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The events of Count D'Orsay's external life may be briefly told. Himself and his sister, the present Duchess de Grammont, were the only children of General Count D'Orsay, a gallant soldier of the Empire, from whom their inheritance was little more than the ancient name they bore, and the claim to personal attractions by which both were preeminently distinguished.
Alfred D’Orsay was born in the first year of the present century, and, but for the grief which threw its shadow over the last three years of his existence, had scarcely passed the meridian of life when he died. Before he was of age—we have seen some accounts which fix the date in 1819
-he visited England for a few months, and while himself “the cynosure of every eye,” was far more observant of men and manners than could have been imagined in one so young, so choyé, and so much admired.
The journal which he kept during that period, though still a sealed book to the million, has been read by one whose genius-and, alas! whose experience of life-authoritatively establish its merits. Lord Byron, in whose hands it was subsequently placed, has spoken of it in terms which can leave no doubt of the singular ability with which it was written ; but before we cite the opinion of the noble bárd, we must speak of that event which, to the latest hour of Count D'Orsay's life, “ coloured all his objects."
While quartered with his regiment at Valence, on the Rhone, in November, 1822, it was Alfred D’Orsay's fortune to meet with Lord and Lady Blessington, then on their way to Italy, and the fascination of this society proved so great that the intimacy thus suddenly formed was never afterwards broken. The French expedition to Spain—the most vaporous of all French expeditions-was about to take place, and Count D’Orsay's regiment was included åmongst the laurel-seekers. He either estimated the forthcoming campaign at its proper value, or found the attractions of his friends too irresistible to abandon ; for he at once bade adieu to his military companions, and followed those with whose lot his own was, for the future, cast.
A few months later--in the spring of 1823—Count D'Orsay made the acquaintance with Lord Byron which elicited the criticisni on his “ Journal” to which we have adverted. Writing to Moore from Genoa, on the 2nd of April, 1823, Byron says:
“Your other allies, whom I have found very agreeable personages, are Milor B * * and épouse, travelling with a very handsome companion, in the shape of a French Count' (to use Farquhar's phrase in the Beaux' Stratagem), who has all the air of a Cupidon déchaîné, and is one of the few specimens I have seen of our ideal of a Frenchman before the revolution, an old friend with a new face, upon whose like I never thought that we should look again.”
It was not long before Lord Byron had other qualities to admire besides the captivations of manner and personal appearance in the handsome young Frenchman of which he had spoken. The “ Journal” had been submitted for his perusal, and then came his opinion on that too. On the 5th of April, he wrote to Lord Blessington as follows:
“I return the Count's Journal, which is a very extraordinary production, and of a most melancholy truth in all that regards high life in England. I know, or knew personally, most of the personages and societies which he describes, and after reading his remarks, have the sensation fresh upon me as if I had seen them yesterday. I would, however, plead in behalf of some few exceptions, which I will mention by-and-by. The most singular thing is how he should penetrated, not the fact, but the mystery of the English ennui, at two-and-twenty. I was about the same age when I made the same discovery in almost entirely the same circles
(for there is scarcely a person mentioned whom I did not see nightly or daily, and was acquainted, more or less intimately, with most of them)-but I never could have described it so well. Í faut etre Français, to effect this. * * * * Altogether your friend's journal is a very formidable production. I have read the whole with great attention. I showed it (I hope no breach of confidence to a young Italian lady of high rank, très-instruite also, and she was delighted with it, and says that she has derived a better notion of English society from it than from all Madame de Staël's metaphysical disputations on the same subject, in her work on the Revolution. * * I beg that you will thank the Young Philosopher.”
In another letter to Lord Blessington he further says of Count D'Orsay, “ he seems to have all the qualities requisite to have figured in his brother-in-law's ancestor's memoirs ;" and speaking of him casually, calls him “the illustrious Chevalier, Count , who, I hope, will continue the history of his own times ! »
To Count D'Orsay himself Lord Byron wrote in terms no less sincere than they were flattering :
“ April 22, 1823. "MY DEAR COUNT * * ,-(if you will permit me to address you so familiarly),– You should be content with writing in your own language, like Grammont, and succeeding in London as nobody has succeeded since the days of Charles the Second and the Antonio Hamilton, without deviating into our barbarous language-which you understand, however, much better than it deserves. My approbation,' as you are pleased to term it, was very sincere, but perhaps not very impartial; for, though I love my country, I do not love my countrymen, at least such as they now are. And besides the seduction of talent and wit in your work, I fear that to me there was the attraction of vengeance. I have seen and felt much of what you describe so well. I have known the persons and the réunions so described (many of them, that is to say), and the portraits are so like that I cannot but admire the painter no less than his performance. But I am sorry for you; for if you are so well acquainted with life at your age, what will become of you when the illusion is still more dissipated. But never mind,-en avant,-live while you can, and that you may have the full enjoyment of the many advantages of youth, talent, and figure, which you possess, is the wish of an-Englishman- I suppose, but it is no treason.”
