Page images
PDF
EPUB

The remark was psychologically correct. Canrobert went to Leflô and Rivet. He was “grieved" at the rejection of the motion; he regretted the doubtful position of the army; but, as regarded himself, he knew what he owed to the law and to the African generals. He only hoped that the colonels of Paris were not of a different opinion. To General Leflô, whose duty it was to protect the Assembly, he said : “ Trust nobody !" Leftó: “Excepting yourself.Canrobert: “Oh, that's a different matter."

Which way would the tongue of the balance incline? Canrobert did not know so late as half-past five on the morning of the Deux Décembre. At that hour, Lieutenant-Colonel Adjutant Edgar Ney entered his bedroom, and handed him the “ written order" of the war minister, St. Arnaud, to take his post on the Place de la Madeleine. Madame K. had forgotten nothing: “The prince reckons on your great talents, your courage, and your devotion. Support him, and his gratitude will know no limits.” The soldierly ambition of General Canrobert could not be bought over with a few bundles of bank-notes, as was the case with other parties. It also deserves prominent mention that he had no debts.

Canrobert, standing at the cross roads and forced to a decision, thought it best to offer an arm to either lady. He hardly had posted his troops, than he proceeded to M. Rivet's, in the Rue de Suresnes. He knew nothing; he was even horrified when his cousin told him what had happened: the National Assembly dissolved by force, the constitution torn to rags, the questors, the generals, and sundry representatives haled to prison. «What shall I do?” the general asked, somewhat despondingly. M. Rivet replied very sharply: “ It is not my place to advise you; ask, the law and your conscience. I am going to the Council of State to protest.” Canrobert walked away, and another person came in. Rivet said to the latter : “ You see that man: he is about to dishonour himself.”

Canrobert, who still had a lady on each arm, now advanced a step farther; he allowed the money of the Elysée to be distributed among his troops; they drank and prepared for the horrors that were to come. He himself, however, still spoke with people of both parties ; he tried to assume a reserve, and affected an independence as regarded all that might happen. On the afternoon of the 2nd of December he walked about publicly with Madame K. on his arm, and she contrived to bring the cord that held him well home. In the evening the general called on: Madame Leflô, whom he found bathed in tears, for she knew not what had become of her husband. He made bitter complaints of the arbitrary conduct to which her husband had been a victim, his “intimate friend," his companion in arms for so many years. He asked her advice, but the “eternal enemies of order and the family” are wont at times to be very slightly indulgent. “Are you a man or a child ? Take up arms for the law, for your friends, for your old chiefs, to whom you owe everything. That is your duty--that is what honour demands of you. I have no other advice to offer you. That is clear. You understand me, general ?" When she saw that Hercules still hesitated, she said, with tears of con. tempt, “You wish to save both parties. That is disgraceful. Pray retire, and respect my sorrow.” General Canrobert bowed his head and went. One of the two women was evidently loosing her hold of his arm.

[ocr errors]

On December 3, it seemed in Paris as if certain persons had staked their heads, and lost them. Without the remembrance of the June massacres, the coup d'état would be a simple coup de tête. The most compromised conspirators trembled ; the troops hesitated at more than one point. A prisoner at Mazas received, in spite of all the sbirri, the following note: “Nil desperandum. I have just spoken with Canrobert; he is coming round to the side of the Assembly.” The same report spread simultaneously through Paris. The general held for a moment the destinies of his country in his hands. Stifting the empire in its birth would probably not have procured France the much-desired tranquillity; but whether the tranquillity at present existing will in the slightest degree alleviate future excesses, is a question which we are fortunately not called upon to resolve.

On the 4th of December the speeches, dinners, and proclamations of the various opposition factions broke out in wild tumultuary masses and barricades. The workmen, it is notorious, were in no way active in erecting these monsters ; that same bourgeoisie, in whose name the party of order had so incessantly execrated any active opposition to the authority; the army of passive obedience itself opposed the passive obedience of the army. Barricades! what a delight for the Elysée! what a famous excuse for the generals and colonels who were still at liberty. “The maintenance of order and suppression of anarchy!" that had been the common cry of the Tuileries and the Elysée. Canrobert believed for a moment that he could still hold both women by the arm. “ Suppress anarchy!" why his friend Leflô would have desired that; and if it turned out in favour of the Elysée, how could Canrobert help that ?.

As a brave general and an Auvergnat, he said: “Let us suppress the insurrection, and restore order : after that, we will see. I declare that if, after the restoration of order the popular representatives and the generals are not set at liberty, I will retire. But order before all !" Canrobert marched- not against the barricades, for there was not a single one on the Boulevards, but against “the curious." In 1852, M. de Morny explained the entire tactics to some councils-general of the Puy-de-Dôme : “ The prince had studied the revolutions of Paris : he saw that they increased by the mass of curious persons who flocked up. That of December 4 began precisely in that way. He did not hesitate, but had the curious removed. Canrobert managed the affair, and gained the day."

