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trim, would think of the civil list?''

D' Andre complained to me more of his associates
than of his enemies. Their indolence was extreme ;
they were weakened by the secret consciousness of
having changed their opinions ; and when accused
of inconsistency and contradiction, they could not re-
ply to their opponents. In a word, they had been
all fire in the attack, but were chilled in the defence.


They often assembled in private, deliberated a long
time, and determined upon nothing. The parti de
la Montague had the advantage over them of con-
sistency, whilst among the moderates were to be
found traitors to their own principles.

D'Andre said that the greatest obstacles proceed-
ed from the court. The king listened to a great
many different counsellors, whose advice he rendered
nugatory by an ill-judged amalgamation of the whole.
There was a number of petty intrigues, but no really
concerted co-operation. A succession of foolish
measures brought suspicion upon the court, and gave
the appearance of counter-revolution to the acts of
those who were working heart and hand for the
maintenance of the constitutional monarchy. The
greatest of their annoyances was to find themselves
connected with persons who would have hanged
them all for the re-establishment of despotism.

The court party certainly committed suicide.
The king was so badly advised, particularly by the
queen, that he exerted all his influence to get the
decree passed, which rendered the members of the
first assembly ineligible to the second. D'Andre
made me acquainted with all the particulars. He
received a visit from one of the king's confidants,
who, after preparing the way with a great deal of
nonsense about gratitude, the esteem of the sovereign


and future favours, told him that the court depended
upon him to support this decree. D'Andre, who con-
sidered it as destructive of the constitution, did 9,11
in his power to open the king's eyes upon this
point. To save time he got the question adjourned ;
employed those who had influence at court, to point
out the evils which would be the result — but the
blindness was complete ; and the resentment of the
queen against most of the members of the cote
gauche, was so violent, that she considered the mon-
archy saved, if she could only succeed in excluding
from the assembly the men who had destroyed the
power of the crown. The court had been led, or
pretended to suppose, that the provinces were well-
intentioned — that the king was beloved by his peo-
ple, and that the electors would return men of a very
different character, who would repair the faults of
their predecessors. D'Andre, who presided when
the decree was proposed, saw, with astonishment,
the whole cote droit, who had been gained by the
court party, join the parti de la Montagne, to get it
passed without a discussion. '^ To the vote ! to the
vote !" sounded on all sides. D' Andre exerted himself
to enable his friends to speak, and subdue this danger-
ous enthusiasm, but could not succeed. The decree
was passed by acclamation, and the persons most
pleased with its success, were they who, by support-
ing it, had prepared their own downfall.


The constitution was a true anomaly, containing
too much of republicanism for a monarchy, and too
much of monarchy for a republic. The king was
an absolute excrescence ; he appeared every where,
but possessed no real power.



No event ever inspired the whole of Europe with
so deep an interest as the convocation of the states-
general. Every enlightened and reflecting mind
associated the most flattering anticipations with this
public struggle against old and deeply rooted preju-
dices, and expected a new moral and political world
to arise out of chaos. The necessity of hope was so
great, that all faults were pardoned? all misfortunes
imputed to accident ; and in spite of calamities, the
balance remained in favour of the constituent as-
sembly. It was the prosecution of despotism by

Six weeks after the convocation of the states-
general, they no longer existed— they had been con-
verted into a national assembly, whose first misfortune
was, that it owed its new title to a revolution ; that
is to say, to a change in its powers, its attributes, its
title and its means. The commons should have acted
in concert with the nobles, the clergy, and the king ;


instead of which, they subjugated the clergy, the
king, and the nobles, and acted not only without, but
against them. This is the whole of the revolution.

