Una Pope-Hennessy.

Secret societies and the French revolution, together with some kindred studies by Una Birch online

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hopes of all the friends of progress were, on
this hypothesis, concentrated in him. He
was to the Liberals of Europe at that moment
as the day-star of hope. Against the horizon
of the dawning century, he stood illumined as

Madame de Stael and Napoleon

a herald of better days and diviner deeds. At
his feet, the patriot, the lover of progress, the
searcher after truth, the poet, the philosopher,
were ready to kneel, as they would not have
knelt to any saint. His was the figure to
whom the prayers of thousands went up as to
a great deliverer : from Prussia, still iron-
bound by the legacy of Frederick the Great ;
from the principalities of the Holy Roman
Empire ; from Italy, toiling under the Austrian
yoke ; from Greece, the fief of Turkey ; from
all who groaned under the old evils of military,
feudal, or ecclesiastical despotism. He was the
hero who was to fulfil the heroic ideals of the
Revolution, who was to become the missioner
of the new freedom. This was the role for
which many had cast him ; was the role he never
accepted. His new-found destiny enshrined
the disappointment in Europe of countless
hopes and aspirations.

None of those who assisted in the coup detat
of the 1 8th Brumaire knew that they were
founding an Empire. Bonaparte's speech
before the Council of the Ancients on the day
of his election to the Consulate was disarming.
*' Citizens, the Republic was on the point of


Madame de Stael and Napoleon

perishing ; your decree has saved it. We will
have the Republic. We will have it founded
on genuine liberty, on the representative
system." And later he said once more to the
Ancients : " People talk of a new Cromwell, of
a new Caesar. Citizens, had I aimed at such a
part it would have been easy for me to assume
it on my return from Italy, in the moment of
my most glorious triumph, when the army and
the parties invited me to seize it. I aspired not
to it then. I aspire not to it now." With
mild words he began his campaign against
liberty. He himself proclaimed that his desire
was "to close the wounds of France." There
were to be no more scaffolds, and no more
exiles ; the churches were to be re-opened, and
peace was to reign in the land. Dominical
observance once more became the recognised
national practice, and the dull decadian festivals
were forgotten in an access of new piety. Every
one was sick of theories and principles, and
philosophers were blamed for all that had
happened. Disillusion was the malady of the
moment. Ideas were at a discount, and their
domination considered hardly less galling than
that of the old feudality. People were tired ot

Madame de Stael and Napoleon

a liberty which in practice meant anarchy, and
of a brotherhood which had become the symbol
of bankruptcy.

In crises, men are apt to choose the one
dictator rather than the multitude of coun-
cillors. Calvin was called upon to save
Geneva; Cromwell to emancipate England.
In 1799 Bonaparte was the necessary man for
France. He alone could reconstruct the
country from the ruins of her past. His
polity resembled that of the Catholic Church
in so far as it aimed at introducing the outward
husk and semblance of democracy, while retain-
ing the reality of autocracy as the kernel of his
constitution. \n proportion as his grasp upon the
administration became more assured, and govern-
ment became more despotic, the hearts of the
Liberals grew sick with hope deferred ; their
aspirations were choked ; their dreams were dis-
sipated. ''This very world, which is the world
of all of us," no longer held the revelation ; the
stars no longer visited the earth.

The First Consul brought men back to facts.

For him the right of man meant the might of

man, and in practice the might of one man.

Ordinary people he believed to be in no way fit


Madame de Stael and Napoleon

to govern themselves ; the anarchic condition
of France abundantly demonstrated the futility
of such a notion. He merely expressed the
unconscious opinion of many to whom it had
long become evident that a people is not sud-
denly lifted up from serfdom to authority ;
that a nation of slaves is not inspired as if by
some divine afflatus with the virtues of free and
responsible citizens. Visions of the immediate
apotheosis of man, cherished in the Revolution's
dawn, had gone like a shadow, not even as the
shadow of reality, but as the shadow of a dream.
Government for the people by the people was
seen to involve a laborious educational course
on which men were hardly at the time prepared
to enter. Let the Liberals cherish what faith
in humanity they chose ; Bonaparte was not
under the pleasing delusion that man was
ready for self-government. He believed Rous-
seauism and romanticism to make for bad
government, and absolutism to be the ideal
constitution. The sum of the administrative
system of the Consulate is too familiar to be
dwelt upon. In theory the liberty of the nation
was guaranteed by representation based on
manhood suffrage. In practice the First Consul

