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Art. III.- La Petite Chouanerie ; ou, Histoire d'un College
Breton sous L'Empire. Par A. F. Rio. Paris et Londres. 1842. 8vo.
the rising generation seemed to know nothing of books published inore than fifteen or twenty years ago.
I was not understood yesterday,' said he, when I talked to a budding legislator about Sir Andrew Freeport; and here is a young lady who evidently supposes Seged Emperor of Ethiopia to be one of the tawny potentates discovered by Bruce. In this state of things it would be idle to take for granted that everybody is familiar with the Memoirs of Madame de Larochejaquelein; and the utmost we can hope for M. Rio's sake is, that some half-buried associations will be resuscitated in the memories of our older readers, when we name his book as a not unworthy pendant to her noble and inspiring picture of the courage, piety, disinterestedness, and unshaken loyalty, of the most virtuous and truly patriotic portion of her countrymen. Well might Sir Walter Scott say that the country of which La Vendée forms a part, and the court in which Madaine de Larochejaquelein was educated, could not be so corrupt as we had been taught to believe; for history, ancient and modern, might be ransacked without finding parallels to numerous instances of high daring, patient suffering, and cheerful self-sacrifice recorded by her. Above all Greek, above all Roman praise—the finer spirit and purer motives of modern chivalry may be seen blended with the stern resolve and stoical contempt of life which distinguish the heroes of antiquity: Cato and Brutus look like vulgar suicides; and the dying Bayard leaning against the tree with his cross-hilted sword held up before him as a crucifix, or even Sidney on the fatal field of Zutphen, still wants the cause to raise him above the martyrs of La Vendée.
A few passages from their annals will form a fitting introduction to our notice of M. Rio's work.
When an expedition was meditated, a requisition in the following terms was forwarded to each parish :- In the holy name of God, and of the King, this parish is invited to send as many men as possible to such a place, on such a day and hour, and to bring provisions with them.' Not merely was the requisition obeyed with cheerfulness, but the privilege of going was eagerly contended for. When the whole force was assembled, they were divided in an equally primitive manner. It was said: (a chief) goes such a way; who follows him ?' Those
who liked ranged themselves about him, until the column was complete. In mancuyring they were not told, .To the right,' . To the left,' &c., but Go towards that house;' That great tree,' &c. In battle, like all Frenchmen, they expected their leaders to set the example. Thus at the assault of Thouars :
About eleven o'clock the powder of the Vendéans beginning to fail, M. de Larochejaquelein went for a supply, leaving M. de Lescure alone to command. A moment after, M. de L. perceived the republicans less steady, and as if beginning to give way: he instantly seized a musket with a bayonet, and, calling to the soldiers to follow him, descended rapidly from the height, and gained the middle of the bridge, amidst showers of balls and case-shot. No peasant dared to follow him. He returned, called, exhorted, and, again giving the example, returned upon the bridge, but remained alone. His clothes pierced with balls, he made a third effort. At that instant MM. de Larochejaquelein and Forêt arrived, and flew to his assistance: he had been followed by one only of the peasants. All four crossed the bridge. M. de Lescure leaped the entrenchment; the peasant was wounded; but Henri and Forêt got over it also; the men then rushed on to their assistance, and the passage was forced.'
Napoleon, according to the most partial version of an apocryphal story, did no more at Lodi.
As Major Allan observed to Cornet Graham, 'a man may fight never the worse for honouring both his Bible and psalter nor need we refer to Cromwell's Ironsides, or any other fanatics, for illustrations of the maxim. The nights before the battles of Agincourt and Poictiers were spent in prayer by the conquerors; and the striking incident which preceded the closing of the English and Scottish hosts at Bannockburn should be familiar to all lovers of romance or poetry:
"" Each weapon point is downward sent;
Each warrior to the ground is bent.
Ay, but they bend to other powers,
These men will die or win the field." ; The Vendéan peasants scarcely ever omitted saying their prayers before engaging, and most of them made the sign of the cross each time they fired. The fervour of the religious sentiment was well exemplified at the battle of Fontenay:
* Before the attack the soldiers received absolution. The generals then said to them, “Now, friends, we have no powder: we must take these cannon with clubs. We must recover Marie-Jeanne! Let us try who runs the best!” The soldiers of M. de Lescure, who com. manded the left wing, hesitated to follow him. He advanced alone thirty paces before them, and then stopping, called out “Vive le Roi !" A battery of six pieces fired upon him with case-shot. His clothes were pierced, his left
spur carried away, and his right boot torn; but he was not wounded. “You see, my friends,” cried he instantly, “the Blues do not aim well.” The peasants took courage, and rushed on. M. de Lescure, to keep up with them, was obliged to put his horse to the full trot. At that moment, perceiving a large crucifix, they threw themselves on their knees before it. M. de Baugé wanted to urge them on. “Let them pray,” said M. de Lescure calmly. They soon rose, and again rushed on.'