We may reason ad infinitum upon the causes of
the revolution ; but in my mind, there is only one
dominant and efficient cause — the weakness of the
king's character. Had a firm and decided prince
been in the place of Louis XVI. the revolution
would not have happened. The whole of this mon-
arch's reign led to it through different gradations.
There is not a single period, during the existence of
the first assembly, when the king could not have re-
established his authority, and framed a mixed con-
stitution much stronger and more solid than the old
parliamentary and nobiliary monarchy of France.
His weakness, his indecision, his half measures and
half counsels, and more particularly his want of fore-
sight, led to the catastrophe. The subordinate
causes which concurred, are only the development
of the first cause. When a prince is weak, his
courtiers are intrigants ; the factious, daring and
insolent ; the people audacious ; honest men timid ;
the most zealous and faithful servants of the state
discouraged ; the services of men of talent rejected ;
and the best advice rendered nugatory.

A king with dignity and energy of character
would have drawn towards him, those who proved
hostile to him ; and such men as Lafayette, the


Lameths, Mirabeau, and Sieyes, would not have
even thought of acting as they did, but upon a dif-
ferent field of action, would have appeared quite
different men.*

After the forcible union of the orders, the as-
sembly then enjoying the supreme power, pursued

* This article requires development.^ln England there are
discontented individuals, but no discontented classes. The
king, nobility, gentry, merchants, manufacturers, farmers, cler-
gy, army and navy, are each proud of their profession, of the
consideration they enjoy, and the prospects attached to their
situation in life. In France, before the revolution, discontent
pervaded all classes of society. The farmers and cultivators
were tired of the inequality of the taxes, and the arbitrary
manner in which they were often imposed. The merchants
were despised by the nobility, whilst the smaller nobles were
jealous of the higher, who were alone presented at court, and
in favour. The parliaments, with their contested prerogatives,
were sometimes powerful, at others ill-treated ; exposed to exile
when they resisted the government, and despised by the people
when they yielded to the will of the court. The advocates, a
numerous and widely-spread class, were kept below their pre-
tensions, and their ambition was without hope. No place was
offered to merit, in a kingdom where venality gave up all judi-
cial appointments to fortune. A tie of common interest was
wanting between the different orders. The provinces had,
likewise, distinctions which led to rivalry and hatred ; there
were fifty different organizations, each jealous of the other, and
forming different states, united under the same crown, but ene-
mies from their privileges. — Note by Dumont.


a new plan. The faults of this body may be traced
to nine causes.

1. Its heterogeneous composition. The parties
were too much irritated against each other to act in
concert. They only sought to throw difficulties in
each other's way, and overcome each other. The
discontented often got decrees passed^ in the hope
that the faults of the assembly would throw it into
discredit with the public. They endeavoured to
degrade it, and thus led it to self-destruction.

2. The composition of the commons. There
was too great a number of men without property,
and advocates who carried democracy to the extreme
of exaggeration.

3. The bad method of carrying on their pro-
ceedings. Forms are to a popular assembly what
tactics are to an army. There was as much differ-
ence between the debates of the national assembly
and those of the English parliament, as between the
scientific sieges and marches of the Austrians, and
the irregular combats and skirmishes of the Croats.

4. The constitutional decrees, sanctioned as fast
as they were drawn up, and made permanent, with-
out regard to the constitution as a whole ; which
rendered the advantages of experience abortive, and
drove the discontented to despair. Had these de-
crees been only provisional, the hope of amending
them would have supported all parties.


5. The fear of a counter-revolution. The revo-
lutionary party had set out by making powerful ene-
mies ; and they then fancied they could never take
precautions enough for their own safety. Every
thing that had the least appearance of royal authority
gave umbrage; the king's power seemed never suffi-
ciently destroyed ; but, on the contrary, always on
the point of resuscitation. The injury which they
had done it, made it an object of dread to them. If
the king but made himself popular by some step in
favour of the revolution, the assembly became jea-
lous. " The executive is pretending to be deadP^
once observed Lameth.

6. The emigration. This was the greatest of all
faults. The king was weakened by this desertion,
and the emigrants, by their intrigues, their protesta-
tions, and the uneasiness they created, brought on an
internal reaction.

