MY DAYS OF ADVENTURE
THE FALL OF FRANCE, 1870-71
By Ernest Alfred Vizetelly
Le Petit Homme Rouge
Author of "The Court of the Tuileries 1852-70" etc.
With A Frontispiece
THE PEOPLE'S WAR
O husbandmen of hill and dale, O dressers of the vines, O sea-tossed fighters of the gale, O hewers of the mines, O wealthy ones who need not strive, O sons of learning, art, O craftsmen of the city's hive, O traders of the man, Hark to the cannon's thunder-call Appealing to the brave! Your France is wounded, and may fall Beneath the foreign grave! Then gird your loins! Let none delay Her glory to maintain; Drive out the foe, throw off his sway, Win back your land again!
While this volume is largely of an autobiographical character, it will be found to contain also a variety of general information concerning the Franco-German War of 1870-71, more particularly with respect to the second part of that great struggle—the so-called "People's War" which followed the crash of Sedan and the downfall of the Second French Empire. If I have incorporated this historical matter in my book, it is because I have repeatedly noticed in these later years that, whilst English people are conversant with the main facts of the Sedan disaster and such subsequent outstanding events as the siege of Paris and the capitulation of Metz, they usually know very little about the manner in which the war generally was carried on by the French under the virtual dictatorship of Gambetta. Should England ever be invaded by a large hostile force, we, with our very limited regular army, should probably be obliged to rely largely on elements similar to those which were called to the field by the French National Defence Government of 1870 after the regular armies of the Empire had been either crushed at Sedan or closely invested at Metz. For that reason I have always taken a keen interest in our Territorial Force, well realizing what heavy responsibilities would fall upon it if a powerful enemy should obtain a footing in this country. Some indication of those responsibilities will be found in the present book.
Generally speaking, however, I have given only a sketch of the latter part of the Franco-German War. To have entered into details on an infinity of matters would have necessitated the writing of a very much longer work. However, I have supplied, I think, a good deal of precise information respecting the events which I actually witnessed, and in this connexion, perhaps, I may have thrown some useful sidelights on the war generally; for many things akin to those which I saw, occurred under more or less similar circumstances in other parts of France.
People who are aware that I am acquainted with the shortcomings of the French in those already distant days, and that I have watched, as closely as most foreigners can watch, the evolution of the French army in these later times, have often asked me what, to my thinking, would be the outcome of another Franco-German War. For many years I fully anticipated another struggle between the two Powers, and held myself in readiness to do duty as a war-correspondent. I long thought, also, that the signal for that struggle would be given by France. But I am no longer of that opinion. I fully believe that all French statesmen worthy of the name realize that it would be suicidal for France to provoke a war with her formidable neighbour. And at the same time I candidly confess that I do not know what some journalists mean by what they call the "New France." To my thinking there is no "New France" at all. There was as much spirit, as much patriotism, in the days of MacMahon, in the days of Boulanger, and at other periods, as there is now. The only real novelty that I notice in the France of to-day is the cultivation of many branches of sport and athletic exercise. Of that kind of thing there was very little indeed when I was a stripling. But granting that young Frenchmen of to-day are more athletic, more "fit" than were those of my generation, granting, moreover, that the present organization and the equipment of the French army are vastly superior to what they were in 1870, and also that the conditions of warfare have greatly changed, I feel that if France were to engage, unaided, in a contest with Germany, she would again be worsted, and worsted by her own fault.
She fully knows that she cannot bring into the field anything like as many men as Germany; and it is in a vain hope of supplying the deficiency that she has lately reverted from a two to a three years' system of military service. The latter certainly gives her a larger effective for the first contingencies of a campaign, but in all other respects it is merely a piece of jugglery, for it does not add a single unit to the total number of Frenchmen capable of bearing arms. The truth is, that during forty years of prosperity France has been intent on racial suicide. In the whole of that period only some 3,500,000 inhabitants have been added to her population, which is now still under 40 millions; whereas that of Germany has increased by leaps and bounds, and stands at about 66 millions. At the present time the German birth-rate is certainly falling, but the numerical superiority which Germany has acquired over France since the war of 1870 is so great that I feel it would be impossible for the latter to triumph in an encounter unless she should be assisted by powerful allies. Bismarck said in 1870 that God was on the side of the big battalions; and those big battalions Germany can again supply. I hold, then, that no such Franco-German war as the last one can again occur. Europe is now virtually divided into two camps, each composed of three Powers, all of which would be more or less involved in a Franco-German struggle. The allies and friends on either side are well aware of it, and in their own interests are bound to exert a restraining influence which makes for the maintenance of peace. We have had evidence of this in the limitations imposed on the recent Balkan War.
On the other hand, it is, of course, the unexpected which usually happens; and whilst Europe generally remains armed to the teeth, and so many jealousies are still rife, no one Power can in prudence desist from her armaments. We who are the wealthiest nation in Europe spend on our armaments, in proportion to our wealth and our population, less than any other great Power. Yet some among us would have us curtail our expenditure, and thereby incur the vulnerability which would tempt a foe. Undoubtedly the armaments of the present day are great and grievous burdens on the nations, terrible impediments to social progress, but they constitute, unfortunately, our only real insurance against war, justifying yet to-day, after so many long centuries, the truth of the ancient Latin adage—Si vis pacem, para bellum.
It is, I think, unnecessary for me to comment here on the autobiographical part of my book. It will, I feel, speak for itself. It treats of days long past, and on a few points, perhaps, my memory may be slightly defective. In preparing my narrative, however, I have constantly referred to my old diaries, note-books and early newspaper articles, and have done my best to abstain from all exaggeration. Whether this story of some of my youthful experiences and impressions of men and things was worth telling or not is a point which I must leave my readers to decide.
London, January 1914.
I. INTRODUCTORY—SOME EARLY RECOLLECTIONS
II. THE OUTBREAK OF THE FRANCO-GERMAN WAR
III. ON THE ROAD TO REVOLUTION
IV. FROM REVOLUTION TO SIEGE
VI. MORE ABOUT THE SIEGE DAYS
VII. FROM PARIS TO VERSAILLES
VIII. FROM VERSAILLES TO BRITTANY
IX. THE WAR IN THE PROVINCES
X. WITH THE "ARMY OF BRITTANY"
XI. BEFORE LE MANS
XII. LE MANS AND AFTER
XIII. THE BITTER END
MY DAYS OF ADVENTURE
INTRODUCTORY—SOME EARLY RECOLLECTIONS
The Vizetelly Family—My Mother and her Kinsfolk—The Illustrated Times and its Staff—My Unpleasant Disposition—Thackeray and my First Half-Crown—School days at Eastbourne—Queen Alexandra—Garibaldi—A few old Plays and Songs—Nadar and the "Giant" Balloon—My Arrival in France— My Tutor Brossard—Berezowski's Attempt on Alexander II—My Apprenticeship to Journalism—My first Article—I see some French Celebrities—Visits to the Tuileries—At Compiegne—A few Words with Napoleon III—A "Revolutionary" Beard.
This is an age of "Reminiscences," and although I have never played any part in the world's affairs, I have witnessed so many notable things and met so many notable people during the three-score years which I have lately completed, that it is perhaps allowable for me to add yet another volume of personal recollections to the many which have already poured from the press. On starting on an undertaking of this kind it is usual, I perceive by the many examples around me, to say something about one's family and upbringing. There is less reason for me to depart from this practice, as in the course of the present volume it will often be necessary for me to refer to some of my near relations. A few years ago a distinguished Italian philosopher and author, Angelo de Gubernatis, was good enough to include me in a dictionary of writers belonging to the Latin races, and stated, in doing so, that the Vizetellys were of French origin. That was a rather curious mistake on the part of an Italian writer, the truth being that the family originated at Ravenna, where some members of it held various offices in the Middle Ages. Subsequently, after dabbling in a conspiracy, some of the Vizzetelli fled to Venice and took to glass-making there, until at last Jacopo, from whom I am descended, came to England in the spacious days of Queen Elizabeth. From that time until my own the men of my family invariably married English women, so that very little Italian blood can flow in my veins.
