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The Scot Abroad
Chapter 2 - The Soldier - Part 2


It were idle to follow up the history of the Jacobite refugees, driven out by the Revolution of 1688, after what Aytoun has said for them both in prose and song. I shall therefore take a step onwards to the period of those later civil contests in which the older among us have felt something like a practical interest, not so much from zeal in the cause of either side, as from actual intercourse with persons in whom that zeal had once burned with expectations of practical result. There are no more delightful recollections to be called up than those of the departing spirit of Jacobitism, exhibited in the talk of old people who had led many years of quiet peaceful life cherishing the recollections of their youth. The air and tone of thorough gentlefolks belonged to them, softened down by a tinge of the sadness bone by those who "have seen better days." For if they had not absolutely felt the fall, from affluence to poverty, nor remembered the sudden flight from the dear old tower of their fathers to seek a distant home—yet in their childhood these things were so vividly remembered as domestic specialties that they left something like the impression of realities. It is from this that the romance of ‘Waverley,’ when it burst on the world, shot a thrill through many a heart in Scotland, such as people elsewhere cannot have experienced or conceived—such as genius alone is incapable of achieving.

Of "the Jacobite relics" among us no other is probably so remarkable as the ruined Castle of Dunnottar. To the sea-borne traveller it is the most conspicuous stronghold along the east coast, for it is higher perched and more extensive than its rival Tantallon. Crowning a bluff peninsula which drops to the sea in precipices of ragged conglomerate, its indented and scattered outline is more like the ruin of a town or a national fortress than of a private dwelling-place. No other feudal castle in Scotland, indeed, appears to have covered so wide a space of ground, or to have been capable of receiving within the cincture of its defences so large a garrison. Generally the remains of Scottish strongholds have a lean and gaunt aspect, as if their strength depended on the narrow front to be defended rather than on the numerous garrison; but here there are vestiges of a widespread magnificence, more beseeming a royal than a baronial establishment And perhaps the effect of the scene is rather heightened by a certain air of modernness in the buildings. They do not entirely belong to a past historic period, severed by intervening centuries from our sympathies. There doubtless is the old square keep, the relic of the primitive age of baronial architecture, frowning in austere gloom over all. But among the ruins scattered around we see the traces of modern comfort and social habits. The deserted mansion-house is combined with the ruined fortalice, and tells us not only of ancient feudal power decayed, but of modern wealth and hospitable profusion suddenly stopped. Comparing it with anything that may be seen in England, it thus eloquently informs the traveller that he is in a country where the traces of civil tumult are more recent, and where the passing over them of centuries has not entirely softened down the traces of conflict, as in the halls devastated by the Wars of the Roses, with the mellowness of antiquity. Yet the ruin speaks to us from a period sufficiently remote to keep clear of the living political excitements of this age. Very nearly a century and a half have now passed since the chimneys ceased to smoke, and the whole busy world of life deserted that vast range of edifices.

The impression natural to such a scene is deepened and strengthened when we associate it with the career, spent so far away, and in scenes so different, of the two young men who were the last to lord it within those wasted walls. When George I. ascended the throne, the head of the house of Keith, and the inheritor of the title of Earl Marischal, was a young man of two-and-twenty, and his brother James, afterwards Frederick the Great's Field-Marshal, was some three years younger. They were nearly related to Mar, the leader of the insurrection, and were sharers in the official proscription which created so many enemies to the new dynasty. The Earl was deprived of his commission, and, returning home to Dunnottar, to wait events in his own stronghold, he met his brother James, who was going southwards to seek service under the new king. The news which the Earl had to tell about himself were not propitious to such an object, and the brothers returned to Scotland together. Nothing was more natural than that they should join in the outbreak; and whatever may be said of their cousin Mar, and of other veteran politicians who had deliberately offered their services to the Hanoverian before they discovered that their allegiance was due elsewhere, it would be as unjust to attribute selfish motives as it would be unreasonable to attach serious political convictions to the conduct of the two young men who, in the impulse of the moment, threw themselves into the cause of their kindred.

When ruin fell alike on their adopted cause and their own fortunes, it is pleasant to contemplate the manly resoluteness with which the two young men set themselves to the creation of their own fortunes, without casting back an enervating thought to the sure fortune and the brilliant prosperity that had departed from them. Each of them made for himself a place in history, and achieved a fortune far above the home respectability, affluence, and rank from which calamity had driven them. There are considerable materials for the history of the public life of both. A fragment of an autobiography left behind by the younger will enable the biographer to trace him through the period of his early struggles down nearly to the point at which he is taken up by fame, and his personal adventures become a part of European history.

