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Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

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and by putting into my hand the bouquet which she carried in hers.
I embraced her, and we returned slowly to the party. Eight days
after, we were married, not only civilly at the municipality, but in
the chapel of a convent by a little, nonjuring, concealed priest, a
thing at that time all but absolutely prohibited, but on which Emilie
insisted, for her piety was as sincere as it was fervent. When a
very few days after, I quitted her for Toulon, it was without a formal
farewell, which would have been too painful for both. Eighteen
months later, I returned to falsify my own evil auguries. Of eight
aides-de-camp, four had perished Julien and Sulkowski murdered
by the Arabs, Croisier killed at St Jean d'Acre, and Guibert at the
battle of Aboukir. Duroc and Eugene Beauharnais were severely
wounded : Mulin and I alone escaped unscathed.'

We are left to gather from other sources what Lavalette's modesty
forbade him to mention, that this impunity was the more wonderful,
from his being foremost in all the most perilous encounters of the
romantic Egyptian campaigns, during which he rarely left Bonaparte,
at whose side he fought at the battles of the Pyramids and Mount
Tabor, as well as at the murderous siege of St Jean d'Acre. The
prominent part borne in these conflicts by our gallant countrymen
has made them matter of British history, and would render repetition
of their details useless. A few anecdotes only of a more personal
nature, from the graphic pages of Lavalette's memoirs, who to the
close of life loved to dwell on scenes which his education and temper-
ament rendered doubly interesting, may be preserved from oblivion.

On one occasion he was ordered on a mission of no small diffi-
culty and danger to Ali Pasha, whose character of Djezzar, or ' the
butcher,' and his notorious want of faith and humanity, rendered the
fate of any envoy to his barbaric court extremely doubtful. Fortu-
nately, the pasha was absent ; but Lavalette, though much relieved,
had only escaped one danger to encounter another. Being ordered
to sea, for the purpose of bringing tidings of the French fleet
expected on the coast, he was chased and nearly captured by an
English frigate, ere he could get on board L' Orient to communicate
with the commander-in-chief, Admiral Brueys. He was not even
here in security, or in a creditable situation, and he was anxious
to leave the vessel, which had already landed a large part of the
forces it had brought from France. After a long conversation with



the admiral, ' I walked/ says he, ' alone during the night up and
down this immense vessel of 130 guns, without meeting a single
soul. I could have fancied myself in the cathedral of Notre Dame ;
and what added to the singularity of this solitude was, that, before
being reduced by the disembarkation, its complement, now reduced
to 600 persons, had been 2145 ! The more I contemplated this vast
half-manned citadel, the less desire I felt to take part in the conflict.
In fact, not being a marine officer, my evident duty was to rejoin the
general. In the event of a victory, there would be found plenty of
willing messengers, while I was sure of much blame and little pity
if, in case of disaster, I should be made prisoner or killed. I there-
fore went to the admiral and said : " Upon mature reflection, I have
made up my mind to proceed and give an account of my mission,
and of the position in which I have found you." '

Having no reason to oppose this resolution, the admiral gave him
a skiff to take him to Rosetta ; but during the voyage, he had ample
leisure to repent his decision. ' The swell,' he says, ' created by the
strife of the sea and the Nile was tremendous,' and a violent storm
came on to add to the danger. One vessel, laden with provisions,
was lost before their eyes ; another, rather stouter built, still
struggled on, and, by charitably casting them a tow-rope, saved
their little craft from being swamped in the waves or hurled upon
the breakers. ' Seventeen hours,' says Lavalette, ' were thus passed,
when the sea having calmed a little, I insisted on pushing forward
for the mouth of the Nile. The sailors were very unwilling ; but I
was seconded by the officer commanding the boat, a young man full
of energy and intrepidity. The first wave that came after us covered
and well-nigh sunk us. One pull more was necessary ; and though
the men were as pale as death with fear, it was made, and we
reached Rosetta.'

