"When General Gourgaud was about to write the letter, to prevent any future misunderstanding, I said, 'M. Las Cases, you will recollect that I am not authorised to stipulate as to the reception of Buonaparte in England, but that he must consider himself entirely at the disposal of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent.' He answered, 'I am perfectly aware of that, and have already acquainted the Emperor with what you said on the subject.'"
Captain Maitland subjoins the following natural and just remark: —
"It might, perhaps, have been better if this declaration had been given in an official written form; and could I have foreseen the discussions which afterwards took place, and which will appear in the sequel, I undoubtedly should have done so; but as I repeatedly made it in the presence of witnesses, it did not occur to me as being necessary; and how could a stronger proof be adduced, that no stipulations were agreed to respecting the reception of Buonaparte in England, than the fact of their not being reduced to writing? which certainly would have been the case had any favourable terms been demanded on the part of M. Las Cases, and agreed to by me."
To conclude the evidence on this subject, we add Captain Maitland's letter, addressed to the Secretary of the Admiralty on 14th July:
"For the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, I have to acquaint you that the Count Las Cases and General Lallemand this day came on board his Majesty's ship under my command, with a proposal from Count Bertrand for me to receive on board Napoleon Buonaparte, for the purpose of throwing himself on the generosity of the Prince Regent. Conceiving myself authorised by their lordships' secret order, I have acceded to the proposal, and he is to embark on board this ship to-morrow morning. That no misunderstanding might arise, I have explicitly and clearly explained to Count Las Cases, that I have no authority whatever for granting terms of any sort, but that all I can do is to carry him and his suite to England, to be received in such manner as his Royal Highness may deem expedient."
Is it in human nature to suppose, that a British officer, with two others of the same rank as witnesses of the whole negotiation, would have expressed himself otherwise than as truth warranted, in a case which was sure to be so strictly inquired into?
On the 15th July, 1815, Napoleon finally left France, to the history of which he had added so much of victory, and so much of defeat; the country which his rise had saved from civil discord and foreign invasion, and which his fall consigned to both; in a word, that fair land to which he had been so long as a Deity, and was in future to be of less import than the meanest peasant on the soil. He was accompanied by four of his generals – Bertrand, Savary, Lallemand, and Montholon, and by Count Las Cases, repeatedly mentioned as counsellor of state. Of these, Bertrand and Montholon had their ladies on board, with three children belonging to Count Bertrand, and one of Count Montholon's. The son of Las Cases accompanied the Emperor as a page. There were nine officers of inferior rank, and thirty-nine domestics. The principal persons were received on board the Bellerophon, the others in the corvette.
Buonaparte came out of Aix roads on board of the Epervier. Wind and tide being against the brig, Captain Maitland sent the barge of the Bellerophon to transport him to that ship. Most of the officers and crew of the Epervier had tears in their eyes, and they continued to cheer the Emperor while their voices could be heard. He was received on board the Bellerophon respectfully, but without any salute or distinguished honours.183 As Captain Maitland advanced to meet him on the quarterdeck, Napoleon pulled off his hat, and, addressing him in a firm tone of voice, said, "I come to place myself under the protection of your prince and laws." His manner was uncommonly pleasing, and he displayed much address in seizing upon opportunities of saying things flattering to the hearers whom he wished to conciliate.184
As when formerly on board Captain Usher's vessel, Buonaparte showed great curiosity concerning the discipline of the ship, and expressed considerable surprise that the British vessels should so easily defeat the French ships, which were heavier, larger, and better manned than they. Captain Maitland accounted for this by the greater experience of the men and officers. The Ex-Emperor examined the marines also, and, pleased with their appearance, said to Bertrand, "How much might be done with an hundred thousand such men!" In the management of the vessel, he particularly admired the silence and good order of the crew while going through their manœuvres, in comparison to a French vessel, "where every one," he said, "talks and gives orders at once." When about to quit the Bellerophon, he adverted to the same subject, saying, there had been less noise on board that vessel, with six hundred men, in the whole passage from Rochefort, than the crew of the Epervier, with only one hundred, had contrived to make between the isle d'Aix and Basque roads.
