FATHERS AND SONS
One of the noblest characters in old Roman history is the first Scipio Africanus, and his first appearance is in a most pleasing light, at the battle of the River Ticinus, B.C. 219, when the Carthaginians, under Hannibal, had just completed their wonderful march across the Alps, and surprised the Romans in Italy itself.
Young Scipio was then only seventeen years of age, and had gone to his first battle under the eagles of his father, the Consul, Publius Cornelius Scipio. It was an unfortunate battle; the Romans, when exhausted by long resistance to the Spanish horse in Hannibal’s army, were taken in flank by the Numidian calvary, and entirely broken. The Consul rode in front of the few equites he could keep together, striving by voice and example to rally his forces, until he was pierced by one of the long Numidian javelins, and fell senseless from his horse. The Romans, thinking him dead, entirely gave way; but his young son would not leave him, and, lifting him on his horse, succeeded in bringing him safe into the camp, where he recovered, and his after days retrieved the honor of the Roman arms.
The story of a brave and devoted son comes to us to light up the sadness of our civil wars between Cavaliers and Roundheads in the middle of the seventeenth century. It was soon after King Charles had raised his standard at Nottingham, and set forth on his march for London, that it became evident that the Parliamentary army, under the Earl of Essex, intended to intercept his march. The King himself was with the army, with his two boys, Charles and James; but the General-in-chief was Robert Bertie, Earl of Lindsay, a brave and experienced old soldier, sixty years of age, godson to Queen Elizabeth, and to her two favorite Earls, whose Christian name he bore. He had been in her Essex’s expedition to Cambridge, and had afterwards served in the Low Countries, under Prince Maurice of Nassau; for the long Continental wars had throughout King James’ peaceful reign been treated by the English nobility as schools of arms, and a few campaigns were considered as a graceful finish to a gentleman’s education. As soon as Lord Lindsay had begun to fear that the disputes between the King and Parliament must end in war, he had begun to exercise and train his tenantry in Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire, of whom he had formed a regiment of infantry. With him was his son Montagu Bertie, Lord Willoughby, a noble-looking man of thirty-two, of whom it was said, that he was ‘as excellent in reality as others in pretence,’ and that, thinking ‘that the cross was an ornament to the crown, and much more to the coronet, he satisfied not himself with the mere exercise of virtue, but sublimated it, and made it grace.’ He had likewise seen some service against the Spaniards in the Netherlands, and after his return had been made a captain in the Lifeguards, and a Gentleman of the Bedchamber. Vandyke has left portraits of the father and the son; the one a bald-headed, alert, precise-looking old warrior, with the cuirass and gauntlets of elder warfare; the other, the very model of a cavalier, tall, easy, and graceful, with a gentle reflecting face, and wearing the long lovelocks and deep point lace collar and cuffs characteristic of Queen Henrietta’s Court. Lindsay was called General-in-chief, but the King had imprudently exempted the cavalry from his command, its general, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, taking orders only from himself. Rupert was only three-and- twenty, and his education in the wild school of the Thirty Years’ War had not taught him to lay aside his arrogance and opinionativeness; indeed, he had shown great petulance at receiving orders from the King through Lord Falkland.
At eight o’clock, on the morning of the 23rd of October, King Charles was riding along the ridge of Edgehill, and looking down into the Vale of Red Horse, a fair meadow land, here and there broken by hedges and copses. His troops were mustering around him, and in the valley he could see with his telescope the various Parliamentary regiments, as they poured out of the town of Keinton, and took up their positions in three lines. ‘I never saw the rebels in a body before,’ he said, as he gazed sadly at the subjects arrayed against him. ‘I shall give them battle. God, and the prayers of good men to Him, assist the justice of my cause.’ The whole of his forces, about 11,000 in number, were not assembled till two o’clock in the afternoon, for the gentlemen who had become officers found it no easy matter to call their farmers and retainers together, and marshal them into any sort of order. But while one troop after another came trampling, clanking, and shouting in, trying to find and take their proper place, there were hot words round the royal standard.
Lord Lindsay, who was an old comrade of the Earl of Essex, the commander of the rebel forces, knew that he would follow the tactics they had both together studied in Holland, little thinking that one day they should be arrayed one against the other in their own native England. He had a high opinion of Essex’s generalship, and insisted that the situation of the Royal army required the utmost caution. Rupert, on the other hand, had seen the swift fiery charges of the fierce troopers of the Thirty Years’ war, and was backed up by Patrick, Lord Ruthven, one of the many Scots who had won honor under the great Swedish King, Gustavus Adolphus. A sudden charge of the Royal horse would, Rupert argued, sweep the Roundheads from the field, and the foot would have nothing to do but to follow up the victory. The great portrait at Windsor shows us exactly how the King must have stood, with his charger by his side, and his grave, melancholy face, sad enough at having to fight at all with his subjects, and never having seen a battle, entirely bewildered between the ardent words of his spirited nephew and the grave replies of the well-seasoned old Earl. At last, as time went on, and some decision was necessary, the perplexed King, willing at least not to irritate Rupert, desired that Ruthven should array the troops in the Swedish fashion.
It was a greater affront to the General-in-chief than the king was likely to understand, but it could not shake the old soldier’s loyalty. He gravely resigned the empty title of General, which only made confusion worse confounded, and rode away to act as colonel of his own Lincoln regiment, pitying his master’s perplexity, and resolved that no private pique should hinder him from doing his duty. His regiment was of foot soldiers, and was just opposite to the standard of the Earl of Essex.
The church bell was ringing for afternoon service when the Royal forces marched down the hill. The last hurried prayer before the charge was stout old Sir Jacob Astley’s, ‘O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day; if I forget Thee, do not Thou forget me;’ then, rising, he said, ‘March on, boys.’ And, amid prayer and exhortation, the other side awaited the shock, as men whom a strong and deeply embittered sense of wrong had roused to take up arms. Prince Rupert’s charge was, however, fully successful. No one even waited to cross swords with his troopers, but all the Roundhead horse galloped headlong off the field, hotly pursued by the Royalists. But the main body of the army stood firm, and for some time the battle was nearly equal, until a large troop of the enemy’s cavalry who had been kept in reserve, wheeled round and fell upon the Royal forces just when their scanty supply of ammunition was exhausted.
Step by step, however, they retreated bravely, and Rupert, who had returned from his charge, sought in vain to collect his scattered troopers, so as to fall again on the rebels; but some were plundering, some chasing the enemy, and none could be got together. Lord Lindsay was shot through the thigh bone, and fell. He was instantly surrounded by the rebels on horseback; but his son, Lord Willoughby, seeing his danger, flung himself alone among the enemy, and forcing his way forward, raised his father in his arms thinking of nothing else, and unheeding his own peril. The throng of enemy around called to him to surrender, and, hastily giving up his sword, he carried the Earl into the nearest shed, and laid him on a heap of straw, vainly striving to staunch the blood. It was a bitterly cold night, and the frosty wind came howling through the darkness. Far above, on the ridge of the hill, the fires of the King’s army shone with red light, and some way off on the other side twinkled those of the Parliamentary forces. Glimmering lanterns or torches moved about the battlefield, those of the savage plunderers who crept about to despoil the dead. Whether the battle were won or lost, the father and son knew not, and the guard who watched them knew as little. Lord Lindsay himself murmured, ‘If it please God I should survive, I never will fight in the same field with boys again!’– no doubt deeming that young Rupert had wrought all the mischief. His thoughts were all on the cause, his son’s all on him; and piteous was that night, as the blood continued to flow, and nothing availed to check it, nor was any aid near to restore the old man’s ebbing strength.
Toward midnight the Earl’s old comrade Essex had time to understand his condition, and sent some officers to enquire for him, and promise speedy surgical attendance. Lindsay was still full of spirit, and spoke to them so strongly of their broken faith, and of the sin of disloyalty and rebellion, that they slunk away one by one out of the hut, and dissuaded Essex from coming himself to see his old friend, as he had intended. The surgeon, however, arrived, but too late, Lindsay was already so much exhausted by cold and loss of blood, that he died early in the morning of the 24th, all his son’s gallant devotion having failed to save him.
The sorrowing son received an affectionate note the next day from the King, full of regret for his father and esteem for himself. Charles made every effort to obtain his exchange, but could not succeed for a whole year. He was afterwards one of the four noblemen who, seven years later, followed the King’s white, silent, snowy funeral in the dismantled St. George’s Chapel; and from first to last he was one of the bravest, purest, and most devoted of those who did honor to the Cavalier cause.
We have still another brave son to describe, and for him we must return away from these sad pages of our history, when we were a house divided against itself, to one of the hours of our brightest glory, when the cause we fought in was the cause of all the oppressed, and nearly alone we upheld the rights of oppressed countries against the invader. And thus it is that the battle of the Nile is one of the exploits to which we look back with the greatest exultation, when we think of the triumph of the British flag.
Let us think of all that was at stake. Napoleon Bonaparte was climbing to power in France, by directing her successful arms against the world. He had beaten Germany and conquered Italy; he had threatened England, and his dream was of the conquest of the East. Like another Alexander, he hoped to subdue Asia, and overthrow the hated British power by depriving it of India. Hitherto, his dreams had become earnest by the force of his marvelous genius, and by the ardor which he breathed into the whole French nation; and when he set sail from Toulon, with 40,000 tried and victorious soldiers and a magnificent fleet, all were filled with vague and unbounded expectations of almost fabulous glories. He swept away as it were the degenerate Knights of St. john from their rock of Malta, and sailed for Alexandria in Egypt, in the latter end of June, 1798.
His intentions had not become known, and the English Mediterranean fleet was watching the course of this great armament. Sir Horatio Nelson was in pursuit, with the English vessels, and wrote to the First Lord of the Admiralty: ‘Be they bound to the Antipodes, your lordship may rely that I will not lose a moment in bringing them to action.’
Nelson had, however, not ships enough to be detached to reconnoitre, and he actually overpassed the French, whom he guessed to be on the way to Egypt; he arrived at the port of Alexandria on the 28th of June, and saw its blue waters and flat coast lying still in their sunny torpor, as if no enemy were on the seas. Back he went to Syracuse, but could learn no more there; he obtained provisions with some difficulty, and then, in great anxiety, sailed for Greece; where at last, on the 28th of July, he learnt that the French fleet had been seen from Candia, steering to the southeast, and about four weeks since. In fact, it had actually passed by him in a thick haze, which concealed each fleet from the other, and had arrived at Alexandria on the 1st of July, three days after he had left it!
Every sail was set for the south, and at four o’clock in the afternoon of the 1st of August a very different sight was seen in Aboukir Bay, so solitary a month ago. It was crowded with shipping. Great castle-like men-of-war rose with all their proud calm dignity out of the water, their dark port-holes opening in the white bands on their sides, and the tricolored flag floating as their ensign. There were thirteen ships of the line and four frigates, and, of these, three were 80-gun ships, and one, towering high above the rest, with her three decks, was L’Orient, of 120 guns. Look well at her, for there stands the hero for whose sake we have chose this and no other of Nelson’s glorious fights to place among the setting of our Golden Deeds. There he is, a little cadet de vaisseau, as the French call a midshipman, only ten years old, with a heart swelling between awe and exultation at the prospect of his first battle; but, fearless and glad, for is he not the son of the brave Casabianca, the flag-captain? And is not this Admiral Brueys’ own ship, looking down in scorn on the fourteen little English ships, not one carrying more than 74 guns, and one only 50?
Why Napoleon had kept the fleet there was never known. In his usual mean way of disavowing whatever turned out ill, he laid the blame upon Admiral Brueys; but, though dead men could not tell tales, his papers made it plain that the ships had remained in obedience to commands, though they had not been able to enter the harbour of Alexandria. Large rewards had been offered to any pilot who would take them in, but none could be found who would venture to steer into that port a vessel drawing more than twenty feet of water. They had, therefore, remained at anchor outside, in Aboukir Bay, drawn up in a curve along the deepest of the water, with no room to pass them at either end, so that the commissary of the fleet reported that they could bid defiance to a force more than double their number. The admiral believed that Nelson had not ventured to attack him when they had passed by one another a month before, and when the English fleet was signaled, he still supposed that it was too late in the day for an attack to be made.
