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The paper was given a new editor who received
one-sixth of the revenue of the sheet as salary,
the Government taking another one-sixth, the


remaining two-thirds going to Suard and the
syndicate. The Journal des Debats managed,
by a pohcy of tactful " trimming," as the
Americans put it, to build up a prosperous cir-
culation, during the Empire, its net revenue
amounting to £8000 a year. This publication
nevertheless voiced its abhorrence of the crime of

When the Empire was established in 1804,
Napoleon in his supplementary Constitution,
known as the Senatus-Consultum, devoted a few
clauses to a mention of the " liberty of the Press,"
seven Senators being appointed to safeguard the
integrity of the new privileges granted to the
Fourth Estate. For all this, the French Press
of the new regime possessed no broader liberties
than that of the Consulate, and Napoleon could
still continue as of old to talk of " my Press."
From the farther ends of Europe his letters to
Fouche regarding the newspapers followed swiftly
upon each other, and the minister of police was
often urged to make his editors talk as they
were told to talk, or else try some other line of

" Je les reduirai a sept," Napoleon threatened,
" et je conserverai, non ceux qui me loueront —
je n'ai pas besoin de leurs eloges — mais ceux qui
auront la touche male et le cceur frangais et qui
montreront un veritable attachement pour moi
et mon peuple."

A distinguished contemporary tells us in one
of his works that he knows of a famous American


newspaper proprietor who is accustomed to speak
of his writers as prostitutes. Evidently Napoleon's
opinion of a race of but poorly appreciated and
inadequately rewarded workers was on much the
same plane, for in his letters to Otranto we find
such expressions as :

" Let X, the editor, know that I intend to
settle his account."

Or : " birds of evil augury, how comes it that
they only prophesy calamities so far ahead ? "

Or : " it is a bit too much of a farce to have
a Press which has the disadvantage of freedom
without any of its advantages."

Or : " all articles, little as well as big, must be
good articles " — meaning Imperial — " and I am
not the man to allow journalists to draw high
profits from papers that do me nothing but

In October, 1805, the Emperor forced the Journal
des Debats to change its title to Journcd de VEmjnre,
and annexed £3300 of its net revenue of £8000,
with the unexpected result, for Napoleon, that
the circulation of the paper increased by half.

The famous Mercure de France and the
Puhliciste also become the objects of Napoleon's
anger :

" Monsieur le due d'Otrante," he writes, " I
have read an article in the Puhliciste which
appears to be a frank write-up for the Spanish
monks. Give the editor to understand that he
nms the risk of having his paper suppressed. Let
him insert articles which depict the ferocity of


these monks, their ignorance and their ineffable

It was in the Mercure that appeared some of
the first fragments of Chateaubriand's Genie
du Christianisme. The author, who had thrown
up a diplomatic secretaryship, it will be remem-
bered, as a protest against the murder of Enghien,
made no attempt to disguise his opinion that a
reincarnation of Nero had taken place, but that
Tacitus having also come back to earth, the reign
of the tyrant could not be for long. Napoleon's
answer was the appointment of Legouve as censor
of the Mercure, and Guizot remarks hereanent :

" Even Napoleon could not allow it to be said
that his future historian would appear during his
reign, and so had to take the reputation of Nero
under his protection."

The new Tacitus was, of course, Chateaubriand.

In 1809 the Emperor gave orders that from
that time onward, only one newspaper in each
department should be allowed to deal with
political matters. The prefect would, of course,
decide as to the choice of the organ. By 1811
there were only four authorised papers in Paris
- — the Moniteur, the Journal de VEmpire, the
Gazette de France and the Journal de Paris. The
Mercure and the Puhliciste had been summarily
suppressed. By a decree dated from Compiegne,
17th September 1811, all existing newspapers
were confiscated as being really the property of
the Government, the entire plant of the Debats
{Journal de VEmpire) being taken over, and the


syndicate reorganised to the drastic extent that
even the proprietors were not included among the
new shareholders. Neither were they indemnified.
From that time till 1814, the Press was simply
the voice of the Master.

