Henry Lytton Bulwer Dalling and Bulwer.

Historical characters : Mackintosh, Talleyrand, Canning, Corbett [i.e. Cobbett], Peel online

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Online LibraryHenry Lytton Bulwer Dalling and BulwerHistorical characters : Mackintosh, Talleyrand, Canning, Corbett [i.e. Cobbett], Peel → online text (page 1 of 52)
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presented to the



Dr. John S. Galbraith















All rights reserved

First Edition, in 2 vols., demy 8vo, 30s., November 1867.
Second Edition, in 2 vols., demy 8vo, 30s., March 1868. Third
Edition, in one volume, crown 8vo, 6s., December 1869. Fourth
Edition, in which was included, for the first time, the Life of Sir
Robert Peel, in one volume, crown 8vo, 6s., December 1875.
Transferred to Macmillan and Co., Ltd., August 1898. Reprinted
May 1900.



THE idea of this work, which I dedicate to you in
testimony of the affection and friendship which have
always united us, was conceived many years ago. I
wished to give some general idea of modern history, from
the period of the French Ee volution of 1789 down to our
own times, in a series of personal sketches. In these
sketches I was disposed to select types of particular
characters, thinking that in this way it is easier to
paint with force and clearness both an individual and
an epoch. The outlines of Talleyrand, Cobbett, and
others, were then imperfectly traced ; and Canning and
Mackintosh have been little altered.

The manuscript, however, was laid aside amidst the
labours of an active professional career, and only thought
of since complete leisure created the wish for some em-
ployment. It was then that I resumed my task.


I need not say that the portraits I give here are but a
few of those I commenced, but the constant change of
residence, rendered necessary by the state of health in
which I left Constantinople, interfered with the com-
pletion of my design, and added to the defects which,
under any circumstances, would have been found in the
following pages.

Ever yours affectionately,


Oct. 10, 1867.


THE sale which this work has had in its original form has
induced my publisher to recommend a cheaper and more
popular one ; and I myself gladly seize the opportunity
of correcting some of the errors in print and expression
which, though gradually diminished in preceding editions,
left even the last edition imperfect. An author with
ordinary modesty must always be conscious of many
defects in his own work. I am so in mine. Still I
venture to say that the portraits I have drawn have, upon
the whole, been thought truthful and impartial ; and though
I have been often reminded of the difficulty which Sir
Walter Kaleigh, when writing the History of the World,
experienced in ascertaining the real particulars of a tumult
that took place under his windows almost every anecdote
one hears on the best authority being certain to find
contradiction in some of its particulars I have not
refrained from quoting those anecdotes which came to me


from good authority or the general report of the period ;
since a story which brings into relief the reputed character
of the person it is applied to, and which, to use the Italian
proverb, ought to be true if it is not so, is far from being
indifferent to history.

In conclusion, I cannot but express my thanks, not only
to public, but to private and previously unknown critics,
whose remarks have always received a willing and grateful
attention, and to whose suggestions I am greatly in-

Nov. 6, 1869.




Different types of men. M. de Talleyrand, the politic man. Character of
the eighteenth century, which had formed him. Birth, personal description,
entry into church. Causes of revolution. States-General. Talleyrand's in-
fluence over clergy ; over the decision as to the instructions of members, and
the drawing up of the rights of man. Courage iu times of danger. Financial
knowledge. Propositions relative to church property. Discredit with the
Court party. 'Popularity with the Assembly. Charged to draw up its
manifesto to the nation. Project about uniformity of weights and measures.


THEKE are many men in all times who employ themselves
actively in public affairs ; bnt very few amongst these
deserve the title of " Men of action."

The rare individuals who justly claim this designation,
and whose existence exercises so important an influence
over the age in which they appear, must possess, in no
ordinary degree, intelligence, energy, and judgment ; but
these qualities are found blended in different degrees hi
the different classes or types of men who, as soldiers,
sovereigns, or statesmen, command the destiny of their

They in whom superior intelligence, energy, and judg-
ment are equally united, mount with firm and rapid pace
the loftiest steeps of ambition, and establish themselves
permanently on the heights to which they have safely
ascended. Such men usually pursue some fixed plan or



predominant idea with stern caution and indomitable per-
severance, adapting their means to their end, but always
keeping their end clearly in view, and never, in the pursuit
of it, overstepping that line by which difficulties are sepa-
rated from impossibilities. Cardinal de Kichelieu in
France, and William III. in England, are types of this
heroic race.

