This officer, who distinguished himself in the Imperial service, was the son of a poor Piedmontese peasant, but he never forgot his humble extraction. While the army was in Piedmont, he invited his principal officers to an entertainment, when his father happened to arrive just as they were sitting down to table. This being announced to the general, he immediately rose, and stated to his guests his father's arrival. He said he knew the respect he owed to them, but at the same time he hoped they would excuse him if he withdrew, and dined with his father in another room. The guests begged that the father might be introduced, assuring him that they should be happy to see one so nearly related to him; but he replied, "Ah, no, gentlemen; my father would find himself so embarrassed in company so unsuited to his rank, that it would deprive us both of the only pleasure of the interview—the unrestrained intercourse of a parent and his son." He then retired, and passed the evening with his father.
The late Countess of Orkney, who died at an advanced age, was deaf and dumb, and was married in 1753 by signs. She resided with her husband at his seat, Rostellan, near Cork. Shortly after the birth of her first child, the nurse saw the mother cautiously approach the cradle in which the infant lay asleep, evidently full of some deep design. The Countess, having first assured herself that her babe was fast asleep, took from under her shawl a large stone, which had purposely been concealed there, and, to the utter horror of the nurse, who largely shared the popular notion that all dumb persons are possessed of peculiar cunning and malignity, raised it up, as if to enable her to dash it down with greater force. Before the nurse could interpose to prevent what she believed would bring certain death to the sleeping and unconscious child, the dreadful stone was flung, not at the cradle, however, but upon the ground, and fell with great violence. The noise awakened the child. The Countess was overjoyed, and, in the fulness of a mother's heart, she fell upon her knees to express her thankfulness that her beloved infant possessed a blessing denied to herself—the sense of hearing. This lady often gave similar indications of superior intelligence, though we can believe that few of them equalled the present in interest.
A veteran, worn out in the service of France, was left without a pension, although he had a wife and three children to share his wretchedness. His son was placed at L'Ecole militaire, where he might have enjoyed every comfort, but the strongest persuasion could not induce him to taste anything but coarse bread and water. The Duke de Choiseul being informed of the circumstance, ordered the boy before him, and enquired the reason of his abstemiousness. The boy, with a manly fortitude, replied, "Sir, when I had the honour of being admitted to this royal foundation, my father conducted me hither. We came on foot: on our journey the demands of nature were relieved by bread and water. I was received. My father blessed me, and returned to the protection of a helpless wife and family. As long as I can remember, bread of the blackest kind, with water, has been their daily subsistence, and even that is earned by every species of labour that honour does not forbid. To this fare, sir, my father is reduced; and while he, my mother, and my sisters, are compelled to endure such wretchedness, is it possible that I can enjoy the plenty which my sovereign has provided for me?" The duke felt this tale of nature, gave the boy three louis d'ors for pocket-money, and promised to procure the father a pension. The boy begged the louis d'ors might be sent to his father, which, with the patent of his pension,
was immediately done. The boy was patronised by the duke, and became one of the best officers in the service of France.
The celebrated French poet, Racine, having one day returned from Versailles, where he had been on a visit, was waited upon by a gentleman with an invitation to dine at the Hotel de Condé. "I cannot possibly do myself that honour," said the poet; "it is some time since I have been with my family; they are overjoyed to see me again, and have provided a fine carp; so that I must dine with my dear wife and children." "But my good sir," replied the gentleman, "several of the most distinguished characters in the kingdom expect your company, and will be anxious to see you." On this, Racine brought out the carp and showed it to his visitor, saying, "Here, sir, is our little meal; then say, having provided such a treat for me, what apology could I make for not dining with my poor children? Neither they nor my wife could have any pleasure in eating a bit of it without me; then pray be so obliging as to mention my excuse to the Prince of Condé and my other illustrious friends." The gentleman did so; and not only His Serene Highness, but all the company present, professed themselves infinitely more charmed with this proof of the poet's affection as a husband and a father, than they possibly could have been with his delightful conversation.
Some years ago, in making a new communication between two shafts of a mine at Fahkin, the capital of Delecarlia, the body of a miner was discovered by the workmen in a state of perfect preservation, and impregnated with vitriolic water. It was quite soft, but hardened on being exposed to the air. No one could identify the body: it was merely remembered that the accident, by which he had thus been buried in the bosom of the earth, had taken place above fifty years ago. All enquiries about the name of the sufferer had already ceased, when a decrepid old woman, supported on crutches, slowly advanced towards the corpse, and knew it to be that of a young man to whom she had been promised in marriage more than half a century ago. She threw herself on the corpse, which had all the appearance of a bronze statue, bathed it with her tears, and fainted with joy at having once more beheld the object of her affections. One can with difficulty realize the singular contrast afforded by that couple—the one buried above fifty years ago, still retaining the appearance of youth; while the other, weighed down by age, evinced all the fervency of youthful affections.
During the French revolution, Madame Saintmaraule, with her daughter, and a youth, her son, not yet of age, were confined in prison and brought to trial. The mother and daughter behaved with resolution, and were sentenced to die; but of the youth no notice was taken, and he was remanded to prison. "What!" exclaimed the boy, "am I then to be separated from my mother? It cannot be!" and immediately he cried out, "Vive le Roi!" In consequence of this, he was condemned to death, and, with his mother and his sister, was led out to execution.
Napoleon used to relate an anecdote shewing the conjugal affection of some women who accompanied his troops when he was at Col de Tende. To enter this mountainous and difficult country, it was necessary for the soldiers to pass over a narrow bridge, and, as the enterprise was a hazardous one, Napoleon had given orders that no women should be permitted to cross it with them. To enforce this order, two captains were stationed on the bridge with instructions, on pain of death, not to suffer a woman to pass. The passage was effected, and the troops continued their march. When some miles beyond the bridge, the Emperor was greatly astonished at the appearance of a considerable number of women with the soldiers. He immediately ordered the two captains to be put under arrest, intending to have them tried for a breach of duty. The prisoners protested their innocence, and stoutly asserted that no women had crossed the bridge. Napoleon, on hearing this, commanded that some of the women should be brought before him, when he interrogated them on the subject. To his utter surprise they readily acknowledged that the captains had not betrayed their trust, but that a contrivance of their own had brought them into their present situation. They informed Napoleon, that having taken the provisions, which had been prepared for the support of the army, out of some of the casks, they had concealed themselves in them, and by this stratagem succeeded in passing the bridge without discovery.