Nevertheless, the state of the capital continued very alarming, the lower classes exhibiting alternately the symptoms of panic terror, of fury, and of despair. They demanded arms, of which a few were distributed to them; and there is no doubt, that had Napoleon arrived among them in the struggle, there would have been a dreadful battle, in which Paris, in all probability, would have shared the fate of Moscow. But when the cannonade ceased, when the flight of Joseph, and the capitulation of the city became publicly known, this conflict of jarring passions died away into silence, and the imperturbable and impassive composure of the national guard maintained the absolute tranquillity of the metropolis.
On the morning of the 31st, the Royalists were seen in groups in the Place Louis Quinze, the Garden of the Tuileries, the Boulevards, and other public places. They distributed the proclamations of the allies, and raised the long-forgotten cry of Vive le Roi! At first, none save those engaged in the perilous experiment, durst echo back a signal so dangerous; but by degrees the crowds increased, the leaders got on horseback, and distributed white cockades, lilies, and other emblems of loyalty, displaying banners, at the same time, made out of their own handkerchiefs. The ladies of their party came to their assistance. The Princess of Leon, Vicomtesse of Chateaubriand, Comtesse of Choiseuil, and other women of rank, joined the procession, distributing on all hands the emblems of their party, and tearing their dress to make white cockades, when the regular stock was exhausted. The better class of the bourgeois began to catch the flame, and remembered their old royalist opinions, and by whom they were defeated on the celebrated day of the Sections, when Buonaparte laid the foundation of his fame in the discomfiture of the national guard. Whole pickets began to adopt the white, instead of the three-coloured cockade; yet the voices were far from unanimous, and, on many points, parties of different principles met and skirmished together in the streets. But the tendency to discord was diverted, and the attention of the Parisians, of all classes and opinions, suddenly fixed upon the imposing and terrible spectacle of the army of the allies, which now began to enter the city.
The sovereigns had previously received, at the village of Pantin, the magistrates of Paris, and Alexander had expressed himself in language still more explicit than that of their proclamation. He made war, he said, on Napoleon alone; one who had been his friend, but relinquished that character to become his enemy, and inflict on his empire great evils. He was not, however, come to retaliate those injuries, but to make a secure peace with any government which France might select for herself. "I am at peace," said the Emperor, "with France, and at war with Napoleon alone."
These gracious expressions were received with the more gratitude by the citizens of Paris, that they had been taught to consider the Russian prince as a barbarous and vindictive enemy. The measure of restoring the Bourbons seemed now to be regarded by almost every one, not particularly connected with the dynasty of Napoleon, like a haven on the leeward, unexpectedly open to a tempest-tossed and endangered vessel. There was no loss of honour in adopting it, since the French received back their own royal family – there was no compulsion, since they received them upon their own free choice. They escaped from a great and imminent danger, as if it had been by a bridge of gold.
An immense crowd filled the Boulevards (a large wide open promenade, which, under a variety of distinctive names, forms a circuit round the city,) in order to witness the entrance of the allied sovereigns and their army, whom, in the succession of four-and-twenty hours, this mutable people were disposed to regard as friends rather than enemies – a disposition which increased until it amounted to enthusiasm for the persons of those princes, against whom a bloody battle had been fought yesterday under the walls of Paris, in evidence of which mortal strife, there still remained blackening in the sun the unburied thousands who had fallen on both sides. There was in this a trait of national character. A Frenchman submits with a good grace, and apparent or real complaisance, to that which he cannot help; and it is not the least advantage of his philosophy, that it entitles him afterwards to plead, that his submission flowed entirely from good-will, and not from constraint. Many of those who, on the preceding day, were forced to fly from the heights which defend Paris, thought themselves at liberty next morning to maintain, that the allies had entered the capital only by their consent and permission, because they had joined in the plaudits which accompanied their arrival. To vindicate, therefore, their city from the disgrace of being entered by force, as well as giving way to the real enthusiasm which was suddenly inspired by the exchange of the worst evils which a conquered people have to dread for the promised blessings of an honourable peace and internal concord, the Parisians received the Emperor Alexander and the King of Prussia with such general and unremitting plaudits, as might have accompanied their triumphal entrance into their own capitals. Even at their first entrance within the barriers, we learn from Sir Charles Stewart's official despatch,26 the crowd was already so enormous, as well as the acclamations so great, that it was difficult to move forward; but before the monarchs had reached the porte St. Martin to turn on the Boulevards, there was a moral impossibility of proceeding; all Paris seemed to be assembled and concentrated in one spot – one spring evidently directed all their movements. They thronged around the monarchs, with the most unanimous shouts of "Vive l'Empereur Alexandre!