« PreviousContinue »
"Oppression has lifted his iron-like rod,
And smitten my people again and again ;
Will he hear the poor Indian before him complain?
How driven in exile? - O can he not see?
The last of my tribe on the banks of Maumee !
'Ye trees, on whose branches my cradle was hung,
Must I yield ye a prey to the axe and the fire!
Have ye witnessed the light of the council expire !
Is the Great Spirit just, in the land where ye be ?
And join you at last from the banks of Maumee!'
THE COUNT VAN HORN.
During the minority of Louis XV., while the Duke of Orleans was Regent of France, a young Flemish nobleman, the Count Antoine Joseph Van Horn, made his sudden appearance in Paris, and by his character, conduct, and the subsequent disasters in which he became involved, created a great sensation in the high circles of the proud aristocracy. He was about twenty-two years of age, tall, finely formed, with a pale, romantic countenance,
eyes of remarkable brilliancy and wildness.
He was of one of the most ancient and highly-esteemed families of European nobility, being of the line of the Princes of Horn and Overique, sovereign Counts of Hautekerke, and hereditary Grand Veneurs of the empire.
The family took its name from the little town and seigneurie of Horn, in Brabant; and was known as early as the eleventh century among the little dynasties of the Netherlands, and since that time, by a long line of illustrious generations. At the peace of Utrecht, when the Netherlands passed under subjection to Austria, the house of Van Horn came under the domination of the emperor. At the time we treat of, two of the branches of this ancient house were extinct; the third and only surviving branch was represented by the reigning prince, Maximilian Emanuel Van Horn, twenty-four years of age, who resided in honorable and courtly style on his hereditary domains at Baussigny, in the Netherlands, and his brother the Count Antoine Joseph, who is the subject of this memoir.
The ancient house of Van Horn, by the intermarriage of its various branches with the noble families of the continent, had become widely connected and interwoven with the high aristocracy of Europe. The Count Antoine, therefore, could claim relationship to many of the proudest names in Paris. In fact, he was grand-son, by the mother's side, of the Prince de Ligne, and even might boast of affinity to the Regent (the Duke of Orleans) himself. There were circumstances, however, connected with his sudden appearance in Paris, and his previous story, that placed him in what is termed a
false position;' a word of baleful significance in the fashionable vocabulary of France.
The young count had been a captain in the service of Austria, but had been cashiered for irregular conduct, and for disrespect to Prince Louis of Baden, commander-in-chief. To check him in his wild career, and bring him to sober reflection, his brother the prince caused him to be arrested, and sent to the old castle of Van Wert, in the domains of Horn. This was the same castle in which, in former times, John Van Horn, Stadtholder of Gueldres, had imprisoned his father; a circumstance which has furnished Rembrandt with the subject of an admirable painting. The governor of the castle was one Van Wert, grandson of the famous John Van Wert, the hero of many a popular song and legend. It was the intention of the prince that his brother should be held in honorable durance, for his object was to sober and improve, not to punish and afflict him.
Van Wert, however, was a stern, harsh man, of violent passions. He treated the youth in a manner that prisoners and offenders were treated in the strong holds of the robber counts of Germany, in old times; confined him in a dungeon, and inflicted on him such hardships and indignities, that the irritable temperament of the young count was roused to continual fury, which ended in insanity. For six months was the unfortunate youth kept in this horrible state, without his brother the prince being informed of his melancholy condition, or of the cruel treatment to which he was subjected. At length, one day, in a paroxysm of frenzy, the count knocked down two of his gaolers with a beetle, escaped from the castle of Van Wert, and eluded all pursuit; and after roving about in a state of distraction, made his way to Baussigny, and appeared like a spectre before his brother. The prince
was shocked at his wretched, emaciated appearance, and his lamentable state of mental alienation. He received him with the most compassionate tenderness; lodged him in his own room ; appointed three servants to attend and watch over him day and night; and endeavored, by the most soothing and affectionate assiduity, to atone for the past act of rigor with which he reproached himself. When he learned, however, the manner in which his unfortunate brother had been treated in confinement, and the course of brutalities that had led to his mental malady, he was roused to indignation. His first step was to cashier Van Wert from his command. That violent man set the prince at defiance, and attempted to maintain himself in his government and his castle, by instigating the peasants, for several leagues round, to revolt. His insurrection might have been formidable against the power of a petty prince; but he was put under the ban of the empire, and seized as a state prisoner. The memory of his grand-father, the oft-sung John Van Wert, alone saved him from a gibbet; but he was imprisoned in the strong tower of Horn-op-Zee. There he remained until he was eighty-two years of age, savage, violent, and unconquered to the last ; for we are told that he never
ceased fighting and thumping, as long as he could close a fist or wield a cudgel.
