Famous Affinities of History (Complete)
Part 3 out of 8
declared that they expressed his wishes. Great was the rejoicing
in St. Petersburg, and great was the praise bestowed on Peter;
yet, in fact, he had acted only as any drunkard might act under
the compulsion of a stronger will than his.
As before, his brief period of good sense was succeeded by another
of the wildest folly. It was not merely that he reversed the wise
policy of his aunt, but that he reverted to his early fondness for
everything that was German. His bodyguard was made up of German
troops--thus exciting the jealousy of the Russian soldiers. He
introduced German fashions. He boasted that his father had been an
officer in the Prussian army. His crazy admiration for Frederick
the Great reached the utmost verge of sycophancy.
As to Catharine, he turned on her with something like ferocity. He
declared in public that his eldest son, the Czarevitch Paul, was
really fathered by Catharine's lovers. At a state banquet he
turned to Catharine and hurled at her a name which no woman could
possibly forgive--and least of all a woman such as Catharine,
with her high spirit and imperial pride. He thrust his mistresses
upon her; and at last he ordered her, with her own hand, to
decorate the Countess Vorontzoff, who was known to be his
maitresse en titre.
It was not these gross insults, however, so much as a concern for
her personal safety that led Catharine to take measures for her
own defense. She was accustomed to Peter's ordinary
eccentricities. On the ground of his unfaithfulness to her she now
had hardly any right to make complaint. But she might reasonably
fear lest he was becoming mad. If he questioned the paternity of
their eldest son he might take measures to imprison Catharine or
even to destroy her. Therefore she conferred with the Orloffs and
other gentlemen, and their conference rapidly developed into a
The soldiery, as a whole, was loyal to the empress. It hated
Peter's Holstein guards. What she planned was probably the
deposition of Peter. She would have liked to place him under guard
in some distant palace. But while the matter was still under
discussion she was awakened early one morning by Alexis Orloff. He
grasped her arm with scant ceremony.
"We must act at once," said he. "We have been betrayed!"
Catharine was not a woman to waste time. She went immediately to
the barracks in St. Petersburg, mounted upon a charger, and,
calling out the Russian guards, appealed to them for their
support. To a man they clashed their weapons and roared forth a
thunderous cheer. Immediately afterward the priests anointed her
as regent in the name of her son; but as she left the church she
was saluted by the people, as well as by the soldiers, as empress
in her own right.
It was a bold stroke, and it succeeded down to the last detail.
The wretched Peter, who was drilling his German guards at a
distance from the capital, heard of the revolt, found that his
sailors at Kronstadt would not acknowledge him, and then finally
submitted. He was taken to Ropsha and confined within a single
room. To him came the Orloffs, quite of their own accord. Gregory
Orloff endeavored to force a corrosive poison into Peter's mouth.
Peter, who was powerful of build and now quite desperate, hurled
himself upon his enemies. Alexis Orloff seized him by the throat
with a tremendous clutch and strangled him till the blood gushed
from his ears. In a few moments the unfortunate man was dead.
Catharine was shocked by the intelligence, but she had no choice
save to accept the result of excessive zeal. She issued a note to
the foreign ambassadors informing them that Peter had died of a
violent colic. When his body was laid out for burial the
extravasated blood is said to have oozed out even through his
hands, staining the gloves that had been placed upon them. No one
believed the story of the colic; and some six years later Alexis
Orloff told the truth with the utmost composure. The whole
incident was characteristically Russian.
It is not within the limits of our space to describe the reign of
Catharine the Great--the exploits of her armies, the acuteness of
her statecraft, the vast additions which she made to the Russian
Empire, and the impulse which she gave to science and art and
literature. Yet these things ought to be remembered first of all
when one thinks of the woman whom Voltaire once styled "the
Semiramis of the North." Because she was so powerful, because no
one could gainsay her, she led in private a life which has been
almost more exploited than her great imperial achievements. And
yet, though she had lovers whose names have been carefully
recorded, even she fulfilled the law of womanhood--which is to
love deeply and intensely only once,
One should not place all her lovers in the same category. As a
girl, and when repelled by the imbecility of Peter, she gave
herself to Gregory Orloff. She admired his strength, his daring,
and his unscrupulousness. But to a woman of her fine intelligence
he came to seem almost more brute than man. She could not turn to
him for any of those delicate attentions which a woman loves so
much, nor for that larger sympathy which wins the heart as well as
captivates the senses. A writer of the time has said that Orloff
would hasten with equal readiness from the arms of Catharine to
the embraces of any flat-nosed Finn or filthy Calmuck or to the
lowest creature whom he might encounter in the streets.
It happened that at the time of Catharine's appeal to the imperial
guards there came to her notice another man who--as he proved in a
trifling and yet most significant manner--had those traits which
Orloff lacked. Catharine had mounted, man--fashion, a cavalry
horse, and, with a helmet on her head, had reined up her steed
before the barracks. At that moment One of the minor nobles, who
was also favorable to her, observed that her helmet had no plume.
In a moment his horse was at her side. Bowing low over his saddle,
he took his own plume from his helmet and fastened it to hers.
This man was Prince Gregory Potemkin, and this slight act gives a
clue to the influence which he afterward exercised over his
When Catharine grew weary of the Orloffs, and when she had
enriched them with lands and treasures, she turned to Potemkin;
and from then until the day of his death he was more to her than
any other man had ever been. With others she might flirt and might
go even further than flirtation; but she allowed no other favorite
to share her confidence, to give advice, or to direct her
To other men she made munificent gifts, either because they
pleased her for the moment or because they served her on one
occasion or another; but to Potemkin she opened wide the whole
treasury of her vast realm. There was no limit to what she would
do for him. When he first knew her he was a man of very moderate
fortune. Within two years after their intimate acquaintance had
begun she had given him nine million rubles, while afterward he
accepted almost limitless estates in Poland and in every province
of Greater Russia.
He was a man of sumptuous tastes, and yet he cared but little for
mere wealth. What he had, he used to please or gratify or surprise
the woman whom he loved. He built himself a great palace in St.
Petersburg, usually known as the Taurian Palace, and there he gave
the most sumptuous entertainments, reversing the story of Antony
In a superb library there stood one case containing volumes bound
with unusual richness. When the empress, attracted by the
bindings, drew forth a book she found to her surprise that its
pages were English bank-notes. The pages of another proved to be
Dutch bank-notes, and, of another, notes on the Bank of Venice. Of
the remaining volumes some were of solid gold, while others had
pages of fine leather in which were set emeralds and rubies and
diamonds and other gems. The story reads like a bit of fiction
from the Arabian Nights. Yet, after all, this was only a small
affair compared with other undertakings with which Potemkin sought
to please her.
Thus, after Taurida and the Crimea had been added to the empire by
Potemkin's agency, Catharine set out with him to view her new
possessions. A great fleet of magnificently decorated galleys bore
her down the river Dnieper. The country through which she passed
had been a year before an unoccupied waste. Now, by Potemkin's
extraordinary efforts, the empress found it dotted thick with
towns and cities which had been erected for the occasion, filled
with a busy population which swarmed along the riverside to greet
the sovereign with applause. It was only a chain of fantom towns
and cities, made of painted wood and canvas; but while Catharine
was there they were very real, seeming to have solid buildings,
magnificent arches, bustling industries, and beautiful stretches
of fertile country. No human being ever wrought on so great a
scale so marvelous a miracle of stage-management.
Potemkin was, in fact, the one man who could appeal with unfailing
success to so versatile and powerful a spirit as Catharine's. He
was handsome of person, graceful of manner, and with an intellect
which matched her own. He never tried to force her inclination,
and, on the other hand, he never strove to thwart it. To him, as
to no other man, she could turn at any moment and feel that, no
matter what her mood, he could understand her fully. And this,
according to Balzac, is the thing that woman yearns for most--a
kindred spirit that can understand without the slightest need of
Thus it was that Gregory Potemkin held a place in the soul of this
great woman such as no one else attained. He might be absent,
heading armies or ruling provinces, and on his return he would be
greeted with even greater fondness than before. And it was this
rather than his victories over Turk and other oriental enemies
that made Catharine trust him absolutely.
When he died, he died as the supreme master of her foreign policy
and at a time when her word was powerful throughout all Europe.
Death came upon him after he had fought against it with singular
tenacity of purpose. Catharine had given him a magnificent
triumph, and he had entertained her in his Taurian Palace with a
splendor such as even Russia had never known before. Then he fell
ill, though with high spirit he would not yield to illness. He ate
rich meats and drank rich wines and bore himself as gallantly as
ever. Yet all at once death came upon him while he was traveling
in the south of Russia. His carriage was stopped, a rug was spread
beneath a tree by the roadside, and there he died, in the country
which he had added to the realms of Russia,
The great empress who loved him mourned him deeply during the five
years of life that still remained to her. The names of other men
for whom she had imagined that she cared were nothing to her. But
this one man lived in her heart in death as he had done in life.
Many have written of Catharine as a great ruler, a wise diplomat,
a creature of heroic mold. Others have depicted her as a royal
wanton and have gathered together a mass of vicious tales, the
gossip of the palace kitchens, of the clubs, and of the barrack-
rooms. But perhaps one finds the chief interest of her story to
lie in this--that besides being empress and diplomat and a lover
of pleasure she was, beyond all else, at heart a woman.
MARIE ANTOINETTE AND COUNT FERSEN
The English-speaking world long ago accepted a conventional view
of Marie Antoinette. The eloquence of Edmund Burke in one
brilliant passage has fixed, probably for all time, an enduring
picture of this unhappy queen.
When we speak or think of her we speak and think first of all of a
dazzling and beautiful woman surrounded by the chivalry of France
and gleaming like a star in the most splendid court of Europe. And
then there comes to us the reverse of the picture. We see her
despised, insulted, and made the butt of brutal men and still more
fiendish women; until at last the hideous tumbrel conveys her to
the guillotine, where her head is severed from her body and her
corpse is cast down into a bloody pool.
In these two pictures our emotions are played upon in turn--
admiration, reverence, devotion, and then pity, indignation, and
the shudderings of horror.
Probably in our own country and in England this will remain the
historic Marie Antoinette. Whatever the impartial historian may
write, he can never induce the people at large to understand that
this queen was far from queenly, that the popular idea of her is
almost wholly false, and that both in her domestic life and as the
greatest lady in France she did much to bring on the terrors of
that revolution which swept her to the guillotine.
