THE TRAGEDY OF ST. HELENA
SIR WALTER RUNCIMAN, BART.
"WINDJAMMERS AND SEA TRAMPS," "THE SHELLBACK'S PROGRESS," "LOOKING SEAWARD AGAIN," ETC.
T. FISHER UNWIN LONDON: ADELPHI TERRACE LEIPSIC: INSELSTRASSE 20 1911
In my early sea-life, I used to listen to the eccentric and complicated views expressed by a race of seamen long since passed away. Occasionally there were amongst the crew one or two who had the true British hypothetical belief in the demoniacal character of Napoleon, but this was not the general view of the men with whom I sailed; and after the lapse of many years, I often wonder how it came about that such definite partiality in regard to this wonderful being could have been formed, and the conclusion that impresses me most is, that his many acts of kindness to his own men, the absence of flogging and other debasing treatment in his own service, his generosity and consideration for the comfort of British prisoners during the wars, his ultimate defeat by the combined forces of Europe, the despicable advantage they took of the man who was their superior in everything, and to whom in other days the allied Kings had bent in homage, had become known to the English sailors.
How these rugged men came to their knowledge of Napoleon and formed their opinions about him may be explained in this way. Hundreds of seamen and civilians were pressed into the King's service, many of whom were taken ruthlessly from vessels they partly owned and commanded. Indeed, there was no distinction. The pressgangs captured everybody, irrespective of whether they were officers, common able seamen, or boys, to say nothing of those who had no sea experience. Both my own grandfathers and two of my great uncles were kidnapped from their vessels and their families into the navy, and after many years of execrable treatment, hard fighting, and wounds, they landed back into their homes broken men, with no better prospect than to begin life anew. It was natural that the numerous pressed men should detest the ruffianly man-catchers and their employers, if not the service they were forced into, and that they would nurse the wrong which had been done to them.
They would have opportunities of comparing their own lot with that of other nationalities engaged in combat against them, and though both might be bad, it comes quite natural to the sailor to imagine his treatment is worse than that of others; and there is copious evidence that the British naval service was not at that period popular. Besides, they knew, as everybody else should have known, that Napoleon was beloved by his navy and army alike. Then, after the Emperor had asked for the hospitality of the British nation, and became its guest aboard the Bellerophon, the sailors saw what manner of man he was. And later, his voyage to St. Helena in the Northumberland gave them a better chance of being impressed by his fascinating personality. It is well known how popular he became aboard both ships; the men of the squadron that was kept at St. Helena were also drawn to him in sympathy, and many of the accounts show how, in their rough ardent way, they repudiated the falsehoods of his traducers. The exiled Emperor had become their hero and their martyr, just as impressively as he was and remained that of the French; and from them and other sources were handed down to the generation of merchant seamen those tales which were told with the usual love of hyperbole characteristic of the sailor, and wiled away many dreary hours while traversing trackless oceans. They would talk about the sea fights of Aboukir and Trafalgar, and the battles of Arcola, Marengo, Jena, Austerlitz, the Russian campaign, the retreat from Moscow, his deportation to Elba, his escape therefrom, and his matchless march into Paris, and then the great encounter of Waterloo, combined with the divorce of Josephine and the marriage with Marie Louise; all of which, as I remember it now, was set forth in the most voluble and comical manner. Some of their most engaging chanties were composed about him, and the airs given to them, always pathetic and touching, were sung by the sailors in a way which showed that they wanted it to be known that they had no hand in, and disavowed, the crime that was committed. As an example, I give four verses of the chanty "Boney was a Warrior," as it was sung in the days I speak of. It is jargon, but none the less interesting.
"They sent him to St. Helena! Oh! aye, Oh! They sent him to St. Helena, John France Wa! (Francois.)
Oh! Boney was ill-treated! Oh! aye, Oh! Oh! Boney was ill-treated, John France Wa!
Oh! Boney's heart was broken! Oh! aye, Oh! Oh! Boney's heart was broken! John France Wa!
But Boney was an Emperor! Oh! aye, Oh! But Boney was an Emperor! John France Wa!"
—and so on.
Although at that time I had, in common with others, anti-Napoleonic ideas, I was impressed by the views of the sailors. Later in life, when on the eve of a long voyage, nearly forty years ago, I happened to see Scott's "Life of Napoleon" on a bookstall, and being desirous of having my opinion confirmed, I bought it. A careful reading of this book was the means of convincing me of the fact that "Boney was ill-treated," and this in face of the so-called evidence which Sir Walter Scott had so obviously collected for the purpose of exonerating the then English Government.
The new idea presented to my mind led me to take up a course of serious reading, which comprised all the "Lives" of Napoleon on which I could lay my hands, all the St. Helena Journals, and the commentaries which have been written since their publication. As my knowledge of the great drama increased, I found my pro-Napoleonic ideas increasing in fervour. Like the Psalmist when musing on the wickedness of man, "my heart was hot within me, and at the last I spake with my tongue."
I may here state in passing that there is no public figure who lived before or since his time who is surrounded with anything approaching the colossal amount of literature which is centred on this man whose dazzling achievements amazed the world. Paradoxical though it may appear now, in the years to come, when the impartial student has familiarised himself with the most adverse criticisms, he will see in this literature much of the hand of enmity, cowardice, and delusion and, as conviction forces itself upon him, there evolve therefrom the revelation of a senseless travesty of justice.
I offer no apology for the opinions contained in this book, which have been arrived at as the result of many years of study and exhaustive reading. I give the volume to the public as it is, in the hope that it may attract in other ways to a fair examination of Napoleon's complex and fascinating character.
December 3, 1910.
CHAPTER I THE ABODE OF DARKNESS
CHAPTER II THE MAN OF THE REVOLUTION—CRITICISM, CONTEMPORARY AND OTHERWISE
CHAPTER III THREE GENERATIONS: MADAME LA MERE, MARIE LOUISE, AND THE KING OF ROME
CHAPTER IV THE OLIGARCHY, THEIR AGENTS AND APOLOGISTS
CHAPTER V MESDAMES DE STAEL AND DE REMUSAT
CHAPTER VI JOSEPHINE
CHAPTER VII RELIGIOUS NOTIONS OF NAPOLEON
LIST OF EVENTS AND DATES HAVING REFERENCE TO NAPOLEON BONAPARTE
THE ABODE OF DARKNESS
In Clause 2 of his last will, dated Longwood, April 15, 1821, the Emperor Napoleon states: "It is my wish that my ashes may repose on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the French people whom I have loved so well."
At London, September 21, 1821, Count Bertrand and Count Montholon addressed the following letter to the King of England:—
"SIRE,—We now fulfil a sacred duty imposed on us by the Emperor Napoleon's last wishes—we claim his ashes. Your Ministers, Sire, are aware of his desire to repose in the midst of the people whom he loved so well. His wishes were communicated to the Governor of St. Helena, but that officer, without paying any regard to our protestations, caused him to be interred in that land of exile. His mother, listening to nothing but her grief, implores from you, Sire, demands from you, the ashes of her son; she demands from you the feeble consolation of watering his tomb with her tears. If on his barren rock as when on his throne, he was a terror of the world, when dead, his glory alone should survive him. We are, with respect, &c, &c,
(Signed) COUNT BERTRAND.
In reply to this touching act of devotion to their dead chief the English Ambassador at Paris wrote in December, 1821, that the English Government only considered itself the depository of the Emperor's ashes, and that it would deliver them up to France as soon as the latter Government should express a desire to that effect. The two Counts immediately applied to the French Ministry, but without result. On May 1, 1822, a further letter was sent to Louis XVIII., by the grace of God King of France and Navarre, concerning the redepositing of the ashes of Napoleon, Emperor, thrice proclaimed by the grace of the people.
On the accession of Louis Philippe to the throne the rival parties were each struggling for ascendancy. The glory of the days of the Empire had been stifled by the action of the European Powers and their French allies, but the smouldering embers began to show signs of renewed activity, and a wave of Napoleonic popularity swept over the land. Philippe and his Ministry were not indifferent to what was going on, and in order to distract attention from the chaos which the new condition of things was creating, the plan of having the "ashes" of the illustrious chief brought to the country and the people whom he "loved so well" was suggested as a means of bringing tranquillity to France and security to the throne.
M. Thiers, the head of a new Ministry, entered into negotiations with the English Government, and M. Guizot addressed an official note to Lord Palmerston, who was then Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
This precious communication is embodied in the following document:—"The undersigned, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of His Majesty the King of the French, has the honour, conformably to instructions received from His Government, to inform His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs to Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, that the King ardently desires that the mortal remains of Napoleon may be deposited in a tomb in France, in the country which he defended and rendered illustrious, and which proudly preserves the ashes of thousands of his companions in arms, officers and soldiers, devoted with him to the service of their country. The undersigned is convinced that Her Britannic Majesty's Government will only see in this desire of His Majesty the King of the French a just and pious feeling, and will give the orders necessary to the removal of any obstacle to the transfer of Napoleon's remains from St. Helena to France."
