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I remember an infamous anecdote of the Abbe
Lamourette, aferwards bishop of Lyons. It occur-
red during dinner ; and Garrat, Volney, Cabanis,
Palissot, and several others were present. Lamou-
rette was the author of Mirabeau's speeches upon
the civil constitution of the clergy , and Mirabeau
did not appear, in private, to entertain the same
opinion upon this subject as he had maintained in
public. On the contrary, he wished for a Catholic
clergy, but not a dominant or exclusive one. Palis-
sot was speaking of the Abbe Grcgoire who evinced
much zeal in the cause of religion, and whom, with
the usual intolerance of these gentlemen, he accused
of being a charlatan, and a hypocrite, "That I can
safely deny," said Lamourette, "for I was his pro-
fessor of theology ; and I can vouch for his believing
in God a hundred times more than is necessary." —
"Take care what you say ;" said Mirabeau, " here
is a Genevese whom you will oifend, for he believes
in God from the bottom of his heart." — " And so do
I," replied Lamourette, " I should be very sorry
that he understood me otherwise." — After dinner,
on opening a new book which lay upon the table, my
attention was arrested by the following title : " Med-



itations of the soul with its God^ by the Abbe La-
mourette, Professor of Theology/' &c.

Mirabeau was not satisfied with the side he had
taken on the question of the clergy ; and this I recol-
lect perfectly. M. Bertrand de Molleville, in his
Annals; imputes to him very profound views, and
thinks that in furtherance of the plan he had formed,
it was necessary to excite the clergy against the as-
serablyj in order to bring fresh auxiliaries to the
king. This reasoning is very far-fetched. I should
rather suppose that he had acted from weakness, and
feared to resist the opinion of the revolutionists,
which opinion, nevertheless, he did not confound
with that of the nation.

During the last week I spent at Paris, I saw Mira-
beau in a new situation — one which he had often
seemed to despise, rather I should think from envy
than indifference; — he was made president of the
assembly. Hitherto he had been carefully kept out
of the presidency, although every other distinguish-
ed member, and many besides who had no claim to it,
had already filled the chair. His present call to the
presidency showed that the court party began to
perceive how useful he might be to them, for he had
too many secret enemies among the democrats to be
elected by a majority consisting only of their votes.
Never had this office been so well filled ; he dis-
played in it a new kind of talent. He introduced a


degree of order and clearness in the proceedings, of
the possibility of which no member had previously
the least conception. He simplified forms ; could
render the question clear by a single word, and also
by a single word put down tumult. His regard for
all parties, the respect he always paid to the assem-
bly, the precision of his observations, and his answers
to the several deputations at the bar^ — answers
which, whether prepared or extempore, were always
remarkable for dignity and elegance, and satisfactory
even in conveying a refusal ; — in short, his activity,
his impartiality, and his presence of mind increased
his reputation, and added splendour to his talents in
an office which had proved a quicksand to many of
his predecessors. He had the art of appearing the
first, and of fixing the general attention, even when,
being no longer able to speak from the tribune, he
seemed to have foregone his most valuable preroga-
tive. His enemies and those jealous of his eloquence,
who had voted for him, in order thereby to cast him
in the shade and reduce him to silence, were bitterly
disappointed when they saw him add another wreath
to the chaplet of his glory.

He was far from enjoying good health at this pe-
riod. " If I believed in slow poisons," he said to me,
^^I should think myself poisoned. For I feel that I
am dying by inches — that I am being consumed in a
slow fire." I observed to him that his mode of life


would long ago have destroyed any man less robust
than he. Not an instant of rest from seven in the
morning till ten or eleven at night ; continual con-
versations, agitations of mind and excitement of every
passion ; too high living, in food only, for he was
very moderate in drink. "You must," I said, "be
a salamander to live in the fire which is consuming
you." Like all public and ambitious men in their
moments of ennui and fatigue, he entertained, at
times, thoughts of retiring from public life. The
irritation of his system, at this time, produced violent
attacks of ophthalmia, and I have seen him, whilst he
was president, sometimes apply leeches to his eyes
in the .interval during the adjournment of the sitting
from the morning to the evening, and attend the as-
sembly with his neck covered with linen to staunch
the blood.