In the mean time, a course of kind and gentle treatment and wholesome regimen, and above all, the tender and affectionate assiduity of his brother, the prince, produced the most salutary effects upon Count Antoine. He gradually recovered his reason; but a
degree of violence seemed always lurking at the bottom of his character, and he required to be treated with the greatest caution and mildness, for the least contradiction exasperated him.
In this state of mental convalescence, he began to find the supervision and restraints of brotherly affection insupportable; so he left the Netherlands furtively, and repaired to Paris, whither, in fact, it is said he was called by motives of interest, to make arrangements concerning a valuable estate which he inherited from his relative the Princess d'Epinay.
On his arrival in Paris, he called upon the Marquis of Créqui, and other of the high nobility with whom he was connected. He was received with great courtesy; but, as he brought no letters from his elder brother, the prince, and as various circumstances of his previous history had transpired, they did not receive him into their families, nor introduce him to their ladies. Still they fêted him in bachelor style, gave him gay and elegant suppers at their separate apartments, and took him to their boxes at the theatres. He was often noticed, too, at the doors of the most fashionable churches, taking his stand among the young men of fashion; and at such times, his tall
, elegant figure, his pale but handsome countenance, and his flashing eyes, distinguished him from among the crowd; and the ladies declared that it was almost impossible to support his ardent gaze.
The Count did not afflict himself much at his limited circulation in the fastidious circles of the high aristocracy. He relished society of a wilder and less ceremonious cast; and meeting with loose companions to his taste, soon ran into all the excesses of the capital, in that most licentious period. It is said that, in the course of his wild career, he had an intrigue with a lady of quality, a favorite of the Regent ; that he was surprised by that prince in one of his interviews; that sharp words passed between them; and that the jealousy and vengeance thus awakened, ended only with his life.
About this time, the famous Mississippi scheme of Law was at its height, or rather it began to threaten that disastrous catastrophe which convulsed the whole financial world. Every effort was making to keep the bubble inflated. The vagrant population of France was swept off from the streets at night, and conveyed to Havre de Grace, to be shipped to the projected colonies ; even laboring people and mechanics were thus crimped and spirited away. As Count Antoine was in the habit of sallying forth at night, in disguise, in pursuit of bis pleasures, he came near being carried off by a gang of crimps : it seemed, in fact, as if they had been lying in wait for him, as he had experienced very rough treatment at their hands. Complaint was made of his case by his relation, the Marquis de Créqui, who took much interest in the youth; but the Marquis received mysterious intimations not to interfere in the matter, but to advise the Count to quit Paris immediately : If he lingers, he is lost!' This has been cited as a proof that vengeance was dogging at the heels of the unfortunate youth, and only watching for an opportunity to destroy him.
Such opportunity occurred but too soon. Among the loose companions with whom the Count had become intimate, were two who lodged in the same hotel with him. One was a youth only twenty
years of age, who passed himself off as the Chevalier d'Etampes, but whose real name was Lestang, the prodigal son of a Flemish banker. The other, named Laurent de Mille, a Piedmontese, was a cashiered captain, and at the time an esquire in the service of the dissolute Princess de Carignan, who kept gambling-tables in her palace. It is probable that gambling propensities had brought these young men together, and that their losses had driven them to desperate measures : certain it is, that all Paris was suddenly astounded by a murder which they were said to have committed. What made the crime more startling, was, that it seemed connected with the great Mississippi scheme, at that time the fruitful source of all kinds of panics and agitations. A Jew, a stock-broker, who dealt largely in shares of the bank of Law, founded on the Mississippi scheme, was the victim. The story of his death is variously related. The darkest account states, that the Jew was decoyed by these young men into an obscure tavern, under pretext of negotiating with him for bank shares, to the amount of one hundred thousand crowns, which he had with him in his pocket-book. Lestang kept watch upon the stairs. The Count and De Mille entered with the Jew into a chamber. In a little while there were heard cries and struggles from within. A waiter passing by the room, looked in, and seeing the Jew weltering in his blood, shut the door again, double-locked it, and alarmed the house. Lestang rushed down stairs, made his way to the hotel, secured his most portable effects, and fled the country. The Count and De Mille endeavored to escape by the window, but were both taken, and conducted to prison.
