Chateaubriand : The Restoration and Fall of the Bourbons – Beacon Lights of History, Volume IX : European Statesmen

Beacon Lights of History, Volume IX : European Statesmen by John Lord

Beacon Lights of History, Volume IX : European Statesmen

Mirabeau : The French Revolution
Edmund Burke : Political Morality
Napoleon Bonaparte : The French Empire
Prince Metternich : Conservatism
Chateaubriand : The Restoration and Fall of the Bourbons
George IV : Toryism
The Greek Revolution
Louis Philippe : The Citizen King

Beacon Lights of History, Volume IX : European Statesmen
John Lord

Topics Covered
Restoration of the Bourbons
Peculiarities of his reign
His brilliant career
Génie du Christianisme
Reaction against Republicanism
Difficulties and embarrassments of the king
Chateaubriand at Vienna
His conservatism
Minister of Foreign Affairs
His eloquence
Spanish war
Septennial Bill
Fall of Chateaubriand
His latter days
Death of Louis XVIII
His character
Accession of Charles X
His tyrannical government
Laws against the press
Unpopularity of the king
His political blindness
Popular tumults
Deposition of Charles X
Rise of great men
The salons of great ladies
Kings and queens of society
Their prodigious influence

Chateaubriand : The Restoration and Fall of the Bourbons


In this lecture I wish to treat of the restoration of the Bourbons, and of the counter-revolution in France.

On the fall of Napoleon, the Prussian king and the Austrian emperor, under the predominating influence of Metternich, in restoring the Bourbons were averse to constitutional checks. They wanted nothing less than absolute monarchy, such as existed before the Revolution. On the other hand, the Czar Alexander, generous and inclined then to liberal ideas, was willing to concede something to the Revolution; while the government of England, mindful of the liberty which had made that country so glorious and so prosperous, also favored a constitutional government in the person of the legitimate heir of the French monarchy. Such was also the wish of the French nation, so far as it could be expressed; for the French people, under whatever form of government they may have lived, have never forgotten or repudiated the ideas and bequests of the greatest movement in modern times.

Prussia and Austria, therefore, were obliged to yield to Russia and England, supported by the will of the French nation itself. Russia had no jealousy of French ideas; and England certainly could not, consistently with her struggles and her traditions, oppose what the English nation resolutely clung to, and of which it was so proud. Prussia and Austria, undisturbed by revolutions, wished simply the restoration of the status quo, which with them meant absolute monarchy; but which in France was not really the status quo, since the Revolution had effected great and permanent changes even under the régime of Bonaparte. Russia and England, in conceding something to liberty, were yet as earnest and sincere advocates of legitimacy as Prussia and Austria; for constitutional rights may exist under a monarchy as well as under a republic. Moreover, it was felt by enlightened statesmen of all parties that no government could be stable and permanent in France which ignored the bequests of the Revolution, which even Napoleon professed to respect.

Accordingly it was settled that Louis XVIII.,–the younger brother of Louis XVI., who had fled from France in 1792,–should be recalled from exile, and restored to the throne of his ancestors, since he agreed to accept checks to his authority, and swore to defend the new constitution, although he insisted upon reigning “by the grace of God,”–not as a monarch who received his crown from the people, or as a gift from other monarchs, but by divine right. To this all parties consented. He maintained the dignity of the royal prerogative at the same time that he recognized the essential liberties of the nation. They were not so full and complete as those in England; but the king guaranteed to secure the rights both of public and private property, to respect the freedom of the Press, to grant liberty of worship, to maintain the national obligations, to make the judicial power independent and irremovable, and to admit all Frenchmen to civil and military employment, without restrictions in matters of religion. These in substance constituted the charter which he granted on condition of reigning,–an immense gain to France and the cause of civilization, if honestly maintained.

Louis XVIII. was neither a great king nor a great man; but his long exile of twenty years, his travels and residences in various countries in Europe, his misfortunes and his studies, had liberalized his mind without embittering his heart. He never lost his dignity or his hopes in his sad reverses; and when he was thus recalled to France to mount the throne of his murdered brother, he was a very respectable man, both from natural intelligence and extensive attainments. He possessed great social and conversational powers, was moderate in his views of Catholicism, virtuous in his private character, affectionate with his friends and the members of his family, prudent in the exercise of power, and disposed to reign according to the constitution which he honestly had accepted; but socially he restored the ancient order of things, surrounded himself with a splendid court, lived in great pomp and ceremony, and appointed the ancient nobles to the higher offices of state. According to French writers, he was the equal in conversation of any of the great men with whom he was brought in contact, without being great himself, thereby resembling Louis XIV. He had handsome features, a musical voice, pleasing manners, and singular urbanity, without being condescending. He was infirm in his legs, which prevented him from taking exercise, except in his long daily drives, drawn in his magnificent carriage by eight horses, with outriders and guards.

The king delegated his powers to no single statesman, but held the reins in his own hand. His ability as a ruler consisted in his tact and moderation in managing the conflicting parties, and in his honest abstention from encroaching on the liberties of the people in rare emergencies; so that his reign was peaceable and tolerably successful. It required no inconsiderable ability to preserve the throne to his successor amid such a war of factions, and such a disposition for encroachments on the part of the royal family. In contrast with the splendid achievements and immense personality of Napoleon, Louis XVIII. is not a great figure in history; but had there been no Revolution and no Napoleon, he would have left the fame of a wise and benevolent sovereign. His only striking weakness was in submitting to the influence of either a favorite or a woman, like all the Bourbons from Henry IV. downward,–except perhaps Louis XVI., who would have been more fortunate had he yielded implicitly to the overpowering ascendency of such a woman as Madame de Maintenon, or such a minister as Richelieu.