On the other hand, they in whom the judgment, how-
ever great, is not sufficient to curb the energy and govern
the intellect which over-stimulates their nature, blaze out,
meteor-like, in history, but rather excite temporary admi-
ration than leave behind them permanent results. Their
exploits far surpass those of other men, and assume for a
moment an almost supernatural appearance : but, as their
rise is usually sudden and prodigious, their ruin is also
frequently abrupt and total. Carried on by a force over
which they gradually lose all control, from one act of
audacity to another more daring, their genius sails before
the wind, like a vessel with overcrowded canvas, and
perishes at last in some violent and sudden squall.
Charles XII. of Sweden was an example of this kind in
the last century, and Napoleon Bonaparte, if we regard
him merely as a conqueror, a more striking one in our
own days.

Thirdly, there are men whose energy though constant
is never violent, and whose intellect, rather subtle than
bold, is attracted by the useful, and careless of the sublime.
Shrewd and wary, these men rather take advantage of
circumstances than make them. To turn an obstacle, to
foresee an event, to seize an opportunity, is their peculiar
talent. They are without passions, but self-interest and
sagacity combined give them a force like that of passion.
The success they obtain is procured by efforts no greater
than those of other candidates for public honours, who
with an appearance of equal talent vainly struggle after
fortune; but all their exertions are made at the most
fitting moment, and in the happiest manner.

A nice tact and a far-sighted judgment are the predomi-
nant qualities of these "politic" persons. They think
rarely of what is right in the abstract : they do usually


what is best at the moment. They never play the greatest
part amongst their contemporaries : they almost always play
a great one ; and, without arriving at those extraordinary
positions to which a more adventurous race aspires, gene-
rally retain considerable importance, even during the most
changeful circumstances, and most commonly preserve in
retirement or disgrace much of the consideration they
acquired in power. During the intriguing and agitated
years which preceded the fall of the Stuarts, there was
seen in England a remarkable statesman of the character
I have just been describing ; and a comparison might not
inappropriately be drawn between the plausible and
trimming Halifax and the adroit and accomplished per-
sonage whose name is inscribed on these pages.

But although these two renowned advocates of ex-
pediency had many qualities in common the temper, the
wit, the knowledge, the acuteness which distinguished the
one equally distinguishing the other nevertheless the
Englishman, although a more dexterous debater in public
assemblies, had not in action the calm courage, nor in
council the prompt decision, for which the Frenchman
was remarkable; neither is his name stamped on the
annals of his country in such indelible characters, nor con-
nected with such great and marvellous events.

And yet, notwithstanding the vastness of the stage on
which M. de Talleyrand acted, and the importance of the
parts which for more than half a century he played, I
venture to doubt whether his character has ever been
fairly given, or is at this moment justly appreciated ; nor
is this altogether surprising. In a life so long, brilliant,
and varied, we must expect to find a diversity of impres-
sions succeeding and effacing each other ; and not a few
who admired the captivating companion, and reverenced
the skilful minister of foreign affairs, were ignorant that
the celebrated wit and sagacious diplomatist had exhibited
an exquisite taste in letters, and a profound knowledge in
legislation and finance. Moreover, though it may appear
singular, it will be found true, that it is precisely those
public men who are the most tolerant to adverse opinions,
and the least prone to personal enmities, who oftentimes


gather round their own reputation, at least during a time,
the darkest obloquy and the most terrible reproaches.
The reason for this is simple : such men are themselves
neither subject to any predominant affection, nor devoted
to any favourite theory. Calm and impartial, they are
lenient and forgiving. On the other hand, men who
love things passionately, or venerate things deeply,
despise those who forsake and detest those who op-
pose the objects of their adoration or respect. Thus,
the royalist, ready to lay down his life for his legitimate
sovereign; the republican, bent upon glorious imitations
of old Borne and Greece ; the soldier, devoted to the chief
who had led him from victory to victory, could not but
speak with bitterness and indignation of one who com-
menced the Revolution against Louis XVI., aided in the
overthrow of the French Eepublic, and dictated the pro-
scription of the great captain whose armies had marched
for a while triumphant over Europe.

