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- LAPEROUSE - 4/12 -


subject. How can I reconcile my letter with my present situation? But, my dear mother, it would be feebleness in me to go further with the engagement. I have doubtless been imprudent in contracting an engagement without your consent, but I should be a monster if I violated my oaths and married Mademoiselle de Vesian. I do not doubt that you tremble at the abyss over which you fear that I am about to fall, but I feel that I can only live with Eleonore, and I hope that you will give your consent to our union. My fortune will suffice for our wants, and we shall live near you. But I shall only come to Albi when Mademoiselle de Vesian shall be married, and when I can be sure that another, a thousand times more worthy than I am, shall have sworn to her an attachment deeper than that which it was in my power to offer. I shall write neither to Madame nor Monsieur de Vesian. Join to your other kindnesses that of undertaking this painful commission."

There was no mistaking the firm, if regretful tone, of that letter; and Laperouse married his Eleonore at Paris.

Did Mademoiselle de Vesian break her heart because her sailor fiance had wed another? Not at all! She at once became engaged to the Baron de Senegas--had she seen him beforehand, one wonders?--and married him in August! Laperouse was prompt to write his congratulations to her parents, and it is diverting to find him saying, concerning the lady to whom he himself had been engaged only a few weeks before, that he regretted "never having had the honour of seeing her!"

But there was still another difficulty to be overcome before Laperouse and his happy young bride could feel secure. He had broken a regulation of the service by marrying without official sanction. True, he had talked of settling down at Albi, but that was when he thought he was going to marry a young lady whom he did not know. Now he had married the girl of his heart; and love, as a rule, does not stifle ambition. Rather are the two mutually co-operative. Eleonore had fallen in love with him as a gallant sailor, and a sailor she wanted him still to be. Perhaps, in her dreams, she saw him a great Admiral, commanding powerful navies and winning glorious victories for France. Madame la Comtesse did not wish her husband to end his career because he had married her, be sure of that.

Here Laperouse did a wise and tactful thing, which showed that he understood something of human nature. Nothing interests old ladies so much as the love affairs of young people; and old ladies in France at that time exercised remarkable influence in affairs of government. The Minister of Marine was the Marquis de Castries. Instead of making a clean breast of matters to him, Laperouse wrote a long and delightful letter to Madame la Marquise. "Madame," he said, "mon histoire est un roman," and he begged her to read it. Of course she did. What old lady would not? She was a very grand lady indeed, was Madame la Marquise; but this officer who wrote his heart's story to her, was a dashing hero. He told her how he had fallen in love in Ile-de-France; how consent to his marriage had been officially and paternally refused; how he had tried "to stifle the sentiments which were nevertheless remaining at the bottom of my heart." Would she intercede with the Minister for him and excuse him?

Of course she would! She was a dear old lady, was Madame la Marquise. Within a few days Laperouse received from the Minister a most paternal, good natured letter, which assured him that his romantic affair should not interfere with his prospects, and concluded: "Enjoy the pleasure of having made someone happy, and the marks of honour and distinction that you have received from your fellow citizens."

Such is the love story of Laperouse. Alas! the marriage did not bring many years of happiness to poor Eleonore, much as she deserved them. Two years afterwards, her hero sailed away on that expedition from which he never returned. She dwelt at Albi, hoping until hope gave way to despair, and at last she died, of sheer grief they said, nine years after the waters of the Pacific had closed over him who had wooed her and wedded her for herself alone.

Chapter IV.

THE VOYAGE OF EXPLORATION.

King Louis XVI of France was as unfortunate a monarch as was ever born to a throne. Had it been his happier lot to be the son of a farmer, a shopkeeper, or a merchant, he would have passed for an excellent man of business and a good, solid, sober, intelligent citizen. But he inherited with his crown a system of government too antiquated for the times, too repressive for the popular temper to endure, and was not statesman enough to remodel it to suit the requirements of his people. It was not his fault that he was not a great man; and a great man--a man of large grasp, wide vision, keen sympathies, and penetrating imagination--was needed in France if the social forces at work, the result of new ideas fermenting in the minds of men and impelling them, were to be directed towards wise and wholesome reform. Failing such direction, those forces burst through the restraints of law, custom, authority, loyalty and respect, and produced the most startling upheaval in modern history, the Great French Revolution. Louis lost both his crown and his head, the whole system of government was overturned, and the way was left open for the masterful mind and strong arm needed to restore discipline and order to the nation: Napoleon Bonaparte.

