General Drouot, 'The sage of the Grande Armée'
Ex-minister. Translation by S. Fred Wheeler (ed. P.H.) published here with permission. Translation originally published on the Napoleon Series.
"Sometimes, the hero betrayed by fortune possesses a soul superior to his earthly fate." Synesios
Great in his moral and civic virtues, rare amongst the friends of the Emperor for his honesty and faithfulness, General Count Drouot, would have been numbered in the XIIth century as one of the monk-soldiers of the Order of the Temple described by Saint-Bernard: "They come and go at their commander's signal. They wear the clothes given them. They guard themselves against all excess, desiring only that which is necessary. They scorn earthly goods. They live by their motto: "Non nobis Domine sed Nomini Tuo da gloriam."
His attachment to Napoleon rested upon the admiration and affection that he bore for the greatest captain of all time, for whose memory he sacrificed career, honors, and social status. The Emperor fully appreciated Drouot's character and military talents. The Emperor at Saint Helena dictated these lines to O'Meara and Bertrand:
"Drouot would have been as happy on 40 sous per day as on a sovereign's allowance. His morals, his integrity, his lack of affectation, would have brought him honor in the greatest days of the Roman Republic... I had good reason to rank him superior to a great many of my marshals. I do not hesitate to believe him capable of commanding 100,000 men."
The austerity of his life placed him among those few men whose acts conform to the dictates of their conscience. His education made it possible for him to spend the latter part of his life in contemplation of the ancients, after having spent the first part of his life as a military leader in last Napoleonic Campaigns (1809-1815).
Antoine Drouot was born at Nancy (Rue Saint Thiebault) January 11, 1774 to a family of poor but honest bakers; he was the third of twelve children. "My parents attempted above all to inspire me with religious feeling and to give me a love of work and virtue."  With a quick mind, always seeking to learn, he successfully completed the scholarship exam to enter the School of Christian Brothers of Nancy. After school each day, he would load a basket on his back and go door-to-door to help his father deliver bread. In order to maintain good standing in school, he would rise early to read by the light of the bread oven, Livy or Caesar, arithmetic and natural history.
At the time when he had decided to pursue the contemplative orders and had chosen the Carthusian monastery, Revolutionary events led him to a profound reflection: It was first necessary to defend the homeland, the cause for which his brother, in the Army of the Sambre and Meuse, had recently been killed by a cannon ball (1792).
The Count de Segur, who was an aide-de-camp to Napoleon, aptly wrote: "During troubled times, the army is the core around which the vigor of the nation gathers because it is a sanctuary of the highest virtues and the symbol of dignity and honor." Imbued with an education both scholarly and familial where duty and strength went hand-in-hand, with the love of work and a taste for exertion, Antoine Drouot discerned that his place was with those in the ranks of combat and he presented himself at the Artillery School of Chalôns-sur-Marne. In order to spare the family budget, he walked from Nancy to Chalons. He entered the testing room wearing his walking clothes and drew laughs and jibes from the other candidates. Drouot later admitted that this was the greatest experience of his life.
It was January 1, 1793. The famous physician Laplace, the son of a Norman laborer who became, thanks to d'Alembert, a professor of mathematics at the Royal Military School before the age of twenty, questioned Drouot just as he had questioned Napoleon Bonaparte a few years earlier. Laplace was so impressed by the responses of this candidate who was driven by an inner fire and a large intellect, that he pushed the test beyond the usual level. The illustrious professor embraced him and declared him the best of his class of 180 candidates.
After a brief period of instruction at the Artillery School of Chalôns, Drouot was, because of this aptitude and grades, named Second Lieutenant of the 1st Regiment of Foot Artillery in the Army of the North. He saw his first action at Hondschoote, September 8, 1793, leading the 14th company whose captain and lieutenant were absent. He was nineteen years old, had proved himself a leader, and the fire of his cannons disordered his Austrian adversary.
Posted subsequently to the Army of the Sambre and Meuse, under the orders of General Jourdan, he participated in the Battle of Fleurus (June 26, 1794) as a first lieutenant. Next he was sent to Bayonne where the explosion of a big gun burned his face. His vision was to be poor for the rest of his life, and this accident eventually caused his blindness in 1834. He was recalled at the end of 1797 to the Army of the Rhine under the command of General Hoche; in December 1798 he joined the Army of Naples under General Championnet. At Trebbia, June 18-20, 1799, he covered MacDonald's retreat before the forces of the Russian General Suvarov.
