Reference > Quotations > S.A. Bent, comp. > Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men
S.A. Bent, comp.  Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men.  1887.
        [Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince de Benevento, a French wit and diplomatist; born in Paris, Feb. 13, 1754; entered the Church, and became bishop of Autun, 1788, which he resigned in two years; liberal member of the States-General; expelled from England, and visited the United States, 1793; minister of foreign affairs, 1797; grand chamberlain, 1804–09; minister of foreign affairs under Louis XVIII.; member of the Congress of Vienna, 1815; ambassador to London, 1830–34; died May, 1838.]
Speech was given to man to conceal his thoughts (La parole a été donné à l’homme pour déguiser sa pensée).
          Given by Barère in his “Memoirs” (“Talleyrand,” vol. IV.) as the answer of the diplomatist to the Spanish ambassador Izquiredo, who reminded him of the promises made to Charles IV., in spite of which, however, the king had been obliged to abdicate. Harel asserted in the feuilleton of the “Siècle,” Aug. 24, 1846, that he assigned the mot, in the “Nain Jaune,” to Talleyrand, in order to claim it as his own after the death of the diplomatist; but, as the author of a eulogy of Voltaire, he must have known that the latter wrote in the dialogue “Le Chapon et la Poularde:” “Men use thought only as authority for their injustice, and employ speech only to conceal their thoughts” (ils ne se servent de la pensée que pour autoriser leurs injustices, et emploient les paroles que pour déguiser leurs pensées). Talleyrand had already accepted the paternity of the mot, having said, “Mistrust first impulses, they are always good” (Défiez-vous du premier mouvement, c’est le bon); and he replied to a young diplomatist who boasted of his sincerity, “You are young, sir: learn that words were given to dissimulate thought.” Michaud, editor of the “Biographie Universelle” (articles “Reinhard” and “Talleyrand”), states positively that the mot is Talleyrand’s. A modern wit has said that a man’s signature is made to disguise his name.
  Whoever may have been the author of the French mot, the thought it contains may be traced in literature to a remote antiquity. Beginning with Goldsmith, who wrote in “The Bee,” Oct. 20, 1759, “The true use of speech is not so much to express our wants as to conceal them;” and Young, who said in his second “Satire,” “Men talk only to conceal the mind,”—similar expressions may be quoted from Butler, South, Lloyd, and Jeremy Taylor. The principle that deceit is justifiable in matters of religion prevailed in the heathen world, Cicero’s opinion (De Legibus, II. and VIII.) being probably derived from Plato, who approved of deceit in certain cases for purposes of government; and this doctrine was adopted by the Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries. In a collection of moral maxims by Dionysius Cato, called “Disticha de Moribus ad Filium,” which was much quoted in the Middle Ages, is found the remark, “Sermo hominum mores et celat et indicat idem” (The same words conceal and declare the thoughts of men).—Bk. IV. 26. Plutarch had already said of the Sophists that “in their declamations and speeches they made use of words to veil and muffle their design” (“On Hearing,” V.); and finally Achilles detests the man whose expressed words conceal his inmost thoughts:—
        “Who dares think one thing and another tell,
My heart detests him as the gates of hell.”
  POPE’S Iliad, IX. 412.    
It is the beginning of the end.
          The answer Talleyrand made to Napoleon, who asked his opinion of the state of things after the battle of Leipsic, when at the close of three days’ fighting the French were defeated by the desertion of the Saxons: “It seems to me, sire, to be the beginning of the end” (Il me paraît, Sire, que c’est le commencement de la fin).—LOCKHART: Life of Napoleon, II. 205. Fournier, however, considers it one of the offerings to the reputation of the witty diplomatist, who was often much astonished at these compliments to his genius. Those who are not disposed to believe that this cynical remark was made to his sovereign, whose fortunes were at that time beginning to wane, may be inclined to think that a current opinion during the “Hundred Days” was fastened upon Talleyrand. If he found such sayings just he assumed their responsibility without hesitation. The words, “That is the true beginning of our end” (“Midsummer Night’s Dream,” V. 1), in which “end” is used in the sense of purpose or intention, can hardly be considered a parallel expression.
  Talleyrand’s opinion of Napoleon is to be discovered from only one or two remarks. He had already said of the official servants of the Consuls of France, “It is easy to see that they are not much used to the drawing-room;” and his aristocratic instincts had been equally offended by the manners of the First Consul himself, of whom he said, “It is a pity that so great a man was so ill brought up!” When Napoleon’s escape from Elba was announced to the Vienna Congress, Talleyrand, who was present as the ambassador of France, quietly remarked, “The great charlatan has out-tricked the little ones.” He made a witty as well as a complimentary answer, when Napoleon asked him how he became as rich as he was reported to be: “I bought stock the day before the 18th Brumaire, and sold it again the day after;” intimating that the public funds rose sufficiently to make men’s fortunes, after Bonaparte had seized upon the government.
You are the first of his house who has laid down his arms.
          To M. de Montmorency, who, while proposing the abolition of titles in the Constituent Assembly, recalled his own descent from the constables of France.
