how many crimes are committed in thy name!

THE dreadful scenes of the French Revolution send a chill of horror to
our souls as we read of them, but we realize with more painful clearness
the direful deeds of those bloody days when some eye-witness of those
awful, heart-rending times pictures for us some individual doom and some
particular scene. The following narrative of the death of Mesdames
d’Ayen and de Noailles by M. Carrichon, priest of the congregation of
the Oratory, will give a most vivid idea of the sufferings of these
women, who, with Madame de La Fayette, must be classed amongst the most
illustrious heroines of the French Revolution.
“The Maréchale de Noailles, the Duchesse d’Ayen, her daughter-in-law,
and the Vicomtesse de Noailles, her granddaughter, were detained
prisoners in their own house from November, 1793, till April, 1794. The
first I only knew by sight, but was well acquainted with the two others,
whom I generally visited once a week.
“Terror and crime were increasing together; victims were becoming more
numerous. One day, as the ladies were exhorting each other to prepare
for death, I said to them, as by foresight: ‘If you go to the scaffold,
and if God gives me strength to do so, I shall accompany you.’
“They took me at my word, and eagerly exclaimed: ‘Will you promise to do
so?’ For one moment I hesitated; ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘and so that you may
easily recognize me, I will wear a dark blue coat and a red waistcoat.’
After that they often reminded me of my promise.
“In the month of April, 1794, during Easter week, they were all three
conveyed to the Luxembourg. I had frequent accounts of them through M.
Grellet, whose delicate attentions and zealous services were of such
service both to them and to their children. I was often reminded of my
“On the 27th of June, on a Monday or a Friday, he came to beg of me to
fulfil the engagement I had taken with the Maréchal de Mouchy and his
“I went to the Palais de Justice, and succeeded in entering the court. I
stood very near, with my eyes fixed upon them during a quarter of an
hour. M. and Madame de Mouchy, whom I had only seen once at their own
house, and whom I knew better than they knew me, could not distinguish
me in the crowd. God inspired me, and with His help I did all I could
for them. The Maréchal was singularly edifying, and prayed aloud with
all his heart.
“The day before, on leaving the Luxembourg, he had said to those who had
given him marks of sympathy: ‘At seventeen years of age I entered the
breach for my king; at seventy-seven I mount the scaffold for my God; my
friends, I am not to be pitied.’
“I avoid details which would become interminable. That day I thought it
useless to go as far as the guillotine; besides, my courage failed me.
This was ominous for the fulfilment of the promise I had made to their
relations, who were thrown into the deepest affliction by this
catastrophe. They had all been confined in the same prison, and had thus
been of great comfort to each other.
“I could say much about the numerous and dismal processions which
preceded or followed that of the 27th, and which were happy or miserable
according to the state of mind of those who composed them; sad they
always were, even when every exterior sign denoted resignation, and
promised a Christian death; but truly heart-rending when the doomed
victims had none of these feelings, and seemed about to pass from the
sufferings of this world to those of the next.
“On the 22d of July, 1794, on a Tuesday, between eight and ten o’clock
in the morning, I was just going out. I heard a knock. I opened the door
and saw the Noailles children with their tutor, M. Grellet. The children
were cheerful, as is usually the case at that age, but under their
merriment was concealed a sadness of heart caused by their recent losses
and by their fears for the future. The tutor looked sad, careworn, pale,
and haggard. ‘Let us go to your study,’ he said, ‘and leave the children
in this room.’ We did so. He threw himself on a chair. ‘All is over, my
friend,’ he said; ‘the ladies are before the Revolutionary Tribunal. I
summon you to keep your word. I shall take the boys to Vincennes to see
little Euphémie [their sister]. While in the wood I shall prepare these
unfortunate children for their terrible loss.’
“Although I had long been prepared for this news, I was greatly shocked.
The frightful situation of the parents, of the children, of their worthy
tutor, that youthful mirth so soon to be followed by such misery, poor
little Euphémie, then only four years old,—all these thoughts rushed
upon my mind. But I soon recovered myself, and after a few questions and
answers full of mournful details, I said to M. Grellet, ‘You must go
now, and I must change my dress. What a task I have before me! pray that
God may give me strength to accomplish it.’
“We rose, and found the children innocently amusing themselves, looking
gay and happy. The sight of them, the thought of their unconsciousness
of what they were so soon to learn, and of the interview which would
follow with their little sister, rendered the contrast more striking,
and almost broke my heart.
“Left alone after their departure, I felt terrified and exhausted. ‘My
God, have pity on them and on me!’ I exclaimed. I changed my clothes and
went to two or three places. With a heavy load on my heart, I turned my
steps towards the Palais de Justice, between one and two o’clock in the
afternoon. I tried to get in, but found it impossible. I made inquiries
of a person who had just left the tribunal. I still doubted the truth of
the news which had been told me. But the answer destroyed all illusion
and all hope; I could doubt no longer.
“Once more I went on my way and turned my steps towards the Faubourg
Saint-Antoine. What thoughts, what agitation, what secret terrors
distracted my poor brain! I opened my heart to a friend whom I could
trust, and who, speaking to me in God’s name, strengthened my courage.
At his house I took some coffee, which seemed to relieve my head.
“Thoughtful and irresolute, I slowly retraced my steps towards the
Palais de Justice, dreading to get there, and hoping not to find those
whom I was seeking. I arrived before five o’clock. There were no signs
of departure. Sick at heart, I ascended the steps of the Sainte
Chapelle; then I walked into the _grande salle_, and wandered about. I
sat down, I rose again, but spoke to no one. From time to time I cast a
melancholy glance towards the courtyard, to see if there were any signs
of departure.
“My constant thought was that in two hours, perhaps in one, they would
be no more. I cannot say how overwhelmed I was by that idea, which has
affected me through life on all such occasions, and they have only been
too frequent. While a prey to these mournful feelings, never did an hour
appear to me so long or so short as the one which elapsed between five
and six o’clock on that day. Conflicting thoughts were incessantly
crossing my mind, which made me suddenly pass from the illusions of vain
hope to fears, alas! too well founded.
“At last I saw, by a movement in the crowd, that the prison door was on
the point of being opened. I went down and placed myself near the outer
gate, as for the previous fortnight it had become impossible to enter
the prison yard. The first cart was filled with prisoners, and came
towards me. It was occupied by eight ladies, whose demeanor was most
admirable. Of these, seven were unknown to me. The last, who was very
near me, was the Maréchale de Noailles. A transient ray of hope crossed
my mind when I saw that her daughter-in-law and her granddaughter were
not with her; but alas! they were in the second cart.
“Madame de Noailles was in white; she did not appear more than
twenty-four years of age; Madame d’Ayen, who looked about forty, wore a
dress striped blue and white. Six men got in after them. I was pleased
to see the respectful distance at which the two first placed themselves
so as to leave more liberty to the ladies. They were scarcely seated
when the mother became the object of that tender solicitude for which
her daughter was well known.
“I heard it said near me, ‘Look at that young one! how anxious she
seems! See how she is speaking to the other one!’ For my part I felt as
if I heard all they were saying: ‘Mamma, he is not there.’ ‘Look again.’
‘Nothing escapes me; I assure you, mamma, he is not there.’
