A French Volunteer of the War of Independence/Chapter 6
I had fully expected that six years of peace and stability would have repaired the ravages done by the long war, and that those houses which threatened to fall in ruins would have been repaired, for during the war, want of resources prevented the State from undertaking anything, the needs of the army absorbing all the money —but I was far from expecting the magic and magnificent spectacle which the first rays of the sun showed me.
It was not a rebuilt, restored, plastered over Philadelphia that I saw, but a new Thebes, a new Sidon. The port teemed with war ships, or merchant ships, equipped or in construction; on the quays there were a thousand new houses, and public buildings which resembled palaces,—an Exchange in marble, the United States Bank, Congress Hall, all showed me that Philadelphia had become in six years, populous, flourishing, industrious, rich, and powerful.
But if I did not recognize the city, I did the inhabitants—the natives, I mean. As to the strangers who formed a floating population, I could not help smiling as I noted some faces I had seen elsewhere, but I will speak of them later on, they ought to have a chapter to themselves.
My first care was to see after the principal object of my voyage, the recovery of my pay and the back interest on it, for my surprise and admiration at the city did not make me forget the business I had come upon. The account being made up it seemed there was due to me about 50,000 francs, but the papers which would enable me to claim the sum were in Paris. In default of these papers it was necessary that two householders should be surety for me. I knew a good many old officers, but none of them possessed sufficient means to be accepted as bail for me. The President of the United States, General Washington himself, was kind enough to relieve me from this embarrassment, and the 50,000 francs were paid over to me, and placed to my account.
The object of my mission being fulfilled, the remainder of my stay at Philadelphia until my return to Europe, was employed in the observations of an idle traveller with an unfettered and philosophic mind.
The Government officials were as simple in their manners as ever. I had occasion to call upon Mr. MacHenry, the Secretary of War. It was about eleven o'clock in the morning when I called. There was no sentinel at the door, all the rooms, the walls of which were covered with maps, were open, and in the midst of this solitude I found two clerks, each sitting at his own table, engaged in writing. At last I met a servant, or rather the servant, for there was but one in the house, and asked for the Secretary. He replied that his master was absent for the moment, having gone to the barber's to be shaved. Mr. MacHenry's name figured in the State Budget for $2000 (10,500 francs), a salary quite sufficient in a country where the Secretary for War goes in the morning to his neighbour, the barber at the corner, to get shaved.
I was as much surprised to find all the business of the War Office transacted by two clerks, as I was to hear that the Secretary had gone to the barber's; both details were in harmony with the spirit of a nation that knew how to pay its debts. This recalls to my mind the very singular recompense which the American Congress awarded to General Stark, the conqueror of Burgoyne.
The British general, dressed in a mag nificent uniform, covered with gold lace, and with a cocked hat on his head, had been obliged to surrender his sword to General Stark, who for his part, wore an old blanket for a cloak, had a cotton cap stuck over one ear, and thick, heavy shoes on his feet. It was a typical representation of a poor and oppressed people triumphing over a rich and insolent monarchy. Congress, in a sudden accession of generosity, ordered that the conqueror should be presented with two ells of blue, and one of yellow, cloth to make him a coat, and half a dozen shirts of Dutch linen.
I well remember hearing General Stark complain loudly in my presence, when he received this gift of the nation, that Congress had forgotten to give him any cambric to make the cuffs.
This fact, which in the present day would appear incredible, was made the subject of endless jokes in the English papers of the day, then ready enough to find any subject on which they could twit the conquerors.
What curious reflections this antique simplicity suggests, especially when we consider that even now, thirty-five years afterwards, the same principles prevail. What will become of effete old Europe with its budgets of thousands of millions, when compared to a Republic governed so cheaply, that the Government appears to be done by contract, where even the President is obliged to represent the nation on a salary of 125,000 francs, and is the only man allowed to have a sentinel at his door?
Mr. MacHenry, the Secretary of War, recalled to my mind the name of a French ex-Minister of War, my old comrade, M. Duportail. I learned that my old friend was still in the United States, and that he had bought a little farm near the city, so I hastened to call upon him. I met him at a little distance from his house, and, judge of my astonishment, or rather inclination to laugh, at finding him dressed in full French fashion, with his hat under his arm, though he was eighteen hundred leagues from Paris. It was ten years since the Revolution broke out, but he appeared to be Still awaiting the news that his portfolio had been restored to him. That was his daily and hourly thought,—a hobby as innocent as that of Uncle Toby,—and after he had expressed his pleasure at seeing me again, his conversation was of nothing but the ingratitude of the French nation, and the admirable projects for the improvement of the army that he had intended to carry out.
