Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

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ous Albion.

Bardre had been about three years at Bordeaux when
iie I'eceived intelligence that the mob of the town de-
signed him the honour of a visit on the ninth of Ther-
midor, and would probably administer to him what he
had, in his defence of his friend Lebon, described as
substantial justice under forms a Utde harsh. It was
necessary for him to disguise himself in clothes such as
were worn by the carpenters of the dock. In this garb,
>rith a bundle of wood shavings under his arm, he ma>le
his escape into the vineyards which surround th<*. city,
lurked during some days in a peasant's hut, and, when
the dreaded anniversary was over, stole back into the
city. A few months later he was again in danger. He
now thought that he should be nowhere so safe as in the



BAK&RE. 518

neighbourhood of Paris. He quitted Bordeaux, hastened
undetected through tliose to^s-ns where four years before
bis life had been in extreme danger, passed througli the
capital in the morning twilight, when none were in the
streets except shop-boys taking down the shutters, and
arrived safe at the pleasant village of St. Ouen on the
Seine. Here he remained in seclusion during some
months. In the mean time Bonaparte returned from
Egypt, placed himself at the head of a coalition of dis-
contented parties, covered his designs with the authority
of the Elders, drove the Five Hundred out of their hall
at the point of the bayonet, and became absolute mon-
arch of Prance under the name of First Consul.

Bardre assures us that these events almost broke his
heart ; that he could not bear to see France again sub-
ject to a master ; and that, if the representatives had
been worthy of that honourable name, they would have
arrested the ambitious general who insulted them.
These feelings, however, did not prevent him fi'om so-
liciting the protection of the new government, and from
sending to the Fii*st Consul a handsome copy of the
essay on The Liberty of the Seas.

The p<Jicy of Bonaparte was to cover all the past
with a general oblivion. He belonged half to the Re-
volution and half to the reaction. He was an upstart
and a sovereign ; and had therefore something in com-
mon with the Jacobin, and something in common with
the Royalist. All, whether Jacobins or Royalists, who
were disposed to support his government, were readily
received — all, whether Jacobins or Royalists, who
showed hostility to his government, were put down and
punished. Men who had borne a part in the worst
crimes in the Reign of Terror, and men who had fought
in the army of Cond^, were to be found close together



Sli BAKfcKE.

both in his antechambers and in his dungeons. He
decorated Fouch^ and Maury with the same cross. He
sent Ar^na and Georges Cadouda) to the same scaffold.
From a government acting on such principles Bardre
easily obtained the indulgence which the Directory had
constantly refused to grant. The sentence passed by
the Convention was remitted ; and he was allowed to
reside in Paris. His pardon, it is true, was not granted
in the most honourable form ; and he remained, during
some time, under the special supervision of the pohce.
He hastened, however, to pay liis court at the Luxem-
burg palace, where Bonaparte then resided, and was
honoured with a few dry and careless words by the
master of France.

Here begins a new chapter of Bar^re's history.
What passed between him and the Consular govern-
ment cannot, of course, be so accurately known to us
as the speeches and reports which he made in the Con-
vention. It is, however, not difficult, from notorious
fiicts, and from the admissions scattered over these lying
Memoirs, to fbnn a tolerably accurate notion of what
took place. Bonaparte wanted to buy Bar6re : Barfere
wanted to sell himself to Bonaparte. The only ques-
tion was one of price ; and there was an immense
interval between what was offered and what ivaa

Bonaparte, whose vehemence of will, fixedness of
purpose, and rehance on his own genius wei^e not only
great but extravagant, looked with scorn on die most
effeminate and dependent of human minds. He was
quite capable of perpetrating crimes under the influence
either of ambition or of revenge : but he had no touch
of that accursed monomania, that craving for blood and
tears, which raged in some of die Jacobin chie&. To




