DISTINGUISHED SCIENTIFIC MEN.
BY FRANCOIS ARAGO,
MEMBER OF THE INSTITUTE.
ADMIRAL W.H. SMYTH, D.C.L., F.R.S., &c.
THE REV. BADEN POWELL, M.A., F.R.S., &c.
ROBERT GRANT, Esq., M.A., F.R.A.S.
TICKNOR AND FIELDS.
M DCCC LIX.
PRINTED BY H.O. HOUGHTON AND COMPANY.
The present volume of the series of English translations of M. Arago's works consists of his own autobiography and a selection of some of his memoirs of eminent scientific men, both continental and British.
It does not distinctly appear at what period of his life Arago composed the autobiography, but it bears throughout the characteristic stamp of his ardent and energetic disposition. The reader will, perhaps, hardly suppress a smile at the indications of self-satisfaction with which several of the incidents are brought forward, while the air of romance which invests some of the adventures may possibly give rise to some suspicion of occasional embellishment; on these points, however, we leave each reader to judge for himself. In relation to the history of science, this memoir gives some interesting particulars, which disclose to us much of the interior spirit of the Academy of Sciences, not always of a kind the most creditable to some of Arago's former contemporaries.
But a far higher interest will be found to belong to those eloquent memoirs, or eloges of eminent departed men of science, who had attained the distinction of being members of the Academy.
In these the reader will find a luminous, eminently simple, and popular account of the discoveries of each of those distinguished individuals, of a kind constituting in fact a brief history of the particular branch of science to which he was devoted. And in the selection included in the present volume, which constitutes but a portion of the entire series, we have comprised the accounts of men of such varied pursuits as to convey no inadequate impression of the progress of discovery throughout a considerable range of the whole field of the physical sciences within the last half century.
The account given by the author, of the principal discoveries made by the illustrious subjects of his memoirs, is in general very luminous, but at the same time presupposes a familiarity with some parts of science which may not really be possessed by all readers. For the sake of a considerable class, then, we have taken occasion, wherever the use of new technical terms or other like circumstances seemed to require it, to introduce original notes and commentaries, sometimes of considerable extent, by the aid of which we trust the scientific principles adverted to in the text will be rendered easily intelligible to the general reader.
In some few instances also we have found ourselves called upon to adopt a more critical tone; where we were disposed to dissent from the view taken by the author on particular questions of a controversial kind, or when he is arguing in support, or in refutation, of opposing theories on some points of science not yet satisfactorily cleared up.
We could have wished that our duty as translators and editors had not extended beyond such mere occasional scientific or literary criticism. But there unfortunately seemed to be one or two points where, in pronouncing on the claims of distinguished individuals, or criticizing their inventions, a doubt could not but be felt as to the perfect fairness of Arago's judgment, and in which we were constrained to express an unfavourable opinion on the manner in which the relative pretensions of men of the highest eminence seemed to be decided, involving what might sometimes be fairly regarded as undue prejudice, or possibly a feeling of personal or even national jealousy. Much as we should deprecate the excitement of any feeling of hostility of this kind, yet we could not, in our editorial capacity, shrink from the plain duty of endeavouring to advocate what appeared to us right and true; and we trust that whatever opinion may be entertained as to the conclusions to which we have come on such points, we shall not have given ground for any complaint that we have violated any due courtesy or propriety in our mode of expressing those conclusions, or the reasons on which they are founded.
PAGE THE HISTORY OF MY YOUTH.
An Autobiography of Francis Arago 1
Infancy of Bailly.—His Youth.—His Literary Essays.—His Mathematical Studies 93
Bailly becomes the Pupil of Lacaille.—He is associated with him in his Astronomical Labours 97
Bailly a Member of the Academy of Sciences.—His Researches on Jupiter's Satellites 103
Bailly's Literary Works.—His Biographies of Charles V.—of Leibnitz—of Peter Corneille—of Moliere 106
Debates relative to the Post of Perpetual Secretary of the Academy of Sciences 110
History of Astronomy.—Letters on the Atlantis of Plato and on the Ancient History of Asia 114
First Interview of Bailly with Franklin.—His Entrance into the French Academy in 1783.—His Reception.—Discourse.—His Rupture with Buffon 121
Report on Animal Magnetism 127
Election of Bailly into the Academy of Inscriptions 155
Report on the Hospitals 157
Report on the Slaughter-Houses 165
Biographies of Cook and of Gresset 167
Assembly of the Notables.—Bailly is named First Deputy of Paris; and soon after Dean or Senior of the Deputies of the Communes 169
Bailly becomes Mayor of Paris.—Scarcity.—Marat declares himself inimical to the Mayor.—Events of the 6th of October 179
A Glance at the Posthumous Memoir of Bailly 193
Examination of Bailly's Administration as Mayor 195
The King's Flight.—Events on the Champ de Mars 206
Bailly quits the Mayoralty the 12th of November, 1791.—The Eschevins.—Examination of the Reproaches that might be addressed to the Mayor 211
Bailly's Journey from Paris to Nantes, and then from Nantes to Melun.—His Arrest in this last Town.—He is transferred to Paris 217
Bailly is called as a Witness in the Trial of the Queen.—His own Trial before the Revolutionary Tribunal.—His Condemnation to Death.—His Execution.—Imaginary Details added by ill-informed Historians to what that odious and frightful Event already presented 225
Portrait of Bailly.—His Wife 250
Personal History 258
Chronological Table of the Memoirs of William Herschel 266
Improvements in the Means of Observation 271
Labours in Sidereal Astronomy 285
Labours relative to the Solar System 289
Optical Labours 301
Preliminary Notice 303
(A.) Brief Notice of some other interesting Results of the Researches of Laplace which have not been mentioned in the Text 368
(B.) The Mecanique Celeste 372
Preliminary Notice 374
Birth of Fourier.—His Youth 377
Memoir on the Resolution of Numerical Equations 380
Part played by Fourier in our Revolution.—His Entrance into the Corps of Professors of the Normal School and the Polytechnic School.—Expedition to Egypt 384
Fourier Prefect of L'Isere 405
Mathematical Theory of Heat 408
Central Heat of the Terrestrial Globe 419
Return of Napoleon from Elba.—Fourier Prefect of the Rhone.—His Nomination to the Office of Director of the Board of Statistics of the Seine 430
Entrance of Fourier into the Academy of Sciences.—His Election to the Office of Perpetual Secretary.—His Admission to the French Academy 437
Character of Fourier.—His Death 438
DISTINGUISHED SCIENTIFIC MEN.
THE HISTORY OF MY YOUTH:
AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF FRANCIS ARAGO.
I have not the foolish vanity to imagine that any one, even a short time hence, will have the curiosity to find out how my first education was given, and how my mind was developed; but some biographers, writing off hand and without authority, having given details on this subject utterly incorrect, and of a nature to imply negligence on the part of my parents, I consider myself bound to put them right.
I was born on the 26th of February, 1786, in the commune of Estagel, an ancient province of Roussillon (department of the Eastern Pyrenees). My father, a licentiate in law, had some little property in arable land, in vineyards, and in plantations of olive-trees, the income from which supported his numerous family.
I was thus three years old in 1789, four years old in 1790, five years in 1791, six years in 1792, and seven years old in 1793, &c.
The reader has now himself the means of judging whether, as has been said, and even stated in print, I had a hand in the excesses of our first revolution.
My parents sent me to the primary school in Estagel, where I learnt the rudiments of reading and writing. I received, besides, in my father's house, some private lessons in vocal music. I was not otherwise either more or less advanced than other children of my age. I enter into these details merely to show how much mistaken are those who have printed that at the age of fourteen or fifteen years I had not yet learnt to read.
Estagel was a halting-place for a portion of the troops who, coming from the interior, either went on to Perpignan, or repaired direct to the army of the Pyrenees. My parents' house was therefore constantly full of officers and soldiers. This, joined to the lively excitement which the Spanish invasion had produced within me, inspired me with such decided military tastes, that my family was obliged to have me narrowly watched to prevent my joining by stealth the soldiers who left Estagel. It often happened that they caught me at a league's distance from the village, already on my way with the troops.
On one occasion these warlike tastes had nearly cost me dear. It was the night of the battle of Peires-Tortes. The Spanish troops in their retreat had partly mistaken their road. I was in the square of the village before daybreak; I saw a brigadier and five troopers come up, who, at the sight of the tree of liberty, called out, "Somos perdidos!" I ran immediately to the house to arm myself with a lance which had been left there by a soldier of the levee en masse, and placing myself in ambush at the corner of a street, I struck with a blow of this weapon the brigadier placed at the head of the party. The wound was not dangerous; a cut of the sabre, however, was descending to punish my hardihood, when some countrymen came to my aid, and, armed with forks, overturned the five cavaliers from their saddles, and made them prisoners. I was then seven years old.
My father having gone to reside at Perpignan, as treasurer of the mint, all the family quitted Estagel to follow him there. I was then placed as an out-door pupil at the municipal college of the town, where I occupied myself almost exclusively with my literary studies. Our classic authors had become the objects of my favourite reading. But the direction of my ideas became changed all at once by a singular circumstance which I will relate.
Walking one day on the ramparts of the town, I saw an officer of engineers who was directing the execution of the repairs. This officer, M. Cressac, was very young; I had the hardihood to approach him, and to ask him how he had succeeded in so soon wearing an epaulette. "I come from the Polytechnic School," he answered. "What school is that?" "It is a school which one enters by an examination." "Is much expected of the candidates?" "You will see it in the programme which the Government sends every year to the departmental administration; you will find it moreover in the numbers of the journal of the school, which are in the library of the central school."
I ran at once to the library, and there, for the first time, I read the programme of the knowledge required in the candidates.