He spoke, too, of the British army in an equal style of praise, and was joined by his officers in doing so. One of the French officers observing that the English cavalry were superb, Captain Maitland observed, that in England, they had a higher opinion of the infantry. "You are right," said the French gentleman; "there is none such in the world; there is no making an impression on them; you might as well attempt to charge through a wall; and their fire is tremendous." Bertrand reported to Captain Maitland that Napoleon had communicated to him his opinion of the Duke of Wellington in the following words: – "The Duke of Wellington, in the management of an army, is fully equal to myself, with the advantage of possessing more prudence." This we conceive to be the genuine unbiassed opinion of one great soldier concerning another. It is a pity that Napoleon could on other occasions express himself in a strain of depreciation, which could only lower him who used it, towards a rival in the art of war.
During the whole passage, notwithstanding his situation, and the painful uncertainty under which he laboured, Napoleon seemed always tranquil, and in good temper;185 at times, he even approached to cheerfulness. He spoke with tenderness of his wife and family, complained of being separated from them, and had tears in his eyes when he showed their portraits to Captain Maitland. His health seemed perfectly good; but he was occasionally subject to somnolency, proceeding, perhaps, from the exhaustion of a constitution which had gone through such severe service.
On 23d July, they passed Ushant. Napoleon remained long on deck, and cast many a melancholy look to the coast of France, but made no observations. At daybreak on 24th, the Bellerophon was off Dartmouth; and Buonaparte was struck, first with the boldness of the coast, and then, as he entered Torbay,186 with the well-known beauty of the scenery. "It reminded him," he said, "of Porto Ferrajo, in Elba;" an association which must at the moment have awakened strange remembrances in the mind of the deposed Emperor.
The Bellerophon had hardly anchored, when orders came from the admiral, Lord Keith, which were soon after seconded by others from the Admiralty, enjoining that no one, of whatever rank or station, should be permitted to come on board the Bellerophon, excepting the officers and men belonging to the ship. On the 26th, the vessel received orders to move round to Plymouth Sound.
In the meantime, the newspapers which were brought on board tended to impress anxiety and consternation among the unhappy fugitives. The report was generally circulated by these periodical publications, that Buonaparte would not be permitted to land, but would be presently sent off to St. Helena, as the safest place for detaining him as a prisoner of war. Napoleon himself became alarmed, and anxiously desirous of seeing Lord Keith, who had expressed himself sensible of some kindness which his nephew, Captain Elphinstone of the 7th Hussars, had received from the Emperor, when wounded and made prisoner at Waterloo. Such an interview accordingly took place betwixt the noble admiral and the late Emperor, upon the 28th July, but without any results of importance, as Lord Keith was not then possessed of the decision of the British Government.
That frenzy of popular curiosity, which, predominating in all free states, seems to be carried to the utmost excess by the English nation, caused such numbers of boats to surround the Bellerophon, that, notwithstanding the peremptory orders of the Admiralty, and in spite of the efforts of the man-of-war's boats, which maintained constant guard round the vessel, it was almost impossible to keep them at the prescribed distance of a cable's length from the ship. They incurred the risk of being run down – of being, as they might apprehend, shot (for muskets were discharged for the purpose of intimidation,) of all the dangers of a naval combat, rather than lose the opportunity of seeing the Emperor whom they had heard so much of. When he appeared he was greeted with huzzas, which he returned with bows, but could not help expressing his wonder at the eagerness of popular curiosity, which he was not accustomed to see in such a pitch of excitation.