On the dispersal of the Jacobite army at Perth, the two brothers wandered to the Western Isles with the Clanranald Highlanders. After remaining for some months in hiding, they were removed by a French vessel, "and, after a very pleasant passage, arrived the 12th May, new style, at St Paul de Leon, in Brittany," and thence went to Paris. Their prospects at first were dim enough. "I lived," says James, "most of that time in selling horse-furniture, and other things of that nature which an officer commonly carries with him; and though I had relations enough in Paris who could have supplied me, and who would have done it with pleasure, yet I was then either so bashful, or so vain, that I would not own the want I was in." Next year he "thought it high time, being about twenty years old," that he should have some distinct position in the world. In 1718 the Spanish war opened a prospect to him, of which he confesses that he did not take immediate advantage, because "I was then," he says, "too much in love to think of quitting Paris; and though shame and my friends forced me to take some steps towards it, yet I managed it so slowly that I set out only in the end of that year; and had not my mistress and l quarrelled, and that other affairs came to concern me more than the conquest of Sicily did, it is probable I had lost many years of my time to very little purpose—so much was I taken up with my passion." This is the sole faint tinge of romance in the career of Marshal Keith; the rest of it is all hard work and successful ambition.

His desire to take service in Spain suited precisely the views of Cardinal Alberoni, who had quarrelled with England, and projected an expedition to Britain in aid of the Stuarts. Through the Duke of Ormond, the leader of the exiled Jacobites, the two Keiths were sent on a secret mission to Madrid. They arrived together at Palamos on the coast of Catalonia. The authorities received them at first with surly suspicion, which, suddenly thawing, was converted into a mysterious courtesy and respectfulness, little less embarrassing. Thus, at Barcelona, having sent to request of Prince Pio, the captain-general of the province, that they might be exempt from the usual examination at the ports, they were surprised presently to see "a coach with six mules," carrying the prince’s livery, arrive at the door of their inn, containing a personage whose respect for the two strangers was more deep and profound than all they had yet encountered.

The mystery was speedily explained. The Cardinal had imparted to the captain-general the confidential information that the Chevalier de St George—or the King of England, as he was of course termed—was likely to pass incognito through Catalonia; and when two handsome, noble-looking young Scotsmen entered the territory with high credentials, and no ostensible title or function, who could they be but the exiled monarch and his confidential attendant? The discovery of his mistake, of course, made the captain-general feel a little ridiculous. "I believe," says Keith, "he was sorry to have given himself so much trouble about us when he knew who we were; yet he received us very civilly, though with some embarras."

The two young men were intrusted with eighteen thousand crowns by the Cardinal, who engaged to put at their disposal six companies of foot. The elder brother remained in Spain, and sailed with the expedition when it was completed, while the younger undertook to visit the Jacobite exiles dispersed through France, and make arrangements for their secretly leaving the country and joining the expedition—a delicate and difficult duty, which was fraught with extreme risk, at a time when France and Spain were at war, and when, consequently, the young diplomatist must have carried everywhere with him the evidence that he was in correspondence with the enemy.

James Keith at last left Havre with his Jacobite friends in a small vessel, which narrowly escaped the English fleet, and he found his brother with the Spanish troops at Stornoway. Their attempt led to the incident in history called the Battle of Glenshiel. The project was acutely conceived. It was intended that, while Ormond landed with a large expedition in England, the little body of Spaniards and Scottish Jacobites should march through the glens and surprise Inverness; but an unexpected attack by Wightman, with a superior force, on the borders of the wild Loch Duich, crushed the attempt at its opening. The battle was not in itself decisive; and had there been ulterior hopes for the Jacobites, they might have defended the narrow gorge running through a range of the loftiest and most precipitous mountains in Scotland; but news had come of the failure of Ormond’s expedition, and after a consultation the Spaniards surrendered as prisoners of war, "and everybody else took the road he liked best." "As I was then," says James Keith, "sick of a fever, I was forced to lurk some months in the mountains; and in the beginning of September, having got a ship, I embarked at Peterhead, and four days after landed in Holland at the Texel, and from thence, with the Earl Marischal, went to the Hague, to know if the Marquis Beretti Landi, then the king’s minister at that Court, had any orders for us; and his advice being that we should return with all haste to Spain, we set out next day by the way of Liege, to shun the Imperial Netherlands, and enter France by Sedan, judging that route to be the least suspected."

