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family — his elopements — his imprisonments and his
morals, could not be overlooked, even in a city so lax
as Paris ; and his name was pronounced with detes-
tation at the houses of some of our most intimate
friends. Romilly, almost ashamed of his former
friendship for Mirabeau, determined not to renew
acquaintance with him. But Mirabeau was not a
man of etiquette ; and having learnt our address from
Target, at whose house we had dined, he determined
to call upon us. The noise of a carriage at the door
drove Romilly to his room, desiring me, should it be
a visitor on a call of ceremony, to say that he was out.
Mirabeau was announced, and I did not send word
to Romilly, because I thought he wished to avoid
seeing the count ; and as his room was only separated
by a thin partition from the one we were in, I con-
cluded that he would be able to distinguish the voice
of our visitor, and make his appearance if he pleased.
Mirabeau began the conversation by talking of our


mutual friends in London. He then spoke of Gene-
va, for he well knew that to a Genevese there was no
greater pleasure than talking of his country. He said
many flattering things of a city which, by producing
so many distinguished, men, had contributed to the
general mass, so large a share of genius and learning;
and he concluded by affirming, that he should never
be happy until he could liberate that city from the
fetters imposed upon it by the revolution of 1782.
Two hours seemed but a moment ; and Mirabeau
was, in my estimation, the most interesting object in
Paris. The visit ended by my promising to dine with
him the same day, and he was to return and fetch
me in his carriage.

"With whom have you been talking so long?"
said Romilly, on leaving his room, to which this long
visit had confined him. — " Did you not recognise his
voice ?'^ inquired I. — "No.'^ — "Yet you well know
the individual, and I even think you must have
heard a panegyric on yourself, which would have
made a superb funeral oration.'^ — " What ! was it
Mirabeau ?" — ^^ It was ; and may I be a fool all my
life, if I allow the prejudices of our friends to prevent
me from enjoying his company. I belong neither to
Calonne's party, nor to Necker's ; but to his whose
conversatiori animates and delights me. As a com-
mencement, I am going to dine with him to-day.'^
Mirabeau soon returned, took us both with him, and


in a very short time overcame our prejudi-
ces. We visited him often ; and taking advantage
of the fine weather, made many excursions into the
country. We dined with him in the Bois de Bou-
logne, at St Cloud, and at Vincennes ; at which lat-
ter place he showed us the dungeon in which he had
been confined three years.

I never knew a man who, when he chose, could
make himself so agreeable as Mirabeau. He was a
delightful companion in every sense of the word ;
obliging, attentive, full of spirits, and possessed of
great powers of mind and imagination . It was imposs-
ible to maintain reserve with him ; you were forced
into familiarity, obliged to forego etiquette and the
ordinary forms of society, and call him simply by his
name. Although fond of his title of count, and, at
the bottom of his heart, attaching great importance
to noble birth, he had too much good sense not to
know when he could avail himself of it with propri-
ety ; he therefore made a merit of its voluntary ab-
dication. The forms of good breeding, which have
been so properly compared to the cotton and other
soft materials placed between china vases, to prevent
their being broken by collision, keeps men at a cer-
tain distance from each other, and prevents, as it were,
the contact of hearts. Mirabeau rejected them.
His first care was to remove such obstacles, and inti-
mate intercourse with him was attended with a sort



of agreeable asperity, a pleasant crudity of express-
ion, more apparent than real ; for under the dis-
guise of roughness, sometimes even of rudeness, was
to be found all the reality of politeness and flattery.
After the stiff and ceremonious conversations of for-
mal good breedings there was a fascinating novelty in
his, never rendered insipid by forms in common use.
His residence at Berlin had supplied him with a
stock of curious anecdotes ; for his scandalous letters
were not then published. He was, at this period,
publishing his book on the Prussian monarchy. This
production consisted of a work by Major Mauvillon,
and extracts from different memoirs procured at great
expense. No one could, for a moment, suppose that,
during a residence of only eight months at Berlin,
Mirabeau could himself have written eight volumes,
in which he had introduced every possible informa-
tion relative to the government of Prussia. But he
had the merit of employing the talents of an officer
scarcely known to the government he served, and the
Prussian ministers must have been much surprised at
finding that a man who had made so short a sojourn
in their country, could singly undertake so arduous a
task, and succeed in supplying them with more ma-
terials than could be found in the united offices of
their several departments. This work is an illustra-
tion, by facts, of Adam Smith's principles of political
economy j and it clearly proves that Prussia has


always been a sufferer, whenever she has departed
from those principles.