proecribe the Terrorists would Lave been wholly incon-
sistent with his policy ; but, of all the classes of men
whom his comprehensive system included, he Uked
them the least ; and BarSre was the worst of them.
This wretch had been branded with infamy, first by
the Convention, and then by the Council of Five Hun-
dred. The inhabitants of four or five great cities had
attempted to tear him limb from limb. Nor were his
vices redeemed by eminent talents for administration
or legislation. It would be imwise to place in any
honourable or important post a man so wicked, so
odious, and so little qualified to discharge high political
duties. At the same time, there was a way in which
it seemed likely that he might be of use to the govern-
ment. The Fii-st Consul, as he afterwards acknowl-
edged, greatly overrated Bar^re's powers as a writer.
The effect which tlie Reports of the Committee of
Pubhc Safety had produced by the camp fires of the
Republican armies had been great. Napoleon himself,
when a young soldier, had been delighted by those
compositions, which had much in common with the
rhapsodies of his favourite poet, Macpherson. The
taste, indeed, of the great warrior and statesman was
never very pure. His bulletins, his general orders,
and his proclamations, are sometimes, it is true, master-
|)ieces in their kind ; but we too often detect, even in
liis best writing, traces of Fingal, and of the Carmag-
noles. It is not strange, therefore, that he should have
b(M3n desirous to secure the aid of Bardre's pen. Nor
was this the only kind of assistance which the old mem-
ber of the Committee of Public Safety might render
to the Consular government. He was likely to find
admission into the gloomy dens in which those Jacobins
whose constancy was to be overcome by no reverse, or


by Google


Whose crimes admitted of no expiation, liid themselves
from the curses of mankind. No enterprise was too
bold or too atrocious for minds crazed by fanaticism,
and familiar with misery and death. The government
was anxious to have information of what passed in tlieir
secret councils ; and no man was better quaUfied to fiu^
nish such information than Bardre.

For these reasons the First Consul was disposed to
employ Bar6re as a writer and as a spy. But Barc^re —
was it possible that he would submit to such a degnida-
tion ? Bad as he was, he had played a great part. Ho
had belonged to that class of criminals who filled the
world with the renown of their crimes ; he had been
one of a cabinet which had ruled France with absolute
power, and made war on all Europe with signal success.
Nay, he had been, though not the most powerful, yet,
with the single exception of Robespierre, the most con-
spicuous member of that cabinet. Ilis name had been
u household word at Moscow and at Philadelphia, at
Edinburgh and at Cadiz. The blood of the queen of
France, the blood of the greatest orators and philoso-
phers of France was on his hands. He had spoken ;
and it had been decreed that the plough should pass
over the great city of Lyons. He had spoken again ;
and it had been decreed that the streets of Toulon
should be razed to the ground. When depravity is
placed so high as liis, the hatred which it inspires is
mingled with awe. His place was with great tyrants,
with Critias and Sylla, with EcceHno and Boipa ; not
with hirelings, scribblers, and police runners.

" Virtue, I grant you, is an empty boast;
But shall the dignity of vice be lost?**

So sang Pope ; and so felt Bar^re. When it was pro-




posed to him to publish a journal in defence of the Con-
sular government, rage and shame inspired him for the
first and last time with something like courage. He
had filled as large a space in the eyes of mankind as
Mr, Pitt or General Washington; and he was coolly
invited to descend at once to the level of Mr. Lewis
Goldsmith. He saw, too, with agonies of envy, that a
wide distinction was marie between himself and the
other statesmen of the Revolution who were Summoned
to the aid of the government. Those statesmen were
required, indeed, to make large sacrifices of principle ;
but they were not called on to sacrifice what, in the
opinion of the vulgar, constitutes personal dignity.
They were made tribunes and legislators, ambassadors
and counsellors of state, ministers, senators, and consuls.
They might reasonably expect to rise with the rising
fortunes of their master ; and, in truth, many of them
were destined to wear the badge of his Legion of Hon-
our and of liis order of the Iron Crown ; to be arch-
chancellors and arch-treasurers, counts, dukes, and
princes. Bardre, only six years before, had been far
more powerftil, far more widely renowned, than any of
them ; and now, while they were thought worthy to
represent the majesty of France at foreign courts, while
they received crowds of suitors in gilded ante-chambers,
he was to pass his life in measuring paragraphs, and
scolding correctors of the press. It was too much.
Those lips which had never before been able to fashion
themselves to a No, now murmured expostulation and
refusal. " I could not " — these are his own words —
•' abase myself to such a point as to serve the First
Consul merely in the capacity of a journalist, while so
many insignificant, low, and servile people, such as the
Treilhards, the Roederers, the Lebnms, the Marets, and



£18 BARfiRE.

others whom it is superfluous to name, held the first
place in this government of upstarts."