In the first place, it is mere fiction that represents Maria
Antoinette as having been physically beautiful. The painters and
engravers have so idealized her face as in most cases to have
produced a purely imaginary portrait.
She was born in Vienna, in 1755, the daughter of the Emperor
Francis and of that warrior-queen, Maria Theresa. She was a very
German-looking child. Lady Jackson describes her as having a
long, thin face, small, pig-like eyes, a pinched-up mouth, with
the heavy Hapsburg lip, and with a somewhat misshapen form, so
that for years she had to be bandaged tightly to give her a more
At fourteen, when she was betrothed to the heir to the French
throne, she was a dumpy, mean-looking little creature, with no
distinction whatever, and with only her bright golden hair to make
amends for her many blemishes. At fifteen she was married and
joined the Dauphin in French territory.
We must recall for a moment the conditions which prevailed in
France. King Louis XV. was nearing his end. He was a man of the
most shameless life; yet he had concealed or gilded his infamies
by an external dignity and magnificence which, were very pleasing
to his people. The French, liked to think that their king was the
most splendid monarch and the greatest gentleman in Europe. The
courtiers about him might be vile beneath the surface, yet they
were compelled to deport themselves with the form and the
etiquette that had become traditional in France. They might be
panders, or stock-jobbers, or sellers of political offices; yet
they must none the less have wit and grace and outward nobility of
There was also a tradition regarding the French queen. However
loose in character the other women of the court might be, she
alone, like Caesar's wife, must remain above suspicion. She must
be purer than the pure. No breath, of scandal must reach her or be
directed against her.
In this way the French court, even under so dissolute a monarch as
Louis XV., maintained its hold upon the loyalty of the people.
Crowds came every morning to view the king in his bed before he
arose; the same crowds watched him as he was dressed by the
gentlemen of the bedchamber, and as he breakfasted and went
through all the functions which are usually private. The King of
France must be a great actor. He must appear to his people as in
reality a king-stately, dignified, and beyond all other human
beings in his remarkable presence.
When the Dauphin and Marie Antoinette came to the French court
King Louis XV. kept up in the case the same semblance of
austerity. He forbade these children to have their sleeping-
apartments together. He tried to teach them that if they were to
govern as well as to reign they must conform to the rigid
etiquette of Paris and Versailles.
It proved a difficult task, however. The little German princess
had no natural dignity, though she came from a court where the
very strictest imperial discipline prevailed. Marie Antoinette
found that she could have her own way in many things, and she
chose to enjoy life without regard to ceremony. Her escapades at
first would have been thought mild enough had she not been a
"daughter of France"; but they served to shock the old French
king, and likewise, perhaps even more, her own imperial mother,
When a report of the young girl's conduct was brought to her the
empress was at first mute with indignation. Then she cried out:
"Can this girl be a child of mine? She surely must be a
The Austrian ambassador to France was instructed to warn the
Dauphiness to be more discreet.
"Tell her," said Maria Theresa, "that she will lose her throne,
and even her life, unless she shows more prudence."
But advice and remonstrance were of no avail. Perhaps they might
have been had her husband possessed a stronger character; but the
young Louis was little more fitted to be a king than was his wife
to be a queen. Dull of perception and indifferent to affairs of
state, he had only two interests that absorbed him. One was the
love of hunting, and the other was his desire to shut himself up
in a sort of blacksmith shop, where he could hammer away at the
anvil, blow the bellows, and manufacture small trifles of
mechanical inventions. From this smudgy den he would emerge, sooty
and greasy, an object of distaste to his frivolous princess, with
her foamy laces and perfumes and pervasive daintiness.
It was hinted in many quarters, and it has been many times
repeated, that Louis was lacking in virility. Certainly he had no
interest in the society of women and was wholly continent. But
this charge of physical incapacity seems to have had no real
foundation. It had been made against some of his predecessors. It
was afterward hurled at Napoleon the Great, and also Napoleon the
Little. In France, unless a royal personage was openly licentious,
he was almost sure to be jeered at by the people as a weakling.
And so poor Louis XVI., as he came to be, was treated with a
mixture of pity and contempt because he loved to hammer and mend
locks in his smithy or shoot game when he might have been
caressing ladies who would have been proud to have him choose them
On the other hand, because of this opinion regarding Louis, people
were the more suspicious of Marie Antoinette. Some of them, in
coarse language, criticized her assumed infidelities; others, with
a polite sneer, affected to defend her. But the result of it all
was dangerous to both, especially as France was already verging
toward the deluge which Louis XV. had cynically predicted would
follow after him.
In fact, the end came sooner than any one had guessed. Louis XV.,
who had become hopelessly and helplessly infatuated with the low-
born Jeanne du Barry, was stricken down with smallpox of the most
virulent type. For many days he lay in his gorgeous bed. Courtiers
crowded his sick-room and the adjacent hall, longing for the
moment when the breath would leave his body. He had lived an evil
life, and he was to die a loathsome death; yet he had borne
himself before men as a stately monarch. Though his people had
suffered in a thousand ways from his misgovernment, he was still
Louis the Well Beloved, and they blamed his ministers of state for
all the shocking wrongs that France had felt.
The abler men, and some of the leaders of the people, however,
looked forward to the accession of Louis XVI. He at least was
frugal in his habits and almost plebeian in his tastes, and seemed
to be one who would reduce the enormous taxes that had been levied
The moment came when the Well Beloved died. His death-room was
fetid with disease, and even the long corridors of the palace
reeked with infection, while the motley mob of men and women, clad
in silks and satins and glittering with jewels, hurried from the
spot to pay their homage to the new Louis, who was spoken of as
"the Desired." The body of the late monarch was hastily thrown
into a mass of quick-lime, and was driven away in a humble wagon,
without guards and with no salute, save from a single veteran, who
remembered the glories of Fontenoy and discharged his musket as
the royal corpse was carried through the palace gates.
This was a critical moment in the history of France; but we have
to consider it only as a critical moment in the history of Marie
Antoinette. She was now queen. She had it in her power to restore
to the French court its old-time grandeur, and, so far as the
queen was concerned, its purity. Above all, being a foreigner, she
should have kept herself free from reproach and above every shadow
But here again the indifference of the king undoubtedly played a
strange part in her life. Had he borne himself as her lord and
master she might have respected him. Had he shown her the
affection of a husband she might have loved him. But he was
neither imposing, nor, on the other hand, was he alluring. She
wrote very frankly about him in a letter to the Count Orsini:
My tastes are not the same as those of the king, who cares only
for hunting and blacksmith work. You will admit that I should not
show to advantage in a forge. I could not appear there as Vulcan,
and the part of Venus might displease him even more than my
Thus on the one side is a woman in the first bloom of youth,
ardent, eager--and neglected. On the other side is her husband,
whose sluggishness may be judged by quoting from a diary which he
kept during the month in which he was married. Here is a part of
Sunday, 13--Left Versailles. Supper and slept at Compignee, at the
house of M. de Saint-Florentin.
Monday, 14--Interview with Mme. la Dauphine.
Tuesday, 15--Supped at La Muette. Slept at Versailles.
Wednesday, 16--My marriage. Apartment in the gallery. Royal
banquet in the Salle d'Opera.
Thursday, 17--Opera of "Perseus."
Friday, 18--Stag-hunt. Met at La Belle Image. Took one.
Saturday, 19--Dress-ball in the Salle d'Opera. Fireworks.
Thursday, 31--I had an indigestion.
What might have been expected from a young girl placed as this
queen was placed? She was indeed an earlier Eugenie. The first was
of royal blood, the second was almost a plebeian; but each was
headstrong, pleasure-loving, and with no real domestic ties. As
Mr. Kipling expresses it--
The colonel's lady and Judy O'Grady
Are sisters under their skins;
and so the Austrian woman of 1776 and the Spanish woman of 1856
found amusement in very similar ways. They plunged into a sea of
strange frivolity, such as one finds to-day at the centers of high
fashion. Marie Antoinette bedecked herself with eccentric
garments. On her head she wore a hat styled a "what-is-it,"
towering many feet in height and flaunting parti-colored plumes.
Worse than all this, she refused to wear corsets, and at some
great functions she would appear in what looked exactly like a
She would even neglect the ordinary niceties of life. Her hands
were not well cared for. It was very difficult for the ladies in
attendance to persuade her to brush her teeth with regularity.
Again, she would persist in wearing her frilled and lace-trimmed
petticoats long after their dainty edges had been smirched and
Yet these things might have been counteracted had she gone no
further. Unfortunately, she did go further. She loved to dress at
night like a shop-girl and venture out into the world of Paris,
where she was frequently followed and recognized. Think of it--the
Queen of France, elbowed in dense crowds and seeking to attract
the attention of common soldiers!
Of course, almost every one put the worst construction upon this,
and after a time upon everything she did. When she took a fancy
for constructing labyrinths and secret passages in the palace, all
Paris vowed that she was planning means by which her various
lovers might enter without observation. The hidden printing-
presses of Paris swarmed with gross lampoons about this reckless
girl; and, although there was little truth in what they said,
there was enough to cloud her reputation. When she fell ill with
the measles she was attended in her sick-chamber by four gentlemen
of the court. The king was forbidden to enter lest he might catch
the childish disorder.
The apathy of the king, indeed, drove her into many a folly. After
four years of marriage, as Mrs. Mayne records, he had only reached
the point of giving her a chilly kiss. The fact that she had no
children became a serious matter. Her brother, the Emperor Joseph
of Austria, when he visited Paris, ventured to speak to the king
upon the subject. Even the Austrian ambassador had thrown out
hints that the house of Bourbon needed direct heirs. Louis grunted
and said little, but he must have known how good was the advice.
It was at about this time when there came to the French court a
young Swede named Axel de Fersen, who bore the title of count, but
who was received less for his rank than for his winning manner,
his knightly bearing, and his handsome, sympathetic face. Romantic
in spirit, he threw himself at once into a silent inner worship of
Marie Antoinette, who had for him a singular attraction. Wherever
he could meet her they met. To her growing cynicism this breath of
pure yet ardent affection was very grateful. It came as something
fresh and sweet into the feverish life she led.