Matrimonial alliances are sometimes of more than personal interest. One point has particularly struck me in regard to those contracted by members of my own family, this being the diversity of English counties from which the men have derived their wives and the women their husbands. References to Cheshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Berkshire, Bucks, Suffolk, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and Devonshire, in addition to Middlesex, otherwise London, appear in my family papers. We have become connected with Johnstons, Burslems, Bartletts, Pitts, Smiths, Wards, Covells, Randalls, Finemores, Radfords, Hindes, Pollards, Lemprieres, Wakes, Godbolds, Ansells, Fennells, Vaughans, Edens, Scotts, and Pearces, and I was the very first member of the family (subsequent to its arrival in England) to take a foreigner as wife, she being the daughter of a landowner of Savoy who proceeded from the Tissots of Switzerland. My elder brother Edward subsequently married a Burgundian girl named Clerget, and my stepbrother Frank chose an American one, nee Krehbiel, as his wife, these marriages occurring because circumstances led us to live for many years abroad.
Among the first London parishes with which the family was connected was St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate, where my forerunner, the first Henry Vizetelly, was buried in 1691, he then being fifty years of age, and where my father, the second Henry of the name, was baptised soon after his birth in 1820. St. Bride's, Fleet Street, was, however, our parish for many years, as its registers testify, though in 1781 my great-grandfather was resident in the parish of St. Ann's, Blackfriars, and was elected constable thereof. At that date the family name, which figures in old English registers under a variety of forms—Vissitaler, Vissitaly, Visataly, Visitelly, Vizetely, etc.—was by him spelt Vizzetelly, as is shown by documents now in the Guildhall Library; but a few years later he dropped the second z, with the idea, perhaps, of giving the name a more English appearance.
This great-grandfather of mine was, like his father before him, a printer and a member of the Stationers' Company. He was twice married, having by his first wife two sons, George and William, neither of whom left posterity. The former, I believe, died in the service of the Honourable East India Company. In June, 1775, however, my great-grandfather married Elizabeth, daughter of James Hinde, stationer, of Little Moorfields, and had by her, first, a daughter Elizabeth, from whom some of the Burslems and Godbolds are descended; and, secondly, twins, a boy and a girl, who were respectively christened James Henry and Mary Mehetabel. The former became my grandfather. In August, 1816, he married, at St. Bride's, Martha Jane Vaughan, daughter of a stage-coach proprietor of Chester, and had by her a daughter, who died unmarried, and four sons—my father, Henry Richard, and my uncles James, Frank, and Frederick Whitehead Vizetelly.
Some account of my grandfather is given in my father's "Glances Back through Seventy Years," and I need not add to it here. I will only say that, like his immediate forerunners, James Henry Vizetelly was a printer and freeman of the city. A clever versifier, and so able as an amateur actor that on certain occasions he replaced Edmund Kean on the boards when the latter was hopelessly drunk, he died in 1840, leaving his two elder sons, James and Henry, to carry on the printing business, which was then established in premises occupying the site of the Daily Telegraph building in Fleet Street.
In 1844 my father married Ellen Elizabeth, only child of John Pollard, M.D., a member of the ancient Yorkshire family of the Pollards of Bierley and Brunton, now chiefly represented, I believe, by the Pollards of Scarr Hall. John Pollard's wife, Charlotte Maria Fennell, belonged to a family which gave officers to the British Navy—one of them serving directly under Nelson—and clergy to the Church of England. The Fennells were related to the Bronte sisters through the latter's mother; and one was closely connected with the Shackle who founded the original John Bull newspaper. Those, then, were my kinsfolk on the maternal side. My mother presented my father with seven children, of whom I was the sixth, being also the fourth son. I was born on November 29, 1853, at a house called Chalfont Lodge in Campden House Road, Kensington, and well do I remember the great conflagration which destroyed the fine old historical mansion built by Baptist Hicks, sometime a mercer in Cheapside and ultimately Viscount Campden. But another scene which has more particularly haunted me all through my life was that of my mother's sudden death in a saloon carriage of an express train on the London and Brighton line. Though she was in failing health, nobody thought her end so near; but in the very midst of a journey to London, whilst the train was rushing on at full speed, and no help could be procured, a sudden weakness came over her, and in a few minutes she passed away. I was very young at the time, barely five years old, yet everything still rises before me with all the vividness of an imperishable memory. Again, too, I see that beautiful intellectual brow and those lustrous eyes, and hear that musical voice, and feel the gentle touch of that loving motherly hand. She was a woman of attainments, fond of setting words to music, speaking perfect French, for she had been partly educated at Evreux in Normandy, and having no little knowledge of Greek and Latin literature, as was shown by her annotations to a copy of Lempriere's "Classical Dictionary" which is now in my possession.
About eighteen months after I was born, that is in the midst of the Crimean War, my father founded, in conjunction with David Bogue, a well-known publisher of the time, a journal called the Illustrated Times, which for several years competed successfully with the Illustrated London News. It was issued at threepence per copy, and an old memorandum of the printers now lying before me shows that in the paper's earlier years the average printings were 130,000 copies weekly—a notable figure for that period, and one which was considerably exceeded when any really important event occurred. My father was the chief editor and manager, his leading coadjutor being Frederick Greenwood, who afterwards founded the Pall Mall Gazette. I do not think that Greenwood's connection with the Illustrated Times and with my father's other journal, the Welcome Guest, is mentioned in any of the accounts of his career. The literary staff included four of the Brothers Mayhew— Henry, Jules, Horace, and Augustus, two of whom, Jules and Horace, became godfathers to my father's first children by his second wife. Then there were also William and Robert Brough, Edmund Yates, George Augustus Sala, Hain Friswell, W.B. Rands, Tom Robertson, Sutherland Edwards, James Hannay, Edward Draper, and Hale White (father of "Mark Rutherford"), and several artists and engravers, such as Birket Foster, "Phiz." Portch, Andrews, Duncan, Skelton, Bennett, McConnell, Linton, London, and Horace Harrall. I saw all those men in my early years, for my father was very hospitably inclined, and they were often guests at Chalfont Lodge.
After my mother's death, my grandmother, nee Vaughan, took charge of the establishment, and I soon became the terror of the house, developing a most violent temper and acquiring the vocabulary of the roughest market porter. My wilfulness was probably innate (nearly all the Vizetellys having had impulsive wills of their own), and my flowery language was picked up by perversely loitering to listen whenever there happened to be a street row in Church Lane, which I had to cross on my way to or from Kensington Gardens, my daily place of resort. At an early age I started bullying my younger brother, I defied my grandmother, insulted the family doctor because he was too fond of prescribing grey powders for my particular benefit, and behaved abominably to the excellent Miss Lindup of Sheffield Terrace, who endeavoured to instruct me in the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic. I frequently astonished or appalled the literary men and artists who were my father's guests. I hated being continually asked what I should like to be when I grew up, and the slightest chaff threw me into a perfect paroxysm of passion. Whilst, however, I was resentful of the authority of others, I was greatly inclined to exercise authority myself—to such a degree, indeed, that my father's servants generally spoke of me as "the young master," regardless of the existence of my elder brothers.
Having already a retentive memory, I was set to learn sundry "recitations," and every now and then was called upon to emerge from behind the dining-room curtains and repeat "My Name is Norval" or "The Spanish Armada," for the delectation of my father's friends whilst they lingered over their wine. Disaster generally ensued, provoked either by some genial chaff or well-meant criticism from such men as Sala and Augustus Mayhew, and I was ultimately carried off—whilst venting incoherent protests—to be soundly castigated and put to bed.
Among the real celebrities who occasionally called at Chalfont Lodge was Thackeray, whom I can still picture sitting on one side of the fireplace, whilst my father sat on the other, I being installed on the hearthrug between them. Provided that I was left to myself, I could behave decently enough, discreetly preserving silence, and, indeed, listening intently to the conversation of my father's friends, and thereby picking up a very odd mixture of knowledge. I was, I believe, a pale little chap with lank fair hair and a wistful face, and no casual observer would have imagined that my nature was largely compounded of such elements as enter into the composition of Italian brigands, Scandinavian pirates, and wild Welshmen. Thackeray, at all events, did not appear to think badly of the little boy who sat so quietly at his feet. One day, indeed, when he came upon me and my younger brother Arthur, with our devoted attendant Selina Horrocks, in Kensington Gardens, he put into practice his own dictum that one could never see a schoolboy without feeling an impulse to dip one's hand in one's pocket. Accordingly he presented me with the first half-crown I ever possessed, for though my father's gifts were frequent they were small. It was understood, I believe, that I was to share the aforesaid half-crown with my brother Arthur, but in spite of the many remonstrances of the faithful Selina—a worthy West-country woman, who had largely taken my mother's place—I appropriated the gift in its entirety, and became extremely ill by reason of my many indiscreet purchases at a tuck-stall which stood, if I remember rightly, at a corner of the then renowned Kensington Flower Walk. This incident must have occurred late in Thackeray's life. My childish recollection of him is that of a very big gentleman with beaming eyes.