When we separated, he embraced me with an emo-
tion I had never before seen him evince. " I shall
die at the stake, my dear friend," said he, " and we
shall never, perhaps, meet again. When I am gone,
my value will be appreciated. Misfortunes to which
I have put a stop, were overwhelming France in
every direction ; but that base faction whom I now
overawe, will again be let loose upon the country.
I have nor^e but direful anticipations. Ah ! my friend,
how right were we when, in the beginning, we tried
to prevent the commons from being declared a national


assembly. This is the origin of the evil. Since
they have carried that point, they have not ceased to
show that they are unworthy of confidence. They
wanted to govern the king, instead of being governed
by him ; but soon neither they nor he will govern ;
a vile faction will rule the country, and debase it by
the most atrocious crimes."

I did not then think that Mirabeau's forebodings
would be realized in every point. I considered
them as the mere workings of his ardent imagination,
and felt by no means disposed to believe in the vil-
lainy of the individuals whom he designated as the
chiefs of the jacobins. I had often seen his hatred
towards individuals lead him into similar exaggera-
tions, and 1 attributed his sinister prognostics, in the
present instance, to the same cause.

Three months after this conversation, Mirabeau
was no more, . . .



I AM not perfectly acquainted with the private life
of Mirabeau, his domestic habits, or the particulars
of his conduct to his parents and his wife. The vio-
lence of his youthful passions, may perhaps justify
his father's severity ; but the Marquis de Mirabeau,
as violent as his son^ had certainly not the art of
governing the impetuous temper of the latter. In-
stead of attempting to lead him by affection, to which
the young man was feelingly alive, he would fain
subjugate him by force. Mirabeau used to compare
his family to that of Atreus and Thyestes. The
eternal quarrels between the parents, formed the
children into two hostile factions, and accustomed
them, at a very early age, to constraint and dissimu-
lation ; whilst the contagion of vice had but too much
power over such a temperament as Mirabeau's, so
precocious in every respect, and depraved by female
intercourse long before his reason had attained to
maturity. The manner in which he was brought up,


may explain that singular complication of contradic-
tory qualities by which he was characterized.

I have heard, that to obtain the hand of his wife,
he practised a very mean stratagem. The parents
had refused their consent, from a preference for a
rival. It therefore became necessary to force this
rival to withdraw, which he is said to have eifected
by the following means. He gained the good graces
of a maid servant in the house, with whom he had
meetings after the family were gone to bed. He
used to drive his carriage into a neighbouring street,
in order to impart an air of mystery to his motions.
This carriage was left there several hours, and the
spies of the rival soon reported that the Count de
Mirabeau was in the habit of passing the night at the
house of his mistress. The lady's reputation became
thus implicated, the rival withdrew, and the parents
deemed themselves fortunate in hushing the matter
up by consenting to the marriage. The happiness
of this union, founded upon fraud, was soon inter-
rupted by reciprocal infidelity and a separation.

Mirabeau's correspondence with Madame Mou-
nier, from his prison at Vincennes, evinced more of
sensuality than sentiment. Many of his letters are
so repugnant to modesty, that they degrade the per-
son to whom they are addressed ; for no man would
presume to adopt so licentious a style in writing to a

woman for whom he had the least esteem. Garat
2 E


undertook to detect the plagiarisms ia this corres-
pondence. I heard his paper read at M. de Talley-
rand's. Mirabeau, when writing to his mistress,
would copy whole pages from several periodicals of
the day. " Listen, my beloved,^' he would write,
" whilst I pour my whole soul into thy bosom ;" and
such intimate confidence was a literal transcription
from the Mercure de France, or a new novel.

During the leisure of his solitude in prison, he
composed an obscene work, which was nothing more
than a compilation of the most monstrous impurities
found in the ancients.

