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Twilight of Empire

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Twilight of Empire
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Author(s): Sir Thomas Ussher & Sir George Cockburn
Date Published: 2009/03
Page Count: 140
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-647-2
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-648-9

The end of an epoch—two accounts within one volume

These are two remarkable accounts from the annals of the Royal Navy and, indeed, remarkable incidents from the life of the Emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte. Both voyages follow devastating defeats and the reader is able to view the emperor as he comes to terms with his circumstances as reported by those who had him within their custody. These are fascinating insights as to how Napoleon embarked—and lived—on these momentous journeys to exile. Napoleon's ebullient personality as he departs for Elba is perhaps an indication of future events and an account of his escape and march to Paris as experienced by a participant is included within the first section of this unique book. The second account is no less interesting to those interested in the Royal Navy and the now more reflective fallen Emperor as he embarks on what would truly be his final voyage.

At dinner he ate heartily of almost every dish, praised everything and seemed most perfectly contented and reconciled to his fate. He talked with me during dinner much on his Russian Campaign, said he meant only to have refreshed his troops at Moscow for four or five days and then to have marched for Petersburg, but the destruction of Moscow subverted all his projects, and he said nothing could have been more horrible than was that campaign; that for several days together it appeared to him as if he were marching through a sea of fire owing to the constant succession of villages in flames which arose in every direction as far as his eye could reach; that this had been by some attributed to his troops but that it was always done by the natives. Many of his soldiers however, he said, lost their lives by endeavouring to pillage in the midst of the flames.<br>
He spoke much of the cold during their disastrous retreat, and stated that one night, after he had quitted the army to return to Paris, an entire half of his Guard were frozen to death. He also told me in the course of this evening that previous to his going to Elba he had made preparations for having a navy of 100 sail of the line; that he had established a conscription for the navy, and that the Toulon Fleet was entirely manned and brought forward by people of this description; that he ordered them positively to get under weigh and manoeuvre every day the weather would permit of it, and to stand out occasionally and to exchange long shots with our ships; that this had been much remonstrated against by those about him and had cost him at first a good deal of money to repair the accidents that occurred from the want of maritime knowledge, such as from the ships getting aboard of each other, splitting their sails, springing their masts, &c., but he found that even these accidents tended to improve the crews and therefore he continued to pay his money and oblige them to continue to exercise.<br>
He said he had built his ships at Antwerp in rather too great a hurry, but he spoke highly in praise of the port and said he had already given orders for a similar establishment to have been formed on the Elbe; and had fortune not turned against him he hoped to have sooner or later given us some trouble, even on the seas. He stated that the reason he had over-hurried the ships at Antwerp, before mentioned, was because he was anxious to press forward an expedition from thence against Ireland. After taking his wine and coffee he took a short walk on deck and afterwards proposed a round game at cards; in compliance with which we played at vingt-un until about half-past ten, won from him about seven or eight napoleons, and he then retired to his bedroom, apparently as much at his ease as if he had belonged to the ship all his life. I afterwards disposed of his whole party for the night, though not without some difficulty; the ladies with their families making it necessary I should provide them with adequate room and accommodation, and yet each other person of the suite asking for and expecting a separate cabin to sleep in and in which to put their things.<br>
On the 8th August, we lay-to the most of the day off Plymouth, waiting to be joined by the squadron destined to accompany us. It had blown fresh during the night, which left rather a heavy swell, the effect of which prevented General Buonaparte from preparing for dinner (at least that was the excuse made for his non-appearance), and I consequently did not see him during the day.<br>
On the 9th August, being joined by all our squadron (except the Weymouth which I could not wait for), we proceeded on our way down Channel, with tolerably fine weather but wind from N.W. General Buonaparte came out of his cabin, for the first time this day, about two p.m. and took a short walk on deck, but as I was busy writing I did not see him until dinner time. I found him rather lower and more reserved than the first day; indeed, until after drinking a tumbler of champagne he hardly spoke at all, but afterwards he conversed with more freedom, and made many and particular enquiries on the number and state of our forces in India; said he had been in correspondence with Tippoo Saib, and that he had hoped to have reached India when he went to Egypt, but the removal of the Vizier, and the alteration of politics of the Ottoman Porte, with other circumstances, had prevented his pursuing the career there which he had at first contemplated. After dinner he went upon deck, and persisted in keeping off his hat as he walked up and down, evidently with a view to inducing the English officers on deck also to continue uncovered (as his French attendants did, and as I am told the officers of the Bellerophon used to do whilst he remained on the deck of that ship). Observing this, I made a point of putting on my hat immediately after the first compliment upon going out, and I desired the officers to do the same, at which he seemed considerably piqued, and he soon afterwards went into the cabin and made up his party at vingt-un, but he certainly neither played nor talked with the same cheerfulness he did the first night: this might, indeed, have been accident, but it appeared to me to proceed rather from downright sulkiness, though I cannot but remark that his general manners, as far as I am yet able to speak of them, are uncouth and disagreeable, and to his French friends most overbearing if not absolutely rude. About eleven he retired to his bedroom, having been as unfortunate at his vingt-un party as the evening before. (Just before dark this evening I dispatched a brig to put letters into the Post Office at Falmouth, off which place we were, to inform Government of our progress.)