This document was sent to the British Embassy in Paris, and the wishes of M. Thiers and his Government were conveyed in orthodox fashion to the British Foreign Secretary by the Ambassador, in the following letter, dated Paris, May 4, 1840:—
"MY LORD,—The French Government have been requested, in several petitions addressed to the Chambers, to take the necessary steps with regard to the Government of Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain, in order to obtain an authorisation for removing the ashes of the Emperor Napoleon to Paris. These petitions were favourably received by the Chambers, who transmitted them to the President of the Council, and to the other Ministers, his colleagues. The Ministers having deliberated on this point, and the King having given his consent to the measures necessary to meet the object of the petitioners, M. Thiers yesterday announced to me officially the desire of the French Government that Her Majesty's Government would grant the necessary authority to enable them to remove the remains of the Emperor Napoleon from St. Helena to Paris. M. Thiers also calls my attention to the fact that the consent of the British Government to the projected measure would be one of the most efficacious means of cementing the union of the two countries, and of producing a friendly feeling between France and England.—(Signed) GRANVILLE."
So that this King of the French and M. Thiers realise, after a quarter of a century, that the hero who was driven to abdicate, and then banished from France, did defend his country and make it illustrious, and that the removal of his ashes to France was the "most efficacious means" of cementing the union of the country that forsook him in his misfortune with the country that sent him to perish on a rock. His ashes, indeed, were to produce a friendly feeling between these two countries. What a burlesque!
Napoleon's motto was "Everything for the French people." He seems to have predicted that after his death they would require his "ashes" to tranquillise an enraged people. Of the other contracting party he says in the fifth paragraph of his will:—"I die prematurely, assassinated by the English oligarchy and its deputy; the English nation will not be slow in avenging me."
Well, it is requested that his ashes shall be given up to France so that peace may prevail. And now follows the great act of condescension:—
"MY LORD,—Her Majesty's Government having taken into consideration the request made by the French Government for an authorisation to remove the remains of the Emperor Napoleon from St. Helena to France, you are instructed to inform M. Thiers that Her Majesty's Government will with pleasure accede to the request. Her Majesty's Government entertains hopes that its readiness to comply with the wish expressed will be regarded in France as a proof of Her Majesty's desire to efface every trace of those national animosities which, during the life of the Emperor, engaged the two nations in war. Her Majesty's Government feels pleasure in believing that such sentiments, if they still exist, will be buried for ever in the tomb destined to receive the mortal remains of Napoleon. Her Majesty's Government, in concert with that of France, will arrange the measures necessary for effecting the removal.
One of the chief features of this State document is its veiled condition that in consideration of H.B.M. Government giving up the remains of Napoleon, it is to be understood that every trace of national animosity is to be effaced. Another is, now that his mortal remains are in question, he is styled "the Emperor Napoleon." Twenty-five years before, when the atrocious crime of captivity was planned, Lord Keith, in the name of the British Government, addressed a communication to "General Bonaparte." The title of Emperor which his countrymen had given to him was, until his death, officially ignored, and he was only allowed to be styled "General" Bonaparte—the rank which the British Government in that hour of his misfortune thought best suited to their illustrious captive. He was, in fact, so far as rank was concerned, to be put on a level with some and beneath others who followed him into captivity. Well might he "protest in the face of Heaven and mankind against the violence that was being enacted" towards him. Well might he appeal to history to avenge him. There is nothing in history to equal the malignancy of the conquerors' treatment of their fallen foe. We shall see now and hereafter prejudices making way, reluctantly it may be, but surely, for the justice that should be done him.
Three days after the gracious reply of the British Government, May 20, 1840, the French King signified his desire to carry out the wishes of the Chambers by putting the following document before them:—
"GENTLEMEN,—The King has commanded Prince Joinville [his son] to repair with his frigate to the island of St. Helena, there to receive the mortal remains of the Emperor Napoleon. The frigate containing the remains of Napoleon will present itself, on its return, at the mouth of the Seine; another vessel will convey them to Paris; they will be deposited in the Hospital of the Invalides. Solemn ceremonies, both religious and military, will inaugurate the tomb which is to retain them for ever. It is of importance, gentlemen, that this august sepulture should not be exposed on a public place, amidst a noisy and unheeding crowd. The remains must be placed in a silent and sacred spot, where all those who respect glory and genius, greatness and misfortune, may visit them in reverential tranquillity.
"He was an Emperor and a King, he was the legitimate sovereign of our country, and, under this title, might be interred at St. Denis; but the ordinary sepulture of kings must not be accorded to Napoleon; he must still reign and command on the spot where the soldiers of France find a resting-place, and where those who are called upon to defend her will always seek for inspiration. His sword will be deposited in his tomb.
"Beneath the dome of the temple consecrated by religion to the God of Armies, a tomb worthy, if possible, of the name destined to be graven on it will be erected. The study of the artist should be to give to this monument a simple beauty, a noble form, and that aspect of solidity which shall appear to brave all the efforts of time. Napoleon must have a monument durable as his memory. The grant for which we have applied to the Chambers is to be employed in the removal of the remains to the Invalides, the funeral obsequies, and the construction of the tomb. We doubt not, gentlemen, that the Chamber will concur with patriotic emotion in the royal project which we have laid before them. Henceforth, France, and France alone, will possess all that remains of Napoleon; his tomb, like his fame, will belong solely to his country.
"The monarchy of 1830 is in fact the sole and legitimate heir of all the recollections in which France prides itself. It has remained for this monarchy, which was the first to rally all the strength and conciliate all the wishes of the French Revolution, to erect and to honour without fear the statue and the tomb of a popular hero; for there is one thing, and one thing alone, which does not dread a comparison with glory, and that is Liberty."
The appeal is generous and just in its conception and beautifully phrased. It was received with enthusiasm throughout the whole of France. Louis Philippe and his Government had accurately gauged what would, more than anything, for the time being, subdue the rumbling indications of discord and revolt. The King had by this popular act caught the imagination of the people. He had made his seat on the throne secure for a time, and his name was immortal. The great mass of the people and his Government were behind him, and he made use of this to his own advantage. Napoleon's dying wish is to be consummated. "The blind hatred of kings" is relaxed; they are no longer afraid of his mortal remains; they see, and see correctly, that if they continue to "pursue his blood" he will be "avenged, nay, but, perchance, cruelly avenged." The old and the new generation of Frenchmen clamour that as much as may be of the stigma that rests upon them shall be removed, threatening reprisals if it be not quickly done. The British Government diplomatically, and with almost comic celerity, gravely drop "the General Bonaparte" and style their dead captive "the Emperor Napoleon."
Louis Philippe, overwhelmed with the greatness of the dead monarch, bursts forth in eloquent praise of this so-called "usurper" of other days. He was not only an Emperor and a King, but the legitimate sovereign of his country. No ordinary sepulture is to be his—it is to be an august sepulture, a silent sacred spot which those who respect glory, genius, and greatness may visit in "reverential tranquillity." Henceforth, by Royal Proclamation, history is to know him as an Emperor and a King. He is to have a tomb as durable as his memory, and his tomb and fame are to belong to his country for evermore. The legitimate heir of Napoleon's glory is the author of one of the finest panegyrics that has ever been written; a political move, if you will, but none the less the document is glowing with the artistic phrasing that appeals to the perceptions of an emotional race.
But the real sincerity was obviously not so much in the author of the document as in the great masses, who were intoxicated with the desire to have the remains of their great hero brought home to the people he had loved so well. It may easily be imagined how superfluously the French King and his Government patted each other on the back in self-adoration for the act of funereal restoration which they took credit for having instituted. If they took too much credit it was only natural. But not an item of what is their due should be taken from them. The world must be grateful to whoever took a part in so noble a deed. At the same time the world will not exonerate the two official contracting parties from being exactly free from interested motives. The one desired to maintain domestic harmony, and this could only be assured by recalling the days of their nation's glory; and the other, i.e., the British Government, had their eye on some Eastern business which Palmerston desired to go smoothly, and so the dead Emperor was made the medium of tranquillity, and, it may be, expediency, in both cases.
In short, Prince Joinville was despatched from Toulon in feverish haste with the frigate Bellespoule and the corvette Favorite. These vessels were piously fitted out to suit the august occasion. Whatever the motives or influences, seen or unseen, that prompted the two Governments to carry out this unquestionable act of justice to the nation, to Napoleon's family, his comrades in arms who were still living, yea, and to all the peoples of the earth who were possessed of humane instincts, yet it is pretty certain that fear of a popular rising suggested the idea, and the genius who thought of the restoration of the Emperor's ashes as a means of subduing the gathering storm may be regarded as a public benefactor.
But be all this as it may, it is doubtful if anything so ludicrously farcical is known to history as the mortal terror of this man's influence, living or dead. The very name of him, animate or inanimate, made thrones rock and Ministers shiver. Such was their terror, that the Allies, as they were called (inspired, as Napoleon believed, by the British Government—and nothing has transpired to disprove his theory) banished him to a rock in mid-ocean, caged him up in a house overrun with rats, put him on strict allowance of rations, and guarded him with warships, a regiment of soldiers with fixed bayonets, and the uneasy spirit of Sir Hudson Lowe.
