The love of liberty with life is given

Liberty’s Knight—_L’Homme des Deux Mondes_—Ancestry of La Fayette—His
Birth and Early Years—Youthful Enthusiasm—College Life—Introduction
to the French Court—Vast Inheritance—A Page to the Queen—Member of
the _Mousquetaires du Roi_—Promoted a Commissioned Officer—Personal
Appearance—Early Marriage—His Wife’s Family—Stationed at Metz—News
of the American Revolution—Influence on La Fayette—His
Resolve—Opposition—Visit to London—Return to Paris—Secret
Preparations—Sovereign Displeasure—Hasty Flight—Aboard the
_Victory_—Letters to his Wife.
“The love of liberty with life is given,
And life itself the inferior gift of Heaven.”—DRYDEN.
“For Freedom’s battle once begun,
Bequeath’d by bleeding sire to son,
Though baffled oft, is ever won.”—BYRON.
LA FAYETTE was not only the Knight of Liberty in two worlds and in two
centuries, but was also the champion of law and order. Other men have
fought for freedom; but few men in history have so truly and broadly
comprehended the indissoluble tie which must ever bind liberty to law,
if the shackles of oppression be unloosed, and the equal rights of men
become the watchwords of national peace and prosperity.
The battle of Minden, in 1758, was fought, and a young and valiant
French marquis sacrificed his life upon that battle-field. He
was the first Marquis de La Fayette. At that time his son,
Marie-Jean-Paul-Roch-Yves-Gilbert de Motier La Fayette, lay in his
cradle, an infant of seven months old. The warlike mantle of the father
fell upon the son. But gentler spirits than _Stern War_ hovered over his
pillow. _Gleaming-eyed Liberty_ said, “I will make him my champion”; and
_mild-eyed Law_ bent over the cradle and smoothed the baby brow,
murmuring, “I will make him love peace and order.” Thus War, Liberty,
and Law christened the fatherless child, and to the long list of titled
names which already weighted his infant forehead, they added yet
another, of nobler rank than all; for they placed there, in letters of
glowing light, the unrivalled title, _Knight of Liberty_.
The name of La Fayette was distinguished as far back as the fourteenth
century. “The founder of the family was a Marshal de La Fayette, who
defeated the English at the battle of Baugé shortly before the time of
Jeanne d’Arc,—a success which raised the hopes of the Dauphin, who
afterwards recovered the French throne.
“In the seventeenth century two noble and illustrious women bore the
ancient name. One of these ladies was Louise de La Fayette, maid of
honor to Queen Anne of Austria, whose son, Louis XIII., fell so deeply
in love with the young lady that he proposed to establish her in his
country house at Versailles, a royal shooting-box built before the time
of the great château. Alarmed at the infatuation of the king, and seeing
no way of resisting the royal commands save by devoting herself to
Heaven, Louise de La Fayette retired to the Convent of the Visitation,
and at once took the vows. She died at the age of fifty, as _Mère
Angélique_, abbess of Chaillot, a convent she had founded.
“Her brother, Count La Fayette, married, in 1655, Marie Madeline Pioche
de la Vergne, an intimate friend of Madame de Sévigné, and authoress of
the ‘Princesse de Clèves,’ a classical romance of the old school, still
read by lovers of the literature of the Renaissance.
“The wife of the renowned General La Fayette, whom he married in 1774,
when he was sixteen and she a year younger, was Marie Adrienne
Françoise, second daughter of the Duke d’Ayen, and granddaughter of
Maréschal de Noailles. After three years of happy married life, he left
her shortly before the birth of their second child, to hasten to the aid
of the American colonies. The infant born during her father’s absence
became Madame Charles de Latour-Maubourg.”
In 1881, in the Paris _Figaro_ appeared the following account of the
descendants of General La Fayette: “His only son, George Washington La
Fayette, married, in 1802, Mademoiselle Desture de Thacy, and had five
children. The eldest, Oscar, died in 1881. His wife, a relative of M. de
Pusy, one of the prisoners at Olmütz, had died after one year of married
life, and he never married again. The second son, Edmond, the present
head of the house, is now sixty-two, and a bachelor.
