A French Volunteer of the War of Independence/Chapter 7
I believe I am not exaggerating when I say that this city, and Altona, which is only separated from it by a fine avenue of trees, then contained seven or eight thousand French émigrés.
Hamburg, being a neutral city, did an immense business, and offered even more opportunity than the United States for the industry and activity of our French emigres, who were obliged to make a living somehow. Some wrote books, and others sold them.
I met there a M. de P——, who had a small capital of a hundred louis. He exchanged money, and was obliged to trot about the town like a messenger, exchanging ducats, piastres, sequins, and crowns, according to the requirements of the persons he met, but he managed to make his ten francs every day.
I also found there a young Frenchman, who did not know mathematics, but managed to teach the Germans all the same. As he spoke the language well, he went every morning to a friend, a German naval officer, to take a lesson, and then carried his newly acquired information to his pupils, who each paid him a mark. If a pupil made any observation, the professor refused to give an explanation, in order, as he said, not to confuse the pupil's mind. When his lesson was finished he received his money, out of which he had to give ten cents to the naval officer.
In fact the émigrés busied themselves to such an extent in every department of commerce, that the Jews seemed likely at one time to leave the field to them. One Jew, who was a painter, revenged himself by taking a likeness on the quiet of the Frenchman he most disliked,—a certain R—— F——, I believe. He represented him as sitting in one pan of a pair of scales, whilst in the other were twenty Jews who were unable to weigh him up. The caricature was sold in the print shops.
I had left my brother and his family established at Lausanne, where they had founded a house of business which promised to extend and prosper. I learned in a singular, manner that his success had surpassed all his hopes. At Hamburg I heard some talk of a banker, a second "philosopher without knowing it," another M. Vanderk in fact, who under the name of Joseph la Brosse, had established a solid and flourishing business at Trieste. A draft of 100,000 florins drawn on him was paid at sight. I soon found out that this millionaire was no other than my brother. The invasion of Switzerland by the French had caused him to quit Lausanne, and he had carried his Lares and Penates to Trieste. For some years past he had made that city the head-quarters of his business, and his commercial transactions had increased to an enormous extent. I formed a project to go and visit my brother, but I did not carry it into effect for some time, for chance threw in my way an opportunity of visiting Paris.
The circumstances under which this opportunity arrived were amusing, and I might say instructive. I have no compunction in mentioning them, for it is not probable that there will ever be another emigration from France, and, if there should be, it would be the citizens who had nothing who would rob the citizens who had property—that is the invariable rule. We of the old nobility would not be the sufferers, for, heaven knows, few indeed of the fine castles, mansions, and fortunes, have remained in the families of their original owners.
But, at any rate, if the so-called liberalism—which is very different from the old Jacobinism, because it has the red cap in its pocket instead of on its head—if liberalism, I say, should ever drive the wealth out of France, I thought I should like to know how it came back.
I did not look forward with much pleas ure to my visit to France, and had no family ties, for my relations had either been murdered or driven out of the country, but there was danger to be incurred by returning.
Nitimur in vetitum semper cupimusque negata.
I meant to preserve my incognito, and hoped that my friends,—if I should meet any,—would also keep it. This mystery, with a spice of danger added, gave promise that my days would not be dull, and besides I wanted to see France from behind the scenes;—to view the carnival in action. The Directoire was still at the Luxembourg, and on the walls, the coins, and at the head of decrees, you read the words, Republique Frangaise, and saw the fasces and the cap of liberty. I had heard all this, but I only half believed it, and, at all events, the spectacle seemed worth witnessing, even at some risk.
To revisit France, if a chance occurred, was a fixed resolve with me, and the chance did occur. One morning while I was at Hamburg, I received a letter, addressed to me, coming from one of the departments annexed to France, and containing an official intimation that the name of my friend, the Chevalier de la Colombe, had been struck off the list of proscribed emigrants. I turned the letter over and over, and said to myself, "Why, this is a permission to bearer. My friend La Colombe cannot fail sooner or later to hear in the United States, through the newspapers, of the removal of his name. I will ask the French authorities at Altona for a passport in his name for Paris, and it is sure not to be re- fused."
I presented myself before M. Dietrick, the Resident of the Republic, "one and indivisible." At the moment I arrived a Gascon soldier of the body-guard was applying for a passport, and was passing himself off for a Swiss. The worthy fellow had nothing against him but his accent.
"Yes, monsou le Resident," said the applicant from the South, "I require a passport for France.""And so you are a Swiss?" said the Resident.
"A Swiss of Neuchatel, monsou le Resident," replied the Gascon.
"Monsou le Resident" could not refrain from saying, with a quiet smile, "Since when was Neuchatel situated on the Garonne?"
The imperturbable Gascon was not taken aback, and without moving a muscle, replied, "Ever since the Revolution, monsou le Resident."
The retort was unanswerable, and the passport was issued. In my case, the application seemed only a natural consequence of the official document of which I was the bearer, and I obtained the passport without any difficulty. I had borrowed my friend's name, certainly, but the description in the passport referred to me, and I set out on my journey in perfect security.
