereditary property, which he could neither part with nor live
upon, entered the army early, and passed his life almost entirely
with his regiment. Young Mackintosh was born on the 24th of October,
1765, in the county of Inverness, and was sent as soon as he could be
to a school at Fortrose; where he fell in with two books which had a
permanent influence on his future career. These books were “Plutarch’s
Lives” and the “Roman History,” books which, by making him ambitious
of public honours, rendered his existence a perpetual struggle between
that which he desired to be and that for which he was best suited. At
Aberdeen, then, where he was sent on quitting Fortrose, he was alike
remarkable for his zeal in politics, and his love for metaphysics--that
is, for his alternate coquetry between an active and a meditative life.
At Edinburgh, also, where he subsequently went to study medicine,
it was the same thing. In the evening he would go now and then to
a “spouting” club and make speeches, while the greater part of his
mornings was spent in poetical lucubrations. To the medical profession
he paid little attention, till all of a sudden necessity aroused him.
He then applied himself, with a start, to that which he was obliged to
know; but his diligence was not of that resolute and steady kind which
insures success as the consequence of a certain period of application;
and after rushing into the novelties of the Brunonian System,[82] which
promised knowledge with little labour, and then, rushing back again, he
resolved on taking his countrymen’s short road to fortune, and set out
for England. His journey, however, did not answer. He got a wife, but
no patients; and on the failure of his attempts to establish himself
at Salisbury and at Weymouth, retired to Brussels--ill, wearied,
and disgusted. The Low Countries were at that time the theatre of a
struggle between the Emperor Joseph and his subjects; the general
convulsion which shortly afterwards took place throughout Europe was
preparing, and the agitation of men’s minds was excessive. These
exciting scenes called the disappointed physician back to the more
alluring study of politics; and to this short visit to the Continent
he owed a knowledge of its opinions and its public men, which first
served him as the correspondent of a newspaper, _The Oracle_; and,
subsequently, furnished him with materials for a pamphlet which in an
instant placed him in the situation he so long occupied as one of _the
most promising men of his day_. This celebrated pamphlet, published
in 1791, and known under the name of “Vindiciæ Gallicæ,” whether we
consider the circumstances under which it appeared, the opponent whom
it combated, or the ability of the composition itself, merited all the
attention it received, and was the more successful because it gave just
the answer to Burke which Burke himself would have given to his own

Thus, the club of Saint James’, the cloister of Trinity College, had a
writer to quote, whose sentiments were in favour of liberty, and whose
language, agreeable to the ear of the gentleman and the scholar, did
not, in defending the patriots of France, advise their imitation or
approve their excesses.

“Burke,” he says, “admires the Revolution of 1688; but we, who conceive
that we pay the purest homage to the authors of that Revolution, not in
contending for what they then did, but for what they would now do, can
feel no inconsistency in looking on France--not to model our conduct,
but to invigorate the spirit of freedom. We permit ourselves to imagine
how Lord Somers, in the light and knowledge of the eighteenth century,
how the patriots of France, in the tranquillity and opulence of
England, would have acted.

“We are not bound to copy the conduct to which the last were driven
by a bankrupt exchequer, and a dissolved government; nor to maintain
the establishments which were spared by the first in a prejudiced and
benighted age.

“Exact imitation is not necessary to reverence. We venerate the
principles which presided in both, and we adapt to political
admiration a maxim which has long been received in polite letters,
that the only manly and liberal imitation is to speak as a great man
would have spoken, had he lived in our times, and been placed in our

There is much even in this passage to show that the adversary was
still the imitator, imbued with the spirit and under the influence
of the genius of the very writer whom he was bold enough to attack.
Many, nevertheless, who, taken by surprise, had surrendered to the
magisterial eloquence of the master, were rescued by the elegant
pleading of the scholar. Everywhere, then, might be heard the loudest
applause, and an applause well merited. On the greatest question of
the times, the first man of the times had been answered by a young
gentleman aged twenty-six, and who, hitherto unknown, was appreciated
by his first success.

The leaders of the Whig party sought him out; they paid him every
attention. His opinions went further than theirs; for he was an
advocate of universal suffrage, an abolitionist of all titles, an
enemy to a senate or second assembly. No persons practically contending
for power could say they exactly sanctioned such notions as these;
but all praised the style in which they were put forth, and, allowing
for the youth, lauded the talent, of the author. Indeed, “the love
to hatred turned” ever repudiates moderation, and the antagonist of
Burke was certain of the rapturous cheers of those whom that great
but passionate man had deserted. In this manner Mackintosh (who was
now preparing for the bar) became necessarily a party man, and a
violent party man. Mr. Fox praised his abilities in Parliament; the
famous Reform Association called the “Friends of the People” chose
him for their honorary secretary. A great portion of the well-known
declaration of this society was his composition; and in a letter to the
Prime Minister of the day (Mr. Pitt), he abused that statesman with a
fierceness and boldness of invective which even political controversy
scarcely allowed.

Here was the great misfortune of his life. This fierceness and boldness
were not in his nature; in becoming a man of action, he entered upon a
part which was not suited to his character, and which it was certain
therefore he would not sustain. The reaction soon followed. Amongst its
first symptoms was a review of Mr. Burke’s “Regicide Peace.” The author
of the review became known to the person whose writing was criticised:
a correspondence ensued, very flattering to Mr. Mackintosh, who shortly
afterwards spent a few days at Beaconsfield (1796).

It was usual for him to say, referring to this visit, that in half an
hour Mr. Burke overturned the previous reflections of his whole life.
There was some exaggeration, doubtless, in this assertion, but it is
also likely that there was some truth in it. His opinions had begun
to waver, and at that critical moment he came into personal contact
with, and was flattered by, a man whom every one praised, and who
praised few. At all events, he was converted, and not ashamed of his
conversion, but, on the contrary, mounted with confidence a stage on
which his change might be boldly justified.

The faults as well as the excellences of the English character arise
from that great dislike to generalise which has made us the practical,
and in many instances the prejudiced, people that we are. Abroad,
a knowledge of general or natural law, of the foundations on which
all laws are or ought to be based, enters as a matter of course into
a liberal education. In England lawyers themselves disregard this
study as useless or worse than useless.[83] They look, and they look
diligently, into English law, such as it is, established by custom,
precedent, or act of Parliament. They know all the nice points and
proud formalities on which legal justice rests, or by which it may
be eluded. The conflicting cases and opposing opinions, which may be
brought to bear on an unsound horse, or a contested footpath, are
deeply pondered over, carefully investigated. But the great edifice
of general jurisprudence, though standing on his wayside, is usually
passed by the legal traveller with averted eyes: the antiquary and the
philosopher, indeed, may linger there; but the plodding man of business
scorns to arrest his steps.

When, however, amidst the mighty crash of states and doctrines that
followed the storm of 1791--when, amidst the birth of new empires
and new legislatures, custom lost its sanctity, precedent its
authority, and statute was made referable to common justice and common
sense,--then, indeed, there uprose a strong and earnest desire to
become acquainted with those general principles so often cited by the
opponents of the past; to visit that armoury in which such terrible
weapons had been found, and to see whether it could not afford means as
powerful for defending what remained as it had furnished for destroying
what had already been swept away.


A course of Lectures on Public Law--about which the public knew so
little, and were yet so curious--offered a road to distinction, which
the young lawyer, confident in his own abilities and researches, had
every temptation to tread. Private interest procured him the Hall at
Lincoln’s Inn; but this was not sufficient; it was necessary that
he should make the world aware of the talent, the knowledge, and the
sentiments with which he undertook so great a task. He published his
introductory essay--the only memorable record of the Lectures to which
we are referring that now remains. The views contained in this essay
may in many instances be erroneous; but its merits as a composition
are of no common kind. Learned, eloquent, it excited nearly as much
enthusiasm as the “Vindiciæ Gallicæ,” and deserved, upon the whole, a
higher order of admiration.

But praise came this time from a different quarter. A few years before,
and Mackintosh had spoken of Mr. Pitt as cold, stern, crafty, and
ambitious; possessing “the parade without the restraint of morals;”
the “most profound dissimulation with the utmost ardour of enterprise;
prepared by one part of his character for the violence of a multitude,
by another for the duplicity of a court.”[84]

It was under the patronage of this same Mr. Pitt that the hardy
innovator now turned back to “the old ways,” proclaiming that “history
was a vast museum, in which specimens of every variety of human nature
might be studied. From these great occasions to knowledge,” he said,
“lawgivers and statesmen, but more especially moralists and political
philosophers, may reap the most important instruction. There, they
may plainly discover, amid all the useful and beautiful variety of
governments and institutions, and under all the fantastic multitude of
usages and rites which ever prevailed among men, the same fundamental,
comprehensive truths--truths which have ever been the guardians of
society, recognised and revered (with very few and slight exceptions)
by every nation upon earth, and uniformly taught, with still fewer
exceptions, by a succession of wise men, from the first dawn of
speculation down to the latest times.”

“See,” he continued, “whether from the remotest periods any
improvement, or even any change, has been made in the practical rules
of human conduct. Look at the code of Moses. I speak of it now as
a mere human composition, without considering its sacred origin.
Considering it merely in that light, it is the most ancient and the
most curious memorial of the early history of mankind. More than 3000
years have elapsed since the composition of the Pentateuch; and let
any man, if he is able, tell me in what important respects the rule of
life has varied since that distant period. Let the institutes of Menu
be explored with the same view; we shall arrive at the same conclusion.
Let the books of false religion be opened; it will be found that their
moral system is, in all its good features, the same. The impostors who
composed them were compelled to pay this homage to the uniform moral
sentiments of the world. Examine the codes of nations, those authentic
depositories of the moral judgments of men: you everywhere find the
same rules prescribed, the same duties imposed. Even the boldest of
these ingenious sceptics who have attacked every other opinion, have
spared the sacred and immortal simplicity of the rules of life. In our
common duties, Bayle and Hume agree with Bossuet and Barrow. Such as
the rule was at the first dawn of history, such it continues at the
present day. Ages roll over mankind; mighty nations pass away like a
shadow; virtue alone remains the same, immutable and unchangeable.”

The object of Mackintosh was to show that the instinct of man was
towards society; that society could not be kept together except on
certain principles; that these principles, therefore, from the nature
of man--a nature predestined and fashioned by God--were at once
universal and divine, and that societies would perish that ignored
them;--a true and sublime theory; but with respect to which we must, if
we desire to be practical, admit that variety of qualifications which
different civilizations, different climates, accidental interests, and
religious prescriptions interpose.

It may be said, for instance, that no society could exist if its
institutions honoured theft as a virtue, and instructed parents to
murder their children; but a great and celebrated society did exist in
ancient Greece,--a society which outlived its brilliant contemporaries,
and which sanctioned robbery, if not detected; and allowed parents
to kill their children, if sickly. It is perfectly true that the ten
commandments of the Jewish legislator are applicable to all mankind,
and are as much revered by the people of the civilized world at the
present day, as by the semi-barbarous people of Israel 3000 years ago.
They are admitted as integrally into the religion taught by Christ,
as they were into the religion taught by Moses. But how different the
morality founded on them! How different the doctrine of charity and
forgiveness from the retributive prescription of vindicative justice!
Nay, how different the precepts taught by the various followers of
Christ themselves, who draw those precepts from the same book!

If there is anything on which it is necessary for the interest and
happiness of mankind to constitute a fixed principle of custom or of
law, it is the position of woman. The social relationship of man with
woman rules the destiny of both from the cradle to the grave; and yet,
on this same relationship, what various notions, customs, and laws!

I make these observations, because it is well that we should see how
much is left to the liberty of man, whilst we recognise the certain
rules by which his caprice is limited: how much is to be learned from
the past--how much is left open to the future!

But all argument at the time that Mackintosh opened his lectures
consisted in the opposition of extremes. As the one party decried
history altogether, so the other referred everything to history; as the
former sect declared that no reverence was due to custom, so the latter
announced that all upon which we valued ourselves most was traditional.
Because those fanatics scoffed at the ideas and manners of the century
that had just elapsed, these referred with exultation to the manners
and ideas that prevailed some thousands of years before.

Mackintosh stood forth, confessedly, as History’s champion; and with
the beautiful candour, which marked his modest and elevated frame of
mind, confessed that the sight of those who surrounded his chair--the
opinions he knew them to entertain--the longing after applause, for
which every public speaker, whatever his theme, naturally thirsts--and
also, he adds, “a proper repentance for former errors”--might all
have heightened the qualities of the orator to the detriment of the
lecturer, and carried him, “in the rebound from his original opinions,
too far towards the opposite extreme.”[85]


We shall soon have to inquire what were the real nature and character
of the change which he confessed that his language at this time
exaggerated. Suffice it here to say that, amidst the sighs of his
old friends, the applauses of his new, and the sneering murmurs and
scornful remarks of the stupid and the envious of all parties, his
eloquence (for he was eloquent as a professor) produced generally the
most flattering effects. Statesmen, lawyers, men of letters, idlers,
crowded with equal admiration round the amusing moralist, whose
glittering store of knowledge was collected from the philosopher, the
poet, the writer of romance and history.

“In mixing up the sparking julep,” says an eloquent though somewhat
affected writer, “that by its potent application was to scour away
the drugs and feculence and peccant humours of the body politic,
he (Mackintosh) seemed to stand with his back to the drawers in a
metaphysical dispensary, and to take out of them whatever ingredients
suited his purpose.”[86]

In the meanwhile (having lost his first wife and married again) he
pursued his professional course, though without doing anything as an
advocate equal to his success as a professor.

M. Peltier’s trial, however, now took place. M. Peltier was an
_émigré_, whom the neighbouring revolution had driven to our shores; a
gentleman possessing some ability, and ardently attached to the royal

He had not profited by the permission to return to France, which had
been given to all French exiles, but carried on a French journal,
which, finding its way to the Continent, excited the remarkable
susceptibility of the first consul. This was just after the peace
of Amiens. Urged by the French government, our own undertook the
prosecution of M. Peltier’s paper. The occasion was an ode, in which
the apotheosis of Bonaparte was referred to, and his assassination
pretty plainly advocated. So atrocious a suggestion, however veiled, or
however provoked, merited, no doubt, the reprobation of all worthy and
high-minded men; but party spirit and national rancour ran high, and
the defender of the prosecuted journalist was sure to stand before his
country as the enemy of France and the advocate of freedom.

A variety of circumstances pointed out Mr. Mackintosh as the proper
counsel to place in this position; and here, by a singular fortune, he
was enabled to combine a hatred to revolutionary principles with an
ardent admiration of that ancient spirit of liberty, which is embodied
in the most popular institutions of England.

“Circumstanced as my client is,” he exclaimed, in his rather studied
but yet powerful declamation, “the most refreshing object his eye can
rest upon is an English jury; and he feels with me gratitude to the
Ruler of empires, that after the wreck of everything else ancient
and venerable in Europe, of all established forms and acknowledged
principles, of all long-subsisting laws and sacred institutions, we are
met here, administering justice after the manner of our forefathers in
this her ancient sanctuary. Here these parties come to judgment; one,
the master of the greatest empire on the earth; the other, a weak,
defenceless fugitive, who waives his privilege of having half his jury
composed of foreigners, and puts himself with confidence on a jury
entirely English. Gentlemen, there is another view in which this case
is highly interesting, important, and momentous, and I confess I am
animated to every exertion that I can make, not more by a sense of my
duty to my client, than by a persuasion that this cause is the first
of a series of contests with the ‘freedom of the press.’ My learned
friend, Mr. Perceval, I am sure, will never disgrace his magistracy
by being instrumental to a measure so calamitous. But viewing this as
I do, as the first of a series of contests between the greatest power
on earth and the only press that is now free, I cannot help calling
upon him and you to pause, before the great earthquake swallows up
all the freedom that remains among men; for though no indication has
yet been made to attack the freedom of the press in this country,
yet the many other countries that have been deprived of this benefit
must forcibly impress us with the propriety of looking vigilantly to
ourselves. Holland and Switzerland are now no more, and near fifty of
the imperial crowns in Germany have vanished since the commencement
of this prosecution. All these being gone, there is no longer any
control but what this country affords. Every press on the Continent,
from Palermo to Hamburg, is enslaved; one place alone remains where the
press is free, protected by our government and our patriotism. It is
an awfully proud consideration that that venerable fabric, raised by
our ancestors, still stands unshaken amidst the ruins that surround us.
_You are the advanced guard of liberty_,” &c.

After the delivery of this speech, which, after being translated by
Madame de Staël, was read with admiration not only in England, but
also on the Continent, Mr. Mackintosh, though he lost his cause, was
considered no less promising as a pleader, than after the publication
of the “Vindiciæ Gallicæ” he had been considered as a pamphleteer.
In both instances, however, the sort of effort he had made seemed to
have exhausted him, and three months had not elapsed, when, with the
plaudits of the public, and the praise of Erskine, still ringing in his
ears, he accepted the Recordership of Bombay from Mr. Addington, and
retired with satisfaction to the well-paid and knighted indolence of
India. His objects in so doing were, he said, to make a fortune, and to
write a work.

We shall thoroughly understand the man when we see what he achieved
towards the attainment of these two objects. He did not make a fortune;
he did not write a work. The greater part of his time seems to have
been employed in a restless longing after society, and a perpetual
dawdling over books; during the seven years he was absent, he speaks
continually of his projected work as “always to be projected.” “I
observe” he says, in one of his letters to Mr. Sharpe, “that you touch
me once or twice with the spur about my books on Morals. I felt it gall
me, for I have not begun.”



    Goes to India.--Pursuits there.--Returns home dissatisfied
    with himself.--Enters Parliament on the Liberal side.--Reasons
    why he took it.--Fails in first speech.--Merits as an
    orator.--Extracts from his speeches.--Modern ideas.--Excessive
    punishments.--Mackintosh’s success as a law reformer.--General
    parliamentary career.


Sir James Mackintosh, in accepting a place in India, abdicated the
chances of a brilliant and useful career in England; still his presence
in one of our great dependencies was not without its use--for his
literary reputation offered him facilities in the encouragement of
learned and scientific pursuits--which, when they tend to explore and
illustrate the history and resources of a new empire, are, in fact,
political ones; while his attempts to obtain a statistical survey, as
well as to form different societies, the objects of which were the
acquirement and communication of knowledge, though not immediately
successful, did not fail to arouse in Bombay, and to spread much
farther, a different and a far more enlightened spirit than that which
had hitherto prevailed amongst our speculating settlers, or rather
sojourners in the East. The mildness of his judicial sway, moreover,
and a wish to return to Europe with, if possible, a “bloodless
ermine,”[87] contributed not only to extend the views, but to soften
the manners of the merchant conquerors, and to lay thereby something
like a practical foundation for subsequent legislative improvement.

To himself, however, this distant scene seems to have possessed no
interest, to have procured no advantage. Worn by the climate, wearied
by a series of those small duties and trifling exertions which,
unattended by fame, offer none of that moral excitement which overcomes
physical fatigue; but little wealthier than when he undertook his
voyage, having accomplished none of those works, and enjoyed little of
that ease, the visions of which cheered him in undertaking it; a sick,
a sad, and, so far as the acceptance of his judgeship was concerned, a
repentant man, he (in 1810) took his way homewards.

“It has happened,” he observes in one of his letters--“it has happened
by the merest accident that the ‘trial of Peltier’ is among the books
in the cabin; and when I recollect the way in which you saw me opposed
to Perceval on the 21st of February, 1803 (the day of the trial),
and that I compare his present situation--whether at the head of an
administration or an opposition--with mine, scanty as my stock is of
fortune, health, and spirits, in a cabin nine feet square, on the
Indian Ocean, I think it enough that I am free from the soreness of

There is, indeed, something melancholy in the contrast thus offered
between a man still young, hopeful, rising high in the most exciting
profession, just crowned with the honours of forensic triumph, and
the man prematurely old, who in seven short years had become broken,
dispirited, and was now under the necessity of beginning life anew,
with wasted energies and baffled aspirations.

But Sir James Mackintosh deceived himself in thinking that if the
seven years to which he alludes had been passed in England, they would
have placed him in the same position as that to which Mr. Perceval
had ascended within the same period. Had he remained at the bar, or
entered Parliament instead of going to India, he might, indeed, have
made several better speeches than Mr. Perceval, as he had already
made one; but he would not always have been speaking well, like Mr.
Perceval, nor have pushed himself forward in those situations, and at
those opportunities, when a good speech would have been most wanted or
most effective. At all events, his talents for active life were about
to have a tardy trial; the object of his early dreams and hopes was
about to be attained--a seat in the House of Commons. He took his place
amongst the members of the Liberal opposition; and many who remembered
the auspices under which he left England, were somewhat surprised at
the banner under which he now enlisted.


Here is the place at which it may be most convenient to consider Sir
James Mackintosh’s former change; as well as the circumstances which
led him back to his old connections. He had entered life violently
democratical,--a strong upholder of the French Revolution; he became,
so to speak, violently moderate, and a strong opponent of this same
Revolution. He altered his politics, and this alteration was followed
by his receiving an appointment.

Such is the outline which malignity might fill up with the darkest
colours; but it would be unjustly. The machinery of human conduct is
complex; and it would be absurd to say that a man’s interests are not
likely to have an influence on his actions. But they who see more
of our nature than the surface, know that our interests are quite
as frequently governed by our character as our character is by our
interests. The true explanation, then, of Mackintosh’s conduct is to
be found in his order of intellect. His mind was not a mind led by its
own inspirations, but rather a mind reflecting the ideas of other men,
and of that class of men more especially to which he, as studious and
speculative, belonged. The commencement of the French Revolution, the
long-prepared work of the Encyclopedists, was hailed by such persons
(we speak generally) as a sort of individual success. Burke did much to
check this feeling; and subsequent events favoured Burke. But by far
the greater number of those addicted to literary pursuits sympathized
with the popular party in the States-General. Under this impulse the
“Vindiciæ Gallicæ” was written. The exclusion of the eminent men of the
National Assembly from power modified, the execution of the Girondists
subdued, this impulse. At the fall of those eloquent Republicans
the lettered usurpation ceased; and now literature, instead of
being opposed to royalty, owed, like it, a debt of vengeance to that
inexorable mob which had spared neither.

It was at the time, then, when everybody was recanting that Mackintosh
made _his_ recantation. Most men of his class and nature took the same
part in the same events; for such men were delighted with the theories
of freedom, but shocked at its excesses; and, indeed, it is difficult
to conceive anything more abhorrent to the gentle dreams of a civilised
philosophy than that wild hurricane of liberty which carried ruin and
desolation over France in the same blast that spread the seeds of
future prosperity.

We find, it is true, this beautiful passage in the “Vindiciæ Gallicæ:”
“The soil of Attica was remarked by antiquity as producing at once the
most delicious fruits and the most violent poisons. It is thus with the
human mind; and to the frequency of convulsions in the commonwealths
we owe those examples of sanguinary tumult and virtuous heroism which
distinguish their history from the monotonous tranquillity of modern
states.” But though these words were used by Mackintosh, they were
merely transcribed by him; they belong to a deeper and more daring
genius--they are almost literally the words of Machiavel, and were
furnished by the reading, and not by the genuine reflections, of the
youthful pamphleteer. He had not in rejoicing over the work of the
Constituante anticipated the horrors of the Convention; the regret,
therefore, that he expressed for what he condemned as his early want of
judgment, was undoubtedly sincere; and no one can fairly blame him for
accepting, under such circumstances, a post which was not political,
and which removed him from the angry arena in which he would have had
to combat with former friends, whose rancour may be appreciated by Dr.
Parr’s brutal reply--when Mackintosh asked him, how Quigley, an Irish
priest, executed for treason, could have been worse. “I’ll tell you,
Jemmy--Quigley was an Irishman, he might have been a Scotchman; he was
a priest, he might have been a lawyer; he was a traitor, he might have
been an apostate.”

Thus much for the Bombay Recordership. But the feverish panic which the
sanguinary government of Robespierre had produced--calmed by his fall,
soothed by the feeble government which succeeded him, and replaced at
last by the stern domination of a warrior who had at least the merit of
restoring order and tranquillity to his country--died away.

A variety of circumstances--including the publication of the “Edinburgh
Review,” which, conducted in a liberal and moderate spirit, made upon
the better educated class of the British population a considerable
impression--favoured and aided the reaction towards a more temperate
state of thought. A new era began, in which the timid lost their
fears, the factious their hopes. All question of the overthrow of the
constitution and of the confiscation of property was at an end; and as
politics thus fell back into more quiet channels, parties adopted new
watchwords and new devices. The cry was no longer, “Shall there be a
Monarchy or a Republic?” but, “Shall the Catholics continue proscribed
as helots, or shall they be treated as free men?”

During the seven years which Sir James had passed in India, this was
the turn that had been taking place in affairs and opinions. It is
hardly possible to conceive any change more calculated to carry along
with it a mild and intelligent philosopher, to whom fanaticism of all
kinds was hateful.

Those whom he had left, under the standard of Mr. Pitt, contending
against anarchical doctrines and universal conquest, were now for
disputing one of Mr. Pitt’s most sacred promises, and refusing to
secure peace to an empire, at the very crisis of its fortunes, by
the establishment of a system of civil equality between citizens
who thought differently on the somewhat abstruse subject of
transubstantiation. Mr. Perceval, at the head of this section of
politicians, was separated from almost every statesman who possessed
any reputation as a scholar. Mr. Canning did not belong to his
administration; Lord Wellesley was on the point of quitting it. There
never was a government to which what may be called the thinking
class of the country stood so opposed. Thus, the very same sort of
disposition which had detached Sir James Mackintosh, some years ago,
from his early friends, was now disposing him to rejoin them; and he
moved backwards and forwards, I must repeat, in both instances--when he
went to India a Tory,[88] and when he entered Parliament a Whig--with
a considerable body of persons, who, though less remarked because less
distinguished, honestly pursued the same conduct.

All the circumstances, indeed, which marked his conduct at this time
do him honour. Almost immediately on his return to England, the
premier offered him a seat in Parliament, and held out to him the
hopes of the high and lucrative situation of President of the Board of
Control. A poor man, and an ambitious man, equally anxious for place
and distinction, he refused both; and this refusal, of which we have
now the surest proof, was a worthy answer to the imputations which had
attended the acceptance of his former appointment. Lord Abinger, who
has since recorded the refusal of a seat from Mr. Perceval, was himself
the bearer of a similar offer from Lord Cawdor;[89] and under the
patronage of this latter nobleman Sir James Mackintosh first entered
Parliament (1813) as the Member for Nairnshire, a representation the
more agreeable, since it was that of his ancestral county, wherein he
had inherited the small property which some years before he had been
compelled to part with.[90]


Any man entering the House of Commons for the first time late in life
possesses but a small chance of attaining considerable parliamentary
eminence. It requires some time to seize the spirit of that singular
assembly, of which most novices are at first inclined to over-rate and
then to under-rate the judgment.

A learned man is more likely to be wrong than any other. He fancies
himself amidst an assembly of meditative and philosophic statesmen;
he calls up all his deepest thoughts and most refined speculations;
he is anxious to astonish by the profundity and extent of his views,
the novelty and sublimity of his conceptions; as he commences, the
listeners are convinced he is a bore, and before he concludes, he is
satisfied that they are blockheads.

The orator, however, is far more out in his conjectures than the
audience. The House of Commons consists of a mob of gentlemen, the
greater part of whom are neither without talent nor information. But
a mob of well-informed gentlemen is still a mob, requiring to be
amused rather than instructed, and only touched by those reasons and
expressions which, clear to the dullest as to the quickest intellect,
vibrate through an assembly as if it had but one ear and one mind.

Besides, the House of Commons is a mob divided beneficially, though it
requires some knowledge of the general genius and practical bearings
of a representative government to see all the advantages of such a
division, into parties. What such parties value is that which is done
in their ranks, that which is useful to themselves, of advantage to
a common cause; any mere personal exhibition is almost certain to
be regarded by them with contempt or displeasure. Differing amongst
themselves, indeed, in almost everything else--some being silent and
fastidious, some bustling and loquacious, some indolent and looking
after amusement, some incapable of being and yet desiring to appear to
be men of business, some active, public-spirited, and ambitious--all
agree in detecting the philosophic rhetorician. Anything in the shape
of subtle refinement,--anything that borders on learned generalities,
is sure to be out of place. Even supposing that the new member, already
distinguished elsewhere although now at his maiden essay in this
strange arena, has sufficient tact to see the errors into which he is
likely to fall, he is still a suspected person, and will be narrowly
watched as to any design of parading his own acquirements at the
expense of other people’s patience.

How did Sir J. Mackintosh first appear amongst auditors thus disposed?
Lord Castlereagh moved, on the 20th of December, 1814, for an
adjournment to the 1st of March. At that moment the whole of Europe was
pouring, in the full tide of victory, into France. Every heart thrilled
with recent triumph and the anticipation of more complete success. The
ministry had acquired popularity as the reflection of the talents of
their general and the tardy good fortune of their allies. The demand
for adjournment was the demand for a confidence which they had a
right to expect, and which Mr. Whitbread and the leading Whigs saw it
would be ungenerous and impolitic to refuse. They granted then what
was asked; Mackintosh alone opposed it. His opposition was isolated,
certain to be without any practical result, and could only be accounted
for by the desire to make a speech!

Lord Castlereagh, who was by nature the man of action which Mackintosh
was not, saw at once the error which the new Whig member had committed,
and determined to add as much as possible to his difficulties. Instead,
therefore, of making the statement which he knew was expected from him,
and to which he presumed the orator opposite would affect to reply, he
merely moved for the adjournment as a matter of course, which needed
no justification. By this simple manœuvre all the formidable artillery
which the profound reflector on foreign politics and the eloquent
lecturer on the law of nations had brought into the field, was rendered
useless. A fire against objects which were not in view, an answer to
arguments which had never been employed, was necessarily a very tame
exhibition, and indeed the new member was hardly able to get through
the oration to which it was evident he had given no common care. In
slang phrase, he “broke down.” Why was this? Sir James Mackintosh was
not ignorant of the nature of the assembly he addressed; he could have
explained to another all that was necessary to catch its ear; but, as
I have said a few pages back, the character of a person governs his
interests far more frequently than his interests govern his character;
and the man I am speaking of was not the man whom a sort of instinct
hurries into the heat and fervour of a real contest. To brandish his
glittering arms was to him the battle. He therefore persuaded himself
that what he did with satisfaction he should do with success. It was
just this which made his failure serious to him.

The runner who trips in a race and loses it may win races for the rest
of his life; but if he stops in the middle of his course, because he
is asthmatic and cannot keep his breath, few persons would bet on
him again. Now, the failure of Mackintosh was of this kind; it was
not an accidental, but a constitutional one, arising from defects or
peculiarities that were part of himself. He never, then, recovered from
it. And yet it could not be said that he spoke ill; on the contrary,
notwithstanding certain defects in manner, he spoke, after a little
practice, well, and far above the ordinary speaking of learned men and
lawyers. Some of his orations may be read with admiration, and were
even received with applause.


Where shall we find a nobler tone of statesmanlike philosophy than
in the following condemnation of that policy which attached Genoa to
Piedmont[91]--a condemnation not the less remarkable for the orator’s
not unskilful attempt to connect his former opposition to the French
Revolution with the war he was then waging against the Holy Alliance?

“One of the grand and patent errors of the French Revolution was
the fatal opinion, that it was possible for human skill to make
a government. It was an error too generally prevalent not to be
excusable. The American Revolution had given it a fallacious semblance
of support, though no event in history more clearly showed its
falsehood. The system of laws and the frame of society in North America
remained after the Revolution, and remain to this day, fundamentally
the same as they ever were.[92] The change in America, like the change
in 1688, was made in defence of legal right, not in pursuit of
political improvement; and it was limited by the necessity of defence
which produced it. The whole internal order remained, which had always
been Republican. The somewhat slender tie which loosely joined these
Republics to a monarchy, was easily and without violence divided. But
the error of the French Revolutionists was, in 1789, the error of
Europe. From that error we have been long reclaimed by fatal experience.

“We now see, or rather we have seen and felt, that a government is not
like a machine or a building, the work of man; that it is the work of
nature, like the nobler productions of the vegetable or animal world,
which man may improve and corrupt, and even destroy, but which he
cannot create. We have long learned to despise the ignorance or the
hypocrisy of those who speak of giving a free constitution to a people,
and to exclaim, with a great living poet:

    ‘A gift of that which never can be given
    By all the blended powers of earth and heaven!’

“Indeed, we have gone, perhaps as usual, too near to the opposite
error, and not made sufficient allowances for those dreadful cases,
which I must call desperate, where, in long-enslaved countries, it is
necessary either humbly and cautiously to lay foundations from which
liberty may slowly rise, or acquiesce in the doom of perpetual bondage
on ourselves and our children.

“But though we no longer dream of making governments, the confederacy
of kings seem to feel no doubt of their own power to make a nation.
A government cannot be made, because its whole spirit and principles
spring from the character of the nation. There would be no difficulty
in framing a government, if the habits of a people could be changed by
a lawgiver; if he could obliterate their recollections, transform their
attachment and reverence, extinguish their animosities and correct
those sentiments which, being at variance with his opinions of public
interest, he calls prejudices. Now this is precisely the power which
our statesmen at Vienna have arrogated to themselves. They not only
form nations, but they compose them of elements apparently the most
irreconcilable. They made one nation out of Norway and Sweden; they
tried to make another out of Prussia and Saxony. They have, in the
present case, forced together Piedmont and Genoa to form a nation which
is to guard the avenues of Italy, and to be one of the main securities
of Europe against universal monarchy.

“It was not the pretension of the ancient system to form states, to
divide territory according to speculations of military convenience.

“The great statesmen of former times did not speak of their measures
as the noble lord (Lord Castlereagh) did about the incorporation
of Belgium with Holland (about which I say nothing), as a great
improvement in the system of Europe. That is the language of those
who revolutionize that system by a partition like that of Poland,
by the establishment of the Federation of the Rhine at Paris, or by
the creation of new states at Vienna. The ancient principle was to
preserve all those States which had been founded by Time and Nature,
the character of which was often maintained, and the nationality of
which was sometimes created by the very irregularities of frontier
and inequalities of strength, of which a shallow policy complains;
to preserve all such States down to the smallest, first by their own
national spirit, and secondly by that mutual jealousy which makes every
great power the opponent of the dangerous ambition of every other; to
preserve nations, living bodies, produced by the hand of Nature--not
to form artificial dead machines, called nations, by the words and
parchment of a diplomatic act--was the ancient system of our wiser
forefathers, &c. &c.…”


There is also a noble strain of eloquence in the following short
defence of the slave-treaty with Spain:

“I feel pride in the British flag being for this object subjected to
foreign ships. I think it a great and striking proof of magnanimity
that the darling point of honour of our country, the British flag
itself, which for a thousand years has braved the battle and the
breeze, which has defied confederacies of nations, to which we have
clung closer and closer as the tempest roared around us, which has
borne us through all perils and raised its head higher as the storm has
assailed us more fearfully, should now bend voluntarily to the cause
of justice and humanity--should now lower itself, never having been
brought low by the mightiest, to the most feeble and defenceless--to
those who, far from being able to return the benefits we would confer
upon them, will never hear of those benefits, will never know, perhaps,
even our name.”

By far the most effective of Sir James Mackintosh’s speeches in
Parliament, however, was one that he delivered (June, 1819) against
“The Foreign Enlistment Bill,” a measure which was intended to prevent
British subjects from aiding the South American colonies in the
struggle they were then making for independence. No good report of this
oration remains, but even our parliamentary records are sufficient
to show that it possessed many of the rarer attributes of eloquence,
and moving with a rapidity and a vigour (not frequent in Sir James’s
efforts), prevented his language from seeming laboured or his learning

It contained, doubtless, other passages more striking in the delivery,
but the one which follows is peculiarly pleasing to me--considering the
argument it answered and the audience to which it was addressed:

“Much has been said of the motives by which the merchants of England
are actuated as to this question. A noble lord, the other night,
treated these persons with great and unjust severity, imputing the
solicitude which they feel for the success of the South American cause
to interested motives. Without indulging in commonplace declamations
against party men, I must considerately say that it is a question with
me whether the interest of merchants do not more frequently coincide
with the best interests of mankind than do the transient and limited
views of politicians. If British merchants look with eagerness to the
event of the struggle in America, no doubt they do so with the hope of
deriving advantage from that event. But on what is such hope founded?
On the diffusion of beggary, on the maintenance of ignorance, on the
confirmation, on the establishment of tyranny in America? No; these are
the expectations of Ferdinand. The British merchant builds his hopes of
trade and profit on the progress of civilization and good government;
on the successful assertion of freedom--of freedom, that parent of
talent, that parent of heroism, that parent of every virtue. The fate
of America can only be necessary to commerce as it becomes accessory to
the dignity and the happiness of the race of man.”


As a parliamentary orator, Sir James Mackintosh never before or
afterwards rose to so great a height as in this debate; but he
continued at intervals, and on great and national questions, to deliver
what may be called very remarkable essays up to the end of his career.
I myself was present at his last effort of this description; and most
interesting it was to hear the man who began his public life with the
“Vindiciæ Gallicæ,” closing it with a speech in favour of the Reform
Bill. During the interval, nearly half a century had run its course.
The principles which, forty years before, had appeared amidst the storm
and tempest of doubtful discussion, and which, since that period,
had been at various times almost totally obscured, were now again on
the horizon, bright in the steady sunshine of matured opinion. The
distinguished person who was addressing his countrymen on a great
historical question was himself a history,--a history of his own time,
of which, with the flexibility of an intelligent but somewhat feeble
nature, he had shared the enthusiasm, the doubt, the despair, the hope,
the triumph.

The speech itself was remarkable. Overflowing with thought and
knowledge, containing sound general principles as to government,
undisfigured by the violence of party spirit, it pleased and instructed
those who took the pains to listen to it attentively; but it wanted the
qualities which attract or command attention.

It were vain to seek in Mackintosh for the playful fancy of Canning,
the withering invective of Brougham, the deep earnestness of Plunkett.
The speaker’s person, moreover, was gaunt and ungainly, his accent
Scotch, his voice monotonous, his action (the regular and graceless
vibration of two long arms) sometimes vehement without passion,
and sometimes almost cringing through good nature and civility. In
short, his manner, wanting altogether the quiet concentration of
self-possession, was peculiarly opposed to that dignified, simple, and
straightforward style of public speaking, which may be characterised as

Still, it must be remembered that he was then at an advanced age,
and deprived, in some degree, of that mental, and yet more of that
physical, energy, which at an earlier period might possibly have
concealed these defects. I have heard, indeed, that on previous
occasions there had been moments when a temporary excitement gave
a natural animation to his voice and gestures, and that then the
excellence of his arguments was made strikingly manifest by an
effective delivery.

His chief reputation in Parliament, nevertheless, is not as an orator,
but as a person successfully connected with one of those great
movements of opinion which are so long running their course, and which
it is the fortune of a man’s life to encounter and be borne up upon
when they are near their goal.


Sir Thomas More, in his “Utopia” (1520), says of thieving, that, “as
the severity of the remedy is too great, so it is ineffectual.” In
Erasmus, Raleigh, Bacon, are to be found almost precisely the same
phrases and maxims that a few years ago startled the House of Commons
as novelties. “What a lamentable case it is,” observes Sir Edward Coke
(1620), “to see so many Christian men and women strangled on that
cursed tree of the gallows, the prevention of which consisteth in three

‘Good education,

‘Good laws,

‘Rare pardons.’”

Evelyn, in his preface to “State Trials” (1730), observes, “that
our legislation is very liberal of the lives of offenders, making no
distinction between the most atrocious crimes and those of a less

“Experience,” says Montesquieu, “shows that in countries remarkable
for the lenity of their laws, the spirit of its inhabitants is as
much affected by slight penalties as in other countries by severe

This feeling became general amongst reflecting men in the middle and
towards the end of the eighteenth century.

Johnson displays it in the “Rambler” (1751). Blackstone expressly
declares that “every humane legislator should be extremely cautious of
establishing laws which inflict the penalty of death, especially for
slight offences.” Mr. Grose, in writing on the Criminal Laws of England
(1769), observes: “The sanguinary disposition of our laws, besides
being a national reproach, is, as it may appear, an encouragement
instead of a terror to delinquents.”

At this time also appeared the pamphlet of “Beccaria” (1767), which
was followed by an almost general movement in favour of milder laws
throughout Europe. The Duke of Modena (1780) abolished the Inquisition
in his states; the King of France, in 1781, the torture; in Russia,
capital punishment--never used but in cases of treason--may be said,
for all ordinary crimes, to have been done away with.

In England, where every doctrine is sure to find two parties, there
was a contest between one set of men who wished our rigorous laws to
be still more rigorously executed, and another that considered the
rigour of those laws to be the main cause of their inefficiency. A
pamphlet, called “Thoughts on Executive Justice,” which produced some
sensation at the moment, represented the first class of malcontents,
and the author declaimed vehemently against those juries, who acquitted
capital offenders because it went against their conscience to take away
men’s lives. Sir Samuel Romilly, then a very young man, replied to this
pamphlet with its own facts, and contended that the way of insuring the
punishment of criminals was to make that punishment more proportionate
to their offences.

From this pamphlet dates the modern battle which the great lawyer,
whose public career commenced with it, carried subsequently to the
floor of the House of Commons.

His exertions, however, were less fortunate than they deserved to be.
To him, indeed, we owe, in a great measure, the spreading of truths
amongst the many which had previously been confined to the few; but he
never enjoyed the substantial triumph of these truths, for the one or
two small successes which he obtained are scarcely worth mentioning.

His melancholy death took place in 1819, and Sir James Mackintosh, who
had just previously called the attention of Parliament to the barbarous
extent to which executions for forgery had been carried, now came
forward as the successor of Romilly in the general work of criminal law

In March, 1819, accordingly, he moved for a committee to inquire into
the subject, and obtained, such being the result in a great measure of
his own able and temperate manner, a majority of nineteen. Again, in
1822, though opposed by the ministers and law-officers of the Crown, he
carried a motion which pledged the House _to increase the efficiency by
diminishing the rigour of our criminal jurisprudence_; and, in 1823,
he followed up this triumph by Nine Resolutions, which, had they been
adopted, would have taken away the punishment of death in the case
of larceny from shops, dwelling-houses, and on navigable rivers, and
also in those of forgery, sheep-stealing, and other felonies, made
capital by the “_Marriage_ and Black Act;” in short, he proposed that
sentences of death should only be pronounced when it was intended to
carry them into execution. Mr. Peel, then home secretary, opposed these
resolutions, and obtained a majority against them; but he pledged
himself at the same time to undertake, on behalf of the government, a
plan of law reform, which, although less comprehensive than that which
Sir James Mackintosh contended for, was a great measure in itself, and
an immense step towards further improvement.

Mackintosh’s success, throughout these efforts, was mainly due to
the plain unpretending manner in which he stated his case. “I don’t
mean,” he said, “to frame a new criminal code; God forbid I should
have such an idle and extravagant pretension. I don’t mean to abolish
the punishment of death; I believe that societies and individuals may
use it as a legitimate mode of defence. Neither do I mean to usurp on
the right of pardon now held by the Crown, which, on the contrary,
I wish, practically speaking, to restore. I do not even hope that I
shall be able to point out a manner in which the penalty of the law
should always be inflicted and never remitted. But I find things in
this condition--that the infliction of the law is the exception, and I
desire to make it the rule. I find two hundred cases in which capital
punishment is awarded by the statute-book, and only twenty-five in
which, for seventy years, such punishment has been executed. Why is
this? Because the code says one thing, and the moral feeling of your
society another. All I desire is that the two should be analogous, and
that our laws should award such punishments as our consciences permit
us to inflict.”

It was this kind of tone which reassured the House that it was not
perilling property by respecting life, and brought about more quickly
than less prudent management would have done that reform to which the
general spirit of the time was tending, and which must necessarily, a
few years sooner or later, have arrived.


Thus, Sir James Mackintosh not only delivered some remarkable speeches
in Parliament, but he connected his name with a great and memorable
parliamentary triumph; nor is this all, he was true to his party,
opposing the government, though with some internal scruples, in 1820;
supporting Mr. Canning in 1827; and going again into opposition, to
the Duke of Wellington, in 1828. And yet, notwithstanding the ability
usually displayed in his speeches, notwithstanding the result of his
efforts in criminal law reform, and, more than all, notwithstanding the
constancy during late years of his politics, he held but a third-rate
place with the Whigs, and when they came into office in 1830, was
only made secretary at that board of which he had been offered the
presidency twenty years before. It is easy to say that this was because
he had not aristocratical connections. Mr. Poulett Thompson was not
more highly connected, and yet, though thirty years his junior, and far
his inferior in knowledge and mental capacity, received at the time a
higher office, and rose in ten years to the first places and honours
of the State. The one had much the higher order of intelligence, the
other the more resolute practical character. What you expected from the
first, he did not perform; the other went beyond your expectations.
For this is to be remarked: a man’s career is formed of the number
of little things he is always doing, whereas your opinion of him is
frequently derived, as I have already said, from something which, under
a particular stimulus, he has done once or twice, and may do now and

The fact is that Mackintosh was not fit for the daily toil and struggle
of Parliament; he had not the quickness, the energy, the hard and
active nature of those who rise by constant exertions in popular
assemblies. He did very well to come out like the State steed, on great
and solemn occasions, with gorgeous caparison and prancing action, but
he did not do as the every-day hack on a plain road. He was, moreover,
inclined by his nature rather to repose than to strife; and that which
we do by effort we cannot be doing for ever--nor even do frequently
well. His reason, which was acute, told him what he should be; but he
had not the energy to be it. For instance, on returning to England,
he exclaimed: “It is time to be something decided, and I am resolved
to exert myself to the utmost in public life, if I have a seat in
Parliament, or to condemn myself to profound retirement if the doors of
St. Stephen’s are barred to me.”[94]

He had not, however, been many years a member before he accepted a
professorship (year 1818) at Haileybury College, because it left him
in the House of Commons; and refused the chair of moral philosophy
at Edinburgh (1818), because, it would have withdrawn him from it.
The great stream of public life thus passed for ever by him; he could
neither commit himself to its waves nor yet avoid lingering on its
shores. Now and then, in a moment of excitement, he would rush into it,
but it was soon again to retire to some sunny reverie, or some shady
regret, where he could quietly plot for the future, or mourn over the
past, or indulge the scheme of lettered indolence which wooed him at
the moment.



    History of England.--Articles in “Edinburgh Review.”--Treatise
    on Ethical Philosophy.--Revolution of 1688.--Bentham’s system
    of morals and politics.--His own death.--Comparison with


I have said that Sir James Mackintosh allowed himself to be lured
from the strife of politics by the love of letters. And what was the
species of learned labour on which his intervals of musing leisure were
employed? He read at times--this he was always able and willing to
do--for the future composition of a great historical work--the “History
of England”--which his friends and the public, with a total ignorance
of his sort of character and ability, always sighed that he should
undertake, and considered that he would worthily accomplish. But while
he read for the future composition of this work, he actually wrote
but little for it. The little he did write was undertaken at the call
of some particular impulse, and capable of being finished before that
impulse was passed away. In such writings he followed the bent of his
nature, and in them accordingly he best succeeded, as they who refer to
his contributions to the “Edinburgh Review”[95] may be well disposed
to acknowledge. At last, within a few yards of his grave, he made a
start. Life was drawing to a close, the season for action was almost
passed, and of all he had mused and read and planned for it, there
existed nothing. This thought galled him to a species of exertion, and
he is one of the very few men who, at an advanced age, crowded the most
considerable and ambitious of their works into the last years of their

The volumes on “English History” brought out in Dr. Lardner’s
“Encyclopædia,” the “Life of Sir Thomas More,” which appeared in
the same publication, a “Treatise on Ethical Philosophy,” and a
commencement of the “History of the Revolution of 1688,” delivered to
the world after his death, are these works.

They all exhibit the author’s defects and merits; third-rate in
themselves, and yet at various times persuading us that he who wrote
them was a first-rate man. Let us take up, for instance, the volumes
on “English History.” The narrative is languid, and interrupted by
disquisitions: the style is in general prolix, cumbrous, cold, profuse;
nevertheless, these volumes are full of thought and knowledge; they
contain many curious anecdotes, many scattered observations of profound
wisdom, while here and there burst upon us, by surprise it must be
confessed, passages which, written under a temporary excitement,
display remarkable spirit and power. Such is the description of
Becket’s murder:


“Provoked by these acts of extraordinary imprudence, Henry is said to
have called out before an audience of lords, knights, and gentlemen,
‘To what a miserable state am I reduced, when I cannot be at rest in
my own realm, by reason of only one priest; is there no one to deliver
me from my troubles?’ Four knights of distinguished rank, William
de Tracy, Hugh de Moreville, Richard Briths, and Reginald Fitz-Urse
(December 28), interpreted the King’s complaints as commands. They
repaired to Canterbury, confirmed in their purpose by finding that
Becket had recommenced his excommunications by that of Robert de Broe,
and that he had altered his course homeward to avoid the royalist
bishops on their way to court, in Normandy; they instantly went to his
house, and required him, not very mildly, to withdraw the censures of
the prelates, and take the oath to his lord-paramount. He refused. John
of Salisbury, his faithful and learned secretary, ventured at this
alarming moment to counsel peace. The primate thought that nothing was
left to him but a becoming death.

“The knights retired to put on their armour, and there seems to have
been sufficient interval either for negotiation or escape. At that
moment, indeed, measures were preparing for legal proceedings against

“But the visible approach of peril awakened his sense of dignity, and
breathed an unusual decorum over his language and deportment. He went
through the cloisters into the church, whither he was followed by his
enemies, attended by a band of soldiers, whom they had hastily gathered
together. They rushed into the church with drawn swords. Tracy cried
out, ‘Where is the traitor? Where is the archbishop?’ Becket, who
stood before the altar of St. Bennet, answered gravely, ‘Here am I, no
traitor, but the archbishop.’ Tracy pulled him by the sleeve, saying:
‘Come hither, thou art a prisoner.’ He pulled back his arm with such
force as to make Tracy stagger, and said: ‘What meaneth this, William?
I have done _thee_ many pleasures; comest thou with armed men into
my church?’ ‘It is not possible that thou shouldst live any longer,’
called out Fitz-Urse. The intrepid primate replied: ‘I am ready to die
for my God, in defence of the liberties of the Church.’

“At that moment, either by a relapse into his old disorders, or to
show that his non-resistance sprung not from weakness, but from duty,
he took hold of Tracy by the habergeon, or gorget, and flung him with
such violence as had nearly thrown him to the ground. He then bowed
his head, as if he would pray, and uttered his last words: ‘To God
and St. Mary I commend my soul, and the cause of the Church!’ Tracy
aimed a heavy blow at him, which fell on a bystander. The assassins
fell on him with many strokes, and though the second brought him to
the ground, they did not cease till his brains were scattered over the


The characters of Alfred, of William I., of Henry VII., are superior
to any sketches of the same persons with which I am acquainted. The
summing up of events into pictures of certain epochs is frequently
done with much skill, and I particularly remember a short description
of the commencement of the Crusades, concluding with the capture of
Jerusalem;--the state of Europe in the thirteenth century, comprising
a large portion of history in two pages; and the death of Simon de
Montfort, with the establishment of the English Constitution. In a true
spirit of historical philosophy, Sir James Mackintosh says:

“The introduction of knights, citizens, and burgesses into the
Legislature, by its continuance in circumstances so apparently
inauspicious, showed how exactly it suited the necessities and demands
of society at that moment. No sooner had events brought forward
the measure, than its fitness to the state of the community became
apparent. It is often thus that in the clamours of men for a succession
of objects, society selects from among them the one that has an
affinity with itself, and which most easily combines with its state at
the time.”

