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Reminiscences of the Lews
Chapter XXI - The Late Duke of St. Simon


MY dear old friend the Due de St. Simon lived to a great age, and died, a hale, hearty old man, some three or four years ago, and I don’t think it amiss to record here a passage of his life well deserving his country’s gratitude, and one or two anecdotes connected with him. In the autumn of 1815 a large portion of the Prussian army was quartered in Normandy, with the intention of occupying Cherbourg, then very slenderly garrisoned. Blucher, with his staff, was at Caen, the headquarters of the French military division commanded by St. Simon, then a young general of brigade. The Prussians, on their entry into Caen, demanded that the small force under his orders should lay down its arms. To such an unprovoked indignity—for this was in September, long after all hostilities had ceased— the man who had been Key’s aide-de-camp not only for two years in Spain, where the gallant Colbert fell by his side, but for several in Germany; who at Jena had cut his way through the Prussian hussars, carrying his marshal’s orders, and was reported as dead in consequence of the wounds there received—refused obedience. But, unwilling that there should be any resort to force, which would probably have led to bloodshed, the young general signified his intention of parading his small force at a certain hour on the Place d’Armes, and then evacuating the town. This he accordingly did, and directed his troops to proceed to Cherbourg. He had already passed most of the troops in his division into that place, together with all disbanded soldiers passing through Caen from the army of the Loire and different other quarters. Thus, by the time the Prussians were ready to occupy Cherbourg, it was garrisoned with a good body of veteran troops, burning with hatred against them more than any of the Allies. They did not venture to force their way in, finding discretion the better part of valour. Thus backed, perhaps, a little by that pressure that saved the bridge of Jena* Cherbourg was preserved from the Prussians. The task, however, was difficult, for, had any collision taken place, the French Government would not—possibly could not— have supported their general.

The Duke de St. Simon, then a colonel, was the officer who, accompanied by Colonel Cook, carried to Soult the news of the abdication of Napoleon, in 1814. Soult discredited, or pretended to discredit, the information, and proceeded to try St. Simon by a sort of court martial, and General Foy told me himself he voted for shooting him. Certainly he was sentenced to be shot; but whether through the kindness of Soult’s staff, or by his directions, shortly after the sentence was announced to him an aide-de-camp came into the room, and, asking him if that was his horse under the window, left it immediately. St. Simon took the hint and made his escape to Suchet, with whom he had long served in Catalonia, where he was in safety.

It was either on his way from or back to Paris on this hazardous expedition, that the envoy and the ex-emperor on his road to Elba met at a post-house when changing horses. Napoleon, knowing him well, sent for him. The white cockade was in his shako, and St. Simon, with the instinct and the breeding of a thorough gentleman, with something, perhaps, of the galled pride of a soldier at thus entering his

old emperor’s presence, under whose leading and victorious eagles lie had marched into many of the capitals of Europe, tried to keep the new cockade out of sight. “Ah, vous en avez deja honte!” laughingly remarked Napoleon. St. Simon, who was as quick and ready a man as ever lived, told me he felt as if choked, and could not utter a word.

The British public will probably take little interest in this subject, but these reminiscences might find their way to France, and show how Englishmen can appreciate Frenchmen on public grounds. May I be permitted to add that, if such should be the case—if in that once fair, beautiful Paris, there should be still living one only that remembers us both—I would wish that one to know that I could not refrain from striving to pay this humble tribute to the memory of one with whom I passed some of the happiest days of youth, and to whose early kindness, wise counsel, and good example I owe a deep debt of gratitude.


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