Lutèce. Heinrich Heine 1855

Letter I

Source: Lutèce. Paris, Michel Lévy Frères, 1855 (from the French edition of his complete works, supervised by Heine);
Translated: from the original for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2011.

The more one finds oneself placed near the person of the king and sees with one’s own eyes what he does, the more easily one is fooled concerning the reasons for his actions, his secret intentions, his wishes and his tendencies. He learned at the school of the men of the revolution the modern subtlety, the political Jesuitism with which the Jacobins sometimes surpassed Loyola’s disciples. Joined to this knowledge obtained during a revolutionary apprenticeship is a stock of hereditary dissimulation, the traditions of his ancestors, the French kings, these eldest sons of the church who more than any other princes were rendered more flexible by the holy oil of Rheims, who were always more foxes than lions and demonstrated a character more or less sacerdotal. To these simulatio and dissimulatio, one learned from famous teachers, the other transmitted as a patrimony, is added a disposition natural to Louis-Philippe, as a result of which it is almost impossible to divine his secret thoughts through the thick envelope, the flesh so smiling and benevolent in appearance. But even if we were to succeed in casting our gaze into the depths of the royal heart we would be hardly any further advanced, for in the end it is never either antipathy or sympathy towards this or that person that determines the acts of Louis-Philippe. He only obeys the march of events and necessity. He rejects almost with cruelty any personal inclinations; he is harsh towards himself and if for others he is not a sovereign autocrat he is at least the absolute master of his own passions.

And so there is little political importance in the question of who he likes more and who he likes less, Guizot or Thiers. He will use the one or the other in accordance with his need of the one or the other, and he will only do so at that time, not earlier or later. And so I can’t really affirm with certainty which of these statesmen is more agreeable or disagreeable to him. I think he feels estranged from both, and this because of professional jealousy, since he is a minister himself and after all he fears the possibility of seeing political capacity greater than his own attributed to them. It is said that he prefers Guizot to Thiers because the former enjoys a certain unpopularity that doesn’t displease the king. But Guizot’s puritan air, his pride that is ever on the alert, his cutting doctrinaire tone and his severe Calvinist exterior are not attractive to the king. In Thiers he encounters the opposite qualities, an almost light ease of manners, an untrammeled daring and capricious honesty that contrast in an almost offensive way with his own tortuous and hermetically closed character, as a result of which M. Thiers’ qualities are not to His Majesty’s taste. In addition, the king loves to talk; he gladly abandons himself to tireless chatter, which is all the more surprising since natures that tend to dissimulation are ordinarily greedy with their words. And so it is that he must feel estranged from M. Guizot, who has the habit more of speechifying than discussing and who, when he has proved his thesis, listens with a taciturn severity to the king’s response. He is even capable of nodding his head in approbation to his royal interlocutor, as if he had before him a student who correctly recited his lesson.

In his conversation with M. Thiers the king is even less at ease, for the former doesn’t allow him to speak at all, lost as he is in the flow of his own loquacity. M. Thiers’ words flow endlessly, like wine from a barrel whose spigot has been left open, but the wine is always exquisite. When M. Thiers speaks no one else can get a word in, and as I've been told it’s only during his morning shave that we can hope to find in him an attentive ear. It is only when he has a knife to his throat that he is quiet and lets the words of others flow.

