« НазадПродовжити »
was within one month cashiered, arrested, tried, imprisoned, and guillotined.
This happened at the dawn of the Reign of Terror, when the Revolutionary Tribunal still affected to hear evidence—and we have a tolerably minute report of his trial; but the charges, even if proved, were so distant from treason, and were in fact so far from being proved, that we, as well as the rest of the world, have always considered Custine's affair as one of the darkest mysteries of the Revolution. The historians in general-servum pecus -represent his fate as the mere consequence of popular exasperation at the reverses which the army had suffered; but this opinion cannot be supported by a reference to the facts. M. Thiers (iii. 202) more acutely imagines that it was rather the wreaking on Custine of the vengeance from which Dumouriez had escaped, and intended probably as a broad and bloody hint to the other Generals to look to their heads. The first of these opinions receives some colour from the unjustifiable use of Dumouriez' name made during the trial; and the latter suspicion had occurred to ourselves, and had been communicated to our readers (Q. R., vol. liv. p. 556), before we had read M. Thiers' suggestion, as the least improbable motive which we could assign. Yet neither of these reasons, nor even both together -and they are by no means incompatible--can be thought quite adequate to the effect ; for General Miaczinski had been previously executed as an accomplice of Dumouriez and in terrorem to his class-and there was really, at the particular moment, more likelihood of revolting the army by Custine's death than of intimidating it. These volumes open a new and much more rational view of the matter; and we see good reason to suppose that this crime, like so many others, was committed by personal vengeance under a public mask.
It is true that Custine was suspected of favouring the Girondins, and would thus be odious to the Jacobins, who were also jealous, not to say alarmed, at a kind of popularity which he enjoyed, and which they perhaps feared he might turn against them; but his more immediate persecutors were Danton and his section of the Mountain, called the Cordeliers. The cause of their peculiar enmity may now be traced. We find that, on the 2nd of July, Custine, at his head-quarters of Cambrai, was so imprudent as to complain to the Committee of Public Safety • of two persons calling themselves agents of the executive power, and commissioned to preach order and discipline to the army.- I leave you to judge whether ihey could perform this duty better than by distributing, as they did in commendable profusion, Number 28 of the Journal de la Montagne, and of the publication called Le Père Duchesne. It VOL. LXVII. NO. CXXXIV.
required all the prudence of the officers to save those men from the indignation of the soldiers. They were conducted to the Representatives of the People, who have put them under arrest.
Custine.'- vol. ii. p. 19. General Tourville writes by the same post to the Minister of War, Bouchotte (a tool of Danton), to complain of the same fact. He states distinctly that the distributors of these incendiary papers are his (Bouchotte's) official agents, and he requests the Minister to recall them, or at least to employ them elsewhere, and not to impose on the General the double duty of fighting at once external and internal enemies (p. 83). After this outbreak, the violence of the Jacobins, and particularly of Hébert (the Père Duchesne) against Custine knew no bounds; and considering that Bouchotte, and, above all, his secretary, the notorious Vincentwhom M. Thiers, who loves to be dramatic, calls the terrible Vincent'-were intimately connected with Danton, Hébert, and the Cordeliers, we get a clue to the peculiar personal antipathy of that faction to Custine ; and even if there had been no personal feeling in the matter, the audacity of a General who should dare to interfere with the distribution of the Jacobin journals would require a speedy and bloody expiation: Custine must perish !
But this was not all. There was a still nearer personal ani. mosity between Bouchotte and the unlucky and too candid Custine. The following is an extract of one of the General's letters to the Minister :
• Custine to BouchOTTE. 'I am often obliged to remind you that you seem to fancy yourself a Minister of the old régime. They thought themselves infallible; but be at length persuaded that in a Republic, with a Minister so ignorant as you are of all that you ought to know, you must, since you have taken this office upon you, listen not only to a General, but to every citizen who can give you information; and it is especially my duty-to whom the safety of this army is confided—to take every means to assure it, Instead of making me lose the time which I ought only to employ in calculating the movements of our enemies, and in combining those whom I am to oppose to them, you ought much rather to send to Quesnoy 30,000 pounds weight of powder,' &c. &c.—vol. ii. p. 44.
This is pretty sharp; but a subsequent letter is still more severe on the minister and his adjoint.
Custine to Bouchotte.
• Cambrai, 6th June, 1793. · Yes, Citizen Minister, it was my duty to alter the arrangements of your adjoint, because the service of the republic required it. That citizen might have convinced hiniself of this, if he would have taken the trouble of looking at the documents in your own office, and of throwing even a cursory glance on the calculations which are the basis
of the demands I before made, and which are in the War-office. The interest which I take in the success of the army of the Rhine, although I no longer command it, obliges me to correct your errors. Citizen Minister, you have set out with a false supposition; it is not therefore surprising that you have been grossly mistaken.'-vol. ii. p. 46.
