JOSEPH FOUCHÉ: The Portrait of a Politician by Stefan Zweig

Fouchecover2Joseph Fouché, one of the most powerful men of his day, and one of the most remarkable men of all time, was little loved by his contemporaries and has received even less justice from posterity. Napoleon in St. Helena; Robespierre at the Jacobin Club; Carnot, Barras, and Talleyrand in their memoirs; the French historians, no matter whether royalist, republican, or Bonapartist—one and all spit venom as soon as his name comes up for discussion. He is a “born traitor,” a “pitiful intriguer,” a “man with a slimy reptilian nature,” a “professional turncoat,” a “creature with the base spirit of a policeman,” a “contemptible immoralist.” No term of abuse is spared him; and neither Lamartine nor Michelet nor Louis Blanc makes any serious endeavour to throw light on his character, or (which would be more to the point) to analyse the springs of his amazingly persistent lack of character—his unfailing want of principle. The first effective presentation of his personality is to be found in Louis Madelin’s monumental biography, from which I myself like most other writers on Fouché have mainly drawn for my facts. In general, however, we find that this man who during one of the most salient periods in history was a leader of every party in turn and was unique in surviving the destruction of them all, this man who in duels upon the psychological plane was able to get the better of a Napoleon and a Robespierre, is tacitly relegated to the back rows among the supers instead of being given his proper place in the centre of the stage.

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