A BOOK OF THE MOMENT.
THE COUP D'ETAT.
[COPYRIGHT IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA BY THE New York Times.] The Secret of the Coup d'gtat. An unpublished correspondence of Prince Louis Napoleon, MM. de Morny, de Flahault and others, 1848-1852. Edited with an Introduction by the Earl of Kerry, and with a study by Philip Guedalla. (Constable. 18s. net.) A POLITICAL cynic is said to have declared that it was a great mistake to get to know your opponents in public life. If you did, ten to one you could not go on hating them properly. The same is true of history. You can have a very clear and intelligible view of the personages, great and small, of the past if you have only a general and superficial view of the world's drama. When, however, you read more deeply and widely and know more of the facts—when you hear the other side, that is—you find exactly the trouble of the cynic. You get to know the men and women of history, and you find for the most part that you cannot hate them. They were often very much better people than you imagined, and usually the excuses for their ill-deeds are much stronger than they appeared when viewed with the eyes of their critics, i.e., through the green spectacles of the satirists, the red of the sensationalists, or the black of the theologians and the prudes.
The coup d'etat of 1851 and the men who made it afford an excellent example of this truth. I was brought up to hate Napoleon III. and all his parasites and panders, as
we used to call them, and not without warrant—the men who made the tinsel Third Empire produced Baron Haussmann, and the Paris Boulevards, gave us Offenbach opera, and
finally Sedan and the Fourth of September. In the pages of Kinglake (the chapters on the coup d'etat in the beginning of his History of the Invasion of the Crimea), in the prose and verse of Victor Hugo, in the writings of Tocqueville, in Senior's Conversations with the Statesmen of the Third Empire, nothing seems bad enough or mean enough for Morny and "the brethren of the Elysies." One writes them all off as a pack of unscrupulous, corrupt, blood-stained scoundrels. They seem in the glowing and informing pages aforesaid utterly mean, selfish, despicable, and depraved. When, however, we get to know these men in the light of the memoirs and authentic public documents which are now beginning to seek the light, and further when the passions which obscured men's eyes at the time the events took place and immediately afterwards have died out—in a word, when we see the people who took part in the struggles from both sides—we find it is much less easy work to hate them. Their crimes and follies cannot be wholly condoned, but they can be understood. They turn out to be a good deal less diabolic than we thought possible. Even those that cannot be whitewashed have many qualities for which we did not give them credit. They are, in fact, human beings and not historical monsters. This does not mean that there is not a right path and a wrong path, but merely that hate and prejudice are dangerous and delusive guides. The coup d'etat remains a crime and a mistake, and the ultimate cause
of great injuries to France ; but the diabolism of it and its inspirers largely disappears.
The hues of earthquake and eclipse fade to those of a moderate thunderstorm. Napoleon is not the lecherous, treacherous, merciless villain, but rather a dreamy, flabby man who had a good many genuine ideals and did not want to do anything cruel or harmful to anybody if he could avoid it without risk to his own skin and his own ambitions. Besides, he was never a free agent. His creatures were most of them as little Satanic as he was. Though their misdeeds were many, and some of them shameful, they drifted into their worst acts largely out of the terror and panic inspired in them- by their opponents. If I do not kill him, he'll be sure to kill me, is a terrible corrupter of human relations.
The Secret of the Coup d'Etat, the book which provides the subject of this article, consists of an unpublished corre-
spondence between Louis Napoleon and his half-brother and associate, the Duke de Morny. There are also letters from
the Duke de Morny's father, the Count de Flahault, the
accomplished diplomat who was also the father of the lady who married the father of the present Lord Lansdowne. What makes the book more interesting and important is that it is edited with an introduction by Lord Kerry, Lord Lansdowne's son. Lord Kerry has done his work well and lets the papers tell their own story. We can hardly doubt that from the point of view of the writers of the letters and memoranda they tell it honestly. They are not the work of conscious apologists, but for the most part are accounts of day to day first hand observations communicated to wives or sons or fathers or mothers.
