Chateaubriand's memoirs, XVI, 7

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XVI, 6 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XVI, 8


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XVI- Chapter 7
Their various roles



Summarising these facts now, this is what they prove to me: Bonaparte wanted the Duc d’Enghien dead; no one had made that death a condition for his accession to the throne. Such a supposed condition is one of those political subtleties that pretend to find occult causes for everything. – However, it is probable that certain compromised individuals did not view without pleasure the idea of the First Consul being at odds with the Bourbons forever. The trial at Vincennes was an affair that owed itself to Bonaparte’s violent temperament, a fit of cold anger fed by his minister’s reports.

Monsieur de Caulaincourt is not guilty of having executed the order of arrest.

Murat only had to reproach himself for transmitting general orders and not having had the strength to avoid doing so.

The Duc de Rovigo is found to have been charged with the execution; he probably had secret orders: General Hulin insinuates as much. Who would have dared take it upon himself to carry out a sentence of death on the Duc d’Enghien, if he had not been acting on Imperial orders?

As for Monsieur de Talleyrand, priest and gentleman, he inspired and prepared the ground for the murder by insistently prodding Bonaparte: he feared the return of the Legitimacy. It would be possible, by collating what Napoleon said at St Helena and the letters which the Bishop of Autun wrote, to prove that the latter played a vital role in the death of the Duc d’Enghien. It is in vain to object that the worldliness, character and education of the minister would distance him from violence, that corruption, to him, would have been a waste of energy; the fact would nevertheless remain that he persuaded the Consul to order the fatal arrest. That arrest of the Duc d’Enghien on the 15th of March, was not unknown to Monsieur Talleyrand; he was in daily communication with Bonaparte and conferred with him; during the interval which elapsed between the arrest and the execution, did Monsieur de Talleyrand, himself, the ministerial instigator, repent, did he say a single word to the First Consul in favour of the unfortunate Prince? It is natural to believe that he applauded the execution of the sentence.

The military commission tried the Duc d’Enghien, but with sadness and repented of it.

Such was, judging conscientiously, impartially, and strictly, the true part each played. My fate has been too closely tied to that catastrophe for me not to have tried to cast light among shadows and expose the details. If Bonaparte had not killed the Duc d’Enghien, if he had grown closer and closer to him (and his liking for him took him in that direction), what would the result have been for me? My literary career was over; entering fully into a political career, where I have proved what I might have done by my involvement with the War in Spain, I would have become rich and powerful. France might have gained from my reconciliation with the Emperor; I myself would have been lost. Perhaps I might have succeeded in maintaining some idea of liberty and moderation in the great man’s mind; but my life, ranking among those one calls fortunate, would have been deprived of what has given it character and honour: poverty, conflict, and independence.