The reign of Louis XVIII. is not marked by great events or great passions, except the unrelenting and bitter animosity of the Royalists to everything which characterized the Revolution or the military ascendency of Napoleon. By their incessant intrigues and unbounded hatreds and intolerant bigotry, they kept the kingdom in constant turmoils, even to the verge of revolution, gradually pushing the king into impolitic measures, against his will and his better judgment, and creating a reaction to all liberal movements. These turmoils, which are uninteresting to us, formed no inconsiderable part of the history of the times. The only great event of the reign was the war in Spain to suppress revolutionary ideas in that miserable country, ground down by priests and royal despotism, and a prey to every conceivable faction.

The ministry which the king appointed on his accession was composed of able, moderate, and honest men, but without any ascendant genius, except Talleyrand; who selected his colleagues, and retained for himself the portfolio of foreign affairs and the presidency of the Council, giving to Fouché the management of internal affairs. Loth was the king to accept the services of either,–the one a regicide, and the other a traitor. The whole royal family set up a howl of indignation at the appointment of Fouché; but it was deemed necessary to secure his services in order to maintain law and order, and the king remained firm against the earnest expostulations of his brother the Comte d’Artois, his niece the Duchesse d’Angoulême, and all the Royalists who had influence with him. But he despised and hated in his soul Fouché,–that minion of Napoleon, that product of blood and treason,–and waited only for a convenient time to banish him from the councils and the realm. Nor did he like Talleyrand (at that time the greatest man in France), but made use of his magnificent talents only until he could do without him. When the king felt established on his throne, he sent Talleyrand away; indeed, there was great pressure brought to bear for the dismissal by those who found the minister too moderate in his views. The king did not punish him, but kept him in a subordinate office, leaving him to enjoy his dignities and the immense fortune he had accumulated.

Talleyrand was born in 1754, and belonged to one of the most illustrious families in France. He was destined to the Church against his will, being from the start worldly, ambitious, and scandalously immoral; but he accepted his destiny, and soon distinguished himself at the Sorbonne for his literary attainments, for his wit and his social qualities. At twenty, as the young Abbé de Périgord, he was received into the highest society of Paris; his noble birth, his aristocratic and courtly manners, his convivial qualities, and his irrepressible wit made him a favorite in the gay circles which marked the early part of the reign of Louis XVI., while his extraordinary abilities and consummate tact naturally secured early promotion. In 1780 he was appointed to the office of general agent for the clergy of France, which brought him before the public. Eight years after, at the early age of thirty-four, he was made Bishop of Autun. In May, 1789, he became a member of the States-General, and with his fascinating eloquence tried to induce the clergy to surrender their tithes and church lands to the nation,–a result which was brought about soon after, nolens volens, by the genius of Mirabeau. Talleyrand hated the Church and despised the people, but, like Mirabeau, was in favor of a constitution like that of England, In all his changes he remained an aristocrat from his tastes, his education, and his rank, but veiled his views, whatever they were, with profound dissimulation, of which he was a consummate master. The laxity of his morals, the secret hatred of his order, and his infidel sentiments led to his excommunication, which troubled him but little. Out of the pale of the Church, he turned his thoughts to diplomacy, and was sent to London as an ambassador,–without, however, the official title and insignia of that high office,–where he fascinated the highest circles by the splendor of his conversation and the causticity of his wit. On his return to Paris he was distrusted by the Jacobins, and with difficulty made his escape to England; but the English government also distrusted a man of such boundless intrigue, and ordered him to quit the country within twenty-four hours. He fled to America at the age of forty, with straitened means, but after the close of the Reign of Terror returned to Paris, and six months later was made foreign minister under the Directory. This office he did not long retain, failing to secure the confidence of the government. The austere Carnot said of him:–

“That man brings with him all the vices of the old régime, without being able to acquire a single virtue of the new one. He possesses no fixed principles, but changes them as he does his linen, adopting them according to the fashion of the day. He was a philosopher when philosophy was in vogue; a republican now, because it is necessary at present to be so in order to become anything; to-morrow he would proclaim and uphold tyranny, if he could thereby serve his own interests. I will not have him at any price; and so long as I am at the helm of State he shall be nothing.”

When Bonaparte returned from Egypt, Citizen Talleyrand had been six months out of office, and he saw that it would be for his interest to put himself in intimate connection with the most powerful man in France. Besides, as a diplomatist, he saw that only in a monarchical government could he have employment. Napoleon, who seldom made a mistake in his estimate of character, perceived that Talleyrand was just the man for his purpose,–talented, dexterous, unscrupulous, and sagacious,–and made him his minister of foreign affairs, utterly indifferent as to his private character. Nor could he politically have made a wiser choice; for it was Talleyrand who made the Concordat with the Pope, the Treaty of Luneville, and the Peace of Amiens. Napoleon wanted a practical man in the diplomatic post,–neither a pedant nor an idealist; and that was just what Talleyrand was,–a man to meet emergencies, a man to build up a throne. But even Napoleon got tired of him at last, and Talleyrand retired with the dignity of vice-grand elector of the empire, grand chamberlain, and Prince of Benevento, together with a fortune, it is said, of thirty million francs.

“How did you acquire your riches?” blandly asked the Emperor one day. “In the simplest way in the world,” replied the ex-minister. “I bought stock the day before the 18th Brumaire [when Napoleon overthrew the Directory], and sold it again the day after.”

