Vincent Otto Nolte.

Fifty years in both hemispheres; [microform] or, Reminiscences of the life of a former merchant. Translated from the German online

. (page 35 of 47)
Online LibraryVincent Otto NolteFifty years in both hemispheres; [microform] or, Reminiscences of the life of a former merchant. Translated from the German → online text (page 35 of 47)
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request from the general that I would wait for a few naomenfta;
there were some ladies with him at the moment, of whom ke
would rid himself as 80<m as possible, and then I should be at once
introduced. In a moment the aide-de-camp came to tell me that
the general was ready, and to open for me the door of his private
room. The moment he saw me he rose, came towards me with
open arms, embraced me very kindly, and instructed the adjutant,
who took me for an Englishman, to let no one in until he should

Alone with the general, I wished him joy of the altered state of
affairs in his country, of the apparently general reoc^ition of
those principleR to which he was devoted, of the post which he
now held as guardian of the public peace, and of the new step
taken by his nation towards freedom. Jle took it all as I intended
it, and thanked me by a hearty pressure of the hand. Yet it did
not escape me that he was &r from being satisfied, and my idea
that the course of affiiirs did not please, became certainty, as he
said, " We have not yet gone so &r as the Americans, but the day
will perhaps eome." What he wanted was to imitate Washing-
ton^ in France. As commandant-general of all tiie National
Guards he was next in dignity to the king, but in the public
opinion he was hi^ier ; for the Bourbons had never been loved,
and the Duke of Orleans was placed upon the throne, not because
he was a Bourbon, but in spite of it. La&yette's fVi^id, Lafitte,
wh^i premier, found this improper, and his successor, M. G<as«-
mir Perier, still more so. It is well known how the powerful
will and inflexible character of this gentleman gov^ned even
Louis Philippe himself. On the 20th February Perier sue

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ceeded his fnend Lafitte, and one month afterwards he got patted
trough the Chamber of Deputies an act to destroy the office of
Ckmimandant-General of the National Guards, as being useless,
since the rest<^ation of public tranquillity. The honorary title
was offered to La&yette, but he refused this gilding of a bitter
piH. So soon as he heard of it on December 34, he resigned all
his oommaiids, even ^t of the department of the Seine, and stated
as reason for refusing the title, that simply honorary titles were
nnr^ubBcan. Th^ whole affair wounded him deeply. He saw,
however painful it might be, that once withdrawn fVom the
eyes of the people and the National Guard, he must take leave
of that popularity so dear to him, and descend to a lower position
in the world. This I particularly saw in his features, at the great
ball given for the benefit of the poor, in the opera house, on the
8th of January, 1831. Although the whole royal fiunily was pre-
sent, he came in, dad as a simple citizen, leaning upon the arm of
his fnend Odillon Barrot, noticmg nothing, and not even glancing
at the balcony, where the king sate, surrounded by his family and
ministers. His &ce had lost its natural, happy expression.

As our first interview was drawing to a dose, an acQutant
entered, and informed him that General Pemetti and the artillery
officers of the National Guard were assembled in the ante-room,
and desired to wait on him. I rose to leave, but the general took
my arm, with the words "You must go with me," and then asked
what he could do for me. I asked him for an mtroduction to the
Minister of War, General Crerard. He said he would send it to
me ; but on my remaric, that one stroke of his pen would suffice,
and that I feared to take up his invaluable time, he observed, " it
is true, my friend, two words will suffice, and I will give them to
you immediately." He then sate down, and wrote an exceed-
ingly kind letter, which c6ntahied the remark, that if Gerard had
any business to employ me in, he would find me not only capable
Init an honest man, whom he mi^it trust. This ov^, we passed
into the room where the officers were waiting, drawn up in a semi-
cirde, and some ninety in number. After a short speech, Per-
netti proposed to present each officer in turn, but Lafayette
declared that he would make the round, and that General Per

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3$a GoveRNmarr oostraoi*.

netti ooold follow hiix^ and m«ntioii to what corps each c^ker-
belonged. He aooordingly did so, shaking hands widi each offioer
in the American way. When thia was over, Lafiiyette a^ed me,
"What do you say to that, my friend 1" I said, that I thought it
no small labor to shake hands with ninety men ; and tliat, in his
phK^ I should have deputed one or more of my ajLiutants to
help me, or contwted- myself simply with making an address*
" No, no," said the generaJ, " this matter is too smous. A touch
of the hand is often more effectual than a discourse." He thus
made use of an American custcnn, which he had learned forty
years before, and proved that a simple shake of the hand was worth
all the flourishes of eloquence. This is very visiUe aooong the
negro slaves, who catch hold of each other's hands, hold on Ah* a
quarter of an hour, give a rapid shake oecasionally, and burst out
into great peals of laught^, without uttering a syllable. This is
certainly heartiness in the ftiUest sense of the wcxti.

