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I first read this at school as part of the background reading necessary for the European History A Level syllabus and found it both immensely useful in giving context to the diplomacy underpinning European history from 1815 until 1914 and a pleasure to read per se I re read it a couple of years back and still found pleasure in both the subject and the writing. Talleyrand is Duff Cooper s much admired look at the life of the legendary French diplomat Charles Maurice, Prince de Talleyrand Perigord Cooper s book is not an academic biography it is best described as an extended biographical sketch which makes the most of Cooper s broad knowledge of French history and mastery of stylish English prose An excerpt from near the end of the book provides a testament to Talleyrand s life and work and a fine example of Cooper s writing style The French have lo Talleyrand is Duff Cooper s much admired look at the life of the legendary French diplomat Charles Maurice, Prince de Talleyrand Perigord Cooper s book is not an academic biography it is best described as an extended biographical sketch which makes the most of Cooper s broad knowledge of French history and mastery of stylish English prose An excerpt from near the end of the book provides a testament to Talleyrand s life and work and a fine example of Cooper s writing style The French have long memories for them politics are the continuation of history Royalist, Bonapartist, Republican most French writers belong to one of these categories Talleyrand belonged to none of them and has therefore never found his defender in France Yet it is not for the French to decry him, for every change of allegiance that he made was made by France Not without reason did he claim that he never conspired except when the majority of his countrymen were involved in the conspiracy Like France he responded to the ideals of 1789 and believed in the necessity of the Revolution like France he abominated the Terror, made the best of the Directory, and welcomed Napoleon as the restorer of order and the harbinger of peace like France he resented tyranny and grew tired of endless war and so reconciled himself to the return of the Bourbons Constitutional monarchy, the maintenance of order and liberty at home, peace in Europe, and the alliance with England, to these principles he was never false and he believed that they were of greater importance than the Kings and Emperors, Directors and Demagogues, Peoples and Parliaments that he served Sir Harold Nicholson wrote If biography is to be defined as the history of an individual conceived as a work of art, then Mr Duff Cooper s book would serve as an exhibit I concur and award Cooper s Talleyrand a strong Four Stars This is another from my While On Strike, Read Books That Have Been Lent To You project, and a thoroughly entertaining experience it was too Duff Cooper writes with enthusiasm and panache, well suited to the extraordinary figure of Talleyrand This man had the distinction of serving successive French governments from 1789 until 1834, when he was 82 years old To recount his career is to trace the constitutional transformations of France across half a century His incredible ability to survive This is another from my While On Strike, Read Books That Have Been Lent To You project, and a thoroughly entertaining experience it was too Duff Cooper writes with enthusiasm and panache, well suited to the extraordinary figure of Talleyrand This man had the distinction of serving successive French governments from 1789 until 1834, when he was 82 years old To recount his career is to trace the constitutional transformations of France across half a century His incredible ability to survive and thrive when so many died or fled is quite unparalleled Cooper thus treats him with a tone of admiration for his achievements, while also conceding that he was in many ways terrible Talleyrand was consistently and flagrantly corrupt, deriving a massive fortune for himself and his family from his political posts He was also profligate, much inclined to gamble, and a serial womaniser However, many men could be labelled the same, yet only he also exercised such consistent power during six different regimes It s also impossible not to enjoy his sarcastic comments, which Cooper gleefully quotes a great many of Here are my favourites One day Mirabeau was descanting upon the particular qualities which a minister in such circumstances should possess, and had enumerated nearly all his own characteristics when Talleyrand interrupted with, Should you not add that such a man should be strongly marked by the small pox On one occasion he read a long paper explaining this novel system of worship to his colleagues When he had concluded, Talleyrand remarked, For my part I have only one observation to make Jesus Christ, in order to found his religion, was crucified and rose again you should have tried to do as much So Napoleon contented himself with repetitions of the scene of January 1809, calling Talleyrand a traitor to his face and threatening to shoot or hang him After one of these scenes Talleyrand s comment to the assembled courtiers was The Emperor is charming this morning On another occasion when the Emperor Alexander of Russia , referring to the King of Saxony, spoke bitterly of, those who have betrayed the cause of Europe , Talleyrand replied with justice, that, Sire, is a question of dates On hearing somebody remark that Chateaubriand had grown very deaf, Talleyrand observed, He only thinks he is deaf