Courcelles-le-Roi, May 16,
The idea has occurred to
me, my son, of beginning this sketch of my life for you, without caring
to know when it will be finished, nevertheless, I set to work, having
for guide and assistance nothing but my memory. Let my pen travel on and
write these lines, as you will observe, in the simplest and most
familiar style possible. Truth needs no adornment, and, moreover, I am
not writing for the public; these lines are not intended for the light
of day. I write in haste from a habit of never leaving anything till
to-morrow; besides, my return to Paris cannot long be postponed and once
there, I shall have no time to continue this work, as I am contemplating
a journey of six weeks or two months, in order to see the three kingdoms
of the British Empire, with which I am unacquainted, and to visit my
father's birthplace in the Hebrides.
Paris, June 5, 1825.
You and my family will
probably be surprised, and justly, at finding among my papers as yet no
special recital of my campaigns, not even a diary; I owe you some
explanation upon this point.
Twenty years ago I had
ample leisure, as I was not being employed, [After the trial of Moreau,
in which a futile and unjust attempt was made to implicate Macdonald, he
remained five years in disgrace, and was not recalled to service until
1809.] but I had recently acquired Courcelles. it was the first time
that I had owned an estate, and it was but natural that I should wish to
enjoy all its pleasures. Surrounded with books on agriculture, I
discovered attractions hitherto unknown to me. I forgot the papers
locked up in my chest, and all my fine schemes for writing my military
life were temporarily abandoned. If Heaven prolongs my desolate
existence, [He had just lost his third wife, mother of the son to whom
these recollections are addressed. She was Mademoiselle de Bourgoing,
and had previously married her cousin, Baron de Bourgoing. She had two
children by the Marshal: this son, Alexander, afterwards Duke of
Tarentum, and a daughter who died in infancy.- Translator.] I will
include in this narrative an account of my military career, and of the
different ranks that I have held. As for events, they are written in
every history of the time but beware of them, especially upon any
subject connected with me, for histories, narratives, and biographical
notices must be affected by our recent troubles, and consequently by the
passions of men and by party spirit; however, impartial history will
some day avenge those who have fallen victims.
I have never had reason
to reproach myself, nor have I ever had to blush for any circumstance in
my life. I received an untarnished name. I transmit it to you, feeling
sure that you will keep it pure. My conscience during a long and active
life has nothing to reproach me, because I always followed three safe
guides: Honour, Fidelity, and Disinterestedness; and I like to beileve
that my guides will be yours also.
My rapid journey has been
brought to a satisfactory conclusion. The coast of France looked to be
like the Promised Land. I have once more seen France, my beloved
country! This is the first anniversary of your birth. What joy and
happiness that event caused us! Then, alas! how many regrets and painful
memories have come since!
I ought to tell you
something about your family upon your father's side. I alone can give
you details, which I knew but imperfectly, but which, in the course of
my travels, I collected on the spot. Your paternal grandfather was born
in 1719, in the parish of Coubry, or Boubry, in South Uist, one of the
Hebrides. [I learn from Mr. John Macdonald, of Glenaladale, whose father
accompanied the Duke on his journey to the Hebrides, that the district
in which the Marshal's father was born was that of Houghbeag. See also
note on next page.—Translator.] He was educated in France at the Scotch
College at Douai, and was probably destined for an ecclesiastical
career. I know not what were his tastes, or wishes, but I do know that,
after completing a brilliant course of study, he returned to the place
of his birth. Thence he was summoned by Prince Charles [Edward] Stuart,
styled the Pretender.
Throughout the disastrous
expedition of 1745 my father attached himself to the good and bad
fortune of the Prince, like a loyal Scotsman. The cup of their common
misfortunes, and of so many others besides, was filled by the loss of
the battle of Culloden, near Inverness, in 1746. The details of this
disastrous event are written in history, and it would be superfluous to
repeat them here; but what are less known are the results that this
unhappy affair had upon the life of the Prince, who was compelled for
several months to seek shelter in caves and barns, in order to save his
head, Upon which a price had been set. He wandered from island to
island, guided by my father, until at last a heroine, Flora Macdonald,
of the Isle of Skye, succeeded in baffling their pursuers, and exposed
herself in order to assist their flight on board a French man-of-war.
Miraculously saved, they reached France.
