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THE APOLOGY FOR SIR HUDSON LOWE.
The History of the Captivity of Napoleon at St. Helena, from the Letters and Journals of
the late Sir Hudson Lowe. By WILLIAM FORSYTH, M.A. 3 Vols. 8vo. Murray, 1853. On the 15th of July 1815 Napoleon was unwittingly, fallen into the tone and manner received on board the 66 Bellerophon.” On of an advocate. Never, surely, did an author the thirty-first the letter of Lord Melville was so deceive himself as to the tone of his work read to General Buonaparte, announcing his as Mr. Forsyth has done. There is not a book future destination. On the 15th of October in the language which displays a more laborious in the same year the “Northumberland” ar- subtlety, a more constantly-sustained bending rived at St. Helena. On the 5th May 1821 of small facts towards a foregone conclusion, the captive died.
or a more manifest contempt for the understandTo fill up the details of the events marked ing of its readers. It is just such a case as a by these dates, Mr. Forsyth has compiled the bold advocate might venture before a Parliawork before us.
mentary Committee, or as a barrister might Nothing but a very enthusiastic abstract address to a jury while the judge is out of love of truth could induce any one to resusci- Court. The abuse of O'Meara is overdone, tate a controversy so old, so stale, and so ex- and the proofs against him overstated : thé hausted, as is that upon the treatment of little Court at Longwood is, it is true, shewn Napoleon. Every one resident upon the island, to have been guilty of constant prevarication except only Sir Hudson Lowe, has written and a good deal of lying; the deposed emhis own account of what occurred there. The peror is convicted of a hundred acts of petuFrench have a formed conviction that their lance at times when contemptuous submission captive emperor was tortured to death by petty would have been more majestic; and the whole annoyances, small discomforts, and constant band of Sir Hudson's prisoners are seen eninsults. The English had, before Mr. Forsyth gaged in a constant conspiracy to magnify opened his defence, an almost equally settled their grievances, in order to mortify their gaoler persuasion that the prisoner was undignified and to gain for themselves sympathy in Euand querulous, insensible to such kindness as rope. All this, if not very dignified, is not a gaoler could shew, and ever upon the watch very startling. It was Napoleon's business to for grievances. But while the French can get away from the island if he could; it was speak and write of Sir Hudson Lowe only as Lowe's duty to keep him there; and these two a vulgar ruffian, the English believed him to objects were much too conflicting to render a have been a zealous officer, but a splenetic and good understandirg between the emperor and the ungentle man, ill chosen for his office, and baronet very easy to be kept up by the latter. unfitted to its delicate duties, yet not unwilling
To those who have read the works of to treat his captive as courteously as he could O'Meara and Las Cases these three bulky with security. The Whigs of 1820 used to volumes will afford nothing new, except a declaim about the sufferings of Napoleon, as lengthy and tedious amplification of the topics though he had been a martyr—" with a thief- there discussed ; a defence, sometimes successful catcher ferreting his dirty linen, harrassed by and sometimes very unsatisfactory, of the a hideous complaint, and tortured by insults.” charges brought against the governor ; constant The French of the present day represent him abuse of O'Meara ; and a secret correspondence in their writings and upon their stage as op- between O'Meara and Mr. Croker, now for posing a calm dignity to all the outrage and the first time brought to light. This last topic petty persecutions of a mean-minded tyrant. is one of very great interest, and is worthy of History, however, was gradually accumulating a much more impartial consideration than that the atoms that went to make up a decision, bestowed upon it by Mr. Forsyth. and was gradually arriving at the conclusion In his “ Voice from St. Helena " O'Meara that Napoleon was treated with no greater says he had the following conversation with severity than was absolutely necessary for the Napoleon :-“Napoleon asked, ' Are you to be object proposed—impossibility of evasion--but my surgeon, or surgeon d'une galère ; and that these precautions might have been dis- are you expected to report what you observe guised with more tact, and conducted with more or hear?' I answered, I am your surgeon, delicacy, than they were by Sir Hudson Lowe. and not a spy, and one in whom I hope you
This conclusion is not fortified by the very may place confidence: I am not surgeon d'une elaborate apology now put forth by Mr. For- galère, nor do I consider it imperative on me syth ; for that gentleman, although he dis- to report any thing which is not contrary to claims the character of a partisan, has, perhaps my allegiance as a British officer, &c.'”