When Napoleon meditated the conquest of Spain, Talleyrand, like Metternich, saw that it would be a blunder, and frankly told the Emperor his opinion,–a thing greatly to his credit. But his advice enraged Napoleon, who could brook no opposition or dissent, and he was turned out of his office as chamberlain. Talleyrand avenged himself by plotting against his sovereign, foreseeing his fall, and by betraying him to the Bourbons. He gave his support to Louis XVIII., because he saw that the only government then possible for France was one combining legitimacy with constitutional checks; for Talleyrand, with all his changes and treasons, liked neither an unfettered despotism nor democratic rule. As one of those who acted with the revolutionists, he was liberal in his ideas; but as the servant of royalty he wished to see a firmly established government, which to his mind was impossible with the reign of demagogues. When the Congress of Vienna assembled, he was sent to it as the French plenipotentiary. And he did good work at the Congress for his sovereign, whose representative he was, and for his country by contriving with his adroit manipulations to alienate the northern from the southern States of Germany, making the latter allies of France and the former allies of Russia,–in other words, practically dividing Germany, which it was the work of Bismarck afterward to unite. A united Germany Talleyrand regarded as threatening to the interests of France; and he contrived to bring France back again into political importance,– to restore her rank among the great Powers. He did not bargain for spoils, like the other plenipotentiaries; he only strove to preserve the nationality of France, and to secure her ancient limits, which Prussia in her greed and hatred would have destroyed or impaired but for the magnanimity of the Czar Alexander and the firmness of Lord Castlereagh.

On his return from the Congress of Vienna, the reign of Talleyrand as prime minister was short; and as his power was comparatively small under both Louis XVIII. and his successor Charles X., and as he was not the representative of reactionary ideas or movements, but only of a firm government, I do not give to him the leadership of the counter-revolution. He was unquestionably the greatest statesman at that time in France, though indolent, careless, and without power as an orator.

Who was then the great exponent of reaction, and of antagonism to liberal and progressive opinions, during the reigns of the restored Bourbons? It was not the king himself, Louis XVIII.; for he did all he could to repress the fanatical zeal of his family and of the royalist party. He despised the feeble mind of his brother, the Comte d’Artois, his narrow intolerance, and his court of priests and bigots, and was in perpetual conflict with him as a politician, while at the same time he clung to him with the ties of natural affection.

Was it the Duc de Richelieu, grand-nephew of the great cardinal, whom the king selected for his prime minister on the retirement of Talleyrand? He hardly represents the return to absolutism, since he was moderate, conciliatory, and disposed to unite all parties under a constitutional government. No man in France was more respected than he,–adored by his family, modest, virtuous, disinterested, and patriotic. As an administrator in the service of Russia during the ascendency of Napoleon, he had greatly distinguished himself. He was a favorite of Alexander, and through his influence with the Czar France was in no slight degree indebted for the favorable terms which she received on the restoration of the monarchy, when Prussia exacted a cruel indemnity. He wished to unite all parties in loyal submission to the constitution, rather than secure the ascendency of any. While able and highly respected, Richelieu was not pre-eminently great. Nor was Villèle, who succeeded him as prime minister, and who retained his power for six or eight years, nearly to the close of the reign of Charles X., a great historical figure.

The man under the restored monarchy who represented with the most ability reactionary movements of all kinds, and devotion to the cause of absolute monarchy, I think was Francois Auguste, Vicomte de Chateaubriand. Certainly he was the most illustrious character of that period. Poet, orator, diplomatist, minister, he was a man of genius, who stands out as a great figure in history; not so great as Talleyrand in the single department of diplomacy, but an infinitely more respectable and many-sided man. He had an immense éclat in the early part of this century as writer and poet, although his literary fame has now greatly declined. Lamartine, in his sentimental and rhetorical exaggeration, speaks of him as “the Ossian of France,–an aeolian harp, producing sounds which ravish the ear and agitate the heart, but which the mind cannot define; the poet of instincts rather than of ideas, who gained an immortal empire, not over the reason but over the imagination of the age.”

Chateaubriand was born in Brittany, of a noble but not illustrious family, in 1769, entered the army in 1786, and during the Reign of Terror emigrated to America. He returned to France in 1799, after the 18th Brumaire, and became a contributor to the “Mercure de France.” In 1802 he published the “Génie du Christianisme,” which made him enthusiastically admired as a literary man,–the only man of the time who could compete with the fame of Madame de Staël. This book astonished a country that had been led astray by an infidel philosophy, and converted it back to Christianity, not by force of arguments, but by an appeal to the heart and the imagination. The clergy, the aristocracy, women, and youth were alike enchanted. The author was sent to Rome by Napoleon as secretary of his embassy; but on the murder of the Due d’Enghien (1804), Chateaubriand left the imperial service, and lived in retirement, travelling to the Holy Land and throughout the Orient and Southern Europe, and writing his books of travels. He took no interest in political affairs until the time of the Restoration, when he again appeared. A brilliant and effective pamphlet, “De Bonaparte et des Bourbons,” published by him in 1814, was said by Louis XVIII. to be worth an army of a hundred thousand men to the cause of the Bourbons; and upon their re-establishment Chateaubriand was immediately in high favor, and was made a member of the Chamber of Peers.

