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Autobiographical Reminiscences of David Johnston
Chapter IV


"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

THE effect of this dreadful event told fearfully on the mind of Mr. Nisbet, who in a short time evinced symptoms of mental derangement. In his lucid moments he would lament the loss of his sister's companionable qualities, and crave for that society which his local position denied. In that spirit, he wrote to his niece (my mother) begging of her and my father to part with one of their boys, to effect which he held out the most tempting inducements in the way of education, the disposal of his property, and so forth. The prospective advantages of this proposition my parents were in no position to resist.

On the vote of the two younkers being canvassed on the subject I leapt to it with alacrity, viewing the whole thing as a Godsend-opening to my roving disposition. Jamie, on the contrary, gave no signs of a desire to leave home. My heart leapt for joy that I should shortly see the great city of London, see England, and ride to school on a pony.

Necessary arrangements were completed to the satisfaction of all parties, and the day appointed whereon my father was to carry me to Leith on the "Good Intent" coach, and to put me on board of a smack for London, when lo! a brief note from Lcsney, couched in the following terms:

LESNEY PARK, COUNTY KENT, May 10, 1809.

My Dear Niece:

I hope you will pardon my absentmindedness. I find that in our correspondence I have overlooked that which I deem a very important matter. I have traveled back in the pedigree of the Nisbets for the last two hundred years and fail to find a David in the list. Taking for granted that your eldest son takes his name from my brother, I should esteem it a favor if you would send James instead of David, without any disparagement to the latter.

From your affectionate Uncle,

Geo. Nisbet.

Thus were all my aspirations for the future nipped in the bud, for when was ever the rich man's request denied by the poor? My brother reluctantly assumed the position intended for me, and I, with a bad grace, undertook to fill his shoes at home.

The great poet asks, "What's in a name?" My answer, if it could find expression, would be, "A young ambition crushed." At Lesney, for five years, everything went on satisfactorily till the 8th of January, 1815. The very day on which the battle of New Orleans was fought, George Nisbet, in a fit of insanity, ended his days by suicide. Nothing now left at Lesney of an inviting nature, James resolved to return to the home of his fathers. During that short period many important events had transpired. After his unfortunate campaign in Russia, Napoleon had resigned his power over France at Fontainebleau, and agreed with the Allied Powers to content himself with the title of ex-emperor in the isle of Elba, where he remained till the commencement of the Hundred Days, February 12, 1314, which added one hundred million pounds to the national debt of England, a sum rendered insignificant by the result of Waterloo. During these hundred days our little town was the scene of great bustle and confusion. In addition to the regular barracks for infantry, cavalry and artillery, scarcely a day passed without soldiers being billeted on the inhabitants and regiments passing on their way to the seaboard, all eager to embark for the continent to meet the great hero in the coming fight. Then there was the local volunteer army, the yeomanry and militia, besides several recruiting parties picking up the unwary stalwarts with the tempting "Geordies" peeping through the meshes of the silken purse. Forty pounds were given to any man who would leave the local and join the regulars. The well known warlike aphorism, ascribed to Sir Robert Peel, "That to preserve peace, a nation must ever be ready for war," is evidently an outgrowth of England's immemorial practice and policy. At what period of her history, it may be asked, has she ever been caught napping? Never has there been a period in which her eternal vigilance has been so severely tested as at the time of which I speak. An apprehension that Napoleon would by some means obtain a footing and make England the theatre of war was extensively entertained, and for once the people and the government united in straining every nerve in order to obviate such a calamity. Napoleon's breach of parole at Elba, his landing in France, his reception at Lyons, the conduct of Marshal Ney, embracing the man whom be was intrusted with an army to oppose, and his triumphant approach to Paris, all tended to strengthen the dreaded idea.

So closed the memorable year of 1814, nor was the situation improved by the defeat of the English army under Pakenham on the threshold of the new year, 1815, by the youthful arms of America under Jackson. Napoleon was received in Paris with open arms and with cries of "Vive l'Empereur! " He reviewed his army at the Tuileries, announced the return of the empress, and prepared to meet the approaching allied army. For that purpose he left Paris on the 12th of June, and on the 14th and 16th fought the battles of Fleury and Ligny with doubtful success. On the i8th the famous battle of Waterloo was fought. The brunt of the struggle was borne by the English under Wellington, which was rendered decisive by the timely arrival of the Prussians under Blucher. It has been computed that the French lost 5o,000 men in the three days' fight. Napoleon returned to Paris and abdicated in favor of his son, then gave himself up to the English at Rochefort. The allies consigned the great chieftain to eke out the remnant of his days on the barren rock of St Helena, where he died on the 5th of May, 1821. Thus fell the man whose towering ambition and military talent brought the civilized world within his own personal keeping, and doubtless, if the humiliation of his fall proved proportionate to his former greatness, his mental suffering must have shortened his life.


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