Englishmen in the French Revolution/Chapter XI
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Chapter XI. After the Terror
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After the Terror.
AFTER THE TERROR.
Swinburne—Malmesbury—Prisoners of war—Anglomania—Sir
Sidney Smith—Wright—Barclay—Mrs. Dayrell.
As the wholesale arrest of British subjects, from which only artisans and schoolchildren were exempt, was grounded on the loss of Toulon, its recovery four months later should seemingly have been followed by their release; but the Revolution did not condescend to logic. There was no general gaol delivery for the English captives till the end of February 1795, and even then the war prevented their return to England unless by special favour, though an American brig, The Two Friends, Captain Gilbert, was allowed to make frequent passages to Dover and back. In August 1795 there was a cartel of exchange, but this applied only to soldiers and sailors. One of these was Captain O'Hara, captured at Toulon, "the most perfect specimen of a soldier and courtier of the last age," says Miss Berry, who but for a misunderstanding would have married him. He died a bachelor, Governor at Gibraltar, in 1802. Captain Henry Swinburne, sent over to Paris in 1796 to try and effect the exchange of Sir Sidney Smith, tells us that he was accompanied by Major Gall, ostensibly as secretary, Gall's real object being to fetch his two daughters, released but still unable to leave. Gall obtained passports for himself, his sister, and daughters, but the vessel in which they sailed was captured off Calais by a French privateer and taken to Dunkirk. They were, however, promised release. Gall was a friend of Warren Hastings, and when in Paris in 1791 attended the Jacobin Club, but was suspected of being a spy. Swinburne found in Paris Mitford, brother-in-law of Lord C. Annesley, Chenevix, son of the Bishop of Waterford, and Walter Smythe, brother of the famous Mrs. Fitzherbert. Relegated to Fontainebleau during the elections, he there met Lady Rodney and her daughters. There were nine English prisoners of war in the Palace, and he sent them clothes. Recalled because Sir Sidney Smith mistakenly thought him wanting in zeal, Swinburne was joined at Calais by a Captain Davies of Hull, who had escaped from Arras, and who crossed over with him in the guise of his servant.
Lord Malmesbury, also at Paris in 1796 trying to negotiate peace, met the sons of the Rev. Charles Este, a well-known Whitehall preacher. One of them, a journalist, was but too friendly with the wife of Sir Robert Smith, the banker already mentioned. Malmesbury dined with George Hamilton, of Jamaica, and his wife Lady Mary, daughter of Lord Leven. Their two daughters had married French officers. Malmesbury, on account of his fine eyes and profusion of white hair, was compared by a Paris newspaper to a white lion, which made his friends playfully style him "the lion." He had so frequently to send to London for instructions that the caricaturists represented Lacroix as asking him how he was, and Malmesbury as writing to London to know what answer he should give. His bust figured in the waxwork exhibition of Curtius, uncle and predecessor of Madame Tussaud, but was withdrawn immediately on his departure.
International animosity had much cooled down since May 1794, when the Convention ordered that no quarter should be given to the English, a decree which the army refused to execute. There were, however, recriminations respecting the treatment of prisoners which we must hope were, to say the least, exaggerated. While in France it was alleged that French prisoners were fed on dead cats and dogs, Captain Swinburne was informed that at Dunkirk the English captives had very few blankets, at Amiens none, and that at Brest sixty captains or passengers of merchant vessels were debarred exercise and in want of necessaries. Sir William Eden (afterwards Lord Auckland) went to Dieppe in May 1795 to propose an exchange of sailors, but the Convention would only agree to an exchange of naval officers. When the expedition to Ireland was being prepared, Nicholas Madgett, a priest born at Kinsale, County Kerry, and a friend of Tone's, was sent to Orleans to pick out Irish prisoners to be enrolled in it. The result was a quarrel between English and Irish, and the removal of the former to Valenciennes. Three or four hundred seamen were induced to join the expedition, by being plied with drink and assured that England had left them to their fate for the sake of one man, Sir Sidney Smith. In February 1798 France agreed to England's proposal that each should feed and clothe its own subjects, and in the following September it was arranged that officers should be free on parole and civilians liberated without exchange; but in October the Directory, on the plea that French officers had not been allowed reciprocity, ordered all English prisoners without exception to be imprisoned in certain departments at a distance from the coast. Many, accordingly, had to march on foot from Brest nearly 500 miles.Anglomania revived under the Directory, as was indeed inevitable in the general reaction against the Terror. Dandies riding in the Bois de Boulogne greeted each other with "weri wol" (very well), and French dressmakers having migrated to London, the latter city had become the seat of fashion, so that English bonnets and dresses were the rage. Despite the nominal prohibition, the Palais Royal shops were full of English goods. In September 1797 Braham and Signora Storace arrived in Paris to give concerts, which, though admission was a louis, whereas the usual price was six francs, were so popular that the visit was extended from three weeks to eight months. Yet Arndt in 1799 saw "Guerre aux Anglais" placarded in the streets, in cafés, and even in churches, including the temple of the Theo-philanthropists. The spy mania also existed. An Englishwoman married to a foreigner, in her "Sketch of Modern France" (1796-7) met at Abbeville a cart containing an Englishman, his wife, and three children. They had been some months in prison, all their effects had been confiscated, and they were being escorted to Calais for embarkation.