On his return to France, Drouot was appointed to the general staff of General Eblé, artillery commander of the Army of the Rhine - future hero of the Beresina - and took part in the action at Hohenlinden December 3, 1800.
At La Fère, while commanding the 14th battery of the 1st Regiment of Foot Artillery (January 21, 1802, he learned that his father was gravely ill and was able to attend him at his death.
Made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor August 5, 1804, he asked to in the camp of Boulogne where Napoleon was creating the Grand Army. His request was not granted and he was sent to Toulon under the command of General Lauriston. For eight months he served aboard the surveillance fleet and suffered terribly from sea sickness. July 30, 1805, on board the frigate l'Hortense, he sailed toward the Antilles in Admiral Villeneuve's fleet charged with locating Nelson; he was to command the artillery of the landing force.
After several maneuvers, Villeneuve headed for Cadiz which he then left to suffer the catastrophe at Trafalgar. Drouot just avoided being present at that disaster in that he received at Cadiz the order to join the Grand Army as head of the 4th Artillery (Bonaparte's former regiment). He joined the regiment on September 20, 1805.
Shortly thereafter, he was called by General Gassendi to manage the arms factory at Maubeuge. In September 1807, he was sent to the factory at Charleville; while serving in these two posts he lamented the fact that he was unable to participate in the battles of Austerlitz, Jena, Auerstadt, Eylau, and Friedland. However, he did receive the thanks of his leaders for having reorganized the artillery parks and prohibited the "petits souvenirs" which the arms suppliers distributed to obtain sales. His integrity was exemplary. His concern for detail and capacity for work allowed him to improve the working conditions of his men with whom he acquired the reputation of being strict but fair .
February 24, 1808, promoted to major, he came under the orders of General Lariboisiere as director of the artillery park for the Army of Spain at Madrid, where, after the insurrection of the second of May, he transformed Bueno Retiro into a fortified arsenal.
December 15, 1808, the Emperor directed Drouot to take command of the Foot Artillery Regiment of the Guard. Ordered to Germany, he arrived at Vienna at the end of May, reorganized his regiment and thereby attracted the attention of Napoleon. He accompanied the Emperor to Schoenbrunn in June 1809 for the first time; this ignited a friendship that would withstand all trials.
July 6, 1809, he fought at Wagram and was wounded in the right foot while commanding a hundred-gun battery which broke the Austrian resistance. He was promoted three days later as an Officer of the Legion of Honor and Colonel of the Artillery of the Guard. Napoleon complimented him.
Whenever he was assigned a new duty, he feared that he would not measure up to the task. Little by little his superiority asserted itself in the production of arms, the artillery parks, the instruction of recruits, and in combat. The responsibilities multiplied his energy and his mastery. He was loved by his artillerymen like the Emperor "whom he resembled" in many ways.
From that point on, Drouot would be at all the battles as the expert responsible for the artillery charges and their use. He would have the guns loaded with grapeshot and fired at the enemy cavalry at 200 meters.
Made a Baron of the Empire March 14, 1810 , he took part in the Russian Campaign with the Imperial Guard where he distinguished himself and his artillery worked wonders at Moscow on September 7, 1812, and he earned the rank of Commander in the Order of the Legion of Honor. During the retreat, his energy and skill allowed him to preserve the majority of his guns until December 10; his attitude was an example of morale strength and courage.
Promoted to General of Brigade January 10, 1813 and Aide Major Général de la Garde, the Emperor selected him as an ADC. In Germany, his guns played a decisive role the successful battles of Weissenfels, Lutzen, Bautzen (where he earned the promotion to divisional general) and on October 16 at Wachau where he commanded a battery of 150 guns. October 16-19 he was at Leipzig fighting, sword in hand, in the midst of the Guard. He was made a Count of the Empire October 24, 1813 . He gained the victory at Hanau (October 30) by keeping the enemy out with his artillery shots and thus barring the road to France.
Until 1813 he had not benefited from the generous distributions which Napoleon had poured upon so many of his comrades. It did, however, become apparent that the first officer of artillery in all Europe was General Drouot. He had been named many times in the Bulletin of the Grand Army. He was at the Emperor's side, having gained his confidence at Dresden, July 16, 1813 when he received the written order: "During the absence of the Duke of Vicenza, you will take command of my household including the Grand Marshal of the Palace and the Grand Marshal of the horse. You will take my orders and give them to my household. Napoleon."
