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A French Volunter
General Washington was less than charmed by the young Frenchman whose thirst for la gloire was matched only by his ignorance of English. But the newcomer swallowed his pride, served valiantly, and lived to piquantly recall his adventures as
August 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 5
It was n strange army that made the American Revolution—overwhelmingly amateur and commanded by farmers, lawyers, physicians, hooksellers. With the hayseed generals and the chawhacon colonels mingled the French volunteers.
The French were diverse: some were self-sacrificing idealists, like Lafayette; some were devoted and competent officers, like Pierre Charles L’linfant, who later made the plan of the city of Washington; some were outright ne’er-do-wells, fleeing their own ill fame at home. The French had little in common except the courage to cross perilous seas and do battle for a nuhle hut desperate cause. Most of them proclaimed their eagerness to die for America’s freedom from England, France’s ancient enemy; hut most of them harbored mixed motives —republican enthusiasm, delight in adventure, and ambition for glory and distinction—at a high rate of combat pay.
One of the French volunteers was Denis-Jean Florimond Langlois Dubouchct, born in 1752 to a family of the minor nobility, an army family that put its sons in the service and married its daughters to officers. He joined up at fourteen, and went to the artillery school at Bapaume to take the entrance examinations for the officers’ training course. While waiting for the exams he fought a duel and was wounded, seriously, he says, but not too seriously to flee the threat of official punishment for duelling. (All too many gentleman officers seemed bent on killing friend instead of foe.) He escaped to Luxembourg and joined an Austrian regiment composed mostly of French deserters. He did not like the Austrian service; for one thing, his uniform was so tight (hat he could scarcely breathe. Hc succeeded in shifting to (he French Army: he fought briefly in Corsica and was stationed here and there in France. He was only a lieutenant; promotions, in the stagnant peacetime, were slow. He dreamed vainly of glory, honor, and a rise in rank and pay.
In 1776 America declared its independence and improvised an army. General Washington sent urgent requests to t lie American commissioners in Paris, lieaded by Silas Deane. to recruit a few competent engineering and artillery officers. Dcanc interpreted the request liberally. He engaged some capable specialists, who served the Revolutionary army well; he also made incautious promises and even more incautious hints and intimations to a swarm of slippery swashbucklers and bravos.
Among the first to volunteer was Thomas Conway, an Irish colonel in the French Army, who had married Dubouchct’s sister. Conway interviewed Silas Deanc in Paris, and was assured that he would be at least a major general in America. Dubouchct, thirsting, as he admits, for laurels, honors, pensions, and lands, decided to offer his sword to free the oppressed from (heir bonds. He was well aware that a major general’s brother-inlaw is not overlooked in any army.
Conway and Dubouehet took passage in a supply vessel surreptitiously carrying arms to America with the connivance and backing of the French government. The ship swarmed with French officers filled with at least temporary republican zeal. It arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in mid-April, 1777, after an eighty-eight-day crossing. The French were greeted enthusiastically as liberators by the massed populace.
Colonel Conway left immediately to carry dispatches from Silas Dcanc in Paris to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. There he was well received and was commissioned brigadier general. Congress thought its appointment handsome, but Conway did not. He should have been a major general, wrote Dubouehet, “much more properly than M. de La Fayette, a mere cavalry captain in France.” Conway’s disgruntlement resulted in the alleged “Conway Cabal,” which, according to a rather doubtful story, aimed to oust Washington from command of the armies.
Dubouchet and his party journeyed to Boston, where they were politely received by Major Ceneral William Heath. Dubouchct found Boston a well-built city, with a fine port. “The people are Puritans, grave, of extreme austerity of behavior; they never laugh. According to their laws a heavy fine is imposed, and even, for repeated offenses, imprisonment, for singing or playing cards or frequenting taverns on Sunday.”