When I was about to leave, I reviewed the state of my finances, and as I know that what does not increase diminishes, I exchanged a fair number of ducats for English merchandise, which promised me a good profit if I could only succeed in in troducing it into French territory,—but how that was to be done I had not calculated, and trusted to luck to help me at the critical moment; audentes fortuna juvat.
I arrived at the gates of Antwerp. I had with me in my carriage, perhaps I should say in our carriage, for it belonged to him as much as to me,— or rather it belonged to neither of us, for it was a hired conveyance,—I had with me as my travelling companion, an émigré whose name had also been removed from the list of proscriptions. He also was returning to France, but his papers were all in order. M. de P—— was a good, careful, prudent man, much esteemed by all who knew him, and by all who knew his daughter, for he was the father of the good and beautiful Madame de M——, who has the secret of preserving her beauty, for on my word as a man of honour, and a good judge, though she was beautiful at twenty, she was yet more beautiful twenty years later. I acted as escort and protector to my companion, and would not have suffered a hair on his head to be touched, and he had plenty of hairs on his head, for though he was middle-aged he was marvellously well preserved,—it runs in the family.
M. de P—— had nothing to fear, but I was not at all easy in my mind when we drove up to the gates of Antwerp. My merchandise, my papers, my name, my person, were all contraband. The carriage stopped before the lodge of the customs officer, the door was opened, and an officer put his head in and asked the usual question. It was evening, and he carried a lighted candle in his hand. I seized my companion's arm and whispered to him, "Leave everything to me; don't speak, and above all don't laugh." Then having, on the spur of the moment, devised the little comedy I was about to play, I began my part.
"Ah, my dear Durand, how are you?" I cried, stretching forth my hand in the most friendly manner to the customs officer,—whom I had never seen before. "So they have sent you here now."
The man replied, as I had fully ex pected he would, "Citizen, I don't know you."
With that I jumped out of the carriage, and threw my arms round the neck of my newly-found friend; the candle fell, the customs officer swore and pushed me away, and the inspector came out and asked what was the matter.
"Lieutenant," I said, " I appeal to you. Here is Durand, my old comrade, who won't recognize his friend Bernard, though he taught me the profession."
The inspector listened to what I had to say, the other officers turned out of the guard-house with torches, and the misunderstanding was cleared up,—much to my advantage. The inspector,—to whom I had been careful to apply the title of lieutenant, though he was only a brigadier,—was already disposed in my favour.
That I had been misled by a chance resemblance, and that the customs officer was not my old friend Durand, I was the first to acknowledge, but the inspector and all his assistants,—even the one I had baptized Durand,—were all very polite to me, and attributed the mistake partly to absense of mind, partly to good fellowship. Conversation became general, everyone had something to say;—there were so many posts along the immense frontier, and such transfers and removals almost every day,—and the new post was always so far from the old one,—and a man never knew what it was to have a home,—and, we all agreed, the Revenue Department was very badly managed."And now, citizens," I said at last, in the bravest possible manner, "duty must be done, and it is not a customs officer who will refuse to obey the laws of the Republic. Lieutenant, will you please search my trunk? Here is the key." The "lieutenant" smiled, the others all cried in chorus, "What! search a comrade's box!" I took my leave of them all, put the key back in my pocket, and got into the carriage again. All wished me a good journey and a short stay in my new quarters, for I fancy, that in order to make them pity me the more, I had mentioned Soubise or Marennes as my destination.
Good M. de P——, who had remained in the carriage, still trembled for me. When we had passed the barrier, I laughed and said, "That is the way to smuggle. I could not get out of it as Marshal Saxe did, but you will agree that I managed it pretty well." And thereupon I told him the story of what happened to the conqueror of Fontenoy at the gates of some Flemish town.
Marshal Saxe was returning into France after the campaign of 1745. At the gates of some city on the French frontier, a customs officer presented himself at the door of the carriage, and said, "Have you anything contrary to the orders of the King, Marshal?"
"But what is that?" asked the officer, pointing to an immense barrel of tobacco on which the marshal's feet were resting, and which took up all the front part of the carriage.
"That, Monsieur," replied the marshal calmly, " is my tobacco box."
"Oh, indeed!" said the official. "Well, I suppose it is but right that a very great general should have a tobacco box in proportion," and he closed the door respectfully.
Success begets confidence, and confidence begets fresh successes, and thus one arrives at high position, fortune, and honours,—but I only wanted to arrive at Paris. There was, however, one more formality to fulfil,—the passport issued at Hamburg, must be visé by the authorities of Antwerp. For some months past the chief official there had been called a Prefect,—the post had been newly created by the ruler, who, under the title of First Consul, was sole master in France, though there were professedly three persons at the head of the so-called Republic. France was still nominally a Republic, and individuals who ere long would be called Sire, Monseigneur, Duke, Baron, or Excellency, were still simple citizens.I went to the Prefecture of Antwerp, and presented myself before the chief magistrate of the department. I was announced as M. de la Colombe.
" Yes, Citizen Prefect, I am M. de la Colombe, an éemigré rayé, from Hamburg, and I want my passport visé in order to return to France."