My grandmother's reign in my father's house was not of great duration, as in February, 1861, he contracted a second marriage, taking on this occasion as his wife a "fair maid of Kent," [Elizabeth Anne Ansell, of Broadstairs; mother of my step-brother, Dr. Frank H. Vizetelly, editor of the "Standard Dictionary," New York.] to whose entry into our home I was at first violently opposed, but who promptly won me over by her unremitting affection and kindness, eventually becoming the best and truest friend of my youth and early manhood. My circumstances changed, however, soon after that marriage, for as I was now nearly eight years old it was deemed appropriate that I should be sent to a boarding-school, both by way of improving my mind and of having some nonsense knocked out of me, which, indeed, was promptly accomplished by the pugnacious kindness of my schoolfellows. Among the latter was one, my senior by a few years, who became a very distinguished journalist. I refer to the late Horace Voules, so long associated with Labouchere's journal, Truth. My brother Edward was also at the same school, and my brother Arthur came there a little later.
It was situated at Eastbourne, and a good deal has been written about it in recent works on the history of that well-known watering-place, which, when I was first sent there, counted less than 6000 inhabitants. Located in the old town or village, at a distance of a mile or more from the sea, the school occupied a building called "The Gables," and was an offshoot of a former ancient school connected with the famous parish church. In my time this "academy" was carried on as a private venture by a certain James Anthony Bown, a portly old gentleman of considerable attainments.
I was unusually precocious in some respects, and though I frequently got into scrapes by playing impish tricks—as, for instance, when I combined with others to secure an obnoxious French master to his chair by means of some cobbler's wax, thereby ruining a beautiful pair of peg-top trousers which he had just purchased—I did not neglect my lessons, but secured a number of "prizes" with considerable facility. When I was barely twelve years old, not one of my schoolfellows—and some were sixteen and seventeen years old—could compete with me in Latin, in which language Bown ended by taking me separately. I also won three or four prizes for "excelling" my successive classes in English grammar as prescribed by the celebrated Lindley Murray.
In spite of my misdeeds (some of which, fortunately, were never brought home to me), I became, I think, somewhat of a favourite with the worthy James Anthony, for he lent me interesting books to read, occasionally had me to supper in his own quarters, and was now and then good enough to overlook the swollen state of my nose or the blackness of one of my eyes when I had been having a bout with a schoolfellow or a young clodhopper of the village. We usually fought with the village lads in Love Lane on Sunday evenings, after getting over the playground wall. I received firstly the nickname of Moses, through falling among some rushes whilst fielding a ball at cricket; and secondly, that of Noses, because my nasal organ, like that of Cyrano de Bergerac, suddenly grew to huge proportions, in such wise that it embodied sufficient material for two noses of ordinary dimensions. Its size was largely responsible for my defeats when fighting, for I found it difficult to keep guard over such a prominent organ and prevent my claret from being tapped.
Having generations of printers' ink mingled with my blood, I could not escape the unkind fate which made me a writer of articles and books. In conjunction with a chum named Clement Ireland I ran a manuscript school journal, which included stories of pirates and highwaymen, illustrated with lurid designs in which red ink was plentifully employed in order to picture the gore which flowed so freely through the various tales. My grandmother Vaughan was an inveterate reader of the London Journal and the Family Herald, and whenever I went home for my holidays I used to pounce upon those journals and devour some of the stories of the author of "Minnegrey," as well as Miss Braddon's "Aurora Floyd" and "Henry Dunbar." The perusal of books by Ainsworth, Scott, Lever, Marryat, James Grant, G. P. R. James, Dumas, and Whyte Melville gave me additional material for storytelling; and so, concocting wonderful blends of all sorts of fiction, I spun many a yarn to my schoolfellows in the dormitory in which I slept—yarns which were sometimes supplied in instalments, being kept up for a week or longer.
My summer holidays were usually spent in the country, but at other times I went to London, and was treated to interesting sights. At Kensington, in my earlier years, I often saw Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort with their children, notably the Princess Royal (Empress Frederick) and the Prince of Wales (Edward VII). When the last-named married the "Sea-King's daughter from over the sea"—since then our admired and gracious Queen Alexandra—and they drove together through the crowded streets of London on their way to Windsor, I came specially from Eastbourne to witness that triumphal progress, and even now I can picture the young prince with his round chubby face and little side-whiskers, and the vision of almost tearfully-smiling beauty, in blue and white, which swept past my eager boyish eyes.
During the Easter holidays of 1864 Garibaldi came to England. My uncle, Frank Vizetelly, was the chief war-artist of that period, the predecessor, in fact, of the late Melton Prior. He knew Garibaldi well, having first met him during the war of 1859, and having subsequently accompanied him during his campaign through Sicily and then on to Naples—afterwards, moreover, staying with him at Caprera. And so my uncle carried me and his son, my cousin Albert, to Stafford House (where he had the entree), and the grave-looking Liberator patted us on the head, called us his children, and at Frank Vizetelly's request gave us photographs of himself. I then little imagined that I should next see him in France, at the close of the war with Germany, during a part of which my brother Edward acted as one of his orderly officers.
My father, being at the head of a prominent London newspaper, often received tickets for one and another theatre. Thus, during my winter holidays, I saw many of the old pantomimes at Drury Lane and elsewhere. I also well remember Sothern's "Lord Dundreary," and a play called "The Duke's Motto," which was based on Paul Feval's novel, "Le Bossu." I frequently witnessed the entertainments given by the German Reeds, Corney Grain, and Woodin, the clever quick-change artist. I likewise remember Leotard the acrobat at the Alhambra, and sundry performances at the old Pantheon, where I heard such popular songs as "The Captain with the Whiskers" and "The Charming Young Widow I met in the Train." Nigger ditties were often the "rage" during my boyhood, and some of them, like "Dixie-land" and "So Early in the Morning," still linger in my memory. Then, too, there were such songs as "Billy Taylor," "I'm Afloat," "I'll hang my Harp on a Willow Tree," and an inane composition which contained the lines—
"When a lady elopes Down a ladder of ropes, She may go, she may go, She may go to—Hongkong—for me!"
In those schoolboy days of mine, however, the song of songs, to my thinking, was one which we invariably sang on breaking up for the holidays. Whether it was peculiar to Eastbourne or had been derived from some other school I cannot say. I only know that the last verse ran, approximately, as follows:
"Magistrorum is a borum, Hic-haec-hoc has made his bow. Let us cry: 'O cockalorum!' That's the Latin for us now. Alpha, beta, gamma, delta, Off to Greece, for we are free! Helter, skelter, melter, pelter, We're the lads for mirth and spree!"
For "cockalorum," be it noted, we frequently substituted the name of some particularly obnoxious master.
To return to the interesting sights of my boyhood, I have some recollection of the Exhibition of 1862, but can recall more vividly a visit to the Crystal Palace towards the end of the following year, when I there saw the strange house-like oar of the "Giant" balloon in which Nadar, the photographer and aeronaut, had lately made, with his wife and others, a memorable and disastrous aerial voyage. Readers of Jules Verne will remember that Nadar figures conspicuously in his "Journey to the Moon." Quite a party of us went to the Palace to see the "Giant's" car, and Nadar, standing over six feet high, with a great tangled mane of frizzy flaxen hair, a ruddy moustache, and a red shirt a la Garibaldi, took us inside it and showed us all the accommodation it contained for eating, sleeping and photographic purposes. I could not follow what he said, for I then knew only a few French words, and I certainly had no idea that I should one day ascend into the air with him in a car of a very different type, that of the captive balloon which, for purposes of military observation, he installed on the Place Saint Pierre at Montmartre, during the German siege of Paris.
A time came when my father disposed of his interest in the Illustrated Times and repaired to Paris to take up the position of Continental representative of the Illustrated London News. My brother Edward, at that time a student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, then became his assistant, and a little later I was taken across the Channel with my brother Arthur to join the rest of the family. We lived, first, at Auteuil, and then at Passy, where I was placed in a day-school called the Institution Nouissel, where lads were prepared for admission to the State or municipal colleges. There had been some attempt to teach me French at Eastbourne, but it had met with little success, partly, I think, because I was prejudiced against the French generally, regarding them as a mere race of frog-eaters whom we had deservedly whacked at Waterloo. Eventually my prejudices were in a measure overcome by what I heard from our drill-master, a retired non-commissioned officer, who had served in the Crimea, and who told us some rousing anecdotes about the gallantry of "our allies" at the Alma and elsewhere. In the result, the old sergeant's converse gave me "furiously to think" that there might be some good in the French after all.
