« PreviousContinue »
through Switzerland without seeing him. But when I had recovered a little from the embarrassment of admiration, a very decided sentiment of fear, succeeded to it Bonaparte then possessed no power. He was believed, indeed, to be exposed to some danger from the dark suspicions of the Directory: thus, the fear which he inspired was caused solely by the the singular effect which his person produced upou almost all those who approached him. I had seen men highly worthy of respect; I had seen also ferocious men: there was nothing in the impression which bona. parte produced uponme, that could remind me of either the one or the other. I quickly perceived in my different interviews with him during his stay at Paris,that his character could be defined by no terms in ordinary use: he was neither good, nor violent, nor gentle, nor cruel, after the fashion of any individuals known to us. Such a being liaving no fellow, could neither feel nor excite sympathy: he was either more, or he was less than a man. His air, his mind, his language, are impressed with a foreign character, which was, in truth, an advantage for him in subjugating the French.
*Far from regaining my confidence by seeing Bonaparte, I was intimidated more and more.
I had a confused sensation that no emotion of the heart could operate upon him. He regards a human creature as a fact, or as a thing, and not as a fellow. He does not hate any more than he loves: there exists but himself for himself; all other beings are ciphers. The force of his will consists (dans l'imperturb able calcul de son égrisme) in the undisturbed calculation of his selfishness; he is a skilful player at chess, whose opponent is the human race, which he proposes to himself to huff and take. His success has resulted as much from the qualities in which he is deficient, as from the talents he possesses : neither pily, nor farcur, hor religion, nor attachment to any general idea, can divert him from his straight-forward course. His interest is to himn what duty is to the virtuous : if the end were good, his perseverance would be admirable. Whenever I heard him speak, I was struck with his superiority: it was a kind of superiority, however, in nothing similar to that of well informed men, cultivated by study or society, such as are to be met with in England and France; but bis conversation indicated the same tact of circumstances, which the hunter has of game. Sometimes he related the incidents of his political or military life, in an interesting nianner; and where the subject allowed of sportiveness, he displayed a degree of Italian imagination. However, nothing could dispel the unconquerable aversion which I felt for what I perceived in him. I felt in his soul a sword, cold and cutting, which froze in wounding. I felt in his wit a profound irony, from which nothing great or good, not even his own glory could escape; for he contemned the people whose suffrages he sought, and no spark of enthusiasm mingled itself with his desire to astonish mankind. Whenever he perceived that he was the object of observation, Bonaparte had the art of dismissing all expressions from his eyes, as if ihey were become marble: his face was then motionless, except a vague smile, which he assumed to perplex those who attempted to observe the exterior indications of his thoughts.
' Then pale and thin, his figure was rather agreeable: he has since become corpulent, which does not at all suit him; truly one would fain believe, ihat a man who has afflicted others so much, is himself tormented by his own passions. His manner in society is constrained without timidity; there is something disdainful in his reserve, and vulgar in his familiarity: the air of disdain suits him best, and he has assumed it with ut scruple.
• By a natural vocation to the princely function, he was accustomed, even at this time, to address insignificant questions to all who were introduced to him, “ Are you married,” said he to one ; " how many children have you ;" “ when did you arrive;" “ when do you leave Paris?" and other interrogations of this kind, which presume the superiority of him who uses them, over him who allows bimself to be thus questioned. Already he amused himself with practising the art of embai rassing others, by saying disagreeable things; an art which he has since reduced to system, as he has all other methods of subjugating men by degrading them.
'I saw him one day affront a lady celebrated for her beauty, her wit, and hor decided opinions ; he placed himself directly before her, as stiffly as a German General, and said, “ Madame, I do not like to see women meddie with politics.” “You are in the right, General," she replied, " but in a country where it is the custom to cut off their heads, it is natural that they should wish to know why." Bonaparte then made no reply; he is a man who is subdued by spirited resistance: those who have borne his despotism, have, therefore, only themselves to blaine.