“The daughters are Madame Adolphe Périer (her husband was a nephew of
Casimir Périer), Madame Bureaux de Pusy, and Madame Gustave de Beaumont.
Mesdames Pusy and Beaumont are still living. The former has a son, an
officer of merit, and two daughters. M. Paul de Beaumont, son of Madame
Gustave de Beaumont, was a cabinet minister under M. Daufaure. Madame
Périer left daughters, one of whom married M. de Sahune.
“Madame Charles de Latour-Maubourg, who was born whilst her father,
General La Fayette, was serving in America, had two daughters, Madame de
Brigode and Madame de Perron. General Perron, husband of the latter
lady, was a Piedmontese, and a president of the Council of Ministers in
Piedmont. He was killed at the battle of Novara.
“La Fayette’s other daughter, Madame de Lasteyrie, was named Virginie.
She was the comfort and staff of her father’s age. She married, in 1800,
the Marquis Louis de Lasteyrie, who served with the army for some years,
but being wounded, retired to the Château of La Grange, between
Fontainbleau and Paris,—a place which became the happy home of the
entire La Fayette family. There lived the general and the family of
Charles de Latour-Maubourg; and thither, too, after a time, came George
Washington La Fayette and his children.
“The Marquis de Lasteyrie, who died before General La Fayette, left four
children. Of these are Madame Charles de Rémusat, whose husband is the
son of the distinguished lady whose ‘Memoirs’ have been recently given
to the world; and Madame de Corcelle, wife of a former ambassador to
Rome. M. Jules de Lasteyrie, the only son, was made a senator. He
married a lady of the English branch of the House of Rohan-Chabot. His
only son holds an office at present at Abbeville. The third and youngest
daughter of the Marquis de Lasteyrie married M. d’Assailly, and is
mother of two sons: one, councillor-general of the Deux-Sèvres; the
other, a captain of Chasseurs.
“The connections of the La Fayette family are distinguished and
numerous. Through the De Grammonts, they are allied to the Count de
Merode, senator from the Department of the Doubs; to his brother, who
held high office under Pius IX.; and to Anna, Countess of Montalembert.
The family of Ségur is also related to the La Fayette family.”
Beranger called La Fayette “_L’Homme des deux mondes_” (the man of two
worlds), and he might also have added, the man of two centuries. Europe
and America have both united to do him homage, and the glorious
independence which he aided in securing in one century, he lived to
behold in the next, realizing greater permanency and prosperity than
even his fondest dreams had dared to hope for.
The American Republic held him in grateful remembrance as a
_Revolutionary Hero_; while France venerated his memory as the Friend
and Protector of the People. High on the lists of chivalry the name of
La Fayette glows with undying lustre; but as the defender of the
oppressed and the protector of the weak, he is the _People’s Hero_.
While his remains were being carried to the tomb, surrounded by an
escort of the National Guard, a poor man, with tattered clothing and
tottering steps, endeavored to press his way through the crowd and place
himself in the funeral procession directly behind the bier. One of the
Guard, obstructing his passage, said to him, “You see that none but the
family are admitted here.”
“We all belong to his family,” replied the old man, with a voice choked
with emotion and eyes full of tears; “we all belong to his family, for
he loved us all as his children.”
Immediately the ranks of the National Guard fell reverently backward,
and a way was quickly opened for the old peasant, and he walked to the
cemetery directly behind the remains of him whose self-sacrificing
devotion had won for him this beautiful testimony of love and honor; and
in the name of humanity and brotherly kindness, this old
man—unconsciously—laid upon the tomb of La Fayette the most precious
memorial which could be offered to his memory.
In the Château of Chavaniac, in the province of Auvergne, the Marquis de
La Fayette was born and passed the first seven or eight years of his
life. He was so frail a child that for some years the indications were
strong that he would enjoy only a brief career. Being fatherless, his
education was the care of his mother, who faithfully performed her
sacred duties.
A faint tinge of health began gradually to glow in his cheeks, his
attenuated frame showed some signs of vigor, and the presage of an early
death became less foreboding. While his body had been so frail, however,
his mind had made rapid progress.