From this moment I abandoned the classes of the central school, where I was taught to admire Corneille, Racine, La Fontaine, Moliere, and attended only the mathematical course. This course was entrusted to a retired ecclesiastic, the Abbe Verdier, a very respectable man, but whose knowledge went no further than the elementary course of La Caille. I saw at a glance that M. Verdier's lessons would not be sufficient to secure my admission to the Polytechnic School; I therefore decided on studying by myself the newest works, which I sent for from Paris. These were those of Legendre, Lacroix, and Garnier. In going through these works I often met with difficulties which exceeded my powers; happily, strange though it be, and perhaps without example in all the rest of France, there was a proprietor at Estagel, M. Raynal, who made the study of the higher mathematics his recreation. It was in his kitchen, whilst giving orders to numerous domestics for the labours of the next day, that M. Raynal read with advantage the "Hydraulic Architecture" of Prony, the "Mecanique Analytique," and the "Mecanique Celeste." This excellent man often gave me useful advice; but I must say that I found my real master in the cover of M. Garnier's "Treatise on Algebra." This cover consisted of a printed leaf, on the outside of which blue paper was pasted. The reading of the page not covered made me desirous to know what the blue paper hid from me. I took off this paper carefully, having first damped it, and was able to read underneath it the advice given by d'Alembert to a young man who communicated to him the difficulties which he met with in his studies: "Go on, sir, go on, and conviction will come to you."
This gave me a gleam of light; instead of persisting in attempts to comprehend at first sight the propositions before me, I admitted their truth provisionally; I went on further, and was quite surprised, on the morrow, that I comprehended perfectly what overnight appeared to me to be encompassed with thick clouds.
I thus made myself master, in a year and a half, of all the subjects contained in the programme for admission, and I went to Montpellier to undergo the examination. I was then sixteen years of age. M. Monge, junior, the examiner, was detained at Toulouse by indisposition, and wrote to the candidates assembled at Montpellier that he would examine them in Paris. I was myself too unwell to undertake so long a journey, and I returned to Perpignan.
There I listened for a moment to the solicitations of my family, who pressed me to renounce the prospects which the Polytechnic School opened. But my taste for mathematical studies soon carried the day; I increased my library with Euler's "Introduction a l'Analyse Infinitesimale," with the "Resolution des Equations Numeriques," with Lagrange's "Theorie des Fonctions Analytiques," and "Mecanique Analytique," and finally with Laplace's "Mecanique Celeste." I gave myself up with great ardour to the study of these books. From the journal of the Polytechnic School containing such investigations as those of M. Poisson on Elimination, I imagined that all the pupils were as much advanced as this geometer, and that it would be necessary to rise to this height to succeed.
From this moment, I prepared myself for the artillery service,—the aim of my ambition; and as I had heard that an officer ought to understand music, fencing, and dancing, I devoted the first hours of each day to the cultivation of these accomplishments.
The rest of the time I was seen walking in the moats of the citadel of Perpignan, seeking by more or less forced transitions to pass from one question to another, so as to be sure of being able to show the examiner how far my studies had been carried.
At last the moment of examination arrived, and I went to Toulouse in company with a candidate who had studied at the public college. It was the first time that pupils from Perpignan had appeared at the competition. My intimidated comrade was completely discomfited. When I repaired after him to the board, a very singular conversation took place between M. Monge (the examiner) and me.
"If you are going to answer like your comrade, it is useless for me to question you."
"Sir, my comrade knows much more than he has shown; I hope I shall be more fortunate than he; but what you have just said to me might well intimidate me and deprive me of all my powers."
"Timidity is always the excuse of the ignorant; it is to save you from the shame of a defeat that I make you the proposal of not examining you."
"I know of no greater shame than that which you now inflict upon me. Will you be so good as to question me? It is your duty."
"You carry yourself very high, sir! We shall see presently whether this be a legitimate pride."
"Proceed, sir; I wait for you."
M. Monge then put to me a geometrical question, which I answered in such a way as to diminish his prejudices. From this he passed on to a question in algebra, then the resolution of a numerical equation. I had the work of Lagrange at my fingers' ends; I analyzed all the known methods, pointing out their advantages and effects; Newton's method, the method of recurring series, the method of depression, the method of continued fractions,—all were passed in review; the answer had lasted an entire hour. Monge, brought over now to feelings of great kindness, said to me, "I could, from this moment, consider the examination at an end. I will, however, for my own pleasure, ask you two more questions. What are the relations of a curved line to the straight line that is a tangent to it?" I looked upon this question as a particular case of the theory of osculations which I had studied in Legrange's "Fonctions Analytiques." "Finally," said the examiner to me, "how do you determine the tension of the various cords of which a funicular machine is composed?" I treated this problem according to the method expounded in the "Mecanique Analytique." It was clear that Lagrange had supplied all the resources of my examination.
I had been two hours and a quarter at the board. M. Monge, going from one extreme to the other, got up, came and embraced me, and solemnly declared that I should occupy the first place on his list. Shall I confess it? During the examination of my comrade I had heard the Toulousian candidates uttering not very favourable sarcasms on the pupils from Perpignan; and it was principally for the sake of reparation to my native town that M. Monge's behaviour and declaration transported me with joy.
Having entered the Polytechnic School, at the end of 1803, I was placed in the excessively boisterous brigade of the Gascons and Britons. I should have much liked to study thoroughly physics and chemistry, of which I did not even know the first rudiments; but the behaviour of my companions rarely left me any time for it. As for analysis, I had already, before entering the Polytechnic School, learnt much more than was required for leaving it.
I have just related the strange words which M. Monge, junior, addressed to me at Toulouse in commencing my examination for admission. Something analogous occurred at the opening of my examination in mathematics for passing from one division of the school to another. The examiner, this time, was the illustrious geometer Legendre, of whom, a few years after, I had the honour of becoming the colleague and the friend.
I entered his study at the moment when M. T——, who was to undergo his examination before me, having fainted away, was being carried out in the arms of two servants. I thought that this circumstance would have moved and softened M. Legendre; but it had no such effect "What is your name," he said to me sharply. "Arago," I answered. "You are not French then?" "If I was not French I should not be before you; for I have never heard of any one being admitted into the school unless his nationality had been proved." "I maintain that he is not French whose name is Arago." "I maintain, on my side, that I am French, and a very good Frenchman too, however strange my name may appear to you." "Very well; we will not discuss the point farther; go to the board."
I had scarcely taken up the chalk, when M. Legendre, returning to the first subject of his preoccupations, said to me: "You were born in one of the departments recently united to France?" "No, sir; I was born in the department of the Eastern Pyrenees, at the foot of the Pyrenees." "Oh! why did you not tell me that at once? all is now explained. You are of Spanish origin, are you not?" "Possibly; but in my humble family there are no authentic documents preserved which could enable me to trace back the civil position of my ancestors; each one there is the child of his own deeds. I declare to you again that I am French, and that ought to be sufficient for you."
The vivacity of this last answer had not disposed M. Legendre in my favour. I saw this very soon; for, having put a question to me which required the use of double integrals, he stopped me, saying: "The method which you are following was not given to you by the professor. Whence did you get it?" "From one of your papers." "Why did you choose it? was it to bribe me?" "No; nothing was farther from my thoughts. I only adopted it because it appeared to me preferable." "If you are unable to explain to me the reasons for your preference, I declare to you that you shall receive a bad mark, at least as to character."
I then entered upon the details which established, as I thought, that the method of double integrals was in all points more clear and more rational than that which Lacroix had expounded to us in the amphitheatre. From this moment Legendre appeared to me to be satisfied, and to relent.
Afterwards, he asked me to determine the centre of gravity of a spherical sector. "The question is easy," I said to him. "Very well; since you find it easy, I will complicate it: instead of supposing the density constant, I will suppose that it varies from the centre to the surface according to a determined function." I got through this calculation very happily; and from this moment I had entirely gained the favour of the examiner. Indeed, on my retiring, he addressed to me these words, which, coming from him, appeared to my comrades as a very favourable augury for my chance of promotion: "I see that you have employed your time well; go on in the same way the second year, and we shall part very good friends."
In the mode of examination adopted at the Polytechnic School in 1804, which is always cited as being better than the present organization, room was allowed for the exercise of some unjustifiable caprices. Would it be believed, for example, that the old M. Barruel examined two pupils at a time in physics, and gave them, it is said, the same mark, which was the mean between the actual merits of the two? For my part, I was associated with a comrade full of intelligence, but who had not studied this branch of the course. We agreed that he should leave the answering to me, and we found the arrangement advantageous to both.
As I have been led to speak of the school as it was in 1804, I will say that its faults were less those of organization than those of personal management; for many of the professors were much below their office, a fact which gave rise to somewhat ridiculous scenes. The pupils, for instance, having observed the insufficiency of M. Hassenfratz, made a demonstration of the dimensions of the rainbow, full of errors of calculation, but in which the one compensated the other so that the final result was true. The professor, who had only this result whereby to judge of the goodness of the answer, when he saw it appear on the board, did not hesitate to call out, "Good, good, perfectly good!" which excited shouts of laughter on all the benches of the amphitheatre.
When a professor has lost consideration, without which it is impossible for him to do well, they allow themselves to insult him to an incredible extent. Of this I will cite a single specimen.
A pupil, M. Leboullenger, met one evening in company this same M. Hassenfratz, and had a discussion with him. When he reentered the school in the morning, he mentioned this circumstance to us. "Be on your guard," said one of our comrades to him; "you will be interrogated this evening. Play with caution, for the professor has certainly prepared some great difficulties so as to cause laughter at your expense."
Our anticipations were not mistaken. Scarcely had the pupils arrived in the amphitheatre, when M. Hassenfratz called to M. Leboullenger, who came to the board.
