Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
At my interview I carefully
avoided everything that could resemble personal reproach, but
represented to my healers the situation of France, the loads which were
already weighing her down, the necessity of not adding to them, and of
not aggravating their own position.
They were moved by my
frank and well-intended words: they promised me their hell), and kept
their word. The most difficult task was to settle differences between
themselves. They reproached themselves with having mutually seduced and
tempted each other. I intervened, in order to prevent this leaven of
discord being introduced among the men, and added:
'As the faults and errors
that have been committed are common to all, it is useless to debate the
question; the chief thing is to wipe out the recollection of them.'
There was already enough
discontent among the troops, without adding fuel to the flames. The
interview had lasted a long time; I saluted them, and they withdrew, all
more or less satisfied.
I augured well from it;
the first step had been difficult, and the result surpassed my hopes.
Conversations at dinner and private audiences did the rest, and
thenceforward we worked very well together.
At the end of the day
some body-guards in disguise arrived, armed with orders to the heads of
the gendarmerie to assist the bearers in arresting the persons named in
the ordinances. They showed me their instructions and authority.
'You must on no account
show yourselves,' I said; 'for in the present state of the army I cannot
answer for your personal safety. Let me quiet them down; I have already
made a good beginning. Remain hidden here. I will order you some food,
and will have mattresses prepared in a room for you. To-morrow we will
see what to do.'
They were far from
suspecting my intentions; for greater safety, I had their door locked. I
knew not where to find the threatened men, to warn them. The Prince of
Eckmuhl had just left me; he was to start next morning for the country,
but I did not know where, to await the turn of events. I went straight
to him, and gave him warning.
'Send word at once,' I
said, 'to all those whose names are - on the lists. Send couriers into
the cantonments ; this will give them a start of eight or nine hours.'
I do not know how they
managed it, but they all got clear awayeven General de Laborde, who was
laid up with gout at the time.
The next day I set the
officers of the body-guards at liberty.
'Now, gentlemen, I said
'you can execute your mission.'
They withdrew, but
discovered, somehow, I know not by what means, the warnings that had
been given, and returned a few days later to reproach me with their
imprisonment, which had brought about the failure of their mission. They
would report it, they said.
'Do so,' I answered with
a laugh: 'hut you owe me some thanks, for I saved you from the certain
fate which awaited you had your disguise been penetrated.'
'We would have risked
it,' said one of them.
'Then pray why did you
disguise yourselves?' I retorted. This stinging answer disconcerted
'Since your mission has
now lost its object,' I continued firmly, 'in your own interests, quit
the neighbourhood of the army at once. Go and make your report.'
They withdrew without
another word. I never heard what report the)' presented ; the Government
maintained silence upon the point, but the late Duc de Berry, who still
bore me a grudge for our discussions, wrote to me very bitterly. He
ended by saying that, were he commanding in my place, he would have all
the recalcitrants thrown out of window; to which I replied that one
would not have time to do it, to say nothing of the risk of having to
lead the way one's self.
All my care was now given
to soothing down irritation. I was laden with work, overwhelmed with
complaints from the authorities respecting persons under them. Events
had marched so fast that the departments situated beyond the line of the
armistice and the junction of the Loire and the Rhone had not been
warned; they had no stores, and were living from hand to mouth without
any security for the next day's provisions. I rearranged the cantonments
and enlarged them, but without gaining any substantial relief. Things
had not simply been eaten, they had been wasted, and this is always sure
to happen when there is no regular distribution of rations. However, I
should never end if I once began entering into all these details. I will
go on with my story.