Marie-Jeanne was a twelve-pounder of beautiful workmanship, taken by the republicans from the Château de Richelieu, where it had been placed by the famous cardinal. It was captured in the first engagement at Chollet by the Vendéans, who regarded it as endowed with miraculous power and were wont to adorn it with flowers and ribbons. The Highlanders of Prince Charles Edward's army attached a superstitious reverence to an old iron gun, which they insisted on dragging about with them. There are numerous other points of analogy, but there is one remarkable difference. In the Vendéan ranks the pride of birth was kept in strict subservience to the sentiment of loyalty, and the peasants were urged on by their own genuine impulses, instead of being dragged to death or exile by their hereditary chiefs. Their first commander-in-chief, Cathelineau, was a peasant, and he was put in nomination by the Marquis de Lescure. So far, however, was this from being one of the consequences of the growing fashion for inequality, that Madame de Larochejaquelein tells us the peasant officers often offered to withdraw from the table of the staff when she appeared there, saying they were not entitled to sit at table with a gentlewoman. This shows that the prejudices of birth remained, and were simply kept under by patriotic motives. The modesty of their expectations in case of success is another proof of the pure and disinterested character of their loyalty. They meant to ask that the name of La Vendée, given by chance, should be preserved, and a province under a distinct administration be formed of the Bocage; that the king would honour their country with a visit; that a body of Vendéans should form part of his guard; and that the white flag might always be seen flying on the steeple of each parish.
The chiefs were equally moderate. Henri de Larochejaquelein said, “If we establish the king upon the throne he will grant me a regiment of hussars. Another of this young nobleman's
sayings is highly characteristic: when accused of inattention at the councils of war, he exclaimed, “Why was I made a general ? My only wish is to be a hussar, that I may have the pleasure of fighting. Yet he made an excellent commander; and his dislike to councils of war appears to have been as well grounded as Lord Clive's, who used to say that he never called but one, and gained the battle (Plassy) by acting contrary to their advice. His fondness for fighting was the only drawback, for he rushed to the fray as if he were summoned to a banquet, and gave
his whole soul and spirit to the charge. In an attack on the Republican camp, seeing his men recoil, he flung his hat into the entrenchment, and calling out, Who will go and fetch it?' jumped in first, and was instantly followed by numbers. Red handkerchiefs, the manufacture of the country, formed a conspicuous part of his costume: he wore one round his head, one round his neck, and several round his waist as belts. Fontenay the word amongst the Blues (the Republicans) was, • Aim at the red handkerchief ;' and the other officers entreated him not to make himself a mark for their musketry; but, obstinate as Nelson in this particular, he refused; and, as the only means of diminishing his danger, they adopted the red handkerchief themselves. The picturesque costume and reckless daring of Murat are said to have produced such an impression on the Cossacks during the Russian campaign, that they opened their ranks to let him pass, and the bravest seldom ventured to cross swords with him. Henri de Larochejaquelein inspired much of the same feeling, and seized every fitting occasion to heighten it, though probably less from calculation than from character. During the greater part of the war his right arm was useless from a wound. In this condition he was attacked alone in a hollow way by a foot-soldier. Henri seized him by the collar with his left hand, and managed his horse so well with his legs, that the man could not hurt him. The peasants up, and wanted to kill the soldier : he would not suffer it. Return to the Republicans,' said he to the man,' tell them you were alone with the chief of the Brigands who has only one hand and no weapon, and that you could not kill him.' His pithy address to his followers is well known : Si j'avance, suivez-moi : si je recule, tuezmoi; si je tombe, vengez-moi.' He was killed towards the termination of the struggle (1794) by one of two grenadiers whom he had interposed to save. The words, You shall have your lives,' were hardly out of his lips, when one of them shot him ihrough the head. He was then only twenty-one years and a few months old. The author of the Memoirs was not married to Louis de
Larochejaquelein, the brother of Henri, until 1802. During the most eventful period of her life she was the wife of the Marquis de Lescure, whose qualities, though less dazzling, are perhaps better entitled to the meed of sound, sober, reasoning admiration than his friend's. 'It was no love of excitement, no youthful enthusiasm, no high-wrought spirit of loyalty in the narrow meaning of the term, that animated and urged him on, but a stern, uncompromising sense of duty, to which every personal consideration was as nought. We have already given a specimen of his intrepidity, and it is one amongst a hundred ; yet he detested fighting, and congratulated himself that, though constantly in action and often engaged hand to hand, he had never shed blood; and the battle was hardly over before he was seen exerting all his energies to save. The true force and genuine beauty of his character came out when he was dying of a wound from a musket-ball, which entered his face near the eye and came out behind the ear. He lingered for several weeks, compelled to follow the movements of his friends, sometimes in rude litters, but oftener in rough carts and carriages, whose every jolt was agony. Yet, with the finger of death upon him, fevered with pain, and only able to lift his head at intervals, he insisted upon attending the council to enforce a measure which he deemed essential to the cause, and was as ready as ever to set an example to the troops.
To justify their treatment of the women, the Republicans declared that they were to be found in great numbers in the Vendean ranks a bad excuse, if the fact had been so; but Madame de Larochejaquelein asserts that there were not above ten or twelve regularly enrolled female combatants. Several boys of rank did duty as aid-de-camps or officers. The Chevalier de Mondyon, a lad of fourteen, was stationed near a tall officer who complained of being wounded, and was about to retire. “I don't see that,' said de Mondyon: “your retiring will discourage the men; and, if you stir a step, I will shoot you through the head.' The remonstrance proved effectual. The two young Maignans de l'Ecorce used to go to every battle with their governor, M. Biré.
The seat of the Chouan war was Brittany, a province rich enough already in romantic associations of all sorts, as we very recently had occasion to point out.* The war is thus brought into immediate connection with that in La Vendée by the last and perhaps best of the general historians of the period :
Meanwhile the severities of the Republicans in prosecuting the peasants of Brittany who sheltered the fugitive Vendeans, kindled a new
* See our article of last year on the Breton Minstrelsy.