At Nouissel's I acquired some knowledge of the language rapidly enough, and I was afterwards placed in the charge of a tutor, a clever scamp named Brossard, who prepared me for the Lycee Bonaparte (now Condorcet), where I eventually became a pupil, Brossard still continuing to coach me with a view to my passing various examinations, and ultimately securing the usual baccalaureat, without which nobody could then be anything at all in France. In the same way he coached Evelyn Jerrold, son of Blanchard and grandson of Douglas Jerrold, both of whom were on terms of close friendship with the Vizetellys. But while Brossard was a clever man, he was also an unprincipled one, and although I was afterwards indebted to him for an introduction to old General Changarnier, to whom he was related, it would doubtless have been all the better if he had not introduced me to some other people with whom he was connected. He lived for a while with a woman who was not his wife, and deserted her for a girl of eighteen, whom he also abandoned, in order to devote himself to a creature in fleshings who rode a bare-backed steed at the Cirque de l'Imperatrice. When I was first introduced to her "behind the scenes," she was bestriding a chair, and smoking a pink cigarette, and she addressed me as mon petit. Briefly, the moral atmosphere of Brossard's life was not such as befitted him to be a mentor of youth.
Let me now go back a little. At the time of the great Paris Exhibition of 1867 I was in my fourteenth year. The city was then crowded with royalties, many of whom I saw on one or another occasion. I was in the Bois de Boulogne with my father when, after a great review, a shot was fired at the carriage in which Napoleon III and his guest, Alexander II of Russia, were seated side by side. I saw equerry Raimbeaux gallop forward to screen the two monarchs, and I saw the culprit seized by a sergeant of our Royal Engineers, attached to the British section of the Exhibition. Both sovereigns stood up in the carriage to show that they were uninjured, and it was afterwards reported that the Emperor Napoleon said to the Emperor Alexander: "If that shot was fired by an Italian it was meant for me; if by a Pole, it was meant for your Majesty." Whether those words were really spoken, or were afterwards invented, as such things often are, by some clever journalist, I cannot say; but the man proved to be a Pole named Berezowski, who was subsequently sentenced to transportation for life.
It was in connection with this attempt on the Czar that I did my first little bit of journalistic work. By my father's directions, I took a few notes and made a hasty little sketch of the surroundings. This and my explanations enabled M. Jules Pelcoq, an artist of Belgian birth, whom my father largely employed on behalf of the Illustrated London News, to make a drawing which appeared on the first page of that journal's next issue. I do not think that any other paper in the world was able to supply a pictorial representation of Berezowski's attempt.
I have said enough, I think, to show that I was a precocious lad, perhaps, indeed, a great deal too precocious. However, I worked very hard in those days. My hours at Bonaparte were from ten to twelve and from two to four. I had also to prepare home-lessons for the Lycee, take special lessons from Brossard, and again lessons in German from a tutor named With. Then, too, my brother Edward ceasing to act as my father's assistant in order to devote himself to journalism on his own account, I had to take over a part of his duties. One of my cousins, Montague Vizetelly (son of my uncle James, who was the head of our family), came from England, however, to assist my father in the more serious work, such as I, by reason of my youth, could not yet perform. My spare time was spent largely in taking instructions to artists or fetching drawings from them. At one moment I might be at Mont-martre, and at another in the Quartier Latin, calling on Pelcoq, Anastasi, Janet Lange, Gustave Janet, Pauquet, Thorigny, Gaildrau, Deroy, Bocourt, Darjou, Lix, Moulin, Fichot, Blanchard, or other artists who worked for the Illustrated London News. Occasionally a sketch was posted to England, but more frequently I had to despatch some drawing on wood by rail. Though I have never been anything but an amateurish draughtsman myself, I certainly developed a critical faculty, and acquired a knowledge of different artistic methods, during my intercourse with so many of the dessinateurs of the last years of the Second Empire.
By-and-by more serious duties were allotted to me. The "Paris Fashions" design then appearing every month in the Illustrated London News was for a time prepared according to certain dresses which Worth and other famous costumiers made for empresses, queens, princesses, great ladies, and theatrical celebrities; and, accompanying Pelcoq or Janet when they went to sketch those gowns (nowadays one would simply obtain photographs), I took down from la premiere, or sometimes from Worth himself, full particulars respecting materials and styles, in order that the descriptive letterpress, which was to accompany the illustration, might be correct.
In this wise I served my apprenticeship to journalism. My father naturally revised my work. The first article, all my own, which appeared in print was one on that notorious theatrical institution, the Claque. I sent it to Once a Week, which E. S. Dallas then edited, and knowing that he was well acquainted with my father, and feeling very diffident respecting the merits of what I had written, I assumed a nom de plume ("Charles Ludhurst") for the occasion, Needless to say that I was delighted when I saw the article in print, and yet more so when I received for it a couple of guineas, which I speedily expended on gloves, neckties, and a walking-stick. Here let me say that we were rather swagger young fellows at Bonaparte. We did not have to wear hideous ill-fitting uniforms like other Lyceens, but endeavoured to present a very smart appearance. Thus we made it a practice to wear gloves and to carry walking-sticks or canes on our way to or from the Lycee. I even improved on that by buying "button-holes" at the flower-market beside the Madeleine, and this idea "catching on," as the phrase goes, quite a commotion occurred one morning when virtually half my classmates were found wearing flowers—for it happened to be La Saint Henri, the fete-day of the Count de Chambord, and both our Proviseur and our professor imagined that this was, on our part, a seditious Legitimist demonstration. There were, however, very few Legitimists among us, though Orleanists and Republicans were numerous.
I have mentioned that my first article was on the Claque, that organisation established to encourage applause in theatres, it being held that the Parisian spectator required to be roused by some such method. Brossard having introduced me to the sous-chef of the Claque at the Opera Comique, I often obtained admission to that house as a claqueur. I even went to a few other theatres in the same capacity. Further, Brossard knew sundry authors and journalists, and took me to the Cafe de Suede and the Cafe de Madrid, where I saw and heard some of the celebrities of the day. I can still picture the great Dumas, loud of voice and exuberant in gesture whilst holding forth to a band of young "spongers," on whom he was spending his last napoleons. I can also see Gambetta—young, slim, black-haired and bearded, with a full sensual underlip—seated at the same table as Delescluze, whose hair and beard, once red, had become a dingy white, whose figure was emaciated and angular, and whose yellowish, wrinkled face seemed to betoken that he was possessed by some fixed idea. What that idea was, the Commune subsequently showed. Again, I can see Henri Rochefort and Gustave Flourens together: the former straight and sinewy, with a great tuft of very dark curly hair, flashing eyes and high and prominent cheekbones; while the latter, tall and bald, with long moustaches and a flowing beard, gazed at you in an eager imperious way, as if he were about to issue some command.
Other men who helped to overthrow the Empire also became known to me. My father, whilst engaged in some costly litigation respecting a large castellated house which he had leased at Le Vesinet, secured Jules Favre as his advocate, and on various occasions I went with him to Favre's residence. Here let me say that my father, in spite of all his interest in French literature, did not know the language. He could scarcely express himself in it, and thus he always made it a practice to have one of his sons with him, we having inherited our mother's linguistic gifts. Favre's command of language was great, but his eloquence was by no means rousing, and I well remember that when he pleaded for my father, the three judges of the Appeal Court composed themselves to sleep, and did not awaken until the counsel opposed to us started banging his fist and shouting in thunderous tones. Naturally enough, as the judges never heard our side of the case, but only our adversary's, they decided against us.
Some retrenchment then became necessary on my father's part, and he sent my step-mother, her children and my brother Arthur, to Saint Servan in Brittany, where he rented a house which was called "La petite Amelia," after George III's daughter of that name, who, during some interval of peace between France and Great Britain, went to stay at Saint Servan for the benefit of her health. The majority of our family having repaired there and my cousin Monty returning to England some time in 1869, I remained alone with my father in Paris. We resided in what I may call a bachelor's flat at No. 16, Rue de Miromesnil, near the Elysee Palace. The principal part of the house was occupied by the Count and Countess de Chateaubriand and their daughters. The Countess was good enough to take some notice of me, and subsequently, when she departed for Combourg at the approach of the German siege, she gave me full permission to make use, if necessary, of the coals and wood left in the Chateaubriand cellars.
