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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter XXVII


I AM now drawing to the close of this hopeless struggle. Our long political and military agony was to be finished by a thunderclap. A new order of things is now about to begin, under which you, my son, were born, and under which we are still living—the reign of the Bourbons.

This ancient dynasty, having been turned off the throne, its head having fallen a victim to the Revolution, its family having since then wandered abroad, tried by means of proclamations scattered broadcast to regain its lost ground. No soldier was seduced, but its partisans took heart, first at Nancy, whither the Comte d'Artois, now on the throne, had ventured to betake himself; then at Paris, where some displayed resolution—after the city had capitulated, however.

I followed the Emperor's steps. I had arrived somewhere between Troyes and Villeneuve-l'Archevêque, when an order reached me to halt wheresoever I might be. In a postscript I read these words:

'You are doubtless aware that the enemy are masters of Paris.'

Although we had expected this grievous catastrophe, it affected us the more as we thought that the enemy might take revenge for the burning of Moscow, which, however, had not been caused by us, notwithstanding the rumour that had been spread at the time, and which still gained credence. Paris contained all that I held dearest in the world —children, relations, connections, family, friends, and what little I possessed, with the exception of this property where I am writing these lines.

The Emperor had preceded the remains of his army. When within a few leagues of Paris, where he contemplated making the last efforts to delay the enemy, where he intended to wait for us, and at least to succumb with honour—within a few leagues of Paris, I say, he heard of its surrender. [Meanwhile Napoleon, every hour more alarmed, was straining every nerve to reach the capital. On March 29 the Imperial Guard and equipages arrived late at night at Troyes, having marched above forty miles in that single day. After only a few hours rest, he threw himself again into his travelling carriage, and, as the wearied cuirassiers could no longer keep pace with him, set out alone for Paris. Courier after courier was despatched before him to announce his immediate return to the authorities at the capital; but, as Napoleon approached it, the most disastrous intelligence reached him every time he changed horses. He learnt successively that the Empress and his son had quitted Paris—that the enemy were at its gate—that there was fighting on the heights.

His impatience was now redoubled; he got into a little post calècke to accelerate his speed, and, although the horses were going at the gallop, he incessantly urged the postillions to get on faster. The steeds flew along, the wheels struck fire in lashing over the pavement, yet nothing could satisfy the Emperor. At length, by great exertions, he reached Frornentenu, near Juvisy, only five leagues from Paris, at ten at night.

As his horses were there being hurriedly changed at a post-house, called Cour de France, some straggling soldiers, who were passing, announced (without knowing the Emperor) that Paris had capitulated "These men are mad!" cried Napoleon; "the thing is impossible. Bring me an officer!" At the next moment General Belliard came up and gave the whole details of the catastrophe. Large drops of sweat stood on the Emperor's forehead. He turned to Caulaincourt, and said, "Do you hear that?" with a fixed gaze which made him shudder. At this moment only the Seine separated Napoleon from the enemy's advanced posts on the extreme allied left in the plain of Villeneuve their innumerable watch-fires illuminated the whole north and east of the heavens, while the mighty Conqueror, in the darkness, only followed by two post-carriages and a few attendants, received the stroke of fate.' —Alisn's History of Europe,' vol. x., 456.]

I thought that he would have retreated with us, and have fallen back upon our strongholds; instead of that, he summoned us to join him by forced marches.

The news of the loss of the capital spread rapidly, and occasioned much discouragement. Many soldiers left their flag, and retired to their own homes. Although Ave were in our own Country, Ave were destitute of everything; we lived upon what we could pick up by marauding. [These difficulties were not confined to the French army alone. On March i, 1814, Bluchcr wrote to Schwartzenherg: I am struggling with the greatest want of provisions; the soldiers have been for some clays without even bread; and I am cut off from Nancy, so that I have no means of procur any.']

Discouragement seized some of our generals. One of them even refused to charge the enemy, who were harassing our rear-guard, and in the hearing of his troops cried

'Damn it, let us have peace!'

(A year later he got himself into trouble, was arrested, and only saved by the events of March 20. General was either banished or made his escape. and eventually died mad in a lunatic asylum.)

A rumour spread that the Emperor had summoned us to Paris, in order to try to reconquer the capital. I myself received very direct and confidential news of this. I was implored to go in person to headquarters, in order to try to induce the Emperor to make peace, not to comromise what remained of France and the army, even to abdicate in favour of his son; that would he the best means of making peace between France and the fureigners.

