Talleyrand

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The piece concerns the exploits of Count Charles Maurice Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838). Apart from Voltaire and perhaps Rousseau, Talleyrand is responsible for more quotable material that any other French source.

Despite this fact, Talleyrand was, by any standard, a miserable character. He was a remarkably capable politician but utterly unprincipled. He survived the innumerable changes in government during his lifetime by adroitly betraying his associates at the proper time. A Republican during the French Revolution, he served as Napoleon's foreign minister, intrigued with Napoleon's enemies in time to survive the emperor's fall, then managed to survive the falls of the restored kings as well.

In 1838, having reached the age of 84, he was about to die. King Louis Philippe was at his bedside.

"Oh," muttered Talleyrand, who was in great pain, "I suffer the tortures of hell."

Louis Philippe, unmoved, said politely, "Already?"

... but, that's not the story I want to tell you.

The secret role played by Talleyrand in the July French revolution of 1830, which brought Louis Philippe to the throne, is as obscure now at it was at the time. It seems that the elderly Talleyrand was sitting in his Paris house while three days of riots took place. At once he heard the pealing of bells and remarked to his secretary,

"We're winning."

"Who's 'we,' mon prince?"

Talleyrand gestured for silence.

"Not a word," said he. "I'll tell you tomorrow who 'we' are tomorrow."