My desire £>r an introduction to Grenerai Gmw*d had its origin
in the report of an intention to make a provision of arms for the
whole National Guard. I learned by the papers, and by private
advices, that the Prussian govemm^it was about to sell at public
auction a quantity of old or unneeded muskets, which had been
thrown away by the French, in the retreat of 1813, and left upon
the AM ; or whidi had been abandoned in the various depots, and
which were now in Magdeburg and some of theSilesian fortresses.
I wrote to the Hamburgh house of Sillem, Brothers is Co., and
received assurances of the contemplated sale, and of their readi-
ness to purchase cm my account I thereupon contracted with
General Grerard for 50,000 old muskets, in good condition, in the
French form, and for the price of 28 firancs a piece. In this con-
tract the government was bound for one year ; I, not at all. A
couple of specimens accompanied this tiontract, of whidi I sent
one to Messrs. Sillem, who at once busied tbemaelves in the pur-
diase of a certain quantity of muskets, at the price of 12 marks 8
schillings to 13 marks. I issued other contracts of the same kind
and on the same terms, to certain places upon the Rhincw The
arms purchased in Hamburgh were shipped to Havre; those fh>m
the Rhine were sent to Strasbourg; and both were deposited

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b the royal Arsenals. Tlie Strasbourg arrival was the first
Hiidier I sent a man, who had been recommended to me aa clever

and honorable, whom I shall only mention>as M , and to

whom I shall refer by-and-by.

There were no difficulties about the liquidation, so soon as the
cloMUg of my new establishment in Marseilles had been resolved
upcm. I had sent a couple of cai^oes of wine to New Orleuis,
which were to be returned in cotton. Had the capital promised
by Daly Co. and Maillet, Cage 6z; Co. been paid in, a lucrative
bu^ess wbuld at once have been founded. The preparations,
however, had been too extensive. Clerks had been engaged at
lai^ salaries, some by me, in view of the guarantied important
sugar-trade, and some by Daly ~ among whom a Parisian book-
keeper at a salary of 6000 francs, whom I could have hired in
Paris for 2000. A compromise must be made with these cleijcs,
with my young partner, and with Daly's creditors. I must bring
back my little &mily from Marseilles, give up my house there,
throw up my leases, etc. Besides this burden, Daly had intro
duced to me two men, for the business of arming the French
troops who were destined for Algiers, and sent fVom Marseilles.
As tiiese men are both dead, and are expiating probably the guilt
of their influence upon my fote, in another world, I will speak of

them as " O ^" and ** Gldstr — .^ The former was represented

as a clever and honest man, perfectly trustworthy ; the other as
being proper to " do all sorts of dirty work," something insepara-
ble from supply contracts. The sphere to which these men
beloDged was quite unknown to me ; and to learn it by experience
was impossible for me, who had belonged for so many years to
the first mercantile circle of the capital, haute finance^ and had
therefore never become acquainted with Inferior matters. Such

at least was the report of Daly and his book-keeper, B .. But,

before it was too late, I discovered that O was no better than

GK— ; diat they were closely bound together, and pron^t for
any roguery, and long since agreed to share the profits of their

trills. O was a native of Marseilles ; G , a Polish Jew.

at one time a commissaire in the Prussian army, under the Duke
of Brunswick, and who had gone over to the Frendi host alter


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the battle of Jena; aod was the same person who, in Ni^leon's
bulletin from Melodertschino, after the retreat from Moscow, is
designated as the man who had caused the loss of 20,000 horses
in a few weeks, which he asserted to have been lost in a singllft
night After this retreat, he fell into the hands of the Pms-
sians, was sentenced to death, but commuted to perpetual impri-
sonment in Spandau; after a few years, he escaped to Paris,
where he finally settled, and adopted the profession of money-
lender. In a provision-contract for the French troops staftitHied
in the Morea, under Marshal Maison, whidi had beea procured
for these two scoundrels, by Daly, money was wanting ; whidi
was the only reason for making me acquainted with these worth-
less fellows, in the belief that they could get employment in the
contract for the troops in Algiers, and so make profit out of me.
The ground of their connection with Daly was at first ino(Mnpre>
hensible to me; but I had afterwards reason to surmise that
Daly's profits existed only in figures on the books; that these two
men were de facto his debtors for a very important sum, and that
he had hoped that they would bring him new buiuness out of this
new organization in Marseilles,

