Modern history

PROLOGUE

Powers of Recall – Forty Years Later

Between 1814 and 1846 a plaster elephant stood on the site of the Bastille. For much of this time it presented a sorry spectacle. Pilgrims in search of revolutionary inspiration were brought up short at the sight of it, massive and lugubrious, at the southeast end of the square. By 1830, when revolution revisited Paris, the elephant was in an advanced state of decomposition. One tusk had dropped off, and the other was reduced to a powdery stump. Its body was black from rain and soot and its eyes had sunk, beyond all natural resemblance, into the furrows and pock-marks of its large, eroded head.

This was not what Napoleon had intended. Concerned with obliterating the revolutionary memory, he had first thought of siting a grand triumphal arch on the empty space vacated by the demolished fortress. But eastern Paris was unfashionable, and the decision was taken to move the arch to the west of the city instead. Rummaging around in the fancies of antiquity, Napoleon came up with another idea that would signify, just as decisively, he believed, the superiority of imperial conquest over chaotic insurrection. Never mind that elephants belonged to the defeated party in the Punic Wars. For the grab-bag Emperor they suggested Alexander as much as Hannibal, the trophies of Egypt, the tricolor flying from Acre to Lisbon. The elephant would be cast in bronze taken from enemy cannon in Spain and would be large enough so that visitors could ascend by an interior staircase to the tower it would carry on its back. Water would splash from its trunk. It would be heroic and delightful and all who beheld it would forget the 1789, forget the Bastille and immerse themselves instead in imperial self-congratulation.

But 1789, the beginning of the French Revolution, has always remained more memorable than 1799, when Bonaparte proclaimed its end. The Bastille and its conquerors have been commemorated, while the elephant has been forgotten. In fact, from its very beginning, it was doomed to suffer hubris. Counsels among those delegated with the unenviable commission were divided, and by the time that some consensus was reached, the fortunes of empire had changed. Victories in Spain were dearly bought and they were followed by slaughters so expensive that they were indistinguishable from defeats. By 1813, when the elephant was to have been erected, cannon could not be spared and neither could hard cash. So instead of a bronze monolith, a plaster model went up on the place de la Bastille pending final plans for a grand remodeling of the site.

Initially it must have been hard to ignore. Standing as high as a three-story house, the Elephant of Revolutionary Oblivion stood sentinel over the seditious memories of angry crowds, popular demolitions, royal humiliations. So when the Empire collapsed for good after Waterloo, the Bourbon governments of the Restoration, with their fear of revolutionary memories, had good use for the distraction it provided. But it was now to be sculpted in peaceful marble rather than warlike bronze, and to be surrounded with other more conventional allegorical monuments: representations of Paris, of the seasons, of useful arts and sciences such as surgery, history and dance. Ministers who dreamed of new empires in North Africa may even have found elephantine allusions to Carthage timely. But if the late Empire had been hard up, the Restoration (and especially Louis XVIII) was skinflint. All that they could afford was the eight hundred francs paid to a watchman named Levasseur who survived denunciation as a Bonapartist and took up residence with the rats in one moldering leg of the creature.

The concierge of the elephant might stand guard against vandals or against surreptitious celebrations of the memory of 1789. But he could not fight off the revenge of time. The place de la Bastille was an urban wilderness: a mudhole in winter, a dustbowl in summer. Excavations for the Canal d’Ourcq and repeated efforts to level the space had left the elephant steadily sinking into a boggy depression as though gradually subsiding with age and exhaustion. Nature then added its own indignities. As the plaster hulk crumbled, its plinth became overgrown by dandelions and thistles. Great cavities opened in the torso, beckoning rodents, stray cats and overnight vagrants. The rat problem became so serious that local residents found their own houses colonized by raiding parties sent out from the elephant. From the late 1820s they regularly but unsuccessfully petitioned for its demolition. The authorities of the Restoration remained in a quandary. Perhaps it could be repainted and reinstalled somewhere more innocuous like the Invalides or even the Tuileries. But nervousness prevailed. The elephant or what was left of it stayed.

Only in 1832, after the revolutionary memory had been taken to the streets in the uprising that replaced the Bourbons with the “Citizen King” Louis-Philippe, was the elephant joined, at the other end of the square, by a tall column (still there) memorializing not 1789 but the fallen dead of the 1830 July Revolution. It was not until 1846 that the coup de grâce finally put the disintegrating hulk out of its misery. And as if memory had been freed from this prison, a new revolution and a new republic followed swiftly on.

