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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter XL


EVENTS succeeded each other rapidly in 18i. The remains of the army were collected around Paris, Napoleon was once more compelled to abdicate, and a temporary Government established. This Government, wishing to gauge the opinions of the Generals, called a meeting, to which I was invited. I refused to attend it, as I had resigned my command to the King, and felt that, if I accepted the invitation, I should appear to be associating myself with recent events and recognizing an order of things which my opinions would not allow me to support.

One of the first proceedings of this Government had been to raise new levies and organize battalions of federates, who soon adopted a bullying, threatening manner towards all who were not in agreement with them—that is to say, the partisans of Royal Government. I decided to return secretly to Paris, so as to be on the spot and better able to profit by chance events. I entered it at night, and took shelter with one of my aides-de-camp. So well hidden was I that next day everyone knew where I was! This discovery did me no harm; on the contrary, it brought about an interview with Monsieur Hyde de Neuville, who brought me (better late than never) a note from the the Duchesse d'Angoulême, then in London, and unlimited powers from the King, with a nomination to a membership in a secret Government, which was to restore proper authority as soon as possible. Monsieur Hyde de Neuville, who had quitted Ghent a month previously, had been to London in the hope of finding means of returning to France. They were fighting on the frontier, so it would have been imprudent to attempt to enter there.

Several private meetings were held in my house, of which I had openly retaken possession. We had many supporters in the capital, and it was proposed to risk a Royalist movement. 1 was opposed to it, as I did not see how we were to struggle against the temporary Government with Fouché at its head, and also because the army was still too exasperated to abandon the cause into which it had been dragged.

Our party consisted of Marshal Oudinot (Duke of Reggio), of Messieurs de Sémonville, D'André, Du Bouchage, and Baron Pasquier, with one or two others whose names I have forgotten. Baron Pasquier entered while we were discussing the advantages of, and objections to, attempting a rising. He brought Monsieur de Vitrolles with him; both had just come from Fouché. They declared that the movement was unnecessary; that the Duke of Otranto (Fouché) was in the interests of the King; that he had received from him plenary powers later than ours; that our intentions were known, our every step watched, and that we should infallibly fail. Baron Pasquier added that in a few days we should have by force things that we might vainly attempt to obtain by other means.

Monsieur de Vitrolles confirmed what he said, and they added that they enjoyed the full confidence of the Duke of Otranto, who did nothing without asking and taking their opinion. Monsieur de Vitrolles was an ultra-Royalist, and was therefore above suspicion.

We decided to do nothing, but thought it would be only proper to inform the King of the reason why we took no steps. One of us was to be deputed to go to his Majesty, and I was asked to undertake the mission; I agreed. Fouché was informed of this next day; he wished to see me. I at first felt very strong disinclination to such an interview, but was persuaded to agree to it, as I was informed that I should be told of many things for the King which could not be entrusted to paper. The capitulation of Paris and an armistice had just been arranged; the French arm)' was retiring across the Loire.

At the appointed hour I went to the Tuileries, where the temporary Government held its sittings. I expected to be received privately, but I found the Duke of Otranto and some of his colleagues amid a number of Generals and others. Several came to greet me. A heated discussion ensued. I treated them very severely, reproaching them for the misfortunes under which France was groaning, and accusing them of having provoked the strangers, who in two days would be masters of Paris. They all talked at once, and such nonsense that at last Fouché took me aside, and said

'Never mind them; they are a set of fools.'

One of his colleagues called to me, in a loud voice

'Monsieur Ic Maréchal, you are going to see the King. Tell him that what we want is independence, the tricoloured cockade and—'

I did not hear the remainder, contenting myself with a shrug of my shoulders. The days of the temporary Government were numbered.

Fouché confirmed all that Pasquier and De Vitrolles had told me the previous evening at our meeting—he was working on behalf of the King. He begged me to assure his Majesty of his devotion and fidelity—to say that, if he had played a part in recent events, it was only in order to serve him better! He urged me to impress upon him the advisability of coming quickly, and of preceding the foreigners, if pos. sible, so as to check any movement by his presence. He added that, if the King wished to give an agreeable surprise to the nation, and thus attract the army to himself; he should wear the tricoloured cockade, which he ought to mind the less as he had worn it before the emigration. He ended by asking me to go and see Davoüt, Commander-in-chief and Minister for War, who was expecting me, and would give me my passport. I took leave of Fouché, and went to the War Office.

