Augustus Meves

Augustus Meves—Soi-Disant  Louis XVII. of France

Bloomsbury has been equally honoured with Camberwell and Chelsea in providing a home for a pretended dauphin of France, and for a dauphin whose pretensions are not allowed to lapse, although he has himself sunk into the grave, but are persistently presented before the public at recurring intervals by his sons. The story which he told, and which they continue to tell, is a curious jumble of the inventions which preceded it—a sort of literary patchwork, without design or pattern, and a flimsy covering either for self-conceit or imposture.

In this case the tale is, that, about September, 1793, Tom Paine, who was then a member of the National Convention, wrote to England to a Mrs. Carpenter to bring to Paris a deaf and dumb boy for a certain purpose. Deaf and dumb boys are not easily procurable, and ladies, when entrusted with mysterious missions, have an inveterate habit of communicating them to their personal friends. Mrs. Carpenter knew a Mrs. Meves, a music teacher, and hastened to inform her of the strange instructions which she had received from France, and the pair set out to find a child to suit the requirements of Paine. They failed, and Mrs. Meves in her chagrin told her husband of their failure. That worthy, who was then resident in Bloomsbury Square, had a son, supposed to be illegitimate, living in his house. The lad had been born in 1785, was about the age required, was in delicate health, and a burden to his father, and there was no apparent reason why he should not occupy the precarious position intended for the deaf and dumb boy, at least until a mute could be found to take his place. Mr. Meves, therefore, actuated by these ideas, proceeded to France, and, as those who now bear his name assert, succeeded in procuring an interview with Marie-Antoinette in her dungeon in the Conciergerie, where he made the illustrious sufferer a vow of secrecy respecting her son, which he kept to the latest hour of his existence. And, lest there should be any doubt about this interview, it is added that many loyalists, both before and after, penetrated into the gloom of her prison-cell, and all but one contrived to evade being detected.

At the interview it was agreed that he should introduce the lad, whom he had brought, into the Temple, and should place him under the care of Simon, the shoemaker, till a good opportunity occurred to extricate Louis XVII. The arrangement was no sooner made than it was carried out. Madame Simon, who was a party to the plot, found the "good opportunity." The dauphin was removed in the convenient basket of a laundress—perhaps the same basket which had held Naündorff, and the unfortunate bastard of Mr. Meves was left in his stead. On reaching the hotel at which Mr. Meves was staying the rescued prince was respectably attired, and, having been placed in a carriage by his new guardian, was escorted by the Marquis of Bonneval as far as the coast of Normandy. It is not said whether, during the long ride, Mr. Meves felt a twinge of remorse for his heartless conduct towards the harmless and delicate child whom he had left in the clutches of Simon; but, at all events, he is represented as reaching England in safety with his new charge. The liberated king took up his abode in Bloomsbury Square, and was adopted as the son of Mr. Meves, who had better reasons for abiding by the laws of adoption than those of parentage. At this time he was only eight years and seven months old.

But Mrs. Meves was not so thoroughly satisfied with the result of her husband's mission as that astute individual was himself disposed to be; and having learnt that the boy who had passed as her son was a prisoner in the Temple Tower, hurried off to her friend Mrs. Carpenter to tell her doleful tale, and to concoct measures for his release. A renewed search was instituted for a deaf and dumb boy, and one was found—"the son of a poor woman"—and in the month of January, 1794, Mrs. Meves procured passports, and proceeded with this boy and a German gentleman to Holland to the Abbé Morlet. From Holland the Abbé, the boy, and Mrs. Meves went to Paris, "and the deaf and dumb boy was placed in certain hands to accomplish her son's liberation at the most convenient time, but at what precise date such was carried into effect remains to be ascertained."