The Elephant of Deliberate Forgetfulness was, then, no match for the Persistence of Revolutionary Memory. But refreshed recollection is at least as difficult as historical amnesia. The French Revolution was, after all, a great demolition, and repeated attempts to monumentalize it have been doomed by the contradiction in terms. Yet attempts there have been, starting with the Jacobin “Fountain of Regeneration” erected in 1793: a plaster version of the Goddess Isis from whose breasts spouted (on ceremonial occasions) the milk of Liberty. At the “Festival of Unity” that commemorated the fall of the monarchy, the President of the Convention, Hérault de Séchelles, drank this republican libation from a custom-designed goblet which he raised to the assembled crowd in salutation. Eight years later, the fountain collapsed into rubble and was taken away in carts. Other projects – a new town hall, a people’s theater, a legislative assembly – were all mooted and all discarded. Instead, there remained a gaping space at the precise frontier between patrician Paris and artisan Paris: a no-man’s-land of the historical memory.

Commemoration has been easiest when least monumental. Annual pyrotechnics and dancing on the fourteenth of July have served better than grandiose architectural projects. But it was the feat of the first generation of Romantic historians to celebrate the Revolution by lighting bonfires in their prose. Even as the elephant was slowly turning to dust and rubble, Jules Michelet’s triumphal narrative made of the Revolution a kind of spectacular performance, at once scripture, drama and invocation. Other chronicles followed – by Lamartine, Victor Hugo – none of them quite drowning out the mighty tympanum of Michelet’s epic. The culmination was history as mimesis: Lamartine addressing the crowds in yet a third revolution: that of 1848.

The apotheosis of Romantic history was also its death-wish. In 1850, as the Second Republic’s own rhetorical vapor disappeared before the hard, inexorable realities of money, power and state violence, a great historical cooling-down occurred. In 1848, throughout Europe, but especially bloodily in Paris, revolutionary rhetoric had been vanquished at the barricades by counter-revolutionary calculation; passion had been mastered by dispassion, artisans by artillery. Unsurprisingly, then, written history turned from lyric engagement to scientific analysis, from unblushing subjectivity to cool objectivity. Where once the success of revolution had seemed to turn on spontaneous embrace, it now seemed to depend on lucid understanding. Beginning with Alexis de Tocqueville and Karl Marx (albeit in very different ways), historians endeavored to give their accounts scientific rigor. For the first time they turned away from the bewitching drama of events – the surface brilliance of the historical record – to probe deeper into archival sources or general laws of social behavior. The causes of the French Revolution were depersonalized, cut loose from the speech and conduct of Great Men and instead located deep within the structure of the society that preceded it. Class rather than utterance, bread rather than belief, was taken to be the determinant of allegiance. Scientific – or at least sociological – history had arrived and with it, the demotion of chronicle to anecdotal unimportance. So for a long time now, cloaked in the mantle of rigorous objectivity, historians have busied themselves with structure; with cause and effect; with probabilities and contingencies; with pie charts and bar-graphs; with semiotics and anthropologies; with microhistories of départements, districts, cantons, villages, hamlets.

What follows (I need hardly say) is not science. It has no pretensions to dispassion. Though in no sense fiction (for there is no deliberate invention), it may well strike the reader as story rather than history. It is an exercise in animated description, a negotiation with a two-hundred-year memory without any pretense of definitive closure. And both the form of its telling and its chosen subject matter represent a deliberate turning away from analytical history towards Events and Persons, both long forbidden, or dismissed as mere froth on the great waves of history. It is a narrative not by default but by choice: a beginning, middle and end that tries to resonate with its protagonists’ own overdeveloped sense of past, present and posterity. For it is not in the least fortuitous that the creation of the modern political world coincided precisely with the birth of the modern novel.

Most revolutionary histories present themselves as linear: a passage in time from oldness to newness. But they can hardly avoid circularity. In its early usage, revolution was a metaphor drawn from astronomy, signifying the periodic turning of the spheres. It implied predictability, not unpredictability. “The World Turned Upside Down,” as the popular anthem of the American Revolution was called, paradoxically implied an adjustment to its becoming right side up. Correspondingly, the men of 1776 (and still more the framers of the Constitution) were more concerned with preserving order than with perpetuating change. Some of the same nervousness was apparent in France in the way the men of 1789 used the word. But in their case, its transformative rhetoric overwhelmed any apprehensive second thoughts. Curiously, those who hoped for limited change in 1789 were the most given to the hyperbole of the irreversible. And from that time on revolution would be a word of inauguration, not repetition.