Other men had had the audacity to woo her--among them Duc de
Lauzun, whose complicity in the famous affair of the diamond
necklace afterward cast her, though innocent, into ruin; the Duc
de Biron; and the Baron de Besenval, who had obtained much
influence over her, which he used for the most evil purposes.
Besenval tainted her mind by persuading her to read indecent
books, in the hope that at last she would become his prey.
But none of these men ever meant to Marie Antoinette what Fersen
meant. Though less than twenty years of age, he maintained the
reserve of a great gentleman, and never forced himself upon her
notice. Yet their first acquaintance had occurred in such a way as
to give to it a touch of intimacy. He had gone to a masked ball,
and there had chosen for his partner a lady whose face was quite
concealed. Something drew the two together. The gaiety of the
woman and the chivalry of the man blended most harmoniously. It
was only afterward that he discovered that his chance partner was
the first lady in France. She kept his memory in her mind; for
some time later, when he was at a royal drawing-room and she heard
his voice, she exclaimed:
"Ah, an old acquaintance!"
From this time Fersen was among those who were most intimately
favored by the queen. He had the privilege of attending her
private receptions at the palace of the Trianon, and was a
conspicuous figure at the feasts given in the queen's honor by the
Princess de Lamballe, a beautiful girl whose head was destined
afterward to be severed from her body and borne upon a bloody pike
through the streets of Paris. But as yet the deluge had not
arrived and the great and noble still danced upon the brink of a
Fersen grew more and more infatuated, nor could he quite conceal
his feelings. The queen, in her turn, was neither frightened nor
indignant. His passion, so profound and yet so respectful, deeply
moved her. Then came a time when the truth was made clear to both
of them. Fersen was near her while she was singing to the
harpsichord, and "she was betrayed by her own music into an avowal
which song made easy." She forgot that she was Queen of France.
She only felt that her womanhood had been starved and slighted,
and that here was a noble-minded lover of whom she could be proud.
Some time after this announcement was officially made of the
approaching accouchement of the queen. It was impossible that
malicious tongues should be silent. The king's brother, the Comte
de Provence, who hated the queen, just as the Bonapartes afterward
hated Josephine, did his best to besmirch her reputation. He had,
indeed, the extraordinary insolence to do so at a time when one
would suppose that the vilest of men would remain silent. The
child proved to be a princess, and she afterward received the
title of Duchesse d'Angouleme. The King of Spain asked to be her
godfather at the christening, which was to be held in the
cathedral of Notre Dame. The Spanish king was not present in
person, but asked the Comte de Provence to act as his proxy.
On the appointed day the royal party proceeded to the cathedral,
and the Comte de Provence presented the little child at the
baptismal font. The grand almoner, who presided, asked;
"What name shall be given to this child?"
The Comte de Provence answered in a sneering tone:
"Oh, we don't begin with that. The first thing to find out is who
the father and the mother are!"
These words, spoken at such a place and such a time, and with a
strongly sardonic ring, set all Paris gossiping. It was a thinly
veiled innuendo that the father of the child was not the King of
France. Those about the court immediately began to look at Fersen
with significant smiles. The queen would gladly have kept him near
her; but Fersen cared even more for her good name than for his
love of her. It would have been so easy to remain in the full
enjoyment of his conquest; but he was too chivalrous for that, or,
rather, he knew that the various ambassadors in Paris had told
their respective governments of the rising scandal. In fact, the
following secret despatch was sent to the King of Sweden by his
I must confide to your majesty that the young Count Fersen has
been so well received by the queen that various persons have taken
it amiss. I own that I am sure that she has a liking for him. I
have seen proofs of it too certain to be doubted. During the last
few days the queen has not taken her eyes off him, and as she
gazed they were full of tears. I beg your majesty to keep their
secret to yourself.
The queen wept because Fersen had resolved to leave her lest she
should be exposed to further gossip. If he left her without any
apparent reason, the gossip would only be the more intense.
Therefore he decided to join the French troops who were going to
America to fight under Lafayette. A brilliant but dissolute
duchess taunted him when the news became known.
"How is this?" said she. "Do you forsake your conquest?"
But, "lying like a gentleman," Fersen answered, quietly:
"Had I made a conquest I should not forsake it. I go away free,
and, unfortunately, without leaving any regret."
Nothing could have been more chivalrous than the pains which
Fersen took to shield the reputation of the queen. He even allowed
it to be supposed that he was planning a marriage with a rich
young Swedish woman who had been naturalized in England. As a
matter of fact, he departed for America, and not very long
afterward the young woman in question married an Englishman.
Fersen served in America for a time, returning, however, at the
end of three years. He was one of the original Cincinnati, being
admitted to the order by Washington himself. When he returned to
France he was received with high honors and was made colonel of
the royal Swedish regiment.
The dangers threatening Louis and his court, which were now
gigantic and appalling, forbade him to forsake the queen. By her
side he did what he could to check the revolution; and, failing
this, he helped her to maintain an imperial dignity of manner
which she might otherwise have lacked. He faced the bellowing mob
which surrounded the Tuileries. Lafayette tried to make the
National Guard obey his orders, but he was jeered at for his
pains. Violent epithets were hurled at the king. The least
insulting name which they could give him was "a fat pig." As for
the queen, the most filthy phrases were showered upon her by the
men, and even more so by the women, who swarmed out of the slums
and sought her life.
At last, in 1791, it was decided that the king and the queen and
their children, of whom they now had three, should endeavor to
escape from Paris. Fersen planned their flight, but it proved to
be a failure. Every one remembers how they were discovered and
halted at Varennes. The royal party was escorted back to Paris by
the mob, which chanted with insolent additions:
"We've brought back the baker, the baker's wife, and the baker's
boy! Now we shall have bread!"
Against the savage fury which soon animated the French a foreigner
like Fersen could do very little; but he seems to have endeavored,
night and day, to serve the woman whom he loved. His efforts have
been described by Grandat; but they were of no avail. The king and
queen were practically made prisoners. Their eldest son died. They
went through horrors that were stimulated by the wretch Hebert, at
the head of his so-called Madmen (Enrages). The king was executed
in January, 1792. The queen dragged out a brief existence in a
prison where she was for ever under the eyes of human brutes, who
guarded her and watched her and jeered at her at times when even
men would be sensitive. Then, at last, she mounted the scaffold,
and her head, with its shining hair, fell into the bloody basket.
Marie Antoinette shows many contradictions in her character. As a
young girl she was petulant and silly and almost unseemly in her
actions. As a queen, with waning power, she took on a dignity
which recalled the dignity of her imperial mother. At first a
flirt, she fell deeply in love when she met a man who was worthy
of that love. She lived for most part like a mere cocotte. She
died every inch a queen.
One finds a curious resemblance between the fate of Marie
Antoinette and that of her gallant lover, who outlived her for
nearly twenty years. She died amid the shrieks and execrations of
a maddened populace in Paris; he was practically torn in pieces by
a mob in the streets of Stockholm. The day of his death was the
anniversary of the flight to Varennes. To the last moment of his
existence he remained faithful to the memory of the royal woman
who had given herself so utterly to him.
THE STORY OF AARON BURR
There will come a time when the name of Aaron Burr will be cleared
from the prejudice which now surrounds it, when he will stand in
the public estimation side by side with Alexander Hamilton, whom
he shot in a duel in 1804, but whom in many respects he curiously
resembled. When the white light of history shall have searched
them both they will appear as two remarkable men, each having his
own undoubted faults and at the same time his equally undoubted
Burr and Hamilton were born within a year of each other--Burr
being a grandson of Jonathan Edwards, and Alexander Hamilton being
the illegitimate son of a Scottish merchant in the West Indies.
Each of them was short in stature, keen of intellect, of great
physical endurance, courage, and impressive personality. Each as a
young man served on the staff of Washington during the
Revolutionary War, and each of them quarreled with him, though in
a different way.
On one occasion Burr was quite unjustly suspected by Washington of
looking over the latter's shoulder while he was writing.
"Washington leaped to his feet with the exclamation:
"How dare you, Colonel Burr?"
Burr's eyes flashed fire at the question, and he retorted,
"Colonel Burr DARE do anything."
This, however, was the end of their altercation The cause of
Hamilton's difference with his chief is not known, but it was a
much more serious quarrel; so that the young officer left his
staff position in a fury and took no part in the war until the
end, when he was present at the battle of Yorktown.
Burr, on the other hand, helped Montgomery to storm the heights of
Quebec, and nearly reached the upper citadel when his commander
was shot dead and the Americans retreated. In all this confusion
Burr showed himself a man of mettle. The slain Montgomery was six
feet high, but Burr carried his body away with wonderful strength
amid a shower of musket-balls and grape-shot.
Hamilton had no belief in the American Constitution, which he
called "a shattered, feeble thing." He could never obtain an
elective office, and he would have preferred to see the United
States transformed into a kingdom. Washington's magnanimity and
clear-sightedness made Hamilton Secretary of the Treasury. Burr,
on the other hand, continued his military service until the war
was ended, routing the enemy at Hackensack, enduring the horrors
of Valley Forge, commanding a brigade at the battle of Monmouth,
and heading the defense of the city of New Haven. He was also
attorney-general of New York, was elected to the United States
Senate, was tied with Jefferson for the Presidency, and then
Both Hamilton and Burr were effective speakers; but, while
Hamilton was wordy and diffuse, Burr spoke always to the point,
with clear and cogent reasoning. Both were lavish spenders of
money, and both were engaged in duels before the fatal one in
which Hamilton fell. Both believed in dueling as the only way of
settling an affair of honor. Neither of them was averse to love
affairs, though it may be said that Hamilton sought women, while
Burr was rather sought by women. When Secretary of the Treasury,
Hamilton was obliged to confess an adulterous amour in order to
save himself from the charge of corrupt practices in public
office. So long as Burr's wife lived he was a devoted, faithful
husband to her. Hamilton was obliged to confess his illicit acts
while his wife, formerly Miss Elizabeth Schuyler, was living. She
spent her later years in buying and destroying the compromising
documents which her husband had published for his countrymen to
The most extraordinary thing about Aaron Burr was the magnetic
quality that was felt by every one who approached him. The roots
of this penetrated down into a deep vitality. He was always young,
always alert, polished in manner, courageous with that sort of
courage which does not even recognize the presence of danger,
charming in conversation, and able to adapt it to men or women of
any age whatever. His hair was still dark in his eightieth year.
