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a sombre, gloomy cast. His hair was of a very dark
brown, nearly approaching to black, and, though a
little thin on the top and front, had not a grey hair
amongst it. His complexion was a very uncommon
one, being of a light sallow colour, differing from
almost any other I ever met with."

This is followed by a eulogy of Napoleon's pleas-
ing and affable manners, a eulogy which acquires a
particular value from the circumstances under which
the Emperor merited it : —

11 He joined in every conversation, related numer-
ous anecdotes, and endeavoured, in every way, to
promote good humour : he even admitted his attend-
ants to great familiarity ; and I saw one or two
instances of their contradicting him in the most direct
terms, though they generally treated him with much



76 THE DRAMA OF SAINT HELENA

respect. He possessed, to a wonderful degree, a
facility in making a favourable impression upon those
with whom he entered into conversation : this appeared
to me to be accomplished by turning the subject to
matters he supposed the person he was addressing
was well acquainted with, and on which he could show
himself to advantage. . . .

" He appeared to have great command of temper ;
for though no man could have had greater trials than
fell to his lot during the time he remained on board
the Belleropkon, he never, in my presence, or as far
as I know, allowed a fretful or captious expression to
escape him : even the day he received the notification
from Sir Bunbury, that it was determined to send
him to Saint Helena, he chatted and conversed with
the same cheerfulness as usual. It has been asserted
that he was acting a part all the time he was on
board the ship ; but still, even allowing that to be the
case, nothing but great command of temper could
have sustained such a part for so many days, in his
situation."

From the Belleropkon, the Emperor is transferred
to the Northumberland, which has been chosen to
carry him to the island of exile. The passage
from the one ship to the other takes place on
the 7th of August, 1815, off the English coast,
at Torbay. An eye - witness, William Warden,
surgeon of the British Navy, describes the scene as
follows : —

"Our quarter-deck was covered with officers, and



THE EMPEROR 77

there were also some individuals of rank who had
come round from motives of curiosity.

"The marines occupied the front of the poop,
and the officers kept the quarter-deck. An universal
silence prevailed when the barge reached the side,
and there was a grave, but anxious aspect in all the
spectators, which, in the opinion of others as well as
in my own, was no small addition to the solemnity
of the ceremonial. Count Bertrand ascended first,
and having bowed, retired a few steps to give place
to him whom he still considered as his master, and in
whose presence he appeared to feel all his most
respectful homage was still due. The whole ship's
company seemed at this moment to be in breathless
expectation. Lord Keith was the last who quitted
the barge, and I cannot give you a more complete
idea of the rapt attention of all on board to the
figure of Napoleon, than that his Lordship, high as he is
in naval character, Admiral also of the Channel Fleet,
to which we belonged, and arrayed in the full uniform
of his rank, emblazoned with the decorations of his
order, did not seem to be noticed, nor scarcely even to
be seen, among the group which was subject to him.

" With a slow step Bonaparte mounted the gang-
way, and, on feeling himself firm on the quarter-deck,
he raised his hat, when the guard presented arms and
the drum rolled. The officers of the Northumberland,
who were uncovered, stood considerably in advance.
Those he approached, and saluted with an air of the
most affable politeness. . . .



7 S THE DRAMA OF SAINT HELENA

"His dress was that of a general of French
infantry when it formed a part of his army. The coat
was orreen faced with white ; the rest was white, with
white silk stockings, and a handsome shoe with gold
oval buckles."

The Emperor landed at Saint Helena on the 1 7th of
October, 18 15. The next day, accompanied by Count
Bertrand, Sir George Cockburn, and two English
officers, he visited the cottage of The Briars. Betsy
Balcombe had been brought up in terror of his name,
as she herself relates. When she was five years old,
Bonaparte was described to her as an ogre whose
solitary red eye blazed in the middle of his forehead,
and whose big teeth — that, especially, alarmed her —
tore to pieces little girls who grieved their parents.
Now, aged fourteen, she still believed him to be the
ugliest and most wicked of men. And this is how he
appeared to her on a radiant afternoon of a southern
spring : —

" The party arrived at the gate, and there being
no carriage road, they all dismounted, excepting
the Emperor. He retained his seat and rode up the
avenue, his horse's feet cutting up the turf on our
pretty lawn. Sir George Cockburn walked on one
side of his horse, and General Bertrand on the other.
How vividly I recollect my feelings of dread, mingled
with admiration, as I now first looked upon him
whom I had learned to fear so much. His appear-
ance on horseback was noble and imposing. The
animal he rode was a superb one ; his colour jet




MRS. ABELL (BETSY BALCOMBE).
After the Portrait in her " Recollections " (1S44).