Meanwhile the first provision of muskets arrived ftxnn Ham-
burg in Havre, and were received on my account by Delaroche .
A. Delessert ds Co. My agent in Strasbourg informed me, that
the injector of artillery there, after opening the boxes and exam-
ining the muskets, had declared that, out of twenty opened boxefl^
scarcely one fit musket could be found, and those few of irrc^gii-
lar modeL A few days later, I heard the same news of the
1000 muskets In the arsenal at Havre. The reoeivers wisely .
determined to dose the chests f^ain, and to wait for instruc-
tions from me. My Strasbourg agent, M ^ who thoroughly

understood the art of caro^sing with the under officers and ooo-
trpllers, without advancing one step beyond this, had oonvinoed
himself that nothing could be done vdth the arms but to send
them back — as they were not what I had (»rdered, and were
unsaleable in France. Judge of the efi^ upon me, of ^ diaoo*
Tery Uiat I had put a capital of 200,000 francs in useless muskets.
To get at the bottom of the affair, I went to Havre, where ^

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irsenal was in dtuirge of a meritorious and deyer officer, of the
Napoleon school, colonel of artillery, Lefran^ois. He was called
a stem, unaraiable man, but he received mj visit iK)litely, and
returned it the next day. He noticed on my table a " Keepsake,**
firesh from London. He took it up, turned over the leaves, and
by his remarks upon the plates, flowed me that he was not defi*
dent in education or artistic cleverness. He also spoke of the
German language, and said that he preferred Schiller, as a dra-
matist, to his great ooimtrymen, Comeille, Radne, and Voltaire ;
to all, indeed, but Shakespeare. He seemed astoni^ied to find an
ordinary commissary utter his views on art and belles lettres, and
would have talked I know not how long, if 1 had not recalled him
to the muskets, with a revenans d nos moutonB, We agreed next
morning to go with the controller and examine 10 cases, contain-
mg 500 muskets. A friendly line preceded me to the arsenal,
requesting the director to accept the Keepsake that had so much
pleased him. When. the muskets were unpacked before four
controllers, I saw that not one was of the proper model. Indeed,
seldom were six or seven successively like each other. All that
was French about them was the barrels ; the stodcs were Ger-
man, liy Hamburgh correspondents knew as much about mus-
kets as I did, namely, nothmg at all And as I had trusted tlmt
they would purchase afler the model that 1 sent them, so had they

trusted to an armorer named R , whose conscience was of

gutta-percha. At each musket came the question, "How can
it be f the only answer being " because of total disregard to the
models.'* Then, for the first time, I learned, that according to the
ndes of the French artillery department, every musket must con-
sist of 34 distinct parts, every one of which must be perfect and
eonibrmable to the model, before it could be approved of. The
Dature of my contract protected me from loss ibr non-fulfilment,
but what was I to do with the muskets. My contract was for old
but yet useful muskets on the French model, and it was fHgfatful
to see one after another set aside by the controllers, with the
words ^fii^il de rebuL" 1 asked and learned the* cause of this
rebui for every musket. I then inquired whether refused muskets
eould not be altered so as to conform to the model, and when told