On the evening of the 30th of July, Major-General Sir Henry Bunbury, one of the Under Secretaries of State, arrived, bringing with him the final intentions of the British Government, for the disposal of Buonaparte and his suite. Upon the 31st, Lord Keith and Sir Henry waited upon the Ex-Emperor, on board of the Bellerophon, to communicate to him the unpleasing tidings. They were accompanied by Mr. Meike, the secretary of Lord Keith, whose presence was deemed necessary as a witness to what passed. Napoleon received the admiral and under secretary of state with becoming dignity and calmness. The letter of Lord Melville (First Lord of the Admiralty) was read to the Ex-Emperor, announcing his future destination. It stated, that "it would be inconsistent with the duty of the British ministers to their sovereign and his allies, to leave General Buonaparte the means or opportunity of again disturbing the peace of Europe – announced that the island of St. Helena was selected for his future residence, and selected as such, because its local situation would permit his enjoying more freedom than could be compatible with adequate security elsewhere – that, with the exception of Generals Savary and Lallemand, the General might select three officers, together with his surgeon, to attend him to St. Helena – that twelve domestics would also be allowed." The same document stated, that "the persons who might attend upon him would be liable to a certain degree of restraint, and could not be permitted to leave the island without the sanction of the British Government." Lastly, it was announced that "Rear-Admiral Sir George Cockburn, appointed to the chief command of the Cape of Good Hope, would be presently ready to sail, for the purpose of conveying General Buonaparte to St. Helena, and therefore it was desirable that he should without delay make choice of the persons who were to form his suite."187
The letter was read in French to Buonaparte by Sir Henry Bunbury. He listened without impatience, interruption, or emotion of any kind. When he was requested to state if he had any reply, he began, with great calmness of manner and mildness of countenance, to declare that he solemnly protested against the orders which had been read – that the British Ministry had no right to dispose of him in the way proposed – that he appealed to the British people and the laws – and asked what was the tribunal which he ought to appeal to. "I am come," he continued, "voluntarily to throw myself on the hospitality of your nation – I am not a prisoner of war, and if I was, have a right to be treated according to the law of nations. But I am come to this country a passenger on board one of your vessels, after a previous negotiation with the commander. If he had told me I was to be a prisoner, I would not have come. I asked him if he was willing to receive me on board, and convey me to England. Admiral Maitland said he was, having received, or telling me he had received, special orders of government concerning me. It was a snare, then, that had been spread for me; I came on board a British vessel as I would have entered one of their towns – a vessel, a village, it is the same thing. As for the island of St. Helena, it would be my sentence of death. I demand to be received as an English citizen. How many years entitle me to be domiciliated?"
Sir Henry Bunbury answered, that he believed four were necessary. "Well, then," continued Napoleon, "let the Prince Regent during that time place me under any superintendence he thinks proper – let me be placed in a country-house in the centre of the island, thirty leagues from every seaport – place a commissioned officer about me, to examine my correspondence and superintend my actions; or if the Prince Regent should require my word of honour, perhaps I might give it. I might then enjoy a certain degree of personal liberty, and I should have the freedom of literature. In St. Helena I could not live three months; to my habits and constitution it would be death. I am used to ride twenty miles a-day – what am I to do on that little rock at the end of the world? No! Botany Bay is better than St. Helena – I prefer death to St. Helena – And what good is my death to do you? I am no longer a sovereign. What danger could result from my living as a private person in the heart of England, and restricted in any way which the Government should think proper?"
He referred repeatedly to the manner of his coming on board the Bellerophon, insisting upon his being perfectly free in his choice, and that he had preferred confiding to the hospitality and generosity of the British nation.
"Otherwise," he said, "why should I not have gone to my father-in-law, or to the Emperor Alexander, who is my personal friend? We have become enemies, because he wanted to annex Poland to his dominions, and my popularity among the Poles was in his way. But otherwise he was my friend, and he would not have treated me in this way. If your Government act thus, it will disgrace you in the eyes of Europe. Even your own people will blame it. Besides, you do not know the feeling that my death will create both in France and Italy. There is, at present, a high opinion of England in these countries. If you kill me, it will be lost, and the lives of many English will be sacrificed. What was there to force me to the step I took? The tri-coloured flag was still flying at Bourdeaux, Nantes, and Rochefort.188 The army has not even yet submitted. Or, if I had chosen to remain in France, what was there to prevent me from remaining concealed for years amongst a people so much attached to me?"
He then returned to his negotiation with Captain Maitland, and dwelt on the honours and attentions shown to him personally by that officer and Admiral Hotham. "And, after all, it was only a snare for me!"189 He again enlarged on the disgrace to England which was impending. "I hold out to the Prince Regent," he said, "the brightest page in his history, in placing myself at his discretion. I have made war upon you for twenty years, and I give you the highest proof of confidence by voluntarily giving myself into the hands of my most inveterate and constant enemies. Remember," he continued, "what I have been, and how I stood among the sovereigns of Europe. This courted my protection —that gave me his daughter – all sought for my friendship. I was Emperor acknowledged by all the powers in Europe, except Great Britain, and she had acknowledged me as Chief Consul. Your Government has no right to term me General Buonaparte," he added, pointing with his finger to the offensive epithet in Lord Melville's letter. "I am Prince, or Consul, and ought to be treated as such, if treated with at all. When I was at Elba, I was at least as much a sovereign in that island as Louis on the throne of France. We had both our respective flags, our ships, our troops – Mine, to be sure," he said with a smile, "were rather on a small scale – I had six hundred soldiers, and he had two hundred thousand. At length, I made war upon him, defeated him, and dethroned him. But there was nothing in this to deprive me of my rank as one of the sovereigns of Europe."