Louis was very fond of literature. During the sad last months of his imprisonment, before the guillotine took his life, he read over 230 volumes. He especially liked books of travel and geography, and one of his favourite works was the VOYAGES of Cook. He had the volumes near him in the last phase of his existence. There is a pleasant drawing representing the King in his prison, with the little Dauphin seated on his knee, pointing out the countries and oceans on a large geographical globe; and he took a pride in having had prepared "for the education of Monsieur le Dauphin," a History of the Exploration of the South Seas. It was published in Paris, in three small volumes, in 1791.

The study of Cook made a deep impression on the King's mind. Why, he asked himself, should not France share in the glory of discovering new lands, and penetrating untraversed seas? There was a large amount of exploratory work still to be done. English navigators were always busy sailing to unknown parts, but the entire world was by no means revealed yet. There were, particularly, big blank spaces at the bottom of the globe. That country called by the Dutch New Holland, the eastern part of which Cook had found--there was evidently much to be done there. What were the southern coasts like? Was it one big island-continent, or was it divided into two by a strait running south from the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria? Then there was that piece of country discovered by the Dutchman Tasman, and named Van Diemen's Land. Was it an island, or did it join on to New Holland? There were also many islands of the Pacific still to be explored and correctly charted, the map of Eastern Asia was imperfect, and the whole of the coastline of North-Western America was not accurately known.

The more Louis turned the matter over in his mind, the more he studied his globes, maps and books of voyages, the more convinced he was that France, as a maritime nation and a naval Power, ought to play an important part in this grand work of unveiling to mankind the full extent, form, nature and resources of our planet.

He sent for a man whose name the Australian reader should particularly note, because he had much to do with three important discovery voyages affecting our history. Charles Claret, Comte de Fleurieu, was the principal geographer in France. He was at this time director of ports and arsenals. He had throughout his life been a keen student of navigation, was a practical sailor, invented a marine chronometer which was a great improvement on clocks hitherto existing, devised a method of applying the metric system to the construction of marine charts, and wrote several works on his favourite subject. A large book of his on discoveries in Papua and the Solomon Islands is still of much importance.

As a French writer--an expert in this field of knowledge--has written of Fleurieu, "he it was who prepared nearly all the plans for naval operations during the war of 1778, and the instructions for the voyages of discovery--those of Laperouse and Dentrecasteaux--for which Louis XVI had given general directions; and to whose wise and well-informed advice is due in large part the utility derived from them." It was chiefly because of Fleurieu's knowledge of geography that the King chose him to be the tutor of the Dauphin; and in 1790 he became Minister of Marine.

Louis XVI and Fleurieu talked the subject over together; and the latter, at the King's command, drew up a long memorandum indicating the parts of the globe where an expedition of discovery might most profitably apply itself.

The King decided (1785) that a voyage should be undertaken; two ships of the navy, LA BOUSSOLE and L'ASTROLABE, were selected for the purpose; and, on the recommendation of the Marquis de Castries--remember Madame la Marquise!--Laperouse was chosen for the command.

All three of the men who ordered, planned and executed the voyage, the King, the scholar, and the officer, were devoted students of the work and writings of Cook; and copies of his VOYAGES, in French and English, were placed in the library of navigation carried on board the ships for the edification of the officers and crews. Over and over again in the instructions prepared--several times on a page in some places--appear references to what Cook had done, and to what Cook had left to be done; showing that both King Louis and Fleurieu knew his voyages and charts, not merely as casual readers, but intimately. As for Laperouse himself, his admiration of Cook has already been mentioned; here it may be added that when, before he sailed, Sir Joseph Banks presented him with two magnetic needles that had been used by Cook, he wrote that he "received them with feelings bordering almost upon religious veneration for the memory of that great and incomparable navigator." So that, we see, the extent of our great sailor's influence is not to be measured even by his discoveries and the effect of his writings upon his own countrymen. He radiated a magnetic force which penetrated far; down to our own day it has by no means lost its stimulating energy.

In the picture gallery at the Palace of Versailles, there is an oil painting by Mansiau, a copy of which may be seen in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. It is called "Louis XVI giving instructions to Monsieur de Laperouse for his voyage around the world." An Australian statesman who saw it during a visit to Paris a few years ago, confessed publicly on his return to his own country that he gazed long upon it, and recognised it as being "of the deepest interest to Australians." So indeed it is. A photograph of the picture is given here.

The instructions were of course prepared by Fleurieu: anyone familiar with his writings can see plenty of internal evidence of that. But Louis was not a little vain of his own geographical knowledge, and he gave a special audience to Laperouse, explaining the instructions verbally before handing them to him in writing.


LAPEROUSE - 4/12

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