The condition of Europe, also, just prior to the wars of the Roses, is
rapidly, picturesquely, and comprehensively sketched.

“The historian who rests for a little space between the termination
of the Plantagenet wars in France and the commencement of the civil
wars of the two branches of that family in England, may naturally
look around him, reviewing some of the more important events which
had passed, and casting his eye onward to the preparations for the
mighty changes which were to produce an influence on the character and
lot of the human race. A very few particulars only can be selected as
specimens from so vast a mass. The foundations of the political system
of the European commonwealth were now laid. A glance over the map of
Europe, in 1453, will satisfy an observer that the territories of
different nations were then fast approaching to the shape and extent
which they retain at this day. The English islanders had only one town
of the continent remaining in their hands. The Mahometans of Spain
were on the eve of being reduced under the Christian authority. Italy
had, indeed, lost her liberty, but had yet escaped the ignominy of a
foreign yoke. Moscovy was emerging from the long domination of the
Tartars. Venice, Hungary, and Poland, three states now placed under
foreign masters, guarded the eastern frontier of Christendom against
the Ottoman barbarians, whom the absence of foresight, of mutual
confidence, and a disregard of general safety and honour, disgraceful
to the western governments, had just suffered to master Constantinople
and to subjugate the eastern Christians. France had consolidated the
greater part of her central and commanding territories. In the transfer
of the Netherlands to the house of Austria originated the French
jealousy of that power, then rising in South-Eastern Germany. The
empire was daily becoming a looser confederacy under a nominal ruler,
whose small remains of authority every day continued to lessen. The
internal or constitutional history of the European nations threatened,
in almost every continental country, the fatal establishment of an
absolute monarchy, from which the free and generous spirit of the
northern barbarians did not protect their degenerate posterity. In the
Netherlands an ancient gentry, and burghers, enriched by traffic, held
their still limited princes in check. In Switzerland, the patricians of
a few towns, together with the gallant peasantry of the Alpine valleys,
escaped a master. But Parliaments and Diets, States-General and
Cortes, were gradually disappearing from view, or reduced from august
assemblies to insignificant formalities, and Europe seemed on the eve
of exhibiting nothing to the disgusted eye but the dead uniformity of
imbecile despotism, dissolute courts, and cruelly oppressed nations.

“In the meantime the unobserved advancement and diffusion of knowledge
were preparing the way for discoveries, of which the high result
will be contemplated only by unborn ages. The mariner’s compass had
conducted the Portuguese to distant points on the coast of Africa,
and was about to lead them through the unploughed ocean to the famous
regions of the East. Civilized men, hitherto cooped up on the shores
of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, now visited the whole of
their subject planet and became its undisputed sovereigns. The great
adventurer[97] was then born, who, with two undecked boats and one
frail sloop, containing with difficulty a hundred and twenty persons,
dared to stretch across an untraversed ocean, which had hitherto
bounded the imaginations as well as the enterprises of men; and who,
instead of that India renowned in legend and in story, of which he was
in quest, laid open a new world which, under the hands of the European
race, was one day to produce governments, laws, manners, modes of
civilization and states of society almost as different as its native
plants and animals from those of ancient Europe.

“Who could then--who can even now--foresee all the prodigious effects
of these discoveries on the fortunes of mankind?”


No one will deny that what I have just quoted might have been written
by a great historian; yet no one will say that the work I quote from is
a great history.

It is a series of parts, some excellent, some indifferent, but which
altogether do not form a whole. The fragment of the Revolution, though
a fragment, presents the same qualities and defects. The narrative is
poor; some of the characters, such as those of Rochester, Sunderland,
and Halifax--and some of the passages (that with which the work opens,
for instance)--are excellent; but then, these fine figures of gold
embroidery are worked here and there with care and toil, on an ordinary
sort of canvas.

The “Life of Sir Thomas More” is the only complete performance; and
this because it was a portrait which might have been taken at one

The “Treatise on Ethics,” first published in the supplement of the
seventh edition of the “Encyclopædia Britannica,” and which has
since appeared in a separate form under the auspices of Professor
Whewell, is still more remarkable, both in its design and execution,
as characterising the author. He seems here, indeed, to have been
aware of his own capabilities, and to have accommodated his labours
to them; for his work is conceived in separate and distinct portions,
and he undertakes to write the course and progress of philosophy by
descriptions of its most illustrious masters and professors; a plan
gracefully imagined, as diffusing the charm of personal narrative over
dry and speculative disquisition.

Nothing, accordingly, can be better executed than some of these
pictures. It would be difficult to paint Hobbes, Leibnitz, Shaftesbury,
more faithfully, or in more suitable colours; the contrast between the
haughty Bossuet and the gentle Fénelon is perfectly sustained; while
Berkeley the virtuous, the benevolent, the imaginative, is drawn
with a pencil which would even have satisfied the admiration of his


“_Berkeley._--Ancient learning, exact science, polished society, modern
literature, and the fine arts, contributed to adorn and enrich the
mind of this accomplished man. All his contemporaries agreed with the
satirist in ascribing

    “‘To Berkeley every virtue under heaven!’

“Adverse factions and hostile wits concurred only in loving, admiring,
and contributing to advance him. The severe sense of Swift endured his
visions; the modest Addison endeavoured to reconcile Clarke to his
ambitious speculations. His character converted the satire of Pope into
fervid praise. Even the fastidious and turbulent Atterbury said, after
an interview with him, ‘So much understanding, so much knowledge, so
much innocence, and such humility, I did not think had been the portion
of any but angels, till I saw this gentleman.’[98] ‘Lord Bathurst told
me,’ says Warton, ‘that the members of the Scribblers’ Club being met
at his house at dinner, they agreed to rally Berkeley, who was also
his guest, on his scheme at Bermudas. Berkeley, having listened to the
many lively things they had to say, begged to be heard in his turn,
and displayed his plan with such an astonishing and animating force of
eloquence and enthusiasm that they were struck dumb, and, after some
pause, rose all up together, with earnestness exclaiming, “Let us set
out with him immediately!”’[99] It was when thus beloved and celebrated
that he conceived, at the age of forty-five, the design of devoting
his life to reclaim and convert the natives of North America; and he
employed as much influence and solicitation as common men do for their
most prized objects, in obtaining leave to resign his dignities and
revenues, to quit his accomplished and affectionate friends, and to
bury himself in what must have seemed an intellectual desert. After
four years’ residence at Newport, in Rhode Island, he was compelled,
by the refusal of government to furnish him with funds for his college,
to forego his work of heroic, or rather godlike benevolence, though not
without some consoling forethought of the fortune of a country where he
had sojourned:

    “‘Westward the course of empire takes its way:
      The first four acts already past,
    A fifth shall close the drama with the day,
      Time’s noblest offspring is its last.’

“Thus disappointed in his ambition of keeping a school for savage
children, at a salary of a hundred pounds a year, he was received
on his return with open arms by the philosophical Queen, at whose
metaphysical parties he made one, with Sherlock, who, as well as
Smallridge, was his supporter, and with Hoadley, who, following Clarke,
was his antagonist. By her influence he was made Bishop of Cloyne.
It is one of his greatest merits, that though of English extraction,
he was a true Irishman, and the first eminent Protestant, after the
unhappy contest at the Revolution, who avowed his love for all his
countrymen;[100] and contributed, by a truly Christian address to
the Roman Catholics of his diocese, to their perfect quiet during
the rebellion of 1745. From the writings of his advanced years, when
he chose a medical tract[101] to be the vehicle of philosophical
reflections, though it cannot be said that he relinquished his early
opinions, it is at least apparent that his mind had received a new
bent, and was habitually turned from reasoning towards contemplation.
His immaterialism, indeed, modestly appears, but only to purify and
elevate our thoughts, and to fix them on mind, the paramount and
primeval principle of all things. ‘Perhaps,’ says he, ‘the truths
about innate ideas may be, that there are properly no ideas on passive
objects in the mind but what are derived from sense, but that there are
also, besides these, her own acts and operations--such are notions;’ a
statement which seems once more to admit general conceptions, and which
might have served, as well as the parallel passage of Leibnitz, as the
basis of modern philosophy in Germany. From these compositions of his
old age, he then appears to have recurred with fondness to Plato, and
the later Platonists: writers from whose mere reasonings an intellect
so acute could hardly hope for an argumentative satisfaction of all its
difficulties, and whom he probably either studied as a means of inuring
his mind to objects beyond the visible diurnal sphere, and of attaching
it, through frequent meditation, to that perfect and transcendent
goodness, to which his moral feelings always pointed, and which they
incessantly strove to grasp. His mind, enlarging as it rose, at length
receives every theist, however imperfect his belief, to a communion in
its philosophic piety. ‘Truth,’ he beautifully concludes, ‘is the cry
of all, but the game of few. Certainly, where it is the chief passion,
it does not give way to vulgar cares, nor is it contented with a little
ardour in the early time of life; active perhaps to pursue, but not
so fit to weigh and revise. He that would make a real progress in
knowledge, must dedicate his age as well as youth, the latter growth as
well as first fruits, at the altar of truth.’ So did Berkeley, and such
were almost his latest words.

“His general principles of ethics may be shortly stated by himself:
‘As God is a being of infinite goodness, His end is the good of His
creatures. The general well-being of all men of all nations, of all
ages of the world, is that which He designs should be procured by
the concurring actions of each individual.’ Having stated that this
end can be pursued only in one of two ways--either by computing the
consequences of each action, or by obeying the rules which generally
tend to happiness; and having shown the first to be impossible, he
rightly infers, ‘That the end to which God requires the concurrence
of human actions, must be carried on by the observation of certain
determinate and universal rules, or moral precepts, which in their own
nature have a necessary tendency to promote the well-being of mankind,
taking in all nations and ages, from the beginning to the end of the
world.’[102] A romance, of which a journey to an Utopia in the centre
of Africa forms the chief part, called, ‘The adventures of Signor
Gaudentio di Lucca,’ has been commonly ascribed to him; probably on no
other ground than its union of pleasing invention with benevolence and


The following short description of the practical Paley comes aptly
after that of this charming Utopian:

“_Paley._--The natural frame of Paley’s understanding fitted it more
for business and the world than for philosophy; and he accordingly
enjoyed with considerable relish the few opportunities which the
latter part of his life afforded, of taking a part in the affairs of
his country, as a magistrate. Penetration and shrewdness, firmness and
coolness, a vein of pleasantry, fruitful, though somewhat unrefined,
with an original homeliness and significancy of expression, were
perhaps more remarkable in his conversation than the restraints of
authorship and profession allowed them to be in his writings. His taste
for the common business and ordinary amusements of life, fortunately
gave a zest to the company which his neighbourhood chanced to yield,
without rendering him insensible to the pleasures of intercourse with
more enlightened society. The practical bent of his nature is visible
in the language of his writings, which, on practical matters, is as
precise as the nature of the subject requires; but, in his rare and
reluctant efforts to rise to first principles, becomes undeterminate
and unsatisfactory, though no man’s composition was more free from the
impediments which hinder a writer’s meaning from being quickly and
clearly seen. He possessed that chastised acuteness of discrimination,
exercised on the affairs of men, and habitually looking to a purpose
beyond the mere increase of knowledge, which forms the character of a
lawyer’s understanding, and which is apt to render a mere lawyer too
subtle for the management of affairs, and yet too gross for the pursuit
of general truths. His style is as near perfection, in its kind, as
any in our language. Perhaps no words were ever more expressive and
illustrative than those in which he represents the art of life to be
that of rightly setting our habits.”--“Ethical Philosophy,” p. 274.

Such are the portraits in this work; the history of ancient ethics,
and the vindication of the scholiasts also, are in themselves and as
separate compositions of great merit; but when, after admiring these
different fragments, we look at the plan, at the system which is to
result from them, or endeavour to follow out the line of reasoning
which is to bring them together--we quit the land of realities for
that of shadows, and are obliged to confess that the author has barely
sufficient vigour to make his meaning intelligible.


To give the history intended to be given by Sir James’s treatise, would
be without the scope of the present sketch; but it may not be amiss to
say something of the state of the philosophical opinions which existed
at the time of its publication, and which, in fact, called it forth.
Helvetius, the friend of Voltaire and Diderot--Helvetius, whose works
have been considered as merely the record of those opinions which
circulated around him--the most amusing, if not the most logical of
metaphysicians, wrote that everything proceeded from the senses, and
that man (for this was one of his favourite hypotheses) differed from a
monkey mainly because his hands were tenderer and more soft.

The doctrine of sensation led necessarily to that of selfishness,
since, owing what we think to what we feel, every idea is the
consequence of some pain or pleasure, and our own pains and pleasures
are thus the parents of all our emotions.

A strong reaction, however, took place in the beginning of the
nineteenth against the eighteenth century; the original existence of
certain sentiments or affections implanted by nature, was contended
for, in Germany and in Scotland, under a variety of qualifications.
The school, which said that the affections arose from this primary
source, called them disinterested, as that which contended that they
more or less directly proceeded from some cause which had reference to
ourselves, called them interested. There was but one step easily made
by both parties in carrying out their doctrines.

The philosophers who thought that self-interest, “through some
certain strainers well refined,” was the cause of all our actions and
ideas, maintained that utility was the only measure of virtue, or of
greatness. The philosophers of the opposite faction argued on the
contrary, that as many of our emotions were natural and involuntary, so
there was also a sense of wrong and right, natural and involuntary, and
connected with those emotions implanted in us.

Living in a retired part of London, visited only by his adorers and
disciples, looking rarely beyond the confines of his early knowledge,
and on the train of thinking it had inspired, an old and singular
gentleman, with great native powers of mind, almost alone resisted the
new impulse, and, classifying and extending the doctrines of the French
philosophy, established a reputation and a school of his own. The charm
of Mr. Bentham’s philosophy, however obscured by fanciful names and
unnecessary subdivisions, is its apparent clearness and simplicity.

He considers with the disciples of Helvetius--1, that our ideas do come
from our sensations, and that consequently we are selfish; 2, that man
in doing what is most useful to himself does what is right.

Very strange and fantastical notions have been propagated against the
philosopher by persons so egregiously mistaking him as to imagine that
what he thus says of mankind generally--of man, meaning every man--is
said of a man, of man separately; so that a murderer, pretend these
commentators, has only to be sure that a second murder is useful to
him by preventing the detection of the first, in order to be justified
in committing it. It were useless to dwell upon this ridiculous
construction. But in urging men to pursue the general interest of
society at large, in telling them that to do what is most for that
interest is to act usefully and thereby virtuously, Mr. Bentham found
it necessary to explain how such interest was to be discovered.

Accordingly he has propounded that the general interest of a society
must be considered to be the interest of the greatest number in that
society, and that the greatest number in any society is the best judge
of its interest. Moreover, in the further development of his doctrine,
he contends that a majority would always, under natural circumstances,
govern a minority, and that, therefore, there is a natural tendency,
if not thwarted, towards the happiness and good government of mankind.
This system of philosophy gained the more attention from its being also
a system of politics. According to Mr. Bentham, that which was most
important to men depended on maintaining what he considered the natural
law, viz., governing the minority by the majority.


Unfortunately for the destiny of mankind, and the soundness of the
Benthamite doctrine, it is by no means certain that the majority in
any community is the best judge of its interests; whilst it is even
less certain, if it did know these interests, that it would necessarily
and invariably follow them. In almost every collection of men the
intelligent few know better what is for the common interest than the
ignorant many; and it is rare indeed to see communities or individuals
pursuing their interest steadily even when they perceive it clearly.
It would, perhaps, be more reconcilable to reason to say that the
intellect of a community should govern a community; but this assertion
is also open to objection, since a small number of intelligent men
might govern for their own interest, and not for the interest of the
society they represented. In short, though it is easy to see that the
science of government does not consist in giving power to the greatest
number, but in giving it to the most intelligent, and making it for
their interest to govern for the interest of the greatest number;
still, every day teaches us that good government is rather a thing
relative than a thing absolute; that all governments have good mixed
with evil, and evil mixed with good; and that the statesman’s task, as
is beautifully demonstrated by Montesquieu, is, not to destroy an evil
combined with a greater good, nor to create a good accompanied with a
greater evil; but to calculate how the greatest amount of good and the
least amount of evil can be combined together. Hence it is, that the
best governments with which we are acquainted seem rather to have been
fashioned by the working hand of daily experience, than by the artistic
fingers of philosophical speculation.

Nevertheless, the theory, that the good of the greatest number in any
community ought to be the object which its government should strive
to attain, and the maxim, that the interest and happiness of every
unit in a community are to be treated as a portion of the interest and
happiness of the whole community, are humanizing precepts, and have,
through the influence of Mr. Bentham and of his disciples, produced,
within my own memory, a considerable change in the public opinion of

Mr. Bentham’s name, then, is far more above the scoff of his
antagonists than below the enthusiasm of his disciples; and it is in
this spirit, and with a becoming respect, that Sir James Mackintosh
treats the philosopher while he combats his philosophy.


In regard to the theory of Sir James himself, if I understand it
rightly (and it is rather, as I have said, indistinctly expressed), he
accepts neither the doctrine of innate ideas disinterestedly producing
or ordering our actions, nor that of sense-derived ideas by which, with
a concentrated regard to self, some suppose men to be governed--but
imagines an association of ideas, naturally suggested by our human
condition, which, according to a pre-ordinated state of the mind,
produces, as in chemical processes, some emotion different from any of
the combined elements or causes from which it springs.

This emotion, once existing, requires, without consideration or
reflection, its gratification. In this manner the satisfaction of
benevolence and pity springs as much from a spontaneous desire as
the satisfaction of hunger; and man is unconsciously taught, through
feelings necessary to him as man, to wish involuntarily for that which,
on reflection and experience, he would find (such is the beautiful
dispensation of Providence) most for his happiness and advantage.

The union, assemblage, or incorporation, if one may so speak, of these
involuntary desires, affecting and affected by them all, becomes our
universal moral sense or conscience, which in each of its propensities
is gratified or mortified, according to our conduct.


Here end my criticisms. They have passed rapidly in review the
principal works and events of Sir James Mackintosh’s life;[104] and
what have they illustrated? That, which I commenced by observing: that
he had made several excellent speeches, that he had taken an active
part in politics, that he had written ably upon history, that he had
manifested a profound knowledge of philosophy; but that he had not
been pre-eminent as an orator, as a politician, as an historian, as a
philosopher.[105] It may be doubted whether any speech or book of his
will long survive his time; but a very valuable work might be compiled
from his writings and speeches. Indeed, there are hardly any books
in our language more interesting or more instructive than the two
volumes published by his son, and which display in every page the best
qualities of an excellent heart and an excellent understanding, set off
by the most amiable and remarkable simplicity. His striking, peculiar,
and unrivalled merit, however, was that of a conversationalist. Great
good-nature, great and yet gentle animation, much learning, and a
sound, discriminating, and comprehensive judgment, made him this.
He had little of the wit of words--brilliant repartées, caustic
sayings, concentrated and epigrammatic turns of expression. But he
knew everything and could talk of everything without being tedious. A
lady of great wit, intellect, and judgment (Lady William Russell), in
describing his soft Scotch voice, said to me--“Mackintosh played on
your understanding with a flageolet, Macaulay with a trumpet.” Having
lived much by himself and with books, and much also in the world and
with men, he had the light anecdote and easy manner of society, and
the grave and serious gatherings in of lonely hours. He added also to
much knowledge considerable powers of observation; and there are few
persons of whom he speaks, even at the dawn of their career, whom he
has not judged with discrimination. His agreeableness, moreover, being
that of a full mind expressed with facility, was the most translatable
of any man’s, and he succeeded with foreigners, and in France, which
he visited three times--once at the peace of Amiens, again in 1814,
and again in 1824--quite as much as in his own country, and with
his own countrymen. Madame de Staël and Benjamin Constant prized
him not less than did Lord Dudley or Lord Byron. It was not only in
England, then, but also on the Continent, where his early pamphlet and
distinguished friendships had made him equally known--that he ever
remained the _man of promise_; until, amidst hopes which his vast and
various information, his wonderful memory, his copious elocution,
and his transitory fits of energy, still nourished, he died, in the
sixty-seventh year of his age, universally admired and regretted,
though without a high reputation for any one thing, or the ardent
attachment of any particular set of persons. His death, which took
place the 30th of May, 1832, was occasioned by a small fragment of
chicken-bone, which, having lacerated the trachea, created a wound that
ultimately proved fatal. He met his end with calmness and resignation,
expressing his belief in the Christian faith, and placing his trust in


No man doing so little ever went through a long life continually
creating the belief that he would ultimately do so much. A want of
earnestness, a want of passion, a want of genius, prevented him from
playing a first-rate part amongst men during his day, and from leaving
any of those monuments behind him which command the attention of
posterity. A love of knowledge, an acute and capacious intelligence,
an early and noble ambition, led him into literary and active life,
and furnished him with the materials and at moments with the energy by
which success in both is obtained. An amiable disposition, a lively
flow of spirits, an extraordinary and varied stock of information made
his society agreeable to the most distinguished persons of his age,
and induced them, encouraged by some occasional displays of remarkable
power, to consider his available abilities to be greater than they
really were.

“What have you done,” he relates that a French lady once said to him,
“that people should think you so superior?” “I was obliged,” he adds,
“as usual, to refer to my projects.” For active life he was too much
of the academic school:--believing nearly all great distinctions to
be less than they were, and remaining irresolute between small ones.
He passed, as he himself said, from Burke to Fox in half an hour, and
remained weeks, as we learn from a friend (Lord Nugent), in determining
whether he should employ “usefulness” or “utility” in some particular
composition. Such is not the stuff out of which great leaders or
statesmen are formed. His main error as a writer and as a speaker
was his elaborate struggle against that easy idle way of delivering
himself, which made the charm of his talk when he did not think of what
he was saying. “The great fault of my manner,” he himself observes
somewhere, “is that I overload.” And to many of his more finished
compositions we might, indeed, apply the old saying of the critic,
who on being asked whether he admired a certain tragedy of Dionysius,
replied: “I have not seen it; it is obscured with language.” His early
compositions had a sharper and terser style than his later ones, the
activity of the author’s mind being greater, and his doubts and toils
after perfection less; but even these were over-prepared. Can he be
considered a failure? No; if you compare him with other men. Yes; if
you compare him with the general idea entertained as to himself. The
reputation he attained, however vague and uncertain, the writings
that he left, though inferior to the prevalent notions as to his
powers,--all placed him on a pedestal of conspicuous, though not of
gigantic elevation amongst his contemporaries. The results of his life
only disappointed when you measured them by the anticipations which
his merits had excited--then he became “the man of promise.” Could he
have arrived at greater eminence than that which he attained? if so, it
must have been by a different road. I cannot repeat too often that no
man struggles perpetually and victoriously against his own character;
and one of the first principles of success in life, is so to regulate
our career as rather to turn our physical constitution and natural
inclinations to good account, than to endeavour to counteract the one
or oppose the other.

There can be no general comparison between Montaigne and Mackintosh.
The first was an original thinker, and the latter a combiner and
retailer of the thoughts of others. But I have often pictured to myself
the French philosopher lounging away the greatest portion of his life
in the old square turret of his château, yielding to his laziness all
that it exacted from him, and becoming, almost in spite of himself, the
first magistrate of his town, and, though carelessly and discursively,
the greatest writer of his time. He gave the rein to the idleness of
his nature, and had reason to be satisfied with the employment of his

On the other hand, let us look at the accomplished Scotchman,
constantly agitated by his aspirations after fame and his inclinations
for repose; formed for literary ease, forcing himself into political
conflict--dreaming of a long-laboured history, and writing a hasty
article in a review; earnest about nothing, because the objects to
which he momentarily directed his efforts were not likely to give the
permanent distinction for which he pined; and thus, with a doubtful
mind and a broken career, achieving little that was worthy of his
abilities, or equal to the expectations of his friends. I have said
there can be no general comparison between men whose particular
faculties were no doubt of a very different order; yet, had the one
mixed in contest with the bold and factious spirits of his day, he
would have been but a poor “_ligueur_;” and had the other abstained
from politics and renounced long and laborious compositions, merely
writing under the stimulus of some accidental inspiration, it is
probable that his name would have gone down to posterity as that of the
most agreeable and instructive essayist of his remarkable epoch. But at
all events that name is graven on the monument which commemorates more
Christian manners and more mild legislation: and “Blessed shall he be,”
as said our great lawyer, “who layeth the first stone of this building;
more blessed he that proceeds in it; most of all he that finisheth it
in the glory of God, and the honour of our king and nation.”



1ST, 1800.

    Son of a small farmer.--Boyhood spent in the country.--Runs
    away from home.--Becomes a lawyer’s clerk.--Enlists as a
    soldier, 1784.--Learns grammar and studies Swift.--Goes
    to Canada.--Remarked for good conduct.--Rises to rank of
    sergeant-major.--Gets discharge, 1791.--Marries.--Quits
    Europe for United States.--Starts as a bookseller in
    Pennsylvania.--Becomes a political writer of great
    power.--Takes a violent anti-republican tone.--Has to suffer
    different prosecutions, and at last sets sail for England.


The character which I am now tempted to delineate is just the reverse
of that which I rise from describing. Mackintosh was a man of great
powers of reasoning, of accomplished learning, but of little or no
sustained energy. His vision took a wide and calm range; he saw all
things coolly, dispassionately, and, except at his first entry into
life, was never so lost in his admiration of one object as to overlook
the rest. His fault lay in rather the opposite extreme; his perception
of the universal weakened that of the particular, and the variety of
colours which appeared at once before him became too blended in his
sight for the adequate appreciation of each.

The subject of this memoir, on the contrary, though he could argue
well in favour of any opinion he adopted, had not that elevated and
philosophic cast of mind which makes men inquire after truth for the
sake of truth, regarding its pursuit as a delight, its attainment as
a duty. Neither could he take that comprehensive view of affairs which
affords to the judgment an ample scope for the comparison and selection
of opinions. But he possessed a rapid power of concentration; a will
that scorned opposition; he saw clearly that one side of a question
which caught his attention; and pursued the object he had momentarily
in view with an energy that never recoiled before a danger, and was
rarely arrested by a scruple. The sense of his force gave him the
passion for action; but he encouraged this passion until it became
restlessness, a desire to fight rather for the pleasure of fighting
than for devotion to any cause for which he fought.

While Mackintosh always struggled against his character, and thereby
never gave himself fair play, the person of whom I am now about
to speak--borne away in a perfectly opposite extreme--allowed his
character to usurp and govern his abilities, frequently without either
usefulness or aim. Thus, the one changed sides two or three times
in his life, from that want of natural ardour which creates strong
attachments; the other attacked and defended various parties with a
furious zeal, upon which no one could rely, because it proceeded from
the temporary caprice of a whimsical imagination, and not from the
stedfast enthusiasm of any well-meditated conviction. With two or three
qualities more, Cobbett would have been a very great man in the world;
as it was, he made a great noise in it. But I pass from criticism to


William Cobbett was born in the neighbourhood of Farnham, on the 9th
of March, 1762. The remotest ancestor he had ever heard of was his
grandfather, who had been a day labourer, and, according to the rustic
habits of old times, worked with the same farmer from the day of his
marriage to that of his death. The son, Cobbett’s parent, was a man
superior to the generality of persons in his station of life. He
could not only read and write, but he knew also a little mathematics;
understood land surveying, was honest and industrious, and had thus
risen from the position of labourer, a position in which he was born,
to that of having labourers under him.

Cobbett’s boyhood, I may say his childhood, was passed in the fields:
first he was seen frightening the birds from the turnips, then weeding
wheat, then leading a horse at harrowing barley, finally joining the
reapers at harvest, driving the team, and holding the plough. His
literary instruction was small, and only such as he could acquire at
home. It was shrewdly asked by Dr. Johnson, “What becomes of all the
clever schoolboys?” In fact, many of the boys clever at school are not
heard of afterwards, because if they are docile they are also timid,
and attend to the routine of education less from the love of learning
than the want of animal spirits. Cobbett was not a boy of this kind.
At the age of sixteen he determined to go to sea, but could not get
a captain to take him. At the age of seventeen he quitted his home
(having already, when much younger, done so in search of adventures),
and without communicating his design to any one, started, dressed
in his Sunday clothes, for the great city of London. Here, owing to
the kind exertions of a passenger in the coach in which this his
first journey was made, he got engaged after some time and trouble as
under-clerk to an attorney (Mr. Holland), in Gray’s Inn Lane.

It is natural enough that to a lad accustomed to fresh air, green
fields, and out-of-door exercise, the close atmosphere, dull aspect,
and sedentary position awaiting an attorney’s under-clerk at Gray’s
Inn must have been hateful. But William Cobbett never once thought of
escaping from what he called “an earthly hell” by a return to his home
and friends. This would have been to confess himself beaten, which
he never meant to be. On the contrary, rushing from one bold step to
another still more so, he enlisted himself (1784) as a soldier in a
regiment intended to serve in Nova Scotia. His father, though somewhat
of his own stern and surly nature, begged, prayed, and remonstrated.
But it was useless. The recruit, however, had some months to pass
in England, since, peace having taken place, there was no hurry in
sending off the troops. These months he spent in Chatham, storing his
brains with the lore of a circulating library, and his heart with
love-dreams of the librarian’s daughter.

To this period he owed what he always considered his most valuable
acquisition, a knowledge of his native language; the assiduity with
which he gave himself up to study, on this occasion, insured his
success and evinced his character. He wrote out the whole of an English
grammar two or three times; he got it by heart; he repeated it every
morning and evening, and he imposed on himself the task of saying it
over once every time that he mounted guard. “I learned grammar,” he
himself says, “when I was a private soldier on the pay of sixpence a
day. The edge of my berth, or that of the guard-bed, was my seat to
study on; my knapsack was my book-case, a bit of board lying on my lap
was my writing-table, and the task did not demand anything like a year
of my life.” Such is will. In America, Cobbett remained as a soldier
till the month of September, 1791, when his regiment was relieved and
sent home. On the 19th of November, he obtained his discharge, after
having served nearly eight years, never having once been disgraced,
confined, or reprimanded, and having attained, owing to his zeal and
intelligence, the rank of sergeant-major without having passed through
the intermediate rank of sergeant.

The following was the order issued at Portsmouth on the day of his

                                       “Portsmouth, 19th Dec. 1791.

    “Sergeant-Major Cobbett having most pressingly applied for his
    discharge, at Major Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s request, General
    Frederick has ordered Major Lord Edward Fitzgerald to return
    the Sergeant-Major thanks for his behaviour and conduct during
    the time of his being in the regiment, and Major Lord Edward
    adds his most hearty thanks to those of the General.”


At this period Cobbett married. Nobody has left us wiser sentiments or
pithier sentences on the choice of a wife. His own, the daughter of
a sergeant of artillery, stationed like himself at New Brunswick, had
been selected at once. He had met her two or three times, and found
her pretty; beauty, indeed, he considered indispensable, but beauty
alone would never have suited him. Industry, activity, energy, the
qualities which he possessed, were those which he most admired, and
the partner of his life was fixed upon when he found her, one morning
before it was distinctly light, “scrubbing out a washing-tub before her
father’s door.” “That’s the girl for me,” he said, and he kept to this
resolution with a fortitude which the object of his attachment deserved
and imitated.

The courtship was continued, and the assurance of reciprocated
affection given; but before the union of hands could sanctify that of
hearts, the artillery were ordered home for England. Cobbett, whose
regiment was then at some distance from the spot where his betrothed
was still residing, unable to have the satisfaction of a personal
farewell, sent her 150 guineas, the whole amount of his savings, and
begged her to use it--as he feared her residence with her father at
Woolwich might expose her to bad company--in making herself comfortable
in a small lodging with respectable people until his arrival. It was
not until four years afterwards that he himself was able to quit
America, and he then found the damsel he had so judiciously chosen
not with her father, it is true, nor yet lodging in idleness, but
as servant-of-all-work for five pounds a year, and at their first
interview she put into his hands the 150 guineas which had been
confided to her--untouched. Such a woman had no ordinary force of
mind; and it has been frequently asserted that he who, once beyond
his own threshold, was ready to contend with every government in the
world, was, when at home, under what has been appropriately called the
government of the petticoat.

Cobbett’s marriage took place on the 3rd of February, 1792; that is,
about ten weeks after his discharge; but having in March brought
a very grave charge against some of the officers of his regiment,
which charge, when a court-martial was summoned, he did not appear to
support, he was forced to quit England for France, where he remained
till September, 1792, when he determined on trying his fortune in the
United States.


On his arrival he settled in Philadelphia, and was soon joined by Mrs.
Cobbett, who had not accompanied him out. His livelihood was at first
procured by giving English lessons to French emigrants; and it is a
fact not without interest that a celebrated person who figures amongst
these sketches--M. de Talleyrand--wished to become one of his pupils.
He refused, he says, to go to the ci-devant bishop’s house, but adds,
in his usual style, that the lame fiend hopped over this difficulty at
once by offering to come to his (Cobbett’s) house, an offer that was
not accepted. About this time Doctor Priestley came to America. The
enthusiasm with which the doctor was received roused the resentment of
the British soldier, who moreover panted for a battle. He published
then--though with some difficulty, booksellers objecting to the
unpopularity of the subject, an objection at which the author was most
indignant--a pamphlet called “Observations on Priestley’s Emigration.”
This pamphlet, on account both of its ability and scurrility, made a
sensation, and thus commenced the author’s reputation, though it only
added 1_s._ 7½_d._ to his riches. But he was abusing, he was abused.
This was to be in his element, and he rose at once, so far as the
power and peculiarity of his style were concerned, to a foremost place
amongst political writers. This style had been formed at an early
period of life, and perhaps unconsciously to himself.

“At eleven years of age,” he says in an article in the _Evening Post_,
calling upon the reformers to pay for returning him to Parliament, “my
employment was clipping of box-edgings and weeding beds of flowers
in the garden of the Bishop of Winchester at the castle of Farnham,
my native town. I had always been fond of beautiful gardens, and a
gardener who had just come from the King’s gardens at Kew gave me
such a description of them as made me instantly resolve to work in
those gardens. The next morning” (this is the early adventure I have
previously spoken of), “without saying a word to any one, off I set,
with no clothes except those upon my back, and with thirteen halfpence
in my pocket. I found that I must go to Richmond, and I accordingly
went on from place to place inquiring my way thither. A long day (it
was in June) brought me to Richmond in the afternoon. Two pennyworth
of bread and cheese and a pennyworth of small beer which I had on the
road, and one halfpenny that I had lost somehow or other, left three
pence in my pocket. With this for my whole fortune, I was trudging
through Richmond in my blue smock-frock, and my red garters tied under
my knees, when, staring about me, my eye fell upon a little book in a
bookseller’s window, on the outside of which was written ‘The Tale of a
Tub, price 3_d._’ The title was so odd that my curiosity was excited. I
had the threepence; but then I could not have any supper. In I went and
got the little book, which I was so impatient to read, that I got over
into a field at the upper corner of Kew Gardens, where there stood a
haystack. On the shady side of this I sat down to read. The book was so
different from anything that I had ever read before, it was something
so new to my mind, that, though I could not understand some parts of
it, it delighted me beyond description, and produced what I have always
considered a sort of birth of intellect.

“I read on until it was dark without any thought of supper or bed. When
I could see no longer, I put my little book in my pocket and tumbled
down by the side of the stack, where I slept till the birds in the Kew
Gardens awakened me in the morning, when off I started to Kew, reading
my little book. The singularity of my dress, the simplicity of my
manner, my lively and confident air, and doubtless his own compassion
besides, induced the gardener, who was a Scotchman, I remember, to give
me victuals, find me lodging, and set me to work; and it was during
the period that I was at Kew that George IV. and two of his brothers
laughed at the oddness of my dress while I was sweeping the grass-plot
round the foot of the Pagoda. The gardener, seeing me fond of books,
lent me some gardening books to read; but these I could not relish
after my ‘Tale of a Tub,’ which I carried about with me wherever I
went, and when I--at about twenty years old--lost it in a box that
fell overboard in the Bay of Fundy, in North America, the loss gave me
greater pain than I have since felt at losing thousands of pounds.”


Many had cause to remember, this evening passed under a haystack at
Kew. The genius of Swift engrafted itself naturally on an intellect so
clear and a disposition so inclined to satire as that of the gardener’s

Cobbett’s earliest writings are more especially tinged with the
colouring of his master. Take for instance the following fable, which
will at all times find a ready application:

“In a pot-shop, well stocked with wares of all sorts, a discontented,
ill-formed pitcher unluckily bore the sway. One day, after the
mortifying neglect of several customers, ‘Gentlemen,’ said he,
addressing himself to his brown brethren in general--‘gentlemen, with
your permission, we are a set of tame fools, without ambition, without
courage, condemned to the vilest uses; we suffer all without murmuring;
let us dare to declare ourselves, and we shall soon see the difference.
That superb ewer, which, like us, is but earth--these gilded jars,
vases, china, and, in short, all those elegant nonsenses whose colour
and beauty have neither weight nor solidity--must yield to our strength
and give place to our superior merit.’ This civic harangue was received
with applause, and the pitcher, chosen president, became the organ of
the assembly. Some, however, more moderate than the rest, attempted to
calm the minds of the multitude; but all the vulgar utensils, which
shall be nameless, were become intractable. Eager to vie with the bowls
and the cups, they were impatient, almost to madness, to quit their
obscure abodes to shine upon the table, kiss the lip, and ornament the

“In vain did a wise water-jug--some say it was a platter--make them
a long and serious discourse upon the utility of their vocation.
‘Those,’ said he, ‘who are destined to great employments are rarely the
most happy. We are all of the same clay, ’tis true, but He who made us
formed us for different functions; one is for ornament, another for
use. The posts the least important are often the most necessary. Our
employments are extremely different, and so are our talents.’

“This had a most wonderful effect; the most stupid began to open their
ears; perhaps it would have succeeded, if a grease-pot had not cried
out in a decisive tone: ‘You reason like an ass--to the devil with you
and your silly lessons.’ Now the scale was turned again; all the horde
of pans and pitchers applauded the superior eloquence and reasoning
of the grease-pot. In short, they determined on an enterprise; but
a dispute arose--who should be the chief? Every one would command,
but no one obey. It was then you might have heard a clatter; all put
themselves in motion at once, and so wisely and with so much vigour
were their operations conducted, that the whole was soon changed--not
into china, but into rubbish.”


The tendency of this tale is manifest. It was in opposition to the
democratic spirit mainly because such was the ruling spirit of the
country in which the author had come to reside--a democratic spirit
which has since developed itself more fully, but which then, though
predominant, had a powerful and respectable party to contend against.

The constitution of the United States had indeed perfectly satisfied
none of its framers. Franklin had declared that he consented to it, not
as the best, but as the best that he could then hope for. Washington
expressed the same opinion. It necessarily gave birth to two parties,
which for a time were held together by the position, the abilities,
and the reputation of the first president of the new Republic. They
existed, however, in his government itself, where Jefferson represented
the Democratic faction, and Hamilton the Federal or Conservative one.
To the latter the president--though holding the balance with apparent
impartiality--belonged; for he was an English gentleman, of a firm
and moderate character, and, moreover, wished that the government
of which he was the head should be possessed of an adequate force.
The great movement, however, in France--which he was almost the only
person to judge from the first with calm discernment--overbore his
views and complicated his situation. Determined that the United States
should take only a neutral position in the European contest, he was
assailed on all sides--as a tyrant, because he wished for order--as
a partisan of Great Britain, because he wished for peace. To those
among the native Americans, who dreamt impossible theories, or desired
inextricable confusion, were joined all the foreign intriguers, who,
banished from their own countries, had no hopes of returning there but
as enemies and invaders. “I am called everything,” said Washington,
“even a Nero.”[106] His continuance in the presidency, to which he was
incited by some persons to pretend for a third time, had indeed become
incompatible with his character and honour.

The respect which he had so worthily merited and so long inspired was
on the wane. The cabinet with which he had commenced his government
was broken up; his taxes, in some provinces, were refused; a treaty
he had concluded with England was pretty generally condemned; and as
he retired to Mount Vernon, the democratic party saw that approaching
triumph which the election of their leader to the presidency was soon
about to achieve. The cry against Great Britain was fiercer; the shout
for Jefferson was louder than it had ever been before.


At this time Cobbett, then better known as Peter Porcupine, a name
which on becoming an author he had assumed, and which had at least the
merit of representing his character appropriately, having quarrelled
with a legion of booksellers, determined to set up in the bookselling
line for himself; and in the spring of 1796, he took a house in Second
Street for that purpose.

Though he was not so universally obnoxious then as he subsequently
became, his enemies were already many and violent--his friends warm,
but few. These last feared for him in the course he was entering upon;
they advised him, therefore, to be prudent--to do nothing, at all
events, on commencing business, that might attract public indignation;
and, above all, not to put up any aristocratic portraits in his windows.

Cobbett’s plan was decided. His shop opened on a Monday, and he spent
all the previous Sunday in so preparing it that, when he took down
his shutters on the morning following, the people of Philadelphia
were actually aghast at the collection of prints, arrayed in their
defiance, including the effigies of George III., which had never
been shown at any window since the rebellion. From that moment the
newspapers were filled, and the shops placarded, with “A Blue Pill for
Peter Porcupine,” “A Pill for Peter Porcupine,” “A Boaster for Peter
Porcupine,” “A Picture of Peter Porcupine.” Peter Porcupine had become
a person of decided consideration and importance.

“Dear father,” says the writer who had assumed this name, in one of
his letters home, “when you used to set me off to work in the morning,
dressed in my blue smock-frock and woollen spatterdashes, with a bag of
bread and cheese and a bottle of small beer over my shoulder, on the
little crook that my godfather gave me, little did you imagine that I
should one day become so great a man.”


Paine’s arrival in America soon furnished fresh matter for invective.
Paine, like Priestley, was a Republican; and was, like Priestley,
hailed with popular enthusiasm by the Republicans. Cobbett attacked
this new idol, therefore, as he had done the preceding one, and even
with still greater virulence. This carried him to the highest pitch of
unpopularity which it was possible to attain in the United States, and
it was now certain that no opportunity would be lost of restraining
his violence or breaking his pen. In August, 1797, accordingly, he was
indicted for a libel against the Spanish minister and his court; but
the bill was ignored by a majority of one; and indeed, it would have
been difficult for an American jury to have punished an Englishman
for declaring the Spanish king at that time “the tool of France.” A
question was now raised as to whether the obnoxious writer should not
be turned out of the United States, under the Alien Act.

This having been objected to by the Attorney General, a new course of
prosecution was adopted. Nearly all Cobbett’s writings were brought
together into one mass, and he was charged with having published
throughout them libels against almost every liberal man of note in
America, France, and England. Under such a charge he was obliged
to find recognisances for his good behaviour to the amount of 4000
dollars, and it was hoped by a diligent search into his subsequent
writings to convict him of having forfeited these recognisances.

His enemies, indeed, might safely count on his getting into further
troubles; nor had they long to wait. A Doctor Rash having at this time
risen into great repute by a system of purging and bleeding, with which
he had attempted to stop the yellow fever, Cobbett, who could ill
tolerate another’s reputation, even in medicine, darted forth against
this new candidate for public favour with his usual vigour of abuse.
“Can the Rush grow up without mire, or the flag without water?” was
his exclamation, and down went his ruthless and never-pausing flail on
poor Dr. Rush’s birth, parentage, manners, character, medicine, and
everything that was his by nature, chance, or education. This could not
long continue; Cobbett was again indicted for a libel.

In tyrannies justice is administered unscrupulously in the case of a
political enemy; in democracies also law must frequently be controlled
by vulgar prejudice and popular passion. This was seen in the present
case. The defendant pleaded, in the first place, that his trial should
be removed from the Court of the State of Pennsylvania to that of the
United States. It was generally thought that as an alien he could claim
to have his cause thus transferred. This claim, however, was refused
by the chief justice, whom he had recklessly affronted; and the trial
coming on when a jury was pretty certain to be hostile, Cobbett
was assessed in damages to the amount of 5000 dollars; nor was much
consolation to be derived from the fact that on the 14th December, the
day on which he was condemned for libelling Rush, General Washington
died, in some degree the victim of that treatment which the libelled
doctor had prescribed.

The costs of the suit he had lost, added to the fine which the adverse
sentence had imposed, made altogether a considerable sum. Cobbett was
nearly ruined, but he bore himself up with a stout heart; and for a
moment turning round at bay faced his enemies, and determined yet to
remain in the United States. But on second thoughts, without despairing
of his fortunes, he resolved to seek them elsewhere; and set sail for
England. This he did on the 1st of June, 1800; shaking the dust from
his feet on what he then stigmatised as “that infamous land, where
judges become felons, and felons judges.”



    Starts a paper, by title _The Porcupine_, which he had
    made famous in America.--Begins as a Tory.--Soon verges
    towards opposition.--Abandons _Porcupine_ and commences
    _Register_.--Prosecuted for libel.--Changes politics, and
    becomes radical.--Prosecuted again for libel.--Convicted
    and imprisoned.--Industry and activity though confined in
    Newgate.--Sentence expires.--Released.--Power as a writer
    increases.--Government determined to put him down.--Creditors
    pressing.--He returns to the United States.


The space Cobbett filled in the public mind of his native land was
at this time, 1800, considerable. Few, in fact, have within so brief
a period achieved so remarkable a career, or gained under similar
circumstances an equal reputation. The boy from the plough had become
the soldier, and distinguished himself, so far as his birth and term
of service at that time admitted, in the military profession; the
uneducated soldier had become the writer; and, as the advocate of
monarchical principles in a Republican state, had shown a power and a
resolution which had raised him to the position of an antagonist to the
whole people amongst whom he had been residing. There was Cobbett on
one side of the arena, and all the democracy of democratic America on
the other!

He now returned to the Old World and the land for which he had been
fighting the battle. His name had preceded him. George III. admired
him as his champion; Lord North hailed him as the greatest political
reasoner of his time (Burke being amongst his contemporaries); Mr.
Windham--the elegant, refined, classical, manly, but whimsical Mr.
Windham--was in raptures at his genius; and though the English people
at this time were beginning to be a little less violent than they
had been in their hatred of France and America, the English writer
who despised Frenchmen and insulted Americans, was still a popular
character in England.

Numerous plans of life were open to him; that which he chose was the
one for which he was most fitting, and to which he could most easily
and naturally adapt himself. He again became editor of a public
paper, designated by the name he had rendered famous, and called _The

The principles on which this paper was to be conducted were announced
with spirit and vigour. “The subjects of a British king,” said Cobbett,
“like the sons of every provident and tender father, never know his
value till they feel the want of his protection. In the days of
youth and ignorance I was led to believe that comfort, freedom, and
virtue were exclusively the lot of Republicans. A very short trial
convinced me of my error, admonished me to repent of my folly, and
urged me to compensate for the injustice of the opinion which I had
conceived. During an eight years’ absence from my country, I was not an
unconcerned spectator of her perils, nor did I listen in silence to the
slander of her enemies.

“Though divided from England by the ocean, though her gay fields were
hidden probably for ever from my view, still her happiness and her
glory were the objects of my constant solicitude. I rejoiced at her
victories, I mourned at her defeats; her friends were my friends, her
foes were my foes. Once more returned, once more under the safeguard
of that sovereign who watched over me in my infancy, and the want of
whose protecting arm I have so long had reason to lament, I feel an
irresistible desire to communicate to my countrymen the fruit of my
experience; to show them the injurious and degrading consequences of
discontent, disloyalty, and innovation; to convince them that they are
the first as well as happiest of the human race, and above all to warn
them against the arts of those ambitious and perfidious demagogues who
could willingly reduce them to a level with the cheated slaves, in the
bearing of whose yoke I had the mortification to share.”


The events even at this time were preparing, which in their series of
eddies whirled the writer we have been quoting into the midst of those
very ambitious and perfidious demagogues whom he here denounces. Nor
was this notable change, under all the circumstances which surrounded
it, very astonishing. In the first place, the party in power, after
greeting him on his arrival with a welcome which, perhaps, was more
marked by curiosity than courtesy, did little to gratify their
champion’s vanity, or to advance his interests. With that indifference
usually shown by official men in our country to genius, if it is
unaccompanied by aristocratical or social influence, they allowed the
great writer to seek his fortunes as he had sought them hitherto, pen
in hand, without aid or patronage.

In the second place, the part which Mr. Pitt took on the side of
Catholic emancipation was contrary to all Cobbett’s antecedent
prejudices: and then Mr. Pitt had treated Cobbett with coolness one day
when they met at Mr. Windham’s. Thus a private grievance was added to a
public one.

The peace with France--a peace for which he would not illuminate,
having his windows smashed by the mob in consequence--disgusted him yet
more with Mr. Addington, whose moderate character he heartily despised;
and not the less so for that temporising statesman’s inclination
rather to catch wavering Whigs than to satisfy discontented Tories.
These reasons partly suggested his giving up the daily journal he had
started (called, as I have said, _The Porcupine_), and commencing the
_Weekly Political Register_, which he conducted with singular ability
against every party in the country. I say against every party in the
country; for, though he was still, no doubt, a stout advocate of kingly
government, he did not sufficiently admit, for the purposes of his
personal safety, that the king’s government was the king’s ministers.
Thus, no doubt to his great surprise, he found that he, George III.’s
most devoted servant, was summoned one morning to answer before the
law for maliciously intending to move and incite the liege subjects of
his Majesty to hatred and contempt of his royal authority.

The libel made to bear this forced interpretation was taken from
letters in November and December, 1803, signed “Juverna,” that appeared
in the _Register_, and were not flattering to the government of Ireland.


If we turn to the state of that country at this time, we shall find
that the resignation of Mr. Pitt, and the hopeless situation of the
Catholics, had naturally created much discontent. Mr. Addington, it
is true, was anything but a severe minister; he did nothing to rouse
the passions of the Irish, but he did nothing to win the heart, excite
the imagination, or gain the affection of that sensitive people. The
person he had nominated to the post of Lord Lieutenant was a fair type
of his own ministry, that person being a sensible, good-natured man,
with nothing brilliant or striking in his manner or abilities, but
carrying into his high office the honest intention to make the course
he was enjoined to pursue as little obnoxious as possible to those whom
he could not expect to please. In this manner his government, though
mild and inoffensive, neither captivated the wavering nor overawed
the disaffected; and under it was hatched, by a young and visionary
enthusiast (Mr. Emmett), a conspiracy, which, though contemptible as
the means of overturning the established authority, was accompanied at
its explosion by the murder of the Lord Chief Justice, and the exposure
of Dublin to pillage and flames. The enemies of ministers naturally
seized on so fair an occasion for assailing them, and Cobbett, who held
a want of energy to be at all times worse than the want of all other
qualities, put his paper at their disposal.

In the present instance, the writer of “Juverna’s” letters, calling
to his aid the old story of the wooden horse which carried the Greeks
within the walls of Troy, and exclaiming, “Equo ne credite Teucri!”
compared the Irish administration, so simple and innocuous in its
outward appearance, but containing within its bosom, as he said, all
the elements of mischief, to that famous and fatal prodigy of wood; and
after complimenting the Lord Lieutenant on having a head made of the
same harmless material as the wooden horse itself, thus flatteringly
proceeded: “But who is this Lord Hardwicke? I have discovered him to be
in rank an earl, in manners a gentleman, in morals a good father and a
kind husband, and that, moreover, he has a good library in St. James’s
Square. Here I should have been for ever stopped, if I had not by
accident met with one Mr. Lindsay, a Scotch parson, since become (and
I am sure it must be by Divine Providence, for it would be impossible
to account for it by secondary causes) Bishop of Killaloe. From this
Mr. Lindsay I further learned that my Lord Hardwicke was celebrated for
understanding the mode and method of fattening sheep as well as any man
in Cambridgeshire.”