It is, however, more than suggested that the worn-out child seen by Lasne and Gomin, who was so abnormally reticent, was the deaf and dumb boy; and there is a wild attempt to prove either that he never spoke at all, or that, if the captive under their care did speak, it must have been a fourth child who had been substituted for the mute. The whole tale is unintelligible and incoherent; assertions are freely made without an iota of proof from its beginning to its end. If we are to credit the sons of the pretender, the dauphin was educated by Mr. Meves as a musician, and knew nothing of his origin till the year 1818, when Mrs. Meves declared it to him. In the years 1830 and 1831 he addressed letters (which were not answered) to the Duchess of Angoulême, stating the circumstances in which he had been conveyed to England, but making an egregious blunder as to the date, which his sons vainly endeavour to conceal or explain. They say, also, that a very large section of the French nobility had no hesitation in admitting the royal descent of their father. Thus the Count Fontaine de Moreau expressed himself convinced that the man before him was the missing dauphin, after examining with singular interest some blood spots on his breast, resembling "a constellation of the heavens." The Count de Jauffroy not only called and wrote down his address—21 Alsopp's Terrace, New Road—but declared his opinion that the British government was perfectly aware that "at 8 Bath Place, lives the true Louis XVII." "But, sir," the count went on to say, "the danger lies in acknowledging you, as from the energy of your character you might put the whole of Europe into a state of fermentation, as you are not only King of France in right of your birth, but you are also heir to Maria Theresa, empress of Germany." His sons add that "Louis Napoleon" is aware, and has been for many years, that the person called 'Augustus Meves' was the veritable Louis XVII." At the time these words were penned the Emperor of the French was alive in this country, and a Times' reviewer not unreasonably said, "If, indeed, the illustrious exile of Chiselhurst be aware of so remarkable a fact, he will surely soon proclaim it, together with his reasons for being aware of it. Aspirants to the throne of France cannot touch him further; and the triumphant proof of Augustus Meves' heirship to Louis XVI. would not only confound the councils of Frohsdorff, but it would turn the grandest legitimist of Europe into little better than a usurper, if, as was said by the Count de Jauffroy, Augustus Meves must of necessity not only be the eldest son of St. Louis, but the eldest son of Rudolf of Hapsburg to boot."

Napoleon passed away, and made no sign; but the sons of Augustus Meves (who himself died in 1859) show no disposition to under-rate his pretensions. The elder, who styles himself Auguste de Bourbon, and upon whom the royal mantle is supposed to have fallen, is not indifferent to the political changes of the time, and has again and again endeavoured to thrust his claims to the French throne before the public. In a letter dated June 17, 1871, he says—"Several articles have recently appeared respecting the chances of the Comte de Chambord succeeding to power, in virtue of his right of birth as the eldest representative of legitimate monarchy. This supposition by many is admitted; nevertheless, it is a palpable hallucination, for the representative of legitimate hereditary monarchy by actual descent is directly vested in the eldest son of Louis XVII. Periodically, the Comte de Chambord issues a manifesto, basing his right for doing such as representing, by the right of hereditary succession, the head of the House of Bourbon. Whenever such appears, duty demands that I should protest against his pretensions. Great the relief would indeed be to me could the Comte de Chambord, or any historian, produce rational argument, or rather documents, to support the supposition that the son of Louis XVI. and Marie-Antoinette died in the Tower of the Temple, in June, 1795. Those who believe this with such proof as is now extant to the general public are under a hallucination. Should, however, the Comte de Chambord or the fused party base the right of succeeding to power on the principle of inheriting it by the law of legitimate succession, I, the son of Louis XVII., should demand a hearing from France, and in France's name now protest against any political combinations that have the object in view of acknowledging the Comte de Chambord as the legitimate heir to the throne of France.... I owe my origin to the French revolution of 1789; for had not Louis XVII. been delivered from his captivity in the Temple, I should have had no existence. Being, then, the offspring of the French revolution, it is compatible with reason that by restoring the heir of Louis XVII. as a constitutional king, such would be acceptable alike to revolutionists and monarchists, and so end that state of alternate violence and repression which, ever since the revolution of 1789, has characterised unhappy France." In a still later document, he says:—"The Comte de Chambord I can recognise as a nobleman, and as representing a principle acknowledged; but the House of Orleans can only be looked upon and recognised as disloyal and renegade royalty, deserving the obliquy of fallen honour, having forfeited its right to all regal honours." From his lofty perch this strange mongrel king still awaits the call of France!