Nelson had, however, no sooner learnt that the French were in sight than he signaled from his ship, the Vanguard, that preparations for battle should be made, and in the meantime summoned up his captains to receive his orders during a hurried meal. He explained that, where there was room for a large French ship to swing, there was room for a small English one to anchor, and, therefore, he designed to bring his ships up to the outer part of the French line, and station them close below their adversary; a plan that he said Lord Hood had once designed, though he had not carried it out.
Captain Berry was delighted, and exclaimed, ‘If we succeed, what will the world say?’
‘There is no if in the case,’ returned Nelson, ‘that we shall succeed is certain. Who may live to tell the tale is a very different question.’
And when they rose and parted, he said, ‘before this time to-morrow I shall have gained a peerage or Westminster Abbey.’
In the fleet went, through a fierce storm of shot and shell from a French battery in an island in advance. Nelson’s own ship, the Vanguard, was the first to anchor within half-pistol-shot of the third French ship, the Spartiate. The Vanguard had six colours flying, in any case any should be shot away; and such was the fire that was directed on her, that in a few minutes every man at the six guns in her forepart was killed or wounded, and this happened three times. Nelson himself received a wound in the head, which was thought at first to be mortal, but which proved but slight. He would not allow the surgeon to leave the sailors to attend to him till it came to his turn.
Meantime his ships were doing their work gloriously. The Bellerophon was, indeed, overpowered by L’Orient, 200 of her crew killed, and all her masts and cables shot away, so that she drifted away as night came on; but the Swiftsure came up in her place, and the Alexander and Leander both poured in their shot. Admiral Brueys received three wounds, but would not quit his post, and at length a fourth shot almost cut him in two. He desired not to be carried below, but that he might die on deck.
About nine o’clock the ship took fire, and blazed up with fearful brightness, lighting up the whole bay, and showing five French ships with their colours hauled down, the others still fighting on. Nelson himself rose and came on deck when this fearful glow came shining from sea and sky into his cabin; and gave orders that the English boars should immediately be put off for L’Orient, to save as many lives as possible.
The English sailors rowed up to the burning ship which they had lately been attacking. The French officers listened to the offer of safety, and called to the little favorite of the ship, the captain’s son, to come with them. ‘No,’ said the brave child, ‘he was where his father had stationed him, and bidden him not to move save at his call.’ They told him his father’s voice would never call him again, for he lay senseless and mortally wounded on the deck, and that the ship must blow up. ‘No,’ said the brave child, ‘he must obey his father.’ The moment allowed no delaythe boat put off. The flames showed all that passed in a quivering flare more intense than daylight, and the little fellow was then seen on the deck, leaning over the prostrate figure, and presently tying it to one of the spars of the shivered masts.
Just then a thundering explosion shook down to the very hold every ship in the harbour, and burning fragments of L’Orient came falling far and wide, plashing heavily into the water, in the dead, awful stillness that followed the fearful sound. English boats were plying busily about, picking up those who had leapt overboard in time. Some were dragged in through the lower portholes of the English ships, and about seventy were saved altogether. For one moment a boat’s crew had a sight of a helpless figure bound to a spar, and guided by a little childish swimmer, who must have gone overboard with his precious freight just before the explosion. They rowed after the brave little fellow, earnestly desiring to save him; but in darkness, in smoke, in lurid uncertain light, amid hosts of drowning wretches, they lost sight of him again.
The boy, oh where was he!
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea;
With mast and helm, and pennant fair That well had borne their part:
But the noblest thing that perished there Was that young faithful heart!
By sunrise the victory was complete. Nay, as Nelson said, ‘It was not a victory, but a conquest.’ Only four French ships escaped, and Napoleon and his army were cut off from home. These are the glories of our navy, gained by men with hearts as true and obedient as that of the brave child they had tried in vain to save. Yet still, while giving the full meed of thankful, sympathetic honor to our noble sailors, we cannot but feel that the Golden Deed of Aboukir Bay fell to–
‘That young faithful heart.’
THE SOLDIERS IN THE SNOW
Few generals had ever been more loved by their soldiers than the great Viscount de Turenne, who was Marshal of France in the time of Louis XIV. Troops are always proud of a leader who wins victories; but Turenne was far more loved for his generous kindness than for his successes. If he gained a battle, he always wrote in his despatches, ‘We succeeded,’ so as to give the credit to the rest of the army; but if he were defeated, he wrote, ‘I lost,’ so as to take all the blame upon himself. He always shared as much as possible in every hardship suffered by his men, and they trusted him entirely. In the year 1672, Turenne and his army were sent to make war upon the Elector Frederick William of Brandenburg, in Northern Germany. It was in the depth of winter, and the marches through the heavy roads were very trying and wearisome; but the soldiers endured all cheerfully for his sake. Once when they were wading though a deep morass, some of the younger soldiers complained; but the elder ones answered, ‘Depend upon it, Turenne is more concerned than we are. At this moment he is thinking how to deliver us. He watches for us while we sleep. He is our father. It is plain that you are but young.’
Another night, when he was going the round of the camp, he overheard some of the younger men murmuring at the discomforts of the march; when an old soldier, newly recovered from a severe wound, said: ‘You do not know our father. He would not have made us go through such fatigue, unless he had some great end in view, which we cannot yet make out.’ Turenne always declared that nothing had ever given him more pleasure than this conversation.
There was a severe sickness among the troops, and he went about among the sufferers, comforting them, and seeing that their wants were supplied. When he passed by, the soldiers came out of their tents to look at him, and say, ‘Our father is in good health: we have nothing to fear.’
The army had to enter the principality of Halberstadt, the way to which lay over ridges of high hills with narrow defiles between them. Considerable time was required for the whole of the troops to march through a single narrow outlet; and one very cold day, when such a passage was taking place, the Marshal, quite spent with fatigue, sat down under a bush to wait till all had marched by, and fell asleep. When he awoke, it was snowing fast; but he found himself under a sort of tent made of soldiers’ cloaks, hung up upon the branches of trees planted in the ground, and round it were standing, in the cold and snow, all unsheltered, a party of soldiers. Turenne called out to them, to ask what they were doing there. ‘We are taking care of our father,’ they said; ‘that is our chief concern.’ The general, to keep up discipline, seems to have scolded them a little for straggling from their regiment; but he was much affected and gratified by this sight of their hearty love for him.
Still greater and more devoted love was shown by some German soldiers in the terrible winter of 1812. It was when the Emperor Napoleon I. had made his vain attempt to conquer Russia, and had been prevented from spending the winter at Moscow by the great fire that consumed all the city. He was obliged to retreat through the snow, with the Russian army pursuing him, and his miserable troops suffering horrors beyond all imagination. Among them were many Italians, Poles, and Germans, whom he had obliged to become his allies; and the ‘Golden Deed’ of ten of these German soldiers, the last remnant of those led from Hesse Darmstadt by their gallant young Prince Emilius, is best told in Lord Houghton’s verses:–
‘From Hessen Darmstadt every step to Moskwa’s blazing banks, Was Prince Emilius found in flight before the foremost ranks; And when upon the icy waste that host was backward cast, On Beresina’s bloody bridge his banner waved the last.
‘His valor shed victorious grace on all that dread retreat– That path across the wildering snow, athwart the blinding sleet; And every follower of his sword could all endure and dare, Becoming warriors, strong in hope, or stronger in despair. ‘Now, day and dark, along the storm the demon Cossacks sweep– The hungriest must not look for food, the weariest must not sleep. No rest but death for horse or man, whichever first shall tire; They see the flames destroy, but ne’er may feel the saving fire. ‘Thus never closed the bitter night, nor rose the salvage morn, But from the gallant company some noble part was shorn; And, sick at heart, the Prince resolved to keep his purposed way With steadfast forward looks, nor count the losses of the day.
‘At length beside a black, burnt hut, an island of the snow, Each head in frigid torpor bent toward the saddle bow; They paused, and of that sturdy troop–that thousand banded men– At one unmeditated glance he numbered only ten!
‘Of all that high triumphant life that left his German home– Of all those hearts that beat beloved, or looked for love to come– This piteous remnant, hardly saved, his spirit overcame, While memory raised each friendly face, recalled an ancient name.
‘These were his words, serene and firm, ‘Dear brothers, it is best That here, with perfect trust in Heaven, we give our bodies rest; If we have borne, like faithful men, our part of toil and pain, Where’er we wake, for Christ’s good sake, we shall not sleep in vain.’
‘Some uttered, others looked assent–they had no heart to speak; Dumb hands were pressed, the pallid lip approached the callous cheek. They laid them side by side; and death to him at last did seem To come attired in mazy robe of variegated dream.
‘Once more he floated on the breast of old familiar Rhine, His mother’s and one other smile above him seemed to shine; A blessed dew of healing fell on every aching limb; Till the stream broadened, and the air thickened, and all was dim.
‘Nature has bent to other laws if that tremendous night Passed o’er his frame, exposed and worn, and left no deadly blight; Then wonder not that when, refresh’d and warm, he woke at last, There lay a boundless gulf of thought between him and the past.
‘Soon raising his astonished head, he found himself alone, Sheltered beneath a genial heap of vestments not his own; The light increased, the solemn truth revealing more and more, The soldiers’ corses, self-despoiled, closed up the narrow door.
‘That every hour, fulfilling good, miraculous succor came, And Prince Emilius lived to give this worthy deed to fame. O brave fidelity in death! O strength of loving will! These are the holy balsam drops that woeful wars distil.’
The wild history of Ireland contains many a frightful tale, but also many an action of the noblest order; and the short sketch given by Maria Edgeworth of her ancestry, presents such a chequerwork of the gold and the lead that it is almost impossible to separate them.
At the time of the great Irish rebellion of 1641 the head of the Edgeworth family had left his English wife and her infant son at his castle of Cranallagh in county Longford, thinking them safe there while he joined the royal forces under the Earl of Ormond. In his absence, however, the rebels attacked the castle at night, set fire to it, and dragged the lady out absolutely naked. She hid herself under a furze bush, and succeeded in escaping and reaching Dublin, whence she made her way to her father’s house in Derbyshire. Her little son was found by the rebels lying in his cradle, and one of them actually seized the child by the leg and was about to dash out his brains against the wall; but a servant named Bryan Ferral, pretending to be even more ferocious, vowed that a sudden death was too good for the little heretic, and that he should be plunged up to the throat in a bog-hole and left for the crows to pick out his eyes. He actually did place the poor child in the bog , but only to save his life; he returned as soon as he could elude his comrades, put the boy into a pannier below eggs and chickens, and thus carried him straight though the rebel camp to his mother at Dublin. Strange to say, these rebels, who thought being dashed against the wall too good a fate for the infant, extinguished the flames of the castle out of reverence for the picture of his grandmother, who had been a Roman Catholic, and was painted on a panel with a cross on her bosom and a rosary in her hand.
John Edgeworth, the boy thus saved, married very young, and went with his wife to see London after the Restoration. To pay their expenses they mortgaged an estate and put the money in a stocking, which they kept on the top of the bed; and when that store was used up, the young man actually sold a house in Dublin to buy a high-crowned hat and feathers. Still, reckless and improvident as they were, there was sound principle within them, and though they were great favorites, and Charles II. insisted on knighting the husband, their glimpse of the real evils and temptations of his Court sufficed them, and in the full tide of flattery and admiration the lady begged to return home, nor did she ever go back to Court again.