After six years of unspeakable treatment he is said to have died of cancer in the stomach. Doubtless he did, but it is quite reasonable to suppose that the conditions under which he was placed in an unhealthy climate, together with perpetual petty irritations, brought about premature death, and it is highly probable that the malady might have been prevented altogether under different circumstances. At any rate, he was without disease when Captain Cockburn handed him over, and for some time after. But he knew his own mental and physical make-up; he knew that in many ways he was differently constituted from other men. His habits of life were different, and therefore his gaolers should have been especially careful not to subject this singularly organised man to a poisonous climate and to an unheard-of system of cruelty. Yes, and they would have been well advised had they guarded with greater humanity the fair fame of a great people, and not wantonly committed acts that have left a stigma on the British name.
Sir Walter Scott, who cannot be regarded as an impartial historian of the Napoleonic regime, does not, in his unfortunate "Life of Napoleon," produce one single fact or argument that will exculpate the British Government of that time from having violated every humane law. The State papers so generously put at his disposal by the English Ministry do not aid him in proving that they could not have found a more suitable place or climate for their distinguished prisoner, or that he would have died of cancer anyhow. The object of the good Sir Walter is obvious, and the distressing thing is that this excellent man should have been used for the purpose of whitewashing the British Administration.
The great novelist is assured that the "ex-Emperor" was pre-disposed to the "cruel complaint of which his father died." "The progress of the disease is slow and insidious," says he, which may be true enough, but predisposition can be either checked or accelerated, and the course adopted towards Napoleon was not calculated to retard, but encourage it. But in order to palliate the actions of the British Government and their blindly devoted adherents at St. Helena, Gourgaud, who was not always strictly loyal to his imperial benefactor, is quoted as having stated that he disbelieved in the Emperor's illness, and that the English were much imposed upon.
Why does Scott quote Gourgaud if, as he says, it is probable that the malady was in slow progress even before 1817? The reason is quite clear. He wishes to convey the impression that St. Helena has a salubrious climate, that the Emperor was treated with indulgent courtesy, and had abundance to eat and drink. It will be seen, however, by the records of other chroniclers who were in constant attendance on His Majesty, that Sir Walter Scott's version cannot be relied upon.
If the statements in the annexed letter are true—and there is no substantial reason for doubting them, supported as they are by facts—then it is a complete refutation of what Scott has written as to the health-giving qualities of the island.
Here is the statement of the Emperor's medical adviser (see p. 517, Appendix, vol. ii., "Napoleon in Exile"):—
"The following extract of an official letter transmitted by me to the Lords of the Admiralty, and dated the 28th October, 1818, containing a statement of the vexations inflicted upon Napoleon, will show that the fatal event which has since taken place at St. Helena was most distinctly pointed out by me to His Majesty's Ministers.
"I think it my duty to state, as his late medical attendant, that considering the disease of the liver with which he is afflicted, the progress it has made in him, and reflecting upon the great mortality produced by that complaint in the island of St. Helena (so strongly exemplified in the number of deaths in the 66th Regiment, the St. Helena regiment, the squadron, and Europeans in general, and particularly in His Majesty's ship Conqueror, which ship has lost about one-sixth of her complement, nearly the whole of whom have died within the last eight months), it is my opinion that the life of Napoleon Bonaparte will be endangered by a longer residence in such a climate as that of St. Helena, especially if that residence be aggravated by a continuance of those disturbances and irritations to which he has hitherto been subjected, and of which it is the nature of his distemper to render him peculiarly susceptible.—(Signed) BARRY E. O'MEARA, Surgeon R.N. To John Wilson Croker, Esq., Secretary to the Admiralty."
It is a terrible reflection to think that this note of warning should have gone unheeded. A body of men with a spark of humane feeling would have thrown political exigencies to the winds and defied all the powers of earth and hell to prevent them from at once offering their prisoner a home in the land of a generous people. What had they to fear from a man whose political career ended when he gave himself up to the captain of the Bellerophon, and whose health was now shattered by disease and ill-usage? Had the common people of this nation known all that was being perpetrated in their name, the Duke of Wellington and all his myrmidons could not have withstood the revolt against it, and were such treatment to be meted out to a political prisoner of our day, the wrath of the nation might break forth in a way that would teach tyrants a salutary lesson.
But this great man was at the mercy of a lot of little men. They were too cowardly to shoot him, so they determined on a cunning dastardly process of slow assassination. The pious bard who sings the praises of Napoleon's executioners—Wellington and his coadjutors—and whose "History" was unworthy of the reputations of himself and his publishers, will have sunk into oblivion when the fiery soul of the "Sultan Kebir" will seize on the imagination of generations yet unborn, and intoxicate them with the memory of the deeds that he had done.
Napoleon has said, "In the course of time, nothing will be thought so fine nor seize the attention so much as the doing of justice to me. I shall gain ground every day on the minds of the people. My name will become the star of their rights, it will be the expression of their regrets." This statement is as prophetic as many others, more or less important, made by Napoleon to one or other of his suite. It is remarkable how accurately he foretold events and the impressions that would be formed of himself.
Had the warning given so frequently to Sir Hudson Lowe been conveyed to his Government, and had they acted upon it, there is little doubt that a change of climate would have prolonged the Emperor's life. But in going over those dreary nauseous documents which relate the tale, one becomes permeated with the belief that the intention was to torture, if not to kill. Dr. Antommarchi, who succeeded Dr. O'Meara as medical attendant to the Emperor, confirms all that O'Meara had conveyed so frequently to the Governor and to the Admiralty. The Council sent for him to give them information as to the climate of St. Helena. They express the opinion that at Longwood it is "good." Antommarchi replies, "Horrible," "Cold," "Hot," "Dry," "Damp," "Variation of atmosphere twenty times in a day." "But," said they, "this had no influence on General Bonaparte's health," and the blunt reply of Antommarchi is flung at them, "It sent him to his grave." "But," came the question, "what would have been the consequences of a change of residence?" "That he would still be living," said Antommarchi. The dialogue continues, the doctor scoring heavily all the way through. At length one of the Council becomes offended at his daring frankness, and blurts forth in "statesmanlike" anger: "What signifies, after all, the death of General Bonaparte? It rids us of an implacable enemy."
This noble expression of opinion was given three days after George IV. had deplored the death of Napoleon. It is not of much consequence, except to confirm the belief of the French that the death-warrant had been issued. The popular opinion at the time when the Emperor gave himself up to the British was that had he come in contact with George IV. the great tragedy would not have happened.
We are not, however, solely dependent on what the two doctors have said concerning the cause of his untimely demise. All those who knew anything about Longwood, from the common sailor or soldier upwards, were aware of the baneful nature of its climate. Counts Las Cases, Montholon, and Bertrand had each represented it to the righteous Sir Hudson Lowe as being deadly to the health of their Emperor. Discount their statements as you will, the conviction forces itself upon you that their contentions are in the main, if not wholly, reliable.
But the climate, trying and severe as it was, cannot be entirely blamed for killing him, though it did the best part of it. Admiral Sir George Cockburn, while he acted as Governor, seems to have caused occasional trouble to the French by the unnecessary restrictions put upon them, but by the accounts given he was not unkindly disposed. He showed real anxiety to make the position as agreeable to them as he could, and no doubt used his judgment instead of carrying out to the letter the cast-iron instructions given to him by Bathurst. The Emperor spoke of him as having the heart of a soldier, and regretted his removal to give place to Sir Hudson Lowe, who arrived in the Phaeton on April 14, 1816.
The new Governor's rude, senseless conduct on the occasion of his first visit to Longwood indicated forebodings of trouble. He does not appear to have had the slightest notion of how to behave, or that he was about to be introduced to a man who had completely governed the destinies of Europe for twenty years. Napoleon with his eagle eye and penetrating vision measured the man's character and capabilities at a glance. He said to his friends, "That man is malevolent; his eye is that of a hyena." Subsequent events only intensified this belief.
Perhaps the best that can be said of Lowe is that he possessed distorted human intelligence. He was amiable when he pleased, a good business man, so it is said, and the domestic part of his life has never been assailed; but it would be a libel on all decency to say that he was suited to the delicate and responsible post he was sent to fulfil. In fact, all his actions prove him to have been without an atom of tact, judgment, or administrative quality, and his nature had a big unsympathetic flaw in it. The fact is, there are indications that his nature was warped from the beginning, and that he was just the very kind of man who ought never to have been sent to a post of such varied responsibilities. His appointment shows how appallingly ignorant or wicked the Government, or Bathurst, were in their selection of him.
He was a monomaniac pure and simple. If they thought him best suited to pursue a policy of vindictiveness, then their choice was perfect, though it was a violation of all moral law. If, on the other hand, they were not aware of his unsuitableness, they showed either carelessness or incapacity which will rank them beneath mediocrity, and by their act they stamped the English name with ignominy. And yet there is a pathos at the end of it all when he was brought to see the cold, inanimate form of the dead monarch. He was seized with fear, smitten with the dread of retribution, and exclaimed to Montholon, "His death is my ruin."