Duboucher and a brother officer, Lieutenant Thomas Mullcns, another Irishman in French service, bought horses and set out to join Conway in Philadelphia. “We traversed a superb country, fairly well inhabited, very fertile.” The two had a chance to show their spirit in a wayside inn. “It is customary, when people drink together in F.nglish America, to propose toasts or healths. Xot to reply to them is an insult. We found installed in the dining room a man of middle age. who fell into conversation with Monsieur Mullens. Soon he (ailed for a bowl of punch and proposed that we drink of it. We accepted; nothing appeared likely to trouble the harmony of our gathering, till suddenly Monsieur Mullens’ fist landed in the middle of the American’s face, covering i( with blood. As 1 did not yet understand English, 1 could not imagine how such a sudden quarrel had broken out. Monsieur Mullens, violent and irascible by nature, didn’t stop there. Hc kicked the man out of (lie house; and the innkeeper, to my extreme surprise, seemed to applaud what he was doing.
“As soon as [Mullens] had regained some composure J asked him what could have driven him to such extremes. Hc told me that the victim, ill intentioned toward the American government, was talking disrespectfully of General Washington, and had just refused to drink to his health; and that Mullens had undertaken to punish his insolence the more willingly as the scoundrel had just made some impertinent remarks about the French officers recently arrived from Europe. The exit of the victim rectified everything; this action brought Monsieur Mullens the reputation of being a good Whig, a man singularly attached to the cause of independence. The story, to his honor, spread; it was even told to General Washington; and though he disapproved of the violence of the action, he could not help laughing at it.”
At another inn the two officers were awakened by a tumult below. They descended to the parlor, to find in progress an informal judicial inquiry on a case of bondelage , bundling, that quaint native custom permitting lads and lasses to share a bed, under proper guarantees. “The rules permit innocent caresses, all the affection proper to brother and sister; anything more is rigorously forbidden. In this case the confidences of the girl divulged enterprises of an odious nature. The young man had been unable to confine himself to permissible favors; he would have invaded the conjugal domain, had not the girl’s courageous resistance interposed an obstacle. The tribunal of public opinion held that he should be forever barred from the Temple of Hymen. The decree would have been enforced by the agreement of all the maidens concerned with the observation of the laws of bundling, had he not obtained his pardon and promised before us all to take the offended girl to wife the following week.”
Dubouchet and Mullens reported at army headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey. General Washington gave them an honorable but cool reception, “in accordance with his reserved, thoughtful character.” (In accordance also with his irritation at the arrival of a throng of young French adventurers expecting high commissions in the new army, despite their ignorance of English. The clever ones had made a deal with Silas Deane in Paris; thus the Chevalier de Borre forced on Washington his appointment as brigadier general. Dubouchet regretted that he had not had equal foresight; he had been too exclusively concerned with la gloire .)
As no commission appeared for Dubouchet, he wrote a letter to Washington (May 20, 1777) pointing to his sacrifices and his ardor, honor, and gentility, and avowing that he had learned with pain that the General planned to employ him only when he should learn English. Dubouchet ended by offering to join any regiment of grenadiers as a gentleman volunteer.
On June 3 he received a commission as a mere captain, “out of consideration for Conway.” He was deeply offended; was he entitled to no consideration for himself? He was tempted to return the commission, but, hiding his sufferings, he drilled the soldiers of Conway’s brigade in French army exercises. Thus he demonstrated that even a swaggering Frenchman could accept discipline. Some of his companions, who had come to America only to escape French justice, had already tarnished the French reputation: “They befouled the name of Frenchman by their profound immorality. I tried daily to destroy these distressing impressions.”
Dubouchet made the acquaintance of the army’s eminences. He worshipped General Washington, already world-famous, who dominated the army by his character and spirit. Dubouchet describes his insight, his force of mind, his power of conceiving great plans, his calm courage, his imperturbable self-possession. “He possessed all human perfections.” He admired also Colonel Alexander Hamilton, brilliant and competent. “His enlightened mind, his political and military talents, made him very worthy of his post.” He knew also Generals Greene and Knox; and Lord Stirling, impressive and well-mannered, though a toper (“I saw him completely drunk at a party on 24 June 1777”). Rumor said that Stirling was fighting not for liberty but out of resentment because the title of Lord, readily accorded in America, was refused him in England, on the pretext that he was the son of a baker.