Canrobert's brigade, flushed with wine and brandy, supported by General Reybell's cavalry brigade, attended to the removal of the curious—two thousand persons of both sexes and of every age, men, women, and children ; all sorts of weapons—sabres, lances, bayonets, muskets, pistols, guns, howitzers. A la guerre comme à la guerre! The Paris correspondent of the Times has preserved the documents for the world's judgment. Religion, property, family, were at stake, and the Sphynx, with his feet on the chimney hobs, muttered, “Qu'on exécute mes ordres !” A great historical act looked beyond the antiquated commandment, Thou shalt do no murder. General Canrobert was the chosen of Providence.

Reybell was drunk, as he so often was. But Canrobert was sober, Quite soberly he poured his infantry and artillery on the masses of " the curious," without any preceding summons or any warning. Musketry fire, cannon-balls, and grape opened a path for the historical revelation. What right had the people to go a walking at such times? They must be saved. In the upper stories they lay flat on the floor : the bullets that crashed into the ceiling above their heads gave them a shrill whistle of significance that they had just been saved.

In this way General Canrobert restored order on December 4. He waited, as a Décembriseur said, till the crowd had become dense, ere he poured desolation into it. But, even at this time, the general retained his self-respect; he would not join in that cry for blood raised by Magnan and St. Arnaud, who desired on the self-same day that the prisons should be cleared at the bayonet's point. He did not rush upon the high offices and grades, or the public treasury. He was disinterested, moderate, and threw all the responsibility on the higher personages, whose commands he was unhappily compelled to execute. He was in the right, for, up to the present hour, he is treated with considerable indulgence even by the numerous enemies of the empire: his melapa choly destiny is mourned over, and the Belgian Indépendance quotes him at intervals as the representative of mercy and forgiveness.

Madame K. twisted the cord entirely round her band. It was said suddenly, but generally, that Canrobert had demanded the end of the dictatorship, the acquittal of the prisoners, and a general amnesty. If the prince does not yield, Canrobert will send in his resignation. The prince sent his harsh Mentor an Arab courser, and he (we mean the courser) supported its character. Canrobert rode on the horse to the Elysée, and renewed his demands. Messrs. Granier de Cassagnac, Mayer, and other paid propagandists replied to the general in newspapers and pamphlets " that he was an extraordinary officer, and reserved for the highest honours." The courser remained, and Canrobert too. After the vote of December 20, the general considered himself acquitted ; but the imprisoned representatives, and the generals, and his “friend” Leflô, too? The foreign papers knew, on the best authority, that Canrobert would resign unless the prince yielded. The prince treated the prisoners we know how, and General Canrobert was rewarded for his virtue by an appointment as adjutant of the prince, and 30,000 fr. pay. After the decree of January 22, Canrobert wrote his resignation, and was on the point of sending it in, when he received a gratification, which he only accepted “lest he might insult the prince."

Soon after, three commissioners were sent into the central and southern departments to revise the labours of the mixed commissions. General Canrobert was one of them. His feeling heart was full of sympathy for the “unhappy victims of our civil dissensions,” but with the best will he could only liberate two hundred of them. The great majority, he convinced himself very rapidly, was composed of Communists, Partageux, robbers, and scamps, who were well suited for Cayenne and Lambessa. They were magistrates, advocates, physicians, attorneys, notaries, yeomen, manufacturers, merchants, officers on half pay, workmen, peasants, men, women, and children. The hundred thousand disturbers of the peace, whom M. de Falloux had indicated long before, must be sent out of France. General Canrobert yielded to the inevitable, and even danced at the new court of the prince president with a bleeding heart. Had he retired, the Indépendance .could not have referred every month to the generals “generous prayers ” in favour of his friend Leflô.

The official commentary on these "generous prayers” was Canrobert's appointment as general of division. He could have had it long before, but declined : he would remain exactly his three years as general of brigade, as the letter of the law lays down. The law gives every brigadiergeneral of three years' standing the possibility, but not the right, of promotion. Only Lamoricière, Changarnier, and Bedeau had been promoted immediately that their time was up. By following their example, Canrobert was elevated equally with them, and the law was not infringed: 80 cleverly do men calculate in Auvergne ! Canrobert remained beyond and above all parties: he ever complained of the “ social dissensions, he lent his sword momentarily to the authorities " to suppress anarchy," merely through a feeling of duty, sine irâ et studio. His fatherland allowed him to advance according to the prescriptions of the regulations: only the thought of his friend Letiô prevented him thoroughly enjoying his brilliant position and fortune. He will never be perfectly happy till the day when the gates of France are thrown widely open to those who are her “glory and her ornament," when the “ banished generals” will reassume their place at the head of that army which they so long illustrated.