That a mind like Mirabeau's should be formed
from materials so impure, is doubtless matter of as-
tonishment ; but Mirabeau, though immoral, was not
crapulous. He delighted in sensibility and affection.
I have often heard him express disgust at seeing the
unhappy victim of public prostitution. Nor did he
make a merit of this, for he believed himself a greater
sinner against society than they. Mirabeau could
inspire, as well as feel affection. — He had- attached
himself in Holland to a woman of respectable family,
who had united her fate to his from the effects of a
passion which absorbed every other consideration.
She was unmarried, young, beautiful, full of grace
and modesty ; she would have been an ornament to
virtue, had she never seen Mirabeau ; and no one,
perhaps, was more deserving of indulgence and com-


miseration. Mirabeau's friends never forgave him
for sacrificing this interesting creature to a wretched
woman, who had the insolence of vice, and boasted
of her licentiousness. But Madame le Jay had
artifice and malice ; was familiar with intrigue, flat-
tering and voluptuousness. This woman took advan-
tage of her influence over Mirabeau to excite his
natural violence and promote her own interest ; and
his friends lamented to see him the prey of a cove-
tous and debauched female^, who had not one good
quality to compensate her faults.

Mirabeau had a confidence in his own power,
which supported him in difficulties under which
another would have sunk. His imagination loved
whatever was great, and his mind had extraordinary
powers of discrimination. He had natural good
taste, which he had cultivated by reading the best
authors of several nations. Without any depth of
information, he made good use of the little he knew;
in the turmoil of his stormy life he wanted leisure
for study, but in his prison at Vincennes, he went
through a course of general reading, made translations
from foreign authors, and formed a collection of ex-
tracts from many eminent writers. All this, however,
scarcely amounted to the stock of knowledge belong-
ing to the most ordinary man of letters ; and when he
spoke with the open confidence of friendship, he
was by no means vain of his acquirements. But


what he possessed beyond other men, was an elo-
quent and impassioned soul;, which, the instant it
was excited, animated every feature of his coun-
tenance ; and nothing was more easy, than to bring
on the requisite degree of excitement. He had been
accustomed, from his youth, to consider the two
great questions of politics and government ; but he was
not competent to enter deeply into them. The work
of discussion, examination, and doubt was beyond his
reach. He had too much warmth and effervescence
of mind for didactic method or laborious application.
His mind proceeded by starts and leaps, but its con-
ceptions were bold and vigorous. He abounded in
forcible expressions, of which he made a particular
study, and was peculiarly qualified to shine in a
popular assembly, at a stormy period, when force and
audacity were the necessary passports to success.

As an author he cannot rank high, for all his works,
without exception, are a species of patch-work, of
which very little would be left if each contributor
took back his own. But he imparted splendour to
whatever he touched, by introducing here and there
luminous thoughts, original expressions, and apostro-
phes full of fire and eloquence. It was a singular
faculty, that which he had of discovering obscure
talents, applying to each the degree of encouragement
necessary to its peculiar character, and animating
those who possessed them with his own zeal, so as to


make them eagerly co-operate in a work of which he
was to reap all the credit.

He felt himself absolutely incapable of writing
upon any subject, except he were guided and sup-
ported by the work of another. His style, naturally
strained, degenerated into turgescence, and he was
soon disgusted with the emptiness and incoherence of
his own ideas. But when he had materials to work
upon, he could prune and connect, impart a greater
degree of life and force, and imprint upon the whole
the stamp of eloquence. That is what he called
putting the irait to a work. This trait consisted of
a forcible expression, an image, a flash of wit, an
epigram, an irony, or an allusion; something, in
short, smart and pungent, which he conceived abso-
lutely necessary to keep up the attention of his read-
ers. It will readily be perceived how dangerous the
^ra/^mania, if indulged in, would become to good
taste, and that it would rapidly lead to the affecta-
tion which characterized the ages of the decline of