—Vive le Roi de Prusse!" mingled with the loyal exclamations, "Vive le Roi!—Vive Louis XVIII.!—Vivent les Bourbons!" To such unexpected unanimity might be applied the words of Scripture, quoted by Clarendon on a similar occasion – "God had prepared the people, for the thing was done suddenly." The procession lasted several hours, during which 50,000 chosen troops of the Silesian and grand army filed along the Boulevards in broad and deep columns, exhibiting a whole forest of bayonets, mingled with long trains of artillery, and preceded by numerous regiments of cavalry of every description. Nothing surprised those who witnessed this magnificent spectacle, more than the high state of good order and regular equipment in which the men and horses appeared. They seemed rather to resemble troops drawn from peaceful quarters to some grand or solemn festival, than regiments engaged during a long winter campaign in constant marches and countermarches, as well as in a succession of the fiercest and most sanguinary conflicts, and who had fought a general action but the day before.27 After making the circuit of half of Paris by the interior Boulevards, the monarchs halted in the Champs Elysées, and the troops passed in review before them as they were dismissed to their quarters in the city. The Cossacks of the guard established their bivouac in the Champs Elysées themselves, which may be termed the Hyde Park of Paris, and which was thus converted into a Scythian encampment.
Fears of the Parisians – Proceedings of Napoleon – Operations of the French Cavalry in rear of the Allies – Capture of Weissemberg – The Emperor Francis is nearly surprised – Napoleon reaches Troyes on the night of the 29th March – Opinion of Macdonald as to the possibility of relieving Paris – Napoleon leaves Troyes, on the 30th, and meets Belliard, a few miles from Paris, in full retreat – Conversation betwixt them – He determines to proceed to Paris, but is at length dissuaded – and despatches Caulaincourt to receive terms from the Allied Sovereigns – He himself returns to Fontainbleau.
When the enthusiasm attending the entrance of the allies, which had converted a day of degradation into one of joy and festivity, began to subside, the perilous question occurred to those who found themselves suddenly embarked in a new revolution, Where were Napoleon and his army, and what means did his active and enterprising genius possess of still re-establishing his affairs, and taking vengeance on his revolted capital? That terrible and evil spirit, who had so long haunted their very dreams, and who had been well termed the nightmare of Europe, was not yet conjured down, though for the present he exercised his ministry elsewhere. All trembled for the consequence of his suddenly returning in full force, combined either with the troops of Augereau, or with the garrisons withdrawn from the frontier fortresses. But their fears were without foundation; for, though he was not personally distant, his powers of inflicting vengeance were now limited. We proceed to trace his progress after his movement eastward, from the neighbourhood of Vitry to St. Dizier, which had permitted the union of the two allied armies.
Here he was joined by Caulaincourt, who had to inform him of the dissolution of the Congress at Chatillon, with the addition, that he had not received his instructions from Rheims, until the diplomatists had departed. Those subsequently despatched by Count Frochot, he had not received at all.
Meanwhile, Napoleon's cavalry commenced the proposed operations in the rear of the allies, and made prisoners some persons of consequence, who were travelling, as they supposed, in perfect security, between Troyes and Dijon. Among these was Baron Weissemberg, who had long been the Austrian envoy at the court of London. The Emperor Francis was nearly surprised in person by the French light troops. He was obliged to fly in a drosky, a Russian carriage, attended only by two domestics, from Bar-sur-Aube to Chatillon, and from thence he retreated to Dijon!28 Napoleon showed every civility to his prisoner, Weissemberg, and despatched him to the Emperor of Austria, to solicit once more his favourable interference. The person of the present King of France29 (then Monsieur) would have been a yet more important capture, but the forays of the light cavalry did not penetrate so far as to endanger him.
On the 24th March, Napoleon halted at Doulevent, to concentrate his forces, and gain intelligence. He remained there also on the 25th, and employed his time in consulting his maps, and dictating new instructions for Caulaincourt, by which he empowered him to make every cession. But the hour of safety was past. Upon the morning of the 26th, Napoleon was roused by the intelligence, that the allies had attacked the rear of his army under Macdonald, near St. Dizier. He instantly hastened to the support of the maréchal, concluding that his own scheme had been successful, and that his retreat to the eastward had drawn after him the grand army of the allies. The allies showed a great number of cavalry with flying guns, but no infantry. Napoleon ordered an attack on them, in which the French were successful, the allies falling back after slight opposition. He learned from the prisoners, that he had been engaged, not with Schwartzenberg, but with Blucher's troops. This was strange intelligence. He had left Blucher threatening Meaux, and now he found his army on the verge of Lorraine.