Devoted body and soul to his daily task, he would meditate while the others slept. He offered prayer in private each day. His fortunate ability to go without sleep was noted by his aide-de-camp, Planat, who did not ever recall "having seen him sleep during the battles." This advantage gave him an extraordinary ability for work.
Once a decision had been arrived at and announced, he would adjust his course in accordance with it, without care or concern for what others might say. His strict morals, his military competence, his clear mindedness, his modesty, his avoidance of intrigue and his candor separated him - which is unusual - from the criticisms so abundant in the memoirs of his contemporaries.
In 1814, the campaign in France provided him with new opportunities to shine: La Rothière (February 1st), Champaubert (February 10), Vauchamp (February 14), Mormant (February 16), Craonne (March 7), Laôn (March 9-10). After Arcis-sur-Aube, he was elevated to Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor (March 23).
April 6, 1814, the day after the Emperor's abdication, Drouot was at his side at Fontainebleau with Marshal Moncey and General Petit.
According to the Treaty of Fontainebleau (April 11, 1814), among the 2,000 volunteers that Napoleon was authorized to take with him for his guard were 400 officers, noncommissioned officers and soldiers including three generals: Drouot, Bertrand and Cambronne. Drouot was the Military Governor of The Isle of Elba; Cambronne commanded the Guard; Bertrand directed the Palace and Administration.
In the face of difficulties in providing decent lodgings, Napoleon declared, "Drouot will be happy so long as he has a desk and some books." The Emperor was aware of Drouot's Spartan tastes and exemplary unselfishness and when he decided to increase Drouot's income at Elba, he was not surprised by the refusal, "They will say that the Emperor Napoleon in his adversity could only find such friends as could be purchased with gold." Drouot received no allowance and after Waterloo would live on a single retirement pension .
From Elba, Drouot wrote on May 5, 1814, to his aide-de-camp, Captain Planat: "I take ownership of the solitude to which I am resigned... I desire to live free here... Reading will be my primary and most dear activity. After 22 years of trials and dangers, how sweet it is to give myself to favored occupations."
Study was always his dominant passion, but it was a delight for him to live in close connection with his Emperor, of whom he was the confidant at Elba, and to discover the great man in his true nature, far removed from honors, victories, and obligations of court. He it was who saw the Emperor as he truly was. His admiration and affection confer upon Napoleon, so much slandered, an unquestionable stature, because "is it not appropriate that the hero earned the worship of the sage," of a man of such noble virtue as Drouot.
For Drouot the soldier, Napoleon was France incarnate, his homeland. For the learned stoic, he was the respected genius. For the son of the baker from Nancy, the Emperor had honored him and called him to his side. For the Christian, the fallen sovereign earned his complete devotion and thankful friendship. Drouot would write near the end of his life: "The signs of esteem, confidence and affection that the Emperor constantly showed to me gave glory and happiness to my life; they remain engraven upon my heart as well as the memory of the benefits which he conferred upon me."
In the camps of the phenomenal campaign of France, Drouot had felt a chivalrous passion for his leader because beneath that hard shell of the prince and conqueror beat the heart of a man whose acts of kindness for the wounded during the evenings after the battles approached his model of charity. This soul of whom Chateaubriand said it "was the most powerful breath of life which ever animated human clay" was fused with the soul of a monk-soldier forged in poverty and courage. God and the Emperor, to serve them both at the same time entranced his conscience and his love of perfection.
The parallels between the two men are inescapable: a similar taste for silence and solitude, a similar dedication to study, similar admiration of ancient heroes, similar large families, similar privations of youth, similar filial devotion, similar aptitude toward mathematics and artillery, similar qualities of leader and tactician, similar capability for work, similar patriotism, similar love of glory, similar care to leave an exemplary mark of their lives. Their differences were complimentary: the tormented genius and the humble sage, the preoccupation with dynasty and the sacrifice of self.
On the need to make war, for which Napoleon was so often reproached, Drouot issued a categorical denial: "The Emperor was tired of war; he engaged in it only by reluctant necessity." One of the better biographers of the Emperor, Emil Ludwig, remarked that all of the wars were imposed upon Napoleon just as they had been imposed upon France before his reign.