The decision concerning
the disbandment came at last. it Submission was fairly general. I
softened the bitterness of it as far as lay in my powerconsoling some,
encouraging others. My whole correspondence with the Government is a
standing proof of my efforts, and of the interest I took in each
individual case; and when the men who had sided with the army were
oppressed and abused by the reactionary Party. I warmly defended them in
the Chamber of Peers [See my speeches on the Recruiting Bill, of which I
was reporter, on the Bill dealing with the interests of absentees, and
especially my opinion expressed in the discussion on the Bill concerning
electoral colleges. Note by Marshal Macdonald.] all that is in
print. I also had to defend myself personally against strenuous
opponents in the matter of that unlucky disbandment question. The
successful party wished to reward me with the post of Grand Meneur, or
by the gift of a fine house or property. They insisted; I sternly
refused. My pride rebelled at such a proposal. The idea of accepting a
reward, when I was helping to deprive so many brave men of their active
pay, that is to say, of part of their livelihood. [t About this time I
learned a fact which will create no surprise, as it affords another
proof of the chivalrous disinterestedness of Macdonald's character. When
in 181 several Marshals claimed from the allied lowers their endowments
in foreign countries, Madame Moreau (to whom the King had given the
honorary title of Madame la Maréchale, and who was the friend of the
Duke of Tarentum), wrote, without Macdonald's knowledge, to M. de Blacas,
our ambassador at Naples, begging him to endeavour to preserve for the
Marshal the endowment which had been given him in the kingdom of Naples.
As soon as Macdonald was
informed of this circumstance he waited upon Madame Moreau, thanked her
for her kind intentions, but at the same time informed her that he
should disavow all knowledge of her letter, as the request it contained
was entirely averse to his principles. The Marshal did, in fact, write
the following letter to M. de Blacas: 'I hasten to inform you, sir, that
it was not with my consent that Madame Moreao wrote to you, and I beg
you will take no step that might expose me to a refusal. The King of
Naples owes me no recompense for having beaten his army, revolutionized
his kingdom, and forced him to retire to Sicily.' Such conduct was well
worthy of the man who was the last to forsake Napoleon in 1814. M. de
Blacas, who was himself much surprised at Macdonald's letter,
communicated it to the King of Naples, whose answer deserves to be
recorded. It was as follows: If I had not imposed a law upon myself to
acknowledge none of the French endowments, the conduct of Marshal
Macdonald would have induced me to make all in his favour.' It is
gratifying to see princes such scrupulous observers of the laws they
make for themselves !Bourrienne's ' Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte,'
edition of 1885, vol. iii., P. 400.]
The Royal Guard had just
been created. I was one of the four Major-Generals. Officers had been
sent out to recruit among the former Imperial Guard, which consisted of
the elite of the army. A large number joined the new regiment to finish
their term of service and secure their pensions. They were models of
steadiness and good conduct.
The battalion which had
been formed the previous year, to serve as a guard to the Emperor at
Elba, was much distrusted, but was eventually admitted like the others.
I had ordered it to come to Bourges, where I had opportunities of
talking to many officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates. They
all assured me (as I have already mentioned in an earlier chapter) that,
believing themselves exiled eternally, they sighed for a chance of
returning to France. They were therefore delighted at learning, after
their embarkation, that they were about to make a descent upon our
Mediterranean coast. As the Emperor was warmly received everywhere, and
as they met with no obstacle, they were happy to tread once more the
soil of their country.
'But,' I asked them, 'if
you had met with resistance, if you had been repulsed, would you have
embarked again if possible?'
'Oh no!' they replied.
'The opportunity of quitting that island was too good to be missed.'
'But if you had met with
opposition, would you have attacked, fired?'
'No, no! We would have
committed no acts of hostility; that would have ruined our cause. We
would have laid down our arms and asked leave to retire to our
'And have abandoned the
'We had given him
sufficient proof of our devotion. Everyone for himself. Besides, he
caused his own misfortunes and ours, and we were not called upon to
continue his victims.'
'But it was of your own
choice and of your own free will that you sided with him.'
'No doubt; but at that
time we thought it was a garrison, and that we should be relieved. When
we reached the island, and learned that it was to last for life, and as
we were miserable there, we were seized with discouragement and
home-sickness. We therefore embarked gladly, not knowing whither we were
bound; but at any rate we were changing our place!'
With the exception of the
majority of the officers, who, from affection or gratitude, had attached
themselves to the fortunes, good or bad, of the Emperor, and who would
have been delighted to accompany him to St. Helena, all were overjoyed
to find themselves at home again. Such were the constant expressions of
these soldiers, whom I frequently questioned until they left me.
