Letter to Friedrich Engels, October 26, 1854

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 26 October 1854


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Extracts published in : Marx Engels on Literature and Art, Progress Publishers, 1976;

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 39

October 26, 1854[edit source]

Dear Frederick!

In studying the Spanish rubbish I have also worked out the tricks of the worthy Chateaubriand, that fine writer who combines the aristocratic scepticism and Voltairianism of the 18th century with the aristocratic sentimentalism and romanticism of the 19th in the most repellent fashion. Naturally, this combination was bound, in terms of style, to be epoch-making in France, although even in the style the falsity often hits one in the eye, despite all the artistic tricks. As for his political views, this fellow has completely revealed himself in his Congrès de Verone and the only question is whether he received hard cash from Alexander Pavlovich or was bought simply with flatteries, to which this vain fop is more susceptible than anyone. AT ALL INSTANCES he received the Order of St Andrew from Petersburg. Everything about M. le ‘Vicomte’s’ (?) vanitas, notwithstanding his now Mephistophelian, now Christian coquetting with vanitatum vanitas. You will remember that, at the time of the Congress, Villèle was Louis XVII I’s Prime Minister and Chateaubriand French envoy in Verona. His Congrès de Vérone, which you may at some time have read, contains documents, transactions, etc. Begins with a short history of the Span, revolution of 1820-23. As for this ‘history’, all I need tell you is that he transfers Madrid to the banks of the Tagus (merely so as to quote the Span, saying that this river cria oro) and tells us that Riego led 10,000 men (realiter only 5,000) into the field against the 13,000 under General Freire; that Riego, having been beaten, withdrew with 15,000 men. In order to compare him with the hero of La Mancha, he sends him to the Sierra Morena instead of the Sierra de Ronda. This I mention en passant as characteristic of his manner. Hardly a date that is right.

The best part of the joke, though, is Mr Chateaubriand’s doings became Foreign Minister and directed the invasion of Spain.

He says d’abord:

‘Je ne me défends point d’être le principal auteur de la guerre d’Espagne’. [Chateaubriand. Congrès de Vérone, Vol. I, p. 11], ‘Mr. de Villèle ne voulait point les hostilités.’ [I, 73]

On the contrary. The text of the instructions sent by Villèle to him and Montmorency, who at the outset was also in Verona as French Foreign Minister, reads literally:

‘Nous ne nous sommes pas décidés à déclarer la guerre à l’Espagne... [I, 103], Les plénipotentiaires de S. M. doivent surtout éviter de se présenter au congrès comme rapporteurs des affaires d’Espagne. Les autres puissances peuvent les connaître aussi bien que nous... Ce rôle pouvait convenir à l’Autriche au congrès de Laybach, parce qu’elle avait la volonté d’envahir Naples.’ [I, 102-03]

The fellows do precisely the opposite of what was contained in their instructions. They ‘présentent” themselves as ‘rapporteurs des affaires d’Espagne’. Villèle writes:

‘Ils tendront à faire considérer la question d’Espagne dans ses rapports généraux avec l’Europe’ [I, 104];

they presented it from the outset as a specifically French matter. Villèle writes:

‘L’opinion de nos plénipotentiaires sur la question de savoir ce qu’il convient au congrès de faire relativement à l’Espagne, sera que la France étant la seule puissance qui doive agir par ses troupes, elle sera seule juge de cette nécessité.’ [I, 103]

Whereas they took the line that:

‘C’est sur la forme de ce concours moral’ (of the other powers) ‘et sur les mesures propres à lui assurer le secours matériel qui peut être réclamé par la suite, que la France croit, en définitive, nécessaire de fixer Pattentioil de ses augustes alliés.’ [I, 109]

From the very beginning, then, Mr Chateaubriand acted directly counter to the instructions he received from Paris. Secondly, he sought to deceive Villèle about the state of affairs in Verona. Thus, for example, he wrote to Villèle:

‘Le voeu très prononcé des puissances est pour la guerre d’Espagne’ [I, 145]

He also seeks to deceive him about the prospects of the war:

‘Les dernières dépèches de M. de Lagarde prouvent combien le succès serait facile.’ [I, 145]

On the other hand the honest fellow tells us:

‘Non seulement le Congrès n’a pas poussé la France à la guerre, mais la Prusse et surtout l’Autriche’ [I, 112] (he comments: ‘le prince de Metternich, feignant d’être russe en détestant la Russie’ [I, 116]) ‘y étaient très opposées; la Russie seule l’approuvait et promettait son appui moral et son appui matériel.’ [I, 112]


‘Nous disons au président du conseil que le voeu très prononcé des puissances est pour la guerre; qu’il ne s’agit pas de l’occupation de la Péninsule; qu’il n’est question que d’un mouvement rapide; nous montrons un succès facile; et pourtant nous savions que le congrès de Vérone ne voulait point la guerre; nous craignions que notre mouvement ne se prolongeât bien au delà de l’Ebre; nous pensions qu’il nous faudrait occuper longtemps l’Espagne, pour faire une, bonne besogne, mais nous ne révélions pas tout, afin d’arriver à notre but, et nous nous disions secrètement: “Une fois la Bidassoa passée, il faudra bien que le président du conseil etc, aille de l’avant”.’ [I, 173-74]

Thus he deceived Villèle in the name of the Congress, as previously he had deceived the Congress in the name of Villèle.