Madame de Stael and Napoleon

became a dictator. He was supported by a
Council of State, the Legislative Assembly, and
the Tribunate. These bodies formulated, dis-
cussed, and voted upon the laws. Both the
Council and the Tribunate sent three members
to represent their views to the Legislative
Assembly. Besides these three bodies, there
was a Senate whose business was to " maintain
or annul all acts which are reported to it as
unconstitutional by the Tribunate or the
Government." The Senate, in the first in-
stance selected by the Consuls (though later
co-opting fresh members according to its own
discretion), selected in its turn from lists
presented by the electors, the members of the
Tribunate and of the Legislative Assembly.
The presidents of the Cantonal Assemblies,
who really controlled the electorate, were
chosen by the First Consul from amongst can-
didates submitted from the cantons. This
centralised method of administration made it
comparatively easy for Bonaparte to impress his
whole will upon the nation, and to subordinate
the welfare of the individual to the perfecting
of the State-machine.

The reign of the First Consul had barely


Madame de Stael and Napoleon

opened when Madame de Stael began to be
agitated by doubts as to Bonaparte's love of
liberty. Without waiting for decided acts ot
tyranny, she set herself in opposition to what
she believed to be his tendency. He asked why
she could not attach herself to his government,
and wondered whether she wanted anything
from him ; possibly the money her father, M.
Necker, had lent to the State, or perhaps a
residence in Paris ? He informed her that she
might have anything she wished. " It does
not matter what I ' wish,' but what I think,"
she answered, thus throwing down the challenge
to the greatest of men. To one who believed
every man to have his price, it came as some-
thing of a shock to find that a mere woman was
ready to fight, not for advantage but for an
ideal. Madame de Stael's political mouthpiece,
Benjamin Constant, made what stand he could
against the introduction of absolutism, and in
a great speech to the Tribunes reclaimed for
their body the independence necessary for its
usefulness. Without such independence, he
declared, " there would be nothing but slavery
and silence, silence which the whole of Europe
would hear." He appeared to hurl defiance at


Madame de Stael and Napoleon

the First Consul, who was greatly incensed. As
a consequence, the press attacked both Madame
de Stael and Benjamin Constant with violence.
She was represented as the agent of an Orleanist
and clerical conspiracy, and an article in the
" Peuple " ended in this conciliatory fashion:
" Ce n'est pas votre faute si vous etes laide ;
mais c'est votre faute si vous etes intrigante."

Not only the Jacobin, but also the Royalist
press was ranged against her. They called her
Curchodine (her mother's maiden name had been
Curchod), and twitted her with running after
glory and people in high positions ; with writing
on metaphysics, which she did not understand ;
on morality, which she did not practise ; and on
the virtues of her sex, which she did not possess.
Undaunted by this attack and by the cold
behaviour of those in society, who desired the
favour of Bonaparte, she wrote a defence of
theorists and philosophers. Though the First
Consul was inclined to make liberty answerable
for all the crimes committed in its name, she at
least was anxious to prove herself able to dis-
tinguish the beauty of the pure ideal from its
caricature in practical life. In " De la Littera-
ture consideree dans ses rapports avec les Insti-


Madame de Stael and Napoleon

tutions sociales," she made an act of faith, '' of
inextinguishable faith," in the law of progress, in
the Rousseau view of life, in the perfectibility
of man. It was a magnificent eiFort, in which
she traced the progress of the spirit of man
from the days of Homer down to the year 1789.
She confessed how in her pride she had regarded
that still recent and momentous year as a new
epoch for man, and admitted her present fear
that in sober reality it may have been nothing
more than a " terrible event." Though ideals
had disappeared in that red harvest of lives,
characters, sentiments, and ideas, she asserted
she could never believe that philosophy to be
false which declares for the progress of the race.
Life without such hope of future ennoblement
would be but a vain and arid waste. Fontanes
observed that this book presented '^ la chimere
d'une perfection qu'on cherche maintenant a
opposer a ce qui est."

