The Memoirs of General the Baron de Marbot Translated by Oliver C. Colt
THE MEMOIRS OF GENERAL THE BARON DE MARBOT.
Translated by Oliver C. Colt
Table of contents
Chap. 1. Origins of my family. My father joins the bodyguard. The de Certain family. Life at Lariviere. Episode in infancy.
Chap. 2. Outbreak of revolution. My father’s attitude. He rejoins the army. I go to Mlle. Mongalvi. My life as a boarder.
Chap. 3. My father is posted to Toulouse. He takes me with him. The convoy of aristocrats. Life at Toulouse. I am taken to Soreze.
Chap. 4. Life at Soreze. Early hardships. Visit of representative of the people.
Chap. 5. I join my family in Paris. My father is given command of the 17th division in Paris. He refuses to join with Sieyes and hands the command to Lefebvre.
Chap. 6. My father is posted to Italy. How my career is begun. I become a Hussar.
Chap. 7. My father leaves. Meeting with Bonaparte at Lyon. An adventure on the Rhone. The cost of a Republican banquet. I am presented to my commanding officer.
Chap. 8. Arrival at Nice. My mentor Pertelay. I become a true Hussar. I join the “clique”. My first duel. We rustle some cattle. The “Clique”.
Chap. 9. How I get immediate promotion. The capture of 17 enemy Hussars.
Chap. 10. Campaign in Piedmont. General Macard. Capture of enemy cannons. I am promoted to Sous-lieutenant. I become aide de camp to my father.
Chap. 11. Retreat of the right wing of the army to Genoa. My father wounded. The siege. My friend Trepano. Death of my father. Famine and fighting.
Chap. 12. Episodes in the siege. Fate of Austrian captives.
Chap. 13. Napoleon crosses the St. Bernard. Massena yields. Marengo. I return to my family. My extreme prostration.
Chap. 14. I am temporary aide de camp to Bernadotte. We go to Tours.
Chap. 15. At Brest and Rennes. I am posted to the 23rd Chasseurs, in Portugal. Journey from Nantes to Salamanca. We form the right wing of the Spanish army. Return to France.
Chap. 16. On the road from Bayonne to Toulouse. The inspection.
Chap. 17. The events at Rennes. My brother Adolphe is involved and is sent to prison. Death of my brother Theodore.
Chap. 18. The school at Versailles. My mother’s brothers.
Chap. 19. Preparations for invasion of Britain. I become aide de camp to Augereau.
Chap. 20. Augereau.
Chap. 21. From Bayonne to Brest. 1804. Pichegru. Death of Duc d’Enghien. Bonaparte becomes emperor.
Chap. 22. 1805. Institution of Legion of Honour. Camp at Boulogne. I am made lieutenant. Death of my brother Felix. Russia and Austria declare war.
Chap. 23. The army heads for the Rhine. Mission to Massena. Jellachich surrenders. The Hungarian Colonel.
Chap. 24. The march to Vienna. The battle at Dirnstein. Lannes and Murat bluff their way across the Danube.
Chap. 25. Hollabrunn. I bring the flags captured at Breganz to the Emperor. The danger of a white lie.
Chap. 26. The Prussian Ambassador. Austerlitz. I save a Russian sergeant.
Chap. 27. Meeting of the Emperors. Return to my unit. Darmstadt and Frankfurt.
Chap. 28. Mission to Prussia. Situation in Prussia.
Chap. 29. State of Prussian army. Wurtzberg. Saalefeld and death of Prince Louis. Augereau and his former companions.
Chap. 30. Jena. The Cure. Auerstadt. The behaviour of Bernadotte.
The entry into Berlin.
Chap. 31. Demoralisation of Prussians. Origin of the house of Rothschild. With Duroc to the King of Prussia. Graudentz. The army at the Vistula.
Chap. 32. Crossing of the Ukra. Various encounters. Cantonments on the banks of the Vistula.
Chap. 33. 1807. Made Captain. Eylau. Destruction of Augereau’s corps.
Chap. 34. My part in the battle of Eylau. My mare Lisette. I escape death by a miracle. Return to Warsaw and Paris.
Chap. 35. Missions for the Emperor. I join Marshal Lannes. Hostilities resumed June 11th.
Chap. 36. Battle of Friedland. I escape from dangers. Treaty of Tilsitt.
Chap. 37. Mission to Dresden. An unwitting smuggler. An incident at Mainz. Paris and La Houssaye.
Introduction. General, later the Baron, Marbot, came from a family which might be described as landed gentry. His father served in the bodyguard of Louis XV and later in the Republican army. Marbot himself was a soldier from the age of 17 and fought in the wars of the Republic and the campaigns of Napoleon. His memoirs were written for his family and his intimate circle, without thought of publication, and it was not until after his death in 1854 that his family were persuaded to offer the manuscript to publishers.
This is not a meticulously researched historical document, but the reminiscences of an old soldier, writing of events which took place many years earlier and I suspect that like most of us when we try to recall things that happened forty years ago his memory was a trifle indistinct.
By far the greater part of his narrative has the ring of truth, but in my opinion there are places where his imagination has embroidered the facts. This is particularly so when it comes to some of his personal adventures. He also,in my view, describes as real, events in which he did not take part and which may be no more than popular rumour.
It has to be remembered that there were no inquisitive war correspondents attached to the “Grande Armee” and news was what was written in Napoleon’s bulletins.
As an example of the kind of thing which raises a question in my mind, in his opening chapter he says that he was a very sturdy infant and that the only illness he ever suffered from was small-pox. This does not seem probable; an outbreak of small-pox in the family would be a disastrous occurrence, it is a disease with a high mortality and could not be dismissed as a childish complaint. He also goes on to describe how his head got stuck in the cat-hole, but in the original he claims that his face turned blue and that he was being strangled when his father removed the door from its hinges to extricate him. Anyone who has attempted to remove a door from its hinges knows that you cannot do so without opening the door and using at least a screwdriver. It is also an operation which is difficult to perform single-handed and with a small child stuck in it even more so. He says that he was about three or four at the time, and the long-term memory does not start developing in a child until around the age of four. I think it more than likely that that good Baron has a false recollection derived from being told of these goings on by his mother and truly believes that he remembers them. A misdiagnosis of small-pox would not be surprising given the inadequate state of medical knowledge and practice of the time.
I do not doubt that he ran great danger and was seriously injured at Eylau, but there are elements in his recital which although they enhance the drama and would pass muster with the lay reader, are open to criticism by anyone with a medical training. He says that while he was attempting to release the “Eagle” from its standard, a bullet passed through his hat without touching his head. As a result of this he claims that he found himself paralysed and unable to use his legs to urge his horse forward, although he remained mentally perfectly clear. He says that the passage of the bullet close to his head caused bleeding from his nose and ears and even from his eyes, signs which a clinician would regard as probably indicating a serious fracture of the base of the skull.
I am not a neurologist, but I can think of no neurological injury which would produce the type of paralysis which he describes except a high lesion of the spinal cord. What is more, within a few moments he is in the saddle of a galloping horse and I cannot imagine that anyone suffering from a form of paralysis could remain there for very long.
The thoughtful reader may also wonder how the soldier who robbed him as he lay unconscious could suppose that he was dead, an unconscious person is quite plainly breathing.
Could it be that having been rendered unconscious as a result of the fall from his horse, he has some degree of retrograde amnesia and has invented details to fill the gaps in his memory, or could it be that writing, as he was, for his family and friends, he was indulging in a little pardonable exaggeration.
In spite of these reservations the story he tells is full of life and interest, and gives a vivid impression of war as it was fought then, including all its horrors and disasters.
In this translation I have not deviated from the gist of events, but I have taken the liberty of making a variety of omissions and emendations, with the aim of adding credibility to some of the events, such as those noted above. I have also prefaced some of his anecdotes, which he retails as fact, with the words “It is believed that…” or something to that effect.
The campaigns can be followed by the use of a good atlas, but unfortunately the many upheavals which Europe has undergone since those days has resulted in many of the names of places being changed. The curious reader may well find maps dealing with the Napoleonic wars in any well stocked public library.
All translation requires some degree of paraphrase. What sounds well in one language may sound ridiculous if translated literally into another. I have endeavoured to produce a version of these memoirs acceptable to the English-speaking reader, whether I have succeeded or not only the reader can say.
Oliver C. Colt
THE MEMOIRS OF GENERAL THE BARON DE MARBOT.
Translated by Oliver C. Colt
I was born on the 18th August 1782 at my father’s Chateau of Lariviere, in the beautiful valley of Beaulieu, on the borders of Limousin and Quercy–now the department of Correze–where my father owned a considerable property.
The family of Marbot was of noble origin, although for a long time they had not preceded their name by any title. To use a then current expression, they lived nobly, that is to say on the income from their estates, without engaging in any form of employment. They were allied to and joined in the society of several of the important families of the district.
I mention this because, at a time when the nobility were so haughty and powerful, it shows that the family had a social position of considerable standing.
My father was born in 1753. He had a rather fiery temperament, but he was so good-hearted that, after a first outburst, he always sought to make one forget any hasty words which he might have uttered. He was a fine figure of a man, very tall and well built, with handsome, manly features.
My grandfather had become a widower when my father was still at school. His house was run by one of his elderly cousins, the oldest of the demoiselles Oudinet of Beaulieu. She gave unstinting care to my grandfather, who, having become almost blind as a result of a flash of lightning, which had struck near him, no longer went out of his manor. Thus my father, when he reached manhood, faced by an infirm old man and an aunt devoted to his least wishes, could have played fast and loose with the family fortune. He did not, however, abuse his position, but as he had a great fancy for a military career, he accepted a proposal which was made to him by colonel the Marquis d’Estresse, a neighbour and close friend of the family, which was to have him enrolled in the bodyguard of the king, Louis XV.
Being under the auspices of the Marquis d’Estresse, he was received in a number of houses; notably that of lieutenant-general the Comte de Schomberg, the inspector-general of cavalry, who, recognising my father’s worth, had him posted to his regiment of dragoons as captain, and took him as his aide-de-camp.