It was in 1830 that the “French Revolution” became a transferable entity. It was no longer a finite series of events, anchored to a particular historical mooring (say, 1789– 94). Instead, the memory (primarily written, but also sung, engraved, spoken) constructed political reality. All along, there had been a strain of Romantic recollection which had coped with the actual obliteration of much of the French Revolution by proclaiming its immortality in patriotic memory. Attempting to galvanize a country already under occupation in 1815, Napoleon, who had been the Revolution’s most enthusiastic gravedigger, tried to wake it from the tomb. Wrapping himself in revolutionary slogans and emblems, he tried to invoke the fear and comradeship of 1792: la patrie en danger. But Waterloo was to finish off what the Battle of Valmy had begun.

Returned to the throne by foreign invasion, the Bourbons appreciated that all hope of their legitimacy turned on an act of prudential forgetting. Their first king, Louis XVIII, with his supremely bourgeois appetites for money and gourmandizing, was good at political forgetfulness. He scarcely balked at appointing ministers who had served the Revolution and the Empire and avoided altogether a formal coronation. But his brother Charles X was himself the captive of a much more restless memory. As he went out of his way to affront the revolutionary past – by having himself crowned with all the traditional ritual in Reims Cathedral – so he stirred revolutionary ghosts from their tomb of memory. Although he was haunted by those memories, his behavior guaranteed their reappearance. His last, most recalcitrant minister was a Polignac from perhaps the most universally hated aristocratic clan of the 1780s. In 1830, arbitrary decrees recalled those of 1788, and to confront them, the bundle of emotive rallying cries, costumes, flags and songs that had been handed like an historical parcel across the generations reconstituted itself at the barricades.

There was much to provoke popular anger in 1830. A trade depression with its automatic high bread prices and unemployment had caused groups of angry artisans to assemble in the faubourg Saint-Antoine to listen to journalists and orators denounce the government. But what triggered their emotions and fired their determination was the exposure of revolutionary mementos like holy relics: the tricolor that was flown again from Notre Dame; bodies bayoneted by royal troops, paraded in their bloodied winding sheets through the streets as an incitement to revolt. Once more the Hôtel de Ville was besieged by cabinetmakers, hatters and glove makers from the faubourg Saint-Antoine, this time impeded on their march west by nothing more than the scabby rump of a plaster elephant. The “Marseillaise” sounded again, the red hats of liberty (no more anachronistic in 1830 than they had been in 1789) were thrust onto unwigged heads and rusty ten-pound cannon were again hauled over the cobbles. A Duc d’Orléans once again plotted (this time successfully) to be the beneficiary of the demise of a Bourbon king. Even Maréchal Marmont, charged with the defense of Paris, seemed imprisoned in this historical reverie. On seeing the allegiance of the military disintegrate he could find nothing better to say to his king than to repeat, verbatim, the words of the Duc de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt to Louis XVI on July 15, 1789: “Sire, this is not a riot, it is a revolution.” But while Louis had completely failed to grasp the significance of a transformed political vocabulary, Charles X knew precisely what these words portended. He had read the script. He had read the histories. Even his fate was preordained to repeat not Louis’ but his own conduct in 1789, for he had been quick to depart then, and he was even quicker now.

If the lines were the same, the lead players had aged badly. The advanced years of many of the principals of the July Revolution of 1830 were an embarrassment. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be old was to be level-headed” would not do. Veterans were playing the leads that should have gone to promising juveniles. Revolutions are the empire of the young. Michelet, who had been born four years after the Terror, lectured on rejuvenation to classrooms packed with doting students. In his fiery narrative, the youths of 1789 had taken green sprigs for favors in the garden of the Palais-Royal on July 12 as a signal of the springtime of a new France. The old men of the Bastille were cast only as villains or victims: the Invalides guards who manned the towers; the Comte de Solages (detained by his own family), whose usefully poignant white beard, shrunken form and immemorial wrinkles seemed to indict, by mere appearance, the longevity of despotism. By the lights of the mentor of revolution, Rousseau, to be young was to be innocent and unstained, so that the proper object of revolution should be to liberate the child of nature trapped in the carapace of maturity. Rousseau’s most ardent young disciples in the Revolution had consumed themselves with Virtue and then killed each other before suffering the disenchantment of long memories. The Terror even beatified the dead, but deathless, young. The immortal Bara, aged thirteen, was shot rather than surrender horses to rebels he called “brigands”; the Young Darruder saw his father fall on the battlefield, picked up his drum and led the charge. Camille Desmoulins was already a revolutionary veteran at twenty-eight when he perished at the hands of Saint-Just, who was himself guillotined at twenty-six.