He then enters into several historical details, which he says the Minister ought to understand, and of which he is entirely ignorant. He then proceeds with increased bitterness :
I must thank you, moreover, for the indulgence with which you touch so lightly on some parts of my letter, which it seems are “ trifling and beside the question." You say that “ you look only to reason and the interests of the Republic, and that you are far from supposing that I can have been intentionally disrespectful to one of its Ministers.” I, also, Citizen Minister, look only to the Republic; but when the success of its arms requires that I should reproach a Minister with his ignorance or his unfitness for the very difficult duties that have been confided to him, I do not think that I am wanting in respect to the Republic, by pronouncing very strongly my opinion against him. The time is past when Generals worshipped a Minister, even if he were a blockhead. I never was one of that contemptible class. I was a Republican even before the Republic; and whenever I have met such ministerial idols, I have treated them with contempt. I think, like every friend of liberty, that nothing is more advantageous to the public service than giving publicity to official correspondence. Such a system brings all public men under public observation and criticism, and serves alike to prove which of the functionaries deserve the confidence of the country, and which, on the other hand, have forfeited it by their utter imbecility. If I am of this latter class-denounce me!
and the Ardennes.'-vol. ii. p. 49. After reading these letters we have no longer any difficulty in understanding Custine's fate; can it be reasonably doubted that the peculiar and hitherto unaccountable virulence with which he was persecuted by the War-Office arose from the private vengeance of the Minister and his Secretary, and the faction to which they belonged. But the matter was delicate-Custine was highly popular in the army, and his adversaries were afraid to take any step against him while he remained among his troops. The Committee of Public Safety, therefore, under the pretence of consulting him on the measures of the campaign, and by expressions of unlimited confidence, enveigled Custine to Paris—where he arrived about the 18th July, and gave his adversaries much uneasiness for three or four days, by parading himself in a kind of triumph about the Palais-Royal, and other public places, where he was much followed and even applauded; but on the 22nd he was arrested and sent to the Abbaye. The revolutionary tribunal, which as yet showed some decency, seemed reluctant to try, and still more so to condemn him ; but the implacable Père Duchesne denounced even the revolutionary tribunal for being too scrupulous, and under this pressure Custine was at length condemned on the 27th August, and executed next day.
2 K 2
arrested * This Bulletin was published in loose sheets, day by day-very hastily done-but it is the first, and, therefore, the best authority for all the proceedings of the Revolutionary Tribunal. M. Thiers has copied from it his account of Custine's execution. A complete set seems to be very rare, since one in the sale of the library of the unfortunate Labedoyère, in April 1837, brought 361 francs.
With what we now see, we are no longer surprised, as M. Thiers seems to have been, at the appearance on the trial of the Secretary-General of the War Department, the terrible Vincent,' bringing from the archives of the War-office a mass of letters and documents, which, though he explained and commented upon them with malignant zeal, are admitted even by the · Bulletin du Tribunal Revolutionnaire'* to have had little or nothing to do with Custine. The Bulletin talks of a number of letters produced by Vincent, but does not detail them. M. Thiers, in his usual fashion, repeats the observation of the Bulletin as to the number of the letters, but he seems to have taken no trouble to inquire what they really were ; though we suppose they must be in the public archives. Of one thing we may be tolerably certain, that amongst them were not the two letters to the Minister which we have above quoted, and which were probably the most unpardonable offence of the unfortunate General.
The rest of the volume is occupied by desultory letters from and to the army of the North during the short command of Houchard and the beginning of that of Jourdan. Houchard's fate -- like so many other obscure episodes of the great tragedy-is, when closely looked at, very remarkable and exemplary. He had been originally brought forward by Custine, but, on the turn of the tide, Houchard deserted and even denounced his friend and patron; and he was duly rewarded—by succeeding him-first, in the chief command of the army; and secondly, the very same day three months—on the scaffold! These papers throw no light wbatsoever on the real causes of Houchard's fate—those alleged in the indictment are even more absurdly false than the charges against Custine. If ever the truth should be known, we have no doubt it will appear that he was the victim of the same detestable arts that he himself had so basely employed against Custine--indeed arte perire suâ is the device of the whole revolution. It has been said that, as Custine had been denounced by Houchard, so Houchard himself was denounced by Hoche, then an ambitious young soldier: but we have nothing in these volumes either to contradict or to authenticate that suspicion. We have read that the son of Houchard published at Strasburg, in 1809, a pamphlet on his father, in which the real causes of his death are revealed,' but we have not been able to see this pamphlet. It is worthy of notice that these legal murders had now become so common, that several historians do not think it worth while to mention so small a fact as the execution of this Commander-in-Chief, on a charge of being in alliance with the enemy he had beaten, and of having betrayed the country by the very victory which had saved it.
young "The third is the governor of this town, who is full of respect for Cobourg and his agents. The proof is the attention he showed the Prince de — , lieutenant-colonel of the regiment of Cobourg, whom he had carefully removed to a lodging in the town to have his wounds dressed, while our own brethren were lying in a church as if it had been a barn. I visited them all this morning, and they complained of this indecent partiality. How is it that one of our enemies should receive more attention than our own soldiers ? 'The fourth is an Irishman, named Mandeville. I this morning
Indeed, nothing could be more deplorable than the situation of the general officers at this particular period-made responsible for armies which they were not allowed to command, and for events which they were not permitted to direct-insulted by every petty emissary of the clubs, and holding their stations almost at the will and pleasure of the proconsular tyrants. We shall conclude our extracts with a letter of Carnot's colleague, Duquesnoy, which will exhibit this system in a forcible light-premising that where we have put asterisks there are in the original the vulgarest terms of obscenity: 'Duquesnoy to the COMMITTEE OP Public Safety.
• Avesnes, 18th Oct., 1793. Citizen Colleagues, I send you herewith, to be shortened by the head, four *** officers. The first is Gratien, a general of brigade, who formally disobeyed the orders of his general of division to attack the enemy in the village of Watignies. If he had executed that order the battle would have been won three hours sooner, and we should have had more time to take advantage of our victory. The 12,000 or 15,000 men who were on the heights of Watignies would have been surrounded, and not one would have escaped; but this traitor or coward, far from executing his order, beat a retreat, caused us a great loss of men, and nearly the loss of the battle. .
'The second is the commander of the 25th regiment of cavalry. He also disobeyed the orders of General Fromentin to charge the enemy: instead of obeying, he wheeled to the left and *** ran away, which embarrassed our arrangements and cost us many brave republicans.