Dubouchet’s report of army and civilian morale is contradictory. At one moment he admits general indiscipline and discouragement; at another he describes the general patriotic enthusiasm, with recruits signing up and asking no pay. (They were not likely to get much, anyway.) White-haired fathers, he says, would bring in their sons to enlist; fiancées would agree to marriage only when their young men should have made one or two campaigns.
Since Dubouchet did not like his subordinate position, nor in fact the company of his brother-in-law Conway, he decided to join the northern army, which was then retreating south from Fort Ticonderoga before Burgoyne’s invasion. He asked permission of General Washington to join General Horatio Gates. This was granted with suspicious readiness.
He set forth, alone and on foot, on August 8, 1777. He paused in Philadelphia, which he described as clean and well planned, but monotonous in its uniformity. Not only did all the houses look alike, but their inner arrangements and their furniture were disposed according to a common plan. Churches of every sect abounded, for tolerance was a reality, and no bad effects were visible. The Quakers, kindly, industrious, pure in manners, dominated society. The surroundings of the city were charming. Nature was cheery and fecund, and an air of abundance hung over the handsome country houses. “In this fine country is every means of happiness for men who, far from the vices of our old Europe, establish themselves here. The climate is moderate, the soil fertile, the cities picturesque; it is a new Eden. The women are agreeable of feature, svelte of figure, wellcomplexioned, amiable of character, and possessed of an iron fidelity. They have all the virtues that make the glory and adornment of their sex.”
On his way north he was much indebted to women’s hospitality. “Americans cordially offer their produce, bread of a savory whiteness unknown in France, and excellent fruit. They give this not for money, but out of a kindness and simplicity of manners worthy of the Golden Age.”
It was nevertheless a painful journey. He found himself spitting blood; he had a regular evening fever. Much of his hair fell out. In Albany he stopped to buy a wig. He could find only one, very large and red; it covered most of his face and almost met his coal-black eyebrows.
Dubouchet found the American army in Stillwater, twenty-four miles north of Albany. General Gates received this haggard, travel-stained grotesque coolly, if not suspiciously. “What do you want?” he said abruptly. “Opportunities to gain your esteem, General. For this I have left Washington’s army. Will Your Excellency permit me to join the front-line troops as a volunteer?”
This mild request Gates granted, with the observation that he wished all Frenchmen were as reasonable and moderate in their claims. He went further, inviting Dubouchet to dinner at his mess. At this function, remarks were made about foreigners who thought their rank and office should demand deference and appointment to high place in the American army. The foreigners, it was said, displayed an indecent arrogance. Far from taking offense, Dubouchet agreed with the critics, admitting that many of his compatriots had fled Europe to escape punishment for misconduct. He was applauded for his frankness, and complimented on his English, which was rapidly improving.
General Gates assigned Dubouchet to Colonel Daniel Morgan’s famous corps of riflemen or rangers, mostly frontiersmen armed with the deadly Kentucky rifle, longer-ranged and far more accurate than the English musket. Colonel Morgan, “the Old Wagoner,” controlled his woodland sharpshooters with a hunter’s turkey-call. Dubouchet found in the ranks the Chevalier de Kermorvan, a Breton officer who had served in Turkey as colonel and who held a lieutenant-colonelcy in the American army. The Chevalier had, however, provoked Washington and his staff by his criticisms of operations; the post he coveted, Chief of Engineers, was assigned to Kosciusko, the famous Polish volunteer. Kermorvan seems to have joined Morgan’s rangers merely to see some action before returning to France.
