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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter XXIX


IMMEDIATELY upon our arrival we went to the castle. It was one o'clock in the morning. It was with the greatest difficulty that the Emperor was awakened and persuaded to get up; Caulaincourt himself had to go into his room and shake him somewhat roughly. The fact that he was able to sleep so soundly in such a. situation would seem to denote that he was either perfectly indifferent, or that he possessed a mind calm beyond that of ordinary men.

He appeared at length, and thanked us for the efforts we had made. He said that the defection of Marmont's corps must necessarily have had great influence upon the determination of the allies. In that he was not mistaken, for in the second interview the Emperor of Russia had spoken to us, upon all that concerned our mission, in a much more haughty and decided tone than in the first. In speaking of Napoleon personally, although, as I have said, his attitude was solemn, yet he made with much grace the offer o receiving him into his dominions.

When we came to this special point the Emperor asked how he and his family would be treated, and expressed a high opinion of the character of Alexander. He said that he knew him sufficiently well to feel certain that, had he not been worried and imposed upon by the allies, and above all by the influence of England, Alexander would have treated with him, and would have maintained his sovereignty and his dynasty in France. He added that the Empress had written to him from either Blois or Orleans to be of good courage; that she was sufficiently convinced of the affection her father bore her to be persuaded, as she also wished him to be, that the Emperor Francis would never Live his consent or permission to the dethronement of his son-in-law; that she herself was determined to share his fate, be it what it might, that no human power should keep her from him, and that she was preparing to join him.

'You do not know the Empress,' he said; 'she is a Princess of strong character. If necessary, she would play the part over again of Maria Theresa when she exhibited her son to the Hungarians.

We, however, knew how much this feminine influence had been worth during the campaign of 1813, for during the armistice and the negotiations at Prague she had guaranteed, so the Emperor told me, the neutrality of her father. But Napoleon, as is universally known, liked to cherish illusions.

We tried to brush away the frivolous hopes with which the Empress encouraged him; the strongest proof that she was mistaken was to be found in the violent opposition to us that had been openly displayed by the Generalissimo Prince Schwartzenberg, and certainly he would not have acted as he did without formal orders from the Emperor of Austria, who was at Dijon, and whom he represented in the councils of the allies.

Napoleon could not help admitting that our observations contained some truth, but, suddenly leaving aside politics, the destiny of France and of the army, and only thinking of what was personal to himself, he came back to the offer made by the allies, and inquired whether we had discovered what was meant by the 'island of Elba or something else.' We answered in the negative, and after a few moments' reflection he said:

'It is probably the island of Corsica, and they would not name it in order to avoid the pun.* Very good, I choose the island of Elba. Do any of you gentlemen know that island? Is there a palace, a castle, a suitable or even tolerable dwelling there?'

We had none of us ever been there.

In that case, seek through the army for an artillery or engineer officer. There must be some who have served there.'

He gave immediate orders to that effect.

He again spoke of Marmont's defection.

'It is I,' he said, 'who am probably the cause of it. I wished to know whether you had passed the outposts of the allies without difficulty, and also to talk with the Duke of Ragusa. I sent several officers in succession to summon him to give me an account of your journey. He had gone with you. His generals, who knew everything, and had had a share in the treaty of desertion, became uneasy at my repeated messages. They supposed that I knew all, and, fearing arrest, they took away their troops without even sending warning to the surrounding regiments whom they thus compromised and almost demoralized. The news upon this subject is very bad ; it kept arriving, and it would appear that even the officers and generals are not quite free. Unfortunately we could provide no remedy; however, I ordered the echelons to advance and occupy the lines of Essonne.'

He had guessed correctly. He spoke of Marmont with great moderation, and we explained to him that he had been at first led away by indirect overtures from persons attached to him by friendship and bound to him by gratitude. Unhappily, having listened to these overtures, he made the mistake of answering by some counter-propositions, which he did not think were of a nature to be accepted ; they were, however, and already were when we reached Essonne. But the actual catastrophe in nowise depended upon his will, for when he came with us to Paris he left stringent orders with his generals that whatever happened they were to await his return, which would take place early next morning.