On the death of my grandfather my father was still unmarried, and his fortune, as well as his place in the Royal Bodyguard, put him in a position to choose a wife, without the likelihood of being refused.
There lived at that time, in the Chateau de Laval de Cere, about a league from Lariviere, a family of noble rank but without much money, named de Certain. The head of this house was stricken by gout and so his affairs were managed by Madame de Certain, an admirable woman, who came from the noble family of de Verdal, who claim to have Saint Roch amongst the kinsfolk of their ancestors on the distaff side, a Verdal, so they say, having married a sister of the Saint at Montpellier. I do not know how much truth there is in this claim, but before the Revolution of 1789, there was, at the gateway of the old chateau of Gruniac, owned by the de Verdals, a stone bench, which was greatly venerated by the inhabitants of the nearby mountains, because, according to tradition, St. Roch, when he came to visit his sister, used to sit on this bench, from where one can view the countryside, which one cannot do from the chateau, which is a sort of fortress of the gloomiest kind.
The de Certains had three sons and a daughter, and as was the custom at that time they added to their family name that of some estate. Thus the eldest son was given the name Canrobert: this eldest son was, at the time of which I write, Chevalier de St. Louis and a captain in the infantry regiment of Penthievre; the second son who was called de L’Isle was a lieutenant in the same regiment; the third son, who had the surname La Coste served, like my father, in the Royal Bodyguard; the daughter was called Mlle. Du Puy,and she was my mother.
My father became a close friend of M. Certain de La Coste, and it would have been difficult to do otherwise, for quite apart from the three months which they spent in quarters at Versailles during their period of duty, the journeys which they made together, twice a year, were bound to make a bond between them.
At that time public coaches were very few in number, dirty, uncomfortable, and travelled by very short stages; also it was considered not at all fashionable to ride in them. So, gentry who were old or in poor health travelled by carriage, while the young and officers in the armed forces went on horseback. There was an established custom among the Bodyguard, which today would seem most peculiar. As these gentlemen did only three months on duty, and as in consequence the corps was split into four almost equal sections, those of them who lived in Brittany, the Auvergne, Limousin and other parts of the country where there were good small horses had bought a number of these at a price not exceeding 100 francs, which included the saddle and bridle. On a fixed day all the Bodyguards from the same province, who were called to go and take up their duties, would meet, on horseback, at an agreed spot and the cheerful caravanserai would take the road for Versailles.
They made twelve to fifteen leagues each day, sure of finding every evening, at an agreed and reasonable price, a good lodging and a good supper at the inns previously arranged as stopping places. They went happily on their way, talking, singing, putting up with bad weather or heat as they did with accidents and laughing at the stories which all, in turn, had to tell as they rode along.
The group grew in size by the arrival of Bodyguards from the provinces through which they passed until, at last, the various parties arrived from all parts of France to enter Versailles on the day on which their leave expired, and, in consequence, at the moment of departure of those guards whom they had come to relieve. Then each of these latter bought one of the ponies brought by the new arrivals, for which they paid 100 francs, and forming fresh groups they took to the road for their paternal chateaux, where they turned the horses out to grass for nine months, until they were taken back to Versailles and handed over to other comrades-in-arms.
My father, then, was a close friend of M. Certain de La Coste, who shared the same quarters and belonged, like him, to the company de Noailles. On their return to the country they saw much of each other, and he made the acquaintance of Mlle. Du Puy. Mlle. Du Puy was pretty and high spirited, and although she would have little in the way of dowry, and although several rich matches were offered to my father, he preferred Mlle. Du Puy, and he married her in 1776.
We were four brothers: the eldest Adolphe, myself the second, Theodore the third and Felix the last. There was a gap of about two years between our ages.
I was very sturdy and suffered only some minor illnesses, but when I was about three, I had an accident which I can still remember.
Because I had a rather turned-up nose and a round face, my father called me “pussy-cat”. It needed no more than this to give a small child the desire to imitate a cat; so it was my greatest pleasure to go about on all fours, mewing. I was also in the habit of going up to the second floor of the chateau to join my father in a library, where he spent the hottest hours of the day. When he heard the “miaow” of his little cat, he came and opened the door and gave me a picture-book to look at while he continued his reading. These little sessions gave me infinite pleasure. One day, however, my visit was not so well received as usual. My father, perhaps absorbed in his book, did not open the door for his little cat. In vain, I redoubled my “miaows” in the most appealing tone which I could produce. The door remained closed. Then I saw, at floor level, an opening called a cat-hole, which is present in all the chateaux of the Midi, at the bottom of the doors, to allow cats free access. This route seemed, naturally, to be for me: I put my head through, but that was as far as I could go. I then tried to withdraw my head, but my head was stuck and I could go neither forward nor back, but I was so much identified with my role as a cat that instead of speaking, to let my father know my predicament, I “miaowed” at the top of my voice, like a cat that is angry, and it appears that I did so in such a natural tone that my father thought that I was playing, but suddenly the “miaows” became weaker, and turned into crying and you may imagine my father’s concern when he realised what had happened. It was only with great difficulty that I was freed and carried, half unconscious, to my mother, who thinking I was injured was much distressed.
A surgeon was sent for, who proceeded to bleed me, and the sight of my own blood and the crowd of all the inhabitants of the chateau, gathered about my mother and me, made such a vivid impression on my young imagination that the event has remained for ever fixed in my memory.
While my childhood was rolling by peacefully, the storm of revolution which had been growling in the distance, drew ever nearer, and it was not long before it broke. We were in 1789.
The assembly of the States General stirred up all manner of passions, destroyed the tranquillity enjoyed by the province in which we lived and introduced divisions into all families, particularly into ours; for my father, who for a long time had railed against the abuses to which France was subjected, accepted, in principle, the improvements which were mooted, without foreseeing the atrocities to which these changes were going to lead; while his three brothers-in-law and all his friends rejected any innovation. This gave rise to animated discussions, of which I understood nothing, but which distressed me because I saw my mother in tears as she tried to keep the peace between her brothers and her husband. For my part, although I did not understand what was going on, I naturally took sides with my father.
The Constituent Assembly had revoked all feudal rents. My father possessed some of these which his father had purchased. He was the first to conform to the law. The peasantry who had been waiting to make up their minds until my father gave them a lead, refused to continue paying these rents once they knew what he had done.
Shortly after this, France having been divided into departments, my father was named administrator for the Correze and then a member of the Legislative Assembly.
My mother’s three brothers, and nearly all the nobility of the county had hurriedly emigrated. War seemed to be imminent, so, to persuade all citizens to take up arms, and also, perhaps, to find out up to what point they could count on the populace, the government arranged for the rumour to be spread throughout all the communes of France, that the “Brigands” led by the emigres, were coming to destroy all the new institutions. The tocsin was rung by all the churches; everyone armed themselves with whatever they could lay hands upon; a National Guard was organised; the country turned into an armed camp while it waited for these imaginary “Brigands” who, in every commune, were said to be in the one next door. Nothing ever appeared, but the effect remained: France found herself in arms and had shown that she was prepared to defend herself.
We children were then alone in the country with our mother. This alert, which was called “The day of fear” surprised me and would probably have alarmed me, had I not seen my mother remain so calm. I have always thought that my father had discreetly warned her of what was about to happen.
All went well at first, without any excess on the part of the peasants, who, in our part of the country, retained much respect for the ancient families; but soon, stirred up by demagogues from the towns, the country-dwellers invaded the houses of the nobles, under the pretext of looking for hidden emigres, but in fact to exact money and to seize the title deeds of feudal rents, which they burned in a big bonfire. From the height of our terrace, we saw these ruffians, torches in their hands, running towards the Chateau d’Estresse, from which all the men had emigrated and which was occupied only by women. These were my mother’s best friends, and so she was greatly upset by this spectacle. Her anxiety was redoubled by the arrival of her own aged mother, who had been driven out of her chateau, which was declared national property because of the emigration of her three sons…!
Up until then, my father’s property had been respected; largely because his patriotism was known, and because, to give further proof of it, he had taken service in the army of the Pyrenees as captain in the Chasseurs des Montagnes, at the end of his term in the legislative assembly. But the revolutionary torrent swept over everyone; the house at St. Cere, which my father had bought ten years before, was confiscated and declared national property because the deed of sale had been signed privately and the seller had emigrated before ratifying the deal before a notary. My mother was given a few days to remove her linen, then the house was put up for auction and was bought by the president of the district who had himself arranged for its confiscation!
At last, the peasants, stirred up by some agitators from Beaulieu, came in a body to my father’s chateau and insisted, though with some politeness, that they had to burn the deeds of feudal rents which we still had, and make sure that emigres were not concealed in the chateau.
My mother received them with fortitude, handed over the deeds and pointed out to them that, knowing her brothers to be sensible people, they should not suppose that they would emigrate only then to come back to France and hide in her chateau.
They accepted the correctness of this line of reasoning, ate and drank and having burned the deeds in the centre of the courtyard, they left without doing any further damage, shouting “Long live France and citizen Marbot!” And charging my mother to write to him to say that they liked him very much and that his family was quite safe among them.
In spite of this assurance, my mother felt that her position as the sister of emigres might expose her to a great deal of unpleasantness from which even her position as the wife of a defender of the country would not protect her. She decided to go away for the time being. She told me later that she took this step because she was convinced that the revolutionary storm would last only for some months. There were many people who thought this!
My grandmother had had seven brothers, all of whom, as was usual in the Verdal family had been soldiers and knights of St. Louis. One of them, a former battalion commander in the infantry regiment of Penthievre, had married, on retirement, the rich widow of counsellor of the parliament of Rennes. My mother decided to go and stay with her and was counting on taking me with her, when I was smitten by a number of large and very painful boils. It was impossible to travel with a child of eight in such a state, and my mother was in great perplexity. She was extricated by a worthy lady, Mlle. Mongalvi, who was much devoted to her and whose memory will always be dear to me. Mlle. Mongalvi lived at Turenne and ran boarding establishment for young ladies of which my mother had been one of the first occupants. She offered to take me into her house for the few months of my mother’s absence. My father’s agreement having been obtained, I left and was installed there. “What!” you may say, “A boy amongst young ladies?” Well yes, but do not forget that I was a quiet, peaceable, obedient child, and I was only eight years old.