Dubouchet went to headquarters to ask for a tent. “They are only for soldiers,” said Gates more than brusquely, implying that a French volunteer was no proper soldier. Humiliated, Dubouchet retired. He cut branches with his sword and contrived a little hut. He had only his overcoat for blanket. At any rate, he says, he was better off than Robinson Crusoe.
General Burgoyne was now attempting to push his army south to Albany; Gates faced him in the woods and cleared meadows of Bemis Heights, above the Hudson River. After a period of stalling, when both sides waited for reinforcements, the armies came to grips on September 19, 1777. Dubouchet describes this encounter, variously called the First Battle of Bemis Heights, or of Freeman’s Farm, or of Saratoga. The British sent out skirmishers ( enfants perdus ), not planning a pitched battle. But the Americans responded so vigorously, sharpshooting from the forest’s edge, that the main British army was committed. It was hot and bloody work. “The noise of musketry and artillery was magnified by the echoes resounding in the hollow.” By nightfall the battlefield, still in British hands, was heaped with dead and dying. “Both sides claimed victory; both have exaggerated their achievements and the losses of their opponents.” At least the Americans proved that in a hand-to-hand encounter they could stand against the well-drilled redcoats and Hessians.
Next day Gates made his inspection of the advance posts. He summoned Dubouchet, gave him a handshake equivalent to a French embrace, and said: “I recognize by your valor a French gentleman; everyone has spoken of it. You did yesterday numberless courageous deeds, which fill me with great esteem for you.” He pointed to Dubouchet’s wretched cabin, ordered his adjutant to provide a tent, and invited the Frenchman to dinner.
On October 7 followed the Second Battle of Bemis Heights, which ended British hopes of invasion. In the action Dubouchet took command of a leaderless company, which captured an enemy battery. On a field piled with dead, Gates brevetted him major.
On the seventeenth Burgoyne capitulated. In the sportsmanlike manner of the century, the victorious Gates invited the vanquished generals to dinner in his tent. The banquet table was formed of planks laid across two half-barrels. The two glasses available were reserved for the rival generals, while the other guests drank rum and cider out of small basins. Gates, with mockery or gallantry, offered a toast to His Britannic Majesty, and “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne replied with a health to General Washington. Burgoyne, sitting opposite Dubouchet, pretended not to see him, thus tactfully seeming to overlook the unofficial French alliance with the rebels. So Dubouchet interprets Burgoyne’s disregard; but perhaps Gentleman Johnny could not look calmly on the red wig.
Dubouchet’s evening fevers continuing, he decided to return to France. Though he ascribes his resignation from the American army to ill health, he admits that he foresaw war between England and France emerging from the American Revolution, and he wanted professional profit from it. “Service far away for an illassured power seemed to me less likely to be rewarded by our government than services under our own flag. I took care not to announce this motive, and merely alleged my weakened health, which demanded a rest of several months for its re-establishment.” Lafayette, informed of his decision, wrote him a flattering letter: “I am very sorry that your poor health obliges you to leave us. It is always a pleasure to find oneself in a foreign country with compatriots who behave as you do.” Dubouchet offered to carry dispatches from the Congress to Franklin in Paris and to return. “To tell the truth, nothing was less certain than my return to America. … I did not dwell much on this final proof of my zeal.”
He took leave of Gates, receiving many kind words from the commander and from Benedict Arnold, Benjamin Lincoln, Daniel Morgan, and others. In order to receive his official discharge from the Congress he walked and hitchhiked in bitter December weather to York, Pennsylvania, where that body was sitting. Congress passed a resolution complimenting him and ratifying his promotion to major. President Henry Laurens gave him a packet of dispatches for Franklin. He proceeded (for a military man always proceeds, he never goes) to Annapolis, where he found a French vessel sailing for Haiti. Thence he could make his way to France.
Five days out, the ship met a heavily armed English corsair and was commanded to stop. While the boarding party approached, Dubouchet had time to strip off his uniform and throw it overside, with his dispatches from Congress. But his money and his testimonials from Congress, Lafayette, and others he thrust into his boots. At his request the French captain hastily added his name to the manifest as a ship’s officer.