THE EMPEROR 79

black ; and as he proudly stepped up the avenue,
arching his neck and champing- his bit, I thought he
looked worthy to be the bearer of him who was once
the ruler of nearly the whole European world.

" Napoleon's position on horseback, by adding
height to his figure, supplied all that was wanting
to make me think him the most majestic person I
had ever seen. His dress was green, and covered
with orders, and his saddle and housings were of
crimson velvet richly embroidered with gold. He
alighted at our house, and we all moved to the
entrance to receive him. Sir George Cockburn
introduced us to him.

"He was deadly pale, and I thought his features,
though cold and immovable, and somewhat stern,
were exceedingly beautiful. He seated himself on
one of our cottage chairs, and after scanning our
little apartment with his eagle glance, he compli-
mented mamma on the pretty situation of The Briars.
When once he began to speak, his fascinating smile
and kind manner removed every vestige of the fear
with which I had hitherto regarded him.

" While he was talking to mamma, I had an
opportunity of scrutinising his features, which I did
with the keenest interest, and certainly I have never
seen any one with so remarkable and striking a
physiognomy. The portraits of him give a good
general idea of his features ; but his smile, and the
expression of his eye, could not be transmitted to
canvas, and these constituted Napoleon's chief charm.



8o THE DRAMA OF SAINT HELENA

His hair was dark brown, and as fine and silky as
a child's ; rather too much so indeed for a man, as its
very softness caused it to look thin. His teeth were
even, but rather dark, and I afterwards found that
this arose from his constant habit of eating liquorice,
of which he always kept a supply in his waistcoat
pocket."

A few days later, Betsy, now quite at home with
the ogre of her childhood, began to plague him by
her sly tricks. How charming the book in which,
as Mrs. Abell and already old, she tells, after the
lines just quoted, of her lack of respect and her
impudence, and pays homage to the Emperor's
patience ! A woman's narrative, indeed, flowing at
the caprice of her reminiscences, badly composed,
badly written, but full of delicate feeling, at one and
the same time melancholy and lively, and suggestive
of the pretty babble of a child! In the stern and
dreary literature of Saint Helena, it is what the
green site of The Briars was in its grey frame of
rocks — a spot where bright geraniums and pale roses
flourish side by side, to the refreshing murmur of
a brook.

Some English critics, resembling Henry in their
rejection of a sympathetic Napoleon, have recently
expressed their doubts of Mrs. Abell's veracity and
of the Emperor's kindly indulgence towards a frolic-
some child. But O'Meara, Las Cases, Montholon,
Warden, Monchenu, Sturmer, and Balmain corro-
borate Betsy's anecdotes and sketches in various



THE EMPEROR 81

passages. She is further supported by less known
narrators, as will appear from the following pages
written by an Englishwoman, the wife of an officer
of the 53rd, the regiment which preceded the 66th
at Deadwood camp : —

" My first introduction to Bonaparte was in the
island of Saint Helena, at the place called The Briars,
in the month of December, 181 5, about six weeks
after his arrival at the island.

"This introduction was by chance, and through
the means of two young and lively English ladies,
who had lately returned from a boarding-school in
England, daughters of the proprietor of The Briars.

"We went, by invitation, to dine at The Briars,
where Bonaparte resided for some weeks after his
arrival, until the house at Longwood was put in
order and prepared for his reception. I was walking
with my little daughter (eight years of age), and the
two young ladies before-mentioned, in the garden
before The Briars, when Bonaparte came forth from
a tent which was pitched on one side of the house,
accompanied by his secretary, Count Las Cases.

" Bonaparte was a little man, stout and corpulent,
of a dark olive complexion, fine features, eyes of
a light bluish grey, and, when not speaking or
animated, of an abstracted, heavy countenance. But
when lighted up and interested, his expression was
very fine, and the benevolence of his smile I never
saw surpassed. He was particularly vain of a small
and beautiful hand, and handsome little feet ; as vain



82 THE DRAMA OF SAINT HELENA

nearly (I dare say) as of having conquered half the
universe. Bonaparte laid a great stress on the
beauty of hands in ladies, and frequently inquired
of me, during our residence in Saint Helena, respect-
ing the hands of the ladies he had not seen ; and
seemed to think a pretty and delicate hand the ne
phis ultra of beauty and gentility.