The Chamber of Peers was substituted for the Senate of Napoleon, and was elected by the king. It had cognizance of the crime of high treason, and of all attempts against the safety of the State. It was composed of the most distinguished nobles, the bishops, and marshals of France, presided over by the chancellor. To this chamber the ministers were admitted, as well as to the Chamber of Deputies, the members of which were elected by about one hundred thousand voters out of thirty millions of people. They were all men of property, and as aristocratic as the peers themselves. They began their sessions by granting prodigal compensations, indemnities, and endowments to the crown and to the princes. They appropriated thirty-three millions of francs annually for the maintenance of the king, besides voting thirty millions more for the payment of his debts; they passed a law restoring to the former proprietors the lands alienated to the State, and still unsold. They brought to punishment the generals who had deserted to Napoleon during the one hundred days of his renewed reign; they manifested the most intense hostility to the régime which he had established. Indeed, all classes joined in the chorus against the fallen Emperor, and attributed to him alone the misfortunes of France. Vengeance, not now directed against Royalists but against Republicans, was the universal cry; the people demanded the heads of those who had been their idols. Everything like admiration for Napoleon seemed to have passed away forever. The violence of the Royalists for speedy vengeance on their old foes surpassed the cries of the revolutionists in the Reign of Terror. France was again convulsed with passions, which especially raged in the bosoms of the Royalists. They shot Marshal Ney, the bravest of the brave, and Colonel Labedoyèn; they established courts-martial for political offences; they passed a law against seditious cries and individual liberty. There were massacres at Marseilles, and atrocities at Nismes; the Catholics of the South persecuted the Protestants. The king himself was almost the only man among his party that was inclined to moderation, and he found a bitter opposition from the members of his own family. Added to these discords, the finances were found to be in a most disordered state, and the annual deficit was fifty or sixty millions.

All this was taking place while one hundred and fifty thousand foreign soldiers were quartered in the towns and garrisons at the expense of the government. The return of Napoleon had cost the lives of sixty thousand Frenchmen and a thousand millions of francs, besides the indemnities, which amounted to fifteen hundred millions more. No language of denunciation could be stronger than that which went forth from the mouth of the whole nation in view of Napoleon’s selfishness and ambition. But one voice was listened to, and that was the cry for vengeance; prudence, moderation, and justice were alike disregarded. All attempts to stem the tide of ultra-royalist violence were in vain. The king was obliged to dismiss Talleyrand because he was not violent enough in his measures; at the same time he was glad to get rid of his sagacious minister, being jealous of his ascendency.

So the throne of Louis XVIII. was anything but a bed of roses, amid the war of parties and the perils which surrounded it. All his tact was required to steer the ship of state amidst the rocks and breakers. Most of the troubles were centred in the mutual hostilities, jealousies, and hatreds of the Royalists themselves, at the head of whom were the king’s brother the Comte d’Artois, and the Vicomte de Chateaubriand. So vehement were the passions of the deputies, nearly all Royalists, that the president of the Chamber, the excellent and talented Lainé, was publicly insulted in his chair by a violent member of the extreme Right; and even Chateaubriand the king was obliged to deprive of his office on account of the violence of his opinions in behalf of absolutism,–a greater royalist than the king himself! The terrible reaction was forced by the nation upon the sovereign, who was more liberal and humane than the people.

Of course, in the embittered quarrels between the Royalists themselves, nothing was done during the reign of Louis XVIII. toward useful and needed reforms. The orators in the chambers did not discuss great ideas of any kind, and inaugurated no grand movements, not even internal improvements. The only subjects which occupied the chambers were proscriptions, confiscations, grants to the royal family, the restoration of the clergy to their old possessions, salaries to high officials, the trials of State prisoners, conspiracies and crimes against the government,–all of no sort of interest to us, and of no historical importance.

In the meantime there assembled at Verona a Congress composed of nearly all the sovereigns of Europe, with their representatives,–as brilliant an assemblage as that at Vienna a few years before. It met not to put down a great conqueror, but to suppress revolutionary ideas and movements, which were beginning to break out in various countries in Europe, especially in Italy and Spain. To this Congress was sent, as one of the representatives of France, Chateaubriand, who on its assembling was ambassador at London. He was, however, weary of English life and society; he did not like the climate with its interminable fogs; he was not received by the higher aristocracy with the cordiality he expected, and seemed to be intimate with no one but Canning, whose conversion to liberal views had not then taken place.

In France, the ministry of the Duc de Richelieu had been succeeded by that of Villèle as president of the Council, in which M. Matthieu de Montmorency was minister of foreign affairs,–member of a most illustrious house, and one of the finest characters that ever adorned an exalted station. Between Montmorency and Chateaubriand there existed the most intimate and affectionate friendship, and it was at the urgent solicitation of the former that Chateaubriand was recalled from London and sent with Montmorency to Verona, where he had a wider scope for his ambition.

Chateaubriand was most graciously received by the Czar Alexander and by Metternich, the latter at that time in the height of his power and glory. Alexander flattered Chateaubriand as a hero of humanity and a religious philosopher; while Metternich received him as the apostle of conservatism.

