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This hotel now became the centre of discontent, while the salon of the Duchess de Bassano was the centre of Napoleonism.
The following year, 1813, saw considerable movement in the political barometers at Paris.
Napoleon had returned from Moscow about the middle of December, and the remnants of the grand army were beginning to reach France when he called a special council in January to discuss the situation. He told those present-chiefly the heads of the foreign office and retired foreign ministers-that he desired peace, but was in a position still to wage successful war. Should he await overtures from Russia, or open negotiations himself, either directly or through Austria? Maret, the actual Foreign Minister, even less competent than Champagny, advocated negotiations through Austria. Talleyrand knew that Austria was seeking to detach itself from Napoleon, and to pose as armed mediator. He therefore gave the loyal counsel to open serious negotiations for peace directly with Russia. To do this with any profit, however, it would be necessary now to sacrifice some of France's outlying conquests, and Napoleon would not give up even the duchy of Warsaw, and would not withdraw from Spain unless England withdrew from Sicily. As Talleyrand happily expressed it a little later, the only hope of safety for Napoleon was for him "to
finest collection ever put at auction. By that time Talleyrand's anxiety was over, and he could not have taken the extreme step of selling a superb library. Either the books were sold in 1812, or they were not Talleyrand's.
become King of France." This was impossible for him. Talleyrand retired to his hotel, to play whist with Louis, Dalberg, and de Pradt, and to keep his eyes open.
Within a few weeks the whist-players hear that the people of Prussia have arisen and forced their ruler to take up the war against Napoleon, and that Austria had concluded a truce with Russia and withdrawn its troops. In April they see Napoleon set out for Metz, with no word from his Austrian ally. In May the Napoleonists illuminate somewhat hastily. The Emperor has won Lutzen and Bautzen, at a terrible cost, and concluded a forty days' armistice. In June the Bassano Hotel darkens again, when the news comes that England has allied itself with Sweden, Russia, and Prussia, and that Wellington is sweeping the French out of the Peninsula. In August it is reported that Napoleon has rejected the terms offered by Austria as armed mediator, and she has joined with the continent against France. There is a momentary flutter when a victory is claimed for the Emperor at Dresden, but before the end of October comes the news of Leipzig, and the tea-tables and whisttables buzz with excited whispers. For the second time in twelve months the Emperor is flying towards France with the remnant of a grand army.
Napoleon arrived in Paris on November 9th. His spies and supporters could bring no allegation against Talleyrand, who had become a very quiet spectator. Though Napoleon's outlying empire was virtually lost, the allies disclaimed any intention of deposing him.
If he had been content to retire within the natural frontiers of France, the Alps, the Rhine, and the Pyrenees, the divisions amongst the allies would have at this juncture sufficed to give him peace. Sick of the mediocrity of Champagny and Maret, he now offered the foreign ministry again to Talleyrand, who refused it, saying later to Savary that he "did not care to bury himself in ruins." As he writes in his memoirs, Napoleon was only ruined in the sense that he could not forego his conquests and become “King of France." Talleyrand had no intention of flattering his hope that a fresh co-operation of the two would again break up the coalition and restore the empire. It must be firmly remembered that there was at this time no question of restoring the Bourbons. Talleyrand was well in the counsels of Austria and Russia, and knew that the declaration of the Allies was sincere. His refusal meant a fresh protest against the incurable megalomania of the Emperor. Lytton, who proves that Talleyrand was at the time trying to inspire the Emperor with thoughts of peace and moderation (and we know from Pasquier that he even sent word to Napoleon of the impending desertion of Bavaria), says that the foreign ministry was offered to him on condition that he gave up his other office and its salary. This, he points out, would have made him entirely dependent on a co-operation with Napoleon's policy.
From another and well-informed source, Mme. de Rémusat, we learn that Talleyrand and Napoleon were