+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

Until the date of the Revolution and
the military dictatorship, such things were
not heard of. On the contrary, everything
military seemed to be utterly sunk in
corruption, and the prey of a gigantic jobbing
system. The broad features of this fatal
mismanagement are tolerably well known to
the world; but, from a tell-tale Army List
issued from the office of M. le Mar├ęchal de
Segur, Minister of War, in the year seventeen
hundred and eighty-five, only four years
before the Revolution, a few significant facts
may be gleaned. What would seem at first
only a barren catalogue of names, becomes,
for us, a Blue-book impeachment, as it were,
of those days. For, through the pages of
this little volume the truth slips out
accidentally, and lets us officially into the secrets
of the whole system. The very first glance
at its crowded pages discovers a strange
principle in their distribution of military honours
and rewards.

In each regiment are to be found between
seventy and eighty officers. Of these, some five
or six on an average bear titles, or at least
enjoy the Corinthian prefix "de," before their
names. This proves the aristocratic element
to have been slender indeed in the French
army,—somewhere in the proportion of one to
about fifteen or sixteen. Turning then to the
higher gradesthose including the marshals
of France, generals, and brigadierswhich
make an overgrown total of nearly thirteen
hundred and thirtyit would be expected
that the greater half at least would fall to
the share of the untitled many. Twelve
hundred such appointments would be the
proper proportion. On the contrary, we find
no less than nine hundred and twenty filled
by dukes, barons, marquises, and other
gentles with the privileged "de;" and the
miserable dole of scarcely four hundred
reserved "pour encourager les autres"—
namely, those fifteen or sixteen thousand
officers who practically worked the French
army. No wonder then that when the hour
of trial arrived, the army was found to fail in
its duty.

Another significant token of decay meets
us in the costly institution known as "Maison
du Roi," or Royal Guard. In this choice
corpswhich was intended as provision for
poorer scions of the aristocracyit was
contrived that there should be an officer to about
every three men. Which arrangement,
however convenient as a mode of provision, could
scarcely have contributed to the efficiency
of the army. Very stately is the enumeration
of the various divisions and subdivisions
of this bodyleading off with the Scotch
companies, in whose ranks, as was to be
expected, not a Scot was to be found. Next
came the "Hundred Swiss," precursors of
the giants in sky-blue, and bright cuirasses,
who now watch over the person of Napoleon
the Third. After these we find the Garde de
Porte, or door-guard, of royal Louis; the
guard of the H├┤tel du Roi; gendarmerie of
numerous denominations; light horse; and
the Gardes Franchises, of questionable
notoriety, who abandoned their king in his
extremity; next follow the Swiss Guard, the
valiant Swiss, whose bright scarlet uniforms
on that fatal tenth of August, was the mark
for many a bullet. More ingenious
denominations follow, — such as the Scotch
gendarmerie, and, curious to say, the English!
raised, it seems, so far back as the year
sixteen hundred and sixty-seven. The queen
had her gendarmes; so, too, had his highness
the Dauphin; so had Monsieur, the
King's brother, and the Count d'Artois.
Monsieur is also provided with a body-guard
of his own, to say nothing of his Swiss guard
and his door-guard. The Count d'Artois
must likewise have his Swiss-guard, his
body-guard, and his door-guard; which
filled up, with tolerable completeness, the
roll of this Maison du Roi.

Pluralism was another plague-spot in the
system. The kingdom was at that time
parcelled out into a number of small governments,
all which became so much "provision"
for favourite commanders. The Comte
de Rochambeau, who conducted the war in
America, found time, perhaps when abroad
in that country, to fill the offices of
chief-governor of the Boulonnois, governor of
Ville-franche, and Commander-in-chief of Picardy,
besides keeping a few spare moments for the
duties of the colonelcy of the Auvergne
regiment. But, he pales his ineffectual fires
before the star of Baron Besenval, the Swiss
legionary; "an amiable sybarite," as he is
described in a strange pamphlet of the time,
"possessed of very little esprit; but who has
raised himself above his fellows by making
good use of his eyes and ears. His handsome
person was of some service to him at court,
and his ample fortune furnished him with
the means of shining there." This favoured
soldier of fortune enjoyed the following high
commands. He was sub-governor of Hugunau,
in Alsace; sub-governor of the
Champagne and Brie district; sub-governor of the
province of Nivernois; and sub-governor of
Berri;— here were sub-governorships in
plenty. But, there was more to come.
He was commander-in-chief of Tournois;
commander-in-chief of the city of Paris; and
lastly, lieutenant-colonel of the Swiss-guards!
This was a strange gathering of high offices in
the person of one man; a simple colonel. It
would be thought that the care of a single
province would be sufficient to give full
employment to any mortal with ordinary
capacities. Still, he and his major, Baron
Bachmann, proved themselves not unworthy of
such high distinction, and did good service
when the day of trial came round.

Another abuse was the accumulating
of great offices in the hands of children
of tender years,—of boys at school, and of
young men wholly unequal to the duties,