LETTERS FROM AMERICA DURING THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE.* HIS it
never occurred to us to wonder, in reading the enthusi- astic praises of German women, as sung by the Minnesiinger Frauenlob, Walther von der Vogelweide, and others, what has become of these women ? The common household drudge, apathetic and unintellectual, now-a-days too often the repre- sentative of German womanhood, could surely not have inspired such lays. A book lies before us to-day that tells us that the better race was, at least, not extinct a hundred years ago. This is the memoir of General Riedesel and his wife, written during the American War of Independence. General Riedesel was commander of those troops which the Duke of Brunswick sold to England in order to pay his debts, one of the most disgrace- ful of the many disgraceful chapters that stained the annals of the petty Courts of Germany. Students of Schiller will recall a similar bargain in Cabale stud Liebe, which is struck for the sake of providing a mistress with diamonds. But General von Riedesel's share in this book is insignificant, and consists merely of an extract from a military memoir concerning the American campaign of 1777, and including an account of the capitulation of Saratoga. The substance of the work is written by his wife, a modest, unaffected record of her experiences as his helpmate during a difficult and perilous campaign. It was written in later life, apparently only for the family circle, and is .on that account all the more charming for its very simplicity and the absence of all self-consciousness. Madame von Riedesel was quite unaware of the fact that in telling the story of her adven- tures and those of her husband and children, she was pour- traying in herself a rare, beautiful, and heroic character, that she was painting what might have been the very prototype of Wordsworth's "Phantom of Delight"—
" A perfect woman, nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort, and command."
Madame von Riedesel was expecting her confinement at the time her husband was despatched with the bartered troops to join the English army, and hence she could not accompany him. But undaunted by the fearful difficulties of such an under- taking, difficulties undreamed of by the present generation, she resolved to follow him, as soon as feasible. He started in Feb- ruary, she in May, 1776, taking with her three infants, of whom the eldest was but four years old and the youngest ten weeks. She was undaunted by the opposition of relations and friends, who drew for her benefit lively pictures of the dangers she would have to undergo by land and sea, not the least of which were, according to them, the chances, almost amounting to certainty, of being eaten up by savages, and in case of sur- vival, of finding no more acceptable food than the flesh of horses and cats. The record is full of curious evid- ences of prejudices which international intercourse is rapidly and fortunately effacing. But that the dangers were not all imaginary, and that travelling was in those days no un- mixed pleasure, Madame von Riedesel was to experience be- fore ever she quitted European soil. Near Maestricht she was warned that the roads were most unsafe, owing to high- waymen. In the gloaming, something flew into the window of her carriage, and she felt a hard, rough substance strike her hand. It proved to be the stockinged leg of a dead robber, whom lynch justice had hung upon a tree. Such and similar experiences were not encouraging or cheerful. Neither was the rate of pro- gress. It had taken seventeen days of steady travelling to get
from Wolfenbiittel to St. Omer. Arrived in England, Madame von Riedesel had to suffer much from the dishonesty and exor- bitant charges of landlords. Even in those cheaper days, English inns appear to have enjoyed the unenviable distinction of being dearer than their Continental compeers, according to the saying, "They put the Bible in your bedroom, and the Devil in your bill." The behaviour of the common people in the streets appears to have been most disgraceful. The sight of a foreign costume seems to have collected foul-mouthed mobs. Madame von Riedesel recounts several instances of annoyances to which she was subjected, little creditable to English good- feeling, though it is but fair to add that at the same time -there was no lack of Good Samaritans.
Madame von Riedesel spent some weary months successively in London, Bristol, and Portsmouth, detained by the difficulty of finding a vessel, the unwillingness of a companion to whose care her husband had confided her to brave the sea, and finally,
• Bride und Berichle des Generals and der Generalin ron litiedeseL Freiburg and Tubingen: Mohr. 1 1.
