"Perhaps, too, without disavowing the independence of the French nation, the allied sovereigns will persist in declaring, that they have no proof, that the wishes of the nation are the wishes expressed by the government, or even by the chambers; and that thus, in order to know the real wishes of the nation, they must begin by restoring things to the state in which they were before the month of March, 1815; leaving to the nation afterwards to decide, whether it ought to retain its old government, or give itself a new one.
"The answer to these objections also will be found in that which England itself formerly gave to the enemies, who were for disputing its right of changing its government and its dynasty. England then answered, that the simple fact of the possession of the sovereign authority authorised foreign powers, to treat with him, who was invested with it. Thus, in case the authorities actually existing in France were not, what in fact they are, clothed in the most perfect legality, the refusal to treat with them can be supported by no solid argument. It would be declaring, that they are resolved to try, how far they can carry the claims of force; and announcing to France, that there is no security for her but in the resources of desperation.
"In fine, there is one less obnoxious chance, against which also we ought to be provided. It is, that the combined powers, faithful at least in part to their declaration, do not absolutely insist on imposing the Bourbon family on France; but that, on the other hand, they require the exclusion of the son of the Emperor Napoleon, under pretence, that a long minority might give rise either to a dangerous display of ambitious views on the part of the principal members possessing the authority in France, or to internal commotions, the shock of which would be felt abroad. Were the question brought to this point, messieurs the plenipotentiaries would find in the principles of the objection itself the principle of its answer; since the division of power in the hands of a council commonly renders its authority weaker, and the minority of a prince is always a period of slackness and languor in the government. They would find it particularly in the present temper of the French nation, in the want it feels of a long peace, in the fears which the idea of a continuation or renewal of war must inspire, and in the shackles imposed by the laws of the constitution on the passions of the members of the government. Besides, whatever its construction may be, they will find in all its circumstances, and in a thousand others besides, very valid arguments, to oppose to those, that may be alleged against the maintenance of hereditary principles in the dynasty of the Emperor Napoleon.
"The first and most solid pledge, that the allies can give the French nation of their intention to respect its independence, is to renounce without reserve all design of subjecting it anew to the government of the Bourbon family. The allied powers must now be well convinced themselves, that the re-establishment of this family is incompatible with the general tranquillity of France, and consequently with the repose of Europe. If it be their wish, as they declare, to produce a stable order of things in France and other nations, the purpose would be completely defeated. The return of a family, strangers to our manners, and continually surrounded by men, who have ceased to be French, would rekindle a second time among us every kind of animosity, and every passion; and it would be an illusion, to expect a stable order to arise from the midst of so many elements of discord and trouble. Thus the exclusion of the Bourbon family is an absolute condition of the maintenance of the general tranquillity; and for the general interest of Europe, as well as for the particular interest of France, it is one of the points, to which messieurs the plenipotentiaries must most strongly adhere.
"The question of the integrity of the territory of France is intimately connected with that of its independence. If the war, declared by the allied powers against the Emperor Napoleon, were in fact declared against him alone, the integrity of our territory is not threatened. It is of importance to the general balance of power, that France should retain at least the limits assigned it by the treaty of Paris. What the foreign cabinets themselves considered as proper and necessary in 1814, they cannot look upon with other eyes in 1815. What pretence can justify now a dismemberment of the French territory by the foreign powers? Every thing in the system of Europe is altered; all to the advantage of England, Russia, Austria, and Prussia; all to the detriment of France. The French nation is not jealous; but it will not be subjugated, or dismembered.
"Thus the efforts of messieurs the plenipotentiaries will have two leading objects; the maintenance of the national independence, and the preservation of the integrity of the French territories.
"These two objects are linked together, and mutually dependent on each other: they cannot be separated, and no modification of either of them can be admitted, without endangering the safety of the country.
"But if the foreign powers should make any proposals, capable of being reconciled with our dearest interests; and they should be offered to us as the ultimatum of our safety; messieurs the plenipotentiaries, refraining from the expression of a premature opinion, will hasten to give an account of them, and to demand the orders of government.
"Whatever may be the dispositions of the foreign powers; whether they acknowledge the two principles, that are pointed out to messieurs the plenipotentiaries as the bases of their mission; or the negotiations lead to other discussions, of a nature to require enlarging upon; it is highly important, on either supposition, that a general armistice should be previously agreed on. The first care of messieurs the plenipotentiaries must consequently be, to demand an armistice, and insist on its being promptly concluded upon.
"There is one sacred duty, that the French nation cannot forget; which is, to stipulate the safety and inviolability of the Emperor Napoleon out of its territory. This is a debt of honour, which the nation feels the necessity of acquitting toward a prince, who long covered it with glory; and who in his misfortunes renounces the throne, that the nation may be saved without him, since it appears, that with him it cannot be saved.
"The choice of the place, to which the Emperor will have to retire, may be a subject of discussion. Messieurs the plenipotentiaries will appeal to the personal generosity of the sovereigns, to obtain a residence to be fixed upon, with which the Emperor will have reason to, be satisfied.
"Independently of the general considerations, which messieurs the plenipotentiaries will have to urge to the allied sovereigns indiscriminately, they will themselves judge of the various arguments, which they will have to employ with respect to the different cabinets separately.
"The interests of England, Austria, Russia, and Prussia, not being the same; it will be proper, to exhibit under different points of view to each of these cabinets the advantages, that the new order of things, recently established in France, may offer them respectively. All the powers will find in it a guarantee of the preservation of whatever they possess, either of territory, or of influence: but, with these general advantages, some of them must find themselves separately benefited.
"Austria may well be supposed, not to see with pleasure the re-establishment of one branch of the Bourbon dynasty on the throne of Fiance, while another branch of the same house reascends the throne of Naples.
"This circumstance, which belongs to the policy of the cabinet, may also receive some support from family affection: the regard of his Majesty the Emperor of Austria for his grandson may induce him, not to oppose the high destiny offered to him. It may be, that the Austrian cabinet may perceive in this bond of relationship a means of strengthening its cause by the support of the French nation; and that, alarmed at the aggrandisement of Russia and of Prussia, whose alliance no doubt is a grievance to it, it may lay hold of the opportunity of an advantageous reconciliation with France, so as in case of need to find in it a powerful auxiliary against those two governments.
"Other reasons offer themselves, to incline the cabinet of Petersburg toward us. The liberal opinions professed by the Emperor of Russia authorize a language to be held to his minister, and even to this potentate himself, to which few other sovereigns would be capable of listening. There is room for thinking also, that this monarch takes but little interest personally in the welfare of the Bourbon family, whose conduct in general has not been pleasing to him. He had not much reason to be satisfied with it, when he found it express its gratitude almost exclusively to the Prince Regent of England. Besides, the object of Russia is attained all its thirst of power, and its self-love, are equally satisfied. Tranquil for a long time to come, and victor without having fought, the Emperor Alexander may proudly return to his dominions, and enjoy a success, that will not have cost him a single man. The continuance of the war with France would now be to him a war without an object. It would be repugnant to all the calculations of good policy, and to the interests of his people. Messieurs the plenipotentiaries will avail themselves of these circumstances, and of many others also, to endeavour to neutralize a power so formidable as Russia.
"That continental power, from which France has the least favour to expect, is the court of Berlin: but this court is that of which the forces have received the most violent check; and if Russia and Austria be ever so little disposed; to enter into negotiations, Prussia will be inevitably compelled to accede to them. Besides, even with this court, arguments of great weight will not be wanting, to render it more amicably disposed, if it will listen only to its real and permanent interests.
"Messieurs the plenipotentiaries will find with the allied sovereigns the British plenipotentiaries and it will be with these, perhaps, that the negotiation will present most difficulties. The question with respect to the allies is scarcely a matter of discussion: with this power, every argument and every principle are in our favour; but it remains to be seen, whether its will be not independent of all principles, and of all arguments.
"The particulars noticed above were no doubt unnecessary; as every thing there mentioned would have suggested itself to messieurs the plenipotentiaries themselves. But these hints may not be without their use, since their natural effect will be, to lead the minds of messieurs the plenipotentiaries to more weighty considerations, and more powerful motives, which they will know how to employ seasonably for the grand purpose of the important and difficult mission with which they are charged.
