Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

French diplomat (1754-1838)

Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (2 February 175417 May 1838), 1st Prince of Benevento, then Prince of Talleyrand, was a French clergyman and leading diplomat. After studying theology, he became Agent-General of the Clergy in 1780. In 1789, just before the French Revolution, he became Bishop of Autun. He worked at the highest levels of successive French governments, most commonly as foreign minister or in some other diplomatic capacity. His career spanned the regimes of Louis XVI, the years of the French Revolution, Napoleon, Louis XVIII, and Louis-Philippe. Those Talleyrand served often distrusted him but, like Napoleon, found him extremely useful. The name "Talleyrand" has become a byword for crafty, cynical diplomacy.

It is the beginning of the end.

Talleyrand polarizes scholarly opinion. Some regard him as one of the most versatile, skilled and influential diplomats in European history, and some believe that he was a traitor, betraying in turn the Ancien Régime, the French Revolution, Napoleon, and the Restoration.

Quotes edit

  • Celui qui n'a pas vécu au dix-huitième siècle avant la Révolution ne connaît pas la douceur de vivre et ne peut imaginer ce qu'il peut y avoir de bonheur dans la vie. C'est le siècle qui a forgé toutes les armes victorieuses contre cet insaisissable adversaire qu'on appelle l'ennui. L'Amour, la Poésie, la Musique, le Théâtre, la Peinture, l'Architecture, la Cour, les Salons, les Parcs et les Jardins, la Gastronomie, les Lettres, les Arts, les Sciences, tout concourait à la satisfaction des appétits physiques, intellectuels et même moraux, au raffinement de toutes les voluptés, de toutes les élégances et de tous les plaisirs. L'existence était si bien remplie qui si le dix-septième siècle a été le Grand Siècle des gloires, le dix-huitième a été celui des indigestions.
    • Whoever did not live in the eighteenth century before the Revolution does not know the sweetness of life and cannot imagine what happiness there can be in life. It is the century that forged all victorious weapons against this elusive adversary called boredom. Love, Poetry, Music, Theater, Painting, Architecture, Courtyard, Lounges, Parks and Gardens, Gastronomy, Letters, Arts, Sciences, all contributed to the satisfaction of physical, intellectual and even moral appetites, to the refinement of all voluptuousness, all elegance and all pleasures. The existence was so full that if the seventeenth century was the Great Century of glories, the eighteenth was that of indigestion.
    • Mémoires du Prince de Talleyrand: La Confession de Talleyrand, V. 1-5 Chapter: La jeunesse – Le cercle de Madame du Barry.
  • Ce n'est pas un événement, c'est une nouvelle.
    • It is not an event, it is a piece of news.
    • On hearing of Napoleon's death; reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922).
  • Je connais quelqu'un qui a plus d'esprit que Napoléon, que Voltaire, que tous les ministres présents et futurs: c'est l'opinion.
    • I know where there is more wisdom than is found in Napoleon, Voltaire, or all the ministers present and to come – in public opinion.
    • In the Chamber of Peers (1821); reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 570.
  • Vous ne jouez donc pas le whist, monsieur? Hélas! quelle triste vieilesse vous vous préparez!
    • You do not play then at whist, sir! Alas, what a sad old age you are preparing for yourself!
    • Reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 90.
  • C'est le commencement de la fin.
    • It is the beginning of the end.
    • Ascribed to Talleyrand in The Hundred Days (1815); reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 66. Also attributed to General Augereau.
  • Qui n'a pas vécu dans les années voisines de 1789 ne sait pas ce que c'est le plaisir de vivre.
    • Whoever did not live in the years neighboring 1789 does not know what the pleasure of living means.
    • Reported in Memoirs pour Servir a l'histoire de nous Temps by François Guizot, Volume I, p. 6.
  • To succeed in the world, it is much more necessary to possess the penetration to discern who is a fool than to discover who is a clever man.
    • Reported in, C.N. Douglas, comp. Forty Thousand Quotations: Prose and Poetical. (1917).
  • "The tricolour flag, symbol of revolution, was raised on the cathedral's towers and the bells rang to the frantic acclamation of the crowd. 'Listen to the tocsin! We are triumphing' remarked the Prince de Talleyrand gleefully: 'Who are we?' he was asked: 'Quiet! Not a word. I will tell you tomorrow' was the reply."
    • "The July monarchy: a political history of France, 1830-1848" (1988) by H. A. C. Collingham, ‎R. S. Alexander. Pg 9.
  • There is no sentiment less aristocratic than that of nonbelief.
    • Reported in, Bernard, J. F., Talleyrand: A Biography. (1973), p. 605
  • Financiers flourish only when nations decline.
    • Reported in, Bernard, J. F., Talleyrand: A Biography. (1973), p. 592
  • Accessibility on the part of rulers ends by inspiring love rather than respect, and love evaporates at first sign of trouble.
    • Reported in, Bernard, J. F., Talleyrand: A Biography. (1973), p. 592
  • A diplomat who says "yes" means "maybe", a diplomat who says "maybe" means "no", and a diplomat who says "no" is no diplomat.

