« PreviousContinue »
worthy of a hero,—and many instances of similar simplicity scattered over his pages, are most edifying. This person also has, it appears, returned to his original calling; and we dare say the Cutbeard of Erfurt conducts himself in a style that will by no means recommend him to the custom of her Moroses.
The Adventures of the French Serjeant,' which too, it would appear, have been published for the first time in this paradise of copyright, are the work of a better educated and a much cleverer person than the German Rifleman: but the author's selfishness and sulkiness are so conspicuous from the beginning to the end of his career, that not all the smartness of his style and the magnificence of his vanity are enough to make his book a pleasant one. It is disagreeable to be detecting at every turn the soul of a candlesnuffer beneath the trappings even of a melo-dramatic hero. The non-commissioned auto-biographers are both of them, by their own showing, mean fellows; but the one speaks out his foibles with something of the candour of another Gil Blas; the other is more like a shallow Fathom.
Many passages of the Serjeant's book are, however, exceedingly entertaining, and perhaps none more so than the chapter in which he describes his residence upon Cabrera, a small and barren island off the Spanish coast, to which, along with some other prisoners taken by the guerrillas, he was relegated in February, 1810. But a few days before he had strutted in the midst of one of the haughtiest and best appointed armies that ever scorned the name of Pekin.
'At two in the afternoon,' says he, we were within sight of Cabrera. When we approached the coast, we saw the rocks on the shore crowded with people; I could soon distinguish the persons individually, who had their eyes fixed upon us, and seemed to follow our movements with anxious care. I examined them in my turn, without being able to account for the scene before me; at last a sudden impulse, which struck me with astonishment and stupefaction, told me that the men before me were Frenchmen, whose lot I was come to share. Many of them were quite naked, and as black as mulattos, with beards fit for a pioneer, dirty and out of order; some had pieces of clothing, but they had no shoes, or their legs, thighs, and part of their body were bare. The number of these new companions of mine I estimated to be about five or six thousand, among whom I at last saw three with pantaloons and uniforms still almost entire; the whole body were mingled together on the rocks and the beach, were shouting with joy, beating their hands, and following us as we moved along.'-Adventures of a French Serjeant, p, 89.
is tumult was soon explained. The vessel in which the Serj sailed was that which once a week brought, or was expected to bring, the prisoners' rations. Bad weather sometimes, and Spanish indolence more frequently, delayed the arrival until
VOL. XXXIV. NO. LXVIII,
the depôt was half famished: and upon this occasion the patience of the poor Frenchmen had already been considerably tried. The brig was unladen forthwith, and the ensuing ceremony of distribution is thus described.
'An immense semi-circle was formed round the spot where the bread and meat had been deposited. Ten or twelve persons were in the centre; one of them had a list in his hand, and called out successively for the different divisions to come forward, and likewise cried out their respective numbers. Three or four men then came forward, received the rations allotted to their mess, and carried them away; the private divisions were then made among themselves. I should not give a just idea of the manner in which the distribution was made, by saying, that the utmost order and regularity prevailed; it was more than order, it was a kind of solemn and religious gravity. I doubt if the important and serious duties of ambassadors and ministers of state have ever in any country been fulfilled with such dignity as was shown on the countenances, and in every movement of the distributors. Bread seemed to be a sacred object, the smallest morsel of which could not be secreted without committing an heinous crime; the smallest pieces which had been broken off in the conveyance were gathered with care and respect, and placed on the heap to which they belonged. I was busily engaged in surveying this singular ceremony, and took no share in it myself; I did not know whom I was to apply to for rations, which I had an equal claim to with the rest; hence I was soon left alone, for every one went off with his supply. This, however, I was not much concerned at; I had four loaves in my knapsack, two pounds of salt beef, and a bottle of rum ; with these I could do till the next distribution of provisions. I wandered up and down the shore with a staff in my hand, and my knapsack on my back, and I was thinking of walking into the interior of the island, when I was addressed by some of the prisoners, and in a few minutes surrounded by a considerable crowd. The distribution of provisions had been a matter of too great importance for them to pay attention to me at first; but it would seem, after the staff of life, what they loved most, was to hear news of their native land. I was overwhelmed with questions about the situation of the various regiments, but above all of the state of France, and the affairs of the Peninsula. I told them all I knew. Several times when I was speaking of our late victories, my voice was drowned with shouts of joy, mingled with expressions of courage, national pride, and vengeance.'-pp. 90, 91.