because he can no longer hear anyone talking about him Of course, Talleyrand wasn t merely a wit He was a skilled and subtle political operator, who liked to employ women as his go betweens and deftly managed some extremely difficult negotiations and people Cooper identifies him as both profoundly self interested and attached to a specific political vision, which changed remarkably little over the decades This was based upon a France at peace with the rest of Europe, in economic partnership with Britain, and ruled by some sort of constitutional monarchy that allowed popular political involvement It is curious to consider that his political survival may have actually have depended not only upon his skills, but also his independence of opinion Cooper repeatedly shows that Talleyrand did not fall under the spell of any ruler he served, not even the personality cult of Napoleon, and always had an excellent sense of when to get out This seems especially clear during negotiations between Napoleon and Emperor Alexander of Russia in 1808, which Talleyrand managed This was treachery, but it was treachery upon a magnificent scale Of the two Emperors, upon whose words the fate of Europe depended, Talleyrand had made one his dupe and the other his informant He was playing a great game for a vast stake, and although he never lost sight of his private interests his main objective was never personal or petty Talleyrand did care for the preservation of Europe was quite clear in his mind as to how that object was to be achieved, and in order to achieve it he risked everything As it proved he had six years to wait for his reward and he was no longer young If we compare his conduct towards Napoleon with that of the majority of his supporters, including the Marshals, who all deserted him when it was manifest to the world that he was a broken man, and who for the most part owed everything to him, we shall find it less easy to condemn the politician who turned against him at the height of his power because he could no longer approve of his policy.So was he a man or principle or not It s a complicated question without an easy answer I did sometimes wonder if Cooper was perhaps making Talleyrand seemcool and competent than was reasonable, while also enjoying this sort of thing very much All that day Talleyrand remained at home playing whist, piquet, and hazard Every quarter of an hour a messenger arrived with the latest intelligence As the news came in he smiled but made no comment, continuing his game without interruption He always arranged to spend the day of a coup d tat as comfortably as possible.Similarly, it s hard not to admire this Talleyrand did not share Napoleon s fondness for work Naturally lazy he pretended to be lazier than he was and made a principle of never performing any task himself that could possibly be delegated to another This love of idleness, partly natural and partly affected, he was prepared to defend as the wisest policy for a diplomatist He discouraged excessive zeal even in subordinates This deliberate manner of conducting business was really of service to Napoleon, who, working with lightning rapidity himself, was often glad to find that instructions which he had given with too little consideration had not been acted upon several days later, whereupon he was already prepared to cancel them.Throughout his life, Talleyrand made an impression on other political notables While in exile in America, he befriended Alexander Hamilton In his later years, he knew and influenced Lamartine, who was active in the 1848 revolution, and Thiers, who brutally suppressed the Paris Commune in 1870 While serving the Ancien Regime, Directory, Consulate, Empire, Restoration Monarchy, and Second Restoration, he obviously worked with the rulers and notables in each His perennial presence as Minister for Foreign Affairs shows a remarkable continuity amid decades of considerable upheaval Cooper also credits him with prescience, painting him as both a man of his own time and one able to foresee where things were going Having not read a biography of Talleyrand before, although I d definitely come across him in French histories, I did not hold any definite view of him, positive or negative This biography treats him as one deserving of rehabilitation, who history has treated unfairly The French have long memories for them politics are the continuation of history Royalist, Bonapartist, Republican most French writers belong to one of these categories Talleyrand belongs to none of them and has therefore never found his defender in France Yet it is not for the French to decry him, as for every change of allegiance that he made was made by France Not without reason did he claim that he never conspired except when the majority of his countrymen were involved in the conspiracy.Given that the biography was first published in 1932, such a statement is of historical interest After the Second World War, have French historians continued to be dismissive I d be interested to read arecent biography of Talleyrand for comparison However this one was an excellent introduction and it s not difficult to see why it became a classic The thrill of an adventure story is elegantly combined with astute scholarship and quotation from primary sources Talleyrand looks out from the page as a vivid, impressive, difficult, and important figure Not only was I fascinated by his life story, but my fascination with French history during the Revolution and beyond was reignited by reading it An almost effortlessly excellent biography by an author you