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j^e^, ask^ the oosfc. I ^aa infonned fliat eaeh -would oo«t H
francs 50. Then I inquired if the govenuneot would not taka
tbem as they were, on my abatiog so nradi from my contract
price, 28 iranca. The director said he would take the matter ii»
hand, and askod me to vint him often^and listen to his tnnnlatios
of Schiller's WalleaateiQ. I listened and wondered, i^fter 9ome
days, he waa informed by die Minister of War, Manriud Sook,
wiio had supoeeded General Gerard, that the muakete would ail W
taken at 25 50, and oould be soon made to serve for the aniSnf
qf the National Guard. He gave me this information that t
plight state it to the Minister. Chief of DiTiskm in the Artillery-
Department, Colonel T. de L ■ ^ who poseessed the full confr.
dence of the m^u^hal, and who had his reasons for bdng partial to-
me, took the afiair in hand, and as it had the marshai^s af^proTal^
1 got rid of the muskets, and made a very fair piofiiL Hiia whole
procedure showed me how to deal with the others, and enabled,
me to send those at Strasbourg to the arsenal at Metz. Tlie ship-
ment of the muskets from Hamburgh now w^t forwaid regularly.
Importation of arms from Belgium was still forbidden, but i
learned that the ministry was about tO'lifr the prohibition. M«i^
kets made in Luttich are perfectly like the best French ; and aa I
oould buy a certain quantity for 28 francs, while the war ministry
in Paris were willing to pay 32, 1 ordered 100!,000 muskets, »d
, doubled the order «o soon as importaticm frt>m Belgkmi was pww
mitted. For the last half of Uiis large contract I auoeeeded in
putting my {»*oviaion of arms upon a very sure basis, and waa
enabled to offer the Lt^ttkh manufaoturera 28} or 29 franca, if
they would 'take the risk of delivaring the muskets at the arsenab
of Lille, Metz, and Qiarleville, and be content to wait for pay-
ment until they had been received. Finidly, by the intereet I
had obtained with the war ministry., I got a contaract for 150/MO
sabres, at 6 francs 50 cents. Contracts made by me with some
German manufacturers on the Rhine, and even in Pane, st 5 fr.
50 to 5 75, would have made a brilliant afiair of this, had not all
my swords, aa^they arrived by the 10,000 or 15,000, been, by tba
influence of the war controller in the Rue Luxembourg, refosed,
because,the back of the hilt was a quarter of a line narrower than

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Ae regimental regulations. AD my arguments on iJie absurdity
of such strictness were of no avail, and as ^e eontroller was too
strictly watched by the officers about him, for me to attempt any
other means of oonvincmg him, I took my sfwords and went- to
Havre. Colonel Lefhm^ois acknowledged the absurdity, and the
first 20,000 were at once taken. I, of course, sent no more to the
dep6t at Havre, but imported all by the way of Havre. The
English Keepsake remained unfoi^tten. The Colonel, who fre-
quently came to Paris, to visit his sick wife, became a constant
visitor at my house, although he could not always get me to lis.
ten to his translations of Schiller. He had made the Russian
campaign, as one of the Imperial Artillery Guard ; had lived a
good while in Berlin and Kdnigsberg, where he had learned Ger-
man, and had for Napoleon (the first and only) a veneration that
was almost adbration ; and, spite of his feeble body, and countless
and still painfhl wounds, he would have outbursts of~ enthusiasm
rare in any but hot-blooded youth. Witii the exception of this
constantly outbreaking exaltation, he was an amiable and agree-
able man. It is well known that most of the chieft in the impe-
rial army had not objected to a present, in reward for service
rendered or to be rendered. This was particularly the case in
supplies of arms. It cost me a struggle to persuade myself that
Colonel Lefran^ois belonged to the same category as his comrades
of like rank, because his assistance to me had been not a matter
of business, in influencing the controllers, but a pure matter of the
heart ; still I thought that my recognition of his services ought to
be of use to him. The purchase of 150,000 swords demanded a
capital of some 800,000 francs, and brought a profit of more than
20 per cent. I put some bank notes of 1000 francs in an envel-
ope, addressed to him, and laid it upon my chimney-piece, or
where he could see it. He saw it, observed its contents, and put
It back, saying, " My dear sir, I cannot accept that." For a while
I took his reply as final ; but half an hour afler, my servant took
the same sum, in a new envelope, to his old, trusty servant, fVom
whom, it found its way into the colonel's hand. The end of it
was, that two years ^^ter, during my absence from Paris, he heard
that my ^fe was in some embarrassment for money. He called

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upon her, and sidd, '^ Mj dear Madame Nolte, I have received a
great deal of money fh>m your husband, and have spent most of
it as lightly as I came by it What is left, however, I have
brought back to you. Be good enough to take it. Your hnsbaad
and your family will never be forgotten by me." Eighteen months
afterwards, this worthy gentleman died.

Let me tell a story on the odier side, of a person fatgfa hi iphee
in the military department. He had not the slightest objeotion to
receive a preset, if delicately offered ; and 1 puzcled myself in
vain to find a proper means, until my wife, who was acquainted
v^ith the whole matter, suggested a snuff-box. I bought a tasteful
uox, laid a 1000 fhmc note in it, folded with the cypher dispUyed,
and at the proper time attracted his attention. ^Ah, tha^ »
really a box in exquisite taste," he said. " Genwal," I replied,
** if it please you, accept it from me as a souvenir." He said,
*' Thank you," took the box, and opened it immediately. 1
waited with impatience, but not long. "Aha!" said he; "but
you might as well understand that I am a great snufier ; another
pinch would do no harm, my dear sir." He put the box in his
pocket, and I, on readiing home, put my card and 1000 francs in
a simple envelope, and sent it him.

