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FRENCH TRAVELLERS AND WRITERS CONTINUED.
ROCHAMBEAU ; TALLEYRAND ; SÉGUR; CHATEAUBRIAND; MICHAUX;
MURAT; BRILLAT-SAVARIN; DE TOCQUEVILLE; DE BEAUMONT ; AMPÈRE, AND OTHERS; LAFAYETTE ; FISCH; DE
DE GASPARIN ; OFFICERS; LABOULAYE, ETC.
Some of the most pleasing and piquant descriptions of America, and life there, at the period of and subsequent to the Revolutionary War, are to be found in the memoirs and correspondence of French allies and emigrés. In some instances, as we have seen in the case of Chastellux, Brissot, the Abbé Robin, and others, instead of an episode, our Gallic visitors have expanded their observations into separate volumes; but even the casual mention of places and persons, character and customs that are interwoven in the biography and journals of some of the French officers, are noteworthy as illustrations of the times, especially in a social point of view. We find them in the memoirs of De Lauzun, De Segur, De Broglie, and other of the gallant beaux who made themselves so agreeable to the pretty Quakers at Newport, where they were so long quartered; and left, as in the case of Vosmeneul, traditions of wit, love, and dancing—the evanescent record whereof still survives in the initials cut on the little window panes of the gable-roofed houses with their diamond rings, and were long rehearsed by venerable ladies of Philadelphia and Boston. Among these incidental glimpses of America as her scenes and people impressed a noble militaire, are many passages in the Memoirs of Count Rochambeau, who is so prominently represented beside Washington in the picture of the surrender of Yorktown, at Versailles. Born in 1725, and soon distinguished as a soldier, in 1780 he was sent as the commander-general of six thousand troops, to assist our Revolutionary struggle. He landed at Newport, R. I., and acted in concert with Washington against Clinton in New York, and against Cornwallis at Yorktown. On his return to France, he was made marshal, and commander of the Army of the North, by Louis XVI. He was gradually superseded by more energetic officers, became the object of calumny to the journalists, and vindicated himself in a speech before the Assembly, who passed a decree approving his conduct. He retired to his estate at Vendome, resolved to abandon public affairs. He was arrested, and narrowly escaped death under Robespierre ---like so many of his eminent countrymen who had become well known on this side of the ocean. In 1803 he was presented to Bonaparte, who conferred on him the cross of the Legion of Honor. He died in 1807, and, two years after, his “ Mémoires” were published.
Count Rochambeau describes at length the military operations of which he was a witness in America, and looks at the country, for the most part, with the eyes of a soldier. He repudiates all idea of writing in the character of a professed author, and both the style and substance of his autobiography are those of a military memoir. Still he records many significant facts, geographical and economical. He notes the agricultural resources of those parts of the country he visited, describes the houses, ports, and climate, and gives an interesting account of Arnold's treason-first revealed to Washington in connection with a journey undertaken by the latter to meet him ; and of many of the subsequents events connected therewith he was a witness. But the ost attractive feature of Rochambeau's American reminiscences is his cordial recognition of the popular mind and heart. He appreciated, better than many more superficial observers, the domestic discipline, the religious toleration, and the genuine independence of character which then formed our noble distinction in the view of liberal Europeans. He remarks the unequal interest in the war in different localities : “En distinguant d'abord les commerçans des agricoles, les habitudes des grandes villes maritimes de ceux des petites villes ou des habitans de l'intérieur, ou ne doit pas être étonné que les commerçans et ceux qui, dans ces ports, avaient une relation ou des intérêts directs avec le gouvernement Anglais, aient témoigné moins de zéle pour la révolution que les agricoles.” Boston was an exception; and the Northern States seconded the Revolution which the violence of the British and Hessians precipitated. The equal fortunes of the North favored democracy, while the large proprietors of the South formed an aristocracy. He says of American women: “ Les filles y sont libres jusqu'à leur mariage. Leur première question est de savoir si vous êtes marié; et, si vous l'êtes, leur conversation tonbe tout à plat.” Sometimes in youth, though going to church with parents, “ elles n'aient pas encore fait choix d'une religion ; elles disent qu'elles seront de la religion de leur maris.” They observe, he says, “une grande propriété." He describes a settlement "par mettre le feu à la foret (to clear). Il seme en suite, entre les souches, toutes sortes de grains, qui croissant avec la plus grande abondance, sous une couche de feuilles, pourries et réduites en térreau vegetal formé pendant un très-grand nombre d'années. Il batit son habitation avec les rameaux de ces arbres placés l'un sur l'autre, soutenus par des piquets. Au bout de vingt ou trente ans, lorsqu'il est parvenu à desancher et à rendre la terre ameublie, il songe à construire une maison plus propre "--and later one of brick; “ on y fait au moins quatre repas, interrompu par un travail modéré, et le petit négre est continuellement occupé à défaire et à remettre le couvert.
