THE LIFE OF GENERAL M.A.RCE113.*
"THE Revolution, by the aide of youthful figures of giants, such as Denton, Saint-Just, and Robespierre, has young ideal figures, like Roche and Marceau ; "with these words from the pen of Victor Hugo, the author prefaces his account of the life of Francois-Severin Marceau, who at the age of twenty- seven died of wounds received on the battlefield, having attained the rank of General of Division. Certainly the con- trast between these sons of the Revolution is a strongly marked one ; but after sober reflection, one is fain to confess that both Roche and Marceau fall as far short of the ideal as Saint-Just and Robespierre of a really gigantic stature. How- ever, we are not disposed to cavil about the fitness of 'Victor Hago's description, especially as General Marceau's present biographer deprecates any judgment of the character of his subject which does not take into consideration the circum- stances and the scenes by which he was surrounded.
In one sense at least Marceau approached the ideal,—he was an ideal hero of romance. Not even the quiet and unemotional treatment of his English biographer, Captain Johnson, can rob him of the romantic atmosphere with which his actual history is surrounded. Indeed, one might fairly suspect that it is largely owing to this romantic element that the story of the young soldier has made such a lasting impression upon the minds of his fellow-countrymen. He was a gallant soldier and, for one of his youth and inexperience, an extraordinarily skilful General ; but his prowess and his skill might well have been forgotten had it not been for the tale of Angelique des Mesliers and the love of Agathe Lepretre. Setting aside, however, this somewhat accidental interest which is attached to his memory, there is another side of Marceau's character which makes it par- ticularly attractive in contrast to the times in which he lived. The whole of his career as a soldier and leader of men was distinguished by his humanity. To quote our author's words :—" In an age of extreme selfishness and revolting cruelty, during a decade of noyacles and infernal columns, of savage decrees and bloody tribunals, it was not a little thing to have worn the angel's robe of humanity' under the dolman and cuirass of a soldier of the Revolution." It was indeed no little thing, when one remembers to what perils the exercise of mercy and clemency was exposed, the fate which inevitably overtook the indifferent patriot, and the difficulty, in the midst of spies, of proving oneself a good patriot while one spared the enemies of the Republic. Marceau was not the only soldier of the Revolution against whom no accusation of cruelty or barbarity has been levelled, but he was the most conspicuous, perhaps, from the fact that his efforts on the side of mercy never brought about his own ruin. Almost every battle in which he was engaged might have furnished an excuse for leading him to the guil- lotine in the footsteps of his old friends and commanders, Dillon and Biron ; and yet, in spite of his many enemies and the fierce jealousy which he excited, he managed to keep his head on his shoulders while many another, far less suspected, fell. And this brings us to a question which can hardly fail to force itself upon our attention. How was it that Marceau, as a humane and honourable gentleman, could bring himself to serve under the orders of Rossignol and Tarreau P One can only say that he made a rare proof of his
• Franoois•Severin Marceau. By Captain T. G. Johnson. Lmadon : George Bell and Bon.
patriotism in not deserting his post. One knows what he felt about the successful campaign in La Vendee from a letter which he addressed to his sister Emira—the sister to whom
he poured out all his confidences—when she wrote to con- gratulate him on his brilliant victories at Le Mans and
" What, my dear sister, do you congratulate me on these two battles, or rather these two massacres ! and do you really wish to have a leaf from my laurels ! Do you not know that they are stained and soiled with human blood, with the blood, moreover, of our fellow-countrymen ? I shall not return to La Vend& ; it is painful to me to have to fight against Frenchmen."
This private expression of feeling, however, does not prevent him from writing in a very different strain to the Minister of
War in Paris. In his official despatch his fellow-countrymen are described as brigands, barbarians, and rascals ; and while assuring the Minister that he will do his utmost to compass their destruction, he remarks,—" You will learn with pleasure that most of the women who followed them are in our power, and that many relics, such as holy crosses, mitres, dro., have been abandoned by the rascals, who, with the aid of these symbols of fanaticism, have misled so many thousands." This was his official utterance; but of the two voices there can be no doubt which represented the real man. Not even the historians of the other side have assailed the memory of Marceau and Kleber, or have denied their efforts to exercise a restraining influence upon the troops under their command. After all, the authority of the Generals did not extend beyond the limits of their camps, nor, in any case, could they have been held responsible for the subsequent actions of Turreau and Carrier. The story of the actual military operations in La Vendee is excellently well told by Captain Johnson, who bears strong witness to the merits of Marceau as a tactician—it must be remembered that the General was only twenty-four years old at the time—but even the interest with which the author succeeds in investing his hero fails to alienate our sympathy from the other side. The real hero of La Vendee will always remain, not Marceau, the youthful victor, but La Rochejaquelein, the defeated.
The touching episode of the attempted rescue of Angelique
des Mesliers, with its tragic ending, receives no more than its due notice at the author's hands, who displays none of the spirit of lyrical exaggeration with which Marceares own countrymen have approached his history. The campaign of the
Sambre and Meuse, in which Marceau took a prominent part after leaving the Army of the West, was not characterised by any very striking successes upon the Republican side; but it was memorable in as much as it was fought by an army in the ranks of which many of the most brilliant of Napoleon's
future officers were trained, and because, to quote a French historian, it initiated the long series of triumphs which were
soon to carry the arms of France across the whole of Europe. Marceau was personally somewhat unfortunate during the early part of the campaign; notably on the occasion of the battle of Fleurus, when the wholesale desertion of his troops in the face of the enemy, not only left himself in a very critical position, but seriously jeopardised the rest of the army. The manner in which he saved the situation, however, did more perhaps to prove his generalship than any of his former victories. The defection of his troops was a unique experience in his career, for he possessed to the full the most valuable quality that a commander can possess, the power of inspiring his men with his own spirit.
Captain Johnson may fairly be congratulated on having made a very interesting and pleasantly written sketch of his subject.