Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

trouble his head fifty years hence about any of Buonaparte's marshals ? The crisis of Valmy may ensure an bistorical notoriety to Dumouriez; but no nurse will frighten children with his name or that of Moreau. There is something solid and unpretending about the reputation of the Archduke Charles, which, coupled with his writings, will secure him respect from the ouveto. of times to come ; but the only name connected with the great wars of our own time, which we can add without scruple to those of Buonaparte, Wellington, Nelson, and Suwaroff, as likely to be permanently one of the household words of the world, is that of a man longo intervallo inferior to three of the fourBlücher. If we are right in this supposition, it does not follow that in respect of military skill and genius he can justly be ranked even with several of those lieutenants of Napoleon whom we have ventured to condemn to comparative oblivion. It is rather on the moral ground of his identification with a great national movement, of which he was the ostensible leader and representative, that he seems to us one of the legitimate ‘heirs of Fame.'

We have two lives of this commander before us, of which, however, the one seems borrowed almost verbatim from the other. We shall ground our observations on the first which came into our hands, that of Dr. Raushnick.

The Duke of Wellington received his first military education at a French college, a natural consequence of the deficiency of all appliances for that purpose in England at the period of his youth. It is rather more singular that his Grace's illustrious comrade, whose enthusiastic devotion to the cause of Prussia formed the stimulus to his exploits and the basis of his reputation, should have borne his first arms against that country—the land, not indeed of his birth, but of his adoption.

Gerhard Leberecht von Blücher was born in 1742 at Rostock, in Mecklenburgh-Schwerin, in which province bis family had been established for some centuries, having given a bishop 10 Lubeck in the thirteenth. His father had retired from the military service of Hesse-Cassel upon a small landed inheritance. Three elder sons having been impartially, but at some expense out of scanty means, distributed among the Russian, Prussian, and Danish services, it was this gentleman's anxious desire to devote the two younger to the only other occupation to which the landed gentry of his day condescended, the cultivation of the soil. For this a simple home-education was deemed sufficient, and was all the parental resources could afford. In 1756 the Seven Years' War broke out, and to remove his sons from the temptation of military scenes, the father sent them to the care of

a relation

a relation in the Isle of Rugen, Such precautions frequently terminate like the beautiful tale of Admetus in Herodotus. The boys for a while contented themselves with such feats of activity and danger as the cliffs of Rugen and the sea could afford them, Some centuries earlier Blücher might have figured among the sea-kings in the annals of Scandinavian piracy; and, instead of emptying the cellars of Epernay, might have drank the ale of English convents. Sweden bad now joined the fray against the great Frederick, and, in an hour evil for the paternal precautions, a regiment of Swedish hussars set foot on the island. In spite of all attempts at remonstrance or prevention, young Blücher, now in his fifteenth year, joined the ranks, and soon found himself on the mainland, opposed to the Prussian forces in a contest in which little either of ardour or skill was evinced by his comrades, In 1758 he was taken prisoner in a cavalry-skirmish with the regiment of Colonel Belling, who, soon perceiving some promising indications in the stripling, treated him with kindness, and negociated for him an exchange with a prisoner, who, being by birth a Prussian, had forfeited his life to military law. This transaction enabled Blücher, without impeachment of his honour, to take service in the regiment of his captor. Till it was effected, he had tenaciously resisted the offer of a subaltern's commission in the then most brilliant of continental services.

Under Belling he served through the latter part of the Seven Years' War, assisted at the murderous battle of Cunersdorff, which first brought the formidable qualities of the Russian infantry under the notice of civilised Europe, and was wounded at Freyberg. On the re-establishment of peace he was found a turbulent subject for garrison duty, the inherent monotony of which was not relieved to him by the resources of education. His leisure was diversified, as usual in such cases, by as much sporting, drinking, gaming, and flirtation as his pay could afford, as also by frequent duelling, of which no serious result is recorded. One instance of the latter propensity, for which hot blood and the manners of his age and vocation may plead excuse, was certainly little to his credit; for he ended by calling out his patron and commander, Belling, who had now attained the rank of general. That he was not shot, or at the least cashiered, for so gross a violation of military law, must be ascribed to the generosity of that veteran, who contented himself with transferring this turbulent and ungrateful subject to a lieutenancy under a Major Podscharli, an officer to whose military tuition Blücher's biographer ascribes the happiest results.

In 1770 Poland was invaded by the troops of Frederick, and Blücher found himself again commanded by Belling, who never

2 G

ceased

VOL. LXX. NO. CXL.

ceased to befriend him. Belling was an able and trusted soldier, but his situation in Poland was one which required political talent and pliancy, and he was replaced by an officer of different habits and manners, with whom also, however, Blücher soon contrived to quarrel. The Poles at this time, like the Spaniards in ours, revenged by frequent assassinations their subjection to the invader. A priest, whom Captain Blücher suspected as the instigator of two of these enormities, was summarily condemned by him to military execution. The grave was dug with the usual formalities, the culprit blinded, and the muskets dischargedthough with blank cartridge. The priest survived his fright—but this daring violation not only of justice, but of Frederick's conciliatory policy, was punished, mildly enough, by the degradation of the offender from the highest to the lowest on the list of captains in his regiment. This being followed by the promotion of an officer from another regiment to the next vacancy, the cup of Blücher's indignation boiled over, and he demanded his retirement from the service. Frederick replied by placing him in arrest, with a view to give him time for consideration. The gentleman, however, insisted, and his repeated applications at length extorted the following answer :- Captain Von Blücher is released from his service, and may go to the d— January, 1773.'