The general character of the attack on Lord Hardwicke may be judged
of by the above quotation, and was certainly not of a very malignant
nature. It sufficed, however, to procure a hostile verdict; and the
Editor of the _Political Register_ was declared “Guilty of having
attempted to subvert the King’s authority.”

This, however, was not all. Mr. Plunkett, then Solicitor-General for
Ireland, had pleaded against Mr. Emmett, whose father he had known,
with more bitterness than perhaps was necessary, since the culprit
brought forward no evidence in his favour, and did not even attempt
a defence. Mr. Plunkett, moreover, had himself but a short time
previously expressed rather violent opinions, and, when speaking of
the Union, had gone so far as to say that, if it passed into a law, no
Irishman would be bound to obey it. In short, the position in which
he stood was one which required great delicacy and forbearance, and
delicacy and forbearance he had not shown. “Juverna” thus speaks of him:

“If any one man could be found of whom a young but unhappy victim of
the justly offended laws of his country had, in the moment of his
conviction and sentence, uttered the following apostrophe: ‘That viper,
whom my father nourished, he it is whose principles and doctrines
now drag me to my grave; and he it is who is now brought forward
as my prosecutor, and who, by an unheard-of exercise of the royal
prerogative, has wantonly lashed with a speech to evidence the dying
son of his former friend, when that dying son had produced no evidence,
had made no defence, but, on the contrary, acknowledged the charge and
submitted to his fate’--Lord Kenyon would have turned with horror from
such a scene, in which, if guilt were in one part punished, justice
in the whole drama was confounded, humanity outraged, and loyalty

These observations, made in a far more rancorous spirit than those
relating to Lord Hardwicke, could not fail to be bitterly felt by the
Solicitor-General, who was probably obliged, in deference to Irish
opinion, to prosecute the editor of the paper they appeared in.

He did so, and obtained 500_l._ damages.

Luckily for Cobbett, however, he escaped punishment in both suits;
for the real author of these attacks, Mr. Johnson, subsequently Judge
Johnson, having been discovered, or having discovered himself, Cobbett
was left without further molestation. But an impression had been
created in his mind. He had fought the battle of loyalty in America
against a host of enemies to the loss of his property, and even at
the hazard of his life. Shouts of triumph had hailed him from the
British shores. The virulence of his invectives, the coarseness of his
epithets, the exaggeration of his opinions, were all forgotten and
forgiven when he wrote the English language out of England. He came to
his native country; he advocated the same doctrines, and wrote in the
same style; his heart was still as devoted to his king, and his wishes
as warm for the welfare of his country; but, because it was stated in
his journal that Lord Hardwicke was an excellent sheep-feeder, and Mr.
Plunkett a viper--(a disagreeable appellation, certainly, but one soft
and gentle in comparison with many which he had bestowed, fifty times
over, on the most distinguished writers, members of Congress, judges
and lawyers in the United States--without the regard and esteem of his
British patrons being one jot abated)--he had been stigmatised as a
traitor and condemned to pay five hundred pounds as a libeller.

He did not recognise, in these proceedings, the beauties of the British
Constitution, nor the impartial justice which he had always maintained
when in America, was to be found in loyal old England. He did not see
why his respect for his sovereign prevented him from saying or letting
it be said that a Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was a very ordinary man,
nor that a Solicitor-General of Ireland had made a very cruel and
ungenerous speech, when the facts thus stated were perfectly true. The
Tory leaders had done nothing to gain him as a partisan, they had done
much that jarred with his general notions on politics, and finally they
treated him as a political foe. The insult, for such he deemed it, was
received with a grim smile of defiance, and grievous was the loss which
Conservative opinions sustained when those who represented them drove
the most powerful controversialist of his day into the opposite ranks.

Nor can the value of his support be estimated merely by the injury
inflicted by his hostility. When Cobbett departed from his consistency,
he forfeited a great portion of his influence. With his marvellous
skill in exciting the popular passions in favour of the ideas he
espoused; with his nicknames, with his simple, sterling, and at all
times powerful eloquence, it is difficult to limit the effect he
might have produced amongst the classes to which he belonged, and
which with an improved education were beginning to acquire greater
power, if acquainted with their habits and warmed by their passions,
he had devoted his self-taught intellect to the defence of ancient
institutions and the depreciation of modern ideas.

But official gentlemen then were even more official than they are now;
and fancying that every man in office was a great man, every one out
of it a small one, their especial contempt was reserved for a public
writer. If, however, such persons, the scarecrows of genius, were
indifferent to Cobbett’s defection, they whose standard he joined
hailed with enthusiasm his conversion.

These were not the Whigs. Cobbett’s was one of those natures which
never did things by halves. Sir Francis Burdett, Mr. Hunt, Major
Cartwright, and a set of men who propounded theories of parliamentary
reform--which no one, who was at that time considered a practical
statesman, deemed capable of realization--were his new associates and

Nor was his change a mere change in political opinion. It was,
unfortunately, a change in political morality. The farmer’s son
had not been educated at a learned university--having his youthful
mind nourished and strengthened by great examples of patriotism and
consistency, drawn from Greece and Rome:--he was educating himself by
modern examples from the world in which he was living, and there he
found statesmen slow to reward the advocacy of their public opinions,
but quick to avenge any attack on their personal vanity or individual
interests. It struck him then that their principles were like the signs
which innkeepers stick over their tap-rooms, intended to catch the
traveller’s attention, and induce him to buy their liquors; but having
no more real signification than “St. George and the Dragon,” or the
“Blue Boar,” or the “Flying Serpent;” hence concluding that one sign
might be pulled down and the other put up, to suit the taste of the
customers, or the speculation of the landlord.

And now begins a perfectly new period in his life. Up to this date he
had always been one and the same individual. Every corner of his being
had been apparently filled with the same loyal hatred to Frenchmen and
Democrats. He had loved, in every inch of him, the king and the church,
and the wooden walls of Old England. “Who will say,” he exclaims in
America, “that an Englishman ought not to despise all the nations in
the world? For my part I do, and that most heartily.” What he here says
of every one of a different nation from his own, he had said, and said
constantly, of every one of a different political creed from his own,
and his own political creed had as yet never varied. But consistency
and Cobbett here separated. Not only was his new self a complete and
constant contradiction with his old self--this was to be expected: but
whereas his old self was one solid block, his new self was a piece of
tesselated workmanship, in which were patched together all sorts of
materials of all sorts of colours. I do not mean to say that, having
taken to the liberal side in politics, he ever turned round again and
became violent on the opposite side. But his liberalism had no code.
He recognised no fixed friends--no definite opinions. The notions
he advocated were such as he selected for the particular day of the
week on which he was writing, and which he considered himself free on
the following day to dispute with those who adopted them. As to his
alliances, they were no more closely woven into his existence than his
doctrines; and he stood forth distinguished for being dissatisfied with
everything, and quarrelling with every one.


The first tilt which he made from the new side of the ring where he had
now taken his stand was against Mr. Pitt--whom it was not difficult
towards the close of his life to condemn, for the worst fault which
a minister can commit--being unfortunate. Cobbett’s next assault--on
the demand of the Whigs for an increase of allowance to the king’s
younger sons--was against Royalty itself, its pensions, governorships,
and rangerships, which he called “its cheeseparings and candle-ends!”
Some Republicans on the other side of the Atlantic must have rubbed
their spectacles when they read these effusions; but the editor of the
_Register_ was indifferent to provoking censure, and satisfied with
exciting astonishment. Besides, we may fairly admit, that, when the
King demanded that his private property in the funds should be free
from taxation (showing he had such property), and at the same time
called upon the country to increase the allowances of his children, he
did much to try the loyalty of the nation, and gave Cobbett occasion
to observe that a rich man did not ask the parish to provide for
his offspring. “I am,” said he, “against these things, not because
I am a Republican, but because I am for monarchical government, and
consequently adverse to all that gives Republicans a fair occasion for
sneering at it.”

In the meantime his periodical labours did not prevent his undertaking
works of a more solid description; and in 1806 he announced the
“Parliamentary Register,” which was to contain all the recorded
proceedings of Parliament from the earliest times; and was in the
highest degree useful, since the reader had previously to wade through
a hundred volumes of journals in order to know anything of the
history of the two Houses of Parliament. These more serious labours
did not, however, interfere with his weekly paper, which had a large
circulation, and, though without any party influence (for Cobbett
attacked all parties), gave him a great deal of personal power and
importance. “It came up,” says the author, proudly, “like a grain of
mustard-seed, and like a grain of mustard-seed it has spread over the
whole civilised world.” Meanwhile, this peasant-born politician was
uniting rural pursuits with literary labours, and becoming, in the
occupation of a farm at Botley, a prominent agriculturist and a sort of
intellectual authority in his neighbourhood. From this life, which no
one has described with a pen more pregnant with the charm and freshness
of green fields and woods, he was torn by another prosecution for libel.


The following paragraph had appeared in the _Courier_ paper:

                                     “London, Saturday, July 1st, 1809.

“Motto.--The mutiny amongst the Local Militia, which broke out at
Ely, was _fortunately_ suppressed on Wednesday by the arrival of four
squadrons of the German Legion Cavalry from Bury, under the command of
General Auckland.

“Five of the ringleaders were tried by a court-martial, and sentenced
to receive _five hundred lashes each_, part of which punishment they
received on Wednesday, and a part was remitted. A stoppage for their
knapsacks was the ground of complaint which excited this mutinous
spirit, and occasioned the men to surround their officers and demand
what they deemed their arrears. The first division of the German Legion
halted yesterday at Newmarket on their return to Bury.”

On this paragraph Cobbett made the subjoining observations:

“‘Summary of politics. Local Militia and German Legion.’ See the motto,
English reader, see the motto, and then do, pray, recollect all that
has been said about the way in which Bonaparte raises his soldiers.
Well done, Lord Castlereagh! This is just what it was thought that your
plan would produce. Well said, Mr. Huskisson! It was really not without
reason you dwelt with so much earnestness upon the great utility of
the foreign troops, whom Mr. Wardle appeared to think of no utility at
all. Poor gentleman! he little thought how great a genius might find
employment for such troops; he little imagined they might be made the
means of compelling Englishmen to submit to that sort of discipline
which is so conducive to producing in them a disposition to defend the
country at the risk of their lives. Let Mr. Wardle look at my motto,
and then say whether the German soldiers are of no use. _Five hundred
lashes each!_ Ay, that is right; flog them! flog them! flog them; they
deserve it, and a great deal more! They deserve a flogging at every
meal time. Lash them daily! Lash them daily! What! shall the rascals
dare to _mutiny_, and that, too, when the _German_ Legion is so near at
hand? Lash them! Lash them! Lash them! they deserve it. Oh! yes, they
deserve a double-tailed cat. Base dogs! what, mutiny for the sake of
the price of a knapsack! Lash them! flog them! base rascals! mutiny for
the price of a goat-skin, and then upon the appearance of the German
soldiers they take a flogging as quietly as so many trunks of trees.”


The attack on the Hanoverian troops, who had nothing to do with the
question as to whether the militiamen were flogged justly or not, was
doubtless most illiberal and unfair. Those troops simply did their
duty, as any other disciplined troops would have done, in seeing a
superior’s order executed. It was not their fault if they were employed
on this service; neither were they in our country or our army under
ordinary circumstances. They had lost their own land for fighting our
battles; they were in our army because they would not serve in the army
of the enemy.

But we can hardly expect newspaper writers to be more logical and just
than forensic advocates. A free press is not a good unmixed with evil;
there are arguments against it, as there are arguments for it; but
where it is admitted as an important part of a nation’s institutions,
this admission includes, as I conceive, the permission to state one
side of a question in the most telling manner, the corrective being the
juxtaposition of the other side of the question stated with an equal
intent to captivate, and perhaps to mislead.

Two years’ imprisonment, and a fine of £1000 only wanted the gentle
accompaniment of ear-cropping to have done honour to the Star Chamber;
for, to a man who had a newspaper and a farm to carry on, imprisonment
threatened to consummate the ruin which an exorbitant fine was well
calculated to commence.

Cobbett was accused of yielding to the heaviness of the blow, and
of offering the abandonment of his journal as the price of his
forgiveness. I cannot agree with those who said that such an offer
would have been an unparalleled act of baseness. In giving up his
journal, Cobbett was not necessarily giving up his opinions. Every
one who wages war unsuccessfully retains the right of capitulation.
A writer is no more obliged to rot uselessly in a gaol for the sake
of his cause, than a general is obliged to fight a battle without a
chance of victory for the sake of his country. A man, even if a hero,
is not obliged to be a martyr. Cobbett’s disgraceful act was not in
making the proposal of which he was accused, but in denying most
positively and repeatedly that he had ever made it; for it certainly
seems pretty clear, amidst a good deal of contradictory evidence, that
he did authorize Mr. Reeves, of the Alien Office, to promise that the
_Register_ should drop if he was not brought up for judgment; and if a
Mr. Wright, who was a sort of factotum to Cobbett at the time, can be
believed, the farewell was actually written, and only withdrawn when
the negotiation was known to have failed. At all events, no indulgence
being granted to the offender, he turned round and faced fortune with
his usual hardihood. In no portion of his life, indeed, did he show
greater courage--in none does the better side of his character come
out in brighter relief than when, within the gloomy and stifling walls
of Newgate, he carried on his farming, conducted his paper, educated
his children, and waged war (his most natural and favourite pursuit)
against his enemies with as gay a courage as could have been expected
from him in sight of the yellow cornfields, and breathing the pure air
he loved so well.

“Now, then,” he says, in describing this period of his life, “the
book-learning was forced upon us. I had a farm in hand; it was
necessary that I should be constantly informed of what was doing. I
gave all the orders, whether as to purchases, sales, ploughing, sowing,
breeding--in short, with regard to everything, and the things were in
endless number and variety, and always full of interest. My eldest son
and daughter could now write well and fast. One or the other of these
was always at Botley, and I had with me--having hired the best part
of the keeper’s house--one or two besides, either their brother or
sister. We had a hamper, with a lock and two keys, which came up once a
week or oftener, bringing me fruit and all sorts of country fare. This
hamper, which was always at both ends of the line looked for with the
most lively interest, became our school. It brought me a journal of
labours, proceedings, and occurrences, written on paper of shape and
size uniform, and so contrived as to margins as to admit of binding.
The journal used, when my eldest son was the writer, to be interspersed
with drawings of our dogs, colts, or anything that he wanted me to have
a correct idea of. The hamper brought me plants, herbs, and the like,
that I might see the size of them; and almost every one sent his or her
most beautiful flowers, the earliest violets and primroses and cowslips
and bluebells, the earliest twigs of trees, and, in short, everything
that they thought calculated to delight me. The moment the hamper
arrived, I--casting aside everything else--set to work to answer every
question, to give new directions, and to add anything likely to give
pleasure at Botley.

“Every hamper brought one letter, as they called it, if not more, from
every child, and to every letter I wrote an answer, sealed up and
sent to the party, being sure that that was the way to produce other
and better letters; for though they could not read what I wrote, and
though their own consisted at first of mere scratches, and afterwards,
for a while, of a few words written down for them to imitate, I always
thanked them for their pretty letter, and never expressed any wish to
see them write better, but took care to write in a very neat and plain
hand myself, and to do up my letter in a very neat manner.

“Thus, while the ferocious tigers thought I was doomed to incessant
mortification, and to rage that must extinguish my mental powers,
I found in my children, and in their spotless and courageous and
affectionate mother, delights to which the callous hearts of those
tigers were strangers. ‘Heaven first taught letters for some wretch’s
aid.’ How often did this line of Pope occur to me when I opened the
little fuddling letters from Botley. This correspondence occupied a
good part of my time. I had all the children with me, turn and turn
about; and in order to give the boys exercise, and to give the two
eldest an opportunity of beginning to learn French, I used for a part
of the two years to send them for a few hours a day to an abbé, who
lived in Castle Street, Holborn. All this was a great relaxation to
my mind; and when I had to return to my literary labours, I returned
fresh and cheerful, full of vigour, and full of hope of finally seeing
my unjust and merciless foes at my feet, and that, too, without caring
a straw on whom their fall might bring calamity, so that my own family
were safe, because--say what any one might--the community, taken as a
whole, had suffered this thing to be done unto us.

“The paying of the workpeople, the keeping of the accounts, the
referring to books, the writing and reading of letters, this
everlasting mixture of amusement with book-learning, made me, almost to
my own surprise, find at the end of two years that I had a parcel of
scholars growing up about me, and, long before the end of the time, I
had dictated my _Register_ to my two eldest children. Then there was
copying out of books, which taught spelling correctly. The calculations
about the farming affairs forced arithmetic upon us; the _use_, the
_necessity_ of the thing, led to the study.

“By and by we had to look into the laws, to know what to do about the
highways, about the game, about the poor, and all rural and parochial

“I was, indeed, by the fangs of government defeated in my
fondly-cherished project of making my sons farmers on their own land,
and keeping them from all temptation to seek vicious and enervating
enjoyments; but those fangs--merciless as they had been--had not been
able to prevent me from laying in for their lives, a store of useful
information, habits of industry, care, and sobriety, and a taste for
innocent, healthful, and manly pleasures. The fiends had made me and
them penniless, but had not been able to take from us our health,
or our mental possessions, and these were ready for application as
circumstances might ordain.”


At length, however, Cobbett’s punishment was over; and his talents
still conferred on him sufficient consideration to have the event
celebrated by a dinner, at which Sir Francis Burdett presided. This
compliment paid, Cobbett returned to Botley and his old pursuits,
literary and agricultural. The idea of publishing cheap newspapers,
under the title of “Twopenny Trash,” and which, not appearing as
periodicals, escaped the Stamp Tax, now added considerably to his
power; and by extending the circulation of his writings to a new
class,--the mechanic and artisan, in urban populations,--made that
power dangerous at a period when great distress produced general
discontent--a discontent of which the government rather tried to
suppress the exhibition, than to remove the causes. Nor did Cobbett
speak untruly when he said, that the suspension of the Habeas Corpus,
and the passing of the celebrated “Six Acts,” in the year 1817, were
more directed against himself than against all the other writers
of sedition put together. But notwithstanding the exultation which
this position gave him for a moment, he soon saw that it was one
which he should not be able to maintain, and that the importance he
had temporarily acquired had no durable foundation. He had no heart,
moreover, for another midsummer’s dream in Newgate. Nor was this all.
Though he had not wanted friends or partisans, who had furnished him
with pecuniary aid, his expenses had gone far beyond his means; and I
may mention as one of the most extraordinary instances of this singular
person’s influence, that the debts he had at this time been allowed to
contract amounted to no less than £34,000, a sum he could not hope to

For the first time his ingenuity furnished him with no resource, or his
usual audacity failed him; and with a secrecy, for which the state of
his circumstances accounted, he made a sudden bolt (the 28th of March,
1817) for the United States, informing his countrymen that they were
too lukewarm in their own behalf to justify the perils he incurred
for their sakes; and observing to his creditors that, as they had not
resisted the persecutions from which his losses had arisen, they must
be prepared to share with his family the consequences of his ruin.

Sir Francis Burdett had been for many years, as we have seen, his
friend and protector, and had but recently presided at the festival
which commemorated his release from confinement; but Sir Francis
Burdett was amongst those from whom Cobbett had borrowed pretty
largely; and though the wealthy baronet could scarcely have expected
this money to be repaid, yet, having advanced it to a political
partisan, he was not altogether pleased at seeing his money and his
partisan slip through his fingers at the same time; and made some
remarks which, on reaching Cobbett’s ears, irritated a vanity that
never slept, and was only too ready to avenge itself by abuse equally
ungrateful and unwise.



    Settles on Long Island.--Professes at first great
    satisfaction.--Takes a farm,--Writes his Grammar.--Gets
    discontented.--His premises burnt.--He returns to England,
    and carries Paine’s bones with him.--The bones do not
    succeed.--Tries twice to be returned to Parliament.--Is not
    elected.--Becomes a butcher at Kensington.--Fails there and
    is a bankrupt.--His works from 1820 to 1826.--Extracts.--New
    prosecution.--Acquitted.--Comes at last into Parliament for
    Oldham.--Character as a speaker.--Dies.--General summing up.


The epoch of Cobbett’s flight from England was decidedly the one most
fatal to his character. So long as a man pays his bills, or sticks
to his party, he has some one to speak in his favour; but a runaway
from his party and his debts, whatever the circumstances that lead
to his doing either, must give up the idea of leaving behind him any
one disposed to say a word in his defence. Cobbett probably did give
up this idea, and, having satisfied himself by declaring that the
overthrow of the regular laws and constitution of England had rendered
his person as a public writer insecure, and his talents unprofitable,
in his native country, seemed disposed to a divorce from the old world,
and to a reconciliation with the new. At all events, he viewed America
with very different eyes from those with which he had formerly looked
at it. The weather was the finest he had ever seen; the ground had
no dirt; the air had no flies; the people were civil, not servile;
there were none of the poor and wretched habitations which sicken the
sight at the outskirts of cities and towns in England; the progress of
wealth, ease, and enjoyment evinced by the regular increase of the size
of the farmers’ buildings, spoke in praise of the system of government
under which it had taken place; and, to crown all, four Yankee mowers
weighed down eight English ones! During the greater part of the time
that these encomiums were written, Cobbett was living at a farm he had
taken on Hampstead Plains, Long Island, where he wrote his grammar, the
only amusing grammar in the world, and of which, when it was sent to
his son in England, 10,000 copies were sold in one month.

A year, however, after his arrival at Long Island, a fire broke out on
his premises and destroyed them. The misfortune was not, perhaps, an
untimely one.

Whatever Cobbett might have been able to do in the United States as
a farmer, he did not seem to have a chance there of playing any part
as a politician. He was not even taken up as a “lion,” for his sudden
preference for Republican institutions created no sensation amongst men
who were now all heart and soul Republicans. He was not a hero; and he
could not, consistently with his present doctrines, attempt to become
a martyr. He had, to be sure, the satisfaction of saying bitter things
about the tyranny established in his native land; but these produced no
effect in America, where abuse of monarchical government was thought
quite natural, and he did not see the effect they produced at home.
Moreover, they did not after all produce much effect even there. His
periodical writings were like wine meant to be drunk on the spot, and
lost a great deal of their flavour when sent across the wide waters of
the ocean. They were, indeed, essentially written for the day, and for
the passions and purposes of the day. Arriving after the cause which
had produced them had ceased to excite the public mind, their sound and
fury were like the smoke and smell of an explosion without its noise or
its powers of destruction. Cobbett saw this clearly, though even to his
own children he would never confess it.


The condition of England, moreover, at this moment excited his
attention, perhaps his hopes. A violent policy can never be a lasting
one. The government was beginning to wear out the overstretched
authority that had been confided to it and the community was beginning
to feel that you should not make (to use the words of Mr. Burke) “the
extreme remedies of the State its daily bread.” On the other hand, the
general distress, which had created the discontent that these extreme
remedies had been employed to suppress, was in no wise diminished. The
sovereign and the administration were unpopular, the people generally
ignorant and undisciplined, neither the one nor the other understanding
the causes of the prevalent disaffection, nor having any idea as to how
it should be dealt with.

Such is the moment undoubtedly for rash or designing men to propagate
wild theories; and such is also the moment when bold men, guided by
better motives, will find, in a country where constitutional liberty
cannot be entirely destroyed, the means of turning the oppressive
measures of an unscrupulous minister against himself. With the one
there was a chance of war against all government, with the other a
chance of resistance against bad government. The revolutionist and the
patriot were both stirring, whilst a vague idea prevailed amongst many,
neither patriots nor revolutionists, that our society was about to be
exposed to one of those great convulsions which overturn thrones and
change the destiny of empires.

Cobbett was probably too shrewd to look on such a crisis as a
certainty; but he was very probably sanguine enough to build schemes on
it as a possibility. Besides, there were strife and contention in the
great towns, and murmurings in the smaller hamlets; and, where there
were strife and contention and murmurings, such a man as Cobbett could
not fail to find a place and to produce an effect. This was sufficient
to make him feel restlessly anxious to re-appear on the stage he had
so abruptly quitted. But he was essentially an actor, and disposed to
study the dramatic in all his proceedings. To slink back unperceived to
his old haunts, and recommence quietly his old habits, would neither
suit his tastes, nor, as he thought, his interests. It was necessary
that his return should be a sensation. Too vain and too quarrelsome
to pay court to any one, he had through life made friends by making
enemies. His plan now was to raise a howl against the returning exile
as an atheist and a demagogue amongst one portion of society, not
doubting that in such case he would be taken up as the champion of
civil and religious liberty by another.


The device he adopted for this object was disinterring, or saying
he had disinterred, the bones of Thomas Paine, whom he had formerly
assailed as “the greatest disgrace of mankind,” and now declared to be
“the great enlightener of the human race,” and carrying these bones
over to England as the relics of a patron saint, under whose auspices
he was to carry on his future political career.

Now, Paine had been considered the enemy of kingly government and the
Christian religion in his time, and had greatly occupied the attention
of Cobbett, who had styled him “an infamous and atrocious miscreant,”
but he had never been a man of great weight or note in our country;
many of the existing generation scarcely knew his name, and those who
did felt but a very vague retrospective interest in his career. In vain
Cobbett celebrated him as “an unflinching advocate for the curtailment
of aristocratical power,” and “the boldest champion of popular
rights.” In vain he gave it clearly to be understood that Paine did
not believe a word of the Old Testament or the New; nobody, in spite
of Cobbett’s damning encomiums, would care about Paine, or consider
a box of old bones as anything but a bad joke. So that after vainly
offering locks of hair or any particle of the defunct and exhumed
atheist and Republican at a low price, considering the value of the
relics, he let the matter drop; and, rubbing his hands and chuckling
with that peculiar sardonic smile which I well remember, began to treat
the affair as the world did, and the inestimable fragments of the
disinterred Quaker suddenly disappeared, and were never heard of more.

But though his stage trick had failed to give him importance, his
sterling unmistakable talent and unflagging energy were sufficient to
secure him from insignificance. Cobbett in England, carrying on his
_Register_, charlatan as he might be, unreliable as he had become, was
still a personage and a power. He supplied a sort of writing which
every one read, and which no one else wrote or could write. People had
no confidence in him as a politician, but, in spite of themselves,
they were under his charm as an author. He was not, however, satisfied
with this; he now pretended to play a higher part than he had hitherto
attempted. In his own estimate of his abilities--and perhaps he did not
over-rate them--his talent as an orator might, under cultivation and
practice, become equal to that which he never failed to display as a

A seat in the House of Commons had become then the great object of
his ambition, and with his usual coolness, which might, perhaps, not
unadvisedly be termed impudence, he told his admirers that the first
thing they had to do, if they wanted reform, was to subscribe 5000_l._,
and place the sum in his hands, to be spent as he might think proper,
and without giving an account of it to any person. “One meeting,” he
says, arguing this question--“one meeting subscribing 5000_l._ will be
worth fifty meetings of 50,000 men.”

On the dissolution of Parliament, at the demise of George III., he
pursues the subject. “To you”--he is speaking to his partisans--“I do
and must look for support in my public efforts. As far as the press can
go, I want no assistance. Aided by my sons, I have already made the
ferocious cowards of the London press sneak into silence. But there is
a larger range--a more advantageous ground to stand on, and that is
the House of Commons. A great effect on the public mind I have already
produced, but that is nothing to the effect I should produce in only
the next session of June in the House of Commons; yet there I cannot be
without your assistance.”

Coventry was the place fixed on as that which should have the honour
of returning Cobbett to the House of Commons. Nor was the place
badly chosen. In no town in England is the class of operatives more
powerful, and by this class it was not unnatural to expect that he
might be elected. The leading men, however, amongst the operatives,
whilst admiring Cobbett, did not respect him. The Goodes and the
Pooles--men whom I remember in my time--said in his day, “He is a man
who will assuredly make good speeches, but nobody can tell what he will
speak in favour of, or what he will speak about. That he will say and
prove that Cobbett is a very clever fellow, we may be pretty sure; but
with respect to every other subject there is no knowing what he will
say or prove.”

Nor did the story of Paine and his bones do Cobbett any service with
the Coventry electors. Some considered his conduct in this affair
impious, others ludicrous. “I say, Cobbett, where are the old Quaker’s
bones?” was a question which his most enthusiastic admirers heard put
with an uncomfortable sensation.

He puffed himself in vain. His attempt to enter the great national
council was this time a dead failure, and clearly indicated that though
he might boast of enthusiastic partisans, he had not as yet obtained
the esteem of an intelligent public. This, however, did not prevent
his announcing not very long afterwards that bronze medals, which
judges thought did justice to his physiognomy, might be had for a pound
apiece--a price which he thought low, considering the article. The
medals, however, in spite of their artistic value, and the intrinsic
merit of the person they represented, were not considered a bargain;
and some of Mr. Cobbett’s most devoted friends observed that they had
had already enough of his bronze. This was preparatory to his starting
to contest Preston (1826). But he was no better treated there than
at Coventry, being the last on the poll, though as usual perfectly
satisfied with himself, notwithstanding a rather remarkable pamphlet
got up by a rival candidate, Mr. Wood, which placed side by side his
many inconsistencies.

Mr. Huish, in a work called “Memoirs of Cobbett,” published in 1836,
states that this singular man now appeared in a new character that
required no constituents; coming forth “as a vendor of meat, and weekly
assuring his readers that there never was such mutton, such beef, or
such veal, as that which might be seen in his windows, an assurance
which continued uninterruptedly,” says this author, “until one
inauspicious day, when it was replaced by the announcement of William
Cobbett, butcher, at Kensington, having become a bankrupt.”[107] But
this story, though told thus circumstantially (I have not, for the
sake of brevity, copied the exact words, but in all respects their
meaning), though generally repeated, and apparently confirmed by
other contemporaneous writers, is incorrect; and we are not to count
amongst Cobbett’s eccentricities that of cutting up carcases as well as


But whatever the other pursuits Cobbett had indulged in since his
return to England, none had interfered with those which his literary
talents suggested to him.

“A Work on Cottage Economy,” a Volume of Sermons, “The Woodlands,”
“Paper against Gold,” “The Rural Rides,” “The Protestant Reformation,”
were all published between the years 1820 and 1826. His “Rural Rides,”
indeed, are amongst his best compositions. No one ever described the
country as he did. Everything he says about it is real. You see the dew
on the grass, the fragrance comes fresh to you from the flowers; you
fancy yourself jogging down the green lane, with the gipsy camp under
the hedge, as the sun is rising; you learn the pursuits and pleasures
of the country from a man who has been all his life practically engaged
in the one, and keenly enjoying the other, and who sees everything he
talks to you of with the eye of the poet and the farmer.

“The History of the Protestant Reformation” turned out a more important
production than the author probably anticipated--for his chief aim
seems to have been to volunteer a contemptuous defiance to all the
religious and popular feelings in England. The work, however, was
taken up by the Catholics, translated into various languages, and
widely circulated throughout Europe. The author’s great satisfaction
seems to consist in calling Queen Elizabeth, “Bloody Queen Bess,”
and Mary, “Good Queen Mary,” and he, doubtless, brought forward much
that could be said against the one, and in favour of the other, which
Protestant writers had kept back; still his two volumes are not to be
regarded as a serious history, but rather as a party pamphlet, and
no more racy and eloquent party pamphlet was ever written. I quote a
passage of which those who do not accept the argument may admire the

“Nor must we by any means overlook the effects of these institutions
(monastic) on the mere face of the country. That man must be low and
mean of soul who is insensible to all feeling of pride in the noble
edifices of his country. Love of country, that variety of feelings
which altogether constitute what we properly call patriotism, consist
in part of the admiration of, and veneration for, ancient and
magnificent proofs of skill and opulence. The monastics built as well
as wrote for posterity. The never-dying nature of their institutions
set aside in all their undertakings every calculation as to time and
age. Whether they built or planted, they set the generous example of
providing for the pleasure, the honour, the wealth, and greatness of
generations upon generations yet unborn. They executed everything in
the very best manner; their gardens, fishponds, farms, were as near
perfection as they could make them; in the whole of their economy
they set an example tending to make the country beautiful, to make it
an object of pride with the people, and to make the nation truly and
permanently great.

“Go into any county and survey, even at this day, the ruins of its,
perhaps, twenty abbeys and priories, and then ask yourself, ‘What have
we in exchange for these?’ Go to the site of some once opulent convent.
Look at the cloister, now become in the hands of some rack-renter the
receptacle for dung, fodder, and fagot-wood. See the hall, where for
ages the widow, the orphan, the aged, and the stranger found a table
ready spread. See a bit of its walls now helping to make a cattle-shed,
the rest having been hauled away to build a workhouse. Recognise on
the side of a barn, a part of the once magnificent chapel; and, if
chained to the spot by your melancholy musings, you be admonished of
the approach of night by the voice of the screech-owl issuing from
those arches which once at the same hour resounded with the vespers
of the monk, and which have for seven hundred years been assailed by
storms and tempests in vain; if thus admonished of the necessity of
seeking food, shelter, and a bed, lift up your eyes and look at the
whitewashed and dry-rotten shed on the hill called the ‘Gentleman’s
House,’ and apprised of the ‘board wages’ and ‘spring guns,’ which
are the signs of his hospitality, turn your head, jog away from the
scene of former comfort and grandeur; and with old-English welcoming
in your mind, reach the nearest inn, and there, in a room, half-warmed
and half-lighted, with a reception precisely proportioned to the
presumed length of your purse, sit down and listen to an account of the
hypocritical pretences, the base motives, the tyrannical and bloody
means, under which, from which, and by which, the ruin you have been
witnessing was effected, and the hospitality you have lost was for ever
banished from the land.”


The popularity of Mr. Canning had now become a grievous thorn in
Cobbett’s side. That of Mr. Robinson (afterwards Lord Goderich) had
at one time sorely galled him. But Mr. Robinson’s reputation was on
the wane; the reputation of Mr. Canning, on the contrary, rose higher
every day; and when that statesman, after being deserted by his
colleagues, stood forward as premier of a new government, being taken
up by Sir Francis Burdett, and many of the Whig leaders, Mr. Cobbett
set no bounds to his choler; and, in company with Mr. Hunt, made at a
Westminster dinner (in 1827) a foolish and ill-timed display of his
usual hostility to the popular feeling.

His character, in sooth, was never so low as about this period, and in
1828, when he offered himself as a candidate for the place of common
councilman (for Farringdon Without), he did not even find one person
who would propose him for the office.

It is needless to add that he was now an utterly soured and
disappointed man, and in this state the year 1830 found him. The close
of that year was more full of melancholy presage for England than
perhaps any which the oldest man then alive could remember. The success
of the insurrection at Paris had shaken the political foundations
of every state in Europe. Scarcely a courier arrived without the
bulletin of a revolution. The minds of the intelligent classes were
excited; they expected, and perhaps wished for, some great movement
at home, analogous to those movements which a general enthusiasm
was producing on the Continent. The minds of the lower classes were
brutalized by the effects of a Poor Law which had taught them that
idleness was more profitable than labour, prostitution than chastity,
bad conduct, in short, than good. Consequently, there was on the one
hand a widely-spread cry for parliamentary reform, and on the other a
general rural insurrection. Amidst this state of things the ministry of
the Duke of Wellington retired, and Lord Grey’s, composed of somewhat
discordant materials, and with a doubtful parliamentary majority, took
its place. Fires blazed throughout the country; rumours of plots and
insurrections were rife, and the _Register_ appeared with an article
remarkable for its power, and which indirectly excited to incendiarism
and rebellion. The Attorney-General prosecuted it. I had then just
entered Parliament, and ventured to condemn the prosecution, not
because the article in question was blameless, but because I thought
that the period for newspaper prosecutions by government was gone by,
and that they only excited sympathy for the offender. I was not wrong
in that opinion; for the jury being unable to agree as to a verdict,
Cobbett walked triumphantly out of court, and having gained some credit
by his trial, was shortly afterwards returned to Parliament for Oldham,
being at the same time an unsuccessful candidate for Manchester.

The election, however, was less the effect of public esteem than of
private admiration, since the veteran journalist owed his success
mainly to the influence of a gentleman (Mr. Fielden) who had the
borough of Oldham pretty nearly under his control. Still, it was a
success, and not an inconsiderable one. The ploughboy, the private
of the 54th, after a variety of vicissitudes, had become a member
of the British Legislature. Nor for this had he bowed his knee to
any minister, nor served any party, nor administered with ambitious
interest to any popular feeling. His pen had been made to serve as a
double-edged sword, which smote alike Whig and Tory, Pitt and Fox,
Castlereagh and Tierney, Canning and Brougham, Wellington and Grey,
even Hunt and Waithman. He had sneered at education, at philosophy,
and at negro emancipation. He had assailed alike Catholicism and
Protestantism; he had respected few feelings that Englishmen respect.
Nevertheless, by force of character, by abilities to which he had
allowed the full swing of their inclination, he had at last cut his
way, unpatronized and poor, through conflicting opinions into the great
council chamber of the British nation. He was there, as he had been
through life, an isolated man. He owned no followers, and he was owned
by none. His years surpassed those of any member who ever came into
Parliament for the first time expecting to take an active part in it.
He was stout and hale for his time of life, but far over sixty, and
fast advancing towards three score years and ten.

It was an interesting thing to most men who saw him enter the House
to have palpably before them the real, living William Cobbett. The
generation amongst which he yet moved had grown up in awe of his name,
but few had ever seen the man who bore it.

The world had gone for years to the clubs, on Saturday evening, to find
itself lectured by him, abused by him; it had the greatest admiration
for his vigorous eloquence, the greatest dread of his scar-inflicting
lash; it had been living with him, intimate with him, as it were, but
it had not seen him.

I speak of the world’s majority; for a few persons had met him
at county and public meetings, at elections, and also in courts
of justice. But to most members of Parliament the elderly,
respectable-looking, red-faced gentleman, in a dust-coloured coat
and drab breeches with gaiters, was a strange and almost historical
curiosity. Tall and strongly built, but stooping, with sharp eyes,
a round and ruddy countenance, smallish features, and a peculiarly
cynical mouth, he realized pretty nearly the idea that might have
been formed about him. The manner of his speaking might also have
been anticipated. His style in writing was sarcastic and easy--such
it was not unnatural to suppose it might also be in addressing an
assembly; and this to a certain extent was the case. He was still
colloquial, bitter, with a dry, caustic, and rather drawling delivery,
and a rare manner of arguing with facts. To say that he spoke as well
as he wrote, would be to place him where he was not--among the most
effective orators of his time. He had not, as a speaker, the raciness
of diction, nor the happiness of illustration, by which he excels as
a writer. He wanted also some physical qualifications unnecessary
to the author, but necessary to the orator, and which he might as a
younger man have naturally possessed or easily acquired. In short, he
could not be at that time the powerful personage that he might have
been had he taken his seat on the benches where he was then sitting,
when many surrounding him were unknown--even unborn. Still, I know no
other instance of a man entering the House of Commons at his age, and
becoming at once an effective debater in it. Looking carelessly round
the assembly so new to him, with his usual self-confidence he spoke on
the first occasion that presented itself, proposing an amendment to the
Address; but this was not his happiest effort, and consequently created
disappointment. He soon, however, obliterated the failure, and became
rather a favourite with an audience which is only unforgiving when

It was still seen, moreover, that nothing daunted him; the murmurs,
the “Oh!” or more serious reprehension and censure, found him shaking
his head with his hands in his pockets, as cool and as defiant as
when he first stuck up the picture of King George in his shop window
at Philadelphia. He exhibited in Parliament, too, the same want of
tact, prudence, and truth; the same egotism, the same combativeness,
and the same reckless desire to struggle with received opinions, that
had marked him previously through life, and shattered his career into
glittering fragments, from which the world could never collect the
image, nor the practical utility of a whole.

A foolish and out-of-the-way motion, praying his Majesty to strike
Sir Robert Peel’s name off the list of the Privy Council, for having
proposed a return to cash payments in 1819. was his wildest effort and
most signal defeat, the House receiving Sir Robert, when he stood up in
his defence, with a loud burst of cheers, and voting in a majority of
298 to 4 in his favour.

Cobbett, however, was nothing abashed; for this motion was rather a
piece of fun, in his own way, than anything serious; and in reality
he was less angry with Sir Robert Peel, on account of his financial
measures in 1819, than on account of his being the most able speaker in
Parliament in 1833.


In the new Parliament elected in January 1835, and which met on the
19th February, Cobbett was again member for Oldham. But his health was
already much broken by the change of habits, the want of air, and the
confinement which weighs on a parliamentary life. He did not, however,
perceive this; it was not, indeed, his habit to perceive anything to
his own disadvantage. He continued his attendance, therefore, and was
in his usual place during the whole of the debate on the Marquis of
Chandos’s motion for a repeal of the Malt Tax, and would have spoken
in favour of the repeal but for a sudden attack of the throat, to
which it is said that he was subject. On the voting of Supplies, which
followed almost immediately afterwards, he again, notwithstanding his
indisposition, exerted himself, and on the 25th of May persisted in
voting and speaking in support of a motion on Agricultural Distress.
At last, he confessed he was knocked up, and retired to the country,
where for some little time he seemed restored. But on the night of the
11th of June, 1835, he was seized with a violent illness, and on the
two following days was considered in extreme danger by his medical
attendant. He then again rallied, and on Monday, the 15th, talked
(says his son in an account of his death, published on the 20th of
June), in a collected and sprightly manner, upon politics and farming,
“wishing for four days’ rain for the Cobbetts’ corn and root crops,”
and on Wednesday could remain no longer shut up from the fields, but
desired to be carried round the farm, and criticised the work which
had been done in his absence. In the night, however, he grew more and
more feeble, until it was evident (though he continued till within the
last half-hour to answer every question that was put to him) that his
agitated career was drawing to a close. At ten minutes after one P.M.
he shut his eyes as if to sleep, leant back, and was no more--an end
singularly peaceful for one whose life had been so full of toil and

The immediate cause of his death was water on the chest. He was buried,
according to his own desire, in a simple manner in the churchyard of
Farnham, in the same mould as that in which his father and grandfather
had been laid before him. His death struck people with surprise, for
few could remember the commencement of his course, and there had seemed
in it no middle and no decline; for though he went down to the grave an
old man, he was young in the path he had lately started upon. He left
a gap in the public mind which no one else could fill or attempt to
fill up, for his loss was not merely that of a man, but of a habit--of
a dose of strong drink which all of us had been taking for years, most
of us during our whole lives, and which it was impossible for any one
again to concoct so strongly, so strangely, with so much spice and
flavour, or with such a variety of ingredients. And there was this
peculiarity in the general regret--it extended to all persons. Whatever
a man’s talents, whatever a man’s opinions, he sought the _Register_
on the day of its appearance with eagerness, and read it with
amusement, partly, perhaps, if De la Rochefoucault is right, because,
whatever his party, he was sure to see his friends abused. But partly
also because he was certain to find, amidst a great many fictions and
abundance of impudence, some felicitous nickname, some excellent piece
of practical-looking argument, some capital expressions, and very often
some marvellously-fine writing,[108] all the finer for being carelessly
fine, and exhibiting whatever figure or sentiment it set forth, in the
simplest as well as the most striking dress. Cobbett himself, indeed,
said that “_his popularity was owing to his giving truth in clear
language_;” and his language always did leave his meaning as visible as
the most limpid stream leaves its bed. But as to its displaying truth,
that is a different matter, and would be utterly impossible, unless
truth has, at least, as many heads as the Hydra of fable; in which case
our author may claim the merit of having portrayed them all.

This, however, is to be remarked--he rarely abused that which was
falling or fallen, but generally that which was rising or uppermost.
He disinterred Paine when his memory was interred, and attacked him
as an impostor amongst those who hailed him as a prophet. In the heat
of the contest and cry against the Catholics--whom, when Mr. Pitt was
for emancipating them, he was for grinding into the dust--he calls the
Reformation a devastation, and pronounces the Protestant religion to
have been established by gibbets, racks, and ripping-knives. When all
London was yet rejoicing in Wellington hats and Wellington boots, he
asserts “that the celebrated victory of Waterloo had caused to England
more real shame, more real and substantial disgrace, more debt, more
distress amongst the middle class, and more misery amongst the working
class, more injuries of all kinds, than the kingdom could have ever
experienced by a hundred defeats, whether by sea or by land.” He had
a sort of itch for bespattering with mud everything that was popular,
and gilding everything that was odious. Mary Tudor was with him
“Merciful Queen Mary;” Elizabeth, as I have already observed, “Bloody
Queen Bess;” our Navy, “the swaggering Navy;” Napoleon, “a French
coxcomb;” Brougham, “a talking lawyer;” Canning, “a brazen defender of

His praise or censure afforded a sort of test to be taken in an inverse
sense of the world’s opinion. He could not bear superiority of any
kind, or reconcile himself to its presence. He declined, it is said, to
insert quack puffs in his journal, merely, I believe, because he could
not bear to spread anybody’s notoriety but his own; while he told his
correspondents never to write under the name of subscriber--it sounded
too much like _master_. As for absurdity, nothing was too absurd
for him coolly and deliberately to assert: “The English government
most anxiously wished for Napoleon’s return to France.” “There would
have been no national debt and no paupers, if there had been no
Reformation.” “The population of England had not increased one single
soul since he was born.” Such are a few of the many paradoxes one could
cite from his writings, and which are now before me.

Neither did his coarseness know any bounds. He called a newspaper
a “cut-and-thrust weapon,” to be used without mercy or delicacy,
and never thought of anything but how he could strike the hardest.
“There’s a fine Congress-man for you! If any d----d rascally rotten
borough in the universe ever made such a choice as this (a Mr. Blair
MacClenachan), you’ll be bound to cut my throat, and suffer the _sans
culottes_ sovereigns of Philadelphia--the hob-snob snigger-snee-ers of
Germanstown--to kick me about in my blood till my corpse is as ugly
and disgusting as their living carcases are.” “Bark away, hell-hounds,
till you are suffocated in your own foam.” “This hatter turned painter
(Samuel F. Bradford), whose heart is as black and as foul as the liquid
in which he dabbles.”

“It is fair, also, to observe that this State (Pennsylvania) labours
under disadvantages in one respect that no other State does. Here is
precisely that climate which suits the vagabonds of Europe; here they
bask in summer, and lie curled up in winter, without fear of scorching
in one season, or freezing in the other. Accordingly, hither they come
in shoals, just roll themselves ashore, and begin to swear and poll
away as if they had been bred to the business from their infancy. She
has too unhappily acquired a reputation for the mildness or rather
the feebleness of her laws. There’s no gallows in Pennsylvania. These
glad tidings have rung through all the democratic club-rooms, all the
dark assemblies of traitors, all the dungeons and cells of England,
Scotland, and Ireland. Hence it is that we are overwhelmed with the
refuse, the sweeping, of these kingdoms, the offal of the jail and the
gibbet. Hence it is that we see so many faces that never looked comely
but in the pillory, limbs that are awkward out of chains, and necks
that seem made to be stretched.”

It would be difficult to put together more pithy sentences, or more
picturesque abuse than is set forth in the scurrilous extracts I have
been citing; yet Cobbett’s virulence could be conveyed in a more
delicate way whenever he thought proper:

“Since then, Citizen Barney is become a French commodore of two
frigates, and will rise probably to the rank of admiral, if contrary
winds do not blow him in the way of an enemy.”

His mode of commencing an attack also was often singularly effective
from its humour and personality: “He was a sly-looking fellow, with a
hard, slate-coloured countenance. He set out by blushing, and I may
leave any one to guess at the efforts that must be made to get a blush
through a skin like his.” Again: “Having thus settled the point of
controversy, give me leave to ask you, my sweet sleepy-eyed sir!”

The following picture is equal to anything ever sketched by Hogarth,
and is called “A Summary of Proceedings of Congress,” November, 1794:

“Never was a more ludicrous farce acted to a bursting audience. Madison
is a little bow-legged man, at once stiff and slender. His countenance
has that sour aspect, that conceited screw, which pride would willingly
mould into an expression of disdain, if it did not find the features
too skinny and too scanty for its purpose. His thin, sleek air, and the
niceness of his garments, are indicative of that economical cleanliness
which expostulates with the shoeboy and the washerwoman, which flies
from the danger of a gutter, and which boasts of wearing a shirt for
three days without rumpling the frill. In short, he has, take him
altogether, precisely the prim, mean, prig-like look of a corporal
mechanic, and were he ushered into your parlour, you would wonder why
he came without his measure and his shears. Such (and with a soul which
would disgrace any other tenement than that which contains it) is the
mortal who stood upon his legs, confidently predicting the overthrow
of the British monarchy, and anticipating the pleasure of feeding its
illustrious nobles with his oats.”

Again, let us fancy the following sentences, imitating what the
gentlemen of the United States call “stump speaking,” delivered with
suitable tone and gesture on the hustings: “The commercial connection
between this country (America) and Great Britain is as necessary as
that between the baker and the miller; while the connection between
America and France may be compared to that between the baker and
the milliner or toyman. France may furnish us with looking-glasses,
but without the aid of Britain we shall be ashamed to see ourselves
in them; unless the _sans culottes_ can persuade us that threadbare
beggary is--a beauty. France may deck the heads of our wives and
daughters (by the bye, she shan’t those of mine) with ribbons, gauze,
and powder; their ears with bobs, their cheeks with paint, and their
heels with gaudy parti-coloured silk, as rotten as the hearts of the
manufacturers; but Great Britain must keep warm their limbs and cover
their bodies. When the rain pours down, and washes the rose from the
cheek, when the bleak north-wester blows through the gauze, then it is
that we know our friends.”

Cobbett’s talent for fastening his claws into anything or any one,
by a word or an expression, and holding them down for scorn or up
to horror--a talent which, throughout this sketch, I have frequently
noticed--was unrivalled. “Prosperity Robinson,” “Œolus Canning,”
“The Bloody _Times_,” “the pink-nosed _Liverpool_,” “the unbaptized,
buttonless blackguards” (in which way he designated the disciples of
Penn),[109] were expressions with which he attached ridicule where he
could not fix reproach, and it is said that nothing was more teasing
to Lord Erskine than being constantly addressed by his second title of
“Baron Clackmannan.”


I have alluded, at the commencement of this sketch, to the fact that
if the life of Mackintosh was in contradiction to his instincts, and
forced to adapt itself to his wishes or ideas, that of Cobbett was
ruled by his instincts, to which all ideas and wishes were subordinate.
His inclinations were for bustle and strife, and he passed his whole
life in strife and bustle. This is why the sap and marrow of his
genius show themselves in every line he sent to the press. But at
the same time his career warns us how little talents of the highest
order, even when accompanied by the most unflagging industry, will do
for a man, if those talents and that industry are not disciplined by
stedfast principles and concentrated upon noble objects. It is not to
be understood, indeed, when I say that a man should follow his nature,
that I mean he should do so without sense or judgment; your natural
character is your force, but it is a force that you must regulate and
keep applied to the track on which the career it has chosen is to be
honourably run. I would not recommend a man with military propensities
to enter the church; I should say, “Be a soldier, but do not be a
military adventurer. Enlist under a lawful banner, and fight for a good

Cobbett acknowledged no banner; and one cannot say, considering the
variety of doctrines he by turns adopted and discarded, that he
espoused any cause. Nor did he consider himself bound by any tie of
private or political friendship. As a beauty feels no gratitude for the
homage which she deems due to her charms, so Cobbett felt no gratitude
for the homage paid to his abilities. His idea of himself was that
which the barbarian entertains of his country. Cobbett was Cobbett’s
universe; and as he treated mankind, so mankind at last treated him.
They admired him as a myth, but they had no affection for him as a
person. His words were realities, his principles fictions.