The good-fortune of our hero was not yet exhausted. While he
achieved in safety the passage up the Nile, his less fortunate brother
aide-de-camp, Julien, was massacred during the night by the Arabs,
with all his escort. By the victory achieved by Nelson off Aboukir
between the ist and 3d of August 1798, the French fleet was annihil-
ated, and the land forces of Bonaparte were necessarily deprived of
any immediate succours from France. The manner in which the
tidings of the defeat were received and communicated by Napoleon,
is thus related by its eye-witness :

' It was in returning from beating the Mamelukes at Salahich
that the commander-in-chief learned the disaster of our fleet at
Aboukir. The news had been brought by an aide-de-camp of
General Kleber's, whose horse being knocked up, he had written a
few details in an open letter which I took from the hands of a
peasant. I read it, and begged the general to come aside a little
from the midst of his staff. I then gave him the note, and when he
had read it: 'You know the contents,' said he ; 'of course you will



keep them secret.' We then returned to Balbeys, where breakfast
was already on the table, and every one in the highest spirits, the
troops having retaken from the Mamelukes the rich merchandise of
which they had recently plundered the caravan. The soldiers would
have sold them on the spot for half nothing, but Bonaparte strictly
forbade any officer to become a purchaser, till there should be an
opportunity of disposing of them for a fair price by the captors on
their arrival at Cairo. In the middle of breakfast, the commander-
in-chief said to his guests : ' Well, gentlemen, you say you like this
country ; it is very fortunate, as we have no longer any fleet to take
us back to Europe !' The news was received with the same sang-
froid with which it was told ; every one's mind was made up, and
there was no more about it.'

Of a piece with his former escapes was the charmed life which
Lavalette seemed to bear in the midst of a six weeks' sojourn in
Alexandria, when the plague raged with such virulence, that two
days after an inspector-general and ten assistants had arrived there,
one alone survived ; and a secretary, who had merely, in signing
some billets for the troops, come in contact for a moment with an
infected paper, was a dead man in fifteen hours ; while surgeons,
physicians, and hospital attendants were successively swept away.
The escape of one alone of these last, who habitually washed himself
with oil, confirmed the well-known fact of the impunity enjoyed by
the oil-porters of Constantinople.

A melancholy example of the summary punishments inflicted by
oriental functionaries came under the notice of Lavalette, while
deputed by his general, then absent, to accompany the aga of police
in a tour of inspection through the streets of Cairo. The aga, a
Greek, was as usual accompanied by the executioner and his
myrmidons, the sight of whom sufficed to clear the streets of all
their petty traffickers, and of all such persons as had any peccadilloes
on their conscience. While stopping a moment in front of a caf,
a man was dragged violently to the feet of the cadi's horse, who,
after a very brief interrogatory, replied to by the trembling criminal,
gave a slight horizontal wave with his hand, on which the
cavalcade moved on. ' Something in the cadi's gesture had struck me,'
says Lavalette, ' and turning my head after we had got on a few paces,
I saw a group assembled before the coffee-house, and galloped back
to the spot. Imagine my horror when I saw a decapitated body,
and the executioner very quietly putting the head into his bag !
" What does this mean ?" said I to the aga. " Oh," replied he
coolly, " the fellow was a ringleader in the late revolt, and had
hitherto contrived to escape me ! " I made a point of his reporting
the case to the general, and very likely the man was guilty ; but I
could not help suspecting that my presence, and the desire to give
me a specimen of Ottoman inflexibility, cost the poor wretch, his
life. It must be confessed, however, that such examples are not



unfrequent, and that the cadi never moves unaccompanied by the

At the memorable siege of St Jean d'Acre, fresh instances were
afforded of the good-fortune of Bonaparte and his companion
Lavalette, in escaping dangers which carried off thousands around
them. While one of the shells, thrown with unerring precision from
the fortress, buried itself harmlessly in the earth at the very feet of
Bonaparte, and in the midst of his staff, another exploded not far
off, among eleven soldiers lying on the ground at their breakfast, not
one of whom survived the explosion a single instant.


