Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
I WILL now return to our
negotiations and our line of demarcation. The annoyances and delays we
had had to put up with were but a prelude to one much more serious
While we were busied
about sending out the couriers to settle the demarcations that had been
altered upon our instance, we received an urgent message from the
Emperor of Russia, demanding our immediate attendance upon him.
On arriving we noticed
his severe manner and threatening tone.
'I am indignant,
gentlemen,' he said, 'at learning the part you are playing here. Was it
to deceive my good faith that you came hither as negotiators? Was it in
order that you might assist Napoleon's escape?'
From our dismayed manner
he could see that we were not affecting surprise. Indeed, we were
confounded by this improbable news.
'What!' I said, can your
Majesty believe that? After your generosity has been made known to and
realized by Napoleon, after his acceptance of your offers guaranteeing
his safety, can you believe that he would expose himself to seizure by
the allied troops, that he would risk being taken by a band of Cossacks,
and spending the rest of his life in captivity, if not worse? No,' I
continued with warmth, 'that cannot be; it is not true. This piece of
news is false, invented; someone has wickedly deceived your Majesty, in
order to check your kindness towards Napoleon!'
'Here is the report,' he
returned, 'addressed to me, and signed by-I think, Prince Repnine, who
commands my forces at La Ferté-Aleps; and I am bound to believe him.'
'Someone has deceived or
led him into error,' I replied.
The report was in
Russian; the Emperor translated it. In it his General informed him that
the French General D—, who was opposed to him, had sent him word that he
had just received intelligence that Napoleon, with fifty mounted
chasseurs of his Guard, had fled, no one knew whither; that not knowing
to whom to apply, he begged him to obtain orders for him and his cavalry
from the Provisional Government.
This may all have arisen from the ill-will, misunderstanding, and
intrigues of this same Provisional Government, which had numerous agents
at all the points occupied by the army, to deceive the leaders as to the
course of affairs, to discourage and alienate the men, and instigate
defections. This was done to a large extent.
I proposed to the Emperor
to send one of his aides-de- camp with one of mine to Fontainebleau, to
verify this news, and to assure themselves of Napoleon's presence there.
He agreed, and the officers started; but while awaiting their return he
suspended all negotiations, as well as the execution of the demarcation
agreed upon at the armistice.
On reaching Marshal Ney's
house we had proof positive of the falsity of the news, for a letter had
arrived from the Emperor Napoleon, dated that very day (and he was said
to have taken flight the day before), demanding the return of his act of
abdication, and revoking our powers. We could not imagine what had
induced him to go back upon his previous determination, and we, in our
turn, indignant that he should think us capable of lending ourselves to
such folly (I might use a much stronger word), refused point blank.
This demand, however, had
one advantage, inasmuch as it proved to us that Napoleon was still at
Fontainebleau; but we vainly strove to find the answer to the riddle of
the flight, as well as the motives that had induced him to re- demand
his act of abdication.
returned, and confirmed our assertion that there was no truth in the
report of the Emperor's flight. The suspension was removed ; we hurried
on the tracing of the lines of demarcation, with directions that they
were to be carried out forthwith, for our troops were very badly off in
their bivouacs, and crowded in their cantonments for supplies. Rations
were very seldom distributed, and this augmented discontent and
discouragement, and increased desertion, to the great satisfaction of
the allies and the Provisional Government, so awed were they by these
skeleton remains of troops who had shown their valour in so many battles
and had more than once made Europe tremble.
I cannot say the same for
their leaders. They vied with each other in displaying anxiety to submit
themselves, in spite of all our entreaties and advice. Scarcely had each
one made peace for himself in the name of his troops, who were ignorant
of what was going on, than he abandoned them, and hurried to Paris, down
to General Molitor even, whom I had left in charge of my titulary corps,
and who, despite my injunctions, made terms for himself behind my back.
I may repeat here what I
have already said, that the honour of the Emperor Alexander would not
allow him to profit by these desertions and to make them a pretext for
breaking off negotiations with us, for we now only represented a
fictitious army. He kept all his promises, all his engagements to
Napoleon, and always recognized us as Commissioners.