Her home was at Castle Lissard, in full view of which was a hillock called Fairymount, or Firmont, from being supposed to be the haunt of fairies. Lights, noises, and singing at night, clearly discerned from the castle, caused much terror to Lady Edgeworth, though her descendants affirm that they were fairies of the same genus as those who beset Sir John Falstaff at Hearne’s oak, and intended to frighten her into leaving the place. However, though her nerves might be disturbed, her spirit was not to be daunted; and, fairies or no fairies, she held her ground at Castle Lissard, and there showed what manner of woman she was in a veritable and most fearful peril.
On some alarm which caused the gentlemen of the family to take down their guns, she went to a dark loft at the top of the house to fetch some powder from a barrel that was there kept in store, taking a young maid-servant to carry the candle; which, as might be expected in an Irish household of the seventeenth century, was devoid of any candlestick. After taking the needful amount of gunpowder, Lady Edgeworth locked the door, and was halfway downstairs when she missed the candle, and asking the girl what she had done with it, received the cool answer that ‘she had left it sticking in the barrel of black salt’. Lady Edgeworth bade her stand still, turned round, went back alone to the loft where the tallow candle stood guttering and flaring planted in the middle of the gunpowder, resolutely put an untrembling hand beneath it, took it out so steadily that no spark fell, carried it down, and when she came to the bottom of the stairs dropped on her knees, and broke forth in a thanksgiving aloud for the safety of the household in this frightful peril. This high-spirited lady lived to be ninety years old, and left a numerous family. One grandson was the Abbe Edgeworth, known in France as De Firmont, such being the alteration of Fairymount on French lips. It was he who, at the peril of his own life, attended Louis XVI. to the guillotine, and thus connected his name so closely with the royal cause that when his cousin Richard Lovell Edgeworth, of Edgeworths-town, visited France several years after, the presence of a person so called was deemed perilous to the rising power of Napoleon. This latter Mr. Edgeworth was the father of Maria, whose works we hope are well known to our young readers.
The good Chevalier Bayard was wont to mourn over the introduction of firearms, as destructive of chivalry; and certainly the steel-clad knight, with barbed steed, and sword and lance, has disappeared from the battle-field; but his most essential qualities, truth, honor, faithfulness, mercy, and self-devotion, have not disappeared with him, nor can they as long as Christian men and women bear in mind that ‘greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend’.
And that terrible compound, gunpowder, has been the occasion of many another daring deed, requiring desperate resolution, to save others at the expense of a death perhaps more frightful to the imagination than any other. Listen to a story of the King’s birthday in Jersey ‘sixty years since’–in 1804, when that 4th of June that Eton boys delight in, was already in the forty-fourth year of its observance in honor of the then reigning monarch, George III.
All the forts in the island had done due honor to the birthday of His Majesty, who was then just recovered from an attack of insanity. In each the guns at noon-day thundered out their royal salute, the flashes had answered one another, and the smoke had wreathed itself away over the blue sea of Jersey. The new fort on the hill just above the town of St. Heliers had contributed its share to the loyal thunders, and then it was shut up, and the keys carried away by Captain Salmon, the artillery officer on guard there, locking up therein 209 barrels of gunpowder, with a large supply of bombshells, and every kind of ammunition such as might well be needed in the Channel islands the year before Lord Nelson had freed England from the chance of finding the whole French army on our coast in the flat-bottomed boats that were waiting at Boulogne for the dark night that never came.
At six o’clock in the evening, Captain Salmon went to dine with the other officers in St. Heliers and to drink the King’s health, when the soldiers on guard beheld a cloud of smoke curling out at the air-hole at the end of the magazine. Shouting ‘fire’, they ran away to avoid an explosion that would have shattered them to pieces, and might perhaps endanger the entire town of St. Heliers. Happily their shout was heard by a man of different mould. Lieutenant Lys, the signal officer, was in the watch-house on the hill, and coming out he saw the smoke, and perceived the danger. Two brothers, named Thomas and Edward Touzel, carpenters, and the sons of an old widow, had come up to take down a flagstaff that had been raised in honor of the day, and Mr. Lys ordered them to hasten to the town to inform the commander-in-chief, and get the keys from Captain Salmon.
Thomas went, and endeavored to persuade his brother to accompany him from the heart of the danger; but Edward replied that he must die some day or other, and that he would do his best to save the magazine, and he tried to stop some of the runaway soldiers to assist. One refused; but another, William Ponteney, of the 3rd, replied that he was ready to die with him, and they shook hands.
Edward Touzel then, by the help of a wooden bar and an axe, broke open the door of the fort, and making his way into it, saw the state of the case, and shouted to Mr. Lys on the outside, ‘the magazine is on fire, it will blow up, we must lose our lives; but no matter, huzza for the King! We must try and save it.’ He then rushed into the flame, and seizing the matches, which were almost burnt out (probably splinters of wood tipped with brimstone), he threw them by armfuls to Mr. Lys and the soldier Ponteney, who stood outside and received them. Mr. Lys saw a cask of water near at hand; but there was nothing to carry the water in but an earthen pitcher, his own hat and the soldier’s. These, however, they filled again and again, and handed to Touzel, who thus extinguished all the fire he could see; but the smoke was so dense, that he worked in horrible doubt and obscurity, almost suffocated, and with his face and hands already scorched. The beams over his head were on fire, large cases containing powder horns had already caught, and an open barrel of gunpowder was close by, only awaiting the fall of a single brand to burst into a fatal explosion. Touzel called out to entreat for some drink to enable him to endure the stifling, and Mr. Lys handed him some spirits-and-water, which he drank, and worked on; but by this time the officers had heard the alarm, dispelled the panic among the soldiers, and come to the rescue. The magazine was completely emptied, and the last smoldering sparks extinguished; but the whole of the garrison and citizens felt that they owed their lives to the three gallant men to whose exertions alone under Providence, it was owing that succor did not come too late. Most of all was honor due to Edward Touzel, who, as a civilian, might have turned his back upon the peril without any blame; nay, could even have pleaded Mr. Lys’ message as a duty, but who had instead rushed foremost into what he believe was certain death.
A meeting was held in the church of St. Heliers to consider of a testimonial of gratitude to these three brave men (it is to be hoped that thankfulness to an overruling Providence was also manifested there), when 500l. was voted to Mr. Lys, who was the father of a large family; 300l. to Edward Touzel; and William Ponteney received, at his own request, a life annuity of 20l. and a gold medal, as he declared that he had rather continue to serve the King as a soldier than be placed in any other course of life.
In that same year (1804) the same daring endurance and heroism were evinced by the officers of H.M.S. Hindostan, where, when on the way from Gibraltar to join Nelson’s fleet at Toulon, the cry of ‘Fire!’ was heard, and dense smoke rose from the lower decks, so as to render it nearly impossible to detect the situation of the fire. Again and again Lieutenants Tailour and Banks descended, and fell down senseless from the stifling smoke; then were carried on deck, recovered in the free air, and returned to vain endeavor of clearing the powder-room. But no man could long preserve his faculties in the poisonous atmosphere, and the two lieutenants might be said to have many deaths from it. At last the fire gained so much head, that it was impossible to save the vessel, which had in the meantime been brought into the Bay of Rosas, and was near enough to land to enable the crew to escape in boats, after having endured the fire six hours. Nelson himself wrote: ‘The preservation of the crew seems little short of a miracle. I never read such a journal of exertions in my life.’
Eight years after, on the taking of Ciudad Rodrigo, in 1812, by the British army under Wellington, Captain William Jones, of the 52nd Regiment, having captured a French officer, employed his prisoner in pointing out quarters for his men. The Frenchman could not speak English, and Captain Jones–a fiery Welshman, whom it was the fashion in the regiment to term ‘Jack Jones’–knew no French; but dumb show supplied the want of language, and some of the company were lodged in a large store pointed out by the Frenchman, who then led the way to a church, near which Lord Wellington and his staff were standing. But no sooner had the guide stepped into the building than he started back, crying, ‘Sacre bleu!’ and ran out in the utmost alarm. The Welsh captain, however, went on, and perceived that the church had been used as a powder-magazine by the French; barrels were standing round, samples of their contents lay loosely scattered on the pavement, and in the midst was a fire, probably lighted by some Portuguese soldiers. Forthwith Captain Jones and the sergeant entered the church, took up the burning embers brand by brand, bore them safe over the scattered powder, and out of the church, and thus averted what might have been the most terrific disaster that could have befallen our army. [Footnote: The story has been told with some variation, as to whether it was the embers or a barrel of powder that he and the sergeant removed. In the Record of the 52d it is said to have been the latter; but the tradition the author has received from officers of the regiment distinctly stated that it was the burning brands, and that the scene was a reserve magazine– not, as in the brief mention in Sir William Napier’s History, the great magazine of the town.]
Our next story of this kind relates to a French officer, Monsieur Mathieu Martinel, adjutant of the 1st Cuirassiers. In 1820 there was a fire in the barracks at Strasburg, and nine soldiers were lying sick and helpless above a room containing a barrel of gunpowder and a thousand cartridges. Everyone was escaping, but Martinel persuaded a few men to return into the barracks with him, and hurried up the stairs through smoke and flame that turned back his companions. He came alone to the door of a room close to that which contained the powder, but found it locked. Catching up a bench, he beat the door in, and was met by such a burst of fire as had almost driven him away; but, just as he was about to descend, he thought that, when the flames reached the powder, the nine sick men must infallibly be blown up, and returning to the charge, he dashed forward, with eyes shut, through the midst, and with face, hands, hair, and clothes singed and burnt, he made his way to the magazine, in time to tear away, and throw to a distance from the powder, the mass of paper in which the cartridges were packed, which was just about to ignite, and appearing at the window, with loud shouts for water, thus showed the possibility of penetrating to the magazine, and floods of water were at once directed to it, so as to drench the powder, and thus save the men.
This same Martinel had shortly before thrown himself into the River Ill, without waiting to undress, to rescue a soldier who had fallen in, so near a water mill, that there was hardly a chance of life for either. Swimming straight towards the mill dam, Martinel grasped the post of the sluice with one arm, and with the other tried to arrest the course of the drowning man, who was borne by a rapid current towards the mill wheel; and was already so far beneath the surface, that Martinel could not reach him without letting go of the post. Grasping the inanimate body, he actually allowed himself to be carried under the mill wheel, without loosing his hold, and came up immediately after on the other side, still able to bring the man to land, in time for his suspended animation to be restored.
Seventeen years afterwards, when the regiment was at Paris, there was, on the night of the 14th of June, 1837, during the illuminations at the wedding festival of the Duke and Duchess of Orleans, one of those frightful crushes that sometimes occur in an ill-regulated crowd, when there is some obstruction in the way, and there is nothing but a horrible blind struggling and trampling, violent and fatal because of its very helplessness and bewilderment. The crowd were trying to leave the Champ de Mars, where great numbers had been witnessing some magnificent fireworks, and had blocked up the passage leading out by the Military College. A woman fell down in a fainting fit, others stumbled over her, and thus formed an obstruction, which, being unknown to those in the rear, did not prevent them from forcing forward the persons in front, so that they too were pushed and trodden down into one frightful, struggling, suffocating mass of living and dying men, women, and children, increasing every moment.
M. Martinel was passing, on his way to his quarters, when, hearing the tumult, he ran to the gate from the other side, and meeting the crowd tried by shouts and entreaties to persuade them to give back, but the hindmost could not hear him, and the more frightened they grew, the more they tried to hurry home, and so made the heap worse and worse, and in the midst an illuminated yew-tree, in a pot, was upset, and further barred the way. Martinel, with imminent danger to himself, dragged out one or two persons; but finding his single efforts almost useless among such numbers, he ran to the barracks, sounded to horse, and without waiting till his men could be got together, hurried off again on foot, with a few of his comrades, and dashed back into the crowd, struggling as vehemently to penetrate to the scene of danger, as many would have done to get away from it.