[* Marshal Macdonald used
to remit money to his relatives in Uist, and one of his cousins visited
him in France at his request, in 1825 the Marshal visited Great Britain,
and was everywhere received with distinguished honour, both by the
Government and people. The cordiality of his reception in London was
only equalled by that of his reception in Edinburgh and Inverness. He
visited the field of Culloden, and expressed strong disapprobation at
the Highlanders for engaging the Royal troops in such a place.
visited the Western Isles in a revenue cruiser placed at his disposal by
Government, accompanied by Mr. Ranald Macdonald, Writer to the Signet in
Edinburgh, who was a son of Macdonald of Boisdale, a scion of the
Macdonalds of Clanranald.
'The Marshal walked from
the ford at Lochdar to Houghbeag, a distance of ten miles. On coming in
sight of the river he exclaimed
"That is the river Hough
I know it from my father's description. Many a salmon has he caught
'He sent for all his
relations in the neighbourhood. When his blind old uncle was brought to
him, he embraced him affectionately, saying:
"You dear old man, how
like you are to my own father!"
'He addressed his
relations in French and broken Gaelic, they answering him in Gaelic, for
none of them could speak any English. He distributed sums of money,
varying in value among them, giving to some £20, and to others larger
amounts or fixed annuities. He took earth from the floor of the house
where his father was born, and potatoes from the garden, and these he
placed in a bag and carried home with him to France. He planted the
potatoes in his garden, and gave orders that the earth should be placed
in his coffin after his death.
'From Houghbeag he
crossed the hills to Glen Corrodail to visit the cave in which Prince
Charlie and a few faithful followers lived for six weeks after Culloden.
It is a walk of about two hours over very rough roads; but the Marshal,
then about sixty years of age, travelled the mountains with ease.
From Corrodail he
re-embarked on board the cruiser that had brought him to the island.
Many persons are still living who saw the Marshal when in Uist. They all
describe him as a man of about the middle height, well built and
muscular, but not stout. They say that he resembled in form, features,
and voice, his kinsfolk in Uist, but in complexion they differed, he
being dark and sallow, and they fair and ruddy.
'Flora Macdonald and
Neill Macachaim were remotely, but very remotely, connected, through the
Clanranalds. Flora was nearly related to the Clanranalds, and by the
Lady Clanranald of the day she was much beloved and admired, as indeed
she was by all who knew her. She was not horn, as many people, even
natives of Skye, suppose, in the island of Skye, but in the island of
South Uist, on the farm of Mitton. Some six miles farther north is
Houghbeag, where Neill Macachaim, father of the Marshal, was horn.'—Note
by Mr. Alexander Carmichael, of Edinburgh.]
Your grandfather was put
into Ogilvy's Scotch regiment, and the Prince never gave him another
After the peace of 1763,
nearly all the foreign regiments were disbanded. Among them was
Ogilvy's, and your grandfather, proscribed in his own country, and
abandoned in this one, was reduced to live upon the modest pension of
three hundred livres (about £30). Almost immediately afterwards he made
what, in military parlance, is called a 'garrison marriage'; that is to
say, he wedded a girl without any fortune. Your grandfather had settled
himself at Sedan, where I was born [November 17, 1765], when he was
invited by Lord Nairn, proscribed like himself, to the little town of
Sancerre [near Bourges]. The cheapness of living, and probably of the
wine, which is good, had determined these gentlemen to settle there;
other Scotsmen had preceded them.
In this retreat, with his
friends and his books, he consoled himself for the cruelty of fortune.
He was very studious, well versed in the Greek and Latin tongues, which
he spoke easily, as well as French, English, and Gaelic, his native
language. He never saw his country again, although in 1784 an Act or
Amnesty was passed by the English Parliament, permitting fugitives to
return. My father died at Sancerre in 1788, in all probability from the
effects of a fall he had had some years previously, and which had
dislocated his hip, which had been badly set by an inexperienced
surgeon. I was at that time quartered at Calais. One of his compatriots,
Mr. MacNab, undertook to represent me. He collected all his books and
papers, with the intention of restoring them to me. Among them I should
certainly have found many details about my family, and about the events
of which your grandfather had been both witness and victim; but MacNab,
at that time corporal in the Bodyguard, was, like so many others, seized
during the Revolution, arrested and imprisoned. His papers and mine were
carried off, and are lost for ever. I have these unlucky details from
I have little information
about your paternal grandmother. I only know she was of good family. She
was born at St. Omer, but as her father, a soldier by profession, was a
stranger in the town, nobody remembered her, and I could obtain no
information when I caused inquiries to be made.