"M. Leboullenger," said the professor to him, "you have seen the moon?" "No, sir." "How, sir! you say that you have never seen the moon?" "I can only, repeat my answer—no, sir." Beside himself, and seeing his prey escape him, by means of this unexpected answer, M. Hassenfratz addressed himself to the inspector charged with the observance of order that day, and said to him, "Sir, there is M. Leboullenger, who pretends never to have seen the moon." "What would you wish me to do?" stoically replied M. Le Brun. Repulsed on this side, the professor turned once more towards M. Leboullenger, who remained calm and earnest in the midst of the unspeakable amusement of the whole amphitheatre, and cried out with undisguised anger, "You persist in maintaining that you have never seen the moon?" "Sir," returned the pupil, "I should deceive you if I told you that I had not heard it spoken of, but I have never seen it." "Sir, return to your place."
After this scene, M. Hassenfratz was but a professor in name; his teaching could no longer be of any use.
At the commencement of the second year, I was appointed "chef de brigade." Hatchette had been professor of hydrography at Collioure; his friends from Roussillon recommended me to him. He received me with great kindness, and even gave me a room in his lodgings. It was there that I had the pleasure of making Poisson's acquaintance, who lived next to us. Every evening the great geometer entered my room, and we passed entire hours in conversing on politics and mathematics, which is certainly not quite the same thing.
In the course of 1804, the school was a prey to political passions, and that through the fault of the government.
They wished forthwith to oblige the pupils to sign an address of congratulation on the discovery of the conspiracy in which Moreau was implicated. They refused to do so on the ground that it was not for them to pronounce on a cause which had been in the hands of justice. It must, however, be remarked, that Moreau had not yet dishonoured himself by taking service in the Russian army, which had come to attack the French under the walls of Dresden.
The pupils were invited to make a manifestation in favour of the institution of the Legion of Honour. This again they refused. They knew well that the cross, given without inquiry and without control, would be, in most cases, the recompense of charlatanism, and not of true merit.
The transformation of the Consular into the Imperial Government gave rise to very animated discussions in the interior of the school.
Many pupils refused to add their felicitations to the mean adulations of the constituted bodies.
General Lacuee, who was appointed governor of the school, reported this opposition to the Emperor.
"M. Lacuee," cried Napoleon, in the midst of a group of courtiers, who applauded with speech and gesture, "you cannot retain at the school those pupils who have shown such ardent Republicanism; you will send them away." Then, collecting himself, he added, "I will first know their names and their stages of promotion." Seeing the list the next day, he did not proceed further than the first name, which was the first in the artillery. "I will not drive away the first men in advancement," said he. "Ah! if they had been at the bottom of the list! M. Lacuee, leave them alone."
Nothing was more curious than the seance to which General Lacuee came to receive the oath of obedience from the pupils. In the vast amphitheatre which contained them, one could not discern a trace of the gravity which such a ceremony should inspire. The greater part, instead of answering, at the call of their names, "I swear it," cried out, "Present."
All at once the monotony of this scene was interrupted by a pupil, son of the Conventionalist Brissot, who called out in a stentorian voice, "I will not take the oath of obedience to the Emperor." Lacuee, pale and with little presence of mind, ordered a detachment of armed pupils placed behind him to go and arrest the recusant. The detachment, of which I was at the head, refused to obey. Brissot, addressing himself to the General, with the greatest calmness said to him, "Point out the place to which you wish me to go; do not force the pupils to dishonour themselves by laying hands on a comrade who has no desire to resist."
The next morning Brissot was expelled.
About this time, M. Mechain, who had been sent to Spain to prolong the meridional line as far as Formentera, died at Castellon de la Plana. His son, Secretary at the Observatory, immediately gave in his resignation. Poisson offered me the situation. I declined his first proposal. I did not wish to renounce the military career,—the object of all my predilections, and in which, moreover, I was assured of the protection of Marshal Lannes,—a friend of my father's. Nevertheless I accepted, on trial, the position offered me in the Observatory, after a visit which I made to M. de Laplace in company with M. Poisson, under the express condition that I could re-enter the Artillery if that should suit me. It was from this cause that my name remained inscribed on the list of the pupils of the school. I was only detached to the Observatory on a special service.
I entered this establishment, then, on the nomination of Poisson, my friend, and through the intervention of Laplace. The latter loaded me with civilities. I was happy and proud when I dined in the Rue de Tournon with the great geometer. My mind and my heart were much disposed to admire all, to respect all, that was connected with him who had discovered the cause of the secular equation of the moon, had found in the movement of this planet the means of calculating the ellipticity of the earth, had traced to the laws of attraction the long inequalities of Jupiter and of Saturn, &c. &c. But what was my disenchantment, when one day I heard Madame de Laplace, approaching her husband, say to him, "Will you entrust to me the key of the sugar?"
Some days afterwards, a second incident affected me still more vividly. M. de Laplace's son was preparing for the examinations of the Polytechnic School. He came sometimes to see me at the Observatory. In one of his visits I explained to him the method of continued fractions, by help of which Lagrange obtains the roots of numerical equations. The young man spoke of it to his father with admiration. I shall never forget the rage which followed the words of Emile de Laplace, and the severity of the reproaches which were addressed to me, for having patronized a mode of proceeding which may be very long in theory, but which evidently can in no way be found fault with on the score of its elegance and precision. Never had a jealous prejudice shown itself more openly, or under a more bitter form. "Ah!" said I to myself, "how true was the inspiration of the ancients when they attributed weaknesses to him who nevertheless made Olympus tremble by a frown!"
Here I should mention, in order of time, a circumstance which might have produced the most fatal consequences for me. The fact was this:—
I have described above, the scene which caused the expulsion of Brissot's son from the Polytechnic School. I had entirely lost sight of him for several months, when he came to pay me a visit at the Observatory, and placed me in the most delicate, the most terrible, position that an honest man ever found himself in.
"I have not seen you," he said to me, "because since leaving the school I have practised daily firing with a pistol; I have now acquired a skill beyond the common, and I am about to employ it in ridding France of the tyrant who has confiscated all her liberties. My measures are taken: I have hired a small room on the Carrousel, close to the place by which Napoleon, on coming out from the court, will pass to review the cavalry; from the humble window of my apartment will the ball be fired which will go through his head."
I leave it to be imagined with what despair I received this confidence. I made every imaginable effort to deter Brissot from his sinister project; I remarked how all those who had rushed on enterprises of this nature had been branded in history by the odious title of assassin. Nothing succeeded in shaking his fatal resolution; I only obtained from him a promise on his honour that the execution of it should be postponed for a time, and I put myself in quest of means for rendering it abortive.
The idea of announcing Brissot's project to the authorities did not even enter my thoughts. It seemed a fatality which came to smite me, and of which I must undergo the consequences, however serious they might be.
I counted much on the solicitations of Brissot's mother, already so cruelly tried during the revolution. I went to her home, in the Rue de Conde, and implored her earnestly to cooeperate with me in preventing her son from carrying out his sanguinary resolution. "Ah, sir," replied this lady, who was naturally a model of gentleness, "if Silvain" (this was the name of her son) "believes that he is accomplishing a patriotic duty, I have neither the intention nor the desire to turn him from his project."
It was from myself that I must henceforth draw all my resources. I had remarked that Brissot was addicted to the composition of romances and pieces of poetry. I encouraged this passion, and every Sunday, above all, when I knew that there would be a review, I went to fetch him, and drew him into the country, in the environs of Paris. I listened then complacently to the reading of those chapters of his romance which he had composed during the week.
The first excursions frightened me a little, for armed with his pistols, Brissot seized every occasion of showing his great skill; and I reflected that this circumstance would lead to my being considered as his accomplice, if he ever carried out his project. At last, his pretensions to literary fame, which I flattered to the utmost, the hopes (though I had none myself) which I led him to conceive of the success of an attachment of which he had confided the secret to me, made him receive with attention the reflections which I constantly made to him on his enterprise. He determined on making a journey beyond the seas, and thus relieved me from the most serious anxiety which I have experienced in all my life.
Brissot died after having covered the walls of Paris with printed handbills in favour of the Bourbon restoration.
I had scarcely entered the Observatory, when I became the fellow-labourer of Biot in researches on the refraction of gases, already commenced by Borda.
While engaged in this work the celebrated academician and I often conversed on the interest there would be in resuming in Spain the measurement interrupted by the death of Mechain. We submitted our project to Laplace, who received it with ardour, procured the necessary funds, and the Government confided to us two this important mission.
M. Biot, I, and the Spanish commissary Rodriguez departed from Paris in the commencement of 1806. We visited, on our way, the stations indicated by Mechain; we made some important modifications in the projected triangulation, and at once commenced operations.
An inaccurate direction given to the reflectors established at Iviza, on the mountain Campvey, rendered the observations made on the continent extremely difficult. The light of the signal of Campvey was very rarely seen, and I was, during six months, in the Desierto de las Palmas, without being able to see it, whilst at a later period the light established at the Desierto, but well directed, was seen every evening from Campvey. It will easily be imagined what must be the ennui experienced by a young and active astronomer, confined to an elevated peak, having for his walk only a space of twenty square metres, and for diversion only the conversation of two Carthusians, whose convent was situated at the foot of the mountain, and who came in secret, infringing the rule of their order.
At the time when I write these lines, old and infirm, my legs scarcely able to sustain me, my thoughts revert involuntarily to that epoch of my life when, young and vigorous, I bore the greatest fatigues, and walked day and night, in the mountainous countries which separate the kingdoms of Valencia and Catalonia from the kingdom of Aragon, in order to reestablish our geodesic signals which the storms had overset.