Marshal Davoüt received me warmly. He told me that the effective force of the army that was going to the other side of the Loire amounted to 150,000 men and 30,000 horses, with 750 pieces of ordnance; that he would place this imposing force at the King's service if he would leave them the tricoloured cockade and wear it himself; that the great majority of people in France were deeply attached to these colours, under which they had so often fought victoriously ; that that would be the best means of regaining the affection of all citizens worthy of the name; and that his Majesty might then give the army a chief of his own choice, if it did not please him to leave him (Davoüt) at its head.

I promised, as I had done to Fouché, to relate faithfully to the King all that I had heard; but I added that I doubted his accepting the conditions laid down.

As a matter of policy, I am still convinced that the adoption of these colours, on the occasion of the first Restoration, would have saved France from the calamities that weighed so heavily upon her; but at such a moment, in presence of the allies, could the King honourably decide upon such a course? Although policy excuses everything, even the greatest mistakes, one had been committed at the first Restoration, and perhaps, also, at the second, because this was not clearly understood. It cannot he said that the mistake was committed a second time owing to want of good advice. The King was inclined to give way when 1 saw him, but the counsellors he brought from Ghent dissuaded him.

I started with Monsieur Hyde de Neuville; although we were serving the same cause, I was far from sharing his extreme opinions. A staff-officer passed us through the outposts, and it was with a feeling of sorrow that I found myself among those of the foreigners.

It was believed that the King was at Cambrai; but that very day he had come to sleep at .Arnouville, a few leagues from Paris. His Ministers preceded him; I met them rather on this side of Louvres. They halted on learning who I was. They had no news from Paris, and that which I brought appeared to them so important as to make them anxious that the King should stop at Gonesse, whither we went to wait for him.

His Majesty embraced me very cordially, praising the fidelity I had maintained towards him. He gave me a private interview, which lasted for a full hour. The King could not get over his surprise at finding the importance that was attached to so apparently trivial a thing as the cockade---'a plaything' he called it.

'But, your Majesty,' said I, 'were you only playing when you once adopted and wore these colours?'

'The circumstances were very different,' he replied. 'At that time I had to master the Revolution.'

''And to make use of it,' I hastily remarked, 'on your first return. The circumstances are the same now. Moreover, were not these in former days the colours of the Royal Family, and did not the Dutch receive them from Henry IV.?

'Yes,' answered the King; but they were the livery colours of his house.'

'No doubt your Majesty will also remember that at the gates of the capital the same monarch remarked that "Paris was well worth a Mass"?

'Certainly; but it was not a very Catholic speech.' Finally the King said he would consult his Ministers and allies, and took me on with him to Arnouville.

After dinner, Monsieur, the 1)uc de Berry, the principal officers, and some of the Ministers came in. The King said:

'My brother, my nephew, here is our friend the Marshal; embrace him.'

Monsieur did it with very good grace, but his son displayed some embarrassment and reluctance. I do not know whether he thought the favour too great, or whether he remembered the discussion we had had before the departure of the King. Conversation turned naturally upon existing circumstances and the causes that had produced them. Everybody indiscriminately, but especially the army, was accused of having joined a colossal plot to upset the Royal Government and restore Napoleon.

I, on the other hand, maintained that the faults of which I could speak boldly, since they had been avowed boldly in the proclamation of Camhrai—prodigality, injustice, abuses, favours distributed without discernment, violation of the Charter, haughtiness, contempt—had contributed to embitter the army and a portion of the nation; that even had Napoleon not appeared, there would have been risings, as they had been foreshadowed by unmistakable portents. 1 declared, with the same boldness, that certain Generals had not followed a straight line, to use the expression of Count Ferrand; that when they found their influence spreading, the appearance of their old leader had sufficed to turn all their heads, as a spark might create a conflagration; that, on the whole, the officers were not guilty ; and that, in acting as they had done, they simply followed the regimental money-chests. A proof, an unanswerable proof, that there had been no plot was contained in the fact that during the Hundred Days no individuals had boasted of having had anything to do with it. Had it been otherwise, men would have been proud of it, and publicly solicited rewards. Surely those who had done wrong would not have been kept from self-glorification by vanity or indifference.

'There is much truth, my brother, in what the Marshal says,' remarked the King; but the audience did not appear convinced. The King dismissed us.