Superannuated revolutionaries were hard to take seriously. They ran the risk of ridicule, from which no revolution can properly recover. The men who made 1830 possible – students from the Polytechnique, journeymen-printers and national guardsmen – were certainly a new generation. And if the journalists and liberal politicians who committed themselves to a violent change of regime were not in their first bloom of youth, neither were they dodderers. But the major actors of the July days (and to a greater extent the “Notables” who composed the new elite of the constitutional monarchy – bankers, bureaucrats and lawyers) were conspicuously long in the tooth. Daumier’s scathing caricatures of bald pates and pinched cheeks, of paunches and withered hams, were dangerously closer to the reality than Delacroix’s athletic Liberty at the barricades. Throughout 1830 and for the next two decades, the old were frightened by the young, the cerebral intimidated by the visceral. The Revolution and the Restoration it deposed were historical curiosities, exhumed from the past, costumed afresh for their encounter but with old bones rattling inside the fancy dress. The ostentatiously pious King, Charles X, was a feeble reincarnation of his notorious old persona, the Comte d’Artois, who had been the most dashing of the Versailles bloods: a notorious rakehell at the hunt and in the ballroom and in bed. He had spat in the eye of the revolution of’89, had trampled cockades underfoot and made “O Richard mon roi” the anthem of the counter-revolution. The incoming Prince, Louis-Philippe, a flabby facsimile of his regicide father “Philippe Egalité,” circulated his memoirs in an effort to present himself as the young citizen-soldier of the revolutionary armies at Jemappes in 1792, but to little avail. And he created the Gallery of Battles at Versailles with painting after painting by Horace Vernet designed to identify him with the virility of French arms. But to the wider public, who chuckled at the caricatures of Philipon and Daumier, the protecting sword of France – la Joyeuse – was comically transmogrified into Louis-Philippe’s ubiquitous umbrella. Even worse, the figure of majesty had resolved itself into the lethally absurd shape of a pear.

While it was a misfortune to be old in 1830, age alone did not dictate comportment. For two particular septuagenarian walking histories, the call of revolutionary memory meant very different things. To Gilbert de Lafayette, Hero of the Two Worlds, a boyish and spry seventy-three, it meant delusions of youth, passion rekindled and the pumping of the pulse. To physiognomists, it must have seemed that his complexion suggested a temper designed for ignition. And Lafayette complemented his perennially ruddy glow with a wiry reddish wig, which together announced that the fire of revolutionary action was still smoldering within.

In contrast to Lafayette’s revolutionary sanguine, Maurice de Talleyrand, Prince de Bénévent, presented to the world an exterior of imperturb-able phlegm. At seventy-five he was two years Lafayette’s senior and at least as rich in revolutionary memories. This latest crisis seemed tiresomely déjà vu, but nonetheless an occasion for careful maneuver and the avoidance of anything impulsive. While one old man heard the cock crowing over France reborn, the other heard the “Marseillaise” as cacophony, disturbing his calm twilight. For Lafayette the moment sang of celebrity, for Talleyrand it murmured a low profile. And while Lafayette rode towards Paris to appear before the adoring throng, Talleyrand removed the bronze nameplate from the front of his town house to avoid recognition.

Lafayette took his memory seriously and he knew how to use it as a weapon. Suitably edited to exclude the embarrassments, which were as many as his triumphs, his revolutionary recall was a last summons by posterity. “Rest assured,” he promised the crowds in 1830, “my conduct at the age of 73 will be the same as it was at the age of 32.” “The Restoration took as its motto ‘Unite and Forget,’” he told a legion of the National Guard; “I will take as mine, ‘Unite and Remember.’” And remember he did. In Grenoble, at one of the many banquets that marked his triumphal progress across France, he responded to a toast by reminding the citizenry of their “Day of Tiles” in 1787, when they had confronted royal troops. It was because he had been commander of the National Guard in 1789 that the nervous leaders of the opposition thought his resumption of the office would be a prudent move. Lafayette duly donned his old uniform and with disingenuous modesty announced in public that “a veteran may be of some service in our present grave crisis.” When he arrived at the Hôtel de Ville amidst a riotous crowd as commander of the National Guard, a well-meaning officer attempted to show him the route. “I know my way,” he replied with heavy emphasis, “I have been here before.”