Two years later, in his report of a conver- Major Gorrequer was desired by the governor to take a sation with Lowe, O'Meara tells us, that when
note of the expressions used by O'Meara, and he put
them down in the following words :Sir Hudson Lowe said to him he did not think
Mr. O'Meara says he pledged his word to Napoleon a person under a pledge to Napoleon Buona- Bonaparte not to reveal the conversations that passed parte ought to be received into company, he between themselves, except they had a tendency to his replied, “ I was under no other pledge to Na- (Napoleon Bonaparte's) escape, last May was a twelvepoleon than one which was tacitly understood He then shewed O'Meara what he had written, who in every society of gentlemen.”
read it, and said it was what he had expressed, and, if Mr. Forsyth insists that one of these state- required, he would give it in his own handwriting. The ments must be false. We do not think so. If governor then said, “What, Sir! and you have thus we are to trust O'Meara's statement (“ Voice, thinking proper to apprise me of it until now; and you
pledged yourself without consulting me about it, or even vol. i. p. 47), Napoleon said to him, “All I do not blush to avow it !". want of you is to act as a galant uomo, and O'Meara answered, “I beg your pardon, Sir; I told as you would do were you surgeon to Lord St. you of it.”. This the governor immediately denied, and Vincent. I do not mean to bind
O'Meara did not persist in the assertion. you to silence,
Sir Hudson Lowe afterwards asked, “ If you engaged or to prevent you from repeating any barardage your promise not to reveal any thing that passed in CODyou may hear me say ; but I want to prevent versation between Napoleon Bonaparte and yourself, esyou from allowing yourself to be cajoled and cept what had a tendency to his escape, how came you to made a spy of, unintentionally on your part, versations which had no tendency whatever to escape ?"
repeat to me all that you have mentioned of those conby this governor.” This seems to us to amount He answered,“ Because you have asked me, and I thought to exactly that tacit understanding which they might be interesting to Government; but though I O'Meara mentioned.
told you some parts, I did not tell you all : besides, I So far as the governor was concerned, thought I might in some things depart from it [i.e. the
promise) without impropriety." O'Meara appears to have acted properly. He
The governor said that a person who had made such a told him indifferent matters, but utterly refused promise was not fit to remain in such a situation ; and to answer interrogations, or to be used as a after, in warm language, pointing out the impropriety of
his conduct, which he characterized as dishonourable and mouton, or spy. Sir Hudson Lowe was much
uncandid towards Government and himself, he told him enraged, turned him out of his room, and he did not wish him to remain in the house any longer, threatened to expel him the island Mr. For- and desired him to quit it. It will however, I think, syth thinks his hero was right, but he takes be generally felt that O'Meara was more to blame for what we think a most unfair and even unjusti- than for making it in the first instance. The promise fiable advantage of the mere verbal discrepancy might be an error of judgment; the breaking it was the between the accounts given by O'Meara of his deliberate breach of a solemn engagement. understanding with Napoleon. O'Meara re- Now we submit that this is special pleading; lates the scene thus : “My refusals to disclose and very bad special pleading. O'Meara had Napoleon's conversations caused me to be pledged himself to Napoleon not to act the spy treated in an outrageous manner. The gover- upon him, and Napoleon had replied, “ I don't nor followed me out of the room, vociferating bind you to secrecy: repeat what gossip you after me in a frantic manner, and carried his please, but act like a man of honour." Theregestures so far as to menace me with personal fore O'Meara was quite right in repeating what violence.” Lowe's account, in his despatch gossip he thought unimportant, and also quite home, is not very different, although he, of right in stating that he was pledged to submit course, omits the tone of voice and the gestures. to no questioning. Mr. Forsyth's commentary is as follows :
A further imputation remains. Although O'MEARA'S PLEDGE TO NAPOLEON.
