Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXIII, 13

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XXIII, 12 << Chateaubriand's memoirs >> XXIII, 14


Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXIII, chapter 13
THE HUNDRED DAYS IN PARIS, CONTINUED – Bonaparte’s anxiety and bitterness



These sudden changes, this confusion of all things, announced the death throes of despotism: tyranny retained the instinct for evil but no longer possessed the power. However, the Emperor was not to receive his mortal blow from within, since the power which fought him was as exhausted as himself; the Titan, of Revolution, whom Napoleon had once toppled, had not recovered his natural force; now the two giants dealt each other useless blows; it was no more than the struggle of two shades.

For Bonaparte these general frustrations were added to the domestic tribulations and anxieties of the Palace: he announced to France, the return of the Empress and the King of Rome, and neither of them appeared. Apropos the Queen of Holland, whom Louis XVIII made Duchesse de Saint-Leu, he commented: ‘When one has enjoyed family prosperity, one should embrace its adversities.’ Joseph, hastening from Switzerland, merely asked for money: Lucien disturbed him with his liberal connections; Murat, a conspirator against his brother-in-law at first, was too hasty, when returning to him, in attacking the Austrians: despoiled of the Kingdom of Naples and a fugitive of ill omen, he waited, under arrest near Marseilles, the catastrophe which I may tell you of later.

Yet could the Emperor trust his erstwhile supporters and so-called friends? Had they not deserted him shamefully at the time of his fall? That Senate which crawled at his feet, now ensconced in the peerage, had it not decreed its benefactor’s deposition? Could he believe those men when they came to him and said: ‘The interests of France are inseparable from your own. If Fortune betrays your efforts, Sire, reverses will not weaken our perseverance and will double our attachment to your person.’ Your perseverance! Your attachment doubled by misfortune! You said this on the 11th of June 1815: what was it you had uttered on the 2nd of April 1814? What would you say a few weeks later, on the 19th of July 1815?

The Minister of the Imperial Police, as you have seen, was in correspondence with Ghent, Vienna, and Basle; the Marshals to whom Bonaparte was forced to entrust the command of his troops had only recently sworn loyalty to Louis XVIII; they had published the most violent proclamations against Bonaparte (see that of Marshal Soult above): since then, it is true, they had wedded themselves to their Sultan once more; but if he had been arrested at Grenoble, what would they have done with him? Does it suffice to break an oath to restore in full force another oath which has been violated? Does double-perjury equate to loyalty?

A few days later, those who had sworn obedience on the Champ-de-Mai would reaffirm their devotion to Louis XVIII at the Tuileries; they would approach the sacred table of the God of Peace, in order to be appointed ministers at the banquet of war; heralds-at-arms and bearers of the royal insignia at Bonaparte’s coronation, they would fulfil the same functions at the coronation of Charles X; then, as agents of another power, they would lead that King to Cherbourg as a prisoner, trying to find a little free corner of their consciences in which to hang the badge of their new oath. It is difficult being born in an age of improbity, in times when two men talking together must take care not to give tongue to certain words, for fear of offending each other or making each other blush.

Those who had not felt able to attach themselves to Napoleon in his glory, who had not been able to adhere from gratitude to the benefactor from whom they had received their wealth, honours and their very names, were they about to sacrifice themselves to his meagre hopes? Were they going to bind themselves to a precarious destiny, at its re-commencement, those ingrates whom a destiny fulfilled by unexampled successes and the spoils of sixteen victorious years had failed to bind? Those many chrysalises, which, between one spring and another, had put off and on, shed and resumed the skins of Legitimist and Revolutionary, follower of Napoleon, follower of the Bourbons; those many promises made and broken; those many crosses switched from the knight’s breast to his horse’s tail, from his horse’s tail to the knight’s breast; the many valiant warriors changing banners, strewing the lists with their false pledges of loyalty; those many noble ladies, waiting in turn on Marie-Louise and Marie-Caroline, were calculated to leave in the depths of Napoleon’s spirit only mistrust, horror and contempt; that great man aged before his time stood alone among all those traitors, his fate and all those human beings, on the trembling earth, beneath a hostile sky, face to face with his completed destiny and the judgement of God.