“They had evidently forgotten that I had sent them word that it would be
impossible for me to gain admittance into the prison yard. The first
cart stopped before me during at least a quarter of an hour. It moved
on; the second followed. I approached the ladies; they did not see me. I
went again into the Palais de Justice, and then a long way round, and
stood at the entrance of the Pont-au-Change, in a prominent place.
Madame de Noailles cast her eyes around her; she passed and did not see
me. I followed the carts over the bridge, and thus kept near the ladies,
though separated from them by the crowd. Madame de Noailles, still
looking for me, did not perceive me. Madame d’Ayen’s anxiety became
visible on her countenance. Her daughter watched the crowd with
increasing attention, but in vain. I felt tempted to turn back. ‘Have I
not done all that I could?’ I inwardly exclaimed. ‘Everywhere the crowd
will be greater; it is useless to go any farther.’ I was on the point of
giving up the attempt.
“Suddenly the sky became overclouded; thunder was heard in the distance;
I made a fresh effort. A short cut brought me, before the arrival of the
carts, to the Rue Saint-Antoine, nearly opposite the too famous Force.
At that moment the storm broke forth. The wind blew violently; flashes
of lightning and claps of thunder followed in rapid succession; the rain
poured down in torrents. I took shelter at a shop door. The spot is
always present to my memory, and I have never passed it by since without
emotion. In one moment the street was cleared; the crowd had taken
refuge in the shops and gateways. There was less order in the
procession, both the escort and the carts having quickened their pace.
They were close to the Petit Saint-Antoine, and I was still undecided.
The first cart passed. By a precipitous and involuntary movement I
quitted the shop door, rushed towards the second cart, and found myself
close to the ladies. Madame de Noailles perceived me, and smiling,
seemed to say, ‘There you are at last? How happy we are to see you! How
we have looked for you! Mamma, there he is.’ Madame d’Ayen appeared to
revive. As for myself, all irresolution vanished from my mind. By the
grace of God I felt possessed of extraordinary courage. Soaked with rain
and perspiration, I continued to walk by them. On the steps of the
church of Saint-Louis I met a friend, who, filled with respect and
attachment for the ladies, was endeavoring to give them the same
assistance. His countenance, his attitude, showed what he felt. I placed
my hand on his shoulder, and shuddering, said, ‘Good evening, my dear
“The storm was at its height. The wind blew tempestuously, and greatly
annoyed the ladies in the first cart, more especially the Maréchale de
Noailles. With her hands tied behind her, with no support for her back,
she tottered on the wretched plank upon which she was placed. Her large
cap fell back and exposed to view some gray hairs. Immediately a number
of people who were gathered there notwithstanding the rain, having
recognized her, she became the sole object of their attention. They
added by their insults to the sufferings she was enduring so patiently.
‘There she is,’ they cried, ‘that Maréchale who used to go about with so
many attendants, driving in such fine coaches; there she is in the cart
just like the others.’ The shouts continued, the sky became darker, the
rain fell heavier still. We were close to the cross-road preceding the
Faubourg Saint-Antoine. I went forward, examined the spot, and said to
myself, ‘This is the place for granting them what they so much long
“The cart was going slower. I turned towards the ladies and made a sign
which Madame de Noailles understood perfectly. ‘Mamma, M. Carrichon is
going to give us absolution,’ she evidently whispered. They piously
bowed their heads with a look of repentance, contrition, and hope. Then
I lifted up my hand, and without uncovering my head, pronounced the form
of absolution and the words which follow it very distinctly and with
supernatural attention. Never shall I forget the expression of their
faces. From that moment the storm abated, the rain diminished, and
seemed only to have fallen for the furtherance of our wishes. I offered
up my thanks to God, and so did, I am sure, these pious women. Their
exterior appearance spoke contentment, security, and joy.
“As we advanced through the ‘Faubourg,’ the rain having ceased, a
curious multitude again lined the two sides of the street, insulting the
ladies in the first cart, but above all the Maréchale. Nothing was said
to the others. I sometimes walked by the side of the carts and sometimes
preceded them.
“At last we reached the fatal spot. I cannot describe what I felt. What
a moment! what a separation! what an affliction for the children,
husbands, sisters, relations, and friends who are to survive those
beloved ones in this valley of tears! There they are before me full of
health, and in one moment I shall see them no more. What anguish! yet
not without deep consolation at beholding them so resigned.
“We came in sight of the scaffold. The carts stopped, and were
immediately surrounded by the soldiers. A ring of numerous spectators
was soon formed, most of whom were laughing and amusing themselves at
the horrible sight. It was dreadful to be amongst them!
“While the executioners and his two assistants were helping the
prisoners out of the first cart, Madame de Noailles’ eyes sought for me
in the crowd. She caught sight of me. What a wonderful expression there
was in her face! Sometimes raised towards heaven, sometimes lowered
towards earth, her eyes so animated, so gentle, so expressive, so
heavenly, were often fixed on me in a manner which would have attracted
notice if those around me had had time for observation. I pulled my hat
over my eyes, without taking them off her. I felt as if I could hear her
say: ‘Our sacrifice is accomplished! we have the firm and comforting
hope that a merciful God is calling us to Him. How many dear to us we
leave behind! but we shall forget no one. Farewell to them and thanks to
you! Jesus Christ who died for us is our strength; may we die in Him!
Farewell! May we all meet again in heaven!’
“It is impossible to give an idea of the animation and fervor of those
signs, the eloquence of which was so touching that the bystanders
exclaimed: ‘Oh, that young woman, how happy she seems! how she looks up
to heaven! how she is praying! But what is the use of it all?’ And then,
on second thoughts, ‘Oh, the rascals! the bigots!’
“The mother and daughter took a last farewell of each other and
descended from the cart. As for me, the outer world disappeared for a
moment. At once broken-hearted and comforted, I could only return thanks
to God for not having waited for this moment to give them absolution,
or, which would have been still worse, delayed it till they had ascended
the scaffold. We could not have joined in prayer while I gave and they
received this great blessing as we had been enabled to do in the most
favorable circumstances possible at such a time. I left the spot where I
was standing and went over to the other side while the victims were
getting out. I found myself opposite the wooden steps which led to the
scaffold. An old man, tall and straight, with white hair and a
good-natured countenance, was leaning against it. I was told he was a
_fermier-general_. Near him stood a very edifying lady whom I did not
know. Then came the Maréchale de Noailles exactly opposite me, dressed
in black, for she was still in mourning for her husband. She was sitting
on a block of wood or stone which happened to be there, her large eyes
fixed with a vacant look. I had not omitted to do for her what I had
done for so many, and in particular for the Maréchal and Maréchale de
Mouchy. All the others were drawn up in two lines looking towards the
Faubourg Saint-Antoine.
“From where I stood I could only perceive Madame d’Ayen, whose attitude
and countenance expressed the most sublime, unaffected, and devout
resignation. She seemed only occupied with the sacrifice she was about
to make to God through the merits of the Saviour, his divine Son. She
looked as she was wont to do when she had the happiness of approaching
the altar for holy communion. I shall never forget the impression she
made on me at that moment. It is often in my thoughts. God grant that I
may profit by it!