It may indeed be contended that a predominant idea ran winding through
all the twistings and twinings of his career, connecting his different
inconsistencies together; and that this was “a hatred for tyranny.” “He
always took his stand,” say his defenders, “with the minority:” and
there is something in this assertion. But there is far less fun and
excitement in fighting a minority, with a large majority at one’s back,
than in coming out, at the head of a small and violent minority, to
defy and attack a body of greater power and of larger numbers. It was
this fun and excitement which, if I mistake not, were Cobbett’s main
inducements to take the side he took in all the contests he engaged
in, whether against the minister of the day, or against our favourite
daughter of the eighth Henry, who reigned some centuries before his
time. Still the tendency to combat against odds is always superior to
the tendency to cringe to them, and a weak cause is not unfrequently
made victorious by a bold assertion.

It must be added also, in his praise, that he is always a hearty
Englishman. He may vary in his opinions as to doctrines and as to men,
but he is ever for making England great, powerful, and prosperous--her
people healthy, brave, and free. He never falls into the error of
mistaking political economy for the whole of political science. He does
not say, “Be wealthy, make money, and care about nothing else.” He
advocates rural pursuits as invigorating to a population, although less
profitable than manufacturing. He desires to see Englishmen fit for war
as well as for peace. There is none of that puling primness about him
which marks the philosophers who would have a great nation, like a good
boy at a private school, fit for nothing but obedience and books. To
use a slang phrase, there was “a go” about him which, despite all his
charlatanism, all his eccentricities, kept up the national spirit, and
exhibited in this one of the highest merits of political writing. The
immense number of all his publications that sold immediately on their
appearance, sufficiently proves the wonderful popularity of his style;
and it is but just to admit that many of his writings were as useful as

A paper written in 1804, on the apprehended invasion, and entitled
“Important Considerations for the People of this Kingdom,” was placed
(the author being unknown) in manuscript before Mr. Addington, who
caused it to be printed and read from the pulpit in every parish
throughout the kingdom. For many years this paper was attributed to
other eminent men; and it was only when some one thought of attacking
Cobbett as an enemy of his country, that he confessed the authorship of
a pamphlet, to the patriotism of which every Englishman had paid homage.

Again, in 1816, the people of the northern and midland counties being
in great distress, attributed their calamities to machinery, and great
rioting and destruction of property was the consequence. Cobbett came
forward to stop these vulgar delusions. But he knew the nature of the
public mind. It was necessary, in order to divert it from one idea,
to give it another. So, he ridiculed the idea of distress proceeding
from machinery, and attributed it to misgovernment. Of his twopenny
pamphlet, called “A Letter to Journeymen and Labourers,” 30,000 copies
were sold in a week, and with such advantage that Lord Brougham, in
1831, asked permission to republish it. Much in his exaggerations and
contradictions is likewise to be set down to drollery rather than to
any serious design to deceive. I remember the late Lady Holland once
asking me if I did not think she sometimes said ill-natured things; and
on my acquiescing, she rejoined: “I don’t mean to burn any one, but
merely to poke the fire.” Cobbett liked to poke the fire, to make a
blaze; but in general--I will not say always--he thought more of sport
than of mischief.

At all events, this very spirit of change, of criticism, of
combativeness, is the spirit of journalism; and Cobbett was not only
this spirit embodied, but--and this renders his life so remarkable
in our history--he represented journalism, and fought the fight of
journalism against authority, when it was still a doubt which would
gain the day.

Let us not, indeed, forget the blind and uncalculating intolerance with
which the law struggled against opinion from 1809 to 1822. Writers
during this period were transported, imprisoned, and fined, without
limit or conscience; and just when government became more gentle to
legitimate newspapers, it engaged in a new conflict with unstamped
ones. No less than 500 vendors of these were imprisoned within six
years. The contest was one of life and death. Amidst the general din
of the battle, but high above all shouts more confused, was heard
Cobbett’s bold, bitter, scornful voice, cheering on the small but
determined band, which defied tyranny without employing force. The
failure of the last prosecution against the _Register_ was the general
failure of prosecutions against the Press, and may be said to have
closed the contest in which government lost power every time that it
made victims.

Such was Cobbett--such his career! I have only to add that, in his
family relations, this contentious man was kind and gentle. An
incomparable husband, an excellent father; and his sons--profiting by
an excellent education, and inheriting, not, perhaps, the marvellous
energies, but a great portion of the ability, of their father--carry
on with credit and respectability the name of a man, who, whatever
his faults, must be considered by every Englishman who loves our
literature, or studies our history, as one of the most remarkable
illustrations of his very remarkable time.




    Proper time for writing a biography.--Mr. Canning born
    (1770).--Education at Eton and Oxford.--Early literary
    performances.--Brought into Parliament by Mr. Pitt.--Politics
    he espoused.--His commencement as a speaker.--Writes for the
    _Anti-Jacobin_.--Quits office with Mr. Pitt.--Opposes Mr.
    Addington.--Returns to office with Mr. Pitt.--Distinguishes
    himself in opposition to “All the Talents.”--Becomes Minister
    of Foreign Affairs on their fall.--Foreign policy.--Quarrel
    with Lord Castlereagh, and duel.


There is no period at which an eminent person is so little considered,
so much forgotten and disregarded, as during the few years succeeding
his decease. His name, no longer noised above that of others by the
busy zeal of his partisans, or the still more clamorous energies of his
opponents, drops away suddenly, as it were, from the mouths of men. To
his contemporaries he has ceased to be of importance--the most paltry
pretender to his place is of more;--while posterity does not exist for
him, until the dead are distinctly separated from the living; until the
times in which he lived, and the scenes in which he acted, have become
as a distant prospect from which the eye can at once single out from
amidst the mass of ordinary objects, those which were the memorials of
their epoch, and are to become the beacons of after-generations.

The French, who are as fond of putting philosophy into action as we are
coy of connecting theory with practice, marked out, at one moment, a
kind of intermediate space between the past and the present, the tomb
and the pantheon; but the interval of ten years, which they assigned
for separating the one from the other, is hardly sufficient for the

We are, however, now arrived at the period that permits our considering
the subject of this memoir as a character in history which it is well
to describe without further procrastination. Every day, indeed, leaves
us fewer of those who remember the clearly-chiselled countenance
which the slouched hat only slightly concealed,--the lip satirically
curled,--the penetrating eye, peering along the Opposition benches,--of
the old parliamentary leader in the House of Commons. It is but here
and there that we find a survivor of the old day, to speak to us of the
singularly mellifluous and sonorous voice, the classical language--now
pointed into epigram, now elevated into poesy, now burning with
passion, now rich with humour--which curbed into still attention a
willing and long-broken audience.

The great changes of the last half-century have, moreover, created
such a new order of ideas and of society, that the years preceding
1830 appear as belonging to an antecedent century; and the fear now
is--not that we are too near, but that we are gliding away too far
from the events of that biography which I propose to sketch. And yet
he who undertakes the task of biographical delineation, should not be
wholly without the scope of the influences which coloured the career he
desires to sketch. The artist can hardly give the likeness of the face
he never saw, nor the writer speak vividly of events which are merely
known to him by tradition.


It is with this feeling that I attempt to say something of a man,
the most eminent of a period at which the government of England was
passing, imperceptibly perhaps, but not slowly, from the hands of an
exclusive but enlightened aristocracy, into those of a middle class,
of which the mind, the energy, and the ambition had been gradually
developed, under the mixed influences of a war which had called forth
the resources, and of a peace which had tried the prosperity, of our
country;--a middle class which was growing up with an improved and
extended education, amidst stirring debates as to the height to which
the voice of public opinion should be allowed to raise itself, and the
latitude that should be given, in a singularly mixed constitution, to
its more democratic parts.

Mr. Canning was born on the 11th of April, 1770, and belonged to an
old and respectable family originally resident in Warwickshire.[110]
A branch of it, obtaining a grant of the manor of Garvagh, settled in
Ireland in the reign of James I., and from this branch Mr. Canning
descended; but the misfortunes of his parents placed him in a situation
below that which might have been expected from his birth.

His father, the eldest of three sons--George, Paul, and Stratford--was
disinherited for marrying a young lady (Miss Costello) without fortune;
and having some taste for literature, but doing nothing at the bar,
he died amidst the difficulties incidental to idle habits and elegant

Mrs. Canning, left without resources, attempted the stage, but she had
no great talents for the theatrical profession, and never rose above
the rank of a middling actress. Her son thus fell under the care of
his uncle, Mr. Stratford Canning, a highly respectable merchant, and
an old Whig, much in the confidence of the leaders of the Whig party
and possessing considerable influence with them. A small inheritance
of 200_l._ or 300_l._ a year sufficed for the expenses of a liberal
education, and after passing through the regular ordeal of a private
school, young Canning was sent to Eton, and subsequently to Christ
Church, Oxford. At Eton no boy ever left behind him so many brilliant
recollections. Gay and high-spirited as a companion, clever and
laborious as a student, he obtained a following from his character,
and a reputation from his various successes. This reputation was the
greater from the schoolboy’s triumphs not being merely those of school.
Known and distinguished as “George Canning,” he was yet more known
and distinguished as the correspondent of “Gregory Griffin;”--such
being the name adopted by the fictitious editor of the _Microcosm_,
a publication in the style of the _Spectator_, and carried on solely
by Eton lads. In this publication, the graver prose of the young
orator was incorrect and inferior to that of one or two other juvenile
contributors, but some of his lighter productions were singularly
graceful, and it would be difficult to find anything of its kind
superior to a satirical commentary upon the epic merits of an old

    “The queen of hearts
    She made some tarts
    _All on a summer’s day_,” &c[111]

“I cannot leave this line,” says the witty commentator, “without
remarking, that one of the Scribleri, a descendant of the famous
Martinus, has expressed his suspicions of the text being corrupted
here, and proposes, instead of ‘All on,’ reading ‘Alone,’ alleging,
in the favour of this alteration, the effect of solitude in raising
the passions. But Hiccius Doctius, a High Dutch commentator, one
nevertheless well versed in British literature, in a note of his usual
length and learning, has confuted the arguments of Scriblerus. In
support of the present reading, he quotes a passage from a poem written
about the same period with our author’s, by the celebrated Johannes
Pastor (most commonly known as Jack Shepherd), entitled, ‘An Elegiac
Epistle to the Turnkey of Newgate,’ wherein the gentleman declares,
that, rather indeed in compliance with an old custom than to gratify
any particular wish of his own, he is going

              “‘_All hanged_ for to be
    Upon that fatal Tyburn tree.’

“Now, as nothing throws greater light on an author than the concurrence
of a contemporary writer, I am inclined to be of Hiccius’ opinion, and
to consider the ‘All’ as an elegant expletive, or, as he more aptly
phrases it, ‘elegans expletivum.’”

The other articles to which the boyish talent of the lad, destined
to be so famous, may lay claim, are designated in the will of the
supposed editor, Mr. Griffin (contained in the concluding number of the
_Microcosm_), which, amongst special bequests assigns to “Mr. George
Canning, now of the college of Eton, all my papers, essays, &c., signed


It is needless to observe that an Eton education is more for the man
of the world than for the man of books. It teaches little in the way
of science or solid learning, but it excites emulation, encourages and
gratifies a love of fame, and prepares the youth for the competitions
of manhood. Whatever is dashing and showy gives pre-eminence in that
spirited little world from which have issued so many English statesmen.
It developed in Canning all his natural propensities. He was the show
boy at Montem days with master and student.

“Look, papa,--there, there;--that good-looking fellow is Canning--such
a clever chap, but a horrible Whig. By Jupiter, how he gives it to

Nor was this wonderful. The youthful politician spent his holidays with
his uncle, who only saw Whigs; and then, what clever boy would not
have been charmed by the wit and rhetoric of Sheridan--by the burning
eloquence of Fox?

The same dispositions that had shown themselves at Eton, carried to
Oxford, produced the same distinctions. Sedulous at his studies, almost
Republican in his principles, the pride of his college, the glory of
his debating society, the intimate associate of the first young men in
birth, talents, and prospects, young Canning was thus early known as
the brilliant and promising young man of his day, and thought likely
to be one of the most distinguished of those intellectual gladiators
whom the great parties employed in their struggles for power; struggles
which seemed at the moment to disorder the administration of affairs,
but which, carried on with eloquence and ability in the face of the
nation, kept its attention alive to national interests, and could not
fail to diffuse throughout it a lofty spirit, and a sort of political


From the University Canning went to Lincoln’s Inn. It does not appear,
however, that in taking to the study of the law he had any idea of
becoming a Lord Chancellor. There was nothing of severity in his plan
of life--he dined out with those who invited him, and his own little
room was at times modestly lit up for gatherings together of old
friends, who enjoyed new jokes, and amongst whom and for whom were
composed squibs, pamphlets, newspaper articles, in steady glorification
of school and college opinions, which the Oxonian, on quitting the
University, had no doubt the intention to sustain in the great battles
of party warfare.

But events were then beginning to make men’s convictions tremble under
them; and, with the increasing differences amongst veteran statesmen,
it was difficult to count on youthful recruits.

At all events, it is about this time that Mr. Canning’s political
career begins. It must be viewed in relation to the particular state of
society and government which then existed.

From the days of Queen Anne there had been a contest going on between
the two aristocratic factions, “Whig” and “Tory.” The principles
professed by either were frequently changed. The Tories, such as Sir
William Windham, under the guidance of Bolingbroke, often acting as
Reformers; and the Whigs, under Walpole, often acting as Conservatives.
The being in or out of place was in fact the chief difference between
the opposing candidates for office, though the Whigs generally passed
for being favourable to popular pretensions, and the Tories for being
favourable to Royal authority.

In the meantime public opinion, except on an occasional crisis when
the nation made itself heard, was the opinion of certain coteries, and
public men were the men of those coteries. It not unfrequently happened
that the most distinguished for ability were the most distinguished
for birth and fortune. But it was by no means necessary that it should
be so. The chiefs of the two conflicting armies sought to obtain
everywhere the best soldiers. Each had a certain number of commissions
to give away, or, in other words, of seats in Parliament to dispose of.
They who had the government in their hands could count from that fact
alone on thirty or forty. It matters little how these close boroughs
were created. Peers or gentlemen possessed them as simple property, or
as the effect of dominant local influence. The Treasury controlled them
as an effect of the patronage or employments which office placed in its
hands. A certain number were sold or let by their proprietors, and even
by the Administration; and in this manner men who had made fortunes
in our colonies or in trade, and were averse to a public canvass, and
without local landed influence, found their way into the great National
Council. They paid their 5000_l._ down, or their 1000_l._ a year, and
could generally, though not always, find a seat on such terms. But a
large portion of these convenient entries into the House of Commons
was kept open for distinguished young men, who gave themselves up to
public affairs as to a profession. A school or college reputation, an
able pamphlet, a club, or county meeting oration, pointed them out.
The minister, or great man who wished to be a minister, brought them
into Parliament. If they failed, they sank into insignificance; if they
succeeded, they worked during a certain time for the great men of the
day, and then became great men themselves.

This system had advantages, counterbalanced by defects, and gave to
England a set of trained and highly educated statesmen, generally
well informed on all national questions, strongly attached to party
combinations, connected by the ties of gratitude and patronage with the
higher classes, having a certain contempt for the middle: keenly alive
to the glory, the power, the greatness of the country, and sympathising
little with the habits and wants of the great masses of the people.

They had not a correct knowledge of the feelings and wants of the poor
man,--they understood and shared the feelings of the gentleman. Bread
might be dear or cheap, they cared little about it; a battle gained
or lost affected them more deeply. A mob might be massacred without
greatly exciting their compassion; but the loss of a great general or
of a great statesman they felt as a national calamity.

Such were the men who might fairly be called “political adventurers:”
a class to which we owe much of our political renown, much of our
reputation for political capacity, but which, in only rare instances,
won the public esteem or merited the popular affections. Such were our
political adventurers when Mr. Pitt sent for Mr. Canning, a scholar of
eminence and a young man of superior and shining abilities, and offered
him a seat in the House of Commons.

The following is the simple manner in which this interview is spoken of
by a biographer of Mr. Canning:[112]

“Mr. Pitt, through a private channel, communicated his desire to see
Mr. Canning; Mr. Canning of course complied. Mr. Pitt immediately
proceeded, on their meeting, to declare to Mr. Canning the object of
his requesting an interview with him, which was to state that he had
heard of Mr. Canning’s reputation as a scholar and a speaker, and that
if he concurred in the policy which the Government was then pursuing,
arrangements would be made to bring him into Parliament.”

The person to whom this offer was made accepted it; nor was this

I have already said that events were about this period taking place,
that made men’s convictions tremble under them; and in fact the mob
rulers of Paris had in a few months so desecrated the name of Freedom,
that half of its ancient worshippers covered their faces with their
hands, and shuddered when it was pronounced.

But there were also other circumstances of a more personal nature,
which, now that young Canning had seriously to think of his entry into
public life, had, I have been assured, an influence on his resolutions.

The first incident, I was once told by Mr. John Allen, that disinclined
Mr. Canning (who had probably already some misgivings) to attach
himself irrevocably to the Whig camp, was the following one: Lord
Liverpool, then Mr. Jenkinson, had just made his appearance in the
House of Commons. His first speech was highly successful. “There is a
young friend of mine,” said Mr. Sheridan, “whom I soon hope to hear
answering the honourable gentleman who has just distinguished himself:
a contemporary whom he knows to possess talents not inferior to his
own, but whose principles, I trust, are very different from his.”

This allusion, however kindly meant, was disagreeable, said Mr. Allen,
to the youthful aspirant to public honours. It pledged him, as he
thought, prematurely; it brought him forward under the auspices of a
man, who, however distinguished as an individual, was not in a position
to be a patron. Other reflections, it is added, followed. The party
then in opposition possessed almost every man distinguished in public
life: a host of formidable competitors in the road to honour and
preferment, supposing preferment and honour to be attainable by talent.
But this was not all. The Whig party, then, as always, was essentially
an exclusive party; its preferments were concentrated on a clique,
which regarded all without it as its subordinates and instruments.

On the other side, the Prime Minister stood almost alone. He had
every office to bestow, and few candidates of any merit for official
employments. Haughty from temperament, and flushed with power, which he
had attained early and long exercised without control, he had not the
pride of rank, nor the aristocratic attachments for which high families
linked together are distinguished. His partisans and friends were his
own. He had elevated them for no other reason than that they were his.
By those to whom he had once shown favour he had always stood firm;
all who had followed had shared his fortunes; there can be no better
promise to adherents.

These were not explanations that Mr. Canning could make precisely to
the Whig leaders, but he had an affection for Mr. Sheridan, who had
always been kind to him, and by whom he did not wish to be thought
ungrateful. He sought, then, an interview with that good-natured
and gifted person. Lord Holland, Mr. Canning’s contemporary, was
present at it, and told me that nothing could be more respectful and
unreserved than the manner in which the ambitious young man gave his
reasons for the change he was prepared to make, or had made; nothing
more warm-hearted, unprejudiced, and frank, than the veteran orator’s
reception of his retiring _protégé’s_ confession: nor, indeed, could
Mr. Sheridan help feeling the application, when he was himself cited as
an example of the haughtiness with which “the great Whig Houses” looked
down on the lofty aspirations of mere genius. The conversation thus
alluded to took place a little before Mr. Pitt’s proposals were made,
but probably when they were expected. Mr. Canning, his views fairly
stated to the only person to whom he felt bound to give them, and his
seat in Parliament secured, placed himself in front of his old friends,
whom Colonel Fitz-Patrick avenged by the following couplet:

    “The turning of coats so common is grown,
      That no one would think to attack it;
    But no case until now was so flagrantly known
      Of a schoolboy turning his jacket.”


There was little justice in Colonel Fitz-Patrick’s satire. Nine-tenths
of Mr. Fox’s partisans, old and young, were deserting his standard
when Mr. Canning quitted him. The cultivated mind of England was, as
it has been said in two or three of these sketches, against the line
which the Whig leader persisted to take with respect to the French
Revolution--even after its excesses; and it is easy to conceive that
the cause of Liberty and Fraternity should have become unfashionable
when these weird sisters were seen brandishing the knife, and dancing
round the guillotine. Admitting, however, the legitimacy of the horror
with which the assassins of the Committee of Public Safety inspired the
greater portion of educated Englishmen, it is still a question whether
England should have provoked their hostility; for, after the recall
of our ambassador and our undisguised intention of making war, the
Republic’s declaration of it was a matter of course.

“Where could be the morality,” said Mr. Pitt’s opponents, “of bringing
fresh calamities upon a land which so many calamities already
desolated? Where the policy of concentrating and consolidating so
formidable an internal system by an act of foreign aggression? And if
the struggle we then engaged in was in itself inhuman and impolitic,
what was to be said as to the time at which we entered upon it?

“The natural motives that might have suggested a French war, were--the
wish to save an unhappy monarch from an unjust and violent death; the
desire to subdue the arrogance of a set of miscreants who, before
they were prepared to execute the menace, threatened to overrun the
world with their principles and their arms. If these were our motives,
why not draw the sword, before the Sovereign whose life we wished to
protect had perished? Why defer our conflict with the French army
until, flushed with victory and threatened with execution in the event
of defeat, raw recruits were changed into disciplined and desperate
soldiers? Why reserve our defence of the unhappy Louis till he had
perished on the scaffold--our war against the French Republic until
the fear of the executioner and the love of glory had made a nation
unanimous in its defence? Success was possible when Prussia first
entered on the contest: it was impossible when we subsidized her to
continue it.”

The antagonists of the First Minister urged these arguments with
plausibility. His friends replied, “that Mr. Pitt had been originally
against all interference in French affairs; that the conflict was not
of his seeking; that the conduct of the French government and the
feelings of the English people had at last forced him into it; that he
had not wished to anticipate its necessity; but that if he had, the
minister of a free country cannot go to war at precisely the moment he
would select; he cannot guard against evils which the public itself
does not foresee. He must go with the public, or after it; and the
public mind in England had, like that of the Ministers, only become
convinced by degrees that peace was impossible.

“As to neutrality, if it could be observed when the objects at stake
were material, it could not be maintained when those objects were
moral, social, and religious.

“When new ideas were everywhere abroad, inflaming, agitating men’s
minds, these ideas were sure to find everywhere partisans or opponents,
and to attempt to moderate the zeal of one party merely gave power to
the violence of the other.

“It was necessary to excite the English people against France, in order
to prevent French principles, as they were then called, from spreading
and fixing themselves in England.”

Such was the language and such the opinions of many eminent men with
whom Mr. Canning was now associated, when, after a year’s preliminary
silence, he made his first speech in the House of Commons.


This first speech (January 31, 1794), like many first speeches of
men who have become eminent orators, was more or less a failure. The
subject was a subsidy to Sardinia, and the new member began with a
scoff at the idea of looking with a mere mercantile eye at the goodness
or badness of the bargain we were making. Such a scoff at economy,
uttered in an assembly which is the especial guardian of the public
purse, was injudicious. But the whole speech was bad; it possessed in
an eminent degree all the ordinary faults of the declamations of clever
young men. Its arguments were much too refined: its arrangement much
too systematic: cold, tedious, and unparliamentary, it would have been
twice as good if it had attempted half as much; for the great art in
speaking, as in writing, consists in knowing what should not be said or

This instance of ill success did not, however, alienate the Premier;
for Mr. Pitt, haughty in all things, cared little for opinions which
he did not dictate. In 1795, therefore, the unsubdued favourite was
charged with the seconding of the address, and acquitted himself with
some spirit and effect.

The following passage may be quoted both for thought and expression:

“The next argument against peace is its insecurity; it would be the
mere name of peace, not a wholesome and refreshing repose, but a
feverish and troubled slumber, from which we should soon be roused
to fresh horrors and insults. What are the blessings of peace which
make it so desirable? What, but that it implies tranquil and secure
enjoyment of our homes? What, but that it will restore our seamen and
our soldiers, who have been fighting to preserve those homes, to a
share of that tranquillity and security? What, but that it will lessen
the expenses and alleviate the burdens of the people? What, but that it
explores some new channel of commercial intercourse, or reopens such
as war had destroyed? What, but that it renews some broken link of
amity, or forms some new attachment between nations, and softens the
asperities of hostility and hatred into kindness and conciliation and
reciprocal goodwill? And which of all these blessings can we hope to
obtain by a peace, under the present circumstances, with France? Can
we venture to restore to the loom or to the plough the brave men who
have fought our battles? Who can say how soon some fresh government may
not start up in France, which may feel it their inclination or their
interest to renew hostilities? The utmost we can hope for is a short,
delusive, and suspicious interval of armistice, without any material
diminution of expenditure; without security at home, or a chance
of purchasing it by exertions abroad; without any of the essential
blessings of peace, or any of the possible advantages of war: a state
of doubt and preparation such as will retain in itself all the causes
of jealousy to other states which, in the usual course of things,
produce remonstrances and (if these are answered unsatisfactorily)


In 1796, Parliament was dissolved, and Mr. Canning was returned
to Parliament this time for Wendover. He had just been named
Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; and it has been usual
to refer to this appointment as a proof of his early parliamentary
success. He owed the promotion, however, entirely to the Prime
Minister’s favour; for though his late speech, better than the
preceding one, had procured him some credit, there was still a careless
impertinence in his manner, and a classical pedantry in his style,
which were unsuitable to the taste of the House of Commons. Indeed, so
much had he to reform in his manner, that he now remained, by, as it is
said, Mr. Pitt’s advice, silent for three years, endeavouring during
this time to correct his faults and allow them to be forgotten.

It does not follow that he was idle. The _Anti-Jacobin_, started in
1797, under the editorship of Mr. Gifford, for the purpose which its
title indicates, was commenced at the instigation and with the support
of the old contributor to the _Microcosm_, and did more than any
parliamentary eloquence could have done in favour of the anti-Jacobin

“Must wit,” says Mr. Canning, who had now to contend against the most
accomplished humorists of his day, “be found alone on falsehood’s
side?” and having established himself as the champion of “Truth,” he
brought, no doubt, very useful and very brilliant arms to her service.
The verses of “New Morality,” spirited, exaggerated, polished, and
virulent, satisfied the hatred without offending the taste (which does
not seem to have been at that time very refined) of those classes who
looked upon our neighbours with almost as much hatred and disgust as
were displayed in the verses of the young poet; while the “Friend of
Humanity and the Knife-grinder”--almost too trite to be quoted, and
yet too excellent to be omitted--will long remain one of the happiest
efforts of satire in our language:

                         “IMITATION SAPPHICS.


    “_Friend of Humanity_:

        “Needy Knife-grinder, whither are you going?
        Rough is the road,--your wheel is out of order;
        Bleak blows the blast,--your hat has got a hole in’t,
                  So have your breeches.

        “Weary Knife-grinder, little think the proud ones,
        Who in their coaches roll along the turnpike
        Road, what hard work ’tis crying all day, ‘Knives and
                  Scissors to grind, O!’

        “Tell me, Knife-grinder, how came you to grind knives?
        Did some rich man tyrannically use you?
        Was it the squire, or parson of the parish,
                  Or the attorney?

        “Was it the squire, for killing of his game? or
        Covetous parson, for his tithes distraining?
        Or roguish lawyer, made you lose your little
                  All in a lawsuit?

        “Have you not read the ‘Rights of Man,’ by Tom Paine?
        Drops of compassion tremble on my eyelids,
        Ready to fall as soon as you have told your
                  Pitiful story.


        “Story! God bless you, I have none to tell, sir;
        Only last night, a-drinking at the ‘Chequers,’
        These poor old hat and breeches, as you see, were
                  Torn in a scuffle.

        “Constables came up for to take me into
        Custody; they took me before the justice:
        Justice Aldmixon put me in the parish
                  Stocks for a vagrant.

        “I should be glad to drink your honour’s health in
        A pot of beer, if you will give me sixpence;
        But, for my part, I never love to meddle
                  With politics, sir.

    “_Friend of Humanity_:

        “I give thee sixpence? I’ll see thee damn’d first.
        Wretch, whom no sense of wrong can rouse to vengeance!
        Sordid, unfeeling, reprobate, degraded,
                  Spiritless outcast!”

                                   [_Exit, kicking over the wheel, in a
                                       fit of universal philanthropy._]

An instance of the readiness of Mr. Canning’s Muse may be here related.

When Frere had completed the first part of the “Loves of the
Triangles,” he exultingly read over the following lines to Canning, and
defied him to improve upon them:

    “Lo! where the chimney’s sooty tube ascends,
    The fair Trochais from the corner bends!
    Her coal-black eyes upturned, incessant mark
    The eddying smoke, quick flame, and volant spark;
    Mark with quick ken, where flashing in between,
    Her much-loved _smoke-jack_ glimmers thro’ the scene;
    Mark how his various parts together tend,
    Point to one purpose,--in one object end;
    The spiral grooves in smooth meanders flow,
    Drags the long chain, the polished axles glow,
    While slowly circumvolves the piece of beef below.”

Canning took the pen, and added:

    “The conscious fire with bickering radiance burns,
    Eyes the rich joint, and roasts it as it turns.”

These two lines are now blended with the original text, and constitute,
it is said, the only flaw in Frere’s title to the sole authorship of
the first part of the poem, from which I have been quoting: the second
and third parts were both by Canning.

In prose I cite the report of a peroration by Mr. Erskine, whose
egotism could hardly be caricatured, at a meeting of the Friends of

“Mr. Erskine concluded by recapitulating, in a strain of agonizing and
impressive eloquence, the several more prominent heads of his speech:
He had been a soldier, and a sailor, and had a son at Winchester
School; he had been called by special retainers, during the summer,
into many different and distant parts of the country, travelling
chiefly in post-chaises; he felt himself called upon to declare that
his poor faculties were at the service of his country--of the free and
enlightened part of it, at least. He stood here as a man; he stood
in the eye, indeed in the hand, of God--to whom (in the presence of
the company, and waiters) he solemnly appealed; he was of noble,
perhaps royal blood; he had a house at Hampstead; was convinced of
the necessity of a thorough and radical reform; his pamphlet had gone
through thirty editions, skipping alternately the odd and even numbers;
he loved the Constitution, to which he would cling and grapple; and he
was clothed with the infirmities of man’s nature; he would apply to the
present French rulers (particularly _Barras_ and _Reubel_) the words of
the poet:

    “‘_Be to their faults a little blind;_
    _Be to their virtues ever kind,_
    _Let all their ways be unconfined,_
    _And clap the padlock on their mind!_’

and for these reasons, thanking the gentlemen who had done him the
honour to drink his health, he should propose ‘_Merlin_, the late
Minister of Justice, under the Directory, and Trial by Jury.’”

I refer those who wish to know more of the literary merits of Mr.
Canning to an article, July, 1858, in the “Edinburgh Review,” in which
article the accomplished writer has exhausted the subject he undertook
to treat.

Nor was Mr. Canning’s reputation for wit, at this time, gained solely
by his pen. Living with few, though much the fashion, who could be
more charming in his own accomplished circle--when, the pleasant
thought lighting up his eye, playing about his mouth, and giving an
indescribable charm to his handsome countenance, he abandoned himself
to the inspiration of some happy moment, and planned a practical joke,
or quizzed an incorrigible bore, or related some humorous anecdote?
No one’s society was so much prized by associates; no one’s talents
so highly estimated by friends; and his fame in the drawing-room,
or at the dining-table, was at least as brilliant as that which he
subsequently acquired in the senate.

This, indeed, was the epoch in his life at which perhaps he had the
most real enjoyment; for though he felt conscious that his success in
Parliament had not yet been complete, the feeling of certainty that it
would become so, now began to dawn upon him, and the triumphs that his
ardent nature anticipated went probably even beyond those which his
maturer career accomplished.


On the 11th of December, 1798, Mr. Tierney made a motion respecting
peace with the French Republic. The negotiations at Lille, never
cordially entered into, were at this time broken off. We had formed
an alliance with Russia and the Porte, and were about to carry on the
struggle with new energies, though certainly not under very encouraging
auspices. The coalition of 1792-3 was completely broken up. Prussia
had for three years been at peace with France; nor had the Cabinet of
Vienna seen any objection to signing a treaty which, disgracefully to
all parties, sacrificed the remains of Venetian liberty.

France, in the meanwhile, distracted at home, had, notwithstanding,
enlarged her empire by Belgium, Luxemburg, Nice, Savoy, Piedmont,
Genoa, Milan, and Holland. There were many arguments to use in
favour of abandoning the struggle we had entered upon: the uncertain
friendship of our allies; the increased force of our enemy; and the
exhausting drain we were maintaining upon our own resources. In six
years we had added one hundred and fifty millions to our debt, by which
had been created the necessity of adding to our annual burdens eight
millions, a sum equal to the whole of our expenditure when George III.
came to the throne.

But the misfortunes which attend an expensive contest, though they
necessarily irritate and dissatisfy a people with war, are not always
to be considered irrefutable arguments in favour of peace. This
formed the substance of the speech which Mr. Canning delivered on Mr.
Tierney’s motion. Defective in argument, it was effective in delivery,
and added considerably to his reputation as a speaker.

In the meantime, our sworn enmity to France and to French principles,
encouraged an ardent inclination to both in those whom we had offended
or misgoverned. The Directory in Paris and the discontented in Ireland
had, therefore, formed a natural if not a legitimate league. The result
was an Irish rebellion, artfully planned, for a long time unbetrayed,
and which, but for late treachery and singular accidents, would not
have been easily overcome.

Mr. Pitt, taking advantage of the fears of a separation between Great
Britain and the sister kingdom, which this rebellion, notwithstanding
its prompt and fortunate suppression, had created, announced, in a
message from the Crown, a desire still further to incorporate and
consolidate the two kingdoms. Whatever may have been the result of the
Irish Union, the promises under which it was passed having been so long
denied, so unhappily broken, there was certainly at this period reason
to suppose that it would afford the means of instituting a fairer and
less partial system of government than that under which Ireland had
long been suffering.

As for the wail which was then set up, and which has since been
re-awakened, for the independent Legislature which was merged into that
of Great Britain, the facility with which it was purchased is the best
answer which can be given to the assertions made of its value.

The part, therefore, that Mr. Canning adopted on this question (if with
sincere and honest views of conferring the rights of citizenship on our
Irish Catholic fellow-subjects, and not with the intention, which there
is no reason to presume, of gaining their goodwill and then betraying
their confidence) is one highly honourable to an English statesman. But
another question now arose. That Catholic Emancipation was frequently
promised as the natural result of the Union, has never been disputed.
As such promises were made plainly and openly in Parliament, the King
could not be supposed ignorant of them. Why, then, if his Majesty had
such insuperable objections to their fulfilment, did he allow of their
being made? And, on the other hand, how could his Ministers compromise
their characters by holding out as a lure to a large majority of the
Irish people a benefit which they had no security for being able to
concede? Mr. Canning’s language is not ambiguous:

“Here, then, are two parties in opposition to each other, who agree
in one common opinion; and surely if any middle term can be found to
assuage their animosities, and to heal their discords, and to reconcile
their jarring interests, it should be eagerly and instantly seized and
applied. That an union is that middle term, appears the more probable
when we recollect that the Popery code took its rise after a proposal
for an union, which proposal came from Ireland, but which was rejected
by the British government. This rejection produced the Popery code.
_If an union were therefore acceded to, the Popery code would be
unnecessary._ I say, if it was in consequence of the rejection of an
union at a former period that the laws against Popery were enacted,
it is fair to conclude that an union would render a similar code
unnecessary--that an union would satisfy the friends of the Protestant
ascendency, without passing new laws against the Catholics, and without
maintaining those which are yet in force.”[113]

The Union, nevertheless, was carried; the mention of Catholic
Emancipation, in spite of the language just quoted, forbidden. Mr. Pitt
(in 1801) retired.


There will always be a mystery hanging over the transaction to which
I have just referred,--a mystery difficult to explain in a manner
entirely satisfactory to the character of the King and his minister.
One can only presume that the King was willing to let the Union be
carried, on the strength of the Premier’s promises, which he did not
think it necessary to gainsay until he was asked to carry them into
effect; and that the Minister counted upon the important service he
would have rendered if the great measure he was bringing forward became
law, for the influence that would be necessary to make his promises
valid. It cannot be denied that each acted with a certain want of
candour towards the other unbecoming their respective positions,
and that both behaved unfairly towards Ireland. Mr. Pitt sought
to give consistency to his conduct by resigning; but he failed in
convincing the public of his sincerity, because he was supposed to have
recommended Mr. Addington, then Speaker of the House of Commons, and
the son of a Doctor Addington, who had been the King’s physician (to
which circumstance the son owed a nickname he could never shake off),
as his successor; and Mr. Addington was only remarkable for not being
remarkable either for his qualities or for his defects, being just that
staid, sober sort of man who, respectable in the chair of the House of
Commons, would be almost ridiculous in leading its debates.

Thus an appointment which did not seem serious, perplexed and did not
satisfy the public mind; more especially as the seceding minister
engaged himself to support the new Premier, notwithstanding their
difference of opinion on the very question on which the former had
left office. The public did not know then so clearly as it does now
that the King, who through his whole life seems to have been on the
brink of insanity, was then in a state of mind that rendered madness
certain, if the question of the Catholics, on which he had morbid and
peculiar notions, was persistingly pressed upon him; and that Mr. Pitt
thus, rightly or wrongly, thought it was his duty, after sacrificing
office, to stop short of driving the master he had so long served into
the gloom of despair. This, however, was a motive that could not be
avowed, and consequently every sort of conjecture became current. Was
the arrangement made on an understanding with the King, and would Mr.
Pitt shortly resume the place he had quitted? Did Mr. Pitt, if there
was no such arrangement, really mean to retain so incapable a person as
Mr. Addington, at so important a time, at the head of the Government of
England, or was his assistance given merely for the moment, with the
intention of subsequently withdrawing it?

At first the aid offered to the new Premier by the old one was
effective and ostentatious; but a great portion of the Opposition
began also to support Mr. Addington, intending in this way to allure
him into an independence which, as they imagined, would irritate his
haughty friend, and separate the _protégé_ from the patron. The device
was successful. The Prime Minister soon began to entertain a high
opinion of his own individual importance, Mr. Pitt to feel sore at
being treated as a simple official follower of the Government, which he
had expected unofficially to command, and ere long he retired almost
entirely from Parliament. He did not, however, acknowledge the least
desire to return to power.

In this state of things, the conduct of Mr. Canning seemed likely to
be the same as Mr. Pitt’s, but it was not so. He did not, even for a
moment, affect any disposition to share the partiality which the late
First Lord of the Treasury began by testifying for the new one. Sitting
in Parliament for a borough for which he had been elected through
government influence, his conduct for a moment was fettered; but
obtaining, at the earliest opportunity, a new seat (in 1802) by his own
means--that is, by his own money--he then went without scruple into the
most violent opposition.

His constant efforts to induce Achilles to take up his spear and issue
from his tent, are recorded by Lord Malmesbury, and though not wholly
disagreeable to his discontented chief, were not always pleasing to
him. He liked, no doubt, to be pointed out as the only man who could
direct successfully the destinies of England, and enjoyed jokes
levelled at the dull gentleman who had become all at once enamoured
of his own capacity; but he thought his dashing and indiscreet
adherent passed the bounds of good taste and decorum in his attacks,
and he disliked being pressed to come forward before he himself felt
convinced that the time was ripe for his doing so. Too strong a show
of reluctance might, he knew, discourage his friends; too ready an
acquiescence compromise his dignity, and give an advantage to his

He foresaw, indeed, better than any one, all the difficulties that lay
in his path. The unwillingness of the Sovereign to exchange a minister
with whom he was at his ease, for a minister of whom he always stood
in awe; the unbending character of Lord Grenville, with whom he must
of necessity associate, if he formed any government that could last,
and who, nevertheless, rendered every difficulty in a government more
difficult by his uncompromising character, his stately bearing, and
his many personal engagements and connections. More than all, perhaps,
he felt creeping over him what his friends did not see and would not
believe--that premature decrepitude which consigned him, in the prime
of life, to the infirmities of age. Thus, though he felt restless at
being deprived of the only employment to which he was accustomed, he
was not very eager about a prompt reinstatement in it, and preferred
waiting until an absolute necessity for his services, and a crisis, on
which he always counted, should float him again into Downing Street,
over many obstacles against which his bark might otherwise be wrecked.

His real feelings, however, were matter of surmise; many people, not
unnaturally, imagined that Mr. Canning represented them; and the
energetic partisan, mixing with the world, derived no small importance
from his well-known intimacy with the statesman in moody retirement.
His marriage, moreover, at this time with Miss Joan Scott, one of the
daughters of General Scott, and co-heiress with her sisters, Lady Moray
and Lady Titchfield, brought him both wealth and connection, and gave a
solidity to his position which it did not previously possess.


In the meantime the Addington administration went on, its policy
necessarily partaking of the timid and half-earnest character of the
man directing it. Unequal to the burden and the responsibility of
war, he had concocted a peace, but a peace of the character which Mr.
Canning had previously described: “a peace without security and without
honour:” a peace which, while it required some firmness to decline,
demanded more to maintain, since the country was as certain to be at
first pleased with it as to be soon ashamed of it. No administration
would have had the boldness to surrender Malta; few would have been so
weak as to promise the cession.

Indeed, almost immediately after concluding this halcyon peace, we
find the Secretary of War speaking of “these times of difficulty and
danger,” and demanding “an increased military establishment.” Nor was
it long before an additional 10,000 men were also demanded for our
naval service. On both these occasions Mr. Canning, supporting the
demand of the Minister, attacked the Administration; and after stating
his reasons for being in favour of the especial measure proposed, burst
out at once into an eloquent exhibition of the reasons for his general

“I do think that this is a time when the administration of the
Government ought to be in the ablest and fittest hands. I do not think
the hands in which it is now placed answer to that description. I
do not pretend to conceal in what quarter I think that fitness most
eminently resides. I do not subscribe to the doctrines which have been
advanced, that, in times like the present, the fitness of individuals
for their political situations is no part of the consideration to
which a Member of Parliament may fairly turn his attention. I know not
a more solemn or important duty that a Member of Parliament can have
to discharge than by giving, at fit seasons, a free opinion upon the
character and qualities of public men. _Away with the cant of measures,
not men--the idle supposition that it is the harness, and not the
horse, that draws the chariot along._ No, sir; if the comparison must
be made--if the distinction must be taken--measures are comparatively
nothing, men everything. I speak, sir, of times of difficulty and
danger--of times when systems are shaken, when precedents and general
rules of conduct fail. Then it is that not to this or that measure,
however prudently devised, however blameless in execution, but to the
energy and character of individuals a state must be indebted for its
salvation. Then it is that kingdoms rise and fall in proportion as they
are upheld, not by well-meant endeavours (however laudable these may
be), but by commanding, overawing talent--by able men. And what is the
nature of the times in which we live? Look at France, and see what we
have to cope with, and consider what has made her what she is--a man!
You will tell me that she was great, and powerful, and formidable
before the date of Bonaparte’s government--that he found in her great
physical and moral resources--that he had but to turn them to account.
True; and he did so. Compare the situation in which he found France
with that to which he has raised her. I am no panegyrist of Bonaparte;
but I cannot shut my eyes to the superiority of his talents--to the
amazing ascendency of his genius. Tell me not of his measures and his
policy. It is his genius, his character, that keeps the world in awe.
Sir, to meet, to check, to curb, to stand up against him, we want
arms of the same kind. I am far from objecting to the large military
establishments which are proposed to you. I vote for them with all
my heart. But, for the purpose of coping with Bonaparte, one great
commanding spirit is worth them all!”[114]

Mr. Canning was right. No cant betrays more ignorance than that
which affects to undervalue the qualities of public men in the march
of public affairs. However circumstances may contribute to make
individuals, individuals have as great a share in making circumstances.
Had Queen Elizabeth been a weak and timid woman, we might now be
speaking Spanish, and have our fates dependent on the struggle between
Prim and Narvaez. Had James II. been a wise and prudent man,--instead
of the present cry against Irish Catholics, our saints of the day would
have been spreading charges against the violence and perfidy of some
Puritan Protestant, some English, or perhaps Scotch, O’Connell. Strip
Mirabeau of his eloquence, endow Louis XVI. with the courage and the
genius of Henry IV., and the history of the last eighty years might be

Mr. Canning, I repeat, was right; the great necessity in arduous times
is a man who inspires other men; and the satirist, in measuring the two
rivals for office, was hardly wrong in saying:

    “_As London to Paddington,_
    _So Pitt is to Addington._”


Well-adapted ridicule no public man can withstand, and there seems
to have been something peculiar to Mr. Addington that attracted it.
Even Mr. Sheridan, his steady supporter to the last (for the main
body of the Whigs, under Mr. Fox, when they saw a prospect of power
for themselves, uniting with the Grenvillites, went into violent
opposition)--even Mr. Sheridan, in those memorable lines:

    “I do not love thee, Doctor Fell,
    The reason why I cannot tell;
    But this I know, and know full well,
    I do not love thee, Doctor Fell”:

quoted in defence of the Minister whom so many attacked without saying
why they disapproved, furnished a nickname that too well applied to
him, and struck the last nail into the coffin that a mingled cohort of
friends and enemies bore--a smile on their faces--to the tomb.

Previous to this, the war, which had been suspended by mutual bad
faith, was recommenced, each party complaining of the other.

_The man_ to whom Mr. Canning had been so long pointing now came
into power, but was not precisely the man, in spite of Mr. Canning’s
eulogium, for the sort of crisis in which he assumed it. There was,
indeed, a singular contrast in the life of Lord Chatham and that of
his son. The first Pitt was essentially a war minister; he seemed
to require the sound of the clarion and trumpet and of the guns
proclaiming victory from the Tower, to call forth the force and
instincts of his genius. In peace he became an ordinary person. The
second Pitt, on the contrary, was as evidently a peace minister. In
quiet times his government had been eminently successful. Orderly,
regular, methodical, with a firm and lofty soul, and the purest
motives for his guides, he had carried on the business of the country,
steadily, prudently, and ably--heedless of the calumnies of envy, or
the combinations of factions: but he wanted that imagination which
furnishes resources on unexpected occasions. The mighty convulsion
which made the world heave under his feet did not terrify him, but it
bewildered him; and nothing could be more unfortunate, or even more
wavering, than his conduct when he had to deal with extraordinary
events. Still, in one thing he resembled his father--he had unbounded
confidence in himself. This sufficed for the moment to give confidence
to others; and his stately figure, standing, in the imagination of the
nation, by the side of Britannia, added to the indomitable courage of
our mariners, and shed a kindred influence over the heroic genius of
their chief. But though Mr. Pitt had in a supreme degree the talent of
commanding the respect of his followers and admirers, he had not the
genial nature which gives sway over equals; and Mr. Fox had of late won
to himself many eminent persons who by their opinions and antecedents
were more naturally disposed to join his rival. The Premier felt this
difficulty, and being wholly above jealousy, would have coalesced with
Mr. Fox, and formed a ministry strong in the abilities which at that
critical time were so required. But George III., with a narrowness
of mind that converted even his good qualities into defects, said,
“Bring me whom you please, Mr. Pitt, except Fox.” This exception put an
end to the combination in view; for, in spite of Fox’s disinterested
remonstrances, or, perhaps, in consequence of them, none of his friends
would quit his side.

Nevertheless, proud, accustomed to power, careless of responsibility,
defying all opponents, inspiring awe by his towering person and
sonorous voice, as well as by the lofty tone of his eloquence and the
solitary grandeur of his disposition, alone in front of a stronger
phalanx of adversaries than ever, perhaps, before or since, were
marshalled against a minister,--Mr. Fox, Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Windham,
the Grenvilles, Mr. Grey, Mr. Tierney--as daring and undaunted in
appearance as in the first flush of his youthful glory, stood this
singular personage, honoured even in his present isolation with
the public hopes. But Fortune, which in less eventful moments had
followed, chose this fatal moment for deserting him. In vain he turned
to his most able supporter for assistance; that early friend, more
unfortunate than himself, stood disabled, and exposed to a disgraceful
impeachment. The struggle was too severe; it wore out a spirit which
nothing could bend or appal. On the 23rd of January, 1806, immediately
after the news of the fatal battle of Austerlitz, which chilled the
remains of life within him, and on the anniversary of the day on which,
twenty-five years before, he had been returned to Parliament, Mr. Pitt


Lord Grenville and Mr. Fox (the King’s antipathy was this time
overborne by necessity) formed the new Ministry, in which Lord Sidmouth
(late Mr. Addington), who, Mr. Canning said, “was like the small-pox,
since everybody must have him once in their lives,” was also included.

During the short time that Mr. Canning had lately held office, his
situation as Treasurer of the Navy had invested him with the defence
of Lord Melville, a defence which he conducted with much tact and
ability, and to this his parliamentary labours had been confined. The
employment of “All the Talents” (as the new Administration, comprising
men of every party, was called) now left him almost alone amongst the
parliamentary debaters in opposition. This position was a fortunate one.

In the most formidable and successful attacks against Lord
Ellenborough’s seat in the Cabinet, which was indefensible--against
Mr. Windham’s Limited Service Bill, of which party spirit denied the
merits--he led the way. His success on all these occasions was great,
and the style of his speaking now began to show the effects of care
and experience. A less methodic mode of arguing, a greater readiness
in replying, had removed the unprepossessing impression of previous
study; while an artful rapidity of style permitted that polish of
language which is too apt, when unskilfully employed, to become prolix,
monotonous, and languid. It was this peculiar polish, accompanied by
a studied though apparently natural rapidity, which, becoming more
and more perfect as it became apparently more natural, subsequently
formed the essential excellence of Mr. Canning’s speaking; for his
poetical illustrations required the charm of his delivery, and his
jokes, imitated from Mr. Sheridan, were rarely so good as their model;
although, even in his manner of introducing and dealing with these, we
may trace, as he advanced, a very marked improvement.

The coalition between parties at one time so adverse as those enlisted
under the names of Fox, Grenville, and Addington, could only be
maintained by the ascendency of that master-spirit which had been so
long predominant in the House of Commons. But when Mr. Fox undertook
the arduous duties of the Foreign Office, his health (that treasure
which statesmen often spend with improvidence, and which he had wasted
more than most men) was already beginning to fail, rendering heavy the
duties of public life; and in 1806--while our diplomacy at Paris was
making a last attempt to effect that honourable peace which had so
long been the object of the worn-out minister’s desires--that great
statesman, whose generous and noble heart never deceived him, but whose
singular capacity in debate was often marred by a remarkable want of
judgment in action, followed his haughty predecessor to an untimely

The Grenville Administration, after the death of Mr Fox, was no
more the former Administration of Lord Grenville than the mummy,
superstitiously presumed to preserve the spirit of the departed,
is the real living body of the person who has been embalmed. It
avoided, however, the ignominy of a natural death, by being the first
Administration which, according to Mr. Sheridan, “not only ran its head
against a wall, but actually built a wall for the purpose of running
its head against it.” This instrument of suicide was the well-known
bill “for securing to all his Majesty’s subjects the privilege of
serving in the Army and Navy.” A measure which, by permitting Irish
Catholics to hold a higher military rank than the law at that time
allowed them, showed the Whig government to be true to its principles,
but without tact or ability in carrying them out; for this bill,
brought forward honourably but unadvisedly, withdrawn weakly, alarming
many, and never granting much, dissatisfied the Catholics, angered the
Protestants, and gave the King the opportunity of sending a ministry he
disliked about their business, on a pretext which there was sufficient
bigotry in the nation to render popular. A dissolution amidst the yell
of “No Popery!” took place; and it was by this cry that the party with
which Mr. Canning now consented to act reinstalled itself in power.


