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THE life-story of Charles Maurice de TalleyrandPérigord, as I propose to write it, begins when, in his third or fourth year, he falls off a chest of drawers and permanently injures his foot. That wrench of muscles and tendons, making him limp for life, led to a perverse action on the part of his educators that did equal violence to an excellent natural disposition. They say now that the education of a child begins a hundred years before he is born. In the case of Talleyrand you may just as well say a thousand. On his father's side he came.of one of the oldest noble families in France, and his mother was a daughter of the Marquis d'Antigny. But these hereditary influences only shape the general contour of his character-give the refinement, the instinct to rise (Talleyrand, or Tailleran-as: Napoleon, always pronounced it—is said to be from "tailler les rangs the "sensibility" and "spirituality" (as people spoke then), the self-possession. When you wish to trace the growth of the peculiar traits of Prince Talleyrand, you find the beginning in that fateful fall and dislocation of the foot.
The boy was born in 1754, in the Rue Garancière, at Paris. The week that followed was the only week he ever spent under the same roof with his mother, though she lived for fifty years afterwards, and he never quarrelled with his family. There was no tender rearing, no loving study and direction of the young life in those days. Rousseau had not yet persuaded France that a mother's duty did not end with an impatient and querulous parturition. Talleyrand's father and mother were both in the service of the Court. It was an age when a king could not go to bed without two or three nobles to hand him his night-dress; and when, on the other hand, nobles could not live without sharing the king's purse to the extent of some forty million livres. Estates had been mortgaged and starved; Court life had become ever more luxurious and exacting. The system only held together. by a frail structure of privileges, sinecures and commissions, that bound the nobility closer and closer, to Versailles and left a yawning gulf between them and the people.'
That gulf was not to be seen for thirty years yet, and meantime the life of the idle was swift and
The date is variously given as February 2nd or 13th, and even March. The first seems to be correct. Dupanloup speaks of the Prince celebrating his eighty-fourth birthday on that date. But the mythmaking faculty has been so busy with the life of Talleyrand that his very birthplace and parentage have been disputed. It will prepare the reader for the wild legends we shall encounter to learn at once that serious French writers have attributed Talleyrand's lameness to a congenital defect or to an encounter with a savage sow, and that serious American writers (Bookman, September 26, 1901) have asked us to consider gravely a story of his having been born at Mount Desert, Maine, the illegitimate son of an American fisher-girl and a French naval officer
In such a life the arrival of children was an accident, a complication. They must at once be put away to nurse, then to school, and finally be placed in the system. Lieutenant-General de TalleyrandPérigord was better than most of his class, but a busy, and not a wealthy, man. Charles Maurice was immediately put to nurse in the suburbs, and so successfully forgotten that when, in his fourth year, it was decided to remove him, he was found to be lamed for life owing to the unskilful treatment of the injury to his foot. Through the death of his elder brother he should have been entitled to the right of primogeniture-the right to the one good position in the army that could be demanded of the King. But the thought of a Colonel Talleyrand limping along the galleries at Versailles or exhibiting an ill-shaped foot on parade was insufferable. He was destined to the service of the Church. Talleyrand himself pondered at a later date over the long-drawn consequences of his accident. When Royalist agents sought his powerful influence for the restoration of the King, he observed that but for that early mishap he would probably be with them amongst the émigrés and royal ambassadors.
At the time it fell out his horizon was bounded by the cabbages and gooseberry bushes of a suburban garden, but in his fourth year he was transferred to a larger sphere. For seventeen days his wondering eyes saw the great world unfold before them, as the coach went from Paris to Bordeaux. A few days
later he was in a stately chateau with a very stately princess caring for him. Little by little he would learn the idea of lordship. The Princess de Chalais was his great-grandmother, the representative of a family that had ruled the district for eight centuries. He saw the homage of her little court, the group of elderly gentlemen who were no longer needed at brilliant Versailles. He saw a broad country-side, where not a steeple or monument could catch his eye but he was told his ancestors had reared it. On Sundays he saw her courtiers carry her prayer-book in the red velvet bag, and he knelt on his chair near her prie-dieu, and felt the admiring glances of the peasantry. After mass he saw-he has described it all so tenderly in his memoirs-the sick and needy of the estate trail after them to the chateau, where the old lady sat in her velvet chair in the "dispensary," and the huge pots of ointment (of which the recipes were kept in the family) were opened, and two Sisters of Charity interrogated the applicants, and the Princess cut up the lint and linen with her own hands, and directed her courtiers to deal out the syrups and ointments. He saw the old regime at its best.
The four years that the boy spent at Chalais had a deep influence for good on him. The Princess loved him she was almost the only one to awaken his finer feelings in those years of formation, and we shall find them, recalling those kindly days, long after the terrible ordeal that was to follow, in the blood-spattered streets
of Paris and on the reeking battle-fields of Napoleon. As he grew up he must have wondered at times why, through those eight long years he never felt the kiss of a mother or heard the cheering voice of his distinguished father. Then he would learn of Paris and Versailles, and how the splendour of Chalais was only a distant reflection of the life that streamed out from the capital. At last he was to return to Paris, to see his parents, to ask by what path he was to enter into that life. He was eight years old, a sharp, observant, sensitive and ambitious boy.
Then the trial began, and the de-formation of his better instincts. While his young mind was nervously tracing its large ambition a family-council was disposing of his body and soul, without a glance at anything but his foot. A valet met him at the coach-office at Paris and took him straight to school. Where were his parents? Where was Versailles?
The little lips the dull, stuffy
contracted. He found himself in atmosphere of one of the oldest schools in Paris, the Collège d'Harcourt (now the Lycée St. Louis). It lay just off the present Boulevard Michel, its grounds touching those of the Cordeliers. It was a recognised school for children of good families; in fact, his father left him to pay in later years for his own education. At dinner on the first day he sat next to a future ambassador, a nephew of the great Choiseul. He shared the room and tutor of a cousin. But the teachers were poor (except his teacher of philosophy), and were chiefly