MEMOIRS OF THE PRINCE DE TALLEYRAND. Edited, with a Preface and Notes, by the Duc de Broglie. Translated by Raphaël Ledos de Beaufort. With an Introduction by Whitelaw Reid. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1891.

ONE should not keep on placing every question of principle or every practical question in the light of suspicion," exclaimed Andrei Vishinsky during the first General Assembly of the United Nations, in London in 1946, when the good faith of some of his remarks had been questioned. "It reminds me of a story (I do not know how true it is) of the days of the Congress of Vienna. It is said that when Talleyrand's death was announced, a diplomat, who heard about it, asked: 'But what were Talleyrand's real intentions?'"

The record does not disclose that any of Mr. Vishinsky's fellow delegates told him that the story was apocryphal. Death interfered only once with the Congress of Vienna and then not seriously. The octogenarian Prince de Ligne (author of the much quoted jest, "Le Congrès ne marche pas, mais il danse"), keeping a midnight street corner assignation, caught cold and got pneumonia. Talleyrand lived on for a third of a century and his last achievement, as French Ambassador in London, was a fitting climax to his career. He helped to arrange--one may even say that he engineered--the separation of Belgium from the Netherlands and its creation as an independent state.

Moreover, the Vishinsky story could have had no point whatever if applied to a successful diplomatist, let alone the man whom Lord Acton called "one of the wonders of modern politics." When he defined an ambassador as "an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country," Sir Henry Wotton was punning. The man would have to live abroad, but he would not cease to be honest. In the days when diplomacy sought agreements between states--and was not concerned as it now so often seems to be with propaganda victories in the market place of international conferences--foreign ministers and their ambassadors could practise deceit only at great peril. A lie might effect a temporary success but the resulting distrust would insure a later failure. Hence in diplomacy honesty was the best policy. In his last public utterance, at the French Academy in March 1838, two months before his death, Talleyrand declared that no matter how outstanding an ambassador's or a foreign minister's abilities, "they may prove insufficient if good faith does not give them the guarantee that they almost always need. I must say this here in order to destroy a misconception that is ofttimes quite widespread. No! Diplomacy is not a science of stratagem and duplicity." The representatives of foreign states with whom he dealt could always trust Talleyrand's word. Otherwise he would not have been a political wonder. He was something of a wonder also in fields other than politics.

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was born in Paris, February 13, 1754. He came of an old and illustrious but not too well-heeled family whose position at the court could nevertheless guarantee offices to care for its sons. While he was still an infant the boy's nurse dropped him; an injury to a foot was neglected, and Charles-Maurice was crippled for life. Since he was unfitted for a military career, his parents deprived him of his rights of primogeniture and almost washed their hands of him. "I am, perhaps," Talleyrand wrote, "the only man of distinguished birth and belonging to a numerous and highly esteemed family who never enjoyed, for a week of his life, the joy of living beneath the parental roof." Against his will the parents forced Talleyrand to enter the church. With the backing of the court a young Abbé of such distinguished ancestry could soon be Archbishop of Paris or a Cardinal. But Talleyrand was more interested in wild oats than in theology or church ritual, and only the dying request of his father to Louis XVI (with the mother pleading against such a disgrace to the church) moved the King to appoint the Abbé Bishop of Autun. He was then nearly 35 years of age but he had, nevertheless, already learned a good deal about the art of rising.

In 1780, he had been appointed one of two Agents General of the clergy of France. His colleague was lazy, so Talleyrand gained a good deal of experience in administering the wealthy corporation that the clergy formed and whose affairs, in contrast to those of the government, were well conducted. His perquisites as Agent General, the income from two abbeys, and now the revenue of the bishopric made Talleyrand a wealthy man. He visited his see to be consecrated, stayed there a month, and never returned.

Great political events were impending. The King had summoned the Estates General which had not met since 1614, and the Bishop of Autun wished to be chosen by his clergy to represent them in the First Estate. He made them a speech setting forth the grievances he thought needed correction, and his constituents used his remarks almost verbatim when they prepared a cahier of their views for Talleyrand to take to Paris. It was not the last time that he was to draft his own instructions. In the Estates General, the Bishop of Autun proposed a bill to secularize church property, to strip the church of its vast wealth, and make it a spiritual power in a laic society. The state would pay the priests and administer the charities: in other words nationalization rather than expropriation. Talleyrand also brought forward a grandiose scheme for the reform of public education, and in February 1790 was elected President of the Assembly by a large majority.