O'Meara did not play the spy for Lowe, did The interview thus briefly alluded to, and summarily he not do so for Lowe's masters? Mr. Fordismissed, deserves a fuller notice. It was not to be syth continues thus :expected that O'Meara would give a faithful account of it. He might, indeed, with no greater dishonesty than
On the 23d, O'Meara wrote a long letter to Sir he has exhibited throughout his book, have garbled it to
Hudson Lowe, which is nowhere noticed in his printed suit his purpose; but it was more convenient not to at
works. The reason of this no doubt was, that it would tempt any detail of a conversation which covered him have been very difficult to do so without revealing to the with disgrace. For he confessed to the governor on that world that he had given the pledge of secrecy to Napooccasion, after much hesitation, and with great reluctance, leon which he so repeatedly violated. After saying that that notwithstanding his frequent spontaneous communi- his principle was “to forget the conversations he hedd cations to himself, and his series of gossiping and garru
with his patients on leaving the room, unless as far as lous letters to Mr. Finlaison, from May 1816 to Decem- regarded his allegiance as a British officer to his sovereign ber 1817, a period of nearly twenty months, he was,
and country ;" and that, if he had consented to report to during the whole of that period, under a pledge to Na- the governor verbatim his conversations with Bonaparte, poleon not to reveal the conversations that passed between he would have acted “a most base and dishonourable them, unless they related to his escape !
part,” and, in fact, been " a spy," and a “mouton ;" and
that “such conduct would cover his name with well• The disputes between O'Meara and the governor merited infamy, and render him unfit for the society of will be found best detailed in the correspondence printed any man of honour;" he thus proceeded to develope bis in the Appendix to Mr. Forsyth's second volume, p. 469. conception of the duties of his office :
“He who, clothed with the specious garb of a phy- came they were given to Mr. Croker, who considered them sician, insinuates himself into the confidence of his pa- extremely interesting, and circulated copies among the tient, and avails himself of the frequent opportunities and cabinet ministers ; and he desires me to assure you that facilities which his situation necessarily presents of being they never have been, nor shall they ever hereafter be, near his person to wring, under the pretence of curing or seen by any other person. I conjecture, also, that your alleviating his infirmities, and in that confidence which letters have even amused His Royal Highness the Prince has been, from time immemorial, reposed by the sick in Regent : they are written with that discrimination, good persons professing the healing art, disclosures of his pa- sense, and naïveté, that they could not fail to be accepttients' sentiments, for the purpose of afterwards betraying able ; and I am quite sure that they have done you a them, deserves most justly to be branded with the appella- great deal of good at the Board, a proof of which is, that tion of " mouton."
Captain Hamilton of the Havannah, and Sir E. ThornTo this sentence of condemnation upon the physician borough, reported in a public letter that, a few hours who violates his trust no exception can be taken ; and out after the ship's arrival, a letter was inserted in the Portsof his own mouth shall O'Meara be judged. We are mouth paper about Bonaparte, and that it had been lost in amazement at the effrontery of a man who could traced that you were the author of it. Mr. Croker sent so write after he had deliberately, during the whole pe- for me, and desired me to request you to be careful in riod of his residence at St. Helena, broken, not merely the respect to your private letters to any other person, as implied agreement which, according to himself, tacitly every thing now-a-days gets into the papers ; but to me he subsists between the physician and his patient, but his repeated his hopes that you would write in full confidence, express promise to Napoleon. So far from “ forgetting and in the utmost possible detail, all the anecdotes you can conversations with his patients on leaving the room, he pick up, resting assured that none but the Government used to hurry to his apartments, where he was seen ever will see them, and to them they are and must be noting down in his journal all that had occurred. extremely interesting, as shewing the personal felings of
Moreover, he did not scruple afterwards to publish to your great state prisoner." the world the sayings of Napoleon, which he had heard from him solely through means of the access which he had to his privacy in the character of physician ; and but we learn from one of the Governor's des
Mr. Forsyth quotes no more of this letter, from time to time he sent off his narrative of conversations with the exile, of the most confidential kind, to his patches that it concludes with a request to friend at the Admiralty, to be by that friend
communi- procure a scrap of Bonaparte's handwriting cated to the ministers of the Crown; so that it was
for Mr. Croker," and, on the whole, manifests clear to demonstration that either he had constantly and deliberately been in the habit of violating it. And here
a kind of interest in every thing relating to the it may be convenient to mention, that not long after- extraordinary personage referred to, which, wards Sir Hudson Lowe was officially made acquainted if communicated to him, could not fail, I think, with the fact
that O'Meara continued to forward his of proving in a certain degree flattering to letters to Mr. Finlaison; for on the 23d of January, 1818 him; and, with a personage of his artifice, lead, Bathurst thinks it proper that you should be informed through Dr. O'Meara, to communications for that this correspondence is still kept up; and that it is so the ear and observations of the Prince Regent with his lordship’s knowledge ; for as the letters received himself.” from Dr. O'Meara are regularly submitted to Lord Bathurst's perusal, he has thought it advisable not to do
Of the conduct of Mr. Croker and his su. any thing which, by driving Dr. O'Meara to seek another periors there can, we conceive, exist but one channel of correspondence, might deprive Lord Bathurst opinion. They, at any rate, thought that they of the knowledge of its contents, and of the objects with were suborning a spy who was to jot down for which it is evident that his communications are made."
