At one point in Souvenir’s d’egostisme (ch 5) Stendhal refers to “the anecdote of the rabbit hunt offered by M. de Talleyrand to Napoleon.” Recent editions add an additional line – one of his clipped notes to self – “Domesticated rabbits and hogs in the Bois de Boulogne.”
The reference took a while (and there are several competing sources that are too much to go into) but I found an account by Stendhal himself written for the April 1827 volume of New Monthly Magazine (I assume translated by the magazine?). Here’s the original scan with a tidied version is pasted below:
I have been favoured with a peep at some curious Memoirs, written by an old Jacobin. They extend from 1800 to 1814, and they show more clearly than Thibaudeau’s work Bonaparte’s fear of the Jacobins, and how his brother Lucien gradually inspired him with the idea of making himself a sovereign. The following anecdote from these Memoirs is at once characteristic of the vanity of Napoleon and the ill-nature of Talleyrand, who disliked Bonaparte chiefly because he was an upstart!
Talleyrand had a country-house at Auleuil, a little village situated between the Seine and the Bois de Boulogne. “I will come and breakfast with you some day,” said Bonaparte to Talleyrand.—“Do, General,” replied the latter, and as my house is close to the Bois de Boulogne, you may amuse yourself by shooting after breakfast.”—“I do not like shooting,’’ replied Bonaparte ; “but I am very fond of hunting. Are there any wild boars in the Bois de Boulogne?” Bonaparte was at this time a very young man, and, not having been much in Paris, he did not know that the Bois de Boulogne is like your Hyde-Park, merely a place for walking and riding. Wild boars were of course out of the question. But a Frenchman can never resist a joke, though it should be at the expense of those to whom he renders the most courtier-like servility. Talleyrand, who prides himself much on his nobility, could not endure to see a poor lieutenant of artillery rising into popularity and power, not by the influence of high birth, but by the vulgar road of intellect and merit: his ill-nature, therefore, suggested to him the idea of playing a trick upon Bonaparte; and when the latter inquired whether there were any wild boars in the Bois de Boulogne, he replied, “Very few, but I dare say, General, you will be able to find one.” The breakfast and the hunt were fixed for the following day, and it was arranged that Bonaparte should be at Auteuil at seven in the morning. Talleyrand, ready to die with laughter, sent to the market of Paris, and purchased two large black hogs. These were immediately conveyed to the Bois de Boulogne under the care of two servants, who were directed to drive them about and practise them in running. Bonaparte arrived at Auteuil at the appointed time, accompanied by an aide-de-camp, who was much diverted by the General’s frequent use of several hunting-phrases, and which he misapplied in the most extraordinary way. Breakfast being ended, the party set out for the Bois de Boulogne, taking with them some hounds, which had been borrowed from the neighbouring farmers. At length one of the hogs was let loose, and Bonaparte joyfully exclaimed: “I see the wild boar!” Talleyrand, who was aware that the animal would be in no hurry to escape from its pursuers, had directed a servant mounted on a small Spanish horse, and armed with a long whip, to ride after it. But Bonaparte was too intent on his sport to observe this. He galloped furiously after the supposed wild boar, which after about half an hour’s chase was overtaken by the hunters. By this time, the aide-de-camp beginning to understand the trick, fearing les the affair might become a subject of public ridicule, determined to undeceive the General, and riding up to him said, “Surely, Sir, yon must be aware that this is not a wild boar, but a hog.”
Bonaparte flew into a violent fit of passion. He immediately returned full gallop to Auteuil. He would doubtless have vented bitter reproaches on Talleyand, and probably would have proceeded from words to blows, had he not recollected that Tallevrand was on terms of intimacy with all the good society in Paris, to whom he would have been held up as a laughing stock, had he taken the joke too seriously. On his arrival at Auteuil, therefore, he laughed and pretended to be highly amused at the trick, but his anger was ill-disguised. Incredible as it may seem, Talleyrand, who was in a merry mood, immediately conceived the idea of hoaxing him a second time: Well, General,” said he, “you have been disappointed of the wild-boar hunt, it is true. But it is yet early. You must not think of returning to Paris so soon. There are plenty of rabbits in the Bois de Boulogne. Louis XVI used often to shoot there. Lock-making and rabbit-shooting were his favourite amusements, poor man ! He was an excellent shot, you know.”—“ Yes, but I am a very bad shot,” said Bonaparte, who had not yet recovered his good-humour. Your ride must have given you an appetite,” resumed Talleyrand, “ While you sit down and partake of some refreshment, I will send to Paris for my guns. They belonged to Louis XVI.”
The repast was prolonged for the space of two hours, during which M. Talleyrand overwhelmed the future Emperor with that elegant flattery in which he is such an adept. Meanwhile servants had been despatched to Paris with orders to purchase all the tame rabbits they could procure. They collected as many as five or six hundred, and conveyed them in fiacres to the Bois de Boulogne. Bonaparte set out, armed with his gun, and attended as before by his aide-de-camp. “I am not a Louis XVI,” said he, “I am quite certain that I shall not shoot a single rabbit.” However, be soon shot several. The aide-de-camp seeing the gravity with which Napoleon massacred the poor animals, talking all the while about Louis XVI, was seized with a strong inclination to laugh. The fiftieth rabbit was now shot, and Bonaparte delighted with his success. At length the aide-de-camp could hold out no longer, and stepping up to him he whispered, “Really, General, I begin to think that these are not wild rabbits. I suspect that that rascal of a priest has been playing us another trick.”
Bonaparte, violently enraged, galloped back to Paris. He was not reconciled to Talleyrand for six months after, and he probably threatened vengeance if he dared to speak of rabbit-shooting or boar-hunting in any of the saloons of the Faubourg St. Germain; for it is very certain that these two anecdotes have never been circulated in Paris