The boarders who stayed with Mlle. Mongalvi, where my mother had once been one of them, were young persons of some sixteen to twenty years of age; the youngest being at least fourteen, and were sensible enough to let me mingle with them.
On my arrival, all this little feminine flock gathered about me and received me with such cries of pleasure and warm caresses that, from the first instant, I thought myself lucky to have made this trip. I figured that it would not last long and I believe that, secretly, I even regretted that I would have only a short time to spend with these nice young ladies, who did everything to please me and argued as to who was to hold my hand.
However, my mother left and went to stay with my uncle. Events moved forward rapidly. The terror bathed France in blood. Civil war broke, out in the Vendee and in Brittany. Travel there became absolutely impossible, so that my mother, who had thought to spend two or three months at Rennes, found herself stuck there for several years.
My father continued on active service in the Pyrenees and in Spain, where his ability and courage had raised him to the rank of divisional general; while I, having gone as a boarder for a few months, stayed for some four years, which were for me years of much happiness, clouded only, from time to time, by the memory of my parents; but the good Mlles. Mongalvi and their boarders would then redouble their kindness, to dispel those thoughts which now and then saddened me. I was spoiled beyond belief by the mistresses and the boarders; I had only to wish for something to obtain it. There was nothing too good or too fine for me. My health recovered completely. I was clean and fresh, so they vied with one another to cuddle me. During recreation, which took place in a vast enclosure, where there was a fine garden, with paddocks, vines and arbours, the young ladies would crown me and garland me with flowers, then placing me on a little litter covered with roses, they would take it in turns to carry me while they sang. At other times I would play prisoners base with them, having the privilege of always catching but never being caught. They would read stories to me and sing songs. They competed to do something for me.
I recall, that on hearing of the horrible execution of Louis XVI, Mlle. Mongalvi had all the boarders on their knees, to recite prayers for the repose of the soul of the unfortunate king. The indiscretion of any one of us could have brought down disaster on her head, but all the pupils were of an age to understand, and I felt that it was something I should not talk about; so no one knew anything about it. I stayed in this pleasant retreat until November 1793.
When I was eleven and a half years old, my father was given command of a camp which was set up at Toulouse. He took advantage of a few days leave to come and see me and to arrange his affairs, which he had not been able to do for several years. He came to Turenne, to the house of one of his friends, and hurried to my lodging. He was in the uniform of a general officer, with a big sabre, his hair cut short and unpowdered and sporting an enormous moustache, which was in remarkable contrast to the costume in which I was used to seeing him when we lived peacefully at Lariviere.
I have said that my father, in spite of his stern masculine looks, was a kind man, and particularly toward children, whom he adored. I saw him again with the keenest transports of delight, and he overwhelmed me with caresses. He stayed for several days at Turenne; he warmly thanked the good mesdames Mongalvi for the truly maternal care they had taken of me; but when he asked me a few questions, it was easy for him to see that though I had a good knowledge of prayers and litanies and lots of hymns, my remaining education was limited to some notions of history, geography, and spelling. He considered also, that, being now in my twelfth year, it was not possible to leave me in a boarding establishment for young ladies, and that it was time to give me an education which was more masculine and more extensive. He had resolved therefore, to take me with him to Toulouse, to where he had also brought Adolphe, and to place us both in the military college of Soreze, the sole great establishment of this kind which the revolutionary turmoil had left standing.
I left, after bidding a tender farewell to my young friends. We headed for Cressensac, where we were joined by Captain Gault, my father’s aide-de-camp. While the coach was being got ready, Spire, my father’s old servant, who knew that his master intended to travel day and night, made up packages of food.
At this moment a new spectacle was presented to me: a mobile column, composed of gendarmes, national guards and volunteers, entered the town of Cressensac with a band playing at its head. I had never seen anything like it, and it seemed to me quite superb, but I was unable to understand why, in the midst of all these soldiers, there was a dozen coaches filled with old men, women and children, all of whom looked extremely sad. This sight infuriated my father. He drew back from the window and, striding about with his aide-de-camp, whom he could trust, I heard him burst out, “These miserable members of the convention have ruined the revolution which could have done so much good. There you see yet more innocent people who are being thrown into gaol because they are landowners or are related to emigres; it is disgusting!”
Why, you may ask, did my father continue to serve a government which he despised? It was because he thought that to confront the enemies of France was honourable, but did not mean that the military condoned the atrocities which the convention committed in the interior of the country.
What my father had said, had interested me in the people in the coaches. I gathered that they had been, that morning, seized from their chateaux and were being led away to the prisons of Souilhac. They were old men, women and children, and I was wondering to myself how these frail people could present any danger to the country, when I heard several of the children asking for food. One lady begged a national guard to let her get out to go and buy something to eat. He refused her, rudely, and when the lady produced an “assignat” and pleaded with him to go and buy some bread, he replied, “Do you take me for one of your former lackeys?” This brutality angered me. I had noticed that Spire had placed in the pockets of the coach, a number of bread-rolls in the centre of which was a sausage; I took two of these rolls, and drawing near to the coach holding the child prisoners, I threw them in, when the guards were not looking. The mothers and the children made signs to me of such gratitude that I resolved to give food to all the other prisoners, and piece by piece, I gave them all the provisions which Spire had made for the two days journey to Toulouse, which we were about to make. We left, at last, without Spire having any suspicion of the distribution which I had just made. The little prisoners blew me kisses and their parents waved to me; but no sooner were we some hundred paces from the post-house than my father, who had been in haste to get away from a spectacle which distressed him, and had not wished to eat at the inn, felt hungry, and asked for the provisions. Spire pointed to the pockets in which he had placed them. My father and M. Gault rummaged through all the interior of the coach, but found nothing. My father grew angry with Spire, who from the height of his seat, swore by all the saints that he had stuffed the coach with food for two days. I was somewhat embarrassed; however, I did not want poor Spire to be blamed any longer, so I admitted what I had done. I expected to be scolded for acting without authority, but my father put his arm round me in the most affectionate manner, and many years after he still spoke with pleasure of my conduct on this occasion.
From Cressensac to Toulouse the road was full of volunteers, going to join the army of the Pyrenees, and making the air ring with patriotic songs. I was charmed by this bustling spectacle and would have been happy had it not been for my physical suffering. I had never made a long journey by coach before, and I was sea-sick throughout the trip, which decided my father to stop every night to allow me some repose. I arrived at Toulouse feeling very tired, but the sight of my brother, from whom I had been parted for four or five years, gave me so much joy that I very soon recovered.
My father, with the rank of divisional general, commanding the camp situated at Miral, close to Toulouse, was entitled to a billet, and the municipality had assigned to him the fine town house of Resseguier, whose owner had emigrated. Madame de Resseguier and her son had retreated to the most distant rooms, and my father gave orders that the strictest regard was to be given to their unhappy position.
My father’s house was much frequented. Every day there were visitors, and he had a great deal of expense, for although at that time a divisional general received eighteen rations of all kinds, and his aides-de-camp a similar amount, it was not enough. He had to buy a host of things and as the state gave to a general officer what it gave to a sous-lieutenant, that is eight francs a month in cash, the rest being made up in assignats, the value of which diminished daily, and as my father was very generous, entertained many of the officers from the camp, had numerous domestic servants (at that time called servitors), had eighteen horses, a coach, a box at the theatre etc…He spent the savings which he had accumulated at Lariviere, and it was from the time of his re-entry into military service that the decline of his fortune began.
Although the “Terror” was now at its height and class distinction was greatly weakened in France, from whence all good manners seemed to have removed themselves forever, my father knew so well how to impose them on the many officers who came to his quarters, that the most perfect politeness ruled in his salon and at his table.
Among the officers employed at the camp, my father had taken a great liking to two, who were invited more often than the others.
One was named Augereau and was the adjutant-general, that is to say colonel of the general staff, the other was Lannes, a lieutenant of Grenadiers, in a battalion of volunteers from the department of Gers.
They became Marshals of the Empire and I have been aide-de-camp to both of them.
At this period Augereau, after escaping from the prison of the Inquisition at Lisbon, had come to fight in the Vendee, where he was noticed for his courage and his quality of leadership. He was an excellent tactician, a skill which he had learned in Prussia, where he had served for a considerable time in the Foot-guards of Frederick the Great; hence his nick-name of “The Big Prussian.” He had an irreproachable military turn-out, spick and span, curled and powdered, with a long pig-tail, big, highly polished riding boots and withal, a very martial bearing. This smart appearance was the more remarkable because, at this time it was not something on which the French army could pride itself, being almost entirely made up of volunteers not used to wearing uniform and very careless of their grooming. However nobody made fun of Augereau about this, for he was known to be a brave and accomplished duelist, who had given even the celebrated Saint-George, the finest swordsman in France, a run for his money.
I have said that Augereau was a good tactician; because of this, my father had appointed him to direct the training of the battalions of new levees, of which the division was largely composed. These men came from Limousin, Auvergne, the Basque country, Quercy, Gers and Languedoc. Augereau trained them well, and in so doing he was unaware that he was laying the foundations of his own future fame, for these troops, which my father then commanded, formed later the famous Augereau division which did such fine things in the Pyrenees and in Italy.
Augereau came almost daily to my father’s house, and seeing that he was appreciated, he devoted to him a friendship which never wavered and of which I felt the benefit after the death of my mother.
As for Lieutenant Lannes, he was a very lively young Gascon, intelligent and cheerful, without education or training but anxious to learn at a time when no one else was. He became a very good instructor, and since he was very vain, he accepted with the greatest delight the praises which my father lavished on him, and which he deserved. By way of recompense, he spoiled, as much as he could, his general’s children.
One fine morning, my father received the order to strike his camp at Miral and to lead his division to join the army corps of General Dugommier, which was laying siege to Toulon, which the English had captured in a surprise attack. My father then said to me that it was not in a school for young ladies that I would learn what I needed to know; that I needed more serious studies and in consequence he was taking me, the next day, to the military college of Soreze, where he had already arranged a place for me and my brother. I was thunderstruck! Never to go back to my friends with the Mesdames Mongalvi? That seemed impossible!