At Elba, January 15, 1815, Napoleon discussed with Drouot his intention to return to France: the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau had not been honored in the payment of his pension; his wife and son were not allowed to join him; it was thought that at the instigation of Talleyrand or Metternich he would be sent to Saint Helena; finally, the French, humiliated under Louis XVIII hoped for his return.
This eventuality caused Drouot to suffer a crisis of conscience: He neither wanted to take up arms against his country nor believe that the army, having sworn allegiance to the King, would fail to block the route of the Emperor. He earnestly attempted to dissuade Napoleon who replied, "Not a single shot will be fired." Thus assured, he reasoned also that Providence, which had so elevated General Bonaparte, could not leave him to the administration of the Isle of Elba. As a Christian and man of duty, he gave himself once again to "Fiat voluntas tua" and resolved to remain true to the oath that he had given as a soldier obey the Emperor. A year later, Napoleon would dictate at Saint Helena, "If I had followed the wise counsel of Drouot, I would never have left Elba."
Embarking February 26 onboard l'Inconstant, and disembarking March 1 at the Gulf of St. Juan, Drouot commanded the camp in the dunes of Cannes. He regained his peace of mind with the winning over of the 5th Line at Laffray and the 4th Hussars at Grenoble.
When the imperial eagle had flown from tower to tower from Nôtre-Dame de l'Esperance to Nôtre-Dame de Paris, General Count Drouot continued to faithfully serve the Emperor.
In May 1815, Drouot was commissioned to urgently draw up reports on the artillery and the organization of the Guard; his opinion was solicited for nominations. The movement of troops went so well that by June 16, he received the order to "immediately march the Imperial Guard infantry, cavalry, and artillery to Fleurus." Drouot was in unison with his Emperor as he knew that this war was imposed upon him by the fear which the other sovereigns maintained under the likes of Talleyrand, Fouché and others who had been generously promoted by Napoleon.
At Waterloo, June 18, 1815, he extracted Napoleon from the temptation of getting himself killed. "When all is lost, that is the time for great souls." He had been made a peer of France, and, although Napoleon had abdicated, he attempted June 23, by a speech to the Assembly to rekindle the patriotic fire by demonstrating the resources which were yet available to preserve France from the enemy invasion. His voice was lost in the wilderness of personal interests, with the exception of Davout, La Bedoyère, and Regnault de Saint-Jean-d'Angely.
The executive commission elected by the Chamber of Representatives, and which included Carnot and Caulaincourt among its five members, appointed General Drouot, June 23, Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Guard which had just arrived reached Paris. Drouot accepted this mission, only after he received the Emperor's consent, to maintain order and he succeeded in the task. Then he was required to lead the Guard to the banks of the Loire and was compelled with regret to show the white cockade. He obeyed as a disciplined soldier with the only object of saving the Guard.
July 25, on the statements of Fouché, Minister of Police, Louise XVIII referred by ordinance for court martial 19 generals for high treason. General Drouot was among the them.
"The man the most upright, the most modest that I ever knew, learned, brave, devoted, plain in manner, of a high character, not only refused to flee, but anticipated his arrest by going and giving himself up." Marshal MacDonald, who wrote those lines, added, "As I counseled him, he should have fled to shield himself from the current wave of retributions." He waited and was consigned to the Prison de l'Abbaye, August 14, 1815 "for having taken up arms against his nation" (!) even though not a shot had been fired during the triumphal march from Cannes to Paris.
The investigation of his case took eight months. He appeared before the court martial of the 1st Military Division composed of Generals Danthouard, Rogniat, Taviel, Colonel Marcillac, Commandant Pons, the Count of Vergennes and Captain Dutuis. The court reporter, Major Delon, with courage and independence that would cost him his career - after the case he was cashiered - concluded that the accused was not guilty.
His attorney, Girod de l'Ain, pleaded that he had sworn only one oath to Napoleon and that was while he was his sovereign on the Isle of Elba, a sovereign recognized by all the powers of Europe in a treaty familiar to all and that in consequence, Drouot was not guilty of treason.
He explained his defense himself: "I was guided only by honor, integrity and faithfulness to my oath to the Emperor. I maintain above all that is dear the testimony of my conscience... As long as gratitude, faithfulness to oaths, obedience and attachment to a sovereign are virtues among men, my actions will be justified in the eyes of good men... If you believe that my blood is necessary to assure the peace of France, my final moments will yet have served my country."