In 1869, the date I have now reached, I was in my sixteenth year, still studying, and at the same time giving more and more assistance to my father in connection with his journalistic work. He has included in his "Glances Back" some account of the facilities which enabled him to secure adequate pictorial delineation of the Court life of the Empire. He has told the story of Moulin, the police-agent, who frequently watched over the Emperor's personal safety, and who also supplied sketches of Court functions for the use of the Illustrated London News. Napoleon III resembled his great-uncle in at least one respect. He fully understood the art of advertisement; and, in his desire to be thought well of in England, he was always ready to favour English journalists. Whilst a certain part of the London Press preserved throughout the reign a very critical attitude towards the Imperial policy, it is certain that some of the Paris correspondents were in close touch with the Emperor's Government, and that some of them were actually subsidized by it.
The best-informed man with respect to Court and social events was undoubtedly Mr. Felix Whiteburst of The Daily Telegraph, whom I well remember. He had the entree at the Tuileries and elsewhere, and there were occasions when very important information was imparted to him with a view to its early publication in London. For the most part, however, Whitehurst confined himself to chronicling events or incidents occurring at Court or in Bonapartist high society. Anxious to avoid giving offence, he usually glossed over any scandal that occurred, or dismissed it airily, with the desinvolture of a roue of the Regency. Withal, he was an extremely amiable man, very condescending towards me when we met, as sometimes happened at the Tuileries itself.
I had to go there on several occasions to meet Moulin, the detective-artist, by appointment, and a few years ago this helped me to write a book which has been more than once reprinted. [Note] I utilized in it many notes made by me in 1869-70, notably with respect to the Emperor and Empress's private apartments, the kitchens, and the arrangements made for balls and banquets. I am not aware at what age a young fellow is usually provided with his first dress-suit, but I know that mine was made about the time I speak of. I was then, I suppose, about five feet five inches in height, and my face led people to suppose that I was eighteen or nineteen years of age.
[Note: The work in question was entitled "The Court of the Tuileries, 1852-1870," by "Le Petit Homme Rouge"—a pseudonym which I have since used when producing other books. "The Court of the Tuileries" was founded in part on previously published works, on a quantity of notes and memoranda made by my father, other relatives, and myself, and on some of the private papers of one of my wife's kinsmen, General Mollard, who after greatly distinguishing himself at the Tchernaya and Magenta, became for a time an aide-de-camp to Napoleon III.]
In the autumn of 1869, I fell rather ill from over-study—I had already begun to read up Roman law—and, on securing a holiday, I accompanied my father to Compiegne, where the Imperial Court was then staying. We were not among the invited guests, but it had been arranged that every facility should be given to the Illustrated London News representatives in order that the Court villegiatura might be fully depicted in that journal. I need not recapitulate my experiences on this occasion. There is an account of our visit in my father's "Glances Back," and I inserted many additional particulars in my "Court of the Tuileries." I may mention, however, that it was at Compiegne that I first exchanged a few words with Napoleon III.
One day, my father being unwell (the weather was intensely cold), I proceeded to the chateau [We slept at the Hotel de la Cloche, but had the entree to the chateau at virtually any time.] accompanied only by our artist, young M. Montbard, who was currently known as "Apollo" in the Quartier Latin, where he delighted the habitues of the Bal Bullier by a style of choregraphy in comparison with which the achievements subsequently witnessed at the notorious Moulin Rouge would have sunk into insignificance. Montbard had to make a couple of drawings on the day I have mentioned, and it so happened that, whilst we were going about with M. de la Ferriere, the chamberlain on duty, Napoleon III suddenly appeared before us. Directly I was presented to him he spoke to me in English, telling me that he often saw the Illustrated London News, and that the illustrations of French life and Paris improvements (in which he took so keen an interest) were very ably executed. He asked me also how long I had been in France, and where I had learnt the language. Then, remarking that it was near the dejeuner hour, he told M. de la Ferriere to see that Montbard and myself were suitably entertained.
I do not think that I had any particular political opinions at that time. Montbard, however, was a Republican—in fact, a future Communard—and I know that he did not appreciate his virtually enforced introduction to the so-called "Badinguet." Still, he contrived to be fairly polite, and allowed the Emperor to inspect the sketch he was making. There was to be a theatrical performance at the chateau that evening, and it had already been arranged that Montbard should witness it. On hearing, however, that it had been impossible to provide my father and myself with seats, on account of the great demand for admission on the part of local magnates and the officers of the garrison, the Emperor was good enough to say, after I had explained that my father's indisposition would prevent him from attending: "Voyons, vous pourrez bien trouver une petite place pour ce jeune homme. Il n'est pas si grand, et je suis sur que cela lui fera plaisir." M. de la Ferriere bowed, and thus it came to pass that I witnessed the performance after all, being seated on a stool behind some extremely beautiful women whose white shoulders repeatedly distracted my attention from the stage. In regard to Montbard there was some little trouble, as M. de la Ferriere did not like the appearance of his "revolutionary-looking beard," the sight of which, said he, might greatly alarm the Empress. Montbard, however, indignantly refused to shave it off, and ten months later the "revolutionary beards" were predominant, the power and the pomp of the Empire having been swept away amidst all the disasters of invasion.
THE OUTBREAK OF THE FRANCO-GERMAN WAR
Napoleon's Plans for a War with Prussia—The Garde Mobile and the French Army generally—Its Armament—The "White Blouses" and the Paris Riots—The Emperor and the Elections of 1869—The Troppmann and Pierre Bonaparte Affairs—Captain the Hon. Dennis Bingham—The Ollivier Ministry—French Campaigning Plans—Frossard and Bazaine—The Negotiations with Archduke Albert and Count Vimeroati—The War forced on by Bismarck—I shout "A Berlin!"—The Imperial Guard and General Bourbaki—My Dream of seeing a War—My uncle Frank Vizetelly and his Campaigns—"The Siege of Pekin"— Organization of the French Forces—The Information Service—I witness the departure of Napoleon III and the Imperial Prince from Saint Cloud.
There was no little agitation in France during the years 1868 and 1869. The outcome first of the Schleswig-Holstein war, and secondly of the war between Prussia and Austria in 1866, had alarmed many French politicians. Napoleon III had expected some territorial compensation in return for his neutrality at those periods, and it is certain that Bismarck, as chief Prussian minister, had allowed him to suppose that he would be able to indemnify himself for his non-intervention in the afore-mentioned contests. After attaining her ends, however, Prussia turned an unwilling ear to the French Emperor's suggestions, and from that moment a Franco-German war became inevitable. Although, as I well remember, there was a perfect "rage" for Bismarck "this" and Bismarck "that" in Paris—particularly for the Bismarck colour, a shade of Havana brown—the Prussian statesman, who had so successfully "jockeyed" the Man of Destiny, was undoubtedly a well hated and dreaded individual among the Parisians, at least among all those who thought of the future of Europe. Prussian policy, however, was not the only cause of anxiety in France, for at the same period the Republican opposition to the Imperial authority was steadily gaining strength in the great cities, and the political concessions by which Napoleon III sought to disarm it only emboldened it to make fresh demands.
In planning a war on Prussia, the Emperor was influenced both by national and by dynastic considerations. The rise of Prussia—which had become head of the North German Confederation—was without doubt a menace not only to French ascendency on the Continent, but also to France's general interests. On the other hand, the prestige of the Empire having been seriously impaired, in France itself, by the diplomatic defeats which Bismarck had inflicted on Napoleon, it seemed that only a successful war, waged on the Power from which France had received those successive rebuffs, could restore the aforesaid prestige and ensure the duration of the Bonaparte dynasty.
Even nowadays, in spite of innumerable revelations, many writers continue to cast all the responsibility of the Franco-German War on Germany, or, to be more precise, on Prussia as represented by Bismarck. That, however, is a great error. A trial of strength was regarded on both sides as inevitable, and both sides contributed to bring it about. Bismarck's share in the conflict was to precipitate hostilities, selecting for them what he judged to be an opportune moment for his country, and thereby preventing the Emperor Napoleon from maturing his designs. The latter did not intend to declare war until early in 1871; the Prussian statesman brought it about in July, 1870.
The Emperor really took to the war-path soon after 1866. A great military council was assembled, and various measures were devised to strengthen the army. The principal step was the creation of a territorial force called the Garde Mobile, which was expected to yield more than half a million men. Marshal Niel, who was then Minister of War, attempted to carry out this scheme, but was hampered by an insufficiency of money. Nowadays, I often think of Niel and the Garde Mobile when I read of Lord Haldane, Colonel Seely, and our own "terriers." It seems to me, at times, as if the clock had gone back more than forty years.