"Ah," he said, "how sorry I was to hear you had emigrated. What a fine chance of promotion you would have had if you had remained with us. You had been through the war in America, and, when I was Minister, I would have given you whatever you asked for."
That would have been easy enough for him, it is true, but, all other considerations apart, his present condition was not calculated to make me regret the step I had taken, for all that remained to his Excellency of all his former grandeur,—which had lasted but six months,—was a little farm in the New World, a couple of leagues from the primaeval forests, and within three days' journey of the borders of civilization.
But his fall, which appeared to him so impossible, and such a political mistake, was no more of a fortuitous circumstance than his rise, which he could never have expected either.
Alas, I met in the streets of Philadelphia plenty of great men brought down to the dust again, men whose ambition had deceived them, fools punished for their folly, men of yesterday who were no longer men of to-day, and parvenus astonished to find that Fortune's wheel had not stood still when they were uppermost.
For my private instruction, my friend Duportail told me the names of the French refugees who had found in Philadelphia an ark of safety like that of Noah. The blowing up of the good ship, the French Monarchy, had been caused by their follies and mistaken notions, and the explosion had thrown a good number of them over to the United States. But they were not corrected or disabused of their errors, and brought to a better state of mind, but each and all,—Constitutionalists, Conventionalists, Thermidorians, Fructidorians,—imagined that their political downfall had been brought about by some ill-chance just as their plans were within an ace of succeeding. They kept their eyes fixed on France, to which they all expected to return sooner or later and recommence what each called his great work, for there were exactly the same number of political systems as there were refugees. In the United States you might have believed yourself in the Elysian Fields described in the Sixth Book of the Æneid, where the shades still pursue the same ideas they had cherished in the other world.
But a man must live, and the most curious spectacle was to see these Frenchmen, fallen from their former greatness, and now exercising some trade or profession.
One day I entered a shop to buy some pens and paper, and found the proprietor to be Moreau de Saint-Mery, one of the famous "electors" of the Hotel de Ville, of Paris, in 1789.
"You do not know, I suppose," he said pompously, when I had finished making my purchases, "who I am and what I was?"
"No, upon my life, I do not," I replied.
"Well," he said, " I,—the very man you see before you,—was ruler of Paris for three days, and now I am obliged to sell pens, ink, and paper, in Philadelphia, to gain a living."
I was not so much surprised at this fresh instance of the instability of human affairs as I was to find this petit bourgeois really believe that he should astonish posterity. Nor was I particularly astonished either to learn, some months later, that he was a bankrupt, but I may remark that he failed for twenty-five thousand francs, and I would not have given a thousand crowns for all the stock in M. Moreau de Saint-Mery's shop. Strange to say there is no country where bankruptcy is so frequent;—every morning you see sales by auction in some of the streets.
A good many other personages besides "the electors of 1789," and who when in France had cut quite another figure, were to be found walking about the streets of Philadelphia, as the Vicomte de Noailles, Due de L——, M. S——, Volney, the Bishop of Autun, and tutti quanti.
Some of them gambled on the Stock Exchange, and nearly always successfully. Others were not so fortunate, and their speculations were more risky; nor were they above laying traps for those of their countrymen who had newly arrived in America.
Senator Morris had conceived a vast and adventurous undertaking. The celebrated Burke had written somewhere or other that Europe was about to totally collapse, and that North America was destined to receive the refugees and all the goods they were able to save. The Senator, in company with M. S—— and Vicomte de Noailles, speculated on this prophecy. They acquired more than a mil lion acres, situated on the banks of the Susquehannah, and this land, divided into large or small lots, was advertised in the papers under the heading of "Good land to be sold." Nothing was said about residences—the purchaser was apparently to build his house to suit his own taste. To encourage their clients they also constructed in the city an immense building in which all the great personages they were expecting on the faith of Edmund Burke could be suitably lodged. The Pope, the Sacred College, a few dethroned monarchs, and other notables, were to rest there till they had recovered from the effects of their sea voyage, and before making up their minds to purchase a slice of American territory.
It is literally true that this enterprising company had agents on the look-out for all emigrants who arrived from Europe. Their factotums kept a watchful eye on all newly-landed passengers, who appeared to have some baggage, and not only compassionated their misfortunes, but offered them the means of repairing their loss, by the purchase, in a new and hospitable land, of another estate of dimensions proportionate to the means of each new-comer. The price was reasonable enough,—only six francs an acre,—but the agent did not say that it had cost the Company he represented only fifteen cents an acre.
I knew a milliner who had made some money, and who purchased an estate at Asylum, the fictitious capital of this imaginary colony. The poor dupe went to inspect the estate which she had bought the right to build on, cultivate, and live upon—and then she came back to Philadelphia to gain her living with her ten fingers as she had previously done.