On the 27th, by pushing a reconnoitring party as far west as Vitry, Napoleon learned the real state of the case; that both the allied armies had marched upon Paris; and that the cavalry with which he had skirmished were 10,000 men, under Winzengerode, left behind by the allies as a curtain to screen their motions, and engage his attention. Every word in this news had a sting in it. To hasten after the allies, to surprise them, if possible, ere the cannon on Montmartre were yet silenced, was the most urgent thought that ever actuated the mind even of Napoleon, so accustomed to high and desperate risks. But the direct route on Paris had been totally exhausted of provision, by the march and countermarch of such large armies. It was necessary to go round by Troyes, and, for that purpose, to retrograde as far as Doulevent. Here he received a small billet in cipher, from the postmaster-general, La Valette, the first official communication he had got from the capital during ten days. "The partisans of the stranger," these were the contents, "are making head, seconded by secret intrigues. The presence of Napoleon is indispensable, if he desires to prevent his capital from being delivered to the enemy. There is not a moment to be lost."30 The march was precipitated accordingly.
At the bridge of Doulancourt, on the banks of the Aube, the Emperor received despatches, informing him that an assault on Paris was hourly be expected. Napoleon dismissed his aide-de-camp, Dejean, to ride post to Paris, and spread the news of his speedy arrival. He gave him two bulletins, describing in extravagant colours a pretended victory at Arcis, and the skirmish at St. Dizier. He then advanced to Troyes, which he reached on that same night (29th March,) the imperial guard marching fifteen leagues in one day. On the 30th, Maréchal Macdonald gave to Berthier the following sound and striking opinion: – "It is too late," he said, "to relieve Paris; at least by the route we follow. The distance is fifty leagues; to be accomplished by forced marches, it will require at least four days; and then in what condition for combat is the army like to arrive, for there are no depôts, or magazines, after leaving Bar-sur-Seine. The allies being yesterday at Meaux, must have pushed their advanced guards up to the barriers by this time. There is no good reason to hope that the united corps of the Dukes of Treviso and Ragusa could check them long enough to allow us to come up. Besides, at our approach, the allies will not fail to defend the passage of the Marne. I am then of opinion, that if Paris fall under the power of the enemy, the Emperor should direct his march on Sens, in order to retreat upon Augereau, unite our forces with his, and, after having reposed our troops, give the enemy battle on a chosen field. If Providence has then decreed our last hour, we will at least die with honour, instead of being dispersed, pillaged, taken, and slaughtered by Cossacks." Napoleon's anxiety for the fate of his capital, did not permit him to hearken to this advice; though it seems the best calculated to have placed him in a condition, either to make a composition with the allies, or to carry on a formidable war in their rear.
From Troyes, Napoleon despatched to Paris another aide-de-camp, General Girardin, who is said to have carried orders for defending the city to the last, and at all risks – an accusation, however, which, considering the mass of unimaginable mischief that such an order must have involved, is not to be received without more proof than we have been able to obtain.
On the 30th March, Napoleon left Troyes, and, finding the road entirely unoccupied by the enemy, threw himself into a post-carriage, and travelled on at full speed before his army, with a very slight attendance. Having in this way reached Villeneuve L'Archeveque, he rode to Fontainbleau on horseback, and though it was then night, took a carriage for Paris, Berthier and Caulaincourt accompanying him. On reaching an inn, called La Cour de France, at a few miles' distance from Paris, he at length met ample proof of his misfortune in the person of General Belliard, with his cavalry. The fatal intelligence was communicated.