To a friend he said in after years: “You ask me at what period I first
experienced my ardent love for liberty and glory. I recollect no time of
life anterior to my enthusiasm for anecdotes of glorious deeds, and to
my projects of travelling over the world to acquire fame. At eight years
of age my heart beat when I heard of a wolf that had done some injury,
and caused still more alarm in our neighborhood, and the hope of meeting
it was the object of all my walks. When I arrived at college, nothing
ever interrupted my studies except my ardent wish to study without
restraint. I never deserved to be chastised, but, in spite of my usual
gentleness, it would have been dangerous to attempt to do so. I
recollect with pleasure that, when I was to describe in rhetoric a
perfect courser, I sacrificed the hope of obtaining a prize, and
described the one which, on perceiving the whip, threw his rider.
“Republican anecdotes always delighted me, and when my new connections
wished to obtain for me a place at court, I did not hesitate displeasing
them to preserve my independence.”
At the age of twelve years La Fayette was entered at the college of
Louis le Grand, in Paris, where he zealously pursued his studies. In
Latin and Greek classics he became especially proficient. Owing to his
high rank his literary pursuits were subject to frequent interruptions,
for he early gained the attention of royalty, and the gay French court
was very alluring to a youth passionately fond of brilliant society.
However, his love for study and his enthusiasm for the military calling
prevented his becoming a courtier. By the death of his mother in 1770,
and of his grandfather a short time after, he became possessed of great
wealth, which, being entirely at his own control, surrounded him with a
crowd of fawning flatterers. At the age of fifteen he became a page to
Queen Marie Antoinette, and was enrolled a member of the _Mousquetaires
du Roi_, the body-guard of the king, which was composed solely of the
descendants of the most highly titled families in France. Through the
influence of the queen, he was promoted to the rank of a commissioned
officer in this corps. Speaking of which, he said “that his military
services only interrupted his studies on review days.”
At the age of sixteen La Fayette was married to the Comtesse de
Noailles, daughter of the Duke d’Ayen. Madame de La Fayette herself
gives the following account of her somewhat strange wooing.
“I was scarcely twelve years old, when M. de La Fayette was proposed to
my mother for one of us. He himself was only fourteen. His extreme
youth, no parents to guide him,—having lost all his near relatives, and
having no one in whom he could repose confidence,—a large fortune
already in his possession, which my mother looked upon as a dangerous
gift—all these considerations made her at first refuse him,
notwithstanding the good opinion she had acquired of his personal
qualities. She persisted several months in her refusal; but my father
was not discouraged, and as one of his friends observed to him that my
mother had gone too far ever to change her mind, he did justice to her
straightforwardness in the midst of his anger against her. ‘You do not
know Madame d’Ayen,’ he said; ‘however far she may have gone, you will
see that she will give way like a child if you prove to her that she is
in the wrong; but, on the other hand, she will never yield if she does
not see her mistake.’
“Accordingly, when she was told that her daughter would not leave her
during the first years of her marriage, and that it would only be
celebrated at the end of two years, after M. de La Fayette had finished
his education, she accepted him whom she cherished ever after as the
most tenderly beloved son, whom she valued from the first moment that
she became acquainted with him, and who alone could have sustained the
strength of my heart after having lost her.
“It was some time after my mother’s consent that I was spoken to of M.
de La Fayette, towards whom I was already attracted by feeble
forerunners of that deep and tender affection which every day has united
us more and more in the midst of all the vicissitudes of this life, in
the midst of the blessings and misfortunes which have filled it for the
last twenty-four years.
“With what pleasures I learned that, for more than a year, my mother had
looked upon him and loved him as a son! She told me all the good she had
heard with regard to him, all she thought of him herself, and I saw that
he already felt for her that filial affection which was to be the
blessing of my life. She tried to calm my poor weak brain, which was
over-excited by the importance of the coming event. She taught me to
pray—she prayed herself—for the blessings of Heaven on my future
happiness. As I had the happiness of remaining with her, my only
feelings were those of deep emotion. I was then fourteen and a half.”