The disbandment was
carried out nearly everywhere without difficulty; but some regiments of
the ex-Guard mutinied, as did the Ghasseurs a cheval and the Grenadiers
at Aubusson. Their pretext, whether true or false, was the settlement of
their pay, which no doubt was much in arrear, and the Government
resources were slender. Power had been given, at my request, to a
financial agent to advance a portion of the money. I tried to borrow the
remainder, and offered security to the inhabitants of Bourges but
despite the respect and esteem in which they held me, J could not raise
more than 60,000 francs (£2,400).
Order and submission were
re-established in the regiment of Chasseurs by dint of some arrests and
a display of authority made by the Lieutenant-General commanding the
20th military division at Périgueux. With the exception of a few men led
astray by a subaltern officer, who, with them, was made prisoner a few
days later, the Grenadiers returned to duty of their own accord when
they discovered that they were being dragged into a criminal enterprise.
The officer paid for his mistake with his life.
The disbandment came to
an end at last. It was not without a cruel pang that I witnessed the
disappearance of this valiant and unfortunate army, so long triumphant.
No trace now remained of it. An ill-wind had blown and dispersed it like
dust; we were now at the mercy of the foreigners ! The loss in rank and
file was but temporary. Departmental legions were to be created. The
loss in material was immense, incalculable, including as it did arms,
harness, saddlery, cavalry and draught horses, that were handed over to
farmers who had not the wherewithal to feed those they already
possessed. They were taken into the meadows and woods, and abandoned
there. Saddles and harness were heaped pell-mell in convents and damp
sheds. Eighty - two thousand infantry were disbanded only thirty
thousand muskets found their way hack into the depots; sabres, pistols,
musketoons, shoulder-belts, all vanished in the same proportion. I had
before pointed out what would happen; the Government turned a deaf ear.
I had now been six months
at Bourges; all was finished, and I begged leave to resign. I was kept
waiting another two months, as it was considered that my presence served
as a moral force in the absence of any physical. At length I returned to
Paris, and once more took up the duties of Arch-Chancellor of the Legion
There is no personal
circumstance connected with my military or political career that
deserves mention after this period (February, 1816), except that I
believe a suggestion was made of offering me the Ministry of War,
thinking that the man who had so well succeeded in reconciling feelings
and duty during the important operation of disbandment could alone
create anew a good army. Some interviews took place, but resulted in
In 1819 or 1820 I was
sent to preside over the electoral district of Lyons, as I had
previously done over Bourges. I went thither against the grain, and not
without considerable reluctance. It was considered important. I know not
why. The King's intervention was even required, and I yielded.
When the Duc de Richelieu
quitted the Ministry, he proposed to the King that I should succeed him
in the Presidency of the Council, and take at the same time the Foreign
Office. Monsieur Roy, at that time Minister of Finance, who retired with
the Duc de Richelieu, confided this to me, but the Duke himself never
mentioned it. I would certainly not have accepted the position; my
devotion would not have carried me to those lengths.
I remember a conversation
that I had on one occasion at St. Cloud with Monsieur, by whom I was
sitting at the table of Louis XVIII. During his reign the chief
officers, as well as those in waiting, were admitted, by right, to have
luncheon with him. Monsieur said to me:
'Before the Revolution,
you served in the Irish Brigade?'
'Nearly all the officers
'Why did you not do the
same? What kept you in France?'
'I was in love,
'Ha! ha!' he said,
laughing; 'so you were in love, sir?'
In the same tone, and
with an expressive glance, I replied
'Yes, like other people;
I was married, I was about to become a father; and, besides, your Royal
Highness knows that people emigrated for many reasons. They were not in
all cases compelled by public feeling to leave the country, especially
the young officers, like myself at that time, who cared very little
about politics. They sometimes went for very bad reasons, debts, etc.,
and I continued in the same tone: 'I must make a confession to your
'What is it?'
'It is that I love the
Monsieur started, and
changed colour; I hastened to add:
'I detest its men and its
crimes. The army took no part in it. It never looked behind, but always
ahead at the enemy, and deplored the excesses that were being committed.
How could I fail to love the Revolution? It was that which raised and
made me what I am; without it, should I now enjoy the honour of sitting
at the King's table next to your Royal Highness?'
Monsieur, who had
recovered himself and his good temper, clapped me on the shoulder,
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