One of these agents, who had not much more sense than the devil of Papefigue, was ill-advised enough to apply to me, having heard, perhaps, some vague rumours about my being a French emigre and possessing some money. He did not trouble to enquire where that money came from, and how I had gained it, but started at once with a long discourse on the principles of humanity which animated this phi lanthropic enterprise, and then went on to boast of the beauty of situation, the fertility of the soil, the rich prairies to be mowed, etc. "All materials are at hand," he said, "and everything has been provided. There is a master builder paid by the Company. We have even a restaurant in order to spare trouble to our newly-arrived colonists." He strongly urged me to buy five hundred acres of this new Promised Land—all for the modest sum of a thousand crowns.
I took care not to interrupt him, and let him persuade himself that he had convinced me, and that I believed his statements, but when he had finished I told him that there was not a stone in the whole country, that two hundred acres of that land would not support a cow, and that no meat was to be found there unless you killed a deer. I added that as I had been all through the War of Independence I knew all about the district he had been describing, and that his boasted philanthropic speculation was a mockery and a snare. I ended by sa5ring that the last and worst misfortune which could befall the unfortunate French emigrants, was to find themselves swindled by their own countrymen—men heartless enough to impose upon the credulity of strangers, and sell them a few sand-hills planted with scrub-pine for an Eldorado.
I have never seen a man look more disconcerted than this unlucky agent did, but I should like to have seen the reception that the speculative triumvirate—to whom I had the honour to be known—gave their clumsy emissary when he rendered an account of his visit.
Providence, however, did not permit the enterprise to succeed, and the three speculators came to a bad end. Senator Morris, crippled with debts, died in prison; M. T—— went mad, and Vicomte de Noailles, after having won four or five hundred thousand francs on the Philadelphia Exchange, left for St. Domingo, where he was killed on board an English cruiser. He, at least, died like a brave man, as he had lived;—that much praise is due to his memory, but that does not prevent me from relating a story concerning him which is a proof the more of the inconsistency displayed by some of our illustrious faiseurs during the Revolution. The incident occurred under my own eyes, and I laughed heartily at it, as everybody else did.
This ex-Vicomte had a deed drawn up at Philadelphia by one of the notaries of the city, and when it was read over to him, he perceived that he was mentioned therein by the name of M. de Noailles. He was exceedingly angry at this, and insisted that the deed should be re-written and none of his titles forgotten—Vicomte, Knight of Saint Louis, Knight of Malta, etc The next day, the newspapers were impertinent enough to repeat—con licinsa superiori—what had passed in the office, and an Philadelphia knew of the quarrel of the Vicomte with his notary. The story was accompanied by a note to this effect: "It is Angular that a member of the Constitutional Assembly, who proposed the law of ci-devants,—a French nobleman who, on the famous night of 4th August made a holocaust of the titles, deeds, armorial bearings, etc., of all the nobility, commencing with his own,—should insist on those titles being applied to him in a land of political equality, where all distinctions are unknown."
Let us pass on to another émigré. The Bishop of Autun, who had been requested to "get out" of England, had established himself in the free land of America. Monseigneur wore a pigtail and would willingly have said as Abbe Raynal did, "When I was a priest." He was not at all troubled about his present condition, and still less about his future; he speculated, and laughed at everything and everybody. His company was much sought after, for he was an amusing companion and had plenty of wit of his own, though many witticisms of other persons were often ascribed to him.
In spite of all his wit and amiability he was looked upon somewhat coolly by the best society of Philadelphia, with whom his light, careless manners did not meet with the welcome they deserved. In fact the Anglo-Americans are simple and straight-forward in their manners, and the cynical, irreverent contempt of their guest for all things Americans respected greatly scandalized them. M. de Talleyrand had the right, if it pleased him, to pull off his clerical gown and trail it in the mud, but he had also at that time a position as a French émigré, and though he might resign for himself the welcome bestowed upon unfortunate people in that position, he also indirectly injured others. Were the Americans right to be vexed with his conduct? Everyone may judge for himself.
Cardinal de Richelieu, when he went at night to visit Marion de Lorme, was careful to disguise himself as a cavalier, with spurs on his boots, yet he did not escape being ridiculed. The Bishop of Autun did not take these precautions, having peculiar ideas as to the rights of man, and confidence in the unbounded liberty to be found in the New World. He might be seen walking the streets of Philadelphia, in open day, with a coloured woman on his arm. This was a gratuitous insult to the manners and customs which—rightly or wrongly—prevail in the country, and where social prejudices have such weight and importance that not even an ensign of hussars would dare to run counter to them.