Private Spenlee alone kept up with him, and, coming to the dreadful heap, these two labored to free the passage, lift up the living, and remove the dead. First he dragged out an old man in a fainting fit, then a young soldier, next a boy, a woman, a little girl–he carried them to freer air, and came back the next moment, though often so nearly pulled down by the frantic struggles of the terrified stifled creatures, that he was each moment in the utmost peril of being trampled to death. He carried out nine persons one by one; Spenlee brought out a man and a child; and his brother officers, coming up, took their share. One lieutenant, with a girl in a swoon in his arms, caused a boy to be put on his back, and under this double burthen was pushing against the crowd for half and hour, till at length he fell, and was all but killed.
A troop of cuirassiers had by this time mounted, and through the Champ de Mars came slowly along, step by step, their horses moving as gently and cautiously as if they knew their work. Everywhere, as they advanced, little children were held up to them out of the throng to be saved, and many of their chargers were loaded with the little creatures, perched before and behind the kind soldiers. With wonderful patience and forbearance, they managed to insert themselves and their horses, first in single file, then two by two, then more abreast, like a wedge, into the press, until at last they formed a wall, cutting off the crowd behind from the mass in the gateway, and thus preventing the encumbrance from increasing. The people came to their senses, and went off to other gates, and the crowd diminishing, it became possible to lift up the many unhappy creatures, who lay stifling or crushed in the heap. They were carried into the barracks, the cuirassiers hurried to bring their mattresses to lay them on in the hall, brought them water, linen, all they could want, and were as tender to them as sisters of charity, till they were taken to the hospitals or to their homes. Martinel, who was the moving spirit in this gallant rescue, received in the following year one of M. Monthyon’s prizes for the greatest acts of virtue that could be brought to light.
Nor among the gallant actions of which powder has been the cause should be omitted that of Lieutenant Willoughby, who, in the first dismay of the mutiny in India, in 1858, blew up the great magazine at Delhi, with all the ammunition that would have armed the sepoys even yet more terribly against ourselves. The ‘Golden Deed’ was one of those capable of no earthly meed, for it carried the brave young officer where alone there is true reward; and all the Queen and country could do in his honor was to pension his widowed mother, and lay up his name among those that stir the heart with admiration and gratitude.
HEROES OF THE PLAGUE
When our Litany entreats that we may be delivered from ‘plague, pestilence, and famine’, the first of these words bears a special meaning, which came home with strong and painful force to European minds at the time the Prayer Book was translated, and for the whole following century.
It refers to the deadly sickness emphatically called ‘the plague’, a typhoid fever exceedingly violent and rapid, and accompanied with a frightful swelling either under the arm or on the corresponding part of the thigh. The East is the usual haunt of this fatal complaint, which some suppose to be bred by the marshy, unwholesome state of Egypt after the subsidence of the waters of the Nile, and which generally prevails in Egypt and Syria until its course is checked either by the cold of winter or the heat in summer. At times this disease has become unusually malignant and infectious, and then has come beyond its usual boundaries and made its way over all the West. These dreadful visitations were rendered more frequent by total disregard of all precautions, and ignorance of laws for preserving health. People crowded together in towns without means of obtaining sufficient air or cleanliness, and thus were sure to be unhealthy; and whenever war or famine had occasioned more than usual poverty, some frightful epidemic was sure to follow in its train, and sweep away the poor creatures whose frames were already weakened by previous privation. And often this ‘sore judgment’ was that emphatically called the plague; and especially during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a time when war had become far more cruel and mischievous in the hands of hired regiments than ever it had been with a feudal army, and when at the same time increasing trade was filling the cities with more closely packed inhabitants, within fortifications that would not allow the city to expand in proportion to its needs. It has been only the establishment of the system of quarantine which has succeeded in cutting off the course of infection by which the plague was wont to set out on its frightful travels from land to land, from city to city.
The desolation of a plague-stricken city was a sort of horrible dream. Every infected house was marked with a red cross, and carefully closed against all persons, except those who were charged to drive carts through the streets to collect the corpses, ringing a bell as they went. These men were generally wretched beings, the lowest and most reckless of the people, who undertook their frightful task for the sake of the plunder of the desolate houses, and wound themselves up by intoxicating drinks to endure the horrors. The bodies were thrown into large trenches, without prayer or funeral rites, and these were hastily closed up. Whole families died together, untended save by one another, with no aid of a friendly hand to give drink or food; and, in the Roman Catholic cities, the perishing without a priest to administer the last rites of the Church was viewed as more dreadful than death itself.
Such visitations as these did indeed prove whether the pastors of the afflicted flock were shepherds or hirelings. So felt, in 1576, Cardinal Carlo Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, the worthiest of all the successors of St. Ambrose, when he learnt at Lodi that the plague had made its appearance in his city, where, remarkably enough, there had lately been such licentious revelry that he had solemnly warned the people that, unless they repented, they would certainly bring on themselves the wrath of heaven. His council of clergy advised him to remain in some healthy part of his diocese till the sickness should have spent itself, but he replied that a Bishop, whose duty it is to give his life for his sheep, could not rightly abandon them in time of peril. They owned that to stand by them was the higher course. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘is it not a Bishop’s duty to choose the higher course?’
So back into the town of deadly sickness he went, leading the people to repent, and watching over them in their sufferings, visiting the hospitals, and, by his own example, encouraging his clergy in carrying spiritual consolation to the dying. All the time the plague lasted, which was four months, his exertions were fearless and unwearied, and what was remarkable was, that of his whole household only two died, and they were persons who had not been called to go about among the sick. Indeed, some of the rich who had repaired to a villa, where they spent their time in feasting and amusement in the luxurious Italian fashion, were there followed by the pestilence, and all perished; their dainty fare and the excess in which they indulged having no doubt been as bad a preparation as the poverty of the starving people in the city.
The strict and regular life of the Cardinal and his clergy, and their home in the spacious palace, were, no doubt, under Providence, a preservative; but, in the opinions of the time, there was little short of a miracle in the safety of one who daily preached in the cathedral,– bent over the beds of the sick, giving them food and medicine, hearing their confessions, and administering the last rites of the Church,–and then braving the contagion after death, rather than let the corpses go forth unblest to their common grave. Nay, so far was he from seeking to save his own life, that, kneeling before the altar in the cathedral, he solemnly offered himself, like Moses, as a sacrifice for his people. But, like Moses, the sacrifice was passed by–‘it cost more to redeem their souls’–and Borromeo remained untouched, as did the twenty-eight priests who voluntarily offered themselves to join in his labors.
No wonder that the chief memories that haunt the glorious white marble cathedral of Milan are those of St. Ambrose, who taught mercy to an emperor, and of St. Carlo Borromeo, who practiced mercy on a people.
It was a hundred years later that the greatest and last visitation of the plague took place in London. Doubtless the scourge called forth–as in Christian lands such judgments always do–many an act of true and blessed self-devotion; but these are not recorded, save where they have their reward: and the tale now to be told is of one of the small villages to which the infection spread–namely, Eyam, in Derbyshire.
This is a lovely place between Buxton and Chatsworth, perched high on a hillside, and shut in by another higher mountain–extremely beautiful, but exactly one of those that, for want of free air, always become the especial prey of infection. At that time lead works were in operation in the mountains, and the village was thickly inhabited. Great was the dismay of the villagers when the family of a tailor, who had received some patterns of cloth from London, showed symptoms of the plague in its most virulent form, sickening and dying in one day.
The rector of the parish, the Rev. William Mompesson, was still a young man, and had been married only a few years. His wife, a beautiful young woman, only twenty-seven years old, was exceedingly terrified at the tidings from the village, and wept bitterly as she implored her husband to take her, and her little George and Elizabeth, who were three and fours years old, away to some place of safety. But Mr. Mompesson gravely showed her that it was his duty not to forsake his flock in their hour of need, and began at once to make arrangements for sending her and the children away. She saw he was right in remaining, and ceased to urge him to forsake his charge; but she insisted that if he ought not to desert his flock, his wife ought not to leave him; and she wept and entreated so earnestly, that he at length consented that she should be with him, and that only the two little ones should be removed while yet there was time.
Their father and mother parted with the little ones as treasures that they might never see again. At the same time Mr. Mompesson wrote to London for the most approved medicines and prescriptions; and he likewise sent a letter to the Earl of Devonshire, at Chatsworth, to engage that his parishioners should exclude themselves from the whole neighborhood, and thus confine the contagion within their own boundaries, provided the Earl would undertake that food, medicines, and other necessaries, should be placed at certain appointed spots, at regular times, upon the hills around, where the Eyamites might come, leave payment for them, and take them up, without holding any communication with the bringers, except by letters, which could be placed on a stone, and then fumigated, or passed through vinegar, before they were touched with the hand. To this the Earl consented, and for seven whole months the engagement was kept.
Mr. Mompesson represented to his people that, with the plague once among them, it would be so unlikely that they should not carry infection about with them, that it would be selfish cruelty to other places to try to escape amongst them, and thus spread the danger. So rocky and wild was the ground around them, that, had they striven to escape, a regiment of soldiers could not have prevented them. But of their own free will they attended to their rector’s remonstrance, and it was not known that one parishoner of Eyam passed the boundary all that time, nor was there a single case of plague in any of the villages around.
The assembling of large congregations in churches had been thought to increase the infection in London, and Mr. Mompesson, therefore, thought it best to hold his services out-of-doors. In the middle of the village is a dell, suddenly making a cleft in the mountain-side, only five yards wide at the bottom, which is the pebble bed of a wintry torrent, but is dry in the summer. On the side towards the village, the slope upwards was of soft green turf, scattered with hazel, rowan, and alder bushes, and full of singing birds. On the other side, the ascent was nearly perpendicular, and composed of sharp rocks, partly adorned with bushes and ivy, and here and there rising up in fantastic peaks and archways, through which the sky could be seen from below. One of these rocks was hollow, and could be entered from above–a natural gallery, leading to an archway opening over the precipice; and this Mr. Mompesson chose for his reading-desk and pulpit. The dell was so narrow, that his voice could clearly be heard across it, and his congregation arranged themselves upon the green slop opposite, seated or kneeling upon the grass.
On Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays arose the earnest voice of prayer from that rocky glen, the people’s response meeting the pastor’s voice; and twice on Sundays he preached to them the words of life and hope. It was a dry, hot summer; fain would they have seen thunder and rain to drive away their enemy; and seldom did weather break in on the regularity of these service. But there was another service that the rector had daily to perform; not in his churchyard–that would have perpetuated the infection–but on a healthy hill above the village. There he daily read of ‘the Resurrection and the Life’, and week by week the company on the grassy slope grew fewer and scantier. His congregation were passing from the dell to the healthy mound.
Day and night the rector and his wife were among the sick, nursing, feeding, and tending them with all that care and skill could do; but, in spite of all their endeavors, only a fifth part of the whole of their inhabitants lived to spend the last Sunday in Cucklet Church, as the dell is still called. Mrs. Mompesson had persuaded her husband to have a wound made in his leg, fancying that this would lessen the danger of infection, and he yielded in order to satisfy her. His health endured perfectly, but she began to waste under her constant exertions, and her husband feared that he saw symptoms of consumption; but she was full of delight at some appearances in his wound that made her imagine that it had carried off the disease, and that his danger was over.
A few days after, she sickened with symptoms of the plague, and her frame was so weakened that she sank very quickly. She was often delirious; but when she was too much exhausted to endure the exertion of taking cordials, her husband entreated her to try for their children’s sake, she lifted herself up and made the endeavor. She lay peacefully, saying, ‘she was but looking for the good hour to come’, and calmly died, making the responses to her husband’s prayers even to the last. Her he buried in the churchyard, and fenced the grave in afterwards with iron rails. There are two beautiful letters from him written on her death–one to his little children, to be kept and read when they would be old enough to understand it; the other to his patron, Sir George Saville, afterwards Lord Halifax. ‘My drooping spirits’, he says, ‘are much refreshed with her joys, which I assure myself are unutterable.’ He wrote both these letters in the belief that he should soon follow her, speaking of himself to Sir George as ‘his dying chaplain’, commending to him his ‘distressed orphans’, and begging that a ‘humble pious man’ might be chosen to succeed him in his parsonage. ‘Sire, I thank God that I am willing to shake hands in peace with all the world; and I have comfortable assurance that He will accept me for the sake of His Son, and I find God more good than ever I imagined, and wish that his goodness were not so much abused and contemned’, writes the widowed pastor, left alone among his dying flock. And he concludes, ‘and with tears I entreat that when you are praying for fatherless and motherless infants, you would then remember my two pretty babes’.