Need the modern world then be surprised to
hear, in our own age of personal reclmne, that
Napoleon, over a century ago, had founded his
own personal press agency known as the bureau
de Vesprit public, or agency for promoting public
opinion. Was not Caesar's Acta Diurna — a kind
of daily record— supposed to be a bit of frank
press-agency work compiled on behalf of the
authorities ? Napoleon's bureau sought to prop-
agate among the authorised newspapers all and
everything in the way of ideas that the Emperor
thought necessary for the support of his throne,
and was an obvious attempt at just such organised
obscurantism as Berlin has made us so familiar
with during the Great War of 1914.

In another place we have shown how Madame
de Stael came under the ban of Imperial policies
because that illustrious woman had dared to raise
her voice in the cause of human liberty. "It is
to ideology," cried the Emperor, " and to all
such tenebreuse metaphysique that France has
owed all her misfortunes." Beugnot suggests that
there are certain periods when it is necessary
that ideas should be expressed.

" I understand you," roars the irate Emperor;
" yes, that is just one of the mottoes of your


" I have no other school," repHes the courtly
Beugnot, " but the school of the Emperor."

" That is only a phrase — nothing more ! You
are of the same school of ideologues as Roederer,
Regnault and my brother Louis and Fontanes.
No, I forgot — Fontanes belongs to another school
of idiots. But," and Napoleon touches the hilt
of his sword, " so long as this hangs at my side,
you shall know none of those liberties after
which your soul aspires — not even, IMonsieur
Beugnot, the liberty of giving those pretty little
addresses of yours in Parliament."

Chateaubriand's famous pamphlet, Bonaparte
et les Bourbons, appeared when the Royalists w^ere
moving all they could to effect a compromise
between the Imperial and their own factions, and
was, on account of its violence and hatred of
Napoleon, a source of much annoyance to those
who w^ere seeking to bring all parties to an
understanding. In a certain degree it may be
said to have laid the lines of the long intrigue
which was to bring back Bonaparte from Elba,
since its tone provided the inspiration for the
scores of revived sheets which leaped into light
and forced the authorities to be hardly less in-
tolerant of the newspapers than Bonaparte had
been in his time. " In the interests of public
tranquillity," declared Fouche, "we must muzzle
these hydrophobes of the Fourth Estate." And
the soundest minds in France favoured the
exercise of the censorship at that critical hour.

The manner in which the newspapers of the day


reported the triumphant advance of Napoleon,
after his landing at Antibes, on the return from
Elba, has often been cited as providing a very-
succinct commentary on the weakness of ordinary-
human nature in the presence of the wonderful.
The successive newspaper bulletins read :

First day : The Corsican tyrant has landed at
the Gulf of Juan.

Second day : Grenoble has opened its gates to
the bloody usurper.

Third day : Bonaparte has made his entry into

Fourth day : General Bonaparte has won over
a division of the Royal Army.

Fifth day : Napoleon is now only ninety miles
from Paris.

Sixth day : The Emperor Napoleon arrived last
night at Fontainebleau.

Seventh day : His Majesty the Emperor entered
the Tuileries at half-past eight last evening.

For all the doubts that have been cast on
Napoleon's sincerity in respect of his concessions
to journalism, on his return from Elba, some
writers of the day appear to think that his
meditations on his own downfall, while in exile,
had led him to the conclusion that, with the Press
on his side, he might have secured his throne
during the first reign. It is certain that on his
return from Elba the newspapers enjoyed a
freedom of expression which they had never before
known. To Benjamin Constant Napoleon said :

" The liberty of the Press is above all an


essential in wise government. To seek to suppress
it is absurd — of that I am convinced."

In opening the Chambers he declared again that
the liberty of the Press was a capital consideration
in the new programme for France, with which he
had returned from Elba, and even when certain
journals began to advocate the assassination of
their well-wisher, Napoleon took no action to
limit their candour. The Journal Universel at
Ghent drew a pretty parallel between Cain and
the Corsican — much to the latter' s disadvantage ;
yet no move was made to oppose its appearance
twice a week.

Napoleon himself declared at St Helena that
the newspapers counted for nothing in his fall.
The Press, he said, was one of those institutions
which need not be discussed as to the good or evil
which they do in a nation. The main concern
of governments is this : can public opinion be
opposed in curtailing the liberties of the Press ?
His own experience, he admitted, had taught him
that to curtail those liberties had been a blunder,
and accordingly, when he returned from Elba,
it was with the firm intention of allowing news-
papers to say what they liked.