"Messieurs the plenipotentiaries will find in the reports made to the Emperor by the Duke of Vicenza on the 12th of April and 7th of June last, as well as in the justificatory pieces, that accompany these reports, all the data they can require, to form a just estimate of our situation with regard to the foreign powers, and to regulate their conduct toward the ministers of these different powers."
On the 26th of June the plenipotentiaries had their first interview with two Prussian officers delegated by Marshal Blucher. They gave an account of it to the committee by the following despatch, addressed to M. Bignon, who had the portfolio of foreign affairs.
"Laon, June the 26th, 1815, "Ten o'clock in the evening.
"Monsieur le Baron Bignon,
"We have received the letter, which you did us the honour to write to us yesterday the 25th, respecting the Emperor's intention of repairing to the United States of America with his brothers.
"We have at length just received our passports, to proceed to the head-quarters of the allied sovereigns, which we shall find at Heidelberg or at Manheim. The Prince of Schoenburgh, aide-de-camp of Marshal Blucher, accompanies us. We shall take the road through Metz; and set off in an hour.
"Marshal Blucher has declared to us, by the Prince of Schoenburgh and Count Noslitz, who was more particularly empowered by him, that France will be in no degree restricted in the choice of a government: but in the armistice he proposed, he required for the security of his army the fortified towns of Metz, Thionville, Mezieres, Maubeuge, Sarrelouis, and others. He sets out with the principle, that he ought to be secured against any attempts, which the party, that he supposes the Emperor to have, may make. We combated this argument by irrefragable reasons, without gaining any ground. You are sensible, sir, that it was impossible for us, to accede to such demands.
"We did all in our power, to obtain the armistice on moderate terms; but it was impossible for us, to come to any conclusion, 'because,' said the prince, 'he is not authorized to grant one, and immense advantages alone could induce him, to take such a step, as long as the principal object is unattained.'
"We offered a suspension of hostilities, at least for five days. The refusal was equally positive, and for the same motives. Count de Noslitz has offered in the name of Prince Blucher, to receive at his head-quarters, and at those of the Duke of Wellington, any commissioners you may send, who shall be exclusively employed in the negotiations necessary to stay the march of the armies, and prevent the effusion of blood. It is a matter of urgency, that these commissioners set out to-morrow even, and that they take the road to Noyon, where orders will be given by Marshal Blucher to receive them. Noyon will be his head-quarters. They cannot too often repeat, that the Emperor has no great party in France; that he availed himself rather of the faults of the Bourbons, than of any dispositions existing in his favour; and that he could not fix the attention of the nation, but for the allies failing to adhere to their declaration.
"We have hopes of seeing our negotiations take a successful turn, though we cannot be insensible to their difficulties. The only means of preventing the events of the war from occasioning their failure absolutely consist in granting a truce of a few days. The choice of negotiators may have some influence on this; and we repeat, there is not a moment to be lost in sending them to the English and Prussian armies.
"The two aides-de-camp of Prince Blucher declared repeatedly, that the allies are in no respect tenacious of the restoration of the Bourbons: but we have proofs, that they are inclined to approach as near as possible to Paris, and then they may frame some pretence, to change their language.
"All these things should only hasten still more the measures, to be taken for re-organizing the army, and particularly for the defence of Paris; an object to which their thoughts appear essentially turned.
"From the conversations we have had with the two aides-de-camp, it follows definitively, and we repeat it with regret, that the person of the Emperor will be one of the greatest difficulties. They think, that the combined powers will require guarantees and precautions, that he may never re-appear on the stage of the world. They assert, that their people themselves demand security against his enterprises. It is our duty to observe, that his escape before the conclusion of our negotiations would be considered as an act of bad faith on our part, and might essentially involve the safety of France. We have hopes, however, that this affair also may be terminated to the Emperor's satisfaction; since they have made few objections to his residence, and that of his brothers, in England; which they appeared to prefer to the scheme of a retreat in America.
"The imperial prince has not been mentioned in any of our conversations. It was not our business, to start this subject, on which they did not enter.
(Signed) "H. SEBASTIANI. Count de PONTECOULANT. LA FAYETTE. D'ARGENSON. Count DE LA FORET. Benjamin CONSTANT."
The committee, immediately on the receipt of this despatch, appointed Messieurs Andreossy, de Valence, Flaugergues, Boissy d'Anglas, and Labenardiere, to repair in quality of commissioners to the head-quarters of the allied armies, to demand a suspension of hostilities, and negotiate an armistice.
The Duke of Otranto, ever eager to open an ostensible correspondence, under cover of which he might carry on secret communications if necessary, persuaded the government, that it would be proper to pave the way for the commissioners by a previous step; and in consequence he addressed a letter of congratulation to the Duke of Wellington, in which he entreated him with pompous meanness, to bestow on France his suffrage and protection.
Copies of the former instructions were delivered to the commissioners; and to these were added the following:
"Instructions for Messieurs the Commissioners appointed to treat for an Armistice.
"Paris, June the 27th, 1815.
"The first overtures made to our plenipotentiaries on the conditions, at the price of which the commander in chief of one of the enemy's armies would consent to an armistice, are of a nature to alarm us respecting those, which the commanders of the armies of the other powers might also demand, and to render the possibility of an arrangement very problematical. However unfavourable our military situation at the present moment may be, there are sacrifices, to which the interest of the nation will not allow us to submit.
"It is evident, that the motive, on which Prince Blucher founded his demand of six of our fortified towns, which were named, and some others besides, which were not named, the security of his army, is one of those allegations brought forward by force, to carry as far as possible the advantages arising from the success of the moment. This allegation is very easily refuted: since it may be termed an act of derision, to demand pledges for the security of an army already master of a considerable portion of our territory, and which is marching without obstacle almost alone in the heart of France. There is another declaration made on the part of Prince Blucher, calculated still more to disquiet us: which is, that he can be induced only by immense advantages, to take upon himself to conclude an armistice, for which he has no authority. In this declaration there is a frankness of exaction, that offers many difficulties in the way of accommodation. However, though the committee of government is far from being inclined to favour the cessions required, it does not tie itself up, by a peremptory refusal, from entering into discussions of an arrangement, the conditions of which are not carried beyond the bounds traced by the true interests of the public.
"If, to arrive at a conclusion, we must submit to the cession of some fortified town, it is thoroughly to be understood, that such a cession ought not to take place, unless it were the guarantee of an armistice, to be prolonged till peace is concluded. It is unnecessary to add, that the delivery of such a town is not to take place; till the armistice has been ratified by the respective governments.
"One of the points, that demands all the zeal of messieurs the commissioners, is that of fixing the line, where the occupation of the French territory by the enemy's armies is to stop.
"It would be of great importance, to obtain the line of the Somme; which would place the foreign troops nearly thirty leagues from Paris, messieurs the commissioners ought strongly to insist on keeping them at least at this distance.
"If the enemy were yet more exacting, and we should be finally compelled to greater condescension, a line traced between the Somme and the Oise should not let them approach within twenty leagues of Paris. The line, that separates the department of the Somme from that of the Oise, might be taken, detaching from the latter the northern part of the department of the Aisne, and thence a straight line through the department of the Ardennes, which should be continued till it reached the Meuse near Mezieres.
"However, in fixing the line of the armistice, we must rely on the ability of messieurs the commissioners, to endeavour to obtain the most favourable arrangement.
"Their mission being to the English and Prussian armies in common, there is no occasion to inform them, that it is indispensable for the armistice to be common to both armies.
"It would be very important likewise, to introduce into the armistice, as one of its clauses, that it should extend to the armies of all the other enemies, taking for its basis the status quo of the respective armies, at the moment when information of the armistice should reach them. If this stipulation be rejected, under pretence, that the commanders of the English and Russian armies have no right, to make arrangements in the names of the commanders of the armies of the other powers; they may at least consent, to invite the others to accede to it on the basis above mentioned.
