« PreviousContinue »
tian religion the Pendrills adhered to the faith of their forefathers; they had a hiding place where the priest said his mass; their Protestant king found in it a sacred asylum at the foot of the old Catholic altar. To complete the resemblance, the Countess of Derby, who so valiantly defended the Isle of Man, and was the last person in the three kingdoms who submitted to the Commonwealth, was of the family of La Tremouille; the Prince of Talmont was one of the last victims of Vendean wars.
PORTRAIT OF A VENDEAN.
BE it as it may with regard to the wood-cutters of Boscobel, near the now fallen royal oak, is the character of the Pendrills that of the Vendean peasants?
Whilst residing in London in 1798, I once met at the residence of the chargé d'affaires of th French princes, a crowd of dealers in counterrevolutions. There stood in the corner a man, who appeared to be from thirty to thirty-five years of age, unnoticed by all, and whose whole attention was fixed upon an engraving of the death of General Wolfe. Struck with his appearance, I inquired who he was. One of my neighbours replied, "He is nobody-a Vendean peasant; the bearer of a letter from his chiefs."
This man, who was nobody, had witnessed the death of Cathelineau, the first general of La Vendée, and a peasant like himself; of Bonchamp, in whom Bayard seemed to have revived; of Les
cure, armed with a hair-cloth, which was not proof against a ball; of Elbée, shot in an arm-chair, his wounds preventing him from encountering death standing; of La Rochejaquelin, whose dead body was ordered by the patriots to be verified, with a view to tranquillise the Convention in the midst of its victories over Europe. This man, who was nobody, had assisted at the two hundred captures and re-captures of towns, villages, and redoubts; at the seven hundred partial actions and the seventeen general engagements; he had taken part in the struggles against three hundred thousand regulars, and six or seven hundred thousand forced levies and national guards; had helped to carry off five hundred pieces of cannon, and a hundred and fifty thousand muskets; had forced his way through the infernal columns, companies of incendiaries headed by conventionalists; had found himself in the midst of the ocean of fire, which thrice rolled its waves over the woods of La Vendée; lastly, he had witnessed the destruction of three hundred thousand Hercules of the plough, companions of his labours, and had seen a hundred square leagues of country converted into a wilderness of ashes.
The two Frances met on this soil which they had thus levelled. Whatever remained of old blood and of recollections in the France of the Crusades struggled against the new blood and the
hopes put forth by revolutionary France. victor was sensible of the dignity of the conquered : Thurot, the general of the republicans, declared that "history would assign to the Vendeans the first rank amongst military populations." Another general wrote to Merlin of Thionville: "Troops that have defeated Frenchmen such as these may The well hope to conquer all other nations." legions of Probus said as much, in their songs, respecting our forefathers. The battles of La Vendée were called by Bonaparte "Battles of Giants."
I was the only one of the crowd in the apartments who looked with admiration and respect upon the representative of those boors of old who, whilst breaking the yoke of their lords, repelled, under Charles V., the invasion of foreigners; I fancied I beheld in him an inhabitant of those communes which, aided by the petty provincial nobility, in the days of Charles VII., re-conquered, furrow by furHe row, inch by inch, the territory of France. had that air of indifference which marks the savage; his eye was grey and inflexible as an iron rod; his lower lip trembled under his clenched teeth; his hair fell from his head like. snakes, benumbed but ready to rear themselves; his arms, hanging by his side, gave a nervous shock to enormous fists slashed with sabre cuts; he might have been taken for a sawyer.
ognomy expressed a plebeian rustic nature, brought by a moral force into the service of interests and ideas at variance with that nature; the unaffected fidelity of the vassal, the simple faith of the Christian, were blended in him with rude plebeian independence, accustomed to value itself, and to revenge its own wrongs. His sense of liberty seemed to spring from the consciousness of the strength of his arm and of the intrepidity of his heart. He was as silent as a lion, scratched himself like a lion, yawned like a lion, stretched on his side like a wearied lion, and appeared to dream of blood and forests; his intelligence was akin to that of death. What men were the French of those days, be their party what it might, and what a race have we become at the present day! But the republicans had their principle in them, in the very midst of them, whereas the principle of the Royalists was out of France. The Vendeans sent deputations to the emigrants; the giants sent to solicit leaders from the pigmies. The rustic messenger I was contemplating had taken the revolution by the throat; he had exclaimed,-" Come in; pass behind me; it will not hurt you; it shall not stir; I have a strong hold of it." No one was willing to pass; Jacques Bonhomme then released the revolution from his gripe, and Charette shivered his sword.