7. The institution of the jacobins and other
affiliated societies. The whole of the people were
excited by these societies, which soon became pow-
erful rivals of the assembly. A member who had no
influence with the assembly, had only to affect exag-
gerated democracy, and he became a hero among the
jacobins. These societies formed hot-houses, in
which every venomous plant that could not be made
to grow in the open air, was forced, to maturity.

8. The false measures of the court party. The


latter began at first by acting against the assembly,
in which they afterwards attempted to obtain influ-
ence ; but it was too late. M. Necker displayed a
prudery in this respect, honourable, no doubt, to a
private individual, but indicative of great ignorance
in a statesman. He knew not how to form a party,
nor would he connect himself with Mirabeau, or
flatter Sieyes to obtain his support.

9. The secession, after the king's return from
Varennes, of the members of the cote droit who,
during the monarch's captivity, refused to vote in the
assembly. Their inaction paralyzed the moderate
revolutionists, and rendered them too weak to resist
the jacobins. Had these moderates joined Mallouet
and the Lameths, they might yet have preserved
the constitution.

The causes which overthrew this constitution, so
solemnly sworn to, and so enthusiastically received
by the whole nation, may be reduced to four.

1. The unity of the legislature. If there had
been two councils or legislative bodies, their progress
would have been less impetuous ; and one would
have served as a regulator to the other.

2. The independence of the legislative assem-
bly. If the king had possessed the power of convok-
ing or dissolving it, he could have made his share
of authority respected. But the moment the assera-

2 M


bly attacked him, he found himself without the means
of resistance.

3. The decree which rendered the members of
the first assembly ineligible to the second. Though
this be a secondary cause, it is, nevertheless, a very
powerful one. The newly elected deputies were
jealous of the glory won by their predecessors, and
had no regard for a work in which they had not
themselves concurred.

4. The immutability of the constitutional laws.
If my opinion be a correct one, ten years at least
should have been allowed for altering the defects in
these laws. A legislature whose hands were thus
tied, found themselves in too cramped a situation ;
and the two parties in the assembly soon concurred
in a violent revolution which burst these absurd

This assembly, after enjoying so brilliant an exist-
ence, had an obscure end. From the moment of the
king's return, it fell into disrepute, and dragged on
the remnant of its being, between mistrust and con-
tempt. Since it had discovered the evils arising
from its excesses, and endeavoured to moderate them,
it had lost that ascendency which belongs to offensive
warfare. It seemed as if it would deprive the people
of the power it had conferred upon them; and it had
the appearance of condemning its own work, which
it was then completing with remorse and disgust.


Nothing was more brilliant than its beginning, nothing
more insignificant than its end.

The assembly no doubt repented not having pass-
ed the constitutional laws provisionally, as it had
been advised to do, so as to be able to compare and
modify them as a whole, after the constitution was
completed. By adopting a contrary system, an error
became irremediable, and the effect of a bad law
necessitated the framing of still worse laws.

The revision, which was only a methodical arrange-
ment and classification, would have been the most im-
portant act of all, if the assembly had reserved
a power of amendment over these laws. Maturity
of judgment, acquired by an experience of three
years, would then have aided in perfecting the work.
But from ignorance and presumption, the assembly
had pronounced itself infallible, and had made all im-
provement impossible. At each decree, the depu-
ties burnt, as it were, the ship which had brought
them, and thus cut off all means of retreat. The
truth is, that each constitutional law was a party
triumph, and they who gained it would not leave
their adversaries any hope of recovering their loss.
The result of these forced laws, declared immutable,
was to bring about a revolution by which, in the
space of eight months, they were all annihilated.

There is a fact which I distinctly remember,
strongly illustrative of this defective mode of pro-


ceeding. The committee appointed to draw up the
code of constitutional laws were in the greatest em-
barrassment to class and arrange them. Many fruit-
less attempts were made and many plans proposed
and rejected. Every one capable of giving advice
was consultedj and if I am not mistaken, they re-
mained in this difficulty five or six weeks, when M.
Ramond, Lafayette's friend, furnished the plan of
arrangement whicTi was adopted.