"As even the negotiations for the armistice, from the nature of the conditions already placed foremost, which must be the subject of more serious debate, will inevitably occasion some delay, it is a precaution rigidly necessary to be obtained, that, in order to treat of an armistice, all movements should be stopped for a few days, or at least for eight and forty hours.
"There is one precautionary arrangement, which messieurs the commissioners must not neglect. This is, to stipulate, that the enemy's armies shall levy no extraordinary contributions.
"Though the particular object of their mission is the conclusion of an armistice, as it is scarcely to be imagined, that messieurs the commissioners, in their intercourse with the Duke of Wellington and Prince Blucher, will not hear from these generals either proposals, or suggestions, or at least simple conjectures, respecting the views the allied sovereigns may adopt with respect to the form of government in France; messieurs the commissioners undoubtedly will not fail, carefully to collect every thing, that may appear to them capable of having any influence on the part to be taken definitively by the government.
"The copy of the instructions given to messieurs the plenipotentiaries appointed to repair to the allied sovereigns, which has been delivered to them, will make them acquainted with the bases, on which the government has been desirous hitherto of founding its negotiations. It is possible, that the course of events may oblige it, to extend these bases: but messieurs the commissioners will judge, that, if absolute necessity compel it, to assent to arrangements of a different nature, so that we cannot preserve the principle of our independence in all its plenitude, it is a sacred duty, to endeavour to emancipate ourselves from the greater part of the inconveniences, that are attached to the bare misfortune of its being modified.
"A copy of the letter, written from Laon by messieurs the plenipotentiaries, and dated yesterday, the 26th, is also delivered to messieurs the commissioners. The resolutions, which have been taken to-day by the government, will furnish them with the means of answering all the objections, that may be made to them on the danger and possibility of the return of the Emperor Napoleon.
[Footnote 79: These resolutions consisted in sending General Beker to Malmaison, to watch Napoleon.]
"That the language of messieurs the commissioners may perfectly accord with all that has been done by the committee of government, copies of the letters, that have been written to Lord Castlereagh and the Duke of Wellington, respecting the approaching departure of Napoleon and his brothers, are hereto annexed.
"On the questions relative to the form of government of France, provisionally, messieurs the commissioners will confine themselves to hearing the overtures, that may be made to them; and they will take care, to transmit an account of them, in order that, according to the nature of their reports, government may come to such a determination, as the safety of our country may prescribe."
From this document it appears, that the committee, already foreseeing the impossibility of preserving the throne to Napoleon II., was disposed to enter into a discussion with the allies on the choice of a sovereign. Bound by its mandate, it would never have consented willingly, to covenant with the Bourbons; but it would have had no repugnance, at least as I conjecture, to allow the crown to be placed on the head of the King of Saxony, or of the Duke of Orleans.
The party of the latter prince, for which M. Fouche had collected recruits, was reinforced by a great number of deputies and generals. "The qualities of the duke; the remembrance of Jemappes, and of some other victories under the republic, in which he was not unconcerned; the possibility of forming a treaty, that should reconcile the interests of all parties; the name of Bourbon, which might have been employed abroad, without uttering it at home: all these motives, and others besides, afforded in this choice a prospect of repose and security even to those, who could not see in it the presage of happiness."
The King of Saxony had no other title to the suffrages of France, than the heroic fidelity, which he had maintained toward it in 1814. But after him the empire might have returned to Napoleon II.: and as a prince, possessed of experience, wisdom, and virtue, may reign indifferently over any people, and render them happy, the French nation would have resigned itself to the government of a foreign monarch, till the day when his death would have restored the sceptre to the hands of its legitimate possessor.
The deference which the committee was prepared to pay to the will of the allied powers, was not the effect of its own weakness. It was enjoined it by the alarming reports, which Marshal Grouchy sent it daily, of the defection and dejected state of the army.
The soldiers, it is true, discouraged by the abdication of the Emperor, and the reports of the return of the Bourbons, appeared irresolute. "Our wounds," said they, "will no longer entitle us to any thing but proscription." The generals themselves, rendered timid by their uncertainty of the future, spoke with circumspection: but all, generals and soldiers, maintained the same sentiments in the bottom of their hearts; and their hesitation, their lukewarmness, were the work of their leader; who, in France as on the banks of the Dyle, wanting resolution and strength of mind, did not take the trouble to conceal, that he considered the national cause as lost, and awaited only a favourable opportunity, to pacify the Bourbons and their allies by a prompt and complete submission.
The committee, however, having their eyes opened by private letters, conceived suspicions of the veracity of the marshal's reports. It commissioned General Corbineau, to give it an account of the state of the army. Informed of the truth, it was no longer afraid of being obliged to submit humbly to the law of the victor: and, desirous of preventing Marshal Grouchy, whose intentions had ceased to be a mystery, from endangering the independence of the nation by an inconsiderate act, it prohibited him from negotiating any armistice, or commencing any negotiation; and ordered him, to lead his army to Paris.
The Prince of Eckmuhl, whose want of firmness was so wretchedly displayed in the retreat from Moscow, could not resist this fresh blow: the example of Marshal Grouchy led him away; and, persuaded like him, that it was necessary to submit without delay, he declared to the government, that there was not a moment to be lost in recalling the Bourbons, and proposed to it, to send to the king the following offers:
1st, To enter Paris without a foreign guard:
2d, To take the tri-coloured cockade:
3d, To guaranty security of person and property to all, whatever may have been their functions, offices, votes, or opinions:
4th, To retain the two chambers:
5th, To ensure to persons in office the retention of their places, and to the army that of their ranks, pensions, honours, and prerogatives:
6th, To retain the legion of honour, and its institution, as the first order in the state.
The committee, too clear-sighted to be caught by this proposal, was eager to reject it; and, faithful to its system of concealing nothing from the two chambers, acquainted the principal members with it; repeating to: them, that, be the event what it might, "it would never propose to them any thing pusillanimous, or contrary to its duty; and that it would defend to the last extremity the independence of the nation, the inviolability of the chambers, and the liberty and security of the citizens."
The representatives answered this declaration by placing Paris in a state of siege, and voting an address to the army. "Brave soldiers," such were its words; "a great reverse must have astonished, but not dejected you. Your country has need of your constancy and courage. To you it has confided the care of the national glory; and you will answer its expectations.
[Footnote 80: On the 2d of July the chamber voted an address to the French.
This address, which perished in the birth, related to the political situation of France with respect to the allies. It appeared to me not very interesting, and I thought I might dispense with a particular account of it. It gave rise, however, to a remarkable incident. M. Manuel, who had the principal hand in drawing it up, had not thought proper, to speak of the Emperor's successor in it; and the chamber decided, to add in the address, that Napoleon II. had been called to the empire.]
"Plenipotentiaries have been sent to the allied powers ... the success of the negotiations depends on you. Close round the tri-coloured flag, consecrated by glory and the wishes of the nation. You will see us, if necessary, in your ranks; and we will convince the world, that twenty-five years of glory and sacrifices will never be effaced, and that a people, who wills to be free, must ever remain so."
The attitude of the chamber and of the government did not remove the apprehensions of the Prince of Eckmuhl. He returned to the charge; and wrote to the president of the committee, in the night of the 29th, "that he had vanquished his prejudices and opinions, and found, that no means of safety existed but in concluding an armistice, and immediately proclaiming Louis XVIII."
The president answered him:
"I am as well persuaded as you, M. marshal, that nothing better can be done, than to treat with promptitude of an armistice: but we must know, what the enemy wants. An injudicious conduct would produce three evils:
"1st, That of having acknowledged Louis XVIII. previous to any engagement on his side:
"2d, That of being equally compelled, to admit the enemy into Paris:
"3d, That of obtaining no conditions from Louis XVIII.
"I take upon myself, to authorize you, to send to the advanced posts of the enemy, and to conclude an armistice, making every sacrifice, that is compatible with our duties, and with our dignity. It is better to give up fortified towns, than to sacrifice Paris."