The Maréchale de Noailles was the third person who ascended the
scaffold. The upper part of her dress had to be cut away in order to
uncover her throat. I was impatient to leave the place, but yet I wished
to drink the cup of bitterness to the dregs and to keep my promise, as
God was giving me strength to do so, even in the midst of my shuddering
horror. Six ladies followed; Madame d’Ayen was the tenth. How happy she
seemed to die before her daughter! The executioner tore off her cap. As
it was fastened with a pin which he had forgotten to remove, he pulled
her hair violently; and the pain he caused was visible on her
“The mother disappeared; the daughter took her place. What a sight to
behold that young creature, all in white, looking still younger than she
really was, like a gentle lamb going to the slaughter! I fancied I was
witnessing the martyrdom of one of the young virgins or holy women whom
we read of in the history of the Church. What had happened to the mother
also happened to her; the same pain in the removal of the cap; then the
same composure and the same death. Oh, the abundant crimson stream that
gushed from the head and neck! ‘How happy she is now!’ I thought, as the
body was thrown into the frightful coffin.
“It would appear that Madame de Noailles, as well as her mother, had
exhorted her fellow-victims, and amongst them a young man whom she heard
blaspheming. As she was ascending the scaffold, she turned towards him
and said, ‘_En grâce, Monsieur, dites, “Pardon.”_’
“May Almighty God in his mercy bestow on the members of that family all
the blessings which I ask and entreat them to ask for mine! May we all
be saved with those who have gone before us to that happy dwelling where
revolutions are unknown; to that abode which, according to the words of
Saint Augustine, has Truth for its king, Charity for its law, and will
endure for Eternity.”
Once more we return to the account of Virginie La Fayette, Marquise de
“For some time after the 10th of _Thermidor_, the prisoners still
considered themselves as being between life and death. The massacres had
ceased; but they might be renewed. My mother received frequent visits
from M. Carrichon, the holy priest who had accompanied my grandmother
and my aunt to the foot of the scaffold, who had given them absolution,
and had witnessed their sacrifice. You can imagine all she felt on
hearing the admirable details he gave her of the last moments of those
angelic women.
“Meanwhile, the endeavors to obtain my mother’s release were incessant.
The American minister continued indefatigable in his exertions. At last
the members of the Committee gave an order for her release.
“My mother’s first care was to go and thank M. Monroe for all he had
done in her behalf.
“It was six days after she had left prison that George joined my mother,
who had sent for him. My mother longed to see my sister and me, but she
would not leave Paris before having obtained for my brother a passport
for America. Knowing that my father’s wish would be to send him to the
United States, she did not hesitate to make the sacrifice of separating
herself from George. M. Frestel was to accompany him. My mother wrote
the following letter to General Washington:—
“‘SIR: I send you my son. It is with the deepest and most sincere
confidence that I put my dear child under the protection of the United
States, which he has ever been accustomed to look upon as his second
country, and which I myself have always considered as being our future
home under the special protection of their President, with whose
feelings towards his father I am well acquainted.
“‘My wish is that my son should lead a very secluded life in America,
that he should resume his studies, interrupted by three years of
misfortunes, and that, far from the land where so many events are taking
place which might either dishearten or revolt him, he may become fit to
fulfil the duties of a citizen of the United States, whose feelings and
whose principles will always agree with those of a French citizen.
“‘I shall not say anything here of my own position, nor of the one which
interests me still more than mine. I rely upon the bearer of this letter
to interpret the feelings of my heart, too sorrowful to express any
others but those of the gratitude I owe to MM. Monroe, Skypwith, and
Mountflorence, for their kindness and their useful endeavors in my
“‘I beg M. Washington will accept the assurance, etc.
“It can easily be imagined how cruelly my mother suffered on separating
herself from her son, and on sending him, at fourteen, alone, amongst
strangers, two thousand leagues off. But such would have been my
father’s wish, and she found strength in that thought.
“My mother, after bidding farewell to George, had nothing more to keep
her in Paris. She started for Auvergne. We went to meet her. You may
fancy the ecstasy of our joy on seeing her. At last my mother’s passport
was granted. She had provided for everything. All her actions, all her
thoughts since my father’s departure had tended to find the means of
joining him. It was after many difficulties and anxieties that we
arrived at Vienna. The old Prince de Rosemberg, grand chamberlain, was
moved by her appeal, and obtained for her an audience of the emperor,
unknown to his ministers. We accompanied her. She was received with
politeness, and simply asked permission to share my father’s captivity.
The emperor answered: ‘I grant it to you; as for his liberty, that would
be impossible; my hands are tied.’ To the expression of her gratitude
for the favor she had just obtained, my mother added that the wives of
my father’s friends imprisoned with him at Olmütz would envy her
happiness. He replied: ‘They have only to act like you. I shall do the
same for them.’ My mother said that she had heard of several vexations
in use in the Prussian prisons, and she begged the emperor to allow her
to address herself directly to him for the requests she might have to
make. He answered: ‘I consent. But you will find M. de La Layette well
fed and well treated. I hope you will do me justice. Your presence will
give him fresh satisfaction. Anyhow, you will be pleased with the
commanding officer. In jail the prisoners are only distinguished by
their numbers, but as for your husband, his name is well known.’
“My mother left the audience-chamber, in an ecstasy of joy. She was
obliged to pass a week more in Vienna, to hasten the despatch of the
order which was to give her admittance into the prison. At last, after
many delays, the order for admitting my mother into the prison of Olmütz
was delivered to her by Ferraris, minister of war. He told her at the
same time that he thought it his duty to advise her to reflect on the
course she was taking, to warn her that she would be most uncomfortable,
and that the prison life she was going to lead might have serious
consequences for her and for her daughters. My mother did not even
listen to him, and we set off immediately.
“We arrived on the second day after our departure, at eleven o’clock in
the morning. Never shall I forget the moment when the post-boy pointed
out to us in the distance the steeples of Olmütz. My mother’s emotion is
still present to my mind. She was for some time choked with tears, but,
as soon as she recovered the power of speech, she blessed God by these
words of Tobit’s prayer:—
“‘Blessed be God that liveth forever, and blessed be His kingdom, for He
doth scourge and hath mercy; He leadeth down to hell, and bringeth up
again; neither is there any that can avoid His hand. Confess Him before
the Gentiles, ye children of Israel: for He hath scattered us among
them. There declare his greatness, and extol Him before all the living;
for He is our Lord, and He is the God our Father forever. And He will
scourge us for our iniquities, and will have mercy again, and will
gather us out of all nations, among whom He has scattered us. Therefore
see what He will do with you, and confess Him with your whole mouth, and
praise the Lord of might, and extol the everlasting King. Let my soul
bless God the great King.’
“We drove to the house of the commander of the town. He sent the officer
in charge of the prison to conduct us. After having been admitted
through the first door, which was locked on the guard itself, we
arrived, by passing through several long passages, to the two padlocked
doors of my father’s room. My father had not been informed of our
arrival. Three years of captivity, the last of which had been passed in
complete solitude,—for, since the attempt at escape, he had not even
seen his servant,—continual anxiety with respect to all the objects of
his affection, sufferings of every kind, had deeply impaired his health;
he was fearfully altered. My mother was struck with the change, but
nothing could diminish the rapture of her joy, save the bitterness of
her irreparable losses. My father, after the first moment of happiness
caused by this unexpected meeting, dared not make any inquiries. He knew
there had been a reign of terror in France, but he had not learned the
names of the victims. The day passed without his venturing to ask any
question; my mother had not courage enough to break the subject herself.
