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.
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand was born a day like today on February 13, 1754. He is one of the smartest and more prolific politicians and diplomats of modern times (and one of my favourites). Born and well educated in the arts, letters and ideas into an aristocratic family in Paris he quickly became a wise men by a young age. He worked, survived and taught successfully for and against the regimes of Louis XVI, participated actively through the French Revolution and then under Napoleon I, Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis-Philippe.
The Dutch historian, Pieter Geyl, said once that, “in the purely political arena” the only figure to have held on to his rank in history during the Napoleonic era, apart from Napoleon himself of course, was Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord and he intended to include a chapter on the prince in his famous work Napoleon For and Against (Harmondsworth, 1949).(1)
Talleyrand was, without a doubt, one of the most remarkable figures in the history of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and certainly one of the most controversial. He was one of a rare breed capable of occupying a wide range of positions in politics and society, both in his public and private life. To a certain extent, he was representative of his era, whether taking on the mantel of the Ancien Régime, as an aristocrat working for the Revolution, or as lord of the Château de Valençay during the Restoration. However, it is the most important of these roles, Minister of Foreign Affairs during the Directoire, the Consulate, the Empire and the Restoration, for which he is of course remembered.
To learn more about his life, works and ideas I invite you to read the following biography (one of my favourite books too) which I am sure you will all enjoy: Talleyrand by Duff Cooper