Factions, jealousies, and class hatreds have
often merged themselves in enthusiasm for a
common cause. A national enemy unites the
conflicting interests of a country more securely
than any constitution, however just. Bonaparte
welcomed the idea of the Italian campaign in


Madame de Stael and Napoleon

180O5 for it would, if successful, contribute to
his firmer establishment, and glorify him in the
eyes of the French people. On his way to Italy
he called on M. Necker at Coppet. Madame
de Stael was greatly impressed on this occasion
by his conversation and his personality, and
could not understand her father's indifference to
the great man. Her romantic and generous
nature was stirred, and even in the tyrant she
could see the hero. The glamour of meeting
the man of destiny face to face, for the moment
dispelled her antipathy for all that he repre-
sented. During the lengthening spring even-
ings by the Lake of Geneva, she watched, after
he had gone, the spectacle of the French troops
advancing across the peaceful country towards
the great St. Bernard Pass, and only faintly
wished that he might be defeated, so that
his growing tyranny should receive a check.
However, after Marengo the victorious general,
^'bruni par la gloire," returned to Paris to
receive the plaudits of the people, and Madame
de Stael showed herself as anxious to see the
popular hero as all the rest of the world.

The progress of absolutism became more
rapid after this successful Italian campaign, for


Madame de Stael and Napoleon

the process known as the " senatus-consulte "
was grafted on to the existing constitution, and
by this means the consular will immediately
became the nation's law. The ''senatus-con-
sulte " was ostensibly adopted for the purpose
of punishing and terrorising those who schemed
against Bonaparte's administration, and the first
use to which the new measure was put was to
deport a number of Jacobins (said to be con-
cerned in an attempt to assassinate the First
Consul) to the Seychelles, Cayenne, and other
places. The list of a hundred and thirty names
was drawn up in a hasty and careless fashion,
and it was never proved that any of the men
banished were in any way concerned with the
plot. Madame de Stael was very indignant,
and surmised that after such a precedent any
act of tyranny might be justified. In January
1802 another unconstitutional act was executed.
Benjamin Constant and nineteen others were
turned out of the Tribunate, and twenty men
devoted to Bonaparte were put in their place.
Effective criticism was impossible, for public
expression of opinion had been stifled by the
suppression of all journals with the exception
of thirteen (five of which soon disappeared) as


Madame de Stael and Napoleon

being inimical to the Republic. Had the Tri-
bunate continued to exist as originally consti-
tuted, it might have proved a barrier to the
assumption by the First Consul of absolute

The Peace of Amiens was a disturbing sur-
prise to Madame de Stael. Andreossy, the
French Envoy, who went to London to ratify
the preliminaries of the peace, reported that the
English people were delighted at the compact,
and that the mob unharnessed his horses and
dragged his carriage to St. James's Palace.
Madame de Stael reflected sadly that, if
England, the country of the free, recognised
the usurper, no country in Europe could protest
against his despotism.

Almost more disconcerting both to her and
to the Liberals was the formal treaty made
between State and Church three weeks after the
Peace of Amiens. In order to celebrate the
accomplishment of two such important pacts,
Bonaparte arranged that a festival should be
held in Notre-Dame. On Easter Day, 1802,
the big bell of the cathedral broke its ten years'
silence. Amid salvos of artillery and blare of
trumpets the Consuls and the rest of the oflicers

Madame de Stael and Napoleon

of State went in pomp to the festival. It was
observed by the curious that the consular
lackeys for the first time wore livery, and that
the consular coach was drawn by eight horses.
Within the sacred walls so recently profaned
by revolutionary usage Mass was celebrated,
and at the Elevation the soldiers presented arms
and the drums rolled. Two orchestras, con-
ducted by Cherubini and Mehul, discoursed
sacred music, and thus the terms of peace
between State and Church were ratified. Ma-
dame de Stael remained shut up in her house
" pour ne pas voir I'odieux spectacle," which
for her was filled with remembrance of the old
monarchic days, and the old insolence of royal
luxury and oppression. She and all the friends
of liberty in France were anxious that the
Catholic religion should not be restored in their
country. Individually she was, like Rousseau,
anxious for a State religion, but it was " en
bonne Calviniste," and though nominally the
three Christian confessions and Judaism were
put on the same footing by the Concordat, the
only significant factor in the arrangement was
Catholicism. Napoleon described religion as
order, and there is no doubt that in the Catholic

