Page images
PDF
EPUB

war became more imminent, the French ministers loudly proclaimed that it was to be merely a war of self-defence against the spread of "subversive opinions." But this same minister now thinks it a part of the defence which his character will require with posterity, to declare that the war which his fertile brain had engendered was a war of aggression. "France was perishing for the want of victories; " and glory, "the natural idea of a Frenchman," must be made to compensate him for that idea of liberty "which he will never be able to comprehend," but which it was evidently the determination of the French Government, making common cause with the despots of the Holy Alliance, to exterminate, both abroad and at home.

But M. de Chateaubriand cannot allow his character with posterity to be exposed to the suspicion that while he was so cleverly duping Mr. Canning on the one hand, he was not acting with equal perfidy towards his holy allies, and even to his colleagues in the administration, on the other. There was in his mind an arrière pensée, into the confidence of which the whole world, and posterity besides, is now admitted; but which, previous to the publication of this narrative, was entrusted but to a few, amongst whom were two royal personages, who appear to have received the communication in a very ambiguous manner. The two illustrious depositories of this important secret were the Emperor Alexander and King Louis XVIII. The former, notwithstanding the mysterious sympathy between him and M. de Chateaubriand, which caused them to "swear eternal friendship" in their first interview, seems to have listened with much coldness to the communication, and to have replied in a fashion the reverse of satisfactory; while the manner in which it was received by the latter monarch deserves to be recorded as the counterpart of the famous nod of Lord Burleigh in the Critic. Indeed the whole passage is worth extracting, as a curious description of the manner in which business was transacted between the king and his minister for foreign affairs:

“One day, having gone to carry a despatch to the king, we found him alone, seated before his small table, into the drawer of which he hastily thrust the letters or notes which he had been writing with the aid of a large magnifying glass. He was in a good humour, and immediately began to talk to us on literary subjects.

Would you believe,' said his majesty, 'that I have been for years in ignorance of the Cantata of Circe? M. D'Avary made me ashamed of myself, and I have learned it by heart; ' and all at once the king began to declaim the Cantata at full length.

"He then passed to the Canticle of Hezekiah. When he came to this line

Comme un tigre impitoyable, &c.

we took the liberty of asking him if he was acquainted with Rousseau's correction,

Comme un lion plein de rage, &c.

"The king appeared surprised, and made us repeat Rousseau's alteration. Lyric poetry led him to familiar poetry, to street ballads, and vaudevilles; he sang the Sabot perdu. We ventured to relieve him by taking up some of the lines:

On peut parler plus bas

Mon aimable bergère.

The king was the Cardinal de Richelieu, whilst we were Conrart or Malleville helping Armand to cobble together this exquisite verse :

La cane s'humectait de la bourbe de l'eau.

Seeing his majesty so gracious, we presented to him the despatch upon our hat, and we slipped in at the same time, à propos of our successes, a few words on the Rhenish frontier under the protection of Babet. The king pouting his lips, gave a slight puff, raised a finger of his right hand as high as his eye, looked at us, gave us a friendly nod, to invite us to withdraw, and as if to say we will meet again.' Every road leads to Rome."

Coupled with this project for the extension of the French frontier were others for the aggrandizement of France, and amongst them one for the establishment of independent monarchies, under princes of the Bourbon race, in the Spanish colonies of South America. But the recovery of the Rhenish frontier was intended to be the great work of the Chateaubriand ministry, and our author had resolved on following up that object, had he continued in office, by a speedy rupture with Europe. Great importance was naturally attached to the concealment of these projects from the knowledge of his allies, and M. de Chateaubriand admits that he was under the constant necessity of deceiving both friends and enemies, in order to keep them in the dark as to the real state of things. "It "was requisite," he says, "that France should accomplish "her resurrection unperceived,—that the giant should re"appear, lance in hand, when it was no longer possible to "disarm him." The secret, however, was not so carefully

kept as to prevent Prussia and Austria from suspecting something of his ambitious designs.

"Careful as we were to bury within ourselves our ideas relative to the treaty of Vienna, a despatch from M. de Rayneval proves that we were suspected in Prussia: that power was discontented with England, whose opposition was likely to make us redouble our energy, and so render us more dangerous to the continent. On the other hand, M. de la Ferronays, in one of his letters, speaks of the alarm at our success manifested by Austria; where it was said, that our heads would be turned and that every thing was to be dreaded from us: Austria liked us better when there was reason to doubt the fidelity of our army."

