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Henry, was very cordial, was, at first at any rate, by no
means offended at Mirabeau 's familiarity, and without

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MIRABEAU IN GERMANY

making him a confidant showed interest in his talents and
was pleased to be amused with his manners and his wit.N

When he went to Germany, Mirabeau intended to carry
out the idea which had been in his mind while he was in
England, of writing a sort of periodical, containing a
summary of all that was essential in contemporary science
and literature. This plan came to nothing, but, always
anxious to seize on the topic of the moment, he wrote a
letter about Cagliostro and Lavater, who were then much
in vogue owing to the affair of the Queen's necklace. In
this letter he attacked the sect of the illuminati who had
great influence with the German princes, and opposed to
their pretensions the benefits of a rationalistic philosophy.
In this fugitive piece nothing deserves to be recalled but
a precise allusion to "a revolution which is ever becoming
more necessary in our legal system," the principles of
which he had already laid down in his Lettres de Cachet.
"An accused person," he said, "must be tried according
to the most regular forms. His imprisonment must be
according to law. His detention should also be according
to law : it should be humane, and even gentle. He should
have advice, help, the means of defence. He should be
made aware of everything which can contribute to his
exculpation. . . ."

The chief advantage which Mirabeau derived from this
first visit to Berlin was the friendship which he formed there
with distinguished persons, such as Sir James Murray,
Ewart the Secretary of the British Embassy, and particu-
larly Dohm, the historian, philosopher and economist, to
whom he owed much. He was interested in everything,
and questioned everybody, from the ministers down to
artisans. An eminent lady named Rahel remembered
him very vividly. "His slightest movements," she said,
"showed that he was a man full of energy, who examined
everything at first hand, who desired to know everything,
and to get to the bottom of all things." Dohm has left an

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MIRABEAU

equally characteristic impression. "He carried the art of
putting questions to such a pitch, that it is difficult to
convey an idea of it to any one who was not accustomed
to his conversation."

Recalled to France by his personal affairs,/ Mirabeau had
a second audience, on April 17, with Frederick, who,
though he was very ill, kept him for nearly an hour, and
produced a profound impression on him.) At Brunswick
he did not succeed in seeing the reigning' Duke who was
"so interesting to meet, from every point of view," He
had left his "horde" at Berlin. The letters he wrote to
Mme. de Nehra there show great tenderness, and a delicacy
of sentiment revealing genuine affection. When he
reached Paris the affair of the necklace was exciting
universal and passionate interest. Mirabeau was favour-
able to the Cardinal de Rohan, but he was under no
illusions as to the far-reaching effects likely to be produced
by this horrible scandal. "Destiny is a strange thing,"
he wrote, "hell has never belched forth more perilous
corruptions than there are in this business. What a
country ! W^hat men ! What degeneracy ! What cor-
ruption ! "

Corruption he found everywhere. Of the Abbe de
P^rigord, the future Talleyrand, he wrote to his beloved
Yet-Lie : "He has often spoken to me of the declared
passion which he had for you, and I confess that in it all
there was a perfidious cunning which made me detest him.
For the rest he is still in the highest favour, and is con-
stantly losing in consideration and in wit what he gains
in suppleness and courtiership." Mirabeau had met the
Abbe de Perigord at the house of the banker Panchaud.
Their characters and temperaments were antagonistic, but
they were brought together by their interests and their
ambitions. Talleyrand, who then occupied the high posi-
tion of Agent-General to the Clergy, was interested in
diplomatic questions and in financial affairs, and from