them all the agonies of their illustrious prisoner, Now, albeit not accustomed to interfere in and serve them up as “a real feast,” to gratify a quarrel between two Irishmen-for both the miserable appetites of“ very great folks : ") O'Meara and Sir Hudson Lowe were natives and all this amusement was to be obtained of the emerald isle-we feel strongly impelled for them by a sordid breach of the most sacred to take up the cudgels for the surgeon.
confidence. O'Meara's object, however, does In the first place, we must admit that he did not appear to have been one of such unmixed write gossiping and garrulous leiters to Mr. baseness as Mr. Forsyth wishes to make out. Finlaison, and that he knew that the details It probably had a threefold purpose : first, therein given were intended for the amusement to obtain better appointments for himself from of the Prince Regent and the English aristo- the ministers; secondly, to annoy and injure cracy. Mr. Wilson Croker (whose name, by Sir Hudson Lowe, whom he and everybody some fatality, always crops out whenever any hated; thirdly, to insinuate to the Prince Resecret mine of official dirtiness is discovered gent and the ministers the causes of complaint about this time) appears to have been the insti- which Napoleon had. gator and manager of the correspondence.
When he wrote the following, he doubtless On the 3d July 1816 Mr. Finlaison writes had the first object in view :to O'Meara thus :
“ In fact, if the Government does not choose to give me “ Your letters of the 16th of March and 22d of April what Bonaparte offered me himself, viz. 12,000 francs, came duly to hand, and furnished a real feast to some and repeated once in a letter from General Montholon, very great folks here. I also received a letter from you on which has been forwarded to the Admiralty, I must deyour first arrival, which was considered very interesting: cline holding the situation any longer. If I must be a bot a line of any thing you have written to me since you prisoner, it is only the hopes of emolument which will insailed was ever made public. The moment your letters duce me to continue in this cage. You will perceive that the greatest part, if not the whole, of this letter would be him, and him alone ; adding, that he had written to Lord unfit to meet the public eye, perhaps would not be alto- Bathurst, to acquaint him that I had been in the habit of gether agreeable to the Government also : however, of corresponding with you, and that I had furnished you this you are, of course, the best judge. I merely tell you with every information respecting Bonaparte, in order in confidence of what really happened."