" Napoleon was dressed, on the day of my first
introduction to him, in a green coat, silk stockings,
small shoes, large square gold buckles, and a cocked
hat, with a ribbon of some order, seen through the
button-hole of his coat.

" The two young ladies, who were respectively
about thirteen and fifteen years of age, were quite
familiar with the ex-Emperor, ran playfully towards
him, dragging me forward by the hand, and saying
to him, ' This lady is the mother of the little girl
who pleased you the other day by singing Italian
canzonets.'

" Upon this he made me a bow, which I returned
by a low and reverential curtsey, feeling, at the same
time, a little confused at this sudden and uncere-
monious introduction.

"'Madame,' said he, 'you have a sprightly little
daughter ; where did she learn to sing the Italian
songs ? '

"On my replying that I had taught her myself,
he said ' BonV He then asked me what country-
woman I was? — 'English.' — 'Where were you
educated?' — 'In London.' — 'What ship did you




- r MM<




THE EMPEROR 83

come out in to Saint Helena ? What regiment is
your husband in ? And what rank has he in the
army?' And a variety of like questions, as quick
as possible, did Bonaparte make to me, and all in
Italian. All this time the two young ladies and my
little daughter were running to and fro around us,
and chattering to the Great Hero, who seemed to
delight much in their lively and unsophisticated
manners. . . ."

After the departure of Napoleon from The Briars,
the English could not so easily obtain access to him.
They were soon obliged to apply for permission to
Hudson Lowe, who arrived at Saint Helena a few
months later. Sometimes the Governor refused to
let them see the Emperor, sometimes he discouraged
their curiosity by searching questions and menacing
admonitions: "Why were they so anxious to go to
Longwood ? Would they give their word of honour
that they were not the bearers of any secret message
for General Bonaparte ? Were they aware that to
deliver him clandestinely a letter, pamphlet, or news-
paper, to afford him any assistance in communicat-
ing with the outside world, or even to show him
undue deference, to address him as Sire, for instance,
rendered them liable to immediate expulsion from
the island or to imprisonment ? "

Thus treated as suspicious characters, many
became alarmed and, finally, considered it prudent
to abandon their intention.

Moreover, Hudson Lowe's authorisation, which



84 THE DRAMA OF SAINT HELENA

took the shape of a pass, only admitted them to the
enclosure of Longwood. They could roam for hours
and even days, in this enclosure, without once seeing
Napoleon. He hardly ever left his apartments, and,
at all events, rarely went beyond the immediate neigh-
bourhood of his house.

In order to contemplate "the extraordinary
man," Englishmen were obliged to solicit the
honour of being presented to him, through the
medium of Count Bertrand. The reply was not
always that desired. The Emperor, however, con-
sented readily enough to receive the dignitaries
and important officials who passed through Saint
Helena, officers of mark or of high rank, explorers
and learned men, every one in fact from whom
even the Governor hardly dared withhold his
permission.

Thus, audience was granted to Lord Amherst
notably, and to Captain Basil Hall. The visits of
that nobleman and of that distinguished sailor to
Longwood only preceded that of the 66th by a few
weeks. They have been recorded and will be
related presently. Maitland, Warden, and Mrs.
Abell would suffice, at a pinch, to bring out in
relief the malevolence of the sketch at which Henry
is to try his hand later. But, were he still alive,
he would not fail to urge that the Napoleon seen
by him at Longwood might differ in appearance,
in countenance, and in attitude from the Napoleon
of The Briars, of the Northumberland, and of the



THE EMPEROR 85

Bellerophon. It is well to hear, on the Emperor's
side, Englishmen who saw him at the same period
and in the same place as the assistant-surgeon.

Lord Amherst stopped at Saint Helena on his
return from an Embassy extraordinary to China.
He was received by Napoleon on July 1st, 18 17,
and on being shown into his presence declared :
" My great desire for twenty years has been to see
you." As O'Meara tells us, the Emperor then
began to speak of his present situation, to describe
his loneliness, and his sad and sedentary life. After-
wards, wishing to explain his physical inactivity
and his dislike for crossing the boundary of Long-
wood, he asked: "Would you, my Lord, go out
under the restriction of not saying more than ' how
do you do ? ' to any person you met unless in the
presence of a British officer ? It is true that the
Governor has removed this prohibition, but he may
impose it again, as his caprice dictates. Would
you go out under the restriction of not being able
to move to the right or to the left of the road ?
Would you stir out under the obligation of coming
in again at six oclock in the evening, or otherwise
run the risk of being stopped by sentinels at the
gates?" Lord Amherst — still according to O'Meara
— is said to have replied : " I should do as you do ;
I should not leave my room."