Madame de Stael and Napoleon

priests he saw serviceable professors of passive
obedience, a sort of '' gendarmerie sacree," that
might with diplomacy be converted into one of
the firmest pillars of his throne. It seems as if
there must have been to his mind an essentially
English savour in Protestantism ; for when
negotiating for the pacification of La Vendee
he asked that twelve inhabitants of the district
should be sent, " pretres par preference," with
whom to treat. " Car j'aime et estime les
pretres, qui sont tous Frangais, et qui savent
defendre la patrie contre les eternels ennemis
du nom frangais, ces mechants heretiques
d'Anglais." Bonaparte always said it would
have been easier for him to establish Pro-
testantism, and that he had to overcome much
resistance in restoring Catholicism as the State
religion. The Council of State received the
news of the compact in silence, and neither the
Legislative Assembly nor the Tribunate would
sanction the measure until their numbers had
been reduced by expulsion. Men felt that by
the Concordat ''the most beneficial achieve-
ments of the Revolution were undone."

Madame de Stael began to desire some other
weapon than her pen to fight the restoration of

Madame de Stael and Napoleon

Catholicism, and she thought that in the person
of Bernadotte, who was insanely jealous of his
master, she had found one. This General-in-
Chief of the Army of the West affected liberal
ideas and intrigued against Bonaparte. Not
content with being in the thick of the conspiracy,
Madame de Stael urged her colleagues to im-
mediate action, as there was no time to be lost,
since ^' forty thousand priests would be at the
service of the tyrant on the morrow." The
plot failed and Bernadotte escaped ; but Bona-
parte did not forget or forgive the conspirators.
In the late spring of 1802, Madame de Stael
was delayed in her journey to Coppet by the
death of her spendthrift husband at a wayside
inn. His death was in many ways a relief to
her, and with unchecked courage she continued
her campaign against tyranny. Her enemy was
about to become Consul for life, which caused
her a good deal of anxious thought, and when a
pamphlet named " Vrai Sens du Vote national
sur le Consulat a vie " was printed by her
friend Camille Jordan, giving expression to
views of Bonaparte that coincided with her own,
her pleasure on reading it was so extreme that
she thought of rewarding the author by sending

209 o

Madame de Stael and Napoleon

him a ring made of her own hair, which had
belonged to " pauvre M. de Stael." But
luckily she remembered before it was too late
that Camille was much taken by the fair curls
of Madame de Kriidener, and her pride made
her refrain from sending the black ring.

A month later another pamphlet appeared,
again expressing her views. Its name was " Les
dernieres Vues de Politique et de Finances,"
and its author, M. Necker, allowed that Bona-
parte was "I'homme necessaire," and that the
timely choice of a dictator had saved France
from serious dangers. He criticised the con-
stitution of the year VIII., traced in it the whole
scaffolding of the future imperial edifice, and
declared the present state of government to
be but " the stepping-stone to tyranny." He
complained that the Legislative Assembly,
despoiled of its prerogatives, was unworthy of
a free republic ; and predicted, as his daughter
had done in ^' De la Litterature," that the
progress of military authority must lead to
despotism, and that " good faith should prevent
the keeping of the name Republic for a form
of government in which the people would not
count." It was a book bound to make trouble


Madame de Stael and Napoleon

for its author. Madame de Stael realised this
but " could not bring herself to stifle the swan-
song which was to sound from the grave of
French liberty."

Every one knew that she was the power behind
the book. In vain she protested that it was the
work of M. Necker, and of M. Necker alone ;
no one believed her. The question, however,
soon ceased to attract notice, for the election of
Bonaparte to the Consulate for life dulled all
interest in other concerns, and the poor hermit
of Coppet was lost to sight in the joy with
which the election was greeted. The Empire
was accomplished in all but name.

By Lake Leman the temporarily forgotten
woman lived lamenting the eclipse of her
party. She tried to console herself with read-
ing Kant. It rejoiced her to discover that in
his works she could find new and noble argu-
ments against despotism and degradation of
character. Unlike her friend Chateaubriand,
for whom Nature was the melodious harp on
which the unfathomable misery of man was
expressed, she had no joy in scenery or changing
lights, and could only think and write. Her
novel, " Delphine," appeared in December 1 802,