This outbreak of spirit was of short duration. Na-
poleon was inexorable. It is said indeed that he was,
for a moment, half inclined to admit Bar6re into the
Council of State ; but the members of that body re-
monstrated in the strongest terms, and declared that
such a nomination would be a disgrace to them all.
This plan was therefore relinquished. Thenceforth
Bardre's only chance of obtaining the patronage of the
government was to subdue his pride, to forget that
there had been a time when, with three words he might
have had the heads of the three consuls, and to betake
himself, humbly and industriously, to the task of com-
posing lampoons on England and panegyrics on Bona-

It has been often asserted, we know not on what
grounds, that Barere was employed by the government
not only as a writer, but as a censor of the writings of
other men. This imputation he vehemently denies in
his Memoirs ; but our readers will probably agree with
us in thinking that his denial leaves the question ex-
actly where it was.

Thus much is certain, that he was not restrained
from exercising the office of censor by any scruple of
conscience or honour ; for he did accept an office,
compared with which that of censor, odious as it is,
may be called an august and beneficent magistracy.
He began to have what are delicately called relations
with the police. We are not sure that we have formed,
or that we can convey an exact notion of the nature of
Bai-dre's new calling. It is a calling unknown in out
country-. It has indeed often happened in England that
a plot has been revealed to the government by one of the




conspirators. The informer has sometimes been directed
to carrj' it fair towards his accomplices, and to let the
evil design come to full maturity. As soon as his work
is done, he is generally snatched from the public gaze,
and sent to some obscure village or to some remote
colony. The use of sjries, even to this extent, is in the
highest degree unpopular in England ; but a poUtical
spy by profession is a creature from which our island
is as free as it is from wolves. In France the race is
well known, and was never more numerous, more
greedy, more cunning, or more savage, than under the
government of Bonaparte.

Our idea of a gentleman in relations with the Consular
and Imperial poUce may perhaps be incorrect. Such
as it is, we will try to convey it to our readers. We
image to ourselves a well-dressed person, with a soft
voice and affable manners. His opinions are those of
the society in which he finds himself, but a Uttlo
stronger. He often complains, in the language of
honest indignation, that what passes in private conver-
sation finds its way strangely to the government, and
cautions his associates to take care what they say when
they are not sure of their company. As for himself,
he owns that he is indiscreet. He can never refrain
fi'om speaking his mind ; and that is the reason that he
is not prefect of a department.

In a gallery of the Palais Royal he overliears two
fiiends talking earnestly about the king and the Count
of Artois. He follows them into a coffee-house, sits at
the table next to them, calls for his half-dish, and hit
small glass of cognac, takes up a journal, and seems
occupied with the news. His neighbour go on talking
without restraint, and in the style of persons warmly
attached to the exiled &mily. They depart ; and he



520 BARfiRE.

follows them half round the boulevards till he fairly
tracks them to their apartments, and learns their names
from the porters. From that day eveiy letter ad-
dressed to either of them is sent from the post-oflice to
the police, and opened. Their corraspondents become
Kno^vn to the government, and are carefully watched.
Six or eight honest femilios, in different parts of France,
find themselves at once under the frown of power
without being able to guess what offence they have
given. One person is dismissed from a public office ;
another learns with dismay that his promising son has
been turned out of the Polytechnic school.

Next, the indefatigable servant of the state falls in
with an old republican, who has not changed with the
times, who regrets the red cap and the tree of liberty,
who has not unlearned the Thee and Thou, and who
still subscribes his letters with "Health and Frater-
nity." Into the ears of this sturdy politician our friend
pours forth a long series of complaints. What evil
times! What a change since the days when the
Mountain governed France ! What is the First Consul
but a king under a new name ? What is this Legion
of Honour but a new aristocracy? The old super-
stition is reviving with the old tyranny. There is a
treaty with the Pope, and a provision for the clergy.
Emigrant nobles are returning in crowds, and are
better received at the Tuileries than the men of the
10th of August. This cannot last. What is life
without liberty ? What terrors has death to the time
patriot? The old Jacobin catches fire, bestows and
receives the fraternal hug, and hints that there will
soon be great news, and that the breed of Harmed ius
and Brutus is not quite extinct. The next day he is
close prisoner, and all his papers are in the hands of
the government.