The most ardent and violent of the men of M. de
Talleyrand's time were consequently the most ardent and
violent condemners of his conduct; and he who turns
over the various works in which that conduct is spoken of
by insignificant critics,* will be tempted to coincide with
the remark of the great wit of the eighteenth century :
"(Jest un terrible avantage de ri avoir rienfait ; mais il
nefaut pas en dbuser."-\-

How far such writers were justified will be seen more
or less in the following pages, which are written with
no intention to paint a character deserving of eulogy or
inviting to imitation, but simply with the view of illustrating
a remarkable class of men by a very remarkable man, who
happened to live at a period which will never cease to
occupy and interest posterity.

* Many of those works confound dates and names, and make the
most absurd, as well as the most malignant, accusations ; but here
and there they relate facts which authentic documents have since
confirmed, as well as anecdotes which I have heard contemporaries
repeat, and of which I shall therefore take advantage.

t " It is a terrible advantage to have done nothing ; but one
must not abuse it."



Charles Maurice Talleyrand de Perigord was born
February 2, 1754.* The House of Pe'rigord was one of
the noblest in France, and in the earliest ages of the
French monarchy possessed sovereign power. The
principality of Chalais, the only one which existed, I
believe, in the time of Louis XIV. (for the other person-
ages called princes at the French court took their titles
as princes of the Eoman States or the German Empire,
and ranked after French dukes), is said to have been eight
centuries in this family. Talleyrand, a name usually
attached to that of Pe'rigord, and anciently written
Tailleran, is supposed to have been a sort of sobri-
quet, or nickname, and derived from the words, " tattler les
rangs" (cut through the ranks). It was borne by
Helie V., one of the sovereign counts of Pe'rigord, who
lived in 1118 ; and from this prince (Helie Y.) descended
two branches of the Talleyrand-Pe'rigords ; the one was
extinct before the time of Louis XVI., the other, being
the younger branch, was then represented by a Comte de
Perigord, Captain of the Guards, and Governor of the
States of Languedoc. A brother of this Comte de Pe'rigord
was the father of Charles Maurice Talleyrand de Perigord
(the subject of this memoir), whose mother, Eleonore de
Damas, daughter of the Marquis de Damas, was also of a
highly noble family, and a lady alike remarkable for her
beauty and her virtue.-}-


The seal which marks our destiny has usually been
stamped on our childhood ; and most men, as they look
back to their early youth, can remember the accident, the

* There seems to be some difficulty in ascertaining the date of M.
de Talleyrand's birth with exactitude. I have been told, on appa-
rently the best authority, that he was born on the 7th of March, 011
the 1st of September, and on the 2nd of February. This last is the
date I have selected, having reason upon the whole to believe it the
correct one. With respect to the year there is no dispute.

t The Countess de Talleyrand lived to 1809 ; and was very
proud of the talents of her son, but regretting, it is said, the use he
had made of them.


book, the conversation, which gave that shape to their
character which events have subsequently developed.