The Americans were certainly accustomed to see Quakers, who would not take off their hats, and even shirtless savages; but all, from the Congressman to the workman, read one or other of the thousands of newspapers which appeared, and they were not ignorant of the celebrity and the responsible position of M. de Talleyrand. All the details of his life as a priest were known, from the first act of it,—his installation as Bishop of Autun,—to the last, when he officiated at the Altar of the Country in the Champ de Mars on the famous day of the Federation of 1790. A refugee so celebrated should have exercised some circumspection in regard to his private life.
That he did not preserve his ecclesias tical character when he was outside the pale of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church, the following story will testify. M. de Talleyrand had with him a fierce dog, which was a very sagacious animal. When it wanted to enter its master's house it would ring the bell, and if the door was not opened, instead of waiting it would go to the lady's house, and lie upon the bed until the return of the two lovers.
But instead of relating a part of what the Bishop did, it would be preferable to recall to mind what he told us.
Amongst other things he related in his own inimitable manner an account of an interview he had at London with a Gascon refugee. Early one morning he heard a knock at his door, and asked, "Who is there?"
"The Chevalier de C——," replied a wheedling voice with a strong accent of the land of the Garonne.
The Bishop of Autun opened the door, and the Chevalier entered and after a series of bows, said, "M. de Talle3rrand, I have always heard that you were the cleverest and most sensible man in the world."
M. de Talleyrand imagined that his visitor had come to borrow money, and was ready to reply, "I was just going to ask you," but it appeared that all the Gascon required was some advice.
"Well, Monsieur, what is it?" asked the Bishop of Autun.
"The fact is, Monsieur de Talleyrand, that I left the manor-house where I lived, and went to Coblentz, and so I am what is called an émigré, and now I want to know the best means of getting back to France. As you are so clever will you be kind enough to advise me?"
"What sort of position did you occupy in your province?"
"No position of importance."
"What sort of life did you lead, and what fortune had your family?"
"We are four brothers, and papa has an income of about five thousand francs a year."
"Oh, well, no one is likely to interfere with you. I suppose you have a few crowns left; go to Huninguen, Neufchatel, or Saint Claude. You will be sure to find a guide, some good fellow who will see you across the frontier; then you must avoid all the villages, only travel at nighty and as you have the happiness to be unknown, you can reach your ’papa's' house unperceived. Then keep yourself quiet, be wise and discreet; never speak about Coblentz or emigration, and await events."
"Ah, Monsieur de Talleyrand, how grateful I am to you. They were right in saying you are the cleverest man in the world. I will return home to papa; but if a second Revolution should occur, you may bet I will be on the side of the people."
"Take care not to do anything of the kind!" cried Monseigneur. "Take care not to do anything of the kind; next time you might make a mistake."
This last sentence contains quite a characteristic touch, and is the whole point of the anecdote.
The Bishop smiled when he heard of the establishment of the Directory; the dia bolical spirit incarnate in him advised him to return to France.
He told us of his intention, and Colonel Hamilton remarked that the country was still in a very disturbed state, whereas in the United States he could live at ease.
"Yes,"he said, "but I understand France and the French. Have you never been in a stable when the stable hands have forgotten to give the horses any hay? The horses neigh and stamp."
We on our side represented to him the dangers he ran as a priest, as an emigrant, and finally as himself. Any one of these reasons would have sufficed to deter many a brave man, but had no effect on him. "No," he said laughingly, as he stepped on board the ship which was to take him back, "I have nothing to fear over there; I am up to all the tricks of revolutions."It was not without difficulty, however, that he could find a vessel to take him. No American captain was willing to give him a passage, perhaps on account of his political importance, or perhaps because he was so much disliked.
In fact, besides the causes I have already mentioned, a report was current that once in a conversation about the loss of Hayti, when someone spoke of the difficulty of reconquering it, and of the scarcity of negroes in America, he said, "Why not establish the slave trade here? The West India Islands are nearer than Africa."
This remark, and the lady of colour, did not tend to place him in the odour of sanctity in Philadelphia. A tempest drove into the Delaware a Prussian ship, and the captain consented to take the ex-Bishop, but the crew did not appear over delighted with their passenger. I should not have been surprised to hear of the sailors doing as they did in an amusing story told by Bacon, when, after having first confessed all their sins to a Capucin monk who was on board, the sailors thought they would appease the wrath of heaven by dropping him into the sea.
Thus we saw depart the diable boiteux who since,—under the name of the Prince de Benevento,—persuaded at the Congress of Vienna the kings of Europe to again march against Bonaparte and, for the second time, put the Bourbons upon the throne of France. Suum cuique.
