THE MEMOIRS OF BARRAS.*
Ms cAuLs.Y, it is said, was anxious that his article on Barrere should not be republished and stand among his collected works. He considered it too darkly coloured, too full of denunciation and invective. If he had lived, however, to the present time he would have been obliged to match it with an article on Barras, the famous member of the Directory, whose memoirs have just been given to the world. These memoirs show Barras to have been almost as accomplished a scoundrel as the man whom Macaulay branded. A more base and brutal figure than Barras it would be difficult to imagine, and were he not drawn by his own hand one would be forced to consider him the victim of slander. To represent him truly, one must dip, not into the hues of earthquake and eclipse, but into the gutter, the sewer, and the muckheap. The man was mean and vain and cowardly and treacherous, and in no other country and in no other time could he have gained the extraordinary position of power and influence which he did gain. It is one of the strange things of the Revolution that the most mediocre talents added to the knack of keeping one's head on one's shoulders were enough to secure a share in the Government. Barras had,very little in him beyond a certain business capacity and a shrewdness in avoiding the guillotine. Yet he became a member of that small Committee of small men which, under the name of the Directory, ruled France with a power more despotic than that which belonged to Louis XIV. Truly, no one not born an autocrat more easily succeeded in obtaining power over his fellow-men.
The chief points of interest in the present volumes are connected with Talleyrand and Napoleon. Both these men were hated by Barras with a deadly hatred, and he does his beat to pour hatred, ridicule, and contempt not only upon them but upon all that is theirs. For this reason Madame de Stab]. and Josephine came in for their full share of mud-
• (I.) The Memoirs of Barra:, Member of the Directorate. Edited. with General Introduction. Preface, and Appendices, by George Darn, Translated be Charles E. Roche. With Seven Portraits in Heiogravu- e, Two Facsimiles, and Two Plans. In 4 vols. Vols. L and II. London : Osgood, McIlvaine, and Co. 11395.-12.) An elide-de-Camp of Napoleon : Memoirs of General Count de Segur., New Edition. Published by his Grandson, Count Louis de Elem. Translated by U. A. Patchett Martin. Loudon: Hutchinson and Co.
throwing. The account of how Madame de Steel came to Barras to beg him to make Talleyrand Minister, is probably grossly exaggerated ; but it is by no means inconceivable that Talleyrand really behaved in the way recorded of him by Barras. The man was without shame or manly pride, and would have as soon fawned on Barras as on Alexander. Here is the passage which describes how Madame de Steel and her protie came to wait upon the Director :—
" Neither of them failed. They were announced, and came in together. Madame de Stael, accustomed to play the page of honour to those whom she introduced, was slightly in advance. Talleyrand came hobbling after her. I had never seen this individual, who had already made himself famous under two reigns, and who was still to be so under many others. In speak- ing of my interview with Robespierre, before the 9th of Thermidor, I mentioned what a striking living portrait of that terrible per- sonage had at a later period presented itself to me, and one which in its place I should submit to those who took a pleasure in collecting historical physiognomies. This is the right time for making my observation, which has been confirmed by a searching examination, and recorded with the most religious fidelity. Upon seeing Talleyrand enter, with his cadaverous and expressionless face, his eyes fixed and inanimate, I thought there stood before me Robespierre himself. I was still more struck on examining him more closely ; the same protruding bones, the same short head, the same tip-tilted nose, the same hard wicked mouth ; add to these natural features the same artificial accompaniments, the same powdered hair, the same stiff unbending carriage. I was so dumbfounded by this astonishing resemblance, which extended from the head down to the very legs, that I could not refrain from imparting my thoughts to Madame de Stag. She laughed at the comparison without denying its truth, and said to me : Oh ! I assure you that the resemblance is not complete.' She, however, began to look at her man more attentively, telling me that Robes- pierre's image was well impressed upon her mind—his powdered hair too, and his harsh haughty manner. Yes, there is un- doubtedly a false resemblance of Robespierre, and a very strong one. But I assure you that though physically there may be an unfortunate likeness, there is none morally, and Talleyrand is a vastly better man than the other. M. Robespierre, for instance, was entirely devoid of any feeling of either friendship or grati- tude ; there is no better nor more faithful friend than Talleyrand. I will prove it to you : he is a man who carries his heart on his sleeve, and who is entirely devoted to you ; for you he would go through fire itself.' Seeing that Talleyrand was listening to all this very gravely, I turned towards him, not wishing to leave him in his embarrassment any longer. Madame de Stael moved for- ward, and taking him by the hand brought him to me, saying, We were speaking of you, citizen Talleyrand ; I knew that I was not flattering you in protesting that you were an excellent friend and a being filled with delicate sentiments ; that gratitude was no stranger to your heart.' Talleyrand, drawing back a little in order to give more effect to his obeisance, made a deep bow and repeated only these words : Your respectful servant, your grateful servant—who lives only for friendship and devotion —who will be too happy—who will be deeply grateful—and not less respectful—whose respect and gratitude can only be equalled
by his admiration ' That is the whole of the painful speech that seemed to make its way from the innermost depths of this personage who enjoys such a prodigious reputation for wit and elocution, for a sparkling and abundant flow of words sufficient to entertain a whole assembly."