ve never heard of Duff Cooper, an English aristocrat and diplomat in the 1920s, first published Talleyrand in 1932 Charles Maurice, Prince de Talleyrand, was the most gifted statesman of his time surviving Louis XVI, the French Revolution, Napoleon, only to dominate the Congress of Vienna He was also a rogue, a club foot, a connoisseur of wealth and women, and a great wit Cooper does him justice, telling his story with verve and i An almost effortlessly excellent biography by an author you ve never heard of Duff Cooper, an English aristocrat and diplomat in the 1920s, first published Talleyrand in 1932 Charles Maurice, Prince de Talleyrand, was the most gifted statesman of his time surviving Louis XVI, the French Revolution, Napoleon, only to dominate the Congress of Vienna He was also a rogue, a club foot, a connoisseur of wealth and women, and a great wit Cooper does him justice, telling his story with verve and imagination.You can t help feeling that this biography was a labor of love by a brilliant amateur admiring a master If you have a feeling for European history, or a taste for lost classics, pick this up Grove Press did us a great favor by giving Talleyrand a second life Charles Maurice de Talleyrand P rigord was a famous diplomat, infamous womanizer and alledged turncoat He helped shape the politics of France during its most tumultuous years starting with the Ancien regime, through the French revolution and the autocratic rule of Napoleon, ending his career in 1834 His legacy is therefore mixed and at first sight it seems as though one would need to be a Machiavellian figure in order to survive that long Was he a libertine par excellence his critics want t Charles Maurice de Talleyrand P rigord was a famous diplomat, infamous womanizer and alledged turncoat He helped shape the politics of France during its most tumultuous years starting with the Ancien regime, through the French revolution and the autocratic rule of Napoleon, ending his career in 1834 His legacy is therefore mixed and at first sight it seems as though one would need to be a Machiavellian figure in order to survive that long Was he a libertine par excellence his critics want to portray him as Duff Cooper paints a picture of a vivacious and capable statesman who is not without faults but whose talentsthan make up for them Cooper writes in a relaxed and witty British way which makes the prose muchentertaining Talleyrand, according to Cooper, was a man who was quite reserved and calculating Talleyrand was born in 1756 into a noble family and came to age in a time before the revolution Never before, perhaps, and never since has a society existed so well equipped to appreciate all the pleasures both of the senses and of the intellect It was a period of feverish excitement, of daring speculation, of boundless hope writes Cooper in a rather romantic fashion One indeed wonders if all this feverish excitement was what brought about the revolution, the war and all the carnage that followed in the first place Talleyrand, despite suffering from no spiritual proclivity, became an abbot as this was a natural career for a nobleman in those days Given his later reputation for licentiousness, the way of the cloth was not the way for him He instead spent his time at the monastery reading but unfortunately Cooper gives no insight as to which books nor is reading referred to later But ultimately found politics to be the only sphere where he could combine his intelligence and ability to charm people Coopers elegant prose gives the reader a soft push into the world to which Talleyrand belong He uses his way with words to charm people and convince them of his views He often uses women as tools for efficient diplomacy He stays in France during the revolution but ultimately leaves for Great Britain and then the US After a year he returns to France, gets a job in government and once the time is right, aids Napoleon in his ascendancy to the highest echelons of power Talleyrand did not share Napoleon s fondness for work Naturally lazy he pretended to be lazier than he was a made a principle of never performing any task himself that could possibly be delegated to another p 98 I became interested in Talleyrand as a result of reading Paul Johnsons book the Birth of the Modern World Society 1815 1830 Johnson makes the case that the congress of Vienna set the stage for the progress which was to follow Why is it that two worldly statesmen such as Metternich and Talleyrand could accomplish such a feat as the congress of Vienna Although Talleyrand wasn t the philosopher who saw ideals sub specie aeternitis, he wasn t a mere libertine either Born in the middle of the eighteenth century he was free from the narrow nationalist spirit which was beginning to grow up, and the idea of conquest made no appeal to his practical, peace loving intelligence He was intimately acquainted with the map of Europe which he wished to preserve and not to destroy p 141 If one is to judge just from Coopers book the impression of Talleyrand is a conservative with a liberal bent He tries to the best of his ability to impress liberal values on the governments which he served But to do this one has to occasionally be cunning I find myself in complete agreement with the evening standard which described the book as exquisite prose, political experience and decadent wordliness Duff Cooper s perennial work has stood the test of time The book is however from the 30 s which means that perhaps views of Talleyrand has changed over time If you are interested in the history of France