In the pentarchyat the Luxembourg at this time was Citoyen Rewbel, a friend of Citoyen Talleyrand, and immediately upon his arrival our ex-Constitutionalist received from the Jacobin Conventionalist the portfolio of Foreign Affairs.The worthy Anglo-Americans no sooner learned that their "guest" had become Minister, than they foolishly imagined the occasion and the moment favourable to demand and obtain justice. Forgetting all about the lady of colour, and the proposal to establish the slave trade amongst them, they sent off three members of Congress,—whom I saw go, and return. Their object was to demand compensation in the name of the United States for two hundred merchant vessels flying the American flag, which—per fas et nefas—the French Republic had captured during the three years the red cap adorned her brow.
The disappointment and surprise of these ingenuous envoys was worth seeing, when they returned and narrated the details of their mission, and described the kind of diplomats with whom they had come in contact, and the impudence—as they artlessly called it—of the proposals which had been made to them.
The first ambassador was of the feminine sex. A Madame de presented herself to the envoys from Congress, described herself as a friend to the cause of the Independence of the United States, which had always been dear to her heart, etc.—and so, having paved the way, announced the visit of the most famous M. R—— de St. F——, who would be able to discuss the affair thoroughly. This second envoy dropped a hint that it was indispensable for the success of the demand that a little money should be spent. The ambassadress then reappeared, and finished by declaring that the affair might be arranged for the sum of fifty thousand livres sterling, of which so much was to go to His Excellency as a douceur or "sweet ness" (that is the exact word which the envoys used in their public report to Congress) so much to M. R—— de St. F——, for his part in the negotiations, and so much for "incidental expenses," by which term Madame l’Ambassadrice probably designated her own share of the plunder.
In short, the ambassadors returned with all their evidences and documents—but no money. I was present at the memorable sitting of Congress when one of the envoys read the report he had prepared. There was a mention in it of Citizen Talleyrand, which it is to be hoped he read in the newspapers of the day.
"This man," said the orator, "to whom we have shown the kindest hospitality, is now the Minister of the French Government, and to him we presented ourselves to demand justice. And this guest without gratitude, this Bishop who has renounced his God, was not ashamed to rob us of 50,000 livres;—50,000 livres which went to support his vices!"
I said to myself, "Good, easy people, they are worthy of their country; an Eng lishman would have found no difficulty in settling the matter."
Many other celebrities of different sorts did I see at Philadelphia during my third sojourn in America,—so different from the two preceding ones. Here is another scene which I saw acted on the same stage,—that is to say in the same city.
Marino, who had formerly been cook to my old friend the Chevalier de Capellis, had, for private and political reasons, taken up his residence in this city, and enjoyed the reputation of being an excellent pastry-cook. One day I was in Marino's shop, ordering some dish,—we were old acquaintances and I knew him to be not only a skilful cook, but a brave and honest fellow,—when a stranger entered. He was unknown to both of us, although he was a Frenchman, and,—as will be seen,—enjoyed some celebrity. The new-comer ordered a pate, composed of the choicest delicacies; he was going to invite a score of persons to dinner, and I fancy that the Due d'Orlean and his brothers were to be amongst the guests. The pate was duly ordered, the price was arranged, and all that remained to be done was for the pastry-cook to write down his customer's name and address.
"Volney," said the stranger.
"Volney!" roared the cook, who was as great a royalist as his former master, De Capellis,—"Volney! Volney!"
I wish I could have painted him in his wrath, with his white cap on his head, his apron tucked up, and a big knife stuck in his belt. Quitting his stove and its saucepans he came forward, and cried in a voice of thunder,—though his indignation caused it to tremble—
"Get out of here, you scoundrel! Get out of my kitchen, you accursed atheist. You confounded revolutionist, you have robbed me of two-thirds of the money I had invested in Government Stocks. I don't work for"— (I have toned down his remarks)—"people of your kind. My stove shall never get hot for you,"
And the famous, or too famous, Mon sieur Chasseboeuf de Volney had to make his exit from the shop of the best pastry-cook in Philadelphia,—without his paté.
I have mentioned that the Princes of Orleans were to have been present at the dinner at which Marino's pate did not appear. They had been some time in the country;—they stayed in all about six months. Once, whilst on their way to visit a colonist who lived at some distance from the city, one of the brothers was lost in traversing a forest. He was found by an Indian, who tracked him as a sleuth-hound would have done.
After some time the Princes of Orleans went South to visit Louisiana, which then belonged to Spain. The Chevalier de Carondelet, who commanded for the King of Spain, received them at New Orleans with all the honours due to their rank; but, during their stay in the United States, no one, — except the French, who, whatever their political opinions might be, could not regard princes of the blood royal of France as ordinary personages,—knew them, saluted them, or designated them but by the name of Equality. To the Americans this appeared the most natural thing in the world. You would read in the newspaper, "Yesterday the Brothers Equality slept at such and such a place," or "We hear from —— Town that the Brothers Equality have arrived there."
