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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter XLI


EARLY the next morning a courier brought me an order to be at St. Denis at mid-day. I started in uniform, followed by a saddle-horse, when, at the turning from the Chemin de la Révolte, opposite the castle of St. Ouen, I perceived the royal carriages and escort, coming out of St. Denis, and following the direct road. I mounted my horse and rode across country, catching up the procession just as it was entering the village of La Chapelle. The King waved his hand to me in a friendly manner, and so did Monsieur. Marshal St. Cyr and some Generals surrounded the carriage. I joined them.

The reception by the Parisians was less demonstrative than at the first entry. On the boulevards they were even colder than in the suburbs and the Rue St. Denis. At that point Marshal Moncey joined the procession. The King turned away his head from his salute, and Monsieur withdrew his hand indignantly when the Marshal advanced respectfully to take it. He was in disgrace for having continued in office during the Hundred Days. [It is greatly to the honour of Marshal Moncey that he boldly refused to take part in the trial of Marshal Ney.]

On reaching the Tuileries I was much surprised, and no doubt others were also, at seeing close by the door of the throne-room the Duke of Otranto, to whom the King gave his hand as he passed! I was not less surprised at learning that on the previous evening he had been appointed Minister of Police.

I had heard on the road that St. Cyr was to have the War Office. It was a very good choice, but from the state of mind in which I had left the Ministers after our interview in the park at Arnouville, I rather expected it to have been given to Dessole, towards whom they seemed then inclined. These events happened on July 8.

A few days later I was installed as Arch-Chancellor of the Legion of Honour, and entered upon my functions. I did not, however, take possession of the palace, as it was in the hands of the allies.

The army had retired to the other-side of the Loire, and took its name from the river. Its Commander, Marshal Davofit, Prince of Ecknuihl, had made it take the oath and put on the white cockade. He then resigned. Eyes seemed turned to me to take his place; the King sent for and proposed it to me. I realized all the weight attaching to so thorny and difficult a command, for now there was no longer any question of fighting an enemy, but of fighting opinions, and to induce the army to submit to disbandment, which was being openly discussed, only, it was said, this disbandment was to take the shape of a formation of soldiers and officers into new corps, to be called legions.

I pointed out to his Majesty how inconvenient to myself personally, and how little in the interests of the State, such an appointment would be. My objections were anticipated. The King did his utmost to remove them, but it was not an easy task. I had always borne a strong affection for this army, notwithstanding its errors, and perhaps because it realized them, and I had to expect opposition to the proposed measures, and excitement secretly kept up by the allies, who were anxious to re-open hostilities, so as to have an excuse for crossing the Loire and wasting a new country; and last, there was a feeling against me, because I had taken no part in the unhappy conflict of the Hundred Days. I have since had proofs that I was mistaken as to this last point the army appreciated my character, my honesty, and my friendly feeling towards it, and respected my opinions and conduct. It remembered that a year previously I had worked hard for the interests of the Emperor and his family, and that I had been the last to acknowledge the new order of things. I owed Napoleon nothing; he had long neglected me, and left me under the burden of a sort of disgrace; but he was in trouble, and I forgot everything.

The King insisted so strongly, so obstinately, upon the personal service he begged me to do him—those are his own words—that he overcame my scruples. I consented, but upon two solemn conditions. Firstly, that I should have absolute freedom of action; secondly, that I should never be called upon to act as the instrument in any steps that might be taken against individuals, still less that I should be charged with their execution. After these two essential points were settled, the King sent me to the War Office for my instructions.

After expressing great satisfaction at hearing that I had yielded to the King's wishes, Marshal St. Cyr told me that he could not conceal the importance of this command, of which the Prince of Eckmiihl could endure no more; that his entreaties to be relieved became more and more pressing by every courier, and that he begged me to hasten my preparations and go to Bourges as soon as possible. The impolitic ordinances of July 25, whereby several Generals and other persons who had taken an active part in the Hundred Days were banished or brought up for trial, had been published, and, will it be believed? these sentences had been pronounced upon a report from Fouché, Duke of Otranto, Minister of Police—from him who before and during the period had so largely participated in the events with which they were filled I was very anxious as to the effect these measures would have on the army. A consolation, however, was awaiting me at Bourges—Massa, your sister's husband, had, much against his will, been sent there as Prefect ; his wife had accompanied him, and I went to stay in their house.

My arrival created great excitement and general uneasiness, which I dissipated next day when I received a visit from the corps, headed by the Marshal Prince of Eckmuhl, whom I had informed of all that had passed The Generals feared that my despatch-box was filled with orders of arrest or deprivation. I undeceived them by saying that I had too high an opinion of them to believe that any among them could injure me by thinking me capable of deceiving them. They assured me that it had never entered the head of one of them.