then this book is definitely worth reading I read this as much for the author and the age it was written as for the subject matter, and I was not disappointed.Talleyrand was brilliant, creative, sarcastic, adaptable, lazy and politically flexible Cooper paints a sympathetic picture of a politician whose career spanned five regimes at a very brutal time in french politics.Fascinating Talleyrand was a fascinating character He was a highborn aristocrat but also one of the key players in the French Revolution until he had to run for his life at any rate He managed to serve the Bourbons, the Republic in its various iterations , Napoleon, the Bourbons again always at the highest level and always without losing his head He was corrupt and slippery, shifting his allegianceoften and ultimately withsuccess than Alcibiades and always demanding bribes like a Tamm Talleyrand was a fascinating character He was a highborn aristocrat but also one of the key players in the French Revolution until he had to run for his life at any rate He managed to serve the Bourbons, the Republic in its various iterations , Napoleon, the Bourbons again always at the highest level and always without losing his head He was corrupt and slippery, shifting his allegianceoften and ultimately withsuccess than Alcibiades and always demanding bribes like a Tammany mayor But at the same time, Cooper argues, he always worked, well, not hard exactly, but with his brains and wit to help his country and to help Europe He was disloyal to his political leaders, but ultimately loyal to France.Napoleon famously said that Talleyrand was a turd in silk stalkings, and this is an easy judgement to make, but Cooper is very sympathetic and gives anuance portrait of this important statesman Very good 2.5For a biography about a man as interesting as Talleyrand, it is rather boring, I m afraid. Charles Maurice de Talleyrand P rigord, the renegade, married Bishop of Autun, Prince of Benevento, Prince of Talleyrand of largely infamous renown His name, where it is still known, is likely to call up images of what some thought to be his spirit animal, the snake, or perhaps just the snake charmer He is best known as the remarkable survivor of five straight French regimes, and not the relatively kind ones where you got to rusticate in the country when you fell out of favor These were the y Charles Maurice de Talleyrand P rigord, the renegade, married Bishop of Autun, Prince of Benevento, Prince of Talleyrand of largely infamous renown His name, where it is still known, is likely to call up images of what some thought to be his spirit animal, the snake, or perhaps just the snake charmer He is best known as the remarkable survivor of five straight French regimes, and not the relatively kind ones where you got to rusticate in the country when you fell out of favor These were the years of Louis XVI, Danton, Marat, Si yes, Fouch , Napoleon and the Ultras, and aside from the two years of the Terror which he largely spent abroad in England and America, he was rarely out of government service the whole time By reputation, he was considered a man without honor by many, the untrustworthy minister who was nonetheless recalled and recalled again to serve the French government, whomever might be at its head His most famous and unambiguously triumphant episode the astonishingly favorable outcome of the Treaty of Paris, followed by the Congress of Vienna, at which, despite the return of Napoleon and the slight interruption of Waterloo, he was able to obtain for France a still almost unbelievably favorable settlement and return her to the status of a Great Power This allowed the completely exhausted and occupied country to maintain her borders and visited punishment largely only on the conqueror, rather than on the people who had supported him again, incredibly, even after the Hundred Days Later on, through his time at the London Embassy, he was also a large player in ensuring that the question of Belgium, one of the major mistakes of the Congress, was peacefully fixed and resolved, and helped ensure that war did not break out once.And yet, despite these amazing feats, his negative reputation remains The clever Talleyrand, certainly Butimportantly, the man who stood for nothing who changed his opinions and advice to suit his masters, who was just as happy serving the good king as the ambitious conqueror The man who who was only out for himself and his own survival oh, remarkably good at it, one must give him that, but still, not one that anyone, in fact, from any faction would trust farther than they could throw him But why Surely whatever faults he may have had, his accomplishments and many years of government service and remember this is centralized France we speak of must outweigh them You would think this would especially be the case as passions faded and the practical results of his work becameevident, especially as his memoirs were released and the Second Empire came to a close, that it would be time for the revisionist biography But, as of 1932, that had not occurred.Cooper s reasoning for writing this biography lies there At one point in this biography, Cooper reminds us of the politics of historians in France At least into the early 20th century, they tended to fall into one of three camps Republican, Royalist and Bonapartist Perhaps evenso than most countries, the story of France s 18th and 19th century history depends on where your sympathies lie whether we can hear tears over the wheels of the tumbrils or only the iron march of justice or perhaps only a faraway