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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter XII


THE kingdom of Denmark, especially its capital, was threatened by an English fleet: I was informed that the Government had asked for a French General to undertake the defence of the country, and that they had thought of me. I will not deny that I was flattered by the choice, and anxious to join my name to the events of which that country was to be the scene; but I had the firmest intention; which I kept, of quitting diplomacy as soon as the military part of it was concluded. I therefore started for Paris. I did not expect to get further than Nevers, for, while changing horses in that town, I heard of the disaster at Copenhagen— abandoned by Sweden, Russia and Prussia, all of whom were bound by treaties to make common cause with Denmark. However, on reaching Paris, firmly convinced that my mission was at an end, the First Consul informed me that there was still hope of renewing the Quadruple Defensive Alliance, and desired me to start, via Berlin, promising that, if peace were the result of the events at Copenhagen, he would grant my request, and recall me immediately.

On reaching the capital of Prussia, I soon learned that Russia had broken away from the alliance by a treaty with England, leaving power to the three other countries to adhere to it. I immediately sent a special messenger to the First Consul with this news, and, foreseeing that the other Powers would adhere, asked leave to return; the answer I received was that, as I had got so far, I should go on and learn the intentions of the Danish Government, and that if peace were decided upon my expedition should be regaided as a mere journey, and I should be recalled at once. I thus went to replace your mother's father, [Monsieur de Bourgoing, whose daughter became the Marshal's third wife.] who was awaiting my arrival to go and take up the same position at Stockholm. I had then no idea that I should ever be united to your lamented mother, who was then quite young, and whom I had hardly seen. That was in i8ox, and it was not till more than twenty years later that the marriage took place, which so sadly terminated in less than four years.

Previous to my audience at Court, I was fully confirmed in my opinion that Denmark could never struggle unaided against so formidable a naval Power as England. The attack on the capital, the destruction of a large number of her ships, the successes of the bold and rash Admiral Nelson, who continued to fight in spite of the contrary orders of his chief, and notwithstanding a brave defence which merited a different fate, brought about an armistice which was existing when I arrived, watched by the English fleet as I passed through the Great Belt. My mission, therefore, brought about none of the anticipated results, and my first despatch terminated by an urgent prayer to be recalled. I renewed this prayer for five months, but as peace was at that time being negotiated with England, it was deemed advisable to retain foreign ministers at their respective posts.

The preliminaries having been signed, [The treaty of Arniens, between France and England, was signed March 25, 1802.] and peace being momentarily given to all Europe, it was presumed that the motives I had put forward would no longer exist. I was therefore sounded with respect to the embassy in Russia, occupied by General Hédouville, who, like me, was earnestly seeking his recall. At last I obtained mine, and quitted Copenhagen in the depth of winter. On my journey I experienced every discomfort of the season, which was very severe in the North, and after a month of painful, fatiguing, and even dangerous travel I reached Paris, whence the First Consul had gone to attend the meetings at Lyons. My stay in Denmark had not been without interest and pleasure. I was distinguished at Court, on good terms with the corps diplomatic, and well received in society. I studied the history of the country—its laws and customs. There I found a people who, with unbounded love for, and confidence in one of its sovereigns, blindly abandoned its liberty, and submitted itself to their absolute power. So far they have had no cause to regret their action, but I doubt whether any of their powerful neighbours would ever employ the same generosity in order to guarantee their subjects from the abuses of violence or despotism.

To return to what concerns myself. I had a suspicion that Monsieur de Talleyrand had some motive, that I could not penetrate, for wishing to keep me at a distance. I had written him strong representations upon this point in private letters, but as he might have been prejudiced or biased against me, I called upon him. He received me with cold civility. I warmly pointed out to him, in presence of his wife and several other persons, how ill he had behaved, and abruptly quitted his house. Since then I have ceased to hold any communication with this personage, who afterwards degraded more and more his name and position. He has certainly from time to time made overtures to me, but in vain. I had estimated correctly the sincerity of his affection. His ambition, however, had been amply satisfied at the Imperial Court as well as at that of the Bourbons; his supple mind, intrigues, and insinuations had secured this. When at last Talieyrand came to be better known and understood, all parties agreed to push him aside, and to let him extract what enjoyment he could out of a comparatively insignificant office, and to live in regret, if not remorse. I admit having said too much about this individual, but it is because I know that he seriously injured me in the eyes of the First Consul by prejudicing him against me, and suggesting that I was opposed to his authority.