I was at Valencia towards the middle of October, 1806. One morning early the French consul entered my room quite alarmed: "Here is sad news," said M. Lanusse to me; "make preparations for your departure; the whole town is in agitation; a declaration of war against France has just been published; it appears that we have experienced a great disaster in Prussia. The Queen, we are assured, has put herself at the head of the cavalry and of the royal guard; a part of the French army has been cut to pieces; the rest is completely routed. Our lives would not be in safety if we remained here; the French ambassador at Madrid will inform me as soon as an American vessel now at anchor in the 'Grao' of Valencia can take us on board, and I will let you know as soon as the moment is come." This moment never came; for a few days afterwards the false news, which one must suppose had dictated the proclamation of the Prince of the Peace, was replaced by the bulletin of the battle of Jena. People who at first played the braggart and threatened to root us out, suddenly became disgracefully cast down; we could walk in the town, holding up our heads, without fear henceforth of being insulted.
This proclamation, in which they spoke of the critical circumstances in which the Spanish nation was placed; of the difficulties which encompassed this people; of the safety of their native country; of laurels, and of the god of victory; of enemies with whom they ought to fight;—did not contain the name of France. They availed themselves of this omission (will it be believed?) to maintain that it was directed against Portugal.
Napoleon pretended to believe in this absurd interpretation; but from this moment it became evident that Spain would sooner or later be obliged to render a strict account of the warlike intentions which she had suddenly evinced in 1806; this, without justifying the events of Bayonne, explains them in a very natural way.
I was expecting M. Biot at Valencia, he having undertaken to bring some new instruments with which we were to measure the latitude of Formentera. I shall take advantage of these short intervals of repose to insert here some details of manners, which may, perhaps, be read with interest.
I will recount, in the first instance, an adventure which nearly cost me my life under somewhat singular circumstances.
One day, as a recreation, I thought I could go, with a fellow-countryman, to the fair at Murviedro, the ancient Saguntum, which they told me was very curious. I met in the town the daughter of a Frenchman resident at Valencia, Madlle. B——. All the hotels were crowded; Madlle. B—— invited us to take some refreshments at her grandmother's; we accepted; but on leaving the house she informed us that our visit had not been to the taste of her betrothed, and that we must be prepared for some sort of attack on his part; we went directly to an armourer's, bought some pistols, and commenced our return to Valencia.
On our way I said to the calezero (driver), a man whom I had employed for a long time, and who was much devoted to me:—
"Isidro, I have some reason to believe that we shall be stopped; I warn you of it, so that you may not be surprised at the shots which will be fired from the caleza (vehicle)."
Isidro, seated on the shaft, according to the custom of the country, answered:—
"Your pistols are completely useless, gentlemen; leave me to act; one cry will be enough; my mule will rid us of two, three, or even four men."
Scarcely one minute had elapsed after the calezero had uttered these words, when two men presented themselves before the mule and seized her by the nostrils. At the same instant a formidable cry, which will never be effaced from my remembrance,—the cry of Capitana!—was uttered by Isidro. The mule reared up almost vertically, raising up one of the men, came down again, and set off at a rapid gallop. The jolt which the carriage made led us to understand too well what had just occurred. A long silence succeeded this incident; it was only interrupted by these words of the calezero, "Do you not think, gentlemen, that my mule is worth more than any pistols?"
The next day the captain-general, Don Domingo Izquierdo, related to me that a man had been found crushed on the road to Murviedro. I gave him an account of the prowess of Isidro's mule, and no more was said.
One anecdote, taken from among a thousand, will show what an adventurous life was led by the delegate of the Bureau of Longitude.
During my stay on a mountain near Cullera, to the north of the mouth of the river Xucar, and to the south of the Albufera, I once conceived the project of establishing a station on the high mountains which are in front of it. I went to see them. The alcaid of one of the neighbouring villages warned me of the danger to which I was about to expose myself. "These mountains," said he to me, "form the resort of a band of highway robbers." I asked for the national guard, as I had the power to do so. My escort was supposed by the robbers to be an expedition directed against them, and they dispersed themselves at once over the rich plain which is watered by the Xucar. On my return I found them engaged in combat with the authorities of Cullera. Wounds had been given on both sides, and, if I recollect right, one alguazil was left dead on the plain.
The next morning I regained my station. The following night was a horrible one; the rain fell in a deluge. Towards night, there was knocking at my cabin door. To the question "Who is there?" the answer was, "A custom-house guard, who asks of you a shelter for some hours." My servant having opened the door to him, I saw a magnificent man enter, armed to the teeth. He laid himself down on the earth, and went to sleep. In the morning, as I was chatting with him at the door of my cabin, his eyes flashed on seeing two persons on the slope of the mountain, the alcaid of Cullera and his principal alguazil, who were coming to pay me a visit. "Sir," cried he, "nothing less than the gratitude which I owe to you, on account of the service which you have rendered to me this night, could prevent my seizing this occasion for ridding myself, by one shot of this carabine, of my most cruel enemy. Adieu, sir!" And he departed, springing from rock to rock as light as a gazelle.
On reaching the cabin, the alcaid and his alguazil recognized in the fugitive the chief of all the brigands in the country.
Some days afterwards, the weather having again become very bad, I received a second visit from the pretended custom-house guard, who went soundly to sleep in my cabin. I saw that my servant, an old soldier, who had heard the recital of the deeds and behaviour of this man, was preparing to kill him. I jumped down from my camp bed, and, seizing my servant by the throat,—"Are you mad?" said I to him; "are we to discharge the duties of police in this country? Do you not see, moreover, that this would expose us to the resentment of all those who obey the orders of this redoubted chief? And we should thus render it impossible for us to terminate our operations."
Next morning, when the sun rose, I had a conversation with my guest, which I will try to reproduce faithfully.
"Your situation is perfectly known to me; I know that you are not a custom-house guard; I have learnt from certain information that you are the chief of the robbers of the country. Tell me whether I have any thing to fear from your confederates?"
"The idea of robbing you did occur to us; but we concluded that all your funds would be in the neighbouring towns; that you would carry no money to the summit of mountains, where you would not know what to do with it, and that our expedition against you could have no fruitful result. Moreover, we cannot pretend to be as strong as the King of Spain. The King's troops leave us quietly enough to exercise our industry; but on the day that we molested an envoy from the Emperor of the French, they would direct against us several regiments, and we should soon have to succumb. Allow me to add, that the gratitude which I owe to you is your surest guarantee."
"Very well, I will trust in your words; I shall regulate my conduct by your answer. Tell me if I can travel at night? It is fatiguing to me to move from one station to another in the day under the burning influence of the sun."
"You can do so, sir; I have already given my orders to this purpose; they will not be infringed."
Some days afterwards, I left for Denia; it was midnight, when some horsemen rode up to me, and addressed these words to me:—
"Stop there, senor; times are hard; those who have something must aid those who have nothing. Give us the keys of your trunks; we will only take your superfluities."
I had already obeyed their orders, when it came into my head to call out—"But I have been told, that I could travel without risk."
"What is your name, sir?"
"Don Francisco Arago."
"Hombre! vaya usted con Dios (God be with you)."
And our cavaliers, spurring away from us, rapidly lost themselves in a field of "algarrobos."
When my friend the robber of Cullera assured me that I had nothing to fear from his subordinates, he informed me at the same time that his authority did not extend north of Valencia. The banditti of the northern part of the kingdom obeyed other chiefs; one of whom, after having been taken, was condemned and hung, and his body divided into four quarters, which were fastened to posts, on four royal roads, but not without their having previously been boiled in oil, to make sure of their longer preservation.
This barbarous custom produced no effect; for scarcely was one chief destroyed before another presented himself to replace him.
Of all these brigands those had the worst reputation who carried on their depredations in the environs of Oropeza. The proprietors of the three mules, on which M. Rodriguez, I, and my servant were riding one evening in this neighbourhood, were recounting to us the "grand deeds" of these robbers, which, even in full daylight, would have made the hair of one's head stand on end, when, by the faint light of the moon, we perceived a man hiding himself behind a tree; we were six, and yet this sentry on horseback had the audacity to demand our purses or our lives: my servant, at once answered him—"You must then believe us to be very cowardly; take yourself off, or I will bring you down by one shot of my carabine." "I will be off," returned the worthless fellow "but you will soon hear news of me." Still full of fright at the remembrance of the stories which they had just been relating, the three "arieros" besought us to quit the high road and cast ourselves into a wood which was on our left. We yielded to their proposal; but we lost our way. "Dismount," said they, "the mules have been obeying the bridle and you have directed them wrongly. Let us retrace our way as far as the high road, and leave the mules to themselves, they will well know how to find their right way again." Scarcely had we effected this manoeuvre, which succeeded marvellously well, when we heard a lively discussion taking place at a short distance from us. Some were saying: "We must follow the high road, and we shall meet with them." Others maintained that they must get into the wood on the left. The barking of the dogs, by which these individuals were accompanied, added to the tumult. During this time we pursued our way silently, more dead than alive. It was two o'clock in the morning. All at once we saw a faint light in a solitary house; it was like a light-house for the mariner in the midst of the tempest, and the only means of safety which remained to us. Arrived at the door of the farm, we knocked and asked for hospitality. The inmates, very little reassured, feared that we were thieves, and did not hurry themselves to open to us.
Impatient at the delay, I cried out, as I had received authority to do so, "In the name of the King, open to us!" They obeyed an order thus given; we entered pell-mell, and in the greatest haste, men and mules, into the kitchen, which was on the ground-floor; and we hurried to extinguish the lights, in order not to awaken the suspicions of the bandits who were seeking for us. Indeed, we heard them, passing and repassing near the house, vociferating with the whole force of their lungs against their unlucky fate. We did not quit this solitary house until broad day, and we continued our route for Tortosa, not without having given a suitable recompense to our hosts. I wished to know by what providential circumstance they happened to have a lamp burning at that unseasonable hour. "We had killed a pig," they told me, "in the course of the day, and we were busy preparing the black puddings." Had the pig lived one day more, or had there been no black puddings, I should certainly have been no longer in this world, and I should not have the opportunity to relate the story of the robbers of Oropeza.