But the positions of Catholic ecclesiastic and revolutionary leader were clearly incompatible; and when the Assembly defied the Vatican and required the clergy to swear allegiance to the new constitution, Talleyrand resigned his bishopric. The Pope formally excommunicated him but Talleyrand viewed the act tranquilly and continued to keep his public duties from interfering with his life of pleasure. The ex-bishop, said a report to President George Washington, was being blamed "not so much for adultery, because that was common enough among the clergy of high rank, but for the variety and publicity of his amours, for gambling and above all for stock jobbing . . ." The writer was Governeur Morris and he should have been in a position to know, for at the time he was paying strenuous court to a lady by whom Talleyrand had had a son.

The new constitution made the Assembly's members ineligible for places in the new legislature. They were barred also from posts in the Ministry. Talleyrand, therefore, had insufficient opportunities to use his talents, and anyway he thought that the probable turn of events might make it wise for him to absent himself from the country. So in 1792 he went on a semi-official mission to London, and a few months later was made head of an official mission. But after Louis XVI was executed (January 21, 1793), Pitt expelled him from the country and Talleyrand sought refuge in the United States. "Thirty-two different religions and only one course at dinner," he is supposed to have said. "If I have to stay here another year, I shall die," he wrote Madame de Staël. In 1795 he returned by slow stages to Paris where, with some assistance from Madame de Staël he became in 1797 Minister of Foreign Affairs under the Directory, a post which save for an interval of four months he was to hold for ten years.

"Society," Talleyrand once wrote, "is divided into two classes: the shearers and the shorn. We should always be with the former against the latter." His eye was always on the main chance; he was never careless of his own interest and always tried to be on the successful side. Hence when he foresaw that the days of the Directory were numbered, he decided not to fall with it and resigned his post in 1799. He correctly anticipated that Napoleon, whom he had been cultivating, would draw more and more power into his hands. Four months later he aided him during the Brumaire coup d'état and was rewarded with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1804, he became Grand Chamberlain and two years later was made Prince of Benevento. But he was far from happy. His advice was frequently better than the actions that Napoleon took, and he was compelled to carry out decisions of which he thoroughly disapproved.

In 1807, after Tilsit, Talleyrand resigned his office as Grand Chamberlain and left the Cabinet, but Napoleon took him to Erfurt the following year where the former minister intrigued with the Russian Emperor for a softer policy towards Austria. "Sire, it is in your power to save Europe," Talleyrand said, "and you will accomplish that only by refusing to give way to Napoleon. The French people are civilized; their sovereign is not. The sovereign of Russia is civilized and his people are not: thus the sovereign of Russia must be the ally of the French people." The French people wanted but one thing--to enjoy the fruits of conquest and to be done with further wars. Only Napoleon and his military men took a contrary view, and they knew that in Paris Talleyrand headed a group that espoused moderate policies; that in this context, he had publicly associated himself with the Minister of Police, Fouché--an alliance that Napoleon might well have thought as formidable as an Austrian mobilization. Why was there no purging? Perhaps Napoleon's confidence in himself was too complete: no intriguers would be able to put real obstacles in his path. Perhaps he thought that Talleyrand could still be useful to him and later he did make some overtures. At St. Helena, Napoleon said that if he had only hanged both Talleyrand and Fouché he would still be on the throne of France. That could have been true only if immediately thereafter he had acted on Talleyrand's advice. Instead he spurned the advice, allowed his former Grand Chamberlain to continue in the honorable and lucrative sinecure post of "vice grand elector," and contented himself with invective.

Why did Talleyrand seem so indispensable? What led Lord Acton to describe him as "the most intelligent man in the Empire?" Talleyrand thought that his theological studies, neglected though they had been, had improved his mind and had given it not only "strength, but at the same time subtlety in reasoning." He was widely read but after his formal studies were over, he was "self taught in lonely silence." He could use only his own judgment on the author he was reading. The method, which worked for him, "enlightened" his mind "but never enslaved it." In other words, he avoided a danger that George Savile, Marquess of Halifax, warned against: "Men who borrow their Opinions can never repay their Debts. They are Beggars by Nature, and can therefore never get a Stock to grow rich upon."