The Duke of Otranto having laid this letter before the committee, it thought, that the answer of its president decided implicitly the question of the recall of Louis XVIII., and allowed the Prince of Eckmuhl too great latitude. It made him write immediately a supplementary letter, saying: "It is unnecessary to remind you, M. marshal, that your armistice must be purely military, and must contain no political question. It would be proper, that this demand of an armistice should be made by a general of the line, and a major-general of the national guard."
Thus in the space of the twenty-four hours, that preceded and followed the Emperor's departure, the committee had to repel, and did repel, the instigations more or less culpable of the minister at war, the general in chief of the army, and the president of the government.
[Footnote 81: The reader will be aware, that I reason here, as well as every where else, on the principles of the mandate given to the committee.]
The army, however, had arrived step by step at the gates of Paris.
Marshal Grouchy, dissatisfied and disconcerted, gave in his resignation on the score of his health.
The Prince of Eckmuhl, who, by an air of sincerity, and reiterated protestations of devotion and fidelity, had regained, thanks to the Duke of Otranto, the confidence of the majority of the members of the committee, was invested with the command in chief of the army.
On the 30th of June a message informed the chambers, that the enemies were within sight of the capital; that the army, re-organized, occupied a line of defence, by which Paris was protected; that it was animated with the best disposition; and that its devotion equalled its valour.
Deputations from the two chambers immediately set out, to carry to the defenders of their country the expression of the principles, the sentiments, and the hopes of the national representation. Their patriotic language, their tri-coloured scarfs, and the name of Napoleon II., which they took care to employ, electrified the soldiery; and completely restored to them that confidence in themselves, and that resolution to conquer or die, which are the infallible presages of victory.
The moment for marching to battle was propitious. The Prince of Eckmuhl solicited peace.
The Duke of Albufera had just concluded an armistice with Marshal Frimont, commander of the Austrian forces. The prince informed the Duke of Wellington of it; and demanded of him, to cause a cessation of hostilities, till a decision of congress should take place. "If I appear on the field of battle with the idea of your talents," he added, "I shall carry with me the conviction, that I am fighting for the most sacred of causes, that of the defence and independence of my country; and, whatever may be the result, my lord, I will merit your esteem."
If, instead of holding a language more suitable to a man half vanquished, than to a French general accustomed to conquer, another chief, differently inspired, had declared with noble firmness, that he was ready, if a stop were not put to unjust aggressions, to give to his eighty thousand brave soldiers the signal of victory or death; the enemy would unquestionably have desisted from pursuing a war, now become without object, without utility, and without glory. But the Duke of Wellington, faithfully informed of the true state of things, knew that the Prince of Eckmuhl, satisfied with having surmounted his prejudices and opinions, appeared more disposed to neutralize the courage of his troops, than to put it to the proof; and Wellington refused the suspension of hostilities proposed. It entered into the policy of the princes, who had taken up arms for legitimacy, to compel us to receive Louis XVIII. cap in hand: and the consequence of this was, that the allied generals avoided treating; as the sentiments of the president of the committee, and of the general of the French army, fully satisfied them, that they might wait without any risk, till circumstances or treachery compelled us, to submit to the law of necessity.
Wellington had rejected the proposal of Marshal Davoust, under the frivolous pretence, that the Emperor had resumed the command of the army. It is naturally to be presumed, that the committee had not neglected, to give the commissioners immediate information of the departure of Napoleon, and of the circumstances, that had preceded it. But it had hitherto received no communication from them. Their correspondence, intentionally fettered by the allies, had been farther prevented by our advanced posts; who, considering the persons appointed to hold a parley as machinators of treason, stopped their way with their muskets. The committee resolved, therefore, to obtain news of them at any price: and, on the recommendation of the Duke of Otranto, it despatched to them M. de Tromeling. It was not ignorant, that this emigrant officer, a Vendean, and long detained in the Temple as the companion of Sir Sidney Smith and Captain Wright, little merited the confidence of the patriots. But the double-faced agents of M. Fouche alone could open the enemy's lines; and it was obliged, in spite of itself, to make use of them.
M. de Tromeling set out. Instead of delivering his despatches to the commissioners, he was afraid of their being taken from him by the enemy, and he destroyed them. The committee thought, that he had rather deceived himself by his cunning; but it readily excused this error, to attend wholly to the news he had brought.
Our commissioners arrived at the English head-quarters on the 28th, and were eager to solicit a suspension of arms.
Lord Wellington informed them, that he wished to consult with Prince Blucher on this point; and on the 29th of June, at half after eleven in the evening, he sent them the following answer.
Head quarters of Prince Blucher, June the 29th, 1815, 11-1/2 at night.
"I have the honour to acquaint you, that having consulted Marshal Prince Blucher on your proposal for an armistice, his highness has agreed with me, that, under present circumstances, no armistice can take place, while Napoleon Bonaparte is in Paris, and at liberty; and that the operations are in such a state, that he cannot stop them.
"I have the honour, &c.
On the 1st of July in the morning, they had a conference, of which they gave an account to the government by the following despatch, addressed to Baron Bignon, secretary of state, assistant to the minister of foreign affairs.
"Louvres, July the 1st, 1815, forenoon.
"Monsieur le Baron,
"The despatches, Nos. 1, 2, and 3, which we have had the honour to address to you, remain unanswered. We are absolutely deprived of the knowledge of what is passing at Paris, and in the rest of France. To whatever cause this want of communication is to be ascribed, it renders our situation painful, and is detrimental to the activity of our proceedings. It may render them useless: we request you, to remedy this as speedily as possible.
[Footnote 82: As these despatches are now uninteresting, I have not inserted them.]
"At present we are authorized to think, that, as soon as you have made known, that Napoleon Bonaparte is at a distance, a suspension of hostilities for three days may be signed, in order to adjust an armistice, during which a treaty for peace may take place.
"Directed by the instructions given us, to listen to what may be said to us, and make you acquainted with it, we have to inform you, the Duke of Wellington has repeated to us several times, that as soon as our government has a head, peace will speedily be concluded.
"Speaking, as he says, merely as a private individual, but supposing however, that his opinion may be taken into consideration, he more than objects to the government of Napoleon II.; and thinks, that, under such a reign, Europe could enjoy no security, and France no repose.
"They say, that they do not pretend to oppose the choice of any other head to the government. They repeat on every occasion, that the powers of Europe do not pretend, to interfere in this choice: but they add, that, if the prince chosen were such, as by the nature of his situation to excite apprehensions for the tranquillity of Europe, by rendering that of France problematical, it would be necessary for the allied powers to have guarantees; and we have reason to believe, that these guarantees would be cessions of territory.
"One person alone, Louis XVIII. seems to unite all the conditions, that could prevent Europe from demanding guarantees for its security.
"Already, they say, he resides at Cambray. Quesney has opened its gates to him. These places, and other towns, are in his power; either by having delivered themselves up, or having been put into his hands by the allies.
"The Duke of Wellington admits and enumerates a considerable part of the faults committed by Louis XVIII. during his government of a few months. He puts in the first rank his having given to the princes of his family entrance into his council; his having had a ministry without union, and without responsibility; his having created a military household, not chosen from the soldiers of the army; and his not having placed about him persons, who were truly interested in the maintenance of the charter.
"It seems to him, that, by making known our grievances, without settling conditions, engagements might be formed with the public, which would remove its apprehensions for the future, by giving France the guarantee, it might desire.
"If a discussion of conditions take place, others beside the actual authorities might deliberate, resumed the Duke.
"If any time be lost, generals of other armies might interfere in the negotiations; and they would be rendered more complicated by additional interests.
"We add two proclamations of Louis XVIII. &c.
(Signed) "ANDREOSSY, "Count BOISSY D'ANGLAS, "FLAUGERGUES, "VALENCE, "LABESNARDIER."
M. Bignon's despatch, announcing the departure of Napoleon, having reached them after the conclusion of this first conference, they hastened to communicate it to Lord Wellington; and to claim a suspension of hostilities, in order to conclude an armistice, to which the presence of Napoleon had hitherto been the only obstacle.