After Bonaparte's return to Europe, he deputed Lavalette to act
as plenipotentiary to Saxony. On this expedition he was accom-
panied by his young wife, Emilie, who, while in Germany, had the
pleasing satisfaction of vindicating the ladies of France from the
then too well-founded imputation of shamelessness in dress and
behaviour, by the retiring delicacy of her manners and rigid pro-
priety of her costume. Lavalette afterwards visited Berlin, where
the queen and court loaded his wife with flattering distinctions.
Returning to France, Emilie was appointed mistress of the robes
to her aunt Josephine, and this office she held until the divorce of
her respected relative. She now retired into private life. Lavalette,
however, continued in the service and confidence of Napoleon, by
whom he was appointed to the onerous office of director-general of
the posts, to which were successively added the dignities of coun-
cillor of state, and grand cross of the Legion of Honour, and finally
the title of count. Lavalette discharged the offices so imposed on
him for a period of twelve years, and all parties agree in bearing
testimony to the honourableness of his conduct in the trying situa-
tion in which he was placed. While at the head of the post-office,
he abolished the base practice of opening letters for purposes of
state or private curiosity, and for this reform he drew on himself the
hatred of many in power, and especially the relentless and treacherous

It had not been without misgivings and remonstrances that
Count Lavalette beheld the latter steps of Napoleon's ambitious and
ill-advised career ; and however these might interrupt the cordiality
of their intercourse, the emperor never failed in any emergency to
resort for truth, or in any disaster for consolation, to his disinterested
counsellor. The confidence reposed in his integrity by that un-
doubted judge of character, Bonaparte, may be gathered from his
having insisted on depositing with Lavalette, on the eve of his
departure on the unfortunate Russian expedition, bills on the
treasury for a million and,a half of francs, with directions to convert


them into gold, and keep them until further orders. At a loss, he
says, how to secrete such a mass of bullion, Lavalette had made,
through an artillery officer of his acquaintance, boxes exactly
resembling gigantic volumes, and lettered Ancient and Modern
History, each capable of containing 30,000 francs, and put them
into his bookcase. When the emperor came back, he seemed to
have forgotten all about this money, and returned to Germany
without giving any precise orders as to its disposal, only saying,
when pressed on the subject : ' We '11 see when I come back.' ' At
length,' says Lavalette, ' when, some months after, he was leaving
Paris for his final campaign in France, I insisted on his ridding me
of a deposit I could no longer be responsible for, amid the events
with which Paris was threatened. " Well," said he to me, " can't you
hide it in your house in the country?" It was in vain I represented
to him that this chateau, situated on the high-road from Versailles,
was liable to be pillaged and occupied by adverse parties, and that
the slightest imprudence might betray the treasure. He would not
listen to me, and there was nothing for it but to obey. I had a
faithful steward, whom I employed for several nights in digging a
hole under the flooring of a closet, which, after depositing beneath it
the fifty-four volumes of a work, sure, if discovered, to be highly
relished, we carefully replaced the floor. Shortly after, the chateau
was occupied by 300 Prussians, fifteen of whom slept in the room, a
plank of whose floor they had only to raise with their sabres to
come upon these heaps of gold. My life during the two months
they stayed was one perpetual agony, lest they should find out all,
and I only breathed when they were gone.' . What ultimately
became of the money we have not heard.

Pressed upon on all sides, and with a tottering power, Napoleon
found it advisable to abdicate the throne of France in April 1814,
and to retire to the island of Elba, where it was arranged he should
continue to enjoy the title of sovereign and an income of two
millions of francs. On this dissolution of the imperial power,
and the restoration of Louis XVIII., Lavalette, with the greater
number of functionaries, civil and military, gave in their adhesion
to the new dynasty; and to that dynasty they might have continued
faithful, had it been faithful to itself, or cultivated the confidence
and affections of the nation. The Bourbons, however, as was
observed, had learned nothing and forgotten nothing. They were
neither respected nor loved by the French people, while the discord
of the European powers at the congress of Vienna disposed many to
anticipate a new revolution in France. Taking advantage of the
general dissensions, Napoleon once more appeared on the scene.
Quitting his mock empire of Elba, he landed in France on the ist of
March 1815, and with what adherents could be collected, marched
on to Paris, which he reached on the I3th; Louis XVIII. having
previously fled an event which, morally speaking, may be said to
61 9


