Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXIII, 11

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XXIII, 10 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXIII, 12

Mémoires d'Outre-tombe

Book XXIII, chapter 11
EVENTS IN VIENNA – Negotiations by Monsieur de Saint-Léon, Fouché’s envoy – A proposal regarding Monsieur the Duc d’Orléans – Monsieur de Talleyrand – Alexander’s discontent with Louis XVIII – Various claims – La Besnardières’ report – An unexpected proposal to the Congress from Alexander: Lord Clancarthy causes it to fail – Monsieur de Talleyrand returns: his dispatch to Louis XVIII – The Declaration of Alliance, in truncated form in the official Frankfurt newspaper – Monsieur de Talleyrand wishes the King to return to France via the south-east provinces – Various visits to Vienna by the Prince of Benevento – he writes to me at Ghent: his letter

At the same time that Fouché was sending Monsieur Gaillard to Ghent to negotiate with Louis XVI’s brother, his agents in Basle were talking to those of Prince Metternich regarding Napoleon II, and Monsieur de Saint-Léon, dispatched by that same Fouché, was arriving in Vienna to discuss the possible coronation of Monsieur the Duke d’Orléans. The friends of the Duke of Otranto could no more count on him than his enemies: on the return of the Legitimate Princes, he kept his old colleague Monsieur Thibaudeau on his list of exiles, while for his part Monsieur de Talleyrand erased from the list or added to the catalogue such and such a proscribed individual, according to whim. Had not the Faubourg Saint-Germain reason to believe in Monsieur Fouché?

Monsieur de Saint-Léon carried three notes to Vienna, one of which was addressed to Monsieur de Talleyrand: the Duke of Otranto proposed to the ambassador of Louis XVIII that he should promote, if he could see the way, the son of Philippe Egalité for the throne. What probity in negotiation! How happy one was to deal with such honest men! Yet we have admired them, poured incense over them, blessed their Seal; we have paid court to them; we have called them Milord! That explains the present age. In addition, Monsieur de Montrond arrived, following Monsieur de Saint-Léon.

Monsieur the Duke of Orléans was not conspiring in fact, only by consent; he left intrigue to those of revolutionary affinities: what a lovely society! In the depths of the woods, the plenipotentiary of the King of France leant an ear to Fouché’s overtures.

Regarding Monsieur de Talleyrand’s ‘arrest’ at the Barrière d’Enfer, I have mentioned the objective that Monsieur de Talleyrand had possessed, till then, regarding the ‘Regency’ of Marie-Louise: he was forced to deviate from it, in the event, by the presence of the Bourbons; but he was always ill at ease; it seemed to him that, under the heirs of Saint Louis, a married bishop was never sure of his place. Thus the idea of substituting the cadet branch for the elder branch amused him, and more so because he had previously had relations with the Palais-Royal.

Taking part, without however revealing his hand completely, he hazarded a few words to Alexander regarding Fouché’s project. The Tsar had lost interest in Louis XVIII: the latter had offended him in Paris by affecting a superiority of race; he had also offended him by rejecting the idea of the Duc de Berry marrying one of the Emperor’s sisters; the Princess was refused for three reasons: she was a schismatic; she was not of an ancient enough line; she was from a family with a history of madness: reasons which were inadequate, were expedients, and which when they became known triply offended Alexander. As a final matter for complaint against the old sovereign of exile, the Tsar objected to the proposed alliance between England, France and Austria. Moreover, it seemed that the succession was an open question; the whole world claimed its inheritance from Louis XIV’s sons: Benjamin Constant, in the name of Madame Murat, pleaded the rights Napoleon’s sister believed she had to the Kingdom of Naples; Bernadotte cast a distant gaze on Versailles, apparently because the King of Sweden came from Pau.

La Besnardière, Head of Section in the Foreign Office, called on Monsieur de Caulaincourt; he had with him a bound report, On the Grievances and Contradictions in France, aimed at the Legitimacy. The attack having been launched, Monsieur de Talleyrand found the means to communicate the report to Alexander; annoyed and volatile, the autocrat was struck by La Besnardière’s pamphlet. Suddenly, in full Congress, and to everyone’s astonishment, the Tsar asked if there were not matter for consideration in an examination of the extent to which Monsieur the Duke of Orléans might suit France and Europe in the role of king. It was perhaps one of the most amazing actions of those extraordinary times, and perhaps the more extraordinary in that the matter had been spoken of so little. (A pamphlet which appeared, entitled: Lettres de l’étranger, which seems to have been written by an able and well-versed diplomat, lays out the nature of that strange Russian attempt at negotiation in Vienna. Note: Paris, 1840) Lord Clancarty ensured the Russian proposal was turned down: his Lordship declared that they did not have the authority to handle such a serious issue: ‘For my part,’ he said, giving a personal opinion ‘I think that setting Monsieur le Duc d’Orléans on the throne of France would be to replace a military usurpation by a domestic usurpation, more dangerous to monarchy that all other usurpations.’ The members of the Congress went off to dine and marked the page of their protocols at which they had stopped with the sceptre of Saint Louis, as if with a straw.

