Littell's Living Age/Volume 128/Issue 1653/Conversation with Napoleon at Longwood

Littell's Living Age, Volume 128, Issue 1653
Conversation with Napoleon at Longwood

From The St. James's Magazine.


Before leaving the Briars, Napoleon went to Mr. Balcombe's apartment, and invited the young ladies to Longwood, where he said he would always be happy to see them. We reached Longwood in safety, Napoleon evincing no feeling of any kind that night respecting the change. Next day, however, he seemed irritable, and it was some days before he could reconcile himself to the place. By degrees his irritability wore off; but his anger was aroused when he learned that an order had been given forbidding any person to enter Longwood gates without a pass signed by the admiral: that sentinels were posted all round Longwood; and that Lieutenant (? Captain) Poppleton was to live in the house as his orderly officer. Sir George Cockburn treated him with marked kindness; allowed him to go to a certain distance from Longwood alone, and permitted him to visit any part of the island he thought proper, provided that if he went beyond certain bounds the orderly officer was to attend him. Much about this time a ship arrived from England with despatches, and informed us that the 66th Regiment had embarked for St. Helena. Sir George came to Longwood with the orders he had received from England, and read them to Napoleon and his generals. He also informed Napoleon that General Sir Hudson Lowe was appointed governor of the island, and had taken his passage on board of H.M.'s frigate "Phaeton," which was expected to arrive in about a month's time. At this news Napoleon was greatly chagrined, as he appeared to know Sir Hudson Lowe well. Napoleon remarked to the admiral, "I hope Sir Hudson Lowe will act in the same manner as you have done, then I shall be comfortable." Sir George bowed, and remained silent. Mr. Jones, having a standing pass from Sir George, often came to Longwood. In a conversation about the war with Bonaparte, the latter spoke very highly of some of his own generals, saying that none could exceed them in their art. Mr. Jones replied, "You were very lucky to fall in with such clever men." "Not at all," said Napoleon. "My maxim was, never to promote any man unless he deserved it. No matter how humble a man's origin might be, if he possessed merit or any good qualities I always encouraged him, and by experience he promoted himself. To make a thorougly good general a man should go regularly through all grades in the army — that is, he should rise from the ranks. If a man had talent, I developed it. Now the practice in the English army is always to promote persons of high birth, — money easily purchasing the commission of a lieutenant-colonel, for a man with little or no military experience; the sons of noblemen can be captains and majors without ever having had a day's march with a regiment, while good soldiers who have fought for their country and experienced the fatigues and hardships of war, if they happen to be of obscure birth, in low circumstances, and to lack wealthy or influential friends, are totally and most unjustly neglected." Mr. Jones then asked Napoleon what he thought of Lord Wellington. "Why," said Napoleon, "Wellington is a good soldier and a brave man; but he does not possess that experience which is requisite in a field-marshal. Sir Rowland Hill should have been your commander-in-chief. He is far superior to Wellington, and so was General Picton. During the latter part of the war I am convinced that Wellington only followed General Hill's directions. Poor old Hill is a general who fought hard and well for his country, and he ought to have had the honours that have been given to Wellington. The English had several old officers more experienced in the field and who were better commanders than Wellington. I had read an account of Waterloo written by an Englishman, from which it appears that Wellington did the sole business himself; but let any man read a true account of the battle, and then he will see who was really the conqueror. I do not wish to disparage Wellington, — far from it, — but what would have become of him and his army if Blucher had not come to his assistance so soon?" Mr. Jones remarked that the action must have been dreadful, from the accounts he had read of it. "Yes," replied Napoleon, "it was sharp; but if I had taken the advice of Marshal Bertrand and Marshal Ney, I could have destroyed the English army, and afterwards have attacked the Prussians. I was deceived. I thought the Prussians were Grouchy coming to my assistance. Had he come as I expected, the allied army would have been annihilated — we should have taken it en flagrant délit; but Providence turned the scale against me."