During this interesting scene, Napoleon spoke with little interruption from Lord Keith and Sir Henry Bunbury, who declined replying to his remonstrances, stating themselves to be unauthorised to enter into discussions, as their only duty was to convey the intentions of Government to Napoleon, and transmit his answer, if he charged them with any. He repeated again and again his determination not to go to St. Helena, and his desire to be suffered to remain in Great Britain.
Sir Henry Bunbury then said, he was certain that St. Helena had been selected as the place of his residence, because its local situation allowed freer scope for exercise and indulgence than could have been permitted in any part of Great Britain.
"No, no," repeated Buonaparte, with animation, "I will not go there – You would not go there, sir, were it your own case – nor, my Lord, would you." Lord Keith bowed and answered – "He had been already at St. Helena four times." Napoleon went on reiterating his protestations against being imprisoned, or sent to St. Helena. "I will not go thither," he repeated; "I am not a Hercules," (with a smile,) "but you shall not conduct me to St. Helena. I prefer death in this place. You found me free, send me back again; replace me in the condition in which I was, or permit me to go to America."
He dwelt much on his resolution to die rather than to go to St. Helena; he had no great reason, he said, to wish for life. He urged the admiral to take no farther steps to remove him into the Northumberland, before Government should have been informed of what he had said, and have signified their final decision. He conjured Sir Henry Bunbury to use no delay in communicating his answer to Government, and referred himself to Sir Henry to put it into form. After some cursory questions and pauses, he again returned to the pressing subject, and urged the same arguments as before. "He had expected," he said, "to have had liberty to land, and settle himself in the country, some commissioner being named to attend him, who would be of great use for a year or two to teach him what he had to do. You could choose," he said, "some respectable man, for the English service must have officers distinguished for probity and honour; and do not put about me an intriguing person, who would only play the spy, and make cabals." He declared again his determination not to go to St. Helena; and this interesting interview was concluded.
After the admiral and Sir Henry Bunbury had left the cabin, Napoleon recalled Lord Keith, whom, in respect of his former attention to his lordship's relative, Captain Elphinstone, he might consider as more favourable to his person.
Napoleon, opened the conversation, by asking Lord Keith's advice how to conduct himself. Lord Keith replied, that he was an officer, and had discharged his duty, and left with him the heads of his instructions. If he considered it necessary to renew the discussion, Sir Henry Bunbury must be called in. Buonaparte said that was unnecessary. "Can you," said he, "after what is passed, detain me until I hear from London?" Lord Keith replied, that must depend on the instructions brought by the other admiral, with which he was unacquainted. "Was there any tribunal," he asked, "to which he could apply?" Lord Keith answered, that he was no civilian, but believed that there was none whatever. He added, that he was satisfied there was every disposition on the part of the British Government to render his situation as comfortable as prudence would permit. "How so?" said Napoleon, lifting the paper from the table, and speaking with animation. Upon Lord Keith's observing, that it was surely preferable to being confined to a smaller space in England, or being sent to France, or perhaps to Russia. "Russia!" exclaimed Buonaparte, "God preserve me from it!"190
During this remarkable scene, Napoleon's manner was perfectly calm and collected, his voice equal and firm, his tones very pleasing. Once or twice only he spoke more rapidly, and in a harsher key. He used little gesticulation, and his attitudes were ungraceful; but the action of the head was dignified, and the countenance remarkably soft and placid, without any marks of severity. He seemed to have made up his mind, anticipating what was to be announced, and perfectly prepared to reply. In expressing his positive determination not to go to St. Helena, he left it to his hearers to infer, whether he meant to prevent his removal by suicide, or to resist it by force.191
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