The ruse was not successful. The boarding party clambered up the side; the officer in charge said to Dubouchet: “Have you ever seen New York harbor?”
“Well, we’re going to take you there. You’ll enjoy it; it’s the finest harbor in the world.”
“Sir, decent men do not insult misfortune, they respect it!”
“Put this insolent and disrespectful prisoner in irons, at the bottom of the hold!”
To the bottom of the hold Dubouchet went in irons. But after twenty-four hours without food he was released by the English captain, and received the unwilling apologies of the officer who had put him there.
In New York he was consigned to the prison ship Judith , a floating hell, stinking, swarming with vermin, ridden with dysentery, scurvy, the itch. It was very cold weather, and many had their feet frozen. The five hundred prisoners were released from the “foul cloaca” of the hold at fixed hours, to breathe. “Even the air was measured out to us.” The prisoners could hardly hope to survive more than a few months. At the daily distributions of loathsome food, feeble struggles took place. “Woe to him who was too weak to drag himself to the food-issue! He was counted as dead.” Dubouchet subsisted for twenty-four hours on a piece of bacon and a little oatmeal flour, which he cooked on a shovel. Many committed suicide. When one desperate man jumped overboard the British captain shouted: “Let him alone! He insists on dying; you must not use force on anyone!”
A drunken guard, without provocation, struck Dubouchet on the head with his musket; only his tall hat saved him from a split skull. Two Irish guards, sympathizing with a fellow Catholic, crossed themselves and furtively passed him half a loaf of bread.
But after only three weeks on the Judith , fortune came to the Frenchman’s aid. Uproar on deck indicated that the guards were more than usually drunk. The noise dwindled; in the dusk, Dubouchet and six others stole on deck, ran to a small boat on the foredeck, cut the lashings, put her overside, and jumped in. The aroused guards fired at them, but in the darkness their aim was wild.
The fugitives’ situation was desperate. The city, largely Loyalist, was held by the British; friendly country lay far away. They had no proper clothes for midwinter and no food, and their boat was leaky. Nevertheless, they rowed out to lower New York Harbor; no doubt the tide was running out. They found there a strange ship at anchor, and took the desperate chance of hailing her. She was in fact a French parlementaire , which had come under a flag of truce to parley with the English. This business done, the ship was waiting for a wind to sail for Haiti. The runaways were taken aboard and hidden, for fear of a British search. When indeed a boarding party appeared, it took only a perfunctory look around, for the fugitives’ small boat had drifted back to New York on the returning tide and had stranded there; the hunt was centered in the city.
Thus Dubouchet got safely to Haiti. He then came down with fever, and was lodged with a kindly free mulatto woman who, he reported, made no indecent demands upon him, unlike most of her kind, “who assail especially young men newly arrived, not yet enervated by the climate and by excesses.”
After a long bout of illness he recovered and returned to France, arriving at the end of July, 1778. In Paris he called on Franklin, and found to his relief that the great man had received duplicates of the dispatches he had delivered to the sea. He was warmly received by John Adams and Richard Lee.
Although he felt entitled at least to a French colonelcy for his American exploits, he experienced the usual setbacks of the absentee, and was forced to settle for a captaincy. Family influences, however, worked to make him an aide-de-camp to Rochambeau, who was then preparing the great, expedition in aid of the American Revolutionary armies. Unexpectedly, Dubouchet found himself headed back to the United States.
After a stormy ninety-day crossing, Rochambeau’s forces arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, on July 11, 1780, and were joyfully received as liberators. Dubouchet was appointed aide-major-général, and because of his knowledge of English he became, in effect, liaison officer with the Americans, military and civilian. He enjoyed this association and helped to keep good relations with the inhabitants, as they testified with a Resolution of Thanks from the city on his departure.