April 6, 1816, he was acquitted by the minority (according to Article 31 of the Law of 5 Brumaire, An V) by three votes to four. Louis XVIII who had sought Drouot's execution as he had done with Ney, La Bedoyère and Lavalette, made haste (!) to send a coach for him and received him by requesting the same fidelity that he had shown to Bonaparte. Drouot held his tongue and took his leave, never to return to the Tuileries where he had worked at the side of his Emperor. He was 42 years old. "The son of an age which had passed," General Count Drouot lived from then on in retirement until his death 30 years later, giving by his attachment to Napoleon one of the finest examples of fidelity offered in history.
As he had foreseen and wished, he retired to the village of his birth in the home of one of his brothers (55, rue des quatre Eglise) not far from the Church of Saint Sebastian where he had received baptism and near his mother whom he venerated and then lost in 1817.
He began a study of the campaigns from 1792 to 1815. "This work occupies me for five or six hours each day and brings me such pleasure that I am unable to break it off."
He lived thus in thought with the Emperor and, astonishing coincidence! He dealt with the same subjects that Napoleon dictated at Saint Helena. A mysterious sympathetic connection bound these two men across the seas...
Unable to accompany his leader and to share his captivity in 1815, as he had been entrusted with command of the Guard, owing duty to his grenadiers; he had determined to take himself to Saint Helena using his own means. "I save as much as possible in order to rejoin Napoleon." He attempted to live independently and without responsibilities so that he would be free to leave as soon as "he was able, God willing, to make the journey."
During the Restoration efforts had been made to recall Drouot to the army with the rank of Lieutenant General: He refused, "not wanting to receive such honors while his benefactor languished chained to a rock in the Atlantic."
In 1816 Queen Hortense wrote to him as "one of the men that the Emperor held in the highest esteem" to entrust to him the tutoring of her son, the future Napoleon III: He declined the offer.
The voluntary retirement was not one of idleness: "I see no one and pass my time either in the midst of my family or with my books. I study...but am forced to spare my eyes." This sedentary and meditative life affected his health and in 1818 he suffered an inflammation of the lungs. The doctors counseled him to take physical activity in the fresh air. He took to horse and undertook to explore the battlefields so that he could complete his notes on the Napoleonic Campaigns.
February 19, 1820, he was notified that he was being paid the arrears of his half pay in the amount of 45,000 Francs: He refused, not wishing to owe anything to the monarch installed on the throne by the enemies of Napoleon and his nation.
In March 1820, the Emperor asked him to replace Grand Marshal of the Palace Bertrand who, submitting to the desire of his wife, wished to leave Saint Helena. Drouot was awaiting the receipt of his passports, requested since 1816; he had money for the trip; he was ready and exhalted with joy. Alas, in June 1821, he learned of the Emperor's death (May 5, 1821). As though struck by lightning, Drouot's pain was immense and he was seen to weep. Abandoning the project which had brightened his retirement, he plunged into a deep depression. This was the most painful time of his life: He had lost his benefactor who had never forgotten him. In fact, Napoleon willed him 200,000 Francs and suggested that he marry his cousin Pallavicini.
His worship for Napoleon which he observed by voluntary exile, caused him to refuse the Duke of Orleans' offer that he tutor his son.
"Nothing is more difficult, especially for superior men, that to tolerate repose. When the soul and the body are accustomed to serious work on grand projects, they cannot suffer the simple and peaceful passage of time. This cold peace is their tomb. They miss the human tragedy in which they lived, acting their part and taking action not so long ago. History numbers but a small number of men who have passed from the public eye to private life with tranquil self-possession. Most waste away in common boredom; others give way to the passions of the senses to forget themselves and their dignity; the highest succumb to the mysterious poison of sorrow..."
The soul of Antoine Drouot was greater than the events in which Providence had placed him, from the artisan's shop of his father to the throne of the Emperor, to the camp of the conqueror, to the exile of a head of state, to the death of a beloved friend.
After two years of silence, he decided in 1823 to purchase a farm three miles from Nancy to divide his time between study and the fields. "I have always loved the country" he used to say.