It was not the least singular nor the least amiable feature of Count D'Orsay's character, that this precocious knowledge of the world did not disturb the “illusions”-- by which we understand his faith and trust in man's nobler properties—which Lord Byron predicated: no one, we will venture to say, ever knew so much of “life," whose spirit was so little forced back into cynical disbelief of human worth as that of Alfred D'Orsay ; and contact with the world left him as unselfish at the end as when in youth it found him. Lord Byron viewed life with the bitter feeling of one who had both committed and endured wrong: the young philosopher,” free from passion, gazed on it with calm, “considerate eyes,” discriminating between the hollowness of mere fashionable society and the soundness of heart which forms the basis of the English character; he could not else have loved our land so well.
But he was himself made to be loved, and it is with no surprise that we find in Lord Byron the avowal of the friendship which Alfred D'Orsay had inspired. Writing to Lady Blessington from Albaro, on the 6th of May, the poet, who is speaking of the sketch with which the public have long been familiar, thus expresses himself :
“I have a request to make to my friend Alfred (since he has not disdained the title), viz., that he would condescend to add a cap to the gentleman in the jacket-it would complete his costume—and smooth his brow, which is somewhat too inveterate a likeness of the original God help me!"
But evidence of this friendship is better shown in one of the last letters which Lord Byron wrote while at Genoa, just before he took his departure for Greece. In forwarding various souvenirs to the members of Lord Blessington's family, he says:
"I also enclose a ring which I would wish Alfred to keep; it is too large to wear; but is formed of lava, and so far adapted to the fire of his years and character."
The next episode in the life of Count D'Orsay-for, unhappily, it was nothing more—was his marriage with Lady Harriet Gardiner, the only daughter of Lord Blessington, by his first wife. Rumour has very painfully interpreted the motive for this union, but it is not our province to follow rumour ; enough for us to state that, after Lord Blessington's death in Paris, in 1829, Count D'Orsay and Lady Harriet agreed, mutually, to separate ; thenceforward, until within the last three years of his life, the former became a resident in England, and long will it be before the recollection of the social charms of Gore House shall have faded from the memories of the friends by whom Lady Blessington and the accomplished D'Orsay were surrounded.
"The social and intellectual' qualities,” says a writer in one of the journals of the day announcing his decease, "are those in which Comte D'Orsay's friends and admirers will be most eager to dwell. It was his unceasing aim, particularly at Gore House, to make every one at ease. He always addressed his conversation naturally and unaffectedly to any shy, embarrassed member of the company, until he saw that any passing awkwardness or embarrassment was at an end. His influence over his circle of intimates was unbounded, and in questions of misunderstanding or difficulty he was appealed to as a mediator and adviser.”
And another observes : “Let us dwell for a moment upon the social and friendly qualities of the man; upon his fast-expanding taste for literature and the arts, upon the brilliant evenings at Gore House, when, surrounded by the first notabilities of the age, political, literary, and artistic, Count D'Orsay was still the conversational star; shining, however, as much by his consummate grace and tact of manner, and his kindly and syinpathetic address, as by the glitter of his more purely intellectual accomplishments.”
We have already remarked on the deficiency of incident which is afforded to the biographer by a life passed, however brilliantly, in comparative privacy; it is, therefore, to character that we must turn for the interest which attaches to the subject of this imperfect memoir.
The Institution which Count D'Orsay founded in London, for the relief of his destitute countrymen, will be a lasting memorial of his benevolence ; but his sympathies were not confined to national objects. Of this he gave abundant proof in the exertions which he made for the establishment of a system of signals on railway trains in motion, by the adoption of which, we do not hesitate to say, many deplorable accidents might have been avoided and many human lives saved. Count D'Orsay's plan was at once so siniple and so practical, that when the time arrives—if ever it should come--for humanity to be a greater consideration than moneymaking with railway directors, astonishment will supersede disgust at the fatuity that hesitated so long to adopt a precaution at once so inexpensive and so useful.