Most of all he remembered how to greet the revolutionary muse: with a fraternal embrace. And so Lafayette kissed the tricolor; he kissed his Guard officers; he kissed the Due d’Orléans as he gave him his benediction. He kissed the new age with so much ardor that his kissing became notorious and men giggled about him as the incorrigible “Père Biseur.” But how many have three apotheoses in a single lifetime? Accustomed to occupy center stage, Lafayette understood instinctively the call of political theater: of gestures, and body language, of physical as well as verbal rhetoric enacted at crucial moments. In America on a last triumphal progress just five years before, he had become the first creation of populist politics, transformed into “Marcus D. Lafayette,” reveling in the applause and rose petals that rained down on him from Maine to Virginia; tirelessly pressing flesh, shaking hands till his were raw; and with transparent sincerity repeating over and over again before ecstatic crowds: “Zo appy; zo appy.” Before the swarm of people at the Hôtel de Ville, many of them seeing in the old Marshal their chance for a republic, he draped Louis-Philippe in the tricolor as though it were the toga of his constitutionalism and shoved him unceremoniously to the balcony. In that one vaudeville gesture Lafayette stole the show and drew the teeth of republicanism. He undoubtedly remembered the dismay of Louis XVI when a mere cockade was stuck on his hat in the aftermath of the fall of the Bastille. For a king who would survive, nothing less than a great tricolor winding sheet was necessary.

Lafayette was the Great Reminder. In 1815, when, even after the disaster at Waterloo, there was an attempt to preserve the Napoleonic Empire, he delivered a devastating speech that summoned as witnesses for the prosecution the ghosts of millions of soldiers left to die by the Great Man in Egypt, Russia and Germany. In America he always sought to reinforce, by constant reminders of fraternal liberties, a friendship that had badly eroded since 1783. It was for that reason that he presented a key from the Bastille to George Washington. For Lafayette, memory was the spur to action, and revolution was itself part of the process of perpetual renewal, a way in which France could recover its élan vital.

Talleyrand was not interested in the birdsong of political springtimes. He had become comfortably reconciled to political winter. His own memories left him exhausted rather than elated, and Romantic dash had always been out of the question. His lame foot had hobbled him since he was a baby and he had long learned to cultivate a kind of studied languor that irritated the second-rate. All his life, he had been anathema to any apostle of Rousseau, for he placed his trust in disguise rather than candor, civility rather than spontaneity, reflection rather than impulse, diplomacy rather than aggression, negotiation behind closed doors rather than orations to public meetings. Forever being written off as a political fossil, an archaic survival of the ancien régime, he knew better than most that all these arts were required as much by the political future as by the past.

In 1830 he yearned for nothing better, for himself and for France, than a quiet life. At Valençay, his stunningly beautiful Renaissance château, he played the provincial squire, installed as mayor and experimenting with new varieties of escarole and carrot and tending his nursery of Scotch pines. At Rochecotte, the house of his much younger companion Dorothée de Dino, he enjoyed even simpler pleasures, sampling peaches from his own grafts, which he ate with Brie, the “King of Cheeses” (“the only King to whom he has been loyal,” said one of his many detractors). In Paris he rarely stirred from the great hôtel on the rue Saint-Florentin where he sat propped up on thicknesses of pillows (even in bed, for he was much afraid of falling at night and concussing himself), nibbling on a biscuit, sipping his Madeira and reading, without the help of spectacles, from his immense and spectacular private library. For Talleyrand was still fastidious, his thick hair powdered and teased into white ringlets, his wattles crammed into a high Directory collar, his famous retrousséenose (which he could still cock like a deadly weapon) subject to a peculiar rinsing operation at the end of the one meal he allowed himself each day.

To Ary Scheffer, who painted him in 1828, he seems to have looked like death in black silk. But like some immensely aged and formidable tortoise, Talleyrand was able to make the most of life by treating it with deliberateness and caution. This is why the purblind stupidity of Charles X so exasperated him. For in his reckless determination to confront all but the most reactionary bigots he had condemned France to yet another period of “anarchy, a revolutionary war, and all the other evils from which France had been rescued with so much difficulty in 1815.” If revolution came to Lafayette as an onrush of feeling, an elixir of youth, for Talleyrand, the tocsin sounded an alarm in his intelligence. For Lafayette 1830 had to be the harbinger of Freedom and Democracy, not just for France but for the whole world (and especially Poland). For Talleyrand the only point to a change of regime was damage control.