Moreover, Talleyrand knew that a "Stock" was absolutely indispensable to anyone who tried to shape policy. As early as 1792 he noted that while the details of the reigns of Henry IV and Louis XIV were fairly well known, "recent events appear confused and problematical, even to the very men who played a part in them; they followed each other with such rapidity, that each in turn almost stamped out the recollection of what had occurred before." This seems to be a description of our own times, and it is a counsel on which present-day statesmen might well reflect. Talleyrand never forgot it, and, as his years in office increased and his comprehension grew, he took care that no one would ever put to him Frederick the Great's question to his generals: "What is the value of experience if you do not reflect on it?"

Voltaire asserted that French was more suitable than any other tongue for meaningful and unambiguous conversation. It permitted great flexibility without sacrificing precision and it could be firm without neglecting courtesy. For these reasons it became the language of diplomacy. (It was the only official language at the Congress of Vienna; there were two languages at Paris in 1919 and five in San Francisco in 1945. When Germany is admitted to the United Nations, there will be six.) Talleyrand was a master of his tongue. He never lectured and his auditors never endured what a Trollope character described as "the verdure and malleability of pupildom." He was incomparable in using only a few words to express a thought, to sum up a situation, or to make a neat riposte. People like him, Albert Sorel said, do not cite; they speak in order to be cited. And Talleyrand did so deliberately. In his "Memoirs" he recounts some derogatory remarks he made about the Finance Minister, M. Necker, and adds: "I said, I believe, a thousand other things that it would be useless to repeat, because today they are on everybody's lips." But such a strategy can be dangerous. Those who are much cited suffer from having bons mots falsely attributed to them. And it is possible to get on when one's remarks live only for the moment. After Metternich had served his apprenticeship as Austrian Ambassador in Paris, Napoleon said to him: "You have succeeded here because you do not talk and people cannot quote any saying of yours." But Talleyrand's talk was so good that it helped him to get on.

But Lord Acton's high opinion of Talleyrand's intelligence was based most of all on the views the Frenchman held concerning the foreign policy his country should have. He had formed them early and they remained unchanged. They were the views of a good Frenchman who was also a good European. While he was the foreign minister of two conquering governments, he publicly lent his skill to consolidating the spoils of war, and he privately condemned such excesses. In December 1792, writing from London, he gave it as his opinion that France's territory could not be extended without risking the happiness of her people. In a report to the Directory just five years later he said: "In truth, what is a military capitulation? It is a temporary contract between two parties who remain enemies. What then is a treaty of peace? It is one which, settling generally points in dispute, not only makes a state of peace succeed a state of war, but allows friendship to take the place of hatred. Now all the powers with which we have treaties are not only our secret enemies but remain in a coalition against us." He wrote this with the Treaty of Campo-Formio in mind, but could say the same things of treaties that followed.

He saw no point in a war whose end would create a situation more unfavorable than the situation the war had been intended to correct. In his view, this was a disastrous use of the instrument that Clausewitz later defined as "a continuation of policy by other means." He realized that, as the English historian Herbert Butterfield has put it, "the most essential thing of all is to guard against the kind of war which, if you win it absolutely, will produce another 'predicament' worse than the one you started with." He knew the falsity of the slogan, "There is no substitute for victory," and never forgot as American generals and statesmen did in 1945 that, although their first job was to wage war, they must also think about the continuation of policy when the "other means" had been successful. Talleyrand always desired a "Dominion over palm and pine" that would let "the Captains and the Kings depart."

In 1814, therefore, Talleyrand wanted no more of Napoleon and sought the return of Louis XVIII. Even though, during his long exile, the new king had watched the workings of the British Government (which Talleyrand greatly admired) he had not sufficiently learned that the French monarch must now reign rather than govern. He was not a heroic figure--quite fat, and nicknamed Louis des Huitres--but in Talleyrand's view, "only the House of Bourbon could cause France nobly to conform once more to the happy limits indicated by policy and by nature. With the House of Bourbon, France would cease to be gigantic in order to become great." There would be an end to the "folly of surrounding the Empire with a girdle of helpless Bonapartes."

When the Allies reached Paris on the last day of March, Talleyrand was ready. The Senate convened, set up a provisional government with him as its head, pronounced the overthrow of Napoleon, restored the Bourbons, and adopted a Constitutional Charter which, however, in its restrictions on the press was more reactionary than Talleyrand thought wise. Nevertheless, he could at Vienna proclaim his famous principle of "legitimacy:" France's Government was accepted by the country; the proof of this was that it could tolerate an opposition, and it should, therefore, be a full partner in the peace that was about to be made.