The Emperor could not help being aware of these feelings, any more than of the general discontent that he had raised. As he might have taken it amiss if I left my troops without orders, and might have suspected a plot, I refused to go, and reserved my explanation until we should reach our destination. We were in ignorance as to what had been passing in Paris since its occupation by the allies, and the Emperor was no better informed than we were. We talked over our position—that is to say, over the army and its future, the misfortunes that had befallen France through the obstinacy of a single man. The past overwhelmed, the present was not calculated to reassure us.

On the last day of our march, just as we were mounting our horses, General Gérard, accompanied by several others, came to me in the name of his troops. I cannot now remember whether the Marshal Duke of Reggio was with me. Gérard was spokesman; he pointed out to me the condition of affairs: that everyone was tired of it; that our misfortunes were heavy enough already, without an attempt being made to aggravate them by a foolhardy resistance, which would only expose Paris to the fate of Moscow if we attempted to drive out the enemy, as was currently reported; that he and his men were in nowise disposed to advance towards fresh disasters. I replied that I agreed with them, which was quite true, and that I would freely express my opinion to the Emperor.

'In that case,' they cried, 'count upon us. You are our chief; we will obey.'

We started and reached Fontainebleau. Great excitement reigned among the officers; they crowded into my quarters, begging me to go at once to the Emperor, to speak to him in the name of the army, and tell him that they had had enough of it, and that it must cease. I promised to do all in my power, and begged them to leave me for a few moments.

While I was still dressing an aide-de-camp came from the Duke of Ragusa, bearing a letter from my intimate friend General Beurnonville. This letter was addressed to me, to the Duke of Ragusa, and to the other Marshals. One of the officers read it aloud while I went on with my toilette. The seal had been broken by the Duke of Ragusa, who commanded our outposts.

Beurnonville was a member of the Provisional Government. He praised Marshals Mortier and Marmont, and their troops, who had fought bravely in defence of Paris; he spoke of the magnanimity of the allies, of the Emperor of Russia in particular, adding that they would no longer treat with Napoleon, that we were to have the English Constitution, that the Senate was going to set to work, etc.

As soon as I was ready I took the letter, and, with the Duke of Reggio I and several other generals, I went to the castle. In spite of our request, we were all followed by our respective staffs. They feared lest the Emperor, warned of our visit, should make up his mind to lay a trap for us.

'The times are changed,' I said ;' he would venture it the less now that the army is with us.'

The feeling among the Guard even was the same; they shared the discontent of the army at the disasters that the Emperor had brought upon France. However, our officers insisted upon following us to defend us if necessary. Many others, of all ranks, in the courtyard and within the apartments, shared the same feelings; all displayed impatience to have an end put to their anxiety. There certainly was a project to march upon Paris, but no one seemed disposed for it.

As soon as we were announced, the Duke of Reggio and I were shown into the study, where the Emperor was with the Dukes of Bassano (Maret) and Vicenza (Caulaincourt), the Prince of the Moskowa (Ney), the Prince of Neuchâtel (Berthier), Marshal Lefebvre, and others, whom I have now forgotten. This was the beginning of the scene that changed so many destinies.

The Emperor approached me.

'Good-day, Duke of Tarentum; how are you?'

'Very sad,' I replied, 'after so many unfortunate events! a surrender without honour! no effort made to save Paris! We are all overwhelmed and humiliated!'

'Certainly it is a great misfortune; what do your troops say?'

''That you have summoned us to march upon the capital. They share our grief, and I come now to declare to you that they will not expose Paris to the fate of Moscow. We think we have done enough, have given sufficient proof of our earnest desire to save France from the calamities that are now crowding upon her, without risking an attempt which would be more than unequal, and which can only end in losing everything. The troops are dying of hunger in the midst of their own country, reduced in number though they are by the disastrous events of the campaign, by privation, sickness, and, I must add, by discouragement. Since the occupation of the capital a large number of soldiers have retired to their own homes, and the remainder cannot find enough to live upon in the forest of Fontainebleau. If they advance they will find themselves in an open plain; our cavalry is weakened and exhausted; our horses can go no farther; we have not enough ammunition for one skirmish, and no means of procuring more. If we fail, moreover, as we most probably shall, what remains of us will be destroyed, and the whole of France will be at the mercy of the enemy. We can still impose upon them; let us retain our attitude. Our mind is made up; whatever decision may be arrived at, we are determined to have no more to do with it. For my own part, I declare to you that my sword shall never be drawn against Frenchmen, nor dyed with French blood. Whatever may be decided upon, we have had enough of this unlucky war without kindling civil war.'

'No one intends to march upon Paris,' said the Emperor.