Given the obstacle the Tsar had encountered, Monsieur de Talleyrand did an about face: reckoning on word of the attempted coup getting out, he sent an account to Louis XVIII (in a dispatch I have seen bearing the number 25 or 27) of that odd session of Congress (It is claimed that in 1830, Monsieur de Talleyrand removed his correspondence with Louis XVIII from the Crown’s private archives, just as he had removed everything he had written concerning the death of the Duc d’Enghien and the business with Spain from Bonaparte’s archives. Note: Paris, 1840): he thought himself obliged to inform His Majesty of so outrageous a step, since that news, he said, would not be long in reaching the ears of the King: singularly naïve on the part of Monsieur le Prince de Talleyrand.

There had been question of a declaration of the Alliance aimed at informing the world that they had no ill-will against Napoleon; and that they had no intention of imposing an obligatory form of government on France, nor a sovereign who was not of her choice. This latter section of the declaration was suppressed, but was nevertheless announced in the official Frankfurt newspaper. England, in its negotiations with the foreign ministries, used this language liberally, merely as a precaution against a parliamentary tribune.

It is obvious that at the second Restoration the Allies cared as little about re-establishing the Legitimacy, as they did at the first: events alone achieved it. What did it matter to those short-sighted sovereigns if the mother of European monarchies had her throat cut? Would that stop them holding dinners, or deploying their Guards? Today monarchy is seated so firmly, the globe in one hand, the sword in the other!

Monsieur de Talleyrand, whose interests, then, lay in Vienna, feared that the English, whose opinion of him was no longer so favourable, might engage their military force before all the armies were in position, and that the Court of St James might thus acquire the dominant position: that is why he wished to persuade the King to return via the south-eastern provinces, so that he would find himself under the protection of the troops of the Austrian Empire and Government. The Duke of Wellington was thus given specific orders not to commence hostilities; thus it was Napoleon who decided upon the battle of Waterloo: nothing can arrest such a destiny.

These historical facts, of the most intriguing nature, have generally been ignored; just as, again, a confused opinion has been gained of the Treaty of Vienna, relative to France: it has been taken as being the iniquitous creation of a group of victorious sovereigns bent on our ruin; unfortunately, if it was harsh, it’s content was aggravated by the hand of a Frenchman: when Monsieur de Talleyrand was not conspiring, he was meddling.

Prussia wanted Saxony, which sooner or later would become its prey; France should have favoured that desire, since with Saxony obtaining compensation in the form of the Rhine Circles, we retained Landau and our enclaves; Coblentz and other fortresses passed to a friendly little State which, situated between us and Prussia, prevented any point of contact; and the keys of France would not be handed to Frederick’s shade. For the three millions it would cost Saxony, Monsieur de Talleyrand opposed the schemes of the Berlin Government; but in order to obtain Alexander’s agreement to the existence of the former Saxony, our ambassador was obliged to sacrifice Poland to the Tsar, even though the other Powers would have wished for a Poland that restricted Muscovite movement in the north in some way. The Bourbons of Naples bought the city back for money, as did the sovereign of Dresden. Monsieur de Talleyrand claimed he had the right to a grant in return for his duchy of Benevento: he sold his livery on quitting his master. Where France lost so much, could not Monsieur de Talleyrand have lost a little also? Benevento, moreover, did not belong to the Grand Chamberlain: by virtue of the re-establishment of former treaties, that principality was part of the Papal States.

Such were the diplomatic transactions taking place in Vienna, while we were at Ghent. I received, in the latter residence, this letter from Monsieur de Talleyrand:

‘Vienna, the 4th of May.
I have learnt with great pleasure, Monsieur, that you are at Ghent, since circumstances demand that the King be surrounded by strong and independent men.
You will surely have thought how useful it would be to refute by strongly argued publications all the new doctrines that they wish to propagate in the official pieces appearing in France.
It would have been useful if something appeared whose object was to establish that the declaration of the 31st of March, signed in Paris by the Allies, that the deposition, the abdication, the treaty of the 11th April which was its consequence, were in effect preliminary, indispensable and absolute conditions for the treaty of 30th of May; that is to say that without those previous conditions the treaty could not have been signed. That said, whoever violates the aforesaid conditions, or seconds their violation, destroys the peace the treaty establishes. It is he and his accomplices therefore who declare war on Europe.
For foreign as for home consumption, a discussion conducted in this light would be beneficial; it is only necessary for it to be well done, so do undertake it.
Accept, Monsieur, the homage of my sincere attachment and my highest consideration.

I hope to have the honour of seeing you in a month’s time.’

Our Minister in Vienna was faithful in his hatred of the great phantom that had escaped the shadows; he dreaded his wings being clipped. This letter shows moreover all Monsieur de Talleyrand was capable of doing, when he wrote in his own right: he had the goodness to show me the motif, relying on me to elaborate upon it. Was stopping Napoleon a matter of diplomatic phrases about the deposition, the abdication, the treaties of the 11th of April and the 30th of May? I was very grateful for my instructions by virtue of my certification as a strong man, but I did not follow them: an ambassador in petto, I did not at that time involve myself with foreign affairs; I was only concerned with my Ministry of the Interior for the interim.

But what was happening in Paris?