And, not content with that, he proceeded to write to Canning, lying in the name of both and against both.

As a Minister he acted in the same manner. The following letter was written by Alexander to Pozzo di Borgo, envoy in Paris, for submission to Louis XVIII:

‘L’empereur se flatte encore que la modération prévaudrait dans les conseils du gouvernement anglais.’ If not etc., ‘il regarderait l’attaque dirigée contre la France comme une attaque générale contre tous les alliés et accepterait, sans hésiter, les conséquences de ce principe... L’Empereur exhorte le roi à consommer ses propres’ (!) ‘déterminations et à marcher avec confiance contre les hommes des troubles et des malheurs. Agissant dans cet esprit l’Empereur rapelle la question agitée au congrès relative à la réunion d’une armée russe sur les frontières occidentales de l’Empire comme moyen de sûreté européenne.’ [I, 477-78]

(At the Congress, Austria would not hear of it. For which reason the matter was temporarily dropped.) His purpose, Chateaubriand alleges, was to procure glory (gloire) for the Restoration, and thus to pave the way for the violation of the Treaties of Vienna.593 Russia’s support was needed against England. But how little 1. he expected of Russian help and how much 2. he feared the war, is evident from the following utterances:

‘En supposant un revers en Espagne, nous avions une révolution en France, et tous les cosaques de la terre ne nous auraient pas sauvés.’ [I, 113]

In a letter to La Ferronnays, his envoy in Petersburg, he writes:

‘Nous avons mis la monarchie française sur une carte pour faire la guerre.’ [II, 8]

(This is dated 21 April 1823.) He further admits that they would have fallen flat on their faces if Canning had shipped a regiment or two out to Lisbon. To pave the way for this result they further saw to it that, following a row between War Minister the Duke of Bellune and General Guilleminot, the French Army suddenly found itself sin viveres e sin medios de transporte after marching into Spain. Next, the pretty piece of humbug that a French victory in the name of the Holy Alliance and with its appui moral’ would help liberate France from the Vienna Treaties. The ‘Vicomte’ is not ‘si bête’1 as he here makes himself out to be. He knows very well what he is about: ‘la Russie n’a point d’ambassadeur à Constantinople’. At the time there were underhand dealings with the Greeks; and war between France and England, not to speak of France’s commitments in Spain and her defeat there, would have given him a free hand.

‘Nous devions surtout prévoir que l’Angleterre pouvait intervenir et se poser en face de nous auprès de l’Espagne.’ [I,112]

To Paris, he writes:

‘Si c’est la guerre, c’est la guerre avec l’Angleterre.’ [I, 161] ‘Guerre qui pouvait devenir européenne, si elle venait à se compliquer d’une guerre en Orient et de l’attaque des colonies espagnoles par les Anglais.’ [I, 151]

Nor is he under any illusions about Alexander’s intentions:

‘II est certain que notre triomphe inespéré’ (!) ‘lui donna quelque jalousie, car il s’était secrètement flatté que nous serions force’s de recourir à lui.’ [I, 383]

The ‘triumph’, then, was not what had been agreed. Besides, like the majority of Frenchmen, Chateaubriand believed the French Army to be very ‘unreliable’ so far as the Bourbons were concerned. Moreover, the ‘friendship’ between Alexander and Louis XVIII was, as Chateaubriand himself relates, all the closer for

‘Louis XVIH’ having ‘refusé, sous prétexte de religion et par quelque motif offensant, le mariage du duc de Berry avec la soeur d’Alexandre’ [I, 195]

and for Louis XVIII’s having, for his part, known that at the Congress of Vienna (after Bonaparte’s return from Elba) Mr Alexander had

‘tout à coup demanda aux alliés, s’il ne serait pas bon de donner le duc d’Orléans pour roi à la France, quand on aurait une dernière fois vaincu Napoléon!’ [I, 196]

Having a ‘grand âme de poète,’ the ‘Vicomte’ makes the following admissions:

‘Nous osons dire qu’Alexandre est devenu notre ami.’ [I, 223]

‘Alexandre est le seul prince pour qui nous ayons jamais éprouvé un sincère attachement.’ [I, 224]

‘Louis XVIII nous détestait.’ [I, 243]

Withal it is highly entertaining to see how this ‘Dieu de St. Louis’ speechifier, who had to preserve the Spanish throne for a ‘petit fils de Henri IV’, writes most cavalièrement to General Guilleminot telling him not to ‘be deterred’ from bombarding Cadiz by the fear that Ferdinand VII might be struck by shot, etc.

At all events, it is hence to this ami intime of the great Carrel, Lamennais, Béranger, etc., that the honour belongs of having, over a period of 10 years—in the company of friend Alexander—, created the biggest mess Spain has ever known, and this at the risk of blowing his Bourbons sky-high.

Another trait of this pilgrim to the Holy Sepulchre: In the Congrès de Vérone he himself relates how he forced Louis XVIII and Villèle to send Polignac, whom both abhorred, to London as envoy. Later, under Charles X, when he himself was envoy in Rome, he suddenly and with great brio announced his resignation upon the appointment of Polignac as minister because, he alleged, ‘freedom’ was doomed.

If you re-read the book, your contempt for the ‘crapauds’ and their ‘grands hommes’ is unlikely to diminish.

Adieu.

Your

K. M.