This was the period of the famous quarrel between
M. de Calonne and M. Necker, about the deficit.
The former had good reasons for endeavouring, by a
direct charge, to throw upon other shoulders the
weight of his own responsibility. He had accused
M. Necker of having imposed upon the nation by a
statement, that on leaving office, instead of a defi-
ciency, there was an overplus of ten millions of livres.
M. de Calonne's article, teeming with arithmetical
calculations and specious arguments, had produced
a certain effect upon the public mind. M. Necker,
who had just resumed office, had announced his reply
as forthcoming. Mirabeau was preparing to refute
the latter, even before it had appeared and he could
possibly know its contents. M. Necker's enemies
were in the habit of meeting at the house of Panchaud,
the banker, a man of talent, and well versed in finance,
but who, after a disgraceful bankruptcy, was lost in
character more than he was ruined in fortune. On
the publication of M. Necker's work, the committee
met daily, and Mirabeau always attended to collect
observations, and inveigh against the minister. He
anticipated the most triumphant success ; and talked
confidently of exposing the charlatan, ripping him
open, and laying him at Colonne's feet, convicted of
falsehood and incapacity. But this fierce ardour was


soon exhausted by its own violence ; and he said no
more on the subject himself, nor was he pleased when
any other person mentioned it in his presence. I
often asked him why this refutation was delayed ;
by what novelty of kindly feelings he spared the
great charlatan, who was enjoying an unmerited repu-
tation; and why Panchaud's committee deferred
this great act of justice? Mirabeau, to get rid of
these attacks, which, after his foolish boasting, he
could not well parry, at length informed me that M.
Necker's aid was necessary for the formation of the
states-general, that his popularity was useful, and
that the question of the deficit was absorbed by the
more important one of the double representation of
the tiers- etat.

From this fact I infer that M. Necker's answer
had proved victorious, and that his enemies could
not succeed in injuring his character.

We went with Mercier, the author of the ' ' Tableau
de Paris," and Mallet-Dupan, to see these horrid
dens, the Salpetriere and Bicetre. I never saw any
thing more hideous ; and these two establishments at
the gates of the metropolis strongly display the care-
less frivolity of the French. The hospital .contained
the germ of every loathsome disease ; the prison was
the school of every crime. Romilly, much moved,
wrote, in a letter to a friend, an energetic description
of these two receptacles of wretchedness. I men-


tioned this description to Mirabeau, who was anxious
to see it. After reading it, to translate and publish
it was the work of a single day ; and he completed a
small volume by adding a translation of an anonymous
paper on the administration of the criminal law of
England. The work was announced as translated
from the English, by the Count de Mirabeau; but
the public, accustomed to disguises of this nature,
imputed to him the authorship of both. The suc-
cess of this book was great, and its profits covered
his expenses for a month. Mirabeau enjoyed a high
reputation as a writer. His work on the Bank of St
Charles, his "Denunciation of Stock-jobbing," his
"Considerations on the Order of Cincinnatus,'' and
his "Lettres de Cachet," were his titles to fame.
But if all who had contributed to these works had
each claimed his share, nothing would have remained
as Mirabeau's own, but a certain art of arrangement,
some bold expressions and biting epigrams, and nu-
merous bursts of manly eloquence, certainly not the
growth of the French academy. He obtained from
Claviere and Panchaud the materials for his writings
on finance. Claviere supplied him with the subject
matter of his Letter to the King of Prussia. De
Bourges was the author of his address to the Batavi-
ans, and I have often been present at the disputes
between them, to which this circumstance gave rise.
Mirabeau did not deny the debt, but de Bourges,


seeing the success of the work, was enraged at having
been sacrificed to the fame of another. Mirabeau
stood so high with the public, that the partners of
his labours could not succeed in destroying a reputa-
tion which they had themselves established for him.
I have often compared Mirabeau to a general making
conquests through his lieutenants, whom he afterwards
subjects to the very authority they have founded for
him. Mirabeau had certainly a right to consider
himself the parent of all these productions, because
he presided at their birth, and without his indefati-
gable activity they would never have seen the light.