These gentlemen had their Circenses as well as their loaves. They fought duels every day; and the very next morning after his arrival our Serjeant was engaged as second in one of these affairs, where the principals had great difficulty in agreeing as to weapons -the election lying between razors fixed to the ends of canes, scissors, knife-blades, awls, and sailmakers' needles, all similarly mounted. One of the combatants not understanding point, razors were ultimately preferred.-They had a regular bazaar:
'It was situated at a spot honoured with the name of the Palais Royal,
surrounded by ten or twelve huts, and containing as many stalls, some in the open air, others with a slight covering, with one end fixed to the ground, and the other supported by two poles. Here were sold bread, some salt fish, scraps of cloth, thread, needles, wooden forks and spoons; the various produce of the industry of the prisoners; pepper, twine, and other articles in the smallest quantity, for one could buy a single thread, a scrap of cloth no bigger than one's hand, and even a pinch of snuff, three of which cost a sous. I remember a Polish officer who owed nine pinches, and the shop-keeper refused to give him any more credit.’— PP. 95, 96.
But the following is the most characteristic part of the delineation.
'Meanwhile, every one was busy at Cabrera; we had tailors, shoemakers, public criers, artisans in hair, bones, and tortoise-shell, and some who cut out with their knives little figures of animals in wood; and about two hundred men, the wreck of a dragoon regiment, raised in Auvergne, were quartered in a cave, and made spoons of box-wood. The latter had only one pantaloon and one uniform among the whole corps, and these articles seemed ready to leave them very speedily, and were delivered successively to one of their number appointed to receive their provisions. All the articles I have enumerated were sold at low prices to the crews of the brig and gun-boats, and to some Spaniards, whom our singular mode of life, or the hope of making a good speculation, attracted to our settlement.
But the most abundant articles with us were professors of all kinds. One half of the prisoners gave lessons to the other half. Nothing was seen on all sides, but teachers of music, mathematics, languages, drawing, fencing, above all, dancing and single-stick. In fine weather, all these professors gave their lessons at the Palais Royal, quite close to each other. It was quite common to see a poor devil half naked, and who had often not partaken of food for twenty-four hours before, singing a very gay air of a country dance, and interrupting it from time to time for the purpose of saying, with infinite seriousness of demeanour, to his pupil dressed in the remains of a pair of drawers: "That's right, keep time with your partner, wheel round, hold yourselves gracefully." A little farther on, a teacher of single-stick was showing off his acquirements, and endeavoured to excite the emulation of his pupil by such phrases as: "That will do; I am satisfied with you; if you go on with the same success, in less than a fortnight you may show yourself in company." A scrap of paper, about as large as one's hand, was placed as a sign, and the most eminent of all our professors had no better.
'I was also desirous of doing something; but I had no notions of either giving or receiving lessons. After reflecting a great deal, I thought that, on account of the want of occupation in which many of the prisoners were placed, a theatre must be eminently successful, and I was astonished that no one had thought of it before. Indeed some scenes had been performed, but it was in the open air, and had not been thought of as an object of speculation. My ideas were quite grand compared to such things. I resolved on being at one and the same time,
if necessary, author, actor, director and machinist, and to make my companions partners in my labours and the fruits of it, which were to be employed in accomplishing our favourite object.
I could not think of establishing my theatre in the old castle, which was shut up every evening, and where in fact it would not have been allowed by the hypocritical Estebrich; I thought of a vast cistern that was falling to pieces, with the pipes long ago broken off, and part of the roof fallen in. I was lowered into it by means of a cord I had bought on purpose, and I found about a foot of water, or rather mud, at the bottom. The first thing to be done was to clear it away, and this was the most troublesome part of the whole business. I wished at first to make a pump, but I soon gave up the idea. I had still sixty francs, and prevailed on Señor Estebrich to get me four leather buckets from Palma; I made a ladder, hired four prisoners at two sous each per day, and got the cistern dry on the third day of our labour. To season it, I made a huge fire of pine wood, got sand and stones conveyed to it during a whole day, and made an elevation that extended about a third of the cistern, intended for the stage; I procured some ochre and red lead; I daubed the walls yellow, with a red border; hung all round garlands of leaves, which I also made use of as a screen between the stage and the spectators, and I finished my labours by writing, not indeed on the curtain, for I had none, but on the bottom of the stage, Castigat ridendo mores.