"M. de la Colombe," said the prefect, in a marked manner, that I ought to have noticed, and looking at me in a droll sort of way. "Please to take a chair, M. de la Colombe. Have I the honour of addressing M. de la Colombe? It is not long since M. de la Colombe left Hamburg. You only received the intimation of the removal of your name from the list a few days ago, I suppose, M. de la Colombe. We are delighted, M. de la Colombe, to be able to provide French émigrés with the means of returning to their mother country. M. de la Colombe wants his passport visé for Paris. I hope M. de la Colombe will not meet with any unpleasantness during his stay in the capital. I am glad to have had the honour of making your acquaintance, M. de la Colombe. I have the honour to wish you a pleasant and prosperous journey, M. de la Colombe.
It was "M. de la Colombe" all the time. "The prefect is extremely polite," I said to myself, "but is he afraid that people will forget their own names?" Some time afterwards, however, I learned that the Prefect of Antwerp was the stranger who had forwarded to me at Hamburg,—through a third person,—the notice of the removal of the name of La Colombe,—with whom he had formerly been very intimate. Then I had the key to the enigma, and understood his kindness, discretion, and genial banter, for instead of signing the visé to my passport, he could have told me openly that I was an impostor, and I should have had no right to com- plain.
I ought to mention, as a matter of historical accuracy, that I am not quite sure, at this length of time, whether it was the prefect or the secretary-general with whom I had to do, but at this period there were many instances besides mine, in which functionaries did all they could to modify the rigours of the Osselin law. A certain great personage, whom I will not name, may perhaps remember this incident, which is greatly to his honour. An émigré applied to him, in the name of Bouchard. "I can do nothing for Citizen Bouchard," was the reply, "but I will do all in my power for M. de Montmorenci."
Anyhow, there I was in France, and when I arrived in Paris, I was as much under the shelter of the law as any inhabitant who had never quitted the country, or meddled in political events.
"His native land is dear to each true heart!
With what delight do I behold this spot."
That is what nearly everyone feels, and nearly everyone says,—from Tancred to Potaveri, from the Frenchman to the Hottentot;—but I said nothing of the kind.
The ruling inclination in me,—it has been a slight fault of mine ever since I was twenty years of age,—is to indulge in a private chuckle, and so I admire very little, and I rarely blame, and though I do not laugh outright, I laugh in my beard, for I have seen so much that I have learned to estimate events at their proper value, and I praise no celebrity till after he is dead;—I have made so many mistakes in paying my tribute of admiration to a living celebrity. This disposition made me regard France as a very absurd set of magic lantern slides. When I had been forty-eight hours in Paris, it seemed to me that of all the persons I recognized, the pretty women had grown old, and the men had changed.
I had always prided myself on the possession of a well-shaped leg, and had always been in favour of knee breeches and stockings, and when I saw everyone wearing trousers, I said to myself, "Has the Revolution made all the young men bow-legged?" Similarly when I saw double or single eye-glasses on the noses of young men of twenty, I said, "This unlucky Revolution has made them all short-sighted." I know that, as a general rule, the public cannot see beyond its nose, but when I noticed that it was merely a freak of fashion and that the young men got themselves up as carefully as Antinous, I thought perhaps they wore eye-glasses in order to better resemble the favourite of Adrian, and I laughed at those historians who pretend that glasses are a modern invention.
I saw pass along the Boulevards two young men, dressed in the very height of fashion, mounted on fine horses, and trotting at a rate which made everyone turn to look at them. A middle-aged man, who was leaning on his cane, watching them, cried as they passed him,—in the tone which an uncle or a father would have used—"Very pretty indeed,—but the debts!" They both laughed, and so did I. I knew them, and the reproof was not undeserved, as regards one of them at least.
Another time I saw in a fine carriage,—and there were not many such at Paris at that time,—a face that I recognized by its ineptitude. He was a virtuoso whom I remembered as making his debut at a concert, and with the greatest possible success, when he was a beardless boy. I had not forgotten that he said to me, as we came out, "Did I not play like an angel? I must confess that he must have had some talent in his fingers, for this young fool became a millionaire in six months, and has managed to keep his money; so if he was a fool he was no ass,—but it is not worth while to mention his name.
As for me, I had at once, as a precautionary measure, taken up my residence in the quietest quarter of the city I could find, that is to say in the Rue St. Louis in the Marais. I had not been a week in Paris,—trying the ground to make sure it was safe,—when I unexpectedly encountered an old acquaintance. The meeting made me uneasy at first, but in the end was most fortunate and useful for me. I remember (though now with pleasure and gratitude) that my first feeling at this encounter was one of fear. It was exactly like the meeting between Almaviva and the Barber of Seville. The good fellow,—whom I took for something quite different,—scanned me so closely, that I said to myself, "I have seen him somewhere."
"I am not mistaken," he said, "it is you, M. le Chevalier."
"Ah, it is you, d'O——, I answered with a little more confidence, "and what are you doing at Paris." When I left in '91 he was proprietor of a café at the Petit Carreau.
D'O—— had been brought up by my grandmother and my uncle, the President. He was a tall, good-looking man, with a frank open face, and, when I knew him, very active, strong, and exceedingly bold, though he carried no weapons, offensive or defensive, except a little stick about a foot and a half long, and no thicker than a switch. He looked a little older, but otherwise was externally very much as I had known him. However, I guessed from his character, that he was not likely to have remained neutral during the Revolutionary troubles, and I was doubtful of what he might have become during the ten years which had elapsed since I had lost sight of him. All the difference between us and the characters in Beaumarchais' play was, that I was not a grandee of Spain, that we were on the pavement of Paris, and that honest d'O—— was, has always been, and is still, the best and worthiest of men;— Otherwise his story greatly resembled that of Figaro.