Forsyth has done his utmost to justify the actions of Hudson Lowe, but no one can read his work without feeling that the historian was conscious all through of an abortive task. He reproduces in vain the instructions and correspondence between Lowe and his Government, and the letters and conversations with Napoleon and members of his household, and deduces from these that the Governor could not have acted otherwise than in the manner he did. It is easy to twist words used either in conversations or letters into meanings which they were never intended to convey, but there are too many evidences of cold-blooded outbursts of tyrannical intent to be set aside, and these make it impossible to regard Sir Hudson Lowe in any other light than that of a petty little despot.
He had ability of a kind. Napoleon said he was eminently suited to "command bandits or deserters," and tells him in that memorable verbal conversation which arose through Lowe requesting that 200,000 francs per annum should be found as a contribution towards the expenses at Longwood: "I have never heard your name mentioned except as a brigand chief. You never suffer a day to pass without torturing me with your insults." This undoubtedly was a bitter attack, and the plainspoken words used must have wounded Lowe intensely. Probably Napoleon himself, on reflection, thought them too severe, even though they may be presumed to be literally true, and it may be taken for granted that they would never have been uttered but for the spiteful provocation.
A more discerning man would have foreseen that he could not treat a great being like the late Emperor of the French as though he were a Corsican brigand without having to pay a severe penalty. An ordinary prisoner might have submitted with amiable resignation to the disciplinary methods which, to the oblique vision of Sir Hudson Lowe, seemed to be necessary, but to treat the Emperor as though he were in that category was a perversion of all decency, and no one but a Hudson Lowe would have attempted it. It is quite certain that the dethroned arbiter of Europe never, in his most exalted period, treated any of his subordinates with such airs of majesty as St. Helena's Governor adopted towards him.
Lowe seems to have had an inherent notion that the position in which he was placed entitled him to pursue a policy of unrelenting severity, and that homage should be paid as his reward. He thirsted for respect to be shown himself, and was amazed at the inordinate ingratitude of the French in not recognising his amiable qualities. It was his habit to remind them that but for his clemency in carrying out the instructions of Bathurst and those who acted with him, their condition could be made unendurable. He was incapable of grasping the lofty personality of the persecuted guest of England.
The popular, though erroneous, idea that Napoleon was, and ever had been, a beast of prey, fascinated him; his days were occupied in planning out schemes of closer supervision, and his nights were haunted with the vision of his charge smashing down every barrier he had racked his intellect to construct, and then vanishing from the benevolent custody of his saintly Government to again wage sanguinary war and spill rivers of blood. The awful presentiment of escape and the consequences of it were ever lacerating his uneasy spirit, and thus he never allowed himself to be forgotten; restrictions impishly vexatious were ordered with monotonous regularity. Napoleon aptly described Lowe as "being afflicted with an inveterate itch."
Montholon, in vol. i. p. 184, relates how Lowe would often leap out of bed in the middle of the night, after dreaming of the Emperor's flight, mount his horse and ride, like a man demented, to Longwood, only to be assured by the officer on duty that all was well and that the smitten hero was still his prisoner. When Napoleon was told of these nocturnal visitations, he was overcome with mirth, but at the same time filled with contempt, not alone for this amazing specimen, but for the creatures who had created him a dignitary.
The tragic farce of sending the Emperor to the poisonous plateau of Longwood, and giving Lowe Plantation House with its much more healthy climate to reside at, is a phenomenon which few people who have made themselves conversant with all the facts and circumstances will be able to understand. But the policy of this Government, of whom the Scottish bard sings so rapturously, is a problem that can never be solved.
To a wise body of men, and in view of the fact that the eyes of the world were fixed upon them and on the vanquished man, their prisoner, the primary thought would have been compassion, even to indulgence; instead of which they and their agents behaved as though they were devoid of humane feelings.
Lowe's ambition seems to have been to ignore propriety, and to force his way to the Emperor's privacy in order that he might assure himself that his charge had not escaped, but his ambition and his heroics were calmly and contemptuously ignored. "Tell my gaoler," said Napoleon to his valet Noverras, "that it is in his power to change his keys for the hatchet of the executioner, and that if he enters, it shall be over a corpse. Give me my pistols," and it is said by Montholon, to whom the Emperor was dictating at the time of the intrusion, that Sir Hudson heard this answer and retired confounded. The ultimatum dazed him, but he was forced to understand that beyond a certain limit, heroics, fooleries, and impertinences would not be tolerated by this terrible scavenger of European bureaucracy. Lowe, in very truth, discerned the stern reality of the Emperor's piercing words, and he felt the need of greater caution bearing down on him. He pondered over these grave developments as he journeyed back to Plantation House, there to concoct and dispatch with all speed a tale that would chill his confederates at St. Stephen's with horror, and give them a further opportunity of showing how wise they were in their plan of banishment and rigid precautions, and in their selection of so distinguished and dauntless a person as Sir Hudson Lowe, on whom they implicitly relied to carry out their Christlike benefactions.
Cartoonists, pamphleteers, Bourbonites, treasonites, meteoric females, all were supplied with the requisite material for declamatory speeches to be hurled at the Emperor in the hope of being reaped to the glory of God and the British ministry. The story of the attempted invasion of Longwood and its sequel shocks the fine susceptibilities of the satellites by whom Lowe is surrounded. They bellow out frothy words of vengeance. Sir Thomas Reade, the noisiest filibuster of them all, indicates his method of settling matters at Longwood. This incident arose through Napoleon refusing to see Sir Thomas Strange, an Indian Judge. Las Cases had just been forcibly removed. The Emperor was feeling the cruelty of this act very keenly, so he sent the following reply to Lowe's request that he should see Sir Thomas: "Tell the Governor that those who have gone down to the tomb receive no visits, and take care that the Judge be made acquainted with my answer." This cutting reply caused Sir Hudson to give way to unrestrained anger, and now Sir Thomas Reade gets his chance of vapouring. Here is his plan: "If I were Governor, I would bring that dog of a Frenchman to his senses; I would isolate him from all his friends, who are no better than himself; then I would deprive him of his books. He is, in fact, nothing but a miserable outlaw, and I would treat him as such. By G—! it would be a great mercy to the King of France to rid him of such a fellow altogether. It was a piece of great cowardice not to have sent him at once to a court martial instead of sending him here."
This ebullition of spasmodic courage entitles the Deputy-Adjutant-General to special mention in the dispatches of his chief. O'Meara relates another of many episodes with which the valiant Sir Thomas is associated. Further attempts were made to violate the privacy of the Emperor on the 11th, 12th, 13th, and 16th August, 1819, but these were defeated by the fastening of doors. Count Montholon was indisposed, and the Governor, refusing to correspond with Count Bertrand, insisted upon having communication with the Emperor by letter or by one of his officers twice a day. So the immortal Sir Thomas Reade and another staff officer were selected to effect a communication. But "the dog of a Frenchman" that the deputy boasted of "bringing to his senses" refuses admittance, and Sir Thomas, who has now got his opportunity, evidently has some misgivings about the loaded pistols that are kept handy in case of an emergency. The Emperor, in one of his slashing dictated declarations which hit home with every biting sentence, reminds the Governor again what the inevitable result will be should indecorous liberty be taken. Sir Thomas would be made aware of this danger, so contents himself by knocking at the door and shouting at the top of his voice: "Come out, Napoleon Bonaparte. We want Napoleon Bonaparte."
This grotesque incident, which is only one of many and worse outrages that were hatched at Plantation House, reflects a lurid light on the delirium of antagonism that pervaded the dispositions of some of England's representatives. The hysterical delight of manufacturing annoyances was notorious on the island, and Sir Hudson and his myrmidons shrieked with resentment when dignified defiance was the only response.
Lowe failed to recognise the important ethical fact that a person who acts a villainous part can never realise his villainy. So oblivious was he of this fundamental law that he never ceased to assure the exiles that he was not only good, but kind. Here is a note that bears out this self-consciousness: "General Bonaparte cannot be allowed to traverse the island freely. Had the only question been that of his safety, a mere commission of the East India Company would have been sufficient to guard him at St. Helena. He may consider himself fortunate that my Government has sent a man so kind as myself to guard him, otherwise he would be put in chains, to teach him how to conduct himself better."
To this the Emperor answered: "In this case it is obvious that, if the instructions given to Sir Hudson Lowe by Lords Bathurst and Castlereagh do not contain an order to kill me, a verbal order must have been given; for whenever people wish mysteriously to destroy a man, the first thing they do is to cut him off from all communication with society, and surround him with the shades of mystery, till, having accustomed the world to hear nothing said of him, and to forget him, they can easily torture him or make him disappear."