Lord Wellington answered them: "that it was necessary for him, to confer with Prince Blucher, and that he would give them an answer in the course of the day."
In the evening they had a fresh conference with this general, which gave occasion to the following despatch:
"Louvres, July the 1st, half after 8 in the evening.
"Lord Wellington has communicated to us a letter from Manheim, written in the names of the Emperors of Russia and Austria by MM. de Nesselrode and de Metternich. This letter strongly urged the continuance of operations; and declares, that, if any armistice be entered into by the generals, who are at this moment near Paris, their majesties will not consider it as putting any stop to their march, but will order their troops, to approach Paris.
"The Count d'Artois has just arrived at the head-quarters of the Duke of Wellington, who received us alone in his saloon. We did not perceive the prince; he was in a separate apartment.
"We insisted on the execution of the promise given us. The Duke of Wellington answered, that he had always declared to us, he could enter into no definitive engagements, till he had conferred with Marshal Prince Blucher; to whom he would go, to prevail on him to join with him in agreeing on an armistice.
"He added, he would not conceal from us, that the Field Marshal had an extreme aversion to every thing, that would stay his operations, which extended already to the left bank of the Seine; and that he could not avoid supporting his movements, if he could not bring him to agree in his opinion.
"He communicated to us a proposal for an armistice, made by the Prince of Eckmuhl, which he had just received.
"He assured us, that, as soon as he had seen Prince Blucher, he would return, and join us at Louvres; and sent to request us, to repair to Gonesse.
"In talking on the possible conditions of an armistice, he insinuated, that he should require the army to quit Paris; which we declined, objecting, that on the contrary it was proper for the army of the allies, to take remote positions; otherwise it would be impossible, to deliberate freely on the important interests of our country, the influence of which on those of Europe he appeared to acknowledge.
"The conference thus terminating, we have some reason to think, that Lord Wellington will give the Count d'Artois to understand, that he ought to remain at a much more considerable distance from Paris."
To this Baron Bignon immediately sent the following answer:
"To Messieurs the Commissioners charged with the Armistice.
July the 1st.
"You announced to us, gentlemen, that you were authorized to believe, that, if Napoleon Bonaparte were away, a suspension of hostilities might be signed, during which a treaty for peace might be entered into. The desired condition being fulfilled, there is at the present moment no motive, that can oppose a suspension of hostilities, and an armistice. It is strongly to be desired, that the suspension of hostilities, instead of being for three days only, should be at least for five.
"We do not think, that the English and Prussians alone will attempt to force our lines. It would be gratuitously incurring useless losses. According to their own account, they can be joined by the Bavarians only in the first fortnight of this month: so that it may be convenient to them to wait for this reinforcement, which is an additional reason for their not refusing an armistice, that will be attended with as much or more advantage to themselves than to us. In fine, if the allies do not choose, to forget altogether their solemn declarations, what do they now require? The only obstacle, that, according to them, opposed the conclusion of peace, is irrevocably removed: thus nothing any longer opposes its re-establishment; and, to arrive at peace, nothing is more urgent than an armistice.
"The committee of government has had laid before it all the particulars, that you have transmitted, of the language held to you by the Duke of Wellington. It desires, gentlemen, that you will persist in distinguishing the political question of the form of government of France from the actual question, the conclusion of an armistice. Without repelling any of the overtures made you, it is easy, to give the Duke of Wellington to understand, that, if, in the present state of affairs, the political question of the government of France must inevitably become the subject of a sort of discussion between France and the allied powers, the general interest of France, and of the powers themselves, is to do nothing precipitately; and not to decide on a definitive part, till after having maturely weighed what will offer real guarantees for the future. It is possible, that the allied powers themselves, when better informed of the sentiments of the French nation, will not persevere in the resolutions they may have formed from different data. Napoleon is no longer at Paris, and has not been for nearly a week. His political career is at an end. If any national disposition in favour of the Bourbons existed, this disposition would have been loudly manifested, and their recall would have been already consummated. It is evident, therefore, that the re-establishment of this family is not the will of the nation. It remains for the allied sovereigns to examine, whether, in wishing to impose it on the nation in despite of its will, they do not themselves act contrary to their own intentions; since, instead of securing the internal peace of France, they would only be sowing in it the seeds of fresh discord.
"The proclamations of Louis XVIII. are known here: and the nature of these proclamations already destroys all the hopes, that the language of the Duke of Wellington might give. It may be judged from the spirit that breathes in these pieces recently published, that the present royal ministry either could not, or would not prevent, what the French nation might expect from that government.
"For the rest, gentlemen, you should confine yourselves to hearing every thing: you ought to affirm, that France itself desires nothing, but what will be of the greatest benefit to the general interest: and that, if it would prefer any plan to the re-establishment of the Bourbons, it is because there is none, that offers it so many inconveniences, and so few advantages.
"You must strongly repeat, gentlemen, to the Duke of Wellington and Prince Blucher, that, if the French government warmly insist on an armistice, it is because it perceives the possibility of coming to a good understanding on points, on which opinions appear to be farthest divided. It is because the communications and connexions, established between their head-quarters and us, enable us thoroughly to appreciate the true spirit of France. We think in particular, that the nobleness of the Duke of Wellington's character, and the wisdom of the allied sovereigns, cannot lead them to a desire, to force the French nation to submit to a government, that is repugnant to the real wishes of the great majority of the population."
This language, so remarkable for its moderation, was corroborated by the ostensible letter below, which the Duke of Otranto thought proper to address to each of the generals in chief of the besieging armies.
"My Lord (or Prince),
"Independently of the course of our negotiations, I make it my duty, to write personally to your lordship on the subject of an armistice, the refusal of which, I confess, seems to me inexplicable. Our plenipotentiaries have been at head-quarters ever since the 28th of June, and we have not yet a positive answer.
"Peace already exists, since the war has no longer an object. Our right to independence, and the engagement taken by the sovereigns to respect it, would not the less subsist after the taking of Paris. It would be inhuman, therefore, it would be atrocious, to engage in sanguinary battles, that would make no alteration in the questions to be decided.
"I must speak candidly to your lordship; our state of possession, our legal state, which has the double sanction of the people and of the chambers, is that of a government, where the grandson of the Emperor of Austria is the head of the state. We cannot think of altering this state of things, unless the nation acquires a certainty, that the powers revoke their promises, and that the preservation of our present government is in opposition to their common wishes.
"What then can be more just, than to conclude an armistice? Are there any other means of allowing the combined powers time to explain themselves, and France time to be acquainted with their wishes?
"It will not escape your lordship, that already one great power finds in our state of possession a personal right to interest itself in our interior concerns. As long as this state remains unaltered, the two chambers have hence an additional obligation, not to consent at present to any measure capable of altering our possession.
"Is not the step, that has been adopted on our eastern frontier, the most natural to follow? It was not confined to an armistice between General Bubna and Marshal Suchet: it was stipulated, that we should return to our limits according to the treaty of Paris; because, in fact, the war ought to be considered as ended by the simple fact of the abdication of Napoleon.
"Field-marshal Frimont, on his part, has agreed to the armistice, to meet by preliminary arrangements those, that may take place between the allies. We do not even know, whether England and Prussia have changed their minds on the subject of our independence; for the march of the armies cannot be any certain indication of the minds of the cabinets. Neither can the will of two powers suffice us; it is their general agreement we want to know. Would you anticipate this agreement? Would you oppose an obstacle to it, in order to give rise to a new political tempest from a state of things so near to peace?
"I am not afraid, for my own part, to anticipate all objections. Perhaps you suppose, that the occupation of Paris by two of the allied armies will second the views you may entertain of restoring Louis XVIII. to the throne. But can an augmentation of the evils of war, which can be ascribed to this motive alone, be a means of reconciliation?