While the negotiations
were in progress, I questioned my aide-de-camp who had accompanied the
Emperor's to Fontainebleau. He had learned there that a certain General
Allix, commanding at Sens, had seen an Austrian Major pass on his way to
Paris from Dijon, where his Sovereign was. It appears that this Major
told him that his master, from whom he was bearing despatches to the
Emperor of Russia, disapproved strongly of all that had been and was
still being done in Paris; that he had taken up arms against Napoleon in
order to put a check upon his ambition and reduce his power ; that he
was quite willing, as he had undertaken, to enclose him within the
ancient limits of France; but that he did not, and never would, consent
to the dethronement of his son-in-law, his daughter, and the proper arid
direct heir to their crown.
According to this real or
invented story, the General had immediately sent notice to Napoleon,
whose hopes were raised for a moment, but were quickly dashed again, for
he learned from a better and more trustworthy source that his
father-in-law approved of his deposition and the recall of the Bourbons.
it was by the light of this will-o'-the-wisp that he had written to
demand the return of his act of abdication. I have never been able to
get to the bottom of the story of his flight. I might have questioned
the French General who told it to the Russian, but for the sake of his
honour I would not ask him to enlighten me.
At length, on April 11,
the last signature was affixed to the treaty between the Foreign
Ministers and ourselves. That same evening we handed over the act of
abdication to the Provisional Government in return for their guarantee
that the clauses should be carried out as far as concerned them, and
under the guarantee of the allied Powers. The exchange of ratifications
was fixed for the 14th, at eleven o'clock in the morning, at the house
of Prince Hardenberg. I was charged to hand in ours.
The members of the
Provisional Government had wished to impart some solemnity to the
reception of the act of abdication ; they had summoned their ministers
and the members of their party. After we had handed in this document,
rightly regarded as the last and most important ever signed by a
Sovereign once the most powerful in the world, Monsieur de 'l'alleyrancl
advanced towards us and said
'Now that all is
concluded, we ask you, gentlemen, to give in your adhesion to the new
order of things that has been established.'
Marshal Ney hastened to
say that he had already done so. I do not address myself to you, but to
the Dukes of Tarentum and Vicenza.'
I simply answered that I
refused; Caulaincourt did likewise. Talleyrand could neither change
colour nor turn paler, but his face swelled, as though he were bursting
with rage. However, he contained himself, and merely said to me:
But, Monsieur Ie Maréchal,
your Personal adhesion is of importance to us, for it cannot fail to
exercise great influence upon the army and upon France. All your
engagements are now terminated, and you are free.'
'No,' I replied, 'and no
one ought to know better than yourself that as long as a treaty is not
ratified it may be annulled; when that formality, has been fulfilled, I
shall know what to do.'
'I'alleyrand made no
answer, stepped back several paces, and we withdrew. [It was not until
after Bonaparte had written and signed his formal abdication that
Marshal Macdonald sent to the Provisional Government his recognition
expressed in the following dignified and simple manner: 'Being released
from my allegiance by the abdication of the Emperor Napoleon, I declare
that I conform to the Acts of the Senate and the Provisional
Government.' - Bourrienne's 'Memoirs of Napoleon,' standard edition of
188, vol. iii., p. 170.]
Ney informed us that, as
his mission was now at an end, he should not return with us to
Fontainebleau and then, apparently addressing me, he said
'I shall not go there in
search of rewards.'
'I am not in the habit of
receiving, still less of asking for them,' I answered ; 'and ' (with an
allusion to the 15,000 francs) neither have I received any in advance. I
am returning thither to perform a duty, to keep to the end my
engagements and the promises I have made to the Emperor.'
Next day, April 12,
Caulaincourt and I started together for Fontainebleau. The Count d'-Artois
entered Paris, I believe, at the same moment with the title of
Lieutenant- General of the kingdom.
We found Napoleon calm
and tranquil, although he learned that all was concluded. He again
thanked us affectionately for all that we had done for him and his
family. Not seeing Marshal Ney, he merely asked, without further remark
'Did not the Marshal
return with you?'
It was easy for him to
interpret the silence with which we received this suggestive inquiry,
because he had noticed plainly that he was not there. It was nearly six
o'clock. He kept us to dinner, but postponed it for an hour, in order to
draw up the ratifications.