Next day I saw several of the Ministers privately; they appeared uncertain what to advise, but to me it seemed clear that they had already resolved to reject the proposals I had brought the previous day to Gonesse. Monsieur de Talleyrand, who had been sent to Neuilly to the allied Generals, had returned to give an account of his mission. A council had been held immediately upon his arrival, and after a short deliberation he started again for Neuilly, no doubt in order to announce the result to his allies. I learned that Fouché had gone there also, more probably to treat for his own private interests than for those of France.

I tackled the Ministers immediately upon the subject of the colours. They somewhat awkwardly admitted that the presence and opposite opinion of the allies had placed an invincible obstacle in the way. It became obvious that, if we could no longer impose acts of government, we must submit to accepting those of the conqueror. Several of them, Baron Louis, the Marquis de Jaucourt, and others, invited me to a conference in the open air, and I learned that they were charged to reconstruct the Ministry, and to offer me the Secretaryship for War. The Duc de Feltre was standing not far from us. I Pointed him out, and said:

'T'here is the man with the best right to it.'

'No,' said Baron Louis; 'we will not have as a colleague a man who, in a speech in the Chamber of Peers, under a representative Government, dared to proclaim that "What the King wills, the Law wills."

I had myself heard these remarkable words; and this resuscitation of a superannuated maxim, dating from the time of absolute monarchs, had produced considerable murmurings against, and some abuse of; their author.

I at first pleaded my incapacity, the condition of France and of the army. I declared plainly that, foreseeing as I did acts of severity, I would not consent to he made the instrument for applying them to men who were unfortunate rather than guilty; that, in short, I had neither strength, courage, nor capacity to support such a burden. They pressed me, but to no purpose; they then exhibited great regret, which I had no reason for not believing sincere, and begged me to name somebody. There were few Generals who had taken no part in this Revolution. I named them, and left the choice to my auditors—Mortier, Oudinot, Gouvion St. Cyr, Dessole, and some others whom I do not now recollect. They desired my opinion upon the subject of the two last. I had no connection with nor any feeling for or against either.

'Is St. Cyr fond of work?' they asked. 'Many people say he is lazy.'

'I am not aware of it. He is a man of great military capacity, firm, honest, jealous of other people's merit. In the army he is regarded as what is vulgarly called a "bad bed-fellow." In the coldest manner imaginable he allowed his neighbours to be beaten without attempting to assist them, and then criticised them afterwards. But this opinion, not uncommon among soldiers, is perhaps ex- aggerated, and he is admitted to have wits, calmness, and great capabilities.'

He justified this opinion both in the army and at the War Office.

Dessole seemed, at the moment, to be more in favour with my interlocutors. His character was gentler, more trusting than the other's; he also possessed greater administrative qualities, having generally occupied the post of chief of the general staff. But under existing circumstances, and after so great an alarm, it was indispensable to select a man who combined firmness and conciliation. The former of these qualities should predominate, and it was just that one in which Dessole was lacking. He had recently given proof of this in my presence when I brought him back from Béthune to Paris—hesitating, undecided, not knowing what to do. However, he afterwards became President of the Council and Foreign Secretary.

Loud were the railings against France and the army, as I have mentioned in my account of the conversation the foregoing evening ; those who were about the Princes and who had emigrated vowed vengeance, though I must add that their vengeance was to he brought about by means of the allied armies. For the sake of truth I must add that the Ministers with whom I conferred displayed great moderation, and lamented with me the disaster of Waterloo, and the yoke that the foreigners were preparing for the shoulders of our country.

During our conversation, from which this digression has carried me away, we were struck by a sudden uproar rising from the courtyard of the castle. We hastened up, and saw General Lagrange, who had only one arm, struggling with some guards of the blue and red corps. They were abusing him for not having followed to Ghent a company of mousquetaires, of which he was commander, and were tearing off the emblems of his rank. We ran to his assistance, but the Duc de Feltre, who was close at hand, had already delivered him from the hands of these madmen.

I expressed in round terms my indignation and my opinion of their cowardice in attacking a one-armed officer; I told them that they should exhibit their bravery in presence of and against the enemy, and not against a man who had given 'proof of his on many battlefields. As soon as the King was informed of the occurrence he sent down an expression of his indignation, and his intention of inflicting punishment; at the same time he sent for me. This incident naturally broke off our conference. [A very different incident occurred in one of the Peninsular Dattles. As Colonel Felton Harvey was leading his squadrons to an attack, his sword arm disabled and hanging clown, he was on the point of being cut down by the Colonel at the head of the French cavalry opposed to him, when the latter, observing his defenceless condition, suddenly brought his sword at the critical instant to a salute, and passed on.]