It seems fairly clear, then, that Napoleon was
no friend of the Press in the earlier days of his
triumphant progress, and it must be admitted that
his treatment of that institution lessens to a great
extent the opinion we have been taught to enter-
tain about his marvellous prevision in political
and diplomatic matters. Even Joseph and Louis


Bonaparte, who were perhaps the least endowed
as poHticians of this wonderful family, had
solemnly warned him betimes that the already-
powerful newspaper world was one which would
brook neither mishandling nor indifference on his
part, only to receive the famous reply :

" You fools attach far too much importance to
the society and opinion of journalists and literary
men. That class of individuals is made up of just
so many coquv-ttes whom it may be wise to play
with, but whom we should never dream of making
either our wives or our ministers."

The soldier, as a rule — and the truth has been
very fully impressed upon us in these later times
— is ever jealous of the writer, and from his veiy
first debuts as a general, Bonaparte had been made
to feel that there was one force which all the
militarism in the world was powerless to muzzle
or coerce. Even while in Italy, during his first
important campaign, he had founded a journal
which lasted for two years and was known as the
Courrier de VArinee (Tltalie. In this publication
was at various times forecast the vast programme
which Napoleon subsequently carried out for his
own aggrandisement and that of France, and a
perusal of its first numbers leaves one with the
impression that Bonaparte had brought it into
existence more with a view to showing the
Directory that, with his advent, their supreme
power had finally departed, than with any hope
of affecting public opinion to a very important ex-
tent. "To defend liberty and its friends against



the partisans of tyranny and terror " was the
chief aim of its founders, as it stated in the first
issue. The Courrier made its appearance twice
a week when first started, but its main object
once achieved — namely, the warnings addressed
to the Directory — the pubhcation became some-
what irregular.

Napoleon, as M. de Narbonne informs us, had
special correspondents in nearly every country
in Europe, and certainly in all the important
centres of France and Italy, who transmitted
to himself all sorts of information regarding
the state of public opinion, the tendencies,
intrigues and intentions of publicists, salons,
clerics and speculators. M. de Villemain also
tells us how on one occasion the Emperor,
towards the close of his reign, addressed himself
to an audience at the Tuileries with especial
reference to the " vulgar outspokenness " of
certain sections of the Press which were already
growing bold enough to preach ideas about " the
beginning of the end," and in such a way. Napoleon
said, as to make him blush for the nation. This
was in 1813, when the end was unmistakably in


Bonaparte attracts de Stael — Bonaparte's Natural
Antipathy for Corinne — Attgereau and Madame —
Chez M. de Talleyrand — Constant and Corinne —
Benjamin s Little Inadvertence — De Stael and her
Spokesman — Intrigues against Bonaparte — High
Political Ambitions — Une Femme incomprise — Her
Work on Literature — Constant is dismissed — De
StaePs Comme7it — Bernadofte ajid Corinne — Delphine
appears — Bonaparte's Comments — A Pen-Portrait oj
Corinne — Madame at Weimar, in Vienna and Stockholm
— Coriime's Regard for England — Her Son Augustus
— Some Fatherly Advice — Projected Fisit to America
— De I'Allemagne — A Machine a Mouvement—
Napoleon disgusted with her Fietvs — Goethe and de
Stael's Work on Germany — The lisit to Russia —
" The Conscience of Europe" — Stein and de Stael —
Her Essay on Siucide — Goes to Lo?idon — Byron's
Opinion of Corinne — Death in 1817 — Gourgaud and
Madame — Napoleon s Impartial Opinion of her


LTHOUGH Madame de Stael had not
met Bonaparte until his arrival in
Paris, 5th December 1797, at the close
of the Italian campaign, she had begun
to correspond with him shortly after the young
soldier had proved his supreme military quality
by winning the battle of Lodi. Even her
early letters to Bonaparte overflowed with an
enthusiasm which reflects little credit on the
womanly taste of the chatelaine of Coppet, and
if it be true that great artists are too self-centred
to care very much about the proprieties, then
Madame de Stael was certainly a first-class type
of the artistic race. In the earliest of these
effusions addressed to the soldier at Milan, the
lady attributes to him all the \drtues of " Scipio
and Tancred combined, possessing the simplicity
of the latter and the brilliancy of the former."
In a third epistle to the celebrity whom she had
not yet met, she shows how far her enthusiasm
is capable of carrying her. Bonaparte was in
those days, it was well known, still very much
in love with Josephine, and we may imagine his
surprise on hearing from de Stael that his union
with " an insignificant little Creole, unworthy and
incapable of appreciating him, is nothing short
of monstrous."