I have finished with more patience than I had an-
ticipated the account of my connexion with Mira-
beau, and my recollections of this first epoch of the
French revolution. This is the most interesting
period, and yet I have rendered it very little so. I
must have made very imperfect observations, had
very little active curiosity, or my memory must be
very defective. That such a multitude of events
which occurred before my eyes, and the numerous
actors with whom I had constant communication,
should have left so slight an impression upon my
mind, is a reproach which I feel that I deserve. It
is the effect of my indifference to things when they
are passing before me : and whose importance I never
perceive till after they are gone by. Whilst they
last, the most extraordinary appear to me but com-
mon events, and obtain little of my attention.
Though this confession may serve to convict me of
stupidity, I cannot otherwise explain the little I saw


and retained of this great drama. It is true that
wherever I have lived, I have always been the last
in the house to perceive what was going on. If I
am required to know any family circumstance, it
must be mentioned to me ; for not only am I not
penetrating and cannot guess, but I have no taste for
confidences, nor have secrets any attraction for me.
I make these reflections with the more vexation be-
cause I have retained less of the second part of my
subject, upon which I am now about to enter, than of
the first. My recollections are more scattered and
the chain of events oftener broken. I have lost mctch
of what I once knew ; and what is still more irrepa-
rable, I did not take advantage of the particular cir-
cumstances under which I was placed to become ac-
quainted with half of what I might have known with
very little trouble. I could never make up my mind
to ask about any thing that was not first mentioned to
me ; but it is also true that I obtained nothing by
torture; therefore all I know proceeds from free and
voluntary testimony.



The first who came to England, after the close of
the assembly, was Petion. I had been too intimate
with him at Paris not to call upon him in London.
But he was so well received, and his society so much
courted, that the good fortune of finding him alone
was very rare. It was who should have him at their
house. He was overloaded with invitations and re-
ceived the most flattering attentions. He had come,
he said, to examine trial by jury in civil and criminal
cases. He did not, it is true, understand the English
language, but a barrister well acquainted with the
French language ofiered to accompany him to the
courts of law. A day was fixed, but Petion did not
keep his appointment. He had been showing Lon-
don to a friend just arrived. He remained only
three weeks, and the attentions he received from a
particular party excited the suspicion of the go-

Some time after, d' Andre sought refuge in Lon-


don. The pitiless Brissot had not ceased, in his
paper called the Patriot, to propagate calumnies
against him. Brissot thought it necessary to ruin or
at least drive him away ; and as he was an active and
intelligent man, devoted to the king, he was accused
of participating in the civil list. If d'Andre enjoyed
his share of royal favour, he did not, at all events,
make an ostentatious display of it. After the closing
of the assembly, he had the good sense, although a
noble, to enter into trade, and open a grocer's shop
at Paris. This conduct, so popular and so conso-
nant to the spirit of the constitution, ought to have
disarmed Brissot^s malice ; but Brissot was one of
those men in whom party spirit prevailed over right
and justice ; or rather, he confined right and justice
to his own party. He had more of the zeal of the
monk than any man I ever knew. Had he been a
capuchin, he would have doated upon his staff and
his vermin — a dominican, he would have burnt here-
tics — a Roman, he would have proved not unworthy
of Cato and Regulus. But he was a French repub-
lican, who had determined to overthrow the monar-
chy ; and to accomplish this object he hesitated not
to calumniate, to persecute, and to perish himself
upon the scaffold.

I became acquainted with d' Andre at Versailles ;
but I afterwards saw very little of him at Paris. On
his arrival in London, I called upon him, introduced


him to several of my friends^ and had opportunities
of knowing him well during his two or three years'
residence in England. He had a great deal of wit,
a quick glance, great facility of explanation without
being an orator, and great clearness of conception —
all which made him an expert and industrious mem-
ber of the national assembly, and afterwards an ex-
cellent merchant. He was affectionate, generous,
obliging, easy and simple in his manners; modest,
retiring, and timid in company, to such a degree,
that the man who had been four times president of
the assembly, and had spoken before all France, was
agitated and nervous at the idea of supporting an
opinion or keeping up an indifferent conversation
before three or four individuals. What he wanted
was an air of dignity and an imposing carriage. A
vulgar countenance, and an insignificant figure told
against him in his elevated situation, nor had he any
thing in his appearance to indicate, at a first glance,
either his talents and quickness of perception, or his
benevolence and goodness of heart.