Never could I better appreciate the intelligent measure by which the constituent assembly abolished the ancient division of France into provinces, and substituted its division into departments, than in traversing for my triangulation the Spanish border kingdoms of Catalonia, Valencia, and Aragon. The inhabitants of these three provinces detested each other cordially, and nothing less than the bond of a common hatred was necessary to make them act simultaneously against France. Such was their animosity in 1807 that I could scarcely make use at the same time of Catalonians, Aragons, and Valencians, when I moved with my instruments from one station to another. The Valencians, in particular, were treated by the Catalonians as a light, trifling, inconsistent people. They were in the habit of saying to me, "En el reino de Valencia la carne es verdura, la verdura agua, los hombres mugeres, las mugeres nada"; which may be translated thus: "In the kingdom of Valencia meat is a vegetable, vegetables are water, men are women, and women nothing."
On the other hand, the Valencians, speaking of the Aragons, used to call them "schuros."
Having asked of a herdsman of this province who had brought some goats near to one of my stations, what was the origin of this denomination, at which his compatriots showed themselves so offended:
"I do not know," said he, smiling cunningly at me, "whether I dare answer you." "Go on, go on," I said to him, "I can hear anything without being angry." "Well, the word schuros means that, to our great shame, we have sometimes been governed by French kings. The sovereign, before assuming power, was bound to promise under oath to respect our freedom and to articulate in a loud voice the solemn words lo Juro! As he did not know how to pronounce the J he said schuro. Are you satisfied, senor?" I answered him, "Yes, yes. I see that vanity and pride are not dead in this country."
Since I have just spoken of a shepherd, I will say that in Spain, the class of individuals of both sexes destined to look after herds, appeared to me always less further removed than in France, from the pictures which the ancient poets have left us of the shepherds and shepherdesses in their pastoral poetry. The songs by which they endeavour to while away the tedium of their monotonous life, are more remarkable in their form and substance than in the other European nations to which I have had access. I never recollect without surprise, that being on a mountain situated at the junction-point of the kingdoms of Valencia, Aragon, and Catalonia, I was all at once overtaken by a violent storm, which forced me to take refuge in my tent, and to remain there squatting on the ground. When the storm was over and I came out from my retreat, I heard, to my great astonishment, on an isolated peak which looked down upon my station, a shepherdess who was singing a song of which I only recollect these eight lines, which will give an idea of the rest:—
* * * * *
A los que amor no saben Ofreces las dulzuras Y a mi las amarguras Que s'e lo quo es amar.
Las gracias al me certe Eran cuadro de flores Te cantaban amores Por hacerte callar.
Oh! how much sap there is in this Spanish nation! What a pity that they will not make it yield fruit!
In 1807, the tribunal of the Inquisition existed still at Valencia, and at times performed its functions. The reverend fathers, it is true, did not burn people, but they pronounced sentences in which the ridiculous contended with the odious. During my residence in this town, the holy office had to busy itself about a pretended sorceress; it doomed her to go through all quarters of the town astride on an ass, her face turned towards the tail, and naked down to the waist. Merely to observe the commonest rules of decency, the poor woman had been plastered with a sticky substance, partly honey, they told me, to which adhered an enormous quantity of little feathers, so that to say the truth, the victim resembled a fowl with a human head. The procession, whether attended by a crowd I leave it to be imagined, stationed itself for some time in the cathedral square, where I lived. I was told that the sorceress was struck on the back a certain number of blows with a shovel; but I do not venture to affirm this, for I was absent at the moment when this hideous procession passed before my windows.
We thus see, however, what sort of spectacles were given to the people in the commencement of the nineteenth century, in one of the principal towns of Spain, the seat of a celebrated university, and the native country of numerous citizens distinguished by their knowledge, their courage, and their virtues. Let not the friends of humanity and of civilization disunite; let them form, on the contrary, an indissoluble union, for superstition is always on the watch, and waits for the moment again to seize its prey.
I have mentioned in the course of my narrative that two Carthusians often left their convent in the Desierto de las Palmas, and came, though prohibited, to see me at my station, situated about two hundred metres higher. A few particulars will give an idea of what certain monks were, in the Peninsula, in 1807.
One of them, Father Trivulce, was old; the other was very young. The former, of French origin, had played a part at Marseilles, in the counter-revolutionary events of which this town was the theatre, at the commencement of our first revolution. His part had been a very active one; one might see the proof of this in the scars of sabre cuts which furrowed his breast. It was he who was the first to come. When he saw his young comrade march up, he hid himself; but as soon as the latter had fully entered into conversation with me, Father Trivulce showed himself all at once. His appearance had the effect of Medusa's head. "Reassure yourself," said he to his young compeer; "only let us not denounce each other, for our prior is not a man to pardon us for having come here and infringed our vow of silence, and we should both receive a punishment, the recollection of which would long remain." The treaty was at once concluded, and from that day forward the two Carthusians came very often to converse with me.
The youngest of our two visitors was an Aragonian, his family had made him a monk against his will. He related to me one day, before M. Biot, (then returned from Tarragon, where he had taken refuge to get cured of his fever,) some particulars which, according to him, proved that in Spain there was no longer more than the ghost of religion. These details were mostly borrowed from the secrets of confession. M. Biot manifested sharply the displeasure which this conversation caused him; there were even in his language some words which led the monk to suppose that M. Biot took him for a kind of spy. As soon as this suspicion had entered his mind, he quitted us without saying a word, and the next morning I saw him come up early, armed with a light gun. The French monk had preceded him, and had whispered in my ear the danger that threatened my companion. "Join with me," he said, "to turn the young Aragonian monk from his murderous project." I need scarcely say that I employed myself with ardour in this negotiation, in which I had the happiness to succeed. There were here, as must be seen, the materials for a chief of guerilleros. I should be much astonished if my young monk did not play his part in the war of independence.
The anecdote which I am about to relate will amply prove that religion was, with the Carthusian monks of the Desierto de las Palmas, not the consequence of elevated sentiments, but a mere compound of superstitious practices.
The scene with the gun, always present to my mind, seemed to make it clear to me that the Aragon monk, if actuated by his passions, would be capable of the most criminal actions. Hence, I had a very disagreeable impression when one Sunday, having come down to hear mass, I met this monk, who, without saying a word, conducted me by a series of dark corridors into a chapel where the daylight penetrated only by a very small window. There I found Father Trivulce, who prepared himself to say mass for me alone. The young monk assisted. All at once, an instant before the consecration, Father Trivulce, turning towards me, said these exact words: "We have permission to say mass with white wine; we therefore make use of that which we gather from our own vines: this wine is very good. Ask the prior to let you taste it, when on leaving this you go to breakfast with him. For the rest, you can assure yourself this instant of the truth of what I say to you." And he presented me the goblet to drink from. I resisted strongly, not only because I considered it indecent to give this invitation in the middle of the mass, but because, besides, I must own I conceived the thought for a moment that the monks wished, by poisoning me, to revenge themselves on me for M. Biot having insulted them. I found that I was mistaken, that my suspicions had no foundation; for Father Trivulce went on with the interrupted mass, drank, and drank largely, of the white wine contained in one of the goblets. But when I had got out of the hands of the two monks, and was able to breathe the pure air of the country, I experienced a lively satisfaction.
The right of asylum accorded to some churches was one of the most obnoxious privileges among those of which the revolution of 1789 rid France. In 1807, this right still existed in Spain, and belonged, I believe, to all the cathedrals. I learnt, during my stay at Barcelona, that there was, in a little cloister contiguous to the largest church of the town, a brigand,—a man guilty of several assassinations, who lived quietly there, guaranteed against all pursuit by the sanctity of the place. I wished to assure myself with my own eyes of the reality of the fact, and I went with my friend Rodriguez into the little cloister in question. The assassin was then eating a meal which a woman had just brought him. He easily guessed the object of our visit, and made immediately such demonstrations as convinced us that, if the asylum was safe for the robber, it would not be so long for us. We retired at once, deploring that, in a country calling itself civilized, there should still exist such crying, such monstrous abuses.
In order to succeed in our geodesic operations, to obtain the coeoperation of the inhabitants of the villages near our stations, it was desirable for us to be recommended to the priests. We went, therefore,—M. Lanusse, the French Vice-Consul, M. Biot, and I,—to pay a visit to the Archbishop of Valencia, to solicit his protection. This archbishop, a man of very tall figure, was then chief of the Franciscans; his costume more than negligent, his gray robe, covered with tobacco, contrasted with the magnificence of the archiepiscopal palace. He received us with kindness, and promised us all the recommendations we desired; but, at the moment of taking leave of him, the whole affair seemed to be spoiled. M. Lanusse and M. Biot went out of the reception room without kissing the hand of his grace, although he had presented it to each of them very graciously. The archbishop indemnified himself on my poor person. A movement, which was very near breaking my teeth, a gesture which I might justly call a blow of the fist, proved to me that the chief of the Franciscans, notwithstanding his vow of humility, had taken offence at the want of ceremony in my fellow visitors. I was going to complain of the abrupt way in which he had treated me, but I had the necessities of our trigonometrical operations before my eyes, and I was silent.
Besides this, at the instant when the closed fist of the archbishop was applied to my lips, I was still thinking of the beautiful optical experiments which it would have been possible to make with the magnificent stone which ornamented his pastoral ring. This idea, I must frankly declare, had preoccupied me during the whole of the visit.
M. Biot having at last come to seek me again at Valencia, where I expected, as I have before said, some new instruments, we went on to Formentera, the southern extremity of our arc, of which place we determined the latitude. M. Biot quitted me afterwards to return to Paris, whilst I made the geodesical junction of the island of Majorca to Iviza, and to Formentera, obtaining thus, by means of one single triangle, the measure of an arc of parallel of one degree and a half.