The particular subject which occupied the attention of the Congress was, whether the great Powers should intervene in the internal affairs of Spain, then agitated by revolution. King Ferdinand, who was restored to his throne after the forced abdication of Joseph Bonaparte, had broken the Constitution of 1812, which he had sworn to defend, and outraged his subjects by cruelties equalled only by those of that other Bourbon who reigned at Naples. In consequence, his subjects had rebelled, and sought to secure their liberties. This rebellion disturbed all Europe, and the great Powers, with the exception of England,–ruled virtually by Canning, the foreign minister,–resolved on an armed intervention to suppress the popular revolution. Chateaubriand used all his influence in favor of intervention; and so did Montmorency. They even exceeded the instructions of the king and Villèle the prime minister, who wished to avoid a war with Spain; they acted as the representatives of the Holy Alliance rather than as ambassadors of France. The Congress committed Russia, Austria, and Prussia to hostile interference, in case the king of France should be driven into war,–a course which Wellington disapproved, and which he urged Louis XVIII. to refrain from. In consequence, the French king temporized, dreading either to resist or to submit to the ascendency of Russia, and dissatisfied with the course his negotiators had taken at the Congress, especially his minister of foreign affairs, on whom the responsibility lay. Montmorency accordingly resigned, and Chateaubriand took his place; in consequence of which a coolness sprung up between the two friends, who at the Congress had equally advocated the same policy.

The discussions which ensued in the chambers whether or not France should embark in a war with Spain,–in other words, whether she should interfere with the domestic affairs of a foreign and independent nation,–were the occasion of the first serious split among the statesmen of France at this time. There was a party for war and a party against it; at the head of the latter were men who afterward became distinguished. There were bitter denunciations of the ministers; but the war party headed by Chateaubriand prevailed, and the French ambassador was recalled from Madrid, although war was not yet formally declared. In the Chamber of Peers Talleyrand used his influence against the invasion of Spain, foretelling the evils which would ultimately result, even as he had cautioned Napoleon against the same thing. He told the chamber that although the proposed invasion would be probably successful, it would be a great mistake.

M. Molé, afterward so eminent as an orator, took the side of Talleyrand. “Where are we going?” said he. “We are going to Madrid. Alas, we have been there already! Will a revolution cease when the independence of the people who are suffering from it is threatened? Have we not the example of the French Revolution, which was invincible when its cause became identical with that of our independence?” “This man,” exclaimed the king, “confirms me in the system of M. de Villèle,–to temporize, and avoid the war if it be possible.”

Chateaubriand replied in an elaborate speech in favor of the war. From his standpoint, his speech was masterly and unanswerable. It was a grand consecutive argument, solid logic without sentimentalism. While he admitted that, according to the principles laid down by the great writers on international war, intervention could not generally be defended, he yet maintained that there were exceptions to the rule, and this was one of them; that the national safety was jeopardized by the Spanish revolution; that England herself had intervened in the French Revolution; that all the interests of France were compromised by the successes of the Spanish revolutionists; that a moral contagion was spreading even among the troops themselves; in fact, that there was no security for the throne, or for the cause of religion and of public order, unless the armies of France should restore Ferdinand, then a virtual prisoner in his own palace, to the government he had inherited.

Chateaubriand Meditating on the Ruins of Rome, painting by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson

Chateaubriand Meditating on the Ruins of Rome, painting by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson

The war was decided upon, and the Duke of Angoulême, nephew of the king, was sent across the Pyrenees with one hundred thousand troops to put down the innumerable factions, and reseat Ferdinand. The Duke was assisted, of course, by all the royalists of Spain, by all the clergy, and by all conservative parties; and the conquest of the kingdom was comparatively easy. The republican chiefs were taken and hanged, including Diego, the ablest of them all. Ferdinand, delivered by foreign armies, remounted his throne, forgot all his pledges, and reigned on the most despotic principles, committing the most atrocious cruelties. The successful general returned to France with great éclat, while the government was pushed every day by the triumphant Royalists into increased severity,–into measures which logically led, under Charles X., to his expulsion from the throne, and the final defeat of the principle of legitimacy itself,–another great step toward republican institutions, which were finally destined to triumph.

Among the extreme measures was the Septennial Bill, which passed both houses against the protest of liberal members, some of whom afterward became famous,–such as General Foy, General Sebastiani, Dupont (de l’Eure), Casimir Périer, Lafitte, Lanjuinais. This law was a coup d’état against electoral opinions and representative government. It gave the king and his government the advantage of fixing for seven years longer the majority which was secured by the elections of 1822, and of closing the Chamber against a modification of public opinions. Villèle and Chateaubriand were the authors of this act.

Another bill was proposed by Villèle, not so objectionable, which was to reduce the interest on the loans contracted by the State; in other words, to borrow money at less interest and pay off the old debts,–a salutary financial measure adopted in England, and later by the United States after the Civil War. But this measure was bitterly opposed by the clergy, who looked upon it as a reduction of their incomes. Here Chateaubriand virtually abandoned the government, in his uniform support of the temporalities of the Church; and the measure failed; which so deeply exasperated both the king and the prime minister that Chateaubriand was dismissed from his office as minister of foreign affairs.

The fallen minister angrily resented his disgrace, and thenceforward secretly took part against the government, embarrassing it by his articles in the journals of the day. He did not renounce his conservative opinions; but he became the personal enemy of Villèle. Chateaubriand had no magnanimity. He retired to nurse his resentments in the society of Madame Récamier, with whom he had formed a friendship difficult to be distinguished from love. He had been always her devoted admirer when she reigned a queen of society in the fashionable salons of Paris, and continued his intimacy with her until his death. Daily did he, when a broken old man, make his accustomed visit to her modest apartments in the Convent of St. Joseph, and give vent to his melancholy and morbid feelings. He regarded himself as the most injured man in France. He became discontented with the Crown, and even with the aristocracy. On the day of his retirement from the ministry the intelligence of the Royalist party followed him in opposition to the government, whose faults he had encouraged and shared. The “Journal des Débats,” the most influential newspaper in France, deserted Villèle; and from this defection may be dated, says Lamartine, “all those enmities against the government of the Restoration which collected in one work of aggression the most contradictory ideas, which alienated public opinion, which exasperated the government and pushed it on from excesses to insanity, irritated the tribune, blindfolded the elections, and finished by changing, five years afterward, the opposition of nineteen votes hostile to the Bourbons into a heterogeneous but formidable majority, in presence of which the monarchy had only the choice left between a humiliating resignation and a mortal coup d’état.”