Unfortunately, while I
was moving from garrison to garrison, your grandfather and grandmother
had, two or three years before the death of the former, differences of
so serious a nature that they voluntarily separated. I fancy that your
grandmother, perhaps embittered by trouble, had some slight affection of
the mind, but it was scarcely noticeable, and certainly not so apparent
to others as to me. She retired to Fontainebleau, where she ended her
days twenty- five or twenty-six years ago. Your grandfather was very
gentle, she was quick-tempered; she was a great talker, he was naturally
silent. I have heard him, however, talk very well; his memory was well
stored, full of anecdote, and he was a good musician, playing the
violin; he was much esteemed and sought after by the society of that
They had four children,
two boys and two girls; two died at an early age, my sister and I have
survived. Your aunt was educated in a convent at Rouen, and married a
Swiss doctor at Soleui'e, who afterwards gave up the 'fruitless science
of Galen,' became a soldier, and was killed, holding the rank of
Lieutenant-Colonel, at the passage of the Beresina, in the fatal
expedition of 1812. They left three girls and a boy, who is now in
India, in command of a company of Sepoys at Pondicherry. One of the
daughters is a nun; the eldest married Major-General the Viscount de
Saint-'Mars, and the second Colonel de Coussin, attached to my staff.
They are all living and have children. Your aunt, after the death of her
husband, Colonel Weitner, settled at Beaulieu, near me, and died there
two years ago.
My early studies had been
somewhat neglected at Sancerre. I was sent to Paris to a school kept by
Chevalier Pawlet (sic). His foreign name caused the proscription of the
tutor, and his establishment was suppressed at the beginning of the
Revolution. I had profited fairly well by his instruction. Before going
thither, I had been destined for the Church, in the hope of obtaining a
canonry at Cambrai. But my military tastes were developed by my studies
and surroundings, and especially by Homer, the reading of which set my
brain on fire. I thought myself an Achilles!
They wished to make an
engineer of me, and I was encouraged to study mathematics. Two comrades
and I had to undergo an examination; we failed, and were sent back for
another year; but in the interval powerful patrons, Prince Ferdinand de
Rohan, Archbishop of Cambrai, Countess d'Albestrop, Lady Mary and Lady
Lucy Stuart, obtained for me, in 1785, a lieutenancy in Maillebois'
regiment, then serving the Dutch.
The seven United Provinces formed at that
time a republican federation, which on more than one occasion had fought
successfully against states much stronger than herself. This time she
had to face her neighbour, the Emperor of Austria, Sovereign of the
Netherlands, who had quarrelled with her on behalf of Antwerp and Ghent,
for the free navigation of the Scheldt. The Dutch, trusting in the
defences which gave them safety—their good fleet, their frontiers
surrounded by rivers, and their bristling fortresses —maintained only a
small standing army; but threatened as they were at this moment, they
were seeking everywhere for generals, officers, and men.
On hearing of my appointment, and the object
for which the regiment was being raised, I was nearly beside myself with
pleasure. My head was already crammed with books upon the art of war,
with histories of sieges, campaigns, combats and battles. I was already
planning out various schemes of attack and defence, and flattered myself
that I should reap at least a colonelcy in this campaign, and that in
the next I should become a rival to the great Turenne. Such were my
ideas when I first put on my uniform at the beginning of 1785, and
started with a number of other officers for our corps at Nimeguen,
Arnheim, and Bois-Ie-Duc.
You will easily conceive with what ardour I
commenced the work of training my men. I had learnt the rudiments at
Chevalier Pawlet's school, which was organized upon the lines of
military schools, enjoying some of their prerogatives, notably the
privilege of receiving officers' commissions, without counting those
granted to such as passed from there into the special colleges for the
artillery and engineers.
You will experience, I
hope, my son, the real joy that is caused by a first uniform and a first
commission; and although I have reached the highest rank, I assure you,
in perfect sincerity, that my colonelcy was the crowning point to me.
My new brother officers and I thought of
nothing but how soon we could take the field against the Austrians. All
our conversations turned upon this subject, so full for us of charm and
attraction, whereon we each founded his ambition, his promotion, and his
fortune, when we learned with deep chagrin that peace had been
concluded, and that our regiment would be disbanded. The Dutch thus
justified the sarcasm of Frederick the Great, who on one occasion
inquired of their ambassador how matters were going with them.
'Very well,' was the answer. 'We shall hold
our own against the Emperor.'
'Nonsense!' replied the King. 'I know
exactly what will happen: you will give a fi' (pourboire) 'to his
Imperial Majesty, and there will be an end of the matter.'
This opinion, though expressed in jest, was
found to he borne out completely when the treaty was published.
