ePub 版
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]


THE family of General Lafayette has long been distinguished in the history of France. As early as 1422, the Marshal de Lafayette defeated and killed the Duke of Clarence at Beaugé, and thus saved his country from falling entirely into the powe Henry Fifth, of England. Another of his ancestors, though not in the direct line, Madame de Lafayette, the intimate friend and correspondent of Madame de Sevigné, and one of the most brilliant ornaments of the court of Louis Fourteenth, was the first person who ever wrote a romance, relying for its success on domestic character, and thus became the founder of the most popular department in modern literature. His father fell in the battle of Münden, and therefore survived the birth of his son only two years. These, with many more memorials of his family, scattered through the different portions of French history for nearly five centuries, are titles to distinction, which it is particularly pleasant to recollect when they fall, as they now do, on one so singularly fitted to receive and increase them.

General Lafayette himself was born in Auvergne, in the south of France, on the 6th of September, 1757. When quite young, he was sent to the College of Du Plessis at Paris, where he received that classical education, of which, when recently at Cambridge, he twice gave remarkable proof in uncommonly happy quotations from Cicero, suited to circumstances that could have been foreseen. Somewhat later, he was sent to Versailles, where the court constantly resided; and there his education was still further continued, and he was made, in common with most of the young noblemen, an officer in the army. When only between 16 and 17, he was married to the daughter of the Duke d'Ayen, son of the Duke de Noailles, and grandson to the great and good Chancellor d'Aguesseau; and thus his condition in life seemed to be assured to him among the most splendid and powerful in the empire. His fortune, which had been accumulating

during a long minority, was vast; his rank was with the first in Europe; his connexions brought him the support of the chief persons in France; and his individual character, the warm, open, and sincere manners which have distinguished him ever since, and given him such singular control over the minds of men, made him powerful in the confidence of society wherever he went. It seemed, indeed, as if life had nothing further to offer him, than he could surely obtain by walking in the path that was so bright before him.

It was at this period, however, that his thoughts and feelings were first turned towards these thirteen colonies, then in the darkest and most doubtful passage of their struggle for independence. He made himself acquainted with our agents at Paris, and learned from them the state of our affairs. Nothing could be less tempt ing to him, whether he sought military reputation or military instruction; for our army, at that moment retreating through New Jersey, and leaving its traces in blood from the naked and torn feet of the soldiery as it hastened onward, was in a state too humble to offer either. Our credit, too, in Europe was entirely gone, so that the commissioners, as they were called, without having any commission, to whom Lafayette still persisted in offering his services, were obliged, at last, to acknowlege that they could not even give him decent means for his conveyance. "Then," said he, "I shall purchase and fit out a vessel for myself." He did so. The vessel was prepared at Bordeaux, and sent round to one of the nearest ports in Spain, that it might be beyond the reach of the French government. In order more effectually to conceal his purposes, he made, just before his embarkation, a visit of a few weeks in England, the only time he was ever there, and was much sought in English society. On his return to France, he did not stop at all in the capital, even to see his own family, but hastened with all speed and secrecy to make good his escape from the country. It was not until he was thus on his way to embark, that his romantic undertaking began to be known.

The effect produced in the capital and at court by its publication, was greater than we should now, perhaps, imagine. Lord Stormont, the English ambassador, required the French ministry to dispatch an order for his arrest not only to Bordeaux, but to the French commanders on the West India station; a requisition with which the ministry readily complied, for they were, at that time, anxious to preserve a good understanding with England, and were seriously angry with a young man, who had thus put in jeopardy the relations of the two countries. In fact, at Passage, on the very borders of France and Spain, a lettre de cachet overtook him, and he was arrested and carried back to Bordeaux There, of course, his enterprise was near being finally stopped;

but watching his opportunity, and assisted by one or two friends, he disguised himself as a courier, with his face blacked and false hair, and rode on, ordering post-horses for a carriage which he had caused to follow him at a suitable distance for this very purpose, and thus fairly passed the frontiers of the two kingdoms. only three or four hours before his pursuers reached them. He soon arrived at the port, where his vessel was waiting for him. His family, however, still followed him with solicitations to return, which he never received; and the society of the court and capital, according to Madame du Deffand's account of it, was in no common state of excitement on the occasion. Something of the same sort happened in London. "We talk chiefly," says Gibbon in a letter dated April 12, 1777, "of the Marquis de Lafayette, who was here a few weeks ago. He is about twenty; with a hundred and thirty thousand livres a year, the nephew of Noailles, who is ambassador here. He has bought the Duke of Kingston's yacht, [a mistake] and is gone to join the Americans. The court appear to be angry with him."