La Fayette’s wife brought to him a fortune, which, together with his own
inheritance, gave him a yearly revenue of $37,500.
The young marquis is thus described at this time: “He was then a
handsome young man, of commanding figure and pleasing features,
notwithstanding his deep red hair. His forehead, though receding, was
fine; his eyes clear hazel, and his mouth and chin delicately formed,
exhibiting beauty rather than strength. The expression of his
countenance was strongly indicative of a generous and gallant spirit,
with an air of conscious greatness.
“His manners were frank and amiable, his movements light and graceful.
Formed, both by nature and education, to be the ornament of a court, and
already distinguished by his varied and attractive qualities in the
circle of his noble acquaintance, his free principles were neither
withered by the sunshine of royalty, nor weakened by flattery and
temptation. He dressed in a costume then worn by a gentleman who
affected not the extreme of fashion, nor the reverse. His bearing was
elegant, full of vivacity, and his conversational powers were of a high
order, and their activity varied much with his moods, sometimes mild and
winning, and again ardent and enthusiastic.”
In the summer of 1776 La Fayette, as an officer of the French army, was
stationed on military duty in the citadel of Metz. At this time he was
little over eighteen years of age. Through the Duke of Gloucester, a
brother of the king of England, La Fayette first learned of the
struggles in America. The Duke of Gloucester had been exiled from the
court of Great Britain on account of his impolitic marriage, and was
then at Metz. The duke was constantly receiving reports of the American
struggle for independence, and he openly described the plans of the
British ministry to crush this uprising of the colonists. La Fayette’s
fiery ardor in the cause of liberty was quickened at the news of the
oppressed Americans, fighting with such vast odds against them, bravely
defying the most powerful nation on the globe.
La Fayette immediately resigned his position at Metz, and hastened to
Paris, determined to devote his life and fortune to the aid of the
courageous band of patriots who had just declared their independence.
Knowing the opposition he would meet from family, friends, and the
government, he made his preparations with the greatest secrecy, not even
revealing his intentions to his wife, to whom he was most devoted. His
heaven-born principles of liberty could no longer be kept in check by
inaction, and he was ready to sacrifice every personal interest in life
to the cause of oppressed humanity.
After having partially completed his arrangements, La Fayette disclosed
his scheme to his relative the Count de Broglie. The count was bitterly
opposed to the undertaking, and pictured to La Fayette all the
difficulties and dangers of the enterprise. “Your uncle perished in the
wars in Italy,” said he; “your father fell in the battle of Minden; and
now I will not be accessory to the ruin of the only remaining branch of
the family.”
[Illustration: De Kalb]
But nothing could quench the ardor of the dauntless La Fayette. He found
in the Baron de Kalb a kindred sympathy, and through the baron, the
Marquis de La Fayette was introduced to Mr. Silas Deane, who had been
sent by the American Congress to negotiate with the French government.
La Fayette made known to Mr. Deane his generous desire to offer his
personal services in the American war. Whereupon Mr. Deane gave to him
the following paper:—
“The desire which the Marquis de La Fayette shows of serving among the
troops of the United States of North America, and the interest which he
takes in the justice of their cause, makes him wish to distinguish
himself in this war, and to render himself as useful as he possibly can.
But not thinking that he can obtain leave of his family to pass the seas
and to serve in a foreign country till he can go as a general officer, I
have thought that I could not better serve my country and those who have
entrusted me, than by granting to him, in the name of the very honorable
Congress, the rank of major-general, which I beg the states to confirm
and ratify to him, and to deliver him the commission to hold and take
rank from this day with the general officers of the same degree.
“His high birth, his alliances, the great dignities which his family
hold at this court, his considerable estates in this realm, his personal
merit, his reputation, his disinterestedness, and above all, his zeal
for the liberty of our provinces, are such as to induce me alone to
promise him the rank of major-general in the name of the United States.
In witness of which I have signed these presents this 7th day of
December, 1776.
“The secrecy,” says La Fayette, “with which this negotiation and my
preparations were made, appears almost a miracle; family, friends,
ministers, French spies, and English spies, all were kept completely in
the dark as to my intentions.”