What a dreadful indictment this is against Bathurst, Castlereagh, and Lowe, and how difficult to think of these men at the same time as of Napoleon, whose name had kept the world in awe! Surely their dwarfed names and those of all the allied traitors and conspirators will pass on down the ages subjects for mockery and derision, while his shall still tower above everything unto all time. His faults will be obscured by the magnificence of his powerful and beneficent reign, and overshadowed by pity for his unspeakable martyrdom.
But what of the Commissioners representing Russia, Austria, Prussia, and the Most Christian King of France? How shall they fare at the hands of posterity? Their crime will not be that they acquiesced in being sent to St. Helena by their respective Governments, but that they allowed themselves to be completely cajoled and influenced by the crafty allurements of Lowe. The representative of Austria is said to have been a mere cipher in his hands, while the attention of Count Balmin was wholly taken up in making love to Miss Johnson, the eldest daughter of Lady Lowe by a former marriage. He eventually married her and became one of the family. This young lady's charm of character and goodness had captured the affections of the Longwood colony, and her tender solicitude for the sorrows of the Emperor caused him to form an attachment for her which was evidenced by his gracious attentions whenever she came to Longwood.
The Marquis de Montchenu (who on landing at St. Helena found himself in the midst of a group of officers attending on Sir Hudson, and called out, "For the love of God, tell me if any of you speak French") is not much heard of in his official capacity. Afterwards he appears to have been enamoured of the Governor's good dinners, but though he was always hospitable, kind, and glad to see his compatriots at his breakfast table, the Emperor never would receive him, though he always showed appreciation of his promptitude in forwarding to him French papers or books. The Marquis would naturally find it difficult to assert himself when he heard of the wrongs committed by his host.
The restrictions imposed on the Emperor were by this time having an ominous effect. O'Meara reported that this was so, and the Commissioners, whose instructions from their Governments were merely formal, thought it their duty to bestir themselves, and requested the Governor to remove the causes in so far as it was "compatible with the security of his person," lest the result from want of exercise should be of serious consequences to his health. Sir Hudson was angry at the turn affairs were taking, as the Commissioners had always accommodated themselves to his plans. He found, however, that in this instance humanity had been aroused, and as it would not suit his purpose to run against his hitherto complacent friends, he thinks to appease their anxiety in the following extraordinary manner:—
"I am about to arrange in such a way as to allow him to take horse exercise. I have no wish that he should die of an attack of apoplexy—that would be very embarrassing both to me and to my Government. I would much rather he should die of a tedious disease which our physicians could properly declare to be natural. Apoplexy furnishes too many grounds for comment."
This insensate mockery of a man is always asserting himself in some detestable fashion or other.
At one time his benighted mind would swagger him into droll ideas of attempting to chastise his Imperial prisoner, at another, his childish fear of the consequences of his chastisement was pathetic, and when one droll farce after another broke down, he shielded himself with manifestations of aggrieved virtue.
The Emperor received Lord Amherst, who was a man of some human feeling, and the noble lord offered to convey to the precious Prince Regent certain messages. Then Napoleon, aroused by the recollection of the perfidy which was causing him such infinite suffering, declared that neither his King nor his nation had any right over him. "Your country," he exclaims, "sets an example of twenty millions of men oppressing one individual." With prophetic utterance he foreshadows "a terrible war hatched under the ashes of the Empire." Nations are to avenge the ingratitude of the Kings whom he "crowned and pardoned." And then, as though his big soul had sickened at the thought of it all, he exclaims, "Inform your Prince Regent that I await as a favour the axe of the executioner." Lord Amherst was deeply affected, and promised to tell of all his sufferings and indignities to the Regent, and also to speak to the saintly Lowe thereon. "Useless," interjects the Emperor; "crime, hatred, is his nature. It is necessary to his enjoyment to torture me. He is like the tiger, who tears with his claws the prey whose agonies he takes pleasure in prolonging." The audience then closes and the sordid tragedy continues.
The Commissioners are to have bulletins, but no communication with the Imperial abode. O'Meara is asked to prepare inspired bulletins, and to report what he hears and learns from the Emperor, and in a general way act the spy. He refused, and as Lowe required willing tools, not honest men, he was ultimately banished from the island. The Emperor embraces him, bestows his benediction, and gives him credentials of the highest order, together with messages of affection to members of his family and to the accommodating Marie Louise, who is now mistress to the Austrian Count Neipperg. He is charged to convey kindly thoughts of esteem and gratitude to the good Lady Holland for all her kindness to him. The King of Rome is tenderly remembered, and O'Meara is asked to send intelligence as to the manner of his education. A message is entrusted to him for Prince Joseph, who is to give to O'Meara the private and confidential letters of the Emperors Alexander and Francis, the King of Prussia, and the other sovereigns of Europe. He then thanks O'Meara for his care of him and bids him "quit the abode of darkness and crime."
Before O'Meara left the island, news of the diabolical treatment of the Emperor had filtered through to Europe in spite of Lowe's precautions. The Edinburgh Review had published several articles exposing the Governor's conduct, and when these were delivered at St. Helena (addressed to Longwood) a great commotion arose at Plantation House. Reade had orders to buy every one of the obnoxious publications, but determined men of talent are not easily thwarted in their object, especially if it is a good one, so the Governor had the mortification of seeing himself outwitted. O'Meara was confronted and charged with securing for Montholon the objectionable Edinburgh Review. The articles gave the Emperor great pleasure, and when this was made known to Lowe it was intolerable to him. O'Meara gets official notice to quit on July 25, 1818.
Napoleon thought it a bold stroke on the part of the British Ministers (whom he regarded, and spoke quite openly of, as assassins) to force his physician from him. The doctor took the precaution to reveal the place of concealment of his journal to Montholon, who found a way of having it sent to him in England. This document was read to the Emperor, who had several errors corrected, which do not appear to have been of great importance, except one that had reference to the shooting of the Duc d'Enghien.
On the day following his exit from Longwood O'Meara sent a report on the exile's illness and his treatment thereof. The report is an alarming account of the health of the Emperor, who, notwithstanding, is deprived of medical aid for months. He justly adhered to the determination of having none other than his own medical attendant. Lowe sees in this very reasonable request a subtle attempt at planning escape, and will not concede it. An acrimonious correspondence then takes place. Letters sent to him by Montholon or Bertrand are returned because Napoleon is styled Emperor. Montholon in turn imitates Lowe, and returns his on the ground of incivility, and it must be admitted the French score off him each time.
Lowe whines to Montholon that Bertrand calls him a fool to the Commissioners, and accuses him of collecting all the complaints he can gather together, so that he may have them published. The newspapers, particularly the Edinburgh Review, have slashing articles holding him up to ridicule and denouncing him as an "assassin." He whimpers that it is very hard that he, who pays every attention and regard for the Emperor's feelings, should be pursued and made the victim of calumnies. These expressions of unctuous pharisaism are coldly received by the French, who ask no favours but claim justice. Their thoughts are full of the wrongs perpetrated on the great man who is the object of their attachment and pity. They will listen to none of Lowe's canting humbug. They see incontestable evidences of the Destroyer enfolding his arms around the hero who had thrilled the nations of the world with his deeds. Their souls throb with fierce emotion at the agony caused by the venomously malignant tyranny. The meanest privileges of humanity are denied him, and if they plotted in order that the world might learn of the hideous oppression, who, with a vestige of holy pity in him, will deny that their motive was laudable? Let critics say what they will, these devoted followers of a fallen and sorely stricken chief are an example of imperishable loyalty. They had their differences, their petty jealousies, and at times bemoaned their hard fate, and this oft-times caused the Emperor to quickly rebuke them.
Gourgaud was the Peter of the family, and a great source of trouble. He may justly be accused at times of lapsing into disloyalty. He was guilty both on the island and after his arrival in England of committing the same fault, but in this latter instance he may have had a purpose, as he was asking favours from men who were bitterly hostile to his benefactor. He knew they would be glad to hear anything from so important an authority as would in any degree justify their action. Gourgaud, in fact, was more knave than fool, as his subsequent beseeching appeals on behalf of Napoleon to Marie Louise and other personages in France very clearly prove.
But take these men and women as a whole, view the circumstances and conditions of life on this rock of vile memory, inquire as minutely as you may into their conduct, and you see, towering above all, that their supreme interest is centred on him whom they voluntarily followed into exile. He is their ideal of human greatness, their friend, and their Emperor.
They view Sir Hudson Lowe as they would a distracted phenomenon. The introduction of new and frivolous vexations is occasionally ignored or looked upon with despairing amusement. At other times, when their master's rights, dignity, and matchless personality are assailed, they resent it with fierce impulse, and this gives Lowe further opportunities of reminding them of his goodness. But during the long, weary years of incessant provocation, criminal retaliation was never thought of except on one occasion, when some new arbitrary rules were put in force.