prophecy of the Savior to Come Talleyrand was the firm disciple of none of these camps and thus, points out Cooper, he has not yet found his defender in France Duff Cooper, a diplomat, politician and historian himself, takes up his sword here to become his defender in their place with what seems to me to be a great deal of sympathy towards one that I believe he considered a colleague of sorts that he had a right to analyze like he would analyze the work of any other counterpart, based on his own experience in the field I would like to do him the credit of saying that Cooper states his bias straight out as he remarks that he isan Englishman who believes that Talleyrand was a true patriot and a wise statesman to whom neither contemporaries nor posterity has done justiceThus, Cooper dedicates his history of Talleyrand to refuting, or at the least complicating the negative reputation that generally attaches to Talleyrand His major means of doing this is through defending him from the biggest charge made against him that he was a man of inconsistent or non existent principles who cared only for his own survival and acted accordingly He does this by stating, consistently, that he argued, from 1789 to the 1830s for a policy that was marked by moderation, conciliation and the desire for domestic and foreign peace He believed in constitutional monarchy and freedom of the press and in reconciling the old guard and the new revolutionary spirit, and said so on many occasions.Cooper admits that Talleyrand would not die for these principles He was willing to state them, argue them, make the best case possible for them But he would not fall on his sword if they were not obeyed But nonetheless, he maintains that each time he was asked for his advice or given the opportunity to state his views, he held to these same principles, whether in the last days of 1789 or throughout Napoleon s mad expansionist period An example is an episode where he is rather prophetic about the fates of both Prussia and Austria which were to eventually follow later in the century, in part due to their crushing treatment at the hands of Napoleon As a demonstration of Talleyrand s policy of conciliation, peace and moderation, he accurately analyzed the weakness of the Austrian empire and wrote Napoleon, after both Ulm and later Austerlitz, thatSuch a power is necessarily weak Austria , but she is an adequate bulwark against the barbarians and a necessary one To day, crushed and humiliated, she Austria needs that her conqueror should extend a generous hand to her and should, by making her an ally, restore her to confidence in herself, of which so many defeats and disasters might deprive her forever To daythan ever I date to consider it the best and wisest policyNapoleon ignored his advice, and ignored similar advice given about the likelihood of the lessons that Prussia was likely to draw from their treatment in defeat and indeed, his blunt statement that so crushed a country could never be an ally Talleyrand attempted to rein in the worst of Napoleon s excesses, and various statesmen attest to him being the voice of reason at this time In addition, within a year he resigned from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, unable to bear supporting Napoleon s endless ambition and ever changing policy, especially when he would no longer listen to his advice Therefore, in actuality, we have a man who consistently spoke his unpopular truth to a man who many considered the modern Caesar and was ready to argue away some of Napoleon s desire for the spoils of victory.Beyond his defense of Talleyrand s consistency in arguing for moderation, conciliation and peace, one interesting feature of the biography is that his defense is remarkably tailored to the audience he seems to have in mind that is upper class Englishmen with some experience with government Thus it is no surprise to find that Talleyrand is endowed with all the virtues that that audience could be counted upon to appreciate, and many opinions that were likely to endear him to that particular crowd For instance, one argument that returns again and again is that Talleyrand was an Anglophile Indeed, beyond that that he always believed that France and England were natural allies He points out each time that Talleyrand strove for an Anglo French alliance which he maintains was one of those consistent principles that was nearly as important to him as general European peace and spends a great deal of time on Talleyrand s time as Ambassador in London He furtherreports the favorable impression that he made on various famous English of the time, men and women his audience would have recognized Aberdeen, Lord Grey, Lord Holland and Wellington himself It also probably did not hurt that he intimates that the French never recognized Talleyrand s worth, but Englishmen were smart enough to do so so hah those ungrateful, wrong French need to be tutored by England onceIn addition, he takes every opportunity to position Talleyrand as a graceful, aristocratic survivor of the 18th century, a species which was thought of at the time in England with nostalgia by many in the upper class the time before the storm and the scare, when conversation was an art and the rabble hadn t a thought in their heads of such horrid things as revolution and demanding their rights There are a legion of anecdotes contained here that serve no other purpose but to illustrate Talleyrand s inborn class and grace and his ability to strike the sort of pose that aristocrats liked to believe that aristocrats have