On one occasion the three princes went to pay a visit to General Washington at Mount Vernon. The negro, who announced them, said to Washington, "Excellency! Excellency! there are three Equalities at the door."
Different countries have different manners. General Washington received the
Princes of Orleans, but his doors were closed against the Vicomte de Noailles, the Bishop of Autun, and even my friend Duportail. The liberator of his country felt deeply for Louis XVI; the King's portrait hung in his room, and he often looked at it, but never without tears in his eyes.
Whilst on this subject I may relate that, during my stay at Philadelphia, an Indian chief was once at dinner in a house where there was a picture of King Louis XVI, after MuUer of Stuttgart. Many toasts were proposed, and at last the Indian rose, and standing before the picture, said, to the great astonishment of all the guests, "I drink to the memory of the unfortunate king who was murdered by his subjects."
A number of French persons of both sexes, all ranks, and all opinions, had settled in Philadelphia and New York. Outside each of these cities, and scattered over the eighty miles or so between them, were many colonists who had escaped from the massacres of Hayti and had found refuge. They were in some instances accompanied by negroes who had remained faithful to them. These refugees rented farms between New York and Philadelphia, and having saved their lives, had next to find some means of existence, for living is very dear in this country. The Comtesse de la Tour du Pin had purchased a little farm at Albany, and went to market herself to sell her milk, butter, and poultry: she was much respected by all the country folks.
I remember also that I met an old soldier of the Royal body-guards, who had escaped the massacres of the 5th and 6th October. He had sold a little farm he had in order to buy with the money an elephant, which he had taken the precaution to insure, for in the United States you can insure anything. I was much amused at this novel industry. This soldier of the King's Guards who had left Versailles to become an elephant-driver in North America, had already had the luck to make fourteen thousand francs by exhibiting his noble animal, which perhaps was a direct descendant of the elephant of King Porus. Finding myself only some eighty miles from New York, I was curious to revisit the scenes of some of our battles, and also to inspect the city, which I had never seen except from outside, when our army was blockading it. It was with interest and emotion that I revisited Topanah, on the banks of the Akensie River, where the unfortunate Major André was executed. I recognized with more or less pleasure (according to whether they reminded me of victories or defeats) the different positions which our army had successively occupied.
My surprise equalled my curiosity when I entered New York. I admired,—from within this time,—this handsome city, which had then but 25,000 inhabitants (it numbers 120,000 to-day), and the beautiful neighbouring island called Long Island. I was enchanted with all I saw, the elegance and cleanliness of the houses joined to the beauties of virgin nature; then the width and extent of the water ways, which are almost seas; the giant trees which form the primaeval forests of the New World; in fact all which is not the work of men's hands is so surprising on account of its imposing and gigantic proportions, that when I returned to Europe I seemed to be in another world—the Continent appeared to me like a pretty miniature reduced from a large picture by means of a pantograph.
I was glad to meet some of my old comrades in arms, both French and Americans; amongst others the brave and wise Colonel Hamilton, the friend of Washington, and who was afterwards unfortunately killed in a duel by Colonel Burgh. Hamilton, who had quitted the army and returned to civil life, was a lawyer, and pleaded in the courts and gave consultations. We often talked together,—much to my profit,—of the causes of the war, the actual condition of the United States, and the probable destiny of the nation. Anyone who had heard us talking about events which were then a matter of history, would have taken us for two of the speakers in Lucian's or Fénélon's Dialogues of the Dead.
"The American War," I said, "began in a very singular manner, and was carried on in a way yet more singular. It seems to me, on summing up all my observations, that the English made a mistake in send ing troops against you, instead of withdrawing those which were already in the country, as you did not submit at once you must have inevitably ended by winning sooner or later. You gained experience and discipline in the indecisive engagements which were fought, and the scholars were bound to finish by becoming as clever as their masters. Look, for instance, at the Swedes under Charles XII, and the Russians under Peter the Great." "You are right, no doubt," he replied, "but their second fault was to give the two brothers Howe each a command. The general undertook scarcely anything by land in order to allow his brother, the admiral, the chance to distinguish himself at sea. All that the English need have done was to blockade our ports with twenty-five frigates and ten ships of the line. But, thank God, they did nothing of the sort."
Thank God, indeed," I said, "for I believe that America would have come to terms with the mother country. I am the more inclined to believe this, as I notice there are a great many Tories in your country, and I see that the rich families still cling to the king's government."