"Yes," he said to me, "I was, when you left France, proprietor of a cafe. I became what is called officier de paix, and had to guard the Tuileries. You may guess that I showed our unfortunate King and his august family every mark of devotion, and there was no advice likely to be useful for their safety or repose that I failed to give them. They did me the honour to receive me, and confide in me as a servant in whom they could trust. After the terrible day of the 10th of August, I was arrested, and brought to trial. I pleaded my own cause, I defended my head with courage and eloquence, and as I had the advantage of not being noble, but belonging to the people, they were forced to forgive me for having done my duty, and I was acquitted. I wore the livery of the Revolution, but nevertheless I carried in my heart a love of the Bourbons, and of all honest people. I have saved as many as I could from the scaffold; many know it, but many others do not suspect it, for I never told them, fearing lest their indiscreet gratitude might compromise me and prevent me from serving others. I was adroit, and feared nothing, though I rarely carried any weapon except the little ’Jacob's staff' you see here—sometimes I had a pair of pistols in my pockets, but I never had occasion to use them; and I was so honest that they gave me carte blanche for my expenses and paid my accounts without examining them.
"The Committee of Public Safety often sent me on missions, with powers exceeding even those of the Representatives of the people themselves, and thus I was able to do good service by making away with documents which would have destroyed whole families. I often took away papers, when I was sure that the Committee knew nothing of the affairs to which they related, and it was in this way that I saved the lives of the Comte and Comtesse de T——, who are related to your family. Ah, why was I not able to save your unfortunate uncle? but I did not know what danger he was in, and the scoundrels were too quick for me.
"At last I was put in prison myself, but I got out again, and was put in again,—according as the factions which were disputing for power gained or lost,—every three months; and then the 9th Thermidor arrived. The accomplices of Robespierre themselves felt that divine vengeance of which they had been the instruments. Thus, sometimes in favour, and sometimes in prison, but superior to fortune in either case, praised by some, blamed by others, taking advantage of fair weather, and caring little for the bad, and thwarting the wicked, I, with all my boldness and activity have come at last to be commissary of police in a quarter where everybody goes to bed at nine o'clock,—and am ready to serve you in any way that you may be pleased to command.
"Finally I was transported, but in very good company. It was a trick of Fouché, who wanted to be even with me, and I could do nothing. I made the voyage with Pichegru, and a lot of others, but they were all bewildered and lost their heads, for what use are great statesmen, famous warriors, and distinguished personages when you remove them from their familiar surroundings.
" It was I who found the boat and prepared the flight; and brought six besides myself safe and sound to Surinam. I remembered you. Chevalier, and do you know that it is no easier to get away from Cayenne than it is from Pierre-en-Cize; there are difficulties in both cases. At any rate I came back from Cayenne, and though I have been buffeted about by adversity, the wind is in my favour now, and 'I am ready to serve you in any way you may please to command,' as the hero of Beaumarchais' play says,—though, by the way, he had not been through so much as I have. I am as well known as Barabbas, and I know everybody, good or bad. Speak, you have but to command."
The meeting, though absurd, was very useful for me. Through my friend d'O——, I discovered that I was not on the list of emigres. There had been some intention of putting my name down, but they had not my Christian names properly, one of them had been forgotten, and my identity was not exact. Such was the ridiculous state of the law at that time,—a letter killed or saved a man,—but when they did have your name properly you were put down as a supposed émigré, even if you had been in prison all the time since 1792.
When I found that I was not on the list, I was not satisfied with my good luck, and was bold enough to demand an account of property. But my case remained unsettled, perhaps because I had selected for my attorney Jacques Deloges. I passed the 3rd Nivose quietly enough, I only heard the report of the explosion in the Rue Saint Nicaise, and I was not in the secret. My friend d'O—— assured me that Fouché would visit on the red caps all the wrath of Jupiter, the First Consul. But I saw taken to the Temple only a few days later, some persons who were certainly not "reds" but "whites," and I came to the conclusion that the air of Paris was not good for me, and I might find a purer and better atmosphere. I was taken with the reverse of homesickness, and felt as much desire to get out of the country as I had formerly done to get into it.
I knew very well that, unless I went to England, I should, out of France, be still under the same rule, visible or invisible, but the Temple, Vincennes, and the plain of Crenelle, robbed Paris of all its charms. The occupant of the Tuileries had sworn that the sun should not set on his dominions, and that he would everywhere do as he liked, but it struck me that the rays of his sun would not burn me so much if I were at a distance.
I said to myself, "Italiam! Italiam!" for I remembered that on the Adriatic Sea I had a second home, where I should meet a fraternal welcome, for my elder brother, the head of the family, had there gathered together the household gods.