Sir Sidney Smith cannot be passed over, for although prisoners of war, as concomitants of all wars, receive little notice here, his was an exceptional case. Indeed, his long detention was due to the demand of France that 4000 Frenchmen should be exchanged for him, a great though unwitting compliment. He and his brother Spencer had been educated at a military college at Caen. While trying to cut out a privateer from Havre in April 1796 he was captured, with twenty or thirty officers and men. The Directory refused to treat "this monster" as a prisoner of war, on account of his burning of the French ships at Toulon, and consigned him, with his secretary, John Wesley Wright, to the Temple, though not, as is sometimes said, to the rooms in which the royal family were confined in 1792. He was interrogated, with a view to a prosecution for arson. Lord Malmesbury notified in 1797 that unless Smith was liberated on parole no French officer in England would be allowed a similar, privilege. When Babœuf's followers attempted to break out of the Temple, Smith helped to overpower them. Swinburne, when recalled, thought himself on the point of arranging the affair, but his successor, Captain James Cotes, accomplished nothing. Bribery and stratagem were, however, more effective than diplomacy. Count Tromelin, a Vendean émigré captured with Smith, passed himself off as his English servant, John Bromley by name, pretended to speak broken Erench, and was exchanged without difficulty, whereupon he returned from England in disguise, and in concert with Philippeaux arranged Smith's escape. On the 5th May 1798 Tromelin and a confederate, dressed as French officers, presented themselves at the Temple with an order from the Minister of Marine to give up Smith and Wright that they might rejoin the other prisoners of war at Fontainebleau. Printed form, signature, and seal were genuine, but had been stolen by a Dalmatian, Wiskowich. Smith's affected reluctance to leave helped to throw the keeper off his guard, and the two prisoners, given up without demur, made their way to England, where Smith was enthusiastically received.
What bribes were paid, and to whom, is unknown, but as Bonneville puts it, "the age of murderers has been succeeded by the age of thieves." The keeper, Boniface, was sentenced as a scapegoat to six months' imprisonment for remissness, albeit he had immediately notified the surrender of Smith to three of the ministers. These notices were apparently kept back, for the escape was not ostensibly discovered till a week afterwards, when Smith had reached London. Arndt in 1799 found Smith's rooms as much visited by the curious as those of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette. They still contained pictures which he had hung on the walls, and Arndt was told that Smith not only had the run of the building, but used to receive numerous callers of both sexes.
Tromelin afterwards served under Smith in Syria, was captured in 1804 at Stuttgart together with Spencer Smith, abjured royalism, entered the French army, fought at Waterloo, and was deputed by the provisional Government to apply to the Duke of Wellington for a passport for Napoleon. He was certainly a man who played many parts. Smith, too, had a singular influence on Napoleon's career. "That man," Napoleon when at the height of his power used to say, "spoilt my fortune. If St. Jean d'Acre had fallen I should have been Emperor of all the East." Supremacy in Europe did not apparently console him for the evaporation of his Oriental dreams. Yet newspapers sent to him by Smith while negotiating an exchange of prisoners are said to have induced him to return to France, by convincing him that the Directory was so unpopular that it could easily be overturned. Indeed, Nakoula, a Syrian in the service of the Emir of the Druses, who was in Egypt at the time, states in an Arabic book translated by Desgranges in 1839 that on returning to Alexandria from Acre, Bonaparte gave a grand dinner to Smith, loaded him with attentions and presents, and obtained permission to send three small boats to France. Not till two days afterwards did Smith learn that Bonaparte had himself left in one of these boats, and he vainly pursued him. Michelet argues that the English Government winked at Bonaparte's escape in the hope of his restoring the Bourbons, but this theory, like Nakoula's story, has a dubious air. If Bonaparte and Smith really dined together it was a curious sequel to their exchange of incivilities at Acre, where Smith endorsed and distributed a Turkish proclamation inviting the French to desert, as the Directory had sent them there merely to get rid of them; Napoleon responded by vilifying Smith, who sent him a challenge, which Bonaparte declined.