"I must declare to your lordship, that every sinister attempt to impose on us a government, before the allied powers have explained themselves, would immediately oblige the chambers to take measures, that would not leave the possibility of a reconciliation in any case. It is even the interest of the King, that every thing should remain in a state of suspension: force may replace him on the throne, but cannot keep him there. It is neither by force, nor by surprise, nor by the wishes of one party, that the national will can be brought to change its government. It would even be in vain, at the present moment, to offer us conditions, to render a new government more supportable. There are no conditions that can be examined, as long as the necessity of bending our necks to the yoke, of renouncing our independence, is not proved to us. Now, my lord, this necessity cannot even be suspected, before the allied powers are in accord. None of their engagements have been revoked: our independence is under their protection: it is we, who enter into their views; and, according to the sense of their declaration, it is the besieging armies, that deviate from them.
"According to these declarations, and never were there any more solemn, every employment of force, in favour of the King, by these armies, on that part of our territory, which is solely in their power, will be considered by France as an avowal of the formal design of imposing on us a government against our will. We may be allowed to ask your lordship, whether you have received any such authority. Besides, force is not a pacificator: a moral resistance repelled the late government, that the King had been made to adopt: the more violence is employed toward the nation, the more invincible would this resistance be rendered. It cannot be the intention of the generals of the besieging armies, to compromise their own governments; and to revoke in fact the law, that the allied powers have imposed on themselves.
"My lord, the whole question lies in the compass of these few words.
"Napoleon has abdicated, as the allied powers desired: peace is therefore restored: who the prince shall be, that is to reap the fruit of this abdication, ought not even to be brought into the question.
"Is our state of possession to be altered by force? The allied powers would not only violate their promises, promises made in the face of the whole world, but they would not obtain their end. Is the change to come from the will of the nation? Then it is necessary, in order to lead this will to declare itself, for the allied powers first to make known their formal refusal, to let our present government subsist. An armistice, therefore, is indispensable.
"The full force of these considerations, my lord, it is impossible not to perceive. Even in Paris, should the event of a battle open its gates to you, I should still hold to your lordship the same language. It is the language of all France. Were rivers of blood made causelessly to flow, would the pretensions, that gave rise to them, be more secure, or less odious?
"I hope soon to have an intercourse with your lordship, that will lead us both to the work of peace, by means more conformable to reason and justice. An armistice would allow us, to treat in Paris: and it will be easy for us to come to an understanding on the great principle, that the tranquillity of France is a condition inseparable from the tranquillity of Europe. It is only from a close inspection of the nation and of the army, that you can judge, on what the quietness and stability of our future condition depend.
"I beg, &c. &c."
Though in this letter the Duke of Otranto pleaded the cause of Napoleon IL, and pretended to be ignorant of the dispositions of the allies, it was nevertheless very easy to perceive, that he considered the question as irrevocably decided in favour of the Bourbons. Their name, which he had long avoided mentioning, was incessantly on his lips: but always the same, always inclined naturally and systematically, to have more strings than one to his bow, he appeared to incline alternately for the younger branch, and for the reigning branch. At one time the former seemed to him to offer preferably, and in a higher degree, all the guarantees the nation could desire: at another he insinuated, that it would be possible, to come to an accommodation with the King, if he would consent, to dismiss certain dangerous persons, and make fresh concessions to France.
This change, too sudden not to be noticed, drew on his conduct more than ever the scrutinizing eyes and reproaches of the antagonists of the Bourbons.
He was accused of encouraging by impunity the newspaper writers and pamphleteers, who openly advocated the recall of the ancient dynasty of protecting the royalist party; and of having restored to liberty one of its most subtle agents, Baron de Vitrolles.
He was charged with holding nocturnal conferences with this same M. de Vitrolles, and several eminent royalists; and with daily sending emissaries, unknown to his colleagues, to the King, to M. de Talleyrand, and to the Duke of Wellington.
Two of the deputies, M. Durbach and General Solignac, went to him, and declared, that they were acquainted with his manoeuvres; that his ambition blinded him; that no compact could ever subsist between Louis XVIII. and the murderer of his brother; and that sooner or later France would take vengeance on this treason.
An old minister of state, M. Deferment, reproached him to his teeth with privately selling the lives and liberties of the French.
Other accusations, not less serious, or less virulent, were addressed to him by M. Carnot, and by General Grenier. "If he betray us," said the latter, "I will blow his brains out."
The Duke of Otranto, accustomed to brave political storms, coolly repelled these imputations. He reminded his accusers of the numerous pledges he had given to the revolution. He offered his head as the guarantee of his fidelity. His protestations, his oaths, and the imperturbable assurance, with which he answered for the safety and independence of the nation, if he were suffered to go on his own way, allayed the storms: but he had too much penetration, not to be aware of the ground on which he stood; he could not but feel, that he was lost, if he did not hasten to a conclusion; and there is every reason to believe, that he rejected no means of arriving speedily at a decisive result.
[Footnote 83: If we may believe the declaration of M. Macirone, confirmed by the testimony of two other secret agents, MM. Marechal and St. Jul***, the Duke of Otranto wrote to Lord Wellington, by a letter of which M. Macirone was the bearer, and which he concealed in his stockings, that the enthusiasm of the federates and Bonapartists was at the height; and that it would be impossible, to restrain them any longer, if the Duke of Wellington did not hasten, to come and put an end to their fury by the occupation of Paris.]
Blucher, however, to whom only a shadow of defence was opposed, had crossed the Seine at the bridge of Pecq, which had been preserved by the care of a journalist named Martainville, and appeared to intend, to spread his troops round the south-west of Paris. Our generals, witnessing this adventurous march, were unanimously of opinion, that the Prussians had compromised themselves. They summoned the Prince of Eckmuhl to attack them; and he could not avoid assenting to it.
[Footnote 84: It was just at this moment, that the Emperor declared to the government, that he was certain of crushing the enemy, if they would entrust him with the command of the army.]
The whole army, generals, officers, soldiers, were still animated with a devotion, that nothing could rebut. Proud of the confidence placed in them by the national representatives, they had answered their appeal by an address full of spirit and patriotism; they had sworn to each other, to die in defence of the honour and independence of the nation; and they were impatient, to fulfil their oaths.
General Excelmans was sent after the Prussians with six thousand men. A corps of fifteen thousand infantry, under the command of General Vichery, was to follow him by the bridge of Sevres, and connect its movements with six thousand foot of the 1st corps, and ten thousand chosen horse, who were to march by the bridge of Neuilly. But at the moment of executing these movements, the success of which would unquestionably have ensured the destruction of the Prussian army, counter-orders were issued by the Prince of Eckmuhl, from what motives I know not. General Excelmans alone maintained the battle. He attacked the enemy in advance of Versailles, drove them into an ambuscade, cut them to pieces, and took from them their arms, baggage, and horses. Generals Strulz, Pire, Barthe, and Vincent, colonels Briqueville, Faudoas, St. Amand, Chaillou, Simonnet, Schmid, Paolini, and their brave regiments, performed prodigies of valour, and were intrepidly seconded by the citizens of the neighbouring communes, who had preceded as sharpshooters the arrival of our troops on the field of battle, and during the battle proved themselves worthy, to fight by their side.
This victory filled the Parisian patriots with hope and joy. It inspired them with the noble desire of imitating the fine example, that had just been set them. But when it was known, that a general engagement had been unanimously desired and agreed upon; and that the enemy, had it not been for counter-orders, surprised and cut off, would have been annihilated, this intoxication was changed into depression, and a cry was raised on all hands of infamy and treason.
Excelmans and his brave men, not being supported, were obliged to retreat. The Prussians advanced, the English moved out to support them; they formed a junction, and came and encamped together on the heights of Meudon.
The committee hastened to inform the commissioners of the critical situation of Paris, and desired them, as the Duke of Wellington was incessantly sending them from Caiphas to Pilate, to endeavour to see Prince Blucher. They answered, "that they had never been able to have any communication with the marshal; and that they could not establish a conference with him, unless through the intervention of Lord Wellington, without the risk of occasioning a rupture."
They added to their despatch a fresh letter, by which his lordship announced to them, that "Prince Blucher continued to express to him the greatest repugnance to the conclusion of an armistice," &c. &c.
The government no longer doubted the ill will of the English general. Count Carnot said, "that they must address themselves definitively to the brutal frankness of Blucher, rather than live in the uncertainty, in which they were kept by the civilities of Wellington."