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MIRABEAU IN GERMANY

this double point of view it was possible that Mirabeau
might be useful to him at Berlin. He contrived to
persuade M. de Calonne to entrust him with a mission,
and a report written by Mirabeau on June 2, 1786, on the
European situation, no doubt helped to secure this result.
With its deliberate conciseness this report is a memoir of
remarkable power, which gives a striking picture of France
exhausted and indecisive contrasted with England and
Prussia, "Is it not time," he concludes, "that we re-estab-
lished our affairs abroad and revictualled our people at
home? " And Mirabeau once again, with a persistency in
which we must recognize a definite policy, urged the desir-
ability of an offensive and defensive alliance with England.
He arrived at Berlin on July 21. Immediately after his
departure, and while he was still on the journey, he sent
off his first dispatch. His last was written on the very
day of his return, and is dated January 19, 1787. In the
intervening six months, Mirabeau sent off about seventy
dispatches, which were received, deciphered, and corrected
by Talleyrand, and submitted to Calonne, Vergennes,
and the King himself. He had no official mission. He
lived, amassed information, and worked outside the
regular diplomatic system. This subordinate and unac-
knowledged position embarrassed him, and not less so the
French Ambassador, who several times expressed surprise
and even resentment. It must be admitted that, making
allowances for Mirabeau 's characteristic exaggerations,
the comparison of the dispatches on events of importance,
is not in favour of the Comte d'Esterno. The semi-official
envoy saw further and clearer than the official ambassador,
and he wrote in a very different style. No one but Mirabeau
could have produced the dispatches. His whole self is in
them, his extraordinary clear-sightedness, his wide know-
ledge, his avowed or unconscious cynicism. They have
led some to compare him with Saint-Simon, but this is to
do him too much honour. Some happy formulae, some

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MIRABEAU

original phrases, some descriptions boldly dashed on the
paper are not enough to make him the equal of the
prodigious artist who indeed "wrote satanic and immortal
pages." Mirabeau has none of Saint-Simon's brilliancy
and high relief, none of his concentrated power nor his
picturesque and mordant vigour, which in a few character-
istic touches fixes a character and focuses a man.

But though he falls far short of this unique genius his
talent has its place, and the rank which Mirabeau holds by
virtue of the letters from Berlin is not to be despised. His
account of Frederick's death and funeral is well observed
and well expressed. Portraits such as he gives of Fred-
erick William II, Prince Henry of Prussia, and the Duke
of Brunswick, in spite of some exaggerations, remain
worthy of the dignity of history. His description of the
Prussian Court, that hotbed of base intrigue, bitter jealousy,
lamentable weakness and degrading vice, is lively, animated
and full of colour, and on the whole, is so like the reality
that it would be unjust to regard it as a partisan view
suggested by ignorance or spite. The refutation attempted
by Baron Trenck is often an unconscious and sufficient
proof of its truth. Mirabeau's language is precise and
clear, never declamatory, and it is purged of the over-
emphasis which elsewhere pervades and spoils his best
work. If he speaks as a diplomatist is expected to speak,
he sees as French diplomacy (which he described as the
most inactive in Europe) was then rarely capable of seeing.
The Dutch question developed on lines different from those
on which he predicted under the influence of the confidences
of the Duke of Brunswick. But he expressed views on the
failure of certain parts of the achievements of Frederick
the Great, on the decadence and revival of Prussia to
which the most scientific historians have done full justice.
On the Crown Prince he pronounced a judgment which
M. Albert Sorel describes as a "presentiment of genius";
and indeed his prediction that, after Frederick William II,

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MIRABEAU IN GERMANY

Frederick William III would arise to repair his errors and
reconstitute Prussia, is very striking. "Perhaps this
young man," he said, "has a great destiny, and if he should
become the pivot of some memorable revolution, far-seeing
men will not be surprised."

Mirabeau has been reproached for his taste for scanda-
lous love affairs. But in the case of a sensual and depraved
monarch like Frederick William II, these matters have
their importance, and if history may not be silent
about the part played by Fraulein von Voss at the Court
of Berlin, why should the reader be surprised, still more
why should he be shocked, if a secret agent should observe,
measure, and record the temperature of the royal passions ?
Mirabeau, however, yielded to his natural penchant for
such things. He emphasizes them, and insists on them
excessively. Tact was not his most conspicuous quality,
and he is wanting in regard both for himself and for others.
He forgot himself so far as to send a long letter full of
good advice to Frederick William II, on the very day of
his accession. The scheme of reform which he proposed
contains excellent suggestions about military organisation,
gratuitous justice, education, the freedom of the press,
taxation, commerce and public works; but it was not for
a foreigner to make them. It is not surprising that M.
d'Esterno, at the express request of Prince Henry himself,
should have complained to the French Government of the
"presumption " which had led Mirabeau to use expressions
"entirely unbecoming and very offensive."