M. de Talleyrand was in infancy an exile from his
home ; the fortune of his parents did not correspond with
their rank : his father,* a soldier, was always at the court
or the camp ; his mother held a situation in the household
at Versailles. To both a child was an incumbrance, and
Maurice immediately at his birth was put out to nurse (as
was indeed at that time frequently the custom) in the
country, where, either by chance or neglect, he met with
a fall which occasioned lameness. This infirmity, when
the almost forgotten child at the age of twelve or thirteen
was brought up to Paris for the purpose of receiving rather
a tardy education, had become incurable ; and by a conseil
defamiUe, it was decided that the younger brother, the
Comte d'Archambaud subsequently known as one of
the handsomest and most elegant of the courtiers of
Louis XVI., and whom I can remember under the title
of Due de Perigord (a title given by Louis XVIII.),
should be considered the elder brother, and enter the army,
whilst the elder son should be pronounced the younger
son, and devoted to the clerical profession, into which the
Perigords knew they had sufficient influence to procure
his admission, notwithstanding the infirmity which, under
ordinary circumstances, would have been a reason for ex-
cluding him from the service of the church. From this
moment the boy hitherto lively, idle, and reckless
became taciturn, studious, and calculating. His early
propensities remained, for nature admits of no radical
change; but they were coloured by disappointment, or
combated by ambition. We see traces of gaiety in the
companion who, though rarely smiling himself, could
always elicit a laugh from others ; we see traces of indo-
lence in the statesman who, though always occupied,
never did more than the necessity of the case exacted ; we

* This gentleman had been menin to the Dauphin, son of Louis
XV. He subsequently commanded a regiment in the Seven Years'
War, and rose to be lieutenant-general in the King's armies. He
bore an excellent character, but was never considered to have any


see traces of recklessness in the gambler and politician
who, after a shrewd glance at the chances, was often dis-
posed to risk his fortune, or his career, on a speculation
for money or power : but the mind had been darkened and
the heart hardened ; and the youth who might easily and
carelessly have accepted a prosperous fate, was ushered
into the world with a determination to wrestle with an
adverse one.

Nor did any paternal advice or maternal care regulate
or soften the dispositions which were thus being formed.
From the nurse in the country, the lame young Perigord
for Perigord was the name which at this time he
bore was transplanted to the "College d'Harcourt,"
since called that of St. Louis. He entered it more
ignorant, perhaps, than any boy of his years ; but he
soon gained its first prizes, and became one of its most
distinguished scholars.

At the " Seminaire de St. Sulpice," to which he was
removed in 1770, his talent for disputation attracted
attention, and even some of his compositions were long
remembered and quoted by contemporaries. Whilst at
the Sorbonne, where he subsequently completed his studies,
this scion of one of the most illustrious French houses was
often pointed out as a remarkably clever, silent, and pro-
fligate young man : who made no secret of his dislike to
the profession that had been chosen for him, but was
certain to arrive at its highest honours.

With such prospects and such dispositions, M. de Tal-
leyrand entered, in 1773, the Gallican Church.


At this time we have to fancy the young ecclesiastic
a gentleman about twenty years of age, very smart in his
clerical attire, and with a countenance which, without
being handsome, was singularly attractive from the triple
expression of softness, impudence, and wit. If we are to
credit the chronicles of that day, his first advance in his
profession was owing to one of those bon mots by which
so many of the subsequent steps of his varied career were


There were assembled at Madame Dubarry's a number
of young gentlemen, rather free in their conversation and
prodigal in their boasts : no beauty had been veiled to
their desires, no virtue had been able to resist their attacks.
The subject of this memoir alone said nothing. " And
what makes you so sad and silent ?" asked the hostess.
"Helas! inadame, je faisais une reflexion lien triste."
" Et laquette ?" " Ah, madame, que Paris est une ville
dans laquelle il est Hen plus aise d" avoir desfemmes que
des abbayes."

The saying, so goes the story, was considered charming,
and being reported to Louis XV., was rewarded by that
monarch with the benefice desired. The Abbe de Peri-
gord's career, thus commenced, did not long linger.
Within a few years after entering the church, aided by
his birth and abilities, he obtained (in 1780) the dis-
tinguished position of " Agent-G-eneral " of the French
clergy this title designating an important personage who
administered the ecclesiastical revenues, which were then
immense, under the control of regular assemblies.

It is a curious trait in the manners of these times that,
whilst holding this high post as a priest, the Abbe' de
Perigord fitted out a vessel as a privateer ; and, it being his
intention to plunder the English, received from the French
government the cannon he required for so pious a purpose.*

I am unable to say what success attended M. de Talley-
rand's naval enterprise; but when, in 1785, he had to
give an account of his clerical administration, the very
clear and statesmanlike manner in which he did so, raised
him, in the opinion of the public, from the position of a
clever man, into that of an able one. Nor was this all.
The peculiar nature of the first public duties which he
thus exercised, directed his mind towards those questions
which the increasing deficit in the French treasury, and
the acknowledged necessity of supplying it, made the
fashion: for every one at that time in Paris ladies,
philosophers, wits, and men of fashion talked finance.