The rank of general of division was gained in the streets of Paris; the Eastern war came as if summoned, and held up as its finale the marshal's staff. Canrobert led his division to the East: in his pocket he had a letter. He did his duty at the Alma, and was wounded. When St. Arnaud, undermined by a dangerous illness, sent for General Forey as the eldest general of division, Caprobert once again made his appearance, invoked by Providence, and drew the somewhat crumpled letter from his pocket. Lord Raglan, Canrobert, and Bosquet bade St. Arnaud an eternal adieu, and the difficulties of the command were redoubled.

General Canrobert had suddenly become the chief of his equals. The comrades of yesterday must now obey; but obedience can be mechanical, and be limited to what is absolutely necessary, or it can sympathetically meet the order half way, especially if emanating from a man of recognised genius. But this genius was entirely absent. Lord Raglan only allowed. himself to be half led by St. Arnaud, whose martial attitude seemed now and then imposing to the soldier of Waterloo. With Canrobert it was quite different: here the pedantic caution of the self-doubting chief was joined to the obstinacy of the old invalid. Lord Raglan assumed an oppositional station : the unity of the command suffered, delay became the rule. Lord Raglan and Omar Pasha were both of opinion that the siege of Sebastopol was a foolish piece of business, by which, at the most, only the hide of the Muscovite bear would be singed. Canrobert, strictly inspired from Paris, instantly yielded in the interest of the alliance, and even offered Lord Raglan the supreme command, but, as the story ran, his lordship now proposed such mad schemes that the rupture became nevitable.

In May, 1855, Canrobert sent in his resignation, ascribing it to failing health. The emperor informed the general that, while regretting his weakened health, he accepted his resignation. Still, Canrobert's state of health, as is notorious, did not prevent him remaining at the head of the

second division, and enduring all the fatigues of the war. Two months later he received his marshal's staff. Once again it was not the triumph. ant warrior who was rewarded, but the faithful servant, the diplomatic general, who gracefully took on himself the necessities of an inevitable position. Perhaps Canrobert's merits were the greater, for his sharper powers of observation enabled him to penetrate the intrigues of the diplomatists better than the fiery St. Arnaud could do. His mission to Stockholm, where he had to complete a species of offensive and defensive alliance, seems, at any rate, to prove that he was rather deeply initiated in those secrets spun round Lord John Russell at Vienna, and through which M. Drouyn de l'Huys for a moment allowed the government helm to slip from his grasp. In such a case, Marshal Canrobert did not discover his real value till too late a date.

In 1858 Marshal Canrobert was appointed to the head of one of the five military divisions of France. His head-quarters were at Nancy, and the ordre du jour he issued on taking the command deserves quotation :

“ Officers and soldiers of the fourth, fifth, and sixth military divisions, By the will of the emperor, summoned to the exalted honour of commanding you, I feel the value of this appointment the more as I have so long shared the life of that great French army, in whose useful works, noble misfortunes, and glorious battles I have so often been a partici. pator, Hence I entertain the legitimate conviction that, between yourselves and me, a mutual confidence will ever prevail. We will employ it to ensure the strict observance of discipline, obedience to the law, the absolute respect for the constitution of the empire, which emanates from all and protects all. We will continue to offer France and her provi, dential emperor pledges of our unshaken devotion. In meeting you in this glorious scenery of the eastern empire, whose martial inhabitants gave so many noble instances of patriotism at decisive moments, I cannot refrain from a deep feeling of pride and hope--pride, at being the chief of such soldiers as you are; hope, with your aid, and that of your good fellow-citizens, of promoting the fortunes of France, and the renown of that illustrious Napoleonic dynasty which is evolving its great and blessed history."

Such are the effects of a pretty Russian woman's intrigues with a brigadier-general who was seeking a social position. Canrobert's marshal staff has blossomed and put forth fruit. During the Italian war Canrobert was only distinguished by an ignoble dispute, and has, in all probability, been quietly shelved. He has done his dirty work, and may now make room for others who thirst for reward. Well, he has no cause to complain : he has achieved a glorious position, and his best plan will be to keep in the background. A nation may forget the extravagances, even cruelty, of men so deeply compromised that they could not withdraw, but it can never forgive the horrifying sang-froid of men who, like Canrobert, waded in blood to their ankles while buttoning their gloves and arranging their flowing locks after the last new fashion.

We wonder, though, during Canrobert's eastern command, whether he followed the plan of Louis XIV.'s ministers, and rigorously forbade the performance of Molière's “ Tartufe?"

« PreviousContinue »