How at Vienna Talleyrand took advantage of differences of opinion between the Four Allies (Austria, England, Prussia and Russia), insinuated himself into their councils, and procured a settlement far more favorable than France had dared hope for has been told and retold in many monographs; the most recent and not the least eloquent is Sir Harold Nicolson's "The Congress of Vienna." As Talleyrand wrote to Louis XVIII, the peace was to be judged by the way in which the peoples of the Allies viewed it. In St. Petersburg and Berlin, the Russian Emperor and the Prussian King had met with cold receptions because the Treaty disappointed their subjects. "France had everywhere raised huge contributions for the cost of the war; there was the expectation that the like would be levied on her; she did not have to pay any; she kept possession of art treasures she had seized; all her monuments were respected; in short, France was treated with a moderation to which, under similar circumstances, no period of history furnishes a parallel." France's frontiers were those of 1792.

But satisfaction was short-lived. Talleyrand had over-estimated the "legitimacy" of the Bourbon Government. Discontent had become rife and when Napoleon returned from Elba, troops sent to oppose him espoused his cause. Louis XVIII fled; Napoleon began his "Hundred Days" (March 20-June 29, 1815), confronted vast European armies, engaged those under the command of the Duke of Wellington, and the phrase, "He met his Waterloo," became part of the English language. Napoleon abdicated and Louis XVIII returned to Paris "in the baggage of the Allies." Talleyrand became President of the Council and Minister for Foreign Affairs and formed a government of moderate men. But the Chamber that was elected proved more royalist than the King. Talleyrand feared that "legitimacy" would again become attenuated and, foreseeing that the terms of the peace were likely to be harsh, he did not wish to incur odium by signing them. So he told the King that, lacking the support of the Chamber, he must insist on unequivocal assurances of His Majesty's confidence or offer his resignation. Louis surprised him by saying: "Very well, I shall have a new government." The terms of the Treaty were indeed harsh, although it is doubtful whether Talleyrand could have softened them much. They made France pay an indemnity, deprived her of territory, and ordered the return of the art treasures that had been looted.

Shortly after his resignation, Talleyrand was given the post of Grand Chamberlain--a dignified and well paid sinecure. He thought that he would not be out of power for long but, during the 15 years that they had left, the Bourbons, whom he had twice helped to restore to the throne, failed to restore him. In the end Talleyrand had his revenge. He helped finance the movement against Charles X; told the Duke of Orleans that he should be prepared to head it; and advised him to accept when he was offered the leadership. The July Revolution ushered in the reign of Louis Philippe, and for him, France and Europe Talleyrand undertook his last public service.

During the 15 years he had been made to wait he worked on his "Memoirs." His will stipulated that they should not appear until 30 years after his death and then only if they could "be published without inconvenience to anyone." His heirs and trustees delayed 20 years longer, and there were rumors that this was because earlier publication would blast the reputations of persons still living. When the volumes did begin to appear it was found that they contained no chroniques scandaleuses and nothing explosive politically. There is much sound advice to men who may want to be statesmen but there are few important contributions to history.

Since Talleyrand must have realized that he would make no startling revelations, why did he insist that publication be postponed? A possible explanation is that he hoped for a reappraisal by historians whose passions had not been stirred by events through which they had lived. Down to his death, and for some time after it, Talleyrand drew floods of invective and calumny. Critics like Chateaubriand had made up their minds and no memoirs would change them. Shortly before the Prince's death, George Sand, made confident by the success of "Lélia," published a vicious article in the Revue des Duex Mondes. Victor Hugo was about to enter the lists and Balzac's "Les Secrets de la princesse de Cadignan" proved to be a roman à clef with the Princess modelled on Dorothea, the Duchess of Dino, who at 15 had married Talleyrand's nephew and who, five years later, transferred her affections to the older man and remained with him until his death. Sainte-Beuve's bitter essay, published in 1870, dealt only with what Albert Sorel, the ablest French historian of the period, called the Prince's "infirmities" and ignored him as "the statesman and the negotiator."

Twenty years later, the critics had at their disposal a wealth of material on Talleyrand. The correspondence between Louis XVIII and his Minister in Vienna had been published, and no one who read it could maintain that the man who wrote to the King had not been a statesman, and that he had been wrong either in his estimate of "the true interests of France" or in his conviction that they had never been "contrary to the true interests of Europe." Sorel, dealing with the fact that the negotiators at Vienna had been unanimous in ignoring their speckled pasts and in uttering pious hopes for the future, was of the opinion that "in this spontaneous regeneration the former Bishop of Autun found himself the most pure and the most immaculate of those who came out of the baptismal waters."