On the invitation of his friends, he spent two winters in Paris, but he returned to Nancy "with infinite pleasure." "I have heard too much noise in my life to desire other than quiet; I dread the agitated masses and the brouhaha of the capital."
He attempted farming. "Make me no compliments as a farmer. I am quite ignorant of agriculture and am surrounded by folks who are perhaps even more so." He had a flock of sheep and tried to improve the breed with a better quality of wool. His attempt incurred the jealousy of other herdsmen and he was forced to abandon his agricultural project.
Having been placed on army pension February 6, 1825, (5,473 Francs per year) he made "the acquisition of a pretty little house located in the midst of a garden a hundred yards from the entrance to town; I enjoy all the benefits of the city with all of the advantages of the country. My household consists of a cook and a gardener, from among my former artillerymen. I groom the horse and do all of the tasks which do not appertain to the cooking." Sciatica put an end to this frugal peace. He walked with a cane and gave up horse riding .
He accepted the presidency of the Agricultural Society of Nancy which he had become a member of in 1820. He continued to chair the Stanislas Academy of Nancy which he had taken part in since 1817. On the other hand, he never solicited, in spite of his great learning and scientific knowledge, the least place in the circles and institutes of Paris; he would not even accept the title of correspondent!
In 1830, King Louis-Philippe offered him the command of the 3rd and 5th divisions. After having accepted the responsibility and re-establishing order at Metz, he addressed the troops in these terms: "You are nothing except by discipline." Health reasons forced him to leave his command and return to Nancy.
He declined the direction of the Polytechnic School which Louis-Philippe proposed for him. He accepted only, on October 18, 1830, the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor and his re-establishment as a Peer of France (he had been made such by Napoleon during the 100 days).
Dividing his time during retirement between prayer, reading, study, and acts of charity, he lived in Spartan austerity reporting to God all the course of his life. He wrote his thoughts: "Man's happiness requires neither riches nor honors but the bare necessities for the health of the body, unselfish learning for the health of the mind, the performance of duty for the health of conscience, and the love of God and men for the health of the soul." Devoted to learning, he also had a love of the arts which he acquired during the laborious studies of his youth and his philosophy mixed evangelical precepts with the virtues of the men described by Plutarch. "A work of art was for him a living being with whom he would converse, a friend for the evening. Through books he escaped his time and lived in every century." He lived in Platonic harmony of the spheres of the Beautiful, of the Good, and of the True.
Besides Plutarch, his favorite authors were Caesar, Tacitus, Livy, Vauvenargues and Pascal. He accorded no importance to works of fiction, which recalls to mind the sarcasms of Napoleon regarding his officers who read nothing but novels! The Imitation of Christ was his bedside book: He found there the expression of his moral ideal funded on the acceptance of Divine Will, the efficacy prayer, love of others, forgiveness of offense, and the judgment of the conscience.
Antoine Drouot possessed a love of the poor and downtrodden, perhaps because he had been one of them. He begrudged no one, but could only help out his old soldiers in the end. He allocated to his unfortunate companions the like sum of the endowments he had received under the Empire. Of the testamentary legacy of Napoleon, he drew upon only 60,000 Francs, but he used it along with his pension from the Legion of Honor for the relief of old soldiers of the Grand Army and their families. He applied the maxim of Saint Francis of Assisi: "Do good where you are."
General Drouot at Elba  was on the brink of marrying Mademoiselle Henriette Vantini, daughter of Chamberlain Vantini. Drouot was no longer a young man; he had never been a handsome man, but he had an honorable name, courage, and integrity. She wanted to learn French; he wanted to learn Italian. There was an exchange of lessons. She fell desperately in love. He, by modesty and his feelings, dared not to reveal his affection. The young girl's mother complained. Drouot was moved to propose marriage, but felt that he should first approach his mother. From Lorraine, his mother responded, "Not for a marriage so far away and with a foreigner." General Drouot, over 40 years old, General of Division, Count of the Empire, Governor of Elba, yielded out of filial respect. This is Drouot's only known sentimental adventure. He himself wrote, "As I was a military man, I was absorbed by the responsibilities of my office and by the passion with which I worked... Several arrangements were proposed for me, but I accepted none of them because I was too old for the persons involved" .
He become completely blind in 1835, he held up under his sufferings with an admirable serenity.