Claviere, as much annoyed as any man could be at
having served as a pedestal to Mirabeau's fame, had
formed a connection with Brissot de Warville, with
whom he wrote in conjunction. Mirabeau called
Brissot a 'literary jockey, and spoke of him with con-
tempt; but entertained a high opinion of Claviere,
with whom he was desirous of a renewal of intimacy.
There had been no direct rupture between them, but
much bitter feeling. Claviere called Mirabeau a
jackdaw, that ought to be stripped of his borrowed
plumes; but this jackdaw, even when deprived of
his borrowed plumes, was still armed with a power-
ful spur, and could soar above all the rest of the lite-
rary tribe.

Mirabeau introduced us to Dapont de Nemours
and Champfort. Dupont, author of the " Citizen's


Ephemerides/' and the zealous friend of Turgot, had
the reputation of an honest man and a clever econo-
mist; but he rendered himself a little ridiculous by
the aifectation of importance with which he complain-
ed of having to correspond with four kings. We
found him one morning occupied in writing a work
on leather^ in which he showed that the government
had never been consistent in its regulations on this
matter. "This work," said he^, "will be more en-
tertaining than a novel ;" and, as a specimen, he read
to us seven or eight heavy and tedious chapters ; but
he rewarded us for this ennui by giving us many
anecdotes of the assembly of notables, of which he
had been secretary. He mentioned, among other
things, a very successful bon-mot. Tithes were the
subject of discussien. " Tithes," said the Archbishop
of Aix, in a whining tone, " that voluntary/ offering
of the devout faithful . . . " — "Tithes," interrupted
the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, in his quiet and mod-
est way, which rendered the trait more piquant,
" that voluntary offering of the devout faithful, con-
cerning which there are now forty thousand lawsuits
in the kingdom."

Champfort and Mirabeau kept up a reciprocal ex-
change of absurd compliments. The former aifected
independence of character even to singularity. Al-
though intimate with several distinguished persons at
court, particularly with M. de Vaudreuil, he always


made a point of railing, in their presence, against
every thing connected with high office and elevated
rank. He aimed at passing for a misanthropist ; but
his dislike of human-kind arose from pride alone,
and was manifested only in epigrams. Whilst others
endeavoured, with a battering-ram, to overthrow the
Colossus, he attempted to cripple him with shafts of
satire. Knowing him afterwards more intimately, I
saw a great deal of him ; and, in his passion for revo-
lution, I could discern nothing but a species of
wounded vanity, susceptible of no enjoyment save
the one resulting from the overthrow of that superi-
ority of talent which had given him umbrage. He
hated the institution of marriage, because he was
himself illegitimate; and he declaimed against per-
sons of rank and influence, lest he should be suspect-
ed of enjoying court patronage. By his own account,
he was a severe moralist, and yet he sought his
pleasures in the very coarsest and most degrading
kind of voluptuousness. Mirabeau said that a statue
ought to be raised to him by the physicians, because
he had discovered, in the stews of the Palais Royal,
the germ of a disease thought to be extinct — a kind
of leprosy or elephantiasis.

We had other acquaintances in Paris besides Mi-
rabeau, among whom we dared not boast above our
breath of our intimacy with the latter. These were
the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, M. de Malesherbes,



M. de Lafayette, Mr Jefferson, the American
minister, Mallet du Pan, the Abbe Morellet, and
many other personages less known. French conver-
sation at this period was much less trivial than it
used to be. The approaching convocation of the
states-general, the importance of passing political
events, interesting questions on freedom, and the
near approach of a crisis which would affect the fu-
ture destinies of the nation, were all novel topics at
Paris, where they excited a diversity of opinions, and
raised a fermentation which, though yet but feebly
developed, imparted a strong stimulus to conversation.
Every mind plunged into uncertain futurity and
speculated in accordance with his fears or his wishes.
In the higher classes, not a single individual remained
indifferent to what was passing, and even the mass
of the people commenced an agitation of which they
scarcely knew the object.