that he might take steps to prevent the same, adjoining
[adding ?], however, that he had done it in such a manIn the long letter which O'Meara wrote to ner as not to do me any mischief. Finlaison on the 29th December 1816 he de- “ By this you will be able to judge how requisite it tailed Napoleon's desire to be allowed to reside
must be not to make known to his Lordship that I still
am a channel of communication ; though it appears : in England-his inclination to drop his preten- little strange and unaccountable to me that Sir Hudson sions to a royal title, and to take a nom de should be so dreadfully alarmed at the idea of His Mavoyage-his resentment at the governor having jesty's ministers being made acquainted with the truth of come in person to convey him news which he what occurs with respect to a man who has made so thought would afflict him, and to enjoy his much noise in the world, while at the same time he sends
Pioutkowski and three others to disseminate, not only the torment. O'Meara then goes on to detail the truth, but gross exaggerations blended with it, through all new restrictions adopted by Sir Hudson Lowe, Europe. Until I came to Saint Helena I never was and proceeds :-“ Since these new restrictions
aware that the ministers were not to be put in possession
of whatever might regard state prisoners." have been put in force, Bonaparte has never been out on horseback. For the last six weeks Now there is not one word in this letter he has not stirred out of the house, except one which Napoleon would not have wished to go evening for about ten minutes, and rarely quits forth to England; and although O'Meara is his room or dines at table with the rest. This very importunate with his correspondent to confinement has had a visible effect upon his prevent it getting into the papers, lest Napoleon health and appearance; and I have no doubt should see it, it is by no means impossible that that if he persists in it, his existence will be Napoleon saw the letter, or knew the purport closed in a few months, either by hydrothorax of it, before it was sent. or apoplexy." He vindicates the emperor
The same remark occurs upon a subsequent from all knowledge of the plot attributed to letter, wherein O'Meara transmitted to Croker Las Cases; he repeats the emperor's fears lest the substance of a letter which Count Monthothe governor should seize upon his manu
lon wished him to have conveyed to Europe scripts ; he states that Napoleon said, when he for publication. saw the governor and his staff surrounding
In a letter published in the Morning Chronicle" of the the house, “ Il me parut voir les anthropo- 3d of March 1823, Mr. Finlaison, speaking of a letter phages des iles de la mer de midi, qui dansent which he had received from O'Meara in July 1815, said, autour de leurs victimes avant de les devorer;" “Some expressions in this letter led me to doubt the pro. he mentions, with a somewhat hypocritical offered to me by Mr. O'Meara, without the authority of
priety of entertaining a correspondence of the nature show of defending the governor, that that my official superiors : I therefore thought proper to comfunctionary had caused Napoleon great anxiety municate the letter to Mr. Croker, who declined authoby detaining the papers of the emperor that rising such a correspondence without consulting Lord were among those of Las Cases, not to examine Melville. His Lordship, on being referred to, said that
he saw no reason why I should not receive the letters them, but because he was too busy to think of which Mr. O'Meara might choose to write to me, and returning them; and he ends this long letter of that it might even be advantageous to hear from an imsixteen pages thus :
partial and near observer the situation of Bonaparte and
his suite. But in order that no duplicity should be prac“I must confess that I am one of those who think that tised on Mr. O'Meara, I was desired to apprise him that a great deal of unnecessary rigour has been practised his letters would be seen by the ministers." towards him, as you may yourself conceive from the nature of the restrictions; and I know that such is the
O'Meara refused to retain the letter, but opinion of every officer on the island, except Sir Hudson's read it. personal staff. Sir Hudson himself, indeed, appears to be “I told Sir Hudson, this day, that Montholon had conscious of it; within a few days he has taken away his
done so, and that he had given me the letter. He was prohibition against speaking, removed some of the senti
very much displeased at the idea of its being made Dels, and rescinded his order about persons not being able to
known, and also with me for having read it, so that make use of the same pass to speak to any of his staff I was obliged in my own defence to make known to him and allow them to hold converse with him. Bonaparte that I was authorised to make communications respecting asks that things should be put upon the same footing Bonaparte to the Admiralty. He appeared surprised and they were in Sir George Cockburn's time. Few, I believe, annoyed at this, and said that it was not proper ; that will doubt Sir George Cockburn's capacity and capability the Admiralty had nothing to do with what took place of placing him in as secure a position as any governor respecting him ; that he did not communicate it to the would desire. In fact, he was then just as secure as he is now, and was not tormented with unnecessary, frivolous, and annoying restrictions.
• We say to Croker ; for although Mr. Forsyth makes “ Sir Hudson has repeated again to me his prohibition a quibble upon the subject, there can be no dispute that of communication, during which, he obesrved that none of Croker was the real correspondent who received these the ministers had any bnsiness to know what was going letters, any more than there can be that he was the writer on about Bonaparte, except the one with whom he corre- who afterwards so savagely attacked O'Meara in the Sponded ; and that such correspondence should go through Quarterly, and called him a spy.
