He rarely gives advice, but can make others talk

Sunday, June 30th, 2024

Napoleon by Andrew RobertsOn July 17, 1797, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand became foreign minister, Andrew Roberts explains (in Napoleon: A Life), for the first of his four terms in the post:

Clever, lazy, subtle, well travelled, club footed, a voluptuary and bishop of Autun (a bishopric he never visited) before he was excommunicated in 1791, Talleyrand could trace his ancestry back (at least to his own satisfaction) to the ninth-century sovereign counts of Angoulême and Périgord. He had contributed to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and had been forced into exile, which he spent in England and the United States between 1792 and 1796. Insofar as he had a guiding principle it was a soi-disant affection for the English constitution, though he would never have imperilled his own career or comforts for one moment in order to promote that or any other.

For many years Napoleon held a seemingly unbounded admiration for him, writing to him often and confidentially and calling him ‘the King of European conversation’, although by the end of his life he had seen through him completely, saying, ‘He rarely gives advice, but can make others talk … I never knew anyone so entirely indifferent to right and wrong.’

Talleyrand betrayed Napoleon in due course, as he did everyone else, and Napoleon took it very personally. The likelihood that he would die peacefully in his bed was proof for Napoleon later in life ‘that there can be no God who metes out punishment’.


  1. Jim says:

    Imagine having a portrait by Prud’hon. The very thought makes me wet.

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