I then went to Majorca, to measure there the latitude and the azimuth.
At this epoch, the political fermentation, engendered by the entrance of the French into Spain, began to invade the whole Peninsula and the islands dependent on it. This ferment had as yet in Majorca only reached to the ministers, the partisans, and the relations of the Prince of Peace. Each evening, I saw, drawn in triumph in the square of Palma, the capital of the island of Majorca, on carriages, the effigies in flames, sometimes of the minister Soller, another time those of the bishop, and even those of private individuals supposed to be attached to the fortunes of the favourite Godoi. I was far from suspecting then that my turn would soon arrive.
My station at Majorca, the Clop de Galazo, a very high mountain, was situated exactly over the port where Don Jayme el Conquistator disembarked when he went to deliver the Balearic Islands from the Moors. The report spread itself through the population that I had established myself there in order to favour the arrival of the French army, and that every evening I made signals to it. But these reports had nothing menacing until the moment of the arrival at Palma, the 27th of May, 1808, of an ordnance officer from Napoleon. This officer was M. Berthemie; he carried to the Spanish squadron, at Mahon, the order to go in all haste to Toulon. A general rising, which placed the life of this officer in danger, followed the news of his mission. The Captain-General Vives only saved his life by shutting him up in the strong castle of Belver. They then bethought themselves of the Frenchman established on the Clop de Galazo, and formed a popular expedition to go and seize him.
M. Damian, the owner of a small kind of vessel called a Mistic, which the Spanish Government had placed at my disposal, was beforehand with them, and brought me a costume by means of which I disguised myself. In directing myself towards Palma, in company with this brave seaman, we met with the rioters who were going in search of me. They did not recognize me, for I spoke Majorcan perfectly. I strongly encouraged the men of this detachment to continue their route, and I pursued my way towards Palma. At night I went on board the Mistic, commanded by Don Manuel de Vacaro, whom the Spanish Government had placed under my orders. I asked this officer if he would conduct me to Barcelona, occupied by the French, promising him that if they made any attempt to keep him there, I would at once return and surrender myself a prisoner.
Don Manuel, who up to this time had shown extreme obsequiousness towards me, had now no words but those of rudeness and distrust. There occurred on the pier where the Mistic was moored a riotous movement, which Vacaro assured me was directed against me. "Do not be uneasy," said he to me; "if they should penetrate into the vessel you can hide yourself in this trunk." I made the attempt; but the chest which he showed me was so small that my legs were entirely outside, and the cover could not be shut down. I understood perfectly what that meant, and I asked M. Vacaro to let me also be shut up in the castle of Belver. The order for incarceration having arrived from the captain-general, I got into the boat, where the sailors of the Mistic received me with emotion.
At the moment of their crossing the harbour the populace perceived me, commenced a pursuit, and it was not without much difficulty that I reached Belver safe and sound. I had only, indeed, received on my way one slight wound from a dagger in the thigh. Prisoners have often been seen to run with all speed from their dungeon; I am the first, perhaps, to whom it has happened to do the reverse. This took place on the 1st or 2d of June, 1808.
The governor of Belver was a very extraordinary personage. If he is still alive he may demand of me a certificate as to his priority to the modern hydropathists; the grenadier-captain maintained that pure water, suitably administered, was a means of treatment for all illnesses, even for amputations. By listening very patiently to his theories, and never interrupting him, I won his good opinion. It was at his request, and from interest in our safety, that a Swiss garrison replaced the Spanish troop which until then had been employed as the guard of Belver. It was also through him that I one day learnt that a monk had proposed to the soldiers who went to bring my food from the town, to put some poison into one of the dishes.
All my old Majorcan friends had abandoned me at the moment of my detention. I had had a very sharp correspondence with Don Manuel de Vacaro in order to obtain the restitution of the passport of safety which the English Admiralty had granted to us. M. Rodriguez alone ventured to visit me in full daylight, and bring me every consolation in his power.
The excellent M. Rodriguez, to while away the monotony of my incarceration, remitted to me from time to time the journals which were then published at different parts of the Peninsula. He often sent them to me without reading them. Once I saw in these journals the recital of the horrible massacres of which the town of Valencia—I make a mistake, the square of the Bull-fights—had been the theatre, and in which nearly the whole of the French established in this town (more than 350) had disappeared under the pike of the bull-fighter. Another journal contained an article bearing this title: "Relacion de la ahorcadura del senor Arago e del senor Berthemie,"—literally, "Account of the execution of M. Arago and M. Berthemie." This account spoke of the two executed men in very different terms. M. Berthemie was a Huguenot; he had been deaf to all exhortations; he had spit in the face of the ecclesiastic who was present, and even on the image of Christ. As for me, I had conducted myself with much decency, and had allowed myself to be hung without giving rise to any scandal. The writer also expressed his regret that a young astronomer had been so weak as to associate himself with treason, coming under the disguise of science to assist the entrance of the French army into a friendly kingdom.
After reading this article I immediately made my decision: "Since they talk of my death," said I to my friend Rodriguez, "the event will not be long in coming. I should prefer being drowned to being hung. I will make my escape from this fortress; it is for you to furnish me with the means."
Rodriguez, knowing better than any one how well founded my apprehensions were, set himself at once to the work.
He went to the captain-general, and made him feel what would be the danger of his position if I should disappear in a popular riot, or even if he were forced to give me up. His observations were so much the better comprehended, as no one could then predict what might be the issue of the Spanish revolution. "I will undertake," said the captain-general Vives to my colleague Rodriguez, "to give an order to the commander of the fortress, that when the right moment arrives, he shall allow M. Arago, and even the two or three other Frenchmen who are with him in the castle of Belver, to pass out. They will then have no need of the means of escape which they have procured; but I will take no part in the preparations which will become necessary to enable the fugitives to leave the island; I leave all that to your responsibility."
Rodriguez immediately conferred secretly with the brave commander Damian. It was agreed between them that Damian should take the command of a half-decked boat, which the wind had driven ashore; that he should equip it as if for a fishing expedition; that he should carry us to Algiers; after which his reentrance at Palmas, with or without fish, would inspire no suspicion.
All was executed according to agreement, notwithstanding the inquisitorial surveillance which Don Manuel de Vacaro exercised over the commander of his "Mistic."
On the 28th July, 1808, we silently descended the hill on which Belver is built, at the same moment that the family of the minister Soller entered the fortress to escape the fury of the populace. Arrived at the shore, we found there Damian, his boat, and three sailors. We embarked at once, and set sail. Damian had taken the precaution of bringing with us in this frail vessel the instruments of value which he had carried off from my station at the Clop de Galazo. The sea was unfavourable; Damian thought it prudent to stop at the little island of Cabrera, destined to become a short time afterwards so sadly celebrated by the sufferings which the soldiers of the army of Dupont experienced after the shameful capitulation of Baylen. There a singular incident was very near compromising all. Cabrera, tolerably near to the southern extremity of Majorca, is often visited by fishermen coming from that part of the island. M. Berthemie feared, justly enough, that the rumour of our escape having spread about, they might dispatch some boats to seize us. He looked upon our going into harbour as inopportune; I maintained that we must yield to the prudence of the commander. During this discussion, the three seamen whom Damian had engaged saw that M. Berthemie, whom I had endeavoured to pass off as my servant, maintained his opinion against me on a footing of equality. They then addressed themselves in these terms to the commander:—
"We only consented to take part in this expedition upon condition that the Emperor's aide-de-camp, shut up at Belver, should not be of the number of those persons whom we should help off. We only wished to aid the flight of the astronomer. Since it seems to be otherwise, you must leave this officer here, unless you would prefer to throw him into the sea."
Damian at once informed me of the imperative wishes of his boat's crew. M. Berthemie agreed with me to suffer some abuse such as could only be tolerated by a servant threatened by his master; all the suspicions disappeared.
Damian, who feared also for himself the arrival of Majorcan fishermen, hastened to set sail on the 29th of July, 1808, the first moment that was favourable, and we arrived at Algiers on the 3d of August.
Our looks were anxiously directed towards the port, to guess what reception might await us. We were reassured by the sight of the tri-coloured flag, which was flying on two or three buildings. But we were mistaken; these buildings were Dutch. Immediately upon our entrance, a Spaniard, whom, from his tone of authority, we took for a high functionary of the Regency, came up to Damian, and asked him: "What do you bring?" "I bring," answered the commander, "four Frenchmen." "You will at once take them back again. I prohibit you from disembarking." As we did not seem inclined to obey his order, our Spaniard, who was the constructing engineer of the ships of the Dey, armed himself with a pole, and commenced battering us with blows. But immediately a Genoese seaman, mounted on a neighbouring vessel, armed himself with an oar, and struck our assailant both with edge and point. During this animated combat we managed to land without any opposition. We had conceived a singular idea of the manner in which the police act on the coast of Africa.
We pursued our way to the French Consul's, M. Dubois Thainville. He was at his country house. Escorted by the janissary of the consulate, we went off towards this country house, one of the ancient residences of the Dey, situated not far from the gate of Bab-azoum. The consul and his family received us with great amity, and offered us hospitality.
Suddenly transported to a new continent, I looked forward anxiously to the rising of the sun to enjoy all that Africa might offer of interest to a European, when all at once I believed myself to be engaged in a serious adventure. By the faint light of the dawn, I saw an animal moving at the foot of my bed. I gave a kick with my foot: all movement ceased. After some time, I felt the same movement made under my legs. A sharp jerk made this cease quickly. I then heard the fits of laughter of the janissary, who lay on the couch in the same room as I did; and I soon saw that he had simply placed on my bed a large hedgehog to amuse himself by my uneasiness.
