Talleyrand BOOKS OF THE DAY
By E. L. WOODWARD
Jr this be the past, that "all Our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death," then the career of Charles- Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord is a model for the worldly- wise in a world signifying nothing. It may be said that .Charles-Maurice burned with a hard gem-like flame ; a flame of illuminating common sense, extreme self-love, and brilliant treachery. He was clever enough not merely to elude virtue, which may bring pain, but also to avoid the temptations of the nobler vices. He loved power, but always as a servant, who might stay in the house with a change of masters. He betrayed his church, his king, and his order before he was forty ; after this apprenticeship, he served and betrayed the Directory (though its members hardly deserved loyalty), Napoleon, and the restored Bourbons. He took bribes from everyone who would bribe him, yet he could say that he was never bought. He held high office under every Govern- ment in France from 1795 to his death in 1838; yet he could maintain that every one of his acts of treachery was for the good of France.
On the whole he was right, but he has convinced no one that his motives were unselfish, and even his good taste—one must allow him good taste—could not hide his shamelessness. In extreme old age, to a generation which saw him only as a princely figure of the old regime, he became a legend. He assumed the part of the Elder Statesman. He lectured the Institute on the value of a theological training for young men intending to enter the diplomatic service. He enjoyed presiding at dinners of the country clergy. He readjusted his memoirs, after 1830, to suit the new regime. He had been wise enough not to publish them ; they included an essay on the father of Louis Philippe—an essay described by Sorel as une effroyable analyse de pourrilure sociak. Talleyrand knew the subject well. A century has gone by since Talleyrand died. Historians have not changed overmuch the verdict of those who were his contemporaries. Napoleon has damned him in a few terrible sentences. Chateaubriand's description of Talleyrand and Fouche making their peace with Louis XVIII will not soon be forgotten. Entre silencte usement le vice appuye 914T ks bras du crime ; M. de Talleyrand soutenu par M. Fouche. La vision infernak passe lententent devant moi, pinetre dans le Cabinet du Roi, et disparail. One honest Frenchman Jives in history because he was so angry to find Talleyrand at an anniversary Mass for Louis XVI that he boxed his ears before the great door of the Abbey of St. Denis. The gem-like flame was not quenched. Talleyrand merely said, Quel souplet, and walked on. After all, had he not spent a large sum of money, with the approval of Louis XVIII, in arranging for a Mass of similar intention during the Congress of Vienna ?
Talleyrand's intellect was at its best in the calculation of forces, and above all in the analysis of a complicated diplo- matic situation. If he is to be judged by this extraordinary penetration, his judges must have had some experience of llie difficulties, the methods, and the ends of diplomacy. From this point of view M. de Saint Aulaire, as a former Ambassador of France, is well qualified to give an opinion. His opinion is of great interest, and is stated with great charm. He has not attempted to write a biography of Talleyrand, still less to compress into some four hundred and fifty pages a diplomatic history of the Revolution, the Empire, and the Restoration. He has written a study of a
Talleyrand. By Le Comte de Saint Aulaire. (Paris : Dined. 15 fr.) man. He makes no attempt to hide the man's deep faults of character as well as faults due to circumstance. For many things he condemns Talleyrand out of hand ; but he gives him his due for intellectual consistency. Talleyrand had laid down in 1792 the main canons of policy which he followed in 1814-5 and again in 1830. In 1792 his advice was not taken—luckily for him, because he was not merely out of favour, but actually out of France during the Terror. In 1814-5 he helped to save France from immense catastrophe. M. de Saint Aulairc's defence of Talleyrand's action in 1814-5 is subtle and, in essentials, convincing. An English reader will think that M. de Saint Aulaire is hardly fair to Great Britain. He makes at least one important mistake of fact about Castlereagh ; his remark about British greed for colonies is not justified by a study of the Vienna settlement. In this same context—the Vienna settlement—M. de Saint Aulaire quotes a saying (which he attributes to Paul Camlxm) about the ideologie sentimentale des pasteurs et des vieilles files qu' . . . it faut toujours avair avec soi pour collaborer avec l'Angleterre. One might give a sharp answer about the kind of international policy—and ideology—supported by politicians, the Press, and the general public in France.
M. de Saint Aulaire's judgement s on Talley-rand in relation to the " permanent " needs of France (including, apparently, a Germany broken once again into fragments) show an odd blindness to the fact that protestant clergymen arc not alone in thinking that the old conceptions of territorial sovereignty and the balance of power, as men viewed this balance a century ago, have exhausted their usefulness. The Vienna settlement introduced into Europe rules unknown a century earlier at Utrecht. The settlement of 1919 attempted to embody the lessons of the nineteenth century, as the states- men of Vienna had tried to learn the lesson of the eighteenth century. There is no absolute and closed system of ideas governing the relations of civilised societies, though there are certain absolute evils which civilised men wish to avoid. They would be fools if they did not Make new experiments, if they contented themselves with nothing better than the " classical " machinery of their great-grandfathers ; they would be more than fools if they thought that the last word on the theory of international relations had been said by Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord.
The diplomacy of Talleyrand was not his own last word. He died fortified by the sacraments of the Church. His letter of submission to the Pope has a touch of the master of irony in the sentence where he passes quickly over the most difficult years pour ne pas fatigue:. le Saint Pere, and there was a curious moment when he insisted that the Abbe Dupanloup should give him extreme unction, not as to a layman, but as to a priest and bishop of the Church. M. de Saint Aulaire has described the end of Talleyrand with delicacy and restraint. One may well agree with his refusal to accept the superficial view that Talleyrand could not have been sincere—there can be no question of any failure of will or intellect. When Talleyrand made his peace with the Church, Fouche was not with him. It would be a mis- judgement of human nature to doubt the possibility that this sensitive man, neglected and even maltreated in youth, compelled to take a profession which he disliked, and set in surroundings of moral and spiritual degradation, had at last escaped from the burden of his body, from twisted and evil passions, and from an age in which it was only too easy to think that honest men were poor creatures and that lust and pride and the clever gambler always won the day.