The two months we spent at Paris were so well
filled, the company we saw so varied, the whole of
our time so profitably employed, the objects we be-
held so interesting, and the scene so constantly
changing, that in this short period I lived more than
during whole years of my subsequent life. I was
chiefly indebted to my fellow traveller for the recep-
tion I met with. I was under his auspices, and as
his society was much courted, I did not encounter
neglect. 1 was proud of his merit, and when I per-



ceived that he was understood and appreciated, my
heart warmed with the exultation of friendship at the
consideration he enjoyed without perceiving it. I
cannot at present conceive how, in so short a time, we
managed to get through all we performed. Romilly,
always so quiet and measured in his motions, is yet
a man of unceasing activity. He does not lose even
minutes. He devotes himself in earnest to whatever
he is doing; and, like the hand of a clock, never
stops, although his motions are so equal as to be
scarcely perceptible.

I can fancy I see him now before me, overwhelmed
with business in the most laborious of professions;
nevertheless he finds leisure to read every important
book that appears, recurs often to his classics, sees
much company, and yet never appears pressed for
time. Economy of time is a virtue I never possessed,
and my days often pass away without leaving any
trace. Romilly communicated his activity to me,
and taught me an art which unfortunately I shall
never be able to make available.*

On our departure, Mirabeau accompanied us as
far as Chantilly, where we spent a delightful day,
making projects to meet again; and we agreed to
keep up a regular correspondence, which, however,

* Sir Samuel Romilly died in London in 1818. — Note by
the Genevese Editor.


we did not even begin. Mirabeau was full of his plan
concerning the stales-general. He foresaw the diffi-
culties he should have to encounter in his election ;
but he already aimed at becoming one of the repre-
sentatives of the tiers-etaty from a notion that he
should thereby raise himself to greater eminence,
and that his rank would add fresh eclat to his popular
principles. I will here give another instance of his
activity — of his avarice, I may say, in collecting the
smallest literary materials. He gave me a methodical
list of the subjects we had discussed together in con-
versation, and upon which we had differed. It was
headed thus: " List of subjects which Dumont en-
gages, upon the faith of friendship, to treat consci-
entiously, and send to Mirabeau very shortly after
his return to London. Divers anecdotes on his
residence in Russia; biographical sketches of several
celebrated. Genevese ; opinions on natiunal educa-
tion,'' &c. There were eighteen items in all, and
his recollection of them was a proof of his attention
and faithful memory. He was desirous of forming a
collection of such materials, that he might use them
at his leisure. Mirabeau could adopt every style of
conduct and conversation, and though not himself a
moral man, he had a very decided taste for the so-
ciety of those whose rigidity of principle and severity
of morals contrasted with the laxity of his own. His
mode of inspiring confidence was to confess candidly


the faults and follies of his youth, express regret at
his former errors, and declare that he would endea-
vour to expiate them by a sedulous and usefid appli-
cation of his talents in future to the cause of humanity
and liberty, without allowing any personal advantage
to turn him from his purpose. He had preserved,
even in the midst of his excesses, a certain dignity
and elevation of mind, combined with energy of
character, which distinguished him from those
effeminate and worn out rakes, those walking shadows,
with which Paris swarmed ; and one was tempted to
admit, as an excuse for his faults, the particular cir-
cumstances of his education, and to think that his
virtues belonged to himself, and that his vices were
forced upon him. I never knew a man more jealous
of the esteem of those whom he himself esteemed, or
one who could be acted upon more easily, if excited
by a sentiment of high honour ; but there was nothing
uniform and permanent in his character. His mind
proceeded by leaps and starts, and obeyed too many
impetuous masters. When burning with pride or
jealousy, his passions were terrible ; he was no longer
master of himself, and committed the most dangerous

Having thus explained the origin of my intimacy
with Mirabeau, I return to the journey I undertook
with M. Duroverai, in 1789, for the purpose of
trying if, with M. Necker's return to office, we could
not better the condition of the Genevese exiles.