Niel died in August, 1869, leaving his task in an extremely unfinished state, and Marshal Le Boeuf, who succeeded him, persevered with it in a very faint-hearted way. The regular army, however, was kept in fair condition, though it was never so strong as it appeared to be on paper. There was a system in vogue by which a conscript of means could avoid service by supplying a remplacant. Originally, he was expected to provide his remplacant himself; but, ultimately, he only had to pay a sum of money to the military authorities, who undertook to find a man to take his place. Unfortunately, in thousands of instances, over a term of some years, the remplacants were never provided at all. I do not suggest that the money was absolutely misappropriated, but it was diverted to other military purposes, and, in the result, there was always a considerable shortage in the annual contingent.
The creature comforts of the men were certainly well looked after. My particular chum at Bonaparte was the son of a general-officer, and I visited more than one barracks or encampment. Without doubt, there was always an abundance of good sound food. Further, the men were well-armed. All military authorities are agreed, I believe, that the Chassepot rifle—invented in or about 1866—was superior to the Dreyse needle-gun, which was in use in the Prussian army. Then, too, there was Colonel de Reffye's machine-gun or mitrailleuse, in a sense the forerunner of the Gatling and the Maxim. It was first devised, I think, in 1863, and, according to official statements, some three or four years later there were more than a score of mitrailleuse batteries. With regard to other ordnance, however, that of the French was inferior to that of the Germans, as was conclusively proved at Sedan and elsewhere. In many respects the work of army reform, publicly advised by General Trochu in a famous pamphlet, and by other officers in reports to the Emperor and the Ministry of War, proceeded at a very slow pace, being impeded by a variety of considerations. The young men of the large towns did not take kindly to the idea of serving in the new Garde Mobile. Having escaped service in the regular army, by drawing exempting "numbers" or by paying for remplacants, they regarded it as very unfair that they should be called upon to serve at all, and there were serious riots in various parts of France at the time of their first enrolment in 1868. Many of them failed to realize the necessities of the case. There was no great wave of patriotism sweeping through the country. The German danger was not yet generally apparent. Further, many upholders of the Imperial authority shook their heads in deprecation of this scheme of enrolling and arming so many young men, who might suddenly blossom into revolutionaries and turn their weapons against the powers of the day.
There was great unrest in Paris in 1868, the year of Henri Rochefort's famous journal La Lanterne. Issue after issue of that bitterly-penned effusion was seized and confiscated, and more than once did I see vigilant detectives snatch copies from people in the streets. In June, 1869, we had general elections, accompanied by rioting on the Boulevards. It was then that the "White Blouse" legend arose, it being alleged that many of the rioters were agents provocateurs in the pay of the Prefecture of Police, and wore white blouses expressly in order that they might be known to the sergents-de-ville and the Gardes de Paris who were called upon to quell the disturbances. At first thought, it might seem ridiculous that any Government should stir up rioting for the mere sake of putting it down, but it was generally held that the authorities wished some disturbances to occur in order, first, that the middle-classes might be frightened by the prospect of a violent revolution, and thereby induced to vote for Government candidates at the elections; and, secondly, that some of the many real Revolutionaries might be led to participate in the rioting in such wise as to supply a pretext for arresting them.
I was with my mentor Brossard and my brother Edward one night in June when a "Madeleine-Bastille" omnibus was overturned on the Boulevard Montmartre and two or three newspaper kiosks were added to it by way of forming a barricade, the purpose of which was by no means clear. The great crowd of promenaders seemed to regard the affair as capital fun until the police suddenly came up, followed by some mounted men of the Garde de Paris, whereupon the laughing spectators became terrified and suddenly fled for their lives. With my companions I gazed on the scene from the entresol of the Cafe Mazarin. It was the first affair of the kind I had ever witnessed, and for that reason impressed itself more vividly on my mind than several subsequent and more serious ones. In the twinkling of an eye all the little tables set out in front of the cafes were deserted, and tragi-comical was the sight of the many women with golden chignons scurrying away with their alarmed companions, and tripping now and again over some fallen chair whilst the pursuing cavalry clattered noisily along the foot-pavements. A Londoner might form some idea of the scene by picturing a charge from Leicester Square to Piccadilly Circus at the hour when Coventry Street is most thronged with undesirables of both sexes.
The majority of the White Blouses and their friends escaped unhurt, and the police and the guards chiefly expended their vigour on the spectators of the original disturbance. Whether this had been secretly engineered by the authorities for one of the purposes I previously indicated, must always remain a moot point. In any case it did not incline the Parisians to vote for the Government candidates. Every deputy returned for the city on that occasion was an opponent of the Empire, and in later years I was told by an ex-Court official that when Napoleon became acquainted with the result of the pollings he said, in reference to the nominees whom he had favoured, "Not one! not a single one!" The ingratitude of the Parisians, as the Emperor styled it, was always a thorn in his side; yet he should have remembered that in the past the bulk of the Parisians had seldom, if ever, been on the side of constituted authority.
Later that year came the famous affair of the Pantin crimes, and I was present with my father when Troppmann, the brutish murderer of the Kinck family, stood his trial at the Assizes. But, quite properly, my father would not let me accompany him when he attended the miscreant's execution outside the prison of La Roquette. Some years later, however, I witnessed the execution of Prevost on the same spot; and at a subsequent date I attended both the trial and the execution of Caserio—the assassin of President Carnot—at Lyons. Following Troppmann's case, in the early days of 1870 came the crime of the so-called Wild Boar of Corsica, Prince Pierre Bonaparte (grandfather of the present Princess George of Greece), who shot the young journalist Victor Noir, when the latter went with Ulrich de Fonvielle, aeronaut as well as journalist, to call him out on behalf of the irrepressible Henri Rochefort. I remember accompanying one of our artists, Gaildrau, when a sketch was made of the scene of the crime, the Prince's drawing-room at Auteuil, a peculiar semi-circular, panelled and white-painted apartment furnished in what we should call in England a tawdry mid-Victorian style. On the occasion of Noir's funeral my father and myself were in the Champs Elysees when the tumultuous revolutionary procession, in which Rochefort figured conspicuously, swept down the famous avenue along which the victorious Germans were to march little more than a year afterwards. Near the Rond-point the cortege was broken up and scattered by the police, whose violence was extreme. Rochefort, brave enough on the duelling-ground, fainted away, and was carried off in a vehicle, his position as a member of the Legislative Body momentarily rendering him immune from arrest. Within a month, however, he was under lock and key, and some fierce rioting ensued in the north of Paris.
During the spring, my father went to Ireland as special commissioner of the Illustrated London News and the Pall Mall Gazette, in order to investigate the condition of the tenantry and the agrarian crimes which were then so prevalent there. Meantime, I was left in Paris, virtually "on my own," though I was often with my elder brother Edward. About this time, moreover, a friend of my father's began to take a good deal of interest in me. This was Captain the Hon. Dennis Bingham, a member of the Clanmorris family, and the regular correspondent of the Pall Mall Gazette in Paris. He subsequently became known as the author of various works on the Bonapartes and the Bourbons, and of a volume of recollections of Paris life, in which I am once or twice mentioned. Bingham was married to a very charming lady of the Laoretelle family, which gave a couple of historians to France, and I was always received most kindly at their home near the Arc de Triomphe. Moreover, Bingham often took me about with him in my spare time, and introduced me to several prominent people. Later, during the street fighting at the close of the Commune in 1871, we had some dramatic adventures together, and on one occasion Bingham saved my life.
The earlier months of 1870 went by very swiftly amidst a multiplicity of interesting events. Emile Ollivier had now become chief Minister, and an era of liberal reforms appeared to have begun. It seemed, moreover, as if the Minister's charming wife were for her part intent on reforming the practices of her sex in regard to dress, for she resolutely set her face against the extravagant toilettes of the ladies of the Court, repeatedly appearing at the Tuileries in the most unassuming attire, which, however, by sheer force of contrast, rendered her very conspicuous there. The patronesses of the great couturiers were quite irate at receiving such a lesson from a petite bourgeoise; but all who shared the views expressed by President Dupin a few years previously respecting the "unbridled luxury of women," were naturally delighted.
Her husband's attempts at political reform were certainly well meant, but the Republicans regarded him as a renegade and the older Imperialists as an intruder, and nothing that he did gave satisfaction. The concession of the right of public meeting led to frequent disorders at Belleville and Montmartre, and the increased freedom of the Press only acted as an incentive to violence of language. Nevertheless, when there came a Plebiscitum—the last of the reign—to ascertain the country's opinion respecting the reforms devised by the Emperor and Ollivier, a huge majority signified approval of them, and thus the "liberal Empire" seemed to be firmly established. If, however, the nation at large had known what was going on behind the scenes, both in diplomatic and in military spheres, the result of the Plebiscitum would probably have been very different.