I had expected him to burst into a violent rage, but his answer was given in a calm, mild voice. He repeated:

'The loss of Paris is a great misfortune.'

'Do you know,' said I, 'what is going on there?' They say that the allies will not treat with me.' 'Is that all you have heard ?'

'Yes.'

'Will your Majesty read this?'

I handed him Beurnonville's letter, and continued

'You will see from it exactly what measures are being taken, as it is written by one of the members of the Provisional Government.'

'Can I read it aloud?' asked the Emperor.

'Certainly,' I answered; 'it has already been made public in my room. You will see from the address that it was not sent to me alone. The Duke of Ragusa forwarded it to me open by an aide-de-camp.

The Emperor gave it to the Duke of Bassano, who read it aloud. When he had finished, the Emperor took it from him, and restored it to me, thanking me for the mark of confidence.

'You should never have had any doubt of it,' I answered.

'Quite true: I was wrong. You are a good and honourable man.'

'The important thing is to make up your mind, Sire; public opinion is taking form, and there is no time to be lost.'

He turned to all who were present, and said:

'Very good, gentlemen; since it must be so, I will abdicate. I have tried to bring happiness to France; I have not succeeded; events have been against me. I do not wish to increase our sufferings. But when I abdicate, what will you do? Will you accept the King of Rome as my successor, and the Empress as Regent?'

We all accepted unanimously.

'The first thing to he done,' he added, 'is to treat for a suspension of arms, and I shall send Commissioners to Paris. I nominate for this important mission the Marshals Prince of the Moskowa and Duke of Ragusa, and the Duke of Vicenza. Does this selection satisfy you?'

We replied in the affirmative.

He drew up the act of abdication, but changed the wording two or three times over. It is not, however, very clear in my memory whether this was done precisely at that moment; I think it was, but will not affirm it.

The allies having come to the determination not to treat further with the Emperor, the Commissioners, who had just been nominated and approved, became less his representatives than those of the army, and it was in the name of the latter that they were to act. The Emperor said

'Gentlemen, you may now retire. I am going to give directions relative to the instructions for the Commissioners, but I forbid them to make stipulations respecting anything personal to me.'

Then suddenly throwing himself on a sofa, and striking his thigh with his hand, he continued:

'Nonsense, gentlemen! let us leave all that alone, and march to-morrow. We shall beat them!'

I repeated to him briefly all that I had just said concerning the position of the army.

'No,' we all added, 'we have had enough of it; and remember that every hour that passes tells against the success of the mission that the envoys have to carry out.'

He did not insist, and said: 'Be ready to start at four o'clock,' and then dismissed us.

It was clear that he was only yielding to necessity, that his idea in summoning us so precipitately to Fontainebleau had been to order an immediate advance against Paris, as rumour had stated, and that he had not abandoned it, as only a minute previously he had said

'Nonsense, gentlemen I let us leave all that alone, and march to-morrow. We shall heat them '

Those words were to us a warning to take measures. After leaving his presence, we agreed that all authority should be placed in the hands of the Commissioners, that no step should he taken except under their direction until the conclusion of a treaty, and that the command of the army should be given to the Major-General, as the senior, but with a promise from him to carry out no orders of the Emperor, of whatever character, but only such as should be agreed upon by the Commissioners, and giving immediate notice thereof to the different corps. He accepted the command, and made the promise.

The news of what had just occurred spread rapidly, and caused great joy. Everyone was relieved of great anxiety, and breathed prayers for the success of the proposed mission.

Scarcely had we reached the gallery, on leaving the Emperor, when he sent the Duke of Vicenza to recall me. We stopped, and I returned to him.

'I have changed my mind regarding Marshal Marmont,' said he; 'he is commanding the outposts, and may be of use at Essonne. I wish you to take his place as Commissioner. Will you accept?'

'Yes,' I answered; 'and you may rely upon my doing all in my power.'

'I know it,' he said; 'you are a man of honour, and I trust in your loyalty.'

'But,' I continued, 'you must give the Marshals notice of this change.'

He told Caulaincourt to do so. On our way to where we had left the others in the gallery the latter told me that scarcely had we left the Emperor's presence when he said:

'Why did not Marshal Macdonald send me Beurnonville's letter by a courier?'

'That is part of your distrust of him,' the Duke of Vicenza had answered; 'we all know that he had received it an instant before coming to you with the Duke of Reggio, and that it had been read aloud after being opened by the Duke of Ragusa.'

'That makes a difference,' the Emperor had answered, adding presently: 'It seems to me advisable for the Duke of Ragusa to remain at Essonne; I wish Macdonald to replace him. Call him back.'