True it was that, while in office under the Directory, Talleyrand opposed their measures and plotted for Napoleon's success. As the Emperor's Foreign Minister he served him to the best of his ability and betrayed him with skill and without shame; he conspired with Russia and Austria to defeat Napoleon's plans and looked to the return of the Bourbons. While he was Louis XVIII's principal minister, he planned for his overthrow and the accession of Louis Philippe, but there is much truth in his boast: "I have never conspired in my life, except at those times when I had the majority of France for an accomplice, and when I sought with her, the salvation of the country."

There was much truth also in what, during the twilight of his life, he said to Lamartine: "I have never given evil counsel to a Government or a Prince; but I do not share their fall. After shipwrecks there must be pilots to save the victims. My pretended crimes are the dreams of imbeciles. Has a clever man ever the need to commit a crime? Crime is the resource of the political half-wits. I have had weaknesses, some would say vices, but crimes, fi donc."

When Louis Philippe became King in 1830, his first need was the friendship of older and more obviously legitimate governments, and of these England was the most important. Talleyrand refused the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs but accepted the Ambassadorship to London and remained there until the autumn of 1834. At Vienna, statesmen had underestimated--they may not have been sufficiently aware of--the threatening fires of nationalism that Napoleon had done so much to kindle. (Nowadays it seems as if every little language must have a nation all its own.) By 1830 it appeared that the Congress of Vienna had been less than judicious in blending Belgium with Holland under the House of Orange in order to have an efficient sentinel on France's northern border. The Belgians were Catholics and the Dutch Protestants; they spoke different languages. Belgium could not go to France because then, in Napoleon's phrase, Antwerp would be a pistol pointed at the head of England and this England would never permit. Independence was therefore the answer.

Only one or two details of how a peaceful settlement was arranged need concern us here. A cartoon of Talleyrand and Palmerston carried the caption, "The Lame Leading the Blind." This was gross exaggeration, for the French Ambassador described "Pam" as perhaps the cleverest man with whom he had ever negotiated. But on one crucial question the old veteran led the younger man. Who would occupy the throne of the new Kingdom? The Belgians wanted Louis Philippe's younger son, but Talleyrand persuaded the King to refuse the offer. His own candidate was George IV's son-in-law, the brother of the future Queen Victoria's mother, "Uncle" Leopold of Saxe-Coburg--a house which, as Crane Brinton has said, was "destined in the nineteenth and even in the twentieth century to provide the best of constitutional monarchs in all countries of Europe where its luck at marriage carried it."

In discussing the question with Palmerston, the Ambassador manœuvred the conversation so that the British minister brought up the name first. "I showed some astonishment," Talleyrand wrote, "but my astonishment had the air of a happy discovery." The more Palmerston thought over his idea the more he liked it. The Ambassador had demonstrated the truth of the maxim that "diplomacy is the art of letting the other fellow have your way." In this restricted sense the art seems for the time being to have become obsolete. Nevertheless those of the Western World who are charged with international negotiations can learn much from Talleyrand's "Memoirs" even though written history has long since put into capsule form their revelations of substance.

"In the days of the old diplomacy," wrote Sir Harold Nicolson, "it would have been an act of unthinkable vulgarity to appeal to the common people upon any issue of international policy," and noted that it was Canning who, in 1826, was the first to identify what he called "the fatal artillery of popular excitation." Now the telegraph, telephone, teletype, radio and popular press combine to introduce into the relations between states an element that the old chancelleries sought to banish: passion. Governments can no longer give their ambassadors instructions and hope that they will drive the best possible bargain. Foreign Ministers--and Prime Ministers--must be on the scene in person; press conferences and television appearances seem to them as important as what they are to say to their opposite numbers, and, having committed themselves in public speech, they find that they have enslaved themselves for the conference table. Sometimes their legislatures enslave them before they set out on their missions. Talleyrand and Palmerston could practise the old diplomacy and they separated Belgium from Holland. There is no statue of Talleyrand in Brussels; but there is none in Paris either.

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  • LINDSAY ROGERS, Burgess Professor of Law at Columbia University; formerly Assistant Director of the International Labor Organization; author of "Crisis Government" and other works
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