The Duke of Vicenza thought the same, that the only way of coming to a conclusion was by bluntly making a proposal without the knowledge of the English. He remarked to the committee, that the great repugnance shown by Marshal Blucher to concluding an armistice, no doubt, arose from his being probably unwilling, to negotiate under the direction and influence of Wellington, to whose head-quarters he apparently avoided paying a visit. That he would be much more tractable, if he were addressed directly. That, by taking this step, they would also have the advantage of removing the negotiations from the place, where the Bourbons were; and of being able more easily to avoid the political question, on which Wellington seemed far more decided than Blucher. The commission, influenced by these observations, adopted the advice of M. Carnot; and the Prince of Eckmuhl was ordered, to address to Marshal Blucher direct proposals, founded principally on the armistice concluded with the chiefs of the Austrian forces.
The prince immediately answered:
"If Marshal Frimont have thought himself authorised, to conclude an armistice, this is no reason for our doing the same. We shall follow up our victory: God has given us the means, and the will.
"Consider what you have to do. Do not precipitate a city anew into calamities; for you are aware to what lengths an enraged soldiery may go, if your capital be taken by assault. Would you draw down on your head the curses of Paris, as you have those of Hamburgh?
"We are resolved to enter Paris, to secure the honest people there from the plunder; with which they are threatened by the populace. It is only in Paris, that we can conclude a secure armistice."
[Footnote 85: From this passage it appears unquestionable, that Wellington had communicated M. Fouche's letter to Prince Blucher.]
This letter was revolting to the committee; but however great its just indignation, there was now no middle path: the commander in chief had refused, to avail himself of a palpable fault of the enemy: the opportunity of victory had been let slip: it was necessary, to sustain a siege, or capitulate.
The committee, sensible of all the importance of the part it should take, was desirous of having recourse to the skill, the councils, and the responsibility of the most experienced men. It sent for the immortal defenders of Genoa and Toulouse, the conqueror of Dantzic, Generals Gazan, Duverney, and Evain, Major-General Ponton of the engineers, who had distinguished himself at the siege of Hamburgh, and in fine the presidents and committees (bureaux) of the two chambers.
Count Carnot, who had been to examine our positions and those of the enemy in company with General Grenier, made a report on the situation of Paris to the assembly.
That the fortifications erected on the right bank of the Seine appeared sufficient, to secure Paris against any assault on that side. But that the left bank was entirely open, and presented a spacious field to the enemy's attempts.
That the English and Prussian generals had moved the greater part of their armies to this vulnerable point with impunity: and appeared disposed, to attempt an attack with open force. That, if they failed the first time, they might return to the charge a second; and renew their attempts, till they rendered themselves masters of the capital. That they would have fresh troops, to oppose to us continually; while ours, obliged to be constantly on their guard, would soon be exhausted with fatigue.
That the arrival of subsistence was becoming difficult; and that a corps of sixty thousand Bavarians would apparently block up the way between the Seine and Marne in the course of a few days.
That the enemy, already masters of the heights of Meudon, and the best surrounding positions, might entrench themselves there, cut off our retreat, and reduce Paris and the army, to surrender at discretion.
The president of the committee, after having called the attention of the members of the assembly to these serious considerations, requested them to give their opinions.
It was observed to him, that it appeared necessary, previously to make known the present state of the negotiations. This the committee did not refuse: but the communication having brought on a discussion respecting the Bourbons, the committee reminded them, that they ought to confine themselves to the military question; and that the point was, purely and simply to decide, whether it were advisable or possible, to defend Paris.
The Prince of Essling, being called upon, said, that this city would be impregnable, if the inhabitants would make of it a second Saragossa: but there was not sufficient harmony in their sentiments, to think of a resolute resistance and the most prudent part would be, to obtain a suspension of hostilities at any price.
The Duke of Dantzic declared, that he did not think it impossible, to prolong their defence, by rapidly accelerating the works begun in the plains of Montrouge.
The Duke of Dalmatia maintained, that the left bank of the Seine was not tenable: that it was even very hazardous, since the occupation of Aubervilliers, to remain on the right side: that if the line of the canal, that joins St. Denis to Lavillette, should be forced, the enemy might enter by the barrier of St. Denis pell-mell with our troops.
Some of the members, agreeing in opinion with the Duke of Dantzic, demanded, that positive information should be procured respecting the possibility of putting the left bank into a state of defence, previous to coming to a decision. In fine, after some debate, it was decided, that the assembly was not competent, to determine such a question: and that it should be submitted to the examination and decision of a council of war, which the Prince of Eckmuhl should convene for the night following.
The occupation of Paris by the foreigners was the object of the impatient wishes of the royalists, and of the men who had sold or devoted themselves from policy, ambition, or fear, to the party of the Bourbons. Persuaded, that it would decide the fate of France in 1815, as it had done in 1814, they had omitted beforehand no step, no promise, no threatening insinuation, that could tend to accomplish their wishes and their triumph by the surrender of the city.
The Duke of Otranto, whether he were in concert with the royalists, or considered the speedy capitulation of Paris necessary to his own security; or were desirous of making a merit, at some future day, of having brought France under the sway of its legitimate sovereign without effusion of blood; appeared to consider it of great importance that the defence of Paris should not be prolonged. "Every thing is on the point of being settled," said he to the members, who had most influence in the chambers and in the army: "let us be very careful not to sacrifice a secure present to an uncertain future. The allies are agreed, that we shall have a Bourbon; but it is necessary, that he submit to the conditions imposed on him by the nation. The chamber will be retained, the generals will remain at the head of the army; all will go well. Is it not better to submit, than to expose France to be partitioned, or delivered over to the Bourbons bound hand and foot? A prolonged resistance would have no other result, than to retard our fall. It would rob us of the price of a voluntary submission, and authorise the Bourbons to be implacable." If little disposition were shown, to share his confidence and his sentiments; he imposed silence on the refractory by all the forms of the most lively interest. "Your opposition," he said to them, "astonishes and grieves me: would you pass for an incendiary, and incur the penalty of being exiled? Let us go on our own way, I conjure you: I will answer for the future.".... An internal presentiment warned the hearers, that this future would be far from answering the expectations of M. Fouche: but his political life, his great talents, his connexions with the foreign ministers, the attention paid him in 1814 by the Emperor Alexander and the king of Prussia, gave such weight, such an ascendancy, to his words, that they ultimately did violence to their own reason, and gave themselves up, though not without murmuring, to confidence and hope.
The council of war assembled on the night of the 1st of July at the head-quarters at Lavillette, under the presidentship of the Prince of Eckmuhl. Care was taken, it appeared, to keep away some suspected generals; and not to neglect calling those officers, whose principles, moderation, or weakness, was known. All the marshals present in the capital were admitted; and they, who had lately refused to fight, did not refuse to come to capitulate.
The committee, in order to prevent all political discussion, had stated the questions, to which the members of the council were to confine their deliberations: but this precaution, as might be supposed, did not prevent their entering familiarly into the moral and political considerations, that might influence the defence or surrender of the place besieged. Marshal Soult pleaded the cause of Louis XVIII.; and was eagerly seconded by other marshals, and several generals, who, though they entered into the council under the national colours, would willingly have gone out of it with the white cockade.
It is impossible, to recapitulate the opinions, given in turn or confusedly by the fifty persons, who were called to take a share in this great and important deliberation. Their speeches, or rather their conversation, turned alternately on Paris and on the Bourbons.
"We are told," said the partisans of Louis XVIII. and the capitulation, "that Paris, covered without by an army of eighty thousand men; and defended within by the federates, the sharpshooters, the national guard, and an immense population; might resist the efforts of the allies for twenty days at least. We are told, that its immense extent will render the arrival of provision easy. We admit the possibility of all this: but what will be the ultimate effect of this resistance? To allow the Emperor Alexander, and the Emperor of Austria, time to arrive.... The allies, we know perfectly well, promise to leave us the power of choosing our sovereign: but will they keep their promises? and what conditions will they annex to them? Already Wellington and Blucher have announced, that they will require guarantees, and fortified towns, if Louis XVIII. be rejected. Is not this equivalent to a formal declaration, that the allies are resolved, to retain that sovereign on the throne? Let us voluntarily rally round him, therefore, while we still can. His ministers led him astray, but his intentions were always pure: he knows the faults he has committed; he will be eager to repair them, and to give us the institutions yet necessary, to consolidate the rights and liberties of the people on bases not to be shaken."