But this proved a miscalculation. On their arrival at Sedan, the town-major, finding them without credentials or passports, ordered them to be carried to prison, "which," says Keith, "was executed with the greatest exactitude." They had just time to destroy their commissions from the King of Spain, which might have brought them to the gallows as spies, when they were searched. The only available document found on them appears to have been a complimentary and familiar letter from the Princess of Conti, which bore so strong a testimony to their rank and favour at court that they were at once liberated. They returned to Spain, to find the Cardinal prostrate and powerless. This event affected them in a manner curiously illustrative of the Cardinal’s suspicious policy. The commissions, as we have seen, had been destroyed, and no record of them could be found in the proper office; "the reason of which was, that the Cardinal kept always by him a certain number of commissions already signed by the King, and filled them up himself without acquainting the minister-of-war, for those whom he did not wish should be seen publicly."

For a few years James Keith led a wandering, restless life. He "knew nobody, and was known to none;" and admits that he was for some time glad of a seat at the table of a certain Admiral Cammock. He discovered that, as a heretic, he could never hope for promotion in Spain; but when the war with Britain broke out in 1725, he obtained temporary employment, conscious at the same time that he owed it entirely to "the mere necessity to be revenged on the English."

He was immediately connected with a piece of service, of which his account is interesting, as it shows how narrowly we escaped losing Gibraltar by such a chance blow as that by which it was originally acquired. Troops were gradually marched to St Roque, within a league of the fortress, until the number of all classes there concentrated was 20,000. Keith thought that, had their commander been more enterprising or less formal, the place might have been seized; but the Count de las Torres would take no fortress otherwise than in a legitimate manner by a practicable breach.

The garrison was but 1000 strong, "and the service of the place was so negligently observed, that very often the guard of the port was not above a dozen men. They allowed our soldiers to come into the town in what numbers they pleased, without ever searching them for hidden arms; and at less than 400 yards from the place there are sand-banks, where a thousand men may lie concealed, and which they then had not the precaution to make reconnoitre in the morning." "How easy," continues the young soldier, "would it have been to have rendered ourselves master of the gate (for sometimes we had above two hundred soldiers and forty or fifty officers at a time in the place), and then have made our grenadiers, hid among the sand-banks, advance."

The formality of the old general was by no means justified by the effective precision of his arrangements. The army was all assembled, and the trenches should have been opened; "but very mis-fortunately," as Keith says, "we had no cannon." So soon as the artillery was brought up, Admiral Wager arrived with his fleet, and the fortress was saved to Britain.

Finding no scope for his ambition under so sickly a government, the young man offered his services to Russia, where they were accepted with the readiness of a government which had had experience of the value of Scottish heads and hands. He arrived in time to witness the strange scene of intrigue, political restlessness, and barbaric extravagance which opened on the death of Peter the Great, who, as Keith says, "loved more to employ his money in ships and regiments than sumptuous buildings, and who was always content with his lodging when he could see his fleet from his window." The young Scot looked about him with an observant eye, and his few dry notices of passing scenes would be valuable to a historian of Russia. He remained three weeks at Cronstadt before proceeding to Moscow to have an audience of the Emperor. But "the Emperor was not then in that city, having gone some days before a-hunting," and he did not return for three weeks. Even in this little statement there was much significance. The young monarch was in the hands of the Dolgorouskis, who, to serve their ends and seduce him from state affairs, kept him in the field until they literally hunted him to death and lost their prize. His marriage with a Dolgorouski daughter was in the mean time their great object; "and that the affectionate councils of Count Osterman might not obstruct their private interest, they kept the Emperor hunting most of that summer and harvest at a distance from Moscow and Count Osterman; and having carried their whole family along with him, they used all possible methods to hasten the projected match, which, soon after the Emperor’s return, was publicly declared, to the grief of the greatest and best part of the empire, who saw the schemes of Peter the Great neglected and like to be forgot, and their prince governed by one much fitter to direct a pack of hounds—which had been his study the greatest part of his life— than such a vast empire."

Whatever rottenness he saw in the state of Russia cannot have been the result of disappointed expectations, for promotion came on him so rapidly as to take away his breath. At the end of a year he found himself one of the three inspector-generals of the Russian forces, having for his department "the frontier of Asia along the rivers Volga and Don, with a part of the frontiers of Poland about Smolensko." In his first year of duty he passed in review thirty-two regiments, and travelled 1600 leagues. In 1734 he had to give his assistance in the coercion of Poland. He served unwillingly, not deeming the duty "a very honourable one;" and he describes with some indignation the heartless agrarian devastation accompanying the movements of the Russian troops.