But just at this time news of disastrous defeats in the Revolutionary
army reached France. The bells of London rang out joyful peals at this
welcome intelligence; but many sympathizing hearts in Paris saddened at
this dire misfortune to the little band fighting for their rightful
independence. The court of Versailles had not yet openly espoused the
American cause, and now Louis XVI. and others, friendly to the
Americans, waited for more encouraging prospects before lending their
aid. But not so the liberty-loving La Fayette. He was never so great as
when in the midst of the most stupendous difficulties, and he was never
so true and faithful and staunch in his patriotic principles, as when
the cause to which he was attached hung trembling betwixt victory and
defeat. Discouragements but nerved him to new ardor; obstacles but
strengthened his determination to overcome every barrier in the way of
his successful progress. His was truly a soul and nature most eminently
fitted for the important part he was called upon to take in the struggle
for liberty and freedom.
At this time affairs in the new world were in a most desperate
condition. The battle of Brooklyn had been fought, resulting in the
total rout of the continental forces, and the evacuation of Long Island.
New York, after an heroic resistance, had been given up to the British.
General Howe was master of Forts Washington and Lee. General Washington,
with the remnants of the army, with tattered uniforms and scanty food,
was retreating before the foe. The country was in despair. Dark indeed
were the clouds which threw their shadows over sorrowful homes and the
suffering patriots of the struggling nation.
[Illustration: LOUIS XVI.]
Even the American commissioners at Paris were paralyzed by this dreadful
blow. They dared not urge the French further in the behalf of their
stricken country, which seemed doomed to defeat. They even counselled La
Fayette to abandon his project of enlisting in their cause, representing
to him that their affairs were now so desperate that they could not
offer him a passage to America, nor any assurance of success should he
venture to go. But La Fayette’s love of liberty was not dependent upon
success or defeat. His principles were as unflinching in disaster as
when crowned with victory; and to La Fayette’s courage America in a
large measure owes her ultimate success. Study the history of those
times, and then try to answer the question, What would have been the
result of the American Revolution, without the aid of La Fayette?
To the discouraged commissioners, La Fayette made this noble reply:—
“I thank you for your frankness, but now is precisely the moment to
serve your cause; the more people are discouraged, the greater utility
will result from my departure. Until now you have only seen my ardor in
your cause, but that may not prove at present wholly useless. If you
cannot furnish me with a vessel, I will purchase one and freight it at
my own expense, to convey your despatches and my person to the shores of
With unflagging labor La Fayette now occupied himself in carrying out
his promised plan. From his own estates he raised the money necessary
for the expedition, and prepared to purchase and equip a vessel. King
Louis, owing to the recent reverses in America, began to distrust the
expediency of an open alliance. La Fayette, being suspected of favoring
the American cause, was constantly watched by French and English spies.
To escape the knowledge of his family and the royal surveillance, the
ship was purchased through La Fayette’s friend, Mr. Duboismartin, who
warmly sympathized with his liberal principles. In the midst of these
preparations La Fayette was sent by the French government on a
diplomatic mission to London. Lest he should excite suspicion by
refusal, La Fayette departed for England with his associate, the Prince
de Poix. On reaching London, it was a significant fact that before La
Fayette paid his respects to the British court, he sought an interview
with Bancroft, _the American_.
La Fayette was received at the English court with every mark of
distinguished honor, but court flatteries were little now to his taste.
He was yearning to return to Paris, to continue his preparations for his
chivalrous project.
“At the end of three weeks,” he writes, “when it became necessary for me
to return home, while refusing to accompany my uncle, the ambassador, to
court, I confided to him my strong desire to take a trip to Paris. He
suggested that he should say that I was ill during my absence. I should
not have made use of this stratagem myself, but did not object to his
doing so.”
Hastening back to Paris, he continued his secret preparations. Without
making known his return to any of his friends, with the exception of
those interested in his plans, La Fayette set out for Bordeaux, where a
ship was being equipped for him. But information regarding his
mysterious manœuvres was now communicated to the court of Versailles,
and led to an order for his arrest. La Fayette, being warned, departed
to Passage, a Spanish port, intending to embark for America from there.