In the end Talleyrand got the post he so much coveted,—the post of Foreign Minister. Barras describes the fulsome thanks which were lavished on him by this reptile-hearted man :—
" When Benjamin announced the great news, Talleyrand hugged him to his bosom, and M. de Castellane could not refrain from following the example of this joyful effusion. Talleyrand then immediately left the theatre, and taking his two friends by the arm, said to them, 'Let us go and thank Barras at once.' He jumped into a carriage, and placing himself between his two companions, incessantly repeated in a deep, hollow voice the following few words, emphasising them by continually striking
both his neighbours on the knee We are in possession of the stronghold ; we must make an immense fortune in it—an immense fortune—an immense fortune—a fortune immense.' I have heard that this refrain had not yet stopped by the time Talleyrand had reached my house, where he made his entry in a very humble and simple fashion, declaring that the chief value of the post in his eyes lay in the fact of his having received it from me; that his liking for me was a personal one, if I would be good enough to allow him to add a feeling of friendship to his respectful grati- tude. In the important post that the Directorate had deigned to confer upon him he wished to be guided only by me, to act according to my thoughts and wishes. He looked upon me as the sole Director, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Revolution, of the Republic, and of the armies. I cannot repeat the whole string of cold, empty compliments that he lavished upon me, and into which he attempted to put some warmth by the expression of his impassive features, and even by the gestures of his whole body, so incapable of any movement. This was not enough : the courtier felt obliged to accompany all these submissive speeches with tears ; and to convince me of the presence of these, so that I might not possibly be left in ignorance of the reality of his emotion, he even went so far as to kiss me with a wet face. Knowing that I was in the habit of retiring very early, Talleyrand expressed a fear that he might be robbing me of a few moments of rest, although it was not yet 11 o'clock. He begged me not to stand on ceremony, and to make no scruple of undressing before him ; he even followed me into my bedroom, and I was obliged to stop him from carrying his zeal to the point of arranging the bed-clothes for me, when, tired of all these servile attentions—which I have never accepted from even the meanest of my dependants—I escaped from Talley- rand by wishing him good-night. ' By this time,' I said, 'you will have received the official intimation of your appointment ; therefore come and present yourself to the Directorate to-morrow at mid-day.'—' Under your auspices, citizen Director,' be replied, making a profound bow. At last he went. My servants, who let him out, told me that he wanted to embrace them all; he did not even pass the hall-porter without giving him a cordial hand- shake."
We will not quote the particularly nauseous passage in which Barras describes how Napoleon and Madame Beauharnais, who were just about to marry, came to beg of him the command in Italy, and how the obsequious young General waited in the ante-room while the woman who was to become his wife was closeted with the great man. Barras will have us believe that Napoleon was cognisant of the methods used by Josephine to influence the Director. No doubt it is not impossible that this was so, but it would be absurd to accept the fact on the word of such a creature as Barras. Instead of referring further to this incident, we will draw attention to the curious account of how Bonaparte nearly married an old actress and manageress of a theatre who had contrived to make a considerable fortune, and was silly enough to want a young husband. According to Barras, the arrange. ments were almost completed, he lending his influence tc make the match, partly as a joke, and partly to help on the young artillery officer, who found himself in hopeless poverty, and held the view that women might be made very useful stepping-stones by the ambitious. Unfortunately, however, for the lady, Bonaparte's rise in life took place before there was time for the marriage to take place. After the aid he gave the Directory in establishing their power, Napoleon became General in command of the Army of the Interior. At once he realised that he was too big a man to waste himself on the actress, and accordingly he threw her over. On the whole, Barras's Memoirs are disappointing. There are one or two sensational pieces of calumny, but the vast masses of dull vindictiveness and acrid pomposity in which they are set make the book a very tedious one. Historically, however, the volumes have a certain value, for imbedded in them are elaborate notes taken of the proceedings of the Directory. These are really valuable historic documents, though tinged with Barras's inimitable falsehood, vanity, and baseness. Those who want to get a view of the other side of Napoleon's character, and to see the Emperor described by an admirer instead of a traducer, may turn to the memoirs of his aide-de-camp, the Comte de Sdgur. A translation of the new edition of this entertaining book has lately been made by Mr. Patchett Martin. We have, unfortunately, no room to do more than indicate that it is an exceedingly amusing book and full of curious and exciting incidents. We have not been able to test the translation critically by comparing it with the French, but we have little doubt that it would stand the ordeal. At any rate, it has the first require- ment of a translation,—readability. The book is one which must not be missed by those who like to know all that can be known about Napoleon. Particularly interesting is the minute account of Napoleon's bearing both at Mass and at his public audiences on the morrow of the murder of the Duo d'Enghien.