There is no doubt that the king, ceding to the demands of the Chamber, will charge M. Thiers with forming a new ministry and will confide to him, aside from the presidency of the Council, the portfolio of foreign affairs. This is not difficult to foresee. But we can predict with certainty that the new ministry will not last long and that M. Thiers will one fine morning give the king the occasion to express his gratitude and call on M. Guizot to take his place. M. Thiers, with his agility and flexibility, always demonstrates great talent when it’s a question of climbing the mast of power, but he demonstrates an even greater talent when it’s a question of climbing down it, and when we think him safely perched at the summit of the mast he suddenly allows himself to slide down in so skillful a manner, so wittily, so graciously, and so smilingly, that we're tempted to applaud this new act of skill. M. Guizot is not as able at climbing the slippery mast of power. He climbs it so heavily and with so much effort that one would think one was seeing a bear seeking to perch itself on a honey tree. But once he’s reached the top he holds on tightly with his vigorous paws. He will stay in place on the heights of power longer than his rival. One would almost be tempted to say that it is due to lack of skill that he isn’t able to descend and that in such a position a strong shake would probably be needed to facilitate his fall. At this very moment they have perhaps already sent out the dispatches in which Louis-Philippe explains to foreign cabinets the need forced on him by circumstances to take as minister this Thiers he finds so disagreeable instead of Guizot, who he would have preferred.

The king will now have great difficulty in appeasing the antipathy of the foreign powers towards M. Thiers. Louis-Philippe’s mania for soliciting the approval of these powers is a mad idiosyncrasy. He believes the internal peace of his country depends on external peace, and he gives the former but little attention. He who has only to furrow his brow to make all the Trajans, Tituses, Marcus Aureliuses, and Antonins of the earth tremble, including the Grand Mogul, humiliates himself before them like a school boy and cries out in a supplicating tone: “Be indulgent with me. Forgive me for having climbed the French throne and for having been elected king by the bravest and most intelligent people in the world, I mean by 36 million revolutionaries and disbelievers. Forgive me for having allowed myself to be seduced to the point of accepting from the impious hands of the rebels the crown along with the jewels that belong to it. I was a candid and inexperienced soul; I'd received a bad education since my childhood, where Mme de Genlis had me spell out the words of the Declaration of the Rights of Man. I was unable to learn anything of worth from the Jacobins, who entrusted me with the post of honorary doorman. I was seduced by evil companions, especially by the Marquis de Lafayette, who wanted to turn me into the best of republicans But I have straightened myself out since then. I deplore the errors of my youth and I ask of you, forgive me for the love of God and Christian charity, and grant me peace.” No, this is not how Louis-Philippe expressed himself, for he is proud, noble and prudent. But this nevertheless, in summary, was the meaning of his long and wordy epistles.

I recently saw the king’s autograph, and I was struck by his curious handwriting.

Just as we call certain writing chicken scratching, we could call Louis-Philippe’s spider’s legs, for it resembles the ridiculously thin and long legs of certain spiders hidden in the crevices of walls and which we call “tailor’s souls.” These long, gliding, and at the same time skinny letters give a fantastic and bizarre impression.

Even in the king’s immediate entourage his condescendence towards foreigners is condemned, but no one dares to openly rise up against this weakness. Louis-Philippe, this good man and kind father, demands from his circle blind obedience of a kind that the most furious of despots has never obtained through cruelty. Respect and love enchain the tongues of his family and friends. This is a misfortune, and yet there might be cases where respectful opposition to the king’s will would be the most salutary of things. Even the prince royal, the Duc d'Orleans, this sensible young man, silently bows his head before his father, though he understands his faults and seems to have a presentiment of sad conflicts, if not of a horrible catastrophe. According to reports, he one day told one of his confidants that he hoped to see a war because he would prefer to lose his life in the waters of the Rhine than in some filthy stream in Paris. This young man, magnanimous and knightly, has melancholy moments during which he tells of how his aunt, Madame d'Angoulême, Louis XVI’s non-guillotined daughter, had, with her gravelly crow’s voice, prophesized an unhappy and premature death. This was during the July events when, during his flight, this bird of ill omen met outside Paris the prince returning full of joy to the capital. And something strange: a few hours after this encounter the prince was in danger of being executed by republicans who took him prisoner, and he only escaped this horrible fate by a kind of miracle. The prince royal is generally loved. He has won over all hearts and his loss would be more than pernicious for the current dynasty. The prince’s popularity is perhaps the sole guarantee of the continuation of the latter. But this heir to the throne is also one of the noblest and most magnificent human flowers to have flourished on the soil of the lovely garden called France.