It was only in the evening, after we had been locked in an adjoining but
separate room, which had been assigned to my sister and myself, that she
told my father that her grandmother, her mother, and her sister had
perished on the scaffold.”
Madame La Fayette wrote thus to her aunt, when reunited to her husband:—
“Thanks to your good advice, dear aunt, I have attained my wishes. If I
had been known, I could never have entered the Austrian dominions; and
if I had not kept very quiet at Vienna until M. de Rosemberg had
arranged my audience, I should never have succeeded. The emperor very
politely granted us permission to be imprisoned with M. de La Fayette,
and said at the same time that the affair was very complicated, and did
not depend on him alone; but he assured us he should be well treated,
and that our presence _serait un agrément de plus_…. Fancy the
feelings of M. de La Fayette, who for eighteen months had not been
permitted to learn even if we existed, and who had seen no one but his
jailers, when, without any preparation, we entered his room….
“Would you like to know the sort of life we lead here? At eight o’clock
the jailers call us to breakfast, after which I am locked up with my
little girls till midday. We all dine together, and the turnkey comes in
twice, to take away the dishes, and to bring in supper. We are all
together until eight o’clock, when they carry off my little girls to
their cage. The keys of their room are always delivered to the
commandant, and they are locked in with all sorts of absurd precautions.
We three pay for our food out of my money. We have more than we can eat,
but inexpressibly dirty…. It is a great blessing to us both that the
children keep well in this unwholesome place. My own health is not very
good … but nothing to make me uneasy. Of course you feel that nothing
could induce us to leave M. de La Fayette. His health is really improved
since our arrival. His terrible emaciation and pallor are the same,
though both his keepers and himself assure me that they are nothing like
what they were a year ago. But no one can go through four years of such
captivity with impunity. I have not been able to see his
fellow-captives, Messieurs de Maubourg and de Pusy, nor even to hear
their voices; from the age one of their late keepers supposed them to be
they must have grown terribly older.”
“You know the details of our captivity at Olmütz,” writes Virginie; “my
mother shared in all its hardships. We had not the slightest intercourse
with the outside. The doors were only opened for the officer’s visit at
meal time. We were refused a woman for household work. On entering the
prison we were asked for our purses, and three silver forks found in our
luggage were seized. The use of a knife and fork was refused us, and we
were obliged, during the whole time, to eat with our fingers. My mother
applied to the authorities on all these subjects, but all her requests
were refused.
“My mother deeply felt the grief of being unable to alleviate the
sufferings of her companions in captivity. But as for herself, no words
could express her happiness. You can only imagine it by remembering what
was the ruling passion of her life from the age of fourteen, and how
much she had gone through from frequent separations and incessant labors
which had so constantly called my father from his home, as from the
great dangers to which he had been exposed. She had passed three
horrible years almost without a hope of ever seeing him again. At last
she possessed that happiness which, during all her life, she had been
longing for; each day she beheld the influence of her presence on my
father’s health, and the solace she afforded him; she was surprised at
feeling so happy, and reproached herself for being satisfied with her
situation while my father was still a prisoner. She was allowed now and
then to write, under the eyes of the officer on duty, short unsealed
letters to the banker, who remitted the money necessary for our food.
Permission to write to her son was refused, in order that no
intelligence from the prison of Olmütz should reach the United States.
It was with a toothpick and a small piece of India ink that she wrote my
grandmother’s life on the margins of the engravings of a volume of
“As might have been expected, my mother’s health had suffered much.
Never did she show more meritorious submission to my father’s wishes
than when she determined to write to the emperor for permission to go
and consult the doctors at Vienna. At the end of seven weeks the
commander of Olmütz came to intimate a verbal refusal to leave the
prison unless she gave up all hopes of returning. He asked at the same
time for a written answer. It was as follows:—
“‘The commander of Olmütz having declared to me that, on my request to
go for a week to Vienna in order to consult the doctors, his Imperial
Majesty does not permit me under any pretence whatever to go to Vienna,
and only allows me to leave this prison on condition never to enter it
again, I have the honor here to renew my answer. It was my duty towards
my family and friends to try and obtain the advice necessary for my
health, but they well know that I cannot accept the conditions offered
to me. I cannot forget that while we were both on the eve of perishing,
I through the tyranny of Robespierre, M. de La Fayette through the
physical and moral sufferings of his captivity, I was neither allowed to
receive any accounts of him, nor to let him know that his children and I
were still alive. I shall not expose myself to the horrors of another
“‘Therefore, whatever may be the state of my health, or the hardships of
this abode for my daughters, we shall all three take advantage of his
Imperial Majesty’s goodness in allowing us to share this captivity in
all its details.
“My mother’s illness made rapid progress. The doctor was only allowed to
see her a moment during the officer’s visit. Being ignorant of the
French language he could not understand her, but would express in Latin
his fears to my father. This state lasted eleven months, during which no
alleviation of the prison treatment was obtained. She had not even an
armchair. Her sufferings did not in the least impair her spirits. Seeing
her always serene, always enjoying my father’s company, and the
consolations she had brought with her, we were all less anxious than we
ought to have been.

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“My sister supplied the place of outdoor workmen; she even made shoes
for my father. But her principal occupation was to write under his
dictation on the margins of a book. My mother attended to my education,
and used to read with me; but the margins of a book, the toothpicks, and
the bit of India ink were things too precious for my use. In the evening
my father used to read aloud to us: I still remember the pleasure of
those moments.
“In the interior of the prison we had established a correspondence with
our companions in captivity, with the help of the soldiers, whom we
bribed by the pleasure of a good meal. Of a night, through our double
bars, we used to lower, at the end of a string, a parcel with part of
our supper, to the sentry on duty under our windows, who would pass the
packet in the same manner to MM. de Maubourg and de Pusy, who occupied
separate parts of the prison.
“In the month of July, 1797, the Marquis de Chasteler, Austrian general,
was sent by the emperor to Olmütz, in order to offer their liberty to
the prisoners on condition that they would promise never again to appear
in his dominions. The day they received this proposal they heard that
the French government, who insisted on their deliverance, had declared
at the same time that they could not return to France. Notwithstanding
this proof of ill-will, the three friends, who had been allowed to meet
a moment in order to consult together on their decision, refused to make
any agreement which did not preserve entire the rights of their country
on their persons; this restriction caused the prison doors to be closed
on them again.”
The following was La Fayette’s declaration in answer to the offer of
liberty upon conditions which he considered too ignoble to comply with:—
“OLMÜTZ, July 25, 1797.
“The commission with which the Marquis de Chasteler is entrusted appears
to me to reduce itself to three points: First, His Imperial Majesty
wishes to have a statement of our situation at Olmütz. I am disposed to
present no complaint to him. Several details will be found in my wife’s
letters transmitted or sent back by the Austrian government, and should
his Imperial Majesty not consider it sufficient to re-peruse the
instructions sent from Vienna in his name, I will willingly furnish the
Marquis de Chasteler with all the information he may desire.