These two letters were written on the last day of August and first of September, 1666; but on the 20th of November, Mr. Mompesson was writing to his uncle, in the lull after the storm. ‘The condition of this place hath been so dreadful, that I persuade myself it exceedeth all history and example. I may truly say our town has become a Golgotha, a place of skulls; and had there not been a small remnant of us left, we had been as Sodom, and like unto Gomorrah. My ears never heard such doleful lamentations, my nose never smelt such noisome smells, and my eyes never beheld such ghastly spectacles. Here have been seventy-six families visited within my parish, out of which died 259 persons.’
However, since the 11th of October there had been no fresh cases, and he was now burning all woolen cloths, lest the infection should linger in them. He himself had never been touched by the complaint, nor had his maid-servant; his man had had it but slightly. Mr. Mompesson lived many more years, was offered the Deanery of Lincoln, but did not accept it, and died in 1708. So virulent was the contagion that, ninety-one years after, in 1757, when five laboring men, who were digging up land near the plague- graves for a potato-garden, came upon what appeared to be some linen, though they buried it again directly, they all sickened with typhus fever, three of them died, and it was so infectious that no less than seventy persons in the parish were carried off.
The last of these remarkable visitations of the plague, properly so called, was at Marseilles, in 1721. It was supposed to have been brought by a vessel which sailed from Seyde, in the bay of Tunis, on the 31st of January, 1720, which had a clean bill of health when it anchored off the Chateau d’If, at Marseilles, on the 25th of May; but six of the crew were found to have died on the voyage, and the persons who handled the freight also died, though, it was said, without any symptoms of the plague, and the first cases were supposed to be of the fevers caused by excessive poverty and crowding. The unmistakable Oriental plague, however, soon began to spread in the city among the poorer population, and in truth the wars and heavy expenses of Louis XIV. had made poverty in France more wretched than ever before, and the whole country was like one deadly sore, festering, and by and by to come to a fearful crisis. Precautions were taken, the infected families were removed to the infirmaries and their houses walled up, but all this was done at night in order not to excite alarm. The mystery, however, made things more terrible to the imagination, and this was a period of the utmost selfishness. All the richer inhabitants who had means of quitting the city, and who were the very people who could have been useful there, fled with one accord. Suddenly the lazaretto was left without superintendents, the hospitals without stewards; the judges, public officers, notaries, and most of the superior workmen in the most necessary trades were all gone. Only the Provost and four municipal officers remained, with 1,100 livres in their treasury, in the midst of an entirely disorganized city, and an enormous population without work, without restraint, without food, and a prey to the deadliest of diseases.
The Parliament which still survived in the ancient kingdom of Provence signalized itself by retreating to a distance, and on the 31st of May putting out a decree that nobody should pass a boundary line round Marseilles on pain of death; but considering what people were trying to escape from, and the utter overthrow of all rule and order, this penalty was not likely to have much effect, and the plague was carried by the fugitives to Arles, Aix, Toulon, and sixty-three lesser towns and villages. What a contrast to Mr. Mompesson’s moral influence!
Horrible crimes were committed. Malefactors were released from the prisons and convicts from the galleys, and employed for large payment to collect the corpses and carry the sick to the infirmaries. Of course they could only be wrought up to such work by intoxication and unlimited opportunities of plunder, and their rude treatment both of the dead and of the living sufferers added unspeakably to the general wretchedness. To be carried to the infirmary was certain death,–no one lived in that heap of contagion; and even this shelter was not always to be had,–some of the streets were full of dying creatures who had been turned out of their houses and could crawl no farther.
What was done to alleviate all these horrors? It was in the minority of Louis XV., and the Regent Duke of Orleans, easy, good-natured man that he was, sent 22,000 marks to the relief of the city, all in silver, for paper money was found to spread the infection more than anything else. He also sent a great quantity of corn, and likewise doctors for the sick, and troops to shut in the infected district. The Pope, Clement XI., sent spiritual blessings to the sufferers, and, moreover, three shiploads of wheat. The Regent’s Prime Minister, the Abbe Dubois, the shame of his Church and country, fancied that to send these supplies cast a slight upon his administration, and desired his representative at Rome to prevent the sailing of the ships, but his orders were not, for very shame, carried out, and the vessels set out. On their way they were seized by a Moorish corsair, who was more merciful than Dubois, for he no sooner learnt their destination than he let them go unplundered.
And in the midst of the misery there were bright lights ‘running to and fro among the stubble’. The Provost and his five remaining officers, and a gentleman call Le Chevalier Rose, did their utmost in the bravest and most unselfish way to help the sufferers, distribute food, provide shelter, restrain the horrors perpetrated by the sick in their ravings, and provide for the burial of the dead. And the clergy were all devoted to the task of mercy. There was only one convent, that of St. Victor, where the gates were closed against all comers in the hope of shutting out infection. Every other monastic establishment freely devoted itself. It was a time when party spirit ran high. The bishop, Henri Francois Xavier de Belzunce, a nephew of the Duke de Lauzun, was a strong and rigid Jesuit, and had joined so hotly in the persecution of the Jansenists that he had forbidden the brotherhood called Oratorian fathers to hear confessions, because he suspected them of a leaning to Jansenist opinions; but he and they both alike worked earnestly in the one cause of mercy. They were content to obey his prejudiced edict, since he was in lawful authority, and threw themselves heartily into the lower and more disdained services to the sick, as nurses and tenders of the body alone, not of the soul, and in this work their whole community, Superior and all, perished, almost without exception. Perhaps these men, thus laying aside hurt feeling and sense of injustice, were the greatest conquerors of all whose golden deeds we have described.
Bishop Belzunce himself, however, stands as the prominent figure in the memory of those dreadful five months. He was a man of commanding stature, towering above all around him, and his fervent sermons, aided by his example of severe and strict piety, and his great charities, had greatly impressed the people. He now went about among the plague- stricken, attending to their wants, both spiritual and temporal, and sold or mortgaged all his property to obtain relief for them, and he actually went himself in the tumbrils of corpses to give them the rites of Christian burial. His doings closely resembled those of Cardinal Borromeo, and like him he had recourse to constant preaching of repentance, processions and assemblies for litanies in the church. It is curiously characteristic that it was the English clergyman, who, equally pious, and sensible that only the Almighty could remove the scourge, yet deemed it right to take precautions against the effects of bringing a large number of persons into one building. How Belzunce’s clergy seconded him may be gathered from the numbers who died of the disease. Besides the Oratorians, there died eighteen Jesuits, twenty-six of the order called Recollets, and forty-three Capuchins, all of whom had freely given their lives in the endeavor to alleviate the general suffering. In the four chief towns of Provence 80,000 died, and about 8,000 in the lesser places. The winter finally checked the destroyer, and then, sad to say, it appeared how little effect the warning had had on the survivors. Inheritances had fallen together into the hands of persons who found themselves rich beyond their expectations, and in the glee of having escaped the danger, forgot to be thankful, and spent their wealth in revelry. Never had the cities of Provence been so full of wild, questionable mirth as during the ensuing winter, and it was remarked that the places which had suffered most severely were the most given up to thoughtless gaiety, and even licentiousness.
Good Bishop Belzunce did his best to protest against the wickedness around him, and refused to leave his flock at Marseilles, when, four years after, a far more distinguished see was offered to him. He died in 1755, in time to escape the sight of the retribution that was soon worked out on the folly and vice of the unhappy country.
THE SECOND OF SEPTEMBER
The reign of the terrible Tzar was dreadful, but there was even a more dreadful time, that which might be called the reign of the madness of the people. The oppression and injustice that had for generations past been worked out in France ended in the most fearful reaction that history records, and the horrors that took place in the Revolution pass all thought or description. Every institution that had been misused was overthrown at one fell swoop, and the whole accumulated vengeance of generations fell on the heads of the persons who occupied the positions of the former oppressors. Many of these were as pure and guiltless as their slaughterers were the reverse, but the heads of the Revolution imagined that to obtain their ideal vision of perfect justice and liberty, all the remnants of the former state of things must be swept away, and the ferocious beings who carried out their decrees had become absolutely frantic with delight in bloodshed. The nation seemed delivered up to a delirium of murder. But as
‘Even as earth’s wild war cries heighten, The cross upon the brow will brighten’,
These times of surpassing horror were also times of surpassing devotion and heroism. Without attempting to describe the various stages of the Revolution, and the different committees that under different titles carried on the work of destruction, we will mention some of the deeds that shine out as we look into that abyss of horror, the Paris of 1792 and the following years.
Think of the Swiss Guards, who on the 10th of August, 1792, the miserable day when the King, Queen, and children were made the captives of the people, stood resolutely at their posts, till they were massacred almost to a man. Well is their fidelity honored by the noble sculpture near Lucerne, cut out in the living rock of their own Alps, and representing a lion dying to defend the fleur-de-lis.
A more dreadful day still was in preparation. The mob seemed to have imagined that the King and nobility had some strange dreadful power, and that unless they were all annihilated they would rise up and trample all down before them, and those who had the direction of affairs profited by this delusion to multiply executioners, and clear away all that they supposed to stand in the way of the renewal of the nation. And the attempts of the emigrant nobility and of the German princes to march to the rescue of the royal family added to the fury of their cowardly ferocity. The prisons of Paris were crowded to overflowing with aristocrats, as it was the fashion to call the nobles and gentry, and with the clergy who had refused their adhesion to the new state of things. The whole number is reckoned at not less than 8,000.
Among those at the Abbaye de St. Germain were M. Jacques Cazotte, an old gentleman of seventy-three, who had been for many years in a government office, and had written various poems. He was living in the country, in Champagne, when on the 18th of August he was arrested. His daughter Elizabeth, a lovely girl of twenty, would not leave him, and together they were taken first to Epernay and then to Paris, where they were thrown into the Abbaye, and found it crowded with prisoners. M. Cazotte’s bald forehead and grey looks gave him a patriarchal appearance, and his talk, deeply and truly pious, was full of Scripture language, as he strove to persuade his fellow captives to own the true blessings of suffering.
Here Elizabeth met the like-minded Marie de Sombreuil, who had clung to her father, Charles Viscount de Sombreuil, the Governor of the Invalides, or pensioners of the French army; and here, too, had Madame de Fausse Lendry come with her old uncle the Abbé de Rastignac, who had been for three months extremely ill, and was only just recovering when dragged to the prison, and there placed in a room so crowded that it was not possible to turn round, and the air in the end of August was fearfully close and heated. Not once while there was the poor old man able to sleep. His niece spent the nights in a room belonging to the jailer, with the Princess de Tarente, and Mademoiselle de Sombreuil.
On the 2nd of September these slaughter-houses were as full as they could hold, and about a hundred ruffians, armed with axes and guns, were sent round to all the jails to do the bloody work. It was a Sunday, and some of the victims had tried to observe it religiously, though little divining that, it was to be their last. They first took alarm on perceiving that their jailer had removed his family, and then that he sent up their dinner earlier than usual, and removed all the knives and forks. By and by howls and shouts were heard, and the tocsin was heard, ringing, alarm guns firing, and reports came in to the prisoners of the Abbaye that the populace were breaking into the prisons.
