In the meantime, M. Thiers, as the holidays were approaching, thought it wise to run down to Aix, which he represented in the chamber of deputies. Since he was last there he had changed his course upon many of the important questions of the day. Formerly he was extremely liberal, but for the sake of power he had deserted the cause of Poland and Italy.
He let the inhabitants of Aix know that he was coming, that no excuse might be wanting for a grand reception. Surely the people of Aix would feel proud of their fellow-citizen who had been so highly honored by the government!
He arrived before the gates of the town and was surprised at the silence everywhere. No crowd came out to greet him—the people were about their business. A few officials alone met and welcomed him back to the scene of his early triumphs. He went to his hotel, and when night came, it was told him that crowds of people were gathered in the street below. He went to the window—ah! now the people were come to do him honor! What was his chagrin to hear the multitudes commence a serenade of the vilest description. Tin horns were blown, tin pans were pounded, and every species of execrable noise was made, and M. Thiers came to the conclusion that the people of Aix did not admire his late political conduct. To satisfy him, the leaders cried aloud, “Traitor to Poland, to Italy, and France!” He was satisfied, and hurried back to Paris, where Louis Phillippe met him, and as if to console him for his reception in Aix, gave him a portfolio—and he was the king’s minister.
One of his first acts was to destroy the character of the duchess of Berri, who pretended that the French throne belonged to her son. Louis Phillippe gave him almost unlimited power to accomplish this object, and he set to work coolly and with deliberate calculation. It is said he bribed an intimate friend of the duchess, who knew where she was, with a million of francs to betray her, and she was thrown into prison. Once there, he found means to ruin her fame and destroy her influence, though the measures he took excited the indignation of France. He extorted from her a secret confession, under the promise that it should always remain strictly secret, and then coolly published it in the government organ.
Under M. Thiers the finances of the country improved, and many of the public works were completed. The splendid Quai d’Orsay and the Place Vendome were finished, and the Madeleine begun. At the ceremonies which attended the inauguration of the column upon the Place Vendome, a good thing was said in the ears of the minister by a Parisian wit. Thiers was at the foot of the column—the statue of Napoleon at the top. The height of the column is one hundred and thirty-two feet. Said the wit aloud, “There are just one hundred and thirty-two feet from the ridiculous to the sublime!”