After a full year in Newport the main French army moved out, in July, 1781, for the campaign that was to end at Yorktown. But Dubouchet was left behind, as chief of staff of the base detachment assigned to Newport. He was angry and humiliated at the slight. A fellow officer, M. de Laubardière, offered to buy his horses, saying that in the circumstances Dubouchet wouldn’t need them. Dubouchet took the words as irony or persiflage, and responded bitterly. Laubardière. considering himself insulted, asked satisfaction.
The two, with a certain M. de Mauduit serving as second to both contestants, walked to the outskirts of the city, and at the word of command fell upon each other with their swords. Laubardière received two slight wounds, while his thrust at Dubouchet “would have transfixed me, if his weapon had not been arrested by the collar-bone.” M. de Mauduit helped pull out the weapon, and then walked Dubouchet back to his billet, in the house of the worthy Captain Storey, at 265 Thames Street. “The great quantity of blood I lost in walking back made my wound the less dangerous,” wrote Dubouchet, subscribing to the thenaccepted medical theory of bloodletting. “Aided by a large cloak in which I was wrapped I bore myself so hardily that a number of people, asking me for orders, were surely far from imagining that I was wounded and covered with blood.” On reaching Captain Storey’s house, Mauduit hurried off to fetch the army surgeon.
Dubouchet entered; the daughter of the house, Miss Betsy, asked him to take tea. “Being very impatient to reach my room, and not to prolong the conversation on the stair, I imprudently promised to do so.” In his room he did his best to staunch the flow of blood, and felt himself grow steadily weaker. “The young person, probably finding that I was too slow in keeping my promise, came to summon me, and entered at the moment when, without my cloak and bloody shirt, I was sponging my wound. This sight, so new, so unexpected to her, filled her with such terror that, with a scream, she fell back in a faint. Her screams and the noise of her fall immediately brought her father and mother from the ground floor. They found me trying to bring her back to consciousness by pouring water on her face. … But she did not respond, and her parents were ready to despair when my surgeon arrived, happily, to attend to her and to bring her out of her faint with strong cordials.” Dubouchet was put to bed and was bled (1) three times in twenty-four hours. Nevertheless he recovered in seventeen days, and made his peace with the convalescent M. de Laubardière.
In August, Dubouchet, with the Newport detachment, was ordered to join Rochambeau in Virginia. He was present at the Battle of Yorktown and at Cornwallis’ capitulation on October 19—four years, almost to the day, after Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga. Unfortunately Dubouchet gives us no piquant details to add to history’s store.
In February, 1782, Rochambeau sent Dubouchet with a shipload of English prisoners to be exchanged for American prisoners at New York. As he lay outside the harbor, the British Commissioner of Prisoners came aboard. He kept looking at Dubouchet and saying: “Major, I can’t help feeling that I’ve seen you somewhere.” “It’s very possible, my dear Colonel,” said Dubouchet, remembering the winter of 1777. “You must have travelled much, and so have I.”
Dubouchet brought back 104 released prisoners as exchanges. From them he caught jail fever, or typhus, which put him into a delirium for nineteen days. Convalescent, he paid a visit to General Gates, who had retired to his pretty farmhouse by the Potomac, near Shepherdstown. He then embarked with Rochambeau, returning to France in 1783.
Dubouchet was rewarded for his services in America by advancement in the French army, by letters and testimonials of leaders from Washington down, by a silver medal from Franklin commemorating the recognition by France of American independence. “Franklin said that as I had so distinguished myself and as I was the only Frenchman who had fought both at Saratoga and at Yorktown, I had every right to it.”
But Dubouchet was not satisfied. At the war’s end the Americans formed the Society of the Cincinnati, composed of American officers. It admitted likewise French officers who had worn the American uniform for three years, and generals and colonels in Rochambeau’s army. Dubouchet was clearly ineligible. Nevertheless, he hungered for the Society’s medal, which depended from a sky-blue ribbon and bore on one side a bald eagle and Cincinnatus importuned by the Roman senators to leave his plow, and on the other side Cincinnatus returning to his family. Dubouchet had never desired anything so much. After being turned down by Lafayette and Rochambeau, he decided to plead his case in America.
