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Memoirs To Illustrate The History Of My Time Volume 1

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I adopt a course different from that recently pursued by several of my contemporaries; I publish my memoirs while I am still here to answer for what I write. I am not prompted to this by the weariness of inaction, or by any desire to re-open a limited field for old contentions, in place of the grand arena at present closed. I have struggled much and ardently during my life; age and retirement, as far as my own feelings are concerned, have expanded their peaceful influence over the past. From a sky profoundly serene, I look back towards an horizon pregnant with many storms. I have deeply probed my own heart, and I cannot find there any feeling which envenoms my recollections. The absence of gall permits extreme candour. Personality alters or deteriorates truth. Being desirous to speak of my own life, and of the times in which I have lived, I prefer doing so on the brink, rather than from the depths of the tomb. This appears to me more dignified as regards myself, while, with reference to others, it will lead me to be more scrupulous in my words and opinions. If objections arise, which I can scarcely hope to escape, at least it shall not be said that I was unwilling to hear them, and that I have removed myself from the responsibility of what I have done.

Other reasons, also, have induced this decision. Memoirs, in general, are either published too soon or too late. If too soon, they are indiscreet or unimportant; we either reveal what would be better held back for the present, or suppress details which it would be both profitable and curious to relate at once. If too late, they lose much of their opportunity and interest; contemporaries have passed away, and can no longer profit by the truths which are imparted, or participate in their recital with personal enjoyment. Such memoirs retain only a moral and literary value, and excite no feeling beyond idle curiosity. Although I well know how much experience evaporates in passing from one generation to another, I cannot believe that it becomes altogether extinct, or that a correct knowledge of the mistakes of our fathers, and of the causes of their failures, can be totally profitless to their descendants. I wish to transmit to those who may succeed me, and who also will have their trials to undergo, a little of the light I have derived from mine. I have, alternately, defended liberty against absolute power, and order against the spirit of revolution,—two leading causes which, in fact, constitute but one, for their disconnection leads to the ruin of both. Until liberty boldly separates itself from the spirit of revolution, and order from absolute power, so long will France continue to be tossed about from crisis to crisis, and from error to error. In this is truly comprised the cause of the nation. I am grieved, but not dismayed, at its reverses. I neither renounce its service, nor despair of its triumph. Under the severest disappointments, it has ever been my natural tendency, and for which I thank God as for a blessing, to preserve great desires, however uncertain or distant might be the hopes of their accomplishment.

In ancient and in modern times, the greatest of great historians, Thucydides, Xenophon, Sallust, Cæsar, Tacitus, Macchiavelli, and Clarendon, have written, and some have themselves published, the annals of the passing age and of the events in which they participated. I do not venture on such an ambitious work; the day of history has not yet arrived for us, of complete, free, and unreserved history, either as relates to facts or men. But my own personal and inward history; what I have thought, felt, and wished in my connection with the public affairs of my country; the thoughts, feelings, and wishes of my political friends and associates, our minds reflected in our actions,—on these points I can speak freely, and on these I am most desirous to record my sentiments, that I may be, if not always approved, at least correctly known and understood. On this foundation, others will hereafter assign to us our proper places in the history of the age.

I only commenced public life in the year 1814. I had neither served under the Revolution nor the Empire: a stranger to the first from youth, and to the second from disposition. Since I have had some share in the government of men, I have learned to do justice to the Emperor Napoleon....