Chateaubriand now disappears from the field of history as one of its great figures. He lived henceforth in retirement, but bitter in his opposition to the government of which he had been the virtual head, contributing largely to the “Journal des Débats,” of which he was the life, and by which he was supported. In the next reign he refused the office of Minister of Public Instruction as derogatory to his dignity, but accepted the post of ambassador to Rome,–a sort of honorable exile. But he was an unhappy and disappointed man; he had taken the wrong side in politics, and probably saw his errors. His genius, if it had been directed to secure constitutional liberty, would have made him a national idol, for he lived to see the dethronement of Louis Philippe in 1848; but like Castlereagh in England, he threw his superb talents in with the sinking cause of absolutism, and was after all a political failure. He lives only as a literary man,–one of the most eloquent poets of his day, one of the lights of that splendid constellation of literary geniuses that arose on the fall of Napoleon.

Soon after the retirement of Chateaubriand, Louis XVIII. himself died, at an advanced age, having contrived to preserve his throne by moderation and honesty. In his latter days he was exceedingly infirm in body, but preserved his intellectual faculties to the last. He was a lonely old man, even while surrounded by a splendid court. He wanted somebody to love, at least to cheer him in his isolation; for he had no peace in his family, deeply as he was attached to its members. He himself had discovered the virtues and disinterestedness of his minister Décazes, and when his family and ministers drove away this favorite, the king was devoted to him even in disgrace, and made him his companion. Still later he found a substitute in Madame du Caylus,–one of those interesting and accomplished women peculiar to France. She was not ambitious of ruling the king, as her aunt, Madame de Maintenon, was of governing Louis XIV., and her virtue was unimpeachable. She wrote to the king letters twice a day, but visited him only once a week. She was the tool of a cabal, rather than the leader of a court; but her influence was healthy, ennobling, and religious. Louis XVIII. was not what would be called a religious man; he performed his religious duties regularly, but in a perfunctory manner. He was not, however, a hypocrite or a pharisee, but was simply indifferent to religious dogmas, and secretly averse to the society of priests. When he was dying, it was with great difficulty that he could be made to receive extreme unction. He died without pain, recommending to his brother, who was to succeed him, to observe the charter of French liberties, yet fearing that his blind bigotry would be the ruin of the family and the throne, as events proved. The last things to which the dying king clung were pomps and ceremonies, concealing even from courtiers his failing strength, and going through the mockery of dress and court etiquette to almost the very day of his death, in 1824.

The Comte d’Artois, now Charles X., ascended the throne, with the usual promises to respect the liberties of the nation, which his brother had conscientiously maintained. Unfortunately Charles’s intellect was weak and his conscience perverted; he was a narrow-minded, bigoted sovereign, ruled by priests and ultra-royalists, who magnified his prerogatives, appealed to his prejudices, and flattered his vanity. He was not cruel and blood-thirsty,–he was even kind and amiable; but he was a fool, who could not comprehend the conditions by which only he could reign in safety; who could not understand the spirit of the times, or appreciate the difficulties with which he had to contend.

What was to be expected of such a monarch but continual blunders, encroachments, and follies verging upon crimes? The nation cared nothing for his hunting-parties, his pleasures, and his attachment to mediaeval ceremonies; but it did care for its own rights and liberties, purchased so dearly and guarded so zealously; and when these were gradually attacked by a man who felt himself to be delegated from God with unlimited powers to rule, not according to laws but according to his caprices and royal will, then the ferment began,–first in the legislative assemblies, then extending to journalists, who controlled public opinion, and finally to the discontented, enraged, and disappointed people. The throne was undermined, and there was no power in France to prevent the inevitable catastrophe. In Russia, Prussia, and Austria an overwhelming army, bound together by the mechanism which absolutism for centuries had perfected, could repress disorder; but in a country where the army was comparatively small, enlightened by the ideas of the Revolution and fraternizing with the people, this was not possible. A Napoleon, with devoted and disciplined troops, might have crushed his foes and reigned supreme; but a weak and foolish monarch, with a disaffected and scattered army, with ministers who provoked all the hatreds and violent passions of legislators, editors, and people alike, was powerless to resist or overcome.