A person well qualified to know the facts of that time, once told me
that, not very long before the dissolution of the Ministry to which
he succeeded, at a time certainly when that dissolution was not so
apparent, Mr. Canning had privately conveyed to Lord Grenville, who
had previously made him an offer, his wish to secede from opposition,
and had even received a promise that a suitable place (Mr. Windham’s
dismissal was at that time arranged) should be reserved for him.
Reminded of this when affairs had become more critical, he is said to
have observed, “it was too late.” Whatever may be the truth as to this
story--and such stories are rarely accurate in all their details--one
thing is certain, the brilliant abilities of the aspiring orator,
though then and afterwards depreciated by the dull mediocrity which
affects to think wit and pleasantry incompatible with the higher and
more serious attributes of genius, now became apparent, and carried him
through every obstacle to the most important political situation in the


                            |  In March, 1807.   |  In April, 1807.
                            |                    |
    President of the      } | Viscount Sidmouth  | Earl Camden.
      Council             } |                    |
                            |                    |
    Lord High Chancellor    | Lord Erskine       | Lord Eldon.
                            |                    |
    Lord Privy Seal         | Lord Holland       | Earl of Westmoreland.
                            |                    |
    First Lord of the     } | Lord Grenville     | Duke of Portland.
      Treasury            } |                    |
                            |                    |
    First Lord of the     } | Right Hon. T.    } | Lord Mulgrave.
      Admiralty           } |   Grenville      } |
                            |                    |
    Master-General of     } | Earl of Moira      | Earl of Chatham.
      the Ordnance        } |                    |
                            |                    |
    Secretary of State    } | Earl Spencer       | { Lord Hawkesbury
      for the Home Office } |                    | {   (afterwards Lord
                            |                    | {   Liverpool).
                            |                    |
    Secretary of State    } | Lord Howick        | Mr. Canning.
      for Foreign Affairs } |                    |
                            |                    |
    Secretary for War     } | Right Hon. W.    } | Lord Castlereagh.
      and the Colonies    } |   Windham        } |
                            |                    |
    President of the      } | Lord Auckland      | Earl Bathurst.
      Board of Trade      } |                    |
                            |                    |
    Lord Chief Justice      | Lord Ellenborough. |
                            |                    |
    Chancellor of the     } | Lord H. Petty    } | Hon. Spencer Perceval.
      Exchequer           } |   (afterwards    } |
                            |   Marquis of     } |
                            |   Lansdowne)     } |
                            |                    |
    A seat in the Cabinet } | Earl Fitzwilliam.  |
      without office      } |                    |

It is remarkable enough that in the Whig or popular cabinet there was
only one person (Mr. Windham)--a gentleman of great landed property, as
well as of remarkable ability--who was not a lord or a lord’s son. In
the Tory cabinet Mr. Canning formed the only similar exception.

The principles on which the new Government stood in respect to the
Irish Catholics were soon put to the test by Mr. Brand, afterwards Lord
Dacre, who moved:

“That it is contrary to the first duties of the confidential servants
of the Crown to restrain themselves by any pledge, expressed or
implied, from offering to the King any advice which the course of
circumstances may render necessary for the welfare and security of any
part of his Majesty’s extensive empire.”

This motion was caused by the King having required the late Government
to pledge itself not to bring forward any future measure of Catholic
relief, and having dismissed it when it refused thus to fetter its

Mr. Canning rose amidst an unwilling audience. The imputations to which
his early change of principles had exposed him were rather vividly
confirmed by the recklessness with which he now appeared to be rushing
into office amongst colleagues he had lately professed to despise, and
in support of opinions to which he was known to be opposed. The House
received him coldly, and with cries of “Question,” as he commenced an
explanation or defence, marked by a more than usual moderation of tone
and absence of ornament. The terms on which he had been with the former
Administration were to a great degree admitted in the following passage:

“For myself, I confidently aver that on the first intimation which I
received, from authority I believed to be unquestionable, of the strong
difference of opinion subsisting between the King and his Ministers, I
took the determination of communicating what I had learnt, and I did
communicate it without delay to that part of the late Administration
with which, in spite of political differences, I had continued, and
with which, so far as my own feelings are concerned, I still wish to
continue in habits of personal friendship and regard. I communicated
it, with the most earnest advice and exhortation, that they should
lose no time in coming to such an explanation and accommodation on the
subject at issue as should prevent matters from going to extremities.”

This statement, it is acknowledged, was perfectly correct; but it
leaves untouched the tale just alluded to, and which represented the
Minister, who was then making his explanations, as having been ready
to join an Administration favourable to the Catholic claims, previous
to his joining an Administration hostile to those claims. But though
I have related this tale as I heard it, I do not pretend to vouch for
its accuracy. But without denying or vouching for the truth of this
tale (though the authority on which it rests is highly respectable), I
may observe, it may be said that “no coalition can take place without
previous compromise or intrigue,” and that almost every Administration
is formed or supported by coalition.

How, indeed, had the Administration which now gave way been originally
composed? Of Mr. Windham, the loudest declaimer for war; of Mr. Fox,
the most determined advocate of peace; of Lord Sidmouth, the constant
subject of ridicule to both Mr. Windham and Mr. Fox. There was Mr.
Sheridan, the champion of annual Parliaments; Lord Grenville, opposed
to all reform! Besides, it was at that time accepted as an axiom by a
large number of the supporters of the Catholics, that the Sovereign’s
health created a justifiable reason for leaving the Catholic question
in abeyance, and that the attempt to push it forward at an untimely
moment would not really tend to its success.

Nor did Lord Castlereagh, who had always shown himself an honest
champion of the Catholic cause, evince more scruples on this matter
than the new Foreign Secretary. But if Mr. Canning’s friends made
excuses for him, Mr. Canning himself, always saying “that a thrust was
the best parry,” felt more disposed to attack the enemy than to defend
himself; and many of the political squibs which turned the incapable
Administration of “All the Talents” into ridicule, were attributed to
his satirical fancy. From 1807 to 1810, he remained in office.


The period just cited was marked by our interference in Spain, our
attack on Copenhagen, and that expedition to the Scheldt, which hung
during two years over the debates in Parliament, like one of the dull
fogs of that river.

Our foreign policy, though not always fortunate, could no longer
at least be accused of want of character and vigour. As to the
intervention in Spain, though marked by the early calamity of Sir John
Moore, it was still memorable for having directed the eye of our nation
to the vulnerable point in that Colossus whom our consistency and
perseverance finally brought to the ground.

The Danish enterprise was of a more doubtful character, and can only be
judged of fairly by carrying our minds back to the moment at which it
took place. That moment was most critical; every step we took was of
importance. Before the armies of France, and the genius of her ruler,
lay the vanquished legions of the north and south of Germany. From the
House of Hapsburg the crown of Charlemagne was gone; while the throne
of the Great Frederick was only yet preserved in the remote city of
Königsberg. In vain Russia protracted an inauspicious struggle. The
battle of Friedland dictated peace. There remained Sweden, altogether
unequal to the conflict in which she had plunged: Denmark protected
by an evasive neutrality, which it was for the interest of neither
contending party to respect. On the frontiers of Holstein, incapable
of defence, hung the armies of France. Zealand and Funen, indeed,
were comparatively secure, but people do not willingly abandon the
most fertile of their possessions, or defy an enemy because there are
portions of their territory which will not sink before the first attack.

Ministers laid some stress on their private information, and it is
said that Sir R. Wilson, returning, perhaps it may be said escaping,
with extraordinary diligence from Russia after the Peace of Tilsit,
brought undeniable intelligence as to the immediate intentions of our
new allies. But private information was useless. We do not want to
know what a conqueror intends to do, when we know what his character
and interests imperatively direct him to do. It would have been
absurd, indeed, not to foresee that Napoleon could not rest in neutral
neighbourhood on the borders of a country, the possession of which,
whether under the title of amity or conquest, was eminently essential
to his darling continental system, since through Tonningen were passed
into Germany our manufactures and colonial produce. Had this, indeed,
been disputable before the famous decree of the 21st of November,[115]
that decree removed all doubts.

Denmark, then, had no escape from the mighty war raging around her, and
had only to choose between the tyrant of the Continent or the mistress
of the seas. If she declared against us, as it was likely she would
do, her navy, joined to that of Russia, and, as it soon would be, to
that of Sweden, formed a powerful force--not, indeed, for disputing
the empire of the ocean; there we might safely have ventured to meet
the world in arms; but for assisting in those various schemes of sudden
and furtive invasion which each new continental conquest encouraged and
facilitated--encompassed, as we became, on all sides by hostile shores.
But if the neutrality of the Danes was impossible, if their fleet,
should they become hostile to us, might add materially to our peril,
was it wrong to make them enter frankly into our alliance, if that were
possible, or to deprive them of their worst means of mischief, if they
would not?

After all, what did we say to Denmark?--“You cannot any longer retain a
doubtful position; you must be for us, or we must consider you against
us. ‘_If a friend, you may count on all the energy and resources of
Great Britain._’” Denmark had offered to sell a large portion of
her marine to Russia, and we offered to purchase it manned. It was
required, she said, to defend Zealand; we offered to defend Zealand for

But our negotiation failed, and finally we seized, as belonging to a
power which was certain to become an enemy, the ships with which she
refused to aid us as an ally. A state must be in precisely similar
circumstances before it can decide whether it ought to do precisely a
similar thing.

Some blamed our conduct as unjust, whilst others praised it as bold.
What perhaps may be said is, that if unjust at all, it was not bold
enough. War once commenced, Zealand should have been held; the stores
and supplies in the merchant docks not left unnoticed; the passage
of the Sound kept possession of. In short, our assault on Copenhagen
should have been part of a permanent system of warfare, and not
suffered to appear a mere temporary act of aggression.

Still it showed in the Minister who planned and stood responsible
for it, three qualities, by no means common: secrecy, foresight and


But if our conduct towards the Danes admits of defence, luckily for Mr.
Canning the odium of that miserable expedition against Holland--in which

    “Lord Chatham, with his sword undrawn,
    Stood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan;
    Sir Richard, longing to be at ’em,
    Stood waiting for the Earl of Chatham;”

an expedition equally disgraceful to ministers and commanders--fell
chiefly on his colleague, who had originated and presided over it,
having himself been present at the embarkation.

It is necessary here to say a word or two concerning that statesman,
who, though agreeing with Mr. Canning upon the principal question of
their time, was never cordially united with him. Lord Castlereagh
joined to great boldness in action,--great calm and courtesy of manner,
long habits of official routine, and a considerable acquaintance with
men collectively and individually. He lived in the world, and was
more essentially a man of the world than his eloquent contemporary;
but, on the other hand, he was singularly deficient in literary
accomplishments, and this deficiency was not easily pardoned in an
assembly, the leading members of which had received a classical
education, and were as intolerant to an ungrammatical phrase as to a
political blunder. His language--inelegant, diffuse, and mingling every
variety of metaphorical expression--was the ridicule of the scholar.
Still the great air with which he rose from the Treasury Bench, threw
back his blue coat, and showed his broad chest and white waistcoat,
looking defiance on the ranks of the Opposition, won him the hearts
of the rank and file of the government adherents. In affairs, he got
through the details of office so as to satisfy forms, but not so as to
produce results: for if the official men who can manufacture plans on
paper are numerous, the statesmen who can give them vitality in action
are rare; and Lord Castlereagh was not one of them.

There was never, as I have just said, any great cordiality or intimacy
between two persons belonging to the same party and aspiring equally to
play the principal part in it. The defects of each, moreover, were just
of that kind that would be most irritating to the eye of the other;
but they would probably have gone on rising side by side, if they had
not now been thrown together and almost identified in common action.
The success of most of Mr. Canning’s schemes as Minister of Foreign
Affairs depended greatly upon the skill with which Lord Castlereagh,
as Minister of War, carried them into execution; any error of the
latter affected the reputation of the former; thus the first difficulty
was sure to produce a quarrel. Mr. Canning indeed was constantly
complaining that every project that was conceived by the Foreign Office
miscarried when it fell under the care of the War Office; that all
the gold which he put into his colleague’s crucible came out, somehow
or other, brass; and these complaints were the more bitter, since,
involuntarily influenced by his rhetorical predilections, he could not
help exaggerating the consequences of mistakes in conduct, which were
aggravated by mistakes in grammar.

Nevertheless, wishing, very probably, to avoid a public scandal, he
merely told the head of the Government privately that a change must
take place in the Foreign or in the War Department, and, after some
little hesitation, the removal of Lord Castlereagh was determined on;
but some persons from whom, perhaps, that statesman had no right to
expect desertion, anxious to keep their abandonment of him concealed
as long as possible, requested delay; and the Duke of Portland, a man
of no resolution, not daring to consent to the resignation of one of
the haughty gentlemen with whom he had to deal, was glad to defer the
affront that it was intended to put on to the other. Such being the
state of things, Mr. Canning was prevailed upon to allow the matter to
stand over for a while, receiving at the same time the most positive
assurances as to his request being finally complied with. At the end
of the session and the conclusion of the enterprise (against Flushing)
already undertaken, some arrangement was to be proposed, “satisfactory,
it was hoped, to all parties.” Such is the usual hope of temporising
politicians. But, in the meantime, the Secretary of War was allowed to
suppose that he carried into the discharge of the duties of his high
post, all the confidence and approbation of the Cabinet.

This was not a pleasant state of things to discover in the moment of
adversity; when the whole nation felt itself disgraced at the pitiful
termination of an enterprise which had been very lavishly prepared and
very ostentatiously paraded. Yet such was the moment when Mr. Canning,
fatigued at the Premier’s procrastination, disgusted by the calamity
which he attributed to it, and resolved to escape, if possible, from a
charge of incapacity, beneath which the whole Ministry was likely to be
crushed, threw up his appointment, and the unfortunate Secretary of War
learnt that for months his abilities had been distrusted by a majority
of the Cabinet in which he sat, and his situation only provisionally
held on the ill-extorted acquiescence of a man he did not like, and who
underrated and disliked him. His irritation vented itself in a letter
which produced a duel--a duel that Mr. Canning was not justly called
upon to fight; for all that he had done was to postpone a decision
he had a perfect right to adopt, and which he deferred expressly in
order to spare Lord Castlereagh’s feelings and at the request of Lord
Castlereagh’s friends. But the one of these gentlemen was quite as
peppery and combative as the other, though it appeared he was not quite
so good a shot, for Mr. Canning missed his opponent and received a
disagreeable wound, though not a dangerous one; the final result of
the whole affair being the resignation of the Premier and of the two
Secretaries of State, the country paying twenty millions (the cost of
the late barren attempt at glory) because the friends of a minister had
shrunk from saying anything unpleasant to him until he was prostrate.



    Mr. Perceval, Prime Minister.--Lord Wellesley, Minister of
    Foreign Affairs.--King’s health necessitates regency.--The
    line taken by Mr. Canning upon it.--Conduct with respect to
    Mr. Horner’s Finance Committee.--Absurd resolution of Mr.
    Vansittart.--Lord Wellesley quits the Ministry.--Mr. Perceval
    is assassinated.--Mr. Canning and Lord Wellesley charged to
    form a new Cabinet, and fail.--Further negotiations with Lords
    Grey and Grenville fail.--Lord Liverpool becomes head of an
    Administration which Mr. Canning declines to join.--Accepts
    subsequently embassy to Lisbon, and, in 1816, enters the
    Ministry.--Supports coercive and restrictive measures.--Resigns
    office at home after the Queen’s trial, and accepts the
    Governor-Generalship of India.


A new Administration brought Lord Wellesley to the Foreign Office, and
Mr. Perceval to the head of affairs.

In 1810 the state of the King’s health came once more before the
public. Parliament met in November; the Sovereign was this time
admitted by his courtiers to be unmistakedly insane. A commission had
been appointed, but there was no speech with which to address the
Houses; no authority to prorogue them. Mr. Perceval moved certain
resolutions. These resolutions were important, for they furnished a
text for debate, and settled the question so much disputed in 1788-9,
deciding (for no one was found to take up the old and unpopular
arguments of Mr. Fox) that Parliament had the disposal of the Regency;
and that the Heir-apparent, without the sanction of the Legislature,
had no more right to it than any other individual. These first
resolutions were followed by others, expressive of a determination to
confer the powers of the Crown on the Prince of Wales, but not without
restrictions. Here arose a new question, and of this question Mr.
Canning availed himself. Interest and consistency alike demanded that
he should stand fast to the traditions of Mr. Pitt, whose name was
still the watchword of a considerable party. But Mr. Pitt had alike
contended for the right of Parliament to name the Regent, and for the
wisdom of fettering the Regency by limitations. Whereas Mr. Canning,
though advocating the powers of Parliament to name the Regent, was not
in favour of limiting the Regent’s authority. Through these confronting
rocks the wary statesman steered with the skill of a veteran pilot:[116]

“The rights of the two Houses,” said he, “were proclaimed and
maintained by Mr. Pitt; that is the point on which his authority is
truly valuable. The principles upon which this right was affirmed
and exercised are true for all times and all occasions. If they were
the principles of the Constitution in 1788, they are equally so in
1811; the lapse of twenty-two years had not impaired, the lapse of
centuries could not impair them. But the mode in which the right so
asserted should be exercised, the precise provisions to be framed
for the temporary substitution of the executive power--these were
necessarily then, as they must be now, matters not of eternal and
invariable principle, but of prudence and expediency. In regard to
these, therefore, the authority of the opinion of any individual,
however great and wise and venerable, can be taken only with reference
to the circumstances of the time in which he has to act, and are
not to be applied without change or modification to other times and


Thus, all that partisanship could demand in favour of an abstract
principle, was religiously accorded to the _manes_ of the defunct
statesman; and a difference as wide as the living Prince of Wales could
desire, established between the theory that no one any longer disputed,
and the policy which was the present subject of contention. Here Mr.
Canning acted with tact and foresight if he merely acted as a political
schemer. The Royal personage on whom power was about to devolve
had always expressed the strongest dislike, not to say disgust,
at any abridgment of the Regal authority. He was likely to form a
new Administration. The Whigs, it is true, were then considered the
probable successors to power; but the Whigs would want assistance; and
subsequent events showed that a general feeling had begun to prevail
in favour of some new combination of men less exclusive than could be
found in the ranks of either of the extreme and opposing parties. But
it is fair to add that the course which Mr. Canning might have taken
for his private interest, he had every motive to take for the public

Beyond the personal argument of the sick King’s convenience--an
argument which should hardly guide the policy or affect the destinies
of a mighty kingdom--Mr. Perceval had not, for the restrictions he
proposed, one reasonable pretext. It might, indeed, be agreeable to
George III., if he recovered from his sad condition, to find things and
persons as he had left them; and to recognise that all the functions
of Government had been palsied since the suspension of his own power.
But if ever the hands of a sovereign required to be strongly armed, it
was most assuredly in those times. They were no times of ease or peace
in which a civilized people may be said to govern themselves; neither
were we merely at war. The war we were waging was of life or death;
the enemy with whom we were contending concentrated in his own mind,
and wielded with his own hand, all the force of Europe. This was not a
moment for enfeebling the Government that had to contend against him.
The power given to the King or Regent in our country is not, let it be
remembered, an individual and irresponsible power. It is a National
power devolving on responsible Ministers, who have to account to the
nation for the use they make of it.

“What,” said Mr. Canning (having assumed and asserted the right
of the two Houses of Parliament to supply the incapacity of the
sovereign)--“what is the nature of the business which through
incapacity stands still, and which we are to find the means of carrying
on? It is the business of a mighty state. It consists in the exercise
o£ functions as large as the mind can conceive--in the regulation and
direction of the affairs of a great, a free, and a powerful people:
in the care of their internal security and external interests; in
the conduct, of foreign negotiations; in the decision of the vital
questions of peace and war; and in the administration of the Government
throughout all the parts, provinces, and dependencies of an empire
extending itself into every quarter of the globe. This is the awful
office of a king; the temporary execution of which we are now about to
devolve upon the Regent. What is it, considering the irresponsibility
of the Sovereign as an essential part of the Constitution,--what is
it that affords a security to the people for the faithful exercise of
these all-important functions? The responsibility of Ministers. What
are the means by which these functions operate? They are those which,
according to the inherent imperfection of human nature, have at all
times been the only motives to human actions, the only control upon
them of certain and permanent operation, viz., the punishment of evil,
and the reward of merit. Such, then, being the functions of monarchical
government, and such being the means of rendering them efficient to the
purposes of good government, are we to be told that in providing for
its delegation, while it is not possible to curtail those powers which
are in their nature harsh and unpopular, it is necessary to abridge
those milder, more amiable and endearing prerogatives which bear an
aspect of grace and favour towards the subject?”


There was no answer to Mr. Canning, but a very practical one. Mr.
Perceval thought that the King would shortly recover and keep him in
office--and that the Regent, if his Royal Highness had but the power,
would forthwith turn him out of it. Such an argument might satisfy a
more scrupulous minister. In vain, therefore, was it urged, “If the
powers of a monarch are not necessary now, they are never necessary. In
consulting the possible feelings of the sick King, you are injuring the
certain interests of kingly authority.”

The passions or interests of a faction will ever ride high over its
principles; and for a second time within half a century the theory
of monarchy received the greatest practical insult from a high Tory
minister. That the House of Commons thought a new era at hand was seen
by its divisions. On the motion of Mr. Lamb (afterwards Lord Melbourne)
against the “Restrictions,” the majority in favour of Government was
but 224 to 200.

A variety of circumstances, however, to which allusion will presently
be made, prevented the general expectation from being realized. The
Government remained, but it was not a Government that seemed likely
to be of long duration. On one important question Mr. Canning almost
immediately opposed it.


The report of a committee, distinguished for its ability, had
attributed the depreciation in the value of bank-notes to their
excessive issue, and recommended a return, within two years, to cash
payments. Mr. Canning had belonged to this committee, and had given the
subject, however foreign to his customary studies, much attention. The
view which he took upon the sixteen resolutions moved by Mr. Horner,
May 8, 1811, was, perhaps, the best. To all those resolutions, which
went to fix as a principle that a real value in metal should be the
proper basis for a currency--a general landmark, by which legislation
should, as far as it was practicable, be guided--he assented; that
particular resolution, which, under the critical circumstances of
the country, went to fetter and prescribe the moment at which this
principle should be resumed, he opposed.

Such opposition was unavailing; and History instructs us, by the
resolution which Mr. Vansittart then proposed, that no absurdity is so
glaring as to shock the eye of prejudiced credulity.

                                                         “May 13, 1811.

    “Resolution III.--‘_That it is the opinion of this committee_
    (a committee of the whole House) _that the promissory notes of
    the company_ (the Bank) _have hitherto been, and are at this
    time, held in public estimation to be equivalent to the legal
    coin of the realm, and generally accepted as such._’”

The Chancellor of the Exchequer thus called upon the House of Commons
to assert, that the public esteemed, a twenty shilling bank-note as
much as twenty shillings; and it had just been necessary to frame a law
to prevent persons giving more than £1 and 1 shilling for a guinea, and
all the guineas had disappeared from England. It had just been found
expedient to raise the value of crown-pieces from 5_s._ to 5_s._ 6_d._
(which was, in fact, to reduce £1 in paper to the value of 18_s._), in
order to prevent crown-pieces from disappearing also. Persons were in
prison for buying guineas at a premium; whilst pamphlets and papers
were universally and daily declaring that the notes of the company were
not at that time held in public estimation to be equivalent to the
legal coin of the realm.

“When Galileo,” said Mr. Canning, “first promulgated the doctrine that
the earth turned round the sun, and that the sun remained stationary
in the centre of the universe, the holy father of the Inquisition took
alarm at so daring an innovation, and forthwith declared the first
of these propositions to be false and heretical, and the other to be
erroneous in point of faith. The holy office pledged itself to believe
that the earth was stationary and the sun movable. But this pledge had
little effect in changing the natural course of things: the sun and the
earth continued, in spite of it, to preserve their accustomed relations
to each other, just as the coin and the bank-note will, in spite of
the right honourable gentleman’s resolution.”--[Report of Bullion

But if the opposition had the best of the debate, the minister
triumphed in the division; nevertheless so equivocal a success, whilst
lowering the character of Parliament, did not heighten that of the

Mr. Perceval, indeed, though possessing the quick, sharp mind of a
lawyer, and the small ready talent of a debater, was without any of
those superior qualities which enable statesmen to take large views.
Great as an advocate, he was small as a statesman. Lord Wellesley at
last revolted at his supremacy, and, quitting the government, observed
that “he might serve _with_ Mr. Perceval, but could never serve _under_
him again.”


About this time expired the period during which the Regency
restrictions had been imposed; and not long after, the Premier (being
confirmed in office by new and unsuccessful attempts to remodel the
Administration) was assassinated by a madman (11 May, 1812).

The cabinet, which with Mr. Perceval was weak, without Mr. Perceval
seemed impossible; and all persons at the moment were favourable to
such a fusion of parties as would allow of the formation of a Cabinet,
powerful and efficient.

Lord Wellesley, a man who hardly filled the space in these times for
which his great abilities qualified him (co-operating with Mr. Canning,
who was to be leader in the House of Commons), was selected as the
statesman through whom such a Cabinet was to be formed. But Lord
Liverpool, from personal reasons, at once declined all propositions
from Lord Wellesley. Another negotiation was then opened, the basis
proposed for a new ministry being that four persons should be returned
to the Cabinet by Lord Wellesley and Mr. Canning; four (of whom Lord
Erskine and Lord Moira were two) by the Prince Regent; and five by
Lords Grey and Grenville, whilst the principles agreed to by all,
were to be the vigorous prosecution of the war, and the immediate
conciliation of the Catholics. The vigorous prosecution of the war and
the conciliation of the Catholics were assented to; nor was it stated
that the other conditions were inadmissible, though it was suggested
that there would be a great inconvenience in making the Cabinet Council
a debating society, and entering it with hostile and rival parties.
Lord Wellesley returned to the Regent for further orders. But his
Royal Highness deemed it expedient to consider that Lord Wellesley’s
attempt had been a failure, and the task which had been given to him
was transferred to Lord Moira. This nobleman, vain, weak, and honest,
undertook the commission, and a new treaty was commenced with Lords
Grey and Grenville, whose conduct at this time, it must be added, seems
at first sight unintelligible; for they were granted every power they
could desire in political matters. But there were various personal
and private reasons which rendered all arrangements difficult. In the
first place, Lord Grey is said to have despised, and never to have
trusted the Prince, who, as he believed, was merely playing with the
Whig party. In the next, Lord Grenville could not make up his mind to
resign the auditorship of the exchequer, a certain salary for life, nor
to accept a lower office than that of First Lord of the Treasury, while
the union of the two offices, the one being a check upon the other,
was too evident a job to escape observation; indeed, Mr. Whitbread had
positively said that he could never support such a combination.

Thus, a variety of petty interests made any pretext sufficient to
interfere with the completion of a scheme which every one was eager
to counsel, no one ready to adopt. The most ungracious pretext, that
of dictating the Regent’s household, was chosen for a rupture; but it
happened to chime in with the popular cry, which was loud against the
influence of Hertford House; as may be seen by the speeches of the day,
and particularly by a speech from Lord Donoughmore, in which he talks
of the Marchioness of Hertford, to whose veteran seductions the Regent
was then supposed to have fallen a victim, as “a matured enchantress”
who had by “potent spells” destroyed all previous prepossessions, and
taken complete possession of the Royal understanding.


There was as much bad taste as impolicy in these attacks; and the
long-pending struggle terminated at last in favour of Lord Liverpool,
who on June 8, 1812, declared himself Prime Minister. Why did Mr.
Canning, who was solicited at the close of the session to join Lord
Liverpool’s Administration, decline to do so? Not because he was
personally hostile to Lord Liverpool: he was warmly attached to that
nobleman; not because the Administration was exclusive, and only
admitted those who were hostile to the Catholic Question; for he
subsequently says (May 18, 1819): “I speak with perfect confidence when
I assert that those who gave their support to the present Ministry
on its formation, did so on the understanding that every member of
it entered into office with the _express stipulation_ that he should
maintain his own opinion in Parliament on the Catholic Question.”

Mr. Stapleton says it was because his friends thought that to the
Foreign Office, which he was offered, ought to have been added the
lead in the House of Commons, which Lord Liverpool would not withdraw
from Lord Castlereagh. But Mr. Canning eventually became a member of
the Government whose fate he now declined to share, leaving to Lord
Castlereagh the lead in the House of Commons. How, then, are we to
account for this difference of conduct at two different epochs?

An explanation may thus be found: During the years 1810 and 1811, our
continental policy had still remained unfortunate. True it was that,
by the unexpected skill and unexampled energy of our new commander,
we gained, during 1811, the possession of Portugal, driving from that
country a general who had hitherto been equally conspicuous for his
talents and his fortune. But the whole of the Spanish frontier, and the
greatest part of Spain itself, was held by the French armies; while the
victory of Wagram, the revolution in Sweden, the marriage of Napoleon,
the birth of the King of Rome, had greatly added to the weight and
apparent stability of the French empire.

Our differences with the United States had also continually increased;
and in 1812, war, which had long been impending, was declared and
justified in an eloquent and able statement by Mr. Madison.

In the meantime Napoleon, surrounded by that luminous mystery which
gave a kind of magic to his actions, was marching in all the pomp of
anticipated triumph against the remote and solitary state which alone,
on the humbled and subjugated continent, had yet the means and the
courage to dispute his edicts and defy his power. Up to the 14th of
September, when he entered Moscow, his career was more marvellous, his
glory more dazzling than ever.


Such was the state of foreign affairs when Mr. Canning and his friends
refused to connect themselves with a feeble and self-mistrusting
administration. But the year following things were strangely altered.
The retreat from Russia had taken place; the battle of Leipsic had been
fought. Russians, Austrians, Saxons, Swedes, Bavarians, Spaniards,
Portuguese, the people of those various nations, who had formerly to
defend their own territory, were now pouring into France.

The first gleams of victory shone over the gloomy struggle of twenty
years. An accident yet unexplained--the burning of a city on the
farthest confines of the civilized world--had changed the whole face of
European affairs. “The mighty deluge,” to use Mr. Canning’s poetical
language, “by which the Continent had been so long overwhelmed, began
to subside. The limits of nations were again visible, and the spires
and turrets of ancient establishments began to re-appear from beneath
the subsiding wave.”[118]

From this moment Mr. Canning began to show confidence in a ministry
which he had hitherto more or less despised. The desire of sustaining
it in this crisis of the terrible conflict in which we were engaged,
had no doubt some influence over his conduct; but I venture to add that
there are natures which, without being instigated by low and vulgar
motives, have a propensity to harmonize with success. Mr. Canning’s
nature was of this description. It loved the light to shine on its
glittering surface; and he began to feel a sympathy for the Government,
bright with the rays of anticipated fortune, which in darker moments he
had shrunk from with antipathy and mistrust.


Napoleon fell shortly afterwards, and Mr. Huskisson, the most
celebrated of Mr. Canning’s followers, was gazetted as Commissioner
of Woods and Forests; Mr. Canning himself (who at the last general
election had been honoured by the unsolicited representation of
Liverpool) accepting an embassy to Lisbon. His acceptance of this
office was one of the actions of his life for which he was most
attacked; it was considered a job; for an able minister (Mr. Sydenham),
on a moderate salary, was recalled, in order to give the eminent
orator, whose support the Government wished to obtain, the appointment
of ambassador on a much larger salary: and although, when Mr. Lambton
(afterwards Lord Durham) brought forward a motion on the subject,
Mr. Canning made a triumphant reply to the specific charges brought
against his nomination, and although he was altogether above the
accusation of accepting any post for the mere sake of its emoluments,
it was nevertheless clear that it was because he was going to Lisbon
for the health of his son, and that it was more agreeable to him to
go in an official position than as a simple individual, that he had
been employed, and his predecessor removed. It is needless to add he
would have acted more wisely had he not accepted a post in which little
credit was to be gained and much censure was to be risked.

On his return from Portugal he entered the Cabinet at the head of the
Board of Control.

During his absence many events had occurred to characterize the
Administration he joined. Peace finally established on the prostrate
armies of France, which at Waterloo had made their last struggle, left
the war which we had pursued with so lavish an expenditure, and so
desperate a determination, to be estimated by its results. Whatever the
necessity of this war at its commencement, the cause under which it had
been continued for the last fourteen years was sacred.

A military chief at the head of a valorous soldiery, had during this
time trampled on the rights and feelings of almost every people in
Europe. The long-established barriers of independent states had been
shifted or pulled down like hurdles, to make them fit the increasing or
diminishing drove of cattle which it suited the caprices of the French
ruler that they should contain. The inhabitants of such states, treated
little better than mere cattle, had been seized, sold, bartered,
given away. It was no marvel, then, that the conquerors became in the
end the conquered; for the struggle was one which commenced by all
the kings marching against one people, and concluded by every people
marching against one warrior. They invoked--these new assailants--what
is best in philosophy, morality, policy; they conquered, and what did
philosophy, morality, policy gain? Were rights and natural sympathies
respected? Were old landmarks restored?

The peace alluded to was said to be a peace founded on justice, and
justice never deserts the weak; yet Genoa was gone; Venice was no more;
Poland remained partitioned; Saxony had been plundered by Prussia with
as unsparing a hand as that by which she herself had been despoiled
during the conquests of France. Norway, by a treaty, which Mr. Canning
had said, in 1813, when still unshackled by office, “filled him with
shame, regret, and indignation,” was become the unwilling recompense
to Sweden for the loss of a province of which a mightier power had
taken possession. A struggle of the fiercest nature had been steadily
maintained merely for the sake of restoring things to their old
condition; and no nation not pre-eminent in power got back its own,
except Spain, which recovered the Inquisition.[119] Even Holland was
not re-invested with her ancient liberties, her old noble republican
name. Stripped of her glorious history, and weakened by the addition
of four millions of discontented subjects, the statesmen of the day
fancied her more august and more secure. The errors committed at this
time were those of a system; for there were two courses to pursue in
the re-settlement of Europe. Had it appeared that, after a conflict
of nearly thirty years, during which violence had held unlimited
sway, everything which was dear to the people it concerned, and which
still stood forth vivid in history, was endowed with a new reality;
that at the overthrow of wrongful power, the right of the meanest
was everywhere weighed, and the right of the weakest everywhere
established: had it appeared that the mightiest captain of modern times
had only been vanquished by a principle--which, if the general interest
could predominate, would regulate the destinies of the world--then
indeed a lesson, of which it is impossible to calculate the effects,
would have been given to all future ambitious disturbers of mankind:
while the lovers of peace and virtue in every portion of the globe,
even in France, would have seen something holy in the triumph which had
been gained, and gathered round the cause of the allies. But if this
was one policy, there was also another, and that other was adopted.


As Bonaparte had cut up and parcelled out nations for the purpose of
enlarging the boundaries and strengthening the dominions of France, so
the conquerors of Bonaparte spoiled and partitioned with equal zeal,
in order to control the boundaries and restrain the dominion of the
warlike people they had defeated. The limits imposed by right, justice,
antiquity, custom, were all disregarded, and an attempt, by preference,
made to throw up against all future schemes of conquest the patchwork
barrier of ill-united and discordant populations.

Such had been the termination of affairs in Europe; but our
contest with America was also over. We had made a treaty with that
Power--a treaty so contrived that it did not settle a single one
of those questions for which we had engaged in war. Nor were the
circumstances under which this singular arrangement was completed
such as compelled us to accede to it. The whole force of the British
empire was disengaged; we could no longer say that our fleets were
not invincible in one quarter of the world because their strength was
exerted in another; whilst, if we meant to keep the dominion of the
seas--more important to us than the whole of that continent we had been
subsidizing and contending upon--there was every peril to apprehend
from leaving unchecked the spirit of a rising rival, who had lately
fought and frequently vanquished us on our own element, and who
during a long peace would have the opportunity to mature that strength
of which she was already conscious and proud. In short, the peace of
Europe affected our character for morality, that of America weakened
the belief in our power.

Mr. Canning would hardly have joined an Administration which had so
mismanaged our foreign affairs, if the glory of our arms had not
gilded in some degree the faults of our diplomacy. But the part which
that diplomacy had played on the Continent was not without its effect
upon things at home. We had become each year more and more alienated
from our military allies, who having triumphed by the enthusiasm of
their people, seemed disposed to govern by the bayonets of their
troops. The Holy Alliance--that singular compact, invented partly by
the superstition, partly by the policy of the Emperor Alexander--an
alliance by which three sovereigns, at the head of conquering armies,
swore in very mystical language to govern according to the doctrines
of Christian charity, swearing also (which was more important) to
lend each other assistance on all occasions, and in all places--this
alliance, which no one could clearly understand, and which our
Government refused to join, excited all the suspicion and all the
apprehension which mystery never fails to produce, and made Englishmen,
while they were rejoicing at having subdued an overgrown and despotic
tyranny in one quarter of the world, doubt whether they might not have
created as dangerous a one in another.


Nor was this all. They who begin to be dissatisfied with the fruits of
victory, soon grow more and more dissatisfied with what victory has
cost. Moreover, this period, from a variety of circumstances, some of
them inseparable from the sudden transition from active war to profound
peace, was one of great uncertainty and distress; whilst the public
mind, no longer excited by military conflict, was the more disposed to
political agitation. A demand for diminished imposts, and a demand for
political reform, are always to be expected at such moments. Our form
of government led more naturally to these demands, for the theory of
the constitution was at variance with its practice; the one saying that
Englishmen should be taxed by their representatives, the other proving
that they were in many instances taxed by persons who represented a
powerful patron or a petty constituency, and not the people of England.
The evils complained of were exaggerated; there were exaggerations
also as to the remedies for which the most violent of the clamorous
called. But the thoughts of the nation were directed to economy as
a relief from taxation, and to parliamentary reform as a means of
economy. Public meetings in favour of parliamentary reform were held;
resolutions in favour of parliamentary reform were passed; petitions
praying for it were presented; the energies of a free people, who
thought themselves wronged, were aroused: great excitement prevailed.


The vessel of the state in these sudden squalls requires that those at
the helm should govern it with a calm heart and a steady hand. Anger
and fear are equally to be avoided, for they lead equally to violent
measures, and the excitement of one party only feeds the excitement of
the other.

Lord Castlereagh, the leading spirit at this time in the Cabinet, vapid
and incorrect as an orator, inefficient as an administrator, was still,
as I have elsewhere said, not without qualities as a statesman--for
he was cool and he was courageous; and, therefore, if we now see him
acting as if under the influence of the most slavish apprehension, we
must look for some reasonable motive for his appearing to entertain
fears which he could not have really felt.

Now, the fact is, that he had but two things to do--to satisfy the
discontented as aggrieved, or to rally the majority of the country
against them as disaffected. The first policy would not keep his party
in power; the second, therefore, was the one he preferred. The terrors
of the timid were to be awakened; the passions of the haughty were to
be aroused; the designs of the malcontents were to be darkened--their
strength increased--in short, to save the Ministry, it was essential
that the State should be declared in danger. This is an old course; it
has been tried often: it was tried now.

Thus Government opened the Session of 1817 with a “green bag.”
This bag, a true Pandora’s box, contained threats of every
mischief--assassination, incendiarism, insurrection, in their most
formidable and infuriated shapes. One conspiracy, indeed, was a model
that deserves to be set apart for the use of future conspirators
or--statesmen. It comprehended the storming of the Bank and the Tower,
the firing the different barracks, the overthrow of everybody and
everything, even the great and massive bridges which cross the Thames,
and which were to be blown up as a matter of course; but the traitors
were pious and brave men, relying almost wholly on Providence and their
courage, so that only two hundred and fifty pikes and some powder
in an old stocking had been provided to secure the success of their


Many schemes equally plausible were attributed to, and perhaps
entertained by, a few unhappy men in the manufacturing districts; while
the well-known doctrines of an enthusiast named Spence[120]--doctrines
which inculcate the necessity of property being held in common, and
which under different names have been continually put forward at every
period of the world--found amongst the poor and starving, as they will
ever find in times of distress and difficulty, a ready reception.
“These doctrines,” said Lord Castlereagh, “contain in themselves a
principle of contradiction;” but he was not willing to trust to this
principle alone!

Various laws were passed, tending to limit the right of discussion: men
were forbidden to co-operate or correspond for the purpose of amending
the existing constitution. Public meetings were placed at the disposal
of a magistrate, who could prevent or disperse them as he thought
proper. Finally, the “Habeas Corpus” Act was suspended.

Nothing could be more wanton or absurd than this last outrage on public
freedom. The Ministers who were calling upon the country to defend our
institutions, were for sweeping away their very foundations. In vain
did Lord Grey, with even more than his usual eloquence, exclaim, “We
are warned not to let any anxiety for the security of liberty lead to a
compromise of the security of the State; for my part, I cannot separate
these two things; the safety of the State can only be found in the
protection of the liberties of the people.”

Having entered upon a career of terror, a new violence is daily
necessary in order to guard against the consequences of the last; nor
was the addition of 3,000,000_l._ of taxes, imposed at the close of
1819, well adapted to soothe popular irritation. In the meantime the
meeting at Manchester, foolishly got up, and foolishly and barbarously
put down, aroused a cry which only the utmost severity could hope
to quell. Such severity was adopted in the Acts which prevented
public and parish meetings; which punished offences of the press with
transportation; which exposed the houses of peaceable inhabitants to
midnight search, and deprived an Englishman of what was once considered
his birthright--the right of keeping arms for his own defence. At the
same time the bulk of the nation was declared to be sound and loyal,
the country prosperous; and as a note which may perhaps be considered
somewhat explanatory of these different declarations, came a demand for
10,000 additional troops. It was of no use to argue that the nation
was quiet, and resolved only on constitutional means of redress. “Yes,
sir,” said the figurative seconder of the Address (1819)--“yes, sir,
there has undoubtedly been an appearance of tranquillity, but it _is
the tranquillity of a lion waiting for his prey_. There has been the
apparent absence of danger, but it is that of a fire half-smothered
by the weight of its own combustible materials.” “The meeting at
Manchester,” argued Lord Lansdowne (Nov. 30, 1819), “if it had not
been disturbed by the magistrates, would have gone off quietly.”
“Perhaps,” replied an orator who defended the Government, “that might
have been the case; but why? in the contemplation of things to come,
the peaceable and quiet demeanour of the disaffected, instead of
lessening the danger, ought to aggravate the alarm--_ipsa silentia


So because people assembled at a meeting which was likely to disperse
peaceably might at some future time (and this was conjecture) act
less peaceably, they were to be charged and sabred; while their
constitutional conduct neither at this nor at any other period could be
of the least avail; heat of language was not even necessary to procure
them the treatment of rebels; for if men met and were _silent_, if they
met and never uttered a word, their very silence, under the classical
authority of three Latin words, was to be considered full of awful
treason. Jury after jury denounced the conduct of the Government by
returning verdicts which were accusations against it. Still the same
system was persevered in. Ministers went through the country with a
drag net, hauling up--not one or two influential persons (such, indeed,
they could not find)--but whole classes of men. Spies also, as it
appeared from the different trials, acted as incendiaries, contributing
in no small degree to the marvellous plots that they discovered. In one
instance, a fellow of the name of Oliver had gone about to all whom he
imagined ill disposed, presenting Sir Francis Burdett’s compliments;
a circumstance the more remarkable, since the only decent colour ever
attempted to be given to these notions of insurrection was, that the
names of respectable persons had been used in connection with them. In
another case a government creature, by the name of Edwards, actually
advanced money to a gentleman who may be considered the arch-traitor
of the epoch, since he was the author of that famous conspiracy which
included in its programme cutting off all the ministers’ heads.

This conspiracy--of which Mr. Thistlewood, supported by the aforesaid
Mr. Edwards, Mr. Davidson, a man of colour, and Messrs. Tidd and
Brunt, two shoemakers, were the leaders--closed the series of those
formidable plots for putting an end to King, Lords, and Commons, which
for three years disturbed the country; the Ministers affecting to
consider that the wisdom of the policy they pursued was proved by the
folly of those wretched men whom they delivered to the executioner.

Another circumstance is to be remarked in reviewing these times, and
attempting to portray their spirit. The Government had not only been
tyrannical at home, it had afforded all the assistance in its power
to foreign tyrants. First was passed the Alien Bill; a measure which
might have been defended in 1793, when France was sending out her
revolutionary apostles; which might, with a certain plausibility, have
been asked for in 1814, when, if the war were concluded, peace could
hardly be considered as established; but which in 1816 could have no
other pretext than that of enabling the minister of the day to refuse a
refuge to any unhappy exile from the despotism of the Continent.

Shortly afterwards (1819) came the Foreign Enlistment Bill. That which
Queen Elizabeth refused to Spain when Spain was in the height of her
power, was conceded to Spain, now fallen into the lowest state of
moral as well as political degradation. It was true that during the
Administration of Sir Robert Walpole, and under the natural fears
of Jacobite armies, formed on foreign shores, laws had been passed
prohibiting British subjects, except upon special permission, from
engaging in foreign service; and the pretext now put forward was
insomuch plausible, that it pretended to place service in the armies
of recognised and unrecognised states on the same footing--no law
existing in respect to the last. But the law in existence had not been
enforced. Spain, which had been hasty in recognising the independence
of the United States, could not ask us to defeat rebellion in her own
colonies. Those colonies had, in fact, been first instigated by us to
revolt. The regulation, professing to be impartial, would only operate
in reality against one of the parties; and with that party all our
commercial interests were connected.


It is impossible to look back to these years, and to consider the
conduct of Mr. Canning without deep regret. The most eloquent and
plausible defences of the un-English policy which prevailed were
made by him. In his speech in favour of the Seditious Meetings Bill
(Feb. 24, 1817), may be seen wit supplying the place of argument;
argument rendered attractive by the graces of rhetoric, and forcible
by the appearance of passion. He had now, indeed, nearly attained the
perfection of his own style, a style which, as it has been said, united
the three excellences of--rapidity, polish, and ornament; and it was
the first of these qualities, let it be repeated, which, though perhaps
the least perceivable of his merits, was the greatest.

“What is the nature of this danger? Why, sir, the danger to be
apprehended is not to be defined in one word. It is rebellion; it
is treason, but not treason merely; it is confiscation, but not
confiscation within such bounds as have usually been applied to the
changes of dynasties, or the revolution of states; it is an aggregate
of all these evils; it is that dreadful variety of sorrow and suffering
which must invariably follow the extinction of loyalty, morality, and
religion; the subversion, not only of the constitution of England, but
of the whole frame of society. Such is the nature and extent of the
danger which would attend the success of the projects developed in the
report of the committee. But these projects would never have been of
importance, it is affirmed, had they not been brought into notice by
persecution. Persecution! Does this character belong to the proceedings
instituted against those who set out on their career in opposition
to all law; and who, in their secret cabals, and midnight counsels,
and mid-day harangues, have been voting for destruction of every
individual, and every class of individuals, which may stand in their
way? But the schemes of these persons are visionary. I admit it. They
have been laid by these twenty years without being found to produce
mischief. Be it so. Such doctrines when dormant may be harmless
enough, and their intrinsic absurdity may make it appear incredible
that they should ever be called up into action. But when the incredible
resurrection actually takes place, when the votaries of these doctrines
actually go forth armed to exert physical strength in furtherance of
them, then it is that I think it time to be on my guard--not against
the accomplishment of such plans (that is, I am willing to believe,
impracticable), but against the mischief which must attend the attempt
to accomplish them by force.”

Throughout the whole of this passage it can hardly be said that there
is a full stop. However studiously framed, not a period lingers;
a rush of sentences gives the audience no time to pause. Abruptly
framed, rapidly delivered, the phrases which may have been for hours
premeditated in the Cabinet, could not, in the moment of delivery,
have the least appearance of art. The oratory of Mr. Canning was also
remarkable for a kind of figurative way of stating common-places, which
good taste may not approve, but which, nevertheless, is well calculated
to strike and inflame a popular assembly.

“The honourable gentleman,” Mr. Canning says of Mr. Calcraft (March
14, 1817), “attempts to ridicule these proceedings. He is in truth
rather hard to be satisfied on the score of rebellion; to him it is not
sufficient that the town had been summoned [N.B. it had been summoned
by _one_ man], it ought to have been taken; the metropolis should not
merely have been attacked, but in flames. He is so difficult in regard
to proof that he would continue to doubt until all the mischief was not
only certain but irreparable. For my part, however, I am satisfied when
I hear the trumpet of rebellion sounded; I do not think it necessary
to wait the actual onset before I put myself on my guard. I am content
to take my precautions when I see the torch of the incendiary lighted,
without waiting till the Bank and the Mansion House are blazing to the


But if there was much of eloquence, there was more of sophistry,
in these pointed and painted harangues. The designs on foot were
represented as so formidable that they required the utmost rigour to
suppress them; and yet they were the designs of a few, of a very few,
against whom millions were arrayed. These few were to be struck down at
all hazards and by all means, in order that the millions might be in
security. The anti-revolutionary statesman was simply borrowing from
the revolutionary apostle. “What are a few aristocrats,” would Danton
say, “to the safety of a nation? Strike! strike! It is only terror
that can save the Republic!” For such principles, destructive of all
liberty, peace, and order, every just man must entertain the deepest
horror; and the dark shadow of those days still hangs over the party
to whose excesses they are attributable, and obscures this part of the
career of the statesman who defended them.

I do not, however, think that Mr. Canning acted on the cool systematic
calculation by which I do think Lord Castlereagh might have been
guided. Looking at all affairs with the excitable disposition of the
poet and the orator, and having his attention more called by his office
to the affairs of India than to those at home, it is not improbable
that he allowed himself to be carried into the belief of dangers which
the Government he belonged to had in a certain degree created, and in
an enormous degree exaggerated; whilst the manner in which even calm
and sensible men had their heads confused and their judgment biassed
by the alarming reports put in circulation, and the constant arrests
that were taking place, reacted upon the Government itself, and
made it fancy that the fictions reflected from its fear were truths
established by facts. At all events, whatever were the real opinions
and convictions of Mr. Canning, as he was the most eloquent supporter
of the policy in vogue, he gathered round himself the greatest portion
of the unpopularity that attended it. Nor, though he assumed the air of
defying this unpopularity, was he pleased with it.


The very bitterness, indeed, which he manifested towards his opponents
at this time, shows that he was ill at ease with himself. Linked
with a set of men whom in general he despised, and by whom he was
in a certain degree mistrusted, and accused, as he well knew, of
accepting this alliance merely for the love of “office,” which the
vulgar made to signify the mere “emoluments of place;”--possessing
a mind, which, elevated by education, was inclined to liberality;
careless of the praise of the fanatics of his own party, and careless
also of the applause of those timorous spirits amongst the nation
with whom he could feel no sympathy;--knowing he was detested by the
great masses of the people, whose applause he could not with his
temperament refrain from coveting;--knowing also that though supported
by the love and admiration of a few able friends, he was confided
in by no great political party, and that even if his duties imposed
on him the necessity of struggling against existing difficulties,
those difficulties might have been avoided or palliated by a more
conciliatory and prudent policy; writhing under all these circumstances
and agitated by all these feelings,--this able, ambitious, and
excitable man may now be seen listening with ears almost greedy of a
quarrel, for reproaches he could retort, and insults he could avenge.
Mr. Hume, not very cautious in these matters, was called to account:
Sir Francis Burdett, who had spoken disrespectfully, was made to
explain; while to the author of an anonymous libel, in which the style
and invectives of “Junius” were copied with doubtful success, was sent
a note, eminently characteristic of the galled feelings and gallant
spirit of the writer:


    “I received early in the last week the copy of your pamphlet,
    which you, I take for granted, had the attention to have
    forwarded to me. Soon after I was informed, on the authority of
    your publisher, that you have withdrawn the whole impression
    from him, with the view (as was supposed) of suppressing
    the publication. I since learn, however, that the pamphlet,
    though not sold, is circulated under blank covers. I learn
    this from (among others) the gentleman to whom the pamphlet
    is industriously attributed, but who has voluntarily and
    absolutely denied to me that he has any knowledge of it or its

    “To you, sir, whoever you may be, I address myself thus
    directly for the purpose of expressing my opinion that _you
    are a liar and a slanderer, and want courage only to be an
    assassin_. I have only to add that no man knows of my writing
    to you, and that I shall maintain the same reserve as long as I
    have an expectation of hearing from you in your own name.”