have dissolved the allegiance of his servants, and left them free to
follow a new master. Influenced by old attachment, gratitude for
past favours, as well as admiration of his genius, many of Napoleon's
former generals and ministers either flocked to him before he entered
Paris, or afterwards took office under him. Among these were
Labe"doyere, Ney, and Lavalette. With respect to the latter, it
appears that, no sooner had the royal family quitted Paris, or the
approach of the emperor become matter of certainty, than, urged on
by a professional impulse which it is difficult to reconcile with our
previous knowledge of his calm and considerate character, Lavalette
proceeded, as early as seven in the morning, to take possession of
his former office, vacated in his favour by its timid elderly occupant,
the Comte de Ferrand. Some difficulty made in furnishing to the
latter the order for horses to expedite his leaving Paris, and the
refusal to permit him to follow the royal family to Ghent, were
circumstances afterwards brought up against Lavalette, who, how-
ever, always declared that the whole arose from a misunderstanding.

More serious imputations, however, were ere long incurred, by the
new director taking upon him not only to suppress and keep back
the mails which were to circulate in the departments the royal
proclamation enjoining tranquillity and obedience, but to despatch
in their stead a circular addressed to the different postmasters, in
which the capital was stated to be enthusiastically in favour of the
emperor, and deprecating all idea of resistance to his authority. To
these steps, by which Lavalette unquestionably committed himself,
he added the still more decisive one of sending a courier to meet his
old master with a note, the satisfied smile of Napoleon on the perusal
of which, and his verbal message in return : ' So I am expected in
Paris! Tell Lavalette to meet me to-night at the Tuileries!' suffi-
ciently indicated its flattering, and, as it afterwards appeared, too
sanguine tenor. That the sentiments it contained were sincere, and
that the writer really rejoiced at the moment in the return of
his benefactor, it is only natural to imagine, strenuously as he denies
all conspiracy to bring it about, and early and painfully as he learnt
to appreciate the hollow and delusive nature of the power thus
marvellously resumed.

His account of the first interview with the emperor is striking, and
a satire on the evanescence of all earthly greatness. On receiving,
about eleven in the evening, the order to attend at the palace,
he found Napoleon surrounded by his former ministers, talking as
quietly over the details of the administration as if they had all been
shoved ten years back. The subject and tone of the conversation,
the presence of so many persons habitually employed under the
emperor, would have completely effaced from the memory of Lavalette
the existence of the Bourbons, and their reign of scarcely a year,
had not some busts of the family been left in the confusion on a side-
table, which next morning quickly disappeared.


'The emperor, on seeing me,' says the count, 'advanced a few
steps towards me, and pushing me gently before him into the
next room, and pulling me by the ear : " Ah ! so you are there, Mr
Conspirator ! "

" No, indeed, sire ; you must be aware, if you have been told the
truth, that I would have nothing to do "

" Well, well !" said he, interrupting me, and resuming his endless
interrogatories. The conversation ended by his offering me the
ministry of the interior, which I declined, pointing out the necessity
of naming one already well known in the Revolution. The choice,
an excellent one, fell on Carnot. My audience and others lasted
great part of the night. At length, about three o'clock, the emperor
returned to the salon. " You will make out commissions," said he to
the proper functionary, " for all these gentlemen. As for Lavalette,
he has no need of one he has taken the post by storm." A slight
shade of bitterness in the tone with which this was uttered, shewed
he had been piqued by my conduct.'

Scarcely eight days had elapsed ere the sagacity of Lavalette
enabled him to fathom the abyss about to open under their feet.
Not only had the famous proclamation of the congress of allies con-
vinced the emperor that the storm would ere long burst over France,
but the revolutionary spirit which pervaded the country itself
alarmed and perplexed him, and he sought in vain the profound
respect and submission, nay, the etiquette, of the imperial court.

