COUNT DE FERSEN.W
[SECOND NOTICE.] IMMEDIATELY on hearing that the Royal family had been arrested, Fersen insisted on the necessity of deciding on the line of policy which they would have adopted by their friends. "The fright- ful disaster that has happened," he wrote to the Queen, " must wholly change the course of affairs, and should the original revo- lution be persisted in, to get helped from without, not being any longer able to do it oneself, it is indispensable to recom- mence negotiations, and to give for that purpose full powers." These were the questions on which he particularly asked for defi- nite instructions,-1. Whether it was wished the Powers should act in defiance of whatever remonstrances might proceed publicly from the Crown. 2. Whether full powers would be given to either Monsieur or the Comte d'Artois. 3. Whether it was intended that whoever was so empowered should select his own adviser. At this time, the impatient Gustavus III. had found a pretext to go to the Baths of Aix-la-Chapelle, so as to be nearer the scene of action. He had in his brain a complete plan for military action, and was feverishly working on his neigh- bour Catharine to co-operate. A Swedish-Russian force was to make a descent in Normandy, while, according to the King's idea, the other Powers, and notably the German Emperor, should move from the other side. Leopold, however, though the Queen's brother, was provokingly lethargical in his resolutions. The Swedish monarch burnt with desire to act, but the Austrian Government ever procrastinated and responded with inconclusive memoirs to his impatient proposals. To try and make an im- pression on this dilatory Cabinet, Fersen was instructed by his Sovereign to proceed himself to Vienna, and by his personal explanations to stir the feelings of the Emperor. There was, however, another element besides the constitutional sluggishness • I. Comte de Ferten et La Cour de France. Par Le Baron de Elinekowstriim. 2 vole. Paris: Plrmin-Didoi. 1878.
of Cabinets which distracted the action of a Coalition, and that was the difficulty of dealing with a responsible representative of the French Monarchy. Never yet has there been published such glaring evidence of the internal dissensions, not merely in the Royalist party, but in the Royal family itself, as is to be found in these volumes. The intrigues of Monsieur, the intemperate pretensions of the Comte d'Artois, the flight and restless action of the Prince de Conde and of Calonne, are here revealed as they never were before. For if on the side of the Emigrants,. princes, and nobles there was unbecoming action towards,. and even indecent language in reference to, what was. reprobated as the temporising conduct of the King and Queen, the latter also was not measured in her strictures- or what she stigmatised as the criminal folly, if not worse
of her relatives. These were poured out to Fersen with- out reserve. Under date of July 8th he was informed by the Queen that it was considered not advisable to concede to any person full powers authorising him to act in the King's stead under existing circumstances. The letter is remarkable as speaking in the name of the King, for almost through the whole correspondence he is put quite into the background ; indeed, it may be said he is virtually ignored. It is Marie Antoinette who is always consulted on points of policy, and who writes in reply as of her own authority. Also there are several direct allusions to the King as being a mere cipher, whose will it was idle to consider an ele- ment capable of independent decision. At Vienna, Fersen met with little that was satisfactory. His letters contain vivid accounts of the various cross-currents at work, the indifference of some politicians who looked on France's internal weakness as Austria's benefit, the rivalries and jealousies of Cabinets, the irresolu- tion of the Emperor with whom he personally conferred, and finally, the untoward action of the Comte d'Artois who, instigated by the hot-headed Calonne, appeared in Vienna,. and only tended to paralyse the more practical counsels of which Fersen was the advocate. At this moment came the tidings of the King's acceptance of the Constitution, which still further disconcerted the contemplated Coalition. The Emigrant party screamed at the act as one which put an end to all possi- bility of any longer delay out of consideration for the King, and was bent, under the leadership of Conde, on making an armed demonstration even by itself. Leopold again pleaded that the language of the King's declaration no longer allowed of the Powers professing to come to the rescue of a Sovereign under coercion. It appears that for a while direct communication with the Queen was forcibly suspended. " Since two months, I had no tidings of you ; no one could tell me where you were. I was on the point of writing to Sophy [Fersen's sister], if I only could have got her direction." Immediately on reaching Bruxelles, Fersen wrote a long letter,— unfortunately imperfect, as here printed. It contains a full and lucid statement of the position. He had gone to Vienna with " unlimited powers " from Gustavus, " to accede to anything that might be of service to " the Queen. " All I have been able to do was to prevent some follies of the [French] Princes, and to convince one that one must do nothing through them." Fie had drawn