S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
[Prince Clemens Wenzel von Metternich, an Austrian statesman; born at Coblentz, 1773; minister to Dresden 1801, to Berlin 1803, to Paris 1806; chancellor and minister of foreign affairs, 18091848, when he went into exile for three years; conducted the diplomatic events during the Napoleonic period, and managed foreign affairs in the interest of reaction; died 1859.]
The English have more common sense than any other nation, and they are fools (Les Anglais ont plus de bon sens quaucune nation, et ils sont fous).
Thus Talleyrand said of English education, It is the best in Europe, and it is detestable (Cest la meilleure en Europe, et elle est détestable). It is good for the English, said Goethe, that they are always for being practical in their dealing with things; but they are pedants.
Before leaving Paris for the conquest of Spain, Napoleon wished, says Prince Metternich (Memoirs, I. iv.), to make a manifestation against Austria, who was preparing for war. With this aim, he chose the ceremonious audience he was in the habit of giving on his fête-day, Aug. 15, 1808. Advancing to within two steps of me, Napoleon, after a moments premeditation, asked this question in a loud voice, Well, M. lAmbassadeur, what does the emperor your master wish? (Que veut lempereur votre maître?) Metternich does not give his reply; but is said to have answered with dignity and in the same tone, Il veut que vous respectiez son ambassadeur. The conversation lasted half an hour, and made the sensation the emperor intended.
George Ticknor records in his letters, under date of 1836 (Memoirs, vol. II.), conversations with Prince Metternich on political subjects. While the veteran chancellor admitted the value to America of free institutions, he denied that they were practicable at home. In Europe, he said, democracy is a falsehood (cest un mensonge). But he had doubts of its permanence even in America: I do not know where it will end, but it cannot end in a quiet old age. He foresaw, however, the coming storm: Democracy is everywhere and always (partout et toujours); but he had no sympathy with it: It does not suit my character. I am by character and habit constructive. Acting on that principle, he claimed to be building for the future. The present day, he said, has no value for me, except as the eve of to-morrow (Le jour qui court na aucune valeur pour moi excepté comme la veille du lendemain); it is always with to-morrow that my spirit wrestles (Cest toujours avec le lendemain que mon esprit lutte). When forced in 1848 to bow before the storm he had foreseen in 1836, but made light of, Metternich yielded to the weakness of his superiors, saying, If emperors disappear, it is only when they have come to despair of themselves.
Napoleon said of Metternich, He is almost a statesman: he lies well (Il est tout près dêtre un homme détat: il ment très bien). Talleyrand made the following comparison between Mazarin and Metternich: The cardinal deceived, but did not lie: now, M. de Metternich always lies, but never deceives (Le cardinal trompait, mais il ne mentait pas, or, M. de Metternich ment toujours, et il ne trompe jamais).
Prince Metternich once told Lord Dudley that the common people in Vienna spoke better French than the educated men in London. Your highness should recollect, cuttingly replied the Englishman, that Bonaparte has not been twice in London to teach them.