This interruption of Blücher's military career continued for thirteen years. We have heard that a chancery-lawyer who for any reason abandons his practice for the thirteenth portion of that period seldom recovers it. Assuredly, few soldiers of fortune, after quitting a regular service for a dozen of the best years of their life, have died field-marshals. Perhaps Blücher was somewhat reconciled to an event which seemed so likely to blast his prospects, by the circumstance that it found him seriously in love and half engaged with the daughter of a Saxon Colonel Melling, then settled in Poland. The lady was seventeen years his junior, Polish in her language, her beauty, and her attractions, which is saying everything for the latter. They married, and settled on a farm of the father-in-law. Blücher appears to have abandoned the excesses of his youth in his new vocation, and to have prosecuted it with ability and success. After a few years he found himself in condition to purchase a tolerable estate near Stargard in Pomerania, whither he migrated from Poland. As a resident proprietor he continued his attention to rural affairs, and became a man of consequence among his neighbours. He was elected to the local magistracy, and consulted by the provincial authorities. This was not all. It is evident that there was something about the man which in the estimation of his superiors had uniformly outweighed the objectionable features of his wild, uneducated,

and

and untameable disposition.

Frederick the Second was not a man to overlook the freaks of an ordinary swaggerer, yet we find that at this period he corresponded with Blücher, and assisted him with money for the improvement of his estate, first in the shape of loan without interest, and then of donation. This liberality on the part of a sovereign so careful of his dollars was the more remarkable, as it by no means took the shape of a retaining fee for future military devotion. Blücher's restless spirit pined for restoration to the service, but on this subject Frederick was inexorable. In 1778 there was a prospect of hostilities in Bavaria, and Blücher became urgent for permission to re-enter the army. His first attempt was defeated by his wife, a second by the stern refusal of Frederick. He was obliged remain an agriculturist, his farm prospered, and his hearth was surrounded by six promising sons and a daughter.

Frederick died in 1786. Blücher now set aside all connubial remonstrances, rushed to Berlin, made interest with some of his former commanders, and returned to Pomerania without positive success, but with assurances of support in due season.

On the next military inspection he attracted by his riding the attention of the new king, presented his request in person, and found himself in his former regiment of Black Hussars, with the rank which he would have occupied had he continued without interruption in the service. It was soon apparent that his military ardour, which perhaps might have cooled away in the barracks, had only been nursed and kept vigorous by the long interval of

His other old propensities were, we fear, resumed with his uniform, and his wife perhaps only consulted her own convenience and comfort by dying about this period. Except that she was beautiful, attractive, and fond enough of her husband to wish to detain him at home, we hear little of her. Blücher returned to the camp as though the interval had been a dream, and its adventures as imaginary as those of the sultan of the Arabian tale, who dipped his head into a tub of water for an instant, which by the delusion of magic was converted into years of deposition and servitude.

Some years of garrison duty were still to elapse before the great event of the French Revolution opened a career for such spirits as Blücher. The commencement of hostilities between Prussia and France found him a colonel, and thus his exercise of command dates its commencement from the fifty-first year of his age, a time of life at which many officers look to a well-earned retirement. From the period of the Duke of Brunswick's famous and fatal incursion to the peace of Basle, he was in almost constant employment. On the death of General Goltz he succeeded

2 G 2

domestic repose.

to

to the command of the left wing of the Prussian army; and without doubt the confidence of his soldiers and the general success which attended his operations, particularly with his favourite arın the cavalry, fully justified this promotion. The corps of hussars under his immediate command, including his old regiment, is said to have lost but six men by surprise during the outpost duty of the campaigns of 1793 and '94, in which Prussian accounts boast that they captured 4000 men, 1500 horses, and 11 guns from the enemy, and he retired from the contest with the reputation of a second Ziethen. The curious in the details of such warfare may learn them from a journal which be kept and published. There are one or two anecdotes of this period which may, perhaps, tend to rescue his character from the imputation of unmitigated barbarism cast upon it by the French. While commanding within their frontier, he caused a captured officer who had died of his wounds to be buried with all military honoursan attention to the fallen so unusual as to excite the greatest astonishment among the French inhabitants, who were further edified when he administered with his own hand an exemplary threshing to the village carpenter who had given short measure and bad workmanship to the coffin. Another incident is recorded in his journal, and we give it in his own words. It occurred near Kaiserslautern in 1799:

. Among the prisoners was one whose thigh-bone had been shattered. They had laid him near the fire, and offered him bread and brandy, as to the others. He not only rejected this, but refused to be bandaged, and repeatedly begged the bystanders to shoot him. The latter said to one another, " This is an obstinate, sulky Frenchman.” Muffling and myself were within hearing, and approached the group. The wounded man lay still, drawn into himself, and saw nothing of what was passing. As he seemed to shiver, I caused cloaks to be heaped upon him. He looked up at me upon this, and again cast down his eyes. Not being master of the French language myself, I made my adjutant tell him that he ought to let himself be bandaged, and take nourishment. He answered nothing, and I made them tell him further that I held him for a poor creature who did not know how to meet his destiny, and that it became a soldier least of all men to take refuge in despair, that he should not give up hope of recovery, and might be assured that he found himself among men who would do everything possible to relieve him. He looked at me again, a stream of tears

burst from his eyes, and he reached me out his hand. Wine was offered > him, he drank, and offered no further resistance to the surgeon. I

then asked him the cause of his previous obstinacy. He replied, "I have been forced into the service of the Republic. My father was guillotined; my brothers have perished in the war; my wife and children are left in misery; I thought, therefore, that death alone could end my troubles, and longed for it. Your kindness bas brought me to

better

« PředchozíPokračovat »