I do not remember the exact time when M. de
Talleyrand came to London. By a decree of the
national assembly, which prohibited, during two
years, its members from being employed by the ex-
ecutive, he could not have an ostensible public mis-
sion. But he had an equivalent. His was a journey
of observation, and he was to negotiate, if he found


the English ministers accessible, that is to say, dis-
posed to consider the constitutional king of France
in a new light, and maintain the neutrality of Great
Britain in the event of war, which began to appear
inevitable on the continent.

I had formed no intimacy with the bishop of Au-
tun at Paris, but we were acquainted, and he had
not been long in London before he made me such
advances as from our relative ranks ought to have
come from hira, if he were desirous of a closer ac-
quaintance. He had particular letters of intro-
duction to Lord Lansdowne ; and his distinguished
reputation, which opened to him the road to the
highest political honours, caused his society to be
courted by such as had not already imbibed strong
prejudices against all who were connected with the
French revolution.

M. de Talleyrand is descended from a family of
sovereign counts, one of the most ancient houses in
France. He was the eldest of three brothers ; but
being lame from infancy, he had been thought un-
worthy of figuring in the world, and was destined for
the church, although he possessed not one of the
qualifications which, in the Roman communion, can
render this profession even tolerable. I have often
heard him say, that, despised by his parents as a
being disgraced by nature and fit for nothing, he had

contracted, from his earliest youth, a sombre and



taciturn habit. Having been forced to yield the
rights of primogeniture to a younger brother, he had
never slept under the same roof with his parents.
At the seminary he had but few intimate associates ;
and from his habitual chagrin, which rendered him
unsociable, he was considered very proud. Condemn-
ed to the ecclesiastical state against his will, he did
not imbibe sacerdotal sentiments and opinions, any
more than cardinal de Retz and many others. He
even exceeded the limits of indulgence granted to
youth and gentle blood ; and his morals were any
thing but clerical. But he managed to preserve
appearances, and, whatever were his habits, no
one knew better when to speak and when to be

I am not sure that he was not somewhat too ambi-
tious of producing effect by an air of reserve and
reflection. He was always at first very cold, spoke
little, and listened with great attention. His fea-
tures, a little bloated, seemed to indicate effeminacy ;
but his manly and brave voice formed a striking con-
trast with this expression. In society, he was always
distant and reserved, and never exposed himself to
familiarity. The English, who entertain the most
absurd prejudices against the French, were surprized
at finding in him neither vivacity, familiarity, indis-
cretion, or national gaity. A sententious manner,
frigid politeness, and an air of observation, formed


an impenetrable shield around his diplomatic cha-

When among his intimate friends he was quite a
different being. He was particularly fond of social
conversation, which he usually prolonged to a very
late hour. Familiar^, aifectionate, and attentive to
the means of pleasing, he yielded to a species of in-
tellectual epicurism, and became amusing that he
might be himself amused. He was never in a hurry
to speak, but selected his expressions with much care.
The points of his wit were so acute, that to appreci-
ate them fully required an ear accustomed to hear
him speak. He is the author of the bon-mot quoted
somewhere by Champfort, where Rulhiere said, " I
know not why I am called a wicked man, for I never,
in the whole course of my life^, committed but one act
of wickedness." The bishop of Autun, who had not
previously taken any part in the conversation, im-
mediately exclaimed, with his full sonorous voice and
significant manner, ^^ But when will this act be at

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Online LibraryEtienne DumontRecollections of Mirabeau → online text (page 16 of 22)