the impossibility, in those days, of crossing in winter. At last, in April, 1777, the moment so impatiently expected. by this loving wife, arrived. She sailed. The journey, which lasted eight weeks, was a terrible one, full of suffering for her and her little ones, the companion upon whom the General had counted proving worse than useless. Madame von Riedesel's heroic fortitude and. unshaken good-humour were at once called into play. They were never more to desert her, any more than causes to call them forth. Arrived at Quebec, she found that her husband had. quitted the city to join the army. Notwithstanding his prohibition, she resolved to follow him and share in his vicissitudes. Her travels to reach him were fraught with hardships and dangers. It was a bold act for a young woman to travel with three little children in an unknown land, convulsed. with war and overrun with troops. But her fortitude and resolution carried her over all impedi- ments, the record. of which she tells with humour, free from all taint of self-pity or repining. She even communicated her cheeriness to her children, and they bore well occasional want of nourishment. Fortunate for her that she took this journey. A few days later communication with Canada was cnt off, and she would have had to pass three years away from her husbane, —nay, she might never have seen him again ; for it was only thanks to her careful nursing, her sprightly presence, her buoyant hopefulness, that he survived the deleterious physical and moral effects which the campaign exercised upon his con- stitution. From the time Madame von Riedesel joined the army, she shared all its adventures and privations. Her sym- pathies were naturally intensely Royalist, she had no compre- hension of the cause for which the Americans were fighting ; to her, they were simply rebels. Yet she is not unfair to them when she comes in contact with pleasant specimens. Indeed, there must have been something exceptionally winning in her own personality, that opened to her all hearts, for she con- stantly tells of kindnesses that were shown to her by rough men,—by foes, by professed misanthropes. Her own purity and goodness were communicated to others. Her pluck won her the esteem of all the soldiers. Indeed, one of them once regretted keenly that she was not their commanding officer, in lieu of General Burgoyne, of whom she gives anything but a pleasing picture, and to whose love of personal ease and pleasure she attributes many of the disasters of the campaign. Thus, once when he should have moved on at all risks, he halted to sup with a fair dame, of doubtful repute. Great misery and disorder reigned in the army, according to her showing. There was no want of provisions, but the commissariat department was so badly managed that even the officers had often not enough to eat.
Most graphic and painfully interesting is Madame von Riedesel's account of the siege of Saratoga, when she, and her children, and some other officers' wives had for six days to share a cellar with the wounded and dying, with a scanty allowance of food, a lack of water, and constant danger about them. The capitulation touched her nearly, and she dreaded her entrance into the American camp. Her aspect, as she sat in a carriage surrounded by her babies, seems to have touched the hearts of the Americans, as a rule rough to rudeness with their foes. One of the Generals himself received her into his tent, entertained her, and guarded her, and finally placed his house in Albany at her disposal. But she was not always to be so fortunate during the weary time of captivity that now followed, during which the prisoners were often treated in a manner in nowise credit- able to the Americans, and only excusable on the ground that it was regarded as retaliation for the still worse treatment ex- perienced by the American captives. General Riedesel fell ill from wounded military pride, his wife was twice confined, they were moved from place to place in bitter weather, under burning suns ; but nothing broke the good wife's courage, or damped her light-heartedness. She even once gave a ball, in honour of King George's birthday.
At last, in the autumn of 1783, the hour of release came, and the Riedesels and their troops were allowed to return to Europe, and with this the record closes. The editor has appended a few pages narrating the further fate of this admirable woman, to whom the reader grows sincerely attached while perusing her artless memoir, that lifts him into a purer moral sphere. General Riedesel never recovered from the depression caused in him by the military disasters into which he had been involun- tarily drawn. He felt himself endowed with real military aptitude, and was not able to employ it, save as the mercenary of others. For his Duke once more sold him
and his troops to a foreign State, this time to the Dutch. Madame von Riedesel remained with him, his sunshine, his true wife, until the end. He lived just long enough to see his army sold yet a third time by the noble House of Brunswick, and died in 1800. His wife survived to mourn the defeat of Jena, and to see Brunswick incorporated into Jerome's kingdom of Westphalia. One of her daughters married the petty princeling Count Henry =v. of Reuss Kostritz, in whose archives the manuscript of this volume was deposited, and to the courtesy of whose son its present republication is due. For the work was already printed in 1799, for the use of friends and relatives, but all copies have long ago disappeared and been forgotten. It was a happy inspiration on the part of the pre- sent anonymous editor to reissue the book, whose pleasant, fresh, genuine ring cannot fail to appeal to all hearts and please all audiences.