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.']
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
(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
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
'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
'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 ?'
'Will your Majesty read
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
'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
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
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
'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
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.