Madame de Stael and Napoleon

in Paris, and she waited impatiently under the
elms at Coppet for the echo of her success in
the capital. Its vogue was prodigious, for
most of the characters were drawn from life.
Delphine was Madame de Stael ; Madame de
Vernon was Talleyrand ; M. de Lebensei was
Benjamin Constant ; Therese d'Erviers was
Madame Recamier ; the Due de Mendoce was
M. Lucchesini, the Prussian ambassador in
Paris. The book itself was dedicated to
" La France Silencieuse." Talleyrand said,
" On dit que Madame de Stael nous a repre-
sentes tous deux dans son roman, elle et moi,
deguises en femmes ! " Even from the distant
Lake of Geneva, arrows found their mark, and
wounded their destined quarry. Bonaparte
declared the book immoral, ''vagabond in
imagination," and a mere ''mass of metaphysic
and sentiment." " Delphine " championed Pro-
testantism, and declared against the "bizarre
beliefs of Catholicism." It praised the English,
it exalted liberty ; in short, it committed every
possible offence against Napoleonic opinion.
Madame de Genlis, whom Andre Chenier
called " la mere de I'Eglise," was particularly
angere^ by its heterodoxy. She also hated its


Madame de Stael and Napoleon

authoress, and took the opportunity of its pub-
lication to excite the First Consul against her
and persuade him to exile her. When Madame
de Stael arrived in Paris, the decree went forth,
in spite of the pleading of 'her champion and
friend, Joseph Bonaparte. Exile seemed to
her as bitter as death itself, and of all the
instruments of tyranny the worst. Heavy of
heart she betook herself to Germany, to study
its people and its literature. She had been
much attracted to that country by her corre-
spondence with Charles de Villers, and by her
perusal of his translation of Kant's philosophy.
During this new and absorbing experience, her
diary of exile was suspended for six years.
Shortly before her departure for Germany, she
heard that the truce between France and
England was broken, and remarked that Bona-
parte had only signed the Peace of Amiens the
better to prepare himself for war. That this
was the general impression amongst statesmen
cannot be doubted. Lord Whitworth regarded
it as a truce, Pitt as a suspension of hostilities.
In spite of the joy with which its ratification
had been received in England, no one was
under any illusion as to its durability.


Madame de Stael and Napoleon

Holland was the real bone of contention,
though as a matter of fact no mention of
Holland proper was made in the Peace of
Amiens. It was stipulated that Ceylon should
be ceded to England, and the Cape restored to
the Dutch, but Addington did not insist that
the independence of Holland should be recog-
nised in this treaty. He thought that it was
the logical conclusion of the general peace, and
the mere execution of the Treaty of Luneville,
which expressly guaranteed the independence
of the Batavian Republic. Bonaparte, who had
not concluded the Treaty of Luneville with
England, thought he would only fulfil the
agreements specified in the Peace of Amiens,
and that he had no other obligations towards
England. He evacuated Tarento, and there-
fore expected the English to do their share,
and evacuate Malta. Whenever allusion was
made to Holland by the English diplomatists,
the French replied by talking of Malta. The
English were civil and conciliatory : they did
not want war. It was feared that the French
did, and early in March 1803 it was announced
to the faithful Commons that great prepara-
tions for war were being made in France and


Madame de Stael and Napoleon

Holland. Throughout the summer months
Madame de Stael observed that flat-bottomed
boats were being constructed in every forest in
France, and by the side of many of the great
roads. In Picardy a triumphal arch was erected
bearing the words " route de Londres " upon it.
Alarm was excited by the discovery of letters
dealing with Napoleon's scheme for planting
French commercial agents in the great com-
mercial towns of England, although France
at that time had no commercial treaty with
England. A letter was intercepted, sent by
order of the First Consul to the French com-
mercial agent at Hull, asking for a detailed
plan of that port and its approaches. Suspicions
were aroused that these and other isolated dis-
coveries were but threads in a great system of
espionage, in which Bonaparte was endeavouring
to involve England.

Soon after these alarming incidents, the cele-
brated scene between Lord Whitworth and the
First Consul took place at the Tuileries. It
was not imitated in England, for Andreossy
was still received courteously by the Queen and
Court. As the English Minister for Foreign
Affairs stood by the spirit of the Treaty of


Madame de Stael and Napoleon

Luneville, and Bonaparte by the letter of the
Peace of Amiens, war was inevitable. It began

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Online LibraryUna Pope-HennessySecret societies and the French revolution, together with some kindred studies by Una Birch → online text (page 10 of 12)