• Bonaparte has been supposed to possess the most extensive information on all subjects, because he has had recourse in this, as in other things, to his talent at empiricism. But as he has read very liule in his life, be knows scarcely more than what he has picked up in conversation. It may happen that he will say something very precise relative to the details of a subject, or even some maiter of recondite learning, if he has learned it from somebody the day before: but the next moment one discovers that he is ignorant of things which all persons of education have known from their childhood. Without doubt, he must possess considerable talent of a certain kind, and much dexterity so far to disguise his ignorance. It is, however, only persons enlightened by genuine and continued study, who can have any just ideas on the subject of government. Bonaparte has succeeded in his application of the old doctrine of perfidy, merely because he has covered it with the illusions of military triumph. But for this fatal association, there would not have been two opinions relative to such a man.'
The affectation of immorality and the ostentation of hypocrisy, may be named as leading features of the school which has sprung up from the French Revolution. Bonaparte, the master and the pattern of that school, has not bad discretion enough to deny himself the gratification of being admired for the completeness and cleverness of bis insincerity: a little more reserve in this respect, would greatly have augmented bis power over the Vol. XI. N.S.
imaginations of mankind. Among the reasons for the unqualified contempt which she expresses for the system of Bonaparte, Mad. de Staël brings forward many instances of his shameless avowals of fraud : we need not quote them; they have been already sufficiently known, and too much admired in England.
Political hypocrisy is, indeed, no new thing in the world; and instances might easily be cited, of men distinguished even by elevation of mind, and governed, as to the main direction of their conduct, by the genuine impulses of passion, who have habitually practised the art of duping mankiod, because they considered it as a necessary means to their ambition. But to covet adıniration for the adroitness of its hypocrisy, is precisely the symptom of a mind vulgar in all its sentiments, and great only in cleverness.
It is this gratuitous exposure of the tricks of a pedlar-fraud, vaunting every evening all the penny-getting turns of the day, that bas the most prominently distinguished Bonaparte and his comrades from the usual style of ambitious men. This is characteristically the vice of an upstart, and it is perhaps, most of all, the vice that has rendered a beggar-born tyranny so much more degrading and injurious in its influence on society, than the old fashioned, noble-blooded tyrannies have ever been. Besides, he who cheats, first, for the sake of his solid profit, and then for the sake of the excellent jest, and to display bis facility in that line, will cheat more extensively and more wantonly, than one who would still pass, if he could, for an honest man; and he will, moreover, train up a school of imitators, by bis seductive example.
Bonaparte commenced bis career with a credible bombast of fine sentiments, which served him in the acquisition of power : when he perceived that he had palpable force enough at his command to dispense, in some measure, with the support of opinion, he hastened to expose, for admiration, the springs and the strings of his legerdemain. This exhibition of fraud has been more mischievous than the fraud itself. The French people have sustained more injury in their inorality, and in the tone of public sentiment, by their admiration of the swindler, than even real detriment by liis success. Let it be said, (which, however, it is not altogether just to say,) that the conquerors of Bonaparte have given reason to suspect in themselves, a like immoral contempt for the rights and happiness of inen. Were it true, that insincerity and personal ambition have been proved beyond the hope of apology, still, some terms have been kept with honest reputation : the welfare of men has been ostensibly respected; at least, it has not been attempted to win a foul admiration by the shameless boast of immorality. Integrity of intention in public men is not the concern of the people; they
may be injured by the maneuvres of court chicane; but so long as that chicane is silent and decent, the people are only injured; they are not insulted, or degraded.
When a great public wrong is accompanied with that kind of apologizing sopbistry which, however insufficient and insincere it may be, still does homage to the great cementing principles of society, the sufferers have but the solid calculable wrong to sustain, while a wholesome odium, derived indirectly from their own pleas, rests upon the perpetrators and the apologists of the deed. In labouring to excuse the injustice, upon the ground of right and morality, the oppressor leaves with the oppressed a tacit protest against his own invasions; and deposites in the soil he has violated, a seed of redress, which shall surely spring up in time to come.
