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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter I

Courcelles-le-Roi, May 16, 1825

The idea has occurred to me, my son, of beginning this sketch of my life for you, without caring to know when it will be finished, nevertheless, I set to work, having for guide and assistance nothing but my memory. Let my pen travel on and write these lines, as you will observe, in the simplest and most familiar style possible. Truth needs no adornment, and, moreover, I am not writing for the public; these lines are not intended for the light of day. I write in haste from a habit of never leaving anything till to-morrow; besides, my return to Paris cannot long be postponed and once there, I shall have no time to continue this work, as I am contemplating a journey of six weeks or two months, in order to see the three kingdoms of the British Empire, with which I am unacquainted, and to visit my father's birthplace in the Hebrides.

Paris, June 5, 1825.

You and my family will probably be surprised, and justly, at finding among my papers as yet no special recital of my campaigns, not even a diary; I owe you some explanation upon this point.

Twenty years ago I had ample leisure, as I was not being employed, [After the trial of Moreau, in which a futile and unjust attempt was made to implicate Macdonald, he remained five years in disgrace, and was not recalled to service until 1809.] but I had recently acquired Courcelles. it was the first time that I had owned an estate, and it was but natural that I should wish to enjoy all its pleasures. Surrounded with books on agriculture, I discovered attractions hitherto unknown to me. I forgot the papers locked up in my chest, and all my fine schemes for writing my military life were temporarily abandoned. If Heaven prolongs my desolate existence, [He had just lost his third wife, mother of the son to whom these recollections are addressed. She was Mademoiselle de Bourgoing, and had previously married her cousin, Baron de Bourgoing. She had two children by the Marshal: this son, Alexander, afterwards Duke of Tarentum, and a daughter who died in infancy.- Translator.] I will include in this narrative an account of my military career, and of the different ranks that I have held. As for events, they are written in every history of the time but beware of them, especially upon any subject connected with me, for histories, narratives, and biographical notices must be affected by our recent troubles, and consequently by the passions of men and by party spirit; however, impartial history will some day avenge those who have fallen victims.

I have never had reason to reproach myself, nor have I ever had to blush for any circumstance in my life. I received an untarnished name. I transmit it to you, feeling sure that you will keep it pure. My conscience during a long and active life has nothing to reproach me, because I always followed three safe guides: Honour, Fidelity, and Disinterestedness; and I like to beileve that my guides will be yours also.

Courcelles-le-Roi, August 6, 1825.

My rapid journey has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. The coast of France looked to be like the Promised Land. I have once more seen France, my beloved country! This is the first anniversary of your birth. What joy and happiness that event caused us! Then, alas! how many regrets and painful memories have come since!

I ought to tell you something about your family upon your father's side. I alone can give you details, which I knew but imperfectly, but which, in the course of my travels, I collected on the spot. Your paternal grandfather was born in 1719, in the parish of Coubry, or Boubry, in South Uist, one of the Hebrides. [I learn from Mr. John Macdonald, of Glenaladale, whose father accompanied the Duke on his journey to the Hebrides, that the district in which the Marshal's father was born was that of Houghbeag. See also note on next page.—Translator.] He was educated in France at the Scotch College at Douai, and was probably destined for an ecclesiastical career. I know not what were his tastes, or wishes, but I do know that, after completing a brilliant course of study, he returned to the place of his birth. Thence he was summoned by Prince Charles [Edward] Stuart, styled the Pretender.

Throughout the disastrous expedition of 1745 my father attached himself to the good and bad fortune of the Prince, like a loyal Scotsman. The cup of their common misfortunes, and of so many others besides, was filled by the loss of the battle of Culloden, near Inverness, in 1746. The details of this disastrous event are written in history, and it would be superfluous to repeat them here; but what are less known are the results that this unhappy affair had upon the life of the Prince, who was compelled for several months to seek shelter in caves and barns, in order to save his head, Upon which a price had been set. He wandered from island to island, guided by my father, until at last a heroine, Flora Macdonald, of the Isle of Skye, succeeded in baffling their pursuers, and exposed herself in order to assist their flight on board a French man-of-war. Miraculously saved, they reached France.

[* Marshal Macdonald used to remit money to his relatives in Uist, and one of his cousins visited him in France at his request, in 1825 the Marshal visited Great Britain, and was everywhere received with distinguished honour, both by the Government and people. The cordiality of his reception in London was only equalled by that of his reception in Edinburgh and Inverness. He visited the field of Culloden, and expressed strong disapprobation at the Highlanders for engaging the Royal troops in such a place.