If Lafayette’s brilliantly histrionic business with the tricolor flag and his benediction before the crowds – “Voilà la meilleure des républiques”(Behold the best of republics) – had been, in effect, Louis-Philippe’s popular coronation, Talleyrand (who had been present at all three coronations of Louis XVI, Napoleon and Charles X) supplied the nominee. So that while Lafayette was at center stage, it was Talleyrand who in every sense controlled the action behind the scenes. The two men had always occupied this curiously symbiotic relationship, actor and producer, performer and puppeteer, and they had always disagreed wherein lay the reality of revolutionary power. For Lafayette utterances, forms, costumes, symbols and a missionary belief in Just Causes constituted the only historical epic worth remembering. For Talleyrand these same symbolic constructions were history’s mummeries, potions for the credulous, the secular mumbo-jumbo that had replaced that of relics and miracles. Such performances were circus antics, simultaneously indispensable and spurious. He had seen Lafayette on a white horse before: when, as commander of the National Guard, he was the focal point of 400,000 revolutionary enthusiasts as he took the oath to the Nation on the Champ de Mars on the fourteenth of July 1790. But it was Talleyrand, the Citizen-Bishop of Autun, who had written the Mass that gave this ceremony its benediction and Talleyrand who went on calculating. For while Lafayette bathed in the radiance of revolutionary celebrity, Talleyrand broke the bank at the card tables.

While once more Lafayette played to the gallery, Talleyrand played the stock exchange (“Jouez à la baisse,” he recommended to friends three days before the street fighting in Paris). Equally, their mopping-up operations were in striking, but related, contrast. Lafayette compensated for his desertion of the republican cause in 1830 by proclaiming messianic revolutionary internationalism and the immediate liberation of Poland. Talleyrand took up his last official post in 1830 as French ambassador to London, where he went about putting out the fires that Lafayette had so freely kindled and promising his old doppelgänger from Vienna, the Duke of Wellington, that Louis-Philippe’s most dangerous weapon was a furled umbrella. Tout va bien.

In their own persons, Lafayette and Talleyrand embodied the split personality of the French Revolution. For while it is commonplace to recognize that the Revolution gave birth to a new kind of political world, it is less often understood that that world was the product of two irreconcilable interests – the creation of a potent state and the creation of a community of free citizens. The fiction of the Revolution was to imagine that each might be served without damaging the other and its history amounts to the realization of that impossibility.

It would be the worst possible mistake, though, to assume at the outset an unduly ironic tone towards the more idealistic of these goals. Talleyrand, who was wont to do just that, was by a sublime irony the indirect grandfather of the most enduring of all the images of revolutionary exaltation: Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. Standing on the rubble of a barricade, his bare-breasted Marianne of the People, wearing the red hat of the sans-culottes, urges workers and students towards the indeterminate destination of revolutionary arcadia. Notre Dame de la Liberté is framed against the background of Notre Dame de Paris, already conquered for Freedom, the tricolor flying from its towers.

And Talleyrand? What had he to do with this thunderbolt in oils, so viscerally stirring that Louis-Philippe took fright and bought Delacroix’s painting so that he could hide it away from public view for a generation? Talleyrand had not brought this imperishable revolutionary embarrassment into the world but he had, it seems, created Eugène Delacroix. In the revolutionary year VI (1798), as the first revolution was quietly being put to sleep by its corrupt custodians in Paris and kicked to death by its generalissimi in the field, Talleyrand had been more than usually mischievous. Replacing the Republic’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charles Delacroix (who had been exiled to the unenviable dreariness of the French Embassy at The Hague), Talleyrand also replaced him in the bed of Mme Delacroix. She was, we may assume, receptive to his advances, for her husband had been for some time incapacitated by a monstrous goiter that extended from his belly to his groin. Its successful excision by the most brilliant surgeons in Paris was a medicalcausecélèbre and the deformity of M. Delacroix a widely publicized historical event. Talleyrand’s own deformity, his limping broken foot dragging along its specially designed shoe, had never been an obstacle to his success as a lover. He believed that power and intelligence were the perfume of courtship and he wielded them with deadly charm. Mme Delacroix duly succumbed. Their progeny was the prodigy Eugène, the greatest Romantic of the new age sired by the most formidable skeptic of the old.

Blood of revolutionary passion then issued from flesh of revolutionary intelligence. Those two tempers – rhetorical and rational, visceral and cerebral, sentimental and brutal – shall not be separated in this history. Indeed, it was from their imperfect union that a new politics was born.

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