Lord Kerry is, in fact, an accession to that band of members of historical families who are now dealing with their records. The present Lord Ilchester is the capital example of what I mean. His book, describing the life of the first and great Lord Holland, is a notable contribution to history and makes the great, gross figure of the man it deals with live before us, and live, not as a monster, but as a human being with many lovable if also many bad qualities. Lord Ilchester's well edited and selected material from the diary of Henry Richard Fox is another addition to political, social and literary history which is of high value. Mr. Guedalla in his Introduction to the book before me gives a very good summary of its contents. He notes how Flahault's papers throw light upon the parentage -01 - Napoleon III., on the Orleanist plans for a coup d'etat in 1851, the cause of Palmerston's resignation, and the action of Queen Victoria after Palmerston's fall. From the personal point of view the hero of the book is the Duke de Morny. Morny was a very good correspondent, and as the letters began in 1848, and were written from Paris, he had no lack of thrilling subjects. Here is an example of his style. Inci- dentally the letter shows what a large part the newspapers' played in the Revolution. The reader, to understand must remember that Morny was a financier as well as a politi- cian, and that before the Revolution he had bought a large share in the Constitutionnel. General Cavaignac was the
soldier who commanded the armies of the Republic andi defied the Orleanists on one side and the Communists on!
the other, and who in the autumn of 1848 was a sort of Provisional Dictator. Veron was the Editor of the Constitutionnel. I may say, also, that the passage will,; I am sure, greatly amuse my editorial colleagues. It shows: that the statesmen of the past were just as foolish as the statesmen of the present day in the way they conducted their' relations with the Press :—
" Moray to Flahault.
PARIS, November, 1848. My dear friend,
Paris has been much excited over a conversation, said to have taken place between Cavaignac and Wien, and—with the help of some words that fell from Thiers and other politicians—I have now discovered the whole story. The facts, which I have obtained: from Wren himself, are as follows. They are sufficiently curious: to justify my reporting them to you.
To understand the position of the speakers, you must go back; two or three months, when there arose amongst those. who are! about General Cavaignac the question of the suppression of the Constitutionnel newspaper. This was politically speaking a serious: undertaking, for the Conatigutionnel, which had always supported! moderation and order, had behind it some politicians of repute,, and though the calculated opposition of the paper had annoyed him, the Dictator ' hesitated to take action against it. There came one day a Representative, who happened to be at once a friend of Cavaignac's and a former colleague of Veron's,f to see the latter, and asked him if it would be disagreeable to him. to visit the General. ' If he asks for me,' said \Toren, I have no, reason for not going to him. I would indeed do so with pleasure,, but at the same time I have no reason for going uninvited.' The. next day the mutual friend came to fetch him and took him to. the General. The General received him politely and, having invited him to sit down said, Why is it that you dislike me ? Have I not rendered good services both to Society and to your own party ? ' To this Wren replied in effect, I do not dislike you.. y paper voices the opinion of moderate people, and its party, which is far from being dead, is not that to which you belong. All the same I do not dislike you. I have nothing to regret, for I had no personal relations with those who have gone under. As to the King and the Princes, I have had more reason to find fault with them than otherwise. Hence I have no feeling or interest of a personal kind in the matter. You can therefore rely on my policy being loyal. If you will give us an honest and a moderate Republic, we will not only not work against you, but we will support you.' After the exchange of a few more words in this sense, Veron as he was leaving received an invitation to come again. To this he replied, General, I am not in a position to come and see you informally, but whenever you want to talk politics with me, send me a message. I will come with pleasure, and if you want any news inserted or confirmed in my paper, you have only to let me
know ; I shall always be delighted to make myself personally useful to you.' " This is not the whole of the story, however. Later General Cavaignac sent again for the editor, M. Veron. This next interview was exceedingly amusing and is brilliantly told by Morny ` M. Wren, I have asked you to come and see me in order that I might explain myself quite frankly ; allow me therefore with soldierly frankness to go straight to the point and to put you this question : In the matter of the Presidency, are you for me or against me ? ' Your question, General, is a somewhat blunt and peremptory one. "For you" and "against you." In such cases it is aquestion of degree.' may ay be degrees, but I don't like degrees, and it is pre- cisely for that reason that I ask you if you are for me or against me.'
These words, spoken in a dry and haughty tone, rather wounded Wren's feelings. He rose and said :— ' Upon my word; M. le President, since you talk of frankness, I will take you at your word. Pray tell me why it is that you expect us to show you so much sympathy 1 Have you not made this advance towards us both unwillingly and grudgingly ? Are not your sympathies with the extremists well known and clear to all observers ? Is it not a fact that you are in complete agreement with General La Mercier° as regards the Law of Succession, a law which offends both the wishes and the feelings of the people of this country ? You unwillingly appointed MM. Dufaure and Vivien ; did you not then install in revenge M. Recurt for the ' Seine, M. Trouve Chauvel in the Ministry of Finance, and M. Gervais de Caen as Chief of Police ? '
Ah, that's how it is,' interrupted Cavaignac roughly ; ` you wish to have everything, you have no gratitude. Your party always behaves like this, you are intractable ; you are all the same—you have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.' " This amusing wrangle went on at a great rate and ended with the following dialectical amenities :-
" ` Anyhow make no mistake, the Republic will last, I stake my reputation on it. You may say that it is the work of a minority, very well, but that minority. will defend it to the last drop of its blood and by every means in its power. The misfortune is that you have two or three big newspapers with 90,000 regular sub- scribers apiece. Well, by God, we will take your subscribers from you, there will be no difficulty about that—mark my words, you had better consider your position.'