As a political orator, Mirabeau was, in certain
points, superior to all other men. He had a rapid
coup deceit J a quick and sure perception of the feel-
ings of the assembly, and well knew how to apply
his entire strength to the point qf resistance without
exhausting his means. No other orator did so much
witl» a single word, nor hit the mark with so sure an


aim; none but Mirabeau ever forced the general
opinion either by a happy insinuation, or by a strong
expression which intimidated his adversaries. In
the tribune he was immovable. They who have
seen him well know that no agitation in the assembly
had the least effect upon him, and that he remained
master of his temper even under the severest per-
sonal attacks. I once recollect to have heard him
make a report upon the city of Marseilles. Each
sentence was interrupted from the cote droit with
low abuse ; the words calumniator, liar, assassin,
and rascal, were very prodigally lavished upon him.
On a sudden he stopped, and with a honeyed accent,
as if what he had stated had been most favourably
received, " I am waiting, gentleman," said he, ^^ until
the fine compliments you are paying me, are exhaus-
ted." He never considered himself sufla-ciently pro-
voked to forget the decorum of public oratory. But
what was wanting to make him a perfect political
speaker was, the power of discussion. His mind
could not embrace a chain of reasoning or of evi-
dence, nor could he refute methodically. Thus, he
was often obliged to abandon important motions after
he had read his speech ; for in reply, after a brilliant
exordium, he had no alternative but to abandon the
field of battle to his adversaries. This defect pro-
ceeded from his embracing too much, and not medi-
tating sufiiciently. He appeared with a speech that


had been written for him, and upon the arguments of
which he had scarcely bestowed any reflection. He
had not taken the pains to anticipate objections and
discuss details ; and in these respects he w^as very
inferior to many of the intellectual giants whom I had
heard in the English parliament. The triumph of
Fox, for instance, is in refutation. He resumes all
the arguments of the adverse party, puts them in a
new light and gives them more force ; — having thus
placed himself in the most difficult situation, he pul-
verizes them one by one, and never appears stronger
than when he seems about to be overthrown. The
only speakers in the national assembly, possessing any
share of this faculty, were Maury, Clermont Tonnere,
Barnave and Thouret. Barnave, in particular, was
cased in an armour of logic and argument ; he fol-
lowed the reasoning of his opponents step by step,
but he had neither imagination, style, nor eloquence.
• Some one comparing his didactic talents with Mira-
beau's eloquence, another said to him, " How can
you compare that artificial espalier to a tree exposed
to every blast, spreading its branches in the full
luxuriance of natural beauty!" Certain it is that
the two individuals were not to be compared. But
Mirabeau was conscious of his deficiency in power
of discussion, and one day when one of his attempts
at refutation had been crowned with a degree of
success, he said to us, " I well perceive that to speak


extempore upon any subject, the orator must begin
by making himself master of it.^^

Mirabeau's voice was full, manly and sonorous ; it
filled and pleased the ear. Always powerful, yet
flexible, it could be heard as distinctly when he low-
ered as when he raised it. He could go through all
its notes with equal ease and distinctness, and he
pronounced his finals with so much care that the last
syllable was never lost. His ordinary manner of
speaking was very slow. He commenced with the
appearance of a little embarrassment, often hesitated,
but in a way to excite interest, and until he became
animated, he seemed as if he were selecting the most
agreeable expressions. In his most impassioned mo-
ments, the feelings which made him dwell upon
certain words to give them emphasis, prevented him
from ever speaking rapidly. He had the greatest
contempt for French volubility and artificial warmth,
which he termed the thunders and tempests of the.
opera. He never lost sight of the gravity of a
senator, and it was a defect, perhaps, that when he
commenced a speech, there was always a slight
appearance of preparation and pretension. What
seems incredible is that little notes written in pencil
were often handed to him in the tribune, and he had
the art of reading them whilst he was speaking, and
embodying their contents in his speech with the
greatest facility. Garat used to compare him to one


of those jugglers who tear a piece of paper into
twenty little bits, swallow each bit separately, and at
last bring forth the original piece whole. He had
a most miraculous faculty of appropriating whatever
he heard. A word, a historical fact or a quotation
uttered in his presence, instantly became his own.
One day when Barnave, who was very vain of his
extemporaneous oratory, had just rej^ied without
preparation to a prepared speech, Champfort, who
was talking to Mirabeau on the steps of the tribune,
observed that facility was a fine talent if it were not
made an improper use of. Mirabeau immediately
took this proposition for his exordium, and thus be-
gan : "I have often said that facility was one of the
finest gifts of nature, if it were not made an impro-
per use of ; and what I have just heard, does not
induce me to alter my opinion," &c.