up a scheme for a diplomatic Congress, that should demand the liberation of the Royal family, and be supported by an assemblage of forces on the frontier. But he insisted on some explicit statement from the Queen whether she had any, and if so, what plan of her own, for it was necessary not to be in the dark on the point, lest the consequence might be only to make things worse, especially if the case were possible that she was thinking " of sincerely uniting herself with the Revolution." The Queen's reply was distinct on this head. " Be assured," she wrote, October 19th, " that I do not let myself go with the Enrage's, and if I see and have intercourse with some, it is only to make use of them, and they all inspire me with too much horror even to let me ally myself with them." The advice of Fersen was to concentrate every effort on inducing the Emperor to co-operate for the meeting of an armed Congress, as the means of obviating partial and ineffective action, as well as of preventing some un- toward steps from the Emigrant leaders. " Press the Emperor always for this Congress ; without this measure promptly and very decidedly, I fear everything from the folly of the Princes and Emigrants ; they are greatly excited, and if they think themselves forsaken, I will answer for nothing on their part." Through a confidential messenger, Fersen, under date of November 26th, sent the Queen an elaborate memorandum, with emphatic counsels as to particular steps she should take. The frankness of his language is free from all courtly consideration. " The Emperor is deceiving you," he bluntly informs his sister ; " he will do nothing for you, and under
the spurious plea of your safety, and of carrying out your wishes not to act with the princes, he abandons you to your destiny.
He is weak and good-tempered, and knows not how to withstand his Council, which is slow, feeble, and timid, and into whose political creed the lowering of France enters have myself heard Count Mercy say that if he had received from the Emperor positive orders for the assembly of a cogs d'armee, he would have taken it on himself to suspend their execution Your enemies have availed themselves of [the Emperor's indecision] to spread the report that you opposed every undertaking ; that you desire to be paramount, and that dread of playing the second part makes you prefer to act through the Constitution, and employ the factions, to owing the restoration of your authority to the Princes and Emigrants ; that you would rather sacrifice the kingdom than a part of your authority, and thousand stories of the kind, one more absurd than the other. These ideas have spread amongst the nobility, and are believed ; very sensible persons attached to you are even disposed to adopt them It is essential to try and put an end to these rumours, and that the upshot of your action should prove their falseness." After indicating with precision what he would have the Queen do at the various Courts, Fersen returns to the subject of the Emigrants, who, he advised, should be kept under restraint, through the medium of the Northern Courts. " I do not see the necessity of your sending some one to the Princes, particularly if you adopt the idea of employing Sweden and Russia to influence their action. Their extreme in- discretion forbids your confiding anything to them, and if you only want to keep them from moving, you know how little former missions have had effect From all I have sent, you see how vital it is for you to come to a decision at once, and to let me know it. You cannot remain as you are, and you have everything to fear from Coblence and the Emigrants, of whom some are of good-faith, but the others not Answer, I beseech, as quickly as possible, what line you will take ; it is absolutely necessary to write to the Courts, and this must be without loss of time, for there is not a minute to spare." What were the Queen's feelings in regard to her surroundings is thus graphically expressed by herself :—" The letter written to the Baron de Breteuil by Monsieur has surprised and shocked us, but one must have patience, and at this moment not show too much one's anger ; but I will make a copy to show to my sister-in-law. I am curious how she will justify it, in the midst of all that is happening. It is a hell, our domestic interior ; it is impossible to say a word, with the best possible intentions. My sister is so indiscreet, so sur- rounded by intriguers, and above all, so much under the thumbs of her brothers abroad, that it is out of the question to talk with her, or one would have to scold all day. 1 see that the am- bition of those around Monsieur will utterly ruin him ; he fancied himself in the first moment to be everything, but let him do what he may, he will yet never play a real part." And again, after referring to a letter that she had received from a noble in the Comte d'Artois's confidence, the Queen exclaims, " Oh, accursed nation ! how miserable is it to have to live with it, and to be obliged to serve it !" In the midst of all these incessant trials, the Queen's courage, however, never failed. Repeatedly she assures Fersen that her health keeps up, and that she feels confident he need have no alarm as to her personal safety. The belief that the lives of the Royal family would be of superior value to the Revolutionists in negotiating with the Powers seems to