D'O—— had procured for me, in case of accidents, passports made out in a false name, but with my correct description, and it was well for me that I used them at the right moment. The day of my departure, poor d'O—— of my political barometer, received, as a kind attention from Fouché, an "invitation" to retire to M—— and remain there until further orders. That only made me set off the faster towards Trieste, and as straight as I could go. I never looked behind me till I had passed the frontier of my native land, where, under the rule of the benign Bonaparte, no one was ever sure of sleeping in his bed at night.
The word "prison" had always made me prick up my ears like a hare, and I was singularly well-instructed in the topography of France, as regards the dungeons. I wished that the angels could have carried the diligence, as they did the house of the Virgin from Capernaum to Loretto, for I felt quite a nightmare when I saw on my left the castle of Joux, where M. de Suzannet then was, and, as we skirted the Doubs, the citadel of Besangon above my head to the left. I breathed more freely when, entering Lyon by the faubourg of Vaise, I noticed that Pierre-en-Cize was pulled down, and nobody else could be put there. —at least until it was rebuilt,—and I said to myself, "Well, it is certain that poor M. de L——, who wanted so much to escape, is no longer there."
And so with my heart full of kindly thoughts, I passed,— either that day or the next,—the bridge of Beauvoism, and so from town to town, traversed the Kingdom of Italy, and the former Republic of Venice, where I did not see the Lion of St. Mark, because I had left it at Paris in front of the Invalides. I did not seek the Bucentaur, but a little felucca, and with my usual good luck, found one all ready to sail for Trieste. The felucca received me and my baggage, and the sea which the Doge of Venice weds every year, did not seem to notice the light weight I laid on its back, and in due time I landed safely at that city which for some time past had been known as the capital of the Illyrian provinces, and,—speaking without prejudice,—I found the air there better.
I saw at once that I was not mistaken in supposing that I should be safe there. The country had been but recently an nexed, and the people had just submitted themselves. The two-legged mules still carried their burden, though the pack was marked with another letter, and it was politic not to make the new load heavier than the old one. Trieste was the most advanced outpost of the French Republic, and it was difficult to believe it would be held for a long term. The adventurer who governed France spent his years in playing at war, and risked all for all in each battle.Placed thus at the top of the gulf, I had in front of me the Adriatic Sea, which stretched like a long street between the former Republic of Venice, the former Papal States, and the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies,—for the time being. Behind me on the north I had the land of the Pandours of Trenk, the Croats of the celebrated Count Serin, of the fortress of Zigeth, semi-savages, whose only claim to civilization was their fidelity to the Romische Kaiser, and the paternal house of Austria. Peace between such neighbours only depended on circumstances.
On the left, in Epirus and Albania, and as far as Ragusa, little trust could be placed in the natives, and behind these strange French citizens were the Pachas of Trawnik, Nicopolis, Widin, and Janina, who are accustomed to keep all their goods, from their cloaks to their money, in cypress wood coffers, which are not fastened to the wall. An uncertainty as to what to-morrow may bring forth is a natural condition of the lives of these Turkish potentates, who sat day after day smoking their pipes at no great distance from us. They afforded me a subject for comparison with the precarious condition of the French in the land to which I had come to seek a stone whereon to rest my head.
The flag of France was flying everywhere, and I saw the tricolour of the Republic, One and Indivisible, instead of the yellow and black flag with the Austrian Eagle, but the occupation was very recent, and our power seemed to me like a house of cards, liable to be blown down by the first ill wind,—though whether it would blow from the north or the south, I could not guess.
Trieste, which is situated at the end of the gulf which bears its name, is built in the form of an amphitheatre on the side of a hill, the foot of which is washed by the sea. A citadel has been constructed on the summit of this hill, and, from its position, commands all the city, which is divided into an upper and a lower town. My brother's house was in the lower part of Trieste, near the port. The Empress Maria Theresa transformed Trieste, which before that was merely a harbour, into a commercial city, the chief, in fact the only, maritime establishment of the Austrian Empire.
From 1750, Trieste had been increasing in size and wealth. In 1767, an Insurance Company, with a capital of 300,000 florins was founded there; and in 1770 it contained thirty large houses of business. At the period of which I am writing, Trieste had arrived at its highest degree of prosperity.
The business which my brother had founded, and which he conducted so honourably and with such success, was now one of the first firms in Europe. He had gathered round him many of the émigrés, former fellow officers of the Dauphine regiment, and had made them associates with him in his business.
I arrived in time to witness an incident which proved in what consideration my brother was held, on account of his upright conduct.
But a short time before, a French army had presented itself before Trieste, and the city, being incapable of any resistance, surrendered.
The general laid a heavy tax upon the city, and a great part of this fell upon the merchants. They prepared to pay it, and Joseph la Brosse put his own name down at the head of the list for a large amount. But the conquerors had heard that he was a French émigré, and knew how he had regained his fortune and the noble use that he made of it, and the French general, being willing to oblige a compatriot who had so bravely struggled against adversity, declared Joseph la Brosse should be exempt from the tax, and pay nothing. My brother asked if his share was to be deducted from the total, and received the reply that though he was personally exempted from paying, no diminution would be made in the sum demanded, but his share would have to be contributed by the other merchants of Trieste. My brother was noble and disinterested enough to reply that he had received the hospitality of Trieste, and all the merchants of the city were his comrades and friends, and that as he had shared with them in good luck, it was only fair that he should be allied with them in their misfortune.
