Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

Ney Shot

Only a few days after Waterloo, the English and Prussians again marched proudly into Paris. They camped in front of the Tuileries, and all Wellington's influence had to be brought into play to prevent the Prussians from blowing up the Bridge of Jena, a lasting monument of their great defeats.

The next day, the Second Restoration was an accomplished fact, for Louis XVIII. reentered the capital, whence he had regretfully departed at the beginning of the Hundred Days, refusing to say farewell and predicting his speedy return. Talleyrand, whom the Prussians would gladly have blown up with the Bridge of Jena, now became prime minister, and immediately took all necessary measures to, disband the French army, to proscribe many of those who had joined Napoleon, and to arrange the terms for a second treaty of Paris.

Every day now it became more evident that even had Napoleon succeeded at Waterloo, he could never have maintained his position on the throne, for troops came pouring in on all sides until there were no less than eight hundred thousand foreigners in France. These immense hordes of strangers naturally made their presence unpleasantly felt; for all of them owed some grudge to the country which had dictated terms to them for so many years, only too often exercising her power unfairly.

Not only were the usual demands now made for money and territory, but each nation also claimed the trophies and spoils which Napoleon had carried off. Thus the Louvre, which he had made a storehouse of Europe's chief treasures, lost them again, and they were restored to the places whence they had been taken. The only objects not recoverable were the flags and military trophies which loyal keepers hastily destroyed, rather than let them revert to their former owners.

On coming to France in 1814, the king had pardoned every one save the regicides (those who had voted the death of Louis XVI.), but this time he felt that an example should be made of the leading traitors, especially of such military men as had betrayed their * trust. A proscription list of fifty-seven persons was therefore, made out, some of the victims being merely banished, while others were condemned to death. The first of the victims to be shot was Labedoyere, the man who had gone over to Napoleon with a whole regiment. But his companion (Lavalette) was saved from a similar fate by his clever wife, who, entering his prison in mourning garb and closely veiled, made him dress in her garments and thus effect an escape.

Ney, the Bravest of the Brave, who had proved unfaithful to his new master, Louis XVIII., when the growing success of Napoleon suddenly rekindled the devotion of years, was ruthlessly seized and tried, not by the usual military commission, but by a special court, which condemned him to death. It was while his wife was at the palace door, still beseeching a hearing, and still hoping to save his life, that Ney was marched off to his doom. Standing on the very spot where his statue can now be seen in Paris, he not only refused to have his eyes bandaged, but gave the final signal himself, saying: "Do you not know that for twenty years past I have been accustomed to look straight at bullets and cannon balls? Before God and my country, I protest against the verdict that condemns me. I appeal to mankind, to posterity, to God. Long live France! Soldiers, straight at the heart!"

The exile of Napoleon, and the execution of their idol, Ney, seemed unforgivable crimes to the soldiers, and many of them also resented the fact that Murat, who tried to stir up a rebellion in southern Italy in the hope of recovering his throne, was shot without being even granted a trial. Besides, in the south of France, where there were many Royalist centers, several of Napoleon's officers were lynched by angry mobs, and we are told that more than seven thousand Bonapartists were seized and banished, or imprisoned and put to death. This state of affairs, known as the Second White Terror, helped to keep unfortunate France in a state of ferment for some time longer.

Seeing that the Bourbons,—who "remembered nothing and forgot nothing,"—were making themselves very unpopular, Talleyrand cleverly made room for another minister, under whose sway the second treaty of Paris was concluded. Not only was France thereby reduced to the limits she had in 1790, but she was obliged to pay a huge war indemnity, and to maintain one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers for five years in frontier towns, in order to guard against further political changes. These conditions proved very humiliating to French pride, and the presence of the foreign soldiers became such torture that the French hastened to pay the last of the indemnity before it was due, and all breathed a sigh of relief when the occupation was thus brought to an end, two years sooner than had first been stipulated.

The restored government, under the Charter, was fashioned somewhat upon the plan of the English constitution, the two houses being called the Chamber of Peers and the Chamber of Deputies. But the king still insisted on "no compromise, no surrender," still called himself proudly "king in spite of everything" (le roi quand meme), and still persisted in ignoring the Empire, during which France had really reached its highest point of glory since the age of Charlemagne; all of which naturally caused friction and uneasiness.

Although Louis XVIII. claimed that "the reign of swords is over; the reign of ideas has begun," there were many of his own party who did not approve of his ideas; those, for instance, who were "more Royalist than the king himself," and the former Republicans whose reformatory and progressive work was being rapidly undone. Besides, the press was once more subjected to censure, and the schools were again placed under close religious supervision, thus inclining many to rebellion; so there were student and other riots, which all too often resulted in disorder and bloodshed.

Still, in spite of all these drawbacks, France was then better off than most of the other European countries, where not only the same spirit of dissatisfaction and unrest prevailed, but where the war debts were even greater; for Napoleon had cleverly made others pay for some of the wars by which he had brought France to her highest pitch of glory.