September 17 1814: Napoleon Report

On September 17 1814, Neil Campbell writes to Lord Castlereagh about his interview with Napoleon the date before on the Island of Elba.

I do myself the honour of enclosing for your Lordship’s information the copy of an extract from Admiral Hallowell’s letter to Mr. Felton, His Majesty’s Acting Consul at Leghorn, which I thought it incumbent upon me to communicate to General Bertrand as per note enclosed.

Yesterday I had an audience of Napoleon for the first time since my last visit to Leghorn, and the baths of Lucca, the use of which was prescribed for my wounds. It was courted by himself, in sending to inform me that one of his carriages was at my disposition, to convey me from this toLongono, where he has been for the last two weeks. This audience lasted three hours, during which time there was no interruption. He constantly walked from one extremity of the room to the other, asked questions without number, and descanted upon a great variety of subjects, generally with temper and good nature, excepting when it bore upon the absence of his wife and child, or the defection of Marshal Marmont.

He began by questions as to Genoa: that he understood Lord William Bentinck was to return there very soon. Was there not a British regiment at Nice ? The state of Piedmont, Lombardy, Venice, and Tuscany. That the rude manners and different language of the Austrians rendered impossible for them to become popular with the Italians, who were flattered by the formation of the kingdom of Italy. That it would be the policy of Great Britain to retain this kingdom as an ally against France and Austria.That it would be equally so to keep Naples separate from Sicily, as the latter from its situation as an island would be entirely under the influence of England. He inquired where the Queen of Sicily was ? whether I knew the intention of the Allies towards Murat? Whether the late King of Spain was to remain at Rome ? When I told him that it was reported that Ferdinand VII. had invited his father and mother (provided the Prince of Peace did not accompany them) to return to Spain, he inveighed against the latter, and said that his own countenance and support given the latter had been very prejudicial to his cause in Spain.

He presumed that England would keep Corfu: that he had done a great deal there for us. I observed that the proclamation of the British General ontaking possession as Commissioner stated “ in behalf of His Majesty and his Allies,” and that it was generally supposed Austria and Russia would also have claims. He derided this idea, and that Russia in particular could have no just pretensions.

He then asked if I had lately received any communications from Lord Castlereagh. I told him not since that which conveyed the approbation ofHis Royal Highness the Prince Regent to my prolonging my residence. He then adverted to the threats of the Algerines, but cursorily, and did not seem apprehensive. That if it was intended to adhere to the treaty entered into with him at Fontainebleau, he would not be molested by them, andone word from England would suflice to prevent them. I reminded him of the application upon this subject some time before, which I had transmitted to Admiral Lord Exmouth, who replied that he could not interfere ; and that even according to the treaty quoted by himself, it rested with the Court of France. I also pointed out to him that while the British troops occupied Sicily and Portugal, and were in the most intimate relations with their governments, they made their own treaties and arrangements with the Barbary Powers, without any interference ; besides which the fate of the Genoese vessels which had hoisted British colours and received British licences from the Consul at Genoa. He expressed his conviction that.the Algorines were well inclined towards him, and related with good humour that they had ridiculed two vessels of Louis XVIlL, near Elba, callingto them with reproaches, “Vons avez déserté votre Empereur.” He added that all the subjects of the Grand Seignor were well inclined towards him as the enemy of Russia, and considering him as the destroyer of Moscow.

He asked me if I knew what was intended by the Austrians with respect to his wife and son. He then animadverted with warmth and in strong language upon the interdiction of their joining him which he stated to exist ; that it excited universal reprobation even in Vienna ; that no such instance of barbarity and injustice unconnected with any state policy could be selected in modern times; that he was persuaded England was too just and liberal to approve of it. The Empress had written to him, and he knew her wishes. She was now absolutely a prisoner, for there was an Austrian ofliccr (whom he named and described) who accompanied the Empress to prevent her from escaping to Elba. Before she left Orleans, it was promised her that she would receive passports to follow him to the Island of Elba. “ L’Empereur d’Autriche est mené par Metternich, mais il est mené aussi lui même; car quoiqu’il a des talens, il est d’un esprit léger.”

He then asked me to write to Lord Castlereagh to know whether it was intended to prevent his wife and child, or either of them, from joining him. I told him that I had no correspondence with his Lordship but what was oflicial. He replied, “Mais vous pouvez toucher sur cela légèrement, ou écrivez à quelqu’un près do lui.” I bowed, and told him that I should be happy to do everything which was agreeable to him and consistent with my duty. He seemed to receive this as an assent to his wishes. “Oui, vous le ferez, vous pouvez faire cela très bien.”

After giving vent to his feelings upon this subject, he mentioned how very inimical and personal the conduct of General Stahremberg, who commands in Tuscany, has been towards him. In the course of these observations an opportunity was afforded me of noticing the apprehensions which were entertained by the General in consequence of persons enrolling and enticing away subjects of Tuscany. He admitted the fact, but treated it with ridicule. That he had only 500 or 600 of his Old Guards, who were not sufficiently numerous to guard all the villages and the fortifications.That the population of the island did not admit of recruiting his battalion of Chasseurs, and therefore the Corsican officers who remained in Elba, inplace of going to France with the rest of the garrison, endeavoured to obtain recruits in Italy and Corsica. Could General Stahremberg be so weak asto be alarmed at this? He was very happy that I remained here “pour rompre la chimére. Je ne pense pas de rien dehors de ma petite ile. Je pouvois avoir soutenu la guerre pendant vingt années si j’ai voulu cela. J e n’existe plus pour le monde. J c suis un homme mort. Je ne m’occupe que de ma famille et ma retraite, ma maison, mes vaches, et mes poulets.”