'Marshal Macdonald visited the Western Isles in a revenue cruiser placed at his disposal by Government, accompanied by Mr. Ranald Macdonald, Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh, who was a son of Macdonald of Boisdale, a scion of the Macdonalds of Clanranald.

'The Marshal walked from the ford at Lochdar to Houghbeag, a distance of ten miles. On coming in sight of the river he exclaimed

"That is the river Hough I know it from my father's description. Many a salmon has he caught there "

'He sent for all his relations in the neighbourhood. When his blind old uncle was brought to him, he embraced him affectionately, saying:

"You dear old man, how like you are to my own father!"

'He addressed his relations in French and broken Gaelic, they answering him in Gaelic, for none of them could speak any English. He distributed sums of money, varying in value among them, giving to some £20, and to others larger amounts or fixed annuities. He took earth from the floor of the house where his father was born, and potatoes from the garden, and these he placed in a bag and carried home with him to France. He planted the potatoes in his garden, and gave orders that the earth should be placed in his coffin after his death.

'From Houghbeag he crossed the hills to Glen Corrodail to visit the cave in which Prince Charlie and a few faithful followers lived for six weeks after Culloden. It is a walk of about two hours over very rough roads; but the Marshal, then about sixty years of age, travelled the mountains with ease.

From Corrodail he re-embarked on board the cruiser that had brought him to the island. Many persons are still living who saw the Marshal when in Uist. They all describe him as a man of about the middle height, well built and muscular, but not stout. They say that he resembled in form, features, and voice, his kinsfolk in Uist, but in complexion they differed, he being dark and sallow, and they fair and ruddy.

'Flora Macdonald and Neill Macachaim were remotely, but very remotely, connected, through the Clanranalds. Flora was nearly related to the Clanranalds, and by the Lady Clanranald of the day she was much beloved and admired, as indeed she was by all who knew her. She was not horn, as many people, even natives of Skye, suppose, in the island of Skye, but in the island of South Uist, on the farm of Mitton. Some six miles farther north is Houghbeag, where Neill Macachaim, father of the Marshal, was horn.'—Note by Mr. Alexander Carmichael, of Edinburgh.]

Your grandfather was put into Ogilvy's Scotch regiment, and the Prince never gave him another thought.

After the peace of 1763, nearly all the foreign regiments were disbanded. Among them was Ogilvy's, and your grandfather, proscribed in his own country, and abandoned in this one, was reduced to live upon the modest pension of three hundred livres (about £30). Almost immediately afterwards he made what, in military parlance, is called a 'garrison marriage'; that is to say, he wedded a girl without any fortune. Your grandfather had settled himself at Sedan, where I was born [November 17, 1765], when he was invited by Lord Nairn, proscribed like himself, to the little town of Sancerre [near Bourges]. The cheapness of living, and probably of the wine, which is good, had determined these gentlemen to settle there; other Scotsmen had preceded them.

In this retreat, with his friends and his books, he consoled himself for the cruelty of fortune. He was very studious, well versed in the Greek and Latin tongues, which he spoke easily, as well as French, English, and Gaelic, his native language. He never saw his country again, although in 1784 an Act or Amnesty was passed by the English Parliament, permitting fugitives to return. My father died at Sancerre in 1788, in all probability from the effects of a fall he had had some years previously, and which had dislocated his hip, which had been badly set by an inexperienced surgeon. I was at that time quartered at Calais. One of his compatriots, Mr. MacNab, undertook to represent me. He collected all his books and papers, with the intention of restoring them to me. Among them I should certainly have found many details about my family, and about the events of which your grandfather had been both witness and victim; but MacNab, at that time corporal in the Bodyguard, was, like so many others, seized during the Revolution, arrested and imprisoned. His papers and mine were carried off, and are lost for ever. I have these unlucky details from himself.

I have little information about your paternal grandmother. I only know she was of good family. She was born at St. Omer, but as her father, a soldier by profession, was a stranger in the town, nobody remembered her, and I could obtain no information when I caused inquiries to be made.