Santini, a Corsican, and one of the domestics, brooded over his master's wrongs. He was generally of a cheerful temperament, but since the new regulations were enforced it had been noticed that his whole disposition had changed. He became thoughtful and dejected, and one day made known to Cipriani his deliberate intention to shoot the Governor the first time he came to Longwood. Cipriani used all his influence to dissuade him from committing so rash an act, and finding that Santini was immovable, he reported the matter to Napoleon, who had the devoted keeper of his portfolio brought to him, and commanded him as his Emperor to cease thinking of injuring Sir Hudson. It took the Emperor some time to persuade Santini, and when he did give his promise it was with marked reluctance. Santini is spoken of as being as brave as a lion, an expert with the small sword, and a deadly shot. He was subsequently sent off the island, the Emperor granting him a pension of L50 per annum.
Santini was the only one who refused to sign a document put forward by Lowe in which all the officers and domestics pledged themselves to conform to the new regulations, which were, as usual, senseless and severe. They insisted on the words "Emperor Napoleon" being inserted, but Lowe, with inherent stupid pleasure, would have none other than the words "Napoleon Bonaparte," and the penalty for refusing to sign was banishment from the island. Sir Hudson got it into his malevolent brain that he had pinned them at last. He affirmed that their reason for not signing what they pretended was their Emperor's and their own degradation was to give an excuse for being "sent off." Whereupon, as soon as the Governor's crafty insinuations became known, they all signed except Santini, who refused to have Napoleon described by any other term than that of Emperor.
Santini's loyalty to his illustrious master cost him the anguish of being torn from his service and sent to the Cape of Good Hope in the English frigate Orontes. He stayed there a few days, but returned almost immediately to St. Helena. He was not, however, allowed to land; and, having spent some days at the anchorage, sailed on February 25, 1817, for England.
These refractory captives of the British authorities seem to have been a source of great perplexity to them, to say nothing of the cost to the nation caused by the hopeless incapacity displayed in dealing with them. The business grows so farcical that the English guardians become the laughing-stock of the most menial creatures on the island.
Immediately on his arrival in London Santini issued a touching appeal to the British people, laying naked the St. Helena atrocities, the main facts of which have never been contradicted. Any exaggerations which may appear in the pamphlet, coming as they do from a soldier whose adoration for his Emperor amounted to fanaticism, may be excused; but, whatever his faults, the ugly facts remain unshaken.
There is no evidence in all the voluminous publications concerning Napoleon at St. Helena that there would have been a shred of mourning put on by the best men and women of any nationality residing on this inhospitable rock had Santini or any one else despatched the petty tyrant who was carrying on a nefarious assassination by the consent, if not the instructions, of an equally nefarious Ministry. Perhaps his Imperial victim would have been the only person outside his family and official circle who would have deplored the act. It is pretty generally admitted that Lowe was detested by all classes who knew of the villainous methods adopted by him to give pain to Napoleon and to any one who showed the slightest sympathy towards him.
Letters from and to his wife, "the amiable Austrian Archduchess," his mother, and other members of his family, were not allowed to pass unless scrutinised and commented upon by this insatiable gaoler. Letters written to the Ministry and to well-disposed public men outside it were not forwarded, on the pretext that the title of Emperor was used. A marble bust of the Emperor's son was brought to St. Helena by T.M. Radowich, master gunner aboard the ship Baring. It was taken possession of by the authorities, and had been in Lowe's hands for some days when he intimated to Count Bertrand that, though it was against the regulations, he would take upon himself to hand over some presents sent out by Lady Holland and some left by Mr. Manning. A more embarrassing matter was the handing over of the bust. The mystery and comic absurdity of some Government officials of that time, or even of this, is amazing.
Lowe's dull perceptions had been awakened. He realised that he might be accused of having committed an exceedingly dirty trick. He thinks it in keeping with the dignity of his high office to become uneasy about the retention of these articles, especially the statue of the King of Rome. So with unconscious humour he asks the Count if he thinks Napoleon would really like to have his son's bust. The Count replies, "You had better send it this very evening, and not detain it until to-morrow." Lowe is aggrieved at the coldness of the reply. He presumably expected Bertrand to gush out torrents of gratitude. But the French code of real good taste and humane bearing put Sir Hudson Lowe beneath their contempt. To them he had become indescribable.
To all those who had access to Napoleon, the burning love he had for his son was well known, and in one of those outbursts of passionate anguish he declares to the Countess of Montholon that it was for him alone that he returned from Elba, and if he still formed some expectations in exile, they were for him also. He declares that he is the source of his greatest anguish, and that every day he costs him tears of blood. He imagines to himself the most horrid events, which he cannot remove from his mind. He sees either the potion or the empoisoned fruit which is about to terminate the days of the young innocent by the most cruel sufferings, and then, after this pouring out of the innermost soul, he pleads with Madame to compassionate his weakness, and asks her to console him.
This learned warrior-statesman was also a poet, and but for the solitude of exile we should probably never have seen that side of this versatile nature. The lines which he writes to the portrait of his son are painfully touching. For some reason they were kept concealed, and found some time afterwards. Here they are, but the English translation does not do them justice:—
Delightful image of my much-loved boy! Behold his eyes, his looks, his smile! No more, alas! will he enkindle joy, Nor on some kindlier shore my woes beguile.
My son! my darling son! wert thou but here, My bosom should receive thy lovely form; Thou'dst soothe my gloomy hours with converse dear, Serenely we'd behold the lowering storm.
I'd be the partner of thine infant cares, And pour instruction o'er thy expanding mind, Whilst in thy heart, in my declining years, My wearied soul should an asylum find.
My wrongs, my cares, should be forgot with thee, My power Imperial, dignities, renown— This rock itself would be a heaven to me, Thine arms more cherished than the victor's crown.
O! in thine arms, my son! I could forget that fame Shall give me, through all time, a never-dying name.
Here is another version of the same thoughts:—
TO THE PORTRAIT OF MY SON.
O! cherished image of my infant heir! Thy surface does his lineaments impart: But ah! thou liv'st not—on this rock so bare His living form shall never glad my heart.
My second self! how would thy presence cheer The settled sadness of thy hapless sire! Thine infancy with tenderness I'd rear, And thou shouldst warm my age with youthful fire.
In thee a truly glorious crown I'd find, With thee, upon this rock, a heaven should own, Thy kiss would chase past conquests from my mind Which raised me, demi-god, on Gallia's throne.
Perhaps the Emperor did not wish to show all the anguish by which he was being hourly devoured, but who can read these lines now without a pang of emotion? The overpowering conviction that his much-loved boy would be destroyed haunted him. Many people to this day believe that he was right, and that his son's health was sedulously undermined. But if that be so, the Imperial House of Austria will have to answer for it through all eternity. Napoleon knew that this much-treasured bust was at Plantation House, and said to O'Meara, if it had not been given up he would have told a tale which would have made the mothers of England execrate Lowe as a monster in human shape.
But the Governments of Europe, as well as individuals, were spending vast sums of money on pamphleteering, and probably those who wrote the worst libels were the most highly paid. Therefore the women of England and of other countries were continuously having their minds saturated with poisonous statements. Many of them firmly believed Napoleon to be the anti-Christ, and it is only now that the world is beginning to see through the gigantic plot.
It was stated that the bust had been executed at Leghorn by order of the faithless Marie Louise. In Hooper's "Life of Wellington," the statement that "she was grateful to the Duke for winning Waterloo, because in 1815 she had a lover who afterwards became her husband, and she was not in a condition to return with safety to her Imperial spouse," is hard to believe. This mother of the son the poet-Emperor sings about was deriving pleasure in playing cards for napoleons with the Duke who was regarded by her husband as one of his most determined executioners. Her supposed connection with the statue naturally gave it a larger interest, so the Emperor expressed a desire to see the gunner, and ordered Bertrand to get permission for him to visit Longwood.
The Governor, after examining the gunner on oath, and having had him carefully searched, gave him leave to see Napoleon, but Captain Poppleton was ordered not to allow him to speak to the French unless in his presence. This arbitrary condition was resented with quiet, scornful dignity, and the gunner was asked to withdraw. It is hard to believe that a man could be so perversely crooked as Sir Hudson Lowe. How human it was for the exile to long to hear a message from the lips of one who was credited with having seen and spoken to the mother of his son, and how inhuman of Lowe to put any obstacles in the way of his desire being gratified!
The incident became common talk, and in proportion to its circulation, so did Lowe's reputation suffer. It is questionable whether he could have found any one unfeeling enough on the island to justify so despicable an act, except perhaps Sir Thomas Reade, whose baseness in this and other transactions cannot be adequately described, and whose nature seems to have been ingrained with the daily thought of achieving distinction by excelling his master in some form of cruelty.
It is a piteous reflection to think of these two plants of grace, the one at all times imbued with the idea of some sanguinary plan of punishment, while the other varied the plan of his doubtful transactions, at the same time telling the exiles that he was actuated by the sweetest and purest of motives.
In contrast to Lowe and Reade, the chroniclers speak in the highest praise of Major Gorriquer. The officers and soldiers of the garrison, as well as the men of the navy, extended their touching sympathy to the hero who described his imprisonment as being worse than "Tamerlane's iron cage." Captain Maitland, in his narrative, relates a story which indicates the magnetic power of this great soldier. Maitland was anxious to know what his men thought of Napoleon, so he asked his servant, who told him that he had heard several of them talking about him, and one of them had observed, "Well, they may abuse that man as much as they please; but if the people of England knew him as well as we do, they would not hurt a hair of his head." To which the others agreed.