He expressed regret at some difficulties which a few English travellers had met with several days before from the commandant and the police at Porto Ferrajo. He reprobated the conduct of the latter, and paid many compliments to the British nation, for it was his wish that every traveller should meet with facility and attention. That it arose from advice having been received that a person of another nation was coming to Elba as an assassin. It is probable on account of this information that he has resided for the last two weeks at Longono within the fortress, and orders are given that no stranger is admitted without an order from the commandant. However, he makes frequent excursions in his carriage.

After continuing to expatiate in praise of the British character, and remarking that notwithstanding all the abuse directed against it in his name, his sentiments were well known by those near his person, he requested me to obtain for him an English grammar the first time I went to the continent.

After conversing respecting the affairs of America, he repeated his conjectures made some time ago that the expedition from England was destined for Louisiana, in order to limit definitively the United States to the southward.

He inquired with great eagerness as to the real state of France. I told him that private letters, English travellers, and every source of information concurred in ascribing great wisdom and moderation to the Sovereign and government, but that there were many who had lost good appointments,the prisoners who had returned from abroad, and many of the army, who were still attached to him. He appeared to admit the stability of the Sovereign and government, supported as the former is by all the Marshals, Berthier, Captain of the Guards, &c. ; but that the imitation of Great Britain in the government and constitution was absurd: it was a caricature. Itwas impossible to imitate the Houses of Parliament ; for respectable families, like those composing the aristocracy in England, did not exist in France now. After continuing in that strain for a long time with comparisons highly complimentary to Great Britain, he spoke with some warmth of the cessions made by France since his abdication; that it was not wise on the part of the Allies to exact them; that he spoke as a spectator, without any hope or interest, for he had none ; and again repeated his own nonentity; but it showed an ignorance of the French character and temper of the present times. Their chief feeling was pride and glory, and it was impossible for them to look forward with satisfaction and tranquillity (which was stated to be the sincere wish of the Allies) under such sacrifices. They were conquered only by a great superiority of numbers, but not humiliated.The population of France has not suffered to the extent that may be supposed ; for he always spared their lives, and expended the Italians, Germans,and other foreigners. These observations gradually led him to his own feats in war and the last campaign, entering into the details of many operations in which he had repulsed and gained great advantages with numbers inferior beyond comparison, and to abuse of Marshal Marmont, to whose defection alone he ascribed his giving up the contest.

In talking of St. Domingo, I remarked that the superfluous portion of discontented military could be employed there. He said it would be bad policy to attempt to re-establish that colony; better to blockade it, and force the negroes to transport the whole of their produce to France only. Thatthis was his own plan in case of a peace.

He asked me whether I had heard that Parma, Placentia, and Guastalla were not to be given to Marie Louise, but to the Queen of Etruria, and an indemnity in Germany to the former. I admitted that among many other reports prevalent in Italy, this was one.

He expressed his desire and expectation of being on a good footing with the Grand Duke of Tuscany : that if I returned to the Baths of Lucca, he presumed I would pay my respects to His Royal Highness ; that I would be able to ascertain his sentiments towards Napoleon, and if they we rereasonable (as he expected, in consequence of favours received from him formerly, when the Grand Duke was on bad terms with his brother the Emperor of Austria), he would send an ofiicer to compliment him upon his arrival in Tuscany.

Before he received my intimation respecting the Algerines, he was to have gone for a few days to the island of Pia Nosa, where he has established a garrison and a few inhabitants ; but his visit is now postponed.

His mother seems now to have taken up her abode permanently in Elba, and his sister the Princess Pauline is expected from Naples in two or three weeks. Napoleon’s brig is to be sent to Civita Vecchia to receive her, which looks as if Murat was averse to any public communication with Elba.

The expenses of the troops, marine, and household have been at the rate of one million franes per year since his arrival, and his income only at therate of three hundred thousand. A great part of the ten months’ provisions which were left in store here by the French troops have been sold by Napoleon, which, with the specie carried with him from France (of which the amount is unknown), enables him to continue these expenses.

There are still many discontented officers from the army of Italy here, and it is reported that they are to form a Garde du Corps; but I do not believe it, and rather think that these adventurers have not met with as much encouragement as has been supposed. Four officers from France have entered into the Guards as privates.

A General Lebelle and his family have lately arrived here from France, but he is not employed.

About three weeks ago a lady with a male child five or six years of age arrived here from Leghorn; was received by Napoleon with great attention, a degree of concealment, and accompanied him immediately to a very retired small house in the most remote part of the island, where,after remaining two days, she reembarked, and is said to have gone to Naples. It is universally believed in this island that it is Marie Louise and her child, and it is also very generally credited on the opposite coast ; but my information leads me to believe that it is a Polish lady from Warsaw, who bore a child to Napoleon a few years ago. It is probable that the concealment and her speedy departure to the Continent are from delicacy towards Marie Louise, and the fear of this connection being known to her.

The threats of military execution in case of not paying the contributions have not been fulfilled, and as it is only the poorest inhabitants who have not paid, the tax will not be levied from them for the present.

Napoleon seems to have lost all habits of study and sedentary application. He has four places of residence in different parts of the island, the improvements and changes of which form his sole occupation; but as they lose their interest to his unsettled mind from want of novelty, he occasionally falls into a state of inactivity never known before, and sometimes reposes in his bedroom of late for several hours in the day. He generally takes exercise in a carriage, and not on horseback as before. His health is excellent, and his spirits appear not at all depressed. I begin to think that he is quite resigned to his retreat, and that he is tolerably happy excepting when the recollections of his former power are freshened by sentiments of vanity and revenge.

I have the honour to be, &c.,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s