  When some one asked him the address of the benevolent Duchesse de Vaudremont, Talleyrand replied, “You have only to ask the first beggar you meet: they all know her address.” To a friend who complained of receiving some very sharp words from Mme. de Genlis, the ex-bishop of Autun remarked, “There are two sorts of persons from whom you may take an insult without being angry,—women and bishops.”
  A young abbé, tutor of the daughter of the Duc de Dino, excusing himself from accepting an invitation to dine with Talleyrand on the ground of not being a man of fashion, drew forth the comment, “That man does not know his business;” equivalent to saying, “He does not know how to rise.” The young abbé was Dupanloup, afterwards Bishop of Orleans, member of the Academy and of the National Assembly of 1871.
  Talleyrand had no love for Napoleon’s secretary, Maret, afterwards Duc de Bassano. On the receipt of the news of the disaster in Russia, he exclaimed, “How they exaggerate! all the baggage said to be lost, and M. Maret has returned!” and again, “I know of but one man more stupid than M. Maret, and that is the Duc de Bassano!”
  Talleyrand could easily turn a criticism into a compliment. Thus he said of a well-known lady, “She is insupportable—but [correcting himself] it is her only fault.”
  When Canova was sent in 1815 as commissioner to remove to Italy certain works of art which had been brought to Paris by Napoleon, and called himself “ambassador;” “He is mistaken,” observed Talleyrand: “he means packer” (Il se trompe: il veut dire emballeur).
  Sydney Smith’s brother was praising their mother’s beauty; to which Talleyrand replied, “Then it was apparently your father who was ugly” (C’était donc apparemment monsieur votre père qui n’était pas bien).
When you are nine you do not count honors.
          When asked how it happened that a lady of sixty could marry her footman.
  Of a lady very décolletée he said, “Yes, she is very beautiful; but as to her toilet, it begins too late or stops too soon” (mais pour la toilette, cela commence trop tard ou finit trop tôt).
  Being asked if he was intending to publish his memoirs, he satirized a fashion of the day by answering, “I have not made up my mind: I only know that my cook’s reminiscences are in press.”
  An officer who had kept a dinner-party waiting excused himself by saying that he had been detained by a pekin, which he defined as the name given in the service to every one who was not militaire: “Just as we say militaire,” suggested Talleyrand, “of any one who is not civil.”
A clever woman often compromises her husband, a stupid woman only compromises herself.
          In defence of his marriage to Mrs. Grant, an Englishwoman who was not clever. She had her mots, but they were less happy than her husband’s. “You will have at dinner,” said Talleyrand one day, “a very remarkable man: for Heaven’s sake, try to talk sensibly to him. He has written volumes of travel: you will find them in the library; look them over, and lead the conversation to them. Don’t forget the works of M. Denon.” The princess obeyed, and asked the librarian for the books; but she had by this time entirely forgotten the name of the distinguished author. “Give me,” she said, “the voyages of some one whose name ends with on.” The librarian smiled, and brought her a magnificent edition of Robinson (Crusoe), which she devoured: the umbrella, the hat, the goat-skin suit of clothes,—nothing escaped her. At table she smiled at the prince, as much as to say, “Have no fear of me,” and turning to her guest remarked, “Mon Dieu, monsieur, what joy you must have felt in your island when you found Friday!” M. Denon seemed a little taken aback, and the prince saw that his precautions had been wasted on a woman who had mistaken a member of Bonaparte’s scientific expedition to Egypt for the hero of De Foe.
Wit is a good servant, but a bad leader (L’esprit suit à tout, et ne méne à rien).
          Talleyrand once said of the English, “Ils sterlinent leurs paroles;” which may mean simply, “Gold rules,” or “They enforce their opinions by means of their wealth.”
  “When society is powerless to create a government,” he once observed, “government must create society.”
  Fournier accepts the guaranty of Sainte-Beuve, that Talleyrand is the author of the maxim, “Not too much zeal” (Pas trop de zèle).—Critiques et Portraits, III. 324.
  He once observed, “I have never kept party fealty to any one longer than he has himself been obedient to common-sense.”
The wisdom of public opinion.
          Fournier discredits all Talleyrand’s mots which were not publicly uttered; for his brother wrote of him in 1831, that the only breviary which the Bishop of Autun was in the habit of reading was the “Improvisateur français,” a collection of anecdotes and bons mots in twenty-one volumes, arranged in alphabetical order. But to the following no such exception can be taken; for it was said in the Chamber of Peers, as late as 1821: “I know where there is more wisdom than is to be found in Napoleon or Voltaire, or all the ministers, present or to come,—in public opinion” (Je connais quelqu’un qui a plus d’esprit que Napoléon, que Voltaire, que tous les ministres présents et futurs: c’est l’opinion). “Power,” said Napoleon, “is founded upon opinion.”
The fleecers and the fleeced.
          “Society,” said Talleyrand, “is divided into two classes, the fleecers and fleeced: it is better to belong to the fleecers” (La société est partagée en deux classes, les tondeurs et les tondus: il faul toujours être avec les premiers contre les seconds).