His next work was on the other side, when Russia was pressing in upon the Turkish empire, ever standing the insults of the Tartars to a certain point, then quarrelling with them, and coming off with. "a material guarantee." In 1737, Azoff on the Black Sea was stormed by a large Russian force, commanded by Munnich, with Keith, and Lacy an Irishman, under him. According to the accounts we have of this affair, an aide-de-camp came to Keith, directing him to advance within musket-shot, to which he answered that he had been so for some time; a second direction came to advance within halfmusket-shot; he did so, but at the same time sent a remonstrance to Munnich against the aimless sacrifice of life incurred. A third message came to say that Munnich expected Keith to co-operate with him in an escalade. When he went on to climb, he found a ditch twelve feet broad, with no available means for crossing, and no shelter; and after his men had been thinned by the fire, they dropped away. Meanwhile a house had been set on fire, and the flames spread till they blew up a powder-magazine. The town was taken, much to the surprise, apparently, of the besieging general. He complimented Keith as having been by his firmness the real cause of the success; but Keith was angry at the waste of life and general recklessness shown in the affair, and said he had merit for nothing but obeying orders.

He caught in this affair a wound in the knee, which gave him more trouble than he at first expected. His body was recognised by it when found stripped on the bloody field of Hochkirche. His elder brother, hearing of it, came to visit him. They had a delightful meeting, and adjourned to Paris, the brother insisting that he had no trust in Russian medical skill.

James Keith broke away from the Russian service in 1747, and was readily caught up by Frederick the Great, then organising his grand project. A letter published by Lord Dovor explains the cause of his quarrel with the Russian service. The chief burden of his complaint is that which ever touches the soldier most keenly—a command, to which he thought himself entitled, given to another. But he founds also on the Russian Government having refused to receive his brother. Now, however, whether as a burden to be borne for the sake of James, or for his own value, Frederick accepted the elder brother. He became an eminent favourite—was appointed governor of Neuchatel, and overloaded with distinctions. It has fallen to the lot of few, indeed, to be so widely and so ardently beloved. D'Alembert bestowed on him an éloge. Frederick, it is said, never tired of him, or gave him impertinence. But, what is far more wonderful, Rousseau, when he was snarling at all the world, and biting those who comforted or caressed him, licked one hand alone, that of his venerated and patriarchal patron, Le bon Milord Maréchal.

It is stated in several histories and biographies that he bought his peace with the British Government by revealing to them the family compact of the Bourbons, which he had learned as ambassador from Prussia to the Court of Madrid in 1759. I never could find any distinct authority for this statement. It is certain, however, that in the following year his disabilities were removed by Act of Parliament, and he succeeded to the estate of Kintore, which had been preserved in a collateral branch of his family by an entail. He purchased another of the family estates, where he desired to shelter Rousseau; but that troublesome visitor took flight before the arrangements for receiving him at Keith Hall could be completed, otherwise he might have lived long enough under his patron’s roof to find that there was another enemy leagued against him. The Earl Marischal had lived too much in foreign courts and among French philosophers to relish the climate or the society of Aberdeenshire. He wrote some complaining and amusing letters to his friends, commencing sometimes in English, but generally lapsing into French, as a relief to the labour of composing in the forgotten language of his boyhood; and at last he found it better for "an old Spaniard, and a sort of Guebre in religion," as he called himself, to creep back "nearer to the sun."

Before leaving him to go back to the more active career of his younger brother, the opportunity is taken to mention a sentimental affair with which a French lady of celebrity has invested him. Although the heroine of it is that Madame de Créquy, of whom the reminiscences given to the public have been maintained by the critics to be a collection of fictions and forgeries, there seems to be no harm whatever in believing the story, professed to be delivered to her grandchildren, of her girlish attachment to Milord Maréchal—.she says it was the only predilection she ever had in her life, except for Monsieur de Créquy, to whom she thought fit to impart the love-passage as something that concerned him. "If you wish," she tells the grandchildren, "to have an idea of his face, you must look at that charming portrait of the handsome Caylus, the favourite of Henry III., which you inherited from the Constable de Lesdiguières." And there is a full-length portrait of the Earl Marischal in the college founded by his ancestor, which, in its youthful beauty and candid mildness of expression, justifies the old lady’s romantic description. "We began," she continues, "by looking at one another, first with surprise, then with interests, and at last with emotion. Next we used to listen to the conversation of each other, without being able to answer a word, and then neither could speak at all in the presence of the other, owing to our voices at first trembling, and then failing us altogether."

