|Sketch of the Tennis Court Oath by Jacques-Louis David.|
My Labor Day Struggles With Republican Friends.
by Liz Smith
Thursday, September 6, 2012
“I THINK that the mass of people are the same, but that they are differently influenced by a small nucleus of leading figures who change and are carried in different directions. The same crowd, however, is fully convinced of the honesty of its applause, to whatever object it might be directed .... It is only right that people should know how far natural good feeling can be destroyed by partisan passion.”
This is the royalist daughter of a French diplomat, the Comtesse de Boigne, who lived through the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon, his victories and his failed march to Moscow, then, Napoleon again after Elba when he met his Waterloo. After that, the “royals”got back in power and installed Louis XVIII and after that, his brother, Charles X. (While Europeans thought France was finished; the country actually blossomed under revolution, wars, despotism and many acrobatic changes of government.)
"The Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne," edited by Anka Muhlstein and Olivier Bernier, is a dazzling read — and there is another volume to come after this. But you have to keep the chronology straight and the who's who. (It is disconcerting not to always know when the Comtesse refers to “the Emperor” whether she means Napoleon or Alexander of Russia.)
The Comtesse keeps on writing in a second volume I haven’t read yet. She covers the gossip of Victoria becoming Queen of England, the rise and fall of King Louis-Philippe, the death of Chateaubriand, the rise of Louis-Napoleon who became Napoleon III. This beguiling, beautiful diarist dies in 1866.
She endeared herself to me for extolling the virtues of ordinary Frenchmen who serve as soldiers in war after war, conflict after conflict, citing their hulmanity, gentleness, suffering, discipline and pain.
Oh yes, I am a Johnny-come-lately to extol the Comtesse but I have just realized that she was a great favorite of Marcel Proust. He couldn’t resist her gossipy, student-of-human nature memoirs.
|AND HERE is a final thought from the late Gore Vidal:
“I had a friend who became ambassador to Chile at the time when we overthrew the government of President Allende and he and I argued about whether the United States has a right to intervene in the politics of another country.
“I, of course, said no. ‘America’s business is business, to deal with everybody in a fair way and make money out of them. I’m perfectly willing to be crass but not military.
“And then — apropos of this question about presidents acting in good faith, my friend said, ‘It would be interesting if any nation or person could ever act from a point of innocence. In other words, act without all of the history, all the accumulation of resentments — simply act in good faith. Do you?’ And I said yes — if we acted as though we had indeed dismissed this history and did what is perhaps the right thing to do. It might pay off.”
Contact Liz Smith here.
Click here for NYSD contents.