Unfortunately, while I was moving from garrison to garrison, your grandfather and grandmother had, two or three years before the death of the former, differences of so serious a nature that they voluntarily separated. I fancy that your grandmother, perhaps embittered by trouble, had some slight affection of the mind, but it was scarcely noticeable, and certainly not so apparent to others as to me. She retired to Fontainebleau, where she ended her days twenty- five or twenty-six years ago. Your grandfather was very gentle, she was quick-tempered; she was a great talker, he was naturally silent. I have heard him, however, talk very well; his memory was well stored, full of anecdote, and he was a good musician, playing the violin; he was much esteemed and sought after by the society of that time.

They had four children, two boys and two girls; two died at an early age, my sister and I have survived. Your aunt was educated in a convent at Rouen, and married a Swiss doctor at Soleui'e, who afterwards gave up the 'fruitless science of Galen,' became a soldier, and was killed, holding the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, at the passage of the Beresina, in the fatal expedition of 1812. They left three girls and a boy, who is now in India, in command of a company of Sepoys at Pondicherry. One of the daughters is a nun; the eldest married Major-General the Viscount de Saint-'Mars, and the second Colonel de Coussin, attached to my staff. They are all living and have children. Your aunt, after the death of her husband, Colonel Weitner, settled at Beaulieu, near me, and died there two years ago.

My early studies had been somewhat neglected at Sancerre. I was sent to Paris to a school kept by Chevalier Pawlet (sic). His foreign name caused the proscription of the tutor, and his establishment was suppressed at the beginning of the Revolution. I had profited fairly well by his instruction. Before going thither, I had been destined for the Church, in the hope of obtaining a canonry at Cambrai. But my military tastes were developed by my studies and surroundings, and especially by Homer, the reading of which set my brain on fire. I thought myself an Achilles!

They wished to make an engineer of me, and I was encouraged to study mathematics. Two comrades and I had to undergo an examination; we failed, and were sent back for another year; but in the interval powerful patrons, Prince Ferdinand de Rohan, Archbishop of Cambrai, Countess d'Albestrop, Lady Mary and Lady Lucy Stuart, obtained for me, in 1785, a lieutenancy in Maillebois' regiment, then serving the Dutch.

The seven United Provinces formed at that time a republican federation, which on more than one occasion had fought successfully against states much stronger than herself. This time she had to face her neighbour, the Emperor of Austria, Sovereign of the Netherlands, who had quarrelled with her on behalf of Antwerp and Ghent, for the free navigation of the Scheldt. The Dutch, trusting in the defences which gave them safety—their good fleet, their frontiers surrounded by rivers, and their bristling fortresses —maintained only a small standing army; but threatened as they were at this moment, they were seeking everywhere for generals, officers, and men.

On hearing of my appointment, and the object for which the regiment was being raised, I was nearly beside myself with pleasure. My head was already crammed with books upon the art of war, with histories of sieges, campaigns, combats and battles. I was already planning out various schemes of attack and defence, and flattered myself that I should reap at least a colonelcy in this campaign, and that in the next I should become a rival to the great Turenne. Such were my ideas when I first put on my uniform at the beginning of 1785, and started with a number of other officers for our corps at Nimeguen, Arnheim, and Bois-Ie-Duc.

You will easily conceive with what ardour I commenced the work of training my men. I had learnt the rudiments at Chevalier Pawlet's school, which was organized upon the lines of military schools, enjoying some of their prerogatives, notably the privilege of receiving officers' commissions, without counting those granted to such as passed from there into the special colleges for the artillery and engineers.

You will experience, I hope, my son, the real joy that is caused by a first uniform and a first commission; and although I have reached the highest rank, I assure you, in perfect sincerity, that my colonelcy was the crowning point to me.

My new brother officers and I thought of nothing but how soon we could take the field against the Austrians. All our conversations turned upon this subject, so full for us of charm and attraction, whereon we each founded his ambition, his promotion, and his fortune, when we learned with deep chagrin that peace had been concluded, and that our regiment would be disbanded. The Dutch thus justified the sarcasm of Frederick the Great, who on one occasion inquired of their ambassador how matters were going with them.

'Very well,' was the answer. 'We shall hold our own against the Emperor.'

'Nonsense!' replied the King. 'I know exactly what will happen: you will give a fi' (pourboire) 'to his Imperial Majesty, and there will be an end of the matter.'

This opinion, though expressed in jest, was found to he borne out completely when the treaty was published.