"I did not come into this world that I might always be favored... When I recall the dangers and harms from which I have escaped, I cannot complain. Even though heaven has struck me in the solace of study and learning which has made my ills more bearable... Blindness is not quite such an evil as one might think. There is a certain gratification in being deprived of the view of exterior objects in order to better meditate upon the internal."
His life in darkness sharpened the faculties of a mind possessed of a unique ability and suitability for philosophical meditation. For fourteen years he would give himself to reflection. He had written an annotated account of the events that he had witnessed. One day he decided to destroy his notes on the Napoleonic Campaigns. He alleged as a pretext his lack of ability to edit. Intense depth of thought sometimes paralyzes the expression, but it seems that in Drouot's case, with Napoleon's death, the notes which he had to present to Napoleon had lost all attraction. A kind person offered to read to Drouot the daily papers and his preferred works. In order to continue to write, Drouot constructed an apparatus which would guide his hand along the line to follow.
He lived cut off from the world. Horrified of wasting time and dreading idle chatter, he received no guests other than relatives and his companions in arms. Alone, he celebrated a few anniversary dates: Wagram, Elba, June 18 (Waterloo) and May 5 (1821).
In order to maintain the memory of the Emperor, he made a gift to the Museum of Nancy of the Saber and Star of the Brave (Legion of Honor) that Napoleon had carried and had given to him.
He added by letter that "if Napoleon loved glory, he loved France even more" and that "the Empire was the highest pinnacle of glory achieved by France since Charlemagne."
In 1840, he suffered from his inability to assist in the return of the Remains of the Emperor and was filled with emotion at the account of the ceremonies read to him from the journal de la Meurthe. This was the occasion of one of his most beautiful spiritual writings:
"I have experienced during the course of my life many changes of condition, but I have never been what one would call unhappy. I knew true happiness in obscurity, innocence and poverty in my youth; I have felt it less so in the honors, and with the goods and pleasures that the world was able to offer to me as I matured; I have always found happiness in the humility and infirmities of old age. I have sometimes been subject to very difficult trials, but physical and mental sufferings have never been without compensation; they have almost always been accompanied or followed by comforts which alleviate the bitterness. I have only praise to give to Divine Providence. Providence has never abandoned me and in all the circumstances of my life, I have felt divine protection and inexhaustible kindness... I await death and when such is the Will of God, I rejoice for I will go to find my mother, my father, and my Emperor."
His Emperor, who, at Saint Helena, had the time to classify his few friends, gave to this general who had never forsook his duties the title coined in antiquity, "Sage of the Grand Army," "the strongest mind and the best heart that I have ever encountered."
March 24, 1847, the soul of Drouot left the earth. Lacordaire delivered the funeral eulogy which painted Drouot almost as a saint: "May he receive upon the banks of the next world that crown reserved for those who have chosen to walk in the way of Truth." A most praiseworthy obituary was published in the Times: "Count Drouot has just died in Nancy ... he was the right hand of the Emperor, for Napoleon won his battles with his Guard and his artillery and Drouot was General of the Guard Artillery ... General Drouot is most worthy of all of the pride of his countrymen and the respect of his enemies. In peace as in war, he had but one desire, that of serving at the post assigned to him. Soldier of the Grand Army, he was above all, a good-hearted man of great conscience."
His name was inscribed on the west side of the Arch of Triumph and a monument by David d'Angers was erected to his memory in 1855 at Nancy. How painful it is to record that the only companion of the Emperor whose testimony is worthy of complete belief, has been neglected by the flatterers and the disparagers. It is the fashion in our society to burn in the morning that which we have praised the night before, that the faces of the faint-hearted and the opportunists might be better remembered than those of honest folks, so it is difficult to admire without submitting the complex character to comparison to its detriment.
In the ascent of the soul the qualities of honesty, faithfulness and kindness, the sense of duty to the point of sacrifice are of more value than the baubles of the arena or of fortune won too often by the smothering of the conscience. "It is through the soul alone that man can escape time and space and approach moral perfection."
"There comes a time when all that we have planted, sewn, built, or written is about to crumble as if nothing should remain of our passage." The Book of Ecclesiastes reminds of the modesty of him who has departed, but in the heart of those who remain the memory of a great man is imperishable and his example an aid to live by. Such was Antoine Drouot, Sage of the Grande Armée.
I thank Colonel Henri Rame for proof reading this article and for completing the following notes of interest.