The King began by thanking me for the firmness I had displayed towards his guards, but I stopped him by saying that it was the Due de Feltre who had put an end to the outrage to which General Lagrange had fallen a victim, that I had come up too late, but soon enough, however, to lecture his guards as they deserved. He then said that he had ordered an inquiry, and would punish the guilty severely.

'But,' he continued, 'I had another motive in sending for you. You told me that Monsieur Fouchét would make over the government to me if I would agree to the conditions you were charged to submit to me. I cannot speak very decidedly just now, because I must deliberate with my allies; but you understand that my dignity will not suffer me to take the reins from his hands. Return, therefore, to Paris, tell him to make over his powers to you, and that I will not fail to requite the services he has recently done me.'

I knew that the Duke of Otranto was at Neuilly in conference with the allied Generals and the Prince of Benevento (Talleyrand) I had the intelligence from Beurnonville. Apparently the King was ignorant of the fact, for he started, but soon recovered, and said:

'Very good; if he he away you will see his colleagues, and notify my intentions to them.'

'But, Sire, they will do nothing in the absence of their leader, and they are sure not to be all of the same opinion.,

'Go, all the same. If you do not see them, remain in Paris; in the contrary event, come back as soon as possible and inform me of what has happened.'

I bowed, and was about to start upon this mission, when he stopped me, and said:

'My dear Marshal, there is yet another service which I am going to ask of your zeal;' and, giving me a folded paper that was lying on his writing-table, he continued:

'This is your nomination as Arch-Chancellor of the the Legion of Honour. It was presented to me by Monsieur de Talleyrand, and I signed it at Roye.'

I refused this office for the same reasons as those I had previously given in refusing the Ministry of War. At the word 'Ministry' the King seemed surprised, but said with great kindness that he considered me equally worthy of either, and insisted so much that I ended by giving way. He largely increased the dignity of the office by restoring to it the title of a Secretaryship of State, and permitting it to have direct communication with the Sovereign. These privileges had existed under the Empire, but had been suppressed at the Restoration; the title had been reduced to that of Chancellor only, and the officer could only communicate with the King through the Minister of the Household. I was to be dependent upon the President of the Council, inasmuch as his counter-signature was necessary. [I think I have already referred to the question of orphanages founded for the daughters of members of the Order. I have not leisure to read over again what I have written on this subject, from a bad habit I long since contracted. I write a great deal and very rapidly; I should discover many mistakes, but in order to correct them I should have to erase them or recommence my work, and I should never have time enough, although I rise very early. (The secret is that I know the value of time, and never waste it.) However, do not imitate my bad habits ; write less and more correctly. But, after all, these historical notes are for you alone, and you will make allowances for your father. Note by Marshal Macdonald.] When this matter was settled I started for Paris to carry out the mission with which the King had charged me.

On the way I reflected upon what had happened during the morning. Why, on the one hand, were the Ministers I have quoted so anxious to secure my services, while, on the other, the King pressed me so earnestly to accept the Arch- Chancellorship? He, clearly, was but the echo of Monsieur de Talleyrand, who was interested in keeping me out of the Government, where I should have been too much in his way; but as the King, apparently, wished that I should hold some office, the Prince of Benevento suggested the Legion of Honour for me. It was clear that some intrigue, of which his colleagues were kept in ignorance, was concealed under this business. The matter had been arranged between the King and the Minister, who in his haste had forgotten to countersign the appointment. I did not think well to have this informality put right. It was now useless, as I was already in office. The document has remained in the same state ever since.

On the road I had to endure the painful spectacle of, and to pass through, an enemy's camp. I also passed General Dessole, wearing the uniform of the Commander of the Parisian National Guard. He was going to pay his respects at Arnouville, and was uneasy as to what reception he might find; we exchanged a few words, and I was able to reassure him. As a matter of fact, he was retained in his post, and next time I saw him he was in good spirits, and had recovered his courage.

According to my anticipations, I found neither the Duke of Otranto (Fouché)—who was at Neuilly—nor his colleagues in the temporary Government. They had met that morning for the last time. Since my mission had no longer an object, I remained quiet.


 


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