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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Michael Ney

  • [Michael Ney, Duc d’Elchingen, Prince de la Moskova; born at Saar-Louis, France, January, 1769; entered the army as a private; became a general of brigade, 1796; served with distinction in Switzerland and Germany; marshal of France, 1804; commanded an army in Spain 1809, and the rear-guard in the retreat from Moscow 1812; submitted to Louis XVIII., 1814, but deserted to Napoleon; tried for treason after Waterloo, and shot, Dec. 7, 1815.]
  • A marshal of France never surrenders.

  • When summoned to surrender before a line of Russian batteries, after leaving Smolensko, on the retreat from Moscow, November, 1812.—LOCKHART: Life of Napoleon. No one now believes that Gen. Cambronne uttered at Waterloo the words which have been engraved upon his monument at Nantes, “The guard dies, but does not surrender” (La garde meurt et ne se rend pas). He denied it himself: first, because he did not die; and secondly, because he did surrender. He simply asked for a surgeon to dress his wounds, and gave up his sword to Col. Halkett (“Edinburgh Review,” XCIII. 160). He disavowed the mot at a banquet in Nantes, his native place, in 1835; while a grenadier asserted, as late as 1862, before the prefect of the Department of the Nord, that he heard him say it twice. The same soldier also claimed to have heard Poniatowski cry at Leipsic, when plunging into the Elster, from whose waters he never rose, “God has confided Poland’s honor to me: I will remit it only to God!” (Dieu m’a confié l’honneur des Polonais: je ne le remettrai qu’à Dieu!) He probably uttered it as truly as his compatriot Kosciusko exclaimed, “Finis Poloniæ!” (This is the end of Poland!) at the rout of Macejowice, October, 1794, which he denied in a letter written Nov. 12, 1803.
  • Cambronne’s mot was the after-thought of Rougemont, a professional bel-esprit, who, on the evening of Waterloo, anticipating the war-correspondents of more modern times, invented the phrase for an account of the battle which he wrote for the next day’s “Indépendant.” For Victor Hugo’s version of Cambronne’s answer, which he calls the “finest word, perhaps, that a Frenchman ever uttered,” vide “Les Misérables,” Cosette, XIV.
  • Glory is not to be divided.

  • When ordered to await Lannes, in storming the heights above Ulm, Oct. 15, 1805, Ney exclaimed, “Glory is not to be divided!” Continuing his march, he overcame all obstacles, and joined Lannes.—THIERS: Consulate and Empire, Bk. xvi.
  • When asked if he never felt fear in battle, he replied, “I never had time.”
  • As the balls whistled around him at Quatre Bras, June 17, 1815, he exclaimed, “Would they were all in my body!” (Ces boulets, je les voudrais tous avoir dans le ventre!)
  • Ney was sent by Louis XVIII. to meet and oppose Napoleon on his return from Elba. “Sire, I will bring back Bonaparte in an iron cage,” was a promise he only fulfilled in part,—the cage was wanting. Albert of Brandenburg was more modest. When urged to capture the Emperor Charles V., who had declined the battle offered him in 1547 by the Protestant chiefs, and who was thought to be surrounded in the Tyrol, he answered, “Capture him! I have no cage big enough for such a bird!”
  • Having been condemned to death on the second return of the Bourbons, Marshal Ney interrupted the officer who was reading the titles enumerated in the sentence of death, with the words: “Say Michael Ney, and ere long but a little dust!” To an officer who proposed to bandage his eyes before the execution of the sentence, he replied, “Are you ignorant that for twenty-five years I have been accustomed to face both ball and bullet?” He then took off his hat, raised it above his head, and said, with a firm voice, “I declare before God and man, that I have never betrayed my country. May my death render her happy! Vive la France!” Turning to the men, and striking his other hand on his heart, he gave the word, “Soldiers, fire!” or, as is often given, “Aim at my heart!”
  • Murat’s personal vanity prompted his last words, “Save my face, aim at my heart!”