But when the profligacy of the authors of evil is so gross and so finished, that they would grudge to forego the admiration of their dexterous falseness, as much as to lose the spoil it has won, they do a double mischief; they pervert the minds of men while they afflict their persons, and go near to perpetuate both kinds of injury, in destroying the moral grounds upon which rest all the hopes of men in society.
An obvious distinction, then, (and it is a most important one,) which, it seems, has characterized the opposing parties in the recent European contest, is this, that the one bas studiously maintained a profession of regard to the great principles of right, while the other has systematically scoffed at its own official protestations and manifesto-pretensions to justice and honour. Some consequences of the subversion of the revolutionary system in Europe, may seem unpromising, and even retrogressive : obsolete absurdities are reviving; ghostly power is decking its vestments, and furbishing its dungeons, and the structures of the dark ages are propping their reverend decay with new butments. All this, however, we think it might be shewn, is, in the present state of the world, less injurious in itself, and certainly far less forinidable, than the continued existence and prosperity of the recently vanquished system; and for this obvious reason, among others, that, even supposing the two systems to be alike intrinsically bad, the characteristic feature of the one is feebleness, that of the other, vigour: the one is crumbling daily by its own rottenness, the other had all the force and promise of youth.
In the latter portion of her work, Mad. de Staël is occupied chiefly with exposing the fatal prejudices and refuting the common-place reasonings of the ultra-royalists. She acknowledges, indeed, what it is but justice to acknowledge, -the good intentions and liberal principles of Louis XVIII., but she finds almost every thing to blame in the measures pursued by his advisers during the first year of the restoration.
' It was essential, as well to the interests of the King, as to those of the nation, that there should be a constitutional engagement between the one and the other, which should tranquillize the public mind, give stability to the throne, and present the French people to the eyes of Europe, not as rebels soliciting pardon, but as citizens who would connect themselves with their sovereign by the tie of reciprocal duties. Louis XVIII. returned without having acknowledged the necessity of such an engagement: being however, personally, a man of a very en. lightened mind-a man whose ideas have stretched beyond the circle of a court-his declaration of 2d of May, dated from Saint-Ouen, supplied, in some measure, the place of a formal engagement: he granted that which it was wished he should accept : but this declaration, superior to the constitutional charter with respect to the interests of liberty, was so well conceived, that it satisfied instantly the public sentiment. There was then room to hope for the happy union of legitimacy in the sovereign, and legality in the institutions. The same King might be a Charles II. by
a his hereditary rights, and a William III. by his enlightened intentions. Two dangers menaced the annihilation of all these hopes: the one, if the constitutional system should not be followed by the administration with vigour and sincerity; the other arose from the determination of the Congress of Vienna to place Bonaparte in the island of Elba, in the presence of the French army. It was a sword suspended over the throne of the Bourbons.'
The restored government, yielding to the influence of a spirit of courtier-like infatuation, which shewed itself to be incapable of being instructed by history, or of being amended by personal experience, would inevitably have wrought its own subversion; and a self-wrought destruction would probably have been irretrievable.
• A succession of resolutions re-established every thing as it stood heretofore. The charter was encompassed with supplements, in such a way as to render it, in time, altogether unlike what it should be as a whole; so that it must fall of itself, stified by ordinances and etiquettes. .... The ministers spoke of the charter in public with the greatest respect, especially when they proposed measures which destroyed it piecemeal; but in private they laughed at the name of this charter, as Though the rights of a nation were an excellent jest. What imbecile frivolity! and that too on the borders of an abyss! Is it possible then, that there is something in the habits of a court which perpetuates the levity of youth even to the verge of life? The graces of manner, it is true, may result from ibis spirit; but they are dearly purchased in the important periods of history.'
Many of Mad. de Staël's animadversions have become obsolete, or at least less generally interesting by subsequent events. Our readers, we suppose, will wish to know in what lighit she viewed the late religious disturbances in the south of France. We quote at length her remarks on this subject, without comment, only premising, that, though herself professedly a Protestant, her modes of thinking, her tastes, her babits and