The road was covered with troops and guns, which my father passed in review at Castelnaudary. This spectacle, which a few days earlier would have delighted me, now failed to lessen the anxiety which I felt about the teachers in whose presence I was about to find myself.
We stayed overnight at Castelnaudary, where my father learned of the evacuation of Toulon by the English (18th Dec 1793), and was ordered to go with his division, to the eastern Pyrenees. Whereupon he decided to deposit us, the very next day, at Soreze, to stay there for a few hours only, and to set off immediately for Perpignon.
On leaving Castelnaudary, my father ordered the coach to stop at a famous tree under which the Constable Montmorency had been taken prisoner by the troops of Louis XIII, following the defeat of the supporters of Gaston d’Orleans, who had rebelled against his brother. He chatted about this event with his aides-de-camp, and my brother– who was already well informed–took part in the conversation. As for me, I had only the vaguest notions of the general history of France and knew nothing of the details. It was the first time I had heard of the battle of Castelnaudary, of Gaston, of his revolt and of the capture and execution of the Constable de Montmorency. I realised that my father did not ask me any question on the subject because he was quite certain that I would be unable to reply. This made me feel ashamed, and I concluded that my father was right in taking me to the college to be educated. My regrets then changed into a resolution to learn all that I needed to know.
Nevertheless, my heart sank at the sight of the high sombre walls of the cloister in which I was to be enclosed. I was eleven years and four months old when I entered this establishment.
I shall now give you a brief history of the college of Soreze, as I had it from Dom Abal, a former vice principal, whom I saw often in Paris during the Empire.
When, under Louis XV, it was resolved to clear the Jesuits out of France, their defenders claimed that they alone knew how to educate children. The Benedictines, sworn enemies of the Jesuits, wished to prove that this was not so; but as it did not suit them, although they were studious and learned, to turn themselves into schoolmasters, they selected four of their houses to be turned into colleges, among which was Soreze. There they placed those members of the order who had the most aptitude for teaching, and who could, after working for several years, retire to other monasteries of the order. The new colleges prospered, Soreze in particular stood out, and the crowd of pupils, who hurried there from all parts, made a larger number of teachers necessary. The Benedictines attracted there many learned laymen, who established themselves, with their families, in the little town in which the monastery was situated. The children of these lay teachers, who attended the college free as day pupils, formed, later, a nursery of masters of all the arts and sciences. Eventually the ability to give lessons at a very reasonable cost led to the setting up of several boarding houses for young ladies, and the little town became remarkable in that its citizens, even the simple merchants, had an extended education and practised all the fine arts. A crowd of foreigners, principally English, Spanish and American, came to stay there, in order to be near their sons and daughters during their education.
The Benedictine order was, in general, made up of very easy-going men; they mixed with the world and entertained often, so they were well liked; something that was very useful to those at Soreze when the revolution broke out.
The Principal at that time was Dom Despaulx, a man of the highest integrity, but who, being unwilling to subscribe to the “civic oath” then exacted from the clergy, retired and spent several years in retreat, from where he was later called by the Emperor to fill one of the highest positions in the university.
All the other Benedictines at Soreze took the oath: Dom Ferlus became Principal and Dom Abal Vice-Principal, and the college, in spite of the revolutionary upheavals, continued to operate, following the excellent start which it had been given by Dom Despaulx.
Later, however, a law having been passed requiring the secularising of the monks and the sale of their property, the days of the college seemed numbered; but many of the most important men in the country had been educated there, and they wanted it to be there for their children; the inhabitants of the town, even the labourers and peasants, respected the good fathers and realised that the destruction of the college would result in the ruin of the area. So an arrangement was made whereby Dom Ferlus would become the owner of the college and the immense property which belonged to it. Nobody attended the auction, and the Principal became, at a very modest price, the owner of the huge monastery and the land which it owned. The administrators of the department gave him plenty of time to pay. Everyone lent him assignats which he repaid with some loads of wood; the vast farms of the estate furnished food for the college and, lacking money, Dom Ferlus paid the external teachers in provisions, which suited them very well at a time when famine was rife in France.
On the death of Dom Ferlus, the college passed into the hands of his brother Raymond Ferlus, a former Oration, now married, a third-rate poet and man of little capacity. The college went into decline when the restoration of 1814 allowed back the Jesuits, who were determined to wreak revenge on the Benedictines by destroying the edifice which the latter had erected on the ruins of their order.
The university took sides with the Jesuits. M. Raymond Ferlus handed over the college to his son-in-law, M. Bernard, a former artillery officer who had been one of my contempories. He knew nothing about running such an establishment, and, besides that, a host of other good colleges sprang up as rivals, and Soreze, losing its importance from day to day, became one of the most mediocre institutions of learning.
I return now to the time when I was at Soreze. I have told you how Dom Ferlus saved the college from ruin, and how, upheld by the care of this enlightened man, it was the only great establishment of its kind left standing by the revolution. The monks adopted lay clothing and the appellation “Citizen” replaced that of “Dom.” Apart from that, nothing essential was changed in the college and it continued to exist peacefully in a corner of France, while the country was most cruelly being torn to pieces. I say that nothing essential had changed because the studies followed their usual course, and there was no breakdown of order, but it was impossible that the feverish agitation which reigned outside should not be felt in the college. I will say also that Dom Ferlus, with diplomatic skill, presented the appearance of approving of what he could not prevent. The walls therefore were covered with Republican slogans. It was forbidden to use the word “Monsieur”. The pupils went to the dining hall or on walks, singing the Marseillaise or other Republican hymns; and as they heard continually of the achievements of our armies, in which some of the older pupils were even enrolled as volunteers, and as they were brought up in a military atmosphere, (since, even before the revolution, Soreze was a military college, where one learned drill, horse-riding, fortification, and so on), all this youth had, for some time, adopted a warrior-like stance and spirit which had led to a slackening of good manners. Added to which the uniform contributed greatly to give them a very strange aspect. The scholars wore big shoes, which were cleaned only every ten days, stockings of grey thread, plain brown trousers and jacket, no waistcoat, shirts undone, and covered with stains of ink and red pencil, no tie, nothing on the head, the hair in a pig-tail, often undone, and the hands….! Like those of a coal-heaver.
Imagine me, clean, polished, dressed in clothes of fine cloth, neat and tidy, thrown into the midst of seven hundred urchins, got up as imps, and who, on hearing a shout of “Here are some new ones!” left their games and came, in a mob to gather round us, staring as if we were strange animals.
My father embraced us and left…! I was in a state of utter despair! Here I was, alone, alone for the first time in my life, my brother being in the upper school while I was in the lower. We were in the middle of winter. It was very cold, but according to school rules, the pupils were never allowed a fire!
Nevertheless, the pupils at Soreze were well fed, especially for that time; for in spite of the famine which was sweeping France, the good administration of Dom Ferlus provided an abundance of food. The everyday fare was certainly all that could be desired for school-children. However the supper seemed to me to be most niggardly, and the sight of the dishes put before me disgusted me: but had I been offered ortolans, I would not have been tempted, my heart was so full. The meal finished as it had begun, with a patriotic song. We knelt down at the couplet of the Marseillaise which begins “Amour sacre de la patrie”…Then we filed out, as we had come in, to the sound of a drum, and we went to the dormitories.
The pupils of the upper school had each his own room, in which he was shut in for the night; those of the lower school slept four to a room, of which each angle contained a bed. I was put with Guiraud, Romestan and Lagarde, who were my companions at table, and almost as new as I was. I was quite happy with this. They had seemed to me to be nice children, which, in fact, they were. But I was taken aback when I saw the smallness of my bed, the thinness of the mattress, and what displeased me most, the iron bed-stead. I had never seen anything like it. However everything was very clean, and in spite of my dismay I slept soundly, worn out by the shocks to my system which I had suffered on this fateful day.
The next morning, the drum beat reveille, making a horrible noise in the dormitories, which I thought was quite atrocious; but how do you think I felt when I saw that, while I was asleep, someone had removed my beautiful clothes, my fine stockings and my pretty shoes, and had replaced them by the coarse garments and heavy footwear of the school? I wept with rage.
Having told you of the first impressions which I experienced on my entry into the college, I shall spare you the recital of all the torments to which I was exposed during the next six months. I had been too pampered by the mesdames Mongalvi not to suffer mentally and physically in my new position. I became very depressed, and had my constitution been less robust, I should have become ill. This period was one of the most unhappy in my life. In the long run, however, work and familiarity enabled me to cope with the situation. I was very fond of the lessons in French literature, in geography, and above all, in history, and I made progress in these subjects. I became passable at Latin and mathematics and at horsemanship and fencing. I was an expert at fire-arms drill and took much pleasure in the manoeuvres of the school battalion which was commanded by a retired captain.
At the time when I entered the college, the convention was imposing its blood-stained sceptre over France. Representatives of the people, on various missions, infested the provinces, and almost all of these who were of any importance in the Midi came to visit Soreze, whose title of “Military Academy” sounded pleasing to their ears.
Citizen Ferlus had a particular talent for persuading them that they must maintain an establishment devoted to educating a numerous youth, “The hope of the country”. So he obtained all that he wanted. Often they would send us great bundles of brushwood, destined to supply the army, our Principal having persuaded them that we were a part of it, and were, in effect, its nursery.
These Representatives were received and fted like Sovereigns. On their arrival, all the pupils were dressed in their military uniforms; the battalion was paraded before them; a guard was mounted at every gate as if in a military barracks. Little tableaux were enacted which exuded the purest patriotism; one sang national hymns, and when they visited the classes, particularly those of history, an occasion was always found to produce some tirade on the excellence of Republican government and the patriotic virtues which derived from it. I can remember, in this regard, an occasion when Representative Chabot, a former Capuchin, questioned me on Roman history. He asked me what I thought of Coriolanus, who finding himself wronged by his fellow citizens, forgetful of his former services, withdrew to the country of the Volscians, sworn enemies of the Romans. Dom Ferlus and the teachers feared greatly that I might approve of the Roman’s conduct, but I blamed him, saying that a good citizen must never bear arms against his country, nor dream of any vengeance against her, no matter how justified his discontent. The representative was so pleased with my answer that he patted me on the back, and complemented the head of the college and the teachers on the sound principles which they inculcated in their pupils!