"But," he said to General S——, "as you wish to show me a kindness, there is something you can do for me. Diminish the number of soldiers who are lodged in my warehouses, for I have noticed that bales of merchandise do not seem to agree with sabres and moustaches."
The general laughed, and removed many of the soldiers who were billeted on my brother. He easily recouped himself, however, for his share in the contribution levied on Trieste, for he made a contract with the general for supplying the army with all that it needed, charging only a small commission. The contract was duly carried out to the satisfaction of both parties.
My brother had a town house in Trieste, where he carried on his business as a banker and merchant, and he had also a country house, or as it might more properly be called, an estate, with a handsome residence to match. His time was thus always occupied either by agriculture or commerce, and each hour of the day had its useful and praiseworthy employment. The management of the internal arrangements belonged to my sister-in-law, but she had a hand in foreign affairs also, managed the correspondence in the absence of her husband, and often gave sound advice on business affairs connected with the firm of Joseph la Brosse & Co.
The Continental blockade greatly assisted my brother's speculations. The Levant cottons could no longer come by sea, and had to be brought overland, and he had much to do with the transport, and brought a great part of the best cotton into Europe. He thus became acquainted with some of the chief bankers of Paris. In connection with this I will relate an anecdote showing a comic contrast between two different kinds of men.
I was alone with my brother in Paris, whither he had returned to see if the waters of the political deluge had really retired from France, and if he could take back, like the dove, a green leaf to his family, who had remained in the ark of safety at Trieste.
A confrere, one of the leading commercial men in Paris, and between whom and my brother there existed a mutual esteem and friendship, came to congratulate him on his arrival. He had exalted notions of the dignity of commerce, and in the course of conversation, he said,
"You must own. Monsieur, that you have led quite a different life since you took to business. Now, your signature is worth a hundred thousand crowns, from one end of Europe to the other, and you are known everywhere as Joseph la Brosse. Is not that better than being called the Comte de Pontgibaud? At the best you would have been no better off than a couple of thousand others, whilst to-day ——"
The door opened and the Archbishop of Rouen entered. He embraced my brother, and said,
"So, my dear Pontgibaud, you have at last come back to us. Well, of course, you will stop with us. Leave behind your counter, and your borrowed name of Joseph la Brosse, and again resume your place as our old friend, Comte de Pontgibaud."
You may guess how laughable this contrast sounded, especially to my brother, who did not say a word. It is nevertheless true, that at the time of the Continental blockade, my brother, who was previously a millionaire, possessed a fortune much greater than he had possessed, or ever could have possessed, in France. He was a merchant, banker, and landed proprietor, for he had, near Trieste, a fine house with plenty of land. The astute merchant of the city was, in the country, an able agriculturist, for throughout his life he had a taste for farming. He combined theory with practice, and did not, like "parlour farmers," content himself with inventing useless systems, but tried experiments which nearly always succeeded.
Being of an observant turn of mind, he found something to do at all hours and in all weathers, when he was on his estate. If rain fell in torrents we would all make for the house, but he would go out again in the heaviest shower to study the direction that the water took in different places, and utilize his knowledge in irrigating, or draining, his land. Fortune was bound to come to one who sought her by all roads.
His relations with all sorts of people, as a commercial notability, and more recently as a banker, had rendered his name known throughout Europe. As for me, I had sunk from an actor to become a spectator. My dear brother, the most sensible, calmest, and most virtuous of men, would have been glad to do for me what he had done for many others, if I had been obliged to have recourse to him. His genius,—for so I might call it,—could not be compared to his character, which was one of the most noble I have ever known. In short, his wisdom and intelligence were only equalled by his kindness, his probity, his humanity, and complaisance, and it might be well said of him,
"Homo sum, humani nihil à me alienum puto"
But it is true that the services he rendered other people often turned to his own profit, without any intention on his part. Accidents even conspired to increase not only his fortune and reputation, but the esteem, good will, and gratitude which all felt towards him. The justice that was done to his character, the confidence that was shown in him, the protection and shelter that many came to ask of him, are satisfactory proofs that the human species does not wholly consist of wolves and sheep, torturers and their victims, tyrants and oppressed; an example to the contrary was to be found every day at Trieste, where I have often watched with my own eyes, as in a magic lantern, all the most dramatic personages of Continental Europe pass one after the other.
Trieste became a refuge where all the political cripples, of whatever rank they were, discrowned kings and their ministers, came to seek asylum, and found it; my brother received them all under his hospitable roof.
For several years there was an almost daily succession of celebrated refugees, of all sorts and conditions. My brother was all things to all men, and was generally looked upon as the friend of humanity. He resembled Captain Cook, who sailed between two hostile fleets of savages, who were preparing to attack each other, and was saluted by both sides. His conduct at Trieste reminded me of that rich and pious citizen of Agrigentum who, it was said, sat at the gates of the city of Agrigentum in order to be the first to offer hospitality to the travellers who arrived. He imitated Gellias without knowing it, and his kindness and delicacy were so much appreciated that all strangers of distinction were either sent or came to him. In fact, Joseph la Brosse of Trieste exactly resembled the colossal figure of St. Christopher, which is put at the door of some churches in order that it may be seen afar off, and in accordance with the popular belief expressed in the monkish Latin proverb, Christophorum videas postea tutus eas. But it is doubtful whether even the great St. Christopher did as much good as my brother was able to do.