All this is common enough, and quite French. What follows is French also in its general characteristics, but it is a morsel of the purest and sweetest kind of French sentiment, and will strike every one who reads it with its resemblance to Thackeray’s story of the youthful reminiscences communicated by the Countess de Florac to Colonel Newcome. When the young people had arranged all for themselves, their union was abruptly and remorselessly stopped because the Earl was a heretic. The young lady, though she had overlooked the impediment, could not question the justice of the sentence. "I refused," she says, "the hand of Milord Maréchal, and two days afterwards he set out to return to his own country; from whence he wrote to say that grief and despair would lead him to acts that might bring him to the scaffold."

When next they met her grandchildren were born, and the Earl had passed his seventieth year. He presented her with some French verses—the only poetry, as he told her, that he had ever written—about white hairs covering an old wound. But Madame’s own remarks on the meeting conveyed more subtle sentiments better expressed. "When we met again," she says, "after the lapse of many years, we made a discovery which equally surprised and affected us both. There is a world of difference between the love which had endured throughout a lifetime, and that which has burned fiercely in our youth and then paused. In the latter case, time has not laid bare defects, nor taught the bitter lesson of mutual failings; a delusion has subsisted on both sides, which experience has not destroyed; and, delighting in the idea of each other’s perfections, that thought has seemed to smile on both with unspeakable sweetness, till, when we meet in a grey old age, feelings so tender, so pure, so solemn, arise, that they can be compared to no other sentiments or impressions of which our nature is capable."

During those years of dignified quiet which fell to the lot of his elder brother, James was gaining a flame in history by his share in the Seven Years’ War. The historian of Frederick the Great stops for a minute to say of him :—"Highly respectable too, and well worth talking to, though left very dim in the books, is Marshal Keith; who has been growing gradually with the King, and with everybody, ever since he came to these parts in 1747. A man of Scotch type: the broad accent, with its sagacities and veracities, with its steadfastly fixed moderation, and its sly twinkles of defensive hum-o is still audible to us through the foreign wrapings. Not given to talk unless there is something to be said, but well capable of it then. On all manner of subjects he can talk knowingly, and with insight of his own."

Keith shared with the King the responsibilities of the battle of Lowositz—the first in the Seven Years’ War. He had afterwards much work of various kinds on his hands; and, among others, there was one affair in which he and his master got a good deal of historical obloquy—the celebrated seizure of the secret papers in the archives of Dresden, when the Queen stood with her back to the cabinet in which they were, and said she would resist their seizure. On this the German biographer says, "There is no ground for the story, that during this transaction Keith used personal violence to the Queen of Poland, and gave her a push when she/ objected to his intention of opening the archives; inasmuch as not he, but a person commissioned by him, demanded the key of the archives from the Queen; and it was most probably through Major Wangenheim’s urgent solicitations that she was at last persuaded to withdraw from the door of the archives, the entrance to which she had prepared to defend in person. But, naturally, Keith would have been obliged to order the removal of the Queen by force, had it been necessary; and her threat, that he would be disgraced before the eyes of all Europe after such treatment, and would be abandoned to shame by his own king, would have failed to make any impression on the experienced soldier."

Carlyle has looked at the official account of this transaction furnished to his own court by Steinberg, the Austrian ambassador. Though Keith was in command, it appears that the officer told off for the special duty of opening the cabinet was Wangenheim. The Queen stood before the door, and said that, if violence were to be used, it had best begin with her; but on being assured that force actually would be used, she gave way, and avoided actual handling.

The German biographer tell us that "Keith continued to enjoy the King’s entire confidence and favour, and recommended himself by many services not within the class of duties for which his services were retained. At one time we find him interceding for an English manufacturer of woollen goods to be allowed to settle in Prussia; at another time seeking to open the East Indian trade to Prussian industry. He takes the trouble to translate the debates of the British Parliament for the King’s perusal." We are then told of designs furnished by Keith for massive bridges over the Spree, which had to be postponed while the King organised his larger projects; and then come some little affairs, which show, what is not generally known in this country, that the Field-Marshal was an authority on matters of art.


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