It was in 1845 that Count D'Orsay first gave publicity to his ideas on the prevention of railway accidents by signals, but he had long meditated on the subject, and on the 18th of June, in that year, we find him thus writing to a friend :*
"Mon CHER --, “ J'ai pensé depuis longtemps qu'il seroit très-important pour la sécurité publique des tra
* As Count D'Orsay wrote French and English with almost equal facility, and was in the habit of using both languages indiscriminately, and often very amusingly, in the same letter, we have preferred the ipsissima verba to translations. In his French letters he appears always to have followed the system of orthography which was rectified by Voltaire.
vellers sur le railroad, qu'on établisse un surveillant sur la derrière de la dernière voiture du train, de manière que, par un wire qui communiqueroit avec l'engine, il pourroit tirer une cloche, qui indiqueroit qu'il y a quelque chose out of order. Alors on pourroit arrêter de suite; cet accident du Gt. Western le prouve, car le moment que le sand a été
or le moment ane le sand a été jeté en l'air. c'étoit suffisant pour démontrer au garde de derrière qu'il y avoit une des voitures hors du Rail. *
* * J'étois un jour dans ma voiture qui étoit placé sur le dernier truck du rail; ma voiture avoit été mal secured ; j'étois agité comme le fouet de poste d'un postillou français ; je me sentois comme le bout de la queue d'un serpent qui waggoit his tail. A la fin, les courroies des vaches se sont détachés d'un côté, et je les aurois perdu si par bonheur je n'étois arrivé à la station. C'est alors que je me suis dit combien il étoit nécessaire d'être protégé par derrière, parceque les engineers ne pensent qu'en avant."
In pursuance of this idea of surveillance, Count D'Orsay published a letter, in which he sketched the outline of his plan, but the railway directors were deaf to his suggestion. In this country, however, railway accidents are so frequent, that it was not long before he felt himself called upon to revert to his proposed system, being stimulated to do so by a dreadful accident that happened on the South-Eastern line, between Penshurst and Tunbridge, in consequence of the omission by the guard to take the lamps from a detached carriage on a change of carriages being made. He then wrote to the same friend:
“ 30 Juillet, 1845. - Mon CHER “ Il n'y a rien de tel que de poursuivre une bonne et charitable idée; ces sacrés Directeurs de Railroads ne veuillent pas adopter mon idée par économie, et vous voyez par l'accident ci-joint qu'on auroit pu l'éviter. - est tout-à-fait de mon opinion qu'il faut les attaquer jusqu'à ce qu'ils pensent à la safety des Passengers. Voici donc l'occasion. S'il y avait eu un garde exprès pour la queue du train, il auroit eu soin d'avoir la lampe allumée, et il auroit entendu l'engine derrière lui; c'est un cas où il devroit avoir une trompette, enfin un moyen de faire savoir dans la nuit qu'il est là, dans le cas qu'un engine le poursuive et que la lampe soit éteinte. C'est une précaution indispensable que de forcer ces Directeurs de l'adopter.”
A day or two later Count D'Orsay fully developed his plan, as we find by the following letter:
“Mon CHER “ Je suis déterminé de poursuivre les Directeurs, jusqu'à ce qu'ils adoptent mon plan. * * * Ces accidents continuels ont établi un Raw que nous assaisonerons continuellement de cayenne pepper, et à la fin, ils prendront les réels moyens de cicatrizer la plaie. Mon idée est qu'il y ait un siège derrière la dernière voiture de chaque train, comme un coachman des Hansom cab. Il sera en communication avec l'engine, par une longue corde qui passera le long du roof des voitures et sur le côté; en tirant la corde un marteau frappera sur un gong près de l'engine, et indiquera qu'il faut de suite arrêter. Ce garde s'occupera exclusivement des lampes de l'arrière-garde, et on lui donnera de ces light d'artifice qui dans un instant s'allument comme les allumettes chimiques et produisent une clarté comme en plein jour; cela seroit, dans le cas qu'il seroit poursuivi par un engine, par ce moyen éviteroit le carambolage, si par accident la lampe de dessous étoit éteinte. Le garde derrière le train peut très bien entendre un engine qui le poursuit, tandis que dans toute autre situation du train on ne pourroit rien entendre. La dépense de cette précaution ne sera rien, et donnera une grande sécurité morale et physique aux travellers ; et ce n'est qu'en enfonçant cela, avec un marteau, dans la tête des Directeurs que nous réussirons. La corde passera dans un anneau sur le côté de chaque voiture, cet anneau s'ouvrira par un spring; dans le cas qu'on veuille retirer une des voitures intermédiaires, la corde peut s'allonger et raccourcir, en proportion de la longueur du train."