“Secondly, His Majesty the emperor wishes to be assured that immediately
after my liberation I shall set out for America. That intention I have
often expressed, but as an answer would, under present circumstances,
appear like an acknowledgment of the right to impose on me such a
condition, I think it inexpedient to comply with the demand.
“Thirdly, His Majesty the emperor and king has done me the honor to
announce to me that, as the principles which I profess are incompatible
with the safety to the Austrian government, he cannot consent to my
return to his states without his special permission. There are certain
duties, the fulfilment of which I cannot decline; I have some towards
the United States; I have others towards France,—I cannot under any
circumstances shrink from the performance of those which I owe to my
country. With this reservation I can assure General the Marquis de
Chasteler of my fixed determination never to set foot in any state
subject to his Imperial Majesty the King of Bohemia and Hungary.
Regarding this brave action of the Marquis de La Fayette, who had been
languishing for five years in his loathsome prison, but who would not
purchase liberty at the sacrifice of one iota of his avowed rights and
principles, his daughter Virginie says:—
“My mother fully appreciated this noble conduct. In the midst of her
sufferings she would willingly have paid with many months of captivity
the pleasure caused her by my father’s declaration in answer to the
proposals made by the Austrian government. Two months elapsed before we
received any new communication. At last General Bonaparte and General
Clarke, the French plenipotentiaries, required that the prisoners of
Olmütz should be delivered without further delay.
“After many difficulties, the order was forwarded to open the gates of
the citadel to the prisoners of Olmütz. We set off for Hamburg on the
19th of September, 1797. Five years and one month had elapsed since my
father’s arrest, and twenty-three months since we had joined him. At
Dresden, Leipsic, Halle, and Hamburg our journey was a prolonged
triumph. Crowds thronged to see my father and his companions.”
Immediately upon his release from prison La Fayette’s first care was to
thank M. de Talleyrand, and to write the following letter to General
“HAMBURG, Oct. 6, 1797.
“CITOYEN GÉNÉRAL: The prisoners of Olmütz, happy to owe their
deliverance to your irresistible arms, had, during their captivity,
rejoiced at the thought that their liberty and their life were attached
to the victories of the republic and to your personal glory. It is with
the utmost satisfaction that they now do homage to their liberator. We
should have liked, _Citoyen Général_, to have offered to you in person
the expression of these feelings, to have witnessed with our own eyes
the scenes of so many victories, the army which has won them, and the
general who has placed our resurrection amongst the miracles he has
accomplished. But you know that the journey to Hamburg has not been left
to our choice. From the place where we took leave of our jailers we
address our thanks to their victor.
“In the solitary retreat on the Danish territory of Holstein, where we
shall try to recover our health, we shall unite our patriotic wishes for
the republic with the most lively interest in the illustrious general to
whom we are still more attached on account of the services he has
rendered to the cause of liberty and to our country than for the special
obligation we rejoice in owing to him, and which the deepest gratitude
has forever engraved in our hearts.
“_Salut et respect_,
Among the letters which greatly gratified La Fayette upon his liberation
was the following from Madame de Staël, addressed to him when it was
announced that he was to be delivered.
“JUNE 20, 1797.
“I hope this letter will reach you. I should like to be one of the first
to tell you of the feelings of indignation, grief, hope, fear, anxiety,
discouragement, with which your fate has filled, during these last five
years, the hearts of all those who love you. I do not know whether it is
possible to make these cruel recollections bearable to you;
nevertheless, I may say, that, while calumny was destroying every
reputation, while faction, unable to triumph over the cause, was
attacking every individual, your misfortunes have preserved your glory;
and if your health can be restored to you, you come out whole from a
tomb where your name has acquired fresh lustre.
“Come directly to France; there is no other country for you. You will
find that republic which your opinions led you to wish for when your
conscience bound you to royalty. You will find it illustrated by victory
and free from the crimes which stained its origin. You will uphold that
republic, because without it no liberty can exist in France, and
because, as a hero and as a martyr, you are so united with freedom that
I pronounce your name and the name of liberty at the same moment to
express what I wish for the honor and welfare of France.
“Come to France; there you will find devoted friends; and let me hope
that my constant care for your welfare and my useless efforts to serve
you may entitle me to a small place in your thoughts.”
During La Fayette’s long imprisonment many persons in England, France,
and America interested themselves in efforts in his behalf. Of these one
of the most indefatigable was Joseph Masclet, a man of rare merits.
During the Reign of Terror he went to England to save his life. He was
not personally acquainted with La Fayette, having never even seen him at
that time, but he warmly sympathized with his principles and admired his
sterling virtues. He constantly wrote against the detention of La
Fayette, and published numerous articles in the Hamburg journals upon
the subject, using the _nom-de-plume_ of “Eleutheros,” the Greek for
freeman. It was in vain that the Austrian cabinet took every measure to
discover “Eleutheros,” though several emissaries were sent to London to
find the unknown person who thus dared to brave the anger of the
Austrian government. Masclet was supported in England in these
philanthropic efforts in behalf of La Fayette and his companions in
misfortune, Generals Latour-Maubourg and Bureaux de Pusy, who were
imprisoned with him in Olmütz, by Fox, Wilberforce, Sheridan, and at
their head General Fitzpatrick and General Tarleton, who had fought
against La Fayette in Virginia; but these now all united to plead with
the Pitt ministry and the calumniators of La Fayette. In December, 1796,
General Fitzpatrick made that eloquent speech in the English House of
Commons, in behalf of the prisoners at Olmütz, which produced great
sensation in Europe, which ended as follows:—
“That an humble address be presented to his Majesty, that it appears to
this House that the detention of Generals La Fayette, Bureaux de Pusy,
and Latour-Maubourg, in the prison of his Majesty’s ally, the emperor of
Germany, is highly injurious to his Imperial Majesty and to the common
cause of all the allies; and humbly implore his Majesty to intercede in
such manner as to his wisdom shall seem proper for the deliverance of
these unfortunate persons.”
The friendship between La Fayette and Masclet continued strong until the
death of the latter. Immediately upon La Fayette’s release from Olmütz,
he addressed the following letter to the faithful “Eleutheros,” who had
been untiring in his efforts in his behalf.
“WITMOLD, 9th _Brumaire_, year 6.
“How is it possible, my dear friend, that since the period of our
deliverance you have not yet received the homage of my gratitude, and
the expression of my sincere friendship? M—— must have explained to you
that my delay in writing could have proceeded only from the hope of
enjoying a happiness still greater. I am far from renouncing that
happiness; I have need of it more than ever, and I demand it from you
with the feeling of confidence which you have given me a right to
express. I am not apprehensive of abusing that right, and it is
gratifying to me to use it. I forbear to speak of my obligations towards
you, my dear friend; the question relates to more than my own liberty
and my own life, since my wife, my daughters, my two friends, and our
faithful domestics have been restored along with me. How many other
obligations to which my heart is incessantly alive should I not still
have to recapitulate, were I to endeavor to portray my gratitude! but it
is inexpressible—inexhaustible—like your friendship, and I should feel
delighted to thank you by pressing you to my heart.