The short reign of Charles X. was not marked by a single event of historical importance, except the conquest of Algiers; and that was undertaken by the government to gain military éclat,–in other words, popularity,–and this at the very time it was imposing restrictions on the Press. There were during this reign no reforms, no public improvements, no measures of relief for the poor, no stimulus to new industries, no public encouragement of art or literature, no triumphs of architectural skill; nothing to record but the strife of political parties, and a systematic encroachment by the government on electoral rights, on legislative freedom, on the liberty of the Press. There was a senseless return to mediaeval superstitions and cruelties, all to please the most narrow and intolerant class of men who ever traded on the exploded traditions of the past. The Jesuits returned to promulgate their sophistries and to impose their despotic yoke; the halls of justice were presided over by the tools of arbitrary power; great offices were given to the most obsequious slaves of royalty, without regard to abilities or fitness. There was not indeed the tyranny of Spain or Naples or Austria; but everything indicated a movement toward it. Those six years which comprised the reign of Charles X. were a period of reaction,–a return to the Middle Ages in both State and Church, a withering blast on all noble aspirations. Even the prime minister Villèle, a legitimatist and an ultra-royalist, was too liberal for the king; and he was dismissed to make room for Martignac, and he again for Polignac, who had neither foresight nor prudence nor ability. The generals of the republic and of the empire were removed from active service. An indemnity of a thousand millions was given by an obsequious legislature to the men who had emigrated during the Revolution,–a generous thing to do, but a premium on cowardice and want of patriotism. A base concession was made to the sacerdotal party, by making it a capital offence to profane the sacred vessels of the churches or the consecrated wafer; thus putting the power of life and death into the hands of the clergy, not for crimes against society but for an insult to the religion of the Middle Ages.

But the laws passed against the Press were the most irritating of all. The Press had become a power which it was dangerous to trifle with,–the one thing in modern times which affords the greatest protection to liberty, which is most hated by despots and valued by enlightened minds. A universal clamor was raised against this return to barbarism, this extinction of light in favor of darkness, this discarding of the national reason. Royalists and liberals alike denounced this culminating act of high treason against the majesty of the human mind, this death-blow to civilization. Chateaubriand, Royer-Collard, Dupont (de l’Eure), even Labourdonnais, predicted its fatal consequences; and their impassioned eloquence from the tribune became in a few days the public opinion of the nation, and the king in his infatuation saw no remedy for his increasing unpopularity but in dissolving the Chamber of Deputies and ordering a new election,–the blindest thing he could possibly do. It was now seen that he was determined to rule in utter defiance of the charter he had sworn to defend, and on the principles of undisguised absolutism. All parties now coalesced against the king and his ministers. The king then began to tamper with the military in order to establish by violence the old régime. It was found difficult to fill ministerial appointments, as everybody felt that the ship of State was drifting upon the rocks. The king even determined to dissolve the new Chamber of Deputies before it met, the elections having pronounced emphatically against his government.

At last the passions of the people became excited, and daily increased in violence. Then came resistance to the officers of the law; then riots, then barricades, then the occupation of the Tuileries, then ineffectual attempts of the military to preserve order and restrain the violence of the people. Marshal Marmont, with only twelve thousand troops, was powerless against a great city in arms. The king thinking it was only an émeute, to be easily put down, withdrew to St. Cloud; and there he spent his time in playing whist, as Nero fiddled over burning Rome, until at last aroused by the vengeance of the whole nation, he made his escape to England, to rust in the old palace of the kings of Scotland, and to meditate over his kingly follies, as Napoleon meditated over his mistakes in the island of St. Helena.

Thus closed the third act in the mighty drama which France played for one hundred years: the first act revealing the passions of the Revolution; the second, the abominations of military despotism; the third, the reaction toward the absolutism of the old régime and its final downfall. Two more acts are to be presented,–the perfidy and selfishness of Louis Philippe, and the usurpation of Louis Napoleon; but these must be deferred until in our course of lectures we have considered the reaction of liberal sentiments in England during the ministries of Castlereagh, Canning, and Lord Liverpool, when the Tories resigned, as Metternich did in Vienna.

Yet the reign of the Bourbons, while undistinguished by great events, was not fruitless in great men. On the fall of Napoleon, a crowd of authors, editors, orators, and statesmen issued from their retreats, and attracted notice by the brilliancy of their writings and speeches. Crushed or banished by the iron despotism of Napoleon, who hated literary genius, they now became a new power in France,–not to propagate infidel sentiments and revolutionary theories, but to awaken the nation to a sense of intellectual dignity and to maturer views of government; to give a new impulse to literature, art, and science, and to show how impossible it is to extinguish the fires of liberty when once kindled in the breasts of patriots, or to put a stop to the progress of the human mind among an excitable, intelligent, though fickle people, craving with passionate earnestness both popular rights and constitutional government in accordance with those laws of progress which form the basis of true civilization.

There was Count Joseph de Maistre,–a royalist indeed, but who propounded great truths mixed with great paradoxes; believing all he said, seeking to restore the authority of divine revelation in a world distracted by scepticism, grand and eloquent in style, and astonishing the infidels as much as he charmed the religious.

Associated with him in friendship and in letters was the Abbé de Lamennais, a young priest of Brittany, brought up amid its wilds in silent reverence and awe, yet with the passions of a revolutionary orator, logical as Bossuet, invoking young men, not to the worship of mediaeval dogmas, but to the shrine of reason allied with faith.

Of another school was Cousin, the modern Plato, combating the materialism of the eighteenth century with mystic eloquence, and drawing around him, in his chair of philosophy at the Sorbonne, a crowd of enthusiastic young men, which reminded one of Abélard among his pupils in the infant university of Paris. Cousin elevated the soul while he intoxicated the mind, and created a spirit of inquiry which was felt wherever philosophy was recognized as one of the most ennobling studies that can dignify the human intellect.

In history, both Guizot and Thiers had already become distinguished before they were engrossed in politics. Augustin Thierry described, with romantic fascination, the exploits of the Normans; Michaud brought out his Crusades, Barante his Chronicles, Sismondi his Italian Republics, Michelet his lively conception of France in the Middle Ages, Capefigue the Life of Louis XIV., and Lamartine his poetical paintings of the Girondists. All these masterpieces gave a new interest to historical studies, infusing into history life and originality,–not as a barren collection of annals and names, in which pedantry passes for learning, and uninteresting details for accuracy and scholarship. In that inglorious period more first-class histories were produced in France than have appeared in England during the long reign of Queen Victoria, where only three or four historians have reached the level of any one of those I have mentioned, in genius or eloquence.