To this letter there was no reply.


During the eventful years over which this narrative has been rapidly
gliding, the Heiress to the crown, who had already possessed herself
of the affections of the British people, had expired (it was in Nov.
1817); and in 1820, as the Ministers, fatigued by their laborious
efforts to excite alarm, began to allow the nation to recover its
tranquillity, George III. (two years after his young and blooming
grandchild) died also. The new King’s hatred, and Queen Caroline’s
temper, rendering a more decent and moderate course impossible,
occasioned the unhappy trial which scandalized Europe.

Nor was the question at issue merely a question involving the Queen’s
innocence or guilt. The people, comparatively calm, as well on account
of the recent improvement in trade, as in consequence of the cessation
of that system of conspiracy-making or finding, which had so long
kept them in a state of harassed irritation, were still for the main
part thoroughly disgusted with the exhibition of fear, feebleness,
and violence which, under the name of Lord Liverpool, and through
the influence of Lord Castlereagh, had for the last three years been
displayed. They detested the ministers of the Crown, and they were
alienated from the Crown itself, which had been perpetually arrayed
against them in prosecutions and almost as often stigmatised by defeat.

It was thus that Queen Caroline appeared as a new victim--as another
person to be illegally assailed by the forms of law, and unjustly dealt
with in the name of justice. Besides, she was a woman, and the daughter
of a Royal house, and the mother of that ill-fated princess, whose
early death the nation still deeply mourned. The people, then, took up
her cause as their own, and rallied at once round a new banner against
their old enemies.

On the other hand, the Government, urged by the wounded pride and
uncontrollable anger of the Sovereign, consented to bring the
unfortunate lady he denounced before a public tribunal, and were thus
committed to a desperate career, of which it was impossible to predict
the result.

Mr. Canning had long been the unhappy Queen’s intimate friend; but in
adopting her cause, he must, as we have been showing, have adopted her
party--the party of discontent, the party of reform--a party against
which he had, during the last few years, been fiercely struggling.
Here, as far as the public can judge from the information before it,
lies the only excuse or explanation of his conduct; for it was hardly
sufficient to retire (as he did) from any share in the proceedings
against a friend and a woman, in whose innocence he said that he
believed, when her honour and life were assailed by the most powerful
adversaries, and by charges of the most degrading character.

He refused, it is true, to be her active accuser; but neither was he
her active defender. He remained silent at home or stayed abroad during
the time of the prosecution, and resigned office when, that prosecution
being dropped, the Cabinet had to justify its proceedings.

The following letter to a constituent contains the account he thought
it necessary to give of his conduct:

                                “Tuddenham, Norfolk, Dec. 22, 1820.


    “I left town on Wednesday, a few minutes after I had written
    to you, not thinking I should be quite so soon set at liberty
    to make you the communication promised in my letter of that
    morning. I had hitherto forborne to make the communication,
    in order that I might not in any way embarrass others by a
    premature disclosure; and I sincerely expected in return due
    notice of the time when it might suit them that the disclosure
    should be made. I have no doubt that the omission of such
    notice has been a mere oversight. I regret it only as it has
    prevented me from anticipating with you, and the rest of my
    friends at Liverpool, the announcement in a newspaper of an
    event in which I know your kind partiality will induce you to
    feel a lively interest. The facts stated in the _Courier_ of
    Wednesday evening, are stated in substance correctly. I have
    resigned my office. My motive for separating myself from the
    Government (however reluctantly at a conjuncture like the
    present) is to be found solely in the proceedings and pending
    discussions respecting the Queen. There is (as the _Courier_
    justly assumes) but this one point of difference between
    my colleagues and myself. Those who may have done me the
    honour to observe my conduct in this unhappy affair from the
    beginning, will recollect that on the first occasion on which
    it was brought forward in the House of Commons, I declared
    my determination to take as little part as possible in any
    subsequent stage of the proceedings. The declaration was made
    advisedly. It was made, not only after full communication
    with my colleagues, but as an alternative suggested on their
    part for my then retirement from the Administration. So long
    as there was a hope of amicable adjustment, my continuance in
    the Administration might possibly be advantageous; that hope
    was finally extinguished by the failure of Mr. Wilberforce’s
    address. On the same day on which the Queen’s answer to that
    address was received by the House of Commons, I asked an
    audience of the King, and at that audience (which I obtained
    the following day) after respectfully repeating to his Majesty
    the declaration which I had made a fortnight before in the
    House of Commons, and stating the impossibility of my departing
    from it, I felt it my duty humbly to lay at his Majesty’s feet
    the tender of my resignation. The King, with a generosity which
    I can never sufficiently acknowledge, commanded me to remain in
    his service, abstaining as completely as I might think fit from
    any share in the proceedings respecting the Queen, and gave
    me full authority to plead his Majesty’s express command for
    so continuing in office. No occasion subsequently occurred in
    Parliament (at least no adequate occasion) for availing myself
    of the use of this authority, and I should have thought myself
    inexcusable in seeking an occasion for the purpose; but from
    the moment of my receiving his Majesty’s gracious commands, I
    abstained entirely from all interference on the subject of the
    Queen’s affairs. I did not attend any meetings of the Cabinet
    upon that subject; I had no share whatever in preparing or
    approving the Bill of Pains and Penalties. I was (as you know)
    absent from England during the whole progress of the bill, and
    returned only after it had been withdrawn.

    “The new state in which I found the proceedings upon my return
    to England, required the most serious consideration; it was one
    to which I could not conceive the King’s command in June to be
    applicable. For a minister to absent himself altogether from
    the expected discussions in the House of Commons, intermixed
    as they were likely to be with the general business of the
    session, appeared to me to be quite impossible. To be present
    as a minister, taking no part in these discussions, could only
    be productive of embarrassment to myself, and of perplexity to
    my colleagues; to take any part in them was now, as always, out
    of the question.

    “From these difficulties I saw no remedy except in the humble
    but earnest renewal to my Sovereign of the tender of my
    resignation, which has been as graciously accepted, as it was
    in the former instance indulgently declined.

    “If some weeks have elapsed since my return to England, before
    I could arrive at this practical result, the interval has been
    chiefly employed in reconciling, or endeavouring to reconcile,
    my colleagues to a step taken by me in a spirit of the most
    perfect amity, and tending (in my judgment) as much to their
    relief as to my own.

    “It remains for me only to add that having purchased, by the
    surrender of my office, the liberty of continuing to act
    in consistency with my original declaration, it is now my
    intention (but an intention perfectly gratuitous, and one which
    I hold myself completely free to vary, if I shall at any time
    see occasion for so doing) to be absent from England again
    until the agitation of this calamitous affair shall be at an

    “I am, Sir, &c.,

                                                  “GEORGE CANNING.”

Thus in the years 1821-22, Mr. Canning took little part in the business
of the House of Commons, residing occasionally near Bordeaux or in

He came to England, however, to speak on Mr. Plunkett’s motion for a
committee to consider the Catholic claims (February 28, 1821), and in
1822 also he made two memorable speeches--one on Lord John Russell’s
motion for Parliamentary Reform, and another in support of his own
proposition to admit Catholic peers into the House of Lords.

These last speeches were made in the expectancy of his speedy departure
from England; the Directors of the East India Company, in testimony
of their appreciation of the zeal and intelligence with which he had
discharged his duties as President of the Board of Control, having
selected him as Governor-General of India, a situation which he had



    Lord Castlereagh’s death.--Mr. Canning’s appointment as
    Foreign Secretary.--State of affairs.--Opposition he
    encountered.--Policy as to Spain and South America.--Commencing
    popularity in the country, and in the House of
    Commons.--Affairs of Portugal and Brazil.--Recognition of
    Brazilian empire.--Constitution taken by Sir Charles Stuart to
    Portugal,--Defence of Portugal against Spanish treachery and
    aggression.--Review of policy pursued thus far as a whole.


At this critical moment Lord Castlereagh, who had now succeeded to
the title of Lord Londonderry, worn out by a long-continued series
of struggles with the popular passions--placed in a false position
by the manner in which the great military powers had at Troppau
and Laybach announced principles which no English statesman could
ever sanction,--too high-spirited to endure defeat, and without the
ability requisite for forming and carrying on any policy that might be
triumphant,--irritated, overworked, and about to depart for Verona with
the intention of remonstrating against acts which he had been unable to
prevent,--having lost all that calm and firmness with which his proud
but cheerful nature was generally armed,--and overpowered at last by
an infamous conspiracy to extort money, with the threat that he should
otherwise be charged with a disgraceful and dishonouring offence--put
an end to his existence.

Fate looked darkly on the Tory party. Ever since 1817, it had excited
one half of the community by fear, as a means of governing the other
half by force. But the machinery of this system was now pretty well
used up. Moreover the result of Queen Caroline’s trial was a staggering
blow to those who had been its advisers; and though this unhappy and
foolish lady did all she could to destroy the prestige which had once
surrounded her--and it was only unexpected decease that rescued her
from approaching contempt--even her death gave the authorities a new
opportunity of injuring themselves by an idle and offensive conflict
with her hearse.

Meanwhile the affairs in the Peninsula were becoming more and more
obscured, whilst through the clouds which seemed everywhere gathering,
some thought they could perceive the fatal hour in which a terrible
despotism and an ignorant and equally terrible democracy were to
dispute for the mastery of the world. In France the Bourbons trembled
on their throne, and petty cabals and paltry conflicts amongst
themselves rendered their rule at once violent, feeble, and uncertain.
The volcanic soil of Italy was covered with ashes from a recent
conflagration--some embers might yet be seen alive. Over the whole of
Germany reigned a dreamy discontent which any accident might convert
into a practical revolution.


What part could the baffled and unpopular Ministers of England take
amidst such a state of things as I have been describing? To the
advocacy of democratic principles they were of course opposed. With
the advocates of absolute power they dared not, and perhaps did not
feel disposed to, side. Neutrality was their natural wish, since to be
neutral required no effort and demanded no declaration of opinion. But
it is only the strong who can be really neutral; and the Government
of the day was too conscious of weakness to hold with confidence the
position which, if powerful, it could have preserved with dignity.
Such being the miserable condition of the British cabinet when Lord
Londonderry was alive, it became yet more contemptible on losing
that statesman’s energy and resolution. Mr. Canning was its evident
resource. Yet the wish to obtain Mr. Canning’s services was by no
means general amongst those in power, for the ministry was divided
into two sections: one, hostile to Catholic Emancipation, to any
change in, and almost any modification of, our long-standing system
of high duties and commercial protection, and hostile also to all
those efforts in favour of constitutional liberty which had lately
agitated the Continent; the other, which, though opposed to any
constitutional change that tended to increase the democratic element
in our institutions, was still favourable to Catholic Emancipation as
a means of conciliating the large majority of the Irish people--to the
development of the principles of Free Trade, as a means of augmenting
our national wealth--and to the spread of our political opinions, under
the idea that we should thus be extending our commercial, moral, and
political power.

These two parties, forced to combine under the common battle-cry of “no
parliamentary reform,”--a reform which both opposed (in order to get
a parliamentary majority for their united force)--were nevertheless
jealous of each other, and in constant struggle for the predominant
influence. Mr. Canning out of office, and away in India, there could
be no doubt that the more Conservative section of the Administration
would occupy the highest ground; Mr. Canning not going to India, and
coming into office, the more liberal party, of which he was universally
considered the chief, might overtop its rival. Lord Liverpool, however,
was himself in a peculiar position. He agreed with Mr. Canning’s
opponents as to the Catholic Emancipation question, but with Mr.
Canning on all other questions. His policy, therefore, was to rule a
pretty equally balanced cabinet, and not to have one half too strong
for the other. With this object he had lately given office to two or
three followers of Lord Grenville, who, though himself retired from
affairs, had still a party favourable to Catholic Emancipation, and
hostile to constitutional innovations. For the same reason he now
insisted on the necessity of offering the Secretaryship of Foreign
Affairs to Mr. Canning, and impressed his opinions on this subject so
strongly on the Duke of Wellington, that his Grace, though he had some
prejudices of his own to conquer, undertook to vanquish those of his
Majesty, against Mr. Canning’s appointment. A lady who was an intimate
friend of George IV., and at that moment of the Duke also, and who was
then staying at Brighton, told me that the Duke went down to Brighton,
and held an interview with the King, and she related to me parts of a
conversation which, according to her, took place on this occasion.

“Good God! Arthur, you don’t mean to propose that fellow to me as
Secretary for Foreign Affairs; it is impossible! I said, on my honour
as a gentleman, he should never be one of my ministers again. You hear,
Arthur, on my honour as a gentleman. I am sure you will agree with me,
that I can’t do what I said on my honour as a gentleman I would not do.”

“Pardon me, Sire, I don’t agree with you at all; your Majesty is not a

The King started.

“Your Majesty, I say,” continued the imperturbable soldier, “is not a
gentleman, but the Sovereign of England, with duties to your people far
above any to yourself; and these duties render it imperative that you
should at this time employ the abilities of Mr. Canning.”

“Well!” drawing a long breath, “if I must, I must,” was finally the
King’s reply.[121]


Mr. Canning thus entered the Cabinet; and under ordinary circumstances
his doing so at such a crisis would have been hailed with general
satisfaction. It so happened, however, that some time had elapsed
between the death of Lord Castlereagh and any offer to his successor;
and during this interval, Mr. Canning, then on the verge of departure
for the East, made a speech at Liverpool, which, from its remarkable
moderation, was considered by many as the manifestation of a wish to
purchase place by a sacrifice of opinion. The words most objected to
were these:

“Gentlemen, if I were remaining in this country, and continuing to take
my part in Parliament, I should continue, in respect to the Catholic
Question, to walk in the same direction that I have hitherto done. But
I think (and as I may not elsewhere have an opportunity of expressing
this opinion, I am desirous of expressing it here)--I think that
after the experience of a fruitless struggle for more than ten years,
I should, as an individual (speaking for none but myself, and not
knowing whether I carry any other person’s opinion with me) be induced
henceforth, or perhaps after one more general trial, to seek upon that
question a _liberal compromise_.” Thus, when instead of going to India
the Governor-General, already named, came into office at home, it was
said at once that he had done so on a _compromise_.

The accusation was false, but there was some appearance of its being
true, and those amongst the Opposition who believed it, were the
more enraged, since they thought that if the Ministry had not been
strengthened by the new Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, it
could not have sustained itself, in which case they themselves would
have been called to power.

The speeches made against Mr. Canning were consequently of the
bitterest kind. One, by Lord Folkestone, on a motion for the repeal of
the Foreign Enlistment Bill, delivered with extraordinary vehemence,
accused him of truckling to France.

“Sir,” said Mr. Canning, in reply, “I will not follow the noble
lord through a speech of which it would be impossible to convey the
impression by a mere repetition of language. The Lacedæmonians,
with the desire of deterring their children from the vice of
intoxication, used occasionally to expose their slaves in a state
of disgusting inebriety. But, sir, there is a moral as well as a
physical intoxication; and never before did I behold so complete a
personification of the character which I have somewhere seen described
as _exhibiting the contortions of the sibyl without her inspiration_.
I will not on this occasion reply to the noble lord’s speech, being
of opinion that this is not a fit opportunity for entering into the
discussion it would provoke; but let it not be supposed that I shrink
from the noble lord; for he may believe me when I say that however I
may have truckled to France, I will never truckle to him.”


This speech was delivered April 16, 1823. On the 17th another important
discussion occurred in Parliament. Mr. Plunkett, who had joined the
Administration with Mr. Canning, bringing forward on that day the
claims of the Catholics, as a sort of token that he and those who
thought with him had not, on taking office, abandoned the question
of which they had so long been the most eminent supporters,--Sir
Francis Burdett accused both the Attorney-General for Ireland and the
Secretary for Foreign Affairs of seeking to make an idle parade of fine
sentiments, which they knew would be practically useless. Mr. Canning
defended himself, and, as he sat down, Mr. Brougham rose:

“If,” said he, “the other ministers had taken example by the
single-hearted, plain, manly, and upright conduct of the right
honourable Secretary for the Home Department (Mr. Peel), who has
always been on the same side on this question, never swerving from
his opinions, but standing uniformly up and stating them--who had
never taken office on a secret understanding to abandon the question
in substance while he contrived to sustain it in words--whose mouth,
heart, and conduct have always been in unison; if such had been the
conduct of all the friends of emancipation, I should not have found
myself in a state of despair with regard to the Catholic claims. Let
the conduct of the Attorney-General for Ireland (Mr. Plunkett) have
been what it might--let him have deviated from his former professions
or not--still, if the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had only
come forward at this critical moment, when the point was whether he
should go to India into honourable exile, or take office in England
and not submit to his sentence of transportation, but be condemned to
hard labour in his own country--doomed to the disquiet of a divided
council, sitting with his enemies, and pitied by his friends, with his
hands chained and tied down on all those lines of operation which his
own sentiments and wishes would have led him to adopt--if, at that
critical moment, when his fate depended on Lord Chancellor Eldon, and
on his sentiments with respect to the Catholic cause--if, at that
critical moment, he who said the other night that he would not truckle
to a noble lord, but who then exhibited the most incredible specimen of
monstrous truckling for the purpose of obtaining office that the whole
history of political tergiversation could furnish.…”

At these words, Mr. Canning, labouring to conceal emotion which his
countenance had long betrayed, started up, and, in a calm voice, with
his eye fixed on Mr. Brougham, said, “Sir, I rise to say that that is
false.” A dead silence of some minutes ensued; the Speaker interfered;
neither party would retract, and both gentlemen were ordered into
custody; but at last the matter was arranged through Sir R. Wilson’s


Without going into many details, I have thus said enough to show
that Mr. Canning had, in his new post, to contend--first, against
the disfavour of the Crown; secondly, against the dislike, jealousy,
and suspicion of a large portion of his colleagues; thirdly, against
the bitterest hostility of the most able and eloquent amongst his
parliamentary opponents.

It is necessary to take into consideration all these difficulties
in order to appreciate the rare abilities, the adroit adaptation of
means to ends, the clever profiting by times and occasions, the bold
bearing-up against powerful antagonists, the conquest over personal
antipathies, which in a few years placed England--humbled to the
lowest degree when Lord Castlereagh expired--in the highest position
she ever occupied since the days of Lord Chatham; and, at the same
time, ended by making the most unpopular man with the nation, and the
most distasteful minister to the Sovereign, the people’s idol and the
monarch’s favourite.

I have asserted that England was never in a more humbled position than
at the death of Lord Castlereagh. I had myself the opportunity of
seeing this illustrated in a private and confidential correspondence
between Prince Metternich and a distinguished person with whom he was
on terms of great intimacy, and to whom he wrote without reserve;--a
correspondence in which the Prince, when alluding to our great warrior,
who represented England at the Congress of Verona, spoke of him as
“the great Baby,” and alluded to the power and influence of England as
things past and gone.

It was, in fact, too true that all memory of the long efforts of twenty
years, eventually successful in liberating Europe, had wholly lapsed
from the minds of those military potentates, who having during war
experienced every variety of defeat, appeared at the conclusion of
peace to have recovered unbounded confidence in their arms.

The institutions which had nourished the pride and valour to which
we had owed our victories, were daily denounced by the sovereigns in
whose cause we had fought; and every new expression of opinion that
came to us from the Continent, manifested more and more that Waterloo
was forgotten by every nation but the French. Nothing, in short, was
wanting to complete our degradation after the false and impudent
conduct of M. de Villèle, but its disrespectful avowal; and painful and
humiliating must have been the sentiments of an English statesman, when
he read the speech of the French minister in the Chamber of Deputies,
and found him boast of having amused our Government by misrepresenting
the force on the Spanish frontier as merely a _cordon sanitaire_, until
it was made to act as _army of invasion_.


The ground, however, which the sovereigns forming the Holy Alliance had
now chosen for fighting the battle of principles, was not well selected
by them for the conflict.

During the despotism of Ferdinand, it was never forgotten in this
country, that those with whom he filled his prisons, those whose
blood he shed, those of whose hopeless exile he was the cause, had
fought side by side with our own gallant soldiers; were the zealous
and valiant patriots who had delivered the land from which they were
driven, and re-established the dynasty which their tyrant disgraced.
Many, then, who disapproved of the new Spanish constitution, were
disposed to excuse the excesses of freedom as the almost natural
reaction from the abuses of absolute power.

Nor was this all. There has always been a strong party in England
justly in favour of a good understanding with the French nation. On
such an understanding is based that policy of peace which Walpole
and Fox judiciously advocated--the first more fortunately and more
opportunely than the last. But as no policy should ever be carried
to the extreme, we have on the other hand to consider that the only
serious danger menacing to England is the undue aggrandisement of
France. Her proximity, her warlike spirit, her constant thirst for
glory and territory, the great military and naval armaments at her
disposal, the supremacy amongst nations which she is in the habit of
affecting, are all, at certain times, threatening to our interests and
wounding to our pride; and when the French nation, with the tendency
which she has always manifested to spread her opinions, professes
exaggerated doctrines, whether in favour of democracy or despotism,
the spirit of conquest and proselytism combined with power makes her
equally menacing to our institutions and to our independence. Her
predominance in Spain, moreover, which unites so many ports to those
of France--ports in which, as we learnt from Napoleon I., armaments
can be fitted out, and from which expeditions can be sent against our
possessions in the Mediterranean, or our empire in the Channel, or
against Egypt, on the high road to our Indian dominions, has always
been regarded by English statesmen with a rational disquietude, and on
various occasions resisted with boldness, perseverance, and success;
nor did it matter to us whether it was the white flag or the tricolour
which crossed the Bridassoa when either was to be considered the symbol
of ambition and injustice.


Thus, Spain became, not inauspiciously, the spot on which a liberal
English minister had to confront the despotic governments of the
Continent. But for war on account of Spain, England was not prepared;
and, indeed, the treachery which we knew existed in the Spanish
counsels, rendered war on account of that divided country out of the
question. The only remaining means of opposition was protestation,
and Mr. Canning at once protested against the act of aggression which
France was committing, and against the principles put forth in its
justification. The mode of doing this was rendered easy by the speech
from the French throne, which was inexplicable, except as a bold
assertion of the divine rights of kings; and for that slavish doctrine
Mr. Canning, who, whichever side he took, was not very guarded in his
expressions, roundly stated that “he felt disgust and abhorrence.”

The gauntlet of Legitimacy having been thus thrown down, and being in
this manner taken up, it only remained to conduct the contest.

Caution was necessary in the selection of an opportunity where a stand
should be made. Boldness was also necessary in order to make that stand
without fear or hesitation, when the fitting occasion arrived.

       *       *       *       *       *

France, therefore, was permitted to overrun the Spanish territory
without resistance. But Mr. Canning declared that, whilst England
adopted, thus far, a passive attitude, she could not permit the
permanent occupation of Spain, or any act of aggression against
Portugal. At the same time he alluded to the recognition of the
revolted provinces in South America, which provinces France was
expecting to gain in compensation for her expenses, as an event merely
dependent upon time, and protested against any seizure by France, or
any cession by Spain of possessions which had _in fact_ established
their independence. In these expressions were shadowed out the whole
of that course subsequently developed. They were little noticed, it
is true, at the time, because they did not interfere with the plan of
the moment, viz., the destruction of a constitutional government at
Madrid; but they became a text to which our Minister could subsequently
refer as a proof of the frankness and consistency of the policy that
from the commencement of the French campaign he had been pursuing. No
one, however, understood better than the statesman who had resolved on
this policy, that to be powerful abroad you must be popular at home.
Thus at the close of the session in which he had denounced the absolute
doctrines of the French Legitimists, we see him passing through the
great mercantile and manufacturing towns, and endeavouring to excite
amidst the large and intelligent masses of those towns an enthusiasm
for his talents, and that attachment to his person, which genius, when
it comes into contact with the people, rarely fails to inspire.


On one of these occasions it was that he delivered the memorable
speech, meant to resound throughout Europe, and spoken with exquisite
propriety in sight of the docks at Plymouth.

“Our ultimate object, no doubt, is the peace of the world, but let it
not be said that we cultivate it either because we fear, or because
we are unprepared for war. On the contrary, if eight months ago the
Government did not proclaim that this country was prepared for war,
this was from causes far other than those produced by fear; and if war
should at last unfortunately be necessary, every intervening month of
peace that has since passed has but made us so much the more capable
of warlike exertion. The resources created by peace are indeed the
means of war. In cherishing these resources, we but accumulate these
means. Our present repose is no more a proof of incapability to act,
than the state of inertness and inactivity in which I have seen those
mighty masses that float on the waters above your town, is a proof that
they are devoid of strength, and incapable of being fitted for action.
_You well know, gentlemen, how soon one of those stupendous masses,
now reposing on their shadows in perfect stillness--how soon upon any
call of patriotism, or of necessity, it would assume the likeness of
an animated thing, instinct with life and motion; how soon it would
ruffle, as it were, its swelling plumage; how quickly it would put
forth all its beauty and its bravery; collect its scattered elements
of strength, and awaken its dormant thunder! Such as is one of those
magnificent machines when springing from inaction into a display of
its might, such is England herself; while apparently passionless and
motionless, she silently concentrates the power to be put forth on an
adequate occasion._”

       *       *       *       *       *

Luckily for Mr. Canning, the circumstances of the country in 1824
enabled him to maintain and increase that popularity which he was
desirous to acquire. Trade had begun to thrive, the revenue to
increase, taxation to diminish; nor were these facts merely valuable
in themselves, they were also valuable in affording a facility for
entering more freely upon that large and comprehensive system of
commerce which was the best adapted to a country that combined great
maritime power with great manufacturing capacity.

Besides, by entering frankly upon this system, Mr. Canning was giving
strength to one of those links which now began to unite him to the
Opposition, and thus to rally round him by degrees nearly the whole
liberal force of the House of Commons. Already, indeed, many of his
opponents had softened in their tone, and Sir James Mackintosh (June
25, 1824), referring to papers that had been laid before Parliament,
passed the highest eulogy on the conduct which the Foreign Secretary
was adopting in respect to the South American question.


The time is now arrived for speaking of that question. From the first
moment that the intentions of the French government towards Spain were
known, Mr. Canning, as it has been seen, hinted at the recognition of
the Spanish colonies, and protested against any proceeding which either
directly or indirectly should bring them under the authority of France.
A variety of projects,--amongst which that of holding a congress of
the Great Powers at Paris, for the purpose of considering how it might
be most expedient to assist Spain in adjusting her differences with
the revolted colonies, was the most significant,--all tended to show
the necessity of some immediate step for placing beyond dispute the
condition of those colonies.

By a series of measures, each in advance of the preceding one, none
going so far as to excite any burst of resentment, Mr. Canning went on
gradually towards the ultimate decision he had in view.

A warning to Spain that unless she forthwith effected an accommodation
with her former subjects, their independence would be recognised, was
given and repeated; a warning to France that the cession to any other
power of the Spanish possessions in America would not be allowed, had
also been once given, and was now formally renewed. The project of
interfering for their conquest with foreign troops, whatever might be
decided by any congress, was boldly forbidden. Consuls had already
been appointed to attend to the interests of British commerce in those
parts, and commissioners had been sent out to Columbia and Mexico
(the emancipation of Buenos Ayres was undisputed) to report on their
condition. The memorable declaration of the United States, frequently
referred to since--as the Munroe Doctrine,--and to which our foreign
minister, by his communications with the United States Envoy in London,
had in no small degree contributed;--a declaration to the effect that
the United States would not see with indifference the attempt of any
European power to establish itself on the American continent, was a
positive assurance of the only alliance that might be important,
should England have to contend by force of arms against a French and
Spanish expedition.

At last, strong in popularity at home, having by previous measures,
difficult to be opposed, lessened the shock that might have been
produced abroad, Mr. Canning put the seal to this portion of his plans,
and announced his recognition of three of the most powerful of the new

This recognition, however justifiable on its proper merits, is not
merely to be considered on such isolated grounds. It formed a part,
and an important part, of European policy; it altered the position
in which this country stood towards those powers who had declared
their principles to be in opposition to our own. Now it was the turn
of Austria, Prussia, and Russia to _remonstrate_, and to have their
_remonstrances_ treated as those of England had been by them on former
occasions. Thus, the part which Great Britain had hitherto played
was for the first time reversed; and her character, which at each
late congress had been sinking lower and lower in the scale of public
opinion, rose at once in the balance. This is the first important epoch
in Mr. Canning’s foreign administration.


The affairs of Portugal next demand attention. That country, from the
commencement of the new conflict in the Peninsula, had been the scene
of French intrigues for the purpose of destroying English interests;
and of court cabals, with the object of favouring Don Miguel’s
pretensions. The Queen, a violent and profligate old woman, who had
never kept any terms with her passions, countenanced the most desperate
schemes; and King John VI., a weak but not unamiable monarch, was even
obliged on one occasion to seek safety on board a British frigate.
The defeat of the conspiracy which occasioned this alarm banished
Don Miguel; but M. Subserra, the King’s minister and favourite, and
a mere tool in the hands of France, still remained; so that although
the Portuguese government never took any open part against the Spanish
Cortes, the King would never concede a constitution to his people
(this being very strenuously opposed by the French Government and
its allies), nor unite himself cordially with England, by giving Lord
Beresford the command of his army, and conferring on M. Palmella the
chief influence in his cabinet. Our situation in respect to Portugal
was moreover complicated by the state of Brazil. Don Pedro, King
John’s eldest son, had been left Regent in that colony by his father,
when the latter returned to his more ancient dominions. The King’s
secret instructions were that the Prince should adopt any course that
circumstances might render necessary, rather than allow so important a
possession to pass from the family of Braganza. But the spirit of the
Brazilians, who from the long residence of their monarch amongst them
had for some time enjoyed the privileges of a Metropolitan State, would
not submit to a renewal of their old dependence on the mother country;
and the Regent was forced, in obedience to the injunctions just
mentioned, to place himself at the head of a revolt, and to become,
under the title of “Emperor,” sovereign of a new kingdom.

It may be doubtful whether Don Pedro’s father was quite pleased at
an act of which (whatever might be his commands in the case of a
supposed contingency) it might always have been difficult to prove the
necessity by formal and unpalatable explanations; but the Portuguese
in general were at all events far more violent than their monarch,
and would at once have attempted the conquest of their rebellious but
distant province if they had possessed any of the means requisite for
such an undertaking. Mr. Canning, on the other hand, not only saw
that Portugal, for her own sake, should endeavour to enter into some
arrangement, admitting a fact which it was impossible to alter; he
was also obliged, in consequence of the policy which he was elsewhere
pursuing, to endeavour to obtain for Brazil an independent position.

It became desirable, then, on every account, to settle as soon as
possible the differences between the colony and the mother country;
and, having vainly attempted to do this in other ways, it was resolved
at last, as the best and promptest course, to send some superior
Diplomatist to Lisbon, who, if he succeeded in obtaining the consent
of the Portuguese government to a moderate plan of accommodation,
might proceed at once to Rio Janeiro, and urge Don Pedro and his
government to accept it. Sir Charles Stuart (afterwards Lord Stuart de
Rothsay), was selected for the double mission, and succeeded, after
some difficulty, in accomplishing its object. He then, however, being
in Brazil, undertook the arrangement of a commercial treaty between the
newly emancipated colony and Great Britain, and some singular errors
into which he fell delaying the completion of his business, he was
still at Rio when King John died.


The Emperor of Brazil, Don Pedro, then became King of Portugal; and
having to decide on the relinquishment of one of these kingdoms, it
seeming impossible to keep them permanently united, he assumed that,
in abdicating the throne of Portugal, he had the right of dictating
the method and terms of his abdication. He proposed, then, first, to
take upon himself the crown to which he had succeeded; secondly, in
his capacity of sovereign of Portugal, to give a constitution to the
Portuguese; thirdly, if that constitution were accepted, and that Don
Miguel, his brother, were willing to espouse Donna Maria, his (Don
Pedro’s) daughter, to place the ancient sceptre of Portugal in that
daughter’s hands.

The apparent countenance of Great Britain, however obtained, was no
doubt of consequence to the success of this project, and Sir Charles
Stuart was prevailed upon to accept the title of Portuguese ambassador,
and in such capacity to be the bearer of the new constitutional
charter to Portugal. He thus, it is true, acted without Mr. Canning’s
authority, for the case was one which could hardly have been foreseen,
and it may be doubted whether his conduct was well advised; but still
no experienced Diplomatist would have taken upon himself so important
a part as Sir Charles Stuart assumed, unless he had pretty fair
reasons to suppose that he was doing that which would be agreeable to
his chief; and when Mr. Canning gave his subsequent sanction to Sir
Charles’s conduct, by declaring in a despatch, dated July 12, 1826,
that the King entirely approved of the ambassador’s having consented
(under the peculiar circumstances of his situation in Brazil) to be
the bearer of the Emperor’s decrees to Lisbon, the world in general
considered the whole affair, as in fact it had become, the arrangement
of Great Britain.

In this manner did we appear as having recognised the South American
Republics, as having arranged the separation and independence of the
great Portuguese colony; and, finally, as having carried a constitution
into Portugal itself. All the Powers leagued in favour of despotism,
protesting at this time against the recognition of any colony, and
France being then as their deputed missionary in Spain, for the express
purpose of putting down a constitution in that country.

This is the second memorable epoch in Mr. Canning’s foreign policy--the
second period in that diplomatic war which at Troppau and Verona
had been announced, and which when the Duc d’Angoulême crossed the
Pyrenees, had been undertaken against Liberal opinions.


If our government at last stood in a position worthy of the strength
and the intellect of the nation it represented, that position was,
nevertheless, one that required for its maintenance the nicest
tempering of dignity with forbearance; no offence was to be heedlessly
given, none timidly submitted to. Spain and Portugal, long jealous
and hostile, were marshalled under two hostile and jarring opinions.
The most powerful, backed by friendly and kindred armies, was likely
to invade the weaker; and that weaker we were bound to defend by an
indissoluble alliance.

The first step manifesting the feelings of King Ferdinand’s government
was a refusal to recognise the Portuguese Regency established at King
John’s death; but matters were certain not to stop here. Portuguese
deserters were soon received in Spain, and allowed to arm; nay, were
furnished with arms by Spanish authority, for the purpose of being sent
back as invaders into their native country. Even Spanish troops, in
more than one instance, hostilely entered Portugal, while the Spanish
ministry scrupled at no falsehoods that might stretch a flimsy covering
over their deceitful assurances and unfriendly designs.

Things were in this state, peace rested upon these hollow and uncertain
foundations, when Mr. Canning received at the same time the official
news that the rebel troops which had been organised in Spain were
marching upon Lisbon; and the most solemn declarations from Spain
herself that these very troops should be dispersed, and their chief
arrested. The crisis for action seemed now to have arrived; for England
was bound, as I have said, by treaty, to defend Portugal against a
foreign power, and a foreign power was in this instance clearly, though
meanly, indirectly, and treacherously assailing her. To shrink from
the dangerous obligation to which we stood pledged, or even to appear
so to shrink, was to relinquish that hold upon public opinion, both at
home and abroad, which hold we had at last obtained, and to abandon the
moral power which, if a contest did arise, would be the main portion
of our strength. On the other hand, to comply with the request of
the Portuguese government for succour (that request was now formally
made), and to send a British force to Portugal was, no doubt, an event
that might be the commencement of a general war. Of all policies, a
hesitating, shuffling policy would have been the worst. Had it been
adopted, Spain, or those who then governed Spain, would have proceeded
to more violent and irremediable acts--acts to which we must have
submitted with the grossest dishonour, or resented with the smallest
chances of success.


At this moment, 12th December, 1826, Mr. Canning came down to the House
of Commons, his fine eye kindling with a sense of the magnitude of the
transactions in which he was called upon to play so important a part;
and having described the circumstances in which England was placed, and
the obligations to which she was pledged, stated the manner in which
the duty of the English government had been fulfilled:

“I understand, indeed, that in some quarters it has been imputed to
his Majesty’s ministers that an extraordinary delay intervened between
the taking up the determination to give assistance to Portugal and the
carrying of that determination into effect. But how stands the fact?
On Sunday, the 3rd of this month, we received from the Portuguese
ambassador a direct and formal demand of assistance against a hostile
aggression from Spain. Our answer was, that although rumours had
reached us through France of this event, his Majesty’s government had
not that accurate information--that official and precise intelligence
of facts on which it could properly found an application to Parliament.
It was only on last Friday night that this precise information
arrived--on Saturday his Majesty’s confidential servants came to a
decision. On Sunday that decision received the sanction of his Majesty;
on Monday it was communicated to both Houses of Parliament; and this
day, sir, at this hour in which I have the honour of addressing you,
the troops are on their march for embarkation.”

This passage possesses all the qualities of oratory, and could hardly
have been delivered without exciting a burst of applause. So again,
when the Minister, his voice swelling, his arm outstretched, and his
face turned towards the benches where sat the representatives of the
great monarchs who, but a short time before, derided our power and
denounced our principles, said, “We go to plant the standard of England
on the _well-known heights_ of Lisbon. Where that standard is planted,
foreign dominion _shall not come_,” a thrill ran through the assembly
at these simple but ominous words. My conviction, indeed, was that this
speech must throughout have produced as great an effect in delivery as
it does, even now, in reading; but I was talking the other day with a
friend who, then being a Westminster boy, was present at the debate;
and he told me I was mistaken, and that with the exception of one or
two passages such as those I have cited, there was a want of that
elasticity and flow which distinguished Mr. Canning’s happier efforts.

It is probable that not having had time, amidst the business which
the step he was taking had created, to prepare himself sufficiently,
he had the air of being over-prepared, and, according to my friend,
only rose to his full height as an orator, when he made that famous
allusion to the position which England then held between conflicting
principles, like Œolus between conflicting winds; and when again, in
reply, defending the course he had adopted during the recent French
expedition, he thus elevated his hearers to a conception of the
grandeur of his views, and the mingled prudence and audacity of his
conduct. “If France occupied Spain, was it necessary, in order to avoid
the consequences of that occupation, that we should blockade Cadiz? No:
I looked another way; I sought the materials of occupation in another
hemisphere. Contemplating Spain such as her ancestors had known her,
I resolved that, if France had Spain, it should not be Spain with the
Indies; I called the New World into existence to redress the balance of
the old.”


But the Minister of Foreign Affairs displayed talents far beyond those
of the mere orator on this occasion. He took a step which was certain
to incur the displeasure and excite the open hostility of a powerful
party throughout Europe. Many who might have felt themselves obliged by
honour to take this step would have done so with a timid and downcast
air, endeavouring by an affectation of humanity to deprecate the
anger of the high personages they were offending. Such men, exciting
no sympathy, creating and maintaining no allies, encouraging the
attacks and justifying the insults of all enemies, would have placed
their country in a false and pitiful position, where, powerless and
compromised, she would have stood before her opponents, exposed by
her advance, tempting by her weakness. But the sagacious know that a
bold game must be played boldly, and that the great art of moderating
opponents consists in gaining friends.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Canning, then, neither flinched nor faltered. In venturing upon
a measure which aroused the anger of so many powerful foes, he made
those foes aware that if we were assailed because, in fulfilment of
treaties, we marched to the defence of a country which was attacked on
account of its liberal institutions, England would gather beneath her
standard all those who loved liberty throughout Europe. Our country was
on the verge of a contest with the most potent sovereigns. Our minister
neither provoked nor quailed before those sovereigns, but plainly told
them, that if such a contest did arise, it would be a contest in which
many of the governments eager to provoke it might expect to find, side
by side with our soldiers, not a few of their own people--a contest in
which, were Englishmen forced to take a part, they would not shrink
from taking the part that befitted the brave and free descendants of
men who had suffered for their religion at the stake, and adjudged
their monarch to the scaffold.


British troops, then, were at last sent in aid of Portugal; no other
troops opposed them; the expedition was successful; and from that
moment Mr. Canning was pointed to as the first statesman of his time;
and Great Britain--without having excited war or produced revolutions,
following a course conformable to her interests, her history, and her
character, backed by the sympathy of the free, and guarded by the
reverence and affection of the intelligent; having shed no blood,
having exhausted no treasure, having never uttered a word that our
nation did not echo, nor shrunk from supporting a word that had been
uttered--stood before the world in a yet more exalted and noble
situation than even at that moment when Napoleon fled from Waterloo,
and the British drum was beating in the streets of Paris.

This is the third epoch in Mr. Canning’s conflict with the crusaders
against constitutional principles. I have described the measures by
which that conflict had been supported. It would be difficult to
point out any stronger measures that a country, placed in similar
circumstances, could have taken. But Mr. Canning, acting with force and
spirit, had acted without exaggeration. He had not said, “I will wage
war with certain opinions;” he had not told the sovereigns of Troppau,
Laybach, and Verona, “Because you commit aggression and injustice,
I will do the same; because you enter into a war against Liberal
governments, I will forthwith arm the people of my country against all
governments of a despotic nature.”

Representing a state which did not wish to give the law, but which
would not receive it, he neither cringed nor threatened. “Publish what
doctrines and take what course you may,” was the language of England’s
great statesman, “I will shape my way according to the interests and
treaties of my country with equal independence.”

With such language the Spanish colonies were recognised, because
Spain could be no longer responsible for their conduct; because
France maintained herself in Spain under the hope that those
colonies would furnish an indemnity for the money she had spent in
re-establishing despotism in Spain itself; because England, at the head
of constitutional governments, found it necessary to check the moral
influence of the Holy Alliance, at the head of absolute governments.

Thus the separation of Brazil from Portugal was negotiated, since the
struggle between the mother country and her ancient but emancipated
possession, was unfavourable to British commerce, embarrassing to
British influence, and adverse to the general policy it was found
expedient, as I have said, to pursue in Spanish America.

Thus British troops were sent even ostentatiously to Lisbon, since Mr.
Canning would not for a moment countenance the belief that England
would shrink from her engagements to the weakest ally, although the
form of government adopted by that ally was contrary to the particular
opinions of the most powerful confederacy in the world.

And here it is especially to be remarked that a policy which, regarded
as a whole, bears so decided an appearance, and which was certain to
produce so considerable an effect, offers hardly a single point where
the success was doubtful, or the peril great. Developing itself, like
that game where the skilful winner advances gradually but surely, each
piece protected by another through a series of moves, our policy had
only become conspicuous by the last move which obtained its victory.

Our treaties with Buenos Ayres, with Mexico, and Columbia, guarded as
they were by our own previous declarations, and also by the important
declaration of the American President, could only expose us to a
useless and insignificant exhibition of displeasure.

The severance of Brazil from Portugal, as long as Portugal was a
consenting party, could with little decency be objected to by an
indifferent power; the concession of a charter to Portugal, coming
from the sovereign of Portugal himself, was an act which those who
contended for the divine right of kings to do what they thought
proper, could not well oppose: and finally, the expedition of British
troops to Lisbon--sent out at the time when the name of “Mr. Canning”
had become the rallying word of England, and “England” herself the
rallying word of the free and the intelligent throughout the world,
demanded also under circumstances too well known to be disputed, and
authorised by treaties which had always been acknowledged, and to
which, from the very commencement of his administration, Mr. Canning
had called attention--resolutely as it was announced, gallantly as it
was made, and important as its impression on the public mind was sure
to be--could hardly have been resented with propriety or advantage.
On each occasion the minister had made his stand at the happiest
opportunity and on the strongest grounds. Abandoning, it is true, all
direct resistance to France and to the principles she maintained--where
such resistance must have been made with great peril, and with but
small chance of success--he had adopted towards both France and her
principles a system of opposition which exhibited itself by a variety
of successive acts each by itself little likely to be dangerous, and
all in their combination certain to be effective. In the first place,
instead of meeting the enemy on a ground undermined by factions, and
where a large military force, inconsistent with the nature of our
means, would have been necessary, he carried the quarrel into a new
hemisphere, and placed it on a question which, mistress of the seas,
England had the undoubted power of deciding. Lastly, when a British
army was sent to the continent, it was sent not on grounds which might
merely be justifiable, but for reasons which were obligatory; while
the people to whose aid it marched--open to the ocean, animated by
hereditary jealousy against their neighbours, accustomed to British
command, and confident in British assistance--were the people whom
we were most likely to be allowed to succour with impunity, and most
certain, should war ensue, of triumphantly defending.

Something of chance and fortune, no doubt, was mingled in the happy
conduct of these events, as is the case in all human affairs; but
there is visible a steady and impressive will, tempering and ruling
them throughout; the mind and spirit of a man, who was capable of
forethought, governed by precaution, and prompt in decision.



    Mr. Canning’s position.--Altered tone of opposition.--Favour of
    King.--Death of Duke of York and of Lord Liverpool.--Struggle
    for the Premiership.--Nomination of Mr. Canning.--Secession
    of Duke of Wellington and Anti-Catholic party.--Junction with
    Whigs.--Formation of Cabinet.--Effect of Canning on the men
    of his time, and their effect on a subsequent one.--Eastern
    affairs.--Treaty concerning Greece with Russia and


It is needless to say that a policy which raised England so high in
the world’s consideration was popular with Englishmen; they were proud
of their country and of their minister. The Whig opposition, moreover,
which at first depreciated that minister and praised his colleagues,
soon began to depreciate his colleagues and to praise him. But Mr.
Canning’s most extraordinary and unexpected triumph was at court. From
being the man in the Cabinet the most odious to the King, he had become
the King’s pet minister, and one of the most intimate of his chosen

The leader of the House of Commons had one peculiar mode of obtaining
his Majesty’s confidence, and cultivating his intimacy. It was his
arduous duty to send to the Sovereign every night a written account of
that night’s proceedings in the assembly to which he belonged. It is
easy to see the advantage which this established custom may give to a
writer who expresses himself with tact and clearness. A minister of
foreign affairs has also more opportunities than any other minister of
captivating the Royal attention. Foreign politics, which constitute the
arena in which kings are pitted against kings, are the politics which
most interest royal personages. A monarch there represents before
other monarchs the fame, the power, the character of the nation he
rules; he rises as it rises, he falls as it falls.

George IV., whatever his faults, was not without talent or ambition.
In early life he wished to distinguish himself in military service
abroad, and when, on this being denied him, he entered more deeply than
discreetly into politics at home, it was the desire for popularity
which connected him with the Opposition. He still remembered the
high position which after the battle of Waterloo he held, as Regent
of England, amongst the great potentates of the earth; and though
personally attached to Lord Castlereagh, and unwilling to sever himself
altogether from the sovereigns who had formerly been his allies,
and who now in confounding Liberty with Anarchy came forward as the
champions of Royalty and order, still he was not insensible to the
fact that he had become, little by little, a nonentity in the councils
of his peers, and that his advice and opinions, even when expressed
by the great warrior who had vanquished Napoleon, were treated with
a disregard which was galling to his pride as a monarch, and painful
to his feelings as an Englishman. He experienced no small exultation,
then, when he saw this state of things reversed, and that the King of
England was once more a personage whose policy created hope and alarm.
He had, moreover, a singular propensity, which was in fact a sort of
madness, for conceiving that he had played a personal part in all the
events which had passed in his reign. Amongst other fancies of this
kind, he believed, or at least often spoke as if he believed, that he
had been on the great battle-field which had terminated the war in
1815; and I have been told by two persons who were present, that one
day at dinner, after relating his achievements on this occasion, he
turned round to the Iron Duke and said:

“Was it not so, Duke?”

“I have heard your Majesty often say so,” replied the Duke, drily.[122]
It was easy, then, for Mr. Canning to make George IV. consider Mr.
Canning’s policy his policy, Mr. Canning’s successes his successes, and
indeed Mr. Canning always spoke to his Majesty, when the popularity
of his administration became apparent, as if he had only followed the
inspiration of a prescient and intelligent master.

I should omit more trifling causes of favour, if I did not think them
necessary to illustrate the character of the parties, and of the times
of which I am speaking, and to show the attention which Mr. Canning,
once engaged in the task of recasting our foreign policy, gave to the
smallest circumstances which might facilitate it. In the ordinary
acceptation of the word, he was not a courtier, or a man of the world.
Living, as I have already stated, in the midst of a small clique of
admirers, and little with society at large, he confined his remarkable
powers of pleasing to his own set. He had determined, however, on
gaining George IV.’s goodwill, or, at all events, on vanquishing his
dislike, and he saw at once that this was to be done rather indirectly
than directly, and that it could best be done by gaining the favour
of those ladies of the court whom the King saw most frequently, and
spoke to most unreservedly. These were Lady Conyngham and Madame de
Lieven. For Lady Conyngham George IV. had a sort of chivalric devotion
or attachment; Madame de Lieven he liked and appreciated as the lady
who had the greatest knack of seizing and understanding his wishes,
and making his court agreeable. She was a musician, and he was fond of
music; she had correspondents at every capital in Europe, and knew all
the small gossip as well as the most important affairs that agitated
Paris, St. Petersburg, and Vienna, and he was amused by foreign gossip
and interested in foreign affairs. Her opinion, moreover, as to the
position of any one in the world of fashion was law, and George IV.
piqued himself especially on being the man of fashion. Mr. Canning
resolved, then, on pleasing this remarkable lady, and completely
succeeded. She became, as she afterwards often stated, subjugated by
the influence of his natural manner and brilliant talents; and the
favour of Madame de Lieven went the further in this instance with the
King, since he had previously a sort of prejudice against Canning,
as being too much the man of letters, and not sufficiently the fine
gentleman. This prejudice once removed, a man of wit, genius, and
information, had no inconsiderable hold on a prince whose youth had
been passed in the most brilliant society of his time, and who was
still alive to the memory of the sparkling wit of Sheridan and the easy
and copious eloquence of Fox. Lady Conyngham’s alliance was still more
important than that of Madame de Lieven, and one of Mr. Canning’s first
acts was to name Lord Francis Conyngham Under Secretary of State, it is
said at the King’s desire. At all events, Lord Francis’s appointment,
which was in every respect a good one, pleased the Marchioness, and
satisfied his Majesty, who saw in it the willingness of his Minister to
bring even the most private acts of his administration under the Royal


An anecdote of the time is worth recording, since it connected itself
with the recognition of the Spanish colonies, and the subsequent
elevation of the minister to whom this important act was due.

Lady Conyngham had been supposed in early life to have greatly admired
(there was no scandal, I should say, attached to this admiration) Lord
Ponsonby, then the finest gentleman of his day. Lord Ponsonby, who
had long been absent from England, returned from the Ionian Islands,
where he had held a small office, not a little desirous to get a better
place than the one he had quitted. He met Lady Conyngham at Lady
Jersey’s, and (so went the story of the day) Lady Conyngham fainted. So
interesting a piece of gossip soon reached the ear of the monarch: the
friendship of old men is very often as romantic as the love of young
men. His Majesty took to his bed, declared himself ill, and would see
no one. All business was stopped. After waiting some time, Mr. Canning
at last obtained an interview. George IV. received him lying on a couch
in a darkened room, the light being barely sufficient to read a paper.

“What’s the matter? I am very ill, Mr. Canning.”

“I shall not occupy your Majesty for more than five minutes. It is very
desirable, as your Majesty knows, to send Envoys, without delay, to the
States of South America, that are about to be recognised.”

The King groaned, and moved impatiently.

“I have been thinking, Sire, it would be most desirable to select a
man of rank for one of these posts (another groan), and I thought of
proposing Lord Ponsonby to your Majesty for Buenos Ayres.”

“Ponsonby!” said the King, rising a little from his reclining
position--“a capital appointment! a clever fellow, though an idle one,
Mr. Canning. May I ask you to undraw that curtain a little? A very
good appointment: is there anything else, Canning, that you wish me to
attend to?”