“You have had news of our deliverance, of our journey, of our health;
that of my wife in particular is so bad that we have been forced to stop
in the nearest place of safety. To have embarked even for a short voyage
would have caused great injury to some of our party. Travelling by land,
after the first eight days, would have been uncertain, and my wife would
have been unable to bear it without undergoing a degree of fatigue that
would have been dangerous in her exhausted situation. We therefore
propose to settle for some time in a very isolated retreat between Kiel
and Ploën. That territory is subject to the king of Denmark, and his
connection with the Republic will, I trust, prevent him from molesting
French citizens whose principles may be displeasing to him, but whose
only occupation will consist in the care of their health, and who,
unfortunately, in their present position, can serve liberty only by
their wishes.
“You have doubtless been made acquainted with my opinion on the events
of the 18th _Fructidor_, and I am aware that my opinion on that subject
is not yours. Perhaps mine is influenced by my profound contempt for the
counter-revolutionists, and by some regret at not having gone out at a
moment when liberty of opinion and a bad tone of society would, it is
said, have authorized a republican declaration. But I cannot deceive
myself as to the nature of the measures that have been taken; as to the
constitution that has been sworn, and which, by the way, is infinitely
better than that which I was to have defended; as to the personal
characters of several of the proscribed parties; as to the declaration
of rights, which, waiving all considerations of an author’s self-love,
shall always form the rule of my opinions and conduct; finally, as to
the principle, in which I have been confirmed by experience, that
Liberty can, and ought to be, assisted only by means worthy of her. If I
deceive myself in my disapprobation of some of the present measures, the
fault is not mine; I have been enabled to form a judgment on them only
by means of some apologies and public papers; and in frankly laying
before you the sentiments of the most republican heart that ever
existed, I most ardently desire to hear from you the reasons which have
induced so sincere and so enlightened a patriot as yourself to form a
different opinion.
“Our first act of liberty at Hamburg was an act of respect to the
representative of the Republic, an account of which he must have
forwarded to the government. We have written to Bonaparte in the midst
of his triumphs, and to Clarke in the midst of his reverses, for both
have considerable claims upon our gratitude. But as it appears to us
that the official tribute ought to be addressed to the minister of
foreign relations, the first organ of the government in taking steps
which have released us from captivity and death, we have written to
Talleyrand, as the natural depository of our acknowledgments, as the
individual to whom we owe an account of our existence in a foreign
country, and as joining to his ministerial claims that which he
possesses upon our personal gratitude. We trust that by these three
steps taken by us at Hamburg, in Italy, and at Paris, we have fulfilled
all suitable duties and formalities. The pleasure of our deliverance is
augmented beyond measure by the idea that we owe it to the triumphs of
the Republic, to the kind feelings of our fellow-citizens, and to the
zeal of our best friends, among whom you are acquainted with one whose
abilities are as superior as his heart is excellent, one for whom I feel
the most affectionate regard, whom I ardently long to embrace, to whom I
have a thousand things to say, and a thousand questions to put, and whom
I shall cordially cherish till my latest breath.
In 1792 Madame La Fayette had written to Washington in behalf of her
husband, as follows: “While he suffers this inconceivable persecution
from the enemies without, the faction which reigns within keeps me a
hostage at one hundred and twenty leagues from the capital. Judge, then,
at what distance I am from him. In this abyss of misery, the idea of
owing to the United States and to Washington the life and liberty of M.
de La Fayette kindles a ray of hope in my heart. I hope everything from
the goodness of the people with whom he has set an example of that
liberty of which he is now made the victim. And shall I dare speak what
I hope? I would ask of them, through you, for an envoy, who shall go to
reclaim him in the name of the republic of the United States,
wheresoever he may be found, and who shall be authorized to make, with
the power in whose charge he may be placed, all necessary engagements
for his relief, and for taking him to the United States, even if he is
there to be guarded as a captive. I hope my request is not a rash one.
Accept the homage of the sentiments which have dictated this letter, as
well as that of attachment and tender respect.”
Trying as it was for Washington to refuse this request in his public
capacity, as he felt he could not make an official demand which might
involve his country in embarrassments; he did all that he could as a
private individual in his friend’s behalf, and to the emperor of Germany
he thus wrote:—
“It will readily occur to your Majesty that occasions may sometimes
exist, on which official considerations would constrain the chief of a
nation to be silent and passive, in relation even to objects which
affect his sensibility and claim his interposition as a man. Finding
myself precisely in this situation at present, I take the liberty of
writing this private letter to your Majesty, being persuaded that my
motives will also be my apology for it.
“In common with the people of this country, I retain a strong and
cordial sense of the services rendered to them by the Marquis de La
Fayette, and my friendship for him has been constant and sincere. It is
natural, therefore, that I should sympathize with him and his family in
their misfortunes, and endeavor to mitigate the calamities which they
experience; among which, his present confinement is not the least
“I forbear to enlarge upon this delicate subject. Permit me only to
submit to your Majesty’s consideration whether his long imprisonment and
the confiscation of his estates, and the indigence and dispersion of his
family, and the painful anxieties incident to all these circumstances,
do not form an assemblage of sufferings which recommend him to the
mediation of humanity! Allow me, sir, on this occasion to be its organ,
and to entreat that he may be permitted to come to this country on such
conditions and under such restrictions as your Majesty may think it
expedient to prescribe.
“As it is a maxim with me not to ask what, under similar circumstances,
I would not grant, your Majesty will do me the justice to believe that
this request appears to me to correspond to those great principles of
magnanimity and wisdom which form the basis of sound policy and durable
“May the Almighty and Merciful Sovereign of the universe keep your
Majesty under his protection and guidance.”
To Gouverneur Morris, who had superseded Mr. Monroe as minister to
France, Madame de Staël wrote urgently in behalf of La Fayette. She says
in one of her letters to Mr. Morris:—
“You are travelling through Germany, and, whether on a public mission or
not, you have influence, for they are not so stupid as not to consult a
man like you. Open the prison doors of M. de La Fayette. Pay the debt of
your country. What greater service can any one render to his native land
than to discharge her obligations of gratitude? Is there any severer
calamity than that which has befallen La Fayette? Does any more glaring
injustice attract the attention of Europe?”
Mr. Morris not only spared no sacrifice for the marquis, but aided his
suffering family, and was chiefly instrumental in securing the
liberation of Madame La Fayette. But for five long years Prussia and
Austria defended their infamous conduct by declaring “that La Fayette’s
freedom was incompatible with the safety of the present governments of
General Latour-Maubourg, in a letter written during their imprisonment
at Olmütz, thus graphically describes their prison life:—
“Do not suppose that I have made a mistake in lodging the domestic from
Paris in two chambers which are large, handsome, and the best in the
enclosure, whilst General and Madame La Fayette have but two small
cells, their daughters but a narrow kennel, with a single wretched bed;
and whilst Pusy and myself, in addition to the common inconveniences,
have those attached to the neighborhood of the guard-house and
out-houses, the dampness of which is such, that the wall touching them
is covered with saltpetre. The genius of the imperial administration has
thought of everything that can render our seclusion complete, and harass
us in the slightest matters.
“The waters with which we are surrounded furnish, in addition to a
multitude of flies that are extremely troublesome, frequent fogs, which
occasion dangerous fevers, and to which the town of Olmütz owes its
reputation for unwholesomeness.