Thus it came about that I was summoned to play a part in this great drama of the fall of the Empire, and of the colossus that had for so long weighed upon Europe, which had at length armed herself to overthrow it.

On rejoining our comrades we informed them of the change that had taken place; they thought the Emperor had already made fresh plans. We insisted then more strongly than ever upon the obligation undertaken by the Major-General, and agreed to, moreover, by the Emperor— to wit, that he should do nothing except on the initiative and by direction of the Commissioners.

We returned once more to the castle for our instructions. The Emperor read them to us. He had had the clause inserted which forbade our making any stipulation concerning him personally; then he gave his deed of abdication to the Duke of Vicenza, and we started for Paris accompanied by the hearty wishes of the army for the success of our negotiations.

The Duke of Ragusa's aide-de-camp had already preceded us to Essonne; he had informed the Marshal of what had passed at the castle, and of the immediate arrival of the Commissioners, amongst whom he had at first been appointed. He did not know that I had been nominated in his place. We found him in great agitation, complaining that he had not been summoned to the meeting, an omission which we explained to him had been quite accidental. We asked him to send a messenger to ask for a safe conduct for us, that we might have all with the Emperor of Russia.

While we were awaiting the messenger's return, the Duke of Ragusa informed us that he had received overtures from the allies to dissociate himself from the Emperor's cause with his army corps, and that he had replied by counter- propositions. He feared lest every moment should bring him word that they were accepted. I regret to say that they had been already accepted, which was proved by later avowals and by events that shortly occurred. He had made them in concert with his principal generals. [See also some account of these negotiations from another independent source in the 'Memoirs of General Savary, Duke of Rovigo.']

This story is very painful to me, because it appears to imply a serious charge against the Duke of Ragusa, with whom my relations have since been friendly. I only mention it here in order to explain the part I played in the mission in which I was employed. Moreover, it is only for you, my son, although all the circumstances have been made public, and have called down much animadversion upon the poor Duke, which, added to other domestic sorrows, has made him very unhappy.

Our surprise, on learning from Marshal Marmont how far he had gone in his private negotiations, may be imagined. We pointed out to him his extreme imprudence, and the grave consequences that might ensue for France and the army, which by such a Step would be placed at the enemy's mercy. But 'first get me out of the difficulty, and lecture me afterwards.' Every representation or observation was now unnecessary. The first thing to be done was to prevent this breach, and retard as long as possible the effect of the proposals made by the fluke of Ragusa. These had been already accepted, and this last fact he concealed from us, or from me, at any rate, so upset and anxious was he about the whole matter.

One of us advised him to go to Fontainebleau, promising that we would detain the enemy's messenger by telling him that the Marshal had been summoned suddenly by the Emperor, and that he had to obey. This would only appear natural. Then, as it was unlikely that the Emperor of Russia would refuse to receive us, and to treat for a suspension of arms first of all, we would secure the inclusion of his troops. He refused, however, fearing that the Emperor might receive news of his private negotiation, and order his arrest and trial.

The Duke of Vicenza thought of and proposed another plan, which was to take the Duke of Ragusa with us, remarking that if our deed of nomination were not asked for, he would be supposed to be one of us; and in the contrary event we would say that we had added him. This settled, the Duke ordered General Souham, to whom he made over the temporary command of the troops, not to stir, whatever news he received, until his own return, which would take place at an early hour next day.

We were now informed that we might pass the allied outposts. We entered our carriages, Marshal Ney with the Duke of Vicenza, and the Duke of Ragusa with me. On reaching the castle of Petit-Bourg he observed that we were being driven UI) the avenue; he started.

'What objection have you?' I asked.

'It is,' he replied, 'the headquarters of the allies' advance-guard, commanded by the Crown Prince of Wurtemberg.'

Well, what of that?'

'It is with him that I made my bargain, and supposing he requires its execution?'

'If that he so, stay in the carriage; as soon as we stop I will tell the two other Commissioners,' which I did.

The Generalissimo Prince Schwartzenherg came to meet us, and led us to the Crown Prince, who received us very dryly, telling us bitterly that we had caused the misfortunes of all Europe, which was true enough: but the reproach was the more out of place in his mouth, as he, like his father, was one day to profit by these said misfortunes, which brought him the title of King and the aggrandisement of the Grand Duchy of Wurtemberg after it had been raised to a kingdom. Though we did not tell him this plainly, we let him see that we thought it. He quitted the room with every mark of temper and annoyance, and did not reappear.


 


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