' He would send for me,' says Lavalette, ' two or three times a day,
to talk for hours together ; but sometimes the conversation lan-
guished ; and one day, after pacing several times in silence up and
down the room, tired of this sort of work, and pressed by my own
urgent duties, I bowed and took my leave. " What ! " exclaimed the
emperor, astonished, but with a good-humoured smile, " is this the
way I am left?" I certainly should not have dreamt of doing it a
year before ; but somehow I had lost my courtier's routine, and
could not again acquire it. One thing I have no doubt of. Had
the emperor beaten the allies, and enjoined a peace, his power would
have encountered the most imminent danger from intestine com-
motions. In appearance at least, however, no man could conform
more admirably to his position. At no period of his life did I see
him more imperturbably calm ; not a word of anger or impatience,
but listening patiently to everything confessing his errors with
affecting ingenuousness, and discussing his situation with a pene-
tration his very enemies failed to equal.' The result is matter of
history. The battle of Waterloo caused Napoleon to abdicate the
throne, and to flee from the country. It would appear, from the
parting interview at Malmaison between the abdicated sovereign
and his minister, that mutual presentiments as to the fate of each
weighed on the other's mind. These were shared, on Lavalette's
account, by nearly all his friends, who no sooner became aware


that an extensive proscription was meditated, than they urged him,
as its certain victim, to immediate flight.

From this step his wife's delicate health and advanced pregnancy
might have probably sufficed to deter him ; but so little apprehen-
sive was one of the three state criminals to be excepted by the Bour-
bon family from their general amnesty, of the blow about to fall
upon him, that while vainly bending all his energies to urge the
escape from Paris of the young General Labedoyere, a similar infatu-
ation prevailed, over all the hints and remonstrances of his friends, to
detain Lavalette himself on the fatal spot.

Strong in the impression, if not of his entire innocence, yet that
he had not committed any serious error in having resumed office
during the Hundred Days under his old master Napoleon, he per-
sisted in remaining in Paris after the restoration of the Bourbons
by the allies. He was at length arrested, and henceforward the
account of what befell him must be given in his own words.


'On the 1 8th of July,' says Lavalette, 'I was at dinner with my
wife and a friend, when an officer came to request me to speak to
Monsieur de Cayes, the prefect of police. I was set down by a
hackney coach, with two or three officers of police mounted behind
it for footmen, in the outer office of the prison of the prefecture, where
for some time (the turnkey being busy assigning lodgings to various
new-comers) nobody took any notice of me ; and seeing among

them a Monsieur , long secretaiy to the Duke de Rovigo, whom

I knew well, looking very sad and sorrowful at seeing me there,
I naturally experienced a reciprocal feeling, and was condoling
with him on his misfortune, when, suddenly averting his head as
he pointed to me, and rushing out of the place, he said to the turn-
key : "Take that gentleman to No. 17." "Yonder goes a man who
has turned his coat quickly ! " thought I, as, a little ashamed of my
blunder, I followed my conductor.

' It was to a filthy garret, whose only window was in the roof, at
a height of twelve feet, my only means of opening which was by an
iron bar, so heavy that I was never able to move it a single notch.
I suppose every one's first impulse on being put in prison,
after the surprise is over, is to be very angry; and I launched out
in pretty strong invectives against the head of the establishment,
for not having condescended to see one whom he had sent for to
speak with him. I was not yet au fait as to the code of politeness
of prefects of police.

' There being no bell, I had to wait for three hours till the arrival
of the jailer, who brought my sorry prison dinner, and I could not
help asking him who were my next neighbours ; as I had seen,
through the key-hole, men carrying bottles, and all the apparatus


of a feast. " They are two aides-de-camp of General Labe'doyere,"
said he. "What !" exclaimed I, "is he then arrested?" " I believe
so." Little did I then know that these two wretches who had
denounced their late commander, when that ill-advised young man
insisted on revisiting Paris and his family before proceeding to take
refuge in America were thus carousing with the rewards of their
treachery !

' Towards ten at night I was sent for to go down to the chief of
division, whose business it was to interrogate me ; and as an examin-
ation was a relief from my own thoughts, I readily obeyed. The
functionary, after a few pages of questions and answers, amused
himself by telling me anecdotes, almost too atrocious for belief, of
his skill in making prisoners criminate themselves ; which he wound
up by saying : " As for you, your affair will not go far it is not of
consequence enough for me."

' I remained a week longer in this preliminary incarceration,
during which the bad air and prison hardships brought on an inflam-
matory illness, to which I owed my removal, and the hastening
on of my trial, lest I should escape, by a natural death, the one

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 45 of 58)