M. le President, I have considered the matter fully, but permit me to say that your language is scarcely such as to make me decide in your favour the question which you put to me so emphatically at the outset of our conversation."
However, I have been tempted perhaps to quote too much of this amusing episode, though the writing is an admirable revelation of Moray's manner. The vivacious daguerreotype of Morny mounted on his horse preliminary to a ride in the Bois shows him the sort of man one would expect him to be. Lovers of costume will be delighted with the short riding- coat, the stock, and the big top-hat. The Revolutions of 1848 might well have been called Top-hat Revolutions. For some reason or other they seem to have been entirely conducted in top-hats. The most amusing example of such incongruities is the picture given in Mr. George Trevelyan's story of Manin and the Revolution in Venice. In the picture Marvin appears in a frockcoat, a huge top-hat and a massive cavalry sabre trailing at his side. A scarf such as is now worn only by members of the Oddfellows or Druids
ornaments " the lower chest."
I must leave such exciting facts to be discovered by my readers. Here I want to concentrate upon Morny. There is one interesting point about him to be noticed, and that is that it is most unfair to describe him as a sycophant or a creature of Napoleon III. The ink on the proclamation of the new Emperor or, as the rhetorician might say, the blood on the boulevards, was hardly dry before Morny was quarrelling with the Man of Destiny, " second and cheaper edition." It is not too much to say that he soon not only distrusted but detested the Prince. I have given an example of Morny's style as a recorder of the light side of history. I will now give an example of his father, M. de Flahault's, light narration.
It is contained in a letter to his wife
I dined yesterday at Mme. de Vatey's. We were 10, amongst which 2 deputies and 1 Colonel (a very handsome military looking man), when the following conversation took place. I must begin by saying that somebody had mentioned that, a fortnight ago, two regiments returning from a review and passing before the Chamber, had on purpose bewail/x1 a knot of representatives who were standing on the trottoira. One of the two deputies at dinner complained of this, when the Colonel who did not know his quality said :—
Que voulez-vous ? C'est Vesprit de nos soldats. Nous n'aimons pas les bavards, et au lieu de les bousculer nous aurions prefer& les jeter dana la Seine.' Deputy : Dials permettez, Colonel, j'ai l'honneur d'etre depute, at ce que vous dites-le ne serait pas aussi facile que vous voulez bien le croire.'
Colonel : Monsieur, je vous demande bien pardon. Je ne savais pas qua vous etiez d6pute, sans quoi je ne me serais pas permis de dire une chose qui a pu vous etre desagreable. Malt' enfin c'est dit, et tout ce que je puis ajouter, c'est quo reaper° qua vous savez nager !
The esprit reactionnaire is pushed to that degree that the other day an Englishman was black-balled at the Club because his name. was Gladstone."
To make the matters I have dwelt upon clear to those who may have forgotten or are unacquainted with the details of Napoleonic history, I may state that M. de Flahault, when quite a young man, became aide-de-camp first to Murat, and then to Napoleon, and Napoleon very soon became devoted to the young man. When Napoleon returned from Elba for the Hundred Days, Flahault flew to his side. At Waterloo he rode all day with the Emperor and went back with him to Paris. During his life at court Flahault won the affections of Hortense Beauharnais, the wife of Napoleon's brother, the King of Holland. The Duke de Morny was the child of this illicit connexion. In 1815 Flahault behaved well to his royal friend, though probably her affection for him had cooled, and tried to rejoin her in Switzerland. He was not, however, able to accomplish this, and while she took refuge in Switzerland, he came to England. Here he married Miss Margaret Elphinstone, the daughter of Lord Keith, though the match was not liked by the Keiths. At last Flahault received his reward ; during the early part of Louis Philippe's reign he was reconciled to the Orleanists and had an ambassa- dorial post first at Berlin and then at Vienna. He thus became one of the great diplomats of the epoch, 1832-1848, Flahault's daughter married Lord Shelburne, the son of the fourth Marquis of Lansdowne, sometimes called the " Nestor of the Whigs." The matrimonial side of the story is compli- cated by the fact that, as I have shown, Napoleon III. was the half-brother of Morny. It was very generally believed at the time that Napoleon III. was not really the son of the King of Holland. It seems, however, that in all probability this was scandal. Flahault, who was certainly the father of the child born next after Napoleon III., denied the illegitimacy.
J. ST. LOE STRACHEY.