May 23 1815: Emperor Has Pardoned Him

On May 23, 1815, John Cam Hobhouse, in Paris, writes to his friend Lord Byron. The letter overflows with Hobhouse’s nervous excitement as war approaches. One can speculate that Byron must have received his leer with envious irritation. Hobhouse was having a grand Paris adventure while he was trapped in his own domestic circumstances in London. Byron will not write one letter to Hobhouse during the latter’s stay in Paris.

One of the stories that Hobhouse relates is of the Captain St. Clair of the Grenadiers, and a Member of the Legion of Honour. The young Captain had murdered a girl called La Belle Hollandaise. Hobhouse wrote about the case in his diary on May 19 1815. He now writes that Napoleon has pardoned him. Hobhouse again writes about the possible connection between St Clair and  the Marquis de Sade. Hobhouse writes:

“It has even been hinted that the girl fell a sacrifice to a horrible species of luxury of which the famous Marquis de Sade, who was imprisoned therefore and died amongst the madmen at Charenton, was the first inventor and recommender in his novel of Justine.”

The full read reads:

May 23. Paris. Tuesday.
My dear Byron – I cannot let any opportunity pass of writing, as I feel, without any affectation, an indescribable comfort in the only sort of communication which remains for me – Not that this regard, like what is called the tender passion, arises from idleness, for, without doing one useful thing on earth, my time is pretty much filled up here – what with visiting & receiving of visits, walking & staring and giving and taking of news, together with my crying sin of scribbling brochures in bad French, I fill up my measure of daily existence with something less of ennui than usual – I have besides one or two little bye jobs on my hands which I will explain when we meet – The Edinburgh Review is arrived – I am much pleased except with the perpetual blunders in the Greek types – the argument respecting the είµαι is entirely lost by the printer leaving out the accent [ ] – I hope to all heaven the critic is not – guessed at – if he is the whole weight of the Censure is lost – I rather guess that the wags have begun operations upon the new committee, & I think I recognize our friend Douglas in a paragraph of the Chronicle May 16 in which a wipe is given in Italic type against the author or authors of the said pleasantries – I opine the Pie Voleuse will answer well especially if got up immediately – It is worthwhile to read a horrid anecdote in the Journal de l’Empire of May 19 – if that French paper reaches you look at an account of a young man of the name of St . Clair a captn of Grenadiers Member of the Legion of Honour, who being condemned to the galleys & to loose his cross for the unpremeditated homicide of a poor girl called La Belle Hollandaise, on the judge beginning to pronounce sentence in these words, St Clair, vous avez manquè a 1’honneur” started from the bench and crying out – never never plunged a knife in his left side – He fell instantly but being raised from the ground quietly took his cross and ribbon from his button and handing it to his guards said at least I have the satisfaction to deliver this up with my own hands. It has not been torn from me – comrades I entreat you finish this sad business with your swords – I have left but little for you to do – I am dying – He was carried off to prison weltering in his blood – but strange to say though the wound was an inch broad and eleven or twelve lines deep it is said he will recover – The Emperor has pardoned him – His case was argued before three tribunals – the first condemned him to death – he appealed – the second acquitted him – the judge advocate then appealed – the third gave the sentence you have heard – The girl was found dead with several wounds of a penknife in her throat – St Clair was seen to go out of her room the last and when it was known no other person had been with her – There can he little doubt of his guilt – I find all are agreed upon it – and I see nothing strange in a man resolving to go out of the world with a good reputation and an oration of innocence – nothing is more compatible with the most violent passions and with a mind truly bent towards every honorable action – It has even been hinted that the girl fell a sacrifice to a horrible species of luxury of which the
famous Marquis de Sade, who was imprisoned therefore and died amongst the madmen at Charenton, was the first inventor and recommender in his novel of Justine – These dreadful vices are known to have received a sort of currency since the publication of that book and I can not help thinking there is some foundation for the suspicion – eight and twenty years of existence leave little pretence for scepticism on any subject touching the moralities of man – I can believe any thing bad and any thing good of him – I recollect now your prophecy as to Miss Mercenary– but am not the less astonished at this extraordinary match which has not one single recommendation –

However I see nothing of it in the Couriers or Chronicles up to the 16th – By the way what tremendousfibs the first mentioned paper palms upon the evening readers of London – It says that the populace here express a decided dislike for every thing imperial – All false and just contrary to the fact – Also that a Madame Corbin was obliged to pull off a gown of imperial purple and was forced away for that purpose from before the Emperor’s windows in the Tuilleries – If you see or hear any thing of Perry do  tell him to contradict this in the Chronicle – It is a lie from beginning to end – There never is any thing like mobbing in the Tuilleries’ gardens, the alleys of which are occupied by as much military as any other company – {and by clusters of quiet folk reading the newspapers} and the Emperor does not live at the Tuilleries – Nor does any one know here what imperial purple is – The conjectures of the courier as to the reason of Napoleon’s remaining at Paris are equally gross and ridiculous as well as all his account of the state of parties here who are in fact uniting very fast and firmly as the danger of war and invasion approaches – I do not believe it is any exaggeration to say that there are at present at least a million of men if not actually in arms in training – I am assured by General Caffarelli that the number of troops immediately in face of Wellington’s army is a hundred thousand every man of whom may he depended upon – Royalists, Republicans, Imperialists, all talk of the declaration of war and the overthrow of Belgium as events that must be simultaneous – The levies are carrying on with prodigious vigour and success –

A letter in the Courier and Chronicle says that the shops at Lille and Paris {and all other cities} are kept open by military power – <the/>this writer is right enough as the apprentices are all soldiers – However I defy any one to guess here that any thing besides a plenteous harvest is expected for the ensuing autumn – The greatest sensation has been produced here by a box in the ear which Etienne the author of several plays gave to Mlle: Bourgogne behind the scenes at the Français because she made a face at the pit upon being hissed and so produced a screaming & whistling which disturbed Mr Etienne one of whose productions was about to be played – The box on the ear was a blow with a hat – Miss cried out murder and ran across the stage like one of the furies in Orestes – nothing else was talked of for many days – We are here in waiting for Friday next – but strange as it may seem no one appears to know whether the electoral colleges will meet or not If they do their numbers will he proportionally small – The deputies of course meet – very many people hang back and make no effort to be chosen – there are many military & many imperial employès, yet there is a rumour that there will be some very decisive steps taken in favour of liberty by this new convention – for a convention it will be if there are no peers – and as yet there is no talk of any – pray write a line to me – remember me to Lady B –

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