He now openly avowed his intentions, and declared that nothing should
induce him to relinquish his plans.
[Illustration: MARIE ANTOINETTE.]
But now his firmness was put to the severest test. Letters arrived from
his family, containing the bitterest reproaches. He was even accused of
want of parental care and gross neglect of his wife and home. This was
indeed hard to bear. La Fayette was deeply in love with his winsome and
affectionate wife. But with an unselfishness which amounted to the
sublimity of heroism, his young wife restrained her tears, lest he
should be blamed, and bravely determined to bear the parting
uncomplainingly. Such a heroine as she afterwards proved herself to be
made her a truly worthy companion for her hero-husband.
Letters came, also, under kingly authority, forbidding his embarkation
for America, threatening severe displeasure in case of disobedience.
Sovereign displeasure, La Fayette was well aware, meant liability to the
confiscation of all his property, and public disgrace. Feigning
obedience, La Fayette returned to Bordeaux, and wrote to the ministry,
requesting permission to carry out his plans, representing the benefits
which France would derive by the wresting of this coveted land from
proud England. But the king was not prepared to excite the wrath of his
powerful neighbor, and no reply was sent directly to La Fayette, though
he was made to understand, through friends, that his petition had been
He shortly afterwards received orders to proceed to Marseilles, and join
himself to the Duke d’Ayen, who was going into Italy. La Fayette now
determined to brave all hazards. He accordingly departed ostensibly for
Marseilles, but soon changed his route and went directly to Passage, and
there embarked on his gallant ship _Victory_, and unfurled the sails,
pointing the prow of his vessel towards the land of liberty. As soon as
it was ascertained that La Fayette had gone, despatches were sent to
arrest him at the West Indies. But La Fayette, suspecting this, ordered
his captain to steer directly for America.
His wearisome voyage lasted for two months. Seasickness added its
discomforts to the anxieties, regrets, and aspiring longings which made
keen warfare in his saddened heart. Would his wife forgive him for this
seeming desertion? Would his country renounce him? Would his unselfish
and magnanimous sacrifice avail in the cause of liberty, which was the
ruling passion of his life? Weak with sickness and tempest-tossed, he
addressed to his wife these pathetic letters:—
“On board the _Victory_, May 30, 1777.
“… How many fears and anxieties enhance the keen anguish I feel at
being separated from all that I love most fondly in the world! How have
you borne my second departure? Have you loved me less? Have you pardoned
me? Have you reflected that, at all events, I must equally have been
parted from you—wandering about in Italy, dragging on an inglorious
life, surrounded by the persons most opposed to my projects and to my
manner of thinking? All these reflections did not prevent me from
experiencing the most bitter grief when the moment arrived for quitting
my native shores. Your sorrow, and that of my friends, all rushed upon
my thoughts; and my heart was torn by a thousand painful feelings. I
could not, at that instant, find any excuse for my own conduct. If you
could know all that I have suffered, and the melancholy days that I have
passed while thus flying from all that I love best in the world! Must I
join to this affliction the grief of hearing that you do not pardon me?
I should, in truth, my love, be too unhappy.”
Again he writes:—
“On board the _Victory_, June 7.
“I am still floating upon this dreary plain, the most wearisome of all
human habitations. To console myself a little I think of you and of my
friends. I think of the pleasure of seeing you again. How delightful
will be the moment of my arrival! I shall hasten to surprise and embrace
you. I shall, perhaps, find you with your children. To think, only, of
that happy moment is an inexpressible pleasure to me—do not fancy that
it is distant; although the time of my absence will appear, I confess,
very long to me, yet we shall meet sooner than you can expect. While
defending the liberty which I adore, I shall enjoy perfect freedom
myself; I but offer my services to that interesting Republic from
motives of the purest kind, unmixed with ambition or private views; her
happiness and my glory are my only incentives to the task. I hope, that
for my sake, you will become a good American, for that feeling is worthy
of every noble heart. The happiness of America is intimately connected
with the happiness of all mankind. She will become the safe and
respected asylum of virtue, integrity, toleration, equality, and
tranquil happiness.”