Thus, at the end of March, 1784, he embarked at Lorient on a fast packet. He landed in New York, paused hardly a moment, and hurried to Philadelphia, where the Society was meeting under Washington’s presidency. General Knox presented Dubouchet’s application for membership. It was unanimously accepted, and Washington signed the appointment with kind remarks of approbation. Dubouchet immediately returned to New York and caught the return trip of the French packet. He was in France again after an absence of only three months. Surely few have gone so far, so long, so uncomfortably and dangerously, for a medal. But the capture of the boutonnière brought him more joy, he says, than did that of the Golden Fleece to Jason.
Back in France, Dubouchet resumed his army career. Like most officers, he remained at his post after the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. But when Louis XVI was arrested in 1791, every French soldier was forced to question where his allegiance lay. Dubouchet was denounced by a renegade priest as a reactionary. He resigned his commission and, with a false passport, escaped to Worms, where he joined the émigré army of the Prince de Condé. This army was mostly occupied with balls, narties, and disputes about social precedence. After a year of inactivity, Dubouchet ventured into France to rescue his wife and son, whom he had left in Paris. He was caught; his false certificat de rèsidence had been delivered to him by a double spy, who was actually an agent of the revolutionary government. Imprisoned in Grenoble, he became, deliberately, a gay comedian, president of the jolly club des incarcèrès . He found, as have others, that nothing disarms grim inquisitors so ,much as amusing lightheadedness. Having established his harmlessness, he was transferred, after nine months, to a makeshift prison, a former seminary. From this he escaped in mid-December, 1793, and made his way to Switzerland. The account of his adventures would make a fine addition to the literature of escapes and perilous journeys.
He lived, penniless, in Lausanne, whence he communicated his needs to a friend in Lyons by writing a comic song full of double meanings. This a lady friend, bound for France, cut up and wore as curl-papers. But the efficient revolutionary police knew the curl-paper trick; they stripped the lady’s head and interpreted the message. The friend to whom it was addressed was ruined. Dubouchet’s wife died of hardship in Paris; his sister’s mother-in-law, Mme. Conway, mother of Washington’s general, eventually escaped to Switzerland, bringing Dubouchet’s son.
Now began a long period of wandering in central Europe, in Wurtemberg, Prussia, Poland, Bohemia, Austria. Dubouchet lived by many expedients, especially by teaching English. He endured all the sufferings of the èmigrès, everywhere unwelcome.
After the amnesty of 1802, Dubouchet and his son returned to France, but found there no means of livelihood. Napoleon became Emperor in 1804; Dubouchet persuaded himself that his duty was to serve the new imperial France in his soldier’s trade. A commission as brigadier general was the decisive argument. As he was now nearing sixty, he served as the sedentary commander of forts at Ypres and Breda. But when the Allied army advanced against Napoleon in 1814 he rediscovered his legitimist convictions and prudently resigned his commission. It was a wise move. After Waterloo he was rewarded by Louis XVIII with the title of Marquis and the rank of lieutenant general, which comported a comfortable pension and no duties.
Some time after 1822, in his seventies, Dubouchet wrote, with elderly satisfaction, the memories of his career. Looking backward to his youthful experiences in America, he reflected that he had been misled by his callow enthusiasm for liberty, a word full of maleficent magic. The American Revolution was sedition, a rebellion against legitimate authority; it should have been stifled at its outset. The French participation in the American Revolution was a calamitous error of policy. Most of the young French gentlemen of the court who went to America became ardent proselytes of a new order in France; they were the first to profess and propagate antisocial doctrines, subversive of all rules; they armed themselves against authority, undermined the throne, brought revolution and disaster to France, to Europe, to the world.
Thus does the old self reprove the young self. But its lessons, like the lessons of history, always come too late.