« PreviousContinue »
and its chief value to one who wishes to learn anything of the life and character of Lafayette, is to be sought in a few documents, which are scattered through the volumes, or thrown into an Appendix at the end.
The work published by General Ducoudray Holstein at New York is much worse. It is not entitled to credit. Nearly half of it is taken up with the five years that elapsed between the inoment when General Lafayette left the army in August 1792, and his release from the dungeons of Olmütz in August 1797; and the whole of this, when compared with the accounts given by Toulongeon, which Madame de Staël declares to be authentic ; with Bollmann's own story of his attempt to rescue Lafayette in 1794 ; and with the general facts known everywhere, and the details that may still be obtained from living witnesses, can be considered only as an unhappy attempt at romance. Indeed the entire work is not much better, for though, in some portions, the facts and dates may be given with more accuracy, yet a false or exaggerated coloring is everywhere perceptible, and the documents and public acts, which were originally in English, and after being translated into French by the author, are now retranslated into English for his publisher, come to us so travestied, that their original features can hardly be recognised. Finding these two books, therefore, of so little value, we have resorted to other sources, sometimes more authentic, and always more ample and interesting, and have much pleasure in laying before our readers, what we have collected concerning the distinguished person with whom this whole country now rings from side to side.'
The family of General Lafayette has long been distinguished in the history of France. As early as 1422, the Marshal de Lafayette defeated and killed the Duke of Clarence at Beaugé, and thus saved his country from falling entirely into the power of Henry Fifth, of England. Another of his ancestors, Madame de Lafayette, the intimate friend and correspondent of Madame de Sevigné, and one of the most brilliant ornaments of the court of Louis Fourteenth, was the first person who ever wrote a romance, relying for its success on domestic character, and thus became the founder of the most popular departinent in modern literature. His father fell in the battle of Rossbach on the 5th of November, 1757, and therefore survived the birth of his son only two months. These, with many more memorials of his fainily, scattered through the different portions of French history for nearly five centuries, are titles to distinction, which it is particularly pleasant to recollect, when they fall, as they now do, on one so singularly fitted to receive and increase them.
General Lafayette himself was born in Auvergne, in the south of France, on the 6th of September, 1757.
When quite young, he was sent to the College of Louis le Grand at Paris, where he received that classical education, of which, when recently at Cambridge, he twice gave remarkable proof in uncommonly happy quotations from Cicero, suited to circumstances that could not have been foreseen. Somewhat later, he was placed at court, first, we believe, as page to the Queen, and afterwards as an officer in one of the small bodies of guards of honour, where rank marks a very high distinction. When only seventeen, he was married to the daughter of the Duke d’Ayen, son of the Duke de Noailles; and thus his condition in life seemed to be assured to him among the most splendid and powerful in the empire. His fortune, which had been accumulating during a long minority, was vast; his rank was with the first in Europe ; his connexions brought him the support of the chief persons in France ; and his individual character, the warm, open, and sincere manners, which have distinguished him ever since, and given him such singular control over the minds of men, made him powersul in the confidence of society wherever he went. It seemed, indeed, as if life had nothing further to offer him, than he could surely obtain by walking in the path that was so bright before him.
It was at this period, however, that his thoughts and feelings were first turned towards these thirteen colonies, then in the darkest and most doubtful passage of their struggle for independence. He made himself acquainted with our agents at Paris, and learnt from them the state of our affairs. Nothing could be less tempting to him, whether he sought military reputation or military instruction, for our army at that moment retreating through New Jersey, and leaving its traces in blood from the naked and torn feet of the soldiery as it hastened onward, was in a state too humbled to offer either. Our credit, too, in Europe was entirely gone, so that the commissioners, as they were called, without having any commission, to whom Lafayette still persisted in offering bis services, were obliged, at last, to acknowledge that they could not even give him decent means for his conveyance. Then,' said he, I shall purchase and fit out a vessel for myself.' He did so.
The vessel was prepared, we believe, at Bourdeaux; and sent round to one of the nearest ports in Spain, in order to be beyond the power of the French government. After he was determined to come to this country and before he embarked, he made a visit of a few weeks in England; the only time he was ever there, and was much sought in English society. On his return to France he still kept his purposes in relation to America partly or entirely secret ;, and it was not until he had already left Paris in order to embark, that his romantic undertaking was generally known.
The effect produced in the capital and at court by its publication was greater than we should now, perhaps, imagine. Lord Stormont, the English Ambassador, compelled the French ministry to despatch an order for his arrest, not only to Bourdeaux but to the French naval commanders on the American station. His family, too, sent, or were understood to send, in pursuit of him ; and society at Paris, according to Madame du Deffand's account of it, was in no common state of excitement on the occasion.* Something of the same sort happened in London. • We talk chiefly,' says Gibbon, in a letter dated April 12th, 1777, "of the Marquis de Lafayette, who was here a few weeks ago. He is about twenty, with a hundred and thirty thousand livres a year, the nephew of Noailles, who is ambassador here. He bas bought the Duke of Kingston's yacht, and is gone to join the Americans. The court appear to be angry with him.'