His step was still elastic, his motions were still as spontaneous
and energetic, as those of a youth.
So it was that every one who knew him experienced his fascination.
The rough troops whom he led through the Canadian swamps felt the
iron hand of his discipline; yet they were devoted to him, since
he shared all their toils, faced all their dangers, and ate with
them the scraps of hide which they gnawed to keep the breath of
life in their shrunken bodies.
Burr's discipline was indeed very strict, so that at first raw
recruits rebelled against it. On one occasion the men of an
untrained company resented it so bitterly that they decided to
shoot Colonel Burr as he paraded them for roll-call that evening.
Burr somehow got word of it and contrived to have all the
cartridges drawn from their muskets. When the time for the roll-
call came one of the malcontents leaped from the front line and
leveled his weapon at Burr.
"Now is the time, boys!" he shouted.
Like lightning Burr's sword flashed from its scabbard with such a
vigorous stroke as to cut the man's arm completely off and partly
to cleave the musket.
"Take your place in the ranks," said Burr.
The mutineer obeyed, dripping with blood. A month later every man
in that company was devoted to his commander. They had learned
that discipline was the surest source of safety.
But with this high spirit and readiness to fight Burr had a most
pleasing way of meeting every one who came to him. When he was
arrested in the Western forests, charged with high treason, the
sound of his voice won from jury after jury verdicts of acquittal.
Often the sheriffs would not arrest him. One grand jury not merely
exonerated him from all public misdemeanors, but brought in a
strong presentment against the officers of the government for
It was the same everywhere. Burr made friends and devoted allies
among all sorts of men. During his stay in France, England,
Germany, and Sweden he interested such men as Charles Lamb, Jeremy
Bentham, Sir Walter Scott, Goethe, and Heeren. They found his mind
able to meet with theirs on equal terms. Burr, indeed, had
graduated as a youth with honors from Princeton, and had continued
his studies there after graduation, which was then a most unusual
thing to do. But, of course, he learned most from his contact with
men and women of the world.
Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, in The Minister's Wooing, has given
what is probably an exact likeness of Aaron Burr, with his
brilliant gifts and some of his defects. It is strong testimony to
the character of Burr that Mrs. Stowe set out to paint him as a
villain; but before she had written long she felt his fascination
and made her readers, in their own despite, admirers of this
remarkable man. There are many parallels, indeed, between him and
Napoleon--in the quickness of his intellect, the ready use of his
resources, and his power over men, while he was more than Napoleon
in his delightful gift of conversation and the easy play of his
Those who are full of charm are willing also to be charmed. All
his life Burr was abstemious in food and drink. His tastes were
most refined. It is difficult to believe that such a man could
have been an unmitigated profligate.
In his twentieth year there seems to have begun the first of the
romances that run through the story of his long career. Perhaps
one ought not to call it the first romance, for at eighteen, while
he was studying law at Litchfield, a girl, whose name has been
suppressed, made an open avowal of love for him. Almost at the
same time an heiress with a large fortune would have married him
had he been willing to accept her hand. But at this period he was
only a boy and did not take such things seriously.
Two years later, after Burr had seen hard service at Quebec and on
Manhattan Island, his name was associated with that of a very
beautiful girl named Margaret Moncrieffe. She was the daughter of
a British major, but in some way she had been captured while
within the American lines. Her captivity was regarded as little
more than a joke; but while she was thus a prisoner she saw a
great deal of Burr. For several months they were comrades, after
which General Putnam sent her with his compliments to her father.
Margaret Moncrieffe had a most emotional nature. There can be no
doubt that she deeply loved the handsome young American officer,
whom she never saw again. It is doubtful how far their intimacy
was carried. Later she married a Mr. Coghlan. After reaching
middle life she wrote of Burr in a way which shows that neither
years nor the obligations of marriage could make her forget that
young soldier, whom she speaks of as "the conqueror of her soul."
In the rather florid style of those days the once youthful
Margaret Moncrieffe expresses herself as follows:
Oh, may these pages one day meet the eye of him who subdued my
virgin heart, whom the immutable, unerring laws of nature had
pointed out for my husband, but whose sacred decree the barbarous
customs of society fatally violated!
Commenting on this paragraph, Mr. H. C. Merwin justly remarks
that, whatever may have been Burr's conduct toward Margaret
Moncrieffe, the lady herself, who was the person chiefly
concerned, had no complaint to make of it. It certainly was no
very serious affair, since in the following year Burr met a lady
who, while she lived, was the only woman for whom he ever really
This was Theodosia Prevost, the wife of a major in the British
army. Burr met her first in 1777, while she was living with her
sister in Westchester County. Burr's command was fifteen miles
across the river, but distance and danger made no difference to
him. He used to mount a swift horse, inspect his sentinels and
outposts, and then gallop to the Hudson, where a barge rowed by
six soldiers awaited him. The barge was well supplied with
buffalo-skins, upon which the horse was thrown with his legs
bound, and then half an hour's rowing brought them to the other
side. There Burr resumed his horse, galloped to the house of Mrs.
Prevost, and, after spending a few hours with her, returned in the
Mrs. Prevost was by no means beautiful, but she had an
attractiveness of her own. She was well educated and possessed
charming manners, with a disposition both gentle and affectionate.
Her husband died soon after the beginning of the war, and then
Burr married her. No more ideal family life could be conceived
than his, and the letters which passed between the two are full of
adoration. Thus she wrote to him:
Tell me, why do I grow every day more tenacious of your regard? Is
it because each revolving day proves you more deserving?
And thus Burr answered her:
Continue to multiply your letters to me. They are all my solace.
The last six are constantly within my reach. I read them once a
day at least. Write me all that I have asked, and a hundred things
which I have not.
When it is remembered that these letters were written after nine
years of marriage it is hard to believe all the evil things that
have been said of Burr.
His wife died in 1794, and he then gave a double affection to his
daughter Theodosia, whose beauty and accomplishments were known
throughout the country. Burr took the greatest pains in her
education, and believed that she should be trained, as he had
been, to be brave, industrious, and patient. He himself, who has
been described as a voluptuary, delighted in the endurance of cold
and heat and of severe labor.
After his death one of his younger admirers was asked what Burr
had done for him. The reply was characteristic.
"He made me iron," was the answer.
No father ever gave more attention to his daughter's welfare. As
to Theodosia's studies he was very strict, making her read Greek
and Latin every day, with drawing and music and history, in
addition to French. Not long before her marriage to Joseph
Allston, of South Carolina, Burr wrote to her:
I really think, my dear Theo, that you will be very soon beyond
all verbal criticism, and that my whole attention will be
presently directed to the improvement of your style.
Theodosia Burr married into a family of good old English stock,
where riches were abundant, and high character was regarded as the
best of all possessions. Every one has heard of the mysterious
tragedy which is associated with her history. In 1812, when her
husband had been elected Governor of his state, her only child--a
sturdy boy of eleven--died, and Theodosia's health was shattered
by her sorrow. In the same year Burr returned from a sojourn in
Europe, and his loving daughter embarked from Charleston on a
schooner, the Patriot, to meet her father in New York. When Burr
arrived he was met by a letter which told him that his grandson
was dead and that Theodosia was coming to him.
Weeks sped by, and no news was heard of the ill-fated Patriot. At
last it became evident that she must have gone down or in some
other way have been lost. Burr and Governor Allston wrote to each
other letter after letter, of which each one seems to surpass the
agony of the other. At last all hope was given up. Governor
Allston died soon after of a broken heart; but Burr, as became a
Stoic, acted otherwise.
He concealed everything that reminded him of Theodosia. He never
spoke of his lost daughter. His grief was too deep-seated and too
terrible for speech. Only once did he ever allude to her, and this
was in a letter written to an afflicted friend, which contained
Ever since the event which separated me from mankind I have been
able neither to give nor to receive consolation.
In time the crew of a pirate vessel was captured and sentenced to
be hanged. One of the men, who seemed to be less brutal than the
rest, told how, in 1812, they had captured a schooner, and, after
their usual practice, had compelled the passengers to walk the
plank. All hesitated and showed cowardice, except only one--a
beautiful woman whose eyes were as bright and whose bearing was as
unconcerned as if she were safe on shore. She quickly led the way,
and, mounting the plank with a certain scorn of death, said to the
"Come, I will show you how to die."
It has always been supposed that this intrepid girl may have been
Theodosia Allston. If so, she only acted as her father would have
done and in strict accordance with his teachings.
This resolute courage, this stern joy in danger, this perfect
equanimity, made Burr especially attractive to women, who love
courage, the more so when it is coupled with gentleness and
Perhaps no man in our country has been so vehemently accused
regarding his relations with the other sex. The most improbable
stories were told about him, even by his friends. As to his
enemies, they took boundless pains to paint him in the blackest
colors. According to them, no woman was safe from his intrigues.
He was a perfect devil in leading them astray and then casting
Thus one Matthew L. Davis, in whom Burr had confided as a friend,
wrote of him long afterward a most unjust account--unjust because
we have proofs that it was false in the intensity of its abuse.
It is truly surprising how any individual could become so eminent
as a soldier, as a statesman, and as a professional man who
devoted so much time to the other sex as was devoted by Colonel
Burr. For more than half a century of his life they seemed to
absorb his whole thought. His intrigues were without number; the
sacred bonds of friendship were unhesitatingly violated when they
operated as barriers to the indulgence of his passions. In this
particular Burr appears to have been unfeeling and heartless.
It is impossible to believe that the Spartan Burr, whose life was
one of incessant labor and whose kindliness toward every one was
so well known, should have deserved a commentary like this. The
charge of immorality is so easily made and so difficult of
disproof that it has been flung promiscuously at all the great men
of history, including, in our own country,
Washington and Jefferson as well as Burr. In England, when
Gladstone was more than seventy years of age, he once stopped to
ask a question of a woman in the street. Within twenty-four hours
the London clubs were humming with a sort of demoniac glee over
the story that this aged and austere old gentleman was not above
seeking common street amours.
And so with Aaron Burr to a great extent. That he was a man of
strict morality it would be absurd to maintain. That he was a
reckless and licentious profligate would be almost equally untrue.
