Friday, January 13, 2006

Conversations with General Alava

Editor’s notes
General Alava, for many years Spanish Minister at the Court of Great Britain, is best known as the friend and companion in arms of the Duke of Wellington; who retained through life a warm esteem for him, although political differences may have caused an occasional coolness. Alava, on his part, never wavered in his attachment.
After expressing his approval of some measure of Lord Grey's Government he suddenly turned round and exclaimed, ' But you must not think I can ever prefer this Government to the Duke of Wellington; it is he whom I love.'

Alava, says Lord Holland in his ' Foreign Reminiscences,' ' was impetuous in temper and heedless in conversation; but yet so honest, so natural, so cheerful, and so affectionate, that the most reserved man could scarcely have given less offence than he, who commanded the respect of the many by his intrepid openness and sincerity.'
Dr. Gleig, after relating the circumstances of the wound or contusion received by the Duke at the battle of Orthes, adds: ' He was on his feet, however, in a moment, and in a condition to laugh at the Spanish General, Alava, who had likewise been wounded almost at the same instant in that fleshy and very sensitive part of the body, any accident to which is apt to excite the mirth rather than the sympathy of the looker-on.'*

No one knew better how to interpret the slightest action of his Chief. The night before one of the Duke's Peninsular victories, an officer came up to Alava and asked in much alarm, ' What will become of us ? We shall have a great battle to-morrow, and Lord Wellington is doing nothing but flirting with Madame de Quintana.' ' I am glad to hear it,' replied Alava, ' if we are to have a great battle to-morrow; for it is quite certain that all his arrangements are made, if he is flirting with Madame Quintana.' Alava died in 1841.


Aix-la-Chapelle: October 9th, 1825.—I am hearing from General Alava a great deal about all those of whom history will one day talk a great deal and tell much that he could contradict on personal knowledge. For instance, he was present when Cambronne was taken,, and when he is said to have made the speech so often commented upon, ' La Garde meurt, et ne se rend pas.' He did not say this or anything else, only screamed for a surgeon to dress his wound, having quietly surrendered.**

Alava saw the famous correspondence which passed between Fouche and Carnot at the period of the Restoration, when the former, as minister of police, was sending all the proscribed into exile. Carnot wrote, 'Ou veux-tu que j’aille, traitre?' Fouche replied, ' Ou tu voudras, imbecille.'

I am still, after all I have heard in Majorca, astonished at the manner in which Madame de Coigny, a professed devote, Alava, and the Prince Pierre d'Aremberg, talk before us heretics of their bishops, cardinals, legates, and even their popes. Alava was telling us of the legate in Spain during the reign of Charles III. He had some discussion with Aranda, then minister, and refused some boon requested for Spain, detailing with great pomp his fears lest the interests of their holy faith might suffer by such concessions.

Aranda, provoked, at last said, 'How can you bring forward such arguments to me who know that you are an atheist as well as myself?' The pious legate quietly replied, ' E vero, ma questo non si dice.''

Alava amused me in telling of the same man, the manner in which he received the often-repeated question of that fool Charles IV., who made all around him observe the striking resemblance between his son Don Francisco de Paula and the Prince of Peace. The sneer with which the legate first looked at the Queen, then at Manuel, and replied, 'E vero, Sire,' was very well described.

They all speak of the present Pope (Leo XII.) as having been fier libertine, and are not shy of letting you see that they consider his present austerity as mere hypocrisy. Of the late Pope (Pius VII.) they speak with the veneration which his character seems to demand from all, but which is certainly not felt by the bigoted Catholics, who cannot endure his liberal ideas.

They were speaking of the time that he passed in confinement at Fontainebleau. Napoleon wanted to force him to consent to measures which his conscience disapproved, and one day, tired out, said to one of his ministers (Fouche,*** I believe), ' Why do not you try what ill-treatment can do, short of torture ? I authorize you to employ every means.' The reply was, ' Mats, Sire, que voulez-vous que fon fasse Sun honime qui laisse geler Veav, dans son benitier sans se plaindre de n'avoir pas du few dans sa chambre ?'

One evening we talked of that extraordinary personage the Prince de Ligne, who for fourscore years had lived with every person of distinction in Europe, and who, to the last moment, preserved not only every useful faculty, but wit and gaiety besides. He preserved also to the last a singular facility of versification, and was particularly fond of writing epitaphs on himself. They say that he must have written above 500, generally impromptus, and of course worthless.****

****


Madame de Coigny told us an anecdote of that famous progress which Catherine la Grande made through the southern part of her empire, and which the Prince de Ligne has so well described. She was attended by the ministers of the three great European Powers. They arrived at Kiow. She first asked the Austrian, Cobentzel, what he thought of the town. He made a set speech on the ruins of the ancient town, contrasting them with the new buildings which she had made, and of course extracting from that part of the subject a long tirade of compliment, &c. &c.

When this oration, was ended Catherine turns to Segur, the French minister, ' Et vous, Monsieur, qu'e.n pensez-vous?’

‘Madame, il me semble que Kiow offrele souvenir d’un grand empire et l’espoir d’un autre.’’
*****

Catherine then says, ' A votre tour. Monsieur Fitzherbert (afterwards Lord St. Helens), qu’en dites-vous? '

Ma foi, Madame, je trouve que, c'est le plus vilain trou que nous ayons encore vu, dans touts notre route.’


Madame de Coigny says she has laughed at Lord St. Helens about this speech; he replied that everything that was pretty, everything flattering had been said, so that nothing remained for him but the plain truth. She added, ' C'est si Anglais.'*****

* The Life of Arthur Duke of Wellington, &c., p. 272.
** Siborne says that when the French Guards fell back, General Halkett, who had marked out Cambronne, dashed at him with uplifted sword, and was on the point of cutting him down, when Cambronne cried out to him to hold his hand, and surrendered. Just afterwards Halkett's horse fell, and Cambronne made an attempt to escape, but was overtaken by the General,, who pulled him back by the aiguiltette, and delivered him over to a guard of Osnabruckers. Cambronne himself always denied the historic mot attributed to him, which, according to M. Fournier (L'Esprit dans I'Histoire), was invented by M. Rougemont, the editor of the Independent, in which journal it originally appeared.
*** In his apocryphal Memoires, Fouche is made to say that Napoleon, knowing his repugnance to violent measures against the Pope, never trusted him with the conduct of them.
**** He was always writing about himself in prose as well as in verse. Amongst the heads of chapters in his Memoires et Melanges, we find, 'De Moi pendant Ie jour,' 'De Moi pendant la nuit,' ' De Moi encore,' ' Memoire par mon coeur,' Mes-Ecarts, ou Ma Tete en Liherte.'
***** Kiow was the capital of the ancient empire of Muscovy.
****** Segur's version is: '" Comment trouvez-vous la ville de Kioff? " dit-elle an Cornte de Cohentzel. " Madame," repliqua le comte avec le ton de l'enthousiasme, " c'est la plus belle, la plus imposante et la plus magnifique ville/ C’ue j'aie vue." M. Fitzherhert repondit a la meme question: " En verite, c'est un triste lieu; on n'y voit que des mines et des masures." Luterroge a men tour, je lui dis, " Madame, Kioff vous offre le souvenir et l'espoir d'une grande ville." '

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