“Besides, the gutters passing beneath our windows always emit an
insufferable stench, and exhale a mephitic vapor that is absolutely
pestilential. Our prisons, without excepting even that of the ladies,
are furnished with a sorry bed without curtains, two deal tables, two
chairs, a range of wooden pegs, a wardrobe, and a stove which is lighted
from the outside.
“Hitherto, you perceive that we have had none of the conveniences
promised by the emperor to Madame La Fayette. It is probably a great
honor to be his Majesty’s guest, particularly in a prison: but the thing
is really no laughing matter. The breakfast is of chocolate, or coffee
with milk, at the prisoner’s option, and both are execrable, as you may
well imagine when you are informed that they are made by a _vivandière_,
in a small kitchen, into which the soldiers from the barracks enter at
pleasure, and where their whole time is spent in smoking. It thus
happens that everything eaten by us is impregnated with a strong savor
of tobacco, and we are even fortunate when we do not find large pieces
of that weed in what is given to us. Our dinner is served up in deep
earthenware dishes; and with regard to cleanliness, as everything comes
from the kitchen of the same _vivandière_, whose execrable ragouts,
rancid butter, and spices I might forgive, were she herself less dirty.
To fill up the measure of disgust, everything—meat, soup, vegetables,
fricassees—must be eaten with a pewter spoon, without knife or fork, and
had we not brought napkins along with us, some fragment of which still
remain, the sleeves of our coats must have served for that purpose. Two
pint jugs are brought to us full, one of coarse, flat, red wine, the
other of dirty water, and we must drink out of both, because, as it was
explained to me, ‘the emperor chooses it.’ You will conceive, the
disgust inspired by these jugs, when I add that when removed from our
chambers they are placed in the windows of the corridor, where they are
exposed to insects, dust, tobacco smoke, and what is still worse, left
for the use of the soldiers, who drink out of them and perform their
ablutions in them. They are cleaned only at stated periods, at the
beginning and in the middle of each month, with a wisp of straw.
“From these details you will perceive that, as a relief from our
vexations, which are the more annoying as they have not even the
semblance of necessity; and to diminish the tedious length of the days,
we have no other resource than reading. In Silesia we had been allowed
the use of paper, pen, and ink; but at the mention of this our jailers
were greatly astonished, and bestowed contemptuous epithets on the want
of intelligence displayed by the Prussians in tormenting their victims.
We were deprived even of the letters which we had received from our
relatives and friends, and were informed that we were separated from the
rest of the world, that we must forget our own names, and recollect only
our numbers, by which only we were to be known, and that we should never
hear each other spoken of.
“You ask how we dressed? Like beggars; that is to say, in rags, since
our worn-out clothes have not been replaced. La Fayette, however, wanted
breeches, and I have been informed that a tailor was ordered, without
taking his measure, to make a large pair of trousers for him, and a
waistcoat of coarse serge, at the same time informing him that cloth was
too dear for him. I believe that the garment alluded to was purposely
made in such a manner as to prevent him from wearing it, and that Madame
La Fayette supplied the deficiency by purchasing cloth on some pretext
or other. In the articles of shoes and stockings he is strangely
provided, for those he wears Mademoiselle Anastasie was obliged to make
with her own fair hands, out of the stuff of an old coat. For my own
part, I wear a waistcoat and nankeen trousers made at Nivelle, nearly
five years ago, and you may therefore judge of the state of maturity at
which they have arrived. Were I to make my appearance in the street, any
charitable soul would offer me alms. Three months ago, however, I was
supplied with new shoes; the old ones had been soled thirteen times, and
for the new ones I was indebted merely to the obstinacy of the cobbler
who found it utterly impossible to perform the operation for the
fourteenth time. Whilst my shoes were being made I was obliged to remain
in bed.”
Notwithstanding La Fayette’s many privations and persecutions during his
long imprisonment, his moral courage remained unimpaired. He had been
languishing for five years in a state between life and death. He had
lost all his hair, and had several times been attacked by dangerous
fevers bred by the dampness and infectious air of his dungeon. In the
midst of his many misfortunes his coolness and presence of mind never
for an instant deserted him. After his attempt to escape, having been
recaptured and brought back to Olmütz, he was at first confined in a
large apartment, but was soon afterwards commanded by an officer to pass
into an adjoining room.
“For what purpose?” asked La Fayette.
“That your irons may be put on,” replied the officer.
“Your emperor has not given you such an order,” boldly exclaimed the
illustrious prisoner; “beware of doing more than he requires, and of
displeasing him by exceeding his orders through an ill-timed zeal.”
The officer, impressed with the truth and courage of this remark,
insisted no further, and La Fayette was thus spared from being obliged
to endure the humiliating torture of being ironed during the remainder
of his imprisonment. Neither did his great sufferings break his spirit.
One day the officer on guard, beholding La Fayette at his meal, and
seeing that he was forced to eat with his fingers, asked him if that
mode was entirely new to him.
“Oh no!” replied La Fayette, with cool irony; “I have seen it employed
in America, amongst the Iroquois.”
When La Fayette was first released from his prison at Olmütz, he found
that he had come back to a changed world. The king, queen, court,
Assembly, and constitution, all were gone! The awful Reign of Terror
which swept over his country had left many empty places among his
friends, and the France which met his ardent gaze was greatly different
from that upon which his longing eyes turned as he had been obliged to
depart from her coasts in haste and with baffled hopes.
Writing to a friend who had cautioned him against freely expressing his
opinions, lest he might find himself in further trouble, La Fayette
boldly answered: “I risk nothing in speaking as I think, because I would
not and could not be employed by any party except according to my own
ideas. The result is that, except on some very great occasion of serving
the liberty of my country after my own fashion, my political life is
ended. To my friends I shall be full of life, and to the public a sort
of picture in a museum or book in a library. Those who know my views and
wishes must be convinced that the services I should wish to render to my
country are of a nature to be combined with the mode of living which
suits my position, my wife, all my family, and myself; that is to say,
with a quiet philosopher’s establishment on a good farm,—far enough from
the capital not to be interfered with in my solitude, and to see only
intimate friends.”
Immediately upon the release of La Fayette, Washington addressed to him
the following letter from Mount Vernon, dated Oct. 8, 1797:—
“This letter will be presented to you, I hope, by your young son, well
worthy of having such parents as yourself and your amiable wife.
“I could say to you much better than I can express it here all that I
have felt for your sufferings; concerning my efforts for your release,
the measures which I adopted, although without success, to facilitate
your deliverance from an unjust and cruel captivity; and my joy at last
in beholding its termination.
“I desire to congratulate you, and be assured that no one could offer it
with an affection more profound and sincere. Each action of your life
gives me a right to rejoice at the liberty which you have received, and
also at the restoration of security in your country; and if the
possession of these blessings cannot entirely compensate for the trials
which you have endured, they will mitigate, at least, the painful
“The conduct of your son since he landed upon American soil has been
most exemplary, from all accounts, and has procured for him the
affection and the confidence of all who have had the pleasure of knowing
him. His filial affection, his ardent desire to embrace his parents and
his sisters in the first moment of their deliverance, have not permitted
him to await here more authentic news; and as nothing has been heard
which should influence him to suspend this resolution, I have not
refused my assent to his departure, that he might fly to the arms of
those who are so dear to him, because, according to last accounts, he
ought, in truth, to find them in Paris.