Mr. H. O. Merwin has very truly said:
Part of Burr's reputation for profligacy was due, no doubt, to
that vanity respecting women of which Davis himself speaks. He
never refused to accept the parentage of a child.
"Why do you allow this woman to saddle you with her child when you
KNOW you are not the father of it?" said a friend to him a few
months before his death.
"Sir," he replied, "when a lady does me the honor to name me the
father of her child I trust I shall always be too gallant to show
myself ungrateful for the favor."
There are two curious legends relating to Aaron Burr. They serve
to show that his reputation became such that he could not enjoy
the society of a woman without having her regarded as his
When he was United States Senator from New York he lived in
Philadelphia at the lodging-house of a Mrs. Payne, whose daughter,
Dorothy Todd, was the very youthful widow of an officer. This
young woman was rather free in her manners, and Burr was very
responsive in his. At the time, however, nothing was thought of
it; hut presently Burr brought to the house the serious and
somewhat pedantic James Madison and introduced him to the hoyden.
Madison was then forty-seven years of age, a stranger to society,
but gradually rising to a prominent position in politics--"the
great little Madison," as Burr rather lightly called him. Before
very long he had proposed marriage to the young widow. She
hesitated, and some one referred the matter to President
Washington. The Father of his Country answered in what was perhaps
the only opinion that he ever gave on the subject of matrimony. It
is worth preserving because it shows that he had a sense of
For my own part, I never did nor do I believe I ever shall give
advice to a woman who is setting out on a matrimonial voyage ... A
woman very rarely asks an opinion or seeks advice on such an
occasion till her mind is wholly made up, and then it is with the
hope and expectation of obtaining a sanction, and not that she
means to be governed by your disapproval.
Afterward when Dolly Madison with, her yellow turban and kittenish
ways was making a sensation in Washington society some one
recalled her old association with Burr. At once the story sprang
to light that Burr had been her lover and that he had brought
about the match with Madison as an easy way of getting rid of her.
There is another curious story which makes Martin Van Buren,
eighth President of the United States, to have been the
illegitimate son of Aaron Burr. There is no earthly reason for
believing this, except that Burr sometimes stopped overnight at
the tavern in Kinderhook which was kept by Van Buren's putative
father, and that Van Buren in later life showed an astuteness
equal to that of Aaron Burr himself, so that he was called by his
opponents "the fox of Kinderhook." But, as Van Buren was born in
December of the same year (1782) in which Burr was married to
Theodosia Prevost, the story is utterly improbable when we
remember, as we must, the ardent affection which Burr showed his
wife, not only before their marriage, but afterward until her
Putting aside these purely spurious instances, as well as others
cited by Mr. Parton, the fact remains that Aaron Burr, like Daniel
Webster, found a great attraction in the society of women; that he
could please them and fascinate them to an extraordinary degree;
and that during his later life he must be held quite culpable in
this respect. His love-making was ardent and rapid, as we shall
afterward see in the case of his second marriage.
Many other stories are told of him. For instance, it is said that
he once took a stage-coach from Jersey City to Philadelphia. The
only other occupant was a woman of high standing and one whose
family deeply hated Aaron Burr. Nevertheless, so the story goes,
before they had reached Newark she was absolutely swayed by his
charm of manner; and when the coach made its last stop before
Philadelphia she voluntarily became his mistress.
It must also be said that, unlike those of Webster and Hamilton,
his intrigues were never carried on with women of the lower sort.
This may be held by some to deepen the charge against him; but
more truly does it exonerate him, since it really means that in
many cases these women of the world threw themselves at him and
sought him as a lover, when otherwise he might never have thought
That he was not heartless and indifferent to those who had loved
him may be shown by the great care which he took to protect their
names and reputations. Thus, on the day before his duel with
Hamilton, he made a will in which he constituted his son-in-law as
his executor. At the same time he wrote a sealed letter to
Governor Allston in which he said:
If you can pardon and indulge a folly, I would suggest that Mme. ----,
too well known under the name of Leonora, has claims on my
recollection. She is now with her husband at Santiago, in Cuba.
Another fact has been turned to his discredit. From many women, in
the course of his long life, he had received a great quantity of
letters written by aristocratic hands on scented paper, and these
letters he had never burned. Here again, perhaps, was shown the
vanity of the man who loved love for its own sake. He kept all
these papers in a huge iron-clamped chest, and he instructed
Theodosia in case he should die to burn every letter which might
injure any one.
After Theodosia's death Burr gave the same instructions to Matthew
L. Davis, who did, indeed, burn them, though he made their
existence a means of blackening the character of Burr. He should
have destroyed them unopened, and should never have mentioned them
in his memoirs of the man who trusted him as a friend.
Such was Aaron Burr throughout a life which lasted for eighty
years. His last romance, at the age of seventy-eight, is worth
narrating because it has often been misunderstood.
Mme. Jumel was a Rhode Island girl who at seventeen years of age
eloped with an English officer, Colonel Peter Croix. Her first
husband died while she was still quite young, and she then married
a French wine-merchant, Stephen Jumel, some twenty years her
senior, but a man of much vigor and intelligence. M. Jumel made a
considerable fortune in New York, owning a small merchant fleet;
and after Napoleon's downfall he and his wife went to Paris, where
she made a great impression in the salons by her vivacity and wit
and by her lavish expenditures.
Losing, however, part of what she and her husband possessed, Mme.
Jumel returned to New York, bringing with her a great amount of
furniture and paintings, with which she decorated the historic
house still standing in the upper part of Manhattan Island--a
mansion held by her in her own right. She managed her estate with
much ability; and in 1828 M. Jumel returned to live with her in
what was in those days a splendid villa.
Four years later, however, M. Jumel suffered an accident from
which he died in a few days, leaving his wife still an attractive
woman and not very much past her prime. Soon after she had
occasion to seek for legal advice, and for this purpose visited
the law-office of Aaron Burr. She had known him a good many years
before; and, though he was now seventy-eight years of age, there
was no perceptible change in him. He was still courtly in manner,
tactful, and deferential, while physically he was straight,
active, and vigorous.
A little later she invited him to a formal banquet, where he
displayed all his charms and shone to great advantage. When he was
about to lead her in to dinner, he said:
"I give my hand, madam; my heart has long been yours."
These attentions he followed up with several other visits, and
finally proposed that she should marry him. Much fluttered and no
less flattered, she uttered a sort of "No" which was not likely to
discourage a man like Aaron Burr.
"I shall come to you before very long," he said, "accompanied by a
clergyman; and then you will give me your hand because I want it."
This rapid sort of wooing was pleasantly embarrassing. The lady
rather liked it; and so, on an afternoon when the sun was shining
and the leaves were rustling in the breeze, Burr drove up to Mme.
Jumel's mansion accompanied by Dr. Bogart--the very clergyman who
had married him to his first wife fifty years before.
Mme. Jumel was now seriously disturbed, but her refusal was not a
strong one. There were reasons why she should accept the offer.
The great house was lonely. The management of her estate required
a man's advice. Moreover, she was under the spell of Burr's
fascination. Therefore she arrayed herself in one of her most
magnificent Paris gowns; the members of her household and eight
servants were called in and the ceremony was duly performed by Dr.
Bogart. A banquet followed. A dozen cobwebbed bottles of wine were
brought up from the cellar, and the marriage feast went on merrily
until after midnight.
This marriage was a singular one from many points of view. It was
strange that a man of seventy-eight should take by storm the
affections of a woman so much younger than he--a woman of wealth
and knowledge of the world. In the second place, it is odd that
there was still another woman--a mere girl--who was so infatuated
with Burr that when she was told of his marriage it nearly broke
her heart. Finally, in the early part of that same year he had
been accused of being the father of a new-born child, and in spite
of his age every one believed the charge to be true. Here is a
case that it would be hard to parallel.
The happiness of the newly married pair did not, however, last
very long. They made a wedding journey into Connecticut, of which
state Burr's nephew was then Governor, and there Burr saw a
monster bridge over the Connecticut River, in which his wife had
shares, though they brought her little income. He suggested that
she should transfer the investment, which, after all, was not a
very large one, and place it in a venture in Texas which looked
promising. The speculation turned out to be a loss, however, and
this made Mrs. Burr extremely angry, the more so as she had reason
to think that her ever-youthful husband had been engaged in
flirting with the country girls near the Jumel mansion.
She was a woman of high spirit and had at times a violent temper.
One day the post-master at what was then the village of Harlem
was surprised to see Mrs. Burr drive up before the post-office in
an open carriage. He came out to ask what she desired, and was
surprised to find her in a violent temper and with an enormous
horse-pistol on each cushion at her side.
"What do you wish, madam?" said he, rather mildly.
"What do I wish?" she cried. "Let me get at that villain Aaron
Presently Burr seems to have succeeded in pacifying her; but in
the end they separated, though she afterward always spoke most
kindly of him. When he died, only about a year later, she is said
to have burst into a flood of tears--another tribute to the
fascination which Aaron Burr exercised through all his checkered
It is difficult to come to any fixed opinion regarding the moral
character of Aaron Burr. As a soldier he was brave to the point of
recklessness. As a political leader he was almost the equal of
Jefferson and quite superior to Hamilton. As a man of the world he
was highly accomplished, polished in manner, charming in
conversation. He made friends easily, and he forgave his enemies
with a broadmindedness that is unusual.
On the other hand, in his political career there was a touch of
insincerity, and it can scarcely be denied that he used his charm
too often to the injury of those women who could not resist his
insinuating ways and the caressing notes of his rich voice. But as
a husband, in his youth, he was devoted, affectionate, and loyal;
while as a father he was little less than worshiped by the
daughter whom he reared so carefully.
One of his biographers very truly says that no such wretch as Burr
has been declared to be could have won and held the love of such a
wife and such a daughter as Burr had.
When all the other witnesses have been heard, let the two
Theodosias be summoned, and especially that daughter who showed
toward him an affectionate veneration unsurpassed by any recorded
in history or romance. Such an advocate as Theodosia the younger
must avail in some degree, even though the culprit were brought
before the bar of Heaven itself.