* De tous les départs présents, celui qui est le plus singulier et le plus étonnant, c'est celui de M. de Lafayette. Il n'a pas vingt ans; il est parti ces jours-ci pour l'Amérique ; il emmène avec lui huit ou dix de ses amis ; il n'avait confié son projet qu' au Vicomte de Noailles, sous le plus grand secret; il a acheté un vaisseau, l'a équipé, et s'est embarqué à Bordeaux. Sitôt que ses parents en ont eu la nouvelle, ils ont fait courir après lui pour l'arrêter et le ramener ; mais on est arrivé trop tard, il y avait trois heures qu'il était embarqué. C'est une folie, sans doute, mais qui ne le déshonore point, et qui au contraire marque du courage et du désir de la gloire. On le loue plus qu' on le blame ; mais sa femme, qu' il laisse grosse de quatre mois, son beau-père, sa belle-inère, et toute sa famille en sont fort affligés. Lettre de Mad. du Def fand a H. Walpole, 31 Mars, 1777.
He, however, escaped all pursuit, whether serious or pretended, and arrived safely at Charleston, S. C. on the 25th of April, 1777.
The sensation produced by his appearance in this country was, of course, much greater than that produced in Europe by his departure. It still stands forth, as one of the most prominent and important circumstances in our revolutionary contest; and, as has often been said by one who bore no small part in its trials and success, none but those who were then alive, can believe what an impulse it gave to the hopes of a population almost disheartened by a long series of disasters. And well it might; for it taught us, that in the first rank of the first nobility in Europe, men could still be found, who not only took an interest in our struggle, but were willing to share our sufferings; that our obscure and almost desperate contest for freedom in a remote quarter of the world, could yet find supporters among those, who were the most natural and powerful allies of a splendid despotism ; that we were the objects of a regard and interest throughout the world, which would add to our own resources sufficient strength to carry us safely through to final success.
Immediately after his arrival, Lafayette received the offer of a command in our army, but declined it. Indeed, during the whole of his service with us, he seemed desirous to show, by bis conduct, that he had come only to render disinterested assistance to our cause. He began, therefore, by clothing and equipping a body of men at Charleston at his own expense; and then entered, as a volunteer, without pay, into our service. He lived in the family of the Commander in Chief, and won his full affection and confidence. appointed a Major General in our service, by a vote of Congress, on the 31st of July, 1777, and in September of the same year, was wounded at Brandywine. He was employed in 1778 both in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, and after having received the thanks of the country for his important services, embarked at Boston in January, 1779, for France, thinking he could assist us more effectually, for a time, in. Europe than in America.
He arrived at Versailles, then the regular residence of the French court, on the 12th of February, and the same day had a long conference with one of the ministers. He did not see
the king; and in a letter written at Court the next day, we are told, that he received an order to visit none but his relations, as a form of censure for having left France without permission ; but this was an order, that fell very lightly on him, for he was connected by birth or marriage with almost every body at court, and every body else thronged to see him at his own hotel. The treaty which was concluded between America and France at just about the same period, and was publicly known a little later, was, by Lafayette's personal exertions, made effective in our favor. As soon as this was done, or as soon as he had ascertained that he should be speedily followed by a French fleet for our assistance, he embarked to return, and on the 11th of May communicated the intelligence confidentially to the Coinmander in Chief at Head Quarters, having been absent from the army hardly five months.
Immediately on bis return, he entered into our service with the same disinterested zeal he had shown on his first arrival. He received the separate command of a body of infantry consisting of about two thousand men, and clothed and equipped it partly at his own expense, rendering it by unwearied exertions, constant sacrifices, and wise discipline, the best corps in the army. What he did for us, while at the head of this division, is known to all, who have read the history of their country. His forced march to Virginia, in December 1780, raising two thousand guineas at Baltimore, on his own credit, to supply the pressing wants of his troops; his rescue of Richmond, which but for his great exertions must have fallen into the enemy's hands; his long trial of generalship with Cornwallis, who foolishly boasted in an intercepted letter, that 'the boy could not escape him ;' and finally the siege of Yorktown, the stormning of the redoubt, and the surrender of the place in October, 1781, are proofs of talent as a military commander, and devotion to the welfare of these states, for which he never has been repaid, and, in some respects, never can be.
He was, however, desirous to make yet greater exertions in our favor, and announced his project of revisiting France for the purpose. Congress had already repeatedly acknowledged his merits and services in formal votes. They now acknowledged them more formally than ever by a resolution