The consul occupied himself the next day in procuring a passage for us on board a vessel of the Regency which was going to Marseilles. M. Ferrier, the Chancellor of the French Consulate, was at the same time Consul for Austria. He procured for us two false passports, which transformed us—M. Berthemie and me—into two strolling merchants, the one from Schwekat, in Hungary, the other from Leoben.
The moment of departure had arrived; the 13th of August, 1808, we were on board, but our ship's company was not complete. The captain, whose title was Rai Braham Ouled Mustapha Goja, having perceived that the Dey was on his terrace, and fearing punishment if he should delay to set sail, completed his crew at the expense of the idlers who were looking on from the pier, and of whom the greater part were not sailors. These poor people begged as a favour for permission to go and inform their families of this precipitate departure, and to get some clothes. The captain remained deaf to their remonstrances. We weighed anchor.
The vessel belonged to the Emir of Seca, Director of the Mint. The real commander was a Greek captain, named Spiro Calligero. The cargo consisted of a great number of groups. Amongst the passengers there were five members of the family which the Bakri had succeeded as kings of the Jews; two ostrich-feather merchants, Moroccans; Captain Krog, from Berghen in Norway, who had sold his ship at Alicant; two lions sent by the Dey to the emperor Napoleon, and a great number of monkeys. Our voyage was prosperous. Off Sardinia we met with an American ship coming out from Cagliari. A cannon-shot (we were armed with forty pieces of small power) warned the captain to come to be recognized. He brought on board a certain number of counterparts of passports, one of which agreed perfectly with that which we carried. The captain being thus all right, was not a little astonished when I ordered him, in the name of Captain Braham, to furnish us with tea, coffee, and sugar. The American captain protested; he called us brigands, pirates, robbers. Captain Braham admitted without difficulty all these qualifications, and persisted none the less in the exaction of sugar, coffee, and tea.
The American, then driven to the last stage of exasperation, addressed himself to me, who acted as interpreter, and cried out, "Oh! rogue of a renegade! if ever I meet you on holy ground I will break your head." "Can you then suppose," I answered him, "that I am here for my pleasure, and that, notwithstanding your menace, I would not rather go with you, if I could?" These words calmed him; he brought the sugar, the coffee, and the tea claimed by the Moorish chief, and we again set sail, though without having exchanged the usual farewell.
We had already entered the Gulf of Lyons, and were approaching Marseilles, when on the 16th August, 1808, we met with a Spanish corsair from Palamos, armed at the prow with two twenty-four pounders. We made full sail; we hoped to escape it: but a cannon-shot, a ball from which went through our sails, taught us that she was a much better sailer than we were.
We obeyed an injunction thus expressed, and awaited the great boat from the corsair. The captain declared that he made us prisoners, although Spain was at peace with Barbary, under the pretext that we were violating the blockade which had been lately raised on all the coasts of France: he added, that he intended to take us to Rosas, and that there the authorities would decide on our fate.
I was in the cabin of the vessel; I had the curiosity to look furtively at the crew of the boat, and there I perceived, with a dissatisfaction which may easily be imagined, one of the sailors of the "Mistic," commanded by Don Manuel de Vacaro, of the name of Pablo Blanco, of Palamos, who had often acted as my servant during my geodesic operations. My false passport would become from this moment useless, if Pablo should recognize me: I went to bed at once, covered my head with the counterpane, and lay as still as a statue.
During the two days which elapsed between our capture and our entrance into the roads of Rosas, Pablo, whose curiosity often brought him into the room, used to exclaim, "There is one passenger whom I have not yet managed to get a sight of."
When we arrived at Rosas it was decided that we should be placed in quarantine in a dismantled windmill, situated on the road leading to Figueras. I was careful to disembark in a boat to which Pablo did not belong. The corsair departed for a new cruise, and I was for a moment freed from the harassing thoughts which my old servant had caused me.
Our ship was richly laden; the Spanish authorities were immediately desirous to declare it a lawful prize. They pretended to believe that I was the proprietor of it, and wished, in order to hasten things, to interrogate me, even without awaiting the completion of the quarantine. They stretched two cords between the mill and the shore, and a judge placed himself in front of me. As the interrogatories were made from a good distance, the numerous audience which encircled us took a direct part in the questions and answers. I will endeavour to reproduce this dialogue with all possible fidelity:—
"Who are you?"
"A poor roving merchant."
"Whence do you come?"
"From a country where you certainly never were."
"In a word, what country is it?"
I was afraid to answer, for the passports, steeped in vinegar, were in the hands of the judge-instructor, and I had forgotten whether I was from Schwekat or from Leoben. Finally I answered at all hazards:—
"I come from Schwekat."
And this information happily was found to agree with that of the passport.
"You are as much from Schwekat as I am," answered the judge. "You are Spanish, and, moreover, a Spaniard from the kingdom of Valencia, as I perceive by your accent."
"Would you punish me, sir, because nature has endowed me with the gift of languages? I learn with facility the dialects of those countries through which I pass in the exercise of my trade; I have learnt, for example, the dialect of Iviza."
"Very well, you shall be taken at your word. I see here a soldier from Iviza; you shall hold a conversation with him."
"I consent; I will even sing the goat song."
Each of the verses of this song (if verses they be) terminates by an imitation of the bleating of the goat.
I commenced at once, with an audacity at which I really feel astonished, to chant this air, which is sung by all the shepherds of the island.
Ah graciada senora Una canzo bouil canta Be, be, be, be.
No sera gaira pulida Nose si vos agradara Be, be, be, be.
At once my Ivizacan, upon whom this air had the effect of the ranz des vaches on the Swiss, declared, all in tears, that I was a native of Iviza.
I then said to the judge that if he would put me in communication with a person knowing the French language, he would arrive at just as embarrassing a result. An emigre officer of the Bourbon regiment offered at once to make the experiment, and, after some phrases interchanged between us, affirmed without hesitation that I was French.
The judge, rendered impatient, exclaimed, "Let us put an end to these trials which decide nothing. I summon you, sir, to tell me who you are. I promise that your life will be safe if you answer me with sincerity.
"My greatest wish would be to give an answer to your satisfaction. I will, then, try to do so; but I warn you that I am not going to tell you the truth. I am son of the innkeeper at Mataro." "I know that innkeeper; you are not his son." "You are right. I announced to you that I should vary my answers until one of them should suit you. I retract then, and tell you that I am a titiretero, (player of marionettes,) and that I practised at Lerida."
A loud shout of laughter from the multitude encircling us greeted this answer, and put an end to the questions.
"I swear by the d——l," exclaimed the judge, "that I will discover sooner or later who you are!"
And he retired.
The Arabs, the Moroccans, the Jews, who witnessed this interrogatory, understood nothing of it; they had only seen that I had not allowed myself to be intimidated. At the close of the interview they came to kiss my hand, and gave me, from this moment, their entire confidence.
I became their secretary for all the individual or collective remonstrances which they thought they had a right to address to the Spanish Government; and this right was incontestable. Every day I was occupied in drawing up petitions, especially in the name of the two ostrich-feather merchants, one of whom called himself a tolerably near relation of the Emperor of Morocco. Astonished at the rapidity with which I filled a page of my writing, they imagined, doubtless, that I should write as fast in Arabic characters, when it should be requisite to transcribe passages from the Koran; and that this would form both for me and for them the source of a brilliant fortune, and they besought me, in the most earnest way, to become a Mahometan.
Very little reassured by the last words of the judge, I sought means of safety from another quarter.
I was the possessor of a safe-conduct from the English Admiralty; I therefore wrote a confidential letter to the captain of an English vessel, The Eagle, I think, which had cast anchor some days before in the roads at Rosas. I explained to him my position. "You can," I said to him, "claim me, because I have an English passport. If this proceeding should cost you too much, have the goodness at least to take my manuscripts and to send them to the Royal Society in London."
One of the soldiers who guarded us, and in whom I had fortunately inspired some interest, undertook to deliver my letter. The English captain came to see me; his name was, if my memory is right, George Eyre. We had a private conversation on the shore. George Eyre thought, perhaps, that the manuscripts of my observations were contained in a register bound in morocco, and with gilt edges to the leaves. When he saw that these manuscripts were composed of single leaves, covered with figures, which I had hidden under my shirt, disdain succeeded to interest, and he quitted me hastily. Having returned on board, he wrote me a letter which I could find if needful, in which he said to me,—"I cannot mix myself up in your affairs; address yourself to the Spanish Government; I am persuaded that it will do justice to your remonstrance, and will not molest you." As I had not the same persuasion as Captain George Eyre, I chose to take no notice of his advice.
I ought to mention that some time after having related these particulars in England, at Sir Joseph Banks's, the conduct of George Eyre was severely blamed; but when a man breakfasts and dines to the sound of harmonious music, can he accord his interest to a poor devil sleeping on straw and nibbled by vermin, even though he have manuscripts under his shirt? I may add that I (unfortunately for me) had to do with a captain of an unusual character. For, some days later, a new vessel, The Colossus, having arrived in the roads, the Norwegian, Captain Krog, although he had not, like me, an Admiralty passport, made an application to the commander of this new ship; he was immediately claimed, and relieved from captivity.
The report that I was a Spanish deserter, and proprietor of the vessel, acquiring more and more credit, and this position being the most dangerous of all, I resolved to get out of it. I begged the commandant of the place, M. Alloy, to come to receive my declaration, and I announced to him that I was French. To prove to him the truth of my words, I invited him to send for Pablo Blanco, the sailor in the service of the corsair who took us, and who had returned from his cruise a short time before. This was done as I wished. In disembarking, Pablo Blanco, who had not been warned, exclaimed with surprise: "What! you, Don Francisco, mixed up with all these miscreants!" The sailor gave the Governor circumstantial evidence as to the mission which I fulfilled with two Spanish commissaries. My nationality thus became proved.