BAK&RE. 52i

To tills vocation, a vocation compared witli wliich
tlie life of a beggar, of a pickpocket, of a pimp, is hon-
ourable, did Barere now descend. It was his constant
practice, as often as he enrolled himself in a new party,
to pay his footing with the heads of old friends. He
was at first a Royalist ; and he made atonement by
watering the tree of liberty with the blood of Louis.
He was then a Girondist ; and he made atonement by
murdering Vergniaud and Gensonnd. He fawned on
Robespierre up to the eighth of Thermidor ; and he
made atonement by moving, on the nindi, that Ilob«s^
pierre should be beheaded without a trial. He was
now enlisted in the service of the new monarchy ; and
he proceeded to atone for his repubhcan heresies by
sending republican throats to the guillotine.

Among his most intimate associates was a Gascon
named Demerville, who had been employed in an office
of high trust under the Committee of Public Safety.
This man was fanatically attached to the Jacobin sys-
tem of p<Jitics, and, in conjunction with other enthu-
siasts of the same class, formed a design against the
First Consul. A hint of this design escaped him in
conversation with Barfire. Barere carried the intelli-
gence to Lannes, who commanded the Consular Guards.
Demerville was arrested, tried, and beheaded ; and
among the witnesses who appeared against him was his
friend Bardre.

The account which Bardre has given of these trans-
ictioQs is studiously confused and grossly dishonest.
We think, however, that we can discern, through much
falsehood and much artful obscurity, some truths which
he labours to conceal. It is clear to us that the gov-
ernment suspected him of what the Italians call a
doable treason. It was natural that such a suspicion



522 BAR^.RE.

should attach to him. He had, in times not very re-
mote, zealously preached the Jacobin doctrine, that he
who smites a tyrant deserves higher praise than he who
saves a citizen. Was it possible that the member of
the CoDMnittee of Public Safety, the king-killer, the
cjueen-killer, could in earnest mean to deliver his old
confederates, his bosom friends, to the executioner,
solely because they had planned an act which, if there
were any truth in his own Carmagnoles, was in the
highest degree virtuous and glorious ? Was it not more
probable that he was really conc^ned in the plot, and
that the information which he gave was merely intended
to lull or to mislead the police? Accordingly, spies
were set on the spy. He was ordered to quit Paris, and
not to come within twenty leagues till he received fur-
ther orders. . Nay, he ran no small risk of being sent,
>vith some of his old friends, to Madagascar.

He made his ])eace, however, with the government
so far, that he was not only permitted, during some
years, to Uve unn»olested, but was employed in the
lowest sort of political drudgery. In the summer of
1803, while he was preparing to visit the south of
France, he received a letter which deserves to be in-
serted. It was from Duroc, who is well known to
liave enjoyed a large share of Napoleon's confidence and

" The First Consul haring been informed that Citizen Bar^re is
about to set out for the country, desires that he will stay at Paris.

" Citizen Barcre will every week draw up a report on the state
of public opinion on the proceedings of the government, and gen-
erally on every thing which, in his judgment, it will be interesting
to the First Consul to learn.

" He may write with perfect freedom.

** He will deliver his reports under seal into General Duroo'«
Dwn hand, and General Duroc m\\ deliver them to the First Con*



BARl^RE. 523

ml But it is absolutely necessary that uobody should suspect that
this species of communication takes place ; and, should any such
ciispicion get abroad, the First Consul will cease to receive the
reports of Citizen Barfere.

'*It will also be proper that Citizen Bar^re should frequently
insert in the jonrnals articles tending to animate the public mind,
pardcnlarly against the English."