This event was the more annoying to him because he had arranged with Prince Schwartzenberg, at Petit-Bourg, that, notwithstanding their private agreement, his corps should not be sent into Normandy, should not be separated from the rest of the army, and should be included in any arrangement made by our negotiation. Fate, however, willed otherwise.

Under the particular circumstances the Duke of Ragusa could only be accused of culpable thoughtlessness; ,under others it would no doubt have been a crime of high-treason. But under existing circumstances what had he to hope for or to gain, raised as he was to the chief dignity in the army, to the most distinguished social title? Office? He practically held it already. The Emperor did not pursue the subject; he was only dissimulating, as was made evident by a proclamation issued the following year on the occasion of his fatal return from Elba.

We begged the Emperor to take immediate steps to have the necessary instructions regarding so much of the negotiations as was personal to him and his family drawn up. He promised to send them to us next day, and thanked me personally for my behaviour and services. We retired, after again begging him not to delay, as there was a chance that the events at Essoniie might increase the downheartedness of the army, and set an example to others. It was also necessary not to allow the goodwill and interest that the Emperor of Russia had displayed towards him and his family to cool.

During the morning we saw some of our colleagues, the Marshals, and a number of generals and superior officers. There was much excitement abroad, and, as a consequence of the discouragement in the army, opinion seemed to lean towards a change of government. We therefore had reason to apprehend partial and private desertions, and they occurred, notwithstanding all our efforts to prevent them. We pointed out that our strength lay in our unity; that by preserving our attitude, which was still formidable to the allies, we should awe them and obtain better terms; that it would be cowardice to abandon Napoleon, who was still their chief, and to leave him at the mercy of his enemies at home and abroad. Some regret was also expressed that he did not take the desperate step of fomenting a rising, and dragging the remains of our army to certain destruction, or, to crown our misfortunes, to civil war I cannot quite remember whether it was now, or at our first starting for Paris, that we made over the command of the army to Marshal Berthier, Prince of Neuchâtel, Vice- Constable and Major-General. The exact moment does not matter, for although we were the Emperor's envoys, we bore also the title of Commissioners of the Army, and it was only in the latter quality that the allies would receive us. We therefore agreed and instructed the Prince of Neuchâtel that he was to carry out no orders of Napoleon respecting movements of troops, and that he was to be guided entirely by the orders that we, the Commissioners, would give him to support our negotiations. This arrangement was concluded; all promised and bound themselves to conform to it ; you will see shortly how that promise was kept. Nevertheless, we never ceased repeating that upon our unity, and the firm and imposing attitude of the army, depended the success of our mission.

I commanded five army corps, including that of the Duke of Reggio, who was again under my orders. In my absence I delegated this command to the Duke, and gave to General Molitor that of the corps of which I was titular chief; but for the sake of unity I placed it also under the instructions of the Marshal.

After this long conference, at which many unnecessary things were discussed, we went to the castle. The bases of the treaty were prepared, arid, furnished with plenary powers, we took leave of Napoleon, who appeared more resigned to his ultimate fate. He desired us to hasten matters, and bring about a speedy termination. We reached Paris late at night, and sent to apprise the Emperor of Russia, who postponed the interview until eleven o'clock next morning.

When we arrived, Alexander already knew that Napoleon had accepted the sovereignty of the island of Elba.

We were very graciously recived, hut on the one hand there were personal considerations, on the other Alexander was secretly very glad to see the satisfactory conclusion of a struggle that the allies feared might still be prolonged. They would not now have had to fight the remnants of an army, but an armed population. A large number of the inhabitants of the Vosges and Lorraine had formed themselves into bodies of francs-tireurs, and were doing great mischief to the communications of the foreign troops. The Emperor Alexander had told me, and has since repeated to me, that in those departments alone they had lost 3,000 men without meeting a single French soldier!