There are many instances recorded where sailors ran the risk of being shot in order that they might get a glimpse of him, and there is little doubt the poor gunner-messenger was subjected to inimitable moral lectures on the sin and pains and penalties of having any communication whatsoever with the ungentle inhabitants of Longwood. This good-hearted fellow was as carefully shadowed as though he had been commissioned to carry the Emperor off. Lowe was infected with the belief that he had some secret designs, and if he were not kept under close supervision he might take to sauntering on his own account and really have some talk with the French, and then what might happen? This episode was brought to a close by the Emperor directing that a kind letter should be written to the enterprising sailor, and that a draft for L300 should be enclosed. O'Meara says, "By means of some unworthy trick he did not receive it for nearly two years."
The reason so much is made of the bust affair is accounted for as follows:—
Lowe, on first hearing of it being landed, intended to have it seized and thrown into the sea. He afterwards took possession of the article, with the idea of making Napoleon a present of it himself. This idea did not pan out as he expected, and in consequence of public indignation running so high, he had the bust sent to Longwood immediately after his conversation with Bertrand. While Las Cases was waiting at Mannheim in the hope that the pathetic appeals he had made to the sovereigns on behalf of Napoleon would bring to him a favourable decision, the Dalmatian gunner heard of him. He was passing through Germany to his home after a fruitless attempt in London to get the money Napoleon had enclosed in his letter. The reason given was that the persons on whom it was drawn were not then in possession of the necessary funds. Las Cases paid him, and received his appropriate blessings for his goodness. Imprecations against Lowe were lavishly bestowed by the gunner. He had been prevented from landing at St. Helena on his way back from India, and but for this spiteful act of Lowe's the money would have been paid at once.
Meanwhile the touching appeals of Las Cases to the sovereigns were unheeded. Even Napoleon's father-in-law, the Emperor of Austria, who had given his daughter in marriage to the arbiter of Europe, did not deign to reply, though only a brief time before he had received many tokens of magnanimity from the French Emperor. So, indeed, had other kings and queens of that time, not excluding Alexander of Russia; but more hereafter about these monarchs who had once clamoured for the honour of alliances with Napoleon and with his family, but who now were conspirators in the act of a great assassination.
Some three years before, Lord Keith was horrified when Captain Maitland informed him on board the Bellerophon, in Torbay, that the Duke of Rovigo, Lallemand, Montholon, and Gourgaud had said that their Emperor would not go to St. Helena, and if he were to consent, they would prevent it, meaning that they would end his existence rather than witness any further degradation of him. Lord Keith is indignant, and replies to Sir Frederick Maitland, "You may tell those gentlemen who have threatened to be Bonaparte's executioners that the law of England awards death to murderers, and that the certain consequence of such an act will be finishing their career on a gallows." Precisely!
The noble lord's fascinating little speech is quite in accord with justice, but did he ever raise a finger to prevent his colleagues and their renowned deputy from committing the same crime at St. Helena, and after this same Bonaparte's demise, were any steps taken to call to account those whom the great soldier had consistently declared were causing his premature death? Lord Keith, with his eyes uplifted to heaven, had said, "England awards death to murderers," and in this we are agreed, but there must be no fine distinction drawn as to who the perpetrators are or their reason for doing it. Whether a person for humanity's sake is despatched by a friendly pistol-shot or the process of six years of refined cruelty, the crime is the same, the only difference being (if life has to be taken) that it is more merciful it should be done expeditiously.
The French revered their Emperor, and could not bear to witness his dire humiliation at the hands of men so infinitely his inferiors, hence the thought of unlawfully ending his existence. On the other hand, members of the British Government were swollen out with haughty righteousness; they regarded themselves as deputies of the Omnipotent. They determined in solemn conclave that the man against whom they had waged war for twenty years, and who was only now beaten by a combination of circumstances, should be put through the ordeal of an inquisition. If he held out long, well and good, but should he succumb to their benign treatment, their faith would be steadfast in their own blamelessness. They were quite unconscious of being an unspeakable brood of hollow, heartless mediocrities. Why did Lord Keith not give them, as he did the devoted Frenchmen, a little sermon on the orthodoxy of the gallows? They were far more in need of his guiding influence.
The British public were deceived by the most malevolent publications. The great captive was made to appear so dangerous an animal that neither soldiers nor sailors could keep him in subjection, and the stories of his misdeeds when at the height of his ravishing glory were spread broadcast everywhere. Nothing, indeed, was base enough for the oligarchy of England and the French Royalists to stoop to.
For a time the flow of wickedness went on unchecked. At last a few good men and women began to speak out the truth, and as though Nature revolted against the scoundrelism that had been and was now being perpetrated, a sharp and swelling reaction came over the public. Men and women began to express the same views as Captain Maitland's sailors had expressed, viz.: "This man cannot be so bad as they make him out to be."
Las Cases had been sent to the Cape, but his journal, containing conversations, dictations, and the general daily life of the exiles since they embarked aboard the Bellerophon, was seized by Lowe, so that he might pry into it with the hope of finding seditious entries. (It may be taken for granted that no eulogy of himself appeared therein.) The poor Count and his son on arrival at the Cape were confined in an unhealthy hovel, and treated more like galley-slaves than human beings. After some weeks of this truly British hospitality under the Liverpool-Bathurst regime he determines to make a last appeal to Lord Charles Somerset, then Governor at the Cape, to be more compassionate. He had been told that nothing but a dog or a horse attracted either his sympathy or his attention, and frankly admits that he found himself in error in thinking so harshly of his lordship, as his appeal met with a prompt and generous response.
The Governor, in fact, expressed his sorrow on learning for the first time of the Count's illness and the conditions under which he was living. He immediately put at his disposal his country residence, servants, and all else that would add to his comfort, and thus earned the eternal gratitude of a much persecuted father and son. Lord Charles Somerset, for this gracious act alone, will rank amongst the good-hearted Englishmen of that troublesome time. It would appear that the Cape Governor's subordinates were entirely responsible for the ill-treatment complained of.
It is a puzzle to know for what purpose this gentleman and his son were detained at the Cape. The Count had frequently pointed out the folly of his detention, and begged Lord Charles to allow them to take their passage in a small brig of 200 tons that was bound to Europe. This request was agreed to, a passport granted, and the captain of the craft that was to be carried "in the sailors' arms" three thousand leagues was given stern instructions that should he touch anywhere, his passengers were to have no communication with the shore, and on reaching England they were not to be allowed to land without receiving orders from the Government.
Whatever other charge may be brought against Las Cases, the lack of courage can never be cited. The act of taking so long a passage in this cockleshell of a vessel is a sure testimony of his devotion and bravery. The food and the accommodation were of the very worst, and though the account given of the low thunder of the waves lashing on the decks is not very sailorly, there can be little doubt that so long a passage could not be made without some startling vicissitudes.
At length, after nearly one hundred days from the Cape, they are safely landed at Dover, and make their way to London to apprise the immortal Bathurst of their arrival and of their desire to see him, so that he might listen to some observations about St. Helena matters. This man of mighty mystery and dignity does not deign to reply, but sends a Ministerial messenger to inform the Count that it is the Prince Regent's pleasure that he quits Great Britain instantly. Las Cases tells the messenger that it is a "very sorry, silly pleasure" for His Royal Highness to have, but he has to quit all the same, as England is now governed by "sorry, silly pleasure." Another batch of papers is taken from him, and he is bundled away to Ostend and from thence to other inhospitable countries, and ultimately lands at Frankfort.
The Count writes many clever, rather long, but disturbing letters to noble lords in England, to members of Governments in other countries, and to every crowned head interested in the little community they have in safe and despotic keeping at St. Helena. He sends a petition to the British Parliament stating in clear, clinching terms another indictment against the British Ministry and their agent. This document was sent from the deserts of Tygerberg, but like much more of a similar kind, not a word was said about it. The author, however, was not to be fooled or driven from the path which he conceived to be his duty to his much wronged Emperor, so the petition was published, and created a great sensation.
This had to be subdued or counteracted, and as the Government were unaccustomed to manly, straightforward dealing, they fell back on their natural method of intrigue and the spreading of reports that were likely to encourage and create prejudice against their captive. It was imputed to them that while the Congress was sitting at Aix-la-Chapelle they got up a scare of a daring plot of escape. This was done at a time when the monarchs were touched with a kind of sympathy for the man who had so often spared them, and whom their cruelty was now putting to death.
No wonder that this Ministry of little men were suspected of tricks degrading and treacherous. The recitals of their distorted versions of their woes affected the public imagination like a dreary litany. Vast communities of men were beginning to realise that a tragedy was being engineered in the name of sanctity and humanity.
