The Corner

What Would Talleyrand Do?

The secretary of state needs to take a lesson from the great French diplomatist. Mrs. Clinton, when she thought she was being asked at a Q&A in the Congo about her husband’s views of Chinese American business relations, said. “My husband is not the secretary of state, I am.” The correct answer, it seems to me, would have been: “You must ask my husband for his views. The position of the United States is . . .”

Two of my favorite anecdotes about Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, former Bishop of Autun.

1) If kicked in the backside, he would give no sign of it on his face.

2) Napoleon chewed him out in a Goebbels-like tantrum, calling him a cuckold, a cripple, the man behind the summary execution of the Duc d’Enghien, etc., etc. Talleyrand listened without expression for half an hour. When the emperor had finished, he made no reply and limped off, only observing sotto voce, “It’s a pity that a great man should be so ill bred.”

He also began plotting Napoleon’s downfall.

Richard Brookhiser — Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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