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
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
'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
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!