Just as we were going in
to dinner he sent us word to begin without him, as he felt unwell and
was going to bed; food was, however, sent to him. He also settled nine
o'clock in the morning as the hour at which we were to come to receive
An aide-de-camp arrived
from the Emperor of Russia, I know not whether before, during, or after
dinner. He was the bearer of the ratified treaty, sent by his master to
Napoleon out of courtesy. This aide-dc-camp was, I believe, Monsieur de
Schuvaloff, one of Alexander's favourites. He was admitted, I believe,
but I do not know what passed between him and Napoleon. If the Duke of
Vicenza ever writes his Memoirs, no doubt he will mention the subject.
All those who had
remained at Fontainebleau, and who were for the most part attached to
the service of the house and person of the Emperor, were overjoyed at
seeing the termination of this great drama. They had nothing further to
hope for from him decency had kept them at their posts, but they longed
for the moment of dismissal.
Next morning, at nine
o'clock, I was introduced into the Imperial presence. The Dukes of
l3assano and Vicenza were with Napoleon. He was seated before the fire,
clothed in a simple dimity dressing-gown, his legs bare, his feet in
slippers, his neck uncovered, his head buried in his hands, and his
elbows resting on his knees. He did not stir when I entered, although my
name was announced in a loud voice. After some minutes of silent waiting
the Duke of Vicenza said to him
'Sire, the Marshal Duke
of Tarentum has come in obedience to your orders; it is important that
he should start again for Paris.'
The Emperor appeared to
wake from a dream, and to be surprised at seeing me. He got up and gave
me his hand with an apology for not having heard me enter. As soon as he
uncovered his face I was struck by his appearance; his complexion was
yellow and greenish.
'Is your Majesty not
well?' I asked.
'No,' answered Napoleon;
'I have been very ill all night.' [It is alleged that Napoleon took
poison on the night of March 12. [see Baron Fain's ' Memoirs'; also
Bourrienne's' Memoirs of Napoleon,' Eng. edit., vol. iii., P 233.1 It is
probable, however, that the Emperor had taken an overdose of opium, with
the intention of obtaining artificial sleep for his overtaxed system,
exhausted physically by his recent rapid journey to Fontainebleau, and
mentally by the strain and anxiety of the previous weeks.]
Thereupon he seated
himself again, dropped into his former attitude, and appeared once more
plunged in his reveries. The two other spectators and I looked at each
other without speaking. At last, after a somewhat lengthy pause, the
Duke of Vicenza again said:
'Sire, the Duke of
Tarentum is waiting. The deeds which he is to take with him ought to be
delivered to him, seeing that the delay will expire in twenty-four
hours, and that the exchange is to be made in Paris.'
The Emperor, rousing
himself a second time from his meditations, got up more briskly, but his
colour had not changed, and his face was melancholy.
''I feel rather better,'
he said to us, and then added: 'Duke of Tarentum, I cannot tell you how
touched by, and grateful for, your conduct and devotion I am. I did not
know you well; I was prejudiced against you. I have done so much for,
and loaded with favours, so many others, who have abandoned and
neglected me; and you, who owed me nothing, have remained faithful to me
I appreciate your loyalty all too late, and I sincerely regret that I am
no longer in a position to express my gratitude to you except by words.
I know that your delicacy and disinterestedness have left you without
fortune; and I am not unaware of the generous manner in which you
refused to accept a present of considerable value at Gratz in 1809,
which the States of the province offered you in token of their gratitude
for the strict discipline and order you maintained among my troops, and
where your impartial rule did justice to all. Formerly I was rich and
powerful; now I am poor.'
'I flatter myself;' I
answered, 'that your Majesty thinks too well of me to believe that I
would accept any reward in your present position; my conduct, upon which
you place too high a value, has been entirely disinterested.'
'I know it,' he said,
pressing my hand; 'but, without hurting your delicacy, you can accept a
present of another kind, the sword of Mourad-Bey which I wore at the
battle of Mont-Thabor; keep it in remembrance of me and of my friendship
He had it brought to him,
and offered it to me. I thought I might accept this present. I thanked
him very warmly; we threw ourselves into each other's arms, and embraced
one another effusively. He begged me to come and see him in Elba if any
chance took me into Italy; I promised. At length we separated. The
documents that I was to carry were given to me. I made my preparations
for departure, and since then I have never seen Napoleon again.
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