Leaping from his carriage, Napoleon turned back with Belliard, exclaiming – "What means this? Why here with your cavalry, Belliard? And where are the enemy?" – "At the gates of Paris." – "And the army?" – "It is following me." – "Where are my wife and son? – Where Marmont? – Where Mortier?" – "The Empress set out for Rambouillet, and thence for Orleans. The maréchals are busy completing their arrangements at Paris." He then gave an account of the battle; and Napoleon instantly ordered his carriage for Paris. They had already proceeded a mile and a half on the road. The same conversation proceeded, and we give it as preserved, because it marks the character of the principal personage, and the tone of his feeling, much better than these can be collected from his expressions upon more formal occasions, and when he had in view some particular purpose.31
General Belliard reminded him there were no longer any troops in Paris. "It matters not," said Napoleon; "I will find the national guard there. The army will join me to-morrow, or the day after, and I will put things on a proper footing." – "But I must repeat to your Majesty, you cannot go to Paris. The national guard, in virtue of the treaty, mount guard at the barriers, and though the allies are not to enter till seven o'clock in the morning, it is possible they may have found their way to the outposts, and that your Majesty may find Russian or Prussian parties at the gates, or on the Boulevards." – "It is all one – I am determined to go there – My carriage! – Follow me with your cavalry." – "But, Sire, your Majesty will expose Paris to the risk of storm or pillage. More than 20,000 men are in possession of the heights – for myself, I have left the city in consequence of a convention, and cannot therefore return." – "What is that convention? who has concluded it?" – "I cannot tell, Sire; I only know from the Duke of Treviso that such exists, and that I must march to Fontainbleau." – "What is Joseph about? – Where is the minister at war?" – "I do not know; we have received orders from neither of them during the whole day. Each maréchal acted on his own responsibility. They have not been seen to-day with the army – At least not with the Duke of Treviso's corps." – "Come, we must to Paris – nothing goes right when I am absent – they do nothing but make blunders."
Berthier and Caulaincourt joined in trying to divert the Emperor from his purpose. He never ceased demanding his carriage. Caulaincourt announced it, but it did not come up. Napoleon strode on with hurried and unequal steps, asking repeated questions concerning what had been already explained. "You should have held out longer," he said, "and tried to wait for the arrival of the army. You should have raised Paris, which cannot surely like the entrance of the Russians. You should have put in motion the national guard, whose disposition is good, and intrusted to them the defence of the fortifications which the minister has caused to be erected, and which are well furnished with artillery. Surely the citizens could have defended these, while the troops of the line fought upon the heights and in the plain?" – "I repeat to you, Sire, that it was impossible. The army of 15,000 or 18,000 men has resisted one of 100,000 for four hours, expecting your arrival. There was a report of it in the city, which spread to the troops. They redoubled their exertions. The national guard has behaved extremely well, both as sharpshooters and in defence of the wretched redoubts which protected the barriers." – "It is astonishing. How many cavalry had you?" – "Eighteen hundred horse, Sire, including the brigade of Dautencour." – "Montmartre, well fortified and defended by heavy cannon, should have been impregnable." – "Luckily, Sire, the enemy were of your opinion, and approached the heights with much caution. But there was no occasion, we had not above seven six-pounders." – "What can they have made of my artillery? I ought to have had more than two hundred guns, and ammunition to serve them for a month." – "The truth is, Sire, that we had only field-artillery, and at two o'clock we were obliged to slacken our fire for want of ammunition." – "Go, go – I see every one has lost their senses. This comes of employing people who have neither common sense nor energy. Well! Joseph imagines himself capable of conducting an army; and Clarke, a mere piece of routine, gives himself the airs of a great minister; but the one is no better than a fool, and the other a – , or a traitor, for I begin to believe what Savary said of him." – The conversation going on in this manner, they had advanced a mile farther from the Cour de France, when they met a body of infantry under General Curial. Napoleon inquired after the Duke of Treviso, to whose corps d'armée they belonged, and was informed he was still at Paris.
It was then, that on the pressing remonstrances of his officers, who saw that in going on to Paris he was only rushing on death or captivity, Napoleon at length turned back; and having abandoned the strong inflexible impulse which would have carried him thither at all adventures, he seems to have considered his fate as decided, or at least to have relaxed considerably in the original vehemence which he opposed to adversity.
He returned to the Cour de France, and gave orders for disposing the forces, as they should come up, on the heights of Longjumeau, behind the little river of Essonne. Desirous at the same time of renewing the negotiation for peace, which, on successes of an ephemeral description, he had broken off at Chatillon, Napoleon despatched Caulaincourt to Paris, no longer to negotiate, but to receive and submit to such terms as the allied sovereigns might be inclined to impose upon him. He returned to Fontainbleau the same night. He did not take possession of any of the rooms of state, but chose a private and more retired apartment. Among the many strange transactions which had taken place in that venerable and ancient palace, its halls were now to witness one the most extraordinary.
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