The clergy were all penned up together in the cloisters of the Abbaye, whither they had been brought in carriages that morning. Among them was the Abbé Sicard, an admirable priest who had spent his whole lifetime in instructing the deaf and dumb in his own house, where–
‘The cunning finger finely twined
The subtle thread that knitteth mind to mind; There that strange bridge of signs was built where roll The sunless waves that sever soul from soul, And by the arch, no bigger than a hand,
Truth travell’d over to the silent land’.
He had been arrested, while teaching his pupils, on the 26th of August, 1792, and shut up among other clergy in the prison of the Mayoralty; but the lads whom he had educated came in a body to ask leave to claim him at the bar of the National Assembly. Massieu, his best scholar, had drawn up a most touching address, saying, that in him the deaf and dumb were deprived of their teacher, nurse, and father. ‘It is he who has taught us what we know, without him we should be as the beasts of the field.’ This petition, and the gestures of the poor silent beings, went to the heart of the National Assembly. One young man, named Duhamel, neither deaf nor dumb, from pure admiration of the good work, went and offered to be imprisoned in the Abbé’s place. There was great applause, and a decree was passed that the cause of the arrest should be enquired into, but this took no effect, and on that dreadful afternoon, M. Sicard was put into one of a procession of carriages, which drove slowly through the streets full of priests, who were reviled, pelted, and wounded by the populace till they reached the Abbaye.
In the turnkey’s rooms sat a horrible committee, who acted as a sort of tribunal, but very few of the priests reached it. They were for the most part cut down as they stepped out into the throng in the court— consisting of red-capped ruffians, with their shirt sleeves turned up, and still more fiendish women, who hounded them on to the butchery, and brought them wine and food. Sicard and another priest contrived, while their companions fell, to rush into the committee room, exclaiming, ‘Messieurs, preserve an unfortunate!’
‘Go along!’ they said, ‘do you wish us to get ourselves massacred?’
But one, recognizing him, was surprised, knowing that his life was to be spared, and took him into the room, promising to save him as long as possible. Here the two priests would have been safe but for a wretched woman, who shrieked out to the murderers that they had been admitted, and loud knocks and demands for them came from without. Sicard thought all lost, and taking out his watch, begged one of the committee to give it to the first deaf mute who should come and ask for him, sure that it would be the faithful Massieu. At first the man replied that the danger was not imminent enough; but on hearing a more furious noise at the door, as if the mob were going to break in, he took the watch; and Sicard, falling on his knees, commended his soul to God, and embraced his brother priest.
In rushed the assassins, they paused for a moment, unable to distinguish the priests from the committee, but the two pikemen found them out, and his companion was instantly murdered. The weapons were lifted against Sicard, when a man pushed through the crowd, and throwing himself before the pike, displayed his breast and cried, ‘Behold the bosom through which you must pass to reach that of this good citizen. You do not know him. He is the Abbé Sicard, one of the most benevolent of men, the most useful to his country, the father of the deaf and dumb!’
The murderer dropped his pike; but Sicard, perceiving that it was the populace who were the real dispensers of life or death, sprang to the window, and shouted, ‘Friends, behold an innocent man. Am I to die without being heard?’
‘You were among the rest,’ the mob shouted, ‘therefore you are as bad as the others.’
But when he told his name, the cry changed. ‘He is the father of the deaf and dumb! he is too useful to perish; his life is spent in doing good; he must be saved.’ And the murderers behind took him up in their arms, and carried him out into the court, where he was obliged to submit to be embraced by the whole gang of ruffians, who wanted to carry him home in triumph; but he did not choose to go without being legally released, and returning into the committee room, he learnt for the first time the name of his preserver, one Monnot, a watchmaker, who, though knowing him only by character, and learning that he was among the clergy who were being driven to the slaughter, had rushed in to save him.
Sicard remained in the committee room while further horrors were perpetrated all round, and at night was taken to the little room called Le Violon, with two other prisoners. A horrible night ensued; the murders on the outside varied with drinking and dancing; and at three o’clock the murderers tried to break into Le Violon. There was a loft far overhead, and the other two prisoners tried to persuade Sicard to climb on their shoulders to reach it, saying that his life was more useful than theirs. However, some fresh prey was brought in, which drew off the attention of the murderers, and two days afterwards Sicard was released to resume his life of charity.
At the beginning of the night, all the ladies who had accompanied their relatives were separated from them, and put into the women’s room; but when morning came they entreated earnestly to return to them, but Mademoiselle de Fausse Lendry was assured that her uncle was safe, and they were told soon after that all who remained were pardoned. About twenty-two ladies were together, and were called to leave the prison, but the two who went first were at once butchered, and the sentry called out to the others, ‘It is a snare, go back, do not show yourselves.’ They retreated; but Marie de Sombreuil had made her way to her father, and when he was called down into the court, she came with him. She hung round him, beseeching the murderers to have pity on his grey hairs, and declaring that they must strike him only through her. One of the ruffians, touched by her resolution, called out that they should be allowed to pass if the girl would drink to the health of the nation. The whole court was swimming with blood, and the glass he held out to her was full of something red. Marie would not shudder. She drank, and with the applause of the assassins ringing in her ears, she passed with her father over the threshold of the fatal gates, into such freedom and safety as Paris could then afford. Never again could she see a glass of red wine without a shudder, and it was generally believed that it was actually a glass of blood that she had swallowed, though she always averred that this was an exaggeration, and that it had been only her impression before tasting it that so horrible a draught was offered to her.
The tidings that Mademoiselle de Sombreuil had saved her father came to encourage the rest of the ladies, and when calls were heard for ‘Cazotte’, Elizabeth flew out and joined her father, and in like manner stood between him and the butchers, till her devotion made the crowd cry ‘Pardon!’ and one of the men employed about the prison opened a passage for her, by which she, too, led her father away.
Madame de Fausse Lendry was not so happy. Her uncle was killed early in the day, before she was aware that he had been sent for, but she survived to relate the history of that most horrible night and day. The same work was going on at all the other prisons, and chief among the victims of La Force was the beautiful Marie Louise of Savoy, the Princess de Lamballe, and one of the most intimate friends of the Queen. A young widow without children, she had been the ornament of the court, and clever learned ladies thought her frivolous, but the depth of her nature was shown in the time of trial. Her old father-in-law had taken her abroad with him when the danger first became apparent, but as soon as she saw that the Queen herself was aimed at, she went immediately back to France to comfort her and share her fate.
Since the terrible 10th of August, the friends had been separated, and Madame de Lamballe had been in the prison of La Force. There, on the evening of the 2nd of September, she was brought down to the tribunal, and told to swear liberty, equality, and hatred to the King and Queen.
‘I will readily swear the two former. I cannot swear the latter. It is not in my heart.’
‘Swear! If not, you are dead.’
She raised her eyes, lifted her hands, and made a step to the door. Murderers closed her in, and pike thrusts in a few moments were the last ‘stage that carried from earth to heaven’ the gentle woman, who had loved her queenly friend to the death. Little mattered it to her that her corpse was soon torn limb from limb, and that her fair ringlets were floating round the pike on which her head was borne past her friend’s prison window. Little matters it now even to Marie Antoinette. The worst that the murderers could do for such as these, could only work for them a more exceeding weight of glory.
M. Cazotte was imprisoned again on the 12th of September, and all his daughter’s efforts failed to save him. She was taken from him, and he died on the guillotine, exclaiming, ‘I die as I have lived, faithful to my God and to my King.’ And the same winter, M. de Sombreuil was also imprisoned again. When he entered the prison with his daughter, all the inmates rose to do her honor. In the ensuing June, after a mock trial, her father and brother were put to death, and she remained for many years alone with only the memory of her past days.
While the greater part of France had been falling into habits of self- indulgence, and from thence into infidelity and revolution, there was one district where the people had not forgotten to fear God and honor the King.
This was in the tract surrounding the Loire, the south of which is now called La Vendee, and was then termed the Bocage, or the Woodland. It is full of low hills and narrow valleys, divided into small fields, enclosed by high thick hedgerows; so that when viewed from the top of one of the hills, the whole country appears perfectly green, excepting near harvest-time, when small patches of golden corn catch the eye, or where here and there a church tower peeps above the trees, in the midst of the flat red-tiled roofs of the surrounding village. The roads are deep lanes, often in the winter beds of streams, and in the summer completely roofed by the thick foliage of the trees, whose branches meet overhead.
The gentry of La Vendee, instead of idling their time at Paris, lived on their own estates in kindly intercourse with their neighbours, and constantly helping and befriending their tenants, visiting them at their farms, talking over their crops and cattle, giving them advice, and inviting them on holidays to dance in the courts of their castles, and themselves joining in their sports. The peasants were a hardworking, sober, and pious people, devoutly attending their churches, reverencing their clergy, and, as well they might, loving and honoring their good landlords.
But as the Revolution began to make its deadly progress at Paris, a gloom spread over this happy country. The Paris mob, who could not bear to see anyone higher in station than themselves, thirsted for noble blood, and the gentry were driven from France, or else imprisoned and put to death. An oath contrary to the laws of their Church was required of the clergy, those who refused it were thrust out of their parishes, and others placed in their room; and throughout France all the youths of a certain age were forced to draw lots to decide who should serve in the Republican army.
This conscription filled up the measure. The Vendeans had grieved over the flight of their landlords, they had sheltered and hidden their priests, and heard their ministrations in secret; but when their young men were to be carried way from them, and made the defenders and instruments of those who were murdering their King, overthrowing their Church, and ruining their country, they could endure it no longer, but in the spring of 1793, soon after the execution of Louis XVI., a rising took place in Anjou, at the village of St. Florent, headed by a peddler named Cathelineau, and they drove back the Blues, as they called the revolutionary soldiers, who had come to enforce the conscription. They begged Monsieur de Bonchamp, a gentleman in the neighborhood, to take the command; and, willing to devote himself to the cause of his King, he complied, saying, as he did so, ‘We must not aspire to earthly rewards; such would be beneath the purity of our motives, the holiness of our cause. We must not even aspire to glory, for a civil war affords none. We shall see our castles fall, we shall be proscribed, slandered, stripped of our possessions, perhaps put to death; but let us thank God for giving us strength to do our duty to the end.’
The next person on whom the peasants cast their eyes possessed as true and strong a heart, though he was too young to count the cost of loyalty with the same calm spirit of self-devotion. The Marquis de la Rochejacquelein, one of the most excellent of the nobles of Poitou, had already emigrated with his wife and all his family, excepting Henri, the eldest son, who, though but eighteen years of age, had been placed in the dangerous post of an officer in the Royal Guards. When Louis XVI. had been obliged to dismiss these brave men, he had obtained a promise from each officer that he would not leave France, but wait for some chance of delivering that unhappy country. Henri had therefore remained at Paris, until after the 10th of August, 1792, when the massacre at the Tuileries took place, and the imprisonment of the royal family commenced; and then every gentleman being in danger in the city, he had come to his father’s deserted castle of Durballiere in Poitou.
He was nearly twenty, tall and slender, with fair hair, an oval face, and blue eyes, very gentle, although full of animation. He was active and dexterous in all manly sports, especially shooting and riding; he was a man of few words; and his manners were so shy, modest, and retiring, that his friends used to say he was more like an Englishman than a Frenchman.
Hearing that he was alone at Durballière, and knowing that as an officer in the Guards, and also as being of the age liable to the conscription, he was in danger from the Revolutionists in the neighboring towns, his cousin, the Marquis de Lescure, sent to invite him to his strong castle of Clisson, which was likewise situated in the Bocage. This castle afforded a refuge to many others who were in danger–to nuns driven from their convents, dispossessed clergy, and persons who dreaded to remain at their homes, but who felt reassured under the shelter of the castle, and by the character of its owner, a young man of six-and-twenty, who, though of high and unshaken loyalty, had never concerned himself with politics, but led a quiet and studious life, and was everywhere honored and respected.