“M. Frestel has been a devoted guardian to George; a father could not
have watched with greater care over his cherished son; and he merits in
a high degree all that can be said of his virtues, his good judgment,
and his prudence. Your son and he carry with them the wishes and the
regrets of our family and of all who know them.
“At all times be assured you have held a high place in the affections of
this country. I will not tax your time to speak to you of that which
regards me personally, except to say to you that I have once again
retired to my own fireside, where I will remain, forming wishes for the
prosperity of the United States, after having labored for years for the
establishment of their independence, of their constitution, and of their
laws. Those wishes will constantly have for their object also the
welfare of all mankind, as long as the little day of my life upon the
earth shall be continued. I have said adieu to public affairs, and I
desire to withdraw entirely from politics. But M. Frestel and George
will report me more fully upon this point. Although they have always
avoided taking any part in our discussions, they have not been
inattentive spectators of that which has passed before their eyes. They
will give you a general idea of our situation, and of those parties who,
in my opinion, have troubled the peace and tranquillity.
“If your remembrances or your circumstances shall bring you on a visit
to America, accompanied by your wife and daughters, not one of its
inhabitants will receive you with more cordiality and tenderness than
Madame Washington and myself. Our hearts are full of affection and
admiration for you and them.”
At the time of La Fayette’s release from Olmütz he wrote to Masclet the
following letter regarding the military career of his son, George
Washington La Fayette, which is interesting as revealing some of the
peculiar circumstances which surrounded the family at that time, and
also La Fayette’s impressions regarding the state of France:—
“Talleyrand and you imagine that had George been in the army, the
Directors, in replying to Brune, would have made a formal exception in
my favor; not more so, perhaps, than the Convention made in favor of the
father of Moreau, on the day when the latter took the fort of l’Ecluse.
But even supposing that the uniform worn by all the young aristocrats
who seek to connect themselves with the Republic had produced such an
effect upon the government, you will observe that my son could not have
returned in time to follow Bonaparte, unless I had made excessive haste
to send him; and when my deliverer was apprehensive of compromising
himself by replying to my letters, when he was himself said to be
threatened with an act of accusation, it would have been imprudent to
send to him the son of a man to whose _treasons_ the Directory and the
President of the Council of Five Hundred had recently called public
attention. Since that period you have not regretted the wars of
Switzerland for him. Had he been attached to Championnet, he would
probably have been associated in a criminal trial; had he served with
Joubert, he would have been disgraced, and would perhaps have
participated in the extreme disgust which that general cannot refrain
from expressing; whereas at present he is free and full of ardor, and we
may examine the question of his entrance into the service, which has
become much more tempting, to use his own expression, since we have
undergone reverses.
“The fact is, that George, who is a republican patriot,—and I have met
with few such in my lifetime,—has, besides, a passion for the military
profession, for which I think him adapted, as he possesses a sound and
calm judgment, a just perception, a strong local memory, and will be
equally beloved by his superiors, his comrades, and his subordinates. I
love him with too much tenderness to make any distinction between his
desires and mine; and I am too great an enemy of oppression of every
description to place restraint on the wishes of a beloved son nearly
twenty years of age. I could joyfully see him covered with honorable
scars; but beyond that supposition I have not the courage to contemplate
“Other objections, however, present themselves to my mind. I do not call
them insurmountable, for I admit that the opposite opinion is plausible;
and it is only because it appears indisputable to you that I endeavor to
reduce it to its just value. Let us, in the first place, lay aside your
comparison with my journey to America, whither I proceeded to oppose the
despotism of a government which had violated fewer natural and social
rights, from the foundation of the colonies to the Declaration of
Independence, than the Directory daily violates amongst those who have
been subjugated to its power. We must not be led away by the flattering
sounds of republic and liberty. Algiers, Venice, and Rome under
Tiberius, caused the first name to be heard; and as for the second, do
you think that the young patricians who demanded of Sylla the honor to
introduce Roman liberty into Asia had more energy than he who said to
his governor, ‘Why is not this man killed who disposes of the life and
property of his fellow-citizens?’—‘The reason is that nobody ventures
upon the deed.’—‘Then give me a sword, and I will kill him.’ That
individual, as you know, was Cato.
“It is no doubt gratifying to serve an ungrateful country either in
one’s own person or in that of a son; but, in this instance, ingratitude
can hardly be said to exist, since benevolence reappears with liberty;
it is a proscription by the oppressive faction of the country, which is
at present prolonged by an arbitrary government, till the return of
liberty; and for the constant enemy of despotism, it is not
indispensable to serve the despotic pentarchy of France. There are also
particular inconveniences in my son’s case. You know that in organized
countries—in England, for instance—activity of service seems to imply
the approbation of the governing party; but without admitting that
difficulty, imagine George at the table of a leader, drinking, three
months hence, to the fortunate day of the 10th of August, which was the
signal for the assassination of our friends, or ordering one of my
accomplices to be shot!
“If, at least, some return to liberal ideas should become manifest,—if I
could perceive the _avant-coureurs_ of a national and legal
government,—the inexpressible desire which I feel for such a blessing
would induce me to welcome with avidity the smallest drop of liberty
that might fall from heaven. I cordially detest the ancient powers; I
ardently wish that the new doctrine may be established upon a firm
basis; this coalition is composed of my implacable enemies. I entertain
no personal hostility towards the present government; I have even
obligations to some of them; and the persecution which I have suffered
is too honorable to me for its avowed motives to suffer me to be shocked
at it.
“You know that I love my country, and that its welfare, in whatever
quarter it might originate, would give me the highest gratification:
consequently no bitterness can enter into the severity of my objections,
which I would instantly waive, were liberty, or even the dawn of
liberty, again perceptible in France; but I have felt desirous of
explaining to you, my dear friend, what has hitherto prevented me from
yielding to the natural ardor of my son, and what has struck himself in
hearing my remarks on the subject.
“At the same time I admit that the opposite opinion, even under existing
circumstances, has considerable weight. France, whether free or not, is
still our country, and there are more germs of liberty in her democratic
organization than could enter into the counter-revolution. Her
adversaries are the decided enemies of our purest principles, and have
taken up arms only to accomplish her utter destruction. If it appears
unsuitable that, when Europe is divided into two bands, a young man of
nineteen years of age should be found in neither, it is evident that the
place of a patriot—of my son—can only be under our national standards.
The late reverses have imparted a more defensive character to our wars,
and a leader incapable of acts of pillage has just been appointed to the
army of Italy; in a word, if it be permitted, or let us even say, if it
be a duty to hesitate, there are many reasons at this moment for the
adoption of your advice.”
At a later period La Fayette wrote to the same friend to inform him of
his son’s departure for Italy:—
“I heartily thank you, my dear Masclet, for your congratulations on the
wished-for appointment. The new-made officer is hastening to the field,
and hopes to embrace you to-morrow, before his and your departure. Sure
it is, the standard of the rights of men is not on the side against
which he is going to fight. May they be in France the reward of victory!
“With sanguine expectations I am waiting for news from Italy. Bonaparte
will conquer. Our situation in Germany is glorious indeed; a brilliant
campaign and an honorable peace are, I think, to be depended upon.
Adieu, my dear Masclet.

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