Page images
PDF

1777.

THE MARQUIS DE LA FAYETTE.

159

There were also several Poles, who had lately fought in the civil wars of their native country. Among them, Kosciusko, employed in America as an officer of Engineers, may be most honourably mentioned.* But these men, whether French or Poles, were, for the most part, either adventurers or exiles; none among them as yet united in himself the two-fold advantages of high rank and of affluent fortune. Such a man now first appeared in the young Marquis de La Fayette.

The Marquis de La Fayette was born in 1757, as a posthumous son, his father having fallen shortly before at the battle of Minden. His studies were slight, and soon interrupted; less, perhaps, by his entrance into the regiment of Mousquetaires Noirs (since, as he says himself, he was only taken from school on the days of a review **); but at the age of sixteen he was married to a daughter of the House of Noailles. This illustrious alliance, combined with his own high birth, drew him frequently to Court, a sphere by no means congenial to his temper, but at which he acquired much suavity and gentleness of manners. These — I have heard Prince Talleyrand observe — he constantly retained even through scenes and with associates, as at the first French Revolution, that displayed a striking contrast to them. It cannot be said, however, that the Graces so highly vaunted by Lord Chesterfield ever fell to his share, since, in several of his writings, we find him make a jest of his own awkwardness. ***

It so chanced that in the summer of 1776, LaFayette, still

* See on Kosciusko, a note to Washington's Writings, vol. v. p. 142. It is to be observed, however, that of the Pcles, some at least were not unwilling to engage upon the other side. One of these, Count Grabowsky, an intrepid volunteer, fell in our ranks at the storm of Fort Clinton. (Stedman's History, vol. i. p. 3G2.)

** "Memoires jusqu'en 1780." Correspondance de La Fayette, vol. i. p. 6. ed. 1837.

I? Thus, he writes from America to Madame de La Fayette; "Vous "aurez espe're' qu'on ne ponvait pas etre e"galement gauche sur tous les "theatres" (le 24 Aout, 1781.) In his "Memoires jusqu'en 1780" (p. 7.), he as frankly owns "la gauchcrie de mes manieres qui ne se pliferent jamais "aux graces de la Cour."

in his teens, and serving as a subaltern with the French army, was stationed with his regiment at Metz. It happened also that in the course of a foreign tour their Royal Highnesses of Gloucester passed a few days in that town. The principal officers entertained the Duke at dinner, when the conversation turned to the last news from Philadelphia and the new Declaration of Independence. Being at that period offended with his Court, from its neglect of the Duchess, the Duke indulged in Opposition topics, and, in some degree at least, took the part of the Americans. The details were new to La Fayette. He listened with eagerness, and prolonged the conversation by asking questions of the Royal guest. The cause of the Colonies that had risen against England seemed to him just and noble, even on the showing of one of the English princes; and before he left the table, the thought came into his head that he would go to America, and offer the Americans his services. He determined to return to Paris, and make further inquiries. His inquiries being mainly addressed to Silas Deane and other zealous friends of the insurgents, could not fail to confirm him in his first impressions. He became fired with an ardent zeal for Republican principles and the American cause. That zeal continued ever afterwards — for well-nigh sixty years — the polar star of his course. That zeal, favoured as it was by fortune, adapted to the times that came upon him, and urged forward by great personal vanity, laid the foundations of his fame far more, as I conceive, than any strength of mind or talents of his own. Few men have ever been so conspicuous from afar with so little, when closely viewed, of real weight or dimension. As a General, it can scarcely be pretended that his exploits were either many or considerable. As an orator, we look in vain for any high powers of debate. As a statesman, we find only an undistinguishing eagerness to apply the Transatlantic examples and to act the part of Washington, without duly estimating either the immense superiority of Washington's character above his own, or the manifold points of difference between America and Europe.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

It was said by Napoleon, at St. Helena, that "La Fayette "was a man of no ability, either in civil or military life; his "understanding was confined to narrow bounds; his charac"ter was full of dissimulation, and swayed by vague ideas of "liberty, which, in him, were undefined and ill-digested." No doubt there is some exaggeration in these words. No doubt the late Emperor, at that period, was stirred by personal resentment at the hostile conduct of the General in 1815; yet it will perhaps be found more easy by any admirer of La Fayette to impugn the good faith of the draughtsman than the general accuracy of the portrait. *

The fortune of La Fayette was ample, his yearly income being little short of two hundred thousand livres; and his connexions, as we have seen, were among the first at Court. Under such circumstances, Silas Deane felt the vast importance of securing him. An agreement was concluded between them, by the intervention of one Mr. Carmichael (for as yet La Fayette spoke no English, and Deane little French), according to the terms of which the Marquis de La Fayette was to join the American service, and to receive from Congress the rank of Major-General**— no slight temptation to a stripling of nineteen! La Fayette was to be accompanied, or rather attended, by the Baron de Kalb and eleven other officers of lower rank, seeking service in America. He sent, in secret, an agent to Bordeaux, there to purchase and prepare a vessel for their voyage. Meanwhile