GEORGE IV. AND MRS. FITZHERBERT
In the last decade of the eighteenth century England was perhaps
the most brilliant nation of the world. Other countries had been
humbled by the splendid armies of France and were destined to be
still further humbled by the emperor who came from Corsica. France
had begun to seize the scepter of power; yet to this picture there
was another side--fearful want and grievous poverty and the
horrors of the Revolution. Russia was too far away, and was still
considered too barbarous, for a brilliant court to flourish there.
Prussia had the prestige that Frederick the Great won for her, but
she was still a comparatively small state. Italy was in a
condition of political chaos; the banks of the Rhine were running
blood where the Austrian armies faced the gallant Frenchmen under
the leadership of Moreau. But England, in spite of the loss of her
American colonies, was rich and prosperous, and her invincible
fleets were extending her empire over the seven seas.
At no time in modern England has the court at London seen so much
real splendor or such fine manners. The royalist emigres who fled
from France brought with them names and pedigrees that were older
than the Crusades, and many of them were received with the
frankest, freest English hospitality. If here and there some
marquis or baron of ancient blood was perforce content to teach
music to the daughters of tradesmen in suburban schools,
nevertheless they were better off than they had been in France,
harried by the savage gaze-hounds of the guillotine. Afterward,
in the days of the Restoration, when they came back to their
estates, they had probably learned more than one lesson from the
bouledogues of Merry England, who had little tact, perhaps, but
who were at any rate kindly and willing to share their goods with
pinched and poverty-stricken foreigners.
The court, then, as has been said, was brilliant with notables
from Continental countries, and with the historic wealth of the
peerage of England. Only one cloud overspread it; and that was the
mental condition of the king. We have become accustomed to think
of George III as a dull creature, almost always hovering on the
verge of that insanity which finally swept him into a dark
obscurity; but Thackeray's picture of him is absurdly untrue to
the actual facts. George III. was by no means a dullard, nor was
he a sort of beefy country squire who roved about the palace
gardens with his unattractive spouse.
Obstinate enough he was, and ready for a combat with the rulers of
the Continent or with his self-willed sons; but he was a man of
brains and power, and Lord Rosebery has rightly described him as
the most striking constitutional figure of his time. Had he
retained his reason, and had his erratic and self-seeking son not
succeeded him during his own lifetime, Great Britain might very
possibly have entered upon other ways than those which opened to
her after the downfall of Napoleon.
The real center of fashionable England, however, was not George
III., but rather his son, subsequently George IV., who was made
Prince of Wales three days after his birth, and who became prince
regent during the insanity of the king. He was the leader of the
social world, the fit companion of Beau Brummel and of a choice
circle of rakes and fox-hunters who drank pottle-deep. Some called
him "the first gentleman of Europe." Others, who knew him better,
described him as one who never kept his word to man or woman and
who lacked the most elementary virtues.
Yet it was his good luck during the first years of his regency to
be popular as few English kings have ever been. To his people he
typified old England against revolutionary France; and his youth
and gaiety made many like him. He drank and gambled; he kept packs
of hounds and strings of horses; he ran deeply into debt that he
might patronize the sports of that uproarious day. He was a
gallant "Corinthian," a haunter of dens where there were prize-
fights and cock-fights, and there was hardly a doubtful resort in
London where his face was not familiar.
He was much given to gallantry--not so much, as it seemed, for
wantonness, but from sheer love of mirth and chivalry. For a time,
with his chosen friends, such as Fox and Sheridan, he ventured
into reckless intrigues that recalled the amours of his
predecessor, Charles II. He had by no means the wit and courage of
Charles; and, indeed, the house of Hanover lacked the outward show
of chivalry which made the Stuarts shine with external splendor.
But he was good-looking and stalwart, and when he had half a dozen
robust comrades by his side he could assume a very manly
appearance. Such was George IV. in his regency and in his prime.
He made that period famous for its card-playing, its deep
drinking, and for the dissolute conduct of its courtiers and
noblemen no less than for the gallantry of its soldiers and its
momentous victories on sea and land. It came, however, to be seen
that his true achievements were in reality only escapades, that
his wit was only folly, and his so-called "sensibility" was but
sham. He invented buckles, striped waistcoats, and flamboyant
collars, but he knew nothing of the principles of kingship or the
laws by which a state is governed.
The fact that he had promiscuous affairs with women appealed at
first to the popular sense of the romantic. It was not long,
however, before these episodes were trampled down into the mire of
One of the first of them began when he sent a letter, signed
"Florizel," to a young actress, "Perdita" Robinson. Mrs. Robinson,
whose maiden name was Mary Darby, and who was the original of
famous portraits by Gainsborough and Reynolds, was a woman of
beauty, talent, and temperament. George, wishing in every way to
be "romantic," insisted upon clandestine meetings on the Thames at
Kew, with all the stage trappings of the popular novels--cloaks,
veils, faces hidden, and armed watchers to warn her of approaching
danger. Poor Perdita took this nonsense so seriously that she gave
up her natural vocation for the stage, and forsook her husband,
believing that the prince would never weary of her.
He did weary of her very soon, and, with the brutality of a man of
such a type, turned her away with the promise of some money; after
which he cut her in the Park and refused to speak to her again. As
for the money, he may have meant to pay it, but Perdita had a long
struggle before she succeeded in getting it. It may be assumed
that the prince had to borrow it and that this obligation formed
part of the debts which Parliament paid for him.
It is not necessary to number the other women whose heads he
turned. They are too many for remembrance here, and they have no
special significance, save one who, as is generally believed,
became his wife so far as the church could make her so. An act of
1772 had made it illegal for any member of the English royal
family to marry without the permission of the king. A marriage
contracted without the king's consent might be lawful in the eyes
of the church, but the children born of it could not inherit any
claim to the throne.
It may be remarked here that this withholding of permission was
strictly enforced. Thus William IV., who succeeded George IV., was
married, before his accession to the throne, to Mrs. Jordan
(Dorothy Bland). Afterward he lawfully married a woman of royal
birth who was known as Queen Adelaide.
There is an interesting story which tells how Queen Victoria came
to be born because her father, the Duke of Kent, was practically
forced to give up a morganatic union which he greatly preferred to
a marriage arranged for him by Parliament. Except the Duke of
Cambridge, the Duke of Kent was the only royal duke who was likely
to have children in the regular line. The only daughter of George
IV. had died in childhood. The Duke of Cumberland was for various
reasons ineligible; the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV.,
was almost too old; and therefore, to insure the succession, the
Duke of Kent was begged to marry a young and attractive woman, a
princess of the house of Saxe-Coburg, who was ready for the honor.
It was greatly to the Duke's credit that he showed deep and
sincere feeling in this matter. As he said himself in effect:
"This French lady has stood by me in hard times and in good times,
too--why should I cast her off? She has been more than a wife to
me. And what do I care for your plans in Parliament? Send over for
one of the Stuarts--they are better men than the last lot of our
fellows that you have had!"
In the end, however, he was wearied out and was persuaded to
marry, but he insisted that a generous sum should be settled on
the lady who had been so long his true companion, and to whom, no
doubt, he gave many a wistful thought in his new but unfamiliar
quarters in Kensington Palace, which was assigned as his
Again, the second Duke of Cambridge, who died only a few years
ago, greatly desired to marry a lady who was not of royal rank,
though of fine breeding and of good birth. He besought his young
cousin, as head of the family, to grant him this privilege of
marriage; but Queen Victoria stubbornly refused. The duke was
married according to the rites of the church, but he could not
make his wife a duchess. The queen never quite forgave him for his
partial defiance of her wishes, though the duke's wife--she was
usually spoken of as Mrs. FitzGeorge--was received almost
everywhere, and two of her sons hold high rank in the British army
and navy, respectively.
The one real love story in the life of George IV. is that which
tells of his marriage with a lady who might well have been the
wife of any king. This was Maria Anne Smythe, better known as Mrs.
Fitzherbert, who was six years older than the young prince when
she first met him in company with a body of gentlemen and ladies
Maria Fitzherbert's face was one which always displayed its best
advantages. Her eyes were peculiarly languishing, and, as she had
already been twice a widow, and was six years his senior, she had
the advantage over a less experienced lover. Likewise, she was a
Catholic, and so by another act of Parliament any marriage with
her would be illegal. Yet just because of all these different
objections the prince was doubly drawn to her, and was willing to
sacrifice even the throne if he could but win her.
His father, the king, called him into the royal presence and said:
"George, it is time that you should settle down and insure the
succession to the throne."
"Sir," replied the prince, "I prefer to resign the succession and
let my brother have it, and that I should live as a private
Mrs. Fitzherbert was not the sort of woman to give herself up
readily to a morganatic connection. Moreover, she soon came to
love Prince George too well to entangle him in a doubtful alliance
with one of another faith than his. Not long after he first met
her the prince, who was always given to private theatricals, sent
messengers riding in hot haste to her house to tell her that he
had stabbed himself, that he begged to see her, and that unless
she came he would repeat the act. The lady yielded, and hurried to
Carlton House, the prince's residence; but she was prudent enough
to take with her the Duchess of Devonshire, who was a reigning
beauty of the court.
The scene which followed was theatrical rather than impressive.--
The prince was found in his sleeping-chamber, pale and with his
ruffles blood-stained. He played the part of a youthful and love-
stricken wooer, vowing that he would marry the woman of his heart
or stab himself again. In the presence of his messengers, who,
with the duchess, were witnesses, he formally took the lady as his
wife, while Lady Devonshire's wedding-ring sealed the troth. The
prince also acknowledged it in a document.
Mrs. Fitzherbert was, in fact, a woman of sound sense. Shortly
after this scene of melodramatic intensity her wits came back to
her, and she recognized that she had merely gone through a
meaningless farce. So she sent back the prince's document and the
ring and hastened to the Continent, where he could not reach her,
although his detectives followed her steps for a year.
At the last she yielded, however, and came home to marry the
prince in such fashion as she could--a marriage of love, and
surely one of morality, though not of parliamentary law. The
ceremony was performed "in her own drawing-room in her house in
London, in the presence of the officiating Protestant clergyman
and two of her own nearest relatives."
Such is the serious statement of Lord Stourton, who was Mrs.