A SOMEWHAT ludicrous circumstance occurred dur-
ing our journey. I have but an imperfect recol-
lection of it. All was in a bustle for the election of
the deputies; and the primary assemblies of the
bailliages, composed of shopkeepers and peasants,
knew not how to proceed with an election. We
were breakfasting at Montreuil-sur-Merj if I recol-
lect right, and while chatting with our host, the lat-
ter acquainted us with the trouble and embarrassment
attendant upon their meetings. Two or three days
had been lost in disputes and confusion, and they
had never even heard of such things as a president,
a secretary, or voting tickets. By way of a joke,
we determined to become the legislators of Mon-
treuil, and having called for pen, ink and paper,
began to draw up short regulations indicating the
proper mode of conducting these elections. Never
did work proceed more gaily than ours. In an hour
it was complete, though interrupted every moment


by peals of laughter. We then read and explained
it to our host, who, delighted at the idea of acquiring
consequence, entreated that we would give it to him,
assuring us that he would make good use of it. We
would willingly have delayed our journey for a day
to assist at this assembly and behold the incipient
dawn of democracy in France, but we could not
spare the time. Soon after our arrival at Paris, we
were not a little surprised at reading in the public
prints, that the assembly at Montreuil had finished
its election the first of any, and great praises were
bestowed upon the order which had been established

This circumstance is not so unimportant as it might
at first appear. It displays either the carelessness
or the incapacity of a government which could or-
der so unusual a thing as a popular election, without
drawing up a regular form of proceeding, so as to
prevent disputes and confusion.

On our arrival at Paris, we waited on M. Necker,
and in an interview with that minister, perceived
that the question of the Genevese guarantee would
not be so easily settled as we had anticipated. The
king would neither consent to annul the edict of 1782,
nor risk a refusal of his assent to an arrangement
voluntarily entered into by both parties. As the
negociation threatened to be long, I spent a few
weeks at Claviere's country-house at Surene, where


I employed myself in re- writing my "Address to
the citizens of Geneva." I was aided in this task by
Claviere, Duroverai, and Reybaz, the latter being
my Aristarchus for the style ; for this was my appren-
ticeship in the art of composition, at least upon po-
litical topics. The work was finished, and sent to
Geneva two or three months after. I say nothing of
the sensation it produced, for if I derive any plea-
sure from continuing these memoirs, I shall have a
long chapter to write on the subsequent revolutions
of Geneva, and the individual part I took in them.

Claviere's house at Surene was the rendezvous of
many of the most distinguished personages of the
French revolution. Mirabeau and Brissot were two
of the most remarkable. I was aware of every thing^
that was passing at Paris ; I often went there for a
day or two, in order not to neglect the acquaintances
I had formed during my former residence in that
city. I visited the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, M.
de Lafayette, and M. de Malesherbes. I had since
become very intimate with the Bishop of Chartres,
at whose house I often met the Abbe Sieyes. I vis-
ited also M. Delessert, Mallet-Dupan, Dr de La
Roche, M. Bidderman and M. Reybaz. But du-
ring the months of March and April, I was almost
always at Surene, occupied with my work, and caring
little about the approaching meeting of the states -


I remember attending, at Brissot's and Claviere's,
several meetings which they called committees, in
which it was proposed to draw up declarations of
right, and to lay down principles for conducting the
proceedings of the states-general. I was only a spec-
tator, and I never quitted one of these meetings
without a feeling of mortal disgust at the chattering
of these talkers. But the scene about to be unfold-
ed was so important, that I was always to be found
wherever there was any thing to be seen. I heard
no interesting speeches, it is true ; but the feeling on
the subject of liberty was unanimous. Cordiality,
warmth and energy pervaded every heart, and in the
midst of a nation endeavouring to shake off the tram-
mels of feudal oppression, and which had abandoned
its characteristic frivolity for a nobler pursuit, I felt
inspired with the most enthusiastic ardour, and yield-
ed to the most flattering anticipations. The French,
against whom I had imbibed a prejudice of contempt,
arising from my republican education, and which had
been strengthened in England, now seemed to me

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Online LibraryEtienne DumontRecollections of Mirabeau → online text (page 3 of 22)