How grave are the reflections to which those projects of Bourbon aggrandizement and the vaunted fidelity of their troops give rise in the mind of one thinking of them, as we now do, in the calmness which the lapse of time confers, and amidst the light which the knowledge of subsequent events throws upon the vanity of such speculations! The conquest of constitutional Spain was accomplished, and Ferdinand was liberated by the hands of his kinsman, "the Hero of the Trocadero," from the thraldom of the oath he had so often sworn, and the promises so often broken. The army of France had marched through Spain resisting the seduction of liberal proclamations, unscathed by the contagion of subversive doctrines; M. de Chateaubriand, the author of the war, was rewarded with decorations by all the despots of Europe. "Rome "for two days illuminated her ruins; Bavaria, Saxony, Den"mark, united their congratulations; Vienna, Berlin, St. "Petersburg, even though inwardly opposed, applauded." The noble writer has drawn upon his imagination for the picture of the results that he expected to flow from all these triumphs :

"Let us imagine Ferdinand reigning in a rational manner at Madrid, under the superintendence of France; our southern frontiers secure, Iberia being no longer in a condition to flood our territory with the forces of Austria and England ;-let us conjure up two or three Bourbon monarchies in South America, acting to our profit, as a counterpoise to the influence and the commerce of the United States and of Great Britain; let us figure to ourselves the cabinet of France recovering its former power and exacting a modification of the treaty of Vienna, our old frontier restored, improved, and extended into the Netherlands, and our ancient Germanic departments; and then let us declare whether to ensure such results the Spanish war should not have been undertaken."

The fidelity of the troops of the Bourbons has since been tested in a different field, and the battle of the barricades has placed the younger branch of the family upon the throne of France. The frontiers remain unchanged, no Bourbon reigns in America, and M. de Chateaubriand was brutally dismissed from office (the word is his own) within a few months after the Spanish triumph. It is now abundantly proved that no considerable portion of the French population felt any attachment whatever to the elder branch of the Bourbons; for the third and, let us hope, for the last time, that foolish race, too stupid to learn and too obstinate to forget, has been expelled from the soil of France.

There are few chapters in this work more lively or interesting than those in which the author treats of the difficulties to which the minister of a constitutional state is exposed as compared with the position of the statesman who disposes at will of all the resources of an absolute monarchy, and shows that impediments of this nature existed to a greater extent in France during the restoration than in other constitutional states. Richelieu and Mazarin had no such embarrassments to contend with; but what, asks M. de Chateaubriand, would have been their fate if, when the thirty years' war was commenced by the former or terminated by the latter, they had been compelled to treat in daily conferences with the representatives of foreign powers, and to defend their measures from the attacks of a parliamentary opposition, whilst prudence forbad them to disclose the plans in the exposition of which a full justification of their policy could alone be found? In France this difficulty was discovered by him to exist to so great an extent, that he comes to the conclusion, that measures requiring time, secrecy, and the directing superintendence of one single mind were almost wholly impracticable. There is, he alleges, a distinction to be drawn in the case of England which prevents our system of government from being quoted against his theory.

"If the example of England be said to militate against this proposition; if it be said that for many years Lord Chatham and his son combined with the enjoyment of their power a great reputation for statesmanship and oratory; if they always contrived to have margin enough left to them for the accomplishment of their designs; the reason is that our neighbours have not

our impatience; it is that the English aristocracy partakes of the firmness, the force, and the prudence of royalty, whose position it has usurped, and whose power it has inherited; it is because democracy had not gained the ascendency in society at the period when the two Pitts appeared. We doubt whether, in the England of 1838, Mr. Pitt would have attained the permanent success which forty years ago raised him to the level of the greatest statesmen."

While reading the above passage, our thoughts naturally turned to the position in which the aristocratic body in our constitution have recently thought fit to exhibit themselves, and more especially in relation to the affairs of Canada; we asked ourselves the question, how far has that branch of our legislature justified the speculations of M. de Chateaubriand on "the England of 1838?" We see an important possession of the English crown, in which a discontented population had, without adequate cause for their disaffection, resolved on throwing off their allegiance; a rebellion had broken out and been subdued; a man of high rank, but in full enjoyment also of the confidence of the people, was prevailed upon to accept a difficult and delicate mission, the object of which was to restore harmony among the jarring elements of the colony, and to re-establish the mild authority of the metropolis. On such an occasion as this we may put the House of Commons out of the question, for we acknowledge that in an assembly which "the spirit of democracy had so far invaded," an extreme party might naturally be expected to embarrass, as far as they had the power, the movements of the Governor; the rather as that party had opposed (as Lord Brougham had done single-handed in the House of Lords,) the bill from which Lord Durham derived his authority. But how should we expect the House of Lords to act,-that aristocratic body which is endowed, as we are told, with " the firmness, the force, and the prudence of royalty"? Assuredly, if ever there was an occasion on which we might reasonably have expected from the Upper House an edifying display of those qualities, the attacks upon Lord Durham furnished that opportunity. To the more ardent and democratic spirits among them, we should have expected the House of Lords to say: Wait a little while soon we shall have the entire case before us; and then we shall be able to form a correct estimate of the Governor's policy. He is engaged in the performance of an arduous

« PreviousContinue »