Misattributed edit

  • Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love (of coffee).
    • Noir comme le diable, chaud comme l'enfer, pur comme un ange, doux comme l'amour.
    • Frequently misattributed to Talleyrand; but no primary source exists, it's not his style of speech, and he famously drank tea, not coffee.
  • It is worse than a crime, it is a mistake.
    • C'est pire qu'un crime, c'est une faute.
    • Reaction to the 1804 drumhead trial and execution of Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien, on orders of Napoleon. Actually said by either Antoine Boulay de la Meurthe, legislative deputy from Meurthe (according to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations) or Joseph Fouché, Napoleon's chief of police (according to John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919),
  • They have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing (and variations).
    • Recognized since the 19th century as a adoption, possibly used by Talleyrand, from a 1796 letter to Mallet du Pan by French naval officer Charles Louis Etienne, Chevalier de Panat: Personne n'est corrigé; personne n'a su ni rien oublier ni rien apprendre. "Nobody has been corrected; no one has known to forget, nor yet to learn anything."
    • Sources: Craufurd Tate Ramage Ll.D.Beautiful thoughts from French and Italian authors, E. Howell (1866)

Quotes about Talleyrand edit

  • Napoleon was essentially a man of visions and impulses, every conjecture, every trick of circumstance only prompting him to more grand designs, only luring his eye to more untrodden hills. But Talleyrand could not go with him all the way, and, aristocrat at heart, would not consent to be a mute unreasoning tool. Talleyrand's thought was of that withering kind that was so fashionable and attractive in the gilded world of his youth. He talked with a wink and a smile, his sarcasm would charm a salon, and, in repartee, he would cover a sword-thrust with velvet; but always his was the talk of the sceptic rather than the enthusiast, the critic rather than the dreamer; he could be delightfully oblique, he was never daringly grand. He thought best when on the defensive. This is where he differed from his master. This is why he was able to play a sort of second critical self to Napoleon, checking his flights of ambition, softening his intemperate expressions, and moderating his indiscreet outbursts—and, on the positive side, furnishing him expedients rather than grand designs. Hence he was perhaps the man to know Napoleon, and realise the true situation of affairs, better than Napoleon himself.
  • M. de Talleyrand, the most celebrated wit, courtier, and negotiator of his time. The public life of that celebrated man had not been free from the stains which, in times of frequent and violent change, are almost necessarily contracted by politicians. But it is just to say, that, if he was unfaithful to particular parties and particular families, he was in the main faithful to the interests of his country and to the great principles of government; that, though a revolutionist, he was never a jacobin; and that, though a minister of Napoleon, he had no share in the worst parts of the imperial tyranny.
    • Thomas Babington Macaulay, Napoleon and the Restoration of the Bourbons: The Completed Portion of Macaulay's Projected "History of France from the Restoration of the Bourbons to the Accession of Louis Philippe", ed. Joseph Hamburger (1977), p. 63
  • You are a thief, a coward, a man without faith. You don't believe in God; you have all your life failed in all your duties, you have deceived, betrayed everyone […] Look, sir, you are nothing but shit in silk stockings. (Vous êtes un voleur, un lâche, un homme sans foi. Vous ne croyez pas à Dieu ; vous avez toute votre vie manqué à tous vos devoirs, vous avez trompé, trahi tout le monde […] Tenez, Monsieur, vous n’êtes que de la merde en bas de soie.[This refers to the fact that Talleyrand always dressed in the old aristocratic fashion with breeches and stocking, while the Revolution and the Empire had led to the generalised use of full-length trousers previously used by the lower classes]
    • Napoleon to Talleyrand, Privy Council of Ministers convened at the Château des Tuileries, January 28, 1809, quoted in a letter of 1834 in the posthumously published Mémoires et Correspondance du prince de Talleyrand (1891).
  • A man born for great vices and small actions [un homme né pour les grands vices et les petites actions].
  • It may seem odd to confess, but I never could discover on what grounds Talleyrand's great reputation as a Minister was built. I never found him a man of business, nor, I must say, able in affairs.
    • Duke of Wellington, remarks to John Wilson Croker (1826), quoted in L. J. Jennings (ed.), The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the Late Right Honourable John Wilson Croker, LL.D., F.R.S., Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 to 1830, Vol. I (1884), p. 334

External links edit