Already on the morrow of the war between Prussia and Austria (1866) the Emperor, as I previously indicated, had begun to devise a plan of campaign in regard to the former Power, taking as his particular confidants in the matter General Lebrun, his aide-de-camp, and General Frossard, the governor of the young Imperial Prince. Marshal Niel, as War Minister, was cognizant of the Emperor's conferences with Lebrun and Frossard, but does not appear to have taken any direct part in the plans which were devised. They were originally purely defensive plans, intended to provide for any invasion of French territory from across the Rhine. Colonel Baron Stoffel, the French military attache at Berlin, had frequently warned the War Office in Paris respecting the possibility of a Prussian attack and the strength of the Prussian armaments, which, he wrote, would enable King William (with the assistance of the other German rulers) to throw a force of nearly a million men into Alsace-Lorraine. Further, General Ducrot, who commanded the garrison at Strasburg, became acquainted with many things which he communicated to his relative, Baron de Bourgoing, one of the Emperor's equerries.
There is no doubt that these various communications reached Napoleon III; and though he may have regarded both the statements of Stoffel and those of Ducrot as exaggerated, he was certainly sufficiently impressed by them to order the preparation of certain plans. Frossard, basing himself on the operations of the Austrians in December, 1793, and keeping in mind the methods by which Hoche, with the Moselle army, and Pichegru, with the Rhine army, forced them back from the French frontier, drafted a scheme of defence in which he foresaw the battle of Woerth, but, through following erroneous information, greatly miscalculated the probable number of combatants. He set forth in his scheme that the Imperial Government could not possibly allow Alsace-Lorraine and Champagne to be invaded without a trial of strength at the very outset; and Marshal Bazaine, who, at some period or other, annotated a copy of Frossard's scheme, signified his approval of that dictum, but added significantly that good tactical measures should be adopted. He himself demurred to Frossard's plans, saying that he was no partisan of a frontal defence, but believed in falling on the enemy's flanks and rear. Yet, as we know, MacMahon fought the battle of Woerth under conditions in many respects similar to those which Frossard had foreseen.
However, the purely defensive plans on which Napoleon III at first worked, were replaced in 1868 by offensive ones, in which General Lebrun took a prominent part, both from the military and from the diplomatic standpoints. It was not, however, until March, 1870, that the Archduke Albert of Austria came to Paris to confer with the French Emperor. Lebrun's plan of campaign was discussed by them, and Marshal Le Boeuf and Generals Frossard and Jarras were privy to the negotiations. It was proposed that France, Austria, and Italy should invade Germany conjointly; and, according to Le Boeuf, the first-named Power could place 400,000 men on the frontier in a fortnight's time. Both Austria and Italy, however, required forty-two days to mobilize their forces, though the former offered to provide two army corps during the interval. When Lebrun subsequently went to Vienna to come to a positive decision and arrange details, the Archduke Albert pointed out that the war ought to begin in the spring season, for, said he, the North Germans would be able to support the cold and dampness of a winter campaign far better than the allies. That was an absolutely correct forecast, fully confirmed by all that took place in France during the winter of 1870-1871.
But Prussia heard of what was brewing. Austria was betrayed to her by Hungary; and Italy and France could not come to an understanding on the question of Rome. At the outset Prince Napoleon (Jerome) was concerned in the latter negotiations, which were eventually conducted by Count Vimercati, the Italian military attache in Paris. Napoleon, however, steadily refused to withdraw his forces from the States of the Church and to allow Victor Emmanuel to occupy Rome. Had he yielded on those points Italy would certainly have joined him, and Austria—however much Hungarian statesmen might have disliked it—would, in all probability, have followed suit. By the policy he pursued in this matter, the French Emperor lost everything, and prevented nothing. On the one hand, France was defeated and the Empire of the Bonapartes collapsed; whilst, on the other, Rome became Italy's true capital.
Bismarck was in no way inclined to allow the negotiations for an anti-Prussian alliance to mature. They dragged on for a considerable time, but the Government of Napoleon III was not particularly disturbed thereat, as it felt certain that victory would attend the French arms at the outset, and that Italy and Austria would eventually give support. Bismarck, however, precipitated events. Already in the previous year Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen had been a candidate for the throne of Spain. That candidature had been withdrawn in order to avert a conflict between France and Germany; but now it was revived at Bismarck's instigation in order to bring about one.
I have said, I think, enough to show—in fairness to Germany—that the war of 1870 was not an unprovoked attack on France. The incidents—such as the Ems affair—which directly led up to it were after all only of secondary importance, although they bulked so largely at the time of their occurrence. I well remember the great excitement which prevailed in Paris during the few anxious days when to the man in the street the question of peace or war seemed to be trembling in the balance, though in reality that question was already virtually decided upon both sides. Judging by all that has been revealed to us during the last forty years, I do not think that M. Emile Ollivier, the Prime Minister, would have been able to modify the decision of the fateful council held at Saint Cloud even if he had attended it. Possessed by many delusions, the bulk of the imperial councillors were too confident of success to draw back, and, besides, Bismarck and Moltke were not disposed to let France draw back. They were ready, and they knew right well that opportunity is a fine thing.
It was on July 15 that the Duc de Gramont, the Imperial Minister of Foreign Affairs, read his memorable statement to the Legislative Body, and two days later a formal declaration of war was signed. Paris at once became delirious with enthusiasm, though, as we know by all the telegrams from the Prefects of the departments, the provinces generally desired that peace might be preserved.
Resident in Paris, and knowing at that time very little about the rest of France—for I had merely stayed during my summer holidays at such seaside resorts as Trouville, Deauville, Beuzeval, St. Malo, and St. Servan—I undoubtedly caught the Parisian fever, and I dare say that I sometimes joined in the universal chorus of "A Berlin!" Mere lad as I was, in spite of my precocity, I shared also the universal confidence in the French army. In that confidence many English military men participated. Only those who, like Captain Hozier of The Times, had closely watched Prussian methods during the Seven Weeks' War in 1866, clearly realized that the North German kingdom possessed a thoroughly well organized fighting machine, led by officers of the greatest ability, and capable of effecting something like a revolution in the art of war.
France was currently thought stronger than she really was. Of the good physique of her men there could be no doubt. Everybody who witnessed the great military pageants of those times was impressed by the bearing of the troops and their efficiency under arms. And nobody anticipated that they would be so inferior to the Germans in numbers as proved to be the case, and that the generals would show themselves so inferior in mental calibre to the commanders of the opposing forces. The Paris garrison, it is true, was no real criterion of the French army generally, though foreigners were apt to judge the latter by what they saw of it in the capital. The troops stationed there were mostly picked men, the garrison being very largely composed of the Imperial Guard. The latter always made a brilliant display, not merely by reason of its somewhat showy uniforms, recalling at times those of the First Empire, but also by the men's fine physique and their general military proficiency. They certainly fought well in some of the earlier battles of the war. Their commander was General Bourbaki, a fine soldierly looking man, the grandson of a Greek pilot who acted as intermediary between Napoleon I and his brother Joseph, at the time of the former's expedition to Egypt. It was this original Bourbaki who carried to Napoleon Joseph's secret letters reporting Josephine's misconduct in her husband's absence, misconduct which Napoleon condoned at the time, though it would have entitled him to a divorce nine years before he decided on one.
With the spectacle of the Imperial Guard constantly before their eyes, the Parisians of July, 1870, could not believe in the possibility of defeat, and, moreover, at the first moment it was not believed that the Southern German States would join North Germany against France. Napoleon III and his confidential advisers well knew, however, what to think on that point, and the delusions of the man in the street departed when, on July 20, Bavaria, Wuertemberg, Baden, and Hesse-Darmstadt announced their intention of supporting Prussia and the North German Confederation. Still, this did not dismay the Parisians, and the shouts of "To Berlin! To Berlin!" were as frequent as ever.
It had long been one of my dreams to see and participate in the great drama of war. All boys, I suppose, come into the world with pugnacious instincts. There must be few, too, who never "play at soldiers." My own interest in warfare and soldiering had been steadily fanned from my earliest childhood. In the first place, I had been incessantly confronted by all the scenes of war depicted in the Illustrated Times and the Illustrated London News, those journals being posted to me regularly every week whilst I was still only a little chap at Eastbourne. Further, the career of my uncle, Frank Vizetelly, exercised a strange fascination over me. Born in Fleet Street in September, 1830, he was the youngest of my father's three brothers. Educated with Gustave Dore, he became an artist for the illustrated Press, and, in 1850, represented the Illustrated Times as war-artist in Italy, being a part of the time with the French and at other moments with the Sardinian forces. That was the first of his many campaigns. His services being afterwards secured by the Illustrated London News, he next accompanied Garibaldi from Palermo to Naples. Then, at the outbreak of the Civil War in the United States, he repaired thither with Howard Russell, and, on finding obstacles placed in his way on the Federal side, travelled "underground" to Richmond and joined the Confederates. The late Duke of Devonshire, the late Lord Wolseley, and Francis Lawley were among his successive companions. At one time he and the first-named shared the same tent and lent socks and shirts to one another.