* This singular fact is mentioned by M. Mignet in a short and
able memoir, which after M. de Talleyrand's death he read to the
French Academy.


Few, however, troubled themselves with acquiring any
real insight into so dry a subject. But M. de Talleyrand,
although constitutionally averse to hard or continued
study, supplied this defect by always seeking and living
with men who were the best informed on those subjects
with which he wished to become acquainted. In this
manner his own information became essentially practical,
and the knowledge he obtained of details (furnishing him
with a variety of facts, which he always knew how to
quote opportunely), attracted the attention and patronage
of M. de Calonne, then at the head of the French govern-
ment, and who, being himself as much addicted to pleasure
as to aflairs, was not sorry to sanction the doctrine that a
man of the world might also be a man of business.

Still, though thus early marked out as a person who,
after the example of his great ecclesiastical predecessors,
might rise to the highest dignities in the Church and
State, the Abbe de Perigord showed an almost ostentatious
disregard for the duties and decorum of the profession
which he had been forced to embrace. Indeed, he seemed
to make in this sort of conduct a kind of protest against
the decree by which his birthright had been set aside,
and almost to glory in the publication of profane epigrams
and amorous adventures which amused the world but
scandalised the Church. Thus, each year, which in-
creased his reputation for ability, added to the stories by
which public rumour exaggerated his immorality ; and in
1788, when the bishopric of Autun, to which he had for
some time been looking forward, became vacant, Louis XVI.
was unwilling to confer the dignity of prelate on so irre-
gular an ecclesiastic. For four months the appointment
was not filled up. But the Abbe de Perigord's father
lay at that time on his death-bed : he was visited by the
kind-hearted Louis in this condition, and he begged the
monarch, as the last request of a dying and faithful
servant, to grant the bishopric in question to his son.
The King could not withstand such a prayer at such a
moment, and the Abbe de Perigord was consecrated Bishop
of Autun on the 17th of January, 1789 four months
before the assembling of the States -General.



The period which had elapsed between the time at
which M. de Talleyrand had entered the Church, and that
at which he attained the episcopal dignity, is, perhaps,
the most interesting in modern civilization. At no epoch
did society ever present so bright and polished a surface
as it did in the French capital during these fourteen or
fifteen years. The still great fortunes of the grand
seigneur, the profuse expenditure of the financier, the
splendour of a court embellished by that love for the arts
and for letters which the Medici had imported from Italy,
and which Louis XIV. had made a part of Ins royal mag-
nificence, all contributed to surround life with a taste in
luxury which has never been surpassed. Rich manu-
factures of silk, exquisite chiseling in bronze, china equally
beautiful in form and decoration, and paintings somewhat
effeminate, but graceful, and which still give celebrity to
the names of Watteau, Boucher, and Greuze, mark the
elegant refinement that presided over those days.

Nothing, however, in those courtly times had been
carried to such perfection as the art of living, and the
habits of social intercourse. People did not then shut up
their houses from their friends if they were poor, nor
merely open them in order to give gorgeous and pompous
entertainments if they were rich. Persons who suited
and sympathised, assembled in small circles, which per-
mitted the access of new members cautiously, but received
all who had once been admitted without preference or

In these circles, the courtier, though confident of the
fixed superiority of his birth, paid homage to the accident
of genius in the man of letters ; and the literary man,
however proud of his works, or conscious- of his talents,
rendered the customary tribute of respect to high rank
and station.

Thus poets and princes, ministers of state, and members
of learned academies men of wit, and men of the world

Online LibraryHenry Lytton Bulwer Dalling and BulwerHistorical characters : Mackintosh, Talleyrand, Canning, Corbett [i.e. Cobbett], Peel → online text (page 1 of 52)