This arms providing has its good and bad sides. The good is
that one can, with proper prudence, be assured of profit on them.
Tlie bad is the uncertainty of Uieir receptioa by the contractors.
They must be literally conformable to contract, and precisely like
the model, or the place-holders will tf^e advantage of their por-
tion, to refhse them. There is but one way of dealing with these
men, namely, to bribe them. Ever since my chihfiiood, an
epigram has run in my head, written upon an army contractor, who
had gone to Carlsbad. " Stax, by conmiand of his doctor, is now
taking a bath ; confound him, he's always takifip .something."
Tlie thou^t of becoming a contractor was always unpleasant to
me. For the idea of procuring the acceptance of imperfect arms,
simply by bribery, was repulsive to me, as to every honest man ;
and I could make no moral distinction between the briber and
the bribed. The morality of the great worid, however, is much
easier, Horace Walpole's remark, that every man bad his

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firioe, is too oiten true. G^eral Jackson's partition of places, in
caee of Ms Section for preddeiit — what was that but bribery !

My provi^Ung now went on well — ^furnishing the old muskets
at 25 francs, and the new ones at 82 — and when Belgian imports
were permitted, it was still better. The provision was so easily
and regularly managed, that it aroused the attention of the other
fomishers — as for instance, Cassimir Perier's own iron factory,
which had a contract for 100,000 muskets, at 32 francs. These
g^itlemen did me the honor, and Marshal Soult the injustice, to
8uppK)ee that we two had a private understanding. But never did
one word pass between the marshal and myself about the price,
etc Our entire conversation consisted of a short interrogatory,
as to the possibility of procuring a certain quantity of muskets,
and delivering them in a certain place, on an appointed day — as
15,000 muskets for the arsenal at Metz. If I said yes, I received
a regular ord^. The marshal knew that he could trust me, and
he showed his confidence in a matter that occurred after the dose
of our contract, and which was altogether uncalculated upon.

The whole cost of the arms brought into France by me, in the
course of two or three years, was about 8,000,000 francs, to which
the capital saved from the wreck of the Marseilles house, 200,000
francs, would not suffice. I, however, had had the good fortune
to meet the bankers Andr6 and Cottier, to please them, to obtain
their confidence, and their support, in my operations. Hie
first venture succeeded so well that their confidence was much
increased, and they placed very large sums at my disposal.
These ventures were often 200,000 to 300,000 francs, for which
they had no other security than my word and Marshal Soult's
order. I remember once bringing M. Cottier an order for
500,000 francs. He looked at it, and cried out in astonishment,
" My God, where do you get all this money 1" Marshal Soult, it
will be remembered, was much disliked in the Chamber of Depu-
ties, a feeling which could not be satisfied except by his retire-
ment from the ministry, and the recalling of General Gerard.
My whole machinery, especially the organized method of payment
for the supplies, was for a moment upset, and I could not get the
orders as r^ularly as before ; whereby I bad to allow the weight

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a68 ^ comER.

of my io^porta&t advaooes to fiJl upon Messrs. Andr^ and Cot-
tier. I needed, to get matters strai^t again, 400,000 firanos. As
soon as I laid the wkole matter before M. Cottier, and ^owed
the receipts for arms at Tarioos arsenals, he replied that the sum
was at my disposal. I was very much flattered at the trust dis-
played by this excellent man, who was esteemed by the whole
Paris Exchange in a very different way from Fould or the Roths-
childs. Sometimes, in going away, he would cry over the oom-
ter, *' Don^t q>eak of it In ^ite of onr reputation for great
prudence, it might injure us, if it were known that we had made
such large advances to a man whose fortune is not yet made.**
Or again, ^^ The &ct is, all goes on well, and to our satiafiictiai,
when you are there.. But if anything should happ«i to you,
where would we be ! Everybody ean't stand in your shoea." I
t^st to be pardoned for this exhibition of vanity. Had I^not the
intimate conviction that, despite many errors and &ult8, 1 have
never had cause to blush for myself and that I have never be-
trayed a trust, my present existence wcmld be a heavy burden to
me. So that retrospection still brings m^ some oonaolation.

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Online LibraryVincent Otto NolteFifty years in both hemispheres; [microform] or, Reminiscences of the life of a former merchant. Translated from the German → online text (page 35 of 47)