He subsequently denied having uttered these
words of approbation, but in a somewhat half-
hearted manner, and — the circumstance calls for



86 THE DRAMA OF SAINT HELENA

attention — at the request of Hudson Lowe, after
the Emperor's death, when the Governor began
to experience disgrace, and to see the tide of
public opinion in his own country turn against
him.

Be that as it may, little is known, one must admit,
of a conversation which lasted over an hour.

But Lord Amherst had come to Longwood with
a fairly numerous suite. When the Ambassador's
audience was over, he first introduced Henry Ellis,
the secretary of the Embassy, to Napoleon ; then,
eight other Englishmen together — in all, nine people,
of whom three have related their impressions :
Henry Ellis, the naval surgeon, MacLeod, and
Dr. Abel.

The first gives the following account : —

" Although, like others, I was familiar with the
details of Bonaparte's present situation, and might,
therefore, be supposed to have become saturated
with those sentiments of surprise, which such an
extraordinary reverse of fortune was calculated to
excite, I must confess that I could boast but little
self-possession on entering the presence of a man
who had been at once the terror and wonder of the
civilised world. The absence of attendants, and
the other circumstances of high station, did not
seem to me to have affected his individual greatness •
however elevated his rank had been, his actions
had been still beyond it. Even the mighty weapons
which he had wielded were light to his gigantic



THE EMPEROR 87

strength ; the splendour of a court, the pomp, discip-
line, and number of his armies, sufficient to have
constituted the personal greatness of an hereditary
monarch, scarcely added to the effect produced by
the tremendous, but fortunately ill-directed, energies
of his mind. Their absence, therefore, did not
diminish the influence of his individuality. I do
not know that I ever before felt myself in the
presence of a mind so much differing from mine,
not only in degree, but in nature ; and could have
had but little disposition to gratify curiosity by
inquiries into the motives which had guided his
conduct in the eventful transactions of his life. I
came prepared to listen and recollect, not to
question or speculate.

" Lord Amherst having presented me, Napoleon
began by saying that my name was not unknown
to him ; that he understood I had been at Con-
stantinople, and had a faint recollection of some
person of my name having been employed in
Russia. I, in reply, said that I had been at
Constantinople on my way to Persia. ' Yes,' said
he, ' it was 1 who showed you the way to that
country. Eh bien, comment se porte mon ami le
Shah ? What have the Russians been doing lately
in that quarter ? ' On my informing him that the
result of the last war had been the cession of
all the territory in the military occupation of their
troops, he said, ' Yes, Russia is the power now
most to be dreaded : Alexander may have what-



88 THE DRAMA OF SAINT HELENA

ever army he pleases. Unlike the French and
English, the subjects of the Russian Empire improve
their condition by becoming soldiers. If I called
on a Frenchman to quit his country, I required him
to abandon his happiness. The Russian, on the
contrary, is a slave while a peasant, and becomes
free and respectable when a soldier. A Frenchman,
leaving his country, always changes for the worse,
while Germany, France, and Italy are all superior
to the native country of the Russians. Their im-
mense bodies of Cossacks are also formidable ; their
mode of travelling resembles that of the Bedouins of
the desert. They advance with confidence into the
most unknown regions. ... If Russia organises
Poland she will be irresistible. ..."

Thereupon, Napoleon left the empire of the
Czars and turned abruptly to English politics, while
Ellis and Lord Amherst listened with more rapt
attention. According to him, England ought not
to seek to become a great military power, since
her army only numbered 40,000 men, and she
would always remain on that account inferior
to several nations. She should devote all her
resources to her fleet. It was a mistake on her
part to ally herself to Russia, Austria and Prussia,
for only these three States had benefited by the
European conflict, and the treaties of 18 15. "In
sacrificing maritime affairs," said the Emperor,
"you were acting like Francis 1. at the battle of
Pavia, whose General had made an excellent dis-




NAPOLEON AT SAINT HELENA.
From a Drawing by Captain Barnes (/S/7).]