always struck Finally, he makes frequent off hand asides that his audience is meant to understand with a small smirk and a knowing nod of the head You know, the sort of joke that comedians make that starts, You know how when except rather than detailing a character from the metro, the characters he expects us to recognize are types that you are likely to see about an embassy or an upper class drawing room or at the very least in a book that anyone sitting in either of those locales would have read He expects his audience to have the same base that he is working from Again, it is a defense of a colleague I don t care how long in the past it was this is a man who could blithely write thatPitt received him and was as stiff as only Pitt could be,of the English Prime Minister of two centuries previously as if he had just gone to his house for tea the previous day.Indeed, to that end, it was interesting to me how much of his defense ultimately rested on the fact that Talleyrand was, after all, incredibly good at his job Reading this from modern day, it sounds as if Talleyrand would have made an incredibly successful consultant of the Booz Allen type Another major way that Cooper defends him is to state over and over again that Talleyrand gave the best advice to whoever asked it of him, whether royalist conspirator or Napoleon himself, whether to members of the Directory or to the restored Bourbons For example, when he was asked if the Empress should leave Paris when the allies were marching on it before the formal capitulation of the government he said no, that it would indicate the surrender of Paris andthrow away the game with good cards in handHe said this despite the fact that he supported the royalist cause at the time and had done for some time This advice was ignored and the Empress left Paris, but nonetheless he gave the best advice possible at the time for Napoleon s position Cooper writesWhen he was asked afterwards why he had given advice, which, if it had been followed, would have proved injurious to the cause which he already secretly supported, he replied that his credit at the time stood so low that he knew that he had only to advise one course for the opposite to be adopted This was an ingenious explanation of his conduct, but it is permissible to believe that in giving it he was doing himself, as not infrequently, less than justice He may have doubted whether his advice would be followed, he certainly wished no good to the Napoleonic regime, but when required to deliver an opinion on a question of policy, he probably preferred to give the opinion which he really held, and which also was the wisest counsel in the circumstances All through the previous year whenever Napoleon had asked for his opinion he had given it honestly, advising the Emperor to make the best peace he could, although with little expectation and less desire that such advice would be followed Although his conscience troubled him little, there exists such a thing as professional pride, and it must have afforded him some consolation to feel that the advice which he had given was always sound and that those who refused to follow it were the architects of their own misfortunes Now tell me Hand this to a bunch of career diplomats and government servants and politicians How many of them do you think can maybe recognize some part of that scenario In the end, then, it is a fairly able defense His writing is remarkably authoritative, his narrative runs smoothly for the most part, and his general insights about politics, in depth analysis of each political situation Talleyrand deals with and finally his determination to point out what seems to be fairly obvious bias on the part of many of Talleyrand s contemporaries makes the reader apt to want to believe him However, I should point out a few flaws For those looking for a particularly scholarly biography, you will not find it here You will cringe with his frequent, lordly assumption of how people must have felt with sometimes little textual evidence to support it or how Talleyrand must doubtless have proceeded due to some motive that he never wrote down Also, while his citations of primary sources are frequent and impressive, they are embedded like anecdotes in the narrative and there are no footnotes or endnotes to be found where we might go look up a quotation for ourselves In addition, despite his indignation about the biases of Talleyrand s contemporaries, he does not hesitate to assassinate the character of many of Talleyrand s accusers himself There is a general tone of Well this mean old man said this horrid thing about Talleyrand, but he was a mean old man who was just jealous of him anyway, about a lot of his refutations of others And due to his lack of citations or in depth review of the history of many of these people he mentions, I am unable to judge whether Cooper is making this up as he does how Talleyrand doubtless must have felt on several occasions Finally, during what were actually Talleyrand s surprising amount of years away from the center of power, Cooper has a tendency to wander about quite a bit with his narrative and go out of his way to point out Talleyrand s relevance by taking us through a sequence of barely related anecdotes about interesting personages he met along the way Sometimes amusing, but I think lengthened the book unnecessarily for what seemed to be the purposes of providing character witnesses for Talleyrand.Ultimately, I think of his biography in the same vein that I do Nancy Mitford s biographies The tone is nearly the same The writing