This little success did not diminish the dislike I had for these representatives. The actions of the convention filled me with horror. Young as I was, I had, already, enough sense to realise that it was not necessary to wallow in French blood in order to save the country, and that the guillotinades and massacres were appalling crimes.
I shall not discuss here the system of oppression which ruled, then, in our unhappy country; this is a matter of history; but I may say that however strong the colours used to paint the horrors of which these terrorists were capable, the picture will be less lurid than the reality. Perhaps the most surprising thing is the stupidity of the masses, who allowed themselves to be dominated by men, the greater part of whom lacked any ability: for whatever may have been said, almost all the members of the convention were of more than ordinary mediocrity and their boasted unanimity arose from the fear they had of one another, since in their anxiety to avoid being guillotined themselves, they agreed with anything which the ringleaders proposed.
I saw, during my exile in 1815, many members of the convention who like me were forced to leave France. They were completely lacking in back-bone, and assured me that they voted for the death of Louis XVI and a host of odious decrees solely to save their own skins. The memory of these times has convinced me that the worst form of government is that by the masses.
I reached the age of sixteen in August 1798. Six months later, towards the end of February, I left the college of Soreze.
My father had a friend named M. Dorignac, who offered to take me with him to the capital. It took us eight days to reach Paris, where we arrived in March 1799, on the day when the Odeon theatre was burned down for the first time. The flames were visible far off on the Orleans road, and I thought, in my simplicity, that the light came from furnaces operating in the city. My father, at that time, occupied a fine mansion in the Faubourg-St-Honore road, number 87, on the corner with the little Rue Vert. I arrived there at dinner time: all the family were gathered there. It would be impossible for me to describe the joy which I felt at seeing them all together! This was one of the happiest days of my life!
We were now in the spring of 1799. The Republic still existed, and the government was now composed of the Directorate of five members, and two chambers, one of which was called the Council of Elders, and the other the Council of Five Hundred
My father entertained many members of society. There I made the acquaintance of his intimate friend, General Bernadotte, and some of the outstanding men of the period, such as Joseph and Lucien Bonaparte, and also Napper-Tandy, the Irish leader, who had taken refuge in France. At my mother’s house I frequently saw Madame Bonaparte and sometimes Madame De Stal, already celebrated for her literary works.
I had been in Paris for only about a month, when the term of the legislature expired. It was necessary to hold new elections. My father, fed up with the constant wrangling of political life, and regretting that he was not taking any part in the army’s achievements, declared that he would no longer accept nomination as a deputy, and that he wished to return to active service. Events turned out in his favour. On the assembly of the new Chambers there was a change of minister. General Bernadotte became minister for war. He had promised my father that he would send him to the army of the Rhine, and my father was about to set off for Mainz, when the directory, learning of the defeat suffered by the army of Italy, commanded by Scherer, appointed as his successor, General Joubert, who commanded the 17th division, (now the 1st,) in Paris.
This post having now become vacant, the directory, realising that its great political importance required that it should be filled by someone of capacity and determination, instructed the minister for war to offer it to my father. My father who had resigned from the legislature only to resume active service, turned the offer down; but on Bernadotte showing him the letter of appointment, already signed, and saying that as a friend, he begged him to accept, and as a minister, he ordered him, my father gave in, and the next day he went to install himself in the headquarters of the Paris division, situated, at that time in the Quai Voltaire, at the corner of the Rue de Saint-Peres, and which has since been demolished. My father took as his chief of staff his old friend Col. Menard. I was delighted by all the military suite with which my father was surrounded. His headquarters were never empty of officers of all ranks. A squadron of cavalry, a battalion of infantry and six field-guns were stationed before his portals, and one saw a crowd of orderlies coming and going. This seemed to me much more entertaining than the exercises and translations of Soreze.
France, and in particular Paris, were, at this time, in a state of much agitation. We were on the brink of catastrophe. The Russians, commanded by the celebrated Souwaroff, had just entered Italy, where our army had suffered a major defeat at Novi, where General Joubert had been killed. The victor, Souwaroff, was heading for our army of Switzerland, commanded by Massena.
We had few troops on the Rhine. The peace conference begun at Rastadt had broken down and our ambassadors had been assassinated; now all Germany was arming once more against us, and the Directory, fallen into disfavour, had neither troops nor the money to raise them. In order to procure funds it decreed a forced loan, which had the effect of turning everyone against it. All hopes were pinned on Massena’s ability to stop the Russians and prevent them from entering France. The directory, impatient, sent him courier after courier, ordering him to join battle; but this latter-day Fabius, unwilling to risk the safety of his country, was waiting for some false move, on the part of his impetuous adversary, to give him the opportunity for victory.
At this point, I shall relate an anecdote which demonstrates on how fine a thread sometimes hangs the destiny of states and the reputation of generals. The directory, exasperated to see that Massena did not obey the repeated commands to engage in battle, resolved to relieve him of his post; but, as it was feared that this general would take no notice of the order and simply stuff it in his pocket, if it was sent by an ordinary courier, the minister for war was ordered to send a staff-officer, charged to deliver, publicly, to Massena his demotion, and to give to his chief of staff, Cherin, the official letter which would confirm him as commander-in-chief of the army.
When the minister told my father, in confidence, about these plans, my father disapproved, saying that it would be dangerous, on the eve of a decisive action, to deprive the army of Switzerland of a general in whom it had confidence, and give the command to a general who was more used to administration than the direction of troops in the field. In addition, the position of the armies might change; and he thought it essential that the mission was given to a man with enough wisdom to assess the state of affairs, and who would not hand Massena his dismissal on the eve of, or in the middle of a battle.
My father, eventually persuaded the minister to give the task to M. Gault, his aide-de-camp, who, under the ostensible pretext of going to see if the suppliers had delivered the number of horses stipulated in their contract, would proceed to Switzerland with the authority to retain or to hand out the order for the dismissal of Massena, and the installing of general Cherin, according to the circumstances which might lead him to judge whether this would be useful or dangerous. This was an enormous responsibility to confide to the prudence of a simple captain, but M. Gault fully justified the faith my father had in him.
Arriving at the headquarters of the army of Switzerland five days before the battle of Zurich, he found the troops so full of confidence in Massena, and Massena himself so calm and determined, that he had no doubts of success, and, maintaining the deepest silence about his secret powers, he took part in the battle of Zurich and then returned to Paris, without Massena suspecting that this modest captain had in his hands the authority which could have deprived him of the glory of one of the finest victories of the century.
Had Massena been rashly dismissed, this would probably have led to the defeat of General Cherin and the invasion of France by the Russians, followed by the Germans, and perhaps finally to the overrunning of Europe. General Cherin was killed at Zurich, without being aware of the intentions of the government towards him.
The victory of Zurich, although, it prevented the advance of the enemy into the country, gave the Directory only a momentary respite. The government was everywhere crumbling; no one had confidence in it. The treasury was bankrupt; the Vendee and Brittany were in open revolt; the interior stripped of troops; the Midi in turmoil; the chamber of deputies squabbling among themselves, and with the executive. In short, the state was on the verge of disaster.
Everyone in politics recognised that a major change was necessary and inevitable; but although all agreed on this point, opinions differed as to the remedy to be employed. The old Republicans, who upheld the constitution of year III, then still in force, believed that it would be sufficient to change several members of the Directory. Two of them were removed and replaced by MM. Gohier and Moulins; but this was the feeblest of palliatives for the calamities which afflicted the country, and it continued to be shaken by anarchy.
It was then that several members of the Directory, amongst whom was the well-known Sieyes, thought, as did many of the deputies and the great majority of the public, that to save France it was necessary to put the reins of government in the hands of someone resolute and already distinguished by services given to the state. It was realised, also, that this would have to be a soldier who had great influence in the army, and who was able, by re-arousing national enthusiasm, to lead our banners to victory and chase away the foreigners who were preparing to cross our frontiers.
To speak like this was to point to General Bonaparte, but at this moment he was in Egypt, and the need was pressing. Joubert had been killed in Italy. Messena, though famous for several victories, was an excellent general at the head of an army in the field, but in no way a politician. Bernadotte did not seem to have the capacity or the wisdom to repair the country’s fortunes. The eyes of the reformers then turned to General Moreau; although the weakness of his character and his indecisive conduct on the 18th Fructidor raised some fears about his ability to govern. It is certain, however, that lacking an alternative, he was asked to head the party which intended to overthrow the Directory, and was offered the title of President or Consul. Moreau, a good fighting soldier, lacked political courage, and perhaps doubted his own ability to cope with affairs in such a mess as were those of France. Also he was self-centered and indolent and worried little about the future of the country, preferring the repose of private life to the agitation of politics. He refused the offer and retired to his estate of Grosbois, to devote himself to hunting, of which he was passionately fond.
Abandoned by the man of their choice, Sieyes and those with him, who wished to change the form of the government, not feeling themselves to be sufficiently strong or popular to achieve their aim without the support of a general whose name would rally the army to their side, were forced to turn their thoughts to General Bonaparte. The leader of this enterprise, Sieyes, flattered himself that, having been placed in power, Bonaparte would busy himself with the management and re-organising of the army, and leave to him the conduct of the government, of which he would be the master and Bonaparte but the nominal head. Events showed how badly he was mistaken.
Imbued with this notion, Sieyes, through the intermission of the Corsican deputy, Salicetti, sent a reliable secret agent to Egypt, to inform General Bonaparte of the troubled state of France, and propose to him that he should come back and place himself at the head of the government. Having no doubt that Bonaparte would accept readily and return promptly to Europe, Sieyes put everything in motion to assure the execution of the coup d’etat which he was planning.
It was easy for him to convince his fellow director, Roger-Duclos, that their power was slipping away daily, and that the country being on the brink of complete disorganisation, the public welfare, and their personal interests, demanded that they should take part in the establishment of a strong government, in which they would contrive to place themselves in a less precarious and more advantageous position.
Roger-Duclos promised his agreement to the proposed changes; but the other three directors, Barras, Gohier and Moulins were unwilling to give up their positions, so Sieyes and the leaders of his party resolved to go over their heads, and to sacrifice them after the event.
However, it would be difficult, not to say dangerous, even with the presence of General Bonaparte, to overthrow the Directorate, change the constitution and establish a new government, without the support of the army, and, above all, that of the division which occupied Paris. To be able to rely on this, it was necessary to be sure of the co-operation of the minister for war and of the general commanding the 17th division.
President Sieyes then sought to win over Bernadotte and my father, by having them sounded out by several deputies who were their friends and also supporters of Sieyes’s plans. I have learned since that my father replied to the vague overtures which were put to him on behalf of the crafty Sieyes by saying that he agreed that the country’s misfortunes demanded a drastic remedy, but that, having sworn to maintain the constitution of year III, he would not use the authority he had over his troops to lead them to its overthrow. He then went to Sieyes and handed in his resignation as commander of the Paris division, and requested a posting to a division on active service. Sieyes hastened to fall in with his wishes, being only too glad to get rid of a man whose devotion to what he saw as his duty, might abort the projected coup. The minister, Bernadotte followed my father’s example, and was replaced by Dubois-Crance.
President Sieyes was, for some days, at a loss to find a successor to my father. In the end, he gave the command to general Lefebvre, who, having recently been wounded in the army of the Rhine, was at that moment in the capital. Lefebvre was a former sergeant in the Guards, a brave soldier, a good, workmanlike general, provided that he was closely supervised, but credulous in the extreme, with no understanding of the political situation in France. So, by careful use of the words “Glory,” “Motherland,” and ” Victory, ” One could be sure of making him do whatever one wished. This was just the sort of commander that Sieyes was looking for. He did not even take the trouble to win him over, or to warn him of what was about to happen, so sure was he that on the day Lefebvre would not resist the influence of General Bonaparte, and the cajoleries of the president of the directorate.
He had made an accurate assessment of Lefebvre, for on the 18th Brumaire, he placed himself and all his troops under the command of General Bonaparte, to march against the Directorate and the Councillors, to throw down the established government and create the Consulate. This action made him, later, one of the Emperor’s greatest favourites. He was made a marshal, Duke of Danzig and senator and was showered with riches.
I have rapidly outlined these events, because they explain some of the reasons which led my father to Italy: a move which had such a profound effect on his destiny and mine.
After handing over his command to General Lefebvre, my father returned to his house in the Faubourg St. Honore and busied himself with preparations for his departure to Italy.
A man’s destiny is often influenced by the smallest of events. My father and mother were very friendly with M. Barairon, the director of registration, and one day, when they were going to dine with him, they took me along. The talk was of my father’s coming departure, and the progress of my two younger brothers. At last, M. Barairon asked, “And Marcellin, what are you going to make of him?” “A sailor,” replied my father, “Captain Sibille has agreed to take him with him to Toulon.” Then the good Mme. Barairon, towards whom I have always felt the warmest gratitude, observed to my father that the French navy was in complete disarray, that the poor state of the country’s finances would not allow its rapid refurbishment, and, furthermore, its inferiority vis- -vis the English navy was such that it would spend most of its time in harbour. She said that she could not think why he, a divisional general, would put his son into the navy, instead of placing him in a regiment, where the name and services of his father would make him welcome. She ended by saying, “Take him to Italy, sooner than send him to die of boredom, in a vessel shut up in Toulon harbour.”
My father, who had been briefly enticed by Capt. Sibille’s proposition, was too intelligent not to appreciate Mme. Barairon’s reasoning. “Well then,” he asked me, “Do you want to come to Italy with me and serve in the army?” I put my arms round him and accepted, with a joy which my mother shared, for she had not been in favour of my father’s first idea.
As, at that time, there was no military academy, and one could join the army only as a private soldier, my father took me right away to the municipality of the first arrondissment, in the Place Beauvau, and had me enlisted in the 1st Hussars, (formerly the Bercheny), who were part of the division which he was going to command in Italy. It was September the 3rd, 1799.
My father took me to a tailor, who had the job of making official army uniforms, and ordered for me a complete outfit for a Hussar of the 1st. As well as all the arms and equipment.
There I was!….A soldier!…..And was I not happy? But my happiness was somewhat lessened when I reflected that this was going to upset my brother Adolphe, two years older than me, and still stuck in college. I then had the idea that I would not tell Adolphe about my enlistment without telling him, at the same time, that I wanted to spend with him the period which would have to pass before my departure. I then asked my father if he would allow me to be installed close to Adolphe, at Sainte-Barbe, until the day when we would take the road for Italy. My father understood the reason for my asking, and thought well of me for it. He took me, the next day to stay with a M. Lanneau.
Can you imagine my arrival at college?…It was a recreation period. All games stopped. All the pupils, big and small, surrounded me. They vied with each other to touch part of my equipment….In short, the Hussar was a complete success!
The day of the departure arrived….I said farewell to my mother and my three brothers with the greatest sadness, in spite of the pleasure I felt on starting a military career.
After my father had accepted a command in Italy, a division became vacant in the army of the Rhine, which he would have preferred; but an inescapable fate drew him towards the country where he would find his grave.
One of his compatriots, and a personal friend, M. Lacheze, whom I might call his evil genius, had for a long time been French consul at Leghorn and Genoa, where he had business interests. This wretched man, in order to lure my father to Italy, was forever painting the most exaggerated picture of the country’s beauties, and pointing out the credit which might be gained by dealing successfully with the difficult situation in the army there, whereas there would be little opportunity to acquire distinction in the army of the Rhine, where all was well. My father was swayed by this specious reasoning, and believing that there was more merit in going to the more dangerous post, he persisted in his intention of going to Italy, in spite of the objections of my mother, who had a secret presentiment which made her wish for my father to go to the Rhine. This presentiment was not false. She never saw her husband again!
To his present aide-de-camp, Captain Gault, my father now added another officer, M. R*** who had come to him from his friend General Augereau. M. R*** had the rank of major. He was a member of a Maintenon family and had some ability and some education, which he very rarely employed; for in a stupid manner, which was then quite common, he swaggered about, forever cursing and swearing, and talking of running people through with his sabre. This bully-boy had only one virtue, very rare at this time: he was always turned out with the greatest elegance. My father, who had taken on M. R*** without knowing anything about him, now much regretted it; but he could not send him back without upsetting his old friend, Augereau. Although my father disliked him, he thought, perhaps rightly, that a general should make use of the military qualities of an officer, without worrying too much about his personal manners; but, as he did not care to have the company of M. R*** on a long journey, he had given him the job of taking his coaches and horses from Paris to Nice, having under his orders the old stud-groom, Spire, a highly responsible man, used to the management of stables. The stable was large: my father had fifteen horses, which with those of his aide-de-camp and of his chief-of-staff and his assistants, together with those for the wagons and so on, made up a fairly large group of which R*** was the leader.
They left a month before we did.
My father took in his coach the fatal M. Lacheze, Captain Gault and me. Colonel Menard, the chief-of- staff, followed, with one of his assistants, in a post-chaise. A big rascal, my father’s valet, went ahead as a courier. We travelled in uniform. I had a fine forage cap which pleased me so much that I wore it all the time, but, as I put my head out of the coach window frequently, because the coach made me travel-sick, it so happened that during the night, when my companions were asleep, the cap fell into the road. The coach, drawn by six vigourous horses, was going at top speed. I did not dare have it stopped and so I lost my cap. A bad omen! But I was to suffer far worse things in the terrible campaign which we were about to undertake. This incident upset me a good deal, but I said nothing about it for fear of being chaffed about the way the new soldier was looking after his kit.
My father stopped at Macon, at the house of an old friend. We spent twenty-four hours there and then continued our journey to Lyons. We were not more than a few leagues from there, and were changing horses at the post-house of Limonest, when we noticed that all the postilions had decorated their hats with tricolour ribbons, and that there were flags of the same colours hanging from all the windows. We asked the reason for this demonstration, and were told that General Bonaparte had just arrived in Lyons…!
My father, who was certain that Bonaparte was still in the depths of Egypt, treated this news as absurd, but he was taken aback when, having sent for the post master, who had just returned from Lyons, he was told, “I saw General Bonaparte, whom I know very well, because I served under his command in Italy. He is staying in some hotel in Lyon, and has with him his brother Louis, Generals Berthier, Lannes and Murat, as well as a great, number of officers, and a Mameluke.”
This could hardly have been more positive; however the revolution had given rise to so many falsehoods, and factions had been so cunning in inventing stories which would serve their ends, that my father was still in doubt when we entered the suburbs of Lyon. All the houses were draped with flags. Fireworks were going off. The crowd filled the streets to the point of preventing our coach from moving. There was dancing in the public squares and the air rang with cries of “Vive Bonaparte. Saviour of the country!” It was evident that Bonaparte was indeed in Lyon. My father said, “I was well aware that he was to be sent for, but I did not think it would be so soon. The coup has been well organised, and there are great events to come. I feel sure that I was right to leave Paris. At least, in the army I can serve the country without taking part in a coup, which, however necessary, I find repugnant.” Having said this, he fell into a deep reverie, which lasted for the long time it took us to work our way through the crowds to the hotel where our rooms had been prepared.
The nearer we got to the hotel, the thicker the crowd became, and when we reached the door we saw that it was hung about with Chinese lanterns and guarded by Grenadiers. It was here that General Bonaparte was staying, in rooms that had been booked a week before for my father.
Although quick-tempered, my father did not say a word when the hotelier, who had been compelled to obey the orders of the municipality, came with some embarrassment to make his excuses. The inn-keeper having added that he had arranged for our accommodation at another hotel….very good, though of second grade….and run by one of his relatives, my father simply asked Capt. Gault to tell the postilion to take us there.
When we arrived, we were met by our courier, a lively fellow, who, heated by the long journey he had just made and the numerous drinks he had downed at each post-house had complained most loudly when he found that the rooms booked for his master had been given to General Bonaparte. The latter’s aides-de-camp hearing this uproar and learning the cause, went to warn their master that General Marbot had been displaced to make room for him, and, at the same time, General Bonaparte saw through his open window my father’s two coaches pull up at the door.
He had not been aware, until then, of the shabby way in which my father had been treated; and as General Marbot, recently commandant of Paris, and now a divisional commander in Italy was too important a man to be treated unceremoniously, and also as General Bonaparte had good reason to make himself popular with everybody, he ordered one of his officers to go down straight away and ask General Marbot to come, as a fellow soldier, and share his accommodation. Then, seeing the coaches leave before his aide-de-camp could speak to my father, Bonaparte went immediately, on foot, to offer his regrets in person.
The crowd which followed him set up a great noise of cheering, which, as it drew near our hotel, should have warned us, but we had heard so much since coming to the town that it did not occur to one of us to look out of the window. We were all in the drawing-room where my father was striding up and down, deep in thought, when the valet-de-chambre, opening the double doors, announced, “The General Bonaparte.”
On entering, he hurried to embrace my father, who received him very politely, but coolly. They had known each other for a long time.
The explanations about the lodgings could be disposed of in a few words between two such people, and so they were. They had much else to talk about; so they went alone into the bedroom, where they remained in conference for more than an hour.
During this time, the officers who had come with General Bonaparte chatted with us in the drawing-room. I never tired of examining their martial appearance, their sun-bronzed faces, their strange uniforms and their Turkish sabres, hung from cords. I listened with interest to their stories of the campaign in Egypt, and the battles which were fought there. I took pleasure in hearing them talk of such celebrated places as the Pyramids, the Nile, Cairo, Alexandria, Acre, the desert and so on. What delighted me most, however, was the sight of the young Mameluke, Rustum. He had stayed in the ante-chamber, where I went several times to admire his costume, which he showed me willingly. He already spoke reasonable French, and I never wearied of asking him questions.
General Lannes recalled having let me fire his pistols, when, in 1793, he was serving under my father in the camp at Miral. He was very friendly toward me, and neither of us then foresaw that one day I should be his aide-de-camp, and that he would die in my arms at Essling. General Murat came from the same region as we did, and as he had been a shop-assistant to a silk merchant at Saint-Cere during the period when my family spent the winter there, he had often come to the house, bringing purchases to my mother. My father, also, had rendered him a number of services, for which he was always grateful. He gave me a hug, and reminded me that he had often held me in his arms, when I was an infant.
General Bonaparte and my father having come back into the room, they presented to one another the members of their suites. Generals Lannes and Murat were old acquaintances of my father, who welcomed them with great affability. He was a little distant with General Berthier, whom, however he had seen before, when he was in the bodyguard and Berthier was an engineer.
General Bonaparte, who knew my mother, asked me, very politely, for news of her. He complimented me most warmly on having, while yet so young, taken up a military career, and taking me gently by the ear, which was always the most flattering caress which he bestowed on those with whom he was pleased, he said to my father, “One day this will be a second General Marbot.” This prediction came true, although at that time I had no expectation of it. However I was very proud of these words. It takes so very little to make a child feel pleased with himself.
When the visit was over, my father disclosed nothing of what had been said between him and General Bonaparte; but I learned later that Bonaparte, without stating his objectives clearly, had sought, by the most adroit cajolements, to win my father over to his side, and that, my father had always dodged the issue.
Disgusted at seeing the people of Lyon running in front of Bonaparte, as if he was already the sovereign of France, my father declared that he wanted to leave at dawn the next day; but as his coaches needed some repairs, he was forced to spend an entire day at Lyon. I profited from this to have a new forage cap made, and, enchanted with this purchase, I took no notice of the political conversations, about which, to tell the truth, I understood little.
My father went to return the visit he had received from General Bonaparte. They walked alone for a very long time in the hotel’s little garden, while their suites remained respectfully at a distance. We saw them sometimes gesture with warmth, and at other times speak more calmly; then Bonaparte, with a wheedling look, went up to my father and put his arm through his in a friendly fashion, probably so that the officials who were in the courtyard and the many spectators who hung out of neighbouring windows might conclude that General Marbot agreed with the plans of General Bonaparte; for this crafty man neglected nothing to achieve his aims.
My father came away from this second conversation even more pensive than he had been after the first, and on coming back to the hotel, he ordered our departure for the next day. Unfortunately, the next day, General Bonaparte was to make an excursion round the town to inspect the heights suitable for fortification, and all the post-horses were reserved for him. I thought that at this blow my father would become angry, but he contented himself by saying, “There is the beginning of omnipotence.” And told his staff to see if they could hire any horses, so keen was he to get away from the town and from the sights which offended him. No spare horses could be found. Then Col. Menard, who was born in the Midi, and knew the district perfectly, observed that the road from Lyon to Avignon was in such a poor state of repair that the coaches might be badly damaged if they attempted it, and it would be better to embark them on the Rhone, the descent of which would offer us an enchanting spectacle. My father, who was no great lover of the picturesque, would, at any other time, have rejected this advice, but as it gave him the opportunity to leave the town a day earlier, he agreed to take to the Rhone.
Col. Menard then hired a large boat, the coaches were put on board, and the next day, early in the morning, we all embarked: a decision which was very nearly the end of us.
It was autumn. The water was very low. All the time the boat touched and scraped along the bottom. One feared that it might be torn open. We slept the first night at Saint-Peray, next at Tain, and took two days to get as far down as the junction with the Drome. There we had much more water, and went along rapidly; but a dangerous high wind called the Mistral hit us when we were about a quarter league above the bridge known as Pont Saint-Esprit. The boatmen were unable to reach the bank. They lost their heads, and set themselves to praying instead of working, while a furious wind and a strong current were driving the boat towards the bridge! We were about to crash against the pier of the bridge and be sunk, when my father and all of us, taking up boat-hooks, hurried forward to fend off from the pier which we were about to strike.
The shock was so severe that it knocked us into the thwarts, but the push had changed the direction of the boat, which, by a miraculous piece of good fortune, shot through under the arch. The boatmen then recovered a little from their terror and resumed some sort of control of their boat; but the Mistral continued, and the two coaches offering a resistance to the wind made any manoeuvre almost impossible. At last, six leagues above Avignon, we went aground on a very large island, where the bow of the boat dug into the sand in such a way that it would not be possible to get it out without a gang of labourers, and we were listing over so far that we feared being swamped at any moment. We put some planks between the boat and the shore and, with the help of some rope, we all got ashore without accident, though with some difficulty.
There could be no thought of re-embarking in the very high wind,(although without rain), and so we pushed on into the interior of the island, which we thought at first was uninhabited; but eventually we came across a sort of farm, where we found some good folk who made us very welcome. We were dying of hunger, but it was impossible to go back to the boat for food, and all we had was a little bread.
We were told that the island was full of poultry, which was allowed to run wild, and which the peasants shot, when they wanted some. My father was very fond of shooting, and he needed some relaxation from his problems, so we borrowed guns from the peasants, some pitch-forks and sticks, and we set off on a hen shoot. We shot several, though it was not easy to hit them as they flew like pheasants. We also picked up many of their eggs in the woods. When we returned to the farm, we lit a big fire in the middle of a field, around which we set up a bivouac, while the valet, helped by the farmer, prepared the eggs and the chickens in a variety of ways. We supped well and then bedded down on some hay, no one daring to accept the beds which the good peasants offered us, as they seemed to us to be far from clean.
By day-break the wind had dropped, so all the peasants and the boatmen took spades and picks, and after several hours of hard work they got the boat afloat, enabling us to continue our journey towards Avignon, which we reached without any further accidents. Those that had befallen us were so embroidered in the telling, that the rumour reached Paris that my father and all his staff had been drowned.
The approach to Avignon, particularly when one comes down the Rhone, is very picturesque. The old Papal Chateau; the ramparts by which the city is surrounded; its numerous steeples and the Chateau de Villeneuve rising opposite, combine to make a fine prospect. At Avignon we met Mme. Menard and one of her nieces, and we spent three days in the town, visiting the charming outskirts, including the fountain of Vaucluse. My father was in no hurry to leave, because M. R*** h d written to say that the very hot weather,still persisting in the Midi,had forced him to slow the pace of his march and my father did not wish to arrive before his horses.
From Avignon we headed for Aix, but when we reached Bompart, on the banks of the Durance, which, at that time, was crossed by a ferry, we found the river so swollen by flood, that it would not be possible to cross for at least five or six hours. We were debating whether to return to Avignon, when the operator of the ferry, a gentlemanly sort of person, who owned a charming little castle on the height some five hundred paces from the river bank, came and begged my father to rest there until the coaches could be embarked. He accepted, hoping that it would be for a few hours only; but it appeared that there had been heavy storms in the Alps, where the Durance has its source, for the river continued to rise all day, and we were compelled to accept lodging for the night, which was offered most cordially by the owner of the castle. The weather being fine we spent the day walking. It was a break in our travels which I enjoyed.
The next day, seeing that the flood-water was running even more rapidly than the evening before, our host, who was a devout Republican, and who knew the river well enough to judge that we would not be able to cross for twenty-four hours, hurried off, unknown to us, to the little town of Cavaillon, which is about two leagues from Bompart, on the same bank of the river. He had gone to inform all the “Patriots” of the locality that he had in his house divisional General Marbot. He then returned to the castle, where, an hour or so later, we saw the arrival of a cavalcade composed of the keenest “Patriots” of Cavaillon, who had come to beg my father to accept an invitation to a banquet, which they offered him in the name of all the notables of the town, “Always so staunchly Republican.”
My father, who found these sort of occasions far from agreeable, at first refused; but these “Citoyens” were so insistent, saying that everything had been organised and that the guests had gathered, that my father gave in and went off to Cavaillon.
The best hotel had been decked with garlands, and was graced by the presence of the local dignitaries from the town and its outskirts. After an interminable number of compliments, we took our places at a table laden with the most exclusive dishes. Above all, there were ortolans, birds which thrive well in this part of the country.
A great many toasts were drunk. Virulent speeches were made, denouncing the “Enemies of liberty” and the dinner did not end until ten o’clock in the evening. It was a little late to return to Bompart, and anyway, my father could not with politeness leave his hosts the moment the meal was over. He decided then to spend the night at Cavaillon, and the rest of the evening was passed in rather noisy talk. Eventually, one by one, the guests went home and we were left alone.
The next morning, M. Gault asked the inn-keeper how much my father owed for his part in the immense feast of the night before, which he assumed was a communal meal in which each paid for his own share. The inn-keeper presented him with a bill of more than 1500 francs. The good “Patriots” not having paid a single sou!…We were told that though some had expressed a wish to pay, the great majority had replied that this would be “An insult to General Marbot”….!
Capt. Gault was furious at this procedure, but my father, who at first could not get over his astonishment, burst into laughter, and told the inn-keeper to go and collect the money at Bompart, to where we returned straight away, without saying a word of this to the chatelaine; whose servants we tipped handsomely, and then, taking advantage of the fall in the water level, we at last crossed the Durance and made our way to Aix.
Although I might not yet be of an age to discuss politics with my father, what I had heard him say led me to believe that his Republican ideas had been much modified over the preceding two years, and what he had experienced as a supposed guest of honour at Cavaillon had severely shaken them, but he did not display any ill-feeling on the subject of this banquet, and was even amused at the anger of M. Gault, who said repeatedly, “I am not surprised that, in spite of their cost, these scoundrels produced so many ortolans, and ordered so many bottles of good wine! “
After spending a night at Aix, we left for Nice. This was the last stage of our journey. While we were travelling through the mountain and the beautiful forest of Esterel, we encountered the Colonel of the 1st Hussars, who, escorted by an officer and several troopers, was taking some lame horses, returned by the army, back to the depot at Puy-en-Velay. This colonel was named M. Picart and had been given his command because of his administrative ability. He was sent frequently to the depot to arrange for the equipment of men and horses, which he then forwarded to the fighting units, where he appeared but rarely and did not stay for long.
When he saw Col. Picart, my father had the coach stopped and got out, and after presenting me to my colonel, he took him on one side, and asked him to name an intelligent and well educated non-commissioned officer who might be made my mentor. The Colonel named Sergeant Pertelay. My father made a note of the name, and we continued on our way to Nice; where we found M.R*** settled in an excellent hotel, with our coaches and horses in first-class order.
The town of Nice was full of troops, among which was a squadron of the 1st Hussars, to which regiment I belonged. In the absence of its colonel, the regiment was commanded by a Major Muller. On learning that the divisional general had arrived, Muller came to see my father, and it was agreed between them that, after a few days rest, I should begin my service in the seventh company, commanded by Capt. Mathis.
Although my father was very good to me, I was so much in awe of him that I was very shy in his presence, a shyness which he thought was greater than was really the case; he said I should have been a girl, and often called me madamoiselle Marcellin, which annoyed me very much, especially now that I was a Hussar. It was to overcome this shyness, that my father wished me to serve in the ranks, and in any case, as I have already said, one could not join the army except as a private soldier. My father, it is true, could have attached me to his personal staff, since my regiment was part of his division, but, quite apart from the notion which I have described above, he wanted me to learn how to saddle and bridle my own horse and to look after my arms and equipment; also, he did not want his son to enjoy the least privilege, as this would have had a bad effect on the rest of the troops. It was already enough that I was to be allowed to join a squadron without undergoing a long and wearisome period of training at the depot. I passed several days with my father and his staff, travelling about the district round Nice, which was very beautiful, but the moment for my entry into the squadron having arrived, my father asked Major Muller to send him Sergeant Pertelay.
Now, there were two brothers of this name in the regiment, both of them sergeants, but having nothing else, physically or mentally in common, the elder being something of a scamp, while the younger was thoroughly respectable. It was this latter whom the colonel had intended to appoint as my mentor, but in the short time which he and my father had spent together, Col. Picart had forgotten, when naming Pertelay, to add the younger: furthermore, this Pertelay was not in the part of the squadron which was stationed in Nice, while the elder was in the very company, the seventh, which I was about to join.
Major Muller believed that the colonel had named the elder to my father and that this wild character had been chosen to open the eyes of an innocent and shy young man, which I then was. So he sent us the elder Pertelay.
This example of the old type of Hussar was a rowdy, quarrelsome, swashbuckling, tippler, but also brave to the point of foolhardiness; for the rest, he was completely ignorant of anything that was not connected with his horse, his arms and his duties in the face of the enemy. Pertelay the younger, on the other hand, was quiet, polite, and well-educated. He was a handsome man and just as brave as his brother, and would surely have gone far had he not, while still very young, been killed in action.
Now to return to the elder. He arrived at my father’s quarters, and what did we see? A fine fellow, very well turned out it is true, but with his shako tipped over one ear, his sabre trailing on the ground, his red face slashed by an immense scar, moustaches six inches long, which, stiffened by wax, curled up into his ears, two big plaits of hair, braided from his temples, which, escaping from his shako, hung down to his chest, and with all this an air…! An air of rakishness which was increased by his speech, which was rattled out in a sort of Franco-Alsatian patois. This last did not surprise my father, as he knew that the 1st Hussars were the former regiment of Bercheny, which in earlier days recruited only Germans, and where, until 1793, all the orders were given in German, which was the language generally used by the officers and men, almost all of whom came from the provinces bordering the Rhine. My father was however exceedingly surprised by the style and manner of my proposed mentor.
I learned later that he had hesitated to put me in the hands of this bravo, but M. Gault having reminded him that Colonel Picart had described him as the best N.C.O.in the squadron, he decided to try it. So off I went with Pertelay, who, taking me by the arm without ceremony, came to my room, showed me how to pack my kit into my valise, and conducted me to a small barracks, situated in a former monastery, and now occupied by a squadron of the 1st Hussars.
My mentor made me saddle and unsaddle the pretty little horse which my father had bought me; then he showed me how to put on my cloak and my arms, giving me a complete demonstration, and having decided that he had explained to me all that was necessary, he thought it time to go for dinner. My father, who wished me to eat with my mentor, had given us extra money to meet the expense.
Pertelay took me to a small inn, which was crammed with Hussars, Grenadiers and soldiers of every sort. We were served with a meal, and on the table was placed an enormous bottle of red wine of the most violent nature. Pertelay poured me a glassful. We clinked glasses. My man emptied his and I raised mine without putting it to my lips, for I had never drunk undiluted wine and I found the smell of this liquid disagreeable. I admitted this to my mentor, who shouted, in a stentorian voice, “Waiter! Bring some lemonade for this boy who never drinks wine.” A gale of laughter swept through the room. I was mortified, but I could not bring myself to taste this wine, and as I did not dare to ask for water, I dined without a drink.
A soldier’s apprenticeship has always been hard going. It was particularly so at the time of which I write. I had, therefore, some unhappy experiences to suffer. A thing I found unbearable was the requirement to share my bed with another Hussar. The regulations allotted only one bed for two soldiers. N.C.O.s alone were allowed to have a bed each. On the first night which I spent in the barracks, I had already gone to my bed when a tall, ungainly Hussar, who arrived an hour after the others, approached it, and seeing that it was occupied, he unhooked a lantern and stuck it under my nose to examine me more closely. Then he got undressed. As I watched him, I had no idea that he intended to get in beside me; but I was soon disillusioned, when he said to me roughly, “Shove over, conscript!” And got into the bed, taking up three-quarters of it, and began to snore loudly. I was unable to sleep a wink, largely because of the revolting odour arising from a large package which my comrade had placed under the bolster, to raise his head. I could not think what this could be, so to find out, I slid my hand gently toward this object and found it to be a leather apron impregnated with cobbler’s wax, which shoemakers use to treat their thread. My amiable bed companion was one of the men employed by the regimental bootmaker. I was so disgusted that I got up, got dressed, and went to the stables where I bedded down on a heap of straw. The next day I told Pertelay of my misadventure, and he reported it to the sub-lieutenant commanding the platoon. He was a well-educated man named Leisteinschneider (in German, a stone-worker) who was later killed in action. He understood how painful it must be for me to have to sleep with a bootmaker, and he took it on himself to arrange for me to have a bed in the N.C.O’s room, something which pleased me greatly.
Although the revolution had produced a great relaxation in the general turn-out of troops, the 1st Hussars had kept theirs exactly as it was when they were Bercheny’s Hussars; so except for the physical differences imposed by nature, all troopers had to resemble one another in their appearance, and as the regiments of Hussars of that period had not only pig-tails, but long plaited tresses which hung from their temples and turned-up moustaches, it was the rule that everyone belonging to the regiment must have moustache, pig-tail and tresses. Now, as I had none of these things, my mentor took me to the regimental wig-maker where I bought a false pig-tail and tresses, which were attached to my own hair, already fairly long, as I had let it grow since my enlistment. These embellishments embarrassed me at first but I got used to them in a few days, and it pleased me to imagine that they gave me the appearance of a seasoned trooper. It was a different matter when it came to the moustache I had no more of a moustache than a girl, and as a hairless face would have spoiled the ranks of the squadron, Pertelay, as was the custom of Bercheny, took a pot of black wax, and with his thumb he gave me an enormous curling moustache, which covered my upper lip and reached almost to, my eyes. The shakos of the time did not have a vizor, so that, when I was on guard duty, or during an inspection, when one has to remain perfectly still, the Italian sun, shining hotly onto my face, sucked the moisture out of the wax of which my moustache was made, and, as it dried it pulled at my skin in a most disagreeable manner. However, I did not blink. I was a Hussar! A word that had for me an almost magical significance; besides which, having engaged in a military career, I understood very well that my first duty was to obey the regulations.
My father and part of his division were still in Nice, when we heard of the events of the 18th Brumaire, the overthrow of the Directorate and the establishment of the Consulate. My father had too much contempt for the Directorate to regret its downfall, but he feared that, intoxicated by power, General Bonaparte, after re-establishing order in France, would not restrict himself to the modest title of consul, and he predicted to us that in a short time he would aim to become king. My father was mistaken only in the title, four years later Napoleon made himself emperor.