Fitzherbert's cousin and confidant. The truth of it was never
denied, and Mrs. Fitzherbert was always treated with respect, and
even regarded as a person of great distinction. Nevertheless, on
more than one occasion the prince had his friends in Parliament
deny the marriage in order that his debts might be paid and new
allowances issued to him by the Treasury.
George certainly felt himself a husband. Like any other married
prince, he set himself to build a palace for his country home.
While in search of some suitable spot he chanced to visit the
"pretty fishing-village" of Brighton to see his uncle, the Duke of
Cumberland. Doubtless he found it an attractive place, yet this
may have been not so much because of its view of the sea as for
the reason that Mrs. Fitzherbert had previously lived there.
However, in 1784 the prince sent down his chief cook to make
arrangements for the next royal visit. The cook engaged a house on
the spot where the Pavilion now stands, and from that time
Brighton began to be an extremely fashionable place. The court
doctors, giving advice that was agreeable, recommended their royal
patient to take sea-bathing at Brighton. At once the place sprang
At first the gentry were crowded into lodging-houses and the
accommodations were primitive to a degree. But soon handsome
villas arose on every side; hotels appeared; places of amusement
were opened. The prince himself began to build a tasteless but
showy structure, partly Chinese and partly Indian in style, on the
fashionable promenade of the Steyne.
During his life with Mrs. Fitzherbert at Brighton the prince held
what was practically a court. Hundreds of the aristocracy came
down from London and made their temporary dwellings there; while
thousands who were by no means of the court made the place what is
now popularly called "London by the Sea." There were the Duc de
Chartres, of France; statesmen and rakes, like Fox, Sheridan, and
the Earl of Barrymore; a very beautiful woman, named Mrs. Couch, a
favorite singer at the opera, to whom the prince gave at one time
jewels worth ten thousand pounds; and a sister of the Earl of
Barrymore, who was as notorious as her brother. She often took the
president's chair at a club which George's friends had organized
and which she had christened the Hell Fire Club.
Such persons were not the only visitors at Brighton. Men of much
more serious demeanor came down to visit the prince and brought
with them quieter society. Nevertheless, for a considerable time
the place was most noted for its wild scenes of revelry, into
which George frequently entered, though his home life with Mrs.
Fitzherbert at the Pavilion was a decorous one.
No one felt any doubt as to the marriage of the two persons, who
seemed so much like a prince and a princess. Some of the people of
the place addressed Mrs. Fitzherbert as "Mrs. Prince." The old
king and his wife, however, much deplored their son's relation
with her. This was partly due to the fact that Mrs. Fitzherbert
was a Catholic and that she had received a number of French nuns
who had been driven out of France at the time of the Revolution.
But no less displeasure was caused by the prince's racing and
dicing, which swelled his debts to almost a million pounds, so
that Parliament and, indeed, the sober part of England were set
Of course, his marriage to Mrs. Fitzherbert had no legal status;
nor is there any reason for believing that she ever became a
mother. She had no children by her former two husbands, and Lord
Stourton testified positively that she never had either son or
daughter by Prince George. Nevertheless, more than one American
claimant has risen to advance some utterly visionary claim to the
English throne by reason of alleged descent from Prince George and
Neither William IV. nor Queen Victoria ever spent much time at
Brighton. In King William's case it was explained that the
dampness of the Pavilion did not suit him; and as to Queen
Victoria, it was said that she disliked the fact that buildings
had been erected so as to cut off the view of the sea. It is quite
likely, however, that the queen objected to the associations of
the place, and did not care to be reminded of the time when her
uncle had lived there so long in a morganatic state of marriage.
At length the time came when the king, Parliament, and the people
at large insisted that the Prince of Wales should make a legal
marriage, and a wife was selected for him in the person of
Caroline, daughter of the Duke of Brunswick. This marriage took
place exactly ten years after his wedding with the beautiful and
gentle-mannered Mrs. Fitzherbert. With the latter he had known
many days and hours of happiness. With Princess Caroline he had no
happiness at all.
Prince George met her at the pier to greet her. It is said that as
he took her hand he kissed her, and then, suddenly recoiling, he
whispered to one of his friends:
"For God's sake, George, give me a glass of brandy!"
Such an utterance was more brutal and barbaric than anything his
bride could have conceived of, though it is probable, fortunately,
that she did not understand him by reason of her ignorance of
We need not go through the unhappy story of this unsympathetic,
neglected, rebellious wife. Her life with the prince soon became
one of open warfare; but instead of leaving England she remained
to set the kingdom in an uproar. As soon as his father died and he
became king, George sued her for divorce. Half the people sided
with the queen, while the rest regarded her as a vulgar creature
who made love to her attendants and brought dishonor on the
English throne. It was a sorry, sordid contrast between the young
Prince George who had posed as a sort of cavalier and this now
furious gray old man wrangling with his furious German wife.
Well might he look back to the time when he met Perdita in the
moonlight on the Thames, or when he played the part of Florizel,
or, better still, when he enjoyed the sincere and disinterested
love of the gentle woman who was his wife in all but legal status.
Caroline of Brunswick was thrust away from the king's coronation.
She took a house within sight of Westminster Abbey, so that she
might make hag-like screeches to the mob and to the king as he
passed by. Presently, in August, 1821, only a month after the
coronation, she died, and her body was taken back to Brunswick for
George himself reigned for nine years longer. When he died in 1830
his executor was the Duke of Wellington. The duke, in examining
the late king's private papers, found that he had kept with the
greatest care every letter written to him by his morganatic wife.
During his last illness she had sent him an affectionate missive
which it is said George "read eagerly." Mrs. Fitzherbert wished
the duke to give up her letters; but he would do so only in return
for those which he had written to her.
It was finally decided that it would be best to burn both his and
hers. This work was carried out in Mrs. Fitzherbert's own house by
the lady, the duke, and the Earl of Albemarle.
Of George it may be said that he has left as memories behind him
only three things that will be remembered. The first is the
Pavilion at Brighton, with its absurdly oriental decorations, its
minarets and flimsy towers. The second is the buckle which he
invented and which Thackeray has immortalized with his biting
satire. The last is the story of his marriage to Maria
Fitzherbert, and of the influence exercised upon him by the
affection of a good woman.
CHARLOTTE CORDAY AND ADAM LUX
Perhaps some readers will consider this story inconsistent with
those that have preceded it. Yet, as it is little known to most
readers and as it is perhaps unique in the history of romantic
love, I cannot forbear relating it; for I believe that it is full
of curious interest and pathetic power.
All those who have written of the French Revolution have paused in
their chronicle of blood and flame to tell the episode of the
peasant Royalist, Charlotte Corday; but in telling it they have
often omitted the one part of the story that is personal and not
political. The tragic record of this French girl and her self-
sacrifice has been told a thousand times by writers in many
languages; yet almost all of them have neglected the brief romance
which followed her daring deed and which was consummated after her
death upon the guillotine. It is worth our while to speak first of
Charlotte herself and of the man she slew, and then to tell that
other tale which ought always to be entwined with her great deed
Charlotte Corday--Marie Anne Charlotte Corday d'Armand--was a
native of Normandy, and was descended, as her name implies, from
noble ancestors. Her forefathers, indeed, had been statesmen,
civil rulers, and soldiers, and among them was numbered the famous
poet Corneille, whom the French rank with Shakespeare. But a
century or more of vicissitudes had reduced her branch of the
family almost to the position of peasants--a fact which partly
justifies the name that some give her when they call her "the
Jeanne d'Arc of the Revolution."
She did not, however, spend her girlish years amid the fields and
woods tending her sheep, as did the other Jeanne d'Arc; but she
was placed in charge of the sisters in a convent, and from them
she received such education as she had. She was a lonely child,
and her thoughts turned inward, brooding over many things.
After she had left the convent she was sent to live with an aunt.
Here she devoted herself to reading over and over the few books
which the house contained. These consisted largely of the deistic
writers, especially Voltaire, and to some extent they destroyed
her convent faith, though it is not likely that she understood
them very fully.
More to her taste was a copy of Plutarch's Lives. These famous
stories fascinated her. They told her of battle and siege, of
intrigue and heroism, and of that romantic love of country which
led men to throw away their lives for the sake of a whole people.
Brutus and Regulus were her heroes. To die for the many seemed to
her the most glorious end that any one could seek. When she
thought of it she thrilled with a sort of ecstasy, and longed with
all the passion of her nature that such a glorious fate might be
Charlotte had nearly come to womanhood at the time when the French
Revolution first broke out. Royalist though she had been in her
sympathies, she felt the justice of the people's cause. She had
seen the suffering of the peasantry, the brutality of the tax-
gatherers, and all the oppression of the old regime. But what she
hoped for was a democracy of order and equality and peace. Could
the king reign as a constitutional monarch rather than as a
despot, this was all for which she cared.
In Normandy, where she lived, were many of those moderate
republicans known as Girondists, who felt as she did and who hoped
for the same peaceful end to the great outbreak. On the other
hand, in Paris, the party of the Mountain, as it was called, ruled
with a savage violence that soon was to culminate in the Reign of
Terror. Already the guillotine ran red with noble blood. Already
the king had bowed his head to the fatal knife. Already the threat
had gone forth that a mere breath of suspicion or a pointed finger
might be enough to lead men and women to a gory death.
In her quiet home near Caen Charlotte Corday heard as from afar
the story of this dreadful saturnalia of assassination which was
making Paris a city of bloody mist. Men and women of the Girondist
party came to tell her of the hideous deeds that were perpetrated
there. All these horrors gradually wove themselves in the young
girl's imagination around the sinister and repulsive figure of
Jean Paul Marat. She knew nothing of his associates, Danton and
Robespierre. It was in Marat alone that she saw the monster who
sent innocent thousands to their graves, and who reveled like some
arch-fiend in murder and gruesome death.
In his earlier years Marat had been a very different figure--an
accomplished physician, the friend of nobles, a man of science and
original thought, so that he was nearly elected to the Academy of
Sciences. His studies in electricity gained for him the admiration
of Benjamin Franklin and the praise of Goethe. But when he turned
to politics he left all this career behind him. He plunged into
the very mire of red republicanism, and even there he was for a
time so much hated that he sought refuge in London to save his
On his return he was hunted by his enemies, so that his only place
of refuge was in the sewers and drains of Paris. A woman, one
Simonne Evrard, helped him to escape his pursuers. In the sewers,
however, he contracted a dreadful skin-disease from which he never
afterward recovered, and which was extremely painful as well as
shocking to behold.