In the statute ordering the regiment to be
raised of which the Count de Maillebois was Colonel (as well as
Commander-in-chief of the Dutch forces), a proviso had been inserted
that, in case of peace and consequent disbandment, the officers should
receive as pension half their pay, on condition of spending it in the
country, or a sum down, equivalent to four years of the said pension,
with permission to leave the country at their pleasure. It was not a
very large sum, for the Dutch, a frugal people, had only eight months in
their financial year, each month containing six weeks.
After taking the advice of my father and
patrons, I returned to France. They then put their heads together to
save me from living in idleness at Sancerre, where I was wearing out my
uniform by showing it off at Mass and vespers on Sundays, and to the
country people on market days. Everyone made way for me, and this could
not fail to increase my stock of vanity.
It was very difficult to he reinstated in a
regiment in the service of France. Government seems to have viewed with
displeasure the custom prevalent among our officers, of leaving their
rank in their own army for a superior rank in the Legion. The Austrian
Minister had made representations, and, in order to give no
justification for the suspicion of connivance, the French Minister
refused to reinstate those who had willingly abandoned their ranks; à
fortiori he would refuse to give even a sub-lieutenant's commission
to the others. They were, however, permitted to begin their career as
gentlemen-cadets, according to the established rules.
These obstacles were pointed out to me,
together with the necessity of coming to a decision. I did not hesitate.
The lazy life of Sancerre wearied me. I had had a taste of life in
garrison; the work, exercises, parades, inspections, manoeuvres, which
bored so many others, especially the old officers who had fought in
America, were attractive to me. Count Arthur Dillon, who fell a victim
to the Revolution, after having served it loyally, offered me a
cadetship in the regiment that bore his name, of which he was
proprietary Colonel. I put on the red coat; a white aiglet, distinctive
mark of the gentlemen-cadets, took the place of my lieutenant's
epaulettes. I am bound to admit that it was not without a heavy heart
that I took this courageous resolution, nor without a lively feeling of
grief which, however, diminished upon my hearing that I should soon be
made an officer. That was a crumb of comfort, certainly, but it seems to
me a very long way off, seeing that up to the rank of Captain promotion,
only went by seniority, that there were several cadets above me, and
that the list of officers was very long. Some of these were there as
substitutes, etc. Modifications have now been introduced into the laws
governing promotion, more favourable to talent, and especially to
spent several years continuing my studies, and always keenly interested
in my profession. I had chosen my friends well; they also were fond of
work. They were good musicians and draughtsmen. I have always regretted
that I could do no more than scrape my fiddle. I had begun too late, and
my masters, independently of their bad method, knew little more about it
than I did. My other amusements were fencing, dancing, and the theatre.
My taste for music and good acting had helped me to store my memory; it
became stronger while I was employed in Italy. It is an advantage to a
young officer to be able to play an instrument; the best society is
always open to him, especially if to his talent he joins good breeding
and education, as well as good behaviour.
The Revolution broke out; every officer's
brain was in a ferment; no one dreamed of anything-.save war and
promotion. The camp of St. Omer, where I was with my regiment, was able,
by means of meetings and conventions, to free itself from the severe and
humiliating discipline to which the council of war wished to subject all
regiments and officers.
At the period when the officers obtained
their long leave, I profited by mine, at the end of 1790, to go to my
sister at Andrezy, and to St. Germain. I was at that time a Lieutenant,
a little bit of a musician, and, though I could only scrape my violin, I
was presented in several houses, and voted passable.
A young and pretty creole
[Mademoiselle Jacob, by whom he had two daughters, the Duchesse de Massa
and the Comtesse de Perregaux. See Michaud, Biographie UniverselIe,'
art. ' Macdonald.'— Translator.] reciprocated the attentions I paid her.
I offered her my hand, which was accepted; her mother gave her approval,
but the father's consent was yet to be obtained. He was a wily fox, who
had amassed a fortune in the West Indies, and was more than economical,
not to say stingy. The only fortune I could offer was my youth and my
military prospects; he wanted something more solid. He politely refused
my proposal,. but I would not take 'No' for an answer. We set Colonel
Beurnonville, afterwards a Marshal of France, to work; he was well
acquainted with the family, and had the ear of the father, who was his
wife's uncle. The latter, who was afraid of the Colonel, though he had
declined my offer, thought fit to make inquiries among the patrons
already named, and whom I had mentioned to him. At last, worried and
tormented, he finished by giving his consent to our union, which was
celebrated on the 5th of May, 1791. From that time to the day of his
death he was very kind to me; he became very fond of me, and I honestly
reciprocated his affection.