Daring some years Bar^re continued to discharge the
functions assigned to him by his master. Secret reports,
filled with the talk of cofFee-houses, were carried by him
every week to the Tuileries. His friends assure us that
lie took especial pains to do all the harm in his power
to the returned emigrants. It was not his fault if
Napoleon was not apprised of every murmur and every
sarcasm which old marquesses who had lost their
estates, and old clergymen who had lost their benefices,
uttered against the imperial system. M. Hippolyte
Camot, we grieve to say, is so much blinded by party
spirit that he seems to reckon this dirty wickedness
among his hero's titles to public esteem.

Harare was, at the same time, an inde&tigable jour-
nalist and pamphleteer. He set up a paper directed
against En^and, and called the Memorial Antibritan'
nique. He planned a work entitled, " France made
great and illustrious by Napoleon." When the Impe-
rial government was established, the old regicide made
himself conspicuous even among the crowd of flatterers
by the peculiar fulsomoness of his adulation. He trans-
lated into French a contemptible volume of Italian
verses, entitled, " The Poetic Crown, composed on the
glorious accession of Napoleon the First, by the Shep-
herds of Arcadia.'' He commenced a new series of
Carmagnoles very different from those which had
charmed the Mountain. The title of Emperor of the



524 bar£:re.

French, he said, was mean ; Napoleon ought to be
Emperor of Europe. King of Italy was too humble an
appellation ; Napoleon's style ought to be King of

But Bard re laboured to small purpose in both his
f iTocations. Neither as a writer nor as a spy was he of
uuich use. He complains bitterly that his paper did
not sell. While the Journal des D^hats^ then flourish-
ing under the able management of Geoffroy, had a cir-
culation of at least twenty thousand copies, the M^mo*
rial AnUbritanfuque never, in its most prosperous
times, had more than fifteen hundred subscribers ; and
these subscribers were, with scarcely an exception,
persons residing far from Paris, probably Gascons,
among whom the name of Bardre had not yet lost its

A writer who cannot find readers generally attributes
tlie public neglect to any cause rather than to the true
one ; and Barfire was no exception to the general rule.
His old hatred to Paris revived in all its fury. That
city, he says, has no sympathy with France. No
Parisian cares to subscribe to a journal which dwells on
the real wants and interests of the country. To a
Parisian nothing is so ridiculous as patriotism. The
higher classes of the capital have always been devoted
to England. A corporal from London is better re-
ceived among them than a French general. A journal,
therefore, which attacks England has no chance of their

A much better explanation of the failure of the Jf<f-
rrmial was given by Bonaparte at St. Helena. " Ba-
rJre," said he to Barry O'Meara, " had the reputation
of being a man of talent : but I did not find him bo.
I employed him to write ; but he did not display ability.



BARkRE. 525

He used many flowers of rhetoric, but no solid argu-
ment; notliing but coglionere wrapped up in high-
sounding language."

The truth is that, though Barfire was a man of quick
parts, and could do with ease what he could do at all,
he had never been a good writer. In the day of his
power he had been in the habit of haranguing an excita-
ble audience on exciting topics. The faults of his style
passed uncensured ; for it was a time of literary as well
as of civil lawlessness, and a patriot was Ucensed to
violate the ordinary rules of composition as well as the
ordinary rules of jurisprudence and of social morality.
But there had now been a literary as well as a civil re-
action. As there was again a throne and a court, a
magistracy, a chivalry, and a hierarchy, so was there a
revival of classical taste. Honour was again paid to
the prose of Pascal and Massillon, and to the verse of
Racine and La Fontaine. The oratory which had de-
lighted the galleries of the Convention was not only as
much out of date as the language of Villehardouin and
Joinville, but was associated in the public mind with
images of horror. All the peculiarities of the Anacreon
of the guillotine, his words unknown to the Dictionary
of the Academy, his conceits and his jokes, his Gascon
idioms and his Gascon hyperboles, had become as odious
as the cant of the Puritans was in England after the

Bonaparte, who had never loved the men of the Reign
of Terror, had now ceased to fear tliem. He was all-
powerful and at the height of glory ; they were weak
and universally abhorred. He was a sovereign ; and it
is probable that he already meditated a matrimonial al-
liance with sovereigns. He was naturally unwilling, in
hb new position, to hold any intercourse with the worst



526 BAR&RE

class of Jacobins. . Had Barere's literary assistance
been important to die government, personal aversicm

Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 39 of 84)