It is small wonder that the stories about Marat circulated through
the provinces made him seem more a devil than a man. His
vindictiveness against the Girondists brought all of this straight
home to Charlotte Corday and led her to dream of acting the part
of Brutus, so that she might free her country from this hideous
In January, 1793, King Louis XVI. met his death upon the scaffold;
and the queen was thrust into a foul prison. This was a signal for
activity among the Girondists in Normandy, and especially at Caen,
where Charlotte was present at their meetings and heard their
fervid oratory. There was a plot to march on Paris, yet in some
instinctive way she felt that such a scheme must fail. It was then
that she definitely formed the plan of going herself, alone, to
the French capital to seek out the hideous Marat and to kill him
with her own hands.
To this end she made application for a passport allowing her to
visit Paris. This passport still exists, and it gives us an
official description of the girl. It reads:
Allow citizen Marie Corday to pass. She is twenty-four years of
age, five feet and one inch in height, hair and eyebrows chestnut
color, eyes gray, forehead high, mouth medium size, chin dimpled,
and an oval face.
Apart from this verbal description we have two portraits painted
while she was in prison. Both of them make the description of the
passport seem faint and pale. The real Charlotte had a wealth of
chestnut hair which fell about her face and neck in glorious
abundance. Her great gray eyes spoke eloquently of truth and
courage. Her mouth was firm yet winsome, and her form combined
both strength and grace. Such is the girl who, on reaching Paris,
wrote to Marat in these words:
Citizen, I have just arrived from Caen. Your love for your native
place doubtless makes you wish to learn the events which have
occurred in that part of the republic. I shall call at your
residence in about an hour. Be so good as to receive me and give
me a brief interview. I will put you in such condition as to
render great service to France.
This letter failed to gain her admission, and so did another which
she wrote soon after. The fact is that Marat was grievously ill.
His disease had reached a point where the pain could be assuaged
only by hot water; and he spent the greater part of his time
wrapped in a blanket and lying in a large tub.
A third time, however, the persistent girl called at his house and
insisted that she must see him, saying that she was herself in
danger from the enemies of the Republic. Through an open door
Marat heard her mellow voice and gave orders that she should be
As she entered she gazed for a moment upon the lank figure rolling
in the tub, the rat-like face, and the shifting eyes. Then she
approached him, concealing in the bosom of her dress a long
carving-knife which she had purchased for two francs. In answer to
Marat's questioning look she told him that there was much
excitement at Caen and that the Girondists were plotting there.
To this Marat answered, in his harsh voice:
"All these men you mention shall be guillotined in the next few
As he spoke Charlotte flashed out the terrible knife and with all
her strength she plunged it into his left side, where it pierced a
lung and a portion of his heart.
Marat, with the blood gushing from his mouth, cried out:
His cry was meant for one of the two women in the house. Both
heard it, for they were in the next room; and both of them rushed
in and succeeded in pinioning Charlotte Corday, who, indeed, made
only a slight effort to escape. Troops were summoned, she was
taken to the Prison de l'Abbaye, and soon after she was arraigned
before the revolutionary tribunal.
Placed in the dock, she glanced about her with an air of pride, as
of one who gloried in the act which she had just performed. A
written charge was read. She was asked what she had to say.
Lifting her head with a look of infinite satisfaction, she
answered in a ringing voice:
"Nothing--except that I succeeded!"
A lawyer was assigned for her defense. He pleaded for her
earnestly, declaring that she must he regarded as insane; but
those clear, calm eyes and that gentle face made her sanity a
matter of little doubt. She showed her quick wit in the answers
which she gave to the rough prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville, who
tried to make her confess that she had accomplices.
"Who prompted you to do this deed?" roared Tinville.
"I needed no prompting. My own heart was sufficient."
"In what, then, had Marat wronged you?"
"He was a savage beast who was going to destroy the remains of
France in the fires of civil war."
"But whom did you expect to benefit?" insinuated the prosecutor.
"I have killed one man to save a hundred thousand."
"What? Did you imagine that you had murdered all the Marats?"
"No, but, this one being dead, the rest will perhaps take
Thus her directness baffled all the efforts of the prosecution to
trap her into betraying any of her friends. The court, however,
sentenced her to death. She was then immured in the Conciergerie.
This dramatic court scene was the beginning of that strange, brief
romance to which one can scarcely find a parallel. At the time
there lived in Paris a young German named Adam Lux. The continual
talk about Charlotte Corday had filled him with curiosity
regarding this young girl who had been so daring and so patriotic.
She was denounced on every hand as a murderess with the face of a
Medusa and the muscles of a Vulcan. Street songs about her were
dinned into the ears of Adam Lux.
As a student of human nature he was anxious to see this terrible
creature. He forced his way to the front of the crowded benches in
the court-room and took his stand behind a young artist who was
finishing a beautiful sketch. From that moment until the end of
the trial the eyes of Adam Lux were fastened on the prisoner. What
a contrast to the picture he had imagined!
A mass of regal chestnut hair crowned with the white cap of a
Norman peasant girl; gray eyes, very sad and serious, but looking
serenely forth from under long, dark lashes; lips slightly curved
with an expression of quiet humor; a face the color of the sun and
wind, a bust indicative of perfect health, the chin of a Caesar,
and the whole expression one of almost divine self-sacrifice. Such
were the features that the painter was swiftly putting upon his
canvas; but behind them Adam Lux discerned the soul for which he
gladly sacrificed both his liberty and his life.
He forgot his surroundings and seemed to see only that beautiful,
pure face and to hear only the exquisite cadences of the wonderful
voice. When Charlotte was led forth by a file of soldiers Adam
staggered from the scene and made his way as best he might to his
lodgings. There he lay prostrate, his whole soul filled with the
love of her who had in an instant won the adoration of his heart.
Once, and only once again, when the last scene opened on the
tragedy, did he behold the heroine of his dreams.
On the 17th of July Charlotte Corday was taken from her prison to
the gloomy guillotine. It was toward evening, and nature had given
a setting fit for such an end. Blue-black thunder-clouds rolled in
huge masses across the sky until their base appeared to rest on
the very summit of the guillotine. Distant thunder rolled and
grumbled beyond the river. Great drops of rain fell upon the
soldiers' drums. Young, beautiful, unconscious of any wrong,
Charlotte Corday stood beneath the shadow of the knife.
At the supreme moment a sudden ray from the setting sun broke
through the cloud-wrack and fell upon her slender figure until she
glowed in the eyes of the startled spectators like a statue cut in
burnished bronze. Thus illumined, as it were, by a light from
heaven itself, she bowed herself beneath the knife and paid the
penalty of a noble, if misdirected, impulse. As the blade fell her
lips quivered with her last and only plea:
"My duty is enough--the rest is nothing!"
Adam Lux rushed from the scene a man transformed. He bore graven
upon his heart neither the mob of tossing red caps nor the glare
of the sunset nor the blood-stained guillotine, but that last look
from those brilliant eyes. The sight almost deprived him of his
reason. The self-sacrifice of the only woman he had ever loved,
even though she had never so much as seen him, impelled him with a
sort of fury to his own destruction.
He wrote a bitter denunciation of the judges, of the officers, and
of all who had been followers of Marat. This document he printed,
and scattered copies of it through every quarter in Paris. The
last sentences are as follows:
The guillotine is no longer a disgrace. It has become a sacred
altar, from which every taint has been removed by the innocent
blood shed there on the 17th of July. Forgive me, my divine
Charlotte, if I find it impossible at the last moment to show the
courage and the gentleness that were yours! I glory because you
are superior to me, for it is right that she who is adored should
be higher and more glorious than her adorer!
This pamphlet, spread broadcast among the people, was soon
reported to the leaders of the rabble. Adam Lux was arrested for
treason against the Republic; but even these men had no desire to
make a martyr of this hot-headed youth. They would stop his mouth
without taking his life. Therefore he was tried and speedily found
guilty, but an offer was made him that he might have passports
that would allow him to return to Germany if only he would sign a
retraction of his printed words.
Little did the judges understand the fiery heart of the man they
had to deal with. To die on the same scaffold as the woman whom he
had idealized was to him the crowning triumph of his romantic
love. He gave a prompt and insolent refusal to their offer. He
swore that if released he would denounce his darling's murderers
with a still greater passion.
In anger the tribunal sentenced him to death. Only then he smiled
and thanked his judges courteously, and soon after went blithely
to the guillotine like a bridegroom to his marriage feast.
Adam Lux! Spirit courtship had been carried on silently all
through that terrible cross-examination of Charlotte Corday. His
heart was betrothed to hers in that single gleam of the setting
sun when she bowed beneath the knife. One may believe that these
two souls were finally united when the same knife fell sullenly
upon his neck and when his life-blood sprinkled the altar that was
still stained with hers.
NAPOLEON AND MARIE WALEWSKA
There are four women who may be said to have deeply influenced the
life of Napoleon. These four are the only ones who need to be
taken into account by the student of his imperial career. The
great emperor was susceptible to feminine charms at all times; but
just as it used to be said of him that "his smile never rose above
his eyes," so it might as truly be said that in most instances the
throbbing of his heart did not affect his actions.
Women to him were the creatures of the moment, although he might
seem to care for them and to show his affection in extravagant
ways, as in his affair with Mlle. Georges, the beautiful but
rather tiresome actress. As for Mme. de Stael, she bored him to
distraction by her assumption of wisdom. That was not the kind of
woman that Napoleon cared for. He preferred that a woman should be
womanly, and not a sort of owl to sit and talk with him about the
theory of government.
When it came to married women they interested him only because of
the children they might bear to grow up as recruits for his
insatiate armies. At the public balls given at the Tuileries he
would walk about the gorgeous drawing-rooms, and when a lady was
presented to him he would snap out, sharply:
"How many children have you?"
If she were able to answer that she had several the emperor would
look pleased and would pay her some compliment; but if she said
that she had none he would turn upon her sharply and say:
"Then go home and have some!"
Of the four women who influenced his life, first must come
Josephine, because she secured him his earliest chance of
advancement. She met him through Barras, with whom she was said to
be rather intimate. The young soldier was fascinated by her--the
Back to Full Books