Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dispute with Gourgaud

November 2 [1827].—I was a little bilious to-night—no wonder. Had sundry letters without any power of giving my mind to answer them—one about Gourgaud with his nonsense. I shall not trouble my head more on that score.

It’s easy to see how General Gaspard Gourgaud might upset one’s stomach, as Scott complains in his journal.  John Gibson Lockhart, in his “Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott”, provides substantial detail on the dispute between Gourgaud and Scott, which had been brewing since 1826, after the publication of Scott’s “Life of Napoleon Buonaparte”..  Per Lockhart, About the close of August [1827] Sir Walter's Diary is chiefly occupied with an affair which, as the reader of the previous chapter is aware, did not come altogether unexpectedly on him. Among the documents laid before him in the Colonial Office, when he was in London at the close of 1826, were some which represented one of Buonaparte's attendants at St. Helena, General Gourgaud, as having been guilty of gross unfairness, giving the English Government private information that the Emperor's complaints of ill-usage were utterly unfounded, and yet then, and afterwards, aiding and assisting the delusion in France as to the harshness of Sir Hudson Lowe's conduct towards his captive…’

Gourgaud sent an angry letter which was published in the Edinburgh Weekly Journal.  He eventually came to London (from France), and all signs and speculation pointed toward a duel.  Scott responded with a strongly worded letter of his own.  

Abbotsford, September 14, 1827.

Sir, — I observed in the London papers which I received yesterday, a letter from General Gourgaud, which I beg you will have the goodness to reprint, with this communication and the papers accompanying it.
It appears that the General is greatly displeased, because, availing myself of formal official documents, I have represented him, in my Life of Buonaparte, as communicating to the British Government and the representatives of others of the Allied Powers, certain statements in matter, which he seems at present desirous to deny or disavow, though in what degree, or to what extent, he has not explicitly stated.

Upon these grounds, for I can discover no other, General Gourgaud has been pleased to charge me, in the most intemperate terms, as the agent of a plot, contrived by the late British Ministers, to slander and dishonor him. I will not attempt to imitate the General either in his eloquence or his invective, but confine myself to the simple fact, that his accusation against me is as void of truth as it is of plausibility. I undertook, and carried on, the task of writing the Life of Napoleon Buonaparte, without the least intercourse with, or encouragement from, the Ministry of the time, or any person connected with them; nor was it until my task was very far advanced, that I asked and obtained permission from the Earl Bathurst, then Secretary for the Colonial Department, to consult such documents as his office afforded, concerning the residence of Napoleon at St. Helena. His Lordship's liberality, with that of Mr. Hay, the Under Secretary, permitted me, in the month of October last, personal access to the official records, when I inspected more than sixteen quarto volumes of letters, from which I made memoranda or extracts at my own discretion, unactuated by any feeling excepting the wish to do justice to all parties…’

Scott had the weight of verifiable documents on his side, and Gourgard never effectively responded to Scott’s points.  The dispute subsided without bloodshed.

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