" That creature is mad, Bourrienne," cries Bona-
parte to the secretary, who records the fact in his
Memoires, vol. vi., " and I shall certainly not reply
to such letters. Fancy a blue-stocking, a maker
of romances, comparing herself with Josephine ! "



Even the uncouth soldier Augereau is said to
have taken the measure of the lady, who pestered
him ^vith questions as to Bonaparte's love of
Liberty, his ideals and his personality. Discussing
his ambition, she asks if it is true that he has an eye
on the crown of Lombardy, and Augereau' s reply
evokes a titter at the garrulous woman's expense :

" No, indeed," he says, " he is much too well
bred a young man to entertain such notions."

When at last she meets Bonaparte, who was
calling on Talleyrand, then Minister for Foreign
Affairs, the young General, after a kindly word
about her father, turns away quickly, as if he
feared an impromptu harangue. She on her
part begins to epier the Conqueror, but remains
silent and apparently troubled. In the immedi-
ate sequel, all de Stael's attempts to attach
the young General — she was some three years
his senior — to her own coterie were to meet with
failure, and he refuses politely but firmly to attend
even her receptions — a refusal which is explained
by biographers of both celebrities on the ground,
first, that he disUked — as most really masculine
men dislike — anything like the affectation of
esprit fort on the part of a woman, a type with
which recent hermaphroditic decades have made
ourselves so familiar. In the second place, Bona-
parte was well aware that a partisan of de Stael's
political activity was quite capable of com-
promising him with the Directory, whose suspicion
as regards himself, and his intentions, he was far
from wishing, at that time, to arouse.



It was at a fete given by Talleyrand — according
to Lucien Bonaparte, on the great revolutionary
day of Brumaire — that Bonaparte, the centre of a
circle of admirers, was asked by de Stael to name
the greatest woman known to history.

" The woman who has had the most children,"
replies the General with admirable wisdom and
in a taste which accorded sufficiently well, we
may suppose, with the ambiguous society of the
new regime. A few days afterwards, again, when
the persistent iirecieuse chooses a dramatic moment
to ask him if he likes women, Bonaparte replies
that he loves his wife— a retort the real value
of which altogether loses its effect in the English
rendering. Madame de Stael did not miss the
point, however, and, in order probably to cover
her chagrin, affected to see its sublimity :

" Epaminondas would have given me the same
answer," she tells Lucien, who was a very close
ally, and who records Madame' s opinion here-
anent in the second volume of his Memoires. By
the beginning of 1799 de Stael had to admit that
she had never met a man of Bonaparte's kind or
character, and in January of that year she decides
to return to Switzerland, there to set about some
work or other which is, she thinks, to prove
unfailingly to Bonaparte her possession of a
genius for politics with which France shall have
to reckon. She returned to Paris and was present,
as we have seen, on the day of the overthrow of
the Directory. Her devotion to the cause of
Bonaparte, enthusiastically expressed in all her


letters, arose, says Gautier, from her inability to
see that the successful General of the Revolution
was now playing for his own hand— a mistake
which Sieyes, Benjamin Constant, Roederer and
many other ardent Republicans also made.

Benjamin Constant entered so intimately into
the life of de Stael that it is impossible to separate
the couple. We cannot, accordingly, overlook a
story of Constant, told by Aime-Martin and
Chabaud, when de Stael sought to use her influence
for the promotion of her fellow-countryman and
lover. As the Tribunal was about to be organised.
Constant presented himself chez Bonaparte and
requested a seat in the new Assembly.

" You must know," said Benjamin, " that I
am entirely devoted to your service, and am not
one of those ideologues who want to run the world
on theories — like Sieyes, for instance. Mine is a
positive, an objective mind, and if you appoint
me, you can rely altogether on my loyalty."