"Yes; and thus it happens," he replied, with a smile, "that though our Republic has only been in existence some ten years, there are already two distinct tendencies—the one democratic, the other aristocratic. In Europe they always speak of the American Revolution, but our separation from the mother country cannot be called a revolution. There have been no changes in the laws, no one's interests have been interfered with, everyone remains in his place, and all that is altered is that the seat of government is changed. Real equality exists amongst us at present, but there is a remarkable difference of manners between the inhabitants of the Northern and Southern States. The negro is free at Philadelphia, but he is a slave in Virginia and Carolina. Large fortunes are made in the Southern States, because the country is rich in productions; but it is not the same in the Northern States."
"Yes," I said, "those who claim to look into the future may see in your nation,—as you say,—two diverging tendencies; the one towards democracy, the other towards aristocracy; but if some separation of these elements could be made quietly and without strife, would the people be any the happier? Territorial possessions are, there is no doubt, but lightly esteemed in your country, which is perhaps owing to the fact that the British or Anglo-Americans of to-day only date back to Penn and his colony, or only a hundred years or so. An estate over here rarely remains ten or twelve years in the same hands."
"That is partly due," answered he, "to the facilities for changing our place of residence, and to the fact that land which is relatively dear near the great cities, is much cheaper at some distance from them. Besides we are essentially business men; with us, agriculture is of small account, commerce is everything."
"That is true," I said. "Many persons believe they have but to land in the United States to make a fortune, and the first question that is put to you when you arrive, is: 'Do you come here to sell or to buy?' "
I have given, as nearly as I can remember it, all that passed between the soldier-lawyer and me at this interview, but I cannot forget the singularly wise reflection that I heard him make one day, on the subject of the French interference in the American War.
"Considering the question by itself," I said to him, "the Cabinet of Versailles would seem to have committed a political fault in having openly supported the Americans in the War of Independence, and more particularly for having sent over here all the young nobility of the Court, who returned embued with republican principles. It has been maintained that the proper action for France was to remain neutral, and take advantage of the difficulties of England, to occupy, and thus make her restore, Canada, which has always remained French at heart. This double opportunity of war, or re-occupation, would have furnished an outlet for surplus population, which, failing that, has overflowed in the form of a revolution on our own monarchy, and has then inundated Europe."
This speech made him think of the young nobles, who had overrun America like the sheep of Panurge, without, however, reducing the surplus population of France, and Colonel Hamilton could not help laughing as he replied:
"You are right. I am speaking in opposition to our own interests, for it is to the French arms that we owe our independence, but your Government would perhaps have done better if it had sent us your lower orders instead of your upper."
I found at Philadelphia, my friend De la Colombe, who, like me, was aide-de-camp to M. de la Fayette during the American War, but with this difference, that when our civil dissensions broke out, he still remained with the general.
" You were wrong, my friend," he said to me, "not perhaps in not casting in your lot with ours, but in refusing on principle to have any communication with us. I might perhaps have been able to dissipate some of your delusions, and induced you to reconsider the matter, and afterwards you could have done as you thought fit."
He told me many things which astonished me, even after the events which I had seen;—especially when he assured me that at the time when we believed all Europe, even including Russia, to be preparing to take up the King's cause by a general armament, Prussia had, through Ephraim, a Jew of Berlin, proposed an offensive and defensive alliance with France, the sole condition being that Louis XVI should send the Queen back to Vienna. I do not refuse to believe that this proposal was really made, but it seems strange that the avowed enemies of this unfortunate Princess should intentionally or unintentionally have tried to save her from the scaffold.
My old comrade of the War of Independence, who had thrown himself, along with his old general, into the vortex of the Revolution, had afterwards retired to the United States, where like the wise man in the story, he listened to the distant echo of the storm.
Of the unlucky M. de la Fayette we both spoke in a befitting manner; he, because he had always followed him; I, out of gratitude for past favours, and we often also spoke of his share in the American War, in which we had both been actors, and both under his orders. In the course of conversation, M. de la Colombe related to me the history of one of the adventures of our general—a story which my departure for America on my third visit, had prevented my ever hearing before.
"You have heard," he said to me, "how M. de la Fayette quitted, in 1792, the army which he commanded, and came to Paris, and how, after having failed to carry out his good intentions, he returned to Maubeuge, with the sad conviction that he would not be able to do any good, or prevent any evil, either in Paris, or with the army. You know that finding himself in this difficulty he deserted his party, and, with some of his officers, presented himself at the Austrian advanced post, and de manded permission to pass. This permission might easily have been refused, but there was no justification for arresting the party, for, as you are of course aware, all that they wished to do was to get to Ostend and then come over here. To the shame and disgrace of the Prince of Cobourg, however, or rather to the Court of Vienna, M. de la Fayette and the officers who accompanied him, were all made prisoners and closely confined in the citadel of Olmutz. You know that I was one of his companions in misfortune, but you do not know, for it is not known in Europe, of the plan, its preparations, and the carrying out of his escape, which only failed through his own fault, for he did escape, and was, so to speak, wrecked in port. Here is the story.