The winter passed in great anxiety, and when in the spring the rising at Anjou took place, and the new government summoned all who could bear arms to assist in quelling it, a council was held among the party at Clisson on the steps to be taken. Henri, as the youngest, spoke first, saying he would rather perish than fight against the peasants; nor among the whole assembly was there one person willing to take the safer but meaner course of deserting the cause of their King and country. ‘Yes,’ said the Duchess de Donnissan, mother to the young wife of the Marquis de Lescure, ‘I see you are all of the same opinion. Better death than dishonor. I approve your courage. It is a settled thing:’ and seating herself in her armchair, she concluded, ‘Well, then, we must die.’ For some little time all remained quiet at Clisson; but at length the order for the conscription arrived, and a few days before the time appointed for the lots to be drawn, a boy came to the castle bringing a note to Henri from his aunt at St. Aubin. ‘Monsieur Henri,’ said the boy, ‘they say you are to draw for the conscription next Sunday; but may not your tenants rise against it in the meantime? Come with me, sir, the whole country is longing for you, and will obey you.’
Henri instantly promised to come, but some of the ladies would have persuaded him not to endanger himself–representing, too, that if he was missing on the appointed day, M. de Lescure might be made responsible for him. The Marquis, however, silenced them, saying to his cousin, ‘You are prompted by honor and duty to put yourself at the head of your tenants. Follow out your plan, I am only grieved at not being able to go with you; and certainly no fear of imprisonment will lead me to dissuade you from doing your duty.’
‘Well, I will come and rescue you,’ said Henri, embracing him, and his eyes glancing with a noble soldier-like expression and an eagle look.
As soon as the servants were gone to bed, he set out with a guide, with a stick in his hand and a pair of pistols in his belt; and traveling through the fields, over hedges and ditches, for fear of meeting with the Blues, arrived at St. Aubin, and from thence went on to meet M. de Bonchamp and his little army. But he found to his disappointment that they had just been defeated, and the chieftains, believing that all was lost, had dispersed their troops. He went to his own home, dispirited and grieved; but no sooner did the men of St. Aubin learn the arrival of their young lord, than they came trooping to the castle, entreating him to place himself at their head.
In the early morning, the castle court, the fields, the village, were thronged with stout hardy farmers and laborers, in grey coats, with broad flapping hats, and red woolen handkerchiefs round their necks. On their shoulders were spits, scythes, and even sticks; happy was the man who could bring an old fowling-piece, and still more rejoiced the owner of some powder, intended for blasting some neighboring quarry. All had bold true hearts, ready to suffer and to die in the cause of their Church and of their young innocent imprisoned King.
A mistrust of his own powers, a fear of ruining these brave men, crossed the mind of the youth as he looked forth upon them, and he exclaimed, ‘If my father was but here, you might trust to him. Yet by my courage I will show myself worthy, and lead you. If I go forward, follow me: if I draw back, kill me; if I am slain, avenge me!’ They replied with shouts of joy, and it was instantly resolved to march upon the next village, which was occupied by the rebel troops. They gained a complete victory, driving away the Blues, and taking two small pieces of cannon, and immediately joined M. de Bonchamp and Cathelineau, who, encouraged by their success, again gathered their troops and gained some further advantages.
In the meantime, the authorities had sent to Clisson and arrested M. de Lescure, his wife, her parents, and some of their guests, who were conducted to Bressuire, the nearest town, and there closely guarded. There was great danger that the Republicans would revenge their losses upon them, but the calm dignified deportment of M. de Lescure obliged them to respect him so much that no injury was offered to him. At last came the joyful news that the Royalist army was approaching. The Republican soldiers immediately quitted the town, and the inhabitants all came to ask the protection of the prisoners, desiring to send their goods to Clisson for security, and thinking themselves guarded by the presence of M. and Madame de Lescure.
M. de Lescure and his cousin Bernard de Marigny mounted their horses and rode out to meet their friends. In a quarter of an hour afterwards, Madame de Lescure heard the shouts ‘Long live the King!’ and the next minute, Henri de la Rochejacquelein hurried into the room, crying, ‘I have saved you.’ The peasants marched in to the number of 20,000, and spread themselves through the town, but in their victory they had gained no taste for blood or plunder–they did not hurt a single inhabitant, nor touch anything that was not their own. Madame de Lescure heard some of them wishing for tobacco, and asked if there was none in the town. ‘Oh yes, there is plenty to be sold, but we have no money;’ and they were very thankful to her for giving the small sum they required. Monsieur de Donnissan saw two men disputing in the street, and one drew his sword, when he interfered, saying, ‘Our Lord prayed for His murderers, and would one soldier of the Catholic army kill another?’ The two instantly embraced.
Three times a day these peasant warriors knelt at their prayers, in the churches if they were near them, if not, in the open field, and seldom have ever been equaled the piety, the humility, the self-devotion alike of chiefs and of followers. The frightful cruelties committed by the enemy were returned by mercy; though such of them as fell into the hands of the Republicans were shot without pity, yet their prisoners were instantly set at liberty after being made to promise not to serve against them again, and having their hair shaved off in order that they might be recognized.
Whenever an enterprise was resolved on, the curates gave notice to their parishioners that the leaders would be at such a place at such a time, upon which they crowded to the spot, and assembled around the white standard of France with such weapons as they could muster.
The clergy then heard them confess their sins, gave them absolution, and blessed them; then, while they set forward, returned to the churches where their wives and children were praying for their success. They did not fight like regular soldiers, but, creeping through the hedgerows and coppices, burst unexpectedly upon the Blues, who, entangled in the hollow lanes, ignorant of the country, and amazed by the suddenness of the attack, had little power to resist. The chieftains were always foremost in danger; above all the eager young Henri, with his eye on the white standard, and on the blue sky, and his hand making the sign of the cross without which he never charged the enemy, dashed on first, fearless of peril, regardless of his life, thinking only of his duty to his king and the protection of his followers.
It was calmness and resignation which chiefly distinguished M. de Lescure, the Saint of Poitou, as the peasants called him from his great piety, his even temper, and the kindness and the wonderful mercifulness of his disposition. Though constantly at the head of his troops, leading them into the most dangerous places, and never sparing himself, not one man was slain by his hand, nor did he even permit a prisoner to receive the least injury in his presence. When one of the Republicans once presented his musket close to his breast, he quietly put it aside with his hand, and only said, ‘Take away the prisoner’. His calmness was indeed well founded, and his trust never failed. Once when the little army had received a considerable check, and his cousin M. de Marigny was in despair, and throwing his pistols on the table, exclaimed, ‘I fight no longer’, he took him by the arm, led him to the window, an pointing to a troop of peasants kneeling at their evening prayers, he said, ‘See there a pledge of our hopes, and doubt no longer that we shall conquer in our turn.’
Their greatest victory was at Saumur, owing chiefly to the gallantry of Henri, who threw his hat into the midst of the enemy, shouting to his followers, ‘Who will go and fetch it for me?’ and rushing forward, drove all before him, and made his way into the town on one side, while M. de Lescure, together with Stofflet, a game-keeper, another of the chiefs, made their entrance on the other side. M. de Lescure was wounded in the arm, and on the sight of his blood the peasants gave back, and would have fled had not Stofflet threatened to shoot the first who turned; and in the meantime M. de Lescure, tying up his arm with a handkerchief, declared it was nothing, and led them onwards.
The city was entirely in their hands, and their thankful delight was excessive; but they only displayed it by ringing the bells, singing the Te Deum, and parading the streets. Henri was almost out of his senses with exultation; but at last he fell into a reverie, as he stood, with his arms folded, gazing on the mighty citadel which had yielded to efforts such as theirs. His friends roused him from his dream by their remarks, and he replied, ‘I am reflecting on our success, and am confounded’.
They now resolved to elect a general-in-chief, and M. de Lescure was the first to propose Cathelineau, the peddler, who had first come forward in the cause. It was a wondrous thing when the nobles, the gentry, and experienced officers who had served in the regular army, all willingly placed themselves under the command of the simple untrained peasant, without a thought of selfishness or of jealousy. Nor did Cathelineau himself show any trace of pride, or lose his complete humility of mind or manner; but by each word and deed he fully proved how wise had been their judgment, and well earned the title given him by the peasants of the ‘Saint of Anjou’.
It was now that their hopes were highest; they were more numerous and better armed than they had ever been before, and they even talked of a march to Paris to ‘fetch their little king, and have him crowned at Chollet’, the chief town of La Vendee. But martyrdom, the highest glory to be obtained on this earth, was already shedding its brightness round these devoted men who were counted worthy to suffer, and it was in a higher and purer world that they were to meet their royal child.
Cathelineau turned towards Nantes, leaving Henri de la Rochejaquelein, to his great vexation, to defend Saumur with a party of peasants. But he found it impossible to prevent these poor men from returning to their homes; they did not understand the importance of garrison duty, and gradually departed, leaving their commander alone with a few officers, with whom he used to go through the town at night, shouting out, ‘Long live the king!’ at the places where there ought to have been sentinels. At last, when his followers were reduced to eight, he left the town, and, rejoicing to be once more in the open field, overtook his friends at Angers, where they had just rescued a great number of clergy who had been imprisoned there, and daily threatened with death. ‘Do not thank us,’ said the peasants to the liberated priests; ‘it is for you that we fight. If we had not saved you, we should not have ventured to return home. Since you are freed, we see plainly that the good God is on our side.’
But the tide was now about to turn. The Government in Paris sent a far stronger force into the Bocage, and desolated it in a cruel manner. Clisson was burnt to the ground with the very fireworks which had been prepared for the christening of its master’s eldest child, and which had not been used because of the sorrowful days when she was born. M. de Lescure had long expected its destruction, but had not chosen to remove the furniture, lest he should discourage the peasants. His family were with the army, where alone there was now any safety for the weak and helpless. At Nantes the attack was unsuccessful, and Cathelineau himself received a wound of which he died in a few days, rejoicing at having been permitted to shed his blood in such a cause.
The army, of which M. d’Elbee became the leader, now returned to Poitou, and gained a great victory at Chatillon; but here many of them forgot the mercy they had usually shown, and, enraged by the sight of their burnt cottages, wasted fields, and murdered relatives, they fell upon the prisoners and began to slaughter them. M. de Lescure, coming in haste, called out to them to desist. ‘No, no,’ cried M. de Marigny; ‘let me slay these monsters who have burnt your castle.’ ‘Then, Marigny,’ said his cousin, ‘you must fight with me. You are too cruel; you will perish by the sword.’ And he saved these unhappy men for the time; but they were put to death on their way to their own army.
The cruelties of the Republicans occasioned a proclamation on the part of the Royalists that they would make reprisals; but they could never bring themselves to act upon it. When M. de Lescure took Parthenay, he said to the inhabitants, ‘It is well for you that it is I who have taken your town; for, according to our proclamation, I ought to burn it; but, as you would think it an act of private revenge for the burning of Clisson, I spare you’.
Though occasional successes still maintained the hopes of the Vendeans, misfortunes and defeats now became frequent; they were unable to save their country from the devastations of the enemy, and disappointments began to thin the numbers of the soldiers. Henri, while fighting in a hollow road, was struck in the right hand by a ball, which broke his thumb in three places. He continued to direct his men, but they were at length driven back from their post. He was obliged to leave the army for some days; and though he soon appeared again at the head of the men of St. Aubin, he never recovered the use of his hand.
Shortly after, both D’Elbee and Bonchamp were desperately wounded; and M. de Lescure, while waving his followers on to attack a Republican post, received a ball in the head. The enemy pressed on the broken and defeated army with overwhelming force, and the few remaining chiefs resolved to cross the Loire and take refuge in Brittany. It was much against the opinion of M. de Lescure; but, in his feeble and suffering state, he could not make himself heard, nor could Henri’s representations prevail; the peasants, in terror and dismay, were hastening across as fast as they could obtain boats to carry them. The enemy was near at hand, and Stofflet, Marigny, and the other chiefs were only deliberating whether they should not kill the prisoners whom they could not take with them, and, if set at liberty, would only add to the numbers of their pursuers. The order for their death had been given; but, before it could be executed, M. de Lescure had raised his head to exclaim, ‘It is too horrible!’ and M. de Bonchamp at the same moment said, almost with his last breath, ‘Spare them!’ The officers who stood by rushed to the generals, crying out that Bonchamp commanded that they should be pardoned. They were set at liberty; and thus the two Vendean chiefs avenged their deaths by saving five thousand of their enemies!
