21 DECEMBER 1867, Page 20


NOT long ago, in the pages of the Revue des Deux Mondes, M. Guizot gave to the French public the history of a friend's life. That friend was M. Prosper de Barante, for more than forty years a man of mark in France, known as a politician, and esteemed as a writer. The author of John Halifax, Gentleman, has translated M. Guizot's words, and the result of Mrs. Craig's labours is a neat and readable little book. There is much that is instructive, much, indeed, that is interesting, in the story of the life of Prosper de Barante.

Born on the 10th of June, 1782, the subject of M. Guizot's memoir lived under seven regimes ; the ancient Monarchy, the Revolution, the first Republic, the first Empire, the Restoration, the Monarchy of 1830, the second Republic, and the second Empire. During the two first of these he was a child and a boy. He was a young man during the third ; and during the fourth he was still a young man, though experienced in the service of the Government. At the time of the Restoration he was found and was maintained a conscientious and painstaking administrator, if not a prominent politician. He was a statesman during the first eleven years of the reign of Louis Philippe, and he was no longer discharging any active duty when Louis Philippe's vogue was at an end, and there arose a new regime. With the Revolution of 1848 Prosper de Barante had little sympathy, and his time of service was seen to be over. A stronger rule than Bourbon or Orleanist had dreamed of began in France in 1851, and other hands than those which had laboured for forty years were sum- moned to help the Emperor in raising that " edifice " which still remains to be " crowned."

M. Guizot's account of his friend is entirely laudatory ; it is pleasant to be able to believe that the account, while being full of praise, is also full of truth. And M. de Barante's letters will con- firm the reader in this belief. Those written in his youth and these in his old age alike give expression to manly and tender sentiment ; and sometimes by calm reflection, sometimes by incisive remark, give evidence of mental qualities above the common. Of his father, who was high bailiff of Riom, he thus writes :—

" My father was only fifty-eight when we lost him, an age which


At. De Baranle. A Memoir. By K Guizot. Translated by the Author of John Ral(fax, Gentleman. London: Macmillan and Co. 1867. warranted us in hoping we should long enjoy his affection ; and he had wholly contented himself throughout life in household lore. I think it was the loss of my mother and brothers which broke his heart, and finally gave him his death-stroke. To him I owe everything. All that is of most worth in me comes from him. Every year we spent together, every misfortune we shared, drew us closer and closer. We became like two friends, two old friends, who had the same remembrances, the same griefs. Upon all subjects we understood one another with half a word."

The last sentence expresses, very aptly, a mutual comprehension which many desire, but which few enjoy.

The First Consul appointed the elder Barante Prefet of Geneva, where both he and the subject of M. Guizot's memoir had for a time the advantage of intimacy with the famous Necker, and the yet more famous Madame de Steel. But Prosper de Barante was obliged to leave the congenial society of Coppet to pursue his own way in the larger world. He was first engaged as a supernume- rary in the Home Department, then as an Auditor of the Council of State. Then he was employed in Poland in the details of administration. The Emperor bad marked him out, and had found in him a faithful servant, but not an obsequious devotee. Prosper de Barante's nomination to the sous-prefecture of Bressuire, in 1807, was certainly not a too valuable proof of favour.

While at Bressuire—where he discharged the duties of his office to the general satisfaction—the sous-prefet laid the founda- tion of literary fame. He had previously competed for an academical prize, which had been offered for an essay on French literature in the eighteenth century and its effect upon society. He bad not gained the prize, but in the quiet hours, of which there were too many at Bressuire, he revised and enlarged his essay. It was published under the title of Tableau Litteraire de la France au Dix-Huitibne Sievle ; and it met with a favourable reception. The Emperor read it, and thought well of it ; and not the least important of its results was the appointment of Barante to the prefecture of La Vendde, in 1809.

In Bressuire, Prosper de Barante became intimate with M. and Madame La Rochejacquelein, old and faithful Legi- timists, who were yet indisposed to quarrel with the honest functionaries of the Empire, and from these good people the sous-pre'fet gathered materials for another book. In his conversa- tion with them he displayed some insight into the character of Napoleon, and predicted a fate that surely came. He said to them one day :—

" I believe, as you do, that the Emperor is destined to ruin himself; he is intoxicated by his victories, and his continual success. A day will come, when he will attempt the impossible—and fail. Then you. will see the Bourbons back again. But they understand France so little, they will make so many blunders, that they will bring on a new revolution."

Upon this remark M. Guizot makes the following comment :- " To one whose judgment had long been so free and so clear, the fall of the Empire and the restoration of 1814 could have been nothing strange or unforeseen. M. de Barante accepted both at once as necessary events, and also as a promise of liberty and peace for France, now exhausted and compromised by absolute autocracy and constant war."

It is well to note—though M. Guizot fails to do it—that the- ultimate fall of the Bourbons was prophesied as surely as the fall of Napoleon. When the exiled Emperor returned from Elba in the spring of 1815, M. de Barante was faithful to the old reigning House ; acting upon his conviction that the Emperor's policy was a policy of national ruin. During the "Hundred Days" he did nothing. He had resigned his prefecture. He was powerless to oppose the popular will, and he was honest enough not to bend to it. When the allies replaced Louis XVIII. upon the throne, Prosper de Barante was again in favour. He was called to the Chamber of Peers ; and in his conduct there he endeavoured to reconcile loyalty to the Bourbons with attempts to promote civil freedom and social progress. He considered, for awhile, that the country would be most prosperous under the Bourbon rule ; but then that rule must be constitutional, and the monarch must bend. to the just desires of a nation which was becoming, as Prosper de Barante thought, capable of self-government. Such, as far as we can gather, was the position of M. de Barante during the earlier years of the Restoration. But he found, as time went on, that the breach between the will of the Bourbons and the will of the people was getting wider, and hopelessly wider. " Constancy in mis- take is constant error," and, in our opinion, M. de Barante showed both prudence and patriotism in accepting very frankly the consequences of the Revolution of July, and in giving in his adhesion, along with that of M. Guizot, the Duke de Broglie, and M. Mole, to the Monarchy of 1830. The views of these four pro- minent men differed in many points, but they all agreed that the time was come for a change, and a change from Charles X. to Louis Philippe was the beat that then seemed possible.