Now and again, however, Frank Vizetelly came to England after running the blockade, stayed a few weeks in London, and then departed for America once more, yet again running the blockade on his way. This he did on at least three occasions. His next campaign was the war of 1866, when he was with the Austrian commander Benedek. For a few years afterwards he remained in London assisting his eldest brother James to run what was probably the first of the society journals, Echoes of the Clubs, to which Mortimer Collins and the late Sir Edmund Monson largely contributed. However, Frank Vizetelly went back to America once again, this time with Wolseley on the Red River Expedition. Later, he was with Don Carlos in Spain and with the French in Tunis, whence he proceeded to Egypt. He died on the field of duty, meeting his death when Hicks Pasha's little army was annihilated in the denies of Kashgil, in the Soudan.
Now, in the earlier years, when Frank Vizetelly returned from Italy or America, he was often at my father's house at Kensington, and I heard him talk of Napoleon III, MacMahon, Garibaldi, Victor Emmanuel, Cialdini, Robert Lee, Longstreet, Stonewall Jackson, and Captain Semmes. Between-times I saw all the engravings prepared after his sketches, and I regarded him and them with a kind of childish reverence. I can picture him still, a hale, bluff, tall, and burly-looking man, with short dark hair, blue eyes and a big ruddy moustache. He was far away the best known member of our family in my younger days, when anonymity in journalism was an almost universal rule. In the same way, however, as everybody had heard of Howard Russell, the war correspondent of the Times, so most people had heard of Frank Vizetelly, the war-artist of the Illustrated. He was, by-the-by, in the service of the Graphic when he was killed.
I well remember being alternately amused and disgusted by a French theatrical delineation of an English war correspondent, given in a spectacular military piece which I witnessed a short time after my first arrival in Paris. It was called "The Siege of Pekin," and had been concocted by Mocquard, the Emperor Napoleon's secretary. All the "comic business" in the affair was supplied by a so-called war correspondent of the Times, who strutted about in a tropical helmet embellished with a green Derby veil, and was provided with a portable desk and a huge umbrella. This red-nosed and red-whiskered individual was for ever talking of having to do this and that for "the first paper of the first country in the world," and, in order to obtain a better view of an engagement, he deliberately planted himself between the French and Chinese combatants. I should doubtless have derived more amusement from his tomfoolery had I not already known that English war correspondents did not behave in any such idiotic manner, and I came away from the performance with strong feelings of resentment respecting so outrageous a caricature of a profession counting among its members the uncle whom I so much admired.
Whatever my dreams may have been, I hardly anticipated that I should join that profession myself during the Franco-German war. The Lycees "broke up" in confusion, and my father decided to send me to join my stepmother and the younger members of the family at Saint Servan, it being his intention to go to the front with my elder brother Edward. But Simpson, the veteran Crimean War artist, came over to join the so-called Army of the Rhine, and my brother, securing an engagement from the New York Times, set out on his own account. Thus I was promptly recalled to Paris, where my father had decided to remain. In those days the journey from Brittany to the capital took many long and wearisome hours, and I made it in a third-class carriage of a train crowded with soldiers of all arms, cavalry, infantry, and artillery. Most of them were intoxicated, and the grossness of their language and manners was almost beyond belief. That dreadful night spent on the boards of a slowly-moving and jolting train, [There were then no cushioned seats in French third-class carriages.] amidst drunken and foul-mouthed companions, gave me, as it were, a glimpse of the other side of the picture—that is, of several things which lie behind the glamour of war.
It must have been about July 25 when I returned to Paris. A decree had just been issued appointing the Empress as Regent in the absence of the Emperor, who was to take command of the Army of the Rhine. It had originally been intended that there should be three French armies, but during the conferences with Archduke Albert in the spring, that plan was abandoned in favour of one sole army under the command of Napoleon III. The idea underlying the change was to avoid a superfluity of staff-officers, and to augment the number of actual combatants. Both Le Boeuf and Lebrun approved of the alteration, and this would seem to indicate that there were already misgivings on the French side in regard to the inferior strength of their effectives. The army was divided into eight sections, that is, seven army corps, and the Imperial Guard. Bourbaki, as already mentioned, commanded the Guard, and at the head of the army corps were (1) MacMahon, (2) Frossard, (3) Bazaine, (4) Ladmerault, (5) Failly, (6) Canrobert, and (7) Felix Douay. Both Frossard and Failly, however, were at first made subordinate to Bazaine. The head of the information service was Colonel Lewal, who rose to be a general and Minister of War under the Republic, and who wrote some commendable works on tactics; and immediately under him were Lieut.-Colonel Fay, also subsequently a well-known general, and Captain Jung, who is best remembered perhaps by his inquiries into the mystery of the Man with the Iron Mask. I give those names because, however distinguished those three men may have become in later years, the French intelligence service at the outset of the war was without doubt extremely faulty, and responsible for some of the disasters which occurred.
On returning to Paris one of my first duties was to go in search of Moulin, the detective-artist whom I mentioned in my first chapter. I found him in his somewhat squalid home in the Quartier Mouffetard, surrounded by a tribe of children, and he immediately informed me that he was one of the "agents" appointed to attend the Emperor on the campaign. The somewhat lavish Imperial equipage, on which Zola so frequently dilated in "The Downfall," had, I think, already been despatched to Metz, where the Emperor proposed to fix his headquarters, and the escort of Cent Gardes was about to proceed thither. Moulin told me, however, that he and two of his colleagues were to travel in the same train as Napoleon, and it was agreed that he should forward either to Paris or to London, as might prove most convenient, such sketches as he might from time to time contrive to make. He suggested that there should be one of the Emperor's departure from Saint Cloud, and that in order to avoid delay I should accompany him on the occasion and take it from him. We therefore went down together on July 28, promptly obtained admittance to the chateau, where Moulin took certain instructions, and then repaired to the railway-siding in the park, whence the Imperial train was to start.
Officers and high officials, nearly all in uniform, were constantly going to and fro between the siding and the chateau, and presently the Imperial party appeared, the Emperor being between the Empress and the young Imperial Prince. Quite a crowd of dignitaries followed. I do not recollect seeing Emile Ollivier, though he must have been present, but I took particular note of Rouher, the once all-powerful minister, currently nicknamed the Vice-Emperor, and later President of the Senate. In spite of his portliness, he walked with a most determined stride, held his head very erect, and spoke in his customary loud voice. The Emperor, who wore the undress uniform of a general, looked very grave and sallow. The disease which eventually ended in his death had already become serious, [I have given many particulars of it in my two books, "The Court of the Tuileries, 1862-1870" (Chatto and Windus), and "Republican France, 1870-1912" (Holden and Hardingham).] and only a few days later, that is, during the Saarbrucken affair (August 2), he was painfully affected by it. Nevertheless, he had undertaken to command the Army of France! The Imperial Prince, then fourteen years of age, was also in uniform, it having been arranged that he should accompany his father to the front, and he seemed to be extremely animated and restless, repeatedly turning to exchange remarks with one or another officer near him. The Empress, who was very simply gowned, smiled once or twice in response to some words which fell from her husband, but for the most part she looked as serious as he did. Whatever Emile Ollivier may have said about beginning this war with a light heart, it is certain that these two sovereigns of France realized, at that hour of parting, the magnitude of the issues at stake. After they had exchanged a farewell kiss, the Empress took her eager young son in her arms and embraced him fondly, and when we next saw her face we could perceive the tears standing in her eyes. The Emperor was already taking his seat and the boy speedily sprang after him. Did the Empress at that moment wonder when, where, and how she would next see them again? Perchance she did. Everything, however, was speedily in readiness for departure. As the train began to move, both the Emperor and the Prince waved their hands from the windows, whilst all the enthusiastic Imperial dignitaries flourished their hats and raised a prolonged cry of "Vive l'Empereur!" It was not, perhaps, so loud as it might have been; but, then, they were mostly elderly men. Moulin, during the interval, had contrived to make something in the nature of a thumb-nail sketch; I had also taken a few notes myself; and thus provided I hastened back to Paris.