“Dans les grands villes,” he adds, “ le luxe a fait progrès. Le pays circonscrit sous le nom des États Unis, avec les arrondissemens qu’ont cédés les Anglais, par la paix de 1783, pourra comporter un jour plus de trente millions d'habitans sans à gener.”
He recognizes the complete division of church and state in our democratic system: “Par ces precautions, la religion n'entra pour rien dans les délibérations politiques ; chacun professa son culte avec exactitude ; la sanctification du dimanche s'y observoit avec exactitude ;” and, like so many other sojourners of that period, he attests that “l'hospitalité est la vertu la plus généralement observée.”
An incident related by his companion, illustrates the popular respect for law: “At the moment of our quitting the camp," writes Count Ségur, “as M. de Rochambeau was proceeding at the head of his columns, and surrounded by his brilliant staff, an American approached him, tapped him slightly on the shoulder, and, showing him a paper he held in his hand, said: 'In the name of the law I arrest you.' Several young officers were indignant at this insult offered to their general; but he restrained their impatience by a sign, smiled, and said to the American, Take me away with you, if you can. “No,' replied he; 'I have done my duty, and your excellency may proceed on your march, if you wish to put justice at defiance. Some soldiers of the division of Soissonnais have cut down several trees, and burnt them to light their fires. The owner of them claims an indemnity, and has obtained a warrant against you, which I have come to execute.'
Rochambeau was much impressed with the state of religion in America, and especially the voluntary deference to the clergy, coexistent with self-respect and self-reliance in matters of faith, so manifest at the era of the Revolution.
They reserve,” he writes, “ for the minister the first place at public banquets; he invokes a blessing thereon ; but his prerogatives, as far as society is concerned, extend no farther; and this position,” he adds, obviously in view of clerical corruption in Europe, "should lead naturally to simple and pure manners."
Another anecdote, illustrative of the times and people, is
related with much zest: - Je hasarde,” he says,
6 d'interrompre ici l'attention du lecteur, par le recit d'une historiette qui ni laisse pas de caracteriser parfaitement les mæurs des bons republicans du Connecticut.' He then states that, being on his way to Hartford, to confer with Washington, and accompanied by the Count de Ternay, who was an invalid, the carriage broke down, and his aide was sent to find a blacksmith to repair it. The only one in the vicinity, being ill with fever and ague, refused, and declared a hat full of guineas would not induce him to undertake the job; but when the Count explained to the resolute Vulcan, that if his vehicle was not repaired, he could not keep his appointment with Washington, “I am at the public service. You shall have your carriage at six tomorrow morning,” said the blacksmith, “ for you are good people.” Such instances of disinterested patriotism, and superiority to the blandishments of rank and money, among the mechanics and farmers, struck Rochambeau and his companions as memorable evidences of the effect of free institutions and popular education upon national character,
Another famous Frenchman, at a later period, received quite a different impression-finding in the isolated materialism of American border life a hopeless dearth of sentiment and civilized enjoyment, which, in his view, though habituated to the sight of starving millions and effeminate courtiers, more than counterbalanced the independence and prospective comfort of the masses thus bravely secured. When Talleyrand was a temporary exile in the United States, he visited a colony of his countrymen, and wrote thus of the American backwoodsman: “He is interested in nothing. Every sentimental idea is banished from him. Those branches so elegantly thrown by nature--a fine foliage, a brilliant hue which marks one part of the forest, a deeper green which darkens another-all these are nothing in his eye. He has no recollections associated with anything around him. His only thought is the number of strokes which are necessary to level this or that tree. He has never planted;