The new Constitution had not yet been drawn
up, and it occurred to Constant, on leaving
Bonaparte, that as Sieyes lived nearly opposite
the General, it might be just as well to pay a
friendly visit to the ex-Abbe, who received him

" I should be glad," said Constant to his host,
" to be appointed to the Tribunat, and hope not
to seem unworthy of that honour in your eyes.
You know I hate force and am no friend of the
sword. What I want is principles, ideals, justice,
and if you will help me, you can rely altogether


on my loyalty, for, let me assure you, I frankly
detest Bonaparte."

Constant had strangely overlooked the im-
portant fact that Chabaud, who had been present
when he met Bonaparte across the road, had also
in the meantime come over to pay a diplomatic
visit to Sieyes, and remained unobserved while
Benjamin made his new act of political faith to
the Abbe.

Constant was, however, ultimately appointed
to the Tribunat, and Madame de Stael and her
lover at once came to the conclusion that Bona-
parte had nominated him through fear of the
influence exerted by her writings and salon.
Accordingly de Stael thought the moment oppor-
tune to start her intrigues for ridding the Govern-
ment of Bonaparte and inaugurating a regime
of republican liberty — a condition of affairs which
was not likely for long to escape the observation
of the new chief of the State. Bonaparte sends
his brother Joseph to reason with the intriguante,
offering even to repay her father's loans to
Louis XVI. — a sum amounting, with the interest
for over fourteen years, to about £150,000. But
Corinne is not thinking of money. What she
wants is an acknowledgment by Bonaparte that
her political role is not a negligible one, and her
answer is given in a speech delivered by Constant
and inspired by herself, which amounts to an
attack on the Consular regime and its monarchical
tendencies. Bonaparte replies by letting loose
the furies of his own Press and inspiring to the


limit of invective the Press of the Royahsts and also
that of the Jacobins. These all abhorred Madame
de Stael with an intensity the causes of which may
be sought in the outrageous persistency with which
she clamorously sought the attention of an age
which was but slightly acquainted with the political
female. Even this Press campaign she turns to her
policy of personal reclame and assumes the role
of persecuted woman, assuring Roederer, among
a score of correspondents, that no woman has
ever suffered as she has suffered — a common
delusion of unwomanly and dishonest women. A
short time afterwards she receives unequivocal
orders to go into residence at Saint-Ouen, where
she has a chateau, a foretaste of complete exile
which to some extent saves her rather homely
face, for, acting under orders, the Talleyrands, the
Bonapartes, the Beauharnais and other families
had long since ceased to visit her salon in Paris.

When at the instance of friends, the interdict
is raised and she returns to Paris, it is not, as
might be hoped, to efface herself and devote the
tedious hours to literary work. She moves every
influence she knows with the object of being ad-
mitted to the presence of Bonaparte. He curtly
suggesoS that Madame de Stael, who lives in great
luxury, should make a small allowance to her
husband, at that time starving in Switzerland.
Nor does the First Consul improve matters by
making cynical remarks on the private life of
Corinne, who, it will be remembered, was at all
times all things to all men— or nearly so. In


1800 she published her work, De la Littendure, in
which, while the name of the First Consul is not
once mentioned, the fierce attacks upon his
policies are clear as sunlight. Naturally, he was
irritated, but prudence forbade him showing his
anger, for even at that date, as Chateaubriand
tells us, his newly acquired power was far from
possessing the stability one would imagine from
a study of historical records. The battle of
Marengo had not yet consolidated him in his
omnipotency, and although his subsidised Press
said all he thought — and, indeed, more — of
Corimie's new work, Bonaparte himself took
no action against the enemy. He waited till
1802, when he eliminated a score or so of red
Republicans from the Tribunal, among them
being de Stael's o^mi mouthpiece, Benjamin
Constant, through whom, in her serious opinion,
she was destined to place herself on level political
terms with Bonaparte. So much for political
womankind !

" Le Premier ConsuW^ she declared, on hearing
of this despotic act, " n^a pas epure, mais ecreme
le Tribunat,^^ and went on to talk of Bonaparte as
an " ideophobe.^^

" That sentiment is Madame de Stael's, cer-
tainly," says the elegant Corsican, when told

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Online LibraryHamil GrantThe soul of Napoleon → online text (page 13 of 17)