"This reasoning may be just," answered their opponents; "but experience, of more weight than any reasoning, has convinced us, that we must not rely on empty promises. The hopes you have conceived rest on conjecture, or on the word of the agents of the Bourbons. Before we surrender ourselves into the hands of the King, he must make known to us the guarantees, by which we are to be secured. If they be agreeable to us, then we may deliberate but if we open our gates without conditions, and previous to the arrival of Alexander, Wellington and the Bourbons will make a jest of their promises, and oblige us to submit to the will of the conqueror without pity. Besides, why should we despair of the safety of France? Is the loss of a single battle, then, to decide the fate of a great nation? Have we not still immense resources, to oppose to the enemy? Have the federates, the national guard, and all true Frenchmen, refused to shed their blood in defence of the glory, the honour, and the independence of their country? While we are fighting under the walls of the capital, the levy in mass of the patriots will be arranged in the departments: and when our enemies see, that we are determined to defend our independence, they will rather respect it, than expose themselves to a patriotic and national war for interests not their own. We must refuse, therefore, to surrender; and place ourselves in a situation, by a vigorous defence, to give the law, instead of receiving it."
"You maintain," it was replied, "that we may raise in mass the federates and the patriots. But how will you arm them? we have no muskets. Besides, can a levy in mass be organised on a sudden? Before you could have a single battalion at your disposal, Paris would have under its feeble ramparts sixty thousand Bavarians, and a hundred and forty thousand Austrians more to fight. What will you do then? You must ultimately surrender: and the blood you will have shed will be lost without return, and without utility. But will not that we shall have spilt of the enemy fall on our own heads? Will they not make us expiate our mad and cruel resistance by a disgraceful capitulation? If the allies, at the present moment, think themselves strong enough to refuse you a suspension of hostilities, what will they do, when they have their twelve hundred thousand soldiers on our territory? The dismemberment of France, the pillage and devastation of the capital, will be, perhaps, the fruit of the rash defence you propose to us."
These considerations, the force of which was generally felt, were unanimously approved. It was acknowledged, that it would be unquestionably most prudent, not to expose the capital to the consequences and dangers of a siege, or of being taken by assault. It was acknowledged, too, at least by implication, that, the return of the Bourbons being inevitable, it was better to recall them voluntarily, under good conditions, than to leave to the allies the act of restoring them. But the members did not think proper, to explain themselves on this delicate subject; and accordingly confined themselves to laconic answers of the questions proposed by the committee.
Questions proposed by the Committee of Government to the Council of War, assembled at la Villette, July the 1st, 1815.
"1st. What is the state of the intrenchments raised for the defence of Paris?—Answer. The state of the intrenchments, and their supply of ordnance, on the right bank of the Seine, though incomplete, is in general satisfactory enough. On the left bank the intrenchments may be considered as null.
"2d. The army, can it cover and defend Paris?—Ans. It may: but not indefinitely. It ought not to expose itself to a want of provision, or to have its retreat cut off.
"3d. If the army were attacked on all points, could it prevent the enemy from penetrating into Paris on one side or the other?—Ans. It would be difficult for the army to be attacked on all points at once: but should this happen, there would be little hope of resistance.
"4th. In case of a defeat, could the commander in chief reserve, or collect, sufficient means, to oppose a forcible entry?—Ans. No general can answer for the consequences of a battle.
"5th. Is there sufficient ammunition for several battles?—Ans. Yes.
"6th. In fine, can you answer for the fate of the capital? and for how long a time?—Ans. We can warrant nothing on this head.
(Signed) "The Marshal Minister at War, "The Prince of ECKMUHL.
"July the 2d, 3 o'clock in the morning."
The answer of the council of war was transmitted immediately to the Tuileries, and there became the subject of a long and profound deliberation.
In fine, after having weighed the advantages and dangers of a protracted defence; after having considered, that Paris, without hope of succour, and surrounded on all sides, would either be taken by assault, or forced to surrender at discretion that the army, without any means of retreat, would find themselves perhaps reduced to choose between the disgrace of surrendering themselves prisoners, and the necessity of burying themselves under the ruins of the capital; the committee decided unanimously, that Paris should not be defended, and that they would submit to deliver it into the hands of the allies, since the allies would not suspend hostilities at any other price.
General Ziethen, who commanded Prince Blucher's advanced guard, was informed of this determination by the Prince of Eckmuhl. He returned him the following answer:
"To the Prince of Eckmuhl.
"July the 2d.
"General Revest has communicated to me verbally, that you demand an armistice, to treat of the surrender of Paris.
"In consequence, M. General, I have to inform you, that I am in no way authorized to accept an armistice. I dare not even announce this demand to his Highness Marshal Prince Blucher: but however, if the deputies of the government declare to my aide-de-camp, Count Westphalen, that they will surrender the city, and that the French army will surrender itself also, I will accept a suspension of hostilities.
"I will then communicate it to his highness Prince Blucher, to treat of the other articles.
When Brennus, abusing his victory, offered an insult to the vanquished, the Romans ran to arms. We, less sensible, and less proud, heard, without shuddering, the insult offered to our eighty thousand brave soldiers, and accepted, without blushing, the disgrace thus inflicted upon them and us!
Our only revenge was to despatch MM. de Tromeling and Macirone, the former to Prince Blucher, the latter to Lord Wellington.
The Duke of Otranto, without the knowledge of the committee, delivered to M. Macirone a confidential note in the following terms:
"The army is dissatisfied, because it is unhappy; encourage it: it will become faithful and devoted.
"The chambers are indocile for the same reason; encourage every body, and every body will be on your side.
"Let the army be sent away: the chambers will consent to it, on a promise to add to the charter the guarantees specified by the King. In order to come to a good understanding, it is necessary, that explanations should take place: do not enter Paris, therefore, in less than three days; in this interval every thing will be settled. The chambers will be gained; they will fancy themselves independent, and will sanction every thing. It is not force that must be employed with them, but persuasion."
I know not whether M. de Tromeling were also furnished with a similar note, or whether Lord Wellington interposed his authority; but Prince Blucher, become on a sudden more tractable, consented to treat of the surrender of Paris.
On the 3d of July, General Ziethen announced on his part to the Prince of Eckmuhl, "that the deputies of the government might present themselves: that they would be conducted to St. Cloud, where they would find deputies from the English and Prussian generals."
Baron Bignon, Count de Bondy, and General Guilleminot, provided with powers from the Prince of Eckmuhl (Blucher having declared, that he would have nothing to do with any person but the chief of the French army), repaired to the Prussian advanced posts, and were conducted to St. Cloud; where, without any regard to the laws of nations, they were deprived of all means of communicating with the government, and kept in a private prison, during the whole continuance of the negotiations.
Baron Bignon, the principal negotiator, and his two colleagues, defended the political rights, the private interests, the inviolability of persons and property, national and individual, with inestimable firmness and zeal. They were far from foreseeing, that the following convention, which they considered as sacred, would subsequently open such a fatal!! door to the interpretations of vengeance and bad faith.
This day, July the 3d, 1815, the commissioners named by the commanders in chief of the respective armies, namely:
M. Baron Bignon, having in charge the portfolio of foreign affairs; M. Count Guilleminot, chief of the staff of the French army; M. Count de Bondy, prefect of the department of the Seine; furnished with full powers by Marshal the Prince of Eckmuhl, commander in chief of the French army, on the one part;
And M. Major-General Baron de Muffling, furnished with powers by his Highness Marshal Prince Blucher, commander-in-chief of the Prussian army; and M. Colonel Hervey, furnished with full powers by his excellency the Duke of Wellington, commander-in-chief of the English army, on the other;