From that moment, said the person who told me this story, Mr. Canning’s
favour rose more and more rapidly.[123]

But in mentioning Lady Conyngham and Madame de Lieven, as having been
of much use to Mr. Canning, I should also mention Doctor Sir Wm.
Knighton. Yet, I would not have it thought that I intend in any way to
take from Mr. Canning’s character as a great minister by showing that
he adopted the small means necessary to rule a court. George IV.’s
habits were such that without some aid of this kind no statesman could
have got current affairs carried on with due regularity, or initiated
any policy that required the Royal support.


The moment was now at hand, when the extent of this Royal support was
to be tested; when, in short, it was to be decided whether the Canning
party or the Wellington and Eldon party was to be predominant in the
Cabinet. The difference in feeling and opinion between the two sections
was, as I have said, more or less general; but as the only question
on which the members of the same government were allowed to disagree
(according to the principle on which the Cabinet had been founded) was
Catholic Emancipation, so it was on the Catholic Emancipation question
that each tried its strength against the other. In the preceding year
the Emancipationists had obtained a majority in the House of Commons,
and would have had only a small majority against them in the House of
Lords, but for the speech of the Duke of York, heir-presumptive to
the throne, who declared that he was, and ever would be, a determined
supporter of the Protestant principles of exclusion, maintained by
his late father. There is reason to suppose that this declaration was
made on an understanding with the King, who thought that he would thus
fortify his own opinions, which had become for the last twenty years
hostile to the Catholics, and also deter Canning and his friends from
pushing forward too eagerly a matter on which they must expect to
encounter the opposition of two successive sovereigns.

On the 5th of January, 1827, however, the Duke of York died; and
though during his illness he strongly advised his brother to form
an anti-Catholic Administration--without which, he said, Catholic
Emancipation must ere long be granted--the counsel, though it had
distressed George IV. considerably, had not decided him; for his
Majesty preferred his ease, as long as he could enjoy it, to facing
difficulties which would disorder the ordinary routine of his social
life, as well as that of public affairs. The Duke of York’s influence
on George IV., moreover, was that of personal contact, of a living
man of honest and sterling character, over a living man of weaker
character; it expired, therefore, when he expired.

Another death soon afterwards occurred. Lord Liverpool was taken ill
in February, 1827, and he died in March. This left the first situation
in the Government vacant. The moderator between the two conflicting
parties was no more, and a struggle as to the Premiership became

Mr. Canning was at this crisis seriously ill at Brighton: and we
may conceive the agitation of his restless mind, since Sir Francis
Burdett’s annual motion on the Catholic claims was just then coming on.
His absence would, he knew, be misinterpreted; and literally rising
from his bed, and under sufferings which only ambition and duty could
have rendered supportable, he appeared to confront his enemies and
encourage his followers in his place in the House of Commons.

The debate was more than warm, and an encounter between the Master of
the Rolls, Sir J. Copley, afterwards Lord Lyndhurst, and the Secretary
of State for Foreign Affairs, was such as might rather be expected
from rival chiefs of hostile factions, than from men belonging to the
same government, and professing to entertain on most subjects the same
opinions. Finally, a majority of four decided against Sir Francis

After this trial of strength, it was difficult for the Minister of
Foreign Affairs to insist upon the first place in a balanced cabinet,
with a majority in both Houses of Parliament against the party which he
represented. When, therefore, the King consulted him subsequently as to
a new Administration, he said:

“I should recommend your Majesty to form an Administration wholly
composed of persons who entertain, in respect to the Roman Catholics,
your Majesty’s own opinions.”

This counsel could not be carried out; but it seemed disinterested,
and forced George IV. to allow, after making the attempt, that it was
impracticable. The formation of a Cabinet on the old terms of general
comprehension thus became a necessity, and to that Government Mr.
Canning was indispensable. But his Majesty naturally wished to retain
him in a position that would not offend the rest of his colleagues,
and to place some person opposed to the Catholics in Lord Liverpool’s
vacant situation. This Mr. Canning would not consent to. In serving
under Lord Liverpool, he had served under a man highly distinguished
from his youth, offered, as early as the death of Mr. Pitt, the first
situation in the State, and who, as the head of a government retaining
possession of power for many years, had enjoyed the good fortune of
holding it at one of the most glorious epochs in British history.
That nobleman left no one behind him entertaining his own opinions,
and on whom his own claims of precedency could be naturally supposed
to descend. Besides, he was Mr. Canning’s private friend, and agreed
with him on almost every question, except the solitary one of Catholic

It was clear, then, that if the successor to Lord Liverpool shared Lord
Liverpool’s opinions on Catholic Emancipation, but did not share Lord
Liverpool’s other opinions, and was more or less adverse to Mr. Canning
instead of being particularly attached to him, this would make a great
change as to Mr. Canning’s position in the Administration, and a great
change as to the general character of the Administration itself. Mr.
Canning, therefore, could not submit to such a change without damaging
his policy and damaging himself. He was to be Cæsar or nobody; the
man to lead a party, not the hack of any party that offered him the
emoluments of place, without the reality of power.


But if Mr. Canning was determined to be Head of the Government, or
not to belong to it at all, his rivals were equally determined not to
belong to a government of which he was to be the head.

In this dilemma George IV. fixed his eyes on the Duke of Wellington.
Few at that period considered the duke fit for the management of civil
affairs; but George IV. had great confidence in his general abilities,
and thought that with his assistance it might be possible to conciliate
a minister whom he was disposed to disappoint, and did not wish to
displease. But the Duke of Wellington was the very last man under whom
it was Mr. Canning’s interest to place himself. That he refused to
do so is therefore no matter of surprise; his refusal, however, was
skilfully framed, and in such terms as were most likely to catch the
ear of the nation, “_he could never consent to a military Premier_.”
In the meantime, the struggle that had been going on in the Cabinet
and the Court was pretty generally known in the country, and such
steps were taken by the two conflicting parties as were most accordant
with their several principles and desires. The Duke of Newcastle, on
the one hand, claimed the privilege of a Royal audience, and spoke in
no measured terms of the parliamentary influence he possessed, and
the course he should pursue if Mr. Canning attained his wishes. Mr.
Brougham, on the other hand, wrote to Mr. Canning, offering him his
unqualified support, and saying that this offer was unconnected with
any desire for office, which, indeed, nothing would then tempt him to


A serious contest thus commenced. The different epochs through which
this contest was conducted may thus be given. On the 28th of March,
the King first spoke to Mr. Canning in a direct and positive manner as
to filling up Lord Liverpool’s vacancy. Between the 31st of March and
the 6th of April affairs remained in suspense. On the 3rd and 4th Mr.
Canning and the Duke of Wellington met; and on the 5th, by the desire
of the latter, Mr. Canning saw Mr. Peel; the result of these three
different interviews being a persuasion on the part of Mr. Canning that
it was hoped he would himself suggest that the Premiership should be
offered to the Duke of Wellington. On the 9th Mr. Peel again saw Mr.
Canning, by the King’s desire, and openly stated that “the Duke of
Wellington’s appointment would solve all difficulties.” On the 10th Mr.
Canning, not having assented to this suggestion, was empowered to form
the new Administration.

The events which followed are well known. On receiving the King’s
commands, Mr. Canning immediately requested the services of all his
former colleagues, to some of whom his application could only have been
a mere matter of form. For this reason the surprise affected at many
of the answers received appears to me ridiculous. Mr. Canning and his
friends would have retired, if the Duke of Wellington had been made
Premier; and the Duke of Wellington and his friends retired when Mr.
Canning was made Premier.

Nothing was more simple than the tender of those resignations which
were received with such artificial astonishment; and nothing more
absurd than the cant accusations which were made against those who
tendered them of abandoning the King, &c. &c. Nor was the refutation of
such accusations less idle than their propagation. It might not be true
that the seceding Ministers met in a room, and said, “We will conspire,
and you shall send in your resignation, and I will send in mine.” But
it is quite clear that they had common motives of action, that each
understood what those motives were, that as a body they had long acted
in unison, that as a body they intended to continue so to act. In every
representative government men constantly band in this manner together,
often denying uselessly that they do so; and we have only to refer to
a memorable instance of Whig secession, in 1717, in order to find the
same accusation as foolishly raised, and the same denial as falsely

       *       *       *       *       *

But although the resignation of the Duke of Wellington and his friends
was almost certain, when the nature of the new arrangement became fully
known, the mere fact of Mr. Canning having been commissioned to form a
government was not at once taken as the proof that he would possess the
power and dignity of Prime Minister.

The Duke of Wellington more particularly seemed determined to consider
that nothing as to a Premier was yet decided, and replied to Mr.
Canning’s announcement that he was charged to form an Administration,
by saying:

“I should wish to know who the person is whom you intend to propose to
his Majesty as the head of the Government.”

To this question Mr. Canning replied at once:

                                   “Foreign Office, April 11, 1827.


    “I believed it to be so generally understood that the King
    usually entrusts the formation of an Administration to the
    individual whom it is his Majesty’s gracious pleasure to
    place at the head of it, that it did not occur to me, when I
    communicated to your Grace yesterday the commands which I had
    just received from his Majesty, to add that in the present
    instance his Majesty does not intend to depart from the usual
    course of proceeding on such occasions. I am sorry to have
    delayed some hours the answer to your Grace’s letter; but
    from the nature of the subject, I did not like to forward it,
    without having previously submitted it (together with your
    Grace’s letter) to his Majesty.

    “Ever, my dear Duke of Wellington, your Grace’s sincere and
    faithful servant,


                                                  “GEORGE CANNING.”

The Duke of Wellington’s retirement from office and from the command of
the army immediately followed, and now the whole anti-Catholic party
definitely seceded.


At a cooler moment such an event might have seriously startled George
IV., but the pride of the Sovereign overcame the fears and doubts of
the politician. “He had not altered his policy; he had merely chosen
from amongst his Ministers, a vacancy occurring in the Premiership, a
particular individual to be Prime Minister. It was his clear right to
select the Prime Minister. Who was to have this nomination? The Duke of
Newcastle forsooth!” Thus spoke those of his circle whom Mr. Canning
had had the address to gain.

Nor did he himself shrink from his new situation. His appointment was
announced on the very night it took place, and another writ issued for
the borough of Harwich, amidst cheers that rang through the House of
Commons. Thus he became at once the Minister of the people of England.
They anxiously asked themselves whether he could maintain himself in
this position?

       *       *       *       *       *

A circumstance occurred which went far towards settling opinions on
this subject. Almost immediately after the official retreat of the
anti-Catholic party, Lord Melville, First Lord of the Admiralty, though
in favour of the Catholic claims, sent in his resignation, assigning
what in the reign of James I. would have been called a good _Scotch
reason_ for doing so, namely, _he did not think the Government could

The manner of filling up the situation thus vacated might also have
satisfied Lord Melville’s scruples. On the 12th his lordship resigned;
on the 18th Mr. Canning informed him that the Duke of Clarence,
heir-presumptive to the crown, had accepted the office of Lord High
Admiral, and would receive Sir George Cockburn and the other Lords
of the Admiralty at twelve on the following day. This selection,
suggested, it was said, by Mr. Croker, was a decisive blow, and
announced the Royal feelings, as far as Mr. Canning was concerned, for
two reigns at least. There was still, however, the highest office in
the gift of a Minister to fill, that of Lord Chancellor. A supporter
of the Catholic claims could hardly at that moment be selected to
fill it. Amongst the opponents of those claims there was an eminent
lawyer in Parliament, who, if placed on the Woolsack, would become a
most valuable ally in the Lords, instead of being a most formidable
antagonist in the Commons. Sir John Copley, whose recent altercation
with the new Premier on the Catholic question was not forgotten, was
the eminent lawyer alluded to; and hardly was it known that the Duke
of Clarence was Lord High Admiral, when it was likewise officially
promulgated that Sir John Copley, under the title of Lord Lyndhurst,
had accepted the Great Seal. The other appointments immediately made
known were those of Mr. Sturges Bourne (a friend of Mr. Canning) as
Minister for Home Affairs; of Lord Dudley, a Tory who often voted with
Whigs, as Minister of Foreign Affairs; of Mr. William Lamb (after Lord
Melbourne), a Whig who often voted with the Tories, as Secretary for
Ireland; and of Mr. Scarlett, a Whig, as Attorney-General. The Duke
of Portland had accepted the Privy Seal, the Duke of Devonshire the
highest court office, Mr. Robinson, resigning the Chancellorship of
the Exchequer to Mr. Canning, became Lord Goderich, and Leader in the
House of Lords. Lord Palmerston acquired a seat in the Cabinet. Lord
Harrowby, Mr. Wynn, and Mr. Huskisson retained their former offices.

A private arrangement was also made for admitting into the Cabinet, at
the end of the session, Lord Lansdowne (who was to take the place of
Mr. Sturges Bourne), as well as Lord Carlisle and Mr. Tierney.


In this way commenced that new period in our history, which finally
led to the forming of a large Liberal party, capable of conducting
the affairs of the country, and to a series of divisions in that Tory
party which had so long governed it. I have said that this party was
already divided before the death of Lord Castlereagh; for it then
contained some influential, well-educated men of Whig opinions, though
of Tory alliances, who, whilst opposed to democratic innovations, were
dissatisfied with the unpopular resistance to all changes, which was
the peculiar characteristic of the Lord Chancellor.

Mr. Canning’s junction with this section of politicians brought to it a
great additional force.

Nor was this all. His brilliant genius rallied round him all those
in Parliament and the country who had enlightened ideas and generous
feelings, and were desirous to see England at the head of civilization,
and, whether in her conduct towards foreign nations or at home,
exhibiting an interest in the well-being and improvement of mankind.
Mr. Canning’s feelings on this subject were in no wise disguised by his

“Is it not,” said he on one occasion, when defending Mr. Huskisson’s
Free Trade policy--“is it not the same doctrine and spirit now
persecuting my right honourable friend which in former times stirred
up persecution against the best benefactors of mankind? Is it not
the same doctrine and spirit which embittered the life of Turgot? Is
it not a doctrine and a spirit such as those which have at all times
been at work to stay public advancement and roll back the tide of
civilization? A doctrine and a spirit actuating the minds of little
men who, incapable of reaching the heights from which alone extended
views of human nature can be taken, console and revenge themselves
by calumniating and misrepresenting those who have toiled to such
heights for the advantage of mankind. Sir, I have not to learn that
there is a faction in this country--I mean, not a political faction;
I should rather perhaps have said a sect, small in numbers and
powerless in might, who think that all advances towards improvement are
retrogradations towards Jacobinism. These persons seem to imagine that
under no possible circumstances can an honest man endeavour to keep
his country upon a line with the progress of political knowledge, and
to adapt its course to the varying circumstances of the world. Such
an attempt is branded as an indication of mischievous intentions, as
evidence of a design to sap the foundations of the greatness of the

       *       *       *       *       *

Again, whilst avowing himself the pupil and disciple of Mr. Pitt, he
thus beautifully expresses himself:

“It is singular to observe how ready some people are to admire in a
great man the exceptions to the general rule of his conduct rather
than the rule itself. Such perverse worship is like the idolatry of
barbarous nations, who can see the noonday splendour of the sun without
emotion, but who, when he is in eclipse, come forward with hymns and
cymbals to adore him. Thus there are those who venerate Mr. Pitt less
in the brightness of his meridian glory, than under his partial
obscurity, and who gaze on him with the fondest admiration when he has
ceased to shine.”

In this manner, by his spirit, eloquence, and abilities, he brought
public opinion round in such a manner that it even accommodated itself
to his personal position, bringing forward into the light his personal
views as the popular ones, and throwing those which had formerly been
popular, but which he did not support, into the shade. The great
constitutional questions hitherto debated were for a time lost sight
of, and party spirit, as Mr. Baring stated, leaving its other and more
accustomed topics, seemed for the first time to display itself on
subjects simply relating to the commerce and mercantile policy of the


At first the adherents of the Duke of Wellington were like the
Royal emigrants from the old French army at the period of the great
Revolution. They thought no officers could be found fitted to take
their places. But when they saw another government formed, and formed
of materials which, if they could be gradually moulded together, would
constitute a composition of solid and perhaps permanent endurance,
their feelings were marked by all that violence and injustice which
are invariably displayed by men who unexpectedly lose power. Mr.
Canning was a renegade for quitting his old political friends to
join the Whigs; the Whigs were renegades for abandoning their old
political principles to join Mr. Canning. Party rancour had not
the candour to acknowledge that if the opinions of Mr. Canning on
Catholic Emancipation were sufficient to alienate from him the great
bulk of the Conservatives, it was natural that those opinions should
attach to him the great bulk of the Liberals. To the attacks of his
own party, which he called “the barking of his own turnspits,” Mr.
Canning was sufficiently indifferent; but there was one voice lifted
up against him, the irony of which pierced his proud heart deeply.
Alone and stately, Lord Grey, who had long considered himself the great
Whig leader, now stood stripped of his followers, and with little
disposition to acknowledge the ascendency of another chieftain.
Contempt was the terrible weapon with which he assailed his brilliant
rival, whom from the height of a great aristocratic position and a long
and consistent public career, he affected to look down upon as a sort
of political adventurer; now carrying out measures the most oppressive
to the civil liberties of the people; now spouting liberal phrases
which he had no intention to realise; now advocating the claims of the
Catholics in glowing words; and now abandoning them when called upon
for practical deeds; and finally dressing himself up in borrowed plumes
and strutting before the public as the author of a foreign policy the
errors of which he cast off upon his colleagues, the merits of which,
with equal meanness and unfairness, he took wholly to himself.

If all that Lord Grey said could have been completely justified (which
it could not); if all that Lord Grey said, I repeat, had been entirely
just (which it was not), the speech which contained it would still have
been ill-timed, and impolitic. Mr. Canning represented at that moment
those liberal ideas which the public were prepared to entertain. He was
encircled by the general popular sympathy, and was therefore in his
day, and at the hour I am speaking of, the natural head of the Liberal
party. The great necessity of the moment was to save that party from
defeat, and give it an advanced position, from which it might march
further forward in the natural course of events. If Mr. Canning’s party
had not obtained power, Lord Grey would never have had a party capable
of inheriting it. If Mr. Canning had not become Prime Minister when
he did, Lord Grey would not have become Prime Minister three years

The public, with that plain common sense which distinguishes most
of its judgments, made allowances for the haughty nobleman’s anger,
but condemned its exhibition. Moreover, the formal charge of Lord
Londonderry, who, as his brother’s representative, accused Mr. Canning
of having forsaken that brother’s policy, was more than a counterpoise
to Lord Grey’s accusation that one Foreign Secretary was no better than
the other. Nor did people stop to examine with minute criticism every
act of a statesman who had lived in changeful times, and who was then
supporting a policy at home favourable to our trade, and carrying out a
policy abroad which inspired affection for our name and reverence for
our power.

I have as yet purposely confined my observations to those events which
were connected with Spain and Portugal, and the struggle we had entered
into against the Holy Alliance in regard to those countries; because it
was there that Mr. Canning’s talents had been most displayed, and that
their consequences had been most important. But we are not to limit our
review of his conduct merely to these questions.

It was not merely in Spain or in Portugal that England justified her
statesman’s proud pretension to hold over nations the umpire’s sceptre,
and to maintain, as the mediatrix between extremes, the peace of the
world. Such was the reputation which this statesman had obtained, even
amongst those against whom his policy had been directed, that the
Emperor Alexander, disgusted with the irresolution of all his other
long, credited allies, turned at last to Mr. Canning, as the only one
capable of taking a manly and decided part in the settlement of a
question in which his power was to be guarded against on the one hand,
and the feelings of his subjects, and the traditions of his empire,
were to be considered on the other.


The affairs in the East during the last few years require a narrative
which, though rapid, may suffice to account for the alliance into which
at this time we entered.

In 1821 broke out the Greek insurrection. Suppressed in Moldavia and
Wallachia, where it originated, it soon acquired strength in the
Greek islands and the Morea. Excesses were natural on both sides, and
committed by the conquering race, determined to maintain its power,
and by the subjugated one, struggling to throw off its chains. The
Greek Patriarch was murdered at Constantinople, and a series of savage
butcheries succeeded and accompanied this act of slaughter.

By these events Russia was placed in a peculiar and embarrassing
position. She could not countenance insurrection; her system of
policy just displayed in Italy could not be reversed in Greece. But
the sympathies of religion, and the policy she had long pursued
(that of placing herself at the head of the Christian subjects of
the Porte by always assuming the air of their protectress), demanded
some manifestation of interest in the cause of the rebels. She came
forward, then, denouncing the attempt at revolution on the one hand,
but protesting on the other against the feelings which this attempt
had excited, and the means which had been taken to suppress it.
The re-establishment of the Greek Church, the safe exercise of the
Christian religion, were insisted upon. The indiscriminate massacre of
Christians, and the occupation of Moldavia and Wallachia by Turkish
troops, were loudly condemned. A reply within the time fixed not having
been given to the note in which these remonstrances were expressed the
Russian Ambassador quitted Constantinople, and war seemed imminent.

But it was the desire of Austria and England especially to prevent war,
and their joint representations finally succeeded in persuading the
Sultan to satisfy the Russian demands; consequently, shortly after Mr.
Canning’s accession to office, the Greek churches were rebuilt, and
the Principalities evacuated, while wanton outrages against the Rayah
population were punished with due justice and severity.

Russia, however, now made new requests; even these, through the
negotiations of the British ambassador at Constantinople, were complied
with; and, finally, after some hesitations and prevarications, the
cabinet of St. Petersburg renewed its diplomatic relations with the

       *       *       *       *       *

Still it was not difficult to perceive that all the differences
hitherto arranged were slight in comparison with those which must arise
if the Greek struggle long continued unsettled. In ordinary times,
indeed, we shrink before the possibility of a power (whose empire,
however wide, conquest would long keep cemented) establishing itself
across the whole of Europe, and holding on either side, here at the
Straits of the Baltic, there on those of the Mediterranean, the means
of carrying on war, or securing safety and peace as it might seem easy
to obtain victory, or advisable to avoid defeat; a power which, placed
in this position, would demand the constant vigilance of our fleets,
establish an enormous and perpetual drain upon our resources, and which
appeared not unlikely to carry through Persia (the governor of which
would be merely one of her satraps) disorder and destruction to our
Indian empire. In ordinary times this gigantic vision, when seen but
dimly and at a distance, has more than once alarmed our government
and excited our nation. But the tardy struggle of that race for
independence, to whose genius and spirit we owe our earliest dreams of
freedom--a struggle in which we were called upon to side with Greeks
fighting for Liberty, with Christians contending for Christianity, had
awakened feelings which overwhelmed all customary considerations. A
paramount enthusiasm, to which a variety of causes, and especially the
verses of our great and fashionable poet, were contributing, had seized
upon the public mind, and was destined for a while to be omnipotent.
Guarded by that enthusiasm, Russia might have planted her eagles upon
the walls of Constantinople, if she had appeared as the champion of
that land

    ----“of gods, and godlike men,”

which had at last “exchanged the slavish sickle for the sword,” and it
is doubtful whether an English Minister could have found a Parliament
that would at that moment have sanctioned his defence of the Mahometan


Mr. Canning, then, had either to allow the Russian cabinet to
pursue its unavowed policy uncontrolled, or to limit its action by
connecting himself with the policy which it professed. The contest,
it was evident, after the first successes that had attended the
Porte’s revolted subjects, would not be allowed to terminate in their
subjugation. With the co-operation, or without the co-operation of
Great Britain, the Morea was certain to be wrested from the Turks. To
stand by neutral, calm spectators of what was certain to take place
was to lose our consideration equally with the Ottoman empire and with
Christian Europe, and to give to the Government which acted alone in
this emergency, as the representative of an universal feeling, an
almost universal prestige. But if our interference was expedient, the
only question that could arise was as to the time and manner of our

As early as 1824 Count Nesselrode had had a plan for placing Greece
in the situation of the Principalities of the Danube, and the
great powers of Europe were invited to consider the subject. Mr.
Canning was not averse to this project; but he hoped little from
the discordant counsels of the five or six governments called upon
to accept it; more especially as both Greece and Turkey, to whom it
had become accidentally known, were equally dissatisfied; and he was
therefore very properly unwilling to bind his government by a share in
conferences which he foresaw were doomed to be fruitless. In short, the
negotiators met and separated, and the negotiation failed.

       *       *       *       *       *

But, in the meantime, affairs had been becoming every day more and more
interesting and critical. On the one hand the sympathy for the Greeks
had been increased by the unexpected resolution they had displayed;
they had a loan, a government, and able and enterprising foreigners
had entered into their service. So much was encouraging for their
cause. But on the other hand the Egyptian army of Ibrahim Pasha had
achieved cruel triumphs, and a great part of the Morea, devastated and
depopulated, had submitted to his arms.

During these events the Czar Alexander died; and for some little time
there was hesitation in the Imperial counsels. Alexander’s successor,
however, soon pursued the policy which his accession to the empire had
interrupted, and propositions (not unlike those formerly contemplated)
were now submitted to our Minister, propositions in the carrying out
of which Great Britain and Russia were alone to be combined. The
circumstances of the moment showed that the period of action had
arrived, and Mr. Canning no longer shrank from accepting a part which
there appeared some hope of undertaking with success.

An alliance between two powers, indeed, afforded a fairer chance of
fixing upon a definite course, and maintaining a common understanding,
than the various counsels amongst which union had previously been
sought. The Greeks also, who had formerly rejected all schemes of
compromise (May, 1826), now requested the good offices of England
for obtaining a peace upon conditions which would have recognised
the supremacy of the Sultan, and entailed a tribute upon his former
subjects. Finally (and this affords an interpretation to the whole of
that policy which prevailed in the British counsels, from the first to
the last moment of negotiation), the treaty of alliance into which Mr.
Canning felt disposed to enter, contained this condition:

“That neither Russia nor Great Britain should obtain any advantage for
themselves in the arrangement of those affairs which they undertook to

France became subsequently a party to this scheme of intervention, and
it was hoped that a confederacy so powerful would induce the Turks to
submit quietly to the measures which it had been determined, at all
events (by a secret article), if necessary, to enforce.

But whilst these projects were being carried out, these hopes
entertained, that dread King, more potent than all others, held
his hand uplifted over the head of the triumphant and still ardent


On the 2nd of July Parliament had been prorogued; on the 6th the triple
alliance was signed. This celebrated treaty was the last act of Mr.
Canning’s official life. The fatigues of the session, short as it had
been, had brought him near the goal to which the enterprising mind and
assiduous labours of our most eminent men have too often prematurely
conducted them. Of a susceptibility which the slightest word of good or
evil keenly affected, and of that sanguine and untiring temperament
which would never suffer him to repose during circumstances in which he
thought his personal honour, his public opinions, and the welfare of
his political friends required his exertions: tortured by every sneer,
irritated by every affront, ready for every toil; in the last few
months in which he had risen to the heights of power and ambition--such
are human objects--was concentrated an age of anxiety, suffering, and
endurance. His countenance became more haggard, his step more feeble,
and his eye more languid. Yet at this moment, jaded, restless, and
worn, he held in the opinion of the world as high and enviable a
position as any public man ever enjoyed. All his plans had succeeded;
all his enemies had been overthrown. By the people of England he was
cherished as a favourite child; on the Continent he was beloved as the
tutelary guardian of Liberal principles, and respected as the peaceful
and fortunate arbiter between conflicting interests. Abroad, one of the
most formidable alliances ever united against England had been silently
defeated by his efforts. At home, the most powerful coalition that a
haughty aristocracy could form against himself had been successfully
defied by his eloquence and good fortune. The foes of Don Miguel, in
Portugal; the enemies of the Inquisition in Spain; the fervent watchers
after that dawn of civilization, which now opened on the vast empires
of the New World, and which promised again to shine upon the region
it most favoured in ancient times; the American patriot, the Greek
freedman, and last of all, though not the least interested (whether we
consider the wrongs he had endured, the rights to which he was justly
born, the links which should have joined him to, and the injustice
which had severed him from, the national prosperity of Great Britain),
last of all, the Irish Catholic, dwelt fondly and anxiously on the
breath of the aspiring statesman at the head of affairs. His health was
too precious, indeed, for any one to believe it to be in danger.

The wound, notwithstanding, was given, which no medicine had the power
to cure. On the 1st of August the Prime Minister gave a diplomatic
dinner; on the 3rd he was seized with those symptoms which betokened
a fatal crisis to be at hand. At this time he was at the Duke of
Devonshire’s villa at Chiswick, where he had resided since the 20th of
July, for the sake of greater quiet and purer air. The room in which he
lay, and in which another as proud and generous a spirit, that of Mr.
Fox, had passed away, and towards which the eyes of the whole Liberal
world were now turned with agonizing suspense for five days, has since
become a place of pilgrimage. It is a small low chamber, once a kind of
nursery, dark, and opening into a wing of the building, which gives it
the appearance of looking into a courtyard. Nothing can be more simple
than its furniture or decorations, for it was chosen by Mr. Canning,
who had always the greatest horror of cold, on account of its warmth.
On one side of the fireplace are a few bookshelves; opposite the foot
of the bed is the low chimneypiece, and on it a small bronze clock, to
which we may fancy the weary and impatient sufferer often turning his
eyes during those bitter moments in which he was passing from the world
which he had filled with his name, and was governing with his projects.
What a place for repeating those simple and touching lines of Dyer:

    “A little rule, a little sway,
    A sunbeam on a winter’s day,
    Is all the proud and mighty have
    Between the cradle and the grave.”

After passing some time in a state of insensibility, during which the
words “Spain and Portugal” were frequently on his lips, on the 8th of
August Mr. Canning succumbed. His remains sleep in Westminster Abbey;
a peerage and a pension were granted to his family; and a statue is
erected to his memory on the site of his parliamentary triumphs.

       *       *       *       *       *

The generation amidst which Mr. Canning died, attended his hearse, and
crowned his funeral with honours. What is the place he ought to hold in
the minds of future generations of his countrymen?


    One must judge men by a real and not ideal standard of
    mankind.--Criticisms on Mr. Canning’s conduct.--His faults when
    in a subordinate position.--His better qualities developed in a
    superior one.--Nature of faculties.--Influence on his own time
    and the succeeding one.--Foreign policy considered.--Person;
    manners; specimens of his various abilities; eloquence;
    art; and turn for drollery and satire.--Style of speaking
    of despatches.--Always young, and inspiring admiration and
    affection, even when provoking censure.


In estimating the character of public men, the biographer or critic,
if he descend from the sublimity of unbounded panegyric, is often apt
to elevate himself at the expense of the person of whom he speaks; and
to treat with artificial severity any dereliction from that perfection
of conduct which he sees nowhere attained. Thanks to this affected
severity or paltry envy, we have hardly a great man left to us.
Bolingbroke is nothing but a quack; the elder Pitt only a charlatan;
Burke himself a declaimer and a renegade; Fox an ambitious politician
out of place; all of which things these great men to a certain degree
were, being still great men; and deserving the admiration of a
posterity which can hardly hope to furnish their equals.

“No one should write history,” said Montaigne, “who has not himself
served the State in some civil or military capacity.” By which this
shrewd and impartial observer meant, that no man is fit to judge the
conduct of men of action who is not himself a man of action, and can
judge it practically, according to what men really are in the world,
and not according to any imaginary theory which he may adopt in the
obscure nook of his own chimney corner, as to what they might and ought
to be.

“We are not,” says Cicero, “in the Republic of Plato, but in the
mud of Romulus;” and they who have observed and meditated upon the
vicissitudes of empires, will have seen that such have risen or
fallen according to the number of eminent men, endowed with lofty
intelligences and daring spirits, whom they have produced. And where
have such eminent men existed without defects? Human nature is too
imperfect for us to expect to find extraordinary abilities and energies
under the constant control of moderate virtues.

To those, then, who have read the preceding pages, the whole of Mr.
Canning’s career may be shortly summed up in the words of Lord Orford
(Horace Walpole), who, speaking of Lord Chatham, says:

“His ambition was to be the most illustrious man in the first country
in the world, and he thought that the eminence of glory could not be
sullied by the steps to it being passed irregularly” (vol. iv. p. 243).

In the same manner Canning was less scrupulous than he should have
been to obtain power and fame. But, in the most memorable part of his
life, he made a noble use of the one and well deserved the other.
Desirous of office and distinction, he attached himself, on entering
life, to that minister by whom office and distinction were most likely
to be conferred. The circumstances of the time afforded him not merely
an apology, but a fair reason for doing this; still, there seems no
injustice in adding that, in ranging himself under the banner of the
great commoner’s great son, he thought of his own personal prospects as
well as of the public interests.

Mr. Pitt died; Mr. Canning was, as he declared himself, henceforth
without a leader. Some of his opinions inclined him to unite with his
early friends and recent opponents (the Whigs), who then came into
office; and this, it seems, he was on the point of doing, when, by a
sudden whirl of Fortune’s wheel, the persons he was seceding from were
jerked into power, and those he was about to join jerked out of it. A
young man, conscious of his own abilities, and satisfied in his own
mind that, however he might obtain influence, he would use it for the
public advantage, he did not refuse a high situation from the party
to which he still publicly belonged, in order to follow a party just
driven from the Administration, and with which he had but begun to

There are things to say in excuse of this conduct, and I have said
them; but no one who wishes that Mr. Canning’s life had been without a
flaw, can do otherwise than regret that the statesman who made so many
subsequent sacrifices for the Catholics, should have joined, at this
juncture, a Ministry which rallied its partisans under the cry of “No

It is likewise to be regretted that having so frequently expressed his
sense of the incapacity of Lord Castlereagh, he should nevertheless
have consented first to serve as a subordinate under him when he was
mismanaging foreign affairs; and, secondly, to serve as a colleague
with him when he was alike lowering us abroad and misgoverning us at

During four years he did not shrink from the promulgation of any
arbitrary edict--from the suppression of any popular right; and though
I admit that many liberal and prudent persons (influenced, I cannot
but think, by most exaggerated apprehensions) considered that the
strongest measures were necessary at that time to control a spirit
of insurrection, which the mingled harshness and incapacity of the
ruling Administration had provoked; still, there is a great difference
between men who sanction bad laws which a bad government, in which
they have had no share, may render momentarily necessary, and men who
bring forward bad laws as the result of a bad government which has been
carried on by themselves.

It is hardly an excuse to say his errors were committed in an inferior
situation, with the idea of rising to a commanding one; but, at all
events, when he reached the eminence towards which he had so long been
toiling, he made, as I have shown, the best use of that power which had
not always been sought for by the best means. Thus, from first to last,
we see a man anxious to have power and to use it well; but as anxious
to have it as to use it well. That he was blamed and praised with
exaggeration was natural; for amidst confronting arrays he was seen
for ever in the first rank with the most glittering arms, exciting the
admiration of friends and the hatred of foes by his scornful air and
ostentatious attitude of defiance.

His talents, by nature showy, were given their peculiar turn by his
early education, and his career was shaped to the paths which offered
to lead him most easily to distinction. Trained to the juvenile task of
writing a foreign language in polished periods, he was at times less
anxious to find solid arguments than striking expressions. Not brought
up in communication with the uneducated classes, he was more keenly
alive to the opinion of the cultivated and refined. Too accommodating
as to the temporary suspension of national freedom at home, he was
constantly anxious and determined to maintain the power and prestige of
the country abroad--throughout his whole life he exhibited the effects
of the public school and the close borough.

Like most men who have become illustrious, Mr. Canning owed much to
fortune. Lucky in the time of his decease, lucky in the times at which
many of those with whom he had hitherto acted deserted him. If he had
lived longer, it would have been difficult for him to have kept the
station to which he had risen: if he had not been left when he was by a
great portion of his party, he would never have obtained the popularity
by which his death was hallowed. To few has it happened to be supported
by a set of men just as long as their support was useful,--to be
quitted by them just when their alliance would have been injurious. The
persons who as friends gave Mr. Canning power, as enemies conferred on
him reputation. That reputation was above all others, at the time of
his demise, amongst his countrymen and contemporaries; and it still
retains its predominance, though the influence which he exercised over
our domestic policy, and over the events which succeeded his death,
is not yet, perhaps, sufficiently recognised. I have already observed
that if he had not been Prime Minister in 1827, it is not likely that
Lord Grey would have been Premier in 1830. I may add that had not his
appointment at the former period brought together all the elements
of a great Liberal party, who were allied under the cry of Catholic
Emancipation, thus giving a hope and a spirit to the Catholics which
they had not previously possessed, the Duke of Wellington would not
within a year or two afterwards have been forced to acknowledge that
further resistance to them was impossible. Furthermore, if such men
as Lord Melbourne, Lord Palmerston, the Grants, and a large party in
the country looking up to these statesmen as safe as well as liberal
guides--had not been already connected with the Whigs, and alienated
from the Tories, under the influence of Mr. Canning in 1827, the Reform
Bill would hardly have been proposed in 1830, and would certainly not
have been carried in 1832. The more minutely, in short, that we examine
the events of the last thirty-six years, the more we shall perceive how
much their quiet development has been owing to Mr. Canning, and to the
class of men whom Mr. Canning formed, and in his later days represented.

In determining his merits as director of the foreign policy of Great
Britain, I have stood, I confess, by the old doctrines, and argued upon
the assumption that England is a great state, disposed to maintain
that greatness; that the English people is a proud, generous, and
brave people, prepared to assert its principles and its position,
and to assume its part in the affairs of the world--a nation that
takes its share in the general policy of nations--that feels it has a
common interest in the maintenance of justice, in the limitation of
unscrupulous ambition, in the progress of civilization. I have supposed
that the collective wisdom and experience of past ages, have taught us
that human nature is ever, though under different forms, guided by the
same rules; that the strong, unless they are adequately restrained,
insult and oppress, and finally vanquish the weak; that those who under
all circumstances are determined to be at peace, become eventually the
certain victims of aggression and war; that the spirit of a people
cannot with impunity be allowed to droop and languish without dimming
the brightness of its genius and losing the force of its character.
That a mere money-making population, which, lapped in the luxury of
commercial prosperity, begins to disregard its nice sense of honour,
its admiration for valour and daring, becomes daily weaker against the
spoiler, and a greater temptation to spoliation. I have ventured to
believe that a noble people has a heart open to noble emotions--that
such a heart is not dead to pity for the unfortunate, to sympathy with
the brave--to the love of glory inspiring to great deeds, and to the
love of power, with the intention to use it for the public good. I do
not think it wise to exchange the principles of action derived from
these sentiments for a colder, less generous, and, as I feel convinced,
a less sound code of political philosophy. The same sentiments which
make one man considered and beloved above others, must distinguish the
State aspiring to be great and beloved; but it does not follow that
if you feel compassion for a drowning man, you are to plunge into the
sea to save him if you cannot swim; that if you see two men valiantly
struggling against two regiments, you are to rush into the middle of
the combat with the certainty of not vanquishing the assailants, and
with that of losing your own life. I condemn nations that interfere
needlessly with the international affairs of others, as I should the
lady who pretended to dictate to her neighbour how she should have her
drawing-room swept, or her chimneys cleaned. I condemn governments
which threaten heedlessly, and then fail to strike in spite of
their threats; but I esteem governments which look carefully after
their honour and interests, and do interfere when it is necessary
or expedient to do so, in order either to defend that honour, or to
maintain those interests; governments cautious to speak, but bold in
acting up to their words.

It is with these views that I look upon the foreign policy of Mr.
Canning,--a policy for giving England a great and proud position,--for
giving to Englishmen a glorious and respected name; for safeguarding
our shores by the universal prestige of our bravery and our power;
for limiting the ambition of rival states, without needlessly
provoking their animosity; for showing a wish to conciliate wherever
moderation is displayed, and for displaying a resolution to resist
when conciliation is repulsed--as a great English policy, with which
the people of England will ever sympathize, and by which the permanent
interests of England will best be preserved.

There are men who are anxious for civil commotion, which they think
may be more easily brought about by concentrating the public mind
on domestic grievances; there are men who are indifferent to the
pride of country--who would as soon be Portuguese, Mexicans, or
Moldo-Wallachians, as Englishmen. There are men who, though fame and
consideration are the great objects of their countrymen, hold they
ought not to be objects for their country. These will repudiate my
opinion. But every Briton who is justly proud of his race, who will
inquire from a small and despised state the value of being a great and
renowned one, will, I believe, recognise the foreign policy I have
been describing to be the true policy for maintaining the dignity and
authority, without rashly risking the peaceful prosperity, of the
British empire.

In person Mr. Canning was favoured by nature, being of a good height,
of a strong frame, and of a regular and remarkably intelligent
countenance. The glance of his eye when excited, and the smile of his
lip when pleased, were often noted by his contemporaries.

    “And on that turtle I saw a rider,
    A goodly man, with an eye so merry,
    I knew ’twas our foreign secretary,
    Who there at his ease did sit and smile
    Like Waterton on his crocodile;
    Cracking such jokes, at every motion,
    As made the turtle squeak with glee,
    And own that they gave him a lively notion
    Of what his own forced-meat balls would be.”

              _A Dream of a Turtle._--T. MOORE.

Charming in manner, as I have said, constant in attachments, it was
observed of him at one period, that he was as dear to his friends as
odious to the public.[125]

Ever ready to praise his subordinates, and to consult the tastes of his
associates, he was honoured as a chief as much as he was relished as a
companion. His accomplishments were various, and of a kind which may
leave disputes open as to the degree of their excellence, but they were
all of that brilliant and genial description which was sure to attract
sympathy and procure reputation. How many must have chuckled over the
following light and lazy piece of satire:

    “I am like Archimedes for science and skill,
    I am like the young prince who went straight up the hill;
    And to interest the hearts of the fair be it said,
    I am like a young lady just bringing to bed.
    If you ask why the eleventh of June I remember
    So much better than April, or March, or December,
    ’Tis because on that day, as with pride I assure ye,
    My sainted progenitor took to his brewery.
    On that day in the month he began making beer;
    On that night he commenced his connubial career.
    On that day he died when he had finished his summing,
    And the angels all cried ‘here’s old Whitbread a coming.’
    So that day I still hail with a smile and a sigh,
    For his beer with an _e_ and his bier with an _i_;
    And that day every year, in the hottest of weather,
    The whole Whitbread family dine altogether.
    My Lords, while the beams of the hall shall support
    The roof which o’ershades this respectable court
    (Where Hastings was tried for oppressing the Hindoos),
    While the rays of the sun shall shine in these windows
    My name shall shine bright as my ancestor’s shines,
    Emblazoned on journals as his upon signs.”

How many must have felt their minds respond and their hearts bound at
the following argumentative and spirited declamation:

“When the elective franchise was conceded to the Catholics of Ireland,
that acknowledgment and anticipation, which I now call upon the House
formally to ratify and realize, was, in point of fact, irrevocably
pronounced. To give the latter the elective franchise was to admit him
to political power; for, to make him an elector and at the same time to
render him incapable of being elected, is to attract to our sides the
lowest orders of the community, at the same time that we repel from us
the highest orders of the gentry. This is not the surest or safest way
to bind Ireland to the rest of the Empire in ties of affection. And
what is there to prevent our union from being wrought more closely? Is
there any moral--is there any physical obstacle? _Opposuit natura?_
No such thing. _We have already bridged the channel!_ Ireland now
sits with us in the Representative Assembly of the Empire; and when
she was allowed to come there, why was she not also allowed to bring
with her some of her Catholic children? For many years, alas! we have
been erecting a mound, not to assist or improve the inclinations of
Providence, but to thwart them. We have raised it high above the
waters, and it has stood there frowning hostility and effecting a
separation. In the course of time, however, chance and design--the
necessities of man and the sure workings of nature--have conspired
to break down this mighty structure, till there remains of it only a
narrow isthmus standing

          ‘between two kindred seas,
    Which mounting view each other from afar,
    And long to meet.’

What, then, shall be our conduct? Shall we attempt to repair the
breaches, and fortify the ruins? A hopeless and ungracious undertaking!
or shall we leave them to moulder away by time and accident? a sure but
distant and thankless consummation! Or shall we not rather cut away at
once the isthmus that remains, allow free course to the current which
our artificial impediments have constructed, and float upon the mighty
waters the ark of our common constitution?”

And we are now to be told that this same man, so playful and jocose,
so ornamented and brilliant, was a close arguer, and indefatigable
in attendance at his office. But though always ready for business,
he would not scruple to introduce a piece of drollery into the most
serious affairs. For instance:

The embassy at the Hague is in earnest dispute with the King of
Holland; a despatch addressed to Sir Charles Bagot arrives--it is in
cypher. The most acute of the attachés set to work to discover the
meaning of this particular document; they produce a _rhyme_! they are
startled, thrown into confusion; set to work again, and produce another
rhyme. The important paper (and it was important) contains something
like the following doggrel:

    “Dear Bagot, in commerce the fault of the Dutch
    Is giving too little, and asking too much,
    So since on this policy Mynheer seems bent,
    We’ll clap on his vessels just 20 per cent.”

As a specimen of his more private and trivial pleasantries may be
mentioned his observation to, I believe, Lord Londonderry, who had been
telling a story of some Dutch picture he had seen, in which all the
animals of antediluvian times were issuing from Noah’s Ark, “and,” said
Lord Londonderry, “the elephant was last.” “That of course,” said Mr.
Canning; “he had been packing up his trunk.”

In his celebrated contest with Lord Lyndhurst (then Sir John Copley),
that noble lord having appeared in it with a speech borrowed for the
most part from a popular pamphlet, written by the late Bishop of Exeter
(then Doctor Philpotts), he was overthrown amidst shouts of laughter,
by the appropriate recollection of the old song:

    “‘Dear Tom, this brown jug that now foams with mild ale,
    Out of which I now drink to sweet Nan of the Yale,’
    Was once _Toby Philpot_.”

Again, who does not remember the celebrated sketch of Lord
Nugent[126]--who went out to join the Spanish patriots when their cause
was pretty well lost--a sketch which furnished Mr. Canning’s most
effective defence of the neutral policy he had adopted towards Spain,
during the French expedition.

“It was about the middle of last July that the heavy Falmouth
coach”--(here Mr. Canning was interrupted with loud and continued
laughter)--“that the heavy Falmouth coach was observed travelling
to its destination through the roads of Cornwall with more than its
wonted gravity (very loud laughter). The coach contained two inside
passengers--the one a fair lady of no inconsiderable dimensions, the
other a gentleman who was conveying the succour of his person to
the struggling patriots of Spain. I am further informed--and this
interesting fact, sir, can also be authenticated--that the heavy
Falmouth van (which honourable gentlemen, doubtless, are aware is
constructed for the conveyance of cumbrous articles) was laden, upon
the same memorable occasion, with a box of most portentous magnitude.
Now, sir, whether this box, like the flying chest of the conjuror,
possessed any supernatural properties of locomotion, is a point which
I confess I am quite unable to determine; but of this I am most
credibly informed--and I should hesitate long before I stated it to
the House, if the statement did not rest upon the most unquestionable
authority--that this extraordinary box contained a full uniform of a
Spanish general of cavalry, together with a helmet of the most curious
workmanship; a helmet, allow me to add, scarcely inferior in size to
the celebrated helmet in the castle of Otranto (loud laughter). Though
the idea of going to the relief of a fortress, blockaded by sea and
besieged by land, in a full suit of light horseman’s equipments was,
perhaps, not strongly consonant to modern military operations, yet when
the gentleman and his box made their appearance, the Cortes, no doubt,
were overwhelmed with joy, and rubbed their hands with delight at the
approach of the long-promised aid. How the noble lord was received, or
what effects he operated on the councils of the Cortes by his arrival,
I (Mr. Canning) do not know. Things were at that juncture moving
rapidly to their final issue; and how far the noble lord conduced to
the termination by throwing his weight into the sinking scale of the
Cortes, is too nice a question for me just now to settle.”[127]

Mr. Canning’s wit, it is true, was not unfrequently too long and too
laboured, and a happy combination of words would almost always seduce
him into an indiscretion. The alliteration of “revered and ruptured,”
as applied to the unfortunate Mr. Ogden, cost him more abuse, and
procured him for a time more unpopularity, than the worst of his acts
ever deserved. His description of the American navy (in 1812) as “half
a dozen fir-frigates, with bits of bunting flying at their heads,”
excited the American nation more than any actual grievance, and caused
in a great measure the bitterness of that contest in which we were so
insolent and so unsuccessful. His propensity to jokes made him also
many enemies in private life. The late Duke of Bedford told a friend of
mine that Mr. Canning, when staying with a party at Lord Carrington’s
(a few weeks after Lord C. had been made a peer by Mr. Pitt), wrote in
chalk, on the outside of the hall-door, the following lines:--

    “One Bobby Smith lives here,
    Billy Pitt made him a peer,
    And took the pen from behind his ear.”

This unnecessary impertinence, I have heard, Lord Carrington never

In the art of speaking, our orator’s progress, like that of Pulteney,
Fox, and all our great parliamentary debaters, with the exception of
the two Pitts, Bolingbroke, and Lord Derby, was slow and gradual;
and though I have heard Lord Lansdowne (once known as Henry Petty)
observe that he considered Canning in his best days even more effective
than Fox or Pitt, he had at an earlier period been often accused, by
no mean judges, now of being wordy and tedious, now of being rather
elegant than argumentative. To time, practice, a proud spirit, and
a continually developing understanding, he owed his triumph over
these defects. Then it was that his eloquence approached almost to
perfection, as we consider the audience, half lounging and sleepy, half
serious and awake, to which it was addressed. Quick, easy, and fluent,
frequently passionate and sarcastic, now brilliant and ornamented,
then again light and playful; or, if he wished it, clear, simple, and
incisive; no speaker ever combined a greater variety of qualities,
though many have been superior in each of the excellences which he
possessed. Remarkable as a general rule for the polish of his language
(we have proof, even to the last, of the pains he bestowed upon it),
those who knew him well assert that he would sometimes purposely frame
his sentences loosely and incorrectly, in order to avoid the appearance
of preparation. “Erat memoriæ nulla tamen meditationis suspicio.” His
action exhibiting when calm an union of grace and dignity, became,
as he warmed, unaffectedly fervent; and made natural by its vigour
and animation the florid language and figurative decorations in which
he rather too fondly indulged. His arguments were not placed in that
clear, logical form, which sometimes enchains, but more often wearies,
attention; neither did he use those solemn perorations by which it is
attempted to instil awe or terror into the mind. His was rather the
endeavour to charm the ear, to amuse the fancy, to excite the feelings,
to lead and fascinate the judgment; and in these different attributes
of his great art he succeeded in the highest degree, insomuch that
though he might be said to want depth and sublimity, the faculties he
possessed were elevated to such a pitch, that at times he appeared both
profound and sublime.

A great merit, which he finally possessed, was that of seizing and
speaking the general sense of the popular assembly he addressed. Sir
Robert Peel, his distinguished rival, told me one day, in speaking of
Mr. Canning as to this particular, that he would often before rising
in his place, make a sort of lounging tour of the House, listening to
the tone of the observations which the previous debates had excited, so
that at last, when he himself spoke, he seemed to a large part of his
audience to be merely giving a striking form to their own thoughts.

Neither were his despatches, though not so elaborately perfect as
those of his successor (Lord Dudley), inferior to his orations;
possessing precision, spirit, and dignity, they remain what they were
justly called by no incompetent authority, “models and masterpieces of
diplomatic composition.”[128]

There are critics who have said that there was something in his
character which tended to diminish our respect for his talents, though
it softened our censure for his defects. And it is true that the same
unstately love for wit--the same light facility for satire--the same
imprudent levity of conduct, that involuntarily lowered our estimate of
his graver abilities--involuntarily led us to excuse his graver errors.
We at one time blame the statesman for being too much the child--at
another we pardon the veteran politician in the same humour in which we
would forgive the spoiled and high-spirited schoolboy.