The further question remains whether the letter was
really his own work. It has been said that he borrowed
its essential points from a memoir by the minister Hertz-
berg, and he was such an incorrigible plagiary, that there is
nothing improbable in the suggestion.

His Essay on Moses Mendelssohn and the political
reform of the Jews, appeared about the same time, and
in its broad-mindedness is worthy of his avowed object,

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MIRABEAU

which was to "encourage the reason and stimulate the
pride " of a great prince. But how can one determine
Mirabeau's share in a monograph in which he had for
acknowledged collaborators "the good and estimable
Dohm," Major Mauvillon and two Englishmen, whose
work it was "almost enough merely to translate."

The real glory of his sojourn at Berlin consists in
another action. He may justly be credited with the return
to France of the illustrious geometer Lagrange. He took
the initiative in a dispatch in which he dwelt upon the
modesty and the merit of the great savant, in a passage of
real eloquence. Lagrange's return anticipated his own
by very little. He was weary of the business of a
"subaltern diplomatist," which brought him neither gain
nor glory, neither immediate profit nor the prospect of
a career. He was weary of serving a Government which
did not seem to recognize his zeal or appreciate his
qualities, and after frequent solicitations, which had no
result, he called upon Talleyrand on November 7, to tell
him definitely what they meant to do for him. "By birth,
in short," he observes, "I am superior to most ministers.
My capacity I leave you to estimate ; I should hesitate to do
so myself. I do not think it should be difficult to find a
place for me, and it is, therefore, for them to say the word.
My own mind is finally made up." "The word" of a
minister is not said in a moment. In the name of the
Government Talleyrand assured Mirabeau that, "his corre-
spondence was giving complete satisfaction, and that the
King was reading it with much interest." But praises were
no longer enough for Mirabeau. He considered that the
time was come to pay him in some more material form of
coin. When Talleyrand told him of Calonne's decision to
convoke the Assembly of Notables, he decided that he had
at last an opportunity of reconciling his interests with those
of the nation : " My heart has not grown old, and if my
enthusiasm is benumbed it is not dead. I felt that very

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MIRABEAU IN GERMANY

keenly to-day, and I look on the day on which you told
me of the Convocation of Notables as one of the happiest in
my life. No doubt it will soon be followed by a National
Assembly, in which I see a new order of things which
may regenerate the monarchy." He will not "disdain
any kind of useful occupation." He would be secretary
to the Notables, or would undertake a secret mission to
Holland ; he would do anything, in fact, provided that
they would employ him ; the question was, whether they
would give him the chance.



125



CHAPTER IX

THE APPROACH OF THE REVOLUTION

Attacks on Calonne and Necker — The Monarchic Prussienne — Collabor-
ation of Mauvillon — The Convocation of the Notables — Mirabeau
demands States-General — Reconciliation with his father— A scandalous
publication.

Mirabeau returned to France in the last days of January
1787, and was not long in perceiving that the Government
was not disposed to utilize his capacities either at home
or abroad. The most Calonne would do was to make use
of him as a "satellite and a maker of manifestoes," who
would blindly support his policy and sing his praises.
This was a mistake, which he aggravated by adding that
"he would arrange everything financially." Mirabeau
accepted the challenge. The Denonciation de V Agiotage,
which appeared on March 6, was his reply. Its effect was
tremendous. Mirabeau was congratulated by the Notables
and by the citizens of all classes, and observed that his
book would in all probability shake the earth even to the
steps of the sanctuary. If he did not altogether escape
the reproach that he was wreaking a personal vengeance,
he had at least the right to say that he was fundamentally
self-consistent. Writing in May 1783, he had already
condemned in his pamphlet, La Caisse d'Escompte, the
Government interventions in stock exchange speculations,
of which he now accused the Controller-General in terms
of such vehement indignation. As to speculation, had he
not denounced it, to go no further back, in the memor-
andum which he handed to Calonne in June 1786, as
"ruining Paris and sucking the blood of the kingdom,"

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APPROACH OF THE REViOLUTION

showing at the same time that "our pubHc funds are in the
gutter." Moreover, in denouncing with special insistence
the speculations in the shares of the India Company,
Mirabeau had a right to recall the fact that in their previous
conversations the Minister had been completely silent on
the subject.