THE EMPEROR 89

position of his army, and had placed forty-five pieces
of cannon (an unheard-of battery at that time) in
a situation that must have secured the victory.
Francis, however, his grand sabre a la main,
placed himself at the head of his gendarmerie and
household troops, between the battery and the
enemy, and thereby lost the advantage his superi-
ority of artillery gave him ; thus, seduced by a
temporary success, you are masking the only battery
you possess, your naval pre-eminence. While that
remains, you may blockade all Europe. I well know
the effect of blockade. With two small wooden
machines, you distress a line of coast, and place
a country in the situation of a body rubbed over
with oil, and thus deprived of natural perspiration.
I am now suffering in my face from this obstruction
to perspiration, and blockade has the same effect
upon a nation. What have you gained by the
possession of my person, but an opportunity of
exhibiting an example of ungenerousness ? "

The Emperor spoke for about half an hour.
Ellis found him eloquent and persuasive, but
somewhat hurried in his delivery, which was
almost equal in rapidity to the succession of his
thoughts.

The tendency in London was to depict him
as labouring under grotesque obesity, and carica-
turists drew him with a huge belly. "Considering
his age," states the secretary of the Embassy, "he
was not unusually corpulent. ..."



90 THE DRAMA OF SAINT HELENA

" His manner was pleasing and had a mixture
of simplicity and conscious superiority. . . ."

Napoleon brought the conversation to an end
by a wave of the hand, and gave orders for the
group of visitors still waiting in the antechamber
to be ushered in.

Count Bertrand introduced Lord Amherst's son,
a youth ; the private secretary, H ay ne ; the naval
captain, Murray Maxwell ; the surgeon, MacLeod ;
Lieutenant Cook, of the Marines ; Dr. Abel ;
Dr. Lynn ; and the clergyman, Griffiths.

All these Englishmen were returning from the
Far East with the Ambassador, after a somewhat
unfortunate mission to Pekin. The sovereign of
China had refused to receive them, for reasons of
etiquette, and near the Sunda Straits they had lost
their principal ship, the Alceste.

Count Bertrand placed them round the Emperor
in a circle, and Lord Amherst — MacLeod relates —
began the series of presentations with Captain
Maxwell, whom Napoleon, with an air of perfect good
humour, reproached for having formerly captured the
French vessel, La Pomoiie : " You did not behave
very well to me on that occasion," he said. "Your
Government must not blame you for the loss of the
Alceste, for you have taken one of my frigates."

Next, he congratulated the Ambassador's son
on having made so lengthy a voyage at so tender
an age, joked with him about the Chinamen with
their pig-tails, and spoke in flattering terms of his



THE EMPEROR 91

mother. MacLeod, who came third, was questioned
as to the nature and duration of his service. Dr.
Abel, the naturalist of the expedition, was asked
by the Emperor whether he knew Sir Joseph
Banks, " whose name was a passport in France,
and whose wishes were always attended to, even
during war " ; Lieutenant Cook, whether he was
a descendant of the famous navigator ; Dr. Lynn,
at what University he had studied. "At Edin-
burgh," replied the last — "Then, you are probably a
Brunonian in practice. Do you bleed and prescribe
as much mercury as our Saint Helena doctors?"
Turning to the Rev. Mr. Griffiths, Napoleon con-
tinued by maliciously inquiring : " Have you found
out what religion the Chinese profess?" — "It
is somewhat difficult to say ; but it seems a sort
of polytheism." The Emperor did not appear to
understand this word, pronounced in the English
manner, and Count Bertrand intervened to explain :
"Pluralité des Dieux I" — "Ah! la pluralité des
Dieux I And do they believe in the immortality
of the soul?" — "I think they have some idea of
a future state." Napoleon smiled at such vague
information, and said: "Well, when you go home,
you must get a good living ; I wish you may be
made a prebendary, sir." Two or three questions to
Hayne, the secretary, concluded the interview, where-
upon the Embassy was dismissed and went away much
Gratified, each one of its members bearinp: with him
the recollection of some gracious remark.



92 THE DRAMA OF SAINT HELENA

MacLeod here makes an odd reflection, which
shows the prejudices that certain Englishmen brought
to Longwood, when they had previously called at



Online LibraryPaul FrémeauxThe drama of Saint Helena → online text (page 6 of 25)