have possessed the Queen almost to the end. Fersen, though not at all disposed to give way to alarms, after his return to Bruxelles from his bootless Vienna mission, felt the importance of more direct communication with the Queen than was possible by correspondence. He formed the idea of going himself to Paris,—a truly daring scheme, for it was his life he staked in the event of being recognised, and with heavy odds against the chance of his escaping recognition. On October 30th he confided the first thought of his intention to Taube, who from Sweden was to send him specified passports under false names. Perhaps the indication of some project of possible flight, which occurs in a letter from Marie Antoinette, may have suggested the expediency of his presence, to prevent some rashly desperate step. She herself, at first, vehemently dissuaded Fersen. " It is out of the question," she wrote, December 7th, " for you to come here at present ; it would be to jeopardise our happiness and when 1 say it, I may be believed, for I have an intense desire to see you." From the diary we learn that Crawford contrived to have an in- terview, and ten days later, January 21st, there is the laconic entry,—" The Queen has assented to my coming." February 11th he started on his perilous enterprise, in company with Baron Reutersvaerd, a Swedish diplomatist, but without a servant. " We had," it is stated in the diary, " a messenger's passport
for Portugal, in false names I had besides, for my pro- tection, credentials as a Minister of the Queen of Portugal." The entries in the diary appear to have been made day by day, but at this part there is a mysterious gap, from February 14th to February 21st, without the editor telling us whether this is due to pages missing in the manuscript. This is the more vexatious, as there are some irreconcilable discrepancies between the report written on his return to Bruxelles to Gustavus and the statements in the Diary. In the report it is said that he saw the King the day of his arrival in Paris ; also that, having gone round as far as Fon- tainebleau to carry off the assumed character of a Cabinet messenger from Spain when about returning to Belgium, he had on this second journey through Paris not ventured to go near the Palace. From the diary we learn that, having reached Paris February 13th, in the evening he proceeded to an individual indicated as Gag, certainly Goguelat, the Queen's maitre d'hotel. Thereupon, says the diary, " Went to the Queen ; passed in by my usual way ; fearful of the National Guards ; did not see the King." What was the usual way, is not specified. On the following day the diary marks, " Saw the King at six in the evening," and then follow notes of what the King said. Equally explicit is the diary in contradiction to what is said in the Bruxelles letter, in re- ference to his second passage through Paris. Under February 21st, we read that, having come out of his hiding-place at six in the evening, he was taken again by Goguelat to the presence of the Royal family, with whom he supped. " At midnight I left. Frantz let me out by the great gate. At first, I did not find Reutersvaerd, which alarmed me. After a quarter of an hour,
he came ; we went to his inn at one, we got into the carriage." In the report, Fersen says he was afraid to go to the Palace, and did not, therefore, then see the Queen. Several times the travellers were stopped on the road, and exposed to a perquiaition which only consummate presence of mind enabled them to pass without disastrous consequences. When the cir- cumstances of the case are considered,—Fersen's well-known figure, the degree of popular hatred he had contracted, and the excessive inspection to which all who crossed the frontiers- were subjected, it must be admitted that only the warmest affection could have prompted so perilous an enterprise
as this journey. Fersen was too clear-sighted to come back with sanguine feelings. Gustavus had conceived a plan for flight. Louis XVL, however, declined to entertain the thought, and Fersen admitted that, as he was watched, it was physically out of the question. The practical result of the expedi- tion was nil. Louis XVI., as Fersen wrote in his diary, was too feeble for any consistent action. From Bruxelles he was doomed to contemplate in grief and sorrow bow the Monarchy of France became more and more engulfed, until the final tragedy swept away the person to whom he was so deeply attached. The diary at this period is most interesting. Fersen lived in the centre of political combinations, himself the depositary of secrets to whicb but few were admitted. To the last, with the devotion of one whose whole heart was in the cause, Fersen indefatigably strove to save the life of the Queen. At the very time of her execution, a scheme based on money was on foot through a. banker, who had undertaken to negotiate with Denton. Every line in the journal relating to this time abounds in vivid traits, for Fersen knew the actors in the drama thoroughly. Space, however, will allow us but to point to this portion of these volumes, for we have dwelt already at a length which makes it necessary to close, on what seems to us even more important, and certainly more novel,—namely, the portion containing the intimate and affectionate letters interchanged between the Queen of France and the daring Swedish nobleman.