Among his personal advantages, he counted his
robust frame, his size, and his strongly marked fea-
tures seared with small pox. ^^ You know not," said
he, *^ all the power of my ugliness ;" but he con-
sidered this ugliness very handsome. He paid the
greatest attention to his dress, and wore an enormous
quantity of hair dressed in the fashion of the day,
and which Considerably increased the size of his
head. " When I shake my terrible locks," said he,
''no one dares interrupt me." . . . He was fond of
standing before a large pier glass, to see himself


speak, squaring his shoulders and throwing back his
head. He had also the mania of those vain men who
are fond of hearing the sound of their own name, and
derive pleasure from pronouncing it themselves.
Thus he would suppose dialogues, and introduce
himself as one of the speakers ; — as, for instance :
" The Count de Mirabeau will answer that," &c.

Mirabeau did not possess, particularly at first, the
qualities necessary for the leader of a party in a po-
litical assembly. He was too fond of showing off
exclusively, of doing every thing himself, and of
engrossing all the attention. He knew not how to
flatter the self-love of others, had no general plan,
took the chance of whatever might occur from one
day to another, and became formidable to the cote
droit without gaining the unreserved confidence of
the cote gauche. Although fond of flourishing about
his party, he had no legions of his own. He was
unable to submit to follow up regularly and assidu-
ously the sittings of the assembly ; he scarcely ever
attended in the evening, and he depended too much
upon his own powers, to condescend to consult the
other deputies, and obtain their approbation before-
hand. For a considerable period he was quite alone ;
and he knew nothing of those preparatory tactics by
which a permanent and solid body of partizans may
be formed into a popular assembly. But in many
points, he had much improved. No one knew bet-


ter how to benefit by experience. Reybaz, who
wrote a great deal for him, and was the author of
his speeches on the assignats and on many other
topics, told me, that he had improved prodigiously^
during the last six months; that is to say, since he
had adopted a systematic plan, and aimed at forming,
in favour of the monarchy, a powerful union against
the jacobins.

Much has been said of the venality of Mirabeau ;
and if some of his detractors are worthy of credit,
his talents were actually put up to the highest bid-
der. " Since I have been in the practice of selling
myself," he would sometimes observe, ^^I ought to
have gained sufficient to purchase a kingdom ; but I
know not how it happens, that I have always been
poor, having at my command so many kings, and all
their treasures." It may be admitted, that he was
not over- scrupulous in money matters ; but he was too
proud to be dishonest, and he would have thrown
out of the window any one who dared make him a
humiliating proposal. He received a pension from
Monsieur^ and subsequently one from the king ; but
he considered himself an agent entrusted with their
aifairs, and he accepted those pensions not to be
governed by, but to govern those who granted them.
M. de Narbonne told me that he once heard him
say, " A man like me might accept a hundred thou-
sand crowns, but I am not to be bought for that sum."


It is possible, however, that this remark was nothing
more than the effect of the same kind of vanity
which makes a female opera- dancer find a charm in
the high price at which her favours are valued. If
Spain and England did really bribe him, what be-
came of the sums he received? — How happens it
that he died insolvent? Although the expenses of
his establishment were considerable in proportion to
his means, yet he did not live above the style of a
man of ordinary opulence. And if he distributed,
for the king's service, the moneys he received, he can
no longer be accused of cupidity, for, in that case, he
was nothing more than the king's banker.

I imagine that, in this kind of reputation, Mira-
beau has paid the usury of some offences to others.
Exaggeration is the first penalty inflicted by the code
of public opinion. He was so fully aware that, if he
had enjoyed personal consideration, all France would
have been at his feet, that there were moments when
he would have consented to pass "seven times
through the heated furnace," to purify the name of
Mirabeau. I have seen him weep with grief, and
heard him say, almost suffocated with sobs, "I am
cruelly expiating the errors of my youth !"

His vanity, which was never at rest, except in the
intimate intercourse of friendship, rendered him

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Online LibraryEtienne DumontRecollections of Mirabeau → online text (page 13 of 22)