is just as divinely sure of itself, his advice and opinions as magisterial as only an English politician and diplomat who grew up under Victoria s empire and owned a quarter of the globe could be There is no suggestion that he might not know something, not a hint of qualification or ambiguity Where Cooper defends Talleyrand, he has his back 100% Where he is willing to condemn him, he says so straight out and wastes nothan a few sentences on it.And his writing I really cannot emphasize enough how excellent his writing is Aside from that wonderful tone I mentioned above which just makes me smile every time, he is really a master of character sketches I met many characters here I had never heard of before, and after usually less than one page of description on Cooper s part, I never felt the need to read another word about them again One of my favorite examplesA brave and loyal messenger was needed who would carry through the line defended by Napoleon s army to the allied statesmen and if possible to the Bourbon Princes themselves Such a man was available in the person of the Baron de Vitrolles, one of those faithful and fearless supporters of the old order, whose belief in the righteousness of their cause was as sincere as their religion, and whose services were as valuable in moments of crisis as they were embarrassing after the victory was won The Baron had already fought for the cause, but this was his first introduction into the world of high politics and he has left us in his memoirs the impression that it produced on him He was naturally alarmed at the prospect of negotiating with statesmen whose names were already famous throughout Europe, but thehe saw of them the less he thought of them, and it appeared to him that both Talleyrand and Fouche were rather lacking in intelligence as neither of them seemed to have a clear idea of exactly what he wanted Politics are indeed a simple science to honest souls like the Baron de Vitrolles, who believe that all solutions of the problem save their own are wrong and who are prepared to die for their causeAside On top of everything else that s great about it, does this remind anyone of a certain bombastic PM to be Come on Get way harsh about it Put WWI center brain People could still be snotty about Churchill in 1932 and were It probably isn t a comment, but it totally could be, right Cooper also takes periodic time out to express his own views on various subjects, usually, again, in a pleasing and interesting fashion There is a lovely and somewhat astonishing when considered in its parts description of time passing in England that he gives just as Talleyrand arrives in the country to begin his ambassadorship in 1830It was a very different country that this lover of England was revisiting in 1830 from that which he had left in 1794 Never perhaps have thirty six years effected so complete a change in the outward aspect and inner mind of a whole nation It is hardly too much to say that the complete process of alteration from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century had taken place in that period He had known the London of Horace Walpole and he came back to the London of Charles Greville When he was last there Pitt and Fox had been at the height of their powers now the young Disraeli was already older than Pitt had been when he became Prime Minister and the young Gladstone was coming of age He had left the London of knee breeches and powdered hair and he returned to the London of frock coats and top hats White s Club, down steps of which he would have been kicked as a rascally Jacobin in 1794, elected him an honorary member The famous bow window had been built over the steps in the interval and had already seen its greatest days, for the brief reign of Brummel was over and the dandies of the Regency were noBoswell had been alive when he was last in London The whole life work of Keats, Shelley and Byron had taken place during his absence and this, the year of his return, the first publication of Tennyson saw the light Those who were alive at his first visit could remember the reign of Queen Anne, those who were alive at his second could live into the reign of George V In the end, whether Cooper offers the best factual account of Talleyrand s life or not and really for a biography published in 1932 I don t know how we can t expect a certain amount of his facts and interpretations to be quite dated, as indeed they are he is really just, I must say once , a pleasure to read Think of it as a well written collection of sometimes amusing, sometimes quite serious short stories, a based on a short story tale written by someone with a sure hand who has taken up his pen to defend a friend On this basis, I have no flaws to find or criticism to offer Eighty years later, still a job very well done indeed ^E-pub ✖ Talleyrand ☠ Unique in his own age and a phenomenon in any, Charles Maurice, Prince de Talleyrand, was a statesman of outstanding ability and extraordinary contradictions He was a world class rogue who held high office in five successive regimes A well known opportunist and a notorious bribe taker, Talleyrand s gifts to France arguably outvalued the vast personal fortune he amassed in her service Once a supporter of the Revolution, after the fall of the monarchy, he fled to England and then to the United States Talleyrand returned to France two years later and served under Napoleon, and represented France at the Congress of Vienna Duff Cooper s classic biography contains all the vigor, elegance, and intellect of its remarkable subject