Page 6, 10th September 1965

10th September 1965
Page 6
Page 6, 10th September 1965 — AN ECCENTRIC WHO TRIED TO CONVERT WELLINGTON
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AN ECCENTRIC WHO TRIED TO CONVERT WELLINGTON

By ELIZABETH LONGFORD AS AN epistolary confrontation The Unpublished Correspondence of Madame de Stael and the Duke of Wellington must surely be one of the briefest and most fruitful in history (Cassell, 25s,). It look place between two people whom Victor de Pange, the editor, aptly describes as "Europe's most celebrated eccentric and England's greatest soldier". Madame de Stael launched her first letter in November 1814. She died in 1817. Meanwhile, what she ardently desired to happen had taken place—a change in Wellington's mind.

"As you awaken in the morning", she wrote to the Iron Duke in 1815 shortly after Waterloo, "does your heart not beat with the joy of being you?" Actually we know that the Duke's awakenings were not at all as his adoring friend supposed. tar from luxuriating in complacent thoughts, he would turn over once in his narrow bed, wake up and get up.

But as Wellington said, Madame had a vivid imagination. And in any case she was out to convert her hero to a new foreign policy, by a judicious mixture of flattery and argument. Hence such powerful compliments as, "the English led by you are more than human"; or, "in gazing upon you my soul grows stronger".

The argument—or what Wellington called "disputes" between them—concerned the right moment for the allied armies of occupation to withdraw from conquered France. Madame believed, with good reason, that her beloved country would not recover from the Napoleonic catastrophe until French soil was freed from the foreigner. "My lord", as she called the Duke, was Commander-inChief of the allied armies, and conceived it his duty to maintain the Occupation until the restored King Louis XVIII was secure and France had paid her huge indemnities. Over three crucial years the paper battle for national freedom versus foreign occupation swayed to and fro.

Count de Pange, the gifted editor of this unique series, is himself a direct descendent of Madame de Steel; he and his family have also personally experienced a foreign occupation —Hitler's. It is not surprising, therefore, that his editorial notes are ingeniously slanted to give the correspondence both a universal and personal interest Is an Army of Occupation ever justified. Will Wellington change his mind?

In the year following Madame de Stael's death from "hydropsy", Wellington did indeed become one of the principal advocates of terminating the occupation ahead of the appointed date. Was Madame directly responsihle for this happy voile face? Count de Pange does not rule it out. But Harold Kurtz, the historian who has translated the letters and editorial notes with consummate expertise, suggests that the antagonists gradually "moved closer together".

Since Wellington, we know, tended throughout life to evacuate untenable positions in favour of more moderate ones, it is probable that he would have changed his mind anyway. Nevertheless, such words as the following, written to him when Madame de Stael was dying, could not have failed to move a mind whose still waters ran deep: "to conquer is not enough; one must build in order to he the first man of modern times."

We must be grateful to Mr. Kurtz for bringing this gem to England, and partly re-setting it with such grace, and with additional notes necessary to English readers.

This year, being the 150th anniversary of Waterloo, provides Cape's excellent "Jackdaw" series (No. 18) with an opportunity which John Langdon-Davies has vigorously seized in The Battle of Waterloo (9s. 6d.). Opening his elegant green folder has some of the excitement of a Christmas stocking.

If 1 were a schoolteacher looking for ideas for next prize-giving, I would look no further than this folder. It is made to be a sixth form history prize. I particularly like the colour en■ graving, photostats of two of Wellington's battle orders and Private Wheeler's letter, and a facsimile of The Times containing the famous "Waterloo Despatch".

Mr. Langdon-Davies wisely includes all The Times advertisements also, thus giving us a sharp taste of Regency England. One hundred and fifty years ago servants were already attracted to "genteel" families "with no children"; while a "very commodious house" in Regent's Park with 5 cellars and a waterdoset could be converted at "little expense" into a school.

In addition to contemporary documents, there are six "broadsheets" containing the author's own, challenging views. His handling of Napoleon and Blucher is admirable; so is his emphasis on what war really meant, and on the common soldier's lot.

He often deals, however, somewhat harshly with Wellington, and not always fairly. For instance, in castigating the legitimist restorations after 1815, he catches the Duke with the tip of his lash: "No more reactionary statesman than Wellington himself can be imagined." On the contrary, the volume of letters reviewed above shows how Wellington came to oppose the reactionary statesmen of France and backed the moderates.




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