Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXII, 12

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XXII, 11 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXII, 13


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXII, chapter12
The proclamation of General the Prince Schwarzenberg – Alexander’s speech – The capitulation of Paris



Meanwhile, on the arrival of the Allies, Comte Alexander de Laborde and Monsieur Tourton, senior officers of the National Guard, had been sent to General the Prince Schwarzenberg, who had been one of Napoleon’s generals during the Russian Campaign. The General’s proclamation was issued in Paris on the evening of the 30th of March. It read: ‘For twenty years Europe has been drenched in blood and tears; attempts to put an end to these ills have proven vain, since there exists, in the very nature of the Government which oppresses you, an insurmountable obstacle to peace. Parisians, you know the state of your country: the preservation and tranquillity of your city will be subject to careful attention on the part of the Allies. It is with these sentiments that Europe, in arms beneath your walls, addresses you.’

What a magnificent acknowledgement of France’s greatness: Europe, in arms beneath your walls, addresses you!

We, who had respected nothing, were granted respect by those whose cities we had ravaged, and who, in turn, had become stronger. We seemed to them a sacred nation; our land appeared to them like the fields of Elis which, by decree of the gods, no army could tread. Nevertheless, if Paris had thought it necessary to resist, within twenty four hours the result might quite easily have been different; but no one, except soldiers intoxicated by war and honour, desired Bonaparte any longer, and, in fear of his remaining in power, they rushed to open the gates.

Paris capitulated on the 31st of March 1814: the military surrender was signed, in the names of Marshals Mortier and Marmont, by Colonels Denis and Fabvier; the civil surrender took place in the name of the mayors of Paris. The municipal and departmental council were deputed to visit the Russian headquarters in order to settle the various articles: my companion in exile, Christian de Lamoignon, was one of the representatives. Alexander told them:

‘Your Emperor, who was my ally, recently entered the heart of my State and brought to it evils whose traces will be long lasting; the rights of defence led me here. I am far from wishing to cause France the ills which I have experienced. I am just, and I know it is not the fault of the French. The French are my friends, and I will prove it to them by rendering good for evil. Napoleon alone is my enemy. I promise my personal protection to the city of Paris; I will protect your National Guard which is composed of the elite of your citizens. It is for you to assure your future happiness; you must adopt a Government which will bring you and Europe peace. It is for you to voice your wishes: you will find me ready always to support your efforts.’

Words which were swiftly realised: the joy of victory overrode every other interest, as far as the Allies were concerned. What must Alexander’s feelings have been, as he gazed at the domed buildings of that city which the stranger only ever enters in order to admire, to enjoy the wonders of civilisation and intellect; of that inviolable city, defended by its great men for twelve centuries; of that glorious capital which seemed protected now from Louis XIV’s shadow, and Bonaparte’s return!