A letter written to the Times (on the 11th of August, 1845), on “Railway Signals,” by a person signing himself “ Mechanicus," raised various objections to the plan suggested by Count D’Orsay for communicating between the guards and the enginemen on railway trains. Neverless, his plan was almost identical with that which was subsequently patented by Mr. Tattersall, and brought into most effective operation on the Eastern Union line, from Bury to Colchester. Count D'Orsay thus disposes of " Mechanicus :"
“ Mercredi, 13. (Aug. 1845.) « Mon CHER , " Je ne trouve pas la réponse de Mechanicus concluante. Premièrement, quand la corde sera usée, on en changera. Secondement, elle ne peut s'entangler avec les bagages, puisqu'elle passe sur le côté du roof, dans des anneaux. Et troisièmement, il ne peut pas y avoir une différence telle dans la longueur du train en montant et en descendant, puisque toutes les voitures sont attachées les unes aux autres; les buffers ne sont pressés inwards que par un choc, et non pas par la simple pression d'un train descendant un incline plain. Il ne faut donc pas lui laisser éluder la question, qui est d'avoir un garde derrière: je ne tiens pas particulièrement à ma corde, mais je tiens à ce qu'on trouve le moyen, soit en striking a large gong behind, or firing a large gun fixed on the back carriage, de donner avis qu'il faut arrêter. Mechanicus est probablement un directeur économe.”
In despite, therefore, of “ Mechanicus,” whom he speaks of in another note as “un présomptueux mécanicien qui élude la question,” Count D’Orsay occupied himself by making experiments with the lights which he was desirous should serve as signals to following trains. He says : “ Je brûle tous les soirs dans le jardin de ces allumettes d'artifice, qui éclairent comme en plein jour pendant 8 minutes.”
In the two letters that follow, we find him still eagerly pursuing the subject.
“ Mardi, (Oct. 29, 1845.) “Mon CHER -"J'espère que vous êtes toujours sur le qui vive à l'égard des accidents sur les railroads, et vous avez dû voir que si on avoit suivi mon conseil, Mr. B- seroit vivant. Il est, je crois, nécessaire de rafraîchir la mémoire de MM. les Directeurs. * * * A force de frapper sur leurs têtes, ils finiront par nous comprendre S'il y avoit eu un garde sur la dernière voiture avec une de nos fusées, il aurait pu donner le signal à temps.”
“19 Fev. 1846. " Mon CHER – “ Lisez cet article, et vous verrez que si les Directeurs de Railroad avoient suivi mon conseil, cet accident auroit été évité. J'étois sur le point de vous écrire de la campagne, il y a quelque temps, pour vous dire que Lady C e t Lady S de V- venoient de Derby par le railroad; elles étoient dans leur voiture, la dernière du train, une des courroies s'est cassée, la voiture étoit ballottée à droite et à gauche, avec une telle violence que ces deux malheureuses femmes, se croyant perdues, se mirent à faire flotter leurs mouchoirs hors de la portière; elles crièrent; personne ne les vit, personne ne les entendit; et heureusement qu'elles arrivèrent à la station, car un peu plus tard, la voiture n'auroit pu résister. Vous voyez donc qu'un garde, en pareil cas, n'auroit encore été le protecteur.”
The article referred to was a paragraph from a newspaper, containing an account of a serious accident on the Great Western Railway, arising from the tire of one of the leading wheels of an open truck coming off, in which were several workmen, who were thrown out, and so seriously injured, that nine of them were taken to the hospital at Bath, one of whom was afterwards reported to be dead.
We might multiply the instances afforded of Count D’Orsay's anxiety to protect the public; but all his "coup de marteaux” failed to knock into the heads of the “ Directeurs de Railroad” the necessity that existed for the adoption of his, or any, plan of security, save in the instance of the much-abused Eastern Counties line, where Mr. Tattersall’s patent was partially made use of. This patent, it appears, by a descriptive engraving which was sent by Mr. Tattersall to Count D'Orsay, in a letter dated Newmarket, June 12th, 1848, was, as we have already remarked, based on the same principle as Count D'Orsay's antecedent suggestions, though Mr. Tattersall had never met with them. Count D'Orsay thus observes upon this letter:
“ Gore House, Monday, 19 June, 1848. " Mon CHER “ Il faut rendre à César ce qui appartient à César, et en voici la preuve ci-jointe. Mr. Tattersall a inventé cette simple machinerie que j'ai prêchée depuis bien longtemps, et qui auroit sauvé bien des profils si on avoit voulu suivre mon conseil. Il m'envoye donc son in