The great majority in the capital was in favour of Napoleon, and the entire National Guard were on his side. The allies did not feel very safe there. The armies that had evacuated Spain, the frontiers of Italy and Piedmont, were still at liberty, and might unite with ours ; the garrisons on the Rhine and on the Meuse might form a considerable force, and support insurrections which, from being partial at first, might come to be very serious general risings ; the energy of Napoleon, although weakened by so many reverses, might reawaken, and give a great impulse to France. All that was realized, and was, no doubt, the mainspring which rendered the Sovereigns so obliging, and the Provisional Government so uncomfortable, so weak, and so obsequious.

The first point for consideration was that of an armistice for an indefinite length of time, and a line of demarcation. The Emperor of Russia said that, to give us a token of his esteem, he authorized us to fix it. We hesitated an instant; then I spoke, and asked for the left hank of the Seine. Alexander replied that he would willingly consent, but pointed out that Paris would thus be cut in half, that meetings between the troops, who must necessarily cross the river on business, or for their wants, or simply from curiosity, might produce results disagreeable to the capital, and that it would be better to avoid any contact between the troops on either side. Moreover, he thought that the allies would never consent to withdraw their advance-guards from the positions they occupied militarily.; that it would be better and preferable to leave the troops outside rather than to fill the town with them, where they would be a hindrance to the inhabitants and to business.

We admitted the justice of these arguments, and did not insist. Thereupon the Emperor Alexander offered me a pencil. which I begged to he allowed not to take; but he insisted with so much kindness upon my drawing the line that I at last gave way. It went round the outside of Paris, on both banks of the Seine, starting from the outposts of the foreigners, leaving to us on the left bank all the places not occupied that day by their troops. A map of France lay upon the table, and the outline was soon made. The armistice included all the armies and all the places which in France or abroad were still holding out. Officers from both sides were to he sent to all points to stop hostilities but as it was impossible to regulate from Paris the distant demarcations, we agreed that each side should keep the positions they might be holding at the moment when the envoys, who were to travel with the utmost speed, should arrive.

The line of the Seine was the most important; it described, from the mouth of the river at Essonne, 'a semicircle round the outposts of the allies to below Paris. The Emperor of Russia, after examining and approving this outline, gave orders to Prince Schwartzenherg to have copies made of it, and to send out instructions for the immediate cessation of hostilities. He then put us into communication with the ministers representing the allied Powers, to draw up the articles of the treaty, of which he undertook to secure the acceptance of the terms by the Provisional Government, in return for the receipt of the act of abdication.

The most urgent matter was the notification of the suspension of hostilities. As soon as we were informed that the Austrian staff had finished making a clean copy of the line of demarcation, we went to Prince Schwartzenberg to receive our copy, to read over our respective instructions to the officers hearing the notification of the armistice, to learn their names, and arrange for their departure.

While toy colleagues were settling these matters, I thought that I would verify the copy of the line of demarcation, and it was a very fortunate idea of mine to do so, for, either by accident or design, our line, instead of beginning at the river at Essonne, had been pushed hack to beyond Fontainebleau. The result of this would have been that the Emperor Napoleon must have quitted the castle, and our troops have retired to Nemours, and that very precipitately, for the convention upon this Point was to be carried out within twenty-four hours.

What made me think then, and keeps alive my suspicion now, that this was not merely done by mistake, was the obstinacy with which the Austrian staff and the Prince himself declared that the original had been exactly copied. I demanded to see it, so as to compare it with the copy; it could not be found. They declared it had been returned to the Emperor of Russia; we insisted upon their sending for it, but they made objections.