* Tho article Lafayette, by Messieurs Boullde and Michaud, in the "Supplement a la Biographie Universelle" (vol. lxix. ed. 1841), which quotes the saying of Napoleon, gives also a curious confirmation of it from the MS. Memoirs of M. dc St. Priest. It appears that a little before the French Revolution, and when M. dc St. Priest had returned from his embassy at Constantinople, General La Fayette called upon him and expressed his intention to undertake, as a private individual, with a band of followers, the conquest of Egypt, or else of the Barbary States — all this without the slightest knowledge of the actual condition or means of defence of these countries! It is added: "M. de St. Priest fut si e"tonne, si mecontent, de "son ignorance, et do scs plans ridicules , qu'il lui tourna le dos ot lui "ferma sa porte!"

** See the valuable and authentic "Note," or rather, Memoir, written by Mr. Jared Sparks, but derived in great part from La Fayette's own oral information, in the Appendix to Washington's Writings, vol. v. p. 445—456. AJu/ion, History. VI. 11

he made an excursion of three weeks to London, where his kinsman, the Marquis de Noailles, was ambassador. He was presented to the King, and graciously received. He saw at the Opera General Clinton, who had come home on a winter leave of absence, and who was next to meet him on a field of battle in America. But, mindful of his own hostile designs, he deemed it proper to forbear from prying into the military forces of the kingdom, and declined an invitation to visit the naval armament at Portsmouth.

On his return to France, La Payette bade farewell to his young wife, leaving her four months gone with child, and set out for Bordeaux. Thus far all had prospered according to his wishes. But at Bordeaux he found that his preparations had been discovered and complained of by Lord Stormont, and that a Lettre De Cachet for his arrest was already issued. Nevertheless he did not relinquish his design. He crossed the Spanish frontier in the disguise of a courier, found his vessel at Passages, and there embarked with his companions. Towards the middle of June he landed on the coast of Carolina; and after a few days' rest, pursued his route to Philadelphia. His reception by the Congress was not at first a warm one; but La Fayette declared that he would accept no pay, and was willing to serve as a volunteer; and under these circumstances, the Assembly fulfilled the terms of the secret agreement, and bestowed on him the rank of Major-General.

At Philadelphia La Fayette saw the American troops for the first time, and, according to his own account, was struck at their grotesque appearance—with green boughs fastened to their hats — coarse hunting - shirts instead of uniforms — and muskets, many wanting bayonets, and all of unequal make and size. But he soon learnt to think more favourably of these raw levies, when, notwithstanding all their disadvantages, he observed their conduct in the field. With regard to their commander, his early impressions never changed. It was also at Philadelphia, and at a dinner-table, comprising several members of the Congress, thatLaFayette 1777.

BARON STEUBEN.

163

was introduced to Washington. The boy-General found himself warmly welcomed by the chief whom he had long admired. "When you come to the army," said Washington, "I shall be pleased if you will mate my quarters your home, "and consider yourself as one of my family." The invitation thus frankly tendered was no less frankly accepted. Thus did a cordial intimacy arise between them, Washington at all times treating La Fayette with fatherly kindness, and La Fayette looking up to Washington with filial regard.

La Fayette had already begun to speak a little English, and by degrees acquired more. But to the last the difficulties of the language were a main obstacle, not only to himself, but to every other foreigner who served with, or under, the United States. Thus there are still preserved some of the illspelled and scarce intelligible notes of Count Pulasky, during the short time that he served as General of cavalry.* Still worse was the case of Baron Steuben, a veteran of the school of Frederick the Second, who joined the Americans a few months later than La Fayette, and who greatly aided them in the establishment of discipline. The Baron, it appears, could not teach and drill, nor even swear and curse, but by means of an interpreter! He was, therefore, most fortunate in securing as his aide-de-camp Captain Walker of New York — most fortunate, if, as his American biographer assures us, "there was not, perhaps, another officer in the "army, unless Hamilton be excepted, who could speak "French and English so as to be well understood in "both."**

La Fayette did not always confine himself to the bounds of his own profession; sometimes, and, perhaps, not greatly

* See one of these notes in Reed's Life and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 318.

*• Life of Baron Steuben, by Bowen, p. 23. ed. 1838, in Sparlts's Collection. Mr. Bowcn adds: "As the Baron slowly acquired our language, "his eagerness and warmth of temper would frequently involve him in "difficulties. On such occasions, after exhausting all the execrations he "could think of in German and French, he would call upon his faithful "Aid for assistance: 1 Venez, Walker, man ami! Sucre tie qaucherie of "1 dese badauds; je n'en puis plus! I can curse dem no more!'"

« PreviousContinue »