After Waterloo Smith, to avoid his creditors, settled in Paris, died there, and was buried in Père Lachaise. His brother Spencer, a diplomatist, went to reside at Caen, where he died in 1845. The Duke of Wellington, who met Smith at Paris in 1815, could not believe that a man so silly in all other affairs could be a good naval officer, and he told Croker an anecdote of Smith waiting on Louis XVIII. at the time of the English expedition against Algiers to represent that Lord Exmouth was incompetent, and that failure was inevitable unless he himself were appointed. The king heard him out, and then archly told him that news had arrived that very morning of the success of the expedition. Smith's vanity, indeed, was inordinate.
His secretary, Captain Wright, also died at Paris, but under strangely different circumstances. In March 1803 he was sent over as attaché to the Embassy, and Lord Whitworth feared that this would be an additional obstacle to peace, as his escape from the Temple might be recollected. However intelligent he might be, a less known man would have been equally useful. Cruising off Morbihan in 1804, Wright was captured and again imprisoned in the Temple. He was identified by two of the prisoners implicated in Georges' conspiracy as having landed them, and he was produced as a witness at the trial, but refused to answer, maintaining that he owed no account of his naval operations except to his own Government. There is reason to believe that he was tortured to extract a confession, and that this having failed, the authorities, afraid to release him lest he should expose their infamy, strangled him in prison and then pretended he had committed suicide.
Sidney Smith's nephew, George Sidney Smith, was captured with Wright, was several years a prisoner at Verdun, and owing to his knowledge of French, commanded the boat which conveyed Napoleon to Elba.
Two other inmates of the Temple in the closing years of the century may here be mentioned. Sir Robert Barclay was captured in a merchant vessel early in 1799, with despatches from Lord Grenville in his possession. He had been officially employed on the Continent. He was closely confined in the Temple, and was interrogated by a military commission respecting a supposed mission to the Hague. He is said to have been acquitted, though of what charge is not clear, but was nevertheless detained till November, when, after an interview with Bonaparte, he was released. He appears to have claimed kinship with Sheridan, which may have conduced to his liberation, and his wife was Elizabeth Tickell, granddaughter of Addison's friend and Queen Anne's Under-Secretary of State. Barclay was elected M.P. for Newton, Hants, in 1802, and died in 1839, at the age of eighty-three.
Mrs. Dayrell, the widow of an English officer, probably one of the Oxfordshire Dayrells, a handsome woman of twenty-eight, settled with her little girl at the beginning of the Revolution at La Chaussée, near Blois. She there married Courtin de Clenard, who in February 1792 sold the Clenard estate, which he had just inherited, to Edmund Dayrell, his wife's brother-in-law. Courtin having emigrated, the sale was declared collusive, and in 1793 the property was confiscated. Madame Dayrell-Courtin subsequently went to Paris and obtained an order that the estate should be restored if she could prove that she herself had not emigrated. Her adversaries, the new owners, resorted to the device of getting her arrested as an English spy, but though she had made several voyages to England viâ Hamburg, she easily established her innocence. In 1800 they again procured her arrest, and she was consigned to the Temple. Dufort de Cheverny, who tells us thus much, does not give us the end of the story, but the lady's indomitable energy, coupled with her acquaintance with Josephine, probably secured her redress.
- The Admiral married a Lisbon lady; she died in 1829, aged ninety.
- Paine beguiled his captivity by a correspondence with Lady Smith.
- Robespierre only a fortnight before his fall complained that the English captured at Nieuport had been spared, and General Dugommier was gently rebuked by the Committee of General Safety for not shooting General O'Hara. O'Hara, speaking to a French fellow prisoner at the Luxembourg of the freedom of the press in England, might well say—"We can exclaim, 'King George is mad,' but you dare not say, 'Robespierre is a tiger.'"
- Himself a prisoner from May to November 1795, having landed with a passport under the name of Hurst. The open, not to say ostentatious way in which the expedition was organised is explained by the fact that it was a mere sham, designed to frighten England into peace, and became serious only on Lord Malmesbury's departure.
- One of the confidants of the plot was Hyde de Neuville, a lineal descendant of Lord Chancellor Hyde, but whose Jacobite grandfather had settled in France. Out of regard for Tromelin's wife, Hyde hired a house adjoining the Temple, and made an underground passage from the cellar to the prison wall. A piece of the latter unexpectedly fell in, in broad daylight, under a sentry's eyes, and the conspirators had to flee from the house. Hyde was not personally concerned in the second and more successful attempt. He was a deputy and diplomatist after the Restoration.