'I had long before this fixed upon the play with which my troop was to commence their operations. It was the Philoctète of Laharpe. I had formerly played the character, and still remembered it, as well as fragments of a variety of plays. I wrote them out as well as I could, and when I forgot the lines, I filled up the vacancy in prose. Darlier engaged to play the character of Ulysses. Chobar that of Pyrrhus, and a pioneer of the line, with a stentorian voice, and no small portion of sense, assumed the character of Hercules. At length, a public crier went through the camp, and gave notice that the same evening Philoctète would be performed, with the afterpiece of Marton et Frontin. I had transcribed this little piece pretty correctly, and performed it along with
'About three hundred persons could find room in my cistern, and as I had put the places at two sous it was completely crowded; the company descended into it by the ladder I had made; and a confidential man was placed on the first step to receive the money, which he put into a little cloth bag that was tied round his neck. The theatre was lighted up by torches of pine wood, borne at different distances by the attendants of the theatre, and they lighted fresh ones in proportion as the others were consumed. All the allusions to our situation in the tragedy were noticed, with a tact that would have done honour to the taste of a more brilliant assembly. At the début :—
'Nous voici dans Lemnos, dans cette île sauvage,
we were covered with shouts of applause; and I thought they would bring down the roof of the cistern when I pronounced this line :
'Ils m'ont fait tous ces maux; que les dieux le leur rendent.'
I was obliged to repeat it, and to stop for some time, to allow the agitation of the audience to be calmed.
'Such a successful beginning was well calculated to encourage us ; laboured incessantly, and wrote out several plays that I recollected, and we performed them all in their turn. Our funds increased amazingly, as well as our general comforts. We left half of our profits to the general fund, and divided the rest. Ricaud had already procured himself decent clothing: I had already bought a curtain for my theatre; I had obtained ropes, nails, a hammer, and even a hatchet, for which a Spaniard had made me pay a most exorbitant price; all these objects were intended to aid us in our theatrical arrangements, but they could also be of use in our grand project, which we had not lost sight of; every evening we carefully locked them up in our hut. I was very desirous also of obtaining some arms, a sabre at least, for each of us; but I tried in vain, and I did not press this matter much, for fear of becoming suspected; so that our tragic heroes were forced to be satisfied with wooden sabres.'-pp. 106—111.
This serjeant (by name Robert Guillemard, son to the mayor of Sixfour, a small town near Toulon) rests his principal claim to immortality on the fact-if fact it be-that he, then a conscript of a month's standing, was the identical maintopman of the Redoutable by whose hand NELSON fell. The gentleman hugs himself on this feat, which nobody but himself seems ever to have believed he performed, with the ill disguised exultation of a successful asp. Truly he makes a very good report of the pretty
ART. VI.-Mémoires de Madame la Comtesse de Genlis. 8 tomes. Paris. 1825, 1826.
'HE light which this lady has thrown upon every object at which she glances is so admirably proportioned to it; her copy sets forth, with such commensurate egotism and levity, the profound frivolity, the important littleness, the grandiloquous emptiness of her original, that we never saw a painter and a model so harmonise together; and we must confess that as much of the eighteenth century and the French revolution as she describes, seems to have existed but for her pencil, and her pencil for it. Happy the leaders of the Grecian bands who had Homer for their bard! but happier far, the chieftains of Parisian futility, for their feats are embalmed by a Genlis.
Before we give an account of the work, we must say something of the author. She was born near Autun in Burgundy, on the 25th January, 1746; but so weak that she could not be committed to swaddling clothes. She was consequently pinned up in a bag of feathers, and thus laid to repose in a great arm-chair.