Not long after my arrival, General Junot was named "Captain General and Governor of the Illyrian Provinces." He had great confidence in my brother, and treated him with consideration and regard, but the sun of Portugal had had a bad effect on the head of this sabreur, who naturally was neither sober nor prudent. Though he held a relatively high position in the Empire, General Junot compromised his prospects by giving daily examples of extravagant and absurd conduct. One day when reviewing the troops, he drove in front of the soldiers in a carriage with four horses, and as he passed along he struck the men with his whip, crying at the same time, "Fall in line! Fall in line!" He committed many other absurdities, and at last orders arrived at Trieste from the Viceroy that he was to be seized and sent back to Paris. The instructions were bound to be obeyed, but the task was not an easy one. Finally a corn sack was thrown over his head, and he was tied up like a bale of tobacco, put in his own carriage, and packed off to Paris.
At his departure, his tradespeople and other creditors surrounded his house, and refused to allow his baggage to be removed till their claims were satisfied. My brother, seeing a large crowd at the door squabbling over the cases and trunks, inquired the cause of the disturbance. He was told that the general's property was detained for debts amounting to two thousand crowns. My brother paid all claims upon the spot, without waiting for any instructions, and released the goods, which duly arrived safely in Paris. The cases contained much valuable property, and the diamond stars and orders which had been presented to the general. The Duchesse d'Abrantes wrote a letter of thanks to my brother, and added that her first care should be to repay the debt. In fact, as soon as her husband's affairs were settled, a draft for 2000 crowns was sent to Trieste, in repayment of the sum which had been so obligingly advanced.
General Bertrand succeeded General Junot as Governor-General of Illyria and the adjacent provinces. He was honest, just, liberal, and unselfish. He wished to make his new subjects love the rule of his master,—to whom he was himself sincerely attached. He rendered the imperial yoke as light as possible; no small task, as the people could remember still the paternal government of the House of Austria, but at least General Bertrand was both just and generous. In order that his charity might not be imposed on, he charged my brother, who had the reputa tion of being a strictly honest man, to distribute the money, etc., given to the poor and needy, and to make all inquiries about the applicants for relief, and thus it happened that Joseph la Brosse, a French emigre, found himself accidentally acting as an officer of that Emperor of whom his subordinates used to say, "Our master wishes us to shear his sheep, but not flay them."
This noble general, who was called elsewhere, had for a more or less immediate successor a man of quite a different stamp, the celebrated Fouché, Duke of Otranto,—another personage whom Joseph la Brosse saved from misfortune.
Bonaparte lost all the ground he had gained, and as his armies were driven back towards France, all the legations packed their papers into wagons and returned to Paris. The Austrians in their turn took the offensive as the French retired before them. The French still occupied Trieste, though the port was blockaded, and on all the heights which commanded the town were Austrian flags, and batteries of artil lery ready to open fire, if any resistance were shown. The notorious Duc d'Otrante, shut up like a wolf in a sheep-fold, was in the greatest trouble.
I was present when he came and begged my brother to save him and his children. Joseph la Brosse was quite a refuge of the wicked, and even Fouché did not have to appeal in vain. He soothed and comforted his visitor, and promised not only to save him but to send after him all his property which he was ready to abandon. The former priest of the Oratory was transformed into a soldier, mounted on a horse amongst fifty gendarmes, and boldly passed through the Austrian lines without being noticed.
Thus was the Due d'Otrante taken out of danger by Joseph la Brosse, and got away safe and unhurt, and the Dauphin granted a safeguard to one of the worst scoundrels known to history.
During this political crisis, my brother went from Trieste, which was still occu pied by the French, to the Austrian camp, and from the Austrian camp to Trieste, as an emissary in the confidence of both parties. His country house and property were always respected, and regarded indeed as neutral ground.
Fouche had hardly left when Count Gottorp, the ex-king of Sweden, descended, or rather ascended,—for the Prince lived on the second floor,—at the house of Joseph la Brosse.
It could not be said of this monarch at least, that he had no ancestors, and had not been brought up in the Tyrian purple and the royal ermine; he was no Lithuanian gentleman promoted to be King of Poland by the favour of a Muscovite arch-duchess. I had seen, face to face, one kind of sovereign,—a President of the United States,—but it needed another Revolution in another country to bring before my eyes the spectacle of a legitimate "King by the Grace of God" in the house of a simple citizen. Thrones were slippery at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, and hereditary kings were no better off than those whom chance had presented with a sceptre.
At any rate the royal descendant of Gustavus Adolphus and Charles XII, the son and successor of that Gustavus III who was preparing to lead the chivalry of Europe against French Jacobinism at the moment when he was so treacherously murdered by one of his own officers and subjects, was now our guest at Trieste, and living on the second floor in the same house with us. His generals had turned traitors, and dethroned him, and he was now travelling about Europe under the name of Count Gottorp.