A circumstance which occurs in this part of the Count's story, seems to point him out as a fated man. His mother, and his brother, the Prince Van Horn, had received intelligence some time before at Baussigny, of the dissolute life the Count was leading at Paris, and of his losses at play. They despatched a gentleman of the prince's household to Paris, to pay the debts of the Count, and persuade him to return to Flanders; or, if he should refuse, to obtain an order from the Regent for him to quit the capital. Unfortunately the gentleman did not arrive at Paris until the day after the murder.
The news of the Count's arrest and imprisonment, on a charge of murder, caused a violent sensation among the high aristocracy. All those connected with him, who had treated him hitherto with indifference, found their dignity deeply involved in the question of his guilt or innocence. A general convocation was held at the hotel of the Marquis de Créqui, of all the relatives and allies of the house of Horn. It was an assemblage of the most proud and aristocratic personages of Paris. Inquiries were made into the circumstances of the affair. It was ascertained, beyond a doubt, that the Jew was dead, and that he had been killed by several stabs of a poniard. In escaping by the window, it was said that the Count had fallen, and been immediately taken; but that De Mille had fled through the streets, pursued by the populace, and had been arrested at some distance from the scene of the murder ; that the Count had declared himself innocent of the death of the Jew, and that he had risked his own life in endeavoring to protect him ; but that De Mille on being brought back to the tavern, confessed to a plot to murder the broker,
and rob him of his pocket-book, and inculpated the Count in the crime.
Another version of the story was, that the Count Van Horn had deposited with the broker bank shares to the amount of eighty-eight thousand livres ; that he had sought him in this tavern, which was one of his resorts, and had demanded the shares ; that the Jew had denied the deposit ; that a quarrel had ensued, in the course of which the Jew struck the Count in the face; that the latter, transported with rage, had snatched up a knife from a table, and wounded ihe Jew in the shoulder; and that thereupon De Mille, who was present, and who had likewise been defrauded by the broker, fell on him, and despatched him with blows of a poniard, and seized upon his pocket-book : that he had offered to divide the contents of the latter with the Count, pro rata, of what the usurer had defrauded them; that the latter had refused the proposition with disdain, and that, at a noise of persons approaching, both had attempted to escape from the premises, but had been taken.
Regard the story in any way they might, appearances were terribly against the Count, and the noble assemblage was in great consternation. What was to be done to ward off so foul a disgrace and to save their illustrious escutcheons from this murderous stain of blood ? Their first attempt was to prevent the affair from going to trial, and their relative from being dragged before a criminal tribunal, on so horrible and degrading a charge. They applied, therefore, to the Regent, to intervene his power; to treat the Count as having acted under an access of his mental malady; and to shut him up in a mad-house. The Regent was deaf to their solicitations. He replied, coldly, that if the Count was a madman, one could not get rid too quickly of madmen who were furious in their insanity. The crime was too public and atrocious, to be hushed up, or slurred over; justice must take its course.
Seeing there was no avoiding the humiliating scene of a public trial, the noble relatives of the Count endeavored to predispose the minds of the magistrates, before whom he was to be arraigned. They accordingly made urgent and eloquent representations of the high descent, and noble and powerful connexions of the Count; set forth the circumstances of his early history; his mental malady; the nervous irritability to which he was subject, and his extreme sensitiveness to insult or contradiction. By these means, they sought to prepare the judges to interpret every thing in favor of the Count, and, even if it should prove that he had inflicted the mortal blow on the usurer, to attribute it to access of insanity, provoked by insult.
To give full effect to these representations, the noble conclave determined to bring upon the judges the dazzling rays of the whole assembled aristocracy. Accordingly, on the day that the trial took place, the relations of the Count, to the number of fifty-seven persons, of both sexes, and of the highest rank, repaired in a body to the Palace of Justice, and took their stations in a long corridor which led to the court-room. Here, as the judges entered, they had to pass in review this array of lofty and noble personages, who saluted them mournfully and significantly, as they passed. Any one conversant with the stately pride and jealous dignity of the French noblesse of