Mr. Canning, indeed, was always young. The head of the sixth form
at Eton--squibbing “the doctor,” as Mr. Addington was called;
fighting with Lord Castlereagh; cutting jokes on Lord Nugent; flatly
contradicting Lord Brougham; swaggering over the Holy Alliance; he was
in perpetual personal quarrels--one of the reasons which created for
him so much personal interest during the whole of his parliamentary
career. Yet out of those quarrels he nearly always came glorious and
victorious--defying his enemies, cheered by his friends--never sinking
into an ordinary man,--though not a perfect one.

No imaginative artist, fresh from studying his career, would sit down
to paint this minister with the broad and deep forehead--the stern
compressed lip--the deep, thoughtful, concentrated air of Napoleon
Bonaparte. As little would the idea of his eloquence or ambition
call to our recollection the swart and iron features--the bold and
haughty dignity of Strafford. We cannot fancy in his eye the volume
depth of Richelieu’s--the volcanic flash of Mirabeau’s--the offended
majesty of Chatham’s. Sketching him from our fancy, it would be as a
few still living remember him, with a visage rather marked by humour
and intelligence than by meditation or sternness; with something of
the petulant mingling in its expression with the proud; with much of
the playful overruling the profound. His nature, in short, exhibited
more of the genial fancy and the quick irritability of the poet who
captivates and inflames an audience, than of the inflexible will of the
dictator who puts his foot on a nation’s neck, or of the fiery passions
of the tribune who rouses a people against its oppressors.

Still, Mr. Canning, such as he was, will remain one of the most
brilliant and striking personages in our historical annals. As a
statesman, the latter passages of his life cannot be too deeply
studied; as an orator, his speeches will always be models of their
kind; and as a man, there was something so graceful, so fascinating,
so spirited in his bearing, that even when we condemn his faults,
we cannot avoid feeling affection for his memory, and a sympathetic
admiration for his genius.



    Family.--Birth.--Formation of character.--Education at Harrow
    and Oxford.--Entry into Parliament.--Line adopted there.--Style
    of speaking.--Becomes Secretary of Colonies.--Secretary for
    Ireland.--Language on the Catholic question.--Returned as
    member for the University of Oxford.--Resigned his post in


The family of the Peels belonged to the class of yeomanry, which in
England, from the earliest times, was well known and reputed, forming
a sort of intermediate link between the gentry and the commonalty, as
the gentry formed an intermediate link between the great barons and
the burghers or wealthy traders. The yeoman was proud of belonging to
the yeomanry, and if you traced back the descent of a yeoman’s family,
you found it frequently the issue of the younger branch of some noble
or gentle house. For some generations this family of Peel had at its
head men of industry and energy, who were respected by their own class,
and appeared to be gradually rising into another. The grandfather of
the great Sir Robert inherited a small estate of about one hundred
pounds a year, called Peel’s Fold, which is still in the family. He
received a fair education at a grammar-school, and married (1747) into
a gentleman’s family (Haworth, of Lower Darwen).

Beginning life as a farmer of his little property, he undertook, at
the time that the cotton manufacture began to develop itself in
Lancashire, the business of trader and printer.

The original practice had been to send up the fabricated article to
Paris, where it was printed and sent back into this country for sale.
Mr. Peel started a calico printing manufactory, first in Lancashire
and afterwards in Staffordshire, and his success was the result of the
conviction--that “a man could always succeed if he only put his will
into the endeavour,” a maxim which he often repeated in his later days,
when as a stately old gentleman he walked with a long gold-headed cane,
and wore the clothes fashionable for moderate people in the days of Dr.

The first Sir Robert Peel was a third son. Enterprising and ambitious,
he left his father’s establishment, and became a junior partner in
a manufactory carried on at Bury by a relation, Mr. Haworth, and
his future father-in-law, Mr. Yates. His industry, his genius, soon
gave him the lead in the management of this business, and made it
prosperous. By perseverance, talent, economy, and marrying a wealthy
heiress--Miss Yates, the daughter of his senior partner--he had amassed
a considerable fortune at the age of forty.

He then began to turn his mind to politics, published a pamphlet on
the National Debt, made the acquaintance of Mr. Pitt, and got returned
to Parliament (1790) for Tamworth, where he had acquired a landed
property, which the rest of his life was passed in increasing. He was
a Church and King politician in that excitable time, and his firm
contributed no less than ten thousand pounds in 1797 to the voluntary
subscriptions for the support of the war. So wealthy and loyal a
personage was readily created a baronet in 1800.

His celebrated son was born in 1788, two years before he himself
entered public life, and on this son he at once fixed his hopes of
giving an historical lustre to the name which he had already invested
with credit and respectability.


It was the age of great political passions, and of violent personal
political antipathies and partialities. The early elevation of Mr. Pitt
from the position of a briefless barrister to that of prime minister
had given a general idea to the fathers of young men of promise and
ability that their sons might become prime ministers too. The wealthy
and ambitious manufacturer soon determined, then, that his boy, who was
thought to give precocious proofs of talent, should become First Lord
of the Treasury. He did not merely bring him up to take a distinguished
part in politics, which might happen to be a high position in
opposition or office, he brought him up especially for a high official
position. It was to office, it was to power, that the boy who was to be
the politician was taught to aspire; and as the impressions we acquire
in early life settle so deeply and imperceptibly into our minds as to
become akin to instincts, so politics became instinctively connected
from childhood in the mind of the future statesman with office; and he
got into the habit of looking at all questions in the point of view in
which they are seen from an official position; a circumstance which it
is necessary to remember.

To say nothing of the anecdotes which are told in his family of the
early manifestations which Mr. Peel gave of more than ordinary ability,
he was not less distinguished at Harrow as a student for his classical
studies, than he was as a boy for the regularity of his conduct. I
remember that my tutor, Mark Drury, who, some years previous to my
becoming his pupil, had Peel in the same position, preserved many of
his exercises; and on one occasion brought some of them down from
a shelf, in order to show me with what terseness and clearness my
predecessor expressed himself, both in Latin and English.

Lord Byron says: “Peel, the orator and statesman that was, or is, or is
to be, was my form-fellow, and we were both at the top of our remove,
in public school phrase. We were on good terms, but his brother was my
intimate friend. There were always great hopes of Peel amongst us all,
masters and scholars, and he has not disappointed them. As a scholar,
he was greatly my superior; as a declaimer and actor, I was reckoned
at least his equal; as a schoolboy out of school, I was always in
scrapes--he never.” This character as a lad developed itself, without
altering in after life.

At the University of Oxford the young man was the simple growth of the
Harrow boy. He read hard, and took a double first-class, indicating the
highest university proficiency both in classics and mathematics. But it
is remarkable that he studiously avoided appearing the mere scholar: he
shot, he boated, he dressed carefully, and, without affecting the man
of fashion, wished evidently to be considered the man of the world.

As soon as he became of age, his father resolved to bring him into
Parliament, and did so, in 1809, by purchasing a seat for him at Cashel.


The great men of the Pittite day were passing away. The leading men at
the moment were Grey, Liverpool, Petty, Perceval, Tierney, Whitbread,
Romilly, Horner, Castlereagh, Canning: the genius of Sheridan had still
its momentary flashes; and Grattan, though rarely heard, at times
charmed and startled the House of Commons by his peculiar manner and
original eloquence.

Brougham, Palmerston, Robinson, were Peel’s contemporaries. The Duke
of Portland was prime minister; Perceval, the leader of the House of
Commons; Canning, minister of foreign affairs; and Lord Castlereagh,
secretary of war. But this ministry almost immediately disappeared: the
Duke of Portland resigning, Lord Castlereagh and Canning quarrelling,
and Mr. Perceval, as prime minister, having to meet Parliament in 1810
with the disastrous expedition of Walcheren on his shoulders. Young
Peel, not quite twenty-two, was chosen for seconding the address, and
did so in a manner that at once drew attention towards him. He was
then acting as private secretary to Lord Liverpool, who had become
minister of war and the colonies. The condition of the Government was
but rickety: Lord Carnarvon carried against it a motion for inquiry
into the conduct and policy of the expedition to the Scheldt; and,
subsequently, it could only obtain a vote of confidence by a majority
of twenty-three, which, in the days of close boroughs, was thought
equivalent to a defeat. Peel spoke in two or three debates, not ill,
but not marvellously well; there was, in fact, nothing remarkable in
his style; and its fluency and correctness were more calculated to
strike at first than on repetition. He never failed, however, being
always in some degree beyond mediocrity.

In the meantime his business qualities became more and more
appreciated; and it was not long before he was appointed to the
under-secretaryship of the colonies.

It was no doubt a great advantage to him that the government he had
joined wanted ability.

Mr. Perceval’s mediocrity, indeed, was repulsive to men of
comprehensive views; but, on the other hand, it was peculiarly
attractive to men of narrow-minded prejudices. The dominant prejudice
of this last class--always a considerable one--was at this time an
anti-Catholic one; some denouncing Romanists as the pupils of the
devil, others considering it sufficient to say they were the subjects
of the Pope. Mr. Peel joined this party, which had amongst it some
statesmen who, sharing neither the bigotry nor the folly of the
subalterns in their ranks, thought, nevertheless, that it would be
impossible to satisfy the Catholics in Ireland without dissatisfying
the Protestants in England, and were therefore against adding to the
strength of a body which they did not expect to content.


Mr. Perceval’s unexpected death was a great blow to the anti-Catholics,
and appeared likely to lead to the construction of a new and more
liberal Cabinet. The general feeling, indeed, was in favour of a
Cabinet in which the eminent men of all parties might be combined;
and a vote in favour of an address to the Regent, praying him to take
such measures as were most likely to lead to the formation of a strong
administration, passed the House of Commons.

But it may almost be said that eminent men are natural enemies, who can
rarely be united in the same Cabinet, and are pretty sure to destroy or
nullify each other when they are. The attempt at such an union was, at
all events, on this occasion a signal failure.

Thus, luckily for the early advancement of Mr. Peel, Lord Liverpool had
to construct a government as best he could out of his own adherents,
and the under-secretary of the colonies rose at once to the important
position of Secretary for Ireland, to which the Duke of Richmond, a man
more remarkable for his joviality than his ability, and a strenuous
anti-Catholic, was sent as Lord Lieutenant.


The Catholic question was to be considered an open one in the new
Cabinet, but the Irish Government, as I have shown, was altogether
anti-Catholic. This was in fact the strong bias of the administration,
and also of the Prince Regent, who, regardless of former promises and
pledges, had now become an avowed opponent of the Catholic claims.
These claims, moreover, were strongly opposed by the feelings, at that
time greatly excited, of the English clergy, and, speaking generally,
of the English people.

Under such circumstances, a Catholic policy was at the moment
impracticable; that is, it could not be carried out: for to carry out
a policy opposed by the sovereign, opposed by the premier (who had been
selected because his most able opponents could not form a Cabinet),
opposed by the English clergy, opposed by the general sentiment of the
English people, was impracticable, whatever might be said theoretically
in its favour.

Mr. Peel then, in taking up the anti-Catholic policy, took up the
practical one.

The Catholics themselves, indeed, destroyed for a while all hope in
their cause, for when the most considerable of their supporters, in
order to dissipate the alarm of their co-religionists, proposed certain
guarantees for maintaining the authority of the King and the State over
the Catholic priesthood, although the English Catholics and the highest
orders of Catholics in Ireland willingly agreed to these guarantees,
the more violent of the Irish Catholics, with Mr. O’Connell at their
head, joining the most violent anti-Catholics, vehemently opposed them.
Moderate people were, therefore, crushed by the extremes. Even Grattan
was for a moment put on one side.

This was unfortunate for Mr. Peel, who would willingly have been as
moderate as his situation would permit him, but could only at such
a crisis live with violent people, and thus obtained the nickname
of “Orange Peel,” so that after different altercations with Mr.
O’Connell--altercations which nearly ended in a duel--he found himself,
almost in his own despite, regarded by both Protestants and Catholics
as the great Protestant champion.

It was in this position that he made, in 1817 (on an unsuccessful
motion of Mr. Grattan’s), a very remarkable speech, the success of
which Sir James Mackintosh attributes to its delivery.

“Peel,” he says, “made a speech of little merit, but elegantly and
clearly expressed, and so well delivered as to be applauded to excess.
He now fills the important place of spokesman to the intolerant

The speech, however, had other merits than those Sir James
acknowledged, and I quote a passage which subsequently formed the
groundwork of all Mr. Peel’s anti-Catholic speeches.

“If you give them” (the Catholics) “that fair proportion of national
power to which their numbers, wealth, talents, and education will
entitle them, can you believe that they will or can remain contented
with the limits which you assign to them? Do you think that when they
constitute, as they must do, not this year or next, but in the natural,
and therefore certain order of things, by far the most powerful body
in Ireland--the body most controlling and directing the government
of it; do you think, I say, that they will view with satisfaction
the state of your church or their own? Do you think that if they are
constituted like other men, if they have organs, senses, affections,
passions, like ourselves; if they are, as no doubt they are, sincere
and zealous professors of that religious faith to which they belong; if
they believe your intrusive church to have usurped the temporalities
which it possesses; do you think that they will not aspire to the
re-establishment of their own church in all its ancient splendour? Is
it not natural that they should? If I argue from my own feelings, if I
place myself in their situation, I answer that it is. May I not then,
without throwing any calumnious imputations upon any Roman Catholics,
without proclaiming (and grossly should I injure them if I did) such
men as Lord Fingal or Lord Gormanston to be disaffected and disloyal,
may I not, arguing from the motives by which men are actuated, from
the feeling which nature inspires, may I not question the policy
of admitting those who must have views hostile to the religious
establishments of the State to the capacity of legislating for the
interests of those establishments, and the power of directing the
Government, of which those establishments form so essential a part?”


Have we not seen that every word I have been quoting is practically
true? Are we not beginning to acknowledge the difficulty of maintaining
a Protestant Church establishment in Ireland in the face of a large
majority of Irish Catholic representatives? Are we not beginning to
question the possibility of upholding an exclusive church belonging to
a minority, without a government in which that minority dominates? Do
we not now acknowledge the glaring sophistry of those who contended
that the Catholics having once obtained their civil equality would
submit with gratitude to religious inferiority? Mr. Peel saw and stated
the case pretty clearly as it stood; the whole condition of Ireland,
as between Catholic and Protestant, was involved in the question
of Catholic emancipation, and as the avowed champion of Protestant
ascendancy, he said, “do not resign your outworks as long as you can
maintain them, if you have any serious design to keep your citadel.”
But the very nature of his argument showed in the clearest manner
that we were ruling against the wishes and interests of the large
majority of the Irish people; that we were endeavouring to maintain an
artificial state of things in Ireland which was not the natural growth
of Irish society;--a state of things only to be maintained by force,
and which, the day that we were unable or unwilling to use that force,
tumbled naturally to pieces. It is well to bear this in mind.

The anti-Catholic party, however, accepted Mr. Peel’s argument;
they did not pretend to say that they governed by justice; and they
applauded their orator for showing that, whenever there was an attempt
to govern justly, as between man and man, and not unjustly, as between
Protestant and Catholic, their cause would be lost.

His reward was the one he most valued. Mr. Abbott, then Speaker,
represented the University of Oxford. Mr. Abbott was made a peer, and
Mr. Peel, through the interest of Lord Eldon and of the party that Sir
James Mackintosh calls the intolerant one, was elected in his place, in
spite of the well-known and favourite ambition of Mr. Canning.

With this result of his Irish administration Mr. Peel was satisfied.
All the duties attached to his place he had regularly and punctually
fulfilled. His life had been steady and decorous in a country where
steadiness and decorum were peculiarly meritorious because they
were not especially demanded. In all matters where administrative
talents were requisite he had displayed them: the police, still
called “Peelers,” were his invention. He protected all plans for
education, except those which, by removing religious inequalities and
animosities, and infusing peace into a discordant society, would have
furnished the best; and with a reputation increasing yearly in weight
and consideration, resigned his post, and escaped from a scene, the
irrational and outrageous contentions of which were out of harmony with
his character.


    Currency.--Views thereupon.--Chairman in 1859 of Finance
    Committee.--Conduct as to the Queen’s trial.--Becomes Home
    Secretary.--Improvement of police, criminal law, prisons,
    &c.--Defends Lord Eldon, but guards himself against being
    thought to share his political tendencies, and declares himself
    in favour in Ireland of a general system of education for all
    religions, and denounces any attempt to mix up conversion with
    it.--Begins to doubt about the possibility of resisting the
    Catholic claims.--The Duke of York dies, and Lord Liverpool
    soon after follows.--Question of Premiership between the Duke
    of Wellington and Mr. Canning.--Peel sides with the Duke of


The great practical question at issue, on Mr. Peel’s return from
Ireland, was the currency.

The Bank, in 1797, declared, with the consent of the Government, that
its notes would not be converted, on presentation, into gold.

At the time this was, perhaps, a necessary measure. It enabled the
Bank to make large advances to the State, which it could not have
made otherwise, and without which the Government would have found it
difficult to maintain the struggle of life and death it was engaged
in. We did, in fact, in our foreign war, what the United States lately
did in their domestic war; but the commercial consequences of such a
measure were inevitable.

If the Bank gave a note convertible into gold on presentation it
gave gold: if it gave paper, which simply specified the obligation
to pay gold for it some day or other, the value of the note depended
on the credit attached to the promise. The promise to do a thing is
never entirely equivalent to doing it; consequently, it was utterly
impossible that a bank-note, not immediately convertible into gold,
could have precisely the same value as gold. Gold, therefore, would
have a value of its own, and a bank-note a value of its own. Moreover,
as the value of the bank-note depended on the faith placed in it, if it
had been merely required for home trade, the decrease in value would
have been small; because the English people had confidence in the
Bank of England and in the Government which sustained it; but in all
foreign transactions the case was different. If an English merchant
had to purchase goods on the Continent and he sent out bank-notes, the
merchant at St. Petersburg would have less confidence in the English
bank-note than the Manchester merchant, and he would therefore say,
“No, pay me in gold; or if you want to pay me in bank-notes, I will
only take them at the value I place on them.” In proportion, therefore,
to the extent of purchases abroad was the natural abasement of paper
money at home, and the increase in the value of gold as compared
with paper. Besides, paper money, resting on credit, partook of the
nature of the public funds, depending also on credit. As the one
fell naturally, in a long and critical war, so the other fell from
the same cause, though not in the same degree; all our dealings were
thus carried on in a money which had one real value and one nominal
one; and the real value depending, in a great measure, on matters
beyond our control. Efforts on the part of our legislature to sustain
it were useless. We forbade persons giving more for a guinea than
twenty-one shillings in paper money, and we forbade persons exchanging
a twenty-shilling bank-note for less than twenty shillings. We tried,
in short, to prevent gold and silver getting the same price in England
that they could get out of it.

The inevitable consequence was, that the precious metals, in spite of
stupid prohibitions against their exportation, went to those countries
in which it could obtain its real value. In this manner there was,
first, the transmission of coin for the maintenance of our armies;
secondly, its exportation for the purposes of our commerce; and,
lastly, its escape from the laws which deteriorated its value, all
operating to drain England of its gold and silver; and in proportion
as they became scarcer, their comparative value with paper increased,
insomuch that fifteen shillings in coin became at last equivalent to
twenty shillings in paper bank-notes.

Much was said as to the over-issue of bank-notes. It may always be
taken for granted that where there is an inconvertible paper, there is
an over-issue of bank-notes; because the over facility of having or
making money will naturally tend to the over-advance of it. But we must
remember, that a currency must be in proportion to the transactions
which require it; that our trade increased almost, if not quite, in
proportion to the increased issue from the Bank; that the absence of
coin necessitated a large employ of paper, and that there did not
appear to be that multitude of bubble schemes which are the usual
concomitants of a superabundant circulation. There were, in fact, quite
sufficient reasons, without attributing indiscretion to the Bank, to
account for the difference between its paper and the coin it was said
to represent; nor is there any possibility of keeping paper money on
an equality with metallic money, except by making the one immediately
exchangeable for the other.

The inequality, then, between paper money and metallic money could only
be remedied by re-establishing that immediate exchange. But this was
not an easy matter.


For many years in England every transaction had been carried on in
paper. Individuals had borrowed money in it, and had received this
money in bank-notes. If they were called upon to repay it in gold, they
paid twenty-five per cent. beyond the capital they had received. On the
other hand, if individuals had purchased annuities, the seller, whether
the Government or an individual, had to pay them twenty-five per cent.
more than they had purchased.

The resumption of cash payments, therefore, could not take place
without great individual hardship and great public loss. There can be
no doubt, also, that paper money afforded great facilities for trade;
and that the sudden withdrawal of these facilities might be felt
throughout every class of the population.

Thus, although Mr. Horner brought the subject before the House of
Commons with great ability in 1811, it was not till 1819, when the war
had ceased, and the public mind in general had been gradually prepared
for terminating a situation which could not be indefinitely prolonged,
that the ministers intimated their intention to deal with it by the
appointment of a select committee, of which Mr. Peel was named the

Up to this period, it is to be observed, the resumption of cash
payments could not have been carried; and up to this period Mr. Peel
and his father, who both voted against Mr. Horner, had opposed the
resumption. But the question was probably now ripe, so to speak,
for being dealt with. It was a matter, therefore, of practical
consideration, and Mr. Peel reconsidered it; and on the 20th of May it
was curious to see the venerable Sir Robert representing the ideas of
his time, and coming forward with a petition in favour of paper money;
and his son, the offspring of another epoch, rising, after the father
had sat down, to propose a measure by which paper money (I speak of
paper money not immediately convertible into gold) was to be abolished;
and avowing, as he said, “without shame and remorse,” a thorough change
of opinion.

His proposals compelled the Government to repay the sums which it owed
to the Bank, and compelled the Bank to resume cash payments at a date
which the Bank anticipated by resuming them in 1821.

Of the necessity of these measures there can be no doubt; at the same
time they were calculated, as I have said, to produce momentary
discontent and distress, and already much discontent and distress

There was, indeed, a dark period in our history to which I have already
alluded in these biographical sketches, but Peel (luckily for him)
was out of office during the greater portion of that gloomy time, and
never made himself prominent in it except once, when called upon as a
neighbour to defend the character of the magistrates on that day still
memorable, in spite of all excuses and palliations, as the day of the
“Manchester massacre.” He undertook and performed his very delicate
task on this occasion with tact and discretion. No one, indeed,
ever spoke in a less unpopular manner on an unpopular subject. Far
superior to Mr. Canning, in this respect, from that calm, steady, and
considerate tone which never gives offence, and which, laying aside the
orator, marks the statesman, he neither attempted to excite anger, nor
ridicule, nor admiration; but left his audience under the impression
that he had been performing a painful duty, in the fulfilment of which
he neither expected nor sought a personal triumph.


From the proceedings against the Queen, which shortly followed (the
old King dying in 1820), he kept as much as possible aloof. On
one occasion, it is true, he defended the legal course which the
Ministry had adopted for settling the question of the Queen’s guilt
or innocence; but he blamed the exclusion of her Majesty’s name from
the litany; the refusal of a ship of war to bring her to England, and
of a royal residence on British soil; in short, he separated himself
distinctly from any scheme of persecution, manifesting that he would
not sacrifice justice to Royal favour.

The Government at this time was so weak, having suffered, even previous
to the Queen’s unfortunate business, which had not strengthened
it, several defeats, that Lord Liverpool saw the necessity of a
reinforcement, and, faithful to the system of a double-mouthed Cabinet,
took in Mr. Wynn (the representative of the Grenvilles), to speak in
favour of the Catholics, and Mr. Peel (as successor to Lord Sidmouth,
who gave up the Home Office, but remained in the ministry), to speak
against them.

The change, nevertheless, considerably affected the administration,
both as to its spirit and its capacity. The Grenvillites were liberal,
intelligent men generally, as well as with respect to the Catholics,
and Peel was generally liberal, though hostile to the claims of the
Catholic body.

Lord Sidmouth, at the Home Office, had moreover been a barrier against
all improvement. His career, one much superior to his merits, had been
owing to his having all George III.’s prejudices without George III.’s
acuteness. He was, therefore, George III.’s ideal of a minister, and
on this account had been stuck into every ministry, during George
III.’s lifetime, as a kind of “_King’s send_,” representing the Royal
mind. Uniting with Lord Eldon against every popular concession, and
supporting in a dry, disagreeable manner every unpopular measure, he
was as much hated as a man can be who is despised. Peel, at all events,
wished to gain the public esteem. His abilities were unquestioned.
He was much looked up to by his own party, much respected by the
opposing one; and, as it was known that Mr. Canning had at this time
engaged himself to accept the Governor-Generalship of India, every one
deemed that, if the Tories should remain in power, Peel would be Lord
Liverpool’s inevitable successor.

The moderate and elevated tone of his language, his indefatigable
attention to business, a certain singleness and individuality which
belonged to him, foreshadowed the premiership. Even the fact that his
father had, undisguisedly, intended him for this position, though the
idea was quizzed at Peel’s entry into public life, tended eventually
to predispose persons to accept it; for people become accustomed to
a notion that has been put boldly and steadily before them, and it is
rare that a man of energy and ability does not eventually obtain a
distinction for which it is known, during a certain number of years,
that he is an aspirant.

But one of those accidents which often cross the ordinary course of
human life--the sudden death of Lord Castlereagh and the appointment
of Mr. Canning as his successor--retained the Home Secretary in a
second-rate position, over which the great and marvellous success of
the new foreign secretary threw a certain comparative obscurity. He
was obliged, therefore, to be satisfied with continuing to pursue a
subordinate, but useful career, which might place him eventually in
men’s minds, side by side with his more brilliant competitor.


The subject to which he now particularly devoted himself was the most
useful that he could have chosen. We had at the time he entered office
a police that was notoriously inefficient; prisons, which by their
discipline and condition were calculated rather to increase crime than
to act as a corrective to it; and laws which rendered society more
criminal than the criminals it punished. One can scarcely, in fact,
believe that such men as Lord Eldon and Lord Ellenborough did not think
it safe to abolish the punishment of death in the case of privately
stealing six shillings in a shop; and it is with a shudder that one
reads of fourteen persons being hanged in London in one week in 1820,
and of thirty-three executions in the year 1822.

No one reflected whether the punishment was proportionate to the
offence; no one considered that the alleged criminal himself was a
member of the community, and had as much right to be justly dealt with
and protected against wrong as the community itself. Satisfied with
the last resort of hanging, the State neglected to take suitable
precautions against the committal of those acts which led to hanging;
nor did it seem a matter of moment to make places of confinement places
of reformation, as well as places of atonement. To Bentham, Romilly,
Mackintosh, Basil Montagu, and others, we owe that improvement in
the public mind which led finally to an improvement in our laws. Mr.
Peel had marked and felt this gradual change of opinion; and almost
immediately after he became invested with the functions of the Home
Department, he promised to give his most earnest attention to the state
of the police, the prisons, and the penal laws; a promise that, in the
four or five succeeding years, he honourably fulfilled; thus giving
to philanthropic ideas that practical sanction with men of the world,
which theories acquire by being taken up by men in power.

It is true that the country was, as I have observed, becoming desirous
for the changes that Mr. Peel introduced, and that he never advocated
them until, owing to the efforts of others, they had won their way
with the good and the thoughtful; but it is likewise true that, so
soon as they became practically possible, he took them up with zeal,
and carried them against a considerable and, as it was then deemed,
respectable opposition, which held fœtid dungeons, decrepid watchmen,
and a well-fed gallows to be essential appendages to the British

During this time also he supported, though not conspicuously, the
liberal foreign policy of Mr. Canning, and the liberal commercial
policy of Mr. Huskisson. He kept, nevertheless, at the head of his own
section in the Ministry, as well by his consistent opposition to the
Catholic claims as by his defence of Lord Eldon, whose slowness in
the administration of justice and obstinate adherence to antiquated
doctrines were frequently the subject of attack. This remarkable man,
one of the many emanations of the Johnsonian mind which contrived
to make the most narrow-minded prejudices palatable to the most
comprehensive intellect, exercised great influence over the King, over
the older peers and members of the House of Commons, and over that
large mass of uncertains that rallies round a man who entertains no
scruples and doubts. Mr. Peel took care, however, not to pass for a
mere follower of Lord Eldon, nor a mere bigot of the ultra-Protestant
party. In defending and lauding the great judge and lawyer, he said
expressly: “The House will remember I have nothing to do on this
occasion with the political character of the Lord Chancellor:” and
again, in discussing the question of proselytism and education, he
not only ridiculed the idea that some extravagant people entertained
of making Catholic Ireland Protestant, but stated in so many words,
“that he was for educating Catholics and Protestants together under one
common system, from which proselytism should be honestly and studiously
excluded.” His conduct on this occasion merited particular attention.
The great difficulty which he foresaw in passing Catholic emancipation
was the hostile feeling between Catholics and Protestants. If that
feeling was removed, and a common education secured--the best mode of
modifying or removing it--the practical and political objections to
Catholic emancipation ceased.


The fact is that even as early as 1821, when he answered a speech from
Mr. Plunkett, which he once told me was the finest he ever heard, Mr.
Peel felt that the ground on which he had hitherto stood was shifting
from under him; that just as it had been impracticable to carry what
was called “Catholic emancipation” when he entered public life, so it
was becoming more and more impracticable to resist its being carried as
time advanced.

Such an impression naturally became stronger and stronger as he saw
distinguished converts, from Mr. Wellesley Pole, in 1812, down to
Mr. Brownlow, in 1825, going over to his opponents, whereas not a
single convert was made to the views he advocated. He might still
think that the hope of those who imagined that the Irish Catholics,
once admitted to Parliament, would rest satisfied with that triumph,
was chimerical: he might still think that the Irish Catholics would,
as a matter of course, insist upon equality in all respects with the
Protestants: he might still foresee that this equality, the Catholics
being the majority, would lead to superiority over the Protestants: he
might still believe that the Protestants, accustomed to domination,
and supported by property and rank, would not submit tranquilly to
numbers: he might contemplate the impossibility of maintaining a
Protestant Church establishment, absorbing all the revenue accorded
to religious purposes, with a Catholic representation which would
feel galled and humiliated by such a preference; and he might also
recognise the probability that the English Protestant clergy would take
part with the Irish Protestant clergy, and denounce as an atrocious
robbery what might be demanded as a simple act of justice: and yet,
retaining all his former convictions against the measure he was called
upon to agree to, he might feel that prolonged opposition would only
serve to protract a useless struggle, and be more likely to increase
the evils he foresaw than to prevent them. Such a consideration could
not but deeply affect his mind, and breathe over his conduct an air of
hesitation and doubt.

It is not surprising, therefore, that any one who reviews his
conduct attentively during the five or six years that preceded Lord
Liverpool’s retirement should find evident traces of this state of
thought. On one occasion he says: “No result of this debate can
give me unqualified satisfaction.” On another: “If I were perfectly
satisfied that concession would lead to perfect peace and harmony, if
I thought it would put an end to animosities, the existence of which
all must lament, I would not oppose the measure on a _mere theory_
of the constitution.” Just previous to the Duke of York’s celebrated
declaration that, “whatever might be his situation in life, so help him
God he should oppose the grant of political power to Roman Catholics,”
Peel says, on the third reading of the Catholic Relief Bill, which
had been carried in the House of Commons by a majority of twenty-one,
that he should record, perhaps for the last time, his vote against the
concessions that it granted.

This phrase, “_for the last time_,” much commented on at the time,
might have alluded to the possibility of the measure then under
discussion being carried; and it was generally believed that Mr. Peel
meditated at this time quitting office, and even Parliament, in order
not to prevent Lord Liverpool from dealing with a matter on which his
own opinions differed from those to which he thought it likely that the
Government would have to listen.

When, however, after the death of the Duke of York, and the illness
of Lord Liverpool, the question was whether he should desert or hold
fast to a cause which had lost its most powerful supporters; whether he
should abandon those with whom he had hitherto acted at the moment when
victory seemed almost certain to crown their opponents, or still range
himself under their banner, there was hardly a choice for an honourable
man, and he spoke as follows:

“The influence of some great names has been recently lost to the cause
which I support, but I have never adopted my opinions either from
deference to high station, or that which might more fairly be expected
to impress me--high ability. Keen as the feelings of regret must be
with which the loss of those associates in feeling is recollected, it
is still a matter of consolation to me that I have now the opportunity
of showing my attachment to those tenets which I formerly espoused, and
of showing that if my opinions are unpopular I stand by them still,
when the influence and authority which might have given them currency
is gone, and when I believe it is impossible that in the mind of any
human being I can be suspected of pursuing my principles with any view
to favour or personal aggrandizement.”


This speech had a double bearing. It said, as clearly as possible, that
the Catholic disabilities could not be maintained; but that the speaker
could not separate himself from those with whom he had hitherto acted
in opposing their removal.

The struggle was, in fact, then commencing between the Duke of
Wellington, backed by Lord Eldon on the one side, and Mr. Canning,
backed by the opponents of Lord Eldon on the other. The ground taken
for this struggle was the Catholic question; but I doubt whether it
could have been avoided if there had not been a Catholic question.

Mr. Canning had, especially of late, adopted a tone and manner of
superiority which Mr. Peel and Lord Eldon chafed at, and which the Duke
of Wellington could no longer brook. The constant interposition of Lord
Liverpool, who, by flattering alternately the great warrior and the
great orator, prevented an outbreak from either, had kept up apparent
harmony. But Lord Liverpool withdrawn, it was felt, both by the Duke of
Wellington and Mr. Canning, that the one or the other must be master.
As to Mr. Peel, he naturally saw that under Mr. Canning, both being in
the House of Commons, he would be comparatively insignificant, whereas,
as first lieutenant of the Duke of Wellington, the duke being in the
House of Lords, he was a person of considerable importance.

The determination of the Duke of Wellington not to serve under Mr.
Canning, and of Mr. Canning not to serve under the Duke of Wellington,
left no alternative but to act with one or the other.

Mr. Peel has been attacked for siding with the Duke of Wellington. But
was it to be expected that he should leave that section of the Ministry
where he was a chief to join another where he would be a subordinate?
What part could he play amidst Mr. Canning and his friends, joined by
a certain portion of the Whigs with whom he was a perfect stranger?
and for what public object was he called upon to make this private

The settlement of the great question which agitated the Empire? No;
that was to be left in its actual state. The point at issue was not
whether an united Cabinet should be formed to settle the Catholic
question; but whether a mixed Cabinet should be formed, with the Duke
of Wellington or Mr. Canning at its head, leaving the Catholic question
unsettled. Let us suppose that some progress towards the settlement of
this question would have been made by the choice of Mr. Canning--which
is doubtful--this was a progress that would rather have kept up
agitation and not have stilled it.

There is, indeed, an immense difference between concurring with the
people with whom you have previously been acting in order to terminate
an affair, and an alliance which does not terminate the affair, with
persons whom you have previously been opposing. It would, I think, have
been easier for Mr. Peel to join Mr. Canning in an attempt to form a
Cabinet which should bring forward a Catholic Relief Bill, than to join
him in forming a cabinet on the same principles as those on which the
Duke of Wellington would have formed one.

I know that I do not give to these transactions the precise colour
given to them by Mr. Peel himself, and that he says, in a letter of the
19th April to Lord Eldon, that if he had thought as Mr. Canning did
on the Catholic question, or if Mr. Canning had thought as he did, he
would have served under Mr. Canning; but this is creating an imaginary
case in order to put a particular interpretation on a real one.

I believe, notwithstanding the pains taken to make a personal question
appear a public one, that the dispute as to the premiership was in
reality a personal one; but at the same time based on motives which if
personal were not dishonourable. At all events, Mr. Canning deemed Mr.
Peel’s conduct under all circumstances so natural that he was neither
surprised nor offended by it. Their partisans, as it always in such
cases happens, were bitter; and Mr. Peel has been much blamed for the
violence of his brother-in-law, Mr. Dawson. Every one, however, knows
the proverb, “Save me from my friends, and I will save myself from my
enemies!” and I have little doubt that so profound an axiom originated
in the wisdom of an experienced statesman. But Mr. Pitt had not been
able to temper Mr. Canning’s criticisms against Mr. Addington, and Mr.
Peel would have found it a still harder task to moderate the anger of
his _protégés_ against Mr. Canning.

It is useless dwelling longer on this epoch. Mr. Canning came
into power at the head of a Government composed of heterogeneous
materials, and closed his brilliant life without any solid advantages
having attended his momentary triumph. The attempt to continue his
administration without him was like that which had previously been made
to continue Mr. Fox’s ministry after the death of that great statesman.
In both cases the Government was the man.


    Fall of the Goderich ministry.--Formation of the Cabinet
    under the Duke of Wellington.--Policy of that Cabinet.--Its
    junction with Mr. Canning’s friends.--The secession of
    these, and the defeat of Mr. Fitzgerald in the Clare
    election.--Majority in the House of Commons in favour of
    Catholic claims.--The Language of the House of Lords.--The
    conviction now brought about in the mind of Mr. Peel, that
    there was less danger in settling the Catholic claims than in
    leaving them unsettled.--The effect produced by this conviction
    on the administration.--The propositions brought forward in
    consequence in Parliament.--Carrying of these propositions
    through the two Houses.--Sir Robert Peel’s conduct and
    sentiments throughout the discussion of the measure he had


Lord Goderich soon perished as premier because, though a clever and
accomplished man in a secondary place, he had not the indescribable
something which fits a man for a superior one: that which Mr. Peel
might fairly have anticipated, even had Mr. Canning lived, took place.
The section of the Tory party to which he belonged was recalled to
office. It is evident from the private correspondence which has since
been published that two plans were then discussed. One of these was
to form an administration excluding Lord Eldon, and excluding any
but those who had declared against Mr. Canning; the other was for an
administration which, excluding Lord Eldon, should comprise as many
of Mr. Canning’s partisans as would accept office. It is, moreover,
clear that Mr. Peel not only concurred in, but recommended the latter
course, notwithstanding the connection which had hitherto existed
between him and the Chancellor, a man whom it would be difficult to
comprehend if one did not remember that he was born under the sceptre
of Johnson, whose genius generated a class of men with minds like his
own, exhibiting the compatibility of the strongest prejudices with
an excellent understanding. Such a man is not to be spoken of with
contempt. He represented with force the epoch to which he belonged, but
that epoch was worn out. Loyalty to the House of Hanover and fidelity
to the Protestant Constitution had ceased to be the war cries of the
day; and even that spirit of firmness, energy, and consistency, which
characterised a large part of George III.’s reign, were beginning to be
replaced by a tone partly of indifference, partly of moderation, partly
of liberality, that to Lord Eldon was treachery and weakness. He was,
therefore, left out of the new Cabinet.

On the other hand, Mr. Lamb, Mr. Huskisson, Lord Dudley, Palmerston,
the Grants, were sought as associates. “What,” says Mr. Peel, “must
have been the fate of a Government composed of Goulburn, Sir J.
Beckett, Wetherall, and myself?… We could not have stood creditably a
fortnight.” Again: “I care not for the dissatisfaction of ultra-Tories.”

The Duke of Wellington, in recounting his interview with the King,
when the offer to form an administration was made to him, said: “The
Catholic question was not to be a Cabinet question; there was to be a
Protestant Lord Lieutenant, a Protestant[129] Lord Chancellor, and a
Protestant Chancellor in Ireland.” The Irish Government, however, with
Lord Anglesea as Lord Lieutenant, and Mr. Stanley as Secretary, was
neither in spirit nor in letter according to this programme; and the
change was attributable to Mr. Peel.

This was one of his most prosperous moments. His career had gone
on up to this time, gradually collecting round it those materials
out of which the character of a leading statesman is formed. There
was a quiet, firm regularity in the course he had followed that had
not won for him the cheers that wait on brilliant success, but had
secured for him a constant murmur of continued approbation. He had
never disappointed; whatever had been expected from him he had always
done. His devotion to public affairs was unremitting and unaffected;
they furnished not only his sole employment, but constituted his
sole amusement; his execution of the law, where he had to see to its
administration, was thoroughly upright and impartial. The changes which
had taken place in his opinions were towards a more liberal and, as it
was then beginning to be thought, a more practical policy in commerce,
a sounder system of banking, a milder code of penal legislation.

These changes had taken place in such a manner that they seemed
natural, and the result of a mind that did not submit itself to any
bias but that of reason. He had no longer to contend against his
brilliant and lamented rival; he was no longer burthened by a patron
who had been useful but had become inconvenient and out of date. He was
universally looked upon as a man of liberal tendencies, one subject
alone excepted. On that subject he shewed obstinacy or firmness, but
not bigotry. Would he now deal with it? Could he? Was it possible, with
the King and the Duke of Wellington against the Catholics, to satisfy
their hopes? Or was it possible, with a House of Commons almost equally
divided, to adopt such measures as would crush their expectations?


There are situations which impose a policy on ministers who wish to
remain ministers--this was one. It was now necessary to “mark time,”
if I may use a military figure of speech, making as little dust as
possible. Mr. Peel tried to do so; dropping the Act against the
Catholic Association, which had been found wholly inefficient, and
endeavouring not to provoke agitation, though he could not quiet it.

In the meantime, the tendency of opinion against religious
disqualifications manifested itself on a motion of Lord John Russell,
introduced in a speech of remarkable power and ability, for removing
the Test and Corporation Acts. Mr. Peel had stated with emphasis,
during the administration of Mr. Canning, that he would always oppose
the repeal of these Acts, and he now did oppose it; but evidently with
the feeling that his opposition, which was weak, would be ineffectual.
A majority, indeed, of forty-four in the House of Commons declared
against him; and the Government then took up the measure and carried
it through both Houses. Mr. Peel, in his memoirs, gives as his reason
for this course, that if he had gone out of office he would have caused
great embarrassment in the conduct of affairs in general, and not
altered the disposition of Parliament as to the particular question
at issue; and that if he remained in office he was obliged to place
himself in conformity with the feeling of the House of Commons. Almost
immediately afterwards, that House pledged itself, by a majority of
six, to take the state of Ireland into consideration; and, though this
majority was overruled by an adverse one in the House of Lords, the
language of the Duke of Wellington and of Lord Lyndhurst, who both
admitted that things could not remain as they were, left little doubt
that a decided system of repression or concession was about to be
attempted, and that the latter system was the more likely one.


Two events had occurred between the vote in the House of Commons in
favour of the resolution respecting the Catholics, and the vote in
the House of Lords against it, which events had, no doubt, exercised
great influence on the debate in the latter assembly. First, Mr.
Canning’s friends had somewhat abruptly quitted the Government under
the following circumstances:

East Retford had been disfranchised for corrupt practices. The question
was, what should be done with the two seats for that borough? All the
other members of the Government voted for leaving the seats to the
district in which East Retford was situated.

Mr. Huskisson alone gave his vote for transferring the right of
election to Birmingham; and on the very night of this vote (May 20th,
1828) tendered his resignation, which the Duke of Wellington accepted.
When the other members of the Canning party heard of Mr. Huskisson’s
hasty resignation, provoked, as he said, by the cross looks of some of
his colleagues on the Treasury Bench, they remonstrated with him on
his conduct, which rendered theirs very difficult, since they had not
voted as he had done. Mr. Huskisson tried to explain and retract his
resignation. But the Premier had a particular dislike to Mr. Huskisson,
who had shown too much desire for office, and gave himself too many
airs after getting it. He would not accept Mr. Huskisson’s excuses or
explanations; and his manner was thought altogether so unfriendly and
overbearing that Mr. Lamb, Mr. Charles Grant, Lord Palmerston, and Lord
Dudley quitted the Government with Mr. Huskisson. The second event to
which I have alluded was the consequence of the first.


The secession of the Canningites had rendered it necessary to fill
their places. Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald was selected to fill the place at
the Board of Trade vacated by Mr. Grant. This rendered necessary a new
election for Clare.

No axiom can be more true than that if you do not mean to have a door
forced open you should not allow the wedge to be inserted. It is
difficult to understand how George III. could permit the measure in
1798 which made Catholics electors, whilst he resolved never to grant
Catholics the right to be elected. At first the Catholic voters merely
chose Protestants, who promised to extend Catholic privileges when they
could do this without great injury to their own interests.

Mr. O’Connell determined on straining the power of Catholic votes
to the utmost. He first tried it in 1826, in Waterford, by combining
an opposition against the Protestant family of the Beresfords, who
had hitherto, from their large possessions, been all-powerful in
the county. But property availed nothing. The word was given, and
almost every tenant voted against his landlord. The Beresfords were
ignominiously defeated. The next trial was a more audacious one.

There was nothing in law to prevent a Catholic from being elected to
serve in Parliament; it was only on taking his seat in Parliament that
he was stopped by the parliamentary oath. Of all Protestants in Ireland
none were more popular, or had been more consistently favourable to
the Catholic cause, than Mr. Fitzgerald. His name, his fortune, his
principles, gave him every claim on an Irish Catholic constituency that
a Protestant could have. He felt himself so sure of being confirmed in
the seat he occupied that he prepared to meet his constituents without
the slightest fear of opposition.

But it was determined that a Catholic should be his opponent; and, in
order to prevent all doubt or hesitation amongst his followers, the
great agitator took the field himself. He was successful; and after Mr.
Fitzgerald’s defeat it was to be expected that a similar defeat awaited
sooner or later every other Protestant. This was a serious state of

The Government was much weakened by the loss of the able men who had
left it, and at the same time the dangers that menaced it were greater
than they had ever been before.

Lord Anglesea, who was then, as I have stated, the Irish Viceroy, a
gallant soldier, and a man whose judgment was good, though his language
was indiscreet, declared loudly that there was no way of dealing with
the Catholic organization but by satisfying the Catholics.

The considerations which these various circumstances inspired decided
the mind, which as I have shown had been long wavering, of Mr. Peel;
and avowing it was no longer possible to resist the Catholic claims, he
thus speaks of his conduct at this juncture:

“In the interval between the discussion (he speaks of the interval
between the discussion in the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament) I
had personal communication with the Duke of Wellington; I expressed
great reluctance to withdraw from him such aid as I could lend him
in the carrying on of the Government, particularly after the recent
schism; but I reminded him that the reasons which had induced me to
contemplate retirement from office in 1825, were still more powerful
in 1828, from the lapse of time, from the increasing difficulties in
administering the government in Ireland, and from the more prominent
situation which I held in the House of Commons.

“I told him that, being in a minority in the House of Commons on the
question that of all others most deeply affected the condition and
prospects of Ireland, I could not, with any satisfaction to my own
feelings or advantage to the public interests, perform the double
functions of leading the House of Commons and presiding over the Home
Department; that at an early period, therefore, my retirement must
take place. I expressed at the same time an earnest hope that in the
approaching discussion in the Lords, the Duke of Wellington might deem
it consistent with his sense of duty to take a course in debate which
should not preclude him, who was less deeply committed on the question
than myself, from taking the whole state of Ireland into consideration
during the recess, with the view of adjusting the Catholic question.”

After the prorogation of Parliament, the course to be adopted was
maturely considered.

Sir Robert Peel’s opinion was already made up. He argued thus:

“The time for half measures and mixed cabinets is gone by. We must
yield or resist. Can we resist? Is it practicable? I don’t mean so as
to keep things for a short time as they are. Can we resist effectually
by at once putting down the disturbers of the public peace, who connect
themselves with the Catholic cause? Can we get a ministry divided on
the Catholic question to put down efficiently an agitation in favour of
that question?

“If we go to a Parliament in which there is a majority in favour of the
Catholic claims, and ask for its support for the purpose of coercion,
will it not say it is cheaper to conciliate than coerce?

“It is of no use to consider what it would be best to do if it were
possible. Coercion is impossible.

“Well, then, we must concede what we can no longer refuse.”

His letters to the Duke of Wellington, given in his memoirs, speak
clearly in this sense:

“I have uniformly opposed what is called Catholic Emancipation, and
have rested my opinion on broad and uncompromising grounds. I wish
I could say that my views were materially changed, and that I now
believed that full concessions could be made either exempt from the
dangers I have apprehended from them, or productive of the full
advantages which their advocates anticipate from the grant of them.

“But whatever may be my opinion upon these points, I cannot deny
that the state of Ireland, under existing circumstances, is most
unsatisfactory; that it becomes necessary to make your choice between
different kinds and different degrees of evil--to compare the actual
danger resulting from the union and organization of the Roman Catholic
body, and the incessant agitation in Ireland, with prospective and
apprehended dangers to the constitution or religion of the country; and
maturely to consider whether it may not be better to encounter every
eventual risk of concession than to submit to the certain continuance,
or rather, perhaps, the certain aggravation of existing evils.”[130]

“I have proved to you, I hope, that no false delicacy, no fear of the
imputation of inconsistency, will prevent me from taking that part
which present dangers and a new position of affairs may require. I am
ready at any sacrifice to maintain the opinion which I now deliberately
give, that there is upon the whole less of evil in making a decided
effort to settle the Catholic question, than in leaving it as it has
been left--an open question.

“Whenever it is once determined that an attempt should be made by the
Government to settle the Catholic question, there can be, I think,
but one opinion--the settlement should, if possible, be a complete

The Duke of Wellington and Lord Lyndhurst, without difficulty, adopted
these views. The rest of the Cabinet accepted them.

Sir Robert, however, whilst expressing himself thus clearly as to the
necessity of dealing without delay with the Catholic question, and
offering, in the most unequivocal way, his personal support to the
Government in doing so, desired to retire from the Administration, and
it was at first settled he should do so, but finally, at the Duke of
Wellington’s particular and earnest solicitation, he remained.

The King’s speech at the opening of Parliament spoke of the necessity
of putting down the Catholic Association, and of reviewing the laws
which imposed disabilities on his Majesty’s Roman Catholic subjects.
The authority of the Government was to be vindicated, the constitution
was to be amended. Mr. Peel did not say he had altered his opinions:
he did not deny the possibility of future dangers from the changes
which the Government meant to propose; but he added that those distant
dangers had become in his opinion less pressing and less in themselves
than the dangers which, under present circumstances, would result from
leaving matters as they were.

He takes as his defence upon the charge of inconsistency “the right,
the duty, of a public man to act according to circumstances;” this
defence is the simple, and almost the only one he uses throughout the
various discussions now commencing. To Mr. Bankes, on one occasion, he
replies pertinently by an extract from a former speech made by that
gentleman himself:

“Mr. Bankes hoped it would never be a point of honour with any
Government to persevere in measures after they were convinced of their
impropriety. Political expediency was not at all times the same. What
at one time might be considered consistent with sound policy, might at
another be completely impolitic. Thus it was with respect to the Roman

On another occasion he quotes that beautiful passage from Cicero, which
was the Roman orator’s vindication of his own conduct:

“Hæc didici, hæc vidi, hæc scripta legi, hæc sapientissimis et
clarissimis viris, et in hâc republicâ et in aliis civitatibus,
monumenta nobis, literæ prodiderunt, non semper easdem sententias ab
iisdem, sed, quascumque reipublicæ status, inclinatio temporum, ratio
concordiæ postularent, esse defendendas.”--_Orat. pro Cn. Plaucio_,

It had been arranged that a bill for suppressing the Catholic
Association should be passed, before the bill for removing Catholic
disabilities should be brought forward.

On the 5th of March, the Catholic Association Bill passed the
House of Lords, and on the same day the Catholic Disabilities Bill
was introduced into the House of Commons--admitting Catholics to
Parliament, and to the highest military and civil offices, save those
connected with church patronage and with the administration of the
Ecclesiastical law, on taking an oath described in the Act; and Mr.
Peel, in opening the debate, repeats with earnestness and solemnity his
previous declaration:

“On my honour and conscience, I believe that the time is come when
less danger is to be apprehended to the general interests of the
Empire, and to the spiritual and temporal welfare of the Protestant
establishment in attempts to adjust the Catholic question than in
allowing it to remain in its present state. I have already stated that
such was my deliberate opinion; such the conclusion to which I felt
myself forced to come by the irresistible force of circumstances;
and I will adhere to it: ay, and I will act on it, unchanged by the
scurrility of abuse, by the expr