Every agency composed of cunning, unscrupulous rascals was enlisted to picture the Emperor as a hideous monster who should not be allowed to enjoy the liberty so charitably given him, and who, if he got his proper deserts, should be put in chains. He was depicted as having a mania for roaming about the island with a gun, shooting wild cats and anything else that came within range. Madame Bertrand's pet kids, a bullock, and some goats were reported to have fallen victims to this vicious maniac. Old Montchenu and Lowe became alarmed lest he should kill some human being by mistake; they perplexed their little minds as to the form of indictment should such an event happen. Should it be manslaughter or murder? This knotty question was submitted with touching solemnity to the law officers of the Crown for decision, and it may be assumed that even their sense of humour must have been excited when they learned of the quandary of the Governor and the French Commissioner. The shooting propensity set the ingenious Lowe a-thinking, and in order to satisfy it he evolved the idea of having rabbits let adrift, but, as usual, another of his little comforting considerations is abortive, and the plan has a tragic finish. Shooting is off. The Emperor's hobby has changed to gardening. The rabbits become an easy prey to the swarms of rats that prowl about Longwood, and soon disappear.
It is quite probable that Napoleon did have a fancy for shooting, but it is well known he was never at any time a sportsman in the sense of being a good shot—indeed, everything points to his having no taste for what is ordinarily known as sport, and that he ever shot kids, goats, or bullocks is highly improbable. That he occasionally went shooting and got good sport in killing the rats and other vermin which made Longwood an insufferable habitation to live in is quite true. It is also quite true that Lowe became demented with fear in case the shooting should have sanguinary and far-reaching effects. Hence the foregoing communication to the law officers.
There is little doubt as to the use that was made of the ludicrous inquiry by Lowe. It must have been handed over to the army of loathsome libellers—men and women who were willing to do the dirtiest of all work, that of writing and speaking lies (some abominable in their character) of a defenceless man, in order that their vindictiveness should be completely satisfied. Vast sums were annually expended for no other purpose than to put their afflicted prisoner through the torture of a living purgatory.
Napoleon did not heed their silly stories of shooting exploits, though he knew the underlying purpose of them. It was the darker, sordid wickedness that was daily practised on him that ate like a canker into mind and body until he was a shattered wreck. It was the foul treatment of this great man that caused Dr. Barry O'Meara to revolt and openly proclaim that the captive of St. Helena was being put to death. As an honourable man he declared he could behold it no longer without making a spirited protest. He knew that this meant banishment, ostracism, and persecution by the Government. He foresaw that powerful agencies would be at work against him, and that no expense would be spared in order that his statements should be refuted, but he hazarded everything and defied the world. He came through the ordeal, as all impartial judges will admit, with cleaner hands and a cleaner tongue than those who challenged his accuracy.
Make what deductions you may, distort and twist as you like the unimportant trivialities, the main facts related by O'Meara have never been really shaken. What is more, he is backed up by Napoleon himself in Lowe's personal interviews with him, and more particularly by his letters to the Governor—to say nothing of the substantial backing he gets from Las Cases, Montholon, Marchand, and Gourgaud—that shameless, jealous, lachrymose traitor to his great benefactor.
And then there is Santini, whose wish to kill the Governor was not altogether without good reason, and who was deported from the island for this and other infringements of the regulations. The publication of his pamphlet, previously mentioned, created a great sensation, and it sold like wildfire. It was said to be fabrications, but it was not all fabrications. Montholon reports that Napoleon criticised the work, and remarked that some one must have assisted him. Well, so it was. The story was related to Colonel Maceroni, an Italian, by Santini, and put into readable form by him, but this does not detract from that which is really true in it, and a good deal of what O'Meara contends is confirmed therein.
Then O'Meara's successor, Antommarchi, has even a worse story to relate. These chronicles vary only in phrase and detail, and even in these there is wonderful similarity. But when we come down to the bedrock foundation of their complaints, i.e., the policy and treatment by Lowe and his myrmidons, incited by the Home Government and their followers, each record bears the stamp of truth—the indictment is the same though it may be related differently.
Some writers have cast doubt on the authenticity of the St. Helena chroniclers without having a peg to hang their contentions on. The answer to all this is, that if never a line had been written by these men, the State papers, cunningly devised and crafty though most of them are, would have been ample evidence from which to draw unfavourable conclusions. Indeed, without State papers being brought into it at all, there is facing you always the glaring fact of a determined assassination perpetrated in the name of humanity, and if I felt any desire to be assured of this, I would take as an authority William Forsyth's three volumes written in defence of Sir Hudson Lowe. No author has so completely failed to prove his case. Moreover, no valid reason has ever been given, or ever can be, for doubting the veracity of O'Meara and other gentlemen of Napoleon's suite who have written their experiences of the St. Helena period.
In the first place, those sceptical writers who deal with the different books that have been published relative to this part of Napoleon's history were not only not there to witness all that went on, but some of them were not born for many years after Napoleon and his contemporaries had passed on. So that it really narrows itself down to this: the knowledge the sceptics have attained is taken from documents or books written for the most part by the very men who they say are not to be relied on as giving a true version of all that took place during their stay at St. Helena. It cannot be disputed that these gentlemen were in daily and hourly contact with England's prisoner, and, as they aver, jotted down everything that passed in conversation or that transpired in other ways between themselves and the Emperor, or anybody else.
The history of the St. Helena period, as written by authors who were on the spot, is, in the present writer's opinion, singularly free from exaggeration, let alone untruths. Besides, what had any of them to gain by sending forth distorted statements and untruthful history? No one knew better than they that every line they wrote would be contested by those who had relied on the rigid regulations suppressing all communications except those which passed through the hands of Sir Hudson Lowe. Certainly O'Meara cannot be accused of having ulterior motives, nor can any of the others—not even Gourgaud, who acted alternately traitor and devoted friend. Gourgaud alone seems to have had a mania for sinning and repenting, writing down during his childish fits of temper about his supposed wrongs on his shirtcuffs, and not infrequently his finger-nails, some nasty remark or some slanderous thoughts about the man whose amiable consideration for him was notorious amongst the circle at Longwood, and even at Plantation House. These scribblings were intended for precise entry in his diary, and if the peevish temper lasted until he got at this precious book, down they went in rancorous haste.
Yet this hot-headed, jealous chronicler, guided by blind passion and never by reason while these moods were on him, has been held up as an authority that may be relied upon as to the doings and sayings of Napoleon and his immediate followers at the "Abode of Darkness." It is a well-known axiom that persons who speak or write anything while jealousy or temper holds them in its grip may not be counted as reliable people to follow, and that is exactly what happened in Gourgaud's case. He was the Peter of the band of disciples at St. Helena, and it may be considered fairly reasonable to assume that those who have written up the General as a sound historian have done so with a view to backing up prejudices, big or small, against the Emperor.
But surely they have committed a very grave error in singling out as their hero of veracity a man who, in his more normal and charitable moods, pours out praise and pity for his Imperial chief in astonishing profusion.
O'Meara's position was very different from any of the other diarists or writers. He was well aware that if he wrote an honest history it meant his complete ruin, yet he faced it, and defied the world to controvert his statements. "In face of the world," he says, "I challenge investigation," and "investigation" was made with a vengeance worthy of the Inquisition. If a word or a sentence could by any possible means be made to appear faulty, a scream of denunciation was sent forth from one end of Europe to the other, but the crime had sunk too deeply into the hearts of an outraged public for these ebullitions to have any real effect. There might be flaws in diction and even matters of fact, but the sordid reality of the documentary and verbal story that came to them was never doubted. The big heart of the British nation was beginning to be moved in sympathy towards the martyr long before his death, and of course long before O'Meara's book appeared, though the doctor's advent in Europe was made the occasion of a vigorous exposure of the progress of the great assassination.
A wave of public opinion was gathering force; the Government, stupid and treacherous as they were, saw it rising, and renewed their silly efforts to stem it by causing atrocious duplicity to be instituted at home and on the martyr rock. Indeed, nothing was beneath their dignity so long as they succeeded in deceiving an agitated populace and accomplishing their own evil ends.
But notwithstanding the tactics and the deplorable use made of the traitor Gourgaud, sympathetic feeling increases. Questions are frequently asked in the House of Commons, to which evasive answers are given, but reaction is so obviously gaining ground that Lords Liverpool, Castlereagh, and the immortal Bathurst become perturbed. They saw in the accession to power of Lord Holland's party a complete exposure of their maladministration, and a reversing of their policy (if it be not a libel to distinguish it as a "policy"). They knew, too, that once the public is fairly seized with the idea of a great wrong being perpetrated, no Government, however strong numerically or in personality, can withstand its opposition. Had the Emperor lived but a little longer, the vindictive men who tormented him to death would have been compelled to give way before not only British, but European, indignation. Public opinion would have enforced the Administration to deal out better treatment to their captive, have demanded his removal from the island of sorrow, and probably his freedom. The public may be capricious, but once it makes up its mind to do anything no power on earth can stop it, because it has a greater power behind it. Luckily, or unluckily, for Bathurst & Co., the spirit of the great captive had passed beyond the portal before serious public action could be taken.