In 1804 the famous trial of Moreau commenced, and an attempt was made to implicate me in it by suggestions of an intimate friendship, which no longer existed. It seemed, however, to be recognised that my conscience was clear upon that point, and so I was merely watched, but left in peace.

Shortly after this trial the First Consul was elected Emperor, and the Government having thus become monarchical, was invested with the attributes of monarchy. In order to attain the dignity of Marshal, it was necessary to have had the command-in-chief of an army, and although this condition was not wanting in my case, I was not included in the first or in the subsequent lists of nominations. I therefore had to content myself with thinking that I had deserved to figure in them, and with the pride' natural to me, added to the feeling that I was the victim of injustice, I took no steps to remove groundless prejudices. The time came when I congratulated myself upon having acted as I did, for circumstances so favoured me that I was able to win my baton at the point of my sword on the battlefield of Wagram.

In the year in which the Legion of Honour was founded, I was first made only Companion, together with all those who, like me, had received gifts of a sword of honour, but I was then promoted to be a Knight Companion (Grand Ojilcier). My name must have passed unnoticed among others, for in the suspected position in which I then was living, its appearance there could only be regarded as a favour.

Like everyone else, I had signed the address of election to the Empire, but rather as a means of warding off anxieties and annoyances than with any hope of obtaining reward. I had no reason whatever for opposing it, still less for being jealous or desirous of it. My isolation chafed me on account of your elder sisters. They had received an excellent education at Madame Campan's, but the sight of their friends making brilliant marriages at the Imperial Court made me dread lest they should become enamoured of these exalted positions. But their own good sense, their judgment beyond their years, my advice, and the affection they bore me, convinced them that I was innocent of this disgrace, and they resigned themselves to whatever fortune might be in store for them.

I had just bought this property at Courcelles whence I write to you, and which I intend you to have some day but notwithstanding the pleasures of a country life, and the delight of being at rest, my military ardour blazed up at the accounts of every fresh victory. However, this ardour quieted down when I remembered that my career was advancing, so much so that it was not without some alarm that I received orders to join the Army of Italy, after five years spent in retirement, to put myself at the disposal of Prince Eugne Beauharnais, Viceroy and Commander-in-chief. I was just about to return here with your sisters, who had finished their education, and whom I had removed from school. I was only spending a few months with them in Paris during the winter to perfect their accomplishments.

I think I received the order early in April, and at first I concealed the nature of it from them. The Minister could not tell me in what capacity I was to go, nor did he know much about it. He showed me the original of the Emperor's letter, which was remarkable for its brevity. It ran almost as follows

Having but a few days left to make my arrangements, it was natural that I should think first of all of your sisters. I asked and obtained from the Emperor admission for them into the educational establishment founded for daughters of members of the Legion of Honour at Ecouen, and then under the control of Madame Campan, their former schoolmistress at St. Germain. Our separation, as you will easily believe, was very painful; they thought of nothing but the fresh dangers to which I was to be exposed.

Before proceeding, I must go hack a little to mention a circumstance that I had omitted. Some friends, placed by their rank near the person of Joseph Bonaparte, King of Naples, who was in command of an army in that country, represented to him that I might he of great service, as I had fought there some years previously. He had on several occasions testified goodwill towards me, and it was suggested that he should ask the Emperor for my services. The latter, commanding the Grand Army in the North of Germany, had, I believe, established his headquarters at Osterode during the siege of l)antzic, which followed the bloody Battle of Eylau, where both sides claimed the victory, although the best and most impartial judges on our side considered it more than doubtful. The Emperor consented, and caused orders to be sent inc by General Count Dejean, who was temporarily holding the office of War Minister, to go at once to Naples, and place myself at the disposal of his brother. This was not a military order for, contrary to the usual forms, no letter of service was sent to me. It was therefore clear that King Joseph was at liberty to employ me as he pleased, either with the Neapolitan troops or as a civilian for the Imperial Generals in the Army of Naples have alone the right of commanding French troops with their letters of service.

My blood boils even now, and my gorge rises, as I write these lines, to think of what a degree of abasement I should have sunk to had I been desired to command Neapolitan soldiers! I, who had fought and annihilated them at Civita.Castellana, at Otricoli ----who had completely finished them at Calvi, although on all these occasions we were less than one against twelve or fifteen I, who had been witness of their cowardice, their desertion, and their flight

I, who had invaded their territory but a few days later! I say no more, and return to my departure for the Army of Italy in 1809.


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