The subject of M. Guizot's memoir was appointed Ambassador at Turin in 1830. That was a time in which the relations between the Courts of Turin and Vienna were very different from those to which this generation has been accustomed. Austrian influence was, for awhile, powerful with Charles Albert, who succeeded Charles Felix in 1832, and the King and people of Piedmont were opposed each to the other. The King had thrown in his lot with the Church party, and the Church party was hostile to France. But the King himself was not hostile to France. Years of con- straint and dissimulation had produced a mild contempt for every- body. He had little pleasure in action, and no pleasure in con- victions. But he did his best to be prudent. It is thus that M.

de Barante wrote of him soon after his accession :—

" Certain ideas of enlarging his dominions, of attaining to the King- dom of Italy, have occupied his imagination ; though grown dimmer, they are not yet dissipated ; they may become hopes which will lead him to rest on our friendship. He spent his youth in France ; he is well known there, and he wishes to keep up his good name; all that is done amongst us arrests his attention, and is almost his principal interest. At the same time he regards with visible rancour the Revolution of July, which is in his eyes an affront and a danger to all Royal races. He lives in fear, not only of propagandism, but of all liberal ideas ; our newspapers and our parliamentary orators alike irritate and displease him. Not to clash against us, to risk no quarrels with us, and yet to hide every demonstration of good understanding, which is not quite indispensable,—such is the combination, more by chance than calcula- tion, between his polities as a sovereign, and his personal impressions ; added to which is his excessive self-love, his love of rule, and his fear of being less a King than other monarchs, or of Sardinia being treated as an inferior sort of power."

This extract must, in fairness, be followed by the remarks of M. Guizot. They are these :—

" It is hardly possible to analyze with more acuteness or paint with more truth the complicated character and variable nature of this prince, vowed at first to an obstinate though sceptical conservatism ; and later in his reign, when chance seemed favourable to him, seized with a vast ambition, glorious in its contests, and even in its defeats, until he tied suddenly from his throne and from society, to hide—and at last ter- minate—in a distant cloister, a life full of weariness, mad outbursts, disconragements, and mistakes. For four years M. de Barante was a witness of this sad sight—this troubled spirit of a king, driven about by contradictory fancies, which those about him could not fail to detect ; and during those four years the Ambassador maintained, in the face of it all, the policy of his country, also very complicated, but candid and con- sistent, neither weakening it nor compromising it in anything, beyond the openly declared intentions of the French Government."

In 1835 M. de-Barante was appointed Ambassador to the Court of St. Petersburg, where he had to contend with the Czar's aversion to Louis Philippe. Personally he was well received, and constantly well treated, by the Czar. But he was unable to preserve, or rather to induce, really friendly relations between the two Govern- ments. The signing of the Convention of July, 1841—by which France regained some influence in the politics of Europe, and in which England, Austria, and Prussia joined—was the signal for more demonstrative unfriendliness on the part of Nicholas. He desired the presence of his Parisian Envoy at Saint Petersburg, and when the Count de Pahlen had once arrived he did not return to France. Tinder these circumstances, a holiday was accorded to M. de Barante, and that holiday was indefinitely pro- longed. From 1842 to 1848, whatever business between the Courts of Paris and St. Petersburg demanded attention, was transacted by the Charges d'Affaires. M. de Barante ceased from 1842 to take any active part in the public affairs of his country. From the place of his retirement in Southern France he watched events with a tranquil though an anxious eye. The Revolution of 1848 put an end to the political career of his friend, M. Guizot. His own political career was over before. The Revolution found him a simple historian and litterateur, and a simple historian and litterateur it left him. It is in that capacity only that his name has yet to be noticed.

Prosper de Barante's literary culture was wide, and his tastes were liberal. As a historian, he sincerely strove to be impartiaL He laid the facts before his readers, and he kept back nothing. He was not of those to whom all past events are, as it were, allegories ; and who make of all history a lesson applicable to the events of to-day. He was not always hinting to his readers that the names being changed the story was their own. His treat- ment of belles lettres seems to have been as wise and as liberal as his treatment of history. He did for Schiller what M. Guizot did for Shakespeare, translated him into French. He did more, for the translation of Hamlet generally attributed to M. Guizot is in truth Prosper de Barante's. He criticizes the romantic drama much in the spirit which has gone far to make Sainte-Beuve the most valuable and tolerant of critics ; he enters into rapport with the artist ; and when there is in a work some core of good, he criticizes from within, rather than from without. For his fidelity

as a historian ; for his warm appreciation of some forms of litera- ture little in harmony with those which in his youth had been held up to him as faultless models ; for the breadth and soundness of his judgment; above all, for what seems to have been the blame- lessness of his life, Prosper de Barents may be well remembered, though his political career may have left no mark upon times like these, which require men of a later generation, and of another school than his, to understand them.