Another set of men created journalism as the expression of public opinion, and as a lever to overturn an obstinate despotism built up on the superstitions and dogmas of the Middle Ages. A few young men, almost unknown to fame, with remorseless logic and fiery eloquence overturned a throne, and established the Press as a power that proved irresistible, driving the priests of absolutism back into the shadows of eternal night, and making reason the guide and glory of mankind. Among these were the disappointed and embittered Chateaubriand, who almost redeemed his devotion to the royal cause by those elegant essays which recalled the eloquence of his early life. Villemain wrote for the “Moniteur,” Royer–Collard and Guizot for the “Courier,” with all the haughtiness and disdain which marked the Doctrinaire or Constitutional school; Etienne and Pagès for the “Constitutionel,” ridiculing the excesses of the ultra-royalists, the pretensions of the clergy, and the follies of the court; De Genoude for the “Gazette de France,” and Thiers for the “National.”

In the realm of science Arago explored the wonders of the heavens, and Cuvier penetrated the secrets of the earth. In poetry only two names are prominent,–Delille and Béranger; but the French are not a poetical nation. Most of the great writers of France wrote in prose, and for style they have never been surpassed. If the poets were few after the Restoration, the novelists were many, with transcendent excellences and transcendent faults, reaching the heart by their pathos, insulting the reason by their exaggerations, captivating the imagination while shocking the moral sense; painting manners and dissecting passions with powerful, acute, and vivid touch. Such were Victor Hugo, Eugene Sue, and Alexandre Dumas, whose creations interested all classes alike, not merely in France, but throughout the world.

The dignity of intellect amid political degradation was never more strikingly displayed than by those orators who arose during the reign of the Bourbons. The intrepid Manuel uttering his protests against royal encroachments, in a chamber of Royalists all heated by passions and prejudices; Lainé and De Serres, pathetic and patriotic; Guizot, De Broglie, and De St. Aulaire, learned and profound; Royer-Collard, religious, disdainful, majestic; General Foy, disinterested and incorruptible; Lafitte, the banker; Benjamin Constant, the philosopher; Berryer, the lawyer; Chateaubriand, the poet, most eloquent of all,–these and a host of others (some liberal, some conservative, all able) showed that genius was not extinguished amid all the attempts of absolutism to suppress it. It is true that none of these orators arose to supreme power, and that they were not equal to Mirabeau and other great lights in the Revolutionary period. They were comparatively inexperienced in parliamentary business, and were watched and fettered by a hostile government, and could not give full scope to their indignant eloquence without personal peril. Nor did momentous questions of reform come before them for debate, as was the case in England during the agitation on the Reform Bill. They did little more than show the spirit that was in them, which under more favorable circumstances would arouse the nation.

There was one more power which should be mentioned in connection with that period of torpor and reaction, and that was the influence of the salons. To these all the bright intellects of Paris resorted, and gave full vent to their opinions,–artists, scholars, statesmen, journalists, men of science, and brilliant women, in short, whoever was distinguished in any particular sphere; and these composed what is called society, a tremendous lever in fashionable life. In the salons of Madame de Staël, of the Duchesse de Duras, of the Duchesse de Broglie, of Madame de St. Aulaire, and of Madame de Montcalm, all parties were represented, and all subjects were freely discussed. Here Sainte-Beuve discoursed with those whom he was afterward to criticise; here Talleyrand uttered his concise and emphatic sentences; here Lafayette won hearts by his courteous manners and amiable disposition; here Guizot prepared himself for the tribune and the Press; here Villemain, with proud indifference, broached his careless scepticism; here Montlosier blended aristocratical paradoxes with democratic theories. All these great men, and a host of others,–Béranger, Constant, Etienne, Lamartine, Pasquier, Mounier, Molé, De Neuville, Lainé, Barante, Cousin, Sismondi,–freely exchanged opinions, and rested from their labors; a group of geniuses worth more than armies in the great contests between Liberty and Absolutism.

And here it may be said that these kings and queens of society represented not material interests,–not commerce, not manufactures, not stocks, not capital, not railways, not trade, not industrial exhibitions, not armies and navies, but ideas, those invisible agencies which shake thrones and make revolutions, and lift the soul above that which is transient to that which is permanent,–to religion, to philosophy, to art, to poetry, to the glories of home, to the certitudes of friendship, to the benedictions of heaven; which may exist in all their benign beauty and power whatever be the form of government or the inequality of condition, in cottage or palace, in plenty or in want, among foes or friends,–creating that sublime rest where men may prepare themselves for a future and imperishable existence.

Such was the other side of France during the reign of the Bourbons,–the lights which burst through the gloomy shades of tyranny and superstition, to alleviate sorrows and disappointed hopes,–the resurrection of intellect from the grave of despair.


The History of the Restoration by Lamartine is the most interesting work I have read on the subject; but he is not regarded as a high authority. Talleyrand’s Memoirs, Mémoires de Chateaubriand; Lacretelle, Capefigue, Alison; Biographie Universelle, Mémoires de Louis XVIII., Fyffe, Mackenzie’s History of the Nineteenth Century,–all are interesting, and worthy of perusal.

George IV : Toryism

Beacon Lights of History, Volume IX : European Statesmen