Vanished Supremacies

Vanished Supremacies

Vanished Supremacies

Vanished Supremacies

Excerpt

TALLEYRAND was born in 1754, fifteen years before Napoleon, and died on 17 May 1838, surviving him by another seventeen years. He collaborated with Mirabeau and Sieyès in 1789, and with Guizot and Thiers under the July Monarchy. Of high aristocracy, he entered the Church because lameness, due to an accident in childhood, precluded army service. As Bishop of Autun he was returned by the clergy to the States-General, had a share in drafting the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and played a leading part in the Constituent Assembly. In October 1789 he moved the appropriation of the Church property by the State, and on 14 July 1790, at the feast on the Champ de Mars commemorating the Bastille, in the presence of Louis XVI, he celebrated Mass ('Pray, don't make me laugh,' he whispered to Lafayette). Early in 1791 he discarded the vestments which had never meant anything to him. When six years later his appointment to the Foreign Office was discussed in the Directory, Carnot objected: he would sell them all. 'Whom has he sold' replied La Revellière. 'First, his God.' 'He was never a believer.' '...Next, his order.' 'A mark of philosophy.' 'Rather of ambition. Lastly, his King.' 'It is hardly for us to reproach him with that.'

Talleyrand had no moral principles or scruples, few illusions or dreams. He was the least romantic of men. Metternich was a romantic with regard to his doctrines; Talleyrand had no doctrines. He had a strong sense of reality and clear judgment. He appreciated spiritual values, but in a curiously detached manner. He was lazy, and boasted of it. Neglected by his parents in early childhood and brought up by dependents, he was a grand seigneur towards men of other classes but had no love for his own and contributed with cold indifference to its downfall. He had few deeper human contacts and knew neither gratitude nor personal loyalty. He had self-love . . .

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