That same day Alloy was replaced in the command of the fortress by the Irish Colonel of the Ultonian regiment; the corsair left for a fresh cruise, taking away Pablo Blanco; and I became once more the roving merchant from Schwekat.
From the windmill, where we underwent our quarantine, I could see the tricoloured flag flying on the fortress of Figueras. The reconnoitring parties of the cavalry came sometimes within five or six hundred metres; it would not then have been difficult for me to escape. However, as the regulations against those who violate the sanitary laws are very rigorous in Spain, as they pronounce the penalty of death against him who infringes them, I only determined to make my escape on the eve of our admission to pratique.
The night being come I crept on all-fours along the briars, and I should soon have got beyond the line of sentinels who guarded us. A noisy uproar which I heard among the Moors made me determine to reenter, and I found these poor people in an unspeakable state of uneasiness, thinking themselves lost if I left; I therefore remained.
The next day a strong picquet of troops presented itself before the mill. The manoeuvres made by it inspired all of us with anxiety, but especially Captain Krog. "What will they do with us?" he exclaimed. "Alas! you will see only too soon," replied the Spanish officer. This answer made every one believe that they were going to shoot us. What might have strengthened me in this idea was the obstinacy with which Captain Krog and two other individuals of small size hid themselves behind me. A handling of arms made us think that we had but a few seconds to live.
In analyzing the feelings which I experienced on this solemn occasion, I have come to the conclusion that the man who is led to death is not as unhappy as the public imagines him to be. Fifty ideas presented themselves nearly simultaneously to my mind, and I did not rack my brain for any of them; I only recollect the two following, which have remained engraved on my memory. On turning my head to the right, I saw the national flag flying on the bastions of Figueras, and I said to myself, "If I were to move a few hundred metres, I should be surrounded by comrades, by friends, by fellow citizens, who would receive me affectionately. Here, without their being able to impute any crime to me, I am going to suffer death at twenty-two years of age." But what agitated me more deeply was this: looking towards the Pyrenees, I could distinctly see their peaks, and I reflected that my mother, on the other side of the chain, might at this awful moment be looking peaceably at them.
The Spanish authorities, finding that to redeem my life I would not declare myself the owner of the vessel, had us conducted without farther molestation to the fortress of Rosas. Having to file through nearly all the inhabitants of the town, I had wished at first, through a false feeling of shame, to leave in the mill the remains of our week's meals. But M. Berthemie, more prudent than I, carried over his shoulder a great quantity of pieces of black bread, tied up with packthread. I imitated him. I furnished myself famously from our old stock, set it on my shoulder, and it was with this accoutrement that I made my entrance into the famous fortress.
They placed us in a casemate, where we had barely the space necessary for lying down. In the windmill, they used to bring us, from time to time, some provisions, which came from our boat. Here, the Spanish government purveyed our food. We received every day some bread and a ration of rice; but as we had no means of dressing food, we were in reality reduced to dry bread.
Dry bread was very unsubstantial food for one who could see from his casemate, at the door of his prison, a sutler selling grapes at two farthings a pound, and cooking, under the shelter of half a cask, bacon and herrings; but we had no money to bring us into connection with this merchant. I then decided, though with very great regret, to sell a watch which my father had given me. I was only offered about a quarter of its value; but I might well accept it, since there were no competitors for it.
As possessors of sixty francs, M. Berthemie and I could now appease the hunger from which we had long suffered; but we did not like this return of fortune to be profitable to ourselves alone, and we made some presents, which were very well received by our companions in captivity. Though this sale of my watch brought some comfort to us, it was doomed at a later period to plunge a family into sorrow.
The town of Rosas fell into the power of the French after a courageous resistance. The prisoners of the garrison were sent to France, and naturally passed through Perpignan. My father went in quest of news wherever Spaniards were to be found. He entered a cafe at the moment when a prisoner officer drew from his fob the watch which I had sold at Rosas. My good father saw in this act the proof of my death, and fell into a swoon. The officer had got the watch from a third party, and could give no account of the fate of the person to whom it had originally belonged.
The casemate having become necessary to the defenders of the fortress, we were taken to a little chapel, where they deposited for twenty-four hours those who had died in the hospital. There we were guarded by peasants who had come across the mountain, from various villages, and particularly from Cadaques. These peasants, eager to recount all that they had seen of interest during their one day's campaign, questioned me as to the deeds and behaviour of all my companions in misfortune. I satisfied their curiosity amply, being the only one of the set who could speak Spanish.
To enlist their good will, I also questioned them at length upon the subject of their village, on the work that they did there, on smuggling, their principal sources of employment, &c. &c. They answered my questions with the loquacity common to country rustics. The next day our guards were replaced by some others who were inhabitants of the same village. "In my business of a roving merchant," I said to these last, "I have been at Cadaques;" and then I began to talk to them of what I had learnt the night before, of such an individual, who gave himself up to smuggling with more success than others, of his beautiful residence, of the property which he possessed near the village,—in short, of a number of particulars which it seemed impossible for any but an inhabitant of Cadaques to know. My jest produced an unexpected effect. Such circumstantial details, our guards said to themselves, cannot be known by a roving merchant; this personage, whom we have found here in such singular society, is certainly a native of Cadaques; and the son of the apothecary must be about his age. He had gone to try his fortune in America; it is evidently he who fears to make himself known, having been found with all his riches in a vessel on its way to France. The report spread, became more consistent, and reached the ears of a sister of the apothecary established at Rosas. She runs to me, believes she recognizes me, and falls on my neck. I protest against the identity. "Well played!" said she to me; "the case is serious, as you have been found in a vessel coming to France; persist in your denial; circumstances may perhaps take a more favourable turn, and I shall profit by them to insure your deliverance. In the mean time, my dear nephew, I will let you want for nothing." And truly every morning M. Berthemie and I received a comfortable repast.
The church having become necessary to the garrison to serve as a magazine, we were moved on the 25th of September, 1808, to a Trinity fort, called the Bouton de Rosas, a citadel situated on a little mountain at the entrance of the roads, and we were deposited deep under ground, where the light of day did not penetrate on any side. We did not long remain in this infected place, not because they had pity upon us, but because it offered shelter for a part of the garrison attacked by the French. They made us descend by night to the edge of the sea, and then transported us on the 17th of October to the port of Palamos. We were shut up in a hulk; we enjoyed, however, a certain degree of liberty;—they allowed us to go on land, and to parade our miseries and our rags in the town. It was there that I made the acquaintance of the dowager Duchess of Orleans, mother of Louis Philippe. She had left the town of Figueras, where she resided, because, she told me, thirty-two bombs sent from the fortress had fallen in her house. She was then intending to take refuge in Algiers, and she asked me to bring the captain of the vessel to her, of whom, perhaps, she would have to implore protection. I related to my "rais" the misfortunes of the Princess; he was moved by them, and I conducted him to her. On entering, he took off his slippers from respect, as if he had entered within a mosque, and holding them in his hand, he went to kiss the front of the dress of Madame d'Orleans. The Princess Was alarmed at the sight of this manly figure, wearing the longest beard I ever saw; she quickly recovered herself, and the interview proceeded with a mixture of French politeness and Oriental courtesy.
The sixty francs from Rosas were expended. Madame D'Orleans would have liked much to assist us, but she was herself without money. All that she could gratify us with was a piece of sugarbread. The evening of our visit I was richer than the Princess. To avoid the fury of the people the Spanish Government sent those French who had escaped the first massacres back to France in slight boats. One of the cartels came and cast anchor by the side of our hulk. One of the unhappy emigrants offered me a pinch of snuff. On opening the snuff-box I found there "una onza de oro," (an ounce of gold,) the sole remains of his fortune. I returned the snuff-box to him, with warm thanks, after having shut up in it a paper containing these words:—"My fellow-countryman who carries this note has rendered me a great service;—treat him as one of your children." My petition was naturally favourably received; it was by this bit of paper, the size of the onza de oro, that my family learnt that I was still in existence, and it enabled my mother—a model of piety—to cease saying masses for the repose of my soul.
Five days afterwards, one of my hardy compatriots arrived at Palamos, after having traversed the line of posts both French and Spanish, carrying to a merchant who had friends at Perpignan the proposal to furnish me with all I was in need of. The Spaniard showed a great inclination to agree to the proposal; but I did not profit by his good will, because of the occurrence of events which I shall relate presently.
The Observatory at Paris is very near the barrier. In my youth, curious to study the manners of the people, I used to walk in sight of the public-houses which the desire of escaping payment of the duty has multiplied outside the walls of the capital; on these excursions I was often humiliated to see men disputing for a piece of bread, just as animals might have done. My feelings on this subject have very much altered since I have been personally exposed to the tortures of hunger. I have discovered, in fact, that a man, whatever may have been his origin, his education, and his habits, is governed, under certain circumstances, much more by his stomach than by his intelligence and his heart. Here is the fact which suggested these reflections to me.
To celebrate the unhoped-for arrival of una onza de oro, M. Berthemie and I had procured an immense dish of potatoes. The ordnance officer of the Emperor was already devouring it with his eyes, when a Moroccan, who was making his ablutions near us with one of his companions, accidentally filled it with dirt. M. Berthemie could not control his anger; he darted upon the clumsy Mussulman, and inflicted upon him a rough punishment.
I remained a passive spectator of the combat, until the second Moroccan came to the aid of his compatriot. The party no longer being equal, I also took part in the conflict by seizing the new assailant by the beard. The combat ceased at once, because the Moroccan would not raise his hand against a man who could write a petition so rapidly. This conflict, like the struggles of which I had often been a witness outside the barriers of Paris, had originated in a dish of potatoes.