He frequently came down to see us and would converse without any ceremony, but he always seemed to me to prefer the company of my brother and my sister-in-law, who never forgot that he had been King of Sweden, though he appeared to forget it himself and to wish that it should be forgotten. My imperturbable sister-in-law, though she joined in the conversation with good-sense and modesty, never neglected, on his account, to see to her household, or the business of the firm. The prince talked freely on all subjects, and showed some learning and a good deal of "superficial knowledge"—but he was a volcano in a state of calm.
His opinions upon different persons were in marked contrast to what,—according to general belief,—they were expected to be. Thus, he said of M. Fersen, "His zeal did me a great deal of harm;" and of the Duke of Sudermania his uncle, who became Charles XIII, "I am under the greatest obligations to him."
Amongst the singularities which rendered his private life so strange, I remarked the following traits. He always had three courses brought to table for his dinner, but he would lock up one of them in his bureau to serve for his supper.
Beggars in Trieste go from house to house and knock at the doors. The King always had a pocketful of money for them, and as soon as he heard a beggar knock he would run downstairs from the second floor to bestow alms upon the mendicant. Indeed he gave very little trouble to the few servants he had, doing much for himself even in his rooms, like Charles XII when he was at Bender.
However, his ideas were, in general, sound and sure enough on all subjects,—with one exception. He had one bugbear; and if, unfortunately, the conversation reminded him of the violence which Generals Klingsporr, Adelscreutz, and his Chamberlain, Silvespare, had shown towards him in his own palace,—or of his imprisonment, with his family, in the fortress of Drottningholm, and the act of abdication which he was forced to sign in June, 1809,—his feelings would carry him away, and his head,—but, stop! it was a crowned head, and, whatever I recollect, I must not forget that.
I remember also that he wished to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When he was on board the ship that he had chartered to convey him to the Holy Land, my brother sent his son,—my nephew,—with some cases of liqueurs, some tea, chocolate, etc., as a farewell gift and token of respect. The prince did the young man the honour to ask him to lunch, but he secretly gave orders to have the anchor weighed, and when the lunch was over, my nephew found that the vessel was sailing along, and that Trieste was out of sight. Finding that the King of Sweden wanted to make him a pilgrim in spite of himself, he protested energetically against the abduction, and with a good deal of trouble obtained permission to be put on shore. His object in carrying off the young man, was, apparently, an idea that travel helped greatly to form the mind. Some trivial circumstance, however, brought the prince back again a very short time afterwards.
It was decreed that all sorts of royalties, the real article and the imitation, should meet at the house of Joseph la Brosse. While the King of Sweden was lodging with us, Jerome, otherwise known as the King of Westphalia, arrived. I thought that the Carnival of Venice had been transported to Trieste, at the sight of this second King Theodore, more of a Corsican even than his ancestors.
My brother's appearance was so simple, his face was so calm, and his bearing so much in harmony with figures, and bookkeeping by double entry, that on seeing him at his desk, you would have sworn that he had been brought up to the business all his life. He was quietly working one morning, when a young man in a frock coat buttoned up to his chin, entered, and asked if that was the house of the banker, Joseph la Brosse. My brother inclined his head slightly, and looked at the stranger with Teutonic unconcern. The young man took out of his pocket-book a draft for a large sum, on the firm of Joesph la Brosse.
My brother quickly noticed that the stranger had a pocketful of these documents, and the unknown, not caring to preserve his incognito any longer, stated that he was the King of Westphalia, and undoing his coat displayed a whole row of orders, the indubitable signs of the forced attentions which all the monarchs of Europe were compelled to pay to all those who bore the name of Bonaparte. Joseph la Brosse did not move a bit faster or slower, and did not say a word the more, in spite of the dazzling display of a complete assortment of stars, eagles, lions, elephants, and what-not, stuck over the pectoral region of the former King Jerome, but he sent to inform the King of Sweden that His Majesty the King of Westphalia was in the house, asking if he wished to see him.
"The King of the second story," replied the prince, "is not anxious to meet the King of the ground floor, but the Queen is my cousin, and if she is in Trieste I should be very glad to see her."
After such august personages have figured in my recollections, I do not care to continue any longer.
The year 1814 arrived, when must perish "that man of fate whom God had appointed to punish the human race and torture the world. The justice of God had chosen this man to be the minister of its vengeance. He existed to work out the designs of Providence. He thought that he was actuated by his own wishes and passions, and he was really executing the decrees of heaven. Before he fell he had time to ruin peoples and nations, to set fire to the four comers of the earth, to spoil the present and the future by the evils which he did, and by the examples which he left."
How could Balzac, who died in 1655, write that about Cromwell? He certainly foresaw the existence of Napoleon the Great, and,—without excepting Bonaparte himself,—it may be said that he was the only person in France or Europe to show that foresight. But my quotation is only inserted to draw attention to a little-known and singular fact in history, for from the great political giant of the Nineteenth Century I have personally received neither benefit nor injury.
The year 1814 came, and with it the restoration of the legitimate monarchy. I have called this restoration miraculous, and I blessed it with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my strength,—but, alas, since 1814, I can remember, without any great effort of memory, that I have seen two restorations, and,—but here I will lay down my pen.
- This is an error on the part of the author; Bertrand preceded Junot. ED.
- See Note R.
- See Note S.
- See Note T.