At last, taking up my hat, I announced that I was going to the Emperor. Seeing my determination, and that my colleagues intended to support me by going with me, the Austrians yielded, and sent, or did not send, for the original map; but at the end of an hour or two, without producing this map, Prince Schwartzenberg told us that the Emperor of •Russia said that we were right upon every point, and the copies were accordingly rectified.

When these points were settled to our satisfaction, my colleagues thanked me for the precaution I had taken of comparing the line of demarcation, which we were to send immediately to Fontainebleau. What disappointment and annoyance would have been experienced at the French headquarters if we had received this map without examining it, as a start must have been made without delay! While writing these lines I still tremble to think of what the consequences might have been, for we should not have yielded. This was a fresh proof to us of the honour of the Emperor Alexander.

I must retrace my steps a little to mention a circumstance which had escaped me. On our return to Paris, while at dinner with Marshal Ney, one of his aides-dc-camp entered in a state of great joy, and said to him

'The Emperor of Russia was very pleased indeed with your letter, and here is the proof,' he continued, showing round his neck a decoration with which that Sovereign had just honoured him. He added that Monsieur de Talley- rand, President of the Provisional Government, thanked the Marshal for the important news he had given him. We all showed our surprise, and asked what this meant. Ney, much embarrassed, stammered out that on leaving the conference we had had with Napoleon the previous night, and fearing lest, in spite of his acceptance of the conditions proposed, he might commit some folly, he, Marshal Ney, had considered it his duty to send an account of what had passed to the Emperor of Russia, so that the allies, being forewarned, might take their measures accordingly!

We observed that he had no business to take such a step without consulting us, as his position as Commissioner lent great weight to his actions. To reassure us he said he would show us copies of his letters. He summoned his secretary, who at first said he could not find them, and then came back to say that the minutes had been scratched out and altered, so as to be illegible. At that moment we received notice from the Emperor of Russia that he would receive us at eleven o'clock next morning. We thought we were going to inform him of Napoleon's acceptance of Elba, but he already knew all that had passed from Marshal Ney's letter, of which I have never heard the details.

Even without the sudden arrival of the tell-tale aide-de- camp, we were destined to know of this incident, for, before we were announced to the Emperor of Russia, we met Monsieur de Nesselrodc, his Foreign Secretary, who paid some compliments to Marshal Ney upon his letter, and shortly afterwards the Emperor thanked him for it affectionately. As for Monsieur de 'l'alleyrand, he was malicious enough to cause the letter he had received to he printed in the Moniteur, but whether in part or in lull I know not.

This explains why Marshal Ney gave his personal adhesion to the new order of things unknown to us, and while we were still actually negotiating and why, later on, after the signature of the treaty, he quitted us, and would not accompany us back to Fontainebleau. No doubt the Aloniteur would have found its way thither, and he thus avoided the direct reproaches that Napoleon would not have failed to heap upon him.

Caulaincourt told me that, after being appointed one of the Commissioners, Ney had gone back to Napoleon, and told him that he had not sufficient money for the expenses of his mission. Napoleon had answered that he had only small funds remaining at Fontainebleau, that he had ordered the recall of the treasure that was with the Empress, but that meanwhile he promised him 15,000 francs (600). Caulaincourt added that he had received this sum on our first return from Paris, and probably after he had written the letters to the Emperor of Russia and to Talleyrand. However, we wanted for nothing; we were driven in Napoleon's carriages, and the Duke of Vicenza paid in his name the expenses of hiring post-horses. But I have always heard that it was a custom of the Marshal whenever he was sent upon a mission to object that he had no money, and that Napoleon supplied him.

In relating this episode I am not moved by any animosity against Marshal Ney, whose bravery I have admired more than other people, and I was one of those who helped to name him the 'Bravest of the brave.' Besides, I am only writing for you, my son ; this episode will simply serve to let you know the truth of what may be published concerning the letters to the Emperor of Russia and Monsieur de Talleyrand, when you are old enough to hear about, and understand, the momentous events in which I have been an actor, and which I witnessed.


 


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