In the statute ordering the regiment to be raised of which the Count de Maillebois was Colonel (as well as Commander-in-chief of the Dutch forces), a proviso had been inserted that, in case of peace and consequent disbandment, the officers should receive as pension half their pay, on condition of spending it in the country, or a sum down, equivalent to four years of the said pension, with permission to leave the country at their pleasure. It was not a very large sum, for the Dutch, a frugal people, had only eight months in their financial year, each month containing six weeks.

After taking the advice of my father and patrons, I returned to France. They then put their heads together to save me from living in idleness at Sancerre, where I was wearing out my uniform by showing it off at Mass and vespers on Sundays, and to the country people on market days. Everyone made way for me, and this could not fail to increase my stock of vanity.

It was very difficult to he reinstated in a regiment in the service of France. Government seems to have viewed with displeasure the custom prevalent among our officers, of leaving their rank in their own army for a superior rank in the Legion. The Austrian Minister had made representations, and, in order to give no justification for the suspicion of connivance, the French Minister refused to reinstate those who had willingly abandoned their ranks; à fortiori he would refuse to give even a sub-lieutenant's commission to the others. They were, however, permitted to begin their career as gentlemen-cadets, according to the established rules.

These obstacles were pointed out to me, together with the necessity of coming to a decision. I did not hesitate. The lazy life of Sancerre wearied me. I had had a taste of life in garrison; the work, exercises, parades, inspections, manoeuvres, which bored so many others, especially the old officers who had fought in America, were attractive to me. Count Arthur Dillon, who fell a victim to the Revolution, after having served it loyally, offered me a cadetship in the regiment that bore his name, of which he was proprietary Colonel. I put on the red coat; a white aiglet, distinctive mark of the gentlemen-cadets, took the place of my lieutenant's epaulettes. I am bound to admit that it was not without a heavy heart that I took this courageous resolution, nor without a lively feeling of grief which, however, diminished upon my hearing that I should soon be made an officer. That was a crumb of comfort, certainly, but it seems to me a very long way off, seeing that up to the rank of Captain promotion, only went by seniority, that there were several cadets above me, and that the list of officers was very long. Some of these were there as substitutes, etc. Modifications have now been introduced into the laws governing promotion, more favourable to talent, and especially to patronage.

I thus spent several years continuing my studies, and always keenly interested in my profession. I had chosen my friends well; they also were fond of work. They were good musicians and draughtsmen. I have always regretted that I could do no more than scrape my fiddle. I had begun too late, and my masters, independently of their bad method, knew little more about it than I did. My other amusements were fencing, dancing, and the theatre. My taste for music and good acting had helped me to store my memory; it became stronger while I was employed in Italy. It is an advantage to a young officer to be able to play an instrument; the best society is always open to him, especially if to his talent he joins good breeding and education, as well as good behaviour.

The Revolution broke out; every officer's brain was in a ferment; no one dreamed of war and promotion. The camp of St. Omer, where I was with my regiment, was able, by means of meetings and conventions, to free itself from the severe and humiliating discipline to which the council of war wished to subject all regiments and officers.

At the period when the officers obtained their long leave, I profited by mine, at the end of 1790, to go to my sister at Andrezy, and to St. Germain. I was at that time a Lieutenant, a little bit of a musician, and, though I could only scrape my violin, I was presented in several houses, and voted passable.

A young and pretty creole [Mademoiselle Jacob, by whom he had two daughters, the Duchesse de Massa and the Comtesse de Perregaux. See Michaud, Biographie UniverselIe,' art. ' Macdonald.'— Translator.] reciprocated the attentions I paid her. I offered her my hand, which was accepted; her mother gave her approval, but the father's consent was yet to be obtained. He was a wily fox, who had amassed a fortune in the West Indies, and was more than economical, not to say stingy. The only fortune I could offer was my youth and my military prospects; he wanted something more solid. He politely refused my proposal,. but I would not take 'No' for an answer. We set Colonel Beurnonville, afterwards a Marshal of France, to work; he was well acquainted with the family, and had the ear of the father, who was his wife's uncle. The latter, who was afraid of the Colonel, though he had declined my offer, thought fit to make inquiries among the patrons already named, and whom I had mentioned to him. At last, worried and tormented, he finished by giving his consent to our union, which was celebrated on the 5th of May, 1791. From that time to the day of his death he was very kind to me; he became very fond of me, and I honestly reciprocated his affection.


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