  Col. Richard Rumbold, an English republican, who was executed in 1685, after having been implicated in the Rye-House Plot, said on the scaffold, “I never could believe that Providence had sent a few men into the world, ready booted and spurred to ride, and millions ready saddled and bridled to be ridden.”
        “Society is now one polished horde,
Formed of two mighty tribes, the Bores and Bored.”
BYRON: Don Juan, XIII. 95.    
Three hours.
          When asked what passed in the Council on a certain day, Talleyrand replied, “Three hours.” He was anticipated by Speaker Popham, who, when Queen Elizabeth inquired what had passed in the House of Commons, replied, “Please your Majesty, seven weeks.”
  The following is Talleyrand’s definition of “non-intervention:” “It is a metaphysical and political expression which means about the same as intervention” (C’est un mot métaphysique et politique, qui signifie à peu près la même chose qu’intervention). This was not more lucid than the reply of Bishop Blomfield, to whom was referred the question put by Mr. Joseph Hume to Lord Althorp, what an archdeacon was: “An archdeacon,” said the bishop, “is an ecclesiastical officer who performs archidiaconal functions.”
They have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.
          Said of the Bourbons after their return to France from exile (Ils n’ont rien appris, ni rien oublié). Napoleon repeated it more than once at St. Helena of the old noblesse, as well as of the royal family. It occurs almost literally in a letter of the Chevalier de Panat to Mallet du Pan, from London, near the Comte de Provence (afterwards Louis XVIII.), January, 1796: “How deceived you are in thinking the court of the brother [of Louis XVI.] has a little reason! We see it all, and groan: no one is improved; no one has been able to forget any thing or to learn any thing” (personne n’a su rien oublier, ni rien apprendre).
  One evening during the occupation of Paris by the allied sovereigns, the Emperor Alexander I. called La Fayette aside at a soirée at Mme. de Staël’s, and complained that his hopes of French liberty had been deceived, and that the Bourbons had only the prejudices of the old régime; when La Fayette replied that misfortune might have corrected (corrigés) them, “Corrected them!” exclaimed the emperor: “they are incorrigés and incorrigibles! But one, the Duc d’Orléans [afterwards Louis Philippe], has any liberal ideas: hope nothing of the rest!”—LA FAYETTE: Memoirs.
It is the thirteenth!
          On taking the oath to Louis Philippe, in 1830, Talleyrand remarked, sotto voce, “It is the thirteenth!” (C’est le treizième!) to which has been added, “Pray God it may be the last!”
What, already?
          The appropriator of others’ wit was at last put to death himself with a stolen mot. Louis Blanc relates that Louis Philippe, having called one morning during the prince’s last hours, asked him if he suffered: “Yes, comme un damné,” replied Talleyrand; at which the king murmured, “What, already?” (Quoi, déjà?)—Histoire de Dix Ans, V. 290. M. Blanc adds that the words did not escape the dying man’s ear, and that he avenged himself by making a revelation of state secrets to one of his friends. This mot, however, dates from 1778, not from 1838, and is told as the answer of a Dr. Bouvard to a cardinal, or to the Abbé Terray. M. de Lévis, who reports it, believes that the doctor might have said it of one of his patients, but not to him: the manners of the times forbade it. So far from either of these accounts being now credited, Talleyrand himself is often given as the author of this celebrated ejaculation.
  “For money,” said Mirabeau of Talleyrand, “he would sell his soul; and he would be right, for he would in such case barter dirt for gold.” Carnot declared of him later, “That man brings with him all the vices of the old régime, without having been able to acquire a single virtue of the new one;” and again, “If he despises all men, it is because he has thoroughly studied himself” (S’il méprise tous les hommes, c’est qu’il s’est beaucoup étudié). Of Talleyrand’s manner of negotiating treaties, Chateaubriand said, “When he is not conspiring, he is selling himself” (Quand M. de Talleyrand ne conspire pas, il trafique); which verdict was confirmed by Napoleon at St. Helena, “Talleyrand was always in a state of treason, but it was complicity with fortune.” The emperor used a classic mot in speaking of him at another time: “Talleyrand treats his enemies as if they were one day to become his friends, and his friends as if they were to become his enemies.”—O’MEARA: Napoleon in Exile, November, 1816. This is derived from the Greek philosopher Bias: “Love as if you should hereafter hate, and hate as if you should hereafter love.” Laberius (107–43 B.C.) expresses it in Latin: “Amicum ita habeas, posse ut fieri hunc inimicum scias” (Treat your friend as if you knew that he will one day become your enemy).
  The Earl of Lauderdale, minister to France in 1806, called Talleyrand “mud in a silk stocking;” and Mme. de Staël happily characterized his return to favor, after the Restoration: “Our good Maurice resembles the toy-men whose heads are of cork and their legs of lead: throw them how you will, they always fall upon their feet.” James I. said of Sir Edward Coke, “Whatever way that man falls, he is sure to alight on his legs.”

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