Duke of York; that it ought not even to be made known The paltry gaoler and the prying spy, to any of the Cabinet Ministers, except the Secretary of The staring stranger with his note-book nigh: State, with whom he corresponded himself; and that he Vain his complaint-my lord presents his bill ; would make some arrangements accordingly. He added, His food and wine were doled out duly still : that my correspondence ought to go through him. I re Vain was his sickness-never was a clime plied very respectfully, that as I had been in the habit of So free from homicide- to doubt 's a crime. obeying those received from the Board of Admiralty, And the stiff surgeon who maintained his cause under whose orders I naturally was, I had not thought Hath lost his place, and gain'd the world's applause. it improper to communicate to them such information
Yet now that Mr. Forsyth's book has apand anecdotes as I thought they might be pleased with, submitting to him that it would be much better for me to peared, we wonder to find that at least some resign the situation, which I was ready to do. To this portion of all this was true. he replied, he was far from desiring such a step, and said generation had tacitly agreed to disbelieve that the subject altogether required some deliberation, O'Meara altogether. Exaggeration and malice and thus the matter rests. Until, lowever, I have received directions from you not to correspond, I will con
were patent in his book. We opened this work tinue to do so, or will, as I told him, resign a situation with the full conviction that we should find a always delicate, and now peculiarly and embarrass- complete defence of the national honour, and ingly so.
a decisive answer to all the stories of the day. Upon the whole, we think that Mr. Forsyth Yet we find Mr. Forsyth—not indignantly has failed signally in his elaborate attempt to denying that any restriction was ever placed destroy the credit of O'Meara. O'Meara did upon the quantity of food provided to the emnot love the French attendants of the emperor, peror-but proving that the French ladies and but he seems to have succumbed to the in- gentlemen who had accompanied their master fluence exerted over all around him by Na- into captivity were gluttons and wine-bibbers poleon. Prudence, lest he should be seduced defending his hero by shewing that even beyond safe limits, or fear, lest the Montholons O'Meara thought they used too many pounds of and Bertrands should learn his secret, might that there were miserable, dirty, dishonouring
beef for their consommés-admitting, in fact, have kept him from shewing his letters to Napoleon; but the letters to Finlaison were
restrictions, disgraceful to the Prince Regent, written altogether in the interest of the prisoner to Lord Bathurst, and to Lowe, and, whether his patient.
suggested by the congenial genius of Croker,
or originating with the governor, equally un“ He frequently breaks out into invectives against the worthy of this country. We had fully exa English Government for sending him to this island, pected to find that the restrictions which predetestable spot in the universe. Behold the English vented Napoleon from entering a house upon Government,' said he, gazing around at the frightful and the island, stopping to speak to any of the stupendous rocks which encompassed him. This is their inhabitants, or throwing a coin to a beggar, liberality to the unfortunate, who, confiding in what he might be justified by constant exertions made so blindly imagined to be their national character, in an
to effect an escape. Nothing of the sort ! A evil hour gave himself up to them.'"
cock and bull story of some casks pierced with It was by his agency that exclamations such air-holes, and a couple of anonymous letters as these reached the ears of the Prince Regent to the British Government, is all that Mr. and his ministers. O'Meara used the licence Forsyth can adduce of this nature. In truth, which the emperor gave him, and, quoad Napoleon does not appear to have contemNapoleon, we think he used it fairly. He re
He re, plated escape. He had nowhither to fly. His peated what, in his opinion, the emperor would hope was, to be allowed to live a life of privacy not have objected that he should repeat. in England, and for that purpose he attempted
Mr. Forsyth is not less unsuccessful in his to keep alive the sympathy of Europe by an defence than he has been in his attack. He exaggeration of his persecutions. Now, howhas succeeded in disproving, what no temperate ever, that we have heard the defence, we must man ever believed – stories of threatened vio- give judgment that those persecutions did exist. lence, of studied insult, and of compelled hun- Sir Hudson Lowe was unnecessarily harsh, ger. No one seriously credited that Sir Hudson unaccommodating, ungenerous, and indelicate. Lowe, in the presence of a captive, put his There are two ways of doing an unpleasant hand
upon his sword as a gesture of menace: duty. The spirit of Lowe's conduct spake in no one gave much faith to the stories of his answer to the request that the emperor the bust of young Napoleon, to the tale of might have a wood fire-Lowe “ did not like the snuff-box, or to the complaint that the to humour any person's whims :" it was denecessaries of life failed at Longwood. It was scribed, also, by Napoleon, when he said—“Ce abandoned to the poets to believe and sing n'est pas l'habit qui fait le geolier, c'est la maabout
nière et les meurs.”