'Let those,' I continued, 'who are unfortunate enough to appear on these fatal ordinances take measures for their safety; they have not a moment to lose. At any minute orders may arrive of which I shall be powerless to prevent the execution ; the only thing I can do is to give them this warning and facilitate their means of escape.'

Several of them were present, and profited by my advice. Amongst others were Generals Laborde and Brayer, the latter of whom had commanded at Lyons on the occasion of the catastrophe of March io. It was he who had told me, at the decisive moment, that all measures had been taken to prevent my departure. He was now much ashamed, and stammered out his excuses.

'Fly!' was my answer.

General Drouot not only disdained to flee, but insisted upon forestalling his arrest by going and surrendering himself at the Abbaye prison. All arguments were unavailing to turn him from this determination, which he put into immediate execution. As it fell out, he acted wisely, for at his trial he was acquitted. He was the most upright and modest man I have ever known—well educated, brave, devoted, simple in manners. His character was lofty and of rare probity.

However, in the case of political crimes, for so they are called by those who triumph, the wisest plan is to flee from immediate vengeance. One can explain afterwards. Time (which allays passions and party-spirit) and intervening events co-operate in producing indulgence and forgetfulness. This was exemplified in the case of many of those who were aimed at by the ordinances. It would have been the case with the unhappy Marshal Ney, had he profited immediately by the passports procured by his wife from the leaders of the foreign army. She implored him on her knees to lose no time in making his escape, but he answered curtly:

'Upon my word, madam, you are in a great hurry to get rid of me!'

The unfortunate widow herself told me this characteristic story. Louis XVIII. told me and many other people that when Ney took leave of him, he promised that if he could seize Napoleon he would send him back to the King in an iron cage. He was an intrepid commander, but very changeable in his mind and disposition. I quite believe that he made this remark, but am convinced that he would never have sullied his reputation by putting it into execution. He was too confident, and it cost him his life.

Speaking of General Drouot recalls to my memory an anecdote which he did not know, and which I related to him in 1820, when he came to see me at Contrexéville.

A few days before the fatal Battle of Leipsic I was dining at Dresden with the Emperor in the company of Murat and Berthier. As we were rising from table the Duke of Bassano arrived. Murat took the Emperor aside, and they talked excitedly for a few moments, when the Emperor, turning towards me, said:

'Ask the Duke of Tarentum; he knows how infamously he behaved.'

They were talking about the Italian General Lecchi, who was accused of having caused the jeweller Caron to he shot at Barcelona, in order to seize his property; and, further, of having caused all those to be shot who took part in the assassination, so as to conceal every trace of the crime. This had occurred under my predecessor in Catalonia. An inquiry had been instituted; it was closed, and the documents relating to the case were taken to the central police-office at Barcelona.

I had just arrived to take up the command and Governor-generalship of the principality, when I received orders to forward all these documents to the Chief Justice. I then heard the story; so horrible was it that I could not credit it, and I said so to the Emperor.

'Indeed ' he exclaimed; 'it is only too true. The Chief Justice studied carefully all the evidence, and reported thereupon to me. The proof was complete, and had the scoundrel been brought to judgment, as I ought to have ordered him to be, he would have been sentenced to death. I refrained out of consideration for his family, which had rendered me several services during my Italian campaigns.' Then, turning to Murat, he said 'You insisted upon his being let off because of your intimacy with this monster's sister. But rid me of him ; I forbid you positively ever to employ him.'

Just then General Drouot was announced. He was aide- de-camp to the Emperor, and had been sent to Pirna to superintend the preparation of a bridge to be thrown across the Elbe, and had orders riot to return until it was completed. The Duke of Piacenza (Le Brun), another aide-de-camp, was at Meissen upon similar business.

'Sire,' said General l)rouot, 'I come to inform your Majesty that the bridge will be finished in an hour.'

The Emperor, still excited by his discussion with the King of Naples, did not allow him to finish his sentence.

'What do I see!' he exclaimed in a passion, 'a general officer who has the honour of serving as my aide-de-camp setting the bad example of not entirely carrying out my orders ! You deserve to be dismissed! Go, sir Return to Pirna, and do not let me see you again until the bridge is finished!'

The unlucky General saluted, and retired without a word. The Emperor seemed to have forgotten that he was not alone, for when he turned round he showed surprise, and immediately changed his tone.

'That is a good man,' he said 'he is very distinguished, full of merit, modest, a first-rate mathematician. He will be a Member of the Institute at the first vacancy.'

Just as he was concluding this prognostication, of which after-events prevented the realization, the Duke of Piacenza arrived.

'Is the bridge ready?' asked the Emperor in a hard, imperious voice.

'It will be in two hours, Sire,' was the reply.

Napoleon scarcely allowed him time to finish his answer. He was not angry now, but quite beside himself with rage. He sent Le Brun back to Meissen, but on rejoining us said nothing about a vacancy in the Institute!


 


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