Mirabeau was therefore justified, by reference to his
previous polemics, in affirming the continuity of his views
and in evading the reproach that he was merely writing a
pamphlet inspired by the circumstances of the moment.
Further, what he repeated he said in a new way. In the
whole series of his financial writings he had never been
more vigorous or more spontaneous. This time he deter-
mined to be himself, his whole self, and nothing but
himself, and he gave of his best. Behind the author the
orator appeared. The D enonciation de l' Agiotage is com-
posed like a speech, of which it has the form, the develop-
ment, the movement, the brilliancy and the vitality. From
the exordium addressed to the King to the peroration in
which he appeals to the Notables, the book has the rhythm
of a harangue. If we read it almost at hazard, the pages
teem with oratorical passages; nothing is wanting but the
voice and gesture of the platform. Mirabeau stigmatizes
speculation as the most culpable of trades. "What I ask,
what compensation can it offer," he cries, "when its one
result, its only product, is a mad gamble in which millions
do nothing but pass from one purse to another, creating
nothing but a crowd of shadows paraded by the folly of
one day, and extinguished by the folly of the next ? " This
phrase, with its opening interjection and its balanced
rhythm, is made to be spoken, and there are others
innumerable which produce the same impression.

If the Denonciation de V Agiotage revealed Mirabeau's
command of oratory, it also gave him an opportunity of
rising from polemics to politics. He places his confidence
in a revolution as necessary as it was imminent. "So

127



*



MIRABEAU

long," he said, "as the kingdom is not reorganized under
a regular constitution we shall be no more than a society
consisting of different orders without unity, a people
almost without any social system. Such a government
may perhaps suit an army, but not a numerous people
living on the land which belongs to them." He demands
the organization of provincial administrations, of public
education, and has, in fact, a complete programme.

Calonne was not named, but he had recognized himself
in the following passage : — "Tell him that in carrying on
a government to be skilful is to be honest ; good speeches
will not atone for bad actions. Suppleness of wit, facility,
a graceful style, eloquent preambles and fine orations are
so many damning proofs against a Minister who excels
in the exposition of sound principles, which he eludes or
insults when it comes to putting them in practice." To
what other Ministers could this apply ? At the same time
that sentences of exile were being passed upon the
speculators denounced by Mirabeau, the Baron de Breteuil
was preparing a lettre de cachet to launch against him.
He was warned in time by the Abb6 de Perigord, and by
Calonne himself, who asserted that he had nothing to do
with the proposed measure, and crossing the frontier he
betook himself to Tongres near Liege. He was famous but
penniless. "The Commonweal is an ungrateful mistress,"
he wrote to Mme. de Nehra, "and celebrity is a strange
thing : on the one hand fame such that there is not a salon
or a boudoir or a street-corner that does not ring with the
name of Mirabeau ; on the other, hunger or something very
like it."

His exile was short. When he returned to Paris
Calonne had ceased to be Minister, and Necker was on the
point of succeeding him. Mirabeau hated him. In the
Denonciation de I'Agiotage he had sharply attacked the
"chimerical plan of providing for the cost of a war by
continual loans without taxation, thus taking all the credit

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APPROACH OF THE REVOLUTION

and leaving to one's successors the really difficult work."
This was the thesis to which he returned in two letters in
which he examined with a passionate severity the acts of
Necker's administration. He blamed him for the fall of
Turgot, for the dearness of his own loans, for the intro-
duction of the Genevese into French finance, and the
admission of bankers into the administration of the Caisse
d'Escompte, and he did not conceal his intention of pre-
venting this "ambitious foreigner" from again governing
France. There was, no doubt, some truth in certain of
the reproaches heaped on Necker by Mirabeau, but his
attack was couched in an excessively personal tone, it
ignored the services he had rendered, and denied his in-
contestable merit. It is difficult to attribute the bitterness,
the violence and the injustice of this polemic to a mere
difference of opinion on economical and financial
questions. Mirabeau had no doubt espoused the cause of
Panchaud and the Genevese refugees, who were very bitter
against Necker, but he was also influenced by personal
antagonism. The ostentatious virtue paraded by the
banker of Geneva on all occasions, and his haughty aus-
terity were highly displeasing to Mirabeau, whose tem-
perament was so profoundly different, and to a doctrinal
antagonism was added an antipathy of personalities which
was even less easy to reconcile.