Immediately on arriving the second time at Passage, the wind being fair, he embarked. The usual course for French vessels attempting to trade with our colonies at that period, was to sail for the West Indies, and then coming up along our coast, enter where they could. But this course would have exposed Lafayette to the naval commanders of his own nation, and he had almost as much reason to dread them, as to dread British cruisers. When, therefore, they were outside of the Canary Islands, Lafayette required his captain to lay their course directly for the United States. The captain refused, alleging, that if they should be taken by a British force and carried into Halifax, the French government would never reclaim them, and they could hope for nothing but a slow death in a dungeon or a prison-ship. This was true, but Lafayette knew it before he made the requisition. He, therefore, insisted until the captain refused in the most positive manner. Lafayette then told him that the ship was his own private property,

[ocr errors]

De tous les départs présents, celui qui est le plus singulier et le plus étonnant, c'est celui de M. de Lafayette. Il n'a pas vingt ans; il est parti ces jours-ci pour l'Amérique; il emmène avec lui huit ou dix de ses amis; il n'avait confié son projet qu' au Vicomte de Noailles, sous le plus grand secret; il a acheté un vaisseau, l'a équipé, et s'est embarqué à Bordeaux. Sitôt que ses parents en ont eu la nouvelle, ils ont fait courir après lui pour l'arrêter et le ramener; mais on est arrivé trop tard, il y avait trois heures qu'il était embarqué. C'est une folie, sans doute, mais qui ne le déshonore point, et qui au contraire marque du courage et du désir de la gloire. On le loue plus qu' on le blame; mais sa femme, qu'il laisse grosse de quatre mois, son beau-père, sa belle-mère, et toute sa famille en sont fort affligés. Lettre de Mud, du Deffand à H. Walpole, 31 Mars, 1777.

that he had made his own arrangements concerning it, and that if he, the captain, would not sail directly for the United States, he should be put in irons, and his command given to the next officer. The captain, of course, submitted, and Lafayette gave him a bond for forty thousand francs, in case of any accident. They, therefore, now made sail directly for the southern portion of the United States, and arrived unmolested at Charleston, S. C. on the 25th of April, 1777.

The sensation produced by his appearance in this country was, of course, much greater than that produced in Europe by his departure. It still stands forth as one of the most prominent and important circumstances in our revolutionary contest; and, as has often been said by one who bore no small part in its trials and success, none but those who were then alive can believe what an impulse it gave to the hopes of a population almost disheartened by a long series of disasters. And well it might; for it taught us, that in the first rank of the first nobility in Europe, men could still be found who not only took an interest in our struggle, but were willing to share our sufferings; that our obscure and almost desperate contest for freedom in a remote quarter of the world, could yet find supporters among those who were the most natural and powerful allies of a splendid despotism; that we were the objects of a regard and interest throughout the world, which would add to our own resources sufficient strength to carry us safely through to final success.

Immediately after his arrival, Lafayette received the offer of a command in our army, but declined it. Indeed, during the whole of his service with us, he seemed desirous to show by his conduct that he had come only to render disinterested assistance to our cause. He began, therefore, by clothing and equipping a body of men at Charleston at his own expense; and then entered as a volunteer, without pay, into our service. He lived in the family of the Commander-in-chief, and won his full affection and confidence. He was appointed a Major-general in our service, by a vote of Congress, on the 31st of July, 1777, and in September of the same year was wounded at Brandywine. He was employed in 1778 in many parts of the country, as a Major-general, and as the head of a separate division, and after having received the thanks of Congress for his important services, embarked at Boston in January, 1779, for France, thinking he could assist us more effectually, for a time, in Europe than in America.

He arrived at Versailles, then the regular residence of the French court, on the 12th of February, and the same day had a long conference with Maurepas, the prime minister. He was not permitted to see the king; and in a letter written at court the

[ocr errors]
« 上一頁繼續 »