M. de Bonchamp expired immediately after; but M. de Lescure had still much to suffer in the long and painful passage across the river, and afterwards, while carried along the rough roads to Varades in an armchair upon two pikes, his wife and her maid supporting his feet. The Bretons received them kindly, and gave him a small room, where, the next day, he sent for the rest of the council, telling them they ought to choose a new general, since M. d’Elbee was missing. They answered that he himself alone could be commander. ‘Gentlemen,’ he answered: ‘I am mortally wounded; and even if I am to live, which I do not expect, I shall be long unfit to serve. The army must instantly have an active chief, loved by all, known to the peasants, trusted by everyone. It is the only way of saving us. M. de la Rochejaquelein alone is known to the soldiers of all the divisions. M. de Donnissan, my father-in-law, does not belong to this part of the country, and would not be as readily followed. The choice I propose would encourage the soldiers; and I entreat you to choose M. de la Rochejaquelein. As to me, if I live, you know I shall not quarrel with Henri; I shall be his aide-de-camp.’
His advice was readily followed, Henri was chosen; but when a second in command was to be elected, he said no, he was second, for he should always obey M. de Donnissan, and entreated that the honor might not be given to him, saying that at twenty years of age he had neither weight nor experience, that his valor led him to be first in battle, but in council his youth prevented him from being attended to; and, indeed, after giving his opinion, he usually fell asleep while others were debating. He was, however, elected; and as soon as M. de Lescure heard the shouts of joy with which the peasants received the intelligence, he sent Madame de Lescure to bring him to his bedside. She found him hidden in a corner, weeping bitterly; and when he came to his cousin, he embraced him, saving earnestly, again and again, that he was not fit to be general, he only knew how to fight, he was too young and could never silence those who opposed his designs, and entreated him to take the command as soon as he was cured. ‘That I do not expect,’ said M. de Lescure; ‘but if it should happen, I will be your aide-de-camp, and help you to conquer the shyness which prevents your strength of character from silencing the murmurers and the ambitious.’
Henri accordingly took the command; but it was a melancholy office that devolved upon him of dragging onward his broken and dejected peasants, half-starved, half-clothed, and followed by a wretched train of women, children, and wounded; a sad change from the bright hopes with which, not six months before, he had been called to the head of his tenants. Yet still his high courage gained some triumphs, which for a time revived the spirits of his forces and restored their confidence. He was active and undaunted, and it was about this time, when in pursuit of the Blues, he was attacked by a foot soldier when alone in a narrow lane. His right hand was useless, but he seized the man’s collar with his 1eft, and held him fast, managing his horse with his legs till his men came up. He would not allow them to kill the soldier, but set him free, saying ‘Return to the Republicans, and tell them that you were alone with the general of the brigands, who had but one hand and no weapons, yet you could not kill him’. Brigands was the name given by the Republicans, the true robbers, to the Royalists, who, in fact, by this time, owing to the wild life they had so long led, had acquired a somewhat rude and savage appearance. They wore grey cloth coats and trousers, broad hats, white sashes with knots of different colours to mark the rank of the officers, and red woolen handkerchiefs. These were made in the country, and were at first chiefly worn by Henri, who usually had one round his neck, another round his waist, and a third to support his wounded hand; but the other officers, having heard the Blues cry out to aim at the red handkerchief, themselves adopted the same badge, in order that he might be less conspicuous.
In the meantime a few days’ rest at Laval had at first so alleviated the sufferings of M. de Lescure, that hopes were entertained of his recovery; but he ventured on greater exertions of strength than he was able to bear, and fever returned, which had weakened him greatly before it became necessary to travel onwards. Early in the morning, a day or two before their departure, he called to his wife, who was lying on a mattress on the floor, and desired her to open the curtains, asking, as she did so, if it was a clear day. ‘Yes,’ said she. ‘Then,’ he answered, ‘I have a sort of veil before my eyes, I cannot see distinctly; I always thought my wound was mortal, and now I no longer doubt. My dear, I must leave you, that is my only regret, except that I could not restore my king to the throne; I leave you in the midst of a civil war, that is what afflicts me. Try to save yourself. Disguise yourself, and attempt to reach England.’ Then seeing her choked with tears, he continued: ‘Yes, your grief alone makes me regret life; for my own part, I die tranquil; I have indeed sinned, but I have always served God with piety; I have fought, and I die for Him, and I hope in His mercy. I have often seen death, and I do not fear it I go to heaven with a sure trust, I grieve but for you; I hoped to have made you happy; if I ever have given you any reason to complain, forgive me.’ Finding her grief beyond all consolation, he allowed her to call the surgeons, saying that it was possible he might be mistaken. They gave some hope, which cheered her spirits, though he still said he did not believe them. The next day they left Laval; and on the way, while the carriage was stopping, a person came to the door and read the details of the execution of Marie Antoinette which Madame de Lescure had kept from his knowledge. It was a great shock to him, for he had known the Queen personally, and throughout the day he wearied himself with exclamations on the horrible crime. That night at Ernee he received the Sacrament, and at the same time became speechless, and could only lie holding his wife’s hand and looking sometimes at her, sometimes toward heaven. But the cruel enemy were close behind, and there was no rest on earth even for the dying. Madame de Lescure implored her friends to leave them behind; but they told her she would be exposed to a frightful death, and that his body would fall into the enemy’s hands; and she was forced to consent to his removal. Her mother and her other friends would not permit her to remain in the carriage with him; she was placed on horseback and her maid and the surgeon were with him. An hour after, on the 3rd of November, he died, but his wife did not know her loss till the evening when they arrived at Fongeres; for though the surgeon left the carriage on his death, the maid, fearing the effect which the knowledge might have upon her in the midst of her journey, remained for seven hours in the carriage by his side, during two of which she was in a fainting fit.
When Madame de Lescure and Henri de la Rochejaquelein met the next morning, they sat for a quarter of an hour without speaking, and weeping bitterly. At last she said ‘You have lost your best friend,’ and he replied, ‘Take my life, if it could restore him.’
Scarcely anything can be imagined more miserable than the condition of the army, or more terrible than the situation of the young general, who felt himself responsible for its safety, and was compelled daily to see its sufferings and find his plans thwarted by the obstinacy and folly of the other officers, crushed by an overwhelming force, knowing that there was no quarter from which help could come, yet still struggling on in fulfillment of his sad duty. The hopes and expectations which had filled his heart a few months back had long passed away; nothing was around him but misery, nothing before him but desolation; but still he never failed in courage, in mildness, in confidence in Heaven.
At Mans he met with a horrible defeat; at first, indeed, with a small party he broke the columns of the enemy, but fresh men were constantly brought up, and his peasants gave way and retreated, their officers following them. He tried to lead them back through the hedges, and if he had succeeded, would surely have gained the victory. Three times with two other officers he dashed into the midst of the Blues; but the broken, dispirited peasants would not follow him, not one would even turn to fire a shot. At last, in leaping a hedge, his saddle turned, and he fell, without indeed being hurt, but the sight of his fall added to the terror of the miserable Vendeans. He struggled long and desperately through the long night that followed to defend the gates of the town, but with the light of morning the enemy perceived his weakness and effected their entrance. His followers had in the meantime gradually retired into the country beyond, but those who could not escape fell a prey to the cruelty of the Republicans. ‘I thought you had perished,’ said Madame de Lescure, when he overtook her. ‘Would that I had,’ was his answer.
He now resolved to cross the Loire, and return to his native Bocage, where the well-known woods would afford a better protection to his followers. It was at Craon, on their route to the river, that Madame de Lescure saw him for the last time, as he rallied his men, who had been terrified by a false alarm.
She did not return to La Vendee, but, with her mother, was sheltered by the peasants of Brittany throughout the winter and spring until they found means to leave the country.
The Vendeans reached the Loire at Ancenis, but they were only able to find two small boats to carry them over. On the other side, however, were four great ferry boats loaded with hay; and Henri, with Stofflet, three other officers, and eighteen soldiers crossed the river in their two boats, intending to take possession of them, send them back for the rest of the army, and in the meantime protect the passage from the Blues on the Vendean side. Unfortunately, however, he had scarcely crossed before the pursuers came down upon his troops, drove them back from Ancenis, and entirely prevented them from attempting the passage, while at the same time Henri and his companions were attacked and forced from the river by a body of Republicans on their side. A last resistance was attempted by the retreating Vendeans at Savenay, where they fought nobly but in vain; four thousand were shot on the field of battle, the chiefs were made prisoners and carried to Nantes or Angers, where they were guillotined, and a few who succeeded in escaping found shelter among the Bretons, or one by one found their way back to La Vendee. M. de Donnissan was amongst those who were guillotined, and M. d’Elbee, who was seized shortly after, was shot with his wife.
Henri, with his few companions, when driven from the banks of the Loire, dismissed the eighteen soldiers, whose number would only have attracted attention without being sufficient for protection; but the five chiefs crossed the fields and wandered through the country without meeting a single inhabitant–all the houses were burnt down, and the few remaining peasants hidden in the woods. At last, after four-and-twenty hours, walking, they came to an inhabited farm, where they lay down to sleep on the straw. The next moment the farmer came to tell them the Blues were coming; but they were so worn out with fatigue, that they would not move. The Blues were happily, also, very tired, and, without making any search, laid down on the other side of the heap of straw, and also fell asleep. Before daylight the Vendeans rose and set out again, walking miles and miles in the midst of desolation, until, after several days, they came to Henri’s own village of St. Aubin, where he sought out his aunt, who was in concealment there, and remained with her for three days, utterly overwhelmed with grief at his fatal separation from his army, and only longing for an opportunity of giving his life in the good cause.
Beyond all his hopes, the peasants no sooner heard his name, than once more they rallied round the white standard, as determined as ever not to yield to the Revolutionary government; and the beginning of the year 1794 found him once more at the head of a considerable force, encamped in the forests of Vesins, guarding the villages around from the cruelties of the Blues. He was now doubly beloved and trusted by the followers who had proved his worth, and who even yet looked forward to triumphs beneath his brave guidance; but it was not so with him, he had learnt the lesson of disappointment, and though always active and cheerful, his mind was made up, and the only hope he cherished was of meeting the death of a soldier. His headquarters were in the midst of a forest, where one of the Republican officers, who was made prisoner, was much surprised to find the much-dreaded chieftain of the Royalists living in a hut formed of boughs of trees, dressed almost like a peasant, and with his arm still in a sling. This person was shot, because he was found to be commissioned to promise pardon to the peasants, and afterwards to massacre them; but Henri had not learnt cruelty from his persecutors, and his last words were of forgiveness.
It was on Ash Wednesday that he had repulsed an attack of the enemy, and had almost driven them out of the wood, when, perceiving two soldiers hiding behind a hedge, he stopped, crying out, ‘Surrender, I spare you.’ As he spoke one of them leveled his musket, fired, and stretched him dead on the ground without a groan. Stofflet, coming up the next moment, killed the murderer with one stroke of his sword; but the remaining soldier was spared out of regard to the last words of the general. The Vendeans wept bitterly, but there was no time to indulge their sorrow, for the enemy were returning upon them; and, to save their chieftain’s corpse from insult, they hastily dug a grave, in which they placed both bodies, and retreated as the Blues came up to occupy the ground. The Republicans sought for the spot, but it was preserved from their knowledge; and the high-spirited, pure-hearted Henri de la Rochejaquelein sleeps beside his enemy in the midst of the woodlands where be won for himself eternal honor. His name is still loved beyond all others; the Vendeans seldom pronounce it without touching their