Mirabeau was preparing a great work on Prussia, and in
May 1787, he decided to go to Brunswick, where a dis-
tinguished collaborator had amassed for him the necessary
materials and notes. His departure was preceded by a bad
action, for he published as part of the posthumous works
of Turgot, Dupont's memoir on provincial Assemblies,
which he had already sold to Calonne as his own, together
with two less important pieces. Was this lamentable
abuse of confidence to be attributed to his financial
embarrassments? This is the probable explanation, as
two months earlier Mirabeau was "much disappointed
K 129



MIRABEAU

about money matters." Embarrassment was unhappily the
melancholy accompaniment of his whole life, and it
explains if it does not excuse the deplorable acts of base-
ness of which he was guilty.

His letters to Mme. de Nehra record the stages of his
journey, and throw light upon his plans. Their gay
simplicity and their tender delicacy reveal the best side
of a nature in which there are so many disconcerting
contrasts. He still loved Yet-Lie with a love in which
there was a tinge of respect, and she exercised the happiest
influence on his life, hitherto without guidance or order.
"My poor Mirabeau," she said to him one day, "you have
only one friend in the world, and that is myself." Mira-
beau determined never to forget this, and as long as he
kept this resolution he confided in Mme. de Nehra and
took her advice about his affairs, which did not suffer
thereby. His great idea at this time was to set up a
printing press at Kiel with two partners. His book on
Prussia and his collected writings were to be the first
venture of the firm. "If in five years' time," he wrote,
"we have not one of the finest book-selling and printing
businesses in Europe I am no better than a fool." This
project came to nothing.

From abroad he followed the course of affairs in France.
He was disquieted by Calonne's departure for England.
"I do not understand this fury," he wrote, "or how
Ministers can set such a dangerous precedent of bitter
persecution of a colleague, for in such a matter precedents
are all that is wanted. The prosecution of a Minister of
Finance might perhaps have been really salutary in the
public interest; but if so, it should have been carried out
frankly, directly, vigorously, but above all impartially, and
should not have been preceded by humiliation and a cloud
of low intrigues." For his part he acquainted the Abbe
de Perigord, for the information of M. de Brienne and
M. de Montmorin, with the movements of the Prussian



APPROACH OF THE REVOLUTION

troops. Though often retarded by "the distractions of
the Court," he worked furiously at his book, which was
finished at the end of August. He was very proud of his
new work, and wrote to Mme. de Nehra, "My dear friend,
when this work appears I shall be little more than thirty-
eight, and I venture to predict that it will make my name,
and that my country may perhaps regret that such an
observer was left without employment, and such work
without a fit reward."

The volume De la Monarchie prussienne did not appear
until a year later. Mirabeau had dedicated it to his father,
"to compensate a little by this honourable employment of
his maturer years for the troubles which he had caused
him by his stormy youth." The old economist was
flattered by such homage from a man whom he regarded
as "the rarest of his age," but his formidable critical sense
pronounced the book to be "the enormous compilation of
a frenzied workman." This is precisely the verdict which
will now be passed upon it. Its four volumes represent
a great deal of work, but Mirabeau was not the chief
labourer. Major Mauvillon, an officer of Engineers, a
teacher at Brunswick, himself the author of numerous
works, procured him all the materials. Mirabeau wrote
to him : " Hasten more than ever the completion of your
great work, which will secure either our fame or our
fortune, for if I print it, it shall be under our two names."
The execution of the promise, which Mirabeau did not
keep, would have been nothing more than an act of
justice ; but it must be added that without Mirabeau's
initiative, his incessant energy and his sustained stimula-
tion Mauvillon could never have imagined or succeeded
in carrying out so considerable an enterprise. Mirabeau's
letter to him must be read in order to understand how
irresistible were the solicitations which they contained.
Mirabeau spared neither flatteries nor caresses nor tender
persuasions, and his correspondent saw in him (as was

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MIRABEAU

really the case) "the most attractive of men, who of all
people can make one think, believe, say and do exactly
Mrhat he wishes." He sent plans, books, documents, maps,



Online LibraryLouis BarthouMirabeau, from the French of Louis Barthou .. → online text (page 10 of 29)