"General Washington, who was still President at that time, made instant applications to the Cabinet of Vienna to obtain his friend's liberty, but met with a formal refusal. A plan of escape was then arranged over here, and Congress devoted a sum of 400,000 francs to its execution. You have seen almost every day, at Philadelphia, the man who was charged to carry out the scheme; it was a German doctor, named Bollman, a man of ability, who did not need to be taught his lesson. Time was needed to carry out the scheme, and a good deal of audacity had to be concealed under a good deal of skill and prudence.
"Having provided himself with excellent letters of recommendation the doctor arrived at Hamburg, as though to exercise his profession in Germany. He lived in good style, kept a carriage, visited the sick poor without a fee, and did many charitable acts in a simple and unaffected manner, though he followed in the footsteps of Cagliostro and the famous Count St. Germain. He was as slow as a tortoise in accomplishing his end; stopped in all the principal towns of Germany, and when after a very slow progress, he did arrive at Olmutz, he had already achieved a reputation for science, kindness, and philanthropy. He did not omit to pay a visit to the governor of the fortress as soon as he arrived, and quickly made the acquaintance of that worthy German, who often came to see him, and invited him to dinner. The champagne was not spared on these occasions, and, at length, one day, over the bottle, the doctor hinted that he had heard in the town that a prisoner of some importance, who was under the governor's care, was in a precarious state of health. He remarked that, in his own interest, the governor should see to this, as if the prisoner died, his death would be imputed to neglect or ill-treatment, and the odium of that charge would rest not only on the gaoler, but even on the sovereign.
"The guileless governor grew fearful of the consequences that might ensue, and begged the doctor's help and advice, and the other protested that as a good and loyal German he was ready to do everything he could for the patient. Trusting in the good faith of Dr. Bollman, the governor conducted him into the prisoner's cell. The doctor took advantage of the opportunity, and whilst feeling M. de la Fayette's pulse, slipped into his hand a note which informed him of the plot, and raised his hopes of ultimate escape. Bollman gravely informed the governor that the prisoner would inevitably die in a brief space of time if he were not allowed to breathe the fresh air of the country. Owing to the feeble condition of the invalid no fear of his escape need be entertained, and the doctor concluded by saying that he would take the prisoner for occasional drives in his own carriage, which should only proceed at a walking pace, and could be escorted by any soldiers the governor thought necessary. That functionary,—never suspecting a doctor who had such good wine,—gave his consent.
"M. de la Fayette, for his part, pretended to be extremely weak, and even unable to walk, so he was carried to the carriage, which never took him more than a league from Olmutz, and always brought him to the appointed spot when the drive was finished. This went on for some time, and the governor, feeling more secure, gradually diminished the escort, and finally reduced it to a single soldier.
"Meanwhile the cunning physician bought two fine saddle horses, and arranged to have them taken to a certain spot at a certain hour on an appointed day. Bollman also provided a couple of pairs of pistols, and plenty of money. When they arrived at the place arranged, they jumped out of the carriage, and the doctor with one hand presented a pistol at the head of the astonished soldier, and with the other offered him a purse of gold. Then the horses appeared, and the two fugitives sprang to the saddle and rode off. After going some distance they separated. M. de la Fayette rode fifty miles on the same horse, which at last dropped dead, and he was imprudent enough to stop to buy another. In Germany it is the custom to fire a cannon when a prisoner has escaped, and the peasants, being therefore on the look-out for any suspected person, arrested M. de la Fayette for the sake of the reward they would get for his capture, and took him back to Olmutz. The doctor, who acted more circumspectly, got away, and returned to America alone."
Such was the story told by my friend La Colombe. When I afterwards returned to Paris, I met M. de la Fayette, who said to me with a laugh:
"Well! I also have been in a fortress, and tried to make my escape."
"So I hear," I replied, "but you did not manage it as well as I did. General."Shortly afterwards I left the United States,—this time "for good" I think,—and landed at Hamburg.
- Sec Note M.
- Sec Note N.
- See Note O.
- An accident in infancy bad rendered Talleyrand lame for life.
- See Note P.
- See Note Q.
- In 1828